The Perusal #38: David Lance Callahan, Designers, Anton Barbeau…

December 5, 2022

Dominic Valvona’s Album Roundup

A final roundup of eclectic and interesting new albums released at the end of last month and in December.

David Lance Callahan  ‘English Primitive II’
(Tiny Global Productions)

As the current political shit show moves on at a rapid pace, with even 24 hours now seeming such a ‘long time in politics’, music makers can quickly seem out of step with the changing circumstances, upheavals and latest outrage. Unfortunately the climate in the UK has been bleak for a good many years, and so when David Lance Callahan originally set out on his address to the nation last year the despondency mixed with anger held: and still holds today, even if it has got a lot worse.

The former mover of both The Wolfhounds and Moonshake bands, Callahan wears his own name whilst retreading and reflecting the psychogeography and rich maverick history of England; the positives of which (social experiments and Bevin’s state institutions) are balanced against the overwhelming negatives. 

Mostly recorded during the same sessions as English Primitive I, which felt like a modern lens angled at an eclectic Commonwealth style soundtrack, set to Punch and A Rake’s Progress. In the same vein round II in this repurposed folk mode uses a similar dirt music, African, Arabian, psych and Southern swamp boogie sound and that (for most of the album) winning male/female vocal delivery: a disarming it must be said, often harmonic, union that articulates tragedy, alarm, plague and even murder.

It begins with the pent-up grievances of a “regular person” played out to rusty Benin guitar fuzz and facemask shaking Mummers, ‘Invisible Man’. It’s as if The Pop Group shared bread with Francis Bebey on a churned kick of primitivism, on this load-bearing opener.

Hanif Kureishi’s iconic ‘Beautiful Launderette’ is repurposed as a metaphor for the sleazy enterprise of laundering ill-gotten gains and the proceeds of crime (from Russian oligarchs to financial rip-offs, the drug’s trade and kleptomaniac tyrants, civil servants and politicians). London being the leading epicenter of such a rotten trade comes in for a kicking to the music of Afro-post-punk and a stoner Doors. A ‘rant at the government’, ‘The Parrot’ uses various avian Scarfe-like sharpened ink pen cuts at the enablers that fail to be held to account. Musically its swamp boogie, a hint of Rhyton, Mick Harvey, David Cronenberg’s Wife and Canned Heat moving to a menacing backbeat and scuzz of tangled whining guitar.

A darkly disturbing prowl down memory lane, ‘Bear Factory’ is the album’s most serious drama. Back to the 1970s, in a world that’s described with the miasma of a David Peace novel, and the events that led to and around the murder of one of Callahan’s primary school mates is played out to plaintive melodramatic strings.

He who walked with astral beings and angels, William Blake and his famous London poem forms the literary food for the album’s finale, ‘London By Blakelight’; a walk across a manacled meta-layered city to a fuzzed drum beat and touch of John Johanna psych-blues-African-buzz. 

Callahan’s worldly sound threads converge with a more idiosyncratic leftfield English (un)civil war commentary on a society gone to rack and ruin: one that’s mostly been fucked-up and over through self-sabotage. Part II of this rewired English, Gilbert & George- like stained glass-anointed gumbo extends on that ‘primitive’ vibe, the use of the word being a positive one, finding a familiar sense of the roots that bind us all.   

Noémi Büchi  ‘Matter’
(-OUS)

Exploding with a beautiful dramatic form of broken glass symmetry, the burgeoning composer and sound artist Noémi Büchi cerebrally and stunningly transforms the musical hallucinations of György Liget and the classical romanticism of the last century on the debut album suite, Matter.

Taking such symphonic inspirations as a starting point, Büchi thrusts this material into the contemporary and future with a centrifugal rotation of various electronic, metallic affects, sound waves and rhythms.

Mirrored and reflected back from states of stirring emotional intense gravitas and catharsis, the “matter” at hand is transformed out of the abstract into something more solid: a reification of feelings, anxieties and stresses you could say. Using an often-dramatic maximalist method in processing these moods, a perfect balance is struck between the harsher, granular and deep, even seismic, use of techno and the magical swells and pulls of pioneering classical music. But, as Büchi states in the accompanying press notes, this album is also a playful exploration of counterbalances and opposing forces too: like decay and growth; consonance and dissonance; the physical and ephemeral.

In pure sonic spectacle this translates into revolving suites of heavy Meta, more brutalistic scrunched and sharper focused intensity, and soundtrack sorcery – both the fantastical, kinetic Basic Channel like static-pelted ball-bearing beat driven ‘Measuring All Possibilities’, and Vangelis future world hallucination of unease, travail and alien mystique ‘Uncertainty Of An Undefined Interpendence’ would make great scores.

At times these tracks evoke illusions of chimed timepiece Baroque, set in some sci-fi environment, and at others, Jeff Mills conducting and warping the works of Igor Stravinsky. ‘Taking The Train With Mr. Shark’ travels down the stargate rails in the company of Mira Calix and Kraftwerk’s ‘Europe Endless’. ‘Screaming At Brutism’, as the title shouts, pounds away at the granite edifice of violence like the Pyrolator and Emptyset.

There is however as much beauty, light and hymnal stark release as there is the mysterious, the churned and weighted on an album that pulls together opposing forces to create a truly out-of-time, out-of-frame electronic symphony. Matter is a startling, intense and machine-sculpted debut.

Björn Magnusson  ‘Nightclub Music & Ethereal Faith’
(Specter Fix Press)  16th December 2022

From an alpine location looking back at the mood music, emotional pulling atmospheres and moments caught in a reminiscing wooziness the Zurich-based artist Björn Magnusson seems to have encompassed a particular amalgamation of New York City arty aloofness and streetwise existential pain on his new album. For this is a songbook suffused by two factories of influence: Warhol’s and Tony Conrad’s. Lou Reed’s Transformer (a little throwback to the Velvets as well) and Conrad’s Theater Of Eternal Music circle and his drone conjuncture Four Violins come together, or threaten to come unstuck, on a both loosened and more intensified dissonant album that hoovers up the psychogeography of the city.

But within that framework lies a sort of no wave, Hansa Studio and jazz vibe, with both Nikki Sudden and Kid Congo Power’s Danny Hole (amongst a rafter of other instruments played) and the Swiss-Zimbabwean free jazz musician Tapiwa Svosve both on saxophone duties throughout. Never forceful or overriding the rest of the musical circle (which also includes Dean & Britta and Luna foil Sean Eden on guitar and of course Björn) those sax sounds offer both an atonal mizzle and freeform breathes and parped wails, strains and contortions.

When pulled together with Björn voice and songwriting this all sounds like a brilliant, sophisticated mismatch of Arto Lindsay, Hunky Dory and Heroes Bowie, England’s Glory, Chris Spedding, Low Cut Connie, Ariel Pink and John Cale in a well-worn city, gathered around a rolling barrel organ in some lower Manhattan bar, washed up and out, yet still capable of producing pop, rock and jazz with a certain off-kilter spirit of wistfulness, despondency and romantic disconnection. Something like that anyway.

As the RP blurb usefully summarizes, Björn’s almost final lyric, on the album’s swansong ‘Everybody’s Got Something’, says it all: “Sometimes the world is an oyster, sometimes an ashtray”.No better line is needed for an album that sits on the blues junction between a rambunctious and artsy NYC. There’s even a dreamily strung-out loosened piano with brassy resonance vision of the city’s leftfield auteurs Suicide and their own take on “America eats its young”, sleaze in leather and haunting polemic, ‘Ghost Rider’. You can’t get much more underground New York than that. And this tribune repurposes that cult jukebox turn for a wistful splice of hallucinogenic bar room philosophizing.

Five years on from Björn’s Almost Transparent Blues debut and the wait has been worthwhile, with an album of lived-in dreams and momentary abstract feelings captured for posterity on a sort of new wave suite composed for the iconic meeting spots and streets of an almost romanticised New York boardwalk. A great album to finish the year off on.   

Orchid Mantis ‘How long Will It Take’

Bleached by the sun over time and through various hazy sepia lenses, the placable recordings of the Atlanta artist Thomas Howard languidly bleed into a number of musical genres. Dream pop, lo fi, the psychedelic, surf and indie all merge with the field recordings of subway and airport lobby limbos to construct an attenuate-layered soundtrack to a world of wistful plaint, transient yearns and drowsy, if deeply felt, romantic sentiment: “You have my soul forever, and always.”

Under the Orchid Mantis moniker, Howard has been somnolently and dreamily applying that method since 2014, releasing six albums and a number of EPs in that period. How Long will It Take – a generous fifteen-track offering – marks his seventh expanded release of sun bendy enervated, affected and mirage trippy pop songs that embrace a certain lucidity and disarming quality of nostalgia for the early noughties wave of lo fi washed-out warmth.

On each wave, both brushed and mono-tunneled drum beat, and evaporated effect Howard seems to go with a very nice bendy flow. That’s not to say there’s a lack of direction or focus. Oh no. Just a more veiled and dappled intimate softened sharing of waking moment’s anxieties, the nature of our world and declarations of love.

If phases and flanged blurred suffusions of Cass McCombs, Yoni Wolf, epic45, Summer Heat, The Drums and laidback later 70s California ocean view singer/songwriter material grabs you, then Howard’s Orchid Mantis alias will snuggly wrap its arms around your lugholes and work its inquiring magic. 

Designers ‘S-T’
(We Jazz Records)

Another month and another freshly assembled addition to the leading Scandinavian-based label We Jazz. This time it’s in the shape of the impressive geometric and architectural imbued/inspired Designers trio.

An international hailed group based in Nantes, the trio’s Belgium composer and double-bassist (also a very dab hand at the piano) Joachim Florent is joined by the Finnish pianist Aki Rissanen and Australian drummer Will Guthrie on a debut album suite of both patterned and freer empirical mod pieces.

Florent’s accompanying quotes set the scene and theme for this eight-track work of various jazz and semi-classical styles. The defacto instigator, leader found that his piano studies back in 2019 were, happily, but unintentionally resembling what he called a “pretty” geometry. Further on, Florent chanced upon the often surreal, imaginative architectural photography of Filip Dujardin. Rather than building blocks though, the Designers turn clever forms into feelings, reflections and melodic atmospheric journeys to vaguely geographic locations, landscapes: The opening, stirring and subtly Middle Eastern/Arabian ‘Lebanon’ being one such example; a camel motioned caravan through a soft Yusef Lateef, Tarek Yamani and Ahmed Jamel Trio scored trinket percussive and trickled piano notation market place. I’ve no idea what or where ‘Moulindjek’ is but it sounds very mysterious with its dabbed and busier plinks and plonks, country-bowed graceful evocations, glissando and fluctuations.  

Elsewhere there is a reference to the iconic Estonian minimalist composer Arvo Pärt’s “tintinnabules” compositional process and writing technique. Translating as “bells” more or less, and borrowed from the Catholic liturgy, it also translates as “crosstalk”, when two voices come together to form something inseparable, or, when pairs of notes are constructed one against the other. In this capacity the trio invoke the technique on the reflective, spiritual jazz hinted and serious minded ‘Tintinabulisme’ piece.

Touches of 60s period Blue Note, the Bad Plus, Keith Jarrett and the Neil Cowley Trio can be picked up across an album of poised thoughtfulness and more playful freeform musicianship. He geometric waters are both choppy, heightened and yet equally in a legato style throughout. Florent uses every inch of the double-bass to offer a foundation, a rhythm, a droning or sonorous bed, but also springs into action on occasion and quickens into a blur during one particular near solo act. His foil Rissanen’s piano seems to overlay itself, yet also displays more singular accentuations, descriptive patterns or trickles. And Guthrie’s drums seem to sizzle and simmer beneath the surface, yet also dish out tumbles, tight breaks and more loose percussive displays of skill.

A sophisticated, movable synthesis of balanced geometry awaits on an album of fluctuating tides, climbs, spiralled descents and even a little positivity – see the ‘White Keys’ finale, a dash and simmering charge in the right direction. The Designers set down quite the marker in that European semi-classical jazz vogue.

Greg Nieuwsma & Antonello Perfetto  ‘Chase ritual’
(Cruel Nature Records)

Connecting in Krakow as members of the progressively experimental Sawark before an eventual disbandment, the Midwest American and Neapolitan bred musicians Gerg Nieuwsma and Antonello Perfetto formed the Corticem partnership before sporting their own birth names in a new avant-garde chapter.

Last year’s Aquarium album cemented a reputation for both playful and strange experimentation and exploration. The latest, Chase Ritual, strays into ever more expansive realms, with an entrancing (for the most part) long form trio of cosmic-reflective and krautrock/kosmische imbued ethnographic journeys.

‘Star Birthmark’ sets things in motion with a near twenty-minute warm revolving Cluster-like peregrination. Roedelius and Florian Fricke sit at the piano as waves of flange guitar drones and fairground synth rotate around them. There are stopovers in North Africa (by the sounds of it) with vague echoes of scrappy-tinny Gnawa percussion (that will be the krakebs), some Egyptian flute or oboe, and spiritual paean of worldly voices. Half mirage, half prog-jazz suite, this side one spanning track builds towards a final squall of noise, haphazard piano and tumbled drums.

As a comedown, of a kind, the lengthy entitled ‘Supernatural Ears Hear The Call Of Faraway Mountains’ – half a haiku in its own right – floats off into the celestial. Spherical galactic rotations, serenading prog guitar and relaxed splashy and rattled drums drift around the outer reaches like a Tangerine Dream score.

The final track, ‘Ovine Wheel’, is all cathedral harmonia reverberated Popol Vuh, with spells of holy swoons, hints of a more traversing later Guru Guru and an ongoing, sometimes looped, analogue phone call between two European characters. Extra voices are added to the swell from what could be (again) Africa, but also Arabia and further afield.

Chase Ritual is an album to plug straight into; headphones on, ready to be immersed in globe-spanning and cosmic listening adventures.

Anton Barbeau  ‘Stranger’
(Gare Du Nord)  9th December 2022

An omnivorous child of Ian Hunter, Lawrence Haywood, Kim Fowley and David Bowie, the both playful and broody artist Anton Barbeau is at it again with his myriad of influences, taking the familiar and bending it to his own ends.

Psychedelia, glam, new wave (that’s the German, American and Australian kinds), pop, scuzz rock and noughties indie gel together on a lamentable yet also romantically gestured catchy songbook; one that finds Barbeau “bumped” back to his wife’s farmstead in small town California from his Berlin sojourn. We have the pandemic to thank for that move, as Barbeau struggles to adjust to life back in the States, a “stranger” as it were to a culture and environment he left behind for Europe. As a Yellow Brick Elton once despondently sang, “I’m going back to my farm”. And it does seem there is a theme of shunning one life of endless pro-Covid tours and artistic pressures for a rustic idyll, isolated yet finding eventual content and purpose settling down with his wife Julia in domestic bliss.

Even his worldly band of contributors added their parts remotely; tuning in from Chesterfield, Lille, Detroit, Hastings and elsewhere. It doesn’t show for a minute, as everything seems to gel together so well.

Inner and outer turmoil, the turning over of thoughts and a sense of detachment are the main drivers on what most be Barbeau’s 30th, or something like that, album – so prolific that near enough everyone at the blog has had a go at reviewing one of his untold many albums, now coming full circle back to me. It starts with, I think, one of the album’s best tracks, a self-titled kind of gently brooding Heyme, Eno and Bowie-esque laced longing, searching plaint about being a stranger in a strange land. That disconnection bleeds over into the transatlantic version of Kraftwerk, via DAF, Der Plan and the new romantics, ‘Ant Lion’.

Barbeau’s musical allies are 2000s Bowie (Reality and Heathen especially), later 70s Roxy, the female harmony backed Kevin Ayers of Bananamour, Bolan, Ty Segall and Beck, but that extends, expands to so much more. At times I can hear (intentionally or not) an air of Neil Finn (admittedly arm-in-arm once more with Bowie) on the new wave-ish ‘Sugarcube City’ – a good line of which, as the song disappears into the ether, being, “You’re only as beautiful as your mirror.” And many of the album’s shorter, vignettes evoke all sorts of musical inspirations; from a drip reverbed, female cooed listing of ‘Favourite Items’ to the dreamy vapoured, soft dalek-like ‘Out Of Sight’.

To more romantic settings and the declaration of wedding vowels, the Stranger album pays a serious noted tribute to Barbeau’s wife, who may just have saved him from himself. Dedicated to his better half then, the Casio preset, nutritious-kissed ‘Farm Wife’ slips into the more Lennon-esque soppy “I owe you everything” sentiment of ‘Slight Chance’. It means all the insecurities and wantonness of many of the previous songs finds a balance and that sense of comfort, ending on a note of marital contentment.   Barbeau bounces, trips and moodily sulks his way around a psychedelic ‘microdosed’ cannon of the fuzzed, serenaded, backbeat sprung and pop powered-up. The returning stranger may just have found his place for now, conjuring up a familiar sounding songbook of ideas and poignancy. As my colleague Mr. Domain has already written, when reviewing what is meant to be Stranger’s sister album, Power Pop!!! earlier this year, there’s nothing highly original here. Yet it is still a cracking album nonetheless, an idiosyncratic offering from a constantly evolving and changing artist.

Kinked And Señor Service ‘Reincanto/Real Bwoy’
(Artetetra)

From the bonkers symphony of experimental and playful electronic music label that last month brought us the insane sinfonetta that was Trans Zimmer & The DJs a split showcase of liquid, bubbled kooky arcade music and imaginative alien soundscaping. Sharing, in a most congruous fashion, the bill is the interchangeable Lapo Sorride/Don Sorride alter ego Kinked, and Umberto Pasinetti solo project Señor Service.

Sorride, whose music is described as a ‘leftfield-ritualism of vocal gestures and granular realities’, appears in various forms as a ‘visual and text researcher’ and ‘tenco-grime lyricist’ (whatever that is). In the Kinked guise we find Sorride running back and forth across a digital audio workstation, a Roland VT3 and Yamaha PSR E363 keyboard. Landing on everything but only holding onto any specific micro-sound for a few seconds, the action is constantly moving. Singular drum hits with some occasional rolls of a kind and even melodic, ambient waves emerge from out of a pneumatic soundtrack of power-ups, high-pitched frequencies, moistened effects, burbles and a strange version of computer game primitivism.

It’s as if µ-Ziq had created the early evolving forms of new life, a whole contained world; growing and learning to communicate with life outside a virtual biosphere. An improvisation with some very interesting, playful, on occasion, fun but also touching on quieter more serious tones, Reincanto, through chance, conjures up an alien and haphazard world of skittish soundscaping.

In a similar, if more realized and slightly more settled, mode, Señor Service sounds like Sakamoto’s floppy disks in the hands of the Aphex Twin. Quirks, looms and concertinaed MIDI-like sounds emanate from Pasinetti’s omnivorous feasting soundboard of quarks and cutesy dialogue samples.

At times this sounds like a marimba-twinkled score to some fantasy island level on a Japanese computer game of the nighties, at others, like the light flash patterned communications between the aliens of Close Encounters and the imagined inner worlds of a microchip. Cartoon arias and 64-bit scales combine with pleasing melodies, melodica-like waves and furry creatures on a synthesized, programmed collage of constantly evolving and progressive play. This is what happens when no one tells you to stop messing around in your bedroom with all those electronic music making devices. A free reign that magic’s up the goods.

It seems that to qualify for the Artetetra label nod of approval you need to be drinking from a whole other, fun and mad source than the rest of the electronic music fraternity. Always on a leftfield bent, and entertaining to boot, the Milan-based collective imprint once again delights as much as it does amuse in the pursuit of pushing at the fun buttons and outer limits of electronic and avant-garde music. A great split coupling of intriguing artists that demand further investigation.

Various  ‘Perú Selvático – Sonic Expedition Into The Peruvian Amazon 1972 – 1986’ 
(Analog Africa) 16th December 2022

Sometimes as a critic you just want something fun and playful to listen to. To escape the lectures, the woes. And with Analog Africa’s latest visit to the cumbia mecca of Perú, you’re suddenly whisked away to the beach side parties and jungle shindigs of South America.

Released in conjunction with a rarefied collection of dance tunes from Sonido Verde de Moyobamba by the label’s Limited Dance Editions imprint, the Perú Selvático compilation draws together a survey of Amazon style cumbia movers and shakers from the early 1970s to the mid 80s. Sonido make a couple of appearances on this selection, so you can pretty much test whether you want to shell out for both albums in this two-pronged Perúvian showcase.

But before all that, just a little context and information is needed first. If you’re just a cursory listener or newcomer to the phenomenon of cumbia music then in short it can be described loosely as a Latin-wide style that swaps or picks up changes wherever it falls within the South and Central American regions. Originally starting off in Colombia as a merger of African, indigenous and European styles of music, cumbia spread like wildfire to most communities; adopted, adapted and again melded with even more sounds as it travelled. That underlying saunter cannot be mistaken however, nor the courtship for that matter.

The main European element, the accordion, would later be replaced by the electric guitar as electricity reached even the most densely covered areas of the Amazon; once more changing the sound in the process. Just to confuse matters, a sub-genre called “chichi” was to emerge specifically from inland Perú. This was a kind of Andean music that became popular in the country’s coastal cities, especially in Lima. Named after the favoured Inca corn-based liquor, chichi’s roots began in the oil boomtowns and interchanges of the Amazon. Speaking totally as a mere student of ethnography, I’m sure the music on this compilation is either part of it or at least a close relative. They both share the same penchant for surf guitar and rudimental synthesised sounds if this compilation is anything to go by. Add to that the party spirit – an itch to join a long conga line -, the use of Bill Justus-like raunchy licks, tropical hints of the Caribbean and a suffusion of bandy organ.

Behind the pin-up cover lies a less seedy, a bit sensual, collection of rare hits mostly confined, success wise, to the Amazon. Highly popular locally, it would take time to make it to the Lima airwaves. A smattering of producers took to the road, helping to spread that sound to cities like Tarapoto, Moyobamba and Pucallpa – only reachable by air or boat that last one. There’s a god showing of groups (I presume) from those mentioned regions, with The Ventures and Shadows twing-twang, scuffed percussion and playful spirit of the already mentioned Sonido Verde de Moyobamba, to the opening swimmingly wavy beachside Latin, low-volt amped guitar buzz of Pucallpa’s Los Royals, and the Meek-like echo-y reverb of Fresa Juvenil De Tarapoto. Talking of popularity, or just more prolific if you like, Los Zheros get three bites of the cherry. They saunter to congas and spindly percussion on ‘Selva Virgen’, stir up slightly more exotic sandy relaxed vibes on ‘Alibaba’ – some Arabian night fantasy perhaps -, and magic up seductive move on ‘La Uñita’. Likewise Los Cisnes get an equal three-way selection, with the Brazilian-flavoured ‘La Hamaca’, bendy and fuzz guitar surfing ‘Safari En La Selva’, and the held-organ, soft drum rolling ‘Rio Mar’

Elsewhere there’s a balance of the laidback and racing, and a number of attempts to electrify cumbia with some synthesized technology; some zaps and wobbles and bobbed liquid bendy bits here and there, which mostly lean towards the lo fi and kitsch.

Intentional or not, some tracks veer over the borders, picking up sounds, grooves, rhythms from the East Coast of South America, Sun Records America and Mexico: or so it sounds. It’s a party whatever way you choose to look at it.

Analog Africa lift some sweet, cool tunes from out of obscurity, or at least highlight a cult sound to a wider audience. So give Christmas a more infectious Latin feel and joy this year, you won’t regret it.

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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