This generation of millennials has caused what some call the “death of electronic music,” as big room house and its associated ecstasy-fueled culture has come to dominate the listening tendencies of teens and young adults everywhere. It is within this storm of derivative and uninspired music that Aphex Twin (real name Richard D. James) has released his first studio album in 13 years. To put matters into perspective, his acclaimed Selected Ambient Works 85-92 was released 22 years ago. That is quite likely older than the average EDM festival goer.

Aphex Twin’s return is not marked by fanfare and sweeping melodies you can fist-pump the night away to. Instead, Syro (2014) is a dark, twisted masterpiece that sees the producer leave the thoroughly confusing hodgepodge that was Drukqs (2001) and return to his roots in ambient music a la Richard D. James Album (1996) and I Care Because You Do (1995), ambient music that somehow managed to demand attention.

Yet despite its ambient roots, Syro incorporates many new styles as well, from drum ‘n’ bass to techno. This evolution of the Aphex Twin sound is evident, but this album still manages to retain all of what makes the sound unique.

Opening track “minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix]” immediately bombards you with a beat so meaty and textured it could have only come from the mind of Richard D. James. And even though it’s more unified in theme than Drukqs, Syro is still one hell of a weird album (just look at the track names). Every track is a pastiche of thudding beats and weird sounds that are thoroughly undanceable and bizarre in isolation but expertly stitched together to create a sound that even changes throughout the song.

“produk 29 [101]” is a prime example, with a shifting bassline that results in utter confused tapping feet as more and more layers are added until a synth cuts in as a stark contrast. Aphex Twin’s signature use of human voice — namely those of his family members — remains and despite being, for the most part, completely unintelligible, they give those songs more structure. This structure is perhaps why Aphex Twin even referred to Syro as “[his] pop album,” with no demonic vocals reminiscent of “Come to Daddy” or machine gun barrages of noise like “Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michaels Mount” from Drukqs. Instead, Syro is a refined collection of expertly cut beats with precise arrangement.

Other highlights from the album include “CIRCLONT6A [syrobonkus mix],” with an opening that sounds like a demented 8-bit video game, and “180db_ [130],” which manages to instill a sense of dread that even movie soundtracks fail to do.

While Syro isn’t the groundbreaking masterpiece of ambient music that Selected Ambient Works 85-92 was (which isn’t a hyperbole at all), it definitely has improved on some things. The album truly makes one consider buying an appropriate headphones for listening, as the crispness of the music is incomparable to his debut way back in 1992. It also underlines the mind-boggling amount of work that went into the making of Syro, which boasts an equipment list spanning more than 130 different pieces.

All in all, Syro marks the return of a legendary musician with an album that doesn’t really push any boundaries but will surely stand the test of time.

Article by John Luan

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