Words: Dominic Valvona
Photos: Miluţă Flueraş

Atavistic yet contemporary in its merging of Balkan traditions and psychedelics with broken-beats, synth-electronica, dub and global bass the Sașa-Liviu Stoianovici and Alin Zăbrăuțeanu duo of Balkan Taksim inject a respective new dynamism and energy into the music of their Romanian roots. They’ve expanded that to a wider exposure and education of Slavic cultures throughout the Balkans region, congruously working with local singers and musicians to record the songs, tunes of their heritage. Reworking this source material in the studio, they’ve added an air of modernity with an array of sophisticated and articulate (rather than “banging IDM”) style electronica sounds, atmospherics, heavy bass and powerful beats. But don’t call it a “fusion”: it goes deeper than that, with many of the sounds being sampled direct from original traditional Balkan instruments, both musical worlds existing on equal terms.

It’s a magical, transportive futurist vision that’s attracting a lot of acclaim and attention.

The duo, having just signed to the Parisian label Buda Musique, are readying themselves to release a debut album this Spring. Ahead of that, the Monolith Cocktail is premiering the brand new video for the “journey into a maelstrom of memory” imbued ‘Anadolka’. The duos take on a Balkan classic merges Yugoslav pop-rock with the sound of the long-necked Ottoman tanbur and electric saz and the plaintive lyrical poetry of Bosnia’s Serbo-Croatian dialect to produce an almost shivery, frayed and haunting malady.

The Romanian film director Andra Hera created the video for the reimagined ‘Anadolka’. She has this to say about the visual narrative:

“A contemporary poet is haunted by the spirit of a beautiful woman from the Balkans. He chases her shadow while visiting an old lonely house, by the side of a desolate lake. Wintertime brings memories of a past saturated with desire, with a guilty love that is on the edge of tearing apart an old friendship. A visual poem, in which the layers of time melt. In the end, the observer is the one who is observed.”

Balkan Taksim breath life into an ancient Balkan psychogeopgraphy, creating an often-entrancing atmosphere that weaves those Slavic traditions and yearnings with an amorphous soundtrack of electronica. Experience that mood music now with the première below.

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.

Compilation Breakdown/Review: Words by Dominic Valvona

Disco Zombies  ‘South London Stinks’
(Optic Nerve)  29th January 2021

Emerging from a fit of bands during the punk era, Leicester’s Disco Zombies never quite broke through despite meeting with the approval of John Peel and bridging both the agreeable knockabout youthfulness of The Undertones and more sneering, University Challenge politico riling of their Tory-baiting peers. Pub rock to fuzz; new wave and even post-punk, they could sound at any one time like The Skids, Damned, Magazine, Swell Maps, Subway Sect and even (on the slower Indie roaming ‘New Scars’) XTC.

Formed almost at the apex of the punk explosion by Andy Ross (vocals and guitar), Johnny ‘Guitar’ Hawkins (as his moniker makes pretty obvious, guitar), Geoff ‘Dod’ Dodimead (bass) and Andy Fullerton (drums), the DC played their debut gig at the student halls of residence, we’re told, to “a packed room of cross-legged intellectuals”. That line-up soon expanded to accommodate Dave Henderson of The Blazers; all part of a scene that could boast the cult obscurity of bands like The Foamettes, Dead Fly Syndrome and The RTRs. The DC would bring in The Foamettes’ guitarist Steve Gerrard when they soon relocated to London in the vain hope of making it to replace founding member Johnny Guitar, who couldn’t go as he had another year at Uni to finish. As it happened, he never really missed his break, as even his replacement soon returned home from the capital due to the lack of success. Gerrard would however make it into Leicester’s version of Rock’s Back Pages by joining another cult band, The Bomb Party.

In an age characterised by the spirit of diy and lo fi, the band recorded their first EP for the fleeting Uptwon Records venture set up by Carl Tebbutt. This now legendary EP, recorded in one four-hour session, featured a Blazer’s number (‘Top Of The Pops’) and a trio of rough ’n’ ready Stiff Records, tongue-in-cheek adolescent ravers (‘Time Will Tell’, ‘Punk A GoGo’, and ‘Disco Zombies’). It was unfortunately shelved due to the occupational hazard of these enterprises going bust. They still carried on however, recording a session for a local radio station, the only fruits of which (included on this twenty-track revision compilation of mishits) is the rebel-country meets Skids goggle-box sneer ‘TV Screen Existence’. The DC would also go on a mini tour showcase of their hometown, playing five nights in five different pubs. But a move to the Big Smoke was on the cards after exhausting the Leicester scene, and hopefully a crack at breaking through. It’s hardly a spoiler to suggest they didn’t; the compilation title of South London Stinks a dead giveaway, and perhaps broadside at the Deptford clique of the time.

In another customary shift of line-up, the group recruited Mark Sutherland to fill the gap left by Gerrard. Gigs at a litany of infamous London showcase spots followed: the Scala, Hope & Anchor, North London Poly. Out of frustration, or just ennui, Andy Ross launched his own label, South Circular Records as a vehicle to releasing the band’s debut single proper; the gnarled Jam-knocks-about-with-The-Clash National Front parodied, ‘Drums Over London’. A classic single of the period, it was totally misinterpreted by Rock Against Racism, who missed the irony, believing it to be an endorsement of far right anti-immigration rhetoric. John Peel had to weigh-in on the side of the DC, to clear up the misunderstanding. It’s more or less the band’s anthem. Alongside overseeing an EP from the Peel approved Adicts, Ross’ label put out the Magazine fatalism with white disco Dr. Boss drum machine shaking, ‘Here Come The Buts’: Another slight turn in direction for the band, now expanding their two-minute blasts to over four, you can hear a hint of more brooding post-punk and a resigned polemic on that record. Just before that diy label folded, the DC recorded the Damned like parody sporting spectacle (“Best position to the chase and pursuit”) ‘The Year Of The SexOlympics’, the wrangled guitar and Lou Reed fronts Voidiods, lyrically violent, ‘Target Practice’, and the already mentioned ‘New Scars’. None of which ever saw the light of day. Still, persevering and now in the dying embers of punk they knocked out the brilliant, more upbeat new wave track ‘Where Have You Been Lately Tony Hately’.  Showing a keenness for knockabout pun and chirpy wit, with references to pop and sporting culture they paid a sort of wry homage to the extremely well-travelled English centre-forward of the title: A player who moved between eleven clubs in his two decade plus career, even joining (for the briefest of times) the beleaguered USA side, the Boston Minutemen.  In a similar vane, but perhaps obscuring a more honest debate about the sex industry and its troubled, used-up pinups, and voyeurism, detachment, the band released a Monochrome Set meets Swell Maps imbued aphorism to the 70s sexpot Mary Millington; star of untold jazz-mags and blue movies in the UK, and the girl-next-door fuck fantasy of a million men.  Drugs, depression, debt, the old bill, and the moralist guardians of so-called decency hounded and hampered Mary into an early grave, the sex star taking her own life by overdose in 1979. With that in mind, the DC song is more tragedy, elegy than rave-up and sniggering schoolboy hijinks.

‘Tony Hately’ met with Peel enthusiasm, but other than a test pressing, the single was never properly released; ending up only subsequently on the Cordelia label’s Obscure Independent Classics compilation – a title that tells you all you need to know about that particular chapter in the band’s career. A consequence of this was the break-up of the band. Sutherland opened a studio in Bow, London; Dodimead (god forbid) got a day job, and Fullerton…well he was already in gainful employment. The remainder joined the experimental Club Tango; though later on, Ross would go on to discover bands himself, such as Blur most famously, for the legendary Brit-pop era Food label he started with the ex-Teardrop Explodes’ David Balfe.

