4 years after Aphex Twin returned from a 13-year hiatus that did his music wonders, this EP continues a run of EPs and Soundcloud releases that have shown a renowned pioneer fighting for, and earning, the respect and attention of the aesthetes of a genre that has exploded in countless different directions since he helped to inaugurate it. Wisely, rather than try to please all the different fans of the bewilderingly diverse sub-genres of electronic music, Aphex Twin knuckles down and creates a percussion-heavy work that bears his own unique brand, on almost every bar of the music, just as the album cover still bears his marketing brand. He’s not trying to get down with the kids, he’s just having a great time producing the sort of stuff that he loves and has always loved, which made 2014’s Syro so addictively entertaining and, in my view, his best album.
“T69 Collapse” could’ve slotted onto Syro nicely, a synth-and-drums war, almost martial in its bare-boned destructiveness, with a catchy riff sneaking in just before the end (around the 3 and a half minute mark – you can never be entirely sure with an Aphex Twin production). It’s done and dusted in 5 minutes. Yet its roiling, constantly shifting production and rhythmic patterns makes it feel longer, an epic sonic adventure.
“1st 44” is even more reliant on percussion; although there are sound effects aplenty, and some washes of synth grandeur, largely it feels like a drum solo, because the emphasis is so heavily on the rhythm. Or rhythms, more accurately. Because it’s perhaps less like a solo than a synthetic percussion orchestra, loud and multi-sectioned, with competing elements, from clicks and clacks to racing drum machines, layered on top of each other to frequently grand effect. It can have a knockout effect if you’re into that sort of thing. But ultimately it feels lacking in something – shall I risk gross cliché in calling it soul?
Where Burial, for example, has triumphed in the modern electronic landscape is through imbuing his frozen landscapes with soul via a technique so simple it’s almost laughable: human, usually black, voices, singing and crooning even if they’re autotuned out of all recognition. Aphex Twin has used human voices from Willy Wonka to his own family throughout his works in sinister ways, and so to usually alienating effects – but the palpable thrill of his best music has sought ways through this alienation via enticing snatches of quirky melody and bursts of rhythm so basic they have no choice but to reside swiftly in your head.
Collapse EP is not so successful on this front – inventive it most surely is, but you expected that anyway, and its sonic landscapes are more forbidding and less friendly than on Syro and earlier classics. This is particularly the case with “abundance10edit[2 R8’s, FZ20m & A 909]”, which features a mysterious vocal that claims to “lead you to the land of abundance” on a track that ironically has less percussion and slows down the pace dramatically – its aesthetic seemingly rejects abundance outright. Its chilled vibes do nothing for me, sadly, and these more ambient waves of chilliness persist on the last track, “Pthex”, which halts the main narrative pushed forward by the drum machines several times to have us listen to subplots involving… not much, just some noodling on synths.
So Collaspe EP suffers from a common malady that inflicts “progressive” music: its constant desire to dazzle us with technical mastery, rhythmic complexity, and melodic sophistication (or outright rejection of melody) leaves a blank space in its mysteriously defined “soul” that burns bright in all of the best music ever created. I’m a sure a more in-depth musical analysis of Collapse EP than this one would render interesting results – Aphex Twin is obviously a clever dude with a lot of pyrotechnic tricks up his sleeves. But it fails a more basic musical test: do I want to listen to it again?
The answer is no, I can safely slot it away with the other electronica that I’m impressed by at least on an objective level but have no personal feelings for whatsoever. Syro on the other hand? That’s a fascinating, enticing world for me. I’ll continue to return to it frequently.