Playing Records – Aphex Twin, Syro first Impressions

Album Of The Month – September

Aphex Twin – Syro
2014 – Warp Records

Aphex Twin Syro Cover

I’ve played plenty of other music this month but it’s only ever been leading up to this one record so I’ve decided not to write about anything else today. Monday September 22nd (or a little earlier for some of us lucky souls) was the date when we could finally hear whether the thirteen year time period between 2001’s much misunderstood Drukqs and the new one Syro was really worth the wait. It’s not that Richard D. James has been silent in the interim though is it? A stunning series of AFX twelves and all that fuss about The Tuss kept us talking and speculating about new Aphex gear. We did all the advertisement ourselves… well, apart from the blimp and the NYC street logos of course.

So, what does it sound like I hear you cry? I suspect most people taking the effort to read this far will already have their opinions on the album, the rather odd packaging and the usual interview fodder concerning James’ wish to release “a ton” more LPs and EPs over the next few years. Album release situations like this are usually the result of two possible reasons;

a) Past it band/producer releases lacklustre new material after Impossibly long timespan to try and generate more interest in forthcoming tour/merch and dwindling back catalogue sales.

b) Past it band/producer releases lacklustre new material after Impossibly long timespan when he/she realises how fucking expensive children, mortgages and life in the real world is.

I don’t think James is past it nor do I think Syro is lacklustre in any department although I will say that he’s clearly got the head of a fortysomething on his shoulders these days, sometimes at least. And two kids. Just a thought to leave hanging in the air rather than discuss any further…

We all heard Minipops 67 (Source Field Mix) a few weeks ago courtesy of the previews and it was damn good to hear that the Aphex was still making music worthy of more than a casual listen – a big relief to many. It’s a great track that sounds like it was made by no one other than Richard James, what else do you want? A complete and utter genre redefinition? Me, I love the multi-tracked, pitched up vocals running through it. Elsewhere, 4 bit 9d api+e+6 has traces of the Analord ethos behind it and 180db sounds like a cross between a rave gone wrong and coming down off a bad E – fucking scary but with big rushes all the same.

Then there’s CIRCLONTA6A (Syrobonkus Mix) which throws all the analogue gear into a big audio sink and sees what happens, luckily the burbling acid lines, speedy beats and pitch bent synths are sublime old school Aphex here – not looking back at history though, racing on into the future like a maniac laughing at everything as usual. Syro u473t8+e (Piezoluminescence Mix) throws lush synths and acid stabs into an audio washing machine and puts the whole lot on a fast spin.

A few more LP tracks before I wind up – S950tx16wasr10 (Earth Portal Mix) snips up rough arsed jungliest drum loops and pitches them against a babbling acidic background with more of those lush synths to massage your throbbing temples. Closing track is Aisatsana – a single piano, miked so closely so you can hear fingers depressing the keys and accompanied by birdsong from outside. Utterely so out of place in the context of the LP but far too beautiful not to be there. James should just record a full album of material like this and show us how much he really fucking hates the haters.

My final thoughts on this album are extremely complicated and varied but then nothing Aphex Twin related ever was simple at the beginning – for me at any rate. It sounds absolutely stunningly produced for a start, the drums in particular are as crisp and clear as anything I’ve heard on any Aphex release. At first I thought there’d be plenty of trademark sonic larks and in-jokes littering the album, there usually are but try as I might I can’t find any. I expected a straight cross breeding between Windowlicker and the Analord series which is there in minute DNA traces but the past seems to have evaporated once more for Richard D. James. It’s like he’s had to wait those thirteen years for a release until we were ready for this LP. Drukqs was a case in point. There were many people who slated it when it was released but have subsequently lived with it for many years, it’s become a part of their lives and they’ve grown to love it. They finally caught up with it at last.

There’s lots more I could say to air my joyful confusion and excitement about this record but it would probably bore you to tears – hell, you’ve probably stopped reading by now anyway. My final words are these – The Aphex Twin has disappeared into the future once more – for how long, who knows but right now this is his legacy to us all. Play it long and loud my friends, I know I will.

LP of the month without another single note being played by anyone else.

Aphex Pic

What The? #11

An occasional series of book covers whose outlandish design evokes bafflement and confusion in equal measure.

The Stlll, Small Voice Of Trumpets by Lloyd Biggle Jr.
This version published in 1975 by Sphere
Cover artist is Patrick Woodroffe

This cover represents a seminal “What the?” moment. An army of crawling hands, their wrists becoming flowers which open to reveal another hand. Their leader is also rather delicately holding a tiny trumpet. I truly don’t know what to make of this cover or work out what was going through Patrick Woodroffe’s mind when he painted it?

WTF11 Biggle The Still Small Voice Of Trumpets

Tuesday’s Box Of Retro

Sometimes the postie brings me lots of individual packages which flood my hallway enticingly as I descend the stairs for my first cuppa of the day. On other occasions when larger packages won’t fit through the letterbox, she knocks as loudly as a police woman to get my attention – it always works. This morning was one of those situations. I hadn’t felt too good in the night and was taking a cup of tea back to bed when my eternally smiling postwoman rattled loudly at the door. She passed on a single, large package and left smiling to complete her round.

