ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

The August List ‘Wax Cat’
(All Will Be Well Records)  3rd September 2021

Another of those English county dreamers reaching for the expansive and more desolate plains of a distant, often imagined, Americana, the Oxford-based August List bend alt-country tastes to their will on the latest album, Wax Cat.

Led by the married couple of Martin and Kerraleigh Child, with a supporting cast of locals on drums, violin, guitar, banjo and synth effects, the band wanders an epic panorama of empowered intensity and more ethereal lush contemplation. Dreaming big with a variety of light and shade, swells and tenderer moments, there’s bowed, waned and searching duet plaints set to northwestern waterway junctions, named in honour of the late 18th century British explorer (‘Puget Sound’), and Tennessee, via Gram’s Joshua Tree and the Laurel Canyon, visions of a heart-rendering, bittersweet and mythologized country songbook landscape. Whether together or riding solo the two voices share quite a good range. Especially Kerraleigh, who can sound empowered and resolute on songs like the opening big-hitter, gnarled ‘Seams’, and like a combination of the Howling Bells, Maria McKee, Leila Moss and Emmylou Harris on the desert’s edge ‘Distorted Mountain’. There’s even an air of the paisley underground on the majestic violin straining ‘I Might Get Low’. It most also be noted that Kerraleigh also plays a most gauzy harmonica on a few tracks too.

That country vibe can be heard roaming into shoegaze, and the crushing quite to crescendo ache of Mazzy Star. Meanwhile the August List’s cover of The Diamond Family Archive’s ‘Big Black Dog’ sounds like Ian MuCulloch fronting Spiritualized, and the enervated, synth warped with flange stroked guitar, ‘God In A Wire’, reminded me a bit of R.E.M.

From the storming Bosco-Delray-wrestles-with-Charlie-Megira-at-a-hoedown ‘Wheelhouse’, to the dreamy ‘Crooked Starlite’, there’s as much quality as there is variety to the crescendo-riven August List sound. Who better to set introspective feelings and longings from the Home Counties to an alternative country soundtrack then Oxford’s very classy August List. In short: a great album from start to finish.

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

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

Unapologetic fans of California’s favourite sons, The Beach Boys, this month’s imaginary Monolith Cocktail radio show playlist features a hell of a lot of tracks from the Feel Flows box set, which came out today. Some of which, are choice tracks that have lain dormant for decades.

Joining them is a fine selection of new music from the MC team (that’s me Dominic Valvona, our remote contributor and hip-hop selector Matt Oliver, and the maverick troubadour lo fi rock god turn critic Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea) that includes bloomed pop loveliness from Bloom De Wilde, respectful nods to prog rock icons from Uncommon Nasa, Homeboy Sandman slurping on the dairy, the brand new Fiery Furnaces mellotron bellowed plaint, and some mad dashing mayhem from Girl No. III. Plus plenty of greatness from Pons, SonnyJim, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Brandee Younger, Ephat Mujuru and Liz Cooper. 46 tracks to soundtrack your weekend.

Tracks Listing:.

The Beach Boys  ‘It’s A New Day’
Gabrielle Ornate  ‘Waiting To Be Found’
Bloom De Wilde  ‘Garden Of The Sun (Jstar Remix)’
Ester Poly  ‘Pressés’
Flowertown  ‘The Door The Thief The Light’
SLONK  ‘Erstwhile’
Julia Meijer  ‘Borta Från Allt’
Seaside Witch Coven  ‘A.E.O.’
Liz Cooper  ‘Slice Of Life’
The Beach Boys  ‘It’s About Time – Live 1971’
Brian Jackson, Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad  ‘Duality’
Uncommon Nasa  ‘Vincent Crane’
Tanya Morgan ft. Rob Cave  ‘Tanya In The Sky With Diamonds’
Homeboy Sandman  ‘Cow’s Milk’
Creatures Of Habit  ‘The Devil’s Hands’
Bronx Slang  ‘Clock’s Ticking’
Lore City  ‘Once-Returner’
Your Gaze  ‘Black Afternoon’
Sølyst  ‘Flex’
Ephat Mujuru & The Spirit Of The People  ‘Mudande’
Ballaké Sissoko  ‘Simbo Salaba’
The Beach Boys  ‘4th Of July (2019 Mix)’
Sorrows  ‘Rita’
Lisa Mychols & Super 8  ‘Pet Sounds (Story)’
Makoto Kubota & The Sunset Gang  ‘Bye Bye Baby’
Brandee Younger  ‘Somewhere Different’
Ryuichi Sakamoto  ‘Mountains’
The Beach Boys  ‘Forever (2019 A Cappella Mix)’
The Fiery Furnaces  ‘The Fortune Teller’s Revenge’
Graham Domain  ‘Limbs Of Loneliness’
Corduroy Institute  ‘An Interpretation Of Our Own Story’
YOUNGMAN  ‘GALACTIC LUV’
Celling Demons Ft. Zarahruth  ‘Silver Birch’
Kid Acne Ft. Jaz Kahina and Vandel Savage  ‘Transistors’
The Mouse Outfit & ayiTe  ‘Don’t Stop’
Girl No. III  ‘Wales’Whales’Wails At Weyl’
Pons  ‘JOHNNY PERSUASION (HABITAT 67)’
Sebastian Reynolds  ‘Crows (L’Étranger Remix)’
CMPND  ‘WEAINTPLAYIN’
Lee Scott/Hyroglifics Ft. Black Josh  ‘Sacrificial Goat’
Sonnyjim  ‘Mr Singh’
Sweaty Palms  ‘The Dance’
Weak Signal  ‘Barely A Trace’
Xqui X SEODAH  ‘Timete’
Giacomelli  ‘Phaze II, Pt. 2 (Bonus Track)’
Shreddies  ‘(no body)’

Feature/Literature/Paolo Bardelli

Continuing our successful 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 during 2021 and beyond.

This month Kalporz head honcho Paolo Bardelli tells us how a recent radio spot promotion of his new book, 1991: The awakening of rockBrit pop, trip hop, crossover, grunge and other exciting music, sparked off a discussion on the alternative-metal band Helmet, and the travails of being swallowed whole by the majors: hungry to sign up anything rock music; any band of guitar welding hopefuls in the light of Nirvana’s success.

Recently, in promoting my latest book, I found myself mentioning Helmet on the radio, and listeners called to thank me for mentioning a band that is often, and unfairly, forgotten.

And they’re right.

Helmet were one of the symbols of that period, and of that year to which I dedicated the book, 1991, when the majors signed anyone, even my aunt, as long as they did grunge or heavy rock. It didn’t matter what genre – metal, crossover, noise, shoegaze, etc. etc. – the important thing was that there was a lot of grunge. As long as there was a lot of guitar, played loud and powerful.

