Essential Hip-Hop Revue: Words: Matt Oliver





Singles/EPs

The bunting’s down, the facepaint has been ruined by teardrops, the class of 2018 failed to graduate…but worry not, Rapture & Verse is here to wipe the World Cup slate clean. Starting with some jazz to get horizontal to from Talos, with Coops stopping by and making the ‘Lowlight’ EP one to reach for when your soul needs a spritz of aftersun. Cross the Final Boss and expect to get your crash helmet cracked through the seat of your pants on the intriguing ‘Renegade’, a juddering slalom mixing joypad sci-fi and rock ready to brawl, piloted by a maverick on the verge of dangerous. ‘Est 92’ has Farma and Remus putting in a diverse five-track shift and pushing chips off the old block the size of boulders that shatter the mirror dividing fantasy and reality.





Doing what he does best with all of his strong arm steadiness, Rasco’s ‘Where the Heart’s At’ stomps down, a rugged size 9 carrying a little club favour to it thanks to Tom Caruana. Unashamedly summary, The Aztext will have you a blast once ‘Everyday Sun’ hits your speakers; the honeyed hook, the pianos and horns, and rhymes rolling up their sleeves, get parasols popping. Get yourself to the low-rider showroom as well and demand a Sean Elliot paint job while you’re at it, ‘Big Boy’ a funky-assed baller blasted with Southern rays and Big Sant on the passenger side. Madison Washington continue their hot streak with the laidback ‘No Cliché’, an after-party groove with the right amount of nous behind it.




Albums

Take a look ‘Under the Patio’ and you’ll find the excellent return of The Last Skeptik, stumping up a string of vibing, dusky beats that never fade to black, understated in their genre reach. Star turns around the honeypot from Bonkaz, Mikill Pane, Cosmo, Kojey Radical and plenty more feed off the unseen electricity that eventually overloads into a sneering punk climax. An album simmering down the summer’s sticky restlessness, but Skeptik’s lot ain’t soft by a long stretch.

Micall Parknsun and Mr Thing are unequivocal on ‘Finish What We Started’, mainstays trusted with hip-hop restoration and consumed by the decency of “this is real, this is raw, this ain’t pop shit”. Park-E’s unmistakable stony flow draining stamina from challengers, and Thing adjusting the degrees of boom bap drama – including scheming countdowns and old skool windmills landing like a haymaker – have all the answers for those exaggerating hip-hop’s downfall.





‘Sugar Like Salt’ is the taste of Louis VI. A cunning operator sounding a little like Loyle Carner, the Londoner flavours the album just as the title says by working jazz angles and stories from midnight into the sunshine, and smarts from both sides of the equation. Hazy, but a firer on all cylinders. A third round of ‘Blackcurrent Jazz’ has Funky DL reaching his usual pro-jazz professionalism. Smoothness shaking out all the strains of the day comes with some refreshing twists on love and life, and even when the album’s at its most down in the mouth, the funky def lyrics can raise spirits and get a toe tapped.





Roll up roll up, Vanderslice is offering you the chance to grab ‘The Best Album Money Can Buy’. Ghostface, Freddie Gibbs, Prodigy, Slug and Evidence on guest duties up the exchange rate of the producer’s skinny set, a mob playground slash foreign film dub with Vic Spencer’s ‘Bone Museum’ the heaviest on the door, and rubbed up the wrong way by J-Zone crashing a ‘Chevrolet’.

You only have to skim through past R&V columns to see old skool institutions coming a cropper in the modern game. AG isn’t one to stumble, ensuring ‘The Taste of AMbrosia’ doesn’t lose any of that DITC flavour. “For mature rap devotees who’ve grown tired of contemporary rhymesayer laziness”, sounds like corporate blurb: “the flow is so simple but the words are so heavy” is AG chasing artificial additives out of town.

After last month’s explosion of seven track elitism, we should probably give a mention to Drake’s ‘Scorpion’. The good quality moments and educated/cryptic referencing are overcome by the usual sing-song peacocking (you don’t judge a battle by Drake out-singing Pusha T), and a tracklisting that’s in itself seems like a direct response to his competitors’ funsize selections. That hasn’t stopped it selling/streaming by the squillion, so what do we know.

Don’t expect ‘Therapeutic’ by A Minus and Chanes to take you somewhere New Age. Do expect plenty of that ol’ Detroit drowse button to blow you on course, smog soul and rhymes keeping upright but never uptight and with some good plots to pore over. One to spend time on the couch with. An even bigger smoke break with levels submerged until eyes turn red, MIKE’s ‘Renaissance Man’, with a Guilty Simpson-esque swagger, teeters through heavy cloud cover, an unfazed baritone dragging the lapse-hop project up by its bootlaces. Roughness around the edges that can still strike a chord with the keep it realists. No nonsense, WYSIWYG, Ronseal hip-hop from Scoob Rock – ‘Be You’ is his uncomplicated proclamation, and he follows his own advice with a weathered, hoarse flow dipping into a patois that maintains a snake-like squeeze on the beats. Will stare you down, administer a one punch TKO before continuing about his day.

L’Orange continues his long and successful run of collaborative albums with ‘Marlowe’, in partnership with fellow North Carolinan Solemn Brigham. As usual the producer’s beats are full of character, detailing colourful scenarios, surprise witnesses and funkiness found in every archive discovery. Brigham clamps the mic from the get-go and is an imperious ringleader to the circus, challenging but never difficult. Both excel in never revealing what’s steaming around the next corner, even when you’ve grabbed your tooth comb for the umpteenth time.






Mixtapes/remix LPs

Fans have thought it; purists have wished for it, speculators have theorized it – a whole album of Nas rhyming over DJ Premier beats. Shortee Blitz and Turkish Dcypha give you a taste of what might have been (and what still could be), their dexterous, catalogue-cherry picking ‘NaSir’ mash-up supplying enough theoretical bangers to get petitioners for the real thing hot under the collar. Not to be outdone, the Steel Town Sounds Crew remix their own Nas favourites, prepared to push out the boat and up the risk factor (as well as keep the peace) with a collection of familiarities and the lesser picked – worth a listen on a name your price basis. Golden agers wanting some of that DITC TNT for the ear are in luck as well. Donnie Propa steps back up to the mixtape plate for a ‘Diggin in the Crate Cave’ double sider, Big L, Fat Joe, OC and co replayed in all their suede Timbs and sleigh bells finery. 90s quality to make your jeans that lil’ bit baggier.

Two DOOM features to gaze at: one with DJ Muggs and Freddie Gibbs, the other overseeing the Youth of the Apocalypse. Plus Wiki and Your Old Droog hit the city.










Words: Matt Oliver


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Playlist: Selection and words: Gianluigi Marsibilio 




Gianluigi Marsibilio Weekly Playlist Report #1

All the best new record releases can be found on this new weekly Monolith Cocktail playlist. Everything is shaken with the right doses and we will let you discover the best pearls of the international music scene on a weekly basis. My name is Gianluigi Marsibilio and given my Italian origins, I will hopefully draw your attention to what is going on in my country musically.

The selection opens with the Murmurmur, super environmental rock and continues with pieces closely linked to the delicate and refined sound of the guitar.

Silky and hypnotic melodies intertwine and come to life in songs like Her’s.

These 15 tracks make sense if we can think and drag them into a world on the edge, underground and where the union and the mix of genres matches with creativity and cultural uniqueness.

In the fast burst intertwine pieces of prodigious and precocious artists such as Dusk and Bodega, we find authors of one of the best debuts in the history of contemporary Indian rock.

In a moment of absolute female renaissance, in which we can see the success of Soccer Mommy, Frankie Cosmos or Snail Mail, we point out Laura Jean Anderson and Clairo.

In the middle of the playlist I insert an all-Italian share with Mecna, one of the most eclectic of Italian rappers. I think a report like this is useful in understanding how, even the music of the tired European continent, is evolving towards new sounds.

See you next week. In the meantime tell us your thoughts and what you think of this edition’s weekly playlist.

Gianluigi Marsibilio


Album Review: Words: Phil Vanderyken




Fatoumata Diawara ‘Fenfo’  (Republic Of Music)  Available Now

This is such a beautiful record.

For every action there is a re-action. As bigotry, xenophobia and ultra-nationalism appear to be gaining ground all over the Western world, there is also a surprisingly fast growing popularity for what once would have been called “world music”, that is, music from anywhere but the UK or the US. In the age of globalization and a hyper-connected world, it’s only logical that human beings from very different parts of the world discover each other’s culture and all kinds of interesting and new musical hybrids are springing up. And there is a growing audience for it.

Immigration is of course, the key development that is making this happen. It brings us bands like The Turbans and the Brickwork Lizards in the UK who make a kind of music that is truly multicultural, bringing together British musicians with first and second-generation immigrants, communicating through the universal language that is music. In the US, Kronos Quartet collaborated with Trio da Kali from Mali on their stellar album Ladilikan, a multicultural mini-masterpiece.

Multiculturalism has also been making inroads into pop music. In France, pop star Indira is of Algerian, Cambodian, Egyptian and Indian descent. Her music pulls influences from hip hop, reggae, gypsy swing, raga and more to create a unique style of irresistible pop music that has been very successful.

Fatoumata Diawara’s case is somewhat different. The actress, singer and musician was born in Ivory Coast of Malian parents before immigrating to Paris as a teenager in order to escape the pressures of her traditionalist family. Fatoumata sings in her native language, and her music is deeply rooted in her culture. Her first album Fatou could be described as acoustic African pop and received praise from the likes of Pitchfork. In contrast Fenfo, her second album, incorporates elements of pop, funk, and rock into a very popular hybrid that has wooed audiences in Europe and the US while still very much remaining quintessentially African.

I first became aware of Fatoumata through the beautiful music video for her song ‘Nterini’, the opening track, a very moving and current song about a refugee who has been separated from his beloved, trying to make his way to a better future for himself and his family.

Fatoumata does not shy away from controversial topics. She sings about slavery, female genital mutilation, a practice that is still very common in Africa today, and the ban on marriages between different ethnic groups. But she does so without rancour or negativity, and her music is deeply joyous and full of life, practically jumping out of the speakers.

‘Kokoro’ is the kind of desert blues popularized by the Touareg guitarist Bombino, featuring soaring psychedelic lead guitar like Hendrix camped out in the Sahara.

‘Mama’ is a tender acoustic ballad with acoustic guitar and majestic cello, over which Fatoumata’s world-weary vocals hover and soar.

‘Bonya’ is the most poppy track of the album, with a sing along chorus and a solid funk vibe that would not sound out of place on a Suffers record. Sweetly meandering guitar lines keep bringing the listener’s mind back to the steppes and townships of Africa.

As if to drive home the virtuosic eclecticism of this release, ‘Dibi Bo’ sounds like a mix of Afropop and Motown, whereas ‘Don Do’ is a subdued ending to the album, another acoustic offering that combines guitar and cello, showcasing Fatoumata’s stunning vocal delivery one last time.

Fenfo is an ambitious, far-reaching record that combines many strands of music while remaining firmly rooted in African culture. There is nothing ‘naïve’ about the album’s sunny optimism and joyous energy. Rather, it is a stubborn celebration of life, in spite of all the challenges, hardships and ugliness one faces. Fenfo is a deeply spiritual declaration of love for the world and everyone in it. This album makes me happy and gives me hope for the future.





Words: Phil Vanderyken

REVIEWS ROUNDUP/ WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




Welcome to Dominic Valvona’s regular reviews roundup. This latest edition of Tickling Our Fancy includes albums, EPs and singles by Rat The Magnificent, Papernut Cambridge, Kumo, Deben Bhattacharya, Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami, Moa Mckay, Crayola Lectern and Ippu Mitsui.

Interesting releases from across the world and music spectrums; Tickling Our Fancy is my most eclectic of reviews roundups. With no themes, demarcations of any kind, or reasoning other than providing a balanced platform for the intriguing, the great and at times, most odd releases, I bring you this month’s selection.

Electronic music composer extraordinaire Jono Podmore is back under the guises of Kumo with another serialism styled field recording, released through the London-based cassette tape label, Tapeworm; Rat The Magnificent rock, grunge, drone and grind their way through a new caustic shoegaze and industrial album, The Body As Pleasure; ARC Music sift through more of the celebrated late ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya’s archives to bring us the fifth edition of their Musical Explorers series, Waves Of Joy/Bauls From Bengal, and also bring us a mesmerizing album of Kurdish traditional performances, Melodic Circles, by the Iranian cousins Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami; the Gare Du Nord label’s unofficial house band, Papernut Cambridge, return with another enviable ensemble led songbook of Glam Rock, Psych and poetic resignation, honouring the late polymath maverick scientist and utopian dreamer, Richard Buckminster Fuller; the enchanting quivery psychedelic bathers, Crayola Lectern, return with a new album of ghostly voiced heartbreak, ‘Happy Endings’. We also have the new peppy modern soul pop fusion EP from Moa McKay and friends, Illusions Of A Dream, and a more relaxed, calming electronic cruise from the Tokyo composer Ippu Mitsui.


Rat The Magnificent  ‘The Body As Pleasure’  TTWD Records,  21st June 2018

Not as the name suggests, celebrating their rodent status whilst scratching like vermin at the bin bags in the gutter, as more guttural with seething yearning, Rat The Magnificent claw away in melodically dark despair on the new album, The Body As Pleasure. The noisy rock trio both clash and ponder on a grinding synthesis of pain, regret and isolation; dragging an impressive chorus of guest drone, grunge, shoegaze and post-rock exponents behind them. For the record, at any one time either caustic twiddling guitar, sonorous bass notes and harrowing longing vocals from Future Of The Left and Art Brut wingman Ian Gatskilkin, My Bloody Valentine and Graham Coxon band member Jen Marco and Hot Sauce Pony’s Caroline Gilchrist appear alongside a number of guest contributors – another Gilchrist for one, Stephen Gilchrist of Graham Coxon, The Damned and the Cardiacs infamy, being just one of the many.

That main catalyst and drive however is pendulously swung and elliptically (especially on the off-set rotation of the increasingly unhinged and entangled ‘Where You Been’) powered by the maverick trio maelstrom. Yet it’s a maelstrom of both fuzzed-up sinister prowling and melodious sensibilities. Like a Nordic sounding Thom Yorke drowning in a heavy dynamism of Swans, Interpol and Death From Above 1979 one minute, and plaintively following the contours of The Telescopes drones the next, the band conjure up all kinds of heavy rock and indie-on-steroids splinters, from The Birthday Party to DEUS, Marilyn Manson and the Archers Of Loaf.

Though the forebode and drone of songs like the skate punk Muse meets slacker rock ‘Olon’ and the Nick Cave No More Shall We Part swooned and trilled female vocalized like ‘Inevitable’ there’s a hint of lovelorn despair and confession. The most subdued dissipation, and oddest of finales, is the piano-accompanied-by-a-strange-crunching-Foley-sound ‘Panarron’, which stripes away the vortex of industrial anguish for an esoteric ambient soliloquy; the vocals so hushed as to be barely audible, as if the singer’s run out of steam, enervated and worn out: everything now off his chest, relieved yet fucked.

Noisy and caustic for sure, yet full of surprises (even space-age alpha wave synth on one track) The Body As Pleasure contorts and channels the energetic chaos through a prism of relief and accentuated tinkering. An illusion to all manner of references, the rodent’s left scurrying in the aftermath pick at the morsels to deliver a most intense album.




