Aphex Twin releases playful new EP

By Jackson Maxwell


When Richard D. James first unveiled “Syro,” his first album as Aphex Twin in 13 years to an unsuspecting world last fall, he said it was the most accessible of at least half a dozen finished works that he had recorded during the preceding decade-plus. Considering the sheer size of his output in the 1990s, the idea of a handful of finished Aphex Twin albums sitting in James’ archives was not difficult to conceive.

And though it is unknown when “Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2” was recorded – for all we know, James could have dashed if off a month ago – it would seem as though it is one of the less accessible finished works James was referring to a few months ago.

Standing in stark contrast to the smooth, organic sounds of “Syro,” James’ second release as Aphex Twin in the last five months mostly lives up to its title. The EP’s 13 tracks are mostly brief, prepared piano or percussion pieces with six tracks clocking in at less than a minute. That brevity makes the EP a fidgety listen; just when one thinks they have figured out James’ desired direction, he abruptly throws the listener off course.

Its brevity also makes “Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2” a more playful outing than “Syro,” with zany oddities like the 20-second snare piece, “snar2” and the wild piano lines of “disk aud1_12,” which clocks in at a total of nine seconds.

But while it may be more fun in a way, “Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments,” released Jan. 23, lacks the compositional mastery that made “Syro” such an engaging experience. With their mechanical origins, these computerized individual instruments just do not have the same impact as the endless layers of analog synths James usually uses as his palette.

Consider “piano un1 arpej,” one of the EP’s piano-based pieces. The track flutters around aimlessly for the entirety of its 50-second duration, stumbling upon one or two beautiful clusters of chords, but never finding one to permanently settle on. From “Avril 14th,” the centerpiece of his 2001 album, “Drukqs,” one can discern that James can churn out a stunning piano melody in less than two minutes.

But few of the pieces on “Acoustic Instruments” seem to have the focus of the loop-based pieces on “Drukqs,” the closest analog to this EP in James’ discography. Closer “hat5c 0001 rec-4” – you really have to love these titles, if nothing else – is one of the EP’s more live-sounding moments, with an off-kilter rhythm that brings cosmic Krautrock like Can to mind. “disk prep calrec2 barn dance (slo)” has a near-industrial vibe, with its one-note melody and clattering, metallic percussion.

Opener “diskhat ALL prepared1mixed 13,” with its slow evolution from a simple creeper to a complex, rhythmically diverse composition, is the EP’s most fully fleshed out and fully realized piece. Consistently unpredictable and experimental, it is an appropriate tone-setter for the rest of the album.

In recent weeks, numerous, mysterious SoundCloud accounts anonymously released dozens of tracks that sounded very much like James’ work. Most of these tracks have since been confirmed as authentic by James’ extensive, die-hard fan base.

With this development, there is no telling how large James’ vault of music is. If his past is any indication, “Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2” may be far from the last we hear of James in 2015.

Even if his newest EP is disappointingly mechanical and scatterbrained, one gets the feeling that James has quite a few more releases like this one waiting in the wings.

Jackson Maxwell can be reached at [email protected]