Not so much an album as a statement of intent, a blueprint for aspiring bedroom producers to copy and ultimately fall short of, Do You Know Squarepusher could be Tom Jenkinson’s bloody sonic manifesto, a challenge to his critics to put up or shut up.
Pugnacious at the best of times, with this album Squarepusher seems more personal, more open, more confrontational and paradoxically more listenable.
The album opens with the already familiar title track. It’s been doing the rounds as an untitled one-sided 12″ for a year, but still manages to send shivers down my spine. A twisted hyper-freaked take on two-step, r’n’b and drum n’ bass, it’s the best thing he’s ever done, a gorgeous percussive melody, underlaid by skittering drums that forever seem to be on the verge of collapsing in on themselves. It’s all topped off with Tom’s vocals shredded through a vocoder. It’s tracks like this that justify the hype that surrounds his every release.
It was always going to be difficult to follow that opening assault, but he makes a pretty good stab of it. What really shines through on this album is Squarepusher’s total control in the studio. The tracks aren’t as wild as previous outings, but that only makes them more intense. The tracks are tighter, the drum breaks are compressed, like a jack-in-the-box they’re constantly threatening to explode.
Tracks such as Anstromm-Feck 4 are like sonic Buckaroo, always on the verge of disaster, but just about held together. “Whose the daddy?” asks Squarepusher rhetorically, before launching into another barrage of digitally smashed breaks.
Two tracks completely stand out from his previous outings, however. On F-Train, over a coruscating soundscape, Tom delivers a quick-fire monologue that sounds like Mike Skinner from The Streets‘ worst acid nightmare – no mockney charm here, just the real deal.
The track that will cause the most fuss though is the album’s closer, a cover of Joy Division‘s miserablist classic Love Will Tear Us Apart. Where you’re expecting an unrecognisable destruction of this sacred cow, you get a reverential straight cover, with just guitar, a running hi-hat and Tom singing without any effects or distortions. He won’t be winning any awards for his singing anytime soon, but there’s a brutal honesty about it that’s quite disarming.
At thirty minutes and seven songs, of which a couple are more noise experiments than anything else, it’s a short album, especially in these days of quadruple album box sets. But it’s a definite case of quality over quantity. It’s a much more focused album than many of his peers have released in recent years, and in its opening track it contains one of the best electronic songs released lately.
The CD version of the album comes packaged with a bonus live CD recorded in Japan last year, and while it sounds like it was recorded in a barn, it’ll be a must-have for any fan. Out of the studio the music takes on a violent life of its own, as tracks like My Red Hot Car give way to a full on distorted breakbeat frenzy, and Squarepusher seems to try his best to reduce his crowd to a shattered pulp. In other words, it’s lovely stuff.