PLAYLIST SPECIAL/DOMINIC VALVONA/MATT OLIVER/BRIAN ‘BORDELLO’ SHEA

Join us for the most eclectic of musical journeys as the Monolith Cocktail team compiles another monthly playlist of new releases and recent reissues we’ve featured on the site, plus tracks we’ve not had time to write about but have been on our radar. That includes epic Buryat anthems from the Steppes, sulky struts, explorative ambient vistas, summer surf wafts, spindled Korean majesty, lolloping bravado, twisted jazz and many of the current choice hip-hop cuts.

STARRING THE FOLLOWING MONOLITH COCKTAIL ANOINTED ARTISTS AND TRACKS:::

Namgar  ‘Green Grass’
Squid  ‘G.S.K.’
Andrew Hung  ‘Brother’
Pons  ‘LELAND (CLUB MIX)’
Heiko Maile  ‘Vega Drive (Tape 13)’
The Early Mornings  ‘Departure From Habit’
Occult Character  ‘(I Think I Wanna Have A) Meltdown’
Edna Frau  ‘Angry Face Man’
Dwi  ‘Freak N Out’
Hectorine  ‘Saltwater’
Meggie Lennon  ‘Night Shift’
Rhona Stevens  ‘Solo’
Seagullmoine  ‘Contrails’
Foreign Age  ‘Apathy By Proxy’
Mike Gale  ‘Awake Awake’
The Beach Boys  ‘Big Sur’
Simon Waldram  ‘Don’t Worry’
Shannon And The Clams  ‘Year Of The Spider’
Paragon Cause  ‘Disconnected’
RULES  ‘Say It Ain’t So’

Violet Nox  ‘Cosmic Bits (J. Bagist Remix)’
Evidence  ‘Talking To The Audience’
DJ JS-1 (Ft. Rahzel, Mr. Cheeks and Craig G)  ‘Open Up The Door’
Tyler The Creator  ‘LUMBERJACK’
Tanya Morgan (Ft. Jack Davey)  ‘A Whole Mood’
Juga-Naut & Jazz T  ‘Marble & Granite’
Skyzoo  ‘I Was Supposed To Be A Trap Rapper’
Sone Institute  ‘Dead Ahead’
Brian Jackson, Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad  ‘Mars Walk’
Jaubi (Ft. Tenderlonious and Latarnik)  ‘Satanic Nafs’
Hassan Wargui  ‘Azmz’
Clamb  ‘Eggs In The Main
stream’
Hailu Mergia and The Walias  ‘Mestriawi Debdabe’
Goodparley  ‘Dissected Frequencies’
Sara Oswald & Feldemelder  ‘Fishes In Histogram Waterfalls’
Marco Woolf  ‘Modus Operandi’
Amaro Freitas  ‘Batucada’
Space Afrika (Ft. Blackhaine)  ‘B£E’
Apathy (Ft. Brevi)  ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’
Masai Bay (Ft. EI-P)  ‘Paper Mache’
Abir Patwary  ‘Avalon’ Petter Eldh (Ft. Richard Spaven)  ‘Goods Yard’
Kid Kin  ‘Under A Cloud Fret’
The Liminanas  ‘Stoker The Smoker’
Night Sky Pulse  ‘Missing’
dal:um  ‘TAL’
Alice Coltrane  ‘Krishna Krishna’
Provincials  ‘Feels Like Falling’

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.

Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea’s Roundup

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The BordellosBrian ‘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’, ‘Daisy Master Race/Cultural Euthanasia’ and ‘Be My Maybe/David Bowie’). He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped-down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Tracks/Singles…

Paragon Cause ‘Disconnected’
18th June 2021 (Taken from the duo’s upcoming album Autopilot, released 13th August 2021)

I like this track it has an aura of pop songs from the past like Jane Weilden’s ‘Rush Hour’, or one of those other fine breezy pop songs. It has the wind in its sails and floats like a bobcat with the ear of the bank manager’s fond final digressionary wish ringing in its typecast high school jinx way. Trust me it is a lovely joyful pop song and I for one cannot get enough of those. And my dear readers I have the feeling that you cannot either. And if you can get enough, you are reading the wrong blog…go and stroke your chin to the Quietus and lose yourself in a nose flute extravaganza box set.

Salem Trials ‘Head Full Of Stinging Bees’
Available right now

A slice of alternative guitar magic from Britain’s greatest current guitar band. Yes indeed, the Salem Trials are back with a scratchy almost Goth like vignette with Scary Monster era Bowie guitars and Russ ranting as only Russ can. Just over two minutes in length and it sounds like no one but the Salem Trials. ‘Head Full Of Stinging Bees’ can be downloaded for free from their Bandcamp page, which I urge you to do or you will be ever known as a twat who likes to preen yourself in front of a Shane Richie poster circa his days in the Grease Stage show.

Mega Bog ‘Weight Of The Earth, On Paper’
(Paradise Of Bachelors) Out there right now

I like this; it has an air of a post punk hippy commune getting together to make an enjoyable romp through the pages of a musical that should have been written but for some strange reason never was. It could have been Hair for the balding generation. I can imagine this band drinking green tea and driving badly due to their minds being somewhere else…yes, I enjoyed this.

Eamon The Destroyer ‘My Drive /Silver Cloud’
(Bearsuit Records)  Available Right Now

I am a huge fan of Liverpool based guitar wonder extremist bigflower and ‘My Drive’ and ‘Silver Shadow’ have the same appeal. Both of the songs have the same melancholy, the same scorched by the sun lost in a desert atmosphere a place where the neglected go to dream bittersweet dreams of a past memory not knowing if it truly happened or not. These two tracks are lost in a world of their own and will certainly appeal to lovers of Mercury Rev and the Flaming Lips as they plough the same furrow. I’m looking forward to their forthcoming album, which should be a rewarding and interesting listen going off the excellence of this debut single.

Albums/EPs..

Synthetic Villains ‘Obstacle Navigation’
Available right now

Obstacle Navigation is actually a very good listen; ten tracks of mostly synth instrumentals that use old Analogue drum machines and synths with electric and acoustic guitars processed via violin bows, ebows and various effect pedals.

The tracks take in moody synth pop but have more than a tinge of psychedelia: ‘Sunbeam Flyer’ could easily slot onto Primal Scream’s Screamadelica without much fuss, even borrowing the ‘Loaded’ bass line, which of course the Scream themselves borrowed, and ‘Wander Off Wondering’ reminding me of the early Shaman before they struck it rich with ‘Ebenezer Good’.

This is an inventive and very relaxing album, and as with all good instrumental albums does not have one waiting for the vocals to arrive. It will take you on a soothing and rewarding journey to the centre of your own psyche.

Foreign Age ‘Understanding Animals’
Available Right Now

The three B’s, The Beatles, Blur and Barrett seem to be the order of the day with Foreign Age. Pure pop for nostalgic people, all descending Beatle guitar chords and vocal harmonies, the sort of album The Bees used to release with little commercial success in the early noughties and I expect this album to achieve the same fate. I’m not saying that this is a bad album, for it is not, it is a very enjoyable album, but the days of “ba ba ba” choruses are no longer the order of the day sadly. But Foreign Age does the artier side of Brit pop very well. And the album is well worth investigation.  

The Early Mornings ‘Unnecessary Creation EP’
Available right now

Jerky rhythms and slandered guitars are always a joy to behold with one’s ears and The Early Mornings are indeed a joy. It’s like the Slits if they were a cartoon band guesting on The Banana Splits. The Banana Slits in fact: what a perfect description. Yes, The Early Mornings are one of those wonderful post punk bands who have a talent of having melodies float from their scratchy guitars and performing well written songs of teenage lust and teenage problems even if the band themselves are not teenagers. The kind of band who makes one wish they were young again: and believe me that is always the sign of a good band.

Cathal Coughlan ‘Song Of Co-Aklan’
(Dimple Discs) Available Right Now

I always loved Fatima Mansions, one of my fave bands from the 90s, so was pleased to see this in my inbox as Cathal is a fine songwriter, a gifted lyricist, and has a voice like spiked honey, and as angry as a box of shaken Bees. And I’m pleased to say his new album has all the aforementioned in great quantities, and I’m not disappointed at all.

He always had a way with the written word Cathal; a little like his hero Scott Walker whose music and song writing is an obvious influence in they both dwell on the darker side and darker characters of life, and like Scott, Cathal knows his way around a melody and how to paint such beautifully dark and sometimes comedic images with his lyrics. And after listening to the track ‘Owl In The Parlour’, I ask why has Cathal never been asked to record a James Bond theme for he certain could give Matt Monroe a run for his money.

