Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92

Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992)

Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992)

I stumbled upon this album not by accident, because it has been listed as one of the main influences by several artists, and it was in my “must check out” list for a long time. I mean, I wasn’t in a hurry because the album is about to turn 20 years since its release, so another couple of months would not hurt anyone.

Even though I don’t like to start a new listening experience with preconceived ideas or with a biased mentality towards something in particular, due to the aging nature of the album I was honestly expecting something more crude, something that would pale in comparison to the standards we’ve become used to these days. But it wasn’t anything like I was fearing it would be. Yes, the sound feels a little bit dated, the quality isn’t exactly the best I would have hoped for even in a FLAC format, but hey, we are not here to criticize technical details as I’m sure the copy I got must be the responsible for that.

As the title implies, this is a selection of ambient works, and truth be told, this feels more like old school techno than ambient, but the elements are all there for you to explore, and there’s definitely something for everybody (as long as they are into the electronic genre of course). For the most part the album is dominated by beats and some vocal samples scattered very scarcely, it never reaches the point where it actually feels like the pace is toning down although it is still capable of deliver some interesting relaxing moments.

Something funny is that if you never listened to this until this day, once you start listening to it you have the impression that this is some very basic stuff, it isn’t anything like the complex and layered ambient / electronic works we have nowadays. It does have arguments to stand its point, and although it relies heavily on basic beat structures and loops with minimal sampling here and there, you can find yourself recognizing those very elements as the precursor of many modern-day masterpieces. Field recording and subtle nature recording scattered around some of the tracks reminded me of why Aphex Twin is listed as one of the main influences for many artists related to the IDM genre.

On the other hand, if you are not actually with a stick picking the songs to discover its inner workings, like a kid would do, you might end up just letting this sit on the background and it becomes just an ambient soundtrack… oh wait, is that how this is supposed to work in the first place? I might have just discovered by accident the true nature of this album.

Now, seriously, the best way to enjoy this album is doing just that. If you try too hard to focus on the details and find hidden stuff, I don’t think this is the best place for that. The songs are for the most part long loops featuring repetitive (although not tiring) compositions that work best when you’re not actually in a quest for finding mind-blowing details meant for those willing to invest countless hours listening to the same songs over and over.

This is a simple album, and simple in the sense that you will not find more by digging deeper. Everything is there for you to grab without having to understand obscure references and confusing mental states in order to get everything that is supposed to come with this. Also, as a side note, this album was included in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die series of books, so this is me doing you a favor and letting you know that after listening to this you will probably just have 1000 albums left to listen.

 

Röyksopp – The Understanding

Röyksopp - The Understanding (2005)

Röyksopp – The Understanding (2005)

Life is full of ironies, and in this case it happens to be The Understanding as the misunderstood album by iconic Norwegian band Röyksopp. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love everything the duo has released so far, and learning that this was considered a disappointment by most people who were expecting some sort of Melody A.M. Part 2 came as a shock to me.

I’ve always said that the only way to address any Röyksopp album is to detach yourself from any preconceived idea you might have based on what you’ve listened so far. No matter how awesome and incredible you might think their previous album was, if you are expecting the next album to be an extension of it, chances are you are going to be disappointed, and that’s exactly what I think happened to this album.

Melody A.M. was all about ambient and mellow electronic music at its best. A masterpiece, if you will. The Understanding, released 4 years later was on the other hand more about a blend of sophisticated electronic music with a glorious trip hop counterpart that raises this album to new and exciting heights.

Right from the beginning there’s a very noticeable difference between this and the prior. The whole album sounds a lot more elegantly presented, it constantly tries to push farther the boundaries set in the past, achieving a very interesting and more diversified listening experience. Whoever thought that the duo would stay in the comfort zone created by the previous album was obviously underestimating the imagination and hunger for new horizons they were looking for. Long story short, The Understanding is a completely different journey, and a very pleasant one.

Over the years I’ve noticed that this album suits your taste even when your listening habits are evolving. Five years ago I would come to this album whenever I was looking for catchy electronic tunes with some trip hop evoking moments on the side (Follow My Ruin or What Else Is There?), then two years ago I would be more into full electronic mode and would resort to tracks according to that (Sombre Detune, Only This Moment, Boys)… And lately I’ve been focusing on more mellow and minimalist experiences, and what a surprise, there’s also something for that in here (Someone Like Me, Dead To The World). And the funny thing is, you won’t notice that all those different moods are disguised as a whole album until much, much later, and it won’t happen to you until you get a firm grasp on every single track before you start to experiment on creating your own different listening paths by listening only a few selected tracks from this album. That’s what I call a replay value.

For those unwilling to spend that much time on an album, or those who can’t seem to find anything that special buried under the pretentious sound of The Understanding, there’s also instant gratification waiting for you (granted you like electronic music, that is). I would recommend the deluxe edition bonus disc, as it adds a few nice ambient / electronic tracks that are totally worth your time.

Outstanding tracks include What Else Is There?, with the always puzzling guest vocals by Karin Dreijer Andersson (The Knife, Fever Ray), it’s a track that will flip your world upside down. Trip hop and electronic music fuses here and beautifully complemented with Andersson’s vocals creates a strangely haunting and pleasant mysterious masterpiece. Kate Havnevik also has a brief guest performance in Only This Moment. I would give Follow My Ruin a place in the best tracks by this album, it is a very straightforward electronic / pop song, but it manages to slip into your subconscious and will remain there long enough. On the other hand, more downtempo oriented tracks include the whispering Someone Like Me, and the instrumental Boys (on the bonus disc).

Seven years later, I still believe that there’s some room for discoveries here. I know, there have been two more releases by Röyksopp after this that also demand my attention, but I can’t stop coming back to this from time to time, and there’s always something new that escaped me the time before. The Understanding is not an acquired taste, it is a blissful electronic journey that starts the moment you listen to it for the first time.