Release Date: May 15, 2012
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Electronic, Electronica, Pop/Rock, IDM, Jungle/Drum'n'Bass, Experimental Jungle, Drill'n'bass
While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that... I pride myself in taking a punch and I'll gladly take another because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King. My concerns are global. I reject absolutely revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a ….
Verified electronic music legend Tom Jenkinson has been a pivotal force in his field as Squarepusher since the mid-'90s. Taking constant risks and shifting styles dramatically without batting an eyelash has panned out for him more often than not and has resulted in some of the most definitive moments in the evolution of IDM and electronic music as a whole. It hasn't all been unquestionable genius, though.
“Arpeggios often remind me of bacteria,” Tom Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, wrote online about the fourth track off of his newest album, Ufabulum. The track, called, Energy Wizard is a typical register of Jenkinson: it evokes the feeling of shopping for Pokémon inside the mall of a cybercity made of a binary system of ones and zeros; think of it as a network where the language of electronic code, much like the language of musical harmony, is structured so that its energy optimistically praises the industrial, the mechanical, and the ultra-efficient. Comparing anything to bacteria is the kind of association that makes me feel more alive as a listener, and in that aliveness, pay more attention to the shifts – call them molecular – of the drum-clatter colliding in space with Jenkinson's manipulated bass, 8-bit synth pixels, and the Oort cloud-esque ornamental sound-dust, alert also to the silences, those small, eerie quagmires between beats when the music scuttles like microorganisms realigning themselves in a petri dish.
When artists and producers began to draw on the sonic palette of video games sometime in the past decade, it largely felt like an exercise in nostalgia; a generation reared on Nintendo was rediscovering and repurposing the sounds that shaped their childhood imaginations via 8-bit remixes and ultra-niche genres like nerdcore and chiptune. But it’s worth thinking about what impact these blips, squarks, and crude digital renderings of strings and percussion have done to the overall pop-music landscape. Does it signal a move toward the more stripped down, back-to-basic elements of electronica, the way the acoustic guitar once did for rock? Is it a deliberate attempt to foreground the machinery of electronic music the way glitch music took particular pleasure in that machinery’s malfunction? These are the sort of questions that come to mind while listening to Ufabulum, the latest album by electronic stalwart Tom Jenkinson, a.
Ufabulum abandons Squarepusher’s usual 1 : 1 ratio of electronic : jazz in favor of 1 : 1, electronic : space adventure. I cannot find in any press release or quote anywhere confirming that Tom Jenkinson aimed for Ufabulum to listen as a concept album, but I’m convinced. It is definitely a narrative taking place on some planet where the rain is actually ripe, red laser beams and cake happens for most meals and that’s OK.
During the first half of his career as IDM troublemaker, Tom Jenkinson became one of the most divisive figures in electronic music, plundering electric jazz and rave music for his own extremist ends, idolized and reviled in seemingly equal amounts. For folks who didn't fall into either camp, who were just looking for futuristic shocks or crazy rhythms, he was one of many artists around the turn of the millennium who seemed to treat dance music like a science-fiction movie, removing all the pesky plot and character development, until just the wild special effects highlights remained. Ufabulum comes many years and many albums after Squarepusher briefly enjoyed this kind of marginal pop culture recognition.
Squarepusher, nee Tom Jenkinson, is one of electronic music’s true mad scientists. While not necessarily as “out-there” as Aphex Twin or as on-the-nose bombastic as Skrillex, Squarepusher’s output has always been intense in its own way, combining jazz and electronic in unique, encompassing ways. Ufabulum finds him riding the EDM wave a little harder than on previous albums.
Experimental drum 'n' bass weirdo Squarepusher has been making ridiculous prog-rock electronic music since the mid-90s and is somehow still immediately recognizable despite changing up his formula with each album. This time around he's left his bass guitar in the closet, which means it's all gurgling synths and no Seinfeld boinkity-boink. He's also aiming for a darker mood, but as usual that comes out as gleefully silly.
Review Summary: Feed me interesting thingsWhile you’re free to question just how it got to this point and who the key players might arguably be, there’s no denying that electronic music has entered a much heralded and highly publicized second renaissance of sorts. At least as far as the commercial world of music is concerned, this first golden era began with the arrival of arena-sized acts such as The Prodigy, Leftfield and The Chemical Brothers – this well-documented ascendancy (the likes of which had never been seen outside of your more traditional rock and metal scenes) was unerringly pushed towards its inevitable breaking point by MTV journalists and the like the world over, giving rise to the ubiquitous “electronica” in the process. As much as it was about the music, it was also the grand-scale theatrics of these groups in a live environment that precipitated such attention and acclaim.
If there is a "Squarepusher sound," it would be best described as the battle between digital decay and analog ingenuity. But, since 2004's Ultravisitor (the follow-up to his career-peaking LP, Go Plastic), Tom Jenkinson's (aka Squarepusher) absolute fixation with the bass guitar has all but defined his work. On Ufabulum, the 13th full-length from the Essex, UK marvel, Jenkinson packs up and leaves his comfort zone for a warmer digital embrace.
Rye Rye The Baltimore rapper Rye Rye has been announcing her debut album, “Go! Pop! Bang!” (N.E.E.T./Interscope) since 2009, when she was still a teenager. At the time her brash, rapidfire rhymes and skeletal electro tracks had been embraced by M.I.A., who took her on tour and signed her to her ….
In the eight years since Ultravisitor (his last universally praised release) Squarepusher went off on wandering tangents. While this matched his refusal to be penned in, unfortunately the results weren't great, were missing finesse (Hello Everything), jarring 'unplugged' jam sessions (Just a Souvenir), or lacked heart (Numbers Lucent). Solo Electric Bass 1 proved he still had 'it', but was essentially an academic textbook of a record.
Hugely impressive, technically, but too cold and forbidding for many tastes. Garry Mulholland 2012 Through 14 albums and numerous singles and EPs, Essex boy Tom Jenkinson has endeavoured to make electronic music do things it isn’t supposed to. A virtuoso on bass guitar as well as analogue and digital machinery, his Squarepusher alter ego has consistently brought a freewheeling jazz mentality, a sense of humour and a jaw-dropping technique to that part of the techno world which is aimed at the bedroom and headphones rather than the dancefloor.