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 Irish 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 sampling 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.

Playlist/Writings: Dominic Valvona

It’s taken a number of months to filter through to the fans and general public, but the Fantastic Four nemesis inspired indomitable Hip-Hop pioneer MF DOOM, nee Daniel Dumile, passed away at the age of 49 on October 31st 2020. Though hardly a disguise, the metal-faced maverick of underground Hip-Hop kept up a cool, mysterious persona throughout a thirty-year career.

Perhaps one of the most influential game-changers in the genre and beyond, DOOM will be sorely missed as an independent producer, rapper and mentor. Difficult to pin down, and keep up with, DOOM’s various masked turns (MF DOOM, DOOM, Viktor Vaughn, Zev Love X) churned out a prolific catalogue of quality inventive and playful meta-reference releases; starting out as Zev Love X in the Long Island (“but we call it strong”) ‘Kausing Much Damage’ trio on the cusps of the 1990s. Abbreviated to KMD, they released one of the best debuts of the entire era, the now classic, Mr. Hood. Tragedy struck with the loss of his brother and fellow KMD founder, Subroc – who died in a freeway-crossing incident in 1993. Further more the trio’s label Elektra shelved an admittedly controversial, baiting follow-up album: Black Bastards. All of which led to five years in the wilderness for DOOM, before reinvention and the donning of the mask that would stay with him for the rest of his music career. Re-energised and determined to plough his own furrow, DOOM began a solo and collaborative pathway, working with a who’s who of underground talent, including Madlib and Danger Mouse. From the Monsta Island Czars all-stars team-up to his work with a new breed of rap stars, such as Bishop Nehru, DOOM leaves behind one of the greatest legacies in Hip-Hop: though his influence, creativeness, wordplay, pop culture, visuals and artwork reaches far beyond rap music.

Having followed DOOM since the very beginning, I’m personally saddened to see him gone. But in the spirit of celebrating that vast cannon of work I’ve selected a curated pathway through the DOOM cosmology. I’ve also included an essay-style deconstruction I wrote many years ago on KMD’s debut album, Mr. Hood – which you can find below the playlist link.

KMD ‘Mr. Hood’: A Deconstruction

From the shores of Long Island, hauling out of New York’s surrounding areas: K.M.D – an abbreviation that is either referred to as ‘Kausing much damage’ or ‘A positive kause in a much damaged society’, take your pick – were part of the second Native Tongues wave; alongside the likes of Brand Nubian and The Black Sheep.

Originally formed whilst still in collage, the Dumile brothers, better known as Zev Love X and Subroc, along with their sparing partner Rodan – also known as Jade 1 – started rapping together during the late 80s.

Rodan soon slipped off the radar, preferring to finish his education, rather then pursue the dream. His replacement was the gemstone moniker Onyx.

The trio soon caught a break with a guest slot on the 3rd Bass LP ‘The Cactus’ in 1989. Dante Ross, the A & R man and member of The Stimulated Dummies Hip Hop production squad, was impressed enough with their innovative skills and delivery to sign them up to the Elektra label the following year, after the Bass’s M.C Search recommended them.

Zev Love X was of course the early birth of that metal-faced maverick and crusader MF Doom, an alter-ego he later adopted, born out of the tragic loss in 1993, of his brother, Subroc – he was killed in a tragic freeway crossing incident – and at the embittered rage he felt after being sucked into the music industry and then un-ceremoniously spat out.

On ‘Mr.Hood’ you can already hear his undercurrent of cynicism and contempt, articulated in a flam-filled throaty delivery; like an apprentice you can hear him finding his feet.

The debut album caused minor ripples, with its adopted use of racist sound bites, miss-directed use of English learning instructional records from a bygone era, appropriation of much loved kids TV puppets and antagonizing Malcolm X speeches.

K.M.D cleverly assembled a collage of inflammatory and discriminate language, which ran alongside satirist and humorous skits – much in the style of De La Soul and The Leaders of the New School – to create a highly ambitious commentary on their own backyard.

There is a central theme running throughout, with the Mr.Hood character of the title popping up in many memorable sketches and miss-quoted exchanges. His contributions are lifted from an old English language course from the 50s, which throws up all kinds of unpleasant, and quite frankly racist, dialogue – well it comes out that way when manipulated as it is.

Our protagonist’s colloquial tones open up the album, as he goes on a wrecky to the local downtown Long Island jewellery shop (misspelt intentionally on the album I assume) where he bumps into Zev Love X, as he attempts to wrangle with the proprietor over an over-priced watch.

He appears on near enough every other track; with his oddly misconstrued and out of kilter with the modern times queries and insults, which draw sharp breaths of disbelief from the trio, or deride ridicule from the local cast of characters, as he meets them on the street corner or at the barbershop. Also making a surprisingly eye-opening appearance is Sesame Street favourites, Bert and Ernie, who amusingly turn up on the tracks, ‘Who Me? (with an answer from Dr.Bert)’, to look for “little sambo”, and on ‘Humrush”, where they nasality hum along with the group.

Musically the beats are of an R’n’B and soulful nature, with samples crafted from the Isley Brothers – their ‘I Turned You On’ track is sampled on ‘Who Me?’ – Shirly Ellis – her ‘The Nitty Gritty’ is used on ‘Nitty Gritty’ – O C Smith – ‘You Can See Forever’ and ‘The Sounds Of Goodbye’ used on ‘Peachfuzz’ – and The Hassles – ‘4’o’Clock In The Mom’hour Of The Wolf’ is used on ‘Subroc’s Mission.

