With his 2008 album Just A Souvenir and 2009’s lesser known Solo Electric Bass 1, Tom Jenkins, a.k.a. Squarepusher, has been wandering down some dubious improv jazz alleys. While these are a testament to the unyielding diversity of Jenkins’ talent they left a lot of fans gazing helplessly at their turntables wondering where all the phat jungle breaks of yore had gone to. Many will be glad to hear then that he’s more or less gone back to what he does best. Mind you, nothing on Ufabulum could technically be described as drum n bass but there’s still plenty of IDM laden amentalism and outlandish acid explorations to digest.
For this record it seems like Squarepusher is working from the belly of an intergalactic spaceship, frantically turning dials amidst a smorgasbord of LEDs in a desperate attempt to navigate through the perilous hazards of deep space. The start of the journey is innocuous, leaving the earth’s atmosphere with the playful breaks of ‘4001’. As the vessel moves further into unchartered territories however the mood changes drastically. Things take on a more ominous tone with the likes of ‘Drax 2’ and ‘303 Scopem Hard’, a frenetic acid bass onslaught of a track that’s reminiscent of a hero’s narrow escape. Unbeknownst to perhaps even Squarepusher himself, there definitely seems to be some sort of narrative throughout. Listen to it enough times and you begin to vision vast spatial conquests and epic synth powered laser battles. ‘Dark Steering’, for example, calls to mind an underhanded pod race with some villainous cretin from beyond the stars, while ‘Stadium Ice’ comes across like an interplanetary traveling montage. Whether or not Jenkins meant this or not is a mystery but the whole album is definitely open to interpretation, which is really what makes it great, to an extent anyway.
Ok, so there is a spattering of cheesy keys that seem like they’re lifted straight from a Ministry of Sound best of but they’re partnered with such intelligent drum patterns that they wander into the realm of acceptability after a while. At times it does seem like everything is just a bit too glossy for a Squarepusher record. Take ‘Unreal Square’, it sounds like a tacky renegade dubstep militia group led by a sega megadrive. Until it breaks that is, and then you’re reminded that this is definitely Squarepusher. This ruse it’s pretty much ubiquitous throughout the album, you’re lured into a foreign, somewhat questionable land and left desolate and confused until something familiar happens, then you realise where you are.
For many old school pusher fans this will no doubt seem too clinical and polished. The subsonic hyper-bass stylings of his earlier records are left somewhat in the dust here but they’ve been amply replaced by a gamut of ultra-neon sonic endeavors. This simply marks yet another evolutionary step in the musical behemoth that is Squarepusher.