In a curious case of happenstance, right as Aphex Twin resurfaces for the first time in a decade with Syro, two of the most crucial pieces of the Drexciya puzzle also reappear on shop shelves. Out of print for some 15 and 13 years respectively, Drexciya’s first full-length album statement Neptune’s Lair and Transllusion’s debut The Opening of the Cerebral Gate have finally been re-pressed, the latter with bonus tracks never before available on vinyl. On the surface, there seems little to connect these early ’90s contemporaries—that is, the British cult-of-personality producer and two of the most obscure electronic music makers to ever call Detroit home. But the two acts shared labels, and it’s almost impossible to imagine the idiosyncratic music of Richard D. James without the insular yet profound example of Drexciya.
Masked and anonymous up until the death of James Stinson in September of 2002 from heart complications that signaled the end of the group, the duo of Stinson and Gerald Donald left behind a staggering yet fragmented body of work. The group only released three full-lengths (with both Harnessed the Storm and Grava 4 being released in the months before Stinson’s death), Drexciya’s decade-long run of singles and EPs were singular in electronic music, connecting the likes of Detroit’s Underground Resistance to European imprints like Clone and Tresor.
They also presented a unified vision spanning across those singles and albums, a world of sound that soundtracked a dystopian future while paying tribute to forefathers like George Clinton, the Jonzun Crew, Cybotron, and of course Kraftwerk (see “Aquabahn”). While the excellent Clone series Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller painstakingly compiled and presented four volumes of Drexciyan music, they never quite put together the backstory of the group. Nevermind that they grew up landlocked in Detroit—Donald and Stinson created a warped water world peopled with Darthouven fish men, Stingray battalions, and Lardossan cruisers shaped like giant squids.
And how did such fish men wind up 20,000 leagues under the sea? Why, via pregnant African women thrown overboard during the Middle Passage of course, as brutal a creation story as any in modern music. Couched in such real-world horror is a layer of science fiction queasiness, like touching fish flesh. As an early comp’s liner notes described: “Are Drexciyans water-breathing aquatically mutated descendants of those unfortunate victims of human greed? Recent experiments have shown a premature human infant saved from certain death by breathing liquid oxygen through its underdeveloped lungs.”
Drexciya’s bleak outlook was matched by a brutal strain of electro, acid, and techno across those initial 12”s. But what makes Neptune’s Lair and Stinson’s own The Opening of the Cerebral Gate great portals into that waterworld is that Neptune‘s 21 tracks temper those bludgeoning machinistic beats with other sounds: evocative acid tracks that take you deep inside your own mind, spasmodic electro sprints, strange interludes, and the sort of off-kilter melodic bits that Aphex Twin would soon make his own.
Monk chants and weird voices uttering “Drexciya” give way to the bubbly “Species of the Pod” that leads into the exquisite waterlogged funk of “Habitat ‘O’ Negative”, “Bottom Feeders”, and “Surface Terrestrial Colonization”. In contrast to the harder tracks that defined their ’90s output, the keys and 303s are nudged down from “incapacitate” to “intoxicate.” Even beatless sketches like “Draining of the Tanks”, “Quantum Hydrodynamics”, and closer “C to the Power of X + C to the Power of X = MM = Unknown” offer kaleidoscopic synth washes, nuanced and textured like fragments of shells and sea glass made smooth in the tide.
Even Stinson’s The Opening of the Cerebral Gate offers up a slightly more moderate variation on the Drexciyan template. “Transmission of Life” is built on a furious throb and submarine alarms and the unreal squalls of “Cerebral Cortex Malfunction” sound exactly like its title suggests, but elsewhere Stinson tempers such overdriven tendencies. There’s the flickering keyboards that glide across the electro pulse of “Walking With Clouds”, being at once heavyweight and effervescent. Other standouts like “Do You Want to Get Down?” and “Unordinary Realities” hint at the more downtempo direction he would explore as the Other People Place on the long out-of-print 2001 classic Lifestyles of the Laptop Cafe.
What strikes me about revisiting Stinson’s music a decade-plus after his passing—despite clear antecedents in electro and acid—is how singular his vision was. Struggling with health issues as he finalized Drexciya and other solo projects, the anger and bleak outlook of their earliest output gives way to acceptance and a sense of the sublime. What better way to convey the sense that life is but a dream than to coin an artist name like Transllusion, a play on both “translucent” and “illusion”? That such a sense of humanity can be conveyed via the programming of machines until they begin to sing speaks to Stinson’s genius. In much the same way that—after a decade of near silence—Syro reminds me that rather than the innovative aspect of Aphex Twin’s music, what makes it stand the test of time is its irreducible sense of individuality, it remains the same for Stinson and Donald, and the music they made as Drexciya will endure, even if everything else gets submerged in the rising oceans.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/ZFTgLz