Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker is all about juxtaposition, immediately letting this on with its cover featuring a bikini model on a bright blue background with Aphex Twin’s (Richard D. James) own face superimposed on top of the girl’s, smiling wide and staring into the camera. This same effect is used in the music video, directed by Chris Cunningham, which opens with 4 minutes of banter between two men driving around looking for sex. Eventually their window shopping leads to being ridiculed by the two women they tried to pick up, before a limousine crashes into their car and James hops out sporting the same grin that emblazons the cover, dancing. The girls jump into his limo and their faces transform into his own, transfixed in the same smile as they dance and grope in a sequence rendered completely sexless. By replacing excessive and ultimately fabricated releases of emotion with the simplified expression of entertainment, the video criticizes many of the actions seen and emboldened in the gangsta hip-hop videos it uses as its base. Using his own face as both the one surrounded by excess and those who give him the excess he desires places the women around him as extensions of himself, limbs that support his ego. The effect of the video is discombobulating and surreal: the scenes devoted to the feel of the music are so rhythmically charged that it would be trance-like if not for the faces that nauseate and unsettle the entire picture. Though the storyline offers a funny aside at the start of the music video, the scenes that follow them while the music is playing can kill the state so skillfully maintained otherwise. Even still, whenever it’s decided we’re done with them, the trance is entered again immediately, with quick cuts to the beat and dancing that this music graciously enables.
The video is exceptional, and also odd for an experimental techno artist in the 90’s to want, much less be able to pay for, but the real treat here is the song, a 6 minute trek that starts with mechanical techno and grows surreal and psychedelic with interspersed, distorted moans and droning hums. This off-kilter sensuality is a clue to what James had in mind while crafting this single, and one of the keys to its addictive nature. Throughout it all lies a cold, round, electric piano melody that grounds what is otherwise an abstract and insane piece of music. Maintaining such a danceability alongside the distant, sensual samples allows Windowlicker to progress from its original techno groove to a gooey and airy section, throwing glitches and noise breaks in between sections of the infectious beat, before finally descending into a fuzzy breakdown of immeasurable impact. When juxtaposed with the spacious, smooth, lounge imitating start, the immediacy and grit of the final minute translate into a wall of noise which caps off the song in a perfect way. Where the rest of the song is suggestive, cold, and against all odds (for IDM/glitch regulars anyway) easy listening, the coda is immediate and stubborn, gripping the listener, before disintegrating into sparse whirrs and beeps. Not only does it contain interesting ideas sonically and artistically, it is undeniably one of the most catchy songs of Aphex Twin’s long career.
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