Musicians like Lee Hazlewood rode an interesting wave during the late 60s, when midlife addled moms and dads, eager not to be left behind by the caprices of a youth driven culture, started to raid their children’s record collections. This opened the opportunity for the creation of an adult oriented version of those troublesome youngsters’ music, a sort of easy listening psychedelia exemplified by Hazlewood collaborations with Nancy Sinatra like “Some Velvet Morning” and “Sand”. Also exemplary of this sound is the Hazlewood produced 1968 album by Honey Ltd., which, thanks to Light in the Attic records, is only now receiving its first wide release.
When I first moved to New York some fifteen years ago, I spent a lot of time (and even more money) buying records at Mondo Kim’s on St. Marks and Other Music on East 4th. Among the things I stumbled across at those shops and got addicted to was music released by a label called Sublime Frequencies, which plumbed the most obscure corners of Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa for classic and contemporary pop music. Being the fiend I am for old music from Asia, it was a foregone conclusion that collections of 50s-80s pop music from places like Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and so forth were going to delight me. But what was even more interesting than those were the collections of music from countries that have been traditionally off-limits to most Americans — Myanmar, Shan Province, North Korea — or are struggling to emerge from decades of oppression and violence, like Cambodia. So I thought, even though we want to take the full Sublime Frequencies tour, we’d start in those mysterious, forbidden corners of Asia.
Dracula’s Music Cabinet was part of a wave of horror-themed novelty albums released in Germany during the late 60s and early 70s, all of which were seemingly inspired by the very type of horror films that Europe was producing at the time, as best exemplified by the work of our own beloved Jess Franco. The liner notes to UK Label Finders Keepers’ recent CD reissue of the album refer to it as a soundtrack to a nonexistent film, which is pretty much right on the money. Like the soundtracks to many Euro-horror films from the 60s, much of the music on Music Cabinet consists of vaguely psychedelic lounge jazz that in itself doesn’t suggest any traditional kind of horror ambiance at all.
Elsewhere, Cabinet‘s tunes veer toward the sort of jaunty, brass-heavy adventure themes that connoisseurs might associate with the work of Peter Thomas, and, with a track titled “The Fire-Dragon of Hong Kong”, even detour into orientalism. In other words, in a musical sense, the record is thematically all over the map, but all the same might serve as fitting accompaniment to the casual nudity and furtive, drug benumbed stabs at narrative coherence typical of those films that putatively inspired it.
However, where Cabinet‘s makers – session player and library music composer Heribert Thusek, working for hire with radio comedian Horst Ackerman under the name The Vampires of Dartmoore – really put an effort into driving their concept home is in their employment of sound effects and voice, um, artistry. This consists not only of library effects, but also seemingly everything the pair could find in the tool shed or pantry, all layered over the musical tracks alongside an assortment of eccentric vocalizations. This practice leads to creations like the album’s opening cut, “The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sex”, which, if I had to assign a narrative to it, I’d describe as the sound of a man having his legs sawed off in a strip club, and perhaps liking it.
Of course, the two eventually end up going a bit off topic in their use of sound effects, as well. I really couldn’t tell you what, for instance, is meant to be so scary about the sound of cellophane rustling, or the frequent appearance of something that sounds like an electric pencil sharpener – or, for that matter, why a song titled “Dance of the Vampires” would prominently feature a recurring “BOI-OI-OINNG!” sound. Fortunately, there are enough screams and sounds of people falling down stairs or being shot sprinkled throughout to reign us back into Haunted House territory, and by the time we get to the closing cut of the album proper, “Frankenstein Greets Alpha 7″, we’re also treated to the sound of an out-of-control Theremin accompanied by a heavily accented voice shouting “Frankenstein!” at us.
Dracula’s Music Cabinet makes for some pretty hilarious listening, though its reliance on audio gimmickry might somewhat limit its time on your iPod. Many of the underlying musical compositions are plenty enjoyable on their own, and, while it’s all the random moaning and shouting and pencil sharpening that gives the record its uniqueness, it takes a very specific sort to want to subject themselves to repeated listens. If that’s you, Finders Keepers has done a nice job of presenting this oddity, including a couple of bonus tracks from an unreleased project from the same crew called “Petting Party” (mainly more of the same, but with orgasmic moans replacing the screams) and liner notes that, though slight, are plenty informative when not drenched in hipsterisms to the point of being incomprehensible. Check it out.