Artist: Aphex Twin
Title: Selected Ambient Works 85-92
Format: Double LP
Label: R&S Records
Catalogue Numbers: Side A AMB LP; Side B AMB LP 3922; Side C AMB LP; Side D AMB LP 3902. [These appear only on records themselves, etched in to the record, not on the sleeve or labels, which means I've got one of the rubbish represses, and not the 2006 remastered version]
Year of (original) release: 1992
A1 Xtal (4:51)
A2 Tha (9:01)
A3 Pulsewidth (3:47)
B1 Ageispolis (5:21)
B2 i (1:13)
B3 Green Calx (6:02)
B4 Heliosphan (4:51)
C1 We Are The Music Makers (7:42)
C2 Schottkey 7th Path (5:07)
C3 Ptolemy (7:12)
D1 Hedphelym (6:02)
D2 Delphium (5:36)
D3 Actium (7:35)
When I started this project, I had a bit of a panic about all the great albums I wanted to review that I only owned on CD, and it surprised me that I had absolutely no Aphex Twin at all on vinyl. And even after numerous represses, Aphex vinyl is still shockingly expensive, even on auction sites.
Anyway, I was glad to finally get a copy of this album, which I know so well. It being one that was hugely influential on my own musical tastes, and which propelled the whole ambient-dance scene into the spotlight - so far that you can still, to this day, hear Pulsewidth and Heliosphan as backing on various home-improvement, gardening, or sports-commentary show [would that it were otherwise...]
The sound of the overall album is, in the main, very simple. There are looped beats, vocal samples, and synthesizers. Effects processing adds reverb, delays, and filtering. It doesn't sound like much, but the opening side shows beautifully how it all adds up to much more than the sum of its parts.
Tha is probably the best example. It begins with a beat that sounds like it was made underwater, and it's hard to say what drum sound was used. How much of this is a function of the equipment and mastering, and how much was intentional is by-the-by. The bass riff comes in, which is languorous and spread itself over eight down-tempo bars. The melody of the bass is then offset by a single melancholy high synth line with a long attack. There are vocal samples laid over this in such a manner as they add an effect without you being able to pick up any words.
And that's pretty much it, but over nine minutes the constituents drop in and out, the rhythm alters, and a deft hand with the effects keeps the interest. Xtal is similar, but with a female vocal "aahh"-ing sample, and synth chords. They simultaneously sound current rather than dated, but you can see the influence on a host of other artists, Black Dog, U-ziq and (early) Wagon Christ to named just three.
The only tracks not to really fit that template are i and Green Calx from Side Two. i is the only proper ambient track, in the tradition of Brian Eno, the only beatless number, and the one most like the material that followed on Selected Ambient Works II.
Green Calx, on the other hand, is more like the material pulled together on Classics. It's got the rave keys like Pulsewidth, but it also has the beat programming and acid-squelch-bass. The lengthy percussive breakdowns also prefigure the Richard D. James album.
Unfortunately, that isn't enough variation over 74 minutes, and by the time you get to Ptolemy the samey-ness of it all is starting to drag. I think even Aphex himself notes this by calling all the last three number very similar names; the man has a very knowing sense of humour, after all.