Way back in the day, I heard Hard Normal Daddy by Squarepusher and it seemed to make sense in a way that nothing quite else I was hearing at the time was. Of course, that was ten years ago, and it was one of my first introductions to the sort of jazzy and spazzy drill and bass that would soon get pulverized into the ground by a host of imitators. Along the way, Tom Jenkinson did his best to stay ahead of the game, morphing himself into a true experimental jazz artist on Music Is Rotted One Note before basically finding himself lost in the wilderness for some time, bouncing from style to style while spitting out random releases along the way.
Like many artists I discovered a decade or so ago, I've tried to at least partially keep up with him, and while his most recent album Hello Everything initially gave me a thrill, it didn't age nearly as well. After a couple-year hiatus, Jenkinson is back with Just A Souvenir, a concept album about playing the ultimate gig (among other feverish-sounding ideas). Much more consistent in terms of sound, it's easily among the most pop-oriented albums released to date under the Squarepusher name, dabbling with more organic instrumentation and much less of a focus on schizo beats, while also including several songs with vocodored vocals.
"Star Time 2" and "The Coathanger" kick off the album, and they're easily two of the more solid songs on the entire album. The former bumps along with some crisp beats and some space-age funk melodies that mix the usual great bass work with some clavinet and synths, while the latter skips through wind-tunnels with gasping pauses, an insanely catchy bassline, and some filtered vocals that are indecipherable but add yet another melodic layer. "A Real Woman" is even more odd, bouncing forward with a simple chord progression and vocals that sounds something like Kraftwerk covering The Ramones.
It's a bit baffling that after the solid (and fairly varied) opening batch of songs, Jenkinson essentially slips into a multi-track romp of fuzzed-out prog-punk songs that flip nuance to the side in favor of power chords. "Delta-V," "Planet Gear," and "Tensor In Green" all trip the light progtastic, but with them all bunching up together they wear out their welcome a bit. "The Glass Road" sounds like it's going to offer a bit of solace with some jazzier leanings, but even it veers off into some crunch during almost seven minutes of running length. Fortunately, the release closes out with three solid tracks that find Jenkinson in a more contemplative mood, showing off his instrumental (including great guitar playing) skills while making a nice comedown. In the end Just A Souvenir isn't quite as consistent as it could be, but it offers a nice new direction that will likely have a bit more staying power.