ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

Khalab & M’ Berra Ensemble ‘M’ Berra’
(Real World Records) 23rd April 2021

Treating the hypnotizing and often mystical voices and music of the Tuareg with a less intrusive style of congruous trance, loops, re-contextualized captured moments and sophisticated synthesized effects, the Italian polymath (producer, DJ, author, broadcaster on Italy’s national radio station Rai Radioz) Raffaele Costantino, aka Khalab, approaches his collaboration with musicians from the M’ Berra Refugee Camp with a great sensitivity and respect.

On Khalab’s latest African partnership, this time with Arab and Tuareg members of the sprawling tented refuge, he draws attention to yet another sorry tale of forced dispossession; highlighting the plight and limbo status of the 60,000 Malian refugees stuck since 2012 over the border in neighboring Mauritania. In the ongoing, but only the most recent wave of fighting in Mali, many people have abandoned their homes in the desert bordered regions of the country, many caught up in the Tuareg’s near seventy-year fight for an autonomous state within the north-eastern reaches of Mali: known as the Azawad.

A review like this can’t hope to do the subject matter of this struggle justice or devote the space to all the atrocities and convoluted history, but in brief the Tuareg’s heritage is often opaque, with even the name argued over by etymologists: There are many in the community that would rather the term disappeared, preferring instead to use ‘Kel Tamashek’.  A loose confederacy in one way of atavistic tribes, with a lineage to the Berber, who can be found throughout north and western Africa, the Tuareg have lived in Mali for a considerable time: centuries. In the last decade their fight against the Mali government over rights, representation and self-determination was hijacked by a boosted insurgency of international Islamic militants affiliated to ISIL. This ill-fated campaign nevertheless gained a lot of ground in its early stages, including the legendary ancient hub of learning and trade, Timbuktu; overwhelming the Mali government forces, who were forced to seek help from former colonial masters France. This intervention was semi-successful in stopping the momentum, and managed to gain much of the ground lost: however unstable that remains. It also didn’t help the cause when those Islamist forces more or less turned on the Tuareg Liberation groups.

Switching to terrorist guerilla tactics (including bombings), but still a major force to be reckoned with, the Islamist fighters have since spread mayhem to Mali’s neighbours in the region. The situation is made worse by an internal crisis in government in Mali (a coup last year brought in a still going, but unstable, interim government that is supposed to step down when elections can be held).

In this tumult of insecurity, is it any wonder Malians have fled?

Being a musician in this volatile environment has proved especially dangerous. Just last month on the blog we featured the Malian artist Anansy Cissé and his new album Anoura, which was put back by a culmination of problems that included a kidnapping and beating on the way to play at a festival in the country. It’s a common, shared experience of nearly everyone you speak to from the music community in Mali, who are trying desperately to eke out a living: many forced to abandon their homes for sanctuary in less dangerous parts of Africa, even the world.

Camped out in the Mauritania land of the lyrical griot storyteller, the many known and also fairly obscure musicians and singers that feature on this project are examples of this forced exodus. Featuring members of the Tamasheq speaking Tartit ensemble alongside others from the Arab and Tuareg communities, stories and harsh realities are voiced on an attuned album of desert song otherworldliness, the dreamy and rustic, earthy. Khalab having worked with an eclectic array of musical partners over the years, including the Malian percussionist maestro Baba Sissoko, takes his collaboration very seriously indeed; taking, we’re told, reverential ‘guidance’ from Tuareg ethnologist Barbara Fiore.

An entwined production of Tuareg roots and subtle (for the most part) electronica, Khalab takes the essence, sometimes just strands or excerpts of the source material and adds a sense of both Afro-Futurism and the cosmically trance-y. In similar sonic territory to Kutiman, Invisible System, Ammar 808 (at his most sub-bass frequency vibrating best) and even last year’s Vodou Alé treatment by Belgian electronic duo The Ångströmers of the Chouk Bwa troupe’s Haiti traditions, this vivid transformation sometimes offers the most translucent of electronic pulses, reverberations and washes to a stringy, spindled, trinket ringing and tinkering cattle trail wandering of and both the spiritual and aching messages of the Tuareg.

Some tracks seem to be just a gauzy atmospheric soundtrack memory of the nomadic life, whilst other performances are beefed-up with slow but punchy drum breaks. Polygon Kosmische synth shapes appear with rhythmic patter Techno on the looped buoyant motion (with a touch of Hailu Mergia keyboards) ‘Curfew’, and there’s a soulful House Music club groove that sits beneath a Modou Moctar like blues mirage on the festival sampled ‘Reste A L’Ombre’. Talking of Moctar, you can hear many similar echoes of the desert rock ‘n’ roll, blues vibe of groups like Tinariwen and Tamikrest; which is unsurprising as the members of Tartit who appear on this record share a similar heritage, roamed the same Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao trails.

Khalab knows when to let his partners breath, and even perform more or less without any additional synthesized effects or production; leaving the final say to a most beautiful hypnotizing, wandering desert yearned outro from the camp’s gifted primal blues players. Despite the crisis this project was born out of, Khalab and M’Berra Ensemble prove a transportive combination of imaginative, emotive and authentic Tuareg music and contemporary electronic sonic techniques. The music of displacement and anguish has seldom sounded so spellbinding and cosmic.

Of Interest…

Tamikrest ‘Tidal’

Kel Assouf ‘Black Tenere’

Invisible System ‘Dance To The Full Moon’

You can now help the Monolith Cocktail to continue and grow in this harsh climate through the mini-donation site Ko-Fi:

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

PLAYLIST/Dominic Valvona

An intergenerational, eclectic playlist vision, the Monolith Cocktail Social is the blog’s imaginary radio show; a smattering of music from my personal collection, my DJ sets and a lot of music I just wished I owned. Devoid of themes, restraints, or trends, expect to hear anything and everything; including some tributes to album that celebrate their 50th, 30th and 10th anniversaries: The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers (represented by The 5th Dimension’s diaphanous honed chorus take on ‘Moonlight Mile’), The Doors L.A. Woman (represented by the under-the-counterculture Gary Tucker and his version of ‘Hyacinth House’), Panda Bear’s Tomboy (the man himself in this instance) and The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld (again, the men themselves).


Erkin Koray  ‘Öksürük’
Lotti Golden  ‘Motor-Cycle Michael’
Jode  ‘When I Was A Younger Man’
The Croissants  ‘It’s A Day As Real As Today’
The Weirdos  ‘Happy People’
Steel Mill  ‘Zang Will’
Gary Tucker  ‘Hyacinth House’
The Makers  ‘Don’t Challenge Me’
Demon Boyz  ‘With a Z’
Showbiz & A.G.  ‘Fat Pockets’
Blahzay Blahzay  ‘Style And Grace’
Wilma Vritra  ‘Shallow Grave (Radio Edit)’
Would-Be-Goods  ‘Fruit Paradise’
Spike & Debbie  ‘Rushing Nowhere’
Panda Bear  ‘Surfer’s Hymn’
B Boys  ‘Sound Frequency’
The Wake  ‘Joke Shop’
Shark?  ‘Let’s Roll’
Dogfeet  ‘Armageddon’
Daevid Allen  ‘Boperactico’
Locomotive GT  ‘Képzeit Ripot: Arra Születtem’
Bread, Love And Dreams  ‘Masquerade’
The 5th Dimension  ‘Moonlight Mile’
Francis Lai  ‘Main Titles (The Games)’
Etron Fou Leloublan  ‘Face À L’Extravagante Montée Des Ascenseurs, Nous Resterons Fidèles À Notre Calme Détermination’
Nello Ciangherotti  ‘Metallo E Cemento’
Neel Murgai Ensemble  ‘Ngong’
Anjo Gabriel  ‘Mantra II’
Calvin Keys  ‘B. E.’
Trio Madjesi  ‘Moussa Photo Na Yo’
Ill Wind  ‘High Flying Birds’
Chupame El Dedo  ‘Me Duele’
Fawda Trio & SwamiMillion  ‘Money Beat’
The Orb  ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ Air Liquide  ‘Seamwave’
Samla Mammas Manna  ‘Manna Jamma’

We Need Your Help:

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

REVIEWS/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent releases include the diatribe ‘Boris Johnson Massacre’ and just in the last couple of months the King Of No-Fi album, a collaborative derangement with the Texas miscreant Occult Character, Heart To Heart, and just recently a double-A side single, ‘Shattered Pop Kiss/Sky Writing’. He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

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


The Flying Chaucers ‘Down With The Creeps’
(Blang Records)  2nd April 2021

How can you not like a band when they are named The Flying Chaucers? Especially when the track is full of lyrical wit and melodeon flair. It jangles and flirts with a charm peeled straight out of the how to make music with charm and joy book, the kind of song you will be humming before you go to bed and when you get up in the morning and all the time in-between. Yes indeedy this is a dream of a single, one to put a smile on the face of the sternest motherfucker.

