Post-Exotica: Relaxation on The Road to Ruin

The long-lost genre of tropical ersatz haunts on in the reverberations of the past. Exotica’s problematic past, a colonialist fantasy involving ‘savages’ and drenched in Orientalism, have permanently marred it. But while Exotica and its racist overtones have long given way to (what I would like to think of as) societal progress, the Hollywood-esque cinema of the mind echoes on in both eerie and campy appeal. 

Post-Exotica is this very aesthetic reverberation intertwined with contemporary societal attitudes, recording techniques, and accessibility afforded to us by the internet. Post-Exotica, as an aesthetic mode within music, lacks any unifying subculture or definitive sonic palette. 

Records of the ‘post-exotic’ can range from exploring the sociopolitical to the existential, the atavistic to the alchemical, or simply act as a pining for ye olden days of ‘classy’ Hi-Fi bachelor pad music.

Without further hesitation, let’s explore these selected offerings from a genre even Bandcamp has yet to recognize. This is Resident Sound’s Guide to Post-Exotica…

Early Rumblings: JG Thirlwell, Steroid Maximus, and the post-Post-Punk of The 1990s

Around the mid-1990s, revived interest in Lounge, Surf, and Exotica music were in full swing. But it wasn’t all CD reissues and copies of the Swingers soundtrack. Artists like Southern Culture on The Skids and (dare I say…) Richard Cheese were creating new work upon recently old genres. So it’s not surprising we can look back to the 1990s as some of the earliest examples of Exotica music re-envisioned. And while retro acts made Exotica’s contemporary scene, no one else embodied the ‘re-envisioning’ aspect of Post-Exotica music better than JG Thirlwell.

You may not know him by name, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard his music. He’s the composer for famed adult animated shows Venture Bros and Archer (since Season 5), has worked with Marc Almond, Lydia Lunch, Nurse With Wound, Zola Jesus and more, and has released nearly a dozen full length studio albums under his most infamous project: Foetus.

That in mind, it’s not too surprising that his name (or one of dozens of pseudonyms) would show up on a list like this.

By the end of the 80s and into the early 90s, the more ‘artistically-inclined’ members of the Punk and Post-Punk movements were looking to expand past their genre’s established sonic templates. It’s around this time we see the formation of Virginia’s experimental Hardcore outfit Men’s Recovery Project, Germany’s Doom Jazz godfathers Bohren & der Club of Gore, and JG Thirlwell’s expansion into more cinematic, Big Band and Exotica influenced compositions with his project Steroid Maximus.

“…by 1990 I felt that I needed to shift gears and do something that was a little more challenging to me and that’s how I started Steroid Maximus, to create instrumental music that was cinematic and all the sources hadn’t been in my music before. … Since then, I explored doing large scale groups like an 18-piece version of Steroid Maximus which I’ve done in Europe and New York.”

– JG Thirlwell, in an interview conducted by Daniel Volohov for Peek A Boo Magazine, 2019.

The first Steroid Maximus album ¡Quilombo! was released in 1991 and breaks all conventions. There is no pastiche, only impressions of a former sonic era. The easiest way to describe ¡Quilombo! is to make comparisons to the varied works of Jerry Van Rooyen, Raymond Scott, and Robert Drasnin, though no singular example is particularly accurate. Often lauded for his more violent overtones, Thirlwell achieves work of a greater depth, utilizing the many exotic shades of darkness often overlooked for pure black.

It’s a record that needs to be heard to understand the distance a Post-Exotica record can go. So before you go, I recommend spending a little time ¡Quilombo!

Kava Kon – Virgin Lava (2016)

At times coming across more pastiche than ‘Post’, Kava Kon’s 2016 EP release Virgin Lava is a dark and divine dive into the sonic palette of Exotica music. Not letting 50+ years of audio engineering developments go to waste, Kava Kon have brought the sultry sounds of Exotica into the days of DAW.

