Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

Dominic Valvona Forward:

Christ what a depressing annus horribilis 2020 was. Putting aside the pandemic, this was another divisive turd of a year, with hyperbolic indignities and the childish naïve persecution of nearly everything and everyone outside the virtue-card carrying trends of “black square” signaling. Whilst many of my peers were casting the aspirations, collecting bracken for the ritual burnings of the faithless, and delivering the most hypercritical of grandstanding statements on diversity, we were continuing as ever as the outsiders to carry on with a normal service of sharing the most eclectic music from artists across the globe. So many of the most voluminous in this regard are the most guilty of not adhering to their own pontifications: I won’t list them here, but they know who they are; the sort of blog/site that hasn’t even featured a black artist, or not many, let alone bother to look outside their myopic viewfinder to Africa, Southeast Asia and beyond. 

We also lost many comrades and sisters this year, including the king of rock ‘n’ roll Little Richard, the late great Afrobeat rhythm provider Tony Allen, Bill Withers, Vera Lynn, Betty Wright, Phil May, Emit Rhodes, Andy Gill, Peter Green, Eddie Van Halen, Spencer Davis, Kenny Rogers, Florian Schneider, Genesis P-Orridge Manu Dibango, Andrew Weatherall, Ennio Morricone and even the poor old derided Des O’Conner. A right bastard of a year I think we can all agree on.

A challenging year, the effects of which will be felt for a long time to come, 2020 has nevertheless been a great year for new music (thank god).    

Because we’ve never seen the point in arguing the toss over numerical orders, or even compiling a list of the best of albums of the year, the Monolith Cocktail’s lighter, less competitive and hierarchical ‘choice albums’ features have always listed all entrants in alphabetical order. We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

Void of points systems and voting, the Monolith Cocktail team selection is pretty transparent: just favourites and albums we all feel you, our audience, should check out. Alongside my good self, Matt Oliver and Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea have made the selections this year.

Spread over three parts, the inaugural selection runs from 3 South And Banana to Extradition Order.

Numbers.

3 South And Banana ‘S/T’
(Some Other Planet)

Bouncing and lolloping onto the psychedelic pop and indie scene like a Francophone Shintaro Sakamoto, Aurélien Bernard brought us a most lightly touched but infectious kaleidoscope jangle of a self-titled debut album this year.

Swapping the drum stool and tenure with the sunny-disposition Vadoinmessico – leaving as the band transitioned into Cairobi – for a polymath solo career, the French born, Berlin-based, Bernard has an idiosyncratic musical style; weaving a cantaloupe gait and a lyrical mix of French and English vocals together in a colourful, often fun, way. Radiant, oceanic, translucent and even cosmic with a Gallic shrug of wistful fatalism, the 3 South & Banana cosmos of rooftop fauna wonderment is a swell place to be in these dark, uncertain times. (Dominic Valvona)

Review In Full

A..

A Journey Of Giraffes  ‘Armenia’
(Somewherecold Records)

Seeming to get better with every release, the unassuming maverick ambient and soundscape explorer behind this most picturesque of animalistic monikers, John Lane, has in recent years been highly prolific in churning out the most subtle but deeply effective under-the-radar soundtracks. To be fair it was a toss-up between this, the atavistic Caucasus transverse Armenia, and his “archipelago of the mind” Sunshine Pilgrim Map peregrination: both great albums of ambient and experimental discovery.

Though he couldn’t have foreseen how prescient this part of the world would become in 2020, with an ongoing uneasy truce between modern Armenia and their Azerbaijan neighbours after a recent fight of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Lane has managed to catch this mysterious land with a 44-track oeuvre of psychogeography, myths, ancient readings and poetry forms. From the air-y and sublime to the more ominous, primal and fraught, minimal evocations sit alongside more churned oblique scrapped moody horrors. Voices from the old religions swirl and echo amongst the hewn stone monuments to Armenia’s ghosts on an outstanding mesmerizing soundtrack of differing stirring soundscapes, traverses, contemplations and ruminations. (DV)

Review In Full

Idris Ackamoor And The Pyramids ‘Shaman!’
(Strut Records)

Serving a worthy musical apprenticeship from and imbued by the masters Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Cecil Taylor, the polymath musician, activist, director of The Pyramids ensemble and torchbearer of spiritual and Afrofuturist jazz, Idris Ackamoor once more makes holy communion with the cradle of civilization on the Egyptology cosmology of conscious political statements, Shaman! Imploring a unified message, a connectivity, a reminder that we can all trace our ancestry back to the same place, Ackamoor follows up on We All Be Africans and the epic sweeping album of Afro-jazz 2-Step “Warrior Dances” and plaintive primal jazz catharsis An Angel Fell, with another masterpiece of the form.

From the burnished Sunbear developing bloodied opus of the Pharaoh Sanders, Brother Ah, Jazz Epistles and Sarah Webster Fabio merging breakout title track to the Afrobeat gospel bolero of ‘Eternity’, an enlightening magical travail of the state of the union is sumptuously paired with the wisdom of the ancients. Narrated and sung howls of anguish are soundtracked and serenaded by a jazz-led voyage of gospel, soul, funk and magic. What an album: an odyssey through the divisive debris of modern America.  (DV)

Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela ‘Rejoice’
(World Circuit Records)

Becoming a final bow in the end for both participates in this perfect synergy of Afrojazz, the now late Afrobeat doyen, drummer extraordinaire Tony Allen and his foil trumpet virtuoso, bandleader, activist and South African national treasure, the even later Hugh Masekela, finally got an airing of their 2010 recordings together this year.

With renewed resolution, Allen and producer Nick Gold, with the blessing and participation of Hugh’s estate, unearthed the original tapes and finished recording the album last year at the same London studio where the original sessions had taken place. Allen and Masekela are accompanied on the record by a new generation of well-respected jazz musicians who help lay down a loose Francophone swinging jazz backing to savior: every bit as effortlessly cool, bouncing and smoky as you’d expect. There’s even a nod to Allen’s old bandleader and Afrobeat progenitor Fela Kuti on this smooth bustling, Blue Note in Africa, laidback work of genius.

This album is the sound of two artists in their element, a performance never to be repeated, and sadly one of the final recordings of Allen now. But as the title says: Rejoice!  (DV)

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Axel Holy ‘WonderWorld’
(Split Prophets)

Given the way Axel Holy’s mind works you just know WonderWorld is gonna turn the distorted, freaky reflections found in the hall of mirrors into reality. This ain’t no Scooby Doo haunted theme park caper: the otherwise Baileys Brown slaloms through the queues of demonic smiles for every ride that’s a trap house of horrors. Knowing he can’t leave anything to chance as to what’s real and what’s a genetically modified mirage, yet well aware that fakes and foes never go into hiding, Holy cocks back and breaks the illusion with all of his sawn-off might, possibly under the influence to heighten the experience. ‘Statement’ induces screams as it goes faster, ‘Let It Go’ does a classic switcheroo of upping the anxiety by withdrawing just a touch, and ‘On The Gram’ craftily dispels social media culture, complete with a chorus simply made for a lip synced reel, though like Brown’s ‘Still Fresh’ from last year, there’s definite loosening up towards the album’s end. Grimy, geared to leave your ears ringing and with fellow misfits Jack Danz and Datkid involved, WonderWorld, as a wise scribe once said, will leave you “Delirious like Eddie Murphy”.  (Matt Oliver)

B…

BaBa ZuLa ‘Hayvan Gibi’
(Night Dreamers)

Capturing one of the best performances from the rebellious stalwarts of Anatolian cosmic dub and psych, BaBa ZuLa, the Night Dreamers label’s “direct-to-disc” series proved a congruous creative hothouse for the Istanbul legends.

Fusing the folkloric with solar flares of Krautrock, souk reggae, 60s and 70s Turkish psych and cosmic-blues the rambunctious group come on like a Sublime Porte vision of Can’s Ege Bamyasi and Soundtracks albums, only replacing much of the Teutonic legends setup with more traditional instruments like the “oud” and “saz”: albeit electrified and fuzzed up to the gills.

Recorded before lockdown in the pre-pandemic nightmare, Hayvan Gibi (which means ‘to act with the natural grace of an animal’) includes six almost untethered, unleashed vivid performances from the mavericks. It’s an album that seeks to fulfil the “live” feel and energy that some fans have commented has been lacking on previous studio albums.

A let loose BaBa ZuLa is a most incredible experience; a scuzzed, scuffed, trinket shimmery, rippling and blazing rhythmic energy and dynamism both intense and yet also a mirage of reggae and dub imbued Anatolia mountain gazing. It’s also a reminder of what we’ve been missing in these dragging pandemic restrictive times. (DV)

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Bab L’ Bluz ‘Nayda!’
(Real World Records)

The changing (and welcoming it is too) face of Moroccan music, Bab L’ Bluz offers a voice to those previously left marginalized and left out with an electrified and rebellious vision of the country’s Islamic Gnawa dance, music and poetry exaltations; the ululation trills and storytelling of the Mauritania “Griot” tradition; and the popular folk music of Chabbi.

Led by the “guembri” player and leading siren, Yousra Mansou, who has caused quite a reaction for taking up an instrument traditionally the preserve of men in Morocco, they blend Arabian-Africa with a contemporary view of political upheaval and drama in a post Arab-Spring landscape. 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.  (DV)

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Batsauce ‘Helter Skelter’
(Full Plate)

Inevitably beatmakers got busy when it came to making a song and dance out of the pandemic, with Batsauce, the Berlin-based producer and underground stalwart with the all-too-perfect moniker, delivering boom bap bad news from his ‘quarantine beat suite’, Helter Skelter a notable entry in creating a 2020-style instrumental biopic out of a mass of disaster movie samples. From the get-go the assembled cast are under no illusions that a worldwide disease is real and happening – no such silver screen/real world naivety here – starting off slow and tentatively before the fever begins to take hold. Mixing up pensive jazz, soul and psych with drums scooped from the doldrums, twitchy, string-lead horror themes worthy of the album’s title compete with bold flourishes that switch between signifying cometh the hour, cometh the man, and said leading role going in head first without the guarantee of making it back. Crucially the dialogue is strategically placed, never overloaded, so as to let the music really run the narrative of what becomes a titanic struggle, and where tellingly the conclusion throws up some worst case scenarios without completely delivering the Hollywood happy-ever-after. Here’s hoping that Batsauce doesn’t have to have a sequel up his sleeve.  (Matt Oliver)

Big Toast & 184 ‘Who Shit In The Sandpit?’
(Revorg)

Not that he needed the trivial matter of 2020 being a complete debacle to fuel his next fed up invective, but Big Toast’s patience reaches dangerously thin levels on this charming titled, eye/nose-gougingly sleeved ode to the money men, privileged elite, ignorant, in-the-flesh stereotypes, Gazza and general ringmasters to the UK circus. Splattered with damning evidence that’s as clear as day but still needs repeating, some might say it’s easy to home on in the obvious targets responsible for the myriad fiascos in these uncertain times. But Toast, eyes rolling to the heavens until his sockets start to fracture, and whose unhurried words mimicking the puppet mastery of those at the lectern, linger like…well, a bad smell, is not the sort of protestor satisfied with just chucking eggs and milkshakes at those who won’t be told. The title track’s lighters-up, all-in-together chorus confirms his man of the people status, and closing track ‘Us/Them’ is a high quality fade to grey conclusion. All to the tune of 184’s claustrophobic, nostalgia-erasing boom bap, equidistant to the edge of doom and foggily attempting a scramble to safety. The fact you can’t help but laugh at such a desperate state of play is an oh-so-British reaction as well.  (MO)

Black Josh ‘Mannyfornia’
(Blah)

Bumping beats whiplashed through the windscreen and straight to the point rhymes that are one false look from Falling Down, Black Josh as Manchester’s mayor of Mannyfornia – the “Sweg Lord – you don’t want him living next door” – creates civilisation that avoids the big city of dreams prefix and instantly nails the ain’t-always-what-it-seems kicker instead. Lockdown restrictions get laughed out of town as well, with Metrodome on the electoral boards deconstructing and hotwiring speakers. The likes of ‘Demon’ sees sinkholes open up and swallow all before it, treated by Josh as minor inconvenience – “I’m only living cos I have to” – and the title track is an aggravated state of emergency to endear your neighbours to, like Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Old Skool’ gone rogue “on a highway to Hell, but I’m undertaking”. Wired on substance intake and the need to hit as many killshots as possible, only half-quelled on ‘Smoke’ and ‘Endz’ as the album’s back end begins to conserve energy, Mannyfornia is restless, anti-social and doesn’t play fair, but Josh is not one to change his game just cos circumstances are different.  (MO)

Black Taffy  ‘Opal Wand’
(Leaving Records)

When filing under hip-hop Opal Wand is the cheat code of this list, particularly when the scope of what is ostensibly an instrumental trap album immediately appears limited. Fear not though – in the hands of Black Taffy aka Dallas alchemist Donovan Jones, Opal Wand perfects the classic axis of massive (and massively rigid) bottom ends, and riffs atop darting like fireflies, unfolding the arms of the screwfaces and feeding them optimism sourced from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Subtle vinyl crackle scoring similar Disney-style sources, and sorrowful Eastern Bloc ballets tiptoeing across dark but exotic landscapes, help bring about another educated one-two – that of the album being based on a booming system when the cascades of strings command you to light incense and candles. Jones continues to shift the pre-conceived by blinding you with the fantastical until disquiet begins to percolate in the distance from ‘A Foxes Wedding’. Synth-shone secrets and doubts begin to reveal themselves on the spirit-raising ‘Palms Up’, and when fear of the unknown takes hold, then the basses, still giving nothing away other than fluttering their eyelashes at low-riders, come into their own. With plenty to interpret, let its curiosity consume you on a cold winter’s eve.  (MO)

Bloom De Wilde ‘The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe’
(Self-Release)

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.  (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea)

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Brian Bordello ‘The King Of No-Fi’
(Metal Postcard Records)

Oh the irony as Brian Bordello himself picked this one for his choice selection of albums from the year: got to hand it to him, the front of the bloke! But then why not, as it seems nearly all blogs and such are now nothing more than promotional platforms for the advancement of their own writers and clique fan club. For those who aren’t aware, Brian has been contributing to the MC for the last couple of years, so this does seem strange: pop will eat itself and all that. Here though is why you should buy it:

The self-anointed king of no-fi returns with another songbook of quasi-demoed wistful despondency and self-deprecation; a stripped-back one-track display of rough charms that cuts to the heart of the cult St. Helens malcontent’s sardonic, but also extremely vulnerable, annoyances about modern life.

