Tom Jenkison, more commonly known by his stage persona Squarepusher, crafts rhythms that can often be difficult to grasp. His latest release via Warp, Ufabulum, is a performance piece, pulling together a melange of unusual sampling, bass-heavy rhythms and off-kilter space-age beats to formulate a wildly diverse work. Utilizing an elaborate setup of a fretted bass guitar, laptop, a reel-to-reel tape machine, piano and a variety of synthesizers, Jenkison has developed a keen ability to manipulate beats into experimental electronic melodies resembling the imagined, dystopic worlds of science fiction films and video games. Unsurprisingly, Ufabulum was constructed with the experience of a live show in mind, which reportedly comprises of a vast wall of LED lights both in the background and on a personal mask, materializing with dazzling visuals from the album’s glitchy beats.
Bluntly speaking, Ufabulum is weird as shit. The frenetic pace interwoven throughout the album becomes immediately palpable on “4001,” with drum machines interlaced with undertones of a ghostly ambience, soon to explode into a majestic set of synthesizers. Jenkison tinkers with basslines layered with a heaviness similar to Black Moth Super Rainbow, creating a surreality throughout “Unreal Square.” The unnerving quiet of a deserted street at night becomes fully realized in “Drax 2,” with the same surreality that special effects have on the mind with science fiction films like Tron. “Stadium Ice” could easily be the soundtrack to a level of a SuperMario 64, while “303 Scopem Hard” pays an homage to the Daft Punk techno featured in the revamped version of Tron: Legacy.
Despite an impressive variance in instrumental techniques and a consistent energy interspersed throughout, the album falls short of its intended effect. Many of the tracks eventually blend into each other with a remarkable similarity that becomes difficult to distinguish, leading to monotony. “The Metallurgist” sounds strikingly like principal track “4001,” with almost an identical introductory loop. The end of “Drax 2,” in turn, bears a similar resemblance to the final component of “Unreal Square.”
Granted, Ufabulum is undoubtedly an album that is not meant to be listened to, and rather experienced live. With the visual component, the tracks can more aptly reach the listener, forever wandering and reminiscent of flying aircrafts and dystopian far-off worlds. An unlikely protagonist stands amidst the center of it all, LED lights across his face, absorbing the strangeness with a knowing smile.