Release date: May 15, 2012
The image of Squarepusher (real name Tom Jenkinson) might have been cemented by a 1996 in-home Dutch TV interview which found the producer in a small flat with a reel-to-reel recorder, a small mixer, Roland SH-101 and TB-303 synthesizers and various other odds and ends. He looks like a wizard who had just awakened from a century long nap to master modern technology.
The first track “4001″ begins in a rather pedestrian manner. That is, with typical glitchy IDM beats and squelching bass. It rides this course for some time with a thin veil of ambient synths occupying the background. Around 1:37, however, the electronic wizard wisely drops the beat and supplies a beautiful progression of notes, then drops the beat back in an unexpected way. The effect is more along the lines of stadium rock than electronic production. To hear this live surely must be to have one’s entire musculature and epidermis melted away. Jenkinson said recently that he desired a return to pure electronic music, and this is evident on “4001,” which is unlike anything currently being produced.
Squarepusher goes for a mangled collage with “Unreal Square,” which vascillates between geometric beauty and a mangled mélange of hip-hop, unraveled IDM and hyperkinetic playfulness. Within this fabric of sound, one gets the sense that Squarepusher enjoyed picking holes of silence in the maelstrom simply to experiment with micro-space. Having seen glimpses of Jenkinson’s live show through a video teaser and press photos, which looks not unlike Amon Tobin’s ISAM show hybridized with Daft Punk’s “Alive” aesthetic, this is the song that will undoubtedly play well in a live space.
Decades-old synthesizer sounds are unearthed on “Stadium Ice,” covering science fiction soundtracks and educational videos without resorting to Boards of Canada’s technique of reel-to-reel disintegration. Being an expert bass player, Squarepusher possesses an intuitive sense of groove, which is on full display on the track “Energy Wizard,” which practically swings with rhythm. There is a compulsion to bob the head and thrust the pelvis and legs hither and thither in a motion approximating a punch drunk arachnid. At 2:38, during a kinetic bridge, Squarepusher manages the sound of liquid and static in one breath. Yes, he’s clearly an energy wizard.
Side A’s closer is a dark, minor key synthesized classical music interpration in the style of Wendy Carlos. An oddity amidst the preceding twenty or so minutes, but a welcome break before Squarepusher gets alchemical on “The Metallurgist.” Where most of Side A was beautifully sublime, “The Metallurgist” is a foreboding exercise—a bit like being trapped in a video game underworld. The aesthetic carries through to “Drax 2,” which, although it is more or less vintage Squarepusher, the listener might begin hoping for the light of the earlier tracks.
This is not to be, for “Dark Steering,” one of the tracks teased a few months ago, sustains the stygian, penumbral science fiction thread that infects Side B like a virus. At this point, Squarepusher’s intent with the LP’s two sides is apparent: an exploration of light and darkness, or the ecstatic and shock (more on that below) with hints that an almost mythical electronic music journey has been created. Squarepusher even samples (or perhaps creates) the sound of a motorcycle engine up and down-shifting, as though it were a lost track from “Tron: Legacy.”
“303 Scopem Hard” is more vintage Squarepusher burp-burp IDM, but ultimately a monotonous affair. An impressive display of technical prowess as always, no doubt, but a little empty. It’s very possible, though, that with Squarepusher’s live show this track will make total sense as part of an audio-visual experience. With a final song title such as “Ecstatic Shock” one expects an alchemical or metallurgical marriage of “Ufabulum’s” two sides, and Squarepusher does not disappoint here. The sublime beauty spirals around the darker, rhythmic components to recode the album’s electronic DNA. The layers coalesce at a final reckoning, an epilogue of an electronic fantasy woven by a man who is clearly a wizard.
“Ufabulum” is out in stores and online now. Watch the video for Squarepusher’s “Dark Steering” and stream the track “Drax 2″ below.