ALBUM REVIEWS
Dominic Valvona





Welcome to the inaugural reviews roundup of 2020 by Dominic Valvona; a cosmopolitan, expansive roundup of interesting albums and oddities.

For your discerning ears this month we have Verona’s caustic dancing punks, Hallelujah. The group pawn their guitars for a synth on the new album, Wanna Dance. The vortex dreamers Deutsche Ashram release their second LP, Whisper Om – club beats meet shoegaze, post-punk and dream wave in one intoxicating vacuum. Glitterbeat’s impressive tactile instrumental imprint tak:til continues to deliver the goods with a re-release of John Hassell and his West African foils Farafina 1987 “possible musics” collaboration, Flash Of The Spirit.

I stomp and roll down Alex Molica’s (the Seattle Stomp) garage-punk-country-blues-slacker on the lo fi acoustic rhythm guitar maverick’s debut LP, Maudlin Madness. Oxford-based Americana troupe The Epstein return with an anthemic epic, the band’s first album in years, Burn The Branches. And Mike Gale releases the first volume of B, C, D Sides.

Electronica wise we have the highly prolific electronic music boffin Andrew Spackman, who starts the New Year with his bestial spew of the weird and ennui, releasing yet another techno maverick LP under the lamentable Sad Man nom de plume. Debut wise, Chinese born and now London-based, sound sculptor Li Yilei releases a synthesis of the evanescent and tactile with her upcoming inspired ambient LP Unabled Form.

Deutsche Ashram  ‘Whisper Om’
(Wormer Bros. Records)  LP/24th January 2020


 

Brought to my attention just as the dream wave vortex duo grow more “spacious and immersive” with their second album, Whisper Om, the Deutsche Ashram have surprised me with their vaporous, druggy-hazed and intense qualities: And for that matter, their sheer audacity. You can’t mistake Ajay Saggar’s reverberating-heavy flange, phaser and resonating guitar chimes nor Merinde Verbeck’s wispy and ethereal vocals, but throughout this mixtape collage of gauze-y tunneling produced tracks you hear shades of Siouxsie And The Banshees, My Bloody Valentine, Strawberry Switchblade, New Order, Adult Net, Moon Duo, Grimes and even Jah Wobble. It’s psychedelic. It’s post-punk. It’s shoegaze. It’s C86. It’s all of these.

Saggar bends and wanes, sounding like a spindly Keith Lavene one minute, a tremolo-fanned Johnny Marr the next, whilst Verbeck’s lingering like tones of love, loss and desire, echo between the breathless, mysterious and ominous candy-pop mirages.

The opening ‘Stumbleweed’ sees the Ashram place a scatter-club beat beneath a shoegaze hallucination, but the majority of this album is an accentuate intoxicating neo-pop vacuum of veiled brilliance; a successful experiment in the “spacious and immersive” that is every bit as melodically dreamy as it is intense.




Li Yilei  ‘Unabled Form’
(LTR Records)  LP/28th February 2020


 

In her synthesis of the evanescent and tactile, the London-based (via sojourns in Tokyo and Vienna) sonic sculptor Li Yilei finds stimulation in the most transient and concrete on her debut album, Unabled Form. From the field recordings of recondite conversations on public transport to, what sounds to me like, the creaking of a metal gate swinging in the breeze, Yilei’s sounds flow in a natural motion through a serialism of both searing and understated ambient soundscapes. These are all of variations oscillations, tidal waves and vapours; piqued and shot through with more static buzzes, clangs, pulses and the barest of incipient humming beats.

Mixing real sounds with synthesized electronics, the familiar (even if removed from its source) with the mysterious and industrial, these atmospheric experiences are imbued with Yilei’s embrace of Buddhism and its values. The daughter of a Buddhist nun, the Chinese born artist embodies that belief’s concepts and ruminations of “emptiness” and “impermanence” (the state of fact of lasting for only a limited time, and the philosophical problems of change) on an album of amorphous, evocative immersions.

Track titles sometimes offer a vague sense of reference and mood, especially ‘A Star Without Guidance’, which fizzles and sizzles in the afterglow of a strange cosmos, and ‘A Filed Of Social Tensions’ – a much more chaotic matrix of warping and tape spool speed shifting that threatens to unwind itself. The ambiguous ‘1920’ – with its alien scuttles, repeated loops of reverberating distant voices, horsehair bows, hints of Tibetan bowls and tetchy electronic percussion – is a more mysterious exploration; a pivotal year of revolution and civil war that also saw the catastrophic earthquake in Haiyun county which killed over 73,000 people. Heavenly bodies seep into the traffic of an industrious city, and cyclonic drones hum and brim under solar winds on an ambient soundscape that is as airy, transparent as it can be shadowy and searing. Unabled Form is both unforced and considered. An album of keenly ventured moods, its an abstracted vision of transience from a merging artist with a more unique outlook and inspiration.




Jon Hassell/Farafina  ‘Flash Of The Spirit’
(tak:til)  LP/7th February 2020


 

Less a trumpet player composer absorbing various ideas from across the globe than a performer vessel capturing the empirical essence of a borderless, seamless ideal of new musical horizons, Jon Hassell is rightly hailed as a true pioneer of visionary ambient and entrancing soundscapes. Adroit pupil of Stockhausen, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Terry Riley and Le Monte Young on his way to creating a truly international language with a concomitant series of iconic and highly influential albums in the late 70s and 80s, the American trumpet maestro famously coined the terms “fourth world musics” and “possible musics” for his own experimental fantasies.

The timeless geography of his earlier Vernal Equinox meanderings would prick the ears of Brian Eno; embarking on his very own ambient peregrinations. Far too disingenuous to suggest Eno discovered Hassell (especially when his records with Eno as a collaborator would be filed in record stores under the Englishman’s name and not his), but they would indeed work together on that albums that helped define Hassell’s legacy. As an enabler processing and filtering Hassell’s amorphous microtonal trumpet blends and lingers, Eno sat in on both the first fourth world sessions (entitled Possible Musics Volume 1) and the Dream Theory In Malaya follow-up. A third manifestation, Flash Of The Spirit stands outside that series as an outlier of those minimalist peregrinations.

