Exotica defined a place in time, but only a handful of artists defined it. Martin Denny
coined the term in 1957 when he called an album Exotica
but at that point, the fad was well underway, kicked off at the dawn of the '50s by Les Baxter
, who released his own groundbreaking album, Ritual of the Savage
, in addition to producing and arranging Voice of the Xtabay
, the 1950 debut by Yma Sumac
. What all these records had in common was a fascination with the island culture of the Pacific Ocean -- specifically the island of Hawaii, which had yet to become an American state when exotica was all the rage in the '50s. Eventually, Hawaii entered the union and the South Pacific craze waned, but exotica lingered into the '60s, only to resurface during the '90s as the anchor of the lounge revival.
Technicolor Paradise: Rhum Rhapsodies & Other Exotic Delights
, Numero's deep dive into exotica, appeared in 2018, 20 years after the '90s lounge craze peaked, which means it could be seen as the revival or a revival, but that's not quite right. While Technicolor Paradise
does contain its fair share of camp -- camp is baked into the genre -- Numero never winks at its audience with this triple-disc set. It's accompanied by a hefty hardcover book, tracing all of the highways and byways of exotica's history, while detailing the artists who feature on this 54-track box. None of the genre's heavy hitters are here, but that's the point of the whole enterprise: Technicolor Paradise
is designed to show how deeply exotica spread in the '50s and earliest years of the '60s. The people behind the set -- chiefly Ken Shipley
, who was assisted by Daniel Shiman
on the research and compilation side and Rob Sevier
on the production end -- achieve this goal by concentrating largely (but not entirely) on acts who recorded for obscure local labels. Often, these acts would cover exotica standards or interpolate themes to their own end, so all this music feels exceptionally familiar even if the recordings themselves are rare. Technicolor Paradise
is divided into three themes -- Daiquiri Dirges, Rhum Rhapsodies, and Mai Tai Mambos -- which helps maintain the mood while drawing subtle distinctions, such as the very slight surf rock guitars that flow throughout Mai Tai Mambos. These little details are fun but, ultimately, Technicolor Paradise
is about the big picture, serving as supporting evidence that the exotica craze was really as vast as it seemed on any number of '90s lounge reissues. Just as importantly, this music is every bit as frothy and fun as the music made by the well-known names of exotica, and that's the reason why any hep cat or kitten should get this set.