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)


Hip-Hop Review – Matt Oliver




An overdue happy new year from Rapture & Verse – it’s safe to say that once our back was turned for Christmas duty, all the while resisting a trip to Soulja Boy’s house of electronic bargains, the UK dropped an absolute glut of Yuletide goodness. Into the singles first, and it’s heads down hoods up for Baileys Brown’s ‘Horses Mouth’, a gloomy, watery gift for Datkid and Jinxsta JX to stare down in waiting for vengeance to take shape. Should you keep spending most of your life listening to Old Paradice, you’re doing well – Confucius MC and Morriarchi make ‘The Last Resort’ a nice six-track resting place for ears, while a wary eye keeps watch to keep it all business. The ‘2018 Switch Up’ by Benjicong sets a stall out for the new year by niftily weaving in out of Charles Edison’s crystalline stepper, without spilling a drop of the pint his delivery orders.





Jaroo will bruise a few good men when in cahoots with Aver, the six-track ‘Inner Process’ ensuring none shall pass until an epiphany with Tony Skank and Benny Diction lightens the load. A top notch quintet of remixes from Evil Ed includes the geeing up of Ric Branson, and going in to give extra legs to Triple Darkness and Tesla’s Ghost. ‘Heavy Baggage’ has beats and rhymes academics Gee Bag and Downstroke answering the question as to who’s gonna take the weight, a flavourful four tracks to hoist onto your shoulder via ghettoblaster so the whole street knows. Drums to dislocate jugulars already feeling the gust of one-way verbal traffic, IMS and Joey Menza are less about being woke and all about ‘The Wake’: no naps allowed.






Albums

A collaboration that nearly fell through the cracks, Cappo and Cyrus Malachi embodying ‘Postmodernism’ rise from classified coordinates to torch the whole underground radius. A contrast of lyrical imperiousness, to productions from Evil Ed, Chemo, DJ Drinks, Mr Brown and Wytfang that manage to be both modest and a seething reflection of its orators, this is rap combat carried out by chess grandmasters. Exceptional underground hip-hop.

Few fucks are given by Black Josh, running wild towards a smoke-damaged throne stained by cold sweat, doing so by the light of a blood moon, and reminding those who think it’s grim up North that they really have no idea. Then settling into something approaching a more contented train of thought about halfway through where angles start to blur, ‘Yung Sweg Lawd’ stays fluid in intimidation.

Continuing to live a life of diamonds and fun, Juga-Naut’s ‘Bon Vivant’ is always freshly dipped, full of ear-catching pearls of wisdom in his own version of La Vida Loca. Always with the goods to back up the flash, you get gourmet Notts know-how and a tightening game face as the album progresses. Unconvinced? “I dare you to keep up with the wave”. Let MysDiggi entertain you as he scales the ‘Tip of Da Mysberg’ for a third time, a wordsmith whose batteries will never run out, able to pants emcees before they realise their career is around their ankles. Witty and wily as ever, and easygoing even at his most spiteful, a firm UK favourite has your full attention for 18 tracks.





Hey babe, take a walk on the mild side with Lee Scott’s ‘Lou Reed 2000’, a more reticent outing than you may expect, but still inimitably sweating the small stuff. The curtains are drawn back and the sunglasses are off, but Scott as undisputed bard of the bedsit is still “in a league of me own, losing to me self”, when not announcing “compared to me, the speed of light is slow”. You could argue there’s nowt slower than an ‘Acrylic Snail’, but Dirty Dike is a whirlwind with scant regard for the destructive trail he ploughs. Once his mollusc is in motion there’s no point arguing the toss – no holds barred, and painting some pretty repugnant pictures without ever missing a stroke. An endangered species who can flip the script and look into the depths of his soul when not – or peaking at – being “dumb, numb and comfortably ill”.





Proven shit-stirrers BVA and Leaf Dog ‘Return to Stoney Island’ as the Brothers of the Stone, riling front rows as Illinformed dresses soul in steel toecaps and initiates old fashioned bar brawls. You can’t spell boisterous without BoTS, with MoP and Inspectah Deck nailing their colours to the mast so the album crashes through its destination. For all the stink that’s kicked up, a marksman’s precision underlines everything they do – not the only bros to spark recent conversation.





For as long as the world prices up handcarts and one-way tickets to hell, Big Toast’s megaphone will always be in play. Cranked up by 184 on the boards, yet wise enough not to get in Panini Grande’s way, ‘Prolefeed’ maintains the “you are not special” manifesto, passionate defence and cold fact meeting unconcealed incredulity. Like a red cap to a bull, all Hooray Henrys best button their lip or get their ballot box punted down the river.

Boom time for the B-boy union once Chrome winds up and laces a ‘Dopamine Hit’, headlined by the super sprint ‘Shockwave’ with Andy Cooper. Perpetual motion never dwelling on just the nostalgic, Chrome’s dope dealership knows what’s really real, giving the party some perspective amongst the jump-ups. Triumphantly flicking V signs, Damu the Fudgemunk casts ‘Victorious Visions’ of upbeat instrumental boom-bap that checks itself, and a feelgood factor that doesn’t get cosy. Remoulded from his prior ‘Dreams and Vibrations’ project, the purist hallmarks and soul core are what make the visions loud and clear, while ‘Back in the Trenches’ does rugged with the best of ‘em. Beats to set your body clock by. Depending on how hard your hormones are raging, The Doppelgangaz’ latest ‘Beats for Brothels’ appointment has got you covered, all of their instrumentals marked with a certain strut as they move from room to room, from hard thrusts to smooth touches. ‘Volume 4’ is money well spent. Klim Beats provides the soundtrack to a B-boy retreat providing relaxation and pleasant aromas on ‘Crystals’, beginning with mystical orientation before letting breaks simply do their thing so listeners can you use their own imagination.

