October 17, 2014
Not such a leap of faith, the highly congruous dubbed-up rework of the critically acclaimed offerings from West African and Saharan music imprint Glitterbeat, transfers the label’s original roster of atavistic desert blues, griot and inner city poly-rhythmic rock into an experimental new dimension. However transformed, the original roots of each song still remain: it’s the destination that has changed.
Glitterbeat’s inaugural release back in 2013 showcased the Malian Afro-rock chops of, relative newcomer, Ben Zabo. His Démocratie EP would feature a number of dub overhauls from Berlin producer Mark Ernestus. Laying down the genius Techno vibes of the much-venerated in electronic music circles, Basic Channel project and avant-roots-dub Rhythm And Sound with his partner Moritz von Oswald, Ernestus garnered the jaunty rock of Zabo with a resonating field of floating dub, infinite echoing melodica and Jah Rastafari horns on his ‘Danna’ and ‘Wari Vo’ tracks. Both included on this compilation and laying down the inspiration for a host of similar remixes, the ancestral paths of music conjoin once again, as reggae and dub return to Africa via the electronic developments and cross-pollinated music scenes of Europe.
Zabo’s music, lending itself well to these adroit treatments, is granted the lion’s share with a quartet of tracks; including the crisp percussive led, hypnotic, tribal trance Healing Remix take, by Dusseldorf musician Harmonius Thelonuis of Zabo staple, Danna, and the echo-y ricochet shot snare and reverb deep chorus atavistic voiced Tamana Dub of ‘Na Yafa’ by Glitterbeat’s very own co-owner, stalwart producer and artist, Chris Eckman (sporting the Studio Zuma moniker he has used to produce work in the past and present by Zabo, Tamikrest and Lobi Traoré).
Joining Zabo on this, sometimes kosmiche style, adventure, the transcendental Tuareg blues merchants Tamikrest see their ‘Itous’ signature desert-caravan rock style taken deeper into the hallucinatory shimmering sun by famed reggae producer Dennis Bovell. Renowned for his immersive early days with the soundsystem culture of South London, and for producing The Slits, The Pop Group and Orange Juice, Bovell must have relished the challenge of imbuing the already swaying roots-y grooves of his Nomad subjects with some vaporous prowling.
Talking of The Pop Group, the Bristol anti-pop group’s founding vocalist/lyricist, Mark Stewart is let loose on Dirtmusic’s wasteland blues odyssey ‘Smokin’ Bowl’. Accorded the appropriate Redemption Remix title, Stewart turns the original’s gentler meditative tones into something more menacing: Nick Cave stalking the arable wastelands of a Malian dustbowl. Mischievously jarring the listener with ridiculous laser effects, speeded up tape samples and moody passages of washed away backing tracks – the ghosts of guitar and percussion heard through the vocalist’s headphones -, a sleigh bell shaking beat seeps in out of nowhere in an attempt to inject some semblance of rhythm. The most avant-garde remix of all, Stewart’s free reign pulls the subject apart, yet somehow still keeps the meandering feel from falling apart into a mess.
Making our ‘choice album list’ of 2013, the North Malian legend Samba Touré’s diaphanously soulful Albala moved on from the more amiable, genial majesty of his earlier albums, to protest in the most eloquently played manner at the insurgent take-over of his country. From that album, the nimble-fingered delta blues of ‘Ayé Go Mila’ is transformed into a languorous drift over the sands; into an esoteric direction that takes reggae on a camel ride through the spoilt by conflict and fear, Mali landscape. Bovell on duty again, makes it sound somehow alien: from another plain.
A much more dramatic take, the ‘multidimensional’ music project Schneider TM – a moniker used by Berlin-based musician Dirk Dresselhaus – puts Touré’s vocals through a robotic/Jew’s harp like vocoder, and takes the backing into orbit on a strange kosmiche dub trip on his Cockpit Dub version of ‘Be Ki Don’.
Featured on the Monolith Cocktail back in 2010, the hyper, Casio electro, kitsch Shangaan phenomenon of South Africa, took the previously indigenous forms of kwaito and Tsonga disco and mixed them with folk traditions, house and dance music to produce what sounded like a speeded up dose of exotic hardcore rave. Growing far beyond its borders, the progenitor of that genre, Nozinja, has made it big and is now arguably the country’s most important electronic pioneer. He has since been lavished praise by such electronic luminaries as The Knife, Caribou and Actress, and has now been signed to Warp (an album due for releases in the Autumn). Here he turns the sonorous, far reaching majestic vocals of Malian vocalist, Aminata Wassidjé Traoré, from Timbuktu ancestral longing into a sweet, dusty trail, exotic disco. Rising from behind the, sometimes naïve sounding, cheery programmed rhythm section, dry ice induced synth chords create a dreamy experience.
This Mali showcase wouldn’t be complete without the late mystical ‘Bambara bluesman’, Lobi Traoré, whose repetitive flange delays create a magical pulse, pitched somewhere in between Hendrix, Michael Rother and Angus Young. Another firm favourite of ours, his posthumous Bamako Nights: Live At Bar Bozo 1995 album was in every sense, electrifying and legendary. Adding a lo fi cyclonic break beat to the Traoré’s ‘Back Talk’, British-Ghanaian visual and musical artist (exhibiting work in the Tate Modern, Documenta in Kassel, Bokoor African Popular Music Archives Foundation in Accra), Larry Achiampong infuses the Mali blues with his own mix of abstract Hip Hop and high life to create a looping, hypnotic atmospheric collage of sound.
The Caribbean comes to Mali; Glitterbeat: Dubs & Versions I is a refreshing, and successful, take on the often-celebrated eclectic desert music of the region – very much under threat in recent times. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that reggae and its scion dub can so easily and convincingly entwine itself with West Africa’s ancestral roots.
October 13, 2014
One still resides there the other has just recently been ceremoniously deported from there, but our Istanbul natives Sean Bw Parker and Ayfer Simms are brought together once again in spirit, with this mini post of reviews.
Ayfer articulates the shoegaze reverberating visions of Postcode, whilst Sean meditates on NFL3‘s soundscapes and imagines two titans of contemporary, digital glitch-addled avant-gardism, coming to blows over who’s the most disenfranchised maverick; yes Sean mischievously reviews the new Aphex Twin and Thom Yorke in his inimitable style.
