November 26, 2015
Words: Ayfer Simms
PWR BTTM ‘Ugly Cherries’ (Miscreant Records, Father/Daughter Records)
Pop and indie rock, quirky, colourful, flowery and warm obliging beds, PWR BTTM is well devoted to staying outside the circle of convention, and happily draw blurry lines, everywhere, as they step out in their now comfortable personalities: Gone by are the insecurities of their younger age, they embrace now, what could perhaps be the new sexy: Men devouring strong guitars riffs, hitting on giant drums, men in love, open, secure, and men wearing colours, blouses, emphasised lipsticks. Doing it with a tremendous amount of fun, they dissect relationships, old and new, even future love affairs. There’s a fair amount of bold chords, and ever so gentle and flirtatious vocals. The music is turbulent and buzzing. These ugly cherries are trend setters, they energetically paint the portrait of the ghosts of old acquaintances: Pretty girl out dancing with pretty boys perhaps they had wanted or had and lost…Queer lust, frustrations. Love triangles, anarchy, and humour, daring, which makes the single fresh, spirited and upbeat.
There is a gender “dereglement des sens”, a nice message for the “Connecticut” type; our next step is to put our guts on the table and yes, dress it how we want: while queens’ dresses whole generations of brides, perhaps PWR BTTM will dress, you and me too.
November 23, 2015
HIP HOP Revue
Words: Matt Oliver
The usual dollops of gunpowder, treason and plot in this month’s Rapture & Verse, with Krept & Konan triumphing as the MOBOs’ best hip-hop act, word of a Beastie Boys musical coming to London, Questlove penning a food hardback that hopefully isn’t a challenger to the Coolio cookbook, Rza beginning a chess foundation to help straighten out St Louis youths, and most believably, Drake having a lipstick named after him.
A snazzy reprint of OutKast’s ‘Stankonia’ celebrated the landmark album’s 15th anniversary, and Raekwon’s ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx’ got dressed in a slinky, 20th birthday purple cassette number to send the auto-reverse massive delirious. Then there’s A Tribe Called Quest, and their ‘People’s Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm’ coming resurrected as a 25th anniversary, 45s box set. Holy flip.
Threatening your Christmas shopping schedules this November and December are the massed ranks of The Mouse Outfit, with a 17-date UK tour under way. Those playing the long game should bear in mind a rare DJ Krush appearance, coming to London this March.
Two scoops of the usual from old faithful DJ Format & Abdominal – ever maturing B-Boyisms on ‘We Say’, and ‘Reflective Meditation Rhymes’ settling on a gentleman’s funk agreement that nonetheless whacks out rhymes. When Joker Starr and Durrty Goodz tell you ‘Don’t Watch Man’, cock an ear instead. Micall Parknsun’s piano nodder, mellow with a hint of friction, is flanked by strong and varied remixes from S’Strumental, Jazz T, Ophqi and Karnate.
Even if the music’s overly simple in its empathy, Chino XL’s ‘Hush’ shares unparalleled wordplay about fighting addiction. Skanks airs out the world’s dirty laundry with Endemic as peacemaker pianist trying to avert ‘Trouble’, going on to pitch soul over the top for Bugsy da God’s ‘Skill Mathematics’. Your fitness playlist ahead of eggnog season should include these no-nonsense seeking of personal bests: Fong Sai U & Prodigal Sunn’s ‘Enough’, Kahlee’s ‘For My People’, and Sheek Louch & Pusha T’s ‘Bang Bang’.
Spreading his wares from the stout ‘Marching to the Sound of My Own Drum’, Toronto’s MosS tells Onyx & Havoc to go organ grinding on ‘Nobody Move’ and gives Joell Ortiz attacking carte blanche on ‘Kids’. Solidity seems to be theme for the month, with the devastatingly ID’d Bruse Wane stumping up seven such tracks of Bronx breezes and beatings as the ‘Earl Manigault of Rap’, with Chris Rivers and Sean Price chipping in. Most surprising is DJ Cam hooking up with MC Eiht for gangster drag ‘Street Life’.
If diet-dodging drums and loops yanking you by the ears are causing you neck pain, see Jazz T and ‘Run the Changes’. Full of rough diamonds that don’t hang around, T’s sliding scale of pressure and long-certified skills set up a guestlist to be greeted with gulps. J-Zone, Cappo, Confucius MC, Diversion Tactics, Ramson Badbonez and buckets more fling this into the year’s top 10 lists.
Berets on tilt – ‘Jazz Cats’, pairing producer Fredfades & trumpeter Eikrem, gives instrumentals a warm and precise spring and step. Likely to be lumped in with all things golden era, fly guys come through on the mic to add to the vibe of beat club slash post-midnight drinking den. B-boys wanting feet up time, this one’s yours.
UK elbow grease in spades comes from the temple-creasing concentration of Pro P & Northern Structure. ‘Tunnel Vision’ gets sleeves up and blows in from the North West with funk brought up on a stodgy diet and shifty looks reserved for chancers. Definitively clear cut, with no artificial additives or preservatives.
Playing it fast and loose and viewing the world through an X-ray machine, Dead Players get ‘Freshly Skeletal’. Anything but brittle boned, even if the accordions of ‘Nah’ kook up the place, Jam Baxter and Dabbla plough through like their brakes are shot and crash helmets are for wusses (‘Cooked’ is an absolute ram-raid), endorsing classic traits of destructive duo battleplans also seeking satisfaction in single player mode. Bona fide.
Master grudge holders Triple Darkness look to exceed their own high standards in doom and gloom mongering with ‘Darker than Black’. A hard-hitting, educated cycle of cynicism, continuing to be consumed by vintage hip-hop dark arts, London’s sunset henchmen pin you down into their world and won’t let go.
Doing what he does best, there’s good, strong front foot stuff to be had when Talib Kweli uses the gospel according to 9th Wonder on beats rhymes and life guide ‘Indie 500’. A pack of like-minded move makers (Brother Ali, Pharoahe Monch, Slug, with board work from Nottz and Hi-Tek) are lead under a blanket of soul equal parts strident and smoochable.
If you were listening to ‘Home Sweet Home’, you’d be at Nottz and Big Pooh’s HQ right now. Billed as “an audible feast” and “a form of mental science”, it’s a rousing come together with a soulful spine. Both revel in an album partnership you can kick back to and push things forward by. Nothing but a FG thing when Freddie Gibbs drops ‘Shadow of a Doubt’, the total experience of how to live and die in Indiana. Back to his bread and butter, Gibbs oozes bad news, with old skool stick-up ‘Extradite’ a whole new menace.
The latest Madlib outpouring, with Blu and MED swelling the ranks until the seams are on critical, plants deeply buried, boogie-burdened jewels in the garden of their ‘Bad Neighbor’ – a lot of roundabout kerfuffle/’intuition’, featuring some absolute straight-up gold. In a month for maintaining individual standards, the newest batch of improbable Kool Keith quotable joins Ray West for ‘A Couple of Slices’, and Blackalicious break a 10 year duck on ‘Imani’. Syllables don’t get such care and attention anywhere else, to the tune of lovingly constructed funk both brash and rationalizing – cue huge sighs of relief all round. J-Live is busy circulating question marks again, ‘How Much is Water?’ a haven of considered thoughtfulness and assertion, coming out fighting when the time’s right.
