If you grew up playing games like Sensible Soccer and early versions of FIFA on the SEGA Megadrive, then discovering a band named Soccer96 is likely to leave you feeling pretty nostalgic and interested to discover what they’re all about. A side project formed by two-thirds of the Mercury-nominated space jazz trio The Comet Is Coming, the duo consisting of Dave Leavers a.k.a. Danalogue on synths and Max Hallett a.k.a. Betamax on drums play and record everything live, with no laptops, sequencers, or anything else involved. Just two close friends jamming, sometimes long into the night.
There’s a strong emphasis on experimentation and improvisation which drives Soccer96, borrowing from multiple genres including electronica, psychedelia, krautrock, afrobeat, hip hop, acid jazz and experimental pop. The result is a sound which is retro, futuristic and modern all at once, sharing similarities in both style and philosophy with the likes of Can, Silver Apples, Brian Eno and Miles Davis, as well as more recent artists like MGMT, Animal Collective, Errors and Speak Galactic.
As Above So Below arrives four years after the release of their 2012 self-titled debut. It’s an ambitious piece of work, both conceptually and sonically, aiming to explore humanity’s perception of reality and the unity between all things over the course of just 12 tracks. Not an easy task. Structurally, it’s held together fairly loosely, as you would expect from an album created largely during improvised jam sessions. While its experimental nature sometimes harms its flow, overall it’s a very well crafted piece of work with the great chemistry that exists between the duo evident throughout.
Opener “The Swamp” serves as a great introduction to their universe, carried along by Betamax’s primitive percussion and Danalogue’s sinuous synth work. With fellow The Comet Is Coming member Shabaka Hutchings also joining them on sax. This is followed by the star-gazing lead-single “Megadrive Lamborghini”, an addictive pop gem that’s among the finest tracks of 2016. However, a little momentum is lost on the experimental, Dogon Tribe-inspired “Sirius [Twin Star]” and the more playful, wonky Beck-like “Up and Down”.
The catchy, dancefloor-ready “Feels Right” and the driving, tribal groove of the trance-like “Let It Come” get the album back to its best, beginning and ending the middle third of the album by transporting the listener to the warehouse parties where they were both conceived during live shows. These bookend a couple of short instrumental tracks which are also closely related, coming from old jam-tapes, with drum track “BBBBang” followed by the synth-led “Manga”, each showcasing the duo’s individual talents.
The final third opens with the brilliant Graham Hancock lecture-inspired “Spirit Wobble”, its trip hop style complete with haunting vocals and guest bassist Swann Hunter being very reminiscent of mid-90’s Portishead with a psychedelic twist. Eerie interlude track “Ancestors” and the meandering jazz piano of “Between The Whole And The Void” cause the flow to be halted again, but the album ends on a high with colourful closer “Brutal Deluxe” completing the cycle from birth to death, representing the return to pure consciousness.
Top Tracks: The Swamp; Megadrive Lamborghini; Spirit Wobble
Released: 23rd September 2016
Label: Slow Foot
Genres: Electronica, Experimental Pop
Rating: Solid 7