NEW MUSIC REVIEW ROUNDUP

WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




A somewhat shorter selection but just as much quality and eclecticism, my final roundup of the year includes the cinematic pop and harrowing void explorations of Alpine Those Myriads; the latest compilations from Edinburgh label of alternative and post rock mavericks and sonic explorers, Bearsuit RecordsThe Invisible & Divided Sea, and the altruistic, charity driven Submarine Broadcasting Company’s latest sprawling collection, Post:Soc; the fourth edition of Knitting Factory’s curated Fela Kuti box sets, with albums chosen by that rebel soul songstress and polymath Erykah Badu; and for the first time ever the entire – admittedly small – 1970s recorded oeuvre of one of Cameroon’s leading Gandjal rhythm providers, Hamad Kalkaba and his Golden Sounds band.

Alpine Those Myriads   ‘Visions & Disorders’
See Hear Feel Smell,  out now.

 

Set adrift out into the void, though as the motivational prompt, ‘climb the mountain and jump off it!’ that was taped to the artist’s working desk during the process of making this harrowing beauty of a minor opus suggests, Alpine Those Myriads’ Marius Bastiansen is, if throwing himself into a chasm of uncertainty and pushing limits, still tethered to earthly realms.

Now deduced to a solo project, cut loose from previous incarnations of the Norwegian group that originally got together back in 2001, the one-man band ATM is highly ambitious musically and conceptually. Inspired by the evanescent memories of watching both the dreamy visionary cinema of Russian auteur Tarkovsky (in particular, by the sounds of and echoes of retro-futuristic signals that are suffused throughout this album, the late filmmakers celebrated science fiction magnum opus Solaris) and the existential, love/hate figure, Lars Von Trier – depending on who you listen to either a madman, risqué agent of controversy or genius.

Aching with a Nordic poetic romanticism, often frail but cutting through the sonic maelstrom and haunted panoramas, Bastiansen merges the gloom and ominous miasma of Scott Walker with The Parenthetical Girls, Fever Ray and Oh No Ono on this cosmological kaleidoscopic concatenate set of traverses, Visions & Disorders. The latter of that title and constant shift towards the discordant is handled with a certain élan; churning, lumbering, bleating, caustic, sending out paranormal broadcasts and on the daemonic reprise version of the album’s opener, Nocturnal Hysteria, featuring the presence of some sort of Lovecraftian Clutha submerged in the subterranean dankness, the horror and uncertainty never quite reaches Walker’s sublime distress, always returning as it does to an uncomfortable but still melodious beauty.

Challenging but balanced, an implosion of tight progressive electronic beats and pained bedraggled saxophone is pitched against the theatrical on the Pale Fountains remixed by Haxan Cloak opener, Radiohead swirl in a charged techno hinterland on Mail Order Doom (WHWGH), Sparks relocate to the Forbidden Planet on the synthesizer pop melodrama Milk The Peacock, and the finale, An Archetype veers into Baroque Kosmische and switched-on Wendy Carlos transduced harpsichord.

Hallowed organs and Moss Garden evocations are layered against ice-y synths, off-kilter lurching loops and warping effects as the ether joins the cosmic in what is a highly impressive cinematic rich album of sonic pop exploration: imagine a more intense Tomat’s 01-06 June with Simon Bookish vocals.






Various   ‘The Invisible And Divided Sea’
Bearsuit Records,  1st December 2017

 

Supplying me during the year with a never-ending variety of disjointed alternative lo fi post-rock and maverick electronic music releases, Edinburgh’s inimitable Bearsuit Records has kept up their impressive momentum by sending me this latest compilation of the kooky, odd and curious: to be fair, some of the artists on this compilation are actually more conventionally brilliant, especially the opening undulated Vangelis voyager style waltz into the cosmos, Fulfilling Eclipse, a serene with moments of trepidation electronic strings traverse by the Brussels composer/producer Alexander Stordiau and one of the album’s most outstanding contributions.

Featuring both present and the odd upcoming track from the label’s expanding roster of international artists, this latest collection congruously moves between the Holger Czukay like chanteuse jazz meets chaotic shouting hysteria of Tous Les Rochers by the mysterious Yponomeutaneko, and the spooky shoegaze ephemeral Julee Cruise-esque swooned Le Sablier, by the Boston electronic composer Petridisch – both of which get to submit two tracks, and both of which have a certain penchant for the French language.

Though every contribution has its merits, some are more dysfunctional than others, some interesting and pushing boundaries. Just out and out weird however, the wax cylinder sounding oomph band on the trail of the lonesome pine, comically voiced missive from some scratchy old western movie, World Travel Of The Piano Tuner, and concertinaed, bellowed, childish Wednesday (January 1992), both by the Japanese folky pop artist Shinnosuke Sugata, are utterly dotty and bewildering, if quaint. Joining them in the almost impossible to categorize ‘out there’ stakes is the avant-garde cut-up workshop The Ha-Happy App derangements of the Scottish and Japanese duo Kirameki.

Social worker by day, channeling his Talking heads eaten up and spat out in tetchy, scratchy spitball of cuckoo Clanger sounds and post-rock by Deerhoof, the Hamburg musician Martin Pozdrowicz, under his PoProPo alter ego, adds rhythm to his strange inventive Freakshow-Dance 2. Elsewhere label stalwarts The Moth Poets see who comes off worse in their musical battle between Jeff Mills and St.Vincent on the crushed indie curio The Shabby Gentlemen, the Edinburgh duo Ageing Children stalk and limber through hip-hop, and PiL style post-punk on the broody industrial beat shuffling Sick Puppy – a teaser/taster track from their, as yet untitled, upcoming new release, due in 2018 -, and Evan O’Malley, donning the Martian Subculture moniker, languidly broadcasts a tripsy soft bulletin from the lunar surface on his yearned space psych ode Chewing Gum.

Bringing a certain calm, float-y and softly played final breath of serenity to the collection, Glasgow based musician Chas ‘Annie’ Kinnis contributes a sort of twinkled lullaby, his peaceable Annie & The Station Orchestra Song For The Invalid Drivers represented by a most dreamy tranquil Ullapul remix. It is a befitting end to a compilation of such extremes: the psychedelic to trip-hop, ambient to orchestral, from the avant-garde to cosmic. Bearsuit continue to surprise; attracting some of the most strange and experimental of music makers, and confounding (in a good way) with every release.






Various   ‘Post:Soc’
Compiled and distributed by the Submarine Broadcasting Co,  out now

 

A convenient segue way exists between this compilation and Bearsuit Records; this latest altruistic (all proceeds going to the DePaul International Group for homeless charities) project from the Submarine Broadcasting Company features a number of artists from the Edinburgh label, including Bunny And The Invalid Singers and Kirameki. It is a congruous partner to The Invisible & Divided Sea on many levels, sharing with it a similar sense of experiment with a roster of equally obscure, mysterious and lo fi composers and artists.

Responsible for the Syrian Relief compilation One-String Inspiration, the enabler curators behind the Post:Soc behemoth (30 tracks with a second overspill type volume moiety, Post:Script also available) have once again made the call for submissions, asking for sonic interpretations and evocations of a post-everything society: post-Trump, post-truth, post-factual, post-Brexit, post-postmodern, post-isms even, you name it someone’s been inspired or enraged by it. The only perimeter that were set, and which are breached countless times, is that each track should try to not overrun a six-minute set duration. Other than that it seems a free-for-all.