Including the celebrated diss ‘Acknowledge’, Donnie Propa’s superb round-up of Masta Ace’s best bits and lesser known legends makes ‘The Ace Tape’ a November nutcracker. One-stop round-up business from DJ TMB deals a 20-strong pack of UK fire and overseas assistance, freestyles and thirst – ‘Beats & Bars’ is the name of the game, with Novar FLIP, Genesis Elijah, 7even Spherez, LATE and Jae Sosa reading the riot act. ‘A Retrospective’ of Savvy is well worth tucking into, nearly 90 minutes of the distinctively flowing latchkey kid since ’93 firing up a batch of remixes, one-offs and ladder-borrowing greats, mixed by Therealdemo.
Manipulating forgotten soul and wax reaching its sample-by date, Jonwayne’s two-part chop-n-change ‘Here You Go’ is a bleary-eyed beat tape perfect to throw on in anticipation of the room spinning. Little hip-hop sketches laid bare, from throwaway boom bap to cameo roles made to mean something. Though criminally only 12 minutes long, cut-n-paste crown wearers Double Dee and Steinski roll back glories with their ‘Insanity Clause Mix’, a fiery funk gumbo that absolutely rifles through a job lot of wax and sploshes about in samples, including walk-ons from the Beastie Boys, Cypress Hill and…er…Ma$e. Swashbuckling, deck-buckling form from DJ Craze promotes Ivy Lab’s new ‘20/20’ LP with 360° wrists and a 26-minute throttling of instrumentalism inside and out. November, done.
November 20, 2015
Words: Ayfer Simms
When the Blue Rose Code, alter ego of Caledonian soul Ross Wilson, put out a call to his fans to submit their visual takes on what the word ‘grateful’ meant to them, he was surprised by the overwhelming response. Our own lyrical and poetic critic Ayfer Simms, a champion of Wilson’s music having reviewed his last acclaimed LP The Ballads Of Peckham Rye for us, took part, sending in a video clip of her and her daughter Forrest. This poignant meditation opens Wilson’s new video/single ‘Grateful’, which also features the cooed, soothing backing harmonies of The McCary Sisters. Debuted earlier this month on Folk Radio the new single will feature on the upcoming ...And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing album, released in 2016. We asked Ayfer to offer some words of solace on the new single, which for obvious reasons carry even more weight in light of recent events in Europe, North Africa and The Middle East; our writer is after all a native of France, living in the tumult environment of Turkey.
Blue Rose Code feat. The McCary Sisters ‘Grateful’
Leave behind sorrow and clutched fists; the unconceivable, painful grand plans for the future, too big and overwhelming. Leave behind worrisome thoughts, crystal tears, and hearts of stone and melancholic ideals, anxiety, rumination and folly. Unite all the ghost’s fighters of dark gloomy ages, the minds struggling against little demons freely swirling around and, give hope to the chaos of the soul; be Grateful.
Life, a blink of an eye is filled with hardship and dramas; and life is miraculous in its details, simple in its joys, is as infinite as a breath and, a smile. We came a long way, all of us; some were lucky and thrived forever and danced with giant steps of impetuous intrepidity; some helped others with a poignant selflessness, some fell, hard, made it, some did not. And some kept going, forever hopeful and thankful. Blue Rose Code‘s song Grateful is a heartfelt celebration of what we have, a warm embrace that comes from lived experiences, resonating deep, deep in the heart of those who are hopeful, still. It is a reminder that there are more lovers than truculence in this world, and for that we are ever so bound. Looking very much forward to hearing the album. To soak in that world; One flew over the cuckoo’s nest and came out as bright as a dove.
November 18, 2015
Welcome once again to our odd mix of singles, video tracks and EPs, plucked from the peripherals of the musical sphere. Our latest finds include Retoryka, Radiation City, Dolores Haze and the Nagano City Street Band, whilst the Nimzo-Indian and Bruse Wane both make glorious returns to monolith Cocktail.
Bruse Wane ‘Yuu’
Rolling in with another hit from the capped crusader’s alter ego, from the real Gotham city, Bronx rapper Bruse Wane drops the new single ‘Yuu’ from his upcoming Earl Manigault Of Rap. Like the troubled gifted basketball player of the LP title, a street legend with huge potential who took a wrong turn and paid a heavy price, Wane’s own talents stay connected to his roots in the projects. As if to emphasis those roots, Wane’s own sound echoes the East Coast’s second golden age of Hip Hop sampled soul beats of the early 90s; a time before rap music grew into a commercial behemoth. Appeasing no one, his latest slick but fiery salvo takes a swipe at the dollar/celebratory-incentivized tastemakers, fakers and industry players currently dragging the music scene into disrepute; smoothly delivered over a beat supplied by the Toronto, Canada-based producer North Villah.
The album is released at the end of the month and features turns from the late Sean Price and Chris Rivers. Be sure to look out for our future review. In the meantime you can pre-order a copy here.
Retoryka ‘Super Maudlin’ (Everyday Life Recordings)
Sometimes a record can perplex or confound the critic; quite where the four-track EP from Kevin Retoryka fits musically is unclear. But I will persevere nonetheless; fumbling for descriptions, references and the like. Not that I’m any the wiser, this mysterious songwriter was also the vocalist/guitarist for the curios Jacques Caramac & The Sweet Generation and The Be Be See, both bands erring towards kosmiche pop. With his latest Super Maudlin release, Retoryka, as the title suggests, wallows (poetically) and cerebrally in sentimentality, less as an exercise in loss and resignation but more as a meditation on false pity and sentiment.
You can hear why he recently opened for the curmudgeon pop outsider Luke Haines on his British Nuclear Bunker outing, his own almost uneasy emotionless observations striking a chord melodically and lyrically. Offering a bowed rippled quivering Robyn Hitchcock-esque supernatural country lyricism to silver screen metaphors on ‘The Picture’, a red wine swigging Dylan, xylophone twinkled jolly on the absurdities of an online life with ‘The Great Beauty’, a stubbed sonorous piano Babybird final curtain call, on the title track, and a slumped Nilsson, Brian Wilson and Bowie raising despondent glasses to the end of an era as they perform a 70s rock ballad on ‘Dark Entertainment’, Retoryka makes the “uneasy listening” experiences (as he calls them) sound sweetly original.
Dolores Haze ‘Touch Me’
It makes a change to hear something different emitting from our cousins in Sweden. Affixed with the “Scandi-pop” tag, I’m inundated with synth-laced moodiness and enervated pop at present or, to take it to the other extreme, screaming heavy mental rabid noise. So the rebellious sounds of the Gothic shoe-gaze quartet Dolores Haze make a welcome dirge-y and scuzzy surprise.
Named after the controversial central figure of Nabokov’s most infamous work, the band evokes a brattish style mélange of Sleater-Kinney, The Pixies, Placebo and Dinosaur Jnr. There latest flirtation with morbid curiosity and salacious decadence – completed by the unsettling panoramic camera roll video of debauchery and weirdness – Touch Me oozes with relishing class and sweetened malice: think Lush in the dungeon.
Nagano City Street Band ‘Escapism’
Coming across the curio recently via our Twitter account, the unsigned UK band, with a penchant for Trip Hop and post-rock, have little to offer information wise. A mysterious group, taking their name from the Japanese city, located on the Island of Honshu, Nagano City Street Band have a few releases already via Bandcamp and some tracks on Soundcloud, other than that they remain an enigma.
Their most recent suite, a three-phase ten-minute cycle entitled Escapism, moves through the guitar fiddling, vista painting of Mogwai and the groove of Adam’s Castle into paused ambient and cooed narration before building to a raging, sawing, gnawing heavy rock fusion climax.
