It’s a special day when an album from one of the most important and influential artists alive becomes available to hear for the first time. Especially when it’s been such a long time coming. ‘Caustic Window’ is a ‘lost’ full-length by Richard David James aka Aphex Twin from 1994 which was scrapped at the test pressing stage. Only five copies were made, with one mysteriously making its way to eBay 20 years later. Aphex Twin fans (galvanised by the We Are The Music Makers forum) clubbed together on a Kickstarter project and raised $67,424 (roughly £40k) to buy the vinyl which they’ve now, with Aphex and his label Rephlex’s blessing, released digitally. You can stream the whole thing on YouTube below.
Aphex Twin’s last studio album, ‘Drukqs’, was released in 2001 and bar a few original tracks released on ’26 Mixes For Cash’ in 2003, it’s been a long thirsty wait for his fanbase, which, really, includes any music-lover half interested in electronic music. A new album has been fabled for years but it didn’t look likely. ‘Caustic Window’, though, could be a sign that Aphex is on the move.
There are 16 tracks on the album with classic Aphex names such as ‘Squidge In The Fridge’, ‘Cunt’ and ‘Stomper 101mod Detunekik’. The final couple of tracks are recordings of Aphex larking around with his mates and making prank calls. A few of the tracks have been heard live or in mixes – ‘Phlaps’ and ‘Cunt’ were on compilation releases – but, on the whole, this is new (old) music.
So why was the album scrapped in 1994? After a couple of listens, it’s unlikely James decided it wasn’t good enough. In a Guardian interview in 2001 he said that his most innovative and original music would remain unreleased, “because I don’t want people ripping me off,” which could be a reason. I got in touch with old-time Aphex Twin friend and collaborator Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud, an artist who features on the prank call tracks of the album, to see if he could shed any light on it. He suggests the decision could have been made because he had “so many releases happening at the same time too, under different guises”. “It could also be that classic loss of confidence any successful artist feels releasing something into the market after such acclaim!” he writes.
Whatever the reason, we’ve got it now. But does it stand up to Aphex’s great works of the 90s, following ‘Selected Ambient Works 85–92’ (1992) and ‘Selected Ambient Works Volume II’ (1994)? And is it worth £40K? The first thing that hits you is how fresh ‘Caustic Window’ sounds. It’s 20 years old but doesn’t sound dated at all. It could’ve been written in 2014, it could have been written in 2034. I imagine that out of every major album released in the last few decades, Aphex Twin’s works would be those aliens in a 1,000 years would find the hardest to place in time.
‘Flutey’ kicks things off, an 8-minute long opus rotating in a gentle electronic whirlpool, a focussed, meandering dopamine hit. ‘Stomper 101mod Detunekik’ cranks up the intensity with crunchy industrial feedback and break-beats as the tempo rises. ‘Popeye’ is a berserk one minute arcade game blast and ‘Fingertrips’ takes thing down a jazzy, quasi-tropical trail. ‘Jazzphase’ is really jazzy and ‘Squidge In The Fridge’ canters on lush, simple piano chords. It’s an album of bold dynamics, a journey in which the listener rises and falls, sucked in by unheard sounds made sense of by addictive rhythms and emotional melodic textures. At times it is brutal, at times it is pretty, but at all moments, it is a work of an artist bursting with new ideas and original sounds.
The electronic music landscape has changed unrecognisably since Aphex Twin blew everyone’s mind in 1992. EDM has eclipsed IDM. But the amount of new artists who cite him as an influence still puts him on a par with Radiohead (and ‘Kid A’ was influenced in term by Aphex Twin). The fact ‘Caustic Window’ sounds so fresh and ‘other’ on June 18, 2014, shows how difficult it is to really ape his sound.
So ‘Caustic Window’ is a reminder, if anyone needed it, of the extraordinary musical mind of Richard David James. Perhaps this ‘new’ album will inspire the next generation of electronic artists. It will certainly sate the appetites of fans desperately seeking a new album – but it suggests too that something may be stirring. “‘Caustic Window’ works still because it offers an original voice,” wrote Scanner during our conversation, and this is absolutely true. All hail King Aphex.