Words: Dominic Valvona

Monolith Cocktail - R. Seiliog

In this edition of my eclectic new music review roundup: paranormal investigations from Hole House, R. Seiliog’s nebula-gazing peregrinations, ARC Music celebrate 40 years in the business of showcasing the best in world music, The Lancashire Hustlers evoke a nostalgic afterglow on their latest ‘adventures’, the CaStLeS launch their garage psych debut, and Andrew Spackman returns from the boffin potting shed with his latest, darker, electronic project Sad Man.

Various   ‘Celebrating World Music – 40 Years 40 Tracks’
Wayne Picchu  ‘Folk Music From Peru’
LPs released by ARC Music

Monolith Cocktail - ARC 40th anniversary

ARC Music’s 40th anniversary world music celebration survey unequivocally supports their recent third place finish in the Womax ‘top labels of 2016’ awards – respectably placed behind First World and Glitterbeat Records. Doggedly searching for the finest and best produced beacons from a number of world music genres – from the lamentable Portuguese Fado to the most boisterous of Balkan polkas – the West Sussex-based label sends its feelers out to the furthest desert moonscapes, deepest recesses of the rainforests and the remotest mountain tops.

An impressive catalogue, rich in diversity and scale, ARC can boast of, ‘…distributing music from over 120 countries.’ And on this 2xCD sprawl they represent a sizable chunk of that five decade spanning record with examples from more or less every continent; starting with the gentle, almost ethereal, sound of Senegalese kora maestro Seckou Keita on his majestic ‘The Invisible Man’ sweetener. Staying in the backyard of West Africa there’s sauntering sand dune blues from the impressive Modou Touré & Ramon Goose, and galloping hand drum and wah-wah pedal Ghanaian blues funk from Nii Okai Tagoe. Travelling down to the foot of the African continent, the all-women Mbube a cappella singing ensemble Afrika Mamas lend the compilation a diaphanous harmonious lullaby, with gravitas, on the soothing choral ‘Uzulibonge’ song. Over the border from South Africa in Namibia, Elemotho’s quasi-yodeling vocal is used to great effect on the lulling ‘Neo’. From North Africa “The Ambassador” of Middle Eastern rhythms, and first artist from the region to sign with ARC (going on to release more than 30 albums with the label), Hossam Ramzy spirits the listener away on a journey through the Orient: traversing a clandestine rendezvous in the bazar to expansive epic film score on the mesmerizing ‘Khusara Khusara’.

Carrying on the Orient theme, excursions eastwards beckon with the Silk Road cinematic ‘Zim Zim Zim’ by The Afghan Ensemble. Heading even further east, ARC introduces us to the atmospheric taiko drumming of Joji Hirota & Hiten Ryu Daiko, via the softly suffused ‘Akita Ondo (Hayashi Version)’ hymn, and the quivering becalmed recitals of China’s Silk String Quartet.

Heading back in the opposite direction, back west to Europe, there’s a fine selection of Balkan musical examples to enjoy; such as KAL’s contemporary Eurovision upbeat Romany tango ‘Bibi’ and Bulgarian Perunika Trio’s venerable folk-choral short ‘Snoshti sum minal, Kuzum Elenke (Last Night)’. Renowned, almost, above all else for their Celtic showing, one of ARC’s most famous signings Clannad are represented with the mandolin stirred, shrouded in misty myth and tradition, ‘Rhapsody na gCrann’. From the old country, the label’s first ever Irish signing, singer/songwriter Noel McLoughlin, adds a touch of ancestral charm with ‘Follow Me Up To Carlow’. Taking the mood to Scotland, there’s the New Age Highland fling ‘Sabbal la’n Ic Uisdean’ by Tannas and a host of Celtic influenced artists who weave the genre into their own work, including the Spanish siren and nyckelharpa inspired Ana Alcaide who puts it to good use on the myth-enchanted ‘Diosa Luolaien’ and the Golden Boughs who use an Iberian variant of the form on their ‘Zingaro’ song.

However, standout tracks from this compilation include the tumultuous electrified and soaring British/Bengali fusion ‘Amar Protibaader Bhasha’ – which has hints of the JOI Soundsystem – by the London-based Khiyo, and the hallowed hushed but sonorous ‘Evening Bells’ liturgy by The Red Army Choir – soloist Vasilij Larin channeling a Orthodox Russian version of Roy Orbison.

It’s a worthy compilation, full of surprises, an eye-opener that will undoubtedly introduce the listener to a cornucopia of new sounds and traditions. The global melting pot has never been better served.

Further celebrations continue in the form of a special re-release of the Peruvian folk group Wayne Picchu’s influential Folk Music From Peru songbook. Originally recorded back in 1999 by ARC’s Pablo Cárcamo, the ‘unusual collection’ as it’s billed is a showcase mix of both traditional and original songs from ‘the land of the Incas’.

