Five years after the release of the acclaimed Pandora’s Piñata, Diablo Swing Orchestra (DSO) are back with their fourth full-length offering: Pacifisticuffs. If that’s a title that’s hard to take seriously then you’ve come to the right place, as DSO are anything but. Their music is fun and care-free, so strap yourself in for a wild ride as you get hit with 13 tracks of rock ’n roll, jazz, classical music and more.
New female vocalist Kristin Evegård immediately announces herself on the opening track, the classic rock-infused “Knucklehugs (Arm Yourself with Love)”. Whilst her voice can come across as whiny and somewhat annoying at first, it proves to be an acquired taste and one which is much more suited to the myriad of other styles found on the album. Indeed, the longer the record progresses the more she seems in her element, at home amongst the frenzied madness swirling around her. She and her male counterpart, Daniel Håkansson, for the most part, work well whether singing in unison or independently, with a lot of care clearly going into which vocalist takes which part.
Turning to the instrumental aspects of the record, one cannot help but spare a thought for the person on mixing duties. With two lead vocalists, three backing vocalists, two guitars, a bass, a synthesiser, drums, a piano, a trumpet, a trombone and a cello there is a lot happening. Thankfully, the band show restraint in how these instruments are brought to the fore. Rarely are they all going hell-for-leather at once, but rather different tracks accentuate different aspects of the band’s sound. Strings shine on “Ode To The Innocent”, brass takes centre stage on much of “Superhero Jagganath”, lead single “Jigsaw Hustle” is a nifty little dance-tune whilst the end of “Lady Clandestine Chainbreaker” is riff city. Each instrument has its own chance to shine and interact with the others in the environments which suit it most, and their intra-song cohesion is excellent.
Whilst one may not envy the roles of those behind the production, they have certainly done a fine job. The sound is clear, with each instrument clearly audible and sitting neatly alongside the others in the mix. No one element is overpowering, and despite the enormous potential for everything to turn into a garbled mess both the production team and, more importantly, DSO’s songwriting abilities ensure this is not the case. Whilst the production is strong and each of the band’s eight members has an opportunity to shine, the record is not without its shortcomings. The opening track is the weakest overall and may colour the way in which people perceive the rest of the record. As mentioned earlier, existing fans may struggle to adapt to the new voice on female vocals given the popular operatic style of predecessor AnnLouice Lögdlund. Further, of the 13 tracks, four of them are interludes, each shorter than 70 seconds. For the most part, they do little-to-nothing in moving the album forward. They’re largely uninteresting in isolation and don’t serve to connect the tracks adjacent to them. “Cul-De-Sac Semantics” is probably an exception to this, and one feels it could have been further developed into a fully-fledged song of its own.
Pacifisticuffs marks yet another great release in DSO’s discography. As we’ve come to expect, it’s a melting pot of genres. It’s weird and wacky. It’s an absolute party. Whilst it may not be the kind of release that features highly on an end-of-year list (putting aside the fact most publications have already finalised theirs), DSO have a unique sound and this record can scratch an itch that most other bands cannot. So have a drink, put your dancing shoes on and have some fun!