April 18, 2017
THE ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVUE
Words: Matt Oliver
Amidst the debate whether you’re pro-playlist Drake or give a damn about Kendrick, this is the real hip-hop bombshell. To quote Chris Rock: “love rap & hip-hop – tired of defending it”.
Within the ever turning reissue market and with the bun fight of Record Store Day upon us, some re-ups you may wanna check. Slick Rick’s ‘Children’s Story’ is now logically an illustrated volume for bedtime, Blockhead’s ‘Uncle Tony’s Colouring Book’ gets a reboot on wax, and DOOM & Danger Mouse’s ‘DANGERDOOM’ goes deluxe. More bizarre (and Rapture & Verse had to check it wasn’t April 1st), is the new Raekwon album that can be worn as a backpack, where the audio kind of works as a rumble pack for your body. True story.
IAMBENJI’s instrumental righteousness summons a headbanging vision of ‘Jesus Walks’ with ‘Its You’, chopping exultant soul into pulpit pressure: a true four minute warning. Korede’s ‘Humble Beginnings’, a smart mini-expo showing what he’s made for J-Live, has got a chunky drum-n-groove jangle to it like heavy jewellery. An impressive half dozen hangout between Juga-Naut and Micall Parknsun lobs ‘Six Bricks’, with Cappo and Scorzayzee adding extra mortar to a fortress built in Nottingham and with a strict policy on the fundamentals. The highly strung Smellington Piff and Sean Peng take solace under ‘Purple Trees’ in a bid to divert jazz cat, beret and goatee vibes, and the champion sound of Mongrels’ ‘Attack the Monolith’ is now an awesome remix movement. The ‘Attack the Megalith’ EP beams a bat signal to a big time octet, including Hashfinger sliding over a cop car bonnet and Third Person Lurkin going a grim-reapin’, to transform the Yorkshire supernovas second time around.
CunninLynguists’ fine ‘The Rose’ EP gets the barricade rocking with soul-stirring open letters eloquently asking questions and patiently waiting for answers. Aiming to make a difference as much as it whispers to bask in the sun, Maurice Brown & Talib Kweli’s ‘Stand Up’ is the epitome of peaceful protest, and something of a nice dilemma to have. Killa Kyleon’s well executed ‘Killing Over Jays’ is a nifty two-way that’s both cautionary tale and industry/cultural call out, to an oxymoron of smoothed out, box fresh trap. ‘Alone by Choice’ but with plenty to offer, Jango gives you a seven track pick n mix of sharp trap and plush roll outs with the flow to match; a GQ EP pretty much pinpointing what your ears need as and when.
Should you heed the call of Raekwon’s ‘The Wild?’ It’s not a bad shout, showing something close to vintage Wu-gambinoism, open to the conceptual (‘Marvin’, a fine biopic of Marvin Gaye with Cee-Lo; some alphabet aerobics alongside P.U.R.E.), and cajoling Lil Wayne into a decent verse for ‘My Corner’. The huntsman mentality pulls the album over the line just when the glossy crossovers airing his dirty Gucci laundry in public threaten to nullify the threat.
In a way the same can be said for Joey Bada$$’ ‘All-Amerikkkan Bada$$’, whose clear and effective state of the nation addresses come presented in funk and soul pageantry aiming for Chance the Rapper’s all rounder status. The appeal of the supple, easygoing beats, polished hooks and timely gathering together of everyone is obvious (2pac comparisons come easy as well), though it’s an album that settles into a groove and perhaps at times isn’t quite as hungry as the subject matter would welcome. Nonetheless, Bada$$’ development makes him a candidate for end of year honours.
Turntable ringmasters Boca45 and DJ Woody saddle up into the sunset again on ‘Carousel’, where you must be this fly to join the ride. In a myriad of needles, spins and samples, BluRum13 threatening to steal the show as mic anchor, breaks needing another belt notch, and energetic fun (not forgetting the obligatory electro pop-n-lock), technique and entertainment takes lesser DJs to clown school when these two go back to back. BocaWoody boss the big top like Barnum.
Indiana’s irresistible force Freddie Gibbs is someone not for dislodging. Like a Bond villain who doesn’t know what a P45 is, ‘You Only Live 2wice’ does grim low riding, lord praising, quiet storming and do-or-die roulette spinning, all the while Gibbs reads the gangsta gospel slash riot act with that swerveless flow of his going all in. At eight tracks long you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s left a lot in the locker, but it’s a pretty comprehensive, fluid body of work.
Renowned rhyme brawler Apathy cuts the mic adrift and goes instrumental for ‘Dive Medicine: Chapter One’, displaying sonic skills well in tune with his usual vocal rips. Soulful but with plenty of punch, as if Apathy will look you straight in the eye before rattling your ribcage, the sleeve may suggest boom bap kitted out for submarines, but the likes of ‘Scuba Groupie’ and ‘Subterranean Meditation’ are happier chilling in a deckchair amidst a bunch of mean, street-ready flexes. Re-upping straight bat boom bap from social media’s olden days, Sraw’s ‘Beat Weeks’ is the Scandinavian timetabling instrumentals that go bump in the night, jazzy foot tappers over coffee, and wheezing whacks to the loaf. Nice enough to take some time with. The mind expansions of Frenchman Al’Tarba look at instrumentals through a prism mounted atop a plasma ball, ‘La Nuit Se Lève’ the score to a film only streaming in flashbacks you haven’t experienced yet, caught in a cold-veined tailspin with dubstep choking on its exhaust.
Wired between confessional and eccentric wisdom explaining ‘How to Fake Your Own Death’, backwater hip-hop from Ecid unfurls a slow and precise, me-against-everything scuzz of discomfort holding up a mirror to the world in a typical Midwest post-malaise. One to be passed around huddles of the disenfranchised. They should then transfer to the occult of A7PHA, Anticon messengers Doesone and Mestizo delivering a dense, walls-are-closing-in distortion of reality “releasing heat so hot it disinfects metal”, and whose silhouettes make the ponderous and rabid unnerving bedfellows, reaching a crescendo/crisis point. A collection so strictly underground it should come with its own canary, Copywrite and Planet Asia are naturally all about taking care of business with ‘Unfinished & Untitled’; forget the title, these are prizefighters in all their pomp.
With the reserved flow of an all-seeing shaman, Zaire Black stamps the passport of DJ Drez’ global trip of simmering colours on the studious ‘Aficionados’, making work a mismatch of a slight vocal reticence and rich, probing production (check ‘I Will I Want’ for its range of unlikely samples, though ‘That DJ’ goes a bit EDM loco). A collection of remixes for Lessondary’s top drawer ‘Ahead of Schedule’ will do just nicely: ‘RE:Scheduled’ has twangy funk and head nod high noons from Jamie Cooley, Donwill, Jermiside and ZFTP slipping nicely into a support role going toe-to-toe with the quality of the original. The smoothness of Brooklyn’s ScienZe orders ‘Kind of Dessert’ to go with the nightcap he’s suggesting you come up for; cosmopolitan swirls, boho brainstorming, neo-soul niceness and vibes that wake when they want before hitting the ground running. Still one of the game’s surest things when it comes to storytelling, Murs as ‘Captain California’ drops you slap bang in the middle of the action, as well as walking you through tales step by step with simple start-beginning-end structures. Buoyant beats help Murs’ Mills-n-Booning no end, and his show-n-prove still ain’t bad either.
Dishing out more mixtape pleasure, Donnie Propa goes to town on the play and record buttons for a second Masta Ace masterclass; a standard fix-up of classics, one-offs etc, ‘The Ace Tape volume 2’ won’t let a single beat, rhyme, cut or blend miss a step. A great DJ curates a great emcee.
Front and centre this month: Danny Brown’s must-see, Evidence’s latest weather report, The Last Skeptik going split-screen, and Bohze’s weekend attire.
