Choice Music From The Last Month
Curated By Dominic Valvona

June tunes from the Monolith Cocktail team of Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brain ‘Bordello’ Shea, Andrew C. Kidd and Mikey McDonald.

TRACK LIST IN FULL:::

Party Dozen Ft. Nick Cave  ‘Macca The Mutt’
Vukovar  ‘Place To Rest’
Santigold  ‘High Priestess’
Marina Herlop  ‘Shaolin Mantis’
Flying Moon In Space  ‘The Day The Sun Was Made’
Sinead O Brien  ‘Salt’
cumgirl8  ‘Dumb Bitch’
Legless Trials  ‘Dirt Bike’
Taraka  ‘Reverence’
Magon  ‘A Night In Bethlehem’
Oliver Rocabois  ‘Watch The Seasons Come And Go’
Wolf Vanwymeersch  ‘Friendly Is Better’
Dungen ‘Nattens Sista Strimma Ljus’
Pan Amsterdam & Damu The Fudgemunk  ‘Duck Wok’
Les Amazones d’Afrique  ‘Sisters’
Eman El Bahr Darweesh  ‘El Arwam’
Wau Wau Collectif  ‘Yellow-Casqued Hornbill’
La Chinaca  ‘Juegos Malosos’
Luh’ra Ft. AndyMkosi  ‘Give It All’
Bishop Nehru  ‘Heroin Addiction’
El Gant/Ras Kass/Marco Polo  ‘Pageants’
J Rocc Ft. The Koreatown Oddity  ‘The Changing World’
The Book Thieves Ft. Upfront MCs  ‘Human Beings’
L’Orchestre Massako ‘Gnekelhe Mohi’
The Koreatown Oddity  ‘Top Of The Heap (Demo)’
Revelators Sound System  ‘George The Revelator’
Kibrom Birhane  ‘Digis’
Nduduzo Makhatini  ‘Amathongo’
Rico James Ft. Ardamus and The Truth  ‘Stay Away From The Dum Dums’
Cappo/Doctor Zygote/Jazz T  ‘I Go Off’
Tanya Morgan Ft. Jack Davey ‘A Whole Mood (King Most Remix)’
CRIMEAPPLE/Buck Dudley  ‘Entenmann’s’
The Book Thieves  ‘Sarah’
Masai Bey  ‘Ego Power’
Krohme Ft. Sleep Sinatra/Chino XL/Lord Goat  ‘Cursed Earth’
Dirty Dike  ‘Just Dreamin’’
Ghost Horse  ‘Idea’
Loris Cericola  ‘Message From Beyond’
Xqui  ‘Narrator’
Flavia Massimo  ‘Chromosome XX’
Celestial North  ‘The Nature Of Light’
Oog Bogo  ‘New State’
Paul Leary  ‘Indians Storm The Government’
Farmer  ‘The Call’
Trance Farmers  ‘Dusty Tesla’
Rich Ruth  ‘Desensitization And Reprocessing’
Tasha Smith Godinez  ‘My Soul Floats On The Sea: Floating On The Sea’
Jacek and Ewa Doroszenko  ‘Synthetic Nap’
Team Play  ‘Hold Me In Your Arms (Hate And Terror)’
Claude  ‘Twenty Something’
Angel Olsen  ‘Through The Fires’
The Mining Co.  ‘Astral Investigation’


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ALBUM REVIEW
Mikey McDonald

Newest recruit to the Monolith Cocktail Mikey McDonald is a resident of Glasgow, who can be found running the streets of the city as long distance running enthusiast. A former full time poker player, Mikey has recently taken up a role as a physio assistant. He’s previously been posting chat, games outcomes, strategy on the poker related rantings 6max SNG blog, and his musical tastes, recommendations can be found on Last FM. For his second review, Mikey takes a look at the latest album from the much feted Angel Olsen.

Angel Olsen  ‘Big Time’

Angel Olsen returns with the new highly anticipated Big Time and this marks the sixth full-length release from this American artist who hails from Missouri. Olsen’s recent albums My Woman (2016) and All Mirrors (2019) were both my #1 albums of the year so coming into Big Time expectations were sky high. A quick peak over on Metacritic and the album is currently sitting on an impressive score of 88 indicating universal acclaim.

Big Time ventures more country than any of Olsen’s previous efforts. Olsen records and plays with a band but still very much feels like a solo artist in her own right. Her music falls under various genres including art pop, chamber pop or baroque pop – no doubt down to her frequent inclusion of classical instruments like strings, horns and pianos. Big Time is no different and we’re treated to these instruments in spades.

Ballad ‘Ghost On’ trickles along gently and could be haunting a 1920s ballroom as we speak. This track showcases Olsen’s vocal ability, which takes centre stage and is nothing other than serene. Compared to its predecessor Big Time affords more breathing space – there’s plenty of effects and little nuances but it never feels cluttered or over the top.

On ‘Right Now’ Olsen defiantly promises “I ain’t the past coming back to haunt you!”, which is soaked in reverb, perhaps only to emphasise this message. Thumping drums, monster guitar leads and belting vocal passages forge together to create a sonic eruption and burst the track into life – so much so, you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a whole new song. If anything, this is just testament to the strong musicianship and stellar production on show.

The jaw-dropping ‘Go Home’ all grandiose sounds like it’s been recorded live in a cathedral and features operatic backing. On this track horns dance and instruments swell to a euphoric climax. Olsen chants “I don’t belong here, nobody knows me”, and we all know she means figuratively. Olsen’s voice is a weapon, really, play this track loud through some high-end speakers and listen to her voice ripple through the room.

Penultimate track ‘Through The Fires’ opens with some plaintive pianos and perhaps if played loud enough would extinguish all fires in this world through the resulting tears alone. Olsen’s vocal performance is very much low key as she encourages us to “walk through the fires”, which could be a stark reminder to take risks or confront those challenges and demons in front of you. Olsen repeats “lighter, higher” for the best part of a minute before winding the track down with some sombre strings and this is one of the more ethereal moments on the record.

Closer ‘Chasing The Sun’ is dreamy and probably the closest thing to a lullaby Olsen’s ever produced. If Olsen was lighting the room up on ‘Go Home’ she’s whispering us to sleep here. There’s something very olden days and nostalgic about this track, like it’s been floating around the universe since the beginning of time and is only now seeing the light of day. A string section starts playing which is both uplifting and a thing of beauty and transforms us back in time, whilst around half way Olsen starts singing in her upper register which sends shivers down the spine. It’s stunning and one of the finest pieces in her catalogue and a real fitting way to end the album.

In a recent interview, Olsen states “I enunciated differently, and got into holding the words out” before adding that she would “sing more delicately around certain words” and this is evident on tracks like ‘Go Home’ where she alters her expression singing, “I don’t belong here”, or especially on ‘Chasing The Sun’ where the words “drop everything I’m doing” could quite easily be mistaken for something else entirely, as Olsen goes all operatic.

Is this Olsen’s magnum opus? Well…I’ll leave that for the listener to decide. So long as she continues to dazzle us that’s all that really matters. Look, Olsen’s always been a star – a star who burns bright in our blue ocean sky, a supernova in our milky way galaxy. And she’s proved it once again with this truly exceptional release. She’s proved it big time.

Dominic Valvona’s Reviews Roundup
Unless stated otherwise, all releases are available now

SHORTS:: Singles/Tracks:

Claude ‘Twenty Something’
(American Dreams Records)

Navigating the disappointments and those sinking feelings of resignation, Claude, the alias of one Claudia Ferme, release’s a wistful, almost languid but searching slice of prime dream-pop ahead of a new album in August. The inaugural single from that album, A Lot’s Gonna Change, ‘Twenty Something’ swims in the same waters as Aldous Harding, a disarming piece of woozy existential malaise that reflects Claude’s frustrations of society’s expectations when faced with reality.

As that title suggests, this dreamy, almost mirage like single encapsulates an informative yet scary and confusing age. Reilly Drew’s video for the song perfectly captures the mood, with the emptiness and the surreal, dream-like quality of a number of spaces serving as representations of Claude’s internal environment: “I’m alone in each scene, on some strange kind of journey, walking, thinking, looking inward, even when I’m surrounded by people.”

Wearing what could just be a cool bit of in-character chainmail, Claude’s literal armour comes and goes with a number of wardrobe changes, as she poses in coolly aloof, nonplussed reflective ways: an echo in there of 70s troubadours, female singer-songwriters gazing out thoughtfully. A mellowed yearn with snuggled and snozzled saxophone, ‘Twenty Something’ is a softened piece of captivating art-pop that shows a lot of promise. Expect to see a full album review in the future.

La Chinaca ‘Juegos Malosos’
(Movimientos Records)

Conjured up in a psychedelic vapour of bendiness and slinking dreaminess, La Chinaca’s latest wheeze is to transmogrify the brooding Chris Izaak classic ‘Wicked Games’, attuning it to their own special blend of Tropicana and more dystopian Cumbia.

A straight Spanish translation of “Juegos Malosos” is “evil games”, and on this slice of Island life theirs a sense that we’re being intoxicatingly led towards a sacrificial leap into the volcano. A mirage of languid reverbed South America percussion and drugged wooed vocals place this in the evanescent ether, between worlds, the final faded out winds sending this brilliant cover version into the cosmos. I look forward to hearing more.

Gabrielle Ornate ‘Free Falling’

With the bonus of youth on her side the highly motivated “bohemian siren” has released a string of energetic alternative rock and pop winners over the last year, whilst also covering, in a unique and musically skillful manner, an eclectic mix of songs on Instagram.

Gabrielle Ornate has all the right elements with her balancing act of colourful maximalist dynamism and charged emotional attitudes and politics. The latest track, ‘Free Falling’, leans towards “rawk” but still evokes an impish spirit. I for one see big things coming Ornate’s way.