Channeling various maverick troubadours, post-punk poets (Dan Treacy springs to mind) and a Brylcreem of rock ’n’ roll idols (ironically enough the release of this album intentionally fell on the anniversary of the true king, Elvis’ death), Brian postulates on a lack of energy and rage in music, the death of the mutherfucker personalities, a bevy of “scarlet” women and lost innocence. Brian can be a romantic sod at times, even sentimental; writing some real tender poetic lines amongst the scorn and despair, with even a hint of Bacharach on ‘Banana Splits’ (yeah, imagine that!). Various stolen kisses, evocations of less complicated, less divisive magical times permeate the album despite the constant references to the death of this and that and the lamentable resignations and threats to give it all up. Sometimes Brian just tersely pays homage to his icons, such as Lou Reed and Billy Fury.  (BBS/DV)

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Apollo Brown & Che’ Noir  ‘As God Intended’
(Mello Music Group)

The embodiment of up-from-the-bootstraps verve and an advocate of what doesn’t kill making you stronger, Buffalo’s Che’ Noir won’t let anyone or anything get in her way right from the very first bar. Despite the dual billing on As God Intended, this is very much her headline act: Apollo Brown retreats into the role of unspoken mentor, nodding his approval from afar without needing too much to prompt sometimes cold-blooded, always measured actions, just rolling out his usual metronome of warm but wary, street-raised, Detroit soul bumps that have seen it all and done it all before. ‘12 Hours’ is an absolute classic storyteller (no spoilers here), and from finding true financial value (‘Money Orientated’, offset by the pull of ‘Worth Gold’) to how to stand up (‘The Apple’, ‘Freedom’ and its theorem of “what’s worse than being physically dead is mentally dying”) and respecting the architects (‘94’), the ice queen bravado is open to just a hint of vulnerability, so that Noir teeters (‘Daddy’s Girl’ and ‘Winter’ contrast relationship obstacles) but never loses her balance. True grit from a fighter expressing her worth as “just a chick from the ‘hood doing Adele numbers”.  (MO)

C….

Lucia Cadotsch ‘Speak Low II’
(We Jazz)

Tripping a light fantastic across a curious and congruous selection of covers and standards, two of We Jazz’s (sort of) house band members, Otis Sandsjo (of Y-OTIS reconstructive hip-hop jazz fame) and Peter Eldh (of the masterful Koma Saxo), once more join forces with the amorphous voiced Lucia Cadotsch to re-shape the unfamiliar familiar under the umbrella of the Berlin-based Swiss singer’s Speak Low Trio. Equally as untethered on a serialism pathway of musical freedom, this broadened set-up that includes both the prestigious ECM label solo pianist Kit Downes and cellist Lucy Railton, meanders, drifts, floats and hovers over a flowing oeuvre of German stage numbers, ancient folk laments, avant-garde troubadour maladies and jazz balladry across a second volume of such loose interpretations.

Songs from artists as diverse as Eno, Duke Ellington, Brecht and Randy Newman are pulled into this beautifully adventurous cosmos. A mirage of bowed, haunted and rasping rhythms and spiraling tonal work Speak Low II is an unburdened songbook of amorphous jazzy reinterpretations that dares to play with the original source material, whilst showcasing the effortlessly gossamer and stretching lush range of Lucia’s magical voice.  (DV)

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Cambatta ‘LSD: Lunar Solar Duality’
(Mello Music Group)

A dose of ‘LSD’ is perhaps a slight departure for Mello Music Group, who once again have had a calendar year the envy of the hip-hop underground. While Cambatta’s label debut unlocks the power of hallucinogens, the super scientific raised from the sewer breaks down the DNA of life, the universe and everything (the maths behind ‘Nxggxrla Txsla’ and ‘Grand Number TheoRam’ will blow your headphones). His persona is a complex, carnivorously blunt mix of Nostradamus, Mr MFN eXquire and prime era Canibus, street apothecary, religious myth buster and otherworldly being, etched with a grim determination to convince everyone of his gospels, particularly as his backdrop is several hell-like leagues beneath the surface at odds with the radiant sleeve (“only in the midst of chaos am I comfortable”). Entertaining in their encyclopaedic intensity, ‘Fall of Feinix’ is a slow-burning cauldron of drug rage (“my spirit animal is a cold turkey”), and ‘33’ is an exceptional, messianic (and very simply formatted) autobiography, but two ear-openers on an album realigning the sun, moon and stars in a bid you flip your belief system.  (MO)

Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers ‘Vodou Alé’
(Bongo Joe Records)

Like so many others before them, allured to the voodoo hypnotism of the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti, Belgian production duo The Ångströmers spent a residency immersing and absorbing the local fusion of ‘mizik rasin’, and working with the Gonaïves-borne collective of Chouk Bwa. The results of which prove congruous and electrifying; a synthesis of Soukri voodoo polyrhythms and bassier dub electronica that proves so attuned to both sensibilities and in-sync as to be difficult to separate the natural ritual from the augmented and synthesized.

A primal ceremony of tumbled, fluttered cylindrical rhythms sucked into a vortex of warped dub and ringing oscillations, this union proves just how intoxicating and electrifying the voodoo spell can be. Given a sympathetic undercurrent and resonance of atmospheric electronica, the ritual sound and outpour of Haiti is reframed, guided into the 21st century. Not so much a novel direction as a subtle electronic music boost to tradition.  (DV)

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COOPS ‘Crimes Against Creation’
(High Focus)

High Focus were found doing High Focus things throughout 2020, making it a tight call on whether to include Light Work by the Duracell-powered creativity of Fliptrix, Onoe Caponoe’s breakneck night terror Invisible War, or The Four Owls’ victorious Nocturnal Instinct (full length review here). Edging past the post is the concise Coops at a skinny eight tracks and twenty five minutes long, that slightly jaded twang between Wretch 32 and Ocean Wisdom both nonchalant and spiteful at once, making him engagingly hard to read between peacekeeping and reacting – at his most relaxed you can still tell that Coops is itching to right wrongs. Holding the streets down under a nice and jazzy shade is producer Talos, who in parallel can turn up the pressure with no discernible tell, hitting the Queensbridge block as Coops knuckles up on the seething ‘Piss Poor’, with a chorus that outdoes any get rich quick-schemers. Picking off opponents with scything simplicity – when annoyed by everyone, Coops calls out all and sundry as per ‘Factory Reared’ passing through a farm for would-be emcees – Crimes is a classy album that won’t wilt in the heat of the moment.  (MO)

Julian Cope ‘Self Civil War’
(Head Heritage)

Julian Cope is one of the last living motherfuckers in rock ‘n’ roll. He is the spirit personified. He has the adventure talent and intelligence to realise that music is not just something to hum along to on the radio whilst doing the dishes. He knows that being in a band is not a past time but a crusade; it is a life affirming art force that fires the mind, belly’s and loins of old and young alike, and Self Civil War is his latest quest, his latest crusade.

A man now in his sixties would be expected maybe to put his feet up and look back on the past outpourings of a fine, much underrated back catalogue. But no, Julian goes and makes his best album since Jehovah Kill.

Self Civil War is an album that combines all his musical loves beautifully: Krautrock, Psych, Prog, folk and of course pure undiluted pop. This is an album of pure invention, inspiration and adventure. This is the sound of a whirling dervish sticking his fingers up at the industry, a man who does not have to think outside the box, as he has no box, and hopefully never will have. He is a true one-off and this album is the sound of a true one-off on top of his game.  (BBS)

Corticem ‘Planetarium’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company)

Less Holst The Planets magnum opus, more lo fi Krautrock purview of a sinister, mysterious cosmology, beamed from a subterranean bunker in Krakow, Corticem’s Plantetarium dials into the present pandemic dystopia whilst casting a soundtrack of awe at those heavenly bodies. I say from Krakow, and a bunker, but the trio have lost their previous studio/rehearsal space; the loss of which acting as an unfortunate stimulus for the mix of industrial, entrancing, cosmic and experimental exploration on this minor-opus of concentrated malcontent, despondency and rage. Formed by members of the “songs strange and not so-strange” Sawak in the Polish city, Corticem finds the trio of orbital sonic cosmonauts Bogdan Markiewicz, Antonello Perfetto and Greg Nieuwsma looking to escape towards the stars but anchored to the malaise and mounting horrors of terra firma: A world gripped in Covid distress. A liberal dark material contortion of Swans, the faUSt pairing of Jean-Hervé Peron and Zappi Diermeir, Mythos, the satellite refraction broadcasts of Gunther Wusthoff, The Cosmic Range, Itchy-O and Ash Ra Tempel, this caustic and often impending oeuvre offers as dystopian and alarming, alien and otherworldly soundtrack to the end times. What’s not to like. (DV)

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Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones ‘Kafou In Avalonia’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company)

Reimaging a time when Earth’s landmasses were being reshaped, the atavistic geological inspired futurist dub unit pose a cultural “what if?” with their fourth “set”, Kafou In Avalonia. Wishful dreaming Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones picture an alternative reality; one in which Avalonia still existed as a gateway between all Earth’s cultures and peoples. It acts as the crossroads that might have set out an entirely different course for civilization; a more integrated, less fractious one perhaps. In this setting Haitian, Brazilian, Angolan and Nigerian deities, spirits and rituals converge with an experimental soundtrack of post-punk dub, Kosmische and electronica. Invoking a lost world, a quasi-Atlantis, they merge voodoo ceremony and tribal incantation with sonorous throbbing basslines, barracking drums, heavy reverb and craning Manuel Gottsching like guitar. Ancestral ghosts meet synthesized futurism on this mystical transformed aural geography, as recordings of various rituals swirl in and around a cosmic soup. A supernatural and celestial, seeping and vaporous vortex of polygenesis sources are gathered together to create an imaginative cosmology hybrid. If The Future Sound Of London and Ash Ra Tempel recorded an album at Lee Scratch Perry’s black ark studio it might very well have sounded something like this. (DV

Crack Cloud ‘Pain Olympics’
(Meat Machines)

A rambunctious expanded collective of filmmakers, artists, designers, and of course musicians, drawn together through drug addiction, the Vancouver-based Crack Cloud channel recovery through much healthier pursuits; raiding the post-punk and no wave wardrobes to form an ever ambitious agit-art-group of malcontents. Rinsing out both the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene along the way, the seven-strong main cohort of this group effort work-in the Gang Of Four, Talking Heads, The Shivers, Officer!, Lydia Lunch, Andy Haas, Pixies and Devo to produce a surprisingly less hostile verdict on the state of the union in 2020.

Pain Olympics is an epic eclectic of torment, frustration and also soaring ethereal voiced scales. The opening diorama ‘Post Truth’ is like a fucked-up, squalid underpass musical on a MGM movie set that moves from a drizzle of industrial Fat White Family post-punk to twinkled These New Puritans dreamy dramatic choral sirens and a performance of electronic Stomp. But changing the makeup, as they do continuously on this album, they go for a creeping merger of La Haine Hip-Hop and Eno on ‘Favour Your Fortune’.  All the while the tensions and tawny angulations of PiL, Wire and Crispy Ambulance wane and conspire in the background. Crack Cloud have managed to convey the unease whilst dreaming big on an album I can’t recommend enough.  (DV)

The Cult Of Free Love ‘Visions’
(Northern Star Records)

What we have here is the first release from the born again influential underground label Northern Star; a label that released the four CD Psychedelica series of compilations that caught the mood and excitement of the bourgeoning new psychedelic scene of the time. This series of releases influenced many a new band and caught some now very well known and established bands early in their careers. So to kick off the rebirth of the mighty fine label we have the second album from The Cult Of Free Love, and to be honest if this album had been released on the Fruits Der Mer label it would have already sold out and been acclaimed as a modern psychedelic masterpiece. Yes, this album is that good.

Orb like trance and late 80’s acid house mingle with the lost summer of love of ‘67 to weave a spell of blissed out magic. There is no one highlight on Visions as the whole album is one long stream of melody and blissed out splendor. This album I cannot recommend enough to anyone with a love of modern psychedelia or somebody wanting to know what it was like to visit the legendary Hacienda in its pomp: An album to turn this winter of discontent into the third summer of love.  (BBS)

D…..

