Upcoming and recent albums in review
Dominic Valvona

Frédéric D. Oberland ‘Solstices’
(ZamZamRec) Available Now

An epic reverberated fusion of recondite apparatus and the mystical, spiritual music of Tunisia, the self-taught multi-instrumentalist Frédéric D. Oberland and his zoukra mizzle playing and ritualistic percussion foil Awlad Fayala, magic up a performative soundtrack of Solstices on this incredibly immersive album.

A journey into the cosmos, the co-funding instigator of such experimental projects as Oiseaux-Tempête, Fourde!, Le Réveil Des Tropiques and Farwell Poetry absorbs the environments, the alarmism of climate change and the spirit of improvisation to create an untethered work of wonderment, woe and mysticism.

The first quartet of atmospheric scores – an avant-garde soundtrack to the Discovery Channel – on this album are taken from a 2021 performance in Paris. Marking the tenth anniversary of Petit Bain, Frédéric chartered a course for space. The theory of alien DNA, organisms and bacteria from other planets and solar systems making its way via comets and meteoroids, unscathed in the depths of space, to land and spread life to another world, aka “panspermia”, is used as a title to the first of these peregrinations. The rumble of thrusters, of rocket fuel gases comes later but first a monologue from the late Cassandra of environmental doom, Stephen Hawking, who offers a cataclysmic assessment of humanity with little glimmer of hope (hey, at least the hole in the Ozone Layer is closing up). This is done to the sound of tingling and shimmery sounds, fizzing valves and a synthesized lunar choral requiem. University Challenged and Tomat spring to mind musically, sonically, on this warning from the genius of propound theories and quantum mechanics.  

Those boosters are ignited at the start of À Norte Nuit’ (“to our night”), but evolve into the kosmische feels of Cluster: that or some lost recording from the Sky Records catalogue. Within that rocketed atmosphere a zoukra or something like it can be heard blowing away like Colin Stetson’s saxophone, lingering and circulating in the foggy resonating loops. Moving on, ‘Quatre Épaves d’Acies’ (“four steel works”) sounds like a 80s VHS sci-fi, or horror, score made by Kavinsky and Klaus Schulze. Zodiac in the fourth house of the moon, or whatever, there’s a sense of both mysterious ceremony and heavens-like ascendency.

By the time we reach the more dramatic, electric storm of bounding drums and alien minimalist techno ‘Worst Case Scenario’ the Arabian radio waves of North Africa are growing stronger, caught up in a vacuum of constant building echoes whipped up by Frédéric’s transformed hidden sound sources. 

The final movement, ‘Cosmos Bou Dellif’, is taken form another incredible live performance, this time in a Tunisian butcher’s market, part of the Gabè’s Cinema Festival. In contrast to the meat trade, Frédéric and Awlad get swept up into a cyclonic swirl of drones, piped and whistled atavistic Tunisian Hermeticism and machine oscillations. Occasionally it wonders into the veil of Tibetan esotericism, and at others, Walker’s partnership with Sunn O))). It’s almost chaotic, nearly unnerving, yet also strangely mesmerising with its architect entranced as he feeds the live elements in real time into loops and a synthesis of cosmic veneration. It proves a great visceral and universally mysterious way to finish a great sonic project of fusions; an alchemy of earthly propositions and the all-too real omens of destruction seen from the wonderment of space and beyond.

Rita Braga ‘Illegal Planet’
15th March 2023

CREDIT: Fernando Martins

The stardust cowgirl, Lynchian chanteuse and idiosyncratic Portuguese siren Rita Braga is back with another disarming celluloid and kitsch songbook of alluring noir and daytime soap murder mystery theatrics. I say disarming, because as fantastical, dreamy and exotic as it all is, there’s always a sense that something is not quite right: the plunge of a knife or drop of an axe, a creeping spine-tingling box of sounds is never far away. A carnival of supernatural illusions and shivers permeates an often whimsical and lilting mood of warbled, wobbled lunar vibrations, Casio pre-set rhythms, shimmy and sauntering percussion, cinema organ and bobbing vibraphone and marimba.

At the heart of these off-kilter mambos, rumbas and jazzy enchantments lies a despondent feminist message, with Rita as femme fatale condoling lounge crooner and bewitching spell-caster, the star of her own Singing Detective musical, breaking the fourth wall to deliver beguiled thoughts on some very serious topics. Illegal Planet is bookended with dialogue borrowed from a film or TV show I’m not familiar with, the crux being that a mysterious “Rita” has enticed, charmed the male protagonist into her web and intrigues. The title-track features an exchange with a second male character, who more or less tries to shake his pal out of her spell, before the real Rita swoons sweet nothings from a spook-tinged cocktail lounge stage. Stereotypes are played with and owned you could say; Rita firmly in charge. Outside of that, the finale, ‘Unclassified’, with another line from that source, is a sleepy dusted, chiming outro of “thanks” and “gratitude” to the listener. But no matter how nice and whimsical, the “Please don’t forget to hit subscribe”, “one of the reasons I’m still alive”, lyrics (in my mind) can’t help but end on the all-too-real struggle of an artist in the online world: competing for validation, but more importantly attention, from the seldom found generosity of an audience increasingly used to freely streaming their favourite artists, or being blinded by the distractions of tiktok et al. 

Rita has cast herself as costume-changing everywoman-like character, evoking Julee Cruise’s The Art Of Being A Girl on one role, and dreaming up fleeting exchanges with a mystical dog in a Belle Époque Paris setting, in another. There’s also visits to Hawaaii and the tropics (suggested by Rita’s beautifully played ukulele), out into the cosmos, the gothic and even a spot of climate change time-travelling – a hundred years to a boiling Earth, the colour scheme of burning scorched planet at least “cool” enough to pull-off a 70s retro style décor to match a bland IKEA world of decorated conformity. 

We’re reminded too that “nothing comes from nowhere”; Rita pulling from out of the four winds, the ether, a bluesy kind of noirish yearning, accompanied by a smooching and aching saxophone. With no real prompts as such, maybe you can read a comment on cultural appropriation, culture recycling or just an echo that there really isn’t “anything new under the sun” so why worry about it. We all borrow. Then again it could be about the spread of information, or misinformation.

Kooky yet seductive, deep yet flighty and often fun, Rita’s masquerade of dames is a combination of Hollywood, Twin Peaks, Tim Burton, Pulp Fiction and a Renaissance Fair. But above all this is a world of its own making, a familiar sound magically screw-balled towards Rita’s worldview.

Trapped on the surface of a never-ending hell, Rita dreams up and fantasies in the glare and soft focus of the film camera. An “illegal” – with all what that word entails- alien cast adrift in a Walter Mitty world, Rita escapes the bland with eccentric élan on a finely crafted album of the imaginative and charmingly odd.  

Carmen Jaci ‘Happy Child’
(Noumenal Loom) 30th March 2023

With knowing childlike wonder and curiosity the French-Canadian (based in the Netherlands) composer Carmen Jaci bounces through a soft play crèche portal into a day-glow surrealist rainbow of giddy disjointed harmony. I say harmony, because despite the discombobulated polyphonic orchestrations, the deconstructed zips, zaps and sporadic voices that pop up and the Esperanto era floppy-disc cut-ups of Sakamoto, every one of these experiments is fun, cute and surprisingly melodious.   

Instead of friction, abrasion, there’s a softening; a dizzy lightness and sensibility that borders on pop: granted a strange, loose version of it.

A visual feast for the eyes too – a blusher of Kandinsky, Sonia Delaney and Léger pulled into a hyper-vivid geometric fantasy studio of contemporary abstraction -, Carman has gone for a full immersive experience, taking time to place every acoustic, synthesized and vocal transduced sample in the best place to stimulate a kooky idiosyncratic mix of naïve (I mean in the best possible sense of the word) electronica, art and theatre.

This Happy Child climbs the arpeggiator stairway to slide back down into a bubble bath of illimitable alacrity, serrated rubbed vibes, manipulated assonant and aria-like voices and placeable collage. We’re talking a skipping pleasant feeling of sinfonietta, of Bauhaus ballet and a mix of Trans Zimmer & The DJs, Mira Calix, Der Plan and Coldcut. In one lush-coloured environment Stravinsky’s Rites Of Spring meets Prokfiev atop of a marshmallow beanbag; early Chicago techno bounces along to a saturation of Skittles; and MIDI timpani and harp orchestrate an ornamental garden of 80s Japanese electronic-pop.

A brilliance of candy-electronica and Casio symphonies, Happy Child is a clever work of unburdened, unpretentious, but indeed deliberate and well-crafted, kidulthood. Carmen’s magical, if occasionally straying into the mysterious, new album pings back and forth with humour and, above all else, playfulness. Not for the burgeoning artist (I say burgeoning, Carmen is quite the professional technician with some years of experience: you can even pay for one-on-one tuitions at her own studio) the sour-faced seriousness of many of her peers, this is electronic music with a taste of fantasy and fun recollections of childhood.

Boycalledcrow ‘Nightmare Folk Art’
(Subexotic) 31st March 2023

Despite the god awful, ungovernable times we live in, and after absorbing the alternative-future of a San Fran(sicko) class conflict of survival, as laid out in William Gibson’s dystopian sci-fi novel Virtual Light (stolen nanotech glasses ensue a caper of renegades, assassins and corporate foes), the Chester-based sound artist Carl Knott has found some sort of solace in a dreamy escapist vision of the pastoral on his latest album, Nightmare Folk Art.  That title suggests some sort of dread, darkness, but in fact this is the sound of Knott’s home and extended county country-walks landscape transduced into a magic-realism and hallucinated version of outsider art and weird folk music.

Unsure in places, mysterious and often spun into a reverberating loop of interlayered nylon-stringed acoustic samples that can confuse, Knott, under yet another successful alias as a Boycalledcrow (previous incarnations include Wonderful Beasts and Spacelab), conjures up the unreal. Again, this is a dream state in which you’re never quite relaxed but never really thrown into a nightmare. There’s even a track named after the family dog (‘Sister Poppy Is A Good Girl’) for heaven’s sake! And talking of heaven, occasionally those various stringed instruments actually take on a harp-like beauty: that or a mandolin, a dulcimer and even the African kora. 

Off-kilter in a resonated movement of picked, fanned, spindled guitar loops, metallic and whipped drums, constant echoes and rotor or flickered speed-shifted vapours, a distant essence of folk music can just about be detected. In fact it’s more Fripp and Eno (especially on the sailing ‘Be More Kind, Like Frank’), more Syrinx and Popol Vuh (on the diaphanous, hallowed and melodious ‘Sister Poppy…’) than idyllic or psychedelic folk. There’s a semblance of Cluster for instance on ‘Easy Tiger’, and the growl of a trebly amped-up post-punk bass on the reversed and breathing, Warp drums smacking ‘Beautiful Women’.

