‘Ambient Works’ is an electronic classic
Richard D. James, known by his stage name Aphex Twin, has been making electronic music since he was a teenager. His first album, “Selected Ambient Works 85-92”, is hailed as one of the best electronic albums ever created by many critics.
“Ambient Works” was released on Feb. 12, 1992, about a year and a half before I was born. I discovered this album after doing a little research and fell in love on first listen.
1. Xtal—starts off with some soft chords and evolves into a syncopated electronic groove. The bass isn’t too heavy, so it doesn’t disrupt the delicate nature of the surrounding chords, which get accompanied by some soft horn instruments near the end. It all meshes together to create this amalgam of everything Brian Eno ever wanted to accomplish.
2. Tha—a highly syncopated romp through a subway station. The music sounds like something you would hear on a drug trip, and is very reminiscent of “On the Run” from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, however the bass line here is a chill-out session that lasts the entire song.
3. Pulsewidth—sounds reminiscent of when amateur computer musicians were using tracker software to make music for Amiga computers. This track takes everything good about tracker music and kicks it up a notch to provide you with an upbeat symphony of noise.
4. Ageispolis—composed mostly of heavy bass sound and some soft chords thrown into the mix. At this point, it’s quite obvious that Aphex Twin is a VERY big fan of his Roland drum machines. I don’t have a problem with that; I love the sound of a Roland TR-808 just as much as the next guy, but the bass in this one gets a bit overbearing at points.
5. “I”—a very short tune made of only synth pad sounds. So far, this track sticks to the true definition of “ambient”, but I feel like it’s too short.
6. Green Calx—starts off with some distortion sounds before going into a bass-heavy distortion paradise that lasts for the majority of the song. There are a couple minor breaks where we get some semblance of melody, but everything in this track just seems to be thrown in there.
7. Heliosphan—a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of the more raw-sounding pieces on this album. This song sounds like someone took Kraftwerk and added in the Amen Break well enough to create a completely different feel.
8. We Are The Music Makers—a chill-out groove that derives from jazz a little bit as far as instrumentation goes. There’s also a small sample in there from the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
9. Schottkey 7th Path— a song that sounds like it would play while you are sitting in a space station, but is extremely repetitive, and unfortunately that kind of turns me off.
10. Ptolemy—a drum machine lover’s dream, as the beginning is entirely sounds of the Roland TR-808 that continues throughout. The bass has a distinct 80’s feel to it, while the synth pad takes you to the late 70’s.
11. Hedphelym—sounds like an acid trip gone haywire. It’s mostly distorted synth noises with bass drums in the background. There’s nothing really too special on this one.
12. Delphium—the most 80’s sounding track on the entire album. It has everything from drum machines to FM synthesizers, and is quite reminiscent of Kraftwerk a la “Electric Café”.
13. Actium—a fitting end, with most of the same effects heard on the rest of the album. It’s a chill-out groove that gets progressively more glitch noise before the bass takes over and commandeers the rest of the track, until the very last second when we get a nice electric piano to fade us out.
It is clear that many electronic musicians have derived a lot from Aphex Twin, even if they might not know it. Electronic music today is mostly wub noises and DJs that barely move a finger, so this was a breath of fresh air. The bass isn’t too overpowering, but it is there just enough to make your ears appreciate it.
If you haven’t heard any Aphex Twin before, start out with this album. You won’t regret it.