The Dandy’s Boutique ‘Delightful Weirdo’
(Self Release)

I know nothing of The Dandy’s Boutique, an artist I came across being played on the excellent Graham Duff radio show on Totally Radio; the track being the rather wonderful ‘Stay Away’, which has a bass riff and a half part “Girls and Boys”, part grab your handbag put it in the middle of the dancefloor and boogie: Is there anything quite as life affirming as a DIY disco ditty?!

Anyway, ‘Stay Away’ happens to kick off this rather lovely album; an album that combines synth-pop, dance and indie-pop to great effect, and is indeed greatly affecting, especially on the synth ballad ‘Don’t Let Go’. And goes on exploring the virtues of having humour, originality and talent; ‘Pitter Patter’ being a fine instrumental, reminding me what the Great Joe Meek may have done if left alone with a synth for an hour or so. What I like most about this album is the overwhelming atmosphere of melancholy even on the upbeat dance tracks like ‘Passing The Time’. There is a certain feel that I find quite refreshing. I think Dandy’s Boutique might not quite realize how good they actually are, as this is a fine album indeed and people should give it a listen. (BBS)

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Miles Davis ‘The Lost Septet’
(Sleepy Night Records)

Those lucky bastards, and I mean the Viennese crowd lucky enough to have experienced this whomping, sleazed, dark and beastly jazz-rock maelstrom from the late great Miles Davis and his Septet troupe, on the night of the 5th November 1971. Of course they didn’t bloody appreciate it, still hung up on old tooting-in-blue Davis, when the maestro had moved on into the well of mental destruction, hauling his crew across Europe in that pivotal year of bad juju. 

Capturing the grandee of eclectic jazz futurism and an ark of godly status albums (In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Live Evil and Jack Johnson), The Lost Septet (so-called because this magic collection of cats never recorded together in the studio, and so this exists as one of the only testaments to this grouping actually ever happening) simpers, thralls, gushes and boogies in that trumpet genius’s famous “rock phase”. The enviable lineup of Keith Jarrett, Gary Bartz, Michael Henderson, Ndugu Leon Chancler, Charles Don Alias and James Mtume Foreman prowl, skulk, whelp and burble through the riffed-on material, pushing jazz into hard psychedelic heavy rock. Davis’s pal-up with Hendrix was proving a serious influence, and you can hear that throughout this deeply challenging live opus.

From cathouse salacious slinking ‘Honky Tonk’ to a Shamanistic sledge ride through the Ghetto styling of ‘What I Say’, and the sumptuous laidback funk sucker ‘It’s About That Time’, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone sounding this fucking great and dangerously brooding in 2020. Hence why despite being fifty years old, it is still one of the best things you can hope to hear this whole year. Thank Christ it has been saved from bootleg rarity to a proper release in the year of pandemic.  (DV)

Dean & Britta ‘Quarantine Tapes’
(Double Feature Records)

Thank god for the diaphanous, hushed pairing of Luna band mates Britta Philips and Dean Wareham (also formerly of Galaxie 500 fame) to lift spirits and offer a hymnal communal in times of anxious uncertainty. The aptly named Quarantine Tapes is made up of cover versions recorded during the first wave of lockdown, some in the home studio, others taken direct from livestream performances.

It helps that the material is so damn good in the first place, yet the duo’s languid and hauntingly beautiful Lee Hazelwood trademark sound gives a certain translucent and touching quality to songs from acts as diverse as Kraftwerk, The Clash and the late (sadly passing away only this year in March) no wave disco icon Christine. Maybe as a gesture to another unfortunate loss this year (Florian Schneider) they perform a magical, advent version of the candescent Kraftwerk hymn ‘Neonlicht’ (or ‘Neon Lights’) that is just lovely. Elsewhere they give The Bee Gees plaintive ‘Massachusettes’ a touch of Laurel Canyon, and perform a languorous cover of Bardo Pond’s ethereal elegy opus ‘Ride Into The Sun’.

Capturing the current mood music well, the lockdown duo offers a most disarming and quite affair of the heart in mentally fatiguing and depressing times. (DV)  

Die Wilde Jagd ‘Haut’
(Bureau B)

Birthed into another chthonian landscape of incipient stirrings, Sebastian Lee Philipp’s third such ambitious experimental suite continues where the previous eerie 2018 LP, Uhrwald Orange, left off: Lurking, stalking and disappearing into a recondite mystery of esoteric electronica and Techno. Earthy then, with evocations of a wild, veiled terrain populated by the whispering bewitched, strange rituals and metaphysical forces, Haut is a brilliantly realized slow-burning expansive supernatural soundtrack imbued with elements of Krautrock, Kosmische, the psychedelic, avant-garde, industrial and atavistic.

Once more joined by co-producer foil Ralf Beck and live performance drummer Ran Levari, Die Wilde Jagd’s instigator songwriter/producer channels notions of memory, premonition and birth into a filmic quartet of drawn-out chapters.

It’s certainly an imaginative world that awaits the listener on this third grandiose experiment. One that takes a breather, holding back on the beats and kicks for a more expansive and creeping sound production; those anticipated reveals kept on a tight rein. A sign of real quality and patience, Haut marks both a continuation but slight change in the dynamics as Philipp and Beck further erode and stretch the perimeters of Techno and electronic music.  (DV)

The Dupont Circles ‘In Search of the Family Gredunza’
(Beautiful Music Records)

The combination of the majestic jangle of c86 and Beatle boots is and can be a thing of great beauty, especially when it is performed with the vigour and enthusiasm that the – near legendary in some circles – cult band The Dupont Circles gives it. A debut album that has taken 30 years to arrive and now brought to us by the beautiful in name and beautiful in nature and music Beautiful Music Records label.

The Dupont Circles love a good melody and a witty lyric and a 60s garage rock guitar riff: the track ‘Tick Tock’ wouldn’t sound out of a place on a Rubbles comp; a rather marvellous adventure of a track as is the psych tinged Joe Meek like following instrumental, ‘Sputnik’. My Personal favourite track on this album though is the wonderful Television Personalities like ‘53 Bicycles’ – there is also a cover of the TP’S ‘How I Learned To Love The Bomb’. This album is a joyful romp through the magical world of The Dupont Circles; a world where the guitar and Farisa organ is king and the national anthem alternates between “My Generation” and “I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives”. A rather marvellous land I want to move to immediately.  (BBS)

Bob Dylan ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’
(Columbia)

Greyhound bus philosopher, medicine show huckster and Boomer Bible troubadour wanderer, Dylan performs another one of his grand illusions in encompassing a whole generational epoch on his latest songbook. Perhaps among his best work in decades, the “Rough And Rowdy” sagacious chapter in a nigh sixty-year career manages to be both elegiac and playful in equal measures; cramming in every kind of reference point, from historical characters to pop culture and the travails of the Kennedys and their aspirations on the epic eulogy finale ‘Murder Most Foul’: A death knell bookend to the previous fifty years of a dominant America that marks perhaps the failures of a whole generation.

He’s Anne Frank, Indiana Jones and then some (names in lyrics that should elicit groans but somehow don’t sound glib and ridiculous) on an album that’s impact can be measured in swigs from a bottle of fine red wine. A humbled legend accompanied by the subtlest, thinnest of brushed drum shuffles, Hawaiian bowed and bluesy guitar, this is a relaxed Dylan, custodian of the faith, raunchy and statesman like yet juggling resignation with serenaded romance, reverence and death. ‘My Own Version Of You’ runs through a lyrical rasp of persecution, slavery and ideals turned murderous (From Troy to The Crusades to Marx), whilst the hymnal lulled and cooed soothing gospel ‘I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You’ sounds like a genuine token of faith and spiritual willingness. Dylan is almost handing down the baton to the sisterhood on the beautiful saving grace attempt at a spiritual anthem on ‘Mother Of Muses’. Yet Dylan strikes up some of that down ’n’ dirty earthy electrified blues, on the homage to the power of the tragic turned-on blues progenitor Jimmy Reed and his influence.

From Elm Street to the Aquarian Age, and across the Rubicon, Dylan seems as weary as he is unapologetic and nostalgic; dragging that (nearly) 80 year old timbre and soul through the mire to once more offer a grizzled but not yet finished Boomer commentary on our sorry arses. This is the record we deserved and needed, as Dylan proves to be a godsend. Yes it’s nostalgic, and there isn’t any pinning of virtues to any particular political angst, but Dylan isn’t going to make it easy for you. A great work of art that just keeps giving. (DV)

E……

Kahil El’Zabar ‘Spirit Groove Ft. David Murray’ & ‘America The Beautiful’
(Spiritmuse)

Continuing a creative partnership with the Spiritmuse label, Chicago jazz luminary Kahil El’Zabar has released two essential ambitious sweeping titles in 2020; working yet again with an ever changing lineup of fellow visionaries and rising virtuosos from his home city and beyond.  The first of which is the Spirit Groove album collaboration with David Murray, the second, America The Beautiful, sees the School of The Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians alumni and five decade jazz veteran piece together a suitable afflatus cry from the despair of modern America.

Spirit Groove, sees a reconnection, a spiritual bound between the Chicago jazz drumming and percussionist doyen El’ Zabar and his tenor sax and bass clarinet maestro foil Murray. Quenching the soul with that “spiritual 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. El’ Zabar’s atavistic with a modern pulse 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.

The second title sees him build a fully realized album around the aggrandized anthem, America The Beautiful. An extraordinary portrait of the current mood, El’ Zabar’s conscious divine spiritual jazz opus channels the contorted soul of Chicago’s rich musical heritage; spanning eras as old as ancient Africa, the be-bop, swing eras, leaping through the avant-garde and 80s dance music culture to create a soulful and always grooving purview of the American social-political divide in 2020: Election year. From Coltrane to Bernstein, primitive Chicago House to Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, this is an expansive dig into the soul, heart and health of a nation in divisive turmoil: A healing process in fact. 

Both albums offer a congruous communion of transformative, essential jazz, just when we needed it.  (DV)

Read In Full Here and Here

Extradition Order ‘American Prometheus’
(Blang/Gare du Nord/HLP19/I Blame/Jezus Factory)

Willed on by a whole quintet of labels, the first album in a good few years from the excitable and soulful no wave Warrington troupe Extradition Order is a poignant return to the American history books. Dedicated in part to founding member Nick Boardman who passed away in 2018 (his legacy permeates this album, whether as a guiding influence or through his bass hooks and singing), the Order’s vessel this time around is “the destroyer of worlds”, polyglot genius behind the fateful A-bomb Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Taking the album’s title from the Oppenheimer biography of the same name, American Prometheus is a guide to a visceral concept of the lamentable, profane and hysterical. Just as the band did with their both pining and erratic opus to the Kennedy dynasty (on the 2015 Kennedy LP), the extended cast of unfortunate and listless wives, lovers, set adrift family members, rivals and enablers are given a voice in the linear story of this incredible scientist; one who, as it turns out, had quite the checkered and controversial life story. With colliery soul requiems, prowling hints of Blurt, cheerleader Grease rah-rah and bursts of My Life Story, The Pop Group, Style Council and The Mekons, Extradition Order find parallels in 2020 by blowing open the myths and dramas behind the conflicted Oppenheimer: warts and all. American Prometheus is another mini triumph from a band that manages to bridge the fury and wrath of punk with the contorting squawks and funk of no wave and the brassy heralded romantic yearns of northern soul: good going guys. (DV)

Read In Full

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.

PLAYLIST
Dominic Valvona/Brian Shea/Matt Oliver





The behemoth Quarterly Playlist Revue is now more! With a massive increase in submissions month-on-month, we’ve decided to go monthly in 2020. The February playlist carries on from where the popular quarterly left off; picking out the choice tracks that represent the Monolith Cocktail’s eclectic output. New releases and the best of reissues have been chosen by me, Dominic Valvona, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Matt Oliver.



The full track list is as follows:

A Journey of Giraffes  ‘Into The Open Air’
Graham Costello’s Strata  ‘Cygnus (Edit)’
Calibro 35 ft. MEI  ‘Black Moon’
The Four Owls  ‘Honour Codes’
Juga-Naut  ‘Jackson Pollock’
Chassol  ‘Rollercoaster Pt.2’
Dream Parade  ‘Adderall’
U.S. Girls  ‘4 American Dollars’
Piney Gir  ‘Puppy Love’
November Bees  ‘Pot Called Pan’
Joss Cope  ‘Indefinite Particles’
Slift  ‘Hyperion’
Martin Mansson Sjostrand Trio  ‘Overkilghetsflykten’
Bob Destiny  ‘Wang Dang’
Dueling Experts  ‘Dark Ninjas’
TrueMendous  ‘That Don’t Mean’
Confucuis MC  ‘Look Deeper’
Lewps Hekla  ‘Rose Gold Ruger Pose’
Pulled By Magnets  ‘Gold Regime People Die’
The Dream Syndicate  ‘The Regulator (Single Edit)’
Mai Mai Mai ft. Maria Violenza  ‘Secondo Coro Delle Lavandaie’
Sad Man  ‘Door’
Pongo  ‘Quem Manda No Mic’
Ranil  ‘Cumbia Sin Nombre’
Nordine Staifi  ‘Zine Ezzinet’
Adebukonla Ajao And Her Group  ‘Aboyin Ile’
Mazzi & Tac  ‘Brackets’
Dillion & Batsauce  ‘Self Medicated’
Elaquent & Chester Watson  ‘Airwalk’
A Journey Of Giraffes  ‘Poet’s Muse’
Jimi Tenor  ‘Lassi Laggi’
Seu Jorge & Roge  ‘Sarava’
John Howard  ‘It’s Not All Over Yet’
Birgitta Alida  ‘Closely’
Anytime Cowboy  ‘Story Of Skin Island’
King Krule  ‘Comet Face’
Brian Bordello  ‘Liverpool Hipster Set’
Postcards  ‘Dead End’
Zinn  ‘Diogenes’
Mazeppa  ‘The Way In’
Vivienne Eastwood  ‘Hanging Gardens’
Village Of The Sun, Binker & Moses  ‘Village Of The Sun’
Simon McCorry  ‘The Nothing That Is’


Ranil y su Conjunto Tropical -monolith cocktail


A quick shifty, glance, a perusal of the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload our inboxes this month by me, Dominic Valvona.