Song Of Co-Aklan is an album of dark adventure; an unfurling of one of Music’s great mavericks; a reminder of just how great a songwriter this often-ignored artist truly is.

ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

Namgar ‘Nayan Navaa’
(ARC Music) 25th June 2021

In act of preservation, the Moscow-based troupe Namgar (named after the band’s focal siren Namgar Lhasaranova) electrifies the atavistic sounds and songs of the ethnic Russian Buryats communities on another astonishing eclectic album.

Transporting us to the vast open ranges of the Southern Siberian steppes, on a border junction between Russia, Mongolia and China, the group revitalize traditional hunting and dancing rituals, ring cycle songs, sagacious advice and folk music (some buried in the St. Petersburg archives) with a sweep of trip-hop, trance-y ambient atmospheres and gnarled rock music.

At the centre of this pretty unique fusion that simultaneously evokes all parts and neighboring regions, but also the Orient, Arabian, African and even the Australian Outback, is the extraordinary voiced Namgar, who’s vocals gently fill the expanses with dramatic and beautiful effect. A daughter of the Buryat nomads, brought up in the unforgiving landscape and travails of a hardy life, the ‘petite frame’ singer channels the ancestors respectively, yet offers a certain contemporary, open-minded layer that fluctuates between stirrings of Lisa Gerrad and Alexandra Zhuravleva of the Russian rural trip-hop duo The Grus: only even more beautiful, scenic and magical.

That ancestry, which forms the foundations and backdrop for Nayan Navaa (translated as ‘land of our ancestors’), is both epic and mystical. The mystical part is down to the Buryat peoples’ practice of Tibetan Shamanism, and that allured spell of something mysterious, esoteric, is conjured up throughout this often cinematic lens songbook.

The old recognized sounds of the bowed, quivered, trembled 13 stringed ‘yatog’ zither, the 3 stringed ‘chanza’ lute, 2 string ‘morin khaur’ and twanged spring of the ‘khomus’ styled Jew’s harp are merged with modern post-punk and art-rock guitar, splashed and tom patted drums, synthesized mists and vapours and churned beats. And the old prayers, poems are lifted and given a new gravity: a new life. Certain meanings, sentiments are subtly changed from the heavily patriarchal slanted traditions, but the language, metaphors remain faithful. A high altitude apple tree for example represents a fine beauty on the whispered voice that eventually soars ‘Urda Uula’ (or ‘South Mountain’): “On the top of the southern mountain, Slender, flexible apple trees, filled up to the top with fruits, Sway magnificently.”

The Burayt language is included in the list of endangered languages in the world, but with this group’s mission of keeping it alive, it sounds anything but lost. For this latest effort resoundingly succeeds in breathing a new sensibility, dynamism and air of mysticism into an ancient culture.

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

ALBUM REVIEW PIECE/Dominic Valvona
PHOTO CREDIT/Kim Shin Joong

Dal:um ‘Similar & Different’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat Records) 25th June 2021

Transforming, expanding and transporting the signature silken stringed sensibilities of Korea’s prominent traditional instruments, the ‘gayageum’ and ‘geomungo’, two of those zither-like instruments’ contemporary practitioners draw upon their studies and training to sonically paint new serial emotionally and contemplative suites.

Finding a congruous home on Glitterbeat Records’ Jon Hassell, ‘possible musics’, inspired imprint tak:til, Seoul-based musicians Ha Suyean and Hwang Hyeyoung weave, pluck and twang both intricate and broader calligraphy like brush strokes on their new album, Similar & Different. Those brush strokes I mention probably arise from the duo’s aesthetic influences, channeling as they do the ‘inherent dialogue (and harmony) between emptiness and fullness in traditional Asian painting’.

A balance ‘between traditional and experimental practices’, the Dal:um (the literal meaning of which is, ‘keep pursuing something’) partnership pushes a pair of 6th and 5th century instruments beyond the ancient Three Kingdoms of Korea landscape towards the often abstract and exploratory. For all the extraordinary freedoms of expression and amorphous pondering though, the often strange quivers, scrapes, flourishes and swishes of Suyean’s gayageum and Hyeyoung’s geomungo, and the adventurous stirrings and purposeful silences are all unmistakably Oriental: The 12-stringed (though regional variants expand that number from 18 to 25 strings) gayageum is said to have been created as a Korean version of the Chinese ‘guzheng’. And so you will probably recognise some strokes, tones and even melodies on an album of largely untethered possibilities.

Though melody and rhythm are kept to a minimum, this feels like a progressing performance that starts to flow and take shape, beginning as it does with the incipient preparation tuning of chimes and rings of ‘Dasreum’, before striking up an elasticated delicate momentum on the next track, the scenic ‘tal’.

Romantic, contemplative, sometimes courtly, the duo threads a balance between worlds and the senses in a sonic space in which the sighs, gaps and ambience in-between notes is just as important as any melody: more so in some cases. 

Dal:um’s harmonically balanced album shares so much in common with the tak:til roster (especially fellow Korean artist, Park Jiha); blurring as it does the boundaries of tradition and something altogether futuristic; often unknown. They take those similar ancient instruments and perform something new and captivating: dreaming up timeless emotions and places with adroit calmness and piques of more quickened swishes, banjo-like springy tangles and Harpist ethereal flourishes.  

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

ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

Andrew Hung ‘Devastations’
(Lex Records) 18th June 2021

Celestial hymnal choirs and star-lit corridors to the cosmos Andrew Hung dreams big on his first solo album in four years. The once in a lifetime, if not century, events of this pandemic have sparked something almost epic, all encompassing from the former Fuck Button foil turn soundtrack composer and trick noisemaker producer.

Whilst many are riven with anxiety and even anger, Hung looks to the universal, making awe-inspired scientific and personal connections as he gazes in wonder at the deep expanses of a space. That’s not to say there isn’t an air of longing, yearning and an almost Lydon like petulant sneer at times in Hung’s vocals too: a voice that often summons up hints of solo Mark Hollis, Karl Hyde, Eno and even The Cry’s Kim Berly. But this is essentially an emphatic-voiced release from Hung’s psyche; a reconciliation of ‘the dark and light within’ we’re told, played out to the gravitas of an anthemic cosmology.

Learning a thing or two about building up to the climax as a musical partner to Benjamin John Power in the progressive-Techno come Kosmische soundtracks (like Sven Vath in communion with Ash Ra Tempel, transmogrified by a noisy Basic Channel) Fuck Buttons duo, Hung now creates something far more organic and personal on Devastations. Much of this is down to the warmth of real instruments, from a vague Mediterranean flair and twirl of acoustic guitar, to the transient tingles of piano and live sounding slipped, cymbal splashed resonating drum kit. This is coupled with the spectral synthesized rays, tubular mechanics, light refractions and bended warps of the technological machine age to perfection on an album that navigates the inner mind and outer reaches of exploration. It seems a lot like escapism; a search for something: On the soaring star-bound wonder ‘Space’ Hung sings that, “perfection exists in space”. And it would be hard to argue with that, especially as he conjures up such epic journeys towards it.

The final frontier of course is a near blank canvas, still beyond comprehension. Hung plays to that scale and uncertainty whilst firmly attached to the all-too worrying stresses of terra firma. Different thematic frustrations, the changing of the guard, are cried out as the inevitabilities of time marching on regardless are breached with sympathetic wistfulness.

Hung creates soundtracks that both traverse sea-voyaging bobbing cosmic-Americana (‘Colour’) and dreamy candid soliloquies (on the Flaming Lips pal up with The Cure finale, ‘Goodbye’). A grandiose vision that esacapes the current miasma, Devastations, despite its title, is full of light emitting love and philosophical yearning; the propulsion of which is woven together from the fabric of the motorik, the kosmische , the Madchester crowd marooned in Ibiza during the late 80s, Freur, The Amorphous Androgynous and the best in progressive electronica.

Digging deep, Hung plows the universal and comes up with a most stunning, expansive solo album; a unifying call to reach beyond ourselves for what connects us. A sentiment we all need more than ever.

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.

What’s Out There/Dominic Valvona

Singles/Tracks/Videos.

