- A thrilling mix of rave, jungle, house, techno and gabber.
- Paul Woolford is a study in contrasts. He releases gnarly jungle and vocal pop-house. He gives long interviews going deep on his craft and issues tongue-in-cheek press releases telling us to "fuck all that conceptual guff m888." He takes a scientific approach to making big-room bangers. In short, he's never lost touch with his playful side, a quality that has set him apart for almost 20 years. It defines his music, particularly as Special Request, which, since emerging in 2012, has gradually become his main project. After two years away, the alias returns with VORTEX, the first of four new albums on Houndstooth. It sounds as playful as ever.
The last Special Request LP, Belief System, was more than 100 minutes long; VORTEX barely hits 40. It's a tight and engrossing listen, with eight hard-hitting club tracks (plus a 26-second intro) that range roughly from 130 to 175 BPM. There's no one style but a thrilling hodgepodge of many, with nods to jungle, techno, rave, house and gabber. Fresh ideas and rhythms constantly appear out of thin air. On "SP4NN3R3D," a garbled synth fizzes with the dexterity of a drum solo before exploding into a crisp breakbeat. A similar synth crops up on "Vortex 150," a five-minute frenzy of coiled crescendos and thumping drops, and again on "Fett," whose stripped-back composition and manic gabber pulse should grate but somehow don't. Woolford's stream of tweaks and effects means the flow never falters or grows stale.
In his recent interview with Resident Advisor, Woolford said that currently his main focus is "getting the emotional content" into his tracks. Sounds that are "naive and gorgeous but also intuitive and human rather than relentlessly mechanical." He nails this several times on VORTEX. "Memory Lake," one of the standouts, is punchy yet tender, hitting nearly as hard in the heart as the gut. "A Gargantuan Melting Face Floating Effortlessly Through The Stratosphere," which closes the album, pairs 175 BPM, four-on-the-floor kick drums with a soaring melody that prances like a ballet dancer on fast-forward. The most beautiful track, though, is also the slowest. 60 seconds into "Ardkore Dolphin," a ravey breakbeat cut with fat, earthy drums, the beat slips away to reveal a gorgeous, pacey melody. No doubt it'll spark many intensely memorable dance floor experiences this summer.
Only once does VORTEX come up short. "Fahrenheit 451" is a huge, pounding track, a shadowy house monster with eel-like synths, dramatic stabs and, unfortunately, a hoary diva-vocal refrain (lyrics: "Got to keep the fire burning"). It'll slay dance floors, but compared to the rest of the record it plays it strangely safe. The programming isn't as adventurous, and the sounds and ideas aren't as original. But it's only a blemish. For the most part, VORTEX is a spellbinding ride, packed full of twists, turns and leap-out-your-chair moments. "I had a right fucking doss making this," said Woolford in the album's press release. It certainly sounds like it.
01. Belgian Entrance
03. Memory Lake
04. Ardkore Dolphin
05. Fahrenheit 451
06. Vortex 150
09. A Gargantuan Melting Face Floating Effortlessly Through The Stratosphere