Taking the name of an iconic landmark mountain landscape in the Cusco region of Peru, but also meaning ‘young man of the mountainside’, the Picchu was founded in 1994 by the siblings Santos Salinas and Horlando Castillo in the shadows of the legendary lost city of the Inca civilization, the great Machu Picchu. Surviving at incredible altitudes, amongst the heavens, the family business was sheep herding, but after quickly mastering the ancient art of the Peruvian flute (known as a ‘quenas’) and extending his repertoire with a sojourn in the Los Pablitos church choir Santos Salinas enrolled a number of his brothers, and later on his wife Anita, into a ‘close-knit’ communal ensemble.

They left the homeland a long time ago, moving to Germany where they spread their brand of atmospheric authentic Andean music to a wider audience. Coming full circle, ARC’s first ever signing was Los Rupay, whose 1976 LP Bolivian Folklore did likewise in bring a previously – believe it or not, such is the abundance of it now, from street buskers to the obligatory background soundtrack of Bodyshop and many other ‘green’ ‘sustainable’ retailers – pan-pipe music to the world. Wayne Picchu’s Folk Music From Peru LP is a congruous relation to that inaugural standard-bearer.

The Lancashire Hustlers   ‘Adventures’
LP released by Steep Hill Records, 20th November 2016

Monolith Cocktail - The Lancashire Hustlers

Setting out on an imaginary road trip through mythologized landscapes and multiple timelines, The Lancashire Hustlers, evoke a nostalgic afterglow of desperation for a less bleak and depressing age on the latest epic. Bound on a cross-Atlantic White Star Line ocean behemoth from Liverpool (a reference to the famous and infamous British shipping company that offered an inexpensive route to the promised lands for countless immigrants during the 19th and 20th centuries), the London duo yearn for “adventure” and escape from a post-Brexit vacuum of uncertainty, travelling mentally across the “pioneer” spirited America of another age. The Beach Boys all-encompassing east-west coast of the US of A saga SMiLE and the later romanticized offering Holland act as important guides thematically and to a lesser degree musically, Brent Thorley and Ian Pakes expanding their repertoire and adopting an ever-increasing mix of styles, from folk to jazz and Golden State troubadour, and instrumentation. Some of which, like the Indian Tamboura, add a hint of the Incredible String Band and The Beatles eastern psychedelia resonating chimes to the loose narrative.

In the intersection between McCartney’s ‘Rocky Raccoon’ and the Beach Boys ‘Cabinessence’ the album begins with a sort of show tune clarion call for “Adventurers” or, the emboldened big-thinkers, the innovators that will dig us out our rut. In what’s constantly termed a “post facts” world there’s a tango-like Velvet Underground eulogy to the dismissal of sound advice and knowledge with ‘An Expert Dies’. The subject matter, the nagging doubts that we are all being pushed towards and the mediocrity, enervation of culture is all of the moment but the soundtrack is suffused with a hazy ideal of golden age songwriting and musicianship. Harry Nilsson, Steely Dan and James Taylor hold court, joined by Fairfield Parlour for a ‘June Wedding’, a subtle clavinet boogie Stevie Wonder on the laidback ‘When The Nail Is Tested’, and a bossa waning country lilting Captain & Tennille on the album’s closer ‘Folkways’.

Sounding at times like an idiosyncratic version of Supertramp embarking on a bucolic minor rock and pop-opera The Lancashire Hustlers dream big on Adventures; recording a fond and glowing soundtrack for troubling times.

Seiliog   ‘Shedhead’
EP released by Turnstile Music, 18th November 2016

Monolith Cocktail - R. Seiliog

Making my job easier, if not redundant, North Wales very own sonic NASA atelier R. Seiliog possibly articulates his own music the best with this following description: “It’s like the slipping clutch of a self combusting engine built from mirrors blackened by astral soot reflecting back the whole in each tarnished component.” And I could leave it at that but I will nevertheless persevere.

The alter ego of electronic musician Robin Edwards, the R. Seiliog nom de plume was first brought to my attention via the magical Zuckerzeit disco bouncing ‘Pysgod’ track on the 2014 CAM 1 compilation – curated by Welsh electronica siren Gwenno Saunders and Peski Records as a showcase of tracks from the Cam o’r Tywyllwch (A Step From The Darkness) radio show, broadcast both on Radio Cardiff and Resonance FM (in London). Steadily building a reputation for himself, mainly in Wales but gaining traction over the border with national airplay, Edwards brand of Kosmische, trance and techno so impressed fellow compatriots the Manic Street Preachers they let him loose on a remix of their own Teutonic electro experiment, ‘Futurology’.

His latest expansive suite of celestial peregrinations is more attuned to the contemporary tweaks of what used to be termed, under the missive, “intelligent techno”: for example the opening burst of nebula sprites and sustained release of particles ‘Myopia’ evokes hints of Basic Channel and R&S; two labels that were synonymous for their ‘cerebral’ techno experimentations in the 90s. Those kosmische vibes continue to linger though in a far more dissipated and subtle manner. However, Edwards shimmery and often with strained “downtempo” modulations share more in common with progressive dance music and trance; those throwbacks only going as far as the last two decades. On the cogs-in-motion ‘Cloddia Unterdach’ the organic suffused interplay reminds me of the Leaf Label’s more serene ambient moments, whilst the whispery veiled announcements and kinetic beat driven Maxwell Remix of ‘Static-Sun’ features an echo of Mike Dred’s roulette wheel percussion.