April 13, 2017
Words: Ayfer Simms
Alasdair Roberts ‘Pangs’
We would dance around a flame to a convivial, festive and bustling horde some centuries ago, we would be amid a budding ardent party with a Celtic twist, we would have a sense of freedom, and jubilation, the kind that swept across the 60s, we would raise our hands and let the flowing, upbeat, melancholic songs of Alasdair Roberts guide us through the path of some ancient relief’s concoctions.
We would feel the pain, striking and sharp, brought upon by the fear of some eerie creatures lurking in the dark forest and we would find comfort in being hurdled together singing Alasdair’s airs.
We’d wield our hands remarkably close to the sparks of the heat, at the center of things, to signify the greatness of human bonds, we would hold some electric guitars and add an era to those ancient rhymes, we would follow the wind’s direction and let the vocal chords vibrate like Alasdair’s haunting whispers.
His music awakens some long forgotten practices, some exalted moments between individuals, such as weeping of joy and mourning together in front of the invisible great black wolves aura nagging our psyches. With this modern folk music, the world seems forever colossal and our hopes even more heightened.
NEW MUSIC REVIEWS ROUNDUP
Words: Dominic Valvona
Roll Call: The Black Angels, Anna Coogan, Cotton Wolf, Happyness, King Ayisoba, Lake, Alex Stolze, Swamp Sounds/Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods, Vassals, Andrew Wasylyk.
A mega edition of the regular tickling our fancy reviews roundup this month, before the Easter Break and the Monolith Cocktail’s week long sabbatical to Palermo, we take you on a whirlwind trip through some of the “choice” most recent and upcoming releases. Pleasantries aside. Let’s crack on…
King Ayisoba ‘1000 Can Die’
Glitterbeat Records, 31st March 2017
Sounding the klaxon call in defense of his native Ghana, and Africa at large, on his inaugural LP for Glitterbeat Records, the striking 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.
Though Ayisoba advocates the “power of tradition” and the primal thrust of instrumentation is one passed down from generation to generation, 1000 Can Die features an eclectic and electric fusion of musical styles. The homegrown Ghanaian “hiplife” – a mix of rap, electronic beats and traditional rhythms – rubs up against ragga, dancehall and dub; a grandee doyen of which, the inimitable Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, appears postulating a herb-hazed wisdom on the album’s rustically plucked and enraged title track.
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.
The Black Angels ‘Death Song’
Partisan Records, 21st April 2017
If you were looking for a creative musical reaction to Trump and the anxious times we live in then The Black Angels beautiful apocalyptic melodrama, 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. It begins with one of the Angels heaviest productions yet; a dark arts pulsing bestial diatribe on the controlling influence of money, entitled Currency. From there we’re guided across choppy seas between brighter less cymbal crashing hypnotics and swaying macabre, through the metaphorical “killing fields” of the huntress (I’d Kill For Her); the enslaved intoxicant spell casting of enchantresses (Half Believing); and the upside down: the final Floyd and Amon Duul II-esque Orpheus-is-comfortably-numb-in-the-underworld opus, Life Song.
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.
Anna Coogan ‘The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time’
28th April 2017
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.
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 – produce a wave (whether the gravitational kind, as serenaded and alluded to on the brilliant opening title track or, the metaphorical high seas kind, as referenced throughout) fixated lamenting and balletic travail.
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. The operatic, learnt at the prestigious Mozarteum University of Salzburg, elements are transduced through a background of rifling through her father’s record collection of protest troubadours, and busking on the streets of Seattle, to leave only traces that appear naturally.
Occasionally rocking, most of the music has a cinematic more expansive touch, with three of the songs on this album originally composed to accompany the Soviet filmmaker Jakov Protazanov 1929 camp alien invasion/Russian revolution analogy Aelita, Queen Of Mars (the title track) and the French director Jean Epstein’s 1928 interruption of Poe’s classic, The Fall Of The House Of Usher (If You Were The Sun, A Wedding Vow).
Almost uninterrupted with each track flowing or bleeding over into the next, the album moves seamlessly between its musical and thematic influences. I could probably do without the romantic twinkled space helmet vocal synth pop Meteor, but overall this is an impressive performance, Coogan’s quivering wah wah and tremolo articulations matched equally by that heavenly, soaring voice.
Lake ‘Forever Or Never’
Tapete Records, April 7th 2017
Meant as anything but disingenuous, it’s surprising what the experimental pop group Lake get away with on their latest and eighth album, Forever Or Never. Remodeling an array of 70s/80s influences with a 21st century spin, they can turn some of the stalest MOR vaporous blue-eyed soul synth ballads and soft rock melodramas into something melodically enchanting but very poignant; analogies channeling the political and social maelstroms of our times, as most of the music coming out of the USA does in 2017.
Celebrating a recent tenth anniversary with perhaps the most exhaustive of performances, playing every song from their ninety-track back catalogue in an Herculean ten-hour set, Lake continue to submerge themselves in the Pacific Ocean Blue waters of nostalgia.
Finely attuned, lean and devoid of the superfluous, Forever Or Never is a mostly gentle, wistful breeze through yacht rock, Belle & Sebastian daydreaming romanticism, shoegaze and pop. Shared male/female vocals duties offer a constant variety that bears traces of Blonde Redhead, Harry Nilsson and The Pastels. And joining the betrothed founders Ashley Eriksson and Elijah Moore, and long-term band members Andrew Dorsett and Mark “Markly” Morrison before she passed away, the artist/musician Geneviève Castrée (for whom this album is dedicated) lent lush coos and backing vocals to the tumultuous Gone Against The Wind and bright, easy-going finale, Magazine.
Sometimes it’s like hearing Fleetwood Mac if they’d formed during the C86 phenomenon, and at other times, a strange transmutation of Captain & Tennille, and a vague stab at a post Sunflower Beach Boys jamming with Hall & Oates. Disarming and emotionally sophisticated throughout, with subtle, warm but diligent songwriting, Forever Or Never is a melody rich harmonious meditation on inner turmoil, forgiveness and mourning, that can’t help but also comment on the recent political landscape.
Alex Stolze ‘Mankind Animal’
Nonostar Records, 31st March 2017
Transforming the traditionally entrenched sound and indeed reputation of the violin, German composer/producer Alex Stolze attempts to reanimate the instrument, “preserving” it, as he states, “for future generations, without being a conservative classicist.”
No stranger to reinvention, recently performing radical deconstructions of Bach’s Kunst der Fuge with the Armida Quartet, at Berlin’s Radial System venue, Stolze has gained a certain exploratory reputation for his work with the electronica acts Bodi Bull and Unmap (amongst others).
Concentrating the mind, finding a certain solace, the Berlin urbane stalwart has relocated to the German/Polish borders for a more pastoral life of contemplation; spending time on rebuilding an old ruin in the countryside but focusing on the vision for his solo work. Nothing short of guiding humanity towards a less destructive, more empathetic spirituality, Stolze attempts to bridge classicism and contemporary amorphous electronic music on his debut solo record, Mankind Animal.
Less Roedelius neo-classical, or for that matter Tony Conrad Dream Syndicate, and more John Cale inspired viola distortions and that titan of the German avant-garde Stockhausen and his electronic processing of orchestral instrumentation, the five-track Mankind Animal suite is surprisingly fluid and melodic. Conceptual and avant-garde in influence certainly, but far from a grueling or challenging experience.
A chamber ensemble mix of electro-acoustics, ambient traverses and, at times, kinetic beat undulating soul, this pan-Europa soundtrack often evokes transmogrified traces of traditional scores and folkloric music from central and eastern Europe: The articulate plucks, quivers, wanes and yearnings that emanate from Stolze’s five-string custom-made violin often sounding a link back towards the past, and ghosts of an old continent. Tradition is very prominent, but an intricate bed of low synth, contained sophisticated beats and mechanics bring it into the present.
