Choice Albums of 2020: Part One (A – E)

December 7, 2020

Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

Dominic Valvona Forward:

Christ what a depressing annus horribilis 2020 was. Putting aside the pandemic, this was another divisive turd of a year, with hyperbolic indignities and the childish naïve persecution of nearly everything and everyone outside the virtue-card carrying trends of “black square” signaling. Whilst many of my peers were casting the aspirations, collecting bracken for the ritual burnings of the faithless, and delivering the most hypercritical of grandstanding statements on diversity, we were continuing as ever as the outsiders to carry on with a normal service of sharing the most eclectic music from artists across the globe. So many of the most voluminous in this regard are the most guilty of not adhering to their own pontifications: I won’t list them here, but they know who they are; the sort of blog/site that hasn’t even featured a black artist, or not many, let alone bother to look outside their myopic viewfinder to Africa, Southeast Asia and beyond. 

We also lost many comrades and sisters this year, including the king of rock ‘n’ roll Little Richard, the late great Afrobeat rhythm provider Tony Allen, Bill Withers, Vera Lynn, Betty Wright, Phil May, Emit Rhodes, Andy Gill, Peter Green, Eddie Van Halen, Spencer Davis, Kenny Rogers, Florian Schneider, Genesis P-Orridge Manu Dibango, Andrew Weatherall, Ennio Morricone and even the poor old derided Des O’Conner. A right bastard of a year I think we can all agree on.

A challenging year, the effects of which will be felt for a long time to come, 2020 has nevertheless been a great year for new music (thank god).    

Because we’ve never seen the point in arguing the toss over numerical orders, or even compiling a list of the best of albums of the year, the Monolith Cocktail’s lighter, less competitive and hierarchical ‘choice albums’ features have always listed all entrants in alphabetical order. We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

Void of points systems and voting, the Monolith Cocktail team selection is pretty transparent: just favourites and albums we all feel you, our audience, should check out. Alongside my good self, Matt Oliver and Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea have made the selections this year.

Spread over three parts, the inaugural selection runs from 3 South And Banana to Extradition Order.

Numbers.

3 South And Banana ‘S/T’
(Some Other Planet)

Bouncing and lolloping onto the psychedelic pop and indie scene like a Francophone Shintaro Sakamoto, Aurélien Bernard brought us a most lightly touched but infectious kaleidoscope jangle of a self-titled debut album this year.

Swapping the drum stool and tenure with the sunny-disposition Vadoinmessico – leaving as the band transitioned into Cairobi – for a polymath solo career, the French born, Berlin-based, Bernard has an idiosyncratic musical style; weaving a cantaloupe gait and a lyrical mix of French and English vocals together in a colourful, often fun, way. Radiant, oceanic, translucent and even cosmic with a Gallic shrug of wistful fatalism, the 3 South & Banana cosmos of rooftop fauna wonderment is a swell place to be in these dark, uncertain times. (Dominic Valvona)

Review In Full

A..

A Journey Of Giraffes  ‘Armenia’
(Somewherecold Records)

Seeming to get better with every release, the unassuming maverick ambient and soundscape explorer behind this most picturesque of animalistic monikers, John Lane, has in recent years been highly prolific in churning out the most subtle but deeply effective under-the-radar soundtracks. To be fair it was a toss-up between this, the atavistic Caucasus transverse Armenia, and his “archipelago of the mind” Sunshine Pilgrim Map peregrination: both great albums of ambient and experimental discovery.

Though he couldn’t have foreseen how prescient this part of the world would become in 2020, with an ongoing uneasy truce between modern Armenia and their Azerbaijan neighbours after a recent fight of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Lane has managed to catch this mysterious land with a 44-track oeuvre of psychogeography, myths, ancient readings and poetry forms. From the air-y and sublime to the more ominous, primal and fraught, minimal evocations sit alongside more churned oblique scrapped moody horrors. Voices from the old religions swirl and echo amongst the hewn stone monuments to Armenia’s ghosts on an outstanding mesmerizing soundtrack of differing stirring soundscapes, traverses, contemplations and ruminations. (DV)

Review In Full

Idris Ackamoor And The Pyramids ‘Shaman!’
(Strut Records)

Serving a worthy musical apprenticeship from and imbued by the masters Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Cecil Taylor, the polymath musician, activist, director of The Pyramids ensemble and torchbearer of spiritual and Afrofuturist jazz, Idris Ackamoor once more makes holy communion with the cradle of civilization on the Egyptology cosmology of conscious political statements, Shaman! Imploring a unified message, a connectivity, a reminder that we can all trace our ancestry back to the same place, Ackamoor follows up on We All Be Africans and the epic sweeping album of Afro-jazz 2-Step “Warrior Dances” and plaintive primal jazz catharsis An Angel Fell, with another masterpiece of the form.

