Monthly Archives: July 2010

Freaky Tiki Surf-ari: Shag! and The Art Of Tiki

With all of the focus on Tiki music here at the Local, it’s all too easy to forget its artistic side. Thankfully, Google Books makes it just as easy to jog one’s memory on the subject.

Let’s start with Tiki Art Now! by Otto Von Stroheim and Robert Williams. In addition to its great information on all things Tiki, it kicks off the art with Dr. Alderete’s “Acapulco Tiki,” wherein an El Santo-style luchador kicks back with a Munktiki brand “Kreepy” mug. It’s the perfect way to unwind after a hard day of wrestling monsters! The other pieces of art in the preview are a mix of cool and spooky, normal Tiki and horror Tiki.

The book’s striking cover art is by one Josh Agle, better known to his fans as “Shag.” In case you’re wondering about the name, it comes from the combination of the last two letters of his first name with the first two letters of his last name. Supposedly he adopted that alias in order to make it look like his band at the time, The Swamp Zombies, could afford to hire someone else to do their albums’ cover art. In fact, a large part of the band’s creation was due to his desire to make the album art!

His simple-yet-detailed retro style has made him a smash hit, both in the world of Tiki and the art world in general. There’s even an exotica CD devoted to songs inspired by his work! Which is quite appropriate, seeing as how he was a founding member of The Tiki Tones.

But there is more to Shag than Tiki. As noted here, Mr. Agle does not want to be known as “just a Tiki artist” as they are only one of the many aspects of his work. His official website describes artwork as a “blend of hot rods, tiki heads, skeletons, voodoo lounge, and kustom kulture all rolled up in a swanky package.” His long list of influences also includes (but isn’t limited to) 60’s culture (mildly NSFW), spies, thieves (I’d love to see Shag’s take on Lupin III), blaxploitation, horror, and martial arts movies. And, as noted earlier, he often combines these to create unique and interesting (and spooky) works. If anything, Shag is a “rooms you wish you had in your home” artist.

For more on his work, please check out the following links:

Shag: The Art of Josh Agle
by Josh Agle, Colin Berry, and Billy Shire.

Bottomless Cocktail: The Art of Shag
by Shag

Shag, ltd., fine art limited editions: a catalogue raisonné
by Shag, Douglas Nason, Jeremy Cushner, and Greg Escalante

Don’t just look at the art, either. Those books are filled with fascinating interviews and writings on Mr. Agle’s work. I especially liked his observation on Tiki bars in Bottomless Cocktail: The Art of Shag.

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Tuesday uEtsy: Handmade Horrors

[Etsy.com’s tagline is “Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade.” Coincidentally, there’s a lot of spooky on Etsy, and each Tuesday, we highlight one of the sellers. If you’re looking to spruce up your look, redecorate your tomb or get a gift for that special something in your afterlife, Etsy.com is a place for spooky econo.]

Handmade Horrors (HandmadeHorrors.etsy.com)

Sometimes, you’re going to make a mistake. And that’s fine. The odds are that you, reading this, are likely human. Or human-esque; a good portion to count, is what we’re getting at. And with that, you’re bound to screw up.

Which is not really the kind of thing we want to lead into when discussing Handmade Horrors. Handmade Horrors gets it right, which is, by the book, the opposite of making a mistake. In fact, if you look at the work at their shop, you would petition Merriam-Webster to list ‘Handmade Horrors’ as an official antonym of ‘mistake.’ Someone flashes that Murky Skull Faceted Gem Necklace and you’ll say “that person is getting it–whatever he or she does–right.”

But we here at the local fall under the human side of things, or close enough. So we’re prone to the mortal folly of making mistakes. One of which, we were clued into late last week when Doc Killian came by, he corrected at a terrible, how you say, faux-pas, that we’ve done for a while.

Seems ‘Freakshow’ isn’t so much an adjective of sorts for our man Bernie, but the gentlemen’s last name. From suffix to prefix. Yep. Doc showed us the birth certificate and all.

What does this has to do with the Count Rockula Necklace you’re going to buy from Handmade Horrors so you can show up at the next psychobilly show to woo that creeper man or roller girl of your black velvet dreams? We suspect that Bernie Freakshow did the same to win the still-bloody heart of his lovely wife, Loretta–the one she was still gnawing on when he came over to ask for a dance.

You might catch the eye if you were wearing these Greaser Skull Earrings. I don’t know what Loretta had on the night she became Mrs. Freakshow. It probably was still wriggling but what can we say? It was a wedding. You don’t need to be as bold as Loretta but wearing these earrings will say you cater to a boldness that is rocking in its own way.

Granted, not everyone could find wedded bliss the same way that Bernie and Loretta did. Some people don’t like psychobilly and prefer punk rock. Look at this pin from Handmade Horrors. Totally rad, right? Bust heads, break hearts, looks fantastic.

Which brings us back to the idea of the beginning. Sometimes, we break things and we have to apologize, or, to a point, extend said apology in a physical exchange. A ‘gift exchange,’ if you will. Won’t say it’s Christmas in July because well, it isn’t. Or at least it won’t be in about four days but that doesn’t make these Ribbon Bracelets any less attractive (that might make them MORE attractive. Will wonders ever cease?)

What we’ve been trying to get to is that Poinsettia Freakshow is not that bad of a girl. And we may have hurt her feelings last week so we have to get her a gift. Mainly because Freakshow Bernie (sorry, old habit, and everyone just calls him ‘Freakshow’) is one of the better independent contractors in the six-county district and we don’t want him to sour on us. And, mainly, because Poinsettia is a nice girl. She does brighten up the Front Office when she’s around, whether we like it or not. We haven’t picked out a gift yet but we think Handmade Horrors has a good idea.

Don’t tell anyone. We have a reputation to uphold.

