Be Up A Hello feels like an earnest love letter; gratifying fan service that pays tribute to one of Tom Jenkinson’s dear friends who had recently passed, an incident that ultimately served as inspiration. Opening track “Oberlove” is as emotionally forceful as drum ‘n’ bass could ever hope to be, and the album artwork itself is just one big stylised heart. Forced to return to vintage hardware due to a broken wrist (a calamity for any bassist, not least one of Jenkinson’s ability) Be Up A Hello revisits a side of Squarepusher that hasn’t often been heard since the ’90s. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and perhaps the overload of adoring remembrances can hold the record back in places, but this is a veteran of electronic music who has nothing else to prove. The album isn’t a game changer; instead a proud statement, delivered with finesse and flair by one of the true masters of IDM.
The record progresses in stages, initially starting with gleeful electronica, bursting with colour and character, before delving into the deep, dark depths of hardcore jungle and drum ‘n’ bass. True to form, Jenkinson also includes a couple of ambient respites to calm the nerves, with the beautiful “Detroit People Mover” being the more effective of the two. Once again playing on the wistfulness that Be Up A Hello showcases so assuredly, this track sounds as though it was taken straight from Vangelis’ Blade Runner score. It ranks as one of Squarepusher’s most magnificent and graceful songs in years, and is a necessary antidote to the fidgety percussion that can prove exhausting to even the most religious fans. As a self-proclaimed Squarepusher junkie myself, however, I’m generally delighted with what Be Up A Hello offers. Whilst I continue to enjoy 2015’s Damogen Furies, this latest release offers up an greater assortment of styles than the last, and provides those crucial moments of relief. In fact, I think it ranks as one of his very best records to date. Fifteen albums into his illustrious career and Squarepusher is still releasing some of the most riveting electronic music imaginable. May it long continue.8 10
Favourite tracks // Oberlove
Detroit People Mover
I feel like a broken record at this point. Whenever we listen to albums like this we each say more or the less the same things as we did the time before, because the music is more or the less the same as it was the time before. Be Up A Hello is a playful, frenetic addition to Squarepusher’s discography. The beats glitch around all over the place and synth effects keep it from being overly abrasive. If you like Squarepusher, you’ll like the album, because it’s exactly what you’d expect. If you go in cold you’ll remain so for the same reason.
My main gripe with a lot of IDM is the lack of direction. All too often tracks sound more like audio experiments than fully fleshed out songs. The genre feels a bit like postmodern literature in that sense; for the most part it’s miserable to read, but it gets away with it because we’ve convinced ourselves it’s not poorly written, it’s just really clever. Be Up Hello is miles away from being a miserable listen, but there’s a kindred sense of denseness and complexity for the sake of it. While a few tracks (“Hitsonu” and “Terminal Slam” mainly) manage to cobble together a vibrant, stimulating atmosphere, seven-minute drum seizures like “Mekrev Bass” do a pretty good job of ruining it.
We know from the likes of Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin that IDM can be more disciplined than this, so why treat it with kid gloves? We rip enough artists in other genres for clinging to familiar sounds and not venturing further, but not in electronic land. Here we’re happy with less, so that’s what we get. (This is a perfectly fine album and deserves a listen, it’s just the latest in a long line of safe, indistinguishable electronic material we’ve reviewed.)6 10
Favourite tracks // Hitsonu
It’s been five years since Damogen Furies slapped us across the face with its frenetic fizz of drum-heavy electronica. At the time I sheepishly proposed that the album might not ‘give the listener much of a break.’ With that thought in the back of my mind, I dived into Be Up A Hello a smidge cautious.
I needn’t have worried, however, as Squarepusher’s latest album leads with an Aphex-esque opener, “Oberlove”. Warm synths line the track and, while there’s nothing sedate about it, the track feels clear and aligned. This exemplifies the whole of the first half of the album, and while “Nervelevers” and “Speedcrank” probably sit on the more familiar side of Squarepusher’s repertoire, there’s development across both tracks and saner drum patterns than we’ve seen in previous outings, which makes for enjoyable rather than endurable listening.
“Detroit People Mover”, however, really does tip the balance, and provides somewhat of a break that I’d wished for previously. Sitting at the centre of the album, howling synths sprawl out into a grand, desolate space before resolving neatly, ready to be cast out again in a minor whinny. It focuses on melody over rhythm and that’s what gives it the edge here.
“Terminal Slam” is far closer to what I was expecting the album to be; full of abrasive, sharp synth-lines, and layered frantic drum sequences, it sits on the line between musical sounds and computer noise arranged rhythmically. For me, it gets away with it by developing into something a little more by the end. It’s flanked, however, by two tracks that had me checking the time to see how much more there was to listen to. “Vortrack” and “Mekrev Bass” do little for me, and definitely cool me on the album overall by the time I’m done with them.
As the final track rolls in, I’m ready for an easy ride home, but Be Up A Hello instead parts ways with a positively eerie closer. With all the makings of a suspense-filled thriller OST, I’ve genuinely been left a tad nervous by “80 Ondula”. Reminding me of the likes of the Alien films, it certainly evokes a fairly visceral emotional response and there’s something to be said for that alone.
Squarepusher and his contemporaries can often fall into a trap of blasting their listeners with a frenzy of drums and computer noise, and while Be Up A Hello doesn’t entirely escape this pitfall, there’s a lot more for me to like and engage with. It still sounds like a cluster of computer bleeps and bloops, make no mistake, but where Damogen Furies strayed into ‘malfunctioning printer’ at times, this latest release never strays far from its frantic IDM base.8 10
Favourite tracks // Oberlove
Detroit People Mover