It’s the middle of the night in some east-end London bunker repurposed as a concert venue and Drew Daniel is explaining why he couldn’t use the sound of ejaculate hitting contact paper in this particular performance. There’s an eerie natural light flooding in through a darkened window, a photonic residue streaming in through a circular crack, projecting a shimmering halo on Daniel’s head. He is at the same time serious, funny and pensive as he talks about his regret in not being able to include the sonic phenomenon from the original Matmos recording and in that instance it sums up everything that I appreciate from this incredibly unique and daring artist. There’s a complexity to his work that functions on the superficial as provocative and fun, underplaying something serious and contemplative just beyond the immediate.
The moment occurred during a unique Matmos performance with the London Contemporary Orchestra. While no two Matmos performances have ever been the same , this was a very special performance, as Matmos sample elements live to classical interpretations of their back catalogue. The musical project consisting of Drew Daniel and M.C Schmidt has been a consistent entity in the contemporary vanguard of electronic music for the last two decades, with concept albums that explore everything from the spin cycle of a washing machines to queer culture in America. Although an extensive project that can include everything from experimental noise to TV operas, it is still not enough to facilitate the vast creativity of Drew Daniel and for every other musical whim that might indulge Daniel’s curiosity there’s The Soft Pink Truth.
The solo project has been a side project for as long as Matmos has existed, and while it might at times be the anecdote to some of Matmos’ more thought-provoking and difficult endeavours, it remains a concept-driven project filled with the very same contradictions and in-jokes that comprises Matmos.
The Soft Pink Truth’s scope covers everything from early House and Garage to Black Metal, and has seen Drew Daniel approach each album as a fragmented snapshot of a genre of music, contextualised within the parameters of the artist’s biography. At the nucleus of his work, glimmering in the light of the electroclash era, Do you want New Wave or do you want The Soft Pink Truth? stands as a landmark album not only for The Soft Pink Truth and Matmos, but also within the historical context of modern electronic music. Classic underground Punk and Hardcore, reconstituted as camp electronic dance music, Do you want New Wave or do you want The Soft Pink Truth? was the apogee of Daniel’s appeal, which has since gone to include LP’s like the self-deprecating black Metal furore of Why do the Heathens Rage? to the conceited cacophony of youtube on Why Pay More? and eventually his fourth LP to date, Shall We Go On Shining So That Grace May Increase?
While maintaining the question format of album titles, Shall We Go On Shining So That Grace May Increase? is a stark departure from The Soft Pink Truth’s previous work, both in process and execution. It abandons the cut and paste beat collages of his earlier works for something that wistfully flows through progression and sound to arrive on the album as a freeform composition travelling from Shall to May Increase; particularly emphasised through the mixed version of the album. The insistence on concept and a predisposition of a central theme remains consistent however on this latest, creating a platform for introspective reflection, and channeling anger and disappointment into something positive.
Downcast by the election of Trump and the increasing rise of facism around the world, Drew Daniel created a work of cathartic beauty that found serenity and joy in a world increasingly dominated by sadness and hate. It has possibly culminated in one of The Soft Pink Truth’s most accessible albums to date, foregoing the provocation and salacious sonic adventures of his first few records with only glimpses of his more nettling indulgences coming through on the climax of Shining.
Daniel rather sets a peaceful tone from the start with an angelic chorus of voices appearing through a hazy mist of subtle textures. The artist negates the kind of abstract sampling techniques for composed pieces played by a host of prominent vanguard musical characters operating in his artistic sphere. It takes some of that randomness away from The Soft Pink Truth’s sound, only ever coming close to those elements through the improvised passages that dot the LP. At its best Matmos cohort and Daniel’s partner MC Schmidt strokes elegant passages from acoustic keys that drift on echoes through On and So, tracks that parlay part of a universal theme that constitutes the entire album rather than individual pieces. The album unfolds in a temperate beauty where Daniel finds some joy in an inextricable melancholy, one element juxtaposing the other in a delicate balance throughout the record.
At times, glimmers of Daniel’s dance-floor inclinations shine through the arrangement – the sampled rebel yell of Grace or the 4-4 skip of the kick drum on We – but this album refrains largely from any danceable progressions in favour for a more solemn and pensive atmosphere. It breaks the monotony concurrently while leaving faint strains to the sonic disposition of The Soft Pink Truth and although things like the gay motifs that dominate his earlier works are still there, they are subdued and obscured for the most part. An isolated gospel sample, a dance floor reference or a glitching sample still convey that Drew Daniel charm, making this a definitive Soft Pink Truth album, but not like you’ve ever heard it before.
It’s an album that comes at the right time, not merely in terms of the theme or the nature of the record, but also for The Soft Pink Truth’s own biography. Drew Daniel could have easily made an album that continued to propagate the sound he’d installed since Do you want New Wave, or do you want The Soft Pink Truth?, but he would have risked creating a caricature of his music, turning to cliché what should be distinctive. Instead by making an album like Shall We Go On Shining So That Grace May Increase? he has completely disarmed preconceptions, laying the groundwork for a renewed interest in his music and a new burgeoning audience to develop around it yet again like it did during his career-defining sophomore.
This could be his best work since that record, and it comes as a sonic diorama of contemporary opinion during a very unusual time in human history. An album like Why do the Heathens Rage? or Why Pay More? could not exist in this time without coming across as insensitive or crude and Drew Daniel expertly moves his project into the mood of the zeitgeist with one of the most alluring albums of the year so far. It’s the sound of ejaculate hitting contact paper; a sonic anomaly that jars within its context.