Yet they could never let it lie, and thirty years after initially splitting up, the DC (ala the drum machine incarnation) descended upon Sutherland’s studio to record the extremely limited edition 10” pairing of the Sci-Fi homage ‘Night Of The Big Heat’ and bandy JFK conspiracy shtick ‘LHO’.  The first of these is a broody indie take on the cult Terence Fisher directed and Hammer double-act of Lee and Cushing 1967 environmental terror of the same name, its partner, a motorcade denunciation vision of a Brit-pop Dead Kennedys. A few years later original drummer Andy Fullerton kicked the staid Dr. Rhythm into touch, recording a trio of originals from a bygone punk age: the antithesis of X-Factor chart-topping mediocrity ‘Hit’, The Dickies bash around with Ramones Cold War pastiche ‘Lenin’s Tomb’ (“All good Russians visit Lenin’s Tomb” you know), and polka-punk resigned parody on the banality of nuclear Armageddon ‘Paint It Red’ (“As the arms race escalates, refit the double-glazing”). All three were released on limited 10”. That recent hurrah style resurrection was followed up by a gig at The Dublin Castle in 2019. And just to make certain that the Disco Zombies don’t vanish from Sniffin’ Glues Back Pages, Optic Nerve have collected all those singles, tracks and missives into this “stinking” collection: probably the first and only chance to find the back catalogue in one place, from a band that seldom managed to release much music to the public.

Shelved recordings, ones salvaged from obscurity mingle with Peel favourites and the few actual physical records they managed to put out. Not really part of any particular scene, out-of-sorts with the London set anyway, the Disco Zombies were never as rowdy and antagonistic as the Pistols, but never quite as cuddly as Eddie And The Hot Rods. They did cover many bases however, developing and changing with the times. Above all that and most importantly, they made some cracking records: which you will discover yourself when digging into this fandom compilation. Another piece in the UK punk jigsaw filled in. Dominic Valvona

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.

Album Review/Dominic Valvona

The Telescopes ‘Song Of Love And Revolution’ (Tapete Records)  5th February 2021

You could say that it was a special kind of calling to draw scuzz sculptured drones and a psychedelic morose from the well of despair for over thirty years. The Telescopes have continued unabated, and through various chapters of sorrow to be hypnotised sonically towards an abyss. There’s unfortunately always enough pain, torment, distress and redemption each year to motivate such concentrations of both sludge driven rock ‘n’ roll crash-and-burn and Mogadon induced hymns.

Written and recorded before the recent death of the band’s founding member and celebrated cult lead guitarist David Fitzgerald (passing away last November from cancer), The Telescopes 12th album in three decades of stop-and-starts does feel at times like a befitting tribute to his memory; drawing on all the signature caustic, abrasive and whining guitar lines and pendulous and esoteric tribal drum patters. Stephen Lawrie, who remains as the only original founding member and custodian of the faith, once more drifts in and out of the dense fuzz, guitar angling and incense burning atmospherics with his low and mesmerised hushed vocal burr.  

Despite all the talk of the despairing density, The Telescopes find glimmers of light, a way out of the grief and despondency. They even end up on a deserted beach front, accompanied by only a codex finale of concertinaed sea shanty, the lapping tide and the song of seagulls on the album’s outro, ‘Haul Away The Anchor’.

Reimagining the Os Mutantes on downers, the Dream Syndicate and BRMC on a particular bad turn, the band make quite the opening statement with the rhythmic white noise séance ‘This Is Not A dream’. They follow that pulsation, heavy Meta by surfing the tube of a more apocalyptic beach on the fangs-out, sleaze and scuzzy ‘Strange Waves’. Skulking yet almost choral, leaning towards the Spaceman 3, even Spiritualized, they ride a wave of psychosis. By the time we reach the hypnotised beatific spiritualism of ‘Mesmerised’ itself, they’re burning candles at the alter of a mystical Byzantium Velvet Underground. The Telescopes bound back into suitable menacing, squalling energetics aboard ‘This Train’; an altogether more dangerous ushering in of the train metaphor for momentum (“a change is coming”) of civil rights American soul. This is musically something more in keeping with the shadow creeping moodiness of Berlin-period Crime And The City Solution, and even Suicide then rallying cry of change, or augur.

By now The Telescopes can turn out this kind of drone-heavy squalling doom and downer pysch in their sleep. They continue as guardians of this form, elder statesmen, able however to entice the faithful and keep their loyal audience intrigued and interested enough to lap it all up. And as the catalogue goes Song Of Love And Revolution is a pretty immersive, solid and brooding experience: spiritual if despondent in part, a call to escape the despair. There’s love somewhere in this ritual, but you’ll have to drag it out of them.  Dominic Valvona

Further Reading Suggestions:

The Telescopes ‘Exploding Head Syndrome

The Telescopes ‘Hidden Fields

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.

The Monolith Cocktail has been exchanging posts with our pen pal partners at the leading Italian music publication Kalporz for the last two years or more now; an exchange that now continues into 2021. The Kalporz editorial team share with us their top twenty album choices of last year.

2020, the year that is not here. But the music has been there, also to keep us company in the more or less lockdowns, quarantines and various misfortunes. As has been the case for many years now, reading the charts that have already been published there are many directions – and this confirms the huge production of music in which it is difficult to find one’s bearings – but a few albums have been conveyed rather crosswise.

Spin, Pitchfork (with a surprising Waxahatchee in second place), Volture, and AlbumOfTheYear all focused on Fiona Apple (and it’s the album that appears the most in their charts), NME (who didn’t really stick to Brit-pop…) and Riff Magazinechose RTJ4 by Run The Jewels, while Popmatters and Esquire liked Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers (Apple in second place) the most. The New York Times went against the grain with The Ascension by Sufjan Stevens (again, Fiona second), Rolling Stone, Insider, Time and the Los Angeles Times opted for Taylor Swift‘s Folklore (making it the most “national-popular” album in the States), The Vinyl Factory put together two releases by Sault (Black is / Rise), while The Quietus stood out with Hey ColossusDances/Curses.

And Kalporz? Well, our chart is always beautiful. Jokes aside, when we finish it, do the maths and discover it, we always comment that it represents us very well. It is us.

Happy reading then, and let’s look ahead now, as we need to.

20. Nazar – “Guerrilla”

Had it been released in any other year, Guerrilla would simply have been an excellent record of ‘deconstructed-club music’, but the extraordinary conditions of this year give it an extra layer, leaving the listener lost in the reverberations and samples of a world that was and is now, literally, deconstructed.

19. Metz – “Atlas Vending”

“This one is one of the records of the year. Something keeps moving year after year at Sub Pop Records and it happens in a discontinuous way, as it should in a context that doesn’t want to be reassuring but a real call to arms to which you always want to answer: “present””.

18. Jeff Parker – “Suite For Max Brown”

International Anthem is the most important record company in contemporary jazz. So it is no coincidence that Suite for Max Brown was published by the Chicago label in collaboration with Nonesuch Records. Jeff Parker‘s work, like few others, knows how to look to the future: starting from an analogue past, he elaborates a digital and futuristic present. In the making.

17. Tame Impala – “The Slow Rush”

“If anyone could complain of a lack of adrenaline throughout the track list, it’s because Parker wanted to steer her peculiar vision of music onto a more relaxed and, if possible, even more dreamlike side than in the past. And he does so by hitting the mark once again and confirming himself more and more as the authority he has become on the international music scene.”

16. Kelly Lee Owens – “Inner Song”

Kelly Lee Owens has the ability to know how to remain in that limbo that should exist, but that we didn’t know before her, between new age and Berlin techno, and it is a very pleasant feeling of enjoyment and fun. With Inner Song she consolidates the ideas of her amazing (and maybe not surpassed by this test) first self-titled album, but reaching more people.