Handmade Horrors would like to note that Greaser Skull, Count Rockula and Punk Skulls designs are by: http://www.facebook.com/zmbgraphix. See what else Handmade Horrors has to offer you. They’re also on Facebook, Livejournal and they even have an official page you can check out as well. Buy something, look snazzy and come back next week for another Tuesday uEtsy.

[ed. Like the article states, we are prone to mistakes. We accidentally listed this week’s uEtsy as ‘Homemade’ instead of ‘Handmade’ Horrors. We have since corrected it.] 

Tuesday uEtsy: Zed’s Zombie Ranch

[Etsy.com’s tagline is “Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade.” Coincidentally, there’s a lot of spooky on Etsy, and each Tuesday, we highlight one of the sellers. If you’re looking to spruce up your look, redecorate your tomb or get a gift for that special something in your afterlife, Etsy.com is a place for spooky econo.]


Zed’s Zombie Ranch (zedszombieranch.etsy.com)

Chances are, you own or will own your own house someday. Or you’ll come into possession, albeit temporary, of a yard. You think we here at the Local would encourage you to dig it up, bury something (preferably, something dead) and place some kind of marker, be it stone, tree or upturned rusted pickup, on top. Well, until 1922, that was pretty much standard Local policy. Wasn’t enforced, just highly encouraged. 

Thankfully for our property values, the official Charter was amended with new leadership and since then, it’s perfectly fine to decorate your yard with things other than stones and burnt out Fords. It makes sense that being practically in the landscaping business (y’know, just with dead bodies and all) we tend to take our yards and various patches of dirt with some serious consideration for looking good, or at least, not causing landlords and neighbors to call the city in complaints. While some of the more zealous of those out there might talk about seeds, watering schedules and fuel injected riding lawnmowers, we here at the local prefer to outfit our lawns with some nice art. 

This is why we want to give big thanks to Zed’s Zombie Ranch and the fine work produced by them. Well experienced metalsmiths and leatherworkers have produced some really fine pieces that will make your lawn stand out, in a good, non-violating city ordinances way. 



Take, for instance, this piece. Sasquatches, as you might not know, are highly ritualistic in their burial procedures and have been strong allies of the Local since near its inception. If we were to let Freakshow Bernie’s younger daughter Poinsettia write here, as she’s been begging, we might say “We ❤ Bigfoot.” But, until she gets her shots and promises to stop covering the Union shovels with glitter, she’s not allowed a hundred yards near the Front Office. But Bigfoots? Bigfoots are all welcomed to drop by so we like this piece, which is highly functional as well as artistic. It says ‘POINSETTA, ARE YOU A BIGFOOT? NO? WELL LOOK AT THE SIGN. GO BACK HOME, GIRL.” 

We’re thinking of getting the ‘Go Away’ sign for the front door, because all of Zed’s Zombie Ranch produces signs both for mounting in your yard or mounted on your wall/door. Look at that piece of metal work. Fantastic. Who needs ‘beware of dog’ or ‘trespassers will be shot’ when you have something that says ‘the ancient nameless evils born of this old land will rise up to dance their play across your burning flesh if you ring my doorbell while I try to take a shower.’ 

Of course, Zed’s Zombie Ranch’s products aren’t all about telling you where and where not to go. Sometimes, you want people to gather together and party. What better way to invite them together with a skeleton knocking back a cold one? Goodness, we don’t know any better way. If you do, better tell Zed because until then, this skeleton is sitting as king of the hill.

The images you saw at the beginning of this week’s spotlight are featured on t-shirts, a new medium for the fine folk at Zed’s Zombie Ranch. Who doesn’t like a t-shirt? No, we’re seriously asking. Why does everyone think the questions we pose are rhetorical? Maybe we just want some answers, for once. 

So you now have an assignment. Get a yard. Don’t have one? Use your neighbor’s. Don’t have any neighbors? Make ’em. Buy one or five things from Zed’s Zombie Ranch. Decorate the yard. Sit back. Check out Zed’s Zombie Ranch’s new blogspot site and come back next week for another Tuesday uEtsy. 

Freaky Tiki Surf-ari: The Waitiki 7

The Waitiki 7

Official Site

New Sounds of Exotica, Pass Out Records 2010


Waitiki is dead, long live The Waitiki 7!
After their 2005 debut album, Waitiki released two more albums, 2007’s Rendezvous in Okonkuluku and 2009’s Magic Island Sounds: The Wedding Album, before departing from this mortal coil (figuratively speaking). However, its mission and spirit lives on in the Waitiki 7. Confused? Perhaps I should let band leader Randy Wong clarify the matter:

“We were asked by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, Germany to assemble an all-star group for their Wassermusik festival that summer, and The Waitiki 7 was born. Second we wanted to expand our scope beyond music, because we were starting to do tiki consulting, mixology (craft cocktails), and other stuff. Lastly, with The WAITIKI 7, we wanted to go after the jazz/world market which meant a more “serious” approach to the music. We need to create a separate identity for that sound because a lot of “serious” music critics etc. would scoff at a band that was as “silly” as our previous quartet work.”

Whereas the original band’s lineup consisted of:

Tim Mayer
Brian O’Neill
Abe Lagrimas Jr.
Randy Wong

The Waitiki 7 consists of:

Tim Mayer
Helen Liu
Zaccai Curtis
Jim Benoit
Abe Lagrimas Jr.
Lopaka Colon
Randy Wong

Despite the sharing of members from Waitiki, this is a new and different band. But although the tone may change, but the music is still great either way. Think of Charred Mammal Flesh as an impromptu jam session among friends at a private barbecue while New Sounds of Exotica is how the same friends (along with a few who missed the party) play for a big club gig.


Following their 2009 release, Adventures in Paradise, New Sounds of Exotica offers takes on both classic and original material and a wide variety of exotic instruments. In addition to the standards like the guiro and vibraphone, there’s a hulusi, guiro, claves, xylophone, glockenspiel, and more!

