A BBC Essential Mix-inspired full-length that's as fun as it is mature.
We've grown up in the meantime, and so have they. Once known for big and boisterous tunes—remember this?—you're now more likely to catch them throwing down classic disco with James Murphy than head-banging with Boys Noize. But the same spirit is still there. On Essential, recorded in about two weeks in response to a request for a BBC Essential Mix, this manifests in elastic basslines, hand drums and goofy vocals, the kind of things you might hear in a DJ Harvey set.
"Essential Four" is the album at its leanest, not much more than a bassline, percussion, vocals and some atmospheric chords. But the mood is bright and the sounds are bold, each element engineered for maximum impact. "Essential Seven" is deeper, yet the whispered vocal—"Eeeeeeesssseeeential"—that pans around the mix is classic Soulwax, a cheeky touch floating above the bubbling instrumental. The same cheek is heard in the "Essential Nine" and its deadpan "give it to me" vocal that swamps the mix.
There's a cohesiveness to Essential that we can probably attribute to the quick recording time. It means the album flows like a mix CD, the energy rising and falling from section to section. At times, as with Soulwax's earlier electro house productions, the sounds can be harsh—there are piercing synth growls that should never have made it out of the '00s. But that's part of being a Soulwax fan, where for every streamlined groover ("Essential Three," "Essential Six") there are tracks that could have been on the I Love Techno 2009 mix by Crookers ("Essential Two," "Essential Eight"). Essential isn't as essential as its title suggests, but don't let that stop you from seeking it out. It has more of the loveable chaos that once made Soulwax among the most important acts in electronic music. This time it's more controlled.