From the burnished Sunbear developing bloodied opus of the Pharaoh Sanders, Brother Ah, Jazz Epistles and Sarah Webster Fabio merging breakout title track to the Afrobeat gospel bolero of ‘Eternity’, an enlightening magical travail of the state of the union is sumptuously paired with the wisdom of the ancients. Narrated and sung howls of anguish are soundtracked and serenaded by a jazz-led voyage of gospel, soul, funk and magic. What an album: an odyssey through the divisive debris of modern America.  (DV)

Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela ‘Rejoice’
(World Circuit Records)

Becoming a final bow in the end for both participates in this perfect synergy of Afrojazz, the now late Afrobeat doyen, drummer extraordinaire Tony Allen and his foil trumpet virtuoso, bandleader, activist and South African national treasure, the even later Hugh Masekela, finally got an airing of their 2010 recordings together this year.

With renewed resolution, Allen and producer Nick Gold, with the blessing and participation of Hugh’s estate, unearthed the original tapes and finished recording the album last year at the same London studio where the original sessions had taken place. Allen and Masekela are accompanied on the record by a new generation of well-respected jazz musicians who help lay down a loose Francophone swinging jazz backing to savior: every bit as effortlessly cool, bouncing and smoky as you’d expect. There’s even a nod to Allen’s old bandleader and Afrobeat progenitor Fela Kuti on this smooth bustling, Blue Note in Africa, laidback work of genius.

This album is the sound of two artists in their element, a performance never to be repeated, and sadly one of the final recordings of Allen now. But as the title says: Rejoice!  (DV)

Read In Full

Axel Holy ‘WonderWorld’
(Split Prophets)

Given the way Axel Holy’s mind works you just know WonderWorld is gonna turn the distorted, freaky reflections found in the hall of mirrors into reality. This ain’t no Scooby Doo haunted theme park caper: the otherwise Baileys Brown slaloms through the queues of demonic smiles for every ride that’s a trap house of horrors. Knowing he can’t leave anything to chance as to what’s real and what’s a genetically modified mirage, yet well aware that fakes and foes never go into hiding, Holy cocks back and breaks the illusion with all of his sawn-off might, possibly under the influence to heighten the experience. ‘Statement’ induces screams as it goes faster, ‘Let It Go’ does a classic switcheroo of upping the anxiety by withdrawing just a touch, and ‘On The Gram’ craftily dispels social media culture, complete with a chorus simply made for a lip synced reel, though like Brown’s ‘Still Fresh’ from last year, there’s definite loosening up towards the album’s end. Grimy, geared to leave your ears ringing and with fellow misfits Jack Danz and Datkid involved, WonderWorld, as a wise scribe once said, will leave you “Delirious like Eddie Murphy”.  (Matt Oliver)

B…

BaBa ZuLa ‘Hayvan Gibi’
(Night Dreamers)

Capturing one of the best performances from the rebellious stalwarts of Anatolian cosmic dub and psych, BaBa ZuLa, the Night Dreamers label’s “direct-to-disc” series proved a congruous creative hothouse for the Istanbul legends.

Fusing the folkloric with solar flares of Krautrock, souk reggae, 60s and 70s Turkish psych and cosmic-blues the rambunctious group come on like a Sublime Porte vision of Can’s Ege Bamyasi and Soundtracks albums, only replacing much of the Teutonic legends setup with more traditional instruments like the “oud” and “saz”: albeit electrified and fuzzed up to the gills.

Recorded before lockdown in the pre-pandemic nightmare, Hayvan Gibi (which means ‘to act with the natural grace of an animal’) includes six almost untethered, unleashed vivid performances from the mavericks. It’s an album that seeks to fulfil the “live” feel and energy that some fans have commented has been lacking on previous studio albums.

A let loose BaBa ZuLa is a most incredible experience; a scuzzed, scuffed, trinket shimmery, rippling and blazing rhythmic energy and dynamism both intense and yet also a mirage of reggae and dub imbued Anatolia mountain gazing. It’s also a reminder of what we’ve been missing in these dragging pandemic restrictive times. (DV)

Read In Full

Bab L’ Bluz ‘Nayda!’
(Real World Records)

The changing (and welcoming it is too) face of Moroccan music, Bab L’ Bluz offers a voice to those previously left marginalized and left out with an electrified and rebellious vision of the country’s Islamic Gnawa dance, music and poetry exaltations; the ululation trills and storytelling of the Mauritania “Griot” tradition; and the popular folk music of Chabbi.

Led by the “guembri” player and leading siren, Yousra Mansou, who has caused quite a reaction for taking up an instrument traditionally the preserve of men in Morocco, they blend Arabian-Africa with a contemporary view of political upheaval and drama in a post Arab-Spring landscape. Reclaiming the heritage but looking forward, the group injects the godly music and romance of Arabian-Africa with a new energy and dynamism. A 21st century blues excursion of dreamy and political vigor.  (DV)

Read In Full

Batsauce ‘Helter Skelter’
(Full Plate)

Inevitably beatmakers got busy when it came to making a song and dance out of the pandemic, with Batsauce, the Berlin-based producer and underground stalwart with the all-too-perfect moniker, delivering boom bap bad news from his ‘quarantine beat suite’, Helter Skelter a notable entry in creating a 2020-style instrumental biopic out of a mass of disaster movie samples. From the get-go the assembled cast are under no illusions that a worldwide disease is real and happening – no such silver screen/real world naivety here – starting off slow and tentatively before the fever begins to take hold. Mixing up pensive jazz, soul and psych with drums scooped from the doldrums, twitchy, string-lead horror themes worthy of the album’s title compete with bold flourishes that switch between signifying cometh the hour, cometh the man, and said leading role going in head first without the guarantee of making it back. Crucially the dialogue is strategically placed, never overloaded, so as to let the music really run the narrative of what becomes a titanic struggle, and where tellingly the conclusion throws up some worst case scenarios without completely delivering the Hollywood happy-ever-after. Here’s hoping that Batsauce doesn’t have to have a sequel up his sleeve.  (Matt Oliver)

Big Toast & 184 ‘Who Shit In The Sandpit?’
(Revorg)

Not that he needed the trivial matter of 2020 being a complete debacle to fuel his next fed up invective, but Big Toast’s patience reaches dangerously thin levels on this charming titled, eye/nose-gougingly sleeved ode to the money men, privileged elite, ignorant, in-the-flesh stereotypes, Gazza and general ringmasters to the UK circus. Splattered with damning evidence that’s as clear as day but still needs repeating, some might say it’s easy to home on in the obvious targets responsible for the myriad fiascos in these uncertain times. But Toast, eyes rolling to the heavens until his sockets start to fracture, and whose unhurried words mimicking the puppet mastery of those at the lectern, linger like…well, a bad smell, is not the sort of protestor satisfied with just chucking eggs and milkshakes at those who won’t be told. The title track’s lighters-up, all-in-together chorus confirms his man of the people status, and closing track ‘Us/Them’ is a high quality fade to grey conclusion. All to the tune of 184’s claustrophobic, nostalgia-erasing boom bap, equidistant to the edge of doom and foggily attempting a scramble to safety. The fact you can’t help but laugh at such a desperate state of play is an oh-so-British reaction as well.  (MO)

Black Josh ‘Mannyfornia’
(Blah)

Bumping beats whiplashed through the windscreen and straight to the point rhymes that are one false look from Falling Down, Black Josh as Manchester’s mayor of Mannyfornia – the “Sweg Lord – you don’t want him living next door” – creates civilisation that avoids the big city of dreams prefix and instantly nails the ain’t-always-what-it-seems kicker instead. Lockdown restrictions get laughed out of town as well, with Metrodome on the electoral boards deconstructing and hotwiring speakers. The likes of ‘Demon’ sees sinkholes open up and swallow all before it, treated by Josh as minor inconvenience – “I’m only living cos I have to” – and the title track is an aggravated state of emergency to endear your neighbours to, like Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Old Skool’ gone rogue “on a highway to Hell, but I’m undertaking”. Wired on substance intake and the need to hit as many killshots as possible, only half-quelled on ‘Smoke’ and ‘Endz’ as the album’s back end begins to conserve energy, Mannyfornia is restless, anti-social and doesn’t play fair, but Josh is not one to change his game just cos circumstances are different.  (MO)

Black Taffy  ‘Opal Wand’
(Leaving Records)

When filing under hip-hop Opal Wand is the cheat code of this list, particularly when the scope of what is ostensibly an instrumental trap album immediately appears limited. Fear not though – in the hands of Black Taffy aka Dallas alchemist Donovan Jones, Opal Wand perfects the classic axis of massive (and massively rigid) bottom ends, and riffs atop darting like fireflies, unfolding the arms of the screwfaces and feeding them optimism sourced from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Subtle vinyl crackle scoring similar Disney-style sources, and sorrowful Eastern Bloc ballets tiptoeing across dark but exotic landscapes, help bring about another educated one-two – that of the album being based on a booming system when the cascades of strings command you to light incense and candles. Jones continues to shift the pre-conceived by blinding you with the fantastical until disquiet begins to percolate in the distance from ‘A Foxes Wedding’. Synth-shone secrets and doubts begin to reveal themselves on the spirit-raising ‘Palms Up’, and when fear of the unknown takes hold, then the basses, still giving nothing away other than fluttering their eyelashes at low-riders, come into their own. With plenty to interpret, let its curiosity consume you on a cold winter’s eve.  (MO)

Bloom De Wilde ‘The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe’
(Self-Release)

If only life could be as wonderfully magical as this album. Bloom De Wilde has an aura about her that emits a certain belief in the beauty of life, with her songs of nature and love she gives one hope in these times of backbiting misery and disease that music and love can be the answer.

