Skip Heller





Skip Heller has never been a musician you could easily file away in one category only, for he blends elements of Jazz with Rock, and just because he was a student of the famous Les Baxter doesn't mean he drew his whole inspiration from Baxter's ways of conducting. In fact, Baxter himself produced orchestral music in many different ways and even scored the Edgar Allan Poe horror flicks by Roger Corman, so there is definitely neither a typical Baxter nor a typical Heller sound in terms of Exotica music.


Here, Heller makes an exception by offering an Exotica album specifically made for a luau, as the album's twisted title is suggesting. But make no mistake: this is exotic music with a rock attitude, quirky melodies and complex percussion. If you are prepared to listen to a laidback, relaxed album, this one is probably not for you, as Heller's original pieces demand your attention and your affection for the playful ridicule or fulfillment Exotica clichés – it's all in good fun!

The Collector gives a good example of Heller's approach, as it features a bunch of instruments all played by Heller himself such as a violins, vibraphones, clarinets, trumpets, flutes, accordions – you name it, it's on the album. The song is bustling with the activity of all these instruments and has a slightly oriental feel to it. The rich textures and generous usage of instruments are working well, nothing feels tacked on or out of place there. Mona Is Typing features an accordion, a glockenspiel and a flute playing the main melody. Overall, the song reminds me of The Three Suns, but it is also possible that I'm drawing overly broad connections. The middle section of the song introduces a bunch of congas and intensifies one of the more quiet songs.


Watch Us Burn is a favorite of mine, combining a bachelor-pad piano with a relatively soothing multi-tone main melody that consists of a trumpet, a flute and a glockenspiel, while Alice Through A Twilight Zone Episode – yet another favorite of mine – is a Bossa Nova song that focuses heavily on the accordion as a front instrument. A fuzzy vibraphone adds a certain depth to the dominant counterpart. El Tiradito is the calmest song. Flute and vibraphone make this song the most traditional, typical Exotica song. Nervous Jazz elements or Rock ingredients are left out here. If you are familiar with Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica album Third River Rangoon, you can expect more of the same, both in quality and composition-wise – El Tiradito is simply a beautiful flute piece.


Q4/11 brings to mind the musical harmonies and danger foreshadowing melodies of Milt Raskin's Kapu, so if you like this classic, you might find that song attactive because percussion-wise, it's similar to Raskin's Koko Head. The last 4 tracks of the album are demos, though you wouldn't know this by listening to them as Heller has given these the same care as all the other songs on the album. Of all the demos, Hand To Eye is the most distinctive one with its focus on percussion (gently played bongos in this case) and a laid back flute melody.

There's always something going on in Skip Heller's songs, so they are not suitable as background music but demand your attention to the arious details, instruments and side melodies that can be found in every song of this album. If you are looking for a lively album full of real instruments, gorgeous percussion and sophisticated compositions, you will not regret buying this album which is available on both CD and digital download.


Further reading:


  • Skip Heller's Blog features the latest news and thoughts about vintage records and long-lost videos of Exotica and Jazz artists.
  • Skip Heller's Twitter handle is @skipheller.


Exotica Review 004: Skip Heller – Lua-O-Milo (2009). Originally published on Dec. 18, 2011 at