Special Request: Soul Music

Though Paul Woolford's been releasing music for more than a decade (under aliases such as Bobby Peru, Hip Therapist, Skip Donahue, and Wooly), it was only in March 2012 that he established the Special Request moniker with the release of two white label twelve-inch singles (and the subsequent release of two more). And now comes the project's debut full-length album on Houndstooth—a two-CD set at that, with one a disc of twelve originals and the other primarily a collection of remixes that the Leeds-based producer did of cuts by Tessela and Lana Del Rey and that others, among them Anthony Shakir and Hieroglyphic Being, did of Special Request tracks (for the record, the new collection includes material featured on the earlier twelve-inch releases). With Woolford using vintage hardware and an FM transmitter and heavily drawing on jungle as well as drum'n'bass, acid-techno, and funk, the ear-catching release stuns with repeated displays of invention and imagination.

The album's predominating style begins to come into focus in the second cut, “Undead,” where a head-spinning flow of booming kick drums and rattling snares lays the groundwork for piano-laced overlays of female vocal phrases that are, yes, soulful. Woolford's fresh take on the jungle genre is captured in the cut in dynamic manner, and one comes away from the tune dazzled by his sound assembly skills. “Undead” is hardly the only track that takes the listener's breath away. Similarly jaw-dropping are “Lockjaw,” with its dreamy fusion of clattering bass rumble and beat swing, and “Soundboy Killer,” which frames boombastic breaks and soulful vocal hooks with a DJ's admonition (“Could you please clear the stage / All you're doin' is jumpin' the records…”). Shredded breaks and bass drops likewise roar through “Capsules” and “Deranged,” leaving one breathless and spent by disc's end.

Disc two opens with two riveting head-spinners, Special Request reworks of Tessela's “Hackney Parrot” and Lana Del Rey's “Ride” (the track also appears on disc one in a vocal-less version under the title “Ride VIP”). The former lays out a seven-minute head-trip of siren bleats, soul vocal cut-ups, and stuttering breaks, while the latter largely reduces Del Rey to a handful of clipped vocal utterances and instead concentrates on Woolford's punchy beatsmithing. Needless to say, his “Ride” treatment is (thankfully) light years removed from the populist approach exemplified by Cedric Gervais's “Summertime Sadness” rendering. In its more irreverent moments (e.g., “Mindwash”), Soul Music could pass for a descendant of Plug's own 2-CD opus, Drum'n'Bass for Papa, issued all the way back in 1996. It must also needs be said that Soul Music isn't solely a jungle collection either, as house and garage find their way into the material, too (see “Vapour”). The unreleased reworks are a generally punchy lot, too, with Anthony Naples' version of “Mindwash” intensifying, if anything, the breaks-driven character of the original, and Anthony Shakir's remix of same opting for an acid house treatment that sparkles and gurgles in turn. At disc's end, Hieroglyphic Being's ever-mutating “Deflowered” rework is very much in Jamal Moss's recognizable HB style.

Few albums leave this listener shaking his head in awe, but Woolford's Soul Music has me doing so repeatedly during its 130-minute run. Destined to appear on at least one publication's year-end list, Soul Music is a collection that often leaves others in the shadows.

November 2013