Over the top of this score, Stolze’s succinct campfire lyrics of profound prose make allusive references to the here and now though again these concerns are often age-old: from, “where to start if you want to change the system”, on the lyrical resigned meander through the universal condition The Crown, to the more personable inner sage advice of “don’t try to be someone else/otherwise who would be you”, on the opening Don’t Try To Be.
From the cinematic Eraser to the softened timpani minor-overture Stringent, Stolze and his ensemble produce a considered postmodernist suite, both experimental in merging the classical with the contemporary, and yet a pleasurable, even soulful and thoughtfully poised listening experience.
Joji Hirota & The London Taiko Drummers ‘Japanese Taiko’
ARC Music, 28th April 2017
One of Taiko drumming form’s most prestigious of stars of the last forty years, Joji Hirota cements his sizable reputation with this latest collection, simply named Japanese Taiko. Literally, as is the case with most of these direct from Japanese translations, the ancient style of Taiko itself means “big, fat drums”, (which you can’t really argue with) and on this album features a number of these drum shapes and sizes, from the smallest, a “uchiwa tom”, to the behemoth sized “oh daiko” (again, literally a “big drum” that measures 140cms in diameter).
Inspired by the volcano piqued hot springs landscape of his native Hokkaido – Japan’s most northerly of main islands – Hirota, who started training at the age of eleven, merges majestic traditions with a unique modern approach: He was after all among the first of the Taiko practitioners to bring the style to the West, and has more recently lent his music to the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese’s latest martyrdom, Silence. Together with his four male and eight female strong London ensemble the maestro thunderously rolls through Taiko’s folkloric, Noh theatre, Kabuki, Buddhist and Shinto religious ceremony origins with agility and at times entrancing aplomb.
Building up pattering rumble evocations of the Spring Breeze or, stroking the drum skins to an atavistic Japanese flute accompaniment in ritual to a Harvest god (Kokiriko), this dynamic, though often monotonous, chorus of drummers is surprisingly melodic. A barrage yes, but the drumming wall of sound is often elevated by poetic vocals – usually in chorus, though there is a strange mix of call and response staccato rapping on Akita – and subtle mood and tonal changes; from wood clapping to finger bells and cymbal swells.
To experience live is something else: a synchronized art form of music and theater. But this showcase of tradition and experimentation, with half the compositions written by the man himself, is a great introduction to the form.
Cotton Wolf ‘Life In Analogue’
Bubblewrap Collective, 28th April 2017
As technology’s ever-domineering progress takes over and algorithms creep into the creative process it’s a relief to see and hear that the Kraftwerkian dream of complete immersion between humans and machines, with all music created by a computerized brainiac, is still a long way off. And though by its very democratized nature and access electronic music is obviously wholly reliant on tech, which is getting ever cheaper and easier to use, there are many artists who wish to (and excuse my trite cliché) put the soul back into the machine. The Cotton Wolf Welsh duo of “super producer” Llion Robertson and classically trained composer Seb Goldfinch are among those, “living in the analogue”, who leave an indelible human mark on electronic music.
Their debut album is an often sophisticated, downtempo, merger of small, organic Leaf Label like synthetic drums and tight percussion and subtle atmospheric waves and suffused strings – part of the symphonic quality and melody the duo wish to emphasis. With guest vocals from the attentive soulful Alys Williams, on the gauzy veiled Lliwiau, and calm fluttering siren Lois Rogers, on the softened Massive Attack-esque Future Never, Cotton Wolf omit for a sense of performance and humility.
“Unapologetically” Welsh, Williams for example sings in the dialect, the duo is rightly proud of their heritage. And they are in some ways in the middle of a golden resurgence, with countless fellow Welsh electronic artists, from The Conformist to R. Seiliog and Gwenno Saunders to name just three, gaining critical attention and flying the flag. But, apart from the language, there isn’t a common identity in the music itself. There is no such thing as a “Wales sound” in the genre. Life In Analogue is if anything a global soundtrack, with traces as diverse as Kosmische, EDM, Bonobo and even mellowed South American electronica all under one roof.
More than a little classy, electronica with a human touch, Cotton Wolf weave the symphonic articulately into an album with depth but also commercial appeal.
Swamp Sounds/Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods ‘ST’
Bearsuit Records, 24th March 2017
A split offering from the Edinburgh label of idiosyncratic experimental sonics and more lo fi indie pop fare, Bearsuit Records bring us an incongruous curious pairing of, mainly, electronic music mavericks.
From further up the Scottish east coast, Dundee artist/musician Douglas Wallace, under the strange Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods appellation, has fashioned an imaginary Hondo City futuristic soundscape that bares little relation to the track titles. With a backing of trebly crisp electronic percussion, tetchy cymbals, clean crystalized synths and trans mutated guitar wails, Wallace’s science fiction travails make ephemeral references to Murcof, Bowie’s Heroes peregrinations, Ryuichi Sakamoto and the sort of 80s vapour ice-misty synth soundtrack fare you’d find on the video-nasty, Shogun Assassin. Reverent at times, primordial at others (check the lost world of Song For Broken Singers), ole Uncle Pop’s contribution is a subtle, meditative counterpoint to his album companion’s ennui flitting Casio car-crash bombardment.
Hailing from Nagoya, Japan, experimental electronic music artist and founder of Sleep Jam Records, Yuuya Kuno flirts with a number of aliases including House of Tapes but for this label and in this capacity goes under the Swamp Sounds moniker. Chopped-up into a loopy soundclash of Casio pre-set schlock and drama, Kuno’s 80s meltdown collage is both ridiculous and yet full of interesting surprises. Tracks such as Skull Disco feed Daft Punk through a dial-up connection and grinder, and Houndstooth sends Atari Teenage Riot to a laser quest showdown.
Run of the mill for Bearsuit, who constantly release such curiosities, but for us the listener these experiments prove intriguing; bringing to our attention some unique artists, working on the peripherals of sonic reinvention and cut-up mania.
Andrew Wasylyk ‘Themes From Buildings And Spaces’
Tape Club Records, 28th April 2017
The second artist in my roundup to hail from the fair city port of Dundee, musician/composer Andrew Mitchell (nee Wasylyk) pays a moving sort of homage to his home on Themes From Buildings And Spaces. With the onus on the psychogeography of the architecture in Scotland’s fourth-largest city, its history as the capital of Jute production features heavily as a recurring theme; the ghosts and lingering traces of Tayside mills and the people who worked the oppressive Industrial Revolution machinery within them making their presence known on the reflective Lower Dens Work.
Memories both haunting and meditative are made concrete, prompted by the iconic images of the late, “father of Scottish modern photography”, Joseph MacKenzie and a mix of architectural markers – only ever seen in Scotland – from across time: stoic granite beauty to hard-to-love Brutalism. The very evolution of Dundee, over eight instrumental evocations, is lent both a melancholic and romantic soundtrack of lapping piano tides, gentle swooning colliery jazz brass, synthesized choral voices and peaceable textures. Sounding unique, even pastoral at times, these suites conjure up a Caledonian Air, yet at other times errs towards the ether, conjuring up those old ghosts and spirits.
Andrew sheds a new light in many ways on Dundee with the most reflective of timeless scores.
Happyness ‘Write In’
Moshi Moshi, 7th April 2017
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 new album, Write In.
Having previously covered and absorbed tootsie roll Beach Boys idyllics and the Athens, Georgia college radio rock of the obscure Club Gaga on last year’s Tunnel Vision On Your Part EP – the title-track of which appears alongside the drowsy-sighed pop spankler Anna, Lisa Calls on this, the group’s second LP –, and often drawn favorable comparisons to Wilco and Pavement, Happyness find themselves liltingly tuning into a more eclectic array of influences for their most melodious, engaging songbook collection yet.
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 (Man As Ostrich) 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”.
