Fluvial Suntraps, Pluvial Nights
Maritime Mysteries is the third album by Santa Monica, California-based Neo Exotica veterans Bob Kress and Nels Truesdell aka Kava Kon, self-released in April 2016 on Bandcamp where it can be purchased and streamed in order for taking ”listeners on a psychedelic voyage to distant shores,” as the explanatory notes reveal. This prospect, then, is true to form and could grace any Exotica album, be it vintage or new. Kava Kon's latest ten-track work, however, is set in a shadier, more ominous tradition made of hatched colors and mephitic gradients; I do mean that in the best sense of all terms involved. Whether you encounter the electronic erethism of their debut Departure Exotica (2005) or bask in the soft green hue of the follow-up Tiki For The Atomic Age (2009), Kava Kon don't present Exotica ”as is.” Instead of paradisiac notions and insouciant instances, a darker — and thus more profound — nostalgia reigns. Contrapuntal caustic cave pearls make up the picturesque caverns, hecatombic helictites form the base frames of the shore, and the sense of faraway danger is suddenly both omnipresent and prolonged for the better half of a track's duration. This mixture of Exotica, Trip Hop, Ambient and heck, even Jungle, Hauntology and Woodstockisms makes for a proper return of Kava Kon. Here's a closer look at three fundamental forces and erudite elements that constitute the polyvalence of Maritime Mysteries.
Oriental Orthochromatics Versus Occidental Oscillation
The dichotomy of — and occasional synergy between — the Orient and the Occident is probably the crucial marker in Exotica music, and Kava Kon's discography doesn't beg to differ in this area, for it is fully d'accord with these distinctive styles. And indeed, cinematic tone sequences and a wealth of both warm and alienating synths, instruments as well as vocals makes Maritime Mysteries a wondrous gemstone in the tradition of the genre, whether you'd like to call it Neo Exotica or not. Take the second track, for instance. Called Lili In The Land Of Giants, it immediately — and figuratively — throws the listening subject into a saffron-colored night in hatched colors, what with its rubicund three-note strings, gourd/bongo structures and the sitar-underlined coruscation of enigmatic wind chimes. That's the admittedly stereotyped but wondrously throwback-heavy Orient for you. Less of an addendum rather than a fully superior placenta (in the true sense of the word), The Eel Charmer meanwhile is as forceful a solanum, comprising of cryohelicoidal lariats, frosty vibes amidst lascivious percussion and faux-dreamy lavabo sitars. Adiabatic danger lurks, so don't fall asleep. You can't have light without darkness, and it so happens that the two modes of distinction, Orient and Occident, embrace each other constantly… or was that conspicuously?
Twilight Titration, Or: Bonfires In Space
Pinpoint a Kava Kon album of your choice, and chances are that the respective track is hued in recondite cloak-and-dagger nebulae. Even the most uplifting vibes encapsulate both gravity and gravitas. Twilight reigns, nothing is at it seems. It is in these instances that the comparatively straightforward benignancy of the bonfire melodies offer a fascinating contrast to the locale. The opener in 3/4 time called Maritime Melodies, while aqueous by nature, sees its glacial vibe punctilio illumined by majestic mixed choir vocals, stylophone fermions and sizzling organ blebs. Most definitely the sunniest piece of the whole album. The Boat Man, then, enchants qua its Woodstock guitars whose amicability even makes the spacy/spectral glitters a home-sweet-home phantasmagoria, whereas the adjacent Escape From Bermuda can be summarized as "mysticism meets Bond." As the laid-back Trip Hop-oriented rhythm with its mucoid harp pericarp encounters dark spy guitar licks and a pulsatile cavernous circumambience, the listener is trapped. Pink Morning Blues, on the other hand, emphasizes the mellower hues of the dark spectrum: a mountainous Folk song at its heart, its elysian ruralism and lyrics about labor and love cater more to the spaced-out late 60's than Exotica's epicenter of 1958/59, but hey, that's considered fair game!
Synthetic Flora, Apocryphal Fauna
Maritime Mysteries is a melody-driven album, thank you very much! While textural wealth, various surfaces and molecular-level patterns are very much part of it all, there isn't an unnecessary amount of incidental sound washes to be found. And yet there they are, these wee curlicues of life, be they animal sounds or audible flowers. Escape From Bermuda's sound-based physiognomy only becomes so alluring due to the waves, crackles and creaking wood of the little pinnace. The short ape calls in The Eel Charmer are less gimmicky than fully embedded in an already quite immersive peritoneum (in lieu of a proscenium), and during Piper Of The Tongan Harvest, Kava Kon take their time for a long fadeout phase that embraces the Andes and brings the orographic tramontane peacefulness right into your cochleae. All in all, these moments of ambience and contemplation create a realness that almost matches reality. As stated above, the timbrical qualities of a song are always in the foreground, but the manifold parallax layers make the effort so much more lively and pleasant, potentially matching Jimmy Edgar's front artwork that graces the album. In short: plasticity suprème.
The Multinucleate Style Supremacy
Kava Kon's third longplayer is all about nocturnal nostalgia and aqueous aureoles, so chances are that the stylistic range is narrowed down, for dry deserts or retrogressive flavors of 90's Sheffield Jungle are probably more de trop than tropical. Turns out, though, that Nels Truesdell and Bob Kress decided to embroider soft hints and suave tendencies of these subgenres and trends in Maritime Mysteries regardless. The Exotica corset fits a humongous amount of tonalities, instruments, possibilities and, yes, even the expected cliché, or else we wouldn't consider a work of art to be exotic in this very context. After 7+ years, Neo Exotica (in lack of a better term) is still the forte of Kava Kon, and both gentlemen continue to emanate the darker times of day and more clandestine lacunae of the genre. By embracing distinguished faux-field recordings, the plastic jungles and synthetic oceans of the mind only bloom and grow. Best of all: this is a concept album with a focus on cohesiveness, with each song being crafted in order to aggrandize melancholia, yearning, gloom so that sumptuous bliss can take over more often than not. Now jump into the viridian waters and dusty deserts, would you please: Maritime Mysteries has you covered.
Further listening and reading:
- Maritime Mysteries can be obtained at Kava Kon's Bandcamp page.
- The duo on Twitter: @KavaKon
- AmbientExotica's reviews and references about Kava Kon: this way.
Exotica Review 469: Kava Kon – Maritime Mysteries (2016). Originally published on Apr. 29, 2016 at AmbientExotica.com.