Tickling Our Fancy 064: Ammar 808, Alex Stolze, Elefant, Pyramid, Lucy Leave, London Plane…

May 31, 2018

NEW MUSIC REVIEWS ROUNDUP: WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA


Photo Credit: Sia Rosenberg

This edition of Tickling Our Fancy includes records by Ammar 808, Alex Stolze, Elefant, Matt Finucane, Pyramid, Lucy Leave, London Plane, Disco Gecko and Waldo Belloso.

Interesting releases from across the world and music spectrums; Tickling Our Fancy is the, Monolith Cocktails founder, Dominic Valvona’s most eclectic of reviews roundups. With no themes, demarcations of any kind, or reasoning other than providing a balanced platform for the intriguing, the great and at times, most odd releases, I bring you this month’s latest selection.

My latest bumper edition of releases from the last couple of months includes the recent fully realized romantically shadowy chamber pop electronic suite, Outermost Edge, from the Berlin composer, violinist and label boss Alex Stolze; the debut album proper from Belgium’s prowling post-punk, sludge metal experimentalists Elefant, Konark Und Bonark; Sofyann Ben Youssef of the Bargou 08 collaboration, under his Ammar 808 moniker, fuses the atavistic sounds and culture of North Africa with futuristic drum machine effects on his new album for Glitterbeat Records, Maghreb United; Toby Marks aka 90s techno trance star Banco de Gaia, celebrates the 20th anniversary of his label Disco Gecko with a collection of reworked tracks from the catalogue; and the maverick Brighton-based artist Matt Finucane returns with one of his best EPs yet of grueling, grinding Bowie and post-punk influences, Ugly Scene.

But that’s not all, I also take a look at new re-releases of both obscure Argentine exotica and Cologne tripping Kosmische from the Spanish Guerssen hub; the first a reissue (for the first time ever) of Waldo Belloso’s visionary and library music kitsch ‘Afro-Progresivo’, the second, another rare album, the titular album in fact, from the infamous and debatable Krautrock era Pyramid label. Oxford trio Lucy Leave limber, thrash and jerk through their debut album of no wave jazz, math rock, punk and jilting alternative rock, Look/Listen. And finally, the debut album from the New York brooding strobe-lit pop and punchy rock partnership, London Plane.


Ammar 808  ‘Maghreb United’   Glitterbeat Records,   15th June 2018

 

Throwing the traditional unwieldy Maghreb, before it was demarcated and split into colonial spheres of influence, back together again in the name of progress and unity, Sofyann Ben Youssef fuses the atavistic and contemporary. With past form as one half of the Bargou 08 partnership that gave a modern electric jolt to the isolated, capitulating Targ dialect ritual of the Bargou Valley on the northwestern Tunisia and Algeria border, Youssef under the moniker of Ammar 808 once again propels the region’s diverse etymology of languages, rhythms and ceremony into the present, or even future: hopefully a more optimistic one.

An area once connected despite ethnical differences, the Maghreb heritage is reinvented as a metaphor for not only setting course for a brighter, possible future, but in taking control of the past: As Youssef says, “The past is a collective heritage.”

Envisaged as a visual as well as a sonic experience live when the Maghreb United goes out on the road, he has brought together a team of “visual researchers, designers and actors” to create a fully immersive, hypnotic concept. An ambitious odyssey, the music, as Youssef’s alter ego time-traveller nomadic moniker suggests, is a hybrid of past and (retro) futurism; the 808 of that name standing in for the iconic 1980s Roland TR-808 drum machine, a device he uses to transform those traditions into something more cosmic and mysterious.

Jon Hassell’s ‘possible musics’ meets Major Lazer, the traversing adaptations from the Gnawa, Targ and Rai traditions and ritual are amorphously swirled or bounced around in a gauze of both identifiable and mystically unidentifiable landscapes. Mixing modern R&B, dub, electro effects with the dusky reedy sound of the evocative gasba and bagpipe like zorka, and a range of earthy venerable and yearning vocals from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria artists, Youssef distorts, amps up or intensifies a resonating aura of transformative geography and time.

