Words: Dominic Valvona

Monolith Cocktail

Dominic Valvona‘s latest instalment of eclectic music reviews includes free-jazz and African Krautrock extemporised peregrinations from Toronto-based collective The Cosmic Range, kosmische ‘hey, ho’ punk from Tekstis TV 666, and The Casual Strangers romantic shoegaze gesture to recent band member nuptials, the Wedding Album.  He also reviews the brand new provocative lo fi album from the weary and demoralised – but still fighting the good fight – St. Helens trio The Bordellos, and features Seb Reynolds charitable inspired remix of Meursault‘s ‘Dearly Distracted’.

The Cosmic Range  ‘New Latitudes’
LP released via idée fixe, 28th October 2016

Monolith Cocktail - The Cosmic Range

Capturing for posterity the amorphous results of his polygenesis experiments, Toronto based everyman Matthew “Doc” Dunn and his multi-limbed collective of faces from the city’s most recent creative rise to prominence, release the fruits of a two-day interstellar recording shindig under the moniker of The Cosmic Range. Making the abstract more real, Dunn as spiritual guide and instigator rather than bandleader, channels the ensembles penchant for free jazz, Afrobeat, Krautrock, otherworldly funk and progressive music into a number of quantified jams that represent both Earthly and imaginary panoramas.

The latest stopover in an ever-developing musical journey that begun over a decade ago, Dunn’s many collaborations, from a sojourn in the Matt Valentine and Erika Elder combo MV/EE to the “social music” explorations of The Transcendental Rodeo, have informed this latest project. Though it is also a response and expansion of his solo work and album All Is that sparked The Cosmic Range’s blossoming in 2014, the new set-up performing a “reinterpretation” of that album before venturing into the studio at a later date.

Each member of this Kosmische-styled supergroup adds their individual signature to the mix. Personal on this trip include the U.S. Girls connection of Meg Remy’s spouse Slim Twig on raging, wild wah-wah licks, and Isla Craig on ethereal siren vocal duties. Kieran Adams (Diana) sits in on drums and tinkers with electronics, whilst Brandon Valdivia (NTW NTF/Lido Pimienta) plays the congas and percussion. This leaves both Mike “Muskox” Smith (Jennifer Castle/Sandro Perri) and Jonathan Adjemian (Hoover Party) on keys and synth, with Smith also lending his bass-guitar skills.


The album opens with the album’s most tranquil, contemplative moment; the ambient paean ‘Morning, Ontario’: A province awakes to an Ash Ra Temple style evocation of immensity and natural light – or as the press release states, “an ode to infinity”. The first of many more up-tempo bursts of energy follows in its trance dissipation, the loose title track shaking through a mix of Afro Krautrock and funk, with suggestions of Eno + Karl Hyde’s Highlife and the whining, flailing guitar posturing of Ax Genrich, Zappa and Michael Karoli. Ginger Baker locks heads with Brainticket or, Guru Guru makes a raucous entrance on Embryo’s Africa, there’s a strong Germanic/African hybrid of primal jamming running throughout, though both influences are looking towards the stars.

In a more relaxed, almost slinky mode, ‘Love II’ liquid movements traverse Bitches Brew Miles Davis and a more riled-up Nucleus. Exotically louche and salacious the enervated panted vocals, bestial guitar bleating and tribal congas workout marches onwards before tumbling into a minor freefell and picking up a quasi-reggae gait. Interjecting with a short vignette, the group pull apart and piece back together a strange circuitry board of bit-crush bending retro-futurism on ‘Barbara’. All aboard some H.G. Welles imaginary vision of technology, there’s an ominous rotor sound of a zeppelin or bi-plane passing overhead as the fizzles and dials oscillate.

Redolent in many ways to the similar, though far more ennui-driven Kosmische jazz tapes of Monolith Cocktail favourites, Zacht Automaat, normal service is resumed on the strangely uplifting ‘Kowboy’. A bright, sparkly organ trips the light fantastic in a off-kilter fashion to a glorious Daniel Lanois style cosmic rays dance and a theremin like ethereal voice adds a touch of gravitas as the latitudes cross over both the peyote strewn deserts of South America and the mystical shrouded landscapes of Tibet. The album’s swansong ‘Look At What Our Love Has Done’ flows with a resonant trace of a romantic Florian Fricke and Roedelius. The piano-led suite is lightly administered with only a background offering of attentive serial drum rolls and cymbal splashes, and the high vocal call of Isla Craig.

