September 23, 2016
Words: Dominic Valvona
Analog Africa Tenth Anniversary Special
Unearthing dormant musical treasures for a decade, Samy Ben Redjeb’s assiduous Analog Africa label has done more than most to celebrate and spread the African continent’s rich musical heritage. Over the years he’s reintroduced us to the Africa Screams raw and psychedelic 1970s sounds of Benin and Togo; the Islamic funk belt of Ghana; the hypnosis sauntering innovations of a forgotten Angola; and in more recent months revived the salacious accordion and ferro scrapped dynamism of Cape Verde’s Funaná with a reissue of the archipelago’s greatest musical export, Bitori Nha Bibinha. Previously forgotten and often ignored links in the African music story such as the Congolese maestro of electric guitar Georges Mateta Kiamuangana aka Verckys and the mighty Afro Funk ensemble Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou have enjoyed enlightening reappraisals too. Extending beyond its moniker, the label has also taken congruous excursions to South America, releasing the essential Diablos Del Ritmo and Mambo Loco: Anibal VelasQuez Y Su Conjunto Colombian compilations. Samy’s even navigated a path downstream to the Amazon town of Cametá to find the mysterious sound of Siriá, compiling a showcase of the style’s leading exponent Mestre Cupijó.
Though the Monolith Cocktail wasn’t established until halfway through the Analog Africa decade, we’ve followed the label closely and reviewed near enough most of the albums they’ve released. Currently on their 25th release, we pick ten choice records from the back catalogue and a playlist of our favourite tracks to celebrate.
1. Various ‘Legends Of Benin’ (2009)
In case your knowledge of African geography is shaky, Benin is in the west and borders Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Niger. Tightly caged in by its neighbours, the influence of all these regions leaks into the music to create a unique mash-up of rhythms and beats that switches from rhumba to rocksteady in the blink of an eye.
The artists on this album include Gnonnas Pedro, a politically charged crusader; El Rego, an entrepreneur of dubious enterprises including a brothel and a boxing club; Antione Dougbe a much feared Vodun priest, and Honore Avolonto, responsible for the country’s biggest selling album of all time
2. Various ‘Afrobeat Airways West African Shock Waves Ghana & Togo 1972 – 79’ (2010)
Essentially a tale of two separate, but interlocked and musically linked, countries, this congruous compilation praises and extols the virtues of both the Islamic-roots Togo sound – part of Redjeb’s own turn-of-phrase “Islamic Funk Belt scene”, that stretched from northern Ghana to northern Nigeria – and the more robust and well-known Ghana sounds. Any obvious signs of demarcation like borders is lost, as the two nation’s voracious colourful musicians criss-crossed and shared the much common ground of passion for screaming organs, arching twanged gestured guitars, roaring tilt to the heavens horns, and side-stepping infectious poly-rhythms.
3. Various ‘Bambara Mystic Soul: Raw Sound Of Burkina Faso 1974-79’ (2011)
Our favorite purveyor of the recondite, forgotten and lost treasures of Africa, Samy Ben Redjeb unearths some ethereal soul from an untapped part of the continent. Making our albums of the year in 2011 this compilation came up trumps with its mystical reinvented Stax revues, Afro funk, ghostly-recorded evocative laments, and blasts of disco from the tucked away, landlocked, Burkina Faso.
4. Various Artists ‘Diablos Del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot 1960 – 1985’ (2012)
On the northern tip of Colombia’s Caribbean facing coastline lies the polygenesis voracious port of Barranquilla, a magnet and “Mecca” for seafarers and traders from across the globe. Bringing their goods and barter, these various visitors also shared their music and culture. It’s uncertain when the African sound first wowed the Colombian town, but its seismic impact upon the South American Latin-dominated horizon is beyond doubt.
As ever the exhaustive compiler, researcher, musical aficionado and pioneering erudite Samy Ben Redjeb, through his critically exhorted label Analog Africa, serves-up a hearty panoramic purview; bringing to life a much forgotten epoch in the annals of musical development. No one quite sums up, or interacts like Samy, his insightful imprint doesn’t just take from its source but forms a long-standing beneficial relationship with the artists: Whether it’s setting-up a royalty and license deal with that original artist/band, or in this case exchanging his own prized and rare collection of African records for those featured on this compilation – in turn these nuggets have been used to compete in the famous local carnival’s sound system rivalries.
5. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou ‘The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk’ (2013)
In some respects a timely tribute to the ‘all powerful’ group’s founder Melome ‘The Boss’ Clement, who suffered a fatal heart attack in December of 2012, The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk features 14-tracks, never before heard outside their native land.
More variety than previous editions, this third chapter still thumps with that ‘Meters support James Brown at the Cotonou Apollo’ explosive vibe, but moves omnivorously through screaming Farfisa organ funk and Nigerian delta blues (Ai Gabani and Houzou Houzou Wa), infectious Stax r’n’b rattlers (Houton Kan Do Gome) and plaintive Spanish-twanged soul (Min We Tun So).
6. Various ‘Angola Soundtrack 2 – Hypnosis, Distortions & Other Sonic Innovations 1969 – 1978’ (2013)
Building on the award-winning inaugural compilation (which won the German Record Critics prize for best ‘black music’ album in 2010), volume 2 features another cast of stripped down reedy wah-wah bluesmen and gentle horn blowing, cowbell tapping dancehall bands, serenading the shoe-shuffling congregation. Sedately enchanting, though still able to cause even the most reserved of listeners to shake it, the album shuffles along, evoking moments of samba, Cuba, Colombia and even the Shadows twang (especially in evidence on the spring-y África Ritmo instrumental, ‘Agarrem’).
7. Verckys et L’Orchestre Vévé ‘Congolese Funk, Afrobeat and Psychedelic Rumba 1969 – 1978’ (2014)
As glowing endorsements of musical prowess and live performance go, James Brown’s seal of approval must take some beating. Catching the chief instigator of the Congolese music scene – protégé guitarist turn entrepreneur, record label owner, producer and doyen of a whole new generation of emerging talent – Georges Mateta Kiamuangana, better known by his stage persona Verckys, in Kinshasa in 1974, the Godfather of soul anointed him “Mister dynamite”. When you hear Verckys at his most robust and funk-trunk shaking best, it’s pretty obvious why. Channeling the atavistic and contemporary shifts in black music from both across the Atlantic and from his homeland, Verckys turned his inimitable, nimble fretwork onto a myriad of dance rhythms; seamlessly rephrasing the South American staples of rhumba and pachanga with Afrofunk, pop and soul.
8. Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo ‘Siriá’ (2014)
Coming up trumps with a showcase of rambunctious marches from ‘master’ Brazilian composer and conductor turned philanthropist, provisional lawyer and municipal councillor of Cametá, Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo, the label rediscovers the ‘cross-pollination’ rich Siriá style of music. Incubated on the shores of the river Tocantini, in the escaped African slave founded settlement of Quilombos, the ‘scorching’ siriá sound crosses the native Amazonian sound with that of Africa to create a popular rave up, played and enjoyed to great effect throughout the extended state of Pará at the traditional festivals and street parties. After spending a sojourn living with the locals and learning their sound and culture, Mestre Cupijó modernised the original with his newly formed Jazz Orquestra os Azes do Ritmo; recording a total of six soulfully high-spirited albums. The first two records were enthusiastically knocked out with ‘rudimentary equipment’ in a Cametá dance club, the third recorded in a Belém studio.