Full moon scientist Yugen Blakrok is on a relentless grind to the summit on ‘Anima Mysterium’, prophecies and riddles raining down like an RPG sherpa, where you best take the right path or else. Her totem-like standing as the elements rage around her, sounds like she’s memorized every single scripture the universe has to offer. In an apocalyptic world telling you to believe everything and nothing, producer Kanif the Jhatmaster drives on as a similarly irresistible force.





Street cinema to have ‘em hiding in the aisles, the dark arts of ‘A Piece of the Action’/’Motion Picture’ from FLU, ETO and RGZ keeps the situation critical, capitalising on wild west slinging against modern mobster rules. The provision of balance from Blockhead comes with the offer of ‘Free Sweatpants’. Some fine deep space, backpack readies for Homeboy Sandman, Marq Spekt and Armand Hammer, mix in with instrumentals vaulting you out your seat before returning to sender. Aesop Rock uniting with TOBACCO for ‘Malibu Ken’ builds an instant reputation of being a raw synthed, Rubik’s cube of rhymes , yet both happen upon a sharp splinter of hip-hop pitching to the left, but not way out left. Rock’s visual skill and enthusiasm and TOBACCO’s electro neons jumping with VHS flicker and musical 8-bit strain, create a spacious, well paced, Technicolor bounce, easing any trepidation.




ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVUE
WORDS: MATT OLIVER




Singles/EPs

As the seasons change and a slightly woollier wardrobe comes into view, Rapture & Verse notes that Danny Brown has got his trademark gap tooth grin fixed, Flavor Flav is reportedly suing Chuck D in a royalty dispute, and that one-off, zillion dollar Wu-Tang album is now an eBay listing (brand new with tags, one careful owner). Representing the sound of such events slowly going haywire, Bisk & Goosewater go bobbing for battery acid beats on ‘bsidegoosevol.1’ and ‘Cream Soda’: witch doctors looking at hip-hop through the rear view mirror in pursuit of the ultimate boom bap hangover. Pete Cannon’s Luna C instrumental issuing a ‘Reality Check’ chases Roots Manuva’s ‘Witness’ down a back alley while leading a marching band on the run from banditos. With a hook having a go because it knows it’s hard enough, VersesBang’s ‘What You Think’ brings Gutta along for a ride of grimy, ghoulish trap bending everything and everyone out of shape. Walking in a London wonderland, Ty’s ‘Brixton Baby’ represents his home postcode with a feathery eyewitness account.





‘Live from the Iron Curtain’, Apathy & OC have ways of making you speak as they turn the square red, the latter upstaging the former by a nose on a funky headhunter. In their roles of ‘Wounded Healer’ and ’Galvanometer’, Opio and Homeboy Sandman prize open ears with their own medicating methods and win out with a selection of alternatives. You can’t argue with someone whose “repertoire can unhinge a reservoir”. Sandman then reprises his critter-hop role alongside Aesop Rock as ‘Triple Fat Lice’: five tracks of entertaining, endlessly quotable, maverick termite surrealism. Go ‘head and let them lay eggs in your speakers.





Don’t look down when clipping begin to ripple, ‘The Deep’ dealing in the loneliness of the life aquatic but then quickening its stroke as it potently starts to smell blood from a mile away. Jeru the Damaja and The Beatnuts’ Psycho Les as the Funky Pandas are an odd couple task force getting the job done on the stunner snythed ‘Dope Dealer’. Tuck in your napkin for Dillon and Diamond D’s ‘Black Tie Affair’: five courses you’ll easily find room for, including moreish first person script flipper ‘Femme Fatale’.


Albums

The smooth sound of your last lava lamp bubble popping, rhyme regulator Bendaddict, soul chanteuse Ella Mae and closing time producer Slim explore the properties of ‘Teal’. More than just a neo-soul filing, the trio, with nods to Jehst and Erykah Badu, happen on a chemistry wrapping a collective arm around you that autumnal types will lap up.  Dying embers hip-hop, producing plenty of heat and warmth.

A duo playing the game their own way, The Jones Brothers’ ‘Roughs with the Smooth’ is Joker Starr and AnyWay Tha God catching themselves between suave crime-solving bonnet sliders, street teachers for the people, and old London town hatchet men you shouldn’t unlock your door to. El Ay’s funk and soul is the real linchpin, providing the album’s expensively suited drama while barely breaking sweat. The ‘Two Man Band’ of Ash the Author and Krang puts the mic in a full nelson and gives ears a lesson they won’t forget in a hurry. While ATA treats the first ten rows to eight tracks of full on phlegm throttle, Krang mixes up rockers and twinkles, as the pair’s styles play off one another in a time honoured beats-and-rhymes system. Anything but two-bob.





It’s a typical day in the office for Action Bronson when he starts stacking his new brand of ‘Blue Chips 7000’. Force of personality plays a comic book hero only normally found in fan fiction, wielding outrageous one liners, a Rick Ross collabo and yacht-shot funkiness that he’s either feeling or oblivious too. All of which equates to Bronson’s autopilot mode still yielding plenty of listener gains, putting hip-hop pedestrians in their place.

Handing around a helping of ‘Anchovies’, Planet Asia and Apollo Brown join forces to divide and conquer.  The former’s world-weathered flow is constantly jabbing, poking and irking you, prepared to argue whether night follows day. The latter gently rocks back and forth, unconcerned with arguing the toss upon inhaling old vinyl dust, asleep with one eye open so you never write him off. A soul go-slow with cat-like reflexes.

Next to alter the axis of those thinking they don’t like hip-hop is Grieves. Melodic and chart friendly without overdoing the softener, the Seattle emcee reaches into the realms of Mac Miller and Brother Ali on ‘Running Wild’ with lightness of flow that can still mean something to make him Rhymesayers through and through. Swedish producer Chords is in his corner, laying down sun-blushed synths and live funk using a most modern urban lounge filter.

Confused about ‘The World Today’? Wordsworth’s your man for a concise breakdown, articulating the everyday as a keynote speaker and bringing enough entertainment to steady the undiluted truths. Sam Brown on production clocks in with exactly what the emcee needs: chest beaters, daggers to the heart, and, as per Wordsworth’s flow carrying a spirited edge pledging “holy matrimony with the audience”, assurances that everything’s gonna be alright even when the chips are down.





Northern dramatists Ceiling Demons bring an interesting thespian element to the game on ‘Nil’, a folk-influenced performance quaffing from a psychedelic cauldron. Rhymes are recitals (but not your oik-ish street poet, think more Ed Scissor & Lamplighter educated by Blackadder), and beats paint pictures of royalty trying to resist the ravages of dread and paranoia, rather than just throwing the emcees a loop. Living and dying by their definition of the dark arts, this will greatly benefit your gramophone.

Wiki’s observation that there’re ‘No Mountains in Manhattan’ should land him a top 10 spot come the end of the year. An aggressive flow that the Ratking member fine tunes into a melodic, sometimes mindful set of skewers, has the keys to a fertile carnival of sound that’s a long way from the candy floss and celebration remit, plus spots from Ghostface and Your Old Droog. Sending out an S-O-S of licks, plucks, squalls and keys, live quartet Son of Sam have got the goods to get a bevy of celebrated underground heroes on board. The team assembled to ascend ‘Cinder Hill’ – J-Live, Masta Ace, Sadat X, Prince Po, Guilty Simpson,  Soundsci and more – keeps the hip-hop band template fresh, funky and nimble at every turn, though rather for the great outdoors, they build a fortress of solitude that’s all killer and “raw like Eddie in a leather suit”.





Another month, another heist involving Giallo Point, this time fronted by the plucky PhybaOptikz, a babyface assassin in a pair of Air Max charged with half inching the ‘Voynich Manuscript’. As ever the beats’ mob connections go all the way to the top, with Farma G and Sonnyjim accessories to the firm. Brandishing the jolliest of hockey sticks, noble B-boys Elemental and Dr Syntax are the voice of The Menagerie, a four man funtime team of English pleasantries going hunting for the ‘Odd Beast’. Crystal clear conversation set to super spiffy beats putting the awe in roaring 40s, only step to these toffs if you think you’ve got the teeth to tackle their upper crust.

Ready to smack the monocle off your boat, Legion of Goon’s ‘Project Goon’ plonks the truth out there with a smash and grab of double ‘ard bastard beats and rhymes that are “British like fish and chips” and certified to give you spine splints. Stig of the Dump and Stu the Don blaze up to leave you fearing the beard. Not quite on Stephen King’s coattails but not without steps into darkness, Blockhead’s ‘Funeral Balloons’ signify an instrumental set of trip hop distinctions creating a loop-clearing cross section to challenge any mic contraption.





Blinders to take a peek at this month, from Stylz & Wells, Verb T and Gift of Gab.












The most eclectic of playlists

Monolith Cocktail - Magna


Reflecting the eclectic scope of the music featured and critiqued on the Monolith Cocktail the Quarterly Playlist is a three monthly showcase of both our favorite tracks and of those that may have dipped below the radar and we recommend you dig out. Our last hurrah of 2016, the final collection and final post of the year, opens with the fiery psychic drone rock of Wolf People and the motorik speedball shoegaze of Teksti-TV 666, moving on through the petulant skulk of the grunge-rockers PABST and the New York troubadour pop of Eleanor Friedberger, before gently slipping into a ambient traversing section that features the Cosmic Range, BE project and The Orb.  Matt Oliver‘s Rapture & Verse Hip-Hop picks are next, with a medley of the Wheelchair Sports Camp, The Mongrels and A Tribe Called Quest, followed by the comedown and the final ethereal curtain call of Bob Lind.

A full tracklist with links to reviews is included below. We’ve also added the previous three playlists.


