APHEX TWIN Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (R&S)

Originally released late in 1992, it’s hard to imagine the impact of Richard D James’ first (double) album length opus on the dance music cognoscenti of the time. Barely out of his teens, he had already issued the groundbreaking EPs "Analogue Bubblebath", "Digeridoo" and "Xylem Tube" (later anthologised on the "Classics" compilation), which flitted between the warm’n’balmy and the evilest of madbastard techno. Then came "Selected Ambient Works", mythologised as a collection of his bedroom experiments, some allegedly the work of an astonishingly precocious 14-year old who claimed complete ignorance of all other music of the day.

Hindsight only heightens how terrific this album is, and I’ll freely admit to being biased, ‘cos this is one of a handful of works that soundtracked my university years. Here be thirteen tracks saddled with impenetrable titles such as "Schottkey 7th Path" and "Ptolemy", featuring insidious, uncoiling melodies that owe more of a debt to jazz and classical traditions than the abrupt, brutal dance music of the time (which, it must be remembered, RDJ was a leading exponent of). Adding to the allure was the low-fi smog that smothered it all, emphasising the album’s primitive production - you can hear the Portastudio faders being jerkily raised, the tape dropouts (the NME joked that some tracks sounded as if they had been mastered on a TDK AD90) and the fluctuating treble levels, all of which makes it sound more human, less machine-like.

But "Selected Ambient Works 85-92" is probably best celebrated for containing the first real flowerings from the seeds of the Twin’s genius: there are moments here that will never fail to seduce this listener, irrespective of the memories bound up with them. "Xtal" is the Cocteau Twins recording in a garage, gorgeous floaty ethereal vocal samples looped over a melody to die for, anchored by a drum beat that seems to be echoing from somewhere back in the stone age. "Tha" is nine minutes of questing synth bassline, reverberant drum track and snatches of muffled conversation. "Green Calx" is about as close as this album gets to convention, and even then it’s a squidgetastic decidedly non-ambient pummeler that plays the kind of trickery his more usual one-dimensional EP offerings in the genre can only hallucinate about. And then there’s "Heliosphan", quite simply one of the most beautiful dance tunes ever made.

Since this album he’s flirted with chart success, subliminal sell-outs (Pirelli and Orange have both used his music on television ads), and thundered across genres such as drum ‘n’ bass, new age, classical and death metal (see elsewhere in this issue for a review of some of his other current activities). But despite all the fine music he’s programmed in the last five years, this is still the album to play to confused acquaintances doubtful of Mr James’ well-deserved genius tag.

APHEX TWIN Selected Ambient Works Volume II (Warp)

He does his accounts on acid because it gives him a better grasp of figures; he wants to buy a dalek to collect his washing from the launderette in; he wrote and recorded the "Surfing On Sine Waves" album at the age of 14; he talks to his modified synthesizers and builds his own equipment; the master tapes of his debut album have been involved in car crashes; he remixes other people's tracks by playing them all night whilst he's asleep and recording the first thing that comes into his head the next morning; he has x-thousand untitled unreleased tracks...the sheer weight of disinformation that surrounds Richard D. James, a.k.a. Aphex Twin, AFX, Polygon Window, Caustic Window, Blue Calx, Diceman and no doubt thousands of other undiscovered aliases, has been unmatched by any other musician (in it's broadest sense) since Tom Waits, even Dylan, maybe. Yet despite being in his early twenties, he's already a very big fish in the ever-expanding pool of ambient techno, and this album, his third 'proper' full (very full) length release might be some kind of reaction to it all.

The specifics: on triple (brown) vinyl, double CD and double tape, "Ambient Works II" contains 24 untitled tracks, identified only by different shades of yellow and blurred photographs on the cover (although track 13 has been previously released as "Blue Calx", by, erm, Blue Calx), lasting way over two-and-a-half hours, this is the "Topographic Oceans" of ambience...and it's really quite good. Restful isn't the word: there's scarcely a drumbeat present (nor even a heartbeat) to disturb the flow. The feel is womblike, heavily reverberant, full of what could be muted temple bells, what might be a vacuum cleaner, what sounds like indecipherable conversation, wasn't that a burst of static then? Who knows, perhaps not even its creator. All the other Aphex Twin fans I know detest this, because, unlike it's predecessor, the superb "Selected Ambient Works 85-92", which had a fair selection of bone-rattling danceable tunes, "Ambient Works Volume II" is exactly that: background music, wallpaper, ambience or 'pure texture', as the man himself says, but at the same time spooky and in places quite frightening.

