It’s been well documented that Syro is not, in fact, the first new music from Richard D. James in 13 years, which somewhat misses the point as his music takes on a whole other significance when released under the name of Aphex Twin. James himself is well aware of this, as are the people at Warp Records, whose inspired blimp-related promotion was the first clue that Aphex Twin was indeed back in action.

Of course, it’s not entirely new music either. Several tracks have made appearances at shows over the years before being gathered to represent what should be a pretty scattershot collection of Aphex Twin music from the last seven years or so. That just makes the cohesion of Syro even more remarkable.

This is not the sound of reinvention from Aphex Twin. Instead, it is an extension of avenues he has previously explored in a two-decade career. The synapse-melting truth evident on Syro is that the man operates on a level all his own, in a genre of his own making, and still sounds like nothing else on the planet.

In the accelerated progression (and regression) of electronic music, this is music that stands apart from trends and belongs in its own realm. Longtime listeners might miss the edginess of some of his previous work and may yearn for harsher edges, but the openness and generosity of Syro is half of its appeal. This might not be the most cutting-edge music released under the name Aphex Twin, but it is among the best.


Of course, Syro isn’t all sunshine and roses either. Even the relatively straightforward opener “minipops 67 [120.2] (source field mix)” twists and morphs in a way that will have the average EDM fan running for the hills in fear. Those beats, along with the unorthodox melodic scales and heavily altered vocals, are unmistakably the work of James. Things only head outwards from there, with a ten-minute opus that is stunning in its complexity, execution, and economy of ideas, of which there are more in this single track than on most complete albums this year.

Plenty of moments on Syro recall touchstones throughout Aphex Twin’s career. To some degree, that opener feels like a “Windowlicker” sibling. Some of the calmer melodies beneath the storm of effects bear a resemblance to the Selected Ambient Works era. Harder tracks on the album might not go as far as the terrifying likes of “Ventolin,” but they nevertheless remind you that Aphex Twin emerged in a golden era for dance music and rave (“180db_[130]” certainly evokes images of illegal warehouse parties). The absence of anything truly scary is a gentle reminder that the young, mischievous genius of the nineties is now merely a brilliantly talented father of two.

Fortunately, while age may have softened Aphex Twin ever so slightly, it has also focused him. The sheer level of detail in his compositions remains astonishing, but the album’s progression towards more frantic and strange material with increasingly high BPMs (the clue is in those seemingly indecipherable song titles) has a flow that makes the whole thing an absolute pleasure to listen to.

And how do you top off an hour of pulsating, funky, idiosyncratic, and wholly original electronica? James’s answer is with a gorgeous, minimalist piano piece. In the context of what’s gone before, that’s practically a punk-rock statement.

Some might see the album as all a bit too much, and indeed trying to estimate the sheer number of man hours it must have taken to piece these dense tracks together makes my eyeballs spin in their sockets. The great thing, however, is that the world didn’t need Syro. Aphex Twin certainly didn’t need it to enhance his reputation, as his place in musical history is already thoroughly cemented. Yet it’s as impressive as anything he’s ever done. Syro is a feast, and I wholeheartedly recommend you try every course.

For more info:

Aphex Twin