Diaphanous musings, spiritual and lamented space jazz, an atavistic Spanish songbook for our times, unearthed Krautrock tapes, slapstick hoisted up on the Freudian couch, witch hunts, Colombia’s melting pot surveyed, and scatter-bomb electronic cut-ups: the sound of Monolith Cocktail’s 2012 choice list.


In the usual fashion, all entries are in alphabetical order, with no one release garnering the top spot. For a full review and survey of each album/EP/Re-issue/compilation click on the accompanying artwork.


To make it that much easier on the eye and loading, I’ve spilt this list into two parts – A to L, and M to Z.

I’ve also compiled an extensive list of the individual tracks that have made the most impact, or soothed my erratic mind.


Without further ado, here are those choices:-



A. 


Animal Collective ‘Centipede Hz’ (Dominio) 

A sickly over-indulged gluttonous feast of illumine felt-tip pen and play-dough psychedelia, thrown together in a hadron collider for kicks, this garish album shouldn’t really work, yet it somehow triumphs.  Despite the strangulated multi-layering and awkward skittish timings, something resembling a tune and melody still escapes to remind us of the groups harmonious new age take on the Beach Boys.

I never got around to reviewing this one, but my colleague at GIITTV, Simon Godley, pretty much wraps it up.


Ariya Astrobeat Arkestra ‘Towards Other Worlds’ (First Word)

You can gleam all you need to know from the bands moniker to describe the Leeds band’s diverse range of influences and sounds. From downtown Lagos to the Apollo, Ariya Astrobeat Arkestra assiduously imbue Fela, Funk, Afrobeat, Ethio-jazz and Sun-Ra. The last of these, the great free-jazz spaceman from another dimension,  guides this concept album of two parts. The first half represents Earth and its “sounds of guns, anger, frustration”, the second glides off into the cosmos on a more peaceful voyage of discovery. A great ensemble mix and performance.


Azanyah ‘The One’ (Jazzman Records)

Delivering a consistent  stream of venerable and mystical jazz throughout the year, the erudite London Jazzman label has been unearthing some valuable forgotten treasures from Europe and the Americas. The “Pan-African” sound of Mamaniji Azanyah and Immanuel Zechariah’s devotional septet Azanyah, reads loud and proud from the ancient scriptures to a “Coltrane and Pharaoh” imbued prophetic jazz.


B.


B.B King ‘The Life Of Riley OST’ (Universal)

Released in tandem with Jan Brewer’s recent biopic documentary of the great bluesman, The Life Of Riley soundtrack features a veritable mix of B.B King performances from his travailed career. Featuring both rare, and until now, never before available tracks, this 2-disc set is a good excuse to once again evaluate the blues most enduring journeyman.


The Bad Plus ‘Made Possible’ (Universal)

The Us trio’s eight studio album attempts to feed avant-garde jazz to the masses. Passages of heart-aching meditative piano and Looney Tunes outbursts equally share precedence, as the group both deconstruct then build back up the principles of modern jazz.


Beach House ‘Bloom’ (Bella Union)

Shoe-gazingly beguiling as usual, Victoria Legrand‘s ‘gargling-with- Gauloise’ voice still melts, but hasn’t quite moved on from their ethereal and more accomplished last dreamy album, Teen Dreams. Stand-out oeuvres of empyreal lament,  ‘Myth’ and ‘On The Sea’ are perhaps among the duo’s best, whilst the pop inclinations chime well and with cooing warmth on ‘Wishes’.


C.


Can ‘The Lost Tapes’ (Mute)

Spilling forth out of the guarded vaults like the lost musical epistles from another dimension, Germany’s experimental magi collective Can (with the help of wizened Metamono and Kumo helmsmen Jono Podmore) have allowed their hidden away and lain dormant recordings /musings to be whittled down into a 3-disc oeuvre for our entertainment.

Covering nigh-on a decade of free-spirited and futurist experimentation (From Monster Movie to Saw Delight) , The Lost Tapes isn’t just another one of those disingenuous ragtag collections of cast-offs and meandering nonsense that deserved to never see the light of day. No, this perceived artefact is full of welcome surprises, containing some of the best music the group ever dreamt up. In fact, these 30 -40 year old dusted-off tapes are the most forward thinking and polygenesis release of the year bar none. Suck it up.


The Conformist ‘Paid To Fake It’ 

The Ritalin-starved mind of Cardiff-based electronic miscreant, Michael Simmons is unnervingly let loose to roam through a post-apocalyptic, debris strewn, musical world of vapourous bass, prowling synths and snarling rock guitar licks on his wryly entitled Paid To Fake It LP. Standing outside the tent aiming a stream of scornful piss at those inside,  Simmon’s ‘another unpleasant Rhondda Valley morning chorus’ is a soundtrack for the implosion of our times.


Cool Runnings ‘Dracula Is Only The Beginning’ (Lebenstrasse Records)

Rambunctiously waltzing and feeling their way through Ethiopian Jazz, Glam Rock, moody dry-ice Vangelis and Arthur Lee, the Knoxville motley ‘hipsters’ have somehow made a highly commendable album. Polygenesis indie is becoming an effete and passé cliche generally, yet Cool Runnings have managed to plough on undaunted. Released at the start of the year, their bemusing LP has never left my turntable.


E. 


The Eccentronic Research Council ‘1612 Underture’ (Finders Keepers)

With a title that plays on the 1812 overture (Tchaikovsky‘s bombastic ode to the Kutuzov led Russian defence and victory over Napolean, a monumental historical event that celebrates its 200th anniversary) this, the first witch trial suite in my choice list, the 1612 Underture has its foot in both the past and present.

The Eccentronic Research Council purview of the 1612 rebarbative Lancashire with hunts is a modern-day allegorical road trip, played-out to a brooding synthesiser lamented soundtrack: a eulogy to the poor souls condemned and damned by the authorities and their own community for nothing less than envy, mistrust and fatuous slights.

Local lass Maxine Peake (without doubt one of the most talented actors of her generation, and a favourite in the ‘Valvona’ household) narrates, sings (which comes as a surprise), and resurrects those lost souls with a vengeance on this concept-driven travelogue. Her distinctive burr is both sympathetic and scathing, and also at times delivers some quite amusing monologues  – a female Alan Bennett from across the border.


F.


Greg Foat Group ‘Girl And Robot With Flowers’ (Jazzman)

Following up his harpsichord toned retro-futurist jazz debut, Dark Is The Sun, with his equally Sc-fi imbued Girl And Robot With Flower, Foat once agin makes the list. Leaving terra firma for new heights of ethereal soul-searching, his sophomore suit of lamentable cosmic jazz is both descriptive and transient.


Josephine Foster ‘Blood Rushing’ (Fire Records)

The first of chanteuse Josephine Foster’s albums to make this years list, Blood Rushing is loosely tied in with her recent Spanish songbook collection. Returning to her native land, Foster’s red earthen soundscape tribute to Colorado recalls the entrenched footprints left by the Spanish who named this state and its river.

Effortlessly waltzing through hundreds of years of history, the home-on-the-range gal swoons, coos and lifts the heart with a mix of spirited Woodstock protest and folkloric balladry.


Josephine Foster & The Victor Herrero Band ‘Perlas’ (Fire)

Foster’s second album to appear on my choice list, Perlas is a second helping of atavistic odes, poems and plaintive laments from Spain. With her bode Victor Herrero and his band they document a bygone era: from swooning paeans to the ‘Puerto de Santa Maria’ to assonance’s of the Moorish ‘Abenámar’, they cover the Basque country and Arabian south.

Once again they inject life into ‘dusty old scores’ that have lain dormant or been forgotten, opening up a rich tradition to a wider audience.


G.


Gaggle ‘From The Mouth Of The Cave’ (Transgressive)

Strafing the listener like a harridan flock of ‘SHEgulls’, the often cloaked, all ‘gal’ chorus finally released their long-awaited debut, From The Mouth Of The Cave. Biblical and apocalyptic the on-mass ragtag of scornful sirens survey littered battlefields, abusive relationships and the recession; marching along to the beat of their own drum.


H.


Darren Hayman And The Long Parliament ‘The Violence’  (Fortuna Pop!)

Moving forward fifty-years from the goings on in Lancashire, the second concept bound album of 2012 to make my list focuses on the Essex witch trials during the english Civil War. Removed from yet part of the Essex landscape Darren Hayman finishes off his triumvirate purview of the county with The Violence, chronicling real events and giving a effete but charming voice to the forgotten victims and perpetrators of this callous cull. Far too many highlights to mention, this stunning, indolent, folksy and indie soundtrack to the battle between ideals, religion and democracy is a small triumph.


J.


The Jam ‘The Gift And Beyond…(30th Anniversary Edition)’ (Universal)

What better way to raise a glass to The Jams finest moment, The Gift, than to repackage the original with three discs of demos, alternative versions, live performances and TV footage.

Paul Weller‘s final declaration of intent with his spiky angular, maximum R&B, power trio, was an exercise in how to finish at the top of your game. Moving on (up!) from his punk and 60s beat group roots to hot-foot it towards the Style Council, Weller packed everything into this last Jam album. That final year, 1982, marked not only the bands greatest album but also included one of the best singles run in modern music history – in quality at least – with ‘A Town Called Malice’, ‘The Bitterest Pill’ and ‘Beat Surrender’ all following each other in one sweeping succession.


Jinko Vilova ‘Cru!’ 

Rumbling undaunted from the Barcelona underground, the post-punk and Krautrock Jinko Vilova empty a crude bucket of Motor City rock onto the scene. An incendiary packed motherlode of industrial rawness and nihilism is herded towards the flames on this little nugget.

Hard to find and hard to purchase the largely unknown band of primal rockers remain at the moment one of my dirty little secrets, but hell, it’s time to let everyone else get a piece of the action now.


L.


Land-Observations-Roman-Roads-IV-XI-180g-Gatefold-Vinyl-CD1

Land Observation ‘Roman Roads IV – XI’ (Mute)

More a pastoral amble through the byways and highways of the Roman empire than an autobahn-esque cruise, James Brooks’ geographical guitar loops and dampened effects under the moniker of Land Observation, prove both charming and thoughtful.

Using only this bare minimum of kit, Brooks creates nuanced ambient layered soundtracks for an atavistic landscape – from Rome to Chester – yet also reflectively pines over the present. Imbued with a certain motoring transcendence this pleasing journey sounds like Robert Fripp aboard a chariot.

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