As you’d expect, the hysterical age in which we live is hardly the stuff of uplifting, happy-go-lucky paeans and celebrations – unless you did vote for Brexit, May, Trump or Catalonian Independence, in which case your views won’t be articulated here – for most artists on the left. And so this collection seethes with either self-pitying contempt (Bridget Wishart & Everling’s dystopian augur Yesterday’s Future) or less obvious ominous and haunting ambient peregrinations (at least a third of the contributions fall into this bracket, from the paranormal organ of Mean Flow’s Post-Necropsy Society to the trance-y Mogwai barren post-rock of Martin Neubold’s Music For A Post-Intolerant Society – ouch with the title!).

As the defining decision of recent times in Britain, Brexit cops its fair share of plaintive dower melancholy and protest. It even gets its own atmospherically ice-y-vaporous Post-Ambient suite, courtesy of Playman 54.

Elsewhere the caps locked SOLILOQUA dredges back up those fatuous images of the David Cameron #piggate affair, with the moody techno Lipstick On The Pig; Anata Wa Sukkari & Tsukarete Shimai offer up a shoegazing and glitchy fuzzy eulogy, Post-Mortem; the Crayon Angels sing a quaint disarming folksy lullaby about a metaphorical Insect Bite (the sort of veiled tsetse fly poison that encourages ignorance); and Ian Haygreen posing the understated We Live In Interesting Times surmise, merges Revolution 9 with Scott Walker and trip-hop.

Mostly instrumental, and with that ambient, Post:Soc offers a full gamut of moods and explorations, evocations and sad meditations on the present state of affairs. It promises both the peaceful and doom inducing, and goes some way to offering a musical soundtrack to what may yet be the end times!






Fela Kuti   ‘Vinyl Box Set #4: Curated By Erykah Badu’
Knitting Factory,  15th December 2017

 

Despite it being a good few years since Knitting Factory and a host of other labels and ventures began a schedule of Fela Kuti evangelism, Fela fever is still alive going strong. There’s already been a celebratory run of events, from theatre production to cover albums, festivals and of course the remaster repackaging of every album Nigeria’s favourite son recorded, but going forward into 2018, there will also be a number of events commemorating what would have been Kuti’s 80th birthday.

One of the many Kuti evaluations, the Knitting Factory’s ‘curated series’ of box sets has reached its fourth edition. Previous editions have featured Questlove, Ginger Baker and Brian Eno choosing personal favourites from Kuti’s extensive back catalogue of 50 plus albums. Lavishly packaged with both original artwork, essays from the curators and experts alike – including Afrobeat historian Chris May – unseen photos, lyrics and of course remastered/restored versions of the original tracks, these deluxe box sets offer, what surely must be by now, the final word: the ultimate collection as it were.

Lending her sagacious ear and fiery ‘no-shit’ defiant attitude to this latest edition, rebel, actress, activist, Grammy Award winning polymath Erykah Badu picks albums from Kuti’s most elegiac, despondently enraged and also clarion calls for a united Africa periods.

A fierce critic, martyr at times, of Nigeria’s successive corruptible governments and elites – from the decade-long military rule that followed the country’s Biafra Civil War in 1969, to the miscreants that took office in the aftermath – politics defined Kuti’s music: the two were inseparable. Even though the music remained sizzling, funky and bright after years, nee decades of fighting the system – with relatives bearing the brunt of establishment attacks – Kuti’s protestations remained fierce if softened in part by the scintillating, sauntering Afrobeat rhythm and effortless candour of the musicianship.





Coffin For Head Of State, one of the seven albums chosen by Badu, was perhaps his saddest statement. Released at the beginning of a new decade of hope, the two-part remembrance service condemns those involved in the fateful events that led to the death of his mother, Funmilayo. A raid on Kuti’s infamous compound, the Kalakuta Republic, in 1977 saw soldiers threw Funmilayo out of a second floor window. And though she wouldn’t die until later, the injuries sustained at the time of this assault contributed to medical complications and her death. In a bold act of defiance, Kuti, family and followers carried her coffin to the army barracks entrance, petitioning for Funmilayo to assume the position of President of Nigeria. Despite the somber mood the music that it inspired, though of course noticeably pinning with elegiac mantras, is understated, sweet and also infectiously funky.

‘The Black President’, a name synonymous with Kuti’s stature and unofficial role as the alternative, countercultural candidate of choice for presidency might have happened if he’d run for office. The denouncement, vilification platform of V.I.P. (or Vagabonds In Power) could be read as a quasi-opening to a political campaign, this live album recorded at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1978 featured the man-who-could-be-president addressing a European audience, delivering a scathing attack on Nigeria’s ruling classes whilst calling for a better understanding of African culture to a customary shuffling Afrobeat and jazz accompaniment. Rumours abound that the proceeds from the show would go towards his presidential campaign. This didn’t exactly go down well with his beleaguered band. The increasingly disgruntled legendary Afrika ‘70 fell out with their bandleader over money and split; V.I.P. being the last album they recorded together.





In a chronological order, the golden Kuti period of the 70s – though he’d of course carry on making records into the 1990s, and only stopped a few years before his death in 1997 – is represented on this box set of Badu choices by the preaching condemnation, gospel dabs electric organ, female chorus, saw wailing jazzy funk of Yellow Fever – a reference to the dubious, dangerous skin-bleaching chemicals used to whiten complexions, though it gave off a more jaundiced, ill skin tone, hence the album title -; the Lester Bowie – of the jazz godfathers of avant-garde, the Art Ensemble Of Chicago – starring trumpet trills and spiraling, simmering soul rich No Agreement; and the ‘Live at the Kalakuta Republic’ recorded sumptuous, hand drum rattling Johnny Just Drop.

With a new incarnation of his backing group, Afrika ’80, denoting a new decade, Kuti’s relaxed entrancing but bright Army Arrangement protestation featured a soulful Kuti sticking it once again to the powers that be – by now, and even with a large oil wealth at their disposal and the end of military rule Nigeria was every bit as corrupt, stifling and quick to denounce, eradicate descent; Kuti was himself trumped up on dubious charges and thrown in prison during Muhammadu Buhari’s short reign as head of state in the mid 80s. Even later into the 90s, with Kuti being accused of taking part in a murder and facing ill health, the final album in this survey, Underground System, keeps up the antagonism, repeating accusations of ‘thievery’ to a busy tight, piano spotting groove on part one, and aping (literally) the derogatory language of the racist colonial masters (“give me banana”, “jump like a monkey”) on the probing, horn lingering breakbeat second installment. If anything this ’92 album was every bit as good as his more popular 70s material.

Keeping it Afrocentric, even when abroad, Kuti’s most repeated mantras of unity, pride and a return to the roots and atavistic values of pre-colonial African continent are echoed in Badu’s own work. But as Badu explains, it’s the “effortless” candour she so loves: “IT’S SO GOOD that there is NO way he gave it any thought. With Fela, it seems to just have spilled right out of him.”

Badu goes on to pontificate with passion that she was also attracted to the connectivity and the “pure honesty” that Kuti delivered in abundance. Her final words recommend setting up the right listening experience atmosphere: “listen to these tracks, preferably with a nice blunt…with a nice slow burn.”

Whether you take up that preferred choice or recreational enjoyment or not, Badu’s selection is not the most powerful Afrobeat frenzy of ‘deluxe box sets’, but possibly the most leisurely, meditative and rich one.






