REVIEWS
Words: Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea



Dubi Dolczek  ‘Voyage To The Cat’s Paw Nebula’
(Stolen Body Records)  16th August 2019


Well what’s not to like? Anyone who does not like twangy guitars and Joe Meek meets The Bonzo Doo Dah Dog Band experience of rock n roll should be injected with the space dust of nostalgia and force fed the meanderings of a Larry Parnes managed faded dream failed pop star.

All that glitters is not chrome as this album sparkles with a delight that can only be found in vintage sci-fi comics. Dan Dare discovers that the Clangers were indeed more than cute and cuddly aliens but in fact reverb soaked 50’s bikini clad Theremin wielding mother fuckers who enjoy nothing more than dancing the night away at the local space hop. Who would have thought that soda pop space dust and doo-wop would be just what the doctor ordered in 2019.







Anthony Reynolds ‘A Painter’s Life’
(Rocket Girl) 26th July 2019


I liked both Jack and Jacques so there is no good reason I wouldn’t enjoy the new LP, A Painter’s Life, from Anthony Reynolds – an LP that at times brings to mind Lee Hazlewood and Japan. This LP is influenced by Reynolds growing up in the Cardiff ghetto Splott [his words not mine], and to make the place sound beautiful in which he indeed does, he embellishes it will echoes of Scott Walker: Splott Walker if you like.

Synth pop, cinematic strings and Welsh county collide in a wash of stray beauty and kitchen sink drama on an album that succeeds in capturing the down at heel glamour of South Wales. I spent a number of years living in Pontypool and spent many a day/night in and out of rehearsal rooms in Newport and Cardiff and this record actually brings back images of those wonderful days.

An LP I hope will gain the attention that Jack and Jacques deserved but never really received, A Painter’s Life is both a fine and rewarding one.







Ray Kosmische ‘Anti-Litterbug’
7th January 2019


If lo-fi psych folk is your bag well fill it with this, an LP of Slip Spence OAR like misadventure, tin pot percussion and moaned and whispered vocals, weaved together with a magical effect. Acoustic guitars and whistles journey together to the land of Summerisle via the greyness of the Manchester skyline; a car journey past the terrace houses of the north west, sending out the subliminal sounds of my childhood. An LP, as I am listening, I feel myself becoming a little obsessed with.

The oddness, strangeness and beauty of Anti-Litterbug is a weary, welcoming thing indeed.







Bigflower ‘What You Get’
26th May 2019


Bigflower consistently releases music of the highest quality but has somehow slipped under the radar, and this song his latest of many one off bandcamp single releases, is no different: A five-minute slab of post punk psychosis. It is a wonderful skyscraper of a guitar track, which comes as no surprise when you hear that Bigflower is none other than the latest carnation of Ivor Perry, former guitarist with Manchester indie legends Easterhouse and the man chosen to replace Johnny Marr in The Smiths. How Morrissey could do with this standard of tunesmithery now as he stumbles from bad album to an even worse taste in badges, this track is so fine it could resurrect the deadest of careers.

I insist that you give this bandcamp page a visit. You will not be disappointed: am I ever wrong?!







Scandinavia ‘Premium Economy’
18th April 2019


Power pop is alive and well and living in the hearts of Scandinavia, from the opening track guitar chime of the Ash like title-track to the closing chiming guitar riffage of ‘Pax Americana’. You are treated…yes, treated to melodies galore. Melodies that bring the golden days of power pop back from the late 70’s and the early 80’s. Anyone out there who has swooned to the beauty of The Motors Airport will indeed enjoy Premium Economy. Anyone who has wrapped their ears around Danger Games by the Pinkees will be in ecstasy.

An LP that demands to be played loud whilst the sun is shining; an LP that deserves the sun to be shining. It is a shame Power Pop music is now often ignored and derided. This album proves that music does not have to evoke images of the dark side of the psyche to be worthy of appraisal. Premium Economy is a fine record of pure guitar pop, and for that Scandinavia should be congratulated.

Premium Economy is available on bandcamp but also as a CD, and I would advise anyone out there to splash-out and buy the physical version, as it really should be enjoyed as a piece of power pop art.







Toxic Chicken ‘Wormhole’
(Wormhole) 7th June 2019


I reviewed Toxic Chicken last excellent eccentric LP earlier in the year. His brand new release Wormhole has just appeared as a new release on the label of the same name. Once again an eccentric foray into electronica, not quite as bat crazy as his last release, this has more subtle eccentricity about it.

This is Toxic Chickens pop album if you like, an album to lie back and let the obscure catchy melodies flow over you, my fave being ‘Drinking Coffee With Norwood Grimes’, which I can imagine as the kind of track Joe Meek might have created if he was alive and experimenting in electronica today, a Gameboy frenzy of duet misgivings, a lovely left turn of leftfield precision.

I would certainly recommend this to anyone with a yearning for something slightly different in the field of electronica.




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ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Andrew C. Kidd



Western Edges ‘Prowess’

(Sound In Silence) 10 April 2019


After listening to the eight tracks of Prowess, I am left thinking about Andrew Marvell’s famous poem, ‘The Garden’; in particular, the lines:

“Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,

Withdraws into its happiness”

 

After being overcome by the ampleness of all the fruits and flowers of his metaphorical garden, Marvell eventually found solace in nature (or, rather, through the Greek derivation, meta ta physika: after the things of nature). Marvell was a Yorkshireman and so is Richard Adams, the producer of the deeply meditative Prowess.

Warm pads and a gently repetitive motif introduce You Look So Beautiful From Up Here. It is a sound akin to the opener on Bibio’s ambient masterpiece, Phantom Brickworks (Warp, 2017). The hymnal piece that follows, Suddenly: A Dream, coruscates in the brightness of its light synthwork.

Adams was supposedly inspired by the Aire Valley when writing Prowess. From its tributaries in the Becks of Skipton and Bradford and the Rivers of Worth and Calder, the veiny arm of the River Aire stretches across Yorkshire. He captures the essence of this age-old waterway in his title track, Western Edges; it is a short sketch comprised of unhurried notes that glint like asymmetric, sun-touched ripples on a calm river.

Solid Gold Soul builds upon multiple layers; the sub-bass sings and the shuffle house rhythm is measured. Airy synths float atop it all. The oscillating, singsong sub-bass, augmented by the step-like synth melody, is also worth mentioning on You’re Going To Miss My Love. The track that follows, All Downhill From Here, features heavily processed plucks and piano effects that filter outwards in an expansive blend of polyrhythm and lyrical notes.

Very Good On The Rushes features a synth-heavy dream-sequence backed by more sub-bass. Absence is quietly ambient and minimally techno. The synths on this piece play out in a refreshingly major key and melt into one another. A slightly deeper synth layer heralds a house beat as deep as England and the 4-4 driven bass guitar riff that eventually replaces it is the anchor upon which a syncopated melody can fix; perhaps this an homage to the industrial sounds that would have emanated out of Saltaire in days past. One could even seek deeper meaning from its title, Absence: the idea of being away from something.

Adams has in effect created his own internal garden in Prowess. Using source material and influences that are close to home, he has brought us, the listener, closer to domestic peace. This is a work full of soothing melodies, wistful drones and contemplative rhythms. In our world of busy abundance, we should all consider retreating into gardens like this more often.




ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona



Sebastian Reynolds with Anne Müller and Alex Stolze ‘Solo Collective Part Two’
(Nonostar Records) 7th June 2019


Gathered together once more in union under the Solo Collective title, the Anglo-German musical partnership of virtuoso performers and composers Sebastian Reynolds, Anne Müller and Alex Stolze is back with a second volume of evocative neo-classical stirrings and soundscapes.

