Aphex Twin – Cheetah EP

4 out of 5

Label: Warp

Produced by: Richard D. James

As befitting the 80s-ish cover font and garish colors, Richard D. James takes another stylistic left-turn; no longer content to work in general arcs in his catalogue, but rather changing it up release to release, Cheetah finds the artist working in a more laid back mold reminiscent of his first Ambient Works collection, but delightfully raw as all get out, certainly thanks to the equipment he’s favoring here (mentioned in the base song titles – Cheetah and Circlon, and described in much more enlightened detail in the Pitchfork review).  Coming off of Deejay Selek or Syro, it’s initially off-puttingly sparse; headphones fix that.  These are gorgeous dancefloor grooves, patiently layered and slightly, charmingly janky.

As we’ve come to greedily expect with James, although the pairs of tracks are named similarly, they couldn’t be more different from one another, sharing, likely, some core elements that are now too distant for my amateur ears to sleuth, but regardless, spliced and diced to uniqueness by our composer.  That does lead to one (we’ll suppose) unintended downside (though this might also be due to some of these cuts stemming from the soundcloud dump, i.e. older works), in that the EP doesn’t exactly flow together.  The first two tracks have a club vibe; the two Circlon tracks are vaguely more video gamey bounce; but there’s not a throughline thicker than these generalisms to tie the experience together, a divide shrugged at (also in typical RDJ fashion, to be fair) by the inclusion of two sound sample tracks in the disc’s middle.

Individually, though, the full songs are some of the most exciting stuff I’ve heard from Aphex since the “I’m just gonna do my own thing” breeziness of the Analord releases.  I’ve loved the past few discs, but Syro felt sort of like RDJ re-proving himself to us, and the releases thereafter are like him trying on specific sub-genre hats.  Cheetah is completely present, though, James’ latter day dedication to fidgety synthesizers giving the songs this amazing (perhaps ironic, given that it’s old equipment) freshness, and delivering what are quickly becoming, for me, modern day classics.