And there is a song, perhaps the most famous of the New York noise band’s catalogue, which shows – in its history – the plastic representation of that transition: ‘Unsung’. The first album of Page and associates (Strap It On, 1990) was released on an independent label, Amphetamine Reptile Records, which specialised in noise, but AmRep couldn’t keep their thoroughbreds in the stable for long. They were flailing. Just before Helmet made the jump to Interscope, in May 1991, on the 26th, they recorded the Peel Sessions and played the new ‘Unsung’. Such a song did not go unnoticed: Amphetamine Reptile hastened to release it, and so it was still 1991, in the live version played by Peel, as a 45 rpm, and to provide it with a video that I thought was wonderful and still respected independent standards: you see Helmet on a disused stage in an amphitheater abandoned to weeds and cockroaches.

“Unsung” was a business card that was too greedy: among all the majors that wanted to get them and that wanted to turn them into the “new Nirvana”, Interscope Records got the better of them (for a million dollars!), immediately re-releasing Strap It On (and it was still 1991, but how fast did things happen?) and brought Helmet into the studio to give a follow-up to that album, which would then be represented by the “famous” Meantime (1992). And “Unsung” was also re-recorded and given a video more in line, in theory, with the band’s new image.

Notwithstanding that ‘Unsung’ kicks ass in its first and second versions, I much prefer the video with the cockroaches. Well, at the time when the majors were grabbing these bands, maybe they were also sucking some soul out of them, and this comparison of two videos can be a clear illustration of that. But the majors also made these bands better known to most people, and that was a good thing, something Kurt Cobain also always pointed out, happy that unlike before, a teenager could find Nevermind in a Walmart store. Today the 1991 video has 15,000 views on YouTube, the official 1992 video over 11 million. Just to give you the idea.

Even selling your soul “to the devil” has its advantages.

(Paolo Bardelli)

More info on Paolo’s book can be found here: “1991. Il risveglio del rock. Brit pop, trip hop, crossover, grunge e altra musica eccitante” (Arcana)

ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

Forest Robots ‘Horst & Graben’
(Elm Records) 1st September 2021

Subscribing to the ambient version of the National Geographic (though I might christen this particular style as ‘Notional Geographic’), arduous cross-country and mountain trekker Fran Dominguez once more sonically contours the landscape and the pondered philosophical quandaries that it evokes.

Under the Forest Robots alias, nature’s son has found a peaceable, if at times dramatic, escape from the divisive stresses of the last four years by taking to the great American outdoors; finding not only solace but various Taoist posed metaphors of a simpler, ideal life spent in unison with nature.

The music might be slow, purposeful, but Dominguez isn’t one to rest on his laurels having released a number of top quality ambient map readings during the pandemic. The geological entitled Horst & Graben (in case you need to know, or if sitting your geography tests, ‘Horst’ is a raised block of the Earth’s crust that has lifted or has remained stationary whilst land either side has subsided, and ‘Graben’ is a depressed block of a planet or moon’s crust bordered by parallel faults) is his second minor opus this year; following on from the March released Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning.

Still imbued by a litany of ambient and neo-classical forbearers, the new traverse is perhaps Dominguez’s most out and out kosmische sounding album yet. Navigating fauna, chasms, peaks and allegorical waters the soundtrack pays homage to Cluster, Harmonia and solo Roedelius, and Eno and Bowie’s ‘Moss Garden’ in the ‘Neuköln’ neighborhood. To these ears there’s also a touch of Andrew Heath’s (who coincidently collaborated with Roedelius) lower case form of sparse and serial piano playing.

But this particular touching, often moving album is also imbued by the award-winning examinations of the acclaimed biologist and author David George Haskell; most notably his 2017 book, The Songs Of Trees, which looks at our innate connection with tree. Dominguez uses the author’s stories as a diving board for his own existentialist contemplations, reflections and spiritual peace of mind, but also prompts a lot of hard thinking on the hot topics of the last few years too: can we, for example, reconcile our differences, ideologies and work together on solving climate change?

Every philosophically poetic entitled track finds a balance between glades of natural light, organic paced reveals and more cosmic, elevating spells: the most stunning kosmische blaze of them all is left until the end, on the Harmonia redolent mouthful, ‘In The Aftermath Of Rain No Grain Of Sand Remains Unstirred’. It’s a subtle affair with enervated moments of a polygon windows Richard James, but mostly the Forst secluded stirrings of the whole Cluster and Harmonia experiment (especially that triumvirate of Rothar, Roedelius and Moebius); all transformed through Dominguez liquid droplets, vapours, clean and beautifully descriptive filters. Here’s hoping those calm quandaries will rub off on the angry, riled masses, because we could sure do with a healing balm of musical inspiration right 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.

REISSUE ALBUM FEATURE/Dominic Valvona

Makoto Kubota & The Sunset Gang ft. Haruomi Hosono ‘Hawaii Champroo’
(We Want Sounds)  27th August 2021

I’ve never read Julian Cope’s obsessive Japrocksampler but feel there’s a special place in the archdruid of head music’s heart for the all rounder Makoto Kubota. There’s almost certainly room for the infamous Les Rallizes Dénudés in that tome; the rambunctious hardliners that Kuboto managed to uncouple himself from in the early 70s. Devoid of official releases – their entire output more or less unofficially released as bootlegs – the Rallizes (a French corruption that translates as ‘naked suitcases’ in case you were wondering) reigned supreme as the most cultish of cult Japanese experiments. Frontman Takashi Mizutani and bassist Moriaki Wakabayashi were tangled up in the messy Japanese Red Army fringe of haphazard terror cells. The latter found himself marooned in North Korea for his troubles, after naively taking part in the hijacking of Japan Airlines flight 351: the idea being to defect and land behind the iron curtain with a cargo of hostages and leverage. Unfortunately this idealist oasis proved nothing but a regretful nightmare for the one-time bassist, who wished to return home: willing to even serve prison time if it got him home.

But I digress. For this review type feature is dedicated to that cult’s former band member, the free-roaming Kubota, who left his native homeland to soak up the musical heritage of Uncle Sam. The music backpacker was especially enamoured with good ol’ barreled salon piano ragtime and the quivery tropical, bendy swoon and charms of Hawaii. Perhaps as an escape from all the heavy shit back home, the flirtations many of his comrades had with red army like fractions, Kubota turned away from the confrontational, reverting back to the roots of a more subdued form of American and Japanese folk music.

Released originally in 1975 with his Sunset Gang ensemble, Hawaii Champroo makes clear the producer-musician’s fusion tastes: A blend of two Pacific oceanic islands, Hawaii and Okinawa. (The “champroo” of that title actually derives from the traditional Okinawan stir-fry dish, the “chanpurũ”.) A delectable, even fun serving of those two island’s folk roots, the middle album in a trio of iconic Kubota 70s albums, Hawaii Champroo also soaks up the great American revival by a boomer generation of previously psychedelic, acid and garage playing bands. That translates as plenty of waned country; deep southern boogie and bluesy rock ‘n’ roll for your buck.

