Feed Me Weird Things, originally released in 1996 on Aphex Twin’s Rephlex label, is the Squarepusher LP you could take home to meet your mom—the well-dressed eccentric to “Come on My Selector”’s slobbering psychopath. That’s not to say it is easy listening, exactly, but Squarepusher’s debut album marked a rare moment in Tom Jenkinson’s long and extremely irregular career when he sounded vaguely in line with prevailing musical trends—relaxed and relatively sociable, rather than creeping around in his habitual field of one.
No one will confuse Feed Me Weird Things—long out of print but now reissued for its 25th anniversary—with Faithless’s “Insomnia” or the other big Ibiza hits of 1996. Squarepusher’s music is a tangle of beats, bass, and melody, a combustible mixture of musical ideas that dynamites the repetitive nature of much electronic music. But the short-lived mid-’90s trend for drill’n’bass, spearheaded by Aphex and Luke Vibert, meant that Squarepusher’s beat mangling and hall-of-mirrors funk didn’t feel quite as solitary in 1996 as it often does today. Echoes of Richard D. James’ dual Hangable Auto Bulb EPs, released in 1995, can be heard in Feed Me Weird Things’ fractured grooves, and album highlight “Theme From Ernest Borgnine” is straight out of the Aphex playbook, marked by a colorful melody and tortured breakbeats.
Drum’n’bass—particularly the jazz-influenced strain that was approaching its peak in 1996—was another kindred spirit. If you squint, you could imagine Feed Me Weird Things’ “Squarepusher Theme” or “Kodack” slotting onto Roni Size / Reprazent’s debut EP, Reasons for Sharing, or 4 Hero’s 1997 EP Earth Pioneers: Squarepusher’s shared loved of live bass and moody chords reflects the jazz-funk heritage that underpinned a lot of British dance music in the ’90s.
Squarepusher’s drums, too, have a certain groove on Feed Me Weird Things that sometimes gets submerged in the wild beat contortions of his later work. The intricate rhythmic cut-ups and shock FX attack that would become Squarepusher’s trademarks are certainly present on Feed Me Weird Things but remain at recognizably humane levels, making a song like “Smedleys Melody”—essentially Django goes jungle—almost a straightforward listen.
Despite the album’s familiar touches, there are still moments that sound like no one but Squarepusher. Perhaps Jenkinson’s biggest innovation over his mind-bogglingly fertile career has been to combine the maximal drum programming of drum’n’bass with the extreme noodle of his live fretless bass playing, and that combination comes to the fore on Feed Me Weird Things. Jungle, for all its kinetic intensity, would usually leave a solid bassline to hang your critical faculties on; the dazzling complexity that closes “Windscale 2,” however, provides almost no mental repose, as bass and drum face off with all the unhinged intensity of speed-chess fanatics at a blitz-game orgy.
The sugar that gilds this particular pill—as so often in Squarepusher’s career—is his lustrous tonal sensibility. Gorgeous melodies and harmonies run rampant on the album’s best songs. This, of course, is another gift that Jenkinson shares with Aphex Twin. But whereas Aphex’s melodies tend to be indebted to classical music, Jenkinson also knows his way around an artful jazz chord progression. “Squarepusher Theme” and “Tundra,” Feed Me Weird Things’ two opening tracks—also two of its best—throw you into this divide right from the off. “Squarepusher Theme” has a chord sequence of abnormal elegance, while “Tundra” combines a funereal melody with an “Amen”-bothering beat that suggests Metalheadz meets Selected Ambient Works Vol. II.
Squarepusher has moved on considerably since Feed Me Weird Things, exploring everything from mutant UK garage (“My Red Hot Car”) to the aptly named live album Solo Electric Bass 1. But Feed Me Weird Things might be his most personal release, giving us a peek at the jazz-funk-loving bass enthusiast behind the outrageous production tricks. For all the audaciousness of his music, it sounds like Jenkinson is having fun here, reveling in the excess of his own indulgence. This timely re-release, which brings Feed Me Weird Things to streaming for the first time, allows the wider world to join in his twisted game.
Buy: Rough Trade
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