In celebration of this legendary album finally hitting 1,000 ratings on AOTY, I decided to try and write a review for it. Now, as I'm sure many of you are aware, it can be a bit difficult to write reviews on albums that are incredibly critically acclaimed and renowned around the world. Often times it takes a lot more thought and energy than rating lesser-known records. Anyway, what I'm getting at is that I've always viewed reviews of critically acclaimed records (such as this) as being a bit useless, opinions have already been formed and there isn't often much you can really say. I'll do my best to make this interesting though.
Selected Ambient Works 85-92 by Richard D. James is one of the most influential and acclaimed electronic albums to ever be conceived. I think that a lot of people who listen to Aphex Twin's works don't truly understand how influential and important he actually is. In order to help inform, here is a list of (most) artists in the world who have been publicly influenced by Aphex Twin in one way or another.
Nirvana (including Dave Grohl), Radiohead (including Thom Yorke), Kanye West, Travis Scott, Nine Inch Nails, Steve Reich, TOOL, Frank Ocean, Bjork, Daft Punk, Death Grips, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Linkin Park, Flying Lotus, Doja Cat, Deadmau5, Arca, Slowthai, Pharrell Williams, Skrillex, and many many more (including ME!)
In 2013, Thom Yorke of Radiohead named Aphex Twin as his biggest influence, saying: "He burns a heavy shadow... Aphex opened up another world that didn't involve my fucking electric guitar... I hated all the music that was around Radiohead at the time, it was completely fucking meaningless. I hated the Britpop thing and what was happening in America, but Aphex was totally beautiful."
A little fun fact: most of the seemingly random song titles in this album are actually direct references (or just straight up ARE) names of different electronic components and tools. Also, Xtal is pronounced "Crystal" the same way Xmas is pronounced "Christmas." It's also the abbreviation for the crystal on circuit boards. Anyway- I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's talk about the actual sound.
Not only was Selected Ambient Works far ahead of it's time, but I would argue it is STILL ahead of our time. Every single piece of this album is WAY too advanced for 1992, from the drums to the synths, from the samples to the production. It's practically impossible to find anything like it. Even TO THIS DAY, attempted recreations of songs such as "Xtal" and "Tha" have been utterly disappointing, often not resembling the same nature at all. Almost 30 years after the release of this album, we can still not create something as technologically special. I'd argue even Richard himself would likely not be able to pull off a proper recreation of this album, considering how unique/specific some of these effects and samples are.
1985-1992. In 1985, Richard D. James was 14 years old. Richard began working on this project, one that would inevitably change the entire music industry (and the world) at age 14. 7 years later, when it was released, he was 21. I cannot stress how fucking incredible this is. This album essentially grew up with Richard, it aged as he aged. 7 years of producing, mixing, mastering, creating, etc... would not go to waste. 14 years old. If you ever want to feel like a failure, just remember that arguably the most important electronic album of all-time was started by a 14 year old.
I've seen a few people say that this record is "repetitive" or "boring." It's techno. That is pretty much the point. I can understand how that would not be appealing for some individuals though, but if you find this repetitive you should absolutely not look into his earlier work. Early EPs created by Aphex Twin were largely based around techno, specifically acid techno (which is often even longer and more repetitive). I just think it's a bit of a silly argument when it is essentially the definition of the genre itself, though I can still slightly see where they are coming from. Luckily, I've never found myself bored with how insanely atmospheric and psychedelic a lot of these synths and sounds are. It's an incredibly immersive experience. If you don't like this kind of music, you simply don't like it. I'm not sure if that can really change, though I will admit this album has grown on me quite a bit since I first heard it.
I don't want it to seem like I'm just saying "It's meant to be boring" as Toasterqueen expressed, so I'll try and explain this a little more. It's sort of an "acquired taste" in that you either don't get it or you do. Either it's boring or it isn't, and for me, it isn't. I can understand how it would be though.
Now, I will say that the albums only downside is it's runtime. I don't mind the tracks being long, but I do feel 74 minutes is a little overkill. I think a few of the tracks on the second half could have been cut out, but then again, they are still quite amazing. I'd argue the first 7 tracks are literally perfect electronic songs. Every single track on this album has a purpose, there is no filler, no fluff, it is all as important as each other. It's like a puzzle which needs every piece to be completely full.
I wasn't planning on reviewing this album today, but after listening to it again, I just can't help myself. Hopefully my review has done the album a little bit of justice, though I know nothing I can write will properly represent how beautiful and important this record truly is.
++Cover Art: (100/100)++
I mean come on, this is one of the most famous logos in the entire music industry. It perfectly represents Richard's career, especially this album. Also, I love the title.