Things start off with a bang thanks to Coleman and Clar’s “Similau.” Vibraphone beats, coupled with wild monkey shrieks and cymbals, lead into a bongo/vibe fusion. Next comes a piano and bird calls. It should be noted that the band member responsible for the animal calls, Lopaka Colon, is the son of Augie Colon (who provided such effects for Arthur Lyman). It then launches into a fast-paced, clave-filled “Latin” melody pops that’s further enhanced by a violin before returning to the original style.

This album’s version of “Flower Humming” is even smoother than the first Waitiki version and is one of several musical ways The Waitiki 7 shows they aren’t Waitiki anymore. There’s more drums this time around, as shown by the opening, as there’s a distinct lack of reeds/saxophone play. Guiro and piano come into the mix, while a flute helps bring it to a faster pace in middle and towards end of the song. Cymbals come into play there as well, along with a vibraphone or xylophone.

“Bali Ha’i” is quite expanded compared to the original, especially the opening. Said opening has a “happy tropics” feel to it. However, there are no vocals this time around. Chimes then bring us to a good approximation of the “sci-fi” sounding bit in the original via vibraphone. Bongos come next in a funky, almost Latin at times, beat. It’s definitely not like slow, seductive pace of the original, but it’s still great. Besides, it does slide back into style of original towards the end.

Their version of Martin Denny’s “When First I Love” has a slow build of bass and bongos to the use of a violin and the occasional piano riff. There’s also use of maracas or guiros along with a piano/vibe combo woven in and out of song (guest musician Greg Paré provided vibraphone duties for this song). It definitely has the feel of looking back on old memories.

Next is a take on another previously heard song in the Freaky Tiki Surf-ari: Les Baxter’s “Tiki.” Bongos, piano and later, a vibraphone and horn of some kind offer a slow, “sneaky tiki” feel. Occasional chimes are heard, and a drumbeat kicks in later that plays off the sax and bongo. This is followed by a piano solo, more vibes and bongos, and then reprise of opening beat. All in all, it’s a quite jazzy take on the matter

Martin Denny’s “Voodoo Love” kicks off with a cymbal clash and quickly starts a fast, frenzied bongo beat. The bongos, piano and sax get overlaid and the saxophone later dominates. That is, until the bongos come back for awhile and team up with drums/cymbals.

M. Parish’s “Ruby” makes light use of a violin, coupled with chimes, vibes, and maracas. Lopaka Colon’s bird calls and monkey hoots add to the effect of a relaxing jungle stroll and must make his old man proud.

“China Fan” kicks the original up a notch in its opening. Said opening consists of gongs (or is it ocean drums), bongos, an Asian flute, violin and subtle guiro use. Chimes are scattered through Paré’s vibe work, including an amazing vibraphone solo, while the ever pervasive saxophone and piano also come into play. It’s the same song as before, but different and still as relaxing as ever.

The drumbeats and fast-paced vibraphone of “Firecracker” (another Denny classic) sound like running cartoon mice. The use of cymbals is also speedy and wild, like the fuse on a firecracker. The pace slows down with drums and cymbals for a bit, but the drumbeat builds up to heavy use of cymbals. This is followed by a vibraphone beat that builds up to big bang…just like a real fireworks display.

The final track, “Sweet Pikake Serenade,” has soft opening piano accompanied by bird calls. Light vibes and new (to this version) piano flourishes add to the beautiful play-out. It really is like a memory of days gone by. Doing this series has exposed me to multiple versions of the same (or similar-sounding) songs and I must say that it’s very interesting to hear how something can be familiar and yet also have a unique take on it.

As a special treat, the album’s packaging also includes two cocktail recipes, which also acts as a promotion of the drink-making aspect of Waitiki International. I’ll let Randy explain:

“It also allows us to release all kinds of other tiki stuff, music, etc. under the Waitiki umbrella without it interfering directly with The Waitiki 7…Merch-wise it’s comic books, some apparel, handmade fruit butters from the Big Island of Hawaii, and graphic stuff—collectible drink menus, place mats, posters. We also offer consulting services for event organizers & bartenders (custom cocktail recipes, handmade exotic liqueurs and syrups) and do work-for-hire arranging/orchestration, production i.e. someone might want tiki music but not have it be Waitiki-branded.”

As you can see, there’s more to the brand than just great music. So if you loved Waitiki, get New Sounds of Exotica. If you hated Waitiki, get it anyway. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you hear.

Special thanks to Randy Wong and Waitiki International for the review copy!

Freaky Tiki Surf-ari: Waitiki

Waitiki

Official Site

Charred Mammal Flesh, Pass Out Records 2005


In our last exotica installment, I shared a story about the origin of the song “Bwana” (and about the use of animal calls in exotica) that had been told to me by an exotica musician. Since he went unnamed in that in order to help build interest for this particular installment, it’s time to give the man his much-earned credit: Randy Wong, the founder of the band Waitiki (and Waitiki International LLC).

Waitiki was formed in 2005 with the goal of introducing (and reinventing) classic exotica music for the listeners of today. Their debut album, Charred Mammal Flesh (subtitled “Exotic Music for BBQ”) shows the band’s method of going about this: a mixture of covers and original music.

And what exotic music it is! The liner notes instruments including (but not limited to): upright bass, vibraphone, marimba, melodica, and reeds. Given that I have no idea what some of those instruments sound like, some of my music descriptions are based on my best (careful) guesses. But while I don’t always know what I’m hearing, I do know what I like!


The album opens with Waitiki’s take on “Bwana,” which they call “Bwana, Bwana A” here. Not only does its use act as a tribute to Arthur Lyman’s music, but I was also informed that it was also a reference to how Lyman used it to open his shows. After the mysterious-sounding flute introduction, we get the drums and cry of “Bwana.” Due to the band’s numbers being smaller than Lyman’s the returning cry lacks the “oomph” of the original. This has the unintentional effect of making it sound like a tribe in a B movie, where a handful of actors and actresses have to seem like an entire village.