Tess Tyler (Ft. Barney Sage) ‘Sell The Sky’
(Manners McDade)

You have to say that the Bristol-based composer Tess Tyler doesn’t do things by half, announcing not just a single but double album debut. Released on the same day, Fractals LP 1 will contain original neo-classical and experimental electronic explorations of Tess’ work, whilst LP 2 is billed as a “once in a lifetime” live recording of the brilliant and congruous Spindle Ensemble’s interpretations of the album’s graphic scores, designed by Tess, recorded at St George’s Hall in Bristol.

You could say it has been a decade in the making with Tess’ varied and experienced career including collaborations with Imogen Heap, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, The Budapest Art Orchestra and The Bratislava Symphony. Her work has appeared on many orchestral scores showcased in concert halls across the United Kingdom as well as on video games such as LEGO® Marvel Avengers and indie hits including Human: Fall Flat. The year 2020 saw the release of Tess’ debut solo work, Stasis: Five Sketches for Piano; a five track EP influenced by Phillip Glass and Steve Reich, whilst integrating her innate cinematic compositional style.

To announce The Fractals doublet, Tess is sharing both versions of lead single ‘Sell The Sky’. We’re sharing the original version of the track, found on LP1 and featuring the kick-drummed bounce and stuttered drumming of the multi-instrumentalist, and fellow Bristol resident, Barney Sage. As the video shows, Tess, in moody gray shot colours moves from sculpting the stirrings of synthesized wind-blown cosmic forces to neo-classical, ala Roedelius and Tim Story, piano waves. Sage waits until the halfway mark to let off a jazzy loose splash and tumble roll of shadow play that stirs up the waters.

Expect to a full review of the two-part debut album nearer the time of release, later this year on the 9th September.

LONGFORM::Albums/EPs

The Paxton/Spangler Septet ‘Ugquozi’
(Eastlawn Records)

The co-led Paxton/Spangler Septet once more dance and join the South African jazz appreciation society parade with a new album of riffs on compositions and freedom marches from the country’s most celebrated icons.

Stalwarts of the Detroit scene for decades, trombonist John Tbone Paxton and his congas, percussionist foil RJ Spangler have been exalting an inspirational South African legacy since the 1980s. Continuing in various forms and with a myriad of players and guests they’ve built up an enviable reputation as true acolytes of such incredible talents as the late Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim. The latter’s songbook provided all the material for the partnership’s last album (which garnered a very favourable review from me) Anthems For The New Nation.

With such a long-spanning career, and still going strong in the neoclassical mode, it’s no surprise to find the artist formerly known as Dollar Bill once more gracing a Paxton/Spangler album. As a final flourish, the man anointed, no less, by Nelson Mandela as ‘South Africa’s Mozart’ has his seasonal ‘Jabulani Easter Joy’ hymn taken on a journey of both blessed spiritual reverence and a more controlled cacophony of wailed squalling horns, tumbled, galloping drums and detuned piano: a sort of New Orleans Prince Lasha in communion with Nate Morgan. 

It feels like the generational baton has been handed down from Ibrahim to the increasingly celebrated Nduduzo Makhathini, taking on the mantle (arguably) as South Africa’s foremost jazz-pianist. Although releasing at least eight albums over the last seven years, it was his Zulu roots and beyond traversing, liquid spiritual Modes Of Communication: Letters From The Underworld opus that cemented Makhathini’sreputation internationally. The Blue Note anointed star’s ‘Ithemba’ swings from the vine here, to a lively but also serenaded transformation of melodious Leon Thomas, the brassy trilled trumpet evocations of Masekela, concerto-style piano and lush bird-like flute.

Another titan of not just her homeland but a continent too, Mama Africa Miriam Makeba is represented by a New Orleans and Chicago R&B grooving joyful vision of her famous ‘Pata Pata’ anthem: There’s almost a hint of Dave Brubeck on that circular-rasped horns lilt of sweetened collective energy.

From the South African diaspora of the Apartheid years, the renowned, late, trumpeter/flutist Mongezi Fezu (leaving his native home for Europe in the late 60s, famously turned-on to progressive, psych and Afro-jazz sounds and playing with such luminaries as Robert Wyatt, before joining Henry’s Cow and the very underappreciated Assagai) sees his ‘You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos’ handled like a soothing balm of sunny side-up reeds and sauntering relaxed grooves, whilst the Johannesburg born composer/musician Caiphus Semenya (upping sticks to L.A. in the 60s and working with such legends as Makeba and Nina Simone) has his Masekela-penned collaboration ‘Part Of A Whole’ given a respectful soulful and acid-jazz transformation of Southern organ funk and smooth Freddie Hubbard-like blasts and squawks.   

Spreading the love further afield, to outside the South African borders and reach, there’s a suffused bluesy turbulence of huffed, burnished and kettle whistling horns version of Afro-beat progenitor Fela Kuti’s ‘Water’s Got No Enemy’, and a dreamy woodwind swaddled Afro-jazz (throw in a pinch of Yusef Lateef and Lee Morgan) take on NYC native and reeds maestro Salim Washington’s ‘Lwandle Luulaby’. Salim appears as a greater circle of guests on this album’s lineup, adding a unique oboe sound alongside tenor sax and flute turns. 

An inspired channeling of the very elements that make South African jazz so appealing, stirring and bright, Ugquozi is a sagacious and masterful rework of the familiar. Not so much an album of cover standards as a chance to riff on and guide the material to new heights; some of which is down to the fresh perspective of using the trombone and oboe. This is a great testament to a jazz heritage that’s worth celebrating more often, and shouting from the rafters.

Ghost Horse ‘Il Bene Comune’
(HORA Records)

Created during, what seems like an age ago, Italy’s second round of lockdowns in the winter of 2020/2021, the latest expletory jazz album from Ghost Horse is quite a brooding, strung-out affair of fusions.

An extended partner to the already decade-running Hobby Horse trio of reeds man Dan Kinzelmap, bassist Joe Rehmas and drummer Stefano Tamborrino, the Ghost Horse expands to accommodate the brass section prowess of Filippo Vignato and Glauco Benedetti and the baritone guitarist contortions, wanes of Gabrio Baldacci as they venture out into the alien, physical and, at times, uneasy. 

Whilst you’d be none the wiser, this sonic prowl and free-form expression of counterbalanced attitude and drifted, untied space walks into the cosmos was created over the Internet; with some face-to face meetings it must be added. It doesn’t show, and rather than a fragmented sextet performance all the elements, no matter how out there, seem to gel, or at least move in the same direction together.

In the notes there’s a description of the group’s methodology; the underlying structural theme one of “shared familiarity” with an emphasis on “basic modular, predominantly simple, repeating motifs”. In practice this sounds like a considered tumult of conscious, funky, breakbeat, avant-garde, Afro and industrial jazz. Yet, breaks out into all kinds of other styles, from prog to hip-hop and the cinematic.

The opening ‘Fulfillment Centre’ is a case in point of these hybrids; with creeping bass, New Orleans style horns, an untethered relaxed notion of motion, and yet urges of Sons Of Kemet, Comet Is Coming and Irreversible Entanglements all in the mix. By the second track its all change, as ‘Idea’ bounces downtown to 80s no wave NYC (Mofunge and Vortex) with a dose of South Africa’s BLK/JKS and a modern trip-breakbeat injection of UNCLE.

Floating out over the lunar landscapes, ‘Q’ goes mysterious on us with its astral strident and industrial hysterics and garbled guitar: an exercise that could be described as rage against the modal. Pinged harmonics echo off slow strained horns on the Floyddian and Zappa-esque simmered ‘Stand Stan’, and ‘EBO’ reverberates to the sounds of Krononaut as a tabbing guitar sends out a satellite communication code of whelps.   

Free of gravity once more the Polish city of ‘Warsaw’ begins with a both prog-rock and soothed, serenaded beautiful classical suite, before stretching out into spidery rattles on the drum kit and a symphonic Ornette Coleman, elephant horn blowing take on a Lalo Schifrin score.

Tuba ship prowls and circular breathing brass warble to another cosmic performance on the finale, and titular-track, which in English translates as “the common good”.

Out on the fringes, on the perimeters of mystery and moody investigation, Ghost Horse emerges from the pandemic with a fairly unique blend of jazz, created for a troubled and confused world ill at ease with itself. The Italian jazz scene looks to be in good hands.

Farmer ‘Things Do Things Without Thinking’
(Gare du Nord)

Let loose and decoupled from his union with Tim Ward in the more deliberated Cold Spells (a Monolith Cocktail favourite and recommendation), a soloist Michael Farmer unleashes and unloads an imaginative psyche on the world.

Uploaded to a MIDI keyboard of maverick eccentricities, dreamt-up cosmic meanders and mental spasms, Farmer’s idiosyncratic experiment in “maximalism” is less a rage and more a progressive mindfuck rile against the machine.

You got prog-rock running wild to garbled Manga and electro loony tunes; avant-garde, Fluxus classicism sporadically competing with euro-synth pop; and the ominous gravitas of Kubrick sized space odyssey stirrings lined-up against Deep Purple and Alex Harvey.

This is a full-blown the madcap laughs (and despairs) at the universe kind of an album, with Syd, David Allen, Robert Wyatt and Martin Dupont rattled and harassed by noodling sprints of Zappa and rampart snatches of Devo, XTC, Crack Cloud and The Flaming Lips. On one hand it sounds like Steve Vai having a chuckle, on the other, a beautifully emergent celestial epic. Throw in a fairground of curiosities that’s just manifested from the noggin’ of Suggs, Trevor Horn suffering an animism, ELO rehearsing with Sakamoto, Der Plan and Klaxons at the 80s Eurovision contest and Santana mixing it with Todd Rundgren. Too much?!

Most of the time each track seems to lead into the next, with little demarcation. Even the track titles can be read, strung together, into a couple of sentences. Farmer’s cacophony isn’t so much reflected in the vocal delivery however, though the lyrics ran like a splutter of universal resignation, serenaded discourse and precarious enormity. I have to take my hat off to anyone who can make this line sound lucid and fleeting: “It’s a common understanding that we happen to be standing on a mass of exponentiation-radiating rubble led by tyrants.” All true by the way.   

Lyrics from the inner and outer spaces often get brought back down to Earth as Farmer’s brain gets stretched and warped.

You could say Farmer’s thrown a whole lifetime of ideas, musical inspirations and aspirations into this untethered madness. Yet despite what reads on paper as a competing, chaotic mess, on repeated plays Things Do Things Without Thinking unfurls its magic, sensibilities and unique qualities and starts to make sense. An astonishing album that almost defies description.

Omertà ‘Collection Particulière’
(Zamzam Rec.)

On pain of death dare you mention the secret society, Omertà’s dreaded connotations couldn’t be less overtly fearful and criminal as the Florence Giroud instigated ensemble loom large in a cosmic psychedelic, bass guitar-heavy spell of post-punk, no wave, synth music and soul. Yes, that’s right, soul!

The dreamy opening, ‘Air Instrumental’, has a surprising feel of the El Michaels Affair, a little Shacks and 79.5 to ease us all in to a lucid artsy cosmology of repeating leitmotifs, or “ritornellos” as they call it – in case you are wondering, that’s a recurring passage in Baroque music for orchestra or chorus that when translated from it Italian etymology means “little return”.

This French experiment, with members drawn from across a lofty underground scene, dwells in mysterious chambers, yet seeks the illuminating light of melted moonbeams to a slide-y deep bass groove and starry twinkles, shimmery resonating cymbals and Giroud’s text, passage-reading and sung invocations.

Despite a host of esoteric references and the use of that seraphim-touched seer William Blake, this world of relaxed soulful lucidity, Numan-esque synths, celestial serenades is mostly a warm woozy affair.  Touches of The Pop Group, Le Volume Courbe and Caravan Of Anti-Matter all rear their heads. But you could also add a general feeling of the 60s to that list, plus a little Rhyton on the psych-country space fireworks turn coarser distorting fuzz ‘Kremer & Bergert’ – vocally featuring text from not only Giroud but also the Julie Kremer of half that title and Raphaël Dafour.   Avant-garde in source with hidden depths of meaning, allusions cast to higher purposes, Omertà’s latest album is dreamy escapism on one hand, yet stalking chthonian mystery on the other. But in essence: Sault meets Tim Gane in the French underground.      

Xqui ‘Pieces Part 2’
(Somewherecold Records) 24th June 2022

The soundtrack to a both mysterious and uneasy film, or, a piece of video and installation art, Xqui’s experiments with the voice are as challenging as they are successful in drawing the listener into a strange world. Images unfold, atmospheres, memories take shape in a language of field recordings, repeated annunciations, speech and obscured choral cosmic and esoteric moans and metallic industrial sounds.

It must be pointed out that the only actual credited voice belongs to the writer/performer Lynn Gerrard, who reads out an underworld vision of Biblical hell from a furnace of hanging chains, rolling stock machinery and broken glass underfoot – actually, sounding more abandoned retail park warehouse than the bowels of hell.

Almost automated, accumulating in an increasingly cacophony of accents, there’s a Laurie Anderson thesaurus of “ate” ending words (“Motivate”, “Captivate”, “Violate” and so on) being repeated in some moist cave-like atmospheric chamber on ‘Narrator’: A place, environment in which the mysterious tapping of mining tools chip away in time to the wisps of rhythm and the vocal cadence.

These voices, apparitions, become more erratic with what sounds like a shout of “Fire!” on the warped psychedelic churned ‘Piece’, and form an almost unholy 2001: A Space Odyssey style eerie chanted moan on the esoteric funneled cosmic disturbance ‘Vykings’. “Amputate”, “Deactivate”, “Eradicate”, “Detonate” sound out to the tones, space fizzles, alien whirly bird twitters and ghost freighter moods of the Tangerine Dream on the semi-classical hinted, dreamy ‘Apathetic’. There’s samples of presidential enquiry on the looming threat turn warped, morphed maelstrom spin ‘Demetri Prentiss’

Things liven up as the previous solar wind powered vapours and deepened throbbing heavy bass pulsations leap into a more driving beat on the Günter Schickert Krautrock charge, ‘Adam Brasso’.   Otherworldly, paranormal and obscured visitations form an unsettled climate and deep concentration of Meta awaits those searching for a fully immersive experience. Neither ambient, sound art nor musique concrete Xqui’s latest work opens up a portal into the captured familiar made altogether more creepy and out of this world.

The Mining Co. ‘Acoustic Phenomenology’
(PinDrop Records) 17th June 2022

Not so much the afterthought as a return to the essence, with a clutch of songs from his most recent (and in my view best) album, Phenomenology, stripped of their previous electronic effects, gravity-less forms and augmentation and taken back to a more intimate form. In fact, this is where you’d usually start with the songwriting process, with the very bones of the song. And usually singer-songwriter Michael Gallagher would start with these versions and work towards the frills, swells and atmospherics. But prompted during sessions by his producer Paco, those original incarnations have appeared as a sort of additional showcase for the County Donegal artist’s sense of melody, storytelling and effortless emotional draws.

But let’s go back a bit to last year, and the original space cowboy Phenomenology: Gallagher’s first furor into electronics. Floating his usual brand of country-laced cathartic heartache towards deep space, riffing off John Carpenter’s 1974 cult sci-fi movie Dark Star, Gallagher seemed to weave the fatalistic return to the astrological bodies themes of being cast adrift in space with the lamentable and touching agonies of life on Earth.

One of the movie’s main protagonists, the jettisoned Talby, was and is once more immortalized on his floated rendezvous with the Phoenix Asteroids. His swansong of a kind, ‘Talby Drift’ returns to its original form of Americana held plaint. The same goes too for the more rhythmic, but still country-burred ‘Universal Son’. However, the more heavy-set darkened ‘IWBHM’ (believe it or not, a song about a child who dreams of being a heavy metal star that worships the ‘devil’) has a touch now of Josh T. Pearson and alt-90s stripped-down rock that could be mistaken for grunge. The resigned crash site malady, ‘Astral Investigation’, would sound beautiful in any form, as it does here on this vulnerable, Lukas Creswell-like soft acoustic version.  

Almost free of its vaporous synths and celestial atmospherics, this stripped-down suite does however purr, percolate and ripple with the broadcast waves of an undulated cosmic presence. And so keeping that relatively subtle connection going – also sometimes reflected in the vocal echo, reverb – Gallagher reminds us of the original celestial sentiment and environments that pushed his usual earthy songwriting into the stratosphere. 

A lovely companion piece to last year’s minor triumph, which would have worked well as a bonus extra, this less cosmic showcase of the original material is nice enough. Yet really just sends us full circle back to Gallagher’s signature sound, whilst Phenomenology seemed to dream bigger and set the artist on the open road to larger scale, even conceptual, works. I said it was his most creative, and best album to date. This little EP is brilliant though; the performances low key yet just as emotionally charged.  

Loris Cericola ‘Metaphysical Graffiti’
(Artetetra) 22nd June 2022

The Montecosaru-residing musician and video artist is off to a good start already. For Loris is in fact both my old man’s Christian name and my middle name.

Though quite far down the ancestry chain, and you probably guessed by my full name, my family can claim its Italian roots. Right, lets get on with the task of critiquing Loris’s new supernatural album of atmospheric unease and discombobulating environments. A kind of avant-garde ambient and sound collage, Metaphysical Graffiti (a riff on Led Zep’s “physical” bombastic double-album from 1975) lurks, scratches about and generally takes in the both primordial and esoteric resonance of the unfamiliar.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Loris Cericola is part of the multidisciplinary audio-visual collective Cerchio 23 (I’m sure the ‘Planet 23’, which clocks in at 2 minutes and 3 seconds exactly, is a nod to that project in name). And so with an ear to conjuring up such visual Meta as cave dwelling horrors, communications with the otherworldly through a TV set or across the ether, and oscillating and propeller zipped craft, looming overhead, Loris’s sonic visions seem to soundtrack a paranormal movie that hasn’t yet been made.

Muffled voices in the subterranean and purring ripples announce a ‘Premonition’; a repeated gong-like shudder, hammey snatches of organ, cut-up dialogue, whirled UFOs and animalistic whelps ebb and flow on ‘Droid’s Memory Coding’; stone movements and spirit activity light up the daemonic meter on ‘Message From Beyond’.

The dank, the mirrored, the veiled, the moaning, the slurred, the semi-orgasmic woes make for something unearthly and also primitive. Italian and Spanish 80s underground cassette tape culture both meet around an atavistic campfire communal with the esoteric as hidden motors and machinery hum and gliders hover overhead, on what is a most eerie peregrination.

Flying Moon In Space ‘Zwei’
(Fuzz Club Records) 24th
June 2022

The Tangerine Dream crosses flight paths with the Young Knives and Kavinsky on the second album from the Leipzig-based experimental sextet, Flying Moon In Space. With an astrological motorik driven beat, trebly post-punk bass line, prodded and goading yelps and vocals the group harmoniously, even when in shouted protest, channel a German music legacy of krautrock, kosmische and Nue Deutsche Welle with the Transatlantic sound of Crack Cloud and the LCD Soundsystem.

They sort of borrow a numerated “zwei’ from Kluster – the 1970 album Zwei-Osterei under the original formation of what would soon become Cluster after the departure of Conrad Schnitzler – and often evoke vaporous wisps of Klaus Schulze whilst charging forward on a Pyrolator metallic techno beat, or slinking along to a club-friendly International Pony cosmic-disco-funk.

With an improvised themed methodology, the escalating ‘Traum Für Alle’ (“dream for everyone”) has time to build from an incipient start of rotor-bladed ripples, wooing drones and effected electronica into a sort of post-punk materialistic themed overdrive of Bis, Japandorf and Electralane. ‘Optimist’ however, is set to a neon Stranger Things 80s and techno-knocked vibe of krautrock-disco-pop.

On the event horizon precipice, earthly yearns and riled injustices get sent out into the abysses of space; the group playing on, even dancing to a both pulsating charge and more Euro-synth slick motor-funk. The album’s finale, ‘Prophet’ (just as easily a reference to the religious as it is to the famous line of sequential synths), imagines a breathless Damo Suzuki drifting across a yacht moored in the new wave harbour.

