Saturday, July 26, 2008
That lounge 'n' cocktail trend from the '90s, with the wisdom of hindsight, sure strikes me as an international embarrassment of the highest order, and whilst I never got suckered into wearing Hugh Hefner-style robes and decking the house out in Tiki art, I was not totally immune to some of the musical goods it revived. In short, I bought into the Incredibly Strange Music broohaha... hook, line and sinker. You can blame Vale at RE/Search for that, but still, I wear no shame. There's some goods in them thar hills: Ennio Morricone soundtracks, Yma Sumac, Martin Denny and a zillion other thrift-store finds. Good music, all of it. On top of the heap lies Les Baxter. Well, actually, I don't think the guy is anywhere as otherwordly, surreal and as genius-like a figure as Morricone - that's a given - though his exotica discs from the 1950s hold up dang well. Fer instance there's this CD on the Rev-ola label, which finally reissues two of his albums I've been searching high and low for the last dozen or more years: Ritual Of The Savage from 1952 and Passions, originally issued as a 10" in '54.
The former was one of his first major forays into the world of exotica - part lightweight orchestral pop and part faux world music, featuring the standard jungle drums, tribal chants (probably voiced by white session dudes in a Hollywood studio) and that certain, indefinable musical key which makes these records work. I can't pinpoint it, I'm simply not trained in that sphere, though if you've heard one of Baxter's albums from this period, then you know what separates it from a Mantovani disc. The best Baxter is about sheets of sound which layer the music like a Spector production, and Ritual Of The Savage really is one of his best.
Passions is a mighty weird outing, and it still baffles me as to what Baxter's motivation was to record it. It features seven tracks w/ titles such as "Despair", "Ecstacy", "Terror", "Hate" and "Lust". You get the idea. Musically it's closer to a film noir soundtrack than anything else, though it's augmented by vocalist Bas Sheva's wails, heavy breathing, screams and ecstatic groans. A nice trip. It's 2008 and this stuff still sounds good to these ears, and since writing and listening about this shit is about as fashionable as last decade's milk, feel no fear of being branded a hipster. It's all about the music, remember?