9. Various Artists ‘Space Echo – The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed’ (2016)
350 miles adrift of the West African coast, Cabo Verde (probably more familiar to many of us as Cape Verde) lies almost isolated out in the Atlantic Ocean. But this former overseas ‘department’ of Portugal fatefully, so the local legend goes, happened to be stuck in the exact right place when a shipment of the latest Rhodes, Moog, Farfisa, Hammond and Korg synthesizers and keyboards bound for the Exposição Mundial Do Son Eletrônico Exhibition in Rio De Janeiro ended up marooned on one of the archipelago’s ten volcanic islands in 1968. The real story grows mysterious, as the cargo, destined to reach a promising market in South America, disappeared off the radar on a calm morning the same day it set sail from Baltimore, and ended up 8km away from the Cape Verde coastline in a field near the village of Cachaço.
And so it goes: a musical manna from the heavens or space; a cargo that literally dropped into their laps from out of the stratosphere sets into motion a new dawn in music history. Whatever the truth, Cabo Verde’s musicians were certainly transformed. The melting pot of Mornas, Coladeras, carnival and previously prohibited – deemed far too risqué and sensual by the Portuguese overseers- Funaná styles of music were given a new lease of life and modern twist by the booty of futuristic sounding synthesizers.
10. Bitori ‘Legend of Funaná – The Forbidden Music Of The Cape Verde Islands’ (2016)
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.
And here’s a selection of our ‘choice’ Analog Africa tracks…
September 21, 2016
Words: Ayfer Simms
Xenia Rubinos ‘Black Terry Cat’
LP released by ANTI-
Abundantly funky, the album is a fist raised high above the head, above the wild mane of the singer, the sound folks, a fist that says it is time to assert our being, here and now because we are drenched: 100 years, 200 years, 300 years of history latched onto our corpses, we must not shut our lips.
Xenia Rubinos wants to bite, deep. She sings like an intimidating snake in the outback, her venom appears thick and long, like a spitted chewing gum from the mouth of another, yet she is like candy. She must understand the coarse skin of the enemy, perhaps teach a few lessons, she must not fear but simply face it, sing with it, groove with it, with tunes that make our tendons tremble.
The music vibrates all over the streets, green fields, through reinforced concrete buildings, while something in her gaze shows assertiveness; she is like a one eyed titan who whispers “swallow your pride human child”. She is a primitive aura, she scatters free lyrics, her power of coolness, some strong footsteps, and she scoffs a little, to plague built up values; she is a pas de dance for those who get sent off without a letter of recommendation.
Rubinos chooses distortion, a brave hop of the finger to who ever, and while she flares, up in the air, her sweet face, smiling, adorn the perfect racy street kitten cape to greet you. She is a woman created by Picasso in his own image, huge, enormous, present, Rubinos, a nude from 1906. Hip, Hop and soul, nutty, bold, uncurbed, a fierce voice, with spasmodic rhythms, familiar though. Disguised in an urban daredevil, there’s no real grudge here, style and subjects are up to date, the banter is mutual, the succeeding embrace even stronger. Her battle of the raised fist is to boost consciousness, for the better and worse but really for the better.
September 19, 2016
Words: Matt Oliver
The goss: some bemusing respect-your-elders squabbling between Pete Rock and Lil Yachty via Young Dolph, Run the Jewels expanding their brand even further with a Gears of War tie-in, rumours of a new A Tribe Called Quest surfacing, Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def visiting London for a two-date October stopover, Talib Kweli coming to the capital in December, and Vanilla Ice, on ice, pre-Christmas; just let that soak in for a moment.
Anyway, down to the nitty gritty, and the second in Rapture & Verse’s irregular mix series is a blinder of bold and blunted vibes from HCKYTMPR aka Brighton’s Al Penfold. Wrapping a stream of psych/rock weirdness around the best of J Dilla, Massive Attack, RJD2, RTJ, Jurassic 5, Aesop Rock, Beastie Boys and old skool mic swapping, you’re guaranteed 64 minutes of gloriously blurry lane-changing that will still smack you like a puck to the mush.
Royal rap-rock renegades Prophets of Rage – Chuck D, B-Real and three quarters of Rage Against the Machine – take up moshpit residence for ‘The Party’s Over’ EP. Two originals and three live trade-offs bulldoze their way into the hands of festival bookers as obvious darlings of uprising. If they’re looking for a convenient running mate, Zack de la Rocha, produced by El-P in typically bomb-lobbing fashion, brings the pane when ‘Digging for Windows’. Front rows may get gobbed on.
The usual standard measures from 100-proofers Pete Cannon and Dr Syntax gets heads lapping up ‘The Tonic’, a half dozen hamper of monkeying around, rap remedies and mercurial mastery. Make it one of your five a day, with ‘Cats & Dogs’ making a bid for club banger of the year. Shattering the porcelain ‘Red Light’ is East London’s Confz, where a gentle rocking turns into whiplash you’ll know about.
With similar contrast, Ric Wilson paints how it really is to a flourishing, Sunshine Anderson-styled soul burst telling everyone ‘We Love Us,’ and Remulak’s willowy woodwinds of ‘Highlife’ are starkly handled by M9 and Skriblah; Evil Ed provides a subtle glisten of a remix. A couple of trife lifers from Hus Kingpin – ‘Wave Palooza’ and ‘Wizard of Dons’ – block out the sun with grim spectres, and Czarface swoop back into view with superhero/rockstar timing on ‘All In Together Now’. We must include DJ Premier’s remix of Desiigner’s ‘Tiimmy Turner’ for attempting to get away with samples of South Park and the old BBC cricket theme.
Dabbla’s geezer skills on ‘Year of the Monkey’ jump assorted flavours rattled by Chemo, Tom Caruana, Sumgii and GhostTown, and slap them silly. “Good job I got that confidence within myself, because if I’m honest I ain’t really feeling no-one else”: a perfect summary for Paddy Smashdown’s likeably loutish but razor sharp mic grip. Add in appearances from Ocean Wisdom, Dubbledge and Jam Baxter and you’ve got an album scurrying its way to the top of the tree for 2016.
Cappo’s ‘Dramatic Change of Fortune’ isn’t an album of lucky streaks or hoping gambles come off. Painting a dour, mostly ashen scenery to that ever-calculating flow eliminating those low on IQ, its maker becomes even more enigmatic. With electricity in the air and the quiet storms ‘OOB’ and ‘Ether’ moving and exploding like stealth bombers, when autumn becomes winter, here’s your listening.
Only describable as an ‘odyssey’, Clipping’s typically individual ‘Splendor & Misery’ thoroughly disproves that no one in space can you hear you scream. Stark lines over minimally provocative electronics and spectacle-adding sermons from the LA leftfielders will clamp you to the edge of your seat before you can react.
