New Music Review Roundup
Words: Dominic Valvona
Tickling Our Fancy 036: Bringing you the most eclectic of music roundups the Monolith Cocktail trawls the perimeters for the most interesting, sublime, obscure and mesmerizing sounds to bring you another polygenesis installment of the ‘Tickling Our Fancy’ revue. We have a double bill of Spanish releases from the world music label ARC, dystopian leftfield hip-hop from Ed Scissor & Lamplighter, a crooning ambient backlit opus from The Fiction Aisle, a reprised version of Die Krupps original metal machine requiem, and a cult favorite from the UK’s 80s post punk scene; The Tempest’s 5 Against The House.
Ed Scissor & Lamplighter ‘Tell Them It’s Winter’
Released by High Focus Records, July 15th 2016
Emerging damaged and deeply troubled from the miasma underbelly of modern life, the congruous leftfield hip-hop partnership of wordsmith Ed Scissor and Glasgow-based producer Lamplighter convey a sad poetic beauty in their dystopian visions. Much has been made of the duo’s caustic, and at times nihilistic, articulations and augurs. And their latest remote collaboration – the duo rarely share the same room as each other during the writing/recording process – Tell Them It’s Winter does explore familiar morbid curiosities, both musically and lyrically.
Yet, despite the travails, despite the gloom and all too real drudgery of an algorithm-driven society, Ed and his Lamplighter foil offer glimmers of light. Reminding us constantly of the universal infinite, Ed describes forces beyond the mundane. References to astrology, metaphysics and science flow like relentless streams of consciousness from Ed’s lips in a delivery style that shifts between rap, spoken word and, even, grime. Abstract elements of hip-hop and trip-hop mix seamlessly with the Shakespearean and biblical to produce the poetry, whilst tetchy minimal electronica and slow methodical beats layered over cLOUDDEAD expansive atmospheres and traces of neo-classical strings and looped recordings of old scratchy records create the backdrop to Ed’s winter of discontent.
Each track is free of demarcation and often floats off on different pathways before returning to focus once again on the central mood. There’s no room for prowess and flexing, Ed’s verses constructing a framework of unflinching honesty. Cormac McCarthy and Winterfell metaphors aside (the critics consensus analogies and reference points it seems for this album), the impending Machiavellian horsemen of doom bolted a long time ago. Tell Them It’s Winter is, if anything, a reminder that nothing has changed and that the central tenets of human suffrage carry on unabated in the 21st century.
The Tempest ‘5 Against The House’
Released by Optic Nerve Recordings
Shining in a phosphorus light for only a short time before burning out, the Northampton post-punk band The Tempest lasted for just over a year in the early 80s. Remembered more for their future connections – founding members Mark Refoy joining both the Spaceman 3 and splinter cell Spiritualised, and Alex Novak joining Attrition and Venus Fly Trap – The Tempest’s band members did manage to create a critically lauded LP in 1984, the reappraisal of which is heralded by this reissue. Available both on vinyl – a fetching limited edition on blue and white splattered vinyl with a suitable Sci-fi pop culture illustration from the band’s Novak – and CD, complete with an additional trio of non-album bonuses, 5 Against The House is both of irresistibly its time yet unique in traversing punk, Goth, drone and in ushering the twilight approach of shoegaze.
With hints of a late The Damned, Killing Joke and fellow Northampton skulkers Bauhaus, the group’s rattling rim-shot rhythms, brooding angulated and contorted rapid fire guitars and solar wind chilled breezes give the alternative indie template a thrashing. However, that’s only half the story, because the quality and spark which first brought the band to the attention of John Peel and Kid Jensen was the spikey bounce and aloof prowling pop of songs such as ‘Montezuma’ and ‘Lady Left This’, both singles which drew favourable reviews and entered the indie charts. After hearing them on Radio 1’s Roundtable show, Steve Strange, in an overly complimentary mood, anointed them and declared, “This is the sound of 1984.” If Strange heard the band’s ‘Blame It On The Breeze’ then he’d recognize a passing resemblance to a twisted Gothic twanged version of his own Visage sound.
Inspired by the polygenesis spirit of the times, The Tempest integrate A Certain Ratio and Blurt style white funk and jazz on the extended bonus instrumental ‘ABC’, and pay an avant-garde 1920s marimba homage to the siren of the silver screen, ‘Clara Bow’.
Failing to even see out the release of the debut, and band’s only LP for obvious reasons, The Tempest split far too soon. The only clue to how they may have evolved manifested on their future collaborations and performances.
The Fiction Aisle ‘Fuchsia Days’
Released by Chord Orchard, July 17th 2016
Still crooning the same unrequited dramas in the Bacharach/Sinatra/Hawley tones, Thomas White as The Fiction Aisle has however moved on from the plaintive sumptuous orchestral suites of his last epic Heart Map Rubric for something more explorative. Inspired in part by the ambient panoramic sweeps and mood pieces of Eno, White’s smooth longing timbre lingers palatial style over a series of expansive soundtracks on his latest epic, Fuchsia Days.
A musical polymath on the Brighton scene, used to adapting new sounds, White has successfully shifted between the enervated halcyon psych of the Electric Soft Parade and the rambunctious indie/alternative country rock of the Brakes, to hone a solo career as a wry and weary romantic crooner.
Wistfully, lilting, occupying the same sentiments and musical ground as Robert Wyatt’s Cuckooland and Paddy McAloon’s I Trawl The Megahertz, Fuchsia Days, despite its often-lamentable themes, allows White’s vocals to wander meditatively. On the stirring suffused, Spiritualised heaven bound, ‘Tonight’ and the cinematic minor opus title track his voice disappears completely; emotion and heartbreak described instead by the subtle instrumental layers of gradual release.
Though imbued with his new ambient settings, White still repeats the melodic traces of McCartney, and occasionally Harrison; especially with the underplayed romance, but less cynical heartbreaker ‘The Dream’: a real tear-jerker that you could imagine being penned by a Sunflower/Friends era Bruce Johnston. And on the universal encapsulated opener ‘Dust’, there are reverberations of both ELO and Queen’s vocal effects.
There’s nothing to pine over, no regrets, White’s latest vessel still channels the same balladry emotions and concerns. The songwriting has just been given more space to breathe; flowing, fluctuating and lulling over sweeping romantic and sometime elegiac organ evoked maladies to capture age-old woes and boons. Another successful transition from White.
Ana Alcaide ‘Leyenda’
Vigüela ‘Temperamento: Traditional Songs From Spain’
Released by ARC Music
Delivered recently through the Monolith Cocktail letterbox, a duo of illuminating Spanish discoveries from the ‘devoted’ world music label ARC Music has proved particularly beguiling. Though our tastes, as regular readers will be aware, are incredibly diverse, the modern Celtic pop and balladry take on Spanish tradition found on the latest LP by Toledo enchantress Ana Alcaide, isn’t usually something we’d find especially appealing; unless there was something special about it of course. But despite the sometimes commercially, almost Eurovision, overtones, there is a real depth to the Alcaide’s Leyenda album that borders on the exotic and esoteric. It has that special glimmer and quality which lifts it above the mediocrity and stereotype of those Celtic reverberations.
This is an ambitious album with some lyrical but serious intentions: Alcaide setting out to explore and understand ‘the ancient world of the feminine that has passed down through the generations but we have lost touch with’. A highly personal suite of twelve ballads, laments and paeans, Leyenda uses legends and myths as metaphors on femininity or, rather how the female role as goddess and earthly authority was lost through the ages. Often magical, inhabiting a dream world state, Alcaide is nevertheless, as she puts it, creating ‘…a modern image of the magic world, avoiding the classical ‘fairy tale’ look’.
And so we set off on a fantastical meditation through the atavistic imagined ‘mother Earth’ of Mexican mythology on the opening ‘Tlalli’. A gentle introduction, Alcaide’s lilting vocals drift on the Central American jungle breezes as a wooden flute, birdsong and lush rain-soaked atmospherics build a suitable picture postcard from the region. From Mexico to China next, though played with a Spanish and gypsy flair, Alcaide recounts the end of matriarchy itself, with the tale of Luolaien and her jealous fiancé. From the legends of the Deang Dynasty, this all-too obvious analogy sees the fatalistic goddess’ wings clipped, forever tied-down and restricted.
There’s no mistaking the Spanish heritage, Alcaide a native of Toledo, both musically and in the choice of source material. ‘La Ondina de Vacares’ is an ode to the fabled water spirits, the Undines, of Granada’s Lake Vacares. A riff on the sirens of ancient Greece, these miscreant creatures transformed from birds into altogether more seductive propositions, intent on enticing their prey to a watery death. ‘La Mujer Muerta’ is a more romantic tale (again) fatalism, the victim of a sword fight between love rival brothers, the ‘beautiful Blanca’s’ lifeless body reclines to give shape and a name to the Guadarrama mountain ranges; a sorrow and yet gravitas of awe given a wistful, melodramatic song. Whatever the outcome, each of the female protagonists and objects of desire usually lure or fall victim to the patriarch of their ire, except in the case of the bridge-builder tale ‘El Puente de San Martín’, where the wife of the builder makes a sacrifice out of love for her husband, and the ‘Folía de la Primavera’, a more ‘joyous’ instrumental to springtime.
Inspired in part by Alcaide’s adoption of the Swedish folk instrument, the nyckelharpa, its dulcet plucked and ringing tones can be heard throughout, lending an almost Medieval sound to the Western European backing track. But then there are also allusions to further afield influences, with a touch of Muslim Spain on the dusky Arabian flavoured ‘El Puente de San Martín’, and echoes of Japan on the plaintive themed ‘Kari Kalas’.
Countless woes are delivered with enchanting grace; Alcaide’s voice both floating surreptitiously and lushly through a real and imaginary timeline swoons sonorously, giving a fantastical voice to her cast of nymphs, spirits, and demigods and duck footed oddities.
The second ARC album is again inspired by Spain’s folktales and traditions but musically stays confined to the borders, true to the country’s heritage of cultural preservation. Vigüela’s Temperamento is imbued by the group’s hometown of El Carpio de Tajo and its autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha’s connections to one of the country’s greatest novels, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. The birthplace of that worthy tome’s author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the area is also home to the town of Toledo, the real feet-on-the-ground home of Ana Alcaide. Whereas Alcaide dwelled in various fantasies and imaginary worlds, Vigüela reconnected to the arable fields of Spain’s agricultural past.
Earnestly translating the rural heartlands with an 18-song collection of both impassioned homages and resigned laments, the assiduous quintet put their own personal distinctive mark on songs from the great Spanish songbook. Reverential throughout, with commendable articulate performances, Temperamento is as much about education as entertainment. The album’s accompanying booklet offers a wealth of context, historically, geographically, culturally and thematically explaining each song’s provenance. Delivered vocally with the most humbled and toiled vocals, each of the band’s highly-talented musical partisans is equally capable of stirring up images of the brow-beaten oppressed and working classes sweating out a living under the relentless sweltering Spanish sun. Combining a number of phonetically poetic, accented vocal styles, Vigüela sound impressive; especially when using melismatic melodies – a style in which several notes are sung to one syllable.
Familiar instrumental signatures such as the lute, castanets and guitar are accompanied by a omnivorous choice of percussion; the band literally including all the utensils from but not including the kitchen sink. Whether it’s shaking olive trees for the Gañana style paean to the olive harvesters on ‘A la Acceituna Temprano’ or, the crackling birch fire that accompanies the lone fatalistic voice of the group’s Mari Nieto on the festive Sones style ‘Di, Dianna’, Vigüela bring the experiences and environments of their subjects to life.