Maybe we all need to return to the spiritual freedom of 1967 and not be wrapped up in the junk and social media that clouds up our minds and hearts, for this album casts a mighty spell that is bewitchingly hypnotic, that slowly seeps through the layers of self doubt mistrust and ego and has you smiling again, has you laughing, has you counting your blessings and looking forward to living your life and making the most of it as you only have one life so why not make the most of it. The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe is one of those rare albums that is made with pure love and should be treated with pure love: a shimmering delight.  (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea)

Read In Full

Brian Bordello ‘The King Of No-Fi’
(Metal Postcard Records)

Oh the irony as Brian Bordello himself picked this one for his choice selection of albums from the year: got to hand it to him, the front of the bloke! But then why not, as it seems nearly all blogs and such are now nothing more than promotional platforms for the advancement of their own writers and clique fan club. For those who aren’t aware, Brian has been contributing to the MC for the last couple of years, so this does seem strange: pop will eat itself and all that. Here though is why you should buy it:

The self-anointed king of no-fi returns with another songbook of quasi-demoed wistful despondency and self-deprecation; a stripped-back one-track display of rough charms that cuts to the heart of the cult St. Helens malcontent’s sardonic, but also extremely vulnerable, annoyances about modern life.

Channeling various maverick troubadours, post-punk poets (Dan Treacy springs to mind) and a Brylcreem of rock ’n’ roll idols (ironically enough the release of this album intentionally fell on the anniversary of the true king, Elvis’ death), Brian postulates on a lack of energy and rage in music, the death of the mutherfucker personalities, a bevy of “scarlet” women and lost innocence. Brian can be a romantic sod at times, even sentimental; writing some real tender poetic lines amongst the scorn and despair, with even a hint of Bacharach on ‘Banana Splits’ (yeah, imagine that!). Various stolen kisses, evocations of less complicated, less divisive magical times permeate the album despite the constant references to the death of this and that and the lamentable resignations and threats to give it all up. Sometimes Brian just tersely pays homage to his icons, such as Lou Reed and Billy Fury.  (BBS/DV)

Read In Full

Apollo Brown & Che’ Noir  ‘As God Intended’
(Mello Music Group)

The embodiment of up-from-the-bootstraps verve and an advocate of what doesn’t kill making you stronger, Buffalo’s Che’ Noir won’t let anyone or anything get in her way right from the very first bar. Despite the dual billing on As God Intended, this is very much her headline act: Apollo Brown retreats into the role of unspoken mentor, nodding his approval from afar without needing too much to prompt sometimes cold-blooded, always measured actions, just rolling out his usual metronome of warm but wary, street-raised, Detroit soul bumps that have seen it all and done it all before. ‘12 Hours’ is an absolute classic storyteller (no spoilers here), and from finding true financial value (‘Money Orientated’, offset by the pull of ‘Worth Gold’) to how to stand up (‘The Apple’, ‘Freedom’ and its theorem of “what’s worse than being physically dead is mentally dying”) and respecting the architects (‘94’), the ice queen bravado is open to just a hint of vulnerability, so that Noir teeters (‘Daddy’s Girl’ and ‘Winter’ contrast relationship obstacles) but never loses her balance. True grit from a fighter expressing her worth as “just a chick from the ‘hood doing Adele numbers”.  (MO)

C….

Lucia Cadotsch ‘Speak Low II’
(We Jazz)

Tripping a light fantastic across a curious and congruous selection of covers and standards, two of We Jazz’s (sort of) house band members, Otis Sandsjo (of Y-OTIS reconstructive hip-hop jazz fame) and Peter Eldh (of the masterful Koma Saxo), once more join forces with the amorphous voiced Lucia Cadotsch to re-shape the unfamiliar familiar under the umbrella of the Berlin-based Swiss singer’s Speak Low Trio. Equally as untethered on a serialism pathway of musical freedom, this broadened set-up that includes both the prestigious ECM label solo pianist Kit Downes and cellist Lucy Railton, meanders, drifts, floats and hovers over a flowing oeuvre of German stage numbers, ancient folk laments, avant-garde troubadour maladies and jazz balladry across a second volume of such loose interpretations.

Songs from artists as diverse as Eno, Duke Ellington, Brecht and Randy Newman are pulled into this beautifully adventurous cosmos. A mirage of bowed, haunted and rasping rhythms and spiraling tonal work Speak Low II is an unburdened songbook of amorphous jazzy reinterpretations that dares to play with the original source material, whilst showcasing the effortlessly gossamer and stretching lush range of Lucia’s magical voice.  (DV)

Read In Full

Cambatta ‘LSD: Lunar Solar Duality’
(Mello Music Group)

A dose of ‘LSD’ is perhaps a slight departure for Mello Music Group, who once again have had a calendar year the envy of the hip-hop underground. While Cambatta’s label debut unlocks the power of hallucinogens, the super scientific raised from the sewer breaks down the DNA of life, the universe and everything (the maths behind ‘Nxggxrla Txsla’ and ‘Grand Number TheoRam’ will blow your headphones). His persona is a complex, carnivorously blunt mix of Nostradamus, Mr MFN eXquire and prime era Canibus, street apothecary, religious myth buster and otherworldly being, etched with a grim determination to convince everyone of his gospels, particularly as his backdrop is several hell-like leagues beneath the surface at odds with the radiant sleeve (“only in the midst of chaos am I comfortable”). Entertaining in their encyclopaedic intensity, ‘Fall of Feinix’ is a slow-burning cauldron of drug rage (“my spirit animal is a cold turkey”), and ‘33’ is an exceptional, messianic (and very simply formatted) autobiography, but two ear-openers on an album realigning the sun, moon and stars in a bid you flip your belief system.  (MO)

Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers ‘Vodou Alé’
(Bongo Joe Records)

Like so many others before them, allured to the voodoo hypnotism of the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti, Belgian production duo The Ångströmers spent a residency immersing and absorbing the local fusion of ‘mizik rasin’, and working with the Gonaïves-borne collective of Chouk Bwa. The results of which prove congruous and electrifying; a synthesis of Soukri voodoo polyrhythms and bassier dub electronica that proves so attuned to both sensibilities and in-sync as to be difficult to separate the natural ritual from the augmented and synthesized.