On ‘Westside Highway Story’, a rich Latino backdrop spun by Salaam Remi conjures images of the ebullient Joell Ortiz, Bodega Bamz and Nitty Scott MC spitting on the streets in the middle of a heatwave while rubbing tequila salt in haters’ wounds; so a party album that definitely ain’t playing. And yes, the group are really called No Panty.
Soul swirls and hard knock boom bap, keeping its head up while the sun pokes through gloomy skies; there’s your forecast from Apollo Brown & Skyzoo. Perhaps never better summed up by The Carpenters sample on ‘Spoils to the Victor’, album ‘The Easy Truth’ is a great listen, sounding like it’s in a rut but pushing forward with spirit and conviction.
With a supply of old skool references and licks, and a flow always ready for a dust-up, Ryu of Styles of Beyond brings tons’o’guns to ‘Tanks for the Memories’. He’s a fair fighter – uncompromising but accessible – with the same going for Divine Styler on production. ‘The Devil Got a Plan’ elevates his yarn-spinning abilities, ‘Who’s Next’ is a bar-buying jump-up anthem, and the man has the knack of getting results deserving a rewind.
Reactivated after a four-year festering period, Holy Smoke’s self-titled album mines the lowest of the lo-fi underground, Jeremiah Jae and Zeroh responsible for blindly testing the foundations. Foreign film dubs meet a B-boy chop shop on Oso Blanco’s ‘Blancowood’, an instrumental soundclash with floods of Madlib/Wu-Tang-learned mystique and rickety assed-beats fuggin’ up the place, set to subtitles looking elsewhere. Repeatedly hitting the target to keep your head in credit, Ben Boogz opens up a stocky stockpile of jazzy and phat flavourings on ‘I Moreno’. Not one for sleight of hand, the direct stance heads into the red like a boombox-carrying bull. The best of Jack Diggs rubbing balm over boom-bap forms 28-track instrumental collection ‘Out the Dust’. A cool customer and expert on the axis of rugged and smooth, he runs through the Revorg catalogue and drops freshness alongside. Let it play in the background until it takes over the room.
R&V would wager a big chunk of change that Brookzill!’s ‘Throwback to the Future’ receives a flood of adjectives involving the words ‘melting pot’. A global road trip caught in exotic traffic, it’s a native tongued culture clash called to order by a surprise cast – the legendary Prince Paul, Digable Planets’ Ladybug Mecca, and maestros Rodrigo Brandao and Don Newkirk. The Latino spice, edge and colour shimmying around hip-hop might miss the point of a dreary October, but it shows there’s nothing wrong with just a little samba.
Reks will never stop fighting, which is handy seeing as ‘The Greatest X’ is two discs and 35 tracks long. Long occupying the negative, the Mass emcee either fights a lone battle or moves you into marching alongside. Don’t take his observations as woe-is-m:, plus a touch of relationship insight helps break down what was always going to be an ambitious statement (in fairness, a rare trait nowadays). Reks puts his endurance to the test with a live Jazz Cafe date later this month, alongside veteran heat bringers Edo G and Artifacts.
Amongst his library of soul cinema and folk threads, Wax Tailor keeps pockets of hip-hop to hand on ‘By Any Beats Necessary’, the Frenchman’s Bond theme auditions and gentleman B-boyisms interrupted by RA the Rugged Man, AFRO, Ghostface and Raashan Ahmed. Producer Blockhead doesn’t have a history of particularly forcing the issue, but finds rhymer MarQ Spekt putting the bit between his teeth and advising to ‘Keep Playin’. Resuming from 2014’s ‘JustPlayWitIt’, Spekt is the wide-eyed, tale-telling hitchhiker, riding shotgun – figuratively and literally – to Blockhead’s firm, unflinching grip of the wheel. Do as the title says.
Dusted off from sometime around 1999, J Dilla’s ‘Back to the Crib’ captures a bunch of funk, pop and soul classics inside the mind of the MPC master. A very necessary high grade mix from DJ Matman celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Cypress Hill debut, stuffed with classics and source material. Helle Hooper commemorates the same milestone of Main Source’s ‘Breaking Atoms’ in similar fashion, never missing out on any vital ingredients.
To close: the visions of Onoe Caponoe, and floods of consciousness from Red Pill.
September 15, 2016
Words: Dominic Valvona
Angelo Badalamenti ‘Twin Peaks: The Original Soundtrack’
Reissued on vinyl by Death Waltz Records
Originally aired, give or take, 25 years ago to an audience mostly left bewildered but hooked, the David Lynch and Mark Frost series Twin Peaks left an indelible mark on all those who tuned in to see it, and culture at large. Enjoying a resurgent reappraisal of sorts in the run-up to the third TV series, due to hit screens in the first half of 2017 (aired on Showtime), the most anticipated and welcome return of a cult is now presently being streamed online and the original unsettling but beguiling soundtrack has just hit the shops in the form of a vinyl reissue. From the resurrection experts of many an obscure, left lain dormant, horror and supernatural schlock soundtrack, Death Waltz, a remastered version with new liner notes from its composer Angelo Badalamenti was released earlier this month.
The Internet rumor mill has gone into hyperbole as speculation mounts over the third installment plot. Whilst information is drip-fed to the public – news of this return was announced way back in 2014 – it seems a connected storyline will link it to the original with some of the cast members from the first two outings making a return appearance.
Drawing from the Lynch’s surreal well of morbid and strange curiosity, Twin Peaks’ heart of darkness featured, depending on whether you took the psychoanalytic or supernatural path, a schizophrenic abuser, vessel for a demonic entity, committing the most heinous of crimes, and a central femme fatale, laughing on the outside but crying in a pit of despair on the inside, whose only escape from her tormenter is death. Throughout the series duality is key: As the plot arcs unfold we learn that almost every character has their opposing opposite; some even have a doppelganger; others a foe; yet both make the flawed complete. Even the title itself screams it out loud and clear. Offsetting the esoteric dread, backward talking dwarf and cryptic clue hinting giant, sexual depravity, seedy crime and kookiness is the humour. If the show wasn’t odd enough already, Lynch and Frost place faces from stalwart American daytime soaps and murder mysteries (most notably Columbo and Murder She Wrote; both shows me and Miss Vine adore) into the macabre daemonic world; their hammy and sometimes stilted performances turn Twin Peaks into the farcical throughout.
A dark comedy, a supernatural whodunit, Twin Peaks is many things. Yet even now it evades classification. Perhaps the most influential and, open to debate, savior of early 90s TV the original two series continues to influence. Imbuing if not inspiring, its writing, esoteric meets American cherry pie closeted world themes and settings permeate throughout the TV schedules and film industry (most notably Fargo in recent years). Though running out of steam, and taken off air, it remains a standard bearer for quality and ambition.
But all of this would be unimaginable without the stunning evocative soundtrack; supplied by Lynch’s long-running musical foil Angelo Badalamenti, who entwined both the magic and horror into an often ethereal and ominous veiled suite. Rightly applauded with a Grammy award in 1990 for ‘best pop instrumental performance’ for the main Twin Peaks theme tune, Badalamenti’s eerie and lush tremolo-echoed opening perfectly sets the scene of a beguiling haunted northwestern American everglade, teeming with omnipresent mystery. A gracefully poised and gentle, almost a lullaby, the main signature acts as leitmotif; made more melodramatic and chilling on ‘Laura Palmer’s Theme’; part soap, part classical black key trepidation it passes over like a phantom miasma but also offers a plaintive release. Channeling the maddening demon “Bob”, and other miscreant lost souls that inhabit the backwater towns twilight hours, ‘Night Life’ is the most unsettling with its low synth sinister drones and stalker pacing.
