Squarepusher

Ultravisitor

(Warp; 2004)

By Todd Aman | 16 August 2007

Cohesive statement. Concept album. Unified vision. If you read music reviews regularly, these phrases are inescapable. These days, we seem to expect every album to gel; we expect every track to contribute to the artist's greater message. Yet, how many albums, even the ones we love, truly accomplish this feat? In this modern age of digital piracy, shouldn't we care more about the quality of individual tracks, rather than the cohesiveness of entire albums? Don't we celebrate the White Album for its scatterbrained brilliance? (Answer key: very few, yes, yes).

Ultravisitor isn't cohesive but, frankly, I don't care. Clocking at nearly 80 minutes, you probably won't listen to this album the entire way through anyway. Likely, you'll pick and choose the tracks you want to hear, given your particular mood. If you're mellowing out with cigarettes and coffee at 2 A.M., you'll play the organic lounge-jazz tracks: "Circlewave," "Andrei," and "I Fulcrum." If you're shooting up before having sex, Squarepusher's by your bed with nearly-danceable, percussive electro, like: "Ultravisitor," "50 Cycles," and "District Line II." For going berserk, you've got the hyper-spastic "Menelec." Anyway, you get the idea. Though many of these tracks probably don't belong on the album in the traditional sense, you'll find reasons to listen to them.

Of course, because we've abandoned "cohesiveness" as one potential critique of Ultravisitor, we can demand high quality from every track. No excuses here, Squarepusher. If your songs don't fit into some greater framework, they'd better be good enough to stand alone. And unfortunately, some tracks on Ultravisitor digress into over-extended, improvisational noodling.

Take "Steinbolt," for instance. Abrasive throughout, the track maintains some semblance of structure for two minutes, at which point the track collapses into distorted noise improv. Ears start bleeding. Thankfully, the song regains some form toward the end, when Squarepusher brings out the soft synth chords that he previously had buried beneath the muck. In contrast to "Steinbolt," take "Menelec:" similarly noisy and abrasive, the consistent bass line song holds the song together, despite the frantically bleeping and blooping lazer beam effects that threaten to break it down. I can appreciate "Menelec," because the song never collapses into mere noise.

Other tracks underwhelm. "An Arched Pathway" serves as the transition between "Steinbolt" and the twisted Eno-esque "Telluric Piece"…except that the track lasts over four minutes, unnecessarily long for a bridge track with no structure of its own. "50 Cycles" frustratingly straddles the fence between form and formlessness. Over 8 minutes long, the track is loaded with peaks (form) and valleys (noise).

Last, I must mention "Tetra-Sync." Despite the many gems on this album, only "Tetra-Sync" can be described as perfectly stunning. Mind-blowing. Truly brilliant. Pick your hyperbole, only hyperbole can't overstate it. Beginning with organic percussion, guitars, and devilish bass-soloing, Squarepusher gradually introduces electronic effects. The bass starts to sputter; the jazz percussion gives way to blistering beats; the synths and lasers slowly overwhelm the guitars. By the end, the song has evolved into your electronic nightmare.

Squarepusher isn't for everyone. Squarepusher is barely for me. It's often difficult, noisy, frantic music. So, if you think that opposite of pop means the opposite of enjoyable, you should check out something else. If you dig some seriously "out-there" stuff, if you can handle some noise, then Ultravisitor's where you're at.