Squarepusher Ultravisitor Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

The latest Squarepusher document sees Tom Jenkinson bare some genuine soul as the...

Jack Smith 2002

Tom Jenkinson stares at us somewhat balefully from the cover of his new LP, Ultravisitor. He looks like he has spent the last few weeks in an underground basement, working through the night, eschewing sleep so can add more detail and lustre to his new opus.

The image is more significant than it may at first look.

Previous 'pusher albums have been decorated with geometric patterns and abstract shapes, highlighting the anonymous aspect of the bedroom auteur who works in the shadows and lets us know him only through the music.

Now, the man who once asked Do You Know Squarepusher? is voluntarily giving us some insight into who he really might be.

This new rapport with his audience is reflected within the album, most notably on "Circlewave" and "Tetra-Sync", which feature piped live applause; on one of the tracks he even allows himself a 'hello' to the audience.

The album is in many ways a move on from the by now stale-sounding drill & bass experimentation of previous outings. Frenetic rhythmic shifts and a sense of apocalyptic entropy are still very much a part of Ultravisitor's ever-morphing scape, but they are often tempered (occasionally exacerbated) by other elements such as Jenkinson's love of jazz and some - hold your breath - some gentle acoustica.

The opening title track is a case in point. The pulses, tinkles and blips that start us off are gentle enough for the first few seconds but melt down into clangorous terror-core territory fairly swiftly.

The difference between this and former work is that rather than the melodic element of the song being relegated to the background it stays with us, soaring high and strong above the rhythmic collapse that underpins it, pulling us clear of the mayhem and destruction below.

From here, Jenkinson takes us on a predictably unpredictable journey that challenges, thrills, delights and grates in equal amounts.

It is impossible to know what to expect not just from one track to the next, but sometimes from one bar to the next. Yet we get a sense, early on, that the balance of the album is more considered, more mature than previous work.

The many references to jazz - be it fusion-era explorations or scattershot free-jazz explosions - recall Jenkinson's impressive adventures on Music Is Rotted One Note.

These indulgences humanise what can be at times an emaciated album, starved of oxygen, devoid of soul, albeit always rich in detail and sound. The defragmented vocals, screaming diodes and distressed digital space on "50 Cycles" leads - eventually - to a 'real' hip hop track, with discernible rhymes and a tangible funk element.

Elsewhere, he doesn't give us any breaks at all. "Menelec", "Distinct Line II" and "C-Town Smash" are uncompromising efforts to make diodes scream, to tear apart the digital innerspace of his studio and infuse it with psychologically effecting elements like anomie, paranoia and adrenalin.

What is perhaps more surprising overall are the attempts to link his avant-gardism to something more melodic, more traditional, more humane. "I Fulcrum", "Andrei", "Tommib Help Buss" (which reprises "Tommib", the ambient cut from the last LP that was featured in Lost in Translation), are less calls to riot, more polite quests to come stroll through England's verdant valleys.

It's these kind of tracks make this the most accessible Squarepusher record to date. He has been careful to ensure he continues to challenge and alienate, but one can't help be thankful that he has started to find his human heart.

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