It could be a joke of course, something to test his ever-expanding, perhaps overly-devoted (particularly in America, it seems) fanbase, in which case the incredible length and, frankly, lack of variety of the project would make some kind of sense. But when he's capable of creating music as quite soundscapingly beautiful as track three it's more tempting to conclude that the Twin has just leapfrogged all his rivals yet again.

AFX Analogue Bubblebath IV (Rephlex)

The Airfix Twin's first release since the, er, controversial "Selected Ambient Works Volume 2" triple album (not counting the Polygon Window track "My Teapot" on Warp's "Artificial Intelligence II" compilation, because it was clearly intended as some kind of very elaborate joke) conforms to the well established "Analogue Bubblebath" tradition: four (untitled, of course) tracks, no indication of which side to play first, or even of what speed to play it at.

As if such terrestrial concerns actually matter. (It sounds better at 33 rpm, but one side sounds pretty plausible at 45 rpm too.) The music harks back to the original "Analogue Bubblebath" E.P. - one superb radio friendly unit non-shifter, which this time round, if it sounds like anything else (which of course it doesn't) sounds like Stereolab performing an impromptu instrumental rendition of "Dancing Queen" in the middle of a rainforest, followed by a minimalist techno samba, then two tracks that sound like an argument between a machine shop and a scrapyard.

It's a relief that Richard D James has started making music with beats in it again, even if the "Analogue Bubblebath" template is getting a little worn and over-familiar now, over two years after its original implementation. However, the insert, as well as including "The Rephlex Guide To Rocks, Minerals and Gemstones" and information on "Playing This Record On Your Turntable", promises the forthcoming album-length "Analogue Bubblebath 5". Pass the loofah...

APHEX TWIN ...I Care Because You Do (Warp)

"Whatever happened to disco?" inquired Michael Smyth in the last edition of Feedback. Well, as I understood it, it hitchhiked to Detroit, misplacing its baggage en route, bought itself a TB303 and an SL1210 and mutated into ‘dance music’ and all its little baby genres (techno, ambient, acid, jungle and whatever’s being dreamed up and spliced together in urban bedrooms as we speak). And, unquestionably at the top of the pile of its British practitioners, along with Orbital, the recently deceased Black Dog and the recently renamed Chemical Brothers, stands Richard D James, man of many aliases.

His work as the Aphex Twin has consistently remapped and expanded the territory occupied by ‘dance music’. Early EPs like "Digeridoo" were full of uncompromising hardcore techno, but his debut album-length release, "Selected Ambient Works 85-92" was, with the exception of the storming "Green Calx", mellowness given a gorgeous new set of clothes and a makeover, and along with Saint Etienne’s "Foxbase Alpha" became the essential student accessory. Last year’s "Selected Ambient Works Vol 2" was a plot-loser on a grand scale: a triple album full of lightly sketched outlines rather than actual tunes, it hit the top 20 despite containing only two or three inspirational moments. And now comes the third volume, "...I Care Because You Do", prefaced by "Ventolin", a twelve-part concept single about asthma. Is the Twin turning into the Rick Wakeman of techno?

Thankfully not, though looking at the grotesque sleeve self-portrait you’d be forgiven for thinking that he’s becoming its Bob Dylan, circa 1970. "...I Care Because You Do" attempts to access all areas of the Aphex Twin’s canon, and nearly succeeds. Over the space of twelve tracks, recorded between 1990 and 1994, he navigates back and forth along the line that separates his hardcore and, er, softcore work. In the former category are the frankly silly "Ventolin", presented here in a ‘video edit’, whatever that means, "Start As You Mean To Go On" and "Come On You Slags!". The oldest track here, and eerily similar both in concept and execution to "Tamphex" from the "Xylem Tube" EP, it manages to create a quite frightening atmosphere of dirty mac-ed voyeurism. In the Aphex-as-fluffy-cuddly-bunny corner, there’s the luminous and eggshell fragile delights of "Mookid" and "Alberto Balsalm", and the orchestral sounding synthesis of the closing "Next Heap With".

