Squarepusher
Ultravisitor

By David Gunn

 
Over the last ten years, Squarepusher has made himself something of an institution. From his home in Chelmsford suburbia, he's been releasing records of frantic beauty and considerable madness with a regularity and quality control that is impressive, to say the least. But still, Ultravisitor is something a bit different. Its the music of dying stars and psychopathic robots, dusty Spanish paintings and lorries of plutonium crashing into blackness, all crammed into one little piece of plastic. It is the most interesting record you'll buy this year.

That's not to say it's what you expect to hear or even what you want. On the first couple of listens it is probably neither. It may start out familiar enough, but it swiftly goes rather mental. Certifiably mental. Blink for a minute and you're thrown between whole worlds of sound. Pulsing electronic idylls. Six minute bass solos. Sulky science voiceovers and slow cosmic funk. Hallucinogenic memories of old jazz club photographs. Acoustic vignettes. Breakneck breakdowns that dissolve the cortex and leave the skeleton dancing. The whole thing plays like some soundtrack to a life of vertigo and schizophrenia in the 23rd century.

But this kind of music doesn't happen by accident. It doesn't happen as a side-project. Look at his photo on the front cover and you know what's going on. This is music created by complete immersion, by sitting in a windowless room for six months and doing nothing but playing and listening. It is the sound of a man lost in his work to the point of complete autism. Each second is carefully considered, filtered and in the main, completely destroyed. This makes the record claustrophobic and strange, compelling and completely distinctive.

It must be said, however, that this intensity is something of a double-edged sword. the music is indulgent. it is, in places, an extremely hard listen, full of open spaces and squalls of white noise and this is, most likely, going to be a problem for those who love squarepusher for his trademark drum and bass experiments. Because squarepusher has a bigger plan. The clues were there in Do You Know Squarepusher? And Ultravisitor makes it pretty damn clear: anyone expecting an album to drop and dance to isn’t going to get it. Yes, there are D’n’B moments, but they are oddly starved and emaciated, adrift in a sparse and strange landscape. Like I said, the sounds of dying stars...

The closest comparison I could make to this record is Bitches Brew by Miles Davis. Yes, sonically and musically they are far apart, despite the obvious influences. But they are both soundtracks to very personal obsessions, the result of an artist who refuses to stay still and let the public catch up. And they are both monumental, flawed, remarkable albums. Squarepusher could have spent the next five years running over ground he's already covered – his back catalogue is already diverse enough for that. But he's moving further and further out, probing the possibilities, staking out exploratory ground for others to expand upon and make more palatable, more commercial. When Bitches Brew was released, it confused a lot of people – it was a messy, sprawling thing and no one really knew what to do with it. But look back now and it sows the seeds for so many musical forms – jungle, drum and bass, remix culture and the whole damn thing. Give it five years and there's a fair chance we'll be looking back on Ultravisitor in much the same way.
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