Caravan Palace. Quite possibly the most respected act in electro swing – in fact quite likely. You’d be hard-pressed to find any other artist in the genre who doesn’t cite them as an influence of some kind. These guys have been making music for over a decade now, and have consistently set the bar for others to try and reach. Chronologic represents their fourth album now, and it’s one which has been both highly-anticipated, and greatly-received. In fact, as the band announced on their Twitter last Saturday, the album was amongst the top ten bestselling albums worldwide. Quite a feat for an electro swing act, and one which may take us some time to see repeated.
The album is certainly something of a departure from what many of us were expecting from the band. It’s understandable that, having been in the game for such a time now, they would want to expand their sound, and actually something that I’d argue most acts should attempt more. Of course, making significant changes to one’s sound carries risks with it, and whether this has paid off or not for Caravan Palace is a different matter.
The album opens with ‘Miracle’. Now, this track has been available for some time now, and so I was already very familiar with it. I recall back in February, upon it’s release, saying how different it sounded, and that I probably wouldn’t recognise it as them had I not already known. This definitely set us up for what was to come, and gave us time to prepare ourselves. It’s a brilliant start though, very bluesy, very positive and energetic, and some great use of samples throughout. Following this is ‘About You’ – another which had already been released earlier in the year. This features a bit more of a familiar CP sound, particularly in the high-pitched group vocals that come in towards the end. The track features Charles X, who I’m only familiar with because of Smokey Joe and the Kid’s ‘Smokid All Stars’ (an absolute tour de force), however I was a little disappointed with his vocals, which aren’t all that interesting as a whole. The massive bass hook that follows his lines certainly makes up for it though. Next, the first track that I didn’t already know was ‘Moonshine’, which is very reminiscent of ‘Russian’ off their last album. Again, it’s a return for the familiar CP sound, and we have the trademark high vocals again. There’s a very interesting contrast here between the cheery, upbeat music, and the slow, wistful, solo voice.
The next track is ‘Melancholia’, which unfortunately, does not hit the mark at all. It’s as if the worst parts of ‘About You’ have been extended into a whole song; for the most part, the baritone sax is the only saviour. Towards the end, I can appreciate the piano solo as well, but overall, this one I was not so keen on. Thankfully, the next song is ‘Plume’, which brings us back to the highs we know Caravan Palace are capable of achieving. The song is great, and represents everything I was hoping the album would be. It was definitely the right choice to release this as a single as well, and I’m glad they did. ‘Fargo’ follows, which is a nice little interlude with a New Orleans feel, before transitioning and ending on an almost cinematic note, before we find ‘Waterguns’, the second collaboration of the album. Again however, the vocals are not particularly impressive. Songs like this one really highlight the decision by the band to pursue a more pop-based sound, and it was a bad decision. Throughout the song, I couldn’t help thinking how much better it would sound with Zoé’s distinctive vocals. The instrumentation is good though, very much in line with the band’s sound.
‘Leena’ is probably the most interesting of all the songs on the release. Structurally, there’s definitely an escape from the standard pop formula, and we find that great use of samples like on ‘Miracle’ again. The sharp cutting throughout strongly reminds me of C2C, and I can’t help but wonder if Mighty Mezz’s work with DJ Greem in Alligatorz has played a strong role in influencing this album on the whole. Particularly on this track, each individual sample seems to smack you in the face. The next track is ‘Supersonics’, which might be my favourite – it’s definitely the best non-single. It’s really bluesy again, really upbeat, and just a great singalong. I love the group vocals in the chorus; this definitely has the potential to be stuck in one’s head for days. Another little interlude, like ‘Fargo’, follows with ‘Ghosts’. It’s interesting that they’ve included these almost mood-setting tracks, as if they’re setting us up for what’s to follow. Indeed, the transition is needed, as the final track ‘April’, is considerably different from ‘Supersonics’. A lot more downtempo, this is probably the most ‘vintage’ sounding track for the most part. You can tell it’s a finale song from the very beginning, with the bursting chords that start the piece. We have the C2C-esque sampling again, and the build-up towards the end is absolutely superb – I can tell this will be fantastic live – before we’re left with a minimal, lone vocal to close.
So overall I’m a little torn about this release. It’s certainly a departure from their established sound, and whilst I encourage this, I’m not sure it’s completely worked in their favour in this case. It’s a lot more downtempo, and significant sections of it don’t feel very dancey. The decision to move closer to the standard pop model in parts is one I wish they hadn’t taken, and there are certainly improvements that could be made. However, it is a good listen, and I really enjoyed the way in which they used sampling throughout. So it’s not their best album. But, from time to time, there are little scraps of genius.