Re-released on Glitterbeat’s explorative instrumental imprint tak:til, Hassell’s 1987 partnership with the acclaimed Burkina Faso troupe Farafina is a continuation of that practice in polygenesis traverses, only far more rhythmic, tribal and, well…collaborative. Also the spark and roots of each composition on that dreamy voyage were initiated for the most part by the West African group: Between them, founder and balafon virtuoso and vocalist Mahama Konaté and principle drummer (using the ornamental djembe) Paco Yé are responsible for laying down the foundations. Fresh from working their magic on U2’s Joshua Tree Eno alongside his production partner of note Daniel Lanois, were back in the fold and favour; Lanois recording the original sessions and mixing half of the final album’s track list, Eno reshaping and transforming the rest.

Proposed and facilitated by Jazz In Sardinia Festival director Riccardo Sgualdini the, as it would turn out, fruitful union between Hassell and Farafina didn’t get off to the best of starts. The Farafina octet already seasoned having worked with such luminaries as the Rolling Stones and Ryuichi Sakamoto since their formation in 1978, were initially unsure, even suspicious of this Hassell collaboration. Thankfully something gelled and, settled in, the inspiration flowed; the results sounding like an otherworldly evocation of the familiar: African yet distant and vaporous.

Merging Hassell’s smoky and swaddling trumpet and array of sampled strings, harps with the Farafina group’s myriad of talking drums, percussion, flute and voices, Flash Of The Spirit is both spaciously entrancing and rhythmically tribal. Taking the title from Robert Farris Thompson’s book of the same name, the inspiration behind this often gauze-y communion taps into that book’s exposition of African immigrants experiences in the Americas and how they maintain (keep alive) and transform their traditions through creative adoption; harking at a continuingly fruitful, if forced, “collision of cultures”. And, in what is a congruous layering rather than collision, both histories evoke the atavistic whilst also venturing into an imaginary future of sonic interaction and flow.

Evocative individual track titles, accompanied by their parenthesis spirits, offer a theme or movement of direction on this album. For example, “laughter” precedes the gauze-y dancing title-track itself (a rippling, wafting and woody traverse that reminds me of 80s Miles Davis soundtracks) whilst “fear” permeates the nocturnal dipped and bobbing tribal drumming in liquid motion ‘Night Moves’. Surveying the vast Savannah, the almost sensual ‘Air Afrique’ is as airy and attached to the “wind” as its title suggests, taking off on a fantastical flight above the clouds into uncharted soundscapes. ‘Kaboo (play)’ might well be describing something entirely different, but to these ears sounds like a dreamy crawling caravan through the undergrowth, the resonating voices of unseen trilling poets calling out from the wilderness. There’s a crystal ball like mystery echoed in the shivering glassy materializations of ‘Tales Of The Near Future (clairvoyance)’, and an esoteric swirl to the increasingly intense speedy drumming flares of ‘A Vampire Dances (symmetry)’.

As “possible musics” go, this one is successful in creating an amorphous fusion; neither wholly African nor Western but something less tethered or beholden to any specific location and time. The Burkina Faso troupe add a far more “propulsive” rhythm to Hassell’s peregrinations; adding a certain weight to those signature ambient wisps and swaddled passages, yet still sounding as nuzzling and vaporous as ever. Three decades later and you could argue that Flash Of The Spirit is just as refreshing and novel today as it would have been in 1987; caught as it was on the cusp of a new epoch in ambient and electronic music, an augur of truly borderless sounds. Add this to the collection.




Sad Man  ‘The King Of The Beasts’
(Self-Released)  LP/10th February 2020


 

Starting the year as he means to go on, sporadically releasing albums of varying degrees in kooky electronic music mischief, Andrew Speckman, under his mooning Sad Man persona, unleashes the beasts with his first trick noise making experiment of 2020: The King Of The Beasts.

Like a Loony Tunes Cage or Stockhausen, banished to a makeshift potting shed laboratory, the Coventry boffin once more broadens his sonic horizons on an album that, in an ennui fashion, knocks about between a warped vision of d’n’b, techno and more avant-garde meanderings. Prepare to be thrown into a pinball flipper buffeting chaos as busy itchy electronic percussion and a myriad of mulching, whipping and speed shifting effects come up against a transmogrified Orb, Sakamoto, Major Force and Phylps.

In other words: expect the unexpected as Speckman merges dub techno with nocturnal tropical post-punk (‘Xylophone’), clandestine Howie B with a ghostly visitation soundtrack (‘The Pysician’), Les Baxter exotic lullaby with the Leaf Label (‘Nine’) and a buoying bobbing analogue bubble bath with cosmic sub-Indian alpha waves (‘Bus Swerve’).

Somewhere on the Venn diagram of sublime and ridiculous, the plaintive Sad Man steers a mixed bag of ideas into a constantly developing album; churning, squeezing and contorting plenty of odd and more cerebral mileage out of the experimental dance music genre.




Hallelujah  ‘Wanna Dance’
(Maple Death Records)  LP/21st February 2020


 

From the caustic, abrasive noise raises a limbering fucked-up no wave punk contortion you can dance to: within reason and with the use of heavy opioids and imagination. Having discarded the lead guitar for that most rudimentary but beloved of early synths, the Korg MS20, Verona’s disruptive Hallelujah put a real (di)stress on their main motivator; cranking up and pulling the dials until the lift off and scream into a vortex.

