Los Twang! Marvels
Jungle Of Twang






Jungle Of Twang by Los Twang! Marvels is the Surf band's final album, released in May 2008 on Kamikaze Records. The quartet of percussionist and vocalist Marisol "Yolanda" Palmer, guitarist Alex Anthony Faide, lead percussionist Boris "Bisfer" Israel Fernandez as well as bassist Tom ventures into the depth of an extensive jungle which happens to have a coastline on whose shrubbery-free beach the band can unleash the material they are loved for: multifaceted Surf Rock tunes. While Jungle Of Twang has its fair share of lachrymose-nostalgic pieces of ephemeral melancholia, the album succeeds with a great amount of catchy melodies, be it in the form of great main hooks or the swirling glissando of the backing guitars.


Even vintage Exotica fans are targeted, not just accidentally but indeed very specifically, for in-between the rhizomatic thickets of the large amount of 15 tracks, four renditions of vintage Exotica highlights are hidden, all of them well-known to the Exotica connoisseur, some of them even easily recognizable for starters of the genre. Naturally, the melodies on these four pieces are splendidly illuminated, or else they would not be considered as classics, but even the band's own songwriting skills are more polished than ever, and I do not use the term polished in a portentous way. The melodies are super-mesmeric and luring, unnecessary bits of aggression are altogether eliminated, making Jungle Of Twang an almost transcendental journey in the given prospects of postmodern Surf Rock. Even though there are no field recordings, tropical sound effects or exotic percussion instruments in use, the aura gyrates between mamba-green and sanguine-red color ranges. Enough of the chitchat, let us enter the Jungle Of Twang.


No wait, don't let us enter the jungle yet. Before the band ventures into the aural underbrush they erect with their percussion thickets and guitar rhizomes, they reside on the coast, enjoying the Surf Rock extravaganza on the first two tunes: the mighty Sea Of Glory merges Alex Anthony Faide’s distantly sitar-evoking acid-coated lead melody with gorgeous polyphonies in the right moments and sees Bisfer’s rapidly firing saltwater hi-hats gyrating around Tom’s bass billows, whereas Kaha Huna (The Goddess Of Surfing) exchanges the cinematography of the opener with guitar licks that are as warped as they are sun-fueled, uniting the saccharine 60’s vibe with the rougher post-millennial edges in favor of the former amicability. Somos Los Twang! Marvels puts Yolanda into the spotlight, a position she is used to in the band’s legendary live performances, but not necessarily on their album material. Here, she sings the lyrics in Chilean Spanish and remains encapsulated in both gorgeously malleable-elasticized power saw-resembling guitar shards from another world and the well-known dualism of benignancy and coolness, making this artifact the clearest -ship anthem of friendship, comradeship and partnership. Up next are two highlights for vintage Exotica fans, as they are renditions of classic material.


Barclay Allen’s, Harold Spina’s and Roc Hillman’s Mambo named Cumana from 1947 encounters its vibraphone or trombone melody in a new state, namely in the shape of Faide’s elbowing yet effulgently reverberated guitar. A faithful remainder is added by the means of Brazilian wood sticks whose hollow clonks ennoble Bisfer’s frantic work on the classic drum kit. The grand Bali Ha’i by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. then leads to clear cut Exotica territories. Los Twang! Marvels graft the Hapa Haole timbre onto their guitar chords and admix pinches of shady darkness and independence to the downwards-spiraling tone sequences. The interpretation works best, however, when the chords are revved up and unleash an enchanting warmth that nonetheless keeps the murkier mystery intact. A fantastic take on an old masterpiece for Hollywood strings.


Mr. Twister then returns back to the here and now, to a sun-dappled Surf panorama that oscillates between Hillbilly scents and rodeo-esque airflows of carefreeness, and it is up to the following Tunisian Moon to call it a day and unleash a fiery staccato on the guitars with ashen moon-lit rhythm helixes and an inebriated energy. Even though the Oriental pentatonicism is not baked into the soundscape, Tunisian Moon at least successfully transforms the second word of its title into a moonlighted desert far away from the jungle. The enormously captivating Nose Walkin’ then decelerates the tempo as the band stacks many harmoniously working layers of rhythm guitars, tercets and ambiences onto each other, creating a superbly jocund and genuinely devout piece of happiness.


The following Surf Dilemma, believe it or not, is the first tune of the album that displays the commonplace dichotomy of bittersweet melancholia and adventurous contemplation that is so typical in Surf tunes. The melodies are awash with tones in minor played on silkened guitars but interweave felicitous structures of palmy days. The result is a sepia-tinted mélange of nostalgia, a feeling which gets even more saturated in the upcoming downbeat diorama Sad On Mondays which surprises with dreamy legato washes and Tom’s thick bass streams. Infinitesimal traces of spy themes are caught in-between the crepuscular cafard, adding a second meaning or opportunity to the designed dreariness.