This week’s roll call of honours includes A Journey Of Giraffes, Northwest, Ranil and Violet Nox.


Ranil y su Conjunto Tropical ‘Cumbia Sin Nombre’
(Analog Africa)   Teaser from the upcoming LP ‘Iquitos – Amazonía – Perú’, released 20th March 2020



Drifting back towards the Amazon, Analog Africa – via their congruous Limited Dance Editions imprint – once more float upstream towards the outposts of the South American continent to discover the sauntering sumptuous delights of ‘cumbia’ music. Venturing past the city of Manaus and past the Brazilian/Peruvian border, to the city of Iquitos. It might be fatalistic or encouraging depending on your feelings about the film, but the remote Iquitos, completely cut off from the Peruvian coast, accessible only by air and water, and surrounded by impenetrable forests, was where Werner Herzog filmed the maddening visionary Fitzcarraldo: the epic story of one man’s struggle to bring opera to the Amazon; the travails of which entailed dragging a great big paddle ship over a mountain. Cut off then from the outside world, this lush if hardy place to eke out a living, incubated a novel version of the famous, polygenesis folkloric music.

Though everyone on the continent has had a go at adopting and tinkering with the original form, the melodious Cumbia hails from Colombia. Informed by a trio of cultural influences it can be broken down as thus: the rhythmic foundations derive from Africa, the indigenous offer up the flute-y sound, and the Europeans the costume and choreography. In recent times it has been electrified, adopted by untold contemporary bands.

Iquitos’ favourite son of cumbia Raúl Llerena Vásquez – known to the world as Ranil – was a Peruvian singer, bandleader, record-label entrepreneur and larger-than-life personality who moved to the heady lights of the capital, Lima where he swirled the teeming buzz of the Amazonian jungle, the unstoppable rhythms of Colombian and Brazilian dance music, and the psychedelic electricity of guitar-driven rock-and-roll into a knock-out, party-starting concoction.

When Ranil returned to Iquitos after several years teaching in small towns, he assembled a group of musicians and prepared to take the city’s nightlife by storm. His unique blend of galloping rhythms and trebly, reverberant guitar was so successful that he was soon able to take his new band to Lima to record their first record at MAG studios, where many of Peru’s most successful psych, rock and salsa bands began their recording careers.

Yet Ranil had no intention of entering into the indentured servitude that comes with signing one’s life away to a record company. Instead he established Produccions Llerena – possibly the first record label founded in the Peruvian Amazon – which allowed him to maintain complete control over the release and distribution of his music. His fearsome negotiation skills and his insistence on organising his own tours turned him into one of the central figures of the Amazonian music scene.

Although his records were popular throughout the region, Ranil never sought his fortune in the capital, preferring to remain in his hometown of Iquitos where, in recent decades, he has concentrated his considerable energies on his radio and television stations, and become involved with local civic politics. Yet his legacy has continued to grow among those fortunate enough to track down copies of his legendary – and legendarily difficult to find – LPs.

Ranil’s extraordinary output has remained one of the best-kept secrets among collectors of the genre and psychedelic Latin sounds.

Ahead of the Ranil y su Conjunto Tropical album we’re sharing just one of the three teaser tracks currently doing the rounds; the sauntering lilted and scrappy ‘Cumbia Sin Nombre’. This will go some way to keeping you warm during these miserable rain-lashed and freezing winter months.

Of interest from the Archives:

Analog Africa Tenth Anniversary Special

Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo ‘Siriá’ Compilation Review

Bitori ‘Legend of Funaná ‘The Forbidden Music Of The Cape Verde Islands’ LP Review

Dur-Dur Band ‘Dur Dur Of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 And Previously Unreleased Tracks’ Review


Northwest ‘All Of A Sudden’
(Temple Arts) Video





On occasion, due to time constraints and the sheer volume of requests/submissions thrust upon the Monolith Cocktail each day (let alone week or month) the odd sublime band slips through our hands. The adroit cerebral and artfully beautiful Northwest duo is one such example of this: though we managed to at least feature the slow-released beatific ‘The Day’ lull in our last ever Quarterly Revue Playlist, at the end of 2019. Taken from the duos most recent (and second) album of subtle yearning pop and neo-classical lent mini-opuses II, the achingly ethereal voiced and purposeful heart-breaking ‘All Of A Sudden’ has been furnished with a new video. A favourite not only of ours but the duo themselves, who consider it one of the best songs they’ve ever written (they might just be right on that), Northwest’s heavenly voiced Mariuca García-Lomas explains that the message behind this tender feely classically brushed and gauze-y trembled strings evocation has been difficult to express before in words. Hopefully these metaphorically blinded and bandaged visuals – recorded on an emotionally charged cold morning in an English garden – will enlighten us further.

Taking the plunge a few years back, quitting their jobs in the bargain and relocating to the UK, Mariuca and her foil Ignacio Simón have released two albums so far under the Northwest moniker, though they also appear under various other guises – this particular incarnation of the duo expands to accommodate a small chamber orchestra. They’ve also recently launched their own label hub, Temple Arts, for all theses projects; a one-stop platform you could say. Not confined to just breathtaking music, they’ve also released a series of little films and performances, two manifestos, organized an arts festival in a church in London and collaborated with a wealth of other artists, such as dancers and costume designers.

Romantically plaintive with a political dimension, their last video-track ‘Pyramid’ (taken from the first LP) was directed by the artist Álvaro Gómez-Pidal on 16mm film and used a drawn-on-film animation technique. This latest visual accompaniment is no less sublime.

Of interest from the Archives

Quarterly Revue Playlist Part 4



Violet Nox  ‘Future Fast’
(Sleep FUSE)  EP/Out Now





A slightly disorientating and ominous vision of futurism waits on the new unearthly cybernetic EP from the Boston, Massachusetts synth-heavy troupe Violet Nox. Gazing into the mainframe this quartet of light-bending minimal techno and ambient explorers fashion a strange cosmology from their tech setup. The subtly engineered wispy and whispery vapour trail opening ‘Cosmic Bits’ features an ever-intense soundscape of lightbeams, downplayed acid burbles, resonating satellite signals and air-y sine waves. It also reminded me a bit of the organic subterranean trance of the Future Sound of London and various records put out by the R&S and Hart House labels in the early to mid 90s. The moist atmospheric ‘Moonshine’ merges post-punk with bity techno, with its use of what sounds like flange-y guitar – though this could be the sound of a guest ‘ukulele’ – reverberations, bendy effects and cybernetic voices on an increasingly mind-altering journey. More metallic robotic like voices can be found on the fizzle lashed echo-y ‘Superfan’ – a track that just keeps getting weirder and nosier as it progresses – whilst ‘Bell Song’ sends those broadcasts and masked annunciations into a vacuum of trance-y tubular ambience and vague percussive industrial washes.

More intriguing and mysterious than dystopian augur, Violet Nox’s warped explorations prove intriguing and adroit in navigating brave new (alien) worlds.



A Journey Of Giraffes  ‘Armenia’
LP/Out Now





Seeming to get better with every release, the unassuming maverick ambient and soundscape explorer behind this most picturesque of animalistic monikers, John Lane, has in recent years been prolific in churning out the most subtle but deeply effective under-the-radar soundtracks. The safari has moved, in more recent years, away from Lane’s Beach Boys imbued driftwood suites to more ambient and traversing experimental influences. Previous excursions from the Baltimore composer include an aimless supernatural field-recorded walk through the forest, – a mixture of Arthur Russell meets Panda Bear and Alejandro Jodorowsky in John’s Maryland backyard -, and the love letter to the late Japanese electronic composer Susumu Yokota, Kona – a ceremonial, Zen like soundtrack that evokes the Fourth World Possible Musics of Jon Hassell, Popol Vuh and the higher plain communal glistened zither transcendence of Laraaji.

The latest album looks to the edges of Eastern Europe, where the Caucasus meets the Middle East, and the mysterious of Armenia. A land much disputed, fought over and most tragically, its population during WWI herded from their lands towards one of the 20th century’s most heinous genocides (still contested by the perpetrates to this day). Atavistic psychogeography, myths, ancient readings and poetry form the inspiration on this generous 44-track album of differing stirring soundscapes, traverses, contemplations and ruminations. From the air-y and sublime to the more ominous, primal and fraught, minimal evocations sit alongside more churned oblique scrapped moody horrors. Voices from the old religions swirl and echo amongst the hewn stone monuments to Armenia’s ghosts on an outstanding mesmerizing soundtrack. I’m not sure how many more great records John has to make before he gets the recognition he deserves, but it better be soon.

Of interest from the Archives

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Kona’

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘F²’

Expo ‘She Sells Seashells’


The Monolith Cocktail is now on Ko-fi

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 of 2019 part one - monolith cocktail


Choice Albums of 2019 Part One: A Journey Of Giraffes to Adam Green


Because we’ve never seen the point in arguing the toss over numerical orders, or even compiling a list of the best of albums of the year, the Monolith Cocktail’s lighter, less competitive and hierarchical ‘choice albums’ features have always listed all entrants in alphabetical order. We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

Void of points systems and voting, the Monolith Cocktail team selection is pretty transparent: just favourites and albums we all feel you, our audience, should check out. Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Gianluigi Marsibilio and Andrew C. Kidd made all of 2019’s selections.

Spread over three parts, the inaugural selection here runs from A to G, from A Journey Of Giraffes to the Adam Green. Part Two will run from H to P and Part Three from Q to Z.

A.

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Hour Club’ & ‘Kona’









Two atmospherically evocative peaceable ambient suites from the brilliant lo fi maverick A Journey Of Giraffes (nom de plume for many years of the Baltimore composer John Lane) make this year’s ‘choice’ list. Released earlier in 2019, the Hour Club pushes Lane further than ever away from his previous Beach Boys homage experiments into both deeper, darker recesses and sweeping traverses. From Terry Riley to Sky Records, Hour Club is an often-magical soundtrack, with every track sharing a 7 minutes and 1 second rule.

The second album, Kona, an unassuming love letter to the iconic late Japanese composer Susumu Yokota, was premiered back on the Monolith Cocktail in August. Magically ruminating, offering both the beatific and uncertain, this pagoda dreamt fantasy is an exotic, sometimes ceremonial, Zen like album that evokes the Fourth World Possible Musics of Jon Hassell, Popol Vuh and the higher plain communal glistened zither transcendence of Laraaji. Quite possibly, Lane’s most realized, complete album yet. (Dominic Valvona)

Full review feature…

Aesop Rock & TOBACCO ‘Malibu Ken’
(Rhymesayers)




“Both happen upon a sharp splinter of hip-hop pitching to the left, but not way out left” – RnV Jan 19





Straight off the bat the gaudily sleeved Malibu Ken foresees a tough slog in store, given the respective running through brick walls of these decidedly non-plastic conspirators. Aesop Rock rhymes like a rebooted Max Headroom, TOBACCO activates at the moment where Rock starts glitching as synths home in on your VHS tracking button. Obviously it’s a jerky leftfield match made in heaven, primitive videogame set pieces overridden by one of the underground’s most enduring, levelling out bad trips but still very much needing these cracked, skeletal neon runways to assure his own navigation and empowerment. Take it as post-modern, post-Armageddon, welcome respite from the mainstream etc etc, or the faultless engineering of the technical and the broken, backwater flights of fancy and stranger than fiction truths jamming in a keyboard repair shop. (Matt Oliver)

Armstrong ‘Under Blue Skies’
(Country Mile Records)






Julian Pitt, aka Armstrong, is one of the finest songwriters to emerge from Wales in recent years: a man who has been blessed with the gift of melody that can be comparable to McCartney, Wilson and Jimmy Webb – Yes, he really is that good.

This is an expanded reissue of his first LP, which was originally released as a limited edition cdr, one that I played constantly. Thankfully it’s getting a much-deserved official re-release from The Beautiful Music label. I am so happy this great lost LP has finally got the release it deserves; it is no longer lost just simply Great, one of the finest pastoral pop LPs you will ever hear. (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea)

Full review…


B..