15. Bob Dylan – “Rough and Rowdy Ways”

“On Rough and Rowdy Ways Dylan takes multiple journeys, both physical and mental. (…) Everything seems so fragile, as the album tries to fix this fragility in vitro. While speaking in code, Dylan tells his story with a rare sincerity, as he has done few times in his life. When in ‘Mother of Muses’ he whispers, “Forge my identity from the inside out”, it is the moment of agnation, the moment in which Dylan recognises his own greatness and we recognise him. And in the meantime he paints landscapes, paints nudes, contains multitudes”.

14. Lorenzo Senni – “Scacco Matto”

“Another electronic world is possible, to paraphrase the subtitle of the historic Italian sitcom Boris. And we should be proud that today it is led by an atypical Italian boy, who manages to combine love for research and experimentation with real music, the kind that strikes the heart and shakes the senses of the people who listen to it. Lorenzo Senni is all fire and no smoke, and with humility and intelligence he has managed to arrive in the pantheon of the current scene without distorting or commercialising his message”.

13. Mac Miller – “Circles”

Mac Miller remains poised between depression and liberation, between damnation and salvation. “Everybody’s gotta live / And everybody’s gonna die / Everybody just wanna have a good, good time / I think you know the reason why”, he sings on ‘Everybody’ and brings us back to the simple truths of life: everybody wants to have fun because they know, sooner or later, they’re gonna die. It’s not a Troisi-like question of whether or not we should write it down, the fact is that Mac tells us so lightly that we believe him.”

12. Empress Of – “I’m Your Empress Of”

“Nothing is sacred, everything is profane, or maybe even prosaic. And Empress Of is among the most profound of today’s singer-songwriters in this materiality”.

11. Sevdaliza – “Shabrang”

Shabrang is the strength to overcome shame, pain and fear to proudly show one’s humanity and wounds; but there are many more keys to be discovered, listen after listen, in an album that will perhaps make this September less bitter”.

10. Nicolas Jaar – “Cenizas”

Jaar‘s baritone seems to come straight from the depths of who-knows-what cliff, struggling to climb a wall of noise and glitch. The summit never seems to arrive, just as there is basically never a trace of a real drop, which eases the restlessness that accumulates in almost an hour of music (…). Maybe rising from the ashes is not possible, but at the end of a ghostly record, in the middle of a gloomy period, you can go back to dancing”.

9. Perfume Genius – “Set My Heart On Fire Immediately”

“Look at him now, Mike Andreas, on the album cover, bare-chested and stained with motor oil, with that fierce, belligerent look. Look at him as he rolls around on the dirt floor or as he stages a choreography that resembles a duel to the death. Look at him, while for the first time he faces openly those masculine and macho imaginaries that he has always felt repulsive and threatening: now he even challenges them, embodies them, and radically changes their symbolic connotations. His is a conquest. A liberation. It is yet another metamorphosis. Perfume Genius is another person again.”

8. Caribou – “Suddenly”

“I have the feeling that the exit from the spotlight together with the diversification of the proposals (Caribou on one side and, precisely, Daphni on the other) is not hurting the guy, who at 42 seems the same old as when he was young: so OK. And this is what happens to his music: Caribou had the ability to recreate the bittersweet taste of nostalgia even when expressing a more “contemporary” sound. Imagine how well it works for him now that his compositions have a natural patina that makes them sound beautifully out of focus.”

7. Moses Sumney – “græ”

“Throughout this album the tension exists between opposites and between the like, in a tireless dialectic between the different parts that make up the artist’s self and its relationship to those of the self of those around it: on græ Moses Sumney breaks down himself, others, the world, to then recompose everything in the finale of a new language that promises a way of making music that is far from grey.”

6. Run The Jewels – “RTJ4”

“To call them prophets is reductive”.

5. Fiona Apple – “Fetch The Bolt Cutters”

“It is beautifully crafted pop, albeit built on a framework of dissonance and rough sounds. It is risky to speak of minimalism, given the quantity of elements, but it is equally impossible to speak of pomposity. Perhaps the right adjective is measured.”

4. Sault – “Untitled (Black Is)”

Apparently there are four of them, their identities are cleverly concealed, but we’re pretty sure this isn’t a new Damon Albarn side project. In one of the hardest and most significant years for the international anti-racist movement born on the web, they come from a country shaken by changes that are dramatic to say the least, but able as in few other eras of the past to offer so many musical excellences rich in contaminations and cultural crossovers where it is black music and its African roots that shine, from grime to Afrobeat. Sault‘s Untitled (Black Is) is a record that speaks of the present, released on the 19th June, when the so-called Juneteenth is celebrated, the date chosen in America to commemorate the abolition of slavery. R&B psychedelia, soul and UK funky echoes, the same ones that have given an incurably black imprint to contemporary British electronics. Without too much proclamation in Sault’s fourth record (their second of the same year, following their two 2019 works, 5 and 7) they wrote the British equivalent of D’Angelo’s Black Messiah. But in the twenty tracks of Untitled (Black Is) there are no heroes or messiahs; there are everyday stories that we’d all like to leave behind sooner or later.

3. Fontaines D.C. – “A Hero’s Death”

The raw material is the rock we know, but the progression is inevitably current: by a strange temporal crossroads, Fontaines D.C. manage to improve on their first album, making A Hero’s Death less thunderous than its predecessor but more focused, between nocturnal ballads and a daring attitude that goes beyond post-punk.

2. Arca – “KiCk i”

Alejandra Ghersi is an artist who gives the impression of having very clear ideas about her role as an author of artistic products. It is no mere chance or coincidence that the most accessible episode in her discography to date, this KiCk i, begins with the words: “I do what I wanna do when I wanna do it”. Arca’s album released this year in fact marks the achievement of a perfect balance, coherent and narratively dense, between the instances that the Venezuelan artist has shown, at varying intensities, up to now. There is experimentation, there is pop, there is traditional Latin music, and above all there are ideas: a record that has to do with identity pride, the importance of art as a communicative tool within society, the redemption of the non-aligned.

1. Yves Tumor – “Heaven to a Tortured Mind”

Heaven to a Tortured Mind is the result of Sean Bowie‘s latest transfiguration, which more firmly embraces those murky, corrupt and perverse glam-rock scenarios he brought to the stage in the months he was completing the recording of the album. And much more. Degenerate, lascivious, deliberately over the top, at times in a way that can seem contrived and constructed, Yves Tumor‘s character building is matched by ideas and songs that definitely leave their mark. Yves Tumor has once again led everyone astray. And while people are trying to find a key to interpreting this turn of events, rest assured, he will have already found another one.”

Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea’s Review Roundup

The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea 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 releases in the last 18 months include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, the diatribe ‘Boris Johnson Massacre’ and both The King Of No-Fi album, and a collaborative derangement with the Texas miscreant Occult Character, Heart To Heart. He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics. And he is still (yes, still) trying to get a label release for his fabled Bordello And Clark album.

Each week 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.

Wedding Present ft. Louise Wener  ‘We Should Be Together’
(Scopitones)  Out Now

Now then, I’m a bit of a Wedding Present fan and in fact they’re probably the band I have seen the most live: in fact, I think Dave Gedge is one of the finest lyricists to come from Britain in…well, to emerge from Britain. ‘My Favourite Dress’, ‘Cat Girl Tights’, ‘Dalliance’ are just three examples of that great pop lyricism, and there is also a track called ‘Gedge’ on my not yet released Bordello and Clark album (I’m sure there is a record label somewhere out there in the great divide for it) in tribute to Mr Gedge. So it will be no surprise that yes I do like the new single and in fact I think it actually sounds more like his other band Cinerama than the Wedding Present. Maybe that has something to do with the added extra of Lousie Wener featuring on vocals. Is there anything in fact more poptastic than a male female duet? I have been hooked on them since the days of my childhood years and hearing Terry Wogan play ‘Hey Paul Hey Paula’ by Paul and Paula: now there is an idea for David and Louise, an album of cover versions of great duets from the past. But I digress. This single is a fine jangly summery pop song of radio tingling seduction and in an ideal world would be blasting out as one tucks into their cornflakes in the morning; the kind of song that will make your Special K very special indeed.

Falcon Jane ‘Heaven (Romshii Remix)’

This is a rather fluffy cloud of a single; a cloud that carries a pop like charm that if exploded could outshine the sun with its certain naive charm: a charm that all the best future pop stars songs somehow possess. It’s like seeing Paul Daniels naked: not terrifying but somehow strangely rewarding. It’s a song that will tinker away in your brain when you are trying to think only serious thoughts. Yes, this is a nice and polite way to start a New Year.

bigflower ‘Medicine’
2nd January 2021

A new year and a new track by bigflower, maybe the artist I wrote most about last year, and with good cause, for two reasons: one being that he/they release so much stuff, and two, and most importantly, it is always of the highest quality. Let’s be honest, Ivor Perry the man hiding behind the moniker of bigflower is no slouch on the guitar, Easterhouse being one of the great Manchester bands of the 80’s. Morrissey thought he was the man to replace Johnny Marr in the Smiths, and do you know what? For once Morrissey was right. But for whatever reasons it never came to be and Morrissey went on to make a career of releasing some good albums and much twaddle as well. Ivor on the other hand went on to make some great music – anyone out there remember The Cradle and Parchman?

He must have also made some enemies in the biz, as that can be the only reason bigflower are not being raved about by the music press, and Ivor not being spoken of as being one of the most gifted guitarists of the last 40 years. And this latest track, the beautiful and beguiling ‘Medicine’, is a thing of drop-dead gorgeousness, featuring the vocals of his daughter adding a touch of fragility to this undeniable gem of a track. And once again can be downloaded for free.

Black Twigs  ‘Devils Please Be Gone’ (Soliti)  15th January 2021

This is a lovely warm sounding single: catchy great guitar riff, well-sung, good lyrics and a fine melody. What more can I say apart from give it a listen. Unless of course you do not like any of those points, and in that case, fuck off you dumb cunt.

Cromwell  ‘My Darkest Hour’
(Jezus Factory) 18th January 2021

Sultry is the word. Yes, sultry. My dear friends this is a fine single; it reminds me of something that fine underrated band from the early 90s The World of Twist might have delivered; it has the same layered quality of not just being sultry -have I mentioned that this track is sultry?!-, but is also dark and mysterious. It has some marvellous whooshing synth or swishing even – yes, swishing like a young D’Artagnan with a want-away look in his eye – and also has a rather delightful use of handclaps. I like this track so much so that I’m going to give it another listen. A wonderful debut from Cromwell.

The Stan Laurels  ‘There is No Light Without The Dark’
(Big Stir Records) 23rd January 2021

The melodies flow and float like a bullet from a popgun. Remember them popguns? The toys I mean, not the c86 band. Well this is exactly the same but instead of firing a cork on a string it shoots beams of songs filled with melody and grace and harmony. Yes, The Stan Laurels are loaded up to the back teeth with the blighters; they are in fact the Magnificent 7 of well-written slices of guitar pop, power pop, or jangle pop or whatever you want to call it. I will call it blissful, for that is what it is.

The Stan Laurels might not be the most revolutionary of bands and they wear their influences on their sleeves, like a lot of the music the excellent Big Stir Records release the songs /albums might not change the world but they have that pop magic to make you feel differently about it for the spell inducing minutes the music plays and for those minutes the world is a magical place full of love, peace and pure harmony, and I really do not think one can ask for more.

Vapour Trails ‘Underneath Tomorrow’
(Futureman Records)  15th January 2021

Those who are all there with their cough drops might remember I reviewed The Vapour Trails second album Golden Sunshine last year describing it as an album full of melody and catchy guitar lines and a love and understanding of what makes great 60s inspired music so inspiring, and this 7-track mini album is no different; containing all the qualities Golden Sunshine possessed in spades and in fact maybe even more 60s inspired. The Byrds, The Leaves and Buffalo Springfield all spring to mind, casting shadows of the halcyon days of love beads and miniskirts, and on my favourite track ‘Can You See What I Mean’ might give clues of what the Hollies might have sounded like if Graham Nash had not left and Stephan Stills and David Crosby had joined the Hollies instead: it is a psychedelically tinged gem of a track.

Underneath Tomorrow is a complete triumph of skilled crafted pop songs with chiming guitars and beautifully performed harmonies, there are many 60s influenced guitar bands out there [too many in my opinion] but the Vapour Trails are one of the rare breed who are very well worth investigating and no doubt could have held their own on a bill with The Byrds and Love. An album of pure enjoyment.

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.

A Reviews Roundup/Words: Dominic Valvona

Greetings to regular and new readers alike, the first such revue roundup from me in 2021 features another eclectic spread of curious and choice releases.  Albums wise I take a look at the latest Benelux-with-global-reaching-curiosity release from the polygenesis label Sdban Ultra: an Ethiopian, Anatolian, Oriental and Arabian sweeping cosmic odyssey from the Azmari collective. Adroit experimental guitarist and composer Myles Cochran delivers a slow music vision of bluegrass, Americana, soundtrack music and minimalism on his new album, Unsung. Hamburg sonic explorer stalwart Richard Von Der Schulenburg delves into Library Music, with a hint of Bamboo Music and Kosmische, on his debut suite for the label Bureau B; prolific Oxford-based polymath Sebastian Reynolds lets his consciousness unfold on the brilliant electronic EP Nihilism Is Pointless; maverick art-House and electronic music composer Andrew Spackman, under his Sad Man guise, offers another unique Techno-driven album, Music Of Dreams And Panic; and there’s a dark arts of psychedelic and country, doom rock ’n’ roll whisky drenched ruminations from Anaximander Fragment to behold.

On the singles, skits, videos and odd tracks front I’ve included this month the precursor single to the tragic-bound White Ring and their upcoming second album Show Me Heaven, and a blooming lovely single from the Israeli group Mazeppa, entitled ‘Roses’.

Singles/Videos/Tracks.

White Ring  ‘Light Hours Linger/I Need A Way’ (Rocket Girl Records) 

Arriving two years after their bewitching, if challenging (in the very best way), debut album Gate of Grief, the tragic-stricken and tormented White Ring open up their souls on the equally grieving Show Me Heaven opus. In October 2019 while writing this album, founding member Kendra Malia sadly passed away after an on-off struggle with drugs and schizophrenia. She was slated to be involved but didn’t get the opportunity to contribute before her death. Thematically then, Show Me Heaven focuses on the aftermath of that tragedy, though creative foil and White Ring co-founder Bryan Kurkimilis also explains, “This album is about the consequences of darkness.” Kurkimilis is joined in this acceptance and unravelling of loss by Adina Viarengo, who joined the band back in 2017. In the run up to that second longplayer’s release on the 19th February 2021, the Ring’s label, Rocket Girl Records has made available the first two tracks via Bandcamp. First up is the caustic and dissonant, countered by ethereal vapours and wisped veils, drawing in of the diaphanous outer body light beauty ‘Light Hours Linger’: an allurement towards the rocks, lush dreamscape that disarms the plaint and esoteric moodiness. The second, ‘I Need A Way’, is rockier, more coarse and industrial Gothic, a meeting of NIN and Bowie in sludge doom fuzzy lament. This couplet of tracks bows well for that upcoming full-length album next month. Expect a review sometime in the next few weeks.

Mazeppa  ‘Roses’
Out Now

What a really lovely melange of c86/shoegaze 80s period alternative indie pop beauty from the Haifa, Israel band Mazeppa. Featured back in 2020 with their Kabbalah style Patti Smith wafting and lingering around an intoxicating incense of Middle Eastern and Byzantium psychedlica enriched single ‘The Way In’, the quartet now turn to a heady diaphanous gauze of Altered Images via The Breeders and Athens, Georgia 80s scene. Heavenly brooding romanticism has seldom sounded better and lusher: though they always manage to add some grit into that lovely wash. Mazeppa have released the blooming ‘Roses’ in the run-up to a new album (released on the 10th February 2021), which I will review next month. Until then, soak this gem of a single up.

Albums/EPS..

Azmari  ‘Samā’ī’
(Sdban Ultra)  22nd January 2021

From the polygenesis Benelux label Sdban Ultra another eclectic odyssey of African, Arabian and Oriental cosmic-jazz and Afrobeat, with the inaugural full-scale mirage of an album from the Brussel’s hot-housed Azmari collective. Showing off their internationally-open references and inspirations, the sextet of Arthur Ancion (on drums), Basile Bourtembourg (Keyboards, Saaz and Percussion), Jojo Demeijer (Percussion), Niels D’haegeleer (Bass) Mattéo Badet (Saxophone and Kaval) and Ambroose de Schepper (Saxophone and Flute) have chosen a moniker that translate from the ancient and official Ethiopian language of Amharic as “one who praises”. That name also refers to that region’s version of a West African Griot, or European Bard; a singer-musician of song, story and recount, often accompanied by the one-stringed lute-like “Masenqo” and five or six-stringed, bowl-shaped pentatonic scale lyre, the “Krar”. Within this lineup you’ll find a wealth of instruments and scales being intergrated: from the Saaz to Persian Ney flute and Kaval. Though a penchant to the exotic sounds and wonders of the already mentioned Ethiopia and Eritrea dominate throughout their work.

Offering an expansive, entrancing expansion of their live act and debut EP Ekera (released back in 2019), and with numerous travels under their belts, Samā’ī traverses the group’s immersion in Turkish music (especially from the 1960s) and the camel-laden musical accompaniments of Mali’s Tuareg; following these nomadic bluesmen on the semi-annual trade route between the northern Taoudenni salt mines and Timbuktu.

A promising fantasy of epochs and geography (both real and imagined), the album opens with the shimmery and hazy fluty suffused incipient sun rise ‘Zegiyitwali’: a scene of quivering cymbals and mystical horns that evokes our protagonists waking up in the red desert, dusting off the sand from their blankets. It then hits the Kuti trail on the next flight of fantasy, ‘Cosmic Masadani’: an Afrobeat by way of Hailu Mergia Ethio-Jazz and the dub of Transglobal Underground. The first official reference to a real location, ‘Kamilari’, takes Sun-Ra and Orlando Julius on a playful dance through the Minoan ruins of the Cretan Island – though this Byzantine derived name also means “the one who rides a camel”, and there is a kind of clopping coconuts percussive trot to this soul-funk desert, dreamy hypnotism.

It’s take off from the Ethiopian space agency on the lunar crater endorsed Tardis thrashing cosmic Afro-Jazz ‘Kugler’, and a shrouded, clandestine soundtracked vision of Isaac Hayes in the atavistic historical thoroughfare of Anatolian Chalcedon, on the shuttled, breakbeat and sax circling, squawking ‘Kadikoy’. From the mesmeric and dusky to outbursts of psychedelic jazz and Afrobeat, Samā’ī passes through an esoteric Orient, the mystical desert lands and caravan routes of Mali and Arabia, and the Asian banks of Istanbul. Those with a yearning and hunger for the quality of the Budos Band, Antibalas, Okay Temiz and Mulatu Astatke will soak this borderless odyssey up.

Myles Cochran ‘Unsung’
(9 Ball Records)  29th January 2021

Making good on a run of empirical and refined precursor soundtracks in 2020, the placable Kentuckian guitarist, composer, songwriter and producer Myles Cochran follows up with a broadened canvas of Americana traces and bluegrass reification on his Unsung album. On the outskirts of a recognisable Western panorama Cochran applies misty attentive lingering guitar caresses, vibrations and brushes until his country roots are all but washed out, leaving only a vague gesture and sense of place and time. 

Sure, it’s bluegrass…but not quite as we know it. For all the evocations of a Mid-Western homestead and porch, or, a rustic trek across the Appalachians there’s drifts into the semi-classical, the blues, avant-garde, primitive and, even, jazz.

A well-travelled man, some of this effortless embrace of styles is in part down to an absorption of music picked up by Myles as he moved from Kentucky to New York, then, onto the UK – this album was in fact recorded between his new home studio in the UK and one in France. It also helps that he’s quite the prolific collaborator: working for example in recent years with the experimental Celtic and new-folk siren of note, and Monolith Cocktail favourite, Bróna McVittie. Myles brings in the cello maestro Richard Curran and Nashville fiddler Lauren Conklin to add both congruous and stirring layers to his acoustic, electric and steel guitar romanticisms, lingers, mood suites and captured moments of both emerging and fading light, dates and emotions.

Augmented synthesized atmospheres, undulations, strings, a plonking piano and the most minimal of both frame drums and a full brushed, scuffled and shuffling drum kit extend the palette; resulting in a kind of fusion of Ry Coder and Steve Reich. At times there’s a splash, hint of Talk Talk, Droneroom and even Mark Knopfler. And sometimes the pace, rhythm picks up enough to suggest a strange, removed form of boogie-woogie blues grooving.

Myles is a multi-instrumentalist, but it’s his adroit, carefully (even if he’s greatly influenced by improvisation) place bowed, hovering, fanned quivered guitar renderings that describes and sets the mood throughout this alternative rural soundscape.  Most of all Unsung shows Myles’ talent for a lower-case form of amorphous blending; counterbalancing more cutting edge studio techniques with rustic charm and those bluegrass origins. This is an album of slow music that transports the listener to quiet places: a rewarding immersion of gentleness that unfurls its secrets and depth over time.    

Sebastian Reynolds  ‘Nihilism Is Pointless’
(Faith & Industry)  29th January 2021

If you can recall, back in the year zero of the pandemic epoch the Monolith Cocktail premièred yet another cerebral sonic vision from the prolific Oxford-based polymath Sebastian Reynolds: ‘HAL’s Lament’. The second such mood-piece from Reynolds first extended work of 2021, the ironically entitled Nihilism Is Pointless EP, this prowling counterpoint of increasingly obscured 2001: A Space Odyssey referencing and wallowed, vaporous cybernetics is a warning against the unchecked developments in A.I.: a sonic reification of existential angst; the eventual intellectual superiority of machine thinking over humans. HAL is the ultimate totem and example of that fear: A.I. acting increasingly ruthlessly through a logical conclusion of self-preservation and mission success at any cost. So many theories have been woven, but the red-eyed sentinel machine of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s imagination/vision could be said to have overstepped the boundaries: maybe deciding the next evolutionary step in humankind’s transcendence and survival was an artificially intelligent programme/machine; that useless artefact of a body no longer needed, just code. 

Joining an equally mind-expanding exercise of thematic electronically crafted tracks, the lamentable HAL fits alongside a myriad of concerning topics on this new EP. Reynolds consciousness unfolds over a quintet of developed, mindful preoccupations you could say. Finding room to breathe and think in an over-indulged online driven society of distractions and fake news being a main one of those concerns: The Pandora’s box is a hub, and it has been opened. Reynolds navigates, finding a way out through spiritualism and meditation. You can find this coping strategy, an investigation of it, on the EP’s counterbalance of semi-classical and dissonance, ‘Diving Board’: As Reynolds says, “deep breath before taking the plunge.”

As to be expected from a sophisticated palette imbued as much by classical music as it is trance, ambient music and trip-hop, you’ll find a composed set of suites on this expansive EP. The underlying sound of which, on the rest of this EP’s trio of tracks, is a convergence of August Pablo and Amorphous Androgynous dub electronica meets Daniel Lanois, Boards Of Canada and Burial. If you ever wanted to hear what the solar winded chill of ‘The Silent Majority’, marooned out in the starry uncertain expanses of a dismissive woke puritanical hostile banishing committee, sounds like, or, how the plaintive loss of someone held dear might be channelled into a sombre yet beautifully composed elegy (‘Mother’s Day’), then Reynolds latest conscious investigating EP will be a good place to start.  

Richard Von Der Schulenburg  ‘Moods And Dances 2021’
(Bureau B)  29th January 2021

The latest incarnation in a long line of sonic developments for the multifaceted musical explorer Richard Von Der Schulenburg sees the Hamburg scene stalwart venture into Library Music’s golden age: Roughly a point somewhere in the 70s judging by this album’s penchant for Kosmische and early synth productions. More or less a category wide open to include anything from cult composers to brief directed musicians producing incidental, theme music and sonic monikers for commercial enterprises, Library Music also means anything deemed outsider, and is now full of knowing homages, pastiches created by artists in the modern vogue.

Schulenburg since the mid-90s has dallied with the Top Banana Trio and the punkier Soup de Nüll, and also performed organ soirées of Floyd, AC/DC and ABBA songs at one of his many late 90s monthly club nights. He’s also featured in the line-up of Deris Sterne, founded labels and experimented with jazz under the 440Hz Trio ensemble appellation, and in recent years appeared under the abbreviated RVDS initials tag. The latest project is a debut recording of cosmic and worldly analogue and digital traverses and serene imaginings for the Hamburg-based label Bureau B.

During various carefully constructed journeys and geographical evocations, our meditative composer (re)envisions the tropical primitive exotica of Les Baxter, the lush dreamscapes of Ariel Kalma, the synthesized Kosmische sound of Klaus Schulze and Cluster, and more cult kooky space music of Pierre Detour: at least that’s what it sounds like to me. All of which are filtered through the kit that’s often referenced in the album’s titles; the most obvious being the opening ‘Mrs Yamahas Summer Tune’, an oceanic bob through some botanical bamboo music set, accompanied by the tonal washes, synthesized drums and the sort of itchy, brushing tight-delayed percussion found on any number of Yamaha keyboards. A more specific reference is made later on to that company’s ‘DX7’ model, the first successful digital keyboard, and biggest selling. Schulenburg uses that keyboard to waltz in space and curiosity on the plaint romantic Kosmische style ‘DX7’s Broken Hearts’.

It’s the spotting tones of a Farfisa, on the Ethio-Jazz riddle, sand dune contoured and solar-wind blowing ‘Flowers For The Farfisa Sphinx’; a Roland synth’s worth of pre-set effects and oscillations, on the serenade through paradise nocturnal wobbling and warbled ‘Rolands Night Walk’; and the German manufacturer Wersimatic and their CX1 rhythm machine, on the blue Hawaiian dreamy ‘Wersimatic Space Bar’.

Showing perhaps a different collector’s hobby, there’s also a couple of references to analogue cameras: the final model in the Yashica company’s unsuccessful camera series, the ‘Pentamatic’ (‘Caravan Of The Pentamatics’), and the Pentax (‘Dance Of The Space Pentax’); the former, musically speaking, a fantasy traverse of Arabia aboard Cluster’s mother ship, and the latter, dances on a spring board of electronic piano notes towards an Eno imagined South American landscape. Playing in a very sophisticated and extremely knowing way with his sources, inspirations, Schulenburg isn’t so much mischievous as adroit in producing a magical, filmic hologram of escapism. With hints of Library Music, but also a heavy Kosmische presence (Cluster, sky Records, Mythos), touches and shimmery saunters of Ethio-Jazz, and more contemporary peers such as Alex Puddu, Air and Jimi Tenor, this album fits perfectly in the cosmology of Germany’s foremost electronic music label Bureau B. And so rather than a passing fancy, homage or even pastiche, RVDS goes deeper to produce a brilliant sonic mirage of ideas.

Anaximander Fragment  ‘Wagon Drawn Horse’ (Shimmy Disc)

I last heard of Adam G as part of the extraordinary brutalist and discordant Water Fragment sonic project, which pitched Boston noise artist Art Waterman with the New England music scene stalwart on a torrent miasma of concentrated conflict. That album collaboration was, and still is, a challenging caustic barrage of Swans, Coil and Scot Walker imbued mood music.

Under a new, if familiar, moon Adam’s latest cursed-soul expulsion sees the noise and skronk survivor adopting the solo Anaximander Fragment guise for his latest oeuvre. Originally conceived to a Santa Monica backdrop in 2013, Wagon Drawn Horse was meant to be the middle chapter in a trilogy; filed under just one of three different pseudonyms. Unfinished at the time, but now revived, resurrected, this album now crosses over two creative timelines: refreshed, rewritten as it is for an evolving cycle of despair, anguish and political tumult. And of course, the most worrying development of all, the crisis of the last year, Covid-19, can’t help but rear its ugly head. Again, like many records being released in 2020 and the beginning of 2021, there isn’t any recognisable, obvious reference to the pandemic, the lockdowns, but the often-disturbing post-punk, gothic, industrial, noise and psychedelic atmospheres on this record certainly seem to connect and evoke it. I say psychedelic in that list of genres, but what I really mean is Panda Bear detuned and transformed by Einstürzende Neubauten, or, the Red Crayola jamming with The Telescopes; even Rocky Erikson lost in an industrial grinder.

There’s also a conjuncture of those more doom and caustic merging with a vision of alternative vibrato-guitar led country: imagine in this case, Jason Pierce and Charlie Megira sharing a packet of Mogadon. Yes, a country album, even a sleazed rock ‘n’ roll one. A removed one at that, but it’s all there. Though sometimes it feels like Suicide gyrating with The Jesus And Mary Chain, and a Scorpio Rising leathered-up protagonist jukebox jiving in the company of The Fall.

In the despondent, beaten shadow of James Earle Fraser’s End Of The Trail statue, Adam uses both unguarded and a more cryptic lyricism to denounce the effects of colonisation; lament with sinister connotations about a number of muses, “siren(s)”; and riles against apathetic lethargy. That Wagon Drawn Horse title takes on far more damaging meanings when it proves to be the instrument catalyst for the unseemly, even the genocide aspects of the frontier spirit. The final title-track opus curtain-call thrashes and gallops across a devastation of “stolen land” to make a point with grizzled, haunted passages of poetic distress and doom.

A confliction of both assurance and frightening auguries permeate this album. Through a fog of metallic grinding and steel fibre springs, Adam prays and offers a homecoming on the Silver Apples through a chiselling dissonance ‘Metamorphosis’, and pours a gasoline-strong torrid of trauma on the Iggy fronts Velvets ‘Colonised’.   

Almost hypnotised towards the void, yet always pulling away, the Anaximander Fragment demon knows when to throw in a chains-and-leather rock ‘n’ roll hip gyration, and when to ease the industrial tumult. A strong, broody album, Wagon Drawn Horse plays hard with the pioneer myth whilst also brooding and despairing of age-old themes. This somehow makes it an album that chime with current times, drawing from the uncertainty and divisive fragmentation of a pandemic world in freefall.

Sad Man ‘Music Of Dreams And Panic’
(Wormhole World) 29th January 2021

Prolific Techno and potting shed electronic boffin Andrew Spackman has continued to knock out a string of pent-up collections of ennui experiments and sonic collisions during the pandemic. And though nothing on this first burst of energy from the maverick in 2021 makes it obvious, no artist can really avoid the omnipresence, fears, anxiety and uncertainty of Covid-19’s influence and grip. Music Of Dreams And Panic however seems just as much inspired sonically by flights of the imagination and by following improvised pathways: even by just seeing what happens when you take a particular filter, tonal effect to breaking point, or, float, ride on happenstance waves and algorithms. The titles in that regard offer something of a description, inspiration and starting point.

Metal-on-metal, tubular fuel rods and space permeate this album of sophisticated star gate hinge waning and searing mystery. Those often signature colliding beats and breaks are mostly kept in check for something approaching a float, drift in the great expanse. ‘Mugstar’ for example balances moments of Warp Records output and Gescom with 90s Harthouse label Trance on a stellar hyper-driven spectacle in the cosmos: The controlled chaos is still there, with various serial progressions of a sort, throated alien sinister warnings, yet somehow gives way to moments of crystalized serenity. Elsewhere, Spackman (now more or less only running with his Sad Man alter ego) sort of joins together Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Dune on the refraction shinning, whistled high ‘Vin Werski’, and maybe referencing a Heaven 17 meta-inspiration on the static popped percussive, cathedral in the sky, Tangerine Dream turn ‘Seventeen’. Strangest of all, reference wise, is ‘Fra Fra’, which is the colonial name given to a particular number of tribes, concentrated in northern Ghana (also the subject, their funeral songs, of a 2020 Glitterbeat Records album). There’s an odd tweeting of exotic space birds and alien wildlife, but no obvious musical connection.

Still pumping out a transmogrified vision of Techno, Acid, Trip-Hop and Breakbeat, Spackman also crams in some (removed) House Music and Kosmische (a lot of that about lately) too. It seems the despondent guise of Sad Man is producing an ever-expanding range of sonic experimentation. This album in particular seems far less fidgety, though the music is always curiously developing. From garden shed assemblages and synthesized, computerised escapist mind of an art-dance music outsider arrives another unique Techno-driven statement.

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.

Video Premiere/Dominic Valvona

HESS ‘Substituer Un Traumatisme Imaginaire Á Un Véritable Chagrin’ (Commando Vanessa) 

Taken from Commando Vanessa’s inaugural showcase of 2021, the French project HESS’ ‘Substituer Un Traumatisme Imaginaire Á Un Véritable Chagrin’ appears on the avant-garde and experimental blossoming Italian label’s brand new compilation, Mansplained! One of a select few blogs premièring video-tracks from this highly ‘diverse, colourful, exaggerated, intimate, political and sexy compilation’, the Monolith Cocktail has been asked to share the inner space endoscopy accompanying video to HESS’ strange, bass-y, stomach-bubbled Library Music and Kosmische stirrings soundtrack; the title of which translates as ‘Substituting Imaginary Trauma For Real Sorrow’.

Formed at the end of 2019 with a raison d’être to ‘embrace differences’, Commando Vanessa has already made a worthy impact critically. The Monolith Cocktail premièred the Turin based label’s amorphous beatific Lutheran morose of Nico with diaphanous choral arias of the atavistic Catholic Church imbued John Poubelle ‘Pléistocène Supérieur’ suite back in the 2020: just before covid-19 reared its ugly head. We also featured the collaborative communion of Valentina Magaletti & Marlene Ribeiro’s Due Matte album in our recent choice albums of 2020 features.

To celebrate the label’s first year the upcoming Mansplained! compilation features a most diverse cast of artists and monikers from an ever-expanding roster: from the quarantine nightmare soundtracks of Pillbug Junctionfeat. Kelso Ashby to SIKSA’s Polish LGBTQIA+ community struggle anthem; from Lili Putana’s exaggeration of female stereotypes to the waves of Flawed God, the ambient project of Iphigenia Lee of Foie Gras. The fourteen-track compilation is released on the 29th January 2021, available both on tape and digitally. You can order it now through the label’s Bandcamp page.

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.

Album Review/Dominic Valvona

University Challenged ‘Oh Temple!’
(Hive Mind Records) 29th January 2021

A cosmic couriers union of transcendent, experimental and Kosmische scions the University Challenged play-on-words entitled trio of Ajay Saggar, Oli Heffernan and Kohhei Matsuda make their 2021 debut on the adroit and carefully curated Hive Mind imprint. Synonymous for its eclectic output of global releases, with albums by the late doyen of Moroccan gnawa music, Maalem Mahmoud Gania (and his son, Houssam Gania) plus volumes dedicated to Indonesian Jaipongan and the Atlas Mountains electric music of Moulay Ahmed El Hassani, Hive now expand their already amorphous perimeters to include this expansive cosmic egg of an opus.

Bringing together the holy guitar trances and dreamwave of Bhajan Bhoy and Deutsche Ashram instigator Saggar, the prolific maverick behind Ivan The Tolorable, Heffernan, and the Japanese nosieniks Bo Ningen band member Matsuda for a convergence of ambient, entrancing, dubby, psychedelic, shoegaze and Krautrock inspired drifting suites. Nailing the performances of their 2019 shows in Holland, the Oh Temple! album saves on wax the cerebral space music triumvirate’s untethered wanderings: both inwards and out. 

It begins with the post-rock phaser waves and skying transcendental furnished reference to the 4th century Greek-Christian martyr “Serenus”; a pious unfortunate known widely for his horticultural skills, fitted up for an affair he never had. That poor saint was immortalised for his stoic commitment to the Christian faith in the face of death: he was duly decapitated for his troubles. Whatever the use is here, the trio set out sonically on a vaporous ascent that reimagines the purposeful neo-classical renderings of Qluster and the Kosmische tarot mysticisms of Walter Wegmüller, whilst channelling Spiritualized’s venerations.

Closer geographically to Heffernan’s base of operations, ‘On The Banks Of The River Swale’ washes in the atavistic waters of a tributary that’s played host to a history of settlements dating back as far as Mesolithic times. Probably on Archdruid Cope’s monolithic tour, certain stone assemblages and formations lie near to the Swale. Here, we experience the running and whispery waters and psychogeography of place, as sounded by Eno, The Velvet Underground and Ash Ra Temple.

A strange sizzled and fluty resonating crispy buzz is joined by a vision of Peter Green fronting Pink Floyd on the languid cricketing termed ‘Reverse Swing’. I’m not sure what the trio were attempting musically, but to these ears it evokes a semblance of a lunar Ry Coder floating over a tropical island in space.

Another real location, mapped out this time by a dubby bubbled ghostly fog of Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones, Alan Vega, The Orb and The Cosmic Jokers, the Jamaican beach resort (constantly rated, I found out, as one of the world’s ten most desired beach fronts) of “Negril” (‘Choppers Over Negril’) is immortalised with a both hallucinogenic and gauzy soundtrack.  Famous for featuring in Ian Fleming’s The Man With The Golden Gun bond caper as a location for a meeting with the arch-villain assassin-for-hire Scaramanga, Negril (the “little black one” when translated from the Spanish) was named by the Spanish transgressors, who it’s believed were referring to the abundance of black eels that were found in its waters. The chopper of that full title is represented by a rotor like enveloping guitar, which in cyclonic mode fans a vapourous Rastafari atmosphere of toaster call outs and adulations.

