Album Review: Squarepusher – Dostrotime

The Breakdown

..wonderful electronic adventures coupled with reflective acoustic arrangements..

Whether composing Music For Robots with 78 fingers, performing with Shobaleader One, or exacting the drum and bass carnage his three decade career is prized for, Tom Jenkinson presents exhilarating experiments in a stoic yet playful manner. But as with any album bearing the “Made In Lockdown” tag, it’s hard not to attribute emotionality to the latest Squarepusher offering, Dostrotime. Free from the schedule of his cancelled Be Up A Hello tour and the squall of human activity, Jenkinson spent the following 2020 in the studio brewing up some of his most intense material yet.

As the electronic scene trends towards the ever more layered and visceral, Dostrotime switches between maximalist overload and considered minimalism. Timestretched and shrunk acid breaks reflect an amorphous temporal experience, Bookmarked by explorative ‘Arkteon’ guitar passages, the album paints an ultra elastic picture: solemnly serene harmonic touchstones give way to industrial noise surges, bulldozing and buzzsawing melodic whirls into smithereens.

That rising and falling action plays out through an expertly sequenced tracklist: ‘Enbounce’ reveals itself to be a slowburning rager, with icily paced organs and ticks accelerating endlessly towards gutted trance growls, thrusted into the haywire electricity of ‘Wendorlan’ with reverb-thrown ruckus. Corrugated junglism and moody techno for a deserted Detroit flow down to the aqueous ‘Arkteon 2’, moving from placid pastoral to fraught uncertainty with each chord change, before catapulting up to the epic breakbeat balladry of ‘Holorform’ where cataclysmic rhythms occupy irradiated space. Gated incisions and caustic synths span the steely and foreboding ‘Akkranen’, while ‘Heliobat’ is the calm after the storm, skipping slackened strums and spare drums along the water.

Thirty years in, Squarepusher unleashes one of his most cinematic, dextrous, and gargantuan records to date.

Vinyl Track List:

A1 Arkteon 1 – A2 Enbounce – A3 Wendorlan
B1 Duneray – B2 Kronmec – B3 Arkteon 2
C1 Holorform – C2 Akkranen – C3 Stromcor
D1 Domelash – D2 Heliobat – D3 Arkteon 3

Squarepusher breaks down the tracks:

1) Arkteon 1
This piece was performed using a long-scale electric guitar, which I prefer to the regular type as it offers increased clarity and sustain. The sound is a mixture of its piezo and magnetic pickups, recorded through an Eventide H8000 running custom processing, on this occasion just adding some eq and a bit of reverb.

2) Enbounce
This track started out as a live mixdown of an extensive array of hardware, including a Yamaha CS-80 and a Roland V-Synth XT, with a Roland TB-303 bassline alongside Roland TR-909 and TR-707 percussion. The guitar was then overdubbed using the same set-up as ‘Arkteon 1’ to provide distortion, whilst also triggering a custom monosynth that adds ring modulation on the string bends. The material is adapted from a piece originally made for my BBC Daydreams soundtrack.

3) Wendorlan
‘Wendorlan’ was created on an entirely digital system, a development of what I called System 4, which was used to realise Damogen Furies during 2014. The ‘Wendorlan Sunday 16th October’ vocal is from a pirate radio advert for a rave at the London Astoria, broadcast in 1993. Towards the end of the video, text appears saying, ‘Sung by David Bowie on a sinking raft: “Talisman Red said he thought it was the break into the future.”‘ This describes an event in a dream I had shortly before the video was finished.

4) Duneray
This tune uses a custom gate-reverb that I put together whilst working on Be Up a Hello. It can most obviously be heard on ‘Vortrack (Fracture Remix)’ and this piece was recorded not long after that, also using a TB-303 (here in combination with a Roland SH-101 for tonal variety and polyphony). The hardware aspect of the sound sources can be heard clearly at the end once the percussion stops, with the compression-swell bringing up the background noise as the synth notes decay.

