The god-like regard all my favorite producers have for Aphex Twin, whose real name is Richard D. James, is reason enough to take a trip down his sonic rabbit hole. And we’re happy to report that his new Collapse EP, which fans all over the world have been freaking out about since posters for it began appearing around the world earlier this summer, lives up to the hype. As The Guardian wrote in 2014 about the Aphex Twin sound, “His music is a perfect mix of mystery and adrenaline.” His last album Syro, which came out that year, was 13 years in the making following 2001’s Drukqs and received a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize. It was followed by the Cheetah EP in 2016, and now Aphex Twin has unleashed the next piece in his massive body of work (he’s put out eight studio albums, seven compilations, and 41 EPs in a 32-year career span).
Collapse, to me, feels fraught with deeper meaning than its largely wordless, free-form reverie lets on to. The lead single “T69 Collapse” (which had its Weirdcore-directed music video banned from Adult Swim) seems to depict a reboot of the simulation, so to speak: check that out here if you haven’t already. Considering how insane things are in the world right now, perhaps a hard restart for mankind isn’t the worst idea, and maybe it doesn’t have to be a devastating process. It feels like his output this time is as thought-provoking as his early releases in the ’90s which began Aphex Twin’s cult following. He’s at his most melodic on “MT1 T29r2,” fraught with liquid breaks and high-pitched video game sounds, until the last minute when it feels like the track quite literally warps into a pitched-down, slower mood.
The sheer purity of the beats on this album is an audiophile’s wet dream. High resolution is a standard, not a goal for this artist. The drum samples feel so calculated yet so organic, and the intent synth structures progress every song naturally into its next logical step. Distortion becomes a high compliment, dirty bass becomes “earthy low end,” and every sound has an immediate purpose. Richard channels the original intent of electroacoustic pioneers such as Stockhausen and Pierre Henry into a structured, gridded canvas. It’s as if the music lives in an immaculate white room in which every sound creates negative space that the listener expects themselves to pay attention to.
The album carries much of the same tropes we’ve come to expect from RDJ; phrenetic, textured rhythm surrounded by lush, vivid synthscapes, but this time with a more ominous tone. Track by track, the record switches from an inviting, familiar atmosphere to a more sinister, anxious tone at the push of about 500 buttons. It’s a pensive and disturbing album with breaks of dream-like eagerness, and vice versa. In classic Aphex style, the track titles read as random files taken from the databases of different mysterious companies, but with a little digging they can be deciphered. “T69” is a modular synth, “1st 44” is referencing a 44-key keyboard, as well as the track “2 R8’s, FZ20m, & a 909,” a drum machine, sample synth, and a 909.
The closer “Pythex” is movie music that could have been made for a warrior hero’s post-battle schlep back to humanity, which gets a little hairy once the shock starts to wear off just after the two-minute mark. Rapid-fire percussion and bass take over, and an ominous tapestry of synths looms off in the distance. But the hero of this EP’s story, which I personally believe to be mankind, gets out alive in the end. We hear the spaceship’s computer system start booting up in the song’s final 30 seconds, but based on the “T69 Collapse” video, I suspect Aphex Twin might be showing us that Earth is our species’ spaceship. Did we just blow your mind? I hope so.
Aphex Twin’s brain is like the sound of a virtual beehive with millions of workers all dedicated to creating a compelling, inventive piece of art. If you’re a fan, you know exactly what to expect – if you’ve never heard it, you’re in for a ride. Grab the best headphones you can find and get ready for the musical equivalent of an ear irrigation.