Review
Gianluigi Marsibilio 



Big Thief ‘Two Hands’
LP/ 11th October 2019


U.F.O.F. introduced the Big Thief to a cosmic, celestial dimension, in which everything was quiet and melancholy static: it was like being in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. But with Two Hands, Big Thief instead return to a more earthly and frank dimension that, within a year, reaffirms the Brooklyn band and elevates the poetic universe of Adrianne Lenker.

Also, in this case, the voice of Big Thief is based on the delicate atmospheres that have the ability to transcend space and time. The delicacy of songs like ‘Wolf’ or ‘Forgotten Eyes’ is an important key to understanding an album that is the best proof of the band.

With Two Hands there is less DIY, a less crude construction, the search for sound starts first of all from a poetic dimension, from the need to narrate a story. The goal achieved is in the construction of a sound zone where Big Thief have become, not merely recognizable, but unique. The structure of the songs play on balances of sensitivity: the slight inputs of the xylophone, the melodic intersections, the rhythms that settle down and come to life between the words of the songs, are a very precise poetics of the band that now has a well-defined sound. The semantic field of the record is very clear and works with the themes of U.F.O.F., making them earthly, tangible. The idea that Two Hands is an earthly twin of the previous work is interesting and in focus. The sounds of Lenker’s guitar and voice build a rough anatomy of perceptions; everything can be touched and becomes extremely corporeal. The most abstract forms become clear when meeting Adrianne’s voice, a line like “The wolf is howling for me” actually becomes a symbol of this textual and poetic research.

Two Hands has the corporeity of a performance by Marina Abramovic, but also the noble crypticity of a live performance by Bon Iver. The lyrics are a bridge that crosses very wide poetic universes, Adrianne Lenker is like Walt Whitman in his Passage to India; there is a dimension of renewal, construction and humanity that unfolds throughout the work.

Two Hands is a gateway to a universe, which represents us and makes us feel good.




Video
Dominic Valvona



Elizabeth Everts   ‘Black Is The Colour’


Recently featured in on this blog with her diaphanous malady EP of controlled tumult of romantic brooding and lament, Contraband, the Californian born but Munich-based confessional balladeer Elizabeth Evert further accentuates that signature melodies ebb and flow style with a visual accompaniment. When articulating her own original songs Everts sounds vaguely like a cross between Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Raf Mantelli put to an accompaniment of lounge-jazz, trip-hop, Casio keyboard presets and the classical, but on the recent EP’s closing elegy, the attuned weepy cover of the traditional Scottish folk lament, ‘Black Is The Colour’ she almost plays it straight. Made famous to a degree by that controversial folk troubadour Christy Moore, Everts pays homage here with a new video.

Evert offers the following insights, and explains her choice of ancient malady:

“Black is the Color” is a folk song that is said to originate in Scotland. I have always loved this song and wanted to do my own version of it. One day it hit me that the version I would create of this lovely song would be nostalgic, a bit intense – to explore the dark side of vulnerability.

 As I worked on the song, it made me start thinking about how love can create such a vulnerability that it can lead to destruction. This destruction can occur in multiple places, even all at once, or in its simplest form of one individual suffering in the beauty of love.

 I tried to capture these ideas in the video – when light exists, darkness must also exist and that is sometimes difficult to manage emotionally. And in my experience, the lighter the light, the darker the dark.

The video was primarily filmed in Munich, Germany and I created the video myself. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Lyrics

Black is the color of my true love’s hair

His lips are something wondrous fair

The sweetest face and the gentlest hands

I love the ground on which he stands

 

I love my love and well he knows

I love the ground on which he goes

If him on earth no more I see

My life will simply fade away

 

Black is the color of my true love’s hair





PLAYLIST
Dominic Valvona




Cult B-movie European soundtracks, spine-tingling schlock and spooked, chain-rattling horror fuzztones aplenty. Yes, its that time of the year again, the bewitching hour is nigh, and so another one of Dominic Valvona’s special Halloween playlists.

To accompany any freaks ball, ghoulish themed soiree, candelabra lit dinner party, macabre shindig and black mass, the perfect soundtrack of devilish nonsense. Includes the bell tolled meaning doom of Acanthus, the kool aid hell-trippers St. John Green, the rebel county seedy James Gang, horrorcore rap doyens The Gravediggaz, the despairing Gothic romantics Vukovar, bewitched folk troupe Sproatly Smith and many more.




Previous ghastly selections:





Review
Nicola Guerra



GIRL BAND  ‘The Talkies’
(Rough Trade)  LP/ 2019


I often travel to Ireland for work and the thing that most intrigues me is to observe the differences between the Anglo-Saxon and Italian working class. We are both in the shit, it is clear, but the approach to the exteriorization of feelings is quite different. You can perceive it in any daily gesture, in the common life but above all in art. Music, as such, is a litmus test of general dissatisfaction; while in Italy the baggage of “committed singer-songwriters” has been gradually replaced by a frivolous and unconscious approach, in Ireland noise (not necessarily made with traditional instruments) seems an excellent alternative to all this crap. In short, all angry and frustrated, but here in Italy, we rebel shaking with the summer hits of Giusy Ferreri while in the UK the Idles with foaming anger sing, “My blood brother is an immigrant, a beautiful immigrant, my blood brother’s Freddie Mercury, a Nigerian mother of three, he’s made of bones, he’s made of blood, he’s made of flesh, he’s made of love, he’s made of you, he’s made of me, Unity”, and the Irish Girl Band respond with a second album more claustrophobic than their debut four years ago, Holding Hands With Jamie.

The Talkies, published again by Rough Trade, is more than a record; it’s state of mind, a delirious but lucid attempt to escape from the fears, which often inhabit our psyche. Surely Dara Kiely, voice of the Dublin quartet, is mainly responsible for the suffocating climax that you breathe in this record; he screams, spasms, anxious breaths and the same fear that the animal has when it is cornered. The music that accompanies the deliriums of the frontman oscillates between industrial, noise and dance from the bowels of the earth, indulging anger, frustration, the few oases of peace “ambient” (the lullaby that queries the post-punk assault of ‘Laggard’) are just a physiological breath, the breath of air that serves not to suffocate, the attempt to look away towards the imminent end of the world.

