PLAYLIST/Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

All our choice tunes from the last month – and just a couple we missed from March thrown in. As eclectic as ever we have a mix of the brand new and recent reissues, plus a couple of well chosen tributes to fallen Hip-Hop stars, all chosen by me (Dominic Valvona), Matt Oliver (on the rap control) and Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea.


Khalab & M’berra Ensemble  ‘The Western Guys’
Racquel Jones  ‘Sacrilege’
TrueMendous & Masta Ace  ‘Emmett Till’
Eboni Band  ‘Sing A Happy Song (Shake It Down)’
Graham Costello’s Strata  ‘Legion’
DMX  ‘Who We Be’
Beans  ‘Viragor’
Dope Knife  ‘Inereyes’
Verses Bang  ‘You Ain’t A Star’
IKLAN  ‘Star Is Out’
Der Plan  ‘Copy Copy Machine’
Special Interest  ‘Disease’
The Bordellos  ‘Cultural Euthanasia’
Caoilfhionn Rose  ‘Hold Your Own’
The Polyphonic Spree  ‘The Porpoise Song’
Kid Kin ft. Bobo  ‘Control’
Lisa Gerrard & Jules Maxwell  ‘Deshta (Forever)’
Matt Donovan  ‘Lap Creature’
The Flying Chaucers  ‘Down With The Creeps’
3 South & Banana  ‘The Fool The World’
Adult Books  ‘Innocence’
The Armoires  ‘Paris 1919’
Nick Waterhouse  ‘Place Names’
Comorian  ‘Bandits Are Doing Bad Deeds’
Federico Balducci  ‘Together In A Baron’s Ballon, Mov. I’
Minor Moon  ‘Hey, Dark Ones’
Ollie Halsall  ‘Back Against The Wall’
Nathan Francis  ‘Minor Solution’
Amanda Whiting  ‘Just Blue’
Koma Saxo  ‘Euro Koma (Live)’
Violet Nox  ‘Haumea’
Mark E Moon  ‘The Falling’
Orca, Attack!  ‘Ethical Approval’
Bagaski  ‘At Georgetown’
Federico Balducci & fourthousandblackbirds  ‘Queen Of Mars’
LV, Joshua Idehen  ‘Ancestors’
Sone Institute  ‘Dazzling Darkness’
Mello Music Group (Murs, Georgia Anne Muldrow)  ‘Turnt Garveyite’
Datkid & Skinzmann  ‘The Lost Track’
Black Rob  ‘Whoa!’
Murs/Humpty Hump/Shock G  ‘Risky Business’
Bronze Nazareth & Recognize Ali  ‘Street Gospel’
Flying Lotus  ‘The Eyes Of Vengeance’
Vukovar  ‘Psalm’


Album Review/Words: Paolo Bardelli

Continuing with our collaboration with the leading Italian music publication Kalporz , the Monolith Cocktail shares reviews, interviews and other bits from our respective sites each month. Keep an eye out for future ‘synergy’ between our two great houses as we exchange posts.

This month Paolo Bardelli introduces us the music of Sam Cantor, aka Minor Moon.

Minor Moon ‘Tethers’
(Ruination Record Co./Whatever’s Clever, 2021)

Is Chicago still the centre of the world? There was a time when people wondered, and that was the time of Obama, who was based there: it seemed that the ferment united everything, from intellectuals to musicians. Sam Cantor from Chicago and his Minor Moon project, now in its third chapter, seems to be one of those who take the baton and ferry the city, or at least its sound, towards better times, in a quiet way. It is no longer the time to make waves: Minor Moon’s delicately psychedelic folk looks back to American rock but with grandmotherly care, that attention to substance which is typical of those who know what is important. But more than anything else she knows that it matters to have good songs to play with passion and protection.

Comparisons with better known names to show where this cosy Tethers is heading could be to compare it to an Iron & Wine with a few straws, or a Cass McCombs with fewer edges, but it would perhaps be ungenerous towards Sam Cantor who has reached a degree of autonomy that does not deserve to be “what he looks like”. Not least because it doesn’t sound like anyone but an idea that folk rock can still be done with grace and tradition that looks to the past to move forward.

If the songs were all like the opening ‘Ground’, a song that greets you like a friend would when you’re in trouble, or the cosmic folk tracks of ‘Under an Ocean of Holes’, we’d be talking about a near-masterpiece, but of course there’s a bit of everything: the pop of ‘Hey, Dark Ones’, the nocturnal ballad ‘Beyond The Light’, the deep States of ‘Was There Anything Else?’. All this is well amalgamated for the 36 minutes that are the time of an album from the past, the ones that used to be on the side of a C90.

But Minor Moon are just like a moon of the future, slyly looking at us with lunar times, not earthly ones.


(Paolo Bardelli)

ALBUM REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona

Lisa Gerrard & Jules Maxwell ‘Burn’
(Atlantic Curve) 7th May 2021

Those already enraptured by the sublime billowing vistas and ethereal music of the four-decade spanning Dead Can Dance will quite rightly settle for nothing less than the stunning. Those fans will be hoping for the best in light of this new project conceived by that partnership’s leading siren Lisa Gerrard and the most recent member to join the Dead Can Dance fold (playing keyboards and co-composing for the Melbourne-birthed band since the world tour of 2012) Jules Maxwell.

Well, I can tell you it’s a sonic-voiced match made in the heavens; every bit as grandiose, visceral, dreamy and moving as anything Gerrard recorded under the DCD banner. Once more in the amorphous swell and vapour of atavistic and more recent cultural influences, myth and folklore whilst progressing towards something new, Gerrard and Maxwell conjure up a visionary, filmic opera of the neo-classical and electronica.

The quality and scope of elementals are unsurprising, with the contralto/mezzo-soprano voiced Gerrard channeling past collaborations with Bulgarian choirs, the otherworldly and cinematic, and her foil the Irish theatre composer, songwriter bringing his explorative grandeur.

Two become three with the addition of the English record producer, Last Space Recordings label founder, songwriter, remixer and artist in his own right (under the MAPS guise) James Chapman, who brings yet another air of experimental sophistication and some more horizon-gazing to the project.

Before we continue we need some background to how this immersive triumvirate took shape. The story goes right back to Maxwell’s inauguration as a live band member of, the long established, Dead Can Dance band in 2012. Not only playing keyboards but also already starting to write material from the outset with Gerrard, this creative partnership’s blossoming ‘Rising Of The Moon’ suite became the band’s final encore choice. Moving forward a few years, and having now struck up a certain ‘affinity’, Maxwell invited his siren partner to co-write songs for The Mystery Of The Bulgarian Voices project; travelling to Gerrard’s Australian studio to put this beautifully conceived choral requiem together. It was during these sessions that the duo also began writing ideas and conceptions for what would be the cerebral Burn album saga.

Chapman’s involvement stemmed from an introduction through Maxwell’s publisher over dinner in Sofia: proposed as a possible congruous edition to an already artfully transportive collaboration.

Fast forward to the pandemic epoch, and with the trio now scattered between three locations (Gerrard in Australia, Maxwell in France and Chapman in England), Burn finally and thankfully made it. And what an album experience it is; a slow-released epic of deep yet gauzy and ambitious dense atmospheric layering. Gerrard is as ever on a whole different plane to anyone; one minute dredging the longing yearn of shield maidens and at other times singing in diaphanous, weep inducing tongues like an operatic aria version of Elizabeth Frazer. She evokes everything from Fado and the Celtic, to the Ancient proscenium; a worldly amorphous intake of influences that stretches from the Balkans to Anatolia. She even made me bloody cry on the interstellar veneration, and one of the album’s stand-out grand scale longing visions, ‘Orion (The Weary Huntsman)’.

It’s passionate, stirring stuff that fills the soul, set to a musical score that transduces the synthesized film soundtrack futurist rayed visions of Vangelis (and a touch of Moroder), the pulsed emotive moody basslines of In Rainbows era Radiohead (‘All I Need’ springs to mind), slow controlled swelling drums, the celestial and beatific cathedral ascendance. The themes are no less full of both the same gravitas and the more tactile: made even more prescient and personal in the current isolating pandemic. Yet the sagacious title track is itself an invitation to (no less) “walk in peace, unlock the passive passion within, engage in the diversity of life and celebrate.”       

So unbelievably beautiful in parts and always emotionally powerful, Burn is an incredible statement from this creative communion. A triumph even and among the best, most heart aching and immersive experiences you’ll hear this year: nothing short of sublime.

Comorian ‘We Are An Island, But We’re Not Alone’
(Glitterbeat Records) 7th May 2021

A crossroads of migratory civilizations in the Indian Ocean, the volcanic archipelago of islets collectively known as the Comoro Islands lies between Madagascar and the mainland African coastline of Mozambique (located in what is referred to as the Mozambique channel to be precise). Though the exact date of human habitation is vague – dating to somewhere in the 6th century – these distant islands are populated by the ancestors of those oceanic travellers from the Middle East, Africa and even further afield. In the 19th century it was the turn of European colonization, with the French planting a flag on the relatively far-flung islands. And so amongst the local Comoran dialect (a mixture of both Swahili and Arabic) and Arabic languages you’ll also find French being spoken and used still to name the largest of the Comoro Island’s, ‘Grande Comore’. It’s the location that the Grammy Award winning producer and polymath Ian Brennan and his partner (and wife) on such ventures, the Italian-Rwandan filmmaker, author, activist and photographer Marilena Umuhoza Delli, travelled to record the latest installment of blog favorites Glitterbeat RecordsHidden Musics series.  

Brennan is once more well-matched for the task of capturing the raw, unfretted and most direct performances of those African islands, having already travelled to some of the world’s most dangerous, furthest places; recording all but one volume of this now eight volume series for the label. Previous editions have taken Brennan (twice) to Pakistan (Ustad Saami  ‘Pakistan Is For The Peaceful’ and ‘God Is not A Terrorist’ albums), Cambodia (‘They Will Kill You, If You Cry’), Vietnam (‘Hanoi Masters’), Rwanda (‘Why Did We Stop Growing Tall’) and Ghana (Fra Fra ‘Funeral Songs’). Many of these recordings have acted almost like healing sessions, whilst others have amplified the voices of many oppressed, forgotten and ignored ethnic communities.

The whole Hidden Musics raison d’etre is to illuminate ‘localized sounds that are time-honored’ and bound to a specific place, culture. You couldn’t get much more obscure and hidden than this latest excursion. Brennan’s air miles must be jaw dropping, with this journey alone taking six flights to reach the final destination. 

Painting a vivid and desperate picture of Island life (as laidback as it is), Brennan’s own linear notes describe such illuminating observations as the sunblock mud masks worn by local women, the litter strewn lapping tides that throw up a world’s ocean of international crap against the beachside walls of the President’s Palace (previous coup leader Azali Assoumani holds that role in case you were asking), and Comorian’s relationship to the car. As Brennan found out, there’s just as many empty car wrecks, strewn at the side of the Island’s few roads, as there are working ones. It’s the shell of one such abandoned car that the producer used as the most rudimental of on-location studios; shielded from the harsh winds blowing in off the Indian Ocean.

Packing light as usual, and setting up the most nonintrusive of recording apparatus, Brennan presses record and let’s the natural surroundings take their course – there’s a great anecdote about breaking a cardinal rule of recording; packing up too early, but determined to catch what would have perhaps been one of those empirical moments in the sodden rain with just a handheld back-up mic and device, only to find the moisture had killed it.

Attempting even to find the Island’s musicians proved almost as convoluted as the journey; a contact of a contact introduces Brennan to the album’s eventual stars Soubi, his musical mentor partner Mmadi and the guma drummer and background vocalist D. Alimzé. Unfortunately the legendary reputation of the Island’s ‘ndzumara’ players (a sort of double-reed pipe; a primitive oboe if you will) is declared ‘dead’ upon arrival. Soubi and Mmadi however seem to have mastered it – sounding at times like a weird kazoo at times when things get excitable.

Renowned for letting events take their course, with little, even no interference (even post-production, which is often done there and then) Brennan puts his trio subjects at ease. The music, utterances, yearns and roots-like blues exaltations just flow because of that hands-off approach.

Taking it in turns on lead vocals, Mmadi offers up sung and head and lips shaking spirit-channeled emotions (this becomes fiery and madly agitated on the highly energetic ‘America, Crazy’) and earthy soul. He even channels a merger of Ritchie Havens and The Last Poets on the foot-tapped timed, quasi-rap tune ‘Bandits Are Doing Bad Deeds’. Soubi for his part, also playing the rustic string-y spindly and threaded ‘gambussi’ (a localized version of the Yemen short-necked lute, transformed when brought overseas with a replaced flat-shaped pegbox and a different soundbox), gives a lulled at times soft yearn and spiritual voice to these illuminating performances. His gambussi playing meanwhile evokes hints of Appalachian banjo and a fecund of descendent lute-like instruments as far away as China.  But the crosswinds meeting of cultures can be heard with vague traces of Arabia, Malawi, Madagascar and even Polynesia.

Once more ‘free of artifice’, with those matter-of fact titled declarations, traumas and prayers; once more with the most stripped-down and lo fi of productions, Brennan captures music in its most natural environment. The desperations of an Island microcosm, with the allurement of leaving to find a better life on the mainland, and the travails of subsistence are transduced through these incredible performances. And again, it’s unlike anything you would have quite heard before; I’d say that was another illuminating success.

Koma Saxo ‘Live’
(We Jazz) 30th April 2021

Devoid of live music (for nearly most of us anyway) during the last year of the pandemic, the reputable Helsinki based label We Jazz is making up for this loss with an abundance of live albums from its roster; most of which were recorded in 2019. The latest live extravaganza in that loose run of performances is the dynamic, excitable and egged-on dizzy run of folk songs, lullaby transformations, Soviet era symphonies and the avant-garde by the Koma Saxo quintet.

With a heavy Swedish jazz bent, the Saxo boast an impressive lineup. Leading the charge is band instigator and bassist Petter Eldh, joined by a trio of saxophonists (as the band name stresses) that includes Otis Sandsjö and Jonas Kullhammer on tenor and Mikko Innanen on alto and baritone, plus drummer Christian Lilling. Sandsjö, riding high these days off the back of his remix in motion style of trip-hop, hip-hop and electronica Y-OTIS albums (imagine Madlib and J Dilla deconstructing and rebuilding contemporary European jazz in play), of course features the ever adaptable Eldh and Kullhammer in his own band and recordings. So this exchange of ideas and musicianship has already been forged, and already ablaze with energy.

The Saxo made their debut with a clutch of impressive freewheeling jazz singles in 2019, followed up by a phenomenal encouraged (by the audience and band) free-fall live performance at We Jazz’s annul Helsinki-sited festival in the December of that same year. A full-extended self-titled album parade of the troupe’s own compositions plus a number of re-interpretations popped up just before that, as it proves, legendary live furor. There doesn’t seem to be much material from that inaugural longplayer on this improvised tumult; only the Sergi Prokofiev fairytale meets avant-garde tripping jazz woodland fluted ‘Blumer’.

What does make an appearance is the early singe-sharing double A-side ‘Fanfarum Fur Komarum’ anthem, a ‘fanfare’ as it were, and sort of anthem signature. The original’s tooted Valley of the Kings procession of Sun Ra, Ayler period Spiritual Unity, Leon Thomas and more hustled NYC skyline components are all present and correct, but with an added excitement of the live atmosphere and crowd reaction. Dizzying piques and even screaming sax contort and blurt out (almost in reedy breathlessness at one point) over the jostling carnival turn stuttering and strung-out movement.

It all starts however with the almost twinned opening torrent of ‘Euro Koma’ and ‘Puls Koma’. The First of which begins with a tuning session on a cartoon harassed frisk but develops quickly into a scuttle and bumbled tumbling physical of New Orleans Mardi Gras brass, hip-hop breakbeat and ska (even a squawked transmogrified version of ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag’). The latter, strains and stretches out into a no less exciting dash and commotion, with hints of that Andy Haas magic.

For examples of the quintet’s most explorative and stripped-down ventures there’s a sort of breather vignette passage that has Sandsjö and Lilling adapt their respective tenor sax and drums into a metal workshop of descriptive sounds and scuttles over corrugated tin and industrial apparatus.

There are re-interpretations of a kind too, in the shape of the semi-classical serenaded ‘Fiskeskärsmelodin’ (a Meta riff on a riff take on the Swedish polymath and national poet Evert Taube’s own made version of a traditional lullaby), and the quickened jazz Russian Polyphonic Spree meets Sun Ra choral ‘Stepp, Min Step’ (riffing on the 60s Swedish jazz pianist Jan Johansson’s version of a 30s Soviet paean). The band and audience seem to have fun on that last one with a finale group effort of lulling solemn choir antics, in unison to an unmistakable familiar Russian tune.

Koma Saxo shows a certain virtuoso playfulness live; the music deeply felt however, even almost pining, but thoroughly enjoyed and pushed to the limits. It’s an infectious atmosphere that makes you ache (same thing I said about another We Jazz live wonder, Timo Lassy and Teppo Mäkynen’s communion game-changer back in March) for the intimacy and the now(ness) of a live performance. I envy those who were present that day, as even this recorded version threatens to leap out of the speakers and engulf you – it sounds to all intents and purposes like the group were playing in the middle of the audience, surrounded on all sides. Vibrant, flexing and free-spirited, the sax heavy troupe runs away with it: another essential contemporary jazz album from one of Europe’s best labels.   

NOUS Alpha ‘A Walk In The Woods’
(Our Silent Canvas) 7th May 2021

Well they’ve picked as good a spot as any to inspire them, out in the dense woodlands and on the mountains that make up part of the famous Catskills landscape. Part of the larger Appalachians, this film set backdrop and gravitas inspiration for the Hudson River School of painters has always been a draw for creatives of every stripe. It’s home to Woodstock for Christ sake; how could it not be a mecca for musicians and artists.

That spirit, atmosphere now lends itself to the second album by the collaborative sonic partnership NOUS Alpha; bringing together the transatlantic and well-travelled sagacious musicianship of both the American composer, songwriter and founder of the multidisciplinary label hub Our Silent Canvas (the facilitator platform for this project) Christopher Bono and esteemed English producer, engineer, digital pioneer Gareth Jones. You expect great things from the duo’s combined CV, which includes Bono’s multiple experimental projects BARDO, Ghost Against Ghost and NOUS, and Jones’ countless production, engineering contributions to the Mute Records catalogue (including Crime And The City Solution, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Wire) and for introducing such luminaries as the Mode and Einstürzende Neubauten to sampling. In fact, some of those previous named doyens of the industrial and synthesized radiance pop scenes make themselves heard on this sophisticated mantra of the universal, blessed nature and more esoteric investigations: especially both Depeche Mode and Einstürzende Neubauten. Some of the sonic material is produced from the foliage, the stones and rocks picked up on the duo’s gong struck meditative strolls; and some of the sourced sounds for what they call ‘foraged sounds’ (great phrase that) came from a tranquil pond.

With grand spiritual plans of rejuvenation and self-discovery, it seems both Bono and Jones didn’t flinch away from stirring the waters of a darker sub-consciousness too: ‘Black Water’, as the title may suggest, sounds like a cloaked holy chorus of fraters rowing across the Styx; the waters around them slithery and atmosphere occult. But in the main we’re treated to the cathedral electronica of a cosmic, connective requiem; vaporised moody metallic ripples; a constantly in flux momentum of tapped, pattered sampled kinetic beats and calculations; and repeated, if cut-up and manipulated, mantras sent out into the wilds. It reminded me in places of both His Name Is Alive and Daniel Lanois, and on the album’s final woodland peregrination spell, ‘Forest Jam’, an Appalachian country astral version of Ash Ra Tempel: In my book that’s a winner. A light and shaded ‘walk in the woods’ with sparks of ingenuity and emotive transcendence, this continued collaboration sets an otherworldly, spiritual scene; a funnelled journey into the cerebral and back out into the expanse that offers sonic awakenings and meditative revelations aplenty.

IKLAN ‘Album Number 2’
(Soulpunk) 23rd April 2021

A collective, a manifesto that draws in a myriad of intergenerational artists, musicians and fashion designers from across three cities (Edinburgh, London and Birmingham) IKLAN once more dance towards the barricades with another iron fist in a velvet glove groove album of disarming soul-punk and R&B. For despite the complete purview of propaganda (the music being the main focus of a campaign of information networks, art, pamphlets and booklets) and protest diy ascetics, IKLAN’s sound is produced by Mercury Prize winner and stalwart of the UK underground scene for forty years, Tim London, who’s sagacious skills and experience lift it out of what could be a discordant, caustic rabble of rage.

It’s actually quite high value in that respect, mixing elements of post-punk, trip-hop, neo-soul, indie and pop together in a loose cross-pollination of influences that flows in natural cohesion: one minute Family Fodder, the next, Xenia Rubinos.

Taking it in turns to front each track on this latest eclectic album are the singer-nurse Law Holt, the JnP siblings (otherwise known as Jacqui and Pauline Cuff of the Leith Congregational Choir and the Soho Sisters Of Love), the Dalston-based Washington RaysFabio D’Agostino (stepping in as the pay-as-you-go guru on the divine retribution ‘Come To My Church’) and Nigerian, via Scottish capital, singer Cheng Cheng. Holt as usual leads in this department with a voice that evokes a soulful imbued Merrill Garbus, FKA Twigs and Tamar Kamen. She appears on the lion’s share of material, from the Lilly Allen and M.I.A. bouncing to a carnival sauntering filthy lucre chanted ‘Money’, to the Morcheeba in cahoots with Tricky atonal and atmospheric turn churned-up industrial vortex ‘Funny Man’. London himself appears as a sort of Boggles faded (robot-like) voice on the saddened Stereolab Kosmische ‘Karaoke’: a hallucinogenic dreamy plaint to immortality on wax.  JnP’s efforts include the Siouxsie Sioux fronts Crack Cloud strut with punk aria echoes ‘Big Boss’, and disconnected, surface-only ‘holiday romance’ on the Iberian coastline ‘Ola Ola’. Below a vaporous gauzy wash, Cheng Cheng channels Macy Gray as she pines in ‘lockdown isolation’ on the sparser, dub and kinetic beat tingled, wavy ‘Sure You’re Doing Fine’. Almost wistful, faded, lost in the enormity of the pandemic and divisive anxieties of our present times, the IKLAN collective aren’t so much resigned or indolent as controlled in firing broadsides at the ire of their discontent and scorn. Mental health, the Tories, the crushed desires of Capitalism’s losers, and the commercial, validation, enervation of art and music are all explored with a soulful energy of melodious strength; an album of earworms essentially. The intention, propaganda of change has never sounded so harmonious and well produced.

Bagaski ‘Final’
(See Blue Audio) 16th April 2021

More shade than light we’re told in the label’s notes for this latest atmospheric album from the Barcelona-based imprint See Blue Audio – those fine providers and facilitators for some of the most unrushed sublime ambient, electronica and slow-release cinematic works from a rich roster of leading sonic explorers. Yet to these ears it seems the opposite might be true, as the Cretan traveller, now resident Berliner, Bagaski refracts, turns to face, and radiates from the shadows and darkened spaces of a synthesized soundscape towards the light on his newest album, Final

From the opening reverent glasshouse Kosmische psalm to nature’s cathedrals in the sky ‘Spring Prayer’, to the caustic fizzled lapping tides and Roedelius modes of the descriptive explanation ‘Lydian Sequence & Filtered Noise’ (the ‘Lydian’ bit a reference to the atavistic F scale and Anatolian kingdom that gives it the name) there’s either a subtle hint of emitted light sources; sometimes a bathing radiance, at other times, as empirical, distant as a star twinkling in a great universal expanse. 

Bagaski’s often translucent, vaporous world is as diaphanous as it is often mysterious and deep. For amongst the gentle breathes and blowing, the cloud hovering and incipient hazy, faded stirrings there’s passages of distilled scuzz and beats from the early days of Techno and House, and even further back to the birth of Mute Records – I’m sure I can hear the moody echoes of the first Human League incarnation wafting in the lunar strangeness, coo-y warbles and 2-step tetchy beats of ‘Bellcat Melt’.