Why are we talking about this relatively obscure record now? Well the fine people over at WEWANTSOUNDS have picked up not only this album but also Kubota & The Sunset Gang’s eponymous debut from ’73 and the Dixie Fever album from ‘77. All three get the remastering varnish, with Hawaii Champroo the first to roll off the vinyl presses this month; released we’re told for the very first time outside Japan.

It doesn’t get much more salivating and cultish than this, with one of Japan’s most influential innovators, leader of the legendary electronic pop group, the Yellow Magic Orchestra (pen pals of Kraftwerk), Haruomi Hosono, producing and sitting in on drums. The actual Sunset troupe included Takashi Onzo on bass, Yosuke Fujita on guitars and mandolin, Keni Inoue on lead and Hiroki Komazawa on lush pedal steel, with an extended guest spot from Teriyuki Kokubu on lively salon bar jangling piano. All names I’m sure any aficionado and head music obsessive will know very well indeed.

Imbued in the Hawaiian spirit, and the hula-limbering breeze, Kubota recorded this album at Herbert Ono’s famed Sounds Of Hawaii studio in Honolulu, with Hosono producing – and you can tell; a companion piece to the legend’s own Tropical Dandy and Bon Voyage Co. albums, which Kubota, in returning the favour, even played on. 

At the forefront of a tropical movement, the lilting island sound permeates an album made up by both interrupted covers and original dreamy mirage like country-blues and ragtime. Those covers prove surprising choices, with a Mike Nesmith stands around with Al Jardine at the piano in a Mississippi salon version of The Texas Playboy’s ‘Steel Guitar Rag’; a Fats Domino meets Elvis yodeled take on Gus Cannon’s – via The Rooftop Singers – ragtime classic, ‘Walk Right In’; a Rolling Stones leaning reggae like chopsticks vision of Jesse Fuller’s ‘San Francisco Blues’; and a sweetly incipient drifted version of, fellow compatriot, Shoukichi Kina’s instant ’72 classic, ‘Hai Sai Ozisan’.

Kubota and his troupe’s original songbook selections sail and sway to a backing of peaceable coconut rock ‘n’ roll with touches of Dr. John at his most laidback, George Harrison guitar bends, a bit of enervated Savoy Brown and trace of Country Joe. Moonlight beachside serenades sit comfortably with grass-skirted limbering and lush faux-reggae in Kubota’s paradise.

Whilst Glam had all but reached its nadir, and the era of the singer-songwriter was in full flight, and with punk not quite on the threshold, Kubota turned to the timeless to lead a tropical new wave in the 70s. Hawaii Champroo is a lush, harmonious testament of that move: a far cry from those formative years in the infamous Les Rallizes Dénudés. Go ahead; soak it up, as this is a most lovely, soothing and dreamy album. And don’t worry, there’s two more albums form this creative period to come.

FYI: Hawaii Champroo is first out the blocks in this reissue series, with the eponymous debut Sunset Gang LP (originally released in ’73) set to be released next month, and Dixie Fever to follow (originally released in ’77) in October.

WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA
PHOTO CREDIT: BETHAN ELFORD

Julia Meijer ‘Borta Från Allt’
(PinDrop Records)  20th August 2021

Pretty much following the career of the Swedish indie-pop artist Julia Meijer since her move to Oxford some years back, the Monolith Cocktail is delighted to premiere the singer-songwriter-guitarist’s next single, ‘Borta Från Allt’.

Once more it’s another transformation for the deft songstress, who constantly seems to surprise us; moving between glacial-like hymnal songs, set to the poetry of Iceland’s national treasure, Steinn Steinar, to more angular new wave. Side-stepping convenient pigeon-holing, Meijer gives the spotlight to her band’s guitarist Andrew Warne, who offers up a turbulent wave of grunge-y coarseness and The Audience style moodiness.  Adding progressive sounding, hallowed suffusion of organ and a backbeat are Sebastian Reynolds and former Guillemot Grieg Stewart.

The title, translated from the Swedish, means ‘Away From Everything’. Meijer has this to say about the single’s intentions, evocations and style:

“I wanted a raw sound that reflected the desperation in the lyrics, which are about wanting to escape everything for just a moment, to find the touch of a familiar hand and to heal in silence.”

Prepare yourselves for some beautifully conveyed turmoil, and lap up this week’s special premiere.

A Look At What’s Out There In The World Of Music And Sonics/Dominic Valvona

Singles/Tracks/EPs:

Pons  ‘The Pons Estate EP’
13th August 2021

A rambunctious gatecrash trample across aristocratic lawns, the ever-disjointed, disturbed and thrashing Pons trio gallop back onto the scene with this new EP. A somehow melodic and exciting shambles – a right tear up -, this high class troupe have expanded upon last year’s volatile, chaos in motion, stonker Intellect (which made this blog’s choice albums of 2020 features); reaching out to embrace a bastardised version of techno and nu rave. Tracks like the drum machine bobbing, electronic scattered ‘Johnny Persuasion’ knocks the shit out of the Klaxons and Late Of The Pier, whilst the erratic Lynchian inspired ‘Leland’ is a real sleazy, creeping mind-bender of The Liars, LCD Soundsystem and Swans hovering up killer lines on the set of Twin Peaks: an imaginary dungeon discotheque to be exact. 

If you’ve picked up our Pons recommendations then you’ll know that the band’s signature is to make constant gear changes in their songs; from the strung-out to the dashing; noisy to surprisingly tactile; the discordant lo fi to indie-pop. This holds up well on The Pons Estate; the caustic opener, ‘Imbound!’, sprinting between wild horseplay, hints of White Denim and The Strokes (having a stroke) and the in the red looning Black Lips, yet able to throw in a more melodious no wave style saxophone or two. ‘Bardo’ by comparison, is a much more sulking languid affair of lo fi grandeur that reverberates with quivered viola (a new instrument in the Pons repertoire).

Other than that we’re looking at a brilliant manic power-up of The Parquet Floors, Tokyo Police Squad, Glamor For Better and an air, I dare say, of petulant Smiths. It’s another unruly blast of young energy and moodiness that pisses over the stately gardens of the mundane, and captures the discord of our times with rowdy flair.

Sebastian Reynolds  ‘Crows EP’
(Faith & Industry)  6th August 2021

The crows are circling, which can only usually mean one thing. Yet, instead of harbingers of doom, augurs for the fall of civilizations, this carrion is reflected both with lofting clarinet majesty and an acidy techno pulse.

