Squarepusher - Ufabulum

Tom Jenkinson has quickly become one of those artists that, in terms of the music they output, you're not quite sure whether to be critical of the music or the musician. There is no middle ground between these two entities and neither are there clear-cut moments when listening to any of his records, you feel it's a decision you can make with quick and incalculable ease. Squarepusher, to give his more well-known means of identity, since Hard Normal Daddy has been one to really test the boundary of composite sounds...even if said sounds would, on paper, look as snug and comforted as a sandpaper sleeping-bag. His most recent releases, Ultravisitor & Just A Souvenir most note-worthy, have delved, dived and even plucked from out of the bowls of this cavernous sound some peculiarly-testing experiences. Jenkinson's skills as a drum'n'bass come electronic mad-man - clashing with his swirling foot-in-a-puddle heftiness of bass lines and guitar strings - has been one to either admire and soak in, or detest and simply shy away from. 'Ufabulum' then comes at a time when it seems Jenkinson has done all he can with these streams of fretted strings and mountains of synthesizers. And while the mayhem of this free-fall sped tumble between electronic and non-electronic continues to bring about some wild and whacky brow-raisers, the questions remain as to whether this corner of (what is mostly considered) electronic music can produce anything not just note-worthy and enjoyable, but new...and original.

You only need to find yourself diving head-first straight into the chilly breathless pace of the first track '4001', to find that this isn't all about guitar music and the process surrounding the playing of these sounds. Beyond this, the track keeps a light-headed ascension of analog programming alongside the more rampant drum beats and squirms of electronics. It's a similar trait we find here; trying to not so much balance the two hefty scales of music progression, but instead pressing them together as if they were nothing more than a kind of virtual play'doh, slight tweaks of the analog's sailing sounds, soon crashing against the mustered drum beats and cluttered percussion on all sides. But Jenkinson doesn't need to squash these sounds together to make his compositions sound less rudimentary than what one might consider. Follower 'Unreal Square' uses a quite cutesy, and quite uncomfortable because of it, high-pitch twinkle in the midst of this mashing of drums of various speeds and styles. The overall sonic landscape then manifests into a sort of melting-clock Dali-esque foray of chirpy synths and rapid drum beats which in turn conjure up like some anxious mood-swing against the symphonic synchronicity of the overall track.

Even 'Energy Wizard', in all its euphoric landscaping of beaches, sunsets and twinkling stars, still manages to break from the mold and keep the beat of the track quick on its toes. It's not anything daring or adventurous in this degree, but considering how Hello Everything's 'Vacuum Garden' & 'Circlewave 2' felt like a daunting 10 minutes of early Tangerine Dream-like minimalism (minus the experimentation...and the minimalism, for that matter), it's nice to see that even the brightest and more forefront of Squarepusher's sounds don't come across like a flat bottle of Coke. 'Red In Blue' isn't exactly an exciting listen, so far as the developmental side of it goes, but the way the keys stretch and become elasticated into an unsettled waver produces, at the very least, an other-Worldly breather from Jenkinson's earth-shattering drops and breaks he's, by now, used to using even when a drop or break isn't exactly required or desired.

'The Metallurgist' is an example of how generic the DnB/break-beat nature can come at times. True, Jenkinson isn't one of these larger-than-life ego types who see the idea of a breakbeat or sudden change in sound, needs seeding its placement at the end of every forth bar or so, but the monotonous variety in the sound's texture and the way they are carried forth won't get tongues waggling. Likewise, 'Drax 2' feels more like a demo, or to put it more clearly, sounds like it was originally a lot more and then drained of more than half its material in favor of time more spent at the mix deck and the turning of God knows many knobs and tuners. And for a seven minute clattering of wobbly synths and pattering beats - which time-wise, is the longest on this album - it feels as much a waste of space as it does an unnecessary use of said space.

Coming a close second in time length is 'Dark Steering' which I have to say is a welcome improvement on the past few murmurs of Squarepusher's attempts at drawing us in here. If it's not the gorgeousness of the hopeful-sounding synths that carry you through, then it's the undeniable gravity of the reverb of what, to me, sounds like some highly-fuelled motor vehicle; revving, spinning and even reversing itself and its treading tire-marks all over the pace of this track. 'Ecstatic Shock' closes the album in the same light, what starts as a rush and collision of drums and synths soon opens up into this blossoming of much livelier and conscious drive of electronic energy. Even through the veil of sparks and squirms tug at the juxtaposition of the track to and fro, there's enough of a drive here that the overall concept and reasoning to this track doesn't come across as too experimental to the point that it instantaneously drifts off-course from its original mind-set.

So is this a good album or a bad album? Like I said, it's hard to find middle-ground with this guy and one can't simply wave this particular type of sound away until it comes back to you like some musical craving. But for the benefit of both myself and all you that are reading this, I will draw this conclusion. Squarepusher is still keeping to his ways and puts a clarity of assurance on the track's energy and pace on 'Ufabulum' at the top of his check-list. Not all tracks on this 10-piece recording pay off as well as others, but that's only because maybe Jenkinson hasn't exactly planned his treacherous moves into more open sounds, carefully. Regardless, the frantic - often abstract - bass guitars are in short supply here, and guess what, it actually benefits the record rather than hinders it.


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Discovery: Squarepusher - Ufabulum
Squarepusher - Ufabulum
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