Something is gravely wrong with Aphex Twin’s new track. Not that you’d know it at first. The veteran producer released “T69 Collapse” today, as the first taste of a forthcoming EP called Collapse. For the first minute or so, it rides a mildly acidic midtempo groove that could sit comfortably on almost any of Richard D. James’s releases that are built on hardware synths, from 2005’s Analord series to 2016’s Cheetah EP. Kick drums flutter back and forth across the downbeat, burbling keyboard lines build up layer by layer. This is James in cruising mode. Nearly thirty years into his career, you get the sense that he can do it without expending much effort.
The weirdness arrives soon enough. “T69 Collapse” collapses at about two minutes into its runtime. The rhythms fold in on themselves, abandoning any pretense of funkiness or danceability. The harmonies turn dissonant. A synth like a malfunctioning dial-up modem takes the lead. It’s a classically Aphex-ian blend of menace and playfulness, with each side serving to heighten the intensity of the other. The tone is mirrored in the track’s potentially seizure-inducing video, which at this point becomes as casually nightmarish as the classic clips for “Windowlicker” and “Come to Daddy.”
This is not the first time James has allowed the controlled chaos of his rhythms to run so wild. But his most frenzied productions tend to be distinctly digital—the products of working behind a computer screen, where it’s easy to zoom into the music one measure at a time, working and reworking each beat for maximum disorientation. It’s a harder trick to pull with analog equipment, which it sounds like James is working with here. He makes much of his best music when pushing against the limits of a particular piece of technology, and it’s the same way here. In its more traditional sections, “T69 Collapse” sounds like Aphex Twin. When it falls apart, it sounds like the end of the world.