Pandora's Piñata has been one of the most difficult albums that I’ve ever had to review. On one hand, I could simply say, ‘You just have to sit down and listen.’ But, that doesn’t do this record any justice. There aren’t enough words to describe the album, but then again, sometimes less is better. Conundrum. Pandora's Piñata is a God damn conundrum. But in all the good ways.
Diablo Swing Orchestra is a band that, intentionally or unintentionally, challenges their listeners. Not in that over-your-head, too-smart-for-their-own-good kind of way that a lot of prog-rock bands will do, but more in that this Swedish outfit effortlessly incorporates sonic delights without it ever feeling forced. The listeners challenge is simply that we sit back and think, ‘How in God’s name did they think of doing that?’ or ‘Why on earth did they do that and how is it possible that it didn’t derail the entire song?’
Few bands can seamlessly fuse elements of swing jazz, Latin jazz, classical, heavy metal, noise, a little electronic, and house it all under big top carnival tent. Numerous, almost unrelated stylistic sounds into it and never sounds forced. Diablo Swing Orchestra can and do, and they keep the music heavily emotional, albeit with a little air of Tim Burton goth throughout. In short, Pandora's Piñata is brilliant. In long? How much time have you got?
From the opening snap of the drums on “Voodoo Mon Amour” to the fading electro-techno drone of the album closer, “Justice For Saint Mary”, Diablo Swing Orchestra satisfy the listening (and dancing) audience with a thrill-a-minute joy ride of musical excesses. The lead track offers up a tremendous burst of trumpet led swing jazz followed up by thunderous and rhythmic heavy metal, and all sung with a juxtaposed female swing and male haunted gothic-ness. The entire track is littered with chaotic ear candy (huh . . . just got it. Pandora's Piñata. Break open the piñata and get all the candy you can consume), such as cello’s, a variety of brass, and drums that are brimming with character.
The band injects a ton of Latin rhythms and brass textures with “Guerilla Laments”, and simply gets this music fan shaking his ass. This song is an amazing groove laden beast, and made constantly compelling with the vocal harmonies. The breakdown near the three minute mark instantly teleports the listen to street party held in a Central American Zócalo, complete with colorful Spanish regalia, string hung lanterns, the smell of pollo, carnitas and carne asada permeating the early evening air. It’s a party we should all be at . . . passing a jug of tequila around the square as we dance our feet bloody!
Things turn suddenly dark and violent with “Kevlar Sweethearts” and things come to a head on “Exit Strategy Of A Wrecking Ball” (quite possibly one of the coolest song titles ever). The drums on the latter track are stunning! Hell . . . the pure dynamics on this track are enough to write a 400-page Manifesto! The tune opens with a maelstrom of heavy metal riffagery that creates images of breaking shit, and while this is all going on, the band manages to incorporate violins into the mix to make everything sound (if possible) even more menacing. Oh . . . they’re not done with mixing shit up . . . then the electronics and horns drop in the create a wondrous background for the vocal talents of Daniel Håkansson to shine. The song rolls all over the damn place, drifting to the serene then back to the utterly dark and violent. The turning point on this track is from the four minute mark on . . . full on serenity with this uneasy tension slowly building, and then Håkansson seems to lose his fuckin’ mind and everything explodes! Absolutely fantastic execution of build and release of tension in music . . . seriously, these guys should teach a class on the subject.
To show that the band isn’t all violence and hard rhythms all the time, they deliver “Aurora” and “Honey Trap Aftermath”. The former sounding like a soundtrack from a Disney Fantasy scene, the latter a smooth, white-boy funk track. The vocals emit that sex appeal, but with an underlying sinister quality. Once I hear the chorus, it’s stuck with me for the rest of the day . . . full on ear candy . . . and delicious!
The album wraps up with two tracks that bring all of the chaos back to the forefront. “Of Kali Ma Calibre” is an epic journey led by the vocal performance of Annlouice Loegdlund that shifts from a marching beat to a thunderous metallic beat down. Of further note, the drumming on this track is furious and emotional and frenzied and, most of all, just a goddamn good listen! The album closer is a progressive gem . . . “Justice For Saint Mary” might be my favorite individual track on the album simply because of the its sprawling elegance, its diverse moods, and dynamic shifts. The performances of the all of the musicians involved is above stellar, no one overplaying their part and everyone working in unity towards the completion of a brilliant song.
Pandora's Piñata is right up there at the top of my Album’s of the Year. No question. It’s an album that I can’t stop listening to (hence the delay in writing this review) and one that I don’t want to stop listening to. I listen to this album so much that I almost feel guilty that I’m not paying attention to some of the other fantastic releases in my collection. Hey . . . it’s not an album for everybody coz’ not everyone gets the operatic vocals and the horns mixed with heavy metal, or the tempo changes, or the weirdness that is Diablo Swing Orchestra. That’s fine. I can live with that, but y’all should at least take a moment to listen to the album, turn off any preconceived notion that music has to be kept in a box, and enjoy the bombast.
That’s enough from me . . . I gotta’ go find an affordable copy of the vinyl edition. I have serious work to do!