Vassals ‘Halogen Days EP’
Post Fun, 7th April 2017
You have Audio Antihero’s indefatigable Jamie Halliday to thank for dropping this EP from Brooklyn misfits Vassals onto my radar. The backing band of Audio Antihero signing Magana, the trio’s latest release bandies between, as the press release puts it, a sort of “bleak beauty” and “chaotic minimalism” that strays into “slacker-rock ambivalence” and “post-punk cynicism”. I can confirm all of that, but would like to add the following if I may.
There’s more than a touch of the new wave on Halogen Days quartet of power-pop and grungy-romanticism. The slacker and grunge elements made brighter and indolently tuneful for it.
A run through of the EP then: We have the pendulous drum and echoed vocals of the opener Sea Spells, which sounds like a young Glenn Tilbrook fronting The Yeah Yeah Yeahs; the Moonless (“night”) build up swell of crescendos that evokes the Tokyo Police Club and Wampire; and the return to the source of inspiration with traces of The Pixies and Dinosaur Jnr on the stumbling SoHo. The finale meanwhile, Ghostwood, traverses Pavement and The Strokes (when they were something), on a peaks and lulls, heavy and accentuate crafted N.Y.C. indie resigned anthem, that literally spirals and pounds away until lifting off.
Bright hopes indeed and nowhere near as petulant as you’d expect. There is amongst that cynicism and effortless sounding despondency some real thought and musicianship, the lyrics actually far more aching and heartfelt than they might admit.
Words: Dominic Valvona
Craig Finn ‘We All Want The Same Things’
Released by Partisan Records, March 24th 2017
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.
Continuing to pass time in philosophical angst and contemplative lament, frequenting the bars of Minneapolis, or, triggered by mourning, heading out on a road trip with no plan but finding a fleeting connection, Finn populates his latest album, We All Want The Same Things, with a cast, “all trying to help themselves, trying to move forward, and in some cases trying just to survive.” United in there, and of course our, basic needs, under the darkening clouds of a changing political landscape, the bluesy troubadour finds a poignant commonality between the characters in his songbook. Finn himself, in his most autobiographical allusion, uses his own experiences of feeling adrift in a world that “didn’t seem to have a lot of room for me” after returning to the “Twin Cities” of home from college in the mid 90s, on the melodically breezy but lived-in gnarled saloon lament, Prelude.
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 (former Rainer Maria vocalist) and singer/songwriter Annie Nero, the keys of Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Langhorne Slim), swaddling and lifting horns maestro Stuart Bogie (Arcade Fire, Antibalas), 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.
March 30, 2017
Choice Playlist Revue
Words: Dominic Valvona
Selection: DV, Ayfer Simms and Matt Oliver
The inaugural quarterly revue of 2017 gathers together a faithful purview of the last three months of reviews and articles on the Monolith Cocktail. Myself, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms have chosen a mere smattering of our favourite music; featuring both tunes from albums/singles/EPs/collections we’ve reviewed or featured on the site and some we just never had the time to include.
As usual an ever-eclectic amorphous affair, with the most avant-garde pieces of music sitting in harmony with the most edgy hip-hop, Malian sand dunes blues alongside Belgium alternative rock’n’roll and psychedelic noodling, the first quarterly playlist of the year features The XX, Sentidor, Mauro Pawlowski, Baba Zula, Tamikrest, Emptyset, Your Old Droog, Likwuid, King Ayisoba and many more. A full tracklist is below, with links to relevant posts.
The XX ‘On Hold’
Austra ‘We Were Alive’
Sentidor “Pedreira (Quarry)’ Feature
Porter Ray (ft. Asian T, Rife) ‘Waves’ Feature
Mauro Pawlowski ‘In Starlight (We Must Be Alive)’ Review
Baba Zula (Dr.Das Mix) ‘Iki Alem (Dub Version)’ Review
Baluji Shrivastav ‘Dance Of Erzulie’ Review
Bargou 08 ‘Mamchout’ Review
Terakaft ‘Djer Aman (Afriquoi Remix)’ Review
Dearly Beloved ‘Who Wants To Know’ Review
Taos Humm ‘RC’ Review
Dr.Chan ‘Yannnnk$$$ (Life I$ Not Fun)’ Review
Rudy Trouve ‘Torch’ Review
Irk Yste ‘Wumpe’ Review
Mauro Pawlowski ‘Men In Sheds Pt.1’ Review
Emptyset ‘Border’ Review
Nick Blackos ‘No Answer’ Review
Your Old Droog (ft. Edan, Wiki) ‘Help’ Feature
Paul White and Danny Brown ‘Lion’s Den’ Feature
Blue Orchids ‘The Devil’s Answer’ Review
Alasdair Roberts (ft. Gordon Ferries) ‘Caleno Custure Me’ Review
James McArthur & The Head Gardeners ’14 Seconds’ Review
Piano Magic ‘Attention To Life’ Review
Sankofa ‘Into The Wild’ Feature
Delicate Steve ‘Nightlife’ Review
Retoryka ‘Right Up Your Street Pt.1’ Review
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah ‘Down (Is Where I Want To Be)’ Review
Craig Finn ‘Ninety Bucks’
Tinariwen ‘Oualahila ar Tesninam (Transglobal Underground Remix)’ Review
Animal Collective ‘Kinda Bonkers’
Likwuid (Ft. 2 Hungry Bros) ‘Illfayted’ Feature
Oddisee ‘Digging Deep’ Feature
M-Dot (Ft. Camp Lo, Tribeca) ‘True Lies’ Feature
Oh No (ft. Tristate) ‘Showroom Floor’ Feature
Dope Knife ‘Nothing To Lose’ Feature
King Ayisoba (Ft. Wanlov da Kubolor & Big Gad) ‘Africa Needs Africa’
Tamikrest ‘Erres Hin Atouan’ Review
March 23, 2017
MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW
Rapture & Verse’s March hares are made up of dirt-slinging duo Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj (naturally, Foxy Brown then has her two penneth worth as well), Snoop blurring the line between life and art when it comes to America’s next top president, Joey Badass having a John Lennon-style, ‘Bigger than Jesus’ moment, Tupac ‘memorabilia’ reaching unhealthy new levels, and a right flash-looking reissue of Kool Keith and Dan the Automator’s trailblazing weirdo ‘Dr Octagonecologyst’ (when an Easter egg just won’t do). All topped with Will I Am appearing in a new video with the realest of the Rovers Return, Liz McDonald.
Talib Kweli joins the UK B-Boy World Championships with an April performance (probably not as a contestant…well, you never know). Big Daddy Kane reiterates he’s still got juice with a London appearance in May bound to bring in scores of hip-hop nostalgics; and home-grown old skool originals London Posse go on a wee road trip to tell all the current gun finger spitters how slang should really sound. Also upcoming on these shores – DJ Q-Bert, Masta Ace and Jedi Mind Tricks, all making it rain like an April shower.
A teeny-tiny singles selection this month starts with a quintet of instrumentals seeing who’s big enough to plug a mic in. Urban Click’s ‘Half Past Two’ does boom bap that keeps time and plants seeds of doubt; just enough fear factor to have you looking over your shoulder mid head-nod, until ‘Payback’ brings the hatchet into full view. In need of an assertive, affirmative funk jam with a worldview to cause roadblocks? Rob Cave’s singsong exasperation telling you ‘Hold Your Head’ is that very jam. Follow that with a remix of Mista Sinista’s ‘Life Without Fear’, another partier making a point with Worldarama, Illa Ghee & Chordz Cordero wrapping up Eitan Noyze’s bulbous funker. Milano Constantine gets grimy on the belt-loosening ‘Rasclart’, with Conway and Big Twins helping extort DJ Skizz’ mob skanking.