However, this does fit in with the humorous tone of other material on the album and what comes afterward provides a great sense of power. Gone are the happy melodies, native chatter and bird calls of the original. In their place are heavy-sounding, warlike drums. This ties in with the loose storyline connecting the songs that’s given in the CD’s liner notes, where it is explained that a tribe is getting ready for battle.

Also according to the previously mentioned storyline, tribesmen are investigating the “Cave of Uldo” due to the sinister sounds they hear coming from it. Although there are occasional creepy notes at beginning, the rest of “Cave of Uldo” has a somewhat symphonic feel to it and makes great use of a Cajón drum and vibraphone. Next comes Waitiki’s version of “Manila,” Martin Denny’s tribute to the capital of the Philippines. Both bird calls and monkey cries come into play here, along with a flute, vibraphone and some light drum work. The complete effect is very smooth and soothing. Denny’s “Primativa” is a little more energetic and faster paced than “Manila.” The percussion and vibraphone beats mix in with bird calls, monkey calls and primal cries.

“Satyritar” makes great use of guest violinist Helen Liu’s talent, along with the chanting and “magic” sounding chimes interspersed through it. A violin might seem like an odd choice for an exotica instrument at first, but let’s not forget that one was used in Arthur Lyman’s performance of “Beyond the Reef” Despite being inspired the lusty Greek goat-men of myth, it can have a “Middle Eastern” feel at times.

“Fuzzy Mammoth Breath” is an intentionally funny song that starts with the singing/chanting of the title (and noting the eating of charred mammal flesh) with similar chanting about watermelon sacrifice overlapping. We then get an instrumental break featuring percussion and reed work followed by the “Mayor of Exotica” doing sacrificial ritual with natives hooting and hollering. Drums come in and it later returns to style of the beginning, only with some of the lyrics mixed around. Some might complain about the silly tone but let’s face it, you simply can’t do a serious song about sacrificing watermelons.

“Dew Drop Inn, If You Please, My Humming Flower” starts with a quick performance of “Chopsticks” and several gong strikes, which then leads to drums and jolly, jazzy feel. “Plamingo Flagoda” has somber opening featuring percussive beats enhanced by occasional vibraphone use. The mood then gets peppy for a little bit and goes back to original tone then gets happy again with its use of a vibraphone and reeds. Lather, rinse and repeat until we reach the reed-heavy ending.

“Flower Humming” by Don Tiki songwriter Kit Ebersbach starts with some drums and the dreamy mix of vibraphone and reeds does sound very similar to humming at times. In fact, it has a jazz feel to it. There’s also minor use of maracas or guiros and it really revs up toward the ending phase. “Merry Adventures of the Sleepy Space Kadet” is a light and pleasant tune made up of drums, vibes, an upright bass and a ukulele. Nothing in the song itself sounds spacey, but it is like a sweet dream. Apparently, it was inspired by Auntie Alice Namakelua’s “Fourteen Figures.” “March for Chief MauMau” is an honest-to-goodness exotica funeral march, complete with the sounds of marching feet! The mournful clarinet appropriately expresses the sadness over his loss, while militaristic drum beats celebrate the status and power of the deceased chief.

“Mr. Ho’s Yummy Hut Yee-Haw” is a super goofy tip of the hat to the “Yummy Hut” restaurant in Somerville, MA. The opening drums and light use of gongs or cymbals soon give way to chanting of “Yummy Hut” followed by a high-pitched “Yee-haw!” This is followed with cartoony sound effects, silly lyrics and puns about menu items at Chinese restaurants mixed in with some minor vibe work. “Pan-Xotik-Da” is a very, very catchy song whose refrain is a reference to a classic pun about a panda’s diet. Drums mix with overlapping singers, and a vibraphone break brings us to an instrumental section. Guiros and reeds mix with the occasional “Bam-boooooooo” chant up until the big closing.

“China Fan” is a tune that’s just as relaxing as a fan on a hot day. Percussion leads in to reeds and vibes, along with dreamlike chimes and the sounds of waves that lead in to the final track. Said track, “Sweet Pikake Serenade,” is a very Lyman-style work where the sounds of waves and seagulls vibes both lead into and are mixed in with the sounds of a vibraphone. According to the liner notes, a “pikake” is a “Hawaiian flower whose scent is a nostalgic reminder of old Hawai’i.”

When you think about it, the titular phrase “Charred Mammal Flesh” is an accurate and yet somewhat spooky way of stripping down a barbecue to its basic elements (along with the huge pig skeleton on the back over). It also signifies a musical way to add a little extra fun to your next cook-out. That way, you and your guests can both enjoy fine music and chant along with the Mayor of Exotica while you sacrifice a watermelon of your own!

Stay tuned, because there’s still more to this story…

Special thanks to Randy Wong and Waitiki International for the review copy!

Freaky Tiki Surf-ari: Witches in Bikinis

Witches in Bikinis

Official Site

Witches in Bikinis, Second Wind Productions 2005
A Scary Kind of Love, Second Wind Productions 2008
All Hallows Eve, Second Wind Productions 2009
Special Edition Sampler CD, Second Wind Productions 2009


Taking their name from the first song they ever recorded, Witches in Bikinis burst onto the scene in 2005 with their songs that mix serious and silly. The combination of bikini-clad female singers/dancers in colored wigs and a trio of musicians makes for a unique musical experience, be it listening to one of their CDs or catching a live performance. Why the bikinis? Well, besides surf music being one of their influences (along with rock and pop music), let’s look at this quote by Michael Dale (from a Broadwayworld.com review of the group) that sums it up quite nicely:

“Combining three beloved staples of 60’s pop culture – the girl group, the beach party movie and the low-budget horror flick – ‘Witches in Bikinis’ perform catchy and funny original songs, with arrangements heavy on the goofy rock/gothic sound.”

