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Squarepusher - Damogen Furies

Sometimes the best or most interesting releases of the year fly under the radar. In The Catch Up, we shine a light on the films and albums we missed at first glance.

In 2012 Squarepusher (UK recording artist Tom Jenkinson) released Ufabulum, a purely electronic album with no live instrumentation, which was a kind of rebound away from the smoothness evident in his earlier work. His thirteenth album was a move toward a dance music aesthetic that divided fans not necessarily cool with the accompanied turn toward pop. This transgressive journey continues with Damogen Furies, but with a tighter sound, exhibiting more control with the particular bonus of each track being recorded live with no edits, acting to push those angles more and more. This works for an artist whose prolific musical output is always highly experimental, not necessarily carefully crafted, delighting more in the thrash of a dump of noise to see what happens rather than following a muse down a rabbit hole searching for the perfect sound. Influences exist, but they’re not held and reproduced, as everything seems to inspire Jenkinson on Damogen Furies. It makes for complicated relationships to his music for fans, but it’s a relationship that includes many rewards.

And they are there to be had in Damogen Furies. Critical reviews of Squarepusher in the past have come under their own criticism for taking a cerebral approach to music that is getting louder, more visceral and comparably closer to something like a highly energetic jazz improv session, but unfortunately, this review is destined to become one of those. Squarepusher’s Damogen Furies is highly intelligent music, not necessarily complicated in the sense of an historical narrative or taxation of influence, but more because there is something deconstructive about the sound that remains relevant and more importantly recognizable as music and even, in this particular case, dance music. Not that one necessarily can dance easily to Damogen Furies – it’s more of a giving into an involuntary act of movement that involves the body responding to sound – but there is no question Squarepusher here is pushing the boundaries (perhaps conservative boundaries – there is a heavy pop influence after all) of live performance and what it is to be a person in a room filled with sound and other bodies dancing. In this respect, Damogen Furies reminded me of Keith Fullerton Whitman’s Occlusions, which is far more abstract and experimental again, but is working with the same conceptual recognition that something is happening when a body is motivated by sound to move. (This recognition drove my research to find this stunning gem of an interview of Tom by Keith that is well worth a listen if you have the time and inclination.)

Despite the overall sense of directionless influence and ambiguity, the duel acuity exists of an accomplished musical poet and an authoritive sound logician. Squarepusher is able to select from a multitude of sounds (he has said that he is inspired by everything, even a lorry passing by his bedroom) precisely those elements that lend figural illumination to the random and an almost poetic rigor to the abstract. Indeed, this bravura act in the synthesis of sound is one of selection as much as it is anything else. It’s not what we hear that vibrates within, it’s the multitudinous works behind Damogen Furies, as much what he has decided doesn’t belong as what does that gives the album the authoritive weight of that synthesis. We hear both a collection of noises clashing against one another and a fascinating disorganized fusion that refuses a sound that doesn’t embellish and contribute to its throbbing chaos. The sounds brought to the selection (centre stage in this case) are polyvalent; they function powerfully, even with a certain sense of inevitability, on radically different levels of abstraction, from the thematic “Exjag Nives” through to the performative “Rayc Fire 2”, pulling every possible emotive response from the listener/dancer along the way. There is a kind of alchemy, or impossibility in the potential consequences of immediate experience, which is dance aesthetic. This is why the music is polyvalent, with the remarkable ability to complicate while shedding a kind of illumination at the same time.

Combinations of the disparate melodies and chunks of chaotic sound don’t work as well as the cleaner clarifying distinctions, despite the jazzy post-prog feel of tacks like “Baltang Arg”, but having said that, Squarepusher blesses the listener/dancer with a freedom of movement that includes influence, trope and genre hopping. It works better on tracks like “Kwang Bass” that impresses the jazz influence harder so that the wild impenetrability of it feels encompassing rather than distancing. Equally, the closer “D Fronzent Aac” is almost a gentle end to an anything but gentle listening experience. There are other albums of this ilk that are arguably superior, but what Damogen Furies does is bring the unique transgression of unwieldy dance aesthetic to the recorded experience, and that in itself is something remarkable. A deeply transporting sound intimacy.

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