When asked about overlooked elements in an interview for Gravedigger’s Local 16, Kava Kon’s Nels Truesdell said:

“A lot of the percussion done on the albums Departure Exotica and Tiki for the Atomic Age was beatboxing. For example 90% of all güiro sounds were done by my mouth. Then we processed it using EQs and compressors on the recordings to give them a more realistic tone. There are so many more examples of unconventional recording techniques used on our albums.”

– Nels Truesdell, in an interview for Gravedigger’s Local 16.

Featuring two remixes of Doom Jazz icons The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Virgin Lava touches on the parallels of hyper-aestheticized niche genres, namely that of Post-Exotica and Doom Jazz.

Similarities include an exemplification of Hollywood cinematic themes, ‘extreme’ music genre traits (such as doom metal or noise) crossed with mid-century adult music genres, and nostalgia for periods outside of living memory. But while retro is inherently regressive, both Post-Exotica and Doom Jazz carry with them innovation, distinct sonic palettes, stylistic variants, and great potential.

Iosu Vakerizzo – Forbidden Island (2020)

Iosu Vakerizzo’s Forbidden Island is an excellent work of would-be film score. Hearkening back to pop Exotica’s ornamental novelty, Forbidden Island‘s use of sampling creates sonic depictions of a sea-side land while the album’s minimalist instrumentation creates eerie impressions of an outside world.

The site HipWax described the pop Exotica of the 1950s as “[filling] a niche curiously left open by Afro-Cuban, Hawaiian, and other related music. It is the mood music of place, but no place familiar. …One conjures a torrential rain in the tropics, a jungle safari, or the desert at night. And that is precisely the stuff of exotica: an odd combination of the soothing and stimulating, like nature itself.”

The Post-Exotica work of Iosu Vakerizzo delivers both the stimulating and soothing effect given to us by 1950s Exotica, while building off of its predecessor with the possibilities afforded by Dark Ambient music.

Resident Sound’s first view into the world of Post-Exotica was a review of Iosu Vakerizzo’s previous album The Temple. If you like Forbidden Island, we highly recommend checking out his other work here.

Strange Cousin – Knifes And Smothers (2021)

Released in February of 2021 by American music artist Strange Cousin, the single Knifes And Smothers and its b-side track Houdini Whodon’t’he are a dual approach to Post-Exotica’s sonic possibilities. The titular Knifes And Smothers is a melancholic Dark Ambient work consisting of reversed piano chords and news coverage of an unsolved 1997 homicide. Countering Knifes And Smothers is b-side track Houdini Whodon’t’he, a pummeling cinematic horror show of double kick triplets and wailing horn sections. Real ‘run through the jungle’ energy, an unsettling churning sensation.

German Army – Animals Remember Human (2020)

Animals Remember Human is one of five releases in the year 2020 by the hyper-prolific project Germany Army. GeAr, as they’re sometimes known, is the musique concrete project of Peter Kris and collaborator Norm Heston.

Inspired by the works of Paulo Freire and Sydney Possuelo, the Post-Exotica work of GeAr confronts the colonialist lens of 1950s pop Exotica which we are well familiar with.

When asked about the name German Army in an interview with Stereo Embers Magazine, Peter Kris said:

“I figured it was perfect because one can’t help but notice that at the time there seemed to be a rise in intolerance across the globe. I thought it would be a good name to take and use to actually document language and cultural extinction. Further, I wanted to critique all nationalism and focus on the actions of U.S. imperialism. You could just not bother to pay attention to the name or the message, but if you do, it is very clearly one of anti-imperialism, pro-ecology and for the cultural preservation of those disappeared or who presently have a vanishing language, culture, flora and fauna.”

– Peter Kris, in an interview for Stereo Embers Magazine.

If Post-Exotica were ever to develop into a fully fledged school of work, we ought to expect the hauntological humanitarian attitudes set forth by German Army to become prototypical.

Chick Vekters – Silicon Island (2021)

Perhaps now the go-to medium of escapist fantasy, video games allow us to fully immerse ourselves in a foreign world. What’s more exotic than that?

Using the retro video game aesthetic genre of Chiptune, Chick Vekters’s 2021 release Silicon Island is rightfully self-described as “an eclectic cocktail of aural adventures!” Heavily rooted in the Chiptune’s 8-bit sound, Silicon Island still delivers the escapist fantasy of island adventure, albeit just a wee bit pixelated.

With songs like Bionic Garden, Neon Forest, and Cathode Ray Reef, Silicon Island plays to the spirit of 1950s pop Exotica, while moving past Exotica’s colonialist past.

If you’re interested in learning more about colonialism’s intersection with video games, check Folding Idea’s video Minecraft, Sandboxes, and Colonialism.

A E S T H E T I C S: Post-Exotica, Vaporwave and Aesthetic Niches

‘Post-Exotica’ is a term that has made brief appearances in the Vaporwave world over the past decade, but is Vaporwave the missing link to the development of Post-Exotica?

Vaporwave itself is a genre heavily invested in aesthetic offshoots. From iconic aesthetic-concept albums such as Frasierwave, to the more or less visual genre Simpsonswave. While built across the internet as opposed to regionally, Vaporwave, unlike Post-Exotica has managed to establish a shared set of artifacts, sonic and aesthetic identifiers, and language norms (albeit meme oriented) associated with subcultures. 

Both the ability to retrofetishize and simultaneously criticize glory days of existing power structures are traits of both genres, but as a dual mode only particularly integral to Vaporwave.

Vaporwave has shown us that both the micro-genre and aesthetic genre is a place of sonic exploration, even if just as a brief layover on an artist’s greater developmental journey. Will Post-Exotica ever bridge this gap and become a fully fledged subculture and genre? Only time will tell.

REVIEW: Krypto Grotesk – Post Urban Exotica (2019)

Krypto Grotesk is the industrial dub project of duo Konrad Agnas (“drums and transients”) and Anton Sundell (“processing and sounds”). Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Krypto Grotesk’s 2019 release Post Urban Exotica is a refreshing and attention grabbing entry in the all too similar world of electroacoustic instrumental Hip-Hop.

Anton Sundell’s massaging of Konrad Agnas’s organic instrumentation with ‘solid’ or ‘found’ audio creates textural impressions of a cold, urban environment. The clangs and clutters of city life are there reverberating throughout its landscape, while a garbology of European cultural aesthetics haunts on in the form of piano, LP manipulation, and samples of ‘laconic messages’ (anti-smoking meditation tapes).

Unlike the pop-exoticism of the 1950s, Krypto Grotesk’s Post Urban Exotica doesn’t so much employ musical impressions of any perceived place as it does apply an all too likely, weird and eerie dystopian lens upon a shared sense of westernized urbanism.

A great album for fans of the video game Paratopic.

For fans of: Bill Laswell, Praxis, WWW Neurobeat

Like Krypto Grotesk? Give these a listen: BeauChaotica, Cenobites, Polyphonic Shooting Spree

REVIEW: Family Fun – Record (1981)

You read that right, folks. Record is the 1981 release by Boston avant-aware new wave group Family Fun. A project of Arf! Arf! Records owner Erik Lindgren, the band consists of Sara Goodman (vocals), Russ Smith (bass, vocals), Erik (Moogs, keys, theremin) and Rusty Lindgren (guitar, vocals),

Family Fun kicks off Record with opening track Games. Surf-y guitar and bass reminiscent of The B-52s is punctuated by agile drum-machine patterns. It’s fun, if not a little predictable at first.

Sara Goodman’s rock vocals are somewhat reminiscent of Missing Persons, while Russ Smith’s bass playing is notable across the entire album. This provides some steadiness to the avant garde antics of the Lindgren siblings, a necessary contrast keeping things from going too far one way or the other.

This contrast in steadiness and chaos makes Family Fun stand out from others’ forays into new wave. Family Fun is part Devo, part Suburban Lawns, and part outsider music. It’s interesting and exciting to hear the risks taken by Family Fun, as they have held up incredibly well.

