Review: Squarepusher – Ufabulum
Published on May 15th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
To the casual Squarepusher fan, familiar only with albums such as 1998’s Music is Rotted One Note and 2001’s Go Plastic, the first half of Ufabulum might very well sound like he’s gone ‘pop’, albeit in a rather loose sense of the word. To the completely uninitiated, it will still sound positively alien.
Tom Jenkinson declared a truce with synth melodies on 2006’s Hello Everything and, the self-explanatory Solo Electric Bass 1 aside, the incorporation of more immediately accessible textures and melodies has coloured in his usual, totally wired electronics ever since. If µ-Ziq or Mouse on Mars were prone to lapsing into drill ‘n’ bass at any given moment: voila!
Despite the swathes of attractive synth pads, opener “4001” makes little attempt to hide its parping, bleeping madness of an underbelly, almost coming across as a deconstruction of ’90s Euro-pop so ruthless that it is identifiable only by those rave-y chords, surviving the blaze like teeth. “Unreal Square” could almost be a cartoon if you squinted (or whatever the aural equivalent of squinting is) but it remains grin-inducingly peculiar, a sizeable chunk of the peculiarity stemming from the fact that it does retain that friendliness through the more time-honoured Squarepusher elements. Oh, and it breaks into drum ‘n’ bass.
Ufabulum continues more or less in this vein, the melodic robo-prog of “Stadium Ice” being particularly fabulous, before taking a startlingly sudden turn for the gloomier with the pared-back, discordant synth doom of “Red in Blue”. “The Metallurgist” ensues with paranoid, squiggly mania more in line with Go Plastic, while “Drax 2” flirts grimly with the kind of darkness that filtered through Aphex Twin’s drukQs.
“Dark Steering” lives up to its title insomuch as it sounds like a Formula 1 race contested by synthesisers on a drum ‘n’ bass race track (drum ‘n’ race?), before “303 Scopem Hard” goes on to perform a pretty nifty impression of a retro arcade machine that’s had a pint of acid spilt over it. Maddest short-circuiting ever.
Somewhat perversely, final track “Ecstatic Shock” brings a bit of the colour back out to play, tempering this reprise by remaining somewhat savage of rhythm. The tension between electronic beat-juggling and melodic synthery is something that enthrals on the early tracks, then proceeds to divide the album altogether, divorced but still sharing a home. And then the happy yet wary reunion at the end.
The shift in mood may be jarring, but few do ‘jarring’ better than Squarepusher – and now he’s capable of lulling you in with colourful fun before the iron jaws snap down. Ufabulum is a relative honey trap of an album, and a damn fine one at that. Bravo, again!
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!