Announced via a fluorescent green blimp flying over East London, accompanied by cover artwork which depicts its recording costs in the style of an itemised receipt and featuring twelve song titles that read like computer code, the long-awaited sixth album from Aphex Twin proves the ambient electronica wunderkind remains just as warped as ever.
The follow-up to 2001’s Drukqs and the first official release under Richard D. James’ more familiar moniker since 2006 compilation Chosen Lords doesn’t reinvent the wheel in the way his seminal early releases did. But considering they were so far ahead of their time in the first place, the majority of Syro still sounds like it’s been beamed in from another planet.
None more so than “XMAS_EVET10  (thanaton3 mix),” an epic whirlwind of skittish beats, slap bass and yearning synths which continues to throw new weird and wonderful sounds into the mix throughout its ten-minute running time. But the jackhammer jungle of “180db_” and the squelchy ‘braindance’ of “CIRCLONT14 [152.97] (shrymoming mix)” also conjure up the same nightmarish qualities that briefly made Aphex Twin an unlikely MTV star in the mid-90s.
However, Syro isn’t entirely without warmth either. “produk 29 ” slows proceedings right down with its funky acid-jazz grooves and celestial chords. Opener “minipops 67 [120.2] (source field mix)” meanwhile, could even be described as intimate with its distant choral melodies interweaving around various dreamy blips and bleeps.
You’re also unlikely to hear another album this year that has the audacity to finish with a one-two of rapid-fire drum ‘n’ bass which seems to be attempting the beats-per-minute world record (“s950tx16wasr10 [163.97] (earth portal mix)”) and a melancholic solo piano number inspired by the early 20th century minimalism of Erik Satie (“aisatsana ”).
Syro isn’t the work of genius that perhaps some of Aphex Twin’s die-hard devotees might have been expecting after such a long absence. But it’s still an engaging and highly unique comeback whose playful freewheeling nature constantly keeps you on your toes.