REVIEWS ROUNDUP/Dominic Valvona





As of writing this latest roundup of new music recommendations and curios, the lockdown restrictions that many of us in the UK have been under are erratically and confusingly being lifted (to some degree). Still, anxiety and uncertainty reigns, as the music industry (I’m thinking more the venues, small scale enterprises, self-made and the diy) is left pretty much high and dry with little in the way of finical help, or even solutions to the inevitable problems of a post-Covid, isolationist society.

Live music being the biggest casualty of this lockdown, it is indeed pretty worrying that one of the only revenue streams left open to artists to make any real money from is now so endangered. As we have all seen for ourselves or heard from an abundance of artists and labels, the so-called savior of streaming has been anything but beneficial for the majority of artists. And can hardly count as revenue at all – unless you are Kanye West or Justin Bieber.

We will of course need time however to see how physical sales will fare; though I bet many out there have baulked at buying vinyl, CDs, anguishing over the spread of the virus. Records stores have been forced to close down and move online of course, which may also affect sales: the browser in particular will be affected, as will many of us who enjoyed not only looking for records but just the company and chat with the shop owner, the chance of coming across something by chance or being recommended something. Spontaneity has gone out the window in that respect.

With all that in mind, I ask you to do what you can in supporting new music and the artists featured in this roundup. You can of course purchase many on Bandcamp and similar sites.

 

As ever this selection is an eclectic gander at artists and bands from around the world, cosmos and beyond. Bringing us beautiful, evocative bluegrass rooted traverses, Kentuckian born and imbued Myles Cochran delivers a new subtly unveiling EP of ambient and guitar experiments, My Own Devices; sonic navigator Alex Norelli, under the Fierro Ex Machina nom de plume, conjures up an album of heavy electro-acoustic imaginings; and painter/musician Marco Bernacchia, aka Above The Tree, produces a vivid soundtrack of ambiguous folkloric and synthesized mystery on the new album King Above. In the Techno field of experimentation, the ever-prolific Sad Man is at it again with another album; this time in lockdown and going for the kicks. Also, Etienne de la Sayette unleashes another pleasant polygenesis album of African and South East Asian grooves.

In the reissues in-tray this month, I have a special treat for fans of The Monochrome Set’s stalwart vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Bid and his noughties project of surrealist and eccentric escapism, Scarlet’s Well. Join me as I run through a new decade spanning collection of songs from the catalogue. I also run through the recent reissue of the Indonesian music legend and maverick Harry Roesli’s ambitious 1975 psych-soul-pop-funk-gamelan opus, ‘Titik Api’.

Headlining this latest roundup, two titans of the contemporary and spiritual jazz scene, Kahil El’ Zabar and David Murray, join forces once more to lay down a righteous transportive performance on the ancestral with a modern pulse communion Spirit Groove.


LEAD REVIEW




Kahil El’ Zabar’s ‘Spirit Groove Ft. David Murray’
(Spiritmuse) LP/12th June 2020


Praise be to the healing arts of those contemporary jazz luminaries Kahil El’ Zabar and David Murray. If ever there was a time when we all needed calm and a spiritual deliverance it’s right now. A service, a quasi-liturgy of spiritual jazz, the two American titans of their experimental forms have drawn on a wealth of providence and influences to once more join forces through El’ Zabar’s “spirit groove” of connectivity.

As a harmonious bedfellow to the Chicago drummer/percussionist’s lauded (especially be me) Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, this righteous groove communion with the tenor sax and bass clarinet maestro Murray “intends to move you nakedly with a deep sense of dance on a Mind/Body/Spirit level.” And what a groove it is; a disarming rhythmic set of performances with a poignant, timely message, or, as El’ Zabar himself puts it, “This is the moment to rekindle the notion of social relevance within the legacy of jazz as an improvised people’s movement for social change.”

The creative partners enact this change (or at least attempt it) by channeling both the ancients and jazz greats they’ve both been lucky enough to share stages with over the last fifty years. El’ Zabar for his part, learning the craft through the Chicago hothouse known as the School of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and by playing with or supporting such greats as Eddie Harris, Cannonball Adderley, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pharoah Sanders, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone and Archie Shepp (the list goes on). Oakland born Grammy Award winner Murray meanwhile has recorded and performed with a no less impressive list of notable talents, including Henry Threadgill, Olu Dara, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones. Murray was also a founding forefather of the horns and wind instruments lauded World Saxophone Quartet.

El’ Zabar’s atavistic with a modern pulse spiritual soul and jazz experiments are coupled with Murray’s untethered long and short breath saxophone contortions on an album of new, specially written material and expansions of compositions from the back catalogue.





Joining them on church service organ and cascading, accentuate piano is Chicago stalwart Justin Dillard, and on bowing soothed and more scuttling acoustic bass, the burgeoning talent Emma Dayhuff. This makes for an enviable solid act; a quartet of jazz apprentices from different generations that between them have connections to every great jazz pioneer of the last fifty plus years. But, nearly, all roads lead back to Coltrane in particular. Murray despite practicing and molding amore unique technique inspired by the triumvirate of old guard doyens Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves then what Coltrane preached, he’s paid various homages to the late great saxophone deity. ‘Trane’, a notion, encapsulation, nod to his universal influence pared down to just the second syllable of a name, is all that’s needed on the track that appears on this album as a tribute of sorts. The swing time ‘Trane In Mind’ is a mood, a sense of that style; a splashed poolside dash of Coltrane in his ascendance.

 

Faith though is the main driver of the groove and varied utterances that pour out of this erudite ensemble’s performances. The water-carrier trickled percussive opener, ‘In My House’, welcomes all to El’ Zabar’s titular sanctuary; a place to raise the spirits and soul. A prayer in the form of a primal gospel House music anthem, the jug pouring shuffler features El’ Zabar’s signature vocal exaltations, which sometimes negate words and lyrics for just hums, feelings and an essence of vocal expression. A frame for a freeform expansion of the mood, Dillard switches from subtle piano phrasing to venerable organ, whilst Dayhuff bobs around as Murray customarily catches shortened hooted breaths and longer sublime circular breathing squalls.

The power of faith in love is enshrined on the next dreamy flight, ‘Necktar’. Dedicated to not only Murray’s new wife Francesca but also true love itself, the quartet skiffle and swing to a liquid soul music groove that sets up a meeting between Gil Scott Heron, Bill Withers and Lester Bowie. Talking of dedications, El’ Zabar’s ancestral percussive, vocal cooing ‘Katon’ opus was written for his fourth oldest son. (El’ Zabar has quite the brood of children and grandchildren we’re told). A special bond and sentiment is conveyed over a magical meditative suite of music box mbira, deft piano, serenading and hooting tenor and dipped bass.

‘In The Spirit’ is, as the title says, another faith radiating communion. Bird like fluting floats over dusty brushed drums on this venerated shuffled version of the original, first performed by El’ Zabar in late 70s Germany. Another past composition, the low-key Savoy jazz like ‘Song Of Myself’ was part of El’ Zabar’s trio project with Murray and the late bassist Fred Hopkins. “An introspection of dancing in your mind”, this riff on that recital stands out on an album of ancestral percussive heavy spiritual jazz and stripped acoustic House music with its smoky, kept subdued almost downtempo, intimacy. Almost veiled even, toots, dusty drums, hints of the vibes and live lounge atmospherics take the listener off into a new thoughtful space.

Working in various forms together since the late 80s, a third composition – appearing on the lauded LP of the same name – ‘One World Family’ is framed as a sort of “theme song” for the partnership. Extending the original with a more expansive performed backing of woody-slapped rhythms (which near the end climax in an erratic display of pounding and punching), spiraling reedy fashioned free-flowing saxophone and soulful melody, the quartet flex and breathe across a earthy but skybound cycle.

A reconnection, a spiritual bound partnership El’ Zabar and Murray appear from the tumult to capture a difficult to quantify feeling: a rage even. Quenching the soul with a “spirit groove”, they’ve laid down a both swinging and mesmeric alternative jazz service of mediation but also, and above all, they push for a positive change in the most inflamed and dangerous of times.





RECOMMENDATIONS


Etienne de la Sayette ‘Kobugi’
(Muju Records) LP/1st June 2020




As pleasantly inviting as the album’s sumptuous artwork, the highly active Etienne de la Sayette delivers another worldly traverse of Africa and South East Asian rhythms.

Channeling a wealth of his ever-expanding array of projects, from the Ethnio-groove imbued Akalé Wube to Bae Ho homage-inspired Baeshi Bang, and from Frix to an assortment of film scores, the Etienne de la Sayette platform pulls together the overspill. Put together in-between all these other commitments, but far from a secondary concern, the latest album to emerge from that project is a rich gentle flowing exotic affair. Played entirely by the intimate band of flexible drummer Stefano Lucchini, balafon maestro Lansiné Diabaté, and a small circle of guests, the undulating soundtrack is mostly devoid of technological interference: no virtual instruments or MIDI were used in the making of this record we’re told. Etienne for his part plays a mix of accentuate and hooted, relaxed honked saxophone and flighty flute throughout this borderless escape.

Embracing genres, especially in the rhythm department, the opening odyssey ‘Jajinmori’ takes a traditional Korean rhythm that Etienne discovered whilst collaborating with percussionists in Busan in 2016 and adds a softened Kuti Afrobeat vibe, Orlando Julius Afrojazz sax and the buoyant wooden bobs of the balafon. Riding over the top of this wavy fusion, Chicago rapper turn Parisian scenester RaceCaR lyrically flows with a stream of poetic consciousness that kicks back to the ancients. He gets to finish the album too, with a more political spit against the arms industry and the militarization of authority on the growled, scuzzed acid-metal-psych Deep Purple-esque monster riff ‘War Business’. Though spanning a two-year period, this “sawn-off shotgun” of a leap from the rest of the material proves the timeliest in light of recent events.

Second guest spot on this album goes to Cameroon troubadour Erik Aliana, who arrives from another compass point to rasp, growl and also lay down sweeter vocal charms on the rustic-folky village song ‘Safari Kames’.

Taking the guiding light of Afrobeat once more, the busier ‘LOULOU’ is as much influenced by Steve Reich ad chamber music as it is by Kuti and Tony Allen. There’s even a tone of Benin spotting organ and Hailu Mergia woven into the flashbacks. Diabaté’s balafon is almost watery, like a jug pouring out the droplets of bouncing notes. It’s “shamanic invocations” that rise from ‘Kobugi King’; another undulating fusion of the dreamy and soulful, taking in Muscle Shoals organ, oriental voodoo and impassioned talking-in-tongues utterances.

With slightly more buzz and rattle, the group channels the spindled resonance of the metal tine thumbed Kalimba, as played in the style of Konono #1, on the wilder exchange of organ and free-form drums tribune to the African and Caribbean god of knowledge of stories, ‘Anansi’. They also evoke a bit of the intense fuzz of Marc Ribot; his ‘Ceramic Dog’ being mentioned in the notes.

The only cover, Tegenu Balkew’s Ethnio cassette obscurity ‘Anchi Bale Game’ plays loose with the original’s magical spell drift towards the Orient. In another example of the free-travel music show, the group takes on a reggae gait with the church service suffused beachcomber ‘Tortoises’.

The most interesting thing about this album and the musicianship is the flow of ideas, and the weaving together of both African and Korean rhythms, as Etienne and his ensemble blend tastes of Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and the Orient together in one track. Apart from a couple of numbers, Kobugi is a lilting, relaxed but deep listen; a cross-pollination of music synchronicity.





