“Pagan Rites” is the debut album of Sweden-based Tiki Exotica revival band Ìxtahuele. Released in May of 2013 and influenced primarily by the original sounds of Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny, it most certainly lives up to the exotic archetype. They do, however, go a bit further in their musical conception and, in turn, provide the experienced Exotica listener with a very unique and stimulating album.
While the original LP’s of Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman rely heavily on quirkiness and kitsch appeal with the occasional sprinkle of pure camp, Ìxtahuele vibrates with a certain level of sophistication and seriousness that was mostly absent during the ‘50s and ‘60s. Most Exotica records from the mid-20th century conjure up images of faded, musty-smelling Polynesian pinup photos and Technicolor Hollywood blockbusters. Since this music was a “popular” product for the masses (think Populuxe), it was viewed as being fairly watered-down compared to the highbrow tastes of the cultural elite. “Pagan Rites,” in contrast, sounds a bit more in line with the Jazz legends of the same time period and before. I don’t know whether Bop-Exotica would be an adequate subgenre to classify Ìxtahuele’s music, but I do think of “Quiet Village” and classic Blue Note label releases about equally when I listen to this record.
Something else that stands out to me about this album is that it sounds more “full” (or modern) in terms of its acoustics and more concentrated in terms of its aesthetics. Oftentimes, projects that revive or add to past traditions are better able to encapsulate the values and “feel” of it than the original artists were able to. That’s because the original concepts were based entirely upon the imagination of the creators, while the new generation already has a repertoire and template to work with. And might I say that Ìxtahuele is very well studied in terms of Exotica’s history and repertoire. What they do is done very well.
All in all, most aficionados (including many stringent purists of the Exotic style) are not going to go wrong with “Pagan Rites.” Ìxtahuele delivers a very interesting and respectful homage to the original Exotica masters. If you like Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman, I’m confident that you will have fun listening to this release.
Joseph A. Bremson
The Exciting Sounds Project