“I’ve had so much experience with this tendency to try to predict and placate audiences. I thought actually, well, I’m just going to see what can be done when you follow your own interests. Because then, if you win an audience, you’ve won on every level. You’ve satisfied yourself, you’ve satisfied them. If I try and predict the audience, I might well satisfy them, but I’ve got no guarantee. And I certainly won’t have satisfied myself. Every time I make a record I throw everything at risk. I stake everything on it. Because I think, if I win, then I’ve got the best situation I could be in. And what rational human being would not want to be in the best possible situation?” —Squarepusher
It didn’t take long for YouTube commenters to cry “sellout!” when the first taste of Squarepusher’s new album Ufabulum was released. “Dark Steering” (above) kicks off with the down-tempo swagger and bass wobbles that are a dubstep trademark, sure. It also turns out that the album might be Squarepusher’s most approachable to-date. But to cry “sell-out” demonstrates a profound lack of perspective.
First off, it’s guys like Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher) and Richard James (Aphex Twin, who those with sharp ears will hear bits of on Ufabulum) who made things like dubstep possible in the first place (just askSkrillex).
Regardless, to invoke the dreaded dubstep descriptor just doesn’t jibe. A deeper listen to the whole of Ufabulum shows Jenkinson peeling back his usual layers of jazz improv and stream of consciousness granular experimentation for something much closer to his recent Shobaleader One project. Namely, these are solid songs. Songs you can hum along to as well as dance to (and, yes, occasionally scratch your head to). While there are still plenty of bass jams and skittering beats, this is an album of actual catchy tunes.
If you want a taste of Squarepusher unrestrained, there are tracks like “The Metallurgist” and “303 Scopem Hard” (that bass!) that are pure electo-jazz insanity (or masturbatory showing off, depending on your perspective). There’s also the soft, impressionistic “Red In Blue,” a smokey jazz title if ever there was one. But for the most part, Ufabulum is an album (abulum?) of songs that live and breathe, full of sharp sighs and animalistic revs (“4001”). It’s a living machine zooming through space faster than light (“Dark Steering”), spreading its message from both the future and the past. It’s old school rave (“Unreal Square”) and jungle (“Drax 2,” below) blasted through a cosmic PA system. Simultaneously dark and piercingly bright. A lush precision.
Those crying “dubstep” can be forgiven, because Ufabulum is indeed both dubstep’s father and son in one ageless vessel.
PS. The Estrobia EP is also well worth picking up. “Angel Integer” is an absolutely beautiful dance track that gives Daft Punk a run for their money, “Panic Massive” is another tight Shobaleader One cast off and “40.96a” is pure sonic sculpture.