Album Review: Squarepusher - 'Damogen Furies'

Damogen Furies finds the IDM wunderkind incorporating the sonic palette of modern EDM to mixed results.

It's hard not to cheer for Squarepusher. After all, he's one of the few producers from the heyday of IDM that has always clearly attempted to keep a rich vein of the genre's roots of body-oriented dance music intact.

While Aphex Twin was collaborating with Philip Glass and pursuing dreams of John Cage-style modern classical composition and Autechre was pushing the computer and sequencer to its absolute limits as a contemporary classic compositional tool, Squarepusher pivoted elsewhere, incorporating jazz and his own virtuosic bass and acoustic drum playing.

His albums rarely felt too heady, as AFX and Autechre sometimes threatened to become.

(There were, of course, the semi-pseudonymous releases of Aphex Twin that resist this thesis, but those works never breached the shores of the name by which he is most well-known and well-lauded, so in a certain sense it remains true.)

Hell, in 2010, Squarepusher, following a release of a record of all live solo bass performances, formed what was intended to be effectively the first modern dance-rock band fronted and founded by someone firmly entrenched in the dance music scene with Shobaleader One.

And while this group did not survive past its debut (which has since, like David Bowie's Tin Machine and Devin Townsend's Ocean Machine before it, been retroactively labeled as a solo album), the change of visualization for the producer to an LED-filled helmet nodding to a certain French house duo remained intact for his follow-up solo record Ufabulum.

And so we arrive now, three years later, with Damogen Furies. Three years is not a long time in the album-oriented genres of rock and metal, but in the world of dance music, this is an eternity.

When he last released a full-length, Skrillex was hot off the heels of Bangarang and the growing critical acceptance of that particular drop-heavy approach to dubstep.

Now Skrillex is collaborating with Diplo and releasing more complex and less immediately abrasive work.

Which is part of what makes Damogen Furies so curious.

It's an excellent idea on paper: Squarepusher combining his particular and, at this point, signature byzantine jazzy production voice with the more abrasive sonic palette of EDM in an effort to make the kind of heady-rush dancefloor bangers for EDM that he and his compatriots made for drum 'n bass almost two decades ago now.

And he's never really left the dance floor or the club floor behind entirely anyway; this kind of "return" is only one by nature of the time gap, and little else.

But in the hyper-modern world of electronic music and dance music, it's hard not to feel that this album was dated before it even came out.

And that's precisely because of the sonic palette Squarepusher has chosen to indulge in for the record; modern house synths, that particular digitized synclavier sound mixed the bright stuttering synth beds of someone like Deadmau5 occasionally spiced up with the abrasive scrapes and blurts of something like Skrillex might have done.

That's not all there is to this record; Squarepusher still keeps his jazzier sense of modulating melodies and his approach to syncopation in drops and breakdowns feels immensely more rhythmically satisfying than what we were being fed for a handful of years from EDM superstars and also-rans.

The issue is one more associated with the modernity of this record. Had this come out when the more abrasive and arhythmic approach to EDM had been more popular, occupying every college rave playlist and professional DJ's Serato, this would have felt a timely commentary on methodology, simultaneously a gentle reminder of basic songwriting skills that were sometimes overlooked by producers looking to catch the wave and drop a hit single as well as an effort that shows the kid still got it.

Because he does; the arrangements and productions on this new Squarepusher record are simplified by his standards but almost no one else's, and the sonic choices in terms of sounds and polyrhythms layer well.

They complement instead of clash and produce a set of songs that I can see doing very well on the club floor.

But, years removed from the height of that scene, at least in a popular sense, removed from the day-to-day world of working DJs... It's hard not to view this as perhaps a backwards step, or an unnecessary comment on a soundset the dance music world is already moving past.

Perhaps in time this record might be viewed as a rejuvenation and a quiet beginning to a reevaluation of a kind of electronic music too widely maligned due more to its bro-y fanbase than to any real sonic shortcomings.

But until other, better, more gifted songwriters and conceptual thinkers in the electronic world join their peer Squarepusher in returning to these sounds, the record will always sound temporally out of place to me and not as compelling as the admittedly-flawed but more obviously adventurous EPs dropping from Aphex Twin or the instrumental mixtapes being offered up by groups like Death Grips or DJ Mustard.

Not a bad album, but hardly a necessary one. Though admittedly one that becomes more generally palatable to me with each listen.

Image taken from the Warp release page