I didn’t open the box straight away as I needed more sleep but later when I did, I couldn’t believe how  ‘in tune’ the half dozen titles inside looked together on the table. I was so amazed by the retro covers that I couldn’t resist quickly writing this article to show you what I mean.

My eternal thanks goes out to the eBay seller (who shall remain anonymous) but I will send him an email of great thanks for this lovely box of top quality retro literature that has completely turned my Tuesday afternoon around.

What do think of the connection here? Drop me a comment and let me know.

That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis
This version was published in 1963 by Pan Books
The cover artist is S. R. Boldero

Lewis That Hideous Strength

Voyage To Venus by C. S. Lewis
This version was published in 1963 by Pan Books
The cover artist is uncredited, possibly S. R. Boldero

Lewis Voyage To Venus

Out Of The Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis
This version was published in 1963 by Pan Books
The cover artist is uncredited, possibly S. R. Boldero

Lewis Out Of The Silent Planet

The Unsleep by Diana & Meir Gillon
This version was published in 1963 by Four Square Books Books
The cover artist is uncredited

Gillon The Unsleep

The Changeling by A. E. van Vogt
This version was published in 1969 by Macfadden
The cover artist is Jack Faragasso

van Vogt The Changeling

The Man Who Wanted Stars by Dean McLaughlin
This version was published in 1968 by Lancer Books
The cover artist is Kelly Freas

Mclaughlin The Man Who Wanted Stars

From The Library Of The Unsubscriber No.4, A Slightly More Arbitrary Selection

Last week’s display of literary goodies was chosen quite carefully from the new additions to my library – I even feel like the postman helped write the article in no small way due him bringing me so many fantastic new books. This time around though I have tried to be as arbitrary in my selection as was humanly possible and think I’ve ended up with another rather intriguing collection. I may experiment with Junior subscriber in the coming weeks and see what she manages to pick blindly from the shelves!

See what you think of this week’s random pick of books from the humble shelves of the unsubscriber library;

Tomorrow Sometimes Comes by F. G. Rayer
1962 – Icon Books Ltd
Cover art by Raymond E. Meylan

Rayer Tomorrow Sometimes Comes Front

The Age Of The Pussyfoot by Frederik Pohl
1969 – Ballantine Books
Cover art by Robert Foster

Pohl Age Of The Pussyfoot

Breakthrough by John Iggulden
1963 – Four Square Books
Cover artist not credited

Iggulden Breakthrough

One Against Time by Astron del Martia
Date of publication unknown – Trojan
Cover artist not credited

del martia One Against Time

Man Plus by Frederik Pohl
1978 – Panther/Granada
Cover art by Peter Gudynas

Pohl Man Plus

Off The Shelf; A Load Of Ballards

I’ve been a huge fan of Mr J. G. Ballard ever since finding a copy of The Atrocity Exhibition on the shelves of the school library whilst in sixth form. I was drawn to the provocative title having never heard of Ballard and upon reading the book immediately thought “what the hell was that?” It’s fair to say it had quite an impact on my choice of reading material at the time and the book still thrills today as it did then. I’ve gone on to collect pretty much everything he’s written and enjoyed most of it immensely so I thought I’d pick out a few covers for this series.

The majority of the following titles were published by Panther (or a later derivative), one by Berkley Medallion (with fetching Richard Powers artwork) and the final three volumes are by Penguin. I have also written about a four book Ballard box set, each book with stunning artwork by David Pelham and dressed in a beautiful wraparound box painting in another article (here) so I won’t repeat any of those covers in this piece.

So, please enjoy checking out my Ballards and let me know what you think via the comments;

The Atrocity Exhibition
This version was published in 1979 by Triad Panther
The cover artist is uncredited

Ballard Atrocity Exhibition

The Day Of Forever
This version was published in 1971 by Panther
The cover artist is uncredited

Ballard Day Of Forever

The Disaster Area
This version was published in 1973 by Panther
The cover artist is uncredited

Ballard Disaster Area

Crash by J. G. Ballard
This version was published in 1977 by Panther
The cover art is by Chris Foss

What’s this – no giant airbrushed spaceship? This is possibly my favourite Chris Foss cover painting ever. As the title says, simultaneously brutal and erotic.

Ballard Crash

The Crystal World
This version was published in 1970 by Panther
The cover art is by Richard Whittern

Ballard Crystal World

Low-Flying Aircraft
This version was published in 1985 by Triad Panther
The cover artist is uncredited

For some reason this fine collection seems to be very difficult to pick up at reasonable prices.

Ballard Low-Flying Aircraft

Concrete Island
This version was published in 1976 by Panther
The cover art is by Richard Clifton-Dey

Ballard Concrete Island

Voices Of Time by J. G. Ballard
This version was published in 1962 by Berkley Medallion
The cover art is by Richard Powers

Ballard The Voices Of Time

I know, the next two books are exactly the same except for their covers but sometimes it’s hard to make a choice between one or the other and so you end up intentionally owning a pair. I don’t have lots of pairs by the way… well, not that many.

The Four Dimensional Nightmare
This version was published in 1977 by Penguin
The cover art is by David Pelham

Ballard Four Dimensional Nightmare

The Four-Dimensional Nightmare by J. G. Ballard
This version was published in 1965 by Penguin Books
The cover art is by Giorgio Gordoni

Ballard The Four-Dimensional Nightmare

The Wind From Nowhere
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin
Cover art by Alan Aldridge

This title is a part of the aforementioned box set but is presented here in an earlier print version with a completely different jacket design. I couldn’t resist including this because of Aldridge’s bonkers cover art!

Ballard Wind From Nowhere

From The Library Of The Unsubscriber No.3, This Week’s Latest Additions

I needed a bit of cheering up last weekend and so I put the kettle on, helped myself to a couple of chocolate biscuits and settled down with eBay on my iPad. I was hoping she wasn’t going to be in a fickle and obnoxious mood as is sometimes her inclination. As I sipped my tea however I had a good feeling about this session and before long I had quite a few books on my ‘Watch’ list. Before the hour was over, I had bought several titles and was bidding on quite a few more. Cheered on by this lucky streak I helped myself to another cup of tea – in a much more cavalier style than I had done before!

It was only a few days later before my hallway started filling with those lovely bookish parcels ready to have their sealed flaps gently teased open to reveal their beautiful, delicate contents. (steady on now old chap! This is starting to sound like an exercise in literary eroticism now so I’ll end these thoughts right here!) The following five titles were amongst the first batch to arrive but I have had more parcels arrive this morning already and am expecting next week to bear similar fruit.

I just wanted you, my kind readers and fellow vintage paperback cover aficionados to be the first to enjoy these brand new additions to my humble library. I’ll post more newly acquired books when time allows, I have plenty more great covers to share with you all yet.

Your erudite comments on these matters are as ever always welcome;

Budrys’ Inferno by Algis Budrys
This version was published in 1963 by Berkley Medallion
The cover artist is Richard Powers

Budrys Budrys' Inferno

Babel 17 by Samuel R. Delany
This version was published in 1969 by Sphere
The cover artist is Bill Botton

Delany Babel 17

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
This version was published in 1969 by Panther
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

Vonnegut Player Piano

Fourth Mansions by R. A. Lafferty
This version was published in 1975 by Panther
The cover artist is Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon

Lafferty Fourth Mansions

The Sentinel Stars by Louis Charbonneau
This version was published in 1974 by Corgi
The cover artist is Josh Kirby

Charbonneau The Sentinel Stars

The Groff Conklin / Richard Powers Conundrum

It should go without saying before I write this article that I love both Groff Conklin edited anthologies and the wonderfully sublime cover artwork of Richard Powers but I think you may have guessed this already.

Last week I was indulging myself in a little casual browsing over a cup of tea when I came across a book with rather stunning Richard Powers artwork. I Clicked the link and discovered to my delight that it was indeed a Powers cover and furthermore edited by Mr Groff Conklin. I was however greatly dismayed at the condition and price of the book, the cover was terribly creased and the edges chipped badly. The dealer wanted £8 which I thought was far too high and so I reluctantly passed on.

Imagine my surprise then when a few minutes later a second copy appeared on my screen – what are the chances of that happening? I mean, this is a fairly anonymous 1955 anthology not a towering classic of sci-fi. Condition-wise it was rated VG and so I tentatively looked at the price fearing the worst. it was a US dealer once again and so the exchange rate resulted in around over £4.50! Postage was a little more than I like to pay but nothing too fantastically steep and so I clicked the ‘Buy’ button with a huge grin on my face.

The next thing that happened was either a very strange coincidence or a form of odd cosmic destiny of some weird kind – another, different Powers/Conklin title had appeared on my screen. This one was also located in the US and had a favourable price so I really had to buy that one as well… wouldn’t you have done the same in my circumstances?

Postage from the US can take several weeks usually and so I was checking the postbox every morning for their arrival, the postie must think I’ve finally lost what few marbles I have left rolling around my mind. Finally after just a few short days, they both arrived and I couldn’t wait to open those tempting packages – I was not disappointed in the slightest.

Here then are the objects of my strangely coincidental quest, what do you think – was it worth the waiting time and effort involved involved in searching do you think;

Science Fiction Thinking Machines edited by Groff Conklin
1955 – Bantam Books
Cover art by Richard powers

Conklin SF Thinking Machines

The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin
1957 – Berkeley Books
Cover art by Richard powers

What I find most comical about this book is the title – it’s not big at all, merely a regular sized volume and not the huge compendium like I thought it might end up to be. Ah dear, I have tears of laughter in my eyes again, another cup of tea beckons I think.

Big Book Of Science Fiction Groff Conklin