That’s not to say Record is a masterwork waiting to be rediscovered and put atop the throne of music revisionism. The a-side comes with the trappings of new wave in 1981. Its compositions in rock can be a little predictable for the time, while tonal aesthetics haven’t aged well either. Simply put, often the song writing isn’t quite strong enough to break away from the rabble of new wave.

That is until we get to the b-side: EZ Listening Music.

“WARNING: Do Not Listen To This Side.” The behemoth of a track totals out with a 16 minute run time, the b-side’s label adorned with the aforementioned warning. EZ Listening Music slowly swells into being like the beauty of day break underscored by looming anxiety of life. Sara Goodman’s spoken monologues pin an all too real human element. Guitar strings are held on, agitated more than strummed while blips of Moogs and other electronics tweak in and out of ear shot. All of this underscored by slow swelling bass guitar. Ultimately, the song’s direction finds itself much like a movie score.

“Elevator music for 1990. Right, Erik?” is etched on the b-side runout. I can’t even imagine.

For fans of: Devo, Missing Persons, The B-52s

Like Family Fun? Give these a listen: Suburban Lawns, The Waitresses, Tones on Tail

REVIEW: XL Fits – Hands + Knees (2017)

A live video of Hands + Knees live at Blockhouse in Bloomington Indiana 11/16/2018

It all happened on one fateful night.

Another rainy Tuesday; some band from Japan was coming and playing a show at the record shop/bar I worked at. I knew nothing about them except their name: XL Fits.

The band showed up, loaded in and played to a room of 7 people including the staff. It was a half-hour of madness and confusion. What the hell was I watching? What the hell was I hearing? Loud, crashing chaos; The few attendees stood still, beer in hand, watching these 3 guys grind, wail, rock and thrash about.

As quickly as it started, the band finished and the attendees left. One of the members and I gestured a conversation the best we could to negotiate his beer order (a singular PBR) and I tried to express how great their set had been.

I quickly bought up all their merch, then XL Fits packed up and left with barely a word spoken between us. The shop owner left and I closed up. I walked to my car, avoiding the broken glass and drunk tourists, thinking about all the people who had missed out on such a life changing show.

Cut to now; sitting down to write. XL Fits are a band so specifically weird that it was daunting to even take notes while listening to Hands + Knees. It truly is a 7″ single. There is no b-side, not even a runout groove.

A 3-piece avant garde punk rock group, XL Fits could be best described as 1 part Sex Pistols, 1 part Oxbow, and about 3 parts DNA. Rarely does it seem any two notes play at the same time. The drumming on Hands + Knees plays out like a hyper-specified algorithm, while Morricone-esque bass thumps out the same refrain. Vocals wail, groan and moan their way over a guitar that is ever shifting between wailing digital noise and clean, drawn out strums.

Each and every part is played with the confidence that things will line-up at the right moments, something that most of us listeners take for granted. And really, that’s all it needs. Far too tight and far too good to be reminiscent of The Shaggs, Hands + Knees plays as if by a three-headed being, able to regroup with precision timing.

XL Fits’ work remains mostly unknown and underappreciated by western audiences. Hands + Knees, as amazing and strange as it is, can’t convey the reassurance that there could be something new out there on the musical landscape in our age of retromania and artistic stagnation. A spiritual experience lost in translation, if I’ve ever seen one.

The XL Fits show story has appeared twice on Resident Sound prior to this article, once in a review of Cal Folger Day and the other on + Brief Thoughts.

For fans of: DNA, Oxbow, Flipper

Like XL Fits? Give these a listen: Oxbow, DNA, Crack Cloud,

REVIEW: Brian J Davis – Original Soundtrack (2008)

Original Soundtrack is a 42 minute ambient behemoth played on 20 DVD players across 20 TVs. At the helm, multimedia artist Brian J Davis with a customized mixer, fading in and out endlessly looping DVD menu audio.

Original Soundtrack captures so well the liminal, undefined space and cold dreamlike quality of televisual media within an audio format. Nothing is quite real. Sonic statements and aesthetics endlessly peel away at each other. Original Soundtrack is where the show is between the channels. It is the under lit lobby in the movie theatre of the mind. What are movies and television other than cold concrete dreams?