Babybird ‘Photosynthesis’







What I love about Stephen Jones, aka Babybird, apart from his wonderful songwriting talent and his dark humor and his obvious love of music and its many genres, is that he has so much soul. He has so much love for music in fact that he makes music not just because he may make a decent living from it but because he has no choice, he has to make it like he has to breath to stay alive. He has to create music, create art, he has to experiment with the magic of melody and write such beautiful songs, and Photosynthesis is an LP full of dark beauty and such bloody good songs. A small dark masterpiece, a master class in songwriting. (BBS)

Full review…


Baileys Brown ‘Still Fresh’
(Potent Funk)




“Skimming the scummy but with buckets of fizz and a little soul stardust answering the title’s call, BB keeps the hottest point of the club within striking distance of a couch and headphones combo” – RnV Aug 19





Investing in a gang of absolute mic-snatching hoodlums, bringing the sort of posse cuts where you dial the first two nines in anticipation, just to be on the safe side, Baileys Brown swings the wrecking ball club-wards before looming as a quiet storm presence fuelling dark alley unease. His best work where you can’t see in front of your face – add damp air or a biting breeze for maximum effect – the raw basics of Still Fresh are more than enough for emcees to chow down on (Axel Holy, Datkid, Dabbla), while a certain juju drifts in and out as if it’s not just testosterone at work. Animal instinct floods from a group who have the trousers to go with the mouth (“yeah I’m talking shit, but you’re doing it without flow”); however, a soulful section towards the back end shows Brown can rise above the rough stuff, reaching out towards a bigger stage for something that shouldn’t be skipped on account of what’s gone before. (MO)


Bantou Mentale ‘ST’
(Glitterbeat Records)







A sizzle. A static shock, a charge that most importantly signals something is changing in the musical fabric; a signal of something dynamic but also something dangerous, a mirror image of the real world, the real refugee and migrant experience and chaos. Vivid and fresh being the optimum words as the Bantou Mentale vehicle shakes up the melting pot convergence of Paris’ infamous Chateau Rouge; addressing assumptions/presumptions about their native Democratic Republic of Congo home in the process. Not so much explosive, the electric quartet seem relaxed, even drifting as they channel the soul and spirit of cooperation; opening up aspects of the DRC culture and humility often lost or obscured in the noise of negativity – and the Congo has had more than its fair share of violence and tumult both pre and post Colonialism.

Kinshasa reloaded; Bantou Mentale is a thoroughly modern sonic vision of peaceful cross-border fraternization. Lingering traces of Jon Hassell & Eno, Radio Tarifa, UNCLE, TV On The Radio and even label mates Dirtmusic are absorbed into an electrified subterranean of frizzles, pylon-scratches and hustle-bustle. Above all, despite the subject matter, despite the polygenesis sonic hubbub this is a soulful soundtrack: cooperation ahead of fractious division and hostility. A more positive collaboration for a 21st century chaos. (DV)

Full review…

Bathtub Gin Band ‘From The Old Navy Club’







The Bathtub Gin Band are a duo from my hometown of St Helens, and this there debut LP. A mini LP in fact, recorded live in a local studio, just acoustic guitar and drums and fine songwriting; the sound of two talented musicians enjoying themselves; an LP that recalls the sound of the Liverpool bandwagon club of the early noughties; quickly strummed guitar ragtime blues telling tales of drunken nights out and failed romantic adventures, an album to listen to as you are getting ready for a wild night out or after you have staggered in after one.

Beautifully written and crafted with well-arranged songs performed with verve and vigor, From The Old Navy Club is another little gem for 2019… (BBS)

Full review…


Blu & Oh No ‘A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night’
(Nature Sounds)




“A mosey across the West Coast to capture the hustles and bustle as a frontline tour guide mapping out all the no-go areas and places to tap into local electricity” – RnV Mar 19




Drawing on both the energy of the locale and when that red mist begins its descent (‘Pop Shots’ feeling the heat to the point of delusion), there’s Blu, unafraid of foregoing any sort of word association for the sake of putting a brick on the accelerator out of Thunderdome – sometimes straight talking will only do when the stakes are high. Then there’s Oh No, performing funky wheelspins between cruising and hot pursuit, capturing all the glamour, glitz, hustle and insanity the City of Angels calls everyday. The pair switch career mode from local big timers to chancers seeing how far their luck will stretch, and A Long Red Hot… is one of the year’s coolest releases; find somewhere where it’s 96 degrees in the shade before throwing on loud, sequenced to directorial perfection so the highs, lows and inbetweens form a logical thread, and where the action-packed comes with composure remaining everything. (MO)


Blue House ‘Gobstopper’
(Faith And Industry)







The fruits of two-years labour, James Howard’s (aka Thomas Nation) latest appearance as principle writer is with the Blue House collaboration; a group that boosts the talents of Ursula Russell (drumming for the brilliant Snapped Ankle, and soon to release music under the Ursa Major Moving Group), Dimitrios Ntontis (film composer and member of a host of bands including Pre Goblin) and Capitol K (the nom de plume of the ever-in-demand star producer Kristian Craig Robinson). Following up on the group’s 2016 acclaimed Suppose LP with another rich mellow empirical state-of-the-nation address, the Blue House’s Gobstopper is suffused with a languid disdain, as they drift through the archetypal bleak waiting rooms of nostalgia and the limbo of benefit Britain.

Gently stunning throughout with hues of a gauze-y Kinks, a less nasal Lennon, a more wistful Bowie and woozy Stereolab, Howard and friends perform a disarming mini opus that soaks up the forlorn stench of an out-of-season postcard seaside pub, air-conditioned gyms and quaint English motorways – ‘Accelerate’ in name only, the speed and candour of a hitched-up caravan that’s more ambling (with the radio dial set to Fleetwood Mac bounce) than autobahn motorik futurism. (DV)

Full review…

Boa Morte ‘Before There Was Air’
(Gare du Nord)







The understated majestic swells of the Irish band Boa Morte don’t come easy, or arrive regularly. Only the band’s third album proper in twenty years, the misty expansive mini-opuses found on the long awaited Before There Was Air are like gentle but deeply resonating ripples from a distant shore. Slow, methodical, every second of these air-y hushed suites moves at a stately pace: in no hurry to arrive, with many of the beautifully purposeful songs disappearing into the ether, out of earshot but forever lingering.

A finely crafted sweeping album Before There Was Air exudes a timeless quality; one that by all accounts has been well worth the wait. (DV)

Full review…

Simon Bonney ‘Past, Present, Future’
(Mute)







Arguably one of the great voices of Australian music over the last four decades, Simon Bonney is nothing if not proficient in taking hiatuses. Emerging from just the most recent one, five years after the release of the last Crime And The City Solution opus American Twilight – itself, the first album by the iconic alienated nihilists turn beatific augurs of country-doom in twenty years -, and twenty-odd years since the shelving of his third solo LP Eyes Of Blue, Bonney has made a welcome return to the musical fold.

Prompted by the decision of Mute Records to facilitate the release of that fabled last solo songbook, the Past, Present, Future collection is both a reminder, featuring as it does tracks from both the 1992 Forever and 1994 Everyman albums, and showcase for six previously unreleased tracks from Eyes Of Blue.

Not new material but a catalyst for projects going forward, this solo collection proves as prescient today as it did back then. Especially the beguiling cover turns homage (in light of Scott Walker’s passing) of the brooding maestro’s stately majestic lament to fading beauty and decadence, ‘Duchess’. Much of the Bonney songbook, delivered with earnest, deep timeless country-imbued veneration, aches, even worships, for a string of muses; an undying, unwavering love to both the unattainable and lost. One such elegiac object of such pathos-inspired yearning is Edgar Allan Poe’s famous ‘Annabelle Lee’ –the metaphorical lamentable figure of the Gothic polymath’s last poem -, who appears on both the eponymous and title tracks from Eyes OF Blue. Lovingly conveyed, even if it marks the death of that lady, it proves symmetry to the album’s profound poetic loss of influence, desire and alluring surface beauty of ‘Duchess’. Eyes Of Blue, which makes up half of this collection, follows on from the previous solo works perfectly. A touch deeper, even reverent perhaps, but every bit as bathed in country suffrage. Salvaged at long last, that lost album offers a closure of a kind. Proving however, to chime with the present, far from dated, this collection is a perfect finish to a great run of epic, though highly intimate, solo opuses; the songwriting as encapsulating and grandiose, earthy as you would expect. (DV)

Full review…

Aziza Brahim ‘Sahari’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Bringing the message of the displaced Saharawi people to the world stage, Western Saharan musician/activist Aziza Brahim follows up both her critically rewarded 2014 album Soutak, and the no less brilliant 2016 serene protest of poetic defiance Abbar el Hamada album with her third for Glitterbeat Records, Sahari.

Imbued as ever with the desert soul of that disputed region, the latest record, with its visual metaphor of optimism in even the most desperate of backdrops and times – dreams of growing up to be a ballerina proving universal – attempts to marry the beautifully longing and heartache yearns of Brahim’s voice to a number of different styles and rhythms: A subtle change towards the experimental. Imbued as ever with the desert soul of that disputed region, the latest record, with its visual metaphor of optimism in even the most desperate of backdrops and times – dreams of growing up to be a ballerina proving universal – attempts to marry the beautifully longing and heartache yearns of Brahim’s voice to a number of different styles and rhythms: A subtle change towards the experimental. Previous encounters have channeled the poetic roots of that heritage and merged it with both Arabian Spain and the lilted buoyancy of the Balearics. Working with the Spanish artist Amparo Sánchez of the band Amparanoia, Brahim has chosen to add a congruous subtle bed of synthesized effects to the recording process: before performing live in the studio, but now recording in various places, the results collected together and pieced together in post-production. This methodology and sound furnishes Brahim’s longing traditional voice with certain freshness and, sometimes, shuffled energy.

A most fantastic, poetic songbook that will further cement Brahim’s deserved reputation as one of the deserts most serene artists. (DV)

Full review…

Bronx Slang ‘Bronx Slang’
(Fabyl)




“Jerry Beeks and Miggs are more sages than saviours, proving you don’t have to settle for what’s supposedly trending. Proper hip-hop citizenship” – RnV Feb 19




Golden era restoration, true school appreciation…so many attempt to recreate/pay respects to hip-hop’s glory days but often overcook it to the point of self-neutering. Nothing of the sort applies here: Bronx Slang press home the pervading advantage (if you can call it that) of volatile politics, loud and clear messaging deriding the powers that be without resorting to playground tactics. Miggs and Jerry Beeks also know they’re in the entertainment business (‘Well Well Well’ > 50 Cent’s ‘21 Questions’/How to Rob’, Jadakiss’ ‘Why?’), and the baritone-midrange contrast frames the all-important dynamic duo telepathy, catching last breaths should anyone step to them. A box fresh success…and this is before the dirty little secret of the downtown funk hustles being hatched by two UK ringers: one-time big beat ne’er-do-well Jadell, assisted by fellow frat partier and bass house dabbler Fake Blood. Proof therefore of 90s boom bap as international language slash Holy Grail. (MO)


Danny Brown ‘uknowwhatimsayin”
(Warp)




“Still coming through loud, clear and uncouth” – RnV Oct 19



A slight tweak to the Danny Brown experience doesn’t make him any less of a livewire. Q-Tip as executive producer is not an invitation to keep his new, freshly coiffured muse in check, and despite a slightly exploratory start sonically, it’s the same old Danny boy keeping the spirit of ODB alive, quickly into his shit-chatting rhythm and proving that emperor’s new clothes do not make the man. Whether he’d enjoy being tagged as more well-rounded (rather than versatile – Brown’s mind remains pretty much one track in its own strain of ADHD that never misses a beat), the likes of ‘Belly of the Beast’ and the title track pull him in different directions but have that up-to-no-good personality keeping the peace, though he’s a smoother operator than you’d probably give credit for. Short but sweet, like a high sugar soda hit, and still highly strung, but hey – that’s entertainment. (MO)


C…

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds ‘Ghosteen’





We knew it would come but not when; Nick Cave’s moving concept elegy Ghosteen articulates both the grief and coming-to-terms of the loss of his son Arthur in 2015. And so this often striking, if lamenting, and beautifully poised opus arrives four years later with grandiose expectations.

