CHOICE  ALBUMS/EPS  OF  2017  PART  TWO:  M – Z
SELECTION/WORDS:  DOMINIC  VALVONA, MATT  OLIVER and AYFER SIMMS




M – Z : Mazzi & SOUL Purpose to Msafiri Zawose.

Welcome to part two of our mega ‘choice albums/EPs of 2017’ feature. If you haven’t already checked it out, have a good perusal of part one, as the second part is a continuation, carrying on in an alphabetical order from where we last left off.

The decision making process: 

Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktailendeavors to offer a more eclectic spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album is more deserving of their fatuous number 32 spot than another.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums and EPs from 2017 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to have made some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2017, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar or got lost in the noise of more commercial better promoted releases.

M.

Mazzi & SOUL Purpose  ‘The Building’  (SOUL Purpose)

“A towering B-boy document gives familiar samples new life and piles banks of bricks and mortar beats and rhymes you can always back to do the business”.  RnV, Feb 17

The Building by established New Jersey movement Mazzi & SOUL Purpose is built on two levels and ends up a skyscraper, to a specification of telepathy that works from close range or miles away. Mazzi as emcee rhymes his ass off for fifteen tracks without leaving you behind (“love what you’re doing and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”) and not without addressing the state of the world, relationship complexities and being prepared to fight (with the listener playing the twelfth man).

The SOUL Purpose movement begins with a mash-up of every essential hip-hop break known to man, going on to cover cavernous, fusionist swells of sound, B-Boy skippers, deep cover gangster business, and samples found in Boots adverts/Sugababes singles and on Madonna tours. That the album was also helping do its bit for good causes added an extra layer to the album’s complete package status. Matt Oliver


Nicole Mitchell  ‘Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds’  (FPE Records)

Taken from a 2015 live performance commissioned by the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, the erudite American jazz flautist, composer, bandleader, educator, scion of Afrofuturism, former president of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and a founder of The Black Earth Ensemble, Nicole Mitchell’s outstanding Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds conceptual suite, straddles two evocatively imagined contrasting worlds: the tumult of a patriarchal world, called The World Union, in decay against the egalitarian desire of the advanced utopia called Mandorla, where technology and nature, freedom and tolerance are in ultimate synchronization.

Set in the year 2099 this multimedia project, which includes a short novella, blurs the line between philosophy, mysticism, modern art, science fiction and radical political critique on what is both a diaphanous and moody groundswell soundtrack of contorting confusion and beautiful flute accompanied polygenesis magic. To suggest this album of instrumental peregrinations and odysseys and poetically conscious soulful lectures and passionate, Last Poets meet Pharaoh Sanders, declarations – courtesy of Avery R Young – can be simply classed as a jazz is to ignore how amorphous the musicality of Mitchell and her reconfigured Black Earth Ensemble is in transcending the genre. With an expansive range of instruments and sounds, including Kojiro Umezaki on shakuhachi, Renée Baker on violin, Tomeka Reid on both cello and banjo, Alex Wing on electric guitar and oud, Tatsu Aoki playing bass, shamisen and taiko, and Jovia Armstrong handling percussion, the paradise versus dystopia exoticism of the ‘awakening’ simultaneously evokes orientalism, fantasy, nature, the classical and the atavistic.

At its heart, articulating the nervous but adventurous, pinning but diaphanously elevating characteristics of the narrative, Mitchell’s flute performances are stunning and spiritual throughout, even gracious. And the direction of travel is never quite certain, but always impressive and questioning.

As a frame for this conceptual suite, Mitchell asks: “What would a world look like that is truly egalitarian, with advanced technology that is in tune with nature?” We may never know, but the tumultuous journey towards it certainly sounds magnificently ominous and beautifully experimental. Dominic Valvona


N.

Nolan the Ninja  ‘Yen’  (Left of Center)

“Aggressive, eyeballing rhymes to get you bouncing, and beats strategically picking their punches”.  RnV, Oct 17

In his bid “to retire before I’m 35” and “trying to see a million before I go to sleep”, Nolan the Ninja absolutely busts a gut to get his rhymes hurrying up his pension plan. Landing haymakers on dosed up vintage Queensbridge and clatters of muddy kicks and snares that can call up a posse from miles, the Detroit dragon slayer also knows that living by an all-or-nothing mindstate means every single syllable has to have the clarity to rightfully shatter ciphers.

Getting Royce 5’9” to guest on Calisthenics is a smart move in seeing whose chest is first to tighten, and Chess is the least civil checkmate recorded as everything threatens to spin of control. The album actually decelerates – or likelier, gives the music a chance to catch up – to show that the go-for-mine Nolan can manage the throttle when soulful drops start clearing the debris.   MO


O.

Open Mike Eagle  ‘Brick Body Kids Still Daydream’  (Mello Music Group)

“Maintaining his rightful place in the line of ghetto superheroes”.  RnV, Aug 17

Two tracks define the multi-talented emcee’s latest intricacies and humour, cosmopolitan accessibility and underground elusiveness. Open Mike Eagle draws himself from his shell by completely rewriting the rules on what it means to be hard in hip-hop on No Selling. Despite the Dark Comedy compère being a nostalgic peacekeeper for a lot of Brick Body…, capable of bringing up an argument about which condiment is king of the kitchen to prove a greater point, the album’s political piece de resistance, My Auntie’s Building, fights for what he believes in with tangible rage, a housing project held close providing the album with an explosive conclusion that might have got lost further up the album sequence.

We disagree that “everything is better when you don’t know nothing” – everyone needs Eagle in their corner – but can certainly vouch for the confirmation of “I promise you, I will never fit in your descriptions”. MO


P.

Hermeto Pascoal  ‘Viajando Com O Son (The Lost ’76 Vice-Versa Studio Session)’
(Far Out Recordings)

Thankfully surfacing forty odd years after the fabled ’76 sessions at Rogério Duprat’s São Paulo Vice Versa studio, the extemporized jazz performances of Hermeto Pascoal and his impressive Paulo troupe sound every bit as fresh and dynamic as the day they were recorded.

Held in high esteem, in the upper echelons of experimental traversing exotic jazz pantheon, anointed by a hyperbolic Miles Davis who called him “the most impressive musician in the world” after catching him play live, Pascoal’s transcendent voyages from Brazil have become the stuff of legends. Crate-diggers and jazz or indeed even world music aficionados have always salivated at the prospect of such material being found and released, and the missing Viajando Com O Son session is up there with the most desired.

Unburdened by such trivialities as time and composition, this four track suite shimmers with the celestial as it dreamily saunters through a tropical rainforest groove on the opening Dança do Pajé; quacks and quivers through a percussive bending bright organ peregrination on Mavumvavumpefoco and mysteriously and surreptitiously explores an exotic landscape, tip toeing and lovingly serenaded by magical flutes, on Natal. However, the main, twenty-six minutes long, expansive highlight, Casinha Pequenina, follows on from the previous tracks with similar leitmotifs played out and taken into ever more experimental directions: from Miles Davis to Guru Guru.

The Lost ’76 Vice-Versa Studio Session is a lush tropical jazz odyssey from the Brazilian maverick and genius that’s well worth every penny. DV


Piano Magic  ‘Closure’  (Second Language Music)

Calling time on a twenty-year career with one last swansong, the Anglo-French Baroque indie dreamers Piano Magic echo the sentiments and themes of their 2000 song No Closure on their final majestic and profound album, Closure.

Drawn to a despondent melancholy, a most diaphanous one at that, the sagacious founder member and songwriter Glen Johnson is aided in his last ever enterprise by Franck Alba (guitars), Jerome Tcherneyan (drums, percussion), Alasdair Steer (bass) and the band’s original drummer from their debut gig at the infamous Wag Club, Paul Tornbohm, now providing keyboards. Wounded and troubled as ever by the lingering traces and ghosts of past relationships and liaisons, Johnson’s resigned poetics attempt to meet head-on those feelings he just can’t seem to lay to rest: as Johnson calls it, the “mythical formal conclusion”, the need to “move on” from broken relationships is not so easy. And so he croons, “Let’s get this thing sewn up” on the Morricone meets Ry Cooder cinematic title track, knowing full well that “…you never get closure.” The supernatural echoes of a lost love, channeled through a dusty answering machine message séance, on Landline leave the singer’s voice paled and weakened; lamenting loss form the far side of the ether. Marooned as a passive onlooker to the goings-on in the backstreets of his southeast London neighbourhood, a voyeuristic, removed Johnson (in Talk Talk mode) vanishes almost completely before our very ears. The song’s sad lyrics it must be said are a most beautiful kind of misery.

Magnificent in their despair, the musicianship poised, purposeful and subtly stirring, Piano Magic’s last ever fling is one of the band’s most accomplished, and definitely one to savour. As near perfect as any Piano Magic suite can be, Closure proves that you can perhaps after all find a satisfactory ending. DV

Full review…


R.

Reverse Engineer ‘Elusive Geometry’  (Floored Music)

Both in the moniker by which the Edinburgh-based ‘sonic experimentalist’ Dave House is known by, and deduced from the title of his latest album, Elusive Geometry, we can view the sound-artist’s music as a restructuring of sounds and mechanics.

House unravels, strips and inverts his apparatus of field recordings and sampled instruments to reconstruct new, often mysterious and at times foreboding soundscapes; some of which recall Jon Hassell’s Fourth World Musics explorations: a trace of the Javanese or Malay can be heard like a veil hanging over the uneasy densely packed traverse of cascading crystal droplets, marimba and tubular echoed Proto, and a similar, familiar yet obscured sense of place can be heard on the bamboo shuttling Insider, which also features the bobbing and dipped percussion and tablas of sound-designer and producer Pete Vilk.

A transformation of House’s themes of ‘transition, self (re)discovery and moving on’, the precise chemistry of his compositions and use of collaborators – the already mentioned Vilk is joined by the jazz vocalist Matty Eeles, harpist Esther Swift and BAFTA award-winning cellist Atzi Muramatsu – sends these explorations off into numerous nuanced, but untethered, atmospheres. Masked looming leviathans, honked saxophone like probes, coils and springs, stone and vegetation, the odd guitar strike drift over or interweave through sophisticated minimalist beats and breaks – the most abstract and discordant drum break of which features on the hallucinatory Decoherence -, with the mood fluctuating between both controlled uncertainty and more deconstructive chaos.

Elusive Geometry will tease out and reveal its textures and intricacies slowly, each listen drawing your attention to some other interesting interplay and sparse sound. House has in short created a brilliant album of thoughtful, moody transitions and discovery. DV

 Full review…


S.

Miles Cooper Seaton  ‘Phases In Exile’   (Ascension Hall Recordings)

This music is a cinematic poetic recitation, an eloquent art object; sticking to the blurry lines of your shadow while you float through this existence, this street, this town-deserted-or this day, mundane. That dreamy music with the aura of a long lost ocean is the sound of the beyond: you will see, in a cloud, half stunt postures of people trying to deal with mourning. Their eyes wide open yet unsure of how to breathe. And while they exhale, the music pours as if descending from a kind heaven, nested in peace, cooing for drenched figures of the earth.

Miles Cooper Seaton is the ghost who reaches out, entrusting us with a sensation of hope and relief, tranquility, a loophole, mindfulness. Forgive and forget. In the morning dreamers try to get a hold of their visions, trying to catch a glimpse of that faint reality; Miles’ music is lingering too. It tinkles and echoes with a slowness. This is how the rhythm goes, lingering among a field of green, yellow barns, with an horizon of blue and grey shades, some drops sweep the face of a child who understands it all. The clamorous pearls are just from the fierce-y wind. Inside he is all right. The album is dense and tortured. Inside he is all right; the child has grown, and given us these notes. Ayfer Simms

Full review…


Sentidor  ‘Am-Par-Sis’  (Sounds And Colours)

A most congruous if challenging futuristic Rio de Janeiro psychogeography remix of sounds and ideas, built around the transformed cut-up samples and influence of one of Rio’s most famous sons, Tom Jobim, and his post-bossa nova peak leftfield experiment Passarim, fellow compatriot and burgeoning experimental music star João Carvalho creates one of the year’s most haunting and magnificent lush ambient suites, Am-Par-Sis.

Synonymous and celebrated for bringing bossa nova to the world, Jobim’s explorations outside the genre had gone largely unnoticed. Under his alter ego, Sentidor, Carvalho sheds new light on the legendary artist’s innovative experiments whilst also drawing on the drone, ambient, trance, funk carioca, classical and plunderphonics styles to create a uncertain multi-textured augur for future generations to ponder over.

On, what is the most traversing of ambient and collage concept albums, he poses a number of questions, such as: How would Jobim’s record be interpreted by a new generation whose connection with the past and the rest of the world has been cut? How would the record be used in creating new rituals? How can art be reorganized and rebuilt democratically? It also questions the very ideas of what constitutes as the public domain in the modern world and whether something sacred should be preserved or rather gather dust and slowly turn into something else.

Via the power of a seamless, amorphous soundtrack of ethereal pulchritude, cascading veiled piano, ether Panda Bear like voices and song, atmospheric manipulations, transmogrified melodies, whispery winds, Neu! boat trips, reversed samples and magic Carvalho sets out to mull over and articulate these questions. DV

See exclusive track feature…


Shadow  ‘Sweet Sweet Dreams’  (Analog Africa)

For the first time branching out towards the Caribbean Islands, Africa Analog turn their attention to one of Trinidad & Tobago’s most enigmatic music stars, Winston Bailey, better known as Shadow.

Previously marooned on a desert island of obscurity, panned by critics at the time and failing to sale, Bailey’s bouncing scintillating Soca-boogie and Calypso hybrid lovesick dance floor tracks were ahead of their time. Unlike anything coming out of the islands at the time, these often bright, swaying pop love spurned and springy ballads took the island’s sound into the cosmos.

Bailey started out in the mid 70s reinvigorating the Calypso genre, adding a slick production to the atavistic roots sound that made its way across the Atlantic via the slave trade, and giving it panache and a slinky radiating candour. Though originally used as a tool for social commentary, the synonymous rhythm of the Caribbean is channeled into a number of space age love songs. But despite the lamentable aspects, Bailey’s vocals are sunbaked with ripe swoon and lilting soul, fit for the dancefloor.

A missing masterpiece waiting to be (re) discovered, Sweet Sweet Dreams is simply a beautiful pop album. DV


John Sinclair & Youth  ‘Beatnik Youth Ambient’  (Ironman Records)

Synonymous for steering and kicking out the jams in his short role as manager of Detroit’s renowned rebel rousing motherfuckers The MC5, renegade poet, scholar, activist and establishment rattler John Sinclair is also remembered for his free radical zeal and dalliances with the law – leading to a short spell in the slammer. Keeping his hand in so to speak, but taking up residency in Amsterdam – a much safer bet -, the beatnik jazz sage continued, and as you can hear on this latest recording, continues, to record and perform in a host of setups with a multitude of contributors and backing bands.

The appropriately (in every sense) entitled Beatnik Youth Ambient mini LP is a foretaste, and as the title implies, ambient treatment version of material from a full-length album, released a couple of months later. The “Youth” of that title refers of course to the Killing Joke bassist turn in-demand producer Martin Glover. Arguably one of the most consistent producers over the last few decades in the UK, Glover, under his Youth alter ego, has taken on more or less most forms of music and worked on both commercial and underground experimental projects. He now provides Sinclair’s “literary synthesis” with a suitable “beatnik ambient” soundtrack: a serialism quartet of turmoil, turbulent jazz and dreamier trance.

Running through a vivid purview of postwar counterculture, bringing to life the energy and excitement that writers such as Kerouac (who gets referenced a lot) captured when seeing the Bebop jazz revolution and its great proponents perform, Sinclair delivers a magical enthusiastic experience on another track, evoking Thelonious Monk’s 1957 LP of the same name, Brilliant Corners. Titans of American beatnik and psychedelic literature lineup, Burroughs, Ginsberg and Neal Cassady (“…had the ability to park a car anywhere”, just one of his talents alongside his status as the “human bridge between the 50s and 60s.”), rubbing shoulders with jazz music’s new guard Lester Young, Byrd and Gillespie; immortalized by Sinclair to “head music” cosmos of jazzy lamenting woe, ghostly squawking and hooting saxophone and swirling mirages.

If anything, Beatnik Youth Ambient leaves the listener pining for a lost age; Sinclair’s evocative prose and delivery lifted (and cradled at times) by Youth’s congruous seething tensions and floaty dream-like production, which enthrall me to once again get stuck in to the “beat generation” and spin those Savoy label jazz totem recordings again. A prompt for the present times, the zeal of the postwar “baby boomers” (those with a soul anyway) counterculture not necessarily translating to generations X, Y and Z, even if it is needed; Sinclair’s language is nevertheless just as powerfully descriptive and energizing now as it was over forty years ago. DV

Full review…


Širom  ‘I Can Be A Clay Snapper’  (tak:til/Glitterbeat)

With an unspecified, but as the name suggests, emphasis on the “tactile”, Glitterbeat Records new imprint label gives a welcome platform to entrancing experimental tonal performances and sonic polygenesis traverses alike. In the latter camp is this Slovenian peregrination suite from the landlocked, Alps nestling country’s visceral sonic conjurors, Širom.

Evoking memories and feelings, both real and imagined, with a soundtrack thick with atavistic connections, the trio of punk and post-rockers turn experimental folk and acoustic instrumental cartographers convey a personal relationship to their homeland, on their second album together under the Širom banner.

Yet whatever the backgrounds, traces of North Africa, the Adriatic and the Middle East, the performances sail scenically through a dreamy otherworldly representation of Slovenia: Oriental, alien and Balkan visions permeate the plucked, malleted, chimed and purposefully played compositions, which subtly and rather cleverly build up complicated layers and various overlapping time signatures during the course of their journey.

Theremin like siren voices drift in and out, enacting the myth and seraph, whilst on the watermill turning Everything I Sow Is Fatal Sun Ra travels with John Cale and Pharaoh Sanders on a pilgrimage to Samarkand. The most recurring sounds however pay testament to the Balkans ghosts. The folkloric stirrings, lulls and yearning of Slovenia’s past bordering both a pan-Europa of migration and grief – stretching back a millennia – are transduced into often haunted vistas and metaphysical passages.

A most impressive and expansive inaugural Balkans travail; different from the previous two releases on this burgeoning new imprint, yet keeping to the tactile, accentuate and imaginative remit, whilst conjuring up mystical new soundscapes. DV

Full review…


Solo Collective  ‘Part One’  (Nonostar)

Gathered together in a congruous union under the Solo Collective umbrella, the Anglo-German partnership of virtuoso performers/composers Anne Müller, Seb Reynolds and Alex Stolze take turns in the spotlight and provide supporting roles with a cast of additional collaborators on the chamber pop meets traversing evocations suite Part One.

An interconnected triangle of familiar themes and musicality, with each musician also individually experimenting and creating their own solo pathway, in their respective field, all three artists have crossed paths and worked together previously on a variety of projects; some of which, in alternative neo-classical stripped versions, appear on this album. For instance, the original pizzicato acoustic-electronic Don’t Try To Be, from the violinist Stolze’s 2016 EP, Mankind Animal, now features Müller’s yearning emphatic cello, and is striped of its synthesizer electronics in favour of woodblock percussion and doleful low bass notes to create a more tragic and sad version.

A showcase for a particularly harmonious partnership of individuals with a pan-Europa vision of collaboration and crossing sublime musical boundaries, Part One – of what I hope will be a continuing venture – proves to be a stirring neo-classical ambient collection of solo and ensemble performances; each artists sharing and pooling their obvious talents to find a common interplay and a bond to create a challenging but mostly beautiful album. DV

Full review…


Sparks  ‘Hippopotamus’  (BMG)

Bombastically pitched as a “comeback” album, unseasonal followers and those not so familiar with the maverick siblings Sparks career may have been under the impression that the much-hyped Hippopotamus marked some kind of return from an imagined sabbatical, a retirement or an emergence from the wilderness. It was nothing of the sort of course, their last official Sparks albums may have been released in 2008 (Exotic Creatures Of The Deep) and 2009 (The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman), yet they also went on to collaborate with Franz Ferdinand in 2015 for the mighty team-up FFS. Three albums in seven years isn’t bad, considering the rate most groups knock out records these days, and considering Ron Mael is in his early seventies and brother Russell is only a few years behind.

Maybe what the media meant was a return to form. Admittedly – apart from FFS, which made our albums of the year in 2015 – the music hasn’t quite matched the quality of their 70s output or indeed the 2002 triumph Lil’ Beethoven and the 2006 follow-up Hello Young Lovers. Hippopotamus I can thankfully say is very much Sparks at the top of their game.

The Gilbert And Sullivan of cerebral pop music takes the form to ever-new intelligent heights of absurdity and revelation. Daring to merge intellectual ideas and themes into an art form; yet never laborious, condescending or aloof, every song on this latest theatrical rock and pop suite features an infectious melody, satirical but heartfelt clever lyricism and the usual Noel Coward piano witticisms (updated for the modern age of course).

Communicating both the frankly bizarre and the almost insignificant of contemporary foibles (from the middle class anxiety of stylish furniture design, on the Kierkegaard ponders Scandinavian Design, to the difficult to usually rhyme with anything in any song, surreal assortment of metaphorical, or very real, items and figureheads tormenting Russell in his room on the title track), the Mael Brothers frame all their ditties within a melodramatic often plaintive setting of levity.

Minor concertos and pop triumphs abound, as Sparks use the usual assortment of figureheads, including Edith Piaf and an ambiguous French film director auteur, to articulate their feelings on an assortment of theatrical and operatic (the almost aria style domestic imaginings of The Macbeths on the Living With The Macbeths duet) anthems – though of course, Piaf “always said it better”.

Cleverly creating social and political satire and commentary without the rage, finger wagging and virtue signaling, Sparks remain one of the most consistent bands – or duos if you like – in music history; five decades on and still producing epic pop, the likes of which has seldom been equaled. DV


Strange U  ‘#LP4080’  (High Focus)

“#LP4080 has a deftness that allows it to be daft; a first class bizarre ride to and from the far side”. Our Daily Bread 234, Feb 17

It’s always fun and games when King Kashmere/The Iguana Man/Lord Rao starts spraying jocular, juvenile sci-fi syllables and delirious, crowd-pleasing hooks at will. When he hits hyperspace, he’s an unstoppable force of nature few can compare to – “you enjoy buying trainers, a person like me enjoys firing lasers” – though his intergalactic court jester act belies the wicked yarns he spins about our alien overlords and fantastical set-plays (environmental health, relationships, politics) that are closer than you think.

Helming a future primitive craft with Dr Zygote, mechanic to an 8-bit jalopy with head knocks and funky splutters aplenty, Strange U float through the cosmos as an entertainingly erratic two-man crew. Despite being recorded in a studio far, far away, LP#4080 has got its head screwed on with attention to the fundamentals – the MC-producer combination, prime beats and rhymes, a concept that works, and a spectacle promising multiple revisits. MO


T.

Tamikrest  ‘Kidal’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Still without a homeland, though liberated from their draconian partners, the Tuareg are once again left, as wanderers in their own lands, the unofficial guardians and custodians of the Saharan wilderness. For now only a dream, best realized and protested through music, the rock’n’roll Bedouins Tamikrest emerge once more from the barren landscape with a message of “power and resistance”, on their fourth, equally entrancing, album Kidal. Paying homage to the strategically and spiritually important cultural trading town of the title, the highly-acclaimed (and rightly so) Tamikrest exude both the sadness and suffering of the dispossessed people who cling to the southwestern Saharan hub that is Kidal: a town which has seen its fair share of fighting, fought over, conquered and reconquered over time, it remains a symbolic home to the Tuareg. This is after all the town that nurtured them and where it all began.

Preserving an increasingly endangered ancestral culture and language, Tamikrest’s cause cannot be separated from their music. Yet, rather than protest with bombast or angry rhetoric, they articulate their woes with a poetic, lyrically sauntering cadence. Oasmane Ag Mosa’s earthy lead vocals resonate deeply, even if his timbre maintains a stoic dignified pitch. Backed by Aghaly Ag Mohamedine and Cheick Ag Tiglia on backing and duets, a lulling sweetness transcends, which on occasions adds a certain romanticism to the impassioned struggle. Swaying effortlessly between the meandering and up-tempo, the accentuated dynamics of Mosa and Paul Salvagnac’s entwined, untethered and contoured guitar work, Mohamedine’s “gatherer” Djembe rope-tuned goblet drumming, Nicolas Grupp’s askew backbeats and Tiglia’s smooth, free-roaming bass lines transport the listener to the mystical topography of the desert.

Assiduous, confident and articulate, the musicianship shows not so much a progression as a balance between the meditative and rock’n’roll spirit of the Tuareg musical resistance. Tamikrest are as brilliant as ever musically, and Kidal is, despite its plaintive and lamentable subject woes, a beacon of hope in an ever-darkening world of uncertainty. DV

Full review…


Tanzania Albinism Collective  ‘White African Power’  (Six Degrees Records)

In so many respects a “spiritual follow-up” to the acclaimed producer Ian Brennan’s Grammy Award-nominated Zomba Prison Project and follow-on from the equally evocative and raw Hanoi Masters sessions, White African Power attentively and respectfully draws out the repressed voices of the Albino community in Tanzania. Brennan’s productions often serve as a kind of hands-off form of creative counseling and healing; helping people to overcome trauma, such as the survivors of Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia. He’s renowned for being the most inconspicuous of in the field and on location producers, letting the atmosphere and elements, the moment if you like, and even serendipity bleed into the performances he captures for posterity. And the production methodology used for this latest project, recording the songs of the Standing Voice Community of Ukerewe, is no different.

A safe haven, Ukerewe, where Ian travelled to in 2016 to document their plight, is the largest inland island in Africa, only reachable by a four-hour ferry ride. Its community is, hardly surprising, haunted by their experiences. Self-conscious, avoiding eye contact, it proved a difficult task for the producer to encourage his subjects to open up. But open up they did, and the results are often surprisingly melodious, poetic, and diaphanous if raw and emotional. Far from a harrowing catalogue of despair and pity, the 23 recordings on this collection prove illuminating.

Fitting no obvious style, these amorphous performances do however resonate both with the delta blues of Louisiana and the stark, stripped down and earthy blues of South East Asia. Touches of raw African dusty tradition do appear, ascending and descending alongside gospel and soulful voices, naturally echoed, sighed and open-heartedly sung with a pure vulnerability. They’re accompanied either by stark lo fi electric guitar performances, that range from scratchy, straggly proto-punk to slower scrabbly emotive twangs, or an acoustic backing of rubber-band and bottle shaking percussion. Standing out production wise though is the classical – imagine Brahms on harpsichord transferred to East Africa in the 80s – reverberating cradling deep soulful ballad, Never Forget The Killings.

Ian Brennan coaxes another startling, eye opening, set of recordings from the victims of trauma; one that proves every bit as impressive as it does plaintive and sad. The collective will astonish, if not surprise listeners, those suppressed voices, thankfully released and given an international platform, sound emotionally honest and revelatory. DV

Full review…


Terry  ‘Remember’  (Upset The Rhythm)

The disarming world-weary punk and quirky pop touting quartet of Melbourne scenesters, banding together under the ubiquitous Terry moniker, follow up a prolific run of 2016 EPs and their debut LP with another acerbic witted, snappy melodious release of profound disenchantment and wistful “wish fulfillment”.

Continuing with the shared girl/boy dynamic of lulling, placeable idiosyncratic vocals and flexible punk, country and new wave bubblegum backing, Terry look to expand their repertoire on Remember. The combined musical savvy and experiences of band members Amy Hill (of Constant Mongrel and School Of Radiant Living), Al Montfort (UV Race, Dick Diver, Total Control), Zephyr Pavey (Eastlink, Russell St Bombings and also Total Control) and Xanthe White (Mick Harvey, Primo) push the quartet into all kinds of nonchalant mischief. The gang embraces nonplussed French new wave chanteuse vibes on the brilliant breezy, mosey country lilting, Toy Love meets Serge Gainsbourg Take Me To The City (one of the tracks of the summer), and snappy, bouncy indie synth pop on Rio. At their most raucous, rough and ready to tumble, Terry softens the edges of The Damned on both their keystone kops rave-up Start The Tape and spiky frazzling Give Up The Crown.

Suggesting nothing more rebellious than a cheeky smoke behind the bike sheds, the group’s knockabout catchy hooks and charm cloak a personal profound response to the political and personal anxieties and dramas of the times. And they do this with a certain aloof coolness and adroit ear for a great tune, making this 2017’s most melodious and catchy album of knowing pop slanted punk. DV

Full review…


Vieux Farka Touré  ‘Samba’  (Six Degrees Records)

 

A studio recording with a difference, played out and developed live in front of just fifty lucky people in Saugerties, N.Y., Vieux Farka Touré’s latest album blurs the boundaries between performance and the processes of making an album.

Ever the consummate maestro and backed by an equally accomplished band of musicians, there was some initial apprehension on Touré’s part about allowing an audience into the studio. Though we have the finished product, free of any mistakes, restarts and disagreements, it seems this audience far from unnerving the band, egged it on, with the results sounding effortless and natural. There were overdubs of course and one of the songs was recorded back home in Mali – the calabash driven Ni Negarba. But far from cutting corners or relying on the back catalogue, Touré has fashioned an entirely new songbook of vocal and instrumental material for Samba. Some of which amorphously touches upon unfamiliar influences, including reggae on the unapologetically roots-y swaying Ouaga.

Touré is as the Songhai title of his new album Samba translates, the second son of the late Ali Farka Touré, a doyen of the Mali music scene himself who left an indelible mark. If we expand on the title’s meaning, “Samba” is a byword for “one who never breaks”, “who never runs from threats, who is not afraid”. It is even said that those adorned with the name are “blessed with good luck.” Inspired by his ancestry, imbued with three generations, Touré’s album is suffused with special tributes to his family. Outside the family sphere, Touré confronts both Mali’s recent Jihadist takeover – only stopped and defeated by the intervention of the country’s former colonial masters, France – on the radiantly rippling, chorus of voices, funky blues number Homafu Wawa, and environmental issues on the dexterously nimble-fingered bluesy rock, Nature.

The almost never-ending efflux, the constant lapping waves of textures that Touré plays, which offer a cyclonic bed on which to add the deftest licks, have never sounded so sagacious and free flowing. This ain’t no Saharan Hendrix at work, this is something else entirely, and better for it. This is the devotional, earthy soul of Mali, channeled through a six-string electric guitar. DV

Full review…


V.

VVV   ‘Bozo Boyz’  (VVV)

“The trio take apart prowling club beats powered by the high beams of an 80s sportscar”. RnV, Nov 17

Preceded by Apocalypse Trent poking fun yet completely understanding modern hip-hop’s rules, the Nottingham trifecta of Vandal Savage, Cappo and Juga-Naut are a heavy rotation of individual voices.

Rhymes and word associations – pop culture, mind’s eye observations, opaque battle bars covered in enough 80s hairspray to tear the ozone layer a new one – jut out at free-flowing, at times unworkable angles, yet are held together by undeniable dope infused with a carried over drop of cheek.

Flicking VVVs at club beats, a slim line 80s synth chassis is rolled out to maximum effect (an evolutionary eye-opener for East Midlands rap fans – this won’t be their usual milk and two sugars). Both chilled and chilling, sonically Bozo Boyz lives an alternate life of soundtracking a slasher movie making a wrestler’s entrance to the ring. One of the more idiosyncratic hip-hop picks on this list, it’s VVV for victory. MO


Various   ‘Hidden Musics 4: Abatwa: Why Did We Stop Growing Tall?’
(Glitterbeat Records)

Ian Brennan, yet again, probing the furthest, most inhospitable and outright dangerous places in the world to record marginalized voices, journeys to the post genocide borderlands of Rwanda on the fourth volume of Glitterbeat Records illuminating Hidden Musics series.

Taking the unmarked, haphazard, road (less traveled) to the edges of Rwanda, avoiding the animosity and embers of vengeance that still burn and remain between the country’s minority Tutsis and majority Hutu communities, Brennan visited and recorded for posterity the Abatwa tribe’s seldom heard lament, anger and incredible soulful, if raw, blues.

The Abatwa name remains mostly unknown outside Africa, that’s because, due to their limited growth, we know them better as the ‘Pygmy’. A derogatory name loaded with infamy, yet preferred by the very people it derides, the tribe rather that put-down than (as Brennan puts it) “the official PC mouthful/post-genocidal replacement: The people who were left behind because of the facts of Rwandan history.”

What you get from this community is battery powered electronics and rusty, ramshackle dusty instruments coming together in hybrids that evoke ritual, the ceremonial but equally the blues, soul and hip-hop; all played with an undeniably emotional Rwandan verve and lilt. Make no mistake; this is performance in its most deconstructive raw form. Devoid of embellishments and overbearing production, recorded in situ with only the rudimentary elements and atmosphere for company, and it sounds great. It is nothing short of revelatory; field recordings of hope and recovery created in the face of despair. DV

Full review…


Various  ‘Pop Makossa: The Invasive Dance Beat Of Cameroon 1976-1984’
(Analog Africa)

The latest in a tenure adventure of excavating lost treasures from the African continent; Analog Africa’s main man Samy Ben Redjeb once more digs deep, sifting through a daunting mountain-size pile of records and recordings as he draws the spotlight on Cameroon’s Makossa scene of the 70s and 80s.

Originally the traditional rhythm and funeral dance of Cameroon’s Sawa and Essewé peoples, later transformed in the country’s cities as it collided with everything from merengue and rumba to Highlife and disco, Makossa, which means, “to dance” in the Cameroon Douala language, is a highly loose and adaptable style: as you will hear on this twelve-track collection of hits and rarities from the golden era of pop makossa.

Honing in on the period when makossa rubbed-up against funk and disco, this balmy dance beat compilation’s pulse is luminous and fluid and most importantly, funky. This is in major part down to some of the most smooth, bouncing, slick and relaxed but constantly busy of bass lines – Cameroon’s bass players rightly revered as among the best throughout the world – and the constantly shuffling hi-hats, tom rolls and splashing drums.

Every bit as “invasive”(and infectious) as the extended album title suggests, the classy pop massoka sound – once considered the unofficial national sound of Cameroon – is waiting to be rediscovered and let loose once again. In what seems like a recent shift in direction at the Analog Africa label, with the emphasis on the late 70s and 80s – from last year’s Space Echo collection from Cape Verde to reissues of Trinidad & Tobago star Shadow’s Sweet Sweet Dreams and the Benin solo singer Vincent Ahehehinnou’s Best Woman – this latest survey continues to unearth musical treats from the same era, albeit in different geographical settings, yet sharing many of the same production and trends traits. In short, another classy sun-basking exposé of the most sauntering, scintillating African pop from one of the top labels in the field. DV

Full review…


Vukovar  ‘Puritan’  (The Brutalist House)

Following in the tradition of their three-syllable sloganist album titles, Vukovar’s fourth LP drums home the Puritan mantra and analogies; a cleansing if you will of the status quo, a year zero, and perhaps also a return to the roots and communal deliverance of protest in music – not, I hope, the ‘puritanical’ steeple hat and buckle shoe wearing bible bashing of zealots, burning heretics at the stake, nor the bloody zeal of so many badly turned-out revolutions that end up creating just as terrible a reign of tyranny. The only fires here are the metaphorical kind; a funeral pyre of mediocrity, a bonfire of vanities, the-bland-leading-the-bland towards a conversion of raw intensity, dangerous, shamanistic performed anarchistic rock’n’roll: well I think that’s the idea.

As the band’s previous album, Fornication showed, Vukovar have at least listened to many of the right bands; released at the start of the year, this amorphous, transmogrified covers style collection featured reconfigured homages to a host of iconic luminaries including David Sylvian, Coil, The Monks, The Birthday Party and Neu!. Cultish in a manner, the band’s influences and manifesto statements of propaganda intent, plus allusions to cultural regicidal and ability to shrink from publicity – even self-sabotage any signs of success or promotion – suggests a band that takes itself very seriously. Yet even with countless references to history’s outsiders, philosophers, discontent mavericks, revolutionaries and demons throughout their previous trio of albums, and the elegiac resignation that shadows them, they waltz sublimely (for a majority of the time), rather than rage in romanticized contempt, as Olympus slowly grumbles.

Between the Gothic skulking and crystalline rays of shared 80s synth new romanticism Vukovar wander transfixed in a nightmare state of both despair and indolent antagonism; with stark lyrics more descriptively visceral than forced down the listener’s throat. Donning the vestiges of the Puritan, the front man, an amalgamation vocally of both Ian Curtis and Bernard Sumner, sets the scene (“I am a sinful man, yet an honest man”) to a backing track of slung low growled bass, Jesus and Mary Chain’s bastardize Spector drum death knells and the miasma threat of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds on the opening inflicted and gradually ascendant Nietzsche propound Übermensch.

The most complete and best produced encapsulation of Vukovar’s sound and venom yet, balancing both their experimental raw and ritualistic live performances with melancholic post-punk, and even brooding new romanticism pop, Puritan offers a travail through the dirge and gloom of our (end) times with all its sinful and cleansing, often biblical, connotations and language. Though it also often sounds like some kind of personal tortured Nick Cave love requiem, unfolding in the midst of chaos, looking over the edge into the abyss, the heretics taking over the asylum. DV

Full review…


Y.

Your Old Droog   ‘Packs’  (Fat Beats)

“Working a number of hustles and stakes-high dice games, with a penchant for humour and words to the wise on a varied album with no time to waste”.  RnV, Mar 17

Your Old Droog’s crowning glory pays the utmost attention to album constructs. Packs is 11 tracks all vying to be the jump-off, featuring skits that help rather than hinder, and guests like Danny Brown and Edan giving the action a hot cameo.

In running his own Grand Theft Auto route through New York (if there’s ever a Baby Driver sequel, or Marvel need a new street hero, surely Droog’s your man), storylines find time to dispense worldly wisdom that you’d be foolish to leave unheeded, and punchlines show that firing from that borderline meh mouth of his, is always smarter than letting off a few from the trigger finger. A 30 minute car chase always in complete control, cool with wrenching the steering wheel off-road before resuming its day-to-day cruising, and whose crucially compact composition makes it a red letter day for the rewind button. The Nas comparisons are now ancient history. MO


Z.

Msafiri Zawose  ‘Uhamiaji’  (Soundway Records)

Handing on the baton, so to speak, to another generation, the late great Gogo Tanzanian musician Hukwe Zawose’s equally talented son Msafiri takes up the reigns on his latest album for Soundway Records, Uhamiaji.

From the heartlands of Tanzania, Msafiri in collaboration with the much-respected Santuri platform – enablers and promoters for a much neglected East African music scene – and SoundThread’s Sam Jones has created a vibrant and sauntering, drifting adventure in dub and Afrofuturism jazz from the gogo traditions. Building to a degree on his father’s own 2002 experimental collaboration with ambient electronica producer Michael Brook, on the album Assembly, Msafiri takes his heritage into new and expansive sonic territories whilst intrinsically sounding African.

Buzzy, bright, hypnotic and at times trickling like watery vibes, this amorphous album is an odyssey of the lilting, danceable, meditative and peaceable. A peregrination of mystery, a journey across acoustic and electric frontiers musically and vocally, Uhamiaji is both a most beautiful and imaginative album. DV


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CHOICE  ALBUMS/EPS  OF  2017  PART  ONE:  A – L
SELECTION/WORDS:  DOMINIC  VALVONA  &  MATT  OLIVER





The decision making process: 

Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavors to offer a more eclectic spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album is more deserving of their fatuous number 32 spot than another.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums and EPs from 2017 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to have made some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2017, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar or got lost in the noise of more commercial better promoted releases.

 

The Context: An Age Of Hysteria. Dominic Valvona

The silent majority to the wrath and often derision of a mouthy, louder, minority carried on defying and surprising the establishment on both sides of the political divide in 2017. The ‘outraged’ of Tunbridge Wells in the letters pages of yore has been replaced with the ‘outraged of social media’, as the year’s unofficial collective anxious end times tagline #losingourshit replaces moderation, distance and analyses: comment before taking it in fully and reading without prejudice.

Context is thrown out the window when the instant gratification of outrage surfaces.

