Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Marky's song #15: Aphex Twin – untitled track; disc 2, track 9 (“Lichen”)

Before I digitized and ipod-ified by music collection, I had a bulky stereo with a 3-disc tray. Never mind that the quality of the stereo was total crap; at the time, I was of the mind that bigger meant better and easily enticed by bells, whistles and flashing lights. Ahh, capitalism.

It took me about a year after leaving school to move out of my family’s house and take up my current residence in Massachusetts. For that year, I had a simple system for said stereo: CD slot one was whatever I was in the mood for at the time – keep it real and keep it rotating. Slots two and three, on the other hand, always held the same two CDs: Aphex Twin’s double disc – also available on triple vinyl – Selected Ambient Works, Volume 2.

Aphex Twin is the project of Richard D. James from Cornwall, England. A contrarian always more interested in the process of making and manipulating sound than in the promotion of product, James happily shuns trends and popular sentiment. His first Aphex album received plenty of positive reviews while the follow-up was divisive. I heard SAW 2 (Lynn Bousman, call your lawyer) before I heard the debut and couldn’t understand what the hubbub was about. It wasn’t until picking up the preceeding Selected Ambient Works 85-92 a couple years later that it made sense. While the first album is consonant and even danceable, SAW 2 is abstruse, standoffish and mostly beatless.

If you’re like me, my condolences you need a little music to get to sleep at night. Just climb into bed and start disc two on the CD tray; SAW 2 was the perfect late evening soundtrack after I got home from the late shift. The album progresses somnambulistically, one quiet claustrophobic track after another. It was a poke in the eye to those that raved – no pun intended – over SAW 85-92 while desiring to elevate James to some sort of superstar status within the world of electronic music.

Aphex Twin - untitled track

A generally acknowledged title for this track is “Lichen,” but officially it’s untitled. The insert booklet itself lists no song titles, but instead has close up photos of various commonplace objects taken by Mr. James himself. Further intentional difficultness from a man who loves to find out what the people want ... and then do the opposite. The word that pops into my head when trying to describe this track is ‘warm.’ As you listen, try to imagine the first moments of daylight in the Sonora, the sun just beginning to peek out from the horizon. Or, for those who have synthenesia, this track (much like most of the album) is a washed-out dusty orange. Even my mother, who is convinced everything I listen to is ‘weird,’ had to say, “this is beautiful.” Even when he’s confounding our expectations, Mr. James still knows how to deliver. Nighty-night.

1 comment:

  1. Damn, dude. You need to be writing a book. No fucking kidding. Do it. You write *very* well. Your rave pun... brilliant.

    Aphex and Autechre were my first big forays into listening to electronic music 15 years ago and I have yet to hear any music that eclipses theirs in my esteem. The breadth of sounds and compositions that RDJ has produced is astounding.