NFL3 ‘Pink Renaissance’ (Prohibited Records) 6th October 2014
The sound of instrumental experimentation on urban/francophone overdrive, NLF3 – putting out records for fifteen years – thus drop their latest, Pink Renaissance. If Air were less bothered by money and having hit singles, they might have been chained to a metro train and circle Paris for a month while listening to Steve Reich on repeat…and here we would be.
No review of an ambient/musique concrete album is admissible without mentioning the Godfather Of Directionless Sound himself, Brian Eno. Yes, Pink Renaissance positively reeks of him – well he did lay the foundations – and his wonderful ‘Making Space’ is a useful counterpoint in reference to standout track ‘The Stellar Friendship’.
The ‘Hardcore Air’ point definitely works though – NLF3 are creatures of melody for sure, and the different lines twist and turn through each other, creating a 21st century baroque all of their own making – with the occasional, jaunty ‘ooh aah’s tossed about for good measure. Music for music’s sake is alive and well it seems – and long may it remain so.
Postcode ‘Year Of The Zebra – Part One’ (Small Bear Records)
An upbeat and cheeky vocalist confidently leads the six-tracked “experimental” indie rock polyphony. Reminiscent of the Hole era, while equally wild and carefree as Courtney Love’s sound and particularly vocals, Postcode’s tracks are more humble and less insurgent in many ways. The most charmingly imperfect vocals of the lead singer offers a “feel good” vibe, a territory of exploration with an obvious fun mindset. While the music is good, it is probably the vocals that render these six tracks original as if driven by the witty personality of that voice, wandering and open to possibilities. ‘Blue Fluff’ is almost theatrical, bright and amusing, ‘Erocarbez’ is a short musical track with, and perhaps, “reversed” guitars effects, and intriguing fast beat music gets the chance to shine on its own.
The first track, ‘Yggdrasil’ with its title borrowed from the 13th century mythology offers the perfect example of intertwined vocals, ample guitar effects and an appealing melody. The lyrics are sometimes eaten by the general tempo but phrases like “today I am leaving you” or references to the mischief of politicians, sets the tone to a rebel attitude.
Classical in many ways of the indie bands from the 90s, Postcode show a clear impulsion to experiment, test the soil and combine a genre they are fond off with other unknown, uncharted sounds, ways of singing and use of instruments.
‘Letting Go’ is, a slow guitar and a slightly twisted vocal tune which has an almost self-derisory edge to it, while the last track ‘Boardwalk’ offers a darker face with a general tone that blends deeper into the distant instrumental atmosphere.
It is very appropriately that this EP is called “part 1”, as one has the feeling that yet another dimension will be added to the parts to come. A band boiling with ideas and energy, we are hoping they keep that dash alive for the subsequent endeavor.
Aphex Twin and Thom Yorke Discuss Their New Albums
(Richard D James and Thom Yorke are sitting outside a cafe by Exeter Cathedral green, sipping cappuccinos under a Coca Cola umbrella. Yorke is puffing on an electronic cigarette with a 5 year old copy of Mojo open in front of him, while James is smoking a pipe while reading Bret Easton Ellis’ ‘American Psycho’ on his ipad. They are both sullen behind their massive fringes, and in duffel coats despite the hot Devonshire sunshine)
Thom Yorke: ‘What’s with those song titles man? I mean, ‘fz pseudotimestretch+e+3’, are you really sure?’
Richard D James: (glowering heavier behind fringe) ‘It’s mysterious, innit. And that’s what the file names were recorded as on my laptop. Poetic titles are very nineties, imo’
TY: ‘Did you actually just say ‘imo’ as an abbreviation? I thought you could only do that in writing, because you were lazy and didn’t like clichés, like. Simples’
RDJ: ‘Did you just waggle your index fingers in the air while you said ‘imo’? Isn’t that too a bit clichéd? Anyway, how do you get your tracks to sound so much like Jean Michel Jarre and Scott Walker jamming with a colony of amplified ants being played in the middle of the night from the next room?’
TY: ‘Well thank you, thank you. I just want to push the envelope, try doing things a bit differently, you know’
RDJ: ‘So why has everything you’ve been involved with sounded the same since ‘Hail To The Thief’ then?’
TY: ‘Oh you heard that? I didn’t imagine they had any HMVs left in Cornwall’
RDJ: ‘Course we do! Anyway I bought it at Our Price in Bristol. Hang on, no I didn’t, I got it for free off Bit Torrent last week when I knew I was going to meet you’
TY: ‘Um, glad to hear that. I wonder how on ‘syro u473t8+e (piezoluminescence mix)’, and on all the other tracks to be honest, you manage to make a dishwasher falling down the staircase of a gothic mansion in 9/7 time recorded with a barely earthed microphone sound, well, so hypnotic?’
RDJ: ‘It’s mysterious, innit. Got any tobacco?’
TY: ‘Sorry, no time. Got to go and meet Chris Cunningham to talk about a video for ‘The Mother Lode’
RDJ: ‘You what? Fucking little bitch, I’m gonna kill him…you first though’
(James launches himself across the table at Yorke, who is bowled over backwards, smashing his skull on the cathedral steps. James freezes, looks around quickly then sprints off into the Exeter backstreets. From around the corner of the cafe, Chris Cunningham quietly switches off his iphone camera and walks away.)
October 10, 2014
Breaking with convention yet again, this addition of ‘tickling our fancy’ includes a couple of album reviews alongside the usual eclectic array of singles, EPs and tracks that have rung the loudest in our ears during the last few weeks.
Our motley and sometimes refined collection includes the following ‘choice’ selections: Aphex Twin, Sky Records Kollection 1 Compilation (Chosen by former Stereolab member Tim Gane), Lisa Alma, Phil The Tremolo King, Joan Of Arse, Chirping, Ceri James and Location Baked.
Aphex Twin ‘Syro’ (Warp) Released 19th September 2014.