Myles Cochran ‘My Own Devices’
(9Ball Records) EP/19th June 2020




Regular readers and followers may remember that we premiered the experimental Kentuckian bluegrass, roots guitarist and composer Myles Cochran’s subtly evocative single, ‘It’s Like This’ last month on the Monolith Cocktail; a track that reverberated with the atmospherics and mood of a vaguely traced place on the outskirts of a recognizable American panorama. A hazy semblance of Cochran’s alternative Americana sound, that same single now forms one part of an extended version, ‘It’s Like This – It’s Like That’, on the new EP, My Own Devices. Expanded into a drifting Appalachian traverse with echoes of 75 Dollar Bill, and part rustically dreamy guitar, part lilted classical waned and bowing strings (the cello parts courtesy of Robert Curran), this couplet would make a great soundtrack to ambiguous horizons.

Recorded and put together between rural studios in France and the UK (where he now resides), much of this EP’s material wanes and sighs, breathes and pines across a sonorous prairie. The opening swooned, rhythmic shuffle ‘Love Is As Beautiful As Pizza’ merges reverberations of Myles Bluegrass signature trails with jazz, post-rock Mogwai and Daniel Lanois. As the title suggests, it is indeed a beautiful, and bowed mirage-y, instrumental.

Released a few months back, the ‘Early Dark’ peregrination blends more yearning sad and trembled strings with brushed drums, and the hint of a Mick Harvey soundtrack (there’s that word again, ‘soundtrack’). Though you can also confidently add shades of Ry Cooder, Robert Fripp, Warren Ellis and Steve Reich to both this ‘springtime mix’ and the rest of the EP’s material.

Plonking peaceably across the prairie, Cochran finishes up on a Bruce Langhorne meets Eno mosey ‘Churrito’; another drifter traverse of skiffle like rhythms, resonating guitar and spindly strings.

Almost just the tracings, lingering from behind the valley landscape, Cochran’s meditations and waning mood pieces are easy and quiet on the ear; shaped towards an alternative contemporary ambient vision of those bluegrass roots.

Myles will follow this latest EP up, we’re told, with an album entitled UNSUNG later this year.





Fierro Ex Machina ‘Processions’
LP/19th June 2020




The sensory sonic processed imaginings of Alex Norelli concentrate the mind on some foreboding sometimes creeping recondite worlds: Worlds that branch both the chthonian and alien.

From an apparatus of electro-acoustic, and what the L.A. based multi-instrumentalist and creative calls their “noise harp” – an assemblage of deconstructed electric versions of classical strings and dejected music equipment, which includes Alex’s Grandmother’s out-of-tune 1950s S1 Hammond Organ -, materializes a quartet of heavy studies in the experimental neo-classical, ambient, soundtrack and jazz fields. Yes, I did mean to include jazz; the kind that the American Nocturnal avant-garde saxophonist Andy Haas exudes on his various boundary-pushing peregrinations. But also a semblance of Ornette Coleman’s strung-out writhed, iron gate hinge waning saxophone can be heard enervated on the album’s opening mourned journey through the portal, ‘Praeter Nexus’. Unsettling as it slowly gains gravitas and a seething momentum that grows more mysterious, more unknown. The Nexus track demonstrates a frayed, fabric torn movement simultaneously as spatial as it is claustrophobic and dark.

Ominous nocturnal movements follow with the spherical shifting ‘The Shadows Of Plants At Night’. Metronome counted ripples tick away in the night garden as a ghostly-like voiced sound and permutations of Donny McCaslin’s sax waft by. Those plants sound more like concrete planetary leviathans chiding and scraping together. The lamentable entitled ‘Do You Know The Sorrow Of The Horses’, which sounds like the opening from a particularly harrowing plaint from beyond the ether features howls of a kind from wolves of some sort prowling the borders. This wispy invocation, as a scion of Cage and Nam June Paik, trundles across the inner workings and mechanisms of a grand piano: or so sounds.

‘A Sail Of All Tears’ finds a trace of melody and even a rhythm amongst the circling uncertainty and the chills. Turning over in the darkness, dawdling bass guitar and electric guitar notes act as guidance through the enormity of the elementals.

There’s a dark majesty and gravity to all four of these heavy evocations. The dissonance is nowhere to be found however, and so even in the abyss each one of Norelli’s visceral statements remain in a sort of ominous building harmony; a synthesis of sonorous emotion, journeying towards the void: A soundtrack for our frightening times.



Sad Man ‘Daddy Biscuits’
LP/5th June 2020




Despite the alter ego moniker of garden shed electronic music boffin Andrew Spackman’s most prolific incarnation yet, the Sad Man in lockdown is anything but as anxious and plaintive as the name might suggest. The latest (must be millionth, or something like that, release from Andrew now) experiments-in-motion album is in fact quite playful: a laugh even. Euphemisms, innuendo aside, Daddy Biscuits has a more uninterrupted flow of rhythms and progresses in a less agitated, ennui fashion than most of Andrew’s output.

Set loose with a trick noise making apparatus, the Sad Man goes for the kicks, transmogrifying House music and Techno for a staccato dancefloor. Jolted Djax Techno gets warped and bashed with shocks of Mike Dred, galloping 808s and mischievous Ed Banger electro funk on an album in which you can hear the cogs moving around in the artist’s noodle: where to go next? What about this, zap-bang-clatter-wobble-drill!! A Sad Man track seldom ends where it began.

God knows what the titles indicate half the time either. The titular cyber wilderness track alone goes through Luke Slater, Juan Atkins, Aphex Twin and the Chemical Brothers. The track ‘Sleeper’ is anything but somnolent, running as it does through a bastardize version of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’, 16-bit computer game coin-up prizes and hints of M-Plant Rob Hood and a crystalline dream magic. For me though, I love the strange curio ‘House Work’ (definitely a tune that would improve the chores no end). It sounds like Major Force mashed with Wagon Christ and Les Rita Mitsouko; a sort of electro-operatic funk.

For kicks then, Andrew eyes up the groove on a collection of both panel-beater workshop beats and modulated weirdness; an album for lovers of Warp, Leaf, early Jeff Mills and House Of Tapes. Lockdown proves a fertile environment for the conceptual artist and sonic maverick. I like this subtle change. Pass round the magic biscuits selection again in the future please.





Above The Tree ‘King Above’
(Hukot Disc/Plug In The Gear/Krimzkramz Sub Post) LP/Available Now




Dropped into some alternative futuristic pastoral world in the aftermath of an unexplained event – or that’s at least what it feels and sounds like to me -, visual artist and amorphous sonic sculptor Marco Bernacchia creates a visionary traced soundscape of haunting holy and esoteric materializations from out of the ether on his latest vivid soundtrack, King Above. A soundtrack, as it turns out, for an as yet unreleased documentary, this regal entitled suite of passages, renderings and lingerings would suit a mysterious theme with its signs of the ominous, exotic, and in some cases, supernatural.

Gravitating around the so-called “Italian occult psychedelic” scene, a catch-all term coined in the early noughties to describe the emerging esoteric and out-there sound being made by bands such as Comaneci and Father Murphy (both of whom feature in various ways on this album), Bernacchia practices a sort of ever-evolving vision of “outsider music”. Far too knowing and technically proficient and learned to be the musical equivalent of the usually naïve outsider art, his Above The Tree moniker mapped abstractions have a depth and knowledge that betrays an eclectic, studied palette of influences.

Blessed and doomed in equal measure, the Urbino Academy of Fine Arts alumni paints a both unsettling and pretty atmosphere. In between his professional practice (reaching the heights of exhibiting at the Venice Biennale; which is one way to say you’ve made it in the contemporary conceptual art world), the painter has learnt an assortment of instruments, from saxophone to guitar, the Malian harp-like Kamalengoni to the Russian variant of the Jew’s harp, the Vargan. All of which appear throughout the various dreamy drifts and Kosmische stirrings.

All these instruments and influences are filtered through a gauze of the gossamer, wispy and misty, with the bewitching chimes set against distant echoes of voices, messages and Medieval leftfield folk: think Faust at their most atavistic meets Sproatly Smith. Something like the courtly, rustic reverberations of a past epoch drift in and out of a vaporous bed of drones, ambience and exotic swathes of an unearthly realm. The plucked brushed tremulous guitar phrases often evoke Ry Cooder and (sharing this particular roundup) Myles Cochran.

Nature is always present no matter where Bernacchia guides us. There’s even a sort of nature meditation codex at the end of this fourteen-track oeuvre; the sound of birdsong and an ambiguous great scenic outdoors is permeated by the waning gravitas building accompaniment of bowed strings and the barest undulations of the synthesized. Icy blows, vortexes, cylindrical metallic and ghostly visitations merge with the pastoral and at times the revenant.

With permission from his already mentioned compatriots, Father Murphy, a sample from the group’s 2018 esoteric blessed ‘Communion’ – which featured on the Rising. A Requiem LP – features on the cooed cloisters score ‘Merci On Us’. The original song’s venerated choral atmospherics are woven into the lulled dreamy renaissance treatment.

“Donating” lyrics and voice to a couple of tracks, Francesca Amati of the Comaneci duo offers up a strange repeated breathy mantra on the open couplet ‘Windows Soul’, and utters soliloquy like phrases on the title-track. Amati sounds like a weird space-age narrator on the latter; her statements fragmented, almost disjointed.

Those utterances offer another layer of mystique to an album steeped in the abstract. Tangible instruments exist with the unmistakable tremolo of a guitar, gabbling of the ngoni and spring of a vargen, yet it’s the obscured textural hints of imagined places and spaces that win out. Bernacchia has embraced a history, myriad of emotive forces and atmospheres, the organic and synthesized, and transduced it all into this suffused empirical soundtrack of sublime outsider folk. I thoroughly recommend you seek it out.






REISSUES

Harry Roesli ‘Titik Api’
(Lamunai/Groovyrecord) LP/2nd June 2020




It may sound surprising to many of you dear readers to find that someone as switched-on as me hasn’t come across, until now, the Javanese Temple psychedelic funk of the Indonesian maverick Harry Roesli. Submitted by the kind folks at the Lamunai/Groovyrecord hub, a reissue version of the celebrated artist’s iconic mid 70s concept opus Titik Api has piqued my interest.

Providence wise first, Roesli was born in the bastion of Gamelan, on the island of Java in 1951. In what could be described as a privileged upbringing, Roesli’s father was a major general in the Indonesian army, his mother a doctor; both positions offering a relative security in a country ruled by the quasi-dictator Suharto – a leader with a tightening grip, who managed to keep hold of power for four decades, from 1967 to 1998.

Obviously a talented musician from a young age, Roesli actually decided to study engineering instead of music. It was during those formative years that the creatively minded bohemian was turned on to political activism – a story retold in more detail in the album’s liner notes. To be glib and race through the details, he became an active member of the 70s Tradisi Baru Movement. Translating as “New Tradition” this growing political and creative movement were committed to experimenting with Indonesian traditions such as gamelan. Critical of the regime however, it soon became too dangerous for student activists such as Roesli to evade the authorities iron fist. In one such crackdown, Roesli found himself imprisoned. Luckily for him, a Dutch member of Amnesty International was on the case; gaining an escape route for Roesli through the promise of a scholarship, studying percussion in Holland.

