Week 361: “Avril 14” by Aphex Twin

For a long while, I wondered why Richard James, aka Aphex Twin, named this song after a random day in April.

Many of the other tracks on the album have names that he appears to have come up with either by mashing his hands on the keyboard, or by trying to translate the periodic table into Welsh.

But a quick background check on the seemingly innocuous date reveals that April 14th might be one of the deadliest days in history. And given the dark, even nightmarish edge to most of Aphex Twin’s music, it’s not too surprising.

Here’s an incomplete list of awful things that have happened on April 14th over the years:

1865: Abraham Lincoln is shot.

1912: The Titanic hits an iceberg.

1915: Turkey invades Armenia, the beginning of the infamous genocide.

1935: “Black Sunday” – the worst sandstorm in US History, a punch to the agricultural gut of a country already mired in economic depression.

1941: First German raid in newly-occupied Paris. Thousands of Jews rounded up.

1958: A dog burns up in the atmosphere. Seriously.

1972: The IRA detonates dozens of bombs all across Northern Ireland.

1999: A hailstorm in Australia causes almost $2 billion in damage.

And this is just a sampling. There’s more darkness to that date, from friendly-fire war deaths to natural disasters to the death of Handel in 1759 to Metallica’s anti-Napster lawsuit in 2000, just one year before the release of this song.

The point? Well, two things, I guess: first, congrats to Aphex Twin for making the darkness in this song less obvious than in most of his other work. Second, be careful this week. April Fool’s Day might be well behind us, but April 14th is no joke.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The piano isn’t particularly well-recorded. It almost sounds like the mic is shut inside the piano, as if it’s been buried alive.

2. Although it’s a sweet-sounding melody in a major key, it’s got a music box quality that gives it a creepy edge.

3. On a sprawling, 30-track album criticized for being basically a re-hash of his older material (Pitchfork gave it a 5.5 and described it as a ‘sad surprise’) this song is completely, beautifully out of place.

Recommended listening activity:

Picking a good luck charm to carry around in your pocket, just in case.

Buy it here.