The Tikiyaki Orchestra
Aloha, Baby!






Aloha, Baby! is the third album by the Los Angeles-based neo-Exotica band The Tikiyaki Orchestra, and while the third time is usually the charm, this cannot be applied to their 2011 release, for their 2007 one-man debut StereoExotique and the 2009 full-band follow-up Swingin’ Sounds For The Jungle Jetset! were already masterpieces of the melodious spectrum of the genre. Instead of convoluted, eclectic or overly complex compositions, bandleader Jim Bacchi and fellows always remain on the hummable, playful and eupeptic side of the spectrum. Rustic melodies or puzzling intersections aren’t their primary incentive.


Yet, Aloha, Baby! offers two unexpected changes to the established formula that are definitely mind-blowing. For one, the band decides to venture into jazzier realms on a handful of tracks, keeping the technicolored melodies but embedding them into double bass-fueled surroundings filled with vibes of mystique. And secondly, this new approach leads to a thundering, almost pernicious track that is the clear signature tune of both this album and the band itself. It is in fact so stunning and overly bold that the auroral suaveness of the remaining tracks is in danger. But hey, that’s the price to pay if you deliver a clear-cut masterpiece; it shouldn’t distract listeners from worshipping each and every note of the thirteen-track journey anyway. This time, the band decides to aurally paint a faux-Polynesian Village Hotel (though it’s not clear whether faux refers to the Polynesian part or the whole hotel, hehe).


There are sunny tracks, sunset songs and nocturnal skits, so there is plenty of variety for everyone. The band setup hasn’t changed, it is still the ominous Marty Lush on the vibes, Gary Brandin on the steel guitar, an especially hard-working Eddie Cleland on the drums, Jonpaul Balak and Brian Kassan on the bass guitar and rhythm guitar respectively, Mark Gusek on various percussive instruments and bandleader Jim Bacchi on the bongos and the lead guitar, mimicking Jack Costanzo on more than one occasion. Let’s see how this album compares to the previous ones, and whether the surprises are worth it.


Theme For Jetsetters marks the poignant beginning of the journey and is itself a crystal-clear homage to the band’s previous album. Not much has changed at the world-famous Tikiyaki Airways, Captain Lush is still the, well, cunning captain who flies the route to Waikiki all the while blurry bachelor pad organs play vestigial Casio keyboard-esque melodies in the background. After the sound of chinking glasses, the moiré veil is lifted and a beautiful upbeat concoction of warmly quavering organs, sparkling vibraphones and vivid percussion is poured into the ears of the listener. Similar in style to the three Bachelor tunes off Swingin’ Sounds For The Jungle Jetset!, the plasticity of the organ’s textural structure is much bolder and outshines every other strong element on here – even Brandin’s Hawaiian-style lap steel guitar. The song is swinging, there is no dark cloud over the horizon, so all in all, we have yet another perfect opener here.


After a safe landing, the passengers find themselves in the auspiciously titled Polynesian Village Love Theme. The tempo is turned down a notch or two in order to let the mélange of acoustic guitar backings, steel guitar goodness and vibraphone droplets sink in all the more. Particularly Hawaiian in style, this love theme encapsulates the decade-old tradition of lazy hammock Sundays perfectly. Be warned, though, as this is the most clichéd song on the album with shedloads of wonky guitar riffs whose sustain inherits the exemplary key shifts of Hawaii. Very relaxing, and considering the things to come at a later point of this album, definitely necessary. The title-lending Aloha, Baby! follows and is a sunshine-laden joint venture between a few melody fragments of the 1930’s gospel Kumbaya and a trippy 6/8 Surf Rock rhythm with a focus on euphonious guitar washes and underlining organs. I offer anyone a huge reward who can find me the slightest pinch of presentiment or gloominess in these three tracks, as all of them drip with saccharine fluids and contentment. A feast for Exotica lovers who want less mystique and romance in exchange for exuberant happiness.


La Hula Rhumba enhances the above formula, and in a good way, methinks. The percussion is much more sophisticated here, it seems to be deeper integrated into the mix, providing a sense of wideness. The vivid bird calls are without a doubt responsible for this effect as well. Latin-style lamento-evoking piano melodies are the perfect counterpart in terms of the glaring happiness that was presented thus far, but everything is perfectly happy again in the chorus section when glitzy vibraphone notes merge with piano drops in major. Other welcome curlicues are the coruscating wind chimes and the terrifically skewed honky tonk piano bridge – you know, there are people who get goosebumps when instruments are played as weirdly as in this short section. And I like that!


Up next is the hung over In Search Of Mei Ting, and it has a touching back story, for it was the favorite restaurant of Jim Bacchi. This ode is dedicated to its flavors and peculiarities. Launching with Jonpaul Balak’s bass riffs which are followed by jazzy percussion, slowly played enigmatic vibraphone notes, superbly embedded bongo beats and a doleful piano melody, this track is a fitting companion for moonlight strolls, its mood being rather dusky and mysterious. A song for rainy days with a strong Crime Jazz or shadowy private eye atmosphere, but without the pompous brass sections. However, the lethargy of this song can be broken, oh boy, can it!


