Album Reviews Galore
Words: Dominic Valvona





An eclectic array of reviews, Dominic Valvona’s long-running Tickling Our Fancy column aims to cast the net wide, choosing a diverse collection of recent and upcoming releases for your perusal.

This month’s selection includes two special reissues, the first, the cross-pollinating “Azerbaijani Gitara” music of the late Caucasus legend Rüstəm Quliyev, the second, a beatific Gnawa set of recordings from the late esteemed Moroccan master Maalam Mahmoud Gania.

I also have a gander at the fantastical anthropologist ambient tape from the shrouded Maitrii Orboreal Ceremony, and a new album of sun-dappled affirmations from the Beach Boys imbued pastoral recluse Mike Gale. There’s the American three-piece Pons, who launch a torrid of punk and indie-dance mayhem on the unsuspecting public with their debut album, Intellect. From the prolific Hamburg label of experimental electronica, there’s a new reggae-imbued techno suite from Schlammpeitziger, and a very special project from the renowned producer Ian Brennan, his most personal yet, the Sheltered Workshop Singers (perhaps the first recording of its type anywhere). And finally, Esbe takes us on an Egyptian and Sufi India fantasy with her new synthesised album, Saqqara.


Pons ‘Intellect’
(Stick ’n’ Move Records) Album/17th September 2020




A volatile chaos that is remarkably tactile in places, the blossoming erratic American trio of Pons throw everything into their debut album Intellect. The culmination of various mischievous bombardments and jerked dances on a slew of EPs and singles, from a band that first formulated their blueprint in North Carolina in 2018 before relocating a year later to Virginia, this paranoid hectic and ridiculous fully realised long-player whips up a torrid of unhinged energy.

Reminding me of that first White Denim album, yet coarser and heavier, Intellect is full of ideas in what, by now, is a worn cross-section of post-punk and garage related genres. From the off though, you know this is going to be something else; a diy friction of scuzzed garage/skate/doom punk that creeps as much towards the Gothic as it does towards indie-dance.

They set us up with a reverberated, eerie lead-in of “we got a winner” samples and bird squawks, then roll pendulously into an harassed vision of The Stooges ripping it outta the Talking Heads before speed-freaking style riffing on Liquid Liquid, Ludus, Essential Logic and The Black Lips: Phew! Suck that up.

An ennui of rhythms, time changes and moods flip constantly between intense mania and more limbering no-wave downtown NYC Keith Herring doodled electro-funk. ‘Primal Urge’ is just that: a primal doom quickened, kettle rolling grunt of 80s Californian punk. ‘Jimmy Two-Dimes’ fucks up brilliantly The Strokes, and even, smashes up the NY Dolls and Suicide. But if we’re talking of real concentrated madness, ‘Dick Dastardly’ runs that cartoon scoundrel through a gruff free fall of James Chance, Ornate Coleman (yeah imagine that!) and space rock.

Funhouse Teenage Shutdowns, Nuggets garage gets roughed up on ‘Fabrication’, and Black Randy fights it out with The Electric Eels on the paranoia enclosing ‘Polly’s Hotel’. Single ‘Subliminal Messages’ takes a different musical route entirely; the advertiser slated consumerist nightmare limbers onto a dancefloor occupied by Disco Drive, Gang Gang Dance and Juan MacClean. ‘I See My Name In Lights’ bastardizes Electric 6, DAF, the Italian proto-punk dance miscreants Halleluah!, Renegade Soundwave and Death Grips: perhaps a touch of a synth-punk Beastie Boys.

What a record. I’m not sure I could really argue that the Pons are doing anything particularly new. Yet Intellect has quickly enthralled and excited me. Subtle meets the hardliners, as the bonus of youth drudges, sludges and drums up a vortex of generation X and boomer credulity. Nothing short of a brilliant noise, energy directed for the benefit of all, a glorious skewered and deranged indie-dance album of punk snot petulance and fun.




Mike Gale ‘The Star Spread Indefinite’
Album/25th September 2020




The former Co-Pilgrim and Black Nelson instigator Mike Gale may have retired from performing live some time ago now, but he’s still been highly prolific in recording. Using his trusty 32-track TASCAM cassette recorder, in just the last 18 months Gale has released the Pacific Ocean lulled sorrowed album, Summer Deluxe, a recent compilation of (far from) unfinished works and B-side paeans and breezes entitled B, C, D Side Volume 1, and a lockdown mini-album, Sunshine For The Mountain God. And now with this latest acoustic-led songbook, Gale furnishes us with the astral dreamy entitled The Star Spread Indefinite.

