Richard D. James seems very at ease these days. To be fair, this particularly introverted Cornish oddball was never really one for hype. But having spent the ‘90s taking electronic music to complex new highs over and over again, the 47-year-old’s recent re-appearance under the Aphex Twin moniker, beginning with 2014’s ‘Syro’, is very much on his own terms.
This may mean that the ‘Collapse’ EP, the next instalment of Richard’s Indian summer, isn’t exactly a groundbreaking departure from the Aphex Twin of old. However, there is a palpable sense from this project that he’s putting more time than ever into his work: the final product is as dense, free, and diverse as Aphex Twin has ever been.
For the not in-numerous points of lethargy and creative constraint on ‘Syro’, this new EP immediately dispels fears of a repeat with its title track, T69 Collapse, a song that embodies concision. Airtight with soft piano riffs and thick, playful bass lines, the song’s opening comes nowhere near its sell-by date before being thrown into a breakneck, grandiose decay towards fibre-optic oblivion.
When the track’s warmer elements are refreshingly re-introduced as a dreamy closer, it’s with only a fraction of its previous turbulence. A useful preview montage to the rest of the EP, the song gets a lot of the mania out of the way early on while still leaving something for everyone, whether it’s a stable effervescence or unpredictable futurism.
Just as Richard’s earlier work had a knack for making drum ‘n’ bass or jungle sound like he invented the genres himself, ‘Collapse’ is at its diverse best when propped up by advanced and welcome glides into other sonic palettes. The stripped-back 1st 44 with its prevailing, repetitive bass growls and muffled vocal screams, would not sound out of place on a Mumdance or Death Grips record.
Then there’s the trancey abundance10edit [2 R8’s, FZ20m & a 909], easily the EP’s most smooth-flowing and enjoyable track for a slow-burning, unique trap-influenced blend. Unhurried and open, it provides a perfect home for a momentarily dreamy excursion on the EP, incorporating joyfully erratic snares and two thick, pretty bass leads destined for an outdoor rave in July.
The Aphex Twin signature ostentatious mid-track switch-up also creeps back into ‘Collapse’, and arguably at levels of abruptness we haven’t seen since the ‘Richard D. James Album’. MT1 t29r2’s persistent but neat back-and-forths between recondite harp arpeggios and angular bloops certainly feel random at first listen, and are the closest we get to structural abstraction on the EP outside of T69 Collapse. However, the track impressively manages not to compromise on musicality.
The sharpest turn comes during the closer pthex: initially taking on the guise of a pensive acid house dream, the track revaluates itself for just a moment before transforming into an eerie jungle juggernaut. The closest to anything resembling a 90s Aphex Twin throwback, pthex feels like a statement: “I never went away, this is what I’ll always be.”
There are few moments of comfort on this five-track journey, but it’s a price worth paying to have Richard back at his boundary-pushing best. If ‘Syro’ can be characterised for its momentum and optimism, it’s certainly more of a slog to arrive at those junctures on ‘Collapse’.
But the change is welcome and rewarding. Aphex Twin has always been at its most productive when the music is a battleground of sounds fighting for the foreground, but at only 29 textured, dynamic minutes, there simply isn’t room for staleness here.