‘Cheetah’ is Richard D James’s third release on Warp Records in the last couple of years, following 2014’s miraculous, widescreen ‘Syro’ and an unusual 2015 release called ‘Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2’, which appeared to be exactly what it said on the tin. At seven tracks and 34 minutes, ‘Cheetah’ is long for an EP but not quite long enough to be a full album, and comes presented in retro 1970s-style packaging – a far cry from the high-concept artwork of ‘Syro’. The contents differ, too. This is a laid-back, somewhat pensive collection that remains firmly in the category of what people used to call ‘intelligent dance music’, powered by languid electronic beats and those gauzy synth melodies that Aphex has traditionally done so well.
The track titles, eccentric as ever, reveal this record to be of broadly two halves. All the tracks, save the catchily named closer ‘2X202-ST5’, are titled around permutations of the word ‘cheetah’ or music sequencer ‘Cirklon’. If you listen closely, it’s possible to hear notes of continuity between a track and its immediate cousins. ‘CHEETAHT2 [Ld Spectrum]’ and ‘CHEETAHT7b’ feel curiously spaced-out, as if these dazed assemblages of synth, pads and claps were unfolding at three-quarters their natural speed. ‘CIRKLON 1’ and ‘CIRKLON3’, meanwhile, have a bit more bounce to them, reminiscent of ‘Syro’’s elastic funk-outs; the latter is probably the record’s standout, thanks to the gorgeous blown-glass melody at its core.
You could tell from one listen to ‘Syro’ that it was Aphex, back and on form. ‘Cheetah’ isn’t bad, but it could be the work of lesser producer. In this respect at least, Aphex Twin remains an enigma. After all, you don’t come out of retirement to be ordinary.