Good Music We Can Know

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Paradise Showers on Artficial Flowers: Johnny Spencer and the Kona Koasters - s'Pacifica (1959)

Hawaiiana (as opposed to true Hawaiian music) is often at its best when it mixes freely with the grander abstractions and vague sensory-evocations of broader Exotica, rather than hewing exclusively to Hawaiiana standards.  There are exceptions, of course; in the endless series of Hawaii Calls LPs, Webley Edwards has produced a few albums which disprove my theory, and more than a few which seem, through their blandness, to confirm.  And George Cates' Polynesian Percussion, which hews almost exclusively to old Hawaiiana beaten horses, becomes transcendent through inventive arrangement (and lovely, unusual usage of novachord and celeste).

But anyway, what the hell am I on about? It's a complicated world full of contradictions: some Hawaiian records are boring, some are great.  Some are authentic, some aren't; some are honest about that, others elide their establishment-whiteness by imitating or incorporating Hawaii's folk culture.  Some are ethnic Hawaiians playing what US tourists "want" to hear, some are white musicians inventing their own "Hawaii" because engaging the "real" thing is too hard, to complex, to actually engage with. But any of these modes, on their own or especially in combination, can produce a good record, or at least, a rich record.  Trying to produce a formula by which to navigate the overlapping worlds of Hawaiian recorded music, Hawaiiana, and Exotica is a foolish errand, I cast it aside.

This record is a fascinating case.  A mix of Hawaiian "folk" music, Hawaiiana standards (mainly "War Chant," thankfully not too much else), and all-in-for-fantasy hard Exotica, s'Pacifica is a 1959 opus from Johnny Spencer (of Ohio) and the "Kona Koasters" (about whom I know nothing, and wouldn't it be nice if I did?).  The Hawaiian-ness of this record seems to vary based on the selection.  Some are pretty native sounding vocal folk, others are cool-jazzy Hawaiian-inflected Exotica in the vein of Martin Denny or Arthur Lyman, some are a mix of the two with subtle big band elements.  The great thing though, issues of thrillingly muddled authenticity aside, is that every track is really really good.  By excelling in basically every mode of Hawaiiana – on a single record – s'Pacifica actually ends up exemplifying nearly the entirety of the moment.  What's more, it's stunningly vibrant and unique in its execution of what is, essentially, a packet of some of the most overplayed clichés of all time – and really, that's the crux of what it is to make great Exotica.

Opening with the blowing of a conch shell, the record starts off with a traditional (or "traditional," I don't know which is more accurate) Hawaiian vocal, leading into a cascading Exotica section.  It's wet from the start, lush with sea breezes, bird calls, and lapping waves.  (Throughout, the waves never really stop gently crashing, whether its in the form of sound effects/field recordings or undulating cymbal work.  The bird calls trade between human and nature-recordings and blend indiscriminately.)

The second track is a jazzy adaptation of "War Chant," the all-too-familiar melody interspersed with frenetic Hawaiian vocals and powered by big hammering drums.  Then the waves roll in again for "Drifting Sand," a surf-inflected track reminiscent of the Surfmen's more guitar-inclusive Hawaiian-Exotica. Then the drums and vocals come back for  "Marcelle Vahini," and it seems as though variations on two basic constructs of Hawaii are alternating turns.  The next track bears this out: "Monsoon" is a high point of the record's Exotica inclinations, a wet, sleepy, narcotic dream.  "Sting Ray" and "Temptation" reiterate the more big-band Hawaiian sound, but without vocals.  "Kona Tide" is essentially "Monsoon" part two, equally excellent.  "Se Ulai" strips the big band and just delivers a playful Hawaiian folk vocal, with a huge drum sound, like a hammered hollow log, and ukulele. Alternation continues, and the record ends with a blatant plagiarizing of "Quiet Village" called "Maui Rain."  As is the case with so many derivations from Les Baxter's marvelous composition (including some by Baxter's own hand), it's less a flaw of unoriginality than it is a welcome reference, a familiar embrace from the octopoid arms of Exotica.