Nimzo-Indian ‘Telescope The Moon EP’
Once again indulging the eccentric experiments of the, killer chess move, Nimzo-Indian; the Monolith Cocktail shares the maverick electronic artist’s latest transmission from the space oddities of his garden shed: Telescope The Moon.
Those wobbly, squelching, ferreting and haphazard calculations made on an assortment of homemade instruments – think a Dr. Moreau like concoction of hybrid instruments; hacked and wielded together from record players, guitars and springs – remain truly unique, as the man behind the alter ego, Andrew Spackman, gazes at the stars. Starting with a cosmic voyage of discovery; searching; idling floating through the nebular regions; as with all of his tracks, a sudden lurch interrupts proceedings as a pair of heavy boots land on the dusty lunar surface and set off a goofball lollop through alien vistas. From then on in everything becomes even weirder; burping galvanised zips on the retro-futuristic ‘Red Mini Red’ and ratcheting workshop timepieces synchronized to twitch to a breakbeat jazz backing as some French bloke narrates over the top with ‘Pelina’ await those seeking the strange.
Part silly, part Fluxus’ music department the Nimzo-Indian always manages to pull something out of his bunker of trick noises.
Radiation City ‘Juicy’
Emerging with a sophisticated slice of sensual space doo-wop from the implosive environment that almost destroyed them, Portland’s Radiation City have somehow managed to stay together long enough to record a new album, Synesthetica. Well…half and half, with old songs placed alongside their new ‘semi-spontaneous’ material, shaped during the band’s most dire hours.
On the verge of splitting the band, with the founding members Lizzy Ellison and Cameron Spires own relationship on the rocks, a final unlabored attempt at saving Radiation City resulted in an ‘honest and unafraid’ session that summoned the old magic. Turning a once democratic band into – as the PR spill puts it – a monarchy, with the titular Ellison and Spires now firmly back in charge, they brought into the studio the Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Riley Geare to play drums and at first recorded with Spoon and Death Cab For Cutie producer John Vanderslice before returning back to Portland and letting Modest Mouse and Gossip producer Jeremy Sheerer loose on the results.
Based on the condition known as synesthesia whereby a person links one sensual experience to another (for Ellison, who experiences it, that means seeing specific colours when she hears different musical sounds), the band’s third album promises a multi-sensory experience.
The leading single from the upcoming album, ‘Juicy’, sexily drifts and bends through a nebulous region of languid, swooning space; where St Vincent meets Jagwar Ma on a trip around the stars.
November 11, 2015
ALBUM REVIEWS ROUND UP
As you may have come to expect from the Monolith Cocktail, our latest regular assortment of current and upcoming new “choice” albums is as diverse as ever. This month’s selection includes a classic envelope pushing dub extravaganza reissue from On-U Sound’s Missing Brazilians, Vieux Farka Toure & Julia Easterlin’s “tourist” travails, My Autumn Empire’s hushed ghostly tales from the log fire, the many guises of John Brenton in a new collection of obscure lo fi, raging Benelux rock music from Grand Blue Heron and an Analog Africa compilation of previously unreleased Afro Cuban recordings from Senegal.
The Missing Brazilians ‘Warzone’ (On-U Sound)
Enjoying a critical appraisal of late the iconic On-U Sound label, bastion of the ingenious UK producer Adrian Sherwood and artist, keyboard player and co-founder Kishi Yamamoto, is continuing to re-release both classic masters and previously undiscovered treasures from the back catalogue and vaults in 2015. An inspired cross pollination of dub, hip hop, post-punk, industrial and roots all met at the Sherwood cross junction during the late 70s and through the 80s, the On-U template guided by the developments in Jamaican music but amorphously bending to absorb all the more interesting sounds and colours of the time.
Always highly sought after, selected titles from Sherwood’s roster are getting a second wind; in particular the recent Monolith Cocktail featured Singers & Players liquid dub protestation War Of Words album – the group’s follow up album Revenge Of The Underdog and a 10” vinyl EP War Of Version, made up of previously unreleased material, will have been released at the time of this post.
Generating the most boundlessly experimental dub plates, reshaping and inventing new sound clashes ahead of the curve, Sherwood and Yamamoto’s most “envelope pushing” project reflected the dystopian augur of Orwell, set against, what no one at the time couldn’t have foreseen, the final years of the Cold War. Dropped in 1984, the Latin American military junta commandeered football stadium world of Missing Brazilians (a great name by the way) alluded to the poor souls picked up off the streets for dissension, activism or just having the wrong face, that were subsequently tortured and left to rot or, chucked unceremoniously into unmarked graves. The stuff of nightmares made into a sonic landscape of ever-more discordant echoing dub, shrill drilling and bombastic cluttering industrial sounds, the duo produced the musical equivalent of a postmodern Guernica. More appropriately a Warzone in the studio, the countless escalating effects and modulations threaten to constantly overload the system and drown out the often more sauntering, melodic lolloping gaited rhythms. Traipsing across a barren, incredulous unnamed environment, unsettling discourse is always ready to stick the knife in what is an often-electric mix of early hip hop breakbeats, synthesizers and dadaist noise. It will come as no surprise that hip New York label DFA rave about it; after all it both picks up that city’s own extraordinary genre-splicing explosion of the 80s and yet also influences a new generation, especially cut-up doyens Coldcut and brooding Trip Hop conductor Tricky: you can even hear what must be some of the earliest precursors of house and techno on the pre-Massive Attack starring Shara Nelson ‘Savanna Prance’; Nelson channeling Donna Summer stuck in a subdued limbo, as she softly wails a soulful aria.
It’s dub, but not as we know it, the foundations traumatised, teased and bent out of out shape in countless ways as a sound collage of influences are added. Stretched beyond dub then, there’s the redolence of the Art Of Noise’s pre-sets on the subterranean scream of ‘Crocodile’s Court’, the Raincoats on the nervy vocalized Little Annie waltzing through a nuclear wastelands ‘Gentle Killer’, a E.F.S. series Can, of all things, on the thrashing caustic throwaway ‘Frequency Feast’, and the Yellow Magic Orchestra on ‘Igloo Inn’. Even Bowie’s Japanese sound gardens drift into view, wafting around the rebounding force field warped ‘Quicksand Beach Party’.
Despite the constant red limiter discordance and ominous signs, it sounds like everyone involved is grinning away as they turn those dials, switches and push the effects to breaking point. Re-cut at dubplates and mastered in Berlin for apparently “maximum bass pressure”, Warzone is obviously still part of its 80s landscape yet it sounds pretty revolutionary in its reborn contemporary setting too. The most experimental album in the On-U Sound cannon, Warzone is a highly influential obscurity, finally given a long overdue rework and spruced up.
Vinyl reissue copies will also feature, alongside a foldout poster insert and download card, a previously unreleased extended remix of ‘Ace Of Wands’, their contribution to the first volume of the long running Pay It Back series.
Vieux Farka Touré & Julia Easterlin ‘Touristes’ (Six Degrees Records)
30th October 2015
If the title conjures up images of whistle-stop package tours; fleeting cultural exchanges; a dipping of the proverbial toe-in-the-water absorption of the sights and sounds of a foreign land then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this harmonious partnership’s version of Touristes. No listless candour into vague territories here, even if it sounds so softly peaceable and effortless, the legendary Malian singer/guitarist Vieux Farka Touré and his vaporous beguiling vocalist, American performance artist/singer Julia Easterlin, fade in and out of the geography; blending their native homelands into a seamless global soundtrack.
Meeting last year in New York, Easterlin and Touré’s inspired recording sessions took no time at all to produce a “white-hot burst” of both original material and interesting covers: it would seem the duo was meant to be.
Touristes ambling, often drifting, gait sways without touching the ground, its head in the clouds, yet it always has purpose. The opener ‘Little Things’, built upon a classic West African song ‘Kaira’ that both Vieux and his late father, Mali Legend, Ali Farka Touré both covered, demonstrates this relaxed amorphous sound with its wistful looped country-esque Eddie Brickell vocal and wafting melody. Following in its shuffling fade, Touré takes lead whilst Easterlin sighs and “ahs” on the desert psalm ‘A’Bashiye (It’s Alright)’. The first cover, and first song the duo recorded, Dylan’s scathing ‘Masters Of War’ – called the “heart and soul of the album” in the official press release – proves a poignant reminder of recent tragedies: Easterlin coming at it from the perspective of not only her own anxieties and stress in the wake of 9/11 but as someone growing up near a military base in Georgia, knowing friends and families caught up in the events on the frontline, whilst Touré for his part comes to terms with the fallout of the conflict in Mali. A mournful arrangement, steeped in a ghostly malaise, Masters Of War is granted an even more despondent protest vision of despairing lament.
The duo shed light on Fever Ray’s “deep cut” ‘I’m Not Done’, taking the “pensive” original into Prince territory, backed by scuttling Malian drum rim percussion. Then there’s the somnolent Appalachian folk standard, as revised for there own sulky purposes by Nirvana, ‘In The Pines’, which features Touré weaving a Ry Coder travailed haunting backing to Easterlin’s coiled vocal take on Cobain’s sorrowful ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’.
Using her voice throughout to contextualize notions of place and mood, the talented Easterlin’s echoes, loops, studied exhales and suffused lulling brings an esoteric and experimental element to all these songs. It’s what she does best of course, at ease with adopting a country twang and singing in a more anchored fashion or as on the wafted veiled ‘Spark’, hinting at the wilder diction and accenting of Bjork. Her foil on this voyage is as mesmerising as ever; one-minute following the desert contours in a yearning nod to his ancestors, the next exchanging intricate noodling riffs with Lobi Traoré in a sweltering packed Bamako nightspot.
Serendipity may well play its part, the blurring of musical borders offering some pleasant hybrids and resonance. But don’t be fooled by its floating and easy manner, there is a deep driven swell of purpose and intricate musicianship at work, with a serious social and political mission statement of universal understanding lying at its core.
My Autumn Empire ‘Dreams Of Death And Our Other Favourites’
Inhabiting a darker space than previous albums, Benjamin Thomas Holton, aka My Autumn Empire, leaves the adolescent soft bulletins of his last record The Visitation fondly fading out in the background as he once again explores the psyche. A gentle intimate yet ambitious soundtrack to growing up in the 80s, dreamily transfixed and glued to kids Sci-fi adventures on TV, that album was a hazy series of recollections of memories not yet impregnated by the anxieties of the internet.
Stripping back the production even further Holton’s new songbook Dreams Of Death And Other Favourites, as its title suggests, reflects on mortality. Visited on eerily wintery nights by the various wraiths and shadow people manifesting from the weird stories of Robert Aickman and the ghostly tales of M.R. James, Holton’s imagination works overtime: unwelcome guests from the ether in the form of an ominous knock on the door and glimpses of something strange from the corner of the eye all prove unnerving. In attentively layered and hushed tones our troubled host muses on the things that keep him awake at night, though as with the apparition in ‘Black Shape’ I can’t help but feel he’s using it as a “black dog” like metaphor for depression. With not much more than his analogue circuitry props to filter/process and build up his articulate guitar lines, the former epic45 stalwart composes an impressionistic vision of psychedelic folk and progressive lo fi. A reminder of that previous “visitation”, the opening ‘The Following’ poignantly fades in and out of a cozily warped Tomorrows World as the remnants of that past ELO and Flaming Lips lulling influence starts to wane, replaced by Air’s Virgin Suicides and The Beta Band. You can hear the restrained intimacy of the Beta’s Steve Mason on the poignant second track ‘Death Song’; Holton in Edgar Allen Poe resignation reminded of death’s inevitable call: “I heard death tapping on the window frame, this morning/It left a note pushed through my door/I’m guessing it’s a warning.”
Like the ghostly echoes of a poor drummer boy’s fall on an unidentified battlefield in time, a softened military snare roll appears from the mists on ‘Forcefield’, and the same 17th century tapestry of supernatural England in the throes of civil war that so inspired Darren Hayman’s The Violence could also be heard in the accursed superstitions of the ‘Murrain’: an extended quintessentially pastoral soundtrack piece that features former epic45 band member Mike Rowley on drums; recorded for atmospheric qualities at dusk in a local village hall.
Handled with subtle finesse, Dreams will unfold its qualities and wonderful performances slowly but surely. And though it will hardly prove a comfort to an artist still relatively obscure and on the peripherals, this record has cult status written all over it.
John Brenton aka Metrotone, Landshipping, Ojn, Tonfedd Oren & Southville
‘AM FM etc.’ (Enraptured Records)
Marking in a chronological trajectory lesser-known songs from the Bristol maverick John Brenton, this unassuming collection begins with his breezier pastel-shaded early 90s material and ends with his quirkier Berlin electronic pop shenanigans in 2012. Already regarded as a bit of a cultish figure, Brenton’s lo fi existence on the peripherals has nevertheless been championed in the past by John Peel, Steve Lamacq and Gideon Coe.
His ever-changing cannon, spread over numerous small labels, usually limited to less than a 1000 copies on vinyl and often only available through mail-order, has taken many forms. Working alongside different contributors and writers over the decades or as a solo artist, he has, whether out of ennui or because he wishes to make a clean break each time, more or less coined a new band moniker for each experimental shift. Opening with a dirge-y malady that recalls a penchant for The Cure and floppy shoegaze, Brenton wallows intentionally in a muffled daze with 1993’s incarnation Southville, moving congruously to a no less under-produced lulling form of jangly collage radio indie as Metrotone during the later half of the 90s. On the cusp of the noughties he navigates an individual path through down tempo electronica, trance and ambient music; first with the Artic oceanic travails and intimate plaintive Landshipping – ‘Deep Water’ a particular highlight; what sounds like a meditation on a couple once footloose and fancy-free lamenting the inevitable loss of unbridled attachments on one last train ride – and then with the ebb and flow motions of Ojn – the vocal now all but disappearing. Brenton hits upon the later 70s developments of Kosmiche and Krautrock’s hangover period with Ojn, as he conjures up faint echoes of Cluster and Neu! on ‘Vingt Seconds’, Populare Mechanik on ‘Komquet’ and Kriedler via Kraftwerkian Stereolab on ‘Blue Eyes’.
His most recent incarnation, in collaboration with Rhys Williams, plucked from 2011/2012 has a Welsh bent to it. Translated as ‘orange wave length’ Tonfedd Oren is represented on this compilation by a trio of cryptic and obscure referenced titles that merge kooky combinations of pop and burbling moon base alpha, synth music. Those Teutonic influences continue but sound more like New Order and Add N to (X).
