Escort
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Escort

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"Spin Album Review picked as a "Spin Essential""

These New York disco-funk revisionists start their self-titled debut album by calling themselves, in more than one language, phonies. "I'm the great imposter / I give you what you want," boasts vocalist and lead diva Adeline Michèle on opener and recent single "Caméleon Chameleon," laying this group's acts of exquisite deception and instant gratification bare. Songwriters, arrangers, producers, and multi-instrumentalists Dan Balis and Eugene Cho co-founded Escort nearly a half-decade ago as a studio project, but the très-Chic orchestration, spacey synths, and multi-layered percussion of 2006 breakout single "Starlight" might've fooled you into thinking you were hearing a slickly rehearsed full band, with a loving retro-perfectionism that might've fooled you into thinking you were hearing a recently unearthed late-'70s/early-'80s re-edit.

Tell a fib magnificently enough and it can become a new truth. Now armed with a full complement of brass and woodwinds to go with their strings, keyboards, and congas, Escort's ranks have swelled to an honest-to-goodness 17-piece stage band. Tapping into a still-rich musical vein that runs from connoisseur-approved 12-inch singles on labels like Salsoul and West End to the big-tent dance-pop of Michael Jackson and Tom Tom Club, Escort, a collection of killer singles past and present that flows like a fully conceived album, expertly reinterprets and refines its chosen genre. It's like "Disco Duck" never happened.

In other words, the group's long-awaited long-player represents disco at its urbane, hedonistic best. The slinky sexuality of "All Through the Night" (the one with that irresistible Muppets mash-up video) or the decadent, snow-celebrating cover of Dillinger's badman reggae chant "Cocaine Blues" would be as at home in a modern Greenpoint nightclub as in a late, lamented New York disco space like the Loft or Paradise Garage. With astounding variety, Escort shifts shapes within itself, too, culminating in the offbeat exotica of sprawling finale "Karawane." Avoiding the concessions to perceived accessibility that once crippled the genre, Escort's Balis and Cho bring disco back to life by emphasizing its healthiest, most crucial elements — and nothing less.

If Escort's refurbished dance paradise only managed to match the real thing, that would be an accomplishment. But what's really great about this album is how utterly present it feels. At a time when Retromania has fully taken over, a precise reworking of jazz standard "A Sailboat in the Moonlight" (evoking the spirit of legendary Paradise Garage DJ/remixer Larry Levan) is no more nostalgic than indie-pop duo Tennis' '60s-indebted sailing odes, while the electro-soul heartache of "Make Over" or "Why Oh Why" wouldn't sound too out of place on an album by a consistently forward-thinking pop singer like Robyn. With apologies to '90s swing kids Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, this ain't your father's retro revival.

And it comes not a minute too soon (or too late), either. From Skrillex and Deadmau5 to Swedish House Mafia and David Guetta, dance music is hugely popular with American youth for the first time in ages. And with LCD Soundsystem having broken down the indie-rock massive's resistance to disco before conveniently breaking up, that (slightly) elder statesmen lane is now wide open. Escort's moment is now. Luckily, Escort seizes it. Can't fake the feeling. - Spin


"Rolling Stone Album Review"

Got lamé? If not, this 17-member New York collective are offering the aural equivalent: a wickedly catchy, note-perfect return to the heyday of disco, with every high-hat sizzle and string shiver glittering like spangled hot pants. The revivalism extends to the lyrics, awash in Studio 54-era decadence – "A knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork/That's the way we spell New York" – delivered by Adeline Michèle with barely a wink. As with many retro-fetishists, Escort's shtick can be too on-the-nose – you wish they took more liberties, spiked their 1977 with a bit more 2012. But quibbles disappear as the beat kicks in and the mirror ball starts to whirl. - Rolling Stone


"Pitchfork 7.7 album review"

