Is It Going to Get Any Deeper Than This? is a fitting title. Not surprising, given the heritage of The Soft Pink Truth; Drew Daniel, one half well-loved experimentalists Matmos, is also a professor of English, well-published in the angles and crenellations of his field. The question-oriented naming scheme of his work may strike potentially as a gimmick, but there’s something more pathologically honest about titles that are open and meditative in this manner, refusing the abstract specificity of identity to make themselves more process-oriented even by the title.
That this carries through to the methodologies deployed here. The album isn’t specifically sequenced as one continuous piece of music but it might as well have been, a sign of a keen mind behind the finer details like album order. I’ll admit, the first few times I played through this record, it was with a frown on my face. The tracks were multifaceted, sure, throbbing and evolving, but it was hard to grasp a pulse, a motivating element, the why of the record (aside from the obvious; “what else is there?”). This dissolved into air as soon as, duh, I cranked the volume. Because that’s the thing that differentiates this from Matmos. Experimentalism is preserved here, crafted by the same hand, but the routing here is focused more on wielding the multitudinous tools developed through Matmos toward something more naturally human. Or, more simply: it’s a dance record, and you can’t dance if that shit is too quiet.
Given that boost of volume, it burst to life. The album swims and flies, a murmuration of starlings, schools of fish darting like daggers made of broken mirror shards slicing through the sea, blasts of color and bright flowers knit in a bed. There are implications of water, of vegetation, like a Yes album cover set to a throbbing four-on-the-floor perpetual birth beat. The sound engineering and mixing here cannot be over complimented; the layers blast in like rustling paper of a desk, forming these writhing patterns where, on top, lead elements cut through the mix like a brick or a lamp hurled through the sheets. There is a sense of depth and dimensionality to the sounds, a prickling fullness so rich you could almost grab them, like they are physically there.
This intensely physical and imagistic element of the music doesn’t feel indeliberate or masturbatory. These things are purpose-driven; like a chill-out version of the kinds of genre plurality of Fire-Toolz or a Mr. Bungle seeking to make a single continuous object rather than these blasting juxtapositional splinters, Daniel tucks the corners of these sonic elements in, be they vocals or horns or synths or guitars or beats or anything, forcing them into subservience before this ever-evolving continuous beat. One can check sonic referents spanning from house to tropicália, dub to fusion, Afrobeat to progressive rock, New Age to disco. Daniel clearly thinks like a DJ even in composition; each element is introduced or peeled back in order not to serve itself but this continuously evolving meta-object, a perfect hour-long DJ set made of original compositions.
Given that this comes the same year as the resolutely outré and experimental recent Matmos release reinterpreting avant-garde Polish compositions in electronic space, it makes sense that he would skew to something so bursting with life and dance-driven. The overall project of Matmos and The Soft Pink Truth together feel like a map of the universe transposed to electronic music, genre agnostic in its origins even if the end product is deftly shaped back to two root styles. There retains an element of balance, much like how in the year of The Soft Pink Truth’s last LP we received a 3LP set of experimentalism from Matmos as well as an EP of hardcore covers from Drew Daniel himself. This project took our top marks for best electronic records last time and I imagine this one will do the same; Daniel’s powers remain at that same impeccable peak, evoking the wonder and beauty of crate-digging in original compositions that, especially in the existential void gestured to by the title question of this record, must be responded to with dance.
Label: Thrill Jockey
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.