Beyond Good And Evil






Beyond Good And Evil by the Houston-based band Clouseaux is possibly the most sophisticated Neo-Exotica album of our time. While the nine-headed band came up with two preceding albums, Clouseaux in 2002 and Lagoon! in 2004, their third album takes the cake by implementing every Exotica sound that exists on Earth. You want vibraphones à la Arthur Lyman? Check! What about cheesy accordions? There are plenty, and they’re even used in a creative way.


If you are looking for steel pans, electric guitars, trembling organs, Esquivel-esque aah-aah choirs, funny samples of mid-century movies and advertisements plus a variety of styles ranging from dreamy over funny to aggressive, you will be more than a bit happy with Clouseaux’s most diversified album. Even if you don’t search any of the things above, you better like them, buddy, because the band’s take on Exotica is highly innovative and overloaded with impressive ideas and – best of all – catchy riffs and melodies.


Kelly Doyle is the guitarist of the band, Tomas Escalante comes up with the vocals, Jay Brooks plays bass, Andy Salmon and Lou Bo are responsible for the percussion, John Best plays the vibes in all kinds of styles and the brass trio Aaron Koerner, Steve Ruth and Alfred Tam cause the shimmering majestic glow in most of the songs. As is always the case with artists who cover a broad variety, they cannot please every listener with every song. But Clouseaux not only come damn close in matching my preferred style, they actually exceed my expectations with Beyond Good And Evil. Its 14 tracks and 50 minutes take you on a wild ride from vintage Exotica over Rockabilly/Surf Rock to jazzy crime scene/spy motif sceneries.


While all of these styles were already featured on their second album Lagoon!, they are enhanced on this record with punchier brass sections and a few additional instruments that weren’t used at all in the process of creating that album. Still, the band members remain true to their roots and continue the style they are known for with pride and bravery. Let’s see what they offer us.


The Kitchen Of Tomorrow is the resplendent initial point of the album, and as if the band was able to foresee the mid-century modern art movement on platforms like Pinterest or Instagram with their various pictures of bachelor kitchenettes, futuristic stoves and pink microwaves, the song merges various elements of nostalgia like blurry technicolored television ads and their Danny Elfman-esque strings with the latest twists and turns of a Surf Rock-Latin-Exotica cocktail bongo groove and a final pinch of a jumpy galactosamine synthesizer.


Hunt Of The Savage immediately picks up the memorabilia thread and starts with a man who, swollen with pride, takes the listener to a tour around the trophy room of a huntsman’s hut. Staccato bongos, Brook’s three-note bass pulses and interspersed bass guitar droplets evoke the concept of several socially dubious poaching sessions flawlessly, but it is not until the desperado-like electric guitar and the sunset-carrying choir intersections – the signature trademark of Clouseaux – that the savagery is boosted tremendously, only to be further amplified by Koerner’s, Tam’s and Ruth’s gorgeous brass melodies, thus transforming the formerly nasty atmosphere of virility and adventure into a clarion-laden Crime Jazz theme. This is eclectic Exotica that merges as many styles and remnants of the past with quickly-paced rhythms.


In order to not risk a heart attack, Genie Versus Genie slows things down quite a bit and intertwines a delightful Surf Rock atmosphere with a Cha Cha groove loaded with a catchy guitar melody, gorgeous piano backings and rum-fueled chants. However, it’s the little curlicues that capture my heart: the effervescently quavering sustain of the bachelor pad organ in the background, the short accordion bursts plus the Oriental flavor that advects into the song all of a sudden.


While still being struck in awe, The Awful Green Things From Outer Space enter the scenery that is based on a hazy audio book and later enhanced by the bank with warbled radio frequencies, terribly dark guitar strings and their screeching counterparts. When the beat sets in, the song morphs into a sneaky, mean-spirited Rock song with screaming women, a dominant trumpet melody backed by glorious two-note brass eruptions, oscillating laser sounds and brief appearances of John Best’s vibes. This is a powerful song, depicting both the danger as well as triumphant moments flawlessly by harking back to clichéd alien fiction and augmenting it with highly singable melodies that hook me all the time.


Paraiso is the 6+ minute long centerpiece of the album and completely breaks with the heretofore present hyperactive style. Let me tell you in advance: this song has to be heard to be believed, as it is gargantuan in its laid back take on vintage Exotica. First of all, I am so tremendously blown away by the mellow steel pans which you don’t hear often in exotic tunes. However, I fully embrace the fact that they’re taken out of their Calypso context as long as it serves the mood. The steel pans are perfectly complemented by Best’s glistening vibes, and it’s about time that they are featured much more prominently! These vibes are also used in a much more dreamy way at the end of the song when their mellow waves wash over the listener.


Another bonus of Paraiso are the warped steel guitars. They create that certain Hawaii feeling which is both clichéd and indispensable. But the guitars aren’t limited to Hawaiian spirits, as the band also knows how to infix a boldly Oriental feeling via the very same guitars that shuttles between danger and mystique on the one hand and golden bounteous pompousness on the other. The result is a strangely attractive track that merges so many distinctive styles and flavors that it shouldn’t work out on paper. But here it does, making it one of my favorite modern Exotica tracks of this millennium (haven't made my decision about the forthcoming millennium yet).


The Monkey With The Golden Fez is next, and it matches exactly what you think it to be. It’s a bongo-driven ditty that would make Don Ralke proud. This strongly Latin track is flaringly joyful due to the scintillating mallet instruments, the backing aaah-aaah choir and a blithe interplay – that later turns into a cooperation – between Ruth’s trumpet improvisations and Doyle’s crunchy electric guitars. Also noteworthy is the expeditious percussion beyond the use of bongos due to the electrifying maracas and soft hand cymbals.


The following Exhuming Elizabeth starts in the best and creepiest way by featuring a tasteful horror B-movie I know all too well: Roger Corman’s ingenuous Pit And The Pendulum of 1961 is one of my favorite Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, and it is here that actor Antony Carbone discloses the horrific truth about Elizabeth (on an interesting side note, the soundtrack of that movie was provided by none other than Les Baxter!). The inclusion of this sample not only shows the affection for horror movies a few band members have, but also serves as a formidable gateway to the music itself which is a stark Rockabilly tune full of echoey guitars when the listener enters HELL! (via a Vincent Price sample), while the warmth of the Hammond organ in the background cannot break through to the guitar extravaganza. This is definitely the boldest Rock song of the album, so if you don’t like this kind of Exotica, let alone the creepy pictures of the infamous scene in the crypt of the above movie, you should skip it. I for one am surprised myself that I like the song, but it appears more often in my workout playlist than in my selection of heavenly Exotica tunes, that’s for sure.


The remaining songs of the album are of equal quality when the moods and styles keep on shifting heavily. While Tango De Los Muertos is a dusky, amorous accordion-driven guitar-interspersed track that is highly successful in its draft of a cliché, even more so when band members start singing along to the melodramatic gloominess, Magic is the Ambient track of the album with serene chants, gleaming vibes, slightly cacophonous evening strings and a small dose of Surf guitars. Favor another visit to Hawaii? The Girl From Atlantis merges typical Hawaiian guitar keys with serene steel guitars. The killer addition to my ears is the carefully played accordion in the background whose long sustain adds warmth and actual gracefulness.


The title-lending Beyond Good And Evil returns to the spy theme flavors with the help of a vibraphone-guitar-bongo concoction that is yet again augmented by spectral aaah vocals and a rising tone sequence near the end that enhances the exiguity. The moment you think that the album has no surprises to offer anymore, Catalonia appears and puts the beauty of the piano into the spotlight. It is a seriously mellow track that doesn’t fit with the endemic mélange of styles the band has brewed so far, but this wouldn’t be a Clouseaux track if its superstructure wasn’t spiced with one enhancing peculiarity. However, this addition is quite serious as well, namely a Balearic guitar that plays in heart-rending unison with the piano.


Jungle Witch is the pen-ultimate track and delivers a final presentation of Latin brass sections coupled with screeching, hyper-energetic guitars and a twofold beat that is first loaded with laid back bongos and the band’s humming over it, but is later changed into a blasting Rock rhythm that is overloaded with guitars, trumpets and an almost ethereal vocal performance. However, the song ends as it began, with the laid back beat. The final The Toy Store Of Tomorrow is a TV advertisement vignette that is a faithful reproduction of the intro track, but with toy store samples, reels of laughter and other bouncy cartoon-related archival sound footage.


Let’s change the glowing tone in the first sentences of this final paragraph: what is the flaw of Beyond Good And Evil? I didn’t mention any particularly audacious or failed experiment. And rightfully so, for Clouseaux deliver their best album and prove the truth of the old saying "The third time is the charm." However, since this album is so multilayered, bold and hectic, there are perception-related flaws due to its nature that you should know about. First of all, the variety of styles is tremendous. They cannot please everyone, and while I, for instance, am impressed with all of their tracks, I don’t like them equally.


To my own surprise, it is the guitar-driven pieces which I like best, for vintage Exotica wasn’t created with the help of – then non-existent – electric guitars. But still, the band is able to make me fall in love with the fastidious mixture of these guitars with bongos and accordions. And I shouldn’t forget about the vocals which have always been a signature move that can be attributed time and again to the band. However, even if you do like the majority of the songs, you might feel tired after a certain amount of time. While the album clocks in right below the 50-minute mark, it feels much longer due to the amount of tracks, the phantasmagoric mood shifts and the various melodies that want to be digested.


Beyond Good And Evil works as a coherent album, and yet only the skilled, attentive listeners can possibly appreciate Clouseaux’s efforts in one listening session. It’s okay to tear the album apart and compile its songs in genre-divided or mood playlists, but it’s wise not to forget the overarching concept of the album, for it works flawlessly and deserves every attention. It’s hard for me to cherry-pick any one song, but if I had to choose now in order to save the afterlife of Elizabeth, it would be Paraiso due to its laid back groove and the use of steel pans, a singular novelty, and possibly Tango De Los Muertos as a second choice due to its powerful clichéd vista of an accordion-heavy evening in Portugal. Every other track shares grooves and instruments with each other, so that it is harder to pick a distinct specimen. I can only wholeheartedly recommend this album to any Exotica listener who wants the genre to be resuscitated in the most skillful way. Clouseaux have found their niche in today’s vibrant resurgence of the genre, and it is a niche that caters to listeners of vintage material as well as to horror movie buffs and rock afficionados. Thumbs up sky-high!


Further reading:

The band's Twitter account is @Clouseauxmusic


Exotica Review 064: Clouseaux – Beyond Good And Evil (2006). Originally published on Apr. 28, 2012 at