Throbbing, pulsing, entrancing and vaporous, the Ammar 808 effects transport its source material and desert songs towards a new uncertainty.

In a land still rocked and reeling from the impacts of the Arab Spring, with a power vacuum in many cases replacing rotten governments with even less savory administrations at worse, and at best, struggling to cope political parties, the Maghreb has had its fair share of violence and tribulation. Rather than dwell on the negatives, Youssef projects a better future through his science fiction inspired visions of collective ownership.

Not so out there as to be detached from those sources that inform it, the Maghreb United is an interesting sonic experiment which will be enhanced further when experienced live. I don’t know about predicting what will make sense in ten, fifty or a hundred years time, but this fusion makes a lot of sense in the here and now.






Alex Stolze   ‘Outermost Edge’   Nonostar,  23rd March 2018

 

Following up on his previous electronic chamber pop EP, Mankind Animal, the Berlin virtuoso violinist, composer and (in the last year or two) label owner Alex Stolze expands on his signature transformation of the classical and contemporary electronica genres with a fully realized new album suite.

Moving a while back to the pastoral German/Polish borders, renovating a previously ruinous pile into not only a new home for his family but also the inspirational HQ of Alex and his artist wife Andrea Huyoff’s creative cottage industry –Andrea’s art can be seen adorning Alex’s new album -, this accomplished soloist has found a solace away from hustle and bustle of the city. Far from inspiring gentle, peaceable visions of optimism and rejoice from his retreat, Alex creates yearning and haunted shadowy waltzes.

Highly political, yet preferring to romantically allude to the instability and rise of authoritarianism with poetic sonnets and metaphors to mysterious out-of-reach chanteuses and objects of affection (illusions to the enigmatic woman, or women, in Alex’s life that aren’t just seen as equals but much more), Outermost Edge provides neo-classical pop maladies and aching heart love suites that comment without division and rage.

Weaving his European Jewish heritage musically and etymologically with sophisticated undulations of effects and synthesized waves and amped-up trip hop like live drums, Alex mingles scenes and dioramas with guest vocal songs. Usually appearing together, one harmonically echoing the other, Yehuda Amichai and Ofrin exude an often lulled and ghostly presence on the clandestine meeting in cold war Vienna, traffic light analogy lament Serve All Loss, and He Poos Clouds pinned tango New.

Of course at the centre of all this is Alex’s adroit pricked and accentuated weeping bowed violin performances. Never indulgent, if anything still, withheld with a minimalist sensibility, they are beautifully and stirringly administered; channeling both the avant-garde and classical; running through a full gamut of subtle layered emotions.

Released via Alex’s burgeoning label Nonostar – home to the triumvirate Solo Collective of Alex, Anne Müller and Sebastian Reynold’s astonishing Part One album, which made our choice albums of 2017 features – Outermost Edge is yet another plaintively aching and most beautiful shadowy album of neo-classical electronic pop.






Elefant  ‘Konark Und Bonark’   9000 Records,  11th May 2018

 

Emerging from the Belgium underground scene, with members from a myriad of bands, each one more obscure than the next, the Elefant in this room is a twisted agit-post-punk, boiler come forensic team suited troop of noise peddlers.

Lurking around basement venues for a while now, the sludge metal and gallows Krautrock merchants have released a slurry of EPs but never a fully realized album until now.

For an album that grapples with Marilyn Manson, Swans, Killing Joke, Muse, industrial contortions and Germanic experimentation, Konark Und Bonark is a very considered, purposeful statement. Though things get very heavy, implosive and gloomy and the auger like ghosts in the vocals can sound deranged, there is a semblance of melody, a tune and hint of breaking through the confusing, often pummeling, miasma.

Following a concept of narratives (of a sort), the album opens with a plaintive hybrid of machine and human vocals reading out an almost resigned poetic eulogy – part Bowie Diamond Dogs, part Outside. From then on in, as the eerie machinations of an apocalyptic aftermath dissipate, we are thrown into a controlled chaos of supernatural Kosmische and hypnotic industrial ritual: The group’s defector leader vocalist Wolf Vanwymeersch opting for a becalming message of love overcoming the conspired forces of darkness.

In this vacuum of progressive and hardcore influences, Elefant throw up plenty of surprises, pendulously swaying between a tom tom ritual dreamscape on Schräg, but transmogrifying glam rock and Dinosaur Jnr on the tech meltdown finale ‘Norsun Muisti’, or as on the twisting “with our love we will change the world” sentiment of ‘Credulity’, melding Gary Numan and Gothic New Romanticism.

A seething rage is tightly controlled throughout, the sporadic flits and Math Rock entangled rhythms threatening to engulf but never quite reaching an overload, or for that matter, becoming a mess. Elefant’s prowling and throbbing sound of creeping menace and visions of an artificial intelligent domineering dystopia is an epic one. Arguably the band have produced their most ambitious slog yet and marked themselves out as one of the country’s most important bands of 2018.






Various Artists  ‘In The Blink Of An Eye’  Disco Gecko,  6th June 2018

 

Starting out as a platform for the global trance and techno peregrinations of Toby Marks’ alter ego Banco de Gaia in the late 90s, the Disco Gecko label has gone on to expand its remit in the last few years by adding a number of congruous artists from the dance and electronica genres.

Famous for setting off on the mystical eastern bound ‘Last Train To Lhasa’ in 1995, Marks’ initial success was often frustrated by the labels he worked with. And for that reason it seemed perfectly logical for him to set up his own imprint, which now celebrates its twentieth anniversary. It would however take until 2014 before anyone other than Marks released anything on the label; this accolade going to Andrew Heath with his Silent Cartographer LP. Heath, the ambient pianist of ‘lower-case’ contemplation, appears alongside the label’s full roster on this special anniversary compilation.

Rather than a straight-up ‘best of’ showcase, Marks has asked each of the label’s artists to remix or collaborate with each other to produce alternative transformed versions of original tracks from the back catalogue. Seeing as we have already mentioned him, and he appears quite a lot as an integral part of the Disco Gecko story (including a role in creating the artwork and layout of this collection), Heath’s ‘A Stillness Of Place’, as sublimely guided to ever more radiant heights by the Nottingham duo Radium 88, opens this compilation with a serene ambient diaphanous. Later on, with Heath in the role of remixer himself, he subtly accents and stirs the 100th Monkey’s dreamy plaintive and haunted choral ‘The Last Inuit Snow Song’: literally melting before our ears, the serialism piano composer, imbued by one of his most iconic past collaborators Hans-Joachim Roedelius, adds short trails of sonorous piano and amps up the Eno-esque mood.

Probably one of the label’s most commercial coups, the air-y sophisticated soulful singer/songwriter Sophie Barker, who’s tones have appeared on a catalogue of electronica and dance hits by David Guetta, Groove Armada and Robin Guthrie (of Cocteau Twins fame), is represented with her longing ‘Road 66’ song. From Tampere in Finland, Karl Lounela, aka LO18, transforms the original down tempo trepidation and dub like vapours of the original. Alongside Fastlap, Barker in more a collaborated than remix role, gets to passionately ache and yearn on Marks own traverse ‘Glove Puppet’, whilst LO18’s original vision ‘Huima’ is taken in a Sylvain oriental visage direction by 100th Monkey.

Elsewhere on this compilation, the Indian sub-continent enthused ‘Darjeeling Daydream’ submersion by Dr. Trippy is consumed with even more swampy and lunar effects than before by the intercontinental collective The Dragonfly Trio, and Radium 88’s misty mountain ambient journey ‘Bury Each And Every Prayer’ is becalmed even further with sacred panoramic views and Popol Vuh dissipations by polymath composer Simon Power.

