When approaching the arsenals of synthesizers, knobs, and buttons wielded by the pre-eminent electronic musicians of the day, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a phenomenon that fighter pilots call “target confusion”. For them, this feeling kicks in when so many targets appear on their horizon that they become locked up, unable to ascertain which of the plurality of targets is the right one. Now, the jury is out on whether or not the so-called “paradox of choice” is actually a thing, but there is undoubtedly an intuitive appeal to the concept. Given the number of music software programs, plug-ins, pedals, and presets that are available to artists, just how can one ever content him or herself with settling for only a few cool sounds? What if the next button does something even cooler?
Squarepusher, the name of the solo electronic project helmed by Tom Jenkinson, is a good example of someone seemingly immune to target confusion, an artist who finds no paradox in choice. On his 16th studio LP, Damogen Furies, he comes at the listener with a veritable barrage of glitchy electronics, pummeling bass, and spastic rhythmic shifts. Hearing this music makes it sound as if Jenkinson can walk up to his instruments and know exactly which knobs to turn and what keys to press, as if by some preternatural intuition. The intensity of Damogen Furies is overwhelming, yet in its composition it’s easy to sense that Jenkinson is calm and collected throughout. After all, this is the same gentleman who titled his debut Feed Me Weird Things; upsetting apple carts is kind of his game.
Jenkinson has had any number of electronic subgenre names lobbed in his direction over the course of his lengthy career, which began in the early-to-mid ‘90s. This is indicative not just of the ever-persistent desire of the critic to come up with lofty portmanteus, but also of his ability to thrive in a range of styles. As such, it’s a bit surprising to hear the pop catchiness of Damogen Furies opener “Stor Eiglass”; although far from basic in its melodic and particularly its rhythmic structure, it does have an accessibility that is not far off from the realm of EDM festival types like Skrillex and Avicii. This pop quality is also somewhat unexpected given Jenkinson’s initial claims about Damogen Furies. In its press release, he said that with this music he intended “to explore as forcefully as possible the hallucinatory, the nightmarish and the brutally visceral capacities of electronic music”. By the time the record comes to its close at a brisk 43 minutes, his statement of intent is proven quite true. For that reason, “Stor Eiglass” is both representative of the complex songwriting throughout the LP and a clever misdirection. Things get brutal after that point, meaning that any ideas of dropping molly and putting this over the speakers is probably ill-advised.
From the strobe light synths of “Rayc Fire 2” to the furious, seemingly untethered coda of “Baltang Arg”, Damogen Furies is a study in controlled chaos. Individual motifs and melodies come to the fore in each track, but in most cases they end up being submerged in tangential layers that push these tunes in increasingly, and for the most part pleasingly, erratic directions. On the whole, there is a feeling of homogeneity that starts to arise; even composition as spastic as this can grow to become familiar. Certain rhythmic ideas stand out amongst what is a dizzying collection of tempos and beats—the stop-start pull of “Exjag Nives” being a highlight—but by the end, these ideas lose their luster. Fortunately, things never get to Cinnamon Challenge levels of “too much of a good thing”.
Given the extensive high-energy pace of Damogen Furies, the few comparatively quieter moments become all the more distinct. Both the airy notes that hang a backdrop over “Baltang Ort” and the calm-before-the-storm pad synths on “Exjag Nives” prove to be especially tense elements to include on Jenkinson’s part. These more tranquil features interspersed throughout album never feel like full respites from the sonic assaults that make up the bulk of these songs. Instead, they’re akin to the sensation of letting your foot off the gas when beginning to hydroplane; the car isn’t picking up any speed, but you can tell at any moment the wheels will find their way back to the asphalt at any moment, and speedily onward it will go. And what a thrill ride this is; even when the feeling of wheels rolling against the road becomes mundane, there’s always a series of twists and turns waiting ahead.
"PopMatters is looking for smart music writers. We're looking for talented writers with deep genre knowledge of music and its present and…READ the article