To cut a long story very short, this gave the burgeoning talent another layer of musicianship and host of new influences, which he eventually would take back to his native home. The music of Indonesia was now fused with prog rock, psych, acid rock, pop, enervated funk, soul and even the more complicated rock experiments of Zappa. All of which you can hear on the ambitious 1975 concept album, Titik Api: a kind of Indonesian drama set to music, with ‘prologs’ and ‘epilogs’ and a quasi-overture, a work of art from a hip-international minded cat. It’s nothing short of a Southeast Asian panorama of atavistic mysticism, romance and spiritual yearning.

The first cut from this double album alone, ‘Sekar Jepon’, moves from a gamelan Goblin to Bolero, whilst maintaining the signature zappy effects, sizzled fuzz and chiming percussion that permeates this entire opus. Those prog rock influences get harder on the hypnotizing temple rock ‘Jangga Wareng’: almost Sabbath heavy. The fluty thirteen-minute epic ‘Lembe Lembe’, features both shades of Jethro Tull and ‘Revolution’ era Jefferson Airplane. Slicker, leaning towards soul music, the romantic-sounding female lulled harmonies, sun-anointed ‘Merak’ fans out towards a lilting Brazilia. In a similar vein, another lengthy opus, ‘Kebo Jiro’, switches from soft funky soul and pop to fantasy boat ride, then snake-charming prog and rattling conga solo. ‘Curah Hujan’ takes a scenic route in an Alfa Spider convertible, as the radio blasts out a quasi-Bossa Italo love theme.

It seems Roesli wasn’t shy in throwing everything into his musical fantasy; Latin dreamy troubadour on the first of two ‘epilogs’, proto-disco on ‘Dinding Tolan, and Samba-rock on ‘Bunga Surga’.

From seductive slumbers to golden temple spiritualism and mirage-y trinkets and tubular tolls, Titik Api is an adventurous psychedelic vision from a fertile, expansive mind. An alternative Javanese dimension, invigorated by contemporary late 60s and 70s influences this is an all-encompassing epic from the Indonesian maverick. Don’t worry if like me you missed it first, second even third time around, this new reissue will serve crate-diggers and psychedelic fans alike well enough. Take a punt, dig it out and be introduced to a whole new rabbit hole of Southeast Asian music.





Scarlet’s Well ‘Magic (Selections From 1999 – 2010)’
(Tapete Records) LP/26th June 2020




The saga of the Monochrome Set spans five decades and umpteen break-ups. Blossoming at the fag end of the punk epoch, and continuing to produce music even to this day, the revered group has disbanded at least three times during a checkered history. The second those breakups, in 1998, proved a fertile escape for the Set’s stalwart singer, guitarist and songwriter Bid, who plowed his fantastical and whimsical inventions into a new band, Scarlet’s Well: a band that would, in one form or another last until the third incarnation of the Set in 2010.

 

A congruous bedfellow to Bid’s former group, Scarlet’s Well not only featured the Set’s 90s period keyboardist Orson Presence and producer Toby Robinson, but also transformed some of the unfinished material. Though it wasn’t just a place to crash for former Set members, the evolving, changing lineup would after a few albums expand to include Alice Healey on vocals.

Conceived as an “atmosphere” rather than a band, Bid conjured up a surrealist village diorama and cast of bawdy rouges, lost supernatural characters and monsters, explorers and pining cowboys/cowgirls to build an evocative storybook. Coming to life over seven albums of varying quality, this strange but disarming set location and its vague geographical tributaries (“somewhere east of the Azores and only slightly north of the Styx”) offers a magical encapsulation of all life’s woes, tribulations and physiological defects. It’s an adventure in which some of the salty sea dog inhabitants take the listener on a voyage to various atolls and exotic river ways; sailing into a range of both suffused and fleeting musical ports-of-call. Even the means of nautical travel differ, from a junk to galleon, a skiff to Pugwash shambolic pirate ship.

Receiving an appraisal a decade on from the Well’s final swansong, this oeuvre brings together a (almost) chronological collection of idiosyncratic pastoral whimsy and deeper, darker metaphors. “Bless my barnacles”, the rightly titled Magic collection opens with a couplet of alternative pop sea-shanties from the Well’s 2006 LP, Unreal: A year that proved very productive, with the band uncharacteristically releasing a duo of albums that year. ‘Sweetmeat’, which despite its alluded title sails on a junk to the gentle tones of a lullaby, has Bid channel Scott Walker and Roy Orbison on this beautiful sayonara caress. ‘Willy Whispers’ – no sniggering at the back – features the harmonizing sweet tones of Healey; who by this time was now a prominent member of the band. An example of that diverse range of influences and instrumentation, this spindled beauty simultaneously evokes Westerns, a punt down the Neva and the charming psychedelic storytelling of Pete Dello.

The debut album, Strange Letters, which now puts the songbook back in linear order, is represented by the solitary oompah-tuba ‘The Captain’s Song’. Reimagining a Brecht version of The Yellow Submarine, Bid’s put-on seadog baritone croons a veritable feast of sea-lovers Bonzo lyricism. Both comical and violent, he comes across like Blixa Bildgard early era Bad Seeds.

The first album of a new decade, 2000’s Les Baxter-esque The Isle Of Blue Flowers is represented by a trio of Spanish and concertinaed songs. Maybe a consequence of being signed to the Spanish label Siesta Records, there’s a dalliance with the host’s Flamenco and Latin spirit in the form of the castanet cantina ‘Lord Fish Garlic’s Last Expedition’: a song that fantasizes about a Suzanne Vega senorita fronting Fairport Convention during the Mexican war with America –imagine that! From the same album there’s the Franco-paradise Edwyn Collins-goes-surfing bendy title-track and the South Pacific meets Creole lala ‘Dark Dreams Aboard The Hesperus’.

Lewis Carroll’s literary and psychedelic totem heroine inspires the Well’s next album in the sequence, 2002’s Alice In The Underworld. A castaway choice of songs reflects the album’s use, again, of certain Spanish motifs and flairs. The exotic ‘Night Of The Macaw’ wafts lazily in a Caribbean bay; soft marimba and a lulling spiritual organ drift in the background of this beachcomber sway. ‘The Ballad Of Johnny Freak’ is another story entirely; a metaphorical tale of acceptance from Monsterism Island that puts Healey center-stage of a Hispanic lilted lament.

Moving forwards another two-years, The Dream Spider Of The Laughing Horse album features another of the band’s characteristic musical embraces: a kind of transcendent mosey form of Americana. The title-track, a trotting on the trial cowboy song, and ‘Big Dipper On The Spearman’s Floor’, a waylaid Hawaiian cowboy amongst the rock pools serenade, are chosen to fit the unfolding travelogue compilation.

The second album from 2006, Black Tulip Wings, goes all noir on us. The Bad Seeds rub shoulders with an enervated B52s, ‘Savage’ even goes into lounge swing halfway through its tremolo and Theremin-like wobbles. It’s show time on the album’s title-track as Brecht is brought to the Hollywood detective paperback.

Once more on the lonesome cowboy/cowgirl trial, the next two albums, 2008’s Gatekeeper and 2010’s Society Of Figurines reimagines the Western and country music cannons. On the first of these albums, Bid and his ensemble traverse The Mekons rebel country signature on the sweetly laced, springy desert key metaphor themed ‘Golden, It Is, Beautiful’. From the same record, ‘My Little Doll’ is a little more upbeat in comparison; a shuffling vision of The Bluebells round the campfire with the Frank And Walters. From the porcelain supernatural cast second of these two albums, it’s a strange combo of garage band with elements of the Inspiral Carpets baggy version of Tex Mex beat that underpins ‘Supernatural Services’. From that same record and drawing this decade spanning collection to a close, ‘The Vampire’s Song’ pitches Nosferatu in Nashville; the bloodsucker’s wandering song is a most lonesome pining affair.

Ambiguous throughout, Bid’s microcosm of mavericks, illusionists, rum miscreants and the plain misunderstood is an escape into the fantastical; a wealth of cryptic, surrealist psychedelic and cartoon outsider storytelling and art transduced into a disarming songbook of posy, shanties, ballads, cantas and pop. If you enjoy that long English tradition of eccentric songwriting, then this marvelous collection will quench your soul, heart and mind.




Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Reviews Special/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea




Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent releases include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, and the diatribe ‘Boris Johnson Massacre’. He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.



Cosse ‘Nothing Belongs To Anything’
(À Tant Rêver du Roi/Grabuge Records) EP/12 June 2020



This EP has a certain moody dark grey charm about it: all Slint atmospherics and Jeff Buckley carefree smiles, a place where angst and beauty collide to make the soundtrack of a unmade 90’s road movie. Snarling feedback guitars and beautifully screamed whispers from both males and females slowly strips the layers of dust and heartache to leave the naked throbbing of the stripped down decaying heart of a future yesterday memory.






8 Floors Up ‘Roman Bones Make Good Glue’
Single/26th June 2020



Ah is this going to take us back to the wonderful summer of 89 when baggy ruled the airwaves. This is quite a magical groove that reminds one of the golden days of the Mondays and Roses a song I can see doing very well radio play wise in the months ahead. And for once, a song that will be worthy of such an honour; a track that is lying in the stars staring at the gutter.






Cathedral Bells ‘Undertow’
Single/29th May 2020



This is quite a lovely thing indeed, Johnny Marr ‘These Things Take Time’ guitar and the swooning like Cocteau Twins vocals merge into a blissful just under three minute pop rush of pure indie perfection: a song to be listened to on repeat with your favourite person by your side smiling along.






Inglourious Basterds ‘Something In the Air’
Single/3rd June 2020



A cover of the old Thunderclap Newman classic you’re asking yourselves? And the answer is yes. Covering a well known and overplayed radio fave is always a risky move unless you are willing to take the track and reinterpret it in a completely different way, making the song sound like your own; and to a certain extent The Inglourious Basterds succeed. The first part of the track just being drums and a fine vocal that brings out the beauty and meaning of the wonderful lyrics highlighting again the fine melody of the original and then it explodes into a Sonic Youth meets Dinosaur Jnr. guitar duel, where both parties are left beaten to a pulp by the tracks end and the winner being you the listener. It’s free to download from Bandcamp.






National Treasure ‘Come And Go’
(Keep Me In Your Heart) Single/19th June 2020



This track reminds me of a school project to make a pop single that’s to be sung by a saucy maths teacher. It has that slightly seedy feel which is a good thing. It also has a looseness and throwaway pop fluff feel to it too. The song is about faking an orgasm so maybe this sounding like a school project faking a pop single is what they were going for.






HighSchool ‘Frosting’
Video Single/8th June 2020



Joy Division keyboards, early Cure matching bass and guitar lines and sub Ian Curtis vocals: yes it’s another how much we loved indie in the 80s release. And this is a jolly enough affair. And if you like the indie sound you will like this as it is done very well, and is their debut release so good luck to them.







Aimee Steven ‘Darling’
(Jacaranda Records) Single/15th May 2020



I quite like how this sounds like Chicory Tip, not an influence you hear everyday it must be said but this is a catchy little ditty that goes around in a riff shaped circle, which for those who do not know what shape that is should listen to this lovely piece of guitar pop. I can imagine Mickie Most giving this a thumbs up on New Faces; and do you know what? The old chap would be right.





