Freaky Tiki Surf-ari: Creepxotica

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Creepxotica, Dionysus Records 2011
Haunted Bossa Nova, Dionysus Records 2013

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Creepxotica has a rather interesting history. It’s actually a side project of the horror surf band The Creepy Creeps, which is in turn made up from former members of bands like Struggle, Tarantula Hawk and The Locust (among others). Hailing from San Diego, the Creepy Creeps’s first album was 2006’s The Creepy Creeps LP. But since it was released on a U.K. label, most American fans are probably more familiar with the 2009 album Fink About It. While I can’t quite pin down when Creepxotica started, I do know their first release was a self-titled EP in 2011.

Creepxotica starts off with “Haunted Hula,” in which spooky storm sound effects take us into spooky guitar work and bongos. There’s plenty of percussion and vibe work and it’s simultaneously lively and eerie. I love the bongo work in “Creeping Kilauea,” which is perfectly paired with a vibraphone and guitars which seem to moan softly. “Enchanted Lagoon” is both speedy and sneaky in tone and has a very light feel to its use of vibes. “Murder on Molokai” mixes light vibes, spooky guitar touches, guiros and super soft piano work. Said piano picks up for a great interlude with drums at one point and I love the use of spooky sound effects in this track.

In Haunted Bossa Nova, a reverb heavy surf opening soon gives way to eerie exotica in the energetic “Head Huntin.” “Bali Hai Bossa” offers ever-present guiros and light music provided by drums and vibes (plus a little guitar work). There’s a happy feel at first, but takes on a more serious tone later one. It’s also somewhat “Middle Eastern” in feel at times. Tiki fans will immediately notice how the title is a South Pacific reference and is the first of many references sprinkled throughout the album. This album’s take on “Haunted Hula” isn’t as creepy as the EP version, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome. I actually prefer this take on it! Its heavy surf influence is on full display and contrasts nicely with the soft vibes and guitars. The opening of “Hotel Street Blues” echos that of the previous track, but quickly asserts its own identity with the group’s saxophone talents on full display. Bongo fans are sure to love this and I couldn’t help but notice how the title seems to refer to part of Hawaii’s Chinatown. Similarly, “Pig Ana Poi” pays tribute to some of Hawaii’s famous foods. Where do I begin? There’s dreamy vibes and other exotic percussion, along with a little chanting. There are some soft guitars as well, but vibes are the main attraction here. Vibes quickly give way to reverb goodness in “Creepin Kilauea,” which is similar to the EP version. There’s plenty of guiros and bongos and you can learn more about Kilauea here. As providing background for each reference to a part of Hawaii would take up too much time and space, I suggest using that link to search for any other Hawaiian names used in this album.

“Kaimuki Kraze” is light and sneaky, but thankfully stands out from tracks with a similar feel on the album. Its surf side is in full view, but still has exotica bits. Wood blocks open “Hanalie Hoopla,” which is lower key than other the tracks so far. In addition to enjoying its use of piano and insectlike guiros, I appreciated it offering a new variation on Creepxotica’s standard beat. More on that later. “Enchanted Lagoon” is longer, slower and much more suspenseful this time around. Is that a bad thing? Hell no! Its unique vibraphone introduction and eerie backing tones conjure up a sense of magic and mystery. It’s the perfect balance of spooky surf and exotica. The musical equation for “Waimea Witch Hunt” is drums plus guiros plus sax equals great music. The organ interlude is also a nice touch. “Murder on Molokai” is more energetic this time around and is shorter than the EP version. The sound effects may be gone, but they’ve been replaced with a tambourine and other unexpected musical surprises. “Incident at the Luau” has its mysterious and mournful opening music draped over a bongo beat. Said beat is very different from the other tracks and the use of a sitar is a great touch.

Earlier in my review, I made a comment about Creepxotica having a “standard beat” in Haunted Bossa Nova. This is a reference to how several tracks seem to use the same basic feel with new music layered over it. While I am not necessarily opposed to the idea, I do wish they had somehow been able to swap some tracks from Creepxotica EP with ones from this album so there would be a little more variety. This happens around the middles of the album, so the later tracks make up for it. But this might not be an issue for many listeners since this is the age of listening to random tracks and homemade mix compilations. Especially if said mixes utilize tracks from both Creepxotica releases. I only bring this up because I’m wild about Creepxotica’s fusion of exotica and surf music and hope they avoid the issues in future releases. Speaking of which, there’s a new live album from Creepxotica out now! But don’t head over to Amazon or iTunes just yet, because it’s available exclusively through Belly Up Live! Keep an eye on these guys. I know I certainly will! And I swear it’s not because of their NSFW album covers…

Special thanks to Creepxotica for use of the image!

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