Over the years Soulwax have made surprising music while bringing amazing remixes and shows as 2manydjs. On their new album however, the duo switch gears to combine their two efforts on an album as sonically stirring as it is dance-driven. Through amazing grooves and some of the best percussion in the dance world, Soulwax bring the club experience home.
Even through someone else’s voice, hearing the album described as it comes to life on “Essential One” is simultaneously funny and ominous. Though it works through its swaths of radio tones for some time, it really hits a powerful dance energy when it finally drops in. As things flow smoothly into “Essential Two” quirky bass hooks dig in against the song’s unnerving soundscape for a heady and dance-inducing listen. Mixing its grimy synths with smoky production, the track really hits a powerful high when it starts to wrench things up.
“Essential Three” starts to play with the sonic palette as the twinkling keyboard lines fall into strange timbres and create a more cosmic feel. As Soulwax blend their latest distinct voice into the mix, they create grooves that are easy to get into while still being distinctly their own. The drums take centre focus on “Essential Four” as loose vocals and bass let them create a rhythmic showcase of a song. For their first true taste of vocals on the album, the track is a glossy modern take on disco that doesn’t feel as derivative as most acts revival of the genre.
After all this straight dance, “Essential Five” takes a more experimental vocal approach to shake things up. While it breaks some of the album’s flow and isn’t nearly as catchy, it’s a fun break in the scheme of the album. “Essential Six” brings a range of creepy bells as the album’s main theme is spelt out in a mantra-like chant. This more subdued take is once again a little less obvious and instead explores the breadth of their sound in favour of creating something a little more thematic.
Soulwax dive back into the electronic ether on “Essential Seven” as they create a moody meditation on bass and synths without ever overstating the song. This said, the highs they hit with their frantic beat work makes for some choice moments. “Essential Eight” however comes out swinging with unusual beats and a ghastly vocal before its bass takes over to bring the song through dozens of sonic worlds. Throughout its later half, the menacing synth lines create a crawling feeling that runs its way through the track endlessly.
Heavy vocals and absolutely dirty (and watery) notes slip through “Essential Nine” for a brash and constantly abrasive sound. Held together by their moving core, Soulwax ride the line between harsh and welcoming sounds on this track. As their synth sounds take on cinematic scope, “Essential Ten” is the best dance score the band never wrote, as its massive chords expand along with the overall production. Heading into the album’s finale, this track is Soulwax at their most ambitious while mixing everything they do well as a group and DJs.
Flowing back into something more interlude-esque, “Essential Eleven” is still dance-focused while the band shift their sound through every synonym of the word. This kind of match in shifting ideas makes for a fun and engaging listen.
Words by Owen Maxwell