Rephlexions!: A Braindance Compilation
ephlex? Isn’t that the label whose release schedule consists mainly of Aphex Twin’s every recorded fart and burp under myriad pseudonyms? Well, that was the theory at one point in the ‘90s. And who could blame people for thinking that was Rephlex’s SOP? For a while there, quality control was not a high priority at the house Richard D. James and Grant Wilson-Claridge built. But over the past five years or so, Rephlex has become more serious and consistently interesting, without completely losing its sense of ridiculousness and humor.
Obviously, a record company doesn’t last 12 years without some combination of business smarts, impeccable aesthetics, excellent artists, and sheer luck. Rephlex possesses all of these traits, plus the X factor of having iconoclastic genius Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin/AFX) as co-founder and A&R man. Respect must be paid to any imprint that has given the world its first glimpses of mu-Ziq, Luke Vibert, Squarepusher and, er, Freakwincey.
Dubbing itself “the official sponsors of Braindance” (a snide dig at IDM’s mockworthy Intelligent Dance Music tag?), Rephlex hasn’t always been so innovative. Its bosses periodically have displayed a weakness for frommage-encrusted electro (DMX Krew, Cylob’s Living In The 1980’s, the Jones Machine), too-cutesy-by-half synth pop (Lektrogirl, Sam & Valley) and ludicrous pranksters (Bodenstandig 2000, the Railway Raver). But for most of its existence, Rephlex has harbored a bold roster that swerves from the company’s original template of abstract, beat-crazy, uh, Braindance often enough to keep listeners pleasantly surprised.
Part archeological dig into Rephlex’s more obscure corners, part calling card for its diverse, talented roster, Rephlexions! offers a vivid snapshot of the label’s recent past. Most of the comp’s 19 tracks merit close attention, and most of the 19 artists here deserve further inspection. (By the way, it’s puzzling why many of Rephlex’s most fascinating musicians—including Leo Anibaldi, Ensemble, PP Roy, Gentle People, and Vulva—seemingly have vanished from the scene.)
Speaking of those MIA artists, the Gentle People, PP Roy and Ensemble deliver some of Rephlexions!’s most memorable moments. Led by Olivier Alary, Ensemble purvey deeply affecting electronic-pop introversion that’s more texturally and melodically interesting than Morr Music’s more ballyhooed releases. PP Roy executes urgent spy-flick funk with loads of cheap-sounding and weird effects, falling somewhere between Mr Scruff and Stock, Hausen & Walkmen. And the Gentle People create the most exquisite EZ-listening-electronica bubblebath into which you’ve ever sunk your weary bones. With its whispery French-accented vocals from an ethereal goddess, Hawaiian guitars, exotic percussion and acres of reverb, “Tiki Mix” is an incomparable sigh of a track.
If you seek what many perceive as the classic Rephlex sound, old label hands like Cylob, D’arcangelo, Luke Vibert, Bogdan Raczynski and AFX (RDJ himself) deliver the goods. Roman brothers Marco and Fabricio D’arcangelo concoct disorienting metallic techno with incongruously tranquil Cagean tone clusters hovering above their agitated rhythms. Cylob’s “Smack ‘Em Up Sharp” is the sort of spasmodically funky electro you need to be triple-jointed to dance to. (I spun this and other Cylob tracks in many DJ sets from the late ‘90s, and they always provoked the looniest moves.) Vibert’s ominous, fleet-footed drum & bass number is madly inventive like so little jungle is now. And while AFX’s “Mangle II (Circuit Bent VIP Mix)” sounds like a dusty old piece he dug out of his massive vaults, it’s still an audacious display of dexterous beat programming, as complex as the stock market and as speedy as Squarepusher’s Big Loada played at 78 rpm.
As entertaining as the preceding tracks are, Rephlexions! ’s real treats come from its most unknown contributors. While Leila currently toils in Bjork’s band, she hasn’t released a solo joint since 2000’s patchy Courtesy Of Choice, and her profile ain’t exactly prominent. But her cut here is Plutonian trip hop that makes Maxinquaye-era Tricky sound like wine-bar Muzak. Pierre Bastien employs robots (yes, robots) to play a weird, exotic array of instruments while he blows wearily seductive trumpet. “Avid Diva” sounds like enchantingly woozy noir jazz as heard through a codeine haze. Quebec composer Robert Normandeau uses sounds generated from a girl reading onomatopoetically from a comic book to forge an electro-acoustic mosaic that’s disturbing and funny in equal measure.
While it’s odd that Rephlex didn’t take this opportunity to showcase its newest stars (the Bug, SoundMurder & SK-1, Victor Gama), the imprint has bestowed a brilliant, multifaceted testament to its acumen. Swinging wildly from absurd piss-taking to university-degreed, lab-coated-composer seriousness, and embracing many points in-between, Rephlex remains one of the world’s quirkiest and most inquisitive labels. It’s growing old with vitality, like that eccentric uncle who’s never lost his taste for risk-taking. Your brain won’t want to sit this one out.
Reviewed by: Dave Segal
Reviewed on: 2003-11-20