The Lowdown: The latest release from the reclusive and prolific Aphex Twin finds the producer moving away from the more straightforward approach he has been dabbling in on recent work, turning up the heat on his slippery, electronic anthems, bringing them from a simmer to a rolling boil.
The Good: The music on Collapse takes hard turns and shape-shifts with the frequency that we’ve come to expect from James. But his firm hand at the controls is felt just as acutely. Much like the EP’s artwork, there are recognizable signatures at the center of the entropic sound that seems to be coming apart in real time. Often those bits of purchase he allows us as we try to scale his slippery tunes are his own, like the lullaby-like melodies of “MT1 t29r2” or the video game soundtrack-like squiggle that dominates that same song’s first half. Or if you strip away the sharp snare rolls and “sproinging” synth notes on closing track “phtex”, you’ll find a gorgeous ambient track that evokes an ocean at dead calm. Elsewhere, he peels back the curtain even further to reveal samples that will surely be catnip to the many crate diggers in his fan base, like the bit of turntablism and the snippet of The Specials’ live version of “Guns of Navarone” that pop up on “1st 44”.
The Bad: For all the compositional innovation here, James is retreating to his comfort zone with Collapse. Unlike Cheetah, his slowed-down electro EP from 2016, this is instantly recognizable as an Aphex Twin work, and none of the tracks completely surprise or shock. It’s strange to mete that complaint out as dozens of would-be producers would likely give their left leg to be able to come up with sounds as forward thinking as James seems to do without breaking a sweat. But considering the creative leaps he has made throughout his long career, I can’t help but wonder when the next ascension will arrive.
The Verdict: Collapse is another entry in a remarkable run of work that Aphex Twin has been releasing since his return from a long and clearly necessary hiatus. It may feel like he is on cruise control a bit, but James’ coasting is any other artist’s magnum opus.
Essential Tracks: “1st 44”, “MT1 t29r2”, and “abundance10edit [2 R8’s, Fz20m & a 909]”