Señor Coconut and his Orchestra
uch like Martin Denny’s move to Hawaii, Uwe Schmidt’s relocation to Chile in 1997 changed his musical output irrevocably. While many of the mid-1990s guises you could find Schmidt recording techno (experimental and otherwise) under still live on, nowadays Schmidt’s output is defined by his Senor Coconut alias. The project has been a mixed affair: while the Kraftwerk covers record (El Baile Alemán) succeeded brilliantly, the recent album of various covers (Fiesta Songs, including “Smoke on the Water,” among others) seemed to flounder without a unifying idea behind the process.
Most times it’s the other way around: artists adhering so closely to a concept that it kills a record. But Schmidt thrives in such situations, as evidenced by Yellow Fever, his newest tribute record to the famed Japanese electronic group Yellow Magic Orchestra. Why YMO? Martin Denny might have something to do with it. YMO essentially started as a way to bring together synthesizers with Denny’s brand of exotica and folk. Hell, the group even covered Denny’s “Firecracker” on their self-titled debut LP (also found here). By bringing these songs to an imagined future, YMO further displaced a music that sought to create imagined landscapes. Now, Schmidt goes one step sideways and turns it all into latin-electro.
More so than El Baile Alemán, Yellow Fever depends on backstory for its enjoyment. That’s because Schmidt has gone the route of YMO’s Xì Multiplies and included interstitial material between each track. Lasting usually no longer than thirty seconds, they serve to remind the listener of the electronics that have gone into making this record. Samples are strewn, voices are scattered, beats are cut-up, all for the same purpose that YMO originally utilized them: to piss the listener off. It’s a nice touch, but one you wish you could delete from the CD’s index somehow after a listen.
In between those moments, we get the album proper: ten songs of impeccably arranged and produced exotica. “The Madmen” is a highlight, with vocals contributed by none other than the original songwriter Haruomi Hosono (each YMO member contributes at some point), while “Rydeem” crucially picks up the pace near the disc’s end. The aforementioned “Firecracker” sounds more like the Denny classic than the YMO version, oddly enough. The only misstep might be the sedate “Ongaku,” which seems to float along at a too-languid pace. But that’s the type of qualm that disregards the fact that someone is bothering to cover “Ongaku” at all. For that much, we can all be thankful.
Thankful is probably the right word to use when describing something like Yellow Fever. Everyone’s probably happy that something like it exists, but most will never bother to listen, or even think, about what’s going on here. It’s a shame: underneath the surface kitsch of latin electronica covers are the same third world/first world issues brought up by YMO in the early 1980s, as well as the underlying tension of an outsider recreating a style so completely that it’s often indistinguishable from its original incarnation. But, then again, when the results go down this smoothly there’s usually little reason to do so.