Joy Formidable ‘Into The Blue’

This is actually quite a lovely song, shame that it is produced in such a polished and unoriginal way that sucks all the soul and heart out of the song – no doubt in the hope of getting on the BBC 6 MUSIC playlists. The blogs will love it as they wallop down any above average generic indie guitar music especially when the bombast is turned up to 11. Joy Formidable are a decent band and this is a decent enough track if you like this kind of thing.  But it lacks a certain spirit: the spirit of Adventure.


Vicky Gray ‘Atlaness’
(Stitch Records)  26th March 2021

If instrumental folk is your thing, you should check this four-track EP out, especially if you love the fiddle, as this is three fine fiddle instrumentals tracks that will have you and the person of your choice arm in arm reeling around your living room spinning like a mad thing: a mad thing that spins, not one that sits and rocks like a man out of your worst nightmares.

The fourth track is the only one with vocals and is a quite beautiful thing indeed, and one of those rare tracks that is not quite long enough; another few minutes of ‘Teif  on da Lum’ would have gone down very well indeed: imagine in the movie the Wicker Man, if there was a night club scene this would be the track that was playing a quite lovely strange and beguiling folk ditty in the background.

James PM Phillips ‘Bones’
(Link2Wales) 26th March 2021

To steal a line from the opening track ‘Blanketfort’: “Here is another form of mental entertainment”. And that is the perfect description of this quite beautifully strange touching album; an album that obviously had been made with great love, paying no attention to any musical genres but drawing on many, being folk, psych, dance or poetry. 

This is an album that has been made to entertain the maker himself I feel, and I assume James would love it, if others also find something of value something to draw a smile on one’s face something to make ones heart skip a beat something to make one tap their feet or just to make one think. Well, it has made me do all of the aforementioned, I think it especially in fact slapped me around the face reminding me that music is an expressive art form and not a product to be wrapped up and sold to the uncaring masses but something to lose oneself in.

Bones is not an album that will garner much daytime radio airplay I expect sadly, but underneath the gentle madness are undercurrents of a gifted melodicist at work and I hope this will attract the attention it and James deserve. If anyone is looking for a modern-day equivalent of Skip Spence’s Oar LP I would suggest they take some time and give Bones a listen.

Temple Garden  ‘Red Shift’
30th April 2021

This is the debut album by Temple Garden, a psych rock band from Austin, Texas, and it’s a sci-fi concept album inspired by golden era radio shows, and actually it is indeed pretty good. The words concept album normally have me running for the hills but this is very well done and at times reminds me more of Prefab Sprout than psych rock, which believe me is a point in its favour: I can quite imagine Paddy McAloon releasing this, him being a fan of the odd concept release himself.

The sound is very warm and smooth almost late-night FM radio listening and has moments of Steely Dan/ Weather Report/Rush type abandon (if abandon is the right word), and certainly strays into the prog territory at times.

So anyone out there wanting to relive the golden days of FM radio with an album awash with smoothly played smoothly performed and well written concept album this is indeed for you: The kind of release that Punk rock was supposed to get rid of, but thankfully didn’t.

Jason Crest ‘A Place In The Sun’
(Guerssen)  15th April 2021

Jason Crest were a 60s band from Kent who released five unsuccessful, commercially speaking singles. Artistically speaking they are a huge success and have in spades what was so magical about British 60s psych; the wonderful sublime mystically enhancing lyrics, all of course taken and written no doubt with a pinch of salt: the opening track ‘Turquoise Tandem Cycle’ is a complete gem of nonsensical imagery wrapped in a pure warmth of velvet 60s pop delight, part Procol Harum, part Keith West; if you close your eyes you can imagine being back in the late 60s soaking up the atmosphere of the Middle Earth club.

I cannot believe that Noel Gallagher had not heard and decided to rip off ‘Two By the Sea’ for the Oasis hit ‘Whatever’. So much so that I hope Jason Crest got their lawyers involved or are in the process of doing so for it is plagiarism undiluted. But where the Oasis track is a dull plodder of a song ‘Two by the Sea’ is a charming piece of 60s pop confectionary, as is the beautiful ‘Teagarden Lane’; both songs that the Bee Gees would no doubt have loved to add to their cannon of fine pop tracks.

How Jason Crest never managed to bother the hit parade is a bit of a mystery as ‘King Of The Castle’ had a certain The Move like charm about it, and the ba ba ba fade out is pure 60s pop magic, and also there is in fact a rather splendid cover of The Moves ‘Here We Go Round The Lemon Tree’ and also a rather great Baroque prog pop version of Smokey Robinsons ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ that has a lovely wig out at the end.

But all was not charming light and psych towards the end of their career, has they moved into Deep Purple territory with the organ drenched heavy metal like ‘Black Mass’. Maybe if they had stayed together into the 70s they may have found their niche and audience with the early years of the metal scene. 

This is a fine comp gathering together of a wonderful talented sixties band that certainly deserved more success than they achieved.

The Armories ‘Incognito’
(Big Stir Records) 1st April 2021

Is this the best album yet released on Big Stir Records? Well it is my favourite anyway. It’s an album where originals and covers are dispatched with equal aplomb, from the quite wonderful 12-string ringing poptastic version of John Cales ‘Paris 1919’ and the nostalgia churning cover of Christies ‘Yellow River’, and a version of XTC‘s ‘Senses Working Overtime’, which neither takes anything away from the original but adds a thin layer of sadness like a settling of dust on a once well-loved framed photograph of someone you once loved and secretly still do.

Melancholia is the texture of this album, and that is not saying it is an album of sadness and regret it is quite the opposite. It’s an album of life, in its many complexities; it has the magic quality that the Beatles oozed taking many influences and weaving them together so they always sounded like the Beatles and the Armoires have mastered that art taking new wave, folk, pop, country, power pop and pure guitar jangle and merging them into beautifully arranged heartfelt moments of pop life. It even has a rather wonderful tribute to the late great Mark E Smith with The Fall meets The B52’s like ‘Ghost Of Fall Singer In Depopulated Griefscape’, which had me thinking now, here is an idea would it not be great if Big Stir got Brix Smith to get the Adult Net back together and release an album through Big Stir that would be a match made in heaven. But until that dream comes true The Armoires “incognito” album will suffice with its songs that sting, ring, chime and pulls on the strings of your radio inflicted heart.

Nick Waterhouse ‘Promenade Blue’
(Innovative Leisure) 9th April 2021

Twenty seconds in and I knew I was going to love this album. All Drifters strings and Phil Spector dreams, the kind of album you imagine playing while you wait for your future soul mate to finish her soda pop in the all-night café; an album that takes you to the cartoon American dream of the 50s and early 60s when all the pop stars were called Bobby or Johnny, and Dick Clark would be hosting a twist competition on this week’s American Bandstand.

No this is not an album that sounds like it was made today, but 60 plus years ago and capturing the vibe and feel for those days perfectly if not knowing better, any of these tracks could slip into an oldies radio show without anyone blinking an eye.

Nick is a fine singer and songwriter and has mastered the nuances of early sixties pop and soul subject matters, lyrics, melodies, humour all mastered so much so he must be a little pissed off that when he wakes in the morning that it is 2021 and not 1961 even more than the rest of us! And I bet he has a hell of a good record collection. This is an album I’d more than recommend to you my dear readers to add to your collection. Smoothly frugtastic.

Patto ‘And That’s Jazz: Live 1971-1973’
(Think Like A Key Music) 9th April 2021

What we have here dear readers is previously unreleased recording from those progressive eccentrics Patto; recorded at the Torrington in London, early 1973. Yes, an album that captures the days of denim flares, long hair and head down lay it on me mama boogie; the days when Whispering Bob Harris would smoothly introduce the likes of Patto with whispering delight.

What Patto did so well was combine The Faces like rock with slightly more prog rock expenditure and a James Brown like funk  – especially on the wonderfully funky ‘Singing The Blues On Reds’ – and this fine album captures all the magic of their legendary live performances. They were indeed a band that could, as some would say, cut it loose, and genre hopped with some style, sometimes in the same song – ‘My Days Are Numbered’ take a bow, a beautiful mish mash of jazz rock folk and pure pop suss.

This album really is a time machine that takes you back to the magical 70s when the pubs were always full on a Saturday night and you could go and see a fine band and stagger home to watch Match Of The Day on TV with the sound of the band still buzzing in your ears. Yes indeed, this album manages to conjure up all those feelings of the true magic of music.

Ollie Halsall  ‘Lovers Leaping’
(Think Like A Key Music) 9th April 2021

The late great Ollie Halsall was of course a guitar player extraordinaire, not just the guitarist with Patto and session player with the likes of John Cale and Kevin Ayers, and also was under consideration to replace Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones before Ronnie Wood got the gig, but also a fine vocalist and songwriter – supplying vocals on a number of tracks on the Rutles album no less. So what we have here is an album of previously unreleased demos of songs for an album he planned to record but for whatever reason never got around to. This album shies away from his guitar playing and concentrates instead on his songwriting; and what fine songs they are. From the lead off track the pop boogie of ‘Hey Hey Little Girl’ with the slight glam feel almost Trex like in fact, through to the McCartneyesque ‘Back Against The Wall’ – and McCartney seems to be a huge influence on the album, with a lot of his like touches. 

What we are treated to is an album of fine pop rock: ‘Crazy When I Fall In Love’ could easily have slipped onto the first two Big Star albums, and nobody would have blinked an eye. This really is quite fantastic stuff and this album could easily become regarded as a lost classic, and I’d advise anyone with even the slightest interest in 70s pop rock to invest in this mighty fine collection.

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

REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona

Amanda Whiting ‘After Dark’
(Jazzman) 9th April 2021

Gilded reminisces, meandered trains of thought and turbulent mood fluctuations provide the soundtrack for this harp-led nocturnal album of ‘after dark’ evocations. Bridging both jazz and the classical the adroit Welsh harpist Amanda Whiting,and her lightness-of-touch troupe of John Reynolds on drums and Aidan Thomas on bass, effortlessly seem to glide and skip between eras and moods on a nighttime flit. 

First of all let’s get the most obvious reference points and influences out of the way. Yes, there is indeed an air and touch of the lineage of those transcendental, transportive and diaphanous jazz-harpist forbearers Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane about these performances, but you can also detect a touch of Corky Hale and the much more contemporary and sublime Brandee Younger too. Whiting however seems to flow across passages of Savoy, swing, the conscious, the experimental, and the bluesy. There’s even moments of Latin saunters and cocktail hour jazz on happier, feet dancing on the sand tracks like ‘Back To It’.   

In Whiting’s hands the harp performs both spells of the angelic and melancholic; the plaintive and translucent. Like water being caressed and charmed, there’s both waterfalls and trickles of the plucked and accentuate. Yet also shorter, sharper more attacking stabs and grating on ‘Just Blue’ and the rumbling, hard-bop swinging ‘The Feist’.

Providing another musical tangent, Glasgow’s tastemaker DJ and burgeoning remixer Rebecca Vasement is given the task of reimaging the album’s title track; which she does by casting the original in a more meditative state of dreamy, vaporous slumber. The lulled soulful coos and airy hummed vocal utterances of Nadya Albertsson can be heard floating and caressing this lifted spiritual treatment. You can hear the moodier, reflective original version later on in the album’s running order.

A quick mention to the articulate, occasionally bursting and splashed drums of Reynolds and mumbling, down-low runs and phrases and punctuation of Thomas’ bass is called for, as they provide a perfect sparse and sophisticated bed for Whiting’s untethered glistening harp music.

The midnight hour proves an inspired choice for Whiting as she freely moves with grace and élan across a cocktail of moods, memories and inventive play, on what is a most experimentally pleasant and heavenly jazz album.

Der Plan ‘Save Your Software’
(Bureau B) 16th April 2021

For a German electronic group that’s made various conceptual returns over the last forty odd years – even making a fleeted comeback as virtual avatars at one point – it seems unsurprising that the Der Plan vehicle would have in its vaults a take on Kraftwerk’s robotic assimilation schlock: the Man-Machine manifesto that saw the ‘showroom dummies’ become increasingly sophisticated in erasing their useless human shells for automated cybernetic ones.

Framed as a ‘long lost album’ from their 80s oeuvre, the Dusseldorf formed doyens of the Neue Deutsche Welle (the New German Wave) movement have decided to release the kooky, playful and often ridiculous Save Your Software conceptual electro and synth-pop LP. More ‘DAFT’ than DAF, this take on Kraftwerk’s computer world and various robotic riffs has a whole backstory of Tomorrow’s World invention. Founding members Moritz Reichelt (known as Moritz R®) and Frank Fenstermacher, joined in the 80s by Kurt ‘The Pyrolator’ Dahlke, are said to have ‘initiated’ the ‘Fanuks’ project to make themselves immortal as ‘Mensch-Machines’. Fanuks, a play on the actual all-too real Japanese robotics producer FANUC, involves all kinds of technological as well as philosophical themes; hardware as well as software talk. A vessel it seems for the possibilities but also concerns, ethics of A.I.: especially its role in the creative process. There’s even mention of a mysterious Bavarian philosopher, Nigelius Senada, brought in to advise on the project: clues to the mischievous nature of this album cover story really start to drop when this character turns up, his so-called ‘Theory Of Obscurity’ pinched from an infamous documentary film on The Residents.

The whole tale is narrated in a twelve-minute audio-documentary; the concept, interviews with band members and their robot forms sound-tracked by passages of music from the album, and to denote international scenery changes, archetypal Japanese mood music. It’s unfortunately, for me, all in German. But you get the gist nevertheless, the drive but failure to fully converge with that robotic host.

Der Plan however, have used the data, calculations, silly android voices to construct a quite enjoyable cyber-pop Techno album that bounces around in a retro arcade of arpeggiator and ascending, descending lit-up fruit machines, or, goes whistling around the bend on a Bullet Train. Zerox copiers dance, legs akimbo to Herbie’s ‘Roket’, Arthur Baker’s electro and the Art Of Noise’s sampled scratch barks. A creature it seems of the times it was supposedly created in (though sounds like it was made last week), there’s all those influences plus Neuclaus banging on the proverbial door of Yello’s studio, the Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sparks and Populäre Mechanik. Oh yeah, Der Plan pull them all in on the retro-futurist computer belter that springs and rolls through the discothèque, art gallery and workshop.

Der Plan merge Kippenberger like deadpan with a prototype Fanuk in crisis – the randy rebellious machine of ‘I Want To Sing Like Ella’, caught in the middle of identity catharsis -, an L.A. disaster movie answer machine message with a transmogrified form of neon new wave Miami boogie; and turn Chris Montez’s ‘Let’s Dance’ twister into a futuristic dummies bop. 

A throwback to an era of rudimental robotics, when the utopian view of A.I. connectivity was in its infancy, this Kraftwerkian flip feels just as relevant now in the current climate as tech seems to be fast approaching the holy grail of ‘equivalence’. We’re also seeing the dystopian visions of that same 80s period, when this album was apparently recorded. Clever, sophisticated, arty, on-tech but playfully tongue-in-cheek, Save Your Software is the 80s new wave pop album that never was. And I love it. 

