February 23, 2017
Words: Matt Oliver
Having had all our ideas for a witty intro brainwashed by the off-piste pizzazz of Strange U’s ‘#LP4080’, (you don’t wanna know about a Biggie/Faith Evans duets album anyway), lead space cadet Kashmere has also been dabbling in backstreet voodoo with Bambooman on the ‘Supergod’ EP. Verbally out of shape as usual, a wee drop of alchemy sprinkled over stripped backdrops goes a long way. Dabbla, in his usual style sounding like he’s dashing in and out of rush hour traffic, shows off how good his ‘Cardio’ is, and Joker Starr does whatever he can to bring doom without the cartoon to ‘Spy Da Man’. Dream McLean and The Last Skeptik know the value of the basics: the ‘Cheese on Brown Bread’ EP is four tracks, not needing any extra garnish, just cunningly sharp words pricking simple neck chops. Back in the old routine, DJ Format and Abdominal ready a new album with a pair of funky head hunters: industry tell-tale ‘Behind the Scenes’, and 100mph throwdown ‘Diamond Hammer’.
Instrumentals to both ease and expand minds from IMAKEMADBEATS on the seven-starred ‘Better Left Unsaid’, include a remoulding of 10CC and views of hip-hop from afar. Attempting to stay Gd up while keeping to a righteous path, Obi J reps ‘Red City’ with reflection and retaliation. The non-stop hustle of Avarice, bending jazz under his control into a hard-as-nails enforcement of ferocious rhymes, makes ‘Words and Sounds’ anything but simplistic, where the only greed is to go all out. Six tracks that stand up to be counted.
Raekwon beat down ‘This is What It Comes Too’ is a timely reminder to respect the gods, well set up by Xtreme’s subtle flip of a hip-hop fundamental that lets the Chef build and destroy. On ‘The Art of Rock Climbing’, Boldy James welcomes you to the total gangsta experience. Whether in the thick of it or just lounging in the aftermath, the DJ Butter-assisted EP runs rewindable rackets out of Detroit. Wallowing ‘In the Mud’, deM atlaS questions everything and nurses a life hangover in the process, and Vince Staples wilds out, plain and simple, on ‘BagBak’. Passport Rav and Asi Frio will measure you for concrete shoes ahead of a trip to the ‘Shark Tank’ in a callous mob style, while on ‘Help’, the all out 16s of Your Old Droog, Wiki and Edan leap from building to building while the world implodes under a prog rock plume and Rob Base is the last voice of reason. Not a track found pussy footing.
Getting sunshine to glance round the corner, Chris Read & Pugs Atomz air it out over ‘Chocolate Milk’, neo-soul with the bonus of a great hook. ‘Black Nite’ goes deeper and slinkier, with two twizzly remixes from Myke Forte. Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s timeless ‘They Reminisce Over You’ makes its 7” debut and enhances its legend that little bit more.
‘The Building’, a towering B-boy document from honourable humanitarians Mazzi and SOUL Purpose, gives familiar samples new life and piles high banks of bricks and mortar beats and rhymes you can always back to do the business. No punches pulled, see it hanging around year bests in 10 months time. Sucker puncher M Dot gets into it with the ‘Ego and The Enemy’, a spokesman for pessimists arguing reality where there’s no such thing as hard luck stories or second chances. Impressive assists from Hi-Tek, Method Man, Camp Lo, Marco Polo, Large Professor and Marley Marl (craftily flipping of all people, Ms Dynamite) help the Boston brawler grab the game by the scruff of the neck and pop vertebrae like bubblegum.
A heavy dose of Oh No & Tristate cuts class A dope for ‘3 Dimensional Prescriptions’; following the Gangrene cookbook, a dangerous connection casting their own shadow and treating willowy funk and soul like a cross-border haul, it’s an album that sounds equal parts elite and illicit, glamour and gall. Get fixed up. Great all round game from LiKWUiD, with 2 Hungry Bros feeding the machine on the boards, makes ‘Fay Grim’ a storybook full of sass, stress, strike outs and scholarly knowledge that shows fairytales for what they are. An album not rhyming for the sake of riddling. Dope KNife’s ‘NineteenEightyFour’ is an absolute battering ram of four wheel drive blasting through the boggiest of boom bap. Describing the savagery as “the movie Taxi Driver in rap form” is no joke, and Big Brother would think twice about listening in.