Pared down to a trio, after one of the troupe quit, this industrial unit collide with early Mute Records, DAF, Peter Kernel and The Pop Group on an heavy strength album of seedy scuzz and Italo-grime-y disdain. Sung, hysterically and with disruptive sneering petulance, in English you can’t mistake the reactionary spite and goofed erraticism of letting off steam. And if you do, a track title such as ‘Burka For Everyone’ will soon set you straight. Anyway, it forces its way into and occupies the brain, before leaving its scorched marks with a quick spasm of disruptive jerk-off punked and retro-synth dance chaos.

Rome might well be burning, but Verona’s disgruntled angst noiseniks just fucking “wanna dance”.



Seattle Stomp  ‘Maudlin Madness’
(Crush Grove)  3rd January 2020


 

In a beaten-up saloon, careering down a slackers rock’n’roll garage road map, Alex Molica as the Seattle Stomp channels a familiar musical palette of influences on a battered acoustic guitar with his idiosyncratic wanderers debut LP, Maudlin Madness. Fueled up on a millennial cocktail of self-loathing and anxiety, the self-deprecating lo fi roller in (mostly) languid dishevelment beats and strums about lost love, road trips and alcoholism on an album that threatens to disappear below the radar into obscurity.

Far too good escape attention, Maudlin Madness is a deceptively melodic and infectious minor works of both intense and loose gonzo-indie-beat-garage-punk-country-rock. Short enough to not overstay its welcome on repeat plays, the eight tracks really do grow on you. From the Bosco Delrey meets Jonathan Richman and Alan Vega on a psycho rockabilly bum ride opener, ‘Anxious Thoughts’, to the mid-60s period Jagger breaks bread with Sky Saxon and Wolf Parade nursery rhyme creeper ‘Little Red Ridding Hood’ and the country rocking blues flat beat of ‘Power Jam Situation’, there’s the permeating spirit of an outsider looking in.

Molica in his travels bears wintery blasts (in the mode of The Standells on ‘January’), driving towards Denver mooning over the one-that-drifted-away and gets agitated over the contents of a fridge. Strangely though, the last track (if you can make it past the repeating car alarm-like chirping) moves from rock’n’roll jitters to a Mellotron cosmic narration traverse; Molica talking about voyager and moon craters: escapism into the void. Hardly the most original of albums, Maudlin Madness is still a great little LP that bridges slacker indie with garage, country and rock’n’roll.




The Epstein  ‘Burn The Branches’
(Zawinul Records/Pindrop Records)  LP/14th February 2020


 

Ambitious in its quivered anthem rousing and rich panoramas, Oxford-based Americana troupe The Epstein take it up a notch on their latest album, Burn The Branches. With earnest parched yearning the group return after a long hiatus (releasing only their third LP in twelve years) with an expanded sound and dynamism that ratchets up those root country influences to venture beyond the homestead prairie for pastures anew. Don’t worry though; the alt-country vibe is still very much in evidence still, just grander and erring more towards the light and shade of rock and indie music.

They cement this new expansion with a couplet of loud anthems; the brilliantly stirring ‘life-affirming’ ‘That Voice’ and heavier punctuated, increasingly vocally erratic, epic ‘It Will Pass’. The first of which evokes (for me anyway) hints of Meursault, early Radiohead and Deacon Blue, and the second, the Fleet Foxes, Broken Family Band and Wolf Parade. In their more serene, becalming moments The Epstein shimmer towards the hymnal, even country gospel on the quivering with softened timpani rumbling ‘Grand Canyon’ – a faithful cover no less of The Magnetic Fields’ lovelorn hymn from the iconic 69 Love Songs suite -, and march in plaintive step to a crushed piano and a tender accompaniment on the album’s dramatic curtain call, ‘Funeral’. Elsewhere there’s more scenery building with the ethereal desert spirited forsaken ‘Red Rocks’ and mysterious seeking vision ‘Wandering’.

If Wilco, Richmond Fontaine and CYHSY improbably joined forces for the greater good, they might very well sound something a little like this. Heightened crescendos aplenty and grand gestures await on an album that is both highly commercial yet has a real soulful depth and dynamism lacking in so much more popular anthemic music. This could well be the band’s finest work yet.



Mike Gale  ‘B, C, D Sides Volume 1’
LP/2nd January 2020


 

In no way diminishing what is an actually quite good little album, but former Co-Pilgrim and Black Nielson honcho Mike Gale’s latest release is a stopgap between last year’s brilliant surf noir and Pacific ocean Beach Boys imbued Summer Deluxe and a, as yet, unnamed new LP in September. A gathering of material, left wanton in some cases, and just left off of previous albums, B, C, D Sides Volume 1 is a collection of tracks that somehow manages to work as a congruous album of quality romantic paeans, ruminations, breezes and more experimental ideas: some working better than others. However, apart from the odd starry satellite blinking Electronic meets The Farm pop-like early synthesizer tune, the Bs, Cs and Ds on show here sound anything but unsure or half-finished.

You can almost fit Gale’s music into two categories of influence and sound; the first, the more Beach Boys (with the onus on mike Love and Bruce Johnston) and Marc Eric kind of dappled harmony, and the second, harks back to both the C86 phenomenon and the 90s. Sometimes the two crossover of course; especially on ‘Something’s In The River’, a dreamy vocal track that places that Beach Boys lushness over Japan’s brooding synthesized pizzicato strings. In the former category, the opening beautifully be-jangled Donavan-esque ‘All The Traps Of Earth’ features Mike Gale as nature’s son, whilst the similarly acoustic, but with tambourine and more vigor, monastic haunting ‘Good Day, Doomsday’s Here’ has echoes of Paul Simon paling up with the Wilson brothers – possibly one of those tracks that didn’t make Summer Deluxe perhaps? In the latter camp, Gale places a harsher-toned lo fi rock guitar under a dreamy early Stone Roses vibe on ‘New Frontier’; goes all out epic45 and Casio pre-sets on the electro glide pop ‘Drive Ultimate Robot’; and puts an arpeggiator underneath the lilting lovely Cabinessence feel ‘Weather Patterns’.