The Rubettes ‘Glamnezia’
Single/12th June 2020



I really wanted to love this, I really did. I loved The Rubettes in the 70s; them alongside Mud and Alvin Stardust and Gary Glitter sound tracked my infant and junior school days: I remember being sat in front of the TV every Thursday transfixed by the magic of Top Of The Pops. But sadly this song I listened to over and over again trying to decide as whether it was a joke or not, the lyrics really are so bad they are laughable, it has even to my mind surpassed Oasis’s song ‘Little James’ as the worst song written by a grown up. In fact I have to tip my hat to them for their guts to release it. “It does not get much easier in fact it gets much sleazier when you have amnesia”, even Jack Black would not succumb to such depths with his unfunny homages to hard rock; this track does in a cartoon overblown way, with the guitar turned up to eleven and the torturous vocals [yes torturous to listen to]. I bet the singer could eat three shredded wheat and I’m sure the producer must have had shredded wheat rammed down his ears to get through the recording session. But saying that, I’m looking forward to the album.



Guts Club ‘Song For Carm’
Single/29th May 2020



Since I’m the only person in this world who has never watched The Sopranos I have nothing to compare this to, as this is a cover of the theme song. Saying that, I like this; it sounds like a drunk mumbling down a well which is a lot better than a lot of the aural shit I have ploughed through this afternoon believe me.






Chris Cech ‘Sloth’
Album/8th May 2020



I know nothing of Chris Cech apart from the fact he recorded this wonderful album in his mother’s basement and it’s available to download from his Bandcamp site, which I advise you to do, as it recalls the manic pop thrills of the four great guitar ‘bs – Big Star, Beatles, Buzzcocks and Big Star again – without actually sounding like any of them. Actually it has more of a feel of the great Alex Chilton’s solo work and the early Go Betweens, but anyway it is brillant guitar music and has melodies aplenty and Chris has that rare pop nouse to make quite timeless gems sound like quite timeless gems, and this album is full of the little blighters. A very fine album indeedy.






Playlist/Dominic Valvona





For all our friends and followers alike in various states of emergence from a full coronavirus lockdown and the escalating events of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, let the Monolith Cocktail ease some of the anxiety, uncertainty and the rage with another volume of Dominic Valvona’s cross-generational, cross-genre Social Playlists (the 46th edition in fact).

Soothing the soul, embracing the eclectic the blog’s imaginary radisohow (or podcast if you prefer) brings together tracks from across time, genres and the globe to take the listener on a musical odyssey of discovery.

For those of you without access to Spotify, we’ve chosen a random smattering of tracks from Youtube.



Tracks In Full:

Mombasa  ‘Yenyeri’
Horoya  ‘Sete Curvas’
Chrissy Zebby Tembo  ‘Coffin Maker’
Colin Hare  ‘For Where Have You Been’
Dick Stusso  ‘I Am Not The Girl You Used To Know’
Stack Waddy  ‘It’s All Over Now’
The Research  ‘All These Feelings’
The Weather Prophets  ‘The Key To My Love Is Green’
Ludus  ‘Little Girls’
Itadi  ‘Ye, Ye, Ye’
Kashmere Stage Band  ‘Thank You’
Hooksy  ‘Flying Market’
Twin Hype  ‘Do It To The Crowd’
Neek The Exotic  ‘Backs and Necks’
Nolan Porter  ‘Iron Out The Rough Spots’
Rob Sonic  ‘Jesus Christ Super Tramp’
Tommy McGee  ‘The Hatch’
Mike Nyoni and Born Free  ‘It’s Only A Dream’
Allen Toussaint And Eldridge Holmes  ‘Gone Gone Gone’
Easy Kabaka Brown  ‘Belema’
Sola  ‘Tu Te Has Ido’
Crystal Syphon  ‘Have More Of Everything’
The Pretty Things  ‘Baron Saturday’
The Overton Berry Trio  ‘Hey Jude’
Shawn Phillips  ‘From All Of Us’
Jad Fair  ‘Haunted By Frankenstein’
The Dream  ‘Four Phone-Calls’
The Youngbloods  ‘Faster All The Time’
Quatermass  ‘Make Up Your Mind’
Sam Rivers, Anthony Cole, Doug Matthews  ‘Spark’
Nate Morgan  ‘Mrafu’
Clap! Clap!  ‘Southern Dub’
Psychic Ills  ‘Never Learn Not To Love’
The Pretty Things  ‘Parachute’
Drum Circus  ‘Groove Rock’
Thunder And Roses  ‘Moon Child’
Goran Kajfes Subtropic Arkestra ‘I’m On My Way/Patch Of Blue’
Sarah Webster Fabio  ‘Together/To The Tune Of Coltrane’s ‘Equinox”
Awa Poulo  ‘Djara Wilam’
Willis Earl Beal  ‘True’


Video Choices





Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Album Review/Dominic Valvona
Photo Credit/Benjamin Astier




Bab L’ Bluz ‘Nayda!’
(Real World Records) Digital: 5th June 2020/Physical: 24th July 2020


Injecting a “nayda” of generational energy into an electric rustle, rattle and dreamy assortment of Moroccan and North West African traditions, the French “power” quartet rev-up ancestral sounds on their debut album for Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. A reclamation in fact, the transmogrified blues act have a fresh take on the Islamic dance, music and poetry exaltations of their homeland’s famous “Gnawa”, the ululation trills and storytelling of the Mauritania “Griot” tradition, and the popular folk music of Chabbi as they blend Arabian-Africa with a contemporary view of political upheaval and drama.

The exclaimed album title takes its name and seed from the youth movement that rose up in part from the concatenate protests that followed the initial Arab Spring. Less violent, Moroccans peacefully demonstrated against the Islamic Kingdom’s stasis; asking for certain concessions and freedoms. Elections as a result of the mounting discontent only maintained the country’s regal authority, King Mohammed VI. True, certain reforms have been tabled, some of which met with anger by more conservative and fundamentalist parties. And the country’s political status is a hybrid of constitutional parliamentary and monarchy. Fast forward to last year, and an uneasy younger generation are immigrating at an alarming rate. Regime change that same year saw upheavals in neighboring Algeria and also Sudan.

Coming to grips with that turmoil, the country’s “nayda” generation has found freedom creatively, amping up that heritage and the roots of blues whilst emphasizing the contemporary political situation. It’s a fresh vision, especially when you factor in the band’s electrified “guembri” player and leading siren, Yousra Mansour. Traditionally the preserve of men, the three-stringed lute like guembri, an instrument that goes hand-in-hand with Gnawa music, is given a new lease of life by Yousra: a new angle and energy; a thoroughly modern vision of inclusivity in a thoroughly conservative culture.





For the most part using the common Arabic spoken dialect of “darija”, both protestations and romantic allusions are given an exotic lyricism and swirling poetic cadence. Opening this inaugural pitch, a battle cry and set-up for the band’s take on the ‘Gnawa Beat’. “Welcome to the truth that can be told” is the mantra on this opening account that features languid desert swoons and the clutter-clatter of the iron “karhab” castanets chattering away over a riding rhythm that leads us all the way to the Medina gateway.

It’s said that crashing waves from the fishing port of Essaouira – a town proficient in Gnawa – can be heard lapping as a percussive sample on the album’s next song, ‘Illa Mata’. Buoyant throughout, this dreamy dusky affair bobs and shimmers along in a mesmeric fashion. Bedouin song meets the blues in a drifting fusion.

In praise of the moon and “her restorative powers”, ‘El Gamra’ both rocks and lulls that “chabbi” atavistic folk sound. It reminds me in some ways of Bargou 08. Spindlier, echoing hints of the late gnawa doyen Maalem Mahmoud Gania, the next track, ‘Glibi’, is based on a love letter written in the style of Moorish women’s ‘Tebra’ poetry; traditionally sung in the Western Sahara and parts of Southern Morocco. Floating and once more dreamily romantic, the band plays this one loosely and joyfully. Two more paeans follow in that song’s swooned wake; the first, ‘Oudelali’, transcribes a true love ode to a silky-veiled desert song of warm backbeats and spiraled longing, the second, ‘Waydelel’, is a cover version of the revered Mauritanian siren Dimi Mint Abba and her husband Khalifa Ould Eide’s spiritual yearn to Mohammed. The latter features the first of he album’s guest spots, with Amazigh Berber folk enthusiast Aziz Ozouss sitting in on the “ribab”.

Angry but delivered with a fluty and electrified sass, ‘Africa Manayo’ pays tribute to the African continent and potential whilst also condemning the actions of the despots. A second tribute, ‘Yamma’, which goes hand-in-hand with the previous song, is paid to the “patience and fortitude” of mothers: a theme that seems to be a staple of most releases I’ve reviewed from the continent.

Vocalist and gnawa music star Mehdi Nassoul weighs in on the scrappy percussive, gauzy ‘El Watane’. His earthy soulful voice lingers in unison with the cradling harmonies on this dreamy swim. The band name titled and musical signature, ‘Bab L’ Bluz’, appears right at the very end of this both relaxed and electric fuzz panorama. “Bab” means “gate”; a literal reference to the group’s raison d’etre of opening up a musical, cultural gate(way), The guembri and electric guitar are wild and scuzzed on this dirtmusic blues offering that blends a vast geography of influences, depths and ideas together. Essentially it buzzes and rocks, and offers something refreshing, revitalized: as does the rest of this vigorous, mesmerizing and alluring Arabian sweep.

The changing face of Moroccan music, Bab L’ Bluz offer a voice to those previously left marginalized and left out. Initially guimbra adept Yousra was met with resistance for daring to pick the instrument up, an instrument so strongly bonded with the Islamic tradition; an instrument usually passed down the generation, from father to son. Well that’s certainly changing. Reclaiming the heritage but looking forward, the group injects the godly music and romance of Arabian-Africa with a new energy and dynamism. A 21st century blues excursion of dreamy and political vigor.





Related posts from the Archives:

Houssam Gania ‘Mosawi Swiri’  Review

Maalem Mahmoud Gani   ‘Colours Of The Night’  Review



Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Album Review/Matt Oliver




Telemachus ‘Boring And Weird Historical Music’
(High Focus) LP/Available Now


His involvement with everyone who’s anyone in UK hip-hop – Verb T, Ocean Wisdom, Kashmere, M9, The Last Skeptik, Jam Baxter and legions more – lead to The Guardian lauding Telemachus/Chemo as “one of those slightly obscure figures who has helped British hip-hop move along more than most people will probably ever know”. Unlikely as it is that his work there will ever be done, Boring & Weird Historical Music reinforces the producer’s perspectives that have been broadening since 2013’s In The Evening. Notwithstanding the casting of Roc Marciano and Jehst, it was a classy spreading of wings as exploration of textures through a lens took root.

A year later, the breakaway In Morocco continued a bid for calm and knowledge, gathering aromatic instrumental dialects from where the sun sets, for the consummate expedition while couch-bound and down. Album number three doesn’t need the reverse psychology of the title, but it does make definitive the promotion of Telemachus to adventurer and alchemist, simmering down soul, jazz, funk, indigenous rhythms and found sounds raised at the mercy of voodoo forces and meditative properties.

For those wanting sounds formed through and for sensory deprivation, ‘Disaster Enabled Vending Machines’ (the new, unofficial byword for chillout), the bassy ‘Beaten Gold’ and ‘Caroline What Is Wrong With You’ are pro-lockdown, promoting classic trip hop incubation to soothe and shield from the sun with. Depending on your energy levels, either use them to expand your mind from the horizontal position as attainable exotica, or just to provide companionship, setting a tone that puts a barrier between you and the dusky, dusty heat generated by the maddening crowd outside.

However, for all the measured, karmic twangs a la Khruangbin or Skinshape, perpetual percussion, synth lines that shapeshift in the ear of the beholder, and dubby, desert shimmer soaking up pressure before coolly exhaling, it’s that unshakeable but defined trepidation that becomes the album’s fulcrum. Opening track ‘Ungraceful Piano Sequence’ sets a fork in the road asking you to choose your own adventure, and ‘You Wanted a Handful of Sardines, Did You Not’ could well lead you to a boiling pot of cannibalism as you find yourself making your way through dimly lit undergrowth. On ‘I Am Delicious and Cute So I Will Buy Again’ and ‘Battle Sequence’, the tiptoeing on eggshells forces you to face your fears and not just cock half an ear, widening the album’s shrewd unpredictability as it looks both ways before ambling off the beaten track.

‘Greed’, overseen by Jerome Thomas, aims to cleanse souls with stark warnings in hushed tones, and ‘By the Moon’, teased by RHI, is another example of the album’s sequencing tersely tugging at the comfort zone you think Telemachus has laid on. The dark carnival of ‘Wickedest Ting’ featuring Killa P is an unsuspecting but no less welcome mantrap, the main difference being that it’s brought out into the open kicking and screaming, instead of attempting to hide in plain sight.

As a storyteller passing around rolling papers and whose travelogue bears no tall tales despite the signs indicating otherwise, Boring & Weird… is a groggy but high functioning experience – it has to be given that the wonder of taking in the surroundings is speckled with Telemachus’ pessimism, where the recommended reclining could lead you down the back of the sofa like quicksand. The flippant titles back the theory that for all the shadows cast and enlightenment he fulfills, Telemachus is still in the entertaining business, leading category makers a merry dance. Certainly on first listen the overriding sensation is of comfort and immersion, but soon you’ll be wanting Boring & Weird… to be the soundtrack to your insomnia, punctuated by the quotations of a sensei floating and fleshing out the fable as you take a fine toothcomb to the clues left by its enigmatic, noir-ish sage. The album’s conclusion, ‘Fools Gold’ starring Chris Belson, is suitably ambiguous – the instrumentation suggests happy ending, the vantage point vocals deem that the battle is nowhere near over.

The authenticity of Chemo’s darker-than-you-think epiphanies, producing as he lives it from his lookout post and switching up significance/fantasy and reality with invisible stitching, make it good for both under the stars and the duvet. With some inevitability, the enjoyment of what it means to be weird means the boring never transpires.





Matt Oliver

Unable to kick the reviewing habit for what is now the best part of fifteen years, Matt Oliver has gone from messing around with music-related courseworks and DIY hip-hop sites to pass time in sixth form and university, to writing for/putting out of business a glut of magazine review sections and features pages in both the UK and the US. A minor hip-hop freak in junior school, he has interviewed some serious names in the fields of both hip-hop and dance music – from Grandmaster Flash to Iggy Azalea – and as part of what is now a glorified hobby (seriously, every magazine he used to turn up at bit the dust within weeks), can also be found penning those little bits of track info you find on Beatport and Soundcloud, or the notes that used to come with your promo CD in the post (visit here for more details). He’s currently giving the twitter thing a go, so follow him at@brimupnorth.

Reviews/Brian ‘Bordellos’ Shea





Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most releases include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, and, under the guises of the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.

With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms such as Bandcamp) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it. We urge you all to keeping supporting; to keep listening.


The Legless Crabs ‘Be A Sadist’
LP/Available Now


If you remember a few weeks ago I reviewed a single from The Legless Crabs declaring them the future of rock n roll. Well they have just compiled a free to download LP of all their singles and EPs, and released it as a free to download compilation.

Essential is the word dear readers, essential! The early Mary Chain meets the Shaggs with a touch of Daniel Johnson and Pussy Galore thrown in, it’s dark and it has guts and a do not give a fuck attitude. It is a shambolic noisy stew of noise but with wonderfully written melodies and lyrics. The best band to come from the USA since the Banana Splits: no doubt about it.





No Exits ‘No Exists EP’
Available Now




The 80s post punk sound really is making a bit of a re-emergence, and why not, as when it’s done well it’s a fine thing indeed: and No Exits do it very well indeed.

Their music takes me back and has me thinking of very early Dead Or Alive and Theatre Of Hate with a touch of Soft Cell, and something about it really reminds me of Theatre Of Sheep (maybe its their guitar sound), but very entertaining nonetheless. So if the 80s post punk swirl is your thing you should really enjoy this fine EP.





The Loungs ‘Hey Brain’
(Fresh Hair Records) Single/Available Now




It’s nice to have those St Helens Psych Monkees The Loungs back after a far too long a layoff since their gem of a third LP, the 2015 baroque flavoured Short Circuit. And this little beauty carries on where that fine album left off. ‘Hey Brain’ being a quirky short stroll through the Summery psych of one’s past, recalling the woozy delights of the Super Furry Animals with a hint of the Zombies and Cat Stevens, but with a charm of their very own. A true delight, which could of only been better if it was called, “Hey Brian”.





DeathDeathDeath ft. Lomi MC ‘Love Is A Construct’
(Numavi Records) Single/Available Now




I love this. It’s rather quite beautiful and whoever says they don’t make pop music as quite magical as they used to do should be made to listen to this on repeat until they admit they are wrong. It has a wonderful warm quality about it that takes my aging mind back to the wonderful music of Jane and Barton. A soft summer aural seduction that I advise music lovers of all ages should allow themselves to be seduced by. They won’t be sorry.





Graham Domain ‘Waking World’
(Metal Postcard Records) EP/Available Now




What we have here is another EP from one of Manchester’s greatest hidden musical secrets. Yes, there is something quite engrossing about the music of Graham Domain, a certain quiet dignified subtle madness that completely beguiles. It has a dark seductive charm from the tinkling piano and synth strings and jazz bass that lures you into the textured dream of the songs, and as it pulls you in and you begin to lose yourself in the magic you then notice the beauty of the lyrics and the phrasing: nobody quite sings like Graham Domain anymore. I’m sure that somewhere along the line the quiet genius of his music will find a audience and hopefully the large one it deserves, plus on the track ‘What Love Means’ there is the best crazy synth solo one can ever hope to hear.





Bloom De Wilde ‘The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe’
LP/Available now




If only life could be as wonderfully magical as this album. Bloom De Wilde has an aura about her that emits a certain belief in the beauty of life, with her songs of nature and love, she gives one hope in these times of backbiting misery and disease that music and love can be the answer. Maybe we all need to return to the spiritual freedom of 1967 and not be wrapped up in the junk and social media that clouds up our minds and hearts, for this album casts a mighty spell that is bewitchingly hypnotic, that slowly seeps through the layers of self doubt mistrust and ego and has you smiling again, has you laughing, has you counting your blessings and looking forward to living your life and making the most of it as you only have one life so why not make the most of it. The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe is one of those rare albums that is made with pure love and should be treated with pure love: a shimmering delight.





Drew Davies ‘Drew Davies’
(AD1) LP/Available now




Is the good old 80s the new 60s? I wonder as I’m getting sent a load of music that is so influenced by the decade. This LP by Drew Davies could have easily been released in that decade – if I hadn’t known better I would have thought this was a reissue of some album that slipped under the radar at the time.

Drew Davies obviously worships at the altar of David Bowie, which indeed is no bad thing. He could have worshiped at the altar of Stefan Denis, and do we really need that. Instead we are treated to the kind of album a major label would have released in the 80s pretending that it was an indie. It has the same polished Alt rock glamour and choruses that has the audience punching the sky while keeping one eye for the queue at the bar to thin out so you can send your girlfriend. It is in no way the greatest LP you will hear this year or any year from the 80s but you will certainly hear worse, and any fans of Billy Idol or 80s Bowie or even John Moores Expressway [remember them] will certainly enjoy this album as I did, as melodies and glamour do not age.





Dog Paper Submarine ‘Slippery Satellites’
(Small Bear) Album/Available Now




So we finally get the final LP by Dog Paper Submarine, two years after it was recorded, and it was indeed worth the wait as it is as always fine indie rock: part dEUS part Pixies, but all Dog Paper Submarine.

Clattering guitars, instrumental surf basslines, melodies that prod and gouge and caress are all one wants from their indie rock. To be honest I’m not a huge indie rock fan, I find it incredibly dull mostly these days, which again from a personal point of view makes this album and Dog Paper Submarine even more impressive, as this is a album I will play and enjoy, and that should be enough for any music lover.





Salem Trial ‘Head On Rong’
(Metal Postcard Records) Single/Available Now




I love this. From the start the explosive wall of Thin Lizzy like double lead guitars leap out at you and joyfully throttle you ears to death in the nicest possible way, whilst Beefheart like vocals and a melody catchy enough to hook yourself make for a whopper. It’s a song that has me yearning for the wild and drunken nights at the Royal Alfred in the late 80s, while being entertained by the wonderful local band The Volunteers, who made one mini album of sublime Beefheart frenzy called Bladder Of Life. This song reminds me of those days. That’s high praise indeed believe me. ‘Head On Rong’ is a must have for music lovers old and young alike.





It’s Karma It’s Cool ‘Woke Up In Hollywood’
Album/Available Now




If your thing is music with sparkling guitars and joy filled melodies then this album is for you. At times recalling Lloyd Cole with his Commotions and maybe a poppy REM after overdosing on the sun, songs shimmer and cast shadows of one string Rickenbacker guitar solos, the kind that The Bangles would embrace and comb their hair to whilst kissing posters of Gene Clark.

Woke Up In Hollywood is an album that exists to take one back to the golden days of the California sounds from the mid 60s through to power pop of the early 80s; from The Byrds to The Tremblers, even at times reminding me of the English Beat.

If you like, this is an album that should come with a large cut-out sun to hoist up into your room as the heat and pure light emerges from your stereo or laptop.





Reviews Roundup/Dominic Valvona




Easing the boredom of coronavirus lockdown – though many of our international followers, and those across the border in England, are tentatively coming out of isolation – join me from the safety of your own home once more on a global journey of discovery. Let me do all the footwork for you as I recommend a batch of interesting and essential new releases from a myriad of genres. All of which I hope you will support in these anxious and trying times. With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it.

This week’s roundup takes on an unplanned devotional vibe, with many of the featured albums/EPs inspired or imbued by religious music and themes. The cellist, composer Simon McCorry is a case in point, his latest ambient drone soundscape The Light Only Blinds is guided in part by the Catholic liturgy of a Requiem Mass; though drifts and expands into the universal and space itself. Equally the stirring hushed beatific new EP from Swedish artist David Åhlén, ‘My Face Will Shine’, is also (among other things) inspired by Christian liturgy: especially the Biblical Psalms. Meanwhile, Bhajan Bhoy, the alter ego of Ajay Saggar, proves a transcendence of spiritual, talking to Yogi, style Kosmische and post-punk reverence. A strange performative alchemy is struck up between the collaborative union of Valentina Magaletti and Marlene Ribeiro on their mysterious, primal ‘tropical concrete’ communion Due Matte.

Not so spiritual, and untouched by the afflatus, Daniel J. Gregory (and his Carnivorous Plants) composes and assembles a ambient and lingering post-rock blues soundscape to the images he captured on a old Soviet camera, Fela Kuti disciples Les Frères Smith pack a punch on their explosive Afrobeat imbued new LP, Mutation. Love-Songs release their inaugural convolution of the organic and synthesized, Nicht Nicht, for the Hamburg label Bureau B. And finally, there’s the inaugural album from Carey Mercer’s new project Soft Plastics; an extraordinary, ambitious album at that.


Les Frères Smith ‘Mutation’
(Amour et Son) LP/22nd May 2020




Adepts of the Fela Kuti patois, the self-described musical ‘smugglers’ Les Frères Smith not only emulate their inspiration but even feature the Afrobeat progenitor’s youngest scion Seun Kuti on the group’s latest, and third, infectious bustle, Mutation.

Speaking Kuti fluently this eleven-strong group doesn’t just imitate the sun-bleached heralded horns, Tony Allen shuffles and entrancing grooves of the Nigerian superstar’s music but also channel his loosely delivered vocal protestations too. Always keeping it funky and suffused with a sauntered jostle even in the face of ever-growing tensions, the threat of increasingly hostile nationalism and the rise of populism the political slogans are liberally peppered or soulfully woven into the tapestry by the group’s rallying flanked singers and motivators Swala Emati and Prosper Nya. Les Frères Smith fill-in for Seun’s Egypt 80 on the splashed drum and Clav frills ‘No Waiting’: An impatient message of African unity rides over a signature nimble Afrobeat performance that has Seun deliver a usually cool vocal and swinging saxophone.

Of course these sonic contraband handlers of the faith will find their politics, freedom of movement even harder to evangelize in the current miasma of epidemic lockdown. For now, we’ll just have to let them musically take us on a backpack tour of riches. Because they don’t just fly Air Lagos but make stopovers in Cameroon (check out those basslines), Ghana, Guinea and on the shimmery fluted desert escape ‘Arouah’, Arabian North Africa. What they call the “Afrikanbeat” is a smooth merger of all these geographic scenes. Throw in some nitty, nifty Congolese guitar licks, some Orlando Julius lilted Afrojazz, reminisces of The Sweet Talks and Ebo Taylor, and then from across the seas, add a pinch of stateside soul sister Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, some Stevie Wonder and even a touch of The Brand New Heavies to find all the sunshine hustle grooves you could want.

Bedeviled, limbering, relaxed, Les Frères Smith lend a Gauloise flair to the Afrobeat blueprint on an album of bustled liberating energy.





Soft Plastics ‘5 Dreams’
(Paper Bag Records) LP/5th June 2020




From the embers of Frog Eyes rises Carey Mercer’s vivid dreamology, the Soft Plastics; an extraordinary-voiced inhabited vision, playful, untethered yet also intense. With partner and creative foil Mel Campbell at his side and an intimate circle of musicians – many of which are from the ranks of fellow Canadian scenesters Destroyer – Mercer’s abstract dreams are channeled into a magical, if often sad, songbook of lyrical symbolism, metaphor and passages of trauma.

Everyone is probably aware of the idiosyncratic songwriter’s travails, coming out the other side of throat cancer years ago; the very best outcome an affect on his music career and obviously his already unique bellowed, sibilant, fluctuating, weaving vocals. Though free from a cohesive theme as such, amongst the recurring lyrics of “swirling”, allusions to a green miasma, “wyld thyngs” and an actor’s diorama there’s the constant presence of “angels”: guardians perhaps. But it’s the album’s references (again, perhaps) to Mercer’s most dramatic episode on ‘The Party’s Still On’ that evocatively alludes to that diagnosis: “Knocked on the roof of my mouth, and said “shelter me in warmth”.

With some visions weighing heavier than others, and some darker, the inaugural LP under the Soft Plastics furnishing uses the imagery and lucid recall of Mercer’s dreams. These “remembrances” were sent to soundboard Joshua Wells (just one of the Destroyer cast that feature and help facilitate this album) as a foundation for, what is, a visceral journey through the musician/vocalist’s imaginings and augurs. It’s an ambitious world – not many albums come with a contextual-style essay. 5 Dreams “exists in a land that is deeply wet, dark, flooded” we’re told. The dank dampness is however broken by the occasional “gilded sun-beam” that “comes out of nowhere”, at which point “the song just stops and stares in bloody awe at what we are given, what we might see.”

Almost theatrical, the musical stage is expansive and deep; a counterbalance between the darkness and light. Sins, the omnipresence of a nuclear threat (of the winter, and family stasis kind), the pains of loss, and the biblical feature heavily on a soundtrack that omnivorously feeds on elements of lilted mariachi horns, industrial post-punk, ragged soul, new wave, shoegaze, pop, indie-dance, funk and Mercer’s back catalogue (Frog Eyes, Swan Lake). This means wandering hints of Blixa Bargeld, Talk Talk, Alex Harvey, Wolf Parade, The Mekons, New Pornographers and The Rapture. With a vocal freedom, between the languidly winding and more intense falsetto, the pathway traverses wildly imagined southern borderlands; a virtual dystopia where the hangman’s rope looms as a warning; a place where fascism lurks in the small towns. There’s something not quite right with this scene however; an artificial construct, peopled by willing (or unwilling) actors, playing the part of Mercer’s vivid dreamscapes and actions.

Mercer’s dream weaving evocations are, as I’ve already said, extraordinary on this ambitious, mesmeric album suite. Cryptic and charged, wondrous and yet dark, the Soft Plastics go further and deeper into the psyche to fathom the unfathomable. 5 Dreams warrants a place in every choice and best of the year lists at the end of this anxious, epidemic ravaged year. It really is that good.





Bhajan Bhoy ‘Bless Bless’
(Wormer Bros. Records)   LP/5th June 2020




Veiled in swathes of reverence and an afterglow of Gothic shoegaze, post-punk and the kosmische Ajay Saggar turns his fanned, flange reverberating guitar towards the transcendental on his first solo outing. Recently appearing in my January roundup as part of the Deutsche Ashram collaboration with Merinde Verbeck, Saggar extends that duo’s vaporous spiritual waves and dreamy translucence on this six-string led Eastern cosmology.

In case you missed the “blessed” anointed direction of this heavenly – if just as moodily mysterious and full of trepidation – panoramic opus, the alter ego “Bhajan” of this incarnation’s name refers to the amorphous devotional music of the Indian subcontinent. Synonymous with Hinduism, but also Jainism, this melodic raga form of worship has no set rules, and so fits in well with Saggar’s formless framework of layered melting guitar phrases, gossamer radiance, space-echo unit delay and ripples in the cosmic fabric atmospheres. Bhajan can be translated as “revere”, but also can be read as “sharing” too, and that’s what Saggar does: sharing his spiritual oeuvre of the esoteric and meditative.

We’re “welcomed” to this service with a brassy vibrating mantra: an introduction set-up for what’s to follow. The pouring guitar washes of Manuel Gottsching’s Ash Ra Temple permeate the album’s first long wave devotion ‘Strung Out’, which also features the Washington artist Prana Crafter as congruous communal collaborator. Those lingering six-string explorations increase with intensity as the traverse goes on; bending and craning with fuzz and scuzzy sustain in a Gunter Schickert fashion. Second guest spot goes to Holly Habstritt Gaal; her lulling siren coos beckon from the ether on the ethereal post-punk free-falling embrace ‘Cascade’.

On a pilgrimage of the magick and Indian mysticism, Saggar aligns wisps of Popol Vuh mantra otherworldliness with cause winds on the strangely titled ‘Stuck In A Barrel’, and casts a pulsing prodded synthesized spell of Roedelius arpeggiator and the Tangerine Dream on ‘Magicho’.

Whether drifting off after trekking the ‘King’s Mountain’, or circumnavigating the Kush interior, Saggar finds enlightenment in a cosmic vacuum. Sensory glides, harmonic rings, creepier growls, the twinkled and dub-y all merge on this ebbing tide of devotional music. Emerging from this isolation with a spirit of wonderment, Bhajan Bhoy reimagines a kosmische version of The Mission; a space rock Slowdive on an expansive multilayered guitar meditation.






Love-Songs ‘Nicht Nicht’
(Bureau B) LP/22nd May 2020




It shouldn’t come as a surprise to find the visceral electro-acoustic trio from Hamburg gravitating towards that incubator of Kosmische and expletory German electronica, the Bureau B label: A label that’s ranks include not just the second (or third) generation of Germany’s electronic and experimental music revolution but also some of the progenitors that started it, from surviving members of Faust to Roedelius.

Love-Songs inaugural convolution of the organic and defined for the label absorbs much of that pioneering providence, especially the Kosmische and the quasi-tribal, quasi-ceremonial wood-rim-clatter drums of Faust’s Zappi Diermaier.

A mysterious, sometimes Byzantium, invocation of the improvised, the synthesized and the acoustic, Nicht Nicht is a veiled world of amorphous resonance. There’s the use of Chinese cymbals that hints towards Tibetan and East Asian mysticism, what sounds like a clarinet or oud offers Egyptian fantasy, and the cattle bells evoke mountain cowherds of the Steppes. Add to this the utterances and chanted cadence of Love-Song’s vocalist Thomas Korf, which aren’t so much sung as lyrically described as they occupy the gauzy space. Korf’s lyrics are described as ‘Surrealist’, ‘Dada’, though I’d have no idea as he sings in German throughout.

Electronically sonic wise, pulsating bass throbs echo throughout this labyrinth alongside carefully, dare say sophisticated, arpeggiators, dark wave undercurrents and, when it really gets going, cybernetic techno beats. Suffused and vibrating with that air of mystery, Love-Songs create a stirring environment of reverberated tubular synthesized evaporations and both naturalistic scuttled rhythms and percussive trinkets. Nicht Nicht finds a balance between the two on a most experimental fusion of Kosmische, Techno and the mystical; an album that finds the trio pushing the boundaries further than ever.





Valentina Magaletti & Marlene Ribeiro ‘Due Matte’
(Commando Vanessa) LP/11th June 2020




A communion of sonic forebode and untethered visions of the universal, the collaborative Due Matte performance ascension brings together Valentina Magaletti (of Vanishing Twins fame) and her foil Marlene Ribeiro (of both Gnod and Negra Brancia) to forge an uninterrupted exploration of what the artistic partnership has coined “tropical concrete”. A counterbalance of the improvised and form, the natural and augmented, synthesized effects and the acoustic, this tropical concrete soundscape weaves recognizable instrumentation with (as the ‘concrete’ of that term would suggest) a masked assemblage of found objects and utensils. And so, an ever-present tolled, processional frame drum patters out a repetitive beat as the trinkets of tapped bottles, scrapped tin and other metallic objects trickle or scratch across a mysterious alchemy of Latin esotericism and an ever-shifting echoed soundbed of filters.

Metal bucketing, the circled ringing of bowls, brushes across the surface of a drum skin, water-carriers, revolving mechanisms, rasps and rustling noises and sounds are all the more mysterious as they spiral or spindle on this magic-reality soundtrack. In a fluxes between the supernatural and dreamy, the lucid and hypnotizing reverberations of an ambiguous world, cast adrift of its moorings, stirs up various references: whether intentional or by happenstance – a spell of South East Asia one moment, the Nile and even an atavistic Iberia the next.

Cooing voices and obscured talking add another layer of mystique to the serial Gothic, religious and fantastical elementals.