5) Kronmec
Mellotron samples are used in this track with alternate chords being pitched up by a microtonal interval. The monosynth bass sound is a recent iteration of my ongoing part-time efforts to programme a TB-303 copy, obviously building in more flexibility. Anyone who has tried this might agree it’s a challenge to approximate the square wave, though it helps to use pitch-correlated variation in the pulse width. In this you can hear the pulse width being pushed towards 0% — not possible on the original machine.

6) Arkteon 2
This piece uses the same set-up as ‘Arkteon 1’, however, the guitar is tuned differently. It uses the regular E-A-D-G-B-E as a basis, and the top E is tuned at regular pitch — but down from there successive strings are tuned up by increasing microtonal intervals. This was achieved by putting a g-clamp on the tremolo bridge to force it to remain static at a specific positive deflection. Not convenient for playing, but it worked.

7) Holorform
This is the oldest track of the set, with the original version recorded in 2018, and subsequently remixed last year. It was put together using the same approach as, for example, ‘The Coathanger’ from Just a Souvenir. The basic method involves taking an instrumental performance (in this instance a guitar solo) and then adding processing step-by-step, progressing in time, thereby controlling effects in a way far more complex and precise than would be possible live. The persistent notion impelling this approach is how I picture a kind of futuristic sci-fi musicianship.

8) Akkranen
The starting point of this piece was the famous ravestab used in detuned form on ‘Droid’ from Torque on No U-Turn, though I didn’t manage to retain the minimal approach of Ed Rush & co. Like the other hardware-based pieces it was recorded directly to 2-track, so it was a case of nailing the real-time adjustments all in one go. It uses the same gate-reverb & TB-303 combination as ‘Duneray’, and, in particular, it was essential to get the filter tweaking right so the reverb stood out at the appropriate moments.

9) Stromcor
This track was great fun to play at shows and is an unashamed bit of bass-shred, though the studio recording differs in places from how it was performed live. It was recorded using my modified Music Man 6-string bass processed by the same H8000 set-up that was used for the guitar on ‘Arkteon 1’, this time featuring some ring modulation and a wah effect from an H9 pedal. In the intro a TR-909 can be heard processed through external amplitude envelopes.

10) Domelash
Like with ‘Akkranen’, a hint of No U-Turn paranoid minimalism kicks this one off, though, again, it ends up going maximalist. It uses a custom sequencer I put together bit by bit over several years, which is also used on ‘Wendorlan’ and ‘Stromcor’. Amongst other things it enables me to detach sequences from the main tempo whilst retaining control of that detachment, which you can hear clearly on the break programming in the opening section. The custom gate-reverb is also used throughout.

11) Heliobat
Various bits of hardware were meticulously tuned and programmed for this track, which also features the long-scale guitar of ‘Arkteon 1’. An SH-101 can be heard in parts of the melody, and a Yamaha FS1R generates a fair amount of the polyphonic material. The intro section uses a form of pitch intonation such that the major 3rds are (unlike in equal temperament) a whole-number ratio of the corresponding root note.

12) Arkteon 3
This piece uses the same set-up as ‘Arkteon 2’, including the tuning. I originally intended other instruments to accompany the guitar performance but in the end thought it made more sense as a solo piece. There is also an ‘Arkteon 4’, but somehow it just didn’t fit the album. Despite spending hours varying signal routing, cable configuration and playing position in relation to sources of interference, in the pauses 50hz mains hum can be heard. Along with the other ‘Arkteon’ pieces, it was recorded in autumn of ’22 after a busy summer of playing live shows.

Verdict: As an established artist Squarepusher has entered the realm of being able to explore music and push the sonic boundaries in the knowledge that, it will be heard, and on some levels many musicians would be directed onto the path of trying to please loyal fans while simultaneously wooing new listeners with signature sounds, but not Squarepusher. While we have interspersed throughout the sound he is more generally known for, he once again surprises and captivates with his choices of musical expression. An evenly balanced album full of wonderful electronic adventures coupled with reflective acoustic arrangements.

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