Elsewhere on this collection, Gale rises dreamily again from the doldrums on the languid despondency ‘I’m Wasting All My Time’ and pens a romantic modern sonnet to a true love on ‘Your Smile’.

Occasionally you can hear the workings of Gale’s evolutions and mind, but these songs are nothing less than well executed; the songwriting as delightful as always. Far from second best, this first volume of tunes that never made the cut is another quality release that fills a Gale-shaped hole until the next album proper arrives in the autumn.




Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog the Monolith Cocktail. For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Singles, Previews & Oddities Roundup
Dominic Valvona



A quick shifty, glance, a perusal of the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload our inboxes this month by me, Dominic Valvona.

Featured artists include Ani Glass, Dijf Sanders, Betacrack, Kamilta, Jonah Parzen-Johnson and Liz Davinci.

Dijf Sanders  ‘Ravana’
(Unday Records)  Single/2nd January 2020




A plucking, steaming and lumbering exotica of amorphous esoteric Tibet, the Far East and China, the leading single from David ‘Dijf’ Sanders new album, Puja, is a downtempo fantasy of vague ethio-jazz, psychedelic and breaks. The Belgium composer and multi instrumentalist follows up previous traversing suites with another dramatic vision of borderless escapism. Sourced from a Hindu epic, ‘Ravana’ is a courtly sumptuous and hypnotic introduction to a sonic layered world of mystery.


Jonah Parzen-Johnson  ‘Up’ & ‘Stand Still’
(We Jazz)  Preview tracks from the upcoming new LP, Imagine Giving Up, released 7th February 2020


From a label we have tried to champion over the last couple of years, We Jazz, another inventive ambient explorative jazz suite (make that two) from the Brooklyn based baritone saxophonist Jonah Parzen-Johnson. Doing imaginative things with the saxophone and an undulation of lopping, augmented synth effects, Jonah produces a kind of Hassell meets Colin Stetson vision of untethered and unburdened music. Taken from the upcoming new LP, Imagine Giving Up, there’s the minimalist wafted and swaddling sax drifting over a ‘fourth world musics’ like electronic choppy reverb ‘Up’, and the more electrified and elongating, shimmery romanticism of ‘Stand Still’. It all makes for a very promising album.


Ani Glass  ‘Mirores’
(Recordiau Neb)  Single/17th January 2020




Welsh dream-synth chanteuse Ani Glass casts enchanting diaphanous gossamer shapes over a Moroder style bedding of enervated glitterings, vapours and piqued bubbles on her new single ‘Mirores’. Sang in the native Welsh tones, and with that veiled magical 80s soundtrack accompaniment, Ani’s coos glide towards fantasy.

‘Mirores’ is taken from the upcoming debut LP of the same name, due out on the 6th March 2020; summed up here from the press clippings: ‘With its tapestry of electronic sounds, elliptical melodies and samples threaded into a song cycle, MIRORES is based around the idea of movement and progress – one which takes us on a journey around her hometown of Cardiff. You can hear Ani’s recorded sounds of the urban landscape throughout; the movement of traffic and people and the magical yet infrequent sounds of nature coming together to create the score of a city’s symphony.’


Kamilita  ‘Broken Hearted Freak’


Going to keep this one as brisk and vaporous as the artist’s music, but Kamilita wafts through an 80s backtrack of dreamy hazy Grimes meets Sugababes electro pop plaint on the latest single ‘Broken Hearted Freak’. Not much is known about the Seattle artist, who seems to have just materialized from the net to produce neo-pop visions of hi-nrg fitness video sass. Go seek and find out more.


Betacrack  ‘Unselected Ambient Works Vol.1’
(Grumpy Records)  LP/17th January 2020




The poor relation to Richard James’ iconic and highly influential Ambient Works collections, the ‘deranged’ components in the makeup of Betacrack’s electronic renderings sound like they’ve just gone plain wrong at their most resigned (‘Allude’), yet pickup for a caustic bity livener when they threaten to break out of the matrix (‘Duldrum’). A (re)Warp of the Aphex Twin and Analouge Bubblebath for an anguished, distressed mind, these Unselected Ambient Works from the Portland, Oregon wiz span many fields of introverted experimentation and minimalist Techno escapism. Basically: great. Again, please seek out!


Liz Davinci  ‘Harvest Time’
Video/Single 11th January 2020




Starting the New Year with a new name and new video single, maverick chanteuse of semi-classical brooding aria pop Elizabeth Everts will from this point forward be addressed as the renaissance styled Liz Davinci. As a baptism of sorts, the American troubadour (living and composing music abroad in Munich) has released the inaugural video/single under the Davinci moniker, ‘Harvest Time’. Finding plenty of favour on a multitude of playlists and radio station selections, Liz’s understated 2019 EP Contraband featured on the Monolith Cocktail. The diaphanous rolling, almost operatic, sowed ‘Harvest Time’ is taken from that same EP.

Dominic Valvona


Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.comFor the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

ALBUM REVIEW
Dominic Valvona




Extradition Order  ‘American Prometheus’
(Blang/Gare du Nord/HLP19/I Blame/Jezus Factory) 20th February 2020


Willed on by a whole quintet of label facilitators, the first album in a good few years from the excitable and soulful no wave Warrington troupe Extradition Order is a poignant return to the American history books. Dedicated in part to founding member Nick Boardman who passed away in 2018 (his legacy permeates this album, whether as a guiding influence or through his bass hooks and singing), the Order’s vessel this time around is “the destroyer of worlds” polyglot genius behind the fateful A-bomb Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer. Taking the album’s title from the Oppenheimer biography of the same name, American Prometheus is a guide to a visceral concept of the lamentable, profane and hysterical. Just as the band did with their both pining and erratic opus to the Kennedy dynasty on the 2015 Kennedy LP, the extended cast of unfortunate and listless wives, lovers, set adrift family members, rivals and enablers are given a voice in the linear story of this incredible scientist; one who, as it turns out, had quite the checkered and controversial life story.

From the very outset, a gilded pathway was laid out for the privileged N.Y. city born physicist, as succinctly raved-up on the opening meeting of post-punk and northern soul ‘Daddy, Give Me Your Money’: A rattle and roll party-ish rambunctious union of James White, Dexys and the B52s. Money and connections aside, you still need that beautiful mind and Oppenheimer had the genius gene in spades. Obviously, and for good reason his CV is overshadowed for his integral part in putting together the apocalyptic atom bomb – two of which, the Fat Boy and Fat Man, were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the summer of 1945; covered by the Order on the raucous with theatrical bent ‘Fat Man, Thin Man’ -, but beyond that he was also instrumental in developing theories on black holes and quantum field theory. Oppenheimer would go on to denounce the bomb he helped create, suffering recriminations throughout the remainder of his career for speaking out. It also didn’t help that in the paranoid age of McCarthyism that, though never openly a supporter, he donated to many left wing causes. He also seemed to be orbiting those circles and even had affairs with two paid-up members of the cause. Famously, Oppenheimer would not only lose his security clearance but be snubbed, three times, for a Noble Prize (1945, ’51 and ’67). A link back to Extradition Order’s previous interest, JFK would, before fate cruelly took its cause, offer him a lifetime achievement award as a sort of conciliatory gesture of recognition.

 

American Prometheus presents the portrait of a fallen figure, an emotionally charged evisceration of a complicated man. Of course there’s many parallels to be drawn with the here and now. Songs such as the hooting ‘America First’ – Funboy Three lose the plot with early Adam And The Ants and Richard Hell – and brassy soul number ‘Manhattan’ both resonate with current themes of bullish political isolationism and sexism; the first, a reference to the isolated sloganism of that original movement of American Nationalism (which in its 1930s appeasement of Hitler and aggrandizement of such anti-Semitic national heroes as Charles Lindbergh, attempted to stand alone outside the international community), the second, the plaintive tale of the highly educated, articulate and “sexual” Kitty Puering, stifled and limited, stuck mothering two children on the Los Alamos military base in New Mexico after marrying Oppenheimer (another sorry tale in itself, Kitty originally started an affair with the scientist whilst already married; pregnant with Oppenheimer’s child, she would divorce her husband and remarry in quick time).

With colliery soul requiems, prowling hints of Blurt, cheerleader Grease rah-rah and bursts of My Life Story, The Pop Group, Style Council and The Mekons, Extradition Order blow open the myths and dramas behind the conflicted Oppenheimer: warts and all. American Prometheus is another mini triumph from a band that manages to bridge the fury and wrath of punk with the contorting squawks and funk of no wave and the brassy heralded romantic yearns of northern soul: good going guys. Expect to see this one in our albums of 2020.



Reviews
Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea





Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent project, Roi (with John McCarthy and Dan Shea, of Beauty Stab and Vukovar infamy) debuted at the end of 2019 through Metal Postcard Records with the paean to local record shop single, ‘Dormouse Records’. They’ve also released their seasonal dirge, ‘Christmas Morn‘.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.


bigflower   ‘Sound Of Silence’
Single/1st January 2020

How apt that my first review of the year is a cover of the Simon And Garfunkel classic ‘The Sound Of Silence’; a song associated with the mid sixties when the world was full of hope and revolution of peace and love; a beautifully written and recorded folk rock classic. This version by the brilliant bigflower is quite the opposite. This is a dark piece of nihilism a psychotic and slightly psychedelic sleazy lounge lizard rendition, a version that soundtracks the lack of hope we have for the future new decade as we exist under the cloud of hate poverty and despair.

As ever, this shows the world just what it is not getting to hear as it’s force fed smart phone pop (or should that be pap on radio and TV). In these times of unease we should be hearing the call of revolution of high art; we should be letting the kids enjoy the feeling and exhilaration their parents and grandparents felt when they turned on the radio. There are bands artists out there who are just as capable and talented as the bands of yore. Just that they are not being given the chance to shine. Come the revolution – and believe me it is only a matter of time – bigflower will be leading the way.




Pintandwefall  ‘Your Stories Baby’
(Soliti Music) LP/17th January 2020

 

Ah rock n roll I gave you the best years of my wife. The not so subtle sounds of garage punk and well-written pop, of which I have grown very fond of in my 53 years on this planet. This is a little gem of an album; nothing outstandingly different to many other indie garage punk pop albums, but this has enough quirkiness and more importantly it has a soul and immaturity that many other bands can only wish for. A band that has been touched by the hand of pop suss; a band that sounds like it has been force fed 60s girl group records followed by post punk hits for their afters: twangy guitars, one fingered keyboard riffs, “na na na” choruses and synths that whiiirrl. Perfect imperfect pop: and what is more perfect than that.




Sunflowers  ‘Endless Voyage’
(Stolen Body Records) LP/14th February 2020

 

This is a concept LP I’m led to believe, and on the whole I’m not a great fan of them as they normally play out as a way to release an album with shit lyrics, and try and con the listener that it’s more important than it actually is. Normally it is a cabbage like thing dressed up as full salad with relish and everything. It’s a sign of a band that is getting bored with itself and is running out of ideas and have forgotten how to write good songs, but not in this case. On the whole Endless Voyage is a very enjoyable album with screeching guitars, twonking synths, and is mostly instrumental: hence the lack of shit lyrics. The instrumentals are the better tracks on the LP; the tracks with vocals are the least interesting – reminding me of Blur when they where going through their American art rock phase but without Blur’s pop suss. If the Sunflowers had made it a wholly instrumental album I feel it could have been something pretty special instead of the just pretty good album we have here.




