Clouseaux is a Jazz band that was formed by 11 people, and as if these 11 talents weren't enough already, they invited an additional 9 fellows into the seemingly cramped Sugar Hill Studios in Houston, Texas in order to record a contemporary Exotica record of the delicious kind, otherwise known as Lagoon! and full of your favorite percussion instruments, a few guitars, trumpets and even a flügelhorn. I am quite a bit fond of this album for historical reasons, as it was released during a time when the Exotica genre finally experienced a noticeable resurgence.


Of course, it has never been officially declared dead, as there will always be a few hundred Jazz bands that have many a good choice of Exotica classics in their repertory. Maybe the genre was dead in absentia at the beginning of the millennium, as the world was still recovering from Lou Bega's Mambo No. 5 and no record label felt the need to release an album loaded with pristine, original exotic tunes that didn't contain that Latin spirit. Luckily, Dionysus Records came to the rescue and opted in for a release of Clouseaux's second and, for the time being, penultimate album, thus breaking the spell that enchained the Tiki gods. Seriously: as everything in life comes in circles, it was just that time again for music lovers to rediscover the many branches of Exotica. In-between and after Clouseaux's Lagoon!, a wave of contemporary Exotica releases of all blends reached the shore. On Lagoon!, Clouseaux capture and revive at least three different styles and merge them in a skillful way – there's an Arthur Lyman-esque vibraphone style, a dosis of Rock and Surf guitars which are played in Mexican style, and un soupçon de Big Band fashion on here. So let's jump right into most of the songs in the Lagoon!, shall we?


The album starts with the shout of a fake wood grouse on Lost Lagoon (Intro), something quite familiar for fans of the electronic Dub and Ambient band The Orb, but still quite a surprise even by Exotica standards, as you don't hear croaking roosters all too often. The intro presents a cheeky crime theme via alloted vibraphone notes, droplets of ignoble-sounding rock guitars and delicate bongos. A great case study and a hint at the band's name. Shrunken Heads features hectically played bongos in martelato style and a great male choir reminiscent of Warren Barker's Hawaiian Eye soundtrack. Mean laughter, several electric guitar chords, polyphonous trumpets and distorted wah-wah guitars further evoke the mood of a crime scene or chase.


The following Destination: Oasis is an oriental song with a rock attitude, starting things with loud guitars, Middle Eastern flavored chords, a majestic choir and an illustrious trumpet, making this a favorite of mine and one of the few playful songs where the Rock mentality perfectly merges with the Middle Eastern style of play, resulting in a stylistically excellent aural diorama. Walking From Juarez seems to under-deliver at first, as this rather slow song relies heavily on percussion and its bass guitar, with only a few melodious, Mexican chords dispensed, but when the choir enters the scene later, the song really begins to shine and morphs into a fanfare for outlaws. Another classic tune for me and one I keep with me all the time just in case I encounter a sunrise by accident.


The Kiss Of Ku starts in a dark and grim manner with bubbling synth strings and exotic percussion, providing the ideal music for the anticipation of a horrific ritual. The mood shifts after 40 seconds when the strings vanish and a playful improvisation on a vibraphone is introduced. Naturally for Clouseaux, there is the addition of a Mexican flavor in the end, somehow destroying the mood that was formerly set up, but staying true to the group's crime scene formula, so I won't complain. The choir is especially great on the last few seconds when it grows large and sings in a grand, lordly style and ends The Kiss Of Ku on a pompously horrid note – are you sure John Williams wasn't involved?


Krakatoa is another fantastic song and adds a completely new style to the album. It starts with the rumbling of an errupting vulcano, or so I imagine, beautifully twisted and ambient-like strings and a stippling, mysterious vibraphone melody that is repeated throughout the song. It is here where one of the participating women sings a beautiful solo, while a deep, lusty voice watching her appearance, which is – nomen est omen – a welcome combo breaker, as all other vocal songs thus far were team affairs.


Copper Locked Nymph, as a reaction to Krakatoa, continues in typical Clouseaux style with a choir, Eastern-flavored guitars and brass sections, but this time with a huge Big Band shift in the middle which is a blast, as it offers the loudest, most energetic vibe on the album. The 7-minute song Reum With A View is yet another crime music addition with its less exotic but rather jazzy percussion. It features an improvised trumpet on the forefront, and a dirty saxophone is added to the mix as well. The album ends with the Lost Lagoon (Reprise) and focuses on a bunch of ambient noises and mystical vibraphone notes.


Jazzy Exotica crime music with a Middle Eastern Rock attitude – that's Clouseaux's Lagoon! in a nutshell. Every song is unique, and the blending of 60's crime Rock with crystal clear vibraphones and Eastern or Mexican styles of play is a more than welcome approach to the rusty Exotica genre. Apart from both the intro and the outro plus Krakatoa, the listener seldomly has a quiet minute to savor the few soothing passages because there is always a dynamic choir, loud brass section or Mexican guitar lurking in the back. This is hence a demanding, but highly melodious albums. Lagoon! is often torn between several styles of melodious and improvised sections, but the band masters every musical aspect marvelously, and I for one am tremendously glad about the existence of this album. A minority of listeners might find the Rock attitude too dominant and ubiquitous on Lagoon!, but if you don't mind the above description in a nutshell, go and get the album which is easily available on digital download stores and on CD. A distinguished, grandiose interpretation of modern contemporary Exotica. 


Exotica Review 017: Clouseaux – Lagoon! (2004). Originally published on Dec. 24, 2011 at