Words:  Dominic Valvona

Monolith Cocktail - MANDY 'Universe'

Welcome to another polygenesis mix of music reviews, this month we take a look at albums and oddities from the maths-rock progressive hardliners Masiro, the lilting Americana songstress Jenny Gillespie, bedroom lo fi symphony composer Thierry Larose and his fellow Canadian compatriot, the no wave naval gazing Fits. We also review the latest EP from the rustic country burred Glaswegian troubadour making a name for himself, Mark McGowan, and the last testament of the late pastoral Welsh psych and folk maverick Mel Fung, under the husband and wife duo guise of MANDY.

Masiro   ‘Technocologist Unknown’
Released  May  2016

Monolith Cocktail - Masiro

A modified cybernetic eagle eyes us up on the cover of the debut LP from Oxford’s premier math/prog and alternative heavy metal band Masiro, a motif for the trio’s thrashed-out peregrinations across the symbiotic tension between humanity and technology.

The growing unease and ominous themes of forebode being discussed in the public arena around our increasingly automotive, technological encroached world, where the boundaries are becoming ever blurred between our digital and flesh and blood personas, are explored on Technocologist Unknown. Not so easy to gauge however is whether we are witnessing a dystopian aftermath, or a far more nuanced, complex future. As if to draw a parallel of ‘brave new worlds’ like awe and apprehension, the band travel back to one of the many dawns of time, with a low-slung progressive rock soundtrack to the Miocene period (‘Miocene Dream’). An age that would not seem quite so alien to our own, the mammals already established, but still a long way to go. I’d reason that this track acts as metaphor for our own impending bridge between the burgeoning digital age and what comes next evolutionary, the Miocene epoch opening the way forward for humans.

Influenced by all manner of bands including the more hostile and rabid ennui Behold The Arctopus, though nowhere near as silly in the million notes per second slaming department, Masiro sound more ‘life’ than ‘death’ metal. Less lumbering, and with an ear for helter-skelter – at times almost tripping over its own complexity – rhythms and a melody they still maintain some granite hard ominous intensity. Coming on like a heavier Mogwai, or a maths Archers Of Loaf, they can be articulate and expansive when they want to be, and they beat those riffs not into submission but into something descriptive and moody.

Winding and unwinding to a celestial toned backing of incessant chugging, flailing and stampeding angulated guitar shapes and loud trebly cymbal and hi-hat percussion Chris Pethers (drums), Mike Bannard (guitar/synth), Chris Hutchinson (bass) broodily conjure-up a science fiction soundtrack to a virtual reality envisioned future days.

Jenny Gillespie  ‘Cure For Dreaming’
Released by Narooma Records,  13th  May  2016

Monolith Cocktail - Jenny Gillespie

In almost one uninterrupted fluid movement, from the sun-dappled lit California and mid-west American staged sets to the imaginary ‘voyages’ and metaphorical ‘train’ journeys of self-discovery, Jenny Gillespie’s latest song collection is a subtle affair. Nuanced throughout but with a quiet intensity, the mood shifts between Laurel Canyon troubadour and flitting American folk, with tones of Minnie Riperton, Fairport Convention, Shuggie Otis and the husked plaintive breath of Beverly Craven.

With an attentive and well-connected backing group behind her – Paul Bryan (Aimee Mann), drummer Jay Bellerose (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand), guitarists Chris Bruce (Meshell Ndgeocello) and Gerry Leonard (David Bowie), and pedal steel player Greg Leisz (Lucinda Williams Bon Ivor) – Gillespie’s blend of melodically, softly-as-she-goes, meditations unfurl gradually.

Though full of emotive and profound tropes on motherhood, marriage and death, Gillespie’s cast of characters, both awakened by and back in touch with their atavistic heritage or spirituality, inhabit a warm and cozy landscape. Running –literally – throughout the album, rivers and bodies of water constantly appear as both analogies and lyrical inspirations: whether it’s a contemplative, Hindu/Buddhist alluded rebirth on the banks of the East River, enacted on the wistfully enchanted ‘Dhyana By The River’, or the percussive created rainfall on the descriptive ‘Evening Loving’.

Fluttering between the Western echoes of a Fender Rhodes and pedal steel and the bronzed somnolent glow of the Californian coastline, Cure For Dreaming is among the most diaphanous and lilting collections of American folk and pop you’re likely to find.

Mandy   ‘Universe’
Released by the Bubblewrap Collective,  27th  May  2016.

Until her untimely passing from breast cancer in 2014, the multi-talented Mel Fung was a congruous feature of the pastoral psych and folk Welsh music scene. Quite the pedigree, Mel had at one time or another performed with Derrero, Richard James, Pink Assassin, The MeMeMe’s and the No Thee No EEs. Quite the polymath Mel also a presented her own Cardiff TV show on Youtube entitled ‘Outside my house,’ featuring respected Welsh songwriters like Euros Childs and Gruff Rhys.

A much-loved, and sadly missed figure, candid enough to share her breast cancer experiences and tribulations on BBC Radio Wales in 2013, her last musical project – the encapsulating – Universe is perhaps Mel’s most accomplished testament. Recorded under the moiety MANDY, the project she performed in alongside her husband Andy Fung, it is for obvious reasons deeply poignant and profound.

Sharing a similar soundboard as the groups they’ve both worked and shared a stage with, including a real Super Furry Animals flavor –their LP sporting the delicious velvety candy illustrated album artwork of none other than the SFA’s artistic partner, Pete Fowler – the album is a magical peregrination through the themes of loss and departure. Doors to other worlds hang dreamily as escapes routes in Mel’s serenely cooed lyrics, whilst a punchier and often more yearned sadness that comes from the obvious frustrations and knowledge that your time is running out, speaks of decreasingly shrinking away until “gone” (‘Seeing in The Dark’). Song titles and lyrical themes diaphanously long for the simplest of pleasures – that the stars are still there to light the way and that the simple sensation of feeling the sun’s rays on her back remain – and comforting reassurances. ‘Can You Save Me’, “Can you stay with me for a while” (‘For Now’), “hold my hands, hold my hands, hold me until I understand” (‘Reasons To Go Home’), there is a constant fragility.

Yet rather than a eulogy, the music and vocals are beautifully poetic throughout. Twee folk, bordering on a Tudor version of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci one minute and urgently boisterous like an idyllic psychedelic PJ Harvey another, Universe is a most beautiful parting gift and testament to the rich developing songwriting and musical craftsmanship of the late Mel Fung.

Thierry Larose   ‘Translating The Sublime In Music’
Fits.   ‘Synth Salix’
Both available now

Making a return to the Monolith Cocktail, two artists, both hailing from the French half of Canada, both friends and both at one time on the obscure Canadian label Acid Zebra, Thierry Larose and Samuel L. Clarke are back with more lo fi bedroom symphonies in the style of post rock and slacker daydream no wave.

Appearing over the years under the name his parents gave him and as Tapeheads, Larose’s diy recordings can be mixed, but always interesting. Creeping from behind the Calico wall of fleeting psychedelic, navel-gazing and almost indifferent Casio keyboard suites to focus on his most ambitious project yet, the young Quebec maverick has his work cut out in exploring the aloofly philosophical subject of the ‘sublime’ in music. Quoting the late-Romantics and specifically Edmund Burke, and rather flattering for me, the Monolith Cocktail for delivering an eclectic mix of musical inspirations in his email and bio, Larose incorporates both ‘elements from nature and sound emulations of it’ on his 14-minute continuous peregrination.

During the course of this minor score, movements shift between resonating waning electric guitar shapes and percussive crescendos. Emerging from literally ‘nothing’ into a part John Martin, part Joseph Vernet painted shipwrecked vision of the primordial soup, the listener is taken through spewing and slurping mud flat pools of volcanic action into thunderclap barracked mountain ranges. Recreating the naturalistic horizons, voices in a holy communion unite as classical flowing piano passage dances like the rainwater trickling down the crevices of some plush hillside. Later on, a didgeridoo transports us to the red dirt outback of ancient times, taking us away from the tumultuous and diaphanous North American and European alluded scenery.

It all builds to a final crescendo of percussion in the style of, another great Canadian band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, as Larose finds his ‘sublime’ ending.

Musically sharing many similarities as his compatriot, Samuel L. Clarke is still very much unique in the way he writes and composes. Another lo fi maverick, his various experiments continue to amorphously and languorously evade any helpful categorization. Using both his real name and the Fits. moniker , Clarke’s main apparatus has always been a cheap Casio keyboard and the presets that come with it, and the pre-loaded instruments that come free with Garageband.

In the past I’ve described him as a ‘low-rent Pavement’, which wasn’t a bad reference as it turned out. His latest collection continues to flutter between radiant glimmers of song and subdued, almost incidental and fleeting, instrumental interludes. Released after what Clarke says was a ‘sort-of year hiatus from writing’, Synth Salix is by no means a sudden departure from his previous catalogue of experiments. It is however played upon a Roland D-20 synth (well a lot of it), and it benefits from the groundwork put in over the last few years.

The songs, which aren’t easily marked, are lyrically odd: “You’ve been walking in the woods so long, hitting every puddle wrong, ’cause your myopic eyes are bleeding all the colours.” And the music is…well like a mix of morphine psych and no wave, with veiled attempts at Trans-Alpine kosmiche, morose Visage and ukulele played whimsy. The more plays, the more you pick up. It is perhaps, and I’m still to make my mind up, the best collection yet from Clarke.

Mark McGowan   ‘Fugazi EP’
Released by  In Black Records,  13th  May  2016

Monolith Cocktail - Mark McGowan

Vocally more attuned to the rustic belt or Deep South of America, or even the 1960s Greenwich Village scene, than the northern climes of his native Glasgow, Mark McGowan’s distinctive burr and twang and intricate picking style of guitar playing emulates those distant influences well.

Following up on his favourably reviewed recent single Bonnie & Clyde/The Colour Of Surrender; McGowan’s highly atmospheric but stark and stripped naked sound is pleasingly expanded and taken in new congruous directions with his upcoming EP, Fugazi. Not a tribute to the infamous Washington D.C. post-hardcore miscreants of the same name, the four-track showcase builds upon the title track’s sorrowful tale of an absent father. A familiar timbre and rhythm is accentuated with the most delicate of bowed strings and, what sounds like, a low harmonica or organ type bass hum, adding an even more plaintive and sad emotive atmosphere to the earthy rawness.

Thanks in a part to The Barne Society producer Marco Rea; McGowan’s musical palette is richer throughout this quartet of troubadour maladies. On ‘Lighthouse’ there’s a far more excitable, up-tempo sound of the old country crossed with a swirled toiling movement of seascape folk, whilst ‘Mascara’ finds McGowan channeling Otis Redding again, but to a wiry, spindly Gothic blues backing of slinking electric guitar. The closer, ‘Sunday Best’, is closer to the Wichita burgeoning country of Johnny Cash’s Sun Records era, as it strums to the sound of a romanticized train journey across the dust bowl of America.

Fugazi will further cement McGowan’s growing reputation and show that the earnest troubadour has a lot more to get off his chest as he spins his own unique storytelling tradition and confidently expands his influences.

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