Aphex Twin's best songs – ranked!

As the 25th anniversary of the release of Selected Ambient Works Volume II approaches, we take a look at Richard D James’s back catalogue, from disorientating acid-house bangers to dreamy, if unsettling melodies

20. Windowlicker (1999)

This epic glitch-fest sounds just as weird now as it did two decades ago. Chris Cunningham’s bizarre music video – complete with a Michael Jackson-style dance number, a foul-mouthed extended director’s version and a small army of women who all have Richard D James’s face – will continue to spawn nightmares for years to come.

19. Avril 14 (2001)

This plaintive piano ballad from the unjustly maligned Drukqs album has had a long half-life in popular culture, appearing in everything from films by Sofia Coppola (it’s in Marie Antoinette) and Spike Jonze (Her) to being sampled by Kanye West for Blame Game on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Artwork for Windowlicker.
Artwork for Windowlicker. Photograph: Publicity image

18. AFX – Klopjob (2004)

Klopjob is an inviting slab of squiggly, melodic electro from the 2005 Analord series of 11 12in singles. It ping-pongs back and forth from happy-go-lucky to dark and dystopian.

17. Polynomial-C (1992)

This impressive early track – released in 1992, and added to the 1994 Classics compilation – ably splits the difference between the boundless deep spaces of Detroit techno and the propulsive power of the breakbeat.

16. (CAT 00897 AA1) [Fluted] (1993)

A delicate melody floats over effervescent beats and a white noise snare in this captivating early track from the third volume of Aphex’s fan-favourite Analogue Bubblebath series. Originally packaged in bubble wrap with no liner notes and a sticker reading “66% more bubbles”, (CAT 00897 AA1) [Fluted] is Aphex at his most playful.

15. On (1993)

Sparkling synthesised melodies pair with stuttering, almost ungainly beats, showing off Aphex’s endless capacity for creating rhythmic and textural contrast. The music video was directed by Jarvis Cocker, who created a stop-motion mash-up of Aphex imagery, and also shot a video for fellow Warp stalwart LFO.

14. Bucephalus Bouncing Ball (1997)

This dazzling cascade of ricocheting rhythms shows off Aphex’s considerable technical skill and range as a producer. According to Autechre’s Sean Booth, it is a response to their similarly trippy track Drane. The surprise melody that surfaces inside the controlled chaos is an added bonus.

13. Heliosphan (1992)

Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is packed full of classics. Pretty much any track from this album could appear here – from Pulsewidth to Ptolemy to We Are the Music Makers – but the stately, expansive Heliosphan is a particular high point.

12. Tha (1992)

A lot of great 90s electronic music sounded like it was playing underwater – from the deep dubby undertow of Berlin’s Basic Channel, to hugely influential Detroit pioneers Drexciya, and the disorienting “ambient house” of the Orb. In Tha, Aphex’s beats are heavily cloaked in murk, and the melody sounds partially submerged, slowly surfacing as the track progresses.

11. Girl/Boy Song (1996)

This unlikely marriage of gracefully plucked strings and frenzied programmed beats is one of Aphex’s best-loved tunes. The clashing timbres and styles could easily sound discordant, but here they blend together seamlessly.

Aphex Twin in 2014
Aphex Twin in 2014 Photograph: Publicity image

10. Didgeridoo (1992)

A disorienting acid-house banger that doubles as a kind of satire on hippy ravers – a friend asked Aphex to write it to clear their Cornish beach parties once dawn broke. Unlike most hippy Cornish beach parties, Digeridoo contains no actual didgeridoo; those cavernous, woody tones were all synthesised.

9. Stone in Focus (1994)

This stirring, slow-burning anthem appeared on the vinyl and cassette versions of Selected Ambient Works Vol II, but was strangely left off the CD version. On YouTube the tune lives on, with millions of views and thousands of comments discussing everything from the vastness of the universe to monoliths and existential despair.

8. Alberto Balsalm (1995)

Another track that shows off Aphex Twin’s flair for writing a melody that sticks hard to the brainpan. Alberto Balsalm – named after the shampoo, the song also includes the sound of Aphex cutting his hair – ambles along at a genial pace; you can actually click your fingers to this one.

7. Polygon Window – Quoth (1993)

Like most of the songs Aphex released under his Polygon Window moniker, this is a straight-up hard techno banger propelled by clattering industrial rhythms and enough propulsive force to break through a brick wall.

6. Blue Calx (1994)

Much of Selected Ambient Works Vol II was inspired by lucid dreaming, according to interviews Aphex gave at the time. And Blue Calx is one of the dreamiest tracks on the double album – an airy melody underpinned by a gentle rhythm that could lull even the most defiant insomniac to sleep.

5. Untitled (Track 1, Disc 1) (1994)

In the unforgettable opener to Selected Ambient Works Vol II, known by fans as Cliffs, a childlike voice loops over a gentle melody. It is soothing and slightly unsettling at the same time, traversing the same hallucinatory memoryscape that would be mined by fellow electronic explorers such as Boards of Canada.

4. Ageispolis (1992)

Ageispolis, from Selected Ambient Works 85-92, has a grand, cinematic sweep. Tightly arranged with an acute sense of pacing and drama, it shows Aphex’s considerable talent as a songwriter as well as a producer.


3. Untitled (Track 3, Disc 1) (1994)

Code-named Rhubarb by fans, this wistful melody from Selected Ambient Works Vol II repeats and slowly builds, moving gently outwards like ripples of water in a lake. The deceptively simple ambient track somehow conjures powerful images; many listeners report feeling deep waves of nostalgia.

2. IZ-US (1997)

This gorgeous, sombre closing track came as a surprise on the mostly dark and frenetic Come to Daddy EP. The only problem is that it clocks in at just under three minutes; it’s not nearly long enough.

1. AFX – Analogue Bubblebath (1991)

Aphex is known for his deviant humour and aggressively disorientating arrangements, but Analogue Bubblebath is one of those timeless tracks that convey incredible emotional depth, expressing multiple feelings in perfect synchrony: it’s melancholy and uplifting, moody and hopeful, ecstatic and forlorn, all at the same time. A radiant anthem with a softer side, it still stands as a gold standard for electronic music nearly 30 years after its initial release.


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