May 16, 2009

Squarepusher – Hard Normal Daddy (1997, Warp)

Squarepusher is the main outlet for Tom Jenkinson's prolific IDM/drum'n'bass/drillcore/jazz/undefinable productions on the UK's Warp Records. An expert jazz bassist and drummer, Jenkinson began applying IDM synthesis and FX to his tracks, crossing over into a blend of jungle, hardcore techno and IDM experimentation, with a dose of live drumming and bass samples chopped into the mix. His tracks are characterized by blindingly fast drum loop manipulation, chopping up breaks in a junglist style, but with even more intricacy and abstraction. Often a rhythmic pattern will morph with each iteration, never repeating the original form, which can have a head-spinning effect. Listening to the programming on “Hard Normal Daddy”, I have often wondered if Jenkinson has some sort of super-human ability to create these micro-edits and lush layers of instrumentation. Perhaps like his friend Aphex Twin, he just locks himself in a vault for days on end, drinking coffee and dropping acid and programming franticly. However he does it, “Hard Normal Daddy” stands as one of my all-time favorite IDM/electronic albums. The tone is more melodic and jazzy than much of Squarepusher's other output, and seems to draw more on Jenkinson's traditional jazz background than acid experimentation, although all the elements are still present here. There is a blend of live drumming samples mixed with classic “Amen” breaks and jungle drum loops chopped into oblivion, and some crazy acid bass lines played at high speed on live bass. Mike Paradinas' µ-Ziq and other artists on his Planet Mu label continued to take this drill'n'bass sound to further and faster extremes in the late '90s – early '00s, such as on µ-Ziq's classic album “Lunatic Harness.” Squarepusher has changed and evolved in styles with each of his releases, at times going further into the live-drums-and-bass-direction with the downtempo “Music Is Rotted One Note” and “Budakhan Mindphone” EP (another favorite of mine). His newer material has continued in his high-speed, one-man-band IDM sound, and pretty much all of his output on Warp is worth hearing.