As Above So Below is the second album from London-based duo Soccer96. The way drummer Betamax (Max Hallett) and synth player Danalogue [Dan Leavers] play together is mutually beneficial and often impressive. Starting with the very first track, the listener is set up for the same “epic synth-scapes over poly-rhythmic drums and infectious dance groves in a brutal cocktail of tight electronica and the spontaneous energy of improvisation” that’s described on their Bandcamp. The instrumentation is awesome, but the songs themselves reach that descriptive greatness about half the time.
Opening track “The Swamp” sets me up for everything that was promised, as its opening knocks bring me right back to Toonami’s old Deep Space Bass, the album that started my appreciation for electronic music as a young’un. If you can imagine, Soccer96’s murky, primal track sounds like one perfect for the party at Zion from The Matrix — providing a more sweaty, communal energy than, say, the sinister slink of “Peter Tanaka” by Palmbomen II.
However, after a few minutes, I wondered, “Are these two things going to be enough to keep me interested for a whole album’s worth of material?”. For the most part, the answer is yes. The band’s simple combo of live drums with analog synths is effective, and each performs well throughout the record. After the mesmerizing intro, we get the playful and much fluffier “Megadrive Lamborghini” — a splendid soundtrack to cruise any small night-jaunt with your friends, featuring a swagger à la Daft Punk’s hip-hop-hit attempt “Da Funk”, or maybe more so, an even lighter touch like George and Jonathan’s last release.
Following this, we’re back to a track with the same vibes as the intro with “Sirius (Twin Star)”, and the effect dulls majorly in comparison; it’s very easy to zone out of attention while listening to this one. Afterward, we’re again back to a playful track in “Up and Down”. While this one also pales, it’s still fun in its harkening back to some of Beck’s tunes, or if Jack White would take the time to play with some more electronics (and can’t you imagine hearing one of his guitar solos anywhere on the track?).
Thankfully, there’s a small group of tracks in the heart of the record that then greatly impress. “Feels Right” is club-ready (if not incredibly close to it). I could hear it easily connecting to/from some Todd Terje or something. And those never-the-same-for-longer-than-two-seconds synth sounds glue the mix together the way most groups use quiet white noise to do the same. The new synth layer added is a hearty dollop of CoolWhip on top of everything to seal the track’s scrumptiousness. Following this titan is “BBBBBang” and “Manga”, both awesome in their brevity. The hook of the former easily sounds like it could be the same in the chorus to a hip-hop tune; the latter could have been made on Infinity Shred’s spaceship. The shorts then connect nicely right into the next track “Let It Come”. It has a promising build, and while what follows is entrancing and entertaining, it doesn’t really reach a best-level peak in all of its six-and-a-half minutes. At least the conga drums half-way through with the sonic sneaker-squeaks and the falling electronic bird whistle-like sounds are fantastic layers to add, though not enough to compensate the song’s length. Another breakdown seems to kill momentum, and the last section of the song then kind of weakly falls to its finish, although we’re reminded of that pleasing “Let it come / let it be / let it go” mantra.
Unfortunately, things stay lesser with next track “Spirit Wobble”, my least favorite on the album. It’s just an unexciting haunt of a track that could get some “Monster Mash” lyrics and seem fitting on those old “Scary Halloween Party for Kids!” compilations we all have buried somewhere in our home (which, to be fair, I loved back then). Perhaps I perceive it more weakly because it’s actually the song on the album that most reminds me of music made by other artists, when the rest has been so unique? Shrug.
The brief “Ancestors” works with its ghostly vox-synths to re-animate the preceding dearth, and, truth be told, it re-raised my excitement to hear the album finish. The ruminating lead-up to the close is “Between the Whole and the Void”, a pensive sonic melt that connects me to the subject matter I’ve heard is coming on the next (and final) track, as well as to multiple moments on Flying Lotus’ directly-related YOU’RE DEAD. The band has said “Brutal Deluxe” is “a track about dying, the symphony of orgasmic colors and sounds on the way out of here, brutal but pretty deluxe!”. With such a subject matter as the spirit behind the closing track, I’m honestly a little disappointed. The track has a brief few builds, and leads me to believe it’ll keep building like a Battles track by its finish, yet it doesn’t, and it’s only then in the final minute that I get hooked. That last minute enchants with its floating synths circling as one’s soul moves to that theorized Other of which we living will never know.
Twenty minutes’ worth of this album’s 40-minute runtime are wonderful tracks that keep your attention as they’re constantly evolving into small mind-mazes — the other 20 minutes aren’t far off stylistically, but are opposite primarily in that they don’t compel one to follow the band’s many minute fluctuations in groove. Despite the dips in overall quality that appear through the album, Soccer96 are excellent at their individual instruments, and if their respective phases aren’t lessening each other’s impact, they can link up to make some excellent music, too. I am sure that I will return to that great half a good amount of times (maybe even twice in a sitting to make up for the lesser half). The band have showed a dimensional improvement over their first release together, and I’m very excited to hear when they get one step beyond where they are now.