Fighting Lion
A Convenient Place






“This one could make the Exotica section” writes Kate Carr, curator and runner of the Sydney-based Flaming Pines label in her email to me, and who am I to disagree with her? Indeed, the seven-track EP A Convenient Place by Valencia-based artist Fighting Lion aka Álvaro Menéndez is the first artifact off Flaming Pines to enter Exotica territories, a label which otherwise turns up regularly on the Ambient section at AmbientExotica. Released in August 2013 as a set of 50 three-inch CD's and available to order at the Flaming Pines website, the EP meets and caters to the specific needs of the Exotica crowd. While there are no field recordings or birds to be found – both of them regular fields of knowledge of Flaming Pines artists –, Menéndez uses a trifecta of instruments that makes an exotic record: a ukulele, glockenspiel and piano, with instances of an organ, a violin, programmed percussion and electric bass runlets being placed few and far between. In the artist’s own words, his music is solely about “living with intensity in a sensitive way,” and since this perception is highly subjective and dependent on each individual, he surely transfigures and glorifies his impressions quite a bit… welcome to the genre of Exotica.


Before I dive deeper into the EP, I want to make dedicated Ambient listeners familiar with the artist’s stylistic choices, for this record is not as esoteric or odd as genre aficionados might believe, as all of them have encountered certain works that sound quite similar to Fighting Lion’s A Convenient Place, be it the guitar or lute arrangements on Aphex Twin’s DrukQs (2001), the blending of New Age and Exotica off The Orb satellite member Tom Green’s moniker Another Fine Day, or even To Rococo Rot’s Pantone EP (2001) and Hotel Morgen (2004); the track Fishermen dressed like Joseph Beuys comes to mind in particular. A title such as A Convenient Place might suggest the containment of convenient music or Easy Listening, but there is more to it than the wrong supposition of a simple-minded smarminess.


Mountainous and erbaceous the vistas, streamlined and content the innermost feelings, everything feels mediterranean and lofty: Joyful Wait is an anacrusis of folkloristic traditions, stripped to the bones and seemingly played “as is,” without witty embellishments or avantgarde ornaments. Álvaro Menéndez uses anything but a terraqueous ukulele and a few accentuating piano droplets on this piece whose timbre is not completely matching the Hapa Haole dryness of Hawaii, but rather emanating a moist, glistening effulgence which is further fueled by the reverberated afterglow of the plucked strings. Oscillating between traces of enigmatic powers and sun-soaked yellowed vesicles, Joyful Wait ends with the only – that is to say: opalescent – appearance of a piano accompaniment; its four-note melodies conflate with the ukulele braiding since they are played in higher regions.


The follow-up Museum Pond paints a similarly iridescently tramontane wonderland, but Fighting Lion neglects an all too hammock-friendly slackery by placing a prominent scat beat into the sun’s limelight, a silkily sweeping aorta of shuffling protrusions which flows in-between the downwards spiraling ukulele riffs and aura of insouciance. Despite the pulsating percussive core, Museum Pond inherits the fairy tale-like wondrousness that is so endemic in the whole EP.


Winter Garden follows which, I might add, does not mean much to many Spaniards living in the green valleys, but the higher one goes, the frostier the conditions get. Winter Garden therefore sits exactly on the brink of a paradisiac winter without glacial coldness or hibernal greyness, but still interweaves the tonality of a coruscating snow-covered landscape, and this is indeed quite a feat if one considers Menéndez’s instrumental pool. This faux-icy track comprises of a gorgeous spiral of kaleidoscopic arabesques as delivered on the ukulele. This tone sequence literally begs for a harp in order to be transformed to cherubic highs, but no can do, the ukulele continues to bewilder the listener with its warm glow and thermal textures… which nonetheless substantiate a helix of wintery strain, in lack of a better term. Once the glockenspiel flecks and legato violin placentas are placed in adjacency to the lute-like performance, Winter Garden exits the setting of tropical shrubbery through a vestibule and then intertwines the sceneries. It is like an antarctic panorama filled with green firs and pine trees, but oh so cold.


