| 03.20.2018

The best of the best

A weekly album review segment


Aphex Twin “Syro”

Year Released: 2014

Like: Boards of Canada, Squarepusher, Mu-Ziq

Highlighted Songs: produk 29 [101], 180db_ [130], syro u473t8+e [141.98][piezoluminescence mix], aisatsana [102]

With a techno/electronic career spanning almost 30 years, distinguishing what has made Richard D. James, the sole creator under the Aphex alias, outlast the genres he perpetuated may prove difficult. Signature polyrhythms, an infatuation with the Korg synthesizer brand, drum fills that are like DMT blinks, the practice of excessive detail and painstaking complexity is a timeless staple for Richard.

The sound of “Syro” is ironically difficult to dissect. With so much variety employed, where would one start? More conventional songs like “produk 29 [101]” or “180db_ [130]” are driven along with catchy percussion lines and chittering synths, but are an entirely different sound than the ones heard on a track like “syro u473t8+e [141.98][piezoluminescence mix].”

If singles were released for this album, this would be a telling card for the bulk of “Syro.” Bleak, ambient passages make way into huge peaks of skittering drum sounds that wrap themselves around sequenced keyboards, traveling throughout the song like a jet boat.

The album’s electricity is dampened at parts, allowing for small breaths of release from James’s intention of overloading the listener as frequently as he can. The closer, “aisatsana [102],” being the obvious outlier within the confines of “Syro,” does a remarkable job at somehow tying up each oddly arranged end that made its way into the left and right channels.

Piano pieces aren’t out of RDJ’s wheelhouse, with his most played song on Spotify being a piano track that Kanye West utilized on his “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” album. “aisatsana [102]” pairs a low-end piano refrain with field-recordings of nature, birds chirping and a consistent, stream-like hiss. There are no wild drums or jarring synthesizers on this standalone song, just a much-needed escape from the clutches of variance and ingeniousness.

Spanning the length of 64 minutes is a phenomenal representation of what being an artist for generations is like. With gargantuan, deafening highs standing alongside comforting, serene lows, “Syro” is an artistic impression of how it is to be an “Aphex.” The weird name, the cryptic song titles, the signature monetized grin — this persona is unmatched in the current musical spectrum.

“Syro” won a Grammy, so obviously the popular culture still has use for some Cornwall hailing, red-haired goofball. I personal implore any interested listener to expose themselves to the maddening intellect of Richard James, if for any excuse, just to try something new and different. Because that’s the ultimate goal of AFX, to shock.

LCD Soundsystem

“LCD Soundsystem”

Year Released: 2005

Like: Talking Heads, David Bowie

Highlighted Songs: Tribulations, On Repeat

Rolling through the plateaus of punk and dance, LCD founder James Murphy set out to revitalize the scenes he felt grew thin around the new millennium. Inspiration found itself in the veins of this release, receiving critical praise throughout the then-blooming worldwide web.

Almost 13 years since the initial release of Soundsystem’s verbose and extensive self-titled album, the bulk of the project has already been gushed about by Pitchforkians and American Spirit smokers alike. Yet songs such as the visceral, sparking “Tribulations” sit behind in LCD’s discography as a gem from this acclaimed album.

Humbly sitting in its granulated echo chamber while this clicking rhythm casts angry influences onto Murphy’s cadence, “Tribulations” proves to be another one of LCD’s diverse experimentations that worked perfectly.

Even with songs on the album like the needlessly repetitive “On Repeat,” we see this uncaring, opinionated east-coast braggadocio telling it how it is. Observational comedy on top of a dance-punk beat amplifies Murphy’s influences like the group “Suicide” or his deep love for Krautrock (CAN, Faust, Neu!).

These combinations weren’t anything special in 2005, but the incomparable confidence that illuminates from James’s far-from-perfect vocal performance, paired with his airtight love for instruments and their untapped potential, brought this album into the vinyl shelves of collectors and casual listeners alike.

Rem Jensen can be reached at arg-arts@uidaho.edu

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