Monolith Cocktail - Niagara

Welcome to our popular roundup of new finds. There is a coincidental Americana bent to this editions haul with various takes from Glasgow-based guitarist Paul Tasker, ‘Texas born’ but ‘Seattle hewn’ troubadour Rocky Votolato, and the sympathetically sullen Canadian artist A. Dyjecinski. As a balance we also have tasters, EPs and albums from Brighton’s electronic caustic, industrial free jazzing duo Map 71, the Gallican/London psychedelic outfit Bifannah, and the beautifully chaotic, oceanic electro-psych Italian duo Niagara.

Niagara ‘Hyperocean’ 
Self-titled taster from the upcoming LP, released by Monotreme Records on 6th May 2016

Turin-based pop electronic innovator David Tomat (he of the Monolith Cocktail praised solo album 01-06 June) and Gabriele Ottino have returned, with what might just be their most experimental outing yet under the Niagara banner. Their third album together Hyperocean is a visceral concept-based suite of both eerily calm and tumultuous aquatic psychedelia and electronica sonic mapping.


The previous outing Don’t Take It Personally focused on the struggle between technology and nature, repeated here in a glorious tug-of-war with the forces of the ocean, and illustrated by the self-titled teaser below. A suffused static-charged bed of rippled, buzzing and unruly energy competes with a sizzling melody and binary vocals at first, before the off-kilter interplay suddenly clicks and a dreamy wave of soothing, cooed reassurance rises to disperse on a diaphanous note. Despite the chaos of all the competing elements ‘Hyperocean’ is surprisingly melodic, and flows with effortless brilliance.

Hopefully it’s a fair indication of what to expect from the upcoming 11-track album, which will be released on May 6th, 2016 by Monotreme Records.

Map 71   ‘Sado-Technical-Exercise’
Released via Foolproof Projects, 4th April 2016

Its what we expect. Its what we needed. From the stained concrete wastes of our anxious times, a reaction in the form of unhindered subconscious poetics and sparsely barracking electronic, quasi primal industrial, percussion. Produced in what sounds like the atmosphere of a flickering, buzzing strip lighted underpass, the collaborative forces of poet Lisa Jayne and beat provider Andy Pyne have merged to concoct an unnerving state of the union like soundtrack to our modern times, under the code Map 71 banner.

A caustic but congruous pairing, Jayne is a regular performer on the circuit and originator of the chaos improvisation unit Ringlock, whilst Pyne records under the alter ego Ugly Animal and has played drums with Medicine & Duty, West Hill Blast Quartet, Kellar, Shrag, Black Neck Band. He has also performed live with Kid Millions’ Man Forever project. Here they team up to produce a frazzled electronic wasteland, combining an awkward jittery friction of post punk, the first wave of industrial noise and early 90s techno influences with a surprisingly rhythmic quality. Like a free jazz maelstrom of factory floor and deconstructed electronica, Sado-Technical-Exercise is a vortex of ideas, recalling Cabaret Voltaire, Einstürzende Neubauten, Fad Gadget and The Normal.

Laying down an extemporized stream of composed observations, protestations and more cryptic descriptions in the style of resigned Lydia Lunch, or Ari Up, Lisa Jayne isn’t so much volatile as composed in her delivery style. And though up against a bruising barrage, she never has to shout above the constant sonic Molotov bombardment.

Raw, primal and intense without screaming, rebutting the monotonous enervated feelings of despair, this meeting of minds works well together to create the most dangerous of sadistic noises.

Monolith Cocktail - Bifannah

Bifannah  ‘Bifannah’
Available now

Caught somewhere between the original garage band era of the 1960s and the many revivals that still continue to this day; crisscrossing an amorphous space between London and Galicia; the recently formed trio Bifannah of Antía Figueiras on bass/keyboards/vocals, Antón Martínez on drums/percussion and Guillermo V. Zapata on guitars/vocals liberally dip into the Nuggets compilations on their self-titled EP.

Applying the obligatory scuzz, fuzz and creepy come “inspiral” funhouse Hammond effects of garageland, Bifannah use the, often unruly, discordance for something less caustic and more melodic. Even vocally both Guillermo and Antía sing in a woozy, cooing fashion, rather than skulking in teen angst rebellion. Though certainly cloaked in the right sullen cloak, and operating in the dark on the opener ‘Skeletor’, they quickly enough switch to a cosy, lighter jangled psychedelic-country style that evokes Os Mutants jamming with The Gruesomes in glorious technicolor.

Sepia-tinted and hazy throughout, there’s a casual taste of influences from a YeYe-shoegaze-Rubbles spectrum, with a trace of The Zombies on the exotic snake ritual ‘Magic Mambo’, and echoes of The Standells and Os Skywalkers on ‘Viageiro Cósmica’. More reminiscent of the 80s college alternative rock radio however, ‘Pior’ could be a distant cousin of Athens, Georgia’s favourite sons, REM.


Neither messy nor sulking in petulant despair, the trio veers towards a more, warm and fuzzy form of tempered psychedelic pop on their debut EP.

Monolith Cocktail - Rocky Votolato

Rocky Votolato  ‘Sawdust & Shavings’
Released by Glitterhouse Records, available now

Ever the generous performer live, the Texas-born Seattle hewn, gnarled rocker turn earnest troubadour Rocky Votolato, was as affable and charming as his recent transition is humble when I recently met him in Glasgow. His recent stripped-back (musically to the waist) one-man tour of Europe suits the candid, heart-on-the-sleeve proverbial, spirit of his stark and earthy folk and country transformation well. With just a harmonica and acoustic guitar for company, Rocky has nowhere to hide. No emotional crutch to fall back on. Each song has to connect, and it did, the fundamentals of good songwriting vital.

This will be a fresh perspective for me, coming from a critic so far oblivious and in the dark about the post-grunge rock and punk scene in Seattle; a scene that featured an unsure, alienated southern boy suddenly at odds in the north west Pacific capital of sulking, petulant rock music, but using his Texas lilt well and merging it with a steady stream of bands over the years to produce something with a twist. Raging in various outfits, edging towards a contained heavy bombast, Rocky has grown more refined over the last twenty-odd years. His latest songbook, Sawdust & Shavings is a further attenuated version of those electric rock charged anthems he’s known for. The results, both that night live, and on this EP, are unblemished and brilliant.

Almost disingenuous to the material under its name, Sawdust & Shavings may give a misleading impression. By no way mere afterthoughts discarded and swept up off the floor for stuffing, the latest EP features both evocative stripped-down versions of songs from 2015’s Hospital Handshakes LP and other material.

From the top we have the humbled and tenderly sung ‘Shortcuts’, which adds another page to the great emotionally mythologized American songbook – tunneling through metaphorical mountains on the great plains of heartache. It’s a yearned beauty all right, soothed by an atmospheric synthesizer-constructed soundscape and rustic balladry it makes a great opener.


Further into the wells of despair, the title-track features Rocky adrift on the allegorical restless seas of Perseus’ muse Andromeda; singing lines that by most artists would sound clichéd, but somehow sound convincing at this time. Keeping it in the, much-talented, family, Rocky’s foil at various times (fellow band member of his punchier Waxwing band) and younger sibling Cody Votolato, plays electric guitar throughout the album, but takes up the bass guitar on this Greek tragedy. Rocky’s wife meanwhile, the visual artist and poet April Votolato, has her poetry turned into song on the achingly bittersweet ‘Hospital Handshakes’. Beckoned back from the ledge, the painful yearned adaptation of April’s A Ghost In The Sun is far more emotionally raw and charged than its original version from last year, especially when Warpaint’s Emily Kokal adds her stirring and siren-esque lamentable vocals to the song’s final pleads.

Obviously partial to the odd idiosyncrasies of the filmmaker Wes Anderson, Rocky’s homage analogy ‘Royal’ finds similarities in the black comedy The Royal Tenenbaums. A broken family of misfits and damaged siblings, grown used to the absence of their grizzled selfish patriarch (played rather too convincingly by Gene Hackman), have to once again accommodate, what might be, another of his conniving ruses to reunite with the family. Rocky sighs on his plaintive, almost wistful Loudon Wainwright III turn, waxing wryly: “I wish I was a Tenenbaum. I think maybe I was.”

There’s more from that great American songbook on the sentimental, voice raising, ‘This Is My Work’, and a hint of Warren Zevon’s songwriter seated at the piano on ‘Kids As Kids’. The latter of these a fond finish to the entire EP.

His most mature work yet, and successful transition, the stripped-back Rocky Votolato, a soloist out on the road earning his crust, will prove to be among his best work. I only hope he long continues to walk it and produce the goods.