Rules ‘Say It Ain’t So/Florence’
(Soliti) 11th June 2021

The Iiti Yli-Harja and Sarra Keppola duo Rules return with their first new music since last year’s eponymous titled debut album. The double a-side single features the new intensified drama ‘Florence’ and their gauzy, child-like crushing cover of Weezer’s ‘Say It Ain’t So’.

Weezer fans can be particularly protective, but fear not, this disarming transformation is a winner: a breath of fresh air even. The duo have managed to turn it into some sort of sweetly pained R&B, drum machine ticking languid ‘party banger’. Overwhelmed by the ‘original’s perfection’, Iiti explains why they chose it in the first place:

“I fervently fell in love with the song, and became such an eager fan of Weezer! In my youth there was severe alcoholism in my family, and that’s why the lyrics got to me, too. I’ve been a teetotaler from an early age. It grew to be a bit of a compulsion for me to make a cover of this song for Rules, and it really was a process where things slipped into place very naturally. There’s a certain feeling in being surrounded by these overpowering waves of drunken surging masses, that I wanted the music to embody. There’s inner strength in the song despite of it, not drowning! On top of this I also wanted to turn the song into a real party banger, that you can’t help but dance to when you hear it! I think it makes an interesting combo, as partying often includes drinking. Our brilliant producer Oskari Halsti produced the song with me into its final form, and I’m really proud of the result! Let’s dance!  Ps. All my love to the dearest Weezer <3”

The video was directed by Pekka Härkönen, who comments:

”Video is a feel good nostalgia trip back to my mid 90s, hanging around in the Savonlinna suburbs. Weezer released their first two albums at the time, and I fell deeply in love with both. When I heard Rules’ brilliant version of Say It Ain’t So, I immediately started seeing flashes of a music video in my head. So I asked Rules and the gang to hang out with me for a summer evening.”

The flip side ‘Florence’ continues to delve into the literary references of their debut album; influenced by the Ian McEwan’s 60s set novella, On Chesil Beach, from 2007.  The duo offer these thoughts on that Euro-pop skulking, Chromatics meet t.A. T.u. slice of synthesized broody electro heartbreak: 

“Florence has gotten married at a young age in the early 1960s. Her fears and expectations for her marriage, new husband, and the unavoidable physicality which repulses her, reach a pinnacle in the claustrophobia of her wedding night. Hoping her husband would instinctively sense her nervous state and be able to read her mind and conform to it, she’s devastated when she finds out he doesn’t. There’s a lot of hidden and reserved tension in the original text, and it was a very enjoyable process to intensify that suspense and create a really dramatic and mysterious song. In Florence the original story of the novel transforms almost into a thriller. There’s this wonderful Eurovision-vibe to the song too, which is always welcomed!”

Violet Nox ‘J. Bagist Remix Of Cosmic Bits’
(Infinity Vine Records) 10th June 2021

A favorite Boston synth explorers Violet Nox have this month handed their downplayed acid burbled, sine wave and light beaming futuristic ‘Cosmic Bits’ track to the remixer J. Bagist; complete an acid wash space-themed video of new visuals from Deb Step. Adding some cyber menace, synth futuristic sinister atmospheres, popcorn and complimentary break beats – imagine Vangelis meets Cabaret Voltaire lifting off – Bagist gives motion and movement to the original.

Those who follow the Monolith Cocktail regularly will know that ‘Cosmic Bits’ featured on the outfit’s 2020 Future Fast quartet of recordings.

The Albums…

Whispering Sons ‘Several Others’
(PIAS) 18th June 2021

Garnering rave reviews by lesser blogs than ours with a big name, the tumultuous, fraught and intense Belgium band Whispering Sons have gained quite the momentum – selling out a recent limited edition single in just half a day.

Although almost three years in the wings, their second album looks set to continue the support and adulations. They receive such glowing criticisms because what they do they do extremely well; moodily counterpointing sinewy post-punk, menacing synthesizers and pummeled toms’ beats with more melodic, leaner qualities. It also helps that the five-piece’s vocalist, Fenne Kuppens, has such a distinct, mesmerizing voice and writes such visceral, often unguarded, lyrics. Kuppens voice can only be described as a merger of Patti Smith and Jello Biafra: the album’s deadened toms beaten opening account actually sounds like The Dead Kennedys.

My esteemed colleague on this blog venture, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea reviewed the Sons debut, Images, sometime ago. He was expecting Joy Division but said it was a welcoming surprise to instead hear a sound more in common with the Gothic: the Sisters Of mercy were his take.  Well, Several Others is closer to Joy Division; though an air of Bauhaus, even the Banshees, can be heard wading in here and there amongst the taut hammered drumming drills, seething undertow and in the case of the synth whipped broody Coil like ‘(I Leave You) Wounded’, both the seedy and bloody.

This is a scored songbook that pitches Kuppens desperate yearned and heavier unblinking violent lyrics against malevolent forces, and the dirty dangerousness of the early Bad Seeds and Swans. Songs such as the closer ‘Surgery’ go all out to mark the listener with razor-like descriptions of bloodied and needled despair and protest. Following a horrified theme of changing one’s self to be anyone but yourself, Kuppens seems riven with venerability: achingly and mournfully singing at one point to the chiming sound of a stark piano, “there has never been a level of self confidence.”

Whispering Sons bring empathy to an intense and punchier dynamic on their second album; a real quality that shines through the miasma of our pandemic encroached hard times. There’s no way this won’t make the end of year lists.  

Black Tempel Pyrämid ‘The Hierophant’
(Submarine Broadcasting Co.) Available Right Now

Tapping into the shrouded mysterious and symbolism of the Tarot, the latest release from those fine connoisseurs of all that is great on the peripherals of experimental music, Submarine Broadcasting Co., is a veiled atmospheric acid-hippie folk, post-punk and kosmische style album from Colorado’s Black Tempel Pyrämid.

Depending on which way you flip it, the album’s titular Hierophant represents the educator and the universal tree of knowledge. Etymology speaking, from the Greek, it means a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy, or, an interpreter of sacred mysterious and arcane principles, who is often illustrated by the image of the Pope in some Tarot decks. Make what you will of the auguries and relevance, metaphors of this esoteric ceremony; steeped as it is in a haze of the Durutti Column and Ash Ra Tempel fanned phaser and sustained scuzz-rippled guitar lingering, tubular bell tolls in the mists and Fritch and Coil like ritual sacrifices. Drifting towards the hypnotising in one way, yet menacing in a warp reversal of Sunn O))) death cultism in another, these Fort William coven acolytes lay down an almost bestial soundtrack of feudal time travelled cosmic mysticism that summons up the spirits and visions of krautrock’s more dream realism and spaced-out in the galaxy trips: the sound of magik hippies mesmerised by their teacher’s sagacious teachings. The Hierophant is a transformative doorway into another world.   

Sara Oswald & Feldermelder ‘Drawn’
(-OUS) 18th June 2021

From the always thoroughly excellent –OUS label an unfurled ambiguous and timeless created collaboration between the explorative cellist Sara Oswald and equally experimental electronic musician Feldermelder.

Serial classical melodies and stirring moods are set adrift whilst subtle flapped, suffused, fuzzed and static crackled electronic affected vapours and movements’ wrap themselves around a constantly developing trio of suites. As the title suggests, this project draws the listener towards both amorphous landscapes and memories, untethered to a particular place or time.  

Oswald’s baroque training and zeal for improvisation plays well; the sound of her cello mostly broadening that instrument’s signature bowed tones and range with resonating wanes and plucks that have more in common with the wafted transformed sounds of Jon Hassell then the familiarity of conventional strings. Even, or so it sounds, the cello’s bodywork acts as a fluttered and spring-y base for pattered rhythms and percussion. There is however some passages of chamber music like notation and some spindled melodies.

On Feldermelder’s part, moody waves of both gravitas and enormity and sparks of friction permeate Drawn’s sonic world of suspense, tip-toed meditations around the fertile perimeters of a volcano and inner mindscaping. The PR spill mentions Mt. Etna as the imaginative landscape for that volcano themed contemplation, but musically we could be anywhere in Eastern Europe or the Balkans: it reminded me of those highly experimental psychogeography soundtracking Slovenes Širom. Feldermelder actually helps create a sleeping giant of nature with his ravine and mountainous shifting and occasional leaps of spewed lave electronic effects.

It seems a creative match made in an endless soundtrack heaven of possibilities; mood music for those who enjoy a transformed version of the classical, chamber and electronic music genres.

