Sid Bass
Moog España





Orchestra leader and songwriter Sid Bass (1913–1993) is not one’s first choice when the time has come to explain the allure of the vivacious Space-Age genre, itself not even a genre per se, but what he lacks in presence right now (for he might as well be rediscovered in the future), he sure enough pours into his diverse discography. Here we have a man on the edge of technocracy, a guy who absorbs the latest trends quickly enough to cash in for the label, only to then make a U-turn and come up with appallingly normalized orchestra works that are even less exciting than the classical records of fleeting Exotica visitor Andre Kostelanetz.


On Moog España, released in 1972 on RCA International, however, the late Sid Bass leaves his orchestra behind in a time that didn’t care for pompous rosters anymore. He rather leads a little mariachi-esque band of studio musicians, comprising of two trumpeters, a marimba player and a guitarist that is hidden more often than not. The eleven songs are carried by the signature Moog synthesizer though. Carrying one of the greatest descriptive amphibologies ever, Moog España bundles up the sun of Latin lands and radiates it through a distorting mirror aka the Moog itself. Tumbling, twerking and schlepping itself forward in a quasi-inebriated state, the Moog is the sure highlight. But how far out (or off) are the ten interpretations and one unique tune really?


The greatest mono-simplistic creation of Pascual Marquina’s evergreen España Cañí is… not to be found on this album. Go for Korla Pandit’s version as featured on Tropical Magic (1959) instead. The primary link between these two instances is that both appear on the opening spot, very true, but the anticipation of another stylistically parochial gem is comparatively luring. Sid Bass, however, does not deliver. In lieu of a Moog-driven version, I’m not even sure to be listening to a Moog-focused one. There’s so much going that sets the tone for all the songs to come. The truth revealed: Sid Bass puts the Moog into the limelight alright, but it is diversified as hell, ranging from recondite apocryphal leptons over guitaresque ventricle slaps to wonky asbestus faux-accordions. The polyphonous brass troopers add an element of realness (reality?) to the performance and multiplex the gleaming lights further. So in the end, España Cañí shows the textural craftsmanship on the Moog and couples it with the will to add genuine instruments when there is a need for them.


Once the surprise about the opener has settled in, there is only the question of diversity to be answered. This happens on a subcellular level: don’t expect the world, better give in to the pulsatile perianths pointing leeway. Playera by Alexander Goehr and Enrique Granados is a sunset-colored spy theme with crispily caustic cascades à la Moog, brass amanitas and amniotic upwards-spiraling tone sequences that wouldn’t be wrong in a morpha noblis hall of mirrors. Agustín Lara’s classic Granada meanwhile adds brass entities en masse to its basic physiognomy and only lets the Moog carve out the lower frequency ranges with a convulsive ventiduct of depth, whereas Sid Bass’ very own Mantilla features a diaphanous verglas sunburst of fairy-tale organ sequences. An Ambient piece at its heart, it features some protruding elements – horns and fake guitars – but otherwise simmers along in peace, awash with lucency.


Afterwards, Eliseo Grenet’s and Wolfe Gilbert’s Mama Inez comes along with a real marimba aorta which serpentines around coruscating artificial splinters and real-world trumpets, somewhat oscillating between a Mambo and a Calypso, with Ernesto Lecuona’s Malagueña ending side A in a lively fashion: soft cymbals, a marimba encore and brass punctilios let one search for the Moog until the snake charmer melody hits home.


Five rascals are united on side B, the omission of the sixth song being somewhat of a mystery, as there’s plenty of room left on that side, with no surprising medley or long-form piece to ever appear. Be that as it may, Julius Wechter’s superhit Spanish Flea is a great choice to kick off the other side. Here, the phylogenetic marimba is totally expected, but the main melody is indeed envisioned by the alkaline Moog cauldron, always bubbling forwards, never farting backwards, as that is the task of the eupeptic trumpeters. Erell Reaves’ and Tolchard EvansLady Of Spain materializes afterwards, a surprisingly argentine-silvery Moog beauty situated within a galloping beat, granular plinks and moments of relative quiescence.


Less overproduced, more balanced, it would be the guardian light to sanity, were it not for the adjacent Valencia by José Padilla Sánchez to take over that task with an even more well-groomed appearance. The Moog splices along, the decortication takes place on an atomic level only and doesn’t pester the sun-dappled guitar chords, marimba mica and horn hue. Up next is The Peanut Vendor by Moises Simons, appearing here in a tambourine-accompanied orthochromatic sun reel made of euphonious elements aplenty. The Moog sounds wooden and spacy at the same time, and once its sinews are superimposed, the warmth only doubles… and becomes an ardent heat in Manuel De Falla’s closer Ritual Fire Dance, a nocturnal rubicund estuary of molten lava rivulets and magma shards of the Moog kind. A great way to end this Moog album.


Sid Bass delivers an album that is of a tentatively moxie mood, shuttling between the faux-belligerent and oh so real benignant worlds time and again. The danger of becoming a one-trick pony is neglected right at the beginning when trumpeters, marimba fusillades and guitar players widen the textural horizon and the gamut of the colorful injections. It is true that the ubiquitous Moog is in the spotlight all the time, but does it also hit the spot? Not necessarily, and that’s well intended: the balance between those instruments of the real world and a gadget that is even able to protrude the Exotica scene after subduing the related Space-Age peritoneum is always maintained.


The surface level of the signature instrument doesn’t even cross thresholds that could come across as rude, otherworldly or even non-existent. Sid Bass really tries – and eventually succeeds – to let the electronic device harmonize with its surroundings. If it becomes a rapscallion, then only in a few cheeky moments scattered few and far between. The chance to deliver a barefaced, impudent album is definitely set aside in favor of complaisantly obliging album catering to the needs of Latin music fans. Mr. Bass chose the easy way out and only insults devoted listener in a flimsy way, leaving superficial fissures instead of mucoid gashes. Available on vinyl only.


Exotica Review 494: Sid Bass – Moog España (1972). Originally published on Apr. 20, 2018 at