Selected Ambient Works Volume II
|Selected Ambient Works Volume II|
|Studio album by Aphex Twin|
|Released||7 March 1994|
|Producer||Richard D. James|
|Aphex Twin chronology|
Selected Ambient Works Volume II is the second studio album by English electronic musician Richard D. James under the alias Aphex Twin. The album was released by Warp on 7 March 1994. Billed as a follow-up to Selected Ambient Works 85–92, the album differs in sound by being largely beatless ambient music. James has claimed that the album was inspired by lucid dreaming.
Upon its release, Selected Ambient Works Volume II was generally well received by critics, but also saw some mixed responses from audiences. It was placed on various best of the decade lists by publications such as Rolling Stone, Spin and Pitchfork.
James stated that the sounds on Selected Ambient Works Volume II were inspired by lucid dreams, and that upon awaking, he would attempt to re-create the sounds and record them. He claimed to have natural synaesthesia, which contributed to this album. The album itself makes liberal use of microtonal musical tunings, which James was investing himself in at the time. The 22nd tracks features a conversation of an interview with a woman who had murdered her husband, which was given to James' friends from the police station while working as a cleaner there.
Simon Reynolds commented that on the album Selected Ambient Works Volume II James changed styles "from the idyllic, Satie-esque naivete of early tracks like "Analogue Bubblebath" to clammy, foreboding sound-paintings." Reynolds stated that along with other artists such as Seefeel, David Toop and Max Eastley, that artists have moved from "rave into the vicinity of "isolationism", a term coined by critic Kevin Martin which "breaks with all of ambient's feel-good premises. Isolationism is ice-olationist, offering cold comfort. Instead of pseudopastoral peace, it evokes an uneasy silence: the uncanny calm before catastrophe, the deathly quiet of aftermath." Volume II differs significantly from the first volume in the series, in that it consists of lengthy, textured ambient compositions with minimal percussion and occasional vocal samples, in a vein similar to Brian Eno's ambient works. James described the album as being "like standing in a power station on acid"
The artwork for the album was designed by Paul Nicholson, who was credited as Prototype 21 in the liner notes. He stated in an interview with Resident Advisor that the images were taken by "Richard's girlfriend at the time, Sam" and that most of the photographs were taken in a flat that the three were all living in together. The front cover is the result of James scratching the Aphex Twin logo onto the back of a leather travel case, which Sam took a picture of.
Of the pie charts and size of the photographs in the artwork, Nicholson said that they were "related to the track signatures, how long they were." The timecodes of a track would be converted into a decimal, then into the percentage of the total length of the side of the record the track is on, and then into a degree to be used on the pie chart.
Select Ambient Works Volume II was released in the United Kingdom by Warp on 7 March 1994. Warp has released Select Ambient Works Volume II compact disc and triple vinyl. The album charted in the United Kingdom on 19 March 1994 where it debuted and peaked at the 11th position on the charts. The album sold 9,336 copies in its first week of release. It stayed on the charts for three weeks. The UK CD pressing removes the 19th song for space reasons. Sire released the album on compact disc on 12 April 1994; this US pressing also removes the 4th song. The album was re-issued on vinyl by 1972 records on 6 March 2012, though the master was made from a US CD copy (see tracklist for details). In 2017, James added the album to his own web store, and included not only a 26th track, but made the 19th track available in a digital format for the first time since its inclusion on an ambient music CD compilation entitled Excursions in Ambience: The Third Dimension, also released in 1994.
As of 1994 it has sold over 60,000 copies outside of United States. 
