Words: Dominic Valvona

Monolith Cocktail - Orkesta Mendoza

Tickling Our Fancy 040:  Orkesta Mendoza, Antti Tolvi, Köhn, Happyness, Sebastian Reynolds and Kobadelta.

In this instalment of our eclectic review roundup we have a double bill of neo-classical experimental piano and drone exploration from the Kirigirisu label, with new sound pieces from both Antti Tolvi and Köhn, the latest fantastical and supernatural Arizona/Mexican cultural exchange from the bizarre mind of Sergio Mendoza, a taster from Sebastian Reynolds transcendental traversing ambient scores project Mahajanaka, a new EP from Newcastle’s daemonic prog-rockers Kobadelta, and Athens, Georgia imbued breezy jangly pop from Happyness.

Orkesta Mendoza  ‘¡Vamos A Guarachar!’
LP  released by Glitterbeat Records,  7th October 2016

A scion of the Calexico-Giant Sand-Xixa axis of Arizona/South and Central American cultural exchange, Okestra Mendoza keep the faith in these tumultuous times. Whilst President Trump certainly seems a possibility, thankfully the blowhards proposed border control wall is presently only a threat. Not that that will stop the Galexico band member and co-producer Sergio Mendoza from inhaling the intoxicant thrills, exotica and voodoo of Mexico and beyond. The multi-instrumentalist bandleader grew up in the “hinterlands” of Arizona after all, listening to the sounds emanating from the Mexican AM/FM radio stations. This heady mix of cumbia, mambo, mariachi, big band orchestras and the salacious swaggered ranchos was eventually channeled into a cornucopia of collaborative projects and bands. Merging these traditional forms with tremolo twanged rock’n’roll, psychedelia and electronic vibes Mendoza has created a timeless junction between neighbours on both the previous Orkesta LP (Mambo Mexicano) and the latest ¡Vamos A Guarachar!

Inhabiting a supernatural imagination of the cactus-strewn borderlands, where the otherworldly amorphously interchanges with ritual and reality, ¡Vamos A Guarachar! is both mysterious and fantastical yet equally kitsch. Imbued with the cumbia rhythm, which has enjoyed an electrified renaissance over recent years, Mendoza weaves both the dance styles sauntering hip swivel and more galloping raciness into the rich melting pot. ‘Cumbia Volcardora’ is a perfect example of this; wafting in the southern breezes with its cantina serenaded horns, ? And The Mysterians style ghost house organ, theatrical voodoo narration and Spanish vocals. A similar pattern of cross-pollination continues throughout the album: on the two-speed ‘Redoble’ the band fluctuate between a more up-tempo chase to Brazilian rocksteady, and evoke both the feverish Mambo of the title but also a Balkan polka on ‘Mambo A La Rosano’.

Between ages with a penchant for a strange nostalgia, as seen through an esoteric lens, ‘Misterio’ is a curious tango crooned matinee that sounds like a lost theme tune from the 1950s. There is a Mexican film of the same name from 1980, which starred Juan Ferrara as a TV star who blurs reality with the plot of a soap opera he’s filming. It’s quite conceivable that this could be the band’s inspiration; the lamentable enchantment a good fit for the movie’s fantastical waltzing premise.

Though the esoteric and alien quivering magnetism atmosphere casts a spell over the album, there’s a host of quirky turns and a lot of fun to be had. For a starter there’s a kooky homage, or augur, to the spirit of the racoon on ‘Mapache’, and the zappy, rock guitar gnarling candy treat ‘Caramelos’. The times may be changing for the worse in Mendoza’s backyard but the Orkesta put a raucous, colourful and upbeat shine on the political miasma; defending and celebrating the “honest cultural exchange” between both sides of the divide with relish and a certain oddness.

