Words:  Dominic Valvona

Monolith Cocktail - Lord Kesseli And The Drums

Welcome to another edition of ‘Tickling Our Fancy’, the polygenesis roundup of the most interesting, sometimes obscure, new releases. You’ll find Swizz psychedelic adventures from Lord Kesseli And the Drums, a triptych of ambient and electronica from Renu, a Haiti and Afrobeat collaborative project steered by the legendary Tony Allen, and the latest avant-garde sonic adventures, a split collaboration EP with Robert Logan, from Raf And O.

Afro-Haitian  Experimental  Orchestra   ‘A.H.E.O’
LP  released  by  Glitterbeat  Records,  24th  June  2016

Monolith Cocktail - A.H.E.O.

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

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

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

A mesmerizing fusion of downtown Lagos candor and shuffled grooves and Haitian ‘voodoo’, the results of this enterprise were first shared at the Le Fête de la Musique festival in Port-au-Prince. The original plan was to record the live show, however a tense atmosphere arising from the late running order and the setting off of a tear gas grenade right in front of the stage combined with a number of technical problems meant this would not be possible. Looking increasingly like a missed opportunity, and with a number of performers heading home the next day, the chance to record the project for posterity seemed lost. However, multi-track recordings from the rehearsals survived, which Mulholland went back through, eventually piecing together the eight songs on this album. Josué along with his fellow Haitian singers including Sanba Zao, were called back to re-record the vocals. Still it wasn’t until Mulholland, ever the musical wanderer, re-located to the Mali capital of Bamako and crossed paths with Glitterbeat Records head honcho, and global music polymath, Chris Eckman that plans to release the recordings became a reality. And we’re grateful they did, as this hazily, raw exotic series of Afro-Haiti travails sound almost supernatural and magically unlike anything we’ve heard before.

Combining the traditional tools and song of both environments with eerily Theremin like quivers and whispery wind generating electronics, the album creates a mysterious but stirring alternative route for Afrobeat. Allen’s constant evolving tempo and scuttling, rattling snare shots offer something familiar, but the concertinaed swirls of ‘Salilento’ and the banjo redolent plucked cosmic lamentable traces of ‘Mon Ami Tezin’ offer an interesting counterbalance. Mulholland supplies dirty fuzz rock and desert blues (in the style of Tinariwen) guitar riffs whilst Dary’s deep bass dips into the funk. Talking of which, the choppy licks found on ‘Wongolo’ evoke something of an Isaac Hayes Shaft In Africa vibe. As for the diverse range of voices, both lead and backing, the contemporary vocals of Marc-Harold Pierre veer into reggae, whereas the Zikiki & Mirla Samuel Pierre pairing juxtapose longing female spiritualism with a rapid, energetic male delivery.


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

Lord  Kesseli  And  The Drums  ‘S/T’
Available  now,  released  by  Ikarus  Records

Suitably imbued by the Swiss town of St. Gallen’s stunning abbey landmark, the Lord Kesseli And the Drums duo of multi-instrumentalist Dominik Kesseli and drummer/producer Michael Gallusser open up their eponymous debut EP with an ecclesiastical canta, before launching into a churning swirl of holy choral echo chamber psychedelic and trippy rock. Yet despite the reverent atmospherics, the duo’s quest for the ‘sacred and profane’ is a secular one.

Submerged beneath a gauze of echo and reverberation, the six tracks on this EP float between the imaginary and the critical, taking hallucinatory aim at state and religious corruption as they encourage the listener to escape the institutional for the personal experience – though perhaps you should avoid the mindbending seduction of ‘MDMA’; the envererated protagonist repeating in an intoxicating lull fashion“MDMA I want to marry you” to a paranoia cyclone and galloping entranced backing.

Playing to all their influences on the post rock and emotive psych opening ‘Arnold’, the duo wait for the arrival of their mysterious figure to the sounds of Mogwai, Sigur Ros and, much missed, The School Of Seven Bells. From the ritualistic Latin introduction to the expanding epic sonics that flow forth, the ambitious soundscapes creep across a monumental landscape of both sanctuary and resigned despair. One of their most impressive tracks, ‘Fade’, is a shoegaze requiem that, as its title suggests, fades in and out of a throbbing vortex of desperate lament. The final swansong, ‘Kid’, at over nine-minutes is another ambitious stab at encapsulating such plaintive and despairing emotions; rippling with a low emitted charge of haunting guitar, choppy synth and subterranean whispers before heading into stoner pastoral organ psych and swelling to a wash of drum crescendos. After building a stirring wallowed pitch of sadness, it ends with a fading echo of delicate and serene piano.

A visage of pan European cosmic sensibilities that has yet to transfer across the channel, Lord Kesseli And the Drums vaporous soundtracks proves to be a hadron kaleidoscopic rotation of psychedelia, shoegaze, drone and stoner rock.

Renu  ‘Plasma’
Released  by  GiveUsYourGOLD  10th  June  2016

Monolith Cocktail - Renu

In just the latest chapter of what is a long history of taking risks and exploring new musical horizons, the celebrated multi-percussionist/instrumentalist, producer and composer Renu has located to Berlin to produce electronic music. Primarily known for her tabla playing prowess, Renu travels the globe, from Brazil to Cuba and Spain, to study various musical styles and perform with a host of artists and bands. Starting out playing percussion on the UK’s Asian Underground ( Talvin Singh, Asian Dub Foundation and Fun-da-mental) scene at the end of the 90s, Renu has gone on to perform and tour with Grace Jones, Tunde Jegede and Alabama 3. If that wasn’t enough she is also an experienced composer, songwriter, musician and producer with three finely crafted albums under her belt and regularly writes for theatre, choreography and film.

Signed now to the Berlin artist-run label GiveUsYourGOLD – home to Monolith Cocktail stalwarts Psycho & Plastic – Renu’s newest adventures in sound, Plasma, is a collaboration triptych with the filmmaker Ludovic Ramisandraina (Paris/London) and choreographer/dancer Ichi-Go (Japan/Berlin). Available as a mini EP, the original sound, dance and music project is highly descriptive and evocative, even without that visual accompaniment. The opening track ‘Light’ recalls more recent Eno (Small Craft On A Milk Sea); moving serendipitously between cooled wind swept terrains and purposeful, restive tubular chimes. Reverberating piano notes ring out in a staccato fashion whilst those icy winds blow. With slightly more pace and a place to drift towards, ‘As One’ shifts over dry otherworldly sand dune landscapes. Encircling modulated rings draw a subtle sphere around another ambient soundscape. The final track ‘Fight’ picks up the tempo, adding a electronic zapping breakbeat rhythm to the mysterious atmospheric leitmotif.
Suitably flowing and as ‘acrobatic’ as the visual project that inspired it, the Plasma EP is a wispy, breathy, gauze like veil of an ambient and electronic music soundtrack. I look forward to hearing more of Renu’s explorations into the genre.

Raf  And  O / Raf  And  O  &  Robert  Logan  ʻSonnet  62/  Inkʼ
Split  EP  released  by  Telephone  Records,  27th  June  2016

Monolith Cocktail - Raf & O 7 Robert Logan Split EP

Originally coming to my attention with their strung-out avant-garde version of David Bowie’s brooding ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ lament in 2013, the highly experimental South East London duo Raf And O have continued to release a host of expletory sonic adventures that merge the most mysterious electronica with Trip Hop and Krautrock. Imbued heavily with Bowie’s spirit, liberally drawing inspiration from his back catalogue – one minute a taste of 1. Outside, the next a visual reference to his ‘memory of a free festival’ art school/mime days -, Raf Mantelli and Richard Smith have paid homage once again on their upcoming LP, Portal, by covering the plastic soul period ‘Win’ from Young Americans. Singing in a gauzy somnolent lullaby fashion, Raf channels Alison Goldfrapp on this most dreamy of diaphanous tributes.

Released next month on July 27th by Telephone Records, the duo’s third LP – celebrated with a special launch party on July 22nd at St James The Less, Westminster – is preceded by this four-track split EP, Sonnet 62/Ink. The first half features two tracks taken from Portal: a sort of warm-up before the main event if you like. Originally receiving a commission two years ago to create a piece of work inspired by Shakespeare, the duo chose to recite the bard’s ‘Sonnet 62’ verses on jealousy and self-preoccupation to a supernatural metallic soundtrack. Raf, sounding at her most rich and mature vocally, soothes and coos like a cross between Beth Gibbons and a female David Sylvain over Richard’s kinetic but dreamy soundscape. Evoking a raspy motoring ride across some futuristic hyper freeway, but in fact inspired by a drive through Europe and the German town of the title, ‘Worm’ , the second of these tracks from the upcoming Portal album, is a clean cut techno sheened instrumental that reverberates with lingering traces of post-Krautrock, the Gamelan music of Java and Bali and Sheffield synth new wave.

A collaborative affair, the second part of this EP features a project between the Raf And O and the much-feted electronic artist Robert Logan (Bomb The Bass, Grace Jones, Brigitte Fontaine). Remixing a track for their 2014 Time Machine EP, Logan collaborated with the duo on a series of sessions, exploring a number of deconstructive and fragmented soundscapes, two of which are featured here. Aboard a haunted freighter in the deepest reaches of deep space, ‘Ink’ has Raf’s whispery and melodious voice drift and fluctuate amorphously with a jittery, cut-up of breakbeats and ghostly trip hop. It is both equally seductive and alien, a machine driven twitchy gallop into the ether. Creeping into the dense hallucinatory environment of ‘A Reason To Try’, the trio stir untethered in a strange soup of churned up beats and solar tidal waves. Sounding like a slumbering Sneaker Pimps meet Grus, the collaborative partners wade through the thick fog of disorientating washes.

Maturing well, progressing on every release, Raf And O expand their musical horizons still further. As collaborators their signature traits prove flexible enough. As a duo their precursor to the album tracks, ‘Sonnet 62’ and ‘Worms’, suggest a certain sophisticated and more polished sound. All the best attributes are still there; it’s just that the challenging production and Raf’s vocals seem to have got even better and richer.

Monolith Cocktail - Raf and O press shot for the Portal LP

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