Albums Revisited: Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Works Volume II Turns 20: Richard D. James’ Ambient masterpiece still casts a trippy, nocturnal spell.
This month (March 8th to be exact), will mark the 20th anniversary of Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works Volume II.’
His double album debuted to little fanfare, but has grown in stature through the years, influencing bands like Radiohead (although he isn’t a fan. “I wouldn’t play with them since I don’t like them” he told Kludge Magazine.) and haunting the dreams of electronic music fans the world over.
Aphex Twin (real name Richard D. James) took inspiration from the ambient genre created by Brian Eno, but took it in darker more unsettling directions on Volume II. Which is light years ahead of its predecessor Vol.1.
It’s a hard album to quantify; still sounding as fresh and unique as it did in 1994. Its seasick lullabies, bizarre textures and lack of uniform percussion gives it an alien feel. It sounds like transmissions from outer space. Or whales crying. Subterranean insects. Ocean life. It’s as beautiful as it is unsettling, ignoring conventional composition or musical architecture.
This was due to its conception. James claims to experience lucid dreams. For the uninitiated, that means simply, to be aware that one is dreaming at the time of said dream.
This would influence all the music on Ambient Works Vol. II. Immediately after waking he would attempt to recreate the sounds he heard in song format.
This dream state concept applied to song titles. Except for track Blue Calx, all songs were untitled. But each track had an accompanying image. Fans dubbed these accordingly, coining the phrases they’re known under today.
The other factor was his gear. In addition to electronic equipment available at the time, James built his own circuit boards, forging new sounds, never heard previous.
Songs like the pastoral Rhubarb and the celestial Lichen, see James at his most tender and diffuse. If you suffer from insomnia, they will surely lull you into a sleepier state. But if you listen to the whole album while slumbering, things really get interesting.
Songs like Radiator, Mould and Window Sill, all have an eerie, unsettling undulating tension. Beautiful yet slightly sinister.
In an interview with Face Magazine, James describes the album as sounding “like standing in a power station on acid.”
And boy does it. During a truly mind-altering night in the late 90’s I had the song Tassels on infinite repeat. I felt like I was communicating with the people of Mars. My friend, also in the same state, screamed at me to turn it off. Aphex Twin can cause such polarizing reactions.
James would largely abandon the tranquil sounds from SAW-Vol. II for even more frantic and creepier soundscapes going forward. But SAW-Vol II, remains his crowning achievement. For introspection, slumber, sex, or nights of altered states, you can’t ask for a more fitting soundtrack.
It’s a sonic dream from which we never wish to fully awaken from.
So Aphex Twin fans, does Selected Ambient Works Vol. II still haunt your dreams? Tell me in the comments.
And two other alternative juggernaut albums came out on March 8th, 1994:
Want to own Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol II on iTunes? You can order via iTunes or Amazon below:
[amazon_image id=”B000002MNZ” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Selected Ambient Works Volume 2[/amazon_image]