Anti-Pop Techno Beaten to Death
APHEX TWIN Come To Daddy Sire Records
The music industry is a curious beast. With Kurt Cobain's suicide and the subsequent self-destruction of the entire grunge genre, record companies suddenly found themselves scrambling for a new buzz word, a new formula that they could package and sell to teenagers across the country. Somehow they decided that electronica was the answer--a genre that had never been prevalent in America, yet had already had a long development in Europe. However, they immediately discovered that it was not as easy to market electronic music as they might have liked. A trip to the nearby record store will reveal that there are nearly more electronica subgenres than artists: ambient, illbient, jungle, acid house, drum 'n bass, acid jazz, trip hop and so on ad nauseam.
Richard James, an electronic music artist that typically goes by the moniker Aphex Twin, personifies the problems inherent in trying to market electronica. His music ranges from hard-core techno frenzies to delicate, ethereal passages, none of which can be easily pigeonholed into a style or genre. On his latest release, Come To Daddy, he runs the gamut of electronica types, revealing both the limitations of the genre and its vast potential.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, James is not a pop musician in the traditional sense of the word. His music transcends the limitations imposed by radio and mass-market formats, and passes into a realm normally reserved for serious compositional work. This is both his strength and greatest weakness--his music has much greater depth than acts such as The Prodigy, but it is probably destined to never achieve much commercial notice. In the same sense that Brian Eno extended the world of rock music with releases like Another Green World in the 70s, James extends the role of electronic music today.
On Come To Daddy, James has crafted a remarkable symphony of beats, percussion, found sound, distorted vocals and more beats. All in all, it is percussion--of every imaginable shape and color--that marks the album. Obsessed with cramming as many percussive hits into as small a time space as possible, James loads the album with polyrhythms, crazed snare hits and percussive sequences that simply cannot be described by words. When he occasionally pulls away the percussion, letting his ethereal, ghostly melodies rise to the top of the mix, it is like a breath of fresh air before he pulls the listener once again into the maelstrom.
This account may seem to indicate that Come To Daddy is a cacophonous, nearly unlistenable mess, which is not the case at all. The amount of percussion is matched only by James's care in crafting his music--each snare hit, cymbal crash and synthesizer note is there for a reason. The complexity of the arrangements serves to emphasize that this is music that cannot be internalized in one listen, and, indeed, Come To Daddy is not for everyone.
The eight-song EP begins with the dense fury of "Come To Daddy, Pappy Mix," which contains only the lyrics "I want your soul/I will eat your soul." These are perhaps the least disturbing of the few vocal snippets on the album. All the vocals are presumably provided by James himself, but they are all altered to such a degree that he sounds alternately like a little child, a demonic killer and an old man. After the unsettling clamor of the first track, James provides a respite with "Flim," a soft, lilting instrumental which still manages to sound menacing. Perhaps the most interesting track on the album is "Bucephalus Bouncing Ball," which can only be described as the sound of a crazed ball lost somewhere inside a monstrous machine. On some tracks, James lets his considerable pop sensibilities shine through. "To Cure a Weakling Child, Contour Regard" would not sound out of place on a cutting edge electronica compilation, and even manages to sound poppy and funky while being totally original.
Unfortunately, melodies have taken a back seat on Come To Daddy. Fans of the dark, spectral soundscapes on James's masterly Selected Ambient Works Volume II will lament the lack of comparable melodic beauty. Slower tracks such as "Flim" don't stand up as well on repeat listens, although they serve as welcome breaks between the aural roar of the louder songs.
This is not music to listen to casually. The main theme in Aphex Twin's work seems to be that we lose our humanity to machines or perhaps that machines are taking on their own humanity. This is a scary thought, and Aphex Twin's music mirrors that thought, even when it tries to sound comforting. The twisted, evil vocal distortions are the only human sounds in a world of machines--voices decrying our increasing lack of real human companionship. This is music for the next millennium indeed.