That Ultravisitor is a continuation of Tom ‘Squarepusher’ Jenkinson’s dedication to the art of the drum and bass, both in its ‘live’ and sequenced varieties, should come as no surprise. That Squarepusher’s next UK tour will seem him sharing billing with the London Sinfonietta, may surprise some, but it is also an indication of the new-classical textures that fill out almost 80 minutes of Jenkinson’s first extended collection of ‘new’ material since 2001.
But hold on to yer hats. Ultravisitor isn’t the kind of record to let you just ride on the visceral thrust of its ups, or let you drift on autopilot on its downs. Though nominally composed of 15 tracks, Ultravisitor can be roughly translated as a triptych, where the second and third movements will provide as uncompromising a discussion of musical ideas as you’re likely to hear on one extended set.
For the opening four tracks, Squarepusher gets his eye in. The eponymous track, and ‘single’ is a low-key breakbeat workout, and as a distillation of the less confrontational aspects of this CD, it works fine, but ill-prepares for the later maelstrom. I Fulcrum through to Andrei ( a nod to Squarepusher fan, Outkast‘s Andre 3000?) are interludes, incorporating Squarepusher’s affection for improvisation and melodic exploration. And then it comes…
Essentially, the steady rise of 50 Cycles through to the unbending Industrial freakery of the jackboot-like attack of Steinbolt, is Ultravisitor’s frantic central piece, an unbending, fractious collage of hard-style acid chicanery, cross-cutting chainsaw vocal snatches and frequency-assaulting techno – a paean to noise itself. It just may be Metal Machine Music for the post-Rave generation – unlike Lou Reed though, I doubt that Jenkinson will be claiming that the computer cacophony of this suite contains any hidden cadences of the likes of Beethoven and Mahler.
However, there are times when the electronic stygian fug resembles the less beat-conscious aspects of Can‘s Tago Mago, but is consistent with the kind of sonic throwdown heard at The Aphex Twin‘s live sets of last year.
Though there are some that find catharsis in the glorious clatter, it could also convince you that your precious music centre is on the proverbial blink. After the noisy deluge, the bleeps and hammer-drills give way, slowly, defiantly, ultimately spent, to the improvisational third movement. But though there’s less examination of your bass-bins on this final movement, there’s no rest for the aurally bankrupt out there.
By the time District Line II is over, it’s clear that the extremes of rhythm, refracted through drum loops and synthetic burbles, do not only have to be expressed in terms of fury. Then the chamber pieces of Circlewave through to Every Day I Love are circling, cooling, but furtive in their composition. If you still use a phrase like chill-out, it’s probably best you don’t listen in.
Squarepusher is an artist that eschews ornamentation and direction, and even at the height of Ultravisitor’s cross-play of noise and melody, there is a starkness of form that persists throughout. This runs through the package, through to the dimly-lit mug-shot of Squarepusher on the slip-case. Even his beard looks minimal.
Throughout the album there is a background of audience whistles and appreciation. Some of this stuff may be live, or it may just be part of the general arrangement of ambient sound. As Bob Mortimer would say, we just don’t know. What we do know is that, with Ultravisitor asprimae facae evidence, Squarepusher isn’t an artist content to sit on his laurels, but is one who’s ready to test the expectations of his ever-growing list of admirers.