Despite the rolling news miasma of events feeding into the social media vacuum that has now, more or less, become impossible to ignore or leave; despite the encroachment on every facet of our daily lives by technology and the progressive zealots augurs of a complete matrix like synchronization with our gadgets and tech, the fact that people can be bothered to release music on vinyl still, let alone cassette tapes, is heartening, even if the naysayers bemoan that it’s a gimmick, mostly repackaging old material and reissues or an excuse to charge a lot of money for the tactile and physical. The death of everything physical – from books to newspapers, vinyl to CDs – has always been exaggerated; fueled in hope more than actual demand by the camarilla of Silicon Valley.

Still, streaming is fast becoming the most popular model, even though hardly anyone is benefitting – even Spotify, whose business model is particularly hostile towards the artist, is branching out into other industries, including makeup, because though their value is constantly marketed as high, they have failed to make a profit. Soundcloud, running ads now, is constantly teetering on the edge of folding. And the high expectations, glossy launch of the artist love-in Tidal has failed likewise in changing that model, currently languishing way behind its rivals. Bandcamp meanwhile remains the best choice for artists at present, and gives more control to those who use it. Yet, Bandcamp have recently moved into marketing those who frequent its site, writing roundups and blog posts, moving into a promotional critic’s role. How far this will go is anyone’s guess, I’m a little uncomfortable myself with its implications, its method of choosing the worthy from its vast catalogue, and what incentivizes them. How any of these platforms will hold-up going into another uncertain year politically and economically is anyone’s guess, yet despite the constant harping and expectancy of one of these sites and many like them to close, they’ve all managed to limp on regardless.

A teetering stasis between the physical and the digital exists for now. Writing anyone off at this stage would be foolish.

 

History is a marvelous scholarly pursuit. Yet anything past the year dot of social media’s conception is either revised to fit contemporary fashions or discarded totally. And so a sense of perspective is needed more than ever, especially up against the worrying diplomatic and military developments taking place throughout the Middle East, Europe (both at the very heart of the EU, including Brexit and with the unfolding independence row in Catalonia, but also Russia’s continuing moves and baiting in the Ukraine), Central and South America and Asia.

We also have the march of the robots and automation to consider, the impact of which will take a little time to filter through but will eventually change all our lives, not necessarily for the better – the most repeated mantra that it will only replace the most monotonous, labour intensive and under resourced job roles shtick is evidently untrue, as automation, bots and the programs being designed and rolled out are coming not only for the middle class occupations but all our creative roles too.

Unsurprisingly much of the music that has been released in the past year reflects the ‘fake news’ obsessed, Trumpism, post-postmodern era in which we find ourselves, some brilliantly, others whining and melodramatic – the cyclone of #metoo and the mounting charge sheet of sexual assaults and misdemeanours stacking up against men in, it seems, most industries is live, but yet to filter through yet on record (well there are few exceptions of course). Not many artists offer answers, certainty or solutions though. And some would say that we’re missing the venom, bite, and the rebellious streak that defined the spirit of rock’n’roll, punk and hip-hop.

And so below, the albums and EPs chosen by myself, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms reflect the concerns, protestation, lament of the times in which we live: for better or for worse. And not just from the myopic view of the UK, Europe and North American music scenes, but also from Africa, South America, Australasia and Southeast Asia. The Monolith Cocktail has always done its utmost to draw our readers attention to what’s happening outside the Western dominated music industry, and this year’s two-part feature includes artists as diverse as the entrancing Algerian/Tunisian Bargou 08 and Moroccan Gnawa legend Maalem Mahmoud Gania.

So without further ado…here is the first part of this year’s ‘choice albums’ feature. Part two will follow in a week’s time, and our final Quarterly Revue Playlist the week after that.

A.

Yazz Ahmed   ‘La Saboteuse’   (Naim Records)

Encapsulating the dreamy enchantment and exotic peregrinations of her Bahrain heritage with the polygenesis jazz scene of her London home, soloist, collaborator and composer extraordinaire Yazz Ahmed takes us on an evocative, transcendental at times, voyage with her new album, La Saboteuse.

Working with everyone from Radiohead – who’s Bloom track is covered by Yazz on this imaginative Arabian suffused suite – to These New Puritans, from Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry to Amel Zen, trumpet virtuoso – though she seems to be proficient with most wind and brass instruments, including the flugelhorn – Yazz steps out to lead her own small troupe on her first solo album since 2011’s Finding My Way Home. With Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet and Naadia Sheriff on Fender Rhodes piano, she lingers in an entrancing and often mysterious world of magical brooding vistas and dusky silhouetted sand dunes.

Isolated trumpet lingers and wafting meditations and traverse style vignettes are placed between longer performances of spiritual and Miles Davis sublimity, as Yazz guides us under the starry skies of Arabia and beyond. Dominic Valvona


Tony Allen  ‘The Source’  (Bluenote)

The divine rhythm-provider to Fela Kuti, trustee of the Afrobeat groove, Tony Allen has, and not before time, been recognized for his ability to transcend the style he’s rightly venerated for. Hardly surprising to find him furnishing the jazz tastemakers choice label, Blue Note, with an impressive hybrid album of both – though arguably Afrobeat and jazz have influenced and inspired each other over the decades.

Releasing a four-track homage earlier in the year for the same label, a nod to one of his inspirations, Art Blakey (A Tribute To Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers), Allen traverses that Blakey swing and the sound of the Savoy label via Lagos and the Parisian joints of the city he has called home for years on the polyrhythm elasticated The Source. Joining him on this enterprise is a band of Paris jazz musicians and the Cameroonian guitarist Indy Dibongue providing the licks, as well as the odd guest spot, including Damon Albarn’s low key contribution to the heralding Kuti funk Cool Cats – a reference no doubt to ‘Sir’ Victor Olaiya’s highlife band of the same name that Allen was hired to play claves for in his early career.

As I say, it has the swing, it has the funk, it has the jazz, and most definitely it returns to the source. Allen bends morphs and pushes those rhythms beyond showboating to produce a remarkable fusion and synergy. DV


Chino Amobi  ‘PARADISO’  (UNO)

Looking out from the balcony of a crumbling civilization, reciting a chilling poetic melodramatic transmogrification of Edgar Allan Poe’s The City In The Sea, as tumultuous storms and waves, the sound of seagulls, the crashing of towers fallen into the sea and gargling howls conjure up all manner of Chthonian trepidation, Chino Amobi’s displaced stark and bleak electronic collage soundtrack PARADISO begins as it means to go on.

The Richmond, Virginia artist has dropped his Diamond Black Hearted Boy moniker in favour of his own name for this expansive plunge into the void. And what a dark world it is to discard masks and alter egos in.

A co-founder of the NON collective of African artists, and of the diaspora, Amobi’s remit is focused on ‘using sound as’ the ‘primary media, to articulate the visible and invisible structures that create binaries in society, and in turn distribute power. The exploration of ‘non, prior to the adjective gives intel into the focus of the label, creating sound opposing contemporary canons’.

This translates in the short concatenate serialist style vignettes and passages of worrying trepidation, heavy thumping, bleak, chilling and uncertain twisted minimal electronica, concrete, post punk, Foley sounds and experimental dystopian vistas. A long list of NON collaborators make appearances on this disturbing, at times violent, end times suite, whether it’s through narrated passages, occasional erratic and gauze-y raps or radio show interjections.

A contorted reality awaits, a world without end. Are we circling the void or already in it? Meanwhile crows feed on the flesh, heralded fanfares sound and bestial cyclones blow us off course from Paradise Lost into a sonic chaos. Yet, we’re not so lost as to be totally incapable of redemption; and the ill effects, as the glimmers that do appear allude and Amobi himself has suggested, are reversible. DV


Austra  ‘Future Politics’

Imbued by, amongst others, the work of Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams and their manifesto for the end of capitalism tome, Inventing The Future, which calls for and envisions better days for all of us – an escape from the toxic neoliberalism that has defined that last twenty years -, the Canadian synth siren Katie Stelmanis creates a most encapsulating, pining and beautiful glossy synthesizer pop opus on Future Politics.

Written before the Trump victory of 2016 and the spiraling decay of both political and societal moderation that followed in its wake, Stelmanis, under her Austra persona, has inadvertently synchronized her angelical and suffused dreamy pop swooning airs, arias and coos to the anxious end times.

Stelmanis excels, as you will hear for yourselves, in evocative and cool glimmer-of-hope dreamy minimalist electronica pop. She strips away any excess this time around, going further than usual in producing a starker but highly melodious, trance-y and vaporous swooning melodrama fit for the club and heart. DV


B.

Bargou 08  ‘Targ’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Ahh…the sounds of a dusky reedy gasba flute; the tactile patted and burnished bendir drum; the rustic, earthy strung loutar, and the flowing, soaring scale vocals of the Bargou 08 project’s chief instigator Nidhal Yahyaoui, set an impressive atmosphere in the first couple of minutes of the album’s opening track, Chechel Khater. And that’s all you’d need, except there’s another eight equally evocative and thrilling tracks to hear.

The source of this sound derives from a relatively uncharted region that lies obscured between the mountains of northwest Tunisia and the Algerian border, called the Bargou Valley, which despite its barren isolation, has cultured a unique musical fusion, stretching back hundreds of years. Captivating and magical enough in its ancestral unchanged form, the songs of the valley, sung in the local Targ dialect (a language that is one part Berber, the other Arabic), are given a contemporary jolt that transforms the atavistic paeans, odes and poetry of yore into an intoxicating swirling rapture of electronic North African funk.

Filled with a legacy of turmoil and tension that goes back an aeon the album’s many themes, from describing a lover’s vital attributes on Mamchout to laments of alienation, resonate strongly with the growing unease of events, initiated six years ago by the Arab Spring. Tunisia itself is facing a struggle and teetering on the edge, with no guarantee that certain cultures won’t just disappear or be fragmented in the ensuing melee. Originally setting out to document his Bargou Valley home’s musical heritage before it disappeared, Yahyaoui has successfully and thankfully, with his musical partner, producer and the album’s keyboard player Sofyann Ben Youssef captured this rich mesmeric culture for posterity. And in doing so, produced a masterpiece that will endure. DV

Full review…


Beans  ‘Love Me Tonight’  (Tygr Rawwk Records)

 

Returning after a short hiatus with a highly prolific fervor, the founding member of the legendary Anti-Pop Consortium leftfield hip-hop troop Beans has made a sort of triple album comeback; putting out a triumvirate of bold, salacious, congruous and provocative records all within a few months of each other. It’s hard to choose but preference dictates that it is the middle of that trio Love Me Tonight that edges it.

A futuristic gleam of eeriness and trepidation hangs over proceedings as Beans travails Cliff Martinez meets Daft Punk club, torture chamber chiming gloom, Super Mario jazz acceleration, Exorcist organ and female led R&B. Changing moods convincingly each and every time, you think you’re getting a Kanye West style dancefloor disco rap album one minute, the next, a dystopian cerebral hip-hop ride into the abyss.

Reading out prose, narratives, scripts and passages like a rap ‘beat poet’ (as well as recording Beans has also released his debut novel, Die Tonight, this year) Beans spit is almost like abstract narration; lyrics broken down into compounds like chemistry and descriptive soliloquy.

In keeping with rap music’s provocative of featuring a roll call of collaborators and guests, Elucid and the Kid Prolific chide in on the hiccup scratching, “that dream is over”, – and perhaps my favourite track of Beans – dark chiming Waterboarding, and the darkwave R&B artist Prince Terrence adding the right soulful yearning tones to the Talons love-in, and pep to the club pumped opener, Apeshit.

Passing lyrical dexterity and abstract thoughts on all the ills currently spinning round in the tumult vortex of 2017, but also carrying on a theme of domestic abuse through a number of tracks, with a running forensic detailed commentary on a father and son crime scene on the disturbing V.X., Beans Love Me Tonight seems like a cry for help, or at least an attempt to make sense of it all. Though at times the lyrics are outright schlock pornographic, and accent hardly plaintive. In a manner it’s a tease, attracting certain condemnation as well as respect. DV


Big Toast & Ill Move Sporadic  ‘You Are Not Special’  (Starch Records)

“Blocking today’s culture of aspiration with dollops of common sense; a specialist subject for this year’s UK curriculum that won’t fail you”. RnV, Aug 17

In these troubled times we need assurance and support more than ever. Big Toast and Ill Move Sporadic are not the knights in shining armour the situation requires, rerouting British bulldog spirit by mapping out modern reality more genuine than a million so called keep-it-realists. With one of the great voices to dwarf the mic on his way to becoming his own protest march, Big Toast hammers home the black and white of life ten times over, a dismissive totem who won’t budge for anyone and will battle any life aspect until it’s crying back to its casting couch.

IMS has the cheek to throw in a couple of slow jams to tuck you in when Toast is tucking you up, otherwise coming out swinging from the first bell and landing tooth-loosening one-twos. Anti-motivational speakers who will get your arse in gear, and what the youth of today should be listening to. Matt Oliver


Black Angels  ‘Death Song’  (Partisan Records)

If you were looking for a creative musical reaction to Trump and the anxious times we live in then The Black Angels beautiful apocalyptic Death Song must be one of the most anguished and daemonic of responses. The Austin psych-rocking overlords first album in four years was written and recorded during the miasma of the US elections after all: and doesn’t it show!

An emotionally charged despair and anger with moments of catharsis, carried out to a Byzantine flavored soundtrack of esoteric Amon Duul II and Far East Family Band psych, a vortex of 80s Goth inspirations – including The cult and Siouxsie and the Banshees – and the tolling chimes of doom and drone, Death Song is, as the title suggests, a heavy, but most excellent trip.

Brooding romantically in Gothic tragedy as the world continues to turn, undaunted by the prospects of universal uncertainty, The Black Angels spread their wings magnificently on what is, perhaps, one of their best albums yet. The leviathans of the psych-rock scene have learnt much and after a recording hiatus return with something sharper, refined but just as mystical and hallucinatory. DV

Full review…


The Bordellos  ‘Love, Life And Billy Fury’  (Recordiau Prin)

Prolific, if haphazardly, dropping albums upon the unsuspecting, and quite frankly undeserving, public at a whim, St. Helen’s greatest dysfunctional family bring us one of their most ambitious collections of cynical derision and honest yearned anxiety yet: a kind of Joy ‘de vive’ Division.

More or less The Bordellos love songs collection, this latest lo fi affair – that makes even The Fall sound professional – is a raw opening of the heart, and in some cases, the veins. Transmogrifying Spector’s voices of the beehives (The Crystals to The Ronettes), the Spacemen 3, The Cure and, of course, The Velvet Underground, The Bordellos eulogize the nearly man of British rock’n’roll, Billy Fury, craft (perhaps) one of their most beautiful ballads, Starcrossed Radio, and pen a “speeding train” metaphor themed ode to breakups.

Romancing the stoned, the life, loves and failures of rock’n’roll are laid bear and as usual, ignored by an unsympathetic, disinterested public. But despite mostly alluding recognition and validation (because that seems to be all that matters in the social media age: affirmation from the echo-chamber of peers), The Bordellos mope and grind on, producing some of the most important diatribes and, in this case, scuzzy, dirge-y and primal garage band spirited love-pained grievances. DV

Full review…


Brother Ali  ‘All the Beauty in This Whole Life’  (Rhymesayers)

“A triumph of crowd gathering words to the wise meets devil’s advocacy, guaranteeing end of term honours”.  RnV. May 17

In these troubled times we need assurance and support more than ever. Comparing two of 2017’s most prominent protesters, Joey Bada$$ (on All Amerikkkan Bada$$) got you to show your colours while keeping it funky. Brother Ali on the other hand was there so a circle could form around him when handing out affirmative rhymes that wouldn’t sound out of a place around a campfire, promising the “type of love you can’t type with your thumbs”.

Without detracting from the former, it’s the latter’s warmth that makes him sound like he’s talking to you one to one, and where a rapt audience will follow, that gets the nod; a soft, grit-speckled delivery assuring everything’s gonna work out even when he’s recounting history lessons to the contrary. To a backdrop of blazing suns starting to dip and winter huddles taking shape thanks to great cleanse and polish from Atmosphere’s Ant Davis, it’s confirmation you should always put faith in Brother Ali’s hands. MO


C.

Dr. Chan  ‘Southside Suicides’  (Stolen Body Records)

Like some obscure French exchange garage band of students – the kind you’d find if it existed, on a European version of the Teenage Shutdown! compilations – hanging out in the 80s L.A. of plaid shirt and paisley bandana fatigue wearing skater-punks, Dr Chan are an abrasive and coarse mix of renegade petulant inspirations.

Essentially powered by garage rock and all its various manifestations, the group from the south of France hurtle through an up tempo and raging backbeat of The Chocolate Watch Band, The Standells, The Rationales, Black Lips and Detroit Cobras. The difference here is that they also throw in a miscreant Molotov of thrash punk, courtesy of Fidlar, and “death rap” – cue Florida’s $uicideboy$ and their dollar sign typeface indulgence – into the riot on their Southside Suicides protest. It gives the Chan’s brand of garage band mania a different intensity and drive: more screaming in a ball of flames spikiness than tripping psych.

Riled and obviously pissed about the current state of affairs both at home and overseas, Dr Chan’s rage and insolence is in keeping with the primal spirit of rock’n’roll: fun, fun, fun! It’s a blast. DV

Full review…


Oliver Cherer  ‘The Myth Of Violet Meek’  (Wayside & Woodland)

Set in the Forest of Dean, this lamentable concept album (billed as ‘part-fiction’ ‘part fact’) from the man behind Dollboy, Oliver Cherer, weaves the dreamy folkloric story of the tragic protagonist Violet Meek (a play on words of ‘violence’); mauled to death or not by the dancing bears of a visiting circus troupe in the twisted and, musically alluded ominous maybe magical, tree thickened woods. Based we’re told on a vaguely real event that happened in the 1880s, Cherer’s story isn’t just a vintage walk in the past and melodic indictment on the cruelty of Victorian society towards women, but draws parallels with the continuing issues of inequality, chauvinism and mistreatment still prevalent in our own times.

This is an unforgiving unflattering portrayal of England, a nascent nostalgic one with little room for equality and the presence of outsiders, but every bit as revealing about our present. As lovely, often dreamily so, as the music is the 70s pastoral accompaniment is often trembling and quivering, the fiddles distressed and bewitchery, enticing us into a esoteric psychogeography that features a languid brushed backbeat and Morris Dancers like flourish around the maypole on one song, but finds evil in the idyllic scenery on another.

In short, it is a most stunning, ambitious and beautiful minor opus. For those who like their folk and pastoral eerie and esoteric. DV

Full review…


The Church  ‘Man Woman Life Death Infinity’

To infinity and beyond, Australia’s stalwart alternative rock and pop guitar romantics The Church, nearly thirty years since their inception continue to breathily produce quiet masterpieces; continue to experiment and explore new sonic textures. Travelling into the ethereal, the sagacious Man Woman Life Death Infinity is a suffused glide and traverse of air-y vapours and misty mystery; beginning with the opening, soaring minor opus Another Century, sustained throughout, with each song materializing out of the ether.

Reflecting but an unconscious inspiration, The Church’s founding member Steve Kirby calls this album the group’s “water record”. Though all the characteristics of water, trickling chords, cascaded dripping notes and a sense of floating are all correct, this dreamy pop and transient songbook seems to leave the ocean floor and rivers for something more astral. Songs such as Submarine for instance seem imbued with a spirit of the Kosmische. Yet fans of the group’s staple of pop guitar swan songs and subtle psychedelic 80s lovelorn classics will love Before The Deluge and I Don’t Know How I Don’t Know: both of which show traces of that college rock meets garage riffage that arguably inspired or was picked up by The Stone Roses.

Still writing timeless anthems without lazily reverting to the back catalogue, still pushing forward after four decades, The Church can still illuminate and surprise. This, there 26th, album is anything but jaded. If anything it seems that The Church are still very much in the game, and able to balance familiarity with discovery.  DV


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah  ‘The Tourist’

Inimitably jump-starting a cerebral indie-pop scene in the mid noughties with his unique off-kilter melodies and quivered, yodeled vocals, the fiercely independent, Alec Ounsworth created major ripples with his nom de plume, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-released debut in 2005.

Ounsworth stumbles and ponders through a “post factual” strewn world of challenging emotions trying to make sense of it all on The Tourist. At times the album title could even be said to act as a metaphor for the artist’s own estranged and removed soul-searching: a tourist in his own country. Despite some sad and profound pathos heavy lyricism, Ounsworth’s “purging” of thoughts is meant to be a cathartic experience. The anxieties of our times can’t help but leak from every other line, yet this album is a fairly warm, jangly surprise package of lolloping and anthemic songs.

Building and soaring to an emotive brightened crescendo of sweetness and yearning on The Vanity Of Trying; contorting and bending guitar textures in a Robert Fripp fashion on the psych-pop gnarled Down (Is Where I Want To Be); and, up close and personal (every breathe audible) to the mic, driving through an 80s nocturnal rock ballad on Better Off, the inimitable Ounsworth careers through a full gamut of moods and chaos in the most natural and energetically purposeful way.

Clocking in at well under the forty minute mark (bands and artists take note) The Tourist is an unlabored, near-perfect melodious album. It says all it needs to and more; free of indulgence, and despite its bombast, sophisticated suffused layering is incredibly lean and brisk. A most enjoyable if poignant experience, this album already sets the benchmark in 2017, and is without doubt one of CYHSY’s best. DV

Full review…



Anna Coogan  ‘The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time’

Not the easiest of bedfellows, difficult to love and often (rightly) condemned as indulgent and overblown, but the worlds of rock and opera do occasionally overlap in a congruous union. The unquestionably talented Anna Coogan for instance, mixes the two majestically, using her finely trained 3-octave soprano and classical background to offer fluttering siren-like arias that seem to surreptitiously manifest from, what is, an ever-changing metamorphosis of musical styles, on her latest album, The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time.

Inspired by scientific discoveries, a “childhood listening to Puccini’s La Boheme”, the fateful poet Sylvia Plath, the tumultuous grave mistakes of intervention in the Middle East and, no surprises, the 2016 US elections Coogan’s ambitious suite of songs and instrumental evocations is far from lofty and classical.

Spanning country, Ry Cooder desert meditations, Anna Calvi like trembled sensual emulations, PJ Harvey and even bubbly synth pop, Coogan together with musical collaborator Willie B – offering atmospheric Moog bass line undertones and drums – produces a ‘wave’ fixated lamenting and balletic travail and a surprise highlight of 2017. DV

Full review…


D.

Daniel Son  ‘Remo Gaggi’  (Crate Divizion)

“Toasting the high life and low lives, gangster rap bearing honourable intentions”. RnV, May 17

Canadian slick talker Daniel Son is the front for this, one of many Giallo Point heists that the UK producer ran during 2017. With the authentic mob experience evident in such titles as Flat Tyers, Car Seizures, Strippers Den etc and the kingpin adoring the sleeve, it’s instantly noticeable how dry GP’s noir-ish production is; sharply tailored loops of muted house band jazz that has seen nefarious comings and goings, but are gagged by confidentiality agreements and the fear of loose lips sinking ships.

Potent in what it doesn’t disclose, display one bead of sweat and you’re in trouble. Before you know it Daniel Son – “we the reason that the yacht insurance be going up” – has decked you with a leg sweep before disappearing back into the night. While it’s easy to apply Godfatherly stereotypes to Remo Gaggi, the style of this international union contrasting brash and diligent, compellingly separates the best from the rest. MO


Dope KNife  ‘NineteenEightyFour’  (Strange Famous)

“An absolute battering ram of four wheel drive blasting through the boggiest of boom bap. Big Brother would think twice about listening in”.  RnV, Feb 17

We’re not trying to discredit Dope KNife by saying that NineteenEightyFour is an almost unfashionable antidote to tween trap, happily, mercilessly fanning the flames of the very 2017 argument of what constitutes real hip-hop between upstarts and originals (and if there’s an argument abound, it’s only right that Sage Francis is tagged in as well). Far from an Orwellian vision yet probably something of a dystopia to some as he walks with an intimidating shadow, DK comes slathered in dirt, ready to punch you in the ear with a splattered larynx.

As a one-man steamroller on beats and rhymes it’s not an exact science, but that’s absolutely fine with us, the battle-hardened, bitter-as-blasé (yet also able to reference the Fresh Prince theme tune) Georgia emcee leaving competition standing (“I can’t help being a damn cynic, this damn planet got a fucking lot of wack in it”). MO



The Doppelgangaz  ‘Dopp Hopp’  (Groggy Pack)

“A drop of ‘Dopp Hopp’ a day will keep the haters away; will creep up on the button marked ‘repeat’ until it progresses to heavy rotation”. RnV, Jul 17

Despite the sub-Gothic sleeve looking like the NY pair are auditioning badly for a death metal gig, Dopp Hopp ranks high on this year’s list on the strength of its smoothness alone. “Live by the cloak, die by the cloak” say The Ghastly Duo; but the mystery ends once their views from West Coast low riders, developing a smoky lens that’s intoxicating but never fuggy, embrace the inevitable sunshine.

Also readymade for reminiscing as on E.W.W. and Strong Ankles, the ‘Gangaz have set themselves the relatively easy task of riding the vibes properly, and they oblige with a natty turn of phrase prepared to shift towards the nearest street corner at their leisure. Dopp Hopp is another feather in a cap looking more and more like the crown jewels. Beats and rhymes guarantee return visits to golden-edged climes, where you simply have to rewind the boast that “if ‘Dopp Hopp’ was a beer, it’d be an IPA”. MO


75 Dollar Bill  ‘Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock’
(Glitterbeat Records)

This album could have rightly qualified for last year’s feature, but re-launched, repackaged for Glitterbeat Records’ burgeoning new imprint tak:til, 75 Dollar Bill gets another shot: mainly because it slipped under most radars on its maiden voyage in 2016. Now in 2017 with a hopefully wider global release it will shine.

Adhering to Jon Hassell’s “fourth world music” blurring of the division between futurism and tradition the 75 Dollar Bill duo of NYC-based musicians Rick Brown and Che Chen, traverse the psychedelic desert rock and trance of the Maghreb, avant-garde, jazz and even swamp boogie delta blues in a most indolent but listless transient manner on W/M/P/P/R/R. Motivated by an interest in “compound meters” – meter involves the way multiple pulse layers work together to organize music in time; a compound essentially dividing the beat into three equal parts -, but playing in a fashion that feels natural and organic, the follow-up to 2015’s more “forward momentum, stomping and shaking” style Wooden Bag is a nuanced clever exploration of interconnected tonality and tactile responses to a wealth of harmonics and melodies from a pan-global array of influences: from modal jazz to Arabic modes and eastern scales.

What they produce is an often adumbrate, repetitive experience that builds gradually, slowly releasing various tangents of interplay between the principle duo and their extended backing group of friends; traversing genres and moods to evoke new expletory musical spaces. DV

Full review…


E.

Ester Poly  ‘Pique Dame’  (Ikarus Records)

Experimentally rocking the cantons of their Swiss home for a while in their respective separate outfits, Béatrice Graf and Martina Bérther unite as an unholy drum and electric bass alliance under the Ester Poly (a scramble of ‘polyester’ of course) banner.

Pitching generation X(er) Bérther with Y(er) Graf, this rambunctious vehicle for the duo’s feminist protestations and irony is hardly hampered by the limitations of their chosen drum and bass instrumentation, and hardly comparable to any of the many such similar combinations plying their trade. Instead, Ester Poly use a stack of effects and distortion tools to widen their sound spectrum; evoking hints and obvious homages to post-punk, art school, Jazz, doom rock, heavy metal, no wave and Krautrock in the process.

Recorded in more or less one-takes, both combatants facing off against each other in the studio with no headphones or click track, Pique Dame captures not only the lively, hostile and enraged but also the humour (even if it is dark and resigned) of this energetic union. Despite the raging tumults, dynamism and soundclash of ideas, this album is a steady and even showcase of festering ideas and moods. It’s also quite brilliant and encapsulates the ‘pique’ perfectly; arousing, curious and irritated! DV

Full Review…


F.

Faust  ‘Fresh Air’  (Bureau B)

Still banging the cement-mixer drum and manning the barricades after forty odd years in the business, the Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner “Zappi” Diermaier duo version of Faust – at its most base drummer/percussionist and bassist-come-tormentor of sound – and their latest protestation Fresh Air is a sort of art-provocateur road trip of the USA, featuring an abundance of locals and internationalist artists and musicians, picked-up on the way through New York, Texas and California: A counter-cultural agitation travail from coast to coast.

Featuring the usual Faust totems and that workmanlike methodology of extracting sounds and evocations from machinery, found objects, debris and the architecture – even Péron’s front door hinges from home make an appearance – Fresh Air is an urgent gasp for relief from the polluted, choked, environment. It’s also a highly convoluted attempt at transforming geometrical forms and abstractions into a sonic score. Three of the tracks on this album take their inspiration from a faux-workshop at the highly regarded California Institute of the Arts. A session that includes the loony 23-second vocal exercise symphony Partitur – defined loosely as “a sort of Dadaist choir, a musique impressionniste” by Péron –; the loose Slits do souk jazz, camel ride Chlorophyll, which features Barbara Manning “sneaking” in word association sketches alongside Zappi’s own strange utterings; and the saxophone squalling, motoring Lights Flicker, which again features Manning, bridging the role of Laurie Anderson and Patti Smith, repeating an agitated mantra over a quasi art-dance backing.

Continuing with their signature agitation, often menacing, call-to-arms whilst also sonically turning the abstract into something audible, Péron and Zappi can still be relied upon to create provocative statements, five decades on from when the original Faust dynamic barraged audiences with the most confrontational and experimental sound ideas. Struggling like the rest of us, but finding a comradely with another generation of artists and musicians, they look for hope in the miasma. DV

Full Review…


Craig Finn  ‘We All Want The Same’  (Partisan Records)

Occupying a rich postmodern American literary landscape, channeling such celebrated chroniclers as Bruce Springsteen and Vic Chesnutt, former The Hold Steady, and prior to that Lifter Puller, front man Craig Finn has in more recent years carved out a career as a successful solo artist. In true Springsteen style, though with far less guttural bombast, Finn brings a certain levity and importance to the lives of America’s “ordinary folk”, building a highly erudite diorama to stage the unfolding, and to outsiders, the often inconsequential dramas that are acted out across the States on a daily cycle.

Subtly tapping into the “liberal” creative psyche of America, one that’s still in a state of shock, but also the so-called “blue collar” America that put Trump in the White House, Finn doesn’t so much point fingers or berate as reflect the resignation of a cast on the peripherals of society.

Enriched with the graceful subtle presence and soaring vocal harmonies of Caithlin De Marrais and singer/songwriter Annie Nero, the keys of Sam Kassirer, swaddling and lifting horns maestro Stuart Bogie and longtime contributor from The Hold Steady, guitarist Tad Kubler, the musical backdrop is a mix of rolling Warren Zevon piano psychodrama, bluesy rock’n’roll and Ashbury Park period E Street Band brass. A solid performance and assiduous edition to the modern American songbook, Finn’s third solo album shows a full-bodied, sagacious artist at his pinnacle. DV

Full review…


G.

Maalem Mahmoud Gania  ‘Colour Of The Night’  (Hive Mind Records)

Maalem Mahmoud Gania, the near-exulted star of the Moroccan honed Gnawa – a style of traditional Islamic dance, music and poetry with roots spread across the sub-Saharan crescent of Africa; considered by many to be one of the origins of the “blues” rhythm – and artisan of the genre’s key instrument, the camel-skin covered three-string lute like “guimbri”, released an extensive catalogue of recordings for labels such as Tichkaphone, La Voix El Maaref and Sonya Disques.

Choosing such a revered icon with which to launch their inaugural new imprint Hive Mind Records, the Brighton outfit’s inaugural baptism is the legend’s final studio recording, the afflatus, entrancing Colours Of The Night. What makes it special is that this is the first solo release by the artist outside his native homeland to be released on vinyl.

Stringy, wiry, occasionally a tone or two lower and played like a quasi-bass guitar, Gania’s playing style is raw, deep and always infectious: from blistering solos to slower and lighter ruminating descriptive articulations; this is equally matched by his atavistic soulful voice and the chorus of swooning, venerated female and male voices and harmonies that join him on each track.

Colours Of The Night is a highly hypnotic collection of performances both magical and transcendental, beautifully traversing Arabia and desert blues traditions. DV

Full review…


Golden Teacher  ‘No Luscious Life’

Seeming to just follow wherever the groove takes them, whether it’s ESG uptown/downtown Boho Noho Soho New York, electro Afrobeat, the griot traditions of West Africa or 80s Chicago House, the polygenesis influences of Glasgow’s sonic multilingual Golden Teacher sextet seamlessly entwine to produce the most solid of on-message dance music.

Flexing and limbering to a hip 80s heavy melting pot of sounds and references, the Glasgow troupe move like liquid through a soundtrack of polyrhythms, acid and tight drum presets, oscillations, clean and not so clean futuristic galactic house funk. Not many groups can inaugurate and move between both the Senegalese griot matriarch Aby Ngana Diop and Cabaret Voltaire on the same album, but such is the myriad of musical backgrounds, and they encompass every kind of genre you can think of, of the band members that make up this loose collective, you’re never quite sure what you might hear next.

Though rhythmically and melodically, pumping and sonically doing all the talking for them, there are succinct, atmospheric vocals from Cassie Ojay and Charles Lavenac to give either a certain sway and louche entrancing quality or, as on the opening Afro-funk meets pumping House Sauchiehall Withdrawal – a reference to one of Glasgow’s most, famous and popular main thoroughfares, with everything from the Glasgow School Of Art and CCA art hub of venues and galleries to shopping and nightclubs on its mile and a half long strip – a soulful austerity groundhog day political context: dutifully working the daily slog and for what?!

Moving to Glasgow, from about as far south of the border as you can go, a couple of years ago, one of the first gigs I saw was a sort of impromptu, diy style, performance from the group at The Old Hairdressers in town. Improvised to a degree they caught the wide-eyed excitement and dynamism of an earlier time as if it was fresh and new. A must-see live turn, the group has, unlike so many others before them, captured that free spirit and looseness on record. Yet production is really slick.

The city has always enjoyed a reputation for the eclectic, and Golden Teacher more than most, encapsulate that cross-pollination, borderless approach to absorbing music from across the globe – from The Levant to Compass Point – and making it funky. DV


H.

Happyiness  ‘Write-In’  (Moshi Moshi)

Ah…the sound of a band embracing the heartfelt warmth, accentuated dazed melodies and special feel of such 70s fare as Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and Big Star, Happyness evoke the hazy fond memories and subtle sophistication of these and other complimentary artists on their brilliant album Write In.

The opening Falling Down gambit, with its radiant phaser guitar, conjures up the Scottish indie supremos (and fellow Big Star acolytes) Teenage Fanclub, whilst the pastel-shaded saddened tone of The Reel Starts Again sounds like a lost, ghostly remnant of a George Harrison and Jeff Lynne malady. A touch of the Brighten The Corners era Pavement permeates the band’s weary slacker muffled Uptrend/Style Raids, but by the time we reach the halfway stage of the album the lads are back to thrashing out a languorous grunge-y grind on Bigger Glass Less Full.

Subtle and confident, Write In is a halcyon, beautifully executed album with real depth and personality. Happyness have found their flow with loose but perceptively well-crafted gentle pop songs of a timeless quality: to be played as the “credits roll forever”. DV

Full review…


Here Are The Young Men And Uncle Peanut   ‘This Is Standard Life’
(Musical Bear Records)

Unceremoniously released almost on the sly, though because we are inundated with 100s of releases every week it could be we missed this one, the brilliant cut price, and with far more humour, authenticity and irony than the Sleaford Mods (as if scribbled by David Shrigley) Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut are back with a load more broadsides leveled at life’s most cunty personalities and foibles.

Not so much poetic, not really rap in the true sense of the word either, they make observational snatches of overheard misnomers, condemnations and Estuary patois on the modern toss life of a pissed-stained mattress society. Modern life isn’t so much rubbish as depressingly shite, as the group transmogrify a sort of Daft Punk ‘Teachers’ style litany of great influential bands into a council estate, backroom punk paean to the spirit of punk and good music; safe in the knowledge that Mark E Smith Is Still Doing The Fall, even after a hundred years!

Diatribes on outsourcing, hipsters (the Day The Hipsters Stole Our Look; those penny-farthing riding tossers), lads banter (“yes mate, yes mate, standard”), gentrification, “nobbers” (who are “fucking everywhere!” on the Underworld goes punk song of the same name) and pop stars abound, and there’s even collaborations with Art Brut’s inimitable Eddie Argos (on the and Billie Ray Martin (of S’Express and Electribe 101 fame).

It’s nothing short of fucking brilliant, short and anything but sweet. The use of swearing alone is commendable. A sort of vitriolic, generation X middle-aged series of rants on what we’ve lost, what we are set to lose and what we could do without. DV


I.

Ifriqiyya Électrique  ‘Rûwâhîne’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Capturing something quite unique, the collaborative industrial post-punk and avant-garde rock scenes of Europe clash head-on with the descendants of the Hausa slaves atavistic rituals styled group, Ifriqiyya Electrique, create an often unworldly chthonian conjuncture of Sufi trance, spirit possession performance and technology.

A film project and now immersive sonic experience, inspired by the important Banga music traditions and the accommodating, rather than exorcising, of spirits ceremonial wild dances and call and response chanted exaltations of the black communities – originally transported to the region from sub-Saharan Africa – in the oasis towns of southern Tunisia, this astounding meeting of cultures and history is anything but scenic.

Formed in the Djerid Desert, the idea forged by field-recordist and veteran guitarist of the politically-charged Mediterranean punk and “avant-rock” scenes, François Cambuzat, and bassist Gianna Greco – both of which occasionally join forces with that livewire icon of the N.Y. underground, Lydia Lunch, to form the Putan Club -, the Ifriqiyya Electrique spans both continents and time. For their part, Cambuzat and Greco provide the grind, industrial soundscape texturing, sonorous drones and flayed guitars, but mostly, the “electrique”, whilst, offering a dialogue with the spirits and the tradition, Banga musician Ali Chouchen – joined in the live theatre by an expanded cast of fellow voices, krabebs and Tunisian tabla players from the community, which includes Tarek Sultan, Yahia Chouchen and Youssef Ghazala – provides peripheral sounding evocative echoed and esoteric vocals and equally haunting nagharat.

Spiritual conversations transformed and realigned with the machine age turmoil of industrial noise, Arthur Baker style rock and hip-hop production, post-punk and even Teutonic techno, Rûwâhîne is a rambunctious unique force. DV

Full review…


J.

Jam Baxter  ‘Mansion 38’  (High Focus)

“Half cut, whip smart. Ultimate, grungy outlaw hip-hop, putting the trap in trapdoor”.  RnV, Mar 17

UK crown rulers High Focus reached new levels of cult when Mansion 38 became that creepy house at the end of the road that may be good for a heart-in-mouth laugh at Halloween, but not somewhere you’d venture to acquire a friendly cup of sugar.

Recorded and produced in Bangkok, Jam Baxter’s quotable cynicism is of an emcee breed that gets caught in a landslide escaping reality in a bid to keep himself amused, but whose focus is actually doing overtime. Seeming nonsense suddenly swoops down at you with lethal intent, most notably on the shrewd consumerist commentary on offer For a Limited Time Only. He of The Gruesome Features squats on Chemo’s production, and where there’s no such thing as a wrong turn, it’s alien, exotic, and worryingly comforting at once, slowly beginning sinkhole formation, and with Dumb demanding you take cover while running in slow-motion. Bugged out, bug-bombed, brilliant. MO


Jehst  ‘Billy Green is Dead’  (YNR)

“Showing the sort of word association and plain English penmanship that has long made him the UK’s premier emcee”. RnV, Jun 17

Whether the eponymous subject of Jehst’s sixth full-length is man or myth, a reflection on society or the High Plains Drifter letting his imagination run wild while disclosing clues from his own personal memoirs, you’ll be hanging on Billy Green’s every move, tic and confession.

It’s the album’s lost, tired soul trying to keep the walls from closing in, but then seeming to be at peace with any pending doom. It’s the human element, from the debilitation of an everyday Joe to referencing the Kardashians and when the most important decisions can sometimes boil down to choosing “the Snickers or the Mars, E&J liquor or the six-pack of the Stella Artois”. It’s Jehst’s delivery that even when close to succumbing to heat exhaustion, finds a reserve from deep down that’s of an improbable, impeccable sharpness. It’s the simmering sphere of wax and wane production whose highs and lows run a perfect parallel. ‘Billy Green is Dead’, long live Jehst. MO


Jonwayne  ‘Rap Album Two’  (Authors Recording Co)

“Personal struggle both poignant and unapologetic for showing its hand…watch its humble humanity become the choice of the open eared this year”.  RnV, Feb 17

 Rap Album Two approaches that long-standing hip-hop (and society in general) elephant in the room: the refusal to admit vulnerability. In laying crises on the line, Jonwayne becomes his own therapist and subsequently an outlet for the hesitant and anxious to claim as their own. At his most lo-fi, the times to think become deafening and don’t necessarily mean there’s a clean pathway to redemption.

It would take a kingsized about-turn for Jonwayne to become self-destructive on record, but it’s the legitimacy of his 20/20 vision and the potential of the what-ifs that sit kindly. Particularly on the beautifully dejected/accepting Out of Sight and Afraid of Us, bearing the powerful “look at these people, counting on me when I can’t even count on myself”, you can hear him fighting for his very survival. Also behind the excellent Black Boy Meets World by Danny Watts (who features here), Rap Album Two bridges the gap between cult hero and everyman icon. MO


K.

King Ayisoba  ‘1000 Can Die’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Sounding the klaxon call in defense of his native Ghana, and Africa at large, on his inaugural LP for Glitterbeat Records, the striking, lively King Ayisoba, from the roots up, uses his guttural earthy howl and atavistic kologo lute to great effect in demonstrating not only a raw anger but also a deep love for a much misunderstood continent.

From the very outset Ayisoba and his contributors Wanlov da Kubolar & Big Gad – just two of the many guest appearances on this album – rap, sing and stamp a slogan sentiment on the opening Africa Needs Africa of, “Let’s fight for Africa/Africa needs us.” Covering the North African diaspora, the boat people’s sorry saga, the colonial past and umpteen other issues that more or less shape the image that those observers from outside the continent believe is the only side to Africa – between a misplaced sentimentality and outright ignorance. There is protestation and indictment, but also a lively focus on the positives too; finding solutions through the medium of music and culture.

In-between the fiery, bordering on punk, clatter of guluku, dundun and Djembe drums and rambunctious electronic phasing beats there are more plaintive, yearning stripped-back moments: Grandfather Song, a toiled from the soil of tragedy lament, offers a more intimate knee-jerk from the full-on band sound, and Dapagara is sent off into a sweeping, wafting vista by the Nigerian legend Orlando Julius’ traversing, reedy accentuated saxophone.

Raw from the heart, highly evocative and rebellious, King Ayisoba’s songs of rage and vitality actually offer a kind of hope in the face of adversity. The future of Ghana’s music scene is in good hands at least. DV

Full review…


L.

L’Orange  ‘The Ordinary Man’  (Mello Music Group)

“An evocative performance capturing a concerto producer whose trick-from-sleeve ratio remains visionary”.  RnV, Nov 17

Another 12 months of might and magic on Mello Music Group, including must-checks from Oddisee and Mr Lif and Akrobatik as the reconvening Perceptionists. However, it’s the beatsmith with the knack from Nashville building up quite the back catalogue where Tenneseein’ is Tennebelievin’. Loosely based around the sleight-handed history of when illusionists were the rockstars of their day – on premise alone, L’Orange is out by himself – the mostly instrumental The Ordinary Man is described as “vaguely reminiscent of RJD2’s ‘Deadringer’”, where loops slip off straitjackets and straight up gallivant.

Reserving the mic for only a handful of guests after a starry stack of collaborative LPs, L’Orange offers jazziness with a spring in its step, even when its grainy monochrome quality appears to be suffering (perhaps reflecting his own personal health issues). Covered in a sweet patchwork of samples, the headnodding will rock your neck stiff (Cooler than Before soars like the plane on Raekwon’s Criminology), while placing it delicately upon a pillow. MO


Liars  ‘TFCF’  (Mute)

The confusing soundtrack to a musical divorce, the enduring creative partnership behind the Liars, Angus Andrew and Aaron Hemphill, finally fell apart after the release of Mess. Though confounding fans and critics alike on every release, the now streamlined version of the Liars sees Andrew at the helm of, essentially, a one-man band, churning up and lurching through what should by rights be another ‘mess’ of ideas to produce something quite vivid and experimentally sharp.

Chronicling what he felt was akin to a musical marriage, Andrew sitting miserably slumped in a wedding dress, left holding the bouquet on the cover of TFCF (Theme From Crying Fountain) charts a deteriorating relationship, with dysfunctional material – some of which was marked for the next Hemphill & Andrew Liars album – spun into a brilliant sulky, miserable melodrama of electronic, new wave, punk and cerebral pop.

Leaving L.A. for his native home of Australia, a dethatched Andrew transmogrifies those American influences into acoustic, labored drum break lamentable sneers (The Grand Delusional), Love style Mexican psych flare crossed with Medieval courtship (Cliché Suite) and disjointed daggered, The Knack meets Beck, lurches (Cred Woes).

Often resigned, hurt, pranged with pity throughout, it hardly sounds appealing, yet TFCF is full of reinvention, experimentation and lyrically, both dreamily and petulantly opprobrious. DV


Al Lover Meets Cairo Liberation Front  ‘Nymphaea Caerulea’  (Hoga Nord)

A meeting of exotic minds, San Francisco producer/remixer Al Lover (The Brian Jonestown Massacre to Goat) and the Tilburg collective Cairo Liberation Front set out on an evocative mesmerizing flight of escapist fantasy on the extended Nymphaea Caerulea EP.

 

Continuing a partnership with the Hoga Nord label and following up the previous Zodiak Versions, Al and his collaborators merge psychedelic dance music with a spiritually mysterious imagined vision of Egypt: Nymphaea Caerulea being the Latin name for the blue Egyptian lotus, a flower of the Orient.

Over six ‘levels’ they traverse and evoke entrancing Egyptian flute led feverish ritual, mysticism, sweeping desert winds, ancient kingdoms, belly dancing and cyclonic Afro-Futurist beats.

References to a new sonic deliverance, a musical Arab Spring, infuse the six instrumental tracks with a certain levity and theme. But rather than bang the drum of rage and protest in the land of the Pharaohs and old gods, Al and the Cairo Liberators create a moody mysterious, veiled soundtrack fit for the dancefloor. DV


NEW MUSIC REVIEW ROUNDUP

WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




A somewhat shorter selection but just as much quality and eclecticism, my final roundup of the year includes the cinematic pop and harrowing void explorations of Alpine Those Myriads; the latest compilations from Edinburgh label of alternative and post rock mavericks and sonic explorers, Bearsuit RecordsThe Invisible & Divided Sea, and the altruistic, charity driven Submarine Broadcasting Company’s latest sprawling collection, Post:Soc; the fourth edition of Knitting Factory’s curated Fela Kuti box sets, with albums chosen by that rebel soul songstress and polymath Erykah Badu; and for the first time ever the entire – admittedly small – 1970s recorded oeuvre of one of Cameroon’s leading Gandjal rhythm providers, Hamad Kalkaba and his Golden Sounds band.

Alpine Those Myriads   ‘Visions & Disorders’
See Hear Feel Smell,  out now.

 

Set adrift out into the void, though as the motivational prompt, ‘climb the mountain and jump off it!’ that was taped to the artist’s working desk during the process of making this harrowing beauty of a minor opus suggests, Alpine Those Myriads’ Marius Bastiansen is, if throwing himself into a chasm of uncertainty and pushing limits, still tethered to earthly realms.

Now deduced to a solo project, cut loose from previous incarnations of the Norwegian group that originally got together back in 2001, the one-man band ATM is highly ambitious musically and conceptually. Inspired by the evanescent memories of watching both the dreamy visionary cinema of Russian auteur Tarkovsky (in particular, by the sounds of and echoes of retro-futuristic signals that are suffused throughout this album, the late filmmakers celebrated science fiction magnum opus Solaris) and the existential, love/hate figure, Lars Von Trier – depending on who you listen to either a madman, risqué agent of controversy or genius.

Aching with a Nordic poetic romanticism, often frail but cutting through the sonic maelstrom and haunted panoramas, Bastiansen merges the gloom and ominous miasma of Scott Walker with The Parenthetical Girls, Fever Ray and Oh No Ono on this cosmological kaleidoscopic concatenate set of traverses, Visions & Disorders. The latter of that title and constant shift towards the discordant is handled with a certain élan; churning, lumbering, bleating, caustic, sending out paranormal broadcasts and on the daemonic reprise version of the album’s opener, Nocturnal Hysteria, featuring the presence of some sort of Lovecraftian Clutha submerged in the subterranean dankness, the horror and uncertainty never quite reaches Walker’s sublime distress, always returning as it does to an uncomfortable but still melodious beauty.

Challenging but balanced, an implosion of tight progressive electronic beats and pained bedraggled saxophone is pitched against the theatrical on the Pale Fountains remixed by Haxan Cloak opener, Radiohead swirl in a charged techno hinterland on Mail Order Doom (WHWGH), Sparks relocate to the Forbidden Planet on the synthesizer pop melodrama Milk The Peacock, and the finale, An Archetype veers into Baroque Kosmische and switched-on Wendy Carlos transduced harpsichord.

Hallowed organs and Moss Garden evocations are layered against ice-y synths, off-kilter lurching loops and warping effects as the ether joins the cosmic in what is a highly impressive cinematic rich album of sonic pop exploration: imagine a more intense Tomat’s 01-06 June with Simon Bookish vocals.






Various   ‘The Invisible And Divided Sea’
Bearsuit Records,  1st December 2017

 

Supplying me during the year with a never-ending variety of disjointed alternative lo fi post-rock and maverick electronic music releases, Edinburgh’s inimitable Bearsuit Records has kept up their impressive momentum by sending me this latest compilation of the kooky, odd and curious: to be fair, some of the artists on this compilation are actually more conventionally brilliant, especially the opening undulated Vangelis voyager style waltz into the cosmos, Fulfilling Eclipse, a serene with moments of trepidation electronic strings traverse by the Brussels composer/producer Alexander Stordiau and one of the album’s most outstanding contributions.

Featuring both present and the odd upcoming track from the label’s expanding roster of international artists, this latest collection congruously moves between the Holger Czukay like chanteuse jazz meets chaotic shouting hysteria of Tous Les Rochers by the mysterious Yponomeutaneko, and the spooky shoegaze ephemeral Julee Cruise-esque swooned Le Sablier, by the Boston electronic composer Petridisch – both of which get to submit two tracks, and both of which have a certain penchant for the French language.

Though every contribution has its merits, some are more dysfunctional than others, some interesting and pushing boundaries. Just out and out weird however, the wax cylinder sounding oomph band on the trail of the lonesome pine, comically voiced missive from some scratchy old western movie, World Travel Of The Piano Tuner, and concertinaed, bellowed, childish Wednesday (January 1992), both by the Japanese folky pop artist Shinnosuke Sugata, are utterly dotty and bewildering, if quaint. Joining them in the almost impossible to categorize ‘out there’ stakes is the avant-garde cut-up workshop The Ha-Happy App derangements of the Scottish and Japanese duo Kirameki.

Social worker by day, channeling his Talking heads eaten up and spat out in tetchy, scratchy spitball of cuckoo Clanger sounds and post-rock by Deerhoof, the Hamburg musician Martin Pozdrowicz, under his PoProPo alter ego, adds rhythm to his strange inventive Freakshow-Dance 2. Elsewhere label stalwarts The Moth Poets see who comes off worse in their musical battle between Jeff Mills and St.Vincent on the crushed indie curio The Shabby Gentlemen, the Edinburgh duo Ageing Children stalk and limber through hip-hop, and PiL style post-punk on the broody industrial beat shuffling Sick Puppy – a teaser/taster track from their, as yet untitled, upcoming new release, due in 2018 -, and Evan O’Malley, donning the Martian Subculture moniker, languidly broadcasts a tripsy soft bulletin from the lunar surface on his yearned space psych ode Chewing Gum.

Bringing a certain calm, float-y and softly played final breath of serenity to the collection, Glasgow based musician Chas ‘Annie’ Kinnis contributes a sort of twinkled lullaby, his peaceable Annie & The Station Orchestra Song For The Invalid Drivers represented by a most dreamy tranquil Ullapul remix. It is a befitting end to a compilation of such extremes: the psychedelic to trip-hop, ambient to orchestral, from the avant-garde to cosmic. Bearsuit continue to surprise; attracting some of the most strange and experimental of music makers, and confounding (in a good way) with every release.






Various   ‘Post:Soc’
Compiled and distributed by the Submarine Broadcasting Co,  out now

 

A convenient segue way exists between this compilation and Bearsuit Records; this latest altruistic (all proceeds going to the DePaul International Group for homeless charities) project from the Submarine Broadcasting Company features a number of artists from the Edinburgh label, including Bunny And The Invalid Singers and Kirameki. It is a congruous partner to The Invisible & Divided Sea on many levels, sharing with it a similar sense of experiment with a roster of equally obscure, mysterious and lo fi composers and artists.

Responsible for the Syrian Relief compilation One-String Inspiration, the enabler curators behind the Post:Soc behemoth (30 tracks with a second overspill type volume moiety, Post:Script also available) have once again made the call for submissions, asking for sonic interpretations and evocations of a post-everything society: post-Trump, post-truth, post-factual, post-Brexit, post-postmodern, post-isms even, you name it someone’s been inspired or enraged by it. The only perimeter that were set, and which are breached countless times, is that each track should try to not overrun a six-minute set duration. Other than that it seems a free-for-all.

As you’d expect, the hysterical age in which we live is hardly the stuff of uplifting, happy-go-lucky paeans and celebrations – unless you did vote for Brexit, May, Trump or Catalonian Independence, in which case your views won’t be articulated here – for most artists on the left. And so this collection seethes with either self-pitying contempt (Bridget Wishart & Everling’s dystopian augur Yesterday’s Future) or less obvious ominous and haunting ambient peregrinations (at least a third of the contributions fall into this bracket, from the paranormal organ of Mean Flow’s Post-Necropsy Society to the trance-y Mogwai barren post-rock of Martin Neubold’s Music For A Post-Intolerant Society – ouch with the title!).

As the defining decision of recent times in Britain, Brexit cops its fair share of plaintive dower melancholy and protest. It even gets its own atmospherically ice-y-vaporous Post-Ambient suite, courtesy of Playman 54.

Elsewhere the caps locked SOLILOQUA dredges back up those fatuous images of the David Cameron #piggate affair, with the moody techno Lipstick On The Pig; Anata Wa Sukkari & Tsukarete Shimai offer up a shoegazing and glitchy fuzzy eulogy, Post-Mortem; the Crayon Angels sing a quaint disarming folksy lullaby about a metaphorical Insect Bite (the sort of veiled tsetse fly poison that encourages ignorance); and Ian Haygreen posing the understated We Live In Interesting Times surmise, merges Revolution 9 with Scott Walker and trip-hop.

Mostly instrumental, and with that ambient, Post:Soc offers a full gamut of moods and explorations, evocations and sad meditations on the present state of affairs. It promises both the peaceful and doom inducing, and goes some way to offering a musical soundtrack to what may yet be the end times!






Fela Kuti   ‘Vinyl Box Set #4: Curated By Erykah Badu’
Knitting Factory,  15th December 2017

 

Despite it being a good few years since Knitting Factory and a host of other labels and ventures began a schedule of Fela Kuti evangelism, Fela fever is still alive going strong. There’s already been a celebratory run of events, from theatre production to cover albums, festivals and of course the remaster repackaging of every album Nigeria’s favourite son recorded, but going forward into 2018, there will also be a number of events commemorating what would have been Kuti’s 80th birthday.

One of the many Kuti evaluations, the Knitting Factory’s ‘curated series’ of box sets has reached its fourth edition. Previous editions have featured Questlove, Ginger Baker and Brian Eno choosing personal favourites from Kuti’s extensive back catalogue of 50 plus albums. Lavishly packaged with both original artwork, essays from the curators and experts alike – including Afrobeat historian Chris May – unseen photos, lyrics and of course remastered/restored versions of the original tracks, these deluxe box sets offer, what surely must be by now, the final word: the ultimate collection as it were.

Lending her sagacious ear and fiery ‘no-shit’ defiant attitude to this latest edition, rebel, actress, activist, Grammy Award winning polymath Erykah Badu picks albums from Kuti’s most elegiac, despondently enraged and also clarion calls for a united Africa periods.

A fierce critic, martyr at times, of Nigeria’s successive corruptible governments and elites – from the decade-long military rule that followed the country’s Biafra Civil War in 1969, to the miscreants that took office in the aftermath – politics defined Kuti’s music: the two were inseparable. Even though the music remained sizzling, funky and bright after years, nee decades of fighting the system – with relatives bearing the brunt of establishment attacks – Kuti’s protestations remained fierce if softened in part by the scintillating, sauntering Afrobeat rhythm and effortless candour of the musicianship.





Coffin For Head Of State, one of the seven albums chosen by Badu, was perhaps his saddest statement. Released at the beginning of a new decade of hope, the two-part remembrance service condemns those involved in the fateful events that led to the death of his mother, Funmilayo. A raid on Kuti’s infamous compound, the Kalakuta Republic, in 1977 saw soldiers threw Funmilayo out of a second floor window. And though she wouldn’t die until later, the injuries sustained at the time of this assault contributed to medical complications and her death. In a bold act of defiance, Kuti, family and followers carried her coffin to the army barracks entrance, petitioning for Funmilayo to assume the position of President of Nigeria. Despite the somber mood the music that it inspired, though of course noticeably pinning with elegiac mantras, is understated, sweet and also infectiously funky.

‘The Black President’, a name synonymous with Kuti’s stature and unofficial role as the alternative, countercultural candidate of choice for presidency might have happened if he’d run for office. The denouncement, vilification platform of V.I.P. (or Vagabonds In Power) could be read as a quasi-opening to a political campaign, this live album recorded at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1978 featured the man-who-could-be-president addressing a European audience, delivering a scathing attack on Nigeria’s ruling classes whilst calling for a better understanding of African culture to a customary shuffling Afrobeat and jazz accompaniment. Rumours abound that the proceeds from the show would go towards his presidential campaign. This didn’t exactly go down well with his beleaguered band. The increasingly disgruntled legendary Afrika ‘70 fell out with their bandleader over money and split; V.I.P. being the last album they recorded together.





In a chronological order, the golden Kuti period of the 70s – though he’d of course carry on making records into the 1990s, and only stopped a few years before his death in 1997 – is represented on this box set of Badu choices by the preaching condemnation, gospel dabs electric organ, female chorus, saw wailing jazzy funk of Yellow Fever – a reference to the dubious, dangerous skin-bleaching chemicals used to whiten complexions, though it gave off a more jaundiced, ill skin tone, hence the album title -; the Lester Bowie – of the jazz godfathers of avant-garde, the Art Ensemble Of Chicago – starring trumpet trills and spiraling, simmering soul rich No Agreement; and the ‘Live at the Kalakuta Republic’ recorded sumptuous, hand drum rattling Johnny Just Drop.

With a new incarnation of his backing group, Afrika ’80, denoting a new decade, Kuti’s relaxed entrancing but bright Army Arrangement protestation featured a soulful Kuti sticking it once again to the powers that be – by now, and even with a large oil wealth at their disposal and the end of military rule Nigeria was every bit as corrupt, stifling and quick to denounce, eradicate descent; Kuti was himself trumped up on dubious charges and thrown in prison during Muhammadu Buhari’s short reign as head of state in the mid 80s. Even later into the 90s, with Kuti being accused of taking part in a murder and facing ill health, the final album in this survey, Underground System, keeps up the antagonism, repeating accusations of ‘thievery’ to a busy tight, piano spotting groove on part one, and aping (literally) the derogatory language of the racist colonial masters (“give me banana”, “jump like a monkey”) on the probing, horn lingering breakbeat second installment. If anything this ’92 album was every bit as good as his more popular 70s material.

Keeping it Afrocentric, even when abroad, Kuti’s most repeated mantras of unity, pride and a return to the roots and atavistic values of pre-colonial African continent are echoed in Badu’s own work. But as Badu explains, it’s the “effortless” candour she so loves: “IT’S SO GOOD that there is NO way he gave it any thought. With Fela, it seems to just have spilled right out of him.”

