August 23, 2016
Words: Matt Oliver
Rapture & Verse swings back onto your browser with the timing (if not the phat content) of an Olympic gymnast, getting amongst the gold medal standard of beats and rhymes and avoiding a nasty case of mass alcohol poisoning at a recent Snoop Dogg concert. Straight into the live diary, and bulletproof wallets need opening for Raekwon & Ghostface’s September appearance at Kentish Town’s 02 Forum. A Bristol barnstormer hosted by High Focus smashes open the Bank Holiday weekend with all of its big guns ready to go, and Death Grips plug into the Village Underground mid-October. There’s the pre-Christmas gift of a Digable Planets reunion show happening Under the Bridge in November, the same month in which Chance the Rapper brings his good book to London and Manchester. The art of deckmanship is almost upon us again, with September’s DMC World DJ Championships parading fabled turntablists the Invisibl Skratch Piklz as the needle sharpening unfolds.
Not many come blunter than S Kalibre, eight track volume ‘Love Songs’ firing missives and grievances from point blank range as heart grips sleeve and rules head. Slap Up Mill is entirely sympathetic on the boards. A hard working outing from Joker Starr colours the skies a heavy shade of ‘Purple’, with a clutch of remixes in agreement that real bad boys do not mauve in silence. With Micall Parknsun providing a sterling backbone of beats, Big Cakes looks to hang around your headphones for time to come on the big hearted rhymes of ‘No Expiry’. Swet Shop Boys bounce and shake like they’re going west, ‘T5’ and ‘Tiger Hologram’ putting on the pertinent pair of Riz MC and Heems. Remixing Divine Styler’s data-blast flow encoding ‘Pandorum’, DJ Food helms a brainstorm involving the Art of Noise and Slick Rick’s ‘Mona Lisa’.
Over a skinny, ‘First Come First Served’ shooter, Kool Keith teams with DOOM for fantasy hip-hop grandslam ‘Super Hero’, whose special power is pretty much just turning up. Some niceness to cop before your rush in from the thunderstorm that’s ruined your BBQ; Yinka Diz’ drawls about who’s on top over soul chop-up ‘You & Me II’, Mac Miller effectively gatecrashes the irresistibly smooth sunshine groove of Anderson Paak’s ‘Dang!, and Mick Jenkins’ ‘Spread Love’ is the cue to head to the humidor.
The life of drama, potently musty when relayed by Westside Gunn and Conway on ‘Griselda Ghost’, is one taking its time, like a sniper getting his eye in from a far off high-rise. Sharp talker SageInfinite embraces descending gloom on ‘7Series’, with the same grey skies quality clouding Apollo Brown & Skyzoo’s album teaser ‘One in the Same.’
The perennially bandy flow of Sadat X stretches every sinew and syllable on ‘Agua’. The Brand Nubian master, with Pete Rock, RA The Rugged Man, Diamond D and Rhymefest on board, is still uniquely teaching upstarts through neat narratives and outright exasperation made by that voice. Well served by posse cuts and beats consistently landing blows, X’s game management knows how to keep up appearances without the box-ticking. Obey your thirst and fill up.
A dark, dank debt collection from Giggs on ‘Landlord’ hones that street husk of his, wall-to-wall trap perfectly framing the breathe-n-stop of his loaded whispers. Either one dimensional or dead-eyed in its focus, it’s one for night owls up to no good.
Godawful artwork and title aside, ‘Lady Parts’ by Fudge is the smoothest of bumpy rides – and vice versa – put together by Michael Christmas and Prefuse73. An intuitive mismatch of effortless rhymes (i.e., underground-savvy, a bit know-it-all and prone to shrugging), and kinked beats, made so because it’s boring when there’s no errant spanner to be found. Over and done with after 40 minutes, it’s not a whirlwind, more a concerted vortex to snare you.
Very unsteady but housing an interesting, unlikely backstory, Danny Lover’s coming together with Wes Murray is like a head-on smash in slo-mo; you can see the impact and potential for hurt a mile off on ‘Career Suicide’, but are powerless to do anything about it other than lock on hard. Definitely not a light listen, it should be treated reverentially through candlelit vigil.
Breaking the cycle of simply riding the psychedelic spirals of ‘A Man Who Thinks With His Own Mind’, Illogic imposes himself on the album’s $6million title. Making excellent inroads into your brain on ‘Selfie’ and ‘Man or Wolf’, streams of quotable IQ create a fever dream. Snooze, you lose. Fans of the Yamin Semali project ‘Monday/Friday’ will welcome the remix companion ‘Saturda¥/$unday’ – hip-hop for weekend morning papers, your best duvet and a pot of coffee, with the kick of a Bloody Mary (or track 7 if you prefer).
You may have noticed that Rapture & Verse frequently bangs on about Mello Music Group. Stupidly consistent, they supply two more prime beats and rhymes pieces this month. Lando Chill stars as an all-rounder who peels the layers and goes through the gamut of Tucson emotions on the personal ‘For Mark, Your Son’. ‘Whole Food’ is served by Denmark Vessey, an emcee who brings home the bacon with a chewy twang like he’d wrestle a steak out your mouth. Producer Gensu Dean skilfully measures out doses of funk; the artwork’s pretty provocative too. Also pinching ears and neck muscles, The Other Guys’ ‘Life in Analog’ sees life with DC 20-20, with Skyzoo and Tanya Morgan riding strong soul surf.
Londoner TYC, growing into the method of mixing the flows of Ty and Essa, comes up smelling of roses with ‘Muddy’. Vibes that come alive around midnight, feeding off smoky hip-hop blues. A chaotic dressing up box of styles shared between Jeremiah Jae and PBDY goes Mr Benn on the ass of ‘JP Moregun’. 20 minutes of density stuffed with samples and otherworldly discord, whether that be the wild west, sci-fi, period drama or Jae shouting out the BBC. Mixed by PF Cuttin, Stone and Robert’s ‘Us vs Them’, a tag-team offense/defense alter-ego of Skanks the Rap Martyr and P General, spray hard over classic Mobb Deep, Gang Starr, EPMD and Main Source, with ‘Perspiration’ taking it to the ring and claiming the mix’s title belt. Golden age reclamation is still a format that absolutely works.
The same goes for deM atlaS’ ‘mF deM’; as you’ve probably guessed, it’s the Minnesota emcee claiming a baker’s dozen of DOOM beats and having fun with what’s normally reserved for a scything shrug. A free to download open goal. An extensive instrumental goody bag putting the sampler through its paces, Scyesblu’s ‘Darkest Blue’ hosts boom-bap sketches and bite-sized jewels by the dozen. An exceptional, powerfully topical playlist put together by Genius on ‘#CauseMiBlack?’ lets Kendrick Lamar, Kool G Rap, Ice Cube, Jay-Z & Kanye, 2pac and Public Enemy tell the stories that TV won’t show.
Tea break treats this month: a bloody awful day for A-F-R-O and co, Skizz’ arcade fire, style according to Cab Cabernet, and health advice from Creatures of Habit and Luca Brazi.
August 18, 2016
Words: Dominic Valvona
Noura Mint Seymali ‘Arbina’
Released by Glitterbeat Records, 16th September 2016
Emerging from the shifting sand-dune landscape of Mauritania in 2014 with one of the year’s most captivating, and at times almost uniquely otherworldly, albums, Tzenni, the griot chanteuse Noura Mint Seymali is back with an equally intoxicating embodiment of the ‘trans-Saharan’ culture and spiritual worship.
Rightly placed in our choice albums of 2014 list, Tzenni was a hypnotic and psychedelic funk of originality, guided by the atavistic calling of Noura’s griot dynastic lineage yet cross-pollinating a cornucopia of musical ideas to create something…well, something we’ve never quite heard before.
Continuing to in-trance, constantly moving in a rotating spell, Noura’s follow-up Arbina, we’re told, ‘delves deeper into the wellspring’ of her Moorish roots. And with recent tumultuous events, not only in West Africa but also throughout an increasingly unsecure world, Noura reaches for the divine: the album title of Arbina being an appellation for God. A musical act of devotion, channelling worship and attempting to reach outside herself, the desert songstress is using her loud reverberating voice to empower women; encouraging in particular, early screening for breast and uterine cancer (a disease that claimed Noura’s mother at an early age).
With a familiar signature of drowsy slinking low-end bass lines, propulsive swirling breakbeat drums and tremolo quivering spindly alien guitar (provided by Noura’s husband, the adroit masterful Jeiche Ould Chighaly), there’s a certain confidence and refinement on this, the second of Noura’s international releases. Closer in momentum and candour to the previous album’s ‘El Barm’ and ‘El Mougelmen’ tracks, Arbina widens its scope; stretching the desert blues and psych funk template to accommodate twangs and inspirations from further afield. Always at one with the textures and contours of her homeland, the time signatures also continue to breezily, almost surreptitiously, change at will, with many of the songs on this album changing from one rhythm to the next halfway through.
