Richard D. James is so cagey about his public presence that his fame seems to border on the unilateral. He can go 13 years without releasing a proper album, anonymously drop hundreds of unreleased tracks onto Soundcloud, and plant portentous Aphex Twin logos on edifices around the globe, all while operating more or less sub rosa. From there, his fans take these elusive “publicity” tactics and bring them to the attention of the world at large. James seems to cultivate himself as the ascetic studio craftsman, wishing only to toil away in obscurity but for his ravenous fans who shine the spotlight on him time and again.
By virtue of their ceaseless fervor and intuitive sleuthing, Aphex Twin constituents have willed Richard D. James into the enigmatic lodestar of electronic music that he’s known as today. So on Collapse, his latest EP under the Aphex name, there’s a certain antipathy and cynicism present, a kind of misanthropy that could be found in a hermit who revels in mystery and only offers fleeting, furtive indications of his existence. In typical Aphex Twin fashion, the percussion is busy and disorienting, yet his synthesizers suggest more of a malaise. On “1st 44,” the keyboards sound lethargic over the intricate, fussy rhythms. On “abundance10edit[2 R8’s, FZ20m & a 909],” they feel nebulous and errant, as the song meanders with uncertainty before finally disappearing into an ether of hazy synth sounds. Nervousness and disaffection are evoked continuously on the EP, and James channels them with a masterful sense of conflict between man and machine.
Collapse strives to alienate. The few human voices present on the record feel warped and unnatural; the child’s murmur on “MT1 t29r2” sounds monotone and unnervingly distant under the rest of the song’s production. “Give me your hand, my friend, and I will lead you to the land of abundance, joy, and happiness,” a woman assures us, with a suspicious amount of placidity, on “abundance10.” And while this soundbite is buried under sonic dust and other detritus, James proceeds to chop and screw it as the song progresses until the words “joy” and “happiness” are reduced to abstractions, more ominous than comforting. The overall effect is a bit trite, but it’s the captivating instrumentation here that redeems the track.
While James is here less austere than on Cheetah EP and less eccentric than on landmark release Richard D. James Album, Collapse nevertheless proves to be a serviceable Aphex Twin release at this point in his career. His knack for finding interesting textures and layers hasn’t been compromised nor has his willingness to build off of previous styles in his oeuvre. Collapse is a step away from James’s forays into ambient and jungle of the past, but the Aphex Twin identity still shines through in his inimitable take on IDM. The more things change, the more they stay the same.