Part One of this interconnecting project shared the material evenly between the trio, with each artist represented by two of their own original tracks, rearranged and fashioned to accommodate their new foils. This time around the compositions on Part Two are all attributed to Reynolds. Re-performed the Oxford polymath’s selection of both back catalogue and, until now, yet to be fully realized tracks are transformed with the most delicate and tactile of touches. Well, mostly that is until you reach the centerpiece (as it were), the live recorded performance of ‘Ripeness Is All’; a disorientating vision of harrowing confusion that feeds a narration of the sobering death of Snowden passage from Joseph Heller’s iconic tragic-comedy Catch-22, through a JG Ballard meets Philip K. Dick dystopia. Literary gold, Heller’s WWII bomber crew are uprooted and transported to a haunting polygon warning signal blazed soundtrack that borders on Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle. As dark and jarring as it is – and it is the most discordant, violent composition on this and the previous volume by a mile – ‘Ripeness Is All’ sits well with the more serene and beautifully classical lamenting explorations and mood pieces. It’s also the most glaring example of digital effects manipulation on an album that is intentionally built around Reynolds concept of blurring the boundaries between instrumental, more natural, performance and digital processing: Part Two being an album that explores Reynolds various working methods, each track demonstrating this theme, whether that’s a performance or series of performances later transformed and re-edited in the studio, or fragments of sound stitched together to form a coherent soundscape collage.

Talking of a certain calculated ambiguity, the homemade concrete recordings that make up the ghostly sounding ‘Midenhall’ obscure the source material well, with only the piano and clock-like chimes acting the part of a recognizable guide in a vapour of oscillations, speed shift effects and supernatural atmospherics.

The deft quivery resonance of Reynolds two foils can be heard more distinctly on the remainder of this album. The waning and pizzicato plucks of Müller’s cello and Stolze’s violin, for instance, can be heard on the achingly beautiful Oriental-evocative opening suite ‘One Year On’, and even on the amorphous-sounding plaintive ‘For Hazel’ – a track that molds a number of performances and recordings from various locations and time to produce an ethereal lament. Tender throughout, both add refined sighing articulation and emotion to Reynolds mostly piano-centric arrangements: subtle but integral, especially on the elegantly filmic and moving ‘Holy Island’; a song that has become a sort of standard for the trio, this being the second version of the original scenic classical wash to appear on the project’s moiety of albums.

A change in scope with the emphasis shifted towards Reynolds music and techniques, Part Two is still a group effort (an even greater extended cast of enablers are credited in the album’s liner notes) even if those contributions are intentionally more blurred this time around. Released on Stolze’s brilliant burgeoning Nonostar label, this latest volume can be seen as a showcase for three of the most interesting and talented artist-composer performers of the contemporary classical and experimental electronic music scenes in Europe – though arguably all three straddle an eclectic field of styles both traditional (the Eastern Jewish music of Klezmer for one, the influence of which permeates the songs ‘By The Tower’ and ‘At Nightfall’) and new.

Superb in every way, the triumvirate of Reynolds, Müller and Stolze in any form can’t be recommended enough by me (the previous volume even made this blog’s albums of the year features). And Part Two is another essential considered and aspiring work from the trio.


HIP-HOP REVUE
Words: Matt Oliver




Singles/EPs

Love Island audition failed once again, Rapture & Verse reverts to bringing you the tastiest hip-hop to tango your chops with. Redbeard’s ‘Misc’ EP packs a fistful of strong, down-to-earth rhymes, triumphing with joypad flex ‘Dead Pixels’, as the iron-chinned guardian to dreamlike assurance that veers into knocks sponsored by seven bells. Loose lips sink ships, but Sinking Ships bite back with the three-track conundrum ‘Foudroyant’, Leviathan and Rat Bastard pushing the everyday into the abstract along a high wire and striding comfortably through a no man’s land defined by one false move. Brollies up for when the ‘Tidal Wave’ of Cappo and Senz Beats breaks defences and provides blunt counsel that shouldn’t be slept on. A superlative remix package has Jazz T, Uncommon NASA, REDA and Lex Boogie all coping with catastrophe with individual adapt/survive tactics. J Lawson’s search for ‘Fools Gold’ over a mean Senz Beats brawler isn’t a bad look either.

Unlikely to put his ‘Reeboks’ on and have a little dance, Baileys Brown bites into a dub bludgeon laced with cosmic sparkles and Axel Holy, Stinking Slumrok and Datkid in tow. A steamroller acting like it ain’t nothing. ‘The Green House’ effect of Eric the Red and El Grobbo is straight goading music by the half dozen, going nose to nose with the crowd in an odd couple throwdown: thickset beats provide shadow when catching rhymes bouncing off the walls. The super ‘Final Form’ is Sampa the Great flattening opposition to the fattest of disco-funk fanfares: get up-stand up multiplied by can’t stop-won’t stop, generates something unstoppable.








Both scholarly and bathed in sunshine, Blu & Exile’s welcome ‘True & Livin’ EP wants to get everyone together, whether that be within cypher, backyard barbeque or think tank, packing more within three tracks than most manage across whole albums. Blu also makes an appearance on the drowsy ‘What Ifs?’, a drifter from Morriarchi and Confucius MC in Old Paradice mode, the subtle spike of discomfort funked up in cool loungewear by Swarvy on the remix. An ode to the ‘Night Shift’ from Murs looks back to set the record straight with some pertinent quotable, Kash’s blooming piano nodding in agreement, before a re-team with 9th Wonder parades a ‘Ga$ Station Gucci Belt’ as a heavyweight challenge staying light on its feet.



There’s no better demonstration of being in the zone than Homeboy Sandman travelling to the ‘West Coast’ and making light speed seem like a Sunday drive. Aesop Rock on the boards serves pure robot-chasing Def Juxism for the circuitous purpose of making complete sense. Ringing bells with boom bap to leave you hunchbacked, J57 and Blame One stoke the fire that causes Mark Ski’s ‘Voodoo’, answering the question that there is such a thing as joyous demolition lasting under two and half minutes. Finland’s Cut Beetlez and New York’s Good People to and fro for the fun ‘Cut People’ EP, an anything goes six tracker of rhymes wounding like a sarcastic slow clap, and a smorgasbord of boom bap rammed into by raw samples and the Beetlez’ trademark contempt for turntables.




Albums

Entwining the concepts of lo-fi and low life and guaranteed to get under your skin, Jack Danz’ germ peddling ‘TMIB’ gets stone cold/cold stoned as the walls start to drip and reality disintegrates. Mesmeric on his own terms, the voice of someone who’s seen too much but knows exactly what’s going on, manipulates the midnight hour into a seedy object of disdain, remaining heavy enough to give environmental health the finger.





Jazz instrumentalism to a tee from DJ Obsolete induces ‘The Mandela Effect II’, complemented by a crew of emcees to be reckoned with, hurrying up the queue to the booth until another head clocker from the German producer comes through. Nice and relaxed, but with that mean streak made easy, like the 90s used to do. The second volume of Rhettmatic’s ‘Loops, Chops, Beats & Vibes’ is precisely not just that. Early doors the instrumentals are certainly coming from inside the house, the Beat Junkie’s slasher-in-waiting boom bap headlining a bulk load of work for that neck. A premium rate number is DJ Drinks’ ‘Nightline’, switching between getting jazz to force the issue so a red mist starts to fall, and easing on back until ears get warm and blurry. Half an hour of beats that won’t leave you hanging.