A clutch of autobiographical styles from the UK now: the composure of Loyle Carner’s low-key ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, even when the odds of the day to day aren’t always even, creates a new and relatable street bard elect. The decidedly more unrepentant Devlin and the ferocity of ‘The Devil’s In’ is perfect synching second time around after the overproduction that strangled his debut; and Big Heath reminding not to take home comforts and hard work for granted on ‘Smells of Beef’ gets the essentials all in order. Less introspective and just balls out slimy, Stinkin Slumrock & Morriarchi’s ‘Morrstinkin’ parades a doomed brand of swaggering sewer rat rap, hinting what once was polished and optimistic is now ripe for red light zones and no man’s land.
Quelle Chris’ ‘Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often’ catches itself in ups, downs (either going in hard or trying to function) and managing the in betweens. Therefore it never sits still both lyrically and stylistically, with wit and reflection both sharp and slowly revealing itself. Worth taking time with. A similarly individual look at the human condition is Stik Figa’s ‘Central Standard Time’, making the verbally dense levitate – “I got some idioms for idiots if anybody interested” – and displaying appealing introspection and emotional intelligence that’s just the right volume of far out. More of a catharsis is ‘Rap Album Two’, Jonwayne’s return that makes personal struggle both poignant and unapologetic for showing its hand. Suitably muted but speaking strongly and openly, in hushed tones without looking for sympathy, watch its humble humanity become the choice of the open eared this year.
When you can’t see the angles no more, you in trouble. Alternatively, when Corners come into view, fresh UK hip-hop will get you going. Beit Nun, Benny Diction and Deeflux pass the mic like a Sunday morning game of frisbee, and the casualness of their goodness taking the sting out of everyday slogging is pretty devastating. Eight-track ear swim ‘Tape Echo – Gold Floppies’ has dynamic duo Torb The Roach and Floppy McSpace sedating speakers in some unknown realm. Instrumentals grab armfuls of samples and cook them in slowly boiled delirium to create a thick beat stew. The broth of Batsauce for the ‘Clean Plate’ series is also a heavy ladle using battered wax as a serving suggestion; apple-bobbing funk, hot pockets of flavour, and samples strewn to make some kind of sense. Chrome’s ‘The Remix’ funky-freshens a bunch of Britcore classics, golden age staples, and queues Kanye, Edan, Ty, Savvy and De La Soul for a session in his win-win, no fee surgery.
Currently giving Midas tips on how to win, Paul White goes through his psychedelic wax satchel and like a hypnotist, comes up with ‘Everything You’ve Forgotten’, a free mix of past/present/future beats marbling into one. Fighting the power with a comprehensive manifesto , Lushlife’s ‘My Idols are Dead + My Enemies are in Power’ is unequivocal in its activism, a rolling funk fire to get hearts racing and fists clenched at once. Ain’t nothing sweet about the tongue lashing ‘Pick & Mix Experience’ of Ramson Badbonez and Jazz T, a half hour of hard nuts to crack teeth and heat that’s off the Scoville scale.
Feet to the floor with A7PHA and Paul White & Danny Brown, and street takes from HPPYPPL and Gatecrasherz.
February 21, 2017
Words: Dominic Valvona
Released by Glitterbeat Records, 1 7th March 2017
It’s been five years since Mali was last thrust into the world’s media spotlight; the Nomadic Tuareg’s age-old cause to gain control of an autonomous region in the country’s northwest border was abruptly hijacked by a less than sympathetic, franchise of Al-Qaeda. Declaring an independent state, known as the Azawad, in 2012, the Tuaregs were soon compromised by their miscreant partners; their ambitions reaching far further with an insurgency that threatened to destabilize the entire country. In their wake these extremists reduced many historical and revered sites to dust, and imposed the harshest forms of Islamist rule wherever they went: much to the distress of the Tuaregs.
