December 19, 2014
Despondently cynically of Christmas cheer, the Monolith Cocktail nevertheless attempts to join in with the seasonal tidings of goodwill to all, with an alternative to the usual fare of ropey, savoury and saccharine, shopping mall to High Street, TV advert doleful, tat. Instead our carols and new music selection is full of self doubt, remorse and delusion and often stares into the abyss, with artists challenging the accepted de facto hypocrisy and less unpalatable miasma of commercial greed. Though saying that, there are also some ‘mull wine’ warming takes on some stirring standards and plaintive nods to the true spirit of Christmas to be found.
So enjoy the following examples of bastardised jazz fuckery, a Les Mumbles ‘a day in the life of poor Mrs.Claus’ lament, bauble overloaded compilations and kitsch.
Maps ft. Polly Scattergood ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’
Jack Henderson ft. Joan As A Police Women ‘Bethlehem’
John MOuse ‘When A Child Is Born’
Lady North ‘Laydee Norf’s “Creepy Basturt Christmas”’
Bethany Weimers ‘Winter Heart (Flights Of Helios Remix)’
Dan Michaelson ‘Another Messy Christmas’
Provincials ‘Jesus Christ’
Various ‘Never Mind The Baubles – Small Bear Records’ 2014 Christmas Album’
Chris Mastheim aka Nicholas Krgovich ‘Christ Mast Style’
December 18, 2014
Ayfer Simms, on fine lyrical and literary form, loses herself in the latest EPs from Australia’s answer to Bon Ivor (so we’re told), Hayden Calnin, and the closer to home, troubadours, Provincials.
Hayden Calnin ‘Oh, Hunter EP’ 1st December 2014
Where we ought to be is entangled inside Hayden’s throat, twisted in a state of mist, buried in the vocal cords where beauty corrupts the sound: The atmosphere is of an obscure and mysterious world, and outside of that cozy and torturous spot there is the rest of the music, drifting steadily as if coming out of a mortal made of steel: From its open mouth, it blows the traces of the milky way, frozen in its strides.
Smooth, cold and cryptic. The EP is on time for the winter’s dark days, bathing in a wintery trance inducing music. The lyrics, phrase by phrase roll inside the mind with a life of their own:
“Look at the dirt in my toes and tell that I am less of a man for leaving you”
Should one leave the sparkles behind? Reach a better destiny than a shooting star?
“I, I get old
Mystery, honestly just go
I can’t handle anymore”
The sound, a somber lake, the wake of a coma state, is this the way out of drugs and addiction? Mystery, a farewell to the state of euphoria? Mystery, a state of perfect consciousness? Repetition, trance, piano, double vocals echoing each other, building up, I Forever Traveller, I, you and me, swimming in nefarious waters; filled with evil mermaids? Disguised as brides with sparkling scales: she will kill you and me, the wolf with the glance of a man with impeccable stature, will stay high above the cliffs, watching. Hayden Calnin.
“Mystery, show me the way
to a happy place.”
Hayden puts a great distance between himself and the rest of us, there’s a haze: on a stiff cold dawn, like particles of snow extending on a vast land of ice, the sound resounds over an army of nonchalance. He is immersed in a vastness with a few instruments that floats in the air carrying a touch of an alien beauty.
Hayden with a warm grinding in the larynx, is the passage of the artificial intelligence into the human mind: the music combined with the man’s distinctive, and yes, flirtatious voice, takes the shape of a creature, half machine, half human. Beauty, corrupts, us.
Provincials ‘When The light Changes EP’ (Itchen Recordings) 17th November 2014
‘The provincials or the gospel of things of the winter.’
Moon dusk; a sound lies on a frozen ocean bank: The Provincials’ are swiping the bottom of the water with a blue, soft skin to unearth the secret of wintery things.
Polly Perry’s voice breaks the ice with the grace of an elf, gentle beast of the wild and beauty mingles with an eerie force, becoming something of an angel.
The curtains made of snow unveil an atmosphere of old and new affairs, wishes and hopes, memories and emotional pangs.
The sound of the EP is as shiny as crystalline icicles breaking out under a darkening moon; the light changes, life deepens itself into the cosmos, leaving the owl, the wolves, the glittering red eyes, and the snowy creatures glancing discreetly over a shadowy frame: It is us, feeling naked and floating, lulled by a voice both fragile and giving.
With the track ’12 Days’, a voice, a woman, another voice, a man, echoing each other in a quarrel reverberate the warm Latino guitar chords in an exchange of letters; too much love and pain, a scene from a book; there we are charmed by the song of love and sorrow.
All along, winter escapes from the tracks, they crack as if frozen and crushed by the air; pale and translucent, cold and warm at the same time.
They are glowing fossils of the oceans emitting a voice: It is whispering to us, all the way from the northern seas while life changes form, black stars echoes in the darkness, and the heart itself mingles with all things. The images are taken from the elements. The EP is a voyage on route for Christmas, in the red sack there’s a violin, a piano, a guitar, the sound of a siren in the distance, a wind catcher caught in a wave, fairy tales of the mountains and the Forrest. We are beneath the frozen ice, we are above the sycamores’ unvisited heights.
The cover of Big Star’s ‘Jesus Christ’ lifts our mood; all is not lost in the frost as beautiful as it may be, we receive a pinch of the Christmas merry!
December 16, 2014
The concluding part of our 2014 ‘choice’ albums list; from the switchblade adolescent 80s pop of Tampa Bay’s Merchandise to the harrowing whipped and harangued drone partnership of Scott Walker + Sunn O))). We have plumbed the depths and scaled the aural heights to chose a inimitable, eclectic mix of albums, and some EPs for you to enjoy and seek out. Though there are the occasional big-hitters and some unsurprising entries, many of our choices have failed to garner the attention they deserve, forgotten or lacking the promotion and support to break through the hubris. For better or worse, in the spirit of our stoic independence, some of these albums won’t have been picked up or even featured in any other set of lists.
Each album continues in alphabetical order. Click on the image and below the quotes to read the full review.
Merchandise ‘After The End’ (4AD)
Tampa Bay’s wild boys of sulky twanged rock and Chet Baker fatalistic jazz, Merchandise surprised many as they moved to the 4AD record label in 2014. A new sound for a new epoch, the band leaned towards the sophisticated lilting melodic pop of 80s Athens, Georgia, as they extended their ranks and brought in Gareth Jones (famously relocated Depeche Mode to the Hansa studios in Berlin and also worked on records from Interpol, These New Puritans and Grizzly Bear) on production. After The End is a subtle and sophisticated pop affair; an unaltered appropriation of another generations adolescence; a love letter to Howard Deuth’s 80s movies, sealed with a Psychedelic Furs kiss-off, yet congruously apt with modern times.
Dominic Valvona writes:
‘Moping around the darkened swamplands and back lots of a southern sunshine state in existential, switchblade, angst, Tampa Bay’s lost boys once again shift closer to a subtler, rounded and cerebral pop ascetic. Despite all the talk of their DIY punk and hardcore roots – living and recording together in communal bliss – Merchandise have always flirted with a Howard Deuth and John Hughes vision of 80s adolescence. On their latest transmission from the margins they effortlessly slip between the intellectual aloof alternative rock – the Athens, Georgia scene in particular – of that decade’s college radio stations, and the ray ban donned pop of more recent times as they peruse an imaginary teen doom film set.
With a far more patient, effortless and breezy demeanor, those maladies remain less intensive, drawn-out from a mostly melodic envelope of multiple guitar tracks. A case in point is the rattlesnake tambourine accented and Gothic Talk Talk piano spanked title track, appearing as the penultimate, frayed emotional downer. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Merchandise adopt – and the jury’s out on this one – a palm tree patterned short-sleeved wearing Mott The Hopple guise for the kooky ‘awaiting on a call’ love sick phaser-beamed ‘Telephone’. A most peculiar, almost old-fashioned vernacular roll back, that once again recalls some hazy 80s high school drama (more Rumble Fish than Ferris Bueller).’
The Ministry Of Wolves ‘Music From Republik Der Wölfe’ (Mute)
Assembled in 2014 for Claudia Bauer and Paul Wallfisch‘s Republik Der Wölfe: A Fairytale Massacre With Live Music!, Theater Dortmund staged production of The Brother Grimm’s fairytales, – in particular, referencing and taking inspiration from Anne Sexton‘s iconic 70s revisionist tome Transformations; itself a candid, unforgiving psychological retelling of the Brother Grimm’s originals – the miscreant troupe of Bad Seeds and Crime And The City Solution band members, Mick Harvey, Alexander Haacke, Danielle De Picciotto, provided the music and narration with relish and aplomb. Since its inaugural opening night the project has spiralled, with this audio soundtrack and a subsequent, Happily Ever After, volume of German and unheard material exclusives. Devoid of the visual, this musical envisioned landscape, dotted with a cast of traumatic, cancerous and prying on our self-conscious devilish characters – including the most disturbing portrayal of the poisoned, inner self, dwarf, Rumpelstiltskin I’ve ever heard; delivered with creepy gusto by Haacke -, works just as well in isolation; perfectly conveying and stirring the imagination to construct its own picture show of psychological alarm.
‘Original characters that we’ve grown to love, hate, revile or recoil from, are transposed into the darker parts of our psyche. Those parable like lessons and auguries of danger get kicked around in a quasi-junkie Burroughs nightmare of cynicism and surreal terror. Tucked into a all too knowing grown ups world of jealousy and greed, Picciotto plays the part of storyteller – in this case switched, as I’ve already mentioned, from the usual young, naïve heroine into a middle-aged witch – on the opening account, ‘The Gold Key’. It’s followed by the Teutonic heavy drawling gusto of Hacke’s ‘Rumpelstiltskin’; played up to full effect, as the poisoned dwarf is revealed to be our doppelganger, ‘the enemy within’, and the spilt personality waiting to cut its way out of all of us. Sounding quite like a missing Amon Duul II number from theHi Jack era, the song’s maligned and mischievous protagonist elicits a kind of sympathy: ‘No child will ever call me Papa’. Condemned to play the part of cruel interloper, poor old Rumpelstiltskin exists to remind us of our demonic, primal nature: a nagging inner soul tempting us to commit hari-kari on restraint.
The levels of macabre are amped up and the underlying psychosis adroitly delivered with atmospheric relish; our cast of ‘make-believe’ characters all too fallible human traits and sufferings enriched with a Murder Ballads style makeover, part Gothic part horrid histories.’
Noura Mint Seymali ‘Tzenni’ (Glitterbeat Records)
Though we have gone for a alphabetical list rather than numerical order of importance, the mesmerising, bordering on the transcendental, Tzenni album from the master griot performer Noura Mint Seymali, has been on one constant loop at Monolith Cocktail HQ – also one of the highlights of our Sunday Social residency. With a voice that could stop traffic, wailing in diaphanous paean or plaintive warning, Noura has woven the atavistic art of the Mauritian poet/storyteller with sonorous backbeats and psychedelia to produce an entrancing masterpiece.
‘The technicalities, pentatonic melodies and the fundamental mechanics aside, nothing can quite prepare you for that opening atavistic, panoramic vocal, and off-kilter kick-drum and snare; an ancestral linage that reaches back a thousand odd years, given the most electric crisp production, magically restores your faith in finding new music that can resonate and move you in equal measure. The afflatus titular experience channeled with energetic passion and poetic lament, revolves around the whirling – and at its peak moment of epiphany, a fervour – dance. Performed over time under the desert skies and khaima tents, by the Moorish griots, this cyclonic Hassaniya worded movement (which variously translates as, ‘to circulate’, ‘to spin’ or ‘to turn’) that enacts the orbiting solar system and with it all the elements (wind and tides) on Earth, is hypnotically invigorating.
