Even though this is my first review of the Belgian Surf Rock combo Los Venturas, I'm following the band since their self-released Surfers Brew of 2006 and have recently been inspired by this well-saturated photograph of fellow Twitter user @heylownine to finally move my butt and write something, or else. Their release of 2011, Kaleydoskop, though, takes the cake and presents more material than ever, while erecting and maintaining an overarching concept full of bright Surf Rock hymns and dreamy darkness. Car chase scenes are exchanged with Rockabilly riots, and sun-fueled chords are always close at hand. Founded in Antwerp in 1998 as Harvey And The Revtones, the band quickly changed their name to Los Venturas shortly before the millennium. Bass guitarist Andy Weller is the only remaining member of the original formation, with lead and rhythm guitarists Michael Schots and Christoph Boost being accompanied by the fourth and final member Peter Dedoncker aka Mr. P, the drummer of the ensemble. The band presents a whopping fourteen instrumentals on Kaleydoskop, with thirteen of them being unique compositions and one truly inventive rendition of a well-known tune that hasn't been considered all too often in recent times, let alone during the sunset phase of vintage Exotica, but shines in polished colors: the theme of Lawrence Of Arabia! And this won't be the only signature tune, I swear! Expect catchy riffs, occasional field recordings, Tiki jungles, fulminant drums, enough room for improvisations and less so for improvements.
And off we go in medias res with Ventura's Groove, as the Fender equipment is already smoking right from the get-go. It's an entirely friendly composition with golden-shimmering guitar backings and a splendid performance on the galactic lead guitar by Michael Schots if there ever was one! In fact, the opener is Space-Age Rock at its finest, resembling the colorful psychedelia as delivered by The Egg in tandem with the 101 Strings in their joint venture Astro-Sounds From Beyond The Year 2000 (1969). Additional wah-wah pedal effects are intertwined, but they're only of second importance, as the main melody is so vivid and catchy; this applies to each state it goes through, whether it is trembling-quavering or resembling a Sicilian jaw harp. Since Peter Dedoncker is performing a great solo on the drums as well, the song truly has it all! The following Dizzy is much crunchier, with sizzling-hot wah wah effects, several tone shifts ranging from sun-soaked mids to celestial heights, and back again. The mood is much more laid-back and playful, the main melody even more important than on the opener. While Zot Van A revs up the tempo to car chase-evoking beats per minute and garnishes the scene with Dedoncker's fulminant drum beats, Wellens' sleazy bass guitar accentuations as well as a surf attitude-insinuating guitar interplay between Schots and Boost (gotta love their names in this order!), the bedazzling Delerium is another Surf Rock tune with sunset-red guitar chords, freedom-depicting tone sequences and tremendously cool complemental chords. The gleaming warmth they deliver causes a bloom effect of the mind. Hear the flowers, touch the flowers, be the flowers!
Revenge Of Tiki's Pt. II is the reprise of a similarly titled track off Los Venturas’ 2006 album Surfers Brew and paints the conclusion of an imaginary cliffhanger, and as you may have encountered during your life, it's the quiet undertones that deliver the bile-istic wrath and pure evil, not the foulmouth lyrics or heavy metal bridges. Such being the case, the dusky mystery is glaring: softened faux-timpani, smooth maracas and the calls of birds of paradise cause a lush uneasiness, but it is the utterly dreamy sustain of the steel guitar that makes this arrangement so successful, as it resonates in and conflates with the guiro-penetrated clave-clicking distance. This desperado downbeat tune is a phantasmagoric Dark Exotica piece in the veins of The Vanduras and The Blue Hawaiians. It approaches in the form of a delightfully easygoing aural critter… and seconds later you're dead. Up next is Bubamara, a frantic oompa-casatschock hybrid of lamenting guitar melodies, dirty saxes, wonky boings and a splendid danceability – Neo-Retro Latin meets Russian memory lanes. And once this song is over, the celebration continues: Ganja Party brings back the Italian Capri Sun 30mm reels of the album's opening phase thanks to its staccato horn flourishes, a rising main melody that gets hotter and hotter, Brazilian cymbals as well as the punchy drums, whereas 04:52 Uhr Reeperbahn, St-Pauli ventures into a deutsch concrete jungle full of chirping birds, suggestive prostitutes and snugly guitarscapes, making this tune less about memorable melodies rather than wah wah improvisations and moaning menschen.
