I’ve always been a diehard Squarepusher fan. Since his days of acid drum and bass, I’ve worshiped every note he’s played on his bass, every snare rush he’s mashed together, every rhythm he’s chopped to bits. When the man behind the moniker Tom Jenkinson moved into the realm of post-jungle (much of which can be found on his compilation of EPs, Big Loada), I got butterflies in my stomach. Of course, things were kind of weird with his next full-length Selection Sixteen, but I glued my face to the speakers anyway until I figured out what he was doing and why.
When May 2001 rolled around, I listened to Go Plastic for the first time while walking to the subway. It was something else. Certain tracks—and if you’re as big a fan as I am, you’ll know which—are so perfect that I actually had to stop moving so that I could focus all of my attention on the sound. And since the record was and still is so revolutionary I need not go into a description of it.
Even so, days after its release, Go Plastic raised the imperative question: what’s next? Some of us thought we should expect more post-jungle madness. Some of us thought Tom Jenkinson would revert to the improvisational style of his 1999 EPs. In either case, devotees could agree that they would be happy with whatever was thrown on their plates.
But his new double CD release on Warp is not quite what anyone expected.
When I tore open the package that held the new record with its black and white constructivist cover art this August, I couldn’t wait to throw it into my CD player. My eyes glazed across the jewel case and I read the title, Do You Know Squarepusher. So I answered: Of course I do.
Being one of those fans who wanted to hear more of the hyper, obsessive composition style that graces Go Plastic, I was totally psyched to find that the first track, “Do You Know Squarepusher”, was the same song released on his untitled 12-inch in March.
Drawing upon the likes of Britney Spears, Timbaland, and most other pop music stars, the title track reads like a manifesto of sorts. It’s a post-modern criticism of pop music, but simultaneously functions itself as nouveau pop. The breaks are priceless, the acid bass lines pour out like water, and the vocals are as absurd as they are logical. Basically, what it comes down to is this: The track “Do You Know Squarepusher” is the apex of Jenkinson’s critical approach to music composition.
Since I already knew this track by heart, as it came to a close, I started getting jittery. I couldn’t wait for the next post-jungle cracked-out track to begin. So, I pushed the forward button. And I was quite shocked by what I found.
“F-Train”, although it has some incredible garage-style vocals, sounds as if it wasn’t thoroughly mastered. Much of the song is almost inaudible, but if you turn up the volume, certain notes blast out rather obnoxiously, so that you have to turn it back down.
I let the rest of the track, and the rest of the album, play through as I sat there listening astutely. And then I did it again. I thought, “Maybe I missed something.”
A couple of the tracks have a very strange motionless ambience, and others initially seem like failed attempts at post-jungle. And I’m ashamed to say that the final track, a remix/cover of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, is actually without a soul.
I couldn’t deal with this. So I put in the second CD, which proved to be much better. It was a live recording of the Squarepusher tour last summer. It gave me the same chills I felt when I saw Jenkinson perform on this tour and when I listen to Go Plastic.
But about halfway through the live recording, as I mulled over the cover’s design, everything clicked. The title of the album says it all. Do You Know Squarepusher? Well, I thought I did. I thought I knew his tongue-in-cheek satire. And I bet so did you. But apparently I was wrong.
Jenkinson is more of an artist in the non-musical, conceptual sense than we think. It’s no mistake that the post-jungle title track is first on this record. It’s a perfectly hidden trap. Everyone who hears it assumes that the rest of the record will follow in the vein of Go Plastic, and as the subsequent tracks move farther and farther away from this sound, we can’t figure out why. We find ourselves disappointed. But the title and the title track stay in the back of our minds, mocking us. We don’t want to admit it, but we don’t know Squarepusher.
For its big-balls conceptualism, I give Do You Know an endless round of applause. Unfortunately, though, I’m not really into much of the music on the record.
The way I see it, though, Jenkinson is using the discontinuity of the tracks, as well as the strange mastering, to undermine our relationship with him and to concurrently explore new possibilities, none of which he is quite sure about. Does this sound overanalyzed? Maybe it is. Maybe I’m just trying to justify a bad album. But making another Go Plastic would have been the easy way out, and Jenkinson realized this. Sure, he could have put together another bunch of tracks equally as tight as “Exploding Psychology” and “Boneville Occident”. But we would have expected that. And as Tom Jenkinson answers his own question for us, we don’t know Squarepusher.
// Notes from the Road
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