Refreshing a relatively short and recent back catalogue with the aim being to move ever forward, In The Blink Of An Eye is a novel conception in both celebrating the Disco Gecko legacy and in looking ahead to the future of ambient and electronic music.






Matt Finucane   ‘Ugly Scene’   Crude Light,  11th May 2018

 

Sporadic yet prolific, the idiosyncratic Matt Finucane has probably appeared on this blog more times than anyone else over the years. Constantly cathartic, pouring out his surly heart on every record, the Brighton-based maverick channels the anxieties of our times with a certain resigned lament over an ever-changing backing of indie, Krautrock, punk and post-punk influences.

His latest exercise in primal scream therapy (though crooning would be a more apt description) is the quasi-Neu!-meets-Faust-meets-Pixies grinding turmoil Ugly Scene EP. Perhaps among his best releases yet, the epic sinewy grueling opener ‘Not Too Far’ could be Bowie fronting The Buzzcocks Spiral Scratch. A listless Finucane languidly swoons for much of the duration of this monotonous track before eventually mooning and howling the “I’m so sick of it all” refrain in various strung-out and deranged ways.

Changing tact slightly, ‘The Wrong Side’ transmogrifies Johnny Thunders, Bowie (again! But why not?!) and shades of Britpop, whilst the EP’s title track throws The Sonics, Damned, Monks and Beefheart into a spinning chaos as an increasingly sneer-y and disillusioned Finucane unburdens himself. Expanding his tastes still further, the steely acoustic guitars and slight English psychedelic hints of ‘Damn Storyteller’ evoke not only Lou Reed but also Kevin Ayers, and the post-punk dub ‘City Consolation’ sounds not too dissimilar (in my warped mind anyway) to an imaginary Black Francis fronted Compass Point Allstars jamming with Jah Wobble.

Hardly the easiest of listening experiences, Finucane letting each track run its natural course, Ugly Scene is nevertheless filled with soul and melody; an experimental EP of resignation and heartache that finds the artist at his most sagacious and venerable but also constructive. Finucane has seldom sounded better and more imaginative.






Lucy Leave   ‘Look/Listen’   27th April 2018

 

Gangly, strung-out, limbering with moments of intensity and entangled noodling the Oxford trio Lucy Leave expand upon their math rock, no wave and grunge amalgamation with the debut album, Look/Listen. Transducing the conceptual Scandi-Socialist tapestries of weaver Hannah Ryggen with the group’s own sense of isolation whilst making this album (still smarting over Brexit; the theme that fired them up on last year’s The Beauty Of The World EP), coupled with a general dissatisfaction at the political landscape, Lucy Leave don’t so much enrage and shout as jerk sporadically through their agit-post-punk and American college radio influences.

The targets and intellectual concerns of their ire are all there to be deciphered in the, mostly, stop/start dynamism. In what seems a generous offering, the eighteen tracks on this album are all laid out in a purposeful manner; a journey, spread out in the fashion of a double album, with shorter vignettes alongside the spikey and more slow building minor epic thrashes.

Flexing their dual vocals, with both taking turns on lead but often shadowing each other, Mike Smith strays between a better mannered PiL era Lydon and milder D. Boon of The Minutemen (incidentally one of the band’s biggest influences), whilst Jenny Oliver fluctuates between Ariel Up and Vivian Goldmine. They begin however with echoes of an a capella Talking Heads on the vocal chorus introduction ‘Barrier Reef’, before the freefall into a spunk rock twist of The Fall, The Damned and (as I’ve already mentioned) The Minutemen on the following pair of congruous songs, ‘Kintsugi’ and ‘Ammoniaman’.

Slowing down occasionally for gentler posturing, meditations, the later third of the album offers some surprising material; the more controlled psychedelic acoustic ‘Hang Out With Now’ bearing hints of Julian Cope and Ultrasound, and the progressive pastoral weepy ‘Long Sequence’ sounding simultaneously like The Moody Blues, 70s Pretty Things and Bowie.

