[8 December 2010]
The first things you notice about Dancing for the Cabana Code in the Land of Boo-Hoo are the beats.
Actually, the FIRST thing you notice is that title, a bit of whimsical swank that’s not surprising to anyone familiar with the output of Coati Mundi, a.k.a. Andy Hernandez, co-founder and vibraphonist of the whimsical Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band and its swanky sequel, Kid Creole and the Coconuts. From 1976 to 1990, these hepcats created an aural fairyland of big-band pop, where swinging Latin jazz rhythms, high concepts, and precious titles all rubbed their white-suited shoulders together. Mundi also released some giddy solo music during that period, including a cover of Captain Beefheart’s “Tropical Hot Dog Night” that fit the broad-brimmed concept perfectly.
Because of its rhythms, Cabana Code sounds almost nothing like that earlier music. Mundi and his collaborator E-Love have composed straight up disco beats, grounded on solid four-by-four thumps and layered with polyrhythms. Not for nothing is one song called “Dancing Disco 101”. The beats are dense, too—they really fill up the aural space. At first, the effect is monolithic, but once you get accustomed to the sound and let your ears wander into the rhythmic thicket, previously unheard elements—synth squeals, cheering crowds, congas, Mundi’s vibes and scatting—reveal themselves like exquisite rare flowers. Although apparently simple, these rhythms are impossible to fully grasp on first listen.
The words, on the other hand, are a cakewalk. For each song, Mundi takes two or three simple phrases—for example, “It’s all about the money, money”, “Me gusta”, and “When I say ‘holla’ you say ‘dolla’”—and repeats them over and over with precise comic timing. Sometimes, he recites verses, too; the one about playing fetch with his dog is darling. Mundi offers sage advice (“Do Not Brown Your Nose”) and revels in the joys of consumerism (“When I go to the mall/I feel six feet tall!”).
The songs aren’t just simple lyrically. Only “One Day We Will Pay” has any chord changes to speak of. But even a one-chord vamp like “No More Blues” builds interest by weaving goofy background chants in and out of its textures. That song, like “Wanna Go to the Mall” and a couple others, creates an irresistible “Latin disco” groove in the vein of Two Man Sound or La Flavour, decidedly non-Latino historical footnotes who nevertheless played some euphoric songs.
The main weakness of Cabana Code is that it never explodes into pure dance euphoria. Even with all the fun grooves and affable vocals, the overall effect is stately and aloof. The album never peaks. Each song thumps along on its course, as though Mundi created one perfect bar of music, looped it, and then fleshed it into a song by working rhythmic variations over and around the thumps. The resulting 11 songs are likable and easy to listen to from beginning to end, but you might not find yourself longing to hear them once they’re gone.