The Manakooras are not what you think they are.
Comprised of Jeremy from The Aqualads, Ted Pilgrim, Brian and Gary from the Intoxicators, Tim from the Reverburritos and others, this is not a surf supergroup. This is an exotica group, and there's even less noticeable surf guitar than on previous releases they've done. Don't approach this like Tikiyaki Five-O, expecting surf covers of exotica, this is exotica enough that the surf musicians are really my only excuse for reviewing it. It helps that it's really good too.
But they are still not what you think they are. It took a few listens and basically brainstorming a review before it hit me what they were really doing here. I was going to of course mention Lyman, Baxter, Denny... and then realized that it didn't really sound like them. The answer was hiding in plain sight, front-and-center playing melody. Hawaiian steel guitar. It's absolutely the focus on this record and my world was a little shaken when I realized that steel was not really a facet of exotica. Exotica existed alongside Hawaiian records, both of the real and nashville variety, so much so that they occupy the same space in my brain, but there's a line between the two that is rarely crossed.
I messaged Jeremy about this. Surely I was going crazy. His exotica knowledge almost certainly outmatches mine. I'll just paste his response:
Yea Hunter! This is my whole revelation! So basically I was playing surf and I was like man I love Exotica so I guess it’s time to learn steel guitar because I thought they were the same thing. But on starting to study and learn, all the songs were Hawaiian and I began to notice a huge distinction in the songs. There weren’t any of the mysterious exotic songs I wanted.
It almost feels like the Mandela effect. And the cognitive dissonance is not helped by the fact that it feels so natural here. The sweet, swooning sound of steel dovetails perfectly into the lush mystery of exotica, and that even makes sense since these genres were aiming for the exact same audience. That's not to say that this is a unique scientific breakthrough. Jeremy himself went on to tell me about the vintage group The Surfmen and I have little doubt that other groups have married the two, perhaps even unwittingly.
Accepting this, as is pretty easy to do, let's talk about some songs.
"Lujon" absolutely melts me upon listening. It's a Henry Mancini cover, and a lot of it is very similar, including staple exotica percussion (which sounds reductive but I don't know the names of the instruments), but the melody has been changed from strings to steel and it truly takes it to another level.
That's followed by "The Arabian Knight", a cover of Jerry and the Catalinas (I'm just googling this as I go, I wasn't familiar with this track). The spirit of the original is vastly expanded upon, with a cavernous boom from drums and steel guitar screams. So much mystery and danger.
"Malibu Bumshack" is an original I believe, and is one of the most surfy tracks, letting some nice drippy guitar take much of the melodic duties and even getting a solo in. It's a low-key and fun at once, nice campfire vibes.
Despite my focus on some of these dark and mysterious tracks, there's a lot of upbeat stuff as well. Their take on "Quiet Village" is actually pretty danceable and fun. But man is this thing just dripping with mood, and even for a particularly moody genre. Maybe some exotica purists need strings and vibes, but if the point of the genre is to take you away to another place, then this does so more than just about anything I've heard in the genre.
It's on bandcamp and vinyl through hi-tide, and I feel like you gotta do the vinyl on this one.