Tickling Our Fancy 

The return of  Manchester’s  indie greats, James plus new psychedelic  solar rays, born again grunge, off-kilter  pop and  Teutonic neo-classicism from S J Esau, Owls, DENA, Poeticat, The Imaginary Suitcase.

Plus  a  sound  bite selection of  tracks  from  Benjamin Shaw,  Dominic Wolf,  Nuoli,  Hauschka,  Barbara  Morgenstern

James artwork

James  ‘Frozen Britain’  (BMG Chrysalis/ Cooking Vinyl)  – from the LP La Petite Mort, due out on 2nd June 2014

Despite writing some of the 80s and 90s most bellowing, sometimes even flouency, indie anthems – usually with a sense of self-deprecation and plenty of irony – James stood out alone on the peripheral despite producing a series of ‘hits’. Awkwardly ill at ease with total commercial immersion, though they’ve been in the top twenty numerous times since their inception in 1982 with what can only be described as a string of ‘popular’, singles: ‘Sit Down’, ‘She’s A Star’, ‘Laid’ and ‘Come Home’.

Not quite the R.E.M. of the north, Manchester’s most under appreciated alternative bands, under the Ibiza-faux dressed shamanistic presence of their singer Tim Booth, travailed the city’s sights and sounds; signed whilst playing the infamous miscreant den of influence, the Hacienda, by the inimitable Tony Wilson. Like many bands they broke up, got fed up and generally felt the strain, suffering the eternal curse of the inevitable split, before reforming at least twice.

Poignantly moved to record their first album in six years by the tragic loss of Booth’s mother and best friend in quick succession, the band rightfully reclaim the artsy arena music from the bands they influenced, including The Killers – but we won’t blame them for that. Far from elegiac, despite the LP’s title, there are clues to the nature of the material, as provided by the flowery and colourful painted skull on the front cover – a psychedelic lilting version of those so familiar celebratory Mexican day of the dead symbols. The PR shtick promises: …an incredibly uplifting record’. And on the strength of this teaser, they could just be telling the truth.

It’s a fond welcome back to the fold.

SJ Esau  ‘Exploding Views’  (From Scratch Records)  –  Available Now

That synonymous Anticon label sound of sonic collage, left of leftfield Hip Hop and psychedelic serialism, can be heard throughout SJ Esau’s grand new head trip around Orion’s Gate, even though this album is being released on the Italian label fromScratch. After a pause in transmission – his last voyage of discovery was the long player, Small Vessel, released in 2008 – Esau returns with a cyclonic ‘explosion’ of brash barracking drums, algebra rock and skittish mind-melting dial trickery: the stars look very different indeed where we’re heading.

Fluctuating – in a promising, madcap manner- through a musical landscape that evokes (in my tiny ill-adjusted mind) visions of an English comprehensive school version of The Flaming Lips, or the Klaxons covering XTC’s calico wall shenanigans (The Dukes Of The Stratosphere)…or even, a hallucinogenic neo-geo Adam and the Ants.

Questioning song titles (‘’Who Isn’t?, ‘Why Angry’, ‘What Is It Now?’) give a faint and obscure guidance to this peregrination, which shoots off like a rocket into some imaginable kaleidoscopic, but often ominous and seething with dark matter, expanse of space.

Though mostly the work of the lonesome Bristol space cadet, Esau is joined on the cinematic noir ‘The Pull’ by the gibbering machine gun splattering, near lunatic genius, rapper Dose One (already venerated on this blog under the moniker of Themselves, but also rated for his contributions to the avant-garde collective cLOUDDEAD and Subtle) and by the lamentable vocals and cello of the ‘one women quintet’, Charlotte Nicholls (Oxbow and Portishead).

Out there….In fact so out there I initially missed it, but was recommended this ‘trip beyond’ from Monolith friend and future contributor, Ben P Scott, via his extremely eclectic music blog, RW/FF. Hardly shirking our responsibilities, we reckon Ben’s suitable summary is ample enough. It can be accessed here.


Owls  ‘Two’  (Polyvinyl)  –  25th March 2014

Cryogenically frozen in post-grunge stasis, it’s as though the Owls have just been let free of their static chambers. Eking out a career on the peripheral via a series of concomitant bands and independent projects (Owen, Joan of Arc, Make Believe, Ghost and Vodka) in the intervening years since the inspired conception of the Owls in 2001 – a group that itself was borne out of the formative teenage years, Cap’n Jazz – the line-up of Tim Kinsella, Mike Kinsella, Victor Villarreal and Sam Zurick are back.

If you wait around long enough than everything comes back into vogue, and the more recent appetite for Seattle’s most infamous – some would say important – export of grunge is very, very, very much back in fashion. These guys at least do it well, forlornly and with an awkward gait. Thirteen years is a long time to follow-up your debut, but it’s as if the guys never left – hence the over-egged ‘frozen’ introduction. With an imbued touch of Steve Albini and Sebadoh, they gel together in an experimental dirge of jilted chords, drawn-out sustain and sulky low-slung bass guitar.

It’s not an easy proposition, every note seems to be harassed by some impending doomsday chord and thought out to the nth degree. The Owls move arduously between ponderous progressive jazz and meaty pendulous shoegaze, their lyrics delivered in an indolent deadpan singing style, profoundly reticent.

Highly competent and methodical, this album is a spirited return and reminder of just how unrepentant and unapologetic rock music could be, and indeed still is if you can look hard enough.

DENA  ‘Flashed’  (Normal Surround/ !K7 Records)  –  Single from upcoming debut LP Flash, released 11th March 2014.

Slipping surreptitiously between the gentle downhome hip hop backing of Arrested Development, the modern softened RnB of Laura Mvula, and off-kilter pop, the Bulgarian born and Berlin based soulstress Denitza Todorova releases another of her concatenate singles, whilst we all await patiently for her debut in a couple of weeks time.

Compared to her previous bubblegum vapourous glitch-y tracks ‘Thin Rope,’ and ‘Cash, Diamond Rings, Swimming Pools’, which were released on Kitsune and Greedhead in 2013, ‘Flashed’ is a more polished and sweetened affair., DENA has been experimenting over the last decade to find her signature sound, which is often amorphous and languid, here she once again teams up with The Whitest Boy Alive’s Erlend Øye – that’s his bright RnB guitar licks you can hear.

The debut album, Flash is due out on March 11th.

Poeticat  ‘3rd Arm’  – Available Now

The rambunctious cross-fertilized music proposition that is Poeticat return with another hallucinogenic escape from the mundanity of just another day spent in the concrete sink of life. Enjoying the increasing – and rightly so – attention that has steadily grown around their experimental residency at the Windmill in Brixton, the surly monologue led group –with members from a cross-section of the arts and locations (the less exotic Basildon to Lisbon) – have previously wowed us with their last video and record, the paean to a misspent but much mourned, before the digital onslaught, childhood, ‘Centre Of the Concrete Square’.

The follow up, ‘3rd Arm’, is no less diverse and liberal in its influences, dragging together kicking and squealing, gnarled hard rock guitar riffs, ghostly vibratos, the post punk yelping of the Slits (and later on as the track builds to a crescendo) the tongue-in-cheek progressive rock opera epic finales of ELP. With the rebellious, sulky spoken word poetics of Catherine Martindale, called forth from a séance backing theatrics of Ziggi Jadovski and a backing band that boosts a global imbued hodgepodge of Latin American, African, and western heavy mental, all played out to a backdrop of installation, multimedia and performance art, Poeticat are a pretty unique proposition.


The Imaginary Suitcase  ‘Driftwood’   –  Available Now 

His third visit, under two different monikers, to the Monolith Cocktail, Belgian singer/songwriter and adroit patient balladeer Laurent Leemans follows up last year’s Full Moon Fever with another broody folkloric collection of withered anguish.

Leemans has been pining for the 80s morose and earnest reflection of David Sylvian, Echo & the Bunnymen and Bowie by the sounds of it. The latter of that triumvirate of scalded malady crooners are covered by Leemans on the LP, with a stripped down to solitary acoustic guitar and deadpan Benelux vocal version of ‘Ashes To Ashes’, and an attentively, ached take on the waltzing ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’.

Elsewhere it’s the toiled earthly hardship of The Levellers on the opening ‘Driftwood’, the painted earthly hardship of Gustave Courbet on the elegiac, fatalistic, ‘Second To None’ and the snidely protested cynicism of Jacques Brel on ‘A Plausible Lie’.

Those same withering with despair characteristic themes familiar to anyone whose followed Leemans’ progress of the years, still dominate; the troubadour guided by a litany of allegorical triggers that include the hypnotising beckoned allure of the full moon, doomed poets (it was Oscar Wilde’s Reading gaol ballad that played out the last album, this time Dylan Thomas), and atavistic references.

Every bit as tender and earnest as last year’s moiety suite, similar in almost every way, this latest collection mirrors its folkloric damp soul.

Selected works: Some new singles and teasers from upcoming and recent releases. All share the approval of the Monolith Cocktail.

Barbara Morgenstern

Barbara  Morgenstern  ‘Spring’s Sprung: Bit-Phalanx Remixes’  –  Free digital download

Hauschka  ‘Adgam’  – 17th March 2014

Benjamin  Shaw  ‘Goodbye, Kagoul World’  (Audio Antihero)  –  Available Now

Dominic  Wolf   ‘Behind The Sun’  –  16th  March  2014


Nuoli  ‘My Curse Is My Mind’   –  20th April 2014


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