Someone took a soul singer on a synth space trip.
One of the last albums I discovered in 2019 was ‘Offworld’ by Special Request. It was the third album he released in 2019 as part of an album cycle but strangely it is probably the easiest place to start. It’s a mixture 90’s breakbeat trance, soul and melodic space plucks.
Across the seven tracks, that still total 48 minutes, Special Request aka Paul Woolford spends a lot of time enjoying 90’s trance tropes. A lot of the tracks remind me of my early music-making years when I used to play with E-Jay products. Of course, these beats and synths are far more fluid and neon-tinged than anything that product set put together but the throwback is real. House is back but this time it is a space house.
The real ace here though is the inclusion of a Soul singer who has her voice chopped in and out of several of the tracks albeit abstractly. The album plays with space travel and progressively over the seven tracks becomes more distant and sci-fi driven, but the vocal always brings memories of home. In the superb opening track ‘237,000 miles’ the mix of beats, soul, synth and space collide to create a new genre of sorts. I’m sure I can hear either her voice or voice samples gliding in and out of the background of several tracks afterwards but regardless the voice gets more and more distant over time as we listener travel further ‘Offworld’.
The other thing Special Request played with is the synths. They get more distorted and corrupt over the course of the album whilst also becoming more fluid and distant. ‘Front Screen Projection’ is a rubbery and malleable piece and spills over with gurgling keyboards and warm reverb. ‘Arse End of the Moon’ then starts to play with portamento – snapping and bending between notes rather than just playing them. Added against the harsher beats – it makes the song really visceral. ‘Morning Ritual’ then combines parts of these tracks together but fuzzes it all out so everything feels distant and floaty. The 12-minute ‘Floatation (SR Offworld Remix)’ closes the album out with a retro chill dance number as if we are now just enjoying the float around in space.
As a concept, I think ‘Offworld’ really works as a standalone piece. It is full of retro throwbacks so those who loved the 90s electronica movement will enjoy this most. There is a great story to be enjoyed and Special Request has made a carefully nuanced album that has narrative, heart and great synth bass line.
Recommended track: Front Screen Projection
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