IOKOI ‘Tales Of Another Felt Sense Of Self’
(-Ous) 26th March 2021

Creating a total immersive experience for all the senses, sound artist, vocalist and composer Maria Micciché deconstructs what has gone before so she and her collaborators on this latest project can create a set of new ‘sensations’ and experiences in which to address the theme of digital age disembodiment.

Under the IOKOI mantle, Micciché has pulled together the resources and creative skills of the videographer Michele Foti, olfactory (that’s sense of smell) artist Klara Ravat and graphic designer Sarah Parsons to take on a full exploration: part performance, part installation. It’s a cerebral project that taken three years to put together, with its multidisciplinary strands which includes Foti’s video clip studies of structure, movement, nature and the human body; Parson’s 208 page accompanying booklet of condescend video stills and fragments of Micciché’s song lyrics; and Ravat’s specially made room scent – to be applied when listening to the music.

Tales Of Another Felt Sense Of Self is a search, understanding of the differences and multifaceted dimensions of the ‘self’, ‘other’ and ‘same’. But it’s also a highly personal, intimate inward journey for the artist who utters, expels and in hushed tones narrates deeply personal sensations of longing and understanding. Tracks such as ‘SOS’, as it suggests, seem to be a signal, call out for help in the midst of variously voiced repetitions of the albums leitmotif mantra: those layered vocal cycles sound like enticing ad slogans echoing from out of a sort of Blade Runner futuristic soundtrack.  Elsewhere the birds sing a sweet song, yet ‘Bloody Life’ is full of sad narrated gestures and a neo-classical like piano that plays on in a tinkled, out-of-time fashion. Micciché in an almost resigned, quiet voice yearns for the sensations of certain reminisced scenic caresses whilst addressing the question of harmonious balance in our lives: finding it, as the lyrics whisper, in our complimentary opposites.

The whole experience of strung-out phonetics, reverberating breathy airy and almost hyperventilated voiced phrases and lyrics that float and manifest in the middle of electronic currents, tubular-like didgeridoo echoed rhythms and the vaporous is akin at times to walking around in a radiophonics rich space, kitted out with surround sound.

Taken separately as an aural experience, Micciché’s soundtrack is evocative and immersive enough. When put together with the aromas and imagery it must be and incredibly full-on perceptive experience.

This is conceptual sound art brought out of the gallery space and into the home; an experience made all the more intimate and personal.  

Conrad Schnitzler ‘Paracon (The Paragon Session Outtakes 1978-1979)’
(Bureau B) 26th March 2021

Continuing to reveal, and in some cases rejuvenate, the previously lain dormant archives of the Kosmische and electronic pioneer Conrad Schnitzler, Hamburg label of quality and repute, Bureau B, has released yet another treasure trove of his interstellar space experiments. This time it’s a session collection of outtakes from the late 70s, created at the Paragon named studio of tangerine dreamer and solo innovator Peter Baumann.

For those unaware of Schnitzler’s prestige, the Dusseldorf-born visionary co-founded the infamous Zodiak Free Arts Lab incubator, helped put together the first incarnation of the Kosmische superstars Cluster (or Kluster as it was known back then; his foils Roedelius and Moebius dropping the ‘K’ for a ‘C’ on Schnitzler’s departure) and appeared on the inaugural Tangerine Dream suite, Electronic Meditation, before founding Eruption in late ’71.  A solo career with a host of collaborations on the way lasted until his death in 2011.

One such partnership was with Populäre Mechanik stalwart and artist Wolfgang Seidel (appearing under the alias of Wolf Sequenza, and collaborating in recent years with artists as diverse as Lloyd Cole), the co-author of these particular expansions of space and minimalist-techno probes. Seidal became a regular foil for years: especially on the two Consequenz albums. With no track titles, just an ambiguous numerical ordering of recordings, the Paracon tracks sound pretty much like finished works in their own right; all sharing a mysterious cosmic and alien sound that’s both almost ominous and yet playfully evolving. There’s much of that rich Kosmische dancing and searching Tangerine Dream sound in these starry visions; Schnitzler bound for galactic travels aboard a propeller engine craft hovering over lunar vistas and primal soups. Throbbing metallic leviathans and flapping, slithered entities move about in the deep space as sonorous balls of refracted light cascade and twinkle. Yes it’s that sort of trip.

At times Schnitzler creates a calculus of falling data and Library music like chemistry sets activity, and at other times, begins to bring in some base-techno rhythms. It’s a similar palette of synthesized square waves, presets and early midi-electronica that permeates, yet there’s some eerie, spooked uneasy engine pulsing tones of Bernard Szajner and more majestic moon dust kooky waltzing amongst the comets to be found too. It seems bot Schnitzler and Seidel had some vision of the future whilst producing these tracks, bridging as they do both the Kosmische with early signs of Techno music.

Not so much ‘outtakes’ as an extended album of congruous space excursions and metallic machine music, these sessions are a worthy edition to the Schnitzler catalogue of unearthed electronica traverses: A great, expansive cosmic-mining album in its own right.

Kirk Barley/Church Andrews ‘Parallels’
(Takuroko) 5th April 2021

Here’s an idea that you don’t really ever see, an artist appearing both as themselves and under an alias on the same split release. In what is a congruous experiment, and division of labour, Kirk Barley does just that.

Via the prolific in-house Café OTO label, Barley uses, more or less, the same sound palette and set of tools to create two complimentary but different outcomes. As Barley the placable light-of-touch creator of this EP’s first half section (‘Parallels A1 – A5’), tubular-like chimes of metallic marimba (or xylophone, or even something else like it) and detuned, duller sounded bells ring, shimmer, cascade and float across a cosmos of avant-garde classical Japanese scenes, a very removed version of gamelan and sparse kooky 70s electronic Library music. Reverberating with depth and shadowed on some of these parallels by a traceable echo of the main baubles and bobbled rhythms and repeated interplay, these diaphanous chimed experiments also feature a sort of transduced language of globules and retro glassy computerized data. A Kosmische Sakamoto contemplating the blooming blossom, these more tranquil, sparse suites are dreamy and playful.

The Church Andrews alter ego meanwhile transforms that apparatus into something heavier: to a point. It’s a mirage of sorts: a staccato trippy, wavy fashioning of Warp and Ninja Tunes Techno, and even House Music (‘Parallels 8’ could be a drunken groove meeting between Felix Da Housecat and Luke Vibret). Introduced into this section of the split are more quickened rhythms, enveloping and thrusting effects. At times it sounds like a remix, transformation of the first half: you can hear those tubular chimes, undulations when the tight delay and faster iteration loops slacken off.

It’s all about the ‘motion’ and ‘percussive patterns’ on this sophisticated spread of Techno ingenuity, as opposed to the trickled washes and untethered approach of Barley’s first five ‘parallels’. Both however prove dreamy and reflective; creatively springing forth from the same source and musically entwined. Barley and Church, or Barley Church; two experimental visions from the same mind.   

Violet Nox ‘Whispering Galaxy’
(Infinity Vine Records) 9th April 2021

Pretty much encapsulated in the title of the Boston-based synth group’s fourth album, Whispering Galaxy is just that; a dreamy, ethereal chorus of hushed, diaphanous whispery voices, emanating from and sending out siren’s waves across an expansive galaxy.

A reverberating apparatus of various synthesizers, machines, a turntable and post-punk flange-guitar manipulate and fashion a vaporous pink ether of various hymnal and more mysterious haunted heavenly vocalists to woo over on a cosmic cruise into the great expanses of space. Wispy, airy but with a lot of depth the album’s space journeys fluctuate between the dry-ice, breathy, cybertronic jacked-up Kosmische and subtle Techno visitations of ‘Shapeshifter’, and the more esoteric Banshee-dreamed ‘Selene’ – which reimagines a sort of synthesized neo-folk vampiric Velvet Underground casting shadows beneath a full moon. On the almost spiritual voiced ‘Haumea’, Violet Nox’s spacecraft hurtles through a trippy, warped sonic vortex towards a dwarf planet, located just beyond Neptune’s orbit. Named after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth, and only discovered in 2004, Haumea inspires a suitable enough galaxy quest soundscape; one in which the Nox seem to turn off the engines and just drift towards in a suspended state of aria vocalized homage.

