‘Syro’ proves Aphex Twin is still years ahead of his contemporaries

Devon Wilson

For years, Richard D. James has been regarded as one of the most highly influential pioneers in electronic music. His work in the ‘90s helped to redefine what electronic music meant and brought new listeners into the genre. His last album as Aphex Twin was released 13 years ago and a new album under this moniker is a huge deal for music.

The promotion for the album began when a blimp featuring the Aphex Twin logo was spotted over England. Later that day, the logo was found spray-painted around New York City. However, the album was not officially announced until several days later at which point details on the upcoming album were released on the deep web, requiring a special browser to access. Listening parties for the album were announced around the world within the following weeks.

Now that “Syro” has finally reached its long-awaited release, the question becomes how it holds up to the hype. Plenty of artists over the years have released groundbreaking albums only to lose their spark. After 13 years, it is easy to feel a level of uncertainty as to what Aphex Twin still has to offer, yet “Syro” is as captivating as his most highly-regarded work.

At first listen, “Syro” can be somewhat intimidating. It feels as though it requires total devotion in order to absorb each individual sound, and with the complexity that goes along with these songs, that is no easy feat. But this complexity makes going back to “Syro” even more enjoyable. The surplus of strange, and sometimes puzzling, noises grab your attention and retain it for just over an hour. After several plays, the songs still amaze as much as the initial listen, if not more. As the understanding of the work increases, so does the level of appreciation for exactly what Aphex Twin creates.

Like most of Aphex Twin’s work there is absolutely no denying that it is his. The album kicks off with the pulsating beat and phased out vocals of “Minipops 67 (source field mix).” Released as a single toward the beginning of September, “Minipops 67” is a near classic on its own but does an even better job in welcoming the listener to “Syro.”
“Produk 29” provides a feeling of nostalgia and synth patches that almost necessitates a comparison to the electronic duo Boards of Canada. The electronic duo craft a perfect blend of analog synths and unrelenting dark atmospheres. “Produk 29” appears to come from a very similar place, although something different is happening there.
From here, Aphex Twin chooses to dwell in this place. The moody undercurrent of “180db_” gives off an unsettling vibe which transitions into the futuristic sounds of “CIRCLONT6A (syrobonkus mix).” The song quickly becomes frantic and does not let up. Amidst the hectic flurry of noises, “fz pseudotimestretch+e+3” comes and goes before emerging “CIRCLONT14 (shrymoming mix),” a collection of sounds from seemingly a different dimension.

The second to last track, “s950tx16wasr10 (earth portal mix)” serves as a passage from the bizarre to the familiar. “Aisatsana” is a gorgeous piano piece which concludes “Syro.” All of the madness that makes up the album leads towards the cathartic beauty of a simple piano piece that is especially comforting after the hour that comes before it.
“Syro” feels visionary. Aphex Twin lives light years ahead of most musicians, and it seems that even after all these years, he can still produce noises no one else has imagined.