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|Spin Alternative Record Guide||8/10|
|The Village Voice||B−|
From contemporary reviews, Spin gave the album a positive review, with critic Simon Reynolds stating that the album has "plenty of the shimmeringly euphoric and majestically melancholy tunes that have won James so many devout fans," but that it "will leave you not so much blissed as spooked out." Rolling Stone stated that "While many of his disciples have done little more than propel New Age atmospheres into the computer age, producing comforting but often emotionless elevator music, James has used the medium to confront his shadowy demons, exploring realms of spooky, textured sound." The review concluded that the album "provides a visionary perspective on ambient electronic music." Select stated that "Anyone who thinks they know what to expect on the basis of 'Volume I' might care to sit down, have a nice cup of tea and prepare themselves for a shock." The review noted the album was not successful "as a conventional dance record", but "as an album to wallow in at 5am while watching the wallpaper conduct a heated argument with the lightshade, it is indeed the knees of the bee." Robert Christgau gave the album a B– rating and critiqued reviews by Frank Owen, Simon Reynolds, and J.D. Considine, finding that "James is rarely as rich as good [Brian] Eno, not to mention good Eno-Hassell or Eno-Budd." and that "these experiments are considerably thinner ("purer," Owen wishes) and more static ("pulse dreamily," Considine dreams) than the overpriced juvenilia on the import-only Volume I." Entertainment Weekly wrote that "At its best [the album] is an avant-garde score in search of a postapocalyptic theater piece, a la Philip Glass. More often, it’s chamber music for humorless cyber-nerds"
At the end of the decade, Selected Ambient Works Volume II was included on several publications' lists of top albums of the 1990s including Rolling Stone and Spin. Commenting on the audience's reaction of the album in 1999, Simon Reynolds stated that that "many in the Aphex cult were thrown for a loop" and that "Aphex aficionados remain divided" on the album. Rolling Stone stated the album was James creating "an enriched, wraparound style of burp-and-whoosh programming, the perfect soundtrack for pulling the pieces of your brain back together after spilling them all over the club floor. The first dance album to celebrate the rhythms in your head." Spin placed both Selected Ambient Works 85–92 and Selected Ambient Works Volume II at number 56 on their list of the top albums of the 1990s, calling it "an awe-inspiring feat of avant-techno texturology". Pitchfork placed the album at number 62 on their list of top albums of the 1990s, stating that it "spurred on one of the great trajectories of pop music in the 1990s, influencing everyone from Radiohead to Timbaland." Pitchfork later ranked the album second on their 2016 list of the best ambient music albums of all time.
Aftermath and influence
Online music zine Pitchfork noted described that Selected Ambient Works Volume II as "a very early example of a record being anticipated, experienced, and, ultimately, analyzed in minute detail through online communication." Pitchfork noted that the Electronic mailing list titled IDM (Intelligent dance music) had a profound influence on how the album would be received in the future, noting that the community's influence has to do with the album's mysterious non-titles. List member Greg Eden, who kept a detailed discography, gave the tracks names based on a word or two that related to the corresponding images. Eden would later work for Warp, the original label for Selected Ambient Works Volume II.
A book on the album was released in the 33⅓ series on 13 February 2013. The series are short books inspired by or focused on albums and are generally written as longform essays. The book was written by Marc Weidenbaum, a music journalist and former editor of Tower Records' in-store magazine Pulse!.
With the exception of "Blue Calx", and later "th1 [evnslower]", James didn't give the tracks official names, instead representing them with pictures on the album's artwork. Unofficial titles were given to them by fan Greg Eden.
During his upload of material to Soundcloud, James added track 2 ("radiator") under the name "harmonicom" and track 11 ("domino") as "modal 10". He also added the alternate "radiator" version "SAW2 CD1 TRK2 (Original Mix)" from 26 Mixes For Cash as "harmonicom 13".
|Title||Fan title||Length||Track number|
|Download||UK CD||UK vinyl||UK cassette||US CD||Streaming|
|Untitled||[white blur 1]||2:38||12||1-12||C4||B6||1-11||#12|
|Untitled||[shiny metal rods]||5:34||15||2-03||D3||C3||2-03||#15|
|Untitled||[stone in focus]||10:11||19||—||E2||C7||—||—|
|Untitled||[white blur 2]||11:27||24||2-11||F3||D5||2-11||#23|
Credits adapted from Selected Ambient Works Volume II liner notes.
- Richard D James – writer, producer, liner notes, photography
- Prototype 21 – design
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