Night Sky Pulse ‘These Possible Lives’
(See Blue Audio) 11th June 2021

Joining the burgeoning ambient music provider See Blue Audio, renowned polymath John Sellekaers offers up an atmospheric album of mystery with an episode from the Night Sky Pulse appellation series. The Montreal born, Brussels-based, sonic navigator’s been creating synthesized electronic visions for over thirty years; initially inspired by both those kosmische wayfarers Tangerine Dream and the UK’s own highly influential malcontents Cabaret Voltaire.

In those past decades Sellekaers has so far set up an underground magazine, released an enviable catalogue of material under the Xingu Hill alias, collaborated with a host of electronic artists, composed soundtracks and worked in the mediums of photography and graphic design. Now with that vast experience to draw from, he crafts a both transportive and concentrated work of various shrouded, wispy and more searing unfolded ambient trance movements.   

You can make what you will of the circumstances in which this recorded, in the dying embers of year zero pandemic and the early days of this year. These Possible Lives could be a response to this eclipsed Covid-19 misery. Some suites are more sinister and ghostly than others it must be said. And the album often sounds like there’s an absence, or, at the essence of a spirit, the presence of something distant just out of reach: disappearing.

Elsewhere, a few tracks offer the distilled resonance of something musically South-East Asian, the sound of a mirage shifting kind of Gamelan and Tibetan bowl ringing. There’s also a frame drum, or perhaps a hand drum of some sort, that beats to a slow march in the conjured up synthesized mists, whilst tubes get rhythmically whacked with a paddle and various metallic sounding apparatus chime, tingle and even sparkle over suffused vapour clouds and enervated drones. These Possible Lives is imbued with the distant murmurs of Vangelis (at his most futuristic crane shot best), Ambient Works 2 era Aphex Twin, Andrew Heath, the sound of early Harthouse, and Unlimited Can (free of the acid-rock aspects; just the electronic synths and effects). In all, this album is an adroitly deep and rich soundtrack. The label couldn’t have found a better more immersive record to mark its 20th release milestone with.     

Heiko Maile ‘Demo Tapes 1984-86’
(Bureau B) 25th June 2021

Sorting through his assemblage of old tape cassette recordings, the former Camouflage band member turn feted soundtrack composer Heiko Maile revisits past explorations for a compilation of mid 80s demos.

Insisting this isn’t an exercise in nostalgia, but rather a ‘personal voyage of discovery’ and highlighted chapter from the German musician’s ’trial and error’ past, these can-do attitude sketches, ideas have now been upgraded by modern technology. Preserving as much as just using tech to make them listenable, the new kit cleans up and refreshes a collection of Electro, New Wave Electronica and Kosmische style experiments from a time when sequencers and synths were still in their infancy: even worse in this case, without a memory function and bereft of midi.  Thankfully those recordings sound very much alive and well, helped by a thirty-five year development in technology and production. Despite that modernization they still sound very much of their time; the gap years between the aftermath of Kraftwerk and Electro, but just before the advent of House, Acid and Techno.

There’s a lot of referencing to be found; the redolent echoes of a litany of electronic artists, progenitors. And Maile in the notes readily admits in learning to use the apparatus he tried to imitate various records of their time. This means you could well pick up the imbued hints of early Electro music compilations, Depeche Mode, Klaus Schulze, DAF, Vega, Populare Mechanik, the Yellow Magic Orchestra, Tangerine Dream, Ultravox and even Moroder’s work with Sparks (‘Beat The Clock’ like drums and the feel on the filtered drum machine track ‘Wavy RX’).  

Not owning an iconic Fairlight CMI didn’t stop him from emulating that synth station’s sound, or that of other seriously popular kit. Though often these experiments resemble the soundtracks of some dystopian and sci-fi Commodore 64 games, or something from the early Mute Records catalogue, even an orbital space signal from a post-Faust Gunter Westhoff.

Given a new sheen and revitalised, these 80s throwbacks actually sound pretty good: some tracks even sound very on trend. I’m enjoying this compilation anyway. Not just an archival project but also something different; a case of old tech meets the new.

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.

Reviews Roundup/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The BordellosBrian ‘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.

Each week we throw whatever sticks at the inimitable music lover, and he comes up with this…

James Henry ‘Pluck’
29th June 2021

James Henry it seems is a scouser residing in London, and is rather fond of writing and recording fine power pop delight nuggets that recall Squeeze and Jellyfish, Mathew Sweet (with a touch of XTC) about them. And he succeeds in splaying my living room with an aural sun, which warms the very cockles of this pop loving soul. Pluck is an album that has everything one wants in a mature pop album: melodies, catchy guitar riffs, handclaps and harmonies, and well written lyrics, which is always a plus point as I often find albums in this genre are quite often let down by lyrical clichés. But I can happily report that is not the case here.

‘Afterthought’ and ‘Currently Resting’ also bring mid 60s Beatles to mind with some beautifully chiming 12 string guitars; and over the twelve tracks on this album you can hear the mid 60s pop influence gently seeping through. So anyone who has never gotten over the fact that Rockpile never made a second album should seek out this fun filled album of joyous melody.

Simon Waldram  ‘So It Goes’
4th June 2021

If buying an album of sublime modern day psych folk with a touch of indie pop is on your bucket list well I am here to help. For what we have here is an album of well-crafted heartfelt songs of the aforementioned.

The album gently kicks off with the lovingly atmospheric Nick Drake like ‘You’, which is followed by a beautiful melodious ‘I Miss The Sun’, a song worthy of Grant McLennan in the halcyon days of The Go Betweens, which is then followed by a piano ballad, ‘Don’t Worry’. Three tracks in and all beautifully written and performed and different to the one previous, and that is what is so annoying about this album. No not annoying because it’s an album of pure excellence, but for the fact that Simon is not ‘Better Known’ than he is. For songwriters with his talent and heart should be clutched to the music lovers’ collective bosom and cherished. There is no reason at all why this album should not be a huge success: it has radio friendly indie songs – ‘Boats In The Sky’ should be all over the radio -; it’s perfect indie pop – the wonderfully entitled ‘The Wild Wandering Of Wildebeest’, but for the “They don’t give a fuck” chorus that might cut down on radio play for that particular little gem of a track.

Not everyone can record a 8 minute plus song of bewitching guitar jangle without it getting a bit boring but Simon pulls it off with what I think is the centrepiece to the album, ‘Windswept’, which any Red House Painters fans might want to lend an ear to. 

So It Goes is an album that deserves to finally give Simon Waldram the recognition he deserves, as I do not think I have heard a better album this year, and this could well be his 16 Lovers Lane.

Sid Bradley ‘Child Of The Sea’
(Guerssen) 16th June 2021

What we have here my little ragamuffin Annies, is an album of lost and found studio recordings from the American songwriter Sid Bradley, recorded between 1971-79. And what a hugely enjoyable listen it is as well. The opener ‘Child Of The Sea’, is a track of pure hippy funk, with its hep cat hip swaying basstastic riff inducement of enlightenment that has one nostalgic for the days of the Age Of Aquarius, and as the album proceeds down its merry path, one is dragged smilingly to lose itself in psych folk pop of ‘Nothing Is Easy’ – a gem worthy of the Wickerman soundtrack -, or the pop delight of ‘To Be Your Friend’ – imagine the Monkees with Keith Richards standing in for a song or two. An album recommended for all lovers of 60s /70s guitar pop rock indeedy. 

Big Stir Singles ‘The Tenth Wave’
(Big Stir Records) 12th June 2021

This album is such an enjoyable listen. Once again a comp of the weekly download singles, A and B-sides, released by Big Stir Records in the months of October and November of 2020. And each track is a perfectly formed slice of pure pop; each one blessed with a charm that really cannot be praised highly enough. Each track, each band having their own sound own form of magic, from the wonderful take of John Cale’s ‘Paris 1919’ by October Surprise (which I actually prefer to the original) to the prog psych of Whelligan ‘Rabbit Hole’.

There is not a bad track among the twenty-two on the comp and is difficult to pick a favourite, so I will not bother in doing so. But Big Stir records should be congratulated in finding so many wonderful artists and songs to release to such high standards on a weekly basis, and I would recommend any music lover who has not yet had the pleasure to enjoy the ever growing cannon of pop magic released on that label to give this fine compilation a listen and then go back rediscover their other fine releases.

Occult Character ‘Bluzzed’
3rd June 2021

Occult Character has a double album due out soon on Metal Postcard Records, but before that Mr Occult has released this fine 8 track album of short acoustic songs, which act as short accurate snapshots of people and life: like an hour or so sat in the bar people watching.

