Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Aphex Twin

  • Selected Ambient Works Volume II [Sire, 1994] B-
  • Richard D. James Album [Elektra, 1996] B+
  • Come to Daddy [Warp/Sire, 1997] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Selected Ambient Works Volume II [Sire, 1994]
"Veering between an eerie beauty and an almost nightmarish desolation," intoneth Frank Owen. "Imbuing machine music with spirituality," saith Simon Reynolds. And, most incredibly, "Always a groove going on," quoth J.D. Considine. I mean, what are these dudes talking about? Not that ambient-techno wunderkind Richard James is offensive--when I played all two-and-a-half hours of this at a quiet thermal spring in Puerto Rico, the worst any of the attendant pensioners could say about James's nightmarish desolation was "interesting." And smack dab against Eno's instrumental box--well, if James really gets "physically ill if [his] music sounds like anybody else's," that's one consumer object he'd best not sully his expanded consciousness with. Thing is, James is rarely as rich as good Eno, not to mention good Eno-Hassell or Eno-Budd. One piece here does the trick (no titles or track listings--too Western, y'know--but it is, how crass, the lead cut) by folding in a child's voice (or is that one of his electronic friends?). In general, however, these experiments are considerably thinner ("purer," Owen wishes) and more static ("pulse dreamily," Considine dreams) than the overpriced juvenilia on the import-only Volume I. Anyway, a lot of Eno's "ambient" music could also be described as bland wallpaper. When Kyle Gann or (please God) Tom Johnson pumps a minimalist, I wonder whether I'm missing something. Otherwise I believe my own ears--and pull out David Berhman's On the Other Ocean/Music From a Clearing when I need deep background. B-

Richard D. James Album [Elektra, 1996]
Jungle sure has livelied up this prematurely ambient postdance snoozemeister. His latest synth tunes are infested with hypertime electrobeats that compel the tunes themselves to get a move on. And where once he settled for austere classical aura, now he cuts big whiffs of 19th-century cheese. He even sings. Hey, fella--I hear Martha Wash needs work. B+

Come to Daddy [Warp/Sire, 1997] Dud