50 greatest aphex twin songs tracks 10-8-2013

There are certain musicians who prompt a special kind of following; a specifically cultish attitude to fandom that might lack the worldwide spread of say, The Beatles, but more than makes up for it with intensity.

Tool, Boards of Canada, Radiohead – these are the sort of acts who, to use Boards of Canada as an example, can encrypt clues for their new album in the code of a message board header and have their fans discover it within a day. It’s an obsessive approach that only a small scattering of acts, worldwide, prompt, and Richard D. James is one of those musicians.

Best known as Aphex Twin, but with a small army of other aliases to his name (Caustic Window, Polygon Window, AFX, The Tuss, etc), there’s arguably nobody in electronic music as innovative and consistent as RDJ. He made dub techno before Basic Channel, scuzzy Brit-techno before the Birmingham boys, and even if acid was born in Chicago, he didn’t take long to make the likes of Phuture seem primitive. But at the heart of what makes Aphex so revered; the reason he’s talked about as not just an electronic innovator but as the sphere’s definitive artist, is this: no one writes melodies like him. Take any of the tracks from this list’s top 10 and ditch the drums, and you’d still have a classic. How many dance producers can you say that about today?

Although his releases have slowed down in recent years – which isn’t to say Aphex has stopped making music, in fact, we understand that more is on the way the more he sorts out certain marital issues – Aphex’s geek stock is as high as ever. Over at forums like We Are The Music Makers any new producer with no photos and a dab hand in acid basslines gets talked about in those same hushed tones (“is it… him?”), and any real sniff of a potential new record from the man himself will be reported everywhere within hours. These are FACT’s 50 favourite Aphex Twin tracks, ranked from bottom to top.

Update: FACT reader Barry Greaves has made a Youtube playlist of all 50 tracks. Stream it here.


50. The Tuss
‘Last Rushup 10’
(Rushup Edge, Rephlex, 2007)

Arriving under an alias straight out of the Throbbing Gristle playbook, Rushup Edge is a fun if inessential set of rainbow-coloured acid. ‘Last Rushup 10’ is pretty obviously the main draw – a shapeshifter that takes a couple of cues from the UK breaks scene without going all Krafty Kutz on our collective fundaments.


49. David Bowie & Philip Glass
‘Heroes’ (Aphex Twin Remix)
(“Heroes” Symphony, Point Music, 1997)

Some proper RDJ détournment. Aphex’s ‘Heroes’ remix collides two different versions of the track – Bowie’s 1977 original, and Philip Glass’ subsequent 1996 reimagining. The results are wonderfully queasy, Glass’ treated strings surging and receding as Bowie’s voice is warped, pitch-bent, and brutalised beyond recognition.


48. Aphex Twin
‘Beetles’
(Girl/Boy EP, Warp, 1996)

From ‘Milkman’ to ‘Funny Little Man’, there’s a well-defined subset of James tracks that are designed to quietly scare the shit out of you – but there’s nothing quite as creepy as pastoral Aphex. ‘Beetles’ is short, pretty, and wicked to the core; if James veers a little too close to scatological or the schlocky, this gets the sweet/sour balance just right.


47. B. Strider
‘Untitled’
(Rephlex, 1993)

James’ Bradley Strider alias only came out twice – once on 1991’s proto-Trance 12″ Bradley’s Beat, and again on this superior follow-up in 1993. Crunching electro, overlaid with what sounds like a cybernetic balalaika and an assortment of industrial creaks and rumbles.


46. AFX
‘CAT 00897-AA1’
(Analogue Bubblebath 3, Rephlex, 1993)

Haunted by thick, cavernous reverb and rolling, gut-churning bass, James proceeds to troll industrial music’s leather-clad doom mongers with a melody that could have easily been snatched from a children’s TV show. That’s the way to do it.


45. Mike & Rich
‘Mr Frosty’
(Expert Knob Twiddlers, Rephlex, 1996)

Arguably more famous for its cover than its contents, James’ collaborative album with Planet Mu boss Mike Paradinas – allegedly the result of three days spent bombed out of their boxes – isn’t exactly either artist’s most cherished release, but it has its gems. Most notable is punchdrunk disco jam ‘Mr Frosty’, probably the only Aphex-affiliated track that, were circumstances different, might feasibly have snuck out on DFA.


44. Aphex Twin
‘Cock’/’Ver10’
(Drukqs, Warp, 2001)

Let’s be honest here, Drukqs is at best a patchy collection, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t high points. ‘Cock/Ver10’ finds James on familiar turf (rapid-fire beats, detuned nightmarish melodies) but boasts the unshakably enjoyable shout of “Come on you cunt, let’s have some Aphex acid” which knocks it up a few notches in our estimation.


43. The Mike Flowers Pops
‘Debase, Soft Palate’
(The Freebase Connection, Lo Recordings, 1996)

While most of the 26 Mixes For Cash barely disguise their disinterest or disdain for the source material, this number, tucked away at the back of the second disc, is such a low-stakes job that it actually gives James breathing room to make some music instead of making a statement. And you have to admit, the very concept of an Aphex Twin remix of a Mike Flowers Pops tune is far, far creepier than ‘Come To Daddy’ could ever be.


42 Aphex Twin
‘Donkey Rhubarb’
(Donkey Rhubarb, Warp, 1995)

It might be most well known for its notorious video featuring a bunch of eerie-looking teddy bears (‘Rhubears’, natch) marauding around London, but the track’s no slouch either. ‘Donkey Rhubarb’ is a celebration of Britain’s proud eccentrics, and shockingly you can even dance to it.


41 Aphex Twin
‘Stone In Focus’
(Selected Ambient Works Volume II [vinyl & cassette only], Warp, 1994)

It’s incredible to think that ‘Stone In Focus’ was removed from most versions of Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Thanks to the format demanding a fixed length, it was nixed from the popular double CD release and left to rot on the now valuable cassette and vinyl editions. Bizarrely it’s one of the album’s most disarming and memorable tracks, and quite why it hasn’t been slotted back into subsequent digital editions is befuddling.


40. Polygon Window
‘If It Really Is Me’
(Surfing On Sine Waves, Warp, 1993)

Restless and jittery despite its 4/4 precision, this Polygon Window cut is weighted by stabbing piano chords that invert the cheery piano house trope into something dark and desperate.


39. AFX
‘Klopjob’
(Analord 3, Rephlex, 2005)

One of the tall poppies of the Analord batch, and a reminder that James’ melodic sensibility was still intact when required. ‘Klopjob’ offers twisty electro, full of vertiginous chord changes, and a vibe that flips between retro-futurist optimism and BoC-style dread every four bars.


38. AFX
‘Every Day’
(Hangable Auto Bulb EP2, Warp, 1995)

Wobbly, good-natured jauntiness accompanied by clattering beats and a handful of samples from vintage BBC series Children Talking. It’s remarkably upbeat, but like the kindly neighbour who turns out to be Ed Gein, worryingly chilling.


37. Nine Inch Nails
‘At The Heart of It All’ (Created by Aphex Twin)
(Further Down The Spiral, Nothing, 1995)

An original created for a NIN remix album, ‘At The Heart Of It All’ does a remarkable job of echoing the pneumatic, industrial unease of The Downward Spiral, despite RDJ’s claims to the contrary (“I never heard the originals, I still haven’t, I don’t want to either, or my remixes for that matter.”)


36. AFX
‘Laricheard’
(Analord 2, Rephlex, 2005)

A brilliant tribute to Chicago house pioneer Larry Heard, ‘Laricheard’ might be one of the Analord series’ most straightforward tracks, but what it lacks in technical trickery it more than makes up for in sheer depth. The unmistakable ‘Can U Feel It’ acid bass, the throbbing kicks and the simple, unhurried melodies are all placed with passion and expertise – if only it was just a little bit longer than two bloody minutes.


35. Aphex Twin
‘Green Calx’
(Selected Ambient Works 85-92, Apollo, 1992)

There’s a strong case for including the whole of Selected Ambient Works 85-92 on this list but we decided to restrain ourselves. Still, it would be impossible not to give the nod ‘Green Calx’, a rampaging collision of squelching acid synths, beatbox percussion, train sounds (oh yes) and the kind of euphoric harmonies that could drag a straight edger into a life of narcotic abandon.


34. AFX
‘.000890569’
(Analogue Bubblebath 3, Rephlex, 1993)

Annoyingly titled, yes, but honestly who cares when James manages to crank out cask-strength break-led bangers this crucial? He used the Analogue Bubblebath series to exorcise plenty of nagging rave demons, and this vivid 2am nightmare even features the comedic inclusion of a real hoover sound in the intro. Very droll.


33. Philip Glass
‘Icct Hedral’ (Philip Glass Orchestration)
(Donkey Rhubarb, Warp, 1995)

The original plays like the climactic movement of a horror score, so when it came time to arrange it for an actual orchestra, who better to call than the legendary composer? Glass’ version outstrips the original: everything sounds grander and more macabre on this tribute to minimalism.


32. Aphex Twin
‘Acrid Avid Jam Shred’
(…I Care Because You Do,  Warp, 1995)

‘Acrid Avid Jam Shred’ is …I Care Because You Do’s ominous opener and smartly lays out the set of ideas for the album quickly and concisely. The cotton-wool synths of earlier full-length Selected Ambient Works 85-92 are just about there, but bundled with a choppy 12-bit hip hop swagger which would be elaborated on ‘Alberto Basalm’ and wrapped in a woolly blanket of orchestral melancholy.


31. Aphex Twin
‘Yellow Calx’
(Richard D. James Album, Warp, 1995)

The Richard D. James Album really does sound like a gang of tiny robots tapping on large sheets of glass and metal, and as unlikely as this might sound ‘Yellow Calx’ actually sounds disarmingly soothing. The push-pull of (occasionally literal) sandpaper and (occasionally literal) cuddly toys characterises much of James’ output, but is rarely exhibited as plainly as it is right here.


30. The Caustic Window
‘Clayhill Dub’
(Joyrex J9, Rephlex, 1993)

James’ early Caustic Window work was a couple of shades darker than his other output – taking in industrial techno and gabba, it lit (or, rather, darkened) the way for his subsequent exercises in percussive assault. ‘Clayhill Dub’ is an important anomaly from the period – a forceful dub techno track that brings James as close as he got to the Basic Channel clique.


29. Aphex Twin
‘Phlange Phace’
(Xylem Tube, R&S, 1992)

A blistering breakbeat cut that sounds like Bernard Herrmann’s Cape Fear theme performed 20,000 leagues under Berghain.


28. The Dice Man
‘Polygon Window’
(Artificial Intelligence, Warp, 1992)

The first taste of James’ influential Polygon Window project was actually under the moniker The Dice Man (he was forced to change it by Meat Beat Manifesto’s Colin James aka The Diceman), and helped lay the groundwork for Warp’s Artificial Intelligence series. A hyperactive, open-minded take on the brittle, sci-fi influenced techno emerging from Detroit, ‘Polygon Window’ would continue to serve as a blueprint for years to come.


27. Power-Pill
‘Pac-Man (Power-Pill Mix)’
(Pac-Man, Ffrreedom/London Records, 1992)

As comedian Marcus Brigstocke once said, “If Pac-Man had affected us as kids, we’d all be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive electronic music.” Richard D. James of course took that to the next level, crafting an addictive rave gurner out of the game’s memorable theme. Back in the early ’90s you could hardly move for ‘comedy’ dance riffs on popular motifs, trust James to be responsible for one of the only ones that stuck.


26. Aphex Twin
‘Untitled’ (cliffs)
(Selected Ambient Works Volume II, Warp, 1994)

Serene yet unsettling, much like the lucid dreaming that inspired the album – a mental technique he taught to himself as a kid. “Dreams are a bit more honest [than waking life], because you don’t lie to yourself in dreams,” he once told an interviewer. “It’s when your brain does all its filing; prepares you for the next conscious day. You could argue that when you sleep that’s when all the shit goes down.”


25. Aphex Twin
‘4’
(Richard D. James Album, Warp, 1995)

Richard D. James Album fuses the gentle ambience of SAW with the breakbeats of Hangable Auto Bulb, and its lush and gorgeous opener leans heavily on the former. If you gave it up to Give Up, you have this track to blame.


24 808 State
‘Flow Coma’ (AFX remix)
(2 Remixes by AFX, Men, 2001)

Brilliant, bonkers broken remix of an acid classic – sounds like the drums and the melody are at totally different speeds, but works perfectly.


23. AFX
‘VBS.Redlof.B’
(Analord 11, Rephlex, 2005)

Cheeky, frothy dance music with blessed with the kind of emo pads that only Richard D. James can pull off without sounding saft, ‘VBS.Redlof.B’ is propelled by a manic, rampaging energy, but it’s far from the hyper-edited ADD nonsense that began to plague the genre (thanks Squarepusher). There’s heart in them there beats.


22. Aphex Twin
‘IZ-US’
(Come To Daddy, Warp, 1997)

The unlikely gateway between Aphex Twin and Four Tet opens here, as jazzy breaks propel a sweetly melancholic synth melody towards the scruffier, techno-tinged closing minute. Despite Aphex’s disdain for “cheesy” Radiohead, this one’s got an emotional kick that’d fit right in on the post-Kid A albums.


21. AFX
‘Untitled’ (Cuckoo)
(Analogue Bubblebath 4, Rephlex, 1994)

Snipped from Analogue Bubblebath 4, ‘Cuckoo’ (affectionately named by fans after the bird sounds throughout) is a grinning, rubbery look back at the unashamedly blissful sound of Selected Ambient Works 85-92. It’s not unlike a Commodore 64 theme, and knowing James’ predilection for early computer systems, that’s probably no accident.


20. Aphex Twin
‘Avril 14’
(Drukqs, Warp, 2001)

Midway through one of Aphex’s most difficult records he puts away the breakbeats, cracks his fingers, and brings hardened ravers to tears with a beautiful piano piece. Sampled – and in genius fashion, we should add – on Kanye West’s ‘Blame Game’. Reezy taught me.


19. Aphex Twin
‘Bucephalus Bouncing Ball’
(Come To Daddy, Warp, 1997)

An orchestra of Jeff Koons’ shiny metal ball sculptures trapped inside a vintage video game, ‘Bucephalus Bouncing Ball’ is a master class in synthetic percussion where rhythm and melody converge.


18. Aphex Twin
‘Tha’
(Selected Ambient Works 85-92, Apollo, 1992)

SAW 85-92‘s longest track is also its most oblique – a minimal techno piece bathed in a thick, muggy haze. Inscrutiable and gorgeous, ‘Tha’ points the way towards the grace, breadth and quiet force of SAW Vol. II, and remains one of James’ more timeless efforts.


17. Aphex Twin
‘Ventolin (Salbutomol Mix)’
(Ventolin, Warp, 1995)

‘Ventolin’, especially in its extended Salbutomol mix, is an endurance test: how long can you stand the aggro-industrial thresher before you mistake the song’s tinnitus-tone for your own hearing loss?


16. Aphex Twin
‘Blue Calx’
(Selected Ambient Works Volume II, Warp, 1994)

‘Blue Calx’ is notable for a couple of reasons – firstly it’s the only named track on Selected Ambient Works Volume II, and secondly it’s actually got drums. Don’t for a second assume you’re in for some obsessively programmed micro-edits though – there’s just the mere breath of a drum machine in the background as James conducts a veritable symphony of slow-motion cinematics that would lull even the most savage beast into a deep, dreamless sleep.


15. Aphex Twin
‘Come To Daddy (Pappy Mix)’
(Come To Daddy, Warp, 1997)

Demented ‘Firestarter’ piss-take? ‘Hellraiser’-inspired death metal / drum’n’bass hybrid? Whatever the case, the nightmarish track has done as much to emblazon James in our collective consciousness as its equally-warped, Chris Cunningham-directed video.


14. Aphex Twin
‘Laughable Butane Bob’
(Hangable Auto Bulb EP1, Warp, 1995)

Somewhere in-between the charming, weirdly romantic jagged electronics of …I Care Because You Do and the eccentric drill of the Richard D. James Album came Hangable Auto Bulb, and ‘Laughable Butane Blob’ managed to capture an exact mid-point between those two milestone records. The mournful, half-remembered melodies of his previous album are glued over machine-gunned sampled beats, clicks and whirrs and it all just works.


13. Aphex Twin
‘mookid.’
(…I Care Because You Do,  Warp, 1995)

There’s something absolutely unmistakable about ‘mookid.’s charming Theremin-like lead, and it haunts the track like an electronic Will-o’-the-Wisp dancing through a forest of hushed melodies and muted beats. It’s astonishing that even James’ most accessible tracks still sound as if the whole thing’s about to collapse in an apocalyptic boom – thankfully ‘mookid.’ does not.


12. Aphex Twin
‘Didgeridoo’
(R&S, 1992)

Delirious, crepuscular forest rave hurtling along 140+ BPM, this early classic epitomises the mechanical-versus-pastoral paradox running through so much of Aphex Twin’s music. Designed to disperse after-hours ravers from Cornish beach parties, it’s dominated by the arboreal moan of the didgeridoo, the crusty new ager’s instrument of choice – but in a deliciously Aphexian twist, the didge is entirely synthesised.


11. Aphex Twin
‘Girl/Boy Song’
(Richard D. James Album, Warp, 1995)

Many are the Warp fans who’ve quietly promised to have this as the first dance at their wedding, before inevitably bricking it come the big day. Far from the only track in James’ catalogue to marry prim’n’proper orchestral sounds with Tourettish drum programming, ‘Girl’/’Boy’ manages the balancing act better than most. For all the chaos, it’s a genuinely romantic song – a convincing representation of having a head in the clouds and a heart that’s pounding like a jackhammer.


10. Squarepusher / AFX
‘Freeman Hardy Willis Acid’
(We Are Reasonable People, Warp, 1998)

The meeting of two of electronic music’s behemoths for Warp’s tenth birthday wasn’t in the least bit disappointing – Tom Jenkinson’s touch can be heard instantly in the jazzy shuffling break, but the overall mood, captured with the detuned synth hits and distant, echoing pads is pure RDJ. It’s the kind of track that makes you hope there’s a full album of this stuff knocking around James’ studio, waiting patiently for its eventual release. We should be so lucky.


09. Aphex Twin
‘Alberto Balsalm’
(…I Care Because You Do, Warp, 1995)

A blanket-warm synth melody couched in rattling, odds-and-ends percussion, this is quite obviously one of James’ finest moments, and rightfully a fan favourite too. Not many Aphex tracks could be described as catchy, but this is a real earworm.


08. Aphex Twin
‘Flim’
(Come To Daddy, Warp, 1997)

Like watching liquid mercury dance, ‘Flim’ is fragile breakbeat electronica like no one else has ever quite done it. Skrillex’s favourite song of all time.


07. AFX
‘PWSteal.Bancos.Q’
(Analord 9, Rephlex, 2005)

After a wildly prolific (and, improbably, largely consistent) 1990s, AFX’s run of Analord 12″s (and, more accurately, the filleted-down Chosen Lords compilation) would prove his only essential output over the following decade. ‘PWSteal.Bancos.Q’ is the roughneck pick of the bunch – a hammering, machine-tooled acid house number that cast a wry eye at the contemporary electro-house boom and said “Nah…I can do better than that”.


06. Aphex Twin
‘Xtal’
(Selected Ambient Works 85-92, Apollo, 1992)

Simply one of the most fascinating, ahead-of-its-time, infinitely rewindable and utterly immersive songs ever recorded. And as the opener to FACT’s favourite album of the 1990s, so it should be. ‘Xtal’ still sounds fresh as a daisy, yet ancient as a rune.


05. Polygon Window
‘Quoth’
(Surfing On Sine Waves, Warp, 1993)

If SAW 85-92 is Aphex’s album-length masterpiece, with SAW II its densely layered, mysterious brother that refuses to reveal itself until months of listening, then Surfing on Sine Waves – released between the two, in 1993 – is the pair’s bastard cousin. No cloud-soaring melodies here, just pummelling 4×4 techno that still splatters the competition 20 years on.


04. Aphex Twin
‘On’
(Warp, 1993)

One of the first moments where James gets his Janus faces (Richard the heartbreaker, and Richard the noisemaker) talking to one another. Where Selected Ambient Works kept the smoother and steelier dance impulses largely partitioned, ‘On’ brings them into stunning collision: the coruscating synths are as gorgeous and glacial as his best SAW Vol. 2 moments, but the frazzled drum programming ties the whole thing together with barbed wire. He’d rarely get the balance quite so right again.


03. Aphex Twin
‘Windowlicker’
(Warp, 1999)

Officially Warp’s most popular song, ‘Windowlicker’ is R&B and hip-hop written in the language of glitches and breakbeats. Like the best Richard D. James material, it’s nearly three songs in one, deceptively melodic, and still sounds years ahead of its time (and like ‘Come To Daddy’, its video and cover art are iconic).


02. Aphex Twin
‘Untitled’ (lichen)
(Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2, Warp, 1994)

The rumour surrounding Selected Ambient Works II at the time was that Richard D. James had produced many of its tracks while lucid dreaming. Since James had a habit of giving less than accurate information to journalists, the claim is likely baseless, but it’s hard not to listen to a track like ‘lichen’ and not at least exercise the notion. It’s arguably his most unashamedly beautiful track, carried by his natural sense of melody and unimpeded by studio tricks and incessant winks to the camera. It’s the Aphex answer to Brian Eno’s ‘An Ending’, and he almost betters it.


01. The Aphex Twin
‘Analogue Bubblebath’
(Mighty Force, 1991)

Piano house slowly submerged in a warm, foamy lagoon – has an Aphex track title ever been more apt? Considering half of them are called things like ‘AFX.Ragagi6’, probably not.

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