Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Swingrowers return - 'Remote' - Album review

Swingrowers new album ticks all the boxes

Back in February a band for whom I have a serious soft spot - Swingrowers - released their second full-length album, the follow-up to Pronounced Swing'Grow'ers A great deal has changed with the band since those early days. Way back in the mists of 2012 they consisted of just three members - Loredana, the singer; Alessio, the gypsy guitarist, and Roberto, the producer. Now they have strengthened their numbers with two new members, Ciro Pusateri on sax and clarinet, and Davide Rizzuto on violin and keyboards.

New line-up, new album, new approach

One of the main features of the electro-swing sound is the use of vintage samples, indeed, it is often incorporated into definitions of the genre. In recent times I have been noticing more and more artists using the same samples over and over (seriously, one more 'Swing, Swing, Swing' or 'It don't mean a thing' remix and I swear I will cry). The reactions of some producers is to get digging and to unearth some more obscure swing tunes to plunder. The Swingrowers, interestingly, have opted for a completely different approach - to do away with vintage samples altogether. Instead, each track on the album is 100% original material.

Now, I always make a point of listening to any album I am sent before reading the PR blurb, and the first thing to say is that I didn't notice the lack of vintage samples. My first impression was very much positive - The record opens with the first single off Midnight, which was released around Halloween of 2014. It does a very successful job of combining spooky sound effects with a haunting melody and a gentle 100 bpm walking bassline. From this sinister starting point the release takes a sultry tour through various takes on the vintage remix sound. Baby Lone is is pretty sedate as vintage remix goes, and is perhaps more of a showcase for the talents of the band - Lore's seductive tones and gypsy guitar, violin and clarinet solos, with a bit of scratching thrown in for good measure.

New single ramps up the tempo

The second single, That's Right is the third song on the record, and it takes things up a notch or two. Not only is the tempo a bit on the gutsier side, so is Loredana's vocal. Its also the first track to have more of an electronic than organic feel, with programmed synths that must be the audio equivalent of what a slinky falling down a well looks like. I can really see this track getting a dancefloor bouncing. The reason you are reading this review now, as opposed to say, last week, is that the single was released on 6th April, along with the video below. Filmed at the London's amazingly gorgeous Rivoli Ballroom, its a feast for both eyes and ears.

As the album progresses Stay Swing uses a driving bassline to get the feet tapping and to provide a foil for further solos from the excellent musicians in the line up. In typical jazz style there is something of a call and response motif, with one instrument posing a question and another providing the answer. There's also a fabulous piano riff and a definite hint of Parov Stelar to the sound. One thing that really stands out on this album is the musicianship, something which really comes to the fore in Frank with a dark piano rhythm that helps to emphasise the pumping beat, and violin twiddles (technical term) that are so reminiscent of Stephane Grappelli that I initially believed them to be samples of that virtuoso's recordings.

Too Many Reinhardts

One of the most interesting tracks on the album is the collaborations with London's own rappers du jour Too Many T's. If you have read this blog before you will certainly have come across their name. Django's blend of relaxed hip-hop beats, virtuoso gypsy guitar and witty lyricism tells the story of the imagined sibling rivalry between Django and his brother DiAngelo, ending, inevitably in a 'soundclash to the musical death' and a 'post-musical bloodbath' which sees both brothers losing their hands. Always be nice to your brothers, kids.

The track that most makes me want to sing along is Chiovi, which is, incidentally, the only track on the album on which Lore sings in her native Italian. I do think it comes across that she is more comfortable singing in Italian rather than English, and I think I would probably prefer if they stuck to Italian, though in this international scene I can understand why they have chosen to include so many English lyrics. Its long enough ago that I completed my degree in Italian that I can't really translate for you, but the song's house-y beat, bright horns and Lore's joyous-sounding vocal make this one a stand-out track for me.

Swingrowers mix it up

From here on the party tunes come thick and fast: Breakout's
bassy brass and dark, bubbly synths, noodly (technical term) sax solos are pretty infectious; Enjoy the moment seems to reference Ray Charles's famous Hit the road Jack! and makes it hard not to follow the instruction in the title. The most infectious track is certainly Fancy, which combines the oompah rhythm of a Balkan brass section with a heady basskick, bright melodies and a pretty vocal to make a real head-nodder.

Sexy Swing

The final track of the album, Why? takes things into the realms of brushed cymbals, melancholia and a bluesy love song, which seems to round off the offering nicely. Swingrowers have, with this album, cemented their position as one of the most interesting and innovative electro-swing groups on the scene at the moment. The whole album is a fascinating exploration of the various meanings of the ever evolving electro-swing genre. It might not be rammed full of dancefloor stompers, but it is a great listen and many of the tracks have excellent remix potential, as evidenced by the fabulous remixes from Swing Republic and Jamie Berry that make up the rest of the That's Right EP.

The label describe this record as a 'game changer'. I'm not sure that I would go that far, but what it does do is show that the scene need not be reliant on sampling if the quality of the musicianship is good enough, and will surely encourage other artists to consider taking the same route.