Friday, 26 July 2013

Album Review - The Electric Swing Circus - 'Electric Swing Circus'

Following months of trails and previews Electric Swing Circus have finally released their first album. 
The album has been hotly anticipated by all of us in the electroswing community, and many of us helped to fund the recording. So, what of the final results?

Certainly the response from their live audiences seems to have been positive. There are, however, those who have their doubts. One respected DJ and  founding father of the electroswing movement recently said to me that the ESC “don’t really swing”. I have had the album now for a couple of months and having listened to it a few times, and am not quite sure what he meant. True, on occasion they do drift towards rock, in particular in the track Bella Belle, but this is because of the vocals rather than the beat.

Speaking of the vocals, Laura’s powerful voice compliemnts the smoother tones of Eleanor’s perfectly, and despite the occasional hints of rock, generally they maintain the sort of smooth, sophisticated, sexy sound that one associates with the great jazz age singers. Meanwhile Tom’s guitar playing is both precise and really does swing. But the really joy, as with a lot of electroswing, comes from the basslines - provided by double-bass - and the brass - provided by well chosen samples.

Electroswing at its least interesting can be somewhat formulaic. ESC avoid this pitfall by taking the listener on a world tour. ‘Swingamajig’ feels faintly Carribean; ‘Valentine’, with lyrics in French and accordion is disinctly Parisian; ‘Melliflous’, which lives up to its name, and Harvey transport us to a gypsy carnival, meanwhile the drum’n’bass banger ‘Little Phatty’ (exclusivel first play on drops us in the middle of the jungle, so to speak.

The album also features tracks that have been hard to miss over the last year or so. The Penniless Optimist was released earlier this year on the same label, Ragtime Records, with remixes from C@ in the H@ and Vassili Gemini. We have also been able to see an early version of ‘Everybody Wants to be a Cat’ on YouTube for quite some time. It must be said that the newer version is far more polished. On that note, as a part of the promotion of the new LP they shot and released a video for 'Valentine', which is rather excellent.

‘Minnie the Moocher’ is one of my favourite original swing tunes, specifically the version from ‘The Blues Brtothers’, performed by Cab Calloway, so when I first listened to ‘Minnie’ ESC’s take on that classic I was both intersted and nervous. I admit, also, that I was not instantly taken with it, but it probably represents the most daring and innovative of the tracks. As I have heard it more often it has gradually crept up on me and I have come to admire it. The choppy use of samples and the high tempo make it very reminiscant of the beats Mr. Chuckles produces for festival favourites The Correspondents. I have written about the evolution of swing over the years, and the phenomena of jazz and blues standards. With this track I feel that ESC are plaiyng a part in the history of swing, nodding in the direction of history while innovating like billy-oh at the same time.

Interestingly, there are a couple of quieter, guitar and voice tracks, featuring no electro whatsoever - it will be interesting to see if anyone remixes, ‘Harvey’ in particular.

Now,some electroswing tunes have the emphasis on the swing, others on the electro. Now, this maybe  because I love a thumping, fist-pumping, driving dance tune, but in my opinion the strongest tracks on this album are the ones where there is the electro takes the lead. ‘Little Phatty’ is infectious, The lazer-like noodling on ‘Ruby’ is hypnotic to the extent that when the pounding bass kicks all you can do is grin. ‘Big ‘Ol Bite’ is a swing-hop gem with a catchy  sample and some very pleasing scratching.

Perhaps this is what that DJ/promoter was talking about when he said that they don’t swing. Far be it from me to disagree with a man who has done more for the electroswing scene than almost anyone else, I do anyway. Swing may not be the Electric Swing Circus’s strongest suit, but they swing none the less. The fact is that their electro is better, but the standard of both is high, so it is rather like saying that one vintage Champagne is better than another - they are both champagne, so stop complaining and get drinking. Or dancing. Or both. Know what I mean?

If you do not know what I mean, which on reflection  is entirey possible, let me make myself clear: Download this album. They worked hard making this album innovative and varied, and it has paid off.

If you don't believe me, check out this here minimix.

‘Electric Swing Circus’ is out now on Ragtime Records