Occult Character has the rare lyrical talent of picking out the small features about life and its inhabitants and making it both funny and at times heartbreakingly accurate. ‘Super Spreader Yeh!’ is a gem, a wonderful short humorous attack on some people’s attitude to Co-vid: “4000 people die a day but we got to twist the night away”. As I’ve said in past reviews of Occult Character, he is indeed the closest thing the USA has to Woody Guthrie, and is only a matter of time before he is discovered by the likes of Rolling Stone and such major publications.

Our beloved pen pals at the Italian cultural/music site Kalporz celebrate the 80th birthday of Bob Dylan with Samuele Conficoni’s extensive interview with the Dylanologist Richard F. Thomas, the George Martin Lane Professor of Classics at Harvard University. Thomas discusses his essays about the bard ahead of the release of the Italian translation of his iconic tome Why Bob Dylan Matters: renamed Perché Bob Dylan for the Italian market.

Richard F. Thomas is George Martin Lane Professor of the Classics at Harvard University. He was born in London and brought up in New Zealand. He has been teaching a freshmen seminar on Bob Dylan since 2004 and writing essays about him for a number of years. One of his first contributions to the so-called “Dylanology” was his 2007 essay The Streets of Rome: The Classical Dylan (in Oral Tradition 22/1), where he tracked down references to Virgil, Ovid, Thucydides, and Italian literature within Dylan’s oeuvre. He is also the author of Why Bob Dylan Matters (Dey Street Books 2017), one of the most timely and exhaustive collections of essays about Dylan’s work ever written, which has been finally translated into Italian by Elena Cantoni and Paolo Giovanazzi with the title Perché Bob Dylan (EDT 2021). To quote a passionate thought expressed by Italo Calvino, a classic is a work – not necessarily a book – that “has never finished saying what it has to say”, that “’I am rereading…’ and never ‘I am reading….’.”

As a result, we can certainly agree that Bob Dylan is an artist of the same caliber as the ones usually studied in traditional academic courses. His influence on musicians, poets and novelists is impossible to be summarized. We are always re-listening and reliving his music while pondering on each single line, word or accent. His voice is a path for the Muses who are singing through him, as he said while finishing his brilliant Nobel Prize Lecture released in 2017. In the same Lecture, Dylan talked about some of the books which had inspired him the most, one being Homer’s Odyssey, the most ancient poem of Greek Literature along with the Iliad. It was not a surprise. Dylan started quoting the Odyssey in songs from his 2012 Tempest. Moreover, in concert, from 2014 onwards, he re-wrote ‘Workingman’s Blues #2’ (from Modern Times, 2006) in an extended way, making it his “personal” Iliad and Odyssey, and perhaps also his Aeneid. He also changed some of the lyrics for ‘Long and Wasted Years’ (from Tempest, 2012), adding a powerful quotation from Homer. Interviewed in 2016 by the Daily Telegraph, some weeks after being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, Dylan said that some of his songs “definitely are Homeric in value”.

Although in Chronicles Vol. 1 (Simon & Schuster 2004) Dylan gave details about his early approach to Thucydides and Machiavelli, Suetonius and Tacitus, and in his 1974 ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ (from Blood on the Tracks, 1975) he sang about “an Italian poet from the 13th century”, specific references to Greek and Latin authors are somewhat recent within his oeuvre. However, as Thomas points out in his book, Dylan’s fascination for Rome probably goes back to his trip to Rome in 1962, after which he wrote the unreleased ‘Going Back to Rome’. Rome comes up also in ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’, released for the first time on Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (1971). Moreover, in his 2001 La Repubblica interview, held in Rome, Dylan talked about ages in Hesiodic terms, and in a 2015 interview for AARP Magazine he said that, if he had to do it all over again, he would have been a schoolteacher in Roman history or theology. Just when you think you have figured out his art, he has already moved forward, and he doesn’t look back. Today, he celebrates his 80th birthday.

Samuele Conficoni had the pleasure of talking with Professor Richard F. Thomas about why Bob Dylan “is part of that classical stream whose spring starts out in Greece and Rome and flows on down through the years, remaining relevant today, and incapable of being contained by time or place”, and why he “long ago joined the company of those ancient poets.”

Professor Thomas, what are the aims of your seminar about Bob Dylan, which you started back in 2004, and why did you choose this particular approach to studying and teaching Dylan’s oeuvre?

The aims have evolved, as Dylan’s art has continued to evolve. When I started teaching it we didn’t have Modern TimesTogether Through LifeTempestRough and Rowdy Ways. So my aim of introducing a group of 18-year-olds to the entirety of Dylan’s oeuvre has become increasingly unattainable. Some of the students come in knowing Dylan, a handful have known him very well. But my aim from the beginning was connected to a desire that the students really get into the dynamics of Dylan’s songs, how they work on the records and in performance from all perspectives, musical, literary, aesthetic, cultural, political. You could do an entire seminar on each of these aspects, so the seminar cannot be comprehensive, but we cover the great periods in particular, including the recent decades. A first-year seminar, with students preparing a limited number of songs and presenting their findings to the group, seemed the ideal way of having a community of young people add Dylan to the centre of their canon, and that has worked over the years.

How would you present your crucial Why Bob Dylan Matters to Italian readers who will read it for the first time? I think it is one of the most essential books ever written about him.

I hope Italian readers will enjoy the book. Like Dylan, I was drawn to Rome and to ancient Italy as a boy, for me in New Zealand, about as far as you could get from Rome. Through the films of the late 1950s and early 1960s, a few years later than Dylan, but many of the same films, The RobeBen HurSpartacusCleopatra. I started Latin about the same time, partly because of those films, and haven’t looked back. It was my main ambition to have the book appear in Italian, because that’s where large parts of it too were born. In Italy there is a respect for song and poetry and poetic traditions, obviously with Dante, poet of l’una Italia at the center, but going back through him to Virgil and forward through him to Petrarch and everything that followed, all the way up to Bob Dylan. Dylan realizes all of this, as he said in the Rome interview in 2001. That is in my view one reason he did those two spectacular, unique performances at the Atlantico in Rome on November 6 and 7, 2013. I write about how he was bidding farewell to more than a dozen of the songs he sang those two nights there in Rome, as a gift offering to the city, singing some of them for the last time.

Rome and Italy are in Dylan’s blood, going back to his boyhood and the Roman experience of his teens, and now alive and vital in his late 70s, from the Rubicon to Key West in the imagination of his new songs. I was able to get to Italy three years ago, in the early April spring of 2018, after the book came out, where I saw him at the Parco della Musica in Rome, and in Virgil’s native town of Mantua, across the Mincio in Palabam Mantova, now the Grana Padano Arena. That was a magical experience, the songs of Bob Dylan in the hometown of Virgil. During the day I made my usual pilgrimage to the medieval statue of Virgil at his desk, also from the 13th century, carved in the wall of the Palazzo del Podestà, to Mantegna’s stunning frescoes in the Camera degli Sposi, to Ovid and his Giants in the Palazzo Te, and to the fascist Virgil monuments in the Piazza Virgiliana. Then from Virgil by day to Dylan at night, his setlist including ‘Early Roman Kings’ and so taking me back to the daytime activities. I hope a lot of that comes through in the book.

How do your essays fit within Dylanology, particularly in relation to other influential contributions such as those by Christopher Ricks and Greil Marcus?

I’d be honoured to have my names next to those two. Marcus’ work on the deeply American traditions of Dylan’s music, from the late 1960s in Invisible Republic to the more recent work on the place of the blues, in music and well beyond, are among the most important contributions, and not just to an understanding of Dylan. Christopher Ricks in a way made it OK to work on Dylan as an academic topic. Bob Dylan’s Visions of Sin lays out the ways in which Dylan belongs in the centre of the literary traditions of the last two or three centuries, particularly the 18th and 19th. His engagement with the holistic elements of Dylan’s song poetics in his analysis of the rhymes, prosody and meaning of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” is magnificent. My book is somewhat different in its emphasis on more deliberate forms of intertextuality, involving Dylan’s verbatim use of authors, mostly but not only from classical antiquity, and in the way that the songs inhabit and become part of those traditions, bring them into the land of the living through his art.

