To be completely transparent, I was asked by a PR representative to review this one. My earlier praises for Tape Five tipped them off, though Blood is not the same bombastic type of electro swing. In fact, the only song on Blood that has even a remotely similar energy is its third track, Poker Face. I normally hate swingified covers of pop songs, but this is a pretty decent version. The swinginess feels more natural and creates a fun, somewhat darker tone for the song.
However, it’s the preceding song, “Too Much Too Soon,” which is probably the album’s best. Its funky instrumentals are a delight to listen to. At five minutes long, I still always feel like it ends too soon. Unfortunately, after “Too Much Too Soon” and “Poker Face,” the album starts mellowing out a little too much. Some of these mellower songs are okay, like “What Happens Next” which totally reminds me of Pink Floyd’s “The Trial.” By Track 8, though, I’m ready for things to pick back up. Tracks 6-9 work as background music for a speakeasy but are a bit of a slog when the music is the focal point.
I power through, though, because the album is jolted back to life in the end by the last song, “Killers.” This is a beautiful, mostly instrumental track with some goosebumps-inducing vocals. It reminds me a lot of Boogie Belgique, which is pretty much my highest compliment in the world of swing. So Blood is kind of a mixed bag overall, which… might have been the point? There’s definitely something in here for everyone, but you’re probably not gonna like the whole thing.
The best way to describe Snail’s House is “whimsical electronica,” the kind of stuff you sit down to write anime fanfic to. His discography is pretty hit and miss with me, though, but when there are hits, they hit hard. Nowhere is that more true than the album, Imaginarium. The back-to-back songs of “Imaginary Express” and “butterfly” are absolutely beautiful. They ride this perfect line of being cute and catchy yet melancholy and reflective. Both songs have a really unique sound; I’m not sure what I could possibly compare them to. Hell, I can’t even trace how Snail’s House ended up in my Spotify recommendations. But I’m glad it did for these two songs alone.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album just doesn’t resonate with me. The song that immediately follows “butterfly,” for instance, sounds like someone noodling on a bunch of different instruments. The next song, “summerscape,” is… okay. It at least feels like it can get away with being on the same album as “Imaginary Express” and “butterfly.” Everything onward, however, is either too video game-y or too laid-back. As I skim through other Snail’s House albums, I find that to be a recurring theme. So it seems that his preferred style isn’t my style, but in those moments when he tries something new, he knocks it out of the park and into the stars.
Groupees, which was once just another indie game bundle website, has since become my go-to for discovering new music. But no discovery has been as mesmerizing as their Strawberry Station bundle. This was my first introduction to future funk, and I gotta say, I’m about as swept away as I was when I first heard electro swing. Unfortunately, after skimming through the discography of several other future funk artists, I might have already maxed out what I’m gonna get from this genre. Strawberry Station is pretty much the best of the lot.
I’m really impressed by Strawberry Station, though. Of course, maybe that would change if I was more familiar with the original source material. Future funk is all about cutting up and remixing older music, so it’s entirely possible I’m giving too much credit. But after hearing similar remixes from other future funk artists, Strawberry Station is definitely doing enough to stand out. He seems to have the right knack for what to loop and what to distort, and I enjoy the little video game sound effects that are sprinkled throughout like Easter eggs.
Speaking more to his latest album, Smoothie Sounds, it’s… not bad, but far from my favorite. I absolutely love the song “Always Be Together.” Others like “Turn Of Fraise” and “Everybody Gets One” are pretty good, too. The rest are passable except for maybe the last two that slow things down a little too much. I think the problem is just that the loops being used here can become more grating if you’re not in the mood. To be completely fair, though, if I wasn’t already spoiled by Strawberry’s other albums like 128 State, I’d be singing higher praises. ‘Cause at the end of the day, it’s still good stuff.
I gotta commend Tape Five for being consistent. Most of the other (good) electro swing artists have since moved on to other styles, but Tape Five has always been a swing-first group. That doesn’t mean everything they’ve produced has been a hit. In fact, the last album of theirs I liked was 2012’s Swing Patrol. But The Roaring 2020s proves that they’re still a band worth keeping an eye on. What’s helped is a tad more emphasis on the electro side of things. The beats feel slightly heavier and vocals slightly more digitized than I would normally expect from these folks. The mostly instrumental song, “Duesenberg,” for instance, could very well pass as a single straight from Swingrowers or Klischee.
Tape Five doesn’t go full instrumental very often, though. They certainly like those speakeasy vocals, which, I’ll admit, can be a little grating after a while. This isn’t an album I can listen to on repeat; there are some songs I just automatically start skipping. The weakest one is “Happy,” a cover that’s not even as good as the original everyone’s tired of hearing, anyway. There are other covers on the album, as well, though I don’t mind this rendition of “I Shot the Sheriff” as much. For all I know, most of The Roaring 2020s are covers. But even if they are, Tape Five infuses them with enough energetic, toe-tapping fun to feel unique. Overall, this may be their best work yet, and I look forward to future releases.
Oh man, where do I even start. Caravan Palace is (was?) one of my favorite bands, but this album doesn’t sound like CP at all. Where their previous album, Robot Face, merely tested the pop/house waters, Chronologic goes all in. It’s a natural next step, I guess, and I can’t fault the band for doubling down on what’s obviously made them more successful. But this shift in tone coupled with the departure of some of the original members means the Caravan Palace of old is long gone. That doesn’t mean the new Caravan Palace and Chronologic are bad, though, just… very different. Like, if I had first listened to any of these songs out of context, I probably wouldn’t be able to guess who it was.
The problem I have with Chronologic is that it sounds too much like everything else now. Every song places huge importance on the lyrics and guest singers, and CP’s usual quirky instrumentals get lost in the background. Take the song “Melancolia.” If you’re not into hip hop, the vocals will probably drive you nuts. But then the brief sax and piano sections are amazing. It’s a really odd intermingling of the best and worst, and I still can’t decide if I like it. That’s how I feel about the whole album. Chronologic is easy listening overall, but nothing sticks with me, nothing sinks its claws into me like CP’s older stuff. It’s a solid B by any other standards. I just normally expect an A+ from these folks.
Better Than Ezra is a band I’ve known about for a long time thanks to their contribution on the Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks album, but the rest of their discography escaped me until I stumbled across All Together Now. That’s just as well, because this is the only album I like. I’ve tried giving their earlier work a try but just can’t get into it. I mean, it’s okay but not nearly as catchy. So for long-time Ezra fans, All Together Now may be too much of a departure. I’ve read reviews that confirmed as much. This is probably Ezra’s attempt at mainstream appeal, since the songs here have an obvious pop influence to them. That pop sound is exactly the kind of catchiness they’ve needed, though.
I’ve had the album in rotation for about two months now and still love it. “Insane” is easily my favorite. It’s crazy and upbeat and full of kooky sounds. There’s an underlying sense of goofiness throughout that maybe comes off a little too strong in other songs like “Dollar Sign.” To be fair, that one’s pretty fun, too, but it can feel a bit cringey at times. Other highlights include “Crazy Lucky,” “Gonna Get Better”, and “Diamond in My Pocket.” The only songs that didn’t resonate with me are “Before You,” which hits like a speed bump compared to the rest of the album’s energy. And “Shut Up and Dance” is an odd note to end on, giving up some of the earlier pop qualities in favor of more alternative rock. Maybe that’s a bone the band decided to throw to their older fans. That’s great if it is. But I’m only a fan because of what we have now.