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Aphex Twin – Drukqs

December 13, 2007

Having a body of work as diverse as Richard D. James sets up a lot of unreasonable expectations for fans and critics. From his early work in the late eighties through his four albums recorded under the name “Aphex Twin” and countless other recordings under other names, RDJ has blazed trails and created many unique styles that characterize him. Through those four studio albums, RDJ pioneered and arguably perfected the genres of IDM, ambiance, orchestral electro horror, jungle, drill ‘n bass, synth pop, and more. The expectation for a new Aphex Album, especially one after a long hiatus and one to lead off the new millennium, were surely extravagant and overblown. What will James concoct next, and how will it shake the musical world?

What people seem to forget is that Richard D. James makes whatever the hell kind of music he wants, and has no interest in what the critics think of him whatsoever. Whatever satiates his desire to create is enough. What made the critics unsatisfied with the double album Drukqs was that no one was quite ready to stomach the fact that he can be just as effective working comfortably within his boundaries as he does when pushing them.

I recall the man saying that Drukqs was intended to be an album for the fans. This kind of surprised me. An album for the fans, rather than for himself? Sounds like a plan. He clearly worked hard to touch on many of his previously honed styles within the album. Any fan of Aphex has noticed and possibly ailed over the fact that he never quite does the same thing twice. With the exception of the soft white futuristic pop of Selected Ambient Works 85-92, Aphex re-hashes just about every style he has pioneered. Gwely Mernans is an ambient soundscape comparable in quality to it’s brethren from Selected Ambient Works Volume 2. He spends the entire stretch of Gwarek 2 experimenting with disturbing noises, reminiscent of the bizarre psychosis of I Care Because You Do.

The biggest rehash in the album is that of his breakbeats which he pioneered on Richard D. James Album, which he spends about half the album playing with to varying success. On one hand, James is a breakbeat master, and just about everything he puts out will be unique and fun, even upon repeated listens. These breakbeats don’t quite sound like the ones that can be heard on Richard D. James album or Hangable Auto Bulb. My music teacher once told me that music can be simplified to three dimensions: the vertical chords and notes (tone), the horizontal rhythm and progression (time), and what comes out and hits our ears (taste, possibly?). If RDJ pushed his limits in the vertical sense on SAW 2 and I Care Because You Do and horizontally on Richard D. James album, then the breakbeat songs here represents a tangent graph of sound on the Cartesian Plane of Aphex’s repertoire. These synthesizers on the breakbeat tracks sound darkly, seductive, even sexy, and the breakbeats themselves are of great quality save a few here and there. The likes of Cock/Ver 10, Taking Control, Meltphace 6, and Vordhosbn especially are among the best breakbeat tracks he has ever done, and they accomplish more in single songs than most electronic artists get done on entire albums. No walls are destroyed here, but he has certainly developed his signature sound to relative perfection.

But just because Aphex isn’t pushing his own boundaries doesn’t mean he can’t do something new. A lot of where the personality of the album comes in is through short, simple songs characterized by gentle chords. Six short piano interludes punctuate the bulk of the album in equal intervals spread through the two disks. These songs are among some of Aphex’s most simple yet outwardly excellent tracks ever made, and they deserve considerable mention. Strotha Tynhe, Avril 14th, Kesson Daslef, Father, Petiatil Cx Htdui, and Nanou 2 are these songs, and each of them holds a very special, emotional simplicity and fragility. But these are not the only simple ambient songs on the album. The second song on the second disk, Btoum- Roumada, is one of the loveliest most, contemplative, and most gently crafted works in RDJs body of work. Qkthr is also another immediate standout, a minute and a half of what sounds like an accordion being played by a creaking sailboat floating in a dock. Also worth a mention are some other gentle unique pieces Jynweythek, Kladfvgbung Micshk, Hy a Scullyas lyf a Dhagrow, Ruglen Holon, and Beskhu3epnm. They have a unique sound that he has never presented before. Fragile, eastern sounding, and melodic, these are also a series of songs that will be fondly remembered. It is interesting how he works on both ends of the spectrum, crafting harsh jungle music and ambient interludes, and then juxtaposing them next to one another.

That seems to be a large portion of the problem people have with the album. Things are awkwardly placed, but upon further listens, Drukqs opens up both in respect to the songs themselves and their placement. The abrupt change from Jynweythek to Vordhosbn becomes decipherable, and then enjoyable. Drukqs is an album that confuses and confounds before it becomes enjoyable, and it seems like most critics in high places have no patience, or little will to accept something different than they were expecting. Yes, it may recycle some of Aphex’s previous styles, but it creates new ones just as much, making it a double-album that honestly couldn’t have been nailed down to a single disk without deterring the album’s charm. Drukqs is an excellent album worthy of comparison to the other four studio albums under the Aphex Twin surname, and it might even be the best. RDJ doesn’t let up, despite the fact that you have been told he does here.

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