I was interested in the new and profound ways in which, especially in the songs of this century, Dylan’s songwriting engages in what he has called “transfiguration.” That is something he has always done with the traditions of folk, as he pretty much spelled out in the Nobel Lecture in June 2017. There he spoke of picking up and internalising the vernacular, but the way he describes that process is notable: “You’ve heard the deep-pitched voice of John the Revelator and you saw the Titanic sink in a boggy creek. And you’re pals with the wild Irish rover and the wild colonial boy.” Heard, saw, pals with. That early transfiguration through the intertextual process leads to a parallel outcome with the classical authors, but more. When he sings “No one could ever say that I took up arms against you”, the singer of “Workingman’s Blues #2” becomes the exiled Ovid, whose precise words Dylan gives to the singer. When the singer of “Early Roman Kings” quotes verbatim the taunt of Odysseus triumphantly hurled at the blinded Polyphemus from a specific translation of the Odyssey—“I’ll strip you of life, strip you of breath / Ship you down to the house of death”—that singer becomes Odysseus. But the singer was also “up on black mountain the day Detroit fell”, his 2500-year old transfigured singer also alive in the racial discord of the 20th century. So I suppose that tracing this role of intertextuality was one of the contributions of my book.

I have been studying Bob Dylan, the Classics, and Italian literature for many years. I have always found it wonderful to see how skilled and original Dylan is in connecting such disparate authors within his compositions. Nobody sings Dylan like Dylan, it is true, but I would go further and say that nobodywrites like Dylan. How does Dylan “handle” his sources?

Yes, nobody writes like Dylan, as nobody in his art or anywhere in living creative practice reads or thinks like Dylan. Virgil, Dante and Milton did, and so did Eliot. Dylan has an eye for the poetry of language, as he encounters it in the eclectic reading and listening he does. Take the lines from verse 6 of “Ain’t Talkin’”, on the Modern Times album version, but not to be found in the official lyrics book: “All my loyal and my much-loved companions / They approve of me and share my code / I practice a faith that’s been long abandoned / Ain’t no altars on this long and lonesome road”. The first three lines come from three different poems in Peter Green’s translation of Ovid’s exile poems, as a number of us have recorded. Individual lines (Tristia 1.3.65, “loyal and much loved companions”; Black Sea Letters 3.2.38 “who approve, and share, your code”; Tristia 5.7.63–4 “I practice / terms long abandoned”) lifted from across 150 pages in the Penguin translation. And the altars on that long and lonesome road belong to the world of the blues pilgrim but also to Ovid’s world where roadside altars were a fixture from the Appian Way to the Black Sea. Nobody but Dylan could pick up that book and produce that sixth verse, completely at home in the song whose title started out its life in the chorus of a Stanley Brothers bluegrass song, “Highway of Regret”: “Ain’t talking, just walking / Down that highway of regret / Heart’s burning, still yearning / For the best girl this poor boy’s ever met.” And that is before we even start to trace the other intertexts: Poe, Twain, Henry Timrod, Genesis and the New Testament Gospels. Peter Green created poetic lines in his response to Ovid’s poem: “a place ringed by countless foes”, “May the gods grant … that I’m wrong in thinking you’ve forgotten me”; “every nook and corner had its tears”; “wife dearer to me than myself, you yourself can see”, and so on. Dylan took those lines and used them, just a few in each of the songs, and made them part of his own fabric—in one case even becoming a song title: “beyond here lies nothing”. As with the intertextuality in the hands of those other great artists, the lines he successfully steals and renews bring with them, once we recognise the source, their Ovidian setting, a poet in exile, in place or in the mind, getting on in years, “in the last outback at the world’s end.”

Also as with all great literature, Dylan is way ahead of the critics, or far behind his rightful time, which is to say the same thing. Early on there were even critics who denied the presence of Ovid in the song and on the album, partly because they just found any old Ovid translation online, and then the transfiguration doesn’t work. You have to work from the translation Dylan was using, the Penguin, as he used Robert Fagles’ Penguin of the Odyssey on Tempest. And a lot of people don’t like the idea that Dylan’s songs are composed out of the fabric of other materials, discrete as they are on this song. That is a throwback to Romanticism, to Wordsworth’s notion that poetry is a “spontaneous overflow of emotion”, though that was never true, even for Wordsworth. I have no problem with intertextuality and transfiguration, because that is how my other poets worked, in antiquity and down through the Middle Ages and Renaissance to the end of the 18th century in the Latin and vernacular literary traditions.

Virgil’s incisive “debellare superbos”, “taming the proud”, from Aeneid VI, comes up in Dylan’s “Lonesome Day Blues”, from his 2001 masterpiece “Love and Theft”, and a fascinating allusion to the Civil Wars (whether they be Roman or American) appears on “Bye and Bye”, which is from the same album. On Rough and Rowdy Ways, Dylan seems particularly fond of Caesar, who is directly mentioned in “My Own Version of You” and whose presence hovers around “Crossing the Rubicon”. What is Dylan trying to convey with those references?

Bob Dylan has been familiar with Julius Caesar at least since March 15, 1957 whether or not he remembers that spring day when the 15-year-old and the Latin Club of which he was a member published a paper commemorating those Ides of March up in Hibbing. By then his mind was more on the bookings his band The Golden Chords had at Van Feldt’s snack bar, but it is a historical fact, as I show, that he and the Roman dictator were acquainted early on. Shakespeare’s play could have helped the relationship since he had probably seen Marlon Brando playing Marc Antony in Joseph L. Manckiewicz’s 1953 movie version of the play. To be sure, that film, which returned to the State Theater in Hibbing on February 9, 1955, may well have been one of the reasons he enrolled in Latin the next fall. Who knows?

Dylan has always been interested in civil war, and was a historian of the American Civil War long before 2002 when he wrote and performed “’Cross the Green Mountain” for the 2003 film Gods and Generals. Around the same time in Chronicles, Volume 1, he talks about that seminal American conflict in ways that suggest he has long been inhabiting the middle of the 19th century in his mind, to the time when in his words “America was put on the cross, died, and was resurrected.” And the consequence of that inhabiting cannot be understated, as he continued, “The godawful truth of that would be the all-embracing template behind everything that I would write.” Dylan quite perceptively sees in the southern plantation owners a mirror of the “Roman republic where an elite group of characters rule supposedly for the good of all” (Chronicles 84–85). Here he is again going back to Rome, as throughout his life.

By the time of Chronicles he had already conflated the American Civil War with its Roman versions, by combining Virgil’s Aeneid and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in “Lonesome Day Blues”, and yes, on the same 2001 album, by allusions in “Bye and Bye” (“I’ll establish my rule through civil war”) and maybe in “Honest with Me” (“I’m here to create the new imperial empire”). His interest continued in “Ain’t Talkin’” in 2006 where the connection to Rome is undeniable given how much Ovidian poetry there is on the song (“I’ll avenge my father’s death then I’ll step back”). Here he channels Caesar’s adoptive son, the first Roman emperor Augustus, who said in his own memoir “Those who killed my father I drove into exile, by way of the courts, exacting vengeance for their crime . . . I did not accept permanent the consulship that was offered to me.” He returned to this shared civil war and Caesarian theme—and to the hills of Rome perhaps—in 2012 in “Scarlet Town” (“In Scarlet Town you fight your father’s foes / Up on a hill a chilly wind blows”). I wrote about all of that in the book. And now there he is again in 2020, in “My Own Version of You”, a song that’s all about intertextuality, asking himself, “what would Julius Caesar do”—and of course crossing the Rubicon, the signature act of Julius Caesar. Dylan is also interested in assassination of course, President McKinley in “Key West” and John Fitzgerald Kennedy in “Murder Most Foul”, so it’s not surprising that Dylan, who said if he had to do it over he would teach Roman history, has returned to Caesar. Of course, in “Crossing the Rubicon” it’s not just a theme, he’s become Julius Caesar, transfigured as he takes that fateful step at the end of each verse. As he so he fulfils the prophecy made in the Rolling Stone interview with Mikal Gilmore in 2012: “Who knows who’s been transfigured and who has not? Who knows? Maybe Aristotle? Maybe he was transfigured. I can’t say. Maybe Julius Caesar was transfigured.”

Alessandro Carrera, another relevant Dylan scholar and Professor at the University of Houston, has recently written about why Dylan often refers to Homer’s Odyssey from 2012 onwards. He thinks that Dylan’s metaphorical exile, represented by his references to Ovid’s later works (Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto) in Modern Times (2006), ended. He is now facing his nostos, he is “slow coming home”, as he sings in “Mother of Muses” (2020). In his opinion, the rewritten lyrics for “Workingman’s Blues #2” well represent his personal relationship with both Iliad and Odyssey. What is your view about that?