Starring through the ‘polygon window’, taking stock and encouraged by the interest in a prized unreleased test pressing of his fabled mid-90s Caustic Window album earlier this year – that went on sale for an initial sum of £8,050, before a group of lively enthusiast cut a deal via Kickstarter to release it to a wider circle of fans – Richard D James has decided that now would be a good time to release the abundance of material he’s been sitting on for the last few years: if an interview he conducted a few years ago, and since repeated, are true, there are at least another six finished albums waiting in the wings.
Vaporously unfurling the Aphex Twin banner, the less than concomitant collection of ideas, both disjointed in theme and the years recorded, Syco is a strange album indeed. Codified and released using the usual mischievous campaigning, this 12-track suite is, as the nuanced advertising may have suggested, a far subtler affair. Compared to what I would call, the juvenile shenanigans of ‘Window Licker’ and the demonic buffoonery of his more industrial scale heavy mental recordings, Syco is both articulate and sensible. Perhaps the hordes of imitators and dedicated followers have finally caught up with James after a twenty-five year head start or maybe the electronic pioneer, nee often knighted as a genius, no longer feels the need to up the ante by hurtling off into a technological future that hasn’t been invented yet, but this feels like an almost nostalgic exercise. References throughout recall those already alluded to Polygon and Caustic Window days, with some gestures made towards the less outrageous inaugural Analogue Bubblebath EPs and some of the more delicate somber piano moments from Drukqs (the album even finishes on a resonating romantic picturesque proto-Drukqs classical sound piece, ‘aisatana ’.
But there are also nods towards his peers – far too many to even bother mentioning – who imbue the contemporary resurrection compositions with the spirit that first morphed the deep house, acid and ambient blueprints of the later 80s into something even more layered and intelligent (from label soul mates and British electronic music survivors, Autechre, to Detroit producer Kenny Larkin).
Lacking a real bombastic or inventive stand out, James turns soulful on the album’s leading track, ‘’mini pops 67′. Beautifully crafted it starts out with the most sophisticated android techno sounds and slowly unravels its stirring melodic Chicago house lament.
Beautifully crafted it starts out with the most sophisticated android techno sounds and slowly unravels its stirring melodic Chicago house lament.
Spitting out glitches left, right and center, and bouncing along attentively to skipping beats and the family’s passing conversational vocal contributions, James takes time to demonstrate his depth and breadth, distorting and shaping jungle, electro, acid, intelligent techno and even garage to his whim.
Oddities abound, ‘180db_’ manipulates siren call new jack house into some rave era repetitive breakbeat, and ‘syro u473t8+e[141.98][piezoluminescence mix]’ is weird sporadic synth soundtrack to some disturbed futuristic dystopia.
Hardly considered a save bet, and I’m being perhaps a little disingenuous, but for those familiar with the James legacy this latest excursion travels sideways rather than forward – a reworking of his greatest synchs and ingenious sounds. For a generation weaned on cheap software, in a digital climate in which it’s cooler to not be a musician than it is to be one (cheapened technology so everyone can dabble and releases whatever they want as there is always, no matter how small, some audience out there online), Syco will hopefully sound unique enough to introduce the Cornish progenitor of experimental electronica to a new audience. Otherwise, this latest collection reinforces James’ talent and shows he can literally chuck this material out at will. Most composers of course would kill to sound so comfortably sophisticated and appealing whilst still remaining edgy.
Various Artists ‘Sky Records Compiled By Tim Gane: Kollektion 01’ (Bureau B) Released 26th September 2014.
Guilty as charged for hotwiring the Kosmiche rocket ship, Tim Gane and the outfit he will be most remembered for being part of, Stereolab, fondly replicated the Teutonic sound for their own diaphanous and sunnier kitsch misadventures. Let loose in the Sky Records archive, Gane has been tasked with compiling a choice list of tracks highlighting the German label’s sometimes overlooked and lesser known synth music mavericks.
Instigated by Günter Körber in 1975 after leaving Metronome Musik, a subsidiary of the infamous Krautrock pioneering Brain label, Sky would eventually see many of those artists join the newly created sanctuary for electronic and experimental ‘ksomiche’ music. The duo of celestial, peregrination bound travellers, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius, alongside later convert Michael Rother, would all move over to Körber’s new enterprise from Brain. And it is this duo who dominate the album – no surprise, as Moebius and Roedelius were both highly prolific when either together, in collaboration with outside artists or flying solo -, whether in the role of the much acclaimed and venerated Cluster or as individual artists.
Their many contributions include Roedelius’s space-age Baroque harpsichord beauty, ‘Glaubersalz’ (taken from his 1978 alum, Durch Die Wüste) and majestic, star-gazing ‘Veilchenwurzeln’ (from his seventh studio LP, Wenn Der Südwind Weht). With his stalwart comrade Moebius as Cluster, Gane picks out the daft yahoo calling proto-punk ‘Prothese’ from there restored partnership album, Grosses Wasser, and the strange cosmic brew ‘Seltsame Gegand’ from the 1981 oddity, Curiosum. Moebius also appears alongside the reverent recording pioneer Conny Plank on the Bavarian oomph, synth pop curio, ‘Conditionierer’, and with both Eno and Roedelius on the futuristic lilting man machine operator lament, ‘The Belldog’.
Looming large over proceedings then, the dual presence – one of Krautrock’s most influential and enduring – of Roedelius and Dieter is balanced by a cast of lesser know, but no less talented composers and artists.
Another titan of the German music scene, both in the heady days of the 70s and ever since, Michael Rother making his debut on Sky as a solo artist (having previously worked with Klaus Dinger in Neu! and bolstered many other Krautrock groups with his presence, including Harmonia) is represented here with the suppressed, instrumental alienated travelogue, ‘Feuerland’ from the 1977 album Flammende Herzen: an extension of that progressive Neu! motoring sound, yet enervated and made more sedate.
The label’s Hamburg setting is handy for the experimental and music concrete dabbler, Asmus Tietchens, who was raised in those parts. His almost deadpan, fairground ride turn dystopia whiling synth grandiose, ‘Wein Aus Wien’ (translates as ‘wine from Vienna’, oh that German wit) opens the album. Later we hear what sounds like a gay German disco inhabited by The Normal, on the amusing ‘Trümmerköpfe’.
