belgica-soundtrack

Soulwax fans have been hanging on for a new album for a while now. It’s no secret that the Dewaele brothers, David and Stephen, have spent a decent portion of the last decade wowing festival crowds with their fan-pleasing mash ups, curating music for video games and taking their bone-shaking bass-project with James Murphy (Despacio) on the road.

In some respects it feels like that collection of albums, ‘Much Against Everyone’s Advice’ and ‘Any Minute Now’, is an era long left behind. The 1998 album in particular is a record still affectionately remembered as a cult classic, but it’s been almost 20 years. Following a traditional album release pattern is something Soulwax never seem to have little interest in, and, to their credit, it has essentially kept things interesting.

But it’s tricky to consider ‘Belgica’ a new, legitimate Soulwax album. Sure, it’s arranged, recorded and produced by Soulwax but it’s an original soundtrack composed for director Felix Van Groeningen’s new film, the story of two brothers who get swept into a hedonistic nighttime lifestyle. It’s a piece of work that magnifies the gift and courage Soulwax have to assume many identities.

Rather than heading down the conventional route of creating a musical backdrop for the movie, they’ve chosen to head in the opposite direction to, say, a soundtrack like Daft Punk’s effort for Tron: Legacy.

For ‘Belgica’ the Dewaeles have created 16 fictional identities – bands – in line with the film’s plot. Each has a track on the album. Obviously it’s a move which leads to the album feeling more like a creative but slightly erratic playlist rather than a flowing body of work. Like their vinyl collection back home, it’s an album that’s impressive in its diversity.

The minimal downbeat electro of opener ‘The Best Thing’ is a signifier for how the album hopscotches between a variety of genres. It’s a slow burning dose of neo-soul that could pass as a Rihanna album track.

Following that, the funk-flecked disco of ‘Caoutchouc’ segues into to the Syrian dabke of ‘Çölde Kutup Ayisi’, which isn’t disimilar from Omar Souleyman’s latest work.

Perhaps their most extreme departure, though, comes on ‘Nothing’, where Sepultura’s Igor Cavalera guests on vocals. It mixes sweaty basement rock venue vibes with punk-spirited guitars and steady drums before later sidestepping to snappy guitar riffs on the psychobilly-riding ‘The Cookie Crumbles’.

The Soulwax of old does briefly re-appear on ‘How Long’, where guitar riffs and melodies sound familiar from their first couple of albums.

Credit to the Dewaele brothers, then. This isn’t an easy brief; they’ve pushed themselves musically and asked their fans to understand what Soulwax means now. It’s not a conventional way to return, but it’s all the better for it.

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