Oh, Internet, is there anything you can’t do?
For going on 20 years, diehard fans of Richard D. James (a.k.a. Aphex Twin, Caustic Window, Bradley Strider, and over a dozen other aliases) have heard tell of a “lost” Aphex Twin album, once tantalizingly described in track-by-track detail by Planet Mu head Mike Paradinas in 1999, but otherwise (and apart from a couple of tracks that landed on compilations) never heard at all.
(In actuality, it wasn’t so much “lost” as confined to four or five test pressings and shelved; and it wasn’t so much a proper Aphex Twin album as an intended full-length from his Caustic Window alias, which he cracked open a few times in the early ’90s to vent a more aggressive, acid-derived strain of his catalog.)
In April of this year, many Aphex devotees (including the members of the online forum We Are the Music Makers) let jaws hit floors as a copy of the “Caustic Window” LP appeared for sale online at Discogs — for $13,500. Savvy WATMM forum members banded together to purchase the album through a Kickstarter campaign, as well as to secure one-time distribution rights from James and record label Rephlex. The Kickstarter blew up, raising over $67,000 by the end; and two short months later, those digital copies arrived in over 4,000 inboxes. The test pressing itself was put up or auction on eBay, with the proceeds to be split between Rephlex and a charity of WATTM members’ choosing. (The auction closes Monday afternoon, and at press time was already over $46,000.)
“Caustic Window” may not be a $50,000 Aphex Twin album, but it does offer a panoramic view of the breadth of James’s skills, at a point in his career when they all seemed to be peaking at once. The tracks on “Caustic Window” would sound at home on any of his lesser-heard EPs of the time under that alias — aggressive acid-scalded beats, scuffed up with grainy distortion, here and there warmed under bright washes of sunny synths.
“Revpok” bubbles and scrapes, with dizzy detuned marimbas and a twinkling hook; “phlap” savages itself as it goes, with an Autechre-esque razing of its own rhythm; and you can feel an acid bloodstream coursing through the growling, crawling beast of “stomper 101mod detunekik.” The stunning “101 rainbows ambient mix” — an alleged reject from Selected Ambient Works 85-92 — is a nine-minute expanse of pure Aphex, with soft flutes and tinny taps sewn into a hypnotic synth sequence locked in a hypnotically tight delay.
And while they aren’t all winners (the discomforting future-brunch vibe of “jazzphase” feels out of place like a clunky pair of Fluevogs), it’s a selection that highlights James’s way with cutting hard with soft, and draping complexity over simplicity.
The album ends with a duo of prank calls orchestrated by James in which he simultaneously called friends and put the phones together, leaving the victims to sort through who called who. It’s a fitting way to view James’s unique talent, made clear by best moments of “Caustic Window”: a knack for forcing unwitting elements into unexpectedly satisfying conversation.Michael Andor Brodeur is assistant arts editor at the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.