Under normal circumstances, I consider turning to a discussion of the weather to be a sign that conversation has failed. There are exceptions of course, for extreme circumstances, but by and large if you are making small talk about the weather with someone then it’s bets to cut your losses and move on. Perhaps study up on a few more interesting topics for your next chance encounter. I also generally try to avoid putting a specific time stamp on the date on which something was written for Teleport City, as it rarely makes sense years or even weeks removed from that date. However, today in New York City it is almost twenty degrees. So to warm up, not only am I indulging in this brief time-stamped discussion of the weather, but I thought it was an appropriate day to prepare ourselves for breezy summer holidays. Now, whether you are driving along the Amalfi Coast in a Ferrari Daytona, hopping a jetliner to Monaco, or setting out to map a hitherto unexplored tributary of the Amazon River equipped with nothing but a machete, everyone knows the single most important thing to prepare before departure is your soundtrack. So we offer up to you some suggestions that blend both vintage and modern interpretations of music that will prepare you for whatever may occupy you during your warmer days.
Kava Kon — Departure Exotica
Modern interpretations of classic exotica and lounge aren’t hard to find, though it is hard to find ones that are as good as the original source material. Many of them are either too modern and electronic-y (which is why acts like Tipsy and Ursula 1000 never quite clicked with me) or it’s just surf guitar (good or bad) with loungy cover art. Kavan Kon, however, strike just the right balance between vintage exotica a la Les Baxter and Martin Denny and more modern downtempo grooves, managing to make the two styles work in perfect harmony. Swank and laid back, this is perfect jungle hut and thatched-roof beach bar music. Only one song — “Pyramid Point” — veers too closely into the realm of Hotel Costes type new lounge, but I can deal with that. You need something on your album to inspire the Russian girl in the slinky mini-dress to get up and dance with you, after all.
Reverb Syndicate — Operation Jet Set
Reverb Syndicate deliver pretty standard modern surf guitar music, influenced as is the usual case by everything from science fiction to spy movies to spaghetti westerns. I usually associate “jet set” with a lighter, breezier sort of music, but Operation Jet Set provides a pretty good soundtrack for cruising the more remote stretches of Route 66 or the American southwest (every bit as worthwhile as Monaco). Good music to spy to, so long as you don’t mind being outed as a spy by all the disembodied spy music following you around. Most of it is pretty upbeat, solid if unspectacular. Not essential listening, but every holiday can use a little surf guitar, and The Reverb Syndicate will get the job done for you.
Ultra-Lounge — Jet Set Swingers!
The venerable Ultra-Lounge series on which so many of us spent so many dollars back at the turn of the century has been revived! The volume Jet Set Swingers! is, obviously, tailor made for our purposes here, collecting fifteen classic lounge, jazz, and vocal tracks paying tribute to jet setting international travel. It’s snappy stuff, opening with Nat King Cole’s “Madrid” and ending somewhere in the West Indies with Judy Garland (who hasn’t had a weekend like that?). The tone is consistently upbeat and peppy — this vacation is nothing but fun, frolic, and champagne with no time for soul-searching or ennui. The Ultra-Lounge series has proven to be the “big gun” of American cocktail collections, and this is one of my favorites in the series. Perfect for sipping drinks, dancing, and passing the time in a space age airport departure lounge.
Tikiyaki Orchestra — Swinging Sounds for the Jungle Jetset!
Another nouveau lounge act that gets all the notes right. They meander smoothly between modern interpretations of the Martin Denny exotica sound and Hammond organ driven grooves, even throwing in the occasional theremin. All very cool and laid back. Seriously unserious hammock music for drinking out of a coconut on the porch of your beach-front bungalow in Bali. Like the masters from whom they draw inspiration, Tikiyaki Orchestra are obsessed with both Polynesia and that particularly 1960s Western interpretation of the Far East. If you’re an exotica purist but still want to branch out into more recent attempts, then this is the music for you. There’s not much intrusion of modern beats or electronics into the music. This is about as pure an interpretation of classic exotica as you’re likely to find from a current musical group.
It’s entirely possible that these three volumes of classic jet setting grooves are not entirely legitimate in the legal sense. But you can’t always worry about what is and isn’t legal. In fact, you should rarely worry about what is and isn’t legal, right? And in terms of pure breezy fun, you’re going to have a hard time beating this collection of swanky songs from around the world. Volume one opens with Cordara Orchestra’s classic easy listening relaxer “Jet Society,” and from there we’re being serenaded on our trans-global jaunt by everyone from Astrud Gilberto to Ennio Morricone to Ryoko Moriyama. Truly something for every situation: the cocktail lounge, the sports car, the airport, and of course, le boudoir. Gets extra points for including Alan Hawkshaw’s “Girl in a Sportscar,” possibly the greatest driving song ever.
Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica — Third River Rangoon
More modern interpretation of exotica, falling somewhere between the exotica-meets-electronica of Kava Kona and the straight-forward vintage approach of Tikiyaki Orchestra. Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica is less about Polynesia and more about the “mysterious East,” with a lot of grooves inspired by lounge interpretations of the Easts both Far and Middle. There’s a good chance a couple of these tracks will summon a belly dancer. Watch out, though, because it might also summon an arm emerging from behind a stage curtain to fling a stiletto at you. Luckily, your subsequent chase of the assassin through the labyrinthine streets of The Casbah will have the perfect soundtrack as long as you keep this playing. The perfect album for slim-cut suits, Wayfarers, and fezzes.
Frank Sinatra — Come Fly With Me
Despite what people might guess, I’m not actually the world’s biggest Sinatra fan. Even within the ranks of the Rat Pack, I place him below both Sammy and my personal favorite, Dean Martin. It’s not that I have anything against Sinatra, at least not the way my Grandpa Harley does (he says Sinatra stayed home and hit on women while real men went off to fight World War II). It’s just that Sinatra doesn’t always fully reel me in. But when he does, boy does it work, and there’s no disputing, at least to my ears, that Come Fly With Me is maybe the ultimate jet-setting album. It’s basically a concept album, with that concept being you have an awful lot of money, free time, and access to very fine (but not the very finest — there’s a lot to be said for the romantic aspect of things that are ever so slightly faded around the edges) hotels, bars, and cameras. Sinatra keeps it light and breezy most of the time as he takes you on a swingin’ tour of the globe’s most romantic and thrilling locations. Even if you’re lukewarm on Ol’ Blue Eyes, this album is essential.