British electronic artist Richard D. James, better known as Aphex Twin, was the most influential of his kind during the ‘90s. This title is further implemented to his record with his incredibly impressive 1992 debut, “Selected Ambient Works 85-92.”
In an eye-opening interview with Crack Magazine, Aphex Twin describes how he’s feeling to kick off the discussion. “Pretty good, actually. Just sitting outside in the last bit of summer sun. It’s quite warm, it’s nice,” Twin describes. It is interesting to hear this coming from him, as I felt the same way when listening to this album. It DOES feel warm, it DOES feel nice, but it doesn’t shy away from going crazy at certain moments. This makes the record have an interesting tonal value you don’t see on a lot of electronic albums in return.
Songs such as “Xtal” and “Ageispolis” have since become favorited by electronic music and Aphex Twin fans alike. It is hard to realize when you listen to tracks like this that they came out in 1992. His sound was groundbreaking for mainstream electronic music, and sounded like no other song played at the time.
Although this record is impressive and way ahead of its time, it does contain a few weak moments and questionable production choices. Some songs drag on for way too long, and there seems to be no consistent flow throughout the record. Although these problems are few and far between, when they occur they always stick out like a sore thumb.
In this review, I will be taking a look at what makes this album so great, and what traits hold it back from peak perfection. These two categories will be split up into two categories as the “high points” and “low points.”
Besides a few sampled spoken word tracks in the songs, this album mainly relies on atmospheric bliss as a tone. Not a lot of electronic music drives me to just sit down and relax as much as this album does. It is calm, beautiful, and thought-provoking – even on the more heavy tracks.
The epic and nine-minute long song “Tha” is a perfect example of the more ambient nature of the album. The song may seem repetitive and boring throughout the nine minutes, but with closer inspection, there are so many layers being added on for each second that goes by. It starts off with this distant drum beat, as the song disguises itself as a groovy dance tune. Out of the blue, a bass line drifts into the mix, with another layer of high pitched heaven-like synths flowing in and out of the song like waves crashing on a beach.
This is what makes this album special. While the music is amazingly made with good attention to detail, when you look at the songs on a visual level, this album becomes truly brilliant. One person’s interpretation of one song could be completely different to someone else’s interpretation of the same song.
From a purely musical standpoint, the songs “Ageispolis” and “Green Calx” seem to be the most impressive.
“Ageispolis” is by far my favorite Aphex Twin song to date, and that is due to its incredibly catchy hook and chill vibe. The almost trap-like beats you hear in today’s rap music can be heard on this track, further implementing its influence on music. The keyboard riff on this song just adds to the pure genius, as it is the most catchy thing I have ever listened to. It’s as if the track caught me by the hook and just will not cease its advances.
“Green Calx” is a track with no really catchy hook, but it represents the chaotic side of Aphex Twin so well, as it is the only really heavy song on the album. The mixture of drum beats, sound effects, and synth hooks make this song really something to behold. Listening to this masterpiece is like falling into an industrial wasteland and not being able to find your way out. The mechanic noises in the somewhat of a “chorus” this song has will never fail to send chills down my spine.
At this point, I have given this album some of the highest praise I have ever produced. Although, it pains me that Aphex Twin was so close to perfection, and yet he still finds a way to mess things up.
This album’s biggest sin is that of filler songs, which is the problem with 9/10 albums out today. Although for this kind of record, the filler feels like a punch to the gut to the all-out brilliance of what came before.
The one-minute interlude known as “I” is a perfect example of this problem. This song feels as if it was just added because Aphex Twin just wanted to, as it really holds nothing significantly unique. It sounds cool on a base level with its chilling ambiance, but it doesn’t seem to flow into the next song, which interludes are meant to do. I can get over this, however, as it is more of an annoyance than a huge problem.
Both of them seem to follow the same traits as each other when it comes to their flaws. On “Hedphelym,” the song feels like a cluster headache, due to the loud drone sounds and the unreasonably long length of six minutes. On a song like “Schokkety 7th Path,” the track itself isn’t annoying nor poorly made, I just cannot see myself ever re-listening to it. While the others on this record seem to develop and change, this song remains the same, making it one of Aphex Twin’s most forgettable tracks in my eyes.
In all honesty, if these two songs were taken out of the album, I probably would have given “Selected Ambient Works 85-92” a perfect rating. As of right now, I can only imagine that reality.
When all is said and done, Aphex Twin is still going strong with his craft as of recently. He has had time over his career to perfect his craft, which I believe he has done an amazing job at doing. Just take a look at a 2017 concert of his and note how much this album set the foundation for greater things to come to him.
All in all, Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works 85-92” works as a classic for not only what it did to catapult his career, but for what it did to music as a whole. Without this record, other electronic artists, as well as trap-artists, would never see the light of day. Although it’s not perfect, it is still an important landmark in the history of music.