Papernut Cambridge  ‘Outstairs Instairs’  Gare Du Nord,  29th June 2018

 

The first full length album since 2016’s generous carrier-bag packaged Love The Things Your Lover Love, the Ian Button instigated cottage industry, known as the Anglo-French romanticized Gare Du Nord, finally releases a follow-up from the label’s unofficial house band, Papernut Cambridge. Like a session group but made-up of mostly deft and critically applauded artists in their own rights, Button’s ragtag group of friends, acquaintances and label mates includes such refined minstrels and troubadours as Darren Hayman, Robert Rotifer, Jack Hayter, Emma Watson and Ralegh Long. This already enviable ensemble is broadened by the Hunky Dory period piano accents and Mike Garson plays Gershwin flourishes of pianists Terry Miles and Luke Smith, smatterings of Malcolm Doherty’s recorder arrangements, Sterling Roswell’s synth and the wailing, squawking and slinking Roxy Music saxophone of Stabs Mackenzie.

In a convoluted family tree style, this cast has consistently overlapped on a myriad of projects and releases; all emanating from Button’s end of the London train line HQ on the borders of Kent. As with that previous album and incarnation, the Papernut Cambridge conveys idiosyncratic tragedies, injustices and heartache through an often wistful and whimsical prism of 1970s musical nostalgia; the cut-off point of their inspiration and influence being the change over from the snug hazy security of late 60s to mid 70s Top Of The Pops, beaming and disarming the gender-bending teenage angst of Glam and Art Rock through a fond afterglow, to the petulant arrival of punk. Certainly nostalgic and cosy then, Outstairs Instairs builds a rich melody and frequent Glam-beat stonk around its deeper themes of loss, anger, resentment and malady. Yet with quintessential English humour dragging Button and his cast from feeling despondent and conceited, lyrics often finish with a subtle note of resigned wit to snap the protagonists and listener from despair: The Hollies conducting an elegiac service of remembrance styled ‘No Pressure’ pays a fond and warm homage to Button’s late father; humble recollections of dad’s sagacious advice to tickling ivory is saved from over-sentimentality by the final line of the song, “Sometimes you have to cater for cunts!”

As referencing goes, conducing the maverick utopia and inventive theorems of the late American scientist polymath Richard Buckminster Fuller takes some doing. Yet, from borrowing his, perhaps, far too over-analyzed (and thought) but astronomically accurate method of describing the actions of going up or down a staircase – going as far as to cleverly cut the vinyl version of this album so each side mirrors this spiraling rotation – for an album title to framing the name given in his honour for a carbon molecular, the ‘Fullercenes’, as a metaphor for the charged chemistry of love on the starry Alvin Stardust-Mott The Hoople-Bowie-esque opening track, Papernut Cambridge weave their icons and cerebral pining’s into articulate hazy pop. Though, making concessions for, as I’ve already remarked, 60s beat groups, psych and even grown-up rock’n’roll blues, the Nuts graze Goats Head Soup era Stones romantic weeping on ‘How To Love Someone’, and waft in their honky tonk Orleans boogie on the pastoral garden party ‘House Of Pink Icing’.   On the Victoriana fairground knees-up comes sad tale of the “best dog in Battersea”, ‘Angelo Eggy’, they sound like a mongrel-breed of the Alex Harvey Band, Wings and Marmalade, and on the St. Peter-as-overburdened-civil-servant ‘New Forever’, they reimagine Highway 61 Revisited Dylan fronts The Soup Dragons or early The Charlatans. You can also expect to hear at any one time in the mix, hints of Edison Lighthouse, Fleetwood Mac, Cockney Rebel and The Rubettes.

From ill fated, nee cursed, characters to the all too-real forgotten victims of industry and losers in life, the Papernut Cambridge envelop pain and resignation in a warm caring blanket of nostalgic and beautifully crafted pop music. With an ensemble to die for, this is a sweetened if sad album of cherished memories and augurs to come; a missing link between 70s Top Of The Pops annuals, Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane Bowie, Glam Rock and I Can See For Miles’ halcyon English songwriting compilations. A most magnificent return from a most maverick of outfits.






Crayola Lectern  ‘Happy Endings’  Onomatopoeia,  1st June 2018

 

Bathing in the same South Downs of Southeast England water, even if it’s further west along the coastline at Worthing, as the gentle psych imbued outfits Electric Soft Parade and The Fiction Aisle, the Chris Anderson instigated Crayola Lectern embark on a most pastoral, stirring malady on the group’s second album, Happy Endings.

Featuring band members and guest spots from the former of those two Brighton bands, but also a trio from London stalwarts, The Cardiacs, the Crayola Lectern fondly and nostalgically absorb a cannon of rich 1960s psychedelia, seaside vaudeville, dancehall tea parties and quintessential irreverent witty eccentricity. Gazing through the pea green sea-like gauze-y sepia of the album’s cover (a photo of Anderson’s grandmother on her wedding day), revisiting old ghosts to a vague backing of early Floyd, Robert Wyatt, and even at times a spot of Family, Anderson moves amorphously through time whilst alluding to a rafter of contemporary problems: One of the overriding sentiments of which, gleamed from the beautifully hazy melodious piano led, and cherubic sung, opener ‘Rescue Mission’, is that love is really all; but whatever this self-centered world throws at you, “Don’t let the buggers bring you down.”

 Diaphanously played throughout, softened, occasionally venerable and choral with dreaming visages of mellotron, trumpet and finely cast musical spells, the album can seem like it’s being summoned from the ether and beyond. Emerging from a burial-at-sea like seaweed covered aquatic specters on the ode to a ‘Submarine’ metaphor (which even includes lines in Latin), or caught in a nursery rhyme loop, lying in bed each night thinking of the inevitable, the theme of death is always close at hand; but handled with sighing reassurance and the comforting strains of a dashing about lullaby.

From end-of-the-pier shows to séances on a wet afternoon, the nostalgic quaintness of Happy Endings dips its toes into vibrato like waters, with shades of The Beach Boys Surf’s Up on ‘Secrets’, and presence of a lapping tide on the theatrical pining and beautiful ‘Barbara’s Persecution Complex’. A general ebb and flow motion, not just rhythmically and musically but in the relationship between an almost childlike innocence and the sagacious meditations of experience, is suffused throughout; though breakouts of rock opera, ascendant spiraling and more dramatic loveliness do splash about in the psychedelic mysterious waters. And on the title track, though it’s prefixed in brackets with ‘(No More)’, there’s an allusion to alien visitors that could be read as a metaphor for the illegal alien otherness of not starbound extraterrestrials but migrants, refugees and even our cousins across the Channel.

Conveying the mood and plaguing anxieties of the past and contemporary; circumnavigating the choppy waters of uncertainty; Anderson and his troupe effortlessly exude a subtle elegance and enchanting charm to produce a gauze-y psychedelic melodrama. Lush and quivery, Anderson’s vocals almost ghostly heartbreaking throughout, the piano played with an understated but emotive caring patience, Happy Endings is a peaceably beauty of a minor opus.






Various  ‘Musical Explorers: Waves Of Joy/Bauls From Bengal: Field Recordings By Deben Bhattacharya’  ARC Music,  25th May 2018

If you’re a regular visitor to my reviews roundup then you might already be familiar with ARC Music’s Musical Explorer series: celebrating the work of pioneering ethnomusicologists, and currently sifting through the renowned archives of the late Indian field recordist and filmmaker, Deben Bhattacharya.

The fifth volume in this series once again delves into the rich vaults of material Bhattacharya captured when travelling his native Indian homeland: Other volumes highlight his recordings from Taiwan and Tibet; though he recorded in a multitude of locations and countries during his career.