No stranger to cerebral contemplations, posed quandaries and spiritual philosophy, polymath composer/artist Sebastian Reynolds follow’s up The Universe Remembers and, the more recent, Nihilism Is Pointless EPs with a split release of original scores plus two treated remixes.

Featured umpteen times over the years for a multitude of collaborations and projects (from the Solo Collective triumvirate to the Maṇīmekhalā dance drama), Reynolds has only, relatively, recently taken to releasing music under his own name. The collaborations continue however, with both the adroit clarinet player Rachel Coombes (who also added evocative swanning feel to Reynolds’s The Universe Remembers) and former drummer and founding member of the Oxford band The Guillemots, Grieg Stewart appearing on the EP’s titular suite.

Coombes adds a low tone register of long wafted clarinet to the skying opener, whilst Stewart joins in slowly with a short shot of kick drum and snare as Reynolds conjures up suitably atmospheric synth throbs and ambient strokes. The mood and urgency change completely on the avian title-track; Reynolds twists the dials towards the acid techno of Mike Dred; turning up the synthesized pulsations, fizzles and mechanics on a EDM vision of the Utah Saints rewiring Amorphous Androgynus and the Public Service Broadcasting: Stewart’s drums get more of a work out that’s for sure.

Remix wise, Thai producer Pradit Saengkrai filters the original ‘Crows’ through a frazzled static rasp force field; a generated spell where the drums are rebounded and warped, and the synths made to sound more alien. L’ Étranger (the Camus inspired French house music alias incarnation of the UK’s beat maker Ben Thomas) for his treatment gives that same track an electro Basic Chanel production of 808 preset toms, drum machine tight-delay percussion and handclaps and whipped fizzes. A repeated tubular bell tolls at the end.

Reynolds vision is ambiguous on this occasion, musically and sonically experimenting with the neo-classical, electro and ambient genres yet expanding the horizons to filter techno and a sort of indie-rave Klaxons. Intentions wise, those naturally dark cloaked birds remain pretty aloof.

Albums::

Paxton Spangler Septet  ‘Anthem For The New Nation’
(Eastlawn Records)  4th July 2021

Treading the fertile pathway of South African jazz, imbued by that region’s pioneers and greats for over three decades, the co-led Paxton Spangler Septet once more hone in on the magic of the pianist/composer Abdullah Ibrahim.

Paying a special homage to the fecund of talent and signature sweltered toil, spiritual and activist driven vibes that has poured out of the much troubled South Africa, trombonist Tbone Paxton and his percussionist foil RJ Spangler have collect various awards for various album projects; from recordings with the Sun Sounds Orchestra to their work with the PD9 Township Jazz troupe. Musicians from the latter of those make an appearance as part of the Septet on this latest Ibrahim dedication; the heralded Anthem For The New Nation, a title with so many connotations, released as it was on America’s Independence Day, yet from the perspective of the icon they are covering, an anthem prayer for the birth of a new, anti-apartheid South Africa.

This faithful to the course rainbow nation imbued group is ‘built’ (we’re told) around the splashed and rolling drums of Sean Perlmutter, noodling flexed bass of Damon Warmack and spirited Ibrahim recondite piano of Phil Hale. That set ups extended by Dan Bennett on tenor sax, the flute player and alto saxophonist Rafael Leafar, and second alto saxophonist Kasan Belgrave, with special guest spot on flugelhorn (of all things) from James O’Donnell. Together they make a great job of breathing life into Ibrahim’s 70s and 80s dawning back catalogue; a relaxed at times, warmly enthused saunter and pride of Safari animals like run through some of the legend’s most important, emotive pieces.

Once anointed by Nelson Mandela as ‘South Africa’s Mozart’, the rightfully lauded jazz star added a certain languid homeland groove and the classical to the jazz he’d absorbed playing in the States with such luminaries as Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Max Roach and Ornette Coleman. Signing as Dollar Bill for a while, until converting to Islam in the late 60s, Ibrahim went from the intimacy of a duo to a twelve-piece band, composing both lush hymns to his country and unofficial national anthems for the anti-apartheid movement. Anthems like ‘Manneberg’, originally released in 1974. Here the septet place it together with the title-track from the ’77 LP, Cape Town Fringe; alternating between a blend of slow bass note piano, drifting horns and a familiar township groove, and a sudden waters-breaking cascade of combined instrument duets and come alive saxophones. ‘Soweto’, the title-track from the titular ’78 LP, is another township anthem handled by the group. More celebratory, with a great Afro-jazz verging on mardi gras side ordering of funk, that 70s joyful freedom dance proves a perfect choice for this Detroit troupe, who roll the original into a new century.

This homage-performed album is dotted with Ibrahim favourites; from the lovely peaceable bustle of the balmy Highlife meets early 60s classic jazz imbued ‘African Marketplace’ (another titular composition, from the ’79 LP on Elektra) to the classical mode, trinket shaking ‘Moniebah’ (taken from the ’73 LP Good News From Africa). Optimistic undulated paeans to not only South Africa but the African continent as a whole are given a faithful soundtrack of elephant trunk trumpeted and spiralled horns, flighty flute, soulful dotted and dappled organ and shuffled drums by the ensemble in a show of respect, but also to share a love and passion for the music of an often in-turmoil land. Fans of Ibrahim won’t be disappointed, put it that way.

Giacomelli  ‘Interplanetary Thoughts’
(Somewherecold Records)  30th July 2021

Machine sculptured but inspired by both Earthly nature and the cosmos, Steve Giacomelli peruses sonic ‘interplanetary thoughts’ on his fifth album for the constantly illuminating Somewherecold label.  

Regular readers may have seen my premiere last September of the Silicon Valley composer’s The Best Of Both Worlds, Part II’; taken from the epic sprawled Cosmic Order album of ARP synthesised lunar kosmische riches. Using that same iconic 70s apparatus for this new celestial and sun bathed, if often dramatically mysterious, set of suites the composer invokes shades of Froese, Schulze, Cluster, a bit of Eno and some Olympiad Vangelis on a glorious fanned spread of ambient waves, oscillations and equinox majestic worship.

From an enviable commanding studio lab view, perched above the Santa Cruz Mountains, light beams and life-giving forces are made concrete; captured in serene and arcing magic. Broad awakenings and phased ripples meet more Tangerine Dream imbued three-parter scaled hovers in the starry expanses of space. For this is a filmic like soundtrack that has visions of a light-playing mirage shimmered terra firma, and the fluted, whistled, solar wind blowing realms of a mystical galaxy: one that’s constantly expanding, throbbing in concentric rhythms. Both of these phenomenons take centre stage; unfurling an organic beauty and weight of awe-inspiring gravitas.

It seems odd to speak of the composition’s organic, almost naturalistic qualities, considering everything you hear is engineered electronically. Yet that’s how it feels and sounds: natural light transduced through an analogue filter.