Far less creepy the album’s light relief is found in the gumshoe noir cocktail and louche lounge brushed snare jazz of ‘Freshly Squeezed’, and the finger-snapping dreamy vibraphone suspense of ‘Audrey’s Dance’; piqued by arch quivers to denote caution and that something strange is afoot. Of course many will remember the unforgettable breathless cooing vocals of another of Lynch’s collaborators, Julee Cruise. Almost like a vapour; a gauzy veil of a voice, Cruise has one of the most translucent vocals of any artist in recording history. She blows in on the beautifully dreamy doo-wop lament ‘The Nightingale’ like an angelic sweetened but damaged 50s throwback. She adds a delicate hymn like ethereal warning to ‘Into The Night’ and gives a whispery misty diaphanous performance on the closing ‘Falling’ love chaste. Originally written by the triumvirate of Badalamenti/Lynch/Cruise in 1989, ‘Falling’ appeared on Cruise’s debut LP Floating Into The Night before becoming the synonymous signature for Twin Peaks.
Bringing the various threads together ‘The Bookhouse Boys’ superimposes the different character themes and moods over each other to create a deft cacophony of suspense. All the angles are played out, from disturbing voyeurism and Laura Palmer’s morose sacrifice to the cool jazz shuffles that accompany the so-called guardians of the town and Agent Cooper.
Still just as evocative and stirring, even in isolation taken away from the TV series, as it was all those years back the Twin Peaks soundtrack will hopefully entrance a new generation. Released in its wake, Badalamenti’s score for the accompanying feature-length prequel Fire Walk With Me will also receive the Death Waltz resurrection on vinyl. The actual film was met with catcalls and howls of derision on its release, though the soundtrack is a concomitant continuation of the previous series. Lynch attempted to expand, though many said at the time “cash-in”, on the Twin Peaks universe, bringing in even more characters and plot threads, whilst exhaustively dragging out the sorrowful demise of the chief protagonist, over the films two hour duration. Only a third of the way into to the second series the writers, after finally outing the murderer, began to drift off into the paranormal, throwing in countless references to conspiracy theories, alien abduction, secret societies, to ever-outlandish degrees until eventually running out of gas. Yet it always remained watchable, even though the TV network lost patience and cancelled it.
There’s bound to be more reverence in the run-up to the third series in 2017. For example, next month sees the publication of the spin off novel The Secret History of Twin Peaks by original co-creator of the series Mark Frost, which bridges the gap between the end of the second series and the third. Meanwhile lose yourselves in the soundtrack reissue in preparation for the most anticipated TV moments of recent times.
September 12, 2016
NEW MUSIC REVIEW ROUNDUP
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA
Tickling Our Fancy 039 features The Conformist, Wovenhand, Flies+Flies, Senji Niban and The Moth Poets, Mei Han and Sea + Air.
For your aural delights: Wovenhand are off on a star-guided peregrination with their latest gothic Americana opus; The Conformist is back with more electronic sound clashes; there’s experimental electronica and trance from Senji Niban and The Moth Poets in the form of a split album from Edinburgh’s Bearsuit Records; and a contemporary and classical zheng showcase from the master Chinese zither player Mei Han. We also have the latest ebbing ‘dark pop’ single from the London trio Flies+Flies and a remix re-imagining of the nomadic souls Sea+Air from Ulrich Schnauss.
Wovenhand ‘Star Treatment’
LP released by Sargent House/Glitterhouse Records
Inspired in a wondrous and metaphysical sense by humanities navigational dependence, worship and cultural fascination with the stars, David Eugene Edwards sets out on another esoteric Americana adventure on his latest opus, Star Treatment. The former 16 Horsepower front man saddles up and unfurls the Wovenhand banner, traversing the great western plains of historical reality and literature to produce a gothic Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee meets the Egyptian Book Of The Dead.
Often labored, heavy with a rich tapestry of cryptic prose and references, Star Treatment is a seriously deep and multilayered expansive album. Edwards’ has spent the last fourteen years creating his own mythology with a host of toiled alternative folk and rock songbooks; culminating in what is one of his most confident, achievements yet: An album with a real gravitas. More in the mood of an atmospheric, ponderous soundscape of sun-stroked mirages than a song in the conventional sense of the word, ‘Swaying Reeds’ could be a tad pretentious with its subconscious stream of lyrics listing ancient temples, cities, rivers and mythological characters: an atavistic trip that takes in Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia. But Edwards manages to stay on the right(eous) side or pretense, even if the language is at times difficult to follow.
Lines from many of the great religious tomes and histories are alluded to; more specifically the Old Testament and native Indians. In fact a link between the two is referenced on the beleaguered, tribal metronome seven-minute ‘All Your Waves’, which mentions Ramah, both the birthplace of Samuel in ancient Israel and the name of a famous Navajo Indian reservation in New Mexico. Of course biblical names litter the North American continent. That’s nothing new, but Edwards connects timelines and, often, significant spiritual connotations to emphasis and accentuate something beyond just their etymology.
Musically more than ever echoing the billowed supernatural morose of Nick Cave and Crime And The City Solution (who happen to have lent Edwards their piano/synth player Matthew Smith), Star Treatment both gallops, running up that prairie on the opening drone rocker ‘Come Brave’, and tumultuously heaves and sinks on ‘Five By Five’ to their imbued influence. ‘The Hired Hand’ though has a certain rockabilly snake-hipped black leather cowboy feel to it, and ‘Crystal Palace’ sounds like a Slavic choral backed Bowie on occasions.
Working on many levels with this star-guided concept, Edwards meta panorama may look towards the night skies yet it also digs beneath sacred ground to conjure up the ancestral; mixing America’s indigenous culture, ritual and ceremony with those of the most ancient mariners and travellers from the ‘fertile crescent’. This is an ambitious piece of work, taking as it does Americana to another more ambitious and afflatus level.
Mei Han & Red Chamber ‘Classical & Contemporary Chinese Music’
LP released by ARC Music, September 30th 2016
Gracefully and majestically Mei Han transcribes both the atavistic and more contemporary charms and culture of China with another considered and adroit collection of zither led scores. Joined by the accomplished all-female quartet of strings players, the Red Chamber, Han revitalizes and experiments with the beautifully dulcet Chinese variant of the zither, known as the zheng. An instrument of the Imperial court and folk ensembles, the zheng had remained intact, unchanged, until the early half of the 20th century when it gained more strings (12 to 21), and lost its original raw silk strings for nylon-wound steel ones. One of, as you’ll hear, China’s most memorable and expressive instruments it’s ethereal and more contemplative serenade tones are rung with either a set of ivory, tortoise or plastic fingerpicks. The zheng resonated far and wide, fostering the Japanese koto, Korean gayageum, Vietnamese đàn tranh and Mongolian yatga.
