Haunted Bossa Nova






Creepxotica is the side project of the San Diego-based collective The Creepy Creeps, but as the name transparently explicates, it is less about harsh guitar riffs and Punk-related tomfooleries than an enchanting exoticism whose creepiness increases as their full-length debut Haunted Bossa Nova progresses. Released in March 2013 on Dionysus Records, it was label runner, curator and DJ Lee Joseph who made me aware of the band’s existence and gave me a digital copy for review purposes, for I did not know the gentlemen before. And who would turn down an aural meeting with a quartet whose lead guitarist, vocalist and keyboarder is called Dr. Creepenstein? The other band members are similarly creepophile: the second guitarist and vocalist is called Creepture, the bassist can be invoked by shouting the name Dia De Los Creep, while Creepula is smashing the drums since the rise of Transylvania. Their live shows are famous for featuring burlesque go-go dancers and luchador hypemen, but there is another highly important ingredient that ennobles each and every of the twelve tracks on Haunted Bossa Nova, namely an instrument that is not expected or even mandatory in such a high energy setting: the vibraphone. It makes all the difference in the world and showcases the progressive arc of the album like no other instrument. The name of the vibraphonist remains a mystery, but he's got talent!


Without giving away too much in the opening paragraphs, I can state one thing for sure, and that is the wondrous-eupeptic tendency of the first six tracks. Here, the creepiness is exhilarative, good-natured and glowing in beautiful colors. All settings are moonlit alright, but undoubtedly catchy thanks to the enormously delightful vibraphone placentas. The band creates one of the warmest vibe-related polyphonies in Exotica ever, and that is remarkable in the looming prospect of the grim title. But what about side B which contains the other six tracks? Well, I’ve heard rumors that the creep factor scale reaches blood-red thresholds and that there are listeners who had to be resurrected after their contact with these arcane sound waves. Can this possibly be true? In the world of Exotica, multitudinous things are possible. However, in the world of Creepxotica, all things are possible.


Since the given leitmotif is a trifold-trifled conglomerate of the band name, the artwork and the album title, the first tune is particularly important, or else the listener does not relate to the setup. The opener Head Huntin, thankfully appears in a mellow-eldritch gestalt with magnanimous slices of slick coolness. Dark guitar chords with added reverb open the swamp setting and are immediately accompanied by ashen moonlit vibraphone droplets and those archetypical owl-like quavering organs. Flecks of warmer guitars occasionally waft in the background, but this is a pitch-perfect track that oscillates between nocturnal graveyards and designedly nonhazardous adventures. After all, the listener’s home is a safe place… yet. Creepxotica indeed.


The following Bali Hai Bossa vesiculates much more towards lilac-colored phantasmagorias and succeeds with its hyper-catchy four-note polyphony as delivered on the vibes and rounds this pointillistic physiognomy off with a prominently croaking guiro. The guitars are almost completely camouflaged in the background, their appearance strangely hollow and drowning in reverb; in addition, a few extra loungey cocktail melodies snuck into the Calypso-esque motif. Those listeners who cry foul due to the strong doses of carefreeness and bliss, be patient, for the middle section introduces a sanguine sitar, moves the focus away from Polynesian climes and leads to Middle Eastern mirages at night, transforming the inconspicuous ditty into a shady Crime Jazz critter. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II would shudder, but meh, Creepxotica deliver anyway.


The seemingly self-explanatory Haunted Hula is a vaulted sleazescape of hypochondriac vibraphone spirals and admixed sitar-esque guitar coils. It offers a continuation of the Oriental dualism but revs up the Lounge setting, puts Creepula’s work on the classic drum kit into the limelight and lets the timbre of plinking and black auras clash. Hotel Street Blues unchains another gallimaufry of soothing sun-dappled vibraphone tercets and unites them with a dirty saxophone of the cheeky kind. Clinging tambourines and Dia De Los Creep’s bass shards accentuate the friendliest of all tunes, shimmers of bongo plasticity float through the shrubbery, the feeling of a holiday is all over this tune. This is indeed the first song where the creepiness is completely neglected, every band member uses his skills to create a euphonious, almost triumphant anthem.


While Pig Ana Poi is an eminently bass guitar-driven vibraphone vista with equal portions of hatched mystique, translucent mallet instrument cascades as well as melodramatic aah-aah vocal snippets by Dr. Creepenstein and Creepture whose gentleness illumines the dubious arrangement, Creepin Kilauea enchants with daedal bass guitar twangs and a downwards spiraling intertwinement of polymorphous vibes and an eclectic shrapnel of bongos plus Detroit drums. As expected, warmth and abstraction go claw in claw again.


