Selected Ambient Works Volume II by Aphex Twin – selected by Jordan Smith (bdrmm)

Selected Ambient Works Volume II is a record that has clung to me during the lockdown: a blissful companion to the monotony of spending my days staring at the same four walls. I don’t remember listening to it for the first time, either. Like all great things, it was simply there.

In an interview with David Toop, Richard D James attributed the record’s sound to his experiences lucid dreaming and his natural ability to recreate and record the sounds he heard within these dreams. It is no surprise, then, that Selected Ambient Works Volume II blooms into an esoteric fog of sound. Each track acts as a hazy vignette of texture that makes up an intriguing catalogue of ambient soundscapes and eccentric, droning, beat-less beats.

To reference individual tracks is somewhat tricky due to the entire record being untitled (barring the 13th track, ‘Blue Calx’) but there are some that deserve a mention.

‘#7’ or ‘Curtains’ is a bewildering dive into repetition. The two-step sequences that alternate up and down give the track a certain uncomfortable tumble into rhythm. I recently used Brian Eno’s ‘Oblique Strategies’, a series of cards meant to inspire creativity, and came across a card with the words ‘repetition is a form of change’. ‘#7’ is a song derived from its simplicity, but does that inherently make it a simple song?

‘#18’ or ‘Windowsill’ sounds like a wonky dub tribute to the minimalist experimentation of Steve Reich or Philip Glass (minus the phase shifting). Each note resonates together, once hit then echoing away into the distance; a boat gently bobbing toward the storm.

The starkness of the album forces the listener question their own musical sensibilities: does the record lack groove? Is this ‘beat-less’ if there was never a beat in the first place? Is this sine wave an instrument? The simplicity of various synthetic elements recalls the tinkering of early Kraftwerk, yet all the work on the record seems timeless. Devoid of narrative, the record is insular and that’s probably why I enjoy it so much. After a while you see yourself within the music; slumped and sedated without a notion of structure.

To reference Eno again, he states in the liner notes of Music For Airports that “ambient music must be as ignorable as it is interesting”. However, I think a lot of more contemporary ambient flouts this ideal, especially when considering this record. Aphex Twin’s discography is a labyrinth that demands to be heard and this album is chief among it. It’s bizarre, plangent and the perfect isolation soundtrack to slowly lose your mind to.