That cosmological title was found amongst his recent reading material, in Justin Hopper’s The Old Weird Albion. In one particular section, the uncovering of an ancient piece of artwork, scratched into the wall of a flint mine in Sussex triggered a beautiful starry-poetic response from the discoverer who found and named it. As a poetic prompt it brings Gale out of the melancholy of lockdown into a most dreamy state of reflection. And in his most lulled, drifting ruminating moments, balances a languid sense of yearning despondency with a peaceable message of positive affirmation for our near-miraculous existence.

The Monolith Cocktail was lucky enough to share the album’s precursor video-track (created by Jussi Virkkumaa) recently, ‘Go Help’: A tropical-lilted wistful tiptoe sauntering, and disarming disconsolate bobbing continuation of the plaintive beachcomber Beach Boys sound that has permeated the reclusive polymath’s output for a number of years. That means more of those lulled layered harmonies and the present lingering presence of a distant lapping tide. Though Gale lends an English pastoral bent to the Beach Boys California beach combing romanticisms. You can hear it clearly on the 70s AM radio dial wash ‘Stripped Sunlight’, which has an air of the SMiLE era about it.

Elsewhere in his harmonious gauzy hushed way, Gale evokes the Laurel Canyon dappled loveliness of Marc Eric, a beachside relocated epic45 and Roger Bunn on the sweetly synthesized golden ray affirmation ‘This Year’. The starry lush ‘Pastel Coloured Warm’, with its bahbahbah lilting chorus, hints at a meeting between the Go-Betweens and Prefab Sprout. Albeit a less sparse version, Gale also channels the spirit of Sparklehorse throughout this often-gossamer songbook. There’s also an easing into the Yacht Rock genre and the 80s phaser-effect and dry-ice cool of Phil Collins to provide a softened pop feel to some of the washes.

With soothing élan and shimmery dreaminess, Gale aches and wistfully fights through the disappointment, knock backs and anxiety to lift himself above it all with repeated mantras of “I’ll get my wish”, or, “This year I’m going to make it.” Let’s hope he does make it, as Gale is a fine musician and songwriter. The Star Spread Indefinite confirms that.





See also…

Mike Gale ‘Go Help‘ Premiere 

Sweet Marie‘ 

B,C,D Sides Volume 1

Summer Deluxe‘ 




Schlammpeitziger ‘Ein Weltleck In Der Echokammer’
(Bureau B) Album/25th September 2020




After previously unconsciously composing a kind of reggae and dub vision of Kraut-tronica over nine albums, Cologne stalwart of thirty years Jo Zimmermann has decided to now consciously meld those genres to his quirky lilt of electronic music on the tenth album, Ein Weltleck In Der Echokammer (for those needing a translation, that’s “a world leak in the echo chamber”).

It wasn’t, we’re told, until Zimmermann’s friend and ‘reggae expert’ Bettina Lattak remarked upon the composer, illustrator and performance artist’s oblivious use of those Caribbean flavours that it all suddenly clicked. And for this latest electro-fusion, fun, radiant, bouncing and sub-tropical suite, he, unabashed, tinkers almost effortlessly with a reggae sound stripped of context, history and religion: Just the feel, vibe and resonance. In practice this results in dubby warbled bass and echo, limbering gaited rhythms and a laid-back candour. There’s even a lilted saunter of steel drums to be heard, bobbing away on the tropical soulful electro-funk ‘Handicapfalter’.

That relaxed sound and sway – bordering on sun-bleached escapism – is counterbalanced by electro-cool starry synths, industrial metallic scuttles and a sophisticated layering of synthesized toms, kick-drums and polygons. It’s a sound that transduces label mates Station 17 and Clap! Clap!, a more languid Dunkelziffer, Holgar Czukay and Kraftwerk into a kind of Krautrock Compass Points Allstars, or, a futurist Marvin Gaye produced by a late 70s post-punk erring Eno. The itching percussive space-y tweeting ‘Tanzfußfalle’ seems to have invited Air, Psycho & Plastic and International Pony onto a dancefloor. That Kraftwerk namedrop evidently is a given. Zimmermann, trading under his longstanding Schlammpeitziger persona, references the Baroque harpsichord neo-classical Trans-European Express suite ‘Spiegelsaal’ (or ‘The Hall Of Mirrors’ as most of us know it) on his own mirrored trans-alpine refracted Oompah magic ‘Hüftgoldpolka’. Imbued with the Dusseldorf unit’s own spell-casting allusions on fame and image, Zimmermann leads a merry dance of his own.

There are of course some serious moments on what is essentially a tempered subtle pleasant soundtrack of understated techno, Kosmische and dance music. In what is a newish development, on this the second release for Bureau B, