Since IDM legend Richard D. James’ 2014 comeback under the Aphex Twin moniker with Syro, James has released a plentitude of music, including 4 EPs and nearly 300 loose tracks on Soundcloud, and has promised of upwards of 10 albums more. However, where his previous post-comeback releases have resulted in projects like the over manufactured Syro, the underwhelming Cheetah and the at times unlistenable Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2, Collapse is vintage James producing some of his best material yet.
The stellar ‘T69 Collapse’ is both the album’s opener and highlight. Like the brightest moments from Syro, James’ perfect attention to both melody and madness pays off in a beautiful track that whilst initially serene, grows manic with the incorporation of signature Aphex Twin sounds and beat changes before reverting into an expansion of the initial melodic beauty. The drums are the star of this project – the way James employs them to create this ordered chaos leaves no two bars sounding the same whilst never growing overwhelming. The brilliant ‘1st 44’ is a perfect example of this. The way James uses drum machines not as the backdrop, but rather as the star of the show takes inspiration from the sounds of classic drum & bass music.
In order for James to push forward in 2018, he had to look back.
‘MT1 t29r2’ again takes inspiration from this phase of classical drum & bass whilst incorporating sounds typically Aphex Twin. However, this familiarity towards the end of the album ends up becoming its downfall. ‘Abudance’ is the weakest point of the album – while it attempts to imitate the brutality found in ‘1st 44’, it results in just being James by the numbers. ‘Pthex’ suffers from the same problem – whilst the extremely airy and ambient end track serves its purpose well as a closer, it feels too much like a leftover from Selected Ambient Works.
While Collapse sees James flourish within the realms of the niche he’s already created for himself, it lacks innovation. Though looking back allowed James to enhance the ability of his music to captivate us, his sound has become limited, seeing this project result in something that doesn’t truly push any boundary. Although still a fine album, James is a victim of his own high standards.
Image: Gerald Moore via Flickr