Hamad Kalkaba And The Golden Sounds  ‘1974 – 1975’
Analog Africa,  8th December 2017

 

Purveyors of Africa’s finest and explosive forgotten treasures, Analog Africa can always be relied upon to dig up some fascinating musical discoveries. Continuing to shed light on Cameroon’s rich history of mostly obscure and passed-over marvels, the German-based label follows up this summer’s eye-opening Pop Makossa ‘invasive dance beat’ compilation with the collected singles of Gandjal sauntering maverick Hamad Kalkaba and his Golden Sounds backing group.

Hamad’s entire recorded oeuvre stretched to just three, hard to source, singles; all released over a twelve-month period in the mid 70s – hence the title. So this is quite an obscure compendium, and as Analog Africa’s Samy Ben Redjeb reminisces in the compilation’s liner notes, chanced upon by complete accident. The initial 7-inch that kick started this project was found in a record store in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde; a transfixed Samy, by now the expert crate digger, sniffed out the goods, playing what would turn out to be Hamad’s Gandjal Kessoum/Toufle single on repeat. A chain of events led to him eventually tracking down the fabled original second and third singles – one of which took six years to find –, copies of which (and here’s a result) had lain dormant unplayed and untouched.

Part of the attraction of these finds were the picture covers that housed them: vividly scared down both sides of his face by tribal markings, Hamad’s gaze is as serious looking as it is cool. Born into the Musgum culture and heritage of northern Cameroon, squeezed between Chad to the east and Nigeria to the west, Hamad scored into his face the tribe’s vertical marks as a young boy. Promoting those traditions and the homegrown Gandjal rhythm in what would turn out to be a brief musical career, Hamad put out a trio of scintillating, shuffling singles, all backed by The Golden Sounds.

Following one of the other Musgum legacies, he would pretty much turn his back on that most fleeting of musical careers to join the army and to thrive as an athlete: when Samy tracked him down he found Hamad was not only a retired colonel but the current President of The Confederation Of African Athletics. Though enthusiastic about the idea of this collection, he was initially dismissive of his youthful dalliances as a singer. Yet the sentiment and drive were commendable, and the music, as you will hear, was both entrancing and relaxingly swinging.

The A-sides and B-sides have been separated and mixed up on this six track compilation, so the slinky, snake charming, bendy opener Astadjam Dada Sare, originally found on the third single release called Nord Cameroon Rhythms, is followed by one side of the initial single that set this collection in motion, the sweetly laced, swaddling horns and languid saxophone dappled Toufle. Hamad’s vocals are either relaxed in a sort of veneration – no doubt emphasized by the equally religious toned organ – style of prayer (Fouh Sei Allah) or more dynamically charged, on the cusp of a Stax showman, shouty and lively (Lamido).

Cooking up a funk and soulful stew, at times sending the needles into the red and distorting, Hamad and his troupe don’t so much blast or hurtle towards the thrills, lifts and breaks as amble: A band in no hurry to arrive at their destination.

 

It’s a shame Hamad didn’t stick it out, as these few but illuminating, sauntering Gandjal heavy tracks and dancefloor shufflers prove he had plenty of potential and talent. Released in the run-up to Christmas, this little collection will warm up the winter freeze and transport you to far sunnier climates. Analog Africa end the years as they started it with another essential showcase from Africa’s mostly ignored and forgotten musical past.



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MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL MONTHLY HIP-HOP ROUNDUP





Singles/EPs

With Rapture & Verse writing letters to Santa asking for Record Store Day specials from Prodigy, Dilla, Three6Mafia, Latyrx and a not-safe-for-turntables Christmas ice breaker from Kool Keith, the long held preconception that bad boys move in silence proves to be nothing but fake news. To the tune of stink-eye jazz, a warning shot causing whiplash is Ocean Wisdom maintaining ‘Eye Contact’, flowing comfortably before reaching his trademark warp speed without loss of clarity. Fresh hell from Onoe Caponoe unsheathes a similar typhoon tongue, taking the form of ‘Pennywize’ to a trap hammer horror thrown under the bus with the kitchen sink. Res One’s clinical and dangerous ‘Preach Nothing’ ensures you’ll burn in hell, Vicious Creep producing a funeral hymn remembering a Wild West shoot out. Beads jangling, consider the bird well and truly flipped when Dabbla goes ‘Flying’ – only first class, of course. Even the proper Professor Elemental is sent into a tailspin when James Flamestar turns ‘Knock Knock’ into a sub-EDM battering ram.





Bring your bludgeoned ears to the house of Handbook, who’ll look after you (and many an emcee) with the soulfully strong instrumentals ‘Holding You’/’Nightlife’. MrE simmers down and lights up with ‘Fairy Tale’, a well executed storyteller twisting bedtime favourites and fables into a pointed Bronx lullaby. But if you’re sitting comfortably to Beatnick Dee & Allen Poe’s ‘Composure’ EP, the LA-Kentucky match-up will pull the seat from under you, soulful for body and brain, with a conscience prepared to do double shifts. Fearing the worst when a club track called ‘Opulence’ with a poolside sleeve is cued, K Gaines leads the flashy set a merry dance with funk and flow setting and nailing simple targets.

One of Sage Francis’ signature fact-finding devastations gets a re-up, ‘Hoofprints in the Sand’ remixed by SonOfKarl as homely calm tries to keep the wolves from the door. Coating bar after bar in blood, KXNG Crooked & Royce 5’9” dispense ‘Truth’, ruthlessly bursting the bubble of bleary trap whose race sounds run. One of DJ Premier’s back pocket boom bappers gets A$AP Ferg to reclaim ‘Our Streets’, a nice beats and rhymes combination operating at about 75% and still eliminating imitators and New York naysayers in their droves. Another DOOM special team – metal-faced sagging meeting the street-carbonated Westside Gunn – comes more underground than a mole’s metro system, on the picture disc payday ‘Gorilla Monsoon’/‘2 Stings’.






Albums

Cappo, Juga-Naut and Vandal Savage power up again as valued vehicle of vengeance VVV, using the pointed end of the dunce cap to gut opposition on ‘Bozo Boyz’. Wearing Nottingham swagbasco like its rockstar cologne, the trio take apart prowling club beats powered by the high beams of an 80s sportscar, a wink and a nod helping slice through lingering gunsmoke.





Reading last rites on ‘2000BD’, Babylon Dead are the governing body of Illinformed, in bedevilled form on the boards, and Jman, riding dirty with ragga rawness on the mic. An uncompromising last days scorch that can you make jump and shout as much as sending you cowering to the corner. The ever bloodshot Bisk and his supply of dropped out hip-hop continues unabated, the typically fitful ‘Fly Sh!t’ and his affiliation of anything but tranquil tranquilizers, Morriarchi, Lee Scott, Sam Zircon and Drae da Skimask, dealing in lo-fi at extreme pressure. Back for seconds, DJ Format and Abdominal adjust the napkin for ‘Still Hungry: The Remixes’, eight extra courses of funkiness that you don’t even have to tip the dynamic duo for.





We’ve all thought it – Armand van Helden and Jan Hammer would make a toothpaste-selling dream team. For now, it’s Armand Hammer leaving Chelsea smiles, New York duo Elucid and Billy Woods heading to ‘Rome’ as underground gladiators whose coat of arms reads “I’m the solution, I’m the condition, I’m a symptom”. Dense, sprawling heat, headed by Messiah Musik and August Fanon on some press-record-and-go business, ‘Rome’ becomes a coliseum-sized battle when reality and ill illusions converge.