Shadow Show  ‘Silhouettes’
(Stolen Body Records) LP/14th February 2020

 

Any LP that kicks off with a wonderful blast of The Beatles’ ‘Taxman’ riffery (‘Charades’) is fine with me. Sparkling sixties jangle tangle with melodies not heard since the last band decided that The Beatles are not such a bad thing, and if you are going to be influenced by anyone why not the greatest band ever.

Silhouettes as I have already mentioned in a few reviews of other new releases already this year, isn’t the most original of albums but it is a damn fine listen, filled as it is with great catchy guitar pop tunes. And Shadow Show is better than most at plundering the wonderful musical sounds the decade of the 60s produced. When it comes to the end if 2020 I wouldn’t be surprised to find this LP being one of my most played and loved of the year.




Bruce Hendrickson and The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies  ‘Any Sunny Day’
Single/24th December 2019

 

‘Any Sunny Day’ is poetic stroll of Sparklehorse like beauty, softly strummed guitars and eerie synths that takes you on a journey to the psych of a perfect day; a soundtrack to a long lost black and white photo of happier times. The b-side or second track if you like, ‘Roll End Credits’, is what the Velvet Underground might of sounded like if they were obsessed by Hank and his Shadows and produced by the great Joe Meek. Please tell me that there is going to be a album, as this is magical.




Stovepipe  ‘Born to Jive/Never Surrender’
(Jezus Factory) Single/21st February 2020

 

Is Garage Rock the new garage rock? Is it making a bit of a comeback or has it never gone away, as I’m certainly being sent loads of it to review. This single/EP is a five track (three of which are bonus tracks) treat for lovers of loud guitars and garage rock organ sounds. Once again nothing ground breaking but it is garage rock. It’s what it says on the tin or the label in this case, and lovers of 60s tinged frenzy and pre-punk pub rock – even occasionally slipping into post punk psych as on ‘I Wanna Be Your Favourite Pair Of Pajamas’ – will no doubt enjoy it and will want in their record collection.




Floodlights  ‘Backyard’
(Spunk Records) EP/21st February 2020

 

What I like about this EP is how Australian it sounds – a bit like the Hoodoo Gurus meet the Triffids -; four songs that recall traveling across the wilds of Australia. Not that I’ve ever been there, but I imagine Backyard would make a wonderful soundtrack if I were ever lucky enough to. It also reminds me of early 80s Kinks around their time of the ‘Come Dancing’ hit, which again can only be a good thing as Ray Davies is certainly no slouch at the old song writing lark. So all in all a very impressive EP.


NEW MUSIC DISCOVERY
Words: Monica Mazzoli





Continuing in 2020 with our collaboration with the leading Italian music publication Kalporz, the Monolith Cocktail will be cosying up and sharing reviews, interviews and other bits from our respective sites each month. Keep an eye out for future ‘synergy’ between our two great houses as we exchange posts.

The first Kalporz post of the year is taken from the site’s [Scoutcloud] column; searching out and discovering new bands.

Here’s a little reminder of the Kalporz background:

Kalporz writes about music, with his own musical vision, since 2000.

Kalporz is a careful observer of news, trends, emerging scenes, but without chasing the dominant taste: he is in search of “beautiful things”. He hopes to publish articles well written and carefully, in an original way, without filters and, of course, independently.

The editorial project is under the Creative Commons regime (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 IT) and in 2018 it was voted as the best Italian music site by the Meeting of Independent Labels (MEI) and Musicletter (https://www.musicletter.it/index.php/2018/08/27/kalporz-e-reverendo-lys-vincono-la-targa-mei-musicletter-2018-premio-speciale-a-umbria-jazz-come-miglior-festival-musicale-italiano/).

The Kalporz family is composed of the founder Luca Vecchi, the editors Paolo Bardelli,Monica MazzoliPiero MerolaEnrico StradiMatteo MannocciGianluigi Marsibilio, and about twenty other collaborators, as well as three photographers.

The collaborators are from all parts of Italy, even if the main base of Kalporz is between Reggio Emilia, a town near the “famous” Canossa, the Adriatic Sea and Florence.





Brainstory music has rhythm and heart. In a word: a groove.

Kevin Martin, Tony Martin and Eric Hagstrom – the three souls of the band – form a trio all soul, jazz and psychedelic. After two mini albums – Brainstory Presents: A Natural Phantasm (2015) and Brainstory (2017) – comes the band from Rialto’s (California) longplayer debut. Buck (2019), the band’s first release by Big Crown Records, the Californian line-up lays bare as never before, putting down its musical spirituality, naked and pure. “Buck naked”, on the other hand, means “naked as a worm” in English. The songs of Buck are all stripped of artificial frills; they are “pop”, directed to the point, to the soul of the melody and rhythm: Soul in spirit.


Monica Mazzoli

PLAYLIST
Compiled by Dominic Valvona





Cool shit that the Monolith Cocktail founder and instigator Dominic Valvona has pulled together, the Social playlist is a theme-less selection of eclectic tracks from across the globe and ages. Representing not only his tastes but the blogs, these regular playlists can be viewed as an imaginary radio show, a taste of Dominic’s DJ sets over 25 plus years. Placed in a way as to ape a listening journey, though feel free to listen to it as you wish, each playlist bridges a myriad of musical treasures to enjoy and also explore – and of course, to dance away the hours to.

The first volume of 2020 includes a couple of live ones from the cosmic, country rock doyen Mike Nesmith (taken from his performance with foil Red Rhodes; released as the The McCabe’s Tapes last year, slipping below the radar and just missing our albums of 2020 features), and from that ever exhaustive archive of lost and under wraps David Bowie material, a brassy resonating eastern and ethereal alternative take of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’.  There’s also Thai go-go beat nonsense from the Erawan Band; Afrobeat Salsa from Gyedu-Blay Ambolly; rattling garage punk from The Pandoras; 80s nu-soul funk from Konk; House(ing) diva funk collaboration from Kym Mazelle & Robert Howard; a rock steady grooving transformation of a classic from guitar picking Ernest Ranglin; plus the usual unusual mix of jazz, no wave, punk, post punk, power pop, country, avant-garde and whatever else tickles my fancy.


