After building an enthusiastic Birmingham based fan base via their regular club night ‘Hot Club De Swing’, this summer the Electric Swing Circus have been let loose on the road, hitting festival after festival to wild acclaim, with the likes of Fieldview and Shambala to come. Now – finally – we are treated to a downloadable slice of their fabulous wares with the release of ESC‘s genre-busting self-titled debut album. It cannot have been easy to condense the eclectic power of the band’s live performances (which, sorry for the pun but it has to be said, are nothing short of electric) but the album encapsulates brilliantly the characteristic quick-step fun, and explosive charisma the six piece bring to every show.
The album is more loaded with variety than I would have expected from an electro swing record. From the slick ‘ESC’ intro you’re given a strong idea of the kind of trippy, skippy time you’re in for: blending brass hooks, throbbing electric bass, and vocal snippets from most of the big tunes on the album.
And the are definitely some standout tunes here, so we’ll take them two-by-two… a la Ark, if you will. In no particular order, let us start with ‘Bella Belle’. BB intially ripples into to your ears a catchy tune of culinary seduction, but bowls into a snappy, tongue twisting treat. Already my feet are twitching to the beat. The female vocals are right on the money every time, threading octaves and harmonies around one another with intoxicating skill. ‘Swingamajig’ opens to bouncy blasts if programmed woodwind. Here we find upbeat, breezy guitar and brilliant escapism layered into every lyric. Not to mention the incredible jazz piano interlude, this song is the equivalent of a 4 minute Mediterranean holiday. By the end I was bopping around my kitchen, badababada-ing all over the place.
Next we have the ‘Valentine’, and after a spoon-snapping, brain-bending, brisk beginning, we bounce into some accordion- leaden verses in FRENCH, which is a clear indication that this song means business! This is made more apparent by the pulsing, double bass-ridden chorus, with psychedelic treble instruments shimmering through the breaks and the intelligent mixture of recorded and programmed percussion. ‘Mellifluous’ is a lounging track – the bright vocals interrupt the swaying daze with some chirruping trumpets and the bass instruments. The song dances along the line of the two dynamics, consistently switching between smooth, swelling, pre-programmed chorus and the poppy, jazzy greeting from the band itself: “Welcome to our family! Roll up to the ESC!”
‘Penniless Optimist’ builds its spoken intro well into a simple, carefree, happily silly experience. A grand use of reverb and playful distortion play parts to perfection here, as this song contorts and flips through the fabulous beats – kicking and crashing through the dreamy piano. The guitar-work is driving yet understated, and the track always feels over two soon – even after several listens!
Next, I was thrilled to find a cover of an old favourite on the record. Minnie the Moocher, famously performed by Cab Calloway for The Blues Brothers film, is shortened by the ESC to simply: ‘Minnie’. We are offered a funky stop and go beginning, which winds up to release the dance beat and the yodelling double-speed sweet-sharp choral vocals – tripping and tumbling up and down octaves with crazy velocity! I could barely sing along sober, let alone with a couple of beers inside me.
The other songs are no less excellent, but offer different dynamic effect to the album as a whole. ‘Put Your Smile On’ is happy sad song: a longing ukulele serenade. ‘Ruby’ manages to be zippy, punchy, dreamy… a bit like putting a Charleston and your old school Nintendo games into a aural blender: and the result is a lot better than you’d think! ‘Little Phatty’ teeters on drum’n'bass, the synthetic sound ripping curling through the track recklessly – trapping pockets of guitar and brass as it goes. ‘Big Ol’ Bite’ is a cheeky, sliding thing on the topic of food again (sensing a theme here…). ‘Harvey’ brings breathless surrealism to a slightly unhinging waltz, and suddenly we are in the final track ‘Everybody Wants To Be A Cat’. The flamboyant cover explodes into a spectacular remix of old school Disney (sound clips included) – complete with romping piano, pounding beats and treble sweeping smartly over the bulk of the sound. Rousing mass vocals are the final flourish to what is most certain to be my party album of the summer.
In conclusion, the ESC have most certainly earned their stripes and I can find no better word to describe this band than “SKILL”. Buy this album and I dare you not to sing along… I DARE YOU.
Review – Jenny Bulcraig