But in many ways this sounds like a soundtrack imbued by those progenitors of the Kosmische sound (from Tangerine Dream and Conrad Schnitzler to Asmus Tietchens), especially on both the already mentioned springtime opener and the bookended ethereal veneration ‘Heartfelt IV’. Talking of the ethereal, the barely concealed ‘homage’ to 4AD Records’ own pioneers (‘AD4’) channels that label’s Shoegaze gauzy luminaries MBV and the equally beatific ambient, synwave and electronic music innovator His Name Is Alive on what is a short drifting passage.

A lovely affecting album of the tidal, spiritual, cosmic, Bagaski’s sonic odyssey is a most rewarding experience of adroit, ascending and lofted materialisations: another impressive if unassuming release on the selective See Blue Audio label – fast becoming a stamp of excellence.

Orca, Attack! ‘C.M.S.O. (Learning By Listening Vol.1)’
16th April 2021

Not a million light years away from the orbital draw of New Orleans sonic siren Elizabeth Joan Kelly’s afflatus celestial imperilled Farewell, Doomed Planet album (featured back on the Monolith Cocktail in November of 2019), this latest venture, in collaboration with fellow Orleans writer, teacher and musician David Rodriguez, once more travels in the cosmic, astral direction. Under the killer whale actionist moniker the duo embrace the Tomorrow’s World library music visions of Raymond Scott (plus a touch of both the equally maverick Bruno Spoeri and Franco Battiato), Star Trek Foley and nods to Tangerine Dream and Air Liquide on a conceptual suite part tech guru mindfulness, part new age middle management speak and part self-help navigated gobbledegook.

Under the auspices and the inaugural chapter of the ‘Strategic Tape Reserve’ series – in short, ‘an instructive cassette tape series designed to bring information of the world into your home and your brain’ -, the kitsch consultancy entitled ‘Course Management System Optimization’ programme plunges the listener into this creative partnership’s odd knowing electronic world of theatrics and retro-futurism.

A writer of repute on the failures of tech, communication and self-preservation, Rodriguez (who also files his musical experiments under Alison’s Disapproval) lends a constantly filtered and affected spoken word narration across all six tracks as Kelly swans, touches the ethereal with her diaphanous woos, calls, arias (a merger of Laurie Anderson, cosmic opera and Jane Weaver). Often transmogrified by robotic effects and the slowing and speeding up of that instructive monologue, Rodriguez’s message is constantly warped, broken up: sometimes on the verge of some Max Headroom glitch stutter, or the slurred falling apart speech of HAL.

Musically the mood weaves serenely between a Kosmische floatation tank and more ominous pitched piped reverent organ scares. A suffusion of various filters, modulators, oscillations and arpeggiator do their work in coating this experiment with an almost tongue-in-cheek homage to the more altruistic, hopeful early pioneers of Electronica and those who never set out to be corralled into such a pigeon hole vacuum of genre demarcation but found themselves filed under Library music. There’s obviously some serious message hiding within the playful spirit of enterprise and scrambled self-help therapy, but for the most part this is a strange glide and traverse across the astral planes that’s well worth the price of travel.  


In Short:

There now follows condensed mentions and recommendations that I also found appealing:

Federico Balducci ‘And Watch The Earth Below (Cadet Chronicles I)’
2nd April 2021

The prolific adroit guitar sculptor takes an untethered flight above the clouds on his most recent gently resonating, spacey and drifting album. Signature spells of the jazzy, empirical, neo-classical, ambient and experimental merge on a most beautiful scenic and inner meditation. Whether floating in a hot-air balloon, accompanied by sparse Leaf Label like slow beats and dipped and wafted hanging notes, or in a more spherical dreamy broadcast, touching on the cosmic, Balducci uses the subtlest, most gentle of touches: even on the album finale, ‘Bridgers’, which echoes along on a bed of coarser droning electric guitar sustain. An incredible album to lose yourself in.

See also Balducci’s recent collaboration atmospheric soundtrack of paranormal like communications and drifts with Fourthousandblackbirds, Anta Odeli Uta.

David Newlyn ‘Tapes And Ghosts’
(Somewherecold Records) 30th April 2021

Deserves far more room than I’m able to give this month, but the seductively diaphanous lower case ambient suites of the UK’s David Newlyn need raving about (quietly). The Cathedral Transmissions label boss is set to release this mostly peaceable, sensory illusion of neoclassical and Cluster/Roedelius imbued compositions on the ridiculously prolific North American facilitator Somewherecold Records at the end of this month. 

Elegant, adroit, spacious and also ruminating, Tapes And Ghosts draws you in to a softly composed sublimity. I implore you to try it. Better still, buy into it.

Daughters Of The Desert ‘Sorrow Soothe’
(New Cat) 26th March 2021

Through mutual appreciation, coming together in the Resonance FM hothouse, three daughters of the hallowed and illusionary desert join forces on the plaint soundscape and mirage rich Sorrow Soothe album. Regular readers will (hopefully) recognize one of those sand dune traversing sisters, the diaphanous-breathed enchantress Esbe (featured on the blog last year with the congruous desert bathed epic Saqqara). That composer, and producer on this album, siren is joined on this both vexed and fantastical odyssey by the writer, presenter Jude Cowan Montague and audio engineer Mia Kukathasan. All three have a special connection, roots or affinity to the desert landscape they now use as a mysterious, aching and reverberating backdrop.

Magical and echoed with mystical electronica, Sorrow Soothe is a most stunning, vaporous, venerable and dreamy resonated merger of electronica, the filmic and vocal incantations, enchantments and lament. Desert songs have seldom sounded so atavistic yet modern: especially when dealing with the prescient themes of the times, as this album does.  It’s a brilliantly conceived atmospheric project, pulled together in isolation and in the middle of a pandemic. 

See Esbe’s review here from last September (Here).

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog 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 to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

John Duncan & Stefano Pilia ‘Fare Forward’
Taken from the forthcoming Try Again album, released via Maple Death Records on 7th May 2021

An explorative match made in the depths of expansive space, out on the very edge of human understanding, L.A. polymath artist John Duncan and Bologna guitarist-extraordinaire, composer Stefano Pilia set out on a cerebral electroacoustic voyage together.

Both artists draw on their enviable years of experience for the new ‘human-machine interface’ collaborative album, Try Again (released via Maple Death Records on the 7th May). Duncan’s background is at the cutting edge of performance, video and installation art and experimental music (collaborating with such luminaries as Jim O’ Rourke, Z’EV and Masami Akito), whilst Pilia’s equally impressive CV includes playing lead guitar for the Malian legend Rokia Traoré and as a member of Il Sogno Del Marinaio, 3/4HadBeenEliminated and In Zaire (to name just a few).

In essence this is all channeled into a perfect counterbalance of the two’s craft and art forms, with Duncan poetically, lyrically yearning and languidly expressing himself over Pilia’s sculpted immersive soundbed of synthesized layers and processed guitar. As the notes suggest, ‘Duncan’s lyrics offer a counterpointing liberation to the machine processes in action here’; a sort of troubled soul in the machine, offering some escape from technology’s encroachment through shamanic like vocals.

The partnership creates a future that edges towards both the ominous and cosmic hymnal; an atmosphere in which time seems to stand still, whilst the duo drift untethered out into inner and outer space.

Adding their own interpretation, linear notes author and provider of the album’s photographs Matilde Piazzi propounds that the album suite is a ‘metaphor for contemporary efforts to reach the limits of knowledge and discovery, their heroic nature and their inevitable failure.’  

For a project constructed in isolation, locations apart (one in the centre of an industrial complex in Bologna, the other, several KMs outside an urban sprawl in the wilderness), Try Again is a seamless, magnetic and resonant experience. From that album, the Monolith Cocktail is delighted to premiere the deep space peregrination odyssey ‘Fare Forward’. Duncan in almost hallowed, monastic form, at first sings sonorous lulls before strung-out in the depths of an enveloping, drifted space, echoes the mournful mantra: “Direction disappeared, Companions disappeared. Fare forward anyway.” Pilia manifests an orbital seeping patter and slow scattered moody bed of metallic reverberations and gravitas. 