The dapper delights of L’Orange’s ‘The Ordinary Man’, instrumental top hat and tails with the creases kept in, create an evocative performance capturing in black and white a concerto producer forming his own magic circle. Right hand men drop in on the mic – Blu, Elzhi, Del, Oddisee – to flank a fantastic sample archive wearing a slightly world-weary pose, from a producer whose trick-from-sleeve ratio remains visionary.





Bringing bangers from the Balkans to Boston, Mr Lif runs with Brass Menažeri for an album of oompah-pa power. ‘Resilient’ sees Lif’s customary nose for a cautionary tale and willingness to occupy outside space, woven to a backdrop of massive horns and cosmopolitan live musicianship let off the leash. Hearty but no novelty, the odd couple/fantasy lineup raises smiles and earns respect.

D4rksid3’s ‘The Dark Tape’ is an envoy of gloom, but slick with it, nestling in hip-hop’s recesses but keeping it moving and able to scoop victory from the jaws of defeat. What starts as groggy gangsterism sparks into life when Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs strike gold in uncovering ‘Gems from the Equinox’, a shady, honour-shattering set that with Roc Marciano Action Bronson, Conway, and Mr MFN eXquire in tow, gets into the groove of steam rollering suckers stoopid. Music to out-train Rocky to, Stoneface’s ‘The Stone Age’ runs strictly on rugged terrain on his way to affirmation, quiet storms dive-bombing off clifftops. Do not listen if you’re not up for the fight.



“Boom bap be the music of choice, baritone be the range of the voice”: on an album called ‘Back to the Basics (The Boom Bap)’, the demands of LS Camp are pretty plain. Defenders of the faith who sail smoothly through beats and rhymes, without viewing the world through rose (or golden) tinted glasses. Talking of smooth, Blu & Exile’s ‘In The Beginning: Before the Heavens’ is a prequel talking a lot of sense as it sits atop its predecessor like California cream on top of flavourful pie.

 

Mixtapes

Accomplished enough to be an album in its own right, Sampa the Great’s ‘Birds and The Bee9’ brings to mind the best of Bahamadia. As much as a relaxant as a pricker of ears, global vibes and soulful, gossamer licks consistently dropping shamanic B-girl jewels, confirm one-to-watch status. Chris Read reruns the fun of The Pharcyde’s ‘Bizarre Ride II…’ with a 25th anniversary mix giving you 48 minutes of all the band’s celebrated, accelerated funk and foibles, plus the finger food in between.



On this week’s Gogglebox: Chester P’s premonitions, Rye Shabby’s hometown tour, and Rapsody’s ascension.










Look out for Rapture & Verse’s picks of the year in Monolith Cocktail’s comprehensive 2017 round up, coming soon.


REVIEWS ROUNDUP 
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Right, quick as you like, look lively. We have a lot to get through this month.

Part catch-up and partly featuring releases to come, the latest TOF review includes the latest poetically alluring and chorister evocations suite, Circuits, by Rowan Coupland; a new mix of electronic music and Curaçao traditions, colliding in a sonic explosive protest, from the Amsterdam-based Kuenta i Tambú; an esoteric and spooky seasonal EP of curios, Little Legs For Little Eggs, from the mysterious Quimper; strange cartoon Moog soundtracks and space japes from the late Guatemala electronic composer Emilio Aparicio; a collection of lost recordings from the bucolic and fuzz psych Swedish trio Cymbeline; the Anglo-German experimental triumvirate of Anne Müller, Sebastian Reynolds & Alex Stolze, with their first collective album of neo-classical and ambient performances, Part One; and form the Edinburgh-based sonic experimentalist Reverse Engineer a stunning low key album of transitional electronica and field recordings, Elusive Geometry.

I also have singles and EPs from pianist and troubadour extraordinaire John Howard, releasing his cover of Nick Drakes diaphanous From The Morning; the latest track, Mastakink, with accompanying remixes, from the cerebral electronic duo Room of Wires; and the debut EP of thrashing indie and new wave rock from Oxford’s Easter Island Statues, Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?.

Read on…



Kuenta i Tambú  ‘Rais’
Buchi Records,  15th November 2017

Fired-up and blazing out of Amsterdam, the Dutch-based (‘major leaguers’) Kuenta i Tambú, with their collision of dance music and Afro-Caribbean hard-hitting sonic triggers and attacks, make an explosive impression with their latest global beat travailing Rais album. Apparently attempts have already been made to frame this force of nature with a coherent or trendy tag: ‘new sound global bass’ and ‘tambútronic’ being the frontrunners, the former a bit clumsy, the latter more catchy and closer to the truth.

Built around the Dutch-Caribbean island musical traditions of the group’s founder Roël Calister, a native of Curaçao, the group uses the indigenous Papiamento language and dialect of that island not only for their moniker, which translates as ‘Tales and Drums’, but the title too, which means ‘Roots’: The ‘Tambú’ part of that band name also refers to a particular Curaçao style of dance and music, named after the drums that accompany it. You can hear those traditional hand drums pummeling away throughout this exuberant, restless but directed chaos of strutting synthesizer betas and earthy echoes of the ancestors.

Transfusing the signature sounds, from reggae to dancehall, with a dose of Major Lazer and MIA, Calister and his troupe pays certain homage to those ‘roots’, energizing and keeping ‘alive’ the sound of that southern Caribbean island –name checking notable Curaçao artists such as his sister Izaline Calister, Grupo Issoco and Elia Isenia – whilst blasting it forward into a polygenesis futuristic fusion.

Amplifying into a twerking, booty-shaking voodoo summoning bombast of rapping, spitting and soul-with-attitude vocal led charges, traditions come alive; those tribal atavistic themes entwined with the galloping urgency and incessant vibrations of dancefloor protest. A call-to-arms in one sense with its fierce shouts, laser strafing and pneumatic drilling bass, Kuenta i Tambú sound like a tropical island Die Antwoord, at other times, especially on the bottle-tapping and hand drum blitz Roll like the Ghana’s King Ayisoba.

Truly omnivorous the group throw Bhangra, R&B, Techno and Samba carnival saunters into a mix of swaggering male vocals, a local children’s choir and the equally ferocious, though also sultry and lulling, voice of Diamanta Kock. Recording half the album on Curaçao itself, soaking up the atmosphere, Kuenta i Tambú’s lively fervor propels the local culture forward into the 21st century with a spirited, even rebellious injection of loops, effects and colliding rhythms. In the words of the group, they are, in a manner, more “like a Caribbean punk band”, going “harder and harder, louder and louder!” Rais proves a perfect testament to that.







 

Rowan Coupland   ‘Circuit’ (Album and Illustrated Book)
27th October 2017

It’s the voice of course that draws you in: that ability to convey deep, though eloquently lights, descriptions so effortlessly whilst trilling and cooing between the role of chorister and Medieval bard, countercultural folk troubadour and earnest poet. The highly capable Rowan Coupland lets the words tumble and fall with great care, even when he packs those articulate observations into a cramped bar or two, as he does on occasion almost without taking a breathe, his diction natural and unhurried.

Difficult to define in an era in which artists can easily cross boundaries and take inspiration from anyone, Coupland’s voice is rich with both traditional and modern influences. Some of which are merely aspirational, whereas others colour each and every line. Indebted to the relatively obscure though highly influential 60s/70s English folk singer/songwriter Anne Briggs, who’s list of followers and admirers is both lengthy and legendary (Bert Jansch and Sandy Denny for starters), and the starry folklore of Shirley Collins (The Power Of True Love Knot for sure) there’s also mentions of the powerful atmospheric bowed and quivered music partnership of Richard Dawson and Rhodri Davies, and similar tremulous waning violin work of John Cale on this most impressive songbook. In the modern camp, echoes of I Poo Clouds, Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley waft through the undercurrents.

