1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 77

Syro, by Aphex Twin
Suggested by Paul Wray

It’s music like this that makes me feel stupid.

When I’m listening to an album for this project, I like to do a little reading. I generally check out Wikipedia, to get some broad strokes on the work and the artist involved. It’s always eye-opening, and always enriching, Every day’s a school day, after all.

Sometimes my reading makes me warm to the art and artist even more. And sometimes, the stuff I’m reading bamboozles me with its bizarreness, or its po-faced seriousness, or its artsiness, or its affectation.

Syro is definitely in the latter camp here.

I mean, just look at the track names! There’s the exciting “4 bit 9d api+e+6”, the wonderful “fz pseudotimestretch+e+3”, and who can forget the haunting “s950tx16wasr10” (earth portal mix)…? How on earth are you supposed to process those? Do they mean anything?  Digging deeper into the album’s conception, and marketing, and into the approach of Richard D James in general, there’s a level of pretension that borders on the ludicrous… but is that only because I’m not equipped to appreciate it?

There’s a sense of performance art to an Aphex Twin release, rather akin to the KLF burning a million dollars on a remote Scottish island. On some level, it seems churlish to focus on something as mundane as the music. It’s a driving sound, funky at its core, and it embraces a number of dance genres, techno and jungle and more. It’s rousing, and interesting, and infections, and cool. It also refuses to be boring, or to descend into that shapeless insipid dirge that can plague certain practitioners of this art.

At face value, this is a rousing success. But there’s a feeling that I can’t shake, a feeling that face value just isn’t good enough.

Naming a favourite track is tricky, as the track names simply don’t stick in the mind. I enjoyed the first one, and quite liked the long one, and the fast one was value. Overall, I’d have to say my favourite was the slow one (Aisatsana), the dreamy piano coming as a restful close to an album of frenetic and intriguing beats.

I’ll give Syro 7/10, because as a series of sounds it is pleasant and punchy and precise. Yet the whole thing has a sweet sniff of arrogance about it, somehow, and it’s hard to feel at ease when you’re wildly grasping for a deeper truth than the one you can hear.

I’ve been accused of being drawn to the simple, to rallying behind a power chord and a snare drum, to overlooking things that are more artistically adventurous. I take umbrage with that, but with Syro, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m missing something fundamental, something intrinsic to a higher enjoyment, and that the music knows, and finds me wanting because of it.

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