Sonically mapping New Latitudes with some success – though the originality is not so much in the source influences as in the way its merged together – The Cosmic Range provide one the year’s best Kosmische Afro funks: A free-spirited global sound clash, perfect for the times right now and ahead.

Teksti-TV 666   ‘1,2,3’
Released by SVART Records

Both the practitioners and listeners of Krautrock took drugs of a certain nature to stimulate, synchronize and connect with it, favouring the psychedelics for obvious reasons (mushrooms to opium). Finland’s Teksti-TV 666 however take a more direct route; injecting a speedball into the Germanic template for a far more raucous trip. That’s right. Imagine Neu! on speed, motoring along the sublime trans-Europa highway to oblivion or, Klaus Dinger’s La Dusseldorf jamming with The Ramones. This is only half the story, for this trio of originally limited edition EPs, pulled together by SVART for the first time and released to a wider audience in one concatenate package, also blazes a trail across shoegaze, power pop and punk.

Heavy…most certainly, yet even with a wall of electric guitars – a quintet of them that occasionally swells to a sextet – the driving force of the 666’S muscle rock is actually quite descriptive and sophisticated. Gnarling, snarling, intense and even industrially strengthened, this wall of sound is hardly a solid lump or cacophony of discord. If anything, this squadron of guitar players are quite controlled and unified.

Ringing doom chords and caustic feedback permeate, rocking alongside flashes of The Buzzcocks (‘Sä et tuu enää takaisin’), Generation X (‘Neljä seinää ja puolikas sielu’) and The Damned (a Krautrock transmogrification of New Rose is thrashed out on ‘ Kaheksan päivää viikossa’). Elsewhere the group’s gothic looming shadow falls on stoner rock, New Order, The Loved Drones and even The Cramps; all rattled off at a rapid pace. Surprisingly there is a real depth and melodic quality to these supernova blitzkriegs, and even a sense of fun, despite the fact every song more or less hurtles towards its finale after going through various timing and moody changes.

Probably as influential as it’s ever been, one of the most over-used, misunderstood and clichéd influences, Krautrock – a missive if ever there was one – occasionally acts as a springboard to more interesting and unique places. Teksti-TV 666 takes it towards a gothic CBGBs, as motorik goes “hey, ho”.

Sebastian Reynolds remixes Meursault’s ‘Dearly Distracted’

Monolith Cocktail

Making his third appearance on the Monolith Cocktail in the last few weeks, the busy polymath Sebastian Reynolds is dividing his time between countless projects, including solo work, collaborations and promoting. We featured the first taster from the upcoming, Kickstarter-funded, multimedia Mahajanaka project, for which Seb is providing the mystical Thai meets Western electronic ambient soundtrack, last month. But it’s his role as an in-demand remixer that finds him once again featured on the blog. This time transforming the original languorous ‘Dearly Distracted’ minor opus by Neil Pennycook’s Camus inspired Meursault into a condensed but no less haunted expansive traverse.

The centerpiece if you like of Pennycock’s acclaimed (Scottish Album of the Year 2012 nominee) Something For The Weakened LP, the original stirring strings and beautifully expanding melody form the backbone of Seb’s echoed, lost in the ether, style remix. Celebrating in some way the news that Pennycook is once again taking on the mantle of the folktronica Meursault, after retiring it a while back, it’s also a timely reminder of the memorial concert that Seb promoted and Pennycook headlined in 2012 as a tribute to Leila Soltau. All proceeds now as in 2012 will go to both the Douglas – the first ever hospice specifically for young adults, which looked after Soltau before she passed away – and Helen House Oxford-based charities.

The Bordellos  ‘How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One’

LP released via Small Bear Records 

Monolith Cocktail

Despite the caustic bravado and world-weary bitterness channeled into the antagonistic song titles on this new album, The Bordellos lo fi edicts are always surprisingly melodic. Think of them as a tuneful The Fall; resigned and swiping at society but hopeful enough to challenge it despite banging their collective heads on the doors of the music industry for years.

