Squarepusher ‘Dostrotime’ (Warp)

 Shape Shifting

Highly prolific and endlessly inventive, Squarepusher has made it his mission to break out of confining musical pigeonholes. Those who haven’t followed the twists and turns of his vast discography might think of him in a similar light to the electronica mavericks of the early 1990s, or they might know him from 2001’s UK garage oddity ‘My Red Hot Car’. But the truth is that Chelmsford’s Tom Jenkinson has voyaged far beyond almost anyone with the sheer variety, originality and consistent excellence of his music. 

Consider, then, the majestic, sun-kissed drum ‘n’ bass fusion of 1996’s ‘Squarepusher Theme’, and the strange jazz inflections of 1998’s ‘Music Is Rotted One Note’, with its spry funk bass and live drumming. Or the relentless acid madness of 2020’s ‘Speedcrank’, and the 80s synth chords and digital drum slides of 2012’s ‘Energy Wizard’, and you’ll begin to get an idea of just how inventive yet hard to categorise his output is. 

When Jenkinson started out as Squarepusher, he was lumped in with the IDM scene. Like μ-Ziq, Luke Vibert and Aphex Twin (Squarepusher released work on the latter’s Rephlex label in the mid-90s), his music was sometimes described as drill ’n’ bass, owing to the rapid breakbeats, weird melodies and abrasive frequencies that would coalesce in his tracks. But even then, he was more sonically diverse than his peers. His debut EPs – 1995’s ‘Conumber’ and 1996’s ‘Port Rhombus’ – exhibited touches of jazz in between their ferocious jungle beats. The ‘Problem Child’ track on ‘Port Rhombus’, for instance, features fluid electric bass-playing inspired by Jenkinson’s love of Jaco Pastorius and other fusion greats.

A multi-instrumentalist and aficionado of both sweat-soaked rave and abstract, synth-sorcerer machine manipulations, Jenkinson’s restless creative drive means he is always seeking to make something new rather than repeat himself. 

With countless Squarepusher albums, EPs and singles released since his emergence in 1995, including a project recorded with a robot band (Z-Machines) and a real one (Shobaleader One), you might think Jenkinson would slow down a little, and temper his current output towards a mellower sound. But you’d be wrong. On his new album, ‘Dostrotime’, lead single ‘Wendorlan’ is a super-speedy hardcore track driven by fierce acid bleeps, breakbeats and epic hoover synths summoned from the seventh circle of hell. 

That’s closely followed by the splintered jungle beats and menacing bass of ‘Duneray’, with its dystopian, rusty melodies, and the later ‘Domelash’, which, with metallic prangs and sutured breaks, will similarly delight fans of Jenkinson’s most frenetic releases. 

This being a Squarepusher album though, the picture is more complex. ‘Arkteon 1’ is all delicate finger-picking guitar, a bittersweet, beatless folk piece without a bleep in earshot. ‘Arkteon 2’ is another cascading, acoustic gem, while ‘Akkranen’ is an evolving cut that begins as moody trip hop and builds into a maelstrom of clashing drums and sulphuric squelches. 

On ‘Kronmec’, meanwhile, the marauding acid line is tamed by a backdrop of contemplative synths and subdued rhythms. ‘Enbounce’ has synthpop riffs – with a touch of Düsseldorf’s finest about them – and soaring guitar ahead of its thundering conclusion, and ‘Stromcor’ mixes unconfined beats with more of that fluid bass, another indicator of his passion for jazz-funk. 

Then there’s the placid ‘Heliobat’, a subtle soundtrack piece fusing guitars and synths into an elegiac whole. Here, Jenkinson’s gift for melody, often overshadowed by the heaviness of his beats, is plain to hear. The record ends with ‘Arkteon 3’, probably one of the most reflective Squarepusher creations to date. 

Although information is scarce regarding the inspiration or spark behind ‘Dostrotime’, Jenkinson did speak to The Quietus ahead of the album’s release, offering a chink of context. 

“For me, the lockdown of 2020 will always stand out as a remarkable time,” he said. “Partly for the viscerality of its terrors, but also because of its novel, eerie, sublime silence. It afforded me, and no doubt other fortunate loners, a respite from the incessant distractions that can get in the way of important things such as doing nothing – or recording music.” 

As with much of Squarepusher’s material, there’s a painstaking attention to detail on ‘Dostrotime’, and considering that it was made during the weird disruption of 2020, there’s also a sense of both that year’s oppressiveness and the reflection it afforded to some of us. The album is a great addition to Squarepusher’s catalogue, but much more than that, it’s another indication that he remains as uncompromising and splendidly experimental as ever.

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