Aphex Twin:Selected Ambient Works Volume II

cover 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.
Ambient, it most certainly is... but somehow it doesn't all click with me personally...

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.1 thumb up
This review posted July 12, 1997

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