May 19, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Combustible Edison

In the cocktail nation that was the lounge and exotica revival there is one musical combo that stands head and theremin above not only today's host of loungecore groups, but often ahead of many orginal lounge/exotica players from the 50s and 60s, and the 90s revival. Combustible Edison has a sound that is like heaven on earth. It is smooth like the best cocktail you've ever had, but has just a hint of a bite, enough to let you know this is serious music. The exotic flavors that flow through their arrangements are different enough to entice, yet somehow familiar in a way that sooths the ear. Add to that the lilting vocals of Miss Lilly and you have some of the suavest lounge sounds around.

Their first full length album, 1995's I, Swinger, was a smashing success and signalled the maturation of the cocktail nation into a full-fledged, nation wide, subculture. The album was so fluid that it hardly seemed as if it weren't 12 different songs, but instead one joyous celebration of all the sounds that cool and strange jazz should be. From the hip, swinging bounce of the "Millionaires Holiday", to the Martin Dennyesque "Breakfast at Dennys", and their homage to spy tunes, aptly titled "Spy vs. Spy". All the great loungemeisters can be heard at times throughout Combustible Edison's work. There's an especially nice Les Baxter like piece, "The Veldt", that is the perfect accompaniment to a martini as the sun goes down. Enjoy the album with a chilled cocktail, on your lanai, at sundown during the splendorous May days of mid-spring. For the truly suave, nothing else can compare.

The groups sophomore release, Schizophonic! (1996), picked up where I, Swinger left off. The smooth vibes that so characterized the first album are again spread throughout, but with a little less swing and a little more quirk. Strange sounds seem to have multiplied on Schizophonic!, giving it an otherworldly feel that was less pronounced on I, Swinger. In addition to all that, Schizophonic! also seems to me more mod, more 60s in its tone and style. "The Checkered Flag", is as cool a 60s mod sounding song as anything Combustible Edison ever did. Add to that the super smooth "Bluebeard", the sophisticated, cocktail evoking "Mudhead", and the organ-jazz and vibraphone sound of "Short Double Latte" and you've got a truly mod recording that any lover of Georgie Fame, Les Baxter or James Taylor Quartet will go crazy over. Even with all of that, the album somehow doesn't quite equal I, Swinger for me. Even when I find myself enjoying it, next thing I know I'm putting I, Swinger on as soon as Schizophonic! is over and setting the CD player to repeat.

Finally, Combustible Edison released their third full-length CD, The Impossible World. in 1998. It is lush, lush, lush. The songs are all tight, expertly produced, and as smooth as silk. Miss Lilly's voice is at it's husky, sensual best, and seems to float effortlessly just above the music itself. By far the most accomplished of the band's recordings, The Impossible World is much more exotic and space-age sounding, while at the same time hinting at a sort of 90s-technojazz-lounge sound. "Laura's Aura" is especially entrancing, with a synchopated backbeat that drives the whole thing along while Miss Lilly weaves her voice through the perfect gaps in the arrangement. There's a feel here of more modern loungish sounds as heard in the influencce of such as Portishead and Stereolab on "Pink Victim". Not to get to far from the classic easy-jazz, lounge sound, "Dior" is a beautiful tune that nicely slows the tempo of the CD and acts a reminder that Combustible Edison is grounded in the smooth sounds of yesteryear as much as they are moving into the next century's lounge. Both "Cat O'Nine Tails" and "20th Century" are typical -- and classic -- tracks that could have fit on either of the previous releases. Probably my favorite is the Mancini-like "Mr. Pushkin Came To Shove" that seemed to hit me just right. The pace of the CD is fast, but is often broken by long silent holes between tracks that can be somewhat annoying. Still, the album moves right along combining the best elements of both of Combustible Edison's first two outings. This is lounge music worthy of the moniker. You will be greatly rewarded for years to come by adding any of these to your collection.

Combustible Edison -- Checkered Flag

Combustible Edison -- Pink Victim

Combustible Edison -- Vertigogo (From Quentin Tarantino's Four Rooms)