Words: Dominic Valvona

Monolith Cocktail - Raf and O Portal

Re-contextualized atavistic Peruvian folk songs from Sounds and Colours; time-warping toga-wearing pastiche from The Bongolian; more avant-garde Bowie imbibed and machinations trip-hop from Raf and O; bedroom recordings from David West; garage permutations from Os Noctàmbulos; grandiose alternative rock from Unkle Bob; and the Afro-Latin flavoured staccato summer pop indie single from the Yip Man Of Scotland.

Raf And O  ‘Portal’

Monolith Cocktail - Raf and O - Portal - Press Shot 4

Sucked through a Portal into a parallel musical universe, the idiosyncratic London duo of Raf Mantelli and Richard Smith submerge the listener once again into their beguiling futuristic panorama. Re-imagining a world in which a Memory of a Free Festival arts lab and Gemini Spacecraft Bowie enmeshed with Portishead, Raf and O’s gothic and magical references are twisted to conjure up ominous visions, to a backing track of free-spirited avant-jazz drumming, trip-hop and contorted machine music.

Portal is where European storytelling, nee fairytales, meet the mechanics of a foreboding age: From the unnerving poetic siren evocations of the ‘Dream Machine’ to the abstract Sci-Fi cinematic kinetics of ‘Mona Lisa Smile II’, the duo combine lyrical lament with the cold resolve of technology.

Regular followers and Raf and O admirers will know that this is the duo’s second release in the past month, the precursor split Sonnet 62/Ink EP with burgeoning electronic music talent Robert Logan (who has previously remixed Dream Machine, and continues to work with the duo) was reviewed and featured by us in Tickling Our Fancy 035. Featuring two tracks from that release, the Shakespearean ‘Sonnet 62’ and Trans-European ‘Worms’, the album’s remaining rich tapestry of cerebral art school trip-hop reinforces Raf and O’s growing professionalism as musicians and songwriters.

Raf’s vocals tiptoe, linger and fluctuate between moods and eras: one minute lost in a Kubrick-esque baroque diorama, switching from esoteric Italian to plague originated nursery rhyme English, on ‘Drunk’, to channeling a smoky bar room Scott Walker vibe, on ‘Neurons’. Often unnerving yet always diaphanous and melodious, Raf’s voice is off-kilter and lilting throughout. The accent on certain lyrics and delivery is amorphous without being clumsy and messy, and showcases Raf’s range, which can be almost childlike in one song and like a thousand year old soul on another. O meanwhile interprets the lyricism with his own amorphous musicality. Never losing the pulse and beat, no matter how somnolent and airy, he provides a semblance, a trace, of a well-‘travailed’ pathway.

Paying homage once again to their biggest inspiration, David Bowie, the duo’s most magical moment on the album is a tribute to the great dame’s ‘plastic soul’ period ‘Win’. Fair play to them for their choice of song, the ballad from the ‘city of brotherly love’ Philadelphia soul incarnation Bowie period, can’t have been easy to cover. In my, and even in the staunch Bowie berating Lester Bang’s, opinion Young Americans is perhaps his finest jump and creative absorption, and ‘Win’ is one of its best tracks. The maverick soul ballad is a sophisticated adroit challenge, and Raf and O rise to it. Enervated of its soul swooning demur, the duo transforms the original into a beautifully melting, strung-out plucked love recital. Brilliantly shimmering with an affectionate, ruminating and heart-aching vocal, it is a signature kooky modern take, almost on par with the original: I love it.

Raf and O continue to grow, progressing with every release, pushing themselves into new directions. Portal is no exception, being both a chance to catch-up with missed tracks, released over the last couple of years, and a showcase for new material, the album cementing the partnership’s unique narratives and poetic views of a machine age and cybernetic world.

Various   ‘Sonidos Raíces del Perú’
Released  by  Sounds  and  Colours

Monolith Cocktail - Exclusive: sonidos-raices-del-peru

Premiered last month on the Monolith Cocktail, Psilosamples dreamy ‘Qoychuquy’ reinterpretation was an enchanting example of the reworked traditional Peruvian recordings project, Sonidos Raíces del Perú.

Conceived by the South American cultural news hub Sounds and Colours, this reimagined, contextualized window on Peru’s musical heritage features the original recordings of the nomadic French film-maker Vincent Moon, who toured the country in 2013; almost surreptitiously capturing for posterity the ancient voices and folk songs of the people. With varying degrees of manipulation, a contemporary assortment of Latin America’s leading electronic music artists/producers have turned these recordings into exotic and often mysterious peregrinations or, congruously coaxed them towards sauntering tropical beachfront dancefloors.

