Squarepusher’s records are as diverse and divisive as he is unique and prolific. 2004s Ultravisitor earned him a reputation as one of electronic music’s most innovative and enduringly challenging artists, 2010s Shobaleader One: d’Demonstrator seemed to be a study in experimental, virtuostic mess, a trait that is by no means shed on his latest record, Ufabulum.
A particularly awkward, challenging artist who writes befittingly awkward, challenging music, Squarepusher’s ‘return to electronics’ record is one that shakes said electronics to their very core; relentless, fragmented and shuddering throughout. With very little respite.
The problem with this is that it is so ‘splintered’ (as he himself described it recently) that it is unrecognisable as anything. In parts dubstep, techno, post-bebop and breakbeat, it is simultaneously none of these, and he seems to have been ‘splintering’ with such hyperactive vigour, that there is nothing left but a disparate mess of jagged shavings.
The record therefore lacks flow or cohesion. It’s as though Squarepusher is stuck in limbo between determined, beat orientated techno and frenzied, mathematical glitch. Every idea is cut with the sounds of computers malfunctioning and that sound is one that is used with a monotonous regularity. When he at last finds a groove, and there are some particularly good ones, it is elaborated on until it is unrecognisable, bizarre and irritating.
One of the few instances of even the slightest hints of consistency is opener 4001. Staccato, fidgety drum’n’bass with occasional synth flourishes persist throughout the track for a whole three minutes and twenty seconds before it follows the rest of the albums constant use of agitated fills and restless fragmentation. It’s something that negates any direction or purpose that the tracks may have.
Short-lived relief from this constant cauldron of hyperactivity is also present in Red In Blue and The Metallurgist. Ominous synthesiser, refreshingly unassisted by any drums, lays on the tension in the former and eventually it gives way to the latter. One of the few tracks which is truly evocative, the Metallurgist is doom-laden and awe-inspiringly frightening in places. It doesn’t offer the slightest reprieve at any point. It is claustrophobic, edgy and nightmarish from start to finish.
Aside from this, Squarepusher seems to stick to the same formula of slightly contrived, supposed lack-of-formula throughout. Whilst undoubtedly, and commendably, experimental, very few tracks on Ufabulum hit their mark. It’s a production line of half-baked ideas, diverse influences and challenging time signatures and therein lies its frustrating lack of success.
It is no surprise that Squarepusher’s technical prowess renders many of his albums completely inaccessible. Often such flair is hard to restrain. However, it seems like he needs to gain a bit of direction in his work and possibly teach himself to stop fidgeting for ten minutes. Then we could witness something as special as his talent deserves.