You can order the album via the label’s bandcamp page here…

John Duncan has operated for decades at the cutting edge of performance, video, experimental music, installation, pirate radio and television. He has played a pivotal role in the development of performance art in Los Angeles, of experimental music as a member of LAFMS, of Japanese noise and pirate radio in Tokyo. Duncan’s work in experimental music continues to have a lasting influence as his art overall continues to be honed, refined, sharpened. His audio work has been released by Allquestions, iDEAL, Vinyl-On-Demand, Fragment Factory, Tourette, Sub Rosa, Touch, Die Stadt, Trente Oiseaux and Ash International. He has collaborated on music with a wide range of musicians including Jim O’Rourke, Oren Ambarchi, Joe Talia, Masami Akita, Z’EV, Carl Michael Von Hausswolff, Elliot Sharp, Mika Vainio & Ilpo Väisänen.

Stefano Pilia is a guitar player and electro-acoustic composer based in Bologna. His work has become progressively concerned with researching the sculptural properties of sound as well as its relationship with space, memory and the suspension of time. His sound can aptly be defined ‘ecstatic’, in the purest sense of the term. His output has been released by Sedimental, Die Schachtel, Blue Chopsticks, Time-Lag, Last Visible Dog, Presto!?, Soave, Improved Sequence. Pilia is one of the founding members (alongside Valerio Tricoli and Claudio Rocchetti) of 3/4HadBeenEliminated, he has played in duo with Massimo Pupillo and with ZU, he’s a member of psychedelic quartet In Zaire and has been a focal contributor to the BGP trio, alongside David Grubbs and Andrea Belfi. Since 2009, he has been a member of Il Sogno del Marinaio, a trio made up of legendary Minutemen bassist Mike Watt and the drummer Paolo Mongardi. As well as these projects, he is lead guitarist for celebrated Malian singer Rokia Traorè and for the band Afterhours.

ALBUM REVIEW/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

The Polyphonic Spree ‘Afflatus’
16th April 2021

The sun is currently out and shining as I type this, and it gives you that inner glow that Summer is on the way, and what an ideal way to soundtrack that inner glow but with the brand-new album by The Polyphonic Spree.

It’s an album of covers in fact; an album where they attempt to cover the likes of The Rolling Stones, Abba, Daniel Johnston, even, Barry Manilow and others in their joyous life affirming magic. And in most parts they manage it.

The Stones’ ‘She’s A Rainbow’ adds nothing to the original but takes nothing away either from it, but their version of the Bee Gees ‘Run to Me’ is beautiful and gives one the Goosebumps with its heartfelt smoothed magnificence, and their version of The Monkees ‘Porpoise Song’ although not touching the original masterpiece does still do a good job of supplying us the listener with a piece of fine pop psych. Their version of Manilow’s ‘Could It Be Magic’ is again not quite matching the heights of the schmaltz of the original but still better than Take That’s’ version; having a more laid back approach than the lads from Manchester, giving it a melancholic edge. The highlight for me is their version of Abba’s ‘The Visitors’, which they cover in a wonderful harmony filled prog pop way. And on the whole this collection of ten covers is a lovely way to spend a relaxed sunny afternoon.


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 include the King Of No-Fi album, a collaborative derangement with the Texas miscreant Occult Character, Heart To Heart, and a series of double-A side singles (released so far, ‘Shattered Pop Kiss/Sky Writing’ and ‘Daisy Master Race/Cultural Euthanasia’). He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped-down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog 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 to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

Vukovar ‘The Great Immurement’
(Other Voices Records) 23rd April 2021

In the metaphorical (and actually quite literal) wake of last year’s chthonian mini-opus The Colossalist, Vukovar now bring us the second chapter of their most recent incarnation and equally as consumed with vague auguries of fallen empire and gothic yearned romanticism, The Great Immurement.

In an atmospheric sonic vision of Bosch’s triptychs, this latest (the 9th album proper) work marks the second in a triumvirate of albums under the ‘Eternity Ends Here’ series (The Colossalist being the opening account in this saga). As with the previous industrial, post-punk and spiritual hungered epic, The Great Immurement pays homage to the dearly departed; featuring as it does the final song that the group’s co-conspirator of recent years and inspiring guide Simon Morris recorded with them. As a codex, nee mini-requiem, that last impassioned-esoteric-pop-song-hidden-in-a-mire, ‘Cement & Cerement‘, is a brutalist romantic anthem from the crypt of mental fatigue: pitched somewhere between Joy Division and Alan Vega catching a lift on Death In June’s vapour. Morris committed suicide in 2019 but his spirit continues to affect the band; looming large over both this and the last album. If you ever need to know just how influential but also how personal his death was for Vukovar, who’d managed to corral the much-venerated underground figure (notably for his instigation of The Ceramic Hobs) into their ranks, please take time out to read, one of the founding members of this pyre of a band, Dan Shea’s stark but intimate account of their friendship (an account the Monolith Cocktail published back in 2020; coincidently just a week before lockdown in the UK).

Morris may very well have been part of Vukovar’s constantly imperiled lineup if he hadn’t decided to vanish and leave this mortal realm as he did. His involvement was part of one of many changes in the band’s fortunes. Pressing forward though, constant warden and co-founder Rick Clarke is not only joined by another Hob and oft collaborator, Jane Appleby, but once more embraces his foil Dan Shea, who for various reasons in a fraught dynamic left to pursue other projects, notably, with fellow Vukovar stalwart (though missing from this lineup) Buddy Preston, forming the low-rent, lo fi bedsit synth Beauty Stab duo. In what is a convoluted historiography and rock family tree nightmare, and in what maybe seen as a case of ‘pop eating itself’ Meta, the neu- Vukovar inception actually cover one of Beauty Stab’s anthems, ‘O Eden’. Adding a certain gravitas and making a last supper out of the original, it now kind of makes sense as a Vukovar song that never was. Both versions are great it must be said, though the Stab’s was more Soft Cell, whilst this appropriation is more OMD misty march of yearned reverence; swaddled by a shapeless noise and opportune stabbed high piano notes: still bloody magnificent.

Followers of the blog may recognize the name of this latest waltz-at-the-end-of-time, The Great Immurement being also the title of Clarke’s voyeuristic supernatural peephole entombed book, which we serialized during the pandemic nightmare that was 2020. Though separate from the album’s themes and concepts, an illustration (etched by the celebrated Andrzej Klimowski; a great coup for Clarke and the band that was) from that sordid travail dons the cover – as it also did The Colossalist.

The Great Immurement, as the title suggests, denotesa certain sense, anxiety of confinement from which to break free. And so most of the album’s music seems to smoother, even overpower with an echo chamber of reverberated voices, malingering traces of spirits, competing opinions and fallen angels. There’s even a fallen ‘Icarus’ figure, trapped in multiple veils of sorrow, industrial fizz and vapours; with a searching, decried vocal attempting to escape the ether.

In the feted mode of spiritualism, Vukovar turn to the Psalms; another cry of freedom soundtracked by pleaded despair, communal deliverance and a brilliant stark but intimate voice that channels Ian Curtis, Ian McCulloch and Charlie Megira. An estranged linger of religion permeates the entire album in that kind of post-punk battle between haunted Catholic gilded guilt and alternative pathways of spiritual guidance, bordering on the occult. The sort of practice that Coil, Fritch and Current 93 had a kink for. It won’t come as a surprise to find out that Vukovar recorded a collaborative album with the Current’s Michael Cashmore (2018’s Monument), or that Coil, and the affiliated Tibet and Balance all prove an obvious inspiration. They even re-purpose Current 93’s ‘Rome For Douglas P’; turning the source into a vortex vision of Suicide on a quickened sordid rock ‘n’ roll charge with the renamed ‘When Rome Falls’: A real crushed but energetic industrial soul boy vocal is echoed in a backbeat tunnel, as the funeral pyre flames rise over a new Rome.