Already well-versed in the process, having reimagined sounds from Costa Rica on the SIBÖ collaboration – recently ‘revisiting’ their original and allowing a similar group of artists to remix it – Brazilian producer Sentidor (João Carvalho) and musical ethnologist Nillo (Johnny Gutierrez) lend a similar treatment to ‘Curanderos’. Creating an evocative enough atmosphere, the duo adds nuanced but busy beats, sympathetic tot the campfire burning atavistic lament of a weeping environment. Elsewhere Chilean producer El Sueño de la Casa Propia transduces a trio of Andean folk songs from the maestros of the genre, Jorge Choquihuillca and his family, on the echo-y, rasping, rustic-strung percussive ‘La Familia Choquihuillca’, and Argentinian wiz Panchasila, as the title suggests, gives the thousands of meters above sea level misty mountain songs of the past a resonating, space-y, dub echo on ‘Cariñito Dub’.

Though the wellspring source of rich material was only recorded a few years ago, in the hands of Latin America’s contemporary electronic music visionaries, these native Peruvian folk songs become esoteric; like voices from beyond the ether; a spiritual continuation, channeled through centuries of familiar lament, paean and offerings. Sounds and Colours go deeper into the South American continent than most, finding previously ignored or rare music and bringing it to life. This latest experiment is no different: opening up new musical collaborations and injecting a modern equivalent into the roots and traditions of Peru’s past.

The Bongolian  ‘Moog Maximus’
Released by Blow Up Records,  5th August  2016

Monolith Cocktail - The Bongolian

Crisscrossing timelines, travelling between re-imagined legendary music high point, the “Big Boss Man” Nasser Bouzida once again ignites the flux capacitor for another excursion. A back lot at the golden era of historical MGM epics; a fatalistic set from Westworld; or an Italian auteur filmmakers bongo mad club scene version of the ancient empire, we’re never quite sure of Bouzida’s Roman inspired intentions and inspirations.

After his roll neck existentialist mooning homage to the beatniks, the bongo maverick returns with an ennui pastiche-driven trip through countless musical genres. Leaving little to the imagination, each pun and wordplay suffixed track title leaves the listener in no doubt as to the parodied style or artistic tribute. However, perhaps the most amusing, ‘Jan Hammer Of The Gods’, is more Moroder Euro breakbeat than either signature Hammer 70s softened synth or 80s vaporized, dry iced soundtrack.

Moog Maximus, the fifth LP under The Bongolian moniker, as the title suggests is heavy on the “moog” and retro-futurism. But the “maximum” is on the volume of musical genres that our hand drums maestro can absorb and pump out with both reverence and a knowing wink. Afrobeat Kuti horns and hip-hop breakbeat sample standard drums herald the arrival of the toga-adorned maverick on the opening Caesar-saluting ‘Octavius’, before we’re whisked off and thrown down into the boogaloo Hammond soul-clap of 60s Mod London with ‘Googa Mama’. And so it goes on, The Bongolian time machine landing in aria Spaghetti Western territory on ‘Vatican Westworld’, 70s Amicus horror soundtrack schlock on ‘Boudicca Rides Again’, and leaping into the strange cartoon world of children’s TV on the Style Council meets Sesame Street kitsch ‘Kids Love Moog’.

Like Candido and The Incredible Bongo Band on acid or, the Go! Team at a Fellini celluloid nightspot, Moog Maximus is a frenzied, gratuitous bongo fueled gas.

David West   ‘Peace Or Love’
Released by Tough Love,  5th August 2016

Monolith Cocktail - David West

Languidly transducing his free and easy scraps of bedroom recordings into something resembling an album, the Pacific crossing maverick David West (based both in Australia and the USA) ties-down enough material to fashion eleven tracks for posterity on his latest release.

The follow-up to the Drop Out Of Collage cassette tape, Peace Or Love is a cornucopia of ideas, some fleeting others ambitious, delivered in the dreamiest, gauze-y obscured way. Using a collage of samples, jams and more thought-out song suggestions, West sometimes meanders into somnolence, yet also stumbles into more fertile pastures. His soft bulletins evoke a post-disco feel and groove on the funky keytar dance track, ‘Happiest Man In The Room’, and breezier, 99 Records meets Postcard ‘Au Contraire’. Somewhere between baggy indie and New Order, a synth pop 80s New York vibe is flittered with on the ‘heaven can’t wait’ poetic lilting ‘Dream On Dreamer’.

