After a five-year hiatus, Tom Jenkinson revives his Squarepusher project for an LP that could have been named by an AI. But, just like much purportedly bot-generated content online, Be Up A Hello is a distinctly human interpretation of computer error. It’s android worship of digital distortion, where nothing is random, and originality is fleeting.
This is most noticeable on the album’s first two tracks. Equal parts glitchy and grandiose, they’re robot symphonies directed by a frazzled Romantic conductor. Highlight ‘Oberlove’ could be HAL’s rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon in D – or Procol Harum – on amphetamines. For once the breakneck drums don’t dominate, letting melodic washes of synth resonate across its four minutes (the shortest runtime here). Whilst ‘Hitsonu’ recalls the hyperactive soundtracks of late ’90s video games: muted jazz’n’bass approaching the innocuousness of elevator music.
‘Nervelevers’ calls back to the ‘90s quite differently, supercharging the swaggering acid of The Matrix. Where Squarepusher’s breaks usually scatter offbeat, here their pace is propulsive: it’s escape music. So far, so accessible.
Yet, predictably there’s plenty of aural punishment left to test all but the most faithful of Squarepusher acolytes. ‘Terminal Slam’ and ‘Mekrev Bass’ stick closer to Jenkinson’s template of virtuosic hardcore, all gabber kicks and ear-piercing cymbal crashes. These are familiarly – nauseatingly – mutant rhythms pushing the limits of syncopation. (Stinkopation, perhaps?) Elsewhere, the drums in ‘Speedcrank’ tease a beguiling half-time groove, before quickly being buried behind an arcade synth so relentless that when they kick back into manic velocity, it’s barely noticeable.
Which isn’t to say the pacing is completely monotonous. The sluggish backbone of the excellent ‘Vortrack’ palpitates for several tense minutes without a breakbeat, and two tracks forgo drums entirely. ‘Detroit People Mover’ sketches widescreen atmospherics that provide uncharacteristic relief from the constant whiplash, while album closer ’80 Ondula’ is beyond gloomy, recalling the dread of jungle’s heyday but with all the euphoria sucked out.
Ultimately, across most of Be Up A Hello‘s 47 minutes there is plenty of momentum, but little innovation – unsurprising, given that it saw Jenkinson return to his Essex rave roots and old hardware. For fans, that means more of the meatier braindance that elevated Squarepusher to Aphex Twin-levels of IDM royalty. For others, this is ear-food for robots.
Buy: Be Up A Hello
Photo credit: Donald Milne