Trip Tease is the debut of the San Francisco-based Lounge and mash-up duo Tim Digulla and David Gardner alias Tipsy. Released in 1996 on the Asphodel label, this album has gathered a huge cult following, and rightly so. While electronic by nature and chock-full of movie samples, Space-Age era particles and the analogue crackles of vinyl goodness, the songs contain a warmth which is not often found in such records. And to be honest, Trip Tease sets a trend and precedes the works of many like-minded artists and similar debuts like The Avalanches' Since I Left You (2000), Lemon Jelly's lemonjelly.ky (2000), The Karminsky Experience's The Power Of Suggestion (2003) or Kava Kon's Departure Exotica (2006). Each of these albums presents a different take on Exotica and mid-century modern records, be it ocean wave-laden holiday glitz, faux-Middle Eastern desert sceneries or nocturnal adventures jungle hideouts. Only Combustible Edison's I, Swinger came before it, as it was released in 1995. Hell, the duo of Tipsy was even established a few months before Don Tiki's debut The Forbidden Sounds Of Don Tiki of 1997, and this particular album is hailed as the cornerstone of a focused revival of the genre's salad days, now called neo-Exotica. Trip Tease can be aptly codenamed as the Mexican album, for Tipsy interweave loads of accordions, desperado guitar twangs, gleaming horns and folk percussion instruments into their sun-soaked compositions. While the duo relies on several samples, snippets and fragments of 60's Jazz records and television series, the majority of the melodies is unique and specifically placed and played in order to make Trip Tease something special. Its 13 colorful tracks – interestingly enough all full-length skits with no interlude or intermission thrown in – make it a serious attempt… at a fun album.
The aural gateway to the Mexican border is called Mr. Excitement. An electric guitar backing theme provides the base frame for lush Hollywood strings, blurry ukulele chords, glistening bells and whistles, short blurry piano samples in tandem with colorful Hammond organ backings as well as a gorgeously mellow steel guitar melodies that spiral downwards. A short climax is reached before the third minute when punchy brass attacks bedazzle the listener, all the more so since the song then continues the style. It is a good opener that is maybe a tad overproduced. The listener adjusts to Tipsy's lively style in no time, though. The nightly Space Golf relies on vinyl pops and eerily illuminated piano notes in the highest regions before it busts loose and presents eclectic Jazz rhythms with cacophonous flute-marimba couples, reoccurring plop putting successes, brass samples and intimidating orchestra drums. As it is commonplace in Tipsy's productions, several samples of instruments and weird noises are scattered, oftentimes perturbing the groove or even causing a total halt. This adds to the liveliness, but makes the song more demanding and convoluted. While the upbeat catchiness of Grossenhosen (a tipsy attempt at German grammar, meaning large trousers) presents a tremendously catchy organ groove full of galloping guiros, accordion splinters, wonky cartoon samples and a dedicated potpourri of a sparkling electric piano, dreamy steel guitar fragments, brass bursts and – hopefully artificial – farts (!), Tuatara provides 5+ minutes of a tropical hammock reverie complete with a laid-back bamboo groove, mysterious wind chimes, brass stabs, spacey steel guitars, allotted flavors of Far Eastern kotos and Middle Eastern ouds. The various sounds of hollow water drops and gurgling streams only drive the Exotica factor further, and while this song is built in the same way as the others, meaning that there is a steady groove with whirring particles and stereo-panned curlicues, Tuatara is actually soothing and balmy thanks to its mystifying elements.
Nude On The Moon is a particularly terrific piece with colorful organ hits, wafting radio frequencies, bass guitar accompaniments and a quirky electronic bell melody. Bitcrushed sirens accentuate the steel guitar melody and the tense string washes and vibraphone sustains of B-movies. The following El Bombo Atomico is one of the obvious show-stoppers of Trip Tease, in fact the first of a string of three absolutely wonderful tracks: warm steel guitar chords, Mexican trumpets and sizzling-hot accordion glints are towering above a clave-interspersed rhythm. This track delivers a maximum of sun and warmth, but surprises with short interludes of mystique; phantasmagoric vibraphone streams and cascading glockenspiel scintillae are great counterparts to the Mexican flavor that is augmented near the end by convivial chants of "hey" and a staccato cowbell. A wonderful track. The following Liquordelic picks up the vibraphone threads that were featured heretofore and pulls them into the limelight. Water droplets slip down the miraculous vibraphone spirals which are situated next to a maracas-heavy bongo percussion layer. Further juxtaposed devices are slightly cacophonous organ chords and superb harp cascades. The song is oscillating between dreaminess and more upbeat moments, but is always catchy and inviting. A bold Latin feeling is woven in during the last minute with a short section of a lamenting trumpet that inherits the typical Latin tonality. The third megahit in a row is called Cinnabar, another Mexican song with a shaker-loaded bass guitar groove, the rising sustain of steel guitar licks, hollow bongos and a rudimentary but all the more gorgeous two-note chorus that mixes the mellowness of a long vibraphone tone with steel guitar layers. Swirling glockenspiels glow in the background. Nothing detracts from the track's skeleton, no hectic movement or traversing ornaments are included, which makes Cinnabar the most streamlined track on Trip Tease.