From the German label, Glitterbeat Records, this latest Maghreb African transmission follows in the wake of the equally compelling electric transcendent desert blues of Tamikrest, Dirt Music, Samba Touré and the Bedouin diaphanous song of Aziza Brahim. Tzenni by Noura Mint Seymali and her accompanying clan make suggestive musical and social/political connections with all of these groups and artists. Hailing from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, nestled in between Algeria, Senegal, Mali and the Western Sahara, with the Atlantic lapping its shoreline, Noura keeps tradition alive in a modern, tumultuous, climate. Her homeland – run ever since a coup in 2008, by the former general Mohamed Ould Abdul Aziz, duly elected president in 2009 – was rocked by the immolation sparked Arab Spring and subsequent youth movement protests, all of which were violently suppressed by the authorities. Add the omnipresent problems of FGM, child labour and human trafficking to the equation and you have enough catalysts to last a lifetime. However, Noura’s veracious commanding voice responds with a dualistic spirit, the balance of light and shade putting a mostly positive, if not thumping backbeat, to forlorn and mourning.’
John MOuse ‘The Death Of John MOuse’ (Crocfingers)
A poignant, often sneering and resigned, bulletin from the front line of austerity Britain – and in this case, Wales – , John MOuse‘s latest songbook is his most accomplished yet. With an ear for the radio but an uncompromising spirit of healthy contempt for the mainstream – his sinewy industrial jazz centrepiece, ‘Ilka Moor’, an anvil-beating, distressed bird-finger of avant-hardcore proportions -, the, we hope premature premonition of his own demise, Death Of John MOuse finds moments of reflection and pride amongst the cast of bleak characters and all too familiar, zero-hour contract, care home and cut-pice supermarket scenery. The growing pains of losing touch with friends from your youth; the events and observations that lead to divorce; mortality’s inevitable curse; and the daily grind to keep keeping on may suggest a bleak symphony of morose. But this couldn’t be further from the truth, as John rattles off both heartwarming and triumphant indie anthems that recall The Smiths, ATV, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and The Fall, without succumbing to pity or despondency. Fair enough, ‘Robbie Savage’ will make you cry, but for all the right reasons. Mark our words well, one of 2014’s most tearfully somber but beautifully crafted songs, from one of the best albums and songwriters.
‘Brought to vivid life in a series of colliery-smirched terraced house dioramas, MOuse’s prematurely declared demise entitled songbook is a poignant, and throughout laugh or you’d cry, observation of his own childhood and its impact upon the present. But if there was a common theme sufficed throughout the album’s eleven-tracks, it would in the form of a resigned augur that we are prone to repeat our own parents mistakes and failings and that we often find sanctuary in the comforts of the past, even when fraught with episodes of horror. It is what shapes us.’
Henri-Pierre Noël ‘One More Step’ (Wah Wah 45s)
The cultural heritage of the much-troubled – humanitarian crisis prone – Haiti has imbued, beguiled and charged albums by The Arcade Fire (who have an ancestral connection to the island through Régine Chassagne) and tUnE-yArDs, and paired-up local poet/writer legend Frankétienne with experimental Scottish guitarist Mark Mulholland for the Chaophonies collaboration. There has also been a rafter of compilations, including Strut Records Haiti Direct, to showcase the islands, hitherto forgotten or left dormant, 60s and 70s music scene. And now, following on from a earlier volume of the travelling Haitian funk pianist, Henri-Pierre Noël‘s dance floor classic crossover, One More Step gets a timely re-release – originally confined to a limited edition pressing in the 80s. Moving to Canada from his home, the former émigré took a dose of Kompa funk, sprinkled on top some Latin sauntering grooves and merged the two with North American jazz and disco to create the most infectious hybrid. Slick and oozing sophistication, the production is precise but the rhythms are loose. An irresistible call to the floor.
‘A moiety, congruous to the previously rediscovered and also re-issued by Wah Wah 45s, Piano suite (released in 2012), One More Step attunes the classicism and amps up the funk and soul with a chorus of rasping horns and spiritually meditative Hammond organ. With an omnivorous craving, Noël loosely crosses over into a range of appetising styles; sweetly caressing gospel and narrating in a Barry White-esque deep, husky burr, on the love lost lullaby ‘Will Come A Day’, and moseying into Stax, lamps-turned-down-low, balladry on ‘Bluesy Mood’.
Silky smooth with the odd rough and dirty edge, Noel’s swanky sonorous chops splash and spray across the ivory, sliding up and down the scales until they find a neat spot to rattle of the most melodically twinkly solo.’
Papernut Cambridge ‘There’s No Underground’ (Gare Du Nord Records)
A pastoral psychedelic call from the shire-county’s of south-east England, Ian Button and his Papernut Cambridge collaborative troupe of Kent and Estuary outcasts, mine the great and good of both the beat group 60s, revivalist 80s and Brit-pop 90s to produce their own Village Green Preservation Society monument. Lying between the bright lights of London and Paris, on the Eurostar flyby, There’s No Underground reflects its surroundings; whether harking dreamily to faraway places with the wistful country spirit of Graham Nash and Manfred Mann or waiting for the train that never arrives on a provincial station platform with The Stone Roses and The LA’s. Indebted to its past, Button nevertheless enthuses with a contemporary, maverick feel, the loneliness, and sometimes paranoia of isolation, whilst producing some cracking pop-sike tunes.
‘Though conceived and led by Button, the Papernut is a collaborative affair, roping in a rabble of guests for a nostalgic tour of both the mind and the estuary landscape – which extends to a dreamily visit across the Channel to France on the languorous Louie Louie Glam back beat ‘St J’étais Français’. Featuring Hefner band members Darren Haymen, and Jack Hayter plus ex-Death In Vegas band mate, Matt Flint and both regular contributors and a peripheral cast, coaxed from the Mary Epworth (who appears herself, on vocals, percussion and ocarina) band, Picturebox and Belakiss, the extended group craft a paisley-shirted love letter. The playing never cramped or over-indulged is both purposefully ambitious (if low key) and melodically earnest. Even with the obvious signposts and appropriation, Button and his chums make those influences their own, whether it’s the Floydian (read Syd Barrett period) Braque kaleidoscope of that paranoia induced opener or the bastardised Rocky Horror ‘Time Warp’ as re-imagined by Mott the Hopple ‘Nutflake Social’.
Far too nuanced and thoughtful as to be labeled a psych throwback, Papernut Cambridge have basked in the resonant afterglow of England’s rich outsider history of alternative pop and esoteric beat groups to create a cherished memory of their very own.’
Robert Plant And The Sensational Space Shifters ‘Lullaby And…The Ceaseless Roar’ (Nonesuch/Warner Bros.)
To our eternal shame, we never managed to get around to reviewing Robert Plant‘s tenth, and possibly finest adroit, solo album, Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar. The first recording with his regular backing band The Sensational Space Shifters, Plant’s latest progressive peregrination traverses an amorphous sound map of Celtic, African, the deep south and turbulent high seas misadventure influences. Unhelpfully tethered to the Led Zeppelin that made him, the sagacious doyen of rock has done everything he can to pursue a distinctive pathway through folk, roots and world music. Of course, those songs of yore are his, and so why shouldn’t he incorporate them to his new live sound. But if anything this enlightening songbook, filled with a lived-in quality and displaying a vocal range that is mostly refined, brooding and occasional pitched higher in plaintive yearning, proves that his back catalogue no longer needs to be revitalised or brandished. This latest opus of mystery, lament and beauty is a readymade classic.
Ty Segall ‘Manipulator’ (Drag City)
Opening with garage Gothic organ – somewhere between The Count Five and Inspiral Carpets – San Francisco based Ty Segall “Manipulates” the last forty years of staccato jangled psych, smeared glam booted, downer, drone and acid rock to create a dynamic, whipped into shape triumph. Whereas Ariel Pink often lurches into indulgence, Ty remains melodic and tunefully aware throughout; balancing cynical relished neighing, scuzzed and squealing guitar riffs with Beatles-esque strings and diaphanous Bolan rock’n’roll. Sean Bw Parker positively gushed with reverence for this album, and why no one could ever live up to those evangelical heights, Ty damn well tries.
Sean Bw Parker writes:
‘It’s phenomenally good. Fucking cracking, shit-hot, addictive, never to be lost smashes, every one. It’s almost good enough to make people buy it online. Such quips shouldn’t be here actually – my humour doesn’t stand up to the sheer integrity, craftsmanship, feeling, and pure love of the form contained in this hour of music.
What Ty Segall has become on Manipulator is a postmodern magician to send his competitors scurrying – Coyne, Malkmus, Hansen, Rhys, Mason…brilliant as you are, there’s a new master in town, and he has rather raised the bar. My worthy paymasters at the Monolith Cocktail won’t be having with graded reviews – but if they did, this motherfucker would be off the scale. Play this album at full volume, on repeat, for a week. Then press repeat. Ok, go on then, one more.’
tUnE-yArDs ‘Nikki Nack’ (4AD)
Nikki Nack , or as I like d to call it: “America eats its young” (demonstrated, quite literally, on the album’s ‘Why Do We Dine On The Tots?” vignette), is a polygenesis musical menagerie of fluorescent coloured R&B, Haitian rhythms, and African fervour. A multilayered bubblegum soundtrack to our times, Merrill Garbus‘ most soulful turn yet as the alter-ego tUnE-yArDs, laments the travesties that have left no corner of the globe untouched, with an emphasis on the humanitarian problems that still dominate Haiti, after the crippling catastrophic 2010 earthquake. For the very first time seeking outside help on production, Garbus brings in both Malay (Big Boi, Alicia Keys, Frank Ocean) and John Hill (M.I.A. and Rihanna) to give her amorphous, world tour sounds some gleaming polish, warping sonorous bass and kick.
‘A hyperactive sound-clash, an electric kool-aid luminous flavour of bubblegum pop, Nikki Nackis once again fuelled by a larger than life version of African rhythms and sounds, with Merrill digging deeper than ever to pull out something fresh. That vocal has gone even further in embracing that continents soul, swooning in almost creole lullaby (‘Look Around’) and gospel Soweto township (‘Find A New Way’) tones throughout. A definite melodious, infectious and dare say commercial bent makes this album a lot more accessible than its much acclaimed w h o k i l l predecessor; a result of handing over some of the material to the production talent of Malay (Big Boi, Alicia Keys and Frank Ocean) and John Hill (M.I.A and Rihanna). Both producers indelible influence has seeped in, with the album taking a distinct R&B turn down a very unconventional highway and giving a sweetly, soulful urban gleam to the marvellous songs ‘Stop The Man’ and ‘Wait For A Minute’.
Merge this with spritely, sparkly Baroque reggae, Pee-Wees Playhouse, Buffalo Girls, Laurie Anderson, ESG, Brain Eno & David Byrne’s ‘Regiment’ from My Life In The Bush of Ghosts (‘Manchild’) and Kellis and you are half way to capturing the brilliance of Merrill’s nuanced web of influences. All of which seem less chaotic than before; the clattering beats, bit crusher and speed shift effects no matter how heavy, no longer competing with each other for attention. And though it may not quite have the same impact as that last remarkable LP, it is a far more subtle, polished but, actually, better record; one that just keeps giving.’
The Van Allen Belt ‘Heaven On A Branch’
At the eye of a magical, celestial maelstrom of cinematic majesty and omnivorous referenced whirlwind, The Van Allen Belt‘s vocal vessel, Tamer Kamin ethereal swoons and coos remain an undiscovered treat for the unsuspecting. The group’s amorphous mix of Lee Hazelwood, celluloid and trip hop is an overwhelming tour de force; shifting and progressing in a state of constant flux. Heaven On A Branch doesn’t really sound like anything else at present (Debbie Harry singing psychedelic arias over a mash up of Galaxie 500 and Moloko is close but still wide of the mark), and if there was any justice this album would be in every top list this year. Instead it’s up to the little men and women, on the pit face of music, to shout the clarion call. Justly so, Ayfer Simms wrote one of the most beautifully descriptive reviews ever for this LP.
Ayfer Simms writes:
‘Look up! Past the stratosphere, there is a psychedelic wavelength trapping a ghostly clamour, a cool jazzy voice, traces of an older era of sounds, perfectly paired, bred with something new, a feel, a new genre perhaps that has no label as yet. It is possible to name the instruments one by one, even describe the vocalist’s suave confident voice that echoes above our heads, yet put all together this become a breathless orchestra, upbeat and melodious that forbids any sorts of appellations: “don’t give her any, she don’t need none, she don’t need none”. Indeed, we want to apply this for the Van Allen Belt as they pull us in a trance like mood for a minute before throwing us in a befuddled happiness the next. The tracks are like a roller coaster, sounds from the past swirling above our world while carrying the darkest of us with it.
The 1960’s atmosphere is well present, the vocals, the instruments like trumpets and the echoing melodies as well as some references to that époque’s mythical pop disco are magnetic to say the least. “I wish I could see you all the time”; close your eyes now, and feel the breeze, the vintage air from the gleaming and sizzling sounds, the one millions little details, the tunnel of sounds, “you make my heart beat so fast”, this is a new kind of gospel, a busy music box where the sound bursts as soon as released. Who can tame the trumpets, the guitars and the drums?
The name of the band taken from the radiation strip around the earth is exquisitely chosen and perfectly fits the stance of the band: What are we but invisible energetic charged particles?’
Various ‘CAM 1′ (Peski Records)
A collection, and the only compilation to make our list, of the strange and most fantastic kosmiche style suites and sketches from Wales, Cam 1 highlights tracks from the Cam o’r Tywyllwch (A Step From The Darkness) radio show, broadcast both on Radio Cardiff and Resonance FM (in London). Curated by Welsh electronica siren Gwenno Saunders and Peski Records, this “oddity” showcase introduced many of us, for the first time, to the talents of Sky Record imbued, sonic adventurer along the Teutonic futurist highway, R.Seiliog, and the burbling ominous soundtrack maverick, Location Baked. Other notables on this bumpy voyage included the Artificial Intelligence redolent Horses and lo fi, muffler disco death Llion Swyd; both offering multiple perspectives from across the border on the avant-garde recesses of electronica.
‘An inimitable, if congruous somehow, mix of both newcomers and established artists, the collection moves along in the manner of a fluctuating peregrination, thrusting and meandering through cascading space paeans, brief sound clips and ominous industrial paranormal soundtracks. Sucked through the rattling cyclonic introduction of the titular vortex into the pleasant, magical Zuckerzeit disco bounce of R. Seiliog’s motorik stardust covered, ‘Pysgod’, then transported to an earlier age of punch-holed computing with the analogue data feeding ‘Cymylog Ddu’ by David Mysterious, we’re already experiencing a veritable sonic palette of escapism and evocation in just the opening seven-minutes.
In all senses of the term, ‘out there’, this compilation of space oddities and earthy primal investigations lure the Welsh underground to the surface, if only for a short breather. The quality control has been used sparingly, as the curators opt for a challenging mix, with some tracks inevitably more memorable and interesting than others. It’s a positive step in the right direction however, and we hope to see this burgeoning series continue to illuminate the much forgotten music scene across the boarder.’
Verckys et L’Orchestre Vévé ‘Congolese Funk, Afrobeat and Psychedelic Rumba 1969 – 1978’ (Analog Africa)
Rediscovering some hot-footing funk and psychedelic rumba from the Congo, Analog Africa’s latest compilation highlights the polygenesis back catalogue of Verckys. Sealed with approval by none other than the anointed Godfather of soul, James Brown, as ‘Mister Dynamite’ upon seeing Verckys perform in Kinshasa during the 70s, this collection of feverish Afro Funk, Latin grooves and organ jerks chronicles some of the Congolese polymaths most vibrant and nimble fret work, and includes some rare recordings – previously unheard outside Africa – form his 1974 Kenyan sessions. Giving The Meters a run for their money the sounds recall the Bayou and float across to Cuba, but remain inherently African.
‘Alongside the more familiar “stormers”, Redjeb has also wrestled up some of the Congo soul man’s hitherto rare and unheard outside Africa, recordings from his 1974 sessions in the neighbouring Kenya – ‘Bassala Hot’, ‘Cheka Sana’ and ‘Talali Talala’, produced specially for the Kenyan market, during his month long tour of the country.
Picking up on the first of that trio of rarities, Basssala Hot kicks the compilation off with a seven-minute hot-strut down the sweltering Kinshasa streets, with one of those Orleans’ style filthy grooves, backed by a languid drum shuffle, feverish congas, chugging guitar riff and melting saxophone. Setting the scene then with an Afrobeat staple rhythm, Verckys skips to the famous homegrown lilt of the Congolese rhumba on ‘Ye Nini’. Placably swooning and floating along to a pleasantly incessant South American vibe, the renowned sound of 70s Congo, drifts in beguilingly. Ennui setting in already, Verckys adds a mild touch of psychedelia to the rhumba to create another of his subgenre interpretations with the two-speed ‘Sisa Motema’ and ‘Zonga Paralise’. Sisa reverberates with the distant atavistic song of Cuba, but ends up shuffling to an inherently Afrorock beat with blasting saxophone punctuated Stax revue stabs; Zonga goes from a Cuban lullaby to a ringside J.B’s.’
Scott Walker + Sunn O))) ‘Soused’ (4AD)
The morbidly morose and curious unholy union of the drone lords of misrule, Sunn O))), and Scott Walker has unleashed a whip-lashed, martyrdom, beast of an LP. Unsurprisingly harrowing – with the odd Bisch Bosh giggle -, on dirge-y and malcontent form, Soused pushed Walker’s collaborators to the limit; the signature seeping beds of gut-wrenching, sonorous noise seems to go deeper, and were for the first time balanced with shorter, stabbing and squealing displays of wailing heavy rock riffage. A disturbing odyssey that absorbs the pains and rapture of screen idols enacting a cycle of penance, Biblical infanticide and myth, can’t help but leave a lingering sour taste of realism, scarring the listener, but in a good way: trust me. As the “meme” culture of buzz feed et al attempts to wash away or at least ignore society and the establishments sins with trivia in the form a of a snappy, condensed list, Walker and his cohorts rouse his into facing the darkest recesses.
‘Once again, Daemonic forces have conspired. The result, a five act guttural opus, entitled Soused – in this instance the title is to be taken as a plunging or submersion into liquid or water, rather than a slang for hard liquor intoxication (though if it were, the brew on offer would be hemlock!).
Both parties in this experiment prove their mettle, reinforcing their reputations but producing an album that is not only accessible to the devotees and followers but also those who’ve previously skirted around taking a walk through the catacombs of the bleakest recesses of a conflicted mind.’
December 12, 2014
Matt Oliver brings his long-running Hip-Hop column Rapture & Verse to the Monolith Cocktail. His inaugural post looks back on the highs and lows of the past twelve months with some of the UK’s most “enlightened” producers and MCs.
To review the last twelve months in hip-hop is to be a mere mortal observing a spectacle of egos, faux pas and of course, ‘realness’. What with Diddy reverting back to being Puff Daddy, Dr Dre earning crazy pocket money, G-Unit reuniting, Jay-Z’s sister-in-law tiff, Drake’s (mixed) double of tennis-related beef and Tupac becoming a Broadway flop – the big deals and hard-hitting issues, amongst a steady diet of shoot-outs and show-offs – hip-hop’s gossip column and rumour mill was rarely under-stocked.
For the year’s nitty-gritty though, there’s only one solution. Go straight to the horse’s mouth, invite a bunch of enlightened producers and MCs to have their say on 2014’s do’s and don’ts, the best verbs and visuals, and let them give you some ideas on what to spend your Christmas record vouchers on in case you missed out first time around. Let us begin…
Secondson (@second5on) econdsonuk.bandcamp.com
Hip-hop in 2014, in my opinion…
“…again blurred into this massive maelstrom of R&B and rap. These days youngsters growing up can’t discern between any of those genres because they’ve been manipulated and moulded into the same entity. It’s a shame and I don’t want to sound like a preacher, but I’m old enough to remember when MCs could write a killer chorus without having to rely on big label budgets and going the obligatory route of getting some fashionable female in with a zany haircut to sing it for them.”
Hip-hop’s best release in 2014 was…
“Lil’ Dap’s “Code of Silence.” My hero Lewis Parker hammered out the beats like he’s stuck in a time warp, and to hear Dap on ‘em brought back all those late 1990s NY albums that my generation hold onto like the old old old school UK punks hold onto The Damned’s first 45.”
Hip-hop’s best video in 2014 was…
“I’ve yet to see a decent hip-hop video standard. Let alone one in 2014. I don’t watch music, I listen to it. They all look the same to me. Fish eye lens, hand gestures….”
Dr Syntax (@realdrsyntax) drsyntax.bandcamp.com
Hip-hop in 2014, in my opinion, was…
“…a lot of fun, mainly. From my perspective, there were bigger audiences at festivals and venues. There are some good new artists coming out who definitely pay homage to previous generations, which I think was missing for a while. Veterans are coming out of the woodwork and finding new fans who connect with what they do rather than consider it antiquated. I couldn’t really tell you about the more commercial side of it, as I don’t really follow that, but I heard some great music and saw some great shows this year.”
Hip-hop’s best release in 2014 was…
“Your Old Droog’s EP. It felt nice that people were excited about something so back to basics. No video, no picture even, just raw production and rapping. I don’t care if he sounds like Nas – I think he has enough of his own style going on, and he’s dope.”
Hip-hop’s best video in 2014 was..
“Hands down, Action Bronson’s “Easy Rider”. Utterly ridiculous. He’s like the John Belushi of rap.”
Chemo aka Telemachus (@chemouk) kilamanjaro.co.uk
“…tasty as hell. Quite a few albums have GOT me feeling excited for the future, as there are so many talented young guns out there on laptops creating and evolving the sound. I think we may be seeing ‘Peak Trap’ coming in early 2015 where young producers will start to explore other styles of percussion apart from the trill 808s that have dominated hip-hop production in the last few years.”
Hip-hop’s best release in 2014 was…
“…for me, a toss-up between Mick Jenkins’ “The Waters” and Isaiah Rashad’s “Cilvia Demo”. Both these albums did not have an instant impact but took time to grow on me, and consequently I am still listening to them now. I have to say I am really struggling to get into the Run The Jewels albums that have been so acclaimed, but I fear this may be because I am dumb.
Hip-hop best’s video in 2014 was…
“…shit…I am not so good with videos.”
Sleaze (@greasyvinyl) greasyvinyl.com
“…as a whole, a comeback for the boom-bap sound internationally. The UK sound became very copycat, with newer and more established rappers mimicking each others’ sound to fit in and sell. Some UK acts strayed away from this sound though, but fans didn’t seem to listen. There was a comeback from rappers like Common and Raekwon with his ‘FILA’ release. Hip-hop is definitely strong right now.”
2014’s best hip-hop release was…
“Common – “Nobody’s Smiling”.”
2014’s best hip-hop video was…
““Lights Out” by Sleaze.”
ThisIsDA (@itsthisisDA) itsthisisDA.com
In 2014, hip-hop, in my opinion, was…
“…on a tangent. Hip-hop as a genre isn’t really a thing anymore. It’s become an umbrella term for a non-existent lifestyle. People outside the culture are definitely finding a home within it. Nothing wrong with that though.”
2014’s best hip-hop release was…
“That’s a hard one. Quite a few solid releases here and there. Probably go with Mick Jenkins’ “The Waters”. That tracklist still has me rappin’ along passionately.”
2014’s best hip-hop video was…
“ Joey Bada$$’ “Christ Conscious”. Toughest visuals I’ve seen for a minute.”
Rediculus (@rediculus) rediculus.bandcamp.com
In 2014, hip-hop, in my opinion, was…
“…a great year for music. There was a lot of great music released this year from Run the Jewels to L’Orange’s release to the Dopplegangaz and SevenThirty/Gensu Dean. Hip-hop continued to grow and expand and we’re starting to discover new ways to make money in the streaming age. Working with dedicated fans who have a passion for supporting their favourite artists in new ways for my clients has been super rewarding and very educational.”
2014’s hip-hop release of the year was…
“…hmmm, that’s a tough one, there’s been a LOT of great music this year. RTJ2, Dilated Peoples, 7evenThirty/Gensu Dean, but the best one for me came right at the end. “Blasphemy” by Ras Kass and Apollo Brown was definitely the album of the year for me. Well produced, sequenced right and expertly assembled, it sonically represented both growth and a nod to the classics.”
Rewd Adams (@rewdadams) rewdadams.bandcamp.com
“…a good year; some great releases, especially towards the tail-end of the year. UK and US both came up with the goods. Still waiting on Kendrick’s album though…”
2014’s hip-hop release of the year was…
“…a toss-up between Schoolboy Q’s “Oxymoron”, Big K.R.I.T.’s “Cadillactica” or Mick Jenkins’ ‘The Waters.’ Or you can always check my new mixtape, “Hunger Pains 2” with DJ MK, before Christmas.”
2014’s hip-hop video of the year was…
“Dizzee Rascal – either “Pagans” or “Couple of Stacks”.”
December 10, 2014
Continuing to cast our net wide, this year’s polygenesis ‘choice’ list includes an entrancing mix of psychedelia and atavistic griot, neo-Krautrock interstellar voyages, Santa Fe road trips, Alabama Hip Hop, Congolese rumba, Tampa Bay switchblade dreamy pop, and….you get the idea.
No pushing at the back or stepping on each others toes, our list is displayed alphabetically. And is compiled this year by myself, Sean Bw Parker, Ayfer Simms and Ben P Scott.
In two parts, we invite you to peruse the first: Ariel Pink to King Creosote.
Click on the images where applicable for full reviews.
Ariel Pink Pom Pom (4AD)
Candid and mischievous, his gob playing catch-up, Ariel Pink‘s latest sordid and omnivorous pop nugget Pom Pom, has been overshadowed (if it’s a PR campaign, then its seriously backfired) by a raft of accident prone gaff riddled interviews and tweets. Falling out with fellow label signed artist Grimes, and for that matter the label themselves (taking drawl swipes at 4AD and management), the often venerated saviour of modern music has proven himself to be worthy of accolade. His spunk-stained hubba bubba latest can only be summed up as a Ken Russell envisioned glam-new-wave-garage rock opera.
Sean Bw Parker:
‘Ariel Pink is another of these lucky/unlucky recipients of the sherbet halo. Pink (or Rosenburg, if you prefer) has been churning out albums either ruthlessly bedroom-solo or with his live band Haunted Graffiti for over a decade now. His art lies in the borderline-Asperger’s-music fan-as-recording-artist box, his internalising of the entire oeuvre of Pink Floyd, Human League and his favourite band The Cure solidifying its writer-as-stubborn-mthrfckr rationale into an unstoppable drive to keep writing and recording, seemingly oblivious to or dismissive of reception.
It’s in the nature of his influences where we find the core of Pink. The aforementioned, nervy post-punk or post-hippie Brits held an angry, narcissistic angst at the core of everything they did, weaving their more accessible sounds around such inexpressible re/opp/ression. Ariel Pink can’t help but carry these sounds and feelings as an obsession – all the way to Los Angeles, where after a stint at performing arts school, assembled his Cobain-esque looks and slacker, nonchalant charm into twinkling, ADD, post-MGMT shapes.’
‘Reissue': Martyn Bennett Grit (Real World Records)
Making no allowances or splitting our ‘choice’ list into sections, we also include the odd reissue that we felt deserved a worthy mention. Appraising a life cut tragically short, the Caledonian dance music star merged the ancestral recordings of the Highlands and Scottish Isles with contemporary uplifting – nee soaring – breaks and samples to produce an almost evangelic celebration of life and home. Surpassing Moby’s own gospel eulogy, Martyn Bennett was far closer to his source material. A poignant reminder and swan song that Real World Records honcho Peter Gabriel believed Grit was worth celebrating once again.
‘Released in 2003, just two-years before Bennett finally succumbed to his illness, the album received a fair share of acclaim – and rightly so. Hard to ignore, Grit sounds like the distant relative of Moby’s Play, which would also unearth lost or relatively unknown vocal performances from that artist’s own American archives– in this case, Moby would use old gospel recordings from the Deep South. Aping the bold vegan, discerning tea impresario’s ‘Go’, Bennett would open his own opus with the call to ‘Move’, hitting us with churning cyclonic thump of heavy beats, didgeridoo, exotic camouflaged clarion calls and the cut up voice of Shelia Stewart of Rattray – that seems to share some distinct ancestral tones with Africa. From then on in it’s a kaleidoscope of Josh Wink techno, dubstep, trip hop and Enya trance as Bennett manipulates the travelling ballads, auguries and handed down fables and recitals of the revered poets and singers, Lizzie Higgins, Mairi Morrison and Annie Watkins (amongst many others). Weaving to create something akin to a spiritual revelation, as the traditions of the Roma and Gaelteachd come together in a bubbling avalanche of breaks and synchronized rhythms.
Emerging from those veiled times the ghostly resonance of what should be a cherished and happy occasion, ‘Wedding’, sounds more elegiac, chiming with universal melancholy and minimal slow sustained fiddle and a gentle diaphanous piano: a song of poised resignation and regret perhaps? Bennett closes the album proper with the grim recorded parable of limb cutting, ‘Storyteller’, a nine-minute narrative built around a 1955 recording of the ancestral Daughter Doris as retold by Jimmie McBeath. Its’ only companion musically is the low whistling, windy accompaniment of a ghostly landscape.’
Blue Rose Code The Ballads Of Peckham Rye
Leaving its mark on our literary adroit novelist-in-waiting, Ayfer Simms, The Blue Rose Codes western lilted folk songbook, The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, didn’t so much attract a review, as a love letter from our critic. The Scottish troubadour earnestly writes new mythologies; lamenting on love and remembrance as he treads the cocaine laced streets of London’s Shoreditch and the south eastern borough of Southwark.
‘Throughout the album’s enchanting melodies, we quickly forget about assigning a genre to his music (Described by himself as Caledonian Soul), it is the Man himself that we get to know very intimately. This album is an open letter written from the darkest corner of his soul that unravels the journey of a troubled mind and the confession of serenity upon his return: We stand there bewildered, listening carefully. We understand we were the ones judging him for being astray, he was the main judge, and yet finally he comes through the dark, stronger despite the hard times. What emerges in this tale is a man who knew he was still “complete and gentle” while plunged in the abyss, and that despite his errands in the unsure gloom of the absinthe, he did try his best, even when he promised, “never again” he “meant every word of it”. There is love and forgiveness; there is wholeness and peace.’
The Bordellos Will.I.Am, You’re Really Nothing (Small Bear Records)
Grinding out a lament to our turbulent times; taking a Gangnam ‘drive-by’ style potshot at the current hubris of pop-lit totems, The Bordellos latest bedraggled songbook is a bittersweet condemnation. Whether they’re taking The Normal down to a seedy St.Helens nightclub or stripping the Human League of all their melodies, the trio evoke returning to the barricades once more, and throttling the life out of the mainstream.
‘The St.Helens, via a disjointed Merseybeat imbued lineage, family affair Bordellos replace the “happy-go-lucky” lightweight and deciding suspect women’s rights champion, totem of Pharrell Williams, Will.I.Am and all his partners in floppy platitude pop, rock and folk with the arch druid of counter-cultural esotericism and miscreant obscure musical sub-genres (Kraut to Jap via Detroit rebellious and experimental rock), Julian Cope. Grinding out a dedicated epistle to Cope, the trio’s sermon, ‘The Gospel According To Julian Cope’, prompts a road to Damascus conversion to the spirit of rock’n’roll, in all its most dangerous guises.’
Martin Carr ‘The Breaks’ (Tapete Records)
Emerging from the burning embers of Britpop, former Boo Radley, Martin Carr, strode the route of a solo performer/songwriter; gaining an adroit reputation for crafting subtly stirring folk and pop songs. From the Brave Captain to once again performing under his birthright, Carr has now produced a scenic and spiritual travail along the Santa Fe highway; his best, most honest and rallying work in years. His road trip takes in We Love Life era Pulp, the Divine Comedy, Motown and the jangled sun-dappled light of California as it muses on the pitfalls of making it in the digital age.
‘In 2014, Carr sounds like a happy, acquiescent, rather Zen fellow. On ‘Mainstream’, he accepts the bittersweet nature of compromised creativity – whilst acknowledging that however bitter the message, it can always be delivered in a wrong-footingly sweet way. With ‘Mountains’, we are in fully self-assured Simon & Garfunkel/Crowded House territory – a compliment – Carr ratcheting up the songwriting jack to full charm.
If contemporary Wayne Coyne had a little more real soul and a little less commercial ambition, he would turn in something as lovely, reflective whilst still experimental as ‘Sometimes It Pours’ – fireside, rainy British music at its best. He’s back into Boo’s/Morrissey territory for ‘Senseless Apprentice’ – a ‘drive time pop rocker’ if ever I heard one –, mixing dark observations with sunny vibes, Carr ably turns himself into a 21st century one-man Steely Dan.’
Cool Ghouls ‘A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye’ (Empty Cellar Records)
Out in the alpine wastes of garage and country rock, a cellar full of noiseniks shake the crammed, from wall to ceiling, party with perfectly scuzz-y psychedelic and boogie hits from beyond the calico wall. Tapping into their hometowns acid rock and west coast maverick storytelling fuzz pedlars heritage, the Cool Ghouls strum and twang some of the year’s most nostalgic yet thrillingly fresh goers.
‘Such aesthetic frivolity aside, A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye (what a beautiful image that is) is a very fine record indeed. Retro with a purpose and a passion, the Ghouls exploit their city’s hippy history with unabashed glee; The Eagles, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Byrds and Grateful Dead party on in brown corduroy along with Kings of Leon, Stephen Malkmus’ The Jicks and Mick Jagger sulking in the kitchen.
Early Dandy Warhols would be the closest touch point though. Courtney Taylor’s joyful apathy in vocal delivery and unaffected, open strummed electric guitar is spread slapdash all over the recording, with the early Stones insouciance revelling through the grooves. Opener ‘And It Grows’ slaps you back into a hammock with a long cold beer and a smoke of your choice, and the album never slips from there. The three-part harmonies are sexy-impeccable, every ode to relaxing and having a good time delivered with a secret intelligence belying the give-a-shit demeanour.’