Given RDJ’s eclecticism, it could’ve sounded like anything, or more likely nothing, on earth, when in fact it smacks of much-abused squidgy noise machines and overloaded analogue synths and drum machines being forced to make the kind of sounds they really weren’t designed to. But, mild disappointment that he hasn’t totally trumped us this time apart, "...I Care Because You Do" is mostly classic Airfix Twin, destined to stand alongside greats like the first "Ambient Works", the third "Analogue Bubblebath", "Joyride J4" and "Surfing On Sine Waves" when future historians evaluate the Cornishman’s role in the dance wars. Maybe 1995 will finally be the year that ‘proper’ dance music begins to pollute the mainstream (comparing the Aphex Twin to 2 Unlimited, for example, is about as valid and helpful as calling both Bryan Adams and Metallica ‘heavy metal’). Already we’ve heard Biosphere on Levis adverts and the music of Richard D James (as Caustic Window) selling tyres, as well as the Tribal Gathering festival event. Albums like this (which again went top 20 on week of release) can only help with the re-education.

APHEX TWIN Donkey Rhubarb (Warp)

Four more squidgetastic tunes from the prolific pen of Richard D James, his first new material since April’s still-wonderful "...I Care Because You Do" double album. The title track and "Vaz Deferenz" are both fantastic high BPM epics, with the faint stench of overheating analogue synthery in the background, certainly the most creative examples of 303 abuse to reach these ears since David Holmes’ remix of Saint Etienne’s "Like A Motorway". Flip it over and there’s the almost self-explanatory "Icct Hedral (Philip Glass Orchestration)", in which Philip Glass orchestrates one of "...I Care Because You Do"’s spookier, more traumatic tracks to marvellous effect, sounding strangely like soundtrack music from a horror film. Truly a match made in minimalist heaven, one that could only be rivalled by Michael Nyman collaborating with Orbital, a dream booking if ever there were. Finally "Pancake Lizard" brings up the rear, the only partial success present, it uses the same slowed-down sample technique as Saint Etienne’s "Johnny In The Echo Café", to similarly uninteresting effect. Still, three parts genius to one part failed experimentation sounds like a good deal in my book.

AFX Hangable Auto Bulb EP (Warp)

The Airfix Twin returns with his latest rickety vehicle, a six-track (mercifully, perhaps) limited-edition 12" single that marks his conversion to the joys of jungle, about eighteen months after the rest of the world. Well, sort of: he hasn’t exactly thrown his lot in with the shouty-bloke-in-big-trousers school. The looped tin-can drum tracks that buzz around the speakers like a confined insect are present and correct, but whereas some might top it off with boorish machismo booming, RDJ adds, among other delights, samples of children discussing mashed potatoes. Slightly less atypical service resumes on the flip side, where dark and sinister chords wrap themselves around tracks called stuff like "Laughable Butane Bob", "Wabbly Legs" and "Custodian Discount". Ultimately, though, "Hangable Auto Bulb" sees James veering dangerously towards the ‘king-has-no-clothes’ (or ‘producer-has-no-tunes’) status he last got trapped in during the somewhat over-ambient "Selected Ambient Works Volume 2" triple album.

MIKE & RICH Expert Knob Twiddlers (Rephlex)