Incredibly cohesive, sharp, direct, difficult to digest and yet as fascinating as all things that speak of real life, the second album from Girl Band is a manifesto of the intolerance of a generation that wants to escape and at the same time react, without having any idea of how to do.

We are really in a tight spot and the four sound killers slam it in our faces, not playing to show us something but giving us directions on how we should behave.

Nicola Guerra








You can find all the previous Kalporz posts here….



 

Music Revue
Dominic Valvona





Reviving a roundup special from the early days of the Monolith Cocktail’s blossoming, The Singles, Teasers & Oddities Perusal is a chance to catch-up and to share music that has been left wanton in our inbox or left hanging around. The sheer volume of requests we receive is crazy, and so here is Dominic Valvona just dipping into some of the more interesting and choice tracks from the last month.

Haich Ber Na  ‘Everywhere’s Home’
(RAGS)  EP/ 16th October 2019


Global citizen Haich Ber Na releases a second cerebral, tactile and sophisticated EP of tingly soulful experimental brilliance this month. Though an introspective journey, Haich expands those grime and hip-hop roots further, merging House with languid R&B, downtempo electronica, the avant-garde and Liars. Homesick, though for where, the troubled swooner tackles the topics of isolation, work life balance and a sense of belonging on this often swoozy if dislocated dreamy five-track mini opus. Accompanying the Everywhere’s Home EP is a documentary type film visual accompaniment; a sort of day-in-the-life of an artist going about his mundane daily routine, only he happens to live in a UFO shaped pod: think Basquiat meets Sylvie Fleury.


Giant Swan  ‘Pandaemonium’
(KECK) Single/ Now


The seething underbelly of post-punk daemonic techno, Giant Swans newest single is a sinister sinewy caustic cry and top dance track to boot. Taken from the Bristol duo’s (Robin Stewart and Harry Wright) upcoming self-titled debut LP, and ahead of their European tour, ‘Pandemonium‘ is a barracking metallic clarion call to arms.

Originally conceived as a side project from their roles as guitarists in the band The Naturals, Giant Swan is a step towards more nuanced but expanded sonic horizons; galvanised dark materials that evoke Coil, Current 93, Throbbing Gristle, pushed onto the dancefloor via R&S.

Despite the harsh and abrasive sizzling and throbs, the duo point out that their music is created unconsciously and not in a riled tense state of agitation and anger. As a teaser it promises great things from this burgeoning duo.


Junius Paul  ‘Asé’
(International Anthem)  Single Teaser/ 22nd December 2019




Imbued with the spirit and magic of the The Art Ensemble of Chicago, rhythm wingman for fellow windy city contemporary conscious and spiritual jazz doyan Makaya McCraven, bassist extraordinaire Junius Paul is set to release his debut album, Ism, next month.

Providence wise, Paul has appeared on the recent The Art Ensemble of Chicago 50th Anniversary LP, We Are On The Edge, and on McCraven’s In The Moment, Highly Rare and Universal Beings albums, as well as being the go-to man for numerous sessions.

A long time coming, Ism was recorded across a handful of live & studio locations in Chicago, and features over a dozen instrumentalists, friends & collaborators including Vincent Davis, Justin Dillard, Corey Wilkes, Isaiah Spencer,Tomeka Reid, Marquis HillIrvin PierceShanta Nurullah and McCraven (who also produced the record).

As a teaser, the bandy yet taut noodling double bass elastics Asé’ ushers in a deeply thoughtful chapter in Chicago jazz. Just wait until that those shimmering cymbals and that rifling bounce of the snare and lovely swaddled horns luxuriously and tantalisingly comes in…delicious spiritual jazz at its most tentative and refrained.


Bear With Me  ‘Cry’
EP/ 11th October 2019


Despair, a cork on the ocean, a speck of dust, a mere crumb, how the enormity of it all just gets on top of you sometimes, the underlying anxiety that propels the Danish band’s new despondent dream pop EP, Cry, can make us all feel rather insignificant. Yet despite this, Bear With Me have produced a slow crushing crescendo release of shoegaze lament and brilliance. I really love this title-track; epic sorrowful lo fi pop at its most crooned magnificent. Keep an ear out for these guys.


Land of Ooo  ‘Waiting For The Whales’
Single/ 11th October 2019


The third single track to be left to roam free from its mini-LP, Wry Cry, the dreamy and noisey in equal measures ‘Waiting For The Whales’ siren call combines shoegaze, grunge, C86 and the Banshees on a most lulling flange-y affair. There’s an intensity and fuzzed streak of dissonance yet the course is set for something less caustic and harsh. Hailing from Graz in Austria, Land of Ooo was founded in summer 2018 by Nora Köhler, Leonie Bramberger and Julian Werl. A debut album is promised in early 2020.


Sun Ra Arkestra  ‘Yeah Man! Live In Kalisz’
(Lanquidity)  Teaser/26th October 2019 


Despite leaving these earthly realms some time ago, the venerated Saturnarian Sun Ra continues to shine his constellated rays down upon us mere mortals and inspire. In goes in waves of course, but the doyen of spiritual and cosmic jazz seems to influence and have a profound effect on every generation. And so interest in the Egyptian deity adorned pioneer’s music is in the ascendence. And if you can find those rarest of legendary recordings, or in this case performances, than you’re on to a winner.

The faithful, though ever-changing and developing troupe that Sun Ra once conducted, the Arkestra, continues to play and tour in his honour. But from 1986, when the sun king was still head of the congregation, the Arkestra played their first ever gig in Poland, at Kalish.

Recently rediscovered, the complete tape of the little known concert was forgotten for almost three decades in a Kalisz basement collecting dust.The recordings have been remastered by Marcin Cichy (Ninja Tune), and don’t they sound just grand.

A teaser, Yeah Man is Sun Ra’s live version of the original big band swing arrangement by the legendary and highly respected bandleader arranger Fletcher Henderson; a throwback almost to those heady days of early Ellington.


