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Squarepusher - Ultravisitor

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Artist: Squarepusher

Album: Ultravisitor

Label: Warp

Review date: May. 14, 2004

Listening to Ultravisitor is a singular experience. Approached casually, it could be considered uncalculated madness, grating wankery, overtly hostile, or all of the above. Tom Jenkinson has been confusing his casual and serious fans for a good while now, ever since Music Is Rotted One Note in 1998, which a legion of them still feel is his best work. He has often been accused of antagonizing, instead of appeasing his audience.

Those fans will be jazzed to know that Ultravisitor is the most fusion-affected thing Jenkinson has done since One Note, unleashing an unheard confidence and competence as a bassist and drummer, while flaunting his unbridled rhythmic sense. They will be irked to know that it’s only one element of a confounding album.

Which makes sense, because the catalog of Squarepusher is a complicated affair. Nothing comes easy. On Ultravisitor, Jenkinson samples his prior work, with elements from almost every previous record expanded upon, then simplified. The album cover is a stark mug shot, but he stares blankly, inviting the listener to read his mind. It’s hard to get to know those who never let you inside, but they tend to be the most intriguing people.

The opener (and title cut) literally bustles, outlining the meandering quality of the entire album. Consider it an anthem for evil people, as rattling dub gets spray-painted with electric glitter, synthetic squelches and a devious synthline. Like various other moments on Ultravisitor, upon first listen it seems as if the computer is controlling the man, but it eventually becomes apparent that this is all deliberately, post-meditated. Crowd noise enters sporadically, but the initiated know it’s not a live performance, just another added layer to give the “piece” more texture and keep us from knowing exactly what is going on.

This crowd backchat blurs into “I Fulcrum” and “Iambic 9 Poetry,” both typical of the slower “jams” on the record that close the ceremonies as well. Sparse bass improvisation and live drumming amble on until “50 Cycles” shatters the informal tone – A DJ Vadim beat on Quaaludes that would scare the shit out of Mike Skinner. These woozy, botched breaks are chased by an intricately devised technical collapse. It’s easily the most deranged hip-hop song I’ve heard this year.

In the end, this is still drill ‘n’ paste. Jenkinson loves to take a jackhammer to musique concrete, but he also seems to be inspired by Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius, and allows the music to breathe in spots. It’s rare to find an album so deep into an artist’s career – especially one as varied as Jenkinson’s – that so perfectly captures the full spectrum of his work. A difficult, flawed record that’s predictably too long, making the highs all the more rewarding.

By Jake O'Connell

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