Purposely creating a lo-fi mood, West still hints at the bigger ideas. Strings, sampled I presume, can often be heard stirring throughout, lending either a plaintive note of mooning resignation or certain grandeur to proceedings. Vignettes such as ‘At Peace’ use them for a mixed emotional response: the title might suggest the comfort of death and this bears out in the instrumental which is itself a mournful and ambient noise collage that features strange scrambled flickers of something from beyond the earthly realm.

Shifting genres, ‘Do You Miss Me Around’, with its overloaded noise gate distortions, sounds like a stab at No Age, and the first of a three-act suite, ‘Darkness In My Heart’ has an air of Wolf Parade. Touches, no matter how slight, of Tim Goldsworthy, ESG, Archie Bronson Outfit ‘Chunk’ period, Young Marble Giants and even Cabaret Voltaire all seem to make an appearance. And with contributions from an axis of San Fran/LA/Perth friends and West’s various stints with the Red Columns, Liberation and Rank/Xerox to expand and inspire the musical horizons, Peace Or Love is filled with some interesting hybrids and possibilities.

Os Noctàmbulos  ‘Strange’
Released by  Stolen Body Records

Monolith Cocktail

Troubled by the tribulations, torments and ills of the modern world – but then apart from hedge fund investors, ISIS and Putin, who isn’t worried? – the Paris-based Os Noctàmbulos haven chosen to envelope their concerns in the Sundazed age of the garage band phenomenon. In the shadow of the Calico Wall, returning to the source, they funnel a mix of the Tex-Mex Hammond broody Outcasts, The New Breed and ? And The Mysterians, and the dirty country psych and blues of The Seeds, Syndicate of Sound and New Colony Six.

Following up a smattering of releases the four-piece return to Stolen Body Records for their second album, ‘Strange’. With renewed confidence – so the press release says – they bounce back with a mix of backbeat psych, acid country and an ever-present suffused organ swell. Skulking for ‘Changes’, rallying against ‘Medication’ or, sulking like teen creeps up to no good in the dead of night, lurking around in the crypt, on ‘Jodi Taught Me’, Os Noctàmbulos apply a hallucinatory lo fi veil to their raw and live kicking sound throughout.

Every generation finds something nuanced and different, mostly a result of the times they’re living in, to add to the beat and garage band blueprint. And with traces of both 80s revivalists The Gruesomes, and a group that started off all in paisley homage to the psych forbearers, The Stone Roses, the band find enough depth and space to offer their own unique take with Stranger. They also do it a lot better than most of the current bunch.

Unkle Bob   ‘Maybe Mediocrity/ I Watched Your Heart’
Released by In Black Records

Monolith Cocktail - Unkle Bob

Taken from the recent mini-album The Deepest Seas, two finely crafted songs of blessed heartache from Unkle Bob. Formed in and around Glasgow University in 2006, the alternative college radio rock band has recently fallen into the orbit of the burgeoning Glasgow-based label In Black Records (Acting Strange, Mark McGowan). Currently doing the round so to speak, this duo of romantic-pranged numbers both start from similar stirring beginnings before reaching anthemic crescendos.

The idea that ‘Maybe Mediocrity’ is perhaps the only choice left for our protagonist, rather than face loneliness, the first of these songs has a lamenting sigh of resignation about it. Earnest folksy tones of Cat Stevens and delicate burnished swelling percussion make their way slowly like ships passing in the night towards a gentle finish. Poised and purposefully sad, ‘I Watched Your Heart’ pulls at the proverbial. A song of two halves, it begins with a plaintive piano opening before building up towards a higher register (almost weepy) Rick Webster vocal, backed by the momentum of a Elbow/Snow Patrol style march to the finish line.

Ambitious enough, with gravitas, these two examples from the current minor opus bode well for the future; a band at the peak of their maturity and professionalism.

Yip Man Of Scotland   ‘For Your Own Good’
Released by Armellodie Records. Teaser from the upcoming Braw Power LP.

Monolith Cocktail - Yip Man Of Scotland

Hardly a celebration or joyous release of optimism, Al Nero as the barely disguised Yip Man of Scotland, has penned one of the most sauntering carnival pop songs of the summer. The grooviest of break-ups, pitched somewhere between Squeeze and A.J. & The Hackney Empire, ‘For Your Own Good’ is surprisingly bright and uplifting. Math-rock without the pretensions, Vampire Weekend without the Ivy League schmaltz, the Yip Man’s backbeat and staccato-like guitar riffs sound like an unlikely amalgamation of Scottish wit, African rhythms and South American jauntiness.

Reflecting this breezy, light-hearted song is a equally smile-inducing video or, if you prefer, you hunt the track down and buy it on Bandcamp. ‘For Your Own Good’ will also be on the forthcoming album, Braw Power, released later in the autumn.

Words: Dominic Valvona

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