Often conflicted, Cave articulates despair to a bared atmospheric led Bad Seeds soundtrack of vivid and poetic images and feelings. With a tonal backing of choirs, the afflatus Kosmische of Roedelius and touches of The Boatman’s Call, Ghosteen is a mournful work of pulchritude and grief. It’s also perhaps one of Cave’s best albums in decades. (DV)

Choosey & Exile ‘Black Beans’
(Dirty Science)




“The comforts of soulful Cali ear butter, and rhymes of a valued familiarity, eye a top 10 spot come the end of the year” – RnV Mar 19




“Come and get your soul food”, a wise band once said. Treating Black Beans as an album that brings the family together around the record player, though it’s just as strong as an edutainment pursuit with headphones and your own private enclave, Choosey and Exile are the master cross-section of warm, good-old-days idealism and a voice providing revisions to nostalgia, telling the fuzzy feelings to sit up straight and tucking you in without forgetting that in love and life there’s always a moral to the story. Aloe Blacc’s deployment to send spines shivering on the all-seasons champ ‘Low Low’ is a masterstroke, the blues and soul source material carefully sifted and restored so that heads are set to thinking that maybe, everything is gonna be alright, pausing today’s mile-a-minute trends and attitudes. Grooves and truths set to soothe and move you. (MO)

Clipping ‘There Existed an Addiction to Blood’
(Sub Pop)




“Where no-one can hear you scream in space until its engine room sucks you in and spits you out” – RnV Oct 19




‘Nothing is Safe’, ‘He Dead’, ‘Run for Your Life’, ‘All in Your Head’…there’s nothing like a cult Clipping cakewalk leaving you gasping for breath. Holographic rhymes and reedy synth beats programmed like a doomed ignition sequence, whose sometimes beatlessness is replaced by wailing walls of surround sound hell and empty, nervous atmospherics, it’s the perfect deployment of the textbook pincer movement, peering stealthily around corners before letting the autofire get open until one great ball of fire engulfs everything. Crew commander Daveed Diggs plays on the edge of rogue Andre3000 operative with ambitions of hero decoration, and as blood both pumps and runs cold, the LA crew still manage to get street lifers Elcamino, Benny the Butcher and La Chat to buy into the mission of a burnt out future – game recognise game. Forget West Coast low-riders, these are the men who fell to earth: you’re pleased they just about survived to tell the tale, and something tells you they’d do it all over again, for club and country. (MO)

Cosmic Range ‘The Gratitude Principle’







Guided by Toronto based everyman Matthew “Doc” Dunn the multi-limbed super-group collective of faces from the city’s most recent creative rise to prominence follow up their 2016 polygenesis New Latitudes debut with more of the same: Spotted dabbed slinking sexy spiritual jazz, flute-y Orientalism, snuggling air-y saxophone, wallowing subterranean funk and primal scream therapy peregrinations.

The Gratitude Principle gathers together the Slim Twig’s raging, wild wah-wah licks, the experimental snozzles and spiraling wildly saxophone of Andy Haas, Isla Craig’s ethereal siren vocal and flute duties, Kieran Adams’ drums and tinkerings with electronics, Brandon Valdivia’s congas and percussion, and the keys of Mike “Muskox” Smith and Jonathan Adjemian in a sub-aquatic yearning union of free and Afro jazz and Krautrock. Another trip into the cerebral: a jam session of epic mapping. (DV)


D….

Jack Danz ‘TMIB’
(Blah)




“Entwining the concepts of lo-fi and low life and guaranteed to get under your skin…the voice of someone who’s seen too much but knows exactly what’s going on” – RnV May 19




With rhymes offered as a grunt through what sounds like a prison intercom, Leeds’ Jack Danz is an on-point example of making something cutting edge out of a squalid image – aka, the Blah battalions. Sawn off trap bass, rinky-dink riffs taking on a spectral/lost perspective, and Danz succumbing/thriving while up to his eyeballs, TMIB is the cold light of day after a dive of debauchery: ideal listening for a trashed hotel room or freshly decorated squat riddled with wrongdoing. Danz’ numbness to what are undeniably a set of head nodders (where everything else appears dead from the neck down), makes his flow both out-of-body and trudgingly destructive. If he happens to be in character, it’s a natural role, giving him an impenetrability that means few can answer back to him. Including the engineered ambiguity of the sleeve, this is high power stuff out of sobering surroundings, particularly as there’s definite vulnerability being shown by the album’s end. (MO)

Datkid ‘Confessions of a Crud Lord’
(High Focus)




“On his worst behaviour when ‘Confessions of a Crud Lord’ writes red-top headlines, Datkid bullies the beats of Leaf Dog until he’s administering toilet swirlies” – RnV Apr 19




Goaded by 16 South Westerly beats that’ll have you nodding your way into an MRI scan – your neighbours will love being trolled by the bottom ends – from the moment the word ‘Crud’ stinks the title out, Datkid has it all his own way. An ambassador for UK hip-hop’s rise of the footsoldier, this Bristol blitzkrieg bop is detailed with the confidence of someone thinking they can take on the whole pub and exit with barely a scratch. Suffice to say it’s a relentless baseball bat swing of not giving a monkeys, loving to pounce on out-of-towner weakness in a heartbeat, and whose purity of show and prove, go hard or go home, is enough for guests Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine and Roc Marciano to show support. Once upon a time this would’ve been slapped with an ASBO, but the Crud is strong with this one: “what’s the point of living if you’re just surviving” shows that Datkid really knows where it’s at. (MO)

Graham Domain ‘Fragments Of Light’
(Metal Postcard Records)







Graham Domain is an acquired taste I suppose. Why, I do not know as everyone needs some dark weird music in their drab lives, an ideal cross taste cannon submerge of Tom Waits, Bela Lugosi and Brian Cant naked massaging the tears out of a neglected and abused cabbage patch doll. Stray keyboard drifts beautifully over simple drum beats whilst duetting with the memory of a long lost lover’s memories of tasting your alcohol on her lips and tongue, the ghost of her naked form haunting the side of the bed that once belonged to her.

This mini album, as has been the other two Graham Domain releases this year, is a really must be heard LP that sadly are not being heard. Why, I really do not know. Maybe they are just too strange or just too emotional or simply people are not getting to know or hear about them. So if you are reading this review give it a listen and tell your friends. (BBS)


E…..

Callum Easter ‘Here Or Nowhere’
(Lost Map Records)







One of those dreamy disarming albums that creeps up on you, the Edinburgh-based Callum Easter’s poised and indolently profound debut, Here Or Nowhere, is a sparse affair of the heart. Often lyrically succinct, saying a lot with few words, Easter shifts tonally between the heavenly and more moody. Songs such as the South Seas charmed and swimmingly ‘Fall In Love’ offers the dreamy, whilst the enervated industrial strikes and gritty Scottish bur narration of ‘Fall Down’ offers something grittier.

After a late conversion to music, the self-taught afflatus voiced troubadour leaving a career in professional football behind him at the age of 21, Easter adopts a number of well-travil(ed) and dragged over musical influences. Somehow he makes them sound new, especially on the wonderful Southern echo-y bar room piano rock’n’roll blues hymnal ‘Only Sun’. There’s also a channeling of Charlie Megira, Alan Vega and The Legendary Stardust Cowboy on a range of beautifully poignant songs, and hints of a lot of 2000s Canadian and American indie.

Despite some of the wry mistrust and resigned despondency, Here Or Nowhere is a spiritual pop album suffused – for the main part – by choral angelics, reverent glissandos and a touch of the afflatus. It’s also an album of singles, with every track standing alone and separate in its own right away from the album as a whole: Nothing short of a marvelous alternative pop and gospel triumph. (DV)

Eerie Wanda ‘Pet Town’
(Joyful Noise Recordings)







The lost sounds of childhood summers, the finger clicking bliss of a Joe Meek hit, the beauty of the lost rainbow in an angels wish, this LP by Eerie Wanda makes me recall all this. Pet Town is a fine album indeed, at times it gives me the same feelings of joy I have when playing The Beach Boys much-underrated classic Friends; songs wrapped up in the power of the pureness in being alone.

This is simple in its beauty and the beauty is its simpleness, the vinyl etchings of acoustic nights wrapped in your ex’s arms soundtracked by a lovingly compiled mixtape of the Marine Girls and Holly Golightly’s softer moments.

Summing up, this is an LP to wrap around you to keep you warm in the coming winter months and the LP to play as you walk in the summer sun remembering how happy sad life can be. A stunner. (BBS)

Full review…

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble ‘Be Known Ancient/Future/Music’
(Spiritmuse Records)







From the doyen of the Chicago scene and alumni of that city’s famous hothouse of talent, the School of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, drummer/percussionist and bandleader Kahil El’Zabar is still exploring, still connecting five decades on from forming the spiritual jazz troupe Ethnic Heritage Ensemble.

Kahil and the current troupe of Corey Wilkes (trumpet), Alex Harding (baritone saxophone) and Ian Maksin (cello) together celebrate a prestigious 45-year career whilst also, and always, looking forward on the latest collection Be Known Ancient/Future/Music. Spanning live performances, recordings and even a track from the 2015 documentary that forms part of the title of this LP, Dwayne Johnson-Cochran’s exploration Be Known, the ensemble once more channel the ever-developing Chicago rhythm that has marked this city out for its unique, often raw, take on R&B, Soul, Dance Music and of course jazz.

Less cosmic than Sun Ra, and less out-of-the-park than the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Kahil and the EHE tread a different path towards enlightenment; spreading the gospel of positive Afrocentric jazz to ever more dizzying and entrancing heights. Spiritual music with a message doesn’t come much better than this, the EHE showing no signs of waning after 45 years in the business. I’m off to hunt down and digest that lengthy cannon now and suggest you do too. (DV)

Full review…


F……

Frog ‘Count Bateman’
(Audio Antihero/Tape Wormies)







Frog are a kiosk by the sea, on a suburban beach. The essence of their work is gathered in a search for intimacy that is expressed in DIY and lo-fi passages; a very successful sound universe touched by Bon Iver, Daniel Johnston and other such sacred monsters. Their flame is lit on Count Bateman.

The new album in fact captures the peak of a clear path and placed lo-fi sound. The interweaving of stories on this record are a safe place that puts us at peace and in dialogue with the idea of Frog’s music.

Frog are like Matisse, painters of windows and fixtures that open in an expanse of neighborhoods, cities and stories. Count Bateman is an open window from which air enters and often there is also a hurricane breeze; in fact the second part of the record is full of unusual sounds and more driven, electronically, for the duo. (Gianluigi Marsibilio)

Full review…


G…….

Mike Gale ‘Summer Deluxe’







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

Liberally splashing about in the efflux surf of The Beach Boys the much-prolific Gale (this is his fifth album alone in just five years) hides a certain sorrow, longing and yearn under the most colorful and dreamy of melodious harmonies.

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

Full review…

Nicolas Gaunin ‘Noa Noa Noa’
(Hive Mind Records)







This is included because it sounds unlike anything else I’ve listened to in 2019. Originally put out in 2018 on the obscure Artetetra Records label, Nicola Sanguin, under his barely concealed appellation alter ego Nicolas Gaunin, strange exotic minimalist Noa Noa Noa LP has found a new home on the Brighton-based imprint Hive Mind.

With vague hints of Krautrock legends Embryo’s more percussive experiments in Africa, the dreamy mysterious invocations of Le Mystere Jazz de Tumbautau, Radio Tarifa, Ethno-jazz at its most untethered and Analogue Bubblebath era Richard James, Sanguin’s fantastical experiments mix vague sounds of thumb-piano, Serengeti and jungle wildlife, bamboo glockenspiel, clacking wooden and bass-heavy hand drums and nuanced workshop Techno.

Noa Noa Noa is indeed a thing of curious evocation; a searing balmy transduced soundtrack worth investigating.

Full review…

Gawd Status ‘Firmamentum’
(Tru Thoughts)




“Militant pride that’ll uproot those sitting on the fence, it’s a saga that must run and run. Absolutely boomin’” – RnV May 19



When the Big Bang wiped everything out first time around, Gawd Status saw it as an opportunity, in which Kashmere’s Strange U spaceship nosedives into the jungle, moondust dementia still sputtering from its exhaust, and Joker Starr swaps the battle arena for the cannibalistic, kill or be killed lawlessness of the Firmamentum outback. The Gawd Status is a complicated one, seriously heavy at a skinflint eight tracks long (even in the current age of artists finally getting album length right, 28 minutes is a bit of a choker), fiercely standing up for itself in articulation of black rage and examination of conspiracy theories, and revelling in The Iguana Man’s thick doomsday fog. The event completed by some utterly bumping soul sisterhood from Fae Simon, its arrival at Tru Thoughts is a slight surprise. Nonetheless it’s a work of art that burns bright like a brilliant, tumultuous dream. (MO)

The Good Ones ‘Rwanda, You Should Be Loved’
(Anti-Records)







Finding the most earthy of uncluttered soul in the most inhospitable and traumatized of environments, global renowned producer/facilitator Ian Brennan once more sets up the most minimalist and unobtrusive of recording sessions; capturing the raw, natural magic of Rwanda’s The Good Ones for posterity before it dies out.

Though moving slowly past the scars of the country’s genocide, the glorious encapsulating and whistling voices that make up this collective live a bare sustenance, eking out a meager life as farmers in the remotest of landscapes.

Recorded at guitarist and vocalist Adrien Kazigira’s hillside farm, Rwanda, You Should Be Loved Place is as poignant as it is hearty; a songbook of lilting lullaby’s, forewarnings and lament. Not that there presence is needed, but a cast of Western artists – Kevin Shields, Corin Tucker, Tunde Adebimpe and Nels Cline – lend support on a number of these beautiful songs.   (DV)

Adam Green ‘Engine Of Paradise’
(30th Century)





Meandering through the modern world of incessant tech-babble and validation cult, the former Moldy Peach turn left banke troubadour Adam Green once more traverses the boulevards and Greenwich Village hangouts of a more simpler, connected time on his wonderful folksy songbook, Engine Of Paradise.

Channeling a homage of Lee Hazlewood, Burt Bacharach, Harry Nilsson, Ian McCulloch, Jim Sullivan and Father John Misty our romantic and candid swooner delivers Midnight Cowboy like cocktail ruminations on love in the context of a society in the grip of an ever intrusive and alienating social media. Nostalgic certainly…but all the better for it. (DV)

Playlist
Compiled by Dominic Valvona with contributions from Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Andrew C. Kidd and Gianluigi Marsibilio.
Graphics by Gianluigi Marsibilio.








