Mike & Rich - Expert Knob Twiddlers

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  • There's no point in over-analysing the cover art to Aphex Twin and µ-Ziq's collaboration as Mike & Rich. Both the sleeve and the music it encases act as a two-fingered riposte to high-minded pretension: there are spelling mistakes, one of its strongest tracks samples Mike Paradinas burping and it's de facto title is a wanking pun. All the same, it's worth pointing out how nicely the artwork suits the album. Two players, bright colours and a game of Downfall—the perfect set of images to accompany the hermetically sealed pandemonium of these home studio recordings. Expert Knob Twiddlers, released 20 years ago on Rephlex and reissued this month on Planet Mu, is the product of alcohol-fueled jam sessions, in which the two artists bounced off each other over arrangements that pop and resettle like some sort of psychedelic snowglobe. Aside from it being an Aphex Twin and µ-Ziq collaboration, this record's spirit of fun has afforded it a cult status. Its original ten tracks speak to an under-acknowledged component of so-called IDM, which is far more important to the makeup of both artists than the self-satisfied chin-stroking implied by the genre's name. It's summed up by Paradinas's unassuming squint on the cover of Aberystwyth Marine or Richard D. James's description of growing up in Cornwall, where he and his peers "had to make our own clubs, make our own music." Their music was born from experiments in rural bedrooms, of isolated artists building tape loops on reel-to-reel decks like suburban kids building models with glue and paint. This expanded edition of Expert Knob Twiddlers skillfully adds to the playful atmosphere of the original material. The tracklist is tweaked to make room for the additional tracks. "Vodka (Mix 2)" and "Jelly Fish (Mix 2)" are the new standouts, but it's cuts from the vaults, like "Portamento Gosh" and "Clissold Bathroom," that quietly complete the album. They introduce elements that feel sufficiently new, while emphasizing aspects that were there all along—in this case, portamento pitch bends and the ghoulish earnestness of early electronic music like Mort Garson's Ataraxia. Each bonus track, save for "Waltz," resonates nicely with a piece of the original LP. "Brivert & Muonds" acts as a tribute to the abrasive clumsiness of "Mr. Frosty" and "Reg." "Organ Plodder" is a particularly enjoyable throwback to the expansive instrumentation of "Eggy Toast." No attempt is made to recreate the tender moments, like the uncanny dynamic of "Giant Deflating Football" or the ebb and flow of "Bu Bu Bu Ba," but those tracks have always felt anomalous. Both James and Paradinas clearly have more to offer as musicians than the pissed-up tomfoolery on this reissue, but this expanded reissue is a needed reminder of an understated diamond in their shared discography. This is an infantile, maniacal, in some ways ridiculous album that deserves to be considered a great work, perhaps precisely because it never asked to be.
  • Tracklist
      Disc One: 01. Mr Frosty 02. Reg 03. Jelly Fish 04. Eggy Toast 05. Vodka 06. Winner Takes All 07. Upright Kangaroo 08. Giant Deflating Football 09. The Sound Of Beady Eyes 10. Bu Bu Bu Ba Disc Two: 01. Vodka (Mix 2) 02. Portamento Gosh 03. Waltz 04. Brivert & Muonds 05. Clissold Bathroom 06. Jelly Fish (Mix 2) 07. Organ Plodder