Review Summary: Squarepusher skips almost entirely the ambient pieces within his music and treads on his proactive jazz fusion with IDM break beats.
Ah, yes Tom Jenkinson, formally known as Squarepusher. Squarepusher’s allure is his ultra danceable drum and bass with the smooth grooves of jazz all in one. Seemingly fitting together piece by piece; his debut ‘Feed Me Weird Things’ included ambient pieces that could be compared to Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works 85-92’, yet introduced us to the seemingly perfect blend of electronic music and jazz grooves that could be compared to the work of Mr. Scruff. So what would Jenkinson offer us in round 3? Would he offer more of the same or would he change directions leaning towards one genre than the other? Well kids Squarepusher’s ‘Burningn'n Tree’ is only released a year later from ‘Feed Me Weird Things’, but was his 3rd release in 2 years. ‘Hard Normal Daddy’ was his sophomore effort released in the spring of ’97, only 7 months later we will be introduced to his work in ‘Burningn’n Tree’. What is interesting about Squarepusher is his absence of reliance in one genre. He tends to mix with exceptional skill – jazz fusion, IDM, drum n bass, funk, and more appropriately experimental. Sure, some of his songs could be described as your standard drum n bass, but his mixture of various genres gives us headaches when trying to distinguish what genre he truly belongs too.
Firstly, ‘Burningn’n Tree’ isn’t necessarily a proper release of new material. In some respects Squarepusher’s 3rd release isn’t anything new – it instead is a combination of 2 independent EPs by the names of Conumber E:P and Alroy Road Tracks. But there are a few unreleased tracks that accompany this material for it to be considered an album instead of just a compilation. ‘Burningn’n Tree’ starts with a quick repetitive drum beat that mows through the entire track with a sneaky and more importantly funk bass that is only glimpsed at in small pauses without the drum repetition and keyboard. “Central Line” is what Squarepusher is essentially drum n bass with a smooth funk / jazz sound. The music isn’t stressful or predominantly boring, it’s just there for you to enjoy. Much focus isn’t needed and Jenkinson’s 1997 release is the prototypical album he usually brings out.
As I’ve stated earlier Squarepusher’s mixture of genres is over the top in some cases. Mixing and matching various drum breaks that would allude towards IDM, funky bass lines that are extremely catchy, and more importantly his in and out entrance of the keyboard. Always in a different manner and speed are we introduced to his musical style. As quickly as he establishes the solid and repetitive jazz fusion within “Central Line”, he’ll essentially scrap everything, but the mainstay funk bass adding massive amounts of drum breaks as seen in [untitled] (track 2). It keeps us on our toes, the mixture of these genre elements are something for the album to help it stand up for the majority of the time. The genius behind this is we aren’t bored or extremely jubilant at all. We're instead brought in with an album that is accessible and relaxing. Despite allowing a more harsh style of some IDM drum breaks and electronic bursts, Jenkinson opts to counter it with his usual jazz fusion within the background and varying drum ‘tactics’. When I mean ‘tactics’ I’m defining his use of mixing the traditional IDM based drum breaks in one song as the essential focal point, then using the same type of drumming with a lower tone and ferocity with a relaxing jazz style. It works, it isn’t irritating or boring in any stretch of the mind.
Unfortunately there are some points in the album where he topples towards one side of this balance. “Eviscerate” comes to mind – completely repetitive, not only in the IDM structure that he develops, but just the overall atmosphere. The pauses and breaks with the overlong thunderous drum n bass are tiring in every which way. This is what ‘Burningn’ Tree’ has its problems: many hits, but there are some overlong, tiring misses. Fortunately for all of us they are only a few.