Melt  Yourself  Down  to  Sam  Zircon

Monolith Cocktail - Cabo Verde

Welcome to part two of our eclectic ‘choice albums of 2016’ feature, which starts with Melt Yourself Down‘s seething trans-Egypt-Nubia-London jazz funk and post-punk fusion Last Evenings On Earth and ends on Sam Zircons psychosis-induced Anxiety Skits hip-hop peregrinations. 

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums from 2016 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to make some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2016, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar.

Choice picks from Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms.




Melt Yourself Down  ‘Last Evenings On Earth’   (Leaf Label) 

Monolith Cocktail - Melt Yourself Down

Unbelievable that we never had room to review this withering polygenesis explosion of jazz, funk, no wave, dub, electro and post-punk on its release; it is after all what the Monolith Cocktail was started for. A trans-North African travail of sounds and mysticism channeled via the Blurt/Konk/ESG scene of 80s melting pot New York and PiL hangout London of the late 70s Last Evenings On Earth is a seething tension and prowling doomsday soundtrack for our times. Pulled together from a cornucopia of Afrobeat, spiritual and conscious jazz bands – including Sons Of Kemet, The Heliocentrics, Mulatu Astatke, Zun Zun Egui and Transglobal Underground – and headed by former Acoustic Ladyland saxophonist Pete Wareham, Melt Yourself Down straddle esoteric Egyptian funk, Roman galley paursarius drumming, a coherent James Chance and the clarion calling horns of Jericho. It’s nothing short of exhilarating.


Mongrels  ‘Attack the Monolith’  (Invisible Spies)

Monolith Cocktail - Mongrels

“A couldn’t-give-a-monkeys classic…their focus on the basics is undiluted, making the mundane darkly humorous”.  MO

Resurrected by Sheffield hip-hop superheroes Benjamin Hatton and Kid Acne (remember, don’t fuck with Eddy Fresh), the Mongrels respawn was a very British affair cataloguing mind boggling artefacts like a mad scientist emptying an Argos book and TV Times from a time capsule, but was never found minding its Ps and Qs. The arid wit and on-point delivery billowing from a beaten up mic, went glove-like with old skool boom bap frayed around the edges and pushing the reds. New Kingdom’s Sebash revelled in his role as honorary third member – a collaboration whose relevance wasn’t lost on the lyricism – by rabidly spoiling any remaining British primness. Topped off by being released as a painstakingly put together vinyl package, and you have a labour of love that bangs from South Yorks to New York.

Read original review here…


Melody Parker  ‘Archipelago’ 

Monolith Cocktail - Melody Parker

‘The musicians behind Melody Parker form an orchestra unique for each track; kindling the day with its bright and dense aura. The early morning sun burns the dusty tarmac; the city, the village, the town, the burg wakes up in style. Festivity and pleasure exude from the album.’  Ayfer Simms

Bounding between imaginary locations and timeframes, from WWII boogie-woogie to Otterman tango, the idiosyncratic Melody Parker sings her magical songs from the belfry and the minaret. A chamber pop version of the Dirty Projectors and Bjork, dreamily fluttering and fluctuating all the way, Parker embraces the atavistic romance of the accordion one minute and liltingly sways to the echoes of the Hawaiian slide guitar the next.

Read the full review here…


L’Orange & Mr Lif  ‘The Life & Death of Scenery’  (Mello Music Group)

Monolith Cocktail - L'Orange and Mr Lif

“Classily, caustically executed…as the national anthem bangs drums of death, it’s worth sneaking a listen to come blackout.”  MO

Just pipping Mr Lif’s other release this year by a hair’s breadth – Don’t Look Down, a very fine album that walked a thin line between introspection, life coaching and role playing – The Life and Death of Scenery showed that the concept album isn’t dead, that skits can still work if they’re done correctly, that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and that such opuses don’t have to be 80 minute-plus rambles. With producer L’Orange quietly but quickly assembling a top drawer back catalogue of collaborative LPs (Jeremiah Jae, Kool Keith), his artistry paired with the Boston emcee’s distinctive flow hitting a nimble apex explored a “light-hearted dystopia” – words deserving of instant exploring while igniting a minor fear factor. Pure theatre that doesn’t hang around in taking you to strange new places, without resorting to cliché.

Read the original review here…


Edward Penfold   ‘Caulkhead’  (Stolen Body Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Edward Penfold

 

‘Gargling with the electric kool aid, swimming in a soft gauze of vaguely familiar Syd Barrett, Kevin Ayers, Pete Dello and Idle Race-isms, Penfold joins the best of England’s bygone eccentric songwriters. Like some profound demos recorded for posterity, dusted off for future generations, his heavily compressed single-track tape machine obscurities sound simultaneously nostalgic and modern; evocating both the louche shimmer of The Beatles LSD experiments in swaddled hallucinogenic sounds and the lo fi enervated personifications of Greg Boring and Ty Segall.’  DV

Isle of Wight émigré in Bristol Edward Penfold wistfully hones his native homeland’s outsider spirit of maverick, if languid, poetics and hazy, blurry psychedelia on his debut solo effort Caulkhead – the nickname given to anyone who wasn’t born there. Capturing perfectly the sense of isolation, strung-out and detached from reality, the despondent themes tune into the literary and musical psychedelic mavericks that made the Island home during the last couple of hundred years and of course the orginal festival legacy, Ed weaves a unique lo fi typestry of the bucolic and Victorinia. Almost soporific in parts, untethered and close to slowly drifting away off into the ether, Ed manages to convey the mood effortlessly.

Read the full review here…


Raf And O  ‘Portal’

Monolith Cocktail - 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.’  DV

And so whilst a multitude of bewailing and lamentable artists outpoured their grieve over Bowie’s death this year, and ignored just why the creative force was so lauded in the first place, at least the amorphous London duo of Raf And O could be depended upon to pay homage by continuing to orbit around the pheripherials of the avant garde. With the most strung-out and tactile cosmic lulled space age version of the crooning soul incarnated Bowie’s ‘Win’ ever recorded, the maverick double act blessed his passing. However, what their most impressive release to date showcased best was the duo’s challenging cybernetic baroque and progressive trip-hop sound, of which no one else on the radar can come close. Through the imaginary interdimensional Portal we go!

Read the full review here…


RAM   ‘6: Manman M Se Ginen’

Monolith Cocktail

‘Constantly moving, transforming often-complex interplay with transcontinental imbued high energy and the local carnival spirit, RAM combine their activism and messages of hope and struggle with a strong evocative and infectious groove. Manman M Se Ginen is a beguiling and infectious album, full of tradition but electrified for a contemporary audience.’  DV

Although still playing their residency gigs at the Hotel Oloffson, jamming with the likes of Arcade Fire, in Port-au-Prince and playing live throughout the world, Richard A. Morse‘s mizik-rasin (a style that combines traditional Haitian Vodou with folkloric and rock and roll music) powerhouse ensemble RAM have remained absent from the recording studio for the past decade. Until now. Returning to take up the peoples struggle on wax with a record whose feverish and yearning rhythms fall congruously into two spheres of influence; both the Haitian and African rich fusion of the atavistic and modern have never sounded better together. The group hurl themselves headfirst into the tumultuous chaos with a frenzy of blurting saxophone punctuated stonks and barricade storming freefalling Ethno-jazz and Ska frenzies; reflecting the recent tumultuous upheavals and trauma of both the political and natural disasters that have rocked the Island. Elsewhere the album is stripped off its ferocity, replaced by gentler island breezes and ambling sweet West African highlife. ‘Koulou Koulou’ is a perfect example of this; the hymn like soothing Kreyol vocals of Lunise wafting over a sauntering highlife backing. Or on the disarming plaintive ballad ‘Ogou Oh’, which begins with a Popol Vuh like soothing but venerable piano and later breaks out into a tribal drumming ritual. Magical and rambunctious in equal measure.

Read the full review here…


Xenia Rubinos   ‘Black Terry Cat’  (ANTI-)

Monolith Cocktail - Xenia Rubinos ‘Black Terry Cat’

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. 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.’  AS

With far more roots, soul, jazz and sazz than anything her more celebrated counterparts could ever produce, Xenia Rubinos flamboyant rage is delivered with a salacious wit and sensibility sadly lacking elsewhere in the mainstream. Whilst plaudits are given to Beyonce and her camarilla of uber-protesters – which failed spectacularly in the face of “Trumpism” -, Rubinos subtle but no less enraged cornucopia of influences (from R&B to rock) are the true voice of authenticity. And what a voice! Once heard never forgotten, a distinctive mix that both soothes and jolts but always remains soulful and warm. And the somewhat controversial ‘Mexican Chef’ is one of the year’s best tracks by far. This is just a great album by a great talent: simple as.

Read the full review here…


Noura Mint Seymali   ‘Arbina’   (Glitterbeat Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Noura Mint Seymali

‘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 insecure world, Noura reaches for the divine: the album title of Arbina being an appellation for God.’  DV

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 returned with an equally heady intoxicating embodiment of the ‘trans-Saharan’ culture and spiritual sounds of worship. 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. Meanwhile Noura’s amplified vocals resonate strongly, lingering loudly; 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 songs of veneration and guidance flow in waves or, repeat in an impressive breathless mantra. It is another magical peregrination from the Mauritanian soulstress.

Read the full review here…


Sidestepper   ‘Supernatural Love’   (Real World Records)

Monolith Cocktail

Supernatural Love is a bright, flowing encapsulation of the current Colombian music scene, with sonic feelers reaching out across the continent and towards Africa. Unrushed and organic, with exceptional musicianship throughout the collective return with one of their best albums yet, merging gospel, soul, cumbia, salsa, Afro-Colombian, folk, psych and dub seamlessly together to produce something infectiously fresh.’  DV

Sharing a couple of commonalities and passions with another choice album and group, RAM and and their Manman M Se Ginen album, the electro-cumbia doyans Sidestepper have also made a comeback after a recording sabbatical, returning with sauntering diaphanous embodiment of their Bogota barrio, La Candelaria, on Supernatural Love. Joyous, an evocation of that city and the Colombian music scene both atavistic and contemporary, they weave the most free-spirited and soulful becalming soundtrack; repeating leitmotifs and letting the energy and music just carry itself to where it needs to go. Co-founded in 1996 by former Real World Records studio engineer and producer/DJ Richard Blair, who originally travelled to Colombia in the mid 90s to work with Afro-Colombian folk star Toto La Momposina, but decided he loved the culture and music so much he’d stay for good, and local singer/songwriter/producer Iván Benavides, Sidestepper were renowned instigators of the electro-cumbia fusion that swept its way across the clubs of Medellin, London and New York. However, bored with hearing the same old “kick, snare and hi-hat”, Blair and a reinvigorated Sidestepper line up that features virtuoso percussionist Juan Carlos ‘Chongo’ Puello and “soulboy/vocalist” Edgardo ‘Guajiro’ Garcés joining the band’s lead singer Erika ‘Eka’ Muñoz and guitarist Ernesto ‘Teto’ Ocampo, has changed direction with this adventurous and ‘supernatural love’ for Colombian music’s roots.

Read the full review here…



 

Si-Phili  ‘The 11th Hour’  (Phoenix Recordings)

Monolith Cocktail - Si-Phili

 

“Simply unstoppable. A mic crusher with a touch of class, the heart of a lion and machine gun lungs”.  MO

Go hard or go home. All or nothing. Never give less than 100%. Ready to battle, whatever the time of day. Show-n-prove, call-n-response, leading to crowd surfs. Introspection to give the hurricane an angle of humanity, without dousing the flames. Stacking up punchlines that are then sent cartwheeling over non believers like giant Jenga bricks. A kickstart to your day, and a gee up to get you out of a fix. The right way to do things, both in UK hip-hop and life in general. All over a premium selection of boom bap and soulful stoking of the fire, provided by Richy Spitz, Urban Click, Leaf Dog and Pete Cannon. The sheer focus, belief and single-minded consistency of Si Phili, a standard bred from his Phi-Life Cypher days, is a rampage that can only be admired. ‘The 11th Hour’ has the mic veteran approaching national institution status.

Read the full review here…


Soundsci  ‘Walk the Earth’ (World Expo)

Monolith Cocktail - Soundsci

“Big funk, no front; ‘Walk the Earth’ is up there with hip-hop’s best for the year.”  MO

So good in fact that we forgot to review first time round. Amateurs. Anyway, enriched funky beats and liquid mic swaps from the Soundsci crew, who proved their reliability with ‘Walk the Earth’ maximising the performance bests of Solesides and Jurassic 5. Giving a knowing look to show promoters everywhere, in no small part due to the involvement of the Herbaliser‘s Ollie Teeba, the crew’s third album has a precision at its core liable to explode into the front rows of the crowd. And while not bragging about how versatile they most definitely are, there’s a lot here for everyone to grab a piece and go home happy with.


Teksti-TV 666   ‘1,2,3’   (SVART Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Teksti-TV 666

‘Probably as influential as it’s ever been, one of the most over-used, misunderstood and clichéd influences, Krautrock – a missive if ever there was one – occasionally acts as a springboard to more interesting and unique places. Teksti-TV 666 takes it towards a gothic CBGBs, as motorik goes “hey, ho”.’  DV

Despite the USP boast of featuring six guitarists in their lineup, Finland’s Teksti-TV 666 manage to quell the egos and rein-in the resulting maelstrom with a driven but attentive light and shade style Krautrock/Punk fusion. More a showcase than an album proper, SVART have pieced together the group’s previous three EPs for an attack on the senses.

Though a million others have tried to bend and hone Krautrock to deliver something fresh, Teksti-TV have injected a speedball cocktail into the motorik pulse of Neu!, merging it with spiky monotone fun of The Ramones and the gothic shoegaze and drones of umpteen 80s bands. Every song is an epic in itself, building up gradually with finesse; running through the full gamut of emotions before a final release. Edgy and moody enough to suggest the ominous and despondent, and hard enough to shake the rafters, the miasma that threatens to engulf is always eased up on for something calmer and celestial. Finland’s multi-limbed guitar cacophony is quite unique; transforming their influences with as much humour as fury.

Read the full review here…


Various Artists  ‘Khmer Rouge Survivors – They Will Kill You, If You Cry’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Monolith Cocktail

 

Growing in stature and reputation Glitterbeat Records continue to release many of the best, most influential contemporary albums and collections from around the world. Expanding on their original West African remit under the adroit stewardship of musician/producer Chris Eckman, they have also brought us various evocative and profound records from some of the least represented locations including South East Asia. Sending Grammy-award winning producer and celebrated author Ian Brennan to capture the dying art and memories of Vietnam veterans for the startling Hanoi Masters testament last year, they’ve followed up in 2016 with an equally vivid and harrowing account from Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge survivors.

Proving that the roots and primal howl of the blues is every bit as entrenched in the Cambodian delta as the African and the Americas, those who suffered at the hands of Pol Pot’s genocide recall and lament on their own experiences: both as a therapy and to remind a new generation brought up in a completely different age, almost ignorant of the country’s recent past, of the trauma and turmoils that for many still run deep. As raw and captivating as you’d imagine, Brennan’s hands-off, in-the-moment, approach to production allows these battle-scarred victims an ad-hoc platform to share their sad but diaphanous songs globally.

Read the Ian Brennan interview here…


Various Artists   ‘Hidden Musics Vol 2.  Every Song Has Its End:  Sonic Dispatches From Traditional Mali’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Every Song Has Its End - Sonic Dispatches from Traditional Mali (2400)

‘Though no less an achievement, the second volume in Glitterbeat Records “Hidden Musics” series offers the full gamut not just musically but visually too, and is a far more ambitious documentation of a troubled country’s lost tradition than last years Hanoi Masters survey. Expanding to include 11 concatenate videos, Every Song Has Its End is the most complete purview of Mali’s musical roots yet. This is due to the project’s mastermind Paul Chandler, who has documented Mali’s music scene for more than a decade. With an enviable archive of recordings and interviews, Chandler has at last found the perfect testament to Mali’s past.’ DV

Glitterbeat Records once again feature heavily in our ‘choice albums features’ with a quartet of releases making the grade this year, including Paul Chandler‘s compilation and accompanying film panoply, Sonic Dispatches From Traditional Mali. Recording, before it disappears forever, the fragile Mali atavistic roots, which prove far more polygenesis than you’d ever imagine, a diverse range of cultures have left their indelible mark upon the landscape and population. Forgotten in some extreme cases, ignored or considered as Mali’s past by new generations, maestros of the 6-string Danh, such as Boukader Coulibaly, and the Balafon, Kassoun Bagayoko, are celebrated and interviewed for this collection. Whether it’s traversing the Gao region in the northwest to record the earthy desert pants of the female vocal ensemble, Group Ekanzam, or capturing a Sokou and N’goni love paean performance by Bina Koumaré & Madou Diabate in the heart of the country, this chronicle of the pains, virtues, trauma and spirit of the country’s musical heritage is an extraordinary love letter and testament to Mali.

Read the full review here…


Various  Artists   ‘Space Echo –  The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed’   (Analog Africa)

Monolith Cocktail - Cabo Verde

‘Selected for our enjoyment by the Celeste/Mariposa crew, a sound system based in Lisbon, Mexico-based producer Deni Shain, and Analog Africa’s founder Samy Ben Redjeb, this compilation offers an undeniably infectious dance soundtrack for the summer.’ DV

350 miles adrift of the West African coast 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 ever more 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 a new era in the Island’s musical development was borne as 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. However, despite the emphasis on the strange space like emulations and modulations of the keyboard technology and its impact on the Cape Verde music scene, this compilation is really about a former suppressed colony finding its own independence; revitalising once banned traditions and giving them, for the time, a unique twist.

Read the full review here…


Verbal Kent & !llmind  ‘Weight of Your World’ (Mello Music Group)

Monolith Cocktail - Verbal Kent & !llmind

“Sarcastic punchlines wired to a big-assed boom-bap plunger…dominant, imposing music to lay warpaths by”.  MO

Mello Music Group reeled off killer album after killer album in 2016, boasting a roster of underground burners plentiful in their potent variety. Within something of an internal Venn diagram, Apollo Brown gave soul a kickstart/kick up the jacksie so that Ugly Heroes comrades Red Pill and Verbal Kent (‘Everything in Between’) and Skyzoo ‘(‘The Easy Truth’) could demonstrate parallels in muscular grace, heaviness done with heart. Verbal Kent and !llmind’s ‘Weight of Your World’ warned that “beggars who are choosers are heading for bruises”, and while all three are worthy picks, we’ll plump for the latter. With the added advantage of being absolutely free, it’s cocksure enough to seemingly look at clubs with disdain before slyly leading with its elbows, laying down battle humour with the jib of vintage Canibus and Jadakiss that would reduce ciphers to smithereens, and packing a mean strut at all times. All hail the power of being pissed off.

Read the original here…


Wovenhand   ‘Star Treatment’  (Sargent House/Glitterhouse Records)

Monolith Cocktail - WovenHand

‘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.’  DV

Spiritual interdimensional peregrinations abound on David Eugene EdwardsWovenhand epic. Linking parallels between atavistic tropes of loss, wisdom, a sense of wonder and nature with the original holy lands and the new world promised land of America’s west. 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, as expansive and full of gravitas as the landscapes he searches.

Read the full review here…


Sam Zircon  ‘Anxiety Skits’  (Blah)

Monolith Cocktail - Sam Zircon

“The ultimate instrumental downer on eggshells…an excellent, tantalisingly poised headswim against the tide.”  MO

On the impressively individual Blah Records, another UK imprint to have a blinder of a year with releases from Morriarchi, Bisk, Blak Josh and Sleazy F Baby, typically it was one of the labels silent assassins who wore a ruling crown of thorns for the last 12 months. In a year when instrumental sets were pleasingly still doing a brisk trade, Sam Zircon forwent the usual rub downs of funk and soul loops and picked off opposition by pricking goosebumps with a harrowing virus. Anxiety Skits plays like the recovered footage of an explorer long lost to the wilderness, but whose demise you can only assume was grisly and/or involving hypothermia. Catching some of the implied psychoses of Company Flow’s ‘Little Johnny from the Hospitul’, you know Zircon is doing his job when disorientating frostbite starts developing around your headphones.

Read the original here…


Aesop Rock to Bob Lind.