There’s the excitable, the dreamy and the sighed all wrapped up in an oscillation of synth-pop, punk and motoring velocity; a universe in which Private Agenda groove with Bloc Party, Loved Drones, Dunkelziffer and Klaus Dinger.

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com 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.

ALBUM REVIEW
Dominic Valvona

Vukovar ‘The Body Abdicator’
(Other Voices Records) 25th June 2022

For a band already in a state of decay at the outset, always about to implode, it seems remarkable that Vukovar have reached their tenth album proper. Candid malcontent, chthonian pain and neo-new-romanticism stoke up discourse aplenty within the ranks of this constantly evolving, expanding but also decreasing group. Absolving themselves of all responsibility, but for more serious than their depreciative candour of encouraging failure, Vukovar remains on the precipice of self-destruction.

However, staying the course, founding member and antagonist Rick Clarke remains at the helm alongside his foil Dan Shea. Although falling out at various times during the last seven years, they’ve both come together again to mark the final part of the Eternity Ends Here Triptych of works: yet another rebirth, death/life commitment and struggle aggrandized into a triplet arc of albums.

Still in the throes of both the agony and ecstasy, and still wearing black for their late mentor/collaborator Simon Morris, Vukovar light the funeral pyre in his honour. Morris, the feted and fateful underground music figure, former instigator of The Ceramic Hobs, went missing on December the 7th 2019. His body was found in the River Wyre two weeks later. Such tragic ends have consequences to those that are left behind. His presence is always there; his influence suffused and writ large, sometimes referenced, and at other times, more recondite.

A grave loss that has set the precedent for an ‘obsessive memorial’, elegiac atmospheres, pain and cathartic cries encircle a minor opus that looks to the seraph’s light whilst navigating the mulch and miasma of a decaying underbelly. Oh yes, because even in the despondency of the fog, angels and celestial bodies encourage the band to soar.

More occult than Gothic, the music on The Body Abdicator is filled with helpless and yet also hard-fought poetic romanticism: it’s as if Death In June and Coil had let synth-pop soul music into their hearts. Beautiful lyrics, cathedrals of light no less fall from the parchment. The language of the arcane, of Blake, Dante and countless other romantics and cult figures across time are summoned forth into a new age of anxiety.

It should come as no surprise to find both Rick and Dan are authors of a kind; both contributing over the years to the Monolith Cocktail with Dan’s Jukebox series and an incredible testament to the late Morris, and Rick, serialising his salacious occult novel The Great Immurement, which went on to inform the band’s album of the same name. The artwork incidentally for that serialisation was drawn by the feted illustrator Andrzej Klimowski, who now also provides the cover for this latest album.

All kinds of love, from the unrequited to the unspoken (until now) to the higher purposed is alluded to; lost in more gray synthesized lingered passages and cold wave but positively yearning and escaping on those numbers that could be singles (the ‘Little Lights’ part of the opening couplet, and almost theatrical New Order symphony of pop, ‘Place To Rest’).

Because Vukovar have released so much material in a relatively short time period, familiar tunes, signatures are repeated. In fact, The Body Abdicator could be said to reconnect with their debut album Emperor, from 2015, and the early collection of cover versions, Fornication. Some of this could possibly be down to the involvement of Phil Reynolds, who manages to always corral the various fractions and less agreeable parties and produce some of the band’s most melodious, esoteric post-punk moments. Phil’s wife and artist, singer in her own right, Marie sang and soared on the Emperor album, and here she is now, breathing diaphanous life and ethereal harmonies into the glitter death absolution of ‘Place To Rest’, an absolute gem of a track, and album highlight.

Another returning guest, daddies little heathen, Gea Philes whispers and hushes cryptic child-like but sinister words on the first part of the already mentioned opening salvo ‘Little Death/Little Lights’. The Chilean-born multimedia artist has produced artwork and directed an avatar-starring video for Momus, but is also well know on the occult circuit for creating cute erotica-esoteric illustrations. Philes is just one of many from an often-serial cast of cult figures drawn into the Vukovar vortex, past acolytes of their form being Michael Cashmore, Holly Hero and Rose McDowall.

The Chilean specter at the feast also appears in Ono via Phew mode on the final curtain call, ‘Those First Impressions’. A transmogrification of The Associates original, Billy MacKenzie’s idiosyncratic vocal talents are replaced by a Kenneth Anger echoing vision of a leftfield rock ‘n’ roll crooner: half Elvis, half Charlie Megira. It proves a both elegiac and Fortean Times-tuned supernatural vapourous homage, yet also a matter-of-fact deliberation on the death of Morris, who’s become a sort of death-mask muse for the band, unable to move on completely, or, unwilling to give up on his inspiration.  

Caught in a limbo of religious architectural devices, somber despondency and destructive alienation, Vukovar balance a glorious epoch of 80s musical influences with brutalism and juddering dark arts. Atmospherically ‘Emptying Tide (From An Occult Diary)’ leans towards Coil and their ilk. The empyreal waits from the more earthly proscenium as apparitions yearn about rebirth. Lyrical slogans like “Destroy yourself” and “whatever comes next will be better” sound far less sagacious and helpful when dragged through a despairing climate of fear and revulsion.

The totem drum beat of a hallucinogenic, knowing seedy Jesus And Mary Chain join Soft Cell, OMD, Alan Vega, early Tears For Fears, Modern English, The The and Pale Fountains across the dreamy lamentable ‘Throughstreams’, the bittersweet but beautiful, softened growled ‘The Sheltering Sky’, and the gauzy ghost town ‘This Will Absolve Me’.

As is often the case, band member’s separate projects, uncoupling’s, are absorbed into the Vukovar fabric. Sometime member Buddy alongside Dan Shea had a promising cult-synth pop yearn duo called Beauty Stab. Their ‘O Eden’ track was reconfigured and covered on Vukovar’s last album. And throughout this latest record’s more polished, melodious and almost anthemic tracks that amalgamated Vince Clarke, New Order, Joy Division vibe can be heard powering the esoteric misery towards poptastical heights and a sense of release. Vukovar sound better when they soar than wallow, and they may just have taken my advice on some of the more stellar driving tracks.

Frustrating on so many occasions, signing their own death certificate as they approach a gallows stage of their own making, this bloody Balkan massacre named group stage yet another funeral. Yet it feels like there is hope; like there’s a lot of love in there. This album is yet another ritual in which they can reconfigure and move through the eternal Vukovar cult of rebirth. What is a creative but also an emotive necessity, The Body Abdicator doesn’t extinguish that flame, but merely adds more fuel to a morbid curiosity.

Rightful heirs to the occult sounds, to existential synth glory, they should be at least vying for room, attention in the gilded banquet halls of magical despair and dark romanticism, yet remain relatively obscure. This could yet be the group’s final dissolution, though rumours are bound that there is yet more to come and yet another reinvention. If it is the end, then they’ve burnt out on perhaps one of their most accomplished testaments yet; an album that is drawn both towards the light and darkness, and that balances the more experimental illusions with the most brilliant effective cold wave pop.

Further Reading:::

The Vukovar Cannon As Featured On The Monolith Cocktail:

2021: The Great Immurement (here)

2020: Cement & Cerement  (here)

2020: The Colossalist’  (here)

2019: Cremator (here)

2018: Monument (here)

2018: Infinitum (here)

2017: Puritan (here)

2017: The Clockwork Dance  (here)

2017: Fornication  (here)

2015: Emperor  (here)

Also…

Rick Clarke’s The Great Immurement

Opening Chapters (here)

Parts 4-6 (here)

Parts 7-9 (here)

Parts 10-12 (here)

Parts 13-15 (here)

Parts 16-18 (here)

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com 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.

Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea’s Reviews Bonanza
(Unless stated otherwise, all releases are available now)

Singles

Cumgirl8 ‘Dumb Bitch’
(Suicide Squeeze Records)

If this song were a dick it would always be erect and ready for action. It is both sexless and sexy; a molten explosion of catcall frenzy. It is the way I wanted Wetleg to sound, instead of the pale imitation of white slacked disappointment that is made to appeal to the middle aged male wet dream fantasy of still being young and vibrant and with it. No, this is the real deal the real McCoy; this is the thing this is the sound; this is the true alternative.

Lucigenic ‘Joy’

I like this single. It sounds like a Blondie tribute band that has decided to start writing their own material. It is sassy tuneful and sexy, which all pop music should have at least traces of, and this is dressed head to toe in sass, so an enjoyable three minuets of post-punk pop.

Woog Riots ‘Beatnik’
(From Lo-Fi To Disco) 17th June 2022

I love this a wonderful fun cover version of The Clean classic ‘Beatnik’, a song of charm and distinction. And this is indeed a groovy rendition. In fact dare I say a version I prefer to the original? Yes, slowed down and jerky and quite simply charming with the wonderful organ riff, a true gem of a single.

Legless Trials ‘Dirt Bike/Failed Words’
(Metal Postcard Records)

Has groovy art rock ever sounded as groovy as this? The new single by the Legless Trials is a hep cat roll call of early sixties Cliff Richard twisting on a beach whilst a bikini clad Una Stubbs lies and suns herself looking heavenly. It is Mark E Smith drinking bitter bathed in flashing neon lights, flicking beer mats at a spinning disco ball. It is a psalm sang by a true believer in the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll; a bible of pent-up frenzy Jerry Lee Lewis salivating over the line of bobby soxers awaiting to pay homage. Yes, already one of the singles of the year.

Albums/EPs

Wolf Vanwymeersch ‘The Early Years’

Pop music for the introverted is a much under praised thing. Pop music for the introverted is indeed a thing, and it is well thought out and intelligently written. This album is such a thing.

It’s the kind of music that soundtracks the day in a life of a pop art vagabond, the kind of person who loves life but on the whole does not love them back. It’s music for NHS glasses wearers and charity shop fashion. Wolf Vanmeersch makes such art; he takes a melody and wraps it in a comfiness of a favourite old sweater, dipping into his musical influences and bringing out fond radio remembrances.

He might stroke the velvet collar of Bowie or a Billy McKenzie or Talking Heads; loving the glamour of 80s alternative pop remembering the days when music could change everybody’s life and was part of everybody’s life and not pushed into the dark underground. Music is becoming more and more of a minority art and Wolf Vanwymeesch understands that music is art and is indeed an artist, and the Early Years is an album that will appeal to those who still worship at the altar of art is music and music is art. 

Team Play ‘Wishes And Desires’
(Soliti)

This is quite a beautiful album: the soundtrack of the unpeeling of a nighttime wish; the subtle crush of valonia, the strange bewitching aftertaste of your lover’s kiss. Vocal and piano accompanied by the swelling of horns synths and organs and flutes this is music that is made to fall in and out of love to. Teamplay have produced an enjoyable musical journey through life’s rich tapestry touching on subjects and emotions we all in one time in our life will experience, both happy sad and truly bewitching moments. And that is the perfect description of this debut album: happy sad and truly bewitching. I as I’m forever mentioning in these reviews I’m a sucker for boy/girl duets and this album is full of the lovely blighters: A musical heart play. Has ears dropping over a stranger’s heartache ever been so richly rewarding.

Spygenius ‘Jobbernowl’
(Big Stir Record) 24th June 2022

This is a manic depression of an album. An album that at times is manically happy like ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ on steroids but like manic depression, under the up, lies an enormous down: as the sun is most beautiful when you are stood in the shade.

It is an interesting and enjoyable listen. There is of course so many melodies and chiming guitars floating throughout, which of course you expect from an album released on Big Stir Records.

Spygenuis are from Canterbury it seems, and that makes perfect sense as this album sounds so lovely and English pastoral psychedelic. That they breath the same air as Soft Machine and Caravan comes as no surprise, as they take these sixties influences and cover them with a modern sheen, which at times reminds me of Green Day in their folk moments. With an injection of whimsy or Squeeze on psychedelics Jobbernowl is a rewarding listen and maybe one of my favourite releases on Big Stir.

Ghost Woman ‘Ghost Woman’
(Full Time Hobby) 6th July 2022

I like this album. I decided this as soon as the first bar of the first song started. There is something not quite like many of the psych rock albums that are sent for me to pour scorn and flick my love beads into the waste paper basket to. Or as I now call it: the waste love bead basket.

For the first song ‘All The Time’ reminded me of all people, the Everly Brothers; I can imagine the late Phil and Don doing a great version, and that really does not happen too often. Normally I get the ‘I wonder how many times these blighters have watched Dig’. Saying that the second track does show traces of the Dig disease but the lazy vocal stylings on ‘Do You’ somehow save it from a fate worse than psych fest.

This debut album is in fact an enjoyable listen; one that takes in the sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, the Everly Brothers, the JAMC and Skip Spence, and add a wonderful western guitar twang and jangle that at times is quite life affirming and magical.

Rogers and Butler ‘Brighter Day’
(Think Like A Key) 24th June 2022

A Brighter Day is an album that lives up to its title. It has a wonderful sunny timeless feel to it, all radio friendly guitar pop/rock, that has me thinking of The Kinks and Warren Zevon and Bowie, and is a record filled with really well-written songs with beautiful melodies. But sadly, it could well be an album that gets overlooked, as albums of well-written songs are quite overlooked as at this time. The music industry is overlooking artistry for the search of the next big thing: the next big thing being two young ladies singing about their trip to Ikea.

Rogers and Butler’s lovely little album does not deserve to be overlooked though as songs of quality and style are always needed to be heard, and hopefully should rise to the top, fighting its way past less the deserving and an ideal album to relax to as you spread your self over your Chaise Lounge.

ESSAY/Samuele Conficoni

From our penpals in Italy at the leading online culture magazine Kalporz, a deep read (footnotes and all) on the occasion of Bob Dylan’s 81st birthday. Samuele Conficoni, imbued loosely by the work Derrida and Artaud, looks at the theme of the mask in Dylan’s work.

“Bob Dylan. The Mask and the Songwriter.”

(The title of the essay is loosely inspired by the work Derrida and Artaud: the mask and the philosopher. [1])

To celebrate Bob Dylan‘s 81st birthday, we address an issue that has not been sufficiently studied within the singer-songwriter’s output: the theme of the mask. This long period of crisis and anomalies – two long years of masks in the West that have forced us to experience the other as veiled, and as the mystery increased so did the difficulty of knowing or recognising who was in front of us – has reminded us that we all often wear a mask. The 2016 Nobel Laureate in Literature, in the course of his very long career, has also written and sung about this, a theme that runs through him in art as in life.

1. “I’ve got my Bob Dylan’s mask on”.

“I’ve got my Bob Dylan’s mask on”: this is what Bob Dylan announced on stage at the Philharmonic Hall in Manhattan on 31/10/1964, on a particularly ‘heartfelt’ night for Americans, the night of Halloween, the masquerade festival par excellence. Bob Dylan, then on his fourth album in just over two years, was already at the time considered one of the most relevant songwriters of his generation. He had already released The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963), The Times They Are A-Changin’ and Another Side of Bob Dylan (both released in 1964), following his 1962 debut of the same name, and was on his way to becoming one of the most extraordinary figures of his time. In truth, that mask – assuming it is only one: director Todd Haynes, in his 2007 film I’m Not There, loosely inspired by the life and work of the singer-songwriter, let six different actors, for six different stages of his career, play him – had first been worn a couple of years earlier, when that promising and energetic young man, born in Minnesota, decided, perhaps also to rewrite his recent and so short past, to legally change his name, Robert Allen Zimmermann, to that of Bob Dylan.

1964. A US tour was underway that saw the singer-songwriter perform some of the most famous songs of his career, a few pieces he had written that had not been officially published, and some traditionals, in full consistency with the musical path he had taken. It should never be forgotten, in fact, that the undergrowth within which the singer-songwriter is formed is that of traditional folk music, of the oldest Anglo-American songs and of blues and gospel, which would remain, in addition to the very broad literary, philosophical and cinematographic influences, the blank page from which he gave life to his compositions. One thinks of the fact that in the 1990s Dylan would record two albums of covers and traditionals and in the 1990s no less than three albums, including a triple album, with reinterpretations of songs from the Great American Songbook, and that some traditional songs or songs from the Great American Songbook would be included in his live sets for decades. Having said this, it is clear that the sentence uttered by the singer-songwriter that night, accompanied by his own and the audience’s laughter, must be correlated with the creative universe that the author had just begun to give life to, in which the very genres he draws on as a source of inspiration serve as a mask, which the singer-songwriter uses to enhance and create his identity rather than to veil it. It is a necessity that has always accompanied the author, [2] when even before choosing the name Bob Dylan he was performing under other pseudonyms, such as Blind Boy Grunt or Elston Gunn.

What we are dealing with is an attitude, if not a forma mentis, that invests his production when, as is traditional in Anglo-American folk music, a certain melody is readapted and combined with new lyrics, written for the occasion, or when certain elements of the text are inserted into the new creation. This is how numerous compositions are born, with procedures that distance the outcome from the original source, sometimes even by a great deal, from “Blowin’ in the Wind”, which takes up the traditional “No More Auction Block”, to “I Was Young When I Left Home”, which looks back to “500 Miles”, from “Girl from the North Country” and “Boots of Spanish Leather” which are built around the chord sequence of “Scarborough Fair“, which “Girl from the North Country” also quotes in the lyrics, to “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” which explicitly quotes the ballad “Lord Randall”. This only partially affects his production, but it is a decisive and emblematic point in the author’s creative process. It is clear, therefore, that in Bob Dylan, the concept of wearing a mask, and in particular of wearing Bob Dylan’s mask, is primarily a ploy to shift the focus away from himself with the main purpose of foregrounding his art.

2. Su maschere e trasfigurazioni

In 20th century literature, an author who deals extensively with the theme of the mask is famously Luigi Pirandello. In the Sicilian author’s literary-philosophical system, form cages life: we all wear masks whenever we decide to expose ourselves to the world around us. [3] Appearing and being in this sense are in constant conflict; the mask represents a shattered self that adapts to the contingent situation. Only in very rare moments does life manage to emerge: in those moments the inhibitions and restraints imposed by the social context are removed and instinct prevails. Pirandello often identifies this in the moments of madness and compulsive mania that cross us from time to time, well exemplified by the famous lawyer and law professor who, in the short story The Wheelbarrow, has the fixed habit of making his bitch do the ‘wheelbarrow’ every day, when he is certain that no one sees him. [4] Similarly, a brief moment of authenticity is what Mattia Pascal experiences between the announcement of his (non-)death and the assumption of his new identity, that of Adriano Meis. The comparison with Pirandello, whose system seems to be in opposition to Dylan’s vision, can provide us with an important key to deciphering Robert Allen Zimmermann’s choice to take on a new name (and to adopt, in the course of his long career, many other pseudonyms, which we will discuss in a moment).

