Holy Hell! Come to Daddy Turns 20

Holy Hell! Come to Daddy Turns 20

Come to Daddy afforded the chance to catch a brief glimpse of an imagined future before the snake of popular music caught up with and consumed its own tail.

I want your soul!!!/I will eat your soul!!!” So begins one of the heaviest, most viscerally intense, demonic-sounding experiences afforded listeners in 1997, “Come to Daddy (Pappy Mix)” off of Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy EP. For the cover, Richard D. James had his face superimposed onto those of a group of school children, giving off a truly unsettling Village of the Damned effect; he would take this approach to the next level with the release of the Windowlicker single. As if that image was not off-putting enough, the opening four-and-a-half-minute blast provides the listener with no chance to gather their bearings – let alone their wits – before unleashing a brutal assault. Further upping the ante, the accompanying video provides years’ worth of nightmare fuel (go watch it for yourself if you don’t believe me).

All this to say that the EP’s opening track has little to do with anything Richard D. “Aphex Twin” James has done before or since. His aesthetic was until this point built around ethereal electronics that could border on the atmospheric and even avant garde (see the gloriously soothing sounds of Selected Ambient Works Volume II for further proof). It’s a sound he quickly returns to on the EP’s second track, “Flim.” A blissful, Nintendo-esque (think one of the flying or underwater Mario levels) effortlessly floats above James’ skittering, glitch-y beats to create a calming effect that takes the initial sting out of things. Yet it too, like the opening statement, is a bit of a red herring, leading into the disorienting, subterranean terrordrome that is “Come to Daddy (Little Lord Fauntleroy Mix).” Listening to this track while staring at the cover, you can’t help but think that the creepily effected voice the appears mid-way through is emanating from one of the creepy-ass James-kids.

On “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball,” he retreats further still into sputtering electronic percussion and metallic ratcheting that gives way to the sound of literal beat drops bouncing on and on into eternity. By this point, those unfamiliar with the rather unfortunate IDM handle ascribed to this type of electronic wizardry (it’s not just dance music, it’s intelligent dance music) will have found themselves completely lost; there is no grounding aesthetic or stylistic reference point to which James adheres. But it’s precisely this that makes Come to Daddy such a fascinating listen, not to mention an outlier in the otherwise not too terribly dissimilar sounding Aphex Twin catalog.

Sure, there are moments here that can be linked to …I Care Because You Do or Richard D. James Album, but he never really went quite as stylistically apeshit as on Come to Daddy. It’s as though he saw the rise in popularity of electronic music as we all raced towards the new millennium (techno’s the music of the future, man!) as the prime opportunity to make an album marketed at the mainstream (how else to explain the cinematic production and impressive special effects on the “Come to Daddy” video) that would then be little more than a fuck-you to its intended demographic. How else does one begin to explain the helium-infused weirdness that is “Funny Little Man” (not to mention the closing bit of proto-torture porn computer-aided dialog that seems a dig at Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier”? Or the nerve-jangling, seemingly never-ending sound of the bouncing electronic ball on “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball”?

Indeed, “Come to Daddy (Pappy Mix)” comes across as a demented version of the Prodigy – a group no doubt loathed by makers of serious electronic music like James – one taken to the extreme in terms of its absurdist hook and pummeling beats. Because of this, it’s hard not to take “Come to Daddy (Pappy Mix)” – hell, Come to Daddy as a whole – as a massive middle finger to those moving techno into the mainstream.

Turns out, neither James nor anyone else had much to fear as the future of music (surprise, surprise) was and is deeply rooted in the past. So much so that it’s hard to think of much in the intervening 20 years that has sounded as futuristic, modern and cutting edge as Aphex Twin did here. Since then it’s been little more than a case of what’s old is new and what’s new is old. Recordings like Come to Daddy afforded the chance to catch a brief glimpse of an imagined future before the snake of popular music caught up with and consumed its own tail, ouroboros style.

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