Sometimes a synthesis of guitar manipulations turn into something almost indescribable, hard to quantify; into an atmosphere or rhythm that stirs up a strange mood, environment far from the idylls of an English countryside or the abstract portals of family and emotions. From a deconstructive process something strangely weird and yet something that can be very emotive takes shape or merely dissipates into the ether. Boycalledcrow conjures up a phantom dream world in which the acoustic guitar iterations and looped bass-y rhythms of Land Observation are transformed into a mere echo and whisper of that folk seed.

Joel Harrison & Anthony Pirog ‘The Great Mirage’
(AGS Recordings) 17th March 2023

A cross-generational partnership of guitar virtuosos pull together their individual provenance and art for a showcase journey of atmospheric evocations of place and time, on a new musical mirage.

The longer standing senior partner on this enterprise, Joel Harrison, has an enviable CV and catalogue of 22 albums to his name. The Guggenheim fellow and polymath guitar language and technique educator, composer, arranger, lyricist and writer’s music has appeared on film (Southern Comfort and the Oscar-nominated Traffic Stop) and across a myriad of other stages (one such notable commission for Chamber Music America). His previous albums have featured some incredibly talented artists, including such luminaries as Norah jones and the contemporary jazz mover and shaker (and Bowie’s last recording foil) Donny McCaslin.

Harrison’s jazz-trained junior (in age only) partner Anthony Pirog has recorded and played in an eclectic lineup of projects over the years; from his collaboration with his life partner and cellist Janel Leppin to the harder-rocking New Electric quartet.

Both based in the Washington D.C. area, both students of jazz, their shared geography and musical interests crossover into the spheres of rock, country, prog, folk, psych and even, what I would describe as both post-punk and krautrock. This could all be wrapped up as fusion music. Fusion music, that is, with a roaming curiosity to redefine or at least play with stretching the capabilities of the guitar in the 21st century: good luck with that.

Harrison and Pirog are not alone on that venture, bringing in the talents of Stephen Crump on bass and Allison Miller on drums to widen the scope and bolster the sound; to give body, a drive and even groove too: Miller’s drumming skills, it must be said, can be just as free and loose as they can be in smashing, drilling and motoring along the compositions.

Unsurprisingly both highly competent guitarist technicians and creative of their craft are pretty good at conveying the mood, at building, expressing a sense of place whilst at switching on the Steve Vai and Pat Methany blazing fretwork soloing dynamics. On the title-track itself they fuse later 70s King Crimson with a certain aria-bending mystique, hints of that jazz learning and final biting fuzz bedding of Sunn O))). Later on with ‘Mortgage My Soul’ they rev-up that same fuzz and scuzz for a concentration of bashed-out heavy rock.

Easing the pace, compositions like the wistful, plaintive ‘There’s Never Enough Time’ and ‘Desert Solitaire’ take on a country music lilt of waning and bottleneck sliding, whilst the shorter vignette, ‘Last Rose Of Summer’, lingers beautifully in an rustic-acoustic charm of gauzy serenaded country-folk. ‘I’ll See You In The Shinning World’ starts off in a similar mode (reminding me in part of Myles Cochran) but then subtly moves through changes of funk, the jazzy and spacey.

Travelling south musically, ‘Clarksdale’ takes a pinch of Muscle Shoals and the blues to evoke a very American landscape, whilst at the other end of the scale, the no less evocative mood of ‘Critical Conversation’ feels like a tumult, a squirming tension of energetic discourse and guitar effects experimentation – post-punk, post-rock in sound, jazzy in channeling a certain angst.        

Anything but a demonstration, this album is an impressive showcase of dexterity and virtuoso skill of composition and expressive playing. The Great Mirage stays constantly interesting as it moves between reflection and displays of whining and squealed guitar frippery. Never indulgent, the focus is always on merging a shared experience in which the guitar (both electric and acoustic) bends, molds and wields to its practitioner’s concept of free-expression. I’d suggest they’ve done quite well in mining their eclectic sources to shape that freedom and pushing of the boundaries in a modern age.  

Bhajan Bhoy ‘To Love Is To Love (Volumes 1 & 2)’
(Cardinal Fuzz in the UK/Feeding Tube in the US) Available Now

Ajay Saggar once again travels the astral highway and byways as guru Bhajan Bhoy, across two volumes of transcendence, raga mantras and afflatus dreamwave psychedelia.

When not masquerading under the Deutsche Ashram title or acting the part of foil to Oli Hefferman and Kohhei Matsuda in the University Challenged trio, and again with Oli in the long-running King Champion Sounds troupe, Saggar channels his divine styles into this newish incarnation – the debut Bhajan Bhoy album, Bless Bless, was released in 2020.

Three years later, and out the other side of the pandemic, Saggar brings us “love” in abundance with a moiety of albums that channel previous projects: especially the intoxicating club beat, shoegaze, post-punk haze of his Deutsche Ashram duo with the gauzy-hushed Merinde Verbeck. Because sometimes amongst the radio waves of India and the brassy resonance of the sitar there is a hint of a transported and flange fanning Stone Roses, the Cocteau Twins, Jah Wobble and MBV. I’m not sure who accompanies Saggar this time around, but those similar airy vapours f ethereal vocals can e heard suffused across a number of peregrinations that have lyrics; these being utterances, vague chants and the sort of hippie new age speak of the 90s trance and rave scenes.

Volume 1 opens with the Mancunian acid dripped and Indian echoed mizzle of ‘The Guiding Light’; a both kaleidoscopic and druggy vacuum of Ash Ra Tempel, the Moon Duo and 80s neo-pop. ‘On A Higher Plain’, with concertinaed spells and reverberating tremolo twangs, envisions El Topo transported to the Indian subcontinent. ‘Raga Shanti’ as the name makes clear, fulfills the spiritual Eastern quota well with a spectrum of cosmic dialing tones, echoes of Amon Düül II-speaks-to-Yogi and the sound of Shankar. ‘Oh Seeker’ brings back those near-ethereal washy female vocals – reminding me a lot of the female tri-vocal led French psych group Gloria – across synthesized accelerating waves, flange-like guitar and entrancing drones.

Volume 1 ends however on the mystified, dreamy fairytale enveloped ‘Lovely Day For Cricket’. I’m not sure if there’s a hidden meaning – you can never be sure these days when even the most harmless or joyous innocuous activities can enrage or fuel discourse on the British Empire, who of course brought that sport to most of their colonies -, or, if it’s merely a celebration of this sport’s obvious mega popularity, cultural importance – the national game in India (and its neighbours too) more or less.  Commentary and the crowd from a match is morphed and sent out gently into a sort of cosmic twilight zone.

Volume 2 follows on with the sequined bejeweled chimes of finger cymbals and bells and the fanned-out and spindled raga and kosmische trance of ‘Hari Om Sharan’ – Popol Vuh and Floyd meet Harrison for a daily devotional. That Popol Vuh sound, unsurprisingly, can be heard on the Aguirre-like Amazonian atmospheric dedication to that group’s cinematic soundtrack patron, Werner Herzog, on ‘Abshaku…The Ecstatic Truth’. The Vuh, in communion with late 70s/early 80s Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, traverse Herzog’s dream-realism and documented travels with vague panpipe blows, drifted Heart of Darkness guitar and the misty veils of Machu Picchu.

‘Accordi-Ohm’ meanwhile, sounds like a dub-y bellowing and concertinaed vision of Augustus Pablo on the trial of the crystal skulls: yeah imagine that! That leaves the finale, ‘Eliane’s Conch’, another of those vaporous dreamy and static-charged dreamwave echoed traverses that reminded, a little, of the Dead Skeletons’ hypnotic mantras.

Overall both albums flow, waft or linger across the cosmic, spiritual pathway of kosmische, krautrock, acid-rock, psych, shoegaze and beyond. The sound of India is taken to various planes within that spectrum, woven into a fabric of cultish, trippy and new age influences. Blessed be the search for love in an increasingly hostile, intense, divisive and mentally draining world; Saggar’s Bhajan Bhoy incarnation certainly has its work cut out. And yet, with his collected ensemble of musical partners, he creates a musical escape route on a purview of enlightenment and even fun transcendental spiritualism.

Healing Force Project ‘Drifted Entities (Vol. 2)’
(Beat Machine Records) 17th March 2023

The re-rebirth of cool in an ever-forward momentum of flux, Antonio Marini’s Healing Force Project once more tumbles across a broken-beat, jungle, free-jazz and cosmic spectrum of reverberating exploration and spliced assemblage.

Last year’s first Drifted Entities volume made my choice albums list of 2022 with its echoed washes of On-U Sound and elements of Basic Channel, Plug, Luke Vibert and The Mosquitoes; all bouncing and resonating with the contorted rasps and strains and inspirations of Albert Ayler’s Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe –the title and source of this sonic untethered beat-sculpted project.

Volume 2 adheres to the same principles but is heavier on the beats and the percussion. Filtering, falling, paddled, sifting and shivered throughout this deconstruction-reconstruction are echoes of Miles Davis’ 80s soundtrack suffused trumpet blows and noirish winds, Jan Hammer and Greg Foat’s organ and synth held chords and bulb-like notes and Billy Cobham’s expletory drum kit. Constantly developing, in motion, each track throws up all manner of shuttled and skimming contortions. Brown Calvin, Thundercat, Roni Size, the Aphex Twin and the worldly musical adventures of Don Cherry simultaneously exist in Marini’s singular and off-kilter rhythmic quadrant of cosmic freefalling and electrified jazz.

A splashy mirage of effected, realigned beats and reframed jazz inspirations sent out into space, Volume 2 in this series continues the ‘spiritual music mission’ but offers something once more eclectic and boundless.

Areia ‘Stories’
Available Now

An album of stories imbued by various triplet-like references and cycles, the latest lightly executed work of chamber, neoclassical and explorative jazz from the guitarist and bandleader Siebren Smink is rich with descriptive wistfulness and reflection.

Inspired in part by the cause of the “three Marias”, whose feminist stance in the early 1970s against the fascist Catholic conservatism of António de Oliveira Salazar’s dictatorship in Portugal helped usher in the downfall of that regime, and by the near inscrutable scribed “language music” methods of the free-jazz luminary Anthony Braxton, these two influences converge in a balancing act of quiet thought and more expressive drama, dynamics. And so, rather than create an erratic exploration of Braxton’s cryptic drawings, plans of trills and brills, and the rage of those incensed by Maria Isobel Barreno, Maria Teresa Horta and Maria Velha da Costa’s struggle to fight the oppressive moralistic legal system of authoritarian Portugal, this album of mood suites manages to control those looser free-forming ideas with subtlety and sensitivity.

That Marias story was seen by Smink whilst visiting the Resistance Museum (a former prison for political prisoners) in Lisbon, and struck a chord. This trio’s crime was to publish a collection of unsigned essays, poetry, stories and letters that drew on the letters of a Portuguese Nun in the 17th century, obsessed as she was with a French soldier who abandoned her. The book proved a sensation, falling foul instantly of the regime’s censorship laws, quickly banned and destroyed. The actual court case that ensued – the penalty, imprisonment at the least – ended just as the country’s Carnation Revolution – so called because of the flowers the crowds gave to the soldiers who carried out the coup to replace him – helped topple Salazar’s rule. The penal code was especially discriminating towards women, treating them as second-class citizens, and so the odds of overturning the ban and escaping sentencing didn’t look good. But fortunately as the regime came crashing down, and with support from activists from around the world, the case was thrown out, the ladies collection even declared a work of art of the highest quality by the judge.

Sympathetic to that cause, chiming with the contemporary, Smink and his returning quartet of Adrián Moncada on piano, Antonio Moreno Glazkor on trumpet and Hristo Goleminov on tenor saxophone take musical cues from Pat Metheny and the Jimmy Giuffre 3, but the ACT label too, to produce music that hopefully doesn’t fall on deaf ears. Not that any of this is obvious, nor an on-message sound as such, but it is descriptive and resonates with a language of thoughtful yet roaming and loosened feelings.

Instruments interact or just fly off into opposite, but always congruous, directions of play. Harmonics ping, guitar strings softly accentuate or subtly climb the frets, and the tenor sax blows in both a suffused manner or in quicker circles, whilst the trumpet flits, spirals or holds a particular expressive note. The piano parts seem to drift or linger with a harder, starker prods or in a softened way evokes reminisces, aches and reflections. In parts the action accelerates with dotted notes, a little tension and even tumult: though nothing like a discourse, a cacophony or even crescendo. Sometimes just the mere essence of an instrument is all that’s needed to conjure up the mood, and sometimes just shortened prompts and small bursts of activity will speak volumes.

The Stories album is full of stirring moments and a melodious and not quite so melodious interplay, but also has a spirit of the untethered explorations synonymous with free jazz. Upsides mingle with deep thoughts, a flit of action and dialed down reflected sadness on an album that reveals more with every subsequent listen.

Above all, this album finds Smink and his Areia quartet vehicle on a refined journey of distilled and considered jazz; a balancing act that successfully weaves together freer interactions and the sort of expressive musical language that Antony Braxton would find very encouraging.  

Lukas Traxel ‘One-Eyed Daruma’
(We Jazz) Available Now

The Swiss double-bassist maestro and composer Lukas Traxel is back with a new trio project prompted by an open invitation from the Moods jazz club in Zurich. With We Jazz label stalwart Otis Sandsjö on tenor saxophone and Moritz Baumgärtner on drums; Traxel creates a mysterious, plaintive, conscious and abstract environment out of avant-garde, free jazz and experimental counterpoints with this new turn. And the influences on this new project include Caroline Shaw, Colin Vallon’s trio, Gabriel Kahane, Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Guiffre and Keith Jarrett, but I’d add Sam Rivers, the late great Pharoah and the contemporary, mirroring Ill Considered trio. 

Initially stumped, emotionally coming to terms with the death of his father, Traxel was suddenly freed from the dreaded writer’s block after noticing the mysterious-looking figure of an eyeless “Daruma”, starring out from the corner of his piano. In Japanese lore this harbinger of fate brings luck and prosperity. And as tradition dictates, you must first draw an eye on your daruma whilst making a wish; only adding a second eye if this wish comes true. It remains, for now, the ‘one-eyed daruma’ of the album title.

Conveying that loss and absence, but little bit of hope too, the trio build simmering, rasped and probing atmospheres from which subtle melodious ideas and feelings emerge; breaking out at points into either broken beats, break beats and cymbal splashes – the conscious jazz and elliptical rhythmic ‘The Call’ reminded me a little of Gescom. However, the album opens with the Rollins leads Floydian sizzled and brushed ‘First Times’: a balance of both thinly parched tenor and the wane, whine of hidden rusty metallic or brass instruments, gently prompted by the double-bass. The more chaotic ‘Nasty People’ stumbles and lurches through an Art Ensemble Of Chicago workshop and toy box. I’m not sure of the intention or the theme, but at one point a kid’s police siren whoops amongst the squiggles, shakes and craziness; and as it continues on, it feels like the drums are hitting out at, or being flung at, something/someone: A sort of venting of torque and tensions.

An act of flexing instruments and sounds to quantify expression and mood, Lukas Traxel’s sparsely executed showcases a theme of counterpoint – actions counterpointed by reflections, hinged and resonating, and by more recognizable holds and shortened toots of sax. The performances coalesce different tensions, speeds and articulations in the same track: for example, Baumgärtner’s drums moving at pace and drive whilst Sandsjö’s sax brushes the surface and Traxel’s double-bass plucks out singular notes.

Initially brought about by invitation, I wouldn’t mind hearing more from this successful trio experiment in the future. Their burgeoning debut an essential addition to the We Jazz catalogue and in turn, your record collection.  

John Atkinson ‘Energy Fields’
(AKP Recordings) 15th march 2023

A reification of the hidden energy sources that power industry and the homes of America, John Atkinson’s atmospheric synthesized treatments lend a both morphed factory and more alien sound to both carbon and renewable technology on this new solo work. Uncoupled from his foil Patrick Taylor and their East Portal duo, Atkinson funnels the sounds of his 2019 residency at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming – the largest coal-producing state in the whole of America, and in recent times the hub of renewable energy and carbon capture – into a conceptual investigation and peregrination of transition. As much in awe as he is anxious about the shifting tides and changes (I’m guessing that transition isn’t fast enough) in that field, this quartet of ambient, electrified soundscapes evoke states of uncertainty and mystery; an otherworldly balance of machinery and a removed, transformed vision of nature living side by side in the shadow of a climate change emergency (depending on who you listen to).

Atkinson has skin in the game so to speak, having spent the last fifteen years writing about this energy shift in terms of policy, tech and economics, as a day job. And so that drive and interest is channeled into a sonic experience of shunting coal trucks, the swing and hinge movements of heavy bucketed tools and cranes, and the rotation of bladed turbines.

A static energy current ripples through a soundtrack of filaments, high-pitched steam and industrial thumps on the opening ‘Spiritual Electricity’ track. A coal-fired plant errs towards a strange stirring of the unfamiliar, recondite, as Atkinson gives sound to such abstract concepts. ‘Black Thunder’ delves into the furnace with what sounds like boxcars unloading their materials and the pressurized whistles of dials and valves. Cleaner, sonorous waves and purrs emerge from out of the industrial activity however, hinting at some kind of submerged mystery, unease.

Across a windy plain from atop of a wind turbine, ‘Casper’ features ambient drifts, glints of the outdoors and a suffusion of twinkles and chimes. A strange nature exists alongside those imposing machines and tech that borders on the supernatural; a snatch of passing traffic perhaps caught in a blowy gloom. The more implicitly entitled ‘World Wind’ features more of those natural elements – the mating call of bison perhaps – running side-by-side with slowly stirring neoclassical gravitas and the churning turns of rotor blades.

Atkinson captures an evocative and interesting enough theme, a necessity to understanding or relating to that which remains disconnected to us; the apparatus, resources that generate our lives at the flip of switch seldom considered. As fossil fuels remain the principle source in a global climate of war, fear and increasing authoritarian, post-pandemic insecurity, Atkinson draws our attention to the burgeoning developments in off-setting that reliance; an abstract propound proposition transduced into a fully immersive site-specific world of industry and field recordings.

Anthéne & Simon McCorry ‘Florescence’
(Oscarson) 31st March 2023

As stirring evocative ambient-neoclassical-kosmische partnerships go, Brad Deschamps – under the Anthéne signature alias – and Simon McCorry seem the perfect match of subtle expressive drone guitar contours and equally descriptive, majestic cello. These two stalwarts of their forms set out to capture the essence of the seasons again; honing in on the first light, slow blossoming of Spring for this, their third such, collaboration – the first to be released on vinyl.

The previous Wallace Stevens, The Snow Man, inspired, poetic Mind Of Winter (which made my choice albums of 2022 list) was a sublime reification of the beauty of a crystalized, snow-dusted soundscape; a gentle yet deeply felt album of Wintery suites. From out of winter’s minimal light, Deschamps and McCorry, with both serenity and a touch of mystery, blend subtle electronics and what sounds like non-musical objects with their chosen stringed instruments; the processes of their atmospheric methodology mirroring Spring’s process of flowering and blooming.   

In practice this leads to abstract reflections, thoughts, moods and the near unquantifiable transduced into both scores of hidden and more familiar sounding instrumentation. No one manages to expand the cello quite like McCorry, but that bowed, hollowed resonating cello body often sighs or pines more melodious phrases alongside trembled or droning sustain. Likewise Deschamps both obscures and yet also casts recognizable phrases, lingering tracery and permeating drones.

Nature comes alive as the light begins to play across meadows, versants and an often more mystically veiled landscape in which ripples across a pool of water can musically evoke so much more than a simple observation of the environment: one that’s awakens from a seasonal hibernation. Although the majority of the time we’re in the same musical sonic sphere as Eno (even a touch of his late 70s partnership with Bowie on the mirrored mirage, ‘Reach Towards The Earth’), Andrew Wasylyk and early Ambient Works Richard James ‘Unreflecting Pool’, with its plucked tines, chimes and generally gauzy airy mood, evokes a sort of misty Avalon; the sort of Arthurian waters so beloved of the Pre-Raphaelites (I could be letting my own imagination run away with me here). A both hallowed and moving merger of seasonal changes, suffused with a certain gravitas and meaning, the pastoral is revalued and sent out on a voyage of reflection. Florescence is yet another minimalistic work of sublime quality from a collaboration perfectly in-synch with each other.        

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.


Gillian Stone Reviews A Trio Of Recent Releases.

Ruxpin & Stafrænn Hákon ‘Meet Me In Forever’
(Sound In Silence) Available Now

Ruxpin and Stafrænn Hákon’s Meet Me In Forever (Sound In Silence) is imbued with chillness but also encourages bodily movement. This is the first collaborative effort from the Icelandic artists, who have been separately releasing music for over twenty years. Previously creating in somewhat disparate sonic worlds, Ruxpin’s melodic IDM and Stafrænn Hákon’s atmospheric post-rock collide in Meet Me In Forever.

With elements of melancholic nostalgia and an ambient retro-vibe overall, the album is reminiscent of turn of the millennia Boards of Canada with more sophisticated, modern production. This genre blending is clear off the top of the record in the first track “Flawless Delivery” with it’s clear yet warbling post-rock guitar tones, percussive breath sounds, and swirling synths. There are electroacoustic elements throughout the record, such as in the meditative third track, “Odesa”, and in the field recordings that accompany “Offshore” and “Reunited (If It’s What You Want)”. The latter, penultimate track, is perhaps the strongest on the record. Sparse vocals by Olena Simon soar over a Múm-esque soundscape, ending with a field recording of barking dogs and human laughter.

Overall, Meet Me In Forever retains a special quality of being a record you could both sleep to and dance to simultaneously.

Anemic Cinema ‘Iconoclasts’
(Ramble Records) Available Now

Iconoclasts, released via the independent Melbourne-based label Ramble Records, is “Avant-jazz-metal collective” Anemic Cinema’s newest offering. Undoubtedly a jazz record at its core, the album from the Belgium-based group is also so much more. Opening with the considerable energy of “Oneirophrenia” (meaning: state caused by sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, or drugs that is hallucinatory and dream-like), the song introduces a heaviness along with alluding to influences from Zappa and Ornette Coleman. “Iconoclasts, Pt 1”, “Iconoclasts, Pt 2”, and “Iconoclasts, Pt 3”, three movements with a nod to prog in their naming convention, then take the listener on a vast and stunning timbral journey.

The intro of “Pt 1” hails to classical Modernism, while composer Artan Buleshkaj enhances the space with beautiful, reverb-y suss chords on baritone guitar. Things get far more metal in “Pt 2”, with the juxtaposition of horns and distorted guitar enhancing the angular aesthetic of the movement. It ends with Steven Delannoye’s solo bass-clarinet, which then evolves into a tritone driven bass clarinet riff that grounds “Iconoclasts, Pt 3”. For “Business in the Front, Party in the Back”, Delannoye’s tenor sax and Rob Banken’s alto sax trade solos over Buleshkaj’s fuzzed-out guitar. Halfway through, the track completely changes speed into more traditional jazz guitar, with the hollow body sound of Jim Hall, before the fuzzed-out guitar comes back in for a modified head that takes out the tune.

The album then moves into a fucked up little interlude, “In Sillico”, with wild, sliding guitar and fantastic drum work by Matthias de Waele. “Tessellate” trades a headbanger feel with total chaos, while “108” takes out the record with the softened timbres of acoustic steel sting guitar and soloing clarinet.

Iconoclasts is a singular experimental triumph that takes the listener on an epically diverse sonic journey.

Philip Selway ‘Strange Dance’
(Bella Union) Available Now

At the heart of Philip Selway’s Strange Dance, his third solo album released via Bella Union, is the orchestral piano ballad. It’s how the album begins (“Little Things”) and ends (“There’ll Be Better Days”), and where it returns to throughout (“The Other Side”, “The Heart Of It All”). Yet in between, there is also so much else going on.

Lyrically, the album is profoundly sad, but ends with the trepidatious hope of “There’ll Be Better Days”. There are tidbits of Radiohead’s influence – the occasional Thom Yorke chord progression and Jonny Greenwood string arrangement – but otherwise it stands apart.

Between Marta Salogni’s production and Selway’s vocals, the lush sonic environment is reminiscent of Peter Gabriel in his prime. And Strange Dance does stray from the piano ballad: “Picking Up Pieces” with its driving, 90s feel and “Make It Go Away” with its acoustic guitar and percussion that could be from a 80s Paul Simon record.

Favorites on the album include “What Keeps You Awake At Night”, which includes beautiful Steve Reich-esque glockenspiel, the unorthodox percussion timbres and high, sustained strings of title track “Strange Dance”, and “Salt Air” with its droning synth, distorted vocals, and sparsely swooping orchestral parts.

Throughout the record are the incredible percussion parts of Valentina Magaletti, who played in lieu of Selway as the Radiohead drummer felt he was “not in the right mindset” to contribute drums.

Strange Dance is a thing of luxuriant, sorrowful beauty that further establishes Selway as composer in his own right.

Joining the team earlier this year, Gillian Stone is a multi-instrumentalist and interdisciplinary artist originally from the Pacific Northwest and based in Toronto, Canada. Through her eponymous vocally-driven post-rock/drone folk solo project, she has released two singles, “Bridges” and “Shelf”, and her debut EP, Spirit Photographs. Stone holds a BFA in Jazz Studies from Vancouver Island University and an MA in Ethnomusicology from the University of Toronto. Drawing from her eclectic taste, she has worked with Michael Peter Olsen (Zoon, The Hidden Cameras), Timothy Condon and Brad Davis (Fresh Snow, Picastro), The Fern Tips (Beams) Völur (Blood Ceremony), NEXUS (Steve Reich), and visual artist Althea Thauberger.

New Music on our radar, news and archive spots
Dominic Valvona

A new thread, feed for 2023, the Digest pulls together tracks, videos and snippets of new music plus significant archival material and anniversary celebrating albums or artists. The March edition features new sounds from Lonnie Liston Smith, Saba Alizadeh, Benedict Benjamin, Sebastian Reynolds, Brian Bordello,…plus from the Archives, a tenth anniversary piece on Crime And The City Solution’s 2013 rebirth ‘American Twilight’, and 50th anniversary piece on the Faust Tapes.


Lonnie Liston Smith ‘Cosmic Change’
(Jazz Is Dead)

Smooth soulful vibes, bulb-like notes and cosmic fanning rays from the great jazz-funk doyen Lonnie Liston Smith, who is set to release his first album in 25 years! Thanks to the overseeing facilitators of the enriching Jazz Is Dead label project, Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad have coaxed the legendary artist, ensemble bandleader and sideman for such impressive luminaries as Miles Davis, Pharoah Sanders, Gato Barbieri and Leon Thomas, back into the studio; just one of many great names from the spiritual, conscious and funky-jazz rolls of inspiring talents.

Co-composing and collaborating with their chagrin Younge and Muhammad both work in the old magic with a sense of the new and forward; paying homage yet creating something new, performing the very kinds of influential music that had an impact on those who came later, namely the hip-hop fraternity (Jazzmatazz era Guru and the Digable Planets being just two such notable collaborators and acolytes).

I can’t wait to get a hold of the full deal.

Lonnie Liston Smith JID017 is due out on the 28th April 2023.

Saba Alizadeh ‘Nafir (Clamour)’
(30M Records)

A very special, politically important vivid visual and musical statement from the evocative Iranian artist-composer and reputable virtuoso kamancheh (Iranian spike fiddle) player, Saba Alizadeh, ‘Nafir’ (or “Clamour”) is a metaphorical, symbolic encapsulation on life during the recent uprisings. Set in motion after the callous killing of Mahsa Amini and the strict authoritarian imposition of Islamic law and the violation of women’s right, last year’s protests in Iran were brutally crushed – with a number of executions carried out on the most tenuous of charges. And, if it couldn’t get much worse, there’s been an escalation of mass poisonings in girl’s schools throughout the country. The war in Ukraine, a continued war of words with the West over Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the growing pains of the economy have done all they can to bury the attention, brave opposition and movement for change since the initial spark in July of 2022.

As a reminder to the pain and suffering of that movement, Alizadeh has released this touching and moving video and electroacoustic suite. You can read his statement and press blurb below, which explains the thinking, process behind this incredible track.

“Nafir” is the sound of a million outcries channeled through the ancient string instrument Kamancheh” says composer and musician Saba Alizadeh about his latest single. “It’s the voice of the shed tears and blood”.

His instrument, the Kamancheh is said to be resemble the spectrum of the human voice, and it’s why he used it prominently in this piece as a metaphor for singing, for the gathered voices and cries of the oppressed, fighting against the darkness, the oppressor, here represented by the rhythm section.

Alizadeh explains: “This section is based on the rhythms of T’azie (traditional religious mourning ceremonies during shia commemoration Ashura) but at the same time resembles the sound of explosions (the sound that became the soundtrack of our lives in Iran for the past 5 months) and a respirator machine. It is at the same time a spray paint can that is writing slogans on walls or wiping them out.

At some point in the piece the rhythm section crescendos and tries to distort and destroy the kamancheh melody but it is not able to.”

In the video which is masterfully implemented by visual artist Siavash Naghshbandi, the voice of the Kamancheh and the beam of light interact with each other: the louder the voice of the kamancheh gets the brighter the beam becomes. It battles with the rhythm section and a metaphoric swarm of Kalashnikov bullets (as a universal sign of oppression). The finale gives hope: the cry of the Kamancheh and the warm bright light succeed defeating the bullets, the darkness and oppression.

Benedict Benjamin ‘Furlough Blues’

I’m not sure I could put it better, but the high anxiety of the Covid era is as Benedict Benjamin (formerly of The Mariner’s Children and Peggy Sue) puts it, channeled through a merger of the Byrds, Electrelane and DJ Shadow. Folk bluesy pop meets the psychedelic the roll of breakbeats and even an echo of jazz on a pandemic journal that’s almost wistfully disarming in its vocal delivery.

Featured a while back in Brian Bordello’s column (and making last month’s choice music playlist), Benjamin has now painstakingly produced a video for the song, the first in a series of such visual storytelling accompaniments to songs taken from the upcoming Tunnel album (released in June).  A mix of collage and stop motion, the Furlough Blues video is a visual metaphorical feast of rocketed lighthouses and “evil catholic altars” that blast off towards the moon and fly across various digests, magazine backgrounds, beaming out their light.

Since that video’s official drop last week, Benjamin has released another single ‘White Noise’, which moves the music into another psychedelic folksy indie direction: “Elliott Smith crossed with Serge Gainsbourg” as Benjamin puts it. Have a listen here:

Abel Ray Remixes Sebastian Reynolds ‘Cheptegei’

A simmered techno reverberated dance vision of polymath composer and long-distance runner Sebastian Reynolds’ most recent athletics-euphoric and travailed inspired ‘Cheptegei by Abel Rey, has just been dropped on Youtube. Feel the itching electronic vibes as Rey builds up a sophisticated remix of the homage to the 5000M Ugandan superstar Joshua Kiprui Cheptegei. The original version appeared on Seb’s Athletics EP last May, but there’s news of a new album, Canary, being released this summer.

Lunar Bird ‘Creatures’

I just have room to mention the latest diaphanous dream-pop single and video from those heavenly creatures Lunar Bird. Beach House with a taste of Italy and Cardiff, the brilliant, beautifully captivating group, swayed and floated along by Roberta Musillami‘s charming lush vocals, have been a mainstay of the Monolith Cocktail for a few years now. Once more they beguile and charm, even with the most plaintive and yearning of themes, on this infectiously spellbound new song. You don’t need much more than that…just give it your time and embrace the Lunar Birds magic.


Brian Bordello ‘Songs For Cilla To Sing’
(Think Like A Key Music)

It is telling that Brian Bordello uses the title of a famous and lauded book/movie that depicts the desperation of a diorama of washed-up, failed characters willing to die in the course of winning a dance marathon, and so gaining the attentions of those who might save them from a life of pure poverty (and worst of all, obscurity and irrelevance) in America’s great depression. Horace McCoy ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They’ melodrama, later turned into a film by Sidney Pollock almost forty years later in 1969, reflects the Shea Family patriarch and instigator of the Bordellos and soloist’s own, against all odds, desperations to get noticed; leading to one of the great “what ifs” in rock ‘n’ roll’s annals.

As ridiculous as it may seem on the surface, the lower than lo fi (making Sparklehorse sound like a flash git bombastic ELO in comparison), nee no fi King of the well-worn Tascam four-track and St. Helens idiosyncratic Les Miserable, was only one person away on the Venn diagram of Cilla Black’s orbit. His potential songbook of flange-y distorted (more through low grade recording techniques) and curmudgeon demos did make its way to the, then retired from singing, Liverpool songbird – in the three or four decades before her death more the star of TV presenting and hosting than performer.

We don’t know what the late Cilla made of it; the 80s Merseyside via Manc diy, C86 and Jason Pierce-echoed hushed unrequited and lovesick pop musings of Brian, recorded on the most basic of bog-standard equipment.

And yet, the aphorism, puns, and “desperation” prove melodically heart aching, touching and, above all, truthful. Use your imagination. Replace that guitar with a conducted orchestra, a touch of Abbey Road professionalism, and you can easily hear the one-time hatcheck girl personality turn songstress belt out some of these lamentable odes. Especially such fair as the shabby rain-washed ‘Betrayal’ and the vibraphone-like chimed ‘Impossible’. Saying that, the creepier, wallowed and spanked ‘Not Such A Bad Girl’ could easily be a nun-habit frocked Marianne Faithful number, and the lo fi breezy, almost continental bastardised, Paris meets Entertaining Mr. Sloan, ‘Handsome Jacques’ isn’t a million miles away from any Gauloise-fawned chanteuses of the 60s Belle Époque era.  

Of course for me, as Brian’s editor at the Monolith Cocktail (our Brian has now been furnishing us with his reviews for the last four years or more) but also as a fan and obvious insider, I know and hear his passion for the spirit of a purer, more personality driven rock ‘n’ roll, and for the pop symphonies, ballads of such starlets and characters as Cilla and her generation. A nostalgia perhaps for simpler times, but also for a time when there was such a thing as the working classes getting on in the music and arts industries. That despite living it rough with a bog in the brick outhouse, no central heating and the fact you had to entertain yourself in those days, the greatest changes, such icons could reign.

And so this songbook is as much about the past as it is in catapulting another working class talent onto a bigger stage: hopefully through such patronesses as Cilla. That wasn’t to be of course, and so Brian continues to drag his arse up the coalface of obscurity each week. Saying that, as part of the American label Think Like A Key Music’s diy series, this album has had a small flourish of popularity, even making some lo fi amazon chart the other week. For a Collection of Cilla demos – some since released and transformed on other Bordellos releases – lost down the back of a proverbial sofa, it’s done quite well. If imagining Brian Epstein inviting Ian McCulloch to front The Tremolos, or The Red Crayola, Spaceman 3 and a budget Inspiral Carpets time-travelled back to 1962 sounds like one incredible proposition, then this songbook is for you. Unguarded, heart-on-the-sleeve honesty, pity and yet always with a wry sense of humour, Brian has conjured up a brilliant album: possibly despite himself. A national destitution, his name should join the pantheon of such notable mavericks as Stevie R. Moore, Roky Erickson and Saint Julian of Cope.    


Crime And The City Solution ‘American Twilght’
(Mute Records) 2013

The second/third/fourth rebirth, incarnation of the iconic cult Crime And The City Solution was launched in 2013 with, perhaps, one of the ensemble’s best albums yet: American Twilight. Ten years on and my original review, written for the Welsh-international indie webzine God Is In The TV, still stands.

Re-born, so to speak, after a twenty-year hiatus, the poetically forlorn Antipodes Crime & The City Solution have returned to document the miasma landscape of our troubled times.

Breathing in the toxic fumes of mass-unemployment, foreclosures and desperation, their re-location to what was once the industrial hub of America, Detroit, seems entirely apt. Home to the furious garage rock and political spit of the MC5 and Stooges (to name just two big guns from the motor city’s heritage) Detroit imbues its latest émigrés with a wealth of material to chew on.

The four horseman of impending doom have tested the waters lately, their scout parties observed on the horizon by the band, who announce to anyone that listens: “Here comes the rain!”  Though there is, thankfully, always a chance of redemption: “We must not let the doomsayers and the naysayers cause us to lose our faith. Because without love and without hope there can be no future.”

Morosely inquisitive, our ‘shined-on’ vessels wrestle with compassionate displays of belief and optimism in a very bleak world. Hardly strangers to the darker and seedier side of the boardwalk, the group’s numerous twists and turns since their birth in the late 70s, has seen them burn up the punk/post-punk scenes of Sydney and Melbourne; relocate to London at the invitation of Bad Seed, Mick Harvey; and end-up gaunt and morbid, residing in Wim Wender’s black and white ‘Wings Of Desire’ Berlin: their most productive but fabled swan song.

At one time or another their ranks have included members from The Birthday PartyNick Cave & The Bad SeedsEinstürzende Neubauten and DAF. Now in the lord’s year of 2013, core founder Simon Bonney and ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’s’ Alexander Hacke and Bronwyn Adams are joined in their quest by visual artists Danielle de Picciotto, drummer Jim White (Dirty ThreeCat Power), guitarist David Eugene Edwards (16 HorsepowerWovenhand), bassist Troy Gregory (Witches) and Moog, keyboard operator Matthew Smith (Outrageous CherryVolebeats).

Mob-handed their wide-screen panoramic sound seems more spiritual and relenting, though still informed by that Gothic, almost Lynchian, twang: amplified through the country blues and Americana that’s absorbed by the group on this American Twilight odyssey.

Released as a teaser a few months back, the beatific, choral backed, ‘My Love Takes Me There’ exudes a haloed magnificence, yet equally darkened with distorted guitars and plaintive vocals that hail back to the bands earlier brooding soliloquies. A mature romantic nature is also found on the leading single, ‘Goddess’, an Apache toms-beaten power paean to a mythologized beauty: perhaps the bands most commercial anthem yet, though still permeated by those esoteric layers of lapsed Catholicism and scuzzy strident rock.

Meanwhile ‘The Colonel (Doesn’t Call Anymore)’ is a chilled reading from the scriptures, complete with a teetering Tower of Babel and ravaged roaming wolves, Bonny comes on like a mix of Scott Walker and a jaded Bob Dylan. And the ‘Domina’ is a gospel swaying, minor lament, heavenly remorseful and waning.

Looking for inspiration, whether it’s in the atavistic spiritualism of ghosts of the desert or in the sepulchre of organised religion, Bonney and his pilgrims move towards the light on their expansive return to form.

Faust ‘Faust Tapes’
(Virgin) 1973

50 this year, the second Faust album release of 1973 was a publicity stunt of subterfuge on the general public. With a ridiculously silly throw-away price tag, the Virgin label had a massive loss-making exercise in stupidity on their hands with the launch of their German malcontent signings. Now iconic, a cultish collage of propagandist machine music, industrial snores, the avant-garde, and krautrock break-outs of performed scraps, the Faust Tape may have sold over 50,000 copies in the scramble for a good deal, but it did little to help the fortunes of the band. Here then is my original lengthy essay on that story and album, taken from my night 20 year-old kruatrock odyssey series.

Virgin records began life in 1972, the brainchild of Richard Branson, Nik Powell and Simon Dapper, the story of which began with a shop in Notting Hill gate and a backroom mail order business known as Virgin Records and Tapes. The company name reflected their in-experience and self-confessed, but enthusiastic, naivety towards business. Starting out at first to sell other labels material and to unearth those hard to get underground releases, these three rather green long-haired upstarts, quickly transgressed to setting up a label of their own within a year of starting. Specialising in import records, Virgin relied upon a dedicated customer base of like-minded heads, who would inform them of what was currently worth checking out. This included turning the trio of entrepreneurs onto the burgeoning Krautrock scene of the late 60’s and early 70’s.

Requests began to roll in for obscure German bands, so many in fact, that Drapper contacted the infamous Ohr label, putting in an order for the more hip-happening groups of the moment. Soon a rich bundle of over thirty titles arrived on Drapper’s desk, comprising mostly of ‘Utter rubbish’ – Drapper’s words – and a few highlights, such as Tangerine Dream and Faust. But by this time, Virgin had already made an early play for the proto-spiritual ambient pioneer Mike Oldfield, whose Tubular Bells opus would become the first official release on the label. Overtures then, were made to both the Tangerine Dream and Faust, who it seemed were just about to drop ship from their current paymasters Polydor.

Uwe Nettlebeck and his band of crazed, freewheeling insurgents had finally over-stayed their welcome with that major label, testing the patience of the boardroom just a little too far. Faust’s last album, So Far, failed to toe the party line as more commercially viable big-seller. Continuing instead to follow there own agenda, the band hurried along an uncompromising avant-garde pathway of revolutionary deconstructive music. A move that drew much celebrated reactionary pats on the back, but did little to shift copies of their albums. Cast adrift, Faust now welcomed the attention of Virgin, deciding to sign a deal, though Uwe had no intention of making life easy for them, insisting that the first release must be sold for free to the public.

Uwe then handed over a collection of cutting room floor ideas and musical experiment excerpts, left over from the previous album recording sessions, giving the content away to Virgin for a nominal fee: zero in other words. This set of 26 unique snippets, sound collages and cutaways, would be bundled together and be titled “The Faust Tapes”, and end up being priced at the reduced token rate of 49p – at the time the price of a single – to cover expenses. Virgin to this day insists they never lost any money on the deal.

From the mere glancing explorations in piano, drums and voices to encouraging moments of startling produced promising songs, chaos reigns down, with pitched intergalactic warfare breaking out amongst the spillage from some industrial accident, to make this bundle of tracks far from boring or uninspired. God only knows what the public would make of this LP, with its Bridget Riley Op-Art black and white cover and reputation scaremongering press clippings on the back, to the missing track list and controversial price tag.

Well, the first week of release alone they shifted 50,000 copies, doubling sales not soon after and putting the band in the charts – for the first and only time – at number 12, though they would be removed on the grounds of the cover price. The heads and public seemed to go into a sort of feeding frenzy, buying into this relatively unheard of act from the fatherland, as if it was a competition. A large number of people hated the record, once they actually got it home, and as a consequence the follow up record, released at the end of the year, Faust IV, sold quite poorly in comparison. Branson, carried away in the initial overnight success, was convinced that they’d created a new ingenuous business model with which to break new bands – he would quite quickly rethink that strategy.

The Faust Tapes were an enigma, with small mystifying scraps of info and those untitled vignettes; the album became something of a cult. John Peel added to the aloof campaign that went with the record, by announcing a list of mock titles for the as yet unnamed tracks, stirring up the listeners in anticipation to quickly grab a pen as he would only read them out once. As it turned out, old Peely was in on the act, swindling many fans including Julian Cope with a disdained gesture of ridicule.

Virgin decided to back up the over-whelming success of the 1973 album by bringing the guys over for their first ever UK tour.
Fair enough you might think, only Uwe and co. had other plans; like throwing some turbulent spanners into the faces of the label.
The band’s Hans-Joachim Irmler and Rudolf Sosna refused point blank to embark on the tour, unless a ridiculous advance sum of £500,000 was paid – half exuberant and half antagonistic, fully encouraged by Uwe. A now apparent rift formed within the ranks, leading to Werner Diermaier, Jean- Hearvé Péron and Gunter Wüsthoff and a hastily recruited Peter Blegvad of Slapp Happy infamy, to fulfil the live dates. In true rebellious style, Uwe conceived a sort of auto-destructive performance with pneumatic drills, TVs and a cement mixer acting as props, waiting to be interacted with or smashed to smithereens: If anyone in the band got bored by all this reactionary antagonism, they could take a rest and play on the handy pinball machine, which would also deck the stage. All of this was of course meant to test the audience’s patience, on top of the proceeding ear splitting, innards dislodging hailstorm of sound that would leave them feeling sick.

Borrowing a PA from none other then the world’s one time loudest band The Who, Faust upped the ante and went one louder, channelling the most insane industrial gut wrenching music through their engineer, Kurt Graupner’s satanic black box of tricks, whilst chewing up the stage with the many building site strewn tools. This resulted in an often gob-smacked audience reacting in disbelief at the musical equivalent of having a bucket of pig shit poured over their heads. Even Blegvad remarked that it was the worst music he’d ever heard, and that it induced countless bouts of nose bleeding, leaving him with feelings of misery and nausea – and that’s one of their friends and band mates He went on to describe witnessing one over-enthusiastic young man headbutting the stage floor in unison to the bass drums incessant pounding, the resulting streaming blood worn like a badge of honour.
Despite all this, their fans were quite forgiving and sympathetic to the cause, even happily lapping up the handed out manifestos of intent, though usually in that typical pleasant English manner of ours, which never really leads to acting on our convictions.

After the uproarious set of concerts, Faust were scheduled to record their fourth album; Virgin insisting on them recording in England at their very own choice studio, the famous Manor House in Oxfordshire. Uwe objected at first but backed down, his band of misfits agreeing under a certain duress. Irmler and Sosna must have agreed to set aside their demands, as they both appear on the record. Faust IV would be their third album proper and cause many upsets, tantrums and even lead to arrests – don’t worry I’m saving this till the next chapter for you.

The Faust Tapes finally gained a track list when transferred to CD, which basically rectifies to a certain extent, what is actually taking place on each piece of sound or music. Some tracks have French or German titles, such as ‘J’ai Mal Aux Dents’, which translates as “I have toothache”, or ‘Der Baum’, which means “the tree”. Most remain untitled still or are referred to as exercises with maybe a bracketed explanation for a guide.


Out of the eerie discourse of enigmatic sounding disturbances, fades into view a rumbling low bass and ivory tinkling cramped run down, as various sets of hands feel up the grand piano for a thrill. The rumble turns into a drone over this short rift, like a squadron of B52s flying overhead on their way to some unfortunate target. Our first exercise is over in under a minute, interrupted by the next, a call and response loop that features some garbled compressed drums and saxophone gargles. Sharp intersected snippets of screeching car brakes are dispersed throughout the track, as someone blares out an illegible cuckoo taunt in a fraught hysteria fashion.

‘Flashback Caruso’ gently flows in with some embracing wistful acoustic guitar picking and delicate artful strumming, in the manner of an English psychedelic folk number, with wry token impressions of a Germanic Syd Barrett, who sings of marshmallow sandwiches and Lewis Carroll garden parties. A leftover from the late 60’s, this delightful foray even has the vocals bounce from speaker to speaker, as gentle waves of beautiful percussion and piano head towards la la land – the first highlight of the album.

Next up, a return to the exercise labelling with an otherworldly effects driven voices segue way. Elephant like trumpeting and disturbed bellowing is dripped in reverb, delay and echo to create an unsightly incident in the middle of a Marrakech bazaar, before swiftly leaving the scene and stumbling into the next track. ‘J’ai Mal Aux Dents’ shambles in, falling over a mix of proto-punk and staccato Stooges, conducted by a jittery guitar, its erratic rhythmic workout attacked by various thrown in sound effects and a rather obtuse saxophone. Disregard for conventional grooving gets under way as the song moves into uncharted territory, though it awkwardly has all the appearance of Them’s ‘Gloria’ being played by Devo or Dr. Feelgood met with a torrent of situationist sloganeering.

Moving on, we eavesdrop onto an atmospheric recording of the band going about their daily routine washing up, stacking bottles, listening to the radio and continuously stomping up and down a never-ending flight of wooden stairs. An answer machine unravels its un-translated message, which could imply something serious or banal. Funky zip zapping break beat drumming announces the intro of ‘Arnulf and Zappi on drums’, an explosion of Silver Apples, UFO’s and hurried phasered sounds that interject over the glorious rhythms. Péron knocks up a soul shaking krautrock bass riff to get this party truly off the ground.

‘Dr. Schwitters’ whips up a mesmerising diagnosis of baroque electro synths, holy sounding melodies and futuristic brain food on this far too short and promising exquisite burst of ethereal bewitchment. The good doctor of the title certainly knows his pills, liberally dishing out some kaleidoscope inducing mind benders for this track. Soon we are thrust into the melancholy, as the next vignette has dark moody shifting mangled soundscapes to chew on; ones that suffocate the listener in their grip. A further couple of excerpts also stray towards the shadows, comprising of short uncomfortable bursts of Trappist monks solemnly groaning or delayed soaked chainsaws from space, cutting through an incessant tribal esoteric led drum barrage. All the while choral accompaniments float in the background, sending the willies right up you with their stirring macabre spooky wallowing.
Our good doctor returns to duty with another charmed moment of grooving, though it doesn’t have any of the same identifying themes of its counterpart, this quick shot of falling apart drums and whirling dreamy organs sure taste good though.
Side one finishes on a de-tuned untitled cacophony of cosmic slop, as chaotic forward rolling drums and alarming synthesizer currents of sparks bash away together in the primordial soup.

Side two opens with more untitled bouts of fun and trickery, as phasers, delay and echo conjugate round a shifting space age theme, before jumping head long into a menagerie of saxophones squeaking away in confused unison. These haunting animalistic sirens of sax sound like Sun Ra on a real downer, as they wallow away like a herd of brass wildebeest drifting across the Serengeti in pained expressions of woe. Storms now gather overhead on our next stop, with curious metallic sounding strings wrestled through a speed shifter grinder and taken on some oriental styled esoteric nightmare. A last departing gesture of Gothic evoking piano leaves its mark on this occult oddball.

Those low humming aeroplane drones are back on Sosna’s little suite of keyboard and guitar excursions; he is given a trio of tracks to bewilder the listener with. Firstly he builds up a Dune evocative sweeping veranda of humming bass and oscillating spirits, then lets loose on a promising piano score, played with alluring and poised composure, before ending on drip-dropping dabs of ghostly cosmic effects. These droplets work towards a rhythm and are accompanied by more over-head bombing raids and reverberating nonsense.

An old world calls from the mists on the following bundle of non-titled tracks, as an atmospheric caustic blowing soundscape is built up for a wandering set of drums and unobtrusive xylophone. This is dragged into an attention-starved moment of up-tempo tumbling rhythms, menaced with an onset of gongs, drills, rattles, scaffold tubes, which are processed through heavy reverb.
Then a twitchy guitar is let loose, pinging around and fiddling while the background burns away. Some light percussion and piano quietly go about their business, neither adding nor taking anything away from this aimless ditty.

We’re now into the final few furlongs, which are all more conventionally song based, though that’s a slight misleading description, as they’re anything but conventional. ‘Stretch Out Time’ starts with jangled guitars, bass and tambourine and Zappi’s cardboard box/tin pots sounding drum kit. The vocals ape the title and offer such poignant romantic reflections as:

‘Stretch out time, dive into my mind and sign,
Get answer and hold dime,
But not into the coco smile.
Love is really so,
Love is really true.’

Faust attempt to be loved by the listener!

Der Baum’ is a lo-fi affair, which constantly stop/starts over its duration. Tight delay on the drums and emphasised cymbal shimmers, go all proto ‘Jennifer’ on this warmly felt ode. A descriptive analogy to the environment is used to express some memories of a failed love affair:

‘See her sitting on her chair,
When she stops kissing I know she won’t care.
He opened the door, turned on the light,
And it hurt my eyes.’

They continue with a final regretful, but touching verse of:

‘Feeling like a tree today,
And it’s a nice feeling, yeah.
The wind has come now,
So the leaves, they’re gone,
Because the wind has come.
See her lying in her bed,
Must be a nice feeling for her head.’

The final song ‘Chère Chambre’ translates as “dear room”, though the colourful narrated French/German prose gives few clues as to whether the vocalist is spewing forth his thoughts from a lonely room, dictating an abundance of ideas to his secretly or reading aloud from a Dear John letter. Thankfully I found a transcribed translation that seems to describe a free-flowing uninterrupted spewing of motorway journeys, emotional wellbeing, questions and state of mind, all told in a story telling like rendition.
A twee folksy guitar plays all the way through in an affable manner, whilst the narrator switches languages and continues to eloquently lay down genial tones.

The Faust Tapes act as a jump-off point for the next album. With startling insights and textural ideas it draws obvious comparisons to CAN’s Limited Edition LP, which likewise dips into the psyche of the band, digging up promising snatches of pure gold. It differs however from the Faust studio albums, which tend to follow a particular theme through to a conclusion, whereas this album hops quite erratically from one idea to the next. Generally an impressive futuristic and de-constructive collection of tracks, with touches of pulchritude and effulgent wonder that further enhances the reputation of Faust as trailblazing counter culture visionary misfits.


Ye Gods….the jazz messenger, doyen of melodious free jazz and teacher of the ways, Wayne Shorter has sadly passed away. Blue Note deity, still making it, still pushing at the envelope and still relevant even in his 80s, saxophonist/clarinetist/composer Shorter leaves behind one of the most accomplished and enviable catalogues in the jazz cannon. Where do you start? Art Blakey. Miles Davis. Weather Report. Herbie Hancock. Gil Evans. The Power Of Three. Esperanza Spalding. The list goes on and on, and across so many eclectic planes; electronica to opera. And so here is just a smattering:

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.

By Monica Mazzoli

IMAGE: Bondo at Rick’s Drive In & Out, vicino al Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles

Continuing our successful collaboration with the leading Italian music publication Kalporz , the Monolith Cocktail shares reviews, interviews and other bits from our respective sites each month. Keep an eye out for future ‘synergy’ between our two great houses as we exchange posts during 2022 and beyond. This month, and featured in review on these very pages, Monica Mazzoli’s interview with the slowcore band Bondo.

Music often speaks in images. Los Angeles-based Bondo, first with the self-produced debut EP 77 (released in 2021) and then with the album Print Selections (released on February 24 by Florentine Therefore Records ), have succeeded with their imaginative slowcore in designing grainy sound scenarios, sandy: emotions, memories and thoughts become impressionist flashbacks shot in slow motion. A sound, that of the quartet, wavering, fluctuating which finds its emotional climax in minimalism: going beyond rock to embrace atmospheric music, an expression of the sound ideas that go round in the heads of the four members of the band.

We talked to the Bondos about their sound poetics, the group’s approach to composition and many other aspects that intrigued us:

Talking about the name of the band, the word Bondo has many meanings but it can be used to mean the people who live in the hilly regions of the Malkangiri district in southwest Odisha, India. Do you feel like an artistic unit isolated from the rest? What does the word Bondo mean to you?

Bondo in the United States is a product for repairing holes in cars, walls, metal, wood, etc. It is a chemical compound that hardens in 15 minutes and can be sanded. It is quite smelly and sticky, but very useful for its many uses.

The versatile nature of the bondo was part of the reason we thought it was a good name for our music. It is an “adhesive” paste, so it takes the shape you want and once it hardens, it keeps that shape permanently.

The choice of two songs like Egoizing and New Brain as singles doesn’t seem random to me. In my opinion, they represent the creative soul of the disc: the desire not to let the individual self and the mind of the single member prevail within a circle of people (as happens in the Egoizing video).

Sure. The lyrical content scattered throughout the two pieces is all connected by the theme of the dissolution of the individual self. As a band we are focused on collective expression: there is a happy chemistry that takes place within the group dynamics, and we do our best to allow all our different individual opinions to naturally come to a compromise on something again. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” or something like that.

The black and white covers of your EP and album are an interesting narrative choice. Is it wanted?

Aesthetically we always thought the music looked a lot like a Xerox printer, or the grainy scans you get in the library using older machines. I think these black and white photos also leave room for the music to speak for itself: when we make this music, we are completely focused on how it sounds in that moment and not how it will present.

As for the “Print Selections” cover, I enjoyed using Google Images to track down the source of the image. I didn’t succeed, but the results made me think. Among the corresponding images appear: “Alien antennas in the abyss”, “Ufiti, the ghost of Nkata bay”, “Twinkle of the sun”, and photographs of the sea by Mario Giacomelli. From a mysterious detail, the perspectives can be multiple. One can see many things in that piece of photo. I think this is an interesting fact, right?

The intention behind the cover image is for it to be very abstract and have a sort of Rorschach test feel. People tend to see different things but the image evokes something subtle on an emotional level. Something like music. 

Many of the reference images for the album were black and white scans of UFO books, film photos with lots of light leaks, etc. All evoke similar feelings to what we experienced with music.

The image actually depicts light reflecting off water. We found it very fitting – some very simple things interact in a unique way that is momentarily appealing.

You have been compared to Acetone, and they are probably among the groups that inspired you, but what struck me in Bondo’s music, right from listening to the first EP, was the undulating development of the songs, as if the music were a wave to surf. There is a lot of emphasis on creating sonic atmosphere. The song that best represents this idea is “Pipecleaner”. I think it’s a distinctive trait of your music. What do you think?

I have a lot of respect for Acetones. To me they exemplify the ideal of a true band. Their piece Germs is perhaps the most successful piece ever written and performed. It evokes such a powerful feeling, such a unique and beautiful thing that only those three band members could achieve.

The sound atmosphere is very important to us. Our music (and maybe all music, you can say) has to do with creating an atmosphere, with feelings more than anything else. Feeling is such a subtle thing and to animate the different aspects of feeling one must be both intentional and flexible. That’s all we try to do when we make music, get closer to those sensations and sounds that we imagine in our head.

There are songs like “Container” and “Lo Tek” which, due to their short duration, seem like impressionist paintings: sound brushstrokes in freedom. I am wrong?

I think you are right. Little states of mind, little things that pass and give the sensation of movement without over stimulating.

I find the album title “Print Selections” to be appropriate: I see the songs as sound images printed on the vinyl record. I don’t know if my interpretation is correct.

Well said, I’d say I agree. The name comes from the mixing: our engineer Andrew Oswald sent us the final mixed files, some of which were sent to tape a couple of times and then digitalised again. One folder was titled Print Selections. It seemed to fit the songs well.

Special thanks to Quindi Records

(Monica Mazzoli)

Graham Domain’s Reviews Roundup


dEUS ‘How to Replace It’
(PIAS Recordings) Available Now

After a ten-year hiatus Belgian art-rockers dEUS return with a new album. The title track, ‘How to Replace It’, opens with de-tuned kettle drums pounding out a strange rhythm sounding like music from 60’s TV series The Prisoner, while singer Tom Barman talk-sings through a strange tale of ‘not knowing what you have until it’s gone’ ending in a cacophony of guitar, brass, piano, drums, spoons and a triangle! Possibly the most interesting track on the album.

‘Must Have Been New’ follows, sounding like Counting Crows crossed with The House of Love on a pleasant blues based melodic guitar song that sounds like something from the early 1990’s!

The artsy ‘Man of the House’ begins sounding like Genesis at their most pomp before a cut-up woman’s voice leads into a heavy synth driven Apollo 440 style tune that slowly regresses into cartoon heavy rock!

Next song ‘1989’ begins sounding like Robbie Robertson fronting Haircut 100 before morphing into 1980’s Phil Collins soft rock!

An intense break-up resulted in the song ‘Love Breaks Down’ says the record publicity, however the lyrics… “When love breaks down… it fades away” is as insightful as it gets on this insipid ballad!

If you like dEUS you may like this record. Use your own ears – don’t let anyone tell you what to like!

The Slow Readers Club ‘Knowledge Freedom Power’
(Velveteen) Available Now

The fifth (official) album by Manchester band The Slow Readers Club comes across like a live album such is the energy captured in the recording. First track ‘Modernise’ is perhaps the most powerful, if least representative, song on the album. With its Chemical Brothers rave intro and pounding rhythm it also has the most individual sounding vocal on the album, a bit PIL like! It’s a song created to be exciting live and it serves that purpose well!

‘Afterlife’ has echoes of both Interpol and Snow Patrol with its tale of misunderstandings and compromise amid a tempestuous love affair! The singer pleading “…Why don’t you just listen… hope’s gone missing…”

‘Lay Your Troubles on Me’ meanwhile, has an anthemic potency with the words destined to be sang back at the band by festival crowds! ‘What Might Have Been’ is reminiscent of The Smiths with its Morrissey-like vocal climbs into falsetto and Marr-like guitar! A simple but effective song! ‘Knowledge Freedom Power’ meanwhile sounds like it should be a single with its driving beat and catchy chorus giving it a fair clout of anthemic power!

‘Seconds Out’ looks at the ever-present threat of war between the major powers in these precarious times of madmen leaders and dictators… with the lyrics “…come join the tribal dance, we’ve got a war to plan…” and the refrain of “close your eyes and wish it all away.” It’s a powerful song of futility in the face of global politics!

‘Forget About Me’ has echoes of both the Scars and Failsworth band, Puressence, with Aaron Starkie’s vocals climbing high in register at the end of the song! Final track ‘No You Never’ reminds me of early Interpol with its descending guitar histrionics and doomy tale of monotony and thwarted plans amid the constant barrage of life. A great album of powerful anthemic songs and possibly their most consistent effort to date.

Tomo-Nakaguchi ‘The Long Night in Winter Light’
(Audiobulb Records) 11th March 2023

This is a beautiful album of ten spellbinding pieces of ambient music by Japanese musician and sound artist Tomo-Nakaguchi.

The music is composed of strings, piano, keyboards and guitar together with various other instruments. Each piece creates the right atmosphere and music that fits perfectly with each title. Thus, ‘Morning View of the Iceberg’ features icy string drones that conjure up scenes of ice and snow: A frozen landscape. ‘Twilight Glow of the Sky’ is all twinkling pianos and beautiful Night-Sky Strings.

Meanwhile, ‘Snow Covered Pastel Town’ is a beautiful piece composed of strings, backward chords, and glistening frost piano. It conjures up the silence and beauty after a snowfall overnight, before the town awakens, when all is still and silent.

This is a beautiful album where each piece conjures-up a different vision of winter – the wonder of nature surviving and flourishing as the seasons change! As the composer himself says, the music reflects the beauty of nature – frost glistening on grass – a field of snow lit by moonlight – the night sky filled with stars! Like a ray of light, a ray of hope, this is beauty that shines through the darkest of times!

Salem Trials ‘What Myth Are We Living’
(Metal Postcard) Available Now

Crawling along dark streets, shadows loom in every doorway, footsteps echo in the night silence. Cold sweat trickling down spine, dark rumblings from a dirty basement, shadows dancing on the barred windows. Fish bones in a mouth. Coughing up blood and the smell of urine. Decay and aftershave. Cracked voice and beer-stained floor. Each step shoes stick. Black trail like slime from a snail. A coffin landfill club of noise and danger! The night ignites with saw-like melodies and cavernous hypnotic rhythms kicking against the pricks! Smoke and dark truths bounce off the walls shaking flesh and brick, glass and bone. Inspiration as sonic affray, until the last notes flare into a howl of darkness. A murder of youth collapse through doors and out along streets. City centre lights, a loneliness of drinkers cast adrift, flowing like a cut artery in a thrombosis of social isolation. Music smashed against walls! Exciting! Unbreakable!

The WAEVE ‘Self-titled Debut Album’
(Transgressive) Available Now

The WAEVE are a new band formed by Blur’s Graham Coxon (vocals/sax/guitar/medieval lute) and The PipettesRose Elinor Dougall (singer/songwriter/piano/ARP 2000 Synth).

The album starts with an echoing drum rhythm similar to the Chariots of Fire theme and proceeds into ‘Can I Call You’, a country-tinged piano ballad sung by Rose, before exploding into a sax driven punk energised finale with both vocalists singing together!

‘Kill Me Again’ is sung by each singer on alternate verses and together on the chorus. The song uses imagery from nature such as ‘the silver moon’ and ‘ecstatic magic night’ to convey atmosphere and a sense of mystery. If not already, this would make a great single!

‘Over and Over’ is one of the best songs on the album with Graham sounding like Damon Albarn to Rose’s Nancy Sinatra! The melody is somewhat reminiscent of Blur’s ‘The Universal’ with echoes of the Beatles ‘Across the Universe’. Still, it’s a great song!

‘Drowning’ meanwhile comes over like a children’s night-terror with its xylophonic intro and strange jazz shift-shaping vocal from Rose. “The city screams from every view” she sings as the orchestra descends into madness! The Bond theme ending has Graham singing “hold onto me as the waters rise” as the music crashes in waves, flooding to a climax!

‘All Along’ begins by sounding like olde-worlde folk with its use of medieval lute, before a deep synth adds a touch of danger and strangeness and girl harmonies give it a dream-like quality. An intriguing song and one that stands up well to repeat listens.

‘Undine’ begins with soft rhythmic percussion and piano on a beautiful song sung by Rose that slowly builds with a pulse of programmed synth before the vocals are taken over by ‘Crooner’ Coxon amid pulsating synths, sky scraper guitar and string ensemble sadness!

‘Alone and Free’ sounds like the Theme from Father Ted with its ragged guitar tune accompanied by gloomy organ before spiraling off into Tindersticks territory of sad strings and vocal harmonic choir!

The album ends with ‘You’re All I Want to Know’ a kind of easy listening Bacharach-type song and one of the best on the album… “Living in a summer dream, didn’t know how much you’d mean to me”…

The interaction and balance between the two voices is perfect with each singer excelling in their introversion and reserve! The band do have their own sound – a strange mix of folk-rock, punk, no wave, psych and easy listening! A truly great album that deserves a wide audience! Give it a listen – you may be surprised!

FFO: Cats Eye, Broadcast, Vanishing Point.


Pamplemousse ‘I’m Not Dietsch’
(A Tant Rever du Roi Records) Available Now – Album March 17th 2023

Taken from the forthcoming album Think of It, the new single by Pamplemousse is a cauldron of seething energy anchored to a metallic groove with punk attitude! Destined to be a floor filler for intoxicated rowdy youth in late night Indie bars everywhere!

Dominic Valvona

Ali Farka Touré ‘Voyageur’
(World Circuit) 3rd March 2023

With a name woven into the very fabric and soil of Mali, no one performer can claim to represent such a multifaceted culture and land quite like the venerated Ali Farka Touré. That rightly celebrated titan was able to channel the various traditions of a people as diverse as the Songhaï – the ancestors of a predominantly Muslim community that once dominated the Western Sahara in the 15th and 16th centuries – and the Bozo fishing communities of the Niger River. In between that, absorbed into his burgeoning craft, Ali’s many job roles – from subsistence farming on the family land to mechanic, taxi driver and ambulance driver – brought him into contact with the pastoralist Fula and endeared him to the wonderful pentatonic harp and female voiced music of the Wassoulou region – an historical and cultural area without defined borders that on a modern map amorphously spreads out into Mali, the Ivory Coast and Guinea.

Many of which, especially the Wassoulou sound, can rightly lay claim to giving birth to our Westernised form of blues music. But don’t ever dare utter its name, as Ali, when later exposed to and picked up by audiences in Europe and the States, was saddled with that “blues” tag. He would famously dismiss such comparisons, favouring the term “local” music instead. It’s an important distinction in understanding his music. With no real equivalence in the West, the music press and media were still quick to label it so. It must be said that after first encountering a six-string acoustic guitar after seeing a 1956 ballet performance in Guinea, Ali would be inspired to tune into the radio waves emanating from across the ocean, especially the burgeoning blues sounds of Albert King and John Lee Hooker – the artist who, if any, can be said to have come closest to Ali’s sound. But soul and R&B also played their parts, with a liking for James Brown and Otis Redding. What Ali played was authentic music, the roots of which were taken with the enslaved unfortunate souls across the Atlantic.

Born himself in the central Mali town of Niafunké, close to the region of Timbuktu and the lifeline of the River Niger, Ali’s initial one-string apprenticeship flowered into a sound few have equaled since. As ever a deft, skilled expressive storyteller on the six-string as he was on the traditional thumbed and nimbly picked instruments of his homeland, the rural star’s fortunes and access to the music industry changed when he took on a job as a recording engineer for Radio Mali in the 1970s. He would record a septet of influential albums during that period for the Paris label Son Afric. Enter the label behind this, and previous, Ali Farka Touré showcases, the 80s formed World Circuit, whose instigator Anne Hunt made a journey to Mali to find Ali – now semi-retired – in the hope of signing him up. Hunt was successful in facilitating the concerts in London that would lead, in part, to a rush of adulation and several world tours. As the momentum grew giddy, with an abundance of Western artists lining up to collaborate, Ali recorded a run of impressive influential albums with such notable icons as Ry Cooder – they would team up for the World Circuit released Grammy Award (one of many) winning Talking Timbuktu LP. But despite the creative successes something didn’t feel right spiritually, the pull of his homeland just too deep. And so, Ali would return home to his birthplace, but maintain a recording schedule with the release of both the village inspired Niafunké and the Savane (released posthumously) albums. His collaborations would continue too, with an impressive doublet of Grammy winners with the kora maestro Toumani Diabate.

Photo credit: Henriette Kuypers

This latest project, produced by the label’s Nick Gold who spent time with the late Ali (his brilliant accompanying notes are full of vivid anecdotes and adventures spent with the Mali icon) and his scion, the equally gifted virtuoso Vieux Farka Touré (who I’m lucky enough to have seen live, and not blowing one’s own trumpet, has one of my lines, soundbites, used in his Wikipedia entry), is the first album of ‘unheard’ material from the legend since his 2010 posthumously released partnership with Diabate – released four years after his death from cancer in 2006. Voyageur is a welcoming addition to the catalogue, an incredible nomadic traverse of songs that capture Mali’s diversity and rich musical heritage; especially with his celebrated guests opening the sound up, travelling even further afield to those bordering regions that meet Mali.

Ali’s earthy timbre and twined, trilled, and constantly turning over guitar parts find a congruous union with the ngoni plucks of his guests Bassekou Kouyate (another leading light of the Mali scene) and Mama Sissoko, the R&B and soulful sax melodies and phrases of one-time James Brown sideman Pee Wee Elis and the majestic, carrying vocals of ‘The songbird of Wassoulou’ Oumou Sangaré.

Coalesced from a trio of recording opportunities (a 1995 session at Elephant Studios in London, a ‘91 session at Berry Street Studios, also in London, and captured recordings from the Hotel Mande in the Mali capital of Bamako in 2004) over a fifteen year span, the nine songs on this collection show a relaxed performer; the spiritual doyen of that often-used “desert blues” appellation almost effortlessly switching from flange fanning electric to spindled and rustic acoustic as he plucks out expressive paeans and yearns. Comparable acoustic and electric versions of the earnest Fula praised ode to ‘Sambadio’, the legendary fearless farmer, cultivator of the land, prove shining examples of this switch. The stripped-back campfire version heads down the rural, mosey route with a country hushed hoof-like rhythm, tool tilling sounds and a roots-based feel of Malian blues – even if we’re not supposed to use that term. Its electrifying companion is a merger of reedy tooted, pined, soulful highlife, Marvin Gaye and picked out guitar fanning.

But the album opens by administering the right kind of medicine with the Songhaï driven, stick rattling and fluty (courtesy of the Niger Fula flute player Yacouba Moumouni) swirls and undulations of the forthright vocalized ‘Safari’. The ‘medicine’ is this case refers to the guidance in bringing someone back to their senses. Ali sings that he has the medicine to cure ‘baliky lalo’ – “old men whose behavior is contrary to our customs and morals.” The song reminded me in part of fellow Malian guitar star Samba Touré. Later, and in a similar vein, the song of praise to the Bozo fishing elite who’ve mastered the water spirits, ‘Kombo Galia’, amps up that fuzzed electrified buzz with a sound that could be said to evoke swamp boogie and John Lee Hooker.

This album really comes alive with the addition of the beautifully, effortlessly commanding vocals of Oumou Sangaré. A World Circuit signing, friend to the late Ali, her ease permeates the lion-taming Fula Celebration to the Diona chief Amiri Amadou Dicko, ‘Bandolobourou’, and the acoustic, lifting and snozzled account of the Donso hunters, ‘Sadjona’. However, released in the run-up to this album, aired on YouTube last month, her lilted but resonating turn on the delicately spun and fluttered ‘Cherie’ duet (of a kind) is a particular highlight: a constantly nimble-fingered, light yet deeply felt laidback joy.

Ali Farka Touré aficionados will find this a welcome addition to the chronology, with recordings that many will have either never known about or been anticipating. But I’m sure there’s going to be surprises for even the most committed of fans. And for newcomers to Ali’s legacy, this album will prove a great entry point with its diversity and range, showing Ali with various collaborators and paying homage to several cultural styles, traditions. These songs are anything but unfinished scraps, demos, or downtime experiments. Instead, Voyageur is a collection of real quality.

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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