What has Tom Jenkinson, the bassist/producer who does his busiest business as Squarepusher, been up all these years since his last real moment in the spotlight, 2001′s “My Red Hot Car” single? Veering ever closer to jazz fusion, and as a result playing even more bass than usual, from the slick 2004 album Ultravisitor to a full-length recording of improvised four-string solos. (No thank you.)
So it’s something of a relief to encounter Ufabulum. It’s being sold as Jenkinson’s return to electronic music, and it’s got many “classic” Squarepusher touches. His penchant for cheesy-queasy-listening synth tones, broken-zoom-lens breakbeat manipulations, and all manner of stretched timbres — the cracks in the seams of the vocal are what gave “My Red Hot Car” its edge — are back in full effect. The rhythms get really, really gone on “Drax 2,” but it’s not for a change, it’s the return of the stuff people loved about Squarepusher in the first place.
As usual, we get absurdly cheery fanfares cut, to varying degrees, with silly grotesquerie. The fanfares dominate “Stadium Ice” and “Energy Wizard”; the grotesquerie nearly undoes “Unreal Square,” whose very sound is both fascinating and repulsive, gooey like a CGI slime villain. It sounds like the work of someone in good spirits, seemingly moved to be his sillier self from within rather than forcing it upon himself. With a guy as fidgety and prone to lampoon as Jenkinson’s, that’s all you can ask.