Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Aphex Twin Top 200 - 20-1

20. Aphex Twin: Polynomial-C (1992)

A colossal work, one of the greatest in electronic music, and the first piece to suggest to the world that James might just be a genius. It's dated slightly - the synths over the top feel a bit limp now - but there are few more thrilling moments in electronics than in the first minute or so of this mesmerising piece of music. Listen.

19. Aphex Twin: 54 Cymru Beats (2001)

In some respects, this is quite an ugly, messy piece of work. But once it gets going, 54 Cymru Beats is truly astonishing - and its final two and a half minutes perhaps the finest Aphex ever produced. Listen.

18. Aphex Twin: Windowlicker (1999)

In the end, Aphex Twin's most famous track also turned out to be one of his best. One of the great songs of the nineties, and the moment when many fans expected RDJ to go global. Instead he made Drukqs, then virtually disappeared. Listen.

17. Aphex Twin: Yellow Calx (1996)

That a track this subdued should be so high up the list is a measure of how lovely Yellow Calx really is. It's about two minutes long, skips about morosely as though Orbital were having a fight with Oval, then slides away. And yet it lingers forever. Listen.

16. Aphex Twin: Ageispolis (1992)

One of a sequence of brilliant tracks on what was side one of my cassette copy of Selected Ambient Works. The languid basslines and sonorous air of dejection on this record are hard to forget. Listen.

15. Aphex Twin: Green Calx (1992)

Another of the string of fantastic tracks that almost run back to back on the first half of SAW. Green Calx is at once lyrical and weirdly guttural. And this is the best of the three great Calx tracks James produced. Just. Listen.

14. Nine Inch Nails: The Beauty of Being Numb Section B (Created by Aphex Twin) (1995)

Wondered whether this might be number one when I started this list. Totally offbeat, idiosyncratic composition. Would have been higher but for the middle section, but the chief refrain is gobsmacking. Listen.

13. Aphex Twin: Meltphace 6 (2001)

The only one of James' releases post-2000 to find a place in the higher reaches of this chart, Meltphace 6 is the standout track from the awkward Drukqs record. If the whole album had been like this, of course, it would have been hailed as a masterpiece. Listen.

12. Aphex Twin: Xtal (1992)

One of Aphex Twin's most enchanting moments. Perfection. Listen.

11. Aphex Twin: Tree (1994)

Perhaps the most darkly serious piece of music James - or, indeed, Warp Records - ever released. Unremitting bleakness and airs of rare delicacy combine on this unforgettable track. Listen.

10. Aphex Twin: Heliosphan (1992)

The most uplifting track Aphex ever put out, in my view. Not the most technical or complex of records, but a piece of real warmth all the same. Listen.

9. Aphex Twin: To Cure a Weakling Child, Contour Regard (1997)

The outstanding track from the Come To Daddy EPs, this reconstruction of the Richard D. James piece outdoes the original emphatically. Listen.

8. Aphex Twin: Fingerbib (1996)

I may have said somewhere along on the way that Richard D. James is a Pet Sounds for the Warp generation. And I think Fingerbib sums this up better than anything else. As I see it, the rich, complex web of melodies and the sense of bittersweet joy are very much of a piece with the work of Brian Wilson. Listen.

7. Aphex Twin: Stone in Focus (1994)

One of Aphex's greatest purely ambient moments. It's the sort of piece that you would associate more with William Basinski, with its one immense refrain endlessly looping over a muffled grandfather clock. Many Aphex fans will not even be aware of it, as it was squeezed out of the CD version - presumably because of its length. Listen.

6. Aphex Twin: Cliffs (1994)

I have already suggested that with SAW II, Aphex created a new musical language. The album as a whole has often been labelled as Eno-esque, but in truth James' takes the idea of Eno's discreet music and charges it with profundity. And Cliffs, the first track on the album, illustrates this beautifully. Listen.

