Reunions and comebacks have never seemed quite so prevalent in popular music as they are now. And the tools at our disposal in the digital age only put the hype machine in overdrive — cryptic social media campaigns start up, with a post of a picture of what might be an album, and everyone goes apeshit. And that’s putting it mildly. Last year when Boards Of Canada dropped mysterious clues through rare vinyl singles, they engaged a viral campaign in a unique and fun scavenger-hunt sort of way. It worked, and people were enthusiastic to hear Tomorrow’s Harvest, the first new music in eight years from the long dormant group. A similar thing happened just over a month ago, as FACT Magazine reported a large neon green blimp floating over London, bearing the ominous Aphex Twin logo and the numbers 2014 printed on its side. Spray-painted Aphex Twin logos appeared on the sidewalks of New York City.
The last bit of cryptic information to set up this Aphex Twin puzzle came from the recent Caustic Window digital release, which came about through a highly successful crowdfunding campaign, with the blessing of the artist no less. Then, the bomb finally dropped: James revealed the news of his first new album in 13 years through unconventional means by utilizing Deep Web tools to reveal the tracks, the album title, the technical details and of course — as a characteristically twisted joke — from what device the information was being read. It would seem as though James had been watching and waiting all this time from his digital panopticon, anticipating the next move and figuring out more ways to fuck with everyone. He would do that.
To call that album, Syro, a comeback is misleading. Instead it’s the long-awaited product of a period of prolific creative output which, until now, never actually made its way to the consumer. Back in 2010, James revealed to a Spanish publication he has 10 albums worth of songs, but never made clear when they would be released. He mentions owning stockpiles of other tracks, sitting on various hard drives, with their release remaining uncertain. Now, four years later, an actual album exists — with the possibility of more new music to come. As returns go, however, Syro is a fantastic one, and while these tracks have been written and recorded in just the last few years, they sound just as much an essential part of Aphex Twin’s body of work. Some of it is familiar; the 10-minute suite, “XMAS_EVET10 (Thanaton3 Mix)”, first debuted back in the early summer of 2010. And while the video in question showed some colorful visuals and little of James, the audio was impeccable and the first example of new complex music. “Minipops 67 (Source Field Mix)”, Syro’s first reveal of new material, integrates synths, tight drums, and reversed vocal samples that belong to him, his kids, his wife and his parents. It seems odd, but similarly, enjoyable and fitting. These samples appear all throughout the album, each placed and tinkered with to create an interesting effect that synchronizes with the music.
While it may come off at first as a bit disjointed, Syro is sensibly crafted, headphone friendly and one of those few works that warrants countless revisits and unraveling of layers. It’s almost as though each instrument — pianos, synths, drums, loops — were all individually tailored to work together seamlessly. It’s hard to state which particular track is stellar or outstanding, because all of them contain their own special aspects. There are bits and pieces of instrumental sounds tucked into each song, waiting to be discovered. “4 bit 9d api+e+6” contains an abundance of layers, creating an intricate and impressive composition. Similarly, “180db_” continues the trend and commands dark droning synths woven with a rapid drumbeat. Syro’s closer, “Aisatsana,” echoes the sentiments from James’ stellar piano works, featured prominently on Selected Ambient Works Vol II, with a gorgeous minimal arrangement, and a layer of ambient nature sounds. It’s one of those few pieces of music that synchronizes perfectly and showcases his talents outside of IDM’s genre-specific sound. Syro proves James is not necessarily a musician; he’s an electronic engineer concerned with the scientific aspects of creating music. His interests lie in the patterns and algorithms attached to each of his compositions. Simply put, James creates music that is forward thinking. And with this album, James has opened the door to only keep progressing further.