Album Reviews - Reviews

Squarepusher / Z-Machines – Music for Robots


As one of Warp Records’ longest serving artists, Squarepusher (Tom Jenkinson) has rarely shied away from changing his direction or pushing the boundaries of music production; tropes of the label’s general output. One only need listen through his impressive back catalogue to understand that Jenkinson is an artist who thrives on the new and that stagnation, seemingly, is a very dirty word. Take his experiments with live instrumentation and sequenced beats for example; there is plenty of evidence to suggest that not only is Jenkinson an extremely talented live musician, but an enviably capable savant when it comes to processing and engineering electronic tracks. What’s more impressive is his ability to combine the electro-acoustic in a live setting – the Hello Everything shows are a testament to the level of technicality that Jenkinson displays and more than likely contributed to him being dubbed “the thinking man’s Aphex Twin”.

His latest effort Music for Robots sees Jenkinson once more pushing his own creative mantra –  as well as his penchant for the electro-acoustic – further still. This latest EP is a five track example of the culmination of years of experience in both composition as well as collaboration with some of the most interesting minds in music. It’s not so surprising then that this time around, Jenkinson has brought music to its inevitable destination – robots. We all knew it was heading that way, right?  Having teamed up with the Japanese roboticists behind Z-Machines last year for “Sad Robot Goes Funny” (a track included on this latest EP) Jenkinson sought to utilise the capabilities of machines that could do what no human possibly could; skills like playing guitar with 72 fingers or smashing the drums out with 22 arms, but, skills that are nonetheless founded upon his own compositions.

Opening track ‘Remote Amber’ is a gentle appetiser for the complexity to come, relying on  player piano sounds that will be familiar to fans of Aphex Twin’s Drukqs album, as well as some simple percussion that wouldn’t be impossible for mere mortals to recreate.  ‘Sad Robot Goes Funny’ however is rooted firmly in the good old Squarepusher sounds of the early 00’s. It has a jazz-core feel about it, basically, but its syncopation is formed on the relationship between the guitar and acoustic drum beats, rather than the digital ferocity of ‘My Red Hot Car.’ For more discerning Squarepusher fans, ‘Dissolver’ should sate any want for a reiteration of the style of ‘Hello Meow’ or ‘Come on my Selector.’  Its rushing drum sounds and lightning fast guitar work hark back to the pure electronic drum and bass that Jenkinson can do so well, but does so currently in a different milieu. ‘You Endless’ closes the EP with the kind of melodic depth and modal progression that have become some of Squarepusher’s most recognisable attributes.  Its fragility juxtaposes the robotic performance which makes for an interesting listen, if not a meditation on the possibilities of where music production can go.

This might not be the Squarepusher we know, but it’s an admirable effort and those interested in the intricacies of composition and sound engineering should find more than enough pleasure from this EP. If you’re looking for the break-neck Squarepusher that melts faces with acid drum and bass, then it’s probably best not to pledge allegiance to the robotic overlords just yet. Aaron Drain