5. AFX: Every Day (1995)

The supreme record of its day went almost unnoticed upon release. Every Day's simple, melancholy airs and scuttling rhythms should have registered immediately on the radars of all the arbiters of taste at the time. Garlands should have been thrown, prizes awarded, trophies handed out. But I remember those days quite clearly, and none of those things happened. Listen.

4. Aphex Twin: Rhubarb (1994)

Despite its roots in electronics, there is something very organic-sounding about SAW II. There are times on the album when James even appears to be having a go at classical music. It's not Beethoven, and nor does it try to be, but a track like Rhubarb easily matches almost anything put out by modern American minimalist composers such as Reich and Glass. Listen.

3. Phillip Boa and the Voodoo Club: Deep in Velvet (Aphex Twin Turnips Mix) (1995)

Aphex Twin has never really got the credit he deserved for his remixes. This is undoubtedly his greatest achievement in that field. Typically, he uses the original - a lurid, crass piece of pap - and turns it into gold. There could be no better illustration of his brilliance. Listen.

2. Aphex Twin: Lichen (1994)

If Rhubarb brings to mind the works of the minimalist American composers, Lichen harks back to something more clasically pastoral. In its own way, it is not too far removed from the kind of idyll invoked at times by Bach and Mozart. That the same person could produce music as beautiful as this alongside such violently unnerving records as Ventolin is a sign of the true breadth of James as an artist. Listen.

1. Aphex Twin: Matchsticks (1994)

And so this is it - the best track Richard David James has ever produced. So far. If he had carried on at the rate he was going in the mid-90s, we might now all be calling him our greatest living musician. Instead, listeners make the most of the sporadic scraps that are put out, and are left to wonder whether the best is truly over. It might, or perhaps it might not. But the best of Aphex Twin is modern music at its most gripping. Listen.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Aphex Twin Top 200 - 40-21

40. Aphex Twin: Flaphead (1992)

One of the most original records James ever released, and a tune that still sounds stunning in its otherness to this day. So simple, yet so brutally remorseless. An Aphex classic. Listen.

39. Aphex Twin: Mould (1994)

Another utterly simple premise, but this time from a completely different part of the musical spectrum. Languid, mysterious - this could play for an hour and not get boring. Listen.

38. Aphex Twin: Alberto Balsam (1995)

Lovely stuff - but is it heresy that this isn't in the top ten? Listen.

37. Aphex Twin: Ziggomatic 17 (2001)

Ziggomatic 17 is one of those tracks on Drukqs that seems to go through seven or eight different phases on its approach to climax. It's a meandering, masterful work. Listen.

36. Aphex Twin: Domino (1994)

One of James's bleakest pieces. A simple, jarring refrain loops over itself relentlessly in an approach that in theory shouldn't work at all. The results, however, are gripping. Listen.

35. Aphex Twin: Cornish Acid (1996)

Seemingly an off-hand two minute interval between more substantial works on Richard D. James, Cornish Acid is in itself a mightily satisfying piece. Brutal rhythms.

34. AFX & Squarepusher: Freeman Hardy & Willis Acid (1998)

The track that changed Radiohead, this is easily Aphex's most successful collaboration. James restrains Jenkinson's tendency for over-elaboration and zaniness here with darkly sardonic music built upon layers and layers of shifting rhythms. Listen.

33. Aphex Twin: Mookid (1995)

Irresistible prettiness from Aphex's most popular album. The marching band style drum beat alone is perfection. Listen.

32. Jesus Jones: Zeroes And Ones (Aphex Twin Reconstruction #2 Mix) (1993)

Music to listen to when spinning through space. James entirely rebuilds the brash, banal Jesus Jones original to create something at once lyrical and utterly desolate. Listen.

31. Polygon Window: Quino-phec (1992)

This is the one track on Surfing On Sine Waves that moves beyond the techno formula followed elsewhere. Quino-phec heralds the haunting, elegaic ambient music that he would create on SAW II two years later. Listen.

30. Aphex Twin: Blur (1994)

The track on Selected Ambient Works II that, better than any other, sums up the pared back feel of the album. Almost nothing is happening here - but the bare bones are fascinating. Listen.