Last but no means least, the more recent resurrection or re-discovery of Wolfgang Riechmann’s cerebral 1978 celestial flight of fantasy, Wunderbar. Taken from that seminal electro-light trip, ‘Himmelblau’ is a Kraftwerk like arc through the clouds. This comes as no surprise, Riechmann originally part of The Sprits Of Sound line up that featured future Kraftwerk assimilation, Wolfgang Flür.
As a key development stage in the story of synth produced and electronic music the Kollection will act as a guide for those unfamiliar with the label and its highly influential inspirational releases. For connoisseurs this will once again reinforce our smug, self-congratulatory, opinion that we were right all along to get excited about the kosmiche sound. But even ardent fans and collectors such as myself will find a couple of surprises that may knock us from our gilded know-it-all perches. Tim Gane has compiled a thoroughly satisfying compilation, one of the more assiduous, if under the radar, selections yet from the Krautrock era and the first of a whole litany of further releases soon to be trotted out by Bureau B, starring Roedelius and friends.
For more information and background on Hans-Joachim Roedelius, catch my interview from a few years back HERE.
Lisa Alma ‘Fine’ 3rd November 2014.
Hailing from the shores of Denmark and diaphanously cooing from the same hymn sheet as fellow compatriot, Agnes Obel (who she has congruously supported on tour), the serene all-rounder (singer/songwriter/producer) Lisa Alma likes her plaintive pop epic and expansive but subtle and attentive.
Her latest single, the slickly produced confessional ‘Fine’, a soulful heart-on-sleeve affair, is a slinky nuanced swell of suffused synth and tight electronic percussion; a nocturnal romance that recalls moments of the now, sadly, disbanded Outlands. Alma herself soothingly, but dusky, sounds simultaneously resigned and hurt.
Back from a successful set of sold out shows in the US (off the back of the Obel gig and performing at both CMJ and SXSW), Alma returned to the studio with a zeal to experiment, working this time with outside producer Lasse Lyngbro. The results so far sound highly sophisticated and richly layered, crisply hewn from the melodramatic department of iridescent electro pop.
Chirping ‘Ambitions’ 27th October 2014.
We travel further north from Denmark into Sweden, as we introduce ourselves to the latest pretenders to the sincere indie pop title, Chirping. Building their own studio to accommodate a DIY ascetic ideal of creating music that bridges both punk and a more rounded, less angulated, version of commercial indie, the quartet produce minor epics in the style of a Juilan Casablancas fronted The Drums or Echo and the Bunnymen meet innocent floppy fringed soaring postcard label pop.
Reinforcing their intentions with the suitably entitled new ‘Ambitions’ single, the band’s lilting, romantic swoons and hooks are disarming but contagiously catch-y and destined for success.
Joan Of Arse ‘I’m Fucked’ (Small Bear Records) Out now.
Offending sensibilities everywhere the eponymous debut from the indecorous troublesome noise merchants Joan Of Arse is as you may already have cottoned on, rude and rowdy: a cacophony of competing industrial and anti-pop ideas, all clashing for your attention.
With obscured, drowned out vocals delivered in a whirl of fuzz, psychedelic organ wails, screeching guitars and demonic loud hailer tomfoolery, the opening threat of intent ‘I’m Fucked’, sounds like a jerking circle of The Fall, Inspiral Carpets, Pop Group and Throbbing Gristle. Fuck knows what is actually happening, as the torrid isn’t without some direction and signs of a theme.
The next track is far more sedate, almost ambient in comparison, as shifting synth modulated waves and a subtle, low under-riding, beat signal a more meditative, restful, side to the group. Something of a break then, ‘Elisabeth The First’, is a trance-like interlude, seemingly out of character from the noisy barrage that comes next.
We’re back to the bamboozled by tracks 3, ‘Joan Of Arse’, which sounds like some schizoid 60s backbeat turned esoteric terror; a ironical fucked take on the much-celebrated baby boomer generations golden age – we think. The accompanying video, sent by the group, superimposes the hazy go-go pop culture and a number of goofball dancing clips from the swinging decade over footage of Vietnam to nail the point home.
They finish on the clandestine, mystical downer rock of ‘Got No Time For Them Approximate Blues’, which mixes ghostly echoing eastern drones with the Lords Prayer and squalid gothic drums.
Information is scant on just who created this unstable 4-track EP, only that they or he/she/it hail from the Isle of Man, and that they are very much disturbed: in a good way of course.
Phil The Tremolo King ‘4 Track Adventures’ Released 27th September 2014.
If you thought that a vinyl revival was fraught with difficulty and perhaps an exercise in futility against the digital onslaught, then an even more tenuous grasp of tangibility must be the idea of a cassette day. Yet, growing in popularity, and if nothing else drawing publicity to the cause, the restrictions that always sealed the cassette tapes fate are also its saviour.
Truly DIY, the cassette is a pretty useless yet affectionately remembered musical tool, fondly manipulated and used to great effect by the New Orleans Tropicana maverick, Phil The Tremolo King, who’s latest 4 Track Adventures mini-album, released to coincide with the annual cassette day event, revels in its lo fi deficiencies.
As a broke musician in New York, the only music Phil could afford were the used cassette offerings from homeless street sellers. Acquiring a collection of the most odd and exotic music imaginable, this necessity soon grew into a love. Later on in ‘Orleans, in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, with Phil’s belongings and recording gear evacuated to Austin, Texas, his only solace was a 4-track recorder. Rather than curtail Phil’s creativity, the tape cassette was used as a spontaneous document of a time, place and the people who passed through his life during the natural disaster, and subsequent healing process. The results are in some ways his best, if not the most interestingly raw and honest of his song collections yet; part way between an obscure, blankly labeled tape found in a thrift store and the raving genius of a unsung troubadour, down on his luck.
Cutting in between snippets of found music, Phil’s original material sounds stirringly sad, the quality of the recordings impossible to pin down to an era – anywhere, from a foggy recollected 50s to a more modern hazy 90s. The sunny-side up tropical sway and Casio keyboard preset of his previous recordings are replaced with something rougher. The introductory musings on the leap from adolescent ambitions to adulthood reality, ‘When I Grow Up’, have their underlying hints of a samba programmed beat, yet recall a resigned, knowing John Cale – who Phil channels throughout the album. As if to show the variety of resources and ideas running through his head, it’s followed by the Hank Williams (circa ‘Kaw Light’) Native Indian drummed, warning dressed up as a Cub Scout campfire sing-along, ‘The Wolf’, before the sweetly, Elizabethan come folk plucked romantic lament ‘Every Crumb Is A Diamond’ once again takes us on a new turn through the neighbourhood.