In the end, this is probably what you'd get if you just alternated tracks from Webley Edward's Fire Goddess and selections from one or both of The Surfmen's two LPs.  But I think it's even a little better than that, if only for the dewy, evocative production – the aural equivalent of morning rain beading up on the petals of hibiscus, of standing on storm-pocked wet sand in the early hours of the morning and grappling with the unreal experience of paradise, the scenery before your very eyes reflected precisely, if reductively, in the pattern of your rayon aloha shirt.

As is often the case, if anyone has an upgrade, I welcome it.  It would be great to hear a higher-quality version of this exquisite stuff.  Thanks to Sleepy Lagoon, from whom I first acquired this file.

s'PACIFICA (192)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Tonight on Explorers Room: Bibliothèque Exotique Vol. 4: Funk, Grooves, Percussion 7-9 EST

Tonight on Explorers Room: a continuation of the Biblio Exotique series, with this installment drawing from (and as usual, expanding upon) volume 4, which focuses on exotic and Afro grooves, percussion, and funk.  (The "Seaside Reverie" portion will go on to form the basis for another show on a later date, likely in combo with library Latin themes.) 

So tune in for the hugest, most pummeling jams of the series; brutalist, psychedelic, funky, and faux-ethno.  Tonight, 7-9 EST. 


(New post tomorrow, by the way.)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mike Cooper and Other South Sea Shadows Tonight on Explorers Room

Same time, same place: Tonight's Explorers Room will play around with Hawaiiana and South Pacific themes, refracted through a distorting crystal.  Along for the ride and setting the mood will be some of Mike Cooper's deconstructed exotica compositions, including some from his new record, Fratello Mare.  Listen along from the comfort of your own best aloha shirt.  Just make sure it's rayon.  You don't want to be caught dead in a polyester.  Not in this heat.

Narcrotic Leis... Like a Face Being Eaten by a Jungle (7-9 EST)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Tonight on Explorers Room: Bibliothèque Exotique Vol. 3 (Orientalism) and Beyoooooooooond

Explorers Room is back this week! Once again I'll be turning to another volume of Bibliothèque Exotique (This time: Orientalism–Japonisme/Chinoiserie/Primitivism/Arabesque); playing the best selections from that compilation and fleshing its concepts out with additional tracks from the various source records and even more tracks discovered in the interim.

More than ever this last bit is true: Orientalist conceits abound in the musical library world, and so it is inevitable and true that many, many new pearls of sound have been added to the roster.  Tonight's program will be an epic quest across the psychic terrain of every-where in place and time the West has ever thought to be the East, from the far east of SE Asia/China/Japan to North Africa, from bustling metropolitan Pearls of Orient to the timeless shifting dunes and mystic tiger forests.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Babalucolage and Never Enough Taboos: Tino Contreras - Jazz Tropical (1962)

I posted this one a couple years ago, just as a link to Sleepy Lagoon.  Lagoon being gone, I figured it best to do a new post with a fresh link.  This is a great record; unfortunately it's ripped at a stinkin' low bitrate.  Alas.

Contreras is a Mexican drummer-bandleader with a strong facility for syncretic influence-absorption.  His mix of jazz (many faces of jazz), Latin music (in all its multivalent splendor), and exotica/eastern-modalities/experimentalism makes him a singularly fascinating figure at the crowded intersection of Exotica and Latin jazz.  Perhaps the best illustration of this can be found on Jazzman's highly-recommended compilation, El Jazz Mexicano De Tino Contreras, but this awesome record, Jazz Tropical, is a strong contender as well.

It certainly has lots of Latin/Exotica classics: "Poinciana," "Taboo," "Andalucia," "Caravan," "La Malaguena."  And all great, of course.  It doesn't have his weirdest stuff, like those notoriously-employed choral vocals, or the intense modal workout of a track like "Ravi Shankar" (both of which can be found on the aforementioned comp), but it's just a really good jazz attack on a bunch of Latin/Exotica themes and compositions, and it's a blast.  On a less well-trodden note, the best track is probably "Orfeo en los Tambores," which has some really huge Lecuona Cuban Boys-style vocals.  "Noche en Tunisia" is really good too.

