The Special Request sound hasn't changed dramatically since those first releases. Each track is built from the same rave-era foundation of creaky breaks, groaning basslines and shooting-star synths. It's a relentless but nimble assault that manages to sidestep both the masculine aggression of techno and the conservatism of house. Soul Music offers up endless variations on this set of sounds, and does much more than pummel the listener into submission. Check the smooth piano in "Undead" or the pure pop basslines of "Body Armour," which climb and fall like overexcited children at a playground.
Woolford has spoken before about his search for what he calls an illicit quality in music, a feeling that made pirate radio so exciting in the '90s. Polished as it is, Soul Music doesn't fit that bill perfectly, but there is something attractively raw about it in spite of its own perfectionism. On the chaotic "Lockjaw," the punchy chord progression feels like it's trading blows with the Reese basslines. "Soundboy Killer" floods an R&B sample in caustic syrup and unleashes time-stretched breaks, revelling in the pure joy of sound manipulation (like the best early jungle itself).
Soul Music feels a bit too modern to slot in perfectly with the music it's pining for, but that's part of what makes it a success. In a way it recalls Instra:mental's 2011 LP Resolution 653, looking back just far enough to escape the complacency of the present. Woolford does so with a balls-to-the-wall conviction that puts pure emphasis on the dance floor, with a fuck-you attitude to anyone who might not like it. And even though he might not be alone in making this kind of music anymore, he is by himself at the top of the heap.