Thrashing elsewhere through Californian Black Hole punk, Sonic Youth, Archers Of Loaf, Deerhoof, The Raincoats and, especially with the drifting contorted saxophone riffs, no wave jazz, Lucy Leave successfully drag together all their influences to convey the present confusion and madness of the times. Entangled, angulated, crashing but never frustrating, Look/Listen is an ambitious debut from a band still finding its groove: and all the better for it.






Pyramid  ‘Pyramid’  Mental Experience,  May 10th 2018

 

Pulled from the archives of an obscure Kosmische label that head music scholars still refute even existed, the title album from the titular amorphous studio set-up behind the legendary Pyramid label appears in the guise of a lost treasure from the 70s Cologne underground. Reissued for the first ever time by the Guerssen hub imprint Mental Experience, this previously lost experiment from the ‘Mad Twiddler’ studio engineer bod Toby Robinson is poured over in the linear notes by The Crack In The Cosmic Egg almanacs’ Alan Freeman: though providence is debatable and the album’s cast difficult to verify.

What we do know (or so the myth goes) is that Robinson, alongside the avant-garde and conceptual antagonistic Fluxus movement’s Robin Page, set the Pyramid label up originally. Though with only a handful; of recordings to emerge from their time together in the mid 70s, it seems that it was never meant to be a commercial enterprise; more a retreat and outlet for unrushed mind expansions and improvisations. Any releases that did escape the studio were confined to ‘micro’ scale pressings (hence their value and status amongst Krautrock connoisseurs). Many still believe these recordings to be the work of nefarious pranksters, recording them decades later, passing them off as finds from the great Krautrock and Kosmische epoch.

Robinson though, as we’re told, was an assistant at a myriad of Cologne studios during that original era; working most famously at Dieter Dierks’ Kosmische incubator, where some of the dream flights and galactic transcendence music of the Ohr and Pilz labels was produced. In the ‘so-called’ dead hours between recording sessions, Robinson and friends, collaborators, would lay down their own ideas.

Split into two, the ‘Dawn Defender’ expansive free-form experiment that straddles the Pyramid LP alludes artistically to Erich von Däniken and Popol Vuh; the Mayan stone tablet (I might be wrong) insignia and mountains at the start of a cosmic highway and massive glitterball (which seems somewhat incongruous and modern for its time and genre), tuning into transcendent and alien dimensions. Musically we have it all (nearly all), the full Kosmische gamut, as the anonymous band traverse different phases yet maintain a repeating vaporous hazy atmosphere. Shifting from faint echoes of UFO era Guru Guru, Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempe in the first ambient air-y and primordial lunar stages to mellotron oscillating Dance Of The Lemmings Amon Düül II, the Far East Family Band and ghostly visitations, the Pyramid collective sound distinctive enough even amongst the quality of their peers.

Trance-y, hypnotic with distant reverberations of the Orient and Tibet, the group does occasionally break out into sporadic displays of acid rock ala Gila and the Acid Mother Temple, but soon simmer down into The Cosmic Jokers style peregrinations. They finish off this uninterrupted flowing half hour opus with some heavenly strings and beautiful flourishes – even though veiled moody distractions and knocks persist; indicating an unearthly presence.

Whoever did produce this work, in whatever circumstances, the Pyramid album is a brilliantly atmospheric and executed Kosmische experience, ticking off all the genres signatures yet still distinctive enough to reveal some interesting passages and ideas.






Cuasares  ‘Afro-Progresivo’   Pharaway Sounds,  10th May 2018

 

From another Guerssen hub offshoot, Pharaway Sounds dig up yet another forgotten ‘nearly ran’ from the peripherals of exotica and cosmic psychedelic. The obscure distant celestial named Cuasares project (which is Spanish for the star like ‘quasars’ that emit large amounts of energy, billions of light years away) is the work of the ‘enigmatic’ Argentine pianist and composer Waldo Belloso, who (unsurprisingly) released it in 1973 to the smallest of fanfares. Afro-Progresivo now resurfaces as a reissue (the first), complete with plenty of scholarly fanboy notes and information.

