Special Request, Soul Music


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We’ve been waiting for this for a while. Not Soul Music specifically, but a full-length statement looking back to 90s breaks has been inevitable given the past couple years. Jungle has seeped back into the underground’s awareness after a lengthy period of remission, coinciding with the 20-year nostalgia cycle. From Andy Stott to DJ Rashad, producers have sounded audibly galvanized dusting off their Amen breaks. Soul Music and the energy and conviction underlying it, is an inevitability, a jungle revival and/or revision album was bound to come along to capture the underground’s attention. It’s not as if drum ‘n’ bass — even “good,” non-BPM-chasing drum ‘n’ bass — has ceased to exist, of course. Calibre, in case you forgot, put out Fabriclive 68 earlier this year. What’s being pursued here instead is a kind of poetics of the style, a Simon Reynolds-influenced meditation on what made it unique and thrilling the first time around, paced around 130 BPM for maximum mixing flexibility.

As Special Request, Paul Woolford is extremely effective at hitting the music’s now-exotic pleasure centers without being cheap or sensationalist. He holds himself back from the most obvious gestures and emphasis, as Zomby did on the drum ‘n’ bass excursions on With Love, every pivot and pregnant pause in three-quarters time, really meditating on dread sample heaviness. So in comparison to the rushing sound streams that characterized drum ‘n’ bass at its high-velocity apogee, Soul Music is modular: a coordinated effort of different nodes rather than vertiginous, pulsing mass. It’s as if Woolford has isolated drum ‘n’ bass’ morphemes of obscene and cruelly derided bodily pleasure, boiled them down to the most salient combinations, and diagrammed them with rigor. That sounds like a professorial role, but Woolford’s really more of a public intellectual, the kind of guy who meets critical appreciation with bovine pleasure.

It seems more honest that there is some distance between Special Request — from the name on down — and the music he’s alluding to, and revitalizing through these anagrammatic productions. You can almost hear a thick black line bordering every sound on a song like the clinically banging “Cold Blooded.” Considering technological changes — glassy DAWs rather than the sea spray of low-resolution samplers — and cultural ones in the intervening years, Woolford’s approach is to use the momentum he gets heading into the uncanny valley to spend as little time as possible at the floor. There are a lot of valleys here, and the momentum waxes and wanes even as the energy remains high. The rapid, crisp, and discrete firing of samples works toward “Body Armour”‘s ends, complete with gun-cocking sounds, but keeps “Ride VIP” at arms’ length, serving to emphasize the song’s elaborate, multi-part construction rather than the affect that this underlying shape is supposed to support. As deliberate and original as Woolford’s take is, two discs of this stuff — even including standout remixes from Lee Gamble and Kassem Mosse & Mix Mup — is more than enough to induce snow blindness. Still, this LP is a more thought-through and original re-up than we could have legitimately hoped for.

Alex W  on October 25, 2013 at 9:31 AM

Brandon’s writing continues to be the best around. Keep up the articles, please!

ChrisFizik  on October 27, 2013 at 1:07 PM

Best writing? I can hardly make out what points he’s trying to make amongst all the extra over-the-top use of ‘sound’ descriptors. You’d think he was trying to describe a nature painting.
Was looking for some concrete points about what makes this album significant or not and why. All I get is confusion about a thought-thru ‘re-up’ and what we maybe shouldnt’ have hoped for. bah

stew  on October 29, 2013 at 10:48 AM

interesting review

Rudo  on October 31, 2013 at 10:34 PM

“Still, this LP is a more thought-through and original re-up than we could have legitimately hoped for.”

No idea.

Arthur  on November 1, 2013 at 4:14 AM

It’s not that difficult to understand if you take your time and think it through. Like that quote above, don’t let “re-up” (meaning “revision or new/additional take”) confuse you.

Nice review, Brandon!


Little White Earbuds October Charts 2013 – Little White Earbuds  on November 1, 2013 at 12:04 AM

[…] “Everlastic” [Ramp Recordings] 08. Kel, “Irritant” [Tanstaafl Planets] 09. Special Request, “Deflowered” (Kassem Mosse & Mix Mup Remix) [Houndstooth] 10. Strategy, “Return From The Stars” (Pev’s Jerky Mix) [Idle […]

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