Tues April 13, Showbox, 8 pm, $15 adv/$18 DOS.
I wish to advance the unpopular view that Squarepusher (English rogue Tom Jenkinson) will someday rank with the world's most important pre-World War III musicians. I have felt strongly about this matter ever since I heard Squarepusher's 1996 debut album, the jazzy, spazzy drum 'n' bass classic Feed Me Weird Things. It was love/lust at first earsmack. I haven't been the same since.
Why do I hyperbolize so? Why, when so many hear self-indulgence, precious pretentiousness, and overly wacky weirdness, do I insist that Squarepusher's rococo bass solos and hyper-speed, ping-ponging beat calculus (and absurd Rhodes of excess) lead to the chalice of jizzdom? Not because I'm a contrary SOB, but because this geezer's music is so abso-fucking-lutely ON in klieg-light italics, it makes me feel like an invulnerable superhero, though I am but a scrawny mortal. Ain't that reason enough?
Squarepusher's career has been one of revolution, evolution, and frequent refinements of said revs and evs. Like all geniuses, Jenkinson possesses a few brilliant ideas and obsessively reconfigures them. He hones his supernatural techniques on bass, drums, and computer in infinitely nuanced permutations that still bear the 'Pusher imprimatur of rude elegance and iconoclastic virtuosity. Jenkinson is like Jaco Pastorius, Billy Cobham, Teo Macero, and Timbaland rolled up into one scruffily bearded berserker. (For what it's worth, Thom Yorke and Andre 3000 are massive Squarepusher fans. And you wonder why Jenkinson's confidence borders on hubris.)
Busting out in '95 with several 12s on the obscure Spymania label, Squarepusher immediately distinguished himself as a jungle maverick, accelerating and chopping up breakbeats with unprecedented acid logic. He signed to Warp in 1996, dropped the awesome Port Rhombus EP, and went on to invent drill 'n' bass on 1997's Hard Normal Daddy, and then intensified his invention later that year on Big Loada. With 1998's Music Is Rotted One Note, Squarepusher sent shockwaves through the electronic underground with a mutational homage to Miles Davis' '70s fusion experiments. Of all the tributes to Miles' innovations from that time (and they are legion), none captured his maverick spirit better than Music. Squarepusher had raised the bar yet again in merging instrumental virtuosity with computer manipulation.
Following a couple of humdrum, transitional EPs and the patchy Selection Sixteen album in 1999, Squarepusher regained his creative powers with 2001's Go Plastic (my favorite 'Pusher full-length). Opening with "My Red Hot Car," a winning parody of 2-step's slick syncopations and his most pop-wise cut ever, Squarepusher then forged some of his most warped sonic deconstructions in a career larded with same. Atomizing his trademark drill 'n' bass compositions into cubist grotesqueries and ragga-dub nightmares, Squarepusher practically wiped the slate clean for a new direction in his musical odyssey.
But the odd double-disc Do You Know Squarepusher made fans realize that we really didn't. While one CD contained a brilliant 2001 live set from Japan, the other perplexed with more 2-step confections, abstract beat origami, inscrutable musique concréte peregrinations, and a reverent cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," complete with Jenkinson's dull-gray vocals. Some observers thought Squarepusher had lost the plot.
But with the new Ultravisitor, Jenkinson gets up close and sensitive (dig the cover's mug shot, the kind typically seen on discs by very sincere singer-songwriters). Apparently, he really wants us to know Squarepusher now. Running 80 minutes long, Ultravisitor flaunts Jenkinson's devastating bass and drums chops and upgrades his Jolt Cola'd beat programming to 2004 specs. The album's both a recapitulation of 'Pusher's charming/repulsive (an)tics and a bold (or foolish) stab for respect among hardcore jazzers with sorties into hyper-noodly soloing à la Jaco, John McLaughlin, and even folk-guitar god Leo Kottke on "Andrei." Jenkinson works out his complexity complex to its fullest on Ultravisitor, displaying the full spectrum of his abilities, from Windham Hill-like pastel placidity ("Every Day I Love") to frighteningly jagged rhythmic change-ups and spastic video-game bleeps and ballistics ("Steinbolt"). And the bastard can pull off all of this live--while swigging from a bottle of Absolut.
In an interview I conducted with Jenkinson in 2001, he said, "I'd like to think my music has a slightly unknowable aspect to it. No matter how many times you listen to it, it's always somewhat elusive."
Then he got to the crux: "I make music so I don't have to be a serial killer to get my vengeance with the world. I love being hysterical. Dementia is how I get along in life."