Squarepusher: Ufabulum

Tom Jenkinson's not reinventing the wheel on his latest Squarepusher album, though that wheel does spin thrillingly on occasion.



Label: Warp
US Release Date: 2012-05-15
UK Release Date: 2012-05-14

Squarepusher, nee Tom Jenkinson, is one of electronic music's true mad scientists. While not necessarily as "out-there" as Aphex Twin or as on-the-nose bombastic as Skrillex, Squarepusher's output has always been intense in its own way, combining jazz and electronic in unique, encompassing ways.

Ufabulum finds him riding the EDM wave a little harder than on previous albums. Jenkinson's always been a bit of a jazz nut -- previous albums would include brief displays of virtuosic dexterity on his primary instrument, the electric bass, before zooming back into the stratosphere. Ufabulum tips more heavily back into the glitchy electronic realm.

Jenkinson's always been an uncompromising artist. (Side note: is there any other word in the music critic lexicon that simultaneously celebrates an artist's commitment to his own vision and sets him up for some kind of criticism?) But, as with any similarily devoted musician, that works against him just as much as it works for him. While Ufabulumhas its moments of real beauty and visceral thrill, large chunks of it feel same-y, as if the same intricate tapestries of bleeps, blips and bloops have been copy-pasted from other songs and dropped over new synth patches or drum breaks.

Album opener "4001" starts with one of Jenkinson's now-familiar chopped-up d'n'b beats before layering in airy synths. The track builds with the usual array of twitchy snth jabs before dropping into a truly lovely theme at the two-minute mark. It's simultaneously dense and airy, and Jenkinson knows a hook when he comes across one. He rides the theme for a minute before launching into a new phrase. "4001" is easily the highlight of the album, and as Jenkinson restates that beautiful theme, you're left gaping over whether or not he'll be able to top it.

Spoiler alert: he doesn't, really. "Unreal Square"'s rinky-dinky NES hook is quirky, but the shoehorned-in nods to dubstep are more grating than appealing. Dubstep's bombast works against the needlepoint finery of Jenkinson's music. It's like watching a world-renowned surgeon try to perform brain surgery with a machete.

"Stadium Ice" and "Energy Wizard" are both nice changes of pace. They feel more meditative and expansive than the previous two tracks. "Stadium Ice" unearthes some vintage synth sounds that sound nearly soothing after the harsh, circuit-board meltdown of "Unreal Square", and it benefits from Jenkinson's jazzy leanings. The backing chords lurking low in the mix are sophisticated and lovely. "Energy Wizard" is a mid-tempo, major-key number that sounds like the DJ system at an '80s prom exploding. (I mean that in a good way.)

The farthest departure comes in the contemplative, rubato "Red in Blue", which sounds like an outtake from the soundtrack of an excellent mid-'80s John Carpenter movie, or possibly something Wendy Carlos cooked up in her spare time. It's an atmospheric number and acts as a lovely palate cleanser, divvying up the two sides of the album with pillowy synths.

Ufabulum stumbles a bit on side two. "The Metallurgist," 303 Scopem Hard," and "Drax 2" all drag. At the 30th glitchy breakdown, you're tempted to exasperatedly exclaim, "I GET IT." That said, "Dark Steering" is another highlight -- Jenkinson uses synths to approximate the gear-shifting sounds of a motorcycle, giving the track the flavor of a Tron race scene or (given the album's seeming focus on late '80s-early '90s video game timbres) the Sega Genesis game Road Rash.

Album closer "Ecstatic Shock" is... well, it's another Squarepusher track. If you can make it this far through Ufabulum, then fuck it, I trust you to come up with your own decisions about it. (I think it's great, but lord, it is exhausting to come up with any insights about the 10th tweaky, bleepy headphone masterpiece on an album after listening to the whole thing.)

At 50 minutes, Ufabulum is a little exhausting and monotonous to be declared a masterpiece. But chunks of it are quite brilliant and exciting, so it's better to take it exactly as it is: a Squarepusher record, through and through. The wheel, bleeps, bloops, and all, hasn't been reinvented, though occasionally it still spins thrillingly.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.