Sunday, December 22, 2019

DeWolff - The Tascam Tapes

Check out what it says on the album cover for The Tascam Tapes.  “This is Dewolff’s new album.  It was recorded on the road for less than $50.  But it sounds like a million bucks!”  What’s that all about then?
Well, the genesis of The Tascam Tapes is more than a little unusual.  For the uninitiated – like me, fr’instance - DeWolff are a guitar/drums/keys trio from the Netherlands, formed in 2007, with a penchant for psychedelia and Southern rock and soul.  This is their seventh ‘studio’ album, but it was recorded on the road in Europe, using a 1980s-vintage Tascam four-track cassette machine.  And while Pablo van de Poel played guitar as per usual, his brother Luka eschewed
DeWolff - Groovy gear, guys!
his regular drums in favour of loading a bundle of rare soul and funk beats into a sampler, and Robin Piso made do with a battery-powered synth in place of his Hammond organ.
So much for the back story.  Is it any good?  Yes, I have to report that in its singular way it damn well is.  The Tascam Tapes comprises 12 tracks spread across just 33 minutes.  But it has a healthy quota of good songs and ideas, and an undeniable freshness.
If The Black Keys were to make an album inspired by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, it would probably sound like ‘It Ain’t Easy’ or ‘Made It To 27’.  The former is a soulful tune with a handy hook, plinking synth piano and funky bass sounds, falsetto vocals, and a sweet guitar line that Pablo repeats several times in lieu of a traditional solo.  The latter has a fingersnapping Motown-ish soul sound, another catchy melody and appealing vocal harmonies, and a neat guitar solo over lazy bass and beats – and is a meditation on the crappier aspects of the touring life, recorded by the actual roadside, near Carcassone in France.  ‘Rain’ slows things down in a similar vein, with a delicate melody and instrumentation.  And while ‘Love Is Such A Waste’ features some off the wall vocal screeches, at heart it’s a simple, sweet soul tune, with more falsetto vocals and piercing guitar work, even if it’s a bit wordy.
But they explore some other angles too.  The opening ‘Northpole Blues’ kicks off with a
Nice boys - when they're dressed up
belting North Mississippi Hill Country-like groove, all fuzzy guitar and rickety drum sounds, with a bluesy ‘Trouble, trouble, trouble’ vocal, before breaking down into a rather messy stomp with bleeping guitar.  At the other end of the album ‘Life Is A Fish Tank’ is an ear-catchingly great slice of funky soul, with bendy bass sounds, a sparkling guitar break, and some well-suited harp playing courtesy of their pal Arthur Akkermans.  And in between there’s ‘Let It Fly’, a jaunty dance track played out over twitching bass and drum sounds, and the Beck-like ‘Awesomeness Of Love’, which features an outro on which a bassy riff seems to tip the hat to a Robert Plant vocal passage from ‘The Ocean’.
Oh yeah, and there are ‘Blood Meridian I’ and ‘Blood Meridian II’.  How many bands would be inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s blood-soaked tale of a nineteenth century trail of massacres in a baked southern America landscape?  And then set it to a bass heavy groove over an intricate drum pattern, with shooting star synth sounds punctuating the chorus, as on ‘Blood Meridian I’?  
On one level The Tascam Tapes is an interesting experiment.  But it’s also a showcase for DeWolff’s impressive songwriting abilities.  Now I’m tempted to explore their back catalogue, and find out what these guys can do when they’re fully equipped.

The Tascam Tapes is released by Mascot Records on 10 January 2020.

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