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AFX - Hangable Auto Bulb

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Artist: AFX

Album: Hangable Auto Bulb

Label: Warp

Review date: Nov. 15, 2005

In whatever form he takes - acid-house raver, ambient mood doctor, drill’n’bass agitator - Richard D. James takes his music to extremes that blur the border between playful and fiendish. He latches onto a sound, a rhythm or a melody with a focus that borders on the obsessive-compulsive, then twists, turns and flips it until it’s a fetish shared by listener and creator. “Children Talking”, the opener to this EP reissue, takes a sample that is ridiculous – a child telling a man he hates mashed potatoes and the man asking why – repeats and repeats it until it’s irritating, bombards it with a frenzy of breakbeats and bleeping arpeggios, then shreds and distorts it until the innocent voice becomes utterly disturbing.

The same modus operandi appears all over Hangable Auto Bulb. The eight tracks here were originally issued in 1995 on two separate 12”s, and they show James bridging the divide between the ambient pieces and acid-house tracks of his early 90s work and the drill’n’bass he unleashed on The Richard D James Album.

If jungle zoomed in on hip-hop’s breakbeat to turn the eccentricities of a single snare tap or hi-hat snap into a full-fledged riddim, then James take an electron microscope to those eccentricities and discovers new universes with entirely new rhythmic laws . On “Custodian Discount” he takes a blistering snare pattern, chops it up then uses its stutter of energy to destabilize the whole piece, pushing the pitch of the beat into nauseating realms for a few unbearable bars. “Laughable Butane Bob” gets one of the oddest breaks of all time when James transforms a wooden rim shot into the creaking strain of something being stretched to the breaking point.

What really separates James, and what makes these tracks sound as fresh now as they did ten years ago, is that he’s more than a beat hound; he is also a first-class arranger and melodist. “Wabby Legs” not only churns with the manic counterpoint of intersecting hi-hats and snares, it features at least two melody hooks that could be worked up into compositions of their own.

At times, though, James sounds like the precocious child he samples on the album opener. He runs the title track and “Every Day” through so many variations that they whirl like out-of-control carnival rides. But that is the fun of Aphex Twin. He creates pieces that overflow and overwhelm, unstable concoctions that want to be everything - abstract rumination, body-blow groove, aggressive noise, pop bliss – sometimes all at once.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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