Squarepusher is the performing pseudonym of Tom Jenkinson, an English electronic musician who specializes in drum and bass and acid, which in turn has an influence from jazz, funk, and other genres. He is also a virtuoso bassist, which can be heard throughout his music. His 2008 album, “Just A Souvenir”, is a truly experimental album, in that it combines drum and bass, math rock, funk, and classical guitar into Tom’s own vein of jazz fusion. Apparently, the album came into being in a daydream, in which Tom envisioned a rock band performing a concert against the backdrop of a large, glowing coathanger. The performance quickly became surreal, such as a river forces the band to kayak whilst performing, the guitarist is able to accelerate or decelerate time at will, and every drum in the drummer’s kit begins to switch places with each another. This crazy daydream can be heard in some way on the album, making this quite an interesting and fun listen.
The opening track, “Star Time 2”, starts with organs and a drum machine beat, along with some piano and Tom’s extraordinary bass playing. The song contains almost video-game sounding synths and melodies to add to the experimental sound, and in the middle of the song, there are some very beautiful jazz chords and melodies being played on a variety of unique electronic instruments, and ends out with some beautiful, harp-like melodies and pads. “The Coathanger” starts with more fantastic slapped bass playing and a house beat, along with a vocoder singing the lyrics (“Behold the coathanger, observe the coathanger, it’s over there for you”), and afterwards, a drum and bass-influenced section with all sorts of crazy drum rhythms, slapped bass, atmospheric synths, and strange sound effects. The song continues in this same format, going from a house beat and vocoder lyrics into a drum and bass section of slapped bass and strange glitch sounds. “Open Society” is a short ambient interlude consisting of processed atonal classical guitar, with a lot of strange effects going on, before leading into “A Real Woman”, which contains rock guitars, vocoders, and drum and bass breakbeats, along with an interlude of jazz influenced guitar. “Delta-V” consists of distorted jazz-influenced bass guitar and hardcore drum and bass breakbeats, while in the last section, it is more influenced by math rock with strange time signatures and dissonant guitar riffs. “Aqueduct” is yet another ambient interlude with atonal classical guitar enveloped in strange electronic effects. “Potential Govaner” is more jazz-influenced drum and bass madness, with programmed breakbeats, both clean and distorted guitar, slapped funk bass, and all of the crazy effects that Tom has programmed with his software. With this track, we may be looking at the future of jazz music.
“Planet Gear” is, well, just more drum and bass madness featured distorted, punk-like guitar and bass, along with some beautiful, jazz-like clean guitar riffs, and a blues-like guitar solo in the middle of the song, leading into more complex rhythms that would make any drummer proud. “Tensor in Green” contains more beautifully distorted guitar madness, with some atmospheric synths and drum and bass grooves. Also, this song sounds as though it could have been included in a video game of some sort, as well as the infamous guitarist who can decelerate or accelerate time at will makes an appearance here. “The Glass Road”, which is the longest track on the album at a little over 7 minutes long, has more jazz-influenced rhythms, with a vibraphone opening up the track, and jazz chords courtesy of a classical guitar making their way onto the track. Often, the track also has its distorted drum and bass moments, with distorted guitar and synth lines, but there are also some innocently beautiful moments as well, where the harmonies and melodies are just simply gorgeous. The middle of the track contains more slapped bass and atmospheric jazz-like drum solos, as well as simply repeating what has already been heard, before ending out with dreamy drones and feedback. “Fluxgate” is yet another ambient interlude with classical guitar and strange sound design that sounds just like the title, as though it could have come out of a science fiction film. “Duotone Moonbeam” is about as jazzy as the album gets, with its slow drum rhythms, guitar chords, and electric piano lines, and its worth mentioning that there’s no obvious trace of drum and bass on the track either, though the track does get busier near the end with more slapped bass and dense chord progressions. “Quadrature” is also similar, though here, there are more strange electronic sounds alongside the smooth jazz-influenced rock grooves and the laid-back guitar riffs. The album then ends out with the short, jazzy classical guitar piece, “Yes Sequitur”, which shows off for the last time Tom’s brilliant fingerpicked guitar playing.
Overall, Squarepusher’s “Just a Souvenir” is a stunning experimental jazz fusion album that shows how Tom has evolved past his programmed drum and bass madness such as in 2001’s , “Go Plastic”, and somewhat follows up with more experimental stuff such as on 2004’s “Ultravisitor”. Though I will admit that I was stunned, still, I was not quite as impressed with this album as I was with “Ultravisitor” and “Go Plastic”, which for me took drum and bass over the edge into new territories. However, I am respecting Tom’s vein of jazz fusion, and am hoping that he will take this style further into something truly exciting. The album is just, at best, a fun listen. Nothing truly revolutionary here, but still an enjoyable listen.
Album: Just a Souvenir
Genre: Jazz fusion/drum and bass
Released in 2008 by Warp Records
Available now at all major retailers!