The album art for Aphex Twin‘s latest release implies a break from tradition. The clean, sleek, almost retro-fetishist design marks a shift away from the subversive album art typical of Aphex Twin up until Syro, released in 2014.
This new EP, however, is not a break with the past; it is built upon the remains of old half-finished tracks. The title of the EP, Cheetah, is derived from the track ‘CHEETAH7b’, which initially appeared in Aphex Twin’s infamous SoundCloud dump of hundreds tracks in 2015 (most of the tracks have since been removed, but are still kicking around on the internet somewhere).
This album, then, is not just a decent portrayal of Aphex Twin’s forever fresh sound, but a celebration of musical archiving and renovation. Richard D. James, the electronic musician behind Aphex Twin, has utilised his long library of tracks and ideas efficiently. Cheetah is an album built on old ideas, old ideas revived through hard work. Much like the retro artwork, it is an attempt at recycling old ideas and re-orientating them in a modern space.
The majority of Cheetah is an exercise in patience. The subtle tempos, timbres and percussion of the EP teases you along until it hits a crescendo. For example, the track ‘CIRKLON3’ builds slowly yet remains attention-grabbing – it is a track that has been painstakingly crafted to mathematical precision. The percussion quietly speeds up and down throughout the track, complimenting the spacious synth lines and harmonies effortlessly. It is a track that stays looping in your head for days despite not initially appearing overtly harmonious.
It is when you really look at the details of ‘CIRKLON3’ that you appreciate its brilliance, much like the EP itself. ‘CIRKLON1’, too, follows a similar pattern. The track contains an incredibly infectious synth harmony that creeps up on you; the track lures you in with an irresistible harmony, allowing you to slowly take in the details and nuances of the track at a leisurely pace. Cheetah, in essence, rewards quiet, careful listening; it is the opposite of Richard D. James’s previous release, Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-2008, and proves yet again that his electronic palette verges on infinite.
The EP itself, too, builds up in a similar fashion to the songs. It starts slowly and finishes at the peak of the EP’s energy with the track ‘2X202-ST5’. The track has a distinct dance vibe, much heavier percussion, the bpm is higher, and the drum patterns are simpler. The track almost goes against the sentiment of the rest of the EP. It is straightforward, more predictable, and placed at the perfect time in the album; after an EP of slow-burners a simple track like this is a welcome break.
Much like a cheetah, the EP conserves its energy until the end, until it needs to ‘pounce’ on the listener; the album finishes at the peak of its energy, serving a sharp juxtaposition to the relatively meditative tone of the rest of the EP.
What Cheetah proves is that Richard D. James is not merely an electronic artist, he verges on becoming an electronic librarian. His seemingly never-ending archive of songs, styles, instruments and hardware serves to equally excite and frustrate listeners – how many bangers does he have lying on old laptops in his home? Will they ever be released? What if the Aphex Twin moniker goes into relative silence for thirteen years again? Cheetah, in essence, is a tease, a tease that delivers, a tease that leaves you wanting a further glimpse into Richard D. James’s archive of unheard music.
Words by Benjamin Newman