It’s not too often that we see Tom Jenkinson having to explain himself. As Squarepusher he has, for over a decade and a half now, nonchalantly thrown out some of the finest mind-bending electronica on offer in this world, but has very rarely been so open as to the thinking behind his work as with Shobaleader One.
You see, Shobaleader One: d’Demonstrator’ is an anomaly. Jenkinson has formed a band, of sorts, and brought new players to the fore – nameless ones at that. Well, not so much nameless - just shrouded under a veil of electronic LED masks and pronounced-in-tongues names that allow Squarepusher to retain compositional rights.
Opening track ‘Plug Me In’ is, it seems, Squarepusher’s interpretation of a slow jam – off kilter-slaps of snares envelope plucked acoustic guitars as a soliloquy of robotic vocals serenade with traditionally jazzy cadence and melody. For something so simply sultry and audacious, it still has that recurrent sense of beautiful disorientation. The initial glimpse into this new territory is incredibly potent and sets the album off on an intentionally ambiguous tack.
Follow up ‘Laser Rock’ rides on a rainbow-tinted 8-bit lick towards star bound swathes of synthesizers, before the pace slows down once more with ‘Into The Blue’ and ‘Frisco Wave’, where strummed acoustic guitars once more imply a somewhat lower key and seduction-based sound. Now, that’s not to say that these slower movements are that way inclined, but the theme of this new collection of tracks seems to be ‘love’. Not the kind of love that was uttered back in the My Red Hot Car days. This seems to be genuine, heartfelt stuff embedded throughout the music, best left to your own interpretation.
The vocals on offer here are based on a level of depth in listening as well as obscurity. They're as much as an instrument as anything else here, with a lot of them left deliberately indecipherable. Who knows if they are a nod to the sort of crunk and R&B musings of the autotuned masses – what’s most important is the melodies they work on. And, more often than not, they are brilliant. Though the first half of the album is laid back and serenading, lead single ‘Megazine’ takes flight on a craft of distorted bass and romper-stomper drum machines. Another highlight comes in the form of ‘Endless Night’ – which has one of the most delectably intricate choruses (yes, a chorus) you may hear all year. Switching from an all-too-short stab of synth into bass-led funkadelics, all glued together by a subtler take on those robotic vocal chords, it’s a perfect example of Shobaleader realising the creative potential that comes from each member, not just Jenkinson himself.
What Shobaleader One does is strike a finer balance between the accessible and the surreal than pretty much all of Jenkinson’s previous releases. It retains all the elements that are recognisably Squarepusher but manages to filter them through this newly polished lens and thrusts it into a new, invigorating stream of light. It’d be difficult for even the most obdurate purist of his work to not admire something within Shobaleader, as it retains that freedom of expression that he has staunchly worked by for all of these years, another stage in the seemingly never-ending fruition of Jenkinson's delight at new creation.
8William Grant's Score