From Deewee (Play It Again Sam)
You might think a first album in more than a decade, at least under this name rather than one of their side projects, might be enough of a marketing hook for the Dewaele brothers, Stephen and David.
There’s been no one quite like them pop up since 2004’s Any Minute Now, their 2manydjs sideline has been fun but not really the same, and a wildly diverse film soundtrack last year was low key.
So, we were primed, though also a little wary given the mechanical nature of Any Minute Now: its electronica-meets-industrial rock blend was both restricted and seemed a decade out of date at the time.
However, the story, or gimmick, of the new album is that the Dewaeles and associates recorded it as if it were a live album: same instrumental and personnel set up as their 2016 live shows; done in “one take” across two days in early February; turned around for release in rapid time.
What does this mean for a listener? Absolutely nothing in the most basic sense. If you can tell the “live” aspect of this and feel it substantially different to a regular studio recording, well, your ears need eulogising and preserving.
A more useful question is has Soulwax moved on from that 2004 cul-de-sac? That is not so straightforward.
From Deewee – the name taken from the brothers’ studio in the maedievel city of Ghent (which incidentally is a city you’ll get more out of than the far more patronised Brugges, but I digress) – has enough evidence to bolster each side of that argument.
Transient Program For Drums And Machines, for example, has a resonant keyboard bassline and a wave of outright pop in voice and synths, a combination which here feels surprisingly fresh even as it goes the full Kraftwerk, while The Singer Has Become A Deejay is fabulously hypnotic in parts - though I’d have lost the percussion break.
Masterplanned puts a gloss on a Germanic electro bubbling that started with me feeling indifferent to its charms, but it comes with enough pleasures that it caught up with me by the end and I was hard pressed to remember not really liking the song.
Here Come The Men In Suits on the other hand comes at you from the start, getting its pop hooks in early before getting its freak on in the final minute and a half. And it’s followed by the smooth, electro-yacht rock of the album’s final track, Goodnight Transmission, which is a croon meeting utterly retro early synthesiser sounds, designed to help you dream of electric sheep.
But around them are tracks such as Missing Wires, a frenetic percussive introduction that drifts into something a bit pallid, and Is It Always Binary which similarly begins with a busy rhythm track and works up a sweat but not necessarily a fresh thought in its heavy tread. Or, Do You Want To Get Into Trouble, which suggests but never quite gets to the full dark club sexiness managed by one of the brothers’ occasional collaborators, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.
When My Tired Eyes and Trespassers end up feeling like a less grim Depeche Mode, it’s a reminder that coming out a week after the new Depeche Mode album may have been a case of bad timing and luck.
It’s possible that without that to compare and contrast, From Deewee might have felt more substantive. But really, there’s not quite enough on From Deewee to push Soulwax back to the definitive position they held 15 years ago.