Yes, certainly the Odyssey, as I discussed when I wrote about those lyrics changes to “Workingman’s Blues #2”. I’m not sure how much Dylan has engaged the Iliad yet, though the Nobel Lecture brilliantly picks up on the Odyssey’s questioning of the heroic code of the Iliad, and of the shade of Achilles in the Underworld realizing that the quest for honor and glory was empty, that being alive was what mattered. Dylan has the Achilles tell “Odysseus it was all a mistake. ‘I just died, that’s all.’ There was no honor. No immortality.” That, by the way, is as brilliant a piece of intertextuality as you’ll find anywhere.

Yes, of course, nostos, and the return home. We’re all doing that, but home has shifted. Not Ithaca or Hibbing anymore, but a different home. That’s why Dylan includes Porter Wagoner’s great country song “Green Green Grass of Home” among the songs that had taken on the themes of the Odyssey. The singer imagines being back home, but in reality he’s in prison, about to walk at daybreak to the gallows with the sad old padre. They’ll all come to see him when he’s six feet under, under the old oak tree that he used to play on before his life went astray, maybe the same oak tree the singer of “Duquesne Whistle” remembers. You can’t actually come home. Dylan, like many poets going back to Homer, knows that. And that’s why, as I wrote in the book even before “Mother of Muses” came out, I suspected Dylan had been reading and channeling the great Greek poet of modern Alexandria. For Cavafy, the return to Ithaca is what is important, the living of life itself. The lines in his poem “Ithaca” tell that the island is just the destination, “Yet do not hurry the journey at all: / better that it lasts for many years / and you arrive an old man in the island.” That’s what comes to me at the end of Dylan’s “Mother of Muses”: as for Cavafy, so for Dylan and the rest of us, no reason to hurry that journey. “I’m travelin’ light and I’m slow coming home.”

What do you think of Bob Dylan as an historian? His way of reviving, rewriting and often changing the history is brilliant and meticulous. Does Dylan remind you of any Greek or Latin historiographers?

Of course, Bob Dylan isn’t a historian in the modern sense, in getting to some absolute factual truths. His early songs, perhaps reflecting some of the less imaginative teaching to which he may have been exposed, made that clear: “memorizing politics of ancient history / flung down by corpse evangelists” and “the pain / of your useless and pointless knowledge.” But it is interesting that he has in more recent years been mentioning ancient historians and thinkers, Thucydides, Cicero, Tacitus, since he shares with them outlooks about historiography of a more creative type. “History” contains “story”, and in Italian of course the word for history is precisely that, storia. Ancient historiography expected not so much truth—so often beyond reach—as believability, to be achieved, so said Cicero, by constructing the elements of the story, as with a building. Even the relatively factual Thucydides reports verbatim speeches he did not hear, along with those he did. The speeches he composes assume they would have been what was said, given the events that followed on the words. If those actions, then necessarily these words.

There is an element of storytelling here, putting together what must have happened. Likewise for Tacitus, whom Dylan mentions on various occasions, and who writes of Nero’s killing of his own mother, Agrippina: “The centurion was drawing his sword to kill her. She thrust out her stomach and said “Hit the belly!” and was finished off.” How did Tacitus know what she said? The matricide happened when he was about three years old. But it’s believable and it sounds good, and Tacitus, like Dylan, would have said you want your history to sound good. Take the historical ballad “Hurricane” about the murder trial of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. Did the cop really say of one of the victims, “Wait a minute, boys, this one’s not dead”? Probably not, but he could have, it’s believable, and more important it sounds good. In both cases the wording puts you right there at the scene.

So yes, songwriting has aspects of this old storytelling historiography. In a sense, folk songs, particularly ballads, are a form of oral history: “Robin Hood and the Butcher”, “The Earl of Errol” “Rob Roy”, “Dumbarton’s Drums”. Dylan’s versions are just updates, putting into story historical events of his own finding, sometimes from the obscurity of newspaper clippings or archives—“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and “Joey” about the deaths of two historical people. It doesn’t matter whether or not William Zanziger had a “diamond ring finger” or Joe really saw his assassins coming through the door “as he lifted up his fork”. Both are plausible, and both help paint a picture, or “finish off a building” (exaedificatio), the metaphor Cicero used for fleshing out the narrative.

“Ut pictura poësis” (“Poetry is like a painting”), Horace wrote in his Ars Poetica (Epistula ad Pisones). Back in 1974 Bob Dylan was deeply influenced by Norman Raeben, a New York artist who gave him painting lessons. Dylan himself is also a good painter. Do you think we could link Horace’s maxim to Dylan’s song composition?

As you know, Horace also goes on to elaborate the ways poetry, or let’s say songwriting, is like painting: some repays getting close up, some from standing back. He also distinguishes the poem/painting that you can look at/read just once, and the ones you can never get enough of, keep coming back to. Dylan’s songs are generally of that sort, you can keep coming back to them, never tire of them, especially as he changes the arrangement and performative dynamics from year to year and night to night. Dylan’s painting, and his sculpture, are very interesting. I need to see more of it and think more about it. I’ve had the experience of seeing the Mondo Scripto lyrics and drawings on a couple of occasions. I actually thought of Horace on getting up close during those experiences. There is something quite moving about being up close to the depiction of a scene from a particular song, juxtaposed with Dylan’s handwritten lyric. You’re reading, viewing, and also silently hearing the song in your head. This can produce an interesting synaesthesia, a productive mingling of the senses. As for Raeben, Dylan has of course spoken of him, and he and his teaching were clearly important for Dylan’s painting career. Critics talk of the impact on the songs of Blood on the Tracks, the visuality of lines from “Shelter from the Storm” and especially “Simple Twist of Fate”.Enargeia, the Greeks called it, vividness, and the ability to paint a picture in words. But that quality is already there in 1966 in “Visions of Johanna”. Who taught Dylan to write like that? The Muses, of course, as he finally came out and revealed on the new album.

In his significant 2001 Rome interview, Dylan deals with lots of topics, and one of the subjects which has always caught my attention, as you pointed out in your essays, was his reference to the “ages” of the world in Hesiodic terms. At some point the discussion fades out and another subject comes up. It seems that Dylan almost deflected the argument or was not in the mood for explaining his theory. What do you think Dylan means when he speaks about that? Does this theme come up in some of his songs?

Well, as you know, I write about that Rome interview in the book, though there is more to be said on that topic perhaps. Dylan actually mentions all of the five ages that appear in Hesiod’s Works and Days: the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age. Then “I think you have the Heroic Age someplace in there” and next “we’re living in what some people call the Iron Age.” That’s a pretty precise reference to Hesiod, the only ancient poet to have an age of Heroes along with the metallic ones. In Hesiod that’s probably a reference to the Homeric texts and the heroes who fight and die at Troy.

I don’t know why Dylan brought that up, but the journalists missed whatever point he was making. He finished with a non-classical reference maybe to deflect from those precise allusions: “We could really be living in the Stone Ages.” That gave the opening to a journalist who joked: “Living in the Silicon Age”, and so the moment was lost, the shooting star slipped away, as Dylan replied “Exactly”—in other words “you didn’t get it”—then “Silicon Valley.” I’ve often wondered what would have happened if one of the reporters had known what Dylan knew, and had asked “How do Hesiod and his metallic ages come into your songwriting?” Of course he could have deflected that too, as when one of them earlier in the press conference asked about new poets he was reading and got the reply “I don’t really study poetry.” So we’ll never know, but I do think he has been interested in the Greco-Roman ages, at least since the late 1970s. There are Tulsa drafts of “Changing of the Guards” that suggest he was reading Virgil’s messianic fourth eclogue, about turning the ages back and getting from the iron age present to the golden age utopian past. That’s where Jupiter and Apollo in the published version of the song come from, having survived the drafts.

In 2020 you published an essential journal article, “’And I Crossed the Rubicon’: Another Classical Dylan” (in Dylan Review 2.1, Summer 2020), which represents the natural continuation of Why Bob Dylan Matters. In this article you deal with “the classical world of the ancient Greeks and Romans in the songs of Rough and Rowdy Ways”. What “kind” of classical world did you find there?