For this entry, I’ll be reviewing the previously mentioned discs in a somewhat order different than what I have written above. I’m doing this in order to recreate my original listening order and because the samplers foreshadow several things about WiB’s full albums (as effortlessly switch from one musical genre to another).


The sampler All Hallows Eve contains a single song of thec same name. It begins with a slow fade-in to spooky sound effects, which are soon joined by a mournful piano (probably a keyboard set to sound like a piano). A creepy knocking-type sound is added, which eventually becomes part of an almost techno-like beat when the music gets more dance-like. After the refrain, wherein “All Hallows Eve” is said, a lone witch describes a tale of seeing a ghostly parade one Halloween night. This is the perfect song to start off a Halloween party, as it’s creepy and you can dance to it.

Let’s move on to the Special Edition Sampler CD, which demonstrates that most WiB either have only one witch singing or have a witch backed up by the other members. “Kissy Kissy Love Spell” is an example of the latter, which features a rousing opening. It’s very catchy, although the fun is kinda diminished when you realize that the song is someone openly flaunting their plan to use magical equivalent of roofies on someone. Despite the name, “Freak Show Safari” has nothing to do with sideshows. Instead, it focuses on people who choose to modify their bodies and dress outside the norm. It has a heavier feel to it than “Kissy Kissy Love Spell” and the lone singer’s intensity gives it a vaguely punk feel. The band’s surf influence is on full display in “Alien Surfer Babes,” from the “Wipe Out” style intro to its other classic surf touches (You’ll know what I mean when you hear it). The witches providing back-up are used to great effect, especially when providing the “oooo” sounds emphasizing the song’s sci-fi nature. The final two songs on the disc, “Vegan Lover” and “Movie Star,” prove that Witches in Bikinis aren’t limited to scary stuff and can do material about being in love (this will come up again later).

Something that particularly strikes me about their debut album, Witches in Bikinis, is the heavy use of a keyboard. This is merely an observation and not a slam at its use, as its sound is changed from song to song. Sometimes it sounds like what you would expect a keyboard to sound like and at other times it sounds just like a real piano or organ. In contrast, the use of the guitar is rather subdued and often subtly mixed in with the drums.

The first song, “Hold Me, My Little Ghostie,” makes great use of a comical faux Russian accent (and faux Russian music). The cutesy horror-themed references to kissing and cuddling are bound to be adopted by many who listen to the song and are undoubtedly inspired by the amorous female rabbit in Bugs Bunny’s Rabbit Romeo. “Horror Flick Chicks” humorously pokes fun at the poor decision-making skills of many women in horror movies by detailing several movie-style scenarios where female characters’ actions get them killed. There’s even a segment where, after a scenario is given, the singer quizzes on the listener as to what the character did. Several life-saving course of action are given, but the question as to whether or not she did those is always “No.” It is only when the bad course of action is given that the answer “Yes” is given and the song returns to normal.

“Witches in Bikinis” is the song that started it all. The serious-sounding tale of being lost in the woods and seeing something strange suddenly turning lighthearted and silly sets the the tone for many a WiB song after this. “Spooks On the Loose” takes its name from a combination of two “East Side Kids” film titles, Ghosts on the Loose and Spooks Run Wild (which some sources claim was also shown as Spooks on the Loose in some areas). Despite what the title might make you think, the “spooks” of the song are actually a metaphor for the creeps and perverts harassing the song’s protagonist.

“Haunted Mansion” tells the musical tale of a haunted house’s history (and many victims). “Goblin Gaboom” is a very cute song about a little girl trying to deal with the various monsters she sees in her bedroom. Her methods range from threats to outright denial they exist, each time answered by the deep-voiced Goblin Gaboom. The singer does an adorable little kid voice although hearing that voice come out of an attractive women in a bikini must make for an odd experience at the live shows. “Cemetery Boogie” is an insanely catchy (like many WiB songs) boogie woogie song about what the dead do after dark. Following this (of course) is “Monster Woogie.” Said song is loaded with sound effects, from the use of “castle thunder” at the beginning to the effects overload towards the end. Like many a WiB song, it’s serious at first (being home alone and hearing strange things) then the goofy stuff starts in. As soon as I heard the term “gramophone,” I know it was going to get old school and the song did not disappoint. The song was very 40’s style, right down to the Betty Boop-esque scat singing.

“Subway Spooks” is a mostly serious tale of underground ghouls that bring to mind C.H.U.D. and It. There are, howerever, a few humorous touches. “Zombie March,” which involves a witch preparing a group of zombies for a flesh-eating rampage, is similar in tone, only with less humor content. Abandoning humor altogether, “Cave Fire” is a very spooky instrumental number in the vein of the Midnight Syndicate. It’s perfect for any home haunt or to use to creep out trick-or-treaters. Similarly, “Graveyard Tango” is an instrumental piece, although it’s more humorous due to its tango sound. There is also a hidden surprise after “Graveyard Tango” ends: After a long wait (and on some players, the track time going in reverse) you can hear a reading of the “All Hallows Eve” done in the style of “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”


In sharp contrast to the first album, A Scary Kind of Love cranks up the guitar and lessens the keyboard use. It also allows the Witches to show their surf influences. Despite the name, “Mermaids in Outer Space” is not a surf song (although there is an “Alien Surfer Babes” shout-out). Instead, this tale of mermaids leaving the Earth is rather new wavey. “Dear Dr. Frankenstein” is a hilarious twist on the old “dead teenager song” genre, with the resourceful girlfriend of a dead drag racer seeking out the good doctor. “Video Vixen Vampire” is a rocking tribute to/parody of Elvira, wherein a vampiric horror hostess called “Vira” uses her fame and looks to lure unsuspecting into her clutches.

