[Album Review] Aphex Twin's "Syro" Is Chaotic, Dissonant, And Beautiful (Go Figure)

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Aphex Twin's Syro Is A Trove Of Technical Wizardry, Heres What We Thought...

Somewhere between a Liverpool rave circa 1992 and a second coming of Johann Sebastian Bach, Aphex Twin’s Syro breaks through the cocoon of structure, form, and musical complacency we’ve built for ourselves since the popularization of electronic music. Blinded by limiters, dynamic compression, and Massive presets, most of us aren't willing or even able to take the musical risks needed to push the boundaries. No stranger to sonic fringes, Richard D. James shows us what we're missing, and it is-a-plenty...

With my hands on Syro at last, I tore into it like a stocking-candy-stuffed kid on Christmas (or XMAS_EVET10 [Thanaton3 Remix] if you’re Aphex Twin). After I awoke from my Sennheiser induced coma, I felt renewed. The countless hours, sleepless nights, the endless attenuation of keys, knobs, and faders to craft the perfect mix – I heard it in each track.

Syro, like RDJ’s other releases, flows like a well-oiled Rube Goldberg machine, completely sporadic and unique, each movement dependent on the events before it. Weaving between colorful soundscapes, ambient minimalism, and baffling rhythmic glory, Syro is exactly what you’d expect, yet throws you for a loop the entire time.

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The technical genius of Syro is old news, that’s not what you came here for. No, some things are better left in Pandora’s Box, I mean just look at that frigging thing! One of RDJ’s trademarks are his absolutely flawless mixdowns, and nothing's changed in Syro. You don’t need to have a doctorate in audio engineering to hear the grueling dynamic attenuation required to make the abrasive basslines mix seamlessly with ambient pads and frantic drum patterns. The gear "list" is overwhelming, but also telling of James' unwavering dedication, even after decades atop the electronic music throne.

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Syro challenges the ears. We've become so used to "easy" music, we've forgotten that the mind wants to be challenged, not coddled. It's the reason we clap at the end of a Romeo and Juliet, even though half the cast is killed off, we find beauty and closure in the delivery. Beautiful in its execution and fine-tuning, Syro is aural masochism at it's best.

Overall Album Rating: 8.4/10

While the production and delivery are flawless, Syro lacks definition, as most tracks fall into a recurring pattern (of awesomeness).


After running through the entire album about six times, I’ve come up with a list of my favorites in order of their appearance.

Minipops 67(Source Field Mix): We all know RDJ claimed he was “horny” for Syro, so this must have been his idea of foreplay. Minipops came out about a week before Syro’s release, and was a great foreshadow of what was to come. It seems to pull in all elements from the rest of the album: chopped-up lyrics, ambient breaks, glitchy rhythms and all.  Minipops is one of the more accessible songs on Syro, and was a great pick for gaining pre-release hype.

180db_: Unlikely to receive much merit, yet the most accessible song on the album, I chose 180db_ because it embodies every facet of Aphex Twin without scaring away the faint-of-heart, and anyone who's seen "Come to Daddy," knows what I'm talking about. The track features classic breakbeats with haunting leads laid on top of a frantic bass line. Sounds awful, right? Wrong, and he makes sure you know it!

s950tx16wasr10 (earth portal mix): My personal favorite take-away from Syro, if only for its structure, which is non-existent. The song evolves from the iconic amen break slowed down to a near-halt, into an analog nightmare of chopped leads and jungle-style breaks. RDJ showcases his capacity as a drum-machine virtuoso with insane rhythms, each mixing flawlessly into one another without repeating even once.

Aisatsana: As the fog-of-war clears from tracks leading up to it, Syro settles to a cease fire of silent ambience. Simple and entrancing, Aisatsana layers subtle piano riffs, one on top of the other in what sounds like an otherworldly bird sanctuary. Chirps fill the silence left behind by the sustained piano chords as Syro sings it's swan song. Much like Avril 14th from Druqks, Aisatsana acts as a beautiful send-off.

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