Caravan Palace

REVIEW: Caravan Palace’s infectious new album

The words Caravan Palace may be yet to come across your radar, and understandably so. ‘Electroswing’ may also be missing from your lexicon as well, but the two are to each other as ‘Chris Brown’ is to ‘dickhead’. On that gratifying thought, we should explain that Caravan Palace are in fact an underground French outfit who have been making waves with their infectious retro dance music.

Mixing 1920’s dance hall feels with electronic beats and synths, Caravan Palace sound like Josephine Baker let loose on a mixing desk. Gaining recognition for their irrepressible live performances and irresistible retro edge, Caravan Palace have now released their third studio album, titled <|°_°|> or Robot. Moving even further into electronica with this record, the band bring elements of hip-hop and even dub step to the tracks.

Opening with the heel kicking Lone Digger, the jazz inspired intro launches into a pop infused refrain and sees vocalist Zoé Colotis pushing a nice bit of attitude. Followed by the laid back of Comics, the down tempo beat and sliding synths really nod to dub step tunes. Sample-like vocals and breakdowns followed by a very definite drop feel more contemporary than previous that Caravan Palace releases. The album doesn’t slip completely into this slower style, acting more like a judicious punctuation to the more frenetic numbers.

At their most dance hall, Caravan Palace are heavy on traditional instrumentation. Like the hefty brass on Wonderland, but again mixed with some nice effects across a faintly aggressive vocal line and a glitchy electro finish. The playful Tattoos is perhaps the most straight song on the album, rag time beats and jazz piano could be lifted straight out of a bohemian jazz club. But with unfailingly catchy melodies and toe-tapping rhythms, there’s still a lot to love.

One the stand out tracks on the album is definitely Midnight, returning to the slower pace that works so well for them on Robot. It’s easy to forget that these are original songs rather than sampled tracks with its cinematic opening that builds into a frenetic dance track. The piano and oboe feel like the soundtrack to old Paris, lit up by the beats and vocals that are straight off the dancefloor. Finishing on the dub inspired Lay Down, a lazy saxophone sails through and the refrain has a tropical vibe straight out of Havana.

It does feel as though Caravan Palace start to wind down in the second half of Robot, losing a little bit of power. With a couple of weaker tracks, like Russian which feels like it lags in comparison to the stronger moments and doesn’t quite have that same vibrancy. But maybe this more laid-back approach will appeal more to listeners who can’t quite stomach the full on force of Wonderland, or more of their earlier material.

However, if this kind of electroswing does hit the spot, then Caravan Palace could be your new favourite band. And even though they have so far flown mostly under the radar, garnering passionate support from those who have come across them (especially their live shows), there is actually a lot to explore in this infectious little subculture coming out of Europe. Including French band Chinese Man, similarly mixing swing with electronica, and also the brilliant trip-hop producer Wax Tailor. So there you go, a beginner’s guide to electroswing to liven up your Friday!