Settling in London at the turn of the 1950s with mixed results (though after juggling many jobs, finally able to make a living from documenting exotic music, at the time mostly unknown to Western ears), Bhattacharya made many return trips, especially to his birthplace of Benares in Bengal. Previous editions in this explorers series (Colours Of Raga, Krishna In Spring) have either included or alluded to music from the region, and the dual film/audio recordings of Waves Of Joy/Bauls From Bengal is no different.

Amateurish and make-do by the technical standards of today, Bhattacharya’s ’12-volt battery’ powered laden ‘one-man mobile’ recording apparatus still magically captures the most unpretentious in-situ purity of performances. In natural surroundings, the majority in adulation or paean to spiritualist guidance and, not exclusively by any means, Hinduism, these timeless recordings seem to have been caught serendipitously: the opposite of staged, directed and scholarly.

 

Recorded before his death in 2001, the audio part of this package features a revolving troupe of players performing the spiritual enlightened poetics of the traditional holy wandering minstrels known as the Baul. Translated from the original Sanskrit word for ‘vatula’ or ‘mad’ – though in this case a kind of entranced devotional madness -, these sagacious weavers of philosophical devotion study the ambiguity between divine and sensual love; unburdened by established religion or dogma. Finding a commonality with the Sufis, and especially the ideas of the Persian mystic Rumi, the Baul’s song (also known as ‘bauls’, which can be confusing) are filled with poetic worship, but always stating humbleness, offering nothing other than love as the opening ‘Doya Kore Esho’, sung in exultation by Robi Das Baul, exemplifies:

How shall I adore Thy feet – incomparable?

No prayer or dedication have I

O gracious one!

No devotion,

nor wisdom do appear within my heart of hearts,

Bid farewell to my joylessness,

Give me more joy

In this humble abode of my heart.

 

Analogies to a “shoreless sea” and the desirable banks of joyful aspiration and nirvana that meet its waves coupled with symbolist fauna, dealing with death, and the conversion of lost souls to whatever guru is being venerated flow throughout this collection’s fourteen track songbook on a buoyant bending and dipping rhythmical accompaniment. Beautifully sung, hollering and soaring even, a quintet of baul minstrels take turns, accompanied by atavistic instrumentation. An intrinsic feature of which is the tucked under the arm ‘anandalahari’, a tabla like tension drum with a plucked string. Held tightly in one arm, the player can pull on a small knob to stretch this string whilst using his other hand to pluck away with a plectrum. Its bending resonance can be heard alongside the one-string drone ‘ektara’, fretless long-necked lute like ‘dotara’, small metal pellet ankle bells chiming ‘ghungru’, bamboo flute ‘banshi’ and tied around the waist clay kettle drum, the ‘duggi’.

All recorded in Shantiniketan, an area synonymous with baul history, these performances feature compositions from such revered gurus as the 19th century mystic/poet Lalon Shah Fakir and Matam Chand Gosain, but also more contemporary figures, such as the film actor and folk musician Mujib Paradeshi and lyricist, composer Bhaba Pagla: It all sounds timeless however, with only a subtle allocation made for more modern themed metaphors.

The documentary, filmed in 1973, is a grainy but colourful informative (if slightly stiff in narration) highlight, featuring as it does the Kenduli Mela festival in West Bengal. A huge momentous musical and religious gathering, it’s held at the birthplace of the famous poet Jaidev in the Birbhum district, attracting, as you’ll see, a myriad of baul ensembles. Probably unrecognizable today – in fact Simon Broughton, of Songlines fame, and the author of this compilation’s linear notes, remarks on its built-up modernity – the plains and riverside of Kenduli in the 1970s is agrarian with the only transport in sight, a multitude of ox pulled carts. Reading out poetic, wise lyrics whilst moving the camera from temples to villages and bazaars, the narrator informs and explains not only the folklore and myths of the baul, but also the basics of the instruments and songs. The message of this study is of the individual’s pursuit in communing with their spiritual guide unburdened by barriers, as the words, read out whilst resting the camera on the icon carvings of a temple sum up so well:

The road to you is barricaded with temples and mosques

I hear you calling my lord, but cannot reach you.

Teachers, preachers and prophets bar the way.  

 

Both revelatory and insightful, an education you could say, Bhattacharya’s extensive archives showcase Indian music at its most venerable and spiritual. A snapshot on the devotional and a survey on the baul phenomenon this latest stimulating Musical Explorers package is a visual and audio treat.




Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami  ‘Melodic Circles: Urban Classical Music From Iran’ ARC Music, 27th July 2018

 

The second ARC Music release to grab my attention this month, the entrancing circular and eastern mirage rippling evocations of the Mehdi & Adib Rostami cousins bring a certain modernity to the classical ‘urban’ music of their homeland, Iran. Tensions between Iran (both with the nebulas and all too real physical influences) and its neighbours in the region, and of course the West, have never been shakier; especially with the recent collapse of the ‘nuclear deal’ and renewal of sanctions, but also with its military presence in Syria and the Yemen. And with the roots of the Rostami cousins’ performances deriving from the Kurdish music of Iran’s Fars province (‘widely considered’, as the liner notes suggests, ‘the cultural capital of Iran’; it is indeed the original home of the Persian people after all) you can’t help but think of the controversies and complexities that hound the Kurdish people in a number of violent flashpoints; most of which derive from the fight for an independent state: though not all Kurds are involved or even agree on the issue.

It makes a change then, to celebrate rather than hector or feel despondent about Iranian culture; ARC Music shedding a light on a positive, magical aspect of the country and its musicians; showcasing, as they do, the technical and creative improvisational skills of the Rostami maestros.

Conventionally divided into two general branches; one deriving from the ethnic minorities (which also includes Nomadic traditions), each with its own distant musical system, the second, and what you’ll hear on this album, is the urban tradition, though it’s a much later style: the ‘radif-e dastgāhi’. Passed down orally, the, what seems like an amalgamation of systems and ‘melodic circles’ structures (so named for the manner in which these Iranian melodies link together to form ‘circles’), ‘radif’ is traditionally divided into ‘instrumental and vocal music’. A serious dedication is needed, as each student of this system must learn their art with a number of masters; the ultimate goal of which, we’re told, is ‘for the musician to cultivate, through many years of practice and performance, the capacity to improvise, wherein ideally, the musician would create a new work in each performance.’ Not just able scions of that learning but international artists of repute and masters of their chosen Iranian instruments, the long-necked, plucked lute ‘setār’ and goblet-shaped drum, the ‘tombak’, the cousins studied with a wealth of talent. Mehdi began playing the wooden fretted setār at the tender age of six, going on to study under the tutelage of Mohammadreza Lofi and Hossein Alizadeh, and take a ‘masterclass’ with Kayhan Kalhor, whilst Adib started out learning the principal percussion instrument, the tombak, on his own before later taking lessons and refining his technique with Mohammed Ghodsi and Pejman Hadadi. He also studied the Iranian fiddle, the ‘kamancheh’, with Roozbeh Asadian and Lofi, and as his cousin did, took masterclasses with Kalhor.

Performing several times in the UK, including as part of the BBC Proms season and with the Syrian ‘qanum’ player Maya Youssef, under the Awj Trio collaboration, the cousins are calling this album their first official release. An album in two parts, subdivided into a trio and a quartet of various passages, Melodic Circles is essentially a contemporary interpretation of the atavistic Kurdish ‘Bayāt-e Tork’ and ‘Bayāt-e Esfahān’ cycles. Though following the handed-down prompts of these age old ‘modes’, they imbue their versions with deft improvisation; breathing in the atmosphere and mood of their surroundings and feelings on the day of the recordings to offer something organic and fresh.

‘Circle One’, comprised of three separate chapters, arises from the Persian epoch with a spindled trickle of ancient evocations; cantering and rolling when the rapid tub-thumping percussion joins in, beside the waters of the Fertile Crescent. The opening section, ‘Nostalgia’, alludes musically to another era, mystical and timeless but unmistakably played out in the present. It’s followed by any equally dusty mirage of enchantment and cascading dripping plucked notes on the travelling ‘Journey’; which, by the end of its perusal, turns a trickle into a flood.

The final piece of that trilogy, ‘Delight’, dashes straight in with a speedy, mesmerizing display of blurry percussion; the lute gliding and entrancing until locking into a circular loop, resonating with brass-y echoes and spiraling nuances.

The second ‘circle’, featuring a quartet of pieces, opens with the longing ‘Lonely’. Romantic gestures, ripples and vibrations gather momentum until reaching a crescendo and dissipating, on this dusky earthy track. Picking up on the intensity, ‘Life’ is like an energetic camel trot across mirage shimmered deserts, whilst, reaching tranquil, less galloping, waters ‘Past’ is the musing respite before the frenzied hypnotic circulations of the ‘Mystic Dance’ spin into play.

Caught in the moment, feeding off each other whilst channeling their intensive studies, the cousins perform with dexterous, masterful skill and a sense of freedom. Melodic Circles faithfully keeps the traditions of the Rostami’s native heritage alive in a contemporary setting; a heritage that is seldom celebrated in the West, especially in such trying times, yet proves an intoxicating experience of discovery.



Kumo  ‘Day/Night’  Tapeworm

 

Releasing a myriad of ‘micro-scale’ peregrinations via his revitalized imprint Psychomat and now through the London-based cassette tape label Tapeworm, Jono Podmore once again channels his longest running alter-ego as Kumo for another serialism style trip into the unknown.

Finding a suitable home for his latest experiment with the highly conceptual Tapeworm (a label with an aloof roster of projects from serious thinkers and avant-garde artists alike, including the late Derek Jarman, Stephen O’Malley, Philip Jeck and Can’s one time front-of-house shaman, Damo Suzuki), the professor of ‘popular music practice’ at Cologne’s Hochschule für Musik, sometime Irmin Schmidt foil and guiding light of the Can legacy (the recent Lost Tapes being just one project he helped put together and produce), and founding instigator of the rebellious analogue adventurers Metamono, imbues a set of field recordings with decades of electronic experience.

Lifting off from the concrete of terra firma into alien Kosmische amorphous realms, his Day/Night moiety converts the environmental sounds (from mopeds to barking dogs, the sonorous bass boom of a subwoofer drifting from a car stereo, to city landscape birds squawking and commercial airplanes flying overhead) he recorded from the balcony of his South East London flat into something often mysterious and even at times transient. Both tracks are undulated with Tangerine Dream ambient machinations and oscillations, and ethereal siren trilled Theremin: left to linger, waft and occasionally ascend above the looming hovering clouds.

There are subtle differences between the two aspects of the same day of course; the movements and appearance of nocturnal wildlife and the human inhabitation of Podmore’s estate reverberate on the ‘Night’ recording; inverted owl-like signature sound and orbiting satellites overlap with darker stirrings and the visage shimmers of an unknown presence.

A Kosmische and avant-garde electronic panorama, viewed from a concrete vantage point, Podmore’s efflux styled synthesis convolutes the 360-degree city environment with engineered sounds to create another quality ambient drone and kinetic recording. If you like early Cluster (Kluster even), TD, Orb, even early Kraftwerk, and a lifetime of cerebral techno minimalism then track this tape down. You better be quick though, as it’s limited to only 125 copies!



Moa McKay ‘Illusions Of A Dream’  29th June 2018

Though I know absolutely nothing about – what sounds to my ears like a sassy bubblegum soulstress with millennial pep – the pop-y soul singer Moa McKay, the lilting but deep grooves of the opening track from her summery new EP, wafting from my speakers, immediately caught my attention when I first heard it recently: alluringly intriguing, drawing me.

Though the lingering breezy jazz tones may evoke Frank era Amy Winehouse with a tinge of American R&B, McKay actually hails from Stockholm and resides in Berlin: a city that doesn’t exactly scream soul. Earlier material, from what I can deduce, is more in the mode of Scandi-pop heartbreak; sung in McKay’s native dialect. With a fresh outlook and collaborating with a trio of musicians that includes guitarist Tristan Banks, drummer Gabriele Gabrin and bass player Per Monstad, McKay now expands her vocal range on an EP’s worth of summertime retro soul pop hits.

Sounding as effortless and floaty as that summer breeze she arrives on, this smoky lounge meets urban suite is rich with nice little funk licks and twangs, rolling jazzy blues percussion and a live feel backing. R&B heartache with attitude, she weaves the woes and travails – from first person perspective to looking in from the outside – of relationships in the modern age. She won’t take any crap mind: channeling as she does, the steely women of 1960s soul and turning the “tramp” put-down on its head.

A modern take on the sort of fusion soul and jazz that the Talkin’ Loud label used to pump out in the 90s, but with nods to the original blueprints, McKay and her partners create a brilliant EP of pliable, melodious and sophisticated sun-dappled soul and pop.




Ippu Mitsui  ‘Shift Down EP’  Submarine Broadcasting Company, 6th July 2018

Atypical of EPs from the mysterious Tokyo-based composer of quirky ennui electronica, Ippu Mitsui’s latest transmission, as the title suggests, is a (gear)‘shift down’ from his usual broken-up, bit-y and effects cornucopia signature style of dance music. Choosing to flow and relax on a neon-glowed cruise through a quartet of both nocturnal prowls and sunset beckoning castaways, Mitsui’s kooky visions summon evocations of a Leaf Label soundtracked Drive, or Warp transmogrified Tokyo Drift: a pulse, you could say, perfect for motoring runs across an Akira illustrated cityscape.

Still throwing us curve-balls; bending and morphing, twisting and turning; changing the odd note for example on a bass run; despite throwing us occasionally, our enigmatic producer creates his most peaceful suite yet. From hanging out the back of a Sega games console 16-bit pixelated sports car on the title track, to imagining the Yellow Magic Orchestra pumping out from an 1980s West Coast lowrider stereo on ‘Squeeze 87’, and navigating early Aphex Twin and futurist Baroque on ‘Rotation’, Mitsui melds TR-808 electro and acid Techno with swelling strings to once again soundscape his own imaginations.

Idiosyncratic, sophisticated and plowing his own furrow, this emerging talent remains a well-kept secret on the electronic music scene. Hopefully, translating from his native Japan, and distributed in the last couple of years through independent UK labels and platforms, such as Bearsuit Records and, on this latest release, the Submarine Broadcasting Company, he’ll now reach a much wider audience at last.





Istanbul writer, Ayfer Simms new column of music reviews.





Here’s the premise: We throw loads of new music releases at our contributor in Istanbul, the Franco-Turkish writer (currently working for the French Institute, and in the middle of writing her second novel) Ayfer Simms, and wait for the lyrical, literature-rich responses. Currently deflated, with the worse kind of despondent hangover after the results of Turkey’s recent elections, Ayfer finds sanctuary, joy, solace, sense and escape in the music of Canshaker Pi, Simon Love, Pete Astor, St. Jude The Obscure and Soft Science, on her daily journey across the Bosphorus.

Ayfer Simms:

I am far from the tumult of the western cities, buzzing with the sound of many musicians and artists trying to make it out there.

I listen to these bands on the Bosphorus, crossing from one shore to the other on my way to work each day. No matter what day of the year it is, the sea always shimmers and is for us “Istanbullulars” the mirror of all our thoughts, and therefor of those bands that arrive to me via the Monolith Cocktail.

One morning, Pete Astor transported me to a breezy afternoon, made for cups of tea and literature and love. And lightness, and hope, and grass, apple green, for melodies as fresh as the pine on a festive tree, sprayed with golden metallic dust. Pete Astor’s details, pop, clock and gentleness soothes me, you or anyone else who dares to be gloomy. Deep Wild West, regular beats, enough to go on smoothly rocking the past or present. It does not matter; just raise that glass with Pete.

Sharply intuitive Pete has a gentle soul. The guitar is reassuring, going country at times, Indie, brandy, chilling, happy and ever so romantic. “You better dream” is perhaps a mundane message for you if you’re sitting in a grey office with no hope of ever escaping your much needed boring work, yet, it works if like me you live under a dictatorship. Dreaming chases all our demands; gives courage, makes the impossible come true. I’ve looked at the shiny sea while crossing with my headset on and listened to Pete’s bright songs, and it made me jolly. Even though ‘golden boy’ rules the country, we dream away with those who rise a glass to beauty.





Days after that I was just strolling to catch the boat, and a real explosion happened with St. Jude the Obscure, the tunes capable of taking veins, like riverbeds out of their courses and through ants and bees, a sensation of fire and bites, impossible to ignore or not care, as I turned my eyes toward the sea, in the faint hope of seeing dolphins – they come out real early in the morning- but with these notes I threw the book I was reading in my bag and stood up in the middle of the boat and danced to the music: euphoric. Or could have done it very easily. In the same line, I cursed my poor Wifi connection and slid my fingers on the phone to get a non-connected version of their songs and couldn’t get to it. There’s one spot on the Bosphorus where you are not “connected” because it’s the sea and it is so vast, so I entered a stage of panic. Repeated the same tracks. Communed with nature. Got elevated. I’ve been playing them at parties (the few free Spotify tracks) and can’t get enough.



A different kind of energy with Canshaker Pi as they roll up and down on a broken escalator; they shout, with pots and string less guitars, or rave on rock n roll in your neighbour’s basement – in my case on the boat next door, to wake up everyone: rise and shine early my friend. And then the rave becomes a head shaking grunge ballad on the shore of your city, at that spot where it is ok to drink cheap wine-dog killer – and be cool. Any way you look at it, Canshaker Pi is noisy-good – and rebellious with it.



Here is a proper “pop” maker: Simon Love is a very British one (at least by the sound of it), soft voice, of that theatrical-semi comique style breed, he takes revenge on his past in the one (free) tune released on the internet. A good little listen if you don’t want to dig too far and too deep into your own mood. It’s quiet witty, and romantic in its own special way.



Ethereal, longing, serene, let yourself glide with the Soft Science’s contemplative pop rock. I found this single a perfect way of ignoring reality outside my window: Exotic and compelling melodies, enough energetic and firm guitar presence to tie your arms behind your back and stay there, waiting to learn what your fate will be. The lead singer’s voice is sweet and crispy, palatable and eatable: Yum.





Today I am not taking my usual boat. I am staying in, mourning the total end of democracy in Turkey after yesterday’s election and the re-election of the dictator. He said, “Democracy won”. What are we to do? Stay fearless and keep the music flowing.

Ayfer Simms


Premiere: Review: Words: Dominic Valvona 




Vukovar  ‘Infinitum’   Le Recours Forêts Production, 8th July 2018

Not since Richey Edwards etched ‘4 Real’ in blood across his arm, or Ian Curtis decided to hang himself have artists and bands taken themselves so seriously and to such extremes to prove their commitment to a musical cause; or even before that, checked out of for good at the ’27 club’. The romantically despondent and incredulous Vukovar are, in this non-committal age of vacuous validation and smoke, very much cut from that same cloth. Even their band name is taken from a most serious harrowing episode of modern barbarism: Vukovar the infamous and harrowing Croatian city where 300 poor souls, mostly Muslims, were rounded up and barbarically executed by Serb paramilitaries and the Yugoslav Peoples Army (the worst committed atrocity of its kind since WWII) during the implosive Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Easily one of the UK underground’s most promising bands, if not among the most important in the last five years, Vukovar have already produced a sizable catalogue of material; though each release barely has time to sink into the public consciousness before another ambitious epic replaces it. Infinitum is unquestionably one of the band’s deepest, darkest and mysterious records yet; inspired no doubt by recent events and the wearisome ebb and flow of jeopardy that surrounds them. Living by their art – almost dying by it in fact -, Vukovar are not to be taken lightly.

Consistently snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and hardly adverse to self-sabotage, Vukovar have despite countless mishaps, frustrations and fall-outs managed to release a quartet of three-syllable sloganize entitled albums of morbid Gothic and post-punk curiosity in that time. Their latest, and fifth, Infinitum pulls at the mortal coil of human misery in a murky quagmire. An endless backing track of reverberating delayed snare strikes, a rolling timpani bounding bass drum, esoteric stately sounding waltzes, unwieldy bestial guitar, resigned new romantic synth and escaped melodies muddily, and often amorphously, swim and oscillate around a combination of longing, if worn down and depressed, swooning vocals and Rimbaud-meets-Crowley-meets-Kant-on-the-edge-of-an-abyss poetic despairing narration, on what is a bleak if at times gloriously dark beauty of an album.

Often channeling the spirit of Ian Curtis (though not so much alter-worshipping the miserabilist icon as imbued by him), Scott Walker, The The, Martin Rev, David Sylvain and The Sisters Of Mercy on not just this album but the previous four opuses, it’s the ghostly echoes of Alan Vega’s inimitable rock’n’roll croon and nod to the melancholic heart of Spector’s girl group maladies that can be heard on the album’s most swaddled and beautifully sad song, ‘The Destroying Place’. And the album’s grand finale, delivered with a shade of monastic incantation, ‘Remains’, with its odd sound collage passages of insect-like chatter, strange foreign voices, far off screams and pitch-shift centrifugal motion effects, sounds vocally like John Cale sharing narration duties with his old Velvet’s honcho, Lou Reed.





Bound-up in their own self-imposed limitations, these anarchistic dreamers go one further than the Hebrew code of law commandments by adhering to 13 of their own; each one a rule or restriction in the recording process that couldn’t be broken, at any cost. So strict were these conditions that even if the band were close to finishing the album, any infringement no matter how minor, would result in the entire sessions being abandoned. Mercifully they made it through to the end; releasing a troubled, bleak lo fi ritualistic romance of an album.

Vukovar, even if the resignation and despondency in the music reflects a broken spirit just waiting for the end times and a final release, are growing in confidence and creativity; stretching themselves to encompass the Gothic and miserable but also brilliant at escaping the murky waters’ pull of desperation to occasionally break free into the light with bursts of radiant post-punk pop excellence.

Pouring fuel on a bonfire of vanities, whilst pouring out their hearts, this serious act recoil from the spotlight with nothing short of contempt for many of their peers; frustrating even fans, and once again limiting the album’s release physically; confining it to a special limited edition number run on cassette tape.

The fact they can back it up, gives them an edge, way ahead of the usual indie and post-punk fodder we’re normally fed on a daily basis. As the bland-lead-the-bland in a merry dance, Vukovar, as they did on their last single, read from the cerebral, philosophical and the political in a ‘Clockwork Dance’ towards the precipice of doom; their fifth album no less polemical and important.

Dominic Valvona






Previous Vukovar reviews:

Emperor LP

Fornication LP

Puritan LP

The Clockwork Dance Single

ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW: WORDS: MATT OLIVER





What a blockbuster month in hip-hop it’s been… Snoop setting the world’s biggest gin and juice record. Eminem and Nicki Minaj reportedly going steady. 50 Cent against Ja Rule, episode #89. Seven tracks being the new 18 tracks plus intro, outro and skits, plus bonus disc.

And there’s also been Pusha T versus Drake: ‘Daytona’ is a significant, title belt-claiming blow that’ll take some recovering from – the latter’s ‘Scorpion’ is imminent, with the additional angle of Martin Shkreli weighing in. Kanye’s ‘Ye’ poses more questions than answers, which is precisely what makes the man, while Nas & Kanye’s ‘Nasir’ has its moments, but falls short of what the dream team billing promises and certainly needs more room than the running length du jour. This is before we’ve even had time to take on Kid Cudi & Kanye’s ‘Kids See Ghosts’, or attempted to try and keep up with The Carters.

 

Singles/EPs

Dead Residents’ ‘Style Terrorist #1’ weighs an absolute ton, a clunky renegade barking like a sergeant major wearing influences as badges of honour. Heist vibes in full effect when Mr Brown sets a tripwire and infra red assault course and Confucius MC and Jehst come abseiling in through windows, all in the name of protecting ‘The Art-form part 2’, warning that “the ultimate high is the overdose”. One man’s lazy day on the river is another’s circled by sharks – Benofficial’s ‘Machine Gun Benny’ perfects the casual-smarting look. On the edge of grime and trap, VersesBang is sonically and sartorially sharp with seven tracker ‘Dressed to Kill…Myself’, well-paced so as to let listeners take a peek behind the big time persona (“I need to take control, like playing FIFA when it ain’t my go”).





After destroying airwaves with one of the freestyles of recent times, Black Thought rises above all of the aforementioned hullaballoo with the six track ‘Streams of Thought’. Augmented by 9th Wonder’s telepathy, soulfully shaded but a no-go zone for suckers, it’s an absolute lesson in politics, autobiography and pure battle-hardened craftsmanship that number one spots are reserved for. Parading the glamour life before denting it hard, Conway the Machine and Sonnyjim, with business-like savagery, cause ‘Death by Misadventure’, professional professors in the science of not flinching when stakes get high. To pianos that go left where ‘Still DRE’ went right, Blank Face and Tools Beastly ride the streets on ‘Gunslinger’, advising against feeling lucky. Trademark street cinema from Endemic Emerald joins with French generals 87 Escadron for the war report ‘Mercenaires’, army fatigue gruffness driving through the eye of the storm with Ruste Juxx and Tragedy resuming support. Add Apollo Brown carefully stirring emotions with boom bap going deep in thought, to Locksmith laying bare introspection, ideas and education, and the answer of ‘No Question’ is empathetic and quietly emphatic.




Albums

This year, Ramson Badbonez is ‘Jason Bonez’. That’s not Jason of the Bourne Identity, nor the Argonaut organiser or even the one-time Scott Robinson, but the mask-wearing blood and guts specialist who as with everything he does, doesn’t take his foot off the gas from the first unsheathing. Here to carve open nine swashbuckling tracks, wringing the house of horror hitman spiel out hard, there’s a new patron saint for whenever the 13th Friday of the month rolls around.





The restless sound of Rye Shabby is to ‘Die Shabby’. Worldly pressures that build up around him are absorbed by the protection of a dark, eerie glow, lyrically economical with energy but never the truth. With Verb T writing out prescriptions that enhance the dilapidated, empty experience, sling it on during the dead of night and find it how it envelopes the room, bringing silhouettes to life and an unspoken feel for consolation.

We may be a bit late on this one, but with new special editions launched and then swiped off shelves, Crimeapple and Big Ghost are the crime family with ‘nuff shots to share. ‘Aguardiente’ is a 100% proof of ferocious rhymes and slick stories making you believe everything spoken about every goon, scam and threat (the hook to ‘Five Chechnyans’ will make you laugh when it probably shouldn’t), to the tune of soul-infused onlookers and accomplices that either look the other way or are in too deep. Music to stash goods and tint windows by.





Neat and tidy true school enthusiasts who have the golden age running through them like a stick of rock, New York’s Penpals crew keep the underground on the level when penning ‘To Whom It May Concern’. Their zeal for technical perfection/pseudo-nerdery means rocking the boat extends to shouting out John Cleese, but the likes of ‘On the Roof’ are just what your garden party and fly school reunion needs. A few listens in and thou shalt not return to sender.

Time for some hip-hop corporal punishment to keep the next generation in line: Bumpy Knuckles is the elected elder statesman who won’t bend to socially mediated conventions. ‘Pop Duke’ is produced by Nottz knocking heads together, and has Chuck D, Kool G Rap and Biz Markie showing there’s no substitute for experience and a carefully sharpened stick in the mud that creditably, doesn’t ramble on.

In it to win it. Fake it til you make it. ‘Thieving as Long as I’m Breathing’. The world according to blasé boosters and old skool aestheticians Career Crooks, savvy Philly pair Zilla Rocca and Small Professor emptying a swag bag of doting remixes plus their own version of how to hold the hip-hop underground to ransom like gentlemen bandits. Do not be scared to check or scared to look. ‘Paranoid City’ by Isaac Roberts, previously known as Sleaze da Don, and Sonnyjim, is another to get repackaged by respectful well-wishers. Remixing new life into the pair’s doyens at the top table diary, Illinformed, Kelakovski, Smugii, Kosyne and the headliners themselves put up a very fine set of variations still keeping it tight knit.





Tom Caruana unveils volume six of his always exceptional ‘Rough Versions’ remix series with a collection of super funky Biggie revisions that elevate classics to new levels, made like the Son of Sam man was the real brains behind Bad Boy all along. The equally notorious David Begun is also at it again with a slice and dice job of Mobb Deep and Dr Octagon. Even if you think the format is tired (and there’s not much wrong when linking core QBC epitaphs to the ghoulish underground), the artwork alone to ‘Dr OctoMobb’ deserves a bony-fingered round of applause.





Bored of the World Cup? To finish, here’s the one man army that is Aesop Rock.




Matt Oliver

ALBUM REVIEW/ WORDS: ANDREW HALL





Grimm Grimm   ‘Cliffhanger’   22nd June 2018, Some Other Planet Records

One of the first pieces of music to emerge from Cliffhanger – the second album written, performed and recorded by London-based, Tokyo-born Koichi Yamanoha under the name Grimm Grimm – was an improbable, near unrecognisable dream-folk cover of The Misfits’ ‘Hybrid Moments’. Perhaps it was the “you hide your looks behind these scars” line that drew Yamanoha in – a man not averse to concealing truthful details underneath swathes of admittedly beautiful reverb. His is a lulling, muzzy, muggy sound that aurally evokes a radiant sun’s attempts to burst through a crowd of trees, or to peer out from behind a man-made structure, as on the sleeve of debut album, Hazy Eyes Maybe.

Cliffhanger is less eccentric (there’s nothing as deliciously madcap as ‘Kazega Fuitara Sayonara’) and eclectic than its predecessor – a record that flitted between ancient-sounding folk (‘Hazy Eyes Maybe’), Paul McCartneyesque melodies (try singing the “soon, right away” line from ‘Ram On’ along to ‘Tell The Truth’), queasy space synths (‘Robert Downey Syndrome’), and knowingly trying and incessant metallic dins (‘Knowing’). It’s more of a piece, with undoubted moves towards greater clarity. ‘Take Me Down To Coney Island’ begins with Yamanoha struggling to make his wispy voice heard over the kind of cavernous, busily obtrusive church organ that virtually dares a music journalist not to use the term “sonic cathedrals of sound”, but reaches a clearing halfway through: its lumbering beat gives way, an ascending organ ushering in two blissful minutes of synth-y epiphany. The lyrical innocence and gorgeous, fluid guitar playing of ‘Ballad Of Cell Membrane’ (“open up your door”) and ‘Still Smiling’ recall the criminally underrated Avi Buffalo, while ‘Orange Coloured Anywhere’ is an inspired, Boards of Canada-style public information announcement. Yamanoha clearly doesn’t feel quite so compelled to lather other people’s voices in effects – on the splendid, unadorned title track, singer Dee Sada delivers lines like “I remember seeing your face in the haze” and “I saw your reflection in the night” with the wide-eyed wonder of Vashti Bunyan.