While the following 90 seconds of Passing Clouds embed a similar four-note gyration of repeated ukulele patterns and let it coalesce with sunset-colored interim chords, bucolic piano prongs in higher regions and another instance of a sweeping shrapnel of staccato percussion, Night Owls paints a nocturnal bonfire atmosphere which is transparently given away via its title, but would have been strongly noticeable if the composition was titled differently. This is the polymorphous centerpiece of over two minutes, one that transmutes into an exciting piece. What launches with an aeriform ukulele solo in front of a pitch-black backdrop soon morphs into a glockenspiel-illumined hyper-catchy ode to the night, a segue that is highly handclap-worthy, but only features a sizzling snare. In addition, the final moment introduces quavering electric guitar chords, an equally electric bassline and the short paroxysm of a Hammond organ. A Convenient Place showcases that there is room for more instruments after all.


The last two tracks continue to fathom out the moonlit sub-theme of the EP and are even closely attached to each other due to their similar physiognomy, melody range and surface-related patterns. Quiet Stars starts in medias res without any introductory stage. Drawing from clicking shakers and snapping percussion between the interstices of the sustained ukulele reverb, the actual signature instrument is undoubtedly the piano. At first quasi-mimicking the characteristic traits of the ukulele, it begins to gleam and glow later on, transforming the implied starlight into musical notes of blissful forsakenness. The stars are far away – literally in a convenient place – but the benignancy of the ukulele is close at hand, warming the rich alluvial soils of Fighting Lion. The finale is titled Fireworks Shine On Your Face, and sure enough is this no histrionic Hollywood finale rather than a continuation of the melody of Quiet Stars, at least partially so. Akin to the spirals of a music box but envisioned via ukulele coils, the embroidery is soothing and mellifluous. However, it is the silence that is particularly noteworthy in this piece, its coldness even being augmented by the high pitch of the piano. A Convenient Place ends in a peaceful tenor, meeting the expectancy of the listener, reassuring him or her that even a comparably exciting event such as fireworks can be enjoyed – and studied – in glorious contemplation.


A Convenient Place is an exotic EP based on a twofold minimalism: the songs are short even by Exotica standards, with none of the seven entities crossing the three-minute mark at all, and the chosen instruments are pinpointable to a basic triad of ukulele, piano and glockenspiel, with programmed percussion, violin strings and organ scents galvanizing the cautious and few instances of texture-related playfulness. There is not much else needed though, Álvaro Menéndez’s humble constructions worship the controlled exhilaration, cause luminescent nights as well as verdured jungles awash with light. True-bred Exotica listeners will mostly agree with the basic choice of instruments: the ukulele is much more punchy and wet than its Hawaiian foil, the glockenspiel sparks provide well-established and ever-working links to moony strolls in unison, and the piano is merely added to interpolate the characteristics of the ukulele, for there is rarely an intersection where the Valencia-based artist lets the most majestic of all instruments shine on its own; whenever it appears, it is mostly attached to the strings.


Whatever Fighting Lion thematizes in his music, he always delivers a contemplative, pondering take devoid of any grave heaviness. This makes A Convenient Place an exotic Folk release whose loftiness is not akin to an ephemeral Easy Listening fugacity, but much more related to a carefree gaze onto and into surrounding chaparrals, natural architecture and innermost emotions. Fans of acoustic records and so-called unplugged music will rejoice. While this is indeed a layer-based record after all, with all parts being played and recorded by Menéndez himself, it feels humble, focused, concentrated, dedicated to the task at hand: the transformation of a scenery or incident into arrangements that breathe and unleash that Mediterranean spirit. I will not name a favorite track but ought to call attention to Night Owls due to its polyhedron Four Tet-esque dimensions and shifts. AmbientExotica is the name of this site. It could well be the genre of this EP, too.


Further listening and reading: 


Exotica Review 253: Fighting Lion – A Convenient Place (2013). Originally published on Aug. 24, 2013 at