It seems that as times change, jazz slowly is becoming the new classical music, and techno is taking over as the new jazz. No one illustrates the change better than Tom Jenkinson, a.k.a Squarepusher, on his new album Sixteen Selection (Warp).
The electronic music on Sixteen Selection is jazz in the literal and the conceptual sense. Eric Burdon, from the 1960s rock group the Animals, once said that jazz was the music for the head and rock was music for the groin. The music on Jenikson’s album is definitely head music.
The album opens with The Eye. At first it seems like a poor choice for an opener because it’s not grabbing. It’s a high-pitched tone with an occasional deep drumbeat. But as you listen, it’s the sonic equivalent of fingers running down the spine. It slowly draws you in, makes you want to see what will come next.
Songs such as Square Rave and Dedicated Loop follow. These are filled with Jenkinson’s style of breakbeats surrounded by bits of melodies or sounds. On this album, as opposed to past Squarepusher albums, Jenkinson does more melody and less random sounds, making this album one of his most accessible. Some of the songs like Tomorrow World have a cold, futuristic sound to them. It’s the kind of music that would not be out of place in a movie like Bladerunner. But all the songs have one thing in common – they engulf you in a world of sound and beats. This isn’t music you can digest in one sitting. Like great jazz songs, the more you listen to them, the more you notice and discover.
A number of songs on Sixteen Selection sound just like jazz, not techno. The short track, Time Borb, uses a snare drum beat to open the song. The simple beat could have been taken from any number of jazz albums. The song then breaks down into a fast-paced noise assault that sounds like someone rapidly spinning the dial of a radio.
Another short track, Cool Veil, has the sound of a bass being plucked rapidly. Unfortunately, the only tracks that try to merge jazz and electronic sounds are short. But Jenkinson deserve credit for even trying to merge the two sounds at all. The jazz touches, like the live bass, give this album more of a human feel and more warmth than other techno albums.
The other minor flaw with Sixteen Selection is that there are too many snippets of songs. Six of the 17 songs on the album are barely a minute long, with one only being 20 seconds. Sometimes they work as segue into another piece, but often they just serve as interesting teases of music that Jenkinson didn’t have the time or desire to finish.
Those quibbles aside, Sixteen Selection is an interesting and engaging electronic album. If you’re into something a little more sophisticated, something that takes a bit more of your time but rewards you for it, Sixteen Selection is that album.