Sleeved in an immaculate parody of the box of the children’s game Downfall ("Cleverly manoeuvre your records onto the platters and then listen to the tracks in the right order to Win! But Watch out-the tracks are different on each side you could be helping your opponent instead of helping yourself!"), "Expert Knob Twiddlers" is the first released collaboration between Richard James (a.k.a. AFX, Aphex Twin, Caustic Window, Diceman, Polygon Window and Q-Chastic) and Michael Paradinis (a.k.a. m -Ziq and Jake Slazenger). It’s the sound of the easy listening bandwagon being well and truly hijacked by beings from a planet where daytime television presenters are deified and cartoon characters appointed to key governmental positions - what else could explain the theme for a deranged mid-afternoon gameshow that "Winner Takes All" just has to be, or tracks with titles like "Giant Deflating Football" and "Upright Kangaroo"? "Expert Knob Twiddlers" is bathed in the same low-fi fog as much of James’ solo work, and the acrid stench of primitive synthesisers sequencing their last is never far away. Although not in the same league as his last proper full-length work "...I Care Because You Do" (think of it as a primitive cross between that album’s "Cow Cud Is A Twin" and Paradinis’ clanging, metallic sequence of Auteurs remixes), the Mike and Rich album is an interesting experiment in seeing how many sub-genres you can invent in one go (queasy listening, anyone?), and, as a diverting diversion, should be welcomed by the faithful.

APHEX TWIN Richard D. James Album (Warp)

That we should live to see the day when Richard D James made a pop album! But spookily that’s exactly what "Richard D. James Album" looks like. Beside being the first RDJ long playing experience ever to confine itself to only two sides of vinyl, it also boasts one genuine top 30 (well, top 30 in the Indie Album Charts, anyway) hit in the shape of "Girl/Boy Song". What on earth is going on?

Well, breakbeats, substantially. Despite the lukewarm reception afforded his first foray into the world of the speeded-up drum track, the Airfix Twin has persevered and is now really quite good at it. Opening track "4" sounds like a string quartet performing at a firework display (how seasonal), interrupted by some AFX-style call-and-responding. "Peek 824543201" is bookended by the kind of noise you used to get when loading computer games from cassette, and "To Cure A Weakling Child" pursues the children’s voices sampling conceit originally explored on the "Hangable Auto Bulb EP" track "Children Talking". "Goon Gumpos" is a bizarre few minute’s respite from the battering, sounding like a horribly distorted orchestral Disney soundtrack. "Yellow Calx" is presumably a thematic successor to "Green Calx" and "Blue Calx", and oddly enough it doesn’t sound dissimilar to the former and the latter being played at the same time. Then follows the truly magnificent "Girl/Boy Song", in which that reticent and much-abused string section once again attempt to retain their professionalism whilst being battered within an inch of their resin by a succession of evil beats: it sounds like the "Clockwork Orange" soundtrack being played in a machine shop. Honestly. "Loon Rock Witch" closes proceedings, haunted by the ghost of Pink Floyd’s "Bike", James breaks into the room of musical tunes and decides, quite correctly, that it’d be the ideal place to record some vampiric pipe organ soloing. And there, barely 33 minutes after it begins, "Richard D. James Album" ends.

Halving the length of his tunes appears to have done the Twin no harm at all, but the sad thing is it won’t garner any more commercial acclaim than the little he’s been showered with already. Any work with as much diversity and imagination as "Richard D. James Album" deserves to sell by the truckload, but in these grim times it’s so far above Noelrock’s lowest common denominator ethos that it’s destined to sail straight into the cult classics bin, along with the rest of RDJ’s copious musical output. But that’s what you get for not writing songs stuffed full of alcohol references, it appears.  

APHEX TWIN Come To Daddy (Warp)

Mr James returns with the follow-up to last year’s marvellous "Girl/Boy Song" EP, this time toting a gruesome cover photo showing his, er, not conventionally attractive features grafted onto a schoolyard full of infants. The contents provide further evidence to suggest that he’s not a hot favourite on the local council’s approved childminder register: the title track, in "Pappy Mix" form, is, horror of horrors, a ‘song’, as in a verse/chorus thing. The verse goes "I want your soul/I want your soul/I want your soul/I want your soul", whilst the chorus features RDJ hollering the title repeatedly. Not particularly groundbreaking, perhaps, even though it succeeds in fusing death metal with jungle, as he’s been foisting this sort of thing on an unwary public for years (compare and contrast it with the scary techno of the "Analogue Bubblebath IV" EP, for example). What is heart-warming is the way "Come To Daddy" thundered to, uh, number 36 in the torpid top 40, showing that nowadays people are actually listening.