Summarizing the progressions and multifaceted changes, especially production wise from frail indie D.I.Y. to the cleaner sonic manipulations, AM FM appears alongside a duo of Brenton appreciation releases, with a re-issue of the Metrotone LP The Less You have, The More You Are and a singles collection, which features the original demos for his John Peel session, Amateur Astronomy. They may have started life in a low-key manner, transmitted from the bedroom, but the songs and compositions of Brenton and his comrades hardly lack ambition, no matter how lackluster those early attempts can sound.
Grand Blue Heron ‘Hatch’ (Jezus Factory)
13th November 2015
Re-ignited emerging from the long since extinguished flames of Belgium’s premier power trio Hitch, a new project surfaces to cast its irons in the fire.
The Grand Blue Heron’s egg has “hatched” spilling its content of melodic razor blade disconsolate rock, grunge and shoegaze onto a blunted anvil. A squall of incessant guitars and hissing trebly drums is shaped and handled with finesse, as the riff-slinger combatants go to work on their unwieldy material.
But first some background to this latest in a long line of Benelux heavies. Instigated by former Hitch turned soloist and Jezus Factory alternative rock pack contributor (a member of the label’s noiseniks and previously featured avant-garde A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen) Paul Lamont in the aftermath of his previous band’s split, he wrote a series of demos. Uploaded onto the internet to see if anyone would bite, a (as the PR shtick puts it) “brave man in the city of Ghent” heard them and wanted Lamont to play these demos live. Who better to rope in to help meet the live challenge than fellow Hitch comrade and foil Olivier Wychuyse who joins the ranks alongside For Four Weekends band mate Arthur Verschaeve on additional guitar wrangling and, from previous recording work on Hitch’s Trails Are Ablaze LP, Pedro Demeulenaere on bass.
Those solo demos now replaced by a combined band effort see fruition on the Heron’s debut LP. Ten tracks of 70s and 90s imbued rock, angled by a layer of heavy power chords and intricate minor progressions, always on the move; the Hatch(ed) maelstrom is incredibly melodic. Handled not with an iron fist, though the band’s initials spell out G.B.H., but with a ‘Velvet Slap’ there is a surprising articulation to the thickset air raid warning, industrial wall of sound. And so despite the discordance of gnawing riffage, prowling bass lines and gluttony of fuzz, a tune always prevails.
Checkpoints of reference on this grand tour include post-punk Melbourne meets demonic spy thriller (opener ‘Call The Shots), red soil Gothic Cramps’ style rock’n’roll (‘Gay Is The Lord’), Earth fronted by Ian Curtis covering The Sisters Of Mercy (‘Drone Saint’) and a skulking Nirvana (‘Shout’). You can also throw in nods to Neil Young, Jesus Lizard and Motorhead: that ‘Velvet Slap’ indulging in a faithful chorus of ‘Ace Of Spades’ revved up rawk.
Recorded at their own rehearsal space and studio, the decadently entitled Chateau Rocque, the production is live and loud, capturing a band at ease with both their sound and camaraderie. A vigorous bruising start with much potential in not just underground but more commercial rock music circles, Hatch has got the momentum and spark to go further.
Various ‘Senegal 70: Sonic Gems & Previously Unreleased Recordings From The 70’s’ (Analog Africa) 27th November 2015
A return of sorts to where it all began for Analog Africa’s founder Samy Ben Redjeb, this latest collection of uncovered treasures from the African continent turns the spotlight on Senegal. Working as a diving instructor during the mid 90s in Africa’s western most tip, Samy decided that an upcoming re-location to Greece wasn’t for him and so he quit his job and stayed. Already enamored with the local music scene, he applied for a job as a DJ in a hotel in Mbour and never looked back.
Twenty years later and in partnership with Admantios Kafetzis of current leading Senegalese label Teranga Beat, Samy has picked some of the country’s most rare, and until recent years, left undiscovered and dormant, recordings. Kafetzis actually started this project back in 2009, collecting over three hundred songs originally recorded onto magnetic tape by the sound engineer Moussa Diallo. Never before released, this bounty of tracks now transferred over onto digital, featured all the bands that performed at one of the country’s most celebrated nightspots, the legendary Sangomar: a most revered hub for the feverish bands of the day. Just five of those tracks appear in this cooperation between the two enthusiasts, with the remainder picked by Samy from his archive.
For obvious reasons the Senegal coastline was a major entrance route into Africa from the Americas. Exchanging not just cargo but their cultures, Senegal became a melting pot of sounds; in the 40s with the Cuban sailors bringing the most popular and widely distributed Son Montuno, and in the 50s with the American soldiers bringing jazz and soul. Progenitors of a new fusion in the 1960s, the Star Band de Dakar absorbed all these influences and helped create the Afro Cuban sound, merging the Cuban and Latin American guitar and rhythm with African percussion and the local Wolof dialect. In many ways mirroring the countries recent transition to independence, with the poet, great intellect and visionary Léopold Sédar Senghor voted in as the country’s first president, the music scene flourished under his rule. A socialist but also a great pragmatist (opposed to Marxism instead opting for what he termed African Socialism, he kept close ties with both former colonial masters France and the West), Senghor brought stability to Senegal and created a ripe environment for culture to spread during the 60s and 70s. Until very recent upheavals, with a separatist movement in the south, Senegal pretty much enjoyed a relatively peaceful history; one of the only countries in Africa to never have suffered a coup, the transfer of democratically elected power was smooth. Encouraged to tour Senegal during Senghor’s blossoming premiership, a wealth of international acts landed in Dakar; the anointed king of soul and funk James Brown, The Jackson Five from the States both made the trip, whilst from Cuba came Celia Cruz and from Haiti Tabou Combo. But the African stars came too, the Congo’s Tabu Ley Rochereau, from Cameroon Manu Dibango and from Guinée Bembeya Jazz. And of course they couldn’t help but add even more flavours to the heady brew and swaying canter; taking the local music into even more inspired territories.
As you’d expect from the Analog Africa label there’s an abundance of wealth musically and visually to feast on. The driving force is of course that sauntering Afro Cuban rhythm and hints of Merengue, Mbalax and Pachanga, yet the opening ‘Mariama’ from the Parisian founded Fangóól moves to a quasi-reggae gait. Elsewhere it’s either the strains of raw R&B horns and staccato organ, humbled folklore, or shuffling funky backbeats that find themselves merged with the South American tropics. Compared to some of the previous compilations the riches aren’t always as immediate or bombastic but more languid and shuffling. Despite writing so much about African music over the last five years the Senegal scene is a complete revelation to me. The only name I recognize on this collection is that of Amare Touré – here in his role as the singer for a duration with the country’s celebrated Star Band de Dakar -, and that’s only because Analog recently released a selection of his rare recordings, which I reviewed a couple of months ago. But then this is an LP full of surprises, collated from some of the most obscure and long-winded processes, so many tracks won’t have found their way outside Senegal. In fact if you want to get an idea of how difficult and how much legwork Samy and Adamantios take on to get their finds licensed, read the accompanying booklet; especially the interview with the maverick “Senegalese superstar” Thione Seck, former singer of the Orchestra Bawobab who succumbs to striking a deal on two previously unreleased tracks from the band’s vaults. With interviews and notes on every track alongside the history of Senegal’s music scene – starting with the country’s brass cabaret bands and orchestras in the 1920s and ‘30s – you get a sense of just what an exciting time it was in Senegal and how the fever for the Afro Cuban fusion spread throughout Western Africa. It’s another great survey that will do much to lift Senegal’s music history from obscurity.
Words: Dominic Valvona
November 6, 2015
Words: Ayfer Simms
Susan James ‘Sea Glass’ (Susan James Music)
The gentle guitar chords and soothing voices of Sea Glass bring you closer to your inner self, it is the flesh of joyous and melancholic sadness, the chant of the people of a world abandoned by its gods; and yet everyone is holding hands in the face of the prevailing middle-ages’ gloominess. What else do you have before the depth of the ocean? Sea Glass.
Turbulent waters and plastic in the sea, “can we do anything for her?” sings Susan James. Then, we have the breeze of little mounts in a great grant stretch of land, fresh of the first autumn chills, the wind chimes and the voices joyously rides ancient stones, adding a little step of content, whistling, adorned of a warm robe, or a simple beach garment. Sea Glass.
Then we travel to the 60s, tapping feet on the grass behind the wooden scene of a local feast, Sea Glass gathers a little crowd of assiduous listeners…’Hey Julianne’ and ‘Calico Valley’ are undulating in a mythological Celtic atmosphere, take us wherever the ghosts of the ancient hail us to. The vocals are harmonious and free, even as the singer urges us to “stand tall”; those who have stood and kept walking will haunt our minds through the whimsical songs of marching, of battles, of hope: Sea Glass. Beautiful lyrics, a fairy tale like themes, and around that fire of old ages we want to sit, and listen while our cheeks become red…A very soothing little album, cozy and warm and hipsedelic too.
Welcome to our regular round up of ‘choice’ singles, EPs and odd tracks, plucked from obscurity in many cases or, from the peripherals at least. This week’s picks include A.J. Holmes And The Hackney Empire, Dennis Bovell, Esperanza Spalding, Band Of Gold, Hologram Teen and Mark McGowan.
A.J. Holmes And The Hackney Empire ‘Just Retribution EP’
(Singing Dune Records)
Bringing the sauntering rhythms of the Congolese rumba and the South African sunshine pop of the Boyoyo Boys to London A.J. Holmes and his Hackney Empire liven up what could be a dampener of a love affair, caught in a stalemate, on their latest EP ‘Just Retribution’. Wooing audiences for a while now with their infectious brand of Afro-pop and multi-limbed blurting funk, they continue to match idiosyncratic foibles to an eclectic mix of genres on their this trio of songs. Lifted from the second album Soft Power, its shimmering opener features alongside two versions of the Cat Stevens meandering ‘Mein liebster Feind’ – the chorus inspired by a Mark Twain quote – and the thumping funk guitar sleazy disco of ‘GLA’. Holmes and his ensemble add a splash of polygenesis colour to that infamous English dry wit as they move from requited to unrequited to re-requited love.
Dennis Bovell ‘Eye Water’ (Glitterbeat Records)
Taken from the upcoming Dub 4 Daze LP, released 20th November 2015
Dropping a reverberating echo from across the highly influential back catalogue of renowned dub and reggae producer, musician and songwriter Dennis Bovell, Glitterbeat Records teases us with the opening master cut, ‘Eye Water’, from the upcoming tributary Dub 4 Daze compilation. Leaving his Barbados home in the mid sixties at the age of twelve to live in South London, Bovell soon became an integral part of the Jamaican cultural scene, setting up his Jah Sufferer sound system – which brought him to the attention of not just his admirers but the police who locked him up for six months on remand; though he would be subsequently released on appeal – and forming the class reggae group Matumbi. As a producer he has worked with a stunning line-up of talent, including Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye and Ryuchi Skakamoto, The Pop Group, The Slits and Orange Juice. Fellow dub explorer Adrian Sherwood, who’s own highly influential On-U Sound label helped reshape the post-punk scene during the 80s, has called Bovell “…the most important man in UK reggae…a legend.” High praise indeed.
Recording some seminal classic dub albums over the years both under his own name and the pirate moniker Blackbeard, Bovell was asked to contribute to Glitterbeat Records Dubs & Versions I experiment in 2014. He lent a certain shimmering hallucinating groove to those desert blues and rock songs by Samba Touré and Tamikrest, and merged his Jamaican dub roots almost effortlessly with West Africa. Now with a dedicated homage assortment of previously buried away archive dub mixes and a few newly mixed cuts made from re-explored earlier recorded material, the Dub 4 Daze LP promises soulful roots, down-tempo brass, 3D mysticism and space echo abstractions galore from a true craftsman.
Track-listing & credits:
1. Eye Water (D. Bovell/N. Green)
All instruments and vocals: Dennis Bovell (db)
Recorded at Berry Street Studios
Engineer: W. Farley
Mixed by db
2. Dub Guide (D.Bovell)
Drums: Drummie Zeb
Guitars: John Kpiaye
Keyboards: Tony Gad
Recorded at Gooseberry Studios London
Mixed by: db at Studio 80 London
3. Zion Dubb (D.Bovell/L.Donaldson)
Drums: Jah Bunny
All other instruments and vocals: db
Recorded and mixed at Eve Studios London by db
4. Top Level Dub (D.Bovell/L. Donaldson)
Drums: Jah Bunny
Bass and guitars: db
Keyboards: Noel ‘Fish’ Salmon
Horns: Michael ‘Bammy’ Rose
Tenor solo: Godfrey
Recorded and mixed at Eve Studios London by db
5. Dub Affair (D.Bovell)
Drums: Drummie Zeb
Bass, guitar and vocals: db
Fender Rhodes: Nick Straker
Alto Saxophone: James Danton
Recorded at E.M.I Manchester Square London
Engineered by Ron ‘the Don’
Mixed at Ariwa Studios London by db, assisted by Joe Ariwa
Side 2 :
1. Physics of Dub (A. Ellis)
Drums: Jah Bunny
Bass and guitars: db
Keyboard: Noel ‘Fish’ Salmon
Vocals: Brown Sugar, Pauline Caitlin, Kofi, Caron Wheeler
Recorded and mixed at Eve Studios London by db
2. Tumbledown Dub (D.Bovell)
Drums: Jah Bunny
All other instruments: db, except cocktail bar Piano by Webby J
Drums and Bass recorded by Mike Dorain at Murray Street Studios, London
Overdubs recorded and mixed at Gooseberry Studios, London by db
3. Aged Dub (D.Bovell)
Drums: Drummie Zeb
Bass: Bevin Fagan
Keyboards: Tony Gad
Recorded and mixed at Studio 80 by db
4. Jah Dub Man (D.Bovell/E.Campbell)
All instruments and BV’s: db
Lead vocal: Errol Campbell
Recorded and mixed at Gooseberry Studios, London by db
5. Tuned Dub (D.Bovell)
All instruments and vocals: db, except Trombones Henry ‘Buttons’ Tenyue
Recorded at Studio 80, London
Engineer: J.Martin Rex
Mixed at Ariwa Studios by db assisted by Joe Ariwa
Esperanza Spalding ‘One’
Returning with her most ambitious panoptic music project yet, Grammy award winner and jazz star polymath Esperanza Spalding playfully mixes her dreams with a kooky childlike spirit on her forthcoming Emily’s D+Evolution album. Happily vague on the concept behind her latest album and tour, which has been working its way around the UK recently, Spalding has opened her mind up to new musical ideas. Though she originally came to prominence for her double-bass and electric bass guitar skills and unique take on jazz, it sounds like she is now just as keen to adopt a more diverse range of influences; merging elements of modern R&B and the 70s songwriting craft with Prince, John Legend and Stevie Wonder.