Action packed storytelling kicks off Your Old Droog’s triumphant ‘Packs’, that languid NY flow quickly working a number of hustles and stakes-high dice games, all with a penchant for humour and words to the wise stashed in the trunk. From go-slows to arse kicks, adopting the same readiness for and awareness of when the streets come calling, and with Danny Brown, Edan and Heems on his team, YOD perfects the unfathomable: a varied album with no time to waste or room for error. 14 silk cuts, if you will.
With a flow somewhere between honey dipped and Seattle high, Porter Ray’s seesaw twang that’s always laidback in a perpetual state of motion grounds spacey, floaty forecasts replacing low riders with ambient parachute jumps. ‘Watercolor’ is vaporous but tangible gangsta living from under the stars with a creditable amount of earnestness, with Ray’s role as some kind of avenging angel leaving his mark on you, one way or another.
UK crews control this month starts with the Gatecrasherz getting parties jumping and scrawling their names all over the VIP list on ‘Uninvited’. A more patient unit than expected, inasmuch as each emcee queues obediently before showing ill discipline on the mic (in turn letting you pick your own distinctively-twanged rapper like you’re swapping stickers), a broadside of bumping beats (including ‘2-3 Break’ playing out like a choose-your-own-adventure book), gets doors off hinges.
Steady Rock and Oliver Sudden push flavour in your ear with ‘Preservatives’. The BBP reliability always plays the game the right way, spanning humble brags, straight shots, living as they live it, tales told while getting ‘em in and beats getting bobbleheaded on life’s dashboard. What you hear is what you get. Amos & Kaz’ ‘Year of the Ram’ justifies all natural assumptions of locking horns and being capable of a battering. Forceful personality dominates business, pleasure and pain; these two are up for a scrap, or at least a good pantsing, after their knowledge has driven its way down your ear canal. Granville Sessions power through without pretension on ‘Monument’, demanding a captive amphitheatre rather than threatening the front row. A forthright manifesto playing no games makes for a well regimented campaign.
After the ‘Barrydockalypse’, Joe Dirt is the last real rapper alive on an album that’s a pessimist’s paradise. Repping Squid Ninjaz by showing strong survival instincts, keeping composure is paramount on a great, stomach-unsettling set for those getting kicks out of losing themselves past the wrong side of the tracks. Safe to say Jam Baxter’s ‘Mansion 38’ is not surrounded by a postcard-perfect white picket fence; half cut, whip smart, and hoovering up Chemo’s top-to-bottom production so that the pair sink until they strike the gold of rock bottom. Ultimate, grungy outlaw hip-hop, putting the trap in trapdoor.
As a flipside, Dabbla barfs out bonus project ‘Chapsville’ (location: London twinned with Tennessee and Thunderdome), spraying obnoxiously hot bars at water cannon pressure while DJ Frosty twists the shapeshfiting landscapes around him. Leaf Dog’s ‘Dyslexic Disciple’ is a proper UK hip-hop knees-up, awash with weed and scuffles always likely to break out because it’s all family. Funk and blues buck like a bronco, plucky and bullish rhymes will step to a mic whatever the weather, Kool Keith drops by to diss you without you realising, and a grand finale of a giant posse cut lands the knockout blow.
Oddisee is his usual engaging self on ‘The Iceberg’. With music as crisp as freshly plucked Romaine, effortlessly upping the pace when the time’s right, the personal becomes appealing so that you can’t help but pore over eloquent diary entries where the ink never runs dry. Ultimately you agree with his clearly made points of view as Oddisee is becoming the master of his own destiny who could make takeaway menus or the phone book sound compelling. From the supple to the ambitious/exhaustive, Beans releases three albums simultaneously (!) – ‘Wolves of the World’, ‘Love Me Tonight’ and ‘HAAST’ – as well as an accompanying novel. Fantastical seat of your pants scenarios and breathless narratives seemingly doing real life and politics in fast forward even if caught in traffic, the Anti-Pop Consortium alumni loves the feel of a fine tooth comb throughout.
NYC’s El Michels Affair have reached the same level of dynasty as their Staten Island source of inspiration. Back covering another batch of Wu-Tang Clan trademarks in an irrepressible, funk and soul, live band experience, ‘Return to the 37th Chamber’ repeats their craft of cultish kung-fu cabaret rewriting the scrolls of Shaolin methodology. Though they dart in as quickly as they sneak out, they’re politely nuthin’ to fuck wit’ when you’re trying to name that tune.
A jawbreaker flow meets boom-bap control; ZoTheJerk and Frost Gamble’s ‘Black Beach’ makes strong statements, showing Detroit determination to put things right – or at least stay vigilant – in a world full of buck-passing. A good combination that cruises before T-boning ya. Fuelled by hard liquor and blackmarket diesel, TOPR’s ‘Afterlife of the Party’ is a 13 track brawl finding “epiphanies in heresy, poetry in vulgarity”, kicking down doors and spitting wisdom with the force of a slammed down shot glass. Even at its calmest, there’s only one (albeit methodical) trajectory, justifying arguments and rabble rousing as a hard-bitten B-boy. The usual safe-breaking, toothpick-chewing, phone-tapping vibes from Roc Marciano plots ‘Rosebudd’s Revenge’, a seedy shoulder-brusher putting its kingpin in a familiar position of power, to the sound of a soul jukebox watching trife life go by.
Hosting a sophisticated dinner party but still putting fresh kicks on the table, Dr Drumah runs a tight ship of instrumentals passing round cigar-n-scotch jazz and choice samples keeping ears attracted late on. ‘90’s Mindz’ is precisely put together, a showcase of simple pleasures that’s got plenty of mileage. Once that’s soiree’s over and done with, head over to Vital’s ‘Pieces of Time’ for pretty much more of the same; hard shells with soft centres and golden age hues, in an easy access network of neck work. Argentinean Gas-Lab boasts an international cast to take you ahead of the sunrise on the soul dejeuner ‘Fusion’, all piano keys and horns applying shine to respectful spit. ‘Rise N Shine’ shakes the bottle and wakes a little Samba in Spaniard Alex Rocks, an easygoing beatsmith who gets his US guests licking their lips from the stoop. With a squeeze of bossa funk in the mix as well, it sticks to the script enough for soft tops and sunloungers to start folding themselves back.
Welcoming your retinas this month: Open Mike Eagle turns superhero, Joey Badass pledges allegiance, Knowledge Nick gives a thumbs down, and Ash the Author keeps on track.
Exclusive: Sentidor ‘ O Pássaro Canta Parecido Com A Música Que Fizemos (The Bird Sings Like The Songs We Made)’ Video
March 21, 2017
Words: Dominic Valvona
We are grateful to the assiduous Latin American celebrating hub, publisher and label Sounds and Colours for sending us over an exclusive video from the Brazilian producer and musician Sentidor‘s upcoming collage soundtrack peregrination Am_Par_Sis. The final haunting pulchritude from that album, released at the end of March, ‘O Pássaro Canta Parecido Com A Música Que Fizemos (The Bird Sings Like The Songs We Made)’ is part of a 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 favourite sons, Tom Jobim, and his post-bossa nova peak experiment Passarim.
Synonymous and celebrated for bringing bossa nova to the world, Jobim’s explorations outside the genre had gone largely unnoticed. Sentidor, the alter ego of Belo Horizonte native and rising experimental music star João Carvalho, has shed new light on Jobim’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, or as the press release opines and offers a deeper backstory: ‘It imagines what would happen if Passarim was discovered in a future version of Rio de Janeiro, once the political and social upheavals of the present day have magnified themselves into warfare, leaving the city in ruins. 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? Without knowing it Sentidor has built on ideas conveyed through John Oswald’s Plunderphonics or Christian Marclay’s Record Without a Cover, questioning what is public domain in the modern world and whether something sacred should be preserved or rather gather dust and slowly turn into something else.’
