Squarepusher


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Feed Me Weird Things (1996), 6/10
Hard Normal Daddy , 7.5/10
Big Loada , 5/10 (mini)
Burningn'n Tree , 6/10 (comp)
Music Is Rotted One Note , 6/10
Budakhan Mindphone , 6/10 (mini)
Maximum Priest , 5/10 (EP)
I Am Carnal , 5/10 (EP)
Selection Sixteen , 5/10
Go Plastic , 7/10
Do You Know , 5/10
Ultravisitor (2004), 5.5/10
Hello Everything (2006), 5/10
Just A Souvenir (2008), 5/10
Ufabulum (2012) , 4/10
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(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Sheffield dj Tom Jenkinson, who went by the nom de guerre Squarepusher, was arguably the foremost drum'n'bass artist of the 1990s. His infatuation with jazz-rock allowed him to compose music that was infinitely more complex and sophisticated than most. His wild assembly of manic breakbeats, spirited eletronica and disjointed samples concocted a whirling cacophony a` la Morton Subotnick.
The early singles of 1995 and 1996 mainly displayed his skills as a bassist, and are collected on Burningn'n Tree (Warp, 1997).

The formative Feed Me Weird Things (Rephlex, 1996) locked his jazz bass into the frenzy of drum machines in a way that nobody had experimented before. Remnants of meloy surface from the breezy Squarepusher Theme, from the intense spacetime geometry of Theme From Enrnest Borgnine, from the psychedelic vortex of Tundra, and from the ambient lattice of Goodnight Jade. The melodic element is particularly haunting in UFO's Over Leytonstone, where the harsh, industrial tones of the machines are tempered by majestic and melancholy, almost Bach-ian, organ phrases.
In a sense, this album already betrayed Squarepusher's true mission, as it triumphed in the least "jungle" numbers. The purely rhythmic trances (Swifty, North Circular tend to act as muzak that is devoid of meaning. The only one that truly succeeds is Dimotane Co, thanks to intricate patterns, double acceleration and feverish, tribal percussions. mad crescendos and sonic black holes of Windscale 2,

His first masterpiece was Hard Normal Daddy (Warp, 1997), the album that left behind jungle's facile and sterile exercises with samples, and that sailed full-throttle towards jazz fusion, melodic synthesizers and what would be called "breakcore".
The birth of "drill and bass" arose from the marriage of the sexy grooves of funk and the cerebral noodling of progressive-rock. The manifesto of the new genre was the supersonic funk of Coopers World: while the keyboards weave a fantasia of melodic themes and counterpoints, the guitar and the bass heavily accent it with syncopated moves.
In tracks such as Rustic Raver, Fat Controller and Male Pill Part 13 drum programming is no longer the subject, it is merely an object. The music revolves around the bass and the electronic keyboards. These are abstract paintings, not manic dancefloor explosions. Imagination and sense of humour permeate these pieces (especially Chin Hipopy) to the point that they recall the provocations of futurism and dadaism. The jamming is so fluid (especially in E8 Boogie) that one is reminded of progressive-rock giants such as Colosseum and Phish.
The surreal, spacey, quasi-psychedelic ambience of the first album survive on Beep Street (augmented with a fantastic "musique concrete" effect of a creaky door). However, the music has replaced its moody and cryptic attitude with a sprightly and organic flow, more akin to Terry Riley's minimalist scores. The new synthesis shines in Papalon, a touching jazz madrigal led by (the electronic equivalent of) bassoon and vibes, a chromatic orgy worthy of the most astral ECM sound.

The mini-album Big Loada (Warp, 1997) includes one more of his classics, A Journey To Reedham

Freed of samples and drum machines, on Music Is Rotted One Note (Nothing, 1998) Jenkinson vents his love for Miles Davis (the frenetic jazz-rock of Don't Go Plastic, the discrete heartbeat of Theme from Vertical Hold) and John Coltrane (the abstract liquid structures of Dust Switch, the astral swirls of 137). Not as twisted as his previous efforts, and certainly not as ebullient/cacophonic, this album is a minor work, a nostalgic tribute to another era. The best ideas (or at least the most original) are poured out in the shorter pieces, but Jenkinson does not pursue them. Jenkinson plays all the instruments live by himself. In particular, several tracks are a show of dexterity at the analog keyboards.