Although not an exotica song, “Calling King Kong” does share the genre’s focus on pagan passion. The singer states that although she generally prefers a man who his charming and witty, sometimes she yearns for something more primal. She doesn’t want the actual King Kong, it’s just a metaphor for the wild lovin’ she wants from her man. “O.O.B.E” stands for “out of body experience” and the song has a suitable otherworldly feel to reflect the singer’s recollection of her astral adventure.
“Jennifer of the Jungle” is a non-spooky song about a young woman’s secret yearning to escape from the pressures of modern society. “Party Like a Chimpanzee” is a fun surf song about carefree partying like, well, a chimpanzee (minus the poo-flinging). “A Scary Kind of Love” is about woman’s relationship with her creepy (in a good way) boyfriend. Although her friends want her to break up with the guy, who she met at a graveyard, she’s only scared by how serious the relationship is getting rather than by his unusual interests.

“W.I.B. Reprise” is a quick, less than a minute reprise of the refrain from the song “Witches in Bikinis.” However, the minor changes in the song’s notes and slightly altered lyrics (now it’s “We are..” rather than “They were…”) make it clear that this is not a lazy cut and paste from the first album. This album’s version of “All Hallows Eve” is somewhat shorter than the sampler CD version, which seems to be missing part of that version’s long intro and outro. “Witches Theme” is the first of two closing instrumental tracks (echoing the first album) that mixes spooky and silly. Finally, the album closes with an excellent surf instrumental surf entitled “Rhumbazoid.”

So whether it’s a spooky beach shindig or a Halloween party, make sure to include Witches in Bikinis as part of your playlist!

Special thanks to Witches in Bikinis for the review copy!

Freaky Tiki Surf-ari: Arthur Lyman

Arthur Lyman
Bwana á/Bahia, Collector’s Choice Records 2008 (Original release date: 1959)

During my last exotica album review for the Freaky Tiki Surf-ari, I briefly touched on the use of sound effects in exotica music. To quote the Wikipedia entry on the genre:

“Additionally intrinsic to the sound of exotica are bird calls, big-cat roars, and even primate shrieks which invoke the dangers of the jungle. Though there are some standards which contain lyrics, singing is rare. Abstract, sirenish ululations, chants, vocalized animal calls, and guttural growls are common.”

The horror connection is rather obvious. How did such sounds make their way into the style? Well, there are a couple different stories on the matter. This says that it all started at a Martin Denny band performance at the Shell Bar at the Kaiser Hawaiian Village (now known as the Hilton Hawaiian Village). During one of the performances, frogs from a nearby pool began croaking and stopped only when the music did. When the frogs started up again, some of the band members began responding with bird calls. Denny knew they was onto something when someone asked about the song with all the animal noises the day after and soon incorporated them into the act. In an interview with Time magazine, Arthur Lyman said that he started doing bird calls after getting a little tipsy during one of the Denny group’s performances and according to the product description here, percussionist Augie Colon started doing calls (which he learned to use while hunting) after joining the Denny band in order spice things up and quickly got the other members doing it as well.

One exotica musician I spoke with while preparing notes for a future review commented on the situation, noting that both men did bird calls for the group and felt that it was a case of spontaneity. He also humorously noted that any arguing over who started the bird calls is akin to “arguing who’s older when you’ve got a set of identical sextuplets.”

In 1957, after several years of working with Denny, Lyman left to start his own band. He released his first album that same year, Leis of Jazz. The CD I’ll be reviewing is a reissuing of his fourth and sixth albums, Bwana á and Bahia.


Those who take a look at the back of the CD case might be surprised that Lyman only wrote a few songs and that the rest are versions of songs written by others. Several of the songs on Bahia were written by jungle exotica master, Les Baxter. However, Arthur Lyman and the group he used from 1957 to 1965 (Alan Soares, John Kramer and Harold Chang) all make them their own.

The first track is “Bwana á,” where drums and vibraphone beats soon give way to a male crying out “Bwana, bwana á,” who is in turn answered by many other “natives.” This gives way to light, happy music, animal cries and the occasional lone native chattering. The “Bwana” call reappears at the end to close the song. It communicates a feeling of power and strength due to the number of “native” voices. The musician that I spoke with about the use of animal calls (who I won’t name in order to build interest in his band’s appearance in the next exotica review) also had an interesting story about the origin of the song. Apparently Arthur Lyman’s bassist (John Kramer) wrote the song as a cheeky tribute to the band’s then-employer, Hawaiian Village owner Henry Kaiser. You see, whenever he’d dropped by, Kramer would call out “Bwana,” the Swahili term for master or chief.

Next comes “South Pacific Moonlight,” a soothing piece which makes great use of the sound of waves. The reproduction of the album’s cover claims that recordings of real waves were used, while the liner notes by Kim Cooper and David Smay (best known for their work in Scram magazine) claim that the effect was accomplished using grains of rice moved atop a drum. I’m inclined to believe the rice version, as the sound effects are close to-but not exactly like-the real thing. If those effects are really from recordings, then I’d say there’s some hissing that ruins the effect. Speaking of effects, I liked clever use of horns to mimic those of passing ships and the magic or “flashback”-style opening.

“Moon over a Ruined Castle” is a traditional Japanese folk song, performed without any lyrics here. Both the original packaging and the modern liner notes point out its spooky themes. After an ominous opening, the sound of wind chimes quickly gives way to a peaceful melody. Said chimes may make some listeners recall the opening of Santana’s “Black Magic Woman.” Are they there to symbolize magic, dangling metal charms used to keep spirits away or something else entirely? I cannot say for sure. What I can say, however, is that my interpretation is of a person’s initial frightened reaction to seeing ruins at night and gradually becoming more relaxed and enchanted by its moonlit beauty as they tip-toe past.

“Waikiki Serenade” is a reworking of Schubert’s “Serenade” with a decidedly Latin feel, foreshadowing the style of several other songs on the album (and Bahia), and makes nice use of a guiro. For example, there’s “La Paloma” (translation: “The Dove”), although its opening is very similar to the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” and makes much use of the vibraphone. “Otome San” is a Japanese drinking song by Kasuga Hachiro, whose jolly tone is aided by rhythmic clapping and a piano. Interestingly enough, the song’s title is actually “Otomi-san” (translation: “Miss Toni”) and is named for a kabuki show character.

