| Aphex Twin:Selected Ambient Works Volume II|
(Sire/Warner Bros. - 1994)
Aphex Twin is the name by which Richard James releases his ambient works, and the name is quite a big one within the genre. In fact, in the "small" world of ambient artists, Aphex Twin can be considered a superstar.
|Selected Ambient Works Volume II is an oddly arranged 2-CD set. Odd, in that none of the 23 tracks are titled, and the discs themselves are covered with strange circular insignias. On one hand, I can appreciate the esoteric namelessness and cryptic communication... but on the other, more practical hand, it's a bit annoying.
As a result, I shall design my very own naming structure to facilitate this review, a simple one even. It goes like this: Disc#; Track#. Got it? Good. And since there are so many tracks that are somewhat non-descript anyway, expect each breakdown to be short. Well then, let's start the dissection with...
1; 1 features some smooth synth work, but is a little too echoey and repetitive. 1; 2 is discordant and repetitive. 1; 3 is smooth and mellow and not at all unappealing, quite nice even. 1; 4 presents us with some distant drumming and shifting chords and a slight bit of that somehow slurpy, organic beat that often pops up in Aphex Twin's work. This one I like well enough.
1; 5 is repetitive and echoey. 1; 6 is a seemingly endless calliope, trance-inducing in a bad way. 1; 7 is dominated by its simple beat and piano notes. Somehow ominous, but not bad. 1; 8 features a somewhat more active rhythm than the previous tracks, but the keyboard is murky and droning in an unpleasant fashion.
1; 9 is spacey and empty and I can appreciate that, along with its synthetic strings and dark waves. But 1; 10's plinkings are monotonous and dissonant. This CD closes with 1; 11 and it's speeded-up samples and clinking chimes. Somewhat more interesting and not at all a waste of time.
2; 1 is quite nice, and is known as Blue Calx when it appears on Instinct's Chillout Phase Two compilation. 2; 2 streams along on an electric drone and overlying synth tones. I do like it, but its pulse (and pitch) gives me a headache. 2; 3 picks things up with a simple, yet animated beat. It evokes an electric jungle, with the occasional electric jungle animal screech. A fine effort.
2; 4 gurgles and shimmers and is beatless. It even gives us strange "stretching" sounds. Fair enough. 2; 5 resonates and rings like chimes in a celestial wind, but could become monotonous were it not only 2:05 in length. 2; 6 offers another too-echoey synth-drone which is saved by an active jungly rhythm. Beats and muted bell-like keyboarding are the mainstay of 2; 7, which is quite pleasant.
Soft string and woodwind synthesizers are nicely arranged in 2; 8. Almost classical in nature, this piece is soothing. It fades into silence, from which 2; 9 emerges, another pulsing electric drone. Something about the frequency again, it just doesn't set well with me. And I normally enjoy an empty, scary, spacey thing like this. 2; 10 takes things even a step closer to annoying with its fibrillating electronics and dropping-out tones. 2; 11 is yet another exercise in dissonance and repetition. This is the longest track at 11-1/2 minutes... it seems a lot longer than that...
A blessedly smooth, almost orchestral piece, 2; 12 is the closing track. Spacey and almost imperceptibly textured with an echoing rhythm, the song, for me, is a redemption from some of the previous discomforts.
I'm not saying that Selected Ambient Works Volume II is bad, mind you. All of it is eclectic and ambient; parts of it are very well done. Perhaps if the best bits had been compiled into a single disc? The mixes tend to run a bit thin for me personally, and the variety within songs is limited when compared to more innovative artists. (Sure there's a fair amount of variety between songs which is a good thing with so many tracks!) I guess with all the clamor, I expected something more.
Maybe Aphex Twin, the famous ambientartist is trying to push us beyond some boundaries and make some grand statements, maybe my feeble perceptions are too narrow... but a few of these pieces are almost unlistenable. And, then again, others are fine contributions to the genre.
|I've got one thumb that can't decide to raise or not... Oh, despite some serious problems, it would be unfair to the pieces which really do work well; I have to give it one thumb up for the high points that do exist among the lows. If you don't have a problem with overt dissonance and repetition, maybe you'll like it better... many do.|