Richard James has been ‘back’ for a couple of years now, and I’m still struggling to comprehend it. His influence never ceased during his years of inactivity: on the contrary, he has grown into an enigmatic, enlightening symbol of electronic music. 2014’s Syro was a greatly satisfying return, serving as proof that he’s still ‘got it’ whilst simultaneously embarrassing his peers in its attention to detail. That said, I struggle to compare it to his best works, and view it as an accomplished demonstration of James’s abilities as opposed to a proper record on the scale of Selected Ambient Works 85-92, or even the Richard D. James Album. This latest EP may not be as exquisitely crafted, and may struggle to make a long term impact, but it blossoms in an entirely separate manner. Cheetah is a delightful throwback to classic Aphex Twin material that focuses on rich timbres opposed to dazzling rhythmic mastery.
This is one of the purest and silky-smooth Aphex Twin releases yet. The beats operate as a framework, with steady tempos and smoothly layered synthesiser pads laying down the foundation for the magnificent melodies that James has become so treasured for. I sink into the tipsy soundscapes the same way I do with Selected Ambient Works 85-92, and in some respect this is closer to a sequel than Volume II itself, with Cheetah’s core tracks effortlessly hitting a gorgeous balance of ambient music and IDM. The textures are creamy, suave, and at times highly hypnotising. When he’s in this velvety, polished mood there’s no better music to get lost in than Aphex Twin. As with all of his works, song structure is based around repetition, yet his commitment to the intricacies of design means very rarely are two bars ever the same (and on the rare occasion they are, you’re too seduced to notice).
It’s typical Aphex Twin, but exemplary rather than ordinary. What is truly astonishing after all these years is that his musical formation still sounds so fresh, so naturally contemporary despite the used formula. I wasn’t around to experience Selected Ambient Works 85-92 at the time of release, but I can imagine the sensation was similar to that of listening to Cheetah these past few days. It’s a side to Aphex Twin that I have loved for years, as have many others, and now we’re lucky enough to have yet another serving to savour. The master has delivered the goods again. This is a fabulous EP.