Photo courtesy of Aphex Twin
Aphex Twin is back—or rather, back again. The legendary electronic music producer returned last year with his first official project with the moniker of Aphex Twin with Syro. The hour-long comeback album was not only met with immense critical applause, but opened up speculation about whether Richard D. James would finally start to release the supposed treasure trove of unreleased tracks he’s been sitting on for decades, or would he disappear back into obscurity?
Concerns over the latter possibility were quelled with last month’s EP, Computer Controlled Acoustic Instrumentals pt2, a slight but telling sign that his current stint in the musical world isn't over. Then, on January 26th, a Soundcloud page stocked with a slew of demo tracks appeared; the account was quickly pulled, only to resurface on a new page. The site currently hosts over 170 tracks of either unreleased or previously hard-to-find tracks, that at least according to the forum We Are The Music Makers, mostly stem from the late 80s to the mid-90s. The prospect of wading through a dozen hours of unreleased music can feel a tad overwhelming, so we here at Noisey are highlighting ten of our best discoveries from Aphex Twin's mysterious Soundcloud bonanza.
Thank You Richard.
"Dance and Play"
The melody just rides here. It appears so effortlessly that when the opening fades and the drums pause and re-enter, it's so sweet that’s hard not to smile as the music evokes the clearest, sunniest day. That there is a little sample of children repeating the track’s title is just additional proof of how heavenly even the most robotic music can be.
"23 Lush Acid [pt1]"
On James’s latest official release, Computer Controlled Acoustic Instrumentals pt2, a good chunk of the release was on brief, under-minute-long tracks that, out of the context of a full release, felt a bit like sketches. “23 Lush Acid [pt1]” certainly fits that mold of feeling like an excerpt or part of a greater track. Even then, the short burst exercise in Acid House squelches and frantic drumming is able to stand out among the sea of tracks six or seven times its length.
"Pump the shit"
Even with over 170 tracks uploaded onto Soundcloud, there is still a feeling—and certainly for good reason—that this only a taste of what James could potentially release. “Pump the shit” shows particularly why that is in question, because a good number of the fully fleshed-out demos are from the more ambient and laidback lane within James’ catalog. By the mid-90s, James found a way to display a more aggressive jungle and drum'n' bass side of his musical interests, which felt not far from his early Acid House experiment. Though often left in bargain bins of record stores, it is with the highest praise that I say that the shit-talking sample and the multiple left turn song switch-ups that happen here would’ve been right at home on the first MTV’s AMP CD.
"11 donkey rhubarb remix"
The essential bliss of 90s rave tracks could be assumed to have a connection with drugs like ecstasy, but often it was simply the melody. The original “Donkey Rhubarb” from an EP of the same name has a twisted joy, as the video featured giant stuffed bears parading about with kids wearing Richard D. James’s trademark grin. This remix pulls apart that original melody and transforms the track into a moment better fit for joining hands and jumping around in ecstasy, whether with another person or giant stuff animal.
"3 gerald remix"
For the number of tracks released, it’s a bit surprising that there haven’t been more remixes of other artists works to appear in the collection. Not that James was well known for his remixes of other’s work, but if his catalog is going to be so mined, one might expect to see a bit more of his takes on other’s work. But, “3 gerald remix” is a remix of “Rhythm of Life” by the much beloved A Guy Called Gerald; the track is so tranquil and considered that one can simply hit replay till the button’s broken and never regret each play.
"5 heliosphan live"
Similar to the lack of remixes that appeared so far in this collection of tracks, this “live” track appears to be a bit of an outlier. The sound is a bit more reckless than the classic track from Select Ambient Works 85-92. That kind of recklessness certainly wasn’t unappreciated in this form, as the backing synths that overwhelm the original are pushed to the background as the drums and laser shots ricochet in seemingly every direction possible. If the original was a little too chill out room—it wasn’t but let the metaphor ride out here—people now can get to moving along with the track a bit more.
"4 Red Calx[slo]"
A synth rises. A synth falls. It rises again. It falls again. No bass squelches. No drum hit. No quirky samples to accent the track. And probably for that reason it’s one of the tracks that begs a second listen after the first, and a third after the second. Maybe there is something that one missed, or that perhaps some finer details can be revealed. But nope, the track proudly opens and closes to the mass indifference or anticipation of the listener. Such a calm thought, isn’t it?
Initially there wasn’t any concerete proof of it being James when these tracks started to appear, but as more were coming out, it was clear if these were indeed fake, then whoever did them had refined their forgery skills to a masterful level. “28 Organ” was one of the early tracks that, even being decades old, sounds just a wonderful as anything James or anyone else could produce in 2015. The track’s glitchy opening eventually smoothes out to reveal a fuller shape that lovingly wraps around and fall into itself so many times that those final five minutes could easily go for another fifty.
Though these tracks have been online for over a month, it’s still a bit hard to believe they’re even around. When another batch was uploaded, Santa came for the 5th time in a month, and gave us a second Nintendo 64 because he wasn’t sure what else to do at this point. “18 SsbA” might not be better than a N64, but the glistening track glides along in a way that is easy to appreciate even if its increasingly difficult to find a place for it on one’s phone.
"5 Just Fall Asleep"
The titles of so many of these demos range from the seemingly abstract (“mature raver”) to the almost too specific (“33 SAW II Un Stabbing Interview”), but “5 Just Fall Asleep” perfectly distills the nearly ten-minute-long track. Press play. Lay one’s head down and simply sail along with the track into a foggy dream state. Select Ambient Work Vol. II comes immediately to mind as a point of comparison, but as the seventh and eighth minute approach and R.E.M. begins, such concerns about analogies can wait till the next day, where maybe another batch of newly uploaded tracks will have arrived.
David Turner is licking windows on Twitter.