Lukas Creswell-Rost ‘Go Dream’ (Plain Sailing Records)
An unassuming masterpiece, Lukas Creswell-Rost‘s loosely themed road map of misanthropic tragedy, cruises Rocks back pages to produce one of the most melodically sonorous albums of 2014. A Pacific Ocean Blues that continued into the 80s, this ambitious songbook soundtracks the misadventures of such egotistical miscreant rock stars as Yngwie Malmsteen, and charts the sad demise of 70s fallen balladeers Bad Finger, to a Steely Dan, Young Americans, Wings imbued backing. One of the sorely under-rated, if undiscovered, majestical albums of the year.
‘Travelling a well-worn highway; tuned into a radio station straight from in-between the 1970s covers of Rolling Stone, Creem and The Village Voice; accompanied by a cast of “misanthropic” characters, the former Leeds troubadour of deconstructed pop Lukas Creswell-Rost dreams up a most sophisticated songwriting opus. His relocation, five years ago, to the creative hive of Berlin has done the artist a world of good, this solid contextual collection of earnest dramas and lamentable episodes from the rock of ages, slowly but surely, unfurling its quality.’
De Staat ‘Vinticious Versions’ (Cool Green Recordings)
Re-intpreting their already omnivorous back catalogue (mostly picking songs from their last LP, I_Con), the rambunctious, ennui, Dutch group De Staat, add even more mayhem to their already cross-pollinated original. One minute a Carney Die Antwood, the next, Damon Albarn shimmying to kooky sheik rock; each song is remodelled with a new musical style. If anything, this is an improvement on the source; their Ill Communications era Baeste Boys homage, ‘Input Source Select’, crispier and bouncier.
‘In the blanded-out, anodyne landscape of ‘alternative’ music – roundly demarcated by Coldplay, Alt-J and Mumford & Sons – a Dutch studio maverick making headway after a music production degree would naturally set all alarm bells ringing. For this is what Torre Florim, De Staat’s main man is.
However, what he inserts into this all too auspicious introduction is…soul. And a most welcome degree of unhinged loonery, a la Beastie Boys (‘Paul’s Boutique’ era), G-Love & Special Sauce, and yes, the Fun Lovin’ Criminals. It feels like the eight tracks on the Vinticious Versions have been meticulously handpicked and sequenced to ensure that NO ONE ever gets bored – and this we must celebrate.
Musically speaking, the highlight is ‘Devil’s Blood’, a genuinely beguiling, evocative soul lament, minor piano chords and autotune intertwining to sublime hypnotic affect. Elsewhere, ‘Get It Together’, Sweat Shop’ and ‘Down Town’ stand out with their sass and streetwise jaywalking appeal.
Some old-school skank here, spooky whistling there – all perfectly summing up a very roots-y, postmodern perspective – the sound of London, Berlin and New York concentrated into an hour of unique, funky focus and vision.’
Dirt Music ‘Lion City’ (Glitterbeat Records)
Connecting the ‘dirt music’ environment of an unforgiving Australian outback with the Cajun swamplands, desert and bustling African townships, Glitterbeat Records co-founder and producer of their awe-inspiring roster of world music greats, Chris Eckman, leads his nomad troupe across esoteric and meditative terrain soundscapes. At times almost alien, their borderless approach to mixing rock, blues and (mostly) West African music in a seamless wash, creates something both mysterious and original. Recorded at the same time as their last LP, Troubles, in Bamako, Lion City couldn’t help but be guided politically and socially by the upheaval in Mali. A testament to the eerie developments and a lament that also offers hope, Dirt Music and their guests (which include such luminaries as the Ben Zabo Band and Samba Toura) prove that you can work alongside African artists without succumbing to condensation – looking at you Geldof et al.
‘Accentuated, stripped back and refined, their fourth album, Lion City, is a far more contemplative affair than previous efforts. With a pondered sonorous dirge they set the scene, opening with the equivalent of a Timbuktu version of Alexandro Jodorowsky and Don Cherry’s The Holy Mountain soundtrack, on the amorphous introduction, ‘Stars Of Gao’. Obscured through shrouds of mystical ambience, this track alone merges the Sub-Sahara and the Outback with the Cajun Louisiana swampland: Throat singers perhaps? Didgeridoo even? Or traditional Malian instruments, its never quite clear what you’re actually hearing. Only ever shifting up through the gears to shuffle mode they hypnotically glide or trek at a meditative pace, every song is a mirage, waiting to slowly unravel its true shape.’
Eat Lights Become Lights ‘Into Forever’ (Rocket Girl)
Purveyors of the most startling cosmic neo-Krautrock sonic journeys – both along intergalactic highways and into the inner space of the mind -, Eat Lights Become Lights once again make our ‘choice’ list. This year’s peregrination , Into Forever, literally blasts off, going at it hammer and tongs with a cannonade of motorik drums, before simmering down into Sky Records induced, wondrous meditation. Still finding much from their Teutonic imbued explorations to produce beguiling, organic and sometimes explosive instrumentals, the group confidently search beyond the source for new electronica horizons.
‘Informed by a litany of the great and good from the Krautrock cannon, the album’s Teutonic indulgences still sound intrinsically fresh and inventive. Those cerebral nuanced patterns both reliving but also searching for new harmonically interesting relationships. ‘time enough’ however not only evokes Tangerine Dream, but also has a touch of the trance-y Seefeel about it. The meditative skydiving ‘vapour trails’ is back on even more familiar ground, pitching the hallowed choral mystique of Popol Vuh and Ash Ra Temple atop of a misty veiled Machu Picchu. A caustic magnetic field pulsates and bounces to the tune of Zuckerzeit era Cluster on ‘you are disko’ and early shades of Kraftwerk and Klaus Schulze inform the light particle downpour eponymous title track.’
The Greg Foat Group ‘Live At Playboy Club, London’ (Jazzman Records)
A trio of firsts: the first live LP from Jazz pianist Greg Foat; the first LP to be recorded at the Playboy Club, London, in forty tears; and the first live album ever to make the Monolith Cocktail’s yearly choice lists. But this will be the third appearance by Foat on the blog: his stunning, Baroque escapist, concrete futurist imbued Dark Is The Sun, and well-thumbed Sci-fi paperback soundtrack, Girl And Robot With Flowers, both making previous top album lists. Playing to the crowd, the serendipitous modal composer and his erudite group dazzle with a litany of covers from Tubby Hayes, Pigbag and Ernie Clark; bringing the spiritual and funky rare grooves to the lounge set.
‘Devoid of any material from his own albums, Greg’s performance is cut from a diverse range of considered covers; rearranged from their source and at times absorbed into his own unique peregrinations. With reverent purpose, Greg pars down from his finely tuned, extended horn section, with a trio of bass guitar and drums to open proceedings with a shimmering, sheik-sauntering version of Ernie Clark’s spiritual paean ‘By The Grace Of God, I Am’. Elevating the original from its more sacrosanct somber tones to a looser rare groove jamboree, which soars as it reaches a tighter double time climax of twinkled cascading organ notes and break beat drums, the group make it one of their own. This flange-effected eastern trip is carried over into the ‘Exodus (Interlude)’ – a sort of cooling down exercise of sparkling 70s Afrocentric religious flitted keys and resonating cymbals, and also a prelude to the next odyssey – and continues through the progressive Arabian via flared-trouser period Miles Davies turn ‘Mr. Minor’. A tale of light and shade dynamics, the song travels through sustained periods of echo-y spiraling, snaking – and almost puffed inside out – harassed horns and floating keyboard couplets that serenely drift into the ether emanating from Greg’s drawn-out phrases. In a similar mode, the Rahsaan Roland Kirk inspired vortex of saxophone playing and soulfully reverberating cooed melody rich ‘Ingen Rekaim’ (“no advertising” in Swedish) loiters over imaginary North African sand dunes: via a Nordic detour.’
Fofoulah ‘Fofoulah’ (Glitterbeat Records)
Doing what the Glitterbeat Record label does best, the Fofoulah are another fine example of their borderless musical mantra. The London/Bristol quartet, produced and starring drummer David Smith – who also plays in Robert Planet’s own Sensational Space Shifters – boast some fine musicians, inspired by the sound of both Europe and Western Africa, and play host to an international line-up of guest including the Gambian master griot and riti player, Juldeh Camara and the Algerian/Parisian songstress Iness Mezel. Led by the sound of the atavistic “talking” and “communicative” sabar and tama drums and transversing vocals of the Senegalese born singer Batch Gueye, Fofoulah absorb reggae, Afro soul, esoteric percussive reverberations and Hip Hop on their debut, to create a universal soundtrack.
‘A blurring of cultural and musical boundaries, the cross-pollinated London/Bristol quintet Fofoulah, send ricocheting percussive shots echoing across a backing of West African and European landscapes on their eponymous debut LP. Part of the celebrated Glitterbeat Records roster, they share many traits with fellow global mind travellers, Dirt Music. But whereas Dirtmusic were all transcendental and moody abstracted guitars and esoteric blues, Fofoulah center their sound around the rhythmic phrased language of the Sabar and Tama drums – the sabar used to communicate messages between villages, through the centuries, by the Wolof people of Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania, and the Tama, a ‘talking drum’ that can be regulated to mimic the tone of a human voice.’
The Green Seed ‘Drapetomania’ (Communicating Vessels)
Seen and heard as a return to conscious Hip Hop, the Alabama outfit The Green Seed are indeed on-message; cleverly weaving articulate discourse on the internet generation by enacting the very best that US rap has to offer. Missing an LP review – our own dumb fault – we nevertheless featured their Jurassic 5 meets Wu-Tang Clan single ‘Jude Law’ earlier this year. Thankfully the album, Drapetomania, continuously astounds – imagine EL-P and Edan co-producing an on-form Kayne West – with its ambitions and themes, whether its a clever two-way dual paean and angry lament a on shared relationship or a the pratfalls and addiction to keeping constantly connected to the internet, The Green Seed have proven worthy accolades of our Hip Hop crown this year.
Grumbling Fur ‘Preternaturals’ (The Quietus Phonographic Corporation)
Inspired to lyrical prose, our adroit and keen critic Ayfer Simms was moved by the beguiling, broody magic of the Grumbling Furs mellotron, waltzing – and almost able to duck any form of classification – opus, Preternaturals. Taking Eno and a far more romantic, subterranean Depeche Mode, on a rowing boat across fictional tumultuous bottle green seas, the duo’s lilting, unbroken chain of sumptuous lyrics and steadily progressive musical suites soared.
‘Grumbling Fur is a gathering of Men under a vault, there’s the whizzing of a boiling kettle from the 50s, a door slamming on a windy day, a house in the middle of Siberia hurling and cracking while the cold chill brings in a frozen blizzard. A solid man hits a heavy iron hammer to build the tools of survival, he is cold but has no choice, nor is he complaining. This is the way of life, to build the human chain of evolution against the elements.
Grumbling fur is Asia worshipping a perfect god with bulging eyes and horns, the church men carrying their god in their hearts, the monks copying manuscripts in the heights of a deserted mountain, the labourers, the poor’s, the genius, the apes, the tools, the elements, our consciousness.
Grumbling fur’s heart is pure: “I have seen things you would not believe”. They have witnessed, they have ingested and given back their own vision of us, assembling the history of humanity, from the beginning of things to our present conception of the future. Once upon a time we were none, but Grumbling Fur has reignited our past with their own captivating sounds.’