Monolith Cocktail: ‘Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul (1963 – 1969)’


Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavours to offer a more eclectic spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists; stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album doesn’t deserve the number 32 spot and has been placed at number 33 instead.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums from 2016 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to make some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2016, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar.

Split into two parts, the first installment begins with Aesop Rock’s‘s hip-hop masterpiece The Impossible Kid and ends with the latest adroit songbook from the legendary troubadour Bob Lind. In between those two sagacious bookends are albums from David Bowie, David Broughton, Danny Brown, Cluster, Eleanor Friedberger and John Howard (plus many others).

Aesop Rock   ‘The Impossible Kid’  (Rhymesayers)

Monolith Cocktail - Aesop Rock

“The waterfall of words, snide quips and intricate stories recalled from both close to home and far away worlds, are as good as he’s ever done”.  Matt Oliver 

Seeming to get better rather than older (and don’t you dare mention the ageing process as per ‘Lotta Years’), the original ‘Bazooka Tooth’ is still ablaze out of somewhere to the left, but now giving lesser mortals more of a chance of accessing him than ever before. Entirely self-produced and applying funkiness to the bulkiness of alien-scanned beats he’s always rocked his way, AR’s extra superpower as the self-deprecating hero of syllaballistics (“the impossible kid , everything that he touch turns probably to shit”), is to humanise the fantastical and still make the everyday sound like a comic book lead, even when soul is bared for all to analyse. Rock also added more great cover art, and the visuals for ‘Rings’ and ‘Kirby’ are bound to feature in hip-hop video of the year lists.

Read original review here


Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra   ‘A.H.E.O’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Monolith Cocktail - A.H.E.O.

 

‘Elevating beyond the borders it was created behind, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra’s root foundations shuffle and shake free of their stereotypes to move freely in an increasingly amorphous musical landscape. You’re just as likely to hear vibrations and traces of Dub, native Indian plaintive ghostly echoes, Sun Ra’s otherworldly jazz and funk as to hear the indigenous Haiti sounds and Afrobeat pulse. Tony Allen is once more at the heart of another bustling, dynamic explosion in rhythm.’  Dominic Valvona

 

Progenitor and embodiment of the Afrobeat drum sound, still in high demand four decades after his explosive partnership with Fela Kuti, the much-venerated Tony Allen once more extends his infectious percussion style beyond the African homeland. Sharing an obvious entwined history with Africa, the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti proves both an esoterically mysterious and congruous collaborative foil to Allen’s distinct drumming patois.

Invited to perform in 2014 by the French Institute Of Haiti’s director Corinne Micaelli, Allen’s visit would end with a public broadcasted concert in the main square of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Collaborating with Allen would be a cross-section of local percussionists and singers recruited by vocalist, dancer, ‘voodoo priest’ and director of the Haitian National Bureau Of Ethnology, Erol Josué; Josué would himself lend his sweet yearning and reflective tones to two of the tracks on this album.

The call went out and the great and good of the Haitian music scene came. Racine Mapou de Azor, the Yizra’El Band, Lakou Mizik and, featured on the Monolith Cocktail at the start of the year and one of the choice albums of 2016 with their highly-rated Manman M Se Ginen LP, RAM. Another Monolith regular and one-time Port-au-Prince resident, Mark Mulholland was drafted in as the experimental orchestra’s guitarist, and as it would turn out, eventual legacy overseer. Swelling the ranks still further were Olaf Hund, recruited on keyboards and ‘electronics’, and an old friend of Allen’s, the bassist Philippe Dary, who became the de facto musical director. With only five days of studio rehearsal time to gel and work out their performance, the sessions proved both, as Mulholland observed, ‘chaotic’ and overwhelming’. Based upon various sparks of inspiration and rhythmic workouts the eventual structured compositions took shape from organically flowing jams. At the heart of each, Allen’s signature Afrobeat drums and Dary’s liquid, and often funky sumptuous basslines.

Read the full review here…



Bitori  ‘Legend  of  Funaná –  The  Forbidden  Music  Of  The  Cape  Verde  Islands’

(Analog  Africa)

Monolith Cocktail - Legend of Funaná – The Forbidden Music Of The Cape Verde Islands

‘Following the 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.’   DV

Helping to ignite a full-on Funaná revival, the quintessential and legendary anthem of Cape Verde’s once banned – considered too salacious and unruly by the Portuguese authorities who ran this archipelago of islands until the mid 1970s – infectious music style was given a reprise by Analog Africa this year. A master class from the inter-generational 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 raucous Funaná, Bitori Nha Bibinha captures the passion and spirit of the people and the times it survived.

Read the full review here…


The Bordellos  ‘How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One’
(Small Bear Records)

Monolith Cocktail

‘Despite the caustic bravado and world-weary bitterness channeled into the antagonistic song titles on this new album, The Bordellos lo fi edicts are always surprisingly melodic. Think of them as a tuneful The Fall; resigned and swiping at society but hopeful enough to challenge it despite banging their collective heads on the doors of the music industry for years.’

Gaining this coveted spot (sic) in our ‘choice albums’ feature for perseverance in the face of despair, the St. Helens trio once more man the barricades with another despondent protest. Feeling, like many of us (I know we do), out of synch with the digital epoch, they rally against the Internet’s most depressing byproducts, and the loss of real ‘motherfuckers’ from the music world – who they duly list on a song of the same name; a cry for a new leader or at least more individuals and rebels. Wearily antagonistic, righting slights and a lifetime of rejection, The Bordellos go for broke on How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One with titles such as ‘Did The Bastards At The BBC Kill John Peel?’, ‘Gary Glitter’ and ‘Piss On Spotify’. Uneasy truths to a lo fi backing of The Velvet Underground, Julian Cope and The Fall abound, yet this could be the group’s best and most complete songbook to date.

Read the full review here…



David Bowie  ‘Blackstar’   (ISO/RCA)

Blackstar cover art - Monolith Cocktail

‘…this could be the most pure, at least concerned, version of Bowie yet. Resurrected free of his characterisations, the gilded “Blackstar” is just as uneasy and scared at the anxieties, stresses and daunting prospects of the future as the rest of us. Fame, celebratory is mere smoke after all and offers little in the way of comfort and safety in the face of the impending end times. Yet despite being easily his best album since Earthling, Blackstar is still underwhelming and falls short of being a classic.’  DV

 

The swansong of an irreplaceable polymath proved to be one of the year’s most sad moments, as the man who fell to Earth, Aladdin Sane, the Young American, the thin white duke, the absolute beginner, whichever version you fell in love with, departed for the ether. We lost a great many unique and inimitable artists in 2016 but though ever death is tragic none left quite the pit of despair that David Bowie‘s did. Don’t even try to crown a successor; he was a force unto himself, the “Blackstar”, the supernova of pop. Reams have been written – a great many by myself – yet no one will ever truly reflect his importance and legacy.

Though released just before his death the augur that is ★ was a curtain call. Just as oblivious to Bowie’s fatal cancer as everyone else, I did remark at the time that this album seemed to be a poignant goodbye, an elegy even. Returning to a first love, jazz, Bowie who proved an eager saxophonist in the burgeoning years of his career worked with a N.Y. West Village jazz troupe to produce one of his best albums in decades. Old faces, including a decomposing Major Tom, themes and sounds returned, with traces of Diamond Dogs, Scary Monsters, Black Tie White Noise and Outside. Despite the often cryptic and veiled words, this was an anxious, weary and reflective Bowie; looking back before a rebirth. A pity time ran out for him.

Read the full review here…


David Thomas Broughton  ‘Crippling Lack Vol. 1 – 3’  (Song, By Toad Records)

Monolith Cocktail - David Thomas Broughton

‘An ambitious undertaking, David Thomas Broughton’s sprawling opus Crippling Lack is both musically and geographically expansive. Recorded trans-continental style with a host of collaborators over the last few years, Broughton, who’s based himself more recently in the capitals of, unbelievably, North and South Korea, has laid down various parts and vocals in France, the UK and the US. Logistically impressive, Crippling Lack is a testament to the DIY ethic and remote collaborative experimentation.’ DV

A magnificent and masterful undertaking by Broughton, the Crippling Lack trio of recordings is demarcated into three parts, the entire song collection, if you decide to experience in one sitting, stretching to 1 hour 40 minutes. It features twelve songs in all of varying meticulously and slowly unfurled beauty, with some, epics in their own right. The press release separates the album out into a musical journey, beginning with what it calls ‘deceptively approachable pop songs’, moving through a more testing ‘unraveling and disintegrating and barely-stretched fragments’ segment, before ending with a final section that ‘slowly weaves’ all the loose and previous sections together.

It is nothing short of a magnum opus; cohesive and flowing along to a sophisticated backing, sonorous with the artist’s venerable travailed voice, and his acerbic foils wit. The album’s scope is immense even though it meanders to a, mostly, folk signature and gentle accompaniment. It is outstanding even by Broughton’s standards.

Read the full review here…


Danny Brown  ‘Atrocity Exhibition’  (Warp)

Monolith Cocktail - Danny Brown

“Juggling the mic like a grenade missing a pin…one of 2016’s most individual threats.”  MO

‘Atrocity Exhibition’ throws up so many positive talking points. #1 – the transatlantic odd couple of Danny Brown and Paul White, a relationship rooted in 2011’s ‘Rapping With Paul White’ album, fears nothing and no-one. #2 – Brown continues to show he has one of the maniacal mic grips in the game that you can’t ignore, here with added malleability. #3 – White’s reputation has really hit its stride on an upward curve; though other producers contribute (Black Milk, Alchemist and Evian Christ are not to be sniffed at), it’s essentially the Englishman’s show on the boards. #4 – a show stopping hook from Kendrick Lamar on ‘Really Doe’ doesn’t hurt one bit. #5 – despite Brown’s mile-a-minute persona shearing safety bars off rollercoasters, and White and co by default becoming the straight man sidekick, you really have no idea what’s around the next corner, from soaring superhero soundtracks to proper hip-hop dope to something suspiciously shuffling through the undergrowth. “This is not regular rap”, Brown offers. Amen.

