You know Squarepusher, right? His name’s Tom Jenkinson and his tracks are the kind of acid-infused Drum and Bass that turns up in the early hours, after twelve pints and three tequilas, for the sole purpose of reminding you that there’s a diminutive, greasy part of the dance floor you haven’t pulled shapes on yet. Those same breakneck beats that are still mauling the inside of your head with a pickaxe when you try to shake that excruciating hangover the next morning. That’s him, right?
I thought so, too. So much so that (being the kind of reviewer who prefers to disregard supplementary, overly eulogizing press releases), I very nearly listened to one track of Solo Electric Bass 1 and returned it to the State editors with an attached note to the effect that they’d somehow mixed up Squarepusher’s latest with the work of a Spanish guitar maestro. Fortunately, I checked the blurb first.
I’ve seen a few changes of musical bearing in my time, but this must be one of the most striking. Solo Electric Bass 1 is a very literal description of what you’ll find within: an album laid down live in the classy CitÃ© De La Musique in Paris, circa 2007, and featuring Tom Jenkinson playing bass in a style reminiscent of an AndalucÃan Sheep Farmer should he ever acquire a chic French venue and oodles of talent. It’s a fiddly, lengthily, fast-paced bass solo record that’s more classical than club, more well-mannered applause than hands in the air.
It’s hard not to picture Squarepusher fans across the country throwing this in their CD player and gawping in wide-mouthed wonder at the output, but what’s left in no doubt is Jenkinson’s musicianship. The deep bass sounds that were formerly overwhelmed by heavy, dance-floor filling noise are out in plain view, and they remind of the extraordinary demonstrations music teachers give at your first lesson, just to show you how good you’ll probably never be. He twiddles, he crescendos, he bridges and he plucks, and he does it all with an extravagant ease that most bass players would struggle to reproduce in the studio at the sixth attempt.
There are moments of drama, and twice as many of unadulterated technique, but for all the skill involved, you’re still left with one instrument and no lyrics. And that, sadly, also means a lack of range that on record doesn’t quite cut it. Listen once or twice, soak up Squarepusher’s indisputable ability on his instrument, debate why he didn’t release such a mammoth musical tangent under a pseudonym and then bring it out as a backdrop to yearly suit, tie and champagne nights. Unless, of course, you’re a bass player, in which case prepare to spend the next six months sat in your living room trying to copy it. And failing.