Aphex Twin
Selected Ambient Works II
Sire/Warner Brothers
Released: April 1994

If you can listen to the first track of this album and not have to own it, well, I guess we were never really friends. Whoops, I meant, "this album isn't right for you, but I would never judge you on the basis of your musical taste."

It's a rippling hypnotic mix of half-phrases and what sounds like a harp being played underwater. What is she saying? Once, in an altered state of mind, I tried transcribing those beautiful repeated syllables. It went something like : "vanya, vanya dala, vala vala, dala dala . ." forever on into a darkened sky. Eventually her voice fades down and that beautiful harp is all that is left. One repeated trill that slows, grows tired, but keeps coming back like a warm hand brushing your hair as you drift away into sleep. It goes on so long, so long. You keep thinking, oh, it's gone now, this is the end, but it keeps coming back to soothe you into an easy sleep.

After I die, if I am given the option to come back as four seconds of music, I have already made my choice.

It's possible to listen to this album without even owning it. On a quiet day, just try to listen to the grass, the cliffs, the trees. You can hear their songs.

Fittingly, the track titles are pictures, not words.

-DISC 1-
(`weathered stone')....6:45
(`white blur 1').......2:37

-DISC 2-
Blue Calx..............7:16
(`parallel stripes')...7:55
(`shiny metal rods')...5:29
(`grey stripe')........4:38
(`z twig').............2:01
(`window sill')........7:13
(`white blur 2')......11:21
(`match sticks').......5:36
The UK release also features a track (`hankie'), and a limited edition LP contained a ten minute track (`stone in focus').

"based on sounds I first heard while dreaming. When I wake up, I go straight into the studio and try to create what I've heard."

Richard D. James, a.k.a. 'Aphex Twin'

Selected Ambient Works II is a composition of unparalleled sonic beauty, although sometimes disturbing. 'White Blur 2' is pure eery, with samples from the mutterings of depressed clowns, and 'spots' is the voices inside my head, whispering. 'Grey Stripe' is the haunting of my soul.
And then there is the nicer side. 'Lichen' is everything I ever wanted to be, pure liquid beauty, enveloping me, telling me that it is okay, I don't have to be anything at all. So often it makes me cry.
At night I start the first disc, listening to 'cliffs', the "rippling hypnotic mix of half-phrases and what sounds like "a harp being played underwater," to lull myself into nothing.
I went to my local record store to get my hands on some shiny new ambient drum n bass. I really was into breakbeats at that time, and I believe I still am.
So I found this strange album. It was neither shiny nor new, but it looked weird and that's always a good sign. I bought it and threw one of the disks into my portable CD player and listened to it as I sat on the bus home.

And it just went ahead screwing up my brain!

"Agggghhh!", take or give an 'h', I said to myself as I was transformed into one of those guys who'd better be strapped to a bed in an asylum and left there to fade.
I ripped out the plug to the headphones and, thank god, everything returned to normal. People stopped laughing at me and the clowns were gone. In fact no one seemed to have noticed and all that was left was an uneasy feeling and sweaty, sticky clothes. Breath in, breath out. Repeat.

The coolest thing about the album is that nowhere is it stated that Aphex Twin is the man behind it, and the songs don't have (usual) names (see Uberfetus' writeup). I didn't notice Aphex Twin's symbol on the cover until some time later when I was looking for some thoughts of it on the Net.
I love it.
Selected Ambient Works II by Aphex Twin

Having grown quite interested in ambient music recently, particularly work which comes directly from the unconscious - I've heard Richard D. James got the ideas for these sounds from the sounds being made in his dreams - I picked up this album, which has been languishing in my collection for about a year, and approached it with an open mind, whilst listening to Carl Jung's autobiography "Memories, Dream, Reflections," and took a trip into my own unconscious. What I find contained upon these two discs, both around 70 minutes of material, is evocative, moody and very often beautiful works, sometimes even uplifting. What Richard D. James created with this is his greatest ambient work, and also one of the greatest electronic ambient works in my mind.