Dylan himself points to what the album does with the ancients in the last interview he has done to date, with Douglas Brinkley in the New York Times of June 12, 2020. He did the same in advance of the release of “Love and Theft” at the Rome Press Conference in 2001, hinting at the presence of Virgil on that album: “when you walk around a town like this, you know that people were here before you and they were probably on a much higher, grander level than any of us are.” I don’t know why Brinkley in 2020 asked Dylan about “When I Paint My Masterpiece”: why did Dylan “bring it back to the forefront of recent concerts?” His response to that one was also a tell-tale sign, in this case about the album he released the next week: “I think this song has something to do with the classical world, something that’s out of reach. Someplace you’d like to be beyond your experience. Something that is so supreme and first rate that you could never come back down from the mountain. That you’ve achieved the unthinkable.”

The classical world on the new album, as I set out in the Dylan Review, is not so much a verbatim transfiguring of the ancient world, but a more freely creative version, “my own version of you.” So the cypress tree where the “Trojan women and children were sold into slavery” in the song, as I noted, comes from Book 2 of the Aeneid, but unlike the use of Ovid and the Odyssey, Dylan is not quoting from known translations, but doing his own version. I’ve gathered most of the material on the other songs, “Crossing the Rubicon”, “Mother of Muses”, “Key West”. So I won’t repeat that here. It’s a free online journal, though accepts contributions. On those songs you can see Dylan has scaled those mountains of the past he also sang about in “Beyond Here Lies Nothing”. My guess is part of him will stay up on the mountain, as I certainly have myself!

In the same article you wrote that the “intertextuality that has been a hallmark of Dylan’s song composition since the 1990s continues on the new album”…

Yes, I did, and it’s true. But it’s a freer version, more like that of Virgil or Ovid themselves, or Dante, Milton and Eliot, not quoting and juxtaposing—Virgil with Mark Twain and Junichi Saga in “Lonesome Day Blues” or Ovid and Henry Timrod in “Ain’t Talkin’”; rather channeling ideas and creating reconstructed worlds into his own new world: the singer of “Crossing the Rubicon” could be Julius Caesar on that day that went down in infamy as the Roman general destroyed the republic, as he “looked to the east and crossed the Rubicon”. That is the direction Caesar would have crossed the river that goes gently as she flows north into the Adriatic. But you won’t find the line in Suetonius’s Life of Julius Caesar, or in Caesar’s own history of the Civil War. Along with the classical world the song tells us the “Rubicon is the (not “a”) Red River”, taking us back through Dylan’s 1997 song “Red River Shore”, which itself takes us to the Red River of Dylan’s native northern Minnesota and the Texan Red River Valley of the Jules Verne Allen song that Gene Autry sang in the movie of the same name. That’s just a tiny part of the intertextuality of Rough and Rowdy Ways, ancient and modern alike.

As I have already mentioned, on Modern Times, Dylan refers to a lot of verses from Ovid’srelegatio works (Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto). In “My Own Version of You”, from Rough and Rowdy Ways, he sings of the “Trojan women and children” who “are sold into slavery”, and you notice that he is not referring to Euripides’s play The Trojan Women but rather to Virgil’s Aeneid II. What is Dylan’s journey? Is he still “a stranger here in a strange land”, as he sang in 1997 in “Red River Shore”?

Who isn’t? If the past is a foreign country, just by living on in time we all remain strangers in a strange land, where nothing looks familiar. But Dylan’s creative memory allows us to go back with him and straighten it out, recreate worlds that embrace our own lived experiences—worlds that contain multitudes. Dylan’s journey is a life, or multitudinous lives, in song, and it’s been a pleasure for countless thousands of us to have sailed, and be sailing, with him on that journey.

“I’ve already outlived my life by far.” So says the singer of “Mother of Muses”, sounding like Virgil’s Sibyl, who is given long life by Apollo, but without eternal youth, which is what makes her human and like the rest of us. That’s just another way of being a stranger here in a strange land, with time and space pretty much interchangeable. That’s also just one of the ways Dylan’s always written and sung our songs for us.

(Samuele Conficoni)

Everest Magma ‘Nues’
Taken from the upcoming album Nuova Abduzione, released by Maple Death Records, 18th June 2021

Creating off-world experiments and visitations by ambiguous life forms, the underground Italian electronic composer Everest Magma takes a ‘small leap’ into the void on his new upcoming album for the Maple Death Records label this month. 

After various cross-fertilizations of hypnotic tape beats, digital wonk, psych folk tropicalia and kinetic dub for the obscure but esteemed Italian Boring Machines imprint (created both under the Magma Everest and Rella The Woodcutter monikers), the exploratory artist is now mining an uncharted cosmos of repetitive minimalism, alien tonal ambience and blissful abyss on the latest album of incipient and astral uncertainties, Nuova Abduzione: or, ‘new abductions’.

Like some vision of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama, the imaginative soundscapes on this kosmische imbued metallic machine resonating album suggests contact with extraterrestrials; meetings aboard beaming cylindrical orbiting space crafts on other planets; whole worlds in fact. Those mysterious entities either loom, hover, slither or bobble up to the surface of a liquid primal soup: on the opening alien ghost ship communication ‘Yloth’, tentacles thrash out along a whispered twittering corridor on some UFO cylinder.   

Magma pushes the envelope, searching in the pursuit of widening his own knowledge so that the knowable and familiar becomes…well, not so knowable and familiar. Broadening horizons, circumnavigating the expanses of deep space with only his trusty Roland Sp-404 sampler workstation, he magic’s up mirror-y and chrome mirage visions, evaporating atmospheres, crystallizations and majestic drifts. Ahead of that album’s release on the 18th June this year, the Monolith Cocktail has been specially chosen to premiere the untethered cosmic courier flight ‘Nues’. With generator melodic vaporous hints of prime Tangerine Dream, subtle reverberating and Geiger counter knocks and light warped staggers this refined but melodious swelling example of astral-minimalism is a perfect encapsulation of the artist’s craft: the enormity of space made simultaneously ominous and majestic.

You can pre-order Nuova Abduzione on the label’s site now.    

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.

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 wish I owned. Devoid of themes, restraints, or trends, expect to hear anything and everything; including some tributes to album that celebrate their 50th and 20th anniversaries this month: From Joni Mitchell’s ’71 songbook both the original ‘Carey’ and a unique version of ‘This Flight Tonight’ by Art d’Ecco, plus ‘I Might Be Wrong’ from Radiohead’s emphatic distress, Amnesiac.  We also have an eclectic set that features troubadours aplenty (from Larry Jon Wilson to Jon Tabakin); Afro-Rumba saunters (Amadou Balaké); the class of Hip-Hop’s golden age (The Real Roxanne, King Sun); adroit electronic music composers (Moebius, Tomat, Madegg); and much, much, more.

Tracks::

Larry Jon Wilson  ‘The Truth Ain’t In You’
Radiohead  ‘I Might Be Wrong’
Popera Cosmic  ‘Poursuite’
Flora Purim  ‘Dr. Jive (Part 1)’
Moving Gelatine Plates  ‘Removing’
The Real Roxanne  ‘Look But Don’t Touch’
King Sun  ‘King Sun With The Sword’
Professor P  ‘Some Hardcore’
De Lench Mob  ‘Goin’ Bananas’
Amadou Balaké  ‘Ligda Remba’
Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul  ‘The Trouble With Trouble’
Mike James Kirkland  ‘It’s Too Late’
Joni Mitchell  ‘Carey’
Low Cut Connie  ‘I Shall Be Released’
Art d’Ecco  ‘This Flight Tonight’
SPIME.IM/Tomat  ‘Exaland XI’
Moebius  ‘Mahalmal’
Madegg  ‘Dripper’
Sonoko  ‘Souvenir De La Mer’
Niagara  ‘Encore Un Derneir Baiser’
Jon Tabakin  ‘The Days Were Long, The Nights Were Sweet’ 
Abstract Truth  ‘All The Same’
Les Baroques  ‘Hold On To Me’
Oscar & The Majestics  ‘I Can’t Explain’
The Terminals  ‘The Deadly Tango’
Wicked Lady  ‘The Axeman Cometh’
Spirogyra  ‘Magical Mary’ Univeria Zekt  ‘Africa Anteria’
Reverend Baron  ‘Those Who Hide’
Jerry Yester & Judy Henske  ‘Rapture’
Iceage  ‘Shelter Song’
Low Cut Connie  ‘Little Red Corvette’
David Blue  ‘So Easy She Goes By’
The Ivor Cutler Trio  ‘Darling, Will You Marry Me Twice?’
Giuliano Sorgini  ‘Prairies’

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