On the final third of the album, Los Twang! Marvels luckily find their way back to the jungle, and decidedly so, stronger than ever, in emerald-green colors that gleam and scream their cavalcade of pigments into the listener’s ears. Siboney is the third and penultimate rendition of the album, originally envisioned by Ernesto Lecuona on his piano in 1929, and an often-played track in Exotica circles. The band blows away the dust of its granulative grandiloquence and exchanges the Latin yearning of the horns with guitar prowess. The cascading guitar fluxion floats by in iridescent colors, at first in mournful pastel colors, then in blazing technicolor spectrums full of joy. The humbleness and mirth of the original are still fully intact, one can sense that this piece was originally played in the streets of Cuba before Lecuona took it to greater stages. Whereas Adventures Of The Green Camaro takes the listener to a wild ride through the rainforest, various coastlines and serpentines with its plinking guitar melodies fully akin to the Surf tradition which are then brilliantly accentuated – or even elevated – by the sizzling melodiousness of the backing chords, Return Of The Space Cossack revisits the band’s ideas of Guitars In Orbit (2005), although no particular motif is injected as far as I am aware. Not particularly spacey rather than sun-soaked, the bumblebee-like spirals of Alex Anthony Faide’s guitar work particularly great in the given surroundings fueled by the clicking-fizzling nature of Bisfer’s percussion placenta.


Esclavos De Amor then is a pristine Pop parasite camouflaged as a Surf Rock hymn with Faide on the mic and a catchy staccato five-note theme on golden-glinting guitars. This could well be the catchiest tune of the whole album; lyrcis, vocals and instrumentation coalesce into a coruscating Clearwater coil. A real hit! The fifteenth and final track is the partly tipsy-jocund, partly wondrous-enigmatic Danza Del Sable aka Sabre Dance from 1942 by Aram Khachaturian. Despite its less known Spanish title, its pizzicato melody is world-famous, and Los Twang! Marvels manage to increase the heat and luminosity with every strummed chord. The Armenian Folk flecks shimmer through, the echoes of the lead melody fade into the bass-augmented backdrop, making Danza Del Sable another great interpretation of a tune which would have deserved to appear much more frequently on vintage Exotica LP’s. In retrospect, Los Twang! Marvels salute the composer with this green-yellowish mirage.


Jungle Of Twang as a whole faces the same problems as Guitars In Orbit and all previous albums of the band, but comes up with astute solutions and mesmerizing conceptions. For one, there are no field recordings on the album, the concept of the band’s jungle is an abstract one. The album could be titled entirely differently, it would not make a difference in terms of the presented material. This is exactly the big strength of Jungle Of Twang, though. It stands on its own, the melodies are much clearer and less labyrinthine than on Guitars In Orbit, which itself was not particularly spacey, galactic or out of this world. The four vintage renditions are not only flawless but absolutely seamlessly integrated into the great shape of things, and while this classic material has originally been concocted on a piano and thus has the most euphonious melodies to offer, chances are that the overwhelming majority of contemporary listeners neither recognize the fact that these tunes are interpretations nor know about the actual songwriters. And that is a great accomplishment for Los Twang! Marvels, as these songs do not feel alienating or audacious. People in the know make the most out of their appearances, as it is usually the case. Notwithstanding the great amount of nods to the vintage days of yore, the band’s unique material is, as I have previously hinted at, much more balanced and equilibrated, making the fact that this is their final album and even sadder one.


From the Pacific gateways of Sea Of Glory and Kaha Huna over the nocturnal Tunisian Moon sans faux-African or Middle Eastern elements to the pondering threnodies à la Surf Dilemma and Sad On Mondays, the whole album is stringent in its appearance yet delightfully different in its timbres and tempos. Noteworthy additions are the two Pop hymns Somos Los Twang! Marvels and Esclavos De Amor. There are weather-beaten surfers out there who deny such Pop fragments despite the syrupy origins of the genre, but the vocals add great twists in an otherwise fully instrumental album. People who want an even more jungular atmosphere need to look elsewhere, as there is no single birdcall or Radiophonic Workshop sample ever dropped, not even the pink noise susurration of an ocean wave. Those who care for an excellent guitar interplay which at the same time is friendlier and less asbestus-driven, go for Jungle Of Twang, the band’s ultimate album. It is available on both CD and a digital download version on iTunes and Amazon, but can also be streamed on various music streaming services. 


Exotica Review 217: Los Twang! Marvels – Jungle Of Twang (2008). Originally published on May 18, 2013 at AmbientExotica.com.