Aphex Twin - Classics
My brother is going away to college soon, and in preparation, yesterday, he got a Mac laptop. As advertised by those obnoxious commercials with the dude from Dodgeball and the guy who wrote the book that has the whole chapter about famous hobos, he had his Mac up and running and was enjoying many of the ready-to-wear features of his laptop. He started writing songs on Garageband. He began with a simple, awkward beat, and after that added in a chromatic melody. Then he started doing a combination of weird copying and pasting, resulting in an even bigger mess than with he started with. My brother is somebody with no actual musical knowledge, a shiny new laptop, and enough curiosity to stick it out with the program and make a full song, and the end result was oddly reminiscent of some of the songs found on Aphex Twin's album Classics
, which as its name implies, is a collection of popular earlier works of Richard James.
To set the record straight, I like Aphex Twin a lot, and consider him to be incredibly talented, unlike my brother. What I was stabbing at in the previous paragraph is not that Aphex Twin has no musical knowledge, but that his pieces on Classics
sound similar to those produced by wanna-bes with Garageband or Logic or Reason, etc. Aphex Twin puts so much effort into making his pieces sound "different" that he throws around atonality and darker, more aggressive tones to the point that his pieces are convoluted, sophomoric, and actually rather boring. His pieces on this album aren't as lush as those on his two most popular LPs The Richard D. James Collection
and I Care Because You Do
, or as varied as some of his other darker, crazier LPs like Drukqs
. The result is a dry, drawn out universe of hardcore electronica, but without the variety of hardcore, mixed with trance, except without the catchy, fun backgrounds. And while the end result surely is "different" than most electronica albums, the result isn't desirable, especially in the face of his other amazing outputs.
Also, the production is unfortunately bad. I feel like there is some exception to be had, considering these songs are all from the early 90s, but they sound particularly camp and dated compared to Aphex Twin's other earlier albums, like Selected Ambient Works
, whose odd, diverse soundscapes have yet to be replicated, maybe even topped by any other artists in the genre. This album sounds like there just isn't as much effort put into the tones, which also, because this album is totally inorganic in construction, carries over into the beats. The beats here are aggressive, but without the interesting syncopation and fills of typical breakbeat or hardcore. Similarly, his melodies are reminiscent of other "darker" melodic ideas found in other strange electronica bands like Praxis, but these feel cheesy, juvenile, and superficially chromatic. Overall, I just feel the style of the album has tons of unfortunate holes in its design. This is not the Aphex Twin of his other releases. Maybe we'll attribute that to these being earlier compositions and James' tentative forays into experimental frontiers, but still, that doesn't make this album good.
There are some strong points though. I love the bubbling, rolling strength of the background on "Polynomial-C." The typical trance chords mixed with the fast synthesizer arpeggios sounds really cool, and when the beat comes in, it doesn't detract much from the overall flavor and pace of the song. In fact, that beat is the most appropriately breakbeat of any on the album. I also have a soft spot for the organic blips and bleeps on the much brighter and lighter "Analogue Bubblebath 1." At times it reminds me of a sophisticated version of something from the Napolean Dynamite soundtrack. Also, I have some respect for the "We Have Arrived" mixes found here. That song has a particularly crisp, grating tension that isn't found anywhere else on the album. The tones on those two songs are done really well and make
Overall, this album is not what I expected when I first checked it out about a year ago. After having heard his poppiest songs like "Flim" and "4," as well as his most insane like "Windowlicker" and "St. Michael's Mix," this just felt like some gross inbetween of the two. It feels like the aural equivalent of mixing two opposite colors on the color wheel, and getting brown. And really, who likes brown? Maybe my brother.
Recommended Tracks: Polynomial-C, Analogue Bubblebath 1, We Have Arrived