Band Of Gold ‘Parade’ (Jansen Plateproduksjon)
Unraveled and in some cases amplified tenfold to create the sophisticated bombast pop you hear now, the homemade demos of singer/composer and multi-instrumentalist Nina Elisabeth Mortveldt aka Band Of Gold have grown from raw ideas into polished productions on her debut LP. Working alongside and in conjunction with producer Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen, who has turned in some cases one-string guitar melodies and Prince samples into something approaching epic pop, Nina has a nice sheen added to her eclectic mix of ideas.
The first single to be dropped into the internet void ‘Parade’ takes its cue from the driving, rolling toms splashes of Miami; emerging as it does from a garbled tunnel of screeching vocal noise into Scandinavians on tour in Florida circa 1984. Never letting up, always in motion, beckoning the listener on, the crescendos build and dissipate over four and a half minutes of riding pop. This will do as a starter before that LP next month.
Released a week or so later than its true destined date, surely, Halloween, the Hologram Teen’s latest vaporous dry ice machine offerings once again bring schlock and “zombi” to the Horror Europa dance floor.
The alter ego of one-time Stereolab kosmiche traveller Morgane Lhote, the Parisian keyboard player has spent the past decade moving around, leaving London for a stint in New York before travelling to L.A. Hardly resting on her laurels, Lhote spent time in The Projects, Garden and with members of Simian Mobile Disco/ Simian before embarking on her own brand of eclectic electronica as the Hologram Teen in 2012.
A ghoulish treat for a bewitching hour at Studio 54, Lhote’s double-bill pits the Italian gore fest composers Fabio Frizzi and Goblin against a disturbed but silly bestial electro Yello on ‘Post-Apocalypteacakes’, and digs up some Gallo pomp and stabbing synth for the John Carpenter ‘Tracksuit Minotaur’. Kooky electronica for the most outrageous Italio-house graveyard set, making moves in the club whilst the world burns in eternal damnation, its decent enough fun.
Mark McGowan ‘Bonnie & Clyde/The Colour Of Surrender’
(In The Black Records)
In the grand tradition of the Glasgow earnest maverick troubadour, the flat cap adorned talent Mark McGowan elevates his music above the daily grinds and toil of his famous native city and yearns for the gritty deep soul of the American south. Whilst acoustically nearer to the fingerpicking complexities of such notable contemporaries as Fionn Reagan, and the downplayed vocal articulation of Damian Rice, McGowan sounds more attuned to the earthy gospel of Otis Redding, whom he has covered recently on the venerable organ backed ‘These Arms Of Mine’. Ordinarily this would be sacrilege, but it’s a faithful and accomplished take and shows why the Glaswegian singer/songwriter is starting to draw some favorable attention nationally.
With nothing more than a build up of multiple technical and nuanced acoustic guitar lines and the occasional thump or shuffle of a drum for a backing, McGowan composes a pretty atmospheric and full-bodied sound to his sagacious songs. Currently doing the rounds his double-bill of charismatic tunes ‘Bonnie & Clyde/Colour Of Surrender’ twang with evocations of the American dust bowl. The former uses the romanticized outlaw lovers as a metaphor for a more intimate and closer to home relationship musings; the other is a more Country twanged, earthy up-tempo number that hints at tragic melodrama. These two songs are nothing less than rustic nuggets and should at least help propel McGowan into the mainstream.
Words: Dominic Valvona
October 30, 2015
Reviving our “selection” series of choice tracks from across the musical spectrum and vortex of time, we’ve put together some unsavoury, creepy and quaint horrors to soundtrack your Halloween celebrations.
Fabio Frizzi ‘Fear And Liberation’ (from City of the Living Dead)
Ennio Morricone ‘Punte d’ago’ (from The Fifth Chord)
Mike Vickers ‘Main Theme from Dracula A.D. 1972’
Darren Hayman ‘We Are Not Evil’
Sproatly Smith ‘The Fabled Hare/Isobel Goudie’
John Cacavas ‘The Satanic Rites Of Dracula Main Theme (Reprise)’
Delia Derbyshire & Brian Hodgson ‘The Legend Of Hell House’
Dead Skeletons ‘Kingdom Of God’
De Staat ‘Witch Doctor’
October 28, 2015
U.S. Girls live at Broadcast, Glasgow 27th October 2015
Supported by Blood Of The Bull
In a stunning contrast to the vulnerable wanton characters that inhabit her cerebral, plaintive, family tree of maladies, a statuesque Meg Remy cuts a confident striking pose on stage tonight. Despite the dank cellar location, which unintentionally at least evokes the kind of low key atmosphere of catching a fresh-faced, Camille Paglia approved, Madonna on the cusp of the 80s New York sound clash, a slick black leotard dressed Remy oozes charisma and salacious energy. It’s impossible to take your eyes off her as she walks amongst us with the mic cable slung over her shoulder or, when she hugs, holds on to and flops over what little there is of the venue’s stage props; her long locks now shorn for a refreshing close-cropped pixie style haircut. At this point it seems I’m obsessed but in the Cassevates, Michael Ondaatje, Springsteen reference heavy pop world of the U.S. Girls the look of each adopted role is just as important: Remy wears the make-up and clothes of her protagonist’s well.
The music is…well, utterly beguiling, compelling and vibrant. With only the almost indifferent aloof looking Amanda Grist (reprising her role as backing vocalist on the current LP Half Free), as support, and a sometimes unwieldily blanket of reverb loops as backing, Remy runs through the lion’s share of her most accomplished, and possibly the year’s best, album. Intermitted by cassette tape vignettes, which sometimes work and at other times threaten to engulf their maker, a raw emotional performance amplifies the original songbook’s danceable qualities: It’s infectious once Remy instigates the first move, the audience joining in with an entranced motion. Exceptional, the best single of 2015 and already near-perfect, ‘Damn That Valley’ comes alive and throbs, and the slick pining disco noir of the revived Gloria Anna Taylor ‘Window Shades’ is masterfully lifted to another level; far more energetic than its slicker original.
Under blue and red lighted hues Remy is unshakable tonight, even when one of her trio of microphones acts up creating a whining feedback loop, she graciously without missing a heartbeat disconnects and discards it before making her way through a parting crowd to the sound engineer to grab a replacement. Commanding then, even domineering as she fixes an uneasy gaze upon the front row, Remy pushes the limits, rasping and angry on Half Free‘s closing rapture ‘Woman’s Work’. The Catholic Baroque operatic meets Moroder minor opus is delivered with truly sonorous and heart-wrenching commitment.
Taking a faux-classical theatre bow before returning with an encore, Remy finishes the evening with Half Free‘s opener ‘Sororal Feelings’. Again she elevates it, reverberating the original’s churning grief with a transfixed wallow of Ronnie Spector heartbreak.
Despite the ambitious production and thematic scope of Half Free, Remy’s d.i.y. approach is in evidence as she retreats to the back of the room to hawk her t-shirts, CDs and vinyl. Approachable and extremely modest, it is (that word again) another striking contrast to her role as a performer. Gushing praise but it really does feel like we’re privy to something special and memorable this evening; witnessing one of the most important talents to emerge in a long time.