The other tracks on this 12" include "Flim", a pleasant balmy device not unlike the mellower moments of "Analogue Bubblebath 3" (praise indeed), the "Little Lord Faulteroy" mix of the title track and "Bucephalus Bouncing Ball", all of which shows that, even when treading water the Airfix Twin’s outpourings are still worth our time and attention.

CAUSTIC WINDOW Compilation (Rephlex)

If there’s one ‘dream album’ that most committed Aphex Twin trainspotters would love to become a reality, it would be a reissue of the three almost impossible-to-find EPs he put out under the Caustic Window banner on his own Rephlex imprint between 1992 and 1994. Well, lo and behold, prayers must have been answered because the smart, if devilishly impractical, transparent sleeve of "Compilation" contains most of the music he made as Caustic Window spread over six 45 rpm sides.

By turns brutal and soothing, always experimental (snatches of these 12 untitled tracks can be heard on many of his more regular releases, both before and after), Richard D James’ Caustic Window material is like an alternative best of album, parading the raw material that goes into the cauldrons from which bubble up his celestial sounds. My personal fave is the snatch of heavily distorted drum track that also pops up on "Phlange Phace" on the "Xylem Tube" EP and "Classics" compilation: mercifully brief, it’s the intense humming of dancefloor evil. An honourable mention must also go to the tenth track, which mixes dub baselines with AFX’s usual muted devilry. His Pirelli advert music’s on here too.

My one disappointment with "Compilation" is that, presumably for copyright reasons, his stunning ‘version’ of the 70s electro classic "Popcorn", essentially the Hot Butter original squeezed through all manner of sonic hooligan effects (distortion, phasing, reverb etc.) originally found on the "Joyride J5" EP is strangely absent here. However, don’t let that deter the Aphex Twin enthusiast in you from exploring the underside of RDJ’s lunatic sound world, or as the sleevenotes put it, "Classic Braindance tunes from Cornwall".

APHEX TWIN Windowlicker (Warp)

Possibly a little premature to review this, but here goes. At time of typing I only have the CD2 of this, Richard D James' first new release in over a year (although the track itself is reputedly three years old, and has been knocking around on white label for twelve months), which contains the original demo version and, more pertinently, Chris Cunningham's ten minute video for the song, shot at a cost of £130,000 and, just like his previous Aphex effort "Come To Daddy", highly unlikely to ever make it onto primetime television. An astute parody (at least I hope it's a parody) of the excesses of gangster rap that somehow drifts into a dance sequence choreographed to include some hot moves with a set of Aphex Twin umbrellas, it's well worth the price of admission, given the usual Quick Time movie caveats of a display size little larger than a cassette case and grainy, jerky images (the latter probably a function of me running it on a PC of less than half the minimum recommended speed demanded by the spec...oh dear). There's some music here as well, of course, and, yes, "Windowlicker" is as completely different to everything else he's ever done as everything else he's ever done is, a bizarre mix of celestial voices and grinding P-Funk riffage. And the controversy even extends as far as the cover art, with the already-legendary images of the Twin's grinning, bearded face grafted onto a bikinid body of rather more feminine appearance. Is it a clever and thought-provoking sideswipe at sexism in the media, or is it, as the man himself would probably describe it, just "lush"?

 APHEX TWIN Windowlicker (Warp)

A brief mention for this, as I've raved about the excellence of Richard D James' latest and possibly greatest achievement in these pages before, but my acquisition of the 12" version allows me to comment on the B-sides. The first takes its title from an unreproducably complicated mathematical equation that I won't even attempt to type out here (although on the record label it's called "[See Sleeve]"!), which rattles in a sturdy and industrial manner like some of his pseudonymous AFX work of old, without being particularly stunning. "Nannou" is a marked improvement, sounding like a wheezing old musical box attempting to play techno, a kind of deranged toytown cross between the close of Syd's Floyd's "Bike" and RDJ's own "Local Fock Witch". Genius, essentially.