Fuad Ramses implies an Oriental setting in its title already, and sure enough do the flutes play the typical tone sequences. And yet does the track surprise with its eminently rapid-firing shaker-fueled percussion, the bamboo rods and clave, carefully embedded organ backings as well as with a shift in rhythm: the second half winds down and places the high strings of an oud in juxtaposition to temple gongs and wood-pecking bongos. The following Oops! is distantly similar to Cinnabar and integrates some of its chords, but is otherwise a true gem of the ephemeral bum-shaking Twist genre and loaded with staccato organs, classic drum kit percussion, bass guitar twangs and spacey particles. It is another song that relies more on its catchy melodies than a particularly clever package of hard-hitting sound effects. While Ugly Stadium proves to be a Mexican-Oriental downbeat hybrid with mysterious percussion, nasty desperado guitar melodies, doo-wop samples as well as jumpy marimbas and spectral organ streams, Something Tropical injects another huge dose of Latin Exotica, with mellow alto flutes that play an enigmatic melody that is further mystified by piano cascades, distant birds and whitewashed strings. The high-plasticity bongo percussion is rounded off with loud maracas and dripping xylophones and makes this one of the arcane, cove-depicting inclusions of this release. The final Zenith expands the mysterious theme even more and places it on a Jungle or Drum 'n Bass rhythm. Dusky organs, quirky 16-bit melodies, a cascading blur of strings, vibraphones and stereo-panned bass guitars make this the most Lounge-like song. The mood is adventurous yet enchanting and intimate due to the mellow mixture of the vibraphone-related sustain and the mollifying aura of the strings. A wonderful closer of a splendid hallmark that remained untouched by Tipsy for six years until the release of their second album, the much more tropical and frantically chaffed Uh-Oh! of 2002.
It is admittedly difficult today to distill the magic and importance of Tipsy's debut. If you did not know about its release date and the way the duo paved for other musicians in 1996, you'd think of it as a mighty fine Lounge album, but wouldn't probably overestimate its impact. And it may be true that even without the existence of Trip Tease, all mentioned albums in the first paragraph would have existed anyway, for neither do they sample anything off Tipsy's album, nor do the other artists rely on Trip Tease's intrinsic particularities. But the care that went into the album is astonishing and only topped by the much more dense, but also vignette-heavy follow-up Uh-Oh! on which Digulla and Gardner invite even more session musicians and draw material from broader sources. The Mexican flavor is a golden thread of Trip Tease, although the album must not be reduced to this particular style or cliché alone. Mexican songs such as Mr. Excitement, Cinnabar and El Bombo Atomico have their nocturnal Space-Age counterparts in the form of Space Golf and Nude On The Moon, with a final inclusion of dreamier, tropical faux-Polynesian constructions like Something Tropical or Liquordelic. It is a song-based album, with some songs even cracking the mark of five minutes. This is particularly worth noting, for the duo went to shorter, compact structures on their subsequent albums. Trip Tease stands the test of time. Its characteristic trait of an electronic album is definitely apparent, so fans of vintage Exotica might despise the thrown-in samples and beat-driven superstructure. Fair enough. This album, though, remains one of the earliest neo-Exotica albums of any kind. It focuses on material of the 50's and 60's and entangles it with kitschy Mexican riffs and Oriental tidbits. I like the colorful frenzy of Uh-Oh! a lot more, but Trip Tease contains the better songs and is the more important work overall from a music-related historic viewpoint.
Exotica Review 139: Tipsy – Trip Tease (1996). Originally published on Oct. 27, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.