The outstanding spindly quarter tone phrasing technique of Chighaly’s spaced-out guitar, which purposefully emulates the sound of the Moorish lute (called a Tidinit) is one minute in the Louisiana swamp, the next bounding and bouncing off a lunar landscape; cross-referencing Funkadelic’s mothership with a Bedouin caravan, as Ousmane Touré’s bass straddles the coolness of Robbie Shakespeare languid dub notes and uptempo Afro-funk. But it’s Noura’s amplified vocals that resonates the loudest; the poetic and lyrical storytelling griot tradition thrust into a new century with renewed energy and musicality. Passionate throughout yet attentive and controlled, that melodious voice is even richer and soulful than before. Working in a circular movement, Noura’s vocals are both celestial and earthly, as the lingering songs of veneration and guidance flow in waves or, repeat in an impressive breathless mantra.
Picking up more and more accolades, recently appearing at Glastonbury as part of The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians tour, Noura is (deservedly so) a shining light in experimental, innovative, African music. Her second LP for Glitterbeat Records is a progressive step-up, continuing to take desert blues to another level.
August 15, 2016
Words: Dominic Valvona
Bitori ‘Legend of Funaná – The Forbidden Music Of The Cape Verde Islands’
Released by Analog Africa
Following the recent summertime thrills aplenty Space Echo – The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed compilation, with the emphasis on the Funaná; Analog Africa continues to pay homage to the previously suppressed music genre with a reissue of, what many consider, the best Funaná album ever recorded, Bitori Nha Bibinha.
A master class from the inter-generational Cape Verde duo of singer Chando Graciosa and renowned gaïta maestro Victor Tavares (better known as Bitori), who’d both grown up with the blazing and often salacious Funaná, waited a long time before recording their acclaimed album; finally sealing the deal and entering the studio in 1997, with Bitori now fast approaching his sixties.
Though Funaná’s infectious quick-step is due to the driving percussive rhythm of the kitchen knife scrapped iron rod, christened the ‘ferro’ or ‘ferrinho’ by the islanders, it’s the bellowed dizzying sway and short concertinaed melodies and lead of the gaïta that gives the genre its signature sound. Originally brought over to their West African colony in the early 1900s by the Portuguese, the gaïta is a diatonal accordion, adopted by the Cape Verdeans and made their own. Spreading from the Santiago capital, it lent a continental swing and lilt to the traditional rhythms of Africa. But the authorities weren’t keen on this adoption, especially as Funaná became the protest music of Cape Verde’s most poor and displaced. Earnest but the most soulful and hopeful of all styles, Funaná was used as a vessel to proudly announce one’s heritage. Even when lamenting or in a more serene mood, it is always fast moving and energetic, surviving the staunch Catholic rule of Portugal with aplomb. Banned until the mid 1970s, musicians were flung into prison and tortured for playing it. One of the tragedies, but at least giving a wider international voice to the plight, was the diaspora that resulted from this hard-lined authoritarianism. Huge swathes of the native population, forced out because of oppression and poverty, moved throughout the globe, with many setting up in the colonial masters own backyard, usually Lisbon, and others moving north to Rotterdam.
Finally gaining independence in 1975, with the ban thankfully lifted but still little sympathy for the former suppressed genre from the new government, Funaná could at last be set free and promoted without fear. Analog Africa’s Space Echoes collection reflects how Cape Verde’s musical community embraced and endorsed it. Bitori and Graciosa raw impassioned, and as you’ll hear yourself, incessant ennui template would prove the most impressive. Originally coaxing Bitori, already a veteran and legend, out of his stupor semi-retirement, the young multi-talented vocalist from Tarrafal convinced his erstwhile accordionist idol to both tour and record with him. Many travails and anecdotes accompany this tale (which you can read in the album’s accompanying booklet), but the resulting album of eight songs would go onto cement this meeting of impressive Funaná musicians for posterity.
A self-taught accordionist, Bitori’s suffused technique is produced by handling the left side of the accordion – the “8 baixos”, the 8 low frequency keys – in a unique idiosyncratic manner. Squeezing out a swaying intoxication of colourful Cape Verdean beachside and rural backwater melodies and dizzy European boulevard waltzes, his poetic riffs reflect the pace and hedonism of the islands disposed. Graciosa meanwhile is loudly forthright, singing, hollering and bird calling over the staccato percussion. Though the central instrumentation is kept at a similar pitch and delivery, nuances suggest both Franco (‘Rabelado’) and Latin America (‘Cabalo’) flavours. This isn’t surprising considering the trading route position of Cape Verde and the cultural exchanges over the centuries between the continents.
Still on tour, the Bitori showcase continues on its way around Europe, reviving the Funaná phenomenon. Bitori Nha Bibinha is every bit the soundtrack to the summer of 2016 as its predecessor.
August 12, 2016
Compiled by: Dominic Valvona
Previously only ever shared via our Facebook profile and on Spotify, our regular Monolith Cocktail Social playlists will also be posted here on the blog itself. With no themes or demarcated reasoning we pick songs from across a wide spectrum of genres, from all eras – though we have of course made some considerations for the summer. It is our imaginary dream radioshow playlist, or if we get the chance, a healthy mix of the tunes we’d play out live if we were djing.
Los Holys ‘Tormenta’
Nina Simone ‘Save Me’
Lack Of Afro ‘Take You Home (Instrumental)’
U.S. 69 ‘African Sunshine’
Dr. John ‘Right Place Wrong Time’
Swamp Dogg ‘Chewed Up Grass’
Vivien Goldman ‘Launderette’
Gary Wilson ‘I’m Going To Take You To A Thousand Dreams’
Low Cut Connie ‘Cat In The Cream’
Affinity ‘Cream On Your Face’
Le Systeme Crapoutchik ‘Ploum Le Clown’
John Cale ‘Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend’
Doris ‘Did You Give The World Some Love Today’
The Rollers ‘Knockin’ At The Wrong Door’
Little Mack Simmons ‘I’m A Streaker Baby’
Irene Kral ‘Is it Over Baby?’
Babadu ‘I Love Music’
Dream Warriors ‘Face In The Basin’
Remi Panossian Trio ‘Happy Culture’
Timothy McNealy ‘Funky Movement #1’
Edzeyawa ‘Naa Korle’
Einsturzende Neubauten ‘Der Weg Ins Freie’
The Glimmers ‘Frantic’
Khun Narin ‘Show Wong Khun Narin #1’
Group Doueh ‘Wazan Samat’
The Electric Prunes ‘Ain’t It Hard’
Ferris Wheel ‘Keeper Of The Keys’
The Foundations ‘I’m Gonna Be A Rich Man’
Gary Davis ‘Gee Dee’
Springwater ‘Move A Little Closer’
Canned Heat ‘Poor Man’
The Feminine Complex ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’
Riverhead ‘I Can’t Let Maggie Go’
Yorkston/Thorne/Khan ‘Little Black Buzzer’
Los Holy’s ‘Spectro 1’
Galt MacDermot ‘Golden Apples Part II’
Africa ‘Paint It Black’
The Pharaohs ‘Black Enuff’
Xenia Rubinos ‘Just Like I’
Cody Chestnutt & Sonja Marie ‘With Me In Mind’
Thomas De Pourquery ‘Enlightenment’
Markley ‘Truck Stop’
Celia ‘No Clarao Da Lua Cheia’
Eduardo Araujo & Slivinha ‘Circulo Vicioso’
The Deep ‘It’s All A Part Of Me’
Flied Egg ‘Out To The Sea’
Joe Walsh ‘In The City’
August 10, 2016
Words: Ayfer Simms
Lee La loa ‘Purple Sky’
You don’t cry for all the death of the world. When the music gets this sultry you crawl in that place where all the ghosts hide, you sneak disdainfully, without fear yet bravely for all that matters, but lonely. The dusk only lasts a moment, between darkness and bright light, there’s the dust, the hush, the whispers, the secrets. Are you burning too?
That hot incandescent fire of being, the inglorious shivering born from elusive emotions. All the importance of eternity lies in details, in silences, in framed scenes; that old lady dressed in black waiting for her memories to materialize in front of her door, lost actually but she is unaware; like a child. That voice, of glamorous stance will have you kneel, introspect like a meditation to the depth of you, difficult to bare… unavoidable for who wants to be brave.
We are no heroes and we are. We are no knights yet we shield our monsters alone with the headsets on: The music is of nocturnal walks on the side of the highway. It is dark, and can you manage to stay composed in the face of gloominess?
There is resistance, rendered with this atmospheric soothing music touching the rumination of melancholy: And then there is also a dance: chin is down but eyes look up, shoulders are rolling in a undaunted organic glissade, the seduction, the rubbing of, a tiny bit of the soul, to the world? We don’t cry for all the dead, but we do. Lee La loa.
