REVIEWS ROUNDUP/Dominic Valvona

Longplayers/Extended

Spaceface ‘Anemoia’
(Mothland) 28th January 2022

Ushered in with a cosmic and exotic air flight announcement the latest disarming psychedelic pop trip from Spaceface brings the slick funk and disco party vibe to the stiff shirted cosmological experiments carried out at the CERN institute. With a vibrant sparkle and rainbow candy élan, the ever-shifting moon unit of past and present members from Flaming Lips and Pierced merge science-fact with groovy sunshine grooves on a smoothly universal album of goodwill.

Written before the pandemic at the Blackwatch Studios with producer Jarod Evans in the hot seat, Anemoia is a cocktail of good times rolled out to a soundtrack that at various points evokes MGMT, Swim Mountain, Tame Impala, the Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Sam Flex and International Pony. The halcyon funk wooed and Labrys guest spot ‘Long Time’ even comes with it’s own cocktail recipe and instructions (1oz each of Bourbon, Vermouth and Lynas, served with orange peel and on the rocks).

Guests appear in various guises throughout, from the brilliant Meggie Lennon (who recently appeared in our choice albums of the year lists) to Mikaela Davis and the sampled effects of the CERN’s scientist choir! Spaceface seem to be reaching beyond the usual themes of pop to metaphysical explorations and a sense of understanding the mind boggling theories of particle physics. It’s also seemingly all connected to the very on trend subject of identity and place in an increasingly dysfunctional uncertain world. Fear not as these concerns all melt away in a soulfully and bubbly millennial soundtrack of the cute, hippie and galactic; a plane of psychedelic pop and yacht rock funk pitched somewhere between a yoga retreat and cult space tour.  

Roedelius & Story ‘4 Hands’
(Erased Tapes)  28th January 2021

Incredibly now well into his eighties the kosmische and neoclassical pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius is still exploring, still intrigued and still, if peaceably, pushing the perimeters of his signature forms on the piano. When not collaborating under the Qluster umbrella (just the most recent three decades adoption of the original Kluster/Cluster arc) or flying solo across the keyboard, Roedelius carefully picks projects that offer stimulus or purpose.

In this instance the self-taught composer once again crosses reflective and experimental paths with the Grammy-nominated American composer and friend Tim Story; the fifth such exercise of its kind with Story since their 2003 album Lunz.

4 Hands proves better than two, with Roedelius laying down patient, fluttered and singular noted “etudes” for Story to harmoniously refine and swell, or, to add sophisticated congruous layers until both performers phrases and playing styles become so entwined as to prove impossible to separate. Hopefully as Story comments in the notes: ‘Because it was all recorded on the same piano, the result has a very appealing consistency of sound, and hopefully blurs our individual contributions into a single integrated voice.’ I’d say they succeeded with this interplay and balance of disciplines, which at times conjures up Chopin’s no.6 etude being transformed by Cage.

This transatlantic exchange between North American and European contemporary classical movements features compositions that seem to measure time and make allusions to various instructive linguistic phrases (the relatively immediate ebb and flow opener ‘Nurzu’ derives from the German encouragement to “go ahead and do it”) and a sense of place, mood. Tellingly the resonating serial 1920s suggestive ‘Haru’ is dedicated to the late great avant-garde composer and poet Harold Budd, who just before his death in December 2020 was played this timeless peregrination.

A forty-year friendship imbues every touch and even the spaces in-between each wave, trickle, glide and tingled gesture.  The very workings of this shared instrument, the pins and softened hammers are transformed into spiralled tines and fanned percussive like rhythms – sometimes evoking the Far East.  A mix of improvised contours, considered tensions and nodes crisscross and flow together in a complementary fashion throughout this album of entwined synchronicity, as both artist’s read each other’s thoughts with understated adroit perfection.

From The Archive:

Hans-Joachim Roedelius Interview

‘Selbstporträt Wahre Liebe’ Review

Qluster ‘Elemente’ Review

Cluster  ‘1971 – 1981’ Review

Cephas Teom ‘Automata’
(METR Music) 28th January 2021

Less Kraftwerk’s “pocket calculator” and more vintage 1980s Japanese Casio digital watch, the debut album from Cephas Teom (the atavistic etymological alias of the West Country musician and producer Pete Thomas) swims and Tokyo drifts in a solution of nostalgic Far Eastern tech. From Japanese sound gardens to retro video arcades and driving across once promising neon lit city highways of the future, Thomas evokes touches of the Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi and House Of Tapes as he ponders the quandaries of an ever encroaching technology and the wonders of A.I.

Featuring the Monolith Cocktail premiered vaporwave single ‘Tomorrow’s World’ (aired back in November of last year), Automata weaves broadcasts of figures such as Jung and the coiner of ‘cymatics’ Hans Jenny with the fatalistic voices of those drawn to extraterrestrial savior cults (such as the mass suicidal Heaven’s Gate) to present a scientific-philosophical soundtrack of both unease and nostalgia: that’s nostalgia for a society not yet disenchanted with the promises of a brighter hi-tech, computerized utopia.

