Tom Jenkinson, better known as Squarepusher to the listening public, has always lurked in a realm of abstraction that makes his electronica/fusion impossible to pin down. As an early pioneer of highly programmed drum-n-bass, he placed his electric bass alongside frenetic and ever-changing beats. You simply could not afford to get lost in the details, because the shifting, insisting whole begged submission.
When he crossed over to the jazz world with Music is Rotted One Note (Warp, 1998), he largely swapped in live instruments for the sequenced kind, relaxed the frenzy, and earned attention from listeners attuned to early electric jazz/rock fusion by Miles Davis (and more importantly produced, in an equivalent role, by Teo Macero). He's been mixing the two approaches ever since, though Go Plastic (Warp, 2001) presented dense sequencing of the most abstract and devastating kind.
Ultravisitor finds Squarepusher back at the nexus between live and programmed sounds (and, of course, the blurry in-between). Moments like the keyboard-driven, gonged-out space music at the end of the first track (and the gentle, reverberant, fugue-like guitar lines three tracks later) herald another compromise, not his most successful but plenty revealing in any case. Such is the way of a man lost in his own personal world of endless abstraction, one we can visit and admire but rarely fully comprehend. The one time I spoke with Tom Jenkinson, I went away with more questions than answers.
You can sense the clear contrast between styles by comparing the clearly live drumming on "Iambic 9 Poetry," the fully warped electronic noise of "Steinbelt," and busy, programmed rhythms of "Menelec." Fusion fans will appreciate the Pastorius-inflected solo movement of "C-Town Smash," but its brief minute and a half fade quickly. A full revisitation of old school drill-n-bass follows down the road with "District Line II."
Crowd noise and audience interaction ("How are you? ...[cheers]... Good!") suggest a certain enforced liveness that is just as often as not betrayed by effects and programming-heavy sheets of sound. By the time the closing "Every Day I Love" moves out on a folk-ish guitar serenade, you're still left wondering exactly what just happened.
Squarepusher remains near the leading edge of experimental electronica, despite this retro-ish affair. Listeners who are skeptical that computer-powered music can achieve the same density and intensity as live performance will find their preconceptions crumbled into bits here (and most likely their immediate appreciation of what's actually going on as well). This is not easy music, and it's rough around the edges, but there's something noble about forging onward in the compromise space of middle ground.
Note: different versions of this record are described online at Warp Records .
Personnel: Squarepusher: instruments and production.