The mask placed on Zimmermann’s face since 1962, even before the singer-songwriter began to release official records and obtain engagements for prestigious shows, is a mask that, rather than stopping the flow of ‘life’, to use again a Pirandellian category, and caging it, aims at creating life itself, as if before this stage it were a piece of marble still unworked. It is in an interview a few years ago, which we will examine later, that Dylan argues that life is a journey in which one must create, not find, oneself. As Alessandro Carrera reminds us again, ‘during an interview with CBS [in 2004], Dylan admits that he could never conceive of himself as “Robert Zimmermann”, even before he became Bob Dylan’. [5] The celebrated autobiography Chronicles Volume 1, to date the only published tome of a hypothetical multi-book project, where the singer-songwriter only deals with certain moments of his career, can offer us some examples of self-creation. [6] It is Carrera again who comes to our aid: the scholar, in dealing with Chronicles and what Dylan may or may not have altered or invented in speaking of himself, questions the existence of certain characters or situations, such as that of Ray and Chloe Kiel, a couple of whom we know nothing about but who, according to Dylan himself, would frequently host the singer-songwriter in New York. [7] It is no coincidence that much of the greatness of Chronicles, a literary work of extraordinary value, lies, to quote Carrera again, in ‘what he keeps silent or refuses to say’. [8]

The mask Robert Zimmermann has chosen for himself, Bob Dylan, is the author’s true self. The ‘artefactual memories’ [9] that the singer-songwriter inserts into the work are in perfect harmony with the need to live the story at the moment in which he is writing or singing it and, in some way, partly rewriting it. It is a typical trait of Dylan’s masterful compositional talent, about which the academic and professor of Classical Literature at Harvard Richard F. Thomas has written about in his essays and discussed in an interview published in these pages, [10] a tendency that includes, for instance, again to quote a passage from Chronicles, the attribution to Sophocles of a treatise on the origin of the sexes that the Greek tragedian and politician never wrote and that more than a banal mistake seems to be Dylan’s hope, a ‘might have been’, a ‘would have liked to read it’.

It is impossible, at this point, not to mention, albeit very quickly, the ‘transfiguration’ that Bob Dylan mentions in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2012, on the occasion of the release of the Tempest album, a studio record released by the singer-songwriter in September of that year. [11] Even if transfiguration is not to be understood as a mask, it is still something that veils or completes one’s own nature, rewrites it, transmigrates that of another, makes it something other than it could have been. It is impossible to understand what Dylan really meant in that specific passage, when a certain Bobby Zimmermann of Hell’s Angel who died in 1961 is called into question. Dylan claims that he has transfigured himself into him and adds, addressing the journalist Mikal Gilmore who is pressing him: ‘I’m not like you, am I? I’m not like him, either. I’m not like too many others. I’m only like another person who’s been transfigured. How many people like that or like me do you know?’. Is there something of the ‘poor Bobby Zimmermann’ in Bob Dylan? Or is it a transfiguration that has no impact on who he is? It seems strange, then, that Dylan speaks of this with such transport. Dylan, however, is very reticent and his explanation a little confusing: there is no clear answer. I too, Dylan says, had a near-fatal motorbike accident in 1966. And so, we ask? Dylan advises us and Gilmore to read No Man Knows My History by Mormon Joseph Smith. The ‘mask’ Bob Dylan is telling us about the truths of faith, about eschatology, about being able to ‘fly above [the chaos]’: just like the masks worn by the actors in Greek tragedy, bearers of ultimate truths that the pólis was not to ignore, masks that had replaced face-painting, a feature that would characterise the 1975 Tour, which will be discussed. On the concept of transfiguration Dylan plays hide-and-seek: he veils and unveils without giving us clues, as he has done throughout his career, particularly with those who interview him. If you want to know more about transfiguration, he tells Gilmore and, perhaps, us too, “you’ll have to go and do the work yourself to find out what it’s about.” [12]

3. “Life is about creating yourself”

Some of the characters in Dylan’s musical and literary world also wear masks or are characterised by nicknames that somehow veil the identity behind the nickname. In “Like a Rolling Stone”,[13] for instance, Dylan decides to use some talking names that somehow qualify the characters by giving them a mask. The narrator sees the life of the interlocutor, called, in fact, Miss Lonely, fall into disgrace: Miss Lonely is a young girl who enjoys life and spends and spends her parents’ money until she ends up becoming like the ragged Napoleon (Napoleon in Rags) she once mocked. Both Alessandro Carrera, in reflections conducted in several places, in his non-fiction production on the singer-songwriter and in his translation and annotation of Dylan’s works, and Mario Gerolamo Mossa, author of a monograph with a philological slant on the song in question, [14] have dealt extensively with the song and this is not the appropriate space to take up their reflections. Whether it is the allegory of a girl from Andy Warhol‘s circle with whom Dylan had come into contact, or an alter ego of Dylan himself, or a literary invention that has no contact with the reality surrounding the author, the Miss Lonely ‘mask’ is a parádeigma of all those who, from a situation of success, prosperity and happiness, find themselves slipping into a tunnel of darkness and misfortune through almost no fault of their own. It is not wrong to say, in short, that if today we wanted to refer to a person who has gone through a similar vicissitude, we could undoubtedly call her ‘a Miss Lonely’.  Here Dylan, having put on the mask that made him himself many years ago, can now afford to sing these kinds of stories, which are absolutely unique in the world songwriting scene.

Ten years had passed since the recording and release of that song that changed history when, in 1975, Bob Dylan, having returned to live in the Village only a few years earlier and just a few months after the release of the sublime Blood on the Tracks, began to frequent the Other End, a venue where he performed frequently in the spring and summer of that year, and where Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the late hip Bob Neuwirth, who died a few days ago at the age of 82 and who had been at Dylan’s side like a shadow between 1964 and 1965, Ronee Blakley and the then up-and-coming Patti Smith also took the stage. The singer-songwriter was in New York, where he was composing and recording the songs that would end up on Desire, which was to be released in early 1976. It was during these months that Dylan decided to create the Rolling Thunder Revue project, a bandwagon of artists that brought together Dylan himself, his accompanying band, which he called Guam, and other songwriters and artists who could vary according to the day, among whom were Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, the aforementioned Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Bob Neuwirth and, from time to time, even Allen Ginsberg, who would take turns on stage or, in Baez’s case, accompany Dylan in some of the songs of his two sets. Rolling Thunder I began in late October 1975 and ended in December at Madison Square Garden, where Bob was greeted backstage by Muhammad Ali and Bruce Springsteen. Widely studied by critics, Rolling Thunder has been the subject of in-depth coverage in a Bootleg Series, Vol. 5 (2002), a box set entitled The 1975 Live Recordings (2019) and Martin Scorsese‘s documentary released for Netflix in 2019 itself, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, which deals with the 1975 Tour and its preparations. Rolling Thunder II, on the other hand, took place in the spring of 1976, with different features and arrangements from the first but equally original and breathtaking.

In this period, the theme of the mask, and more generally that of hiding behind another self, is systematically and clearly covered ever since Dylan’s decision to appear on stage, in Rolling Thunder I, with his face painted white, a choice that was often accompanied by the wearing of a mask only during the first song of the set, ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’, which was often sung with the aforementioned Neuwirth. It is a Dylan, that of ’75, who wants to reinvent himself once again. His marriage is in tatters; he has moved back to New York, is explosive and inspired, and has embarked again on extended tours only a year earlier with The Band. Something original and unsettling is what he needs to signal the new artistic phase he is going through. Here, then, in 1975 the mask returns, be it the real one he only wears occasionally in the opening track of his first set or the allegorical one of the face painted white, both covering the Bob Dylan mask he continues to wear. Perhaps it is metatheatre, perhaps it is the Brechtian actor’s estrangement that would become a systematic and increasingly complex and articulated modus operandi from 1988 to the present, in his so-called Never Ending Tour. It is in the interview with Scorsese for his aforementioned 2019 documentary that Dylan utters the phrase, a variation and extension of a gnome attributed to George Bernard Shaw, ‘life isn’t about finding yourself or finding anything: life is about creating yourself’, also mentioned above. This declaration of intent is the perfect manifesto to describe not only the adventure of the two-year Rolling Thunder period but the whole of Dylan’s life, not just his artistic one.

4. Masked and Anonymous

The film Masked and Anonymous, the title of which is already a statement of intent, was released in 2003, directed by Larry Charles and with a screenplay co-written by Charles and Bob Dylan. A first significant element lies in the fact that the two sign the script with fictitious names: Dylan assumes the Russian-speaking name of Sergei Petrov. The masquerade and anonymity intervene, therefore, right from the start, affecting even the most marginal aspect of the credits. In the film, set in a mysterious nation that seems to be located in a dystopian North or Central America and is ruled by a dictator, Bob Dylan plays Jack Fate, the dictator’s son and famous songwriter, who has been in prison for some time. He is released from prison and allowed to give a benefit concert. The plot is in some respects too cerebral, confused and not particularly gripping and the film is cinematically mediocre, but the importance of the work within the singer-songwriter’s ‘artistic context’ should not be underestimated. I use the expression ‘artistic context’ here to reiterate once again that Dylan is a river in flood and can only be (perhaps only partially) understood and understood if one follows, also and above all with a philological slant, every single aspect of his artistic production, in order to try, in this way, to capture his vision of the world and history. Returning to the film, it is appropriate to ask what this story means and what role it plays within Dylan’s musical production, which resonates powerfully throughout the film as Fate performs Bob Dylan songs and some traditionals. Carrera is again the first among Dylan scholars to grasp the centrality of this work, shoddy from a cinematic point of view but lucidly relevant, in the Dylan universe. In an article published online several years ago, [15] Carrera relates the film to Alexandre DumasThe Iron Mask by the father Alexandre Dumas, showing the points of contact between the two narratives, but he takes a decisive step forward when, both in the online article just cited and in a much more recent essay of his own, [16] recalling the scene of the “very painful kiss” [17] between Jack Fate and Angela Bassett, who is his father’s lover but also Jack Fate’s lover, he realises that in Masked and Anonymous a much bigger and more crucial game is being played than a simple remake of The Iron Mask: a new chapter in the relationship between Bob Dylan and the African-American world, characterised by his fascination with black music and his frequentation of black women (he had married one in the 1980s, by whom he had a daughter), and of the complicated, and here impossible even to synthesise, relationship between his Jewish roots and the African-American universe, an issue that emerges in many of the songs he wrote between 1978 and 1986, poetic, hermetic and contradictory pieces that carry within them an obvious inner torment. Only through a new disguise could Dylan return to talk about that intricate and claustrophobic history. “The fundamental gesture behind Dylan’s œuvre is indeed the permanent construction and deconstruction of himself”,[18] writes Cristophe Lebold, and this film proves it once again, if ever there was a need. Despite the premises, Dylan fails to unravel the skein of that complicated story, but, as Carrera points out, “[he did not fail], because he tried, and nothing more than trying could he do”. [19] Finally, it should be remembered, en passant, that the name Jack Fate bears a striking resemblance to that of Jack Frost, another pseudonym behind which Bob Dylan always hides himself, who with this ‘cipher’ signs himself producer of all his studio albums from “Love and Theft” (2001) onwards, including the recent, splendid Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020). Jack Fate and Jack Frost represent yet another mask behind which the artist seeks new shelters.