Happyness  ‘Tunnel Vision On Your Part’
EP  released by Moshi Moshi

Monolith Cocktail - Happyness

It’s probably been remarked upon and singled out countless times already, and for obvious reasons, but the London three-piece have an air of the US college radio and, in particular, the Athens, Georgia jangly indie pop sound about them. Hardly a surprise when one of their biggest influences is the obscure, shining for only the briefest of moments, Georgia band Club Gaga – forever playing second fiddle on search engines to Lady Gaga. Unlike their stratospheric contemporaries on the scene R.E.M., Club Gaga have left few traces, with it seems only one album to their name and a merge smattering of videos. Happyness raves about them though and on their new EP they not so much cover as reimagine the group’s sardonic ‘Friend Of The Revolution’. Less of a drag they brighten up the original with a more dreamy and melodious lilt, transducing the wry into something sweeter yet maintaining a light sulky off-kilter quality.

In a similar mode they also take on California’s favourite sons, The Beach Boys, with what seems on the surface a melting romantic campfire rendition of the their balladry lullaby ‘Surfer Girl’. With an enervated whispery crooning Dennis Wilson like echo the trio add a sad veil of vulnerability; delivering an ever so slightly unique take, neither homage nor ironic.

Doing the rounds for months ‘SB’s Truck’ is a whimsical tribute to Samuel Beckett, which frames a famous slice of trivia from the playwright polymath ‘stranger than fiction’ life story within a Big Star twinkled and harmony rich grunge-y musical experiment. Paying respect to both a giant of theatre and literature and the real life size André The Giant, Happyness remind us of those almost fantastical connections that turn out to be true; Beckett inhabiting the same world as the much loved 80s wrestler and star of The Princess Bride. Beckett of course is known to have helped out by giving him a lift in his pick-up truck, taking an oversized André to school, because even as a child he’d already outgrown the family car.

Elsewhere the trio keep up the harmonies, breezing in with a Teenage Fanclub and The Thrills thumb a lift to bratty 90s L.A. on the opening ‘Anna, Lisa Calls’. The stand out original track on the EP it is a well crafted softened around the edges, drowsy sighed pop treat; a lost nugget from the Athens, Georgia golden age. They close with the congruous but equally discordant lament title track, which stretches out past the six-minute mark, wilting with a jangly acoustic and country melodic feel. As the song progresses a doleful, pleasant piano starts to act more erratic and plaintively; eventually reaching a discordant crescendo, as the pianist slumps the lid down in languorous resignation.

Though the name is familiar, I’d yet to hear the Happyness until Tunnel Vision On Your Part arrived in the post a few weeks back. And so whether or not their new EP continues to foster the signature sound of previous outings or reaches beyond into new ideas and sounds is something I just couldn’t tell you. All I know is that this is a great little five-track spread of finely produced and played melodic pop songs; a chip off the old Athens, Georgia “Ionic” column.

Antti Tolvi   ‘Leijunta’
Köhn  ‘Arbres’
LPs both released by Kirigirisu

Monolith Cocktail - kohn

Sharing a similar penchant for uninterrupted flowing scores, Gent composer Jürgen De Blonde (recording under the appellation of Köhn) and Finnish sound artist polymath Antti Tolvi have both recently released minimalistic compositions for the unassuming Kirigirisu label.

The first of these the most difficult of sales is an hour-long continuous force field like drone inspired by and dedicated to the trees on Blonde’s hiking jaunts in the Belgian Ardennes. Monotonously pulsing like a Popol Vuh generator, the one-track album Arbres gradually gains momentum, its rotary humming increasing in volume before slowly fading out; disappearing into the ether. Inspired by the environment this natural force also has an aura of the alien or supernatural; sounding like a UFO suspended above the pines, emitting a low sonic call.

Monolith Cocktail - Antti Tolvi

With a varied and diverse CV, which includes a number of sound installation projects and a “Fantasia” suite for a quintet of tractor engines, Tolvi’s latest album features a moiety of semi-improvised Ibach grand piano pieces. Simply entitled Leijunta1’ and ‘2’ these neo-classical serial performances, recorded on Kemiö Island in Finland, have a watery flow. Part one progresses from a pitter-patter trickle to a cascade of alternating deftly played trebly and bassy notes. The resonance from this constant repetitive motion adds subtle tonal differences. The second part is marginally gentler with a layer of longer, drawn-out notes that almost glide and shimmer in the nuanced interplay. Leijunta translates as “hover”, yet these two compositions evoke a trembling liquid feel, constantly gushing or spilling over.

