Robin Hughes reviews Soul Music released by Paul Woolford as Special Request. 

Special Request - soul music cover

There have been murmurings of a jungle revival in the dance underground for the past year or so, what with heavily breakbeat-led releases by the likes of Tessela, Etch, Zomby, and Pearson Sound, but Paul Woolford’s Special Request alias has done the most in taking this trend overground. His remix of Tessela’s ‘Hackney Parrot’ was played by Zane Lowe on Radio 1 (?!), and this album, Soul Music, is available to stream in full on Pitchfork. But is it any good?

Yes. The first thing to note is that this isn’t just lazy jungle nostalgia; stale ‘amen’s repackaged for the Youtube generation. Woolford is working with a familiar sound palette but twisting it to his own template, taking inspiration both from hardcore rave and the current UK scene. He has said that pirate radio has had a big influence on the Special Request project, and the structure of the album reflects that; the tempo gradually shifts up as you move through the three plates, as if you were turning the dial from one station to another.

The first plate is the most current-sounding, relying less on skittering breaks and instead focussing on driving basslines and interesting synth work. These tracks could fit seamlessly into any current DJ set, and indeed they have; ‘Cold Blooded’ has been a mainstay of Ben UFO’s sets for a while now. ‘Body Armour’, meanwhile, could fit nicely alongside Kowton’s recent output with its thundering bass hits and harsh claps, all arranged into an insistent swagger.

The second record moves up to around 140bpm, and is immediately more breaks-led. The general template is interesting, but still heavy: drum patterns and breaks, allied to a deep bassline, with the occasional melody drifting over the top for a fleeting moment, before being lost again in the radio waves. That’s not to say that each track doesn’t have its own character; ‘Ride VIP’ is a sort of jungle-synth-funk odyssey, even boasting some authentic slap-bass, while ‘Soundboy Killer’ alternates between a haunting vocal snippet, a murderous riff, and a great spoken word rave sample.

Finally, on the third plate we come close to full-on junglism. Now, I’m not expert on jungle, but the three tracks here are pretty sweet, all finely chopped breaks and drum patterns that demand movement from your body. ‘Descent’, the album closer, is a soundscape featuring some plonking piano keys, cavernous sub-bass, and assorted sound effects.

It is a fittingly odd end to an album that feels like it is coming from somewhere familiar, but impossible to locate exactly where. By using such a variety of influences, Woolford has created an album which is neither tied to current fads, nor in thrall to a mythologised past, but instead something completely of its own, with a distinct atmosphere. And what more could you ask for?

 

Robin Hughes

 

Photo credits: Houndstooth