Badu goes on to pontificate with passion that she was also attracted to the connectivity and the “pure honesty” that Kuti delivered in abundance. Her final words recommend setting up the right listening experience atmosphere: “listen to these tracks, preferably with a nice blunt…with a nice slow burn.”

Whether you take up that preferred choice or recreational enjoyment or not, Badu’s selection is not the most powerful Afrobeat frenzy of ‘deluxe box sets’, but possibly the most leisurely, meditative and rich one.






Hamad Kalkaba And The Golden Sounds  ‘1974 – 1975’
Analog Africa,  8th December 2017

 

Purveyors of Africa’s finest and explosive forgotten treasures, Analog Africa can always be relied upon to dig up some fascinating musical discoveries. Continuing to shed light on Cameroon’s rich history of mostly obscure and passed-over marvels, the German-based label follows up this summer’s eye-opening Pop Makossa ‘invasive dance beat’ compilation with the collected singles of Gandjal sauntering maverick Hamad Kalkaba and his Golden Sounds backing group.

Hamad’s entire recorded oeuvre stretched to just three, hard to source, singles; all released over a twelve-month period in the mid 70s – hence the title. So this is quite an obscure compendium, and as Analog Africa’s Samy Ben Redjeb reminisces in the compilation’s liner notes, chanced upon by complete accident. The initial 7-inch that kick started this project was found in a record store in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde; a transfixed Samy, by now the expert crate digger, sniffed out the goods, playing what would turn out to be Hamad’s Gandjal Kessoum/Toufle single on repeat. A chain of events led to him eventually tracking down the fabled original second and third singles – one of which took six years to find –, copies of which (and here’s a result) had lain dormant unplayed and untouched.

Part of the attraction of these finds were the picture covers that housed them: vividly scared down both sides of his face by tribal markings, Hamad’s gaze is as serious looking as it is cool. Born into the Musgum culture and heritage of northern Cameroon, squeezed between Chad to the east and Nigeria to the west, Hamad scored into his face the tribe’s vertical marks as a young boy. Promoting those traditions and the homegrown Gandjal rhythm in what would turn out to be a brief musical career, Hamad put out a trio of scintillating, shuffling singles, all backed by The Golden Sounds.

Following one of the other Musgum legacies, he would pretty much turn his back on that most fleeting of musical careers to join the army and to thrive as an athlete: when Samy tracked him down he found Hamad was not only a retired colonel but the current President of The Confederation Of African Athletics. Though enthusiastic about the idea of this collection, he was initially dismissive of his youthful dalliances as a singer. Yet the sentiment and drive were commendable, and the music, as you will hear, was both entrancing and relaxingly swinging.

The A-sides and B-sides have been separated and mixed up on this six track compilation, so the slinky, snake charming, bendy opener Astadjam Dada Sare, originally found on the third single release called Nord Cameroon Rhythms, is followed by one side of the initial single that set this collection in motion, the sweetly laced, swaddling horns and languid saxophone dappled Toufle. Hamad’s vocals are either relaxed in a sort of veneration – no doubt emphasized by the equally religious toned organ – style of prayer (Fouh Sei Allah) or more dynamically charged, on the cusp of a Stax showman, shouty and lively (Lamido).

Cooking up a funk and soulful stew, at times sending the needles into the red and distorting, Hamad and his troupe don’t so much blast or hurtle towards the thrills, lifts and breaks as amble: A band in no hurry to arrive at their destination.

 

It’s a shame Hamad didn’t stick it out, as these few but illuminating, sauntering Gandjal heavy tracks and dancefloor shufflers prove he had plenty of potential and talent. Released in the run-up to Christmas, this little collection will warm up the winter freeze and transport you to far sunnier climates. Analog Africa end the years as they started it with another essential showcase from Africa’s mostly ignored and forgotten musical past.



MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL MONTHLY HIP-HOP ROUNDUP





Singles/EPs

With Rapture & Verse writing letters to Santa asking for Record Store Day specials from Prodigy, Dilla, Three6Mafia, Latyrx and a not-safe-for-turntables Christmas ice breaker from Kool Keith, the long held preconception that bad boys move in silence proves to be nothing but fake news. To the tune of stink-eye jazz, a warning shot causing whiplash is Ocean Wisdom maintaining ‘Eye Contact’, flowing comfortably before reaching his trademark warp speed without loss of clarity. Fresh hell from Onoe Caponoe unsheathes a similar typhoon tongue, taking the form of ‘Pennywize’ to a trap hammer horror thrown under the bus with the kitchen sink. Res One’s clinical and dangerous ‘Preach Nothing’ ensures you’ll burn in hell, Vicious Creep producing a funeral hymn remembering a Wild West shoot out. Beads jangling, consider the bird well and truly flipped when Dabbla goes ‘Flying’ – only first class, of course. Even the proper Professor Elemental is sent into a tailspin when James Flamestar turns ‘Knock Knock’ into a sub-EDM battering ram.





Bring your bludgeoned ears to the house of Handbook, who’ll look after you (and many an emcee) with the soulfully strong instrumentals ‘Holding You’/’Nightlife’. MrE simmers down and lights up with ‘Fairy Tale’, a well executed storyteller twisting bedtime favourites and fables into a pointed Bronx lullaby. But if you’re sitting comfortably to Beatnick Dee & Allen Poe’s ‘Composure’ EP, the LA-Kentucky match-up will pull the seat from under you, soulful for body and brain, with a conscience prepared to do double shifts. Fearing the worst when a club track called ‘Opulence’ with a poolside sleeve is cued, K Gaines leads the flashy set a merry dance with funk and flow setting and nailing simple targets.

One of Sage Francis’ signature fact-finding devastations gets a re-up, ‘Hoofprints in the Sand’ remixed by SonOfKarl as homely calm tries to keep the wolves from the door. Coating bar after bar in blood, KXNG Crooked & Royce 5’9” dispense ‘Truth’, ruthlessly bursting the bubble of bleary trap whose race sounds run. One of DJ Premier’s back pocket boom bappers gets A$AP Ferg to reclaim ‘Our Streets’, a nice beats and rhymes combination operating at about 75% and still eliminating imitators and New York naysayers in their droves. Another DOOM special team – metal-faced sagging meeting the street-carbonated Westside Gunn – comes more underground than a mole’s metro system, on the picture disc payday ‘Gorilla Monsoon’/‘2 Stings’.






Albums

Cappo, Juga-Naut and Vandal Savage power up again as valued vehicle of vengeance VVV, using the pointed end of the dunce cap to gut opposition on ‘Bozo Boyz’. Wearing Nottingham swagbasco like its rockstar cologne, the trio take apart prowling club beats powered by the high beams of an 80s sportscar, a wink and a nod helping slice through lingering gunsmoke.





Reading last rites on ‘2000BD’, Babylon Dead are the governing body of Illinformed, in bedevilled form on the boards, and Jman, riding dirty with ragga rawness on the mic. An uncompromising last days scorch that can you make jump and shout as much as sending you cowering to the corner. The ever bloodshot Bisk and his supply of dropped out hip-hop continues unabated, the typically fitful ‘Fly Sh!t’ and his affiliation of anything but tranquil tranquilizers, Morriarchi, Lee Scott, Sam Zircon and Drae da Skimask, dealing in lo-fi at extreme pressure. Back for seconds, DJ Format and Abdominal adjust the napkin for ‘Still Hungry: The Remixes’, eight extra courses of funkiness that you don’t even have to tip the dynamic duo for.





We’ve all thought it – Armand van Helden and Jan Hammer would make a toothpaste-selling dream team. For now, it’s Armand Hammer leaving Chelsea smiles, New York duo Elucid and Billy Woods heading to ‘Rome’ as underground gladiators whose coat of arms reads “I’m the solution, I’m the condition, I’m a symptom”. Dense, sprawling heat, headed by Messiah Musik and August Fanon on some press-record-and-go business, ‘Rome’ becomes a coliseum-sized battle when reality and ill illusions converge.

The dapper delights of L’Orange’s ‘The Ordinary Man’, instrumental top hat and tails with the creases kept in, create an evocative performance capturing in black and white a concerto producer forming his own magic circle. Right hand men drop in on the mic – Blu, Elzhi, Del, Oddisee – to flank a fantastic sample archive wearing a slightly world-weary pose, from a producer whose trick-from-sleeve ratio remains visionary.





Bringing bangers from the Balkans to Boston, Mr Lif runs with Brass Menažeri for an album of oompah-pa power. ‘Resilient’ sees Lif’s customary nose for a cautionary tale and willingness to occupy outside space, woven to a backdrop of massive horns and cosmopolitan live musicianship let off the leash. Hearty but no novelty, the odd couple/fantasy lineup raises smiles and earns respect.

D4rksid3’s ‘The Dark Tape’ is an envoy of gloom, but slick with it, nestling in hip-hop’s recesses but keeping it moving and able to scoop victory from the jaws of defeat. What starts as groggy gangsterism sparks into life when Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs strike gold in uncovering ‘Gems from the Equinox’, a shady, honour-shattering set that with Roc Marciano Action Bronson, Conway, and Mr MFN eXquire in tow, gets into the groove of steam rollering suckers stoopid. Music to out-train Rocky to, Stoneface’s ‘The Stone Age’ runs strictly on rugged terrain on his way to affirmation, quiet storms dive-bombing off clifftops. Do not listen if you’re not up for the fight.



“Boom bap be the music of choice, baritone be the range of the voice”: on an album called ‘Back to the Basics (The Boom Bap)’, the demands of LS Camp are pretty plain. Defenders of the faith who sail smoothly through beats and rhymes, without viewing the world through rose (or golden) tinted glasses. Talking of smooth, Blu & Exile’s ‘In The Beginning: Before the Heavens’ is a prequel talking a lot of sense as it sits atop its predecessor like California cream on top of flavourful pie.

 

Mixtapes

Accomplished enough to be an album in its own right, Sampa the Great’s ‘Birds and The Bee9’ brings to mind the best of Bahamadia. As much as a relaxant as a pricker of ears, global vibes and soulful, gossamer licks consistently dropping shamanic B-girl jewels, confirm one-to-watch status. Chris Read reruns the fun of The Pharcyde’s ‘Bizarre Ride II…’ with a 25th anniversary mix giving you 48 minutes of all the band’s celebrated, accelerated funk and foibles, plus the finger food in between.



On this week’s Gogglebox: Chester P’s premonitions, Rye Shabby’s hometown tour, and Rapsody’s ascension.










Look out for Rapture & Verse’s picks of the year in Monolith Cocktail’s comprehensive 2017 round up, coming soon.


REVIEWS ROUNDUP 
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Right, quick as you like, look lively. We have a lot to get through this month.

Part catch-up and partly featuring releases to come, the latest TOF review includes the latest poetically alluring and chorister evocations suite, Circuits, by Rowan Coupland; a new mix of electronic music and Curaçao traditions, colliding in a sonic explosive protest, from the Amsterdam-based Kuenta i Tambú; an esoteric and spooky seasonal EP of curios, Little Legs For Little Eggs, from the mysterious Quimper; strange cartoon Moog soundtracks and space japes from the late Guatemala electronic composer Emilio Aparicio; a collection of lost recordings from the bucolic and fuzz psych Swedish trio Cymbeline; the Anglo-German experimental triumvirate of Anne Müller, Sebastian Reynolds & Alex Stolze, with their first collective album of neo-classical and ambient performances, Part One; and form the Edinburgh-based sonic experimentalist Reverse Engineer a stunning low key album of transitional electronica and field recordings, Elusive Geometry.

I also have singles and EPs from pianist and troubadour extraordinaire John Howard, releasing his cover of Nick Drakes diaphanous From The Morning; the latest track, Mastakink, with accompanying remixes, from the cerebral electronic duo Room of Wires; and the debut EP of thrashing indie and new wave rock from Oxford’s Easter Island Statues, Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?.

Read on…



Kuenta i Tambú  ‘Rais’
Buchi Records,  15th November 2017

Fired-up and blazing out of Amsterdam, the Dutch-based (‘major leaguers’) Kuenta i Tambú, with their collision of dance music and Afro-Caribbean hard-hitting sonic triggers and attacks, make an explosive impression with their latest global beat travailing Rais album. Apparently attempts have already been made to frame this force of nature with a coherent or trendy tag: ‘new sound global bass’ and ‘tambútronic’ being the frontrunners, the former a bit clumsy, the latter more catchy and closer to the truth.

Built around the Dutch-Caribbean island musical traditions of the group’s founder Roël Calister, a native of Curaçao, the group uses the indigenous Papiamento language and dialect of that island not only for their moniker, which translates as ‘Tales and Drums’, but the title too, which means ‘Roots’: The ‘Tambú’ part of that band name also refers to a particular Curaçao style of dance and music, named after the drums that accompany it. You can hear those traditional hand drums pummeling away throughout this exuberant, restless but directed chaos of strutting synthesizer betas and earthy echoes of the ancestors.

Transfusing the signature sounds, from reggae to dancehall, with a dose of Major Lazer and MIA, Calister and his troupe pays certain homage to those ‘roots’, energizing and keeping ‘alive’ the sound of that southern Caribbean island –name checking notable Curaçao artists such as his sister Izaline Calister, Grupo Issoco and Elia Isenia – whilst blasting it forward into a polygenesis futuristic fusion.

Amplifying into a twerking, booty-shaking voodoo summoning bombast of rapping, spitting and soul-with-attitude vocal led charges, traditions come alive; those tribal atavistic themes entwined with the galloping urgency and incessant vibrations of dancefloor protest. A call-to-arms in one sense with its fierce shouts, laser strafing and pneumatic drilling bass, Kuenta i Tambú sound like a tropical island Die Antwoord, at other times, especially on the bottle-tapping and hand drum blitz Roll like the Ghana’s King Ayisoba.

Truly omnivorous the group throw Bhangra, R&B, Techno and Samba carnival saunters into a mix of swaggering male vocals, a local children’s choir and the equally ferocious, though also sultry and lulling, voice of Diamanta Kock. Recording half the album on Curaçao itself, soaking up the atmosphere, Kuenta i Tambú’s lively fervor propels the local culture forward into the 21st century with a spirited, even rebellious injection of loops, effects and colliding rhythms. In the words of the group, they are, in a manner, more “like a Caribbean punk band”, going “harder and harder, louder and louder!” Rais proves a perfect testament to that.







 

Rowan Coupland   ‘Circuit’ (Album and Illustrated Book)
27th October 2017

It’s the voice of course that draws you in: that ability to convey deep, though eloquently lights, descriptions so effortlessly whilst trilling and cooing between the role of chorister and Medieval bard, countercultural folk troubadour and earnest poet. The highly capable Rowan Coupland lets the words tumble and fall with great care, even when he packs those articulate observations into a cramped bar or two, as he does on occasion almost without taking a breathe, his diction natural and unhurried.

Difficult to define in an era in which artists can easily cross boundaries and take inspiration from anyone, Coupland’s voice is rich with both traditional and modern influences. Some of which are merely aspirational, whereas others colour each and every line. Indebted to the relatively obscure though highly influential 60s/70s English folk singer/songwriter Anne Briggs, who’s list of followers and admirers is both lengthy and legendary (Bert Jansch and Sandy Denny for starters), and the starry folklore of Shirley Collins (The Power Of True Love Knot for sure) there’s also mentions of the powerful atmospheric bowed and quivered music partnership of Richard Dawson and Rhodri Davies, and similar tremulous waning violin work of John Cale on this most impressive songbook. In the modern camp, echoes of I Poo Clouds, Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley waft through the undercurrents.

Expanding his repertoire and progressing forward gaining more experience and skills, Coupland has gone from a formative home-recording artist and Brighton scenester to polygenesis singer/songwriter/composer. Moving from his native Bath to Berlin in 2010, Coupland’s global travelogues – touring Canada and Europe – are enriched by his numerous collaborations, many of which relate again to the past: including the renaissance madrigal group Garland Hearse, folk singer Mary Hampton and the Vancouver gamelan orchestra, Gamelan Gita Asmara.

In fact modernity seems somehow out of place in the beautifully doleful geography of Circuit. A wistful, uneasy balance exists then between age-old sentiment and scenery and the encroachment of technology: the poetically endeared ephemeral observations of a scenic bicycle ride, the spell of which is interrupted by mono-crackled noise emanating from the mobile phone of a passing jogger, to the metaphorical lamentable changing facades of a community, encapsulated in the ebb and flow of one transient culture replacing a more entrenched one; a history of displaced people taking root from another time (“burnt out synagogues”) replaced by one of “internet cafes” and “late night casinos”.

On the weary chamber weepy The Canadian Whole Earth Almanack, which includes a diaphanous classical piano guest spot from Sr. Charli, Coupland waxes lyrical about legacy: both his own and that of mother natures. Meandering through a geologically descriptive rich terra firma, dotted with Arthurian like references to a poisoned chalice nee cup and his own mortal fate, he offers up the old adage that “You can’t take out what you didn’t put in.” Indeed.

Imbued with a sense of the ancestral, with vague evocations to a variety of mixed-up chapters and atmospheres from across the ages, Circuit’s moody but always gently majestically played accompaniment also has a timeless quality. So it comes as no surprise that parts of the album were recorded in the hallow sanctity of an ancient church, in the Brandenburg village of Grüneburg. You can hear Coupland tapping into those venerable surroundings on the sorrowful, Medieval echoed suite, Opening.

The landscape and architecture of the main recording location, in and around the artist’s Berlin home, can be felt too; the language, music and expressions evoking the beauty and isolation of the central northern belt of Europe and the Flemish countryside, framing songs such as Frozen River in the snowy Bavarian expenses like a Pieter Bruegel the Elder painting.

Though recorded in fact in the summer, there are countless references and a prevailing mood of winter, the wilderness and harsh but breathtaking panoramas of Coupland’s other topographical inspiration, Canada.

Saving perhaps the best until last, the less morbidly curious and more pep in his step version of Leonard Cohen (another tie to the Canadian landscape, albeit a cultural one) tiptoeing finale Puzzle Pieces is an inquisitive wondering and plaintive curtain call; lightly and gently stirring, Coupland doles out some great lines on this classically theatrical star turn: “I cried like a child on the day we left, I cried the same again on a day to forget. I cried like the sound of upturned teacups, like fallen turrets of conversations out of earshot.”

Circuit is an ambitious suite (an accompanying book of illustrations by Vancouver-based artist Eva Dominelli expands upon and adds an extra interpretative layer of meta to Coupland’s concepts) that showcases Rowan Coupland at his best and most intelligent, both lyrically and musically. This is a most rewarding and impressive album.







Room Of Wires  ‘Mastakink’
30th October 2017

Featured a few months back in one of my last round-ups, and on the last Quarterly Revue playlist, the Room Of Wires duo impressed with their sophisticated amalgamation of cerebral techno, dark beats and corrosive mind and outer body soundtracks rich Black Medicine EP. Little is known, or at least volunteered, information wise about this cloaked in mystery duo; only that they work apart in isolation, in different locations. Whatever the methodology: it works. And works well.

Their latest bandcamp release, Mastakink, is a single and trio of remixes: each one varying in abstraction and intensity. The original version is a hollowed-out sonar rotating dance track of unidentified voices, expanding chrome machinery, ascending and descending tetchy techno and dubstep beats and blips. MTCH’s transmogrification, imbued with a hint of acid, bit-crushing, rebounding warping Aphex Twin, is first up and stretches the effects with a breakdown of alien interference. However, Vlnc Drks applies a mistier, veiled cosmic trance treatment; adding slithery reel-to-reel – almost slithering off the tape spools – sounds, a sort of quasi-UNCLE like slower beat breakdown and laser quest zaps.

Wolf Asylum goes all out with a cacophony of speed-shifting effects, busy kinetic beats, and rapid breakbeat drums. Reshaping the original and having fun at the same time by the sounds of it, the Wolf’s remix sounds like a missing Polygon Window track.

They used to call this sort of beats programming, or something very similar, ‘intelligent techno’ back in the nineties; a term that quickly lost its original elevation for pretension. Yet it does prove a handy if glib label for the sophistication of this and many of the duo’s output. And that should be taken as a compliment.







Quimper   ‘Little Legs For Little Eggs’
14th October 2017

It comes as no surprise to find the mysterious maverick duo that is Quimper paying a near nonsensical homage to one of the Surrealists – and for that matter the German titan of late twentieth century conceptual mayhem, Martin Kippenberger – favorite symbols, the egg, on the latest in a series of curio EPs.