Phil delicately runs through a gamut of redemptive country and western, hazy psych pop, sleepy bedtime lullaby’s, the troubled quivering minimal blues of Sparklehorse and plaintive Leonard Cohen-esque mooning, to produce his most stripped back, but effective work yet.
Ceri James ‘Hawthorn Hill’ (Deep River Records) Single and featured on the recently released LP, Songs From The Saloon.
Down and out in Deptford, earnest Welsh troubadour and frequent ‘real coffee shop’ activist Ceri James was born in Fulham before moving to Swansea as a nipper. Yet as the EP that first brought this humbling voiced songwriter to my attention testified, James yearns for the more peaceful country life, his acoustic songbook, City Fields, eloquently depicting the life of a struggling musician down on his luck in London. However, it also amplified a certain warmth, found mostly by the characters that frequently dropped in and out of his life.
Now onto his fourth album, and plugged back into the power supply, James gazes contemplatively from the ruins of a Gothic building as he jangles away on the befitting ‘Hawthorne Hall’. In a metaphoric tribute to the beguiled location, and scene of meditational reflection, he pens a 80s Mersey backbeat and pleasing harmonica sweet homage. Still grafting and producing disarmingly well-crafted paeans and minor anthems, James has honed his talent on every release.
Location Baked ‘The Bowman’ (Peski Records)
Meditating in his own inimitable style on the horrors of WWI, on the occasion of a major yearlong centennial anniversary, Welsh ‘pop concrète’ composer Location Baked offers a disconsolate score to the mystical bard, Arthur Machen’s fabled Mons ghost story legend, The Bowman.
The fictional account dressed up as a proxy news report, of the infamous first major encounter of the war between the British Expeditionary Forces and German army at Mons, was given an esoteric leaning, as the phantom archers of England’s grand victory at Agincourt, in 1415, rose from their slumber to protect their modern counterparts and destroy the enemy to the calls of ‘St.George’. Though few would honestly believe such rousing ghostly nonsense, at the time of publication, and as the author had previously written factual accounts of the war, the story ran and ran, often changed or repeated until becoming a legend and spawning an industry. Angels and other such supernatural beings would replace the bowman over time until the intervention on behalf of saving our boys from the ghastly villainous Hun became an urban myth; all the while Machen would admit he was making the whole thing up.
Collating, shaping and cutting up loops, collected or made on his travels between Cardiff, Brussels and Manchester, Location Baked’s solemn electronic soundtrack begins as a mildly clanging workshop of marching anvil-beating machines and wandering despondent piano before exploding into a cannonade of vapour frazzling fuzz, and entering a foggy malaise of eerie chimes. The narration is also resigned and somber, read out in the atmosphere of a medium contacting the dead. It all comes together to produce a very haunting but by no means sentimental, take on the futility and myth-making comforting of WWI.
October 7, 2014
Sean Bw Parker reviews song writer Nicholas Krgovich‘s dreamy homage to a more hazily recollected and now lost, Los Angles, On Sunset.
Nicholas Krgovich ‘On Sunset’ (Tin Angel Records) 17th October 2014.
This is a very strange record, a lot stranger than Krgovich probably thinks it is. Its definitive out-of-timeness, super un-coolness possibly makes it very cool indeed. We are in solid Prefab Sprout-meets-Hurts territory, the smell of Lynx deodorant and sight of Puma bags and trainers buzzing around the periphery of your mind’s eye.
After the brief orchestral blast of the title track, we enter the awkwardly great funk of ‘The Backlot’, all Prince-y, Steely Dan falsettos and disjointed drum machines straight outta 1982. The difference about Krgovich is that he absolutely means it – he is well beyond or blissfully unaware of irony. From Vancouver, heading south, it sounds like he really does now live on a Los Angeles rooftop, flicking his blond mane into the late summer evening, dreaming of some outdated big time.
But the song writing is truly ambitious, very hard to qualify, and potentially and often actually great. Krgovich is an old school idealistic dreamer, with a genuinely clear voice for those who like such things, containing ambiguously romantic, blue eyed soul lyrics. The emphasis on appropriately ‘tasteful’ sound production is what holds On Sunset back – a little more spontaneity, and maybe a bit of hard living for its author, may lead to even more bizarre work next time.
October 3, 2014
Various Artists ‘Real World 25’ (Real World) Released 29th September 2014.
Funnelling some of the most eclectic sounds from the most diverse imaginary radio stations stretched across the globe, onto one label, ex-prog figurehead and WOMAD (World of Music Arts and Dance) founder, Peter Gabriel launched the Real World imprint back in 1989 as a respectful and supportive environment for world music artists. Fostering a wealth of talent, over the last twenty-five years, Gabriel’s visionary label has helped nurture some of the most spectacular voices and musicians from Timbuktu to Mandalay.
Lying at the heart of this cultural exchange, Gabriel’s converted old mill ‘state-of-the-art’ studio in the quaintly remote English village of Box – near to the omnipresent druidic standing stones of Avebury and Stonehenge – has seen the most exotic caravan procession of musicians pass through its doors. Knocking out over 200 albums, Real World has enriched the musical landscape. However, depending on your viewpoint, they could at least be accorded some blame for encouraging the sort of lame, enervated new age soundtrack beloved by aromatherapy practitioners, homeopathy waiting rooms and people who sell yurt camping experiences. Despite the abundance of venerable acclaimed talent, spread across this celebratory triumvirate of CDs, the odd world muzak misdemeanor can’t help but reinforce those stereotypes. But then the beauty of this survey through the back catalogue is that there is bound to be something that warms even the coldest of hearts, whether it’s transcendental Bhutan verse or esoteric swamp boogie from the USA.
You’ll hear the history, the earnest well-intentioned beginnings, the respect garnered, and read all about the anecdotes and wild tales in the accompanying 28-page booklet, but what about the music….
Split into concatenate chapters, CD number 1 charts ‘significant highlights’ and ‘classics’ from the label’s history, the opening selection introducing (or of course re-introducing) us to the mystical Sufi devotional vocals of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – whose ‘Mustt Mustt’ workout reaches ethereal heights -, the trans global desert song of Maryam Mursal – the Somalia singer/composer predating the electric-blues and soul of Tinariwen and Tamikrest by a decade – and the alternative dub/electronica Bangladesh and UK fusion collective Joi, just for starters. A sort of ‘greatest hits package’, if the term can be applied to such a humble undertaking, continues with a personal favourite, a Gospel inspired bouncing earthy number ‘Run On For A Long Time’ from The Blind Boys Of Alabama, and the Tango-esque Afro-jazz ‘Guragigna’ of Ethiopian/UK union Dub Colossus.
We couldn’t possibly escape a collaboration composition from the main man himself, Gabriel teaming up with an assortment of atavistic-instrument practitioners from Armenia, Egypt and India for ‘The feeling Begins’; taken from the soundtrack he composed for Martin Scorsese’s controversially harangued The Last Temptation Of Christ, the record that would kick start Real World and help fund it (also winning a Grammy for what would be an esoterically-driven psychgeography enriched trip through the middle east).
Part 2 of the meandered exploration, back, through the last 25-years, shines a light on lesser known tracks, rediscovering hitherto obscurities like The Creole Choir Of Cuba’s beautiful shoreline enticing ‘Fey Oh Di Nou’, and Taoist garden instrumental, ‘White Kite’, from Chinese bamboo flute genius Guo Yue. Revelations wise, the cross-fertilized Celtic (there will be a lot of this) and Nordic pining of Finnish band Värttinä recalls the folk rock of The Trees, and the slickly pumped ‘Los De Abajo’ by Resistencia, sounds like a non-threatening Mexican low-ride through south central.
Bereft of the exotic you could also investigate the Balearic shifting sound prayer ‘Mariama’ by Senegal duo Pape & Cheikh or be stirred by the mystique choral tones of the Mara! With Martenitsa Choir’s ‘To My First Love’.
The big hitters- relatively speaking – are next, CD number 3 being the ‘peoples choice’. Public tastes vary of course, fluctuating between impeccable and MOR, Martyn Bennett (a featured artist on this blog and the bombastic opener on our recent Scottish celebration playlist) being a very wise choice. His breakbeat clarion call ‘Move’ (a Caledonian Moby) appropriates the ancestral poetry of his Scottish homeland for the dance floor.
Joseph Arthur’s well intentioned but platitude heavy ‘In The Sun’, I could well do without, and though among the most successful world fusion acts, the trance global cinematic’s of Afro Celt Sound System also fail to interest me, as popular as they appear to be.
Another often referenced and critically garnered act (famously nominated but missing out on the grandiose Mercury Music prize in 2008) The Portico Quarter make an appearance with a suitably moody cerebral jazz score, and there’s also a much-loved song from Congolese soukous musician, Papa Wemba to close proceedings.
A befitting tribute to a world music paragon of virtue, the Real World anniversary collection takes stock and quite rightly, pats itself on its own back for such a sterling effort: bringing attention to music that would never have seen the light of day outside a tiny group of admirers and patrons. Here’s to another 25 years, which has already rolled out albums from Irish-American outfit The Gloaming and extraordinary Welsh-language group, 9Bach ahead of upcoming releases from Garifuna singer/songwriter and guitarist Aurelio and, the already mentioned, label stalwart Joseph Arthur.
October 2, 2014
Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Monolith Cocktail’s vagabond-about-town cultural critic, Sean Bw Parker‘s new misadventure feature. A serial offender when it comes to upsetting the proverbial applecart – Turkish authorities, David Bowie fans (re. his fake interview with the Thin White Dupe for God Is In The TV last year), Scottish record labels, Mumford and Sons – Parker’s musings on his life and a wealth of both tangent and bizarre subjects will be housed in this regular slot.
Deported recently from Istanbul, his home for the last decade, Parker has wasted no time in ingratiating himself with the locals (whether they wanted him to or not), as he settles into his new West Sussex environment – Chichester to be exact. That 48-hour tale of woe that ended in his return to the UK and all the repercussions will kick-off this new feature. Join Parker now as he navigates the idiosyncrasies of a world he left behind, back in 2004.
If this tickles your fancy and you need a tome of such miscreant tales from the acerbic, gutter-rolling, Parker, then he’s just published a book on his time in the Bosphorus straddling metropolis, entitled ‘Salt In The Milk – Ten Years In Istanbul’, of which you can purchase here.
I had been drinking heavily on a Friday night in the Istanbul central district of Besiktas, with a revolving assortment of friends, alternating between my two favourite bars, Aylak (Hobo) and Sair Leyla (named after a famous Turkish poet). At some early hours point I took my friend S’s phone and sent a text message to the woman who heats my heart – F – informing her, uninvited, that I would be dropping by her elite Nisantasi apartment. No response.
Well as we all know, copious alcohol bears no heed to ‘no response’, and I duly hailed a taxi and sped the two miles up the summer night Istanbul hills to the luxurious neighbourhood. Upon ringing her doorbell a few times, I remembered that she was in the apartment next door, at her flaming neighbour O’s house – tried that one a few times, and eventually the door clicked open.
Now O and I generally get on famously – I remember even French-kissing him once late on a more decadently extreme night – but tonight the energy and atmosphere was evil. In his house, we started snapping at each other, and then I started fully shouting. Subconsciously duelling for F’s affections, despite our respective preferences, and soon after I noticed a brand new luminescent green snake tattoo on her hand, glasses began to be violently hurled my way, some smashing to pieces, others not.
O, from his slight frame, was thunderously ordering me to leave his house, F offering me the key to her place next door – but alcohol is as stubborn as the mind is soft, and I refused – essentially believing that F would rather be with me than stay there. Well F is much more complicated than that, and soon O was threatening to call the police. ‘Call them then!’ I screamed. So he did. Alcohol is also punitively decisive, sometimes (too often).
