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Ultravisitor Review

by John Bush

Squarepusher showed incredible promise during 1999, releasing a third LP (Music Is Rotted One Note) that found intelligent dance music finally assimilating two of its major inspirations -- the easy, careless perfection of programmed electronica and the difficult, experiential notions that characterize live jazz. Ready to embrace him as Miles Davis and Teo Macero in one, a techno savior come to rescue dance from dismissive rock critics, fans instead watched as Tom Jenkinson messily deconstructed that record over the next three years, releasing work that either raided the vaults or became mired in self-absorption. Ultravisitor then comes as a complete surprise. First of all, it's vastly more impressive than anyone could've expected from Squarepusher at this late date. Secondly, it's a trial by fire for adventurous listeners since, on the surface, little appears to have changed from its pitiful predecessor. Instead, the seemingly aimless experimentation of Do You Know Squarepusher is revealed as merely the necessary journey to get to this better place, where Jenkinson's various genres of interest (drum'n'bass, hardcore techno, jazz fusion, musique concrète) and dual compositional techniques (played or programmed) can coexist in harmony, within tracks or next to each other. The opener reconciles all of this in stunning fashion, seamlessly and gracefully proceeding from schizoid drum'n'bass to organ-led ambient jazz, and ending on a wry note with the added live enthusiasm of a crowd that had possibly heard something far different than the listener. (Tellingly, crowd noise reappears throughout this record, blurring the lines between concert and studio.) The third track, "Iambic 9 Poetry," continues in similar fashion, beginning with a skeletal drum solo that gradually gains in complexity and energy while Jenkinson grafts a beautiful chiming melody onto the track. For another piece, a cavernous drum track pounds away as an anonymous vocalist shouts absurd technical jargon -- and it works. That's the magic of Ultravisitor; anything is possible, and everything works within this new framework. Everything works, that is, within the 40-minute mark, because after that Jenkinson continues to hammer away at the listener for 40 more minutes -- a span filled with multiple car wrecks of screaming, distorted breakbeats that occasionally reach a denouement before he climbs back up to the brink to begin yet another plunge into the maelstrom. This obviously doesn't describe the tight, funky fusion of Music Is Rotted One Note. Think of it as Squarepusher's Live-Evil, a complex, fascinating, occasionally bewildering record that no Miles Davis fan would dare prune to a single LP.

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