As “Syro” begins, a groaning, distorted voice rises out through a sea of plinking analog synths. It utters nothing comprehensible, babbling just underneath an organ-esque wall of bass. Then, as quick as it came, the keys fade out — the voice, silenced. However, this trek through electronic surrealism has only just begun. This new offering from electronic artist Aphex Twin boasts a collection of perplexing, vibrant soundscapes, and while “Syro” will surely act as an engrossing musical venture, it also proves to be something far more: It is the restoration of a genre icon through sheer brilliance in composition.
Aphex Twin is the stage name of Richard D. James, an England-based electronic artist and electronic music pioneer. The musician has been hailed as one of the forefathers of IDM, or intelligent dance music, a genre that encourages compositional precision and experimental instrumentation to craft elegant, complex soundscapes. This mentality is at the forefront of “Syro,” James’ first release since his 2001 release, “Drukqs,” with each of the album’s tracks nuanced and structurally confounding.
One of the album’s stronger songs, “syro u473t8+e (piezoluminescence mix)” is perhaps the most telling example of James’ skill. He toys with tempo and time signature, all the while manipulating an array of sounds into bizarre yet deliberate riffs and rhythms. These moments of structure are valuable: They provide form to an album that frequently flirts with the realm of sonic chaos.
It’s those hectic moments that make up a good part of the entire album. They’re violent, jarring and relentlessly energetic, and while some of “Syro’s” musical obscurities may put off listeners, there is no denying the musical craft involved in each track. “PAPAT4 [pineal mix]” and “s950tx16wasr10 (earth portal mix)” both offer up erratic arrays of drums and synths, and yet they remain comprehensible, gaining character from their chaotic nature rather than losing clarity.
It’s no surprise “Syro” tackles these bizarre musical moments with such finesse. The Aphex Twin monicker has consistently been one synonymous with progression, with publications like The Guardian dubbing James a “maverick” in his realm. In this respect, James is reprising a role in the genre with “Syro,” one he had earned but since relinquished during his lengthy, 13-year absence. This return to greatness is embodied in the 12 tracks that make up the album and solidify what few listeners will be able to ignore: Aphex Twin has returned, as sharp and pioneering as ever.