The majority of the electro swing artists I feature on this blog are those who populate the UK scene – the region I’m clearly the most familiar with. And regular readers will have noted that some of my more recent reviews have delved into the music coming out of the US. But anyone familiar with electro swing will know that the scene’s roots lie firmly in mainland Europe – primarily in countries such as France, Austria, and Germany. The number of significant artists who have emerged out of Germany in particular is immense, and pioneers of the sound have included such acts as Tape Five, Alice Francis, Club des Belugas, and Sound Nomaden. A relatively recent artist of note is Balduin, a production duo from Frankfurt who’ve been on the scene since 2016. This Friday sees the release of Cats & Caboodle, their latest EP.
The first track is ‘Music Box’, which kicks us off with a highly-quantised, piano-based intro that sets the tone for how the EP will play out. It’s a very digital sound, with no real live instruments other than a few vocal lines. However, it’s actually a really motivating tune, and would certainly get a dancefloor moving. Above all, the most noticeable feature is the distinctly European sound – which is very reflective of the act’s origins. This classic electro swing sound is even more prominent in ‘Dirty Dazzler’, but despite this, it manages to sound very modern, taking a lot from cutting-edge pop; in this sense, it reminds me of what I was saying about Riff Kitten’s ‘Nine Lives’. The verses are the standout part – whilst the chorus is slightly clichéd – the verses are real smooth, and add a largely unheard sound to the mix. There’s a nice breakdown towards the end too. ‘Swing It Like Mike’ is a very short song, coming in at less than two minutes, and with a title strangely reminiscent of Klischée’s ‘Swing It Like Roger’. Another digital piano introduces the piece, and largely dominates the track, other than a bit of brass which enters midway. The piece itself is quite simplistic – but in a kind of refreshing way – Balduin are taking super familiar electro swing tropes, but managing to put their own spin on them.
The next song, ‘Move Your Behind’, is the act’s attempt at a hip hop offering, with a noticeable influence of old-school hip hop reminiscent of the Sugarhill Gang, or Kurtis Blow. The flow could be a little stronger however, as nothing jumps out as being too impressive; resultingly, the track isn’t quite as energetic as it could be. I do really appreciate the bass in this one though, which carries a great sound. We then hear that familiar piano again at the start of ‘Love Drug’ – beginning to sound like a bit of a signature. Like with ‘Dirty Dazzler’, the vocals here are strong, and this fusion with contemporary pop really works for Balduin – though it’s not quite as contemporary here, taking more from the influence of ’90s R&B. This song generally has more of a live feel to it than the others, and is possibly the best one – certainly the most innovative. And then the EP finishes with ‘Gloomy Kitten’, which features some nice dark tones punctuated by a lone trumpet – reminiscent of some of Parov Stelar’s latest experimentations on the Voodoo Sonic trilogy (my reviews available here and here). Instrumentally, this is probably the most skilful track, and it’s a great way to end the EP, leaving the listener quite fulfilled – although it could certainly have been drawn out more. Like with ‘Swing It Like Mike’, the track is not even two minutes long.
Cats & Caboodle is an enjoyable little listen, with some easily digestible tunes and nothing at all challenging. My main criticism would be the general brevity – a lot of the songs are really quite short, and have a lot of space for potential innovation; there are several moments of missed opportunity throughout. But aside from this, I still liked the record. One will get what they expect here; if you’re not a fan of the classic European electro swing style, then this may not be for you – but if you know that you do love this sound, then you won’t be disappointed. And this is definitely much more than paint-by-numbers electro swing as well; Balduin succeed in taking what is by now a very recognisable sound, and they push these ideas forward. Whilst there may still be much room left to be pushed into, the songs that make up Cats & Caboodle will leave the fans of this classic style very satisfied indeed.
Written by Chris Swinglis Date: 2020-10-24