NO, MR TWAIN, I care because you do. I wasn’t sure I did, for a minute — the largely drumless synth moans of 1994’s oddly hailed Selected Ambient Works Volume II went on for longer than the Use You Illusion albums combined.
Then TVT re-issued two Aphex Twin releases done under different Richard James aliases — AFX’s Analogue Bubblebath EP and Polygon Window’s (Surfing on Sine Waves) — and it became a little easier to understand the commotion: an electronic craftsman intricately layering artificial melodies and unique sounds into a rippling pool of synth, but just as prone to club you with tribal percussion or video-game beats. Still, for truly great Aphex Twin you need to shell out for import albums on the Belgian label R&S. Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is all soft cushion — Cocteau-ish vocals, new wave plinks, house keyboards, windchime pentatonics, frog burps, and buzzer grinds — melded organically. The recently assembled Classics, a club hits compilation, includes two versions of the trademark ‘didgeridoo’ (a rubbery ‘Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow’ riff pounded incessantly) and the virtually Mobyesque prayerfulness of ‘Polynomial-C’.
To his credit, James has used his two American major-label releases to recast techno, not just rehash it. The sterile Ambient II failed, but I Care Because You Do does better at cutting the middle out of the genre’s kitchen-sink-aesthetic without sacrificing melody, coherence, or rhythm. ‘Acrid Avid Jam Shred’ balances a screechy tone against a subdued hip-hop beat and symphonic keyboards, yet each element follows an internal algebra until the whistling-static tone turns eerily beautiful near the end. While not as consistently lovely as the first ambient volume (‘Alberto Balsam’ comes close) or as belligerent as Classics (‘Start As You Mean To Go On’ has the lone roughneck beat), I Care goes beyond either as a real album with its own gestalt. The idea of keeping all sounds distinct from each other persists throughout, while the sounds themselves summon wholly different climates. You move from the Indian sonorities of the Philip Glass-James collaboration ‘Icct Hedral’ to ‘Ventolin’, a slow grind and the album’s unlikely first single, featuring scraped-nail-on-blackboard as the main pop hook. If that’s a thing you could care about, this album is a fun trip, courtesy of a onetime club artist now showing signs of becoming a full-fledged composer. 8
© Eric Weisbard, Spin, July 1995