29. Aphex Twin: On (1993)

Probably the first Aphex track I ever heard, when it scraped into the top 40 one week in the early 90s - and probably one of the five or six most popular pieces James ever released. It would be higher in this list, but after the spectacular opening two minutes, it slightly seems to run out of places to go - making the video edit much the better version. Listen.

28. AFX: Klopjob (2005)

I suppose this must be the finest moment of the somewhat indifferent Analord series. At times, Analord seems to go nowhere. At others, it springs out and astonishes the listener. Listen.

27. Aphex Twin: 4 (1996)

"Richard?" asks a voice. "Yeah," he answers. And then joy unconfined ensues. Listen.

26. Aphex Twin: Wet Tip Hen Ax (1995)

James really did like his anagrams in those days, as this song's title reveals. Silly name, but deadly serious intent here on a piece that almost reeks of its singular originality. Listen.

25. Aphex Twin: Blue Calx (1994)

If Eno is ambient's pioneer, Aphex is the one who turned it into something truly musical. Pieces like Blue Calx infuse the low-key, evanescent quality of Eno in his prime with a rich melancholia that is all of James' invention. Listen.

24. Aphex Twin: The Waxen Pith (1995)

Is this the best track on I Care Because You Do? I would never have said so before, but I picked it ahead of all the others. It's certainly dated better than some of the pieces on that album, and has more levels to it than many of the other tracks on there. But I could do the list again in a year and pick something else. Listen.

23. Aphex Twin: Analogue Bubblebath (1991)

The very first Aphex release - and one that James drew out into a series of five, sometimes completely unrelated, EPs and LPs. Comes from a different place entirely to the stark, haunting early material he was putting out at this time on R&S, and is possibly more endearing as a result. Listen.

22. AFX: Laughable Butane Bob (1995)

This is the best thing Aphex ever released, isn't it? Well, possibly it is - but years of playing this maddeningly addictive record have taken the edge off its appeal to me. But still undeniably brilliant. Listen.

21. Aphex Twin: We Are The Music Makers (1992)

Didn't really like this much when I first bought the record, but can't get enough of it now. The funk of that beat, that enormous bassline, the delight of that melody - superb. Listen.

Aphex Twin Top 200 - 60-41

60. The Tuss: Rushup I Bank 12 (2007)

The finest of the Tuss releases, rechanneling the manic energy of the snare rolls on Drukqs - but adding to it a weird, complex poetry that is different from anything on that record. Listen.

59. Aphex Twin: Vordhosbn (2001)

One of the four or five tracks on Drukqs that really works, Vordhosbn carries on in the vein of earlier drill 'n' bass material on the RDJ Album and Hangable Auto Bulb, but turns everything a shade or two darker. And where those earlier releases were by turns playful or melancholic, the best music on Drukqs is harder by far - with BPMs that are off the scale. Listen.

58. Aphex Twin: Ventolin (Video Version) (1995)

When this came out, it was my favourite Aphex track by a distance. The very shrillness and raucousness of the piece almost seems designed to ward off the listener, but I was smitten. It is an explosive track, and one that I have probably played to death, but it is the centrepiece of one of electronic music's greatest remix projects - the Ventolin EPs.

57. Aphex Twin: To Cure A Weakling Child (1996)

The very epitome of mid-90s Aphex playfulness, this track is a strange and heady mix of child-like tomfoolery and machine-gun snare drums.

56. Aphex Twin: Ventolin (Praze-An-Beeble mix) (1995)

Another astonishingly inventive mix from the Ventolin EPs. To put into perspective James' achievement on this record, it is only necessary to look at the kind of EP mixes his peers were releasing at about the same time. Where many saw them as a hindrance, a contractual obligation, James here briefly turned the electronic artist's remix EP into a towering art form. Listen.

55. Aphex Twin: Pancake Lizard (1995)

This is one of those records that I suspect many Aphex fans will have in their all-time top tens. That I don't is no slight on a track that I loved very dearly when it came out. Still do now, although to me the piece only really comes alive when the final two-minute coda unfurls. Listen.