Track List

Erawan Band  ‘Khon Muangkhan’
Episode Six  ‘Morning Dew’
Eula Cooper  ‘Try’
Paolo Ferrara  ‘Afrotheme’
Bronx River Parkway  ‘Song For Ray’
Gyedu-Blay Ambolly  ‘Simigwa-Do’
Rikki Illonga, Musi-O-Tunya  ‘Sunshine Love’
Konk  ‘Love Attack’
Kym Mazelle & Robert Howard  ‘Wait’
Ernest Ranglin  ‘Summertime (Rock Steady)’
Eugene McDaniels  ‘Tell Me Mr. President’
Josefus  ‘America’
The Carpettes  ‘Radio Wunderbar’
The Pandoras  ‘You Burn Me Up And Down’
Total Control  ‘Future Creme’
Rosa Yemen  ‘Decryptated’
La Floripondio  ‘Dime Que Pasa’
Nat Birchall  ‘Ism Schism’
Ted Daniel Quintet  ‘Mozambique’
The Lyman Woodard Organization  ‘On Your Mind’
Engineers  ‘Forgiveness’
Wall Of Voodoo  ‘Dark As The Dungeon’
The Shivvers  ‘When I Was Younger’
The Velvet Illusions  ‘Town Of Fools’
David Kilgour & The Heavy Eights  ‘Smoke You Right Out Of Here’
Walter Ghoul’s Lavender Brigade  ‘House Of Small’
Emit Rhodes  ‘Mary Will You Take My Hand’
Michael Nesmith & Red Rhodes  ‘Grand Ennui (Live)’
Michael Nesmith & Red Rhodes  ‘Some Of Shelly’s Blues (Live)’
David Bowie  ‘The Man Who Sold The World (ChangesNowBowie Version)’

REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona




The Van Allen Belt  ‘Let It Goddam Be’
LP/23rd December 2019

To say that there’s been a one hell of a shitstorm of discourse and divisive upset in the period between this and the last LP from the musically omnivorous devouring Pittsburg collective The Van Allen Belt, would be an understatement. In that near five-year period of absence (release wise anyway) the trip-hoping psychedelic cinematic fantasists have a new president elect to wrestle with as they gaze out across a broken, hostile landscape of nationalism and wokeism. Saving up an incandescent rage and vitriol, the Van Allen’s unload the angst and anxious plaint on their first longplayer release since the beatific meandrous 2015 album, Heaven On A Branch (which rightly made our choice albums of that year).

With a Western style bent and playful pun-intended embrace, Let It Goddam Be raids the record collection of influences to build a sophisticated collage of dramatic and filmic soundtrack protestation. Stopping short of pastiche or aping those influences, chief instigator Benjamin Ferris and his vocal foil Tamar Kamin bend and shape familiar genres and sounds to their will. They even rope in the cult jazz and progressive experimentalist Bruno Spoerri (so cult that even those crate-digger cult worshippers of the obscure, Finders Keepers, even released a compilation of his maverick musings) to play on a homage to his own visionary entrancing renderings (albeit via the brooding visage of Eno & Bowie and the suffused wafting saxophone caresses of The Cosmic Range); the vaporous instrumental passage ‘Christine Versions’. Spoerri also partakes on the opening Western themed ‘Peace Don’t Stand A Chance’ epic; a Link Wray embossed mosey that wrangles a loose lasso around Morricone, Unloved and The Plastic Ono Band. A meta transformation of the Sergio Leone template, amped up on a tripsy embittered protest march, this opening throw-down (literally with foley sound effects) strikes a match off a tough leathery cowboy boot and sets in motion a flaming pyre of grievances. On an album of guest spots, it even features a Deadwood Swearingen (Cheyenne) on violin alongside the Lynchian inspired guitarist Kirk Salopek on tremolo wane duties.

The next mini-opus, ‘Lucky After Dark’, takes a signature Supremes tambourine rattling backbeat on a detour through the dreamy Gothic and Acid Jazz (Morcheeba in the subterranean), and the even grander title-track churns Moloko, Sparks and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah into a kooky riling symphony. Regular Van Allen extended cast member Tom Altes is back on bass for the ditsy ‘You’ve Heard It All Before’; a track that manages to both evoke Billie Holiday and The Sneaker Pimps simultaneously. But rounding the wagon circle is the closing Western cinematic ‘143’; a Biblical film score gone astray and transmogrified by DJ Shadow and the 5th Dimension.

Assured quality, with Tamar’s idiosyncratic vocal fluctuations (from deeper earthy tones to aria and untethered swirls) as engaging and free-floating as ever, the production multilayered and ever more sophisticated, The Van Allen Belt’s short, but certainly not scrimping on depth, new album finishes all too soon. It’s great to have them back. The musical landscape looks a lot brighter and better in 2020 with them back on board making complex, cerebral pop musical statements.

Dominic Valvona



REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona
Images: Luis Mileo



Lina_Raül Refree ‘S/T’
(Glitterbeat Records) LP/17th January 2020

Stripped bare and rebuilt from the foundations up, the congruous and accentuate sonic and voice union of the striking siren simply known as Lina and Raül Refree subtly revive the often sullen and forlorn Portuguese tradition of ‘fado’. Working together for the first time, this collaborative partnership transforms a classic songbook of material made famous by the queen of fado, Amália Rodrigues, whilst keeping an essence of that folkloric style’s veneration and plaintive pull.

