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.


  1. Oh god I laughed at the previous comment

  2. Lichen number two ! God bless you my friend...

  3. Beautiful countdown. You're a very sensitive and artistic soul.