Despite an absence of new material, Aphex Twin's stock hasn't dropped at all in contemporary electronica scenes. If anything, the artist born Richard D. James is more relevant than ever. He's a composer whose ear for wringing beauty out of strange synth sounds (along with his deep-web sense of humor) has profoundly shaped our current moment in dance music.
His new albym "Syro" is due out at the end of September, but its first single "minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix]" has finally hit the above-ground Internet. It's a reminder of how sonically inventive James is, and how much musicality and melody have always mattered to him. (Listen to the track above.)
The song starts accessibly, with a dark techno lurch and a punchy acid-house bassline. Each is a perfectly au courant move today, and the song could probably work on a club floor without causing too much disorientation.
But then the track starts weaving in more classic deconstructive Aphex Twin moves. In come the digitally distended voices, the modulating chord tunings and the drum machine glitches twisting into pure beauty. It's skillful but playful, a hundred good ideas that come and go without a huge fuss. By the end, you feel like you've heard a long night's worth of singles in the span of a few minutes, but never noticed the exact moments the tracks changed.
Aphex Twin was the chief crossover act of the "IDM" wave of the late '90s -- a time when fans of "intelligent" electronic music invented a whole new genre so as not to be lumped in with the more boneheaded side of rave. A trip to the neon maw of today's Electric Daisy Carnival proves that the populists won out in the end.
But James was more of a people pleaser than he seems. In album covers and videos such as "Windowlicker," he turned his leering ginger grin into one of electronic music's most recognizable faces. While he could credibly release a compilation entirely of early ambient music, he also wrote lovely tracks that could fit on mixtapes for new crushes. He was the electronic act that indie-rock kids cited when they needed to prove their adventurous taste.
If "minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix]" is any indication, "Syro" could be perfectly pitched as a comeback. The hubbub will likely advance his star power, while the album will raise the bar for young producer peers who have always referenced him. Now they'll have to compete with the real thing.