Exploring New Sounds In Stereo
I kept seeing the name pop up in alt-rock magazines like Spin and CMJ in 1995. I wasn’t sure how the damn name was pronounced, and I had no idea what I was in for until I came across the Bar/None CD compilation that had basically started the craze for the man’s recordings, Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music. All it took was a listen or two to understand everything.
Juan Garcia Esquivel was a Mexican-born bandleader and keyboardist – conservatory trained and a Juilliard alumnus, yet – who got his post-college education by having to write arrangements on the spot for a Mexican TV program. A single album deal with the Mexican auxiliary of RCA Records led to Esquivel being invited to RCA proper to record a similar album, Other Sounds, Other Worlds, for their Living Stereo series. The single five-hour session wound up ending with enough material to complete two albums, the second of which Esquivel and a small combo improvised during the last hour and a half of the session. This apparently impressed RCA enough to keep Esquivel on their roster, knocking out a series of albums that took full advantage of both Esquivel’s fertile musical mind and the growing trend toward stereo recording – of which RCA Victor Records was a hardcore proponent of. The “space age bachelor pad music” tag came about because records like this were the kind that people – especially bachelors that had enough disposable income to invest into the best stereo equipment of the time – used to show off their gear.
While “easy listening” is what Esquivel’s albums were initially intended to be filed under, this isn’t exactly the kind of music you’d be hearing in a doctor’s office. Horns blare, instruments pan all over the place… this was a headphone-ready album long before consumer-grade stereo headphones became a reality, let alone commonplace.
Although “space-age pop” and “exotica” have been the most bandied-about terms to describe Esquivel’s music since his catalog’s revival in the mid-90′s, a more appropriate term has cropped up in recent years: Loungecore! That fits like a glove because Esquivel was a hardcore explorer of music and sound. He fit right in with the recording techniques of the day, but he was otherwise ahead of his fucking time – even when he became a bigger household name less then 30 years after he recorded his final RCA album. He even lamented in his famous RESearch interview that he wished he had access to the instruments (synthesizers and samplers) and recording techniques (digital recording) of the modern era when he was recording his now-classic albums.
A lot of Esquivel enthusiasts have their ideas of which Esquivel album is his most definitive or most representative. Obviously novices should search out the Space Age Bachelor Pad Music compilation, but as far as his original studio albums should be concerned, my first choice would be Exploring New Sounds In Stereo.
Listening to this album – or any of his studio albums or compilations, for that matter – always amazes me given all of the circumstances he was surrounded with. He recorded everything live in the studio – there was no overdubbing. What sounds like Moog synthesizers on some tracks are far from that, as they didn’t exist – they’re actually either other early electronic keyboards like the Ondoline, or a set of bongos tuned to individual pitches that one would be forgiven for believing to be a sampling keyboard playing a bongo sound.
A few years ago, this album was released on 180gram vinyl with replica RCA Victor labels of the day by a label called Speakers Corner (which I presently have and which I have derived a needle drop of the album from), and not long after Bar/None had put out two Esquivel comps, they compiled some of his other albums onto 2 for 1 CDs, pairing this album along with Strings Aflame. Presently, much of his studio output is presently on iTunes, Spotify, and elsewhere, but I’m iffy as to whether the issuers are authorized by Sony Music (the present owners of the RCA back catalog) or if the master rights reverted to Esquivel’s estate, or there is another circumstance entirely – if anyone knows, I’d like to hear from them.