Album Review: Special Request — ‘Belief System’

Paul Woolford develops a lavish soundscape, layered with broken beats, experimentation and dark techno which provides listeners with a unique visceral experience that is spread over 23 tracks.

Since it’s creative inception in 2012, Special Request has served as a platform for Paul Woolford to elope into a darker, more experimental panorama. The Leeds born DJ and producer is better known for releases via Hotflush including ‘Untitled’, ‘MDMA’ and most notably ‘Erotic Discourse’ which has become a transcendent dance-floor anthem.

Belief System is Special Request’s sophomore LP and represents a collection of distorted synths, warped acid loops, heavy nostalgic baselines and garage samples. Although Belief System develops upon Woolford’s already dark and poignant techno, oftentimes throughout the release we are left bemused and bewildered by this 100+ minute epic.

Owing to it’s length, Belief System is best conceptualised in three distinct segments. The opening track ‘Chrysalis’ initiates the first sequence in somewhat of an aimless fashion, providing an exploratory type sound that foreshadows much of the album to come. Belief System kicks into gear with ‘Catacombs’, a track truly representative of the gloomy, tech-infused broken beats Special Request embodies. This is followed by tracks such as ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Change’ which continue the unique, layered theme but provide some much needed life (and house vibes) to the record. Each of these tracks are accompanied by heavy kick-drum loops and catchy vocal samples that are more transferable to the dance floor.

Woolford releases the shackles and performs a full blown metamorphosis for the second segment of Belief System. This begins with the thundering ‘Curtain Twitcher’ which could easily be confused for a Planetary Assault System release — inclusive of a heavy baseline and warped extra-terrestrial vibes. This is followed by ‘Scrambled in LS1’, a track that continues Special Requests’ neurotic, experimental sound. Having said this, the highlight of the second phase of Belief System is most certainly ‘Make it Real’ which transports listeners to an illegal warehouse rave, presumably in the heart of the UK in the 90’s. This track is a genre bending, dub-inspired testimony to the old school raver. The beating heart of Belief System is exposed with a strong line of tracks from ‘Brainstorm’ through to ‘Replicant (Nexus 7 VIP)’. However, as the second phase comes to a crescendo, so too does the album’s relevance with ‘Light in the Darkest Hour’ acting as a logical ending.

The third phase of the album, comprising nine tracks and lasting over 30 minutes, unfortunately bears no fruit. These tracks offer an ambient soundscape whereby the listener feels transported into a hazy, open field, wandering aimlessly…which at times can be cathartic. However, at this moment, Woolford may have lost those who did not intend to be transported to such a desolate place.

As entertaining as the first two thirds of Special Request’s Belief System are, ultimately Woolford’s epically nostalgic ode to the 90’s, unravels due to a lacklustre and at times frustrating final segment. For the most part, Woolford delivers an ethereal collection of sounds that piece together quite nicely. However, there is a distinct lack in consistency and precision from an artist whose experimental sound may at times come across as self indulgence.

Written by Josh Pavlou

Belief System was released on Friday 13th October via Houndstooth.

Favourite Tracks: Catacombs, Change, Sanctuary, Make it Real, Light in the Darkest Hour, Cheyne Stoking

Least Favourite Tracks: Advent, Ouroboros, Five Lane Ends, Qoriqzona

Rating: 5.5/10


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