Read the original review here


Cappo  ‘Dramatic Change of Fortune’  (YNR)

Monolith Cocktail - Cappo

“When autumn becomes winter, here’s your listening.” MO

You should always bet on the flow of Nottingham’s finest that has evolved into a complex work of art. On past albums and years gone by Cappo would’ve destroyed opposition with crosshairs locked and ammo loaded; here his own brand of introspection, still packing uniquely orbital rhyme schemes but now more than ever full of coded messages and open ended verses awaiting interpretation, kills the noise and heighten the mysteries surrounding the emcee’s inner thoughts and circles. It packs two absolutely heaters of singles as well – ‘OOB’ and ‘Ether’ are both unassuming phantoms of the opera, but white hot in a pretty slimline session – another contributing factor to the building of the suspenseful and mournful, chilling on a razor’s edge. YNR took the weight off their plates in 2016, but this was easily the jewel in their calendar year crown.

Read original review here


CHUCK  ‘My Band Is A Computer’  (Old Money Records)

Monolith Cocktail (Dominic Valvona) - CHUCK review

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.’ DV

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. An outsider in some sense; an observer of the foibles and peculiarities of the Brooklyn boroughs, the maverick artist paints a reflective, wry and often ironic picture of our modern times.

Far too good to be hidden away his collection of songs, penned over the last decade, have thankfully been given the platform to reach a wider audience.

Read the full review here…


Clipping  ‘Splendor & Misery’  (Sub Pop)

Monolith Cocktail - Clipping

“Provocative electronics and sermons from the LA leftfielders will clamp you to the edge of your seat.”  MO

For the record, ‘Splendor & Misery’ is a 20/80 split in favour of the latter. Comprehensively proving that the end of the days is still compelling material when done as well as this, particularly in this year of all years, Clipping were another to give themselves a veneer of accessibility with their zero gravity screams. Futility set adrift to a perfectly captured fear found frozen behind the visor, had rhymes dealing with the pending shitstorm with West Coast fearlessness usually reserved for low-rider rollin’. Interspersed with choral episodes praying for the album’s lead, the intelligent stage management demands your full attention; that’s to say, it’s a struggle to dip in and out or pick a favourite track by itself – do so and you’ll risk detracting from the whole performance pushing hip-hop’s outersphere. What odysseys are made of and reputations are built on.

Read the original review here


Cluster  ‘1971 – 1981’  (Bureau B)

Monolith Cocktail - Cluster 1971 - 1981

‘Patriarchs of the German music scene, Cluster, are quite rightly celebrated for their contribution to the last forty-odd years of experimental electronic and ambient music with this latest grandiose gesture of adulation. Though attempts have been sporadic, past collections have gathered together, more or less, all the standard Cluster recordings, leaving out live and more obscure albums, until now. German label Bureau B, concentrating on the group’s output from 1971 to 1981, chronologically compile a full discography from that decade, which for the first time ever includes the previously unreleased Konzerte 1972/1977 album.’ DV

All attentively remastered, rather impressively I might add, by Willem Makkee, the nine-album box set offers the die-hards another excuse to own the back catalogue, with the added bonus of requiring that former live LP that got away, Konzerte, and for those not familiar or with a passing fancy, the best complete picture and evolution yet of the much revered group. 1971- 1981 will serve as a worthy testament and reawakening of the Cluster back catalogue and legacy: now sounding better than ever, the remastering for once very much welcomed.

Read the full review here…



Ian William Craig  ‘Centres’  

Monolith Cocktail - Ian William Craig

Passing us by on release Ian William Craig‘s unassuming but nevertheless epic sweeping ambient opus Centres arrived without much fanfare on its release. However, these cerebral peregrinations, songs of hope, soulful expansive hymns and sonic journeys into space were given rave reviews by those who did pay attention. And so initially missing coverage on the Monolith Cocktail, we’ve made up for it since by featuring tracks from the album in our ‘quarterly playlists’ and now, in our ‘choice albums of 2016’ feature. It is one of the year’s most beautiful, inspiring and often just meditative concatenate suites; offering glimmers of awe.  DV


Dillon & Paton Locke  ‘Food Chain’ (Full Plate)

Monolith Cocktail - Rapture & Verse Hip Hop selection

“Gourmet underground platters rooted in the South but giving you seven courses of funk and back.”  MO

It might only be found as small print on some menus, but who are we to ignore prime indie cuts encouraging you to “pour a bucket of gravy over yourself and just feel that”. When they’re not rewriting the rules of the Ice Bucket Challenge, Dillon & Paton Locke are always gnawing on something, rhyming as they chew it. Funky, crate-rifling beats are laced with an overzealous streak, cogently able to stop the album dead from 60 to 0 and then re-energise it the other way, and a press-record-and-just-go appetite never misses a trick on the mic, with a hint of political soap-boxing and getting down to some grown man, take a look around biz. Their guest chef specials aren’t too salty either – R&V favourites Homeboy Sandman and J-Live, Dres from Black Sheep and people’s president Lobsterdamus, help flavour a certified belly-buster for 2016.

Read the original review here



Ed Scissor & Lamplighter   ‘Tell Them It’s Winter’ (High Focus)

Monolith Cocktail - Ed Scissors & Lamplighter

“An intriguingly created world of wisdom, paranoia, numbness and finding peace in its own mind”.  MO

High Focus have had the mother of all years, the consistency of everything they’ve dropped dominating the last 12 months of homegrown hip-hop. Ocean Wisdom (‘Chaos 93’) boasted youthfully infinite ammunition. Dabbla (‘Year of the Monkey’) got up to a whole load of japery reaching across the bar. Fliptrix (‘Patterns of Escapism’) executed label ideals to the fullest. Yet in the spirit of thinking differently, Ed Scissor and Lamplighter, the absolute antithesis of those mentioned, take the honours by a short head. Blair Witch hip-hop with its nose to the wall, barely keeping its head above water while barely raising an eyebrow, pulls off the Houdini-like stunt of subverting hip-hop norms while sticking close to them like a second skin. A slow and deliberate bittersweet bloom of triumph, creating the ultimate flip script of offering easy solace and comfort when all looks lost.

Read the original review here


Elzhi  ‘Lead Poison’ (Glow365)

Monolith Cocktail - Elzhi

 

“Ear-catching narratives covering the everyday grind…not far off being a complete LP”.  MO

Coming out the other side of mental health issues has Elzhi using ‘Lead Poison’ as catharsis, resulting in some of the year’s most vividly delivered rhymes and storytelling in the process. Done so in near enough bite sized chapters, proves that if the story’s interesting enough, it’s long enough. Never buckling under pressure, even when the likes of ‘Cloud’ feel like everything is conspiring against him (not to mention the potential of his health showing overall weakness), heart is worn on sleeve and self-examinations are set to a forceful soul soundtrack pushing its protagonist. With softer neo-soul going back to Elzhi’s Slum Village heritage, there’s also room for a little light heartedness, with ‘She Sucks’ doing forbidden love by garlic and wooden stakes, and ‘MisRight’ bending the thesaurus. An album that goes from strength to strength, listen on listen.

Read the full review here


Eleanor Friedberger ‘New Views’ (Frenchkiss Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Eleanor Friedberger New View

Another album we missed on its release, Eleanor Friedberger‘s third solo spot New View is another impressive songbook of idiosyncratic pop. Streamlining the signature intelligent reference-heavy prose of her sibling act The Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor continues the clever turns of phrase but in a more attentive, breezier and lightened but less cluttered manner. With elan she sets out on a dry-witted but emotionally philosophical picnic through the East Village with Patti Smith and Harry Nilsson in tow.


Paul Hawkins and the Awkward Silences  ‘Outsider Pop’  (Blang Records)

Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences - Monolith Cocktail

‘Lethargically executed and quintessentially an antifolk statement of protest, Outsider Pop is a highly infectious album of pop parodies that penetrate the bland veneer of the contemporary irksome vacuum known as the mainstream. Shambling discontent at its finest.’  DV

The disgruntled savant of disco funk pop and antifolk Paul Hawkins completely in the dark, oblivious to the dreadful proclamation of David Bowie’s impending death paid an augur homage to his white-suited and booted pop incarnation of the 1980s by transmogrifying ‘China Girl’ into an Outsider Pop anthem. Produced by that nutflake nostalgist, and one of the busiest men in the industry right now Ian Button (of the mighty Papernut Cambridge, Gare du Nord label and umpteen other projects), Hawkins’ third album also finds foibles of inspiration from REM, The Fall, Toto and The Art Of Noise; reflecting a much broader sound than before. The no wave, white funk, pop melodies act as a Trojan Horse, the themes far from advocating a hedonistic lust for life or suggesting the listener suppress the doldrums of modern life, are filled with malcontent at the state of the world.

Read the full review here…


John Howard  ‘Across The Door Sill’  (Occultation Recordings)

Monolith Cocktail - John Howard

 

‘Not so adrift and experimental as to have cut all ties to his signature profound sincerity and sad romanticism, John Howard’s Across The Door Sill dares to go further with an even more immersive experience. Expanding his poetic lyricism and piano performances, stark and stripped-back, his vocals multiplied to fill the space and build the atmosphere; Howard has room and time to create some stirring music. It is a most sagacious reflection from the artist, still finding the inspiration to develop and take risks. In doing so he’s reached what could be one of the creative pinnacles of his career.’  DV

Imbued with the 13th century poet Rumis ‘Quatrains’ poem, which encourages us to broaden our horizons and to not just accept what we’ve done in the past, the adroit songwriter and pianist John Howard experiments with a stripped back sound of multilayered vocals and the melodious gravitas on his latest songbook Across The Door Sill. Attentive and epic the album’s sagacious stream of consciousness is a deeply reflective observance on where we are now. In no hurry to get to a hook or chorus, his source material, a collection of unhindered, unhurried and floating poems, was developed overtime, set to music in an organic fashion. Hence why three of the five songs on this LP are nine-minutes long. On a successful run of collaborations and solo projects Howard is enjoying his most productive period yet in a career that’s spanned five decades.

Read the full review here…


Illogic  ‘A Man Who Thinks With His Own Mind’  (Weightless)

Monolith Cocktail - Illogic

“Streams of quotable IQ create a fever dream. Snooze, you lose.”  MO

Ohio rhyme scientist Illogic provided his own version of a hip-hop out of body experience, a canon of verbosity when bedding down for the night and setting free streams of consciousness while looking through a telescope. This in itself created its own contradiction of being an album expressly trained to set you afloat (The Sound Cultivator’s star-shaped soul powered by plasma rays > strictly no cloud rap), which still kept you wide awake with naturally intricate rhymes, both book and street smart, about life, the universe and everything else. Anyone who starts an album with the observation that “the tofu was not as firm as I’m used to” deserves nothing but praise and respect. The modern equivalent of becoming engrossed in a good book that tells your imagination to run.

