AFX: Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-2008

AFX: Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-2008

This EP doesn’t so much follow up on Syro as expand upon that album’s implicit argument for James as composer.

AFX: Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-2008

3.5 / 5

However overstated the absence of Richard D. James from the music scene of the 2000s, the sheer glut of music he has offered to fans in the last year has effectively amounted to a resurrection. The nature of the producer’s releases has also crafted a comeback narrative, though in true Aphex fashion, everything has been jumbled out of order for kicks. Arranged in a linear progression, the wildly successful Kickstarter for Caustic Window’s (another alter-ego for James) long-lost LP lets James know how beloved he still is, prompting a massive dump of unreleased tracks stretching back to his early days, doubling his released output in one fell swoop and tracing his fallow period to an overwhelming surfeit of ideas. Then comes Syro, which heralds the return of Aphex Twin by recapitulating his wildly variant ‘90s output into a cohesive whole, retaining the innate unclassifiability of the material while showcasing James’ increased sophistication as an arranger of his ideas. Finally comes the Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt 2 EP, which doesn’t so much follow up on Syro as expand upon that album’s implicit argument for James as composer, bringing his experimental chops to the fore.

Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-2008 belongs somewhere in the middle of that progression. Resurrecting the AFX moniker for the first time since polishing off his excellent (and routinely ignored) acid techno series Analord, James offers a small idea of how those EPs might have progressed had he kept going. That’s not to say these are simply leftovers: from the moment that “serge fenix Rendered 2” starts to wobble out on a bassline that sounds like a giant drunkenly stumbling down a staircase, the EP announces itself as a perversion of simple acid, splitting the difference between James’s more recent use of the AFX name to put out driving dance music and its original application as a dumping ground for his weirdest impulses. Halting claps are added next, then moaning synths and, at a certain point, it becomes clear that the track has gradually shifted key, though it’s impossible to place when the change occurred. The track is so unpredictable that it slides right into “dmx acid test” and even further into “oberheim blacet1b” as if it were all one big, strange 12” a-side. The former is a brief interlude of pure acid, all Roland beats and hissing synth lines, but the latter delves into even weirder terrain. Pan flute calliope percolates over a stark drum beat that swiftly takes a back seat to brittle synthetic scrapes that sound like bombed, twisted metal creaking in radioactive wind.

This yin-yang pull of outré forays with sharply honed techno is perhaps best exhibited by the two middle tracks. The lengthy machine workout “bonus EMT beats” sounds like a demo tape James made for himself just to test out equipment and included on an official release by either mistake or simple disregard. Or maybe, in tandem with his Soundcloud releases, he simply felt like giving fans a peek behind the curtain to show that even a genius has to screw around to build a composition. At the other end of the spectrum is “simple slamming b 2,” one of those blunt, programmatic Aphex titles that does exactly what it says on the tin. A recurring feature of James’s live sets, the track mixes high-BPM hi-hats with squiggly synths and a distant ping that sounds like a tennis match being played on Mars. The slamming is not so simple as it seems, however: a minute in, the techno fades out into a semi-ambient breakdown before the drums return, and a minute later a dominant new synthline curls the track back in on itself, deconstructing the arrangement until it sounds as if it’s slowly being sucked into a black hole.

The last three tracks are less distinct than the previous five, yet in a way they represent the full payoff of James’s experiments on the EP. “midi pipe1c sds3time cube/klonedrm” is a short piece assembled on the software that gives the track its title, taking a simple drum pattern and pulling it into digital taffy that distorts its rhythm and pitch into a groove that retains its funk while defying any logical movement. That funk extends to “NEOTEKT72,” a pad-heavy work of stripped-down, driving percussion that varies only at the very end, when a demented organ groan rises from the depths. The EP closes on a high note with “r8m neotek beat,” a rave track filled with dry snares and airy but vaguely tense synth drones.

As with most of James’ work since his abrupt return to mainstream discussion, Orphaned Deejay Selek doesn’t break any radical new ground for the producer, which can be seen as a comedown from his golden period when nearly every release seemed to be a reinvention of both his sound and that of dance music as a whole. But truth be told, the Aphex Twin was always too great an outlier, too singular a genius, to influence anyone who could not be called a blatant pretender, and furthermore James never changed all that much. When FACT recently placed the “Analogue Bubblebath,” the first track from James’s first EP, at the top of their list of the best Aphex Twin songs, it was less a suggestion that RDJ peaked early than an acknowledgment that the core elements of his exploratory sound were firmly ensconced from the very start. The dates provided in the title for Selected Ambient Works 85-92 were a boast, positioning arguably the greatest electronic album of all time as nothing more than an assorted grab-bag, a chance arrangement, of tracks composed in their maker’s teen years. The ones attached to Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-2008, however, are simply helpful, a testament to the fact that these tracks could have been recorded at any point in his career. Nothing on the EP may alter one’s perception of Richard D. James, but when you emerge from years of non-recording and can still stand proudly apart from an EDM scene that exploded in his absence, presence alone is thrilling.

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