August 1, 2016
Words: Dominic Valvona
Music: Khmer Rouge Survivors ‘They Will Kill You, If You Cry’
Released by Glitterbeat Records, August 5th 2016
Book: ‘How Music Dies (Or Lives)’
‘My concern is not cultural authenticity, but emotional truth and uncloying performances. Purity, without baggage!’
Ian Brennan, from How Music Dies (Or Lives)
Despite the multiple Grammy-award nominations and wins, and a reputation for capturing some of the most mesmeric, raw and sublime performances in the most dangerous locations, Ian Brennan is often self-deprecating about his (obvious) talents as a producer. Ian would have us believe he merely turns up and presses the record button; that his ‘field-recordings’ are entirely serendipitous. And in some ways this is part of his underlying philosophy, removing himself from each recording so that the emphasis is wholly on the performance. Preferring to travel (when possible) to the source, each of Ian’s recording sessions is more or less unique, the environment and apparatus set-up to be as unobtrusive and natural as possible. If anything, it’s what Ian doesn’t do that makes him such a sympathetic and in-demand producer.
Loosened and set free from the archetypal studio, Ian’s ad hoc and haphazard mobile stages have included the inside of a Malawi prison, Mali deserts, and the front porches and back rooms of Southeast Asia: one of which was on the direct flight path of the local airport.
A cursory glance at just some of the bands/artists he’s worked with over the years (Merle Haggard, Tinariwen, Green Day, The Vienna Boys Choir) shows how eclectic and rich Ian’s back catalogue is. His most recent project for Glitterbeat Records, a return to Southeast Asia for Ian, is the soon to be released They Will Kill You, If You Cry compilation of rare and emotional-charged songs from a host of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge survivors. Part of the label’s Hidden Musics series, the previous volume (equally as stirring), likewise recorded both the atavistic and recent traumatic echoes of a war-torn country, recording for posterity Vietnam war veterans in Hanoi. They Will Kill You, If You Cry features a vivid signature style essay from Ian; putting the experience into an all-too real horrifying and historical context: “A reported three-million tons of carpet-bombs were dropped on Cambodia by the USA in the 1970s, more than were unleashed on Germany during all of WWII. And still today, Cambodia is laced with more landmines than anywhere else in the world, which results in two or three deaths on average daily, mostly to “peasants in the field”.’
In his quest to record these traumatized voices, Ian finds some astonishing sounding artists, introducing us to some obscure characters, such as the ‘Ray Charles’ of Cambodia, Kong Nai, and his virtually unknown rival on the dwng veng (a long neck guitar) Soun San. All carrying the scars, mentally and physically, each artisan of his and her particular craft transduces the horrors into the most evocative of lamentations.
‘I do not endeavor to make World Music records. I strive to produce candid and new punk and dusty dance records, ones that come sometimes from remote parts of the globe.’
Ian Brennan, from How Music Dies (Or Lives)
As if being a renowned producer of serious repute wasn’t already enough, Ian could also be considered a quality author; so far publishing four digestible tomes on a range of music topics and regularly contributing to a myriad of publications. His latest book of bite-size ruminations, anecdotes and musings, How Music Dies (Or Lives), is an ambitious survey on the state of music, in the 21st century. Peppered with erudite, honest and amusing insights on his own productions, under the heading of the ‘Field Recording Chronicles’, Ian congruously shines a light on countless misconceptions and mysteries; unmasking the mysticism and roles of the artist and producer in the process. He sees no value in the current compartmentalization and continued commodification of music, and dismisses the irrelevant ‘world music’ label: ‘…we have yet to hear music from anywhere but the world.’
From the shadows of the dramatic Transylvanian mountains to recording a monstrous-sized, multiplayer, village xylophone in Malawi, chapters on the most exotic, often dangerous, locations run alongside sections on the plight of the music industry. Expanding into social economics and politics, Ian’s previous work on the emergency psychiatric ward and current work as a violence prevention expert draws parallels and connections throughout the book between the ill effects of capitalism on the deprived areas of his own Oakland, California home and the destinations he’s travelled to in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Hardly what you’d call despairing, yet also far from the rose-tinted view, Ian criticizes as much as he celebrates, the joys of music whilst aiming broadsides at sections of Silicon Valley and the music recording industry.
To be dipped into at will, How Music Dies (Or Lives) – which features a foreword by Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker – is an adroit discourse and guide; a valuable reminder of music and arts true purpose: ‘Art is designed to reveal, not to show us what we already see and know.’
Currently in the UK to promote both the album and book, and to perform with the Hanoi Masters and Transylvanian group Zmei3 at WOMAD, Ian found the time in his busy schedule to answer a few questions. Proving to be open and affable, he discussed recording in Cambodia, the negatives and positives of the digital world, searching for new voices and the dangers of recording in some of the most remote and inhospitable places on the planet.
Dominic Valvona: They Will Kill You, If You Cry, as its title makes clear, is an evocative (impressive) collection, dealing with traumatic experiences. Often addressing previously repressed feelings and memories. How effective do you believe these recordings have been in the healing process?
Ian Brennan: The big Hollywood myth we are all sold is that people are healed by events, not process. The idea that a beam of light will suddenly come down from heaven and we will suddenly see everything crystal clearly is a very seductive one. But the reality is that people are healed by time and consistent effort. Events are a short-term fix. And when traumas are so enormous, there simply isn’t enough time to ever be “all good” again…nor should that really even necessarily be the goal. The healthier goal is progress versus perfection.
DV: Witnessing such horrors, plaintively brought to (sometimes harrowing) life, these recordings must have had quite an affect on you. Did you find the project at any point too daunting? Was there an example in which a particular performance proved too upsetting?
IB: My own mother-in-law is a survivor of three genocides in Rwanda (1957, 1973, and 1994), so I have seen firsthand the way events like that can resonate across lifetimes and generations. We had already done two albums with The Good Ones from Rwanda and witnessed the way they coped creatively with surviving that experience— they ran the opposite direction and write almost nothing but poetic love songs.
DV: As so often, especially with Glitterbeat Records Hidden Musics series and their other projects, these recordings feel like the last chance to capture voices and instruments before they completely disappear. Could you tell us a bit more about some of the obscure instruments, such as the ‘kann’ (bamboo horn), and vocalists?
IB: Mon Hai who plays the Kann on the album is reportedly one of only two people left in the world that plays it. But, he is mentoring his eleven-year-old granddaughter to play it and that is such a hopeful thing. On the Hanoi Masters album we did in Vietnam, we had the good fortune of recording the K’ni, which is a bowed and/or plucked instrument where the string is held between the feet and mouth and the skull acts as the resonator. It sounds instrumental, but a dialect is actually spoken through the string. Both are ancient instruments, but both have almost extraterrestrial and futuristic qualities to them. It is spine chilling in a way.
DV: The contextual introduction that you provided for the project is as vivid as ever, and highly descriptive. Cambodia is, from your notes, a much forgotten and troubled country. The shocking statistics you repeat (from the jaw-dropping amounts of carpet-bombing by the US forces during the Vietnam War to the genocidal tyranny of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge) still feel very much raw and alive, though you say a whole generation, growing up in the aftermath, is collectively blind or ignorant of recent Cambodian history. You must hope this LP opens up a dialogue or at least highlights the issues? You allude that the most challenging problem in Cambodia now is ‘capitalism’. What changes have you witnessed, and do you think it has been a force for ill or good?
IB: For me the scariest aspect is the privatization of public lands; particularly by foreigners. Increasingly the giant superpowers are carving out their own little fiefdoms all over the world, right under everyone’s nose.
China now has its own police force in two Italian cities. These kinds of decisions get made quietly by bureaucrats, yet they have a much more lasting impact and implications than what is usually voted on by the people in democracies.
DV: How difficult was it to record in Cambodia?
IB: We had challenges with heat, rain, and noise from passing boat traffic since we recorded much of the music beside the river. At the end of the album you hear a passenger jet landing right at the every end of the track since Soun San lives spitting distance from the runway in Phnom Penh.
DV: You’re currently in the UK to both perform at WOMAD with the last Hidden Musics compilation stars, the Hanoi Masters, and the Transylvanian group Zmei3, and to promote your fourth book, How Music Dies (Or Lives). You passionately argue throughout the book, scientifically, cerebrally and emotionally about the importance of music. But only a cursory glance at the way it’s treated, commoditized and experienced would suggest the majority isn’t, and that in fact it has become not just monetary but creatively unimportant. Would you agree?
IB: The music industry has conditioned the majority of the population that music exists outside themselves and therefore that it must be sought from some external source. And even at that, only at certain times and designated places (e.g., an amphitheater). Worse yet, this access is customarily only made possible through the exchange of money.
But on a planet of 7-plus billion people isn’t it a bit daft to buy into the myth that any one person is so superlative that we should literally place them on an elevated platform and listen to them intently for decades? Come on, does the world really need another Neil Young or AC/DC album? And has humanity and culture been strengthened one iota by even a single Justin Timberlake or Katy Perry song? I would argue not, on both counts.
DV: I’m personally cynical and distrustful about the intentions and attitudes of Silicon Valley, and hate the mantra term ‘disruptive business model’. Would you say on balance, the online/digital facilitators have had either a positive or negative effect on music?
IB: Like most things, there is a double-edged sword effect. Before diving-in, it is advisable when we try to think ahead about how any action might boomerang and explore the ways in which almost every technology gets repurposed, often in very opposing ways to how it was intended.
Yes, the Internet connects people. But not necessarily the “right” people. Previously, most sociopaths were isolated and spread across the globe randomly. In the past they were even banished from community life entirely. Now they can build virtual communities that fan the flames of their worst impulses and fantasies. Anyone who doesn’t think that centralization is a negative force hasn’t thought it through very deeply. It’s an anti-democratic force. It smacks of fascism.
DV: There have been countless articles on contemporary culture’s reliance on the past, or as the celebrated music writer Simon Reynolds calls it, ‘retromania’, and the death of creativity in the respect of producing something new. Are we still in a transformative state, between saturation, hegemony and the ‘noise’ of ‘plasticity’, waiting to re-emerge the other end with something progressive, or are we doomed to just keep repeating ourselves?
IB: The most original stuff comes from within people. It’s not based on consumption. Craft is based on input. But art arises inexplicably from the most unlikely places— James Brown was raised in a brothel, Michelangelo was orphaned, and so many of the most disarming poets I know are illiterate. And that’s what makes art magical. All the degrees, studies, and training in the world can produce very ho-hum results. Meanwhile, every once in awhile someone emerges unexpectedly and rides or even leads the zeitgeist for a little while.
DV: Surely by now the umbrella term of ‘world music’ is redundant; your own work mostly recording/producing artists and bands from outside the ‘western world’, is constantly tagged with the label. Often seen as exotic, or ‘the other’, do you think ‘world music’ is sometimes romanticized? And treated, still in 2016, as a separate phenomena? Personally despite the belief that current generations brought up in the digital era are more open to different cultures and music, anything from outside the US and Europe struggles to find an audience. Even at festivals they separate these acts from the main, building designated ‘world music stages’.
IB: Yes, we have yet to hear music from anywhere but the world. So the very term designates English language countries as a center and everything else as peripheral in much the same way that mapmakers shrink the size of Africa proportionately and place their own continent smack dab in the middle. The maps I grew up with at in the front of classrooms during the Cold War era, very conspicuously split Russia in two, so that it was literally fractured and ‘marginated’.
The fact is, by design, I work with international artists in non-English languages. But what I strive to make are punk albums and roots music (which is what punk first was— suburban roots anthems).
If people listen past the surface on many of the records, there are some incredibly coarse and avant-garde elements, as well as a few really gritty beats here and there. The bass lines on the first Malawi Mouse Boys album are just nuts in their singularity!
DV: Is it ‘inevitable’ in a globalized world that culture will become more homogeneous? You mention authenticity and cultural-appropriation and both are very much in the news, the latter, usually for the clumsy way it has been handled (I’m thinking of more recent stories where white people with dreadlocks have been called out for appropriating black culture, and the banning of Native Indian headdresses at some American music festivals). Whilst being blissfully ignorant is not an excuse, and perhaps learning more about other cultures is something we all need to do from time to time, is the argument becoming redundant in an ever connected, sharing world?
IB: There’s no conspiracy. What’s inevitable is that capitalism is opportunistic and predatory to any trend and is ravenous for raw materials. Capitalism is amoral. All the system cares is that something sells and is profitable. And since the goal is ever escalating profitability, once a market is dominated and competition is eliminated or neutralized, then the only course is to reduce quality— to gut the interiors. And what’s left are the surfaces. That’s what we get with “artists” sporting Mohawks and tattoos, but singing like Disney child-stars (which a terrifyingly high-percentage of them actually are).
DV: With the current ‘explosive’ climate of fear in the US, and the increasing tensions between the black community and police, your work as a violence prevention expert must fill you with unease and disappointment?
IB: It all comes back to fear. So many are terrified of each other. Yet, statistically the world is a less violent place than it’s ever been. That’s one of the disadvantages of connectedness and globalization. An isolated freak’s actions ricochet around the world so disproportionately. Yet, sadists are an anomaly. They make up less than 1% of the general population. They are the exception, not even remotely close to the norm. Most people want nothing more than peace and love. But they are the lost and forgotten.
DV: Events in both your homeland and around the world are moving so rapidly that us writers and commentators find it nigh impossible to get a grip on the situation. Previous cities, countries relatively unscathed and untroubled, only a year ago, are now finding themselves caught up in the maelstrom of violence. You have travelled to some very dangerous places (including war zones) but is there anywhere in the world currently off-limits for you? Anywhere you’d wish to travel but are unable to?
IB: Americans and those from other western countries are so privileged with freedom of movement. We tend to take it for granted. Most artists I work with are literally landlocked, almost on house arrest within their own country. Every African artist I’ve ever worked with has had his or her visas refused on the first try. It is so unfair and frustrating.
What has always struck me about the countries at war that we’ve visited is how little the visible signs of it are. The majority of people do their best to go about their lives. They have to!
DV: If there’s one thing I find the most refreshing about your book, it’s the lack of technical jargon – the ‘bullshit baffles brains’ and fetishistic approach to musical kit and the studio often poured over, made more important than the actual music itself. You make it sound easy, though from my experiences I know it’s not, and write quite amusingly, if anything, making light and mocking your obvious talents and skills. Do you think self-deprecation and a sense of humour is a useful tool for the producer? Have you any advice for the budding producer?
IB: I think humor can come in handy any where. We “have to laugh to keep from crying” as they say. And humility has become so underrated and even derided in individualistic societies.
I think the most important thing about the creative process is to not worry about authorship, but creation. As long as something beautiful is born into the world, it doesn’t really matter who gets credit. No one remembers (or really even credibly knows) who really wrote “Amazing Grace” or first said, “a stitch in time, saves nine,” or who made the first tortilla or dared to taste the first strawberry. But those individuals or collectives contributed more value to this planet than a tag-team avalanche of reality-show stars and ghostwritten, lip-synching Porn-pop stars, ever will.
DV: Have you ever had to abandon a recording session?
IB: Part of the beauty of outdoor recording is that it is so dynamic— with onlookers, weather, limited daylight, etc. Anything can happen and “going with the flow,” improvisation, and problem solving is key. Also commitment is pushed to the forefront— simply pushing past fear and taking the plunge, for better or worse.
We’ve had a few close calls, but overall we have been very fortunate and only had to pull up stakes prematurely a few times. And, we’ve only returned empty-handed in exceptional occasions. Usually the leap of faith is not only rewarded, but way in excess of what I even imagined or hoped for.
DV: In your opinion, who is currently making the most innovative and exciting music? And are there any untapped sources, locations waiting to be discovered?
IB: For sure it is someone that no one is listening to. And maybe it’s almost more beautiful that way. Certainly, whoever it is, they are making music for its own sake— they are possessed to do it intrinsically and not for any external reward.
DV: Any upcoming projects you could tell us about? Any new discoveries on the horizon?
IB: There simply isn’t enough time to meet all the great artists there are in the world. I just feel so blessed to have experienced such a level of intimacy with so many diverse and empathic individuals in so many different places.
And I sincerely hope that I never stop learning and embracing rather than fleeing from doubt and verifiable “truth.”
The Monolith Cocktail would like to thank Ian Brennan for his time and for providing us with all the images for the interview.
NEW MUSIC REVUE ROUNDUP
Words: Dominic Valvona
Re-contextualized atavistic Peruvian folk songs from Sounds and Colours; time-warping toga-wearing pastiche from The Bongolian; more avant-garde Bowie imbibed and machinations trip-hop from Raf and O; bedroom recordings from David West; garage permutations from Os Noctàmbulos; grandiose alternative rock from Unkle Bob; and the Afro-Latin flavoured staccato summer pop indie single from the Yip Man Of Scotland.
Raf And O ‘Portal’
Sucked through a Portal into a parallel musical universe, the idiosyncratic London duo of Raf Mantelli and Richard Smith submerge the listener once again into their beguiling futuristic panorama. Re-imagining a world in which a Memory of a Free Festival arts lab and Gemini Spacecraft Bowie enmeshed with Portishead, Raf and O’s gothic and magical references are twisted to conjure up ominous visions, to a backing track of free-spirited avant-jazz drumming, trip-hop and contorted machine music.
