Acting Strange - Monolith Cocktail

From the ever over-abundant spring of new music that threatens to drown the Monolith Cocktail and those who serve with her, we pick out just a mere small selection of the greater good and more interesting releases. A companion if you will to our Tickling Our Fancy revue, this polygenesis round up with concentrate on singles, EPs and what you might call the miscellaneous. Our inaugural collection includes Cool Ghouls, Afriquoi, Fine, It’s Pink, Nadia Nair, The Provincials, Virginia Sook & Lake Michigan, David Lawrie and Acting Strange.

Afriquoi ‘Kudaushe (ft Kudaushe Matimba)’   (Wormfood Records)   Free taster from the upcoming LP Kolaba, released 11th September 2015

As African music finally looks to be breaking free of its fatuous ‘world music’ categorisation in the west, a new generation already at ease with both their heritage and the contemporary sounds of the last thirty years, seeks to embody the continents eclectic tastes. Many of us have heard over the years the lost reissues from Africa’s golden era of the late 60s through to the 70s, and many of us have also been hypnotised by the resurgence in Tuareg desert blues: practiced by such legendary nomadic groups as Tinariwen and Tamikrest. Equally at home with the traditional sounds of the Congo, Gambia, Botswana and, on this featured track, Zimbabwe, as they are with dancehall, dubstep, funky house music and glitch, the polygenesis Afriquoi offer a unique revitalisation of cultural exchanges.

Billed as a deeply rooted project, rather than ‘a one-off collaboration’ between a mix of musicians from all over Africa and the UK (were the band have pitched up and now live), the group has been working together for the last four years on their first major release, the upcoming LP Kolaba. Joining Jally Kebba Suso (kora), Fiston Lusambo (guitar), André Espeut (Vocals), Nico Bentley (live electronics) and André Marmot (percussion) for the album’s free taster track, the virtuoso Harare founder member – one of the only bands playing Zimbabwean dance music in Europe – and marimba specialist Kudaushe Matimba joins the Afriquoi for a bright and jaunty, uplifting slice of marching carnival and High Life radiant electronica, ‘Kudaushe’. Promising an eclectic mix of styles, pitching Congolese soukous and rumba with Jamaican dancehall, and Mandinka griot with drum and bass, this could be the year’s most vibrant performance.

Expect a full album review at some point over the next month. You can catch the band showcasing their new album at London’s South Bank Centre on the 11th September, where they will be joined by the scintillating company of African Head Charge, Kog + The Zongo Brigade, Electric Jalaba with the Nubiyan Twist on DJ duty.

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Cool Ghouls   ‘Creature That I Am/ See You Around’ (Dizzybird Records)   Single released October 23rd 2015

No panic and a little early I know, but San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls are currently promoting their upcoming American tour with a pre-emptive taster of their next single, the double A sider ‘Creature That I Am/ See You Around’. Released in October on Dizzybird Records, the band keep up the 60s beat, country and garage rock flame alive with another Beau Brummels-Gene Clarke-Syndicate of Sound-Thirteenth Floor Elevators inspired jaunt. An extension if you will of their Monolith Cocktail praised 2014 LP A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye, the band take a convertible trip down the Sunset Stripe before slipping the automatic into cruise control through the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood.

Nadia Nair   ‘Hardships’   Single released 28th August 2015

Pouring a rich heritage of Swedish and Malaysian Indian into her soulful polygenesis form of electronica and vacuous resonating, almost mystical, R&B pop, Nadia Nair carves out a distinct niche for herself in a field heavy populated by less sophisticated and sonorous voices.

Influenced as much by the late Ravi Shankar as by M.I.A., her latest single ‘Hardship’ also benefits from the Lorde School of production, and mixes tribal drum loops with downplayed but ambitious all the same, crescendos to produce something incredible and raw. Whilst she doesn’t emerge from just nowhere – Nair has been releasing tracks and EPs for the past few years, and collaborating with fellow Swedish compatriots – this single will propel her to a wider audience.

Acting Strange   ‘Night On The Tiles’   (In Black Records)   EP released 8th September 2015

Regular readers and followers of the Monolith Cocktail will know we recently upped sticks and moved our HQ to Glasgow from Sussex; one of the main benefits being the music and arts scene. With a new energized appetite and Scottish bent to our site, we’ve been sousing out the locals. One such Glasgow band is the Mersey beat inspired Acting Strange duo of cousins Ali and Billy Strange. Forged both in the city’s East End and in the taxidermy workshop of their late uncle Gabby who taught them guitar and a variety of other instruments when they visited his Oban retreat during their summer holidays, the Acting Strange sound is a throwback to the halcyon but raw songwriting days of the 60s, with an occasional nod in the direction of the Velvet Underground and Dylan.

Leaping out from the upcoming new Night On The Tiles EP, with a shambling north of Hadrian’s Wall ‘Rumble’ through early T-Rex and the Fab Four, their opening flourish of acoustic bashing Canned Heat – with Beck style slide and leftfield verve of country bluegrass – is an encouraging start to proceedings. They follow it up with more Scouse lilt, but with a side order of Dagenham’s The Tremeloes, on the whimsical ballad ‘Dreaming Away’, channel the spirit of Lennon on the jangly ‘Universe Blues’, and evoke the La’s via the hazy distant resonance of a harmonica playing Dylan on ‘Oh No’.

An apt tribute to their dear ol’ uncle Gabby, Acting Strange recorded their mini showcase in his workshop (days before it was pulled down), on a haphazard and antiquated Tascam 8 track. The sagacious gathered dust; memories and tributary atmosphere of their surroundings can be heard throughout this rambling quartet of back beat inspired observations on modern life’s idiosyncrasies.

Fine, It’s Pink   ‘Young Burns’   Single released 25th September 2015

A sonic road well travailed, the Romanian psych rock and wistfully melodramatic trip-hop band Fine, It’s Pink attentively soar towards aria style heights on their debut single ‘Young Burns’. Slowly lilting in a lucid dreamy world, inhabited by a veiled presence of Radiohead and Warpaint, with a cooing vocal floating on the breeze, this wafting journey drifts into the realms of a less somber, bluesy Portishead.

Not the most encouraging of band mythologies, FIP formed in an Iaşi (the former capital of the long since renamed Principality of Moldavia, and once, for a brief period during WWI, the capital of Romania – I’m just showing off now) karaoke bar. Starting out as a covers band in 2013, they’ve since concentrated on writing their own material, influenced by a diverse range of artists and sounds that includes Alt-J, Pink Floyd and Sigur Ros. Gaining attention at home as one of the brightest new musical hopes, they now seek ambitions abroad, and you can help them by embracing this, their inaugural, fantasy to the pure of heart.

Virginia Sook & Lake Michigan  ‘Spilt’  (Ruined Smile)   Spilt LP on tape released 6th August 2015

From the surreptitious Brisbane label Ruined Smile a new ‘spilt’ LP – Well it’s called an album, but it’s more in keeping with the EP concept; very short and only four tracks in total, split between two acts -, shared by the rustic Australian down home Virginia Sook and York’s erstwhile attic troubadour Lake Michigan.

For a label more suited to the Lo Fi and D.I.Y. ascetics, this curious companionship between the two artists boasts one of their most commercially viable contributions yet. With her charming cooing, earnest country tones, accompanied by a tenderly plucked group of fellow red soil travellers, Sook’s muted ballads recall an American mythology rather than Australian one; redolent of the Heartless Bastards, a more subdued lamentable Lone Justice and The Band. The production and playing is kept humble, frail almost with soothing reassurance, and is the kind of Lo Fi country that could fly. Very downplayed, understated, but tinkling with a quivered melody and benevolent beauty.

Meanwhile Christopher Marks, otherwise known as Lake Michigan, continues to strum, pick and dejectedly lean on his acoustic guitar whilst mumbling a lamentable moiety of pained cut-price poetic Cohen and John Cale morose eulogies. Drifting through troubled waters like some lost 70s English songwriter down on his luck, supping liberally from a bottle of red wine, Marks’s languid and trailing heartaches are languid, almost sleepy, but charged. Tenderly he goes on his contributions: ‘Esme’ an almost sighing reflection on age and fragility; ‘Sunspots’ a rejected, miserable break up that even the radiant weather can’t fix.

The Provincials   ‘Ascending Summer’

Ascending summer on the Isle of Wight, The Provincials have taken a serendipitous meander along my old hometown of Ryde for their latest video. Taken from their recently featured EP of the same title, their paean to both the Island and the summer solstice is a serene and gentle seasonal breezy folk, hinting at a Pentangle and jazz influence, blessed song; delivered with light and diaphanous calm by the band’s vocalist Polly Perry, who penned this song in memory of the holidays she used to have there.

With its sun-dappled auras and esoteric western soundtrack tinged musings, the Ascending Summer EP is a joyful, sensuous ode to the, now unfortunately, passing season.

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David Lawrie   ‘Dorothea EP’  (Ishikawa Records)  EP released 21st August 2015

Taking a keen interest in the progress and development of the York, currently residing in California, chamber pop and electronic Baroque troubadour David Lawrie since his stark and magically laid-bare Storm Petrel EP of 2013, the Monolith Cocktail has marked each new step of his intriguing career.

A modern John Donne figure, flouting a romantic and cosmological version of alternative pop music, Lawrie’s seminal and cerebral last offering, the crowd funded Dorothea’s Boat album, is one of the year’s best-kept secrets. With its rich menagerie tableau of allegorical symbolist animals, totem sound beating drums and Toto meets the Animal Collective in a halcyon panoramic kingdom of wonder vibe; the record’s centerpiece Dorothea was a blossoming triumph. A few months later, with not only glowing critical evaluation but also many others under his belt, Lawrie has since produced a record for Echo Wants Her Voice Back, and as chief sound designer contributed foley, effects and the opening theme to David Diley’s feature length docu-film Of Shark And Man. That opening soundtrack is included on this congruous expansion of the original LP, the B-side to Dorothea. ‘The Opportunity’ is a deft piece of intricate, spindly plucked chamber that has Lawrie lamenting to the sea in a quasi-Dave Gahan style: a perfect introduction to the morose beauty of the docu-film it accompanies, which itself receives a director’s cut premiere screening in London this month.

The second half of this EP features a slower, more trance and blissfully airy remix version of the two-step pastoral, and organic timepiece ‘Over, Under’, and a stripped-down, au naturel acoustic version of ‘Traffic Lights At Night’, recorded live in the forest.

Working away on it for months, David will be unveiling his eagerly anticipated ‘Dorothea’ video this Friday. Until then, you can catch up on this wonderful diorama addition oeuvre.

Words:  Dominic Valvona

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