Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Aphex Twin Top 200 - 80-61

80. AFX: .0180871R (1993)

Crunching beats, brooding strings, chopped up, unrecognisable voices. Simple formula - but it works. One of the highlights from the AB3 record. Listen.

79. Aphex Twin: Z Twig (1994)

Another deliriously pretty track from SAW 2, this is the sort of piece that could happily last for ten minutes. Again, though, James shows his astounding ability to make an art form of brevity. Listen.

78. Polygon Window: UT1-Dot (1993)

Simple, but devastatingly effective techno from James, replete with distant space age sonics and chattering robot voices. Listen.

77. AFX: CD Only Track #1 (1993)

Aphex's Lux Aeterna. The harrowing basis of Garden of Linmiri, this wouldn't be out of place on the Bladerunner soundtrack. Listen.

76. Polygon Window: Quixote (1993)

Like most of the best early Aphex, the melody here is almost blindingly simple - but carries all before it with aplomb. Listen.

75. Caustic Window: On The Romance Tip (1992)

For the first minute-and-a-half, this is perhaps one of Aphex's very best pieces of music. That it slips away as the melody mutates is a shame, but this is still a thrilling track, and the standout piece from the Caustic period. Listen.

74. The Tuss: GX1 Solo (2007)

If Analord showed there was life in the old Aphex yet, The Tuss material suggested James might still be capable of making great music. The two Tuss EPs are the most concentrated, consistent releases since the Come To Daddy period. Listen.

73. Curve: Falling Free (The Aphex Twin Remix) (1992)

James showed early signs of genius with this remix of a quite dreadful piece of proto Britpop. Almost nothing at all bar a stretched-out snatch of vocal remains from the original - and James elevates it to profound, majestic ambience. Listen.

72. Aphex Twin: Windowsill (1994)

One of the most vivid, original moments on the whole Selected Ambient Works 2 record, this piece was one of many from the record that put James on a completely different plane to his contemporaries. Listen.

71. Aphex Twin: Tha (1992)

A truly lovely record in many respects, Tha is early Aphex at his most placid and persuasive. Mingled voices mutter as a muted melody does the rounds over soaring chords. It is a career highlight - although it probably lingers for longer than it needs to. Listen.

70. The Tuss: Goodbye Rute (2007)

The Tuss requiem. Listen.

69. Aphex Twin: Ventolin (Crowsmengegus Mix)

I think it's very easy to argue that Ventolin is the finest and most original of all the James EPs. The musical language is not only unique and much more involved than anything he had created before - it is steps ahead in places of the I Care Because You Do album from which it apparently stems. And this piece typifies that - opening with a marvel of percussion and sonic wizadry before sliding into dejected, skeletal hip hop. Listen.

68. Aphex Twin: Iz Us (1997)

Another exquisite short track by Aphex. Like many of his best pieces, it's almost an afterthought - a final track on a remix CD. But this, like most of the Come To Daddy material, is superb. Listen.

67. Aphex Twin: Isopropanol (1992)

Did Aphex rename this for legal reasons? Don't know: names are irrelevant when the music is this stridently original. This is the sort of material that almost justifies the sort of mad praise used in the early days to describe James as the new Mozart. Listen.

66. Aphex Twin: Come To Daddy (Little Lord Fauntleroy mix) (1997)

Continues the trend of RDJ using vocals (his own, presumably) to create the monstrous, menacing voices of children. Even with the daft, distorted vocals, however, this is another casually, prodigiously brilliant piece of music. Listen.

65. 808 State: Flow Coma (Remix by AFX) (2001)

James has a rare go at remixing a genuine classic. This is one of 808 State's best tracks, so rather than dismantle it - or, as he often does, annihilate the original - Aphex instead just cranks up the decibels and lets fly. Listen.

64. AFX: Pitcard (2005)

Maddeningly addictive Analord track - almost head and shoulders above everything else from the series. Moments like this make you wonder why the sheer, frenzied early brilliance of Aphex is now heard less often. Listen.

63. Aphex Twin: Tamphex (Hedphuq Mix) (1992)

One of those tracks that truly make you wonder what planet Richard David James is really from. A banal, juvenile concept - mocking a Tampax advert - is transformed into something almost unbelievable - a soundscape intense, unyielding and utterly original. As on most of the early R&S releases, James here made his contemporaries look out of their depth. Listen.

62. Gavin Bryars: Raising The Titanic (Big Drum Mix by Aphex Twin) (1995)

This was made in a period when James almost seemed to be dabbling with classical music. The collaboration with Philip Glass, the strings on Next Heap With and this drum-dominating reworking of a Gavin Bryars piece all somewhat seem of a piece. This is easily the most successful track of the lot - and an infectious piece of music by any standards. Listen.