A primal ceremony of tumbled, fluttered cylindrical rhythms sucked into a vortex of warped dub and ringing oscillations, this union proves just how intoxicating and electrifying the voodoo spell can be. Given a sympathetic undercurrent and resonance of atmospheric electronica, the ritual sound and outpour of Haiti is reframed, guided into the 21st century. Not so much a novel direction as a subtle electronic music boost to tradition.  (DV)

Read In Full

COOPS ‘Crimes Against Creation’
(High Focus)

High Focus were found doing High Focus things throughout 2020, making it a tight call on whether to include Light Work by the Duracell-powered creativity of Fliptrix, Onoe Caponoe’s breakneck night terror Invisible War, or The Four Owls’ victorious Nocturnal Instinct (full length review here). Edging past the post is the concise Coops at a skinny eight tracks and twenty five minutes long, that slightly jaded twang between Wretch 32 and Ocean Wisdom both nonchalant and spiteful at once, making him engagingly hard to read between peacekeeping and reacting – at his most relaxed you can still tell that Coops is itching to right wrongs. Holding the streets down under a nice and jazzy shade is producer Talos, who in parallel can turn up the pressure with no discernible tell, hitting the Queensbridge block as Coops knuckles up on the seething ‘Piss Poor’, with a chorus that outdoes any get rich quick-schemers. Picking off opponents with scything simplicity – when annoyed by everyone, Coops calls out all and sundry as per ‘Factory Reared’ passing through a farm for would-be emcees – Crimes is a classy album that won’t wilt in the heat of the moment.  (MO)

Julian Cope ‘Self Civil War’
(Head Heritage)

Julian Cope is one of the last living motherfuckers in rock ‘n’ roll. He is the spirit personified. He has the adventure talent and intelligence to realise that music is not just something to hum along to on the radio whilst doing the dishes. He knows that being in a band is not a past time but a crusade; it is a life affirming art force that fires the mind, belly’s and loins of old and young alike, and Self Civil War is his latest quest, his latest crusade.

A man now in his sixties would be expected maybe to put his feet up and look back on the past outpourings of a fine, much underrated back catalogue. But no, Julian goes and makes his best album since Jehovah Kill.

Self Civil War is an album that combines all his musical loves beautifully: Krautrock, Psych, Prog, folk and of course pure undiluted pop. This is an album of pure invention, inspiration and adventure. This is the sound of a whirling dervish sticking his fingers up at the industry, a man who does not have to think outside the box, as he has no box, and hopefully never will have. He is a true one-off and this album is the sound of a true one-off on top of his game.  (BBS)

Corticem ‘Planetarium’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company)

Less Holst The Planets magnum opus, more lo fi Krautrock purview of a sinister, mysterious cosmology, beamed from a subterranean bunker in Krakow, Corticem’s Plantetarium dials into the present pandemic dystopia whilst casting a soundtrack of awe at those heavenly bodies. I say from Krakow, and a bunker, but the trio have lost their previous studio/rehearsal space; the loss of which acting as an unfortunate stimulus for the mix of industrial, entrancing, cosmic and experimental exploration on this minor-opus of concentrated malcontent, despondency and rage. Formed by members of the “songs strange and not so-strange” Sawak in the Polish city, Corticem finds the trio of orbital sonic cosmonauts Bogdan Markiewicz, Antonello Perfetto and Greg Nieuwsma looking to escape towards the stars but anchored to the malaise and mounting horrors of terra firma: A world gripped in Covid distress. A liberal dark material contortion of Swans, the faUSt pairing of Jean-Hervé Peron and Zappi Diermeir, Mythos, the satellite refraction broadcasts of Gunther Wusthoff, The Cosmic Range, Itchy-O and Ash Ra Tempel, this caustic and often impending oeuvre offers as dystopian and alarming, alien and otherworldly soundtrack to the end times. What’s not to like. (DV)

Read In Full

Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones ‘Kafou In Avalonia’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company)

