Aphex Twin – Richard D James Album – Round 16: Nick’s choice

Much as I enjoy Devon Record Club (and I do, I love it), I have a vague paranoia that this whole record club thing is just a load of middle-aged, middle-class white men sitting around drinking tea, eating takeaway food, and reinforcing their own canon of (slightly) alternative rock. There have been several weeks where we’ve all brought broadly similar sounding records – crunchy guitar stuff, basically – and there’s a danger that we’ll sit around genuflecting the exact same things as everyone else, i.e. the records we loved when we were 16.

Which is to say that I’ve been busting to break out something really “other” for a while now, and it struck me that there’d be no better choice than a record I loved when I was 17. I’ve often considered 17-year-old boys to be the most belligerent, know-it-all sods on the planet and not worth bothering with, but looking back at my own 17-year-old incarnation I’m proud that I was so determined to squeegee clean my musical palette and discover new territory, radical sounds, stuff not made by gangs of men with guitars.

15 years ago, Richard D James Album was, despite epiphanies over the previous months with Orbital, Björk, and Screamadelica, the most radical thing and “other” thing I had ever heard. The beats were crazed, frightening, the textures alien and unidentifiable or else out of context – drum machines and cellos, electronic squarks and delicately plucked violin strings – the melodies catchy, childlike, beguiling, and at complete odds with those aforementioned beats and textures. I didn’t know what it was for, how to consume it, when or where to listen to it. It seemed like it might be dance music, but you surely couldn’t dance to it without electroshock therapy. It surely wasn’t to be listened to while sitting and pondering, though, because it was insane, distracting. If you put it on your Walkman and wandered around outside with it on you’d be constantly ducking, weaving, and veering away from the strange stereoscopic assault. It baffled me and intrigued me.

I think that’s what it wanted to do – hence fulfilling the “triumphant” caveat of this week’s theme. Plus, simply, it’s a musical triumph, a joy, an endlessly fascinating creation that is both beautiful and savage, both composed and programmed magnificently. I remember a quote from Elvis Costello, of all people, who said it was unlike most other electronic music he had heard because, although there is (almost) no singing, the tracks presented are songs, compositions, with melodies which move and breath and develop. And beats like a jackhammer having a seizure.

Tom Listened: Nick’s opening paragraph has me puzzled. Not because I don’t agree with it…it’s completely true that we do drink tea, all of us bar Nick ‘babyface’ Southall are middle-aged and we certainly do eat takeaways!?! No, what puzzles me is Nick’s suggestion that The Richard D James Album offered some sort of radical musical departure for us. I’d suggest that in comparison to Rita Lee, The Necks, Gravediggaz, The Associates, Skip Spence, Zaireeka, These New Puritans etc etc, this was a pretty tame listen. Sure, it’s a genre we haven’t heard much from as yet and I heard some skittery beats but also some lovely melody lines. I liked it lots. Lots more than I expected I would. But then I expected it to be much more challenging than it turned out to be, like Coltrane at his most atonal or Beefheart at his most tangential, Cale at his most harrowing or Faust at their most bizarre, or Dirty Projectors on Rise Above. The sorts of records where it takes twenty listens to even start to recognise it as ‘music’. I was surprised and relieved by how accessible this was and whilst I don’t think I’ll ever fully embrace keyboard driven instrumental music, it was great to listen to someone else’s copy!

Rob listened: I own and love this but rarely listen to it now. It’s definitely one of the records that shocked me out of some sort of comfort zone when I heard it and it took a long time, perhaps until tonight, for me to find it easy to listen to. I was intrigued at how unweird it sounded as I recall it being one of the hardest records to grasp that i’d ever heard, one of those I mentally filed under ‘don’t play to family members unless you want to be sectioned’. So, in conclusion, great album, technical triumph but not as weird as Trout Mask Replica.

Graham Listened: Now the concept of age-ranking has been introduced to the group, as the “Daddy” (or should that be “Grandaddy”) of the group, Nick continues to challenge my previous minor flirtations with more commercial “big beat” type music. Perhaps I enjoyed Long Finn Killie more because of the use of more traditional instrumentation, but I struggled a little to get more from this. I could happily listen to this, but it would always be in the background, as the intricacy and the complex composition (all undoubtably there), seem to just wash over me. But I’m not giving up yet on trying to get on board!

%d bloggers like this: