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The Soft Pink Truth is Drew Daniel, one half of Baltimore duo Matmos. Asked to explain his new album’s gauntlet-throwing title, Drew Daniel says: “Years ago a friend was DJing in a club and a woman came into the DJ booth and asked ‘is it going to get any deeper than this?’ and the phrase became a kind of mantra for us. What did she really want? This album was created as an attempt to imagine possible musical responses to her question.”
Throughout the ten songs of the album, the provocation to go “deeper” prompts promiscuous moves across the genres of disco, minimalism, ambient, and jazz, sliding onto and off of the dancefloor, sweeping higher and lower on the scale of frequencies, engaging both philosophical texts re-set as pop lyrics and wordless glossolalia. Rather than a dryly pursued thesis, the music flows across emotional terrain from upfront peaks to melancholic valleys, often within the same song. This is the case on opening track “Deeper,” which morphs from Brainticket-esque keyboard loops to a Chic disco groove to a Stars Of The Lid style heavy drone over eleven minutes. Evenly divided between opening lift-off, rhythmic peaks, and extended, spaced-out decrescendos, this is music that flickers and pulses and melts.
Though the goal is depth, it also goes sonically wider than any other Soft Pink Truth record in terms of sound source. To craft the album during COVID and social isolation, Daniel assembled a fourteen piece virtual disco band from friends and allies across the genre spectrum and across the world: Daniel’s romantic and musical partner M.C. Schmidt and friend Koye Berry play piano, Mark Lightcap (Acetone, Dick Slessig Combo) plays acoustic and electric guitar, Jason Willett (Half Japanese) plays bass, Nate Wooley plays trumpet, Brooks Kossover (Drugdealer) plays flute, John Berndt and Andrew Bernstein (Horse Lords) play saxophone, and shakers, shekere, tumba, triangle and cajon parts are played by Cuban percussionist Ayoze de Alejandro Lopez. There are chamber instruments as well: harpsichord by Tom Boram, harp by Obadias Guerra, Irish harp by Una Monaghan and, on many tracks, lush string arrangements by Turkish arranger Ulas Kurugullu for violin, viola, and cello that recall the Love Unlimited Orchestra found on classic Barry White albums. From Caracas to Istanbul to Dublin, everyone recorded themselves at home playing along to skeletal demos, and then their contributions were assembled in Daniel’s home studio in Baltimore. This virtual experience of action at a distance, and of community coming together and then returning to solitude might explains the song “Moodswing” (which starts with a popping champagne cork and turns to broken glass halfway through); but that dynamic also explains the moodswings of the album as a whole, as joyful collective playing dissolves into tranquil, reflective atmospheres suitable to music made in response to a moment of doubt, complaint and mixed emotions.
There are some perverse pop moments. One side, one, “La Joie Devant La Mort” takes a sentence in French by philosopher and erotica author Georges Bataille (“once more our steps lead us / into the forest and into the night / in search / of joy / before death”) and turns it into the lyrics of a gothic disco anthem with vocals courtesy of Jamie Stewart (XIu Xiu). Intoned over scything disco strings and quantized insect noises, Bataille’s cryptic remarks skips the seminar room for a late night queer cruising-ground. On “Wanna Know”, the album title becomes an airy vocal hook as Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak, Flock of Dimes) harmonizes with herself singing “I just really wanna know / is it gonna get any deeper than this?” on top of rubbery bass guitar riffs and shimmering harpsichords that dissolve into a wall of stretched vocal manipulations and low sub-bass.
Throughout, Is It Going To Get Any Deeper Than This? aims for a kind of psychedelic poolside take on disco, using the steady 120 bpm rhythmic chassis of the music as a launchpad for reverie rather than big room EDM bluster. With its coos and whispers and field recordings layered on top of crisp hi hats and handclaps, “Trocadero” pays homage to the San Francisco discotheque whose DJs pioneered the slow and sensual afterhours Disco subgenre known as “sleaze.” While there are clubby moments, much of the mood is pastoral, more suited to mushroom trips in a forest than a basement rave. With its endless staircases of arpeggiating oscillators, the thirteen minute “Sunwash” is the most overtly psychedelic piece, and evokes the longform synth-and-guitar workouts of ‘Rubycon’-era Tangerine Dream.
The title can also operate as a dirty joke, and there’s a thread of pansexual eroticism that glides across the album, most notably in “Joybreath”, in which Brooklyn techno artist Rose E Kross intones Bataille’s text in French over throbbing low end sub-bass, processed moans and vapor trails of synthesizer and saxophone.
The record is not afraid to just throw down. “Deeper Than This?” delivers an upfront deep house track with a moody bassline that braids three different vocalists together: Angel Deradoorian sings the album title as a provocative question, Daniel Clark coos wordless soulful responses, and improvisational vocalist Id M Theft Able asks the album title question in a deep male voice over tight drumbreaks and ghostly dub drop-outs.
The album concludes with a cover of Willie Hutch’s “Now That It’s All Over” (which originally appeared on his soundtrack to “The Mack”); simplifying the chords and speeding up the tempo, Hutch’s funereal soul classic accelerates into an ecstatic peak before melting into whispers, harps, strings and a final acoustic guitar coda from Mark Lightcap. It’s a suitably soft landing for an album that reflects decades spent thinking back upon a moment in a DJ booth that passed in seconds.
Sidestepping retro kitsch but paying homage to highly personal interpretations of disco such as Arthur Russell, Don Ray, Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, and Mandré, or the jazz funk of Creed Taylor and CTI records, its emphasis upon slowly morphing deep house grooves will also appeal to fans of DJ Sprinkles, Moodymann and Theo Parrish. At once catchy and spacey, poppy and perverse, Is It Going To Get Any Deeper Than This? shows a restless musician trying to square the circle of dance music and meditation, repetition and change.
Mastered by Heba Kadry
Is It Going To Get Any Deeper Than This? Unboxing