Bob’s transformations clearly do not end there. Some time before the release of Masked and Anonymous, while playing in Newport on 3 August 2002, thirty-seven years after the famous concert at the Newport Folk Festival in which the singer-songwriter took to the stage accompanied by a band and strumming an electric guitar, Dylan wore a false beard and moustache, a unique feature that does not appear to be accidental, given the circumstances, namely his return to the place of the misdeed, in the same city where he had been booed and challenged by part of his audience decades earlier. In this game of the parts that seems to have no end and in which the Maestro seems to want to play catch-up with us, Shadow Kingdom, the film-concert recorded in May 2021 and released a few months later, in July, is also part of it. On a stage evidently inspired by the sets of Twin Peaks, sets that he would also adopt for the tours of 2021 and 2022, Bob Dylan performs some songs without spectators in front of him and performs others in front of an audience of ‘ghosts’ dressed in full ’40s or ’50s style, smoking, drinking and dancing; his musicians wear masks, an element that brings us back to the present; the audience that appears from time to time, and who seems to come from another era, does not: just as in his songs, the present, the past and the future are a single river, they all flow together, they mingle; the author has no need of ‘concrete’ masks as he always wears the one that makes him and not someone else. As Carrera writes, Dylan ‘does not even need to put on a mask: he has always had it on’. [20]

[1] Various authors, Derrida and Artaud: the mask and the philosopher, Medusa Edizioni, Milan, 2017.

[2] Among the many biographies of Bob Dylan, we recommend Anthony Scaduto’s Bob Dylan, Helter Skelter Publishing, London, 2001 (reprint of 1st edition Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1971) and Robert Shelton’s recently reprinted and expanded Bob Dylan: No Direction Home (Revised Illustrated Edition), Palazzo Editions, Bath, 2021 (1st edition Beech Tree Books, New York, 1986).

[3] Of Luigi Pirandello see in particular the novels Il fu Mattia Pascal, published serially in the Nuova Antologia in 1904 and in a volume in the same year, and Uno, nessuno e centomila, published serially in La Fiera Letteraria in 1925 and in a volume in 1926, the play Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore, staged in a first draft in 1921, and the essay L’umorismo of 1908. It should also be mentioned that Pirandello gives the title of Naked Masks as the overall title of his theatre production.

[4] The short story, written in 1917, is contained in the Novelle per un anno.

[5] Alessandro Carrera, La Voce di Bob Dylan, 3rd revised and expanded edition, Feltrinelli, Milan, 2021 (1st ed. 2001; 2nd ed. 2011), p. 95. The 2004 interview for CBS can be found at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOas0d-fFK8. Last accessed: 22 May 2022.

[6] Bob Dylan, Chronicles Volume 1, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2004. The Italian translation, edited by Alessandro Carrera, was published by Feltrinelli, Milan, in 2005.

[7] Alessandro Carrera, La Voce di Bob Dylan, cit., p. 95 and p. 386.

[8] Alessandro Carrera, La Voce di Bob Dylan, cit., p. 385.

[9] Alessandro Carrera, The Voice of Bob Dylan, cit., p. 392.

[10] Richard F. Thomas, Why Bob Dylan Matters, Dey Street Books, New York, 2017. The interview with Richard F. Thomas published in Kalporz in 2021 can be found at the following link: http://www.kalporz.com/2021/05/bob-dylan-at-80-interview-with-professor-richard-f-thomas-author-of-why-bob-dylan-matters/. Last accessed 22 May 2022.

[11] Bob Dylan Unleashed, in Rolling Stone, interview published on 27 September 2012 and available at the following link: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/bob-dylan-unleashed-189723/. Last accessed: 18 May 2022.

[12] Bob Dylan Unleashed, in Rolling Stone, cit.

[13] The song, whose officially released studio version was recorded on 16/06/1965, opens the album Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia, 1965).

[14] In Alessandro Carrera, La Voce di Bob Dylan, cit., passim, and in Bob Dylan (transl. by Alessandro Carrera), Lyrics 1962-2020, 3 vols., Feltrinelli, Milan, 2021, in the notes at the end of the first volume concerning the aforementioned song; Mario Gerolamo Mossa, Bob Dylan & “Like a Rolling Stone”: Filologia, composizione, performance, Mimesis, Milan, 2021.

[15] Alessandro Carrera, “The Torture of the Iron Mask. On Masked & Anonymous,” available at http://www.maggiesfarm.it/mascheradiferro.htm. Last accessed 22 May 2022.

[16] Alessandro Carrera, “Between the Shulamite and the Queen of Sheba: The Love Poem That Bob Dylan Could Not Write”, in Fabio Fantuzzi, Maria Anita Stefanelli, Alessandro Carrera (ed. by), Bob Dylan and the Arts: Songs, Film, Painting, and Sculpture in Dylan’s Universe, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, Rome, 2021, pp. 83-101.

[17] Alessandro Carrera, “The Torture of the Iron Mask. On Masked & Anonymous,” cit.

[18] Christophe Lebold, “A Face Like a Mask and a Voice that Croaks: An Integrated Poetics of Bob Dylan’s Voice, Personae, and Lyrics,” in Oral Tradition, 22/1, 2007, p. 63.

[19] Alessandro Carrera, “Between the Shulamite and the Queen of Sheba: The Love Poem That Bob Dylan Could Not Write”, cit. p. 101.

[20] Alessandro Carrera, “The Torture of the Iron Mask. On Masked & Anonymous,” cit.

ALBUM REVIEWS
ANDREW C. KIDD

Jacek Doroszenko ft. Ewa Doroszenko ‘Bodyfulness’
(Audiobulb) 25th June 2022

It is May. I am penning this review when my tissue tethers to the touchscreen. My hands pixelate to dissipate into my keyboard. I centrifuge away on algorithms and platforms. My consciousness becomes collective. My flesh is cast aside. I am husked hollow and left as a digitalised hide. It is here in this virtual space that I encounter Bodyfulness.

I am met by art: first, a lenticular and lipless fleshy lower face; then, a predominance of pink and bluish blushes and hazy ribbon-like photographs pushed into position. There are prints of arms. I see hands handling hands. Are these the same hands that play the fluted-key flourishes on Landscape of Algorithmic Desire? They are husky and light. Ghostly background clicks are fleeting and apparition-like. They reappear as the gentle euphoria that blends into the pulsing syncopation of Generated Pleasures. Sub-bass melodies emerge, merge and exit reimagined. It is this symbiosis of the analogue and sounds from the natural world on Bodyfulness that fills me. Composed as a critique of digital intimacy, it is a distorting melange of imagery and music. At times there is opposition. For example, the opaque drones on the title track and depths of analogue on Night Masque contrast starkly with the clarity of the field recordings of water on The Molecule of Everyday Life. The album finale – Visible Dream Space – is dissonant. A slightly off-key synth sequence brims away into nothingness. It disconnects me from the melodia and fusion of what preceded it.

The Dorozenkos’ triumph though is their mid-album triptych. A dreamlike nostalgia weeps and stoops over the sun-kiss and splash of past summers on Get The Perfect Mental Surface. Bells are part-sung atop heavy production and dart around a Rhodes piano and subtle bass melody on Synthetic Skin. This complex symphony weaves and weaves some more until it is shocked into life by two clear bells. Oh these bells! How they sing! I could write poetry about them. They pitch high and are kept momentarily afloat by the fleeting breath of a string section that twists away into the earthy distance. Synthetic Nap is the entr’acte: analogue synths hum and thrum and bass and turn and twist and heighten and heighten higher to steeple and quieten and quieten further to silence to further silence and still.

Flavia Massimo ‘Glitch’
(Audiobulb) 8th June 2022

Classico-electonica is an atoll where music is bountiful. The ringed-islets and sandy spaces have surfaced as the result of the volcanism of the modernists and post-romanticists. A deep lagoon saucers in the centre. The turquoise-blue water quavers and trebles endlessly. Time is not continuous here. Varèse and Stockhausen had once inhabited the islets and moved on to become coral. This is the post-world of Moondog and Pierre Henry. This is the precursor to an unknowable futurism. This is the present day space where Frahm and Richter key quietly in the twilight. The reedy bass of Stetson offsets the lilting harp strings of Lattimore. The warmth of the cello-bowing of Coates radiates like the sun. Along the shorelines and sands, the horizon is momentarily interrupted by a dot that hazes gently in the distance. The dot blots and slowly comes into focus. This is Flavia Massimo. She is rowing across the calm sea. She will shortly arrive on the beach to play Glitch.

There is an innate delicateness to Massimo’s sound. Gentle gongs reverberate and pace-make on ‘Gagaku’. They bob like buoys in open water. She hits, strings and bows in triadic equipoise. The result is meditative. Here, Massimo beautifully blends these ritualistic traditions (Gagaku is an ancient form of Japanese court music) with the opposing turbulence (at points she channels the lightspeed of L. Shankar) and broad-stroke soundscaped minimalism that are idiosyncratic to modern ambienism. She approaches the beach.

‘Steps’ is balladic. The notes disembark and tip-toe around a pas de deux interplay of slapped pizzicato. This motif steadily repeats around the brooding narrative of tremolo and white noise and analog effects. It beguiles.

‘Data Transfer’ opens as a thrashing melee. Alive and anatomical, the piece builds into a pulsing polyphony. The vocals inhale and exhale. The held chords are choral. The 4-4 beat is plainsong steady. The élan vital here is Massimo’s mastering of the interstitium, i.e., the spaces between the tissue planes that she slowly electrifies and neon-ifies. She lets her attack-mode-driven pulses laser and spark. She stands steady with cutters and feeds wires into her classical instrumentation.