Continuing with a fresh formula that in the last few years has worked wonders for his collaborations with Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and the “incendiary” flamenco artist Rosalia, and created an experimental sonic mirage out of the on and off set atmosphere of Isaki Lacuesta’s flamenco exploration ‘Entre dos Agua’, Refree transports that tradition beyond its origins into an abstract soundscape that could evoke French Chanson as much as the Kosmische, and even the soundtrack work of Angelo Badalamenti. Not so much a sacrilege as a move away from past constrictions the multi talented musician/producer puts a contemporary spin on the indigenous musical form by removing the synonymous acoustic guitar accompaniment for a nuanced atmosphere of augmented, reverent and ambient analogue synthesizer and neoclassical piano.

Enervated circular metallic, vaporous mists and centrifugal forces envelope, caress or appear like distant murmurings, layered beneath Lina’s diaphanous and starkly sonorous vocals; taking the determined and soulful kernel of fado into some gauze-y, ominous and alien dimensions. Channeling the spirit of chanteuse and actress Amália Rodrigues – who did more than anyone to spread fado beyond the borders of Portugal – Lina’s adroit refashioning of the late performer’s repertoire plays centre stage on this experimentally minimalist LP.





A scion of fado, Lina inherited an interest in the style at the age of fifthteen. Broadening horizons, the burgeoning enchantress also studied opera; the barest, although highly impressive, opening up of those scales can be heard at key punctuated moments throughout. Building a reputation for her haunted interpretations and range, Lina has performed as a regular at the venerated Clube de Fado in Lisbon. Venturing into new uncharted soundscapes, Lina invited Refree in to apply a more liberal contemporary, even mysterious, production.

The dynamics of these two artists works in part because of Refree’s lack of investment or adherence to fado’s signatures and history. Relatively unburdened by its weighty worthiness, though no less respectful, these classical lamentable yearns and ballads open out into magical realism, the dreamy and the esoteric. On the echoed ‘Sta Luzia’ Lina sounds like a Portuguese transmogrification of Marianne Faithfull singing the ‘Ballad Of Lucy Jordan’, and on the rising torrid haunted sea omen ‘Gaivota’ you can hear touches of Diamanda Galas.

The beauty of morose and tragedy is explored with a synthesized and reconstructive intimacy that loses none of fado’s naturalistic and guttural heartbroken fragility. Refree’s production proves complimentary if subtly transformative; underpinning and accentuating the power and stark brilliance of Lina’s stirring performances without infringing upon the sensitivity or meaning.

Bellowed, ghostly, sensual, soothed and melodic: this album is all of these. Yet it is also sparse and stripped, almost to just the faintest of renderings with Refree’s presence at times almost recorded from beyond the ether. Fado’s legacy is in good hands as it lingers on into a new decade with a contemporary purpose.

Dominic Valvona





 

REVIEWS
Words: Brian Bordello




Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent project, Roi (with John McCarthy and Dan Shea, of Beauty Stab and Vukovar infamy) debuted recently through Metal Postcard Records with the paean to local record shop single, ‘Dormouse Records’. They’ve also just released their seasonal dirge, ‘Christmas Morn‘.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.

The Membranes ‘Nocturnal’
EP/29th November 2019

Post punk originators [their description] The Membranes return with a angular piece of synth darkwave melodrama, the kind Soft Cell used to offer up in a damn fine fashion many years ago and the kind Vukovar piss out quite brilliantly nowadays. This strange EP for some reason has me picturing Scooby Doo dancing with ghosts at a high school prom: the soundtrack to a horror film nobody wants to watch.




New Art School ‘My Band’
(Metal Postcard Records)
Single/3rd December 2019




A song somewhat indebted to the ‘Clash City Rockers’ guitar riff, which is indeed a good thing; a track that struts and stutters in teenage delight; a song that delights in youth and self celebratory joy of being in a band; a song that takes me back to the days of cold rehearsal rooms and badly formed bar chords; yet another piece of single magic from the New Art School.




Prophecy Playground ‘Politely Polluting’
Single




A beautiful toe dip into the waters of melancholia; a Nick Drake foray unto the dying embers of the sun; the kind of track Ben & Jason use to thrive in making, all wonderfully arranged strings and a softly picked acoustic track. Should we call it early seventies psych folk? Yes we shall. And what a beautiful early seventies psych folk it is too.




Pink Chameleons ‘Songs’
(Soliti) EP/13th December 2019




Modern Garage band rock n roll, what’s not to like. It’s maybe not the most original of genres but anyone out there who enjoys The Brian Jonestown Massacre and BRMC and bands of their ilk will love this six track EP of storming rock n roll – well five, with a rather beautiful mid sixties stones like ballad lovingly placed in the middle and my favorite of the six, although the last track, a fine slightly weird Fuzztones like rocker, is also highly recommended.



PREMIERE
Words: Matt Oliver




Syd Nukuluk  ‘Plasticene (feat. Monika)’
Taken from the upcoming debut EP Data X Change, released on the 24th January 2020 via Slowfoot Records


When a seasonal centrepiece gets caught in Thanksgiving/Christmas crossfire and also flashbacks to The Simpsons episode when Jasper Beardley inadvertently did his part for DIY cryogenics, South London fever dreamer Syd Nukuluk presents the off-the-wall video for the eye-catching urban disturbia of ‘Plasticene’. A bit of Soundgarden, ‘Black Hole Sun’ eye-widening thrown into the mix as well from the blown brains of ones-to-watch Luke Kulukundis and Arthur Studholme, French-British emcee and poultry enemy #1 Monika becomes a symbol of modern times while rewriting the mantra of protect your neck, lightheartedness succumbing to deathly, deafening undertones.

‘Plasticene’ is released as part of the debut five-track Data X Change EP, a lo-fi quintet of synapse-firing electronica pushing indie, R&B and hip-hop to a shadowy left, on January 24th via the Slowfoot imprint.





Find the Data X Change EP via Bandcamp

Or through the following:


Slowfoot Website

Syd Nukuluk Website

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