NEW MUSIC REVIEW ROUNDUP
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA



Tickling Our Fancy 039 features The Conformist, Wovenhand, Flies+Flies, Senji Niban and The Moth Poets, Mei Han and Sea + Air.


Monolith Cocktail - WovenHand

For your aural delights: Wovenhand are off on a star-guided peregrination with their latest gothic Americana opus; The Conformist is back with more electronic sound clashes; there’s experimental electronica and trance from Senji Niban and The Moth Poets in the form of a split album from Edinburgh’s Bearsuit Records; and a contemporary and classical zheng showcase from the master Chinese zither player Mei Han. We also have the latest ebbing ‘dark pop’ single from the London trio Flies+Flies and a remix re-imagining of the nomadic souls Sea+Air from Ulrich Schnauss.


Wovenhand   ‘Star Treatment’
LP released by Sargent House/Glitterhouse Records

Inspired in a wondrous and metaphysical sense by humanities navigational dependence, worship and cultural fascination with the stars, David Eugene Edwards sets out on another esoteric Americana adventure on his latest opus, Star Treatment. The former 16 Horsepower front man saddles up and unfurls the Wovenhand banner, traversing the great western plains of historical reality and literature to produce a gothic Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee meets the Egyptian Book Of The Dead.

Often labored, heavy with a rich tapestry of cryptic prose and references, Star Treatment is a seriously deep and multilayered expansive album. Edwards’ has spent the last fourteen years creating his own mythology with a host of toiled alternative folk and rock songbooks; culminating in what is one of his most confident, achievements yet: An album with a real gravitas. More in the mood of an atmospheric, ponderous soundscape of sun-stroked mirages than a song in the conventional sense of the word, ‘Swaying Reeds’ could be a tad pretentious with its subconscious stream of lyrics listing ancient temples, cities, rivers and mythological characters: an atavistic trip that takes in Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia. But Edwards manages to stay on the right(eous) side or pretense, even if the language is at times difficult to follow.

 

Lines from many of the great religious tomes and histories are alluded to; more specifically the Old Testament and native Indians. In fact a link between the two is referenced on the beleaguered, tribal metronome seven-minute ‘All Your Waves’, which mentions Ramah, both the birthplace of Samuel in ancient Israel and the name of a famous Navajo Indian reservation in New Mexico. Of course biblical names litter the North American continent. That’s nothing new, but Edwards connects timelines and, often, significant spiritual connotations to emphasis and accentuate something beyond just their etymology.

Musically more than ever echoing the billowed supernatural morose of Nick Cave and Crime And The City Solution (who happen to have lent Edwards their piano/synth player Matthew Smith), Star Treatment both gallops, running up that prairie on the opening drone rocker ‘Come Brave’, and tumultuously heaves and sinks on ‘Five By Five’ to their imbued influence. ‘The Hired Hand’ though has a certain rockabilly snake-hipped black leather cowboy feel to it, and ‘Crystal Palace’ sounds like a Slavic choral backed Bowie on occasions.

Working on many levels with this star-guided concept, Edwards meta panorama may look towards the night skies yet it also digs beneath sacred ground to conjure up the ancestral; mixing America’s indigenous culture, ritual and ceremony with those of the most ancient mariners and travellers from the ‘fertile crescent’. This is an ambitious piece of work, taking as it does Americana to another more ambitious and afflatus level.






Mei Han & Red Chamber   ‘Classical & Contemporary Chinese Music’
LP released by ARC Music,  September 30th 2016

Monolith Cocktail - Mei Han


Gracefully and majestically Mei Han transcribes both the atavistic and more contemporary charms and culture of China with another considered and adroit collection of zither led scores. Joined by the accomplished all-female quartet of strings players, the Red Chamber, Han revitalizes and experiments with the beautifully dulcet Chinese variant of the zither, known as the zheng. An instrument of the Imperial court and folk ensembles, the zheng had remained intact, unchanged, until the early half of the 20th century when it gained more strings (12 to 21), and lost its original raw silk strings for nylon-wound steel ones. One of, as you’ll hear, China’s most memorable and expressive instruments it’s ethereal and more contemplative serenade tones are rung with either a set of ivory, tortoise or plastic fingerpicks. The zheng resonated far and wide, fostering the Japanese koto, Korean gayageum, Vietnamese đàn tranh and Mongolian yatga.

A protégé of one of the last bastions of the traditional zheng, master Gao Zicheng, Han learnt her craft as a virtuoso in Maoist China before immigrating much later to Canada, where she now resides. Despite the arduous travails that this study entailed, she became a soloist at 19; impressive as most of her peers were only just setting out on their studies. She has since gone on to earn a Phd in Ethnomusicology at the University of British Columbia, and leads one of the world’s best Chinese music ensembles.