Regulars to the site will have seen my review of his “revisted” collaboration with native Costa Rican musical ethnologist Nillo (Johnny Gutierrez), SIBÖ, last year, which itself was a transmogrified remix version of the duo’s original field recordings and manipulating production. Here on this latest venture, Sentidor is even more ambitious and creative.
Am_Par_Sis is digitally released by Sounds and Colours on Friday 24th March 2017. Expect to see a full review at a later date. For now enjoy this video premiere teaser.
March 15, 2017
Words: Dominic Valvona
Blue Orchids ‘Skull Jam’
Released by Tiny Global Productions, 17th March 2017
I paraphrase, but the old in-joke adage that everyone who ever meets Mark E. Smith ends up serving a penance as a band member in The Fall isn’t far from the truth. It doesn’t seem to even matter if you have any musical knowledge, let alone can play an instrument (in the conventional sense), Smith will soon knock it out of you. If you happened to have lived in Manchester, let alone Smith’s native Salford, in the last forty years and consider yourself on the fringes of the music industry, then you’ve probably served an apprenticeship; a baptism of fire as a Fall initiate.
Part of the (depending on your viewpoint) iconic augur or shambling ravings Live At The Witch Trials lineup, Martin Bramah was a fleeting, but no less important, member of the ramshackle group; leaving halfway through sessions for The Fall’s second LP Dragnet. With legendary ennui and gusto, and a habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, when Smith falls out with someone others usually follow; rallying to banishment, culled as it were. Joining Braham to form the Blue Orchids in 1981, a litany of former shunned Fall members filled the ranks. Travelling a far less painful parallel trajectory, Bramah’s Orchids shared but managed to forge a more harmonious Manchester sound during the 80s. Driven by similar influences, from The Monks to Arthur Lee, in a haze of rambunctious garage and post punk and giddy Mellotron psych, the Blue Orchids were a less discordant rabble, producing a controlled, more melodic, noise.
Christened, though in true rock’n’roll mythology, misheard, by the revered unofficial poet laureate of Salford, John Cooper Clarke, the ‘Blessed’ Orchids (as they would have been), have had a checkered history; plenty of ups and downs, break-ups and reformations, the last significant one being in 2012, put back together on a surge of new interest. Playing with more or less every significant musician on the Manchester music scene, Bramah has collaborated and even formed new bands along the way, including Factory Star in 2008.
On a roll in recent years he’s returned to ignite the Orchids, releasing a new album (riffing on T. H. White’s Arthurian masterpiece) The Once And Future Thing in 2016 off the back of a number of re-releases. Recorded at the same time and forming half of the group’s latest EP (their first release of 2017) Skull Jam, the title-track and swirling vortex centerpiece, Hanging Man, were originally earmarked as a follow-up single. However, clocking in at the seven-minute mark Hanging Man proved impossible to press onto vinyl without “drastic edits”. And so, it was put on hold. Shortly thereafter, and with another personnel change (Vince Hunt taking over on bass duties from Chris Dutton), rehearsals bore fruit, with two new songs, The Devil Laughs and Work Before The Moon Falls: ideal companions for the single that never was. In what would be another Mark E. Smith crossover, the latter of these more recently thrashed out tracks is an ironic riff on The Fall’s Before The Moon Falls, from the band’s second album, Dragnet. Bramah’s fingerprints were all over that original and half the music on the album, but in true curmudgeon Smith style, he went unaccredited – though even this petty-mindedness wouldn’t stop him from later returning to The Fall’s fold; before being unceremoniously sacked.
Proving to be on-form, dynamic, if not sagacious, Skull Jam, a prelude itself to a brand new album (no dates on that yet), is an intense but melodious carousel of quintessential Manchester psychedelia, garage and counter-culture rock’n’roll. The title-track has a certain air of acid country to its garage band guitar wrangling and constant churning “break the chains” incited mild rage – though mild irritation would be a better description. A lax Steppenwolf or Sky Saxon musing on the range, Skull Jam has a steady candour and looseness, playing lightly with its influences. Hanging Man, billed as the “full version” in brackets, is a worthy tour de force; an Inspiral Carpet and Teardrop Explodes dazzler realignment of the Modern Lover’s Roadrunner with gnarled but softened edges. The Devil’s Laugh maintains the post punk foundations, albeit slightly more thickset with a touch of hushed revenant organ and a Flamin’ Groovies feel, whilst Work Before The Moon Falls has a trace of The 13th Floor Elevators tripping on the Tex-Mex border with a ska gait rhythm and lonely plucked banjo for company.
It seems Bramah and his comrades haven’t lost faith, and continue in their inimitable way to call for us all to break free and loose from the man – “Must create a new regime, or live by another man’s”. With what seems like renewed vigour, the band going out on their longest tour in nearly thirty years, supporting The Nightingales, the Orchids have announced plans for a new, as yet untitled, album, which promises to bare a “more intense and disturbing sound”. Approaching another decade, and the band’s fortieth anniversary, it seems there is plenty more to come and look forward to from a blossoming Orchids.
NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona
Tickling Our Fancy 047: Ah! Kosmos, Armellodie Records, La Mambanegra, Mokoomba, Omar Rahbany, Taos Humm, and Charles Vaughn.
Welcome to another edition of Dominic Valvona’s, most eclectic, review roundup of new releases. #47 includes a lively and sizzling revitalization of the Salsa music and dance style by Colombia’s La Mambanegra; an ambitious global-stamped passport of world music peregrinations, suites and songs from the Lebanese polymath Omar Rahbany; a Tonga ancestry soundtrack to love, loss and displacement from Zimbabwe’s breezy and playful lilting Mokoomba; the debut kaleidoscope misadventures of Taos Humm; a two-track EP of sophisticated electronic and cerebral synth pop from Ah! Kosmos, and psychogeography style ruminations on the omnipresence of pylons from Charles Vaughn. Plus, Glasgow’s Armellodie Records celebrate their tenth anniversary with a special celebratory showcase compilation of indie and quirky pop.
Omar Rahbany ‘Passport’
Released 10th March 2017
Talk about ambitious. The grandiose debut, part Middle Eastern rhapsody, part global symphony, from the Lebanese musical polymath Omar Rahbany, boasts a cast of 180 musicians and performers, from twelve different nationalities; all pulling together to produce an hour-long lyrical odyssey.
Taking the Beirut-born Rahbany three years to finish, his well-stamped Passport is inspired by a whirlwind of ideas and mediums. Broadening his “total work of art” conceptions to include film and choreography, projecting a mix of evocative instrumentals and vocal suites across a wide-screen vista, his “borderless” experiments are sophisticated, multi-layered and sweeping; often amorphously dropping from the classical into jazz-fusion.
The action and the themes, however, are deeply rooted, growing from a city that’s seen thousands of years of turmoil. Beirut, and the Lebanon, has been both scarred and enriched by countless civilizations, and as a result, the city is a patchwork of languages and religions, all sharing a history no one can agree on, or as the press statement puts it, Lebanon is “a nation that undertakes a constant struggle to find its ‘absolute identity’.” Imbued with a rich heritage that goes back at least two generations – his grandfather, Mansour, and great uncle, Assi, wowed the country with their distinct innovative compositions as the Rahbany Brothers; and his father is a playwright composer/lyricist and mother a famed professional dancer – Omer Rahbany’s opus is unmistakably steeped in the psychogeography of his native land.