The title is slightly misleading as this album leans more towards the Latin: merging mambo and samba with both counterculture soundtrack music from the Italian and French b-movie libraries and Les Baxter-esque tropical South Seas Island rituals.

Gazing at celestial bodies and alluding to ‘evanescent’ fleeting romantic phenomena, Waldo funkily trips through Andean kitsch, languid beachcomber Hawaiian wanderings, kooky space fantasy and Southeast Asian exotic psych. His sauntering, jaunty and often musing suites feature increasingly distorted, jarring organ, radiant vibraphone, echo-y drums, fuzzed-up guitar doodles and surreptitiously trickling piano. All of which articulates a sort of acid-Latin Axlerod soundtrack that straddles the South American and Asian continents with cosmic jazz and exotica.

Though this is all fairly well trodden ground, Afro-Progresivo remains a curious example of South American obscure progressive and kitsch-y weird, but remember also funky, experimentation.






London Plane  ‘New York Howl’   18th May 2018

 

A paean to the city that name checks one of New York’s, now defunct, obscure underground groups and, with a poetic license, reimagines the entries of a mysterious stranger’s abandoned diary – lured to the metropolis from Portland in the 1970s – New York Howl is both a romantic yet strobe-lit gothic brooding fantasy. Fronted by enchantress singer Cici James and lead songwriter David Mosey, London Plane (in honor to the American sycamore crossed Oriental plane tree that you see lining the iconic broad walks of New York) reframe the troubled dairy writer protagonist’s sporadic poems, scenes and “half-recounted dreams” in a loose concept album of timeless emotions.

Found by Mosey on the streets of the city, in a suitcase, the London Plane instigator was intrigued enough to take it home with him; leading to an obsession and the spark of inspiration that brought this project together. Written over an eight-year period between 1975-1982, the final abrupt and enigmatic words, ‘I hope he gets it’, proved a fruitful prompt, the results of which suffuse this ten-track songbook of new wave, collage radio rock, synth pop and proto-punk. Letting the mind wonder with entries in the aftermath of such New York tragedies as the murder of John Lennon, the band interrupt the author Francis’ backstory and movements; running through the full gamut of emotions. They allude to a ‘ghost story’; the presence of their protagonist diarist vanishing before they make a connection; haunting the city like a specter and auger, always out of reach.

Musically channeling New York’s obvious musical legacy, but also a far wider spectrum of influences, the bright and brilliant title track hones the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blondie and Ronnie Spector, with Cici’s vocals evoking a rich myriad of more controlled Karen O, Debbie Harry, Madonna and weirdly, on the Broadway synth plaint ‘Make It Our Own’, ‘Losing My Mind’ 80s era Liza Minnelli!

Good solid pop songs mingle with more romantically vaporous tracks; the dreamy fantasy of ‘The Farther Down We Go’ and Chromatics style whispery neon synth ‘Roxanne’ sitting well with the Echo And The Bunnymen meets Blondie style ‘If It Got Me You’. A New York house band obviously in love with their city, mining the last four decades of its heritage, New York Howl may offer musings on isolation, regret and the fears, trepidations of a big city, yet the lingering traces and mystery of Francis are sound tracked with both a dreamy veneer and punchy pop quality. The London Plane could be just the start of a beautiful musical partnership.







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2 Responses to “Tickling Our Fancy 064: Ammar 808, Alex Stolze, Elefant, Pyramid, Lucy Leave, London Plane…”

  1. […] new EP’s scored a great review in Monolith Cocktail, which describes it as one of my “best releases yet” – and the in-depth write-up […]

  2. […] Plane  ‘New York Howl’  Review Josh T. Pearson  ‘Straight To The Top!’  Review The Seven Ups […]

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