61. Aphex Twin: Bbydhyonchord (2001)

The most simple and delightful piece from the troubled, messy Drukqs album, this was the sort of music that made you realise that Aphex has the talent to roll out another three or four Selected Ambient Works - but just doesn't want to. Listen.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Aphex Twin top 200 - 100-81

100. Aphex Twin: Hexagon (1994)

Beat-laden, consciously pretty piece that presages the trip hop-esque explorations of I Care Because You Do. Listen.

99. Polygon Window: If It Really Is Me (1993)

Simplicity in electronics. A quick piano riff, a couple of uneasy chords and some muttered, breathless vocals - what else do you need? Listen.

98. Aphex Twin: Weathered Stone (1994)

Years ago, when Aphex had just burst on the scene, Grant Wilson-Claridge spoke of an unreleased hip-hop track by James that had blown him away when he first heard it. I've no idea what the piece was, and whether it was ever released, but I always wondered whether this slow, slightly funky cut might have been it. Listen.

97. Caustic Window: Joyrex J5 (1992)

Although the Analord series as a whole was enjoyable, for pure acid pleasure, the early Caustic Window releases are far more potent. Joyrex J5 was one of the first pieces to exhibit pure Jamesian idiom - a mixture of sonic mayhem and a strange, lingering melancholy. Listen.

96. Aphex Twin: Shiny Metal Rods (1994)

Probably the track that got me hooked on Aphex, this was the first piece on Selected Ambient Works II that actually made any sense to me as a 15-year-old. It's lost some of its power now to surprise me, but it is still an intense piece, opening a window on a wild, weird, desperate world. Listen.

95. Aphex Twin: White Blur (1994)

It might surprise some people that this is in the list at all. It's the two minute piece that wraps up the first half of SAW II. But I have always found it intriguing. Something about those slowed down, enigmatic conversations gets me every time. Listen.

94. AFX: CAT 00897-A2 (1993)

Analogue Bubblebath 3 ends with this weirdly striking, acid-heavy dirge. Despite the seeming scarcity of variety in the piece, it's strangely memorable - even though it ends drearily, with the gurgling sound of a plughole. Listen.

93. Aphex Twin: Grass (1994)

Another funereal piece from SAW II that could only ever have been penned by James. It's a sort of death march heard from a million miles away. Listen.

92. Meat Beat Manifesto: Mindstream (The Aphex Twin Remix) (1993)

On-era dream techno, from the same source material that triggered Orbital's masterful - and very different - Remind. Where Orbital stamp hard on the beats and crank up the frequencies, Aphex goes for a delicate, soft focus reverie. Listen.

91. Aphex Twin: Parallel Stripes (1994)

One of the most singular pieces in the Aphex canon, this could have been released a decade later and not have seemed out of place. Drone music, pure and simple. Listen.

90. Aphex Twin: Girl/Boy Song (£18 Snare Rush Mix) (1996)

Does in less than two minutes what Squarepusher has been trying to do for his whole career. The quintessence of early drill 'n' bass conjoined to a spectacular slow jam hip hop lament. Amazing.

89. Aphex Twin: Ptolemy (1992)

Of a piece with Pulsewidth on the same album, this has some similarities with Model 500 and the Detroit masters in whose footsteps AFX followed. But James infuses this with his own sad, squelching twist. Listen.

88. The Tuss: Alspacka (2007)

Inner City's Big Fun reimagined as West Country acid oddity. Listen.

87. Aphex Twin: Actium (1992)

The swansong from Selected Ambient Works. After 70 minutes of ecstatic highs and harsh, intense lows, this track just levels everything out, allowing the album to fade away beatifically. Listen.

86. Aphex Twin: Radiator (1994)

After the blissful opening piece on SAW 2, track number two jars us horribly to life. It's cacophony personified. And yet, once you get used to the dissonance, it is a remarkable, arresting number that could only have been produced by James himself. Incomparable.

85. Aphex Twin: Peek 824545201 (1996)

It is a sign of how strong the Richard D. James Album is that this is one of the weakest tracks on it. But its mesmerising melody, overladen as it is with bittersweet chords, would stand out on almost any other record. Listen.

84. Aphex Twin: Petiatil Cx Htdui (2001)

Easily the best instrumental piece on Drukqs, and the only one to really suggest James could force his sensibility to shine through on any instrument. Listen.

83. Aphex Twin: White Blur 2 (1994)

For many years, I found this piece valueless. But there is something genuinely, unnervingly powerful about it. That wonky, discordant refrain that at first seems so grating, and that weird, distorted laughter, merge through loop after loop, into something strange, chilling - haunting. Listen.

82. The Gentle People: Journey (Aphex Twin Care Mix) (1995)

Another Aphex remix that transforms completely the source material, this takes on the languid air of a French disco track played at 10bpm. Listen.