The mini-album Budakhan Mindphone (Warp, 1999) has an almost decadent, baroque quality, that injects an almost zen intensity/austerity into composite tracks like Iambic 5 Poetry (with undulating strings that seem to come from a symphonic adagio) or the percussive orgy of Gong Acid. But jazz remains the obsession. Jenkinson sets forceful jazz drumming in a lake of noises (The Tide) and against a repetitive metallic clangor (Splask). Two Bass Hit is a duet in the tradition of creative improvisers.

Squarepusher is disappointingly tedious and predictable on the following EPs: Maximum Priest (Warp, 1999), whose only attraction is a moody ambient piece, Our Underwater Torch; and I Am Carnal (Lo, 1999) a collaboration with Richard Thomas.

Selection Sixteen (Warp, 2000) is a pretentious sound collage that pays homage to just about every electronic genre on the planet. Unfortunately, there isn't a single track on this album that can match the best of all those genres.

Tom Jenkinson never matched again the visceral intensity and the impeccable fluidity of Hard Normal Daddy, arguably his masterpiece. Go Plastic (Warp, 2001) was the first serious contender for "follow-up" to that work. Basically, abandoning self-indulgent poses, Jenkinson returned to his cubistic version of drum'n'bass. My Red Hot Car is the "easy" song of the album (a bit of a robotic melody, dub reverbs, acrobatic hip-hop beat, videogame-like sounds), followed by I Wish You Could Talk (a stately organ melody towers over a linear percussive flow). However they are not the most representative. Everything else shines in a surreal and sinister way. Less austere than Hard Normal Daddy, less self-conscious and less ambitious, this album nonetheless achieves the same kind of rhythmic and electronic synthesis. Boneville Occident (with a spectacular "solo" of a wildly irregular beat), Go! Spastic (a parade of hip-hop deformities, from grotesque to chaotic) and Greenways Trajectory (another hyper-charged beat soup that eventually explodes into supersonic drilling effects) are each a treatise on a new form of Dadaistic, disjointed, beat-based music in which the drum-machine becomes the equivalent of a jazz instrument for a creative solo improvisation. On the other hand, My Fucking Sound warps the beats to the point that the piece is rhythm-less, approaching the abstract intensity of chamber electronic music; basically, musique concrete imbued with punk frenzy.

In the age of indie swindles, someone came up with the idea to package an EP-worth of new material with a disposable live performance and a Joy Division cover, and release it as a double-disc, Do You Know (Warp, 2002). This despicable practice of eliciting as much money as possible from the public detracts from the merits of the new material, which stand as a dignified corollary to Go Plastic. In fact, two separate corollaries: Do You Know Squarepusher is a surprising venture into the realm of disco-pop; the ten-minute Mutilation Colony, on the contrary, is a noise symphony that weds free-jazz and Morton Subotnick. The rest is not as exciting. Kill Robok and Anstromm-Feck 4 serve traditional "drill'n'bass" fare.

The sprawling Ultravisitor (Warp, 2004) is a pretext for Tom Jenkinson to display the acrobatic programming, visceral rhythmic polyphony and melodic subtlety that he has perfected over the years. Alas, it works only in Ultravisitor. The jazz element is also somewhat bland and trivial, failing to lift Circlewave and Don't Go Plastic from their aura of mediocrity, and scoring only one major surprise: the extended bass solo of I Fulcrum (its funky counterpart being C-Town Smash).
As it is the case with many sprawling albums, the amount of filler that should have been edited out and was left in is more overwhelming than the music. Recycling old ideas is a good way to fill up lengthy CDs, but not a good strategy to advance one's credibility and artistic status. Far from being the cryptic work that Jenkinson announced, this is simply an indulgent collection of sketchy pieces that the author did not have the time (or will) to refine. Redundancy is not genius.

Tom Jenkinson reached his nadir on Hello Everything (2006), a rather anemic and confused work by his early standards. For a Planetarium that successfully revisits his rhythmic creativity, there are several tepid directionless that sound like remixes of Squarepusher tracks done by inferior artists.

Just A Souvenir (2008) is the work of musicians who are more interested in showing how good they are around the studio than in composing music; or maybe they are just trying to prove that the two are the same. The painstaking orchestration hides trivial ideas, and mostly a newfound passion for the rock guitar.

Solo Electric Bass 1 (2009) was just that: an album of solo bass.

The EP Shobaleader One and the mini-album d'Demonstrator (2010), credited to Shobaleader One, were instead devoted to (terrible) dance-rock.

Squarepusher returned to electronic music with Ufabulum (2012), that boasted 4001 and distant echoes of past genius like 303 Scopem Hard. Some of it slowed down the tempo to approach friendlier muzak, and some of it simply created enough confusion to validate the brand Squarepusher.

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