Special Request – Bedroom Tapes (Review)

With four albums scheduled for release this year alone, Paul Woolford, aka. Special Request, can perhaps be forgiven for returning to some early demos on his latest release, Bedroom Tapes. Selected from lost cassettes rediscovered during a house-move, the compiled tracks include some of the material which would lead to Woolford’s initial signing with the now-defunct techno label Blue Basique. Bedroom Tapes follows the excellent VORTEX, an album that genre-hopped from techno to breakbeat to gabber, composed in equal parts of hard-hitting bangers and forward-thinking experiments in club music. As its name even suggests, Bedroom Tapes is a homier listen, its glittering arpeggiators and echoey rhythms suited less to the rave and more to a quality home stereo. While lacking either the scope or the ambition of earlier efforts, Bedroom Tapes offers unfiltered insight into Woolford’s early creative journey and grounds his status as an unshakeable talent in UK electronic production.

Bedroom Tapes is a consistent listen throughout, with every track built around rolling drum machines and lush synthesizers. The opener, ‘Panaflex Sunrise’, sets a precedent for the project as a whole, its warm harmonies and reverb-glazed drum machines immediately reminiscent of early Aphex Twin releases like Analogue Bubblebath’. Indeed, the album rarely deviates from such ready-established sounds, presenting few ideas that might be labelled either experimental or challenging. Nevertheless, the album stands firmly on its own feet, due in no small part to a stellar mastering job. On ‘Entropy’, the echoing bassline punches through a barrage of snapping snares and intertwining melodies, while on ‘Pineal Gland’ the drums and synth textures are layered in reverb without ever feeling drowned out.

The only moment that falls short is the plodding ‘Xenopsin’, a track which, at twelve minutes long, fails to justify its run-time, surrendering all its ideas before the halfway point. The drab bassline and steady house beat are not hypnotic enough to be entrancing, nor is there enough groove for the track to succeed as a slow dancefloor-filler. Nevertheless, despite this slight glitch the two following tracks close the album on a high. ‘Double Rainbow’ is as pretty as its name would suggest, with mellow keys draped lazily over stuttering, phased-out drums, repeating unto infinity. It is the final track however, ‘Phosphorescence’, which is the album’s highlight. Featuring a tighter groove and punchier drums, the tune’s component parts jell together coherently, sounding closer to a fully-fleshed anthem than anything else on the album. It is a euphoric close, with infectious synths driving forward over a pulsing house groove, while the introduction of major stabs provides a nostalgic throwback to the heady ecstasy of 90s rave.

For Bedroom Tapes to succeed as an album in its own right rather than merely a collection of demos is testament to Woolford’s early creative talents. While undoubtedly lacking the ambition of VORTEX (or even ‘Shepperton Moon Landing’, the latest teaser from Special Request’s upcoming EP), Bedroom Tapes lays bare the development of a talented producer still searching for the sophisticated sound he is known for today.

Special Request’s upcoming EP, Offworld, is scheduled for released on 19th October 2019.

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