The subject of today’s post? Reflections on hero-worship. Anyone who knows my musical taste knows that I’m a rabid Aphex Twin fan. I’m not a music completist in general, but I’ve bought copies of nearly everything RDJ has ever done, and have a fair collection of rarities as well. Somehow I managed to miss out on this one until just recently. The Joyrex tape.

A random assortment of unfinished tracks of dubious quality, pushing twenty years old. Unlike Melodies from Mars or Analogue Bubblebath 5, this material is not only officially unreleased, it was never intended for release, even speculatively. How does it hold up? There are definitely moments of brilliance: RDJ’s sonic originality and facility with arrangement are in evidence throughout. Although the material is obviously dated, it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else having written them. Melodic innovation is scarce, but there are snatches of AFX-style tunefulness here and there. I would guess most of these tracks were written around the time of the Ventolin EP or Melodies from Mars. Several tracks seem like they would fit in with the other Ventolin “remixes,” had they been finished.

But that’s the most striking thing about them: these are very obviously not finished tracks. Back when he was at his most prolific (in the mid to late 90’s), I had the impression that Richard D. James didn’t write music so much as … sort of excrete it biologically, the way plants exhale oxygen. This was due not only to the sheer amount of material he released, but also to the effortless feel much of it had. Even though it was often brilliant, it managed somehow always to retain a bit of a raw quality, as though RDJ was so eager to move onto the next thing that he just couldn’t spend the time to sand off the rough edges.

These tracks make that impression seem a bit naive. The Joyrex tape is composed of almost nothing but rough edges and raw material, and what’s not there makes all the difference between this and a finished AFX track from the same period. The man obviously knew what he was doing and pursued his aims deliberately, even if he was having fun doing it. There was work involved, and it was significant. And that is what makes me gladdest that this recording leaked out: like a glimpse at da Vinci’s sketchbooks, getting a to hear some vintage Aphex in its raw form is both humbling and impressive, because it shows the work that went into the complete material.