With touches, glimpses of mid-90s Bowie, Brian Reitzell and countless dreamy, synth-pop inspirations Violet Nox coo and woo sweet ‘somethings’ to the awe, mystique and trepidation of the galaxy beyond our reach.       

Federico Balducci/Fourthousandblackbirds ‘Anta Odeli Uta’
(Somewherecold Records) 9th April 2021

A return to the fold for the highly prolific adroit guitar sculptor of ‘dreamscapes for hope & the facilitation of enlightenment’ Federico Balducci, and a label debut for the experimental, abstract artist Albérick (appearing under the avian inspired Fourthousandblackbirds moniker), this drone, ambient and contemporary classical collaboration proves a most congruous fit and balance of the sparring partners musical art forms.

The two mavericks compliment each other on a most atmospheric soundtrack of paranormal like communications and drifts. I say paranormal, the opening ‘Wake’ seems to be tapping into channel ether on an esoteric TV set. FTB for his part produces a sizzle and crackled tuning of fuzz, flits and squiggles, and a sort of quasi-haunted organ as Balducci drops and lingers lightly administered guitar phrases and notes that hang on the edge of slight dislocation and even jilt a little: nearly in dissonance. A chill of the subterranean and the Gothic permeates the renaissance corpus ebb and tide of the next suite, ‘Ligeti And Gira Floating In A Pool Filled With Soy Milk’. A reference I assume to both the Swans’ instigator Michael Gira and the famous avant-garde, contemporary classical doyen György Ligeti, this haunted pool of gauzy mirages could be said to straddle their inventive influences: especially Ligeti’s signature ‘musical hallucination’. ‘Lux’ dwells in a sort of dank cavern, though the guitar parts, harmonically echo, ting and sparkle with a certain lightness of touch. There’s a repeating chorus of bird song on the next passage, ‘Toxoplasmois’, to balance out the title’s reference to a parasitic disease. You can hear the resonance of Balducci’s hand movements, up and down the tingled spine of his guitar; some movements, gestures, brushes of which sound almost harp-like.

Finishing on a communicative broadcast, ‘Queen Of Mars’ pairs FTBB’s Morse-coded dot-dashes and synthesized glassy bobs with Balducci’s woozy spirals and cyclonic whittled notes. That last track, and the album’s title too, are both reference points to the Soviet sci-fi film vision Aelita: Queen Of Mars, directed by Yakov Protazanov and based on Alexi Tolstoy’s 1923 novel of the same name. “Anta Odeli Uta” is the alien message beamed from Mars, which notifies Earth of their presence. A sort of Bolshevik version of John Carter Of Mars, it tells the tale of a Soviet engineer travelling to the red planet in a rocket ship, where he soon leads a popular uprising against the ruling Elders and falls in love with the planet’s queen. Except it all turns out to be a daydream, which in a way is where this visitation soundtrack heads. For this collaboration is an incipient dream state that lurks and drifts across an atmosphere of the spooked, hallucinating and strange to great success. Let’s hope both partners on this journey continue to work together in the future.

Sone Institute ‘New Vermin Replace Old’
(Mystery Bridge Records) 16th April 2021

From the as yet burnt-out ashes of previous ambient excursions, Roman Bezdyk pushes on into ‘uncharted territory’ with a newly fashioned quartet suite of the cerebral. Formerly a stalwart of the Manchester based Front & Follow label, Bezdyk has chosen to release this latest Sone Institute fronted production of ambient imbued, sophisticated simmering Techno on his own Mystery Bridge Records imprint.

Relating to but also casting adrift of past experiments, the opprobrious entitled New Vermin Replaces Old EP probes and ascends the astral with a subtle hand of guidance: not entirely untethered but free to roam and venture both the awe-inspired expanses of space and the more grounded, ominous ruins of our contemporary society.

It all begins with a most astro-nautical climb (nee glide) into the stratosphere and beyond with the opening ambient skying ‘Studded By Stars 1’. A light wind and square wave ease us into a most ‘starry’ atmosphere; yet subtly stirring in the midst of this cloud base is the resonating movements of objects and unseen forces. That’s the most ambient-esque it gets; from then on there’s added tubular metallic percussion, fluttering kinetic beats and threaded gnarled post-punk like traces of guitar.

‘Vulpine Smile’ may allude to something cunning and crafty, but the sonics reverberate and rattle towards the Germanic and echoes of labels such as Harthouse and R&S in the 90s. That same vibe of Teutonic propulsion can be heard on the Kraftwerkian (if they signed to Basic Channel), springy and bobbed cyber ‘Little Nurse’.

Dropping ball bearings in slot machines and spindling the transmogrified sounds of chimed bells, the twisting, almost clandestine ‘Dazzling Darkness’ seems to strangle the guts of a celeste on a near menacing and quite distinct experiment. 

The more you listen, the more you hear revealed from the subtle multilayering of descriptive sonics, rhythms and expletory strands. New Vermin Replace Old is a most intelligent, emotive immersion into the visceral: a highly conscious electronic journey into the unknown. 

Matt Donovan ‘Underwater Swimming’
24th March 2021

His short succinct bandcamp bio doesn’t do Matt Donovan justice, especially as (even if it’s to some degrees correct) his craft and reputation is foremost as a drummer, he’s branched out much further on previous projects before this latest solo offering. Formerly the motorizing Krautrock beat provider for Eat Lights Become Lights, and one half (alongside Nigel Bryant) of the now sadly defunct Untied Knot (two of their albums made our choice features of the year in the past), Donovan was already apt at extending his musicianship, composing and production chops.

Now venturing it alone, unheralded and just happy to share, he’s released a floatation, trippy wash album of hazed and quasi-nostalgic melody explorations: both instrumental and sung. Always full of surprises, Underwater Swimming is a dreamy recollection of C86, post-punk, Madchester, the rave era, spacy and industrial indie influences; refracted and molded to reflect Donovan’s search for melodious release in a time of great anxiety, tumult and uncertainty.

Songs and traverses (both utterly cosmic and more bruising, gnarled) seem to evoke various chapters, scenes and cathartic concerns: even studies. Many of which seem to be imbued by his formative years, growing up loving music in the 80s and early 90s. There’s furors into the baggy on the dreamed edge of the second summer of love ‘Mountain Missed’; an acid wash of The Charlatans, House Of Love, Stone Roses and The Essence. There’s a vibe, trace of the Hacienda years, and hints of Factory Records on the more pumped, bass rumbled ‘Wakhan Thanka’, and halcyon melodica-like plaintive Joy(ous) Division meets Spacemen 3 and The Church on ‘Lap Creature’. Donovan somehow manages to merge elements of The Tubeway Army, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Telescope and Popol Vuh on the motored, broody ‘Watch The Pressure’. It’s an album that takes in A.I. lamentable electro-blues, horizon gazing Kosmische, and a strange, magical Beach Boys (via John Lane) vision of oceanic ruminating. Under the light of celestial phenomenons, or around an Ibiza campfire with acoustic guitar, serenading, Donovan extends his portfolio and tastes and most importantly musicianship (going as far as to introduce subtle passages of piano and even prog rock into his oeuvre) on an exploration of ideas that all prove melodious. I’d say that was a success then. 

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

PLAYLIST SPECIAL/Dominic Valvona/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea/Matt Oliver

The Monthly Playlist Revue is partly our imaginary radio show, partly a chance to catch up and showcase the last month’s worth of features, recommendations and reviews on the Monolith Cocktail. An eclectic spread, journey as ever March’s edition includes an emphatic cosmological birthed release from Andrew Hung; a mugging off flow over the theme music of 80s favourite Minder by a rum lot of UK hip-hop talent (Satrumentalz/Big Toast/The Stranger Neighbour/Gee Bag/OliverSudden/Downstroke); a suite from the unheralded surprise diaphanous flotation opus from the congruous and glorious partnership of Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders; another dream partnership, Olivier Rocabois & John Howard; and the unusual usual mix of post-punk, ambient, industrial, avant-garde, pop, hip-hop and whatever genre you can think off.