Though it was more or less all-over within a year, the Mali government was forced to seek military assistance from the former colonial overlords, France, who rapidly quashed the insurgency and uprising, restoring, a sort of, peace to the region. An uneasy calm continues, albeit with a haphazard terrorist campaign (more recently in 2015, with an attack on a hotel in the Mali capital, Bamako) replacing the Islamists previous emboldened charge across the country, and a spiritually restless Tuareg population, trapped between a hostile government and the encroaching threat posed by global corporations eager to commodify their desert home.
Still without a homeland, though liberated from their draconian partners, the Tuareg are once again left, as wanderers in their own lands, the unofficial guardians and custodians of the Saharan wilderness. For now only a dream, best realized and protested through music, the rock’n’roll Bedouins Tamikrest emerge once more from the barren landscape with a message of “power and resistance”, on their fourth, equally entrancing, album Kidal. Paying homage to the strategically and spiritually important cultural trading town of the title, the highly-acclaimed (and rightly so) Tamikrest exude both the sadness and suffering of the dispossessed people who cling to the southwestern Saharan hub that is Kidal: a town which has seen its fair share of fighting, fought over, conquered and reconquered over time, it remains a symbolic home to the Tuareg. This is after all the town that nurtured them and where it all began.
Preserving an increasingly endangered ancestral culture and language, Tamikrest’s cause cannot be separated from their music. Yet, rather than protest with bombast or angry rhetoric, they articulate their woes with a poetic, lyrically sauntering cadence. Oasmane Ag Mosa’s earthy lead vocals resonate deeply, even if his timbre maintains a stoic dignified pitch. Backed by Aghaly Ag Mohamedine and Cheick Ag Tiglia on backing and duets, a lulling sweetness transcends, which on occasions adds a certain romanticism to the impassioned struggle. Swaying effortlessly between the meandering and up-tempo, the accentuated dynamics of Mosa and Paul Salvagnac’s entwined, untethered and contoured guitar work, Mohamedine’s “gatherer” Djembe rope-tuned goblet drumming, Nicolas Grupp’s askew backbeats and Tiglia’s smooth, free-roaming bass lines transport the listener to the mystical topography of the desert. Tamikrest’s mirage-style emerges into focus on the opening shimmering camel-procession Mawarnih Tartit, before traversing the vast plains with a drifting echo of Afro funk on Wainan Adobat. But perhaps one of the group’s most off-kilter, dizzying, entranced spells yet is the twilight hour twanged, giddy War Toyed, which has an almost dislocated rhythm. And definitely among their most reflective explorations, Atwitas features Salvagnac’s sublime, mournful and pining slide-guitar work; redolent of Ry Cooder’s own parallel American desert blues evocations.
Written in the desert but recorded in the urban capital of Bamako, Kidal was produced by Mark Mulholland (his last production, the Tony Allen and Haiti ensemble collaboration, AHEO, made our top albums of 2016 features), and mixed by Grammy award winner David Odlum. As a result, the album subtly embraces a wider musical palette, with hints of country and folk on the haunting Tanaka, and, what sounds at times like a strange Malian XTC on the plaintive cry for freedom War Tila Eridaran. And so it has already been noted that western artists, such as Hendrix and even Pink Floyd have had an influence on many African bands. A mutual exchange of course, the home of blues taking a little something back from the West. There’s still no mistaking that inherent African desert sound and passion, even if Kidal reaches out beyond the barren reaches of Mali’s borders for an ever expansive and diversified sound.
Assiduous, confident and articulate, the musicianship shows not so much a progression as a balance between the meditative and rock’n’roll spirit of the Tuareg musical resistance. Tamikrest are as brilliant as ever musically, and Kidal is, despite its plaintive and lamentable subject woes, a beacon of hope in an ever-darkening world of uncertainty.
February 10, 2017
Compiled by Dominic Valvona
Continuing in 2017 with the first of, we hope, many Monolith Cocktail Socials, Dominic Valvona presents another eclectic playlist. In case you don’t know the drill, previously only ever shared via our Facebook profile and on Spotify, our regular Monolith Cocktail Social playlists will also be posted here on the blog itself. With no themes or demarcated reasoning we pick songs from across a wide spectrum of genres, and from all eras. #27 includes thoughtful post-country evocations from Bruce Langhorne; southern-drawled, Steppenwolf-esque, roadtrip musings from Circuit Rider; a rebooted live version (with friends) of I Have Known Love by Silver Apples; diaphanous soulful rays of Africa from post-punk outfit Family Fodder; a Malian jazz odyssey from Le Mystere Jazz de Tombouctou; desert rock yearnings from Mdou Moctar; exquisite balladry from Drakkar Nowhere; the sweetest of soul takes from the felonious The Edge Of Daybreak; and 23 other equally evocative, stirring, foot-shuffling and sublime tracks from across the decades.
Bruce Langhorne ‘Opening’
Circuit Rider ‘Forever Angels Proud’
Trance Farmers ‘She’s Made Of Rainbows’
Mistress Mary ‘Dance Little Girl’
Elyse Weinberg ‘Your Place Or Mine’
Sensations Fix ‘Grow On You’
Silver Apples ‘I Have Known Love’
Family Fodder/Vic Corringham ‘Walls Of Ice’
Diane Coffee ‘Never Lonely’
Black Peaches ‘Chops On Tchoupitoulas’
Le Mystère Jazz de Tombouctou ‘Leli’
Khiyo ‘Amar Protibaader Bhasha’
T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo ‘Finlin Ho’
Mdou Moctar ‘Iblis Amghar’
Black Hippies ‘Love’
The Beach Boys ‘Here She Comes’
Dr. Lonnie Smith/George Benson/Ron Carter/Joe Lovano ‘Apex’
Mongo Santamaria ‘In The Mood’
Volta Jazz ‘Air Volta’
The Frightnrs ‘Trouble In Here’
The Olympians ‘Sirens Of Jupiter’
King Tubby ‘King Tubby’s Special’
Moloch ‘Dance Chaney Dance’
Takeshi Terauchi (Blue Jeans) ‘Tsugaru Jongarabushi’
Los York’s ‘Facil Baby’
The Critters ‘Blow My Mind’
Pierre Cavalli ‘Cacador’
The Edge Of Daybreak ‘Your Destiny’
Roy Wood ‘Songs Of Praise’
Drakkar Nowhere ‘Any Way’
February 7, 2017
Words: Ayfer Simms
Retoryka ‘Enhanced Techniques I.’ & ‘Enhanced Techniques II. EPs’
Released by Everyday Life Recordings, 20th January 2017
Retoryka hooks its amplifiers somewhere in the horizon, to let their sound blow with the four winds, standing perfectly tranquil amid the chaos and commotion they create with their instruments: there’s a party under a shade.
Dazed, rapturous and noisy, underground and yet classy, peaceful even, the melodic vintage compositions of the band are like masses of energy breaking down in brief fluttering lethal notes, all mingling together in a distorted tireless ensemble.
The tunes under that shade give the spotlights to well-approved guitar swirls, whilst turmoil prevails in the tiny details of all the tracks. Retoryka seems to go loose, walking gleefully along a greasy and messy road full of complexity because different styles collide and merge, the same way they would on a newly forming galaxy. At first we feel off balanced and then the cohesion miraculously appears.
Our feet are dangling from a truck; we are dizzy while the music plays. The instruments’ cords slowly become our umbilical sweaty bond that provides us with nourishment and an ear-splitting nursery rhythm to our nights.
These are destructive younglings, in search, of the perfect shriek, with sprouting shy impressions in the first EP and calmer ripened attitude in the second. In contrast the vocals are soft and endearing, welcoming, like the soft touch of a wobbly titan.
The notes and the guitar may show some rebellious arching but the listen is all around light, with agreeable melodies and “safe” spurts of the instruments.