Wolf People  ‘Ninth Night’
Teksti-TV 666  ‘Metsarosvo’
PABST  ‘Bias’
Deep Heat  ‘Pick Up The Pieces’
Eleanor Friedberger  ‘Cathy With The Curly Hair’
Scandinavia  ‘SexLife’
Magna  ‘Get It Right’
MTG  ‘Scrap It’
Soft Hearted Bastards  ‘The Creeps’
The Bordellos  ‘Did The Bastards At The BBC Kill John Peel’
Dungen  ‘Trollkarlen och Fageldrakten’
The Cosmic Range  ‘Kowboy’
BE  ‘Into’
The Orb  ‘First – Consider The Limits’
Wheelchair Sports Camp  ‘Teeth’
The Mongrels  ‘Duppy Conqueror’
Mickey Factz, Nottz, Showtyme  ‘Some People’
A Tribe Called Quest  ‘Dis Generation’
Elzhi  ‘Introverted’
Midaz The Beast, Planet Asia, Murdoc  ‘Cunning Lyricists’
Zion I, Ariano  ‘Not Ur Fault’
Aesop Rock  ‘My Belly’
CZARFACE  ‘Two In The Chest’
Danny Brown  ‘Ain’t It Funny’
L’Orange, Mr. Lif, Akrobatik, DJ Qbert  ‘The Scribe’
Trance Farmers  ‘The Veil’
Ben Reed  ‘Station Masters’
The Lancashire Hustlers  ‘June Wedding’
Robert Rotifer  ‘Keep It Together’
Bob Lind  ‘A Break In The Rain’


Part Three 



Part Two



Part One



Aesop Rock to Bob Lind.


Monolith Cocktail: ‘Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul (1963 – 1969)’


Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavours to offer a more eclectic spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists; stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album doesn’t deserve the number 32 spot and has been placed at number 33 instead.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums from 2016 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to make some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2016, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar.

Split into two parts, the first installment begins with Aesop Rock’s‘s hip-hop masterpiece The Impossible Kid and ends with the latest adroit songbook from the legendary troubadour Bob Lind. In between those two sagacious bookends are albums from David Bowie, David Broughton, Danny Brown, Cluster, Eleanor Friedberger and John Howard (plus many others).

Aesop Rock   ‘The Impossible Kid’  (Rhymesayers)

Monolith Cocktail - Aesop Rock

“The waterfall of words, snide quips and intricate stories recalled from both close to home and far away worlds, are as good as he’s ever done”.  Matt Oliver 

Seeming to get better rather than older (and don’t you dare mention the ageing process as per ‘Lotta Years’), the original ‘Bazooka Tooth’ is still ablaze out of somewhere to the left, but now giving lesser mortals more of a chance of accessing him than ever before. Entirely self-produced and applying funkiness to the bulkiness of alien-scanned beats he’s always rocked his way, AR’s extra superpower as the self-deprecating hero of syllaballistics (“the impossible kid , everything that he touch turns probably to shit”), is to humanise the fantastical and still make the everyday sound like a comic book lead, even when soul is bared for all to analyse. Rock also added more great cover art, and the visuals for ‘Rings’ and ‘Kirby’ are bound to feature in hip-hop video of the year lists.

Read original review here


Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra   ‘A.H.E.O’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Monolith Cocktail - A.H.E.O.

 

‘Elevating beyond the borders it was created behind, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra’s root foundations shuffle and shake free of their stereotypes to move freely in an increasingly amorphous musical landscape. You’re just as likely to hear vibrations and traces of Dub, native Indian plaintive ghostly echoes, Sun Ra’s otherworldly jazz and funk as to hear the indigenous Haiti sounds and Afrobeat pulse. Tony Allen is once more at the heart of another bustling, dynamic explosion in rhythm.’  Dominic Valvona

 

Progenitor and embodiment of the Afrobeat drum sound, still in high demand four decades after his explosive partnership with Fela Kuti, the much-venerated Tony Allen once more extends his infectious percussion style beyond the African homeland. Sharing an obvious entwined history with Africa, the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti proves both an esoterically mysterious and congruous collaborative foil to Allen’s distinct drumming patois.

Invited to perform in 2014 by the French Institute Of Haiti’s director Corinne Micaelli, Allen’s visit would end with a public broadcasted concert in the main square of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Collaborating with Allen would be a cross-section of local percussionists and singers recruited by vocalist, dancer, ‘voodoo priest’ and director of the Haitian National Bureau Of Ethnology, Erol Josué; Josué would himself lend his sweet yearning and reflective tones to two of the tracks on this album.

The call went out and the great and good of the Haitian music scene came. Racine Mapou de Azor, the Yizra’El Band, Lakou Mizik and, featured on the Monolith Cocktail at the start of the year and one of the choice albums of 2016 with their highly-rated Manman M Se Ginen LP, RAM. Another Monolith regular and one-time Port-au-Prince resident, Mark Mulholland was drafted in as the experimental orchestra’s guitarist, and as it would turn out, eventual legacy overseer. Swelling the ranks still further were Olaf Hund, recruited on keyboards and ‘electronics’, and an old friend of Allen’s, the bassist Philippe Dary, who became the de facto musical director. With only five days of studio rehearsal time to gel and work out their performance, the sessions proved both, as Mulholland observed, ‘chaotic’ and overwhelming’. Based upon various sparks of inspiration and rhythmic workouts the eventual structured compositions took shape from organically flowing jams. At the heart of each, Allen’s signature Afrobeat drums and Dary’s liquid, and often funky sumptuous basslines.