Interplanetary Thoughts is another unheralded album of ambient brilliance from the West Coast electronic composer.

Sølyst  ‘Spring’
(Bureau B)  13th August 2021

Springing, fizzing, sizzling and bouncing along to a moody and kinetic beat, Kriedler drummer (a mark of true quality if any was needed) Thomas Klein arrives with his fourth Sølyst alter-ego album.

Slotting, genealogy wise, with the Dusseldorf composer’s previous trio of albums (2011’s Sølyst, 2013’s Lead and 2016’s The Steam Age), the Spring movement of metallic and tubular percussion and beats proves a congruous fit.

Made up of material explorations from the last three years, with some elements either discarded or reworked, this latest succinct series of entitled tracks seem to be named after each composition’s rhythm and evocation. So ‘Flex’, for example, does just that; flexing between a processed drum kit of kling klang nu-wave sparks, chipping away metal blocks, and a vague flavor of lilting jug poured Africa sounds. The following track, ‘Thief’, lurks in the industrial shadows, creeping about as softened reverberated distant drums bang away – evoking a steel mesh echoed conjuncture of Die Wilde Jagd and solo Moebius.

Elsewhere it’s a case of a modern autobahning Kraftwerk motoring down neon highways; buzzing quarks and a removed affected version of cosmic steel drums; a taste of Cosey Fanni Tutti; and paddled hallowed tube beats on a highly sophisticated album of rhythmic manipulation and overlapping networks. 

Xqui X SEODAH  ‘Sufficiently Disconcerting’
(Wormhole World)  6th August 2021

The full name of at least one of the sonic partners in this unsettling affair should tell you all you need to know about this both Latin liturgy and supernatural inspired collaboration: Sound Effects Of Death And Horror describes this unholy union well; a six track pairing of sonic antagonist Xqui and the abbreviated, morbidly curious SEODAH.

This is the inaugural team-up; a balance of the disturbing and monastic; between unease and cathedral like choral gravitas. Half the material is a synthesized transmogrification of established Latin choral music; originally meant for solo soprano or baritones and choruses; for chamber or string quartets. ‘Timete’, ‘Exultate’ and ‘Oculi Mei’ are the suites cast in that mould; the first a merger of Tangerine Dream and Jerry Goldsmith’s Omen score, the second, a calmer glassy bauble floated and ether probing version of Popol Vuh, and the third, a kosmische traverse of metal tapped rhythms.

In between those transformations, apparitions are the panic attack deranged symphony mirage of Library Music and sampled Yank veiled, ‘An American Man Stole My Balloons’; the phasered circular drone with serial piano notes airy phantasm, ‘Probosis (Wins By A Nose)’; and the, full length horror soundtrack in its own right, Giallo scene-munching and drudge metal marching three-act ‘Hallucigenetic’.

Faith will be tested on an unnerving, ‘sufficiently disconcerting’ disturbance in sonic dread and mystery.

Viktor Timofeev  ‘Palace Of Peace & Reconciliation’
(Lo Bit Landscapes)  13th August 2021

Five years on from the unexpected shutdown of label facilitators Lo Bit Landscapes’ Brooklyn home, Viktor Timofeev’s much-delayed caustic sprawl, Palace Of Peace & Reconciliation, finally emerges from all the misery and setbacks.

Originally set to follow in the wake of the noted visual artist and composer’s debut album GIVE_HEALTH999, this voyage into both the disturbing and code calculating depths of an ever alienating digital world fits in congruously with the current climate of stressed unease, uncertainty and fear.

Timofeev’s epic soundtrack like album draws you into a speed-shifted, reversed and reverberated spool-squealing, shuddering matrix. Its divided along the lines of more coarse sci-fi abstract immersions and gabbled-like sped-up manic chakras and obscured churned lo fi garage. The second half is in fact like a weird Faust like transmogrification of vague Indian music, ceremony and echoed ramblings beyond the calico wall. The first half by comparison sounds like Bernard Szajner reversing church bells as a busy signaling of date hovers overhead, on the opening unsettled nine-minute ‘Tevek Fritoiov’ suite. The atmosphere then changes on the following loop pedal guitar, pattered beat ‘Memoriatrium’: think Land Observation meets Federico Balducci.

The mysterious Alienboy featured ‘Pyramid Of Accord’ cast His Name Is Alive out into a metallic rainstorm in space. I’m not sure if it’s the so-called guest or not, but gaseous, burbled exhales and monastic moans permeate wave after wave of static frying noise and mooning.

Distortions in the fabric, unholy organ kosmische and more serene inner space meditations wait on an epic lengthened album of dissonance and warped strains; peregrinations and digital explorations. Put it this way, it’s well with the long wait.  

D:Rom/Shreddies  ‘Sucker’
(New Haven Tapes)  11th August 2021

What a time to be an electronic artist or DJ, yet despite the slow slog towards reopening the clubs and live venues (to a point; COVID passport of a kind holders only) one Welsh sonic dance music maverick has decided to take the plunge and set up a new label venture. Although originally envisioned solely as a vehicle for the founder, Shreddies, music, the New Haven Tapes imprint has expanded to include other like-minded noise-makers from the region’s underground scene; such as the fellow techno and footwork artist D:Rom.

The inaugural longplayer is a congruous split release, with three tracks from each artist. D:Rom kicks things off on sucker with a trio of fuzzy-squalling, warped and pumped lo fi acid from another age. Run through a reverberated, bit-crush filter ‘I Kuw Gna Paly Me’ gallops to a space invaders 8-bit and ping-pong bounce of oomphing tropical disco NRG house and Djax-Up-Beat techno, whilst ‘Bleachful’ mellows the pace a touch, as the synthesized 303 or 808 hi-hats press away to shades of slag Boom Van Loon’s ‘Poppy Seed’ and softened recollections of early Jeff Mills.

Up next, Cardiff’s won Shreddies races through resonating hi-hats and a Basic Channel like techno dance beat on the airy, melodic sinewave ‘Fuego’; mutates a fusion of trance-y 808 State and R&S Records on the housing ‘Texacco’; and goes for something altogether more shimmered and mirror-y on ‘(no body)’: imagine Laraaji refitted for a Chicago house dancefloor.

Sucker marks a positive start for this underground platform; it’s dance music, but not as you know it.

Ester Poly  ‘Wet’
(Hummus Records)  20th August 2021

Four years on from their blazing feminist, contorting debut Pique Dame, and the Swiss canton post-punk rocking Ester Poly duo are back. In all that time there’s been a whole opprobrium of protestation material and issues to cause the already riled piqued dames to leap into action.

Still with the commodification and unsolicited, unwanted interest of sexual desire on their minds, the cross generational, cross cities duo of Martina Berthes and Béatrice Graf titillate with suggestive visuals and lyrics on the innuendo entitled Wet.

With that signature mix of strong female led influences (from The Slits to Delta 5 and Girls At Our Best) and a slice of humour, the busy partnership of electric bass and drums (shared vocal duties) both smashes and offers more erotic whispered sloganism on the topics of diversity and racism: A call in a manner for self-love and acceptance that implores us all to stop following “the mainstream”. (I’d add Twitter, FB et al to that list of vile, fame hungry platforms).

Despite the limitations of their instruments, Ester Poly use both abrasive and more space-y effects to widen the scope and influence of sounds. They also sing, shout, pant and breathlessly communicate tin English, German and French to varying degrees of excitement and salacious protest. It’s a sort of mantric chant however that’s used on the album’s opener and recent single, ‘Reject My Speck’: a rattled sticks on drum rims recall of The Stray Cats meets The Raincoats stumbling and scowling down a dark alley; the repeated refrain of “respect/accept” rings throughout. 

They prowl and creep into the Dead Kennedys territory on the Teutonic ‘Braun’, and offer an avant-garde panting vision of Royal Blood on the French language ‘Presses’. Elsewhere they offer up tangles of post-rock, math rock, and on the album’s last couplet of remixes, an indie dance and a retreated version of Italo house meets French electro (on the Berthes and Franca Locher remix of the titular tune from the riotous grrrls debut album).

Sexual slang by-words and scented metaphors are floated or thrown around in a vortex of strong-willed feminine wiles and irony throughout this fruity exchange. It seems there’s still enough “pique” to go round, as the Swiss duo demands ownership and respect in a fit of post-punk and beyond energy.

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

The Eclectic & Generational Spanning Playlist/Dominic Valvona

An imaginary radio show, a taste of our DJ sets, the Monolith Cocktail Social is a playlist selection that spans genres and eras to create the most eclectic of soundtracks. With tributes to those albums celebrating anniversaries this year too. Compiled by Dominic Valvona. This month’s edition includes nods to Cypress Hill (their highly influential West Coast Hip-Hop stoner raged debut is thirty years old this August), The Rolling Stones (Tattoo You is unbelievably forty years old this month) and The Who (their monolith piss stop, Who’s Next, is fifty years old).

Joining them are newish and old tunes from the Brazilian force in rap, Hus KingPin, a recently resurfaced Mick Ronson at the Old Grey Whistle Test live recording, a couple of cover versions of Brian Wilson magic from Jem Records recent celebratory compilation of California’s favourite son, and a high fluting meandering stunner from Jeremy Steig. Plus music from the Lotus Eaters, Bunalimlar, Black Randy & The Metro Squad, Les Shleau Shleu, Dennis Wilson, Shriekback, MF Grimm and loads more of the good stuff.

Settle for no substitutes; expect to hear anything and everything.

Those Tracks In Full Are:

Barbara Acklin  ‘I’m Living With A Memoary’
Shriekback  ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’
Jeremy Steig  ‘Love Potion’
The Art Of Lovin’  ‘The First Time’
Geza X The Mommymen  ‘Rio Grande Hotel’
The Intelligence  ‘Celebration Ratio’
Perth County Conspiracy  ‘Take Your Time’
Volo Volo  ‘Manman’
Bunalimalr  ‘Başak Saçlim’
Jiraphand Ong-Ard  ‘Siamese Boxing’
Otis Jackson Jr. Trio  ‘Free Son’
Cypress Hill  ‘Hand On The Pump’
MF Grimm  ‘Crumbs’
Binary Star  ‘Conquistadors (Ft. Senim Silla & One Be Lo)
Piero Umiliani  ‘Tiger Jazz’
DMZ  ‘Watch For Me Girl’
Black Randy & The Metro Squad  ‘Beer Shit/Disco Loner’
The Gold Needles  ‘Love And Mercy’
The Folksmen  ‘Start Me Up’
Hus KingPin  ‘Mab’s’
J Scienide  ‘Greetings From Bora Bora’
Ugo Busoni, Massimo D Cicco & Paolo Ferrara  ‘Tokyo’
Mick Ronson  ‘Play Don’t Worry (Live)’
The Beach Boys  ‘Fallin’ In Love’
Geoff & Maria Muldaur  ‘Catch It’
Richie Havens  ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’
Les Shleu Shleu  ‘Gratteur’
Riz Ortolani  ‘Picco Di Adamo’
Elizabeth Wyld  ‘Something You Might Regret’
The Rolling Stones  ‘Waiting On A Friend’
Dyke & The Blazers  ‘Call My Name’
The Grip Weeds  ‘Heroes & Villians/Roll Plymouth Rock’
The Tiffany Shade  ‘One Good Question’
Gary McFarland  ‘Suburbia Two Poodles And A Plastic Jesus’
The Lotus Eaters  ‘Untitled 2’

Selector: Dominic Valvona

Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea’s Reviews Roundup

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.

Each month we supply him with a mixed bag of new and upcoming releases to see what sticks.

Singles/Tracks.

Seaside Witch Coven  ‘A.E.O’
16th July 2021

I like this: Well obviously or I would not be arsed writing about it. But I like how it captures the days of Newport when it was being called ‘The UK’s Seattle’, and my days of rehearsing in the Disgraceland rehearsal rooms, and going watching bands at the Legendary TJ’S, and also how it reminds me of the wonderful, should have been more successful, wonky ALICE – maybe the finest band ever to set foot out of Oldham.

Yes this track has a genre jumping magic about it; punk rock psych with a melody one can hum while you lose yourselves in memories of your youth; back to the good old days when your body worked and you still believed you could change things with a guitar and a pen and a melody. And you never know, Seaside Witch Coven may succeed where I failed.

Bloom De Wilde  ‘Garden Of The Sun’
23rd July 2021

The Fabulous Bloom De Wilde is back with a summery light pop ska tinged single to brighten up our daily lives. Once again shedding love to the masses through melodies sublime and her wonderful voice – a voice that could melt the hardest of hearts. How we need Bloom to weave her romantic musical magic on the world, to put a spring into our collective steps and spread joy. She is a true to life cartoon character that should be embraced; a throwback to the times when pop stars where otherworldly; when we thought Marc Bolan was a glam prince from a Tolkien novel and Bowie was from another planet.

‘Garden of The Sun’ is a brief glimpse into a shimmering sun; an explosion of innocence and purity of pop. It even finishes with the sound of a child’s laugh and nothing is as pure and innocent and magical as that.

Emily Isherwood  ‘See You Go’
(Breakfast Records)  16th July 2021

There is something of the Harriett Wheeler about Emily Isherwood. She had the same melancholy clarity in the vocals; the same as their voices soar, their hearts break, sound of baring souls and feelings in her art. And ‘See you Go’ is a beautifully performed and written song: and really one could not ask for more. It’s not a song that kicks you between the legs but one that gently tugs on your forelocks and whispers in your ear.

Albums/EPs..

Various  ‘The Rough Guide To The Best Country Blues You’ve Never Heard Volume 2’ 
(World Music Network/Rough Guides)  30th July 2021

In some ways I should be showing thanks for being sent so much unexciting bland generic new music to review over the last few weeks or otherwise I would not have listened to this fine 26 track compilation of old country blues music; a music steeped in soul heartache and dark humour. Plus it also appeals to my lo-fi loving soul and is filled with a certain magic music really does not quite capture as much these days. Why is that I do not know as we’re certainly living in troubled times. Maybe a microphone placed in front of a talented songwriter/performer is frowned upon, but there is something special about hearing an artist open his soul without studio trickery and sheen. Maybe it’s the way forward.

These 26 tracks are all brilliantly written, performed with, as I have already mentioned, deep soul and a fine grasp of beautiful simple melodies. Tommie Bradley‘s ‘When You’re Down And Out’ being a fine example: a song with a melody so sweet it could make a statue weep. And there is something that makes you warm inside hearing an out-of-tune harmonica and nonsensical stream of lyrics pouring forth from a cheap acoustic guitar toting Bogus Ben Covington, who’s ‘It’s A Fight Like That’ is just one of the many highlights on this beautifully entertaining compilation; an album that asks maybe it’s time we turned our back on tech and relied on pure song writing talent instead.

Graham Domain  ‘Without The Darkness…The Stars Could Not Shine’
(Metal Postcard Records)  9th July 2021

The wonderful unique sound of Graham Domain is back. And he’s back with his best album yet; nine songs recorded in last year’s lockdown that capture the uncertainty and sadness and madness of the times.

Graham takes his love of tinkling piano hand held percussion and string synths to a new level on Without The Darkness…The Stars Could Not Shine. At times the slightly deranged beauty of Graham’s songs is really quite heart stopping, dark, mysterious but with a subtle musical humour: ‘Limbs Of Loneliness’ reminding me of how the soundtrack of Bagpuss might have sounded like if written and performed by David Sylvain. But as I have already said, Graham Domain is unique. You can hear his influences (Scott Walker, Japan, Marc Almond/Soft Cell) but he adds his own strangeness; adding an almost layer of lounge based homemade psychedelia: If Syd Barret had not done acid and played a Casio keyboard he might have sounded like this. And you can tell that Graham is a huge Motown fan as ‘Giving Up On Heartache’ is a wonderful soul song, and you could easily imagine Smokey Robinson crooning it quite beautifully – and is also my favourite track on the album, a gem of a song. And that is what so magical about Graham Domain, a man with a love of music in its many genres in which he soaks up and releases in his own unique way.

Without The Darkness…The Stars Could Not Shine is a fine album and deserves to be heard by a larger audience.

Corduroy Institute  ‘Eight/Chance/Meetings’
21st June 2021

I like artists who try and make pop music interesting; they should be rewarded by people taking notice of their endeavors, and that is what attracted me to this LP: an album with a sense of adventure and trying to keep things interesting.

I could have easily chosen to write about another quite good album with guitar and bass and drums with songs about girls and love and such, but why waste my time when there is an album of sublime beauty and depth to listen to. And Eight/Chance/Meetings is such an album; an album of ‘Pure Improvisation’ and cut up lyrics, and at times it reminds me of Bowie/late Scott Walker and the Talking heads with a touch of the David Sylvain’s about it. So yes it is arty, but music is art: probably the greatest artform. 

It won’t appeal to the Oasis fan on the whole, but anybody who loved one of the best albums of last year Sum Total Of Insolent Blank by the Santa Sprees will absolutely adore it, and with very good cause because the album is adorable. It has wit, adventure, darkness, and has so much style I feel I should be wearing a velvet smoking jacket whilst listening to it. Yes, one of my albums of the year I feel…an album of experimental pop grace.

Snowcrushed  ‘A Frightened Man’
21st July 2021

The Debut album by Snowcrushed is a wonderful thing; the sound of a soft and slow descent into slumber only to find nightmares waiting to taunt and poke you in the ribs and call you a cunt when you arrive into a land where Alice would buy her dream home only to find that all the other inhabitants are lesser cardboard mortals who spend their days in a constant merry go round of drudgery and conversations of what happened in last night’s episode of Coronation Street.

A Frightened Man is a rare and magical thing, an ambient album that embraces melody, an album that softly sucks you into its vacuum and tells of a story of being trapped by your imagination and the lack of other peoples. I think I may have stumbled onto something special here, maybe the new star the new kid on the block in the strange world that is the ambient music scene: maybe the new Beatles in that genre. I think after hearing this the excellent Submarine Recordings and Wormhole World records might be giving themselves an almighty kick at not having the chance to release this.

A frightened Man is an album that is both haunting and beautifully rewarding.

Various  ‘Summer Sampler #8’
(Howling Banana Records)  16th July 2021

What we have here my little cockylorums is a free download sampler from the wonderfully named Howling Banana Records, and it is an album that skips from the Ramones like fun of Johnny Mafia, whose track ‘TV & Disney’ is a sunshine ice cream split of punk adventure, to the country-tinged Glama Rola of The Da Freak’s ‘Coco Cola’, through to the Shoegaze pop of Pop Crimes’ ‘There Were Smiles’.

Yes, this is an album for the lovers of the indie guitar; an album that will please and caress the earlobes of those who seek pleasant strum-along indie guitar in its many forms: all melodies and tuneful meandering. An ideal soundtrack to your days in your garden or beach soaking up the sun.

William Carlos Whitten  ‘My Life In Cinema’
(Wormhole World)  23rd July 2021

William Carlos Whitten has a bit of the early 70s Bowie’s and Lennon about him, which is certainly not a bad thing. And he certainly knows his way around a catchy melody and how to write an old-fashioned pop song, as this album is full of them: You cannot go wrong with home recorded synths drum machines and homespun melodrama.

I can imagine Williams’ bedroom wall being covered with Mott The Hoople posters and him owning at least one copy of every Lou Reed 70s album. This is an album that deserves an album review by the late Lester Bangs, but as he is dead I expect one shall not be forthcoming, unless of course he is channeling me as I write this. But I somehow doubt it, unless one loses 90 per cent of your talent from the other side.

This is a rather splendid album that is worthy of Charles Douglas and the more I listen the more I wish I had heard about it before the ltd cd had sold out. But that I am afraid is the joy of being on a tiny label. But cannot one speak higher praise than to say that I would have paid hard earned cash to add this cd to my large collection, as would have you if you had heard about it. A lovely pop gem that is authentically lovely with a touch of sleaze.

Girl No. III  ‘High-Five For Five/Four’
(Illywacker Records)  30th July 2021

The unusual sound of disturbance; an unbalanced tray of musical disco fanny; a subdued look into the mind of a psychotic zookeeper, or, the heart of a beating living mechanical tombstone. Yes, this strange avant-garde journey through Jazz and spiritual invention game-playing tomfoolery is one worth listening to, but not if you have a headache or in need of space for quiet reflection, as this gem of invention is all over the place and best listened to on headphones unless you want the death stare from other family members.

This is an album for lovers of alt jazz or more experimental works of synth wielding Coltrane fanatics.

Sorrows  ‘Love Too Late’
(Big Stir Records)  13th August 2021

Not to be confused with the classic 60s British beat band The Sorrows, led by Don Fardon, but the late 70s early 80s American power pop band Sorrows, who are back with a brand-new album, or in fact a rerecording of their second album, which they were never happy with on the label that spills forth power pop goodness on it seems like a whim: Big Stir Records.

So, you know what to expect: jangling guitars, melodies sublime and songs of love and girls and all things power pop songs are about. No surge into the mists of dark wave or outpourings of contempt for the powers that be; no rapper appearing mid-way through the song extolling the virtues of a big booty then pissing off again. No, what we have are eleven songs of well self-written guitar-based pop – well 10 actually, as there is also a decent cover of the Kinks ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’. 

They make no attempt at hiding their love for mid-sixties Beatles, especially on the Lennon like ‘Rita’: although it is not mentioned whether she was lovely or not. Sorrows obviously love the power and magic of rock ‘n’ roll and are entrenched in its spirit: If you cut them I’m sure they would bleed 12 string guitars, the power chord and melody.

ALBUM REVIEW/DOMINIC VALVONA

Uncommon Nasa  ‘Only Child’
(Uncommon Records)  6th August 2021

Encompassing the local and surrounding areas of the city he’s never left, the leftfield candid hip-hop artist Uncommon Nasa takes a poignant look back at his roots on his sixth studio album, Only Child. For a rap artist known for their open delivery, this latest soliloquy and sagacious lyrical roll is possibly the most personal yet.

Now into his early forties (the release date is actually the day after Nasa’s 43rd birthday) and as the slurred and slowed down sample on the album track ‘Your Hands will Turn To Rust’ remarks, “I’m the kind of a guy who is now in that ageing late thirty, early forty bracket in which suddenly there is a tremendous bittersweet poignant feeling about wanting to go back to another time…” And so it is the same for Nasa: dispensing wisdom, the short tales of those who made an impact on his life, and the growing pains, memories of those formative years on both Long Island and Staten Island (where he still lives).

The album title describes Nasa’s unique perspective, growing up without siblings; spending a lot of time alone but developing a rich, cerebral imagination, lyrical skills and an eclectic taste in music. Now decades on, and with his long time partner the open-minded reflective rapper runs, meanders and drops lines about all the connections and ‘what ifs?’ About the tropes that so many of us in a similar age bracket (that’s me: the only child) either agonize over or ponder. With no children of his own (again, that’s also me), the lineage stops when Nasa leaves this mortal coil (God forbid!). Although the musical legacy and his view of the world will live on: “If I die, just see it as I did”.

Nasa flies solo on this album: and all the better for it. So many hip-hop artists fill their work with umpteen cameos – the bread and butter of so many emcees, hoping to appeal to a multiple of fans. Only Child is however produced by the Baltimore ‘beat-placer’ Messiah Musik , who’s lent his trade to Mach-Hommy’s ‘Pray For Haiti’ and cuts by Billy Woods and Quelle Chris. Messiah has worked with Nasa before of course, on the 2014 release, New York Telephone. He now provides a highly atmospheric, often psychedelic, moody and mysterious cosmic soundscape on this brilliant epiphany.  Against Nasa’s intelligent trains of consciousness that production proves a congruous fit; subtle, minimal at times, with the most evocative of leftfield jazzy-prog touches. The elemental particle opener, ‘Quark Strangeness In The Hour Of Chaos’, for instance has that echo-y atmosphere of harmonic pining jazzy-prog looseness (bordering on Pink Floyd), as Nasa’s strung-out and just as loose inner thoughts drip and starkly limber up. It actually reminded me a little of Sex And Violence era BDP, with its almost foreboding unveiling of thoughts from a dark tech dystopia.

Already picked up by Monolith Cocktail collaborator Matt Oliver (who also included Nasa’s Kount Fif produced 2019 album, City As School, in our choice albums list) for our monthly revue playlist, precursor single ‘U86’ features some reworked Southeast Asian or Japanese soundtrack; the Oriental bed for a track about tuning into the localized TV station of the title, which offered a window into a whole world of music for a young Nasa, including Tears For Fears. Not shy in conveying his feelings, Nasa raps, “Tears For Fears, I cried when I heard that song, I don’t know why I listened to it for so long.” By the time we reach the Run The Jewels mirage title-track the production has changed to embrace a lunar Peruvian panpipe! Later on, the theme music from some 70s detective or thriller series, accompanied by crunched turning over drum breaks, wraps itself around another album single, ‘Brooklyn Soup’: a psychogeography like walk in the boroughs.

That eclectic ear for a sample, break continues with ‘Vincent Crane’; a discovery that Nasa implores as, “just one example of things you should, might know.” The fateful travails of the bi-polar Crane, who spent most of his life in and out of clinics after suffering a mental breakdown during his first tour of the USA with the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown in 1968, permeated an evocative songbook, which decades later left an indelible mark upon Nasa. Before a tragic overdose in 1989, Crane would collaborate with Brown on a “deep cut” album and set up Atomic Rooster with a pre supergroup ELP Carl Palmer. I think Nasa uses a short piano break from Atomic’s Made In England LP (the introduction before ‘Breathless’) as he waxes lyrical about not only Crane but the common trajectory of all music genres in general over time: “Turns out that if you give a genre a few decades, the same roads are sought.”

Only Child is a mature, often bittersweet, review of a life lived and the characters that made it what it was and is; from Nasa’s parents to the uncompromising figure of ‘Metal Mike’). Nasa goes deep; entangled in a multitude of slipstreamed thoughts and mixed feelings; observations and reflections on the realties of middle age in a society that doesn’t ever want to comprehend their own deaths, let alone grow old. Certain memories pop up and prove relevant in this process, from his mother’s repeated echoing warnings (“If you touch that fence, your hand’s will turn to rust”) to the more innocuous details of his Brooklyn diorama.  

It’s not just age that prays on the mind, but the unprecedented times in which we all find ourselves; sixteen months on after the initial Covid lockdowns and fear prevailed miasma of a virus determining how we live. This proves a good as any time to take stock and reflect; something Nasa does with dexterous skill and a cerebral half spoken winding brilliance (close in tone and brilliance to Aesop Rock). Nasa’s just claimed a top spot on the hip-hop pyramid with one of the best albums in 2021.

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

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