Monolith Cocktail - Paul Tasker

Paul Tasker   ‘Cold Weather Music’
Released by Yellowroom, available now

Drawing on a screenwriter’s photographs from an as yet unmade film, the nimble-fingered guitarist extraordinaire Paul Tasker composes a soundtrack to an imaginary expansive Americana canvas. Though based in the harsher, colder climes of Glasgow, and for a period before that Aberdeen, Tasker’s instrumentals evoke both America’s dust bowls and prohibition era Appalachians rather than the Scottish landscape. Dusky hour, shadowy images of mountains accompany the Cold Weather Music album, yet the nine compositions contained within cover an array of both moods and geography.

Imbued with a penchant for the folk and country storytelling of John Renbourn, Bert Jansch and Gram Parsons, shaped in no small part by his ‘moonlighting’ duties with the Willard Grant Conspiracy and his various contributions in The Colour Of Whisky and, more recently, the Doghouse Roses duo, Tasker conjures up a subtle, timeless suite of Western scenery and character portraits.


Playing both a rustic twanged, trembling 5-string banjo and fingerpicking on the acoustic guitar throughout he’s joined by a group of friends on the flute, pedal steel, mandolin and cello. From the lilting pedal steel and plucked wandering guitar tones of the slowly uplifting ‘Husker’s Theme’ to the wilting flute and gentle folk melodies of ‘Ne’er Days’, we’re taken along the prospectors trail in one direction, and northwards across the ‘tundra’ frozen plains of the old frontier in the other. Apart from, that is, the wistful Renaissance style gilding ‘Blooms In the Autumn’ (a courtly Jansch meets Bacharach sonnet that literally flowers before our ears), which sounds more old European than American West.

The musicianship is sophisticated, played in a measured, calm and composed manner. It’s also evocative enough to describe and articulate the visual guides that inspired it. Cold Weather Music works well, an imaginary soundtrack for a Terrance Malick Western, waiting to be made.

Monolith Cocktail - A. Dyjecinski

A. Dyjecinski ‘Dead Horses’
Released by Sideways Saloon Recording Company,  8th April 2016

You’d have thought being from Canada with its monumental mountain ranges and vast wildernesses, devoid of any living soul for hundreds of square miles, would lend the solitude searching artist plenty of opportunities to find the isolation he craves. But in these ever-connected times, even Canada’s expanses can’t promise true isolation, and it certainly can’t stop your own thoughts from the subconscious barrier you build to stop it penetrating through. However the Canadian artist Artur Dyjecinski tried, his efforts taking him to extremes, going as far as to sail to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on his voyage of seclusion.

The failure to find that solitude, and in Dyjecinski’s eyes turn it from the negative connotations of eccentricity and maverick madness into a positive and enriching experience, informs his upcoming The Valley Of Yessiree album (released on the 24th April, 2016). As a taster for that record, ‘Dead Horses’, backed with last year’s ‘I’m The Woods’, is an impressive, and moving single.

Almost hewn if not etched from the scenery itself, ‘Dead Horses’ is both an analogy to the nature of mankind, using animals as symbolic references to the tropes of loyalty, domestication and civilization, and a homage to the grandfather he never met; a writer and prisoner of war who left an indelible mark on Dyjecinski by leaving behind his Polish language novels as a testament and education tool. With his highly unique take on alternative folk and earthy, etched from the landscape style of delivery, Dyjecinski’s candid, sullen burr leaves each lyric hanging on a precipice; left to stand as a stark meditation perched out in the harsh, weather beaten extremes. Poised between lingering caressed balladry and shuffled Americana, it is a moving tribute, and also an equally worn resigned gesture of self-deprecation: the artist’s synthetic experiences and despondency verses the very real travails of his grandfather.

Equally as compelling, last year’s ‘I’m In The Woods’ sounds like Antony Hegarty on the great northern frontier, contemplating his choice of escape routes. Stripped-back, a warbled and raw, but also warm, sounding Dyjecinski labours over an increasingly moving, ponderous tentative and female cooed accompanied backing until reaching the repetitive resignation, “And I can’t complain/ Being alone, always.”

Best known for fronting the gnarling, scuzzed-up country grunge outfit Dracula Legs, Dyjecinski’s solo records offer something more composed and emotively rich. Hopefully ‘Dead Horses’ will be a good indicator of what sounds to be a very rewarding album.

Words: Dominic Valvona

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