Wednesday, 8 September 2010

A Very Warped History 3: 1994 (2 Of 2)

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This post. this was the one I anxiously awaited doing when I started this series. Some of you will like it, many of you will probably not, Some of you may even grow to love it as much as I do, as is the case with the majority of these Warped posts. It peaked at number #11 in the UK album charts, being another case of Warp's success stories and probably their most unconventional and experimental release. And you know it's going to be good when Aphex himself describes it as "like standing in a power station on Acid" But that's enough chit chat, let's get stuck into it shall we?

Selected Ambient Works Volume II is one of my favourite albums of all time, (and I'm not kidding when I say it owes me weeks of my life back, it's over two hours long) I'm sure most of you think of grinding beats and snare rushes when you think of AFX, but this album is full on ambient in the style of Brian Eno's soundscapes of his "Ambient: X" series. It's unique in that none of the tracks (apart from one) are actually named, Instead of a tracklist on the rear you are given this image:

Confusing right? that is, until you learn that the symbols match up with pictures in the linear notes. an example of one can be seen here, showing the one named track, Blue Calx, and a full decode and explanation can be found on this page. I love that idea, leaving the names entirely up to the listener/viewer, and is only the beginning of the mysterious properties of SAW2. Also, no matter how natural and smooth the tracks sound, remind yourself that ALL these tracks are electronic. Yes, I was blown away too.

Now, onto the actual tracks; as mentioned before it is entirely ambient with only one or two tracks featuring any kind of beats at all, but it's not about that, it's about the textures and compositions of them. Some are dark, some are light, but each has it's own specific feel. Here are some of my favourites (leaving out most of the more sinister tracks to make it easier to listen to)

Take for example, Track One (or Cliffs, if you've seen the pie charts). This is where you'll decide if you like, dislike or love the album. I'll let the music talk for me on this one. turn the lights off, relax, and just listen

Aphex Twin - Cliffs

Arguably the most "known" track from SAW2 is Rhubarb, it's been used in plenty of things from animation shorts to service testing for the BBC. And it's also arguably one of the best, I can't really describe the feeling, a combination of melancholy and nostalgia maybe? Regardless, give it the same treatment as Cliffs and you can't go wrong.

Aphex Twin - Rhubarb

I feel the album flows much better with all the mellow tracks together, but that's not to say I hate the more sinister pieces. sometimes you gotta creep yourself out you know? oh, and this track isn't included on the US release so enjoy, it's a semi-exclusive!

Aphex Twin - Hankie

Moving back to the relaxed side of the spectrum, the opener from the second CD and the explicitly named track, Blue Calx. Picture a more ambient version of Nil from the first half of this post and this is what you'll get. You know what to do.

Aphex Twin - Blue Calx

Another quasi-popular track and one of the more accessible from the album is Z Twig, much like Rhubarb it has that "I've heard this before but I dont know where" feeling. Stay tuned for this one cropping up again in a themed post soon, I have other plans for it.... planned.

Aphex Twin - Z Twig

Time now for Exclusive number two, released only on the vinyl version and hard as hell to find a decent rip of on the net (I Scoured for months to find this copy), enjoy a 320 of probably the best track from the whole album; Stone In Focus. It's not posted on any blogs, well for download at least. it's fascinating in that the little click in the background changes tempo sporadically, and the song speeds and slows in the same way. Amazing stuff

Aphex Twin - Stone In Focus

Annnnnd time for one last track before I wrap this one up, Lichen is more of a classical piece, it's lovely for doing nothing at all to. So much so that AFX himself used to put it in his sets as a cool down song in the late 90's, and the crowds loved it, maybe for the occasional wave of bass, maybe for the smoothness of the sounds. You decide for yourself.

Aphex Twin - Lichen

So there you have it, Selected Ambient Works Volume II in a nutshell. And it sums up Warp pretty well too: a label releasing experimental music that are moderately popular, and then become cult classics that people like me get to rant and rave about.

To all those who aren't a fan of Ambience; I apologise, BUT I will say that you should really tune in for the next few entries as we enter the prime time of Warp in the mid-nineties, they're a lot more accessible and less... shall we say "out there"

Imagine, You Are A Cloud,
-Claude Van Foxbat


Adam said...

I'm not sure why but I love cliffs and stone in focus. It sounds so cold and distant. Its freezing where I am living right now so stone in focus captures the weather perfectly.

Keep up the good work as usual!

matt said...

stone in focus is one of my favorite tracks of all time. you rock for finding a high quality version. THANKYOU

Anonymous said...

Good post Brad, well put together funny signs, Jim

Anonymous said...

This is one of my all time favorite albums. Tassels and White Blur II would be my first picks though.

I don't think that quote is the only thing Richard D. James has said about this album anyhow. I remember him recently condemning this music as well as naive and uninteresting, he said he had 1000 hours of music like this or something. I can't find that quote now

Claude Van Foxbat said...

@Anon2, RDJ is indeed a strange man, & I don't see how he can hate this, because he did it again for Drukqs. And sure people obsess over it like I did when I was hunting for Stone In Focus. He's an amazing artist though.

On the subj of WB II & Tassles, if I had it my way I wouldn't post them all, it feels incomplete like this. I posted these ones because they are the easiest to get into (minus Hankie, that was to show off the darker side of it.) For example, Cliffs has done amazingly well over on hypem for an ambient track, and people liking it is all I could ask for from this post :)

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. I used to have the cassette SAW2 and didnt know any of the names of the tracks, years later, i got the cd and was upset that my favourite song was not on it. searched around for months until I realized that it was called "stone in focus". Been searching for months to find an mp3, legal or illegal, and finally found it. THANKS HEAPS!! my life is complete, for now.

Sam said...

Thankyou for such an informative article. 'Stone In Focus' elevates me to a different place.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the 'stone in focus' download, been looking for it for ages!