The Revorg label compilation ‘Est 2013’ brings up to speed the rock-dwelling community with all of its biggest hitters. Big Toast, Gee Bag, Gatecrasherz, Jack Diggs, CNT, as well as Phoenix da Icefire and MysDiggi, all steam in on a 16-track expo of British firepower: melodious, speaker-tipping beats, and rhymes running ridiculing rings around the unenlightened. Essential.

A seen-it-all-before eye roll set to surprisingly pleasant music – a classic in brave-facing it when the contrary is obvious. Chris Orrick is ‘Out to Sea’, treading water to survive but never leaving you high and dry. A concise collection of Detroit straight talking and a specialist in which battles can and can’t be won, Orrick is able to cut himself some slack with entertaining odes to the munchies and online fraternising.





The serving suggestion for the new Pro album is ‘After Dinner Before Dawn’, and is an album you can’t fault for honesty, in terms of both professional and personal integrity. Someone who won’t stutter, will project his voice and speak clearly, easily slip into a West Coast groove out of East Coast bumps, and whose wisdom fully comes to the fore as the album moves along. Good value.

 Chaotic scenes abound when Injury Reserve’s self-titled album climbs off the bench, though you probably shouldn’t expect anything else from a crew who recorded their first mixtape in a dentist’s office. Tails are up when Rico Nasty, Cakes da Killa and Freddie Gibbs join the trio in creating aggro, when generally they’re not looking to cause trouble or bother nobody. An abrasive leftfield pile-on that levels out, just short of delivering a hotchpotch. Talking of chaotic, Beast Coast are hardly subtle in their ‘Escape from New York’, the massed ranks including Joey Bada$$, Flatbush Zombies, The Underachievers, Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution riding trap-for-all like a wave machine before creating perplexing sensations when smoothing it out. Strength in numbers barges this one past the winning post.





REVIEWS 
Words: Brian Bordello




Beef Gordon  ‘ABC’
Out Now


The first single taken from Beef Gordon’s upcoming debut LP is a whimsical ditty about the joys of S&M. Sounding not unlike a young Jarvis Cocker performing a song for children’s television, you can imagine Brian Cant doing a lovely off kilter little dance whilst being whipped by Floella Benjamin, whilst Big Ted and Humpty dry hump Jemima, and little Ted looks on in voyeuristic delight through the square window. There really is not enough sex in music these days.

This is a lovely Casio inspired pop romp which makes me look forward to hearing what delights Gordon will conjure up with his long player [ooh err missus!!].





Colossus ‘Ynys Môn’
(CEG Records) Out Now


The sun is out, it’s nearly summer, so what do we need? We need this! A wonderful romp of a summer pop song, the kind of song you used to hear blasting out of your transistor radio in those halcyon days of the radio 1 roadshow, the days when the DJs spoke nonsense but it meant so much more.

The 80s was a great decade for mainstream pop and Colossus has tapped into the whole era’s feel bringing the fun element back into pop: And this is pop; pop is not a dirty word, pop is something that when done well can remove the drudgery of your life for the length of the magical song. So lie back close your eyes and soak up the sunshine that emits from ‘Ynys Môn’.







Graham Domain  ‘Love And Sadness EP’
(Metal Postcard Records)  20th May 2019


So here we have the latest release from the wonderful singer songwriter from Manchester, Graham Domain. You may remember, or not, that I reviewed his full length LP earlier in the year, Cold Moon Harmonics. This new release is a six-track mini LP. Mini in size but not in quality, this carries on were Cold Moon Harmonics left off: beautifully written songs of heartache and betrayal the sadness that can be found in existence.

There is something strangely magical about the weirdness of the musical world Graham Domain lives; a throwback to the days of the 80s when Japan and Black skirted around the regions of the hit parade; a soothing charade of yesterdays bedsit clothes and art school glamour songs to lose yourself in; to bathe in the afterglow of a pure sadness; an LP to soundtrack falling in and out of love to and an LP to fall in love with.







Gisli  ‘The Skeleton Crew’
24th May 2019

I really like this LP. A fine pop LP in fact; any album that starts with the fizz pop explosion of the Super Furry Animals eating a sherbet dip, like they do on the opener ‘Tidal’, and then goes on to sing of love and romance and its many highs and lows in such a fun filled manner but with the wonderful undercurrent of darkness gets my vote.

At times reminding me of that other fine lyricist E from the Eels with a such a marvelous turn of phrase as “I would not say it is giving up, just a sweet surrender”, from the beautiful ‘Sweet Surrender’. It is rare that you hear such fine offbeat lyrics attached to beautiful melodies. It is becoming something of a dying art. Remember, natural strangeness is a virtue, not put on strangeness, as nobody likes a try hard or a fake but this has a natural pop charm with an eccentric tilt. And anybody who can combine handclaps and fuzz guitar as beautifully as Gisli does on track two, ‘Broken Arm’, should be cherished and treasured as this is a great LP filled with many pop gems.


ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona



Various ‘Jambú e Os Míticos Sons Da Amazônia’
(Analog Africa) 21st June 2019


As varied and fertile as the numerous diverse waterways that pour into its Amazonian basin geography, and cultures that arrive (either forcibly via the Atlantic slave trade corridor or through mutual trade) by the boatload on its tide, the Brazilian port city of Belém proves an abundant spring of polygenesis discoveries. Returning to the South American continent to showcase the music and story of this important trading post, the northern state of Pará hub, “enveloped by the mystical wonders of the Amazonian forest”, bridged a myriad of communities and musical genres, developing, but often, creating wholly unique styles.

Cross-fertilizing multiple languages, traditions, embracing both imported African and indigenous religions and ritual, and straddling the delta, port and forest environments the Belém pulse can, however, be whittled down to a quartet of distinctive rhythms: Carimbó, Siriá, Lambada and the witchcraft fusion offshoot of the Afro-Brazilian practiced Macumba, “mironga”. There’s of course plenty more (Lundon, Banguê) but this latest compilation from the Analog Africa label concentrates on those particular movements – an accompanying 44-page booklet outlines and details the full provenance…where it can be established that is.





Like an old trusted returning friend, the star of the label’s 2014 Siriá album, Mestre Cupijóe is included once more on the Jambú e Os Míticos Sons Da Amazônia collection. With a sound incubated on the shores of the Tocantini River, in the legendary Quilombos settlement originally founded by escaped slaves, Cupijó’s modernized version of the local rambunctious music he made famous was funneled through the Belém clubs and studios to produce (what I called at the time) a sound that can only be described as a Sicilian funeral procession band gatecrashing a Mexican wedding party. A 1973 recorded performance from the Favela nightspot in Cametá of the song ‘Despedida’ (“Farewell”) is no different in that respect: slightly more woozy but just as brilliantly shambling and loose. It’s also the very first modern Siriá recording of its kind.

Legends of the electrified Carimbó style are numerous. A style with folkloric roots, though there is much debate as to its origins, Carimbó is split between those who adhere to its heritage and those who amp it up and give it some oomph! One such energetic fella, singer/composer/bandleader Aurino Quirino Gonçalves, otherwise known as Pinduca – a nickname that refers to the signature assortment of ornaments that hung from his massive straw hat –, took the style to an international audience with his energetic, quickened take on the highly popular music. Represented by a trio of signature scuffled shufflers, Pinduca’s tropical itchy, humming bassline, goer ‘Vamos Farrear’, wobbly Afro-Brazilian quivery supernatural cult ‘Pai Xangô’, and slicker turn ‘Coco Da Bahia’ are all suffused with effortless balmy energy and constantly infectious moving percussion. What a find!

A real family affair, Pinduca’s brother Pim can be heard as the vocalist on the reckless careering down the train-tracks motioned ‘Von Andorinha’. Part of the Grupo da Pesada rock band, who were more used to turning out Bolero and Mambo before being encouraged to reinvent themselves as a Carimbó band, Pim would leave to pursue a successful solo career.

Another icon that plays such a prominent role on this compilation is the “King of Carimbó” (no less) Augusto Gomes Rodrigues, otherwise known by his stage name of “Verequete” – a reference to the Vodun divinity that featured in the ceremonial song ‘Choma Verequete’. Through many travails the renowned composer and influencer spent years carving out a living – with jobs as diverse and hard-laboured as a butcher, chef and lumberjack – in the wilderness until releasing his family-band debut in 1970. Two of the troupe’s signature “stick and chord” driven rattlers are included on this collection; the rustic, tumbling lively ‘Mambo Assanhado’ and jungle march ‘Da Garrafa Uma Pinga’.





Meanwhile, representing if not inventing the Lambada is another legend in the Belém story, Vieira. This virtuoso multi-instrumentalist who swapped the banjo and mandolin for an electric guitar, fused bits of Mambo, Choro, Samba and Merengue together to create a unique, sweet-toned dance sensation. The larger-than-life actor of the fabled Bye Bye Brazil movie, Janjâo offers a one-track glimpse into the bewitching “Mironga” sound on the harp-like spellbinding Western ‘Meu Barquinho’. Mironga of course has its origins in the mystique of the slave imported Macumba religion; the deities of which, the strong figure of aggression and resistance, Xangô, and mother of oceans (and safe passage), Yemanjá, are invoked not only in the songs of this towering presence but across Belém and South America.

 

Brought to the attention of Analog Africa’s boss, Samy Ben Redjeb, by this collection’s instigator, the Australian crate-digger and producer with Brazilian roots, Carlo Xavier, the magical fusions of Belém prove scintillating, sexy and at times rambunctious fun; a transportive carnival of rhythms and sounds that capture a lesser known part of South American music history; just as alive and dynamic today as it was back in the 1970s.










Words: Dominic Valvona

Images all taken from the compilation accompanying booklet. 


ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Gianluigi Marsibilio 




Holly Herndon ‘PROTO’
(4AD) 10th May 2019

A digital kingdom in which it is possible to establish a pact between man and machine, a maternal connection that gives a precise identity to a record that becomes human, android, cyborg, consciousness.

A continuous and hypnotizing dialogue between Holly Herndon and Spawn (the name given to the digital creature) that lights up in PROTO through a vocal that uses the voice as “an instrument rather than a lyrical vessel”.

The characteristics of spoken words are deeply influenced by the human touch, deep or graceful, of a voice that communicates to us, through its confession, a state of mind. The reflection contained in the minutes of the duration of the record does not really deserve a review but an entire vocabulary, and not only from a musical point of view. There is a universe, a new ethical impulse that seeks new paths, in places where there are not yet beaten grounds.

In “Proto” there is a study, a flow built on a voice that doubles and accentuates its presence in a series of virtual choruses.

The idea of a vocal riff built by an AI is a perverse geometry that connects as much to the ideas of Mozart as to those of Radiohead or the Aphex Twin. “Proto” is a transversal work that focuses on a founding theme of the next, probably 100 years (except after our extinction).

The rationality, or rather the scientificity of the work, is submerged by the poetish spectrallity of songs like ‘Crawler’ or ‘Birth’.

The global regularity is an explosion of inventiveness that connects Holly Herndon to visionaries such as Steve Wozniak, Kevin Kelly, and links her to an artistic tradition that starts from a Space Odyssey and also a dialogue with Laurel Halo or Oneohtrix Point Never.

On the album there is a universe of reference: “Proto” is a cultural and germinal space that connects to the “Digital Stone Age” recalled by Krista Stevens in the New York Times.

The only flaw in this record is in the deep, perhaps extreme, hermetic syncretism of Spawn, which proves it can talk to each other, but still in Morse code. After all, Spawn is just an “AI Baby” who still needs to take some important steps before developing a clear and more complex language; meanwhile we have to rethink humanity and our idea of A.I.

In the beautiful book of Jeff Hawkins, concerning the theme of A.I., he reminds us how: “If a new song violates these principles – in reference to the common canons of western music -, you know immediately that something is wrong. Think about this for a second. You hear a song that you have never heard before, your brain experiences a pattern it has never experienced before, and yet you make predictions and can tell if something is wrong. The basis of these mostly unconscious predictions is the set of memories that are stored in your cortex. Your brain can’t say exactly what will happen next, but it nevertheless predicts which note patterns are likely to happen and which aren’t.”

Holly and Spawn don’t completely break the rules but they skillfully play with them in an artificial waltz.




Reviews Column: Dominic Valvona




Back after a short hiatus, my eclectic spread of recommendations and reviews features, as ever, a bumper edition of recent releases. There’s a suitably seasonal solo album from a Beach Boys imbued Mike Gale that wallows in the scorching rays, called Summer Deluxe; some live action from the Ottoman/Edwardian imbued period fusion of Arab and English music hall Brickwork Lizards, who’s new EP features a quartet of live recorded tracks from the St. Giles sessions; there’s a trippy psych peregrination hard sell from the Submarine Broadcasting Company in the form of a GOATS (not that one, this is another group entirely) cassette tape called Far Out; the latest beautifully, if despondently, articulated songbook from Oliver Cherer, I Feel Nothing Most Days; the musical suite in all its glory from Bethany Stenning’s multimedia conceptual art film The Human Project, released via the artist’s Stanlaey alter-ego. I review the fruits of a congruous union between Glitterbeat Records instrumental imprint tak:til and the ‘21st century guitar’ American label VDSQ Records, a new nocturnal hour suite from Chris Brokaw called End Of The Night; and there’s new album from the Benelux specialists Jezus Factory, the cathartic Wilderwolves rocker Inhale, Increase The Dose.

I also take a look at the latest album from the elasticated electro-pop and neo-Kraut Cologne-based Von Spar and friends, Under Pressure, plus singles from two afflatus acts, the Indian-imbued Society Of The Silver Cross (‘Kali Om’ and ‘The Mighty Factory of Death’) and Book Of Enoch, Judaic inspired John Johanna (‘Children Of Zion’).



 

Mike Gale ‘Summer Deluxe’

May 2019

Once more escaping the short days and dreary dampness of an English winter, the Hampshire-based polymath Mike Gale (notable for his work with the Americana imbued Co-Pilgrim) suns himself again in the dappled rays of lilted surf pop on his new solo album, Summer Deluxe.

Liberally splashing about in the efflux surf of The Beach Boys the much-prolific Gale (this is his fifth album alone in just five years) hides a certain sorrow, longing and yearn under the most colorful and dreamy of melodious harmonies. Sometimes it’s just the one Beach Boy who springs to mind when listening to this seasonal paean: Dennis Wilson, who flits about with McCartney and The Animal Collective on the breezy but deeply felt ‘Barecaraa’, and a filtered version of Pet Sounds era Brian – via Sparklehorse and the little known She Sells Seashells Expo homage project by the lo fi American artist John Lane. There’s even a hint of Surf’s Up noir Brian Johnston echoing around the tranquil summer abandon of ‘You Have A Way’. But you get the picture: that Beach Boys influence is prominent; something that is impossible to pull-off unless you have the talent, which Gale obviously has and proves here, no matter how unassumingly he does it.

A beautifully articulated songbook throughout, the best is saved until (almost) last with the hymnal-turn-diaphanous upbeat chorus of bubbly-synth and wafting saxophone anthem ‘Every Cloud Has A Cloud’. A comfort blanket wrapped around the repeating plaint of “You feel like nothing’s really working out”, this final vocal track sounds like the weight of the shoreline is burdening a wistful Gale as he plunges into the ocean depths to escape.

Dazed and hazy, a hushed mirage of summer, the leaf-turning breeze of autumn is never far away, its arrival denoting all the connotations and metaphors you’d expect, that fleeting optimism of the summer masks and makes all our woes seem far less burdening. Summer Deluxe is swimmingly brilliant in its indie slacker charm; a scion indeed of the Beach Boys spirit.










 

Von Spar ‘Under Pressure’

(Bureau B) 10th May 2019

Finding it all a bit much, in a society the Von Spar have coined as “surveillance capitalism”, the Cologne-based “modular system” (their description not mine) convey delusion and anxiety on their first LP in five years, Under Pressure.

Far from dour, defiant and angry the Von Spar and guests lift the miasma and mood with a most classy soulful electro-pop and neo-Kraut dance album; a sophisticated affair that even opens with a two-part dream sequence, the first part, featuring the float-y hushed coos of the Japanese singer/songwriter Eiko Ishibashi drifting to a House music rewired vision of Tony Allen drumming and bouncing refracted polygons, the second part, brings in the familiar enervated falsetto soul of Canadian polymath Chris A. Cummings with a more gliding Italo House beat; the plaint sentiment of both being “all is well until it is not”. Cummings sweet malaise and wistful tones as principle vocalist can be heard on a quartet of equally chic dance tracks; the Yellow Magic Orchestra synth Orientalism drifty ‘Happiness’, winding spiraled prog-suspense mirage ‘Better Life’, and Duran Duran meets bubbly cosmic synth ray ‘Not To Forget’.

Adding an effortless lifetime of sassy dub and reggae scholarship to the Slits-in-chrome and Grace Jones stalking ‘Boyfriends (Dead Or Alive)’, the grand dame of music writing and post-punk Vivien Goldmine characteristically turns vulnerability into a strength, dismissing a string of exes in the process towards self-realization. Other notable doyens and cult figures include Stereolab’s iconic Kosmische siren Laetitia Sadier, who liltingly adds her signature float-y tones to the motorik electro-pop ‘Extend The Song’, and prolific idiosyncratic lo fi genius R. Stevie Moore, who turns in an anguished Laurie Anderson as A.I. psychiatrist performance (an inquisitive “should I worry”, becomes ever more agitated) on the Jah Wobble goes arpeggiator, feeding the consumer machine, ‘Falsetto Giuseppe’.

On an album that spans and twists so many genres, it is the closing shifting-shards panoramic turn rhythm tumbling instrumental, ‘Mont Ventoux’ that travels the furthest, moving from progressive West Coast psych folk to shades of Popol Vuh, Cluster, Vangelis and video-nastie synth soundtrack: A epic, reflective way to finish.

Under pressure maybe, but it doesn’t show as the Von Spar and friends produce a constantly evolving sophisticated dance album of soulful yearning.







Chris Brokaw ‘End Of The Night’

(tak:til) 24th May 2019

Representing a union between Glitterbeat Records experimental international instrumental imprint tak:til and the equally expletory American VDSQ, two tactile delights from the “21st century guitar’ label’s catalogue have been given a European-wide release for the very first time. Both released at the end of May, Chuck Johnson’s 2017 Balsams album will be available for the first time on CD, whilst the nocturnal inspired Chris Brokaw suite End Of The Night is an entirely new album of attentive and placable musings.

Review wise, I’ve only had time to peruse the latter, a swoozy, atmospheric accompaniment to the Codeine and Come band members various moods, reflections and observation, framed within the pitched idea by VDSQ label boss Steve Lowenthal as the “existential” pondered ideal “last record of the night” – the results of Brokaw and Lowenthal’s late night record listening sessions. Taking up the offer, to record that perfect twilight hour album, Brokaw collected ideas for years until the opportunity arose to finally put thoughts to tape.

Joining him on these various traverses and nuanced concentrations is an ensemble of congruous musicians, some recommended by Lowenthal. Appearing in a myriad of combinations, from duo to trio and quartet, is the “Chet Baker” redolent trumpet-player Greg Kelly (Chet being a big influence on Brokaw), violinist Samara Lubelski (who’s briefly played with, like Brokaw, Thurston Moore), viola player David Michael Curry, cellists Lori Goldston and Jonah Sacks, bass-player Timo Shanko and on drums, Luther Gray.

Channeling many of the artists he’s worked with, Thurston Moore, Evan Dando and Stephen O’Malley, as he deftly picks out descriptive notes and builds up a swell of resonance, Brokaw both dreamily and moodily drifts through gestures of jazz, post-rock, grunge, tremolo-echo-y country and on the reverb-heavy vapour drift, ‘Blue Out’, a cosmic kind of blues music. Suspense, even mystery and narrative are handled with descriptive poise, with the guitar-playing evoking traces of Jeff Buckley, Jonny Greenwood and on the hushed brushed drums, dipping motion ‘His Walking’, the results of melding Chris Isaak with J Mascis.

Meditative and lingering for the most part, End Of The Night counters somnolent reflection with cerebral ponder to create the desired nocturnal atmosphere; at least a great record to finish any session on, if not quite the “perfect” one.




Oliver Cherer ‘I Feel Nothing Most Days’

(Second Language Music) 26th April 2019

An artist most lyrically out of time, full of removed observations, set to the most relaxed and wafting of stripped accompaniments, a wistful Oliver Cherer exchanges the part fact/part fiction Victorian Forest of Dean folkloric diorama of The Myth Of Violet Meek for the vague resonating traces of the 1980s on his recent despondent entitled I Feel Nothing Most Days album.

The third such impressive songbook from the prolific Hastings-based earnest troubadour to be released under his own name (previous alter-egos have included DollBoy, Gilroy Mere, Rhododendron, The Assistant) in as few years, this often dreamy affair, originally conceived decades ago – a very young Cherer putting his burgeoning ideas on to a Yamaha 4-track cassette recorder in 1983 -, is imbued by the lingering articulated drip-fed and amorphous cycles of The Durutti Column, but also a wealth of similar ethereal artists, borders on shoegaze from the late 80s epoch of 4AD.

Attuned to the Durutti first time around no doubt, Cherer, by some cosmic-aligned luck, found that he owned Vini Reilly’s Fender guitar (the one used on Morrissey’s first solo LP, Viva Hate as well). Put to good use then, as Cherer reprises his early 80s (what was left of them; when salvaged from the attic and played on a modern cassette-player that two of the original quartet of tracks came out at half-speed, the remainder, in reverse) recordings, the mood of this album is gauzy memory; music pulled from another time, an ether even – some of this down to the harmonies, choral and often atmosphere-setting guest vocals of an apparition cooing Claudia Barton and Riz Maslen.

Despite the drifting, mirror-y visage of washed troubadour, Talk Talk, C86, shoegaze and even Yacht-rock, a barely concealed rage at the divisionist-driven tensions that have sown so much caustic discord in recent years; throwing a proverbial, sacrificial “baby” out with the bath water to the wolves on the veiled Robert Wyatt-esque ‘Weight Of The Water’, in what could be a denouncement on Brexit, and the sophisticated rock with hints of The Pale Fountains ‘Sinners Of The World’ is no less gently scathing.

Elsewhere Cherer moons on the wistfully enchanted French fantasy, ‘Seberg’, a lamentable swaddled delight r-imagination of a scene, played out to a reference heavy lyricism about the aloof, Gauloise smoke cool New Wave cinema icon Jean Seberg (Cherer playing an unlikely role of Jean-Paul Belmondo), and pens a magically sad, Laurel Canyon, swoon to dementia, fading memory and age on ‘An Unfamiliar Kitchen’.

Beautifully articulated throughout, the shifting memories of time assembling just long enough to provide a vaporous soundtrack, I Feel Nothing Most Days is despite the malaise, anguish and sense of injustice a lovely, soulful songbook; another essential Oliver Cherer release.







Stanlaey ‘The Human Project’

(Stanlaey Art) May 2019

Two years after the premiere of Bethany Stenning’s ambitious multi-media The Human Project, the full-on immersive audio soundtrack from that film arrives in the form of a debut album; the first under Stenning’s amalgamated pseudonym of Stanlaey through her own imprint label. Featuring a cast of over seventy artists, actors/actresses, videographers and of course musicians, Stenning’s plaudit-attracting opus is heavy on the themes of both duality and juxtaposition; the myriad of twists and turns as the polymath artist studies our chaotic modern relationship with nature, symbolized visually and musically over a number of concept-driven performances.

Creating an alternative pastoral fairytale world, Stenning brings us a highly experimental beguiling soundscape that is often as bewildering as it is diaphanous and melodious. Untethered throughout, weaving amorphously between Earth Mother folk, jazz, R&B, Tricky-like trip-hop and the avant-garde The Human Project is in a constant state of movement as it attempts to articulate and phrase the seven elements that underpin it. Stenning’s distinct voice is itself difficult to pin down, fluctuating, soaring, meandering as it does in giddy childlike innocent wonder one minute, a ghost the next: Joanna Newsom, Bjork and Janelle Monae wrapped into one woodland sprite.

A quartet of conceptual video tracks from the album have already been drip-fed in the run-up to its release as an audio only experience – which works equally without its visual moiety as a whole new immersive experience -; the earthy winding Ghostpoet-esque ‘The Mountain Collector’, the bowl-pouring nod to antiquity’s poetic titan and striving yearn to escape an “Iron Age of destruction” for one of gold, ‘Ode To Ovid’, the breathy ethereal with Tibetan wind chimes metaphorical encapsulation of fluidity (elegantly portrayed by the harmonious display of acro-yoga in the video) ‘Properties Of Ice’, and the gauzy anguished forest spirit turns wild and intense lament to a brought-to-life mannequin wanting to escape their constraints, ‘Wooden Womb’, have already been doing the rounds.

This leaves the silvery moon pool serenade love song between a werewolf and ‘The Moon’, the Lamplighter meets Erased Tapes, dub-y ponderous flood of consciousness ‘Eldor’ (which features the rapping of Pedro DG Correia), and sonic splashed, undulated interpretation of water (its healing properties as much as a backdrop to Stenning’s emotions) ‘Aquarium’. There’s also, as a sort of extra unveiling, the angelic wafting through a void spell of ‘Orbs’, which originally was used to play out the end credits of The Human Project film.

Neither art, performance nor purely a soundtrack, this album is captivating and distinct, working on all levels: sound and music so often fails when brought into the conceptual field of creative arts, but Stenning has pulled it off wonderfully.







 

Brickwork Lizards ‘Live At St. Giles’

(Vyvyfyr Records) 17th May 2019

Plucked from the era of top hat and tails tea dances and the more rouge-ish double entendre romantically swooned crooning gin joints, the Ink Spots via Sublime Porte imbued Brickwork Lizards seem to have been lifted from an old His Master’s Voice label shellac record. A meeting of musical mind, the Oxford based troupe merge co-founder Tom O’Hawk’s penchant for clipped vocal harmony and the swing of the roaring 20s and early 30s with his musical foil Tarik Beshir’s romanticized and longing sounds of Turkey and the Orient to create a unique fusion.

Enjoying the spotlight that shines on this Arabic jazz ensemble, off the back of two albums (the second of which, 2018’s Haneen, was given the thumb’s up by myself on this blog) and joint-jumping live performances, the group’s vocalist, oud player and instigator Beshir was invited to work as a musical consultant on the new Disney Aladdin reboot; members of the Lizards even formed part of the Sultan’s palace house band.

It is the live performance quality of the band that is celebrated for posterity on their latest release, a four-track EP recorded in front of an audience at the Oxford Jazz at St. Giles showcase. All new, even if they sound nostalgic, the St. Giles quartet of vocal and instrumental maladies, swoons and bounding dances features both original-penned compositions and re-imaginings of Ottoman bohemia, and an even older Arabic love poem They begin with one of these homage transformations, the Anatolian Tango suspense turn Balkan-rush treatment of the legendary Ottoman composer Tanburi Cemil Bey’s turn-of-the-20th century sweep of the bay ‘Nikriz Longa’ instrumental. On the final performance, Beshir yearningly improvises with an Arabic love paean to a weepy and complicated, but effortlessly played, 10/8 beat accompaniment on the Mowashah tradition inspired ‘Sama’I Waltz’.

With one foot in the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band camp, the Lizards pay respect to the racy sincerity of the doo-wop harmony group the Ink Spots on the jazzy crooned ‘I Want To Spend The Night With You’. And on their ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’ evoking serenaded idyllic punt down the river ‘Roses’, you can easily imagine the Lizards lounging on the Sultan’s palace rug, wistfully sighing sweet nothings to their muse.

With certain élan and flair, not forgetting a real commitment to their form, the Brickwork Lizards refine and reinterpret their nostalgic inspirations to produce a re-electrified fusion that transcends both its Ottoman and quaint Edwardian music hall legacies. Going by these St. Giles recordings they prove a great band to catch live in the flesh.




 

GOATS ‘Far Out’

(Submarine Broadcasting Co.) 16th May 2019

As if there weren’t enough Goat orientated bands already to contend with, here’s another. This collective rabble (not to be confused with that equally tripping, but African-imbued, lot from Sweden) of moonlight acid and experimental pseudo daemonic cult mind-bending is led by the brilliantly-named maverick Alan Morse Davis, with Jorge Mario Zuleta, Dec Owen and a list of pseudonyms to back him up.

Astral planning the nonsensical, channeling a wealth of acid-rock, hippie folk, Kosmische, Krautrock and avant-garde inspirations, these Holy Mountain(side) goats chew on the most lethal of intoxicating hallucinatory strength grass. Following up on their previous self-titled LP – which I’m told did some impressive sales – the GOATS latest wheeze, appropriately entitled Far Out, is one continuous forty-minute exploratory track of spliced sections, released on that most revived and limited of formats, the cassette tape.

Setting off through a reversal-heavy drug-y drone daze our navigators on this trip meander through an ever-changing soundscape of Incredible String Band commune ditsy childish folk, indigestion-hampered throat singing, early period Amon Duul II Gothic chorus of angels and Germanic myth, caustic confusion noodling, Spacemen 3 go baggy go Velvets psych-garage lo fi, and harmonium bellowed Indian fantasy mirage. That’s without mentioning the vortex sucking sample of The Creation’s ‘How Does It Feel To Feel’, the doodling melting evocations of the Acid Mothers Temple and the blown-out wafts of Kraut-jazz trumpet that get thrown in to what is a most experimental soundtrack; equally in search of hippie nirvana and free love aboard the Hawkwind mothership as amorphous fuckery.

Far Out is an often-ridiculous collage built around a few more thrashed-out, almost conventional, song ideas and meanderings. As ‘head music’ goes the GOATS have sown together a mind-melting rich peregrination of sketches, passing fancies, the afflatus and out-right weird to create their very own disturbed vision; a release that is more ennui, hard come-down Gong communing with Popol Vuh than Faust Tapes.







Wilderwolves ‘Inhale, Increase The Dose’

(Jezus Factory) 29th May 2019

From the Benelux alternative and experimental rock specialists Jezus Factory, and featuring a heavy-guitar rotation of guests and collaborators from the Angels Die Hard, Broken Circle Breakdown and Eriksson/Delcroix triangle of bands from that region, arrives the second LP of sincere anxiety and travail from the Wilderwolves. A vehicle for the songwriting of Alain Rylant, who also sings and plays guitar, the Wilderwolves lean towards introspective rage on the finely produced Inhale, Increase The Dose; though there’s a certain ambiguity in the lyrics, waiting to be decoded, and a lot of violence (metaphorical or not) meted-out and suffered in a number of moody love tussles.

Pitched then as an album about love, though with a side caveat that “it’s about everything” and “it’s about nothing”, all seen and experienced through the self-medicated haze of lethargy; Rylant attempts to rattle the listener (and himself) from a resigned stupor.

Full of the wrangling, sinewy, angulated and sometimes caustic guitar shapes we’ve come to expect from the label’s roster, the various cast of musicians on this album work their way through grunge, stoner, post-rock, Britpop and Americana. On the desperate sinking ‘Smoked’ and bloodied sinister ‘Tooth And Claw’ they brush-up against Placebo at their more refined, and on the post relationship fall-out of ‘Your Scars’ it’s a combination of Alice In Chains and Grant Lee Buffalo. The more relaxed, ambling ‘Underwater’ however, reminds me of an Arcade Fire song I’ve long since forgotten the title of.

A personal, candid offering that taps into the current need to share the sort of woes, stresses and anxieties usually left on the psychiatrist’s couch, in hope that it will somehow help, Inhale, Increase The Dose is a great cathartic indulgence that rocks.







Singles

John Johanna ‘Children Of Zion’

(Faith & Industry) Out Now

Ahead of a new biblical-inspired album in July, the first holy revelation from John Johanna’s upcoming Judaic apocalyptic Seven Metal Mountains opus is the lilting, cymbal resonating heavy, but deep, ‘Children Of Zion’.

Slightly lighter of touch, though just as steeped in religious liturgy, the latest single from the Norfolk artist once more traverses the Holy Land with a call-to-service melt of desert-blues, post-rock and psychedelic folk. Conceptually built around the ancient apocalyptic work laid down in the Book Of Enoch (the protagonist of that cannon being Noah’s grandfather, who’s visits to heavenly realms and augurs of doom are presented through visions, dreams and revelations), Johanna’s Seven Metal Mountains symbolize “the world empires that have successfully oppressed and controlled mankind”.

‘Children Of Zion’ has Johanna adopting a faux-reggae Arabian gait to deliver a message of worshipful defiance; throwing the moneylenders out of the temple, bringing down the towers of Babylon so to speak: “No politician gonna heal me/Only love and self control.” A return to Zion it is, the most venerated of sites; a return to the garden, Johanna has found his calling once more.

For those wowed and won-over (I previously included Johanna’s previous Afro-blues, gospel and rustic Americana rich mini LP, I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes in last year’s ‘choice albums’ features), prepare yourself for another divine communion.







Society Of The Silver Cross ‘Kali Om’ and ‘Mighty Factory Of Death’

Both out now

Nothing less than a clarion call for an “awakening to the universality of all people and things”, the second single of enlightened cosmic pathos from the matrimonial Seattle band once more merges a spiritual penchant for India with grunge and the Gothic. The afflatus Joe Reinke and Karyn Gold-Reinke couple behind the dramatic sounding Society Of The Silver Cross have shifted their musical tastes and inspirations in recent years after travelling; taking a hiatus to the Indian subcontinent after the break-up of Joe’s Alien Crime Syndicate. Fully imbued, bringing not only the message but also the stirring sounds of holy innovation with them back to Seattle, the couple have embraced the use of the Indian autoharp (known as the “shahi baaja”), bellowed harmonium and a droning inducing bowed instrument called the “dilruba”.

Far more Gothic, darker even, than anything you’d hear in the divine rituals of those Indian inspirations, this conversion is often full of daemonic stirrings and gauze-y mists of shoegaze and grunge. ‘Kali Om’ being the second such mix of these influences is a song that once more features an effective if succinct message and musical leitmotif in it’s opening chimes that signals a continuation of their debut single, ‘When You’re Gone’. ‘Kali”, the great redeemer, “Om”, the universal sound of consciousness, is a suitably atmospheric evocation; rich with dreamy mantra, spindled and lush tones, hints of Moorish Spain and of course, the ethereal lingering voice of Karyn.

Following in its ebb and flow, the group’s third single offers a more stark, morbid outlook through its ‘The Mighty Factory Of Death’ title, yet is no less lush and ethereal, when it does break from its gong-sounding harrowed majesty and doom. From the pages of The Book Of The Dead, this Egyptology-ringing acceptance of the fates levitation-towards-the-light breaks from its heavy veil to find heavenly relief. Indian veneration communes with Cobain’s Nirvana and The Velvet Underground, the Society Of The Silver Cross magic up an evocative enough message with both their recent singles.

The debut album, 1 Verse, is due out at the end of June.








Words: Dominic Valvona


Extracts from Ayfer Simms debut novel, ‘A Rumor In Üsküdar’




An integral part of the Monolith Cocktail team for the last six or more years, cosmopolitan writer Ayfer Simms has contributed countless music/film reviews (Ouzo Bazooka, Pale Honey, Gaye Su Akyol, Murder On The Orient Express, The Hateful Eight) and interviews (Sea + Air, The Magic Lantern) – and even appeared in the video of one of our featured artists (Blue Rose Code).

Taking time away from the blog to focus on her debut novel, Ayfer has spent the last 18 months busily working away at a story that encompasses not only the personal (including the death of her father) but the wider psychogeography and geopolitics of her native home of Istanbul.

Born in the outlier pastoral regions of Paris to Turkish parents, Ayfer spent her formative years in France dreaming about following in the travelling footsteps of her great literature love, Agatha Christie. After studying for a degree in literature (writing music reviews on the side), Ayfer moved to Ireland for six years before travelling aboard the famous Trans Siberian railway and settling in Japan. Initially visiting her sister, Ayfer not only stayed indefinitely but got married and had a daughter. Deciding to attempt a life in Turkey, where the family is originally from, they moved into Ayfer’s great-grandmother’s house in the Üsküdar district, on the Asian banks of the sprawling Istanbul metropolis.

A Rumor In Üsküdar is in so many ways autobiographical, the first chapter, which we previewed back in March 2019, and subsequent ones, including today’s chapter three extracts, are inspired by the death of Ayfer’s father a few years back. Part three, ‘The Old Man’, plays out a part soliloquy, part grieving monologue like imagined conversation between Ayfer and her late father, set to various Istanbul landmarks, one of which turns out to be a final resting place.

These familiar settings are given a slightly dystopian mystique and ominous threat by Ayfer, who reimagines the Üsküdar neighbourhood of the novel’s title being isolated and quarantined by the government, as they test out a piece of (propaganda orchestrated) news on the population.

That’s just the umbrella story though, within that framing we have the main character confronted by the country where she originated from imprisoned but ready to face it all and hoping for a wind of change.

Translated into English from the original French and Turkish language versions, an extract from chapter three, ‘An Old Man’, awaits.

CHAPTER 3 

An Old Man


I go up the stairs looking at the time. All I can do now is to take the boat to reach the European shore. An old man blocks my way. I feel my irritation rise, as since this morning there seem to be too many obstacles.

– Help me daughter.

He is old. Too old to hurt me but I do not want to be disturbed. I imagine shaking him and feel satisfied that he is no threat. I weigh him up like I do every other person who comes up against me, just in case. Could I neutralize him with a twist of an arm? What do my years of training in martial arts serve me if I can not let some steam off mentally, if I cannot stretch my limbs and let others rush to it, break their balance whilst keeping my center, what do I care if they fall on me like comets from the stars?

– Sir, I do not have time, I say.

He is so wrinkled that I feel remorse. I change my phrase.

– What can I do for you?

– I live near the quarters of Ayazma. Put me on the right path, will you. I’m lost.

– It’s near my house.

He is polite, haggard.

 

Around us the rumor swells that there is no boat, the bridge is blocked. Taxis do not take travelers. I am stuck. I warn my teacher. He must think my excuse is a bit phony. Excuses are the martial artists’ enemy and downfall. Train at all cost.

– Times have changed, but I do not see very clearly. Where are the fig trees…?

He turns to me, the crowd is pouring over us, and he is waiting for me to react. I do not answer, I’m stuck, frozen and the words as usual are heaped in my throat. Because taken by surprise my Turkish sometimes takes odd forms.

– I’m dead my daughter. That’s why you have to help me.

– Don’t say that! You are in good shape.

– I died 120 years ago.

– Sorry?

He is a poet or he is crazy. However complaining about one’s health is not unusual in Turkey, the idea of ​​old age settling early confers a vulnerability and respect that Turks bizarrely seem to enjoy. But already I believe him. He is a ghost.

 

There are helicopters in the sky. The titans are fighting and we hear the squeaky echoes of their metal armor. It is probably Veysel who tries to crush his opponents, they fight back, and it is their chase we hear in the starry sky. Or just patrols, special operations, special measures, a hunt for anything that moves, so called terrorists.

– I’m dead; I’m not any wiser though. I know nothing more than I knew in my lifetime. I realize it now that I am here. It’s a shame; death is useless in fact. A rest maybe, but since I woke up…

– Who woke you up?

– I would like to know … I feel like I have not learned anything since my death. The ignorant souls remain so too and that is a pity. A real pity. Disappointing in fact. Well, that does not stop me from being curious…and the absence of fig trees bothers me.

– They are around still.

– I do not know by what mystery I find myself here. God is great; I am the result of his miracle. The dead sleep peacefully in their bed. Their tomb says, “He was a person who loved kindness and justice”. At Karacahmet, Uskudar’s most treasured cemetery, we rest surrounded by trees in the breeze of the sea not far away; calm prevails. We are the permanent quiet residents under the hiss of the leaves, except at the time of visits, too numerous I should say, which force us to sink a little more in the ground, not to undergo the lamentations. The living pour out their anguish in the form of prayers. Yet already I am no longer. I am old, buried in the beautiful cemetery of Uskudar. I listen to the cry of the living, their desperate whispers, I see their patience rolling in their throats, they raise their hands to the sky to see something, because they find it difficult to bear. They have trouble breathing while me from my bed I feel the nature that lasts and the earth under my bones stretching to the center of the earth. I do not say that to defend death, I’m not crazy. I speak to the person that I was in my lifetime; I address the anxieties that I felt for years at the thought of silence and cold and especially the thought of loosing my loved ones. I fought day and night against those thoughts that sometimes made my life dreadful. But you must know that there is only peace later. Peace in the soul and in the body. The land feeds us. Good and evil blend in a nameless heap, the human veil spreads in the air so that it loses all meaning. It remains only shapeless hands underground, intertwined because the enemies of the past become our neighbours, in indifference.

So when our visitors arrive with their tears, the dead man turns in his hole, really.

He does not want to delve into the universe he has finally escaped. If the dead man is old, he does not have enough desire to remember wanting to live. If he clung to life, perhaps a young dead he probably worries about his loved ones, he does not want to see them in tears again. Why do we want to remember those whom our death has made suffer? Do we wish to stir painful emotions, to mop up the darkness or to see again sad faces, tears that bead in a wounded soul?

To revive these emotions means to revive a bygone era, to try to inject blood there, to release it from its natural pallor whereas when the ardours and the passions dry up it is not necessary to wake the dead.

 

The old man walks slowly forcing me to stand still. I begin to see it as the fruit of my unconscious still bereaved by the death of my father.

– Life is a constant unfolding of dramas. I was lucky despite everything, I will never pretend otherwise. But even the lucky ones have to say goodbye. There is no good way to die or to leave forever. To die is an enormous responsibility. I died without surprise. Old. A little tired. The mind does not always learn to cease to exist. My body could not take it anymore, but my soul? At the time of departure, I thought that my head no longer held. In my time I attended the departures of my family. I stayed in my neighborhood and faced their absence. They had vanished, yet still more alive than they were alive. On each wall I saw their face, or rather their “being” infused into the bricks. And for a long time I had the impression that their departure was only temporary. They would come back and we would laugh at those separate moments. How sad to say goodbye. It is better to hide the truth. Keep thinking vaguely that one day there will be a meeting.

– And sometimes it is possible?

– You are speaking to a dead person. Or…who am I? Why am I here? I do not know anyone, what’s the point of coming back? I do not feel in tune with anyone here. I do not even care about them. Those who have suffered from my absence are already underground. They shrug. The living have a great deal of trouble with the notion of death, and the dead are no longer living.

 

The old man does not speak anymore. The name of Karacahmet makes me shudder. My father often talked about death, joking about his own end, telling me “I’m going to finish in Karacahmet soon”. This cemetery, a terrible character, a monstrous beast between my French and Turkish village, remains like a suspension bridge. So is it any wonder that, finally on his deathbed, he refused to be buried there? He did not even pronounce its name again, he just said, “Do not burry me in Istanbul, they’ll lose me there.” He turned his back on me, doing me a favor without knowing it because I live near the Karacahmet cemetery. How did he understand? That he spared me, that I will not have to avoid this graveyard because of uncomfortable fits of sadness?

With this specter, I wander between the mosques of the sixteenth century, while it brews stories: century-old trees, Byzantine ruins, wells of another age…the ruins we brush against, under our steps, are tunnels and hot brick stones. He says “the well made of red lime under us leads to a buried archduke”. That the bizarre plant in my garden wriggling and breezing through the otherwise solid rock, its roots covered with small, seductive paws goes back his époque. This bizarre plant horrifies me in a way, I say.

 

With the ghost of this old man, my father seems far away whilst I am struck by the gap between them and us, the past and the present, the dead and the living, even if death does not mean anything, anything at all.


Words: Ayfer Simms

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