When it was announced that Aphex Twin would be returning to the forefront of the electronic music spectrum after 13 years without an official album release to his name, millions of fans immediately began awaiting in anticipation, unsure of what they might hear from the gifted hands of Richard D James. Syro, his 6th official album, regresses ever so slightly back to the 90’s, acting much like a nostalgic trip back to a time when IDM was plastered across speakers throughout the world to rejoicing fans hopped on ecstasy, both in the literal and figurative sense. Whether for better or worse, this sound, even admitted to by James himself, hasn’t evolved or departed from his near-trademarked approach to making dense, yet highly addictive music. Fans clamoring for a chance to hear more of this work will leave satisfied, but, in the words of James, “there’s no next-level beats on [t]here.” Unfortunately speaking, that largely seems to be the case on Syro, an album filled with tracks long since composed thrown into a wrapped gift with a bow on top to keep fans of his work content. The foundation Aphex Twin laid out for much of IDM has been highly influential, and, while expecting another earth-shattering piece would have been foolish, the record here disappoints by simply regurgitating the moves, shakes and rhythms that got Aphex Twin famous.
Compared to his work during the 90’s, nothing here is ground-breaking or inventive and is merely a reconstituting of his previous works, albums that were, in their time revolutionary, but nearly two decades long since past seem a bit outdated. While not received as highly as his other works, Drukqs, his last full-length release, featured creativity in terms of expanding past his musical-shtick, throwing curveballs at the listener with every turn. This inventiveness is sorely lacking here, with his highly-compressed, rapid electronic funk becoming redundant past the third track at which point the lust of new sounds begins to wear off. The last bastion of hope however, ‘”Aisatsana ,”‘ breaks apart from the mold of its predecessors, tearing down the rigid walls of Twin’s perfection, leaving a lone piano to play a melody surrounded by frolicking birds. While its placement is predictable on the caboose, the song still manages to separate itself from the rest of the bunch, something all the others have an inability to accomplish. For electronic pieces, seguing throughout an album requires little more than a parallel point to which the following movement can begin since each track is devoid of meaning. On Syro, each track stands alone, which doesn’t help for its cohesion, especially considering each song works in the same way.
Now, while his vision may have been narrow-sighted, his technical abilities at creating these lush mechanical landscapes has certainly sharpened. Sounds protrude from the walls, bouncing off each other, rather than endlessly looping through until their end. Voices reminiscent of the the eeriest Boards Of Canada tracks latch onto certain sounds, becoming distorted as their lifted across the space to the point where every voice heard is entirely inaudible. Bass reverberations are felt, not simply heard. This is best shown on ‘”S950tx16wasr10 [163.97]”(Earth Portal Mix),’ where, nearing the track’s conclusion of hectic ping-pong battles between synthesizers and drum machines, a protruding bass erupts, laying its claim to the track as everything around it shakes from its mere existence. Despite the connection between tracks lacking, each track itself takes on many different forms, never content on relaxing on one sound too long. Every song features this method of uneasiness, however the 10-minute ‘”XMAS_EVET10 ” (Thanaton3 Mix)’ best showcases it, bending and weaving effortlessly with which a minute-by-minute tour of the track will prove that no sound idles enough to project itself as leader. It’s this technical mastery that will keep listeners entertained with their ears perked, awaiting the chance to hear the next sound that slipped past them in the previous listens.
Despite the redundancy on Syro there are some standouts, the most noticeable of which is the opener and lead single ‘”Minipops 67 [120.2]” (Source Field Mix)’ which sets the album off on the right foot with a collage melded with nostalgia in mind. The entire mixing sums up dance, house, trip-hop, ambient and IDM of the 90’s congruently within its 5-minute span, as spurts of each genre spear with one another, overlapping invisibly against the dreamy synths that cascade in the background. Elsewhere these genre lines are more easily defined, especially the house-raiser ‘”180db_”,’ which would have been one hell of a greeter to coked out ravers before entering their favorite laser-infected club. And finally, ‘”CIRCLONT14 [152.97]” (Shrymoming Mix)’ successfully fuses breakneck techno with Twin’s stapled ambient influences, predominately seen with the addition of a female voice lulling about in the middle portion accompanied by gnarled chops of synthetic origin and soft, airy hums. These highlights however are few and far between, with most of Syro being composed of Aphex’s prototypical spacey trances set to the tune of a Sci-Fi chase scene hopped up on adderall, something that can’t last collectively for an extended period of time.
For all the hope that Syro instilled upon its announcement on Tor, one can’t feel a little let down based on the collection of tracks seen here. There’s no doubt James poured his talents into the piece, it’s just what’s lacking the most is the piece itself, dated and purely nostalgic of his past works, all of which took place in a decade much different than ours. There’s two sides to this coin however. There will be some, like myself, who critique the work of an artist who becomes to attached to his craft at which point he ceases to expand, then they’ll be others who laud the artist for creating yet another work similar to one they’ve loved in the past. The lasting appeal of Syro will largely depend on James’ die-hard fans, ones that will carry the album to its grave. Few following the latest trends in Electronic, that of DubStep and Grime, will see little appeal here, with songs lacking obvious beat switches, abolishing any time for downtempo, and being impaired of a ear-curdling bass. Syro is perfect for those expecting more of Aphex Twin’s polished style but bitter to those who wished to see what’s evolved in the mind of Richard D James over the past decade. It’s an album released long past its prime, dotted with memorably pristine soundscapes.