Read the full review here…



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

(Analog  Africa)

Monolith Cocktail - Legend of Funaná – The Forbidden Music Of The Cape Verde Islands

‘Following the summertime thrills aplenty Space Echo – The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed compilation, with the emphasis on the Funaná; Analog Africa continues to pay homage to the previously suppressed music genre with a reissue of, what many consider, the best Funaná album ever recorded, Bitori Nha Bibinha.’   DV

Helping to ignite a full-on Funaná revival, the quintessential and legendary anthem of Cape Verde’s once banned – considered too salacious and unruly by the Portuguese authorities who ran this archipelago of islands until the mid 1970s – infectious music style was given a reprise by Analog Africa this year. A master class from the inter-generational duo of singer Chando Graciosa and renowned gaïta maestro Victor Tavares (better known as Bitori), who’d both grown up with the blazing and often raucous Funaná, Bitori Nha Bibinha captures the passion and spirit of the people and the times it survived.

Read the full review here…


The Bordellos  ‘How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One’
(Small Bear Records)

Monolith Cocktail

‘Despite the caustic bravado and world-weary bitterness channeled into the antagonistic song titles on this new album, The Bordellos lo fi edicts are always surprisingly melodic. Think of them as a tuneful The Fall; resigned and swiping at society but hopeful enough to challenge it despite banging their collective heads on the doors of the music industry for years.’

Gaining this coveted spot (sic) in our ‘choice albums’ feature for perseverance in the face of despair, the St. Helens trio once more man the barricades with another despondent protest. Feeling, like many of us (I know we do), out of synch with the digital epoch, they rally against the Internet’s most depressing byproducts, and the loss of real ‘motherfuckers’ from the music world – who they duly list on a song of the same name; a cry for a new leader or at least more individuals and rebels. Wearily antagonistic, righting slights and a lifetime of rejection, The Bordellos go for broke on How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One with titles such as ‘Did The Bastards At The BBC Kill John Peel?’, ‘Gary Glitter’ and ‘Piss On Spotify’. Uneasy truths to a lo fi backing of The Velvet Underground, Julian Cope and The Fall abound, yet this could be the group’s best and most complete songbook to date.

Read the full review here…



David Bowie  ‘Blackstar’   (ISO/RCA)

Blackstar cover art - Monolith Cocktail

‘…this could be the most pure, at least concerned, version of Bowie yet. Resurrected free of his characterisations, the gilded “Blackstar” is just as uneasy and scared at the anxieties, stresses and daunting prospects of the future as the rest of us. Fame, celebratory is mere smoke after all and offers little in the way of comfort and safety in the face of the impending end times. Yet despite being easily his best album since Earthling, Blackstar is still underwhelming and falls short of being a classic.’  DV

 

The swansong of an irreplaceable polymath proved to be one of the year’s most sad moments, as the man who fell to Earth, Aladdin Sane, the Young American, the thin white duke, the absolute beginner, whichever version you fell in love with, departed for the ether. We lost a great many unique and inimitable artists in 2016 but though ever death is tragic none left quite the pit of despair that David Bowie‘s did. Don’t even try to crown a successor; he was a force unto himself, the “Blackstar”, the supernova of pop. Reams have been written – a great many by myself – yet no one will ever truly reflect his importance and legacy.

Though released just before his death the augur that is ★ was a curtain call. Just as oblivious to Bowie’s fatal cancer as everyone else, I did remark at the time that this album seemed to be a poignant goodbye, an elegy even. Returning to a first love, jazz, Bowie who proved an eager saxophonist in the burgeoning years of his career worked with a N.Y. West Village jazz troupe to produce one of his best albums in decades. Old faces, including a decomposing Major Tom, themes and sounds returned, with traces of Diamond Dogs, Scary Monsters, Black Tie White Noise and Outside. Despite the often cryptic and veiled words, this was an anxious, weary and reflective Bowie; looking back before a rebirth. A pity time ran out for him.

Read the full review here…


David Thomas Broughton  ‘Crippling Lack Vol. 1 – 3’  (Song, By Toad Records)

Monolith Cocktail - David Thomas Broughton

‘An ambitious undertaking, David Thomas Broughton’s sprawling opus Crippling Lack is both musically and geographically expansive. Recorded trans-continental style with a host of collaborators over the last few years, Broughton, who’s based himself more recently in the capitals of, unbelievably, North and South Korea, has laid down various parts and vocals in France, the UK and the US. Logistically impressive, Crippling Lack is a testament to the DIY ethic and remote collaborative experimentation.’ DV

A magnificent and masterful undertaking by Broughton, the Crippling Lack trio of recordings is demarcated into three parts, the entire song collection, if you decide to experience in one sitting, stretching to 1 hour 40 minutes. It features twelve songs in all of varying meticulously and slowly unfurled beauty, with some, epics in their own right. The press release separates the album out into a musical journey, beginning with what it calls ‘deceptively approachable pop songs’, moving through a more testing ‘unraveling and disintegrating and barely-stretched fragments’ segment, before ending with a final section that ‘slowly weaves’ all the loose and previous sections together.

It is nothing short of a magnum opus; cohesive and flowing along to a sophisticated backing, sonorous with the artist’s venerable travailed voice, and his acerbic foils wit. The album’s scope is immense even though it meanders to a, mostly, folk signature and gentle accompaniment. It is outstanding even by Broughton’s standards.