A protégé of one of the last bastions of the traditional zheng, master Gao Zicheng, Han learnt her craft as a virtuoso in Maoist China before immigrating much later to Canada, where she now resides. Despite the arduous travails that this study entailed, she became a soloist at 19; impressive as most of her peers were only just setting out on their studies. She has since gone on to earn a Phd in Ethnomusicology at the University of British Columbia, and leads one of the world’s best Chinese music ensembles.
Rather surprisingly this is her first ever-international release, so for many it’s an introduction. As the title states, this is an album of the classical and contemporary. Unmistakably Chinese in atmosphere and tone with musicianship deeply entrenched in the past, the contemporary elements are found in Han’s cross-cultural adoption of music from outside China and in the often-improvised performances of those compositions. The colour-shaded jewel spectrum of modal driven brilliance on the commissioned Moshe Denburg ‘Dark Red Ruby’ for example weaves a jangly Klezmer/Balkan style jig from the Chinese instrumentation, whilst ‘Gakino Horo’ takes a Bulgarian folk dance further east than it’s ever been.
Stalwart ceremonials and folk songs from the Tang Dynasty and more recent epochs are given sonorous heavenly makeovers. The caressed and trembling ‘Dao Chuilian’ for instance – a piece from the Guangdong province in southern China – made for the yangqin (hammered dulcimer) is rearranged here for the zheng, and the seasonal lilting “spirited folk song” ‘Sunny Spring And White Snow’, originally a solo pipa arrangement, is now widened to accommodate a trio, including the zheng and zhengruan.
Anchored to Chinese authenticity, Han does her best to expand the zheng sound; reaching across Eastern Europe and, even, Borneo. At times sounding like a subtle, scenic and dainty Appalachian-Hellenic-Chinese hybrid, Classical & Contemporary Chinese Music is an articulate beguiling showcase; an attentive introduction to both the mastery of Mei Han and her ensemble and the diaphanous sound of the zheng.
Sea+Air ‘Pain Is Just A Cloud (Ulrich Schnauss Remix)’
Featured on the Peace Begins At Home EP released by Glitterhouse Records
Both reviewed and interviewed by our very own Ayfer Simms, the nomadic ‘ghost pop’ duo Eleni Zafiriadou and Daniel Benjamin, better known as Sea+Air, have been remixed and re-imagined by a host of producers and artists on their latest Glitterhouse Records release Peace Begins At Home. Taking their cue from the duo’s last album Evropi, a quartet of sonic manipulators and performers, which includes Berlin/NYC based lo-fi artist Allie, UK based producer Sebastian Reynolds, the German keyboard player and ambient maestro Ulrich Schnauss, and the Irish singer/songwriter Duke Special, have deconstructed, electrified and in the case of the latter given the original material a lilting folk bent.
Described by Ayfer Simms as an “eternal farewell” with a “blurred sparkle of the ancients” Sea+Air’s Evropi LP was a poetic requiem on war and peace, inspired by Zafiriadou’s great grandmother’s experiences following expulsion from Anatolia in the 1920s, as a result of her religion. From that same album the renowned German electronic composer Schnauss underlays the original plaintive ‘Pain Is A Cloud’ with a suitably dissipating vaporous atmosphere. Dramatic, floating above the cumulus, the Oriental/Hellenic traversing melodies and lamenting vocals are now steeped in an airy expanse. Enjoy.
Senji Niban/ The Moth Poets ‘Live At The River Lounge’
Split EP released by Bearsuit Records
A curious if complimentary shared billing from the Edinburgh label Bearsuit Records, Live At The River Lounge features the geographical poles apart but musically congruous Japanese producer Koichiro Shigeno and the Scottish capital’s Moth Poets.
Recording under his Senji Niban appellation, Shigeno is given first dibs, opening this electronica kosmiche and trance split album experiment with the maniacal retro-futurist ‘Klanpki’. The sort of busy accompaniment you might find sound tracking a speeded-up film collage of Russian constructivism, it melds the Yellow Magic Orchestra with Sky Records’ Dadaist fringe. Other explorations take in the strange aural fragrance of liquid bossa nova and neo-classical Roedelius, on ‘Flowers 6 (Nano Edited)’, and the minimal kinetic techno kookiness of early Kreidler, on ‘Flowers 2’. But the standout track is the Fourth World Music cosmic soul “emergency remix” of ‘Atomic Blues’, which could be a lost idea from the Eno’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. It has a real slinky groove and a certain air of mystery, which isn’t ruined at all by the air raid siren that decides to break up the metallic funk.
Sounding a little more serious, The Moth Poets half of this ten track suite is another interesting mix of ideas and sonic influences; from the Planet Dog trance and water garden peregrination of ‘The Dazzle Ships’ to the ominous stretched-out drop into the Biblical cursed abyss of ‘Ham’s Descent’.
A duo of indie noiseniks with previous incarnations as part of Minor Injury and Blood Orange, the (we can assume these aren’t their real first names) Yo-yo Nielson and Ariel Patterson pairing are plotting courses for new horizons under the Moth Poets banner. They sweep into lush cinematic foreboding in the manner of Mo Wax on the cool ‘Sniper Alley’, and merge subtle dark atmospherics, a pulsing bass and a spooky Byzantine choir on the ambient finale ‘Right Road, Wrong Path’. Fluctuating between chill-wave, a less noisy and more serene Slugabed, and Matthew David the duo produce some quite deep and disturbing soundtracks.
Beneath the radar so to speak, Live At The River Lounge is an unassuming double act showcase with plenty of potential. I’ll be keeping an ear to the ground on further developments from the two, though the label has told me that the Moth Poets will be releasing their debut album next year.
Flies+Flies ‘The Sea’
Not to blow our own trumpet but it has been pointed out by the London trio’s management that we’re the only blog to feature every one of their singles. And they’re mighty appreciative of it. We’ve done this because we find something alluring about the Flies+Flies ‘dark pop’ aesthetic.
Previous singles have layered lo fi brooding and minimal hymn like vocals over spares 808 tom fills and plucked cellos, wrapped within a club music pulse. ‘The Sea’ follows a similar ebb and flow pattern, downplayed, creeping and wafting along to various shades of grey and plaintive echo-y concrete shifting electronica. The group’s Dan Griffis is once again on hand, projecting his vulnerable Radiohead style coos and John Cale-esque vocals above the wallowing soundscapes.
Counteracting the industrial grit and augers of doom with naturalistic elements, the group is lyrically counterbalancing the political with an attentive sense of wonder; inspired equally by the ‘crumbling sea’ metaphors of the “majestic” environment as they are by the ongoing housing crisis in their native London. It is as they say…a slow burner, unfurling its sophisticated tones and textures over repeated plays; it’s one of their most subtle singles yet.
Flies+Flies will be releasing a four track EP in November on a new label enterprise Precious Snowflake. Keep an eye out for a future review.
