Almost anything Richard D. James puts his hands and curious mind on—even the relatively straightforward acid house tracks he released under the name Analord through 2005—are little musical puzzles, puzzles that keep changing and adapting as you try to solve them, but also of a sort that if you just leave them be, the fractured picture in front of you is still satisfying.
After 10+ listens to Syro, the first Aphex Twin album in nearly 13 years, I’m nowhere near cracking James’ code this time around. Yet every spin through these 12 songs keeps revealing new structures and details that skipped past me until this moment. And the end result after each listen is a desire to just dive right back in from track one and look for more clues.
One thought that I keep returning to with Syro is how accessible it is, how welcoming it seems to be for listeners unaccustomed to his fevered, restless compositions. There’s something inviting about the melodies he’s working with: the charming female voices that appear at the end of the bouncy “XMAS_EVET10 [thanaton3 mix],” his animated synth lines and gloriously dumb funk beats on “produk 29,” the little bit of electro swing that anchors “CIRCLONT6A [syrobonkus mix].” With the spotlight on James and his music getting brighter by the minute, what better time to open the doors to fresh ears.
Fans of James will also recognize his cheeky sense of humor running through nearly every song. Musically, this comes through in his use of vocal samples, like the female voice calling out a “fucking whore” throughout “produk 29” and the stretched-out vocal melody that starts out “CIRCLONT6A.” The track titles, though, reveal the heart of a snickering programmer who likes to hide inside jokes in his code. Or it could prove that James is a spiritual seeker, looking for a higher consciousness through chemical means. The mix title of “syro u473t8+e”—“piezoluminescence”—is a reference to the small flashes of light given off by pure forms of LSD and DMT, while “Thanaton III” pays homage to the psychedelic sci-fi visions of painter Paul Laffoley.
What also kept changing for me is the decision about what my favorite song was. Right now, I’m stuck on the blast of acid house air that is “PAPAT4 [pineal mix],” but even as recently as a few days before writing this, my heart belonged to the glitchy jungle jam “s950tx16wasr10 [earth portal mix].” The point is that, as all great albums should, Syro seems destined to be pored over and analyzed and argued about on message boards and Twitter feeds the world over. We’re going to be talking about this album for years to come. And more than likely by the time our conversations start to run out, Aphex Twin will return, igniting our analytical fuse anew.