2018’s edition of Aphex Twin bleeps and bloops is delivered in the form of a 4-track record (or 5-track digital), on what looks to be his permanent home, Warp Records. ‘Focused’ would be the single word I would have to use to describe the Collapse EP if I were challenged to do so. No matter your gripes with the music, I think it would be hard to argue that RDJ took a lackadaisical approach. This is in stark contrast to his less recent Cheetah EP, a release which I like, but personally thought sounded slightly lazy in parts, particularly with the variety, or lack thereof, in sound design. Collapse takes a turn back towards Syro, and back further still to the breakcore influenced percussion mayhem which has cemented itself so strongly in the hearts of his fans.
The most chaotic track of the release, and that chosen as the pre-teaser, ‘T69 Collapse’, morphs through a blitz of clattering sporadic percussion and utilises quintessentially AFX synth-work. The bass hook has a tendency to reverberate through your thoughts for hours afterwards, a phantom melody whose sole purpose is to distract you from any other line of thinking. It’s easy to see why this was chosen to soundtrack the official announcement, how could you possibly be apathetic towards that? ‘1st 44’ is altogether an entirely different beast. It sounds totally unlike any of his other music; manic staggered percussion driving a trap rhythm with some sort of muscular war cry, followed by a delightful Detroit-style arpeggio and an atmospheric drum workout. RDJ doesn’t try to replicate outside scenes often, the only other example which comes to mind is Clayhill Dub from the Joyrex series, which personally I don’t think is especially good. ‘1st 44’ on the other hand is an interesting imitation, and probably the most interesting piece of music on the EP.
Have you ever had a dream which pulls you back and forth between tranquil slumber and awful nightmares? I haven’t, but I think it would feel like ‘MT1 t29r2’. An unsettling vocal synth patch and arp sequence, then a Legend of Zelda-esque cloud-jumping melody juxtaposed together works well, although does induce a slight sense of vertigo. An emotional cut in the form of ‘abundance10edit[2 R8's, FZ20m & a 909]’ makes use of the same frantic drum programming that we’ve seen so far, with one of the EP’s weaker points being highlighted here. Unlike older releases, the drum palette hardly changes throughout, and the wooden-sounding samples seem dated. That being said, ‘abundance10edit[2 R8's, FZ20m & a 909]’ is one of my favourites from Collapse due to its epic basswave hook, and it sounds like a psychedelic free-party in the year 2080.
Moving into digital-only territory, ‘phex’ initially feels laidback, the machine-gun-burst percussion taking a modest position on the soundstage. The main features are drifting pads, sketchy Analord bass, and my favourite part: the shadow of a looming warehouse rave synth. Chaos again ensues when the arp speed slows to a disorienting wobble, followed by another loose AFX freestyle. A ‘durichroma’ mix of ‘T69 Collapse’ included in the special Bleep edition download is exactly as the original, save for an extra segment at ~3min 19s filled with robotic bleep sequences. This is the version premiered live at Day for Night festival last year, for whatever reason this extra segment was omitted for the official release.
On the whole, the Collapse EP is a more mature, less manic Aphex Twin. The method in the madness is much more apparent, rather than sounding like he’s doing anything possible to sound different like with Drukqs and a lot of his music ‘95-’01, Collapse sounds like there was more of a plan. Subsequently, this has resulted in the loss of some charm; one of the main downsides of this release in addition to the repetitive and dated drum samples. Listen to Drukqs and you can picture RDJ in his room scrambling maniacally over his equipment, splurging audio in pure expression and experimentation, Collapse paints quite a different picture. But this change is likely inevitable as you would expect with his age and experience. This time, there is a controlled vision, yet it’s still undeniably and conclusively Aphex Twin.