The Conformist ‘Lifestyle Bible’
LP released by Consumer Consumer Records, 30th September 2016
Best described in flippant terms as The Bomb Squad paling up with Coldcut to reconfigure the Art Of Noise’s back catalogue, the latest collage of ennui sample shredding and pasting from The Conformist is every bit as bonkers as the previous outing, Paid To Fake It. Perhaps on balance a little less manic, but still just as insane, glitch-y and uneasy with seeing out the results of the hammer and tongs, bashing experiments that threaten to explode. Scuttling, racing and often bamboozling between sonic patterns, the Cardiff producer also continues to apply the electric-shock therapy jolt on each of his, often tongue-in-cheek, explorations. Just as a particular beat, rhythm and thread emerge it’s snuffed out or bent out of shape; distorted and transformed into something new.
In essence, one period above all others seems to inspire The Conformist; the main source of material and ideas transmogrified from the golden age of sampling and mashing; when the copyright rules were still lax enough to be ignored. A self-confessed fan (and already mentioned in the opening sentence) of The Bomb Squad production outfit, who’s most audacious haul of samples reached into the hundreds on Public Enemy’s last great copyright fuck you, Fear Of A Black Planet, before the lawyers swooped in, The Conformist uses their blueprint signature of combining gnarled, unwieldy rock guitar with funk and soul drum breaks, basslines and sirens. It feels throughout like a 80s celebration, even down to the dull reverb and resonate free drum pad thuds and characteristic early rap music percussion ala Doug E. Fresh and Steinski. ‘Rock N’ Roll Dead Man’ sounds like The Conformist is having fun layering Joey Ramone and an American Evangelist over a mishmash blitz of early MTV segue ways. And the parting gift, ‘Nothing Important Happened Today’, a rare almost serene by his standards, cinematic dry-ice synth soundtrack, borrows liberally from both Vangelis and Carpenter to create The Fog on Mars – though to alleviate any profound signs of a sensibility and grandeur it’s constantly undermined by bonkers warbles and drilling style percussion.
Mirroring the times of a post-crash society, the effects felt most strongly in cities such as Cardiff, The Conformist seems to be playing with the last great infamous cultural vacuum of greed and rampant consumerism. It sounds like an updated assault on a Bonfire Of Vanities and Wall Street; a sonic attack on excess. Yet there’s also a nod to the games console 90s, with Streetfighter signature dialogue mingling with the goofball extremes of Warp label stalwarts, the Aphex Twin and μ-Ziq, on ‘Harm Hides At Home’ and ‘Life! Death! Prizes!’.
Trading the Rhythm Ace’s Bentley in for a Lamborghini; Mantronix hoovers up all the speed; The Conformist’s mania can be described in many superlative and silly ways. He takes his stockpile of samples, snippets, fleeting fancies and runs with them until the point of collapse. Goofing around having a ball no doubt, yet the language and rapid musical attacks on the senses alludes to the chaotic, unnerving state of the times we’re in. Lifestyle Bible is a statement, protestation, the message conveyed through the chaos.
September 8, 2016
MOST ECLECTIC OF PLAYLISTS
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, and from all eras. With Psychedelic peregrinations mixing it alongside desert blues, Persian funk, Afrobeat, electronica, leftfield hip-hop and countless other musical denominations, freaks of nature and curiosities. 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.
Tamam Shud ‘Music Train Evolution’
The Free Spirits ‘Don’t Look Now (But Your Head Is Turned Around)’
The Trolls ‘Walkin’ Shoes’
The Folkswingers ‘Eight Miles High’
Nisar Bazmi ‘Bhabi Meri Bhabi’
William S. Fischer ‘Circle’
Ashanti Afrika Jah ‘Mmarima’
Bo Diddley ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’
Eugene Blacknell, The New Breed ‘The Trip’
The Third Guitar ‘Lovin’ Lies’
Henri-Pierre Noel ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’
Manu Dibango ‘Motapo’
Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band ‘Love Like This (45 Edit)’
El Michels Affair ‘Run Fay Run’
Sonzeira & Moses Boyd ‘Maos a Obra’
Elektro Haifiz ‘Gunahkar Helvasi’
Matthew Sweet ‘Divine Intervention’
Landlady ‘Above My Ground’
Chamaeleon Church ‘Remembering’s All I Can Do’
Oriental Sunshine ‘Across Your Life’
Eden’s Children ‘Things Gone Wrong’
The Pretty Things ‘Love Is Good’
Titus Groan ‘Liverpool’
Topo-D-Bill ‘Witchi Tai To’
Quintessence ‘Gange Mai’
Lucia Pamela ‘Moontown’
El Michels Affair Feat. The Shacks ‘Strange Boy’
Josefus ‘Dead Man’
Wolf Parade ‘Palm Road’
The Flock ‘Heaven Bound’
Los 007 ‘Sentados en el Muelle de la Bahía’
Los Shakers ‘Sigue Buscando (Keep Searching)’
Los Locos Del Ritmo ‘Hey Joe’
Selda Bagcan ‘Mehmet Emmi’
The Jellies ‘Jive Baby On A Sunday Night (Fred Deakin’s Mix)’
Besombes & Rizet ‘Montelimar’
Jean-Claude Vannier ‘Mimi Mimi Mimi’
NEW MUSIC REVUE ROUNDUP
Words: Dominic Valvona
Tickling Our Fancy 038: Venus Fly Trap, Soft Hearted Scientists, Snowball II, Nick Blackos, The Fast Camels, CHUCK, A Hundred Million.
We got all kinds of psychedelic action this month, from the knockabout fuzz-rock of Glasgow’s The Fast Camels to the kaleidoscopic peaceable variant favoured by the Cardiff-based collective, the Soft Hearted Scientists. Moving away from their previous psychedelic glowing haze we have the new single from California’s Snowball II, now stepping back from those halcyon rays for a more stripped-back, intimate and folky sound. Moving even more further away, we also have the new hip-hop video from East London’s burgeoning ONV label, Nick Blackos’ ‘Moonrock’, a back catalogue ‘best of’ compilation from the industrial gothic post-punk band Venus Fly Trap, the wounded lo fi bedroom songs of NY based artists CHUCK – released on Audio Antihero’s new imprint –, and a mysterious track from the clandestine Cardiff duo A Hundred Million.
Soft Hearted Scientists ‘Golden Omens’
Offering both wondrous and ominous visions of golden age pastoral psychedelia and Victoriana, Cardiff-based collective Soft Hearted Scientists dream big on their sixth LP, Golden Omens.
Quartered into four suites, aping the double vinyl format employed by many bands with grandiose concepts from the 60s, their latest considered opus is a mix of songs, vignettes and incidentals. From the cover artwork itself, the atmosphere is one of an esoteric nature: A strange house, styled between American Gothic and eccentric English Spiritualist meeting place, is superimposed with jellyfish; an hallucinatory collage of images emanating from a séance.
Part one of this 2xCD spread begins with a timeless mellotron like liturgy. ‘Little Gardens Full Of Ghosts’ like many of the tracks on this album fades in and out like passing, fleeting memories; picking up on the vestiges of a haunted past. The first song proper and title track is a jangly psych imbued hybrid of Gene Clark, The Move, Pink Floyd and The Beatles’ ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man’. It’s a template sound that permeates throughout, with the odd tint of The Small Faces ‘universal’ conceptual spirit, on ‘Rue The Day’, The Beach Boys ‘Don’t Go Near The Water’ aquatic wobble on ‘The Creeps’, and the SFA circa Phantom Power and the Britpop era collective Octopus on everything else.