‘Reissue': Mick Harvey ‘Intoxicated Man/Pink Elephants’ (Mute)
Taking on the role of the louche titan of cool, Serge Gainsbourg, Mick Harvey and his Bardot, Birkin stand-ins foil Anita Lane – an antipodean muse in her own right – paid homage with the most impressive reappraisal of the French genius’ songbook yet. Originally germinating from Lane, the idea of a English language duet version of the infamous ‘Je T’aime…Moi Non Plus’ with Nick Cave in the mid 90s, soon spiralled out of control, as Harvey was encouraged to eventually record not just one but two volumes of his work: the Intoxicated Man and Pink Elephants moiety of albums. What could so easily be lost in translation is handled with aplomb and dedication by Harvey as he translates the French language quirks, phrases and play-on-words into not only a convincing but outstanding suite. With a contemporary backing, adding in some cases more power and bombast to the source material, the Gainsbourg legacy eneded up in safe hands, at a a time when Harvey was on fine form – something he’s returned again more recent times. These re-releases sparked by a slight revival of Gainsbourg in the anniversary year of his birth, and following on from Harvey’s 2013 Yeah Yeah Yeahs curated ATP performance revisit and final show this material live, in the summer of this year, hasn’t left the Monolith Cocktail’s turntable all year.
‘Huskily delivered by our troubadour and caressed by Lane’s sultry enchantress tones, the deadpan Harvey begins as he means to go on, with the opening double-entendre chanson, ’60 Erotic Year’. Flitting and flirting between erotically charged, metaphorical, pop and wanton lust, it proves the ideal introduction. Highlights are frequent, the chariot-to-the-gods, motorcycle riot, ‘Harley Davidson’, a petulant enough anthem of the ‘die young stay pretty’ variety – a rollicking union of Transvision Vamp and Saint Etienne -, just one of the many great three-minute bursts of rebel-rousing freedom. A predilection for auto-erotica persists with the arousing tribute to the Ford Mustang, and with the unfortunate plunge off the cliff road on the way to Monte Carlo, amusing ‘Jazz In The Ravine’ – ‘At dawn, they used a spoon to scrape up the remains.’
‘From the earliest incarnations via the various troubled and sexually heightened duets, Harvey cast his net wide, choosing a varied feast of delectable and lustfully spurned soliloquies and contemptuous exchanges between lovers. Mambo to disco-noir, each manifestation of the troubled, often objectionable and drunkenly debauched, flawed genius’ work, is masterfully handled by the ensemble. Translating those quirks of language, phrases and cadence can’t have been easy, and though Harvey doesn’t exactly treat the source material with kid gloves or reverence, his dedication and love for Gainsbourg shines through every note and verse: It’s really quite an accomplishment and resounding success.’
‘Reissue': Grace Jones ‘Nightclubbing Deluxe’ (Island/Universal)
An odd year to celebrate, arguably, Grace Jones most accomplished and iconic album, but we’re not complaining; especially when they throw in the previously obscured and lost yacht reggae pop song ‘If You Wanna Be My Lover’, and tropical swayed cover of Gary Numan’s synth lament, ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’. Part of the fabled and creatively successful Bahamas trinity of recordings, produced with the Compass Point Allstars (whose ranks featured the might Sly & Robbie), Jones’ polygenesis, prowling nocturnal panther of a salacious record lapped up the Tango, calypso, dub, and melting pot of genres that made New York king in the early 80s, to create a work of art. The reason it’s on the list is both a triumph and symptom of the lack of anything new and promising to replace it; ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ still the defacto bump and grind, car horny-tonking dance floor filler, 33-years on.
‘Very much a snapshot of its time yet resonating with a timeless quality too, Nightclubbing encapsulated – as did many of Jones’ recordings – the cross-pollination of art and music, at the turn of the 80s. The middle LP of a Bahamas recorded cycle – viewed as the androgyne polymaths most important and influential – the album is a sophisticated nocturnal beast. Ms.Jones prowling like a panther on heat, the sentinel chiselled android whose vocal intonation and monotone cadence (a binary mix of Édith Piaf, Eartha Kitt, Ann Peebles and Nico) proves that there is indeed a soul at the heart of the machine, slopes up and down on a deep, cool, backtrack of dub, calypso, Tango, funk and ominous skulking new wave.’
Stephen Jones ‘Ambition Expired’
Ben P Scott writes: ‘The first full-length album to bear ex Babybird cult hero Stephen Jones‘ own name since 2003’s Almost Cured Of Sadness finds the Sheffield-based musical genius delivering a breathtaking set of strange, beautiful and transcendental pieces.
Don’t be fooled by the low key nature of the release, this record is a superb piece of work, and one of Jones’ finest. There is no press release accompanying Ambition Expired, just a doodle and some jotted words that describe this work as “an album with mind altering musical substance” that “involves no effort from the listener” since “ears will throw aside the mind for one simple hour”. On BandCamp, a short blurb lists it as “a trip, not an album”. Even the tracks that clock in at around quarter of an hour each seem to take hold of the senses in such a way, that you’re always happy to stay wherever the music takes you. The time and room given to these freely flowing song structures allow the listener to soak up the growing, evolving atmospheres for maximum impact.
Despite selling over two million records worldwide, Jones has never compromised the intelligence of his music for the mainstream, and has a deep hatred of mass marketed insipidness. With his talent for the unusal, why would he want to conform to sounding like everyone else? We need people like this man, who make this world a more interesting place by challenging the norm and going against the grain. It’s not likely to sell truckloads of copies and you’re not going to be hearing any of it on the radio. It’s one of those well kept secrets tucked away in a weird little corner of the internet that you might be lucky enough to discover. ‘Ambition Expired’ is immersive, euphoric and magical.’
King Creosote ‘From Scotland With Love’ (Domino)
Depending on which side of the divide you stood, Scotland has either snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and is suffering an eternal hangover, or they’ve escaped a calamitous decision. Despite the vote for independence result, Scotland enjoyed a memorable year in the spotlight. Continuing with the goodwill gesture of hosting the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and a package of incentives from the UK government and institutions such as the BBC to stay in the “union”, but also seeing their most prestige (and internationally renowned) Glasgow School of Art burn down, the blessings have been mixed. Celebrating the heart and soul of the forgotten voices in this shouting match, the placable songwriter Kenny Anderson, under his King Creosote moniker, composed an alternative to the misty-eyed recollections and shortbread tin stereotypes of his homeland. Commissioned as part of the Commonwealth Games extended programme of cultural promotion, and accompanying a nostalgic but endearing film, From Scotland With Love is an accomplished paean to the real Scotland. Dreamily spinning a tale of self-determination, tenacity and at times gloriously penning the most warm and fond memories of everyday life – ‘One Night Only’ one of those life-affirming numbers that just makes you swell up with pride and joy – Anderson swoons between craggy, almost so fragile it may just evaporate, folk and whirling uptempo charleston to build a poignant love letter.
December 8, 2014
The final quarterly playlist of ‘choice’, ‘obscure’, ‘popular’ and sometimes frightening tracks of 2014.
Expect the usual cross-pollination of musical discoveries; from the shimmy spiritual lounge jazz of The Greg Foat Group to the Ill Communication era Beastie Boys homage to golden era Hip Hop by the Ducth group De Staat, we cast our net far and wide.
TV On The Radio ‘Careful You’.
Wu-Tang Clan ‘Preacher’s Daughter’.
De Staat ‘Input Source Select (Vinticious Version)’.
Red Snapper ‘Village Tap’.
Tony Allen (Feat. Adunni and Nefretiti) ‘Ire Omo’.
Khun Narin ‘Lai Sing’.
White Fang ‘Shut Up’.
Marianne Faithfull ‘Sparrows Will Sing’.
The previous quarterly playlists…
December 3, 2014
Many of you will be aware that our miscreant cultural wordsmith Sean Bw Parker has form with David Bowie, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when he lambasts the latest attempt to flog the great dame’s back catalogue, with the recently laboured Nothing Has Changed collection. Sean, ever the avid fan, turns his attention to the extended ‘deluxe’ version, and founds (as the golden era Hip hop duo, Nice & Smooth summed it up on their 1991 LP) ‘Ain’t a damn thing changed’ , as its business as usual for the thin white duke.
David Bowie ‘Nothing Has Changed’ (Deluxe Edition)
One more wheeling out of a near-dead corpse to prop up the rotting/rotten foundations of a spluttering, gasping, if not finished industry. Like most serious lovers of music, I cherish Mr Bowie as much as a long lost great uncle confined to the corners of some multi-millionaire’s care home in Vermont should be cherished – but come on, enough is enough. If EMI, RCA, Rykodisc etc haven’t had enough of violating Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke’s corpse by now, we all must be missing something.
I’ve never met a musician or indeed music lover who didn’t love Bowie, for good reason. His work rarely fell below utterly inspiring between 1969 and 1980. But we are surrounded by Martin Luther King levels of universal praise, and that can’t help but grate some. Unqualified as I am to critique MLK particularly (not sure which qualifications that requires), but CDs one and two of Nothing Has Changed are a PR attempt in trying to rehabilitate a bunch of legend-flogging old toss.
‘NHC’ is arranged chronologically backwards, so we start with the admirably obtuse new-jazz ‘Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)’, and it’s even bitchier little sister ‘Tis A Pity She’s A Whore’ follow shortly. Mr Jones at his most unlistenable, which is to be applauded, whilst not necessarily listened to. But the truth is it’s a lame start, with two CDs of legacy-grooming dross before you get to anything substantial, on CD3. And CD3 is unremittingly full of fantastic brilliance, an androgyne alien on a par with the imagination of Picasso, wit of Lennon and ambition of Dali.
‘Let’s Dance’ is imprinted in a certain generation’s memory as wonderful, but it’s naff, polishing up a singer who was ready to get rich. Some of the 90s and 00s stuff is quite good, ‘New Killer Star’ and Where Are We Now?’ particularly – but only because it was lovely to hear the old bugger’s voice again.
Nothing Has Changed is yet another cynical punch in the face of music lovers who are well aware there is basically nothing in the mainstream to buy anymore. Bowie’s two new songs are refreshing in as much as he is still desperate to out-freak Scott Walker – but that ship really sailed two decades ago, darling. Don’t worry, the first (or is it last?) CD will take you where you need to go.
To counter some of Sean’s charges, especially in reference to his 80s and early 90s legacy, here is another chance to catch your humble editors complete albums guide (including Labyrinth and Tin Machine no less); first posted on God Is In The TV in 2013. Click on the images below…
November 27, 2014
Following her most recent adroit LP review, Ayfer Simms investigates the influences and ideas that shaped the singer/songwriter Jamie Doe‘s The Magic Lantern alter ego and his Love Of Too Much Living suite, with some revealing and astute questions.
From the lyrics and the tone of the album there’s a sense of happy childhood, is it the case? How was your childhood?
I grew up in the Canberra, the sleepy capital of Australia, playing cricket and the piano with equal passion before moving to Birmingham in England, the coal-stained heart of England’s Industrial Revolution, at thirteen and settling into a new life in a cold climate. It means I don’t really feel like I’m from anywhere particularly, maybe that’s why I have invested so much of what people think of when they say ‘home’ in my personal relationships.
I don’t really feel the association of childhood with the record. I see it more as looking at the difficulties of young adulthood, that liminal time between the conviction that everything is possible, and the realisation that all decisions have consequences, the importance of which you can’t know until you’ve irrevocably made them.
When did you start thinking about the notion of time fleeting – this usually, if at all, come from the loss of innocence; when the years become “numbered”. What and when did this happen?
The last four years have been a difficult period of navigating and taking responsibility for a series of major transitions, traumas, successes and failures in my life. I’ve had to come to terms with the reality that as we get older we seem to become more atomised, more individually focused on our own careers, relationships and lives and that the strong sense of a collective that I have been so lucky to be a part of, first in school, then at University and then in the first years of living in London, no longer seems possible. This is really sad and something that I fought hard against until I realised that you can’t hold back the tide. I’m trying hard now to enjoy my relationships for what they are, rather than what I’d like them to be.
Have you seen the film Interstellar? The theme of time and relativity and also the exploration of the cosmos is themed, is this a subject you are interested in?