A well-kept secret, not from want of trying to reach the masses, the St. Helens trio arrived a little too late on the scene for the likes of the ‘ignored and dismissed’ championing John Peel. Sulkily and with some wry provocation they ask, “Did the bastards at the BBC kill John Peel?” on the track of the same name. More an indictment on the ‘canonization’ of a maverick treated by his employers as a nuisance and with some resentment when alive; passed from pillar to post and given the graveyard shift for his amorphous and far from slickly produced radio show. It is a little hypocritical that those who once harangued and attempted to box him in now pontificate on his rebellious stoicism in death. Despite the fact that his show basically consisted of pulling the most odd and random demos/records/performances from a landfill of DIY artists and bands and playing them however and in whatever order he liked – even twice in a row if you so wished – there hasn’t been anyone to replace him. Even in an age when access to music has never been so widely available and easy. Far from adventurous and eclectic, radio has become safer.

A self-confessed “love letter”, albeit at times a poison pen letter, The Bordellos spirit is constantly crushed under the despair of the modern world. Nostalgic one minute for a pre-digital, pre-streaming (the LP features a swipe at the current much demonized streaming behemoth Spotify) age but equally keen to pour a bucket of cold sick over the hazy village green ideals of yesteryear too, the group pick and choose icons and bands encapsulating the values they hold dear. In a despondent Julian Cope meets The Velvet Underground indictment, ‘I Don’t believe In Motherfuckers Anymore’ pitches the failings of a sanitized culture, devoid of personalities; an industry filled with TV show and stage school fodder. Further diatribes are leveled at the music press – I’d hope the Monolith Cocktail could omit itself from this attack –, but essentially the boom in blogs, and the vinyl record collector – more interested in the value of the pressing than the music it contains -, on both occasions making relevant and valuable points.

Showing an almost subdued, caring side and vulnerability, a rare Dan Bordello penned solo spot ‘Stone Turns To Stone’ is one of the album’s standout tracks. Inspired we’re told by the death of the irreplaceable David Bowie; Dan’s lament is one of the most tender and stirring moments to be found in the group’s catalogue. Aside from the Dylan-on-a-budget crosses paths with post-punk and Goth leanings, The Bordellos venture towards jazz on ‘Betty And Siouxsie’ – not that you’d know it mind, the group sounding more like a corrupted Django Reinhardt riffing on ‘Tequila’ – and absorb OMD, Joy Division and the Durutti Column on ‘I No Longer Speak The International Language Of Kojak, Kapiche’.

The mood is of a melancholic nature, ye this isn’t a eulogy or the last rites. It should instead be taken as a soft call-to-arms; a wake-up call if you like. That passion which first ignited and led to the formation of The Bordellos is still there, as weary as it is. And as the digital age reveals its true face, a disruptive marketing experiment that after a good decade and more hasn’t offered a viable alternative that suits both the creators and the audience – funneling instead even more of the wealth towards a Silicon elite of facilitators and leaving the artist out of pocket – we may yet see a recall and fight back.

Casual Strangers  ‘Wedding Album’

Monolith Cocktail

Austin, Texas shoegaze flouncers Casual Strangers have decided to mark the auspicious occasion of the group’s band members Katey and Paul Gunn-Waclwasky’s marriage by recording their very own Wedding Album. Riffing on John & Yoko’s infamous nuptials experiment of the same name but far less indulgent, and replacing the fluctuating bewails of Lennon’s muse with Katey’s more subdued and ethereal tones, the couple create a misty vaporous and often dreamy songbook of paeans and mood pieces.

The shoegaze peregrination signatures remain with echoes of My Bloody Valentine, Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized throughout. Yet with a romantic twinkle in their eyes, the group ape John & Yoko’s kooky Japanese pop serenades – as performed by The Flaming Lips – on the lovers lullaby ‘Baby’s Happy’, and recall the late Alan Vega on the crystal-powered cosmic ‘Eyes For You’. Despite the arpeggiator cascades of love vibe the Wedding Album features its fair share of languid, muffled mystery and sense of otherworldliness. Stranger Things 80s soundtracks sit alongside odd metallic and cartoon voiced breakdowns and the ebbing tides of a topographic ocean.

Chronicling the build-up and courtship leading up to the big day, so to speak, this loosely concatenate soundtrack may indeed be a romantic gesture for posterity but it also marks the group’s most experimental album yet.

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