AFX - Orphaned Deejay Selek (2006-2008)

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  • Consider how much AFX has changed over the years. Richard D James's first official release (and still his best, some would argue), "Analogue Bubblebath" was a shimmery glimpse of the ambient-techno that would come to define Aphex Twin's early classics. Jump ahead to 1995's "Arched Maid Via RDJ" and he's already working in elements of Richard D. James Album's spastic rhythms. A decade later, "46 Analord-Masplid" finds the project toying with a sound closer to druggy gabber. Of course, much of that output was underpinned by acid and James's supernatural sense of melody, which eventually evolved and cohered into the last era of AFX, the juggernaut Analord series. Chosen Lords marked the culmination of James's second biggest alias in 2006, compiling selections from 42 vinyl-only tracks into a 10-song CD that stands among his best records. It was a resounding high note for James to end AFX on, but now he's brought it back. And though elements of the Lords material knock around in Orphaned Deejay Selek (2006-2008), the new record marks another shift in sound, one which doesn't give AFX the adrenaline shot that Syro gave Aphex Twin. Opener "serge fenix Rendered 2" is somehow both awkward and ostentatious with its unhinged rhythmic blast, setting the tone for a record split between glimpses of classic AFX and less substantial curios. "dmx acid test" recaptures the twitchy restlessness in some of Analord's best tracks, but its 77 seconds are up before James can explore the concept. Instead, he jump cuts straight to "oberheim blacet1b," which builds on the anxiety and yet flows tangentially into miasmic pads and a snaking 303 sequence. The track's last minute or so is Orphaned Deejay Selek's first run through some proper AFX acid, and though it makes the less satisfying lead up worth the wait, there seems no good reason for James to play it so coy. Same goes for "bonus EMT beats," a nearly five-minute drum track (the record's second-longest song) that comes off like a test of his new drum machine and reverb unit. If this one was on the B-side of a two-tracker, you'd wonder why he wasted half a 12-inch on what could've been boiled down to a locked groove. Almost as if James is apologizing for the indulgence, "simple slamming b 2" grabs the baton and lives up to its name; finally, here's one the "deejays" might actually "selek." "NEOTEKT72" is an excellent bit of low-slung funk, and makes for another keeper the jocks can play out. James leans hard on one of his slickest grooves in recent memory, landing somewhere between "Cilonen"'s back alley glare and the sloping canter of Syro's "produk 29." That kind of focus is all too rare in the splintered tracklist. Quick beat suites "midi pipe1c sds3time cube/klonedrm" and "r8m neotek beat" use their couple of minutes wisely when they zero in quick on some sticky drum patterns laced with RDJ's sinister sense of humor. Memories of Drukqs and Richard D. James Album dust those tracks, but they're inexplicably cut short before realizing that potential. Whatever James puts his name to could and should never be expected to make conventional sense, so Orphaned Deejay Selek only falters when denying his own slippery logic. The Cornish legend could've given "bonus EMT beats" to one of those sketchy SoundCloud accounts, left "dmx acid test" to his trove of personal archives, and used that extra six minutes to develop the wonky grooves in "midi pipe1c sds3time cube/klonedrm" and "r8m neotek beat"—it would've made a more fulfilling release. Ultimately, it feels like splitting hairs to criticize a singular artist for having precisely the kind of mercurial attitude that makes his music great. There's really no such thing as a bad Aphex record, just one that fills out the bottom of the bell curve.
  • Tracklist
      01. serge Fenix Rendered 2 02. dmx acid test 03. oberheim blacet1b 04. bonus EMT beats 05. simple slamming b 2 06. midi pipe1c sds3time cube/klonedrm 07. NEOTEKT72 08. r8m neotek beat