Read the original review here


J-Zone   ‘Fish n Grits’  (Old Maid Entertainment)

Monolith Cocktail - J-Zone

“Dripping in home truths from his funk soapbox, disillusionment with hip-hop and its cultural hangers-on has never been more entertaining”.  MO

Better placed than most to justify a love-hate relationship with hip-hop, J-Zone proclaimed “there’s only two types of music – good and bad. Make good music, or shut the fuck up.” Paired with helium alter-ego/juvenile imaginary friend Chief Chinchilla as hilarious equal opportunity offender, and showing the strain of ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ remains strong, ‘Fish n Grits’ goes in with scathingly relatable accuracy about the state of the game, misty-eyed nostalgia replaced by a nose-bloodying team of goons busting a whole load of myths. Additionally, whereas Zone’s production used to pop off all over the place in a skilfully spring-loaded criss-cross, he’s honed his own funk skills into a true mastery to compliment his industry disses. Hallelujah that he can’t leave the game alone.

Read the full review here


Fela Ransome-Kuti And His Koola Lobitos  ‘Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul 1963-1969’  (Knitting Factory Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Fela Kuti

‘Hot stepping and sure footing through Savoy label like jazz and Stax/Volt revue soul, Fela and his first ever professional band Koola Lobitos were the missing link on the eventual road to the Afrobeat phenomenon. An evolving Fela, only a few shuffles short of cultivating his signature, already shows a raw energy on this compilation’s studio and live recordings.’  DV

 

In the midst of another celebration and anniversary appraisal the Afrobeat pioneer and political protagonist Fela Kuti has seen the back catalogue legacy re-released and repackaged countless times. There’s been a stage production of his life, and a documentary film in the last couple of years alone. But one of the most revealing and raw tributes is this burgeoning showman showcase; a labour of love that collates together a number of previously scattered, thought lost, rare early recordings – both in the studio and on stage – from the stax/funk/soul years. A “labour of love”, stemming from Toshiya Endo’s African Music Home Page website, launched in the late 90s, the Fela Kuti and His Koola Lobitos material were collected from around the world, from the collections of various fans. By day a professor of Chemistry at Ngoya University, Endo’s passion and hobby of cataloguing West African music attracted the author of the Fela: The Life & Times Of An African Musical Icon bio Michael E. Veal. Lucky for us the dynamic duo produced this lavish and arduous compilation of explosive early Fela beauties; one of the best and revelatory introductions to the great polymaths work yet.

Read the full review here…


Bob Lind  ‘Magellan Was Wrong’  (Ace Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Bob Lind

Another masterclass from the sagacious Bob Lind, his latest album is a majestical and often jazzy lilting lesson in songwriting. With decades of elan and adroit performance behind him Lind isn’t ready just yet to rest on past melodic triumphs and spoils, showing himself ready to adopt and try out new ideas on Magellan Was Wrong – a reference to the Portuguese explorer who first circumnavigated the world, proving it was of course a globe and not flat, though Lind’s song of the same name and homage metaphor questions that wisdom in the face of despondency and disappointment. The characteristic voice and style is of course signature Lind, the songs and themes timeless. With a host of producers, including progressive jazz pianist and composer Greg Foat, on board this strongly nautical feel and reference strong songbook, both the entertainer and troubadour are lent a new lease of life.


BOOK REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona


Monolith Cocktail - The Secret History of Twin Peaks Novel


Mark Frost   ‘The Secret History Of  Twin Peaks’

Bridging the 25-year gap and obviously drumming up suspense and anticipation for the third series of Twin Peaks in 2017, Mark Frost’s unconventional “novel” seems to suggest the writer secretly hankered for a job on The X-Files during the fallow years in which the story lay dormant. Expanding the original show’s remit, which he co-wrote and conceptualized with David Lynch, Frost has elaborated on the history of the town, its characters and their backstories. But most notably he’s weaved an ever-larger cobweb of intrigue and conspiracy; all threads leading to the cover up of what might or might not be extraterrestrial activity.

Speculation has run riot, as it inevitably does; cast members announced, plotlines and narratives drip-fed over the Internet. We do know this for certain. The story will revolve around an unearthed mysterious purpose-built container and its archival contents; handed over to female FBI agent Tamara Preston along with all of agent Dale Cooper’s notes on the murder – that sparked the whole sorry tale – of Laura Palmer. Sanctioned by “Coop” and Preston’s superior Chief Gordon Cole (played by Lynch himself in the series), our investigator must pour over the rich display of concatenate notes, scribbling her own footnotes in the margin; authenticating, alluding to more information or admitting they’re plain stumped as to what the hell is going on. All the time we the reader must wait until the final reveal; kept guessing as to both the author’s identity and the person who added their own narrative and stored these files in the first place. The reader then, is a mere observer, a voyeur; this report on a report only ever meant for a selective few.


Monolith Cocktail - The Secret History Of Twin Peaks


Transcripts, cuttings, reports, letters and various clues all pieced together in a chronological timeframe feature a loose plotline by this mysterious guiding hand. Written as a quasi alternative history, Frost manages to embrace every one of the central tenants of the conspiracy theorem: the obligatory assassination of JFK, the Roswell UFO crash and, in this case, the centuries old struggle between an altruistic Freemasonry and its malcontent counterpart the Illuminati (incidentally symbolized by the owl) all make guest appearances. Tracing a psychogeography style story that stretches right back to the birth of America and pulls in the legendary explorers of the country’s undiscovered West, Lewis and Clark, real events are weaved into an intriguing tapestry; all of which originate from the unassuming Washington State pine wood hideaway of Twin Peaks.

Events of the last century however are more or less tied to the shady fortunes of Colonel Douglas Milford, one half of the incorrigible Twin Peaks Milford brothers. Fans of the series will have last seen poor Douglas sprawled out with a smile on his face after suffering a fatal heart attack on his wedding night. His betrothed, the extremely young intoxicative temptress Lana Budding (the “Milford widow”) if you remember kept the town’s menfolk in jaw-dropping awe, yet her backstory was never really explored; other than the fact this southern belle was probably on the make, her motives remained obscure, but after reading this novel may have been a lot darker. From a brush with a strange owl-like figure in the woods as a scoutmaster in the 1920s to placing him at the scene of near enough every recorded and unrecorded “close encounter” and alien abduction, Douglas Milford crosses paths with the Aleister Crowley apprentice and important rocket fuel scientist Jack Parsons and the Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. A sort of investigator, prober and as it would turn out chronicler of these meetings, the outsider role that Douglas took on propelled him into the confidence of Richard Nixon, which opens up even more clandestine portals into the mind-blowing chasm of secrets. Without spoiling the novel’s outcome, let’s just say Douglas is tasked with a deep cover assignment that eventually brings him back to his hometown: where it all began. The baton is passed on and destiny seems to anoint a successor, who will in turn take on the duties of manning the mysterious alluded to “listening post Alpha”.


Monolith Cocktail - The Secret history of Twin Peaks


As you’d expect, Frost builds an even greater expansive conspiracy; answering a range of longstanding queries and questions but posing a whole set of new “what the fucks?” Fans however will discover just why the log lady, Margaret Lanterman, is so attached to her miniature pine chum; just what the hell did happen, back in the woods, with Major Briggs; the entire sorry saga of the PackardMartellEckhart intrigues; Dr. Jacoby’s penchant for Hawaii and the purpose of those ridiculous red and blue tinted glasses he sports; and the fate of femme fatale Audrey Horne – last seen handcuffed to a bank vault door in protest as Andrew Packard, the aged eccentric bank-teller and Pete Martell unlock a safe deposit box only to find out it contains a bomb; the resulting explosion may or may not have leaving survivors. Which brings us back to the events that triggered all this, the brutal murder of Laura Palmer, killed in the end but molested throughout her life by her father Leland Palmer’s evil malevolent spirit “Bob”. Here it is a mere sideshow, the original supernatural, fight between good and evil forces, driven plot moving on to even bigger and far-fetched conspiracies. Agent Cooper, previously leaving the second series on a cliffhanger after his doppelganger escapes the “black lodge”, leaving the real Coop in perpetual limbo, is mentioned only briefly, his whereabouts remaining an enigma. To be fair, Frost is leaving this strand until the third series itself airs in 2017, as it was confirmed early on that Kyle MacLachlan who plays the beleaguered FBI agent is making a welcome return.


Monolith Cocktail - The Secret History of Twin Peaks


In amongst the “Bookhouse Boys” reading list, the Double R laminate menus and Dr. Jacoby’s credentials (which stack up most impressively), Frost taps into the conspiracy theory phenomenon. Fact and fiction entwine, the lines blurred to regale a good yarn. Misdirection is of course key: for instance, being led down the garden path with another elaborate cover story for an even more disturbing secret. Suffice to say the author has further muddied the waters.

Extremely clever and adroit, Frost’s changing prose and style fits a myriad of character’s voices. Ambitious, intriguing, it promises a whole lot of hokum, but enthralling hokum nonetheless.


Monolith Cocktail - The Secret History of Twin Peaks


Boxsets Review
Words: Dominic Valvona


Monolith Cocktail - Richard H. Kirk

Richard H. Kirk   ‘#7489 (Collected Works 1974 – 1989)’
Sandoz   ‘#9294 (Collected Works 1992 – 1994)’
Both boxsets released by Mute Records,  2nd December 2016

Following the career of the much-lauded and highly influential Richard H. Kirk is akin to tracing the progress of synthesizer and electronic music in the UK over the last thirty odd years. Either ahead of the game or at least loitering at the vanguard of many developments in the genre, Kirk is rightly cited as a leading light and even pioneering seer. Personally a decade too late for the Dadaist inspired Cabaret Voltaire; the early adopters of synth, tape machine and what would later be coined industrial music Sheffield trio that Kirk formed with Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson in 1973. My introduction to his varied catalogue of explorations would be through a sporadic string of individual 12” acid house, techno and trance records in the early 90s, under a number of guises, though namely through Warp Records’ Artificial Intelligence series of compilations.