Hip-Hop Revue
Matt Oliver





Singles

Front page news in hip-hop this month has been the unexpected return of Gang Starr – whether it needed a guest spot from J Cole or not, ‘Family and Loyalty’ is nicely nostalgic and respectful, pure Guru wisdom about what matters most, and DJ Premier bringing boom bap sparkle, making you sigh with both contentment and for what once was.

 Rodney P roughing up the right path reveals ‘The Next Chapter’, at his influential best and calling the tune to Urban Monk extending carnival season. The surprise return of Tommy Evans wants you to feel his ‘Flow (H20)’, hosting a drowsy, frilly-collared sway with a killer hook and his clear-minded navigation of gentle waves.





Some modest Trevvy Trev production, boom bap jabbing at you rather than going for the all-out roundhouse, allows San Man & MC Small World to stroll freely and get the coolness of their deadliness to set up an old skool prowl of authority on the five track ‘EP’. The music may be of a smooth funk vintage, but Dark Lo pulls the pin to set the record straight on ‘American Made’ and exerts sheer street control on ‘Ripped Apart’ with Benny the Butcher. Catch him if you can – Nodoz is ‘All Ready Up’, “staying woke ‘til the white sheet cover my eyes”, the early bird fiercely catching Will C’s smooth funk with a magical mystery tale to tell.






Albums

‘Retropolitan’ rolls with a capital R as “a love letter and a wakeup call to the city” from Skyzoo and Pete Rock, a well suited duo speculators must secretly have been hoping would get together, and whose Big Apple toughness comes with polished corners, epitomising the concrete jungle encasing the big city of dreams. Bustling and ‘bout it but barely breaking sweat, it’s an exemplary expo of sights and sounds, achieving easy listening when the pair’s objective is anything but.

Now sporting a short back and sides and Colgate smile and aligning himself with Q-Tip as executive producer, the energy of Danny Brown stays undiminished on ‘uknowhatimsayin¿ ’, but this time around you can tell he’s given more thought as to which wet square pegs should go in which live round holes. Paul White, Flying Lotus, JPEGMAFIA and Run the Jewels are all part of a medium reset, updating the livewire’s instincts that still come through loud, clear and uncouth (“I ignore a whore, like an email from LinkedIn”).





“I may never rock the Garden, but I did plant the seed, and it’s far from Autumn” – Von Pea, with his Pusha T-ish rasp, declares ‘City for Sale’ but also mi casa su casa, endlessly funky with production baked in sunshine and snappy cypherisms penning local postcards about how hood the hood really is right now.





The ever likely lads Dr Syntax and Pete Cannon are back to break their unique brand of bread until they’ve defined ‘Wallop’, chatting solemnly over tea and biscuits before giving it some jump-up, bass-mainlining welly. Whatever the mood of your favourite plain English rapper and wildcard producer combo, they leave you feeling invigorated from all the angles they cover.





Bending your ear with his usual best of British, Kid Acne’s South Yorkshire styling receives a boost from Illinois’ Spectacular Diagnostics, pulling ‘Have a Word’ from fuggy pillars to raw and whip-smart posts. Another time capsule of references tripping off the tongue, that continued sense of Acne picking up the mic and diving straight into the close-to-home anarchy with no warm up, sustains his latest keeper of the faith as flavoursome and full of unfettered character, shared with members of New Kingdom, Juga-Naut and Juice Aleem.

Ocean Wisdom’s extensive lung squeezer ‘Big Talk’ has got the mouth to go with the trousers, unstoppably menacing when riding jittery danger zone trappers rarely feeling the need to pull the handbrake. Assists from Dizzee Rascal, P Money, Ghetts, Akala, Freddie Gibbs and Fatboy Slim underline the star quality finding six million more ways to end careers at the same rate of words per minute.

When the long stretch of ‘Eagle Court’ is in session, CMPND trio Wundrop, Kemastry and Vitamin G invest in deep bass shudders of trap/drill genealogy that you can somehow find solitude in, and disgust-registering rhymes consistently keeping heads down while speaking up for bad boys moving in silence. Probably ineffective in daylight hours, a different beast when the graveyard shift ticks by, banging like a gavel in the hand of the Grim Reaper.

Livewire rhymes with clean means of execution from VersesBang advocate ‘Cardigans & Calories’, taking over tough/rubbery bass steppers and sending the fortunes of foes into hiding. Most unexpected is the appearance of D12’s Bizarre on the concluding ‘W.E.I.R.D.O.’, showing that rap/grime is not a funny old game. Junior Disprol’s ‘Def Valley’ is like a hip-hop game of Tough Mudder, gruffly ravaging a tricky selection of beats (yacht rockers to blips-n-bleeps to pots-n-pans, drum machine brawlers) with the unfazed, warpaint-daubed mindset of no-one else is gonna manage it, so it may as well be the Dead Residents emcee.





The LA addicts fiending for static that are Clipping are back to confirm ‘There Existed an Addiction to Blood’, an oxymoron where no-one can hear you scream in space until its engine room sucks you in and spits you out. The trio continue to give braincells a thrashing but still love a good hook, with emcee Daveed Diggs’ style in charge of the captain’s log recited by a sentient streetwise super-computer, taking Benny the Butcher, El Camino and La Chat along for the ride.





The heavy burdens of Big Turks gang Rome Streetz, Jamal Gasol and Lord Juco handle dangerous day-to-days to Ro Data’s expressive Turkish folk skills. Inducing a hush as they step in the place and where spotting weakness can be cataclysmic, this it tough Mafioso styling holding a certain cinematic exotica until the heavies on the mic – few grand gestures = time is money – begin their rearranging. Clinical, allowing for one traditional Turkish jig to conclude.

An invite to ‘The Gold Room’ from SadhuGold prepares ears for heavy instrumentalism straining towards the grey area of your DAB, too focussed on trip hop toil and a certain prog rock/gangsta determination so as to avoid playing the strung out chestnut. Slithering and curling itself around late night like a serpent ready for its chokehold moment, plucky emcees will flinch at the Philly producer’s muddy Midas touch.

‘Complicate Your Life With Violence’ suggest L’Orange and Jeremiah Jae, the folklore of old war stories and wild westerns mined by the former, schooled by a 5 o’clock shadow of a faintly numb flow keeping an ear to the street belonging to the latter. An expert in throwing you for a loop in its disregard for boom bap boundaries, seems to house a cast of hundreds when in reality it’s a good old fashioned (uniquely telepathic) MC-producer two-for. Proof that violence can solve matters.

Zilla Rocca and Curly Castro could tell you what Grift Company are all about, but then they’d probably have to kill you: ‘Too Many Secrets’ takes true school to the bank with a stick-up kid swagger. Giving it all they’ve got by using the 32 minute duration as a ticking time bomb to their savagery roaming the streets, it’s a slick and dangerous operation, pushing underground cinema full of proper hip-hop spirit.





Premiere
Dominic Valvona 




Sebastian Reynolds  ‘Maṇīmekhalā’
(Pindrop Records)  EP/ 18th October 2019


Released in anticipation of the upcoming UK tour of the multimedia Mahajanaka Dance Drama, which starts in November, a second EP of serene devotional music from that production’s score is being shared with our readers two days in advance of its official release date (18th October).

Based on the stories of the venerated Jataka, one of the oldest collections of mythological texts in the world, the theme of this interpretive dance, music and visual production is taken from the Mahajanaka, a moralistic chronicle of Buddha’s previous lives, which describes the future guru’s birth as the prince of that title. Prince Mahajanaka, we’re relayed, is usurped by a ‘wicked uncle’. During exile he becomes a merchant so he can gain the fortune he needs to regain his kingdom. Of the many travails the prince experiences, there’s one that appeals especially to the artist and collaborators behind the leading peregrination of this EP: Mahajanaka’s rescue from a shipwreck by the guardian of the seas, the goddess Maṇīmekhalā – who as it transpires, very important to the story, only saves the lives of the virtuous. The man behind this project’s visceral soundtrack, Oxford-based polymath Sebastian Reynolds, composes a most diaphanous ascendant theme to that deity; the leading transcendent evocation from this new EP is a subtle, resonating vision of blissful devotion that softly (angelically even) transforms the rich sounds of Southeast Asian traditional music to produce a dreamy lofty cloud gazing homage.

The musical, dance and artful direction of this production and its score can be found in Thailand. Sparked, in part, by Reynolds’ arts-funded trip to Bangkok in 2016, the reedy sound of the native Pi-Nai instrument, which he recorded during his time there, can be heard permeating the goddess saviors theme. You may also hear the accentuated and understated tonal drones of German cellist extraordinaire Anne Müller woven into the effortless fusion of veneration tradition and the contemporary ambient. Müller of course recently released a debut LP, but has collaborated with Reynolds on a number of albums and performances, most notably the triumvirate of experimental chamber electronica, the Solo Collective, with both Reynolds and German virtuosi Alex Stolze.

The EP’s accompanying track, the lively bamboo skittering South Seas ‘Cherd’, features an attentive cascading mallet bouncing regal dash performance from the Thai piphat troupe, The Jongkraben Ensemble; a performance that was originally specially commissioned by Reynolds. Continuing with the many Thai connections, one of the two remixes on this EP is by the Thai producer, musician, composer and project collaborator Pradit Saengkral, who expands Reynolds original Maṇīmekhalā theme into a both expansively dreamy and more seriously intense journey of caressed piano, pondered bass guitar notes and mysterious atmospherics.

As I’ve already said, a collaborative affair, The Mahanjanka project from which this latest EP derives, was conceived and put together by Reynolds, the contemporary dance company Neon Dance and the award-winning Thai dancer and choreographer Pichet Klunchun. Taking their source material and inspirations extremely serious, not only by spending time abroad absorbing and working with an array of Thai talent, Buddhist scholar and author of the Penguin Classics translations of the Jataka, Dr. Sarah Shaw, was on-hand to lend support and monitor this special interpretation.

Closer to home, cult producer of the moment, Capitol K offers a brilliant transportive and sophisticated ‘psytrance’ pumped exotic treatment of The Jongkraben Ensemble’s wooden mallet dash to nirvana, ‘Cherd’. Of which he opines:

“From playing the Goat Herder album out live I found myself recently developing more ambient long form dance floor tracks, focusing on the low midrange and kick frequencies in particular. In conversation with a producer friend recently we were discussing the merits of the much maligned idea of psytrance in a festival context, I don’t think this remix quite makes it to psytrance but I felt that in remixing the ancient and complex scores of piphat, the only way I could be humble with my illiteracy to the form was with my own take on a trance remix.”

 

A most beautifully conceived vision that fuses tradition with the subtlest of electronica, ambient and trance, this multi-disciplined performance is worth experiencing in the flesh. You can catch the UK leg of the tour at the following venues and on these dates.

Mahajanaka Dance Drama – UK Tour November 2019

13th – Jacqueline du Pré, Oxford

14th – Pavilion Dance, Bournemouth

16th+17th – British Library, London

20th+21st – The Library Presents, Cambridgeshire

Plus a talk and excerpt performance event at the Multi-Faith Centre, University of Derby, on 19th November.

 

Until then, enjoy the second EP of congruous spiritual evocations from that captivating project.


Album Reviews
Words: Dominic Valvona
Photo Credit: Aziza Brahim taken by Ana Valiño






This week’s recommendations and reviews (for the most part) share a musical hunger for the polygenesis; combining and merging a cornucopia of international sounds and cultures to spread a message of universal suffrage. A case in point, the ever-evolving North-of-England assemblage of migrants and refugees, Rafiki Jazz feature voices and musicians from all over the globe: from Arabia to India. Their fourth and upcoming captivating album, Saraba Sufiyana, is featured in this roundup. Channeling a mystical Maghreb, the French trio of Karkara goes heavy and transcendent on their new acid-doom-rock epic, Crystal Gazer. The Belgium outfit Compro Oro manages to circumnavigate a myriad of international destinations without leaving the suburbs of their native home on the new dance jazz LP Suburban Exotica, and UK producer Dan Harper, under the Invisible System title, once more transforms the traditional and courtly music of Mali, on the new album Dance To The Full Moon. Closer to European shores, Xylouris White, the Hellenic framed project of Dirty Three drummer Jim White and Greek lute player Giorgos Xylouris, release a fourth installment of their Cretan soundscapes, The Sisypheans.

Leading the charge this week though is the encapsulating soulful Aziza Brahim with her upcoming new album, Sahari. Born in the hardened landscape of a Saharawi refugee camp on the border of Algeria and the Western Sahara, the beguiled vocalist now lives in a state of exile in Spain. Her latest album continues to draw attention to not only that plight but also that of all refugees on an album that tries some a little bit different musically.

Something a little different, and away from this general thread of global initiatives, Belgium composer Alex Stordiau releases his inaugural album of Kosmische imbued neo-classical visions, Poking Your Imagination, for Pure Spark Records.

Preview/Feature




Aziza Brahim ‘Sahari’
(Glitterbeat Records) Album/ 15th November 2019


Bringing the message of the displaced Saharawi people to the world stage, Western Saharan musician/activist Aziza Brahim follows up both her critically rewarded 2014 album Soutak, and the no less brilliant 2016 serene protest of poetic defiance Abbar el Hamada album with her third for Glitterbeat Records, Sahari.

Born in the hardened landscape of a Saharawi refugee camp on the border of Algeria and the Western Sahara, beguiled vocalist Aziza embodies the wandering spirit of her people; their settled, though often borderless and disputed lands, previously claimed by Spain, were invaded in 1975 by Morocco. Though made up of many tribes with many different goals the Saharawi people mounted a fight back. It was in this climate that Brahim was hewed. Exiled in effect, her travails have extended to Cuba, where she was educated as a teenager, and Barcelona, where she now resides and makes music.

Imbued as ever with the desert soul of that disputed region, the latest record, with its visual metaphor of optimism in even the most desperate of backdrops and times – dreams of growing up to be a ballerina proving universal – attempts to marry the beautifully longing and heartache yearns of Brahim’s voice to a number of different styles and rhythms: A subtle change towards the experimental.

Previous encounters have channeled the poetic roots of that heritage and merged it with both Arabian Spain and the lilted buoyancy of the Balearics. Working with the Spanish artist Amparo Sánchez of the band Amparanoia, Brahim has chosen to add a congruous subtle bed of synthesized effects to the recording process: before performing live in the studio, but now recording in various places, the results collected together and pieced together in post-production. This methodology and sound furnishes Brahim’s longing traditional voice with certain freshness and, sometimes, shuffled energy. Songs such as the loose and free ‘Hada Jil’ lay a two-step dance beat underneath a desert song drift. Later on there are dub-y rim-shot echoes and undulating waves of atmospheric tonal synthesizer underpinning that blues-y startling timbre. However, the most surprising fusions to be found on Sahari are the Compass Point reggae-gait ‘Las Huellas’ and the Arabian soul channeling Fado ‘Lmanfra’. There’s even room for a piano on the balladry ‘Ardel el Hub’; a song that plaintively conveys the “impossibility of returning home”, a sentiment the activist Brahim is only too familiar with – denied entry or the right of return, effectively in exile.

The sound of the Sahrawi is never far off, despite the technological upgrade. That most traditional of handed-down instruments, the “tabal drum”, can be heard guiding the rhythm throughout; rattling away and tapping out a beat that changes from the threadbare to the clattering. Brahim’s vocals are as ever effortlessly enriching, captivating and trilling. I dare say even veracious.

Articulating a broader message of global suffrage, Brahim once more encapsulates the sorrows of the exiled and stateless on a sumptuous album, The wanderer and Saharan siren invites new dynamics without changing the intrinsic character and message of her craft, yet ventures beyond those roots to embrace bold new sounds. A most fantastic, poetic songbook that will further cement Brahim’s deserved reputation as one of the deserts most serene artists.






Reviews

Compro Oro ‘Suburban Exotica’
(Sdban Ultra) Album/ 18th October 2019





Illuminating Belgium suburbia with a cornucopia of entrancing and limbering sounds and rhythms from across the world, Compro Oro transport the listener to imaginative vistas on their latest album of jazz imbued exotics. Making waves as part of a loose jazzy Benelux scene, the troupe have even managed to rope in the help of Ry Cooder’s accomplished scion, the multi-instrumentalist talent Joachim Cooder, who adds an “effects-laden” mbira and percussion to a trio of imaginative tracks.

Like their comrades on that scene, Black Flower, the Compro sail into various melting-pot rich harbors, soaking up the atmosphere and embracing what they found, weaving the multilingual sounds into a vibrant soundtrack of tropical new wave pop, dance music, alt rock ‘n’ roll, Turkish-psych and Ethno-jazz fantasy. Cal Tjader, Mulatu Astatke and Marc Ribot are all cited as inspirations, their indelible mark suffused throughout this LP. Add to that trio a strange interpretation of Herbie Hancock (on the Somalia ease-up ‘Mogadishu’; imagine the Dur-Dur Band floating on a kooky jazz cloud above the tumultuous city), Soulwax (on the palm tree Latin dance funk ‘Miami New Wave’) and a rewired Modern Jazz Quartet (that will be the often twinkly and trickling use of vibraphone, but also the marimba too). The curtain call thriller ‘Kruidvat’ even evokes the darker stirrings of later period Can, and the wafting ambiguous snuffles of Jon Hassell.

For the most part dreamy and under a gauze-y veil, Suburban Exotica sashays and drifts across a musical landscape of Arabia, Anatolia, Eastern Africa, The Caribbean and Hispaniola without setting foot outside of their Belgium front door. The more you listen the more you discover and get out of this brilliant dance album of borderless jazz. What a treat to the ears and feet.





Invisible System ‘Dance To The Full Moon’
(ARC Music) Album/ 25th October 2019





An apt hand in transforming the traditional sounds of Mali, the British producer Dan Harper’s experiment in this field stretches back two decades; set in motion by the rudimental laptop-produced Acid Mali project he created whilst working as a Capacity Builder for a local Malian environmental NGO. So taken was Harper with the country, he ended up not only meeting his future wife there but setting up home and a studio in the capital, Bamako. His wife, Hawa, would introduce Dan to childhood friend and renowned guitarist Bandjougou, who in turn would bring in tow the dusty soulful rich vocalist Sambou koyaté to sing for him. Both artists appear on this new album alongside the griot siren Astou Niamé Diabaté, who as it turns out sang at Dan and Hawa’s wedding.

