Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works Volume II 3xLP
Selected Ambient Works Volume II has been required listening since the album was originally released in 1994 right as the Aphex Twin was poised to capture the world's imagination with his mutant electronica, self-immolating techno, and acid laden drill 'n' bass. Here, the second chapter of Aphex's ambient works (sadly, no third volume followed this) is exactly what is claims to be, a brilliant collection of ambient works that re-engineered and re-interpreted Brian Eno's definition of ambient as a convoluted Phillip K. Dick cosmology of dreaming androids and quixotic sentient machines. This album stands at a crossroads of a number of musicological strains, with Aphex Twin's Richard D. James self-aware and self-conscious of the broader implications of making not just a collection of ambient music, but in making this collection of ambient music at that particular time. In the post-rave aftermath in the UK of the early '90s, chill-rooms were the zones for all sorts of lightweight collages of directionless new age musics and much of the 'ambient' music that was being produced around those chill-rooms was essentially amorphous techno that tempered the rhythm to a soft pulse and added a bird song here or there (e.g. The Orb, Future Sound Of London); but an ambient music that spoke to a community that was beginning to shape their digital / virtual selves was lacking.
Enter Richard D. James and the Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II. The album follows the direction of Eno's Music For Airports with 24 vignettes that ascribe to a constant atmosphere of gilded tones and lugubrious rhythms, which are more often sequenced patterns and cybernetic echoes through mercurial pools of sound. Tracks glisten, lurch, dissolve, morph, materialize, crystallize, bloom, and collapse amidst a subtle latticework of beguiling electronic melody, something that the Aphex Twin has always had in spades. It was a brilliant record when it came out, and it's still brilliant today. This is especially true with the resurgence of new age wallpaper music, as this album outshines pretty much everything on the current landscape.
For nostalgia's sake, we'll reprise what we wrote nearly twenty years ago about this record: "James sonically replicated the post-slumber / pre-waking state when sunlight first strikes the dream riddled eye within the memory banks of his rewired samplers. A beautiful, synaesthetic and haunting post-techno ambient album that really must be heard!" How true. How true.