In the middle of this vacuum you might well hear the lingers and outright borrowing of a Siouxsie’s Banshees, early Cure, Christian Death, Talk Talk and even a less pompous Sisters Of Mercy. Yet Vukovar don’t do things the easy way; contorting, obscuring and vaporising the melodies, riffs and the niceties, even vocals as much as possible without losing the intrinsic value of their message and new romantic lament. True confessionals, aspirations and pained release caught up in a venerable maelstrom, Vukovar’s middle passage of ambitious anguished caustic industrial soul, experimentation and empire crumbling Cassandra oracles continue to impress; ringing even more inspiration from the macabre and mentally gruelling. We can only await the final piece of this fated triptych with baited breath.

The Vukovar Cannon As Featured On The Monolith Cocktail:

2020: Cement & Cerement  (here)

2020: The Colossalist’  (here)

2019: Cremator (here)

2018: Monument (here)

2018: Infinitum (here)

2017: Puritan (here)

2017: The Clockwork Dance  (here)

2017: Fornication  (here)

2015: Emperor  (here)


Rick Clarke’s The Great Immurement

Opening Chapters (here)

Parts 4-6 (here)

Parts 7-9 (here)

Parts 10-12 (here)

Parts 13-15 (here)

Parts 16-18 (here)

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog 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 to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea’s Special 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 include the King Of No-Fi album, a collaborative derangement with the Texas miscreant Occult Character, Heart To Heart, and a double-A side single, ‘Shattered Pop Kiss/Sky Writing’. He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

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.


Occult Character  ‘The Song Remains The Stain’
11th April 2021

The first new track from Occult Character in four months, which I think is the longest he has gone without releasing anything, and what a gem it is. To break his silence a song that lasts just over one and a half minutes and a song that asks the question what is the best lyric you have ever heard, and in the one and half minutes all the magic and genius of The Occult Character is put on show; the devil be damned nonchalance of tossed away brilliance that has not been witnessed sing Errol Flynn wore a feather in his cap and rocked a pair of green tights: pure swashbuckling excellence.


BMX Bandits ‘Star Wars (30th Anniversary Edition)
30th April/ Vinyl 4th May 2021

Is it really 30 years since this lovely album first entered into the musical planet? This being the 30th year Anniversary edition I assume it must be. I have always liked this album; it takes me back 30 years to 1991 the year I met my long-suffering wife. So this album has all the magic of the first kiss, the first time you held hands got drunk together and much more first times, but this being a family musical publication I will not proceed any further. But this LP has the advantage of the magic of nostalgia on its side. Not that it needs nostalgia to make this a magic album the opening track itself, ‘Come Clean’, more than enough covers that with the guitar jangle and the pure pop poetry lyrics, “What’s so wrong with loving your body when I love you so much inside”:true poetry.

There is a warmness and charm about this album that can only be described by listening to it, but if you need any encouragement to do so it has ‘Disguise’ on it, a song that demonstrates the hidden art of call and response on record, and not just has that it also has handclaps and has a rock n roll twin guitar solo on it that is not by Thin Lizzy and so not shit: how rare is that? It also has ‘Students of Life’, a song that Jonathan Richman should have written but somehow did not, and the pure pop splendor of ‘Do You Love Me’, and if it was a drink of pop it would be fizzy and make you giddy for drinking too much of it. Yes throwaway pop writing at its finest. And that is what so special about this album the true magic of throwaway pop. It is an art form that many try and many fail to do, but the BMX Bandits had it mastered and down to a fine art and if you want further encouragement the title track would have not been out of place on The Beach Boys finest album The Beach Boys Love You.

Salem Trials ‘Refuse To Die’
2nd April 2021

When an album kicks off with a ‘Kool Thing’ like guitar riff you know you are going to have an enjoyable half an hour or so of enjoyable alt rock hip swaying ahead of you. And when that album is by the masters of alt rock guitar weirdness the Salem Trials, you defiantly know what is ahead: angular riffs and angular singing. Russ the singer really is the missing link between Mark E Smith and a head full of stinging bees, the man is truly a one off and is part of what makes the Salem Trials so special, the other part is the incredible musicality of Andy, a man who can combine the influence of his huge record collection into six strings of wonder.

This album of course is there lord knows how manyath album of the last 18 months: a band that makes Guided By Voices look like lazy bastards. And like Guided By Voices they manage to keep it interesting by making every album bloody good, the only difference being that Salem Trials are much better.

Refuse To Die is available to download from the Salem Trials Bandcamp and can be downloaded for free so why not do it and then investigate their many other albums: be warned they have another one on the way released through Metal Postcard Records so get this. You will not be disappointed at all.

Toxic Chicken ‘Gamelan[d] 2’
7th April 2021

Gamelan[d]2 is an ice cream van ride of magical adventure taking in psychedelia, whimsy, electronica and experimental wonder. A fairground amusement arcade of beats and pure nostalgia flood the heart and beats down the door to your inner senses, which reveals nothing but the crazy workings of a tender soul. Toxic Chicken is back, and back with vengeance; a true musical maverick in a musical world full of weight watcher Beatles and second hand Goths betraying the tick it sentimental darkness of a rehashed Coil box set. If the Aphex Twin was as good as people say he might sound like this.

Toxic Chicken never lets me down; he takes me to a world I truly wish existed. And for that I will be forever grateful.

Various ‘Big Stir Singles: The Ninth Wave’
(Big Stir Records) 10th April 2021

This album is a comp of all the A and B sides from the Big Stir Records download single series, released from the end of August to the beginning of October 2020, and as you can imagine the comp is full of all the power poptastic joy that Big Stir are renowned for releasing. From the opening track by Dolph Chaney, ‘Be My Old Fart’, which I’m pleased to say is a fragrant smelling piece of guitar poppery, to the final track by Athanor, ‘Approximately Eternity’, which is a Smithereens like voyage to the planet 60’s influenced psych pop, you are treated by melodies galore. In between you will find finely crafted songs of skill, style and panache from the likes of Rosie Abbot, with the La laid back 70’s seduction of ‘Hold on’, to a rather splendid cover of Gilbert O Sullivan‘s ‘Alone Again Naturally’, which may be one of the most heartbreakingly true to life brilliant songs ever written, and covered with some style by Nick Frater.

This is a comp that is so listenable; one of the few that you are tempted not to skip tracks on. It’s like a bag of audible Jelly Babies all being different colours of sweet tasty chewing goodness that once you have started you have to finish, but unlike a bag of jelly babies you will not feel violently sick after consuming them all. In fact you want to put the album on again, and how many times can you say you have come across a compilation CD that is better than a bag of Jelly Babies? I will tell you…not often.

The Forty Nineteens  ‘The New Roaring Twenties’
(Big Stir) 24th April 2021

If a quiet night in with some gentle music, fine wine and a book were what you after then I would give this LP of fun garage rock a miss. But if you are in the mood to party and dance the marimba with the partner of your choice, then this is could be the album for you.

Songs with clashing guitars and “na na na” choruses really never grow old; songs about radio’s, fast cars and fast women abound. There is even a slightly camp Elvis Presley impression on ‘We-re Going To Vegas’ that Freddie Starr would have been proud of. This is not an album that the Quietus would write about: in fact this album is an anti-Quietus record. An album highbrow serious scholar might dismiss as throwaway frivolous rock ‘n’ roll fun, not quite grasping that rock ‘n’ roll should be frivolous throwaway fun and that in dismissing this album of great rock ‘n’ roll they’ve missed one of the best old time pop songs I have heard this year, ‘Time Marches On’, which is all Motown bass riffs and Partridge Family melodies and chiming guitars.

The New Roaring Twenties is an album of very well written garage rock/pop with a touch of the early Elvis Costello’s about it, and is another album that should be clutched to the bosom of rock ‘n’ rollers of all ages everywhere.

Special Interest ‘Trust No Wave’
(Disciples) 14th May 2021

This is a reissue of Special Interest‘s 2016 demo tape, and very good it is as well. The sound of sifting through the charred remains of the after taste of punk rock, screeching guitars feedback drenched noise ridden ramblings of the forbidden poet, the sound of shoegazers wearing pit boots, sonic monologues bathed in bathos pathos apathy and the bewitched meanderings of the furloughed pitchfork killer. Yes, it is all here all, everything one can ask for from short slabs of heart-breaking agro. A ripped party dress of an album and on ‘Ill Never Do Ketamine Again’ you know they are lying.