Both albums acquire the listener’s unreserved commitment with Arbres a more difficult proposition: best enjoyed whilst navigating your own path and ventures into the woods.

Kobadelta  ‘The Metaphysical EP’
October 8th 2016

Monolith Cocktail - Kobadelta

Continuing to embrace a passion for Byzantine esotericism and bewitching leaden heavy rock the Newcastle 5-piece Kobadelta have both improved markedly and expanded beyond their remit on each of their EPs. They confidently prowl the daemonic landscape, balancing a clash of drums and ominous distortion with more nuanced, less dramatic, but calmer breaks in the tumultuous barrage and drone: There’s even room for reflection and introspection in the often solid block of atmospheric doom.

Beginning as they mean to go on, the opening heavy gothic ‘Hold Yr’self’ channels Kasabian and the Archie Bronson Outfit on its journey from a pan pipe scene-setting Amazon to the dark arts. Under the silvery moon a dreaded serenade twists in torment to the melodic drone of a distant echoed The Mission on ‘Ride By The Light’, and a motoring incantation reverberates across the holy land of myth on ‘Bathsheba’. But even in the suffocating midst of a dystopian world, such as the doomed rock sustained augur ‘Is This The Start Of Something Beautiful?’, Dom Noble’s vocals remain stoned and languorous. And on the parting shot, ‘You Don’t Need To Ask’ there’s a sense of romanticized balladry at play; attempting to escape the eastern bell spectre of a Medieval esoteric Russia meets Portishead grief.

Lyrically, modern themes and social-political protestations merge with the ‘metaphysical’ – hence the title. The contemporary on this EP is often given a flowery embellishment courtesy of the Biblical; a deeper motive or meaning cryptically interlocked and given a certain gravitas.

Producing a more savoury, intricate and melodious form of heavy rock without reverting to stereotype and showboating, Kobadelta once again walk a fine line between stoner doom and progressive rock, experimenting all the way without losing their signature swagger.

Sebastian Reynolds  ‘Mahajanaka’

Monolith Cocktail - Seb Reynolds

Recently reaching the funding target for a dance and music collaboration based on and around the ancient Jataka myth Mahajanaka, Oxford musician/producer/remixer and promoter Sebastian Reynolds is celebrating by releasing the projects first trance peregrination taster. It also marks the official launch of Reynolds solo debut, with unrelated but equally traversing albums to follow later.

As you might expect from the Flights Of Helios, Braindead Collective and Keyboard Choir (to name only a few) sonic navigator this latest voyage reflects both his exploratory music interests and spiritual pursuits: such as meditation. A keen enthusiast of eastern and oriental cultures in particular, especially Buddhism, Reynolds has recently travelled to Thailand as part of a British Council/Arts Council England funded trip. During that visit he laid down the groundwork for the Mahajanaka project, a collaboration fusion of both traditional Thai forms and Western contemporary dance and music, which reinterprets the ancient stories of Buddha on his multiple incarnations journey of perfection towards becoming fully enlightened.

Partners in this reimagining include Neon Dance and the acclaimed dancer/choreographer Pichet Klunchen, and on this featured track both long-term collaborator Jody Prewatt (on keyboard) and the Thai pop group The Krajidrid Band, under the direction of composer/producer Pradit Saengkrai. Recorded playing the classical Thai “piphat” ensemble music, The Krajidrid Band’s evocative sacred finger cymbal chimes and placable soft mallet accompaniment is sampled and looped by Reynolds to produce a gently overlapping and mysterious ambient flight of fantasy. It certainly creates the right mood, successfully merging the source material with the atavistic, transformed by Reynolds’ signature process of reinvention. A work in progress, this brief taster already sounds very interesting and once expanded to accommodate a performance will be quite stirring and magical.

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