Before I sign-off, whether it was Remy’s choice or not, the support act Blood Of The Bull proved a congruous complementary choice. Some misgivings admittedly, as the solo artist behind this quasi-ritualistic moniker Hillary Lahoma Van Scoy gingerly struck up the first chords of her mellotron inspiral vortex. Plunking away in a hypnotic swirl, the folky esoteric pastoral canters proved bewildering, in a good way. Though so subtle in melodic changes as to sound all vaguely similar, and even with some tentative mistakes, this kooky quaint recital had positive touches of the Whicker Man, Broadcast, Delia Derbyshire and something the Finders Keepers label might have found, rescued from obscurity. Quintessentially English sounding, though she is an American living in Glasgow, Blood Of The Bull proved a surprising highlight.
Words: Dominic Valvona
October 27, 2015
‘Peru’ by Various Contributors (Sounds And Colours)
200 pages plus accompanying CD and DVD/ £11.99 + P&P
Encapsulating every aspect of the South American continent, from its multifaceted arts scene to its social-politics and geographic dynamics, the thoroughly enthusiastic and much-applauded Sounds And Colours website launches the third volume in its physically published tour guide series – to some degrees an extended long form of their online content. Following on from previous crowd-sourced Brazil and Columbia editions, their latest inimitable guide-come-survey-come-fanzine turns the spotlight on the often overlooked and mysterious Peru. Winning out in a Sounds And Colours reader’s online poll, the enigmatic Peru is explored and rediscovered with revealing and often surprising results by a group of eager, erudite contributors. For the first time however, this latest project includes not only the customary audio CD but also a complimentary DVD of short films too; a visual documentation and expansion of the book’s various personalised insights; from the musty sunlit hours filmed “good morning” Radio Belén document of life on the Amazonian tributary, to following a female shamanistic healer, gathering her ingredients from natures medicine cabinet, as she prepares a ominous concoction.
Less tourist trail, more gritty and earthy realistic off-the-beaten-track meander, the guide languorously flows between music, personal anecdotes, politics, environment, literature, festivals and the arts. Loosely at least to give some traction, the guide follows a topographic trajectory. The biodiversity of Peru is extreme but stunning, and here it is broken into four distinct areas of investigation, the Northern coastline and inland’s that border Ecuador – a hotbed for surfing -, the central and southern regions that house both the capital Lima and the famous Nazca Lines – further inland towards the unforgiving deserts -, the daunting, altitude dizzying Andes – known locally as the “highlands” – and the Amazon – which it of course shares with a seven other countries on the continent.
Much like their South American counterparts, Peru shares both a litany of the similar good and bad points. On the negatives, there’s the all too prevalent disdain towards the country’s Afro-Peruvian community – arguably one of the foremost important influences to shape Peru; Chole Broadfield assesses the role of folkloric black icon Mario Landó; feted by David Bryne who worked with her on the 1995 LP The Soul Of Black Peru – and dismissal of anything deemed working class culture. Even though a debate on ethnic authenticity and nostalgia rages, with critics bemoaning the platitude trend to take-over the once humble music of an impoverished underclass – see the meta essay introduction into current and historical musical threads by Jorge Olazo.
There’s also the omnipresent, and it seems obligatory, paramilitary style revolutionaries on hand in the form of the Maoist guerrillas Shinning Path. Christened by the writer, philosopher and founder of the Peruvian Communist Party José Carlos Mariategui who observed, “Marxism-Leninism will open the “shinning path” to revolution”, these radicals left 70,000 casualties in their wake as they waged an insurgency against the “ruling capitalist government”. The ideals that started off with the intention of implementing an “Agrarian Communism” system descended into a horrific campaign of violence; doing little to endear them to the people or even their staunchest allies. Eventually contained, fizzling out during the last few years with most of the hierarchy either imprisoned or killed by government forces – equally apt in the brutality stakes –, Shinning Light seemed an insurmountable problem to shift; at their peak they controlled huge swathes of the country, finding a hotbed of support amongst the rural areas poorer, put-upon inhabitants – though many were more or less bullied and frightened into helping – and controlled the lucrative drug trade – always a good little earner that one. They’ve left an indelible mark and stigma on Peru’s conscious, and proved controversial themes, both in handwringing and in tragic consequence, for its writers, poets, artists, and musicians, and in the case of Nick MacWilliam’s insightful article A Revolution On Film its filmmakers.
Permeating throughout, it is MacWilliam’s who looks at their impact and legacy on a pre and post generation of Peruvian directors; objectivity the main factor of concern, as events are still abundantly real and still unfolding.
Social injustice, the disparity between the rich and poor and the Neocon form of governance that continues to exploit those in need can’t help but form a troubling picture. Yet this guide is also about the positives and features a healthy spirit of enterprise as Peru’s citizens carry on in the face of adversity: though as with many South American countries over the decades a growing number of middle class entrepreneurs have emerged. You have to admire their attitude; a philosophical acceptance of their lot and healthy, indolent struggle with the often brutally unfriendly terrain prevails. It rubs off even on visitors; the troubled movie director legend Werner Herzog resigned to the fate of his Peruvian jungle locations after countless accidents, both fatal and calamitous, remarked that “It’s a land that god, if he exists, has – has created in anger”, before respectfully acknowledging its chaotic misery, “There is no harmony in the universe. We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no real harmony as we have conceived it. But when I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It is not that I hate it, I love it. I love it very much. But I love it against my better judgment.”
And talking of visitors, and not just those drawn to its wilderness, Peru has continued to play host to the thrill seekers. Namely those on the trail of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg’s infamous yagé, also known as the ayahuasca, hallucinogenic – as glowingly and colourfully, through a series of anecdotal correspondents between the two authors, detailed in their 1963 published book The Yage Letters. In more recent years European hipsters have flocked to engage in DJ accompanied rituals of hedonism, under the spell of the mythical drug’s intoxicant powers. Allured by Peru’s Amazonian shared borders, those looking to find – usually over-exaggerated – experiences look upon the mystique and traditions of the shaman for adventure. And Peru certainly has plenty of these spiritual guides and medicine men/women to amuse them.
Elsewhere endearing features on the capital’s street art, club and music scenes reinforces the notion that the world is creeping towards homogenisation; the subject matters and certain idiosyncrasies are unmistakably still Peruvian but the adoption of techniques and influences as the internet opens up previously cut-off exotic lands shows the distinctions are slowly evaporating. And though the scene outside Lima is more indigenous, cocooned in some ways from that influence, even the atavistic traditions now sound far less alien than they would have done twenty years or more ago, with many artists in the more cosmopolitan hubs absorbing these traditions and rewiring to fit electric tastes.
An audio aid, the accompanying CD brings the various music exposés to life. Every facet of the music spectrum is represented (almost); ambitious crossover rock (Molde’s for whom the bell tolls ’11:11’), bubblegum psychedelic pop (Chico Unicornio feat. I Am Genko’s ‘Luxor’), South American home-grown rhythms (Los Chapillacs’s classic cumbia rumpus ‘Soldados de la Noche’), poetic lament (Victor Hugo’s three-stage pop opus ‘Lima Es Nuestra’), folktronica (Kanaku Y El Tigre’s ‘Bubucelas’) and cocktail hour bolero (La Lá’s ‘Mango’) all make worthy appearances.
Far too many contributors to mention, though as overall editor and chief writer Russell Slater deserves a honourable mention for overseeing and piecing it all together in a cohesive fashion, there’s a comprehensive range of interviews, observations, poems and stories on every conceivable topic to explore. Best read as a considered purview to be dipped in and out of, Sounds and Colours inimitable, style travelogue meets fanzine guide to Peru continues an enthusiastic and honest celebratory survey of South America for both the fleeting fan and expert to enjoy. You can visit the site and order the book here.
Words: Dominic Valvona