There’s always a danger that this style of music can drift into “indistinct”, and just a couple of moments bear this out – the moodily ambient ‘Afraid’ outstays its welcome, while the piano-led ‘Wheel’ feels too conventional and chipper in comparison to what surrounds it. ‘Shayou’ – complete with singing-saw synth work from Bo Ningen’s Kohhei Matsuda – closes the album out on a beatifically wonky note. “I believe that we are all born again and our lives are like episodes of intense blockbuster films,” Yamanoha has said in relation to Cliffhanger’s title. Many rapt listeners will keenly await the next instalment.

Andrew Hall




Quarterly Playlist 2018: Part Two: Choice tracks from the last three months.





Welcome to part two of the Monolith Cocktail’s carefully selected and put-together quarterly playlist revue of 2018. Featuring an eclectic mix of ‘choice’ new music, re-releases and recently dug-out nuggets, all released in the last three months of the year, the blog’s staff (well me, Dominic Valvona, and our resident hip-hop fanatic Matt Oliver) have, as usual, produced a lively, sometimes meditative, at times distressed and harrowing, playlist.

Twisted dark arts sit next to cosmic sounds from the Maghreb; peregrinations flow into more steely razor sharp post-punk; and key hip-hop pontifications go hand-in-hand with shoegaze and the psychedelic. But as always, the musical flow will take you to all the most interesting locations, and hopefully introduce you to something you’ve never heard before.


Tracklist in full:


London Plane  ‘New York Howl’  Review
Josh T. Pearson  ‘Straight To The Top!’  Review
The Seven Ups  ‘Stampede’
Homeboy Sandman & Edan  ‘#NeverUseTheInternetAgain’  Review
Lee Scott & Jazz T  ‘What If Lee Was A Super Dope Rapper In 1988?’  Review
The Nonce  ‘Chocolate Cake’  Review
Warmduscher  ‘Standing On The Corner’
Samba Toure  ‘Yefara’  Review
The Turbans  ‘Zawi’  Review
David Dor  ‘Sapri Tama’
Hany Mehanna  ‘Mouna’
Bernard Estardy  ‘La Route Au Tabac’
The Magic City Trio  ‘Black Dog Following Me’  Review
Grimm Grimm  ‘Still Smiling’ Review
Black Light white Light  ‘Forward Backwards’  Review
Matt Finucane  ‘Damn Storyteller’  Review
Canshaker Pi  ‘Pressure From Above’
Ammar 808  ‘Bognga & Sandia’  Review
Shimshon Miel  ‘Amsterdam Experience’
The Mauskovic Dance Band  ‘The Opposite’
Black Thought  ‘9th vs. Thought’  Review
Pan Amsterdam  ‘The Lotion Song’  Review
Del The Funky Homosapien  ‘Humble Pie’  Review
Brownout  ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’
Dr. Octagon  ‘Operation Zero’  Review
Sad Man  ‘Parrot’  Review
Yonatan Gat  ‘Projections’  Review
Die Wilde Jagd  ‘2000 Elefanten’  Review
Elefant  ‘Norsun Muisti’  Review
Lucy Leave  ‘Look//Listen’  Review
Bas Jan  ‘Argument’
Sudan Archives  ‘Pay Attention’
Georgia Greene  ‘Lonely For You’
Evil Bone  ‘In Vain’  Review
The Bordellos  ‘Fading Honey’  Feat
Anton Barbeau  ‘Secretion Of The Wafer’  Review
Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita  ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’  Review
Thomas Nation  ‘Hold My World’  Review
The Lancashire Hustlers  ‘Consider Me’  Review
Alex Stolze  ‘Way Out’  Review
Crayola Lectern  ‘Rescue Mission’
Tanzania Albinism Collective  ‘Albino’
Spiritualized  ‘A Perfect Miracle’

LP REVIEW/ WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA


Thomas Nation   ‘Battle Of The Grumbles’    Faith & Industry,   1st June 2018

Fixed intently on the current anguishes of identity in a post-Brexit voted England, yet bleaching his 1960s bucolic and 1970s lounge (erring towards yacht rock almost) imbued songbook with nostalgia, the lyrics themselves read as augurs yet embedded on parchment, Blue House front-man James Howard weaves a diaphanous if plaintively foreboding chronicle of the past and present.

Creating a whole new persona as Thomas Nation, his commitment to a hazy timeless sound, both rustic and ambitious, goes as far as using only his rough mono mixes; undeveloped and left in their most honest, purest form. You won’t be surprised to learn that Howard has also released his Nation debut, Battle Of The Grumbles, on cassette tape: A gimmick in keeping with the trend in recent years to find ever more physically tactile, nostalgic and unique ways to gain attention and appeal to (I assume, as we’re the largest consumers of it) a pre-internet generation (which means the majority of the population). Though never a fan of cassettes (recording quality and durability most importantly) this one has been put together neatly, sporting as it does just one of the many references to England’s ‘green and pleasant’ legacy with an anonymous, almost cartoonish (like a stagey Commodore 64 computer game cover), illustrated scene from the 16th century ‘Battle of the Spurs’ – when Imperial troops (that’s the Holy Roman Empire teaming up with England) under the command of our very own ol’ Henry VIII and Maximilian I won a victory at the siege of Thérouanne after seeing off an attack from the, enemies at the time, French cavalry. Just a minor skirmish in the convoluted drawn-out Italian Wars that dragged most of the Europe continent into a sectarian vortex of violence, Henry, still at this point very much the able warrior king of his burgeoning reign, but soon to split from the Catholic Church to found his own, fought as part of the Holy League against the papacy and France. Included I assume for its links to the catalytic moment when a schism emerged at the heart of Tudor period Europe, but also the start of that move towards a separate church, the Church Of England, the vestiges, icons and music of which permeate throughout this album.

Recorded we’re told in just over four days, earlier this year at the home studio of label-mate John Johanna (as an aside, his latest LP, I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes is brilliant and highly recommended) in Norfolk woodlands, Battle Of The Grumbles trembles and radiantly, if in a gauze-y veil, echoes the idyllic surroundings it was produced in. Intentionally achingly nostalgic, if resigned at the “unpleasant land” where “invasions seem to come from within”, Howard beautifully yearns like the Beta Band at the Tudor court and early Pink Floyd on the opening, sun-dappled parish orchid ballad ‘Turn And Face The Sea’. In a similar venerable setting ‘Hold My World’ merges a Reformation Popol Vuh with folk troubadour, and the chorister resonating ‘Tour Of The Grounds’ could be an English gospel version of The Byrds ‘The Christian Life’.

Changing the musical direction, ‘This Field’ features both a spoken word tour guide and Howard’s ghostly repeated chorus, wistfully making a point about heritage and ownership to a late 70s MOR like soft rock beat meets Aidan Moffat malady, whilst kooky subtle breaths of what sounds like synth, allude to White Town on the plucked ‘The Worry Men’. The grand finale, ‘Around The Corner And Down The Way’, is a hushed nine-minute poetically despondently opus rich in observational mini-dioramas of childhood experienced England and disillusion (“Fortune cookies that come free with the meal from The Dragon, hold a message that says: Believe that nothing is beyond your contempt whilst consider that everything is.”) that features wafting bending Harrison guitar lines, plucked from Polynesia, and again, that essence of country valley Englishness, a reverent COE of a stirring finish. This curtain call, with its repeating melancholic but beautifully cooed “times not on your side”, and almost evanescent follow on, “well not yet”, rings with certain hope that perhaps nothing is set in stone.

A gentle spirit, James Howard creates a pastoral nostalgic journey filled with augurs, despair and disillusion but always diaphanous. The first of what Howard hopes will be an annual ‘pilgrimage’, the Thomas Nation incarnation is a cerebral wonder through the essence of Englishness, questioning and probing the psyche as it meanders through the psychogeography and heart of the countryside.




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