Though in recent years he’s resurrected a lone wolf version of the Cabaret, officially dissolved in 1994, Kirk’s solo career began proper with the 1980 ‘ghost-in-the-machine’ post-punk fueled Disposable Half-Truths. That album, in a remastered condition, appears on Mute Records behemoth Kirk survey #7489; a collation of his official solo output and unreleased material from a timespan of fifteen years. A congruous companion and in tandem with this grand appraisal, Mute have also boxed-up the entire early output of one of Kirk’s most successful and enduring alter-egos, Sandoz, in an equally impressive package, entitled #9294.



The first edition in this 8 x CD sprawl is a continuation of the funneled lo fi haunting and industrial menace of the Cabaret Voltaire vision. Disposable Half-Truths, originally released on cassette by Industrial Records in 1980, mixes the reverberations and gargles of Cluster (more their early incarnation Kluster than later period material) and Faust with emanations from ‘planet dub’; squelching, burbling and chattering through a spooky and primordial soup. Titles offer a glimpse into the themes that motivate Kirk (Information Therapy, Synesthesia) whilst others go some way in describing the sonic assault – Insect Friends Of Allah is a great description of what is a lush Arabian expanse infested by a busy, twitching shimmery of synthesized insect percussion.

Already balancing the possibilities and connective positives of technology with the scarier prospects of a bad robot ‘dystopian future’, Kirk’s science fiction would become science fact just decades later. Not the first artist to compose an equally dark vision, the augurs of a misused technology and A.I. troubling legions of writers, the electronic auteur escapes the repressive atmosphere of a changing political landscape, one that on the cusp of the new decade moved ominously towards the right, adopting the policies of a rampant free-market. Kraftwerk may have celebrated the advent of a digital immersed automated utopia; Kirk on the other hand offers darker prophesies.



Cut from the same fabric so to speak though released later, Time High Fiction features a similar cornucopia of influences and sounds; from the resonating metallic interstellar dub of Force Of Habit and the Tangerine Dream(ing) Day Of Waiting to the Sun Ra on mescaline opus Dead Relatives Part One.

The first of Kirk’s Rough Trade albums, both released in 1986, Black Jesus Voice makes good use of the burgeoning hip-hop phenomena. The opening Streetgang (It Really Hurts) is a blitz of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunter style keyboards – sampled to shit by a litany of rap artists, with even Herbie himself, via tracks like Rockit, fully embracing it -, electro, the Art Of Noise and street gang armoury jive talk. Elsewhere the Roland T-303 squelches and the pre-set tight delay percussion is woven into a Max Headroom style cut-up stutter of samples.

Using a far more Teutonic cinematic tone, the second of those Rough Trade albums, Ugly Spirit, prowls the buzz flickering strip light underpass glom of an esoteric industrial landscape. Shades of Throbbing Gristle, Einstürzende Neubauten and a speedball version of Japan permeate a harassed and shivered pitch/speed shift nightmare.

Sprawling across two discs the Earlier/Later anthology style compilation of previously unreleased material features a surreptitious choice of tracks stretching back to 1974; featuring such early obscurities as the primal experimental radio waves frazzled Hell In Here and frayed trembled Concerto For Damaged Piano (Extract 1). Part two of this collection, originally released in 2000, contains the most raw material; a stripped and exploratory window on Kirk’s early workings at the advent of electronic music. Part one is more 80s centric and features a Farley Jackmaster Funk house transmogrified version of Can’s flirtatious disco pop hit I Want More, a 12” version of the “blind-leading-the-blind-leading-the-blind” mantra anthem Never Lose Your Shadow, and the Planet Rock future shock On Fire.

A second volume of rare cuts, promising more previously unreleased to the masses nuggets (though this time they mean it) Super Duper Soul offers diehards alternative, often reconstructed and cut-up, 12” and album tracks –a Newcleus style Jam On It 7” mix of Streetgang; the second of two mixes of this track – plus a string of 808 house exotica and techno workouts (Latino #3 and Dead Tango being just two highlights of note). The most warped sound clashes on this album; Afternoon Weather – a zapping static storm of thrashing lightning – and War Machine – an apocalyptic requiem – are just two of the more quirky examples plucked from the archives. Considering Super Duper Soul in isolation the depth and range of influences that Kirk fashions into dance music seem truly staggering. He charts a course through Nihilism, kosmische, industrial, tape and radio dial manipulation, house, ambient, electro, hip-hop, trance, acid and techno almost amorphously.




Monolith Cocktail - Sandoz/ Richard H.Kirk

Where this, the first of a two-part appraisal, boxset finishes, the second Mute homage begins; celebrating one of Kirk’s most notable alter-egos, Sandoz. Continuing to masquerade in tandem with numerous identities (including Agents With False Memories, Dr. Xavier, The Silent Age and of course under his own name), it was with the LSD loaded Sandoz that Kirk would explore his love for Jamaican music. Plotting a very alternative course for dancehall, reggae and dub, the reverberations are often obscured and in most cases almost entirely absent or, at least abstract. Honing in on a short but fruitful productive period between 1992 and 1994 the first album of this 5 x CD survey is the ‘redux’ Digital Lifeforms. Split into two, the first part featuring a straight run-through of the original is a mix of Chicago House, Damon Wild’s Synewave imprint and vaguely mystical, often Tibetan, trance. It is an encapsulation of the rave culture, then at its peak, featuring all the elements that crept into the scene during those burgeoning years of dance music culture. The second part is made up of curiosities, cutting room floor and in some cases extended or shortened versions of those tracks that made the finished album; a sort of amalgamated version of White Darkness and Steel Tabernacle, but with more oomph, makes an appearance and there is the liquid-y topographic ocean uplift of Ocean Refraction, the African tribal percussive meets early Aphex Twin Medium Cool and the almost jazzy kinetic beats of Zombie Savane to savour. An additional spread of bonus material includes more alternative versions of those same album tracks, with a transcendental tripping techno variant of Chocolate Machine, an astral traveller 808 tapping Steel Tabernacle and a very in-vogue for the times Orb tinged White Darkness, alongside the odd transmogrified cut from another of his albums, Dark Continent, all appearing on the “previously unreleased” Runs The Voodoo Down compilation.



Apparently unavailable for a while now Intensely Radioactive, which preceded Digital Lifeforms, is a sophisticated extension of the cerebral techno sound. The dub influences are as ever subtle, lingering and echoing off the crater moons of Kirk’s imagination but the album’s tight beats, flows and synthesized percussion evoke (and of course influenced in equal measure) Warp, Harthouse, Air liquid and The Future Sound Of London. With more space, quite literally, tracks float and have a loose quality, epically the exotic otherworldly trance-y Luminous. Generally suffused, taking time to release the beats, the album’s eight tracks of various atmospheric languidness and attentive interplay offer both cosmic futuristic expanses and paranoia in equal measure.

The last album proper of the Sandoz trio, Dark Continent is likewise from a similar sound palette and exploring the same themes. With virtual realities most vocal advocates promising so much, and on the cusp of the Internet world we’ve all now become so dependent upon in just a short time, Kirk’s track titles reflect an obsession with cybernetic tech speak and science fiction; a human/A.I. hybrid fusion if you like, alluded to through titles such as Biosynthetic, Neon Soul and Orgasmatron. With trepidation rather than utopian joy, the album throws down the Roland T-303 gauntlet (again!) and appears to embrace the funky jack-the-house club vibe, and even its soul/gospel roots.

The most prized addition to this overview is the already mentioned Runs The Voodoo Down collection of previously left lain dormant material, which includes early adaptations and various takes on tracks from the first two Sandoz albums. However, there’s also a duo of soul affixed acid-gurgler house shimmies, Soul Shakedown and Soul Insurgency, and the funky world music burbler 12” only track, Mapou for the completist.



Still going strong, even reviving the Cabaret Voltaire name (though as the only sole member from the original lineup and performing material more in keeping with his solo material), Richard H. Kirk’s back catalogue is seeing a revival; mainly through a re-release schedule sanctioned by Mute. Far from lingering on memories and the past, still an omnipresence and constantly creating new music all the time (in fact often labelled the “busiest man in techno”), this dual boxset extravaganza is nevertheless a brilliant survey of not only Kirk’s creative genius but also the UK dance music scene’s burgeoning first three decades of invention and creativity.


MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP ROUNDUP


Monolith Cocktail - A Tribe Called Quest (Matt Oliver)


A new album from A Tribe Called Quest! Slick Rick back touring the UK! Eric B & Rakim reuniting! Ultramagnetic MCs in London in February! Ice Cube producing a remake of Oliver Twist! Shia LeBoeuf and Shaquille O’Neal blessing the mic! In this month of all months, it’s hip-hop and Rapture & Verse to the rescue!

 

Singles/EPs

The finest gangsta trip on ‘Cunning Lyricists’ has MidaZ the Beast, Planet Asia and Murdoc working over vinyl spinning like a hypno-disc. Lewis Parker at his opulent, tuxedoed best on the boards has boom bap jazz hitting the spot to ‘Release the Stress’, backed by the similarly aristocratic ‘Mellow Blow’; caviar sophistication speckled with danger. Tanya Morgan makes seven track EP ‘Abandoned Theme Park’ a welcoming invite. Slick from all angles, Von Pea, Donwill and Che Grand, all soul and swagger, gloss and graft, get on a much heavier record than its finesse would have you presume – with instrumentals included, you’ll soon find out why.

Let’s hope there’s a recount that gets Lobsterdamus’ ‘Lobby Dom P for President’ into power. Smooth electro grooving and a bunch of promises that he may or may not keep, it’s all good. ‘Principles and Codes’ are held dear by Diamond D rocking no-nonsense, get-out-the-way Gensu Dean, and dirtying up a Jigga flow, ‘I Gotta Ask’ by Joe Budden makes ‘Hard Knock Life’ knock harder, with Araabmuzik keeping it theatrical.