 AFX Analogue Bubblebath 3 (Rephlex)

THE MIKE FLOWERS POPS The Mike Flowers Pops Meets The Aphex Twin Downtown In "The Freebass Connection" (Lo Recordings)

"Analogue Bubblebath 3" is a 1993 outing for one of Richard D James' more obvious pseudonyms that can be bought either as a 13 track CD or a 4 track 12". And for once I'd advise any interested parties to avoid the vinyl version like the plague: sound quality issues aside you lose ten of the equivalent CD's tracks and gain a few minutes of the Aphex Twin and a mate messing around with the timestretch button on their new sampler, possibly the most pointless few minutes the Twin has (or hasn't quite, if you prefer) put his name to.

But the CD of "Analogue Bubblebath 3" is a delight, from the packaging on in. Early pressings came with a sheet of bubblewrap in lieu of a booklet: this 1997 reissue comes in a CD single case, sadly precluding that particular pleasure. However, the CD is still (charmingly or frustratingly, depending on your point of view) devoid of any label printing, so it's all too easy to inadvertently insert the disc into your player upside down...

When you finally work out how to tell the bottom from the top your well-earned reward arrives in the form of nearly an hour's worth of Richard D James at his very best: these 13 untitled tracks run the gamut from Mozart-meets-Kraftwerk melodic perfection to awesomely brutal industrial noise of a Jeff Mills persuasion, with snatches of "The Girl From Ipanema" and the sounds of a(n analogue bubble)bath emptying and a hoover, er, hoovering along the way. It may not be as breathlessly inventive as more recent singles such as "Windowlicker" or "Girl/Boy Song", but as an example of the Aphex Twin successfully spreading his talent over a space of longer than ten minutes it's up their with the best of his more conventional long players.

The cumbersomely titled "The Mike Flowers Pops Meets The Aphex Twin Downtown In "The Freebass Connection"", meanwhile, is a 12" single collaboration between Mr James and the one-time king of polyester suave, in which the bearded one wrecks all kinds of sonic havoc with the Pops’ tune "Freebass". Heavenly voices, typical Aphex motifs and scratchiness, but nothing to get too excited over, as are the three other remixes provided by The Mellowtrons, Luke Vibert and Funky Porcini.

APHEX TWIN Come To Daddy (Warp)

If Richard D James really does make good his threat to retire from the music industry, it'll be odds and ends such as this that the dedicated Aphex Twin enthusiast will turn to to make amends. "Come To Daddy" the mini-album is a compilation of both CDs of the beardy bloke's 1997 death-metal techno single of the same name, which means three mixes of the headcrushing title track, gently lapping bubblebath washes of sound like "Flim" and "IZ-US" and bizarrely twisted childhood nightmares such as "Funny Little Man". Admittedly he's been making this sort of music for years, but with "Come To Daddy" (and the long player "Richard D James Album" that preceded it) he suddenly discovered how to package it as four-minute radio-unfriendly bytes. 33 minutes of total techno bliss, and the complete lyrics to "Come To Daddy" get reprinted in the booklet - all 11 lines of them!

AFX 2 Remixes By AFX (Men)

Being the first new Aphex Twin material since his gargantuan g-funk odyssey "Windowlicker", this 12" arrives in a plain paper sleeve with no track titles or indication of playing speed, and no documentation save for the legend "Squidged out of the bank by AFX" scrawled into one of the run-out grooves. (He lives in a disused bank vault, remember).

What "2 Remixes By AFX" turns out to be, after further investigation, is exactly what it says on the tin. Side one contains a remix of 808 State's "Flow Coma", a cavernous acid house classic taken from their debut album "Newbuild", itself reissued on Richard D James' own Rephlex label a few years back. And if a better single is released this year I'll eat my black cap; this is the kind of melodic assault and battery that has me bursting out in grins seconds after diamond touches plastic, an astonishing, ripped-up piece of music that blind dates state-of-the-art scratching trickery with something defiantly from the old school, and amazingly everybody has a sweet and dandy evening out.

Over on the flip something by acid house pioneer DJ Pierre receives a more respectful and less energised makeover: in fact, without knowing the original (which I don't, unfortunately), it's hard to discern where the old house ends and the extension begins. Finally, the third track offers what sounds like "Snapper" being loaded off tape into my BBC Model B circa 1984, a succession of amelodic, arrhythmic high frequency whoops and bleeps that prove that age, wealth and experience don't prevent AFX from playing the contrary get card every now and then. Ignore this blip and you have some astonishing underground dance music from a man so overground that these days he soundtracks mobile phone adverts: if his unpronounceable forthcoming triple album "Drukqs" spreads even a grain of this fierce creativity over its duration he might yet score the long player of the year as well.

APHEX TWIN Drukqs (Warp)

Ending five years of self-imposed long playing silence, Richard D James bites back with what could be considered his "White Album", a massive, bounteous outpouring of 30 tracks, 100 minutes of music, spread over four albums, two of which rotate at 45 rpm, the remainder adhering to the more conventional 33 rpm speed. The whole arrives packaged in a big box that, at over 18 inches long (or wide, depending on how you look at it) will sorely tax the storage abilities of most standard record shelves.

So, what lies beneath? Initial spins of "Drukqs" left me feeling confused and disappointed. As a travelogue of the most interesting parts of its creator's back catalogue, or as a first introduction to the Aphex Twin's impish, maverick genius it works satisfactorily, but there was little sense of the boundaries of electronic music being vaulted that normally accompanies an RDJ album event. The one real musical innovation "Drukqs" offered appeared to be a suite of short chamber pieces, performed using some kind of software that seemed to run along a three-dimensional sliding scale that was part typewriter, part player-piano and part harmonium. (The cover and label photographs, close-ups of ageing, unspecified machinery, might even be a fantastical concrete realisation of such a device.) At their finest - for example, "Avril 14th", which, in the absence of any single releases has established itself as "Druqks" most widely heard two minutes by virtue of its inclusion on a recent NME cover CD - these tracks seemed to filter Erik Satie's "Trois Gymnopédies" through Eno's "Music For Airports" and emerge clutching something quietly mighty. Similarly, on "Penty Harmonium", James seems to have synthesised the wheezy, creaking mechanics and gasps of ancient wood, metal and fabric mechanics into the melody's very score. And "Lornaderek", an answerphone recording of his parents singing "Happy Birthday" to their "little 28 year old son", is a fun way to spend 30 seconds. But elsewhere, on the more regular fare, it seemed as if the Twin was resting on his considerable laurels, and regurgitating carbon copies of the highlights of his decade-long recording career.

But persevere and concentrate and this unfavourable impression gradually begins to slide away. Even "Girl/Boy Song", the clattery highlight of his last LP "Richard D. James Album", didn't posses such skittery, abandoned beats as does "Vordhosbn", sounding rigidly mechanical and programmed in comparison. Always on the hunt for new methods of sonic expression, he brings us sampled whipcracks during "Omgyjya Switch7", a track that might be dismissed as a diluted version of his death-metal anthem "Come To Daddy" before you begin to appreciate just how frenetic it is, and "Gwarek2" seems to be predominately constructed from the sound of a stick being dragged along metal railings. "Gwely Mermans" might harken back to the static vistas of the "Selected Ambient Works Volume 2" red herring, but it's far more upbeat than anything on that album: nothing happens, but it happens fast. "Cock/Ver10" evokes the brutality of "Come On You Slags!" from the "…I Care Because You Do" album, whilst being far more intricate, with a brooding, minor key melody amidst all the battery that could have snuck off Roy Budd's "Get Carter" soundtrack. "Mt Saint Michel Mix + St Michaels Mount" might initially sound like the same old mix of acid and breakbeats, but that would be to ignore the fact that it's far harder and faster than the recipe has been before, with everything turned up way beyond 11. "Taking Control", by far the most straightforwardly funky tune he's yet released, could even be an old skool homage to Sleazy D's "I've Lost Control", with its sinister "I'm taking control of the drum machines" hookline.

So…"Drukqs" may not entirely justify the not inconsiderable hype that has surrounded its release, and by its creator's own admission this cupboard-clearing exercise steers shy of his latest, most innovative work on the grounds that he doesn't want his ideas pilfered by generations of copyists. Nevertheless, if you aim higher than the initial feelings of muted discontent there's a wide swathe of interesting music contained in this somewhat user-unfriendly package. Time and effort devoted to unravelling its intricately encoded pleasures should reap considerable rewards, especially if we have another five year wait before his next album arrives.

APHEX TWIN 26 Mixes For Cash (Warp)

26mixesforcash.jpg (2691 bytes)Belying its offhand title, there's nothing slipshod about this release, which performs a valuable service for the less obsessive Aphex Twin browser by gathering up a double baker's dozen examples of his extracurricular remix work in a smart silver digipak.

Rumours abound of a grumpy Richard D James being frequently woken up at some absurd hour of the afternoon by motorcycle couriers dispatched to collect finished remixes for famous and powerful clients, who are sent away with the first random scrap of tape the bleary Aphex Twin can lay his hands on. Perhaps for that reason, "26 Mixes For Cash" sounds satisfyingly cohesive, despite, theoretically at least, being drawn from the catalogues of twenty or so other acts, including Jesus Jones, Saint Etienne, Nine Inch Nails and Mike Flowers Pops.

Contained amongst this motley assembly are a smattering of astonishing high points. The Big Drum Mix of Gavin Bryars' "Raising The Titanic," is the first: all joyous strings, clattering percussion, cherubic voices, off-camera coughs and half-remembered conversation (the latter reminiscent of the Twin's own "Tha"), it's a glorious synthesis , practically an entirely new kind of music, like a requiem mass being performed in a steelworks. Amazingly, it's soon topped by a remix of "Heroes" that, at long last, makes sense of Philip Glass' bland orchestral autopilot glide across the surfaces of the song, although it takes the addition of David Bowie's original vocals (the master tapes of which apparently had to be exhumed from the Swiss bank vault they call home) and Mr James' scorched magic to do so…an awesome, jagged, craggy piece of music. The other notable is "Remix By AFX", a blandly monikered but savage slash-up of 808 State's "Flow Coma" that sent this observer spinning and foaming wildly when issued as a single two years ago, one of the finest four minutes of music RDJ's been involved with yet.

Pootling around the lower levels, there's much trademark AFX to be discovered and enjoyed here, liberally laced with squelching synths and dragged, distorted beats. The easy listening nursery rhyme geniality of Gentle People's "Journey" doesn't quite carry the weight of its ten minute duration, but the Aphex Twin Reconstruction #2 turns Jesus Jones' "Zeroes And Ones" into some kind of nagging, insistent alien transmission. The heavenly harmonium riffing of The Beatniks "Une Femme N'est Pas Un Homme" suggests a soft focus Stereolab at their fluffiest, whilst "The Beauty Of Being Numb Section B" transforms Nine Inch Nails into Beck and Mike Flowers taking it easy at some kinda fashionable soiree. (Depends what your definition of numb is, I suppose.) Even this is gradually submerged by the sound of paper-and-comb mouth breathing, a trick employed elsewhere in the AFX canon. Seconds later Nobukazu Takemura's "Let My Fish Loose" is serving up clarinet, acoustic guitar and rattling bass, at once frighteningly avant-garde and childishly simple. The angry breakbeats and scissored string swathes of Philip Boa & The Voodoo Club's "Deep In Velvet" play suspiciously like a blueprint for the man's own "Girl/Boy Song", which would follow a year later. In this context, a barely recognisable Acid Edit of his classic hip-hop concept single "Windowlicker" sounds disappointingly like a scrapbook of rejected ideas, as does the original mix of "SAW2 CD1 TRK2", which aficionados will immediately decode as the second track of the first CD of "Selected Ambient Works Volume II", rather more robust but less distinctive than the barely shifting vistas of that album. DMX Krew's "You Can't Hide Your Love" is brittle electro girl pop, a blatant chart ploy made about five years too soon, whilst there's something strangely beguiling about the self-parodying Bacharach "ba-ba-bas", parping horns and stuttering beats of Mike Flowers' Pops "Debase, Soft Palate".

Even though the quality might be shaded slightly by the quantity, "26 Mixes For Cash" is a treasure trove for the Aphex Twin enthusiast, conveniently illustrating at least some of the pasts, presents and futures of electronica: you'll enjoy it as much or as little as you think you will.