Expanding his repertoire and progressing forward gaining more experience and skills, Coupland has gone from a formative home-recording artist and Brighton scenester to polygenesis singer/songwriter/composer. Moving from his native Bath to Berlin in 2010, Coupland’s global travelogues – touring Canada and Europe – are enriched by his numerous collaborations, many of which relate again to the past: including the renaissance madrigal group Garland Hearse, folk singer Mary Hampton and the Vancouver gamelan orchestra, Gamelan Gita Asmara.

In fact modernity seems somehow out of place in the beautifully doleful geography of Circuit. A wistful, uneasy balance exists then between age-old sentiment and scenery and the encroachment of technology: the poetically endeared ephemeral observations of a scenic bicycle ride, the spell of which is interrupted by mono-crackled noise emanating from the mobile phone of a passing jogger, to the metaphorical lamentable changing facades of a community, encapsulated in the ebb and flow of one transient culture replacing a more entrenched one; a history of displaced people taking root from another time (“burnt out synagogues”) replaced by one of “internet cafes” and “late night casinos”.

On the weary chamber weepy The Canadian Whole Earth Almanack, which includes a diaphanous classical piano guest spot from Sr. Charli, Coupland waxes lyrical about legacy: both his own and that of mother natures. Meandering through a geologically descriptive rich terra firma, dotted with Arthurian like references to a poisoned chalice nee cup and his own mortal fate, he offers up the old adage that “You can’t take out what you didn’t put in.” Indeed.

Imbued with a sense of the ancestral, with vague evocations to a variety of mixed-up chapters and atmospheres from across the ages, Circuit’s moody but always gently majestically played accompaniment also has a timeless quality. So it comes as no surprise that parts of the album were recorded in the hallow sanctity of an ancient church, in the Brandenburg village of Grüneburg. You can hear Coupland tapping into those venerable surroundings on the sorrowful, Medieval echoed suite, Opening.

The landscape and architecture of the main recording location, in and around the artist’s Berlin home, can be felt too; the language, music and expressions evoking the beauty and isolation of the central northern belt of Europe and the Flemish countryside, framing songs such as Frozen River in the snowy Bavarian expenses like a Pieter Bruegel the Elder painting.

Though recorded in fact in the summer, there are countless references and a prevailing mood of winter, the wilderness and harsh but breathtaking panoramas of Coupland’s other topographical inspiration, Canada.

Saving perhaps the best until last, the less morbidly curious and more pep in his step version of Leonard Cohen (another tie to the Canadian landscape, albeit a cultural one) tiptoeing finale Puzzle Pieces is an inquisitive wondering and plaintive curtain call; lightly and gently stirring, Coupland doles out some great lines on this classically theatrical star turn: “I cried like a child on the day we left, I cried the same again on a day to forget. I cried like the sound of upturned teacups, like fallen turrets of conversations out of earshot.”

Circuit is an ambitious suite (an accompanying book of illustrations by Vancouver-based artist Eva Dominelli expands upon and adds an extra interpretative layer of meta to Coupland’s concepts) that showcases Rowan Coupland at his best and most intelligent, both lyrically and musically. This is a most rewarding and impressive album.







Room Of Wires  ‘Mastakink’
30th October 2017

Featured a few months back in one of my last round-ups, and on the last Quarterly Revue playlist, the Room Of Wires duo impressed with their sophisticated amalgamation of cerebral techno, dark beats and corrosive mind and outer body soundtracks rich Black Medicine EP. Little is known, or at least volunteered, information wise about this cloaked in mystery duo; only that they work apart in isolation, in different locations. Whatever the methodology: it works. And works well.

Their latest bandcamp release, Mastakink, is a single and trio of remixes: each one varying in abstraction and intensity. The original version is a hollowed-out sonar rotating dance track of unidentified voices, expanding chrome machinery, ascending and descending tetchy techno and dubstep beats and blips. MTCH’s transmogrification, imbued with a hint of acid, bit-crushing, rebounding warping Aphex Twin, is first up and stretches the effects with a breakdown of alien interference. However, Vlnc Drks applies a mistier, veiled cosmic trance treatment; adding slithery reel-to-reel – almost slithering off the tape spools – sounds, a sort of quasi-UNCLE like slower beat breakdown and laser quest zaps.

Wolf Asylum goes all out with a cacophony of speed-shifting effects, busy kinetic beats, and rapid breakbeat drums. Reshaping the original and having fun at the same time by the sounds of it, the Wolf’s remix sounds like a missing Polygon Window track.

They used to call this sort of beats programming, or something very similar, ‘intelligent techno’ back in the nineties; a term that quickly lost its original elevation for pretension. Yet it does prove a handy if glib label for the sophistication of this and many of the duo’s output. And that should be taken as a compliment.







Quimper   ‘Little Legs For Little Eggs’
14th October 2017

It comes as no surprise to find the mysterious maverick duo that is Quimper paying a near nonsensical homage to one of the Surrealists – and for that matter the German titan of late twentieth century conceptual mayhem, Martin Kippenberger – favorite symbols, the egg, on the latest in a series of curio EPs.

Their third such collection of 2017, Little Legs For Little Eggs, errs towards the haunted with its vaporous, mumbled and wafting esoteric siren call and undulating foggy horror schlock synth.

Released in time for Halloween, Jodie Lowther relays her vocals from beyond the ether; her musical foil John Vertigen, in the role of spiritualist, channeling those ethereal coos and nursery rhyme coquettish voices via the Ouija board.

Ominous though as it may sound, these little eggs and spooky shtick companions are often whimsical; the shocks, such as the black cat tip-toeing over a grave spine-tingling notes, aria like ghostly calls and ectoplasm dripping atmospherics are more in keeping with the Belbury Poly and The Advisory Circle than the wrenching doom and harrowing bestial augurs of Scott Walker and such Fortean Times ghost hunters as the Crow Versus Crow label.

Information, such as it is, remains scant, but the former Soft Bodies Record instigators, Lowther and Vertigen, offer a smattering of influential references” Lynch and Broadcast being two of the most obvious from a list that also includes The Associates – the closest they come to that is on the Eastern-tinged strange opener, Thomas Egg Has Little Legs, which channels Billy Mackenzie through Coil. Lynch creeps from the gloom, his presence just hanging there, on the Carpathian choir, ring modulating Halloween treat Shrike, whilst the much fated Broadcast influence can be heard throughout the rest of the EP’s trio of lilting spooky visages. However, there’s a strong whiff of the grand doyen of 70s and 80s horror soundtracks, John Carpenter, on the miasma heartbeat drum throbs Cut Below The Knee, which pairs the composer with a miserable, malcontent version of Clannad.

Difficult to frame or pin down, Quimper’s strange traverses are translucent, untethered and evanescent, threatening to float away or evaporate on touch. Little Legs For Little Eggs is part avant-garde chanson, part witchery synth and completely weird.