Covering more or less every square inch of Spain’s rural folk, there are Fandangos, Seguidillas and a Jota to the lyrical suffering of ill fated and rebuked love trysts, cowgirls, sick of the enamored attentions of the local men, and even an ode to the shearers of mules, donkeys and sheep – a lost art it seems.
Though indebted to tradition, with a sound steeped in generational ties, linked intrinsically to the land, the group plays with conventions, changing, manipulating those root musical styles with free passages, additional lyrics and polyrhythmic tweaks. The past ain’t quite what it used to be.
Die Krupps ‘Stahlwerksrequiem’
Released by Bureau B
No stranger to incubating some of German music’s most innovative and revolutionary artists, lending its industrial cityscape to a host of Kosmische and Krautrock doyens, Düsseldorf would however, have to wait until 1981 to receive a soundtrack that reflected its darker recesses. Dinger and Rother had immortalized the city with a motorik but pastoral transcendence, and Kraftwerk had composed a grand utopian synthesized symphony to the machine, but the Die Krupps trio of natives Jürgen Engler, Bernward Malaka and Ralf Dörper would create something hewn from the frightening abandoned ‘stahlwerks’.
Progenitors in a sense, certainly one of the first to recognize it, Die Krupps helped coin industrial rock with their original Stahlwerksinfonie suite. Uncompromising, stalking its listeners with a mangled squeal and skulk of unwieldy guitar, wails, shouts and a monotonic bassline, the trio’s intentions were at the time, highly ambitious. Reinventing the (steel) wheel, aiming to create something different, they sounded to all intents and purposes like a natural successor or, an extension, of the Kosmische/Krautrock brand. Yet their original inspiration was not Krautrock but Lou Reed’s infamous Metal Machine Music album. Even though they recorded at Can’s Inner Space sanctum, Die Krupps were unfamiliar with the previous generation’s explorations. Since that album’s release, the group has done its homework, in particular, finding common ground with the earliest work of Cluster.
A reprise this time around, featuring some of those Krautrock legends, and from the Düsseldorf punk and techno eras, Pryolator (who recently released a reconstructive collection of the late Conrad Schnitzler library tapes), Engler and Dörper are joined by a Bureau B label super group. Featuring a litany of artists from the German label, there’s Guru Guru’s mischievous founder and drumming pioneer Mani Neumeier and the inimitable heavy drum and bass partnership of Faust’s Jean-Hervé Peron and Zappi Diermaier helping to enrich and add an extra layer of sonorous menace and pants shitting doom to proceedings.
A moiety of two acts, the reprise Stahlwerkrequiem skulks around an abandoned industrial space once more. In a caustic swell of steel-mesh flayed percussion, continues wild unruly gnarling guitar and Gothic resonance, a steady prowling bass line and stoic drumming, the factory requiem growls through a miasma of Faust’s misdeeds, Bauhaus, Wender’s captured steals of Cave and the Bad Seeds during the Berlin years with Crime And The City Solution and countless other unsettling musical furors into the abysses – all we’re missing is the Baroque horror baritone of Scott Walker.
The monotony of the bass and drums anchors the serialism of the unkempt guitar solo that drives on relentlessly, until a beam of cosmic light shines down on the gloom and whips up a suitable crescendo of zapping rays before disappearing in a Lovecraft vortex.
Minus Peron and Diermaier, the second act continues to inhabit the same space, only there’s a brighter, cleaner sound and production this time. Cymbals shake and shimmer rather than prick the sensibilities, and the metallic sheet panel beat is far more hypnotic. Less hostile and grueling, the Die Krupps and extended Krautrock ensemble return full circle to the Cluster inspired ‘Live in der Fabrik’. Intense, every inch of space filled with an atmosphere of industrial psychogeography, the requiem sounds like an antidote to the optimistic confident celebration of the machine and technological age, as pioneered by Kraftwerk.