A lot can happen in 13 years, but Richard D. James, bka Aphex Twin, would have us think otherwise. The release of 2001’s Drukqs marked an end of an era for James; an era in which he essentially ruled the electronic underground by offering music smart enough for the music nerds, as well as music accessible enough for the mainstream. Seeing him quietly disappear after releasing what was initially deemed a clusterfuck of an album at launch was a little anticlimactic, and rather upsetting, too.
So with the lead-up to Syro, his first release of new material as Aphex Twin in 13 years, it’s to be expected that this is the most anticipated release of his career. However, James doesn’t attempt to live up those expectations, and instead provides new material as if it’s clockwork, sounding almost like those 13 years didn’t really pass at all. Syro is Aphex Twin through and through, but at times that very sound starts to show its age.
Starting off immensely strong with the pairing of ‘Minipops 67’ and ‘XMAX_EVET10’, Syro doesn’t exactly start off with a bang that screams “I’m back”, but it does set the tone. Despite what almost every website that covers music in any capacity would have you think, Syro is a relatively low-key return. There are moments that attempt to relive the former glory of breakbeat Aphex Twin, but for the most part these sound distinctively dated; it’s the moments where he revisits his midtempo and minimal compositions where the record truly thrives.
It’s not that Syro is a bad record in the slightest, it just features less standout moments than one would expect from an Aphex Twin release. It’s a mixed bag, replicating the same towering heights and plummeting lows as Drukqs. But demonic fart synths and ill-advised jungle excursions aside, Syro also features some absolutely gorgeous and mesmerising compositions. The previously mentioned ‘XMAS_EVET10’ is over ten minutes in length, and yet, it practically flies by. Also of particular note is the closer, ‘Aisatsana’, which sounds as if it acts as a pseudo-sequel to the captivating ‘Avril 14th’. The obnoxious ‘180db_’, however, might just be one the worst track of James’ prolific career.
So Syro isn’t exactly a return to form, but merely a continuation of his form circa 13 years ago. Unlike Drukqs, which left a lot of room for error and experimentation, the failures on Syro are much more apparent as they tend to take up more of the album’s running time. Here’s hoping it’s just the first of many albums to come as James gets back into the swing of things, but who really knows what to expect from Warp’s most elusive maestro at this point? Unfortunately less than before, if Syro is anything to go by.