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Richard D. James, aka AFX, Caustic Window, and for this record, Aphex Twin, is one of the pioneers of electronica. His first venture into the ambient world contained techno beats, synth work, and complex programming abound. For his second try at ambience, he ditched beats in general and decided to go into a softer, minimalistic, more easy listening direction, or as I call it, the "Brian Eno Way." Unlike Mr. Eno, though, this record isn't so much soothing as it is nail-bitingly creepy. I'll be honest. This is a scary album. Not scary as in jump out and shout "Boo!" scary, but scary as in slow, mood setting pieces with subtle noises that would frighten you to death if you were out alone instead of at home where it's safe. Basically, this is a soundtrack for a haunted house.
Nearly all the songs here are dark, seedy compositions that don't exactly give off an aura of hope. Just like happiness, they also lack names, instead having just a picture (except for Blue Calx). Each picture coincides with a track, and gives a general idea as to the mood of the song. Radiator
, for example, gives off the feeling that you're hearing someone play on, well, a radiator. Shiny metal rods
sounds about like you could imagine shiny metal rods to sound like. This is more a trip into Industrial territory, more than anything, with it's pulsing percussion and grating synth. It sounds like an S&M bar located in a small, abandoned warehouse somewhere in Romania. Creepy. Hankie
sounds like it belongs some sort of psychological thriller involving an axe murderer of some kind. Mold
gives the impression that you're brain is eroding away, while you lie curled in your hopeless little ball wanting mommy. White blur 1
is composed mainly of what sounds like windchimes on a dark, stormy night with slow voice samples and static going in the background. Spots
sounds exactly like you've always imagined a haunted house to sound like: a slow breeze with soft whispering by unseen figures.
Not everything here is on the dark side of things though. A select few tunes are fairly happy sounding. Hexagon
is reminiscent of the Aphex of earlier works, with an actual beat and pulsing synth. Lichen
gives off a general feeling of happiness with it's continuous Eno-like structure as soothing pitches weave back and forth. It makes you feel like all your troubles have passed you by. For the seven or so minutes you become ingrossed in the minimalist beauty of this song, they are. Z twig
is just an easy going melody on what sounds like would be a type of pitched percussion, a la marimbas. The star of the entire album, or at least, the optimistic side, is the wonderful Rhubarb
. About the only way to describe it is to imagine you're back inside your mother's womb. You're warm, cozy, and too happy to be disturbed by all that spicy food she seems set on eating. A general feeling of euphoria flows through you as you simply lull the day away. A masterpiece of ambience, truely. With these few tracks, Richard shows his compassionate side; that he's not all grating techno beats, high bpm's, and clunking electronic sounds.
This is one of Aphex Twin's crowning achievements, with it's terrifying soundscapes and creepy sounds. But also one with a gentle side, in it's few and far between happiness inducing pieces. These tracks as an album form what is likely one of the greater ambient experiences you could have in recent memory. One that's filled with dread, nervousness, and at times, sheer joy. These tracks are long, so they're easy to just zone out to while staring into space. That's not such a bad thing, though, as that's what it was designed for. If you try to pay too much attention to the goings on in this record, you could easilly become bored with it. That's understandable, as there's roughly 150 minutes worth of material here, so bide your time. Take it in a little per session, or float away all at once. Curl up, read a good book, and try to not call for Mommy.