Review: Caravan Palace’s ‘Chronologic’ Is Swinging, Haunting in Turns

Chronologic - Caravan Place
Chronologic - Caravan Place Cover Art
Chronologic is a more uneven, poppy experience than previous Caravan Palace offerings, but in spite of it the group maintain their post as the best electro swing band around.

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Electro-swing has been an odd affair, and listeners’ reactions to it seem to range from devoted, neigh cultish love to vague fremdschämen (second hand embarrassment, that is). Its star in the mainstream has faded significantly, though its cult following remains and likely always will. Still, it’s a sign of the scene that Caravan Palace’s Chronologic makes far more inroads into pop than their previous efforts.

Chronologic - Caravan Palace
Chronologic – Caravan Palace Cover Art

This is compounded by the unqualified success of their previous album, <|°_°|> (pronounced Robot Face), with singles like “Lone Digger” racking up hundreds of millions of views on YouTube, to speak nothing of its record on audio streaming platforms. It would be easy to argue that <|°_°|> was the apotheosis of the genre itself – even Parov Stelar, another scene mainstay, hasn’t achieved that level of visibility.

Can Chronologic reignite that star? It very well could. Every song on the album makes a distinct impression, and the usual Caravan Palace spark is there as the album vacillates between driving dance numbers like “Miracle,” “About You,” and “Supersonics,” and haunting downtempo tunes like “Plume,” “Leena,” and “April.”

Listen: Chronologic – Caravan Place

Lyrically, Chronologic is more cohesive than any of Caravan Palace’s previous outings; they’re downright strong. The whimsical nature of the band’s lyricism has never been a weak point on previous albums – “Brotherswing,” “Clash,” and “Mighty” aren’t wanting for any lyrical seriousness and I’m delighted to listen to their near-gibberish ad nauseum. 

But Chronologic is grateful, nostalgic, haughty, sentimental. Releasing “Miracle” as the album’s first single was the first indication, leading with the panglossian, rapidly delivered vocals of Zoe Colotis, complemented by the backing band,

Every day is a miracle
(Help one another)
Connect back with the people
(Give it to your lover)
And all the people you miss
(Let’s come around)
(Act like a brother)
Watch: “Miracle” – Caravan Palace

Thankfully, there’s still a good mix of playful dancefloor vocals on Chronologic. “Supersonics,” one of the albums most fun songs, isn’t going to conjure any sentimental flashes while you’re sweating off your six pack of PBR. This is still dance music to the core, and it delivers incredibly on that front.

However, the band’s lean into pop produces some imperfections.

The multiple featured vocalists have a pop music genericness that don’t hold a candle to Zoe Colotis’s sheer libidinal confidence, filled with energy that effortlessly harkens back to the swing era while pushing the limits of electronic dance music as well. They’re by no means bad vocalists: the delightfully flirtatious “About You” has Charles X trading bars with Colotis, desperately trying to woo her. On “Waterguns” Tom Bailey’s smooth, Crooner 2.0 vocals opine about the romance of youth, making for a song that more resembles a Sinatra big band number than Caravan Palace’s typical gypsy jazz laced electro dance bops.

These songs are still excellent – songwriting and beatmaking do not fly out the window with the featured vocalists – but they simply leave one wanting more Zoe. The one song that does definitively take this aesthetic too far is “Melancholia,” which is a fine song on its own merits but on Chronologic features more like a patchwork of ideas. Colotis’s vocals are fantastic as ever, and the guttural, brooding bari sax moments in between verses elicit chills similar to the band’s ghostly “Midnight” on <|°_°|>. These moments alone could be their own genre of dark electro swing.

The odd hip-hop sections have potential – jazz and hip-hop have plenty of overlap, with labels like Brainfeeder (Flying Lotus, Thundercat) making the genre fusion not just listenable but downright artistic. In execution though, the changes between sections give listeners auditory whiplash.

These factors make Chronologic a somewhat uneven experience. The second half is stronger and more consistent than the first, featuring more Colotis, more electro swing bops. Still, while the album doesn’t quite live up to <|°_°|>, eschewing at points Caravan Palace’s expertise at crafting the best electro swing around, Chronologic will still compel endless cover to cover listens – and may even bring a new wave of Caravan Palace lovers with its overtures to pop. 

In short, Caravan Palace is as addictive as ever.

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Chronologic - Caravan Place

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