Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin, likes to play with knobs. He distorts his compositions to the utmost fringes of musicality. He’s an odd one. Only a madman (or a genius) could title a song, “Kladfvgbung Micshk” and insist that it makes sense, you just need to listen.

Hailed as the Mozart of electronic music and front-runner of intelligent dance music, many have had the highest expectations for Drukqs, his first major release in more than four years and a double disc to boot. One can’t help but compare Aphex’s latest effort to a release by one of his contemporaries — Squarepusher’s Go Plastic. Squarepusher is the Dr. Gonzo to Aphex’s Hunter S. Thompson, the Morley Safer to his Mike Wallace. While Squarepusher is braving sonic frontiers, Aphex’s work seems to have regressed. His last release, Come To Daddy, promised a new, innovative style that simultaneously exploded and imploded, stuffed with disturbing, distorted vocals and a collage of sounds hitherto unheard by human ears. Drukqs does not push Daddy any further. Rather, it has abandoned it altogether. Perhaps this stagnation can be linked to rumors that this album was simply material that had been cluttering James’ hard drive over the years, unloaded only to fulfill his contract with Warp Records.

Still, some songs are undeniably mind-boggling; “Vordhosbn” and “Mt. St. Michel Mix + Saint Michaels Mount” proudly bear the mark of Aphex like a flamboyant tattoo of a lover’s name. But what sets this apart from any other Aphex album (or any electronic album to date, for that matter) are the short piano pieces littered throughout the two discs. They are unique, ethereal vignettes; The piano’s innards are explored from every position and perspective. But there is no transition from one piece to the next; flow is nonexistent.

This is a sad day for Richard D. James. His contemporaries have finally caught up to him. This release should have been brilliant, yet it barely scratches greatness and wallows comfortably in mediocrity. Aphex has become an aged cyborg whose human half is growing old, dying slowly, his eyebrows white and his face gaunt and frightened, while the machine continues as it always has, its many gears and motors buzzing softly. Let’s hope that the machine can sustain the man a little longer.

E-mail Joshua Gross at [email protected].

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