Taken from the same recording sessions as Dan’s previous album, Bamako Sessions, his latest transportive exploration under the nom de plume of Invisible System, once more lends an electrified and synthesized pulse to the spiritual soul of Malian music. Originally put together in a more languorous fashion with a variety of musicians coming and going, jamming in a mattress proofed room in a rented house in the capital, Dance To The Full Moon took shape at the end of a tumultuous and violent period in Mali’s history. Experiencing firsthand (literally on Dan’s own doorstep) the terrorist attacks that followed in the wake of a, finally curtailed, Islamist insurrection and the ongoing war between Mali’s government in the West and the Tuaregs of the North and Eastern desert borders, fighting to set-up an autonomous region, known as the Azawad. Though a certain stability has returned in part to Mali, attacks still occur sporadically; the effects of which permeate throughout the work of the country’s artists, the majority offering a conciliatory tone with the emphasis on unity and understanding. With that in mind, Dan’s album is rich with passionate expressive longing and intensity; the varied juxtapositions of the griot tradition and less rural, more urban vocals combine to deliver some startling performances.

The gently resonate accents and fanned waft of the Malian guitarist’s Kalifa Koné and Sidi Touré accentuate the brilliant vocal parts; a gathering of powerful griot acolytes, singers and even a rapper (Mali rap star Penzy) that includes the already mentioned trio of Bandjougou, Koyaté and Diabaté spiral between the sweetened and intense, the hymnal and physical. Dan boosts and filters those strong performances with a production of techno, modern R&B, dub and futuristic post-punk that sonically weaves in echoes of Massive Attack, Daniel Lanois, King Ayisoba and Dennis Bovell.

Nothing can ever truly improve upon the roots and soul of the traditional courtly music of Mali, its desert blues and Bamako rock of course, but you can push it into exciting directions. Dan’s rewired buzz and pulse does just that, giving a kick and lending an attuned production to the Mali soundscape.



Alex Stordiau ‘Poking Your Imagination’
(Pure Spark) Album/ 30th September 2019





Enticing former label mates from Edinburgh’s Bearsuit Records to his burgeoning venture Pure Spark, Tokyo electronic wizkid Ippu Mitsui welcomes the Brussels based composer Alex Stordiau to the ranks. Featuring alongside House Of Tapes Yuuya Kuno, Stordiau also previously appeared on the Mid Lothian Bearsuit roster – mentioned on this very blog for his standout Vangelis-style voyager waltz into the cosmos ‘Fulfilling Eclipse’, from the label’s The Invisible And Divided Sea compilation.

Like a missing neoclassical Kosmische suite from the Sky Records vault, Stordiau’s inaugural album for Mitsui’s imprint is a serene, though often dramatically stirring, exercise in sculpting retro-electronic soundtracks.

With a classical background, studying at various Belgium conservators, Stordiau combines elements of cascading, romantically accentuated piano and suffused strings with synthesized and computer programmed sine waves, glassy tubular glistened percussion and vaporous sweeps.

The Belgium visionary often works with Bristol musician Lee Williams, who plays, among other things, both electric guitar and bass, and sometimes drums. It sounds as if Williams is present once more, on hand with warm ponderous bass and the odd bit of wilder kooky lead guitar.

Track titles on Poking Your Imagination only go so far in describing each composition’s route on an album of undulating mood pieces. The opening descriptive ‘In The Tepid Shine’ is pure escapist air-bending; crafting vague echoes of Jean Michel Jarre with Roedelius’ more beautifully spherical elevations. Most of these tracks waver over the course of duration; changing or pausing between parts, starting off like the Blade Runner neon skyline lighted ‘Tree Healing’ with a darker, theatrical classical grandeur but suddenly joined by drums and a touch of Vangelis sci-fi. Elsewhere you’re bound to identify the space peril looming shadow of Tangerine Dream and the more popcorn kookiness of Cluster amongst the Baroque cathedral and gravity arcing visions.

A panoramic, mostly cosmic soundtrack of classical Kosmische and humanized electronica, Poking Your Imagination is an assiduous suite of the mysterious, scientific and dreamy.





The Mining Co. ‘Frontier’
Album/ 25th October 2019





Not that you can detect it from his lilted peaceable, if hearty, Americana burr, or the Western-alluded nom de plume that he goes under, but singer/songwriter Michael Gallagher was born in Ireland. Obvious now you’ve read his actual name I know, but just sound wise, it is difficult to hear that Irish bent. In a similar vein to such luminaries as Simon Bonney, the County Donegal troubadour subtly channels a timeless vision of the lyrical, pioneering old West (and South for that matter) on his new LP, Frontier.

Via a Nashville, Texas and New Mexico panorama, Gallagher tailors personal anxieties of disconnection, dislocation and growing pains with familiar old tropes on a songbook of “hangdog” country fare. A romantic album at that, with shades of a pining Josh T. Pearson, The Thrills, Lee Hazlewood, Tom Petty and the Eels, Frontier showcases the artist’s most tender swoons and yearnings. This is a soundtrack of purposeful blues, skiffles and mellow gospel, all softly laced with a subtle echo of Mariachi horns and tremolo twang.

Various memories of a childhood back in Ireland (the night Elvis died sounding a special resonance on the lilted lap-steel rich ‘The Promised Line’) and phobias (a rational fear in my book of flying inspiring the country-prayer ‘Empty Row’) are transported to wistfully articulate American musical settings; a landscape and sound it seems Gallagher belongs.

The third such album from his The Mining Co. alter ego, Frontier is full of romantic intent and stirring candid cathartic heartache; a shuffling songbook handled with care and tenderness that will unfurl its charms over time.




