The genre concoctions and stylistic superimpositions of British Hauntology with Italian Occult Psychedelia should not be the nucleus of AmbientExotica’s Exotica section, unless of course it so happened that this were to be the case. And it is the case. For now. For real. Exotica is that vivacious genre, an escapist capsule for the connoisseur, home to Jazz combos, fully equipped orchestras, funky big band leaders and drum-focused congueros alike. But things can turn delightfully awry once the harmonious shangri-la coxswains use the wrong turn and find themselves in a tributary of blood and bedlam. Enter Babau, a duo from Macerata, Italy whose psychedelic look onto the genre turns things around more often than not over the course of their four-track EP called Papalagi. The personnel comprises of guitarist and throat singer (!) Luigi Monteanni and organist-percussionist Matteo Pennesi


Released on tape in February 2015 in a joint operation between the labels Artetetra and Narvalo Suoni, Papalagi ventures into Dark Exotica realms in the veins of the Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble or better still, Ben Watkin’s British Psy-Trance collective Juno Reactor. Admirers of the latter project will fall in love with Babau as their inclusion of nasty preachers and ill-conceived friendly offers is one key aspect of Papalagi’s success. The name of the EP derives from Erich Scheurmann’s eponymous novel about a chieftain’s fictional adventures, though another comparison comes to mind: if – for whatever weird reason – the tape needed to be compared to an Indiana Jones movie, it very obviously would be the recondite-mephitic apocalypse Temple Of Doom. Papalagi’s interstitial portent and cinematic wideness resembles this stylistic murkiness indeed, burning in rubicund colors, having its occasional tropical guitar chord turn into a chlorotic afterglow. Shamanic sermons, raspy gurgles, annealed halides float altogether – albeit not in harmony – into a tawny abyss.


The style may be akin to a Cha Cha Cha, the large-grained maracas and their faux-ligneous emanation provide a cheerful undercurrent for a panchromatic orchid to prosper, everything is alright and the listener ready for a technicolor thiazide in the shape of Exotica… except that these things don’t come to fruition at all, at least not when the opener Palo Majombe appears on the horizon. Two of the above mentioned things are true, namely the opener approximating a Cha Cha Cha with the aid of said maraca shakers, but the surroundings turn out to be dubious at best and apocalyptic at worst. Over the course of more than seven minutes, the duo of Babau creates a deeply clandestine ventiduct to an anathema: green piano icicles and the quavering four-note acidity of the electric guitar in tandem with wildly spiraling Middle Eastern snake charmer profusions create a histrionic saffron wasteland lit by tawny ignis fatuus lanterns. Clicking blebs, temple drums and nocturnal birds round off the scenery as the half-cosmic thiazide continues to cap the synapses. A most bewildering, centrifugal leeway Babau have created.


The adjacent Faus doesn’t show any mercy either. The plot thickens, the scope widens, as the ophidian punctilio of the shakers and the vivid jungle scenery clash with vuvuzela-oid didgeridoos that scythe through the thickly wadded phylogenetic doom. A gurgling throat preacher toasts amphibologies over the moxie landscape. After two and a half minutes, the basic rhythm is erected and Faus morphs into a synth-accentuated purgatory multiplex where viscoelasticity and desiccation are held together by amethystine bongos and rufescent faux-angelic flumes.


Up next: a stop of nine minutes at Ila ’no Kuaili, a highly sophisticated and mercilessly progressive downbeat belter with many a contretemps to face. The opening structure is quite alkaloidal due to the aureate synth beam that serves as a longitudinal monolith leading to a cavernous antrum with laid-back bongo beats and viridian flute-like synth reticulations. The walls echo back the oomph of the drums all the while the processed drones of a surf guitar or two reach the listener retrosternally. While the song breathes mysticism and enigmas with every note, there is a solacing – if not comforting – warmth emitted by this cocoon. Resemblant of a twisted sanctuary, Ila ’no Kuaili really opens up and progresses to the next level when the chanting preachers in the distance face the unapologetically apparitional suntrap in the shape of a crunchy Reggae guitar. All of a sudden, everything beyond the track’s apex is now awash with cool sunbeams, caproic glints, polyfoil knolls.


The dark state has been overcome, and while the tune is still not overly euphonic, it is at least eupeptic enough to pave the way for the finale that comes in the shape of the wittily titled Palma Hayek. She is the antimatter and antipode of the EP, reaching out to the listener like a sylphlike seraphim: cavernous public service announcements (an actual chit-chat between one Salma Hayek and David Letterman) and metallic drone doldrums are grafted onto a shimmering two-note music box diorama glinting in gaudy gradients. In the end, an Ambient piece closes the EP, and all is well with the world…


… but was it necessary to end the EP in this way? Babau’s Papalagi is prone to efflorescence in lieu of effulgence, only drawing from fluorescent colors in order to emphasize the cursed nature of the situation the traveler is in. It is a stringent affair of ostracism, mysterious catenae and the ill-advised presence of the fearsome preachers or clan chiefs. It is the final song that puts an end to this mucous mayhem, and it is for the worse that this last song appears on this EP after all. It is a cute little addendum, a frilly vestibule to the salvaging exit, showing that Babau’s exoticism can be heartfelt, benign and orthochromatic if need be, but in this case, it breaks a spell that has lured and caught the listening subject as a formidable victim. The actual quality of Papalagi is its stern adamance, a mercilessly bellicose aura of doom flickering through the pores of every sound. The viewing area or angle is severely limited, the peripheries hued in hatched colors that are cauterized off a protruding darkness.


Babau have created a psychedelic tryst that laughs in the face of Exotica’s flamboyancy and turns things around, creating color errors and jagged concupiscences on its way, destroying the paradisiac notions while building them anew. And here’s where the comforting tendency comes into play: Papalagi is not based on hatred. Exotica as a genre or alloy is not ridiculed. It is instead consistently worshipped and widened at the same time, interpolating the tribal tradition via bongos and sermons while carving out the escapism in a particularly hellacious way. So far, Exotica listeners have listened to records to escape from reality. Papalagi, however, reverses this kind of escapism by torturing the listener with its uneasy yet imaginative architecture. Don't you dare escaping into the world of Papalagi! You better take flight from this luring-recalcitrant tape if you can!


Further listening:

Babau can be purchased at Artetetra's website


Exotica Review 419: Babau – Papalagi (2015). Originally published on Mar. 7, 2015 at