Read the full review here…


Danny Brown  ‘Atrocity Exhibition’  (Warp)

Monolith Cocktail - Danny Brown

“Juggling the mic like a grenade missing a pin…one of 2016’s most individual threats.”  MO

‘Atrocity Exhibition’ throws up so many positive talking points. #1 – the transatlantic odd couple of Danny Brown and Paul White, a relationship rooted in 2011’s ‘Rapping With Paul White’ album, fears nothing and no-one. #2 – Brown continues to show he has one of the maniacal mic grips in the game that you can’t ignore, here with added malleability. #3 – White’s reputation has really hit its stride on an upward curve; though other producers contribute (Black Milk, Alchemist and Evian Christ are not to be sniffed at), it’s essentially the Englishman’s show on the boards. #4 – a show stopping hook from Kendrick Lamar on ‘Really Doe’ doesn’t hurt one bit. #5 – despite Brown’s mile-a-minute persona shearing safety bars off rollercoasters, and White and co by default becoming the straight man sidekick, you really have no idea what’s around the next corner, from soaring superhero soundtracks to proper hip-hop dope to something suspiciously shuffling through the undergrowth. “This is not regular rap”, Brown offers. Amen.

Read the original review here


Cappo  ‘Dramatic Change of Fortune’  (YNR)

Monolith Cocktail - Cappo

“When autumn becomes winter, here’s your listening.” MO

You should always bet on the flow of Nottingham’s finest that has evolved into a complex work of art. On past albums and years gone by Cappo would’ve destroyed opposition with crosshairs locked and ammo loaded; here his own brand of introspection, still packing uniquely orbital rhyme schemes but now more than ever full of coded messages and open ended verses awaiting interpretation, kills the noise and heighten the mysteries surrounding the emcee’s inner thoughts and circles. It packs two absolutely heaters of singles as well – ‘OOB’ and ‘Ether’ are both unassuming phantoms of the opera, but white hot in a pretty slimline session – another contributing factor to the building of the suspenseful and mournful, chilling on a razor’s edge. YNR took the weight off their plates in 2016, but this was easily the jewel in their calendar year crown.

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CHUCK  ‘My Band Is A Computer’  (Old Money Records)

Monolith Cocktail (Dominic Valvona) - CHUCK review

CHUCK’s kooky collage-rock and lo fi wonky electronic pop, which congruously flows between The Magnetic Fields, Mercury Rev, Weezer, Apples In Stereo and even The Pixies, absorbs its influences to create a gorgeous, quietly optimistic, kind of melancholy and pathos.’ DV

From the inimitable label of hopeless optimism and resigned despair another lo fi songbook of obscure modern idiosyncratic pathos. Released via Audio Antihero’s new imprint Old Money Records this marvelous kooky collection from Massachusetts’s songwriter and multi- instrumentalist CHUCK is a congruous bedfellow of the label’s previous releases from Benjamin Shaw, Frog and Cloud.

Bringing an upstate, more pastoral, lilt to the New York metropolis where he now resides, CHUCK’s quasi-Tropicana Casio preset bed of quirky wounded observations are both funny and profoundly sad; lo fi but ambitious. An outsider in some sense; an observer of the foibles and peculiarities of the Brooklyn boroughs, the maverick artist paints a reflective, wry and often ironic picture of our modern times.

Far too good to be hidden away his collection of songs, penned over the last decade, have thankfully been given the platform to reach a wider audience.

Read the full review here…


Clipping  ‘Splendor & Misery’  (Sub Pop)

Monolith Cocktail - Clipping

“Provocative electronics and sermons from the LA leftfielders will clamp you to the edge of your seat.”  MO

For the record, ‘Splendor & Misery’ is a 20/80 split in favour of the latter. Comprehensively proving that the end of the days is still compelling material when done as well as this, particularly in this year of all years, Clipping were another to give themselves a veneer of accessibility with their zero gravity screams. Futility set adrift to a perfectly captured fear found frozen behind the visor, had rhymes dealing with the pending shitstorm with West Coast fearlessness usually reserved for low-rider rollin’. Interspersed with choral episodes praying for the album’s lead, the intelligent stage management demands your full attention; that’s to say, it’s a struggle to dip in and out or pick a favourite track by itself – do so and you’ll risk detracting from the whole performance pushing hip-hop’s outersphere. What odysseys are made of and reputations are built on.

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Cluster  ‘1971 – 1981’  (Bureau B)

Monolith Cocktail - Cluster 1971 - 1981

‘Patriarchs of the German music scene, Cluster, are quite rightly celebrated for their contribution to the last forty-odd years of experimental electronic and ambient music with this latest grandiose gesture of adulation. Though attempts have been sporadic, past collections have gathered together, more or less, all the standard Cluster recordings, leaving out live and more obscure albums, until now. German label Bureau B, concentrating on the group’s output from 1971 to 1981, chronologically compile a full discography from that decade, which for the first time ever includes the previously unreleased Konzerte 1972/1977 album.’ DV

All attentively remastered, rather impressively I might add, by Willem Makkee, the nine-album box set offers the die-hards another excuse to own the back catalogue, with the added bonus of requiring that former live LP that got away, Konzerte, and for those not familiar or with a passing fancy, the best complete picture and evolution yet of the much revered group. 1971- 1981 will serve as a worthy testament and reawakening of the Cluster back catalogue and legacy: now sounding better than ever, the remastering for once very much welcomed.

Read the full review here…



Ian William Craig  ‘Centres’  

Monolith Cocktail - Ian William Craig

Passing us by on release Ian William Craig‘s unassuming but nevertheless epic sweeping ambient opus Centres arrived without much fanfare on its release. However, these cerebral peregrinations, songs of hope, soulful expansive hymns and sonic journeys into space were given rave reviews by those who did pay attention. And so initially missing coverage on the Monolith Cocktail, we’ve made up for it since by featuring tracks from the album in our ‘quarterly playlists’ and now, in our ‘choice albums of 2016’ feature. It is one of the year’s most beautiful, inspiring and often just meditative concatenate suites; offering glimmers of awe.  DV


Dillon & Paton Locke  ‘Food Chain’ (Full Plate)

Monolith Cocktail - Rapture & Verse Hip Hop selection

“Gourmet underground platters rooted in the South but giving you seven courses of funk and back.”  MO

It might only be found as small print on some menus, but who are we to ignore prime indie cuts encouraging you to “pour a bucket of gravy over yourself and just feel that”. When they’re not rewriting the rules of the Ice Bucket Challenge, Dillon & Paton Locke are always gnawing on something, rhyming as they chew it. Funky, crate-rifling beats are laced with an overzealous streak, cogently able to stop the album dead from 60 to 0 and then re-energise it the other way, and a press-record-and-just-go appetite never misses a trick on the mic, with a hint of political soap-boxing and getting down to some grown man, take a look around biz. Their guest chef specials aren’t too salty either – R&V favourites Homeboy Sandman and J-Live, Dres from Black Sheep and people’s president Lobsterdamus, help flavour a certified belly-buster for 2016.

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Ed Scissor & Lamplighter   ‘Tell Them It’s Winter’ (High Focus)

Monolith Cocktail - Ed Scissors & Lamplighter

“An intriguingly created world of wisdom, paranoia, numbness and finding peace in its own mind”.  MO

High Focus have had the mother of all years, the consistency of everything they’ve dropped dominating the last 12 months of homegrown hip-hop. Ocean Wisdom (‘Chaos 93’) boasted youthfully infinite ammunition. Dabbla (‘Year of the Monkey’) got up to a whole load of japery reaching across the bar. Fliptrix (‘Patterns of Escapism’) executed label ideals to the fullest. Yet in the spirit of thinking differently, Ed Scissor and Lamplighter, the absolute antithesis of those mentioned, take the honours by a short head. Blair Witch hip-hop with its nose to the wall, barely keeping its head above water while barely raising an eyebrow, pulls off the Houdini-like stunt of subverting hip-hop norms while sticking close to them like a second skin. A slow and deliberate bittersweet bloom of triumph, creating the ultimate flip script of offering easy solace and comfort when all looks lost.

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Elzhi  ‘Lead Poison’ (Glow365)

Monolith Cocktail - Elzhi

 

“Ear-catching narratives covering the everyday grind…not far off being a complete LP”.  MO

Coming out the other side of mental health issues has Elzhi using ‘Lead Poison’ as catharsis, resulting in some of the year’s most vividly delivered rhymes and storytelling in the process. Done so in near enough bite sized chapters, proves that if the story’s interesting enough, it’s long enough. Never buckling under pressure, even when the likes of ‘Cloud’ feel like everything is conspiring against him (not to mention the potential of his health showing overall weakness), heart is worn on sleeve and self-examinations are set to a forceful soul soundtrack pushing its protagonist. With softer neo-soul going back to Elzhi’s Slum Village heritage, there’s also room for a little light heartedness, with ‘She Sucks’ doing forbidden love by garlic and wooden stakes, and ‘MisRight’ bending the thesaurus. An album that goes from strength to strength, listen on listen.

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Eleanor Friedberger ‘New Views’ (Frenchkiss Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Eleanor Friedberger New View

Another album we missed on its release, Eleanor Friedberger‘s third solo spot New View is another impressive songbook of idiosyncratic pop. Streamlining the signature intelligent reference-heavy prose of her sibling act The Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor continues the clever turns of phrase but in a more attentive, breezier and lightened but less cluttered manner. With elan she sets out on a dry-witted but emotionally philosophical picnic through the East Village with Patti Smith and Harry Nilsson in tow.


Paul Hawkins and the Awkward Silences  ‘Outsider Pop’  (Blang Records)

Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences - Monolith Cocktail

‘Lethargically executed and quintessentially an antifolk statement of protest, Outsider Pop is a highly infectious album of pop parodies that penetrate the bland veneer of the contemporary irksome vacuum known as the mainstream. Shambling discontent at its finest.’  DV

The disgruntled savant of disco funk pop and antifolk Paul Hawkins completely in the dark, oblivious to the dreadful proclamation of David Bowie’s impending death paid an augur homage to his white-suited and booted pop incarnation of the 1980s by transmogrifying ‘China Girl’ into an Outsider Pop anthem. Produced by that nutflake nostalgist, and one of the busiest men in the industry right now Ian Button (of the mighty Papernut Cambridge, Gare du Nord label and umpteen other projects), Hawkins’ third album also finds foibles of inspiration from REM, The Fall, Toto and The Art Of Noise; reflecting a much broader sound than before. The no wave, white funk, pop melodies act as a Trojan Horse, the themes far from advocating a hedonistic lust for life or suggesting the listener suppress the doldrums of modern life, are filled with malcontent at the state of the world.

Read the full review here…


John Howard  ‘Across The Door Sill’  (Occultation Recordings)

Monolith Cocktail - John Howard

 

‘Not so adrift and experimental as to have cut all ties to his signature profound sincerity and sad romanticism, John Howard’s Across The Door Sill dares to go further with an even more immersive experience. Expanding his poetic lyricism and piano performances, stark and stripped-back, his vocals multiplied to fill the space and build the atmosphere; Howard has room and time to create some stirring music. It is a most sagacious reflection from the artist, still finding the inspiration to develop and take risks. In doing so he’s reached what could be one of the creative pinnacles of his career.’  DV

Imbued with the 13th century poet Rumis ‘Quatrains’ poem, which encourages us to broaden our horizons and to not just accept what we’ve done in the past, the adroit songwriter and pianist John Howard experiments with a stripped back sound of multilayered vocals and the melodious gravitas on his latest songbook Across The Door Sill. Attentive and epic the album’s sagacious stream of consciousness is a deeply reflective observance on where we are now. In no hurry to get to a hook or chorus, his source material, a collection of unhindered, unhurried and floating poems, was developed overtime, set to music in an organic fashion. Hence why three of the five songs on this LP are nine-minutes long. On a successful run of collaborations and solo projects Howard is enjoying his most productive period yet in a career that’s spanned five decades.

Read the full review here…


Illogic  ‘A Man Who Thinks With His Own Mind’  (Weightless)

Monolith Cocktail - Illogic

“Streams of quotable IQ create a fever dream. Snooze, you lose.”  MO

Ohio rhyme scientist Illogic provided his own version of a hip-hop out of body experience, a canon of verbosity when bedding down for the night and setting free streams of consciousness while looking through a telescope. This in itself created its own contradiction of being an album expressly trained to set you afloat (The Sound Cultivator’s star-shaped soul powered by plasma rays > strictly no cloud rap), which still kept you wide awake with naturally intricate rhymes, both book and street smart, about life, the universe and everything else. Anyone who starts an album with the observation that “the tofu was not as firm as I’m used to” deserves nothing but praise and respect. The modern equivalent of becoming engrossed in a good book that tells your imagination to run.

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J-Zone   ‘Fish n Grits’  (Old Maid Entertainment)

Monolith Cocktail - J-Zone

“Dripping in home truths from his funk soapbox, disillusionment with hip-hop and its cultural hangers-on has never been more entertaining”.  MO

Better placed than most to justify a love-hate relationship with hip-hop, J-Zone proclaimed “there’s only two types of music – good and bad. Make good music, or shut the fuck up.” Paired with helium alter-ego/juvenile imaginary friend Chief Chinchilla as hilarious equal opportunity offender, and showing the strain of ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ remains strong, ‘Fish n Grits’ goes in with scathingly relatable accuracy about the state of the game, misty-eyed nostalgia replaced by a nose-bloodying team of goons busting a whole load of myths. Additionally, whereas Zone’s production used to pop off all over the place in a skilfully spring-loaded criss-cross, he’s honed his own funk skills into a true mastery to compliment his industry disses. Hallelujah that he can’t leave the game alone.

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Fela Ransome-Kuti And His Koola Lobitos  ‘Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul 1963-1969’  (Knitting Factory Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Fela Kuti

‘Hot stepping and sure footing through Savoy label like jazz and Stax/Volt revue soul, Fela and his first ever professional band Koola Lobitos were the missing link on the eventual road to the Afrobeat phenomenon. An evolving Fela, only a few shuffles short of cultivating his signature, already shows a raw energy on this compilation’s studio and live recordings.’  DV

 

In the midst of another celebration and anniversary appraisal the Afrobeat pioneer and political protagonist Fela Kuti has seen the back catalogue legacy re-released and repackaged countless times. There’s been a stage production of his life, and a documentary film in the last couple of years alone. But one of the most revealing and raw tributes is this burgeoning showman showcase; a labour of love that collates together a number of previously scattered, thought lost, rare early recordings – both in the studio and on stage – from the stax/funk/soul years. A “labour of love”, stemming from Toshiya Endo’s African Music Home Page website, launched in the late 90s, the Fela Kuti and His Koola Lobitos material were collected from around the world, from the collections of various fans. By day a professor of Chemistry at Ngoya University, Endo’s passion and hobby of cataloguing West African music attracted the author of the Fela: The Life & Times Of An African Musical Icon bio Michael E. Veal. Lucky for us the dynamic duo produced this lavish and arduous compilation of explosive early Fela beauties; one of the best and revelatory introductions to the great polymaths work yet.

Read the full review here…


Bob Lind  ‘Magellan Was Wrong’  (Ace Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Bob Lind

Another masterclass from the sagacious Bob Lind, his latest album is a majestical and often jazzy lilting lesson in songwriting. With decades of elan and adroit performance behind him Lind isn’t ready just yet to rest on past melodic triumphs and spoils, showing himself ready to adopt and try out new ideas on Magellan Was Wrong – a reference to the Portuguese explorer who first circumnavigated the world, proving it was of course a globe and not flat, though Lind’s song of the same name and homage metaphor questions that wisdom in the face of despondency and disappointment. The characteristic voice and style is of course signature Lind, the songs and themes timeless. With a host of producers, including progressive jazz pianist and composer Greg Foat, on board this strongly nautical feel and reference strong songbook, both the entertainer and troubadour are lent a new lease of life.


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