The Perusal #32: Claude, Tess Tyler, Ghost Horse, Flying Moon In Space…

June 16, 2022

Dominic Valvona’s Reviews Roundup
Unless stated otherwise, all releases are available now

SHORTS:: Singles/Tracks:

Claude ‘Twenty Something’
(American Dreams Records)

Navigating the disappointments and those sinking feelings of resignation, Claude, the alias of one Claudia Ferme, release’s a wistful, almost languid but searching slice of prime dream-pop ahead of a new album in August. The inaugural single from that album, A Lot’s Gonna Change, ‘Twenty Something’ swims in the same waters as Aldous Harding, a disarming piece of woozy existential malaise that reflects Claude’s frustrations of society’s expectations when faced with reality.

As that title suggests, this dreamy, almost mirage like single encapsulates an informative yet scary and confusing age. Reilly Drew’s video for the song perfectly captures the mood, with the emptiness and the surreal, dream-like quality of a number of spaces serving as representations of Claude’s internal environment: “I’m alone in each scene, on some strange kind of journey, walking, thinking, looking inward, even when I’m surrounded by people.”

Wearing what could just be a cool bit of in-character chainmail, Claude’s literal armour comes and goes with a number of wardrobe changes, as she poses in coolly aloof, nonplussed reflective ways: an echo in there of 70s troubadours, female singer-songwriters gazing out thoughtfully. A mellowed yearn with snuggled and snozzled saxophone, ‘Twenty Something’ is a softened piece of captivating art-pop that shows a lot of promise. Expect to see a full album review in the future.

La Chinaca ‘Juegos Malosos’
(Movimientos Records)

Conjured up in a psychedelic vapour of bendiness and slinking dreaminess, La Chinaca’s latest wheeze is to transmogrify the brooding Chris Izaak classic ‘Wicked Games’, attuning it to their own special blend of Tropicana and more dystopian Cumbia.

A straight Spanish translation of “Juegos Malosos” is “evil games”, and on this slice of Island life theirs a sense that we’re being intoxicatingly led towards a sacrificial leap into the volcano. A mirage of languid reverbed South America percussion and drugged wooed vocals place this in the evanescent ether, between worlds, the final faded out winds sending this brilliant cover version into the cosmos. I look forward to hearing more.

Gabrielle Ornate ‘Free Falling’

With the bonus of youth on her side the highly motivated “bohemian siren” has released a string of energetic alternative rock and pop winners over the last year, whilst also covering, in a unique and musically skillful manner, an eclectic mix of songs on Instagram.

Gabrielle Ornate has all the right elements with her balancing act of colourful maximalist dynamism and charged emotional attitudes and politics. The latest track, ‘Free Falling’, leans towards “rawk” but still evokes an impish spirit. I for one see big things coming Ornate’s way.

Tess Tyler (Ft. Barney Sage) ‘Sell The Sky’
(Manners McDade)

You have to say that the Bristol-based composer Tess Tyler doesn’t do things by half, announcing not just a single but double album debut. Released on the same day, Fractals LP 1 will contain original neo-classical and experimental electronic explorations of Tess’ work, whilst LP 2 is billed as a “once in a lifetime” live recording of the brilliant and congruous Spindle Ensemble’s interpretations of the album’s graphic scores, designed by Tess, recorded at St George’s Hall in Bristol.

You could say it has been a decade in the making with Tess’ varied and experienced career including collaborations with Imogen Heap, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, The Budapest Art Orchestra and The Bratislava Symphony. Her work has appeared on many orchestral scores showcased in concert halls across the United Kingdom as well as on video games such as LEGO® Marvel Avengers and indie hits including Human: Fall Flat. The year 2020 saw the release of Tess’ debut solo work, Stasis: Five Sketches for Piano; a five track EP influenced by Phillip Glass and Steve Reich, whilst integrating her innate cinematic compositional style.

To announce The Fractals doublet, Tess is sharing both versions of lead single ‘Sell The Sky’. We’re sharing the original version of the track, found on LP1 and featuring the kick-drummed bounce and stuttered drumming of the multi-instrumentalist, and fellow Bristol resident, Barney Sage. As the video shows, Tess, in moody gray shot colours moves from sculpting the stirrings of synthesized wind-blown cosmic forces to neo-classical, ala Roedelius and Tim Story, piano waves. Sage waits until the halfway mark to let off a jazzy loose splash and tumble roll of shadow play that stirs up the waters.

Expect to a full review of the two-part debut album nearer the time of release, later this year on the 9th September.

LONGFORM::Albums/EPs

The Paxton/Spangler Septet ‘Ugquozi’
(Eastlawn Records)

The co-led Paxton/Spangler Septet once more dance and join the South African jazz appreciation society parade with a new album of riffs on compositions and freedom marches from the country’s most celebrated icons.

Stalwarts of the Detroit scene for decades, trombonist John Tbone Paxton and his congas, percussionist foil RJ Spangler have been exalting an inspirational South African legacy since the 1980s. Continuing in various forms and with a myriad of players and guests they’ve built up an enviable reputation as true acolytes of such incredible talents as the late Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim. The latter’s songbook provided all the material for the partnership’s last album (which garnered a very favourable review from me) Anthems For The New Nation.

With such a long-spanning career, and still going strong in the neoclassical mode, it’s no surprise to find the artist formerly known as Dollar Bill once more gracing a Paxton/Spangler album. As a final flourish, the man anointed, no less, by Nelson Mandela as ‘South Africa’s Mozart’ has his seasonal ‘Jabulani Easter Joy’ hymn taken on a journey of both blessed spiritual reverence and a more controlled cacophony of wailed squalling horns, tumbled, galloping drums and detuned piano: a sort of New Orleans Prince Lasha in communion with Nate Morgan. 

It feels like the generational baton has been handed down from Ibrahim to the increasingly celebrated Nduduzo Makhathini, taking on the mantle (arguably) as South Africa’s foremost jazz-pianist. Although releasing at least eight albums over the last seven years, it was his Zulu roots and beyond traversing, liquid spiritual Modes Of Communication: Letters From The Underworld opus that cemented Makhathini’sreputation internationally. The Blue Note anointed star’s ‘Ithemba’ swings from the vine here, to a lively but also serenaded transformation of melodious Leon Thomas, the brassy trilled trumpet evocations of Masekela, concerto-style piano and lush bird-like flute.

Another titan of not just her homeland but a continent too, Mama Africa Miriam Makeba is represented by a New Orleans and Chicago R&B grooving joyful vision of her famous ‘Pata Pata’ anthem: There’s almost a hint of Dave Brubeck on that circular-rasped horns lilt of sweetened collective energy.

From the South African diaspora of the Apartheid years, the renowned, late, trumpeter/flutist Mongezi Fezu (leaving his native home for Europe in the late 60s, famously turned-on to progressive, psych and Afro-jazz sounds and playing with such luminaries as Robert Wyatt, before joining Henry’s Cow and the very underappreciated Assagai) sees his ‘You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos’ handled like a soothing balm of sunny side-up reeds and sauntering relaxed grooves, whilst the Johannesburg born composer/musician Caiphus Semenya (upping sticks to L.A. in the 60s and working with such legends as Makeba and Nina Simone) has his Masekela-penned collaboration ‘Part Of A Whole’ given a respectful soulful and acid-jazz transformation of Southern organ funk and smooth Freddie Hubbard-like blasts and squawks.   

Spreading the love further afield, to outside the South African borders and reach, there’s a suffused bluesy turbulence of huffed, burnished and kettle whistling horns version of Afro-beat progenitor Fela Kuti’s ‘Water’s Got No Enemy’, and a dreamy woodwind swaddled Afro-jazz (throw in a pinch of Yusef Lateef and Lee Morgan) take on NYC native and reeds maestro Salim Washington’s ‘Lwandle Luulaby’. Salim appears as a greater circle of guests on this album’s lineup, adding a unique oboe sound alongside tenor sax and flute turns. 

An inspired channeling of the very elements that make South African jazz so appealing, stirring and bright, Ugquozi is a sagacious and masterful rework of the familiar. Not so much an album of cover standards as a chance to riff on and guide the material to new heights; some of which is down to the fresh perspective of using the trombone and oboe. This is a great testament to a jazz heritage that’s worth celebrating more often, and shouting from the rafters.

Ghost Horse ‘Il Bene Comune’
(HORA Records)

Created during, what seems like an age ago, Italy’s second round of lockdowns in the winter of 2020/2021, the latest expletory jazz album from Ghost Horse is quite a brooding, strung-out affair of fusions.

An extended partner to the already decade-running Hobby Horse trio of reeds man Dan Kinzelmap, bassist Joe Rehmas and drummer Stefano Tamborrino, the Ghost Horse expands to accommodate the brass section prowess of Filippo Vignato and Glauco Benedetti and the baritone guitarist contortions, wanes of Gabrio Baldacci as they venture out into the alien, physical and, at times, uneasy. 

Whilst you’d be none the wiser, this sonic prowl and free-form expression of counterbalanced attitude and drifted, untied space walks into the cosmos was created over the Internet; with some face-to face meetings it must be added. It doesn’t show, and rather than a fragmented sextet performance all the elements, no matter how out there, seem to gel, or at least move in the same direction together.

In the notes there’s a description of the group’s methodology; the underlying structural theme one of “shared familiarity” with an emphasis on “basic modular, predominantly simple, repeating motifs”. In practice this sounds like a considered tumult of conscious, funky, breakbeat, avant-garde, Afro and industrial jazz. Yet, breaks out into all kinds of other styles, from prog to hip-hop and the cinematic.

The opening ‘Fulfillment Centre’ is a case in point of these hybrids; with creeping bass, New Orleans style horns, an untethered relaxed notion of motion, and yet urges of Sons Of Kemet, Comet Is Coming and Irreversible Entanglements all in the mix. By the second track its all change, as ‘Idea’ bounces downtown to 80s no wave NYC (Mofunge and Vortex) with a dose of South Africa’s BLK/JKS and a modern trip-breakbeat injection of UNCLE.

Floating out over the lunar landscapes, ‘Q’ goes mysterious on us with its astral strident and industrial hysterics and garbled guitar: an exercise that could be described as rage against the modal. Pinged harmonics echo off slow strained horns on the Floyddian and Zappa-esque simmered ‘Stand Stan’, and ‘EBO’ reverberates to the sounds of Krononaut as a tabbing guitar sends out a satellite communication code of whelps.   

Free of gravity once more the Polish city of ‘Warsaw’ begins with a both prog-rock and soothed, serenaded beautiful classical suite, before stretching out into spidery rattles on the drum kit and a symphonic Ornette Coleman, elephant horn blowing take on a Lalo Schifrin score.

Tuba ship prowls and circular breathing brass warble to another cosmic performance on the finale, and titular-track, which in English translates as “the common good”.

Out on the fringes, on the perimeters of mystery and moody investigation, Ghost Horse emerges from the pandemic with a fairly unique blend of jazz, created for a troubled and confused world ill at ease with itself. The Italian jazz scene looks to be in good hands.

Farmer ‘Things Do Things Without Thinking’
(Gare du Nord)

Let loose and decoupled from his union with Tim Ward in the more deliberated Cold Spells (a Monolith Cocktail favourite and recommendation), a soloist Michael Farmer unleashes and unloads an imaginative psyche on the world.

Uploaded to a MIDI keyboard of maverick eccentricities, dreamt-up cosmic meanders and mental spasms, Farmer’s idiosyncratic experiment in “maximalism” is less a rage and more a progressive mindfuck rile against the machine.

You got prog-rock running wild to garbled Manga and electro loony tunes; avant-garde, Fluxus classicism sporadically competing with euro-synth pop; and the ominous gravitas of Kubrick sized space odyssey stirrings lined-up against Deep Purple and Alex Harvey.

This is a full-blown the madcap laughs (and despairs) at the universe kind of an album, with Syd, David Allen, Robert Wyatt and Martin Dupont rattled and harassed by noodling sprints of Zappa and rampart snatches of Devo, XTC, Crack Cloud and The Flaming Lips. On one hand it sounds like Steve Vai having a chuckle, on the other, a beautifully emergent celestial epic. Throw in a fairground of curiosities that’s just manifested from the noggin’ of Suggs, Trevor Horn suffering an animism, ELO rehearsing with Sakamoto, Der Plan and Klaxons at the 80s Eurovision contest and Santana mixing it with Todd Rundgren. Too much?!

Most of the time each track seems to lead into the next, with little demarcation. Even the track titles can be read, strung together, into a couple of sentences. Farmer’s cacophony isn’t so much reflected in the vocal delivery however, though the lyrics ran like a splutter of universal resignation, serenaded discourse and precarious enormity. I have to take my hat off to anyone who can make this line sound lucid and fleeting: “It’s a common understanding that we happen to be standing on a mass of exponentiation-radiating rubble led by tyrants.” All true by the way.   

Lyrics from the inner and outer spaces often get brought back down to Earth as Farmer’s brain gets stretched and warped.

You could say Farmer’s thrown a whole lifetime of ideas, musical inspirations and aspirations into this untethered madness. Yet despite what reads on paper as a competing, chaotic mess, on repeated plays Things Do Things Without Thinking unfurls its magic, sensibilities and unique qualities and starts to make sense. An astonishing album that almost defies description.

Omertà ‘Collection Particulière’
(Zamzam Rec.)

On pain of death dare you mention the secret society, Omertà’s dreaded connotations couldn’t be less overtly fearful and criminal as the Florence Giroud instigated ensemble loom large in a cosmic psychedelic, bass guitar-heavy spell of post-punk, no wave, synth music and soul. Yes, that’s right, soul!

The dreamy opening, ‘Air Instrumental’, has a surprising feel of the El Michaels Affair, a little Shacks and 79.5 to ease us all in to a lucid artsy cosmology of repeating leitmotifs, or “ritornellos” as they call it – in case you are wondering, that’s a recurring passage in Baroque music for orchestra or chorus that when translated from it Italian etymology means “little return”.

This French experiment, with members drawn from across a lofty underground scene, dwells in mysterious chambers, yet seeks the illuminating light of melted moonbeams to a slide-y deep bass groove and starry twinkles, shimmery resonating cymbals and Giroud’s text, passage-reading and sung invocations.

Despite a host of esoteric references and the use of that seraphim-touched seer William Blake, this world of relaxed soulful lucidity, Numan-esque synths, celestial serenades is mostly a warm woozy affair.  Touches of The Pop Group, Le Volume Courbe and Caravan Of Anti-Matter all rear their heads. But you could also add a general feeling of the 60s to that list, plus a little Rhyton on the psych-country space fireworks turn coarser distorting fuzz ‘Kremer & Bergert’ – vocally featuring text from not only Giroud but also the Julie Kremer of half that title and Raphaël Dafour.   Avant-garde in source with hidden depths of meaning, allusions cast to higher purposes, Omertà’s latest album is dreamy escapism on one hand, yet stalking chthonian mystery on the other. But in essence: Sault meets Tim Gane in the French underground.      

Xqui ‘Pieces Part 2’
(Somewherecold Records) 24th June 2022

The soundtrack to a both mysterious and uneasy film, or, a piece of video and installation art, Xqui’s experiments with the voice are as challenging as they are successful in drawing the listener into a strange world. Images unfold, atmospheres, memories take shape in a language of field recordings, repeated annunciations, speech and obscured choral cosmic and esoteric moans and metallic industrial sounds.

It must be pointed out that the only actual credited voice belongs to the writer/performer Lynn Gerrard, who reads out an underworld vision of Biblical hell from a furnace of hanging chains, rolling stock machinery and broken glass underfoot – actually, sounding more abandoned retail park warehouse than the bowels of hell.

Almost automated, accumulating in an increasingly cacophony of accents, there’s a Laurie Anderson thesaurus of “ate” ending words (“Motivate”, “Captivate”, “Violate” and so on) being repeated in some moist cave-like atmospheric chamber on ‘Narrator’: A place, environment in which the mysterious tapping of mining tools chip away in time to the wisps of rhythm and the vocal cadence.

These voices, apparitions, become more erratic with what sounds like a shout of “Fire!” on the warped psychedelic churned ‘Piece’, and form an almost unholy 2001: A Space Odyssey style eerie chanted moan on the esoteric funneled cosmic disturbance ‘Vykings’. “Amputate”, “Deactivate”, “Eradicate”, “Detonate” sound out to the tones, space fizzles, alien whirly bird twitters and ghost freighter moods of the Tangerine Dream on the semi-classical hinted, dreamy ‘Apathetic’. There’s samples of presidential enquiry on the looming threat turn warped, morphed maelstrom spin ‘Demetri Prentiss’

Things liven up as the previous solar wind powered vapours and deepened throbbing heavy bass pulsations leap into a more driving beat on the Günter Schickert Krautrock charge, ‘Adam Brasso’.   Otherworldly, paranormal and obscured visitations form an unsettled climate and deep concentration of Meta awaits those searching for a fully immersive experience. Neither ambient, sound art nor musique concrete Xqui’s latest work opens up a portal into the captured familiar made altogether more creepy and out of this world.

The Mining Co. ‘Acoustic Phenomenology’
(PinDrop Records) 17th June 2022

Not so much the afterthought as a return to the essence, with a clutch of songs from his most recent (and in my view best) album, Phenomenology, stripped of their previous electronic effects, gravity-less forms and augmentation and taken back to a more intimate form. In fact, this is where you’d usually start with the songwriting process, with the very bones of the song. And usually singer-songwriter Michael Gallagher would start with these versions and work towards the frills, swells and atmospherics. But prompted during sessions by his producer Paco, those original incarnations have appeared as a sort of additional showcase for the County Donegal artist’s sense of melody, storytelling and effortless emotional draws.

But let’s go back a bit to last year, and the original space cowboy Phenomenology: Gallagher’s first furor into electronics. Floating his usual brand of country-laced cathartic heartache towards deep space, riffing off John Carpenter’s 1974 cult sci-fi movie Dark Star, Gallagher seemed to weave the fatalistic return to the astrological bodies themes of being cast adrift in space with the lamentable and touching agonies of life on Earth.

One of the movie’s main protagonists, the jettisoned Talby, was and is once more immortalized on his floated rendezvous with the Phoenix Asteroids. His swansong of a kind, ‘Talby Drift’ returns to its original form of Americana held plaint. The same goes too for the more rhythmic, but still country-burred ‘Universal Son’. However, the more heavy-set darkened ‘IWBHM’ (believe it or not, a song about a child who dreams of being a heavy metal star that worships the ‘devil’) has a touch now of Josh T. Pearson and alt-90s stripped-down rock that could be mistaken for grunge. The resigned crash site malady, ‘Astral Investigation’, would sound beautiful in any form, as it does here on this vulnerable, Lukas Creswell-like soft acoustic version.  

Almost free of its vaporous synths and celestial atmospherics, this stripped-down suite does however purr, percolate and ripple with the broadcast waves of an undulated cosmic presence. And so keeping that relatively subtle connection going – also sometimes reflected in the vocal echo, reverb – Gallagher reminds us of the original celestial sentiment and environments that pushed his usual earthy songwriting into the stratosphere. 

A lovely companion piece to last year’s minor triumph, which would have worked well as a bonus extra, this less cosmic showcase of the original material is nice enough. Yet really just sends us full circle back to Gallagher’s signature sound, whilst Phenomenology seemed to dream bigger and set the artist on the open road to larger scale, even conceptual, works. I said it was his most creative, and best album to date. This little EP is brilliant though; the performances low key yet just as emotionally charged.  

Loris Cericola ‘Metaphysical Graffiti’
(Artetetra) 22nd June 2022

The Montecosaru-residing musician and video artist is off to a good start already. For Loris is in fact both my old man’s Christian name and my middle name.

Though quite far down the ancestry chain, and you probably guessed by my full name, my family can claim its Italian roots. Right, lets get on with the task of critiquing Loris’s new supernatural album of atmospheric unease and discombobulating environments. A kind of avant-garde ambient and sound collage, Metaphysical Graffiti (a riff on Led Zep’s “physical” bombastic double-album from 1975) lurks, scratches about and generally takes in the both primordial and esoteric resonance of the unfamiliar.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Loris Cericola is part of the multidisciplinary audio-visual collective Cerchio 23 (I’m sure the ‘Planet 23’, which clocks in at 2 minutes and 3 seconds exactly, is a nod to that project in name). And so with an ear to conjuring up such visual Meta as cave dwelling horrors, communications with the otherworldly through a TV set or across the ether, and oscillating and propeller zipped craft, looming overhead, Loris’s sonic visions seem to soundtrack a paranormal movie that hasn’t yet been made.

Muffled voices in the subterranean and purring ripples announce a ‘Premonition’; a repeated gong-like shudder, hammey snatches of organ, cut-up dialogue, whirled UFOs and animalistic whelps ebb and flow on ‘Droid’s Memory Coding’; stone movements and spirit activity light up the daemonic meter on ‘Message From Beyond’.

The dank, the mirrored, the veiled, the moaning, the slurred, the semi-orgasmic woes make for something unearthly and also primitive. Italian and Spanish 80s underground cassette tape culture both meet around an atavistic campfire communal with the esoteric as hidden motors and machinery hum and gliders hover overhead, on what is a most eerie peregrination.

Flying Moon In Space ‘Zwei’
(Fuzz Club Records) 24th
June 2022

The Tangerine Dream crosses flight paths with the Young Knives and Kavinsky on the second album from the Leipzig-based experimental sextet, Flying Moon In Space. With an astrological motorik driven beat, trebly post-punk bass line, prodded and goading yelps and vocals the group harmoniously, even when in shouted protest, channel a German music legacy of krautrock, kosmische and Nue Deutsche Welle with the Transatlantic sound of Crack Cloud and the LCD Soundsystem.

They sort of borrow a numerated “zwei’ from Kluster – the 1970 album Zwei-Osterei under the original formation of what would soon become Cluster after the departure of Conrad Schnitzler – and often evoke vaporous wisps of Klaus Schulze whilst charging forward on a Pyrolator metallic techno beat, or slinking along to a club-friendly International Pony cosmic-disco-funk.

With an improvised themed methodology, the escalating ‘Traum Für Alle’ (“dream for everyone”) has time to build from an incipient start of rotor-bladed ripples, wooing drones and effected electronica into a sort of post-punk materialistic themed overdrive of Bis, Japandorf and Electralane. ‘Optimist’ however, is set to a neon Stranger Things 80s and techno-knocked vibe of krautrock-disco-pop.

On the event horizon precipice, earthly yearns and riled injustices get sent out into the abysses of space; the group playing on, even dancing to a both pulsating charge and more Euro-synth slick motor-funk. The album’s finale, ‘Prophet’ (just as easily a reference to the religious as it is to the famous line of sequential synths), imagines a breathless Damo Suzuki drifting across a yacht moored in the new wave harbour.

There’s the excitable, the dreamy and the sighed all wrapped up in an oscillation of synth-pop, punk and motoring velocity; a universe in which Private Agenda groove with Bloc Party, Loved Drones, Dunkelziffer and Klaus Dinger.

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

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