Voodoo Sonic represents a bit of a unique type of release schedule. Effectively, this is an album; but rather than release a whole album as one would generally do, Parov Stelar has made the choice to split it up into a collection of three EPs, each one spaced several months apart. I’ve reviewed Parov on this blog before: his legacy throughout electro swing is unmatched, and no other artist can be said to approach what he’s done for the genre. In fact, he’s arguably bigger than the genre itself, and I’ve had several conversations previously regarding who has benefitted more by mutual association: him, or every other artist making this style combined. It’s certainly a close call. Anyway, this release marks the second of the trilogy (somehow, I overlooked a review of the first when it was released last December), and many will have been waiting to see how it compares to the first.
The EP opens with ‘Brass Devil’, of which the fantastic Alexandra DeMers has already recorded an excellent review over at Jazz and Tea. This track presents Stelar’s brilliant, classic sound – with several different layers, sections, and feels that all come together in a great way. One may compare this track to Boogie Belgique’s ‘Mr Fisher’, as they both use the same sample from Gershwin’s ‘Stiff Upper Lip’; however, Stelar has utilised this in a completely different way, really demonstrating the variety of approaches different producers can take to the same sample. The build-up towards the end is great, and overall this song sets the EP off on a very strong start. Next up is ‘Piano Boy’, with its real jazzy, bebop-esque sound. It’s quite reminiscent of Stelar’s earliest work, the likes of Rough Cuts and Seven and Storm; in fact, it’s almost acid jazz sounding. Indeed, one of the jazzier electro swing songs I’ve heard for a while, it really creates a great ambience, making one feels like they’re in a dark, smoky, underground club. The song features a solid driving beat which flows beautifully, and there’s several layers of piano throughout, each one more progressive and proficient than the last. There’s a similar effect with the trumpets too.
So far, so good; the EP is strong. Unfortunately, this changes somewhat with ‘Don’t You Forget’. This feels rather odd alongside what we’ve heard so far; it’s a particularly cheesy number, and wouldn’t seem out of place at Eurovision. It’s much more traditional dance-pop sounding, and aside from the recognisable vocals of Lilja Bloom and Anduze, there’s nothing too Stelar-esque about it at all – it might have been better suited to one of his side-projects, such as Stelartronic. ‘Fade to Red’ takes this same kind of direction away from electro swing; this one works a little better, and sounds like the type of thing that could accompany the title sequence to a gritty crime drama, but it’s still not brilliant. I’m not against Parov experimenting outside his established sound, but when his established sound is as good as it is, I don’t know why he’d want to venture so far away from it. The final track is ‘Come Back Home’, which showcases the kind of bluesy, country and western vibes done to such a high standard by the likes of Thomas Vent. I really like the twangy guitar in this one, and it ends the EP back on a high. There’s quite a strange section a couple of minutes in, with a developing synth that completely changes the tone of the song, but despite sounding a little off when it begins, seems to work better and better the more it progresses. When the main section kicks back in it actually works perfectly, and when he pulls this technique off a second time with a different synth I’m genuinely surprised by how much I like the effect.
Overall then, this EP is quite similar to Part One in terms of quality. That one was slightly hit-and-miss, with some fantastic moments – such as the title track – but others that were a bit lacklustre. Like with Caravan Palace, Parov Stelar has been in this game for so long that it’s totally understandable as to why he’d want to extend and expand his sound – and I’d never criticise him for attempting this – but he’s just never going to live up to the heights that he’s already established. Still, I’m looking forward to the third EP that will conclude this project. Whilst both EPs so far have certainly had some lower points, the high points have been exceptional.
Written by Chris Swinglis Date: 2020-04-25