It would not have been out of line for Richard D. James, better known as Aphex Twin to have hijacked the Goodyear Blimp and rendezvoused at the white house to sweep Michelle Obama off her feet while blasting his latest album Syro from a series of sound cannons. At least this is how I am feeling upon initial listen to his first album in over 13 years (literally I am writing this as I listen to the album for the first time).
If you’ve been living in a cave or under a rock and you missed it, Syro was advertised via a series of PR stunts including a mysterious lime green blimp flying high above East London’s Oval Space venue in mid August. “2014” was stenciled on one side and the iconic Aphex Twin “A” logo on the other side. A few days later the same classic logo appeared stenciled all over New York City as if it were the “Frodo Lives” tag from the 1960’s. Just as the hypedust (yes that’s a word) was settling James officially broke news of his new album as any musician worth his salt might in say err 2026, via the Deep Web, accessible only by users of the Tor browser more often reserved for shall we say less than savory interweb spelunking. Needless to say there was nothing “normal” about the events leading up to September 23rd. That day has finally arrived, in fact oh shit, it’s today and despite listening to this album on repeat since well before today, my grey matter is still in tact but only just.
I hesitate to even try to go track by track in this review but I will try to hit the highlights, which is just about every track but again I’ll choose a few standouts among them. The one and only track officially released for preview was the opening cut “Minipops 67 (Source Field Mix)” and for good reason, it’s vintage Aphex Twin. It’s driving beat occasionally gives way to breakdowns of sparse electronic glitches and pops, as the title would suggest. Track 2, “XMAS_EVET10 (Thanaton3 Mix),” the longest on the album at 10:31, is absolutely stunning. It’s sprawling lush and cinematic tones echo visuals of quintessential winter landscapes, again aptly referencing the title of the track. It’s a bit more ambient than “Minipops” and includes layers of heavily reverb female vocals. What is being sung is more or less indecipherable leaving the listener with a more atmospheric interpretation rather than a literal one. James switches gears on track 3 with the bass heavy down tempo “Produk 29.” Unlike “XMAS_EVE10” we’re introduced to some playful vocal samples of women talking about a dingy club in what is an otherwise ominous feeling cut. Later in the album comes the sonically shuddering track “CIRCLONT14 (Shrymoming Mix).”
Between the turgid beat and pulsating pans I was feeling somewhat overwhelmed when in classic Aphex fashion, James cleansed the sonic palette with a perfectly timed vocal interlude before resuming his bombastic assault on the senses. The title track, “Syro u473t8+e (Piezoluminescence Mix),” resumes where “CIRCLONT14” leaves off affording little time for the aurally sensitive to recover. With the final track James acknowledges this epic journey’s toll on the listener and rewards us with a solo piano piece entitled “Aisatsana.” It is here within the final 5 plus minutes that James allows for quiet contemplation and reflection. Accompanied only by some field recordings of chirping birds, James’ slow paced piano provides the listener with a glimpse into what a true composer he really is.
There are very few albums that deserve the amount of anticipation and pre-release media hubbub as Syro, but in this rare instance it was more than deserved. Syro is a near perfect album from one of the most important electronic musicians and composers of our time.