Release Date: Apr 21, 2015
Record label: Warp
Experimental techno today is as exciting as it has been in a long time. Aphex Twin’s re-emergence and mammoth SoundCloud free download dump has left fans giddy, and fellow producers who emerged in the 90s have followed suit. It’s a good time for new work from one of their contemporaries. Tom Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, concentrates on taking lockjaw drum’n’bass rhythms and jiggling them into something less obviously dancefloor-led but even more complex, while inserting aspects of acid house and utilising his noted abilities as a jazz bassist.
Composer and producer Squarepusher (nee Tom Jenkinson) is almost always up to something. I mean this not in the sense that he is prolific (though he is), but that with each new release, he tweaks his sound, experimenting with new textures, technologies or conceptual limitations. Fairweather fans who lose track of his movements for awhile are usually surprised, in one way or another, when they return to sample whatever he’s working on.
When approaching the arsenals of synthesizers, knobs, and buttons wielded by the pre-eminent electronic musicians of the day, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a phenomenon that fighter pilots call “target confusion”. For them, this feeling kicks in when so many targets appear on their horizon that they become locked up, unable to ascertain which of the plurality of targets is the right one. Now, the jury is out on whether or not the so-called “paradox of choice” is actually a thing, but there is undoubtedly an intuitive appeal to the concept.
Squarepusher is one of electronic music's most widely recognized innovators, with a profile as celebrated as Aphex Twin, Autechre, Boards of Canada, or any of his other legendary big-name peers. Though Tom Jenkinson (the mind behind Squarepusher's oeuvre) seemed to arrive with a fully formed signature sound with the icy jungle-informed compositions of his 1996 debut Feed Me Weird Things, he applied his masterful sonic personality to a wide variety of applications as his career moved forward, branching in directions as widely variant as mellow acid jazz, solo funk bass recordings, ambient dub, and even humanly impossible compositional scores played by robots. Damogen Furies finds Jenkinson turning away from his more nuanced or minimally funky material and offering up an album of completely blown-out tones.
Squarepusher is one of the most unique figures in electronic music's limelight. His sound is built on pushing boundaries to their limits, and then pushing some more, but such experimentation often yields varying results; for every shining diamond on the producer's last few albums, there has been a fair bit of rough, and Damogen Furies is no different. From the album's offset, it looks as though Squarepusher is holding on to the kitsch-y, spacey aesthetic that stunted his previous record, Ufabulum.
Unlike a number of his fellow Warp veterans (Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada, Autechre), Squarepusher loves the stage, and has always been a natural performer. In addition to lending his work a fluid musicality, his background as a virtuosic drummer and bassist makes him a dynamite showman. In his earlier years, Tom Jenkinson tried to perplex us with his technical bravado; later on, he used improvisation to similar effect.
Electronic auteur Tom Jenkinson has always operated at the experimental fringes of dance music, so when he describes his latest record as attempting to explore “the hallucinatory, the nightmarish and the brutally visceral”, it shouldn’t be dismissed as idle talk. But though Damogen Furies is certainly not for the faint-hearted – the distorted electronic stabs and divebombing beats of Baltang Ort may well be the lift muzak for a descent into hell – nor is it quite the Pandora’s box you might expect. Opener Stor Eiglass is driven by exhilarating melodic hooks, while Exjag Nives recalls the euphoric surges of fellow electronic pulveriser Rustie.
During the past decade, Squarepusher – alias Essex-born Tom Jenkinson – has made his own instruments, hardware and software that allows him to record a track in one take, rather than carefully selecting samples and painstakingly editing them together. Damogen Furies is a commendable attempt to showcase his improvisational dexterity and capture the spontaneity of his live shows. This innovative way of working hasn’t affected Squarepusher’s power to shock and awe with wave after wave of brutal beats – though it hasn’t necessarily given his music any more heart.
Damogen Furies needs a massive warning label: "Please clear the immediate space between you and any living/breakable organisms"' it could say before refuting, "Just don't hurt anyone with your body thrashing, OK?' Its stampeding cavernous bass and humungous rhythms rattle and churn every space they touch, so when a veteran electronic producer like Tom Jenkinson is at the height of his powers as Squarepusher, the entire world crumbles right beneath the density of it all. His 14th album pushes and pulls through possible apocalyptic worlds – worlds that aren't spatially or temporally connected, worlds that you can't just jump into bemoaning your fate, "I've made it! I've hopped through paradigms!" You're compelled to listen for the full 44 minutes, soaking it in as it all gradually reveals itself. It's not hard to imagine Jenkinson grabbing someone by the ears if they run away, tossing them over the edge into a fiery pit of hell, that's how viscerally assaulting this feels.
You know about the big releases each week, but what about those smaller albums which may have passed underneath your radar. Don’t miss out on the smaller, lesser-known gems which might become some of your favourites. We’ve rounded up six of the best new album releases from this week: catch up ….
Tom Jenkinson is a portmanteau. He calls himself Squarepusher: somewhere between ‘outside the box’ and ‘pushing the envelope’. His sound oscillates freely between breakbeat, drum ‘n’ bass, dub and whatever hybrid sounds his mind wishes; but Damogen Furies is perhaps Squarepusher pushing the square hardest. The sound is broad, but broadly indebted to jazz.