Their third such collection of 2017, Little Legs For Little Eggs, errs towards the haunted with its vaporous, mumbled and wafting esoteric siren call and undulating foggy horror schlock synth.

Released in time for Halloween, Jodie Lowther relays her vocals from beyond the ether; her musical foil John Vertigen, in the role of spiritualist, channeling those ethereal coos and nursery rhyme coquettish voices via the Ouija board.

Ominous though as it may sound, these little eggs and spooky shtick companions are often whimsical; the shocks, such as the black cat tip-toeing over a grave spine-tingling notes, aria like ghostly calls and ectoplasm dripping atmospherics are more in keeping with the Belbury Poly and The Advisory Circle than the wrenching doom and harrowing bestial augurs of Scott Walker and such Fortean Times ghost hunters as the Crow Versus Crow label.

Information, such as it is, remains scant, but the former Soft Bodies Record instigators, Lowther and Vertigen, offer a smattering of influential references” Lynch and Broadcast being two of the most obvious from a list that also includes The Associates – the closest they come to that is on the Eastern-tinged strange opener, Thomas Egg Has Little Legs, which channels Billy Mackenzie through Coil. Lynch creeps from the gloom, his presence just hanging there, on the Carpathian choir, ring modulating Halloween treat Shrike, whilst the much fated Broadcast influence can be heard throughout the rest of the EP’s trio of lilting spooky visages. However, there’s a strong whiff of the grand doyen of 70s and 80s horror soundtracks, John Carpenter, on the miasma heartbeat drum throbs Cut Below The Knee, which pairs the composer with a miserable, malcontent version of Clannad.

Difficult to frame or pin down, Quimper’s strange traverses are translucent, untethered and evanescent, threatening to float away or evaporate on touch. Little Legs For Little Eggs is part avant-garde chanson, part witchery synth and completely weird.







Cymbeline   ‘1965 – 1971’
Guerssen,  16th November 2017
Emilio Aparicio Moog   ‘Expansión Galáctica’
Mental Experience,  16th November 2017

 

Proving themselves a regular provider of the forgotten (sometimes for a good reason) and weirdly kitsch, Spanish vessel Guerssen has surprised as much as amused me with their busy 2017 release schedule. From thrift shop mid 80s garage to Franco era holiday resort disco flamenco, the crate-digging enthusiasts have resuscitated some astounding eclectic deadbeats, mavericks and, occasionally, pioneers from their metaphorical deathbeds of obscurity.

From the latest batch, all released during the next two weeks, I’ve picked out the primordial and Kosmische koolaid electronic nonsense 70s recordings of Emilio Aparicio (released through Mental Experience, and fed through the Guerssen promotion hub) and the, as it happens, pretty decent 60s/70s psych, bucolic folk home recordings of the Swedish trio Cymbeline to chew over. Though there is a bounty of odd and strange compilations also worth checking out.

Guatemala seems both the most unlikely and obvious fertile environment to find an odd burbling Bruce Haack like Moog classic. Seldom making headlines, for better or worse, the Central American country – part of the umbilical shaped cord that tethers the North and South American continents together – shared a common revolutionary zeal with its Latin neighbours. Simultaneously enjoying an economic boom whilst the local branches of the Revolutionary Movement fought a guerilla war, Guatemala’s youth, well some of them, tuned into America’s counterculture. With ties to a fortune, or at least a family of drinks maker industrialists, Emilio Aparicio, under the patronage of fellow compatriot, the painter and producer Roberto Abularach, created some of the country’s most curious electronic music compositions and exotic flights of fantasy. Lucky enough to have Abularach sipping from the same magic cup, – both, along with a number of Guatemala bohemians and ‘heads’, indulged themselves with copious amounts of LSD and Datura in the lead up to these recordings – the producer on his return from a trip to New York in 1969, where he met Robert Moog himself, brought back home two of the newly-fangled analogue synthesizers, one of which he presented to Aparicio as a gift.



After two years of stimulant induced experimentation, and released staggered over just a month-long window, the resulting Moog recordings were far too loony, zany and futuristically strange for the Guatemalan market. And so, pressed privately as a series of 45” records, some given away as part of a drink’s promotion for that family connection’s business (in exchange for four corks of the local brew), these oddities have remained stored away and mostly unheard: none of them ever making the record stores.

Long forgotten, copies so scarce that it took this compilation’s architect, Ruffy Tint (of Discodelic) some serious excavation work amongst the rat dung and dusty grotty basement of a rock-o-la machines distributor in the Guatemalan city of Quetzaltenango to find the missing and complete set of Aparicio recordings that make up Expansión Galáctica (no translation needed).

Undulating between transmogrified library music and a Latin variant of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, these curios range in cosmic kitsch influences; from primordial Joe Meek crouched in a moist subterranean space vault to bubbly candy Zuckerzeit period Cluster. The two finds that initiated this collection, Brujería and Transfiguración del Iniciado pitch the ritualistic and bewitching in an acid-dandy vision of Hanna-Barbera haunted house spell casting, the first of which conjures up a misty spooky soup of babbling, trips-y beats and yawning silly gaping cries from the dungeon, the second, more serious but no less kitsch saunters towards the altar of some cultish brethren.

Goggle-eyed bossa nova wobbles, warbles and bleeps permeate the Moog modulated scenery of a space chasm Sputnik era version of space. And for the most part it seems quite quaint. As an exotic example of Moog performed exotica and weirdness, the late Aparicio’s recordings could be considered a rare missing link in electronic music. The travails of saving these obscure quirks has been worth the effort, and in a small way brought attention to a scene few had ever even heard of. Just don’t get too excited about it; Guatemala’s part is a footnote not a game changer.





Meanwhile back on European soil, the equally obscure Swedish trio Cymbeline were, in-between their respectful gigs for a host of Scandinavian beat groups, producing a variety of recordings during the 60s, which would remain mostly unheard as demos and home recordings collecting dust, until forty years later. Laid dormant until founding member, the former lead guitarist of The Rovers, Michael Journath retrieved them from the loft and begun digitizing and uploading to Youtube, these increasingly – as the years went on during the band’s six-year history – professional recordings and extemporized experiments came to the attention of the Guerssen label, who quickly realized they’d found some gems.

Mostly recorded at the home of the group’s co-founder Anders Weyde (another lead guitarist, notably with Swede outfit The Scarlet Ribbons), this mix and match of styles, quality and line-ups follows the trajectory of a band finding its sound over one of the most changeable, rich periods of music development in history. Originally formed out of a yearning to write and perform their own material in 1965, bored with covers, Journath and Weyde along with old classmate Lars Hygrell, holed-up in the home studio, began aping the Rolling Stones and skulking moody garage rock of the States on their first records, the melancholic Everly Brothers harmony Look At The Stars and lamentable bucolic, Lady Jane-like haunted, Imagination.

At the same time however they also started improvising; incorporating their surroundings, from furniture for drums to the sound of birds, an electric cocktail mixer and even a refuse chute. The results of these expansions and melodious meanders were filed at the Image title series, of which the Third, Fifth and Sixth survived and are gathered together on this collection – the latter is a re-recorded 1970 version of the original. Starting with a bass guitar line, riff or plucked classical prompt these images were allowed to wander and end-up where they may: Fifth being a sun-dappled pastoral dreamy garage psych track that wouldn’t seem to out of place on an early Tyrannosaurus Rex album, Third a hoof-footed Electric Prunes in Allan Edgar Poe mayhem, and Sixth, a Moody Blues pastoral paean to love amongst the elements, which appeared on the group’s only single as the flipside to the ’71 released New York.

As time went on and improvements were made at Weyde’s home studio, Cymbeline adopted more folksy and progressive influences, looking across to the tapestry bucolic of England and the American West Coast, and to the wah-wah psychedelic songs of Jimi Hendrix, who’s famous standard The Wind Cries Mary is covered and given a gentle, almost muffled treatment by Cymbeline. Echoes of Donavon, Buffalo Springfield and backward/forward dreamy guitar-pedal effects feature through the trio’s late 60s repertoire. Some of which is mere pastiche, others, pretty decent, including the brilliant Traffic-esque Motala Ström from ’68.

A whiff of late success beckoned when Ulf Ryberg joined the trimmed-down to a duo Cymbeline in 1970, his amiable proto-glam meets Manfred Mann style acoustic rhythm travelogue New York became the band’s only official release. Prospects for an album in ’71 saw the trio locating from the industrial town of Norrköping for the Europa Film Studios in Stockholm to record a number of demos. Supposedly channeling the feel of the band’s live performances, a couple of tracks seem to be all that remains from this period; one of which is a more urgent but still wistful fuzz and shimmering cymbal retake of an earlier Stolta Vingar, the other, the more Amon Düül II acid-prog Strax Nedanför Tornen. Unfortunately during this late surge the band split up indefinitely before an album could be finished.

Obscurity and the right to be forgotten seems an impossible option in the internet age, and so even a lost box of nuggets as this Cymbeline collection can reach an audience previously cut-off through third parties (take your pick, from labels to management and radio) or the inactions of the group itself. Just when you believe or hope there’s nothing left to drag or dig up – thinking you may have finally got a fix on the whole Scandinavian folk and psych scene of the sixties – something comes along that grabs and surprises you into reevaluating what you know. Cymbeline is another one of those ‘what ifs’, though both good enough to have certainly gone further than they did, you can also see, in a crowded market, how they could so easily be lost and passed over for the multitude of quality that defines the whole era.







Easter Island Statues   ‘Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?’
15th December 2017

Bonding over a shared passion for the music of The Pixies (plenty of that on display) and the Neutral Milk Hotel (not so much), amongst a variety of other similar bands, in 2015, the Oxford trio of Easter Island Statues Donald Campbell, James Askwith and Tom Hitch are set to release their debut EP, the five track Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?, next month.

Leading single Bow & Arrow, which has been doing the rounds recently, has already pricked the attention of 6Music’s Tom Robinson with its lively maelstrom of shimmery crashing cymbal and rapid-fire tight drums, The Walkman like angulated thrashing guitars and serenaded Mexican trumpet accompaniment. Running moodily over the downs the trio create a busy but perfectly executed slice of rambunctious Pixies via The Manics style alternative rock single bursting with energy, moodiness and elan.

In a similar vein the opener, Jousting Colours, offers little in the way of chivalry, but plenty of thrashing spiky punk and post-Britpop American rock: early Franz Ferdinand, The Buzzcocks and The Strokes to name just three.

Things get interesting with the split and changeable Little Bird/Ballerina, which runs through a number of musical changes, from Interpol style post-punk to senorita yearning brass, country and crashing indie. Holy Day is another sea change with its acoustic treatment, plucked prangs of ascending strings, funeral pyre analogies and mandolin. It’s is one of the best and most original, most mature and sophisticated tracks on the EP. The finale, Street Static, is a mix of all the influences in a way, controlled yet just as lively, with hints of R.E.M. and the same crashing, full-on alternative rock guitar riffs and crescendos as Jousting Colours and Bows & Arrows.

An impressive debut indeed from the often crashing and blasting, but thoughtful and assured trio.





The Reverse Engineer   ‘Elusive Geometry’
Floored Music,  24th November 2017

Both in the moniker by which the Edinburgh-based ‘sonic experimentalist’ Dave House is known by, and deduced from the title of his latest album, Elusive Geometry, we can view the sound-artist’s music as a restructuring of sounds and mechanics.

House unravels, strips and inverts his apparatus of field recordings and sampled instruments to reconstruct new, often mysterious and at times foreboding soundscapes; some of which recall Jon Hassell’s Fourth World Musics explorations: a trace of the Javanese or Malay can be heard like a veil hanging over the uneasy densely packed traverse of cascading crystal droplets, marimba and tubular echoed Proto, and a similar, familiar yet obscured sense of place can be heard on the bamboo shuttling Insider, which also features the bobbing and dipped percussion and tablas of sound-designer and producer Pete Vilk.

Exotic sensory concepts of reimagined ‘possible musics’ and places can also be detected in the transduced display of dreamy African plain aria, scatting, soaring and soulful vocals by the jazz vocalist Matty Eeles, on the down tempo shuffling minimalistic Metastability. Fluidly interchanging between the soothed and soaring, Eeles’ voice is manipulated until her diction become almost alien, animalistic, stripped to just vowels sounds and exhales. And whether it’s meant to or not, the glass-bottle tapping and hand drum patterned Rhythmed has an air of the Haitian about it.

A transformation of House’s themes of ‘transition, self (re)discovery and moving on’, the precise chemistry of his compositions and use of collaborators – the already mentioned Vilk and Eeles are joined by harpist Esther Swift and BAFTA award-winning cellist Atzi Murumatsu – sends these explorations off into numerous nuanced, but untethered, atmospheres. Masked looming leviathans, honked saxophone like probes, coils and springs, stone and vegetation, the odd guitar strike drift over or interweave through sophisticated minimalist beats and breaks – the most abstract and discordant drum break of which features on the hallucinatory Decoherence -, with the mood fluctuating between both controlled uncertainty and more deconstructive chaos.

The closing arched trembled cello etched and splayed crunched beat peregrination Post is a perfect example of the kind of beauty, emotion and trepidation that permeates throughout this ‘elusive geometry’. It ends with the line, “It’s so beautiful here”, which appears out of the embers of a fading strung-out breakdown, drone and melancholy dreamy ambient wave.

Fashioning his own sonic descriptions; sending us off into our own space to contemplate and picture these re-engineered imaginations, House’s photographer brother John has even created a series of limited edition prints, created in response to the music – though these are only available as part of the ‘special’ CD edition. It’s no wonder that they’ve inspired such artwork photography, those low key but expansive, often dreamy and gauze-y sonic journeys evoke all manner of emotion and narratives, both introspective and worldly. Elusive Geometry will tease out and reveal its textures and intricacies slowly, each listen drawing your attention to some other interesting interplay and sparse sound. House has in short created a brilliant album of thoughtful, moody transitions and discovery.








 

John Howard   ‘From The Morning’
John Howard Label,  1st December 2017

A signature adroit, deep piano and wise but lightly sprung vocal performance from John Howard, covering – as so many have tired before – one of England’s most tragic introverts, the late Nick Drake, on his first solo release-proper since 2016’s beautifully expansive masterpiece, Across The Door Sill (which rightly made our ‘choice albums of 2016’ features). Howard’s Waterboys style, enervated gospel organ undertone version of Drake’s original diaphanous but so obviously sorrowful From The Morning marks a subtle change in Howard’s methodology; releasing, as he will on December the 1st, this homage paean single style precursor to next year’s extended five track EP of similar inspired covers, Songs From The Morning.

A virtuoso, seldom matched, both technically and creatively – not just because he could confound or at least make it difficult to replicate his music, using as he did his own tuning methodology – the shy and fatefully mentally-anguished Drake, who took his own life at the age of 26, is an obvious muse for Howard whose own debut Goodbye Suzie, and most iconic album, Kid In A Big World, share a unique sense of isolated detachment from the music scene of the times, and were also overlooked commercially, though critically applauded.

Taken from Drake’s final album, Pink Moon, From The Morning is rendered a venerated rolling, tambourine-shaking dawn chorus by Howard; guiding the original towards an awakened brighter day.




 

Solo Collective   ‘Part One’
Nonostar Records,  10th November 2017

Gathered together in a congruous union under the Solo Collective umbrella, the Anglo-German partnership of Anne Müller, Seb Reynolds and Alex Stolze take turns in the spotlight and provide supporting roles with a cast of additional collaborators on the chamber pop meets traversing evocations suite Part One.

An interconnected triangle of familiar themes and musicality, with each musician also individually experimenting and creating their own solo pathway, in their respective field, all three artists have crossed paths and worked together previously on a variety of projects; some of which, in alternative neo-classical stripped versions, appear on this album. For instance, the original pizzicato acoustic-electronic Don’t Try To Be, from the violinist Stolze’s 2016 EP, Mankind Animal, now features Müller’s yearning emphatic cello, and is striped of its synthesizer electronics in favour of woodblock percussion and doleful low bass notes to create a more tragic and sad version.

No stranger to the Monolith Cocktail, Reynolds has been one of the most prolific polymaths to feature on the blog over the last couple of years, whether its for his work as a solo artist, producer, promoter, remixer or collaborator – which includes his recent Thai-inspired gamelan peregrination collaboration with the Neon Dance Company, Mahajanaka and Puzzle Creature. It’s as an exploratory avant-garde with classical inclinations pianist that Reynolds appears on this collective experiment however; his, depending on how you hear it innocent (if foreboding) transcendence or fear-evoking prowl of a drone looming overhead, gradually ascending and descending ambient traverse Ascension features both Müller and Stolze but also Mike Bannard. Rotating the line-up, Reynolds beatific undulating opuscule Holy Island retains both Müller’s beautifully pining presence and Bannard’s but also features Jonathan Quinn and Andrew Warne helping to perform one of the album’s most ethereal highlights.

Going ‘solo solo’, Müller, who has toured and recorded with Agnes Obel and is a regular musical foil to Nils Frahm, provides the tubular chimed expansive air Silbersee, and Stolze, a stalwart of the Berlin techno scene but also a violinist virtuoso pushing the instruments boundaries, provides the classically 18th century attuned stirring melodious meets twanged, crushing abrasive, approaching leviathans, Cell To Cell. Both also perform as a duo on the opening Philip Glass evoking elegant and quivery Solo Repeat!.

A showcase for a particularly harmonious partnership of individuals with a pan-Europa vision of collaboration and crossing sublime musical boundaries, Part One – of what I hope will be a continuing venture – proves to be a stirring neo-classical ambient collection of solo and ensemble performances; each artists sharing and pooling their obvious talents to find a common interplay and a bond to create a challenging but mostly beautiful album.





ALBUM REVIEW
WORDS: AYFER SIMMS



Miles Cooper Seaton   ‘Phases In Exile’
Ascension Hall Recordings,  10th November 2017

This music is a cinematic poetic recitation, an eloquent art object; sticking to the blurry lines of your shadow while you float through this existence, this street, this town-deserted-or this day, mundane. That dreamy music with the aura of a long lost ocean is the sound of the beyond: you will see, in a cloud, half stunt postures of people trying to deal with mourning. Their eyes wide open yet unsure of how to breathe. And while they exhale, the music pours as if descending from a kind heaven, nested in peace, cooing for drenched figures of the earth.

Miles Cooper Seaton is the ghost who reaches out, entrusting us with a sensation of hope and relief, tranquility, a loophole, mindfulness. Forgive and forget. In the morning dreamers try to get a hold of their visions, trying to catch a glimpse of that faint reality; Miles’ music is lingering too. It tinkles and echoes with a slowness. This is how the rhythm goes, lingering among a field of green, yellow barns, with an horizon of blue and grey shades, some drops sweep the face of a child who understands it all. The clamorous pearls are just from the fierce-y wind. Inside he is alright. The album is dense and tortured. Inside he is alright, the child has grown, and given us these notes.




ALBUM REVIEW
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




Various   ‘The Ultimate Guide To Welsh Folk: Compiled By Cerys Matthews’
ARC Music,  27th October 2017

A springboard introduction but nevertheless mammoth undertaking, the latest entry in a series of indigenous folk collections from the leading world music showcase label ARC, leaves no patch of land, valley, croft, mining town and backroom of Wales untouched or forgotten in its quest to encapsulate the diversity of Welsh folk music.

Familiar faces, even chart toppers, appear alongside more obscure and atavistic doyens of the genre on, what is, a most generous survey, stretched over two CDs. Following on from previous Scottish and English editions, ARC settles in for a gorgeous sounding ‘ultimate guide’ under the assured curatorship of Welsh polymath Cerys Matthews (MBE no less). Admittedly casting “with the largest net possible”, Cerys has put together a fond and occasionally divine traverse of her native pastures. Anyone who tunes into Cerys’ regular spots on 6Music will no doubt admire her knowledge and championing of fellow Welsh artists, and so it comes as no surprise to find her fronting this collection. It will also come as no surprise to find her included amongst the many luminaries, the Nashville lilted and smoky voiced rearrangement of the hymn-like Sosban Fach, taken from Cerys’ ‘most successful’ solo album Tir, a congruous and worthy addition to a compilation packed with some of the most diaphanous and moving voices in Welsh music history.

