The Caustic Window LP has a history. Initially recorded and planned for a release in 1996, the album only ever made it to vinyl test pressings. It's one of a few albums from Richard D. James — aka Aphex Twin — aka Caustic Window and a slew of other monikers and masks — that never saw the light of day, and the nearly 20 years that followed its intended release calcified the "lost" LP into legend amongst James' fans. When one of the test pressings made its way — mysteriously — to online auction in April, a Kickstarter campaign was organized to finally deliver the music into the hands of fans in the form of digital copies. The campaign succeeded. Last week, backers received their copies of the self-titled LP, and in fairly short order, the entire album materialized on YouTube. Bidding on eBay for an original test pressing wrapped up on Monday — it went for $46,300, to the creator of Minecraft.
Caustic Window is a time capsule in this sense. Though its naturally thrilling to be able to reach back into a bygone epoch of electronic music, the nearly two decades that the LP spent in the dark renders it more than a novelty to some. To devoted fans, it stands as a "holy grail" in James' discography. But the album doesn't sound so much like a consecrated artifact. Really, Caustic Window is less like a time capsule, and more like an aborted science experiment, or a meteorite; hauled out of the dark for better or worse, and cracked open to see what's inside. And the contents are organic, nastier than jewels and gold. Even though they've been on ice, they're still poised to strike. The sound is alive and kicking — and squirming — and morphing — strange, mobile, sometimes aggressive, like an alien pathogen.
Sonically, it's a tangent, a missing link that might've bridged together 1994's Selected Ambient Works II and the subsequent ...I Care Because You Do. It fluctuates unpredictably in the way Aphex Twin is prone to do. Opener "Flutey" features roaming, alternating bass sequences, accented by sparse synthesized flutes that coalesce into a glitching pastoral. "Mumbly" is more sinister. Grimey, with trance notes, its percussive loops are shot-up with corrupted vocal samples cut with darkness. Similarly, "Fingertips" oscillates between elliptical, spatial tones and something that sounds strikingly like the Mortal Kombat fight theme. There's a deceptive change with the eight-minute, zero-gravity atmosphere of "101 Rainbows Ambient Mix," immediately incinerated by the album's final angry spasms with "Phlaps" and "Cunt." The terminal track, "Phone Pranks," is two minutes of cryptic conversation between men; some voices out of the past, and then it's over, for better or worse.
It's a window into the electronic crucible of the mid-nineties, though it adds no extraordinary, retroactive change to Richard James' career. It should at least mean deliverance for the devoted; they've been waiting a long time for this one.
Listen to the full album below.