Passport begins with a heralded Overture suite, which glides majestically through trilling flutes, accordion, piano and softened timpani, interpreting seasons as it goes and gradually building to a tumultuous crescendo. The Kiev City Symphony, conducted by Volodymyr Sirenko, adds a momentous grandeur of classicism and Bernstein to the Lebanese panorama. This full gamut of emotions score is followed by the heart aching Arabian lamented musical-esque, Umbrella Woman, which features the French Chanson like beautiful spiraling vocal performance of Ghada Nehme, and again, a grandiose orchestra accompaniment. Keeping a semblance of the sinfonietta, but also talking a cue from Amandia period Miles Davis, Rahbany and his extensive cast of players create an askewer avant-garde jazz, reggae and rock music soundtrack to the Biblical referenced vanity project, the tower of Babel, on the constantly evolving and changing Programmusik: Babel. A suitable cacophony is enacted to what was a legendary tower, built to reach the heavens and channel all communications under one universal language; TV and radio transmissions crackle alongside rocket bombardments and speeches to make the point.
Waltzes, rituals, the Tango, Byzantium, allusions to astral-travelling and spiritual peace are played on a mix of both traditional Western and Eastern instruments, including the bezok, rezok and oud. They articulate a wide spectrum of landscapes, from the deserts of North Africa to the reaches of outer space.
A soundtrack to an, as yet, unmade global spanning movie, Passport drifts from Lebanese theatre to jazz and the classical on what is an enthralling and ambitious whirlwind of a modern world music symphony.
La Mambanegra ‘El Callegüeso y su Mala Maña’
Released by Movimientos Records, 3rd March 2017
Nothing short of reinventing Salsa, the “machine-drilled nine-piece orchestra” from Colombia, La Mambanegra, promises an indecorous rebirth of the liveliest of Latin America’s music and dance styles. Injecting street smarts and a venomous dose of sass to a genre that has lost its luster in recent times, Jacobo Velez in his role as bandleader takes liberal pinches of inspiration from Salsa’s most vibrant and dynamic old guard and adds a eclectic mix of Nuyorican funk, soul, hip-hop and ragamuffin.
Translating as “The Black Mamba”, the La Mambanegra name and concept is embellished with Colombian mysticism and legend, loosely based on fact and fiction. Charting the story of an anonymous “hero” from the Barrio Obrero neighborhood in Cali (Colombia’s third largest city) and his “fantastic” adventures via La Habana, as he makes a journey to New York. Inspired by Velez’s own great grandfather, the musician Thomas Renteria (known to many as El Callegüeso Antigua), and his misadventures on a perilous voyage to the “Big Apple”, El Callegüeso y su Mala Maña celebrates as much as it focuses on Colombia’s tumultuous history; from the country’s own internal flight of people from the worst-hit areas of fighting between the government and FARC forces (though negotiations for an end to this fifty-year conflict are reaching, what looks like, a peaceful resolution), to cities such as Cali, and the migration to more stable states across the region and further afield, especially to the already mentioned New York. Renteria escaped drowning, thrown overboard on his intrepid voyage. Thankfully he made land; washed-up and stranded in Cuba, his stay proved to have been a productive one as he soon made friends with the famed Chano Pozo, who gave him, as legend has it, a “magical flute” from Africa. This infamous flute made that eventual journey to the USA, and was passed on to Velez, who uses it now as the source of his band name.
Migrating protagonists and snake spirited flutes aside, Velez and his troupe’s self-styled “break Salsa” transformation shoves Salsa towards its original revolutionary and communal dynamism. Sizzling with a wealth of Colombian talent, the La Mambanegra hub expands its ranks to include guest spots from Latin America’s finest. Dutch trumpeter, and Colombian-resident, Maite Hantele appears with the Colombian percussionist Denilson Ibargüen on the sultry, brightened horns, Fania-style trip to Africa via Miami opener, Pure Potenkem, and jazz great, Eddy Martinez can be heard on the more lilting, serenaded, lyrical tongue-twisting, Contare Para Vos. They sweep, but mostly saunter, through a grandiose mix of Kid Frost meet DJ Muggs Latino funking rap (La Compostura and Barrio Caliente, which features a lingering candour of The Pazant Brothers A Gritty Nitty); Albert Ayler jamming with Lalo Schifrin to create a Havana-style Salsa and jazz hybrid (Me Parece Perfecto); and Henri-Pierre Noel Haitian disco converges with South American cabaret (La Kokinbomba).
La Mambanegra’s uncoiled snake spirit spits out a fiery fusion, straddling the old and new guards and adding some 21st century grunt and excitement to a Salsa rebirth. One of many great groups from Colombia enlivened and confident of their vigorous cross-border influences, this multi-limbed orchestra steps up with an invigorated Latin celebration and revival.
Released by Outhere Records, March 10th 2017
The next stop on our global music review is Zimbabwe; home to the energetic Mokoomba. Imbued by the awe-inspiring, life-giving forces of the Victoria Falls and Zambezi River scenery that nurtures the region, the group pay homage, not just with their name, which translates and encapsulates a “deep respect for the river”, but in their lyrics too. Most notably on the opening pan-flute lilting, nylon-string plucked guitar swooning Mokole, which literally translates as “water” in the Ndebele tongue, and pays tribute to the beauty and importance of those impressive and immensely powerful Falls.
Though they use a mix of languages on their latest, self-produced, album Luyando, it is the ethnicity of the Tonga that proves to be the integral ingredient to the Mokoomba sound and subject matters. One of Zimbabwe and the neighboring Zambia’s smallest ethnic groups, the Tonga’s ancestry goes back an age, yet in the second half of the twentieth century they were unceremoniously uprooted from their homes to make way for the Kariba dam. No repatriations were ever made, and fifty odd years later, many are still waiting to be connected to electricity. Their plight forms the backbone of the atavistic meets organically building, call and response, breakbeat Kambowa track. An articulation of pain, loss and longing, this traditional drum and group vocal performance begins as a glimpse into history but soon grows rhythmically, hurtling down the railway track towards a joyful funk.
The balance between tradition and the contemporary continues throughout the album. Growing up in the Chinotimba Township, the group learnt to blend their roots with the rhythms of Zimrock, soukous, ska and salsa. Moving closer towards those roots, Mokoomba have changed direction slightly from their debut in 2012, Rising Tide, which was a more switched-on rocking affair. Luyando is in comparison, more raw and stripped; a mostly acoustic performance that leans towards the local sounds of the region on what the bio declares, “is a quest for the wisdom of tradition and history as well as insight and solace amid contemporary crisis.”
Of course, no conversation, commentary and review on Zimbabwe can continue for long without mentioning the omnipresent Mugabe. Completely impervious to his own people and the neighboring borders and greater international communities; splitting his fiefdom into fierce rivalries whilst the country grinds to a slow collapse, Robert Mugabe has unsurprisingly few admirers within the arts and music world. Yet far from rattling the rafters and bawling in protest, Makoomba meander peaceably through their Tonga heritage, making a connection with the rituals and ceremonies that shaped them: looking back to go forward in a sense. The title track for instance, “mother’s love”, alludes to the Makishi masquerade and joyous graduation ceremony called Chilende; an initiation for boys between the ages of eight and twelve, who leave their village homes and live for one to three months at a bush camp. The song itself is a soothing sweet paean, punctuated by various hooting, animal-like, noises. And the moving, dusty earthy soulful Kumukanda is built around another Tonga initiation ceremony, on the band experienced in their teens.
Raw and emotional raspy; plucking and picking; shuffling and winding; Mokoomba channel their ancestral roots through an often lulled and playful, though at times more intense, spiritually harmonious blend of local and cross border rhythms. The voice of protest and the quest to find an answer to all the turmoil has seldom sounded so breezy and sweetened.
Taos Humm ‘Flute Of The Noodle Bender’
Released by Stolen Body Records/ Howling Owl Records, 17th March 2017
The burgeoning Bristol label, Stolen Body Records, has carved a certain niche for itself delivering some of the best garage band and psychedelic releases of late; somehow squeezing something fresh and inventive out of genres that, lets face it, have been flogged to death.
