Switched On – Special Request: Offworld (Houndstooth)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Paul Woolford’s third album of the year under the Special Request moniker attempts to answer a question. What if Jam & Lewis signed to Metropolis?

The thought of one of soul music’s finest production duo hanging out with Juan Atkins at the beginning of another era in Detroit musical history in the mid-1980s is an irresistible one, and Woolford’s ambitious attempt to bring the combination to life is what powers Offworld.

What’s the music like?

There are seven expansive tracks, mostly instrumental and rich in analogue colour, put together with Woolford’s trademark instinctive approach.

Immediately it finds the sweet spot with the booming bass, analogue highs and strong vocal of 237,000 miles. More typical of the album are the vast spaces evoked by Offworld Memory 3. Front Screen Projection looks back to Jean Michel Jarre with its synth sound and riff, but forward with its no-nonsense breakbeat, while Arse End Of The Moon, a classic Woolford title, has sharper sounds and clattering, big beat percussion. Morning Ritual is also a lovely track, a brooding instrumental, before a rather fine remix of The Grid’s Floatation, signing off with an affectionate quarter-hour of expansive ambience and a nicely done retro beat.

Does it all work?

Once again – yes. Woolford never pads his albums out too much, either in texture or duration, so while Offworld is not much longer than an extended EP without the Grid remix, it works brilliantly well.

Is it recommended?

Yes indeed – as much as the first two albums of this year’s crop did. Paul Woolford is on a roll right now and it’s up to us to keep up!

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Switched On – Special Request: Vortex & Bedroom Tapes (Houndstooth)

What’s the story?

Paul Woolford, the man behind Special Request, is releasing just the four new albums this year. In his description they were ‘made in his underpants’, and represent a clear wish to make instinctive music that gets to the listener as quickly as possible. This no frills approach is all about making incisive dance music that cuts to the quick, losing none of its energy to post-production.

What’s the music like?

Woolford gets a thrilling blend of old and new in his music, and the refreshing lack of studio gloss keeps the music strong and vital. There is something here for house heads, drum and bass and techno lovers alike, for he has a very unique approach to beat making. Nothing is conventional, yet his rate for hitting the sweet spot is unerring.

The key element of his approach is a love for the use of riffs and sounds harking back to the late 1980s, with electronic dance music still in its infancy and full of thrills and spills

Vortex has the quicker cut and thrust of the two albums. Memory Lake cuts to the quick, getting its raw shots of adrenalin through a killer beat and hook. Ardkore Dolphin takes the same rhythmic cell and presents it in different, thrilling ways. Vortex 150 then typifies Woolford’s approach, with beats that strain at the leash and a primal intensity that reflects the need to dance while capturing the thrill of early hardcore discoveries. Fett is even quicker – 175 beats per minute to be precise – before a flurry of synths and rapid fire drums for A Gargantuan Melting Face Floating Effortlessly Through The Stratosphere. The brilliant title itself pays homage to The Orb, but the rhythms are about three times the speed!

The lo-fi Bedroom Tapes is a bit slower but has a wider sound perspective, impressing with its expansive structures. Panaflex Sunrise is an opening beauty, a singular loop channeling the spirit of early Aphex Twin releases with its softer beat. Despite not grabbing the listener by the scruff of the neck like he does on Vortex, Woolford still finds a fiercely singular voice. Xenopsin is the biggest track – nearly 12 minutes – but arguably the best too, spacing out time as the riffs turn over, backed by a solid four to the floor beat. Phosphorescence is also very fine, a beautifully hazy construction of techno that delivers power but has a softer heart.

Does it work?

Wholeheartedly. These are albums three and four under the Special Request moniker, and as with the first two Woolford packs an original punch in his music that can be breathtaking. In it he finds raw, untempered sounds, wiry melodies and beats that can’t take you anywhere else but the dancefloor.

There is something for everyone here, from the mottled sunrise moments of Bedroom Tapes to the out and out thrills of the Vortex faster tracks.

Are they recommended?

Both albums are unreservedly recommended – and with Offworld next up at the end of September, part three beckons for what will surely be a clean sweep of Special Request winners.

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