[I]”Come on you c*** let’s have some Aphex acid!” The Aphex army is on the march once more, and this slogan – seen stickered around various Central London tube stations over the past few weeks – is its rallying cry. Made up of ravers, mathmos, classical buffs, art students, druggos and anyone else who wants their music to slip them through the boundaries of boring reality, their poster boy, general, hero and dealer is among them again, with his first longplayer for five years.
And, as ever, Richard D James’s pockets are bulging with goodies; 30 tracks and 100 minutes ranging from whipcracking drum’n’bass to the most delicate, early 20th-century-style classical piano interludes. Aphex addicts will fall on them like, well, drugs. The yet to be hooked may be put off by the album’s forbidding length and deliberately impenetrable song titles; ‘Kladfvgbung Micshk’, ‘Afx237v.7’, ‘Gwety Mernans’.
Yet even experienced continuously end to end, ‘Drukqs’ is not a difficult listen. Punctuated by piano interludes which sound like Erik Satie, it ripples and eddies through whip-smart intellectual techno, gibbering drum’n’bass, early-90s rave and, on ‘Btoum-rounada’, what sounds like a team of bellringers attempting a backwards version of ‘Silent Night’.
Some of it is scary (‘Gwarek 2’ rings to the sound of someone rattling a stick along a fence, before someone emits a bloodcurdling scream). Some bits are almost cheesy (like the irony-free 80s electro workout ‘Bbydhyonchord’). And the part where Aphex‘s parents sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to [I]”our little 28-year-old son”[/I] (‘Lornaderek’) might well make you go ‘Aww!’.
What ‘Drukqs’ never is, of course, is boring. It’s also beautifully paced. No track sounds like the one before, even though Aphex rarely strays far from the musical palate that’s served him so well in the past. And after a few listens, a pattern seems to emerge. Abstract piano pieces always seemed to be followed by some strange Japanese-style ritual music. Stompers arrive at regular intervals. And there are even patterns within the patterns (or is that just the drukqs?). Individual tracks go through several movement, best of all being the brilliant ‘Ziggomatic 17’, which zips from teeming jungle to four-on-the-floor anthemic rave, ending with a euphoric keyboard wash and a computer sweetly intoning ‘Thank you for your attention. Bye…’
‘Genius or goat?’ moments are few and far between – it’s really only in the song titles that Aphex is discernibly taking the piss. (Although ‘Bit 4’, which consists of nothing more than an electronic groan, maybe qualifies.) But generally speaking, ‘Drukqs’ wants to seduce you rather than sandpaper your ears. You could even call it beautiful. Now, of course, he’s going to have to do something really horrible.