Osayomore Joseph & The Creative Seven  ‘Africa Is My Root’
Sakili  ‘La Ri Latine’
Electric Jalaba  ‘Briando’ 
Blak-Ram  ‘Trauma Waters’
Xiu Xiu & Liars  ‘Rumpus Room’
Andrew Hung  ‘Space’
U.S. Girls  ‘junkyard’
Chinese American Bear  ‘Dumpling’
Camino Al Desvan  ‘La Contorsion De Pollo’
Alewya & Moses Boyd  ‘The Code’
Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders  ‘Movement 5’
Masayoshi Fujita  ‘Thunder’
Mecanica Clasica  ‘Ak Deniz’
Mosquitoes  ‘Strobeluck’
A Certain Ratio  ‘Wonderland’
Timo Lassy & Teppo Makynen  ‘Calling James (Live)’
U68  ‘Uncommon Nasa’
L’Orange & Namir Blade  ‘Corner Store Scandel’
M-Dot/DZ The Unknown/Mayhem Of EMS  ‘Schizoid’
Satrumentalz/Big Toast/The stranger Neighbour/Gee Bag/Oliver Sudden/Downstroke  ‘Fuck Off London’
Tom Caruna (Ft. Scorzayzee, Jabbathakut)  ‘You Look Nice’
Gloria  ‘Global Warning’
Jane Inc.  ‘Dirt And The Earth’
A Minor Place  ‘When Silvia Leaves’
Opus Kink  ‘Wild Bill’
Chris Church  ‘Praise’
Ex Norwegian & Rhys Marsh  ‘Half Baked’
Shaun McLachlan  ‘When We Dance’
Olivier Rocabois & John Howard  ‘Tonight I Need’
The Bordellos  ‘Shattered Pop Kiss’
Witch Camp (Ghana)  ‘When I Was Ill, You Didn’t Come Visit’
Fernando Anuang’a & Maasai Vocals  ‘Enkisesei’
Rafiki Jazz  ‘Omkoth Ma’ai’
Daughters Of The Desert  ‘Whispering Dunes’
Vukovar  ‘When Rome Falls (7” Brutalist Edit)’
Provincials  ‘Terms & Conditions’
Petrolio  ‘Y Nadie Queria Saber’
Abacaxi ‘Catfish’ Cementation Anxiety  ‘The Locks Are Not Enough’
Alder Ego  ‘I Saw It In A Dream’    

ALBUM REVIEW/Nicola Guerra

The Monolith Cocktail has been exchanging posts with our pen pal partners at the leading Italian music publication Kalporz for the last two years or more now; an exchange that continues unabated in 2021. This month Nicola Guerra introduces us to the under-the-radar song writing of Tim Cohen.

Tim Cohen ‘You Are Still Here’
(Bobo Integral Records)

It must be frustrating to prove to the world that you’re a thoroughbred songwriter when for years you’ve been told you have the skills but haven’t yet (fully) proved it. You carry around the judgment that someone has made regardless, without evaluating your artistic journey move by move. So, for many, Fresh & Only are one of the many bands that populate the Bay Area of San Francisco, intent on resurrecting that much-idealized Summer of Love, while the Magik Trick Band is just an impromptu project of Tim Cohen, voice and guitar of the aforementioned Fresh & Only, who takes a break from the garage-pop hangover to seek refuge in the tranquility of folk.

I’ve never agreed with any of this; on the contrary, I’ve always felt that the good Cohen’s musical creatures contained something pure, beautiful and true. I have always thought that improvement is possible, but is it feasible to think of improving spontaneity? Isn’t spontaneity itself a unique and indissoluble point of arrival, especially in music? What I have always dreamed and hypothesized is that Cohen would have written his masterpiece sooner or later, perhaps far from the pressure of those who tell you that there is someone out there better than you. Nothing could be truer, probably, but nothing could be more useless, when a musician shows himself to the world in a transparent way, with his weaknesses but above all with his strengths.

So, after much wandering between solo projects, stubbornness not to conform (Long Slow Dance in 2012 mixed garage and 80s pop in a delicious way), the ability to write memorable garage-pop songs (‘Shattered Moon’ and ‘I’m Gonna be your Elevator’ from Fresh & Onlys’ first records), fascinating fuzz-pop hybrids (‘Animal of Love’) and even poignant and dreamy folk ballads (‘Torture’ from Magik Trick’s Ruler of the Night), finally comes the certificate that certifies the greatness of this musician.

It’s no coincidence that You Are Still Here is released by a small and independent label in Madrid, Bobo Integral Record. Which will surely have made him feel at ease. And he reciprocates with this little masterpiece. Apparently relaxed, full of airy and sunny POP melodies ‘Give Me Yours’ and ‘Somebody Bout’ but also of more psych folk-tinged pieces ‘Dadaist Friend’ and ‘Homless’, the bearded Tim’s sixth work is not the goal of a lifetime achieved but an important milestone that attests to the undoubted quality of his writing and artistic vision.

You can always do better, sure. But better than being yourself is practically impossible.

ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona
Band Photo Credit: Karim Diarra

Samba Touré ‘Binga’
(Glitterbeat Records) 9th April 2021

Learning his craft as a member of the late and iconic Ali Farka Touré band, the Malian guitar star and artist Samba Touré soon found his own voice and signature style when he began a career as bandleader in the 90s. Samba’s wonderings and spirit of curiosity has seen him weave his Songhoy heritage with rock ‘n’ roll, r ‘n’ b and the blues to much acclaim; both nationally and internationally.

Yet for most of that time, especially within the last decade, this musical legacy has been created during the turbulence of war, drought, insurgencies and coups. Most of which Samba has addressed on his last three albums for the highly prolific global showcase label Glitterbeat Records. Two of those albums, Albala and Gandadiko, were both produced during the (still ongoing) Islamist terror group insurgency that more or less hijacked Mali’s Tuareg militants fight for an autonomous state within the Saharan bordering regions of the country. Spared at least some of the worst violence and atrocities having left his village home in the rural Malian region of Binga as a young man to find work in the capital of Bamako, Samba managed to record some most entrancing, captivating work; most of which called for unity and especially – a subject it seems very dear to his heart – issued calls to open the schools in Mali hit by security problems, strikes, but also in the last year, the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. On Samba’s fourth release for the label, and a nod to his homely roots, Binga, he channels a wizened, grizzled Muddy Waters on the stately blues and stoic but incandescent with angry cries ‘Atahas’; a song, more like a protest, against the sorry state of education in the country.

As if the tumult couldn’t be even more, well…tumultuous; after halting the Islamist militants with the help of former colonialists France, the Malian army is currently in the frontline with units from Chad, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, alongside the UN, in multiple operations to stave off Isis affiliated groups on the Mali borders and in its neighbor’s backyards. Attacks on government targets, soldiers and civilians continue unabated however: even as recent as January 2021.

With all these pressures, Mali’s own government continues to lurch from one crisis to the next; an uneasy interim style leadership, peppered by young officers from the Army who staged a coup back in the summer of last year (the exact same time this album was recorded), currently holds power. That coup’s leader, Colonel Assimi Goita, holds the title of Vice President, though this is only until elections are held later in the year.

Reminiscing of better times, or at least a ‘golden epoch’ in the greater region’s history, Samba’s new album features an opening and bookended tribute to songs from the Songhoy era; an empire that once stretched across most of the Western Sahel, the largest such kingdom in Africa during the 15th and 16th centuries. That empire’s crowning glory, Timbuktu, lies just 100 Km from Samba’s birthplace: It’s reverence, almost destroyed in the recent fighting, still inspires. Covering a couplet of traditional Songhoy fair, Samba and his intimate band join a great legacy of compatriots who’s also covered, interrupted atavistic songs from that period. Recounting the exploits of that tradition’s ‘great figures’, Samba’s version of the ‘Tamala’ standard is helped along on its way by his relaxed signature weaves of trickled and nimbly spun notes, played over a sinking but rooted bluesy rhythm. With a courtly evocation, and the harmonized vocal accompaniment of guest Djeneba Diakité, Samba softly flows with a little buoyancy across a Sahel vision. ‘Terey Kongo’ meanwhile is almost elliptical in its rhythm; almost sensual to a point; a nice wash in fact for a tale about admiring looks at the Malian women on the riverbank, observed on a trip down the Niger river towards Timbuktu.

