Back in 2000, I stumbled across an album by a little known indie band called Soulwax that I ended up becoming absolutely obsessed with. The record, Much Against Everyone’s Advice, was a scattered mess of a thing- a sort of smorgasbord of popular culture at the time- but their pop hooks and unique style (white suits, light up mic stands, Casio guitars) made them one of Belgium’s best kept secrets.
I remember following everything about them for years - I went to see them live every time I could, I diligently collected all the CD singles, the albums, the special edition albums, the mailing list CD, everything bar start a fucking fan club.
After their unexpected hit mash-up mix As Heard On Radio Soulwax pt.2 under their 2manydjs moniker (named after one of the standout tracks on MAEA by the way) blew up, the Dewale brothers re-emerged as Soulwax in 2004 with a much darker, harder sound - as much influenced by clubland as it was the Radiophonic Workshop and Queens of the Stoneage. They’d been listening to a lot of techno it would seem, and so their follow up, 2006’s Nite Versions was basically a remix album consisting of them playing tunes from that album but jamming them out in a more dancefloor friendly environment. Then, that was that for Soulwax - the Dewale bros. carried on with 2manydjs and production work, and kissed goodbye to their weird little rock band.
Well, actually, they had one last fling before they journeyed onwards with everything else, and that was documented in 2007, an album of komische jams and space rock atmospherics that they did under the guise of Die Verboten, which was the two Dewales, joined by Fergus Purcell and Henry Riton and saw them basically kicking out massive, massive jams armed only with analogue synths, a drum kit and a bass guitar. Sadly, the album never saw the light of day back in 2007, and was promptly forgotten about until 2009, when they snuck out an 18-minute-track on a small Vinyl Factory pressing. Another six years passed, and perhaps realising they were sat on something quite special, they’ve now dusted off the master tapes, mixed it, mastered it, and it’s finally being unleashed to the public.
About fucking time too, as it’s absolutely amazing.
It actually follows on quite nicely from ‘Nite Versions’, and feels like a sort of older, more bizarre companion album - the same elements are all there, but used in very different ways. Instead of channeling DFA or pumped up nu-rave remixes, here they’re scraping the skies with odes to Kraftwerk, Neu and Can - relentless slow-mo disco drums, bubbling synth arpeggios and floating melodies all expand as the record goes on - indeed, each track here gets progressively longer, starting with the buoyant seven minute romp of ’Dafalganger’, which sounds somewhere between 'Autobahn'’s filtered sweeps, and 'Hallogallo'’s racing, motorik pulse.
Clocking in at just under nine minutes, ’White Islands’ slows the pace to a 'Halleluwah' crawl, brimming with choppy guitars, cowbells and rumbling bass, before ‘E40’ builds and builds for almost half it’s near-13-minute running time, and then promptly bursts into a defiant disco groover, filtered synth gargles zipping from speaker to speaker.
The whole thing then culminates in ‘Nacht Winkel’s 15-minute Harmonia-meets-James Murphy journey to the outer reaches of the galaxy, before the madness ends on the comparatively brief, but equally spaced out ‘Aquarius’. For digital fans, there’s an added bonus of 2009’s aforementioned languid groove leviathan ‘Live In Eivissa’ included for good measure, but this needs to be taken on its own, rather than an extension of the record, lest krautrock exhaustion set in. Still, for those strong enough to take on nearly 72 minutes of unfettered analogue-techno-kraut-jam, it keeps the party going nicely enough.
It’s kind-of, almost, the krautrock album you always wanted - all the jams, all the fun, with non of the heady, drug induced madness. Before the komische purists burn me at the stake for that remark, I might add that 2007 is a very, very faithful krautrock album. It’s not a parody, or a lame facsimile, but updates a tired genre with an equal mix of influence and experimentation.
I’d actually been recently lamenting the loss of Soulwax the band recently, as those three (four if you count the still-kind-of-alright bluesy rock album they did in 1996) albums are still pretty damn incredible. Sadly, this isn’t much of a Soulwax album proper, but as good as you’re going to get in 2015 - and anyway, it’s still very much worth your time. I only wish we could hear David’s sultry tones over some pummelling drop D riffs sometime soon…
9Gavin Miller's Score