Portal is where European storytelling, nee fairytales, meet the mechanics of a foreboding age: From the unnerving poetic siren evocations of the ‘Dream Machine’ to the abstract Sci-Fi cinematic kinetics of ‘Mona Lisa Smile II’, the duo combine lyrical lament with the cold resolve of technology.
Regular followers and Raf and O admirers will know that this is the duo’s second release in the past month, the precursor split Sonnet 62/Ink EP with burgeoning electronic music talent Robert Logan (who has previously remixed Dream Machine, and continues to work with the duo) was reviewed and featured by us in Tickling Our Fancy 035. Featuring two tracks from that release, the Shakespearean ‘Sonnet 62’ and Trans-European ‘Worms’, the album’s remaining rich tapestry of cerebral art school trip-hop reinforces Raf and O’s growing professionalism as musicians and songwriters.
Raf’s vocals tiptoe, linger and fluctuate between moods and eras: one minute lost in a Kubrick-esque baroque diorama, switching from esoteric Italian to plague originated nursery rhyme English, on ‘Drunk’, to channeling a smoky bar room Scott Walker vibe, on ‘Neurons’. Often unnerving yet always diaphanous and melodious, Raf’s voice is off-kilter and lilting throughout. The accent on certain lyrics and delivery is amorphous without being clumsy and messy, and showcases Raf’s range, which can be almost childlike in one song and like a thousand year old soul on another. O meanwhile interprets the lyricism with his own amorphous musicality. Never losing the pulse and beat, no matter how somnolent and airy, he provides a semblance, a trace, of a well-‘travailed’ pathway.
Paying homage once again to their biggest inspiration, David Bowie, the duo’s most magical moment on the album is a tribute to the great dame’s ‘plastic soul’ period ‘Win’. Fair play to them for their choice of song, the ballad from the ‘city of brotherly love’ Philadelphia soul incarnation Bowie period, can’t have been easy to cover. In my, and even in the staunch Bowie berating Lester Bang’s, opinion Young Americans is perhaps his finest jump and creative absorption, and ‘Win’ is one of its best tracks. The maverick soul ballad is a sophisticated adroit challenge, and Raf and O rise to it. Enervated of its soul swooning demur, the duo transforms the original into a beautifully melting, strung-out plucked love recital. Brilliantly shimmering with an affectionate, ruminating and heart-aching vocal, it is a signature kooky modern take, almost on par with the original: I love it.
Raf and O continue to grow, progressing with every release, pushing themselves into new directions. Portal is no exception, being both a chance to catch-up with missed tracks, released over the last couple of years, and a showcase for new material, the album cementing the partnership’s unique narratives and poetic views of a machine age and cybernetic world.
Various ‘Sonidos Raíces del Perú’
Released by Sounds and Colours
Premiered last month on the Monolith Cocktail, Psilosamples dreamy ‘Qoychuquy’ reinterpretation was an enchanting example of the reworked traditional Peruvian recordings project, Sonidos Raíces del Perú.
Conceived by the South American cultural news hub Sounds and Colours, this reimagined, contextualized window on Peru’s musical heritage features the original recordings of the nomadic French film-maker Vincent Moon, who toured the country in 2013; almost surreptitiously capturing for posterity the ancient voices and folk songs of the people. With varying degrees of manipulation, a contemporary assortment of Latin America’s leading electronic music artists/producers have turned these recordings into exotic and often mysterious peregrinations or, congruously coaxed them towards sauntering tropical beachfront dancefloors.
Already well-versed in the process, having reimagined sounds from Costa Rica on the SIBÖ collaboration – recently ‘revisiting’ their original and allowing a similar group of artists to remix it – Brazilian producer Sentidor (João Carvalho) and musical ethnologist Nillo (Johnny Gutierrez) lend a similar treatment to ‘Curanderos’. Creating an evocative enough atmosphere, the duo adds nuanced but busy beats, sympathetic tot the campfire burning atavistic lament of a weeping environment. Elsewhere Chilean producer El Sueño de la Casa Propia transduces a trio of Andean folk songs from the maestros of the genre, Jorge Choquihuillca and his family, on the echo-y, rasping, rustic-strung percussive ‘La Familia Choquihuillca’, and Argentinian wiz Panchasila, as the title suggests, gives the thousands of meters above sea level misty mountain songs of the past a resonating, space-y, dub echo on ‘Cariñito Dub’.
Though the wellspring source of rich material was only recorded a few years ago, in the hands of Latin America’s contemporary electronic music visionaries, these native Peruvian folk songs become esoteric; like voices from beyond the ether; a spiritual continuation, channeled through centuries of familiar lament, paean and offerings. Sounds and Colours go deeper into the South American continent than most, finding previously ignored or rare music and bringing it to life. This latest experiment is no different: opening up new musical collaborations and injecting a modern equivalent into the roots and traditions of Peru’s past.
The Bongolian ‘Moog Maximus’
Released by Blow Up Records, 5th August 2016
Crisscrossing timelines, travelling between re-imagined legendary music high point, the “Big Boss Man” Nasser Bouzida once again ignites the flux capacitor for another excursion. A back lot at the golden era of historical MGM epics; a fatalistic set from Westworld; or an Italian auteur filmmakers bongo mad club scene version of the ancient empire, we’re never quite sure of Bouzida’s Roman inspired intentions and inspirations.
After his roll neck existentialist mooning homage to the beatniks, the bongo maverick returns with an ennui pastiche-driven trip through countless musical genres. Leaving little to the imagination, each pun and wordplay suffixed track title leaves the listener in no doubt as to the parodied style or artistic tribute. However, perhaps the most amusing, ‘Jan Hammer Of The Gods’, is more Moroder Euro breakbeat than either signature Hammer 70s softened synth or 80s vaporized, dry iced soundtrack.
Moog Maximus, the fifth LP under The Bongolian moniker, as the title suggests is heavy on the “moog” and retro-futurism. But the “maximum” is on the volume of musical genres that our hand drums maestro can absorb and pump out with both reverence and a knowing wink. Afrobeat Kuti horns and hip-hop breakbeat sample standard drums herald the arrival of the toga-adorned maverick on the opening Caesar-saluting ‘Octavius’, before we’re whisked off and thrown down into the boogaloo Hammond soul-clap of 60s Mod London with ‘Googa Mama’. And so it goes on, The Bongolian time machine landing in aria Spaghetti Western territory on ‘Vatican Westworld’, 70s Amicus horror soundtrack schlock on ‘Boudicca Rides Again’, and leaping into the strange cartoon world of children’s TV on the Style Council meets Sesame Street kitsch ‘Kids Love Moog’.
Like Candido and The Incredible Bongo Band on acid or, the Go! Team at a Fellini celluloid nightspot, Moog Maximus is a frenzied, gratuitous bongo fueled gas.
David West ‘Peace Or Love’
Released by Tough Love, 5th August 2016
Languidly transducing his free and easy scraps of bedroom recordings into something resembling an album, the Pacific crossing maverick David West (based both in Australia and the USA) ties-down enough material to fashion eleven tracks for posterity on his latest release.
The follow-up to the Drop Out Of Collage cassette tape, Peace Or Love is a cornucopia of ideas, some fleeting others ambitious, delivered in the dreamiest, gauze-y obscured way. Using a collage of samples, jams and more thought-out song suggestions, West sometimes meanders into somnolence, yet also stumbles into more fertile pastures. His soft bulletins evoke a post-disco feel and groove on the funky keytar dance track, ‘Happiest Man In The Room’, and breezier, 99 Records meets Postcard ‘Au Contraire’. Somewhere between baggy indie and New Order, a synth pop 80s New York vibe is flittered with on the ‘heaven can’t wait’ poetic lilting ‘Dream On Dreamer’.
Purposely creating a lo-fi mood, West still hints at the bigger ideas. Strings, sampled I presume, can often be heard stirring throughout, lending either a plaintive note of mooning resignation or certain grandeur to proceedings. Vignettes such as ‘At Peace’ use them for a mixed emotional response: the title might suggest the comfort of death and this bears out in the instrumental which is itself a mournful and ambient noise collage that features strange scrambled flickers of something from beyond the earthly realm.
Shifting genres, ‘Do You Miss Me Around’, with its overloaded noise gate distortions, sounds like a stab at No Age, and the first of a three-act suite, ‘Darkness In My Heart’ has an air of Wolf Parade. Touches, no matter how slight, of Tim Goldsworthy, ESG, Archie Bronson Outfit ‘Chunk’ period, Young Marble Giants and even Cabaret Voltaire all seem to make an appearance. And with contributions from an axis of San Fran/LA/Perth friends and West’s various stints with the Red Columns, Liberation and Rank/Xerox to expand and inspire the musical horizons, Peace Or Love is filled with some interesting hybrids and possibilities.