Searing through the cosmos building thoughtful and moody electronic paeans to the workings of the universe, Edwards’ tight, tactile musical formula creates wonders.

CaStLeS   ‘Fforesteering’
LP released 18th November 2016

Monolith Cocktail - CaStLeS 'fforesteering'

Continuing with a double-bill of releases from Wales this week, formed in the shadows of Snowdonia, the dreamy garage land meanderers CaStLeS like their fellow compatriot R. Seiliog lend a unique local lilt to their chosen genre of expression. Despite the familiar frayed searing garage organ introduction of The Glass Family, the Aquarius Age reverberations of The Beach Boys and The Letterman and the exotic Latino echoes of Los Holy’s and Laghonia, this warm vaporous, shakers suffused and harmonious backbeat is idiosyncratically Welsh.

The sibling outfit of Dion and Cynyr Hamer, which began life as a duo in 2008 before progressing through a series of manifestations, have recruited fellow countryman Calvin Thomas on bass for their debut LP, Fforesteering. Amorphously switching between the native tongue and English, they sound like a brilliant cross between a heavier Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Silver Apples on the uptempo ‘Tynnu Tuag A Y Diffeithwch’ and the Super Furry Animals picking through the best of Crosby, Stills and Nash on the acid-folk cut ‘Heed Your Desire’. Iridescent, threatening at times to melt into the pleasant valley surroundings, the trio’s soft bulletins are as energetic and driven as they are languorous and loose; played with a real effortless breeze but considered quality.

The CaStLeS wear their influences extremely well and create a free-spirited modern version of garage-psych that is informed by the group’s surroundings and culture but will resonate globally.

Sad Man   ‘Sad Man’

Monolith Cocktail - Sad Man

Experimenting with a more disturbing edger miasma of fidgety, caustic and bamboozled cogs and sprocket inventory, the regularly featured Coventry electronic music boffin Andrew Spackman wheels out his latest alter ego the Sad Man. Though always chaotic and in a state of flux, even ennui, the more familiar kooky dynamics of Spackman’s Nimzo-Indian are transmogrified into a industrial but no less quirky sonic cacophony.

Even whilst drilling a pneumatic battery-operated noise-making device into the listener’s skull, and at its most harrowing there’s a wry sense of humour at play. The opening insane ‘Perkins’, a real headache, makes way for less heavy-‘hounded’ experiments; such as the developing sonic narrative of avant-garde electronica and battering thuds ‘Stooky Bill’, and squelchy Kosmische mayhem of ‘Pink’. It all sounds very wrong, like a smorgasbord rather than circuit board is being used; the constant fluctuating, speeding up and slowing down, bending and wonky sounds threatening to break down at any second. Even when tracks begin with something approaching a resemblance of normality and sturdiness they soon vanish into caustic hisses of madness or transform into a squelchy envelope of harebrained breakbeats.

Made from mostly improvised material recycled for a loopy loony listening experience, the Sad Man is a ridiculous collection of maverick electronica that no matter how troubling, even harrowing and unfriendly is crazy: in a good way.

Hole House   ‘A Stranger In Town’
LP released via Aetheric Records

Monolith Cocktail - Hole House

Equally as disturbing though slightly less harrowing than last month’s featured Beast Mask Supremacist by the Grey Guides, Alistair Thaw as the veiled and cryptic Hole House releases another paranormal recorded document from the gloom. An Enfield haunting, a poltergeist caught on tape, A Stranger In Town is an imaginary ghost hunters investigation of the ‘goings-on’ at an abandoned VHS rental shop in West Yorkshire.

The malcontented spirits, from the quantified ‘first floor’ and attic to the metaphysical spaces, make their presence known: both loudly and clearly. Imbued with if not informed by the nihilistic horror stories of cult American author Thomas Ligotti (a suitably despondent realization of life’s futility style quote is featured on the Bandcamp page), the scene is set for a loosening bowel experience. As you’d probably gathered, musicality and instrumentation (identifiable instrumentation anyway) is absent in favour of an EMF meter and Geiger counter emitted backing gauze of fluctuating, rippling activity. Navigating a narrative Thaw cracks up the generator as he introduces the listener to the dreaded ‘A Living Room’; bringing our attention to the pulsing warning signs of ‘The Mark On The Wall’. It’s not until we reach ‘Was She A Tape Recording’ that the veil of obfuscation is lifted and we recognize echoes of a dissipating Sun O))) style dark drone. Suffused with a supernatural ambience, waves of ominous threatening disturbances and the resonance of past misdeeds and lives emerge from the shadows; sending us all scuttling towards the nearest exit. All Thaw needs now is a film to accompany his unsettling ghost hunt.

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