Leaving Reeperbahn via the autobahn, Pumpin' depicts the wild car ride via Mr. P's eminently thunderous drum patterns, cool acid guitars and Wellen's droning bass droplets admixed to the rather harsh and energetic scenery. Transsibirskaya Magistral harks back to Bubamara, at least in terms of its backing guitar, but is otherwise again keen to rev up the coolness factor in the vein of its predecessor Pumpin'. An interwoven but surprisingly whitewashed harmonica/mouth organ à la Tommy Morgan is a nice inclusion, but isn't used to its full effect. How much greater could this particular arrangement have been if the harmonica went totally wild. Ah well, no time to think about that, as the centerpiece of the album, the humongous Lawrence Of Arabia greets the listener with earth-shaking drums, Chinese temple gongs, sitar-like guitars and boosted percussion. You've never heard the theme like this before, and it remains beyond me why it has never reached cult status in Exotica realms, as its Middle Eastern setting with the decisively Western pompousness has gargantuan potential. Los Venturas capture this magnanimous megalomania and even interweave trade wind-fueled sand storms to the diorama and stray away from the theme, only to revisit it when the listener least expects it. A huge hit!
The last three tracks maintain the variety that has thus far been presented. Walk In The Park is a perfect homage to the Surf Rock conventions that were established back in the 60's, but transformed here into a Dark Exotica piece with a nocturnal nothingness in the background that's illuminated by half doleful, half solemn neon-strings of electric guitars and their steel brethren. Since the reverberation of the chords is especially perceptible on this track, it indeed suggests a wide room with lots of alcoves and niches through which the sustain oozes into. La Niña comes next and paints a desert mirage that's even bolder and hotter than on Lawrence Of Arabia. Starting with a filtered guitar ambience that's spiced with rattling snake-evoking shakers, the melodies are slowly moving out of this legato mélange and shine in Oriental colors, all the while spluttering cymbals are accompanying the scene. It's a totally silky and smooth track, and while the main guitar becomes more acidic and forceful as the desert fades, the setting remains intact and makes all of these five minutes a danger-evoking feast. The final fade-out phase of almost a minute is worth mentioning as well, for the guitars sound brazen, metallic but still hot during the end. Brazzaville marks the end of the album and reaches safe Ska shores with polyphonous horns, La Bamba-esque guitar chords and short fusions of Surf Rock riffs and drum solos. It's the band's most mellifluous track and a wonderful outro that resembles a harmonious end point of the journey.
Kaleydoskop is a proper Surf Rock/Dark Exotica beast that remains true to the tradition of Los Venturas. Wonderfully warm guitar layers mesh with their acidic fellows, and each song either depicts a sun-lit freedom on lonely roads, or a nightly setting with perceptible reverberations and darker undertones. Fortunately, the band never succumbs to the idea of delivering particularly harsh and calamitous constructions, not even in an interlude or segue form. The overarching concept thus remains intact and is never destroyed or grotesquely overshadowed. There are, however, clear standout tracks, be it the emerald-green dangerous jungle atmosphere of Revenge Of Tiki's Pt. II, the scents of Russian clichés in Bubamara or the gorgeous interpretation of Lawrence Of Arabia. Sure, there might be people who blame the band for this affront, for the destruction of this all-time classic, but please, Exotica is a circuitous genre with many repetitions of old motifs and classic materials, so it's actually great to hear a well-known yet totally altered tune. If you're up for a guitar-fueled journey that's neither too dark nor too sunny, these Belgian guys know how to do it. Available on vinyl and in digital music stores.
Exotica Review 136: Los Venturas – Kaleydoskop (2011). Originally published on Oct. 20, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.