Released in April of 1995, ...I Care Because You Do is the third studio album Richard D. James recorded under the Aphex Twin moniker and it marks the end of his initial analog era. It’s also the crowning achievement in the Aphex Twin canon. Veering from his previous acid house, ambient and general techno undertakings, James builds compositions out of lengthy and intricate drum machine loops, elaborately layered analog synths and intermittent string pieces. The final product comes off like a Replicant dance-party. Never one to take his art too seriously, James infuses ...I Care Because You Do with in-jokes and innuendos. “Ventolin,” named after an asthma medicine, is one of the harshest tracks on the album and features a high-pitch frequency that mimics symptoms of tinnitus; “Alberto Balsalm” is named for a British line of hair care products; “Come On You Slags” samples dialog from a pornographic film. Additionally, several of the song titles are anagrams: Aphex Twin is reworked as “Wax the Nip,” The Aphex Twin morphs into “The Waxen Pith,” “Wet Tip Hen Ax,” and “Next Heap With,” and Richard David James becomes “Acrid Avid Jam Shred.” ...I Care Because You Do’s equal infatuation with hip-hop rhythms and melodic counterpoint provides an effective bridge between his pioneering early releases and the cunning explorations of his later work. As much as the front cover self-portrait captures a snapshot of the artist’s own image, the music inside provides a glimpse of an artist on the cusp of an invigorating new period of sound experimentation, but still producing his unique blend of melancholy and aggression at an elite level. Generally seen as one of the quintessential IDM releases of all time (and once named by Q Magazine as one of the top 20 loudest albums of all time), the album finds a middle ground between Phillip Glass and the Wu-Tang Clan. Fans of either will not be disappointed.
In a career full of brilliant, groundbreaking music, the Richard D. James Album remains Aphex Twin’s drill ’n’ bass masterpiece. It was James’ fourth and most widely popular full-length to date upon its original 1996 release, and reinvented the artist as a commanding influence on like-minded groups such as Radiohead who were tiring of the guitar/bass/drums format. Moving even further away from his ambient and acid house beginnings, the album matches James’s trademark fragile, slow-moving melodies with harsh, quick breakbeats. When it was released, fellow electronic artists such as Orbital and Underworld had just begun to filter moderate amounts of drum ’n’ bass in their work, but the Richard D. James Album was more extreme than virtually all jungle at the time. Autobiographical in nature, it employs electronic sounds, pulsating rhythms and non-musical samples to convey the author’s feelings on childhood innocence, evidenced in tracks like “To Cure a Weakling Child,” “Boy/Girl Song” and “Cornish Acid” (a nod to his Cornish background and upbringing). Chicago Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis said of the album: “James has turned inward for inspiration, painting aural pictures of real and imagined scenes from his West Country childhood.” Stylistically, the Richard D. James Album is in the mode of “elektronische music” and relies only on sounds generated electronically, while continuing James’s implementation of “musique concrète” ideas by manipulating human voices, physical instruments and environmental sounds via sampling, distortion and looping. The album continues to gain high marks from music critics, ranking 40th on Pitchfork’s Top 100 Albums of the 1990s and 55th on NME’s Top 100 Albums of All Time. A peculiar and personal work, the Richard D. James Album is a modern classic which offers the same thrill on the first listen as the hundredth.
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Aphex Twin's 1994 masterpiece Selected Ambient Works Volume II includes barely anything resembling a beat or any sign of typical song structure, yet the album continues to garner adulation generally reserved for holy music. Fans have been testifying on it's behalf for nearly two decades, as if it were capable of curing ills or healing the soul. It's synthetic construction belies the intuitive, human, melancholic and uplifting nature of the music. Some have speculated the album was intended by Aphex Twin's Richard D. James as a farce, as if it's über-minimalism was a joke played on an electronic community that relied so heavily on the beat; an expectation-defying statement from ambient-house's young hero. The album induces varied responses and often from the same person. A listener may go from being incredulous to drenched in tears within the span of a single track. Music critic Frank Owen described the music as "veering between an eerie beauty and an almost nightmarish desolation." James himself described it as "like standing in a power station on acid." the album's raw emotional power is built upon the influences of Brian Eno, Erik Satie, Steve Reich, Terry Riley and the Orb. Each of it's tracks has an elegiac and desolate feel far removed from the tooth-rattling, drill-'n'-bass or abstract electronica for which James was originally known. The soft, nimble flow leaves one in a tranquilized state. Throughout the album, James resists the temptation to layer the sound with beats or samples. Instead, he relies on swathes of sound and harmonics and almost-implied pulses. When the music does incorporate subtle industrial sounds, rhythmic drums or muted samples, it is only to affect a menacing feel in the textures. Remarkably, for an album that is often perceived as difficult, Selected Ambient Works Volume II is quite accessible. Featured in films, commercials and video games, the music continues to offer an entry point for listeners new to the ambient genre while remaining a classic touted by connoisseurs.
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1997's Dots and Loops is Stereolab’s fifth studio album and the first to completely ditch the motorik drone that had been a trademark since their inception. Predominated by lush lounge and jazz textures, it showcases the band’s most complex set of rhythms yet. Stereolab is aided by members of The High Llamas (like-minded travelers in the production of whimsical ’60s sounds), Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma of Mouse on Mars, and John McEntire of post-rock pioneers Tortoise. The album was recorded in Chicago and Düsseldorf and bridges a unique American-Euro influence. The new rhythmic approach separates Dots and Loops from the band’s previous output, as does a Beach Boys influence which adds to the band’s standard brand. Bossa Nova and ’60s Euro pop are still major touchstones and give the album a deceptively light vibe; however, further listens reveal an elaborate work, with almost every track featuring odd time-signatures and more complicated and layered arrangements. “Parsec” is space-rock meets drum and bass; “Brakhage” marries a minor key bass line to clinking vibes and a shuffling beat; the segmented, 20-minute “Refractions in the Plastic Pulse” is sunny and appealing, yet intricately constructed. The dividing line between the band’s first phase and what would be its more experimental latter period, Dots and Loops is the type of album that reveals its charms over many listens and is one Stereolab aficionados point to as among their best work!
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Stereolab’s fourth full-length, Emperor Tomato Ketchup, originally issued in 1996, marked the point where the band evolved from a purely underground phenomenon to an important pop group capable of selling albums while keeping their hipness and integrity intact. At the time of its release, it was simultaneously their most experimental and most accessible release, with the deliberate raw textures of earlier works replaced by a more polished vibe. The album was also their greatest success to date both commercially and critically, and remains a consensus favorite even now. Continuing to mine the music of the ’60s and early ’70s, Stereolab employs Farfisas and Moogs, melodies from Bacharach and Hardy, soft-rock, bubblegum, dub and hip-hop sounds to augment their core influences of krautrock, punk, jazz and space rock. Odd time-signatures and deft layering techniques are more crucial to the arrangements, and the grooves on tracks like “Metronomic Underground” and “Les Yper-Sound” add a level of funk to the mix, while the album also includes clear and catchy pop songs like “Cybele’s Reverie” and “The Noise of Carpet.” Emperor Tomato Ketchup brings many elements to the table, but Stereolab puts them all together into a coherent vision. It’s hard to say if the album’s greatest accomplishment is making pop music palatable to experimental listeners or introducing pop listeners to the group’s experimental influences. Either way, it’s one of the most enjoyable and important albums of the ’90s.
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