Reimaging a time when Earth’s landmasses were being reshaped, the atavistic geological inspired futurist dub unit pose a cultural “what if?” with their fourth “set”, Kafou In Avalonia. Wishful dreaming Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones picture an alternative reality; one in which Avalonia still existed as a gateway between all Earth’s cultures and peoples. It acts as the crossroads that might have set out an entirely different course for civilization; a more integrated, less fractious one perhaps. In this setting Haitian, Brazilian, Angolan and Nigerian deities, spirits and rituals converge with an experimental soundtrack of post-punk dub, Kosmische and electronica. Invoking a lost world, a quasi-Atlantis, they merge voodoo ceremony and tribal incantation with sonorous throbbing basslines, barracking drums, heavy reverb and craning Manuel Gottsching like guitar. Ancestral ghosts meet synthesized futurism on this mystical transformed aural geography, as recordings of various rituals swirl in and around a cosmic soup. A supernatural and celestial, seeping and vaporous vortex of polygenesis sources are gathered together to create an imaginative cosmology hybrid. If The Future Sound Of London and Ash Ra Tempel recorded an album at Lee Scratch Perry’s black ark studio it might very well have sounded something like this. (DV

Crack Cloud ‘Pain Olympics’
(Meat Machines)

A rambunctious expanded collective of filmmakers, artists, designers, and of course musicians, drawn together through drug addiction, the Vancouver-based Crack Cloud channel recovery through much healthier pursuits; raiding the post-punk and no wave wardrobes to form an ever ambitious agit-art-group of malcontents. Rinsing out both the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene along the way, the seven-strong main cohort of this group effort work-in the Gang Of Four, Talking Heads, The Shivers, Officer!, Lydia Lunch, Andy Haas, Pixies and Devo to produce a surprisingly less hostile verdict on the state of the union in 2020.

Pain Olympics is an epic eclectic of torment, frustration and also soaring ethereal voiced scales. The opening diorama ‘Post Truth’ is like a fucked-up, squalid underpass musical on a MGM movie set that moves from a drizzle of industrial Fat White Family post-punk to twinkled These New Puritans dreamy dramatic choral sirens and a performance of electronic Stomp. But changing the makeup, as they do continuously on this album, they go for a creeping merger of La Haine Hip-Hop and Eno on ‘Favour Your Fortune’.  All the while the tensions and tawny angulations of PiL, Wire and Crispy Ambulance wane and conspire in the background. Crack Cloud have managed to convey the unease whilst dreaming big on an album I can’t recommend enough.  (DV)

The Cult Of Free Love ‘Visions’
(Northern Star Records)

What we have here is the first release from the born again influential underground label Northern Star; a label that released the four CD Psychedelica series of compilations that caught the mood and excitement of the bourgeoning new psychedelic scene of the time. This series of releases influenced many a new band and caught some now very well known and established bands early in their careers. So to kick off the rebirth of the mighty fine label we have the second album from The Cult Of Free Love, and to be honest if this album had been released on the Fruits Der Mer label it would have already sold out and been acclaimed as a modern psychedelic masterpiece. Yes, this album is that good.

Orb like trance and late 80’s acid house mingle with the lost summer of love of ‘67 to weave a spell of blissed out magic. There is no one highlight on Visions as the whole album is one long stream of melody and blissed out splendor. This album I cannot recommend enough to anyone with a love of modern psychedelia or somebody wanting to know what it was like to visit the legendary Hacienda in its pomp: An album to turn this winter of discontent into the third summer of love.  (BBS)

D…..

The Dandy’s Boutique ‘Delightful Weirdo’
(Self Release)

I know nothing of The Dandy’s Boutique, an artist I came across being played on the excellent Graham Duff radio show on Totally Radio; the track being the rather wonderful ‘Stay Away’, which has a bass riff and a half part “Girls and Boys”, part grab your handbag put it in the middle of the dancefloor and boogie: Is there anything quite as life affirming as a DIY disco ditty?!

Anyway, ‘Stay Away’ happens to kick off this rather lovely album; an album that combines synth-pop, dance and indie-pop to great effect, and is indeed greatly affecting, especially on the synth ballad ‘Don’t Let Go’. And goes on exploring the virtues of having humour, originality and talent; ‘Pitter Patter’ being a fine instrumental, reminding me what the Great Joe Meek may have done if left alone with a synth for an hour or so. What I like most about this album is the overwhelming atmosphere of melancholy even on the upbeat dance tracks like ‘Passing The Time’. There is a certain feel that I find quite refreshing. I think Dandy’s Boutique might not quite realize how good they actually are, as this is a fine album indeed and people should give it a listen. (BBS)

Read In Full

Miles Davis ‘The Lost Septet’
(Sleepy Night Records)

Those lucky bastards, and I mean the Viennese crowd lucky enough to have experienced this whomping, sleazed, dark and beastly jazz-rock maelstrom from the late great Miles Davis and his Septet troupe, on the night of the 5th November 1971. Of course they didn’t bloody appreciate it, still hung up on old tooting-in-blue Davis, when the maestro had moved on into the well of mental destruction, hauling his crew across Europe in that pivotal year of bad juju. 

Capturing the grandee of eclectic jazz futurism and an ark of godly status albums (In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Live Evil and Jack Johnson), The Lost Septet (so-called because this magic collection of cats never recorded together in the studio, and so this exists as one of the only testaments to this grouping actually ever happening) simpers, thralls, gushes and boogies in that trumpet genius’s famous “rock phase”. The enviable lineup of Keith Jarrett, Gary Bartz, Michael Henderson, Ndugu Leon Chancler, Charles Don Alias and James Mtume Foreman prowl, skulk, whelp and burble through the riffed-on material, pushing jazz into hard psychedelic heavy rock. Davis’s pal-up with Hendrix was proving a serious influence, and you can hear that throughout this deeply challenging live opus.

From cathouse salacious slinking ‘Honky Tonk’ to a Shamanistic sledge ride through the Ghetto styling of ‘What I Say’, and the sumptuous laidback funk sucker ‘It’s About That Time’, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone sounding this fucking great and dangerously brooding in 2020. Hence why despite being fifty years old, it is still one of the best things you can hope to hear this whole year. Thank Christ it has been saved from bootleg rarity to a proper release in the year of pandemic.  (DV)

Dean & Britta ‘Quarantine Tapes’
(Double Feature Records)

Thank god for the diaphanous, hushed pairing of Luna band mates Britta Philips and Dean Wareham (also formerly of Galaxie 500 fame) to lift spirits and offer a hymnal communal in times of anxious uncertainty. The aptly named Quarantine Tapes is made up of cover versions recorded during the first wave of lockdown, some in the home studio, others taken direct from livestream performances.

It helps that the material is so damn good in the first place, yet the duo’s languid and hauntingly beautiful Lee Hazelwood trademark sound gives a certain translucent and touching quality to songs from acts as diverse as Kraftwerk, The Clash and the late (sadly passing away only this year in March) no wave disco icon Christine. Maybe as a gesture to another unfortunate loss this year (Florian Schneider) they perform a magical, advent version of the candescent Kraftwerk hymn ‘Neonlicht’ (or ‘Neon Lights’) that is just lovely. Elsewhere they give The Bee Gees plaintive ‘Massachusettes’ a touch of Laurel Canyon, and perform a languorous cover of Bardo Pond’s ethereal elegy opus ‘Ride Into The Sun’.

Capturing the current mood music well, the lockdown duo offers a most disarming and quite affair of the heart in mentally fatiguing and depressing times. (DV)  

Die Wilde Jagd ‘Haut’
(Bureau B)

Birthed into another chthonian landscape of incipient stirrings, Sebastian Lee Philipp’s third such ambitious experimental suite continues where the previous eerie 2018 LP, Uhrwald Orange, left off: Lurking, stalking and disappearing into a recondite mystery of esoteric electronica and Techno. Earthy then, with evocations of a wild, veiled terrain populated by the whispering bewitched, strange rituals and metaphysical forces, Haut is a brilliantly realized slow-burning expansive supernatural soundtrack imbued with elements of Krautrock, Kosmische, the psychedelic, avant-garde, industrial and atavistic.

Once more joined by co-producer foil Ralf Beck and live performance drummer Ran Levari, Die Wilde Jagd’s instigator songwriter/producer channels notions of memory, premonition and birth into a filmic quartet of drawn-out chapters.

It’s certainly an imaginative world that awaits the listener on this third grandiose experiment. One that takes a breather, holding back on the beats and kicks for a more expansive and creeping sound production; those anticipated reveals kept on a tight rein. A sign of real quality and patience, Haut marks both a continuation but slight change in the dynamics as Philipp and Beck further erode and stretch the perimeters of Techno and electronic music.  (DV)

The Dupont Circles ‘In Search of the Family Gredunza’
(Beautiful Music Records)

The combination of the majestic jangle of c86 and Beatle boots is and can be a thing of great beauty, especially when it is performed with the vigour and enthusiasm that the – near legendary in some circles – cult band The Dupont Circles gives it. A debut album that has taken 30 years to arrive and now brought to us by the beautiful in name and beautiful in nature and music Beautiful Music Records label.

The Dupont Circles love a good melody and a witty lyric and a 60s garage rock guitar riff: the track ‘Tick Tock’ wouldn’t sound out of a place on a Rubbles comp; a rather marvellous adventure of a track as is the psych tinged Joe Meek like following instrumental, ‘Sputnik’. My Personal favourite track on this album though is the wonderful Television Personalities like ‘53 Bicycles’ – there is also a cover of the TP’S ‘How I Learned To Love The Bomb’. This album is a joyful romp through the magical world of The Dupont Circles; a world where the guitar and Farisa organ is king and the national anthem alternates between “My Generation” and “I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives”. A rather marvellous land I want to move to immediately.  (BBS)

Bob Dylan ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’
(Columbia)

Greyhound bus philosopher, medicine show huckster and Boomer Bible troubadour wanderer, Dylan performs another one of his grand illusions in encompassing a whole generational epoch on his latest songbook. Perhaps among his best work in decades, the “Rough And Rowdy” sagacious chapter in a nigh sixty-year career manages to be both elegiac and playful in equal measures; cramming in every kind of reference point, from historical characters to pop culture and the travails of the Kennedys and their aspirations on the epic eulogy finale ‘Murder Most Foul’: A death knell bookend to the previous fifty years of a dominant America that marks perhaps the failures of a whole generation.

