Soulwax founders Stephen and David Dewaele, along with third member Stefaan Van Leuven, have been progenitors in the places where indie sensibility meets the club. After dropping two studio albums as Soulwax, the brothers Dewaele dropped one of the most important releases of this century with their duo project 2manyDJs called As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2, which was a stunning remix album that opens with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer getting mixed with Basement Jaxx’s “Where’s Your Head At”. It goes from there creating more and more one-of-a-kind juxtapositions, from the melding of the Stooges “No Fun” to Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” and Destiny’s Child with 10cc.
Coming six months after LCD Soundsystem’s epochal monologue, “Losing My Edge”, the release felt like a physical, spiritual successor. In sound, it felt like little else: the album throughout is gritty and grimy, with the blown-out bass and heavy beats making dumb fun out of deafening sounds, making for one of the most distinctive and lively albums of the past 15 years. And the zeitgeist was kind to Soulwax: after 2manyDJs, they became go-to producers of the indie and mainstream set, making remixes for Kylie Minogue, Gorillaz, Muse, DJ Shadow, and much more. They even remixed their own album Any Minute Now on the follow-up Nite Versions. Their sound became a clear influence on others — aside from LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip, it’s difficult to imagine the blog house movement, Pedro Winter, and his Ed Banger record label existing without Soulwax’s influence. So, the first properly attributed Soulwax album in 12 years (their soundtrack under fictional bands Belgic notwithstanding), From Deewee is a cause for celebration.
From Deewee was recorded live-in-studio in one take with four additional musicians augmenting Soulwax’s lineup. Given the Dewaeles’ penchant in the past for tongue-in-cheek sampling and courageous remixing, one might expect From Deewee to be a powerfully experimental collection that pushes the limits of what we’ve come to expect from the brothers. But From Deewee doesn’t quite deliver that. Instead, it’s an album made of up mostly vocal-driven synthpop with Kraftwerkian synths and beautifully recorded percussion. The album throughout is professional and refined, with sonic textures that point more toward the later, similarly professional and refined LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip albums This Is Happening and One Life Stand. But both those albums had thematic material that the music served. For James Murphy and LCD, This Is Happening was the end of their first phase and entry into a retirement that he’s only emerged from in the past year. In Hot Chip’s case, it was a celebration of friendship and domesticity. Here, Soulwax just sounds like a set of pros making music that is pretty risk-free but at a very high level.
The album is presented as a suite, with one song flowing into the other. Rather than move forward like a mix reaching its climax, the music pulses and turns over its elements in pleasing and seamless variations throughout. Musically, the album is steeped in the past — the catchy standout “Transient Program from Drums and Machinery” is very representative of what the listener will get throughout the album: smooth, if indistinct singing followed by chanting backing vocals with modular synths that channel the mainstreaming of the instrument in the 1970s. It’s all warm, familiar, and fun, but it passes by without making too much of an impression. From Deewee is undeniably good, but it’s not great. With any luck, From Deewee will be remixed and reshaped into a juggernaut live set or a follow up album like Nite Versions.