Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92
Jan 27, 2021
94
Much less a true “Ambient” album, but more of a “Intelligent Techno” or rather “IDM” pioneer (it is a pretty awful term but we’ll live with it for now) - the debut album from Aphex Twin a.k.a Richard D. James the boy genius from Cornwall, U.K. : “Selected Ambient Works 85-92” or simply “SAW 85-92” is not only a classic of Electronic music, but also in my opinion is one of the most influential collection of music ever.

When I first heard this album, I honestly didn't know what to make of it because of how mellow and understated it was when compared to the other electronic records I had heard, but after repeated listens and going through Richard’s entire discography, I can assuredly state that he’s is a genius and this album remains as perhaps the best showcases why. Inspired by the rave scene at the time, the textures of this album suggest more alien electronic landscape than what the U.K. was used to - and that was because Richard and his friends despised most of it. They wanted to make their own atmospheres & universes behind where the lens of youth could be experienced. So after a string of very interesting early EP’s, the WARP label’s first main attraction was Aphex Twin - an electronic “outsider” that practically forced his way in the limelight of the British music industry & scene through pure creativity, innovation and passion for displaying a mastery over electronic music in a way that seamlessly blends in with human emotion.

This is like a sci-fi adventure that I wish would never end. This album literally feels like taking a trip to a futuristic city on some distant plant. This is much more than a dance record, this album is an experience...

The album starts with one of my favorite Aphex Twin songs, “Xtal”, (pronounced “Crystal”) and the track exemplifies everything I love about the sounds on this album; Richard is able to craft songs that feel so full and progressive in their sound, but the songs never feel overbearing on the ears, and they never feel chaotic in their presentation. This trend continues on the second track of the record, “Tha”, which, despite being 9 minutes in length, goes by relatively quickly. At first it feels like elevator music in an alien dimension or a loading screen for a virtual reality experience, but it enventually starts feeling more like a composition about the discovery of new landscapes. Or in this case - was a mirror to Richard’s discovery of computer based soundscapes and textures he had in his fingertips. Quite extraordinary really.

The songs “Pulsewidth” and “Ageispolis” are some of the most soothing in sound on this record, but they manage to be rhythmically engaging as well; they're the kind of songs you put on when you're driving along the night's road on your way home. For the most part, the album maintains an ambient atmosphere that anyone can vibe to. However, there are a few sonic detours that Richard takes, but I think they add to the listening experience. In fact these cuts make the depth of the record all the more engaging and fascinating. It’s like an early arcade game 👾, or perhaps something far more sinister.

One of the more notable detours is the song “Green Calx”, which features one of the least gentle instrumentals on the record, and the song even incorporates samples from the film Robocop; this bold cut definitely sticks out among the tracklist, but the atmosphere of the song is so otherworldly and mysterious that it's easy to get sucked into the swirling sounds. It’s easy to see why it’s so many people’s highlight. The track that comes after, “Heliosphan”, is yet another moment of genius for Richard, and it may very well be my favorite Aphex Twin song; the orbiting instrumental sounds like it could be the soundtrack to some Space Odyssey-esque experience. When the album's not delivering anything calming, it's sometimes a bit ominous. The dimensions of this track feel larger than life & like you’re being swallowed by an digital black hole - transferring your entire spirit in an alternate universe where everything everybody knows is party. Very reminiscent of 90’s rave, and it’s a track that serves as a true blueprint of “IDM”.

The rest of the tracks on the record follow the same vein pretty closely but just with different variations. “We Are The Music Makers (and we are the dreamers of dreams)” for the exception of the vocal sample is just another bass heavy engaging track, “Schottkey 7th Path” sounds like an ominous chase through the woods of an old school horror game & “Ptolemy” is IDM, Techno & Ambient combination that plays as a 101 guide of how to combine everything to perfection. The exception is I guess the track “Hedphelym” - which is one of the more off-putting on the record, to the point where it feels very alien; the mesmerizing sounds full of reverb provoke that mysterious feeling that pervades every song on here. The track also carries a very dark feeling. Not quite danger but instead something like an inescapable confusion. It’s really fascinating to listen to!

While listening, It's hard to imagine that some of the tracks on this album were made when Richard was just 15 years old. Not to mention, a lot of the electronic devices used in the making of this album were created by him. And it was analogue! Just imagine! The level of brilliance can’t be understated!

Sure, I feel like some of this sounds a little bit dated (mostly due to advancing technology & how much this album has been copied), as well as the fact that some songs end up staying for a tad too long - especially in the second half. It’s not an easy album to finish completely in one sitting, and it’s for the most part, a deeply individualistic electronic album, that’s works better for your nerdy gatherings than full scale parties (as it was originally intended). That being said, that doesn’t take away from the breakthroughs this album made, or any of it’s genius.

“Selected Ambient Works 85-92” may not be fully an ambient album in terms of genre, but it succeeds in creating many ethereal atmospheres that ambient records struggle to convey. Every track delivers an intoxicating aura that just gets to you, and the whole album remains unique among Aphex Twin's entire catalog. Even though I love this record to death, I respect Richard's choice to go forth and try different sounds in electronic music, and I think those efforts have paid off. I'm always excited for a new Aphex Twin album, but I'd be content with all the wonderful stuff he's given us already. This is an Electronic classic in every sense of the word, a must listen, & a work of outstanding innovation.

9.4/10

soundworld's Tags
5 Comments
2y
Great review!
2y
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2y
Thank you! Appreciate the feedback :)) @Fhhgvnjscvbbg @Rater
2y
Absolutely wonderful review :) Thank you for writing this, you are very talented!
2y
Thanks @Tristan glad you dig it!
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