Aphex Twin ‘Cheetah’ Review: a solid if somewhat conventional release from the ever enigmatic Richard D. James
Richard D. James aka electronic music mastermind Aphex Twin may have disappeared for nearly a decade, but he’s certainly making up for lost time: first with his engaging 2014 comeback album Syro, followed by the moody and texturally invigorating 2015 EP Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt. 2. (not to mention the unveiling of the long-in-the-works effort Caustic Window).
But his increased output has become slightly exhausting for even the biggest fan to keep up with, including nearly 200 previously unreleased tracks popping up on Soundcloud last year.
And his feverish output continues with Cheetah, his new 7 track EP (due July 7th via Warp Records).
It’s his most old-school throwback to date, recalling his 1992 auspicious début Selected Ambient Works 1985-1992 and 1993’s lesser-known Surfing On Sine Waves released under the pseudonym Polygon Window.
This retro vibe also applies to the neon blue packaging and to his musical gear: the entire album performed on the vintage synthesizer of the same name.
The Cheetah MS800 was a notoriously non-user friendly keyboard, making it a perfect fit for James, prankster genius able to conjure alien textures from any instrument he touches. And his mastery is once again apparent, coaxing all the mercurial, ethereal tones the titular synth has to offer.
Things kick off with CHEETAHT2 [Ld spectrum] (his fondness for cryptic alphanumeric titles remains intact) is a sleek bit of aquatic funk, with hypnotic hi-hat bouncing against a warped melody line
CHEETAHT7b is even more playful, with an early 80’s hip-hop beat, bell-tone melody line and those seasick ethereal textures that James has become so adept at deploying.
CHEETA1b ms800 and CHEETA2 ms800 are short and sweet: both under a minute, floating in-between dystopian sci-fi score and soothing chill out.
CIRKLON3 [ Колхозная mix ] is one of the most dance-friendly tracks James has ever released (as shown in the trippy music video directed by a 12-year-old fan), with a gurgling bassline and trancey glacial synths merging for involuntary head-nodding.
CIRKLON 1, with its ticktock beat and squiggly synth pattern feels like the lovechild of Kraftwerk and Herbie Hancock, while 2X202-ST5 is a particular aggressive earworm, burrowing a sinewy groove accompanied by sandpaper hand claps and woodpecker percussion stabs.
While Cheetah is engaging in its Gen-X retro charms there is a caveat: its one of his most conservative releases. For those waiting for the next link in his musical evolution, this may fall short.
But the tradeoff is one of his most melodically rewarding and immediate releases that never overstays its welcome.
Pre-order Aphex Twin’s ‘Cheetah’ via iTunes or Amazon: