Ginger Johnson - Monolith Cocktail

Even the casual visitor to the Monolith Cocktail will have picked up on the fact that we shy   away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’. We’d much rather offer a more eclectic spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists; stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album doesn’t deserve the number 32 spot and has been placed at number 33 instead.

Lined up in alphabetical order our favourite releases from the year are of course among what we believe the most important and interesting, but ‘best’? Granted, to make this list you have to make some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2015, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar. So expect to see electric switched-on Malian desert blues alongside crystalline synth pop or, celebratory jazz and folk reissues alongside cerebral pop. Please note: Rapture & Verse‘s main man Matt Oliver will be posting a dedicated yearly rap revue special, which will explain the absence of Hip Hop releases.

Split into two parts, the first includes albums from The Cesarians, The Classical, Cloud, Deerhunter, C Duncan, Evvol, Extradition Order, FFS, The Fiction Aisle, Fotheringay, Frog, Here Are The Young Men And Uncle Peanut, Ginger Johnson And His African Messengers and Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba. 

The Cesarians   ‘Pure White Speed’   (NYAT/Genepool)

The Cesarians 'BWP' - Monolith Cocktail

Ambitious, lavished with opulent diaphanous and harrowed strings, The Cesarians are both romantically troubled and Edgar Allen Poe Gothically haunted on their stunning Pure White Speed opus. Who better to articulate the poetry and lyrical malevolence of the London troupe’s forsaken operatics than our very own Ayfer Simms…

The Cesarians big great orchestra swings in right from the start of the album mixing in a heavy metal old school style crooning, powerful, furiously dragging behind anyone who has an excessive amount of energy and fire to spare.

This in an eclectic album where each part of each tune seems like the pieces of one big puzzle: There is grand rock, there is the charismatic orchestra, the violins, the intensity of the voice, and it blends.”

Read the full review here…

The Classical   ‘Diptych’   (Time Sensitive Materials)

The Classical - Monolith Cocktail

A pleasant surprise arriving at HQ like a breath of avant-garde fresh air, this morbidly curious psychical geographic album from The Classical recalls Portishead, The Dresden Dolls, Lene Lovich and Scott Walker; all played out to a tumultuous junkyard jazz score. The former actress turn vocalist/musician Juliet E. Gordon and her foil Britt Ciampa channel various characters and locations for their highly impressive Diptych, and evocatively bring our ancestors back to vivid life.

“Whether its withering in the psychogeograpahy of Palermo’s open burial catacombs, lamenting a Grecian Suzanne Vega like hymn to the departed souls, or rising from a subterranean cell towards the first signs of glimmering light, The Classical conjure up the most daemonic tableaus. Previously the preserve of the chosen few, lauded in their Bay Area home of San Francisco and by anyone who by happenstance came across it in 2014 via its self-release on Bandcamp, their finely tuned agitated jazz/theatrical explorations into the gloom Diptych, has thankfully been reprieved and given a physical release.”

Read the full review here…

Cloud   ‘Zen Summer’  (Paper Trail Records)

Cloud Zen Summer - Monolith Cocktail

If Tyler Taormina’s languidly diaphanous last album Comfort Songs was a nod in the direction of The Beach Boys during their sobering pinning Surf’s Up period, than his diaphanous follow up Zen Summer is a meditative transient stab at the group’s Ashram years. In the wake of Panda Bear’s Noah Lennox, Tyler has absorbed the gentler, dreamboat floaty qualities of the Animal Collectives most prolific team member to produce one of the year’s most stunning and faultless albums.

‘Suffused with an undercurrent of busy, rotating and tidal sounds each song features a lilting and beautifully palatial melody. A melting feeling of psychedelic yumminess, transcribed through a tunnel of love boat trip on the South Seas, the standout track from the album is without a doubt is the angelical caressed harp and Mike Love transcendental lamenting sung Melting Cassatt. This halcyon daydream reflects both lyrically and musically the state of its author who is looking for reassurance and a calming presence in a metaphorical sea of anxious flux; this is alluded to by the track that follows it, Elemental Smile. Changing the flow and plunging into no less opulently administered lush backing, only deeper and more lolloping, Tyler surfaces from a churning headiness to breath.’

Read the full review here

Deerhunter   ‘Fading Frontier’   (4AD)

Deerhunter Fading Frontier - Monolith Cocktail

Deerhunter, imbued with a melange of R.E.M., Big Star and, dare we say, a touch of Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark harmony, have embraced the melodic on their lamentable opus to the Fading Frontier. Suffused in a crystalline and hazy production that recalls both the Animal Collective and Beach House, the band, mostly carrying around Bradford Cox’s baggage, have never sounded clearer and brighter. Slithering to esoteric swamp boogie, college rock and dreamy Numan-esque synth, Deerhunter navigate through the depressive thoughts and resignation of their de facto band leader; his near-fatal car accident, delusions and Marfan syndrome illness plaintively and sometimes philosophically pouring from every lyric.

‘Emerging from the underground with a dedicated fan base that I’m sure will follow them wherever they wish to travel next, Deerhunter have been one of the most successfully, artistically speaking, creative if not esoterically amorphous and experimental bands of the last decade. In an era where we crave for something more intelligent and daring in the commercial and pop arenas, the Atlanta band has just released an exceptional album that brokers the two. Without a doubt they have embraced both melody and song structures unlike ever before, yet the compromise has only made their sound richer, sophisticated and even more multi-textured. Fading Frontier is a stunning piece of work.’

Read the full review here

C Duncan    ‘Architect’    (FatCat Records)

C Duncan - Monolith Cocktail review

The glorious antithesis of the contemporary hunger for fast culture and fatuous fleeting music consumption, Glasgow’s C Duncan is a throwback in many ways both vocally and musically. A former student of the city’s renowned Royal Conservatoire, the classicist with a penchant for pop has married the choral harmonies of the Baroque and Gaelic with the hazy afterglow of 60s groups such as Harpers Bizarre and The Beach Boys, then added veiled whispers of Talk Talk, The Cocteau Twins and (stay with me on this one) Sting to craft something magical. Impressive not just on record but pulling it off live with his extended trio touring band (seriously, one of the best performances and talents we’ve ever had the pleasure to witness), Duncan’s soothing venerated tones and musicianship are encapsulating.

‘But rather then use the grand and extended orchestral tools and acoustic spaces of classical music, Duncan methodically and intricately layers his ethereal, and sometimes transcendental, songs in his bedroom studio. Precise, purposeful and planned to the latter, each note, chime, melodic suffused wave and example of interplay is meticulously placed. Architect is then, perhaps one of the most finely crafted albums of late. Yet, most impressive of all is Duncan’s ability to make this precision sound so dreamily and amorphously lush and drifting.’

Read the full review here

Evvol   ‘Eternalism’   (!k7 Records)

Evvol - Monolith Cocktail

Sophisticated, sleek and steely the Irish/Australian Evvol duo move between dystopian cyborg love and dance floor veneers on their dry-ice machine atmospheric Eternalism album. Almost inhuman, like the siren calls from some artificially intelligent sentinels cooing into the future cityscape of a Blade Runner-esque Berlin, Evvol make nocturnally woozy and minimal glacial synth pop music. Both captivatingly slick and broodingly plaintive in equal measure, their visionary soundscapes pitch modern love to an anxious millennial generation.

‘Brooding souls of the night the Evvol duo of Julie Chance and Jon Dark find hidden sultry melodies and vapourous swooning pop in the dark recesses of a cold, steely, cityscape. An Irish/Australian duo based in the cybernetic romance of Berlin, Evvol have built a name for themselves sharing stages with Grimes, Austra and Peaches. Using a subtler plotted form of synth blues and lamentable electronica their sound slickly shimmers like liquid between halcyon 80s dry-ice atmospherics and cyborg soul love.’

Read the full review here

Extradition Order   ‘Kennedy’    (Jezus Factory) 


Just when you thought you’d heard every artistic take there was on the JFK legacy, the rambunctious post-punk, no wave blurting and jerking, Warrington outfit Extradition Order offer one last hurrah. Far from mouthing the usually fatuous conspiracy theory mantras, the band produce a multilayered portrait of not just their muse Kennedy but his family closet of skeletons; with special, and as it would turn out, highly ironic, laments to the democrat nominee and running partner who would eventually be king, Lyndon B Johnson. Almost in pained expression the album effortlessly lounges and drapes itself around James White, Electric 6, The Rapture and PiL on this highly ambitious project, yet Extradition Order have melded these influences well and fashioned a striking amorphous signature all of their own.

‘After spilling a Talking Heads discordant staccato onto a Arcade Fire glockenspiel march for the opening distressed ‘Boy In Uniform’, Extradition Order stride through a polygenesis array of inspired influences. The darker ‘Founding Father’ channels Ian Curtis fronting Bauhaus, and on the skeleton-in-the-closet tale of the Kennedy’s sister ‘Rosemary’ – confined to the shadows after undergoing a heinous frontal lobotomy – they wrap their tale around a Heartbreaker’s drunken and drugged stupor. In an early 80s nocturnal New York, rubbing elbows with James White, the band take the 60s dream turn nightmare through some strange twists and turns; dragging no wave through the furrows left by the Arcade Fire and their Canadian ilk in the noughties, yet somehow sounding eccentrically British. This can in part be attributed to the fine production work of that one-man cottage industry of pastoral rock’n’roll, and trustee of forgotten English eccentric pop Ian Button (no stranger to this blog), who seems to make it all flow and gel together seamlessly.’

Read the full review here

FFS   ‘FFS’   (Domino)

FFS - Playlist

Possibly one of the most inspired team-ups in recent times – and it couldn’t come soon enough -, the art school Glaswegian jerk of Franz Ferdinand meets the Gilbert and Sullivan pop of the brothers Mael couldn’t have gone any smoother. A congruous partnership, FFS is a 50/50 amorphous blend of idiosyncratic pop music. The Franz’s Alex Kapranos joins Russell Mael up front on vocals as the inimitable Ron furnishes the production with a glittery synthesizer and keyboards backing alongside his new collaborators Nick McCarthy, Bob Hardy and Paul Thomson‘s artsy post punk shapes.

Despite the serious themes and anxieties that always lie at the heart of Sparks music, and to some lesser degree the Franz, they disarm and wrap their subjects in witty wordplay, puns, self-depreciation and vaudeville. Rather than penning plaintive laments and hand-wring liberal saccharine protest, the FFS handle the anxieties and real world tragedies with clever and ironic aplomb. There’s even a pop at their own audacity, with the resigned piss-taking ‘Collaborations Don’t Work’. FFS is an impressive humorous slice of cerebral pop music; the deluxe extended version of the original LP showing that there is plenty of millage in this partnership.

The Fiction Aisle    ‘Heart Map Rubric’    (Chord Orchard)

Monolith Cocktail

His most ambitious, audacious big sound yet, former Brakes and Electric Soft Parade stalwart Thomas White wistfully gazes across the Atlantic for his latest musical journey. Imbued with the lyrical romanticism of Sinatra, Noel Coward, Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach, White swaddled in a certain nostalgic glow performs with his ten-piece band a magical suite of ballads, resigned poetic ruminations and Autumnal tumbles. Evoking and, we think edging, Richard Hawley’s own tender troubled love songs, White’s collection already sounds like a classic.

Read the full review here

Fotheringay    ‘Nothing More: The Collected Fotheringay’    (Universal) 

Fotheringay - Monolith Cocktail

Our first reissue of the list is the most complete collection yet of the revered English folk group Fotheringay. Due to the tragic circumstances of the band’s ethereal siren Sandy Denny and her untimely death in 1978 at the age of 31, the group’s songbook has been attached with certain poignancy and resonates deeply amongst those fans that still hold a candle to the band’s bright but all-too-soon extinguished flame. A continuation of sorts but break away from that folk institution Fairport Convention, the band toiled their own brand of not just folk but acid country music and rock’n’roll. Revolving around the relationship between its founders Denny and her lover foil Trevor Lucas, Fotheringay left an indelible mark upon even though they only released one album in Denny’s time and wouldn’t finish the follow up until decades later. Despite this, every scrape and recording – and even these are incredible – has been collated to tell the most detailed story yet, with previously believed lost recordings and live performances added to the band’s original songbook.

‘Grounding to an abrupt end, the breakup of Fotheringay was sad but it hardly hurt the careers of everyone who was apart of it. Lucas would produce some of Denny’s best solo work, before the pair once again joined the ranks of Fairport along with Jerry Donahue. For such a brief, almost passing fancy, the band leaves an incredible, enduring legacy and receives an honorable tribute with this, most comprehensive of collections.’

Read the full review here

Frog  ‘Kind Of Blah’  (Audio Antihero)


With their intoxicating brand of lo fi alternative country, waltzing through a kaleidoscopic hoedown, the Brooklyn duo Frog sound a long way from home on their debut offering, A Kind Of Blah. Picking through a rambunctious, sometimes full on falsetto style, post-rock songbook, the New York natives stroke up a frayed and rampant banjo vortex that belongs in an imaginary southern dreamscape. Enamoured with their phaser-effect ridden down country magic, Ayfer Simms penned a most lyrical review; contextualising and setting the most evocative of scenes.

‘A window. Scorching summer day, metal staircase and an alley. New York.
The breeze blows from the right, bringing with it a country sounding shine and bouncy melodies. It comes from the left and exudes an upbeat Indie abandon; from a distance, a concert hall with a languorous jazzy/rock atmosphere: All the styles wrapped around a gentle voice, while the heavy red bricks of New York cast a shadow from within.’

Read the full review here

Here Are The Young  Men & Uncle Peanut   ‘GIMMIE! GIMMIE! GIMMIE! PEANUT PUNK!’   (Musical Bear Records)


Just for the sheer hell of it the HATYM&UP has made the list despite its underachievers status, and coarse low grade, seaman-stained mattress production. But with the latest monotone keyboard diatribe from Sleaford Mods – though others strongly disagree – found wanton and lacking, we’ve turned to this uninvited rabble. Wiping their dog turd covered trainers on life’s proverbial doormats with a display of Sham punk rap skits,they’re a lot more fun than the Sleaford Mods and more ridiculous. On the clarion call GIMMIE! GIMMIE! GIMMIE! PEANUT PUNK! they mix Bill Murray samples, 80s Tom Cruise references and pub ‘banter’ with ditties on a cast of vilified reprobates in the style of a musical Modern Toss.

‘Serving various diatribes and affronted shots across the bow of modern life in “peanut punk” morsels, Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut confront the mediocre, inanity and banality of both below stairs and the elite custodians of society’s shitpile. Hitting home without the Ritalin starved pecking ferocity of many; the group narrows its attacks on a collection of sneering, sarcastic catchphrase song titles. We’re in the disused, piss-stained mattress Sleaford Mods ballpark here, yet Here Are The Young Men and Uncle Peanut are more composed, less volatile and in many ways, more humorous: like David Shrigley or Modern Toss put to a cheap post punk combo of Casio keyboard pre-sets, Sham 69 and The Fall.’

Read the full review here

Ginger Johnson And His African Messengers  ‘African Party’  (Freestyle Records) 

Ginger Johnson - Monolith Cocktail

A titan, progenitor and paragon of the African music scene, mentor to Afrobeat’s grandee Fela Kuti, former Nigerian emigre Ginger Johnson first brought his infectious percussive rhythms and sounds to the UK in the 1940s after serving in the merchant navy. For the following three decades he was never out of work as a bandleader and session player (even performing the role of obligatory exotic hand drummer on various British film productions: She and Live And Let Die); leaving his signature on both the 50s jazz and 60s counterculture scenes and playing with everyone that mattered, from Georgie Fame and Brian Augur to The Rolling Stones (in Hyde Park) and Hawkwind. A social activist and figure in the North London community Ginger was instrumental in helping to set up the Notting Hill Carnival. He also opened the famous Club Iroko hang out in Haverstock Hill, which played host to Sun Ra, Osibisa and Cymande. But it is with his African Messengers group that he laid down the foundations for all those to come; stripping down to the roots of the African sound, where jazz, the blues and rock’n’roll all originally derived. In 1967 they produced the voodoo, bewitching, dynamite boogie African Party raver. As shindigs go it is a classic. Thankfully Freestyle Records have done a load of leg work and reissued his most prized showcase; hopefully reigniting interest in to one the true African music greats.

‘With a full gamut of styles, moods and rhythms under his sauntering, and often vibrantly swinging control, Ginger and his talking drums hurtle through a jazz withering saxophone version of the Burundi ‘Watusi’; rise a snake handling Voodoo spirit in the pulp paperback, 007 environment, Soho club with the‘Wicthdoctor’; and hot-foot across a mirage shimmering Tangiers with a polygenesis mix of both calypso Caribbean and feverish African influences on ‘Lord Morocco’. Choosing to close the album with a beautifully embodiment of his Hi Life roots, Ginger cuts loose with a chorus of carefree brass and infectious soul-shuffling drums: the archetype precursor to the, usually, faster and more funky Afrobeat style that followed. With the grand traditions of the motherland, and the terrain including its many inhabitants, from elephants to the insects, all entwined with contemporary jazz, rhythm and blues and floating flutes, the Messengers congruously enrich the atavistic tribal patters, jabs and rapid rolls of Ginger’s centrepiece percussion to create a window in on an underground fuelled 1960s jamboree.’

Read the full review here

Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba   ‘Ba Power’   (Glitterbeat)

Bassekou K Monolith Cocktail

Whatever the grievances or disputes all parties and sides in Mali are united in their agreement that ISIL needs to be stopped. The musicians and artists, from the desert blues of the Bedouin Tuareg, whose fight for independence in the north was overtaken by the pariah groups loyal to the ISIL cause, to the western capital’s renowned stars, are fully aware that their cultural musical heritage has been, and still is, at stake: the only notes to be plucked under the so-called caliphate’s barbarous rule would be in adulation to their supreme leader and no one else; all music being banned with only the most exceptional of circumstances permitted.

Making an impression globally, thanks in some part to labels such as Glitterbeat Records, the West African hub has produced some of the most haunting and sauntering grooving blues and rock albums in recent years; 2015 being no exception. A trio of these artists/bands make our list this year, including the master of the switched-on electric ngoni Bassekou Kouyaté and his wife, the soulfully impassioned vocalist Amy Sacko. Back after a worldwide tour, embellishing his atavistic psychedelic soul and blues sound with jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and Afrobeat, he returns with his most outward looking album yet. He’s joined by a envious collection of contributors (Jon HassellZoumana Tereta, Samba Touré and Adama Yalomba) who all add their own unique touches of ‘fourth world’ trumpet, Songhai guitar licks, eastern mystical vibrato and floor-shuffling drums to the signature Kouyaté frenzied wah wah pedal ngoni solos and polyrhythmic grooves, on the polygenesis Ba Power. A fantastic, exceptional album, one of the year’s outstanding performances.

‘If Jama Ka was a cry from the centre of a conflict ravaged Mali, in the middle of a civil war, thenBa Power strives to appeal to more universal themes and to finally establish Bassekou and his group as major players on not just the “world music” but also the music world stage. Whilst we look inward at our own scene in Europe or look across the Atlantic to the States, it is becoming quite clear that the mostly seen as exotic African music scene is leading the way, with Mali standing out as a provider of the most imaginative, transcendental and hypnotic blues and rock and roll.’

Read the full review here

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