There’s even a re-appropriated use and borrowing of both De La Souls ‘Potholes In My Lawn’, on the tune ‘Hard Wit No Hoe’, and A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Push It Along’ on ‘Nitty Gritty’.

All these beats are sophisticatedly layered and used quite subtly as a backdrop – you will notice that they are always lower in the mix, and seldom overawe the vocals – and is made-up of 808 drums, Jim Reed-esque organs, tightly packed thumping drum beats, taut wielding guitars, Stax rich bass lines and harmonica.

Any scratching is kept to a bare minimum, with the turntables skills arriving via the acute cutting, mixing and editing of samples and speech; mostly executed by Subroc.

The lyrics are dished out amongst the trio, with each member usually taking it in turns to step to the mic or guest in a solo spot, though Zev does tend to get a larger share then his partners.

A heavily laid-down mix of pro-Muslim rhetoric and protest goes up against the often-whimsical episodes and comical storytelling. Inspired by the teachings of Clarence Smith (known as Clarence 13X), and his splinter group the Five-Percent Nation – an offshoot from the Nation Of Islam – many of the lyrics encapsulate the beliefs and metaphors of this Harlem born sect.

On the opening track ‘Mr.Hood at Piocalles Jewelry Shop/Crackpot’, Zev articulately jams in the syllables, unravelling a kindergarten tale of following the wrong path in life:

“I first met Crackpot in like Head Starts,

And then I knew he wasn’t too head smart cuz as I scribbled in art,

He insisted on standing in the sandbox to collect unknown amounts

of pebbles and stones to throw rocks!’

By the end of the song, Zev bemoans to Mr.Hood about the negative allusions made about his race, and at the depressingly predictable decisions certain black males take: reminding them of their heritage and lack of ambition he almost exasperates:

“We built this place man,

We’re the Gods of the Universe,

Kings and Queens of the planet!”

On the highlight track ‘Who Me?’ Zev rides on the derogatory comments and ethnographical implanted stereotypes of the black race:

“Pigment, is this a defect in birth?

Or more an example of the richness on Earth?

Lips and eyes dominant traits of our race,

Does not take up 95% of one’s face.”

Sibling Subroc, has a more skipping and bouncy terminology to compensate against Zev’s; his own jam ‘Subroc’s Mission’ follows along a loose narrative of street slang and obscure references, whilst the birthstone kid, Onyx, unleashes his torrent of humorous one-liners and staccato stuttering tongue-twisters, over the soul shaking R’n’B horn blasting ‘Boogie Man’:

“Now check it, don’t miss this,

Lick them while I diss this sarcastic bastard,

Of which I’ve been mastered”.

They’re joined by fellow Afrocentric compatriots, Brand Nubians, on the super-rap wordplay riffing chorus-line of ‘Nitty Gritty’. The Nub’s own grandly entitled Grand Puba Maxwell, gives the K.M.D boys a run for their money on the lyrical wordplay:

“God cipher divine as I build on the incline,

Quick to help another, cause I know I’m a get mine.

Build-powers think they’re hard, but they’re killin’ their own kind,

Emphatically no, divine evil got him in his mind”.

Each of the two crews members line-up to show off their dexterity, which revolves around quotes, passages and the teachings of both the Nation of Islam and the offshoot 5-Percenters, name-checking the grand design of their creator, the Pyramids and oppression.

The rest of the album often throws up some unsettling mentions of “white devils” and other uneasy rhetoric, with a heavy use of Malcolm X’s speeches – his famous “he’s a wolf, and you’re a sheep” quote appears on the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ track – from his Nation of Islam days; though it must be pointed out that he eventually publicly left the group, breaking away to form his own splinter group which had a far mellower attitude to the white folk – as long as they were Muslim, of course. But this often cited prose is always counter-acted with the satirical use of cartoon characters and humorous anecdotes.

Mr.Hood’ holds up extremely well, proving to be one the more accomplished albums from the period. Those conceptual themes, so essential to many of the Native Tongues collective, shows exceptional moments of creativity and talent.

Unfortunately their follow-up, no messing, album ‘Black Bastards’, didn’t sit well with the label, held-back and consigned to the vaults for nearly a decade. Both its content and provocative imagery – the cover sports a rubber-lipped characterture of a poor unfortunate black fellow with a noose around its neck, waiting in anticipation for someone to fill the blanks in a fatal game of Hangman. An ultimatum of sorts was made, ditch the cover or else! Of course this never happened and the album was never put out until a later reissue package under another label finally made it to the public – I was lucky to get a rather rough bootleg tape version of 5-tracks, but waited until the noughties to finally get my hands on a proper copy.

‘Black Bastards’ omitted much of the more comical interaction and playfulness, replacing the colourful samples catalogue with a more layered backing, and adding a more heavily laden set of lyrics to counter the whimsical postulations of the debut.

The birthstone kid had of course already jumped ship, leaving the brothers alone to deliver the much-anticipated second LP. Subroc took on all the production duties and assemblage of samples and beats; creating so much material that his brother used some of these sessions on his later MF Doom recordings – including most notably ‘Hoe Cakes’ from the seminal cuisine obsessed ‘Mmm Food’ album.

Tragically as I’ve already mentioned, Subroc was killed whilst crossing a freeway in 1993, putting the albums release into further turmoil, though the controversy over the artwork had already put a kibosh on it ever making the stores.

With the album shelved, resigned to cover dust in the vaults, Zev Love X began his wilderness years. It would be 5 more years until he was re-born as the vengeful MF Doom.

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.

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