Mark E Moon ‘Old Blood’
2nd April 2021

If camp bombastic Goth is your thing I could well be writing about your new favourite album. Sisters like guitar merge with synths not heard since Ultravox was singing about Rigsby’s cat, but this album by Mark E Moon has so much more going for it. It has a rather wonderful euro disco beat running throughout tracks like ‘Animals’ and is worthy of Dead or Alive “at their “Youthquake” best, and ‘I Robot’ is a track that easily could slip onto BBC 6 MUSIC playlists – all Robert Smith guitar lines and the early noughties American alt rock that Interpol so excelled at.

Obviously, any Goth music at some point has to betray a slight influence of Sisters of Mercy and Mark E Moon does not disappoint with the entirely enjoyable ‘The Falling’ and the title track ‘Old Blood’, which has a drum machine that sounds like it is nailing a solidified nail of vitriol into the remains of your once caring soul.

Old Blood is one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve heard this year. It’s an album that beautifully merges pop alt rock and Goth into a wonderful collection of radio friendly alt pop.

Lark ‘The Last Woman’
(Wormhole World) 30th April 2021

The drunken drawl of a velvet voiced lounge lizard immediately drew me to this album; distorted fuzzy guitars and the sound of a man’s heart breaking into many pieces always manages to somehow draw me in.

Lark have that wonderful ‘I have lived what I am singing about’ atmosphere to their tracks, whether it is the wonderful Fall like ‘John Berger’s Wild Shirt’, with lyrics being spat out with wild abandon (“the gift horse has no mouth” line is pure Mark E Smith), or the slow down gothic trawl of ‘Night Club’, which paints images of dark nights in the sordid part of town (all neon lights and tomorrow’s hangover), or my personal favourite track, the honey voiced almost Orange Juice like ballad ‘Nothing’. This is an album that will appeal to many and is available as a very ltd cd release, so alternative music fans who like their music in a solid format you will have to get a move on if you want this album of tossed away down at heel sleazy glamour.

Flowertown ‘Flowertown’
23rd April 2021

This is a beautiful album; it has all that is good about recording on a 4-track tape recorder: the tape hiss, the warmth, the soul and believe that recording on tape provides; it has no fakery all that glitters is gold. And this is indeed gold; a treasure trove of Mazzy Star like seduction and Mary Chain ballad tenderness. Slightly distorted guitars and the rattle of the tambourine have never sounded so sweet: this is true lo-fi.

There is just something so romantically perfect about this album. I admit I’m a sucker for male/female duets, especially when they are so charmingly and shyly performed and on ‘RCP’ they have the great taste to rip off ‘Can’t Seem To Make You Mine’ by The Seeds, which is one of the greatest songs ever written. But Flowertown can get away with it, as they are just so bloody perfect. This really is a lovely album of lo-fi perfection, the sound of two lost hearts finding a soul mate.

You Can Support The Monolith Cocktail Through The Micro-Donation Site Ko-Fi:

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog 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 to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

Various ‘Futur Antérieur’
(Bongo Joe) 16th April 2021

A polygenesis swap shop the Swiss-based label and record store hub of repute Bongo Joe (in association with various label partners, curators and the like) have chosen to celebrate their 5th anniversary by asking the label’s current roster to cover songs from the imprint’s reissue back catalogue. The results of which are as eclectic as anything they’ve ever released in the past, with the music of Indian Ocean Islets, the Algerian ex-pat community in Lyon, 50s Bahamas and Azerbaijan rubbing up congruously against the ‘possible musics’ spirit of New Wave and Post-Punk Spain and, closer-to-home, the electronic Swiss underground in the 80s.

If you’re a fan of the Geneva lakeside label-store then you’ll recognize some of the compilation material that’s covered on this nineteen-track collection. And if you’re a regular follower/reader of the Monolith Cocktail then you’ll know we’ve featured a number of those same releases over the last couple of years. But for those unfamiliar with Bongo Joe’s unsaid ‘raison d’être’, this is a label with a penchant for unearthing forgotten, waylaid and less trumpeted international scenes from across a seventy-year plus period.

Of the entire back catalogue, Spain’s post-Franco Synth-Wave and Post-Punk La Contra Ola compilation from 2018 is among the most represented on this anniversary special. The Amsterdam oddities The Mauskovic Dance Band turn Esplendor Geométrico’s original lo fi ‘Moscú Está Helado’ into a wafted No Wave saxophone lingered dance of Can, Populäre Mechanik and early Mute Records: a Post-punk dance if you will. The maverick innovators of Cumbia, Bogota’s infamous Meridian Brothers, take the Zombies ‘Extranos Juegos’ on a customary South American ride; keeping it lo fi but with stop-offs on Bitori’s Cape Verde and a Psychedelic Colombia. Drinking liberally from the Cabaret Voltaire bar, the eccentric, Dadaist Swiss Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp really do a job on Tres’ ‘I Doubt’; transforming the original into an Avant-Garde suite of plucked, pizzicato diy art-school Pop-Punk and Trip-Hop breakbeat.

Staying in the Swiss cantons, last year’s survey of the country’s experimental electronic movement, INTENTA, furnishes this compilation with a trio of inspired choice tunes. Carole Rich, who appeared as one of the only women in a heavily male-dominated track list, has two very different bands vying for her attention; both covering her vaporous hushed and airy Pop turn ‘Computered Love’.  First up, Malawi’s Madalitso Band literally brings that song home, with a most sweetly natured African lullaby treatment. Later on in the running order, Brussels’s Mameen 3 have a go at the same song, amping up the 80s atmosphere and incorporating transmogrified visions of ‘Radio GaGa’ Queen, Miami Vice and the Outrun arcade game music. 

Heading west from the Alpine landscape, and towards Lyon, there are a couple of choice covers from the Maghreb K7 Club collection of ‘Synth Raï, Chaoui & Staifi’ musical styling’s: essentially the Casio and rudimental synth apparatus infectious music of Algerian émigrés in the city’s café scene. One of the stars of that tape cassette culture, Nordine Staifi, is transported, transformed by both Hyperculte and Pixvae’s covers; the former, which opens this album, turns the source material into a Moroccan version of Beloved, with hints of PiL and Acid Arab, the latter, bobs along to a South Seas vibe of marimba, male and female lead choral lushness and an on/off staccato break: the drums slipping and the atmosphere poured and sauntering.

Worthy mentions at this point go to the Turkish Derya Yildirim & Grup Simsek romantic and spiritual translations of the late Azerbaijan guitar legend Rüstem Quliyev’s already well-travelled and traversed ‘Ay Duli Dili’ (cross-hatches of both Bab L’ Bluz and Baba ZuLa), the esoteric Lausanne folk weavers Meril Wubslin’s rustic Medieval nylon-strung vibrated version of Michel Legris ‘soul sgea’ offering ‘Elida’ (GOAT meets Fever Ray), and for sheer audacity, Baby’sBerserk’s NRG Chicago Housed-up jumping transformation of Charlie Adamson’s 50s Bahamas serenade ‘Bangalee’.

A echo of Karen ‘O’ here; some reggae there; even a touch of Arabian Marvin Gaye, there’s no let up in the diverse array of cultures, musical tangents and influences on this cross-pollination of transportive (and highly danceable a lot of the time) cover versions. It proves to have been an inspired concept that offers up a host of fresh, dynamic, playful and revitalised performances of old stock. Here’s to the next five years of such global sonic enterprise and invention. Raise a glass, clear the living room floor and celebrate in style.

You can find previous reviews of the Bongo Joe label roster here:

Various ‘La Ola Interior: Spanish Ambient & Acid Exoticism 1983-1990’

Meril Wubslin ‘Alors Quoi’

Rüstəm Quliyev ‘Azerbaijani Gitara’

Pedro Lima  ‘Maguidala’

Damily   ‘Early Years: Madagascar Cassette Archives’

Various   ‘Maghreb K7 Club: Synth Raï, Chaoui & Staifi 1985-1997’

Various   ‘INTENTA: Experimental & Electronic Music From Switzerland 1981 – 1993’

Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers   ‘Vodou Alé’

ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

Khalab & M’ Berra Ensemble ‘M’ Berra’
(Real World Records) 23rd April 2021

Treating the hypnotizing and often mystical voices and music of the Tuareg with a less intrusive style of congruous trance, loops, re-contextualized captured moments and sophisticated synthesized effects, the Italian polymath (producer, DJ, author, broadcaster on Italy’s national radio station Rai Radioz) Raffaele Costantino, aka Khalab, approaches his collaboration with musicians from the M’ Berra Refugee Camp with a great sensitivity and respect.