54. Aphex Twin: Logan Rock Witch (1996)

One of the warmest, silliest pieces James ever wrote, Logan (or is it Logon?) Rock Witch has enough ideas in it for ten songs - and yet it whizzes by like a mere after-thought. Has strange echoes of Dylan's Lay Lady Lay as well, although the two pieces could scarcely be more different. Listen.

53. Aphex Twin: Come On You Slags! (1995)

Deeply sexist, utterly ridiculous but somehow inspired piece of kettledrum 'n' bass from James. Produced five years before its eventual release on ICBYD, it seems far more textured and far less sternly rythmical than the endlessly austere early releases on R&S that were possibly made alongside it. Listen.

52. Aphex Twin: Phlange Phace (1992)

Early Aphex intensity. Not the most endearing piece from the R&S sessions, but one with a strange, sombre violence undercut by moments of deep, dark introspection. Listen.

51. Aphex Twin: Girl/Boy Song (1996)

The track that sums up the whole drill 'n' bass period better than any other is an infectious, preposterous mash-up. Part pizzicato classical music, part drum n bass - it's all Aphex. Takes about an hour to get into gear, but it's worth it for the pay-off. Listen.

50. Aphex Twin: Dodeccaheedron (1992)

Xylem Tube must have a claim to being one of the top five EPs of the 90s. James was 21 at the time the record was released on R&S, and the EP is still perhaps the most idiosyncratic and inventive of any of those he has put out. Dodeccaheedron, the last track on the record, acts almost as a beat-filled dirge, a weird, sad, lonely blast of noise to finish off the EP. Listen.

49. AFX: Children Talking (1995)

Possibly the funniest of all the Aphex tracks, and certainly the best use of a sample I can think of, Children Talking is skeletal drum 'n' bass played for laughs. In fact, it sounds a little like three or four different ideas for a song put together in a hurry. All the same, it works well - and the mashed potato quotes are immortal. Listen.

48. Aphex Twin: Phloam (1992)

Dazzling acid-soaked Aphex drum frenzy. Would be number one on the list of most artist's best releases. Listen.

47. Aphex Twin: Shottkey 7th Path (1992)

Another gloriously singular Aphex piece, Shottkey 7th Path sounds like a half-remembered theory from a science lesson. But this is not cerebral or nerdy music here. Instead, what we get is a haunting mix of tribal drum beats and icy blasts of melancholy electronica. Listen.

46. Aphex Twin: Icct Hedral (1995)

I thought this would be in my top ten when I started this enterprise. The track was Beethoven, modernist minimalism and Warp Records all rolled into one as far as I was concerned as a sullen, lonely teenager. And that low, rumbling crunch in the background of the track almost killed me. Unimpeachable brilliance - although long since played to death in my household. Listen.

45. Aphex Twin: Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michaels Mount (2001)

Manic, frantic percussion, bpms ratcheted up to 11, and sad, breathless vocals washing over hazy, woozy refrains - this is Drukqs at its most energetic and liberating. Listen.

44. Aphex Twin: Ventolin (Wheeze Mix) (1995)

This turns the original's crunching, guttural blasts into something at once more melodic and more devastatingly deep and intense. Listen.

43. Aphex Twin: Acrid Avid Jam Shred (1995)

The track that kicks things off on one of Aphex's very best records and, indeed, one of Warp's very best releases. Set the tone for what followed on the LP with its mix of home-made, trip-hop-like beats and gentle, melancholic melodies. Listen.

42. Seefeel: Time To Find Me (AFX Fast Mix) (1993)

One of James' very finest remixes - a work that blew me away when I stumbled across it in a charity shop many years ago. One of his dreamiest records, it's always felt like an inspiration in some way for the dream-like records that Boards of Canada put out officially a few years later. Listen.

41. AFX: Laricheard (2005)

A beautiful anomaly among the squelches and groans of the Analord series, this springs out like a long-lost house tune from the late 1980s. A mix of Mr Fingers beats and bass and low-key melodic Aphex despondency. Listen.