Drawing back a little from the fuller sound of his previous album Wande – Samba’s bass player having now moved to the States – Samba mainstays Djimé Sissoko (on the ngoni) and Souleymane Kane (on calabash) move in close and intimately on what’s billed as the Malian virtuoso’s ‘most personal album yet’. This trio is augmented in parts with the most subtle of brooding low synthesized atmospherics, some country waned harmonica and additional shaken and tub patting percussion. Nothing ever quite breaks out, yet the sound is full, deep and resonating all the same; and above all, just as hypnotic: like a dipped motion camel ride across the desert plains. It’s a beautiful undulated journey that features jammed horizon mirages (the matter of fact entitled ‘Instrumental’) and elegiac reverent tributes (‘Kola Cissé).  

Once more Samba Touré embodies the music of the Songhoy on an album of mixed blessings: the bittersweet in counterpoint with sagacious optimism. Returning to the source, geographically and creatively, the Binga albums is as soulful as it is bluesy; as courtly as it is traversing; and a really satisfying immersive experience all round from one of Mali’s greatest exports.

See also…

Samba Touré ‘Gandadiko’   

Samba Touré ‘Wande’

Glitterbeat Records 5th Anniversary Special

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

ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

viA fAntAsticA ‘2 Any 1’
29th March 2021

Infrequently appearing on the Monolith Cocktail radar over the years, the Welsh ‘pop concrete’ maverick Justin Toland has thus far shared with us a sixteen-minute wistful, magical suite in aid of promoting the Agent Of Change law that ensues live music venues have protection in the event of noise complaints; furnished us with a disconsolate score for the mystical bard Arthur Machen’s fabled ghost story legend metaphor on the horrors of WWI; and appeared as part of a whole disarray of Welsh compatriot avant-garde electronic explorers on the Gwenno Saunders curated CAM 1 compilation: Toland’s contribution to this magnificent showcase, a Throbbing Gristle burble called ‘Caution’.

All three were filed under Toland’s Location Baked alias, but on the latest, quite generous, project it’s now the uppercase ‘A’ stuck viA fAntAsticA. The fantastical Toland is joined, some of the way, by an imaginary foil, the druid vocalist Gaia de Voxx, whose voice is like the bastardized offspring of Add N To X’s android friend and the now redundant alter ego vocoder affected robotics of Daft Punk.

Framed as some kind of ‘imaginary soundtrack to a 21st century kitchen-sink drama set in the faded seaside resort of Porthcawl’, the 2 Any 1 album does seem to have, well…an almost faded nostalgic sound: part retro-futurism, part lo fi psychedelic, and another part, a fond if removed, nod to the rave era. In fact, and to be honest, Toland more or less touches upon most synthesized and electronic music movements of the last forty plus years; going as far back as the forgotten Library cult mavericks so beloved by the KPM label, and the Kosmische developments of Germany’s Sky Records set in the 70s, especially Asmus Tretchens, who rubs up against a popcorn-popping Space and The Normal on the early synth bobbing opener ‘Bamboo’.  By the following track, ‘Serikultur 80’, he’s already shifted the sound to Casio preset percussive saunters and bleaker Sheffield electronica Ballard: think early Mute Records and a more morbidly obsessive Human League. Not that this is one of those self-serving, knowing kinds of records, the influences are all there but woven into a coherent odyssey that is used to soundtrack a lifetime of experience, strung-out on a Welsh coastline.

In all that magical electronica and memory the 2 Any 1 album contains a diorama of characters and concerns (both political and societal). The sounds, even field recordings (one such recording is from a Save Guilford Crescent demo) of activism, preservation and community can be heard permeating throughout. It’s not pushed, nor is this an obvious soundtrack of protestation, plaintive agonizing or scorn, but it is there.

To borrow in some degree that moniker, this twenty-one track album is indeed a ‘fantastical’ woozy and halcyon album that dreamily draws in a memory pool of soulful Chicago House, Trip-Hop, Italo House, Trance, d’n’b, electro, pop and most surprising, a sound that Toland’s PR spill calls Puerto-Rican electronic-indie – which I think I can actually hear. And so you may at any one time hear illusions to Yazoo, Plug, Aphex Twin, Bruno Spoeri, Luke Vibret, and on the swimmingly acid-wash travelogue ‘Swim-Up Bar Blues’, an Ibiza gatecrashing 808 State.

Toland’s mind is let loose and the results are actually quite fluid, with some really lovely touches, melodies and kept-in-check breaks on what is an ambitious undertaking. You could even say that this album was in some ways a culmination of his life’s work: a showcase that takes in more or less every strand, influence and inspiration. It’s most importantly a great hallucinogenic and rich electronic mystery tour dance album of possibilities, dreams, intoxications and reflections.

See also…

Location Baked   ‘Agents Of Change’

Location Baked  ‘The Bowman’

Various  ‘CAM 1’

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

Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea’s Reviews Column

The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent releases include the diatribe ‘Boris Johnson Massacre’ and just in the last couple of months the King Of No-Fi album, a collaborative derangement with the Texas miscreant Occult Character, Heart To Heart, and in just the last 24 hours a double-A side single, ‘Shattered Pop Kiss/Sky Writing’. He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

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

Chinese American Bear  ‘Dumpling’
Out Now

We all need a little bit of light quirky indie pop in our lives believe me. It gives one a feel-good sugar rush of pure pop freedom, an aural ray of sunshine that can light up the drabness of everyday life. And that sparkle of pop freedom in this round up is supplied by husband-and-wife duo Chinese American Bear, a duo that wraps the quirky melody around the listeners’ hearts until it pops with smiles and flowers and quaint kitschy hugs, burrowing down to visit the place where ‘There Goes Concorde Again’ by the Native Hipsters used to reside: a place that lies deep inside all of us.

Opus Kink  ‘Wild Bill’
(Nice Swan Records)  19th March 2021

This is a bit of a rum do; a song that is a little shimmy of just being a shammy of Joe Strummer in the post Clash nonchalance that was The Mescaleros. Yes we have the sound of brass and chanting ‘all-in-it-together’ backing vocals that marimba like an overheated Italian Western survivor that Nick Cave would no doubt cover in admiring glances whilst filing somebody else’s nails with a file made from the discarded bone of a reflected vision of a Tom Waits memory. All in all we have a fine musical Odyssey of drunken obsession. A little belter as they say up north. 


Abacaxi ‘Mainstream Desire’
(Carton Records) 19th March 2021

How does Add N To X do Prince sound to you? If you think yes that is right up my aforementioned, then this two-track album is for you. Discordant keyboard funk guitar collides in a scream of space invader fury all amusement hall feedback and globetrotter chic, blank TV mantras and the forbidden corpse of an ex-girlfriend’s tongue: oh yes! And that is only the first track. And when it finally deems to end, it does so to the sound of Sun Ra having jollies with a miscreant.

The second and final track takes off where the first one finished; feedback squalling rock n roll guitars, the sound of a steam train doubting itself whilst picking up pace going in a downward direction that will only stop when reaching destination hell. This is indeed a fascinating listen and one only a psychopath could hum along to.

19th March 2021

Normally I’d avoid reviewing old music as this is called the Monolith Cocktail not Mojochronic Codpiece, but I like to occasionally look back; especially as I have more than a fondness for 60s psych, and this, would you believe, is the first time a collection of Kaleidoscope has been released on CD, so is well worth giving up a bit of my time to write about the wondrous release.