Hit me up with an upgrade if you have one, anybody.  This one deserves to be heard at at least 320.

One last thing: there will be no Explorers Room this week.  I'll be back the week after, with Bibliotheque Exotique 3, so stay tuned if you please.  I'm also working on a post for Buddy Collette's incredible work of genius, Polynesian Suite, and it too is ripped at an appalling bitrate; allow me to once again solicit the world for a better copy of it before I publish the post.

JAZZ TROPICAL (159) Check the comments for a slightly better 192 rip (though I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet so I can't vouch for it).  Thanks to Mischa!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bibliothéque Exotique 2 Tonight, On Explorers Room! Jungle, Safari, Wildlife

Hello all! I'm very happy to report that tonight's episode of Explorers Room will draw from and beyond my compilation of library selections, Bibliothéque Exotique 2: Jungle-Safari-Wildlife.  Volume 2 is pretty much my favorite of the five, all avant-film-jazz and classic library synths, a weird plunge into the heart of jungle darkness, native ritual and ethnographic hysteria, safari scenes, and wildlife encounter.  Tune in and let's go mad with malaria and exotic displacement.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Outside Time and Beyond Space: Tomita Night tonight on Explorers Room

Tonight's program will consist of Isao Tomita's synthesizer renditions of classical compositions, some of the most unusual and sublime music ever recorded.  

"Isao Tomita was nine years old when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. In the years that followed he found himself surrounded by destruction: Half a million men, women, and children–the majority of whom resided in Tomita’s home city of Tokyo–would be killed in air raids or die from starvation.
To know where the bombs would fall next, Tomita and his family would leave the radio on throughout the night tuned to the national military service. One evening toward the end of the war the usual news and propaganda briefly vanished. In its place, through the static, Tomita heard music that would change his life.

Japan had been closed to Western culture throughout Tomita’s childhood. On this night, with U.S. aircraft carriers getting closer, radio crosstalk had caused a trace of Western music to reach Tomita’s ear. 

And when Japan surrendered, the strange music proliferated.

“Jazz, pop songs, and classical music was filling the airwaves of Japan” after the war, Tomita recently told Tokyo Weekender. “To me, that music sounded like it was coming from aliens in outer space. That was really what I thought. I thought I was listening to music from outer space. […] I was inspired by those sounds, and this was the catalyst that began the creative spirit within me.”
As a young boy, Western music sounded literally alien to Isao Tomita. So he would spend the majority of his life making Western music sound alien to everyone else." 

From Deadelectric's article, Spaceship Japan: An Introduction to Isao Tomita (Part 1)


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Chick Vekters: Travelogue update

Just a head up to discerning listeners: Chick Vekters' Travelogue, which I like very very much, is now available in full on Bandcamp.  Go check it out.  Now is the time to find your lost mid-century utopia and realize to your surprise how alien it always seemed to you.  Why were you looking for it, when you weren't ready for it in the first place?


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Bibliothéque Exotique Tonight, On Explorers Room!

Following the pretty incredible Field Service Radio, broadcast live by Jesse Kaminsky from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (check that out here, now), tonight's Explorers Room will shine a light on Bibliothéque Exotique Vol. 1: Panorama of the Exotic World

Panorama of the Exotic World is the first part in a 5-volume set of compilations unfurled here, by me, about a year ago.  It focuses mainly on selections with a more classically-exotica oriented sound.  Tonight we'll listen to some of the better selections, some new additions, and new-to-me, obscure-to-most MP2000 Music Scene LP (Panoramic-Exotic) which was mailed to me anonymously.

This will begin a series of programs dedicated to the series.  Every other week will be a new volume of Bibliothéque Exotique.  Next week will likely be an all-Tomita cosmic voyage.

See you tonight, Explorers: 7-9 EST