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Squarepusher SquarepusherUfabulum

8.6 / 10

Fourteen years have gone by since “Music Is Rotted One Note” (1998). Fourteen long years those who got their ultimate kicks from Squarepusher's most agitated tracks - the spasmodic drum'n'bass ones, close family members of the Aphex Twin of “I Care Because You Do…” - have had to wait for this moment to arrive. After countless delays, “Ufabulum”, Tom Jenkinson's new album, is finally out. What's so special about it that it seems like the end of a long journey through the desert? Well, for starters, it is completely free of never-ending bass solos, fusion jazz and intellectual derivations; which makes it Squarepusher's first all-round great album in almost fifteen years. It's all electronica here: machines, computers, bad temper and jungle magic mixed with IDM attacks, plus the odd criminal 4x4. “Ufabulum”, thank heavens, is what we've been requesting for so many years. Thank you.

Squarepusher has become a bit of a specialist in frustrating the expectations of many of his followers. His first releases (three majestic EPs, “Conumber EP”, on Spymania, “Port Rhombus EP”, on Warp and “Squarepusher Plays…”, on Rephlex, and his debut album, “Feed Me Weird Things”) heralded a new book in the gospel of hypercomplex IDM and schizo dance music. Even in those days, Tom Jenkinson showed his love, or obsession, of the four-stringed neck (a bass virtuoso, he could play frantic bass lines with his own fingers, where the dons of jungle programmed them in the studio with blood, sweat and tears). However, up until “Hard Normal Daddy” (1997) - another masterpiece of what was then known as braindance; a style of music that, yes, made your brain dance, but also brought it to the verge of an ictus - it was never overblown. And then came “Music Is Rotted One Note”, and Squarepusher wanted to make jazz. He became serious, transcendent, annoying. He continued to release records that had some moments of that initial genius, but were partly ruined by his Weather Report and Ron Carter devotion: “Selection Sixteen” (1999), dull; “Budakhan Mindphone” (1999) had its moments, and “Go Plastic” (2001) was saved by “My Red Hot Car”, a sexual 2step joke, Squarepusher's HIT. “Do You Know Squarepusher” (2002) wasn't bad, “Ultravisitor” (2004) is close to “Ufabulum”, but has some fusion jazz stains that couldn't be erased, “Hello Everything” (2006) lowered the bar again, “Just A Souvenir” (2008) was boring and “Solo Electric Bass 1” was just terrible - well out of order, the farthest removed from the idea of the perfect Squarepusher: a record made up entirely of live bass solos, an onanistic tribute to himself as an instrumentalist.

“Ufabulum” is quite the opposite. It’s proof that, in order to find one's way up, one must first hit rock bottom, be miserable and even rejected by the most forgiving of fans. Even though it's been fourteen years, too many, the long wait has maximised and magnified the result. This is the Squarepusher of some of his singles (because, in all this time, his best work is on EPs like the glorious “Venus Nº 17, which even included a church choir over acid synth lines and monstrous breaks, the mini album “Square Window”, and the single “Welcome To Europe”) and, more importantly, the Squarepusher of the long pieces of brilliant madness and impossible rhythms. In this process, and maybe as a sacrifice, Jenkinson's most spot-on melodies have been lost (and in exchange we get loony bin outbursts like “Drax 2”), but it's also the unofficial continuation of his Rephlex work as Chaos A.D., possibly the sickest and most maddening material of his entire career.

Everything his most avid fans love about him is there: the flirtations with acid ( Dark Steering” and “303 Scopem Hard”, spitting acid lines like a recently cut vein, intensely and irregularly); the textures which, because they're so synthetic, shine like recently polished silver (or other, less noble metal, wrapped in stroboscopic UFO lights from another planet), like on the steamrolling “The Metallurgist”; and, most of all, the rhythmic inventiveness. There are no moments of calm here, no room for the spliff smoking hippie Squarepusher, only for the most daring Tom Jenkinson, getting drunk on tequila while giving his machines - suffering from delirium tremens - a blood transfusion. There are fragmented robot melodies, there's hell, confusion turning into chaos, and chaos giving birth to something new and exciting. More often than not, all that happens within one track - like “4001”, a kind of accelerated summary of what Squarepusher's music is all about - and he even pushes the work further, like on “Unreal Square”, mounted on a silly video game melody.

When we get to “Ecstatic Shock”, which is like crossbreeding Tangerine Dream with a breaks symphony sculptured by a six-armed monster, the relief is total: Squarepusher has managed to maintain the same level from start to finish, his highest level. It’s up there with “Feed Me Weird Things”; referencing who he was without it being nostalgic or a populist manoeuvre. The best thing about “Ufabulum” is that it doesn't sound like old Squarepusher but like the evolution that should have started years back, maybe not in 1998 but at least after “Ultravisitor”. And as a final twist, it's the EP this time (the limited edition of the album comes with the “Estrobia EP”) that holds the discordant material: a trance joke ( “Angel Integer” is like Tiësto, but with circus melodies), a clownstep joke with a Daft Punk twist ( “Panic Massive”), and “40.96a”, a cold, electro-acoustic composition. Believe: when we thought we'd lost him for good, Squarepusher came back to show us what's what.

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