Okay, I admit it… when Aphex Twin (aka Richard D. James) said he was no longer going to be putting out albums, instead focusing on multimedia collaborations, I was saddened. After all, this was Aphex Twin we’re talking about, electronic music’s l’enfant terrible. Of course, knowing the Twin’s twisted sense of humor, I’ll also admit that I wasn’t too shocked when Warp announced Drukqs. After all, this was Aphex Twin we’re talking about, who wasn’t above scaring old ladies with demons and midgets in his videos.
It has been rumored that Drukqs was nothing more than a contractual obligation to Warp. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but to be honest, there are parts of it that feel like nothing so much as James scraping the bottom of his recordings. He’s always claimed that he hasn’t released his best music, for fear of being copied. And sadly, much of Drukqs proves that. There are many moments of brilliance on Drukqs, enough for an album’s worth. But not enough for a double album.
The haunting piano pieces are a nice touch, a refuge from the drill n’ bass assault that makes up the rest of the album; “Avril 14th” is especially lovely, a sort of lovely childhood memory to make up for that whole Come To Daddy nightmare. “Vordhosbn” and “Bbydhyonchord” are supreme examples of James’ ability to wed delicate, almost orchestral electronic twiddlings with epileptic beats (the latter complete with Casio handclaps). Both “Jynweythek” and “Ruglen Holon” conjure up the same sort of Arctic wonderland that Björk did on Vespertine.
And then there’s James’ darker side. “Gwely Mernans” surrounds you with monstrous reverberations, while haunting sonar-like melodies sound out somewhere from the depths. “Gwarek2” starts off with those tortured voices from The Third Eye Foundation (now that Matt Elliot is retired, he won’t be needing them anymore) and somehow makes them sound even more pained. By its end, the track has metamorphosized into deep, metallic drones and what sounds like the death rattles of James’ homebrew instruments. But both tracks would probably be more at home on James’ earlier Selected Ambient Works releases. And that hit n’ miss diversity is the problem.
Normally, diversity wouldn’t be a bad thing, and with an Aphex Twin album, it’s even to be expected. You never know what you’re going to get, which makes it such a delightful, maddening listen. But Drukqs feels too uneven, ranging from short piano pieces to ambient nightmares to full-on drum n’ bass assaults. It’s almost like a “Greatest Hits” compilation with James tacking on examples from all of his various phases. And to make things worse, there’s nothing nearly as clever as Windowlicker or devilish as Come To Daddy.
If Drukqs was nothing more than a contractual obligation, than I’d say he’s more than fulfilled it. It’s just too bad that he felt like he needed to go to these lengths. Perhaps part of the brilliance of James’ past releases was their brevity. With Drukqs, you’ve got over 100 minutes to sit through, and a pretty little piano piece here and there can’t hide that. There is a great album at the heart of Drukqs. It’s just unfortunate that you have wade through two for it.