Three policemen arrived, within ten minutes, baffled by these three polite urbanites having a pissy fit in the middle of comparatively sleepy, refined Nisantasi. O continued his complaint, and I had fallen silent by then, knowing what this potentially meant – but too inebriated and obstinate to protest or god knows, apologise for not leaving. O made a complaint against me (the Turkish equivalent of breach of the peace), and the three of us were hustled into the back of the waiting police van.
Harbiye police station is a quaint old one-storey building between Nisantasi and Tesvikiye, two minutes from the ‘scene of the crime’. We were put in the gorgeous back garden, surrounded by wooden benches and small, overhanging trees to think, smoke, and try to sober up. One by one, in thirty minute stretches, we made our statements – by dawn, with F trying to sleep in the holding cell after arguing with the police, they led me in there too, after realising I had no residence permit, and hadn’t had a visa for my near ten years in Turkey. The police’s smiling response to this news was ‘bye bye!’
F was released when her minor case was cleared up a few hours later, but also in our shared holding cell was a Libyan businessman, M, with connections in very high places – but who couldn’t speak about them, lest his family be involved in a media scandal. He was in for drink-driving. A charming, gentle, spiritually confused man, we later discovered we shared the same birthday, and supported each other with humour throughout our unwashed incarceration.
Saturday morning turned into Sunday evening, turned into Monday afternoon as M and I went through blood test after botched blood test, handcuffed to each other and separately, led from suburban hospital to neighbouring police station – never with any warning – and me translating with my pigeon Turkish to English for him as best I could. Friends, including the angelic N, N, S, J and F (2) would come to our elegantly barred window and bring food and coffee, smoke cigarettes and generally try to keep spirits up.
M and I were finally taken unshackled to the very impressive, newly built ‘Foreigners Office’, in the down at heel, immigrant-heavy Kumkapi district (near Sultanahmet, and more famed for its fish restaurants). The grandiose neo-Georgian façade of the place belied a dark, heaving underbelly of crowded, imprisoned Arabs and mental torture. To be fair to the actual office part, the twenty or so young well-brought up bureaucrats worked frenetically – while having their joust-about fun – to make things run smoothly, to get people in and out – but it definitely seemed like they’d never had to deport a fair-haired, greying, blue-eyed Englishman before.
Upon hearing that they would need to keep us in overnight, M desperately tried to change his story not to be put in with the incredibly dangerous seeming, jam-packed Asians behind the cage on the corridor –positively lowing with frustration and sullen, grim distemper. When it appeared I would also need to spend a night there, a panic attack began to descend, slurring my speech and disconnecting me from the environment.
The commissar was persuaded to call an ambulance crew, and I knew the best way to avoid this awful scenario would be to spend the night in hospital. However when the paramedics arrived thirty minutes later, they found an extremely psychologically stressed but apparently physically perfect specimen. I was to spend the night there, while my lawyer appealed (unsuccessfully) at a courthouse in a neighbouring district. M and I were let off to a windowless, burgundy and brown rubber room, just off from the office – mental row.
After three nights inside we should have known what to expect, but this was boiling. After lying on one of the two gym mats and trying to read (The Restaurant at the End Of The Universe, by Douglas Adams) for ten minutes, M called the guard, then called me. He was taking us into the Arab dorm, as they were ‘his people’, and we would be fine as long as we got the bunk with some air next to the window.
In this seventh layer of hell I spotted a familiar junkie-beggar from the streets of Beyoglu who had always hugged me and called me ‘brother’ on the street, because I tended to palm him a lira when I could. He now gave me up his bunk, and seemed a little offended when at the sound of the evening call to prayer (ezan), one of the inmates shouted/sang ‘Allah Akbar!’…and I motioned to M that I wanted to leave, immediately.
If you’ve seen the Alfred Hitchcock film ‘The Birds’ where they move through the crows in tense silence at the end, that’s exactly what this was like, with more exposed deep brown torsos, knife scars and tattoos. I smiled my polite western smile and heaved a huge gasp of relief when we slammed the door of our hot rubber cell behind us.
Back on madness row, there were two flamboyantly gay boys from Turkmenistan and Iran, – who happened to be an absolute delight – and I gave them my cigarettes when I could. They didn’t have a cell to their own, so that they could flirt with the boys in the neighbouring buildings into the night. Their payment for this was to be directly outside the cell of a nameless Afghani bomb victim, who had had both his lower arms blown off, and was blind and mostly naked. They warned me about him, though when I saw him he was heavily sedated on his back, quiet as a very odd-looking lamb.
Sleep was near impossible in the heat, but just as the sweet embrace was closing in both M and I were shocked awake by an inhuman, repeated screaming from his cell. Then for five hours he kept on, a cat sound here, throwing himself at the wall there, causing unbelievable pandemonium solidly, from shell-shock or god knows what. The gay couple asked M to speak to him in Arabic, which he tried, but returned to our room highly disturbed. A night with a banshee on acid throwing themselves repeatedly around in a deliberate, incognent rage suddenly took on new meanings of real pain. The Turkmeni ladyboy explained that that night he had been comparatively restrained (the Turkmeni boy had been there for fifty days.) I had heard him excrete in the night, and no one cleaned up the next day. The whole row stank of piss and shit.
The next day was confusing as M was taken away at one point, and me at another to face our fates – though eventually I had to wait crouched and huddled with only Mr Adams for sanity until the evening. The commissar had found out about my ten year overstay, and was baffled. How was this possible?
He decided I was a ‘flight risk’, that I wouldn’t leave given a chance, and told my lawyer and F that the standard fifteen day appeal was not applicable to me, and to get the next plane home. No time to pack – airport, stamp, then out.
My flight was at 11pm from Sabiha Gokcen airport on the Asian side of the city, and my summons was an hour and a half late, and not with the trusted officer who had become my friend and promised to accompany me.
I sat at the back of a blacked-out-windowed van and sped through the Istanbul evening, over the Bosphorus with full red and blue deportation lights blazing –unclean! (Not to overstress the point.) An hour later, after the drivers had stopped for tea and got to know me, I fell into the arms of eight true Istanbuller friends who had been following the story and had gathered at the airport to meet me, and so send me off.
The bizarre, mixed emotion of sorrow to leave my friends and beloved city, with the excitement and relief after all these years of ‘going home’, is hard to overstate. Our police escort were charming and hospitable (as so many of the young policemen had been), and after a farewell beer with my entourage near the departure lounge, my passport was secretly stamped, and my flight took off into the turbulent, European night sky.
