The Tikiyaki Orchestra
Swingin' Sounds For
The Jungle Jetset!
The second album is always an important milestone for a band: do they repeat the formula of their first album that turned out to be successful, or do they try to produce the album of their dreams, thus alienating avid fans and the press who dream differently? The answer is particularly hard in regard to The Tikiyaki Orchestra and their second album Swingin' Sounds For The Jungle Jetset! because both albums vary tremendously in style. The primary reason is a surprisingly technical one: the first album StereoExotique was created by a faux-band – Jim Bacchi created the album all by himself, playing all instruments and not only coming up with unique compositions but also with one of the best Exotica albums of 2007.
On StereoExotique the respective parts were looped, merged together via the help of audio software and refined with sound libraries of exotic bird noises and ocean waves. If you insist, that album was an electronic, loop-based entry, but expertly masked as an Exotica album. The loops were ambitious and complex, but nonetheless just loops at the end of the day.
Surprised by the immense success and rave reviews, Bacchi decided to form a real band with great talents: the mysterious Marty Lush as the vibraphonist, Steel guitarist Gary Brandin of The Vanduras fame, drummers Eddie Cleland and Dave "Squid" Cohen, bassist Jonpaul Balak, percussionist Mark Gusek, Brian Kassan on keyboards and guitar and last but not least Jim Bacchi himself as the bandleader and guitarist-keyboardist and bongo specialist. This large cast of experts exemplifies the new focus of the band: delivering 12 modern and, most importantly, unique compositions that are created in constant dialog. The various soundscapes of nature are left out most of the time and are substituted with a skillful interplay between the instrumentalists. Bachelor pad organs are the only remaining electronic ingredient and the percussion sounds more vivid and real than before … because it is real this time. I'll analyze the peculiarities of most tracks below.
The album opens with the refreshingly paradisiacal Bachelor #1, the first of 3 bachelor pad tunes on the album. The song starts with an announcement of Captain Lush, long-time pilot of the fictitious (or not?) Tikiyaki Airways. His words are accompanied by monotonous airplane noises, purposefully muffled percussion and electronic Bachelor pad organs. The clanging sound of glasses marks the take-off of the album, the fuzzy filter is lifted and gorgeous piano notes plus sustained organ sounds, vibraphone dots played by the captain himself and Hawaiian guitars are heard. The mood is overly positive and the electric piano resembles StereoExotique in style.
Tabu For Two features bird and ape calls, gorgeous percussion and liquid vibes which are answered by Brandin's steel guitar and pitch-perfect organ backings. In fact, the organ steals the show of every other instrument – only the short bongo interlude in the middle is equal in my book. A cheekily shady song. Singapore Swing is another Tikiyaki specialty, namely a crime theme that features a reverberated groove with a clearly audible bass line by Balak, a melody realized by vibes and piano and the resplendent addition of the steel guitar. The cheekiness is again the predominant mood of the song, and despite featuring the location of Singapore in its title, there is no Far Eastern cliché attached.
Bachelor #2 follows next and delivers more of the same care-free attittude loaded with organs, Italo House pianos and fantastic melodies. Due to their stripped down nature, the songs are more tuneful and easier on the ears. I applaud this approach because the band shows time and again that everyone involved is able to deliver more ambitious riffs and pluckings with ease. So why not smoothen things and create easier compositions for a change? Less is more in this case – a killer track! Sunset On The Kons Kai is a slow song that starts with distant bird noises and laid back vibraphone notes. While the band is playing, the birds keep on chirping in the background, another trademark that usually reveals the origin of a Tikiyaki Orchestra song. The steel guitar works best in these quiet surroundings, for its reverb enhances the distance of Nature marvelously.
Tango Tahiti starts with dominant rattles, vibraphone chords and jungle sounds. A sudden fade-in of a rock organ marks a shift in loudness. Piano backings and high-pitched guitars create a hot-blooded aura in an otherwise decidedly serious song that is less playful and more focused on the delivery of a Latin feeling. I like the band's jolly and dreamy tunes a lot better, so this is one of the weaker songs in my opinion, though it's in no way bad – it's just a personal preference of the band's other styles over this Latin approach, that's all.
Makaha – which is in no way related to the song of the same name by Ted Auletta – shifts the style completely and adds another variation to the band's style: surf rock. And boy, is this a great ditty: surf guitars, steel guitars, upbeat percussion and a mild desperado melody make this a highly successful track – with added vibes are a nice bonus. It is no coincidence that the track resembles the style of The Vanduras, for Brandin is in control and truly shines on this song. The ending of Makaha is equally surprising: dreamy guitars fade out and all that remains are the gentle waves of the ocean. Last Sampan To Kowloon starts with reverberated drums and features a majestic, content keyboard melody. In fact, the keyboard is the dominant instrument on the song with quiet organ backings and distant guitar howlings.
The following Bachelor #3 continues the setup and is the last piano-laden track on the album, featuring once more fantastically joyful melodies that recall cabrio drives along the Copa Cabana. This and all the other Bachelor tunes are included constantly on my workout playlist, putting huge smiles to my face whenever they are shuffled and reaching my ears. These songs show the whole power of the band and are furthermore a perfect bridge between their debut album and this second one. Mindblowing good-mood songs. If you are an Exotica fan and don't move your feet or nod your head to the melodies, you have a problem.
The album's closer is called Poho Moku, a convex fanfare that includes all the instruments that were peviously featured plus another deeply satisfying melody of euphonious pianos, a clarion vibraphone, a mesmerizing steel guitar and lively bongos. The constant stream of bird noises and nature surroundings create the impression of a jungle concert with the birds chiming in. An opulent grand finale and a top pick.
Jim Bacchi mastered the transition from a faux-orchestra to a bandleader of virtuosos without losing the distinctive sound he created all by himself and which he now shares with his band mates. This is a masterful, not overly complex album which shows that Exotica music is more alive than ever. Luckily, Bacchi's trademark sounds – animal noises, predominant keyboards and bachelor pad organs – survived in the band's second incarnation and are enhanced by the skills that are brought in by each band member. If you like StereoExotique, you will definitely fall in love with Swingin' Sounds For The Jungle Jetset! as well. However, be aware that there are still a lot of electronic components in the songs, so if you prefer a more jazzy and real approach, this album is probably not the best mating partner for you, which would be a pity, as you would miss out on gorgeously playful melodies.
Exotica beginners should listen to the 3 Bachelor songs and see if their mood suddenly changes and gets better (hint: yes and yes). If this is the case, give the rest of the album a go as well. Although there's something for everyone on this album, it is nonetheless coherent and flawlessly presented. Highly recommended for listeners who want the glorious past and the golden days of Exotica to live on in the present in full swing.
- You need to visit the official Tikiyaki Orchestra Website, which is a feast for the eyes, especially their satellite websites that are presented on the web shortly before the arrival of a new album.
- DigiTiki's Quiet Village Podcast, Episode 35 includes Jim Bacchi as an interview partner where he talks about the specific Tikiyaki style and the production-related key differences between the albums.
- Their Twitter handle is @tikiyaki.
Exotica Review 038: The Tikiyaki Orchestra – Swingin' Sounds For The Jungle Jetset!. Originally published on Feb. 18, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.