Sometimes, the recording process is more interesting than the music on offer. Take My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, for example – a cornerstone of shoe-gaze maybe, but the thing took around £250,000, 19 studios, even more engineers and over two years to make. Indisputably, then, it’s a plainly ridiculous thing to behold before it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’… and what about Another Side of Bob Dylan, recorded in a single-sitting June 9, 1964? Well, you can bloody tell it was an all-nighter; Bob fudges just about every chord. Was it his funky way, or the beaujolais? Or just a cheap recording job, dispensing with overdubs? Who knows… thankfully, Soulwax have made good on their own recent gimmick – recording an entire album live, and in just a single take. Oh, and it’s a blinder.
From Deewee is Soulwax’s eighth album. After experimenting with some serious mash-ups, remixing and pseudonym-ing for 2016’s Belgica soundtrack, Soulwax proper is back – the actual Dewaele brothers, just being themselves and nobody else, plain and simple, for all to see, with vocals and everything. The songs (just like before) showcase James Murphy levels of cultural integrity, with obtuse structural nods to post-disco obscurity and tonal pledges to both new romantic squelch and psychedelic Krautrock rhythmicity. Undoubtedly, it’s the de facto marginal, indie music for marginal, indie people. A bit like Metronomy, but a billion times tighter.
End to end, this album is outrageously solid. Not only was it recorded in a take (singular), but it blends analogue electronics with two live drummers and vocals. The mix is stunningly fat and the arrangements are skittishly dynamic. This feels like the living, breathing project the Life Of Pablo was supposed to be, but tidied, rehearsed and wearing a white tuxedo. Moreover, ‘end to end’ is just how you’re supposed to do this. The songs don’t, and aren’t supposed to, work by themselves. That does make for a sit-down, forty-eight minutes of music however, this album is everything you’d hope and imagine a forty-eight minute Soulwax song to sound like – and then some. There’s not a misstep in sight; from Missing Wires’ chaotic drum solos to the loungey, synth-brass of Here Come the Men in Suits, the record is consistent and organic. Elsewhere, there are touching connections to the musical past; the huffing, plastic-y percussion of My Tired Eyes; the thick, delayed synths arpeggiating through Preset Tense like it’s part 5 of The Dignity of Labour. None of these songs will make the charts; neither would they have charted in 1981. The entire record, however, is an anaphoric masterstroke – discussing the past in its own voice, right down to the insistency of the gapless format. The electronics programming too, is faultless and the art-deco compositions are rigidly excellent, beautifully executed in perfect homage to a thousand eighties has-beens. By my reckoning, Soulwax are actually beating avant-garde synth’s reunion circuit at its own game… which ought be a cause for concern, save for the fact that they’re so darn sharp. John Foxx, eat your heart out.
Song-wise, you mightn’t be new to all this. The Dewaeles have adapted a set-list from their live show, Transient Program for Drums and Machinery, the titular track from which was released as a 12” single late last year. The song appears here, sequenced and aptly trimmed alongside eleven superb others, a couple of them leaked in the one-week run-up to release. In addition, there’s been the on-going Deewee series itself – a slowly expanding collection of 12” releases by unknown artists, all of them reckoned to be invented, Soulwax personalities. That said, everything’s good and some of it’s better, but none of it’s bad – not a bad resolve when you think about it.
There’s not actually too much more to say about this album that a cursory listen won’t explain better… and I can’t recommend enough that you do so. From Deewee champions everything we should respect about good music – the album as a format worth saving; live production as exemplary of high-octane performance and recording skillsets; synthesiser revivalism as something you could even call exciting. I won’t ruin it for you then – go and sniff this one out for yourself. It’s not just a gimmick. And if it is on the surface, then at least it’s got your attention now.
Picks:Is It Always Binary, My Tired Eyes, Transient Program for Drums and Machinery