Of course Richard D. James would put together a record of sub-120 BPM tracks and call it Cheetah. But in fact, the title is a reference to a rare, discontinued digital synth from the early '90s.
The English brand's MS800 model was apparently so difficult to program and had such undesirable sounds that some gear-heads have called it "a contender for one of the worst [synths] ever." One sound designer who actually worked on the product in the late '80s described the machine's inner-workings as "bizarre." Then again, others have said, "There's nothing else quite like it for low-fi digital weirdness on the ultra cheap...one for the adventurous/experimental/patient/mad." So it's easy to see why the Cheetah appealed to James, an artist who's difficult, bizarre and quite like nothing else.
These seven tracks are less about retaining the Cheetah's knotty qualities than taming them. The music's practiced restraint makes for some of the most delightfully unexpected Aphex Twin tracks since the release of Caustic Window. That's at least partially down to the mellow tempos and the sparse, dulcet arrangements, which give the glowing "CHEETAHT7b" and the nimble "CIRKLON 1" a laconic grace. It's almost as if James took a cue from Aaron Funk's idea of soporific acid and worked it into existing sequences.
The EP sounds born of the sessions that comprised Syro, but this is the sedate yin to that record's frenetic yang. "CIRKLON3 [ Колхозная mix ]" reimagines the fantastic clusterfuck that is "CIRCLONT6A [141.98][syrobonkus mix]" as an impish playmate, and "CHEETAHT2 [Ld spectrum]" translates the slo-mo swagger of "produk 29 " into sleepwalking techno. James can be just as magnetic when half drugged and barely awake. If Cheetah is lacking in anything it's variety—when James decided to restrain himself he took no half measures.
(Highlight "2X202-ST5" is little more than a drum machine, one hell of a bassline and one eight-note synth melody.) Compared to recent short-form records like the Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 EP and AFX's Orphaned Deejay Selek (2006-2008), the record hews especially close to a strain of plush acid, albeit with Aphex Twin's inimitable charm. But a short change of pace arrives from the dissonant "CHEETA1b ms800" and "CHEETA2 ms800," which seem to be brief tests of rich, textured patches from the Cheetah. These tracks complete a record that finds inspiration and style from obstacles and restrictions.