81. Polygon Window: Portreath Harbour (1993)

Did this only see the light of day in 2001? I'm not sure, having picked up the Surfing On Sine Waves album in its original form long before the US re-release. But it's easily one of the best pieces from the Polygon Window period - making its exclusion from the original release all the more confusing. Listen.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Aphex Twin top 200 - 120-101

120. The Tuss: Shiz Ko E (2007)

Is Aphex Twin the Tuss? Yes. The gimmicky alter ego aside, there are too many clues here for coincidence - the label, the secrecy, the Martin Tressider references. And, of course, the music itself - as densely layered as the Drukqs material, but somehow more human, more clearly just a little bit of fun. Like this piece here. Listen.

119. Aphex Twin: At the Heart of it All (1995)

A Nine Inch Nails remix by Aphex Twin - it doesn't quite make sense, really. But this slow-burning quasi-orchestral piece is exactly that. A sort of junior partner to Icct Hedral, this nonetheless carries its own unique appeal. Listen.

118. Polygon Window: Untitled (1993)

Tear-inducing acid laced with an emphatic organ lament. Aphex at his most distressingly intense. Listen.

117. Bradley Strider: Bradley's Robot A2 (1993)

Even many die-hard Aphex fans don't have this record - and I am among them. The Strider material is a hodge-podge of good and bad, but this dispassionate piece is perhaps the finest of the bunch. Listen.

116. Aphex Twin: Hankie (1994)

Perhaps the most unforgivingly bleak moment in Aphex's long career - and certainly one of the most often-played tracks from the SAW 2 album, Hankie - as it is known - is a strange, almost classical piece of terribly strident potency. Listen.

115. Caustic Window: Italic Eyeball (1992)

One of the few Caustic pieces where the foot is taken a little off the accelerator. Confused, reversed melodies gather over a menacing beat - and are then subverted by light, airy keyboard notes. Listen.

114. Polygon Window: Audax Powder (1992)

Part ambient bliss, part percussive insanity - this is as oddly schizophrenic as anything in the AFX catalogue. Listen.

113. AFX: W32.Deadcode.A (2005)

For a record so recent in the discography, Analord is a distinctly conservative body of work. It clearly aims to be an ode of some sort to acid music, though, and this is one of the high points of the series. Listen.

112. Aphex Twin: Pulsewidth (1992)

Aphex at his chirpy, playful early best. Listen.

111. AFX: Cilonen (2005)

Such an odd, sliding melody. James again plumbs the depths of his love of early acid music. Listen.

110. Caustic Window: Astroblaster (1992)

Persistent, unwavering, earth-crushing rave. Listen.

109. DMX Krew: You Can't Hide Your Love (Aphex Twin Mix) (1997)

Bittersweet bliss. From an unpromising original, Aphex pared back, refined, and here turned around one of his miraculously poppy numbers. Listen.

108. Aphex Twin: Fenix Funk 5 (2005)

The first thing many Aphex fans heard from the Analord series, when it jolted scratchily into life at the start of Chosen Lords. Still bearing some of the hallmarks of the Drukqs era, this piece feels like a bridge between that album and much of the other, more nostalgic works in the Analord collection. Listen.

107. Caustic Window: Cordialatron (1992)

If the Caustic Window compilation is Richard David James at his most zealously acid-crunching, Italic Eyeball is a moment of welcome relief. A simple melody and a quick-fingered, mazy refrain are all it takes to keep this number ticking along - and, gladly, it all somehow works. Listen.

106. Aphex Twin: Hedphelym (1992)

Probably the most discordant piece on Selected Ambient Works by a distance, this is techno played at twilight in dimly lit caves. Possibly. Listen.

105. Aphex Twin: Curtain (1994)

Eeriness defined. It's hard to understand how a piece about a curtain could be so unsettling, but this really is. And it's incredible to think that this was made by the same person who released Flaphead just two years earlier. Listen.

104. AFX: Arched Maid Via RDJ (1995)

I was so excited at the release of Hangable Autobulb 2, I bought it as a 12" the moment it came out - even though I didn't have a record player. I've only heard the vinyl itself at friends' houses once or twice since then - but it's one of the darkest and most compelling pieces from RDJ's drill 'n' bass period. Listen.

103. Aphex Twin: Ventolin (Plain-An-Gwarry Mix) (1995)

A deeper, funkier version of Cow Cud is a Twin, this is one of the many fine pieces on the Ventolin EP set. Listen.

102. Aphex Twin: Start As You Mean To Go On (1995)

I read somewhere that I Care Because You Do is the ultimate expression of IDM in the 1990s. Which I think is unfair to Aphex, really, as his music rarely descends into the formulaic in the way that much IDM so often did. And this piece sums that up as well as any. Listen.

101. Soft Ballet: Sand Lowe (The Polygon Window Remix) (1993)

One of the least well-known of all the Aphex remixes, this is easily one of the best. Slow, crunching rhythms - and the inaugural wail borrowed from Garden of Linmiri - rumble beneath a soft, looping, undulating melody that is pierced by a despairing vocal. Uncomfortably good. Listen.