Becalmed and wistful the group takes a quintessential Syd Barrett eccentric view of the world. You can hear it on the whimsical ‘Zeds’, as they juxtapose the infamous legacy of Greek myth’s Oedipus with the resigned sighed dread of an inevitable British winter: “Now Oedipus may have slept with his mum, and pointlessly plucked out his eyes/but at least he bested the evil Sphinx, solved his riddle and then she died.” Metaphysical lyricism, H.G. Welles armchair time travelling travails and eulogies to the Welsh landscape and history are counterpointed with references to more earthly concerns; including the X Factor effect and isolation.
With twangs of the acid-country, blue Hawaii and even a lilting South American vibe occasionally, Golden Omens softly absorbs the full gamut of psychedelia. Often languorous, melodic, wafting and drifting; yet never outstaying its welcome, nor meandering without purpose, the Soft Hearted Scientists have produced a most pleasant dreamy listening experience to contemplate the woes of the world to.
CHUCK ‘My Band Is A Computer’
Audio Antihero/ Old Money Records, 9th September 2016
From the inimitable label of hopeless optimism and resigned despair another lo fi songbook of obscure modern idiosyncratic pathos. Released via Audio Antihero’s new imprint Old Money Records this marvelous kooky collection from Massachusetts’s songwriter and multi- instrumentalist CHUCK is a congruous bedfellow of the label’s previous releases from Benjamin Shaw, Frog and Cloud.
Bringing an upstate, more pastoral, lilt to the New York metropolis where he now resides, CHUCK’s quasi-Tropicana Casio preset bed of quirky wounded observations are both funny and profoundly sad; lo fi but ambitious.
Sounding like a frizzy Mercury Rev and MGMT on the opening ‘Happy New Year’s Babe’ bedroom pop sonnet, he starts singing through a cone in lo fi mode before suddenly emerging from a fog with a burst of swirling radiance: like a Los Campesinos waltz. An outsider in some sense; an observer of the foibles and peculiarities of the Brooklyn boroughs, CHUCK paints a reflective, wry and often ironic picture of modern life. His ‘Bushwick Girl’ subject for example hails from one of the recently gentrified parts of Brooklyn, bordering the hipper-than-thou Williamsburg. An artist haven for many years, it has by the sounds of it attracted the same clichés as its infamous adjourning neighborhood.
No surprises that in this contemporary landscape there’s some of those template perceptive if resigned observations on ‘The Internet’; CHUCK listing countless worthless ways to pass the time, scrolling unceasingly through an omnivores affinity of nonsense; drawn into a “big black hole”. Not so much harking or berating to make his point, “The Internet” for its revolutionary potential it remains a Pandora’s box of inertia. On the same page, the most magically dreamy forlorn song on this entire collection is the semi-nostalgic swirling 80s dry ice-filtered malady ‘Pictures’. Like a slacker Laurie Anderson with a Casio double kick drum there’s an air of A Flock Of Seagulls ‘faded memories’ romanticism to it. All too short, this is one of the album’s highlights.
Despite the setting, age-old reflections – the ones that have concerned countless generations – on High School failures and broken dreams permeate throughout the collection. Coming to terms with growing up and failing to meet your goals is a subject matter repeated often here. ‘Wipe Out’ features two old collage friends, long since parted ways (one becoming a Christian along that way) but uniting out of some once common held bond and duty, it’s no surprise that whilst they get on cordially they find it hard to relate to each other: Unwinding the years, killing time, it’s what, as CHUCK sings, we do. Romantically too, the object of crushes and desire in youth pop up in the shape of imagined versions of old sweethearts, now shed of their pedestal held qualities for doomed relationships and realizations of adulthood: those beauty queens not so fortunate now in the world outside their coveted collage years kingdom.
It has to be said. There is a hell of a lot of this about. But CHUCK’s kooky collage-rock and lo fi wonky electronic pop, which congruously flows between The Magnetic Fields, Mercury Rev, Weezer, Apples In Stereo and even The Pixies, absorbs its influences to create a gorgeous, quietly optimistic, kind of melancholy and pathos.
Nick Blackos ‘Moonrock’
Dropping videos and tracks in an almost clandestine fashion, the recently launched East London label ONV has leaked out their homegrown hip-hop releases on to the internet over the last few weeks with little fanfare. Projects so far from FLICKADOT, MTG (metaltheftgang) and label overseer Nick Blackos have met with favorable reviews and keen interest. Blackos’ latest, ‘Moonrock’, is another subtle but charged kinetic twisting prowler; perched between urban underpass and drone-stalked desert.
Devoid of over-analyses, light of information, the ONV label concentrate on delivering. You can scope for yourselves, find out more (or in this case less) about the label and its retinue via the website or social media channels.
Venus Fly Trap ‘Metamorphosis (1987 – 2007)’
Regular followers of my ‘Tickling Our Fancy’ roundups will have recently seen my review of the 1980s gothic post-punk obscurity 5 Against The House by the all too fleeting The Tempest. Re-released by Optic Nerve Recordings, an echo of what was a promising band from the Northampton hothouse that also produced Bauhaus, 5 Against The House shined for only the briefest of moments: being the only LP the group released. Still, it caught the imagination, favorably picked-up by both John Peel and Kid Jensen at the time.
One of the founding members of that band – with a name that sounds like a cooler than cool character from a 2000 A.D. comic strip – Alex Novak, went on to form the Venus Fly Trap at the backend of the 80s. Producing albums sporadically for the next two decades, the last Zenith in 2004, Novak has recently returned to the studio to record new material under the moniker. While idly waiting in anticipation for the fruits of that labour, fans and those intrigued enough can currently enjoy the back catalogue compilation Metamorphosis.
For those less familiar with the ominous grinding Sci-fi buzz of the Venus Fly Trap, the best descriptive summary is by the group themselves: ‘darkened noise that’s accompanied by a flowing sense of bleak electronic rhythm.’
From the very beginning of the catalogue (though a version also appears on 1992’s Pandora’s Box too), there’s the Nick Cave cesspool of abusive morose and Killing Joke industrial menace ‘Morphine’, and the skid row on the tracks ‘Desolation Railway’. Sinewy, dystopian and lurking in the shadows, an embodiment of addiction and languorous resignation, these early tracks show a penchant for gangly post-punk gothics. By 1990, and the group’s Totem album, they’ve transmogrified Cabaret Voltaire, PiL and Sigue Sigue Sputnick on songs such as ‘Rocket USA’. Propelling James Dean into the future shocks, ‘Extra Gemini Lounge’ bares the whip-snap electronic pulse of John Foxx.
After originally taking a hiatus in the early 90s, Novak reformed the group in 95 with Neil Ridley on bass guitar (later replaced by Tony Brooks), Andy Denton on drums and Gray Lennon on guitar. In the aftermath of the cold war, that incarnation of the band produced the album Luna Tide, which featured the “Russkies are coming” paranoia of ‘Moscow Menagerie’: a sort of quasi-Sex Pistols ‘Holidays in The Sun’ for the post rave generation. Elsewhere the band talks the Deutsch on ‘Mercury’, traverse the Sisters Of Mercy and burbling squelchy synth rays on ‘Pulp Sister’ and raise a wry smirk on ‘Human Fly’.
