Electronica as a genre has been around since the late 1920s with the advent of the theremin, but recently the form has seemed in danger of being siphoned dry by sample-happy beat sharps who switch up the breaks with numbing predictability. Englishman Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin, however, has never been farther from the drought.
Many of the songs on this double-disc seem to have a beat, but not in any recognizable, countable sense. James is so super-adept at using the listener’s preconceptions (the old adage about how the notes an artist doesn’t play are as important as the ones he/she does) that it’s almost interactive. Rhythm is never background layering; it’s solo virtuosity. Hidden within the drum-and-bass, unfamiliar sounds zoom past as quickly as needlepoint lasers or rumble like echoing canyons. When familiar instruments appear, they’ve been tinkered with to the point where they possess whole new textures, unbelievable pitch and range. Represented visually, this music would look like the work of H.R. Giger or M.C. Escher, alternating inversions and explosions that create palpable dread and confrontation from these most inorganic of palettes.
The song titles are mostly unpronounceable, so suffice it to say that there’s a mix of ambient, hypnotic pieces interspersed with cranked-out rattlers that grip like a seizure. Video-game whip-cracks form the intro to one song; another is backed by the sustained, echoing impact of a bass drum. James’ mother makes a sampled appearance, sounding like some benighted crone from a frightening fairy tale. An actively intellectual experience, Drukqs is by no means an unemotional affair, but the feelings you’re likely to experience are jaw-dropping awe and squirming unease. These digital ricochets seem to take place in an endless, empty darkness, James himself a mad numerologist trapped between the stars, casting the most complex and dreadfully pregnant of spells.