For the latest in the ongoing 33 1/3 series it’s to Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II which, writer Marc Weidenbaum is almost at pains to point out, is more a case of following on from, rather than any actual follow-up to Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works: 85-92. Both are separate albums, standalone volumes, for all we know a Volume 1 sits in the vault, unreleased – then again, with Apex Twin, Volume 1 could encompass every single bleat, blip and beat he made up to the release of his 1994 double-album.
Weidenbaum cautiously explains that this beatless album of ambient ideas/ideals exists in more than one shape, with song titles differing, with song titles often absent from the album cover – with so many false-starts or misleading shortcuts into the mind and work of Apex Twin.
This slim volume does well to both explain the context around this album – and much of the work under the Twin moniker, including seeing the link from Brian Eno’s work, with Aphex Twin becoming a new gold standard in ambient and electronic music, the new obvious touchstone. And it gives just enough insight into the Aphex process/es and other works. We see this album as its own thing – as standalone, which is so clearly is, but we’re still encouraged to think about it – 20 years on from its release – as being part of an interesting, diverse, ever-expanding discography.
And then Weidenbaum circles in to examine the idea of this as a beat-less album – the spiralling oscillations of sound, the tessellations of mind-patterns that form in listening to this music suggest that it can’t ever actually be beat-less, this is music that meanders, yes, that mopes and drifts, that sprawls and searches – but this is music that (eventually) finds a groove; its own distinctive groove. This is music that in fact grooves – that pulses and wafts, weaves and seeks. It is music that undulates; that seems to somehow exist as both music and complete absence (of music).
There’s a lot to take in here – and it had me not only going back to the full album the book is based around, but revisiting so much of the great Eno ambient works and other Aphex Twin albums.
Any Aphex Twin fan is going to want to read this. It’s passionate and full of information – and evidence of wide-ranging research. It manages, then, to perfectly encapsulate the ideals of the 33 1/3 series, the writer offering both passion, enthusiasm, near enough to a damned lust for his subject – but also there’s journalism on display here, quality music writing. A fascinating subject, this one; a most fascinating album. If you’ve read other books in the series and have yet to experience Aphex Twin, or particularly this album then let this book be your guide into a wonderful immersion – submerge yourself in that sound-world with these sound words guiding you home.