Everyone’s got an Aphex Twin story. It might be a late-night reflection on how Selected Ambient Works rewired your brain, wide-eyed gossip about him living on the Elephant and Castle roundabout in south London (he doesn’t) or, if you’re Kanye, how you sampled him on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I have two stories that I’ve worn thin over the years. The first happened in 2000, when I saw a girl make fresh sense of “Windowlicker” on an empty dancefloor in Leeds. The elastic lines of her limbs and the way she moved in half and then double-time pulled the track into new territory for me. I thought about music’s relationship to the body differently after that. The second is from 2004, when I was working as a waitress in a café in east London’s Spitalfields Market by day and writing the odd gig review at night. It was in that restaurant one spring day that it happened: I served Aphex Twin a plate of sausages and mash. Or at least I think I did. As I approached his table to give him his change, he must have noticed the hungry glimmer of recognition in my eyes because he jumped up, hopped on a bike chained up outside and sped off.
Fast forward 10 years, and it seems just as hard to believe that the notoriously elusive Richard D. James is caught up in the middle of two stacked days of promo for his new album, Syro, his first since 2001. Over the phone from London, he sounds just as surprised about his return to the spotlight as I am: “I don’t know what is going on, actually.” When it comes to making the music, however, he’s right at home. Syro sounds like Aphex at his most Aphex. He builds densely populated worlds, then joyfully dismantles them. He runs squelchy acid farts over some of the most beautiful ambient passages he’s ever created. He pulls beauty out of chaos, and vice versa. While he takes the music seriously, he can be playful and even goofy when it comes to presenting it, sending out mangled photos and gobbledygook press releases. “It would be way too boring,” he says, to do it any other way.