Tuesday 8 June 2021

Feed Me Weird Things at 25

Been waiting for this one to drop so I could do a quick rundown. Squarepusher's debut Feed Me Weird Things from 1996 has been given a shiny new re-release for 2021. Like a couple of the DMX Krew albums I've talked about in the past, Feed Me... was previously a Rephlex exclusive which meant it was a little rarer than usual as until now it had never been repressed either. I picked up a second hand copy years ago now, it's interesting to see it come back, I was under the impression that Squarepusher might have felt the same way about it that Autechre do about their early stuff - not really bothered with it as they feel like it doesn't reflect their current sound or style.

Though that's never really been a thing with Squarepusher, who often has wild variation in genres from album to album. Having said that, Feed Me is an interesting curio nonetheless, and an early example of Squarepusher's founding style - one that would go on to inform his more popular works heading into the 00's.

This isn't going to be a super in depth dive (or at least, I'm not planning for it to be one as I type this!), but I thought I'd just mention some of the standout tracks on here. While there are some tracks I could take or leave, it's also home to some of the 'Pusher's finest work, Warp and Squarepusher announced this reissue with one of the strongest ones in Theme From Ernest Borgnine - one of the more conventional Drum & Bass pieces from the album.

But let's talk about the opening of the album for now. The simply titled opening Squarepusher Theme is chock full of bombastic bassy twangs, and the Bass accompaniment is something that would continue throughout Squarepusher's discography to this day. I can't for the life of me remember where I saw/read/heard this so take it with a grain of salt - but I do remember an interview with Squarepusher where he mentioned his early experiments with electronic music were him sitting in front of a computer and playing his bass alongside it. And it's that methodology you can clearly hear on this track: the funky licks and skittering breaks are an obvious sign of the direction he would take on subsequent albums. There's a certain charm to this track that's very refreshing, compared to some IDM out there that is deeply technical and sometimes very dark sounding, Squarepusher Theme sounds like an absolutely blast, and I'm sure it was as fun to make too. It's still a fantastic listen all these years later.

As is so often the case when I write things like that though, it is going to immediately bite back at me in the next paragraph. By comparison Tundra is one of those dark sounding technical tracks I just mentioned, albeit not quite as hard on the tech front - like Theme From Ernest Borgnine this one too errs more on the conventional Drum & Bass side of things. Perhaps not quite as catchy as the boogie of Squarepusher Theme but I still have a lot of love for it, this kind of menacing vibe is one that would get refined on later releases - most obviously with the release of a sequel Tundra 4 many years later. My personal favourite of the tracks that came from this same vibe is I Wish You Could Talk. The melodic breaks here really stand out to me, there's a certain sound to them that comes up again and again on this album and it's gorgeous, there's one specific track I'm going to talk about next that will show this off in a very beautiful fashion.

I say this every time I have an opportunity to bring this track up, but it bears repeating. There are precious few full on ambient pieces in Squarepusher's discography compared to other folks in the IDM sphere, but those few are all spectacular. Goodnight Jade is the one for this album, and it's just excellent. A stark contrast to the frantic technological jitters of North Circular that comes before it on the tracklist - Goodnight Jade shares a lot of DNA with the later ambient track, namely Tommib, they both share this distant hazy quality, which is even more pronounced on Goodnight. 'Pusher's ear for melodies stands out again here, but unlike on Tundra it gets plenty of time to shine here. Just wonderful.

One thing I will say about this album is that it's super varied - that's again something that's carried on through Squarepusher's career. U.F.O.'s Over Leytonstone treats us to yet another darker sounding tune but this time with a 180 in tempo. It perhaps meanders a bit but I still like the sound a whole lot, though I did pick up this album when I was heavy into Trip Hop so that might have coloured my opinion somewhat. I do to this day love the little bit of a cheeky 303 at about 3:30 - and it pains me that it doesn't come in at 3:03 instead. I feel like it could have been sprinkled throughout a bit more actually, considering my praises of the melodic side of this album this track doesn't really have much on that front.

And finally, I thought I'd talk about something from this album that I haven't mentioned before with the two formerly Japan exclusive bonus tracks for the album, but they were released on a vinyl-only EP as well around the time called Squarepusher Plays... as well. I remember not being too hot on them way back when, but they are each fine additions to the album, especially if you're looking for more stuff like Squarepusher Theme. Theme from Goodbye Renaldo starts that way, with some very obvious funk influence that makes it sound like the soundtrack to a 70's car chase - but it ends up gives you the best of both worlds, as by the 2:30 mark those now hallmark keys come into the mix, and by the 3 minute mark the breakbeats have all completely fallen away leaving just those solitary notes. The beats do slide back into the mix in due time, but that extended downtempo break is just right for me - it even comes back towards the end to boot.

Deep Fried Pizza however, is out and out that Drum & Literal Bass that defines this early era of Squarepusher. I can see why this one wasn' included on the album, while it shares that same methodology the acutal sound is quite a bit different from the main body of Feed Me. The Jazz influence that underpins a lot of Squarepusher's work is firmly on display here, and that might be a little much if you've just come for the Drum & Bass style which I can totally understand, there are times where I'm not feeling tunes like this and skip over them. Still, this is a welcome addition regardless - not only becuase it lets you look over and see the progression of ideas over the man's discography, but also becuase now there's a more readily accessible and complete version of the album out there to potentially influence a whole new host of folks.

I've skipped over a fair bit of the album because otherwise this post would get even longer than it already is, it's a great little piece of it's time though that is definitely worth checking out - if you're looking for more in this kind of style I can also recommend Luke Vibert's Drum 'n' Bass For Papa under the Plug alias from around the same time, it too takes that Jazzy D&B style and really runs with it, though Vibert's work on there tends to lean more towards the actual Drum & Bass side of things as you might have guessed from the length of that one I linked. I'm pretty sure it was reissued a while ago so is easier to find, Vibert also resurrected the alias about 9 years ago for another album in the same style that's pretty great too, Feeling So Special was my favourite from that.

And with that, I think that wraps us up for now. A little longer than I would have liked with that unplanned last paragraph and all but that's how it goes these days isn't it? I'll be back soon with more but until then: As always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


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