In “Canton Rose,” guest musician Chew Hoon Chang gets to showcase his skills with his unusual-sounding bamboo flute and moon harp after the opening sequence. Similarly, “Blue Sands” allows Lyman to show off his vibraphone skills after the drum-filled opening. “Malagueña” is go-to song for anyone looking for “Mexican” or “Spanish” background music that makes great use of a tambourine (or finger cymbals, I’m not quite sure), guitar and piano. Perhaps guest pianist Paul Conrad was at work here? I suspect the final guest contributor, Ethel Azama, lent her talents to vocal work on “Bwana á.”

Despite the use of bird calls and other exotic touches in “Vera Cruz,” the song’s double pianos (and drum beats) have a rather melancholy tone. In sharp contrast, “Pua Carnation” (Rough translation: “The scent of carnation”) offers a much happier Latin beat after the “character in a TV show having a flashback”-sounding opening. Here, Lyman demonstrates the vast musical range of a vibraphone. The album closes with a rousing performance of “Colonel Bogey’s March,” best known for its use in Bridge on the River Kwai and its being altered into “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball” and the infamous “Comet song.” It starts off light and cheery after a bunch of animal cries and occasionally launches into a bombastic military march.

Although the use of animal calls in the last album was sparse, they return with a vengeance for his Bahia album. Ary Barroso’s “Bahia” shows this quite well, also using maracas and a guiro to form a jazzy Latin beat. This slowly builds up to s pounding piano, which then gives way to a happy beat with occasional shout of something in what may or may not be Portuguese. Bird calls, a piano and a few other instruments take the listener on a merry ride in a “Jungle Jalopy.” “Legend of the Rain” starts off with a bang (thunder) and then uses soft music that’s just as relaxing as real rainfall. Then a percussive crash gives way to a somewhat more energetic (and sometimes “Latin”) tune. There’s also minor use of steel guitar at the end.

Unlike the song of the same name in “The Sound of Tiki,” this album’s “Bamboo” doesn’t have any bird calls that sound like someone retching. The ever-present guiro sounds particularly cicada-like here. There’s a minor, waltz-like part in this and the piano and vibraphone work together to great effect. Latin vibes (get it?) make up Lyman’s take on Carmen Lombardo and Danny Di Minno’s “Return to Me,” as made famous by Dean Martin in 1957. There’s a nice use of cymbals at end. Although several instruments are used in “Caribbean Nights,” the bongos dominate it.

Listening to “Quiet Village” without Don Ho’s singing is like listening to it for the first time. It’s easy to see why the original instrumental version was a smash hit back in the day. Like “Bamboo,” parts of it have a waltz feel to them. The guiro is at its most insect-like here and may remind some listeners of the Kamacuras from Son of Godzilla. “Tropical” is a light and fast tune making use of bells and other instruments, including but not limited to maracas, bongos and a vibraphone.

Horror fans will surely enjoy “Happy Voodoo.” It opens with a low native chant that soon leads to a piercing scream. The usual bird calls are joined by monkey shrieks, native chatter (including use of the word “Bwana”) and the occasional howl. Despite the spooky trappings of the beginning, the song has an undeniably happy-sounding feel to it. “Busy Port” is hard for me to describe. The best I can manage is “Peanuts: Exotica Style.” That’s not an insult, either. Schroeder rules. “Beyond the Reef” opens with the blowing of a conch shell and makes light use of a steel guitar for a mild “Hawaiian” feel. The guitar also compliments the track’s use of a violin. The final track is “Maui Chimes,” whose combination of chimes/bells and piano give it an alternately church and merry-go-round feel.

Sadly, the CD is not without its flaws. Crackling, pops and clicks can be heard in “Moon Over a Ruined Castle” and there are some clicks and pops in “Otome San” as well. Other reviewers have complained about the first album being presented in mono while the second one is in stereo. Judging from the reproduction of the back cover of Bwana á, a stereo version was available but I am not sure if the album was originally recorded in stereo and then “flattened” to create the mono version or if the mono and stereo version were recorded separately as was the case here. It’s a shame, as reading this got me really excited about the CD prior to listening to it. Don’t get me wrong, the CD is filled with great material. It was just disappointing to find such flaws after getting hyped up like that.

Special thanks to Collector’s Choice Records for the review copy!

Tuesday uEtsy: Blood Bath

[Etsy.com’s tagline is “Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade.” Coincidentally, there’s a lot of spooky on Etsy, and each Tuesday, we highlight one of the sellers. If you’re looking to spruce up your look, redecorate your tomb or get a gift for that special something in your afterlife, Etsy.com is a place for spooky econo.]

Bloodbath (http://Bloodbath.etsy.com)

‘Your Flesh is Dying For It!” boasts Bloodbath, and to be honest, we think they’re right. Word from Doc Killian down at Serene Pastures says that the Hernandez kid, what caught in a bad motorcycle accident, was seen clutching a bottle of BLOODBATH Morbid Moisture BODY LOTION in the autopsy photos, despite no internet access at the mortuary and Killian’s practice of sending the orderlies out with oak table legs on any solicitors, lawyers or postal workers. Seems that the Hernandez kid’s body was dying for a bottle of Morbid Moisture, literally and figuratively.

We don’t really encourage you to go off and be that extreme, unless you’ve master the ability of post-mortem purchases. Last time we checked, VISA tends to frown on corpses buying stuff. So while you’re alive, might as well take care of yourself in the best way possible. Why not try some of Bloodbath’s fine products? Take, for example, these Sugar Scrub Cubes. Stripping away the stank of a job well done is vital if you want to make friends, influence people or not be pelted with rocks when you show up at the front office to clock in the next day. It’s just an idea, because dang, if we don’t have plenty of rocks.

