A little personal history here: Hard Normal Daddy (1997) is the second album I bought by the multi-talented Tom Jenkinson a.k.a. Squarepusher, after being introduced to/hooked by his work via Ken Ishii's X-mix: Fast Forward and Rewind (1998). In particular, it was "Squarepusher's Theme" (which is actually on the Feed Me Weird Things album.*
Anyway, I was actually a little put out when I bought this disc way back when--there was a gulf between the high energy jazz acrobatics of "Squarepusher's Theme" and the more laid-back vibe on display here. But laid-back isn't code for lazy: the album is incredibly sophisticated, with Jenkinson employing a variety of instrumental arrangements to realize his eclectic, acid-jazz-meets-drum-and-bass vision.
The album didn't have me truly in its grasp until the second track, "Beep Street," an arrangement of digital and analog arrangements that feels like Jenkinson's output in miniature: lively instrumental arrangements based on heavily-layered compositions, relying on a variety of instrumentation (and not just a drum track and a sick sample).
If you're familiar with their output it should come as no surprise that I got into Squarepusher around the same time as I started digging into Aphex Twin (Richard D. James). I always imagined that the latter was something of a lunatic prankster, laying down sick soundscapes and occasionally wicked moods with the occasional concession to typical forms of coherence.* Squarepusher, meanwhile, always felt like a genius in his lab, trying to rebuild beats using superscience. He might have a playful streak, but he's dead serious about it.
Hard Normal Daddy is one of those albums one can revisit every couple of years just to hear how the music changes the more sophisticated one becomes as a music listener. I envy a person who discovers it for the first time with an open mind.
*The hell? This album is out of print? I still have the original CD at home. The lack of a digital release is troubling as well.
**His most accessible works, "Come to Daddy" and "Windowlicker" are off-putting in their own ways, subverting and twisting industrial and hip hop sounds respectively.