Os Noctàmbulos ‘Strange’
Released by Stolen Body Records
Troubled by the tribulations, torments and ills of the modern world – but then apart from hedge fund investors, ISIS and Putin, who isn’t worried? – the Paris-based Os Noctàmbulos haven chosen to envelope their concerns in the Sundazed age of the garage band phenomenon. In the shadow of the Calico Wall, returning to the source, they funnel a mix of the Tex-Mex Hammond broody Outcasts, The New Breed and ? And The Mysterians, and the dirty country psych and blues of The Seeds, Syndicate of Sound and New Colony Six.
Following up a smattering of releases the four-piece return to Stolen Body Records for their second album, ‘Strange’. With renewed confidence – so the press release says – they bounce back with a mix of backbeat psych, acid country and an ever-present suffused organ swell. Skulking for ‘Changes’, rallying against ‘Medication’ or, sulking like teen creeps up to no good in the dead of night, lurking around in the crypt, on ‘Jodi Taught Me’, Os Noctàmbulos apply a hallucinatory lo fi veil to their raw and live kicking sound throughout.
Every generation finds something nuanced and different, mostly a result of the times they’re living in, to add to the beat and garage band blueprint. And with traces of both 80s revivalists The Gruesomes, and a group that started off all in paisley homage to the psych forbearers, The Stone Roses, the band find enough depth and space to offer their own unique take with Stranger. They also do it a lot better than most of the current bunch.
Unkle Bob ‘Maybe Mediocrity/ I Watched Your Heart’
Released by In Black Records
Taken from the recent mini-album The Deepest Seas, two finely crafted songs of blessed heartache from Unkle Bob. Formed in and around Glasgow University in 2006, the alternative college radio rock band has recently fallen into the orbit of the burgeoning Glasgow-based label In Black Records (Acting Strange, Mark McGowan). Currently doing the round so to speak, this duo of romantic-pranged numbers both start from similar stirring beginnings before reaching anthemic crescendos.
The idea that ‘Maybe Mediocrity’ is perhaps the only choice left for our protagonist, rather than face loneliness, the first of these songs has a lamenting sigh of resignation about it. Earnest folksy tones of Cat Stevens and delicate burnished swelling percussion make their way slowly like ships passing in the night towards a gentle finish. Poised and purposefully sad, ‘I Watched Your Heart’ pulls at the proverbial. A song of two halves, it begins with a plaintive piano opening before building up towards a higher register (almost weepy) Rick Webster vocal, backed by the momentum of a Elbow/Snow Patrol style march to the finish line.
Ambitious enough, with gravitas, these two examples from the current minor opus bode well for the future; a band at the peak of their maturity and professionalism.
Yip Man Of Scotland ‘For Your Own Good’
Released by Armellodie Records. Teaser from the upcoming Braw Power LP.
Hardly a celebration or joyous release of optimism, Al Nero as the barely disguised Yip Man of Scotland, has penned one of the most sauntering carnival pop songs of the summer. The grooviest of break-ups, pitched somewhere between Squeeze and A.J. & The Hackney Empire, ‘For Your Own Good’ is surprisingly bright and uplifting. Math-rock without the pretensions, Vampire Weekend without the Ivy League schmaltz, the Yip Man’s backbeat and staccato-like guitar riffs sound like an unlikely amalgamation of Scottish wit, African rhythms and South American jauntiness.
Reflecting this breezy, light-hearted song is a equally smile-inducing video or, if you prefer, you hunt the track down and buy it on Bandcamp. ‘For Your Own Good’ will also be on the forthcoming album, Braw Power, released later in the autumn.
Words: Dominic Valvona
HIP-HOP REVUE ROUNDUP
Words: Matt Oliver
In these troubled times of unprecedented political and social uncertainty, Rapture & Verse is here for you. Choice cuts and essential albums that wreck shit over Brexit. Mixtapes to make your mouth water. And news that Cam’Ron’s entrepreneurial spirit has told him to take on the toilet paper industry, Beastie Boys’ Mike D announcing his arrival in the man bag game, verbal ding dongs between Talib Kweli and Diabolic, then Joe Budden and Drake, and El-P inexplicably becoming a PokemonGo jump-off. Respect the below tweet of Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp upon the death of PM Dawn’s Prince Be, then look into the eyes of DJ Khaled. Now you’re good to go.
Jazz Cafe patrons will be getting bang for their buck throughout August, as The Beatnuts, Ty, Pharoahe Monch, The Underachievers and Slum Village all pass through, with KRS-One tapped up for a September show-stopper. Nas visits Bristol Academy to bring August to a conclusion, and Flatbush Zombies have September dates in London, Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester. Marc Mac lays down his breaks and protest series of albums on a smart commemorative 10 year vinyl run, or you can plump for the Bad Boy 20th anniversary box set: five discs of prime Diddy jigginess.
Lifting you from the shadows, Darkhouse Family – Metabeats and Don Leisure – are indestructible on ‘Solid Gold’, 25 minutes worth of jazzy, live instrumentals to sink your ears into. There must be more to life than stereotypes, so Jack Spectacula and P739 get blustery on the ‘Stereotyped Street Poet’ EP: swagger able to sound a note of caution. Bleeding Burnley claret, Seek the Northerner’s ‘Extra Gravy’ lays it on thick with eight punchy tracks of, well, everything really: something for everyone, never giving less than 100%. With new album ‘Mirrors’ on the way, Elliot Fresh’s three track teaser pre-empts what should be a beats and rhymes bonanza, with ‘Rats’ running the early show.
A re-up of seminal cut-n-paste classic ‘Lesson 6’ from Cut Chemist in all its tutorial glory shows newbies a clean pair of needles: flunking this should be impossible. Will a single of Fudge be good enough until it’s time to eat? ‘In My Shoes’ is the team of Prefuse73 and Michael Christmas projecting wavy images that haven’t been tuned in properly, with Alex Mali providing caramel goodness on the hook. Surprisingly J Cutta’s ‘SOS (Summer of Sam)’ didn’t make the cut for the new Independence Day film: trap that sounds like it could wipe out the universe.
The AlliYance run a classic break and a ‘CREAM’ snippet to give up the good spit on ‘Seltzer Water’, and Mazzi & SOUL Purpose get busy on the punk-swatting, horn-and-drum uppercut ‘WYD’. Dropping science – and we mean proper, lecture theatre business – GZA’s ‘The Spark’ could well blow your mind if the psych guitar loop doesn’t get there first. Jonwayne shows perfect technique as master mic athlete on ‘Jump Shot’ while choirs capture the moment in suspended animation.
A double from the evergreen distinction of Sadat X, ahead of new album ‘Agua’, gets hands up on the Pete Rock-produced jangle ‘Freeze’, then sets the streets to saluting a second time on ‘Murder Soundtrack’.
With the great British summertime playing hooky, Ed Scissor and Lamplighter’s ‘Tell Them It’s Winter’ is a sobering trial by hip-hop when you can’t see the woods for the trees. Out by themselves on the normally boisterous High Focus roster, the album barely rises above a whisper and whose drear is in the detail. Throwing up more questions than answers, it’s an intriguingly created world of wisdom, paranoia, numbness and finding peace in its own mind.
Sonnyjim’s down-among-the-dead-men flow casually picks off opposition while going through his inventory of assets and gastronomic indulgences. That ‘Mud In My Malbec’ lives in a world of pretty rich funk with a touch of folk intrigue, only heightens the I-can-you-can’t experience. Grimy glamour from a wily operator that the average ear can’t handle. At the peak of obnoxiousness on ‘the gangumentary of the century’, Sleazy F Baby rocks an ‘All Blahk Tracksuit’ monogrammed with IDGAF, a one more posse threat overwhelming hazardously grubby beats.
“Verbalist journalist” Invokal gives his all on ‘Collaborations’, the Brighton rhymer passionately reporting every last word when closing the gap between fact and fiction. At home with both crashing backdrops and considered beats, his collection of team-ups goes from hip-hop to a musical medley. Theatrical, yet never one to take a dive. Two more perfect examples of a clear cut, UK sound next, with Broken Poetz’ ‘Soul Searching’ precisely holding it down between boom-bap margins, and ‘The Tone & Smyth Show’ by Tony D and Locksmyth giving a value for money performance with a touch of gloss.
The rugged wisdom of Ugly Heroes graduates from the school of hard knocks on ‘Everything in Between’, taking nothing for granted and taking pride in doing themselves and the game absolute justice. The generously curmudgeonly trio of Red Pill, Apollo Brown and Verbal Kent – alma mater motto: “self deprecator/doing haters a favour” – won’t bullshit you, safe in the knowledge that the cream will always rise to the top.
