Tickling Our Fancy 097: Altin Gün, Simon McCorry, Lion’s Drums, Meril Wubslin, Chuck Johnson…

February 2, 2021

A magnificent seven of reviews. Dominic Valvona provides the words.

Altin Gün ‘Yol’
(Glitterbeat Records)  26th February 2021

Currently very much the vogue – although the Finders Keepers team and many crate diggers were already on this wave decades ago -, both the old and present Turkish/Anatolian music scenes are enjoying a moment of exposure. Glitterbeat Records, the fine provider of Altin Gün’s third album in only three years, have already had success with the burgeoning psychedelic-Turkish siren Gaye Su Akyol and released a collection from the legendary Istanbul doyens of acid-saz and dub, Baba Zulu. And though the Gün (a Dutch band with Turkish genealogy) are based in Amsterdam, and making music like most people over the Internet due to coronavirus lockdown, they’ve chosen to once more celebrate and transform the music of their roots, having a lot of fun in the process by the sounds of it.

Their last album, Gece, which we featured in 2019, paid a respectful homage to a bubbly zappy vision of Turkish and Anatolian music from the 70s and 80s: a Eurovision, knowing transmogrification if you like that transported the listener to a halcyon Sublime Porte and the joys of carte-digging for vinyl in a fantastical imaginary bazar. Yol is a continuation in part of this “golden days” reinvention and vaguely gestured throwback style of appropriating discoed-up traditional, cult and kitsch originals. In practice this amounts to exotic lulled siren emerging from the vaporous wisps of the dry-ice machine at the Istanbul discothèque (on the opening introduction ‘Bahçada Yeşil Çinar’), and the combination of Drive meets Stranger Things visions of Arabia cassette culture drifting in yearned romanticisms (‘Ordunun Dereleri’). That’s just the first two tracks mind. There’s also a reimagined burst of Stevie Wonder clavinet boogie, on the Turkish starry synth-pop ‘Kara Toprak’, and a lush canopy of wild life on the Persian menagerie disco bobbing ‘Kesik Çayir’.

Almost beholden to the 1980s, or a version of it that has already been remodeled in both the 90s and 2000s, the band put synonymous instruments and sounds from that period to good use throughout with the Omnichord sharing space with synthesized congas, handclaps and lasers. Yol is nothing short of a halcyon revitalization of cult, psychedelic and soulful Turkish music made famous or associated with such icons as Ali Ekber Çiçek, Alpay and Bedia Akaitürk. Yet another (the third in a row) successful songbook of reinterpretations from the band, Yol works well as a magical synth-pop mirage of dance music from the region.

Lion’s Drums ‘Kagabas’
(Lion’s Drums) 12th February 2021

Song as necessity in a culture without the written word, the Kagabas people of the remote isolated reaches of Colombia’s Sierra Nevada use singing to record their history; to offer auguries; and to give thanks, tribune, to nature and the “great mother” Aluna who sustains their existence.

Relatively cut-off from the outside world (for good reasons) and so attracting a mysterious aura and curiosity, these descendants of far more atavistic and highly advanced forbearers, the Tairona, originally escaped the lowlands from the encroachment of invaders for the higher, more guarded grounds of Santa Maria. With veneration for their environment, the Kagabas see themselves as “guardians of Earth”; a belief that extends to warning the rest of the planet about its heinous disregard and treatment of Earth. As “elder brother” to the “young brother” of modern society, they proffer a more harmonious relationship to nature in the face of the legalized and illegal logging and deforestation that threatens their home.

So grave and important is the Kagabas sagacious message they invited the BBC to broadcast this environmental wisdom. The From The Heart Of The World documentary struck a chord at the time, and charities such as Nativa, set up by Franz Florez, have at least amplified that message whilst delivering practical solutions: such as replanting trees and buying back land in the region to medicate the destruction. It was through a podcast on Radio France International (RFI) highlighting the effects of climate change on the Kagabas that this project’s instigator, the producer and DJ Lion’s Drums (alias of one Harold Boué), first heard of the remote people and their plight. Sparking an interest, curiosity, Boué made contact with the Nativa charity, proposing what would eventually be this album of subtle and composed electronic augmented treatments of Kagabas song, voices, narration and spontaneity.

The Marseilles-based artist was welcomed into the community; spending a week exploring the mountainous jungle terrain with one of the village’s spiritual guides, known as the Mama (which means “sun”), and his fifteen-year-old son. With digital recording device at hand, Boué was ready to capture unguarded and animated breakouts of song, storytelling; most of which is sung directly to the nourishing forces of the wilds and land.

Markers, happenstance and the interactions of this experience have been passed through a congruous production of filters, synthesized instruments and atmospherics; largely kept minimal, entrancing and vaporous so as not to ruin that source vocal material. Later on, those previous downplayed, accentuated and often-wispy electronics become more prominent; the album’s homage to just one of the Kagabas’ animal neighbours (and food supply) the ‘Deer’, lets a dance groove of late 80s Carl Craig kinetics and acid-techno squelches, burbles and beats bounce around a pattered intonation of tribal voices.  Elsewhere it’s only the suggestion and trace of those electronics that you hear. For example, a certain hallowed dreaminess builds around the album’s opening airy ‘Alouatta (Hembra)’, as chest-like patted bass thumps trills of wildlife and rattled percussion breathe attentively around a melodious calling. It’s a New Age kind of minimalist techno that undulates the materialized voices and tributary source of ‘Water’, whilst ‘Music From Memories’ counterpoints subtle cosmic organ phrases and rays with reverberated and faded recordings of various talking, narration.

An exotic divination, the Kagabas album seamlessly connects modernity with a universal paean and the ache from traditions of an age-old community. Neither an exercise in library ethnography nor an electronic album, Boué and his hosts create an often-otherworldly sonic and rhythmic navigation through a dense, lush environment at the world’s edge. The message however is a precarious one in which climatic change and the creeping invasion of industrialism infringes upon the survival of these indigenous communities. Hopefully projects like this can highlight the cause and stop the rot, whilst lighting the way for more inventive and progressive creative ventures, soundtracks. All proceeds from the album will go to the Nativa charity.

Meril Wubslin ‘Alors Quoi’
(Bongo Joe Records) 4th February 2021

Exploring a stripped-back, almost acoustic sound for their third album together (the first for Bongo Joe), the decade-old Meril Wubslin trio invoke a Swiss Velvet Underground, Goat and These New Puritans as they take their mummers procession of characters, enchantments and mysticisms out on the Alpine trail.

Low key and intimate this pseudonym of creative partners (Christian Garcia-Gauches, Valérie Niederoest and Jérémie Conne) waft, march and drive what sounds like a flock of goats or sheep through an acid wash of Medieval folk and courtly music. Always hypnotic throughout the pastoral, rustic Alors Quoi album, the Swiss trio seems to have walked straight off the parchment as they build up minor melodramas and romantic yearns, and conjure visions of both Lutheran and esoteric atmospherics.

They do this with a host of female choral voices, spindled, arcane sounding instruments, the barest of lashed, chopping wood action percussion and faded drums, cowbells and what sounds like a harmonium (even mellotron perhaps?).

A mix of both French dialect deepened, hushed baritone and higher, sometimes Chanson style wandering diaphanous voices hover or pierce the woven soundtrack of fairy tales, ancient dioramas and more Whicker Man supernatural folk.

You can’t mistake, nor misplace its contemporary feel however. And despite my reference points, Alors Quoi is thoroughly a modern conception: out of its time yet knowingly so. It’s also a marked change in direction, an exploration for the trio, which you can consider highly successful.

KYSE ‘Ayuno’
(Artetetra) 8th January 2021

Ludicrous in its ennui and condensity fashioned transmogrified sampling methodology, the latest insane limited run release from those mavericks at the Artetetra platform is a manic experimental pop EP from the newly-formed KYSE duo of Javier Areal Vélez and Ignacio “YOTO” Sandoval. The Buenos Aries foils digest and then regurgitate previous recordings for the most cartoonish, manic and tripping of songs on the project’s debut.

Both stalwarts of the Argentine city’s experimental scene – between them serving in El Helicóptero, COSO, Caleto and El Espíritu Santo – the collaborative partnership channel a decade’s worth of hijinks and playfulness into a galloping dizzy fuckery of far-removed pop: imagine Dunkelziffer or Officer! mangled up by Coldcut. The formula is to destroy the source material, either by various speed-shifting effects, cutting or chopping; the pair then added layers of prepared guitar and keyboards, whilst someone shouted, screamed and, on the acid Gilbert & Sullivan cartoon ‘QQQ’, sang a weird sort of South American operatic aria.  The lyrics evidently, theme wise, “narrate” heartbreaking stories about diverse food anxieties if you’ll believe that.