Black Lives Matter seems to have prompted a number of tracks on this mesmeric and reverberating album epic. Reference wise anyway, with certain undertones in some titles to black culture, history: Negril perfectly happy enough no doubt without the intrusion of 15th century Spanish colonists. The Cluster arpeggiator and lunar Theremin spoke-y radient synth zapped ‘Shibboleth’ even features an interview with Malcolm X; one that focuses in and out, masked by a crackled wavy wash of effects. If I’m not mistaken (by the content) this was a pivotal moment, caught not long before his assassination in 1965. Though the eloquent orator he always was, Malcolm’s life was made a hell of a lot more dangerous as he left the anti-Semitic and arguably racist divisive Nation Of Islam, who (allegedly) carried out his murder (most of the gun men involved were members of the NoI, though some were acquitted later and the waters remain muddied as to who organised it). Moving away from the Nation’s rhetoric towards a more inclusive message, his staunch faith and protestations no less diminished, this captured dialogue is really about the failure of America in dealing with the question and freedom of its black citizens. The space drifters send this message into a celestial Kosmische, leaving interpretation and a lost moment in time out there in the universe. I could be reading too much into it all, but this track is followed by the enchanted Thomas Dinger and Cluster (again), with tonal evocations of the Spacemen 3 and The Telescopes, encrypted ‘Black Smoke’, which seems to carry over some of the mood from ‘Shibboleth’.

An efflux of dream realities, marked places of interest, histrionics and astral planning, the exclaimed Oh Temple! elevates as much as it distorts and warps the Kosmische fashioning’s of this congruous union. Consciousness floats free in a universe of expansive liquidity, on a mirage of space and ether probing trance music. Top quality and depth all the way; already a highlight of 2021 for me: expect to see this opus reach the choice end-of-year features.  (Dominic Valvona)

See also from the Monolith Cocktail Archives:

From the same label:

Houssam Gania ‘Mosawi Swiri’

Moulay Ahmed El Hassani ‘Atlas Electric’

Rodrigo Tavares ‘Congo’

From Kosmische/Krautrock sphere:

Cluster  ‘1971 – 1981’

Ash Ra Tempel ‘Ash Ra Tempel’

Can ‘Lost Tapes’

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.

EP Review/Words: Dominic Valvona

Verses Bang ‘The New Normal?
15th January 2021

The sartorially pop-cultured bespoke Hip-Hop and Trap artist Verses Bang should be basking in the L.A. sun and spectacle of his new life-changing home, yet the stresses and anxieties of the global pandemic have taken away some of that sheen and enthusiasm. Moving from a Southend-On-Sea “town full of hate” to a “land full of the pretentious”, the Essex-twanged rapper has done good: and deservedly so, as he informs us on the bubble-cocooned title-track of his upcoming EP, The New Normal?

Immigrating stateside and recently betrothed Bangs escapes a cycle of indifference and envy for life in a whole different bubble. Working the UK circuit with little success and luck, a shot in the city of angels beckoned: Covid-19 has put a kaboosh on matters though. Bangs inaugural address of 2021 is a pent-up frustration, enquiry and also playful conversation let loose over a crossover of Hip-Hop, Trap, Grime, even soulful R&B beats, samples and itching computerised percussion – very nicely produced I might add.

Though a decade in a career of travails, Bangs sounds fresher, leaner and hungrier than ever on this seven-track showcase. That addictive personality with all its anxieties is still strongly referenced throughout: made even worse by the uncertainty and stress of avoiding the new coronavirus plague. The New Normal? is a statement not only of intent, but both a lyrically lightened and serious attempt to convey the eccentricities and daily grind of life under a pandemic.  

Dispensing references at a fair old rate from both home and the L.A. diorama of hierarchal row-competing, courtside Hollywood stars and major wrestling icons (Brian Pillman Jnr. making a cameo on the EP’s cheerleading ‘Still Pillman Skit’), Bangs contrasts the doldrums of a wet-weekend in Essex to rubbing shoulders (at a distance of course) with Jack Nicholson and Ice Cube. Never taking himself too seriously, fame is mere smoke, and social media a vacuous hole: “I don’t really Tweet, I just follow my dreams.” Nicholson’s role in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is used as an outro sample on the questioning ‘Courtside Jack’ prowler: a track that lays out the rapper’s move to California; a gutsy move from stagnation and constant negativity it turns out. A life of uncertainty to: “Am I too old for Hip-Hop?”, “Am I too old for Snapchat? Too old for TikTok?”

At times he also conveys the frightening omnipresence of Covid-19 (on the EP’s most Hip-Hop of Hip-Hop tracks, ‘Covid 44’“Call me Tina Quarantina”), and at other times aims a salvo at the hypocrites whilst counting his own luck (‘Jackpot’). However, it’s almost a case of marauder sleaze on the dirty team-up ‘Injured Pirates’, which features Kettering rapscallion foil Tommy Dockerz (of Dirty Dockerz infamy). The pair originally had a dust-up on the ‘Slick Flair’ track, which gets a mention on this Goonies-heavy referenced flick. Tommy lets rip with chicken licking, titty-bar infection-ridden glee and indignation.

Great lines and bars permeate this fresh and pepped take on the perils of making it in a pandemic-striven society; with Bangs expanding his playfulness, yet ready to drop in some heavy serious stresses. As Bangs advises, “stay hydrated”, and keep that sanitizer near as it doesn’t look like things will be returning back to normal (if they ever truly will) anytime soon. Our Essex lad turn L.A. hopeful has just laid down one of his finest statements of intent, and despite everything, things look pretty positive for this long-overdue breakthrough. (Dominic Valvona)

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.

Album Review/Dominic Valvona

Conny Frischauf ‘Die Drift’
(Bureau B) 15th January 2021

Quirks and quarks permeate the sophisticated electronic-pop cosmology of Conny Frischauf’s debut album Die Drift. You hardly need a GCSE in German to translate that title, nor do you need more than a minute to hear that “drift” and journeying motion – just listen to the opening Kraftwerkian clockwork Roedelius ‘Rauf’ as it glides “up, up, up” over a trans-European scenic imagining.

The Viennese artist sets out on an “endless drift” then, travelling across a Kosmische style universe, and through the air, sloping, sliding into cool aloof detached no wave discothèques. If John Cage decided to lighten up some and started rubbing shoulders with Goldfrapp, Air and Emika to create experimental techno-pop then Frischauf’s electro art forms might be the result. For all the bobbing synthesized percussion, tom rolls and slinking allure there’s plenty of leftfield exploration to be found: imagine a mellower yacht-rock Version of Kas Product, or, a late 70s Kriedler working with Gina X Performance.

At her most poppy and light Frischauf sounds like a cross between Populäre Mechanik and Al Lover (on the really cool drum-snap and handclaps pulsating, grooving ‘Fenster Zur Straße’), and later on like Grace Jones (on the curious vocally questioning, glistened synthesizer rich ‘Auf Wiedersehn’). At other times Frischauf throws a few curveballs, like the Euro new wave jazzy ‘Eingaben Und Ausnahmen’, which uses an assemblage of knuckled rubbery, tubular and uttered sounds to build a percussion and rhythm whilst a waft of raspy horns blow over the jazzy set-piece atmosphere. The day-of-rest ‘Sonnetag’ sounds like a missive sonic divergence from Bowie and Eno’s Heroes sessions; a kosmische glide on wood-block chipping percussive sonic waves. But the most starry kosmische traverse of all is the album’s ten-minute plus suite ‘Freundschaft’ (that’s “friendship”), which pictures Thomas Dinger and Tangerine Dream drifting (again) peaceably and whistling into the evanescent cosmos: A most beautiful universal destination to end any journey on. 

Spoken, whispered, reverberated and cool-y postured Frischauf delivers her ruminations, quivers, plaints and sometimes removed lyrics in German. Still, you can gauge the mood and sentiment of these both serious and playful tracks well enough. Conny Frischauf’s debut journey in sophisticated electronica and art house pop is a thoughtful album of slowly loosening, throbbing depths and sonic nodes. The Drift isn’t so much a meander, or a waft, as a considered attempt at bridging the electronic avant-garde with pop. The burgeoning Austrian talent could be said to have succeeded, with an album I already consider a highlight of the year.  (Dominic Valvona)

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.

%d bloggers like this: