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.
Boogie Belgique has produced a lot of music already, but Volta is definitely their best work. While their other albums are cool in a “background music” sort of way, most of the songs are pretty forgettable. That’s not the case with Volta, however. The songs here have been stuck in my head for weeks now. It’s an album that I seriously look forward to playing every chance I get. I still don’t know how to classify it, though. It’s not “big band swing,” nor is it entirely “electro.” If anything, I’d call it “dark swing,” since most of the songs have a melancholy feel to them with haunting (and sparingly used) vocals.
On the topic of vocals, I initially hated the album’s song, “Every Time.” I’m not a fan of the original “Every Time We Say Goodbye” tune, anyway, but once this version gets into its instrumental sections, where the horns come into full effect, it’s… it’s friggin’ beautiful. Horn instruments are, like, my favorite part about electro swing and jazz now, and Volta is chock-full of great toots, from the sadly catchy “Happening Again” to the loud and exuberant “Jungle Law.” The only song I don’t care for is “Taboo.” It’s a little cheesy and doesn’t have the same strong beats as everything else. But when everything else is damn near perfect, I guess I can’t complain.
I’m deeply, deeply saddened by how different this album is to Klischée’s previous album, Touché. Why are all of my favorite electro swing artists abandoning swing?! This is also what happened with Caravan Palace, though in Klischée’s case, they’ve moved pretty far into pop territory. Only two songs on Bend the Rules are instrumental, and only one song can really be considered swing. “Swing it Like Roger” is such a great example of the genre, though, and is at least a nice reminder that Klischée still has a glimmer of what I love them for.
Overall, however, Bend the Rules sounds more like a Bag Raiders or C2C album now. But don’t get me wrong, I like those groups, and I like enough songs on Bend the Rules to make it worth buying the whole album. While I honestly can’t stand some of the songs, other tracks like “Damn Hot” and “Come With Me” are really energetic and catchy. This definitely has more mainstream appeal than Touché did, and I hope that means Klischée starts getting more recognition. But I’m also afraid that their swing roots may disappear altogether for the next release.
Touché is an album from yesteryear and one I’ve already listened to a hundred times, but that’s why I feel the need to gush about it. It’s the rare album where I not only like every song but haven’t gotten sick of listening to it so many months later. Of all the debut electro swing albums I’ve heard, Touché is the strongest. For other groups like Caravan Palace and Swingrowers, they didn’t hit their stride until their second release. But Klischée was amazing right out of the gate. And yet nobody is talking about them! At least, in my many hours of scouring the Internet, looking for “best of electro swing” lists, their name has never come up. I only knew of their existence through the publisher’s website, Freshly Squeezed Music.
I guess I shouldn’t sing their praises too loudly, because Touché could very well have been a fluke. This is the perfect example, though, of using swing as your basis and then layering your own energetic voice on top of it. It’s not overly “electronic,” nor is it overly “big band swing.” They’ve struck a sublime balance with a good ratio of vocal to instrumental tracks. The tone, however, does feel a little darker and more serious than other swing artists. Well, I hate to call it “dark,” because that might give the wrong impression. Everything is upbeat and danceable, but it doesn’t come across as sugary sweet. You could listen to this in any mood, and it would feel right. Maybe that’s why I haven’t taken it out of rotation yet. And I hope I never have to.
In my eyes, Caravan Palace can do no wrong. They could release an album of nothing but fart sounds, and I’d buy it without hesitation. Okay, maybe a little hesitation. But Caravan Palace is the whole reason why I’m into electro swing. Their second album, Panic, totally sucked me into the genre and is still one of my favorites years later. Unfortunately, that puts somewhat unrealistic expectations on their new release, <|°_°|> (aka Less Than Pipe Degree Underscore Degree Pipe Greater Than). Hey, at least it consists of valid filename characters.
The thing is, Robot Face is a major shift in tone from the group’s earlier work. A lot of the songs are more laid-back, feeling less like electro swing and more like house and/or hip hop (if I’m using those genres correctly; there’s a good chance I’m not). I had to listen to the album a few times to warm up to the new style, but I gotta say, it’s still pretty damn good. You’ll just have to set aside your electro swing biases to fully appreciate it, though there are a couple of good swing tracks in here, as well. The song, “Tattoos,” for instance, is an absolute dance fest. But then a slower, more haunting track like “Human Leather Shoes” is a mellow kind of cool.
Trust me, it’s all cool. There’s not a bad track on here, which is saying something coming from me, a guy who usually deletes one or two songs from every album he buys (yes, including Panic). So in that regard, <|°_°|> is arguably their most polished album yet. If you’re a stickler for swing, though, there’s a good chance it will just be a huge disappointment. But give it a chance. Really. If nothing else, this proves that Caravan Palace is a talented group who hasn’t committed itself to one sound. Just please don’t abandon swing entirely, okay guys?