He’s Anne Frank, Indiana Jones and then some (names in lyrics that should elicit groans but somehow don’t sound glib and ridiculous) on an album that’s impact can be measured in swigs from a bottle of fine red wine. A humbled legend accompanied by the subtlest, thinnest of brushed drum shuffles, Hawaiian bowed and bluesy guitar, this is a relaxed Dylan, custodian of the faith, raunchy and statesman like yet juggling resignation with serenaded romance, reverence and death. ‘My Own Version Of You’ runs through a lyrical rasp of persecution, slavery and ideals turned murderous (From Troy to The Crusades to Marx), whilst the hymnal lulled and cooed soothing gospel ‘I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You’ sounds like a genuine token of faith and spiritual willingness. Dylan is almost handing down the baton to the sisterhood on the beautiful saving grace attempt at a spiritual anthem on ‘Mother Of Muses’. Yet Dylan strikes up some of that down ’n’ dirty earthy electrified blues, on the homage to the power of the tragic turned-on blues progenitor Jimmy Reed and his influence.

From Elm Street to the Aquarian Age, and across the Rubicon, Dylan seems as weary as he is unapologetic and nostalgic; dragging that (nearly) 80 year old timbre and soul through the mire to once more offer a grizzled but not yet finished Boomer commentary on our sorry arses. This is the record we deserved and needed, as Dylan proves to be a godsend. Yes it’s nostalgic, and there isn’t any pinning of virtues to any particular political angst, but Dylan isn’t going to make it easy for you. A great work of art that just keeps giving. (DV)

E……

Kahil El’Zabar ‘Spirit Groove Ft. David Murray’ & ‘America The Beautiful’
(Spiritmuse)

Continuing a creative partnership with the Spiritmuse label, Chicago jazz luminary Kahil El’Zabar has released two essential ambitious sweeping titles in 2020; working yet again with an ever changing lineup of fellow visionaries and rising virtuosos from his home city and beyond.  The first of which is the Spirit Groove album collaboration with David Murray, the second, America The Beautiful, sees the School of The Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians alumni and five decade jazz veteran piece together a suitable afflatus cry from the despair of modern America.

Spirit Groove, sees a reconnection, a spiritual bound between the Chicago jazz drumming and percussionist doyen El’ Zabar and his tenor sax and bass clarinet maestro foil Murray. Quenching the soul with that “spiritual groove”, they’ve laid down a both swinging and mesmeric alternative jazz service of mediation but also, and above all, they push for a positive change in the most inflamed and dangerous of times. El’ Zabar’s atavistic with a modern pulse soul and jazz experiments are coupled with Murray’s untethered long and short breath saxophone contortions on an album of new, specially written material and expansions of compositions from the back catalogue.

The second title sees him build a fully realized album around the aggrandized anthem, America The Beautiful. An extraordinary portrait of the current mood, El’ Zabar’s conscious divine spiritual jazz opus channels the contorted soul of Chicago’s rich musical heritage; spanning eras as old as ancient Africa, the be-bop, swing eras, leaping through the avant-garde and 80s dance music culture to create a soulful and always grooving purview of the American social-political divide in 2020: Election year. From Coltrane to Bernstein, primitive Chicago House to Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, this is an expansive dig into the soul, heart and health of a nation in divisive turmoil: A healing process in fact. 

Both albums offer a congruous communion of transformative, essential jazz, just when we needed it.  (DV)

Read In Full Here and Here

Extradition Order ‘American Prometheus’
(Blang/Gare du Nord/HLP19/I Blame/Jezus Factory)

Willed on by a whole quintet of labels, the first album in a good few years from the excitable and soulful no wave Warrington troupe Extradition Order is a poignant return to the American history books. Dedicated in part to founding member Nick Boardman who passed away in 2018 (his legacy permeates this album, whether as a guiding influence or through his bass hooks and singing), the Order’s vessel this time around is “the destroyer of worlds”, polyglot genius behind the fateful A-bomb Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Taking the album’s title from the Oppenheimer biography of the same name, American Prometheus is a guide to a visceral concept of the lamentable, profane and hysterical. Just as the band did with their both pining and erratic opus to the Kennedy dynasty (on the 2015 Kennedy LP), the extended cast of unfortunate and listless wives, lovers, set adrift family members, rivals and enablers are given a voice in the linear story of this incredible scientist; one who, as it turns out, had quite the checkered and controversial life story. With colliery soul requiems, prowling hints of Blurt, cheerleader Grease rah-rah and bursts of My Life Story, The Pop Group, Style Council and The Mekons, Extradition Order find parallels in 2020 by blowing open the myths and dramas behind the conflicted Oppenheimer: warts and all. American Prometheus is another mini triumph from a band that manages to bridge the fury and wrath of punk with the contorting squawks and funk of no wave and the brassy heralded romantic yearns of northern soul: good going guys. (DV)

Read In Full

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

One Response to “Choice Albums of 2020: Part One (A – E)”

  1. […] Tracks have been picked from our recent ‘choice albums features of 2020’ (Part One: A-E, Part Two: F-N and Part Three: O-Z), plus a smattering of music from those albums we just […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: