February 5, 2015

Art by Stephen Robinson

Peter Holslin is hooked on phonics

It was the digital equivalent of buried treasure — 110 high-caliber tracks uploaded to Soundcloud by a mysterious artist dubbed “user48736353001.” This massive data drop got a lot of attention from music writers last week, as most experts strongly suspect the songs are the handiwork of British electronic music maestro/trickster Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin. I’ve listened to a lot of Aphex Twin in my day, and to my ears this music is sublime and finely-tuned enough to be Aphex Twin. And it wouldn’t be out of James’ character to pull a stunt like this. So, sure. I’m ready to join the believers.

Of course, none of this stacks up against masterpieces like Selected Ambient Works Volume II or Richard D. James Album. But that’s what makes the tracks so special — particularly for all the James listeners who’ve been dying for years to get a glimpse of what the man has locked up in his vaults. In this case it’s failed experiments, casual sketches, tender-hearted one-offs, and  clues into the inner workings of a brilliant musical mind.

Some of these tracks are playful — “28 organ” mirrors an open-ended puzzle video game with its whimsical flights of fancy, while “4 how to science ab6” is like a clumsy dinosaur, tottering along on a tuned bass drum and liquid-y effects. But in others ambient vibes are conjured, or sounds are pushed past the breaking point, creating the rusty blade hi-hats and snare clangs of “2 Pcp 2 [unreleased Version].”“Dance2thebeat” is a beautiful exercise in space and texture: an early-’90s-style jam in which the beat and synths are submerged in dense reverb and submerged effects, creating a ton of space in your headphones and thus evoking the atmosphere of a grimy, cavernous warehouse rave.

The tracks are all up for free download on Soundcloud (you can also get them neatly packaged via BitTorrent), and there’s something refreshing about the way they’ve been casually released into the world.

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