Saturday, March 07, 2015

Song of the day

"aisatsana [102]", by Aphex Twin.

I have these occasional dreams where I am a country town (it bears a nocturnal resemblance to Foster, as far as I can fathom). I find myself constantly walking into a newsagents looking for a particular issue of a magazine (these being dreams, the magazine may or may not bear any actual resemblance to any magazine known to man). In last night's dream, Aphex Twin was on the cover of what was clearly Rolling Stone. (It was less clearly, I could tell upon waking, a photo of Aphex Twin.)

This struck me, in the dream, as surprising, and it continued to strike me as surprising once I woke up. First because he's not their type. Second because Aphex is not someone to have really ever been uppermost in my waking thoughts, so why would his smiling mug take centre stage in a dream? (That's why people say "in your dreams", I suppose.) Like an embarrassingly high percentage of artists who came to notice in the 1990s, his work from that period was something that I was barely peripherally aware of, and I suppose I was also put off (which I am sure was his desired response) by the disturbing videos he came up with for songs like "Windowlicker".

Music's return to (my) focus in the new century happens to have largely coincided with Aphex's long dormancy. Thus, the only record of his that I owned was "Selected Ambient Works Volume II", and I am fully aware that it could hardly be described as "representative". Anyway the Aphex Twin drought has recently broken, and then some. (First "Syro" came out, then a 30-minute "EP" (it's not) of supposed outtakes, and most recently a hundred-odd tracks found their way onto Soundcloud, which demand to be sifted through for the undoubted gems that are lurking there. For example, he does something wonderful with Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi".)

As it did with Brian Eno, Warp seems to have been conducive to Aphex reaching out to the public once more. (Both artists, it seems reasonable to assume, have continued to beaver away on their own projects, Salinger-like (or so we continue to hope), in public silence. (Although Eno never really goes away, does he, what with interviews, art projects, essays, production duties etc.))

Influenced, as I still am (even, it would seem, when I am asleep), by what is in the music magazines, I picked up "Syro" on the strength of The Wire voting it album of the year for 2014. Having missed so much of its back-story, I am hardly an ideal listener, but I hope I know quality when I hear it. "Syro" is a master class in practically every form of electronic music to have made any kind of headway over the last 20 years. It's as if he is saying, "Okay, I have let you all have your fun, but now listen, this is how it's done". Despite its considerable length, it keeps you (well, me) interested from beginning to end. Notwithstanding that it would be easy to write music like this off as "merely" academic, this album has a real, beating human heart to it, whether on account of the crystal-clear warmth of the sounds he uses, the fact that no five bars of the music are the same, or the joy of music-making that is front and centre throughout its every surprising step. Never is that human heart more evident, obviously, than in its final track, "aisatsana [102]", five minutes of unadorned solo piano. "Nice" is the first word that comes to mind, but I can't help suspecting a trap.