No I haven’t seen Interstellar. What’s it like? But I do like the astronomer Carl Sagan and I love his idea that – ‘somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known’.
When did you start singing? When did you realize it was your vocation and did you have any other idea of what to do when you were older?
I’ve been singing with my family, in the car, after dinner and now whenever we infrequently all get together, forever. We all love singing, but I never thought about being a singer until I started writing songs at University when I was eighteen. I grew up playing the piano and was determined to be a jazz pianist for a long time until I got my first guitar when I was sixteen and went through a brief but intense period of trying to be Jimi Hendrix. Once I put the electric guitar down though and took the bandana off, I picked up a classical guitar, starting writing songs and never looked back.
How do you see yourself in your old age. Do you have an idea flashing in your head? Not how you would like to be, but a natural idea that comes to your mind?
Deep down I worry I’m going to be alone.
Do you think of yourself as selfish? You talk about how you “didn’t listen enough”. Is there a story attached to this?
I don’t really think of myself as selfish no, I really try to think a lot about other people but of course we’re all selfish in a way. Someone very close to me once said I talked too much and don’t listen enough and it’s been on my mind ever since. I try to remember this when I get excited about something these days – when I’m excited I just can’t wait to share it with someone, I just don’t always judge how much they really want to know. It’s something I’m working on!
Are you a moody or a jolly character?
That depends very much on what day you ask. If you asked me today I would say I’m feeling mildly existentially challenged. Overall though, I would say that I am reflective, I probably think too much about things and I worry about how I affect people. I’m very social and I feel best around people, which is one of the reasons I love being a songwriter and a musician, I think it brings out the best in me.
Your lyrics could just as well be poems, wonderfully written texts; do you do a lot of writing beside music? And do you have a general interest for literature?
That’s very kind. I don’t think of them as poems, although I do think very hard about the lyrics and spend a lot of time getting them right. A lot of people like to look at song lyrics as if their poems but I think there’s a very important distinction in so far as they are different forms entirely. I don’t do too much other writing although I just wrote and essay which was published in a little magazine on ‘Music, Magic & The Art of Suspending Disbelief’.
I used to read a lot but I find these days that I don’t read so much. I go through periods of reading novels and when get into those phases; I really enjoy jumping around between different types of literature. I love graphic novels as much as classic 20th century novelists like Hemingway and Steinbeck as much as contemporary writers like Murakami. I used to live with a poet, Wilf Merrtens, who turned me onto a lot of contemporary poetry and I’m lucky that through him, I’ve got to find a whole scene of young British poets whose words I find very inspiring such as Sally Jenkinson and Alabaster DePlume.
Does the world news affect you (specially the bad stories) in a sort of Woody Allen way, or in a deeper anxious way?
I don’t really know what Woody Allen thinks of the news; he has own well-documented issues to worry about. For me, I spend a lot of time listening to and reading the news, its hard not too these days. I sleep listening to the radio so sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to hear about a new calamity which I’m sure contributes to the number of dreams I have about my teeth falling out (long story).
I think I am affected by it to the extent that it makes me deeply frustrated with our capacity to hurt each other, to wilfully fail to understand other people’s point of view and in people’s conviction that their own opinion must be right. Despite all that, I know enough wonderful people to prevent me sliding into the nihilistic pessimism that the constant news cycle could so easily encourage. I really believe that we can be better because we so often are.
Say the first 5 words that come to you mind: don’t think! This will give us readers some clues about your inner self.
It’s going to be ok.
November 25, 2014
Sean Bw Parker peruses Athens, Georgia’s finest export, R.E.M., as UMC/Capitol release their I.R.S. Records haul of singles. Join Sean as he revisits the band’s inaugural 80s heyday of ‘finest work songs’.
R.E.M. ‘7in – 83 – 88’ (UMC/Capitol) 8th December 2014
In an interview I did last year with the Throwing Muses’ Kristin Hersh, when asked about their recent demise, she replied ‘they’re some of the few real gentlemen in rock, and I’ll miss them a lot’. For over thirty years, this has been the root appeal of R.E.M. It never took a musician to tell that these four Georgian indie-Countrysmiths truly meant it, and wouldn’t let you down, ma’am.
But meant what? Enigmatic frontman Michael Stipe’s lyrics were seemingly permanently low in the mix, and often simply murmured (an aesthetic reflected in their debut album of the same name). Murmur was roundly considered the album of 1983 in the States, and R.E.M. would for the rest of the decade lead the conscientious alternative music fan through the rest of the free-market capitalism-infested decade – reflected on the other side of the Atlantic by The Cure and The Smiths. The following decade, accidentally spearheaded by Nirvana, would see alt-rock become mainstream.
It was quite a classic, if sometimes somewhat businesslike seeming, ‘career path’. Energised, caterwauling, ambitious-without-looking-it 80s slides into moneyed, grandiose, multi-unit-shifting, arena-rocking 90s, finally into postmillennial decline and a feeling of R.E.M.-on-repeat. That said, their innate humanity, work ethic, perceived liberal socialism and organic approach saw them burrow deeply into the hearts of more than one generation of ‘serious’ music listener.
Their first run of singles, from post-new-wavey ‘Radio Free Europe’, through to the sublime ‘SO. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)’, and incendiary ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’ to first crossover hit ‘The One I Love’ are all present and correct, plus a surprise, ramshackle Velvet Underground cover ‘There She Goes Again’. The politically incorrect lyric of late Lou’s ‘better hit her’, referring to his street-walking girlfriend – and rather incongruous to R.E.M.’s right-on credentials and ethos – is changed by Stipe by the end to ‘better let her’.
There is a view amongst Stipe-watchers that R.E.M. should have called it a day after the departure of bored, brain aneurysm afflicted drummer Bill Berry, and simultaneously underrated album Up. Possibly, but those late alums (Reveal, Around The Sun, Accelerate and contract-fulfilling swan song Collapse Into Now) indicate a return to the spiky aesthetic of the songs brought together here, from their nascent years – just with more expensive production. A fine collection of ‘worksongs’, indeed.
November 19, 2014
NEW MUSIC REVIEW
Our regular motley round up of ‘choice’ singles, knock-offs, albums and EPs, that tickled our fancy recently continues.
This week’s chosen few include Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Lukas Creswell-Rost, Junkboy, Nimzo-Indian, Picturebox and Mikey Georgeson.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius ‘Kollektion 2: Roedelius – Electronic Music Compiled By Lloyd Cole’ & ‘Tape Archive 1973-1978’ (Bureau B) Released 24th October and mid-November 2014.
As life story arcs go, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, the former child star actor in 1930’s Berlin turn masseur turn progenitor of organic electronic and experimental music, is one of the most astounding. Still a stalwart figure of innovation in his eighties, he was born at both the right and wrong time, in 1934, on the cusp of the events that would lead to an apocalyptic World War. Moving from the destructive wastes of Berlin to a small village in eastern Prussia with his family, only to be harassed by the invading Russians, before settling in the occupied regions of the Sudentenland, the ever sharp and wryly cynical Roedelius knew bullshit when it was fostered upon him, his indoctrination into the Hitler Youth during the war and then later to the East German army (caught after the war finished on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain) would not make a soldier out of him or endear him to discipline.
Instead he ventured when he managed to escape the clutches of the Stasi (who imprisoned him on one occasion as a suspected spy; his sentence a two-year stretch in the coal mines) to the west, drifting from work as a gardener to waiting tables and everything in between. Thankfully the German avant-garde scene had other ideas, Roedelius hooking up with one of Joseph Beuys’ first art student protégées, Conrad Schnitzler and forming the – so unfortunately termed – Krautrock shrine and incubator, the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in the late Sixties. Conrad taught his bedfellow much and from this union of free thinkers and expletory mind-bending sonic adventurers, Roedelius began working with another visionary, his stalwart partner on so many collaborations, Deiter Moebius. All three would inaugurate one of the era’s defining ambient and venerable groups, Kluster (later changed to Cluster of course), and set out on a traversing voyage of discovery. Many incarnations, whether it was as the duo of Roedelius and Moebius working with Michael Rother of Neu! or Brian Eno as Cluster and Harmonia, or separated and solo, album after album followed suit: A rough estimate calculates around 80 albums to date, though there could be more still waiting to appear, left dormant in the vaults in collecting dust (in one of his most prolific periods 2000 – 2001, he released eight albums alone).
An iconic and reverent figure of the new rational and free Germanic spirit, more or less opposed to all ideologies and offended by the misdeeds of previous generations, Roedelius has without fanfare continued to progress his musical ideas over the last five decades. Even now the patriarchal sagacious 80-year-old veteran still creates new music: in partnership with Mateo Latosa and Cesar Gallegos for a photographic exhibition and album music installation, Latitudes, and in 2013 he worked with Lloyd ‘Commotions’ Cole on the Selected Studies Vol. 1 studio album; he has been recording with Onnen Bock under the Qluster moniker since 2011, so far releasing four albums, the last in 2013.
As a celebration the Hamburg record label Bureau B is releasing the moiety Tape Archives 1973 – 1978 and Kollection 02 collections of, both, lesser know obscurities and career highlights from Roedelius’ extensive back catalogue. The first of these peruses his audio sketchbooks, picking out the more sublime and ominous soundscapes from amongst the reams of magnetic tape recorded passages, narratives and “moments of inspiration” that either ended up being stored away or used as templates for finished works of sonic peregrination. Made during his iconic Forst period, in his private workspace, Roedelius between studio times with Cluster, he experimented to his heart’s content, pushing the limits with the tape left running. Using a Farfisa organ, Revox-A77 tape machine, an echo device and a borrowed synthesiser, he would prod and probe, sometimes leaving one-note modulations to fade out on, what sometimes seems, an infinite timeline.
Transferred and digitalized for the very first time, this Ltd. Edition 3-LP or 3 x CD boxset features over 25 studies in sound, rhythm and structure (far too much to take in one go, meant to be explored at leisure), comes complete with full linear notes by the man himself and label founder/artists Gunther Buskies and fellow German composer of avant-garde electronica, Asmus Tietchens.
Redefining classical music for the new age through the method of constant invention, Roedelius’ sketches are full of both the most wondrous of shimmering gladded ambient suites and the most monotonous sine-waves. Delightfully serendipitous style, bouncing through a majestic oriental garden of ‘Berg und Tal (Kurze etüdenhafte Skizze)’ or stretching the boundaries of otherworldly generator-humming minimalism with the lingering ‘Aber warum den nicht (zwei Tongeneratorin im Spiel miteinander)’, the ambient field reports of Roedelius enlighten the composers process and ideas.
Paying homage once again to his collaborator and teacher, Lloyd Cole, who worked with Roedelius last year on their Selected Studies Vol. 1 album, selects an ethereal litany of personal favorites from the solo back catalogue. The second in a series of “Kollektions”, the first released only a month ago and compiled by Stereolab’s Kosmiche fan Tim Gane (which also featured many choice Roedelius and Cluster tracks; a collection that picked from the famous Sky Records archives), this particular suite absorbs his most beautiful, exotic and magisterial gliding works: close your eyes and you could be transported past satellites to an undiscovered cosmos (‘Sonnengeflecht’, ‘Etoiles’) or be whisked away to discover new man-made and natural wonders (‘Staunen im Fjord’, ‘Schöner Abend’).
Renowned for creating a new language in the age of burgeoning electronic music, Roedelius also wistfully recalled the enchantments of a ghostly landscape, lost in the shrouds of time; a city or diorama captured in a capsule and investigated by the technology of the now. A reification mood created with the strange waltz like fairground and boulevard society of a Weimar Berlin envisioned ‘Café Central’, and the Baroque period, via the last scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, harpsichord dream state of ‘Glaubersalz’ – also a Tim Gane favorite, picked for the first volume of the Kollektion series.
