Soulwax - Essential

  • A BBC Essential Mix-inspired full-length that's as fun as it is mature.
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  • Other than a dose of nostalgia, what do you hope for from a new Soulwax album? The answer, for me at least, is fun. From the hours I spent sweating to Soulwax remixes in mid-'00s Sydney clubs to the office where I'm writing this now, that's the thing that has kept me—and plenty of others—coming back. Essential, the Belgian duo's latest album, has plenty of it, channeling their usual synth-heavy sound into something more streamlined than the electro house that introduced them to teenage clubbers more than a decade ago. We've grown up in the meantime, and so have they. Once known for big and boisterous tunes—remember this?—you're now more likely to catch them throwing down classic disco with James Murphy than head-banging with Boys Noize. But the same spirit is still there. On Essential, recorded in about two weeks in response to a request for a BBC Essential Mix, this manifests in elastic basslines, hand drums and goofy vocals, the kind of things you might hear in a DJ Harvey set. "Essential Four" is the album at its leanest, not much more than a bassline, percussion, vocals and some atmospheric chords. But the mood is bright and the sounds are bold, each element engineered for maximum impact. "Essential Seven" is deeper, yet the whispered vocal—"Eeeeeeesssseeeential"—that pans around the mix is classic Soulwax, a cheeky touch floating above the bubbling instrumental. The same cheek is heard in the "Essential Nine" and its deadpan "give it to me" vocal that swamps the mix. There's a cohesiveness to Essential that we can probably attribute to the quick recording time. It means the album flows like a mix CD, the energy rising and falling from section to section. At times, as with Soulwax's earlier electro house productions, the sounds can be harsh—there are piercing synth growls that should never have made it out of the '00s. But that's part of being a Soulwax fan, where for every streamlined groover ("Essential Three," "Essential Six") there are tracks that could have been on the I Love Techno 2009 mix by Crookers ("Essential Two," "Essential Eight"). Essential isn't as essential as its title suggests, but don't let that stop you from seeking it out. It has more of the loveable chaos that once made Soulwax among the most important acts in electronic music. This time it's more controlled.
  • Tracklist
      01. Essential One 02. Essential Two 03. Essential Three 04. Essential Four 05. Essential Five 06. Essential Six 07. Essential Seven 08. Essential Eight 09. Essential Nine 10. Essential Ten 11. Essential Elevent 12. Essential Twelve