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Ufabulum

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Album Review

Verified electronic music legend Tom Jenkinson has been a pivotal force in his field as Squarepusher since the mid-'90s. Taking constant risks and shifting styles dramatically without batting an eyelash has panned out for him more often than not and has resulted in some of the most definitive moments in the evolution of IDM and electronic music as a whole. It hasn't all been unquestionable genius, though. Ufabulum follows a string of disappointing missteps in the Squarepusher story, namely 2008's fusion-funk meltdown Just a Souvenir; 2009's Solo Electric Bass 1, a collection of unaccompanied bass noodling/soloing; and 2010's half-baked experiment Shobaleader One: d’Demonstrator. Even the best moments of early albums were shelved between multiple phoned-in tracks or clearly less-inspired variations on the same theme. Ufabulum rises out of the muddle of curious decisions on the several albums before it, offering a true-to-form Squarepusher experience more diverse and ornate than almost any before it. Lead track "4001" sets the bar high (as do the first tracks on most Squarepusher albums) with a typically hard beat and bass-stab pattern that abruptly explodes into an army of synths scoring waves of cinematic countermelodies. A post-apocalyptic soundtrack feel runs through much of the album, as tense synth lines are interrupted by glitchy reverb twitches and the occasional dubsteppy bass wobble. "Red in Blue" represents a slight respite, borrowing from the ambient side of David Bowie's Low with its icy, understated electronic paddings. "303 Scopem Hard" incorporates caustic noise and grating bowed metal scraping sounds into its typically breakneck tempo and gurgling acid bassline. The most striking aspect of Ufabulum is the sense that Jenkinson is building on top of foundations he laid himself. Where early Squarepusher records were notable for their innovative work with beat programming or infusion of organic instruments with electronic mayhem, the songs here seem to begin with that template of jittery beats and grow into dense compositions. Glowing mini-symphonies like "Unreal Square" take Jenkinson's signature playfulness and disregard for any musical rules and expand them into complexly layered opuses, mind-numbingly intricate without becoming impenetrable or losing any of their joy. If Ufabulum indicates anything, it's that there might be a deeper sophistication to come from this already groundbreaking superhero of electronic music.

Customer Reviews

Fantastic.

I saw him in New York at Webster Hall, when he played through this album. I loved it then, and I love it now. Don't expect anything that sounds like typical sounds in the electronic genre right now, this is different and refreshing. I think of it as "glitchstep", because it's not really like anything else that I've heard in a long, long time.

Headphone Commute Review

I suppose Tom Jenkinson requires no introduction. Any child of electronica should be familiar with his contribution to the evolution of music since his debut, “Feed Me Weird Things” (Rephlex, 1996). And even though, Jenkinson joined the Warp family in 1997, way after Autechre and Aphex Twin, his Squarepusher sound is still one of the staple commodities of the British label, and electronic music itself. Those who somehow missed the era of Squarepusher’s Amen breaks and broken glitchy drums, need only to dig through his vast catalog to catch up. Among these, I highly recommend “Hard Normal Daddy” (1997), “Big Loada”, (1997), “Selection Sixteen” (1999), “Go Plastic” (2001), “Venus No. 17” (2004) and my personal favorite, “Do You Know Squarepusher” (2002).

I would have preferred to stay away from regurgitating Jenkinson’s vast discography, especially since I consider him an artist prominent enough for you to know, but in this case the storyline is important to revisit, to traverse his ample sonic arc. At the peak of this curve, we find Squarepusher tweaking the knobs of destructive DSP boxes and slicing up drum loops into a dizzying typhoon of collapsing beats, to what back then, as a precursor to breakcore, felt to be the most mind-warping, accelerated music I have ever heard. With an added sprinkle of AFX-like banter, as is the case with one of my all-time favorite EPs, “My Red Hot Car” (2001), Squarepusher was unstoppable and without a doubt at the top of his game.

Around 2004, for his “Ultravisor” release, Jenkinson began experimenting with live sound, layering many juxtaposed pieces with Spanish guitar and his very special fretted bass. The music began approaching future jazz territory, until in 2008, “Just A Souvenir” found Squarepusher’s sound all but unrecognizable among the leftfield, fusion, and art-rock riffs. For the latter, Jenkinson walked away from the computer monitor and performed all live takes, recording the instrumentals for entire tracks all the way through. The 2010 follow-up, in which Squarepusher introduced Shobaleader One‘s “d’Demonstrator”, left many fans confused, at times scratching their heads at the brand new chapter that Jenkinson began to write with his electro retro funk. Many walked away disheartened, leaving the album in a pile of flustered shameful dust.

I managed to stay focused, following Jenkison’s development as a musician, always challenged with self-reinvention. Throughout these incredibly unique albums, I navigated every unanticipated turn with mild fascination, marvel and awe, until all of my feelings matured into a total appreciation of his sound. Yes, after admittedly numerous listens, I fell in love with the progression of Squarepusher, eventually doubting, like many others, that he would ever relapse to his [now old-skool] electronic ways. But with the release of his fifteenth studio album, my patience finally paid off!

On “Ufabulum” Jenkins performs an acrobatic somersault, returning to his roots, while managing to fuse all of the taken detours together. The drills and breaks are back; the analog bass and digital effects are back, the synths and acid lines are back; even the titles of the tracks, like “303 Scopem Hard” all but flashback to the ‘original’ Squarepusher! Although the world’s fascination with dubstep does not appear to have deeply penetrated Squarepusher’s sound, the 16-bit arcade style lo-fi bleeps and plops comfortably settle beneath his yesteryear cutting edge sound.

Jenkins maintains his tongue-in-cheek trance stabs and dark humor IDM just above the surface of serious commitment to intelligent programming and visionary sound design. The seemingly toy-like melodies on “Unreal Square” get drowned in simplistic drum machine patterns and dehydrating saw-tooth bass, until that almost-familiar lead line draws a parallel between two worlds, builds in a snare roll and ruptures into a cut-up post-break drum’n’bass, connecting one Squarepusher to the other. It’s Squarepusher remixing Squarepusher, if you will, combining all of the invented elements of the past, with not yet discovered production of the future.

SEGA!

This is actually the new soundtrack to Sonic the Hedgehog 2012.

Biography

Born: January 17, 1975 in Chelmsford, Essex, England

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Tom "Squarepusher" Jenkinson makes manic, schizoid, experimental drum'n'bass with a heavy progressive jazz influence and a lean toward pushing the clichés of the genre out the proverbial window. Rising from near-total obscurity to drum'n'bass cause célèbre in the space of a couple of months, Jenkinson released only a pair of EPs and a DJ Food remix for the latter's Refried Food series before securing EP and LP release plans with three different labels. His first full-length work, Feed Me Weird Things...
Full Bio