Skilfully constructed Thomas emulates both the handcrafted mechanisms of Jaquet-Droz automation curiosities from another age and the dreamy airs of a dawning integrated A.I. future. It begins however with the projector-clicked lecture come chimed baubles, zappy squiggled, deep bass throbbing Japanese Zen water feature ‘Primordial Forms’, before winding up with the clicks and movements of a Sakamoto twinkled mechanized but enchanting melodic ‘Automation I’. By comparison ‘Automation II’ sees nature’s son in more pastoral surroundings, still in that contemplative garden, serenaded by classical-like drops of piano and wind chime percussion. Oh the force of the electronic Orient is strong with this one, incorporating everything from subtle hints of bamboo music, a very removed bobble of gamelan and J-pop with intricate layering of Autechre wiring, lo fi 8-bit gaming and bit-crushed effects. Surprisingly Thomas takes a kind of liquid jazz-fusion turn on the psychedelic therapy mindbender ‘Above Human’

Solar winds blow across a circuit board tundra as Tron-like glowed vehicles cruise to the sounds of acid, techno, Manga, Namco and Sega soundtracks, veiled augurs, virtual paradises and various 80s warbles, variants and equations. A wonderful world in which to contemplate all those delusions of an automated miracle – a world in which Eagle comic’s, the BBC’s long running Tomorrow’s World programme and Silicon Valley optimistically painted as a blissful, harmonious, work-free utopia, Automata explores the networks, nodes and grids of electronic music to navigate a tricky complicated philosophical debate.

From The Archive:

Cephas Teom ‘Feet Of Clay’ Premiere

Cephas Teom ‘Tomorrow’s World’ Premiere

Mondoriviera ‘Nòtt Lönga’
(Artetetra) Available Now

You know you’re getting old when today’s young musicians consider your formative years, back in the 80s, as “nostalgic”. And so it is with Mondoriviera’s recent envisioned ‘fragmented bedtime story’ meets ‘interactive’ supernatural styled soundtrack; one of the last releases of 2021 from the insane, discombobulating ‘mondo bizzaro manufacturer’ Artetetra platform. 

For this is a 80s VHS graded score of Italian folk-horror and dream-reality wrapped up in an 8-bit fantasy of crushed Super Mario Bros. platform hopping, early Warp label Aphex Twin, Darrel Fritton and Speedy J, and the combined soundtrack and gaming elements of Takafumi Fujisawas, Akira Yamaoka and Andrew Barnabas.

Unless you read all the accompanying notes you’ll miss the psychogeography apsects of this score: the mysterious cloaked figure behind this glassy spherical mirage and Elm Street dream warrior spooked world invokes the arcane, one time seat of the Western Roman Empire and Byzantine jewel, Ravenna. Quite the historical stargate with its continuous pre-Middle Ages upheavals, reputation as an early centre of Christianity, glorious architecture and mosaics it’s the city’s darker corners, the abattoir and sinister that seeps into Nòtt Lönga’s soundscape.

Strange, eerie in places, this alternative plane of retro arppegiator and algorithms and virtual reality is a nocturnal spell caught drifting and gliding between ominous fairytales and the paranormal: even alien.  A disturbed 80s-style electronic hall of mirrors that draws you in with the promise of languid floating, the synthesised melodies softly come in waves before glitching like the glass screen façade of some simulation engineered by a higher intelligence from another dimension. Mondoriviera dares the listener to dream in a soundtrack theatre of his cult imagination.

Sven Helbig ‘Skills’
(Modern Recordings) 4th February 2022

The versatile (from working with such diverse acts as Rammstein to the Pet Shop Boys) East German composer-producer Sven Helbig conducts an incredible suffusion of colliery meets a minimalistic Sibelius brass on his first statement of 2022. The craftsman’s/artisan’s struggles, ‘despair’ and creative processes go through ten stages of varying reflective and plaintive stirring driven drama on an album that draws together the classical and contemporary to create an almost timeless spell.

As timeless that is as the symbolic ‘vanitas’ still life tableaus of the Dutch master Harmen Steenwijck in the 17th century; Helbig’s own modernist take on that tradition of painting places a skateboard and mobile phone next to a mortality loaded allegorical skull: the inevitable death of everything, but in this case, a symbol for the dying art of a craft and ‘skills’. As one tradition perishes another is born so to speak. But this leitmotif runs deep, right back to a pre-unified Germany, when ‘diy culture’ and craftsmanship were a necessity to those unable to afford, or even have any of the luxuries enjoyed in the West. And so Skills is a sostenuto concentrated homage to that tradition, yet also a mood board reification of the passing of time itself: the time between toil and inspiration. In a kind of Lutheran atmosphere of earnest labour, with compositions that can evoke a candlelit garret or bleak workshop in Worms, Helbig’s brass ensemble and string quartet conjure up a most beautiful gravitas that can harmoniously set hardship with the near ethereal.

Straddling the neoclassical, operatic and cinematic there’s even room for the coarser, scrunched synthesized concrete textures and pulsations of the Chicago-based musician Surachai on the album’s sober but stunning unfolding ‘Repetition’ suite.

Tunnels of daylight fall upon mechanisms and cogs as they come to life in atmospheric settings. Baubles and floating dust particles tinkle and slowly cascade gently whilst both longer and shortened strings build the tension and a French horn sounds a low, almost misty-eyed, romantic note. Luminous and dreamy on the starry ‘Vision’, and evoking the avant-garde and a touch of Kriedler on the workbench clockwork diorama ‘Flow’, the Skills album is a measured, aching and brooding work of art; a moving testament to the élan and craft of an impressive composer who’s classical roots transcend the genre.

War Women Of Kosovo ‘A Lifetime Isn’t Enough’
4th February 2022

Never ones to shy away from the harrowing atrocities committed on communities across the world, the partnership of Grammy-winning producer & author Ian Brennan and Italian-Rwandan photographer & filmmaker Marilena Umuhoza Delli have continued to stripe away all artifice and sentimentality from those victim’s stories; recording for posterity some of the most vulnerable accounts of genocide, prejudice and sexual violence in countries such as Rwanda, South Sudan, Comoros, Vietnam, Ghana and Romania. Brennan’s no fuss, in-situ style of recording has brought us unflinching accounts: the onus being on under-represented women, the elderly, and persecuted groups within under-represented populations, languages, and regions.  

No less candid in this regard, the partnership’s latest collection features those nameless victims of the horrific Balkan wars of the 1990s; namely the Kosovan community of women and children raped by the aggressors as both an act of subjection, revenge, and as part of a sanctioned campaign of terror and erasure of the region’s Muslim population. Far too complicated and beyond my grasp of history to recount here, the Balkans blew up into an inter-fractional, racial, religious conflict between neighbours once kept together under the iron fist of Tito in the Slavic block of Yugoslavia, and before that, the Ottoman Empire. Once that towering force died, and with the deterioration of Soviet Russia, the region was broken up and plunged into chaos, war. On the doorstep of a practically useless EU, and with little appetite to get involved the escalation of atrocities eventually spurred the UN and NATO into action, with one of the consequences being the formulation of a separate majority Muslim state, the Republic of Kosovo – formerly part of Serbia that was until the late 80s a semi-autonomous state within that country. Admittedly this is a very glib account of events during that decade – I would recommend for further reading trying out Misha Glenny’s Balkans tome.

In what is a subject very close to both Marilena and Ian’s hearts – her only two living Rwandan relatives were born of genocidal rape, whilst Ian’s life was irreversibly impacted by the sexual assault and near murder of a loved one – the voices of Kosovo’s rape victims are given a platform in what amounts to a healing process. The trauma weighs heavy for sure, undulated as it is with the minimalistic, earthy scene-setting sounds of bells, a thrum of lamented, grieving voices, rustic scraps and some obscure stringed instruments – though there’s also some kind of odd keyboard too and a chorus of traumatic sounds that threaten to engulf the listener at one point. The record even comes with a ‘trigger warning’ (just look at the titles); the language and sentiment of those courageous survivors impossible to not take in.

Not the easiest of experiences, but then how could it (and why should it) be. We need such projects to jilt us out of our obsessive virtual realities and comfort zones; to be reminded that in many of the people who will read this review’s lifetime such post-WWII atrocities were carried out in a closeted Europe. As much a piece of activism as a sonic and vocal reminder, A Lifetime Isn’t Enough is an essential plaintive cry from a recent past that needs addressing; the consequences of which are felt every day by the women taking part, to them though this isn’t history or a footnote but an ongoing collective trauma.

From The Archives:

Witch Camp (Ghana): ‘I’ve Forgotten Who I Used To Be’.

Sheltered Workshop Singers ‘Who You Calling Slow?’ 

Tanzania Albinism Collective  ‘White African Power’

The Ian Brennan Interview.

Letters From Mouse ‘Tarbolton Bachelors Club’
(Subexotic Records) 28th January 2022

You can forgive most Scots for the dewy-eyed worship of the unofficial national bard, Robert Burns. After all, every tartan decorated rousing of nationalism, and every lowland toiled symbolic feature of Scotland is run through with the verses of the 18th century poet/lyricist. There’s even a secondary-like New Year type holiday in his name, celebrated up here in Scotland – Burns Night on January 25th.

All roads, threads and references certainly lead back to Burns on Steven Anderson’s latest typographic contoured and fantasised album, the Tarbolton Bachelors Club. The follow-up to his previous window view An Gàrradh album, released under the Burns inspired Letters From Mouse alias, could be described as a psychogeography that takes in prominent locations, the spaces and essence of the venerated subject without all the bagpipes and kilt adorned folklore. Instead, Anderson weaves a captivating, thoughtful ambient, trance and ambiguous electronic soundtrack, both dreamy and with a touch of gravitas: Not so Scottish, glinting and fanned radiant spokes are spindled with an air of the Far East – like a pastoral mirage Masami Tsuchiya – on the opening track ‘Elizabeth’.

Traces of Burns history, brought into our world through a portal, are suffused with a touch of mystery but also beauty: none more so, again, than on that opening softly majestic sentiment to Burns daughter ‘Bess’, the first illegitimate child he had after an affair with his family’s servant girl Elizabeth Paton. Bess appears most notably immortalized in her father’s famous poem, Love-Begotten Daughter as “Lily Bonie”, a line used later on as a track title.

The album title is itself a reference to Burns quasi-masonic gentlemen’s club; a haven for debate and discussion on all the hot topics of the day. There was even a token produced to commemorate this infamous lodge, as alluded to by Anderson on the golden breathed ‘Tarbolton Penny’.  Tarbolton for those unfamiliar with the great bard’s locality is a village in South Ayrshire, a county in which the romanticist was born and spent much of his life roaming.

Of course, you can’t construct such an escapist soundtrack without featuring some of Burns actual words; ghostly emerging as they do from the esoteric folk wafts of ‘South Church Beastie’, a past reminder of Burns adoration and forewarning idealised social covenant with nature and classless egalitarianism. Almost in its full version, ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’ – a scornful in places stab at those unwilling to rock the boat, carrying on with bowing their heads and doffing caps to their pay masters, although he was one of them himself, the poetic farmer, landowner – is read out to the Eno-esque synthesised curtain call of the same name.  

Echoes of Artificial Intelligence Warp, Charles Vaughen, Tangerine Dream, Bradbury Poly and Library music permeate a chimed soundtrack of map coordinates, scenes viewed from propeller powered aircraft, vacuums and walks as Anderson offers a semi-Baroque meets late 20th century abstract vision of a thoughtful, magical sonic historiography. Anderson proves that the ghosts of that period still have much to share; a resonating voice brought back from the enlightenment with an evocative soundtrack to match.

Compilations…

Various ‘Mainstream Funk’
(WEWANTSOUNDS) 28th January 2022

The specialist rare finds and vinyl reissue label WEWANTSOUNDS first release of 2022 is another dip into the vaults of the, crate-digger’s and breakbeat connoisseur’s favourite, Mainstream label.

Bob Shad’s original “broad church” imprint grew out of an already 30 year spanning career when it took shape in the 1960s; a showcase for prestigious artists, session players and Blue Note luminaries chancing their arm it the bandleader or solo spotlight.  A musical journeyman himself, Shad (whittled down from Abraham Shadrinsky) began his producer’s apprenticeship at the iconic Savoy label, then moved to National Records before taking up an A&R role at Mercury, where he launched his own, first, label EmArcy. It was during this time that Shad would produce records for the venerated, celebrated jazz singer deity Sarah Vaughan, the Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet, Dinah Washington and The Big Brother Holding Company.

As a testament to his craft, Vaughan would go on to record eight albums on Shad’s Mainstream label, the next chapter, leap in a career that traversed five decades of jazz, soul, blues, R&B, rock, psych and of course funk. Mainstream’s duality mixed reissues (from such iconic gods of the jazz form as Dizzy Gillespie) with new recordings; with its golden era arguably the five-year epoch chronicled in this latest compilation. From the first half of the 1970s, WEWANTSOUNDS has picked out twelve nuggets of varying quality, starting with Vaughan who leads the pack with a classy, showy jazz-soul cover of one of Marvin Gaye’s career-defining classics, the downtown social commentary ‘Inner City Blues’. Oozing sophistication amongst a soft tangle of horns and funky licks, the rightly venerated jazz soulstress barely breaks a sweat. Following that icon is the “underrated” alto/tenor saxophonist Buddy Terry with the ten-minute plus jazz-funk exotic peregrination turn workout ‘Quiet Afternoon’, which proves anything but a gentle meander in the park. Probably of note for the appearance of Stanley Clarke, this burnished sun-lit turn changes signatures from the relaxed to a “pure” dynamic free fall of free bird flighty flutes, screaming horns and infused exotic jazz-fusions. An epic of the form this should prompt further investigation of Terry’s small back catalogue – that’s two albums for Mainstream, and not much else.

Many will recognize such names as Blue Mitchell, the former trumpet-player who honed his craft as a member of Horace Silver’s famed Quartet. Already a Blue Note alumni, Mitchell joined the Mainstream label in 1971, going on to record six albums for Shad’s eclectic imprint. On this compilation, taken from his 1973 Tango=Blues LP, is the sassy, San Fran TV detective soundtrack and funk version of Gato Barbieri’s sensual score for the controversial ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ Last Tango In Paris movie. With a dash of Mayfield, some gentle whacker-whacker guitar funk chops and lilt of South America, Mitchell turns a blue movie into the blues. Another former Blue Note acolyte, hard-bop and post-bop pianist LaMont Johnson, who worked with both Jackie McLean and science-fiction jazz progenitor Ornate Coleman, showcases a bit of “state-of-the-art-tech” on his kooky bendy futuristic ‘M-Bassa’ – taken from the 1972 album Sun, Moon And Stars. The rudimental phaser effects of the Yamaha EX42 analog synth augment quickening gabbles up the fretboard and echoes of spiritual jazz.

Moving on there’s a smooth, heartening and snuggled version of the rainbow nation Sly And The Family Stone’s ‘Family Affair’ by the saxophonist and flute prodigy (already able and serving his apprenticeship at the age of 13 in the Baltimore Municipal Band) Dave Hubbard; the original Muscle Shoals lit funky ‘Super Duper Love’ 45” – picked up by Joss Stone a generation later – by the sexed-up Willie ‘Sugar Baby’ Garner; the ridiculous salacious Zodiac chat-up soul-funk ‘Betcha Can’t Guess My Sign’ number (complete with Alvin the chipmonk helium backing vocals) by Prophecy; and a slick rattled percussive jazzy R&B pleaser from the saxophonist Pete Yellin entitled ‘It’s The Right Thing’

A smattering of sampler’s delights, relatively obscure examples of jazz-funk fusions and more famous classics, Mainstream Funk is a classy and decent compilation to kick off the New Year with.

Various ‘Excuse The Mess Volumes 1 + 2’
(Hidden Notes) 4th February 2022

Across two albums of extemporized in-situ performances the great and adroit of UK-based contemporary classical and electronica experimentalism conjure up an imaginative mood board of compositions within the set perimeters of the Excuse The Mess podcast challenge.  Invited for a chat in the personable surroundings of the titular space, each interview subject was asked to abide by the rules in creating a special something with the host, Ben Corrigan.

Created in that location, in that time there could be no pre-planning, no added electronic manipulations; each artist was allowed to only use a single instrument. Many of those taking part choose to use their signature instrument, others more obscured props; the most bizarre being the transmogrified ‘ice rink’ field-recorded ice-skating samples (figure-of-eight slushes and sliced ice-skate scrapes transduced into an abstract subterrain) used by the South African born multidisciplinary Warp label artist Mira Calix, and the tub patted oscillating and soft emerging techno rhythmic ‘pesto jar’ that MBE (no less) gonged electronic-acoustic composer Anna Meredith puts to good sonic use on Volume 2 closer ‘Oopsloops’.  

More fathomable instruments can be detected however; for example, the renowned hand/steel pan and saucer shaped ‘hang’ player Manu Delago kicks things off by spreading his tapping fingers across his resonating percussive specialty to traverse an ambiguous cosmic atmosphere on the near-sublime ‘Collider’.  Following in that peregrination’s wake is Dinosaur jazz quartet stalwart and acclaimed multifaceted composer-improviser Laura Jurd’s trumpeted ‘Copper Cult’ – a changeable vapour and march of soundtrack Miles Davis, Don Cherry and Yazz Ahmed.  

In turn, the esteemed composer (pieces performed by the London Symphonic Orchestra and London Sinfonietta) Emily Hall tunes an electronic magnetic harp to ethereal heights; singer-songwriter and Erased Tape regular Douglas Dare, with just the use of his layered uttered, whispered a cappella vocals, magic’s up a dark romantic plead; and the Emmy-nominated composer and BBC 3 broadcaster Hannah Peel builds towards a shuttered clapboard rhythm and chorister-like wafted divine pirouette with just the use of a music box. Other notable inclusions (though every piece is stirring and intriguing in its own right) that piqued my attention were the fizzed and caustic frayed and slow-drawn violin evocations of the Kazakh-Brit improviser-collaborator-leader of the London Contemporary Orchestra Galya Bisengalieva – who seems to evoke Sunn O))), only with just a violin -, and the Canadian-born composer (scoring The Imposter) Anne Nikitan imagines an 8-bit Castlevania as transformed by µ-Ziq, funnelled into an early mute label version of ‘Da Da Da’.  

A wealth of talent from the arts, theatre, classical and film score arenas appear on both volumes of this musical challenge: proving if anything, just how lucky the UK is to have so much talent working on its doorstep. The restrictions don’t seem to have narrowed either the quality or the originality. In fact, if anything, each artist has been creatively pushed to use their ingenuity in composing something anew, on the spot. A brilliant double-bill selection, ‘excuse the mess’ can only describe the accumulative space in which these tracks were created, and not the sounds or music, which are anything but. A novel criteria has resulted in some mysterious, spellbinding and often traversing experiments. The Hidden Notes platform ushers in a new year with a quality release package.  

Brazen Hussies ‘Year Zero: An Anthology’
(Jezus Factory Records) Vinyl Version January 2022

Despite the distain, rambunctious methodology and carefree attitude to making it in the lower levels of the music scene in the 90s and early noughties, the scuzzed and abrasive Brazen Hussies were far too knowing and artful than their shambolic, contrary myth would have us believe. Quite frankly that status is shambollocks!

For this ‘lost’ London group played loosely and quite skilfully with their influences, which ranged (by the sounds of it) to everyone from Richard Hell to The Monochrome Set, from The Pixies to the Nuggets box set. Anything but a complete mess they showed a certain élan for the pivot, for the light and shade as they transitioned from the needled and coarse gnarling for halftime downtime and even a bit of melody. Because out of the ramshackle punk, post-punk and cutting dissonance there was always some remnant, a semblance of a half-decent tune.  

Simultaneously as courted as they were slagged off by a hostile music press during their apex in the late 90s, it’s hard to get a handle; difficult to tell if they deserve this anthology reappraisal, or whether it’s all just a scam: elevating fleeting losers from rock’s back pages. Actually they were quite bloody good, and at least (for the majority of the time) only ever recorded three-minute songs so as not to overstay their hobnail Dr. Martens boot on the throat welcome. Their farewell ‘Bridesville’ blowout is one of the few exceptions; running to a ridiculous insufferable 26-minutes of whined post Britpop and salon bar piano malcontent.

Fronted by the duel vocals of Dave Queen (a Canadian by god) and Lou McDonnell, backed by the ‘rhythm section’ of Lunch on trebly Bauhaus-Gang-Of-Four-Killing-Joke bass duties (proving anything but out to “Lunch”) and Russell Curtis on barracking and tom rolled drums, they sounded like a contortion of the Bush Tetras and Stone Temple Pilots on the scowling ‘Touch It’; like a flange-affected X-Ray Spex on the brilliant character assignation turn halftime concerned pathos riled ‘Thin Lips’; and like the Cowboy Junkies on the country-folk-punked counterpoint of squealed industrial shredded guitar and sweeter down-heeled sung ‘Kimberley’.

In between sporadic bursts of an early Manics (Dave sails close to a young, petulant James Dean Bradford), the Stooges, Slater-Kinney, The Fall and Essential Logic they turn in two highly contrasting covers. A more obvious Seeds homage is made with a cover of the acid-garage legend’s Nuggets stalwart ‘Can’t Seem To Make You Mine’ – a real shambles of a badly recorded demo – and an odd enchanted nod to the Beach Boys’ doughy-eyed California daydream ‘All Summer Long’. It’s as if an entirely different band turned up for the second of those: well I’ve since found out that the honeyed, almost Christmas-y, Beach boys take was recorded by a flying solo Dave.

With a bedraggled smattering of releases to their name and odd appearances on a myriad of compilations, what little success they had was never capitalised on. Instead, just as those in the press that saluted their brazen despondency, protests, even heralding them as “visionaries”, they drew just as much scorn and bile. Neither a piece of crap nor the second coming, the Brazen Hussies were a great controlled mess of punk and all its off-shoots, Britpop, garage, alt-rock and skag country: in fact, a very 90s band. Is it worth the plastics melted down to produce the vinyl (digital and CD versions released back in 2021) edition? I’d say so, and I think you’ll agree when you slap it on the turntable; finding a missing link from a decade that’s increasingly becoming the new “80s”.

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 Reviews Column

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’‘Be My Maybe/David Bowie’ and All Psychiatrists Are Bastards / Will I Ever Be A Man). He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped-down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics. His latest album Atlantic Crossing, a long overdue released collaboration with 20th Century Tokyo Princess’s Ted Clark, was released last month. Plus a new album entitled Cardboard Box Beatle will be released next month by Metal Postcard Records.

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

The Singles.

The NoMen & The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies ‘The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth’
(Self-Release) 1st January 2022

The ideal start to the year is a tribute to the great Joe Meek with this two-sided wonder of Meek like madness from The NoMen and The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies; tracks that are filed with wonky guitars echo filled joints of smoked black fountains. Two tracks to make you feel that 2022 is not going to be that bad after all. Roll on the coming 12 months, and one can only hope it will be as magically wonky as this fine single.

bigflower ‘Bang Bang’
(Self-Release) 26th December 2021

bigflower is back with another cover. Yes, a dark and dense version of the 60s Cher classic ‘Bang Bang’. Once again Ivor Perry drenches the melodious with a swamp of becoming darkness that calls out to be used in some enigmatic black and white foreign subtitled film that one loses themselves in occasionally in the early hours of a Sunday Morning; a track that breaks hearts whilst stoking the embers of half remembered love affairs. Ivor’s bigflower is a band with a mission, a mission to cover this world with the magic of his spoken softly whispered beautiful guitar washes: a mission we should all encourage him in and publicize.

The Jazz Butcher ‘Running On Fumes’
(Tapete Records) 4th February 2022

This track my lovely cherubs is the first single taken from the new and posthumous album by the sadly no longer with us Pat Fish aka the Jazz Butcher, a band I loved and listened to a great deal in my indie pop loving late teen years. Yes, I soundtracked many a romantic interlude to the dulcet tones of the Jazz Butcher, their Live in Hamburg album was a particular favourite of mine, and I’m both pleased and saddened to say even after all these years Mr Fish never lost his way of writing a catchy melodious piece of guitar pop loveitude. He will be sadly missed by myself and many others: a great and talented songwriter.

treesreach ‘How it Seems’
4th February 2022

‘How It Seems’ is a lazy hazy piece of American indie rock with a lovely mixture of Sweet Jane guitar strums and an indie Boston like explosion of AOR melodeon tomfoolery: a rather lovely way to spend a few minutes. So I suggest you give it a listen.

The Albums And The EPs..

Colonial Skyway ‘Evening On Earth’
(Submarine Broadcasting Co.) 14th January 2022

The silent hum of a city landscape keeping its dark secret from the prying eyes of the solitude, the indifference of the praying masses awaiting redemption from the cold bloodied imaginations of the dearly departed only a hop skip and a jump away from the black bird soaring high through the now clear skies as the empty factory puffs the ghost of the smoke from god’s great ash tray into the remembrance of the sky. This album is an aural sweep stake of memories yet to happen a delve into the subconscious a brief awakening of the dot in the centre of an old tv screen saying goodnight one last time.

Salem Trials ‘Something PRETTY DRASTIC’
(Metal Postcard Records) 10th January 2022

Oh, the post-punk joy this 4-track EP emits is tangible, it is eatable, you can catch the magic in a net and rub your face in it; it is pure spell binding: the opening track ‘Table Turning’ sends goosebumps down my arm. It’s like it’s a missing track from Orange Juices mini–LP Texas Fever: it’s pop in its purest form.

This four tracker is the sound of The Salem Trials at their most commercial: I can imagine every track at one point coming from the radio stuck on BBC 6 music after 7pm. As readers of the Monolith Cocktail know I am a huge Salem Trials fan and I will tell you why. It’s because I have good taste. And if there is any justice in this world it should take something pretty drastic to stop Something Pretty Drastic haunting your radio.

K. Board & The Skreens ‘Langue EP’
(Metal Postcard Records) 28th December 2021

Metal Postcard Records, the record label of 2021, kick of 2022 with another fine release; a five track EP that has one scrabbling around in early new year frenzy thinking where on earth have I put my Syd Barrett CDs. Yes, a five track EP that covers the Syd like ditties in electronic 8-bit bedroom magic, all funky whirls and drumbeats. 2022 style modern-day dance meets the magical past to explore the inner workings of musical deep thinking. Sci-fi minds, maybe a work of an evil Bond villainy…who knows or cares when the music is this much fun and original sounding.

Chris Church ‘Darling Please’
(Big Stir Records) 21st January 2022

An album that kicks off with the sound of Quasimodo having a wank is not a bad way to start off an album of radio friendly guitar pop; it gives the album an air of darkness which I greatly appreciate. It is much better than being sugar-coated in platitudes of esteemed Mojo lite political correctness by jean wearing bingo hop bunned men who really should know better than to try and listen to his record collection of likeminded backward thinkers whilst his wife is not out scanning the racks of Sainsburys for the butter her mother’s best friend swears by.

Yes indeed, Chris Church has released an album of well written guitar pop rock that lovers of Mathew Sweet and the ilk will love and dream of being spoon-fed by Anthia from the Generation Game all those years ago: how did Brucie catch such a dish of the day we ask, and if we are not asking, we certainly should be…and as Brucie once said give us a twirl and I advise you guitar lovers give this album a twirl as it is not half bad.

Claptrap ‘Adulting’
(Un je-ne-sais-quop) 28th January 2022

Claptrap by name but not by nature. No indeed, what we have here is an enjoyable a free-thinking adventurous album of original pop songs, an album that I expect the great Paddy McAloon might enjoy with its Prefab Sprout like sense of playfulness – especially on the opening track ‘The Rewrite’. And the playfulness continues throughout the album, recalling the days when music could and should be fun; an album that takes electronica, psych and eyebrow twisting like McCartney Ram era pop and invention to quite wonderful heights.

Adulting is an album that proves that here we are in 2022 and pop music can still be as a rewarding an experience as it was 50 years ago when everything was fresh and exciting, all that is needed is a fresh and exciting outlook on your art. Nice one Claptrap.

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.

Words by Dominic Valvona

Labelle ‘Éclat’
(InFiné) 24th January 2022

Few have done more to both elevate and wed the distinct sounds of Maloy to a contemporary, often experimental, palette than the Réunion Island composer Jérémy Labelle. A traditional music, born in the 19th century as an outpouring for the suffrage, reverberations and lament of slavery that core inspiration – only found on Labelle’s island home – makes connections to the classical and to the rhythms of the East and the scratchy, hypnotic musical genre of Morocco known as Gnawa. The last of these can be strongly detected o both the dainty danced, retuned ‘Giant’ and the rattled and cosmically bandy suite it leads into, ‘Mes Mondes’. It’s no surprise to find that Moroccan venerable style works, as Labelle pitched up his signature Maloy fusion a quartertone to match it.

Forbidden as the entwined revolutionary music for Réunion’s indigenous population (mostly made up of those who arrived from Madagascar and the Indian Ocean’s atoll of islands) by the French colonial powers (still an official region of France that never achieved independence), Maloy was banned right up until 1981. One of the island’s two most popular ingrained styles it was nevertheless wrapped up in rituals, played at religious ceremonies; seen as an unwelcome occult influence by the French. Here it’s pushed like never before into an almost avant-garde direction, augmented and suffused with electronic music and transformed beyond measure.

Labelle’s known for transducing his original conceived compositions into something cosmic, universal and unique. That process, which was likewise successful on the previous critically acclaimed albums (Éclat marks his fourth studio album proper), led to a highly experimental set of pre-pandemic performances performed by a string quartet. What makes it so distinct though was that he set out to break all the rules of classical composition, writing music for a traditional rock band set-up but running it through an acoustic-electronic chamber ensemble.  Adding another layer to the process, multifaceted London producer, composer, DJ an artist in his own right Hector Plimmer reshapes, cuts and put’s in congruous augmented effects. The results send this brilliant album suite towards jazz and techno whilst never losing its expletory post-classical roots.

Éclat (or “spark”, though in my translator searches it came out as “shine”) as its name makes clear sounds almost like the light above Labelle’s head suddenly switched on, prompting a sublime, yearning and pining contemplative/reflected counterpoint of Philip Glass. Max Richter, Nils Frahm, Simon McCorry and Kriedler.

More sustained, reverberated strings and atmospheric synthesized beds are layered with shorter, arched bows, warped snatches and arpeggiator-like pitter-patters. Ambient music transduced into subtle stirred violins and cellos undulate beneath emotive swells and moments of real intensity. Often these bowed strung instruments wail like an electronic guitar or sound more like a rusty saw biting into the fabric. On the quickened ‘RON’ those same strings are enveloped within a scrawled vortex; funneled through a black hole into a universal horizon reprise of Glass-like seriousness.

This record is incredible: already one of my highlights of 2022. The Maloy tradition and the classical are remodelled, sent out into an ever-more expansive cosmology of fusions. Éclat is every bit as dynamic, emotive and fresh as the previous albums, if not the most sophisticated and interesting yet.

From the Archives:

Labelle ‘Orchestre Univers’ (2019)

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/Dominic Valvona

Let me first wish everyone, new and old readers/followers alike, a happy new year. And thanks for all your continued support in what are the most tumultuous and anxious of times. For my part, with what little comfort I can give, I’ll still bring you all the best, experimental, and diverse sounds during 2022: through reviews, columns, playlists and the like.

The Monolith Cocktail Social is one of two long-running playlist series on the blog. Running in tandem with the Monthly Revue, which represents all the new music both I and the MC team have been listening to and writing about during the month, the Social is a cross-generational, eclectic imaginary radio show, where anything goes: featuring tracks from the last 50 or more years.

It’s also my chance to show off my own tastes, records from my collection, and to both celebrate those albums reaching anniversary milestones and pay tribute to recent artists and figures we’ve lost during that month.

The first playlist, volume #62, of the year features 50th anniversary treats from Archie Shepp (the title-track from his 1972 album Attica Blues), Cymande (the much sampled ‘The Message’ from their self-titled ‘72 special), Paul Simon (‘Armistice Day’ from the self-titled ‘72 album), Aretha Franklin (a beautified cover of ‘The Long And Winding Road’ from the soul deity’s Young, Gifted And Black album), Cluster (‘Für Die Katz’ from the Kosmische travellers ’72 album Cluster II), Neu! (‘Hero’ from the self-titled ’72 album), Popol Vuh (the venerable ‘Kyrie’ taken from the divine stylers ’72 album Hosianna Mantra), and Annette Peacock (a idiosyncratic version of ‘Love Me Tender’ from her ’72 I’m The One album).

There’s also recent(ish) tracks from Fake Fruit, Large Plants, Jeff Parker, Family Portrait dotted amongst goodies from Kaleidoscope, The Gods, Caetano Veloso, Eddie Hodges and Biff Rose: 35 tracks in all.

Listen how you like, but when compiling these playlists I do work out a particular order: a journey for the listener.

Those tracks are full are:

Archie Shepp  ‘Attica Blues’
Kaleidoscope  ‘Chocolate Whale’
Quella Vecchia Locanda  ‘Dialogo’
Muito Kaballa Power Ensemble  ‘Don’t Go Too Far’
100 Proof Aged In Soul  ‘Backtrack’
Fake Fruit  ‘No Mutuals’
Large Plants  ‘La Isla Bonita’
Cymande  ‘The Message’
Innovations  ‘Put A Little Away’
Los Dangers  ‘No Te Quiero Más’
Sophie Knapp & Dungen  ‘Desert Moon’
The Gods  ‘Eight O’clock In The Morning’
Jeff Parker & The New Breed Ft. Ruby Parker  ‘Soul Love’
Paul Simon  ‘Armistice Day’
Hamilton Leithauser & Kevin Morby  ‘Virginia Beach’
Family Portrait Ft. Julian Lynch  ‘What Does It Take’
Aretha Franklin  ‘The Long And Winding Road’
Annette Peacock  ‘Love Me Tender’
Caetano Veloso  ‘Lost In The Paradise’
Parasites Of The Western World  ‘You Must Be Joe King’
Between  ‘Tape’
Steauna De Mare  ‘Ork Style’
Cluster  ‘Für Die Katz’
The Holydrug Couple  ‘Arcatina’
Tibetan Miracle Seeds  ‘Nectarine Dreams’
Gianfranco Plenizio  ‘Afyon’
Slag Boom Van Loon  ‘Poppy Seed’
Neu!  ‘Hero’
Phantom Payn Days  ‘Screen Idol From France’
Branko Mataja  ‘Tamo Daleko’
Popol Vuh  ‘Kyrie’ Eddie Hodges  ‘Shadows And Reflections’
Biff Rose  ‘Take Care of My Brother’
Marina Allen  ‘Sleeper Train’
Female Species  ‘Tale Of My Lost Love’

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/Graham Domain

Welcoming the newest contributor to the Monolith Cocktail fold, musician and artist Graham Domain joins our team in 2022. The offspring of Scott Walker and David Slyvian, Graham has charmed us with his plaintive adroit music for years, and so we’re happy to have him on board. Here then is Graham’s inaugural review to kick off the New Year. 

Omega Institute ‘Panic Mount’
(Liquid Library) Available Now

Panic Mount is the debut tape release by Omega Institute via Liquid Library. The Bristol Experimental Four Piece provide 6 tracks of Night Terror Jazz and Plastic Faced Clown Fear Hauntology to soundtrack those lonely winter nights where you find yourself all dressed up with nowhere to go – alien abduction an attractive option.

Reminiscent in parts of early Factory releases where the atrocities of a severe Industrial past seem to lurk in the walls of the music (think Winter Hill by ACR). ‘Spine Ellipsis’ provides a good example, the improvised music soon succumbing to a drop in temperature as a cold spectral sound bleeds into the mix as though played back from the fabric of the old building itself.

‘Pulse Ritual’, meanwhile, starts off like a sci-fi space theme by the Barry Gray Orchestra before it slowly becomes engulfed by a flock of squawking space birds and forced to crash-land on a dead planet. This one is my favourite tracks on the album.

‘Power Imbalance’ features psychedelic drones and hypnotic drums as the landscape into which a lone cornet wanders lost and forlorn while cold synth oscillations compete for centre stage.

The final track, ‘Jupiter Square Ascendant’ finds Louis Armstrong taken on board a UFO and questioned by mind probe where he is only able to scream out his answers in the language of jazz cornet.

A challenging but rewarding album. The music sounds great on headphones and would undoubtedly sound fantastic played through a large PA system perhaps as a precursor to the entrance of any decent band.

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