Albums

So, to the surprise of a new A Tribe Called Quest album. Completed before the death of Phife, ‘We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service’ sounds sharp – sometimes a little too crisp truth be told, though the group move forward fluently and still pose moments evoking their peak. And while it’s good to hear all concerned back on the same record, with additional lyrics from Kendrick Lamar, Andre3000 and Busta Rhymes, it’s Q-Tip grabbing the lion’s share of mic time. A decent postscript, bringing to an end one of hip-hop’s finest careers.





A reliable pair of hands, Fliptrix examines ‘Patterns of Escapism’, consolidating his street poet role filling his bars with intricacy and layman’s, achievable science – a rare balance he holds true with that twang still sounding like it’s happy parked on the couch. Illinformed producing the album from top to bottom is another failsafe move, and with Kashmere, Life MC and associated High Focus comrades joining in, attempts at fleeing Flip’s sixth album will be futile. Hardcore hip-hop geometry when others are only using an Etch-a-Sketch.

The latest Czarface saga delivers more knockout blows. 7L, Esoteric and Inspectah Deck bring the pain to part three of their comic book-inspired series, ‘A Fistful of Peril’ continuing to avenge hip-hop honour with underground explosives. Like all good world-beaters they know that a knuckle sandwich ranks as highly as fireballs and laser beams, and they get the job done in 35 minutes flat, presumably called away to their next mission: rock hard and riveting.

Tall Black Guy has just the antidote to trying times: ‘Let’s Take a Trip’ is an instrumental ease back fusing neo-soul and Detroit vapours (so you’ve got a pretty good idea already as to how it sounds), quickly and unhurriedly nipping pressure situations in the bud. Not afraid to throw in the odd spiky emcee and familiar sample, it’s a classy joint to roam around in, equal parts simple and skilful.

Tapping into a rival, Twinkie-cream smoothness, Greek producer Funkonami soundtracks B-boy spa days, rubbing down funk and soul for the goodness of ‘Deep into the Forest’. Lotus position instrumentalism, bringing the uptown into a sheltered nook and taking care of the street-struck. It seems like the best way to tackle the storm is to remain calm, as per General Steele &Es-K’s ‘Building Bridges’. Breaking it down from hammocks and loosening bow ties by the bar, but decidedly not a kickback, street thoughts manifest when assisted by a cool breeze.





This little lot though are definitely not chill. As likely to wreck a polling booth as a mic booth, KXNG Crooked makes it patently clear what side he’s on with the ticking time bomb ‘Good Vs Evil’. Biting back at trap beats by strategizing how to beat the crooks at their own game by fair means or foul, the conversion of disbelief into very listenable retaliation blacklists casual listening. The pound-your-fist movement of La Coka Nostra returns to pledge ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’, the crew of Ill Bill, Slaine, Danny Boy and DJ Lethal heading a mob marching towards Amityville making throat-slitting gestures. Where the “blood in my vein is trained to be cold”, the canny supply of hooks the whole rabble can rally round, reinforces LCN’s theory that hip-hop is much more important than a matter of life and death. Similar guts and glory gun from Vinnie Paz’ ‘The Cornerstone of the Corner Store’. With wrath on tap to a soundtrack of rock & roll doom (you daren’t spin it backwards for fear of hidden messages), and with Ghostface, AG & OC and Ras Kass wading in, the precious-eared will be turned away by Paz as doorman to the gates of hell.



Washing mouths out with a flow that chews granite like its gum, FlowTecs goes full bull in a china shop and makes ‘The Concrete Doctrine’ one of the year’s most convincingly spat testaments. A gang of producers including Bad Company, Micall Parknsun and Huzzman form a ring of steel around 20 tracks worth of hard graft. ‘Old Man Rapper’ Verbal Skillz can still teach whippersnappers a thing or sixteen, his respect-my-mic flow level headedly navigating the hard yards out of Guildford, with DJ Stix and the coup of Apollo Brown adding their expertise. Oliver Sudden, you ain’t saying nuttin’ – it’s true, as ‘Coolant Levels’ takes over the drive time hour, shoves the mic in the glove box and smoothes out 10 instrumentals, cruising and looping to make you call shotgun.





Mickey Factz sprays rhymes around with a little street charisma going far on ‘The Achievement: Circa 82’. Produced and helped in no small part by Nottz getting rugged, it’ll nag you into going back. Underground def defier Prolyphic presents battling one man show ‘DNGRFLD’. Skilled in the cynical and the delivery of challenging narratives, the Rhode Island profiling may go about its business pretty coolly, but is all the more rewarding when knowledge is dropped like a cinderblock. There’s still a lot to be said for the multiple guest, handpicked producer album format, particularly when all are riding with the all-or-nothing Termanology. ‘More Politics’ is both ace negotiator and condemner through megaphone, soul controller and mic savage, with Joey Bada$$, Sheek Louch, Styles P, Bun B, Statik Selektah, and Just Blaze part of the entourage. Quick mention for Common’s ‘Black America Again’, that though eventually neutralised by some extra creamy slow jams, is well capable of coming on strong and speaking up.

With A Tribe Called Quest hot this month, a bunch of beat heads and savvy MPC users assembled by NineToFive pay homage to ‘Midnight Marauders’. Taking the samples the Tribe used for a fresh batch of instrumentals, ‘Beats & Remakes 01’ is well worth investigating, either as a compare and contrast, or as a faithful remix LP by itself.



Mixtapes

The crazy world of Strange U, captured by DJ Psykhomantus on ‘The Strange Universe Mixtape’, welcomes you to sci-fi absurdity and highly flammable brainwaves bringing back untouchable levels of realness. One helluva phat phreakshow from King Kashmere and Dr Zygote. Picturesque this time of year, DJ Ivory’s ‘Winter in Notts’ is P Brothers heaviness to the fullest; funk coated in thick crate dust and super rough cuts of old skool wax that you shouldn’t wait on Saint Nick for.



In pictures: Zion I pose questions, Lessondary’s symphony, Scorzayzee ain’t loving it, and Corners get elemental.














NEW MUSIC ROUNDUP REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona


Monolith Cocktail - R. Seiliog


In this edition of my eclectic new music review roundup: paranormal investigations from Hole House, R. Seiliog’s nebula-gazing peregrinations, ARC Music celebrate 40 years in the business of showcasing the best in world music, The Lancashire Hustlers evoke a nostalgic afterglow on their latest ‘adventures’, the CaStLeS launch their garage psych debut, and Andrew Spackman returns from the boffin potting shed with his latest, darker, electronic project Sad Man.

Various   ‘Celebrating World Music – 40 Years 40 Tracks’
Wayne Picchu  ‘Folk Music From Peru’
LPs released by ARC Music


Monolith Cocktail - ARC 40th anniversary


ARC Music’s 40th anniversary world music celebration survey unequivocally supports their recent third place finish in the Womax ‘top labels of 2016’ awards – respectably placed behind First World and Glitterbeat Records. Doggedly searching for the finest and best produced beacons from a number of world music genres – from the lamentable Portuguese Fado to the most boisterous of Balkan polkas – the West Sussex-based label sends its feelers out to the furthest desert moonscapes, deepest recesses of the rainforests and the remotest mountain tops.

An impressive catalogue, rich in diversity and scale, ARC can boast of, ‘…distributing music from over 120 countries.’ And on this 2xCD sprawl they represent a sizable chunk of that five decade spanning record with examples from more or less every continent; starting with the gentle, almost ethereal, sound of Senegalese kora maestro Seckou Keita on his majestic ‘The Invisible Man’ sweetener. Staying in the backyard of West Africa there’s sauntering sand dune blues from the impressive Modou Touré & Ramon Goose, and galloping hand drum and wah-wah pedal Ghanaian blues funk from Nii Okai Tagoe. Travelling down to the foot of the African continent, the all-women Mbube a cappella singing ensemble Afrika Mamas lend the compilation a diaphanous harmonious lullaby, with gravitas, on the soothing choral ‘Uzulibonge’ song. Over the border from South Africa in Namibia, Elemotho’s quasi-yodeling vocal is used to great effect on the lulling ‘Neo’. From North Africa “The Ambassador” of Middle Eastern rhythms, and first artist from the region to sign with ARC (going on to release more than 30 albums with the label), Hossam Ramzy spirits the listener away on a journey through the Orient: traversing a clandestine rendezvous in the bazar to expansive epic film score on the mesmerizing ‘Khusara Khusara’.

Carrying on the Orient theme, excursions eastwards beckon with the Silk Road cinematic ‘Zim Zim Zim’ by The Afghan Ensemble. Heading even further east, ARC introduces us to the atmospheric taiko drumming of Joji Hirota & Hiten Ryu Daiko, via the softly suffused ‘Akita Ondo (Hayashi Version)’ hymn, and the quivering becalmed recitals of China’s Silk String Quartet.





Heading back in the opposite direction, back west to Europe, there’s a fine selection of Balkan musical examples to enjoy; such as KAL’s contemporary Eurovision upbeat Romany tango ‘Bibi’ and Bulgarian Perunika Trio’s venerable folk-choral short ‘Snoshti sum minal, Kuzum Elenke (Last Night)’. Renowned, almost, above all else for their Celtic showing, one of ARC’s most famous signings Clannad are represented with the mandolin stirred, shrouded in misty myth and tradition, ‘Rhapsody na gCrann’. From the old country, the label’s first ever Irish signing, singer/songwriter Noel McLoughlin, adds a touch of ancestral charm with ‘Follow Me Up To Carlow’. Taking the mood to Scotland, there’s the New Age Highland fling ‘Sabbal la’n Ic Uisdean’ by Tannas and a host of Celtic influenced artists who weave the genre into their own work, including the Spanish siren and nyckelharpa inspired Ana Alcaide who puts it to good use on the myth-enchanted ‘Diosa Luolaien’ and the Golden Boughs who use an Iberian variant of the form on their ‘Zingaro’ song.

However, standout tracks from this compilation include the tumultuous electrified and soaring British/Bengali fusion ‘Amar Protibaader Bhasha’ – which has hints of the JOI Soundsystem – by the London-based Khiyo, and the hallowed hushed but sonorous ‘Evening Bells’ liturgy by The Red Army Choir – soloist Vasilij Larin channeling a Orthodox Russian version of Roy Orbison.

It’s a worthy compilation, full of surprises, an eye-opener that will undoubtedly introduce the listener to a cornucopia of new sounds and traditions. The global melting pot has never been better served.





