We care because he does
The man is a brand. Really. And that’s a compliment, just in case you were wondering. If you are working in advertising or marketing, this should really be a case study. About how a brand should have a clear positioning. One face to the customer (advertising platitude, I know, but unavoidable here). Stand for something people care about and stay on your path, true to what is essential.
It’s a study about target groups too. How to reach them, how to make them followers, how to be enigmatic and authentic at the same time, how to not fall into the trap of wanting to become attractive to a wider audience. It’s even a great case about brand iconography, and about how to keep evolving to stay relevant and give the audience a chance to be part of your brand’s evolution.
I mean… just look at this album. The face. “Self portrait painted by me” it says on the back side of the sleeve. It’s a pretty eerie one. Of course that’s how he likes it. In the following years his face would become something like a trademark, even if one that does everything to be the exact opposite of that.
Just like Richard D. James (part of the trademark) is a relatively good looking dude in his own way, he makes sure that his face is distorted, put into crass contrasts, that it is on everyone and everything until it becomes something that puts us off, makes us recoil – and still remain strangely attracted to this unique display of creativity and artistic freedom.
That’s why this is such a great brand and such a great concept – the music is always playing a similar game. Aphex Twin creates beauty and then surrounds it with elements that do this magic trick of supporting the beauty in a way that makes it less obvious, less easy to appreciate. No matter how brutal and blistering the rhythms may be put on the stage – there is always an element of beauty, harmony, of tranquility. Just listen to “Come On You Slags!” and you will know what I mean.
I remember that I was challenged by some of the stuff on this album when I first heard it. Kind of like some Squarepusher albums that could really put me off one minute and then give me goosebumps in the next moment. Most of what I found hard to bear back then seems far less difficult now, as if it took a decade or two to grow on me. What I might have found a little monotonous or too industrial back then seems quite agreeable now, to say the least. I like the funkiness that I seem to be able to detect now, as in “Wet Tip Hen Ax” or “Mookid”.
Of course, there’s “Alberto Balsalm”. No matter what you think of this album – the fact that this is on it makes it a great album already. This is where the Aphex Twin brand allows itself a moment of sheer beauty without making it hard go digest, as if the avid listener is given the biggest possible hug after having appreciated the artist’s work through all of the challenges that have been thrown their way. And that drum break in the middle of it… What makes all of this so great is that it seems totally effortless. Some might have thought that the weird guy stumbled over something by accident here – but no, Richard D. James had no problem repeating this amazing trick whenever he felt like it.
This is a compilation of sorts, collecting Aphex Twin work that was created between 1990 and 1995, and there was a lot of talk about how this was a transition album – I couldn’t care less. It shows how the Aphex Twin brand was both gaining in clarity and at the same time developing a much wider artistic spectrum. There’s some distinct Hip Hop flavor in “Cow Cud Is A Twin”, an orchestral approach on “Next Heap With”, Neo-Classical structures in “Icct Hedral” (which made Philip Glass pick that one up later), and even a classy Aphex Twin preview of the downtempo future on “Acrid Avid Jam Shred”, floating way above most of what would start to clog the ears of bar hoppers by the late nineties.
Yes, this is a brand. The best brands in the world care because you do. It’s the ultimate brand statement. We can only love him for that, even if that seems almost inappropriate with a guy that paints himself the way he does on the cover of this album. But then you listen to the melodies of “The Waxen Pith” and you want to hug him back.
Release for review:
APHEX TWIN – …I CARE BECAUSE YOU DO – WARP – WARP 30 LP