 

Rather surprisingly this is her first ever-international release, so for many it’s an introduction. As the title states, this is an album of the classical and contemporary. Unmistakably Chinese in atmosphere and tone with musicianship deeply entrenched in the past, the contemporary elements are found in Han’s cross-cultural adoption of music from outside China and in the often-improvised performances of those compositions. The colour-shaded jewel spectrum of modal driven brilliance on the commissioned Moshe Denburg ‘Dark Red Ruby’ for example weaves a jangly Klezmer/Balkan style jig from the Chinese instrumentation, whilst ‘Gakino Horo’ takes a Bulgarian folk dance further east than it’s ever been.

Stalwart ceremonials and folk songs from the Tang Dynasty and more recent epochs are given sonorous heavenly makeovers. The caressed and trembling ‘Dao Chuilian’ for instance – a piece from the Guangdong province in southern China – made for the yangqin (hammered dulcimer) is rearranged here for the zheng, and the seasonal lilting “spirited folk song” ‘Sunny Spring And White Snow’, originally a solo pipa arrangement, is now widened to accommodate a trio, including the zheng and zhengruan.

Anchored to Chinese authenticity, Han does her best to expand the zheng sound; reaching across Eastern Europe and, even, Borneo. At times sounding like a subtle, scenic and dainty Appalachian-Hellenic-Chinese hybrid, Classical & Contemporary Chinese Music is an articulate beguiling showcase; an attentive introduction to both the mastery of Mei Han and her ensemble and the diaphanous sound of the zheng.




Sea+Air  ‘Pain Is Just A Cloud (Ulrich Schnauss Remix)’
Featured on the Peace Begins At Home EP released by Glitterhouse Records

Sea + Air press pic_bw_printDanielWeisser

Both reviewed and interviewed by our very own Ayfer Simms, the nomadic ‘ghost pop’ duo Eleni Zafiriadou and Daniel Benjamin, better known as Sea+Air, have been remixed and re-imagined by a host of producers and artists on their latest Glitterhouse Records release Peace Begins At Home. Taking their cue from the duo’s last album Evropi, a quartet of sonic manipulators and performers, which includes Berlin/NYC based lo-fi artist Allie, UK based producer Sebastian Reynolds, the German keyboard player and ambient maestro Ulrich Schnauss, and the Irish singer/songwriter Duke Special, have deconstructed, electrified and in the case of the latter given the original material a lilting folk bent.

Described by Ayfer Simms as an “eternal farewell” with a “blurred sparkle of the ancients” Sea+Air’s Evropi LP was a poetic requiem on war and peace, inspired by Zafiriadou’s great grandmother’s experiences following expulsion from Anatolia in the 1920s, as a result of her religion. From that same album the renowned German electronic composer Schnauss underlays the original plaintive ‘Pain Is A Cloud’ with a suitably dissipating vaporous atmosphere. Dramatic, floating above the cumulus, the Oriental/Hellenic traversing melodies and lamenting vocals are now steeped in an airy expanse. Enjoy.




Senji Niban/ The Moth Poets  ‘Live At The River Lounge’
Split EP released by Bearsuit Records


Monolith Cocktail - Senji Niban/ The Moth Poets ‘Live At The River Lounge’ Split EP released by Bearsuit Records

A curious if complimentary shared billing from the Edinburgh label Bearsuit Records, Live At The River Lounge features the geographical poles apart but musically congruous Japanese producer Koichiro Shigeno and the Scottish capital’s Moth Poets.

Recording under his Senji Niban appellation, Shigeno is given first dibs, opening this electronica kosmiche and trance split album experiment with the maniacal retro-futurist ‘Klanpki’. The sort of busy accompaniment you might find sound tracking a speeded-up film collage of Russian constructivism, it melds the Yellow Magic Orchestra with Sky Records’ Dadaist fringe. Other explorations take in the strange aural fragrance of liquid bossa nova and neo-classical Roedelius, on ‘Flowers 6 (Nano Edited)’, and the minimal kinetic techno kookiness of early Kreidler, on ‘Flowers 2’. But the standout track is the Fourth World Music cosmic soul “emergency remix” of ‘Atomic Blues’, which could be a lost idea from the Eno’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. It has a real slinky groove and a certain air of mystery, which isn’t ruined at all by the air raid siren that decides to break up the metallic funk.

Sounding a little more serious, The Moth Poets half of this ten track suite is another interesting mix of ideas and sonic influences; from the Planet Dog trance and water garden peregrination of ‘The Dazzle Ships’ to the ominous stretched-out drop into the Biblical cursed abyss of ‘Ham’s Descent’.

A duo of indie noiseniks with previous incarnations as part of Minor Injury and Blood Orange, the (we can assume these aren’t their real first names) Yo-yo Nielson and Ariel Patterson pairing are plotting courses for new horizons under the Moth Poets banner. They sweep into lush cinematic foreboding in the manner of Mo Wax on the cool ‘Sniper Alley’, and merge subtle dark atmospherics, a pulsing bass and a spooky Byzantine choir on the ambient finale ‘Right Road, Wrong Path’. Fluctuating between chill-wave, a less noisy and more serene Slugabed, and Matthew David the duo produce some quite deep and disturbing soundtracks.

 

Beneath the radar so to speak, Live At The River Lounge is an unassuming double act showcase with plenty of potential. I’ll be keeping an ear to the ground on further developments from the two, though the label has told me that the Moth Poets will be releasing their debut album next year.






Flies+Flies   ‘The Sea’
Single


Monolith Cocktail - Flies+Flies

Not to blow our own trumpet but it has been pointed out by the London trio’s management that we’re the only blog to feature every one of their singles. And they’re mighty appreciative of it. We’ve done this because we find something alluring about the Flies+Flies ‘dark pop’ aesthetic.

Previous singles have layered lo fi brooding and minimal hymn like vocals over spares 808 tom fills and plucked cellos, wrapped within a club music pulse. ‘The Sea’ follows a similar ebb and flow pattern, downplayed, creeping and wafting along to various shades of grey and plaintive echo-y concrete shifting electronica. The group’s Dan Griffis is once again on hand, projecting his vulnerable Radiohead style coos and John Cale-esque vocals above the wallowing soundscapes.

Counteracting the industrial grit and augers of doom with naturalistic elements, the group is lyrically counterbalancing the political with an attentive sense of wonder; inspired equally by the ‘crumbling sea’ metaphors of the “majestic” environment as they are by the ongoing housing crisis in their native London. It is as they say…a slow burner, unfurling its sophisticated tones and textures over repeated plays; it’s one of their most subtle singles yet.

Flies+Flies will be releasing a four track EP in November on a new label enterprise Precious Snowflake. Keep an eye out for a future review.




The Conformist   ‘Lifestyle Bible’
LP released by Consumer Consumer Records,  30th September 2016


Monolith Cocktail - The Conformist

Best described in flippant terms as The Bomb Squad paling up with Coldcut to reconfigure the Art Of Noise’s back catalogue, the latest collage of ennui sample shredding and pasting from The Conformist is every bit as bonkers as the previous outing, Paid To Fake It. Perhaps on balance a little less manic, but still just as insane, glitch-y and uneasy with seeing out the results of the hammer and tongs, bashing experiments that threaten to explode. Scuttling, racing and often bamboozling between sonic patterns, the Cardiff producer also continues to apply the electric-shock therapy jolt on each of his, often tongue-in-cheek, explorations. Just as a particular beat, rhythm and thread emerge it’s snuffed out or bent out of shape; distorted and transformed into something new.

In essence, one period above all others seems to inspire The Conformist; the main source of material and ideas transmogrified from the golden age of sampling and mashing; when the copyright rules were still lax enough to be ignored. A self-confessed fan (and already mentioned in the opening sentence) of The Bomb Squad production outfit, who’s most audacious haul of samples reached into the hundreds on Public Enemy’s last great copyright fuck you, Fear Of A Black Planet, before the lawyers swooped in, The Conformist uses their blueprint signature of combining gnarled, unwieldy rock guitar with funk and soul drum breaks, basslines and sirens. It feels throughout like a 80s celebration, even down to the dull reverb and resonate free drum pad thuds and characteristic early rap music percussion ala Doug E. Fresh and Steinski. ‘Rock N’ Roll Dead Man’ sounds like The Conformist is having fun layering Joey Ramone and an American Evangelist over a mishmash blitz of early MTV segue ways. And the parting gift, ‘Nothing Important Happened Today’, a rare almost serene by his standards, cinematic dry-ice synth soundtrack, borrows liberally from both Vangelis and Carpenter to create The Fog on Mars – though to alleviate any profound signs of a sensibility and grandeur it’s constantly undermined by bonkers warbles and drilling style percussion.

Mirroring the times of a post-crash society, the effects felt most strongly in cities such as Cardiff, The Conformist seems to be playing with the last great infamous cultural vacuum of greed and rampant consumerism. It sounds like an updated assault on a Bonfire Of Vanities and Wall Street; a sonic attack on excess. Yet there’s also a nod to the games console 90s, with Streetfighter signature dialogue mingling with the goofball extremes of Warp label stalwarts, the Aphex Twin and μ-Ziq, on ‘Harm Hides At Home’ and ‘Life! Death! Prizes!’.

Trading the Rhythm Ace’s Bentley in for a Lamborghini; Mantronix hoovers up all the speed; The Conformist’s mania can be described in many superlative and silly ways. He takes his stockpile of samples, snippets, fleeting fancies and runs with them until the point of collapse. Goofing around having a ball no doubt, yet the language and rapid musical attacks on the senses alludes to the chaotic, unnerving state of the times we’re in. Lifestyle Bible is a statement, protestation, the message conveyed through the chaos.



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