The most important thing to know, amid the hype and surprise surrounding the return of Aphex Twin after more than a decade away, is that Syro, simply and truly, is better than any other new electronic music album. It wasn’t necessarily fated to be that way, especially for an artist whose antagonistic streak is as storied as his knack for musical ingenuity. But it is, in fact, the case, and in a manner that signals the second-most-important knowable aspect of Syro: that Aphex Twin, after a career filed with mysterious weirdness and obscurantist feints, sounds free, easy and maybe even filled with glee to be back doing exactly what he does best.
No electronic-music-maker boasts a more singular or distinctive sonic stamp, as becomes clear within just the first few seconds of “minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix].” The beats come out strong and limber and start to shake; a few woozy electronic notes, then some evocative synth chords, circle around each other suspiciously and eventually coalesce. Then the whole thing, once it’s up and going, is summarily taken apart and put back together again in a similar but significantly different fashion.
Few producers sound as present and actively at work in the middle of a mix as it transpires in real time, and that fantastic habit carries through all of Syro. The second track, “XMAS_EVET10 [thanaton3 mix],” summons a beguiling kind of enticingly sloppy funk, loose and light and fluid around the beat. Even a seemingly unpromising cut like “produk 29 ,” reminiscent of regrettable ’90s downtempo lounge music and so-called “broken beat” club sounds, works itself out of a bad jam by dint of changing so much and so convincingly over the course of its five dynamic minutes.
Indeed, any sense of datedness at play in the mind of an aged veteran turns paradoxical in that the occasional signs of datedness (an ’80s videogame blip here, an overzealous ’90s drum-break there — and oh, is that something from a bizarre ’60s sci-fi film?) ultimately sound rehabilitated — even strategic. And anyhow, highlights abound so consistently on Syro that it makes less sense to isolate any from their context than it does to simply lean back, listen in full and bask in gratification that a musical talent so formidable has returned to work.