Give the Drummer and Pianist Some
Richard D. James exiled his popular Aphex Twin persona into near-silence following the release of Drukqs in 2001. He rose back to electronic music’s surface in 2014, buoyed mostly by the triumphant Syro LP. His newly embraced accessibility and surprising flood of output continues with the EP Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2. It’s the fourth distinct iteration of his sound in the last 12 months, a period that’s been downright revelatory even by Aphex Twin standards.
James’ return last year to public consciousness began with the rediscovery and limited release of his work as Caustic Window in the 1990s. Syro arrived in the fall, a focused LP of prickly acid electronica that found Aphex Twin more jubilant and fun than ever. During the press push surrounding the release, James uncovered synth experiments and fragments of tracks from his post-Drukqs radio silence. Now, with this new EP, we hear that third bit bent and shaped into something presentable like the second bit.
Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 is 27 minutes of Aphex Twin using a vast array of equipment and techniques to transform proper instruments into the building blocks of dance grooves and experimental music. The prime culprits here represent a Freaky Friday switcheroo of styles: piano suggesting rhythmic parts, and drums retuned and rearranged to approximate melody. The EP therefore recalls the methods of both Trent Reznor (saxophones mutated into guitars, guitars becoming choruses, etc.) and Matthew Herbert (building up entire albums from one sonic source or idea).
It’s unclear if James generated this music throughout his hiatus or closer to the time of Syro; nothing from his “SYROBONKERS” interview suggests these sounds, and his piano prowess stretches back at least to “Avril 14th.” And if this already feels like an awful lot of words to discuss “just an EP,” kudos to Aphex Twin for imbuing his work—and mythology—with such depth. Yet CCAI2 ultimately feels slight and contrived compared to Syro.
You can break down most of the EP thusly: Five tracks don’t crack a minute in length and don’t range farther than hyper-arpeggiated piano or a rap-ready drum loop. Three other longer songs—tracks 1, 3, and 13, each with some variation of “diskhat” in the title—use similar jazzy breaks and Sonic Youth tuning. Meanwhile, “disk prep calrec2 barn dance [slo]” and “DISKPREPT1” form a one-two punch of dark and moody metallic percussion.
Make no mistake, there are enjoyable and interesting compositions on here. “diskhat1” is the most insistent track of its bell-tone triad. “diskhat2” is the EP’s Boards of Canada moment, that highlight you wish it had been drawn out beyond half a minute. “DISKPREPT4” is a meditation on toy and treated piano sounds, and “piano un10 it happened” lengthens the love-song thread of “aisatsana” from Syro. But CCAI2 finds Aphex Twin sounding serious again, and if you’re not willing to buy into this particular concept maybe you should just move on.