Ever step into the street, lost in your thoughts, and find yourself in the path of an oncoming bus? That's kind of what it's like listening to Drukqs: you get the sense that you've been pulled from your everday existence and thrust into a world of altered perceptions and tumultuous activity, straddling the median between sensory overload and sensory deprivation. Is this something to be loved? Hated? Or simply endured?
As a way of saying "Hi, I'm back," Drukqs ranks just below driving a truck through the front of someone's house on the subtlety scale. Its blizzard-like flurry of punishing beats, skittering drill-n-bass rhythms, heavily processed vocal samples, archaic video-game noises, creepy-sounding treated piano melodies and ephemeral sonic tinkering may bruise the ears of sensitive listeners. Sometimes the music is so abrasive, so punishing, that you may wonder if you've inadvertently plugged your headphones into your CD player's power output. At other times, Mr. James creates an atmosphere so ethereal that you'll wonder when the out-of-body experience is going to begin. Neither seems like a pleasurable prospect, but James somehow turns both alternatives into viable entertainment options. Most of Drukqs is nightmare music -- but of the most compelling stripe.
The marvelous thing about Drukqs, and about Aphex Twin's music in general, is that Mr. James feels no compulsion to adhere to the basic logical progressions -- call 'em flow diagrams, if you'd like -- that inform most music. Pieces like "Cock/ver10" and "afx237 v.7" unfurl as unplanned explorations, meandering across the sonic landscape like a demented, razor-sharp wind-up toy. Tempos shift. Beats mix and blur together. Strangulated keyboard lines babble like streetcorner lunatics. Speaker-punishing, squelchy-sounding high-BPM drum patterns abruptly give way to chiming, introspective melodies. There's probably some kind of pattern at work here, but you'll need a degree in Chaos Theory to spot it.
Even so, there's not a lot on Drukqs that's notably new. It's a refinement of James' existing art form rather than an exploration of startlingly new concepts. And that's fine; while the sound has its imitators, nobody does Aphex Twin's style as well as Richard James. For all its fannying-about with self-indulgent little treated piano melodies, Drukqs makes it clear that the Aphex Twin is back, and in better form than ever. If you're looking for music that follows a crooked path from Point Q1 to Point 9.70003, he's your man.
Naturally, Drukqs has its particular highs, from the randomly percussive "Cock /ver10", "54 cymrv beats" and "vord hosbn" to creepy neoclassical compositions like "Strotha tynhe". However, with two discs of fifteen songs each -- more than ninety minutes of music -- to choose from, you can be safely assured that just about anywhere your CD player's laser comes to rest, you'll find a sound that'll grab your electronic music paradigm and shove it where the sun doesn't shine.
Then again, did we actually need this much music? While fans will undoubtedly delight in this super-sized portion, more skeptical listeners will rightly wonder if James has fallen prey to kitchen-sinkism. Ninety minutes of music is nice, but with a little more work, and the sort of judicious editing that pretty much went the way of the buffalo when the DIY community discovered CD-R drives, Drukqs could have been a truly stellar single disc. We could have had a classic; instead, we get a ponderous construction that suggests James has modeled his work aesthetic on American restaurant portion sizes.
This isn't an album to be put aside after a single listen. It can't be easily understood or categorized. It's not a masterpiece by any means, but neither can it be readily dismissed as the rantings of a nutter with lots of money and cool gear. James' willfully obscurantist song titles aside, Drukqs aspires to accessibility; it's too interesting to ignore and too damnably assertive to bypass. Like the unexpected uncoming bus, it will knock you on your ass if you're not paying attention. -- George Zahora