Xylouris White ‘The Sisypheans’
(Drag City) Album/ 8th November 2019





Less a Greek tragedy, more a kind of acceptance of one’s fate (or, play the hand you’re dealt and make the best of it), the Hellenic inspired collaboration project of Giorgos Xylouris and Jim White take their lead on the purgatory fate of boulder carrier Sisyphean from Albert Camus: to a point.

The absurdist doyen once wrote a famous tract on that Greek fella’s predicament: Punished by Zeus to roll a large boulder up a mountainside in Hades, each time he reached the top the boulder would roll right back down to the start. And so the process began all over again: An endless, thankless trudge and metaphor for all the all too real daily grind of life outside the mythological imagination. Or so you’d think. Camus however saw it not has a pointless waste of effort and slow punishing meaningless task but as a challenge: noble even. That Sisypheans’ repeated burden should be seen as an achievement, that the struggle should be enough to “fill a man’s heart”. Sisyphean has accepted his it and so should you, or, words and sentiment to that effect.

Of course, even deeper contentions can be found in Camus’ essay; how our tragic figure confined to a limited limbo landscape created in his mind a whole universe from it. Xylouris and White themselves pondered how he might experiment with carrying that burdensome rock; alternating hands, carrying behind his back and so on. Essentially though, this is about experiencing, seeing and discovering anew each day with a concentrated mind the things you take for granted: especially your surroundings. The duo initially turn to the atavistic in conveying these ideas and sentiments; using the suffused blown stirrings of the Greek flute (Aulos) and vibrato resonating spindly fanning tones of the laouto (a long-necked fretted scion of the lute family). In addition to these two lead instruments, the scene is set with shrouded misty and soulfully yearned voices, Giorgos’ son Nick on cello and on the serialism waning moodscape second track a ‘Goat Hair Bowed’ instrument. And so a sweeping, mournful at times, traverse that takes in dancing Grecian figures, wedding celebrations, bewailed lament and travels to the furthest reaches of the Greek borders: sailing at one point into the tumultuous mysterious vision of the much-disputed and fought over ‘Black Sea’.

However, the both taught and freeform, skittish experimental percussion and breaks of Dirty Three drummer White adds another dimension to the rootsy and earthy feel. Always tactile and congruous, White lifts or underpins certain tracks with avant-garde taps, clutters, rim rattles and jazzy frills and crescendos. A touch of progressive jazz, even Krautrock, that sends this project into more contemporary climes.

Between the chthonian and ethereal, the philosophical and viscerally dreamy, The Sisypheans minor epic is an extraordinary musical peregrination worth exploring: Music for the cerebral and the senses.




Rafiki Jazz  ‘Saraba Sufiyana’
(Konimusic) Album/ October 2019





It’s no idle boast to suggest that the North of England based Rafiki Jazz could be one of the most diverse groups on the world stage. Testament of this can be heard on the troupe’s previous trio of polygenesis albums: an untethered sound that simultaneously evokes Arabia, the Indian Subcontinent, Northern African, the Caribbean, South America and Balkans.

With representatives from nearly every continent, many of which have escaped from their homelands to find sanctuary in the UK, Rafiki Jazz is an ever-evolving ensemble of migrants and refugees alike coming together to produce sweeping divine borderless music.

Their latest visionary songbook is a filmic panoramic beauty, no less worldly and stirring. The opening diaphanous spun ‘Su Jamfata’ encapsulates that perfectly; mirroring the group’s musical freedom and spiritual connection; lilting between a myriad of regions with stunning vocals that evoke both Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The following floaty and ethereal well-of-sorrows ‘Azadi’ even features a Celtic and folksy air (one that is repeated later on). This is in part due of course to the guest performances of both the English fiddle extraordinaire and songwriter Nancy Kerr and traditional Gaelic singer Kaitlin Ross. A third vocal addition, Juan Gabriel, can be heard lending a guttural throated underbelly to an already eclectic chorus of singers.

Buoyant tablas and spindled kora sit in perfect harmony with Arabian oud, tropical steel drums, the Brazilian berimbau and the varied voices of Sufi, Hebrew, Hindu, Egyptian-Coptic and Islamic, without ever feeling crowded or strained.

Saraba Sufiyana translates as “mystic utopia”, a title that epitomizes the group’s curiosity and respect for other culture as they build a brave new sonic world of possibility. One that takes in all the dramas and woes of the current international crisis and the lamenting poetry of venerable hardship – the final quartet cycle of prayer and spiritual yearning, ‘My Heart My Home’, beautifully conveys a multitude of gospel and traditional religious plaint, ending on the stirring Hebrew field song ‘Shedemati’. Twenty years in and still improving on that global remit, Rafiki Jazz delivers a magical and rich fourth LP. Devotional music at its most captivating and entrancing.



Karkara ‘Crystal Gazer’
(Stolen Body Records) Album/ 25th October 2019





There’s a hell of a lot wind blowing throughout the mystical and spiritually Toulouse trio of Karkara’s Crystal Gazer epic. North African wind that is; the exotic charms and mystery of the Maghreb on a swirling breeze, flows through and introduces each incantation heavy communal transcendence.

The mirage-shimmery title-track vignette even features a sirocco echo of ghostly enervated Tuareg desert guitars, whilst the electrified speed freak ‘Zarathoustra’ doesn’t just allude to Nietzsche’s infamous Thus Spoke but astrally heads back to the founding father of that mystical Persian faith via an eastern Link Wray and Gothic soup of Krautrock jazz and acid rock.

The counter flow breathes of another desert also permeate this LP, the sound of a veiled didgeridoo constantly present in building atmosphere and mysticism. Loud and physical, though not without some sensitivity, the trio chant, howl and pray their way through a vortex of flange and fuzz as they soar over a fantastical landscape that takes in the southern constellation star of “proxima centauri” and the gates of the Tunisian Medina, ‘Jedid’.

Allusions to seers, mystics and Gothic romantics abound, whilst the musical inspirations fluctuate between heavy space rock (Hawkwind) and Krautrock (Xhol Caravan, Embryo), post-punk (Killing Joke) and baggy (Stone Roses on a bum ride), and spooked, sleazy rock’ n ’roll (Alan Vega).