This, the third release on the burgeoning Italian ‘boutique label’ Commando Vanessa, was originally performed as part of Francisca Marques’ curated project Hysteria; a result of the collaborators artistic residency at Sonoscopia in Porto, a project conceived to ‘offer a look at female production and creation in today’s musical universe, creating new bridges between creators and audiences.’ The fruits of this strange, mostly uncalculated vision of artistic freedom traverse a mirror-y, occasionally primal, world of abstracted death knolls and rituals, under a killing moon. Let’s hope there’s more to come from this congruous union in the future.






Simon McCorry ‘The Light Only Blinds’
(Herhalen Recordings) EP/14th May 2020




Proving prolific in this year of anxious isolation and lockdown misery, composer, artist and adroit cellist of renown Simon McCorry is once more conjuring up evocative soundscapes, both introspective and universal, on his latest ambient suite The Light Only Blinds. After two recent Monolith Cocktail premieres of McCorry standalone singles – the minimalist Acid Techno imbibed ‘Pieces Of Mind’ last month, and the stirring atonal ‘The Nothing That Is’ in February –, and following in the wake of the fully-realized escapist, haunted environments and materialized spaces of the ambiguous atmosphere-building Border Land LP, McCorry offers a trio of light inspired meditations on the power, immensity and light-giving properties of the Sun.

Veiled, longing and at times inhabiting the awe and mystery of Kubrick’s cinematic visions of space, the arid lunarscapes and terrains of this lightened sonic escapism are both magisterial and daunting. Though alien in parts, with passing leviathans and gauzy metallic gleams, saws and waves suffused throughout, the EP is not just bathed in the rays of the Sun but also loosely imbued by the themes (hence the Latin liturgy titles, ‘Sanctus’, ‘Benedictus’ etc.) of the Catholic Requiem Mass. Instead of the David Axlerod route, McCorry gravitates towards the almost supernatural Atmosphères, Lux Aeterna, Requiem and Aventures suites of revered composer György Ligeti; all of which of course featured in Kubrick’s 2001AD, A Space Odyssey opus.

But this sacred wonderment at the Sun was also developed from the sound design work for a play that the ambient and neoclassical composer worked on in early March. “The theatre we were working in closed around us and the play only went as far as the first dress rehearsal. I’d been experimenting with a couple of analogue monosynths and liked the idea of using these as the sole source of sound design material. They have an unpredictable organic nature and paradoxically sound unnatural and alien. The play, Born Bad written by Debbie Tucker Green, is an intense family drama with a lot not said or on the verge of being said, it is an exercise in a slow build of tension that never quite overwhelms but threatens too as more and more is revealed. I wanted the sound design to be as if it is was the space, the hum of the electric appliances, lighting and heating, occasionally clawing it self into consciousness from a bed of churning chaos that lies behind everything.

The prevailing bed of those hums, undulations and waves sit under a synthesis of universal secrets, as enervated solar winds blow across the moonscapes and interiors, and shrouded movements trigger unearthly stirrings and shooting stars fly by in the night sky. An escapist soundtrack, McCorry’s subtle enlightened contemplations prove atmospherically evocative, another quality suite of minimalist gravity.






David Åhlén ‘My Face Will Shine’
(Jivvär) EP/15th May 2020




You may remember we premiered the Swedish singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist David Åhlén’s moving hymnal ‘If I Have You’ single, recently on the Monolith Cocktail. A whispery diaphanous veiled plaint that’s informed and inspired by the artist’s study of mystical Judeo-Christian texts on the Swedish Island of Gotland, and his own personal faith, this most beatific and angelic of songs also features on the new release, the devotional My Face Will Shine EP.

Though faith has once more concentrated the minds of many during this epidemic – you could say there’s been a resurgence -, society in general still casts a cynical derision of suspicion at those who practice religion. A lot of Christian music is of course dire, especially the modern happy-clappy sort. Åhlén though has found a gossamer balance between the choral-backed worship lament of tradition and a breathtakingly heart aching form of chamber pop.

Particularly moved by the Biblical Psalms, lyrics from the first single – lines such as “deep calls to deep in the roar of your waters” – are directly inspired by Psalm 42, as David explains: “Many of the lyrics for the EP are about the mystery of our soul speaking to God and the longing that follows”. Musically steeped in this traditional influence and spiritual yearning, ‘If I Have You’ like the rest of the music on this EP are elevated further towards the heavenly by the inclusion of the holy tones of The Boy’s Choir Of Gotland and a an attentive, sympathetic chamber ensemble.

Åhlén’s hushed and cooed falsetto softly ascends the Cloisters atmosphere like a yearning, robed, Antony Hegarty taking communion. The reverence is suffused across all four spiritual elevations, from the beautifully wooed and bowed longing string accompanied stunner ‘My Face Will Shine’, through to the ethereal Biblical cosmology ‘Shamayim’ (the Hebrew word for “heaven”).

My Face Will Shine offers a full immersion into the devotional and longing; a connection to a higher calling you could say; a step away from our own preoccupations into the moody chamber pop of holy reverence. Aside from the spiritual leanings, many will find this an incredibly constructed heartfelt and beautiful record.




Daniel J. Gregory & Carnivorous Plants ‘Dusty Starlight’
(Kirigirisu Recordings) LP/Available Now




From rifling through workshop drawers like a sound burglar, to lending the most lingering traces of post-rock and blues-y guitar to attuned radio/TV broadcasts from an unspecified European geography, Daniel J. Gregory’s minimal sonic collage for the Japan-based Kirigirisu label is an album of channeled refracted landscapes. From mountains to coastlines and cities, Gregory’s serial synthesis of guitar and textured drones and winding mechanisms soundscapes give a sound and visceral life to pictures taken on an ‘old Soviet camera’.

A photo album given an assemblage of ambient resonate waveforms and more noisy musique-concrète, Dusty Starlight passes through ‘Blue Holland’ colour palette waterways and scrapped contours of a vague landscape. Foreign transmissions intermittently crackle and spark into action but offer only more mystery. You can even hear the artist himself counting in, or, in soliloquy style mumbling under his breath on the rummaging ‘V’.

Over various hums, signals, static, chains, clicks, camera loading and caustic interference Gregory plays various electric guitar renderings. Played with a light touch, these sometimes reverberating, often rippled and drifting trails linger between touches of Craig Ward, Spaceman 3 era Jason Pierce and Raül Refree. On the album’s final Roman numeric entitled ‘VII’ there’s even a hint of a more enervated, less dark, Sunn O))). But this could be framed as a kind of post-rock blues; a style not too dissimilar to the label boss Neil Debnam’s very own Broken Shoulder/Flying Kites alter egos.

A soundtrack in many ways that offers a strange collage of found, usable object manipulations and tremulous experimental guitar, the Dusty Starlight album looks through a removed lens at a scarred, displaced landscape. One that’s more mysterious and subtly stirring than dystopian or even haunting. This old Soviet tech offers another angle on ambient experimentation.






Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Album Review/Enrico Stradi





Continuing in 2020 with our collaboration with the leading Italian music publication Kalporz, the Monolith Cocktail will be cosying up and sharing reviews, interviews and other bits from our respective sites each month. Keep an eye out for future ‘synergy’ between our two great houses as we exchange posts.

This month an in-depth, beautifully written purview by Enrico Stradi of the new Perfume Genius album, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately.


Perfume Genius   ‘Set My Heart On Fire Immediately’
(Matador, 2020)


“My mission is always to get out of myself”: the story of Perfume Genius‘ fifth and last album can start from here, from these words spoken in a recent interview, and from the feeling of inconsolable awareness they emanate. In fact, it may sound like an excessive generalization, but despite this it has something true, to write that the entire production of the talented Seattle producer refers to the body, to his body as a man and artist. A theme that in the course of the songs and records has been explored in its multiple meanings: the body as the place where the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, from which Mike Hadreas suffers from birth, are manifested; the body as an emotional dimension, where the effects of unsolved relational and affective difficulties collide; the body as a territory of identity and aesthetic claim, as painful as it is proud, as fragile as it is spontaneous, of its belonging to the queer community. In short, Perfume Genius’ relationship with his own physicality is a relationship that has been – despite the most painful implications, or perhaps in nature of them – a vital lymph, the burning substance, alive and propulsive of art. And this continues to be so, even in his latest work, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, in which Hadreas continues his very personal exploration of himself.

On the fifth album just released for Matador comes to life the new transformation of the author, who ten years after his debut album has been able to tell his twisted and suffered universe in the form of lo fi piano ballads (Learning, 2010), dramatic sentimental heartaches (Put Your Back N 2 It, 2012), enlightening and powerful claims, not only sexual, in pop sauce (Too Bright, 2014) and ethereal and sparkling baroque (No Shape, 2017). Set Your Heart On Fire Immediately represents the most recent evolution in this exploratory path, and marks a moment full of meanings for the author – not by chance, the opening of the album is entrusted to two verses that only a few seconds later we can fully understand: “Half of my whole life is gone / Let it drift and wash away”. Thus begins the first track, ‘Whole Life’, an orchestral construction of violins that seems almost to be placed there to try to reconnect to the last album No Shape, almost to resume an interrupted speech. But those verses are in that precise position because they have the task of telling something else from what we already know, namely the precise will to move away from everything Perfume Genius has embodied so far. And in fact, a few seconds later, here is ‘Describe’ with its dirty, distorted, rough and dusty riff, so unexpected that it almost hurts in its expressive power. It is the sound of an explosion, of a burning fire, of a heart on fire. What we are witnessing is not only a crucial moment of the album, but an effect of sudden expansion that Hadreas has carefully studied, codified and repeated other times during the fifty minutes of the album, without ever losing the effect of expressive unpredictability. A moment that is, in a few words, one of the keys to reading this, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately: a work that feeds on the same varied and heterogeneous musical material of which it is composed.




Throughout its duration the album gives in fact sudden shifts of atmosphere and sound, warmth and intensity. The lyrics give the music a meaning similar to oxymoron: in the writing of the emotional torments, physical and mental disorders or in the story of emotional suffering we pass from the extended sounds of ‘Without You’ to the falsetto accompanied harpsichord of ‘Jason’; from the funky ‘On The Floor’ to the wandering and dreamlike ramblings of ‘Leave’, from the hypnotic dramas of ‘Just A Touch’ to the warm and dark synth of ‘Your Body Changes Everything’ or the rough guitars of ‘Some Dream’ (here another of those memorable explosions mentioned above). In interpreting each of these passages Hadreas shows a masterful familiarity, almost comparable to that of a contemporary dancer who during his performance transforms his body taking various forms and positions. The comparison with dance is not here by chance: in 2019 Perfume Genius took part in a choreographic performance co-directed by Kate Wallich and titled The Sun Still Burns Here, and he himself admits the decisive impact on his latest album.

The muscular strength that emanates from this record comes from afar, is the result of a fervent and insatiable experimental curiosity, and represents a new and unpublished chapter in the story of the relationship with one’s own body. Rather than trying to escape from its physicality, as it happened in previous albums and in the quote we reported at the beginning, in Set My Heart On Fire Immediately Hadreas puts it to the test, with all the effort that this effort requires, trying from time to time in different or unexplored territories. And not only musical, but also visual, equally important for what he intends to communicate: do you remember the way feelings like anger and pain, love and suffering were expressed before this album? Those intimate contortions of ‘Learning’, the vibrant heart inside ‘Too Bright’? Do you remember the lipstick from ‘Hood’? The skates from ‘Fool’? The sequins from ‘Queen’? The bucolic, Shakespearean races from ‘Slip Away’? Look at him now, Mike Hadreas, on the cover of the record, shirtless and stained with motor oil, with that fierce, battling look. Look at him rolling around on the ground soiled with dirt or performing a choreography that resembles a duel to the death. Look at him, while for the first time he faces openly those masculine and masochistic imaginations he has always felt repulsive and threatening: now he even challenges them, embodies them, and radically changes their symbolic connotations. It is an achievement of his. A liberation. It is yet another metamorphosis. Perfume Genius is another person again.





Premiere/Dominic Valvona 




Admlithi ‘Radal’
(In Black Records) Single/22nd May 2020


The mysterious Scottish enigma Admlithi returns from the veils with a minor opus of gossamer and gliding synthesized hymnal beauty. Following on from his 2018 debut album for Armellodie Records, Tyrants, the producer and multi instrumentalist breathes diaphanous life into his latest mini-opus ‘Radal’; a hushed, attentive epic that takes its title from the manufactures of the buoyant tubular sounding electronic tabla that drives it along (purchased, we’re told, at a car boot sale for five pounds: now that’s what you call a bargain).

Already using an eclectic palette of post-punk, electronica and jittered psychedelics, with influences as diverse as The Associates, The Chameleons, Kate Bush, Kraftwerk, Japan and Erasure, Admlithi now channels the sophisticated searing and atmospheric synth work of Vangelis as he subtly reaches towards the heavenly stratosphere. Yet despite the reverent and unearthly vapours, lyrically the song is about “trying to dig tunnels back to the happiest time in your life only to find the earth is full of boulders.” Travails have seldom sounded so scenic and hallowed.

The Monolith Cocktail is delighted to be sharing that single, released through our pals at the Glasgow label hub In Black Records, ahead of its release on the 22nd May.






Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

New Music Roundup/Dominic Valvona





The Perusal is my regular one-stop chance to catch up with the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload the Monolith Cocktail’s inboxes each month. A right old mishmash of previews, reviews and informative inquiry, this weeks assortment includes shout outs to The Bundy Bunch, CURRENTMOODGIRL, Double Françoise, Telemachus, We Jazz Records live serious of jazz recordings, and Sounds And Colours 10th Anniversary compilation special.


Telemachus ‘Greed ft. Jerome Thomas’
(High Focus)  Video track taken from the upcoming LP Boring And Weird Historical Music/22nd May 2020





Floating untethered once more, UK producer and artist David L.G. Webb traverses another amorphous musical geography on his latest album under the Greek mythology inspired Telemachus pseudonym. An outlet for explorations that take in an eclectic range of sounds, musics and soundtracks, from West Africa to the Caribbean, the Earthly and cosmic, Telemachus dreamily and longingly encompasses spells of jazz, the spiritual, hip-hop, trip-hop, neo-soul, ambient, electronica and down tempo. A break from Webb’s pioneering work, under the Chemo moniker, on the UK hip-hop scene – producing and working with luminaries and stalwarts Verb T, Kyza, Kashmere, Manage, Jehst, Triple Darkness, Jam Baxter and Onoe Caponoe – this flight of fantasy incarnation is a loose and free travelogue of the spiritual and imaginative that has so far delivered a trio of albums since 2011.

Released ahead of the latest yearning but, mostly, peaceable opus Boring And Weird Historical Music, the soulfully laced, softly tripped jazzy and vaporous video track ‘Greed’ features the achingly blessed sweeping vocals of neo-soul artist Jerome Thomas; just one of many guests, alongside RHI, Chris Belson, Killa P and Penelope Oddity, that feature on this polygenesis, blossoming album.

Keep your eyes peeled for a full review of that album in the next two weeks.



OK:KO/Alder Ego/Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen ‘Ateneum 2019 (We Jazz Live Plates VOL. 2)’
(We Jazz)  LP/May 22





A favorite label hub of mine, contemporary jazz specialists We Jazz Records have released an enviable catalogue of avant-garde, experimental, electrifying records over the years. A showcase for artists from the label’s city home of Helsinki, but also branching out with suites from fellow Scandinavians across the border and beyond, they’ve recently announced news of a series of live performance compilations.

Featuring a rich array of that roster, each volume is split between a trio of acts and ensembles, the performances all taken from various concerts in and around the Finnish capital in 2019. Today’s featured preview, Volume 2, was recorded in the Spring of last year at the historic Ateneum Art Museum in the city. Label mates Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen, OK:KO and Alder Ego each get two tracks on this magical, energetic and exploratory live compilation.

Led by drummer Okko Saastamoinen, the Helsinki quartet OK:KO open the album with a sophisticated, slinky splash of Savoy meets European avant-garde jazz. Group pianist Toomas Keski-Säntti changes from piano to Fender Rhodes, which the accompanying burb suggests, is ‘a little touch that opens up new avenues in their sound.’ Versions of tracks from the group’s 2019 debut Syrti are given a new lease of energy, with the rolling, contorted title-track from that album and the looping splashed ‘Piik’ taken on free-falling excursion.

Another drummer led combo, Joonas Leppänen’s Alder Ego quartet of Finnish talent transcends and go deep with a double-bass heavy version of ‘Cubism’ – which featured on their 2018 LP for the label, II – and offer up a new peregrination of scintillating, slinking, vaulting and New York skyline marauding sax appeal, ‘Mystery Room Nr. 6’.

The Helsinki duo of Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen meanwhile, turn in mesmerizing, Don Cherry meets Dizzy and Calloway swing like visions of ‘Fallow’ and ‘Goldenrod’; a duo of tracks taken from their eponymous 2019 LP.

Finland is proving a hothouse for emerging and already established talent, and this second volume in the live series offers insight and enjoyment (let’s not forget that) of that contemporary jazz blossoming. We Jazz is proving a reliable name of quality and discovery in the form. Take a punt, you won’t be disappointed.



Various ‘Sounds And Colours: 10 Years Anniversary Compilation’
(Sounds And Colours)   Album/Available Now





A gateway to everything worth celebrating about Latin American, the Sound And Colours platform, which includes one of the most in-depth of reference and news sites, guide books and events, has proved a rich essential source for me over the years. Whether it’s through the site’s cultural, political and historical published purview style series of accessible guides to Peru, Brazil and Colombia, or their considered catalogue of music projects, I’m kept up-to-speed and introduced to some of the continent’s most interesting artists and scenes. This includes the panoramic escapist electronica, progressive traversing music of Santiago Córdoba; the futuristic Rio de Janeiro leftfield bossa transmogrifications of João Carvalho (better known as leading experimental Brazilian light Sentidor); and the Costa Rican musical ethnologist Nillo (Johnny Gutierrez). All three of which appear alongside Sergio Mendoza’s Arizona-Mexican fusion Orkesta Mendoza (appearing in a triangle with Mexican Institute of Sound and Calexico) and the leading Rio talent (responsible for at least a 100 recordings) Alexandre Kassin on this generous tenth anniversary fundraiser.

A thankless task at the best of times, with countless sites and blogs closing down at a fair old rate for both a lack of support financially – proving hard enough just to cover costs, let alone make money or a wage from it – and indifference, Sounds And Colours is like many of us also now caught in the effects of lockdown. Wishing to retain that status as ‘a vital platform for Latin American musicians, filmmakers, artists, writers and other creative souls to find an appreciative audience’, the site is looking to its audience for help in keeping it going. And so marking ten years in serving that community, this 25-track compilation that stretches a musical geography, includes everything from electronica to psych to avant-garde to pop is both a celebration and vital way to support them. And as opposed to so many lockdown specials, fundraisers, this is indeed a rich and brilliant collection of new, rare and previously unreleased music.

You can visit the site bandcamp page here to find out how you can help keep this platform afloat.



The Bundy Bunch ‘POS’
(In Black Records) Single/Available Now



Creating a squall of attention for themselves with their slackened brand of lo fi hostility wrapped around jangled surf garage punk mischief, Norway’s knockabout serial killer pun Bundy Bunch follow up on their debut single with another mix of half time slumber and quickened American yoof twanged sulky hysteria. Despite that rough exterior and the eventual “piece of shit” breakdown at the end of this, the band’s second single, the Kopervik trio keeps things melodic and, even, fun. It’s a sound that could be described as a brash barreling Drums meets The Hunches.

Following up the band’s inaugural ‘BELUSHI SPEEDBALL’, ‘POS’ once more has a message about drugs misuse and hijinks. Guitarist/vocalist Ole Marius Saltvik explains: “the lyrics are the social effects certain drugs have on people, and how stupid it can make them act.” Basically, quitting being a dick. Infectious, free-spirited, The Bundy Bunch are a thrill and tonic to the pensive seriousness of lockdown. Take a hit for yourselves.



CURRENTMOODGIRL ‘The Letter L’
(Self-Release)  Single/Available Now





A skulk of coiled and shutter clicking machinery and synthesized percussion, Greta Edith’s (who you may know from both Bernard + Edith and Pearl City) disturbing but strangely alluring new visionary alter ego, CURRENTMOODGIRL is as foreboding as it is playful. Some of this is down to the playground like warped innocence of Edith’s childish but knowing vocals.

Today’s featured track, the inaugural release of this new incarnation, is the self-released track ‘The Letter L’. Described as, “A playground clap game that got out of hand”, the paddled and flickered sonic project debut is accompanied by an equally unnerving homemade music video, described as: ‘An alliterative fever dream of monochrome-on-red before a tangled & disheveled ballerina, Dancing like no one is watching.’

Posing as many questions, queries as postulating answers, the CURRENTMOODGIRL alter ego leads the listener ‘down the primrose path’ with a ‘study of the emotional life’s mercurial swings and the female self’. A transmogrification of Manchester’s industrial past, a love of film scores and the local GASH rave scene, Greta’s newest project occupies a strange dream reality. This first offering signifies a most enticing if daunting introduction to that world.



Double Françoise ‘Les Bijoux’
(Freaksville Music) LP/5th June 2020





As the moniker suggests, Double Françoise are about as French as it can get. The Gauloise smoky perfumed Chanteuse pop duo, couplet of Maxence and Elisabeth Jutel seem to have the providence and effortless cool élan to pull off the melodic melancholy and resigned love of such sirens and doyens of the form as Alice Dona, François Hardy, Sylvie Vartan and of course, Serge Gainsbourg and his retinue of femme muses. But this reminiscing musical couple actually derive their name from both the playwright, novelist Sagan Françoise – famous for her disillusioned bourgeois protagonist driven diorama romantic themed works – and the fatalistic actress Dorléac Françoise – the 1960s international starlet on the verge of great things who died at the age of 26 in a car accident.

The debut album, Les Bijoux, is said to be ‘a culmination of years of living together’; an album that ‘beautifully juxtaposes effortless, diaphanous pop with existential subject matter.’ Using an apparatus of Italian keyboards, tape recorders and Atari computers, the duo encompass everything from the French New Wave to the breezy, violin serenaded reminisces of the pastoral provinces. Though they also manage to evoke a Gallic vision of Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra, and on the shakers groove ‘Alcool Fort’, Jean-Luc Godard captured Rolling Stones – with also a hint of Chrissie Hynde. By the time we get to the ‘Loin De Toi’ we’ve heard Gilberto bossa, discothèque new wave, ye ye, gypsy jazz and dreamy electronic pop.

Sensual, breezy, giddy, waning, resigned, breathless and love-pained, everything you want from French pop music with depth and an edge.

Ahead of the album’s release in June, the Monolith Cocktail is sharing the duo’s title-track teaser/video.



Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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