The studio must be an oasis for Dan Balis and Eugene Cho, the leaders of Escort, New York's premier live disco ensemble. Do you have any idea how hard it is to play this stuff in a club without coming off like rank amateurs or soulless professionals? You have to be tighter-than-tight to replicate those metronomic rhythms, while also being loose enough to play through any in-the-moment human glitches. You can't wrong-foot dancers, but you also can't be so precision-tooled that you lose the sense of abandon that's essential to any good party. You're not competing with a drum machine, which is tough enough to do. You're competing with Nile Rodgers' Chic, a much more forbidding proposition.
In the safety of a recording booth, a band like Escort is allowed to flub multiple takes, correct any mistakes, and experiment without worrying about bringing the party down from its boil. They can tinker with their lush arrangements until they fit with the jigsaw-precision that was required of disco bands in the genre's pre-computer heyday. Escort is the result of all that fieriness and fine-tuning, the band's debut album after a drawn-out series of singles, teasing fans for more than half a decade. On the evidence, Balis and Cho are two producers who've listened long and hard to the history of their favorite genre, and who care about getting both the little details and the overall Broadway-meets-boogie vibe just right. They manage to replicate every Off the Wall horn blast and Patrick Cowley synth bubble with loving music geek precision.
But Escort isn't just the pinnacle of 21st-century disco fetishism. (Though it would be a singular achievement even if it were.) It's a great pop album, even if it's working off 1979's pop template rather than 2011's. Balis and Cho aren't quite up to Chic's level, obviously, as songwriters or players. But they've set themselves a similar task, out to prove that refinement and abandon aren't mutually exclusive. Like disco the first time around, Escort aims directly for the brain's pleasure centers, particularly the one marked "bubblefunk," but there's also an intensity and attention to sound design that comes from being both an in-the-moment live unit and studio rat tinkerers. All this astounding detail work is there to add extra thrills to songs that are instantly accessible, immediately charming. Rather than 12"-friendly extended disco remixes, these cuts are shaved down to the essentials. And the grooves would be strong enough with half the bells and whistles.
Escort just want you to have a damned good time, even if you don't know Walter Gibbons from KC and the Sunshine Band. And they're willing to risk all sorts of cheesiness to get you there. So it's no accident that "A Sailboat in the Moonlight" seamlessly switches halfway thorough, from hammy musical theater to lascivious funk. The "mutant disco" scene and the pre-crossover Loft underground cuts may be the pieces of the disco pie most palatable to indie-reared ears. But Escort remind revisionist critics that disco also had roots in supper-club schmaltz, showbizzy soul, and Las Vegas pomp. If there's a guiding spirit here, it's not benevolent weirdo Arthur Russell but master entertainer August Darnell at his most eager to please. The rhythm track on "All Through the Night" has the kind of crisp minimalism you find on the best DFA singles. But the rapid-fire R&B sassiness of the vocal takes us straight to the roller rink on teen night. Sure, it wouldn't play at a roller rink now, competing with the brutalism of 2011's pop-dance producers, but Balis and Cho's hearts are in the right populist place.
Escort take obvious pains that this update on one of pop's most opulently orchestrated of genres can stand, sonically, alongside the classics. Those strings! Even if they had the money, modern major labels still wouldn't lavish that much attention on recording a string section. And if that old-school analog lushness is computer fakery, then I'm doubly impressed. But given Escort's rep for throwing down live, I doubt it. It's easy enough to press a button and unleash a sampled swirl of strings or a blast of brass. It's something else entirely to be orchestrating violinists and trumpet players through a seven-minute monster groove. That kind of commitment is one reason Escort have ascended to the top ranks of neo-disco acts, swinging their way through the demands of disco with the consummate skill of the kind of crack big bands that were everywhere in the late 1970s. - Pitchfork


Discography

Starlight 12” and Digital Single – 2006, Escort Records
Love in Indigo 12” and Digital Single – 2006, Escort Records
Antena, Seaside Weekend (Escort Remix) – 2007 Permanent Vacation
Bright New Life 12” and Digital Single – 2007, Escort Records
Tracey Thorn, It’s All True (Escort Remix) – 2007 Virgin
All Through the Night 12” and Digital Single – 2007, Escort Records
Feist, I Feel It All (Escort Remix) – 2008 Cherrytree/Interscope
Walter Meego, Forever (Escort Remix) – 2009 Almost Gold/Sony
Cocaine Blues 12” and Digital Single – 2010, Escort Records
Escort – 2012, Escort Records
Escort Remixed – 2012, Escort Records

Photos

Bio

ESCORT is big. Literally. Enjoying accolades ranging from the New York Times to Pitchfork, the “disco orchestra” features an incredible cast of musicians including founders/producers Eugene Cho and Dan Balis, and fronted by lead singer Adeline Michèle. Performing in a variety of powerful party line-ups, the band performs live from a core 5-piece (with Adeline on bass) to a 17-member extravaganza.

Escort burst on to the scene in 2006 with a string of critically acclaimed 12"s that included future classics "Starlight" and "All Through The Night", both DJ staples that get still get plenty of play on dancefloors. As DJs nursed their electro-clash hangover with a seemingly never ending stream of disco edits, Escort stood out, in part, by creating dance music the old fashioned way: with impeccable production, musicianship, and songwriting.

The following several years saw them bring the same uncompromising approach to their live show. In an era where dance music is dominated by samples and computers, Escort took a sprawling ensemble to the stage and developed a reputation as one of New York’s most compelling live acts, capable of performing their elaborate recordings note for note. Late last year, Escort released their first taste of the new record: "Cocaine Blues", a loose reinterpretation of the 1976 Dillinger classic that received rave reviews and quickly became an underground sensation, building even more anticipation for what's to come.

Escort’s long awaited self-titled debut LP was released January 31, 2012. The entire album is steeped in the venerable tradition of clubland’s holy trinity — New York, Chicago, and Detroit — but it seems particularly reminiscent of mutant-pop luminaries such as Kid Creole and the Coconuts and Ian Dury, who somehow managed to translate their sardonic sensibilities to the dance-floor. And by embracing the legacy of these forward-thinking but classic acts, they have yet managed to create something strikingly new.

The LP’s opener “Chameleon” is a perfect example: a three-act play about the French serial impostor Frederic Bourdin, set to a beat that’s equal parts Thriller and the Tom Tom Club. The tracks, “Make Me Over” and “Why oh Why” seem to explore the lost possibilities of another era, rather than simply trying to re-create it. The 1937 standard “A Sailboat in the Moonlight” is twisted into a lost August Darnell classic. The album also includes the definitive versions of their 12” DJ releases — which have been remixed, remastered, rearranged, and re-recorded specially for the LP — to complete an album with absolutely no filler.
Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears recently described Escort as the “best disco you’ve ever heard.” He just might be right.