Nothing on this album or The Tikiyaki Orchestra’s complete works prepares you for the following Kono’s Revenge. If there was one obvious signature ditty to remember the band by, it’d be this very track: hunting in the territories of the Mission Impossible Theme or the Theme Of The Saint, the players present their fulminant thundering car-chase escape – or elopement? – in a roughshod action way: the first six notes hark back to the gradualness of In Search Of Mei Ting, but after a few short seconds, spectacularly calamitous chase rhythms are played, the percussion literally runs over the listener and is tremendously forceful and staggering. Sneaky vibraphone bits and sitar-like guitar melodies augment the portentous thrill to sky-high regions. A gargantuan staccato bongo solo is woven in later, and the sunset atmosphere is embellished via police sirens and mercurial organ chords. This track blows away each and every thing due to its full force nature, and I have it glued to my running/jogging playlist, so it will never vanish. The best chase song on Earth and the self-evident top pick for people who want Exotica’s hinges to be taken off – with a blast!


It’s hard to get over the shock and surprise of Kono’s Revenge, so the remaining tunes have to be seen in the resplendent context of the aforementioned depiction of the Polynesian Village Hotel. Lotus Operandi starts fittingly with shaken ice cubes and poured liquor that lead to yet another jazzy cloak-and-dagger rhythm, but with an exotic twist due to the return of the slightly warped honky tonk piano and an organ foil, warbled guitar screeches, loud percussion and a splendid James Bond-alike outro riff.


While Mysteria features a refreshingly cheeky piano-vibraphone alignment which plays a jumpy melody and remains in the spotlight throughout the half-lamenting, half-exhilarative track, the band tries to hark back to the success of their second LP with the stream of remaining tracks: Chateau Leilani could be tentatively called Bachelor #4 as its morphogenesis of blissful happiness and organ prowess is strong enough to justify this assertion, but inappropriate in the end due to additional ingredients such as bird calls, field recordings and another breath-taking bongo solo by Jim Bacchi who I’d thought burned his hands on Kono’s Revenge. A moment of majesty is delivered by Lahaina Morning Rain thanks to its catchy piano chords, ubiquitously played field recording of birds and a fantastic cascade of Lush’s down-spiraling vibraphone notes that add the sort of cozy mystique that make the genre so everlasting and huge.


Of course, a pitch-perfect Surf Rock song must not be missed and is delicately put on the table with Mana Pacifica, the fitting match to Makaha, found on Swingin’ Sounds For The Jungle Jetset!. Both songs are all about paradisiac Hawaiian riffs, the warmth of multiple guitar layers and melodies. Mana Pacifica broadens the established setup with hectic bongo drums, shaky castanets and placid, almost inaudible vibraphone backings. This is a terrifically colorful song with a towering polyphony and blazing sounds. The final laid back Hawai’i Nocturne relies on a pompous beat, screaming apes and birds of paradise, theremin-esque Space Age organ tremblings, Gary Brandin’s dreamiest lap guitar washes and solemn moon-worshipping piano notes. The song fades out slowly, and if you’re up for it, listen to the real final track Captain Lush Black Box Recording, who makes various announcements over the distant melody of the title track Aloha, Baby! that let me doubt about his abilities to fly a plane. However, I want him to be back on the forthcoming albums, so I let him rest for a while in his cabin.


Aloha, Baby! delivers more Tikiyaki Orchestra goodness and relies heavily on the formulae that were established on the first album StereoExotique already: coming up with reverberated vibraphone bits, merging them with field recordings, swirling pianos plus guitars which altogether create tremendously catchy melodies. However, Aloha, Baby! is keener than before on two alterations, firstly the sugary adhesiveness in the launching trio of tracks that is on top of that scattered in-between the whole album, and secondly a jazzy spy theme approach that culminates in the unforgettable Kono’s Revenge. As expected, each and every song sounds tremendously great, and the interplay and team play between the band members works really well. The little tidbits and curlicues that traverse through each track make the production value even greater, be it spiraling vibraphone bits, tropical field recordings or the occasional use of wind chimes.


The album seems to live and breathe due to these additions, and the ploy of a long holiday in the Polynesian Village Hotel works all the better. Since all my expectations are fulfilled, this must be the best album of the band so far, right? Not quite, for they already delivered catchy melodies and shedloads of surprises on their previous albums. Fans of their Bachelor tunes will be as grateful for Aloha, Baby! as Surf Rock afficionados, vibraphone lovers, field recording followers and the many people who like the laid back, easy going majesty of the genre. The Tikiyaki Orchestra cater to all of these groups and expand their fan base with the aforementioned hard-minded killer track Kono’s Revenge. I wouldn’t mind a connecting factor like The Wrath Of Kono in the forthcoming albums. I can only recommend the whole album to neo-Exotica fans. The band delivers time and again.


Further reading: 

  • In Episode 42 of Mark Riddle’s Quiet Village Podcast, Jim Bacchi stops by to talk about the overarching concept of Aloha, Baby!. As usual, it’s a terrific interview and at least as informative as it is funny.
  • As usual, the band created a fun subsection on their website specifically dedicated to their Polynesian Village Hotel. 


Exotica Review 075: The Tikiyaki Orchestra – Aloha, Baby! (2011). Originally published on May 26, 2012 at