An extension of the exuberant wiry futurists The Tempest in many ways, the Venus Fly Trap progressed with a darker vision of pop art. Escaping numerous radars this ‘greatest hits’ collection is a good introduction to one of the UK underground’s best-kept secrets.
A Hundred Million ‘Master Of The Ship You Painted’
Little to say about this misdemeanor that made its way to us a couple of months back, only that it’s the debut track from a couple of mysterious individuals based in Cardiff. No information was forthcoming. And it kind of doesn’t matter. Whether this is some clandestine attempt by established artists to take a new directional turn musically without announcing themselves or is a rouse to attach an air of interest remains to be seen.
For now this is all you’re getting from A Hundred Million; a oil drum bass and scuttling stick shoegaze and industrial instrumental – the sort of thing that reminds me of Jezus Factory Records releases – that barely casts a shadow over the two-minute mark is poetically named the ‘Master Of The Ship You Painted’. We run it up the flagpole and wait to see who salutes it.
The Fast Camels ‘Tales Of The Expected’
Formed out of a mutual love for ‘freakbeat’ a decade ago, Glasgow’s The Fast Camel’s continue their fuzz-thrilled heavy psych odyssey with Tales Of The Expected. Less freakbeat more a hazy jangled mix of British Beat Groups and late 60s post-psychedelic rock, the influences at play on this, the group’s third LP, recall concept album The Pretty Things, The Byrds and The Who – especially their Odds And Sods collection, and on the song ‘Chicken B.O.’ a touch of ‘I’m A Boy’. At their most mellow and melodic they do however sound like an abrasive Kaiser Chiefs and Ocean Colour Scene.
Using modern colloquies, the band describe a diorama of foibles and quandaries with a certain wry humour, exaggerating and sometimes even surreally giving the characters in their songs a more colourful quirk. Often accompanied by a spiralling vortex of guitar, tambourine and a purposeful boom bap backbeat, the band has two distinct gears. The first is a more beefed-up fanfare form of revival rock and maximum R&B, as heard on the opening title track, the other a more Piper At The Gates Of Dawn turn of metaphorical hallucinations, as on ‘Madame Matron’. Running throughout, like the March Hare, is a reference to time; whether it’s the sad mournful tale of the protagonist in ‘Dead Celebs’ – given a golden watch to notify not so much a well-earned rest but to lay him in the ground – or the analogy rich psychedelic ‘The Watchmaker’, there are countless markers to the passing of it. You get the feeling the band are themselves out-of-step with it.
In these increasingly automated, synthesised times, The Fast Camels have chosen to get physical, both playfully and intensely. And that’s what this is, a real physical, fuzz-pedal set of knockabout psychedelic rock; lyrically chiming with such wry observers of life as Ray Davis.
Snowball II ‘I Doughnut Want To Live Anymore’
Moving away from the previous collage of neon-psychedelica and lush Panda Bear/Cloud melodic washes of their debut ? album, the L.A. group Snowball II, led by Jackson Wargo, have toned and slimmed down their sound for something more intimate and folky.
More Laurel Canyon and campfire yearnings than illuminating psychedelic Tropicana, their new single, released in the run-up to the group’s second album Doughnut Holes, is a lilting dreamy affair, which the band describe themselves as sounding like ‘Sufjan Stevens covering a Bon Iver song.’ And they ain’t wrong. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the new direction.
Keeping to a doughnuts leitmotif, this lulling neo-folk tune is entitled, in pun intended lament, ‘I Doughnut Want To Live’. Closing the fired confectionary circle so to speak, Snowball II have also launched a record label, also called ‘doughnut’.
Still to hear anything other than the leading single yet, so remains to be heard how this ‘dramatic departure’ will pan out – Jackson has warned me the next LP will be ‘manic and full on! If previous efforts are anything to go by and gauge, it will be a sophisticated and impressive musical suite.
August 25, 2016
The Bordellos ‘Gary Glitter EP’
Small Bear Records
Chipping away at the Eiger for years without much success, despite favorable reviews, The Bordellos have decided to up the ante and do away with the subtleties and go for total alienation instead.
As the title of their latest EP makes clear, the once egomaniac Glam doyen, now infamous for his heinous sexual crimes, did make some great records. The sins have rightly condemned the gross wretch for eternity, and though erased from showreels and back episodes of Top of the Pops, the songs for some still endure. In their usual black comedic manner, the St. Helens band wrestle with the problem of once “hero-worshipping” the work of a man who goes onto become a pariah. And so, punching what many will see as a distasteful ‘fuck you’ sized hole through the cosy perimeter walls of good taste, they launch an attack on all that is deemed maudlin and safe.
Not exactly tarnishing themselves with the same brush, The Bordellos’ own pariah status sees them locked-out of the music industry for no reason – as they see it – other than the mediocre tastes of those who run it: As the chief Bordello puts it, they’re concerned with the “death of magic in mainstream pop” and its lackluster weariness to controversy and anything different. As pop music, but really all the creative industries to some extent, continue to wrestle with a digitized model of consumer convenience – to the detriment of the artists -, and with the facilitators of these so-called altruistic ‘sharing’ economies now scooping up all the money, leaving everyone else fighting over the scraps, the mainstream continues to absorb, enervate and diffuse every internet troubadour, band and collective. With the means to produce now in every mobile device and almost free of cost, the sheer volume of material on the internet is daunting, yet the percentage of truly great, enduring music remains unchanged. And despite the constant mantras of the age, pontificating we’ve never had it so good, music has lost its value, not only monetary but artistically in many cases. The freedoms gained in utilitarian access to fans and equipment has been lost on the stale and boring industry’s penchant for the safest bet.
Hence The Bordellos, almost nostalgic but recalling with gnarled abrasive post-punk frustration reference to so many records from the golden age. When for example, polar opposites Frank Sinatra and Frank Zappa could share the same major record label in the 60s. And so the group’s ‘Attack Of The Killer B-Sides’ lists a litany of flipside gems from the mainstream pop acts of the past (Shangri-La’s, New Order and The Smiths to name but three).
On the bastardised Rolling Stones’ ‘Not Fade Away’ diatribe ‘Free Download Generation’ they ask some quite legitimate questions on the balancing of creative freedoms and accessibility with the need to work a 9 – 5 job. On the chorus they pose, “Would The Beatles have made Revolver if they’d had to hold down a steady job?”
Scuzzed-up, beating a Velvet Underground dirge, waxing between the Spacemen 3 and Johnny Thunders, grinding away, they still maintain an ear for melody. But perhaps their most strange track, both theme wise and musically, is the weird turn ‘Disco Pants’. How it fits in with the general attack on mainstream pop is anyone’s guess, the band repeating most of the way through, “I’m going to town for shoes today” (at least that’s what I think he’s singing). The backing is an oddity; like The Fall, Suicide and The Normal sharing the same therapy group. The Bordellos are truly in a world of their own. And thank God, otherwise they’d be doomed to joining the ranks of the alternative pop and indie landfill.
Looking beyond the antagonistic title, the band keep plugging away, often finding fertile explorations and new ground in their lo fi but ambitious endeavors.
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.