One might think that the Vegan Perfume offered here might look like a tin of snuff or a car of sardines, we’re thankfully glad that it isn’t either and would encourage any of you (snuff, chaw and sardine fans alike) to put down those tins and pick one one of these. In according to the phrase, ‘a little dab will do ya,’ we’d like to see more dabbing of Bloodbath products and less salted fish smelling like tobacco.

People die every day, throughout the year. It’s a fact we all know but it’s one that we here at GdL don’t like to admit, mainly because it means working in the winter. The ground’s pretty hard. Sure, bodies smell less atrocious due to the forgiving cold weather but it takes Freakshow Bernie’s backhoe to get a good six feet down into the ground. And he doesn’t let anyone else drive it, it being his pride and joy. That means waiting out in the cold for him and ‘Norma’ to do the heavy lifting. And that means – chapped lips. Thanks to Bloodbath, there’s some fashionable and flavorable relief waiting for us come the first freeze. Morgue-A-Rita- Margarita goodness, Gasberry Lemonade, Screamsicle and Candy Corn are some of the offered flavors that might save your lips or encourage you to eat them.

We’re fans of soap, here at the Local. So it’s great that Bloodbath also includes some coffin shaped products meant to keep you clean, whenever you’re finally forced (by pitchfork) into a shower. Take care of yourself, peoples. You have plenty of time to stink when you’re dead.

Wonderful products to be had by all, and we encourage you to go have some. Hit up Bloodbath at their Etsy store or their official blog. And come back here next week for another Tuesday uEtsy at Gravediggers Local 16.

Freaky Tiki Surf-ari: Strange But Surf

Strange But Surf
Official Site
Swimming in Reverb, Rancho Records 2007

Surf can be a strange genre at times. It can both exist independently and be connected to Tiki culture. Despite the name “surf,” a surf song can have little or nothing to do with surfing (something that will be made very obvious over the course of the Freaky Tiki Surf-ari). What makes surf music “surf” is its distinct “wet” sound. Said sound is made by the spring reverberator in amplifiers for electric guitars, which can sound like waves. Hence the title of Strange But Surf’s second album, Swimming in Reverb. Interestingly enough, the CD’s cover shows the band in front of a Tiki bar called Otto’s Shrunken Head. This is the essence of Freaky Tiki Surf-ari: the mixture of Tiki, surf music and horror.

According to their Facebook page, Strange But Surf came into existence in 2003. That page also has a great quote from the band themselves: “More than just Surf, we combine Blues, Oldies, Rockabilly and more into our own genre of music, known as Strange But Surf.” Their online radio station also lists “Spy, Space, Horror, Tiki, and Lounge” as sources of inspiration. Although Swimming in Reverb is largely a surf album, some of these influences are present.


The album kicks off with “Secret Sea” by “Unknown.” Is it a cover of a song whose creator’s name is lost to the ages? Is it an original creation by a cheeky band member – after all, who’s better to write a secret song than an anonymous person? I can’t say for sure. All I do know is that I like it and that it is easily identifiable as surf to even a neophyte of the genre. Like the song before it, “Lobster Rock” is a snazzy instrumental track. Unlike the song before it, its author is known: SBS guitar player and drummer Barry Simon. “Hey Ho!” is by band founder Angelo “Marbles Mahoney” Liguori (also a drummer and guitar player). The limited vocals are a nice touch and sound authentically old school. If not for the brief references to the Ramones, this could easily pass for a 60’s classic.

“Baja” is a cover version of Lee Hazlewood’s musical sojourn to the Mexican peninsula of the same name. As you’ve probably noticed by now, I tend to bust out the fancy talk when I like a song but am unable to provide more than a sentence or two about it. I figure that it’s better to have a short, nice-sounding sentence than just saying I like it. This isn’t an issue with Angelo Liguori’s “The Martians are Pissed.” Appropriately starting off with a guitar imitating a theremin (and later mixing in metallic flying saucer noises), the band launches into a fast-paced surf song, pausing only for the singer’s brief asides about the angry Martians. Some might find this annoying, but I think it fits in with the song’s humorous tone and lyrics like “Orson Welles was right.”

“Down to the Water” slows things down with somewhat exotica-like surf piece by Strange But Surf guitarist Tom Vidal. It’s very relaxing and allows the listener to imagine they’re by the shoreline at the end of the day. Revving things back up is Angelo Liguori’s “Psycho DeMayo.” Although the name has a horror connection, the song itself doesn’t sound spooky. Energetic yes, creepy no. Then we get an amazing cover of the surf classic “California Sun” by Henry Glover and Morris Levy (as made famous by the Rivieras). Unlike the cringe worthy covers you might find on a bargain bin compilation CD, where the musicians seem to be trying to punish you for being too cheap to buy the original, this is a worthy successor to the Rivieras’ version. While sounding similar enough to the version we all know and love, there are enough differences to keep anyone from mistaking it for the real thing. Next comes an interesting surf cover of Allen Toussaint’s “Working in a Coal Mine” and the album closes with a cover of “Lone Rider” by the Supertones. Having never heard the originals, I can’t say how the covers stack up to them. Speaking of “lone riders,” I noticed that bassist Vincent Giovannantonio is the odd man out song-wise. I wonder if he is “Unknown”…

Due to its mix of content, Swimming in Reverb is a great way to ease in a traditional surf fan into the realm of spooky (or vice-versa). You won’t find it in most retailers due to it being published on CD-R, but you can easily order it directly from the band. If the use of recordable media irks you, then you might be pleased to know that Strange But Surf went the extra mile and used a type of disc designed to look like a miniature vinyl record rather than an unlabeled CD-R with the album name written on with a marker. In fact, I think it adds to the authentic 60’s feel of the album!

Special thanks to Strange But Surf for the review copy!