On Khalab’s latest African partnership, this time with Arab and Tuareg members of the sprawling tented refuge, he draws attention to yet another sorry tale of forced dispossession; highlighting the plight and limbo status of the 60,000 Malian refugees stuck since 2012 over the border in neighboring Mauritania. In the ongoing, but only the most recent wave of fighting in Mali, many people have abandoned their homes in the desert bordered regions of the country, many caught up in the Tuareg’s near seventy-year fight for an autonomous state within the north-eastern reaches of Mali: known as the Azawad.

A review like this can’t hope to do the subject matter of this struggle justice or devote the space to all the atrocities and convoluted history, but in brief the Tuareg’s heritage is often opaque, with even the name argued over by etymologists: There are many in the community that would rather the term disappeared, preferring instead to use ‘Kel Tamashek’.  A loose confederacy in one way of atavistic tribes, with a lineage to the Berber, who can be found throughout north and western Africa, the Tuareg have lived in Mali for a considerable time: centuries. In the last decade their fight against the Mali government over rights, representation and self-determination was hijacked by a boosted insurgency of international Islamic militants affiliated to ISIL. This ill-fated campaign nevertheless gained a lot of ground in its early stages, including the legendary ancient hub of learning and trade, Timbuktu; overwhelming the Mali government forces, who were forced to seek help from former colonial masters France. This intervention was semi-successful in stopping the momentum, and managed to gain much of the ground lost: however unstable that remains. It also didn’t help the cause when those Islamist forces more or less turned on the Tuareg Liberation groups.

Switching to terrorist guerilla tactics (including bombings), but still a major force to be reckoned with, the Islamist fighters have since spread mayhem to Mali’s neighbours in the region. The situation is made worse by an internal crisis in government in Mali (a coup last year brought in a still going, but unstable, interim government that is supposed to step down when elections can be held).

In this tumult of insecurity, is it any wonder Malians have fled?

Being a musician in this volatile environment has proved especially dangerous. Just last month on the blog we featured the Malian artist Anansy Cissé and his new album Anoura, which was put back by a culmination of problems that included a kidnapping and beating on the way to play at a festival in the country. It’s a common, shared experience of nearly everyone you speak to from the music community in Mali, who are trying desperately to eke out a living: many forced to abandon their homes for sanctuary in less dangerous parts of Africa, even the world.

Camped out in the Mauritania land of the lyrical griot storyteller, the many known and also fairly obscure musicians and singers that feature on this project are examples of this forced exodus. Featuring members of the Tamasheq speaking Tartit ensemble alongside others from the Arab and Tuareg communities, stories and harsh realities are voiced on an attuned album of desert song otherworldliness, the dreamy and rustic, earthy. Khalab having worked with an eclectic array of musical partners over the years, including the Malian percussionist maestro Baba Sissoko, takes his collaboration very seriously indeed; taking, we’re told, reverential ‘guidance’ from Tuareg ethnologist Barbara Fiore.

An entwined production of Tuareg roots and subtle (for the most part) electronica, Khalab takes the essence, sometimes just strands or excerpts of the source material and adds a sense of both Afro-Futurism and the cosmically trance-y. In similar sonic territory to Kutiman, Invisible System, Ammar 808 (at his most sub-bass frequency vibrating best) and even last year’s Vodou Alé treatment by Belgian electronic duo The Ångströmers of the Chouk Bwa troupe’s Haiti traditions, this vivid transformation sometimes offers the most translucent of electronic pulses, reverberations and washes to a stringy, spindled, trinket ringing and tinkering cattle trail wandering of and both the spiritual and aching messages of the Tuareg.

Some tracks seem to be just a gauzy atmospheric soundtrack memory of the nomadic life, whilst other performances are beefed-up with slow but punchy drum breaks. Polygon Kosmische synth shapes appear with rhythmic patter Techno on the looped buoyant motion (with a touch of Hailu Mergia keyboards) ‘Curfew’, and there’s a soulful House Music club groove that sits beneath a Modou Moctar like blues mirage on the festival sampled ‘Reste A L’Ombre’. Talking of Moctar, you can hear many similar echoes of the desert rock ‘n’ roll, blues vibe of groups like Tinariwen and Tamikrest; which is unsurprising as the members of Tartit who appear on this record share a similar heritage, roamed the same Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao trails.

Khalab knows when to let his partners breath, and even perform more or less without any additional synthesized effects or production; leaving the final say to a most beautiful hypnotizing, wandering desert yearned outro from the camp’s gifted primal blues players. Despite the crisis this project was born out of, Khalab and M’Berra Ensemble prove a transportive combination of imaginative, emotive and authentic Tuareg music and contemporary electronic sonic techniques. The music of displacement and anguish has seldom sounded so spellbinding and cosmic.

Of Interest…

Tamikrest ‘Tidal’

Kel Assouf ‘Black Tenere’

Invisible System ‘Dance To The Full Moon’

You can now help the Monolith Cocktail to continue and grow in this harsh climate through the mini-donation site Ko-Fi:

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog 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 to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

PLAYLIST/Dominic Valvona

An intergenerational, eclectic playlist vision, the Monolith Cocktail Social is the blog’s imaginary radio show; a smattering of music from my personal collection, my DJ sets and a lot of music I just wished I owned. Devoid of themes, restraints, or trends, expect to hear anything and everything; including some tributes to album that celebrate their 50th, 30th and 10th anniversaries: The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers (represented by The 5th Dimension’s diaphanous honed chorus take on ‘Moonlight Mile’), The Doors L.A. Woman (represented by the under-the-counterculture Gary Tucker and his version of ‘Hyacinth House’), Panda Bear’s Tomboy (the man himself in this instance) and The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld (again, the men themselves).


Erkin Koray  ‘Öksürük’
Lotti Golden  ‘Motor-Cycle Michael’
Jode  ‘When I Was A Younger Man’
The Croissants  ‘It’s A Day As Real As Today’
The Weirdos  ‘Happy People’
Steel Mill  ‘Zang Will’
Gary Tucker  ‘Hyacinth House’
The Makers  ‘Don’t Challenge Me’
Demon Boyz  ‘With a Z’
Showbiz & A.G.  ‘Fat Pockets’
Blahzay Blahzay  ‘Style And Grace’
Wilma Vritra  ‘Shallow Grave (Radio Edit)’
Would-Be-Goods  ‘Fruit Paradise’
Spike & Debbie  ‘Rushing Nowhere’
Panda Bear  ‘Surfer’s Hymn’
B Boys  ‘Sound Frequency’
The Wake  ‘Joke Shop’
Shark?  ‘Let’s Roll’
Dogfeet  ‘Armageddon’
Daevid Allen  ‘Boperactico’
Locomotive GT  ‘Képzeit Ripot: Arra Születtem’
Bread, Love And Dreams  ‘Masquerade’
The 5th Dimension  ‘Moonlight Mile’
Francis Lai  ‘Main Titles (The Games)’
Etron Fou Leloublan  ‘Face À L’Extravagante Montée Des Ascenseurs, Nous Resterons Fidèles À Notre Calme Détermination’
Nello Ciangherotti  ‘Metallo E Cemento’
Neel Murgai Ensemble  ‘Ngong’
Anjo Gabriel  ‘Mantra II’
Calvin Keys  ‘B. E.’
Trio Madjesi  ‘Moussa Photo Na Yo’
Ill Wind  ‘High Flying Birds’
Chupame El Dedo  ‘Me Duele’
Fawda Trio & SwamiMillion  ‘Money Beat’
The Orb  ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ Air Liquide  ‘Seamwave’
Samla Mammas Manna  ‘Manna Jamma’

We Need Your Help:

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog For the last ten years the blog has 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 to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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