Thirteen years after his previous LP, ‘Drukqs’, found its way to a thousand syncs, Richard D. James’ return as Aphex Twin is inevitably A Big Deal.
But anyone anticipating a radical reinvention after so long away might be disappointed with an album that plays almost exclusively to its maker’s long-established strengths. Certainly, opener ‘minipops 67 [120.2] (source field mix)’ feels like a rerun, a return to renowned qualities rather than any attempt to expand its maker’s oeuvre. Definitely Aphex, but decidedly done before.
The opinion that this is merely a series of echoes of archive material is soon parked, though, because James is a clear master of his art – even if he’s reluctant to paint beyond the lines across these 12 tracks. Safety on, he remains phenomenal, and as the tracks of ‘Syro’ reveal themselves, tempos fluctuating and colours running, enough variety emerges to make an hour’s run time feel significantly shorter.
From jungle excursions on ‘PAPAT4  (pional mix)’ to trebly funk that’s like Chromeo gone nuclear, via a rave in the Resident Evil mansion during ‘180db_’ and a delicate piano outro – ‘aisatsana ’ is this set’s own ‘Avril 14th’ – ‘Syro’ is never less than captivating. It’s rare that attentions wander – only once, during the slightly too long ‘XMAS_EVET10  (thanaton3 mix)’, might the listener find themselves drifting from the source.
Anyone smitten by Rustie will find shades of the Scot’s hyperactive histrionics in ‘CIRCLONT6A [141.98] (syrobonkus mix)’, but James isn’t taking specific cues from his Warp labelmate. Rather, the parallels are there because Aphex Twin founded these tangents – it’s only now that the chasing pack has begun to catch up to him.
It’s an effortless comeback, then, that almost plays like a greatest hits set. Tighter than ‘Drukqs’ and a more immediately engaging collection than could have been predicted, this Big Deal is one that stands up to the amazing hype and comes away not too shabby at all.
Words: Mike Diver
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