I did an eleven hour shift in a plastics factory today. It’s in the middle of an industrial estate in Chichester, but it’s a very nice, English industrial estate, being in Chichester. I had bangers and mash with peas and gravy for lunch at my favourite traditional English cafe. Not so much teaching English, as doing it these days. Helpfully, the God Of Plastics (Sussex branch) arranged it that the factory was staffed by 95% Poles and an Australian, however, so I didn’t feel too unusual. Like an inverse reflection of the 99% Islam demographic in Turkey, but with more Polandrianism. I’ll leave my hilarious Holocaust jokes and Union Jack hat at home for a while though
A fine start to the day, at 5.30am. My early smoking companion was a Latvian named Sardis, whom I had mistaken for a Pole. Sardis: ‘I hate them. Fucking bastards, I REALLY HATE them.’ Oh well, long live Glasnost…
Later I discovered that the manager had cottoned on to the fact that I was/am a teacher of English, and thus the whole place knew. I spent the rest of the day feeling like Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption, minus the books and spectacles. All that was missing was Pablo Di Ablo as Morgan Freeman at the end of the line (‘we’re all counting on you, John’, etc). I would have said stay tuned for the next instalment to see how my tunnel to France is going…
Until I spoke to the health and safety manager after 10 hours of mentally and physically exhausting manual work, saying that I felt dizzy and exhausted having not done such a thing in about 12 years, and would need to ‘build up’ to the agreed 12 hour shift. He said ok, and I went on my way. 15 minutes later, the recruitment company called and said my services were no longer needed. Where am I, Manila? If any editors are reading, do drop me a line if you’d like to run with it. The name of the company is…
September 30, 2014
A choice survey of tracks from the last three months. Some we’ve covered, others we’ve heard.
Part III is, as always, a polygenesis spread, starting with a primal barrage of Dub, Dancehall and clattering beats from Kalbata and the Mixmonster, and ending on a expansive drone opus from Earth.
That track list in full, with links to the artists we’ve featured.
Kalbata & Mixmonster ‘Congo Beat The Drum’
Sean Kuti & Egypt 80 ‘IMF’
The Green Seed ‘Jude Law’
Henri-Pierre Noel ‘Funky Spider Dance’
Eno + Hyde ‘DBF’
Madlib ‘Licorice (The Beginning)’
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib ‘Broken (Feat. Scarface)’
Robert Plant ‘Little Maggie’
Little Scout ‘March Over To Me’
Chain and The Gang ‘Never Been Properly Loved’
The Boredellos ‘The Gospel According To Julian Cope’
Total Control ‘Expensive Dogs’
A Victim Of Society ‘Enough Said’
Souleance ‘Dum Dum’
Gut und Irmler ‘Parfum’
Cabaret Voltaire ‘Animation’
John MOuse ‘That’s Just The Way Our Love Is’
Anna Calvi ‘Strange Weather’
The New Pornographers ‘Brill Bruisers’
The Van Allen Belt ‘Rain’
Opal Onyx ‘Black and Crimson’
Grumbling Fur ‘Secrets Of The Earth’
Land Observations ‘The Brenner Pass’
Earth ‘From The Zodiacal Light (Feat. Rabia Shaheen Qazi)’
September 29, 2014
Sporadically releasing material in the most ad hoc manner, psych-folk troubadour Mark Fry recorded his Dreaming With Alice debut album back in 1972 for RCA Italy as a 19-year old student, but waited patiently for 36 years before producing the follow-up. Residing in a Normandy farmhouse, untouched and unscathed by the progress of time, Fry, a renowned painter, has recorded a further trio of albums in a comparatively short span including this latest opus, South Wind, Clear Sky.
We hand you over to our lyrically assiduous and literary astute critique Ayfer Simms to set up the right ambience.
Mark Fry ‘South Wind, Clear Sky’ (Second Language) Released 29th September 2014.
If you climb those stairs a little higher you may find yourself balanced on a musical leaf where a voice, gentle and soothing guides you through the air, on an autumn day, on a summer night, on a wintery frost, on a springy wavy river. The horizon is wide and open and flows like nature itself, because Mark Fry is a dreamer and his music is designed to show us the way of dreams.
Back recently from a 40 years break from music, Mark Fry who had been known for hisDreaming with Alice, is a painter, a traveler, a literature lover composing and pondering from his house, recluse and open, like a messenger from the depth of his solitary moments. The dreamy world he offers is here like a cure, like another choice, a substitute to what we have to deal with every day. Under the dreamy world hides harsh realities of deception and pollution, cruelty and coquettish, frivolous hearts. To forget? To fight or to flee? There are things we can do. Mark Fry’s path is the path of the imagination used for better deeds, lessons we can learn just as the pilot learned his with the boy we call the little Prince.
The tracks put you on a cloud, we gaze upon the shapes of the little houses’ beneath us, the smoky chimneys and the green squares of fields sketched out like rough drawings on a children’s book. Mark sends a dash of paint to the horizon, small tiny dots appear here and there, the world becomes another place, a place that exists for a higher wellbeing state: To turn our back on sorrow, to love paradise, to glide through the elements. Paradise is caught by Fry like little crystals from a snowy day.
Why lose the perfect state of peace and harmony? Why lose the way to the perfect world?
Distant world and whimsical world. Mark Fry wants to let it go, he is already there in spirits. But he shall not because we are here part of his universe. He is divided between fleeing forever and stretching a hand out for us. His earth is spinning away on its own in the distance, amid the muffled radio waves. And we remain high above the sky, “higher than the birds”, and safe in a hazy nebula, with the echoes of somewhere else. There’s a path to escape the burden of the world. Fry’s voice, gentle, marries the music’s wavy solemn movements, perfectly in tune and rich in subtle layers, the sky is wide, and the air is grand. The discreet musical horns and instruments bring us far from the sadness of this world.
With the high hopes of the seventies we sought refuge behind “San Francisco” and the flowery movements, we are now beyond that idea and seek shelter within ourselves. There is no denial in this album, there is a gentle urge to change perspective: the serene message and the musical back up that reinforces the merciful vocals do that wonderfully.