Astrobotnia

Astrobotnia, Pt. 3

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When Rephlex Records first hit the scene in the early '90s, the albums had vague labels and little (if any) liner notes, featuring green covers and a coveted "certain sound" -- a low-profile, mid-budget, high-concept, irreverent science fiction "braindance" with a cryptic logo and a commitment to staying fiercely independent. The label has been home to most of England's trendsetters (often the rule breakers), and has increased its wingspan to host a variety of styles whose only common theme is "eclectic-tronic." At a time when computer programmers have infiltrated the music industry, it's particularly satisfying to have the Astrobotnia trilogy arrive on the scene. It reminds listeners that technology alone doesn't make music -- musicians do. Anonymity has been a longstanding tradition for the Aphex Twin label, and a particular strength in terms of creating demand. This time out, the demand is justifiable regardless. The publicity department is being typically tight-lipped about who's manning the consoles, but listeners familiar with Aleksi Perälä (aka Ovuca) may be nodding their heads in recognition. To further fuel the rumors, Perälä has played Astrobotnia material on tour. Tracks like "B," "Acidophilus II," and "Thoarse" are late-night raves for jellyfish -- shimmering ambience floats beneath hiccuping drum kits and rusted rubber basslines, trading off among degrees of acid, satellite telemetry, and haunted laptops. "Portable Motor Home" flutters about with equal parts playfulness and mystery, throwing calliope pipes, water drops, bike spokes, low-frequency wobbles, and Robert Fripp-like washes of electric clouds in a blender full of breakbeats. Throughout Pt. 3, the percussion samples add a rich froth that bubbles in complexity. The polyrhythms within "Drops" and "Bifidus" switch up as often as the most difficult Autechre tracks, but here the warmth of synthesized embryonic fluid holds the pieces together, keeping the listener engaged rather than alienated. "Leftovers" is a gorgeous expansion of space, overlooking rivulets of snare rushes that giggle and snarl in the earbones. "Esther Calling Jennifer" unfurls a flag of static that's glittered with bells and stunning beats, and "C*Nt" is a fascinating jungle daydream, sputtering frantically out of control like the last Squarepusher album, but softened in a loving analog embrace à la Boards of Canada. Consistently rewarding as it disorients in déjà vu, Astrobotnia does everything right, delivering not only a fascinating third installment, but the updated Rephlex sound for the next decade.

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