Further celebrations continue in the form of a special re-release of the Peruvian folk group Wayne Picchu’s influential Folk Music From Peru songbook. Originally recorded back in 1999 by ARC’s Pablo Cárcamo, the ‘unusual collection’ as it’s billed is a showcase mix of both traditional and original songs from ‘the land of the Incas’.

Taking the name of an iconic landmark mountain landscape in the Cusco region of Peru, but also meaning ‘young man of the mountainside’, the Picchu was founded in 1994 by the siblings Santos Salinas and Horlando Castillo in the shadows of the legendary lost city of the Inca civilization, the great Machu Picchu. Surviving at incredible altitudes, amongst the heavens, the family business was sheep herding, but after quickly mastering the ancient art of the Peruvian flute (known as a ‘quenas’) and extending his repertoire with a sojourn in the Los Pablitos church choir Santos Salinas enrolled a number of his brothers, and later on his wife Anita, into a ‘close-knit’ communal ensemble.

They left the homeland a long time ago, moving to Germany where they spread their brand of atmospheric authentic Andean music to a wider audience. Coming full circle, ARC’s first ever signing was Los Rupay, whose 1976 LP Bolivian Folklore did likewise in bring a previously – believe it or not, such is the abundance of it now, from street buskers to the obligatory background soundtrack of Bodyshop and many other ‘green’ ‘sustainable’ retailers – pan-pipe music to the world. Wayne Picchu’s Folk Music From Peru LP is a congruous relation to that inaugural standard-bearer.



The Lancashire Hustlers   ‘Adventures’
LP released by Steep Hill Records, 20th November 2016


Monolith Cocktail - The Lancashire Hustlers

Setting out on an imaginary road trip through mythologized landscapes and multiple timelines, The Lancashire Hustlers, evoke a nostalgic afterglow of desperation for a less bleak and depressing age on the latest epic. Bound on a cross-Atlantic White Star Line ocean behemoth from Liverpool (a reference to the famous and infamous British shipping company that offered an inexpensive route to the promised lands for countless immigrants during the 19th and 20th centuries), the London duo yearn for “adventure” and escape from a post-Brexit vacuum of uncertainty, travelling mentally across the “pioneer” spirited America of another age. The Beach Boys all-encompassing east-west coast of the US of A saga SMiLE and the later romanticized offering Holland act as important guides thematically and to a lesser degree musically, Brent Thorley and Ian Pakes expanding their repertoire and adopting an ever-increasing mix of styles, from folk to jazz and Golden State troubadour, and instrumentation. Some of which, like the Indian Tamboura, add a hint of the Incredible String Band and The Beatles eastern psychedelia resonating chimes to the loose narrative.

In the intersection between McCartney’s ‘Rocky Raccoon’ and the Beach Boys ‘Cabinessence’ the album begins with a sort of show tune clarion call for “Adventurers” or, the emboldened big-thinkers, the innovators that will dig us out our rut. In what’s constantly termed a “post facts” world there’s a tango-like Velvet Underground eulogy to the dismissal of sound advice and knowledge with ‘An Expert Dies’. The subject matter, the nagging doubts that we are all being pushed towards and the mediocrity, enervation of culture is all of the moment but the soundtrack is suffused with a hazy ideal of golden age songwriting and musicianship. Harry Nilsson, Steely Dan and James Taylor hold court, joined by Fairfield Parlour for a ‘June Wedding’, a subtle clavinet boogie Stevie Wonder on the laidback ‘When The Nail Is Tested’, and a bossa waning country lilting Captain & Tennille on the album’s closer ‘Folkways’.

Sounding at times like an idiosyncratic version of Supertramp embarking on a bucolic minor rock and pop-opera The Lancashire Hustlers dream big on Adventures; recording a fond and glowing soundtrack for troubling times.




Seiliog   ‘Shedhead’
EP released by Turnstile Music, 18th November 2016


Monolith Cocktail - R. Seiliog

Making my job easier, if not redundant, North Wales very own sonic NASA atelier R. Seiliog possibly articulates his own music the best with this following description: “It’s like the slipping clutch of a self combusting engine built from mirrors blackened by astral soot reflecting back the whole in each tarnished component.” And I could leave it at that but I will nevertheless persevere.

The alter ego of electronic musician Robin Edwards, the R. Seiliog nom de plume was first brought to my attention via the magical Zuckerzeit disco bouncing ‘Pysgod’ track on the 2014 CAM 1 compilation – curated by Welsh electronica siren Gwenno Saunders and Peski Records as a showcase of tracks from the Cam o’r Tywyllwch (A Step From The Darkness) radio show, broadcast both on Radio Cardiff and Resonance FM (in London). Steadily building a reputation for himself, mainly in Wales but gaining traction over the border with national airplay, Edwards brand of Kosmische, trance and techno so impressed fellow compatriots the Manic Street Preachers they let him loose on a remix of their own Teutonic electro experiment, ‘Futurology’.

His latest expansive suite of celestial peregrinations is more attuned to the contemporary tweaks of what used to be termed, under the missive, “intelligent techno”: for example the opening burst of nebula sprites and sustained release of particles ‘Myopia’ evokes hints of Basic Channel and R&S; two labels that were synonymous for their ‘cerebral’ techno experimentations in the 90s. Those kosmische vibes continue to linger though in a far more dissipated and subtle manner. However, Edwards shimmery and often with strained “downtempo” modulations share more in common with progressive dance music and trance; those throwbacks only going as far as the last two decades. On the cogs-in-motion ‘Cloddia Unterdach’ the organic suffused interplay reminds me of the Leaf Label’s more serene ambient moments, whilst the whispery veiled announcements and kinetic beat driven Maxwell Remix of ‘Static-Sun’ features an echo of Mike Dred’s roulette wheel percussion.

Searing through the cosmos building thoughtful and moody electronic paeans to the workings of the universe, Edwards’ tight, tactile musical formula creates wonders.




CaStLeS   ‘Fforesteering’
LP released 18th November 2016


Monolith Cocktail - CaStLeS 'fforesteering'

Continuing with a double-bill of releases from Wales this week, formed in the shadows of Snowdonia, the dreamy garage land meanderers CaStLeS like their fellow compatriot R. Seiliog lend a unique local lilt to their chosen genre of expression. Despite the familiar frayed searing garage organ introduction of The Glass Family, the Aquarius Age reverberations of The Beach Boys and The Letterman and the exotic Latino echoes of Los Holy’s and Laghonia, this warm vaporous, shakers suffused and harmonious backbeat is idiosyncratically Welsh.

The sibling outfit of Dion and Cynyr Hamer, which began life as a duo in 2008 before progressing through a series of manifestations, have recruited fellow countryman Calvin Thomas on bass for their debut LP, Fforesteering. Amorphously switching between the native tongue and English, they sound like a brilliant cross between a heavier Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Silver Apples on the uptempo ‘Tynnu Tuag A Y Diffeithwch’ and the Super Furry Animals picking through the best of Crosby, Stills and Nash on the acid-folk cut ‘Heed Your Desire’. Iridescent, threatening at times to melt into the pleasant valley surroundings, the trio’s soft bulletins are as energetic and driven as they are languorous and loose; played with a real effortless breeze but considered quality.

The CaStLeS wear their influences extremely well and create a free-spirited modern version of garage-psych that is informed by the group’s surroundings and culture but will resonate globally.




Sad Man   ‘Sad Man’


Monolith Cocktail - Sad Man

Experimenting with a more disturbing edger miasma of fidgety, caustic and bamboozled cogs and sprocket inventory, the regularly featured Coventry electronic music boffin Andrew Spackman wheels out his latest alter ego the Sad Man. Though always chaotic and in a state of flux, even ennui, the more familiar kooky dynamics of Spackman’s Nimzo-Indian are transmogrified into a industrial but no less quirky sonic cacophony.

Even whilst drilling a pneumatic battery-operated noise-making device into the listener’s skull, and at its most harrowing there’s a wry sense of humour at play. The opening insane ‘Perkins’, a real headache, makes way for less heavy-‘hounded’ experiments; such as the developing sonic narrative of avant-garde electronica and battering thuds ‘Stooky Bill’, and squelchy Kosmische mayhem of ‘Pink’. It all sounds very wrong, like a smorgasbord rather than circuit board is being used; the constant fluctuating, speeding up and slowing down, bending and wonky sounds threatening to break down at any second. Even when tracks begin with something approaching a resemblance of normality and sturdiness they soon vanish into caustic hisses of madness or transform into a squelchy envelope of harebrained breakbeats.

Made from mostly improvised material recycled for a loopy loony listening experience, the Sad Man is a ridiculous collection of maverick electronica that no matter how troubling, even harrowing and unfriendly is crazy: in a good way.





Hole House   ‘A Stranger In Town’
LP released via Aetheric Records


Monolith Cocktail - Hole House

Equally as disturbing though slightly less harrowing than last month’s featured Beast Mask Supremacist by the Grey Guides, Alistair Thaw as the veiled and cryptic Hole House releases another paranormal recorded document from the gloom. An Enfield haunting, a poltergeist caught on tape, A Stranger In Town is an imaginary ghost hunters investigation of the ‘goings-on’ at an abandoned VHS rental shop in West Yorkshire.

The malcontented spirits, from the quantified ‘first floor’ and attic to the metaphysical spaces, make their presence known: both loudly and clearly. Imbued with if not informed by the nihilistic horror stories of cult American author Thomas Ligotti (a suitably despondent realization of life’s futility style quote is featured on the Bandcamp page), the scene is set for a loosening bowel experience. As you’d probably gathered, musicality and instrumentation (identifiable instrumentation anyway) is absent in favour of an EMF meter and Geiger counter emitted backing gauze of fluctuating, rippling activity. Navigating a narrative Thaw cracks up the generator as he introduces the listener to the dreaded ‘A Living Room’; bringing our attention to the pulsing warning signs of ‘The Mark On The Wall’. It’s not until we reach ‘Was She A Tape Recording’ that the veil of obfuscation is lifted and we recognize echoes of a dissipating Sun O))) style dark drone. Suffused with a supernatural ambience, waves of ominous threatening disturbances and the resonance of past misdeeds and lives emerge from the shadows; sending us all scuttling towards the nearest exit. All Thaw needs now is a film to accompany his unsettling ghost hunt.






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