Among their rich roster, and a constant surprise, is the Isle of Wight émigré abound in Bristol, Edward Penfold, whose debut languid beyond-the-calico-wall psychedelic solo LP, Caulkhead, made our choice albums of 2016. Another year, another set-up and this time a congruous shared release with Howling Owl Records sees Penfold joined by fellow psych initiates Joe Paradisos and Matt Robbins, under the Taos Humm banner.
The trio’s debut, Flute Of The Noodle Bender, might imply some kind of allusion to psychedelia’s golden age, but there’s more of a post-punk, cacophonous feel to this twisted kaleidoscope of haunted somnolence and erratic, jerking, razor-cutting guitar hysteria: and indeed noodling. Though vocally – when there are lyrics, narration and voiced utterances to be found – the reverberations of Kevin Ayers, Syd Barrett and gramophone, calling from a bygone bucolic age, Tiny Tim permeate Taos Humm sound musically like a lax clash of Postcard Record label releases from the early 80s – on the discordant strangulated guitar vortex Hi Hats Are For Post Punk Heroes – and a Galapagos islands Fiery Furnaces – on the alternating attack/ sustain amorphous Velociraptortoise.
Despite the spikiness, intense tremolo quivers and the tortuous Gothic schlock horror screaming and screeching guitar mooning of BB, there’s a semblance of melting psychedelia, shoegaze and pondering post-rock lingering in between the erraticism and urgency. This kool-aid inebriated state can be heard on the wafting, mirage melodious Meek, and the lulling South Seas peregrination Tapestar, which has the group perform a suitable drifting, lush, instrumental and hushed cooing workout over the top of a recorded loop, played off what sounds like (as the title would imply) a tape recorder, from John Barry’s You Only Live Twice soundtrack.
Flute Of The Noodle Bender is full of ideas, both maniacal and languorously vague. Psychedelia, lo fi, shoegaze, post this past that all merge into a mix of wig out adventures and off-kilter velocity that’s way beyond the imaginations of most bands.
Various Artists ‘Armellodie Is 10’
Released by Armellodie Records, 10th March 2017
Self-deprecating. Mocking their status as a relatively obscure record label – as demonstrated by the cover art, which features a blasé Daft Punk, as though beamed down from another planet, loftily show their ignorance to a Glaswegian record shop assistant – the thankless task duo behind Glasgow’s Armellodie Records, Al Nero and Scott Maple, celebrate their tenth anniversary.
A beacon for countless mavericks and eccentrics, Armellodie has – despite alluding universal recognition from silly robotic-helmeted French electronic music stars – released a steady flow of exciting, interesting and melodically diaphanous indie and quirky pop records over the last ten years. Encapsulating, what is and has been, a varied roster Armellodie Is 10 documents the label’s output; picking out twenty tracks.
Featured on the Monolith Cocktail a while back, the collection’s opening artist, the idiosyncratic Yip Man, offers an skewered rhythmic gait version of Squeeze on the inventive pop ditty Barnburner. Also previously receiving our seal of approval, the lush anthemic indie stargazers, The Hazey Janes, are represented by their magnificent Manics-esque emotional rollercoaster The Fathom Line.
Elsewhere, Appletop make US college radio alt-rock sound somehow inimitably Scottish on Burning Land; the rambunctious Super Adventure Club turn in a distressed math rock stormer with Pick Up Sticks; and Conor Mason hands-in the lingering, charming country pick-up Words.
Immensely proud of their roots, referencing through band names and song titles Scotland’s tumultuous but proud history: For instance, The Scottish Enlightenment, which proves to be a great band moniker. However, The Douglas Firs (another cracking name), with all the sincerity in the world, pay a sort of homage to that cult favorite, Highlander – we’ll forget about the loose historical inaccuracies, it is a fantasy after all. The Quickening, which proves to be a folky peregrination around the campfires – pondering between sweetness and ambient experimentation –, takes its title from the, shoddy and usually over-egged pyrotechnic blast onscreen, duel to the death by decapitation of the film and TV franchises’ “immortals”. The song itself sounds serious enough and quite beautiful.
Not that any validation is needed, Armellodie Is 10 is a most brilliant showcase and anniversary celebration from a label that has remained constant. This is a label that thoroughly deserves championing. Here’s to the next anniversary in 2027.
Ah! Kosmos ‘Together We Collide’
Featured for the first time on the Monolith Cocktail in 2013, the Istanbul-born sound designer and electronic music composer Basak Günak was just starting out on a fruitful career, releasing the alien subterranean debut EP, Flesh. Under the cosmological guise of Ah! Kosmos, Günak has, we’re happy to say, gone on to reach international acclaim.
Relocating to Berlin a while back, Günak has composed numerous sound-art pieces and soundtracks for installations, site-specific work, short films and plays, and has also garnered favorable reviews for her experimental electronic and dance music performances. Her latest release, Together We Collide, is a two-track EP; the first track of which, From The Land Below, features the rich polygenesis soulful vocals of Warp label signed artist LAFAWNDAH. Clattering-stick percussion, taut delay, nuanced swaddling horns and a number of synchronized rhythms, both Techno and futuristic jazz leaning, form a sophisticated soundtrack for the undulating vocals. Moody in the manner of Massive Attack, this mythological, spiritual trip starts to click after repeated plays, and sounds more and more melodies each time.
Keeping From The Land Below company is the Tricky-swooning-to-the-moon-above-Eastern-skies, winding and pondering, Silent Safe. Awaiting the listener is a wilderness with symbolic spellbinding ritual yearning, cooing lyricism and tribal trip-hop beats, verging on leftfield synth pop.
Highly sophisticated, nuanced and dare say, cerebral, Günak continues to produce a deep thoughtful mix of electronic and melodic poetics, this latest EP another brilliant example of her growing reputation as an inventive composer and artist.
Charles Vaughan ‘Pylon Reveries’
Released by Wayside & Woodland Recordings, 24th March 2017
Despite being vividly warned-off, like many of us kids in the 1980s, exposed to TV public health and warning announcements films from playing anywhere near pylons (for obvious reasons). Charles Vaughan is fascinated with these metal leviathans. Collected from a decade’s worth of filled-up hard drives and miscellaneous tapes, his fourth soundscape come psychogeography soundtrack is suffused with the pylons constant throbbing and charged omnipresence.
Attempting in a conceptual sonic manner to escape the overburdened mind, plugged into the overbearing data avalanche of an increasing impossible to break free from technologically connected world, Vaughan shows that even in the middle of an isolated field/meadow it’s near impossible to find a sense of disconnection: the hum, pulse and crackle of technology always close at hand; symbolized by the proliferation of pylons, straddling the landscape.
Handled with subtlety, the fizzled droning undulations of these looming “sentinels” move slowly and sonorously; often in trepidation and constantly unsettling. From shorter, passing vignettes and ruminations to longer, drawn-out ambient pieces, Pylon Reveries fluctuates between Ambient Works era Aphex Twin and Kosmische pioneer Asmus Tietchens, and on the transmogrified harpsichord-like arpeggiator, neo-classical, Revery, Thomas Dinger and Hans-Joachim Roedelius.
There’s a certain wonder and reflection on these “totems”, but also a sense of nostalgia too, one borne out of an interest for the type of dystopia themed TV shows of the late 70s and 80s. Vaughan after all takes his name from a character in the British lo fi drama, Survivors; the synopsis of which has a virus wipe out 98% (very specific!) of the world’s population. Vaughan emerges in the aftermath of this catastrophe with a band of “survivors” to a desolate wilderness. Tasked with collecting information and exploring he hopes to rebuild society from the ground up. Here he is then, reimagined, documenting and creating a reification of the infrastructure that encroaches upon the land and our lives: Is technology freeing us or slowly binding us to a new reliance?
Increasingly uncomfortable with the fears of an ever-connected society, one that is moving towards a fully integrated technology, Vaughan has a myriad of feelings and meditations to represent through sound, but it is an atmosphere of unease and uncertainty, which dominates and prevails.