Kenny Sasaki & The Tiki Boys
Tiki Moon





Tiki Moon is the debut album of Tokyo-based music producer and film musician Ken Sasaki and his faux-band The Tiki Boys. In contrast to his later work Island Slumber of 2010, Tiki Moon is much more electronic, dark and yes, even distinctly Japanese in style, whereas Island Slumber is more ambitious and jazzy. A big plus of Tiki Moon consists of the great melodies and the variety of different genres that are thrown in, as well as the variety of field recordings and nature sounds that are integrated in a lot of tracks; curiously, these sounds have vanished completely on Island Slumber.


Not every track off Tiki Moon‘s 10 can be considered an Exotica track, but the few tracks that don't belong to this genre are weird enough to count as Space Age music or simply as a joyfully eclectic presentation of Sasaki's music skills. The endemic darkness of the album is definitely not for everyone's taste, but Sasaki caters to these people with the follow-up Tiki Pop of 2005. So be aware that Tiki Moon is a predominantly darker album with occasional Latin motifs, but also two utterly beautiful slow songs that successfully fight the darkness off. On a side note, the spacey album artwork by Hidenori Ishida thematizes the nature of Exotica music on a meta-level: not only does it refer to the Space Age genre and the race for the moon, but the ropes, cords and webbings are indicators of the commonly deceitful sceneries which are often found on front covers and whose falsehood is normally invisible to the audience. 


Enchanted starts the album and is already the credo for the things yet to come. Vivid sounds of jungle animals appear and soothing synth strings are coupled with a ukulele and surprisingly melancholic and mystical bass lines with synth hooks. This song already displays the various textures and moods Sasaki is oscillating between time and again. After the majestic jungle beginning follows a phase of dreaminess and slight eeriness – and this is just the first track of 10, and a rather aggrieving one! The song thus points the finger back to the album title which itself refers to the mercurial and glowing nature of the moon. Yes, I'm interpreting too much into it, but I do this on purpose, for Sasaki shows that contemporary Exotica music doesn't need to be one-dimensional and monotonous in the moods it creates.


At The Tiki Bar shows the other, more prominent and desirable side of dark nights. Sasaki presents a Japanese crime theme with marked maracas, cheeky vibraphones and echoey surf guitars. All of these ingredients are merged with a Latin feeling, and considering the mood and the duration of the song below the 2-minute mark, the song is about the latter part of a night full of booze. Fever can be considered a blueprint for the latter A Night Of Ghosts on his Island Slumber album. Fantastically crime-like and dirty guitar riffs interplay with towering synth pad backings. The guitar melody is remarkably catchy and the short background fragments of radio tuners make this a stripped-down song without much farrago – and that‘s why it works really well. If you are searching for guitar-laden Exotica tunes, this would be the one that incidentally also shows what Sasaki is capable of. A huge favorite here at for many years already.


Tiki Diva is yet another stunner in Skip Heller's Lua-O-Milo style with Hawaiian guitar chords, gentle bass lines, bongos and a wonderful main melody on an accordion that works perfectly with the dreamy vibes, the later electric guitar sounds and the dominant percussion. The accordion is played in a laid back style and thus transports the motif of a Latin night out. Owl is another night track with rattling snake-like percussion, reverberated bongos and slightly cacophonous guitar chords. This is also a very jazzy song without any dominant electronic device playing. A high point of the song are the howls of the owl, and it isn't perfectly clear whether Sasaki mimics the owl via his voice or a tweaked instrument. It sounds wonderfully ghostly either way.


Snow On The Beach is the third essential song on Tiki Moon and my favorite of the album. It is without a doubt a pitch-perfect example of highly relaxing, paradisiacal music in Hawaiian style. The start is promising with gentle ocean waves, a mild breeze, euphonious piano tercets, careful guitar pluckings and accompanying vibes. And that's all this song has to offer. The mood is gorgeously dreamy, cozy and jazzy. If I wouldn't know the context of this song and the fact that it is included on Tiki Moon, I wouldn't believe my ears. Sasaki completely shifts the mood of the album for this time only and delivers a dreamy, free-flowing Jazz song in the vein of Arthur Lyman's downbeat vibraphone ditties. The permanent sounds of the ocean are intensifying the mood. A fantastic piece which I have denominated the Exotica Song Of The Month December in 2012!


Sweet Talk is the complementing track, again overly romantic, relaxing and beatless. It starts with nightbirds, crickets, gentle guitar chords and glacial vibe tones. The mood is once more focused and tight, there is no additional surprise or distraction. I somehow like Sasaki‘s music most in its quiet, charming moments. Best of all: there's no cliché involved, both songs are rather serious without creating a grave or sad mood. Cat brings back the sneaky crime and Latin style with clarion electric guitars plus wah-wah filters, mysteriously coruscating vibe dots and lots of spaces for the instruments to reverb and fade out. I believe that this feline tune consists primarily of coincidences and jam sessions as Cat has no recognizable melody, which makes it a quirky and rather spacey tune.


Crescent Moon starts with pitched and modulated, hollow inhalations as if a space man was the source of this sample material. Apart from this odd feature, the bass guitar and the electric guitar are both glowing from within and their rhythmical, polyphonous bursts are vivid and powerful. The final piece is called The Way You Turn Me On and is – gasp! – an intimate, downbeat film noir-vocal song, featuring a soothing but grave voice, possibly of Ken Sasaki himself. Peculiar flute and guitar loops make this a cold and icy song. The coldness is also resembled by the reverberations of the drums and the echoey lyrics. This is one of the songs where the Tiki and Exotica flavor is totally lost and exchanged with the style of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Depending on your listening habits, this could well become your favorite song of Island Moon. I am not particularly fond of this kind of music, but must admit that it transports and amplifies the concept of moon-lit darkness and isolation like no other tune did before on this album.


If you don't know Kenny Sasaki & The Tiki Boys yet, what do you expect when you hear the name of that artist? Playful, joyous, ukulele-driven Exotica songs? Dreamy moonlight serenades with gentle ocean sounds and distant birds? You're partly in luck, for you get all these things from Ken Sasaki, but not on this album, at least not in huge doses. While Snow On The Beach and Sweet Talk are awe-inspiring dreamy Jazz originals and while quite a few tracks feature bird calls, crickets and jungle sounds, the mood is almost always dusky with glints of mystique. And this is not a bad thing at all, for there exist few Exotica albums of a similar style. Sasaki's Tiki debut contains all the terrific formulae of his latter albums, but the focus is on the moon and hence the night which, apart from At The Tki Bar, is enjoyed on the isolated and potentially dangerous seaside or in the deep jungle. Tiki Moon is by no means an eerie, terrifying album – nor is it a colorful Easy Listening album with brassy Big Band interludes or catchy melodies of care-free halcyon days. Sasaki‘s albums are lighter and benign in later years. This album is »the dark one.« Once you know this, you better enjoy it!


Exotica Review 035: Kenny Sasaki & The Tiki Boys – Tiki Moon (2002). Originally published on Feb. 11, 2012 at