There’s toy piano meets La Monte Young on the punky-pop, tub drummed skipping ‘Acio’, and a strange vision of football chanting, national anthem, DEVO and K-Pop on the Bonde de Rolê gets sliced by the Swans ‘J8’.

Adding yet another meta-layer of reapplied sampling, and reworking two of the EPs already remixed, reshaped songs, Reptilian Expo and Vic Bang actually (almost) gain some traction and create a sort of rhythm and groove.  Both lend a bity, tetchy techno overhaul to the ‘HO’ and ‘J8’ songs, with the Reptilian getting to amp up and mess around with the vocals to increasingly silly effect.

Ridiculous but great, the warped sampling minds of this Argentine duo produce some strange, maniacal accelerating experiments. Well worth a look.

Missed at the time (on our Christmas sabbatical weren’t we), Artetetra squeezed out a sort of label sampler in the dying embers of 2020. Way too many tracks and information to delve into here, but I’ve included a link below to the entitled Exotic Ésotérique Vol​​.​​3 compilation so you can have a dip yourselves down this rabbit hole of experimental music, trick noise makers and kooky oddities.  

Chuck Johnson ‘The Cinder Grove’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat Records)  12th February 2021

A reification of the connotations and memories of lost spaces, either through the creeping effects of gentrification or the recent raging fires that devastated huge swathes of the Californian landscape, Chuck Johnson evokes from the embers an often sublime work of steel pedal guitar exploration. The follow-up to his highly acclaimed Balsams album, The Cinder Grove offers a subtle but stirring soundtrack to a number of recondite sites, and even fauna – a mirage-y and gently applied cry from the wilderness ‘The Laurel’ is both a metaphor for resilience and the California coast’s indigenous peoples use of this durable, life-giving under-bush that grows throughout the state’s woodlands.  That spirit of resilience is a common theme throughout this suffusion of attentively placed reverberations; suggesting overcoming the erosion of affordable living and creative spaces with a diaphanous, evocative iteration and serialism of mood music. Beautiful, cathartic in places, and expansive some tracks even sound somehow spiritual and communal.

Giving context and background to each piece in the PR notes, the opening efflux, washing away motioned ‘Raz-De-Marée’ uses the same model organ (played by Chuck) that Terry Riley used on his ‘Shri Camel’ and ‘Persian Surgery Dervishes’ suites; here it sounds like Church music, almost venerable. In the same steel pedal back yard as Myles Cochran, Chuck’s almost evanescent lingers of guitar are counterpointed by more accentuate sonorous, almost piercing, notes that stay for the duration on a highly atmospheric piece; the equivalent of skimming memory pebbles across a tranquil water pool.

Chuck expands the sound palette to include the deep, bass-y but poised piano playing of Sarah Davachi on the starry, connective metaphor ‘Constellation’, and a trio of stirring string players on the already mentioned ‘The Laurel’ and the moving ‘Red Branch Bell’. Violinists Marielle V. Jakobson and Hilary Lewis (who also plays viola) and cellist Crystal Pasucci bring a semblance of the neo-classical and some contemplation to the mix with their slowly held bowed and elegant accompaniment.    Amorphously rich with gestures of a removed, more abstract bluegrass and country music, as well as the ambient, minimalist and avant-garde and beyond, Chuck has once more created a sublime form of emotional contouring with his penchant for experimentation. The Cinder Grove album is meditative and deeply affecting, a most descriptive suite of expressive instrumentals that both soundtrack a lost world, environment of cinders yet also soundtracks our indomitable spirit in bearing it.

Simon McCorry ‘Nature Is Nature’
(See Blue Audio) 29th February 2021

The ever-prolific classically trained cellist, composer and producer Simon McCorry moves between various soundtracks, self-contained evocations and soundscapes with relative ease. With a particular flurry of activity following the release of his ambiguous sonic album Border Land in 2019, the Monolith Cocktail alone premièred two separate, distinct singles last year: ‘The Nothing That Is’ and ‘Pieces Of Mind’; the latter, as different as you can get to Simon’s strange Border Land minimalist reshaped environments and spaces, a captured acid-techno imbibed moment in the aftermath of an early 90s warehouse party. 

It’s perhaps unsurprising for a musician who’s worked in every arena, from theatre to contemporary dance (even the circus!), that his back catalogue seems so varied and challenging in equal measures. Every gesture and experiment further enhances and develops an expanding scope, Simon’s latest release being no different in that progression. Once more on another platform (this time the facilitators being the Barcelona-based ambient label See Blue Audio) and finding sublimity, forewarning and mystery, Simon goes deep into the ambient and minimalist techno fields of sonic enquiry on the Nature Is Nature EP.  

Like the chilled winds and throb of an unseen danger, pulsating through the ruins of Chernobyl, it begins with the almost paranormal, glowing ‘Background Thermal Radiation’; a sort of ambient stripped vision of Basic Channel’s output in the early to mid 90s crossed with bowed, waning, hinged, obscured filtered strings. There’s a hint of The Boards Of Canada on the title-track itself; an ambient-stroked, lulled traverse of awe-inspired gravity that features both serial percussive rhythmics and Simon’s applied cello contours.

The usurped Titan god of fire is muse on the filmic, grandly gestured otherworldly ‘Prometheus’. With waves if a more enervated Polygon Windows, Simon floats and skirts the azure in a cosmic chariot. ‘Entanglements’ heads out into the expanses of space, hovering amongst shooting stars, oscillating and passing satellites and incipient astral waves, before picking up momentum with a chuffing, quickening piano note rhythm that eventually breaks into a sort of Tresor, Sunfeel techno beat.   

Balancing the neo-classical with the synthesized, nature with technology, Simon once more conjures up imaginative atmospheres, moods and a semblance of something not quite real but familiar: a reification of present interests, scenes and landscapes transformed into the most stirring examples of ambient and minimalist techno music. Whatever Simon’s motivation and vision, as a listening experience and thing of quality this latest EP is a success; another great soundtrack like suite from an artist always on the move.

Luke Brennan ‘The Rush To The Sky’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company)

Out on the perimeters, and a limb, the Submarine Broadcasting Company label can always be relied upon to unearth music you’d never previously known existed or even needed in your life. The label, with a penchant for limited cassette tape runs, is a constant surprise; dolling out an ever-changing roster of outsider experimental music to an unsuspecting audience. One of their most recent releases is the highly evocative couplet of ambient suites from the multi-instrumentalist and composer Luke Brennan. His migratory, changing of the seasons timepiece The Rush To The Sky is a most surprisingly transformative take on the ambient-drone genre that counterpoints a certain rustic pastoral mood with both reverent and more esoteric leanings.

Constructed between Brennan’s seaside hometown of Bray in Ireland and his relocated base of Hackney in East London, this slowly unfolding two-track album uses a palette of field recordings, violin, guitar, organ and a midi-synth to produce a suitable but also dreamy and ambiguous (at times) score. Inspired, mostly, by earlier recordings Brennan took of the larks that flew over his flat, our ambient version of nature’s son feeds the birds warble, flighty spirit into a continuously evolving meadow soundscape. ‘The Leap’ begins with Tony Conrad like strains and wanes of violin before moving into deeper bass-y toned passages and wiry, rusty guitar. There’s an especially beautiful, almost heavenly, section of ambient magic in the final third of the album’s first track that you can both take comfort from but that also marks the passing of time, and changes in the seasonal light play.

‘Sky Episode’ is equally full of those changes, opening with a sort of wind corridor effect of both natural and man-made sounds, (from bird song to a dissipating vortex train and the compressed hiss of doors opening on a bus) faded guitar and Foley sounds. A more neo-classical than holy organ lingers in this field of uncertainty, as the track looks skyward, pronouncing the presence of shadowy leviathans and the movement of clouds and the sun’s casting rays across the panorama. However, proceedings take a much more dissonant abrasive direction towards the avant-garde, before once more changing the mood and conjuring up a dreamy mirage trip towards the acid psychedelic (even Krautrock) later on.

This migratory lark trekking series of peregrinations is unassuming but a mini ambient opus of skill and synthesis. I’m left feeling impressed, my interest piqued, and I’ll be sounding out more of Brennan’s back catalogue on the strength of this mysterious and scene-scaling evocation. I suggest you do likewise.

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.

2 Responses to “Tickling Our Fancy 097: Altin Gün, Simon McCorry, Lion’s Drums, Meril Wubslin, Chuck Johnson…”

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