BOOK REVIEW
DOMINIC VALVONA

John Howard ‘In The Eyeline Of Furtherance’
(Fisher King Publishing)

Correlating more or less with the singer-songwriter John Howard’s relatively un-chronicled decades, from the 70s to the dawn of a new millennium, the third and final (though there is room for a fourth volume to chart, what is perhaps, Howard’s most prolific period) autobiography covers an illuminating time spent navigating the corporate shit show of A&R and licensing in the music industry’s MOR departments.

After an almost meteoric rise to fame off the back of his accomplished piano-driven Kid In A Big World songbook in 1975, it soon became apparent, as the first honest account in this series Incidents Crowded With Life documents, that the adulation and glitter would quickly fade. Though never written-off as such Howard was, like a magnitude of artists before him and ever since, continuously hampered and screwed-over; the records ever far and few between as time went on.

The next “big thing” at one point Howard’s real troubles began after a life-changing accident in 1976. In an attempt to escape the mad raging clutches of his Pilipino house mates bit of rough (a violent maniacal Russian sailor as it turned out), Howard jumped from a flat window, breaking his back in the process. Despite this horrific chapter there was still the CBS contract, recording at the fabled Abbey Road studios, the theme song to a Peter Fonda movie and countless promises to lift the mood. But by the end of the 70s and early 80s the music career had all but stalled, with only brief flashes of ill-advised makeovers and one-off songwriting projects. Book two in this life story, Illusions Of Happiness picked up that period, documenting a post recovery Howard on the cusp of a new decade and mounting a comeback. Again, even with such future big names as Trevor Horn and Steve Levine in his corner, nothing really took off. Frustrated by various ill-thought out and misplaced marketing ploys Howard gallivanted to a soundtrack of synthesised Eurovision pop and overproduced easy listening balladry.

Volume three finds a not so much disillusioned Howard as a waning artist making the most of it; playing the cards dealt, moving from front stage to a role behind the scenes in music licensing. Making perfect sense really, keeping a hand in the game so to speak, Howard began this career change of a sort at Pickwick Records in 1986. As it turns out, even this corner of the industry is riven by egos and petty one-upmanship, bitter jealousies. And so there’s a number of “jump ships”, with stints at MCA and Readers Digest to follow. Sorry tales of bad bosses and greed follow as In The Eyeline Of Furtherance fills in the blanks of a decade in which Howard really swam against the tide of the bean-counting petty executives in charge. Even when successful (and Howard was constantly that) his actions would rile whoever was in charge it seems.       

Incognito, the heady and potential brilliance of a creative career all but hidden, Howard takes all the shit that’s thrown at him with a smile: such is life and all that. For what soon becomes apparent is that the travails, knocks haven’t diminished that wry humour and ear for a good anecdote or two; this third book almost like a warm, inviting chat then linear history.

As he is in life, on record, Howard proves a sweet, open and wise companion on a journey bookended by successful (creatively speaking) periods of songwriting. But it’s the bit in the middle that’s regaled here.

What on paper might not exactly seem the most star-studded, glittering or exactly “with-it” of times in the music business, there is however a lot of famous or once-famous names to whet the appetite. Semi-success and what ifs litter the book as Howard attempts to reinvigorate back catalogues and reinvent former stars, setting up a myriad of new recording sessions on the way; the budget always a problem, and the negotiations always needing Howard’s disarming and candid manner, his ability to douse the flames of drama, and sensitivity. That list includes Connie Francis, Lonnie Donegon, Bert Weedon, Buddy Holly’s surviving Crickets, Dusty Springfield, Elkie Brookes and Des O’Conner. Personally of interest to me, with a massive Beach Boys crush, is Howard’s brief L.A. run-in with Bruce Johnston. Anyone who can write both the wistful ‘Disney Girls’ and heart-wrenching ‘Tears In The morning’ is a gifted genius in my books. A chance meeting, pleasantries exchanged, and it’s all over in just a paragraph, but coincidently enough, Doris Day would record her own distinctive version of Johnston’s McCarthy age of innocence lament, ‘Disney Girls’. And in time, we read of Howard’s attempts to try and coax the grand dame into recording a new album in the 80s. I’ve tried myself to prompt Howard to cover some of the more doleful, tearjerker Beach Boys moments – the deeper cuts too. Although Howard did record a pre-Johnston period Pet Sounds spell of magic, ‘Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)’, for his own solo album in the 90s – more of that later. Day never did record that album though, but did hand over an astonishing vault of previously left dormant recordings that proved just as fruitful.

There’s a rather less fortunate (in hindsight) run-in with Gary Glitter however. The yet to be exposed sex-offender and former glam titan was on the comeback trial again (again!). And yes, he is a pompous creep and as self-deluded as you’d expect. I have to feel sorry for the poor idiot who brought Glitter’s back catalogue, for what he believed was a bargain (the millions still), only for the story of Glitter’s pedophile offences to break days later in all the national papers.

During this stint Howard’s former life as a rising star is uncovered after he’s corralled into one of the office bands; little knowing just what a talent they had in their midst. That is until Howard opens his mouth, dust’s off the valves. A long story short Howard is gently pushed into the studio. The results, his first solo album in a long while; a songbook of covers that includes standards by Lou Reed, K.D. Lang, and a version of George Harrison’s ‘Something’ from the perspective of a gay man: “Something in the way ‘he’ moves….”

The music, important as it is, counts as just half the story. For like previous volumes in this saga, In The Eyeline Of Furtherance also tells the story of gay life in Britain. That’s its liberation, the AIDS crisis and the prejudice that comes with it. A series of friends we met in previous books pass away in one especially candid but sensitively handled chapter; Howard chronicling tiny biography style, part obituary, paragraphs on the deaths from the epidemic in his close circle. Obviously tragic, and painful, it proves a poignant and timely focus on the damage done, the loss of a gay generation to an apocalyptic, doomsday disease. Howard does also write about the advancement in medication and the lifting of the AIDS stigma, and so there is a reasonably positive future outlined too.

We also find our narrator stalked by his obsessive, violent ex, Bayliss; going as far as to even beat up Howard’s friends to get at him. From following Howard in the street, outside his haunts and even pestering him at work, the escalation becomes increasingly dangerous. In a most self-deluded, creepy and outright crazy way, this is all to get Howard back. Sensibly of course, our narrator has a new man in his life: a life partner in fact. Neil the stage actor of some modest repute becomes a confidante, lover and, eventually, Howard’s husband. The road to happiness didn’t exactly start out well, the pair, initially, meeting in a rather seedy, sticky-floored backstreet emporium of illicit sex. But I won’t spoil that particular eye-opening hook-up.

Unfortunately we are witness to the detrition and eventual passing of Howard’s father, in what are some of the most revealing passages in the book. A strong figure of old is reduced to the controlling and outright hostile prejudices of a second wife; either totally unaware of her racism and homophobia, or a particular bitter character. Though these days cuddled in “trigger warnings”, Howard takes such things more in his stride, whilst clearly and without bearing his own prejudices, calls out such acts of verbal and aggressive vitriol.  

Having enough of the whole sorry A&R business after losing his job at Readers Digest in the late 90s, the book’s opening paragraph begins at the end of this cycle, with Howard and Neil sunning it up poolside abroad: the G & T’s poured and lubricating a sense of relief but satisfaction and optimism about the future.

Howard is at peace with himself, with little left to prove: or even the need. Yet the next twenty years, right up to the very present, would prove to be his most prolific period; a revival turn recording career unburdened by labels or management interference. In fact there’s even a new album, a long-form one-track album at that, waiting in the wings to drop.

Howard’s life will for many, only have existed, or started, since the noughties. But this third volume will remedy that, showing a whole other life, a whole other side. Full of experiences, from the thoroughly unmodernised corridors of music licensing and management in the executive power-grabs of the late 80s and 90s to the period when Howard turned “Muscle Mary” and pumped iron – going from his delicate whip of a frame to full-on 15 stone plus Charles Atlas, scaring many of his circle of friends in the process, such was the transformation  -, everything that happened in that decade plus arc shaped him into a rather sagacious and adroit artist. Whilst that initial stardom faded quite quickly, Howard’s alternative pathway still led to a creatively successful career; maybe a trip round the houses but he got to an enviable position in the end; on his own terms, making the music he wants, whenever and however he wants, and always finding an willing audience. This latest volume should be, if anything, a testament to staying power, and also a guide to surviving the business without necessarily playing its games or beholden to it. New artists, musicians could learn a lot.     

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 I love across genres from around the world that I think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and I and the blog only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy the 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
ANDREW C. KIDD

Helena Celle ‘Music For Counterflows’
(False Walls)

Marilyn Monroe once affirmed, “if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best”. I think Helena Celle (aka Kay Logan) paraphrased this quote in the title of her debut release on Night School Records. It was filled with trippy tape loops and glitch-skips. Imagine Oval underwater, Yasunao Tone upside-down, Prefuse 73 in reverse. The outcome: an aqueous amalgam of melodia, a scatterplot of musical notation. The neighbouring tracks ‘I’m Done With 666’ and ‘Miming Swinging Baseball Bat’ were electronica bliss, ambrosia for the audiophile. That was 2016. Fast forward to present times and Music For Counterflows, which was recently released on the False Walls label. This one-hour continuous piece of music was originally written for Counterflows 2021, Glasgow’s annual festival celebrating experimentalism. The name suggests a stream pushing itself upriver. It serves as an artistic anti-current.

Patterned is how I would describe Music For Counterflows. Celle’s repeated designs are muddy clangs and clock-like bells that helicopter around in fragmenting movements. Although cyclical, each of its musical lines never cross the x- and y-axes twice. The grains of a broken beat provide minimal reference, like the paper of a map that has lost its inked markings. During my first listen, I wondered whether the drum machine was going to be the constant in this altering equation. Alas, it disintegrates later like every other variable in the algorithm. The Waldorf Blofeld synthesiser wails and howls. Its syncopated notes eventually become held-notes. There are key changes aplenty. Melody is fugitive. Music for Counterflows was composed using MaxMSP, the limitless visual programming system with graphical as opposed to textual programming. This partly explains what I am listening to. The rest I have attributed to Celle’s magicry.

According to the interview on the Counterflows website [1] (and also included in the CD booklet), Celle described similarities in her sound to “late-period Frank Zappa”, particularly his Synclavier works. I can also hear echoes of influence on Amnerika from his post-humour album Civilization Phase III. She also mentioned being inspired by Annea Lockwood. Lockwood, the piano burner. Lockwood, the academic. I regard Celle as more of an alchemist than an academic. She transfigures time and place and transforms rhythm into the irrhythmic. She improvises and hypnotises and experiments from an electronic playbook less-leafed. My applause goes to her.

Reference:

  1. Helena Celle by Stewart Smith. Available from: https://counterflows.com/interview/helena-celle-by-stewart-smith/

Dominic Valvona’s Reviews Roundup

The Movers ‘Vol 1 – 1970 – 1976’
(Analog Africa) 5th August 2022

Although it struck Samy Ben Redjeb (founder of the Analog Africa label) instantaneously, the impact that was felt on that day in 1996 when introduced to the neat, sunny-side-up Township soul of The Movers has taken more than two-decades to come to fruition. But now in 2022, finally, there’s a choice compilation of the South African band’s back catalogue to rave about and soak up: just in time for a sizzling, Earth-scorching summer.  

Possibly one of the most popular bands of the 1970s in their homeland – even breaking the Apartheid bonds of segregation as the first black band to get airplay on white radio stations -, The Movers have nevertheless left behind scant information, and a provenance riddled with holes. This is despite selling 500,000 copies of their debut LP, Crying Guitars, in just the space of a few months and in providing a peaceable (almost Caribbean in lilt) anthem (‘Soweto Inn’) soundtrack to the mid-70s student revolts and resistance. Yet it proved extremely difficult to track down anyone involved in this South African sensation.

However, what Samy did glean after help and introductions from Kaya Radio’s Nicky Blumenfeld was that the band first took shape in the late 60s, instigated by the two relatively unknown musician brothers, the bassist Norman and guitarist Oupa Hlongwane. To make this band a reality, the brothers approached the Alexandra township-based businessman Kenneth Siphayi with a proposal: if Siphayi would lay-out the money for them to buy some instruments in return they’d give him a cut from future live shows and record deals. In the end their patron didn’t just dole out the funds but took on a manager’s role, introducing them to the simmered, evangelical balm organist Sankie Chounyane. The ranks soon swelled however to accommodate the funky tight drumming of Sam Thabo and the relaxed reeds of saxophonist Lulu Masilela.

Initially they signed to the Teal Records label in 1969, releasing an instrumental record. But almost right away they worked with the vocalists Blondie Makhene (a fourteen year-old vocal prodigy we’re told) and Sophie Thapedi. With a great soulful voice Thapedi sang one of the band’s most popular, enduring hits ‘Soweto Inn’, and channeled Miriam Makeba on the Overton Berry Trio-esque organ suffused, cheek-popping and beautifully wooed ‘Ku-Ku-Chi’. Makhene for his part sounds far beyond his years on the infectious, stained glass township boogie ‘Kudala Sithandana’ and, in harmony with a heavenly female chorus, sounds a bit like Labi Siffre on the whistled fluty R&B turn ‘Six Mabone’.   

Unmistakably South African; blessed with that languorous sunny disposition groove, The Movers took a piece of Stax soul revue, Booker Ts’ organ, Steve Cropper’s effective but never overplayed licks, and a taste of The Meters and combined it with the indigenous Mbaqanga (also known as “township jive”) and marabi (a sort of ragtime, jazzy and bluesy style that evolved out of the mining communities, synonymous for its cheap keyboard-led sound) styles. This spills out into reggae, even rock steady, yet always sounds inherently relaxed: never pushed, hurried. Chounyane’s organ standouts, but it never overpowers nor seems particular showy: thin but very effective, a township Ramsey Lewis bathing in the Lord’s light. ‘Give Five Or More’ is an unpressured eased introductory like beauty that features a buzzy organ but also those Stax chops and some gentle drum sizzles –for some reason it reminded me, melody-wise of The Monkees.

A soul revue from the heart of South Africa’s politically explosive townships, The Motors delivered a light gospel-tinged fusion of ripe hotfooted, containable energy. It would be a sacrilege to miss owning a slice of those sweetened South African-lilted R&B, soul, funk and rock steady grooves, so do yourselves a favour and pick up Vol. 1 this summer.  

Claude ‘A Lot’s Gonna Change’
(American Dreams) 12th August 2022

Disarmingly wistful and woozy, the refined production and songwriting on Claudia Ferme’s debut album lays a gossamer veil over a litany of anxious quandaries and existential malaise.

Almost, to her credit, effortlessly dreamy, Ferme floats and drifts into a myriad of introspective roles, rooms and scenarios under the Claude alias. The Chicago-based artist nails the despondency of the times whilst giving a most languidly deadpan but essentially captivating voice to the growing pains of a “twenty something”: that first decade of “expectation”, of real responsibility, and yet in this infantile age, in which – especially my generation – we cling to youth and even childhood, you’re still considered an empty vessel and teenager with nothing to worry about and everything to look forward to. But Ferme offers up a certain emotionless face to such woes, troubles; even lightening the mood with the most diaphanous of laidback and aloof vocals, and a backing that is gently smoldered in a relaxed mix of 70s soft rock, synthwave, dream and art pop.

Featured a little while ago in one of my monthly perusals, the inaugural single and opener on this album, ‘Twenty Something’, sets out the vision and mood with its closed-eyes wispy saxophone motifs and perfectly dreamy reflections: “I’d rather be hurt by my own doing, then be let down by someone else. At least that’s what I tell myself.”

That’s followed by the most recent single, the Gabriel Garcia Márquez inspired ‘Roses’, which takes a line from the feted Colombian author’s famous Love in The Time Of Cholera novel and runs with all its metaphorical, symbolist connotations. The thorny prick of this flower’s stem and the book’s obsessive protagonist’s eating of it, bot alluding to themes of self-tortuous behavior. But what we take away from the song and lyrics is that we all need to be a lot more forgiving.      

Elsewhere the painful anxieties and mental fatigue hang like post-it notes attached to a bedroom mobile on the listless ‘I Think I’ll Pass Today’, and on the all-too realistic outcomes of a burst bubble of love naiveties, Chromatics vapour trailing ‘Claustrophobia’ – a longing if dry yearn for magic and something lasting in a cynical world of fleeting, vacuous feelings and connectedness. 

In contrast, the acoustically gorgeous ‘Meet Me’ has a slight air of Blonde Redhead and some kind of Spanish peppering. But the song that, softly, breaks the wafted, lush mold is the almost rocking ‘Oh, To Be’, which sets Ferme against a more electric spiky backing; adding a silent scream and edge to the synthesised suffusion. 

A Lot’s Gonna Change is a most wonderful, captivating and skilfully delicious debut that subtly evokes the worlds of Aldous Harding, EX:Re and Cate Le Bon. A coming of age songbook, a rebirth, in which the harshness of the epoch, the pressures both unique and synonymous with a generation finding its way, are snuggled in a relaxed balm.

Staraya Derevnya ‘Boulder Blues’
(Ramble Records)

The pan-Israel ensemble are once more on the move, recording another elevated and mystical ethnographical transportive work that takes in and transduces not only their native lands but also the UK, Germany and Mexico. Boulder Blues then is a geographical soundboard of history and the avant-garde; of evoked ancient nomadic tribes and primitivism made psychedelics, and a mantra iteration of a very removed form of what we know as the blues.

With up to eleven (could be more) band members involved, many of which drift in and out of this five-track assemblage of peregrinations and mental release, there’s a lot to take in: to work out. Like “what the hell was that sound?” Or, “where the hell are we?”

Scratchy nylon Beefheart and the Velvet’s guitar, hoots and erratic mooning voices merge with Širom-like (that’s the second time I mention them in this roundup) percussion, Unlimited E.F.S. series Can skits and Faust as fantasies of the Mongolian steppes, the Black Sea, Kabbalah mysticism and krautrock era Germany are invoked. At times it resembles a communion between the Red Crayola and Holgar Czukay; at others, 666 era Aphrodite’s Child share the byway with Don Cherry and Pharoah Sanders.

Staraya Derevnya are totally out there with their “bubbling pelt” and “gallant spider” poetic descriptive wanderings, pains and blues abstractions. Still, they remain rhythmic, even melodious in places; dancing, marching and on the trinket ringed, shadowy ritual title-track, exhaustively repeating the same incantation for five-minutes straight.

I must confess. I really dig this collective. And I’ve even included them in the blog’s choice albums list before now. Boulder Blues is another incipient esoteric, magical album of post-punk, krautrock, psychedelic, far-out and primitive traverses.

Li Yilei ‘Secondary Self’
(LTR Records) 26th August 2022

Spanning the entire Covid epoch, so to speak, and a period in which the sonic sculptor-composer Li Yilei travelled from her London-based home to native China and to Shanghai, Secondary Self is a surprisingly (as the PR notes remark) cohesive album of hidden source material powered recordings, abstract hymnals and coded language.

Made up for the most part by pieces originating from a Café OTO commission, there’s also an omitted (due to time constraints) track from Yilei’s 2020 debut album Unabled Form, plus the more recent serene meditation ‘Melt’ from February of this year. That spare experiment, ‘Warmth Ageing’, was created during sessions for the inaugural album synthesis of the evanescent and tactile; an album that received a glowing review from me at the time. Not so much interchangeable this searing, buzzy winged metallic current is a congruous fit on both albums; neither of which particularly offer connective themes of concepts.

That main body of work continues Yilei’s keening simulations of transformed settings, rumination’s and repurposed white spaces; created from a number of obscured and experimentally stretched instruments: the reverberation of percussive bowls and a serial wrangle of echoed guitar tabbing, harmonics and improvised squiggles. There may well be some kind of stringed instrument in there, effected and smothered in reverb, but for the majority of the time the trace of anything familiar is synthesised, electronically morphed into something more abstract, stranger, and on occasion, diaphanous.

It’s something approaching the beautiful that opens up the Secondary Self as an affecting otherworldly siren is sustained across the near ethereal, crystallised freeze of ‘A Hush In The Dark’. A semblance of some kind of voice and almost tender notes provide a touch of the natural: the composer even. As the title would suggest, the second suite ‘Bird Box’ once again features the familiar: the whistle and tweets of birds. Only this avian chorus is given a lunar galvanised bouncy buzz; accompanied later by a drilled code, or, a pummelled Morse-coded read-out. And so a back garden bird box is pierced with the higher sonic register and transported to some place else entirely.

‘Mosquito Alarm’ seems to be slowly driven by a looped photocopier, but flits with deeper bass-y pitches and cosmic mystery. There’s a brief spell of dog howls and more bird communication amongst the dreamy, near psychedelic lapping reversals, incanted whispers and memory recalls of ‘Murmur’ however.

The remaining tracks burble, vibrate and oscillate, recalling vague signs of early 70s analogue experiments, Ambient Works Vol. 2 Richard James, the kosmische and the unsaid. Yilei’s square waves, acousmatics and ruminated efforts cannot be easily defined. Instead, this is a sound that fluctuates between the arts space, the outdoors, and an amorphous myriad of electronic genres. This third album will do much to reinforce what I already knew back in 2020, that Li Yilei’s visions are quite unique, and that the artist is constantly pushing at the boundaries to create both the challenging and meditative.

Foch/Delplanque ‘Live Au GRM’
(Parenthèses Records)

From the equally hallowed and chthonian atmospheric environment of the Maison de la Radio et de la Musique’s studio 104 in Paris, an extemporized performance recording now made available, nearly, six years after its initial transmission.

By 2016, the year of this Groupe de Recherches Musicales curated concert series, the drummer-percussionist Philippe Foch and his foil at the time, and subsequently, the multi-tasking electronic music composer, critic, author, teacher (the list goes on and on) Mathias Delplanque had already produced the collaborative Taarang album that led to a 2015 residency at the National Centre For Musical Creation in Reims, and the Secret album of material recorded from that performance. 

Pretty much accustomed to each other’s methods, by the time of Live Au GRM the synchronicity was at an apex, with Foch at the centre of a world percussive assemblage and Delplanque at his side sampling the results in real time.

Recondite empirical vibrations, scratches and stretches across frame drum skins and the resonance of cymbals are transformed further by Delplanque into otherworldly, mysterious forms of primitivism, mythology, musique concrete, the strung-out and cavernous. For we could well be in the incense chambers of Byzantium, the Minotaur’s maze, or, transported to India with a serialism burst of tablas.

Over the course of 26 minutes there’s bot spacious and sporadic passages of unprepared playfulness and exploration in an environment circled by scurrying bestial movements and noises from the darkness. Incipient patterns, traces across tubular metals emerge but are often shunted, shuttered and dissipated back into the shadows.

An alchemy of slapped and paddled physicality and shimmered reverberated trinkets, tinkles emanate from Foch’s eclectic ensemble of instrumentation on a polygenesis performance of hollowed and far denser bass-y tones. In places it reminded me of an entirely stripped of melody Širom, bits of Amon Düül II’s more experimental Dance Of The Lemmings and a little of Faust’s Werner “Zappi” Diermaier.

Scrabbled, almost clawed, and more singular beaten sounds, the hushed ssh-like whispers of a voice and galvanised buzzes appear out of nowhere on a transformative piece of treated and developing improvisation. There really is no telling where this sonic partnership will end up, or what atmospheres they’ll create, only that it will be both esoteric and in an avant-garde direction of percussive and drummed fascination.   

Shepherd Stevenson ‘Man Down’
THLTTLDBB ‘SeeUSearching’
(both on Somewherecold Records)

Taking on a filmic quality the multi-tasking L.A. musician, composer and actor Shepherd Stevenson’s inaugural solo effort is rich with the sound of placeable cinematic soundtracks.

Although starting out as and then becoming a stalwart of the alternative 1980s Denver scene (The Aviators, The Young Weasels, Crankcall Loveaffiar), and then going on to help found the L.A. rock band Pigmy Love Circus, Stevenson has also proved a considered hand at composing music for films – a recent list of which includes Erasing Eden, Doobious Sources and Mermaid Down.  This album debut, Man Down, was itself originally written to accompany Annie Sperling and Mason Rothschild’s Deep Map art installation, which was projected onto the side of the U.S.S. Iowa, moored in Long Beach; part of the Alta Sea’s Project Blue, a ‘digital port for content and education resources for the emerging Blue Economy’ (that is, exploration, preservation and regeneration of the marine environment). And whether it’s intentional or not, Stevenson often conjures up spells of fluted and dreamy underwater fantasies: ‘Submissions’ to these ears sounds like a Verne-inspired dive beneath the waves, with a touch of both equal enchantment and scuba-equipped Bond thriller.

Occasionally something more foreboding, alien emerges from the depths like some ancient Lovecraftian leviathan. This effect, evocation can be felt on the oppressive and crushing bass, shadowy ‘Old Legions’ – a mix of Jóhann Jóhannsson at his most ominous and touch of Bernard Szajner and Room Of Wires.

For the majority of the time Stevenson molds kosmische, techno and synthwave into various futurist and mysterious projections; stirring up a gently burbled and bubbled acid and fluttered progressive-techno suite of otherworldly sonar waves and cosmic noir on the opening ‘B. Whaler’, and channeling Cliff Martinez on the scalextric-set looping dystopian scares ‘Sadurday’. There’s also some strange Germanic classical fairground thing going on with the Wendy Carlos and Roedelius harped, heavenly ‘ode to toy’ ‘With Dots’. I also detect some lovely climbing Eno notes on the deeply felt and bass-stamped, but neoclassical ebbing, ‘Hoary Notions’. And just when you think you’ve got him worked out, ‘Way Down’ motors at a nice speed towards Germanic 80s synth pop.

Hymnal Western-twanged dives, sci-fi vistas and unknown entities await on a finely-crafted, cinematic quality debut. Stripped of its original visuals, it’s left to the listener to dream and be moved to the lilted and more feared aspects of the imagination.

Under what could just be the longest acronym ever, or a particular recondite sequence known only to the artists, the duo of Matt Greenwall and Phillip Andrew Lewis conjure up the both gently cooed and reverberated hauntings of various imagined transmissions and transduced whispers on their new album of wispy and soothingly effective ambient suites.   

Barely above that whisper, these quite but deeply stirring pieces seem to feed a collection of processed video and tape loops into the ether; the returning sound waves, broadcasts now sonic mirages, passages of the American strange, the waves lapping onto a cult 50s soft surf soundtrack, or, the breeze blowing gently across the Appalachian Mountains.

AM/FM radio signals crisply spark as glass birds sound and translucent bulbs ring in the resonance of a drone. The nebulous meets the ghostly; traces of a less fearful Twin Peaks and a haunted theatre are suffused in an ebbing ambient cycle. Voices come and go as movie dialogue is manipulated into echoes of the past. The dreamy spells linger as you catch some hallowed or mysterious presence drifting off into the empirical.

Elements of the semi-classical, trip-hop experiments, European library music, old film image reels and analogue ambient music can all be detected and felt on this both organic but artificially constructed, amorphous album. The opening ambient aria beauty, ‘Angela’s Light’, is worth the entrance fee alone.

Brown Calvin ‘dimension//perspective’
(AKP Recordings) 26th August 2022

Although split into “dimension” and “perspective” suites the latest elemental album from the Portland, via Philly, producer and composer Andre Burgos is an almost uninterrupted, constantly moving beat-making and cosmic expansive ball of energy.

Under the Brown Calvin alias, and uncoupled from his vocalist foil Brown Alice in the “intergalactic” Brown Calculus duo, Burgos’ Afrofuturist soundtrack transduces all the strains, stresses and rage of the last few years into a controlled chaos of universal proportions.

Traces of hip-hop, jazz, electronica, kosmische, soul and funk can be heard, morphed, effected, and warped as sporadic African hand drums spring into action and scrapped percussion add a sense of ancestral continuity to this ascension into space. Civility, society maybe a tinder box on Earth, but out into the cosmos lies possibilities; a certain escape and serenity, especially sonically, as this album can testify.

An ambitious, lengthy, infinity even, peregrination opens this album. What, in old money, would constitute the whole side of an LP is an astral and contorting vision of analogue-soundboard pulsating circuitry kosmische (ala Tangerine Dream, Moebius and Schulze), Afrikan Sciences oscillations and tangents of beats, ripples and purrs of Rhodes and progressive jazz.

The rest of the album isn’t so much broken up into demarcated parts as a number of symbolist, calculus numbered points along a flipped, staccato or churned journey of expressive freedom. All the shit, the despair and hate is fuelled into a spiritual quest for answers. A multitude of coded, infinity (that word again) suffixed ‘perspectives’ offer variations on the musical themes; some parts in that scope are more liquid, whilst others fracture off into to the psychedelic. Some float, others catch on a ball-in-the-cup loop or form a tumble of breaks. Shooting stars cross the great expanse and dancing translucent bulbs act as notation of a kind. There’s plenty of bending, arcs of distortion in those heavenly realms too; but also the threat of overload.

This is the soundtrack to the African space programme; an untethered energy of J. Dilla, Flying Lotus, slugabed, Don Cherry, Labelle and Floating Points. Burgos has a great capacity, hunger to try out many ideas and to take from eclectic sources; opening the way to free-form movements and a sonic alchemy. The Brown Calvin moniker proves a fruitful transition but also the vessel for a new cosmology and language with which to process our troubling times.       

Die Welttraumforscher ‘Liederbuch’
(Bureau B) 26th August 2022

It’s a novel way in which to reconnect with an enchanted world inspired back catalogue; a project that’s spawned at least thirty albums and a fecund of illustrative, multimedia works. But for this latest Die Welttraumforscher (translating as The Space Explorers) album a couple of concept characters look back over a forty-year multiverse and pick out their favourite songs to tell a different story.

Conjured up from the mind of Christian Pfluger, the part Dadaist, part Swiss maverick fantasist, this “pop-up book” of imaginative fairytales now puts the “insect twins” turn compilers Brtz and Brxl at the centre of a new songbook.

Although already receiving a two-part retrospective last year (the fortieth anniversary year) the Liederbuch album seems to reach back to titles from Ein Sommer In Der Wirklichkert (from 1991) and Binike (1986) and keeps up the character board from across the decades.

In this magical landscape we meet cosmic-travellers (Lia and Mira from the Northern Crystal realm), silent forest dweller Ohm Olunde, the mysterious dark pilots, crop-circle researcher Leguan Rätselmann and the Owlmaster Kip Eulenmeister. Reminding me a little of the same magical dioramas and cast that inhabit the musical world of Scarlet’s Well, albeit a both very Germanic and Transalpine version, these characters are often playful, childlike and sweetly placed within an eclectic soundtrack.

Fluctuating between musical moods, genres, Pfluger (who remains very much an enigma) skips through echoes of the German new wave, the bucolic and ambrosian, and more lo fi. From the acoustic, with a touch of some Spanish flair and the pastoral, to preset Casio keyboard synth wheezes, the musical scope is varied and large. Mooning through woodlands to cosmic Theremin-like aerial loons, the storyboard drums up a myriad of settings too.

As influential as he is influenced, touches of progressive idiosyncratic stars mingle with shades of the kosmische, Per W, The Incredible String Band, SFA, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Spike & Debbie and trip-hop. There’s also a bit in ‘Goldene Barken’ where someone blows their nose and coughs to a semi-post-punk, scratchy Velvets guitar backing.

Whimsical, cartoonish, and eccentric Pfluger’s imaginative cosmology remains a curio, a vehicle for escapism but the absurd and fantastical; the music, still after all this time, just as captivating and inviting. 

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

REVIEWS ROUNDUP
GRAHAM DOMAIN

Here are this month’s catch-up reviews of some wonderful Albums, and an EP, released in June/July 2022 and out now! Have a listen to the eclectic sounds of: Goon, Revelators, Diamanda La Berge Dramm, Social Union and Julian Tenembaum.

Goon ‘Hour of Green Evening’
Released on Demode Recordings (CD and Download)

When I first heard the wonderful single ‘Ochre’ I thought the band had a girl singer! However, the possessor of this fine voice is non-other than bandleader Kenny Becker. His voice is a laid-back instrument of calm wonder as he explores memories of childhood juxtaposed with the ups and downs of adult life. Nature and its cycle of decay and renewal form a backdrop to the lyrics – hope ever present like summer rain falling overnight to welcome a fresh day.

The songs have a melodic complexity and melancholic, but uplifting, emotional heft. Shifting between melodic rock-folk and shoe gaze pretension they create a psychedelic haze of hot summer, broken only once by lightning storms as the singer lets out a scream amid a deluge of distorted guitar on the Pixies-like ‘Wavy Maze’.

The more I listened to the album the more I wanted to listen again. It took a few plays to sink its teeth into my psyche but then I couldn’t get enough. Sitting somewhere between Mercury Rev, Midlake and the Pale Saints, this is one of my favourite albums so far, this year. All the tracks are great – the melodies play in the mind long after the record has ended.

Key Tracks: ‘Angel Number 1210’, ‘Buffalo’, ‘Emily says’, ‘Ochre’, ‘Last Light On’.

Revelators ‘Revelators Sound System’
Released on 37d03d Records (Vinyl, CD and Download)

Revelators is a collaboration between singer MC Taylor (Hiss Golden Messenger) and Cameron Ralston (bass player with the Spacebomb House Band). The album consists of four very different improvised and expressive instrumental jams incorporating free jazz expression – both modal and spiritual, funk-jazz fusion, cosmic meditation, tape loop manipulation and sumptuous Indian strings.

The first track ‘Grieving’ is a funk-flavoured jazz instrumental that references Miles Davis 1970’s funk jazz-fusion, in particular ‘On the Corner’. At 10 minutes and eleven seconds we get music that mixes funky clavichord with jazz bass, piano, electric keyboards, woodwind, tape looped guitar and loose funk-jazz drums. At around six minutes the drums drop out and, amid layers of space, we get echoing blues piano riffs, keyboard tinkles and manipulated tape loops that create a certain ambience which promises much, but fails to deliver on its potential, eventually going nowhere.

The second track, ‘Collected Water’, comes over like a small trio from the late 50s or early 60s, spaced out on drugs, playing cosmic modal jazz. J C Kuhl’s saxophone overshadows brushed drums, double bass and piano – the night alive with echo, memories reverberating in dream, until the cold roar of daylight penetrates the astral plane and dissolves the dream reality.

Track three, ‘Bury the Bell’ is an expansive semi-meditational, spiritual piece of music that recalls David Sylvians’ more meditative explorations of the Psyche. Gorgeous Indian strings combine with synth, guitar tape loop manipulation, clarinet and lap steel guitar to create a thing of beauty amid cosmic dissonance! Like music of the spheres heard in the mind, whilst viewing the spectacular Aurora Borealis or the whole Milky Way displayed in a clear night sky! The final track ‘George the Revelator’ is an epic piece of progressive Spiritual Jazz. Cinematic and uplifting, the swelling strings and clipped bass recall the soul-funk of David Axelrod’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Subtle wah-wah guitar, Fender Rhodes, bass and funky drums combine with saxophone and foregrounded strings to sublime effect. Just over half way through the loose rhythm leaves space for echoing snare and drum fills and reverberating talking sax, to create an illusionary dub landscape. The music continues to drive forward and develop, in the end producing a sublime imaginary film score, part Blaxploitation, part Pharoah Sanders.

A truly interesting and engrossing collaboration producing a fine album of funk-jazz fusion, experimental and cinematic Spiritual jazz.

Diamanda La Berge Dramm ‘Chimp’
Released on Diatribe Records (CD and Download)

This is strange record by the classically trained Dutch violinist in which she sings/talks while playing most of the music on, and sampling her own playing of, the violin. She makes the violin sound at times like a keyboard, synth, bass drum and so forth. Whilst she is undoubtedly a master of her instrument, here she makes minimal avant-garde music set to compliment and highlight the words of British poet and writer Steven J Fowler. The theme seems to be around monkeys, the workings of the brain and humanity itself.

Her voice, at times, has hints of Kristin Hersh, such as on the standout track ‘Chimp is Who’. At other times, on tracks like ‘Orangut the Orangutan’ her voice has traces of a more reserved but still ‘mad as a hatter’ Joanna Newsome! The songs are separated by the sound of falling rain, birds and other found sounds. In its conceptual arrangement it probably has some common ground with Costello’s ‘The Juliet Letters’. However, this is Art and as such may only appeal to a select few.

Key tracks: ‘Chimp is Who’, ‘Born’, ‘Orangut the Orangutan’, ‘Voices’.

Julian Tenembaum ‘Fragmentos’  
Released on Schole Records (CD and download)

The debut album by Argentinian composer Julian Tenembaum, Fragmentos is an album of nine modern classical compositions for piano. The music is melodic and holds the listeners interest throughout, the pianist having studied and absorbed the style and compositional skill of many of the old and new masters of piano. Sometimes it is easy to see the influence of a particular composer on a piece. ‘Nocturno’ reminds me very much of ‘Porz Goret’ by Yann Tiersen in the way it is played and the melodic progression. ‘1-13 swd’ reveals the influence of Hans Zimmer’s Inception movie theme. However, both pieces are not copies they merely show that the composer has been listening to and absorbing some of the best music around.

It is a tribute to the pianist’s compositional skill and way with melody that the music is original but still makes one think they have heard the melody somewhere before. ‘Eclipse’ put me in mind of ‘The Theme’ from The Deer Hunter, while ‘Fragmentos’ has echoes of both Satie and Billy Mackenzie‘s ‘Nocturne Seven’.

This is a wonderful melodic album that will appeal to fans of Yann Tiersen, Roger Eno, Nils Frahm, Satie, Debussy and Agnes Obel even.

Social Union ‘Fall into Me’ EP
Released July 2022 on Blackjack Illuminist Records (CD, Cassette, and Download)

The four-song debut EP by Social Union sounds like it could have been recorded in the early to mid 1980s! A repetitive cheap drum machine and burbling bass synth, topped with effects laden guitar and jolting synth melodies, underpin cold, distant girl vocals of a certain frosty charm. Goth, Darkwave, Industrial and dark-pop combine in an outsider stance – all black on black! Numan meets the Sisters of Mercy and early Cocteau Twins on a late night, last bus home through Hulme (Manchester) circa 1983!

REVIEWS GALORE FROM BRIAN ‘BORDELLO’ SHEA

SINGLES

Andrés Alcover ‘Where Did We Go Wrong?’

‘Where Did We Go Wrong’ is a charming little single, a song that has the grace charm and beauty of a song one might have heard floating from your transistor radio all those years ago in the halcyon days of 70s soft rock pop. It has a warm sunny disposition that covers us the lucky listeners with a glow of soft musical sublimity.

Mike Badger ‘Beatin’ A Path (To Your Door)’

Beatin’ A Path To Your Door’ is a stomping piece of rockabilly from Liverpool legend Mike Badger, founder member of the La’s and the much underrated Onset who I remember with much fondness seeing them perform a storming set of country rock in the Royal Alfred pub in St Helens in the 80s: what a night, what a venue, what a beautiful time to be young. But I digress.

What we have here is a just plainly beautiful, raw and sexually driven slice of rock ‘n’ roll, which all rock ‘n’ roll really should have: sex without the sex in rock ‘n’ roll just becomes rock. Yes, indeed Mike Badger lives and breathes the spirit of art and adventure for rock ‘n’ roll without art and adventure is like Ikea furniture – nice to look at functionally but lacking true soul, which cannot be said about ‘Beating A Path To Your Door’, which is anything but Ikea furniture.

Salem Trials ‘Another Fripp World’
(Metal Postcard Records)

A rampart gallivant of a Fall-like track from the ever-wonderful Salam Trials, and a taster to their forthcoming triple album of sonic delight. There really is no-one quite like the Salam Trials; they are the Colombo of rock ‘n’ roll, a true one off who never disappoints, and behind their image of shambolic underdogs lies a beating heart of mind dazzling brilliance.

Lucy And The Drill Holes ‘It’s Not My War’
(Metal Postcard Records)

The debut single from Lucy And The Drill Holes is a gentle laid back stroll through a psychedelic wonderland: imagine a stoned Alice floating down the rabbit hole on a returned memory ridden revisit to Wonderland. A fine debut single. And can we hope for an album? Let’s hope so. There are three mixes of this track and each as beautiful as the other.

Imaad Wasif  ‘Fader’

‘Fader’ is quite a beautiful little thing. Mercury Rev, early 70s Lennon with ‘Fade Into You’ guitar. What more can one ask for on a Sunday Morning, with its almost hymn like ‘I have just found god but am ignoring him until he begs for my forgiveness’. Yes, a track of elegance eloquence and pop sublimity.

– ALBUMS –

Oliver Birch ‘Burning Daylight’

Burning Daylight is a bit of a gem of an album. Oliver Birch skips from psych to folk to pop to punk to prog to jazz: sometimes in the same song. At will he seems to be a jack of all genres and master of them all. He really is an impressive chap; part Tom Waits, part Tame Impala and part Nick Drake.

There is a quality about this album that reminds me of Skip Spence’s OAR, but without actually sounding much like it. It has an under-layer of darkness that I feel quite comforting. And for an album I could lose myself in, there is so much going on; like watching three movies at once and getting emotionally involved with them all.

Burning Daylight without doubt is one of the most emotionally draining and moving albums I have heard this year, a true work of art, a gem of an album.

Nick Frater ‘Aerodrome Motel’
(Big Stir Records) 19th August 2022

Nick Frater’s, as I have written in previous reviews of his music releases, albums are filled with radio friendly gems of pure sunny delight; songs that recall the long hot summers of the 1970s. And Aerodrome Motel is another beauty of pop glory. Yes, roll over Emitt Rhodes and tell Squeeze the news, for we have found the soundtrack to what is left of summer. 

Nick weaves his many influences, The Beatles, Mott, Rhodes, Squeeze, Brendan Benson and all those fine power pop bands from the late seventies and early 80s, into songs written with a panache more ordinary power popper’s can only sit and stroke their Rickenbaker and dream of producing. So many gems to mention:  ‘Dancing With Gertrude2’, a song worthy of The Left Banke, ‘American Expressway’, a dream of a track, a silken journey from the Zombies to 10cc.

I have been blessed with being sent so many fine albums to listen to and write about this last few weeks and I’m not saying this is the best, but it is in the top one. Yes, another delight of a record reminding us just what is so special about the power and pull of a beautifully written and performed melody.

Kamikaze Palm Tree ‘Mint Chip’
(Drag City) 12th August 2022

Kamikaze Palm Tree is a fine name for a band, and this album lives up to their name. Mint Chip is an album of quirky rinky dinky jerky angular guitar [a quiff briefly for a second burst forth from my skull] pop. And pop my children of the night is not something to be scared of as the great Adam Ant once proclaimed – although it was not pop he was proclaiming about, but you get my point.

This is a joy of a clockwork toy of an album; experimental, tuneful and magical, sometimes out of tune and out of step with the world. And that is what is so great about it: like an Avant-Garde cartoon from the seventies that would occasionally and beguilingly turn up mid morning on the TV in the summer, in the school holidays; that would confuse and delight you and make you aware that strange is good, strange can be magical, strange is Kamikaze Palm Tree.

Legless Trials ‘Cheese Sandwich’
(Metal Postcard Records)

More battered leather motorbike music from the no wave rock ‘n’ roll duo The Legless Trials. From the storming guitar jam frenzy of the velvety Fall opener ‘Open Seasons’ to the fourteen-minute plus closer, the excellent titled ‘Ray’s Kid Brother Is The Bomb’ – again a track that has you transporting back to the hot summer nights of New York city streets circa 1979, post punk no wave magic.

In between these two highlights you will find one of the tracks of the year with the single ‘Dirt Bike’ – as previously reviewed -, a frugtastic track of guitar swingatude. And five other tracks that keeps the spirit, guile and arrogance of Lou Reed alive and well.

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