FACT Magazine: Music News, New Music.

The 100 Best Albums of the 1990s

Use your ← → arrow keys to navigate
  • published
    3 Sep 2012
  • words by
    Kiran Sande, Tom Lea, Joseph Morpurgo, Angus Finlayson, Mr. Beatnick, Tim Purdom, Robin Jahdi & Tam Gunn, unless otherwise stated
  • share
     

01: APHEX TWIN
SELECTED AMBIENT WORKS 85-92
(APOLLO, 1992)

Joe Muggs: Very early on, I think before this album even, I remember reading an NME review of an Aphex Twin release that described his sound as “very ancient and very futuristic at the same time.” And really, I’ve yet to see a better summation of the appeal of Richard D. James’s best work. Listening back to Selected Ambient Works 85-92 now, just as then, it feels way ahead of its time, able to do things that producers with far more sophisticated technology are still struggling to grasp – but also like it has been around for ever, as if you could blow the dust away and have revealed the geometries of a whole other civilisation.

That “dust” is vital to how this music works. We think of Burial or Tri Angle releases as being new, but RDJ was performing the same tricks with mist and shadows 20 years ago: everything is drenched in reverb and hiss, obscuring and blending, forcing the imagination to work. It was said of Debussy that he was able to turn the piano from a mechanism with 88 hammers, each producing a separate note, into his own personal orchestra from which great waves of sound and melody emerged – and this is the trick RDJ manages too. Whether on the soft and melodic tracks drenched in the hiss of the cassette tapes on which they were recorded live, or on the hyper-real clarity of the belches and blurts of the pool of acid lava that is the album’s centrepiece ‘Green Calx’, everything flows into everything else. Everything is a part of a whole, not just because of the dust and blurring, but because every chord, every rhythm, every unwinding melody is locked into every other part with uncanny rightness.

It’s a psychedelic record in the truest sense, alarmingly evocative of acid’s synaesthesic and glossolalic qualities, full of the ecstasies of floating free and the terrors of complete disconnect from reality. The thought of the number of serious sessions it must have soundtracked over the years in itself fries the brain – but like other great drug music – from Sgt Pepper to Sly Stone, Chris & Cosey to Gaslamp Killer – it doesn’t require drugs. It also, far from being “ambient” in the true sense, has both feet on the dancefloor, extraordinarily heavy bass throughout, and a surprising understanding of black American music given how white and geeky its legacy has been seen as being. Listen now to ‘Pulsewidth’, ‘Ptolemy’ and ‘Delphinium’ and you hear a teenager from Cornwall who has managed to grasp the mechanisms of Todd Terry, Jamie Principle, Derrick May, Larry Heard and co better than almost anyone else in Britain bar A Guy Called Gerald. In short, for all its mindmelt and harmonic sophistication, it grooves like a mother.

Every so often through the album, the spell is broken for a second when you hear an element in the track faded in or out a little roughly and realise someone is actually mixing the track live – but this in fact makes the magic more powerful. It’s these moments when you realise this was made in a bedroom with jerry-rigged keyboards, solder and cable, and hands shoving faders up and down as the tracks are recorded live to tape, rather than gigabytes’ worth of processing power, that its singularity becomes even more boggling. But then each time the gaps in the scenery close up as quickly as they opened and you’re swept back away from the reality of circuitboards and gaffer tape, and back into the high cosmic drama of the sound and melody, where scale is always uncertain and time is elastic. Because this album’s appeal then and now is not about technique or cultural reference points, it’s about getting swept up in those waves of sound and melody that keep on coming and are still a pleasure to have wash over you, 20 years on.

comments


feed

FACT is the UK's best online music magazine and home to the weekly FACT mix series.
All content © 2012-2014 by The Vinyl Factory. All rights reserved.
Advertisement