Own It or Disown It: #252: Aphex Twin, Selected Ambient Works 85-92


Aphex Twin's debut album turned a quarter of a century old this week.

Selected Ambient Works 85-92, at twenty-five years old as of this past Sunday, is older than Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin, was when he released it. That’s nuts to me for all sorts of reasons, chief among them that it was allowed to be released in its final state and achieve so much exposure (granted, it was initially released on an experimental imprint of an indie Belgian label and it took a while for critics to catch up to it, but still). The most promising of artists under twenty usually aspire to get started on the right foot, not put out their magnum opus the first time out.

Yep, I’m going as far as to drop the big M.O. on this one. It is a virtually perfect threading the needle of maintaining a steady pace, giving something to nod your head in time with, and throwing in unusual rhythms that would come to define ambient music for the next, um, twenty-five years. This is the rare ambient album that doesn’t feature a bad track and contains many standards of the genre. Traces of “Tha” can be heard in Jamie xx’s “Gosh”; cloud rap as a whole sounds derived from “Ageispolis”. Important Albums aren’t often this listenable.

But is it the best ambient album of all time? That’s hard to say. I’d need to refresh myself on the best of Squarepusher and Fennesz and Brian Eno to give a definitive answer for sure. I’m confident in supposing, though, that this is within the top five best ambient albums of all time and among the most accessible that would likely be at the top of that list. That said, I’m not sure that it is the best album of 1992, which was a killer year for a variety of genres. I joked in an earlier column that I might be able to fill the year up by covering albums that came out in intervals of five (2012, 2007, 2002, 1997, 1992), but I might actually pull that off.


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