PLAYLIST SPECIAL

An encapsulation of the last month, the Monolith Cocktail team (Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Graham Domain) chose some of the choicest and favourite tracks from February. It may have been the shortest of months, yet we’ve probably put together our largest playlist in ages: all good signs that despite everything, from Covid to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, artists, bands everywhere are continuing to create.

65 tracks, over 4 hours of music, February’s edition can be found below:

That exhaustive track list in full:::

Animal Collective ‘Walker’
Modern Nature ‘Performance’
Gabrielle Ornate ‘Spirit Of The Times’
The Conspiracy ‘Red Bird’
Cubbiebear/Seez Mics ‘All Friended Up’
Dubbledge/Chemo ‘Itchy Itchy’
Dirty Dike ‘Bucket Kicker’
Future Kult ‘Beasts With No Name’
Lunch Money Life ‘Jimmy J Sunset’
Ben Corrigan/Hannah Peel ‘Unbox’
Uncommon Nasa ‘Epiphany’
War Women Of Kosovo ‘War Is Very Hard’
Ben Corrigan/Douglas Dare ‘Ministry 101’
Sven Helbig ‘Repetition (Ft. Surachai)’
Ayver ‘Reconciliacion Con La Vida’
Lucidvox ‘Swarm’
Provincials ‘Planetary Stand-Off’
Wovenhand ‘Acacia’
Aesop Rock ‘Kodokushi (Blockhead Remix)’
Junglepussy ‘Critiqua’
Tanya Morgan/Brickbeats ‘No Tricks (Chris Crack) Remix’
Buckwild ‘Savage Mons (Ft. Daniel Son, Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon & Eto) Remix’
Che Noir ‘Praises’
Koma Saxo w/Sofia Jernberg ‘Croydon Koma’
Medicine Singers/Yontan Gat/Jamie Branch ‘Sanctuary’
Black Josh/Milkavelli/Lee Scott ‘Die To This’
Funky DL ‘I Can Never Tell (Ft. Stee Moglie)’
Mopes ‘Home Is Like A Tough Leather Jacket’
ANY Given TWOSDAY ‘Hot Sauce (Ft. Sum)’
Split Prophets/Res One/Bil Next/Upfront Mc/0079 ‘Bet Fred’
Nelson Dialect/Mr. Slipz/Vitamin G/Verbz ‘Oxford Scholars’
Immi Larusso/Morriarchi ‘Inland’
Homeboy Sandman ‘Keep That Same Energy’
Wax Tailor/Mick Jenkins ‘No More Magical’
Ilmiliekki Quartet ‘Sgr A*’
Your Old Droog/The God Fahim ‘War Of Millionz’
Ramson Badbonez/Jehst ‘Alpha’
Ghosts Of Torrez ‘The Wailing’
Pom Poko ‘Time’
Daisy Glaze ‘Statues Of Villians’
Orange Crate Art ‘Wendy Underway’
Seigo Aoyama ‘Overture/Loop’
Duncan Park ‘Rivers Are A Place Of Power’
Drug Couple ‘Linda’s Tripp’
Ebi Soda/Yazz Ahmed ‘Chandler’
Brian Bordello ‘Yes, I Am The New Nick Drake’
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets ‘Bubblegum Infinity’
Steve Gunn ‘Protection (Ft. Mdou Moctar)’
Jane Inc. ‘Contortionists’
Black Flower ‘Morning in The Jungle (Ft. Meskerem Mees)’
Jo Schornikow ‘Visions’
The Goa Express ‘Everybody In The UK’
Pintandwefall ‘Aihai’
Thomas Dollbaum ‘God’s Country’
Crystal Eyes ‘Don’t Turn Around’
Glue ‘Red Pants’
Super Hit ‘New Day’
Legless Trials ‘Junior Sales Club Of America’
Monoscopes ‘The Edge Of The Day’
Alabaster DePlume ‘Don’t Forget You’re Precious’
Orlando Weeks ‘High Kicking’
Carl Schilde ‘The Master Tape’
Bank Myna ‘Los Ojos de un Cielo sin Luz’
Park Jiha ‘Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans’
Simon McCorry ‘Interstices’



A LOOK AT WHAT’S OUT THERE/DOMINIC VALVONA

FIRST RESPONDERS: SINGLES/VIDEOS/TRACKS

Jane Inc. ‘Contortions’
(Telephone Explosion Records)

Pretty enamoured with Toronto music scene instigator Carlyn Bezic‘s most recent incarnation, Jane Inc., the debut fruits from that solo endeavour, last year’s Number One album, made our ‘choice albums of 2021’. Something different, escapist even from Carlyn’s musical partnership with Amanda Crist in the synth pop duo Ice Cream, and her roles as a foil to Meg Remy in U.S. Girls and Darlene Shrugg, the Jane persona pouts as much as agonizes under a glitter ball, the rays of light that sparkle from its mirror reflective spins turning into needle sharp cuts at topics that include the harmful effects of social media, our sense of self worth, and the soul-sucking results of gentrification. On a similar but different wave, Carlyn ups the sparse pop and Moroder-esque arpeggiator ratio (with what sounds like a feint echo of Chaka Khan) on her new Jane Inc. single ‘Contortion’. Label mate Dorothea Paas (of U.S. Girls, Badge Epoque Ensemble fame) offers ethereal like backing vocal on an anxious sentiment about time.

The second Jane Inc. album, Faster Than I Can Take, is release by Telephone Explosion on the 22nd April 2022. Keep an eye out for our review.

Širom ‘Grazes, Wrinkles, Drifts Into Sleep’
(Glitterbeat Records)

Declaration time. Yes, I did write the press release, words for this exceptional imaginative folk and avant-garde Slovene trio. And so it does feel a little odd recommending it, but here we go. From the dream-realists new and most epic, transportive long form album yet, The Liquified Throne of Simplicity, the incredible scenic, illusionary and pastoral ‘Grazes, Wrinkles, Drifts into Sleep’.

For the first time the trio ignore the normal time constraints of a standard vinyl record to fashion longer, more fully developed entrancing and hypnotising peregrinations. This new, amended, approach results in 80 minutes of abstract and rustic folklore, explorative intensity and cathartic ritual. And within that array of realms there’s evocations of Jon Hassell’s Fourth World experiments, visions of Samarkand, the esoteric mysteries of Tibet, an unplugged faUSt and pastoral hurdy-gurdy churned Medieval Europe.

The Liquified Throne of Simplicity will be released via Glitterbeat Records on the 8th April 2022.

Crystal Eyes ‘Don’t Turn Around’
(Bobo Intergral)

Thankfully not a god awful version of Azwad’s hit, but something far more promising: hazed psychedelic and 80s alt-rock dream propulsions. Yes, the Alberta band are back with a new softened pummel of gauze-y moodiness. Guitar riffs communed from Joy Division, Simple Minds and U2 ring out and are held over a live drum loop, and C86 via shoegaze wafted, and almost howled, Anita Lane reminiscent vocals. ‘Don’t Turn Around’ is taken from the upcoming album, The Sweetness Restored, released via Bobo Integral on the 22nd April 2022.

PTČ ‘LP’

The second track/video from Slovenia this week, couldn’t be more different. The Ljubljana based duo of PTČ must be part of one of the smallest minority genres in Europe: Slovenian Hip-Hop. That aside, they’re really good, and this is the second track we’ve covered – last summer it was the duo’s ‘PAPAGAJ’ single, which featured fellow compatriot and rapper Vazz (check him out on youtube).

New single-video ‘LP’ (that tile refers to the Slovene abbreviation for yours truly) takes us through some of the Slovenian capital’s hidden gems to the sound of experimental Massive Attack like break beats, long moody synth, and a deep sense of unease.

THE ALBUMS AND EXTENDED RELEASES

Houseplants ‘II’
(Win Big Records) 4th March 2022

It’s a difficult task, keeping up with the highly prolific Oli Heffernan. Another season, another alias and moniker. This time around it’s a return to the Houseplants collaboration, a relatively short exchange with only one previous release to its name (a debut cassette from 2016).

Six years on, arriving in the wake of a multitude of projects (King Champion Sounds, University Challenged) and after a long run of Ivan The Tolerable releases, Oli is back with oft foil Leighton Crook (of Country Teasers, Arndales and Badgewearer infamy) to put the world to rights on the succinct entitled II hallucination. To further the dreamy, languid cause, the ranks are swelled by Neil Turpin’s (of Bilge Pump, Objections and Yann Tiersen providence) live drums and Robbie Major’s (of Benefits) synths. All together they traverse a despondent broken land and trawl the Internet of shame, with Leighton drip-feeding a deadpan and disdainful “eat dirt and die” form of gonzo and street philosophy poetry over swimmingly dubby, krautrock and psychedelic waves of music. 

With a wide net cast the influences are unending; the beat and spoken word delivery of ‘The Barrows’ evoking Renegade Soundwave, Dan Tracey, Ian Dury, Jah Wobble, the Untied Knot and a droopy Spaceman 3. ‘I Want To Drive You Home’ could be a lost Silver Apples communion with a relaxed motorik Klaus Dinger; perhaps even Fujiya & Miyagi caught in a vortex with Unlimited outtakes Can and the 13th Floor Elevators. ‘Half A Monkey Loser’ sounds more like The Specials on the mosquito coast – though one repeated echoed sound evokes the thawing out dripping of icicles. Lyric wise a pretty vacant haze of dystopian capitalism and online miasma is delivered over that semi-tropical backing: “I am a new Nostradamus, an old school rapper, your best friend online, and your favourite stripper. I have one million dollars and a soul like a crater.”  

By the end declaration the musical mood is more Alan Vega and the Stardust Cowboy; a gauzy, druggy malaise that contrasts the gammon faced insults of the lyrics.

My take is a cosmic, lava lamp acid trip with lax post-punk and krautrock inspirations, laid down for a rich if defeated narration and poetry reading summary of a miserable world filled the nouveau riche, online influencers, greedy avarice, unbalanced capitalism (take that has a given), the shambolic decisions taken at Westminster, Brexit (another given), fake news misinformation and the stirring up of division: did I miss anything? We are but apes wearing ties, caught up in the maelstrom; locked into the vacuous unimportance of trivia: something like that anyway. Make room in the house for these, anything but innocuous, plants, you won’t regret it.


Nova Charm ‘Bracelet’
(Pain Management) 4th March 2022

Scanning a desolate opioid-dependent wasteland of mental stresses in the tent cities of a one-sided, unbalanced, unkind and failed economic strategy, the dissonant union of both the candid, chronic and near-hysterical wordsmith Die The Monk and skull-crush industrial beatmaker N.O.I.S.E.W.I.Z.A.R.D. grind and drill on their opening salvo debut, Bracelet.  

The inaugural pummelling and paranoiac statement from the duo marks not only their first furore but introduces us to this partnership’s ambitions as a self-starter label collective, which promises a host of like-minded, bruised and battered by the system artist releases throughout 2022, all under the Pain Management umbrella. Spilt personality psychosis and millennial Salinger echoes of phony-ism, corruption and the pressures of a 24/7 connective online lifestyle are wrapped up in a part scowled, part resigned, part seething style of trap and industrial rap. This is delivered over and around a concentrated, heavy menace of underpass grime, sinister NIN-like beat tortures, the hyperventilated and the most caustic of noises. Together it sounds like a brilliant pneumatic headache of Death Grips, Ghostemane, IC3Pack, Nick Blackos, Nukuluk, Gizmo and Cadence Weapon. On the strength of this, I’d say this union and collective look very promising.   

Deepak Pandit & Pratibha Singh Baghel w/the Budapest Symphony Orchestra ‘Inheritance’ 
(Sufiscore) 14th February 2022

The idea, to breathe new life into the 19th century Indian romantic poems and melodies known as “thumris”, is certainly all correct and proper. Yet the collaboration between the acclaimed composer/violinist Deepak Pandit, the diaphanous voiced Hindustani singer Pratibha Singh Baghel and the post WWII established Budapest Symphony Orchestra proves pretty timeless.

Sentimental, romantic and plaintive poetics from an age of tumult, including the exiled (by the British Raj) last king of Awadh, Wajid Al Shah’s morning Raga-inspired and much cherished ‘Babul Mora Najhar Chhooto Jaye’ (reconfigured and shortened to ‘Babul More’: “oh father of mine”), are indeed given a beautifully dramatic lift and swoon.

Pratibha channels her Bollywood cinematic grounding, a suggestion of stage, theatre to reach softly undulated ethereal heights and to reflect various states of emotion: longing, yearning and heartily romantic. Her incredible voice floats or fluctuates over the brassy resonating drones, fluttered and tapped table and the orchestral swells, spirals and moving punctuations.

Deepak’s twenty-year spanning work with the late “ghazel” vocal legend Jagit Singh puts him in good stead for composing the right tones and arrangements for his foil of five years; especially on the adapted ‘Hamari Atariya’ (“come to my balcony”). This lyrical landscape analogy thumri waivers beautifully between Raga, jazz, the classical and balletic. The latter is hardly surprising, as this 19th century form is also associated with dance and dramatic gestures (mind eroticism too!), the name deriving itself from the Hindi verb “thumakna”, which means to “walk with dancing steps so the ankle bells tinkle”. There’s plenty of that going on by the way; shaking, chimed and shimmered danced trinkets and bells.

All of which is augmented and lifted even further by the Daniel Boico led Budapest Symphony Orchestra, those signature Indian sounds and gestures given a greater atmosphere and rousing sense of gravitas. This collaborative merger sounds positively cinematic on the aching, sorrowful mused ‘Saiyaah Bina’, and almost starry on the ascending strings-rich ‘Lakhon Ke Bol’.

It’s a match made in heaven; a passing of the baton to another generation who’ve managed to capture the poetic forms courtly and romantic sensual origins whilst expanding the musical scope and delivery. Inheritance is a lovingly, vocally outstanding, crafted vision of that extraordinary language and art. 

Ismabard Khroustaliov ‘Shanzhai Acid’
(Not Applicable Recordings) 4th March 2022

The award winning, far too qualified, electronic and sound composer Sam Britton is at it again, fusing humankind with the machine in yet another A.I. type project; this time around interacting with modular synthesizers to create some very ‘granular’ fizzled and whirred space oddities.

A serial offender in this department with the notable Long Division and Fake Fish Distribution experiments and through collaborations with such lauded operators as the Aphex Twin (via the Remote Orchestra project) and Matthew Herbert (New Radiophonic Workshop), Britton, under the Ismabard Khroustaliov alias, lets automation, through some guidance, once more lets digital do the talking and thinking. The results of which prove simultaneously quaintly amusing, galactic, supernatural, scientific, haywire and messed up.

Both signals from Geiger-counters and Fortean Times spirit detectors click across a rewired kosmische bed of raspberry blowing electronics, propeller powered leviathans and slithered fuzz on the first few ‘cybernetic’ experiments. After that it’s all disjointed beeper communications, cosmic feedback, flutters, zips, bity-ness, squints and accelerating loop-da-loops.

The notes mention Autuchere and Fennesz, which seems fair, but you can also add a touch of Faust’s synth oscillating maverick Gunter Westhoff’s solo work, maybe some Kluster (when Conrad Schnitzler was in tow) and even some µ-Ziq to that list.

Of course, all electronic music in some degree is autonomous, and has certainly made it easier to replace, make humans surplus to requirement. But in this instance, I’m assured humans won’t be replaced anytime soon. Still, a very interesting project.     

Bank Myna ‘Volaverunt’
(Araki Records/A La Dérive Records (CA)/Stellar Frequencies/Duality Records/Cold Dark Matter Records) 25th February 2022

Highly atmospheric invocations of Gothic, doom and incense-burning Byzantine dark arts are conjured up by the French trio of Bank Myna on their debut multilingual album, Volaverunt (which translates as “they flew away”).

Composed in ‘one go’, an almost seamless five-act singular soundtrack, this mystical suffused esoteric turn is a slow-burning candle lit covenant of wafted ethereal siren vocals and sustained skulking acid-folk, psych-magick and krautrock. A gradual build-up of the Telescopes and Godspeed You! Black Emperor drone sculpting, the entrancing scores of early Popol Vuh and Tibetan evoked meditations of Ash Ra Tempel slowly hit a swelled, dramatic climax of scaling, squalling and heavy-loaded doomy drums as the trio stir the cauldron and cross the Styx. With an assemblage of chiming clocks and noise box effects alongside more traditional instrumentation and summoning vocals (though sometimes they sound like a very removed All About Eve) Bank Myna mix Greek tragedy with the industrial and Acid Mothers as they open up the doors of perception for an epic, progressive score that’s part dread, part allurement, but all very mystifyingly serious. 

Neuro…No Neuro ‘Faces & Fragments’
(Audiobulb Records) 2nd March 2022

Transducing an organized bauble of fizzled, blurred and decaying memories and recollections into a crisper hallucination of mostly clean tubular icicles, crystal bulb arpeggiator, primal pops and liquids, and a general cosmic oddness, the arid-plane based Tuscon, Arizona synthesist, drummer and artist Kirk Markarian delivers an electronic mirage with his new album, Faces & Fragments.  

Under the binary Neuro…No Neuro alias Kirk, we’re told, ‘illuminates fragments of memory and speech, as they wander out of focus in the growing aperture of time’.  This translates into 12 tracks – the final track and thirteenth, ‘And The Energy Goes Back To The Ground’, is the one exception (relatively a sci-fi ambient etude with orbiting synthesised waves) – of gate-clipped and interrupted Mouse On Mars bleeps, Sakamoto’s most far-out early 80s experiments on his new computer, cult library music, a futuristic scoring Vangelis and slurred, slowed down voices from inside the machine.

Fragments then of fuzzy hive buzzes, cartoon sounds and sub-bass grumbles flicker in and out of Kirk’s mind. A trip switch makes sure that the flow is, although mostly liquefied and spongy in sonic shaping, constantly stopped: Just as one detuned loop, Forbidden Planet power source, blob-y collection of notes, clicks and retro computer calculus appears it’s soon cut off. A strangely disrupted soundtrack appears like a futuristic dream from a broken feed. Kirk does however shine, illuminate with certain clarity on the most clean if weird of radiating abstract electronic navigations.

It’s as much down to his painter’s eye as it is his ear that these electronic episodes prompt the ‘synesthete’ in me: a mix of pastel-shaded pink oblongs and washed-out red cylinders and round bottomed shapes if you must know; not unlike Kirk’s album artwork itself. Colours, shapes, memory chips have never sounded quite so interesting.

Le Pietre Dei Giganti ‘Vetie e Culti’
(Overdub Recordings) 25th February 2022

The Florence quartet find runes, mystical masks and portals to other worlds instead of love seats or lovers initials craved into the trees of the esoteric forest they traverse on their second album, Vetie e Culti (or in English, “vetoes and cults”). For this is album is an atmospheric balance of dark arts and the light: the dreamy too.

Almost organic, naturel, a bridge between the surreal and magical characters of the artist alchemist DEM and us humans, this album proposes a sort of ‘co-existence’ between the Chthonian and Apollinarian: with all its crushing doubt dread and escapism. Latin deamonic and primal rituals meet on the forest pathway; the wild, barely tamed caravan of romanticists and philosophy bookworms invited to take leave of their hangups for a both supernatural and dramatic musical journey of highs and lows.

Le Pietre Dei Giganti embark on a successfully well-planned, thought out epic of Medieval romance, the classics, Dante’s Inferno, woodland folklore and grinding bestial black magic – like a doom-metal version of Aphrodite’s Child ala 666

If a Gothic Piano Magic led by a Tarot card fatalistic Mighty Joe Moon era Grant Lee Buffalo ever existed on some imaginary plane, this is what it would sound like. That and a spell of Soundgarden, Audioslave, Royal Blood, Muse, Mazeppa, Wovenhand and Pink Floyd. Actually, a lot of Floyd, albeit one lurking under dark forest canopies, ritualistically reaching out to the underworld, rather than setting the controls for the heart of the sun. 

Progressive then in parts, dragging a leaded coffin over crushed bones in others, this heavy vision also offers ambiguous monastic throat singers, timeless interludes, poetic Jeff Buckley vocal highs, shimmers of radiance, and on ‘Polvere’ (“dust”) even a brief glimpse of soft, languid hazy Bacharach trumpet.

I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece, but Vetie e Culti is a powerful grinded and enlightened fantasy from the Italian group; serious, pained yet open to far more optimistic escapism.

Gidouille ‘Zineogenesis’
(Wormhole World) 25th February 2022

It’s been a long since I’ve seen a Marshal McLuhan quote, let alone hear a record inspired by the media Cassandra. My own knowledge is rusty (it was over twenty years ago, in my formative years at art school since I studied him), but I’m surprised the 20th century philosopher’s soothsayer pronouncements haven’t gained more traction in a world he had foreseen; especially his good old maxim that ‘The medium is the message’ one-liner.

Falling out of style perhaps, his tracts on the future of media, its delivery, aren’t even disputed. Here, on Gidouille’s new release, Zineogenesis, his ‘laws of media’ are cut-up into quarters and represented through the prism of the ‘fanzine’; the physicality, attachment of which kept the avant-garde group going during the lockdowns.

Each heading (Enhance, Flip, Retrieve and Obsolesce) is discussed, treated across an experimental, atmospheric and often kosmische or krautrock art school sound and talked collage. From the mouths of four chosen fanzine heads, thoughts and documentary style encapsulations of the whys and wherefores of producing the tangible in the Internet age (a place in which long term relationships with creators is scarce and where the transient, surface is overpowering anything more meaningful and deeper) are merged with sound-effects and streams of consciousness music. In an era of click validation, the art of small interest fanzines reminds us of what we’ve lost; the ease, democratization (to a point) of blogging having mostly replaced those cottage industries. And so, it’s refreshing to hear such dedicated ventures, immortalised as they are on this homage (of a kind).

Invited to offer their perceptions, processes, self-awareness is TQ Zine’s Andy Wood, Letomagic Zone’s Jan Stöver (who also produced the artwork for this album), Curious British Television Zine’s Ben Ricketts and Breath Like The Trunk Of A Tree and a myriad of illustrative zines creator Jean McEwan. Their words are looped, often obscured, and melded with a highly experimental soundscape of constant Xerox photocopier printing, analogue bubbled pops and clicks, Morse and Geiger counter signals, lingering’s of saxophone and flute, and coarse electrode scratches. Distant suffusions of the heavenly, supernatural and mechanical appear throughout on four pieces of strange abstract curious devices; a meeting of underground figures in an ether of Cage, Froese, Ilhan Mimaroglu, Faust, Throbbing Gristle and the Italian and Spanish agit-political tape cultures of the 70s and 80s.

A celebration of that whole zine culture then, each participant in this exploration echoes, in their own inimitable fashion, McLuhan’s principles, augurs. In a nutshell, that every form of media ‘enhances’ something, can ‘flip’ it, ‘retrieves’ something from the past and makes something ‘obsolescent’ – the end process of the obsolete, outdated and no longer used. That final marker hasn’t quite come to fruition, as these zinesters are still hard at it, sharing their thoughts, writing, and producing art through a physical format: though Andy Wood brings up the idea of maybe creating a PDF version of his zine, already using the ‘flip’ principle by producing a CDR copy of a “virtual gig”. Jean McEwan for her part describes a whole list of reasons why she produces zines, seeing it as “a real valuable way of processing an experience”, of “exploring a thought”, “communicating and idea”.  But also, as a diary, a space in which to process and reflect.

Thank god such tactile souls exist. Ironically this review appears online, but the sentiment remains, as Homeboy Sandman and Edan once rapped in unison, “never use the internet again”. Down with the empirical and fatuous and viva the fanzines, because even in the face of an ever-growing screen-obsessed society these guys are fighting back with something far more tangible.

Park Jiha ‘The Gleam’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat Records) 25th February 2022

Into a fourth year partnership with the instrumental, exploratory tak:til label – a sister act to Glitterbeat Records – the adroit South Korean musician Park Jiha turns attention to the light on her third international solo album The Gleam.

The light in question, from the first gleams of sunrise to the last gleam of light that dies away as the day turns to night, is captured by Jiha who transduce’s the changeable, fleeting patterns and impressions of that source on a number of textures both naturalistic and coarse.

Previous albums have featured a number of collaborators, but this time around Jiha flies’ solo with a contemplated octet of suites; taking up a solitary position as a light gazer, recording what we often take for granted, the play, the natural geometric shapes of light and they way it indicates, measures time.

Unsurprisingly Covid had a lot to do with the manner in which The Gleam was fashioned: pushing back a performance of the ‘meditative improvisation’ ‘Temporary Inertia’, destined for a bunker-like designed space by the architect Ando Tadao. This frayed minimalistic encapsulation of daylight from the artist/observer brings this emotive, transporting album to a close, but it acts as a leitmotif, thematic inspiration for the rest of the album’s considered performances.

Jiha’s transformative sound is created by the use of a distinctive sounding ‘piri’ double-reed bamboo flute, the soaring twanged ‘saenghwang’ mouth organ, softly paddled ‘yanggeum’ hammered dulcimer and the glockenspiel. Played separately, in couplets or together these mostly southeast Asian instruments can sound very exotic, and always atmospheric: ‘At Dawn’ evokes a sonorous, sometimes piercing, roused from sleep scenery that’s ancient and serene, whilst searing ray-lit mirrored ‘Sunshine; A Song Of Two Humans’ (originally created as a live soundtrack for the black and white movie of the same name) is almost venerable with the light pouring in through a stained glass window.

Park Jiha successfully and intricately conveys a sprawling, fanned and also singular evanescent light source that never quite falls upon the array of surfaces or in the spaces that the artist instinctively reflects, in the exact same way twice.

Something we often take for granted – painter’s aside – is made melodically and sonically eternal on yet another highly tactile, resonate album that pushes the boundaries and our understanding of South Korean music in the 21st century.

In these troubled times, with so much stacked against independent, unsponsored voices, you can help us to continue probing and delivering great new music:

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/Dominic Valvona

Artwork by Andrea Huyoff

Ben Osborn ‘Are We The Flood?’
Video/Single 24th February 2022

In the months that have passed since the last “global emergency” climate summit, in my home city of Glasgow, the far from clear solutions to this looming threat disappeared in a quagmire of crisis: take your pick the from the Omicron wave to the cost-of-living, energy and Russian invasion of Ukraine emergencies. As a prompt, the modern day renaissance man Ben Osborn offers up a timely reminder of the impending, and now almost irreversible, consequences of failing to plan and tackle an ecological disaster.

Less Biblical, the singer-songwriter, poet-troubadour, Theatre composer, sound-designer takes a both wistful and melancholic line, delivered with a considered melodic acoustic-electronic and neoclassical score, on his latest single and video. Ahead of the new “transdisciplinary” EP collaboration with his Nonostar label hub foil of the last few years Alex Stolze and visual artist Andrea Huyoff, the posed ‘Are We The Flood?’ song expresses the grief and a persuasive indictment of the politics that has ignored a “planet in danger”.

Both the enormity and absurdity of the situation is represented by Huyoff’s video, premiered on the Monolith Cocktail today. In that video a rather placid performing Ben is enveloped by screens within screens of flickers and more colourful explosive images, video games, symbols and disasters, whilst performers Anneka Schwabe and Kira Kirsch  hold up wave scenery props and interrupt a silent scream of tumult in the face of an overwhelming destructive flood.

Photo by Matthias Lüdecke

Beautifully, if tragically, described images (“We’ll be saved, if the waves rise up, over the land/We’ll build our nest on the chimney, out of driftwood and crushed aluminium cans”) are decried, yet kept almost hushed in a Leonard Cohen-like husk. Subtle wooden sounds, instruments creak and stretch and a light flurry of delicate laced notes are all that’s needed to convey the sentiment at first; only later introducing more rhythmically jazzy-swing trip-hop drums as Ben plaintively delivers the real hurt in the plumes of poisonous smoke, the debris and mud that has entombed a lifetime of mementoes.

The Oxford, now residing in Berlin, polymath continues his creatively rich and enduring collaboration with the German star, violinist, producer and record label owner Alex Stolze; once again releasing a flurry of taster “studies” singles in the run-up to a new multidisciplinary EP project of performance, video, poetic pop songs and a series of lectures on Alex’s Nonostar. Previous releases for that label include Ben’s critically received debut album Letters From The Border.

Ben is a director of the Open Music Lab, an activist-led musical cooperative and collaborative learning space for refugees, immigrants and other marginalised communities; many of which have been forced to make the dangerous crossing into Europe because of the effects of climate change. Now focusing on the greatest threat this planet has had to face, Ben poetically sets alarm bells ringing as the flood waters come crashing inland: an augur, signal that we may very well have run out of time already.

ALBUM REVIEW/Graham Domain

Carl Schilde ‘Europop’
(Fun In The Church) 4th February 2022

The album title is very misleading – suggesting perhaps, an album of Eurovision synth pop! This may lead to a number of people ignoring this great record! In reality, the title refers to Carl Schilde’s country of origin, being born and raised in West Berlin, Germany in the 1980s but now living in Toronto, Canada. Involved in other musical ventures, this is his debut solo album and very good it is!

The first song ‘Top 40’ sets out the sound of the record, a mixture of sublime 70s soft rock and southern soul augmented by analogue synths and keyboards. The vocals sounding most like Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner (albeit in a higher register). The first song features Chris Isaak-like tremolo guitar licks adding to the laid-back vibe of the music.

By song number 2, ‘John Stamos’, we touch on a theme of the record, the struggle of the unknown artist to be heard, with Carl ‘trying to find my place in the world where everything has been done before.’ The theme continues into the third song Road-worn, with musicians soon giving up their dream of musical success to get a proper job – but still keeping hold of their road-worn instruments, just in case! Another song ‘Phase’ details the delight of the unknown artist to receive a mention, a review or even an acknowledgment of their existence, either physically in a magazine or in an internet blog! Such encouragement can mean a lot to the individual and spur them on!

Meanwhile, the song ‘The Master Tape’ begins with soothing piano arpeggios and acoustic guitar, but soon takes on an air of sad resignation as self-doubt creeps in (and a recording session ends in tears) with Carl singing ‘It’s impossible, I know, to recapture a feeling … it’s impossible, like trying to remember a dream … let’s break up the band … I keep breaking up the band’

Elsewhere, In the song ‘Soft Dads’ we get wry lyrics reminiscent of Bill Callahan (Smog) ‘remember when the 80’s still felt like the 70s’ … ‘when shit gets real, I’ll be the first to fall’. The lovely laid-back tunes continue throughout, at times sounding not unlike Sam Dee’s 1973 album The Show Must Go On while at other times touching on a kind of Stuart Staples or Tindersticks vibe.

There is sublime accompaniment throughout by the talented James Yates on drums, while Laura Gladwell provides excellent girl group harmonies, most notably on the wonderful instrumental ‘Landline Pt 2’ where she sounds like a mermaid sighing in the ocean or perhaps a siren singing a ship and its crew to their doom!

The final song ‘Credits’ sees the singer and his lover enjoying the simple things in life, having the same values, staying for the credits at the end of a film, not caring about money, not being materialistic. Lovely arpeggiated keyboards come in towards the end of the song lifting the music up into a revered state, like a shift in consciousness. It ends with the sound of wind chimes blowing in the wind! All cares gone, for now. The full moon lighting up the night bringing a sudden clarity of thought.

Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea’s 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 last album Atlantic Crossing, a long overdue released collaboration with 20th Century Tokyo Princess’s Ted Clark, was released last year. A new album entitled Cardboard Box Beatle has just been released on Metal Postcard Records.

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

Singles

Goa Express ‘Everybody In The UK’
(Ra-Ra Rok Records)

My self being a miserable bastard, I thought I would not like this as it is a jolly tune with upbeat message and fun video. But I actually like it: probably in the knowledge that in 20 years these young whippersnappers will be as worn down with reality as I am. But let’s not think ahead, let’s celebrate youth and all its shenanigans; let these talented young men enjoy their moment in the sun and applaud their way with a catchy BBC 6 music like tune as it is pretty spiffing [which is a much-underused word in reviewing circles].

Burnsey ‘Nail Your Colours’
7th February 2022

I really like this track from Burnsey, the sound of an exiled scouser living in Germany. And yes, you get all the lovely Liverpool psych that seems to run through the blood of so many musicians from that city; all sea shanty wonder and spaced-out bliss, a track the Coral would no doubt sell their ma’s last pot of scouse for. And as the old saying goes, “you can take the man out of Liverpool but cannot take the Liverpool from the man”. And thank the lord for that for this is a lovely track of pure scouse whimsy. I await the album. Record labels check this man out.

Pintandwefall ‘Last Minutes’
(Soliti)

I like Pintandwefall: if I remember correctly, I gave their 2020 album, Your Stories Baby, a glowing review. And ‘Last Minutes’, taken from their forthcoming album, Seventh Baby (due out this Friday, the 25th February) is also a bit of a musical treat; a melody filled piece of pop candy that has me grinning like a loon, like a caricature of Sid James overdosing on 70s boobs and dairy free ice cream. Yes, it is that good. I once again look forward to the album with my breath indeed baited.

I like this. I love old time country music; my dad was a huge country fan so I grew up hearing it all the time. And this certainly has the same feel – the same way Bill Callahan does it. And I’m sure if my dad was still alive, he would also appreciate this; for a well written song is a well written song no matter what the genre, and this is a well written song. I predict we might be hearing more of Thomas Dollbaum: not that I want to curse Thomas as my predictions of greatness normally end in total anonymity for the poor performer. But you never know, Thomas might be the one to break the curse.

bigflower ‘Free’
12th February 2022

bigflower is back with another whoosh of a track; a song that moves with an urgency of a runaway train; a song with atmospheric guitar and keyboard and a drum machine that hammers the pain into your eyeballs: but in a good way [if that is possible]. 

‘Free’ is a song that has the mid 80s alternative shine about it; a song that has one remembering the days of the Psychedelic Furs, and like a lot of bigflower tracks, I can imagine it appearing in some moody black and white movie where the antihero does not end up getting the girl just a load of shit thrown at him. Yes indeed, another winner from bigflower.

Albums

The White Russian ‘You Are’
(DripDrop Records) 3rd March 2022

Myself being the self-proclaimed King of No-Fi, I really enjoyed the production on this. Coming in at the hi-fi end of lo-fi, this EP has a great deal of heart and soul and real life about it: in film terms, more 60s sink drama than Hollywood blockbuster.

This is a beautiful 5 track EP and my favourite of the five excellent tracks is ‘You Are’, which reminds me of Paul Simon at his most tender. This is one of those rare Eps you wish was an album as I certainly want to hear more from The White Russian. And any band you want to hear more from is indeed a very good thing indeed.

Red Pants ‘When We Were Dancing’
(Paisley Shirt Records) 18th February 2022

I like it when I see I’ve been sent something from Paisley Shirt Records to review, as I know there’s going to be more than a good chance that I’m going to like it. And I’m pleased to say they have not let me down with this fine release by Red Pants; an album of lo-fi(ish) indie rock, an album where murmured vocals are mixed way down in the mix which gives the album a “we are doing this for the love of our art” quality not to be indie rock superstars. It’s like discovering an old band cassette at the bottom of a box and remembering the fun you used to have dancing the Watutsi with the skinny long brown-haired girl who you would of one time offered your world to. It’s an album of fond remembrances; an album of drinking too much and not caring enough; an album of total lo-fi beauty; a cassette of the best kept secret in the world.

Super Hit ‘S-T’
(Metal Postcard Records) 28th January 2022

The magic and love of C86 is alive and well and living in Portland, Oregon. Simple drum machine beats and jangly chiming guitars back whispered vocals that takes one back to the golden days of Sarah Records.

There is something simply charming about the love and fragility of this album. Melodies float and glisten making this 18-track album of short songs a must have album: an ideal album to soundtrack the coming spring months when the nights get lighter and hope takes a peek at the departing darkness. An album that will grow and become a daily occurrence in your life.

Legless Trials ‘Legless Trials On Main Street’
(Metal Postcard Records) 15th February 2022

The Legless Trials are back with their second album Legless On Main Street’, an album that sucks in the spirit of the Fall and The Cramps, The Velvet Underground and smothers it with a radio friendly sheen that fairly sparkles and shimmies like an alternative hit in waiting. Any one of these nine gems should be blasting from your radio in the coming months.

The Legless Trials are rock ‘n’ roll personified; they are Little Richard, The Banana Splits and Captain Beefheart rolled into one. They are Bob Dylan’s snide grin and Elvis Presley’s erect penis. They are Jagger’s crossing the road walk. They understand the importance of Jack Goode screaming limp you bugger at a leather clad Gene Vincent. They understand the meaning of rock ‘n’ roll and are one of the five crucial acts in that movement today, and if you don’t believe me listen to this album of purity, anger, humour and song writing genius and then try and tell me I am wrong without looking like a puerile piece of Pat Boones shit. 

The Monoscopes ‘Painkiller And Wine’
(Big Black Cat Records)

There is a beauty and sadness that sometimes can only be released through the magic of music. It’s like a windswept spell, a lone call through the echoing of a radio dial and the wizards casting the spell on this occasion are the Monoscopes with a debut album filled with soulful yearning; a car crash of psych-tinged velvet indie guitar goodness.

A really enjoyable journey through the feelings and emotions most human beings experience at some time, be it lust, heartache, betrayal, hopes raised and then dashed, watching a shooting Big Star crash into the broken effigy of Alex Chilton’s breaking heart. Painkillers and Wine is a celebration of life in all its dirt and glory, sound tracked by chiming guitars and melodies to wrap and lose yourself in. In other words, simply a fine album of melancholy guitar goodness.

Future Kult ‘S-T’
(Action Wolf Records/AWAL) 25th February 2022

Decamped in the outliers of Hidalgo, miles away from Mexico City, the sonic-visual partnership of Sion Trefor and Benjamin Zombori have tasked themselves with producing the music of the future.

Leaving behind both Cardiff and Berlin they’ve pitched up off the beaten track in the mountainous valley of one of Mexico’s smallest states; breathing in the geography, history, allure of this hacienda and river settled “nowhere”.

Bringing together both multifaceted artists and their respected disciplines – Trefor a professional concert pianist, violinist, percussionist, producer and composer for visual projects, his foil Zombori the founder of a music, arts and video agency and artist in his own right – Future Kult is an omnivorous grab of inspirations and borderless fusions.

A barrier, or at least warning against the ever-imposing forces of technology, their self-titled debut album corrals post-punk, indie-dance, no wave, electronica, pop and umpteen on-trend genres into a simmering and explosive dense dystopian sonic nightmare for all the senses. They marry the reverberations of the poor missing sisters lost over decades in the Mexican borderlands with the esoteric and the soulless algorithmic takeover of Silicon Valley across an often intense album of hushed and on occasion falsetto vocalised yearns and sinister-laced despair. That’s not to say it’s a resigned, or even wholly dark, songbook as magical filters of light and dance-like euphoric crescendos emerge from the industrial throbbing gristle and gothic bones. 

But just as you think you’ve got a handle those esoteric chants and nuzzled drug-doped saxophone honks and hints of The Big Pink and Renegade Soundwave shatter the Mexican posed hinterland vibes.

Binding together opposing forces and cultures the badly-lit underpass R&B flowing ‘The Wolf’ sounds like Gary Numan taking an E, whilst the sober warning brooding ‘Red Sands’ wields Belbury Poly harpsichord horror dream-realism with Ed Scissor & Lamplighter. ‘Luciferian’ rides a minimalist Tresor techno wave of Catholic-electro guilt.

Front 242 touches gloves with Amorphous Androgynous, DAF, Moroder, Nukuluk, Marilyn Manson and Nitzer Ebb on an electrified mind-warp of crushing malevolent technological forces. Kept as virtual prisoners in the web, Future Kult send out pulsating augurs and border-crossing sonic explosive pleas that will melt or send those algorithms into a frenzy: a great statement from a burgeoning partnership.    

ALBUM REVIEW/MATT OLIVER

Our resident hip-hop lexicon and expert Matt Oliver is back with a new review. Matt’s been busy with his own music pr business of late, but been selecting choice cuts form the hip-hop scene for the Monolith Cocktail’s monthly playlists. We’re glad to have him back on writing duties with this review of the recent UK rap duo of Dubbledge and Forest DLG.

Dubbledge & Forest DLG ‘Ten Toes Down’
(Potent Funk) 10th February 2022

By definition Ten Toes Down means to totally commit to something, and Watford emcee Dubbledge has always shown devotion to the home cause, an energiser helping mangle the angles of hip-hop as part of LDZ and Problem Child and showing off all his resplendent showmanship as ‘The Richest Man In Babylon’. Quite how Ten Toes Down became a lost album is a mystery; one assumes the standard suspect of industry foul play was at work to deny Dubbledge another chance to blow your house down, though a couple of dust-offs within a compact package suggest a reconfiguration of his geezer-ish cunning done as a wink and a smile and living by the seat of his pants. His is the sort of flow that stores cheekfuls of rhymes akin to an iconic trumpet player, gargling them about the place and working every last facial muscle before leaving the front row festooned in comedic phlegm and flavour.  

It’s this force of personality, providing the sort of unsubtle putdowns still worthy of an opponent’s applause, which loves nothing more than the spotlight being turned on full whack, but knowing the prove must always back the show. The closing track ‘Your Mum’ is ready to take the mick, but Dubbledge and his stretchy syllables get away with it by including some parental value not to be taken for granted: the man has layers. On what it takes to be a ‘Soopa Gangsta’, Dubbledge put his spin on Big Pun’s most famous lines about Italian culture, and pulls another fast one by being more knowledge of self than guns and furs stereotypes.  

‘Taking Libs’ continues his studies into the male-female occupancy of Venus and Mars (“I buy you fish and chips, you should be happy”) – the persona can have the flippancy of a 70s sitcom and pique a PC interest, but that’s entertainment. The album’s centrepiece, the diary of extortion that forms ‘Itchy Itchy’ (previously ‘The Phil Mitchell Crackhead Song’), looks like being the album’s weightiest material; except it’s delivered so that heavy addiction comes off as cheeky chappy tomfoolery, including giving crackheads a shout out on the outro. While you’re not exactly rooting for him as he ducks and dives to fund his habit, it’s more comic strip than public service confessional – and we’re alright with that.  

Dubbledge doing damage (“I ain’t trying to be something that I’m not” is verification, if needed, straight out the gate), bears many technicalities: it’s all in the timing of pauses, the theatrical fade aways mid-conversation, the accentuation of pay-off lines on every fourth/eighth/sixteenth bar (including the ‘aw yeaaaaah’s that pepper ‘Chess’, an Amen-break wrecking ball re-sourced from 2011’s Chase & Status/Tinie Tempah collaboration ‘Hitz’), and the pointing of the mic crowd-wards for feedback, before he runs down to your funny bone. Obviously, bravado by the bucketload helps as well: the posse cut with Kyza, Micall Parknsun and TBear, the Englishmen of the belly dancing ‘Mad Dogs’ bumrushing crews out through the fire exit, is a classic case of in-for-a-penny impudence. For all the posturing putting a finger to lips, who wouldn’t be moved by it’s to-the-window, to-the-wall hook of ‘we’re the bollocks!”  

All this weight has the right backer: Forest DLG, the newest alias of producer’s producer Chemo/Telemachus, loads up ten moments of loudness spanning rip-n-run club bangers, neck grabs heading into the red, heavy synth power (‘Tear Dem Apart’ – again the title tells nothing like the whole story), and the title track re-enacting a Lock Stock car chase. On ‘Lend a N A Pencil’, Dubbledge peacocks “while I’m standing on a tightrope, one toe balancing/in between the forces of good and evil like Anakin”, while FDLG adjusts a bass frequency back and forth like a bored studio nerd. It’s only on ‘Awkward’, cartwheeling between folk, psychedelia and Big Brovaz’ ‘Nu Flow’, when the producer has a bash at putting on a night on the tiles for his muse to caper across. As much as it’s the album’s sore thumb, it perfectly frames D’s soul-bearing performance. 

Never reduced to anything cartoonish despite circling some slapstick bum notes and hormones ruling head, Dubbledge puts on a proper show. Ten years or so on hold hasn’t deadened the impact of Ten Toes Down, and though there are perhaps few surprises given his work in the intervening years, those experiencing his spectacle for the first time have a cult hero to give a big hand to.   

Album Reviews by Graham Domain

Davide Cedolin ‘Embracing The Unknown’
Palliatives For Dirty Consciences ‘Blankly’
Lua ‘Werner’
(Marsiglia) All Available Now

Deep in the swamps sat beneath the stars hypnotized by swamp gas hovering lights and the mesmeric sound of insects, a lone man sits playing psych blues on his guitar and remembering the past, singing forlorn songs of melancholic joy and fleeting victories hard won. How soon time had drifted by, easy days free from worry soon replaced by the loneliness of life as an outsider. A man cut adrift from his moorings, left to float aimlessly downstream aware only of the sun and the need for water, shelter, food and the basic necessities of life.

Embracing the Unknown is an album by Davide Cedolin, somewhat reminiscent of Mark Lanegan’s blues but without the gravitas of voice – the music a husky longing for something more, a panacea to block out the pain and the cold chill of night! The band a reflection of nature, the vast emptiness and loneliness of the desert, the hot dry heat of anxiety, the tropics – the humid air of a jungle of

indifference, the mountains of emotion too high to climb, the rugged terrain too plain, too human, too hostile to be embraced.

Embracing the Unknown is like a mantra to live, a mantra to think, a mantra to be, a mantra to forgo convention and set out your own stall, insulation and daring riding side by side.

Werner by Lua is an Ambient album of emotive music recorded in Italy during the first Covid lockdownof 2020. It is released in a Limited-Edition Cassette format by the diverse and colourful Italian Independent label: Marsiglia Records.

The eight pieces of music slowly unfurl their charms, beginning with a dreamy piano chord and electronics minimal piece of melancholy, that evokes the ground-hog-day monotony of daily life during lockdown.

The album builds in melody, instrumentation and complexity as it progresses. Naivete and disbelief giving way to a gradual dawning of the nature and reach of the threat. The unfolding flowers of science-fact eclipsing the unreality of the previously perceived science-fiction.

Reality, death and fear however, soon become too much and the music veers into the relief of escapism and adventure. New Worlds to explore, dimensional travel and space-time shifts.

‘Nuova Cura’ is the standout track – a chilled space-warp of a tune sounding like Chick Corea flying high and unshackled. Strange pink misted synthesizer shapes emerge from the primeval dust of dead stars. New life, energy re-fashioned, a galactic super nova beginning to stretch out and boogie.

The album gets better with repeat plays as it progresses from minimal piano chords and electronics, through orchestral and space music, to a kind of futuristic world music performed by machines, half -asleep and dreaming! Hope bringing colour back to the Cosmos!

Imagine a world where honesty, sensitivity and emotional intelligence are seen as essential qualities for politicians and all those employed in positions of power and influence. Imagine a world where people with a temperament of calm reasoning are seen as strong leaders, rounded individuals, lauded for their

ability to communicate openly, honestly and effectively with all others. Their thinking and reasoning clearly visible for all to see. Leaders, able to negotiate and reach sound reasoned agreements for the benefit of all. In this world, everyone has their own individual talents and abilities recognized. Their own

skill set and sense of self-worth encouraged and developed so that they can be themselves and earn a living doing what they enjoy and are good at, without being judged and measured against others. Imagine a world where everyone is valued by society for being themselves, whatever their capabilities.

Now consider the real world, the types of people elected into positions of power – the greedy, the self-seeking – out to line their own pockets, those indifferent to the suffering of others. Every country elects such leaders. We all elect the egotist, the bully, the purveyor of his ‘own success at any cost’ and to hell with the consequences. Those that gleefully tread on the poor, the ill and the weak!

Blankly is an album that holds up to the light – the absurd nature of modern society! The very name of the band meaning the provision of pain relief for the masses, without addressing the cause of the pain! The rotting corpse of liberty drugged and with perpetual brain freeze, unable to think, distracted and hypnotized by technology.

The disease that is the fucked-up modern world itself, manipulating you and me to fall in-line, believe the lies, endorse the lies, spread the lies! If we don’t play the game, we will end up poor, ill, homeless, we will become the waste product of society. Fear is the key!

Hailing from Italy with the current album released on Marsiglia Records, the band Palliatives for Dirty Consciences are a tight unit with great guitar work, taut bass lines and tunes to rival the bands they are undoubtedly influenced by – Wire circa third album 154, Pale Saints, The Sound (1981), Comsat Angels, Joy Division, The Chameleons, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees and even Sigur Ros. Their overall sound is akin to the great indie bands from around 1980 – the original New Wave bands (now termed Post Punk). Have a listen to the song ‘Back Home’ for an idea of their sound and originality.

Make no mistake, this is a great album. If the band were American or from the UK they would undoubtedly be attracting great reviews and playing all the festivals this summer.

Welcoming the newest contributor to the Monolith Cocktail fold, musician and artist Graham Domain joined our team earlier this year. 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.

ALBUM FEATURE/REVIEW
Dominic Valvona

Brian Bordello ‘Cardboard Box Beatles’
(Metal Postcard Records) 11th February 2022

Declaration of interests, yes, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea is a regular contributor to this esteemed blog. And so, in an act of what could be deemed as “pop eating itself” I’m going to somehow balance friendship with critical analyses.

Who am I kidding?! Brian is the best. And anything I’ve written or will write about both his idiosyncratic solo work and his music with the creatively dysfunctional family band, The Bordellos, will probably go unread by the masses, who should really be celebrating this St. Helens lo fi poet-of-the-people: if by people you mean despondent middle-aged white blokes learning to come to terms with their fates; ignored by all and sundry; not quite old enough to prove invaluable, yet too old to start over.

The Les Miserable of the North, Brian’s wit and aphorism one-liners make all his resigned lyricism more palatable. No one quite sums up life in an almost ungovernable modern Britain like our Brian. Yet there’s always a sullen but achingly heartbreaking fragility, delivered on Brian’s second most popular theme of romance: unrequited love; a love lost; a love undeserved. Regrets…he’s had a fair few. But listening to the lo fi (so lo fi as to barely register; making even the late Sparklehorse sound like a flash git) stripped of artifice recordings of this “nowhere man” (A Beatles reference which we shall come back to later) is never a slog.

Across the decades, shovelling away with a kid’s cheap plastic spade – left over from a northern beachside holiday many moons ago I envisage – at the music industry’s coalface, Brian has released his proclamations and wry wisdom in various guises and on a myriad of obscure labels. His latest album is for Metal Postcard Records (no strangers to this site; the “postcard” bit of that imprint the closest a fandom Brian will ever get to the original iconic Scottish label he adores) is about as basic as it gets: just an acoustic guitar, Brian’s wistful soft rasped voice and the hum and slipping rubber band of what sounds like a Tascam four-track.

Cardboard Box Beatle as a title does little to prepare the listener; the Cardboard title-track couldn’t be further from a Beatles homage, sounding like a St. Helens bedraggled Kurt Cobain unraveling his life, baring his soul to the disinterest of everyone else. Instead, the box in question can be seen as a metaphor for a cheap recycled life of low achievement; 50 plus years summed up in a box you might drop off at a jumble sale when someone dies, or leave for the local charity shop: leftovers, mementos, cherished low monitory valued memories deemed worthless. The charity shop will be something Brian is all too aware of, after like many of us, struggling to keep or losing their job in the Covid pandemic.

It’s also, no doubt, a descriptive name for the cheap knock-offs, those who still pray at the altar of a band that spilt up over 50 years ago. Whilst Brian himself wears his influences on his mothball, untangling sleeve, he berates the lack of ingenuity, freshness, zest, protest and, even, fun in most new music. As a reviewer for my site, he’s more than used to reading umpteen thousand press releases, and the eye-catching, dumbed-down use of “soundalike” references. Whilst the 90s to the most recent generation breaking through is the 60s to us 80s kids, there’s still such a hunger to sound, copy the music of their grandfathers and mothers. Brian’s own nostalgia doesn’t get in the way of championing the contemporary artists/bands that are trying something different. He’s sung of a pantheon of “motherfuckers”, from Scott Walker to Gene Vincent; Julian Cope to Dave Gedge; artists he feels gave the bird finger to compromise, or were just one-offs, never to be repeated.

Disparaging catcalls aside, the industry’s reliance on back catalogues is proving destructive to newcomers: Brian can be heard banging his head against Flyod’s brick wall. None more so than on the album’s almost flat, despondent opener ‘Yes, I Am The New Nick Drake’; a low-end wistful jeer no doubt at the production line of acoustic troubadours in awe of the fateful legend: but only in copying the adulation part, the young life cut short bit of that legend being a step too far to copy.

As far as The Beatles go there’s an air of melancholic Revolver on the disarming but pleaded ‘Please’; also hints of a Mogadon induced Wedding Present and The Las in the melody and strumming. It must be said that the low quality of these plaints, laments and maverick observations feels more like eavesdropping than a performance: as if Brian sits all day playing these often candid, cathartic but also piss-taking jibes to himself, and that we’ve just stumbled upon him and decided to secretly press record.

In the romantic, knockabout sentimental vogue, Brian exudes a Northern Syd Barrett (another hero of our Brian’s; forget Floyd after that though) trying to catch a free-spirited ‘Flowerchild’; grumbles about his bland perpetual Autumn wardrobe as a metaphor for lost love and mortality and lockdowns, on the “all my summers have gone” “dododoing” ‘Seasons Change’; languidly strums Catholic metaphors about a muse on the Dan Tracey-esque ‘The True Meaning Of Love’; and on what is a deeply offensive, but all the better for it guilty laugh, ‘Here Comes Eric With His Dead Child Song’ (contender surely for best title of 2022, if not ever), in drudgery, bemoans his own sad existence and behaviour to those held dear. 

But as I have mentioned already, this is the unraveling of an artist on the “scrapheap”; a moment (say a year in Covid lockdown) captured of mental fatigue, alienation, defeat. Songs like ‘Catfood On The Floor’ epitomize a modern “nowhere man”; a generation X life boxed-up with nothing worth keeping other than the trinkets that marked personal euphoria against a disposable, unwanted collection of CDs ripped from the covers of NME and Mojo: a summary lament of the emptiness that so many of us felt, experienced during the last two years. Brian even measures himself up for an “Instagram” friendly funeral on the ode to a ‘Salamander Fruit Fly’; a poignant, though well obscured in tune, song about death, mental health and the banality of narcissism seen through the vaporous lifestyles and validations of social media.

Brian takes it all in with an acidic, often witty pun(ing) amusement; even the most depressing moments magically dark in humour and self-depreciation. Never has so little musically evoked such reams of thought; a simple, slipping and warping because of cheap apparatus, guitar and voice denouncement of modern life spent under the cosh of Covid, Cardboard Box Beatles is more than the sum of its cheaply recorded parts.

Coming back round to that Beatles title, the album (as so many of Brian’s releases are) is released on the anniversary of the Fab Fours Please, Please Me recordings; a link back to nostalgia and love for the band that still influences legions fifty-nine years later. Because at the heart of Brian’s diatribes about our reliance for nostalgia, he still can’t quite escape it himself. But then, can any of us truly cut ties with the past and a so-called “golden age”. Perhaps it’s that age’s mysticism, the secret alchemy that Brian so cherishes – a life without 24/7 newsfeeds and Twitter accounts -, a complete opposite to today’s all too knowing show and tells and the relentlessness demystifying commodification of the art form. Striped back to the essentials, Brian encapsulates an array of displeasures like no one else can. Let’s just hope his music reaches the wider audience it deserves.

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