Transcended Tangier trips, Karkara aren’t exactly the first group to occupy this space, but they do it with volume and dreamy élan.




Reviews
Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea




Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent project, Roi (with John McCarthy and Dan Shea, of Beauty Stab and Vukovar infamy) debuted recently through Metal Postcard Records.

Each week or so we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick  to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.

Comet Gain ‘Institute Debased’
Single/ 11th October 2019


I love the music of Comet Gain. David Feck is one of the finest songwriters to emerge over the last 20 years or so; his songs are full of feelings, yearnings from the past clashing with the failures of today and this, ‘Institute Debased’, the first single taken from forthcoming LP Fireraisers Forever, is a marvelous romp; a collision of 60s psych and post punk merriment – like Dylan fronting a hyped up Velvet Underground. A track of pure delight and magic.




Pete Astor  ‘Paradise’
Album/ 8th November 2019



I have always enjoyed the music of Pete Astor, be it with the Weather Prophets or his solo work, but somewhere along the way I missed this. That omission has finally been put right with this rerelease, 25 years later.

Paradise is a album of well written songs bringing to mind the early nineties work of Lloyd Cole; the same slight country rock influence beginning to creep into the music – almost a bar band quality in the sound. It’s the sound of a man maturing as a person and a songwriter, cutting back in the verve and excitement of youth and replacing it with a beautiful melancholy that only comes with the passing of time, broken hearts and experience.

I am really quite taken with this album and wish I had come across it all those years ago as I have missed out on 25 years of wrapping myself in the beautiful comfort blanket of mellow beautifully crafted guitar songs.



Red Gaze ‘S/T’
(Numavi) EP/ 8th October 2019




Three tracks of early 80s influenced “anarcho” punk terror on a cassette EP takes me right on back to those wonderful days of hanging around Liverpool in the mid 80s and Newport in the early 90s – when it was known as the Seattle of the UK -; a time of darkness and political unrest, when bands used to share their energy and the spirit of unease to the gathered masses of like-minded gig goers. And it’s great to see that there are still bands sound tracking these dark times with their music.

The three tracks are much more than the under three minute thrash I was expecting. All are blessed with dark melodies and an air of dark foreboding and inventive guitar riffs that are a joy to these old weary ears, the track ‘Blister Blaster’ being the stand out. All good stuff indeed; I will have to check out their album.


SUO ‘Dancing Spots And Dungeons’
(Stolen Body Records) Album/ 18th October 2019



Stolen Body Records have released some wonderful albums this year, and here is yet another one. This is a fine pop album, all power punk chords and girl group kisses. Part Blondie part Suzi Quatro, it really has a late 70s feel to it; the kind of record you can imagine blasting from your old tiny transistor on a summer night. An LP with a lovely warm sound (maybe one of the best sounding records I’ve have heard all year) it embraces all that is magical about pop music; it is sexy, laid back, moving and fun all at the same time, an album album of extremely well written and crafted guitar pop songs with a 70s new wave twist. Dancing Spots And Dungeons is a really lovely sounding record.






Haq  ‘Evaporator’
(Bearsuit Records) Album/ 27th September 2019



The new release from the fine Bearsuit Records finds us tumbling down to the spiraling sounds of Haq; 60s spy theme sexiness merges with the avant-garde dreampop of a bewitched Stereolab playing hopscotch with Delia Derbyshire whilst sucking on the feedback of a JAMC lollipop.

The obvious love and understanding of pop music in its many genres and changes throughout the decades are lovingly brought together to make a wash of beautiful tunes. Angel like vocals float over gentle beats, soulful guitars and well constructed rhythms, delicately plucking at the heartstrings. This album really is a beautiful work of aural magic that can and will take you AWAY from the drudgery of everyday life and makes for quite a moving experience: maybe there is a god after all.






The Lounge Bar Orchestra ‘The Omeroyd Sound’
(Fruits de Mer) EP



As I’ve mentioned in an earlier review previously about the opening track of this EP, ‘Washing Lines’, it is a track that I would like to live in – and that goes for the rest of the record. A land where ever night is a Saturday night, a Saturday night filled with kitsch TV shows from your past, the kind of shows that used to be big and loud presented by Bruce Forsyth or Cilla Black, the kind of show when you would witness Cilla dueting with Marc Bolan or Scott Walker with Matt Monro, and as child you would marvel at the glitzy glamour whilst sipping on your bottle of ginger ale wondering, “is this what it’s like to be in showbiz”, hanging around men in evening jackets and long legged high kicking dancers in short mini skirts or silver dresses. This quite wonderful EP takes me back to those wonderful carefree days when music was art and art was music and gave you tingles every time you turned on the radio or TV; when people had to turn on the radio or TV not just lift your laptop lid or stare at your smartphone screen.

This three track is a must have for those who remember simpler times, and for those who want to, for a brief time, return to them. This is your chance this is your time machine. The Lounge Bar Orchestra and their signature Omeroyd Sound.

Released as a limited edition vinyl EP by Fruits de Mer Records (as part of Fruits de Mer and Megadodo’s one day Thunderbolt Festival in Bristol, on November 2nd), it will be subsequently made available by Ousewater Television Recordings on the 6th of November as a downloadable computer online digital recorded music file.






James Mcarthur and The Head Gardeners  ‘Intergalactic Sailor’
(Moorland Records) Album/ 11th October 2019



There is a nice 60s psych folk feel to this album that at times reminds me of the beauty caress of the Lilac Time and the slight oddness of the Beta Band covering Simon and Garfunkel. It’s quite nice to close ones eyes and be swept away by the well-written mellow pop songs that James McArthur and The Head Gardeners offer up. It makes a very pleasant change to be presented with music with such subtlety and an eloquent grace that seems to be lost in these days of wham bam thank you mam generic indie rock; here today forgotten tomorrow, or, the smartphone pop that seems to clog up the radio.

Intergalactic Sailor succeeds in the difficult task of sounding timeless. This is a album that could have been made anytime over the last fifty or so years and offers a charm that sadly one does not come across much these days; an LP where melodies are sprinkled with McCartney-esque fairy dust and a young Paul Simon lyrical cunning.



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