Undaunted by the scale of this enterprise, Cole has chosen one of the best and most accessible compilations yet of Roedelius’ oeuvre; a congruous and thoughtful arc of the introspective and marvellous; the ethereal and subterranean. If you were an eager initiate or strapped for cash then this would be a sound starting point. However, those weaned on the stuff and able to tell their Qluster from their Kluster, from their Cluster, or already have the behemoth library of Roedelius material, then the Archive Tapes should sort out your hunger for now.
Your humble critic was privileged enough to interview the distinguished Roedelius in 2010 for, what was then, the Krautrock and electronica Vessel blog (now sadly defunct). We discussed his incredible journey from physiotherapist to musician, the early German electronic and arts scene and his back catalogue. You can find it HERE.
Lukas Creswell-Rost ‘Go Dream’ (Plain Sailing Records) Available Now.
Travelling a well-worn highway; tuned into a radio station straight from in-between the 1970s covers of Rolling Stone, Creem and The Village Voice; accompanied by a cast of “misanthropic” characters, the former Leeds troubadour of deconstructed pop Lukas Creswell-Rost dreams up a most sophisticated songwriting opus. His relocation, five years ago, to the creative hive of Berlin has done the artist a world of good, this solid contextual collection of earnest dramas and lamentable episodes from the rock of ages, slowly but surely, unfurling its quality.
Featured on the Monolith Cocktail in the summer, the single from his highly adroit Go Dream album, ‘Warmth Of The Sun’, mistily recalled hints of Steely Dan, Jim O’Rourke and a crooning jazz-y saxophone straight from Young Americans era Bowie. Dappled and woozy, the song lamented the tale of the, touched by sadness, harmony-rich balladeers Bad Finger, as told from the perspective of their far from sympathetic manager, Stan Polley. Leaving them in financial straits, Polley however wasn’t the only bad guy to befall the group (countless individuals and management deals would follow), yet his actions didn’t help, the misfortunate band suffering from two suicides.
These same themes of greed – squeezing until the pips finally pop out – and tribulations that surround the music business like a miasma, are expanded on the album. A left field choice perhaps, Lukas choices to pen not one but two dry-ice atmospheric odes to the million-notes-per-second, bullshit baffles brains, neo-classical heavy mental guitarist, Yngwie Malmsteen. I’m not sure if Lukas wishes to elicit sympathy or just found a rich source of ridicule and the worst access of fame in the Swedish rock star. The Prince meets Drive soundtrack 80s moody ‘Ten Dollar Cocktails’, features a tapped transcript of a wired Malmsteen kicking off on a flight after upsetting a female passenger with his lewd and obnoxious comments about homosexuals, which led to her pouring a cold glass of water over his head. The infamous “you’re released the fury” line juts one of his many ill-fought out reactions as he lunged at the protagonist (made into a popular misquote of “unleash the fury”), along with the obligatory threats to kill. Very sad, the “big in the Eighties” malcontent’s slide into obscurity after this 1988 episode is reflected in this and the equally plaintive, 80s sulky ‘Patient Pilot’.
A thoroughly contemporary take on the eras in which his subject’s frequented, Lukas weaves elements of Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Godley and Crème, Wings – hell even some late Fleetwood Mac – with bubbling 80s synth bass, white funk and the odd sequence of drum pads.
Traversing between the romantically acoustic, building to a swell, repetitive warning of “you’re wasting your every minute” ‘Timewaster’ to the Mews like disjointed gait, and heavy drum barrage of ‘Summer Of George’, and the beautifully picked-guitar resigned finale, ‘Stolen Thunder’ – the finale and most brutally honest defense of the misanthropic: “I’m looking out for no one, apart from number one.” -, there’s a rich source of ideas and nuanced material to study.
No serene or lazy trip through memory lane, Go Dream is a highly crafted triumph, each song a contained but also concatenate melodrama; the hooks and melodies purposeful and giving away more on each listen. Lukas pays homage to the lost art of the LP, every action considered and purposeful, and all linked to a subtle nautical leitmotif. Without doubt impressive enough to make our end of the year list next month.
Junkboy ‘Sovereign Sky’ (Enraptured Records) Available Now
Attached to an unassuming driftwood platform, the brothers Hanscomb longingly stare past the drizzling and less than tropical horizon of their English south coast home, towards the sunnier climes of an imaginary 60s/70s dreamt California. Making the switch from Southend-On-Sea to Brighton & Hove a while back, Mik and Rich have, with there lushly, understated paeans, for a brief moment, twinned their new home with the Laurel Canyon.
As the unassuming Junkboy the brothers have, sine the late 90s, experimented with a number of styles, their latest fare, Sovereign Sky adopting a relaxed attitude to pastoral, cooing frat-folk and psychedelia. All sung and played through the imbued spirit of breezy introspective early Britpop and at times, sounding like a folksy Stone Roses or the High Llamas deconstructing Harpers Bazaar.
Giving fair voice and a wistfully charmed backing of tenderly picked acoustic guitars, stirring strings and hushed, almost whispered, vocals, to both the pains and loves of entering their thirties, the brothers mellowed tones and introspection offer a mature observation of the world around them: from the opening meandered, optimism of ‘Priory Park’ to the relaxed soulful Love-esque rhythm guitar and lapping tidal reflection of ‘Salt Water’.
You may have to suspend belief of course, but erring towards their enamoured respect and influence of Brian Wilson, the boys do their best to bring the sun-bleached boardwalks and palm tree lined avenues of Californ-i-a home. Subtler than say the Beach Boys imbued work of the obscure and cultish American composer Expo, Junkboy enact, twice or even thrice removed, allusions to the instrumental vignettes and sweetened Tropicana influences found on Pet Sounds and Smiley Smile. And just as the golden state’s favoured sons did before them, they also pay both lamentable reverence and praise to natures elements and phenomena’s.
Despite being tenderly fraught at times, almost missing the odd trembled note and not quite reaching those vocal sweet high spots, their placable demeanour and ambitions make this criticism an irrelevance. File under a softening of the edges.
Nimzo-Indian ‘Nimzo-Indian’ 15th October 2014
Opening with the desired chess move of grandmaster and conceptual art progenitor Marcel Duchamp (for those who care about these things in finer detail, it is characterized by the moves: 1. D4 Nf6 2. C4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4), the Nizmo-Indian defense proves a handy moniker for the rambunctious soundtrack experiments of Andrew Spackman. Building his own twisted and odd instruments, from wooden turntables to miniature bass guitars, the former Zoom Quartet maverick clutters through an omnivorous sonic palette of sounds and genres to create something that does its best to wiggle free of classification.
His latest avant-garde and electronic pop instrumentals collection begins with a Ritalin fidget through French-esque Tango, strangled blubbering jazz trumpet, Indian tabla percussion and a garbled version of Massive Attack (circa. Daydreaming), on the jabbering accordion led ‘Airport’. From then on it’s a schizoid soundtrack of randomly stuck together film clips, jostling between early Daft Punk, Soulwax, Aphex Twin, Beck and chill wave, and suiting many moods.
There is an array of multifaceted ideas going on, with many of the tracks changing tact at least twice – ‘Melt Bird’ goes from stuttered funk to cosmic crystallised shimmering, and the finale ‘Tower And The Cobwebb’ going from the caustic generated sound of a disturbed industrial machine to squelchy disco.
Despite the raving pysch-jazz drum workout of ‘Uninvited Guest’, and art critic-makes-an-arse-of-themselves robotically sampled tribute of a sorts to the phantom scribbler ‘David Shrigley’, this album is, surprisingly, a mostly melodic affair – even if it burbles and burps at every other turn.
Though far too distracting to meet the needs of any movie you’d want to see, the Nizmo-Indian is a pleasant and curious oddity.
Picturebox ‘Graffiti’ (Gare Du Nord Records) 1st December 2014.
Part of the psych and new wave collective that nestle the outskirts of the two capital cities which act as bookends for their Gare Du Nord label moniker train line, Picturebox hail from the musically progressive and acid-folk city of Canterbury. Though hardly an apparent scion of that hazy-eyed scene, mostly active during the late 60s and early 70s and boasting Caravan, Egg, the Soft Machine (of which a respective nod in the direction of their more off-the-scale jazz keyboard and drum freakouts is chucked into the group’s own ‘Giving It All I’ve Got’) and Kevin Ayers; the lo fi experiments sound more in touch with the post-punk pop of the iconic Stiff Records.
Literally sharing duties with the Gare Du Nord label founders own buzzy brand of Liverpool backbeat meets eccentric English popsike, Papernut Cambridge, on a recent collaborative 7” (the Swaps 7”), the group once again rework a number of their fellow peers songs for this latest EP ‘Graffiti’; a teaser in itself for an upcoming LP, The Garden Path. The first of these appropriations is the Denim semi-Glam, monotone robotic Add N To (X) accompanying ‘Giving It All I Got’; penned originally by fellow Canterbury lo fi maverick, Luke Smith.
An even stranger riff on Papernut Cambridge’s eponymous moniker track, turns the original into a music concrete style assemblage piece: chattering crowds in the monkey house mixed with an incessant shaker and warbled vocal, both creepy and mischievous.
The last of these, ‘Bit Part’, leans on the fuzz, paying tribute to the Lemonheads classic. Glowing with a jaunty hint of Belle And Sebastian, the duet features the band’s friend Emily Kennedy filling in for Juliana Hatfield.
Flitting through the quartet of perfect ditties (running time of just under 8-minutes for the lot), the only original Picturebox song, and title track, start’s proceedings with an amiable breeze through a Nick Lowe spontaneous declaration of scribbled love: made more personal in the accompanying video, shot around the Kentish locations of Thanet Way and Herne Bay.
Another fine effort from the Gare du Nord outcasts, who’s humble ranks swell with perfectly crafted pop from the sticks.
Mikey Georgeson & The Civilized Scene ‘Bringing Back Rocks From The Moon’ (Pop-Z) 19th November 2014
Feet on homely terra firma, but head in a metaphysical state of fluxes, Mikey Georgeson breaks rocks on the moon to a Blockheads meets Bowie, pub piano jangled and softened brass backed lament. Less plaintively dramatic than the Thin White Duke’s own isolated misadventures, Georgeson’s inimitable sweetly conveyed musings are far more upbeat and fun; even if the lyrics and nuanced bowed lilting, weepy, strings and twanged yearns suggest otherwise.
Unfurled from the mind of the former David Devant & His Spirit Wife and numerous reincarnated band vessels, ‘Bringing Back Rocks From The Moon’ does however, have a poignant backstory: “A couple of years ago Mikey spent a few hours on a spinal board wondering if he was paralysed after the police chased a transit van into his car. It turned out that the van was stuffed with two tons of gold royal wedding coins, many of which glinted on the wet tarmac that fateful night. Bringing Rocks Back From The Moon then is a song about a certain vision of the absurd and the quirks of fate offered up by that night’s dramatic events.”
The congruous bedfellow to ‘Bringing Back Rocks From The Moon’ is the hearty paean to friendship, ‘I’m So Glad’; recorded in the same session. With lyrics from Georgeson’s comrade Harry Pye, this relatively straightforward sweet song is a lushly produced swoon, devoid of cynicism.
On a roll this past year, his Divine Comedy style of self-depreciation pastoral pop and vaudeville has gone down well at the Monolith Cocktail. Both ‘My Heroine’ and the recent featured twee nugget ‘Till It’s Over’, along with the highly acclaimed Blood And Brambles LP, have cheered us up no end.