February 3, 2017
Words: Dominic Valvona
Intoxicatingly beckoned by their satanic majesties into the subterranean, the bewitching new single from the reputable morbidly curious Liverpool band Sankofa, Into The Wild, is a sassy, knowing two-geared esoteric augur. Following hot on the heels of their last, and equally daemonic psych single, All The While, ahead of the band’s debut album (released later this year), this entrancing incandescent liquid lightshow video adorned doom-monger shifts from a malady of Crime And The City Solution style tremolo twanged gothic country, The Doors and The Creeps, to a final unyielding, heavy rock guitar crescendo. In case you missed the subtle hints and miasma, both sonically and lyrically, the cover art can’t help but give you nightmares, alluding as it does to very real metaphors of puritanical regimes and their witch-hunts.
Into The Wild will be released by the, burgeoning, independent Glasgow-based In Black Records label (home to Acting Strange and Mark McGowan) on the 3rd March 2017; for now, you can catch our exclusive taster video.
February 1, 2017
Words: Matt Oliver
Strange U ‘#LP4080’
Released by High Focus, 10th February 2017
“I worship the Sega God with the blue fur; my mother’s Lara Lor-Van, my father’s Lex Luther”.
Though the chrome may not be shiny and the cylinders can’t help but misfire, High Focus’ ownership of 2016 (summarised here) is safe in the hands of Strange U’s voodoo children for the New Year. Venerable UK hip-hop rogues Kashmere (The Iguana Man, Lord Rao), and Dr Zygote (The Maghreban), theorise conspiracies through comic book schlock writing its own legend. A classic hip-hop one-two manning long established loose cannons, #LP4080 has a deftness that allows it to be daft, transplanting MF Doom and Kool Keith through zodiac mind warps and Vulcan death grips.
Kashmere’s telling of stranger than fiction tales, sex drugs and rock & roll laced with wild one-liners that’ll either gob smack you or smack you in the gob, joyrides Zygote’s primitive vision of the future made to the specification of a mint condition Dalek (intermission Taurus makes a public service announcement of a space colony being unveiled by the year 2000). Black hole-sized beats, decommissioned Casios, arcade consoles that have long flashed ‘game over’, and electro downloaded over dial-up internet, create the perfect simulation of space’s loaded vastness, always one false move away from catastrophic consequences. If the ship’s going down, Strange U are gonna fly it their way, accentuating High Focus’ cast of many characters that would fill a sticker book.
How you feel the Gs is down to tracks like Bullet Proof Mustache: trying to achieve a body count of the 80s silver screen megastars it references, acting the fool and plotting nonsensical courses is Strange U’s smartest move, particularly with Lee Scott boarding the same vessel like Dave Lister. The unexpected self-deprecation Waste of Space shows that guardians of the galaxy have to start somewhere, without exactly speaking up for the little guy, and Mumm Ra, stepping up the supreme Veronica RIP from Kashmere’s In the Hour of Chaos, plays Russian Roulette with a female species, Zygote taking the narrative on the run with doomed boom-bap.
The emcee’s power up has also sharpened his social awareness. Despite long peddling the world’s end, reality means tragedy must accompany comedy, showing that #4080 is still the devil’s number. On Mr Kill, the star strider inaugurates himself as Alan B’stard (“this is not Jeremy Corbyn in a tie-dye vest…the type of sub-human you would love to own the country”), and with the graphic Armageddon of Eden’s Husk – the guesting Jehst rhyming like a correspondent live at the scene – the outlandish predicament sounds like what boffins have been predicting for years, plastered across the front page of your favourite red top.
For all the anecdotal complexity, the sandpapered English is virtually always plain, call and response choruses leaping into the front row in carrying on the good work of Power Cosmic’s Bang! Splat!. The appeal of Strange U’s odyssey is simple respect of the basics in beats and rhymes, no matter how far bent to the left. Syllables set to stun in the middle of an Asteroids field, it’s a first class bizarre ride to and from the far side.