Review Summary: This album will make sure you don't wanna know Squarepusher.
It’s safe to say Tom Jenkinson always had high expectations thrust upon him. Upon his arrival on the music scene in 1996 with his debut album Feed Me Weird Things, it was clear he was unlike any other musician around. Throughout its 12 tracks, Squarepusher showed incredible promise, mixing up aggressive drum and bass, overt jazz influences, skilful bass guitar playing all coupled with incredible melodic sensibilities for the electronic medium. After that initial splash, fans saw him expand his sound in all sorts of directions, sometimes putting the emphasis on freeform jazz, other times on electronic music, all with the vigor of a mad scientist. The results were messy: sometimes they ended in failures that wouldn’t warrant more than a single listen, but were often interesting and at times mind-bending.
Squarepusher’s 2001 album, Go Plastic, wasn’t any different. It was his most confrontational brush with pure electronic music yet, creating an evil, dark drill n bass nightmare where the beats took central focus and punishingly hammered at the listener and seemed to dictate a new possible direction for the drum n bass genre. Some people dismissed the album as mere noise, but it’s never been uncommon for Squarepusher to be controversial. And thus sets the stage for his 2002 album, Do You Know Squarepusher. Well, do we?
Sadly, while most of his previous albums were good at choosing a specific angle to pursue and helped the listener understand the chaos that’s going on, this album doesn’t offer that luxury. Consisting of only 7 tracks and lasting a mere 32 minutes, this is a surprisingly oblique album that defies most categorization but in so doing, doesn’t offer a worthwhile statement and gives very little incentive for the listener to dig in.
Not that the album doesn’t try. Its opening track, Do You Know Squarepusher, is a triumph in pop music composition. While Go Plastic’s My Red Hot Car felt like a satire of the British two-step movement, Do You Know Squarepusher feels like a love letter to the genre. Infinitely more melodic and accessible than anything he’s ever done, this feel like Jenkinson’s perfect take on pop music, and all of his electronic trickery add to the song instead of distracting from it. If there’s one song worth getting on this album, it’s this one.
It all falls apart after that. No two songs on the release sound like each other, and sadly none of these experiments work on an individual level, so when stapled together, these songs make for a very frustrating listen. F-Train feels like Squarepusher’s attempt at a minimalist rap song, but it fails because it’s boring. The same looming bass line is consistently repeated to no end and Squarepusher’s electronics blips and bloops crash loudly into the mix, burying both the ambience the song tries to build and Jenkinson’s detached vocals about machines or whatever he’s saying, but in the end it just all comes across as gibberish.
Kill Robok is Autechre
suddenly making acid jazz. It all starts innocently enough with an attractive shuffling bass line, but the song suddenly deconstructs itself and becomes a chaotic random array of bleeps and bloops that, while being somewhat exciting, goes absolutely nowhere. Anstromm-Feck 4 is a high-speed, but ultimately no thrills drill and bass workout that has more style than substance going for it. Even compared to any song from 1997’s Big Loada, this feels very tame and one-dimensional, despite Tom’s claim at the beginning that he’ll tear my f***ing face off.
After the very short and pointless ambient interlude Conc 2 Symmetriac (did we need a short ambient filler song on an album that’s already this short?), we enter the album’s centerpiece, Mutilation Colony. It’s the longest ambient excursion Squarepusher has done yet, and it’s quite the mixed bag. It starts promisingly enough with very ominous organ lines overloaded with dread and desolation while a peaceful melody creeps its way through. But around the 3 minute and a half mark, it segues into musique concrete territory which is reminiscent of some of the ambient interludes from Music Is Rotted One Note. I listened to this song over 20 times and I’ve never been able to remember anything that happened once the song decided to switch gears, it all becomes random layers of aimless sound effects. The soundscape retain its gloomy aspect throughout the piece’s 10 minutes, but quickly loses its interest value because of a lack of direction and structure.
Finally, the album comes to a stop with a surprisingly straightforward and sterile cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. Needless to say, it doesn’t stand up well to the original. It features a clumsy use of reverb all over its various instrument overdubs and Jenkinson doesn’t sound whispery and mysterious in his vocal delivery; he sounds like he’s trying not to wake his parents up while they’re sleeping. Not entirely sure yet as to what Squarepusher wanted to prove by making this, you’d never ever guess this was a Squarepusher track by the sound of it.
But if you didn’t like these 7 tracks, don’t worry! There’s a full live album of Squarepusher included as a bonus disc that you can also listen to, if you want. “Alive in Japan” offers a full Squarepusher concert from Japan in 2001, which sounds very interesting but its scope remains limited because it only includes songs from Go Plastic and Do You Know Squarepusher. The sound quality is very poor, it sounds like a bootleg recorded by an audience member. There’s also very little surprises in the recording: all you’ll hear are the same songs played note by note, with very little deviation and the only exclusive feature you get is hearing Tom Jenkinson yell out loud: “MAKE SOME F***ING NOISE!” when songs get very noisy. It’s kind of amusing at first to hear him excite his audience but it doesn’t really enhance the experience much.
In the end, there’s very little to like in Do You Know Squarepusher. Its title track is gold, but about every other song is a misfire in some way. These songs feel like they were written as a trial for his fans: will you like these songs despite everything that went wrong in them? And given the severe disconnect between all tracks, how often will you feel in the mood to listen to this? “Hmmm, I really am in the mood for some two-step turning into ambient rap acid jazz played by machines musique concrete post-punk madness!” And finally, the live album is for die-hard Squarepusher fans only due to its very dubious recording quality. Even then, I’d rather listen to Go Plastic and Do You Know Squarepusher in their studio versions instead.
All in all, a rather worthless album that served no point in Squarepusher’s discography.
…or did it?