Touché is an album from yesteryear and one I’ve already listened to a hundred times, but that’s why I feel the need to gush about it. It’s the rare album where I not only like every song but haven’t gotten sick of listening to it so many months later. Of all the debut electro swing albums I’ve heard, Touché is the strongest. For other groups like Caravan Palace and Swingrowers, they didn’t hit their stride until their second release. But Klischée was amazing right out of the gate. And yet nobody is talking about them! At least, in my many hours of scouring the Internet, looking for “best of electro swing” lists, their name has never come up. I only knew of their existence through the publisher’s website, Freshly Squeezed Music.
I guess I shouldn’t sing their praises too loudly, because Touché could very well have been a fluke. This is the perfect example, though, of using swing as your basis and then layering your own energetic voice on top of it. It’s not overly “electronic,” nor is it overly “big band swing.” They’ve struck a sublime balance with a good ratio of vocal to instrumental tracks. The tone, however, does feel a little darker and more serious than other swing artists. Well, I hate to call it “dark,” because that might give the wrong impression. Everything is upbeat and danceable, but it doesn’t come across as sugary sweet. You could listen to this in any mood, and it would feel right. Maybe that’s why I haven’t taken it out of rotation yet. And I hope I never have to.
The last time Nintendo tried something like this, we got Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which didn’t work all that well and was basically a Kirby game in name only. Yoshi’s Woolly World, on the other hand, feels like a true Yoshi sequel. In fact, I’d consider it the successor to the N64’s Yoshi’s Story. The mechanics are almost identical, after all. But where I remember Yoshi’s Story being overly simple and easy, Woolly World is actually challenging at times and makes a good effort to introduce new gimmicks in each level. That combined with the wool theme keeps the game interesting and feeling fresh throughout. Granted, Nintendo didn’t learn from all of their mistakes in Epic Yarn and still included sections where Yoshi transforms into a vehicle. These are dumb, obviously, but aren’t as frequent and aren’t nearly as painful.
The most important part of the game, however, is that the whole thing can be played co-op. I’m such a sucker for co-op that the original Yoshi’s Story would have probably been one of my favorite 64 games had it featured a two-player mode. My wife and I had a great time overcoming obstacles the “co-op way,” though Woolly World starts to suffer from New Super Mario Bros. Wii syndrome where players keep accidentally hindering each other. Every time one of us jumped on a bounce pad, it would drag the other player off the screen, thus killing them (where “kill” means they turn into a flying egg). In that regard, co-op may actually be the harder way to play. But if you’re a fan of 2D platformers, you’ll like this one no matter how you approach it.
In my eyes, Caravan Palace can do no wrong. They could release an album of nothing but fart sounds, and I’d buy it without hesitation. Okay, maybe a little hesitation. But Caravan Palace is the whole reason why I’m into electro swing. Their second album, Panic, totally sucked me into the genre and is still one of my favorites years later. Unfortunately, that puts somewhat unrealistic expectations on their new release, <|°_°|> (aka Less Than Pipe Degree Underscore Degree Pipe Greater Than). Hey, at least it consists of valid filename characters.
The thing is, Robot Face is a major shift in tone from the group’s earlier work. A lot of the songs are more laid-back, feeling less like electro swing and more like house and/or hip hop (if I’m using those genres correctly; there’s a good chance I’m not). I had to listen to the album a few times to warm up to the new style, but I gotta say, it’s still pretty damn good. You’ll just have to set aside your electro swing biases to fully appreciate it, though there are a couple of good swing tracks in here, as well. The song, “Tattoos,” for instance, is an absolute dance fest. But then a slower, more haunting track like “Human Leather Shoes” is a mellow kind of cool.
Trust me, it’s all cool. There’s not a bad track on here, which is saying something coming from me, a guy who usually deletes one or two songs from every album he buys (yes, including Panic). So in that regard, <|°_°|> is arguably their most polished album yet. If you’re a stickler for swing, though, there’s a good chance it will just be a huge disappointment. But give it a chance. Really. If nothing else, this proves that Caravan Palace is a talented group who hasn’t committed itself to one sound. Just please don’t abandon swing entirely, okay guys?
They really want you to know that this is from the same studio who made the Ice Age movies. Not only has a lot of the advertising included a “from the makers of” tagline but the movie itself opens with another one of those obnoxious Ice Age squirrel shorts. With the movie also being preceded by several trailers for other cookie-cutter 3D kids’ movies, I was really worried when The Peanuts Movie finally started. Fortunately, this won’t ruin your childhood like a Transformers or Ninja Turtles movie will. Blue Sky Studios did a great job in capturing the atmosphere and heart of the Peanuts property. The animation in particular is fantastic. That’s really what drew me to go see the movie in the first place. The style is great in a modern/classic way and often feels like you’re watching stop-motion animation. It’s the most enjoyable eye candy since The LEGO Movie.
Unfortunately, the story isn’t of the same quality. It tends to meander a lot. I’d heard that the ending in particular was a sticking point for some, going for more of a traditional Hollywood landing. But I felt like that was okay here. This could have easily turned into a huge battle of good vs evil like so many other small-to-big movie adaptations. Rather, The Peanuts Movie is a series of tiny victories and, this being Charlie Brown and all, plenty of failures. Charlie Brown faithfully maintains the role of the underdog, and all of the other characters feel just as spot on. However, I really didn’t like how much screen time was dedicated to Snoopy’s Red Baron fantasies. Snoopy already plays a big part in the main plot, so giving him an extra story felt overly superfluous. Every Red Baron scene had me thinking, “Can this please be the last one?” If they had made that the short at the beginning instead of the dumb Ice Age one, the movie would have felt more complete overall.