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Wednesday, Apr 14 2004
Over the past decade, British producer Tom Jenkinson -- the scruffy, bearded persona behind the Squarepusher guise -- has become an institution amongst left-field electronica fans. Few artists have digitally shattered the already wild drum 'n' bass form like he has, and -- as his sixth album, Ultravisitor, confirms -- none has duplicated the way he's swirled avant-noise and jazz-fusion into the mix. But that hardly pins the man down. While the title of Jenkinson's previous minialbum ostensibly spoke to the artist's mainstream obscurity, it also issued a challenge to his fans and critics that's still relevant: Do You Know Squarepusher?

It's a fair question, considering how widely Jenkinson careens between moods and noise on Ultravisitor's 16 cuts. Yes, the record sports typical Squarepusher tracks that fold understated fusion solos on synth and guitar into the producer's ultrafast, distorted-but-melodic version of drum 'n' bass (often termed "drill 'n' bass"). But the album also dips unpredictably into some meditative moments, like the short classical guitar interlude "Andrei," and the fitful improv "I Fulcrum," played on electronically effected jazz guitar; it even includes some digitally singed futurist spoken word over the downtempo beats of "50 Cycles." It's Ultravisitor's dizzying title track, though, that reassures you that Jenkinson hasn't mellowed with age: He raises the tune out of a quietly droning mire, then lets the sinewy breakbeats fly, mixing in dense melody lines only to have them ricochet back, creating a wonderful sonic mess. Next he immerses half of the song in a beatless chord progression played on a church organ. Do we know Squarepusher? Ultravisitor lets us revel in the inescapable answer: hell no.

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Ron Nachmann


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