It happens in Kaimuki Kraze that the band decides to expose the darkness by diminishing the tropical hue of the vibes. These are still glinting and twinkling through the jinxed spectacle, but are much colder and supercharged with a portentous mean-spirited bane. The five-note bass melody adds another layer of shadiness and makes this piece a grim brute, with enough traces of escapism and adventure to not scare the vintage Exotica aficionado away. A certain tension remains kept in this song’s nucleus though. With the help of hazardous bongos and Pagan flute-evoking organ presets, the night is nigh. Hanalie Hoopla is the slightest bit more tongue-in-cheek and actively retrogressive by means of its cocktail vibes, but enthralls the listener due to its focus on the bongo-accentuated beat structure complete with clicking claves and Brazilian tarol snares which create that archetypical snoring sound. Electric piano prongs plink panically, the Bossa Nova guiro croaks heftily, making Hanalie Hoopla another creepier song without a dedicated breeze of thermal heat.


A track title like Enchanted Lagoon, however, is something  entirely different. Yearning and hope are targeted. To my consternation, the prospect of an Ambient-like diorama does not become reality. The setting is moonlit not moony, and yes, there is a stark difference between these terms. On top of that, the percussion prowess and rather upbeat tempo create a bustling turbulence that does not link back to the track title at all. Be that as it may, Dr. Creepenstein’s work on the pale, nervously jiggy organ provides a splendid background for the coruscating vibraphone scintillae. Downfalling three-tone chants interpolate the lagoon’s cavalcade of blue-tinged colors. A chilly experience. Waimea Witch Hunt ventures deeper into the forest with thickets of farting guiro shakers and an entanglement of a specifically dirty sax with whitewashed midnight organ layers. Energy is in the air, the melodies are labyrinthine and convoluted, Creepula’s performance on the drums is moshpit-worthy, the aura draped in anger and gumption.


How fitting that the next tune is called Murder On Molokai and turns out to be a clear cut modern spy theme with hazy vibes. They keep a low profile in contrast to the multifaceted percussion base frame and the glitzy electric piano which makes a fleeting visit to jazzier dissonances. The finale is called Incident At The Luau, and whatever this titular happenstance may be, it is much more supernatural than superfluous. The band boosts the creepiness to the maximum, the organ gleams in acidic colors, the afterglow of the vibes is miasmatic, the two-tone bass blebs underpin the creepiest of all sceneries. A small sitar-based Rockabilly segue provides a rash counterpoint. Otherwise, the creepiness has the final saying, and this is what counts in an album that is named Haunted Bossa Nova.


The Creepy Creeps’ first full-length visit into Exotica realms under the disguise of Creepxotica is an electrifying one. Darkness falls across the beaches, jungles and lagoons, Haunted Bossa Nova is dangerously bemused, and even when rose-tinted, genuinely catchy vibraphone sparks illuminate the darkness, the latter is always looming. The album works terrifically well because the self-imposed style is realized with a bold wink. There is anything seriously terrifying or – gasp! – bone-crushing in any of the twelve brutish tunes, the band always plays it cool or purposefully injects truthfully beautiful vibraphone washes. When I first encountered Haunted Bossa Nova, I expected a focus on electric guitars, manical laughter and faux-field recordings of voodoo dust-coated rain forests, but to my surprise, the album sits on the brink of many traditions and resides right at the cusp of them. Regardless of whether the listener wants to bathe in Rock riffs, Jazz jungles or vintage veils, the album has them all and depicts that late-night beauty in all its glory. Especially the focus on the vibes turns out to be a work of genius so that even Exotica fans who are not all too fond of the Surf genre or Rockabilly sub-theme can thoroughly enjoy this album.


The strict division into a figuratively technicolor-based side A and a gunmetal-tinted side B is a successful, possibly even accidental and unintended effort! The first six tunes are utterly enchanting, the vibraphone really adds magnificent amounts of euphony, rapture and happiness in a nonetheless delicately obscure, danger-evoking and semi-black world. The second half of the album, i.e. side B, sees the tone sequences become more eclectic and jazzy, the vibraphones are colder, the organs spacier and theremin-oid, the tempo seems to be more pressing. If my perception is not totally wrong, I believe these six tracks to be purposefully creepy and thoughtfully placed in this exact order. Creepxotica’s first album is a wonderfully modern yet retrogressive take on a beloved genre, catering to the needs of a large heterogenous group while still offering a cohesive stringency of nightly island adventures. The album is available on vinyl, CD and as a download version on Dionysus, Amazon and iTunes. Definitely recommended!


Exotica Review 226: Creepxotica – Haunted Bossa Nova (2013). Originally published on Jun. 8, 2013 at