Reflecting the Monolith Cocktail’s tastes and favourite choice tracks from the last few months, the Quarterly Revue is a diverse musical journey; an eclectic international playlist of discoveries. This is a space in which you are as likely to find the skewered Gary Wilson meets Brian Wilson stained-glass psychedelic songwriting of the Origami Repetika creative hub as you are the conscious transportive jazz of Horace Tapscott. Brand new tracks appear alongside reissues and recently uncovered nuggets as we move through funk, jazz, hip-hop, post-punk, shoegaze, desert blues, techno, psychedelic, acid rock, space rock, and the most experimental of musical genres.

 

Behold…part three…


Tracklist::

Snapped Ankles  ‘Three Steps To A Development’
DJ Shadow  ‘Rosie’
Kid Acne/Nosaj/Spectacular Diagnostics  ‘Crest Of A Wave’
Gang Starr/J. Cole  ‘Family and Loyalty’
Danny Brown  ‘Best Life’
Bronx Slang  ‘More Grief’
SAULT  ‘Let Me Go’
clipping.  ‘Nothing Is Safe’
Bloke Music  ‘Everything On’
Seaside Witch Coven  ‘Splutter’
Trupa Trupa  ‘Remainder’
Stereo Total  ‘Einfach’
Los Piranas  ‘Palermo’s Grunch’
Baba Zula  ‘Salincak In’
Abdallah Oumbadougou  ‘Thingalene’
Grup Dogus  ‘Namus Belasi’
Taichmania  ‘See Ya at Six or Seven’
Kota Motomura  ‘Cry Baby’
Baby Taylah  ‘Reclaim’
House Of Tapes  ‘Melted Ice’
Camino Willow  ‘Hollywood’
Callum Easter  ‘Only Sun’
Junkboy  ‘Waiting Room’
Elizabeth Everts  ‘Contraband’
Bloom de Wilde  ‘Soul Siren’
Badge Epoque Ensemble  ‘Milk Split on Eternity’
Chrissie Hynde/The Valve Bone Woe Ensemble  ‘Meditation on a Pair of Wire Cutters’
Swan/Koistinen  ‘Diagnosis’
Sirom  ‘Low Probability of a Hug’
Koma Saxo  ‘Fanfarum for Komarun’
Matana Roberts  ‘Raise Yourself Up/Backbone Once More/How Bright They Shine’
Die Achse/Ghostface Killah/Agent Sasco  ‘Baby Osamas’
U-Bahn  ‘Beta Boyz’
Occult Character  ‘Half-Wits and Cultists’
Asbestos Lead Asbestos  ‘Shrimp Asmr’
Repo-Man  ‘Evan The Runt’
Issac Birituro & The Rail Abandon  ‘Kalba’
Nicolas Gaunin  ‘Vava’u’
Mazouni  ‘Daag Dagui’
Mdou Moctar  ‘Wiwasharnine’
Aziza Brahim  ‘Leil’
Resavoir  ‘Resavoir’
Purple Mountains  ‘All My Happiness is Gone’
Babybird  ‘Cave In’
Adam Green  ‘Freeze My Love’
Catgod  ‘Blood’
Frog  ‘RIP to the Empire State Flea Market’
Pozi  ‘Engaged’
Roi  ‘Dormouse Records’
Origami Repetika  ‘Winged Creatures’
Horace Tapscott  ‘Future Sally’s Time’
A Journey Of Giraffes  ‘September 11 1977’
Jodie Lowther  ‘The Cat Collects’
Equinox/Vukovar  ‘Lament’
Kandodo 3  ‘King Vulture’

Premiere
Words: Dominic Valvona




A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Kona’
(Somewherecold Records) 23rd August 2019


John Lane has travelled a long way, in musical terms, from his burgeoning lo fi days recreating a Casio keyboard vision of Brian Wilson’s beachcomber dreamy beatifications, under the seashell symphony ego of Expo, to the more transcendental meditative beginnings of his present alter ego, A Journey Of Giraffes. The safari has moved, in more recent years, away from the Beach Boys to more ambient and traversing experimental influences. The last album from the unassuming Baltimore composer that we featured, a couple of years back, went all out on an aimless supernatural field-recorded walk through the forest. is an eerie and strange affair; a mixture of Arthur Russell meets Panda Bear and Alejandro Jodorowsky in the backyard of Maryland.

Taking another road-less-travail kind of amble through another sort of imaginative woods setting, Lane’s latest, and quite possibly his most complete, album Kona, which we are lucky and indeed honored to be premiering today, is inspired by a Japanese art, music and contemplation. A love letter in many ways to the late Japanese electronic composer Susumu Yokota, this sweeping, often subtly matriculate and ambient affair, suite pays a homage not only to his more washed and ruminative musical peregrinations but his quotes as well. The album title is itself taken from one such lyrical pronouncement/augur: “Bones of the dead are shattered like kona and sprinkled over the homeland. Children can fly in the sky when sprinkled with Angel’s kona.”

Known for bridging techno, house and more minimalistic, and almost the neo-classical, fields of electronic music to forge a thoroughly modern Japanese sound, it is Yokota’s brushed calligraphy and mysterious evocations that are used like footnotes to Lane’s interpretive exploration: Less the Jeff Mills and Rob Hood acid burbles and intelligent techno of Acid Mt. Fuji, and more the gliding, thoughtful intricacies and panoramas of Sakura.

A clue as to what you might expect to hear from Lane’s Japonism, the quilted bird-in-motion artwork (Swallow and Camellia by Itō Jakuchū) is a suitable guide to this deep immersive experience; one that is influenced as much but the literary finesse of Natsume Soseki‘s The Three Cornered World novella as it is by Studio Ghibli’s seminal animated movie, Spirited Away. Kona is full of glistening water pool grottos and firefly lit paper lantern trails; a night garden both mysterious and imbued with peaceable Taoist understatement. You can certainly expect to hear dulcet thumb-plucked strings cascade against reverberated singular piano notes and pestle-and-mortar like scrapings, or, an insect chorus and water droplets falling on a millennia-aged and stoic moistened rock whilst hovering low synthetic drones pulse and throb. Beats are kept to a minimal, but they are there in the sophisticated mix of the fairytale and plaintive.

Magically ruminating, offering both the beatific and uncertain, Kona is an exotic, sometimes ceremonial, Zen like soundtrack that evokes the Fourth World Possible Musics of Jon Hassell, Popol Vuh and the higher plain communal glistened zither transcendence of Laraaji. As I’ve already said, this could be Lane’s most realized, complete album yet. And you can now wander that path yourself, as we premiere the album today, here:




NEW MUSIC REVIEW ROUNDUP
Words: Dominic Valvona


Monolith Cocktail - Bargou 08


Tickling Our Fancy 045: A Journey Of Giraffes, Bargou 08, Delicate Steve, Dr Chan, Emptyset, The Food Of Love Project, Le Petit Diable and Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr.

In this edition of Tickling Our Fancy, the great and good of experimental and atavistic folk interpret sonnets and songs referenced in the works of Shakespeare, on The Food Of Love Project; John Lane produces his most experimental, esoteric, collection of field recordings yet, under his A Journey Of Giraffes alter ego; Delicate Steve marks his return with his first solo LP in four years, a collection of personable “songs without words”, entitled This Is Steve; Dr. Chan make their most “mature” howling skate punk meets primal garage row yet, $outh$ide $uicide; there’s mesmerizing Tunisian desert funk and atavistic vibes from Glitterbeat’s latest signing, the Bargou 08 project; the latest reification sonic suite from Emptyset; the accomplished jazz siblings, Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr’s recruit David Bowie’s Blackstar line-up for their Landed In Brooklyn suite; and finally, a welcome new solo direction from Jinko Vilova’s Ander López.


Bargou 08   ‘Targ’
Released  by  Glitterbeat  Records,  17th  February  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Bargou 08

Ahh…the sounds of a dusky reedy gasba flute; the tactile patted and burnished bendir drum; the rustic, earthy strung loutar, and the flowing, scaling vocals of the Bargou 08 project’s chief instigator, Nidhal Yahyaoui, set an impressive atmosphere in the first couple of minutes of the album’s opening, Chechel Khater.

The source of this sound derives from a relatively uncharted region that lies obscured between the mountains of northwest Tunisia and the Algerian border, called the Bargou Valley, which despite its barren isolation, has cultured a unique musical fusion, stretching back hundreds of years. Captivating and magical enough in its ancestral unchanged form, the songs of the valley, sung in the local Targ dialect (a language that is one part Berber, the other Arabic), are given a contemporary jolt that transforms the atavistic paeans, odes and poetry of yore into an intoxicating swirling rapture of electronic North African funk.

 

In the same way that Noura Mint Seymali’s griot traditions of Mauritania were boosted by an infusion of psych and a polyrhythmic, bordering on breakbeat jazz, drums the Bargou valley’s heritage is given a fattened keyboard bassline, warping Moog oscillations and a modern production. The results are exciting and often lively. The dynamics, especially Yahyaoui’s emotionally powerful vocals, are an especially imaginative giddy thumping mix of desert rock, Arabian dance music and snake-charming mysticism. Suffused with this cocktail of sounds, each passionate evocation, learned and passed on by the village elders, begins with a signature introduction of searching, plaintive or mysterious flute before a pulsing backbeat kicks in; suddenly jump-starting and placing those songs in a modern context. Modulating between the nocturnal desert soundclash of Dek Biya and the Barbary coastal tidal motion candor of Le Min Ijina, different eras are magnificently bridged.

 

Honed on the road, the Bargou 08 project, conceived by Yahyaoui and steered by his musical partner and friend, keyboard player and producer Sofyann Ben Youssef, was recorded in an ad hoc manner: Youssef juggling both the recording equipment whilst playing the Moog. Yet despite its often loose and hypnotic nature, devoid of tension, this album is a highly sophisticated, joyful, groovy and tight; the musicianship first rate.

 

Filled with a legacy of turmoil and tension that goes back an aeon the song’s many themes, from describing a lover’s vital attributes on Mamchout to laments of alienation, resonate strongly with the growing unease of events, initiated six years ago by the Arab Spring. Tunisia itself is facing a struggle and teetering on the edge, with no guarantee that certain cultures won’t just disappear or be fragmented in the ensuing melee. Originally setting out to document his Bargou Valley home’s musical heritage before it disappeared, Yahyaoui has successfully and thankfully, with Youssef, captured this rich mesmeric culture for posterity. And in doing so, produced a masterpiece that will endure. 2017 will have to be an exceptional year if Targ doesn’t make this year’s “best of lists”; it’s certainly earmarked for ours.





Various  Artists  ‘The  Food  Of  Love’
Released  by  Autolycus  Records,  via  PinDrop  and  TMD  Media, 20th February 2017


Monolith Cocktail - Food Of Love Project

 

Despite being one the most laid back people I know, though judging by the multiple projects, schemes, events and albums he’s working on at any one time he may just be tired out, Oxford polymath Sebastian Reynolds is in a constant state of ennui. He made the TOF column four times in a row last year with various remixes and productions including the multimedia Thai meets West production Mahajanaka – a collaboration fusion of both traditional Thai forms and Western contemporary dance and music, which reinterprets the ancient stories of Buddha on his multiple incarnations journey of perfection towards becoming fully enlightened. In between his roles as a promoter and head honcho at PinDrop, Seb’s set to release a pair of solo albums, Remembrance and Epiphany, later in the year. It is once again in his role as both a performer and instigator that sees him, alongside Tom McDonnell of TMD Media, commission and curate a celebration of the great bard Shakespeare.

 

Originally part of the wider Oxford Shakespeare Jubilee festival programme in 2016, the adroitly conceived compilation has had some trouble with its official release date, being put back and now hovering over January ready to drop at anytime. But the wait has been worthwhile. The twelve-strong track list features an inspired choice of both Oxford locals and carefully plucked international artists interpreting, transmogrifying and playing around with both the most fleeting and integral songs performed or merely referenced in Shakespeare great cannon of work. In what is now an obligatory requisite, Seb performs with both the electronic-indie outfit he’s been a member for years, Flights Of Helios, and as one half of a unique collaboration with Food Of Love project partner McDonnell, under The Children Of The Midnight Chimes appellation. The first of these is a constantly evolving alternative indie and trip-hop dance peregrination of I Loathe That I Did Love from Hamlet, the latter, is a heavy, thick supernatural vortex drone representation of O Death, Rock Me Asleep from Henry IV Part 2. Considering its source is “allegedly” from a poem written by the tragic fateful Anne Boleyn on the eve of her execution, this abstract soundscape, which features shrouded in the ether vocals from McDonnell, is like a haunting: the unrested spectre of Ann caught in perpetual anguish.

 

Equally good at removing the original material from any sort of familiarity, taking it over the threshold into alien realms, steam-punk maverick and musical contraption inventor Thomas Truax transforms the Tudor court stalwart Greensleeves into a ethereal cosmic trip abroad Gene Roddenberry’s Starship Enterprise; landing on The Tempest inspired Forbidden Planet. David Thomas Broughton meanwhile closes the album with a ten-minute experimental finale, reinterpreting Lawn As White As Driven Snow from A Winter’s Tale. Sounding like multiple takes of the same song, set into motion at different times and played all at once, Broughton impressively weaves all the discord, overlaps and amorphous bleeds together to create a drifting, sometimes anemic panoply.