Walkman blasters Lessondary present ‘Ahead of Schedule’, pushing strength in numbers inside a snappy half hour set of true flavoured soul food. The industry-aware ‘The Art of Saying No’ scoops hook of the month as well, as likely to shush front rows as it to gee ‘em up. On a yellow shade of mellow, Vritra’s ‘’Yellowing’ is the former Pyramid schemer blending ATL and LA scenes into a left of centre drowse, tricky to solve like a greasy Rubik’s Cube. Lo-fi, hi-tech hip-hop in its own zone, for dark, sticky sessions with enhancements to hand. Ill Bill is back on the butchers block with ‘Septagram’, a swift half hour hatchet job that still leaves plenty of time to pledge eternal damnation. Favoured goons Q-Unique, Goretex and Slaine help oversee the ritual of heavy metal hip-hop spun with celestial malevolence.
Long drive ahead? On foot through the streets? On a mission? Keep Jewels Hunter’s ‘Footnotes of a Jewels Hunter’ within reach. Out of Seattle, jazzy angles get worked over before powerful bursts make statements that don’t shirk responsibility. On the graveyard shift but getting by with woozy keys and velvet, star-wishing vibes, Yogisoul’s ‘By Nights’ is very much pro-neo, with emcees adding moonlight spit and crackle to keep you from drifting. Sunup/sundown hip-hop, pouring nightcaps the right way.
A double header of boom bap karate chops from Manchester’s Matt Kuartz ensures ‘A Little Samurai Soul’ goes a long way to satisfying your instrumental itches. Big beats, luscious licks, no tricks, disciplined to bruise and bless your boombox. Disciples of alt-hop troublemakers New Kingdom have Mongrels duo Kid Acne and Benjamin to thank for throwing down a 20th anniversary mix of the NY crew’s wild ride ‘Paradise Don’t Come Cheap’. Did we mention the changeable nature of the weather? Leave it to Jazzy Jeff and MICK, the sundance that is ‘Summertime vol. 7’ welcoming everyone from Norah Jones to Nas, Eric Clapton to Birdman, 50 Cent to Hall and Oates. Simply laid out all in a row and well up for guilty pleasures, the names speak for themselves.
This month’s easiness on the eye: Fliptrix, Durrty Goodz, RA the Rugged Man, Chillman and Dabbla.
July 11, 2016
New Music Review Roundup
Words: Dominic Valvona
Tickling Our Fancy 036: Bringing you the most eclectic of music roundups the Monolith Cocktail trawls the perimeters for the most interesting, sublime, obscure and mesmerizing sounds to bring you another polygenesis installment of the ‘Tickling Our Fancy’ revue. We have a double bill of Spanish releases from the world music label ARC, dystopian leftfield hip-hop from Ed Scissor & Lamplighter, a crooning ambient backlit opus from The Fiction Aisle, a reprised version of Die Krupps original metal machine requiem, and a cult favorite from the UK’s 80s post punk scene; The Tempest’s 5 Against The House.
Ed Scissor & Lamplighter ‘Tell Them It’s Winter’
Released by High Focus Records, July 15th 2016
Emerging damaged and deeply troubled from the miasma underbelly of modern life, the congruous leftfield hip-hop partnership of wordsmith Ed Scissor and Glasgow-based producer Lamplighter convey a sad poetic beauty in their dystopian visions. Much has been made of the duo’s caustic, and at times nihilistic, articulations and augurs. And their latest remote collaboration – the duo rarely share the same room as each other during the writing/recording process – Tell Them It’s Winter does explore familiar morbid curiosities, both musically and lyrically.
Yet, despite the travails, despite the gloom and all too real drudgery of an algorithm-driven society, Ed and his Lamplighter foil offer glimmers of light. Reminding us constantly of the universal infinite, Ed describes forces beyond the mundane. References to astrology, metaphysics and science flow like relentless streams of consciousness from Ed’s lips in a delivery style that shifts between rap, spoken word and, even, grime. Abstract elements of hip-hop and trip-hop mix seamlessly with the Shakespearean and biblical to produce the poetry, whilst tetchy minimal electronica and slow methodical beats layered over cLOUDDEAD expansive atmospheres and traces of neo-classical strings and looped recordings of old scratchy records create the backdrop to Ed’s winter of discontent.
Each track is free of demarcation and often floats off on different pathways before returning to focus once again on the central mood. There’s no room for prowess and flexing, Ed’s verses constructing a framework of unflinching honesty. Cormac McCarthy and Winterfell metaphors aside (the critics consensus analogies and reference points it seems for this album), the impending Machiavellian horsemen of doom bolted a long time ago. Tell Them It’s Winter is, if anything, a reminder that nothing has changed and that the central tenets of human suffrage carry on unabated in the 21st century.
The Tempest ‘5 Against The House’
Released by Optic Nerve Recordings
Shining in a phosphorus light for only a short time before burning out, the Northampton post-punk band The Tempest lasted for just over a year in the early 80s. Remembered more for their future connections – founding members Mark Refoy joining both the Spaceman 3 and splinter cell Spiritualised, and Alex Novak joining Attrition and Venus Fly Trap – The Tempest’s band members did manage to create a critically lauded LP in 1984, the reappraisal of which is heralded by this reissue. Available both on vinyl – a fetching limited edition on blue and white splattered vinyl with a suitable Sci-fi pop culture illustration from the band’s Novak – and CD, complete with an additional trio of non-album bonuses, 5 Against The House is both of irresistibly its time yet unique in traversing punk, Goth, drone and in ushering the twilight approach of shoegaze.
With hints of a late The Damned, Killing Joke and fellow Northampton skulkers Bauhaus, the group’s rattling rim-shot rhythms, brooding angulated and contorted rapid fire guitars and solar wind chilled breezes give the alternative indie template a thrashing. However, that’s only half the story, because the quality and spark which first brought the band to the attention of John Peel and Kid Jensen was the spikey bounce and aloof prowling pop of songs such as ‘Montezuma’ and ‘Lady Left This’, both singles which drew favourable reviews and entered the indie charts. After hearing them on Radio 1’s Roundtable show, Steve Strange, in an overly complimentary mood, anointed them and declared, “This is the sound of 1984.” If Strange heard the band’s ‘Blame It On The Breeze’ then he’d recognize a passing resemblance to a twisted Gothic twanged version of his own Visage sound.
Inspired by the polygenesis spirit of the times, The Tempest integrate A Certain Ratio and Blurt style white funk and jazz on the extended bonus instrumental ‘ABC’, and pay an avant-garde 1920s marimba homage to the siren of the silver screen, ‘Clara Bow’.
Failing to even see out the release of the debut, and band’s only LP for obvious reasons, The Tempest split far too soon. The only clue to how they may have evolved manifested on their future collaborations and performances.
The Fiction Aisle ‘Fuchsia Days’
Released by Chord Orchard, July 17th 2016
Still crooning the same unrequited dramas in the Bacharach/Sinatra/Hawley tones, Thomas White as The Fiction Aisle has however moved on from the plaintive sumptuous orchestral suites of his last epic Heart Map Rubric for something more explorative. Inspired in part by the ambient panoramic sweeps and mood pieces of Eno, White’s smooth longing timbre lingers palatial style over a series of expansive soundtracks on his latest epic, Fuchsia Days.
A musical polymath on the Brighton scene, used to adapting new sounds, White has successfully shifted between the enervated halcyon psych of the Electric Soft Parade and the rambunctious indie/alternative country rock of the Brakes, to hone a solo career as a wry and weary romantic crooner.
Wistfully, lilting, occupying the same sentiments and musical ground as Robert Wyatt’s Cuckooland and Paddy McAloon’s I Trawl The Megahertz, Fuchsia Days, despite its often-lamentable themes, allows White’s vocals to wander meditatively. On the stirring suffused, Spiritualised heaven bound, ‘Tonight’ and the cinematic minor opus title track his voice disappears completely; emotion and heartbreak described instead by the subtle instrumental layers of gradual release.
Though imbued with his new ambient settings, White still repeats the melodic traces of McCartney, and occasionally Harrison; especially with the underplayed romance, but less cynical heartbreaker ‘The Dream’: a real tear-jerker that you could imagine being penned by a Sunflower/Friends era Bruce Johnston. And on the universal encapsulated opener ‘Dust’, there are reverberations of both ELO and Queen’s vocal effects.
There’s nothing to pine over, no regrets, White’s latest vessel still channels the same balladry emotions and concerns. The songwriting has just been given more space to breathe; flowing, fluctuating and lulling over sweeping romantic and sometime elegiac organ evoked maladies to capture age-old woes and boons. Another successful transition from White.
