Richard D James has been making up for lost time since his re-emergence in 2014. After almost a decade of silence the last two years have brought an avalanche: a great comeback LP, a series of experimental records and an enormous Soundcloud dump of almost 200 tracks. It’s felt like James has been clearing out the archives, purging to make way for new material. This rush of music has not only consolidated the technical skill and imagination which made Aphex Twin the electronic saint he is today – it’s also highlighted what a multi-faceted producer he is.
Each new release has shown a very different side of the artist, from the expansive jams of Syro to the experimentations of Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2 and the steel-toed club sketches of Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-08. For his first release of 2016 James continues to explore restlessly, turning the intensity down to a simmer and allowing the rich subtleties of his production to come to the fore.
The EP’s title and track names apparently pay homage to the Cheetah MS800, a rare synthesiser famed for its fluid sounds. It’s also incredibly difficult to use, a fact which explains James’ recent appearance at a Nashville music conference to demonstrate the machine’s capabilities. If the Cheetah poses problems to the musician, none of this is audible – these tracks are as effortlessly inventive and evocative as any of James’ best work.
The EP is divided neatly down the middle, the a-side labelled PROGRAM, the other FUNCTION. The most seductive cuts are in PROGRAM, a pair of downtempo numbers that recall some of the Analord series. These tracks are unusually straight, with none of Aphex Twin’s usual brain-melting left turns, but their slow pace allows the listener to bathe in the rich timbres and nuance of his sounds.
Opener CHEETAHT2 [Ld spectrum] is a low-slung burner with an unexpectedly steady kick, the colour left to an unspooling bassline, filtering percussion and psychedelic touches. CHEETAHT7b walks a similar path, slow and creeping with a rubber bassline and synth waves like a celestial caress. These tracks are accompanied by two short ambient pieces that show off the liquid qualities of the synthesiser’s sound palette.
The flipside holds material that sounds more immediately familiar. CIRKLON3 [Колхозная mix] is a jittery slice of electronic funk, its bassline bouncing around frantically yet maintaining a coherent groove, smoothed over by inviting scifi synthwork. The remaining tracks are more reduced – CIRKLON 1 leads with a weighty bass progression counterpointed by fluttering high notes while 2X202-ST5 combines seasick synthwork with the irregular hammer of compressed snares. However much he restricts his tools or pares down the craziness, there’s still little else like Aphex Twin.