Of course the common element in this (and all ambient music) is slow changing repetition, where a note series is repeated over and over, to create a droning background, on top of which more elements, of various types, depending on the composition's nature, are layered on. The most effective tracks are the most emotional, take the first track of the second disc, which is one of the most beautiful and ravishing pieces of music this listener has ever heard - in any style. There are tracks throughout each disc that stop me dead, striking me in such a close fashion to my own psyche that I am forced to stop what I am doing and soak in the atmospheres. This album is not background music like much ambient (cough Brian Eno cough) but is something to become ravished by, entranced by and enter fully into the evocative musical symbolism. This work reminds me very much of the effect of Burzum's entire catalog, Burzum's music actually re-sparked my interest in ambient music, which got me to put this in after so long.

The music is effective as it is fully of the darker realms of human minds, it reaches out to grasp ahold of something inside of you. Some people are very disturbed by this and react by talking about how boring it is. Their loss, but to me, this is the effect music must have before I fully enjoy it. Aphex Twin, or should I say, Richard D. James under the project name of Aphex Twin, is nearly always effective in this aspect. This is probably my favorite work by him, and if he had never done anything else would remain famous at least to this listener.

Artist Aphex Twin
Label Warp Records
Year 1994
Rating ★★★★☆
Summary Sometimes beautiful, sometimes scary, but always otherworldly.

Selected Ambient Works Volume II contains just over two and a half hours' worth of music, which is just as well because it's a vast departure from Aphex Twin's other output: it is his only full album in the beatless ambient genre, one or two unobtrusive rhythms aside.

This album isn't perfect. Most of it sounds as if Aphex Twin has just discovered the delay and reverb effects and is using them as the basis of every track. It also sounds as if he still hasn't got to grips with mastering in general. Clipping and painful resonance are present in several tracks, and an overall amateur sound marrs the final result.

Despite all that, Selected Ambient Works Volume II is one of the most original albums I've heard. Some of its cuts are beautiful, while others are downright scary, but all of them are alien and mysterious.

My favourite pieces of music from this album are the first and third tracks. In the first, snippets of lush vocals, a pad, and a plucked instrument all gently fade in and out, becoming clearer then duller again. This sublime music is something you could listen to while having a bath, giving a massage or even drifting off to sleep. It seems to end all too quickly, after almost seven and a half minutes. Likewise, the third track is what contentment would probably sound like if it was a piece of music. It's about as relaxing as anything by Brian Eno, which is really saying something.

Some of the other pieces of music on this album are a stark contrast. The scary fifth cut is made up of distant drones and almost tribal sounding percussion. It wouldn't feel out of place if you listened to it while looking at some of H. R. Giger's artwork. Similarly, while little more than a simple arpeggio and some sustained notes, the seventh track is eerie and unsettling. Like the rest of the album, these pieces of music are simple but effective.

This album resembles a long night's series of dreams: each of its tracks puts a vivid image or emotion in your head that, although irrational, seems to make perfect sense at the time. I can't explain why, for instance, the nineteenth track reminds me of a puddle-filled, sunny village just after a bout of rain has finished. It just does. Similarly, I can't explain why such simple and repetitive music is so vivid, inspiring and emotionally engaging. It just is.

There is one exceptionally important aspect of this album not even mentioned by Richard D. James, the composer, himself:

The two discs of Selected Ambient Works Vol. II are actually one coherent album when both discs are played at the same time. IF YOU OWN THIS ALBUM, FIND TWO CD PLAYERS AND START BOTH DISCS AT THE EXACT SAME TIME OR DO SO ON YOUR COMPUTER.

It becomes blatant that this was intentionally composed and is not mere coincidence.

The supporting evidence:

-There are relatively long and blatant sections of harmony and corresponding time signatures that sync when discs are started at the same time. The few drum beats found across these discs completely sync with melodies and modulations of the other disc's content. This is extremely apparent around the 15th minute of playback.

-Although the discs themselves have different runtimes and the corresponding track numbers between the discs have entirely different lengths, track titles sync as well as the music. For example, the song "white blur 1" of disc 1 will play back along with "white blur 2" of disc 2 when done correctly.

This also sheds some insight onto Richard D. James himself.... By creating one album and splitting the total sound onto two discs and neglecting to tell anyone, it seems that he is making the music and album more for himself or his creative process than anyone else. Despite this seems contrary to album titles such as "26 Remixes for Cash", it is obvious that his musical career has meant more than money.

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