Ana Alcaide ‘Leyenda’
Vigüela ‘Temperamento: Traditional Songs From Spain’
Released by ARC Music
Delivered recently through the Monolith Cocktail letterbox, a duo of illuminating Spanish discoveries from the ‘devoted’ world music label ARC Music has proved particularly beguiling. Though our tastes, as regular readers will be aware, are incredibly diverse, the modern Celtic pop and balladry take on Spanish tradition found on the latest LP by Toledo enchantress Ana Alcaide, isn’t usually something we’d find especially appealing; unless there was something special about it of course. But despite the sometimes commercially, almost Eurovision, overtones, there is a real depth to the Alcaide’s Leyenda album that borders on the exotic and esoteric. It has that special glimmer and quality which lifts it above the mediocrity and stereotype of those Celtic reverberations.
This is an ambitious album with some lyrical but serious intentions: Alcaide setting out to explore and understand ‘the ancient world of the feminine that has passed down through the generations but we have lost touch with’. A highly personal suite of twelve ballads, laments and paeans, Leyenda uses legends and myths as metaphors on femininity or, rather how the female role as goddess and earthly authority was lost through the ages. Often magical, inhabiting a dream world state, Alcaide is nevertheless, as she puts it, creating ‘…a modern image of the magic world, avoiding the classical ‘fairy tale’ look’.
And so we set off on a fantastical meditation through the atavistic imagined ‘mother Earth’ of Mexican mythology on the opening ‘Tlalli’. A gentle introduction, Alcaide’s lilting vocals drift on the Central American jungle breezes as a wooden flute, birdsong and lush rain-soaked atmospherics build a suitable picture postcard from the region. From Mexico to China next, though played with a Spanish and gypsy flair, Alcaide recounts the end of matriarchy itself, with the tale of Luolaien and her jealous fiancé. From the legends of the Deang Dynasty, this all-too obvious analogy sees the fatalistic goddess’ wings clipped, forever tied-down and restricted.
There’s no mistaking the Spanish heritage, Alcaide a native of Toledo, both musically and in the choice of source material. ‘La Ondina de Vacares’ is an ode to the fabled water spirits, the Undines, of Granada’s Lake Vacares. A riff on the sirens of ancient Greece, these miscreant creatures transformed from birds into altogether more seductive propositions, intent on enticing their prey to a watery death. ‘La Mujer Muerta’ is a more romantic tale (again) fatalism, the victim of a sword fight between love rival brothers, the ‘beautiful Blanca’s’ lifeless body reclines to give shape and a name to the Guadarrama mountain ranges; a sorrow and yet gravitas of awe given a wistful, melodramatic song. Whatever the outcome, each of the female protagonists and objects of desire usually lure or fall victim to the patriarch of their ire, except in the case of the bridge-builder tale ‘El Puente de San Martín’, where the wife of the builder makes a sacrifice out of love for her husband, and the ‘Folía de la Primavera’, a more ‘joyous’ instrumental to springtime.
Inspired in part by Alcaide’s adoption of the Swedish folk instrument, the nyckelharpa, its dulcet plucked and ringing tones can be heard throughout, lending an almost Medieval sound to the Western European backing track. But then there are also allusions to further afield influences, with a touch of Muslim Spain on the dusky Arabian flavoured ‘El Puente de San Martín’, and echoes of Japan on the plaintive themed ‘Kari Kalas’.
Countless woes are delivered with enchanting grace; Alcaide’s voice both floating surreptitiously and lushly through a real and imaginary timeline swoons sonorously, giving a fantastical voice to her cast of nymphs, spirits, and demigods and duck footed oddities.
The second ARC album is again inspired by Spain’s folktales and traditions but musically stays confined to the borders, true to the country’s heritage of cultural preservation. Vigüela’s Temperamento is imbued by the group’s hometown of El Carpio de Tajo and its autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha’s connections to one of the country’s greatest novels, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. The birthplace of that worthy tome’s author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the area is also home to the town of Toledo, the real feet-on-the-ground home of Ana Alcaide. Whereas Alcaide dwelled in various fantasies and imaginary worlds, Vigüela reconnected to the arable fields of Spain’s agricultural past.
Earnestly translating the rural heartlands with an 18-song collection of both impassioned homages and resigned laments, the assiduous quintet put their own personal distinctive mark on songs from the great Spanish songbook. Reverential throughout, with commendable articulate performances, Temperamento is as much about education as entertainment. The album’s accompanying booklet offers a wealth of context, historically, geographically, culturally and thematically explaining each song’s provenance. Delivered vocally with the most humbled and toiled vocals, each of the band’s highly-talented musical partisans is equally capable of stirring up images of the brow-beaten oppressed and working classes sweating out a living under the relentless sweltering Spanish sun. Combining a number of phonetically poetic, accented vocal styles, Vigüela sound impressive; especially when using melismatic melodies – a style in which several notes are sung to one syllable.
Familiar instrumental signatures such as the lute, castanets and guitar are accompanied by a omnivorous choice of percussion; the band literally including all the utensils from but not including the kitchen sink. Whether it’s shaking olive trees for the Gañana style paean to the olive harvesters on ‘A la Acceituna Temprano’ or, the crackling birch fire that accompanies the lone fatalistic voice of the group’s Mari Nieto on the festive Sones style ‘Di, Dianna’, Vigüela bring the experiences and environments of their subjects to life.
Covering more or less every square inch of Spain’s rural folk, there are Fandangos, Seguidillas and a Jota to the lyrical suffering of ill fated and rebuked love trysts, cowgirls, sick of the enamored attentions of the local men, and even an ode to the shearers of mules, donkeys and sheep – a lost art it seems.
Though indebted to tradition, with a sound steeped in generational ties, linked intrinsically to the land, the group plays with conventions, changing, manipulating those root musical styles with free passages, additional lyrics and polyrhythmic tweaks. The past ain’t quite what it used to be.
Die Krupps ‘Stahlwerksrequiem’
Released by Bureau B
No stranger to incubating some of German music’s most innovative and revolutionary artists, lending its industrial cityscape to a host of Kosmiche and Krautrock doyens, Düsseldorf would however, have to wait until 1981 to receive a soundtrack that reflected its darker recesses. Dinger and Rother had immortalized the city with a motorik but pastoral transcendence, and Kraftwerk had composed a grand utopian synthesized symphony to the machine, but the Die Krupps trio of natives Jürgen Engler, Bernward Malaka and Ralf Dörper would create something hewn from the frightening abandoned ‘stahlwerks’.
Progenitors in a sense, certainly one of the first to recognize it, Die Krupps helped coin industrial rock with their original Stahlwerksinfonie suite. Uncompromising, stalking its listeners with a mangled squeal and skulk of unwieldy guitar, wails, shouts and a monotonic bassline, the trios intentions were at the time, highly ambitious. Reinventing the (steel) wheel, aiming to create something different, they sounded to all intents and purposes like a natural successor or, an extension, of the Komsiche/Krautrock brand. Yet their original inspiration was not Krautrock but Lou Reed’s infamous Metal Machine Music album. Even though they recorded at Can’s Inner Space sanctum, Die Krupps were unfamiliar with the previous generation’s explorations. Since that album’s release, the group has done its homework, in particular, finding common ground with the earliest work of Cluster.
A reprise this time around, featuring some of those Krautrock legends, and from the Düsseldorf punk and techno eras, Pryolator (who recently released a reconstructive collection of the late Conrad Schnitzler library tapes), Engler and Dörper are joined by a Bureau B label super group. Featuring a litany of artists from the German label, there’s Guru Guru’s mischievous founder and drumming pioneer Mani Neumeier and the inimitable heavy drum and bass partnership of Faust’s Jean-Hervé Peron and Zappi Diermaier helping to enrich and add an extra layer of sonorous menace and pants shitting doom to proceedings.
A moiety of two acts, the reprise Stahlwerkrequiem skulks around an abandoned industrial space once more. In a caustic swell of steel-mesh flayed percussion, continues wild unruly gnarling guitar and Gothic resonance, a steady prowling bass line and stoic drumming, the factory requiem growls through a miasma of Faust’s misdeeds, Bauhaus, Wender’s captured steals of Cave and the Bad Seeds during the Berlin years with Crime And The City Solution and countless other unsettling musical furors into the abysses – all we’re missing is the Baroque horror baritone of Scott Walker.
The monotony of the bass and drums anchors the serialism of the unkempt guitar solo that drives on relentlessly, until a beam of cosmic light shines down on the gloom and whips up a suitable crescendo of zapping rays before disappearing in a Lovecraft vortex.
Minus Peron and Diermaier, the second act continues to inhabit the same space, only there’s a brighter, cleaner sound and production this time. Cymbals shake and shimmer rather than prick the sensibilities, and the metallic sheet panel beat is far more hypnotic. Less hostile and grueling, the Die Krupps and extended Krautrock ensemble return full circle to the Cluster inspired ‘Live in der Fabrik’. Intense, every inch of space filled with an atmosphere of industrial psychogeography, the requiem sounds like an antidote to the optimistic confident celebration of the machine and technological age, as pioneered by Kraftwerk.