The Soft Pink Truth, "Was It Ever Real?"
I had successfully deluded myself into thinking that I had spent my pandemic downtime wisely and constructively for the most part, but learning that Drew Daniel spent that same period assembling an all-star disco ensemble is now making me lament the sad limitations of my imagination and ambition. The resultant album—Is It Going to Get Any Deeper Than This?—is slated for release this October, but this teaser mini-album (part of Thrill Jockey's 30th anniversary campaign of limited/special releases) is one hell of a release in its own right and a true jewel in Daniel's discography. Naturally, the big immediate draws are the killer single "Is It Gonna to Get Any Deeper Than This (Dark Room Mix)" and a disco/deep house reimagining of Coil's classic "The Anal Staircase," but the other two songs are every bit as good (if not better) than that pair, so no self-respecting fan of Daniel's oeuvre will want to sleep on this ostensibly minor release (very few artists choose to release their best work on cassingle in 2022). Naturally, there is plenty of psychotropic weirdness mingled with all the great grooves, but I was still legitimately taken aback by how beautifully Daniels and his collaborators shot past kitsch/homage/pastiche and landed at completely functional, fun, and legit dance music. No one would raise a quizzical eyebrow if someone secretly slipped this album into the playlist at a party (not until "Anal Staircase" dropped, at least).
Some years back, one of Drew Daniel's friends was fatefully asked "is it going to get any deeper than this?" while DJing at a club. That question became a "kind of mantra" for Daniel, as he was fascinated by the elusive meaning of that question. I am somewhat fascinated now myself, as it inspired me to think about which elements can imbue a piece with "depth" and whether or not the opening "Is It Gonna to Get Any Deeper Than This (Dark Room Mix)" could be said to meet that enigmatic criteria. My official verdict is "absolutely," as Daniel's bevy of outsider disco brethren inventively ride an absolutely perfect, sensuous, and thumping dub techno-style groove for 8 glorious minutes without ever dispelling the magic with a single misstep. It almost feels like Coil and Rhythm & Sound teamed up to record a libidinal, floor-packing party anthem (it's a damn shame that never actually happened, but it seems like Daniel is perfectly happy and willing to fill that stylistic void himself).
Elsewhere, the following "You Don't Know (The Full Rose of Dawn)" feels like a sexed-up channeling of "Loose Joints"-era Arthur Russell, while "The Anal Staircase" gamely attempts to translate the stomping and dissonant menace of the original into a catchy house anthem. It doesn't quite work as well as the other three pieces for various reasons, but the biggest one is probably that guest vocalist Daniel Clarke sits that piece out (he is my pick for this release's MVP, as his soulful freestyling is a reliable and recurring highlight). On the bright side, it is impressive that a cool Coil cover is handily eclipsed by all three of the original pieces. In particular, the closing title piece makes for one hell of a surprising finale, as Daniel and some talented friends from Acetone, Horse Lords, and elsewhere unleash something that sounds like an improbably wonderful collision of a groovy harpsichord-centric giallo soundtrack with a never-heard-before sexy and spaced-out lounge music experiment by Carlos Santana.