Cymbeline   ‘1965 – 1971’
Guerssen,  16th November 2017
Emilio Aparicio Moog   ‘Expansión Galáctica’
Mental Experience,  16th November 2017

 

Proving themselves a regular provider of the forgotten (sometimes for a good reason) and weirdly kitsch, Spanish vessel Guerssen has surprised as much as amused me with their busy 2017 release schedule. From thrift shop mid 80s garage to Franco era holiday resort disco flamenco, the crate-digging enthusiasts have resuscitated some astounding eclectic deadbeats, mavericks and, occasionally, pioneers from their metaphorical deathbeds of obscurity.

From the latest batch, all released during the next two weeks, I’ve picked out the primordial and Kosmische koolaid electronic nonsense 70s recordings of Emilio Aparicio (released through Mental Experience, and fed through the Guerssen promotion hub) and the, as it happens, pretty decent 60s/70s psych, bucolic folk home recordings of the Swedish trio Cymbeline to chew over. Though there is a bounty of odd and strange compilations also worth checking out.

Guatemala seems both the most unlikely and obvious fertile environment to find an odd burbling Bruce Haack like Moog classic. Seldom making headlines, for better or worse, the Central American country – part of the umbilical shaped cord that tethers the North and South American continents together – shared a common revolutionary zeal with its Latin neighbours. Simultaneously enjoying an economic boom whilst the local branches of the Revolutionary Movement fought a guerilla war, Guatemala’s youth, well some of them, tuned into America’s counterculture. With ties to a fortune, or at least a family of drinks maker industrialists, Emilio Aparicio, under the patronage of fellow compatriot, the painter and producer Roberto Abularach, created some of the country’s most curious electronic music compositions and exotic flights of fantasy. Lucky enough to have Abularach sipping from the same magic cup, – both, along with a number of Guatemala bohemians and ‘heads’, indulged themselves with copious amounts of LSD and Datura in the lead up to these recordings – the producer on his return from a trip to New York in 1969, where he met Robert Moog himself, brought back home two of the newly-fangled analogue synthesizers, one of which he presented to Aparicio as a gift.



After two years of stimulant induced experimentation, and released staggered over just a month-long window, the resulting Moog recordings were far too loony, zany and futuristically strange for the Guatemalan market. And so, pressed privately as a series of 45” records, some given away as part of a drink’s promotion for that family connection’s business (in exchange for four corks of the local brew), these oddities have remained stored away and mostly unheard: none of them ever making the record stores.

Long forgotten, copies so scarce that it took this compilation’s architect, Ruffy Tint (of Discodelic) some serious excavation work amongst the rat dung and dusty grotty basement of a rock-o-la machines distributor in the Guatemalan city of Quetzaltenango to find the missing and complete set of Aparicio recordings that make up Expansión Galáctica (no translation needed).

Undulating between transmogrified library music and a Latin variant of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, these curios range in cosmic kitsch influences; from primordial Joe Meek crouched in a moist subterranean space vault to bubbly candy Zuckerzeit period Cluster. The two finds that initiated this collection, Brujería and Transfiguración del Iniciado pitch the ritualistic and bewitching in an acid-dandy vision of Hanna-Barbera haunted house spell casting, the first of which conjures up a misty spooky soup of babbling, trips-y beats and yawning silly gaping cries from the dungeon, the second, more serious but no less kitsch saunters towards the altar of some cultish brethren.

Goggle-eyed bossa nova wobbles, warbles and bleeps permeate the Moog modulated scenery of a space chasm Sputnik era version of space. And for the most part it seems quite quaint. As an exotic example of Moog performed exotica and weirdness, the late Aparicio’s recordings could be considered a rare missing link in electronic music. The travails of saving these obscure quirks has been worth the effort, and in a small way brought attention to a scene few had ever even heard of. Just don’t get too excited about it; Guatemala’s part is a footnote not a game changer.





Meanwhile back on European soil, the equally obscure Swedish trio Cymbeline were, in-between their respectful gigs for a host of Scandinavian beat groups, producing a variety of recordings during the 60s, which would remain mostly unheard as demos and home recordings collecting dust, until forty years later. Laid dormant until founding member, the former lead guitarist of The Rovers, Michael Journath retrieved them from the loft and begun digitizing and uploading to Youtube, these increasingly – as the years went on during the band’s six-year history – professional recordings and extemporized experiments came to the attention of the Guerssen label, who quickly realized they’d found some gems.

Mostly recorded at the home of the group’s co-founder Anders Weyde (another lead guitarist, notably with Swede outfit The Scarlet Ribbons), this mix and match of styles, quality and line-ups follows the trajectory of a band finding its sound over one of the most changeable, rich periods of music development in history. Originally formed out of a yearning to write and perform their own material in 1965, bored with covers, Journath and Weyde along with old classmate Lars Hygrell, holed-up in the home studio, began aping the Rolling Stones and skulking moody garage rock of the States on their first records, the melancholic Everly Brothers harmony Look At The Stars and lamentable bucolic, Lady Jane-like haunted, Imagination.

At the same time however they also started improvising; incorporating their surroundings, from furniture for drums to the sound of birds, an electric cocktail mixer and even a refuse chute. The results of these expansions and melodious meanders were filed at the Image title series, of which the Third, Fifth and Sixth survived and are gathered together on this collection – the latter is a re-recorded 1970 version of the original. Starting with a bass guitar line, riff or plucked classical prompt these images were allowed to wander and end-up where they may: Fifth being a sun-dappled pastoral dreamy garage psych track that wouldn’t seem to out of place on an early Tyrannosaurus Rex album, Third a hoof-footed Electric Prunes in Allan Edgar Poe mayhem, and Sixth, a Moody Blues pastoral paean to love amongst the elements, which appeared on the group’s only single as the flipside to the ’71 released New York.

As time went on and improvements were made at Weyde’s home studio, Cymbeline adopted more folksy and progressive influences, looking across to the tapestry bucolic of England and the American West Coast, and to the wah-wah psychedelic songs of Jimi Hendrix, who’s famous standard The Wind Cries Mary is covered and given a gentle, almost muffled treatment by Cymbeline. Echoes of Donavon, Buffalo Springfield and backward/forward dreamy guitar-pedal effects feature through the trio’s late 60s repertoire. Some of which is mere pastiche, others, pretty decent, including the brilliant Traffic-esque Motala Ström from ’68.

A whiff of late success beckoned when Ulf Ryberg joined the trimmed-down to a duo Cymbeline in 1970, his amiable proto-glam meets Manfred Mann style acoustic rhythm travelogue New York became the band’s only official release. Prospects for an album in ’71 saw the trio locating from the industrial town of Norrköping for the Europa Film Studios in Stockholm to record a number of demos. Supposedly channeling the feel of the band’s live performances, a couple of tracks seem to be all that remains from this period; one of which is a more urgent but still wistful fuzz and shimmering cymbal retake of an earlier Stolta Vingar, the other, the more Amon Düül II acid-prog Strax Nedanför Tornen. Unfortunately during this late surge the band split up indefinitely before an album could be finished.

Obscurity and the right to be forgotten seems an impossible option in the internet age, and so even a lost box of nuggets as this Cymbeline collection can reach an audience previously cut-off through third parties (take your pick, from labels to management and radio) or the inactions of the group itself. Just when you believe or hope there’s nothing left to drag or dig up – thinking you may have finally got a fix on the whole Scandinavian folk and psych scene of the sixties – something comes along that grabs and surprises you into reevaluating what you know. Cymbeline is another one of those ‘what ifs’, though both good enough to have certainly gone further than they did, you can also see, in a crowded market, how they could so easily be lost and passed over for the multitude of quality that defines the whole era.







