Cantaloupe are a band embracing the 80s, reshaping and retooling the ideas of electro-pop. Cantaloupe are a product of 80s technology, style and ambitions. Cantaloupe are in many ways, a lot like the Audi Quattro.
This is Zoetrope, the debut album from the Nottingham band. Many of the influences shall be cited in due course but the roots of Cantaloupe aren’t just electro-pop though, there are heavy doses of krautrock, dance and if that wasn’t enough there is the contemporary influence of chiptunes (music inspired by video game soundtracks).
‘Big Kiss’ gets the party started with a bounce reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ before textures that shimmer and career enter the fray. As the song progresses it develops a Harmonia vibe, pitching images of the sun breaking out over a Constable painting. As you lie back in the morning heat, all is well with the world.
‘Ambition’ is the sound of OMD guzzling a glass of orange juice and going for an early morning run. This is a song that floats and flutters and the vocals of new band member Eleanor Lee add a Human League pop sensibility. The vocals have an ‘under-sung’ quality that Barney Sumner specialises in. Then the backing vocals weave in and out causing a confluence of melodies, with the listener cast along on the current.
If the first two songs are about waking up and building the energy, then ‘Indigo’ is where the party starts. A crisp, resolute drum beats snaps the listener from their reverie and all of a sudden it’s time to dance. ‘Indigo’ has a Daft Punk quality but also has the feel of an 80s electronic rap crossover (not that I want to suggest that Cantaloupe are the Rock Steady Crew). The verses are brilliant pieces of poetry, take this passage of imagery combining the urban, the dystopian, corruption , destruction, reality, dissolution…
Hold that pose like a video skipping
We can play it back ’til the tape starts ripping
Animal skin and a silicon heart
Waking while we’re dreaming while we’re crumbling apart
We made some money and we paid the rent
Bonuses were booming but the business was bent
A purple city sitting pretty in the night
Shining back in your eyes
Then comes one of the pivotal moments of the album, a killer, hands in the air chorus and enough energy to make concrete fizz this’ll blow your mind:
How am I ever going to let her go?
How am I ever going to let her go?
Now, this chorus doesn’t look much written down but Tom A.D.’s vocals turn the this simple mantra into a masterpiece of sing along songwriting, the essence of brilliant pop music. The interesting thing is the line ‘How am I ever going to let her go?’ doesn’t quite fit, meaning that Tom has to slightly rush the line. However this gives the chorus a jolting, punkish air of discord. Oh and the bass is funky as hell.
‘Zoetrope’ has a cheeky mournful piano that broadens out into a dubby motorik joint. It’s not a million miles away from Public Service Broadcasting jamming with Peaking Lights with probing synths.
This bleeds into ‘Gustave’ which continues the low-key krautrock vibe. The middle passage of the album has an almost chill out quality, like The Orb but more Dusseldorf. Halfway through it starts kicking the album back up through the gears, leading as it does to…
‘0891 50 50 50’, the key track Cantaloupe played at the 2014 Liverpool Psych Fest (incidentally the best bands at the festival were the ones playing dance music… work that one out, folks). The song drops tiny carpet bombs of spiky chiptune energy, bursting at the seams with pent-up adrenaline. Over the course of 5 minutes the song sways and sashays, bright clear lines pulsing in the air like a reactor meltdown in Tron. The song sizzles.
‘Clam City’ continues the moody krautrock vibes. Bright, glossy and lush in a bruised, Associates way.
‘Labour And Love’ features more vocals from Eleanor Lee. The song itself is oddly downbeat however, which makes its place as lead single if not odd, but curious. Featuring nuanced, melancholic electronics and plaintif guitar, it’s all rather Metropolis. You can practically see the elevated skywalks carrying ranks of 9 to 5-ers to work. It’s almost the negative image of motorik’s positive hopes for the future, for every autobahn there is a depressed council worker at the highways department.
‘Holy Cow’, featured on Gideon Coe’s 6Music show, is the most bass driven on the album with David Stockwell’s spaghetti western guitar lamenting in the background. Partway through the song the electronics courtesy of john Simson take charge, pouring sheet neon rain. By the end it’s the turn of Aaron Doyle’s drums, getting progressively badass. Theres 3 different songs in here, it’s all very Roxy Music.
‘Ian Whitehead’ returns to chiptunes and is the happiest track on the album. Super Mario used to gobble mushrooms to this kind of melody. Lacking a 4/4 beat untethers the song from dance music, making some much more fluid. Cantaloupe should be making soundtrack for Donkey Kong games. C’mon guys, you know you want to…
If I were to make one criticism then for me the sequencing is a tad jarring, the krautrock tracks are great, but placing them after the high energy ‘Indigo’ and ‘0800 50 50 50′ slows the momentum that those songs instill in the listener. Putting these two songs back to back would have been a killer KO combo, Cantaloupe are being a bit too nice for own good in giving the listener a breather. You’ve got ’em on the ropes, guys!
The real strength of Zoetrope is the lightness of touch. So much electronics music these days is concerned with being dark, brooding and exuding both physical and sexual power. Cantaloupe offer no moping, naval gazing or strutting. Their concern is good, clean, old-fashioned fun. There is a post-punk hint of asceticism a play. This has resulted in an album that is resolutely life affirming. Zoetrope could well be the party album of 2015.
Zoetrope is released March 16…