The two East Coast duos team up to fight the good fight against heartless dance music. Valiant effort, but they're not completely up to the task.
Simply put, there's just too much noisy, throbby, cold-hearted dance music filling clubs and headphones these days. That's the philosophy Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap adhere to. What you have here is two pairs of like-minded DJs. Bostonians Eli Goldstein and Charles Levine trade under the name Wolf + Lamb, while New Yorkers Gadi Mizrahi and Zev Eisenberg comprise Soul Clap. And it is really not difficult to agree with their point of view. A lot of dance music these days is too loud and devoid of warmth. This premise fails to take into account a lot of what's on offer, including labels like the very one that released this album, but it's a valid one nonetheless.
This installment of !K7's venerable DJ Kicks series, then, is the foursome's manifesto of sorts. Some DJs use mixes like this to give you a peek into their often eclectic record collections and setlists. But this mix is more like a private party. Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap have filled the album's 75-minute running time with 27 tracks from what they call "family and friends". That means a lot of stuff from Wolf + Lamb's eponymous label, with nine tracks exclusive to this compilation. Also, the four principals appear often -- in various combinations. This DJ Kicks is an up-close, accurate picture of these four men's aesthetic.
It's a pretty likable one, too. Midetmpo beats predominate, with influences centering on house, soul, and R&B. The occasional synthesizer wash provides atmosphere, and if nothing particularly thrills you, nothing offends, either. Opener "Yellow Sky" from Greg Paulus pretty much sets the template, an '80s-ish synth-bass holding things down while the slow-attack synth pad whooshes around and a laid-back, soulful voice sings about cruising Sunset Strip. It's very much an American counterpart to English and European labels like Buzzin' Fly and Kompakt.
There are some standouts as well. Tanner Ross's "Goodbye Summer", an exclusive, is actually a groovy way to usher in the warm season with an old-school electro vibe, not modern electro-house, but the pulsating type of rhythm that drove NYC club anthems and Belgian hi-NRG rave-ups alike. Again, it's down to the synth-bass, but Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap give the track a contemporary touch with spaced-out synth effects that float off every which way. Double Hill's "Everytime I Go" combines a dance beat with soulful guitar strumming and shimmering keyboards in a way that recalls vintage Saint Etienne. Only instead of Sarah Cracknell's gentle cooing, here you get a bluesy voice declaring, "I got a naked woman". If Stax had kept going through the millennium instead of petering out, it might have yielded something like this.
The more soul Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap put in their DJ Kicks, the better it gets. The rich synth pads are back for Soul Clap's remix of Locussolus's "Next to You", along with affected new wave vocals. There isn't a lot of hip-hop to this album, but the mellow flow on No Regular Play's "Takin' You Back" works well. Also, the downtempo, atmospheric interludes are a nice touch.
Despite this handful of tracks that grab your ears, though, you sense Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap hedging a bit. They aim to give you something that goes beyond ordinary dance music, yet most of the tracks on Wolf + Lamb vs. Soul Clap: DJ Kicks would sound at home next to a lot of the very same stuff the foursome decry. This is indeed a warm-sounding album, but that warmth doesn't go below the surface as much as you'd like. It's like cookies you buy at the store. They do the trick, but it's not hard to imagine something richer and fresher.