On Second Thought
Squarepusher - Hard Normal Daddy






for better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.

Squarepusher burst onto the scene. Drum n’ bass had been established for a short time, long enough to drift into a second tier of artists copping the moves of the originators. Enough time for a dilution of the original intent and meaning behind drum n’ bass to be taken and switched up to where it became suitable for the masses. Enough time for drum ‘n bass to blow up and become a phenomenon. Enough time for drum ‘n bass to receive its avant garde rendering.

That is to say drum ‘n bass was the sped up amen break. Drill ‘n bass, for lack of a better word, is the amen break sped up. Times two. Divided by one and a half. Subtract three. Take the square root of it, too. And then take it to the power of five. Confused a bit? That’s exactly what the drum break came to be. A confusing mess that constantly tripped over itself to go faster into some sort of deep nothingness, but...it made sense. It tripped over itself, but you could see it fall. And you could chart the progress and it was somewhat logical. At the time, however, it didn’t seem to make sense. Obviously Tom Jenkinson was taking the piss out of the audience. Why bother having drums so fast? It didn’t make sense to sped them up past breaking point. A-ha. But it didn’t make sense for Miles Davis to pack it all in and become a listener of Stockhausen on On the Corner. But it worked. In both cases, it worked because of the melodies. In Jenkinson’s early experiments with the form, the melodies were almost kitsch-ridden. Homages to eight bit video games, bleeps and bloops that made the listener laugh instead of listen. The gimmick of a super fast fretless bass in the background didn’t help matters much, in terms of being taken seriously as a musician. Sure, he can play it like few others. But that doesn’t make me want to listen to it, dig?

This all came to a head on Jenkinson’s masterpiece Hard Normal Daddy. The drums are still in full effect. They trip over each other frequently. But more often than not they propulse, instead of lying on the ground writhing in their own abstractness. They get up and go somewhere. Because, more than anything else, Jenkinson’s composed songs on this album. And it was the drums that carried up the lower portion of each one at a breakneck speed. But it was the melodies that made the difference. Not entirely far removed from what could be termed video game music, the construction and execution of melodic development far outreaches any of Jenkinson’s previous work to this point. There is finally an A a B and sometimes even a C. While Jenkinson would ride a certain theme to its conclusion- and then a bit further than necessary before, on Hard Normal Daddy he refrains from such mind numbing repetition and put down his most accomplished work to that point. It was perhaps, the dilution of an original vision of crazed unlistenable weirdness into a sublimely jazz fusion inflected cohesive (maybe the most important word to note in this review, as Jenkinson is notorious for flipping between styles from track to track) record that succeeds much better in my ears than anything else put to tape by Squarepusher. Whether you can handle the madness of other drill ‘n bass efforts by Jenkinson is up to you. I guess I’m getting a bit soft in my old age and like it toned down a bit. Looks like I’m perhaps losing my edge.


By: Todd Burns
Published on: 2003-09-01
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