Yes, this is a fine collection but Kaleidoscope were a fine band so what would you expect. One minute, they are mid 60s Who like with the catchy poptastic ‘In My Box’ and the next, stretching the minds of incredulity with elastic like relapses of thrown together wonders with the likes of ‘A Dream of Julie’: a song that is both like the Hollies being entertained and bewitched by a pill popping Syd Barrett, and Syd Barrett enjoying confusing the poor Mancs into believing they could be the greatest band ever to set foot on the rotating stage of melodeon delight.

How I love the thrill and splendour of the 60s. No wonder there are still so many bands still trying to capture the magic that was in the air, trying to breath in the complexity of acid induced togetherness, but you have to feel a little sorry for them when fine CDs like this are released to remind us that they are nothing but poor imitations of this. And yes, Kaleidoscope where there first with all those other lucky post second world war baby boomers to weave their magic. And 50 years later this still sounds like magic. This collection like the band themselves are ones to clutch to your hearts and cherish for this music never grows old and will forever influence the young upstarts and remind those of us that are old enough what it was like to be young. A staggeringly magic comp of musical magic. 

Ex Norwegian and Friends ‘Sing Jimmy Campbell’
(Think Likes A Key Music)

This album pleases me; it makes me happy. Why I hear you ask, well because it means the late great Jimmy Campbell is finally getting some attention: attention he well deserves.

For anyone who has not heard of Jimmy Campbell before, he was a fine and underrated songwriter from Liverpool who released a series of wonderful singles in the 60s with his band The Kirkbys and the 23rd Turnoff, and then he released three stunning solo albums of quirky psych folk British beat albums and a cult classic of an album called Yes It Is with his band Rocking Horse – a band made up of ex Merseybeat’s and The Escorts. But none received the acclaim and success they deserved.

As you can tell I am a bit of a fan. I even played a tribute night to the great man many years ago in Liverpool, in front of many of his family and friends with my band The Bordellos. Also playing that night where members of The La’s and Shack and The Christians, which just goes to show what high standing the Liverpool music community hold him in, and what a great influence he has had. So myself a huge fan of the man and his original recordings, and giving this album a rave review, which I’m about to do, should in fact just show how good this album is, as covering brilliant songs and doing them well is not such an easy thing to achieve, but somehow Ex Norwegian and his myriad of friends actually pull it off. Each have done rather great covers and showered them in the magic and love they deserve. From the piano strolling sweet rendition of ‘Baby Walk Out with Your Darling Man’ by another great undervalued British songwriter John Howard, through to Ex Norwegians Beatle like White Album take on the dark brooding ‘Half Baked’, or Joe Kanes beautifully rocking take on ‘Yes, it Is’, this album does not put a foot wrong: in fact it skips along beautifully, track to track taking in psych, pop, folk and even venturing into the extremes of Power Pop and late night FM radio territory. This really is a splendid collection and a fine tribute to the great man. On a strictly personal level the only downside to me is that I’m not on the album: I would have loved to have included a beautifully lo-fi version of his ode to heartbreak and loneliness ‘In My Room’, but this album is a complete success and is recommended not just to fans of Jimmy Campbell but also would be a great introduction to the man’s genius song writing.

The Dials ‘And Another Thing…b-sides and asides’
(Kool Kat Music) 19th March 2021

If this album was released in 1966 it might have been seen as hip and happening, the album sleeve might have been carried under the arm of some groovy hip cat like a badge of honour. But it is not 1966, it is 2021, and all is not well in the world. People are dying with the new plague; people are losing their jobs and their minds; the music industry is in dire straits needing a kick up the arse from some new musical savior. Sadly, The Dials are not that musical savior; they are a band with both feet stuck in the 60s alongside their head and hearts and guitars, and to be honest who can blame them. For what The Dials do, they do very well. They have melodies that The Monkees or a Monkees cover band would adore; they have guitars that chime and ring; harmonicas that could have been blown from the lips of Dylan; organs that have leapt straight from the scratchy vinyl copy of ‘Incense and Peppermints’.

I don’t actually think The Dials have an original bone in their paisley wrapped bodies, an original idea in their John Lennon capped heads, but that is not saying they are doing anything wrong. What they are doing is making catchy enjoyable musical homages to your record collection, or even your Dad’s record collection, or to our younger readers, your granddad’s record collection. Yes, this is not new it is not original it is not trying to be different but it is enjoyable. And I am sure people who buy the albums released on Kool Kat Records and likeminded record labels will love it. If Your fave bands are The Beatles and The Byrds or any 60s band whose name begins with B, you will love it.

Olivier Rocabois  ‘Goes Too Far’
2nd April 2021

There is something quite timeless about this album it could have been recorded anytime from the late 60s to the present day. Described in the press release as Baroque pop – and I will certainly go with that to some extent – it is an album of pleasing pop songs pre–Ziggy Bowie with overtures of the Beach Boys wrapped in their Pet Sounds bubble of warmth and also reminding me of the English treasure that is John Howard, who makes a guest appearance on the beautiful Baroque ballad ‘Tonight I Need’. But this album is filled with pleasing slightly quirky songs of love dripping in sublime chamber pop coverings that fans of the Divine Comedy [the band not the book] would stand and applaud. This is an album to invite into your musical life as a permanent houseguest.

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

Album Review/Dominic Valvona

Rafiki Jazz ‘NDUGGU’
(Konimusic) 26th March 2021

With possibly one of the most diverse lineups going, the polygenesis Rafiki Jazz ensemble can boast of eight different languages and between them play at least thirty different instruments, and that’s without counting their guest contributors.

The foundation core of eight band members represents near enough every corner of the globe; from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, India and Africa. It’s a cross-pollination of cultures that musically weaves together each member’s heritage seamlessly. And so you’re just as likely to hear the West African spindly harp-like kora alongside a tapping, bobbing set of tablas, or a vague air of Moorish Spain, South America and romantic Urdu vocals all sharing space in the same song. 

Following on from 2019’s entrancing and captivating ‘mystic utopia’ translated Saraba Sufiyana album, and with funding from the Arts Council in England, Rafiki Jazz now reveal their fifth omnivorous geographical songbook, recorded remotely in lockdown, NDUGGU. Pronounced “dug-goo” that title means “dust”; a theme that is mentioned throughout the album but one that is in particular a reference to the increasing desertification of the Sahel region in Northern Africa, where climate change is having an erosive and unstable effect.

Dust, as the PR spill reminds us, is also our ‘ultimate destiny’. The lingering dust of previous generations imbues this eight track album of serious but diaphanous, harmoniously articulated dreams and filmic quality traverses. Though deeply affecting, these borderless mergers somehow wash over the listener with a certain translucence and lightness of touch; like a silken veil over the romantic floated Turkish language ‘Gesi Baglari’ (an ode to the band’s manager), and sadder, clandestine Tango across the Arabian Seas to Pakistan ‘Tum Na Aaye’.

Elsewhere there’s a lyrical, sweet synchronicity of Tamil, India and West Africa on the opening enchanted, almost-duet(ed) fluty ‘Naalaikku Nalla Naal’, and a languid Ghanaian Highlife hop between the Hispaniola, South Seas and Afro-Caribbean that settles down into a snuggled sunny groove, ‘Ngozi Ucheoma’.

Intoxicated opium scented Arabia to the Upper Nile via a magical Kashmir lullaby, scenes, and concerns are set to heartfelt yearning vocals and gently stirred rhythms. Rafiki Jazz’s main strength then, is in transferring listeners to these exotic musical environments – many of which are suffering from the harshest consequences of climate change, and in many cases too, violent conflict.

Created in the shadow of Covid with all the restrictions it brings, and because of that recorded remotely, NDUGGU is still every bit as beautifully conceived, harmonious, and of course as embracing of diversity, as previous international affairs from the band.  With a focus on drawing attention to communities on the frontline of global change and extreme upheaval, Rafiki Jazz keep a number of forgotten people, their compatriots in many cases, in the spotlight. They do this with a most stunning, panoramic and worldly rich and lyrical songbook: a celebration in a sense against the forces that have tried to disconnect, disunite these international voices and musicians.   

See also…

Rafiki Jazz  ‘Saraba Sufiyana’

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

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