Reverb drafts out of the album’s cold and spacious chamber. A uneasy dream of tension and floating rhythms. Relief is ever undercut with the rising unease of another DVD. If you’ve ever wanted to experience a dozen or so movies scrambled into one coherent and beautiful work, Original Soundtrack is for you.

Taken from the Bandcamp listing, Davis comments on the album’s origins:

“In 2008 I was inspired by my partner’s unique cure for insomnia—falling asleep to endlessly looping Werner Herzog DVD menus. Original Soundtrack grew from there into a one hour piece for an orchestra of TVs and looping DVD menus from across genres and film history and was performed live in New York, Toronto, and Los Angeles. A graphic score was used to make it semi-repeatable. but syncing was random, or at best done with stop/start on remote controls.”

The album was remastered in 2020 by JD Davis and released on May 24th, 2020 on Bandcamp where you can listen or purchase it now.

For fans of: Meat Beat Manifesto, Bohren & der Club of Gore, Grouper

Like Original Soundtrack? Give these a listen: András Cséfalvay, Polyphonic Shooting Spree, Sleep Research Facility

REVIEW: Igorrr – Moisissure (2008)

To varying degrees, there is a level of humor preinstalled in absurdity, albeit sometimes morbid. Released in 2008, Igorrr’s Moisissure is a complex mix of glitched-out neoclassical, death metal, breakbeats and 1920s/30s pop music. Above all else, Moisissure is an electronic musique concrete hybrid; a grotesque showcase of eccentric source material and contrasting influences. Haunting layers of piano, pitched and digitally shredded drums, and the circling sound of flies will leave you feeling like you’re in a German expressionist Crash Bandicoot level.

It wouldn’t be entirely off-base to call it a bit of a novelty album. Moisissure did in fact come from the same person who created Chicken Sonata. But perhaps a more appropriate lens to view Moisissure through is that of a modernized take on surrealism.

However you frame it, Igorrr is not for everyone nor for every occasion. But if you’re looking for something genuinely spooky with just a degree of cartoon staging, this album is for you.

For fans of: Meat Beat Manifesto, Nurse With Wound, Flying Lotus

Like Igorrr? Give these a listen: Ningen Isu, skintape, Andrew Liles

REVIEW: Oxbow – Serenade in Red (1996)

The sonic equivalent to Sunset Boulevard’s floating-pool opening, the unhinged bordering on infantile murmurs of outspoken vocalist Eugene S. Robinson creep into frame. Waves form and relax without ever breaking. That is, until they do, and opening track Over slams into slide guitar swells and low horn rumbling. Drummer Greg Davis commands every puncturing beat, subsiding only while guitarist Niko Wenner and bassist Dan Adams quilt the listener in delicate mystique; every touch of the ride cymbal a looming threat (or promise) of what could come back at any moment.

Eugene S. Robinson’s vocals can be hard to explain. He subverts macho-man standards of barked yelling with something deeply human, unique while simultaneously universal. Never seeming to follow a basic verse to chorus lyrical delivery, Robinson could be considered an example of Cathy Berberian’s idea of New Vocality, sometimes sounding like the Russian futurists’ idea of Zaum, or dadaist sound poems. But the lyrics that do clearly present themselves upon first listening add yet another layer of eerie mystique. To take a line from Benjamin Louche’s blog,[Serenade in Red] is worth a purchase should you wish to hear what it sounds like when a man turns himself inside out over the course of an album…”

Just when you’re starting to settle into the shadow of Serenade in Red’s opening half, midway track La Luna comes barging through the door like a violent behemoth. Oxbow makes you wait in the noise they buried you in. Constantly destroying any resemblance to a basic verse-chorus and so on structure.

An untitled track of cinematic ambience leads into Babydoll. Piano layers film noir cinematic atmosphere, broken by hard-boiled grey-scale psychedelia. Wenner’s guitar cries and wails, while Oxbow’s rhythm section creates Stravinsky-esque levels of dramatic rhythmic tension.

