Review Summary: “Hullo, my name is Thomas Jenkinson?” “Damn, it. Who typed a question mark on the teleprompter?!”
Tom Jenkinson, or Squarepusher, is known for fusing electronic music and jazz. He was neither the first to do this, nor will he be the last. What sets his music apart, however, is his virtuosic bass playing. Whether he is frantically noodling or slapping the bejesus out of his axe, his technique adds another dimension to his sound. His playing style complements the direction of his music perfectly; it is not hard to believe that the guy on bass is also the one twiddling the knobs.
Like his Warp label-mate, Richard D. James, Mr. Jenkinson is no stranger to exploring and infusing various genres of music. His eclectic taste, however, has led to several unfocused, seemingly self-indulgent albums. Take Do You Know Squarepusher?, for instance. The album starts with its wonderfully poppy title track (relatively speaking, of course), evolves into an electroacoustic soundscape, and finishes off with a poorly produced live concert. To answer your question Tom, no, we don’t know who the hell you are.
Ultravisitor appears to pick up where its predecessor left off: with a live performance. Upon hearing crowd noise, I began to brace myself for another exhausting listen. The live component of the album, however, was not extensive or a detriment. Hearing Jenkinson interacting with the audience humanizes him, making him seem less like a deranged cyborg. After an hour or so of wading through a dense sonic attack, this aspect may lose its luster, though.
One of the most shocking revelations of Ultravisitor is that Jenkinson is actually a romantic at heart. Well, sort of. A handful of tracks are pretty solos where melody is brought to the forefront; his schizoid compositions are but briefly abandoned. Andrei showcases his classical chops with a treatment in counterpoint. On Every Day I Love, Jenkinson makes good use of what appears to be a classical guitar, constructing one of his most poignant pieces. Tommib Help Bus is as stripped down as you will ever hear Squarepusher. Could the path to decifering the enigmatic Squarepusher be through his heart?
Let’s not get carried away here. Tommy boy is still a lunatic. To see this, look no further than 50 Cycles, one of Squarepusher’s most bizarre songs to date. Sung/spoken by Jenkinson himself, most of its lyrics are indiscernible. Optic nerves? Linear noise correction? This song truly epitomizes a beautiful mess. It sounds like a post-apocalyptic hip-hop science lecture given by a paranoid schizophrenic.
Jenkinson’s true vision is seen through Iambic 9 Poetry, the centerpiece of the album. The song opens with a gorgeous bass melody: Jenkinson’s use of harmonics adds an ethereal texture that makes you forget what instrument he is playing. A standard jazz drumbeat kicks in, but gradually both instruments lose their rigid form. I liken the structure of the piece to Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit: the song simply GROWS, climaxing at its very end. Here, Jenkinson successfully juxtaposes pure tonality with manic disorder. This is Squarepusher.
Unfortunately, this is just one song, and this is a long album. At various points you can feel Ultravisitor’s coherence slipping away, which is disappointing. Extended bass solos and walls of unadulterated distortion have their place, but not here. We were just beginning to see the beauty of tempered psychosis. It is obvious that Jenkinson has all of the tools to produce a classic album, but he never applies them all at once. Nevertheless, Ultravisitor proves to be Squarepusher’s first offering of genius, albeit watered-down with his idiosyncrasies.