Aphex Twin – Richard D. James Album (US edition)

5 out of 5

Label: Warp

Produced by: Aphex Twin

After backwardsing my way into Aphex Twin – the Come to Daddy video weirded me out, and I didn’t take another glance until a girl I liked played the EP for me some years later – I did my usual obsessive shtick of snapping up as much of the discography of an artist as I could afford as quickly as I could, which, with someone like RDJ and the less-refined internet days, meant a lot of out of reach stuff (due to availability or price or my dawning awareness that a ton of music existed on LP that wasn’t on CD), and, for a while, being stuck with a holy triumvirate of material: Come to Daddy, …I Care Because You Do, and Richard D. James Album. With these three, there formed a structure in my mind: the freewheeling style of Come to Daddy, with its harsher elements found on …I Care and its more melodic elements found on RDJ Album.

Reading reviews after the fact is interesting; seeing how the order in which you experience things – had I been listening to these as they released – surely affects how you “hear” them, and that the RDJ Album was considered a new frontier in discordance and jungle and etc. for Aphex. For me, it’s a breathlessly beautiful, steady disc, the most melodic of James’ post-ambient, pre-Drukqs experimentation work, segueing into wonderfully uncomfortable pop moments, such as on Milkman (from the US version’s Girl / Boy EP) and To Cure a Weakling Child, both – through their use of treated, lilting vocals – creating a connection I wouldn’t have known then to later Rephlex oddballs like Bogdan Raczynski.

I was amazed then, and now, at how accessible the music is, but also at how original it remains. There’s a proactively defensive review on Discogs that suggests modern listeners might find this stuff tame, and perhaps my use of “accessible” suggests the same, but I really don’t think so – I remain fairly (I think?) connected to modern Aphex-influenced electronica, and RDJ Album still has most of that stuff beat in terms of wide-ranging weirdness, and willingness to break and repair rhythms. James seemed to have an innate understanding of how much you could push weird time signatures and breakbeats without it devolving into doing so for the sake of it, or becoming too clubby or predictable. There are a lot of blazingly smart people working in music still who’ve picked up / added to that legacy, but it doesn’t change how sharp this album still sounds. I’ll accept that a chunk of my feeling regarding that comes from nostalgia, but I’ve returned to some “challenging” music from my formative listening years only to realize how relatively straight-forward it is, and that’s not the case with this disc – it’s a strange one, but irrepressibly catchy at the same time; it’s not verse-chorus-verse, but your ear instantly attunes to what James is throwing down, no matter how jittery or atonal or poppy or Milkman’s wife’s titsed (which I always heard as “warm,” and I don’t know how the two interpretations compare.).

A brilliant, defining slice of IDM, offering up so many subgenre splinters from the scene while remaining wholly cohesive – even in its extended, 15-track US format.