First issued on his own DIY label, Hipshot Records, Mike Cooper’s distinctive Rayon Hula is an experimental, ambient album that’s lo-fi and laid-back. Cooper is a British guitarist/producer whose roots lie in the U.K. R&B boom of the early 1960s. He offers copious lap steel guitar that soothes and transfixes; it colors Rayon‘s already-unearthly wash of sampled birdsong and field noises that the artist collected in monsoonal Queensland, Australia.
At Rayon Hula‘s base is evidently a tribute to exotica, a warm, provocative genre born in Hawaii, back when it “really might as well have been another planet, a distant clime ripe for exploration” (“Exotica: It Takes a Village,” Nate Chinen, 23 September 2009). In the 1950s, exotica’s founding fathers managed to incorporate non-traditional percussion instruments, jazz, and bird calls into their work, and the legendary Arthur Lyman was one such musician. Mike Cooper calls his album an homage to native Hawaiians Lyman and Ellery Chun, the latter of whom developed the “aloha shirt” in 1931 after he finished the economics program at Yale.
Snare rim shots and breezy vibes borrowed from Arthur Lyman’s catalog are looped for Rayon Hula‘s background. Cooper carefully treats these samples, augmenting the new textures with spacey effects and his guitar. “Paumalu (Sunset Beach)”, as you might have surmised, lulls all the way through — it’s as easy to get lost in as the relics in Cooper’s record crates. “Typhoon Lagoon”, however, is entrenched in venturesome, contemporary electronic music, where hisses and sample manipulation are as critically important to Rayon Hula‘s essence as the author’s unique, cherished influences.