 

In a more congruous manner, closer to the times they were written in, the Scottish troubadour Alasdair Roberts, with only the minimal though attentively atmospheric “historically accurate” lute of Gordon Ferries to back him up, steps straight off a Tudor tapestry to coo in an atavistic lulling timbre the “oblique” referenced Caleno Custure Me from Henry IV Part 2. Elsewhere the tone is of a folksy twee yet often stark and ominous droning beauty. A Highland imbued version of Strength In A Whisper, from Much Ado About Nothing, by, another Scott, the folk songstress Kirsty Law, and a stirring quivered Celtic orchestral treatment of Bonnie Sweet Robin Is To The Greenwood Gone, from Hamlet, by the Dead Rat Orchestra both share hints of Jed Kurzel’s mesmerizing score for the 2015 movie version of Macbeth.

 

Missing unfortunately from the line-up, the classical folk legend John Renbourn sadly passed away before recording his contribution. The Food Of Love is as a result dedicated to his memory. And it is a touching tribute but most importantly a successful exercise in bringing vitality to Shakespeare’s yellowed parchment; lifting what were in many ways just fleetingly touched upon songs to life.





Delicate  Steve  ‘This  Is  Steve’
Released  by  ANTI-,  27th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Delicate Steve

I must confess. Delicate Steve (as he’s known) has until now escaped my detection. The accompanying bio however offers an impressive resume, listing David Byrne, The Dirty Projectors, Lee Ranaldo and tUnE-yArDs as admirers and collaborators. As a testament to Steve’s range, the erudite guitarist and songwriter has “cut records” with both Sondre Lerche and Death Grip’s Zach Hill; and recently appeared playing guitar on the new Paul Simon record.

His first solo album in four years, and the first for the Anti- label, This Is Steve is billed as an “introduction” from the artist to you, the audience. A one-man band, producing and playing everything himself, Steve’s peaceable, often acid-country and surf twanged jaunty and ruminative, guitar themes run through an eclectic array of genres without settling on any specific. The signature cosmic swirling phaser guitar effect and intricate but relaxed perusal technique apes a number of other instruments, including the sitar on the opening glam-psych wilderness of Animals, the zither on the George Harrison exotic bluegrass walk along a California boardwalk Winners, and a Theremin on the nocturnal slouchy candor Nightlife.

Untethered as such; meandering mostly, but at times more forcefully careering through expressions and moods, Steve is scuzzing down ZZ Top’s highway towards a Todd Rundgren drive-through one minute (Cartoon Rock) and yearningly picking out a poignant personal Woodstock gospel anthem the next (This Is Steve).

 

Despite it being an entirely instrumental affair, you may find yourself singing along. And that’s due to each song’s uncanny familiarity, but also down to Steve’s personable touch, unguarded, channeling a lifetime of both conscious and unconscious melodies and articulating them in his own unique manner.





Emptyset  ‘Borders’
Released by Thrill  Jockey,  January  27th  2017


Emptyset - Monolith Cocktail

 

Transmogrifying, compressing and distorting their chosen “tactile” instruments (which include a six-stringed zither-like contraption and a drum) through vintage analogue equipment, the Emptyset duo perform a live contortion of fuzzy and frazzling trepidation on this latest conceptual offering, Borders.

Commissioned in the past to articulate musically and sonically the abstract; Emptyset have produced successful reification suits, with a number of self-imposed rules, from a number of architectural spaces, including the decommissioned Trawsfynydd nuclear power station and the neo-gothic Woodchester Mansion. This time around, sat in a Faraday cage as towering metal leviathans communicate with each other overhead, James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas set themselves another series of prompting parameters to work within. On this particular score the duo focus on subtly adjusting the timbral qualities of their performance, for an often ominous concatenate series of sonorous and abrasive evocations.

 

Though Borders doesn’t seem to offer a specific architectural environment; it evokes instead an electrified industrial-scarred force field of dread. Sounding not too dissimilar to Sunn O))) making a cerebral techno album on Basic Channel, the eleven-track soundtrack is suffused with long drawn-out pylon throbbing rhythms, seething and flexing with various fluctuated menace. Descent for instance opens the furnace door of a machine-age fire-breathing Moloch, whilst Speak brays with a monstrous didgeridoo-like rasp.

The album is a heavy dose of bestial sizzled magnetic crackling and giant rumblings; an electrified fence of static doom, both highly atmospheric but also teasing with anticipation.








A  Journey  Of  Giraffes   ‘F²’
Self-released,  January  11th  2017


A Journey Of Giraffes - Monolith Cocktail

 

A Journey Of Giraffes’ John Lane has come a long way since his chirpier and languorous lo fi Beach Boys (circa Pet Sounds and SMiLE) inspired renderings and washes. Now almost fully immersed in the esoteric; exploring strange new soundscapes, Lane takes “a long walk into the deep forest” of his Maryland, USA home for something approaching the supernatural. Those California vapours of old do still linger, though removed even further, lost on a swell of reverb, Foley sounds and a heavy miasma of abstracted experimentation. A leitmotif of field recordings from the Hampton’s Cromwell Valley Park underpin this latest journey: the trampling underfoot of the valley floor and, threatening to blow us off-course, gusts of wind create an environment that sounds like an ominous meander into the Blair Witch Project.

Best described as Coil picking apart Panda Bear on the way to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, (an element which you won’t find on the periodic table; a symbol instead that Lane uses to represent a sentiment of “family first”) features venerable monk-like chants and wordplay, subterranean echoes, Tibetan chimes and paranormal doo-wop. Hermitages, caves, atavistic idols to old gods the ghosts of previous generations that once hewed a living from the landscape and the sainted Father Damien De Veuster of the 19th century leprosy colony of Hawaii’s Molokai Island, all haunt Lane’s imagination.

 

Self-released via Bandcamp, almost happenstance style, this avant-garde soundtrack opus benefits from the kind of freedom that the internet can offer. However, with no restrictions and a methodology of total exploration, the album is perhaps overly long in places and can stretch the listener’s patience. Still, Lane works out his ideas and expands his sound further on every release; taking that original Beach Boys influence into seldom charted waters.





Dr  Chan  ‘Southside Suicide’
Released  by  Stolen  Body  Records,  24th  February  2017


Dr Chan - Monolith Cocktail

 

Like some obscure French exchange garage band of students – the kind you’d find, if it existed, on a European version of the Teenage Shutdown! compilations – hanging out in the 80s L.A. of plaid shirt and paisley bandana fatigue wearing skater-punks, Dr Chan are an abrasive and coarse mix of renegade petulant inspirations.

Essentially powered by garage rock and all its various manifestations, the group from the south of France hurtle through an up tempo and raging backbeat of The Chocolate Watch Band, Standells, Rationals, Black Lips and Detroit Cobras. The difference here is that they also throw in a miscreant Molotov of thrash punk, courtesy of Fidlar, and “death rap”, cue Florida’s $uicideboy$, into the riot. It gives the Chan’s brand of garage band mania a different intensity and drive: more screaming in a ball of flames spikiness than tripping psych.

The opening title track is a lively introduction to this controlled chaos; the distorted scrawling spunk-rockers rumbling and attacking surf, bluegrass and rock n roll in adolescent fury. It isn’t always this fast and noisy. I Can’t Change for example takes a, dare I say, poignant respite; sounding like a yearning Roky Erikson dodging the whistling drop of bombs from above.

 

Despite the increasingly distressed cartoon screamed resigned sentiment of the swansong, Life Is Not Fun – Southside Suicide is a blast. Riled and obviously pissed about the current state of affairs both at home and overseas, Dr Chan’s protests are in keeping with the primal spirit of rock’n’roll: fun, fun, fun! It’s a blast.





Julian  &  Roman  Wasserfuhr   ‘Landed In Brooklyn’
Released  by  ACT,  24th  February  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr

 

It can hardly be denied that New York always has and always will be an epicenter of musical innovation and fusion. Sure, there’s a growing unease at not just New York but mega beacons of creativity everywhere in the West. That the artists are pushed out and forced into the outlier regions because of gentrification, high rents and a general enervation of culture. Manhattan still has the jazz legacy and sports the venues (from the Lincoln Centre to The Village), but we’re increasingly told the “action” is happening elsewhere: in the borough of Brooklyn to be exact. A sprawling region of the New York panoply, Brooklyn has become a cheaper, more viable alternative; though in the last decade this hotspot has seen a massive influx of millennials, students and creatives flood the area, and so changed the very nature of the neighborhoods and inevitably made it more expensive.

Lured to this hotspot, the exceptionally talented trumpet (though on the latest album also partial to the flugelhorn) and piano sibling partnership of Julian and Roman Wasserfuhr “land” in Brooklyn for their 5th LP together. Prompted by the German jazz label ACT, and producer Siggi Loch (one of the first to foster the brothers talent, Loch produced their debut 2006 album Remember Chet, as part of that label’s “Young German Jazz” series) the duo initially hadn’t given much thought to the project. Spurred on however by the mounting reputation of New York’s largest borough, the brothers relocated. Imbuing themselves with Brooklyn’s history and present “where the action is” status, they recruited members of David Bowie’s Blackstar backline; man-of-the-moment tenor saxophonist and bandleader Donny McCaslin and the equally in-demand, former New York native, electric and double-bass player, Tim Lefebvre. Both have, in great part due to the attention Bowie inevitably drew, helped shape the city’s persona and rep for pushing the boundaries of jazz. And here they do what they do best; lifting and taking ideas and melodies into ever more inventive directions. Consummate enough to boost the foundations, yet also erudite enough to know when to blow or noodle away ten-to-the-dozen, they prove a congruous fit. Finishing the lineup, another link to McCaslin, is supremo drummer Nate Wood, who gets the chance to showboat with a salvo of never-ending rolls and crescendos on the cover of Tokio Hotel’s power-rock ballad, Durch den Monsun – a vast improvement upon the original.




Making a final connection to the city’s wider jazz legacy; the brothers chose to record at Joe & Nancy Marciano’s legendary System Two Recording Studio; using the venerated studio’s classic ribbon mic, once owned by John Coltrane no less, and a piano previously used for concerts at Carnegie Hall. Utilizing the environment, which has seen its fair share of legendary names from the jazz lexicon record there, the quintet produced an extemporized performance. Far from rehearsed and contrived – other than the choice of covers and the odd bit of sheet music – there’s little prompting on Landed In Brooklyn. Instead we get a flowing, loose semi-improvised interplay between all involved. This method is demonstrated on the opening “ensemble sound”, Bernie’s Tune. Relaxed, springy even, Julian Wasserfuhr and McCaslin’s interweaving horn section flews impressively over a quickened backbeat to create an update on the New York siren wailed TV detective theme tune. Roman Wasserfuhr, who leads on most of the album, is deft and supple on the ivories; caressing warming with a rippling effect even though you can tell he’s working hard on some complex countermelodies.

 

Whether it’s been planned, or unintentionally just floated into the quintet’s melting pot sound, there are traces and nods to a number of key jazz doyens throughout. There’s purposeful, and noted in the album’s accompanying booklet, hints of the horn geniuses Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine for instance on a couple of tracks, most notably however on the nestled trumpet and swaddling saxophone – Gershwin on Blue Note – Tinderly.

 

Elsewhere there’s Marimba-lilted waltzes; a 5/4 timing transformation of a moribund Sting song; and a cluttering railway-track travail style meditation on America’s past segregation woes to take in. And marvelous they all sound too. There can be no denying that this is a quality line-up; musically speaking, even if the covers are hardly inspiring, this is an accomplished recording. The Wasserfuhr brothers do creative things with the scenery and mood of a hub currently in the spotlight; producing an album that arguably bridges the old with the new guard.





Le  Petit  Diable   ‘Seeds’
Self-released  through  Bandcamp,  available now


Le Petit Diable - Monolith Cocktail

 

An important force for good on the underground Spanish music scene, predominantly in the last five years with the Krautrock and “Motor City” inspired Jinko Vilova, songwriter/musician and full-on space-rocker Ander López has taken on a new role as a troubadour for his solo album.

As demonstrated on his new collection, under the Le Petit Diable guise, López removes all but a brassy-stringed resonating acoustic guitar from the Jinko Vilova blueprint sound. Taken from the group’s previous LP, Líquid, the opening gambit, You’re Standing, is reduced from its original cosmic thickset Detroit bombast to a far more intimate acoustic affair, which sounds at times like a missing track from Can’s Unlimited Edition. It serves as a transitional introduction to ease the listener into the new raw, stripped direction. The album, Seeds (a metaphor for the ideas he’s evidently planting), has a real live quality about it, recorded in an atmospherically favourable space that lends itself to the echoing chimes and rings of his “lived-in” guitar playing.

Countering a gentler picking and plucking articulation with a mixture of attacking and ringing reverberation style rhythm guitar, López works up a fair old pace at times; filling the space when he needs to: The rebellious folk gallop, Purple Sphere, could be considered even spiky!

Vocally he channels a litany of hard-worn melancholic wayfarers; including Blixa Bargeld (Who Cast The First Stone), Nico (Snake’s Dance, Follow The Leader) and Roy Harper (My Eyes). There’s even a hint of the languid Damo Suzuki about López on the opener.

Le Petit Diable is a welcome move towards a parallel solo career; a surprise exploration and change from the music he’s become synonymous with. There is a lot of promise on this album, and the future looks bright.




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