Aphex Twin - Syro 3xLP
Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin, while undoubtedly considered one of the key figures within dance music and dance culture, simultaneously manages to both celebrate and mock, or at least have fun with, that very same dance music and dance culture. He has one foot firmly planted on the dancefloor while he uses the other to give dance music a good kick in the ass. This couldn't be more true than on Syro, which actually might be his most danceable album in years, maybe ever. Whereas albums like, Richard D. James, I Care Because You Do and Drukqs, might make you think you can dance to them before throwing you horribly out of step, it's conceivable that one could actually dance to the songs on Syro, without missing a beat. This might initially suggest that Syro might be Aphex Twin's least adventurous album, his most conventional to date. Of course, it could be pointed out, that relative to his other albums, the idea of Aphex Twin making a straightforward dance record is in itself sort of adventurous. If only it was that simple, if only Syro was in fact a straightforward dance record. Aphex Twin's music is more interested in subverting and somehow actually drawing our attention to the way in which we can be manipulated by that repetition. That may be more true than ever on Syro, simply because this record might actually get you to dance. But just when you start to get lost in a groove, something alien and ominous will creep in, like a spider letting you know that you've been caught in it's web. These moments, of which there are plenty, make it clear that if you came to this particular dance party expecting the usual bit of the ol' bump-n-grind, then you should prepare to have your expectations confounded constantly. These moments are akin to being at a party when the acid starts to kick in and things begin to get a bit strange.
There is a lot about Syro as a whole, that brings to mind Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker". It's not that any one song is that sonically similar to "Windowlicker", although many of the songs do juxtapose dance tropes with weirder, more experimental sounds, in a way that does seem similar. But what Syro has in common with "Windowlicker" is actually more philosophical and has more to do with the content of the Chris Cunningham directed video, than the song itself. The way in which the two male protagonists show up to an Aphex Twin "hosted" "dance party", with the expectation of having nothin' but a good time, only to be caught off guard by something far stranger, and to their sensibilities, far more disturbing. This album, much in the same way, is constantly disturbing and defying any expectations of where the listener thinks it might go. Take a song like "180 db", which aside from the wavering and almost sickly tone in the background (which might already be saying something), comes across as a straight ahead banger. But just when things seem to be getting a bit too normal, this most "normal", and perhaps tellingly shortest, of all the tracks, leads into one of the strangest intros on the record, namely the tweaked "AFX 237V7" A.K.A. "Rubber Johnny"-like vocals of "Circlont 6A". Not that Aphex Twin is any stranger to confounding expectations, he's been doing it his whole career, it's just that on Syro, he might be doing it in a way that is surprisingly, and subversively subtle.