Easter Island Statues   ‘Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?’
15th December 2017

Bonding over a shared passion for the music of The Pixies (plenty of that on display) and the Neutral Milk Hotel (not so much), amongst a variety of other similar bands, in 2015, the Oxford trio of Easter Island Statues Donald Campbell, James Askwith and Tom Hitch are set to release their debut EP, the five track Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?, next month.

Leading single Bow & Arrow, which has been doing the rounds recently, has already pricked the attention of 6Music’s Tom Robinson with its lively maelstrom of shimmery crashing cymbal and rapid-fire tight drums, The Walkman like angulated thrashing guitars and serenaded Mexican trumpet accompaniment. Running moodily over the downs the trio create a busy but perfectly executed slice of rambunctious Pixies via The Manics style alternative rock single bursting with energy, moodiness and elan.

In a similar vein the opener, Jousting Colours, offers little in the way of chivalry, but plenty of thrashing spiky punk and post-Britpop American rock: early Franz Ferdinand, The Buzzcocks and The Strokes to name just three.

Things get interesting with the split and changeable Little Bird/Ballerina, which runs through a number of musical changes, from Interpol style post-punk to senorita yearning brass, country and crashing indie. Holy Day is another sea change with its acoustic treatment, plucked prangs of ascending strings, funeral pyre analogies and mandolin. It’s is one of the best and most original, most mature and sophisticated tracks on the EP. The finale, Street Static, is a mix of all the influences in a way, controlled yet just as lively, with hints of R.E.M. and the same crashing, full-on alternative rock guitar riffs and crescendos as Jousting Colours and Bows & Arrows.

An impressive debut indeed from the often crashing and blasting, but thoughtful and assured trio.





The Reverse Engineer   ‘Elusive Geometry’
Floored Music,  24th November 2017

Both in the moniker by which the Edinburgh-based ‘sonic experimentalist’ Dave House is known by, and deduced from the title of his latest album, Elusive Geometry, we can view the sound-artist’s music as a restructuring of sounds and mechanics.

House unravels, strips and inverts his apparatus of field recordings and sampled instruments to reconstruct new, often mysterious and at times foreboding soundscapes; some of which recall Jon Hassell’s Fourth World Musics explorations: a trace of the Javanese or Malay can be heard like a veil hanging over the uneasy densely packed traverse of cascading crystal droplets, marimba and tubular echoed Proto, and a similar, familiar yet obscured sense of place can be heard on the bamboo shuttling Insider, which also features the bobbing and dipped percussion and tablas of sound-designer and producer Pete Vilk.

Exotic sensory concepts of reimagined ‘possible musics’ and places can also be detected in the transduced display of dreamy African plain aria, scatting, soaring and soulful vocals by the jazz vocalist Matty Eeles, on the down tempo shuffling minimalistic Metastability. Fluidly interchanging between the soothed and soaring, Eeles’ voice is manipulated until her diction become almost alien, animalistic, stripped to just vowels sounds and exhales. And whether it’s meant to or not, the glass-bottle tapping and hand drum patterned Rhythmed has an air of the Haitian about it.

A transformation of House’s themes of ‘transition, self (re)discovery and moving on’, the precise chemistry of his compositions and use of collaborators – the already mentioned Vilk and Eeles are joined by harpist Esther Swift and BAFTA award-winning cellist Atzi Murumatsu – sends these explorations off into numerous nuanced, but untethered, atmospheres. Masked looming leviathans, honked saxophone like probes, coils and springs, stone and vegetation, the odd guitar strike drift over or interweave through sophisticated minimalist beats and breaks – the most abstract and discordant drum break of which features on the hallucinatory Decoherence -, with the mood fluctuating between both controlled uncertainty and more deconstructive chaos.

The closing arched trembled cello etched and splayed crunched beat peregrination Post is a perfect example of the kind of beauty, emotion and trepidation that permeates throughout this ‘elusive geometry’. It ends with the line, “It’s so beautiful here”, which appears out of the embers of a fading strung-out breakdown, drone and melancholy dreamy ambient wave.

Fashioning his own sonic descriptions; sending us off into our own space to contemplate and picture these re-engineered imaginations, House’s photographer brother John has even created a series of limited edition prints, created in response to the music – though these are only available as part of the ‘special’ CD edition. It’s no wonder that they’ve inspired such artwork photography, those low key but expansive, often dreamy and gauze-y sonic journeys evoke all manner of emotion and narratives, both introspective and worldly. Elusive Geometry will tease out and reveal its textures and intricacies slowly, each listen drawing your attention to some other interesting interplay and sparse sound. House has in short created a brilliant album of thoughtful, moody transitions and discovery.








 

John Howard   ‘From The Morning’
John Howard Label,  1st December 2017

A signature adroit, deep piano and wise but lightly sprung vocal performance from John Howard, covering – as so many have tired before – one of England’s most tragic introverts, the late Nick Drake, on his first solo release-proper since 2016’s beautifully expansive masterpiece, Across The Door Sill (which rightly made our ‘choice albums of 2016’ features). Howard’s Waterboys style, enervated gospel organ undertone version of Drake’s original diaphanous but so obviously sorrowful From The Morning marks a subtle change in Howard’s methodology; releasing, as he will on December the 1st, this homage paean single style precursor to next year’s extended five track EP of similar inspired covers, Songs From The Morning.

A virtuoso, seldom matched, both technically and creatively – not just because he could confound or at least make it difficult to replicate his music, using as he did his own tuning methodology – the shy and fatefully mentally-anguished Drake, who took his own life at the age of 26, is an obvious muse for Howard whose own debut Goodbye Suzie, and most iconic album, Kid In A Big World, share a unique sense of isolated detachment from the music scene of the times, and were also overlooked commercially, though critically applauded.

Taken from Drake’s final album, Pink Moon, From The Morning is rendered a venerated rolling, tambourine-shaking dawn chorus by Howard; guiding the original towards an awakened brighter day.




 

Solo Collective   ‘Part One’
Nonostar Records,  10th November 2017

Gathered together in a congruous union under the Solo Collective umbrella, the Anglo-German partnership of Anne Müller, Seb Reynolds and Alex Stolze take turns in the spotlight and provide supporting roles with a cast of additional collaborators on the chamber pop meets traversing evocations suite Part One.

An interconnected triangle of familiar themes and musicality, with each musician also individually experimenting and creating their own solo pathway, in their respective field, all three artists have crossed paths and worked together previously on a variety of projects; some of which, in alternative neo-classical stripped versions, appear on this album. For instance, the original pizzicato acoustic-electronic Don’t Try To Be, from the violinist Stolze’s 2016 EP, Mankind Animal, now features Müller’s yearning emphatic cello, and is striped of its synthesizer electronics in favour of woodblock percussion and doleful low bass notes to create a more tragic and sad version.

No stranger to the Monolith Cocktail, Reynolds has been one of the most prolific polymaths to feature on the blog over the last couple of years, whether its for his work as a solo artist, producer, promoter, remixer or collaborator – which includes his recent Thai-inspired gamelan peregrination collaboration with the Neon Dance Company, Mahajanaka and Puzzle Creature. It’s as an exploratory avant-garde with classical inclinations pianist that Reynolds appears on this collective experiment however; his, depending on how you hear it innocent (if foreboding) transcendence or fear-evoking prowl of a drone looming overhead, gradually ascending and descending ambient traverse Ascension features both Müller and Stolze but also Mike Bannard. Rotating the line-up, Reynolds beatific undulating opuscule Holy Island retains both Müller’s beautifully pining presence and Bannard’s but also features Jonathan Quinn and Andrew Warne helping to perform one of the album’s most ethereal highlights.

