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Aphex Twin ‘Syro’

In our latest review, James Trigo runs the rule over Aphex Twin’s newly released album, Syro, to see whether the 13 year wait was worth it.  

After a prolific decade of game-changing releases from Richard D. James under the Aphex Twin alias, a 13-year drought ensued with the release of his last album, Drukqs, leaving a void in the musical landscape for all kinds of regrettable genres to fill. Thankfully James has decided to let us in on some of the creations he’s made over the last few years, which he’s named Syro.

Opening with the album’s preview track, ‘Mini pops 67 (Source Field Mix)‘, I was left underwhelmed, worried that this could be a selection of tracks that hadn’t previously made the cut. But as with any artist that embarks on a lengthy hiatus, you need to be realistic and appreciate the album without the weight of expectation. It isn’t long before the synthesized vocals, delayed keys and airy basslines seduce you and reveal what is actually a very accomplished song. As with most of the Cornishman’s music, the devil is in the detail.

“James still has full control over the frequency range and is a master of his craft.”

Eerie voices, jumbled basslines and live-sounding drums follow a piano motif into some beautiful, sonically rich, percussive elements in ‘XMAS_EVET10 (Thanaton3 Mix)’. At over 10 minutes, the track moves effortlessly through a stunning sonic palette, reaffirming that James still has full control over the frequency range and is a master of his craft. A hefty bassline kicks off ‘Produk 29’, with spacey pads, elastic sounds and more acoustic-sounding drums that maintain the laid-back tempo of the album so far. James certainly seems to have cracked drums this time round, appearing less sterile in feel and sound, as if he’s finally found the perfect session drummer (maybe it’s one of his robots), and made them a defining feature of the album.

Clicky rhythms intertwine with jumping bass and ghostly pads in ‘4 bit 9d api+e+6’, and plucky chords mark out a chorus, offering the closest to a hook that your going to get. One of the shorter tracks on the album, ‘180db_’ begins with dark, twitchy synths, which are soon joined by breakbeat drums and psycho-esque tones to make it one of the more traditional, yet darker tracks on the album.

Plenty of blips and beeps make up ‘CIRCLONT6A (Syrobonkus Mix)’ a jam-packed composition incorporating detuned melodies and glitchy textures, with the essence of 80s computer games thrown in for good measure. There’s so much going on that six minutes really doesn’t feel long enough to fit it all in, but James does it without it being too cluttered, a skill he’s honed over his career. ‘Fz pseudotimestretch+e+3’ functions as an interlude, with sparkling percussion and fuzzy synths breaking up the two behemoths of the album. Once the minutes over, ‘CIRCLONT14 (Shrymoming Mix)’ continues with the same energy as before, and a wet, acidy bassline sits on top of erratic hi-hats, granulated voices and Wah-Wah guitar riffs to complete what feels like a very full 2/3rds of an album.

James’ control over dynamics and sound placement have been noticeably stronger in Syro, and ‘Syro u473t8+e (Piezoluminescence Mix)’ is a good example of this. Subtle synthlines meet with tightly packed drums and bass in one of the many layers to this track, allowing you to hear a new song on each listen and making it one of the standout tracks on the album. A schizophrenic bassline devolves in complexity throughout ‘PAPAT4 (Pineal Mix)’, and with cheesy synths and signature Aphex snares, James once again manages to subtly deliver a smorgasbord of genres with what seems like minimal effort.

Drawing on more early 90s rave for a fast paced, energetic journey through ‘S950tx16wasr10 (Earth Portal Mix)’, you get the feeling this was produced earlier on in the seven-year period he’s been making music for Syro, but it’s still interesting enough to sit comfortably as the penultimate track on the album. Warm, moving and composed sums up ‘Aisatsana’, a piano piece set to the backdrop of birdsong, a perfect way to calm the cerebral cortex and take stock of the last hour before hitting repeat and experiencing it all again.

Syro feels more cohesive than anything James has done before and provides a bookend for all his previous work. It’s evident James’s production and songwriting have become more mature and refined, as you would expect over a 13-year period. A lot has changed, and entering his 40s and having children are just a couple of them. There’s still the humour and playfulness that’s always at the heart of his work, but this feels more focused. Syro delivers in every way what you’d expect from an Aphex Twin that’s had time to evolve. And taking into account the shear breadth and quality of his back catalogue, this is a remarkable achievement, highlighting not only how skilled he’s become, but how groundbreaking he was too.

HBF Rating: Just amazing 5/5