Oxbow is, among other things, a band not to fuck with. Working at their own pace, with their own sounds, even an Oxbow song of lesser quality holds more merit than most Melvins ‘hits’. Their willingness to experiment with poetry and uncommon instruments (from a rock stand point), while completely disregarding conventional structuring allows them to craft work with such emotional potency as to make most notable rock groups banal.

You can read a great Bandcamp Daily article about Oxbow here: Oxbow’s Avant-Rock Experiments With Light and Shadow.

If you enjoyed the more David Lynchian elements of Serenade in Red, you may enjoy our Guide to The Fast Paced, Lighthearted World of DOOM JAZZ.

For fans of: Chelsea Wolfe, Unsane, Swans

Like Oxbow? Give these a listen: Racebannon, Loudspeaker, Bohren & der Club of Gore

REVIEW: András Cséfalvay – Funeral The Musical And Another Tabletop Opera (2013)

A creepy voice pronounces the word “prologue” in a way I’ve never quite heard it pronounced before. Maybe it’s British, maybe they’re born with it. No time for such sociolinguistical mysteries! Suddenly we’re off under waves of heavy but simple organ. Suddenly there it is again. A voice not entirely unlike Noel Fielding as the goth Richmond Avenal on sitcom The IT Crowd.

At times goofy, there is a level of showmanship that shouldn’t go unappreciated. A few motifs make up the entire work, differentiated by various keyboard settings. But even with the goofy lyrical speech of tracks such as Wormsong and National Ændthem (the latter of which being an intensely melodramatic reworking of The Star-Spangled Banner), Funeral The Musical is a genuinely spooky and haunting adventure in grief and death.

Funeral The Musical may not be such foreign territory for those in puppetry and carnival/freak show revivalist circles, but to those who haven’t lived in one of the hundreds of cities with a ‘Keep ____ Weird’ sticker, well, it may actually be pretty ground breaking stuff.

For fans of: Nurse With Wound, Cornbugs, the videos of David Firth

Like András Cséfalvay? Give these a listen: Myles Manley, Cal Folger Day, Concetta Abbate

REVIEW: Barbed – Barbed / ‘Symbols’ (1994)

A tale as old as time. Two women talk about coleslaw. One voice confirms they need more mayonnaise, and with a “roger roger” all things suddenly burst into a pounding industrial assembly line groove called LFK. This is plunderphonics. More specifically, this is Barbed’s 1994 self-titled debut album, known to fans and the internet alike as ‘Symbols’.

Barbed was recorded meticulously between 1988 and 1993 by bandmates Alex Burrow and Alex McKechnie. Released in 1994 on the experimental music label These Records out of London, ‘Symbols’ gathered some favorable press before fading into obscurity.

User “alexbarbed” of the (terribly named) Muffwigglers forum website, writing as an unspecified member of the band, opened up about the creative process.

“If what we made sounded anything like something we’d heard before, we threw it out. That meant that (with the exception of King of Rock, which we sort of compromised on) there were actually no ‘samples’ on that record. There were tiny fragments of sound that we used as instruments, but no chunks of other people’s work. And there were no concessions to any genre or audience. Looking back though, I guess we wanted to be like an electronic instrumental version of Captain Beefheart.”

While it may now sit comfortably within the often humorous plunderphonics genre, Barbed achieved something many peers didn’t. While the basis of nearly all other forms of music, beat oriented tracks like King of Rock, LFK, and How About Some Butterflies subvert the sound collage propensity for purposefully difficult listening, while allowing for the listener to just have fun. Yet another groundbreaking development from the experimental music scene.

While former member Alex McKechnie’s solo work is available on Bandcamp, the collective effort of McKechnie and Burrow remain elusive. You can stream the full album here or buy the CD from sellers on Discogs.

The album in its entirety was uploaded to Youtube on March 26th, 2016 by user Howard Jacques.

For fans of: John Oswald, Meat Beat Manifesto, The Residents

Like Barbed? Give these a listen: Crash Course In Science, Men’s Recovery Project, Snakefinger

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