Going ‘solo solo’, Müller, who has toured and recorded with Agnes Obel and is a regular musical foil to Nils Frahm, provides the tubular chimed expansive air Silbersee, and Stolze, a stalwart of the Berlin techno scene but also a violinist virtuoso pushing the instruments boundaries, provides the classically 18th century attuned stirring melodious meets twanged, crushing abrasive, approaching leviathans, Cell To Cell. Both also perform as a duo on the opening Philip Glass evoking elegant and quivery Solo Repeat!.

A showcase for a particularly harmonious partnership of individuals with a pan-Europa vision of collaboration and crossing sublime musical boundaries, Part One – of what I hope will be a continuing venture – proves to be a stirring neo-classical ambient collection of solo and ensemble performances; each artists sharing and pooling their obvious talents to find a common interplay and a bond to create a challenging but mostly beautiful album.





ALBUM REVIEW
WORDS: AYFER SIMMS



Miles Cooper Seaton   ‘Phases In Exile’
Ascension Hall Recordings,  10th November 2017

This music is a cinematic poetic recitation, an eloquent art object; sticking to the blurry lines of your shadow while you float through this existence, this street, this town-deserted-or this day, mundane. That dreamy music with the aura of a long lost ocean is the sound of the beyond: you will see, in a cloud, half stunt postures of people trying to deal with mourning. Their eyes wide open yet unsure of how to breathe. And while they exhale, the music pours as if descending from a kind heaven, nested in peace, cooing for drenched figures of the earth.

Miles Cooper Seaton is the ghost who reaches out, entrusting us with a sensation of hope and relief, tranquility, a loophole, mindfulness. Forgive and forget. In the morning dreamers try to get a hold of their visions, trying to catch a glimpse of that faint reality; Miles’ music is lingering too. It tinkles and echoes with a slowness. This is how the rhythm goes, lingering among a field of green, yellow barns, with an horizon of blue and grey shades, some drops sweep the face of a child who understands it all. The clamorous pearls are just from the fierce-y wind. Inside he is alright. The album is dense and tortured. Inside he is alright, the child has grown, and given us these notes.




ALBUM REVIEW
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




Various   ‘The Ultimate Guide To Welsh Folk: Compiled By Cerys Matthews’
ARC Music,  27th October 2017

A springboard introduction but nevertheless mammoth undertaking, the latest entry in a series of indigenous folk collections from the leading world music showcase label ARC, leaves no patch of land, valley, croft, mining town and backroom of Wales untouched or forgotten in its quest to encapsulate the diversity of Welsh folk music.

Familiar faces, even chart toppers, appear alongside more obscure and atavistic doyens of the genre on, what is, a most generous survey, stretched over two CDs. Following on from previous Scottish and English editions, ARC settles in for a gorgeous sounding ‘ultimate guide’ under the assured curatorship of Welsh polymath Cerys Matthews (MBE no less). Admittedly casting “with the largest net possible”, Cerys has put together a fond and occasionally divine traverse of her native pastures. Anyone who tunes into Cerys’ regular spots on 6Music will no doubt admire her knowledge and championing of fellow Welsh artists, and so it comes as no surprise to find her fronting this collection. It will also come as no surprise to find her included amongst the many luminaries, the Nashville lilted and smoky voiced rearrangement of the hymn-like Sosban Fach, taken from Cerys’ ‘most successful’ solo album Tir, a congruous and worthy addition to a compilation packed with some of the most diaphanous and moving voices in Welsh music history.

Listeners will probably recognize a fair few of the artists and songs; no doubt accustomed to the highly talented songstress Gwyneth Glyn, who I praised and featured most recently with her new solo album Tro. Glyn’s ‘love poetry’ communion collaboration of 2015, Ghazalaw, with Ghazal signing sensation Tauseef Akhtar traversed the Vales of Wales and ‘Muslim and Urdu’ enclave, merging for the first time ever the Welsh tradition to a style of ancestral singing formerly kept separate from the outside world, confined to India. A perfectly romantic and airy example of that cross-fertilization from the album, Moliannwn is a ‘children’s favorite adapted into a softened tabla rattling backed endearing paean.

Staying with contemporary choices, there’s a short but enchanting twee, Magic Roundabout-like instrumental vignette from the sibling heavy Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog (Didl-Dei); fairytale dreamy folk rock from the Welsh Avalon evoking 9Bach (Pontypridd), the trickling brooks and gallop of wild horses meets Western Sahara pulchritude collaboration between Catrin Finch and the Senegalese artist Seckou Keita (Ceffylau), and a plucked acoustic contour of the local diaphanous topography by former Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci frontman Euro Childs (Roedd hi’n nofio y bore bach).





Paying homage to Wales signature beatific harp traditions, Cerys opens the first part of this double compilation with a heavenly performance from the ‘Queen of the harp’ (no idle boast) Nansi Richards; compared no less to Jimi Hendrix for her own unique showmanship of tricks, such as playing behind her back and playing two harps at a time. Angelic indeed, Richards Pwt Ar y Bys (translates as ‘A little something for the fingers’) sounds effortless, light, almost translucent, and is a great introduction from the harp grandee: many of who’s scions and pupils appear scattered throughout this collection. As Cerys says: ‘The harp reigns supreme in Welsh folk music’. And so there is a wealth of its synonymous empyrean tones to be found, including the specialized triple harp evocations of Robin Huw Bowen, with his graceful tip-toeing Romany Gypsy Waltz, and the classical sounding pitter-patter caresses of another influential doyen and teacher of the instrument, Elinor Bennett, on Pant Corlan yr Wyn.

Another signature sound of Wales, the male voice choir, is best exemplified by the deeply moving ethereal ascendant recording Tydi a roddaist, by the North Wales miners Rhos Male Voice Choir. Cerys makes a strong case for such choirs in a compilation that celebrates folk music, tracing its roots back through the mists of time and, rightly so, comparing it to the gospel music of the American south; the voice and communion of an earnest poor community of miners, some of which braved the scars and trauma of a colliery accident the day before to proudly summon the energy and poignancy to deliver a rousing hymn.

As you might imagine there’s some competition in the vocal stakes, with both wizened and breathtaking voices seemingly commonplace; the superlatives running out by the time you reach the Cardiff marvel Heather Jones and her star Celtic turn Lisa Lãn, a most stunning vocal delivery that soars.





The width and breadth as I say is large and expansive, with international troubadours, such as the ‘Welsh Bob Dylan’ Meic Stevens (who is allowed two tracks to match his undeniable status in the Welsh music scene over the decades) sitting alongside the ‘nightingale’ trilling and shrilled eccentric singing of the local elder South Glamorgan legend Phil Tanner; the church hall recorded marching song of the Free Wales Army radical campaigner Cayo Evans alongside the Crosby, Stills and Nash country rock folk of the three-piece Cardiff act the Hennessys.

 

Over a century’s worth of Welsh icons and lesser known (but of course, no less important) local and often amateur talent, spread over a generous collection, the Ultimate Guide is both a visceral and fondly compiled survey; more or less including something from every branch of the folk genre, and even the many international fusions that have helped spread the allure of Welsh music to all four corners of the globe. Even if this compilation falls short of its mighty title boast, then it can at the very least act as an exceptional introduction for further research or immersion.


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