Listeners will probably recognize a fair few of the artists and songs; no doubt accustomed to the highly talented songstress Gwyneth Glyn, who I praised and featured most recently with her new solo album Tro. Glyn’s ‘love poetry’ communion collaboration of 2015, Ghazalaw, with Ghazal signing sensation Tauseef Akhtar traversed the Vales of Wales and ‘Muslim and Urdu’ enclave, merging for the first time ever the Welsh tradition to a style of ancestral singing formerly kept separate from the outside world, confined to India. A perfectly romantic and airy example of that cross-fertilization from the album, Moliannwn is a ‘children’s favorite adapted into a softened tabla rattling backed endearing paean.

Staying with contemporary choices, there’s a short but enchanting twee, Magic Roundabout-like instrumental vignette from the sibling heavy Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog (Didl-Dei); fairytale dreamy folk rock from the Welsh Avalon evoking 9Bach (Pontypridd), the trickling brooks and gallop of wild horses meets Western Sahara pulchritude collaboration between Catrin Finch and the Senegalese artist Seckou Keita (Ceffylau), and a plucked acoustic contour of the local diaphanous topography by former Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci frontman Euro Childs (Roedd hi’n nofio y bore bach).





Paying homage to Wales signature beatific harp traditions, Cerys opens the first part of this double compilation with a heavenly performance from the ‘Queen of the harp’ (no idle boast) Nansi Richards; compared no less to Jimi Hendrix for her own unique showmanship of tricks, such as playing behind her back and playing two harps at a time. Angelic indeed, Richards Pwt Ar y Bys (translates as ‘A little something for the fingers’) sounds effortless, light, almost translucent, and is a great introduction from the harp grandee: many of who’s scions and pupils appear scattered throughout this collection. As Cerys says: ‘The harp reigns supreme in Welsh folk music’. And so there is a wealth of its synonymous empyrean tones to be found, including the specialized triple harp evocations of Robin Huw Bowen, with his graceful tip-toeing Romany Gypsy Waltz, and the classical sounding pitter-patter caresses of another influential doyen and teacher of the instrument, Elinor Bennett, on Pant Corlan yr Wyn.

Another signature sound of Wales, the male voice choir, is best exemplified by the deeply moving ethereal ascendant recording Tydi a roddaist, by the North Wales miners Rhos Male Voice Choir. Cerys makes a strong case for such choirs in a compilation that celebrates folk music, tracing its roots back through the mists of time and, rightly so, comparing it to the gospel music of the American south; the voice and communion of an earnest poor community of miners, some of which braved the scars and trauma of a colliery accident the day before to proudly summon the energy and poignancy to deliver a rousing hymn.

As you might imagine there’s some competition in the vocal stakes, with both wizened and breathtaking voices seemingly commonplace; the superlatives running out by the time you reach the Cardiff marvel Heather Jones and her star Celtic turn Lisa Lãn, a most stunning vocal delivery that soars.





The width and breadth as I say is large and expansive, with international troubadours, such as the ‘Welsh Bob Dylan’ Meic Stevens (who is allowed two tracks to match his undeniable status in the Welsh music scene over the decades) sitting alongside the ‘nightingale’ trilling and shrilled eccentric singing of the local elder South Glamorgan legend Phil Tanner; the church hall recorded marching song of the Free Wales Army radical campaigner Cayo Evans alongside the Crosby, Stills and Nash country rock folk of the three-piece Cardiff act the Hennessys.

 

Over a century’s worth of Welsh icons and lesser known (but of course, no less important) local and often amateur talent, spread over a generous collection, the Ultimate Guide is both a visceral and fondly compiled survey; more or less including something from every branch of the folk genre, and even the many international fusions that have helped spread the allure of Welsh music to all four corners of the globe. Even if this compilation falls short of its mighty title boast, then it can at the very least act as an exceptional introduction for further research or immersion.


ALBUM REVIEW
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA

Vukovar   ‘Puritan’
The Brutalist House,  25th October 2017





Ah, the times in which we find ourselves. Portrayed in a maelstrom of uncertainty, anxiety and utter chaos by the collective forces of the established press and social media, and by reactionaries on all sides of the political divide: from those who envision a Marxist takeover to those losing their shit over fascistic dystopias. Fear and (self) loathing in a post-postmodernist world, all the constructs and old arguments previously, we believed, answered as democracy, and by its extension capitalism, seemed to have won out, are once more dragged to the surface.

No side in the political struggle, left or right and its various iterations however seem capable or ready to handle the personality cult leaderships (of which Corbyn’s own party could be accused) of Trump, Putin, Xi Jinping, and of course ‘supreme leader’ Kim Jong-un. They also seem almost powerless to legislate and reign-in the domineering forces of Silicon Valley, which continues, in the name of so-called progress, to manipulate and filter much of the content and media we see and hear; taking over from traditional broadcasting whilst circumnavigating any restrictions and collecting our data for their own nebulous (daresay nefarious) intentions – well perhaps it isn’t that much of a secret, we know that Facebook et al are serious about entering the political fray in one way or another, and their tweaking of the algorithms in future will certainly benefit their own held ideals and leanings.

Yet despite the cataclysmic augers and the visions of the four horsemen appearing on the horizon, history proves that the world keeps spinning through all the bullshit regardless. And so proving that age old adage that history not only keeps on turning but often repeats itself (in a manner) the malcontent romantics Vukovar remind us through their chosen moniker that only a mere twenty odd years before in the infamous Croatian city of the same name, on the EU’s own doorstep, 300 poor souls, mostly Muslims, were rounded up and barbarically executed by Serb paramilitaries and the Yugoslav Peoples Army in what remains one of the worst committed atrocities of its kind since WWII. This was of course during the Balkans implosion of the nineties that followed the defrosting of the Cold War, as the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Empire crumbled. A decade long war that eventually redrew the map of the region, demarcating for the most part, ethnic groups into their own republics and countries, with the most fought over and disputed being the NATO backed Kosovo. In a different part of the world, in the same generation, a similar genocidal persecution of a Muslim minority unfolds in Myanmar. A former darling of the West and liberals, Aung San Suu Kyi has proven to be anything but the democratic champion in the wings, having after a decades long struggle to hold office and take power away from the totalitarian military regime, turned a blind eye to the massacre of the country’s Rohingya Muslim population. Talks are ongoing, though Aung San’s constant stoicism and ‘fake news’ crowing in the face of blatant persecution doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence that the situation will improve anytime soon.

Before this review becomes an all-encompassing purview style essay of the state of affairs throughout the world and the multiple crisis we all face, I’d better stick to the catalyst of this piece and return to Vukovar.

 

Following in the tradition of their three-syllable sloganist album titles, Vukovar’s fourth LP drums home the Puritan mantra and analogies; a cleansing if you will of the status quo, a year zero, and perhaps also a return to the roots and communal deliverance of protest in music – not, I hope, the ‘puritanical’ steeple hat and buckle shoe wearing bible bashing of zealots, burning heretics at the stake, nor the bloody zeal of so many badly turned-out revolutions that end up creating just as terrible a reign of tyranny. The only fires here are the metaphorical kind; a funeral pyre of mediocrity, a bonfire of vanities, the-bland-leading-the-bland towards a conversion of raw intensity, dangerous, shamanistic performed anarchistic rock’n’roll: well I think that’s the idea.

Vukovar have their work cut out in a climate of such chaotic unreasoning, as people tend to turn towards escapism or certainty, even assurance. And so it comes as no surprise to find the creative landscape lacking in ‘danger’, new ideas, and confrontation; with much of the most fiery, interesting music coming from outside North America and Europe.

As the band’s previous album, Fornication showed, Vukovar have at least listened to many of the right bands; released at the start of the year, this amorphous, transmogrified covers style collection featured reconfigured homages to a host of iconic luminaries including David Sylvian, Coil, The Monks, The Birthday Party and Neu!. Cultish in a manner, the band’s influences and manifesto statements of propaganda intent, plus allusions to cultural regicidal and ability to shrink from publicity – even self-sabotage any signs of success or promotion – suggests a band that takes itself very seriously.

Yet even with countless references to history’s outsiders, philosophers, discontent mavericks, revolutionaries and demons throughout their previous trio of albums, and the elegiac resignation that shadows them, they waltz sublimely (for a majority of the time), rather than rage in romanticized contempt, as Olympus slowly grumbles.





I’ve stated in the past that Vukovar sound best when encouraged towards the light of melancholic pop and post-punk than when firing into a cyclone of caustic discord and noisy self-indulgence. Better when they enact Joy Division than say Throbbing Gristle; melody doesn’t necessarily mean commercial; doesn’t necessarily mean compromise, whilst industrial strength misery can grate and test the patience: in a live setting, depending on circumstance, a primal cacophony is just what’s needed; captured on record for posterity, it better be good and have some meaning beyond the atmosphere of the studio on the day it was recorded. Thankfully the band seem to have reigned-in the chaos and used it wisely and sparingly. Puritan however is closer to the debut Emperor, inasmuch as it balances the group’s dynamic forces of tortured-soul poetry and violent more aggressive tormented bursts of churning hell and occasional screaming.

Between the Gothic skulking and crystalline rays of shared 80s synth new romanticism Vukovar wander transfixed in a nightmare state of both despair and indolent antagonism; with stark lyrics more descriptively visceral than forced down the listener’s throat. Donning the vestiges of the Puritan, the front man, an amalgamation vocally of both Ian Curtis and Bernard Sumner, sets the scene (“I am a sinful man, yet an honest man”) to a backing track of slung low growled bass, Jesus and Mary Chain’s bastardize Spector drum death knells and the miasma threat of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds on the opening inflicted and gradually ascendant Nietzsche propound Übermensch.

Pounding away like the BRMC on the life and death rock’n’roll discordant Veil, a tension is first released and then carried over with sinister effect on The Leadership Is My Light: the singer channeling Trent Reznor at Lynch’s Bang Bang Bar stage and Berlin era Crime And The City Solution as he shrieks “I am nothing!” repeatedly on one of the album’s most ominous seedy doomed outpourings of daemonic grief.

Waltzing once more through a gloomy dreamscape, joined for the first of a trio of tracks that feature the daemonic siren folksy vocals of Elizabeth Menally, Once More For The Puritan is a pendulous duet bordering on esoteric shoegaze, and despite its mantra title is anything but puritanical, consulting as it sounds with spirits and hallucinogenic substances. The first of two traditional song translations, and again featuring Menally, who floats in the ether with fateful ghost like calls, the old Appalachian via even older Celtic roots Down In The Willow Garden lament continues in the haunted vein. The macabre beckons, as in a fashion, Menally and Vukovar echo the murder ballad partners Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue; our protagonist inching towards the gallows after doing away with his lover in all manner of diabolical ways, the spirit of his love cooing from a maelstrom of spiraling dread from beyond a watery grave.

The second old faithful, All The Pretty Little Horses – itself a handed-down version of the hush-a-bye lullaby – is given a bewitching enchanting treatment that suggests foreboding rather than comfort and a good night’s sleep.

A second guest spot is reserved for the Lancashire actor, writer and producer, and owner of an equally disenchanted weary ominous voice, Graham Duff, who narrates a despondent eulogy full of death throes, destruction and adages over the two-part A Final Solution. The first part of which is starker, delivered over a drone, the second part submerging his speech beneath a merger of Radiohead, The Stooges and Joy Division influences, and the repeated vocal line, “Without you I’m an empty space”.

If Vukovar were in the business of releasing singles, then the trio of tracks in the last half of the album would prove ideal. I’ve already featured the group’s precursor to Puritan, the rapturous OMD joining Echo & The Bunnyman and The The on Nero’s veranda, A Clockwork Dance – launched on bandcamp in the run-up to this latest album -, but equal contenders for the single status are the Tubeway Army-Visage-OMD(again) melding synth pop indie crawl through the wastelands The Moment Severed, and the brilliantly dark throbbing Radiohead-esque S.S.S.

 

The most complete and best produced encapsulation of Vukovar’s sound yet, balancing both their experimental raw and ritualistic live performances with melancholic post-punk, and even brooding new romanticism pop, Puritan offers a travail through the dirge and gloom of our (end) times with all its sinful and cleansing, often biblical, connotations and language. Though it also often sounds like some kind of personal tortured Nick Cave love requiem, unfolding in the midst of chaos; looking over the edge into the abyss, the heretics taking over the asylum.




THE ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW
WORDS: MATT OLIVER





Singles/EPs

Another day, another dollar – or if you’re Ghostface, a denomination of your own cryptocurrency – and Rapture & Verse starts October by blowing its pumpkin fund on black magic to make featherweight crews levitate. ‘Rhymes to the East’ by Sampa the Great is a great slice of mystical hip-hop forcing you to use your illusion. ‘Heads Up Eyes Open’ is the posture adopted by Talib Kweli, telling the truth with trademark conviction, bringing the “facts versus the facsimile” to a jazzy room-filling mood boost, cross referenced by Rick Ross.

 





Cloudy slickness from Young RJ goes through the ‘Motion’, drowse drawing from Jay Dee and shaken up with nimble lyrics as his album approaches the throne. ChanHays’ bounce and bubble nibbles at the stone faced Cool Kids on ‘New Bag’, acting as if they’re too cool to be related to the quirky soul chops. Draped in what can only be described as crime strings, Rediculus remixes Recognize Ali’s ‘Season of the Rebel’ and regulates music to watch your step by. Prince Po and Pawz1 bottle ‘The Raw Essence’ and saturate the streets like they’re pouring a lil liquor, and Rez4Real and Skyzoo ride such waves with gusto, boom bap wailer ‘Stick N Move’ defined by Cookin’ Soul’s central spectre tricking and treating the hairs on the backs of necks. Showing off undefeatable finishing moves, Yinka Diz takes the belt of ‘Mr Perfect’ with trap scissoring through the club like a peacocking wrestler asking ‘who do you love?’

 

Funk speedsters The Allergies challenge Andy Cooper to a remix race on ‘Blast Off’ before sprinting off on ‘You Got Power’, both coming with their own dizzying troupe of high kickers and baton twirlers. Savvy goes axe shredding with his signature flow, because it’s ‘The Only Way I Know’, rock-rap carefully measuring its run-up to the front five rows. Prince Po has been unearthing remixes for new project ‘The Redux’, ranging from MC Paul Barman’s networking exasperations, DOOM, Wordsworth and Chubb Rock navigating urgent chops and changes, and De La Soul easing back.




Albums

Now’s the time of year when albums start creeping up on the blindside of end-of-year assessors. Detroit’s Nolan the Ninja, a dervish occasionally drifting into a Big L twang, comes with the dopest dragon punch. The currency of ‘Yen’ trades on aggressive, eyeballing rhymes to get you bouncing, and beats strategically picking their punches, whether they be soul-powered or sent in to slug it out.


Taking a trip to ‘South City’, livewire London pair Too Many Ts bring power to the people with an electricity hip-hop crowds would be remiss to keep to themselves. A little cheek going a long way and craziness staying certified PG, Leon Rhymes and Standaloft shut down the show arm in arm, doing block party rockin’ (‘Hang Tight’ is something like a phenomenon) and jump-up audience ignition.

Setting you up for the day is one of UK hip-hop’s most reliable. The ever obliging Verb T finds a perfect ally in producer Pitch 92 for ‘Good Evening’, a leisurely, watertight LP that breaks down the day to day – the system, vices, and the people lost to both – and sets your mind at rest as your neck sweats it. With the elite onside as well – Kashmere, Jehst, Ocean Wisdom, Fliptrix – this one can and will go all night long.

In charge of a landscape both dense and set adrift, Upfront rascally rattles through the A-Z on ‘Lettermorphosis’. The cause for mass head down huddles bobbing from beneath hoods, the Bristol rhymer values every syllable when pitching between Ocean Wisdom, Dabbla and Frisco. Summed up in the line “got a grip so tight when I write that my mic hand’s bleeding”, Upfront’ll make you think from underneath the stockpile of verbs you’re buried under. Ded Tebiase has a ‘Landspeed’ record, his means of travel an unapologetic golden age sound – horns, sleighbells and low cuts of bass that can only be listened to in carparks by the pack load – that laces up grit-caked Timbs and wears them like comfy slippers. Kelz, Sir Beans OBE, Ash the Author and Benaddict come along for a ride perfect for the pending autumn-winter changeover.





“’Apocalypse Trent represents Nottingham’s new wave of rap music, or not”: so say the inscrutable VVV crew, lead by Cappo, Juga-Naut and Vandal Savage. A not entirely serious collection of synth loungers, skittering, bare bones club beats, off-the-tops and lyrical mind boggles trained to be dope, that’s not to say there isn’t freshness within. Knowing exactly what’s going on, the thin line between attacking and appreciating the state of play puts the rewind button to work.





The meeting of Slaine and Termanology was always going to be a backstreet brawl. Uncompromising is the word tattooed across ‘Anti-Hero’, duty bound to hammer nails into coffins and treating ciphers like cage matches. To their credit they do add some clear-headed perspectives amidst the constant of calling it as they see it. Bun B, Everlast, Evidence, Psycho Les and lll Bill are amongst those egging them on. In their roles of hammer and sickle, Apathy and OC drum home their own history lesson of ‘Perestroika’. Apathy’s signature going for throats and OC maintaining DITC dignity, conduct subzero hostilities looking to conscript captive audiences, the Soviet shtick ratting out defectors in a second. “Broadcasting for those behind enemy lines”, this is blunt with a capital B.

Calm and dignified in a world hugging the down slope, CunninLynguists present ‘Rose Azuro Njano’; funk and blues taking to the stage and taking responsibility to provide both salvation and eloquent discussion, standing up without sugar-coating it. When pushing ‘Music I Wanna Make’, John Reilly comes up with a respect earner, him and Rediculus on production taking no shortcuts with beats and bars built to stick around.




Thavius Beck’s gravitational pull on ‘Technol OG’ vaporises dancefloors, with dictionaries a close second. Blasting out descrambled sonic challenges to rip glitterballs off their axis in 30 minutes, Beck’s seasoned interstellar highwayman act, available on amazing-looking gold vinyl, grabs the game by the balls as if the whole world is in his hands.

Guided by Jonwayne to the brink and back on the boards, a bluesy wait for psychedelics to take effect, Danny Watts has the ability to take a look around before sounding like one of hip-hop’s coldest. Watts shifting his peripheral vision can be your best friend and worst enemy, as well as his own when cruising and concealing turmoil. Houston’s Watts is a champion, and another threat to the end of year monopoly.




The million dollar Wu-Tang sound gets caught in familiar post-dynasty malaise when Masta Killa asserts ‘Loyalty is Royalty’. Despite a lot of clansmen coming through – Method Man, RZA, GZA, Inspectah Deck, Cappadonna – it’s an album rooted in indifference. Even bigger shrugs are reserved for PMD’s ‘Business Mentality’. Swamped in guests – Ace Brav and RJ da Realst should really be co-headliners – and rugged beats overwhelming the solitary smooth ones, this business lacks legs to move up the ladder. An Erick Sermon appearance on the prescient ‘The Real is Gone’ fails to provide a saving grace on a project playing catch-up.

As angels and demons battle for room on his shoulders, Denzil Porter details the ‘Semantics of Mr Porter’ with Kendrick Lamar/Big Sean sensibilities, digitally precise roughhousing, mainstream accessibility with beats and hooks to hang onto, and developed narratives you might not expect after blustery opening exchanges. A new volume of ‘The Good Book’ from the collar-poppin’ Alchemst & Budgie turns the booth into a confessional for a lengthy second sermon, unofficially defined by the former reaching out to the recognised underground and the latter introducing a flock to follow up on. Flipping religious recordings and soundbites into an immaculately packaged soul-soaked baptism, Royce 5’9″, Westside Gunn & Conway, Meyhem Lauren, Durag Dynasty, Your Old Droog, Evidence and Jeremiah Jae are part of the mass chewing on titbits and spreading thoughts to take home.

 

Mixtapes

Your first stop for a commemorative throwdown, Hellee Hooper gives it some golden age largesse with Diamond D’s ‘Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop’ given a 25-year salute. Comprised of the usual congratulatory handshake of source material, samples and remixes, you’ll struggle to find a funkier 55 minutes this year.


Nowt on telly? Try Skipp Whitman’s shopping channel, Chairman Maf’s anarchist cookbook and Murs rewriting the classics.











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