‘Oxygen’ is a journey of aerobic respiration. The oxygen enters our bodies through the measured adagio. The sforzando is the lifeblood: rubrous, iron-clad, heavy. Her legato bowing echoes the held synths of Vangelis. The beat is opaque. Through its structural complexities, and eventual degradation, we witness the metamorphosis of oxygen. We are left with energy, and water.

I envisage quiet rainfall on ‘Bit Pass’. The leggiero sings. High-pitched static are droplets on my window. The subtle percussive pops puddle on the periphery. The piece is endless, like precipitation. It is symphonic. It is beautiful. If Glitch was a symphony, this would be its adagietto. It simply glistens.

‘Chromosome Xx’ marks a departure from the organic. The machinations and collé bowing are rhythmically complex and the plucked-strings halo circumferentially in slow-motion to disintegrate into noisecore distance. The ending is subtle. It warps into quietude, like Tchaikovsky’s Sixth.

This is undoubtedly a strong debut from Massimo. She has set up camp on the atoll where her sound pools quietly in the lagoon. She offers us abstract minimalism. There is an off-set asymmetry to her sound. The tone is elegiac. She channels classicism but in measured doses. She appears to find joy in the uncertainty. To her, form appears unnecessary. Like the wavelets that milled through her cogwheeling oars in open water, she is strongest in the existential spaces that float around us.

ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita ‘Echo’
(bendigedig) 27th May 2022

Marking a decade-long collaboration, the harmonic pairing of Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegal kora player and vocalist Seckou Keita are back with the third in a trilogy of cross-lineage, cross-cultural and cross-border gilded rich albums.

Imbued by traditions that go back centuries, Finch’s legacy includes Celtic folklore, the classical and the harp’s age-old reverence – Finch was at one time the UK’s Royal Harpist to Prince Charles, a revered title revived at the turn of the millennium, last used during the Autumn years of Queen Victoria’s reign. Keita can trace his lineage back to a long line of Griot bards and kings, and through his father, right back directly to the Medieval Malian Empire’s founder Sunjata Keita.

Garnering much critical and creative praise for their previous SOAR (2018) and Clychau Dibon (2013) records, the duo, caught up like the rest of us obviously in the pandemic, suffered the travails of social-distancing to complete this latest shared experience of loss, reflection and hope. Unable to work this incredible, adroit collaboration of instruments remotely however, both partners in this international union managed to book a conference room in a hotel on the outskirts of Birmingham, in the UK. 

Possibly not the most inspiring of locations, both removed artists found themselves having to reconnect, as if from scratch, separated as they had been by distance, and of course with lockdowns: concentrating on those closer to home and pursing more localized projects. 

As sparks and prompts, accumulated projects as varied as a ballet score to TV commissions, festival collaborations and work-in-progress sketches offered a framework on which to build new ideas. It helps that both maestros of their disciplines have an enviable CV and plenty of experience, awards and concert performances (more than 200) to their names. And so this distance, break in the creative period couldn’t hold the partnership back from picking up on where they left off, pre-Covid.

The backstory to this partnership, a bringing together of musical spheres and instrumentation from, what looks on the surface unrelated, suddenly makes sense; a harmonious connection, fueled by the duo’s last two albums together. For the very first time, Echo welcomes the addition of a strings; a couple of violin, viola, cello and double-bass players from Cardiff. The initial idea was inspired by the partnerships work in 2021 with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Here it offers a whole new layer, and a swell of moving classicism and a cinematic score quality to the weaved and enchanted sounds of the harp and kora.  

As always, each composition tells a story, is motivated by the personal and organically showcases a particular unique tuning and skill without losing sight of the melody. Devoid of soulless displays of virtuoso Echo draws the listener right into the moment.

Despite the horrendous last two years, the album actually starts with a peaceable, charmed and gliding display of hope. Originally the ‘overture’ score for the ballet Giselle, and a “scrap of a tune” that surfaced during a sound-check jam before a 2019 gig in Manchester, ‘Gobaith’ (which means “hope” in Welsh) us remolded, turned into a lushly blessed performance of subtle filmic strings, lilted lattice work kora and gently sparkling harp.

Lifting the emotional pull, the string ensemble-free ‘Dual Rising’ weaves a groove out of quickened caresses, flourishes and undulations. With a dash of the Latin, even some Greco antiquity, that liquid – with only some softened small stamps – rhythmic workout takes its inspiration from the duo’s past collaboration with the ‘breackneck’ speedy style of Edmar Castañeda’s Colombian harp.

In a display of the lightened and sweetened, ‘Tabadbang’ has a spring in its step, a sense of happy adventure. In keeping a restless kid busy, hanging around as the adults wish to discuss something far too important for prying ears, back in Keita’s homeland they’d send the youngsters on a wild goose chase of distraction. Here that memory is turned into a lifted, hummed-like lullaby amble.

A testament to this duo’s hybrid of languages, craft and inspirations the enervated pulse setting, spindled and soaring ballad ‘Jeleh Calon’ brings together the Mandinka work for ‘smile’ and Welsh for ‘heart’. It was actually sparked off by Finch’s NHS research into tinnitus, which led to investigating the yoga of sound and, in particular, – hence the heartbeat-like rhythm – the practice of synching one’s heartbeat to a specific timing, or ‘entrainment’ as it’s known.

Though every composition feeds on that hybrid and the counterbalance of cultures, the harmonious qualities of each artist’s particular instrument, ‘Julu Kuta’ challenges both, but especially the kora, with a tricky chromatic scale. As a tribute to innovation, inspired by Keita’s experiment in 2007 to construct a double-necked kora (which he managed to successfully pull-off with the help of his cousin), the Db to D to Eb to E to A scale sounds like a beautiful spell being unfurled. Despite being difficult, Finch’s heaven-calling brushes and waves and Keita’s dainty spirals and spins sound melodically reminiscent and very much at ease.

As a timely reminder of loss and remembrance, there’s the sweetly pronounced ‘Chaminuka’ dedication to Keita’s late friend and fellow musician, the mbira player Chartwell Dutiro. Instead of a mournful elegy, this is a beautifully sung (both in Dutiro’s native Zimbabwean dialect of Shona and in Keita’s own Mandinka) and soothingly played homage.  

The journey from West Africa to Wales has never seemed shorter; the difference in cultures never so close. Finch and Keita perform wondrous parallels together, further elevated by the subtle but evocative additional classical strings. Echo moves this combined strength further along the road, adding depth to the duo’s sound and showing that despite the hardships, distancing, everything still comes together in a unified brilliance of forms and shared experiences. 

music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com 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.

THE PLAYLIST
Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brian Bordello Shea

All the choice tracks from the last month, plus a few missed ones we’ve corralled from last month, the Monolith Cocktail team’s playlist revue is both a catch-up and showcase of the blog’s eclectic and mind bending tastes. Sitting in on this month’s selection panel is Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

TRACK LIST IN FULL IS:

Junior Disprol Ft. Krash Slaughta  ‘Rotund Shogun’
Deca  ‘Tuning’
Exterior  ‘Orthodox Dreams’
FAST DE  ‘Miss Trutti Finally Found Her Gem’
Pussy Riot Ft. Slayyter  ‘HATEFUCK’
Masai Bey  ‘Stanza X’
BITHAMMER!  ‘Make You Mine’
Flat Worms  ‘Into The Iris (Live)’
Salem Trials  ‘Vegaville’
Walker Brigade  ‘Disease’
Team Play  ‘Sunrise’
James Howard  ‘Baloo’ Adam Walton  ‘Mary Sees U.F.O.S.’
Joviale  ‘UW4GM’
Shabaka  ‘Black Meditation’
Kritters  ‘New York’
Ralph Of London  ‘Lys’
Ethan Woods  ‘Utopia Limited (Cuddly Tie-In)’
Staples Jr. Singers  ‘I’m looking For A Man’
Ramson Badbonez  ‘Rap Bio’
Mr. SOS & Maxamill  ‘War Criminal’
The Difference Machine  ‘Old Men’
Omega Sapien  ‘Jenny’
Mr. SOS  ‘Peace & Prosperity’
Jermiside & The Expert Ft. Tanya Morgan  ‘Crime Rule The City’
Quelle Chris  ‘DEATHFAME’
Wish Master & Billy Whizz  ‘THOUGHTS OF THOUGHTS’
Guillotine Crowns  ‘Killer’ Orryx  ‘Eldritch’
Celestial North  ‘When The Gods Dance’
Henna Emilia Hietamäki  ‘Protesti’
Lucrecia Dalt  ‘No One Around’
STANLAEY  ‘Fluorescent Fossils’
Your Old Droog  ‘Go To Sleep’
Tommaso Moretti Ft. Ben LaMar Gay  ‘A Call For Awareness’
Black Mango Ft. Samba Touré  ‘Are U Satisfied’
Avalanche Kaito  ‘Flany Konare’
Tomo-Nakaguchi  ‘Halation’
Private Agenda  ‘Splendour’
Sebastian Reynolds  ‘Four-Minute Mile’
Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers  ‘Agwetaroyo’
Misha Sultan  ‘Nyepi’
The Master Musicians Of Jajouka  ‘Khamsa Khamsin’
Gustavo Yashimura  ‘Las Prendas del Corazon’
Stephanie Santiago  ‘Activa Tu Cuerpo’
Gabrielle Ornate  ‘Free Falling’
Black Monitor  ‘Xexagon77’
Borban Dallas & His Filipino Cupids  ‘Too Convenient’
Martha And The Muffins  ‘Save It For Later’
Super Hit  ‘Blink 182’
Reverend Baron  ‘Let The Radio Play’
Alas The Sun  ‘Distant Drone’
Jelly Crystal  ‘I Tryyy’
LINN  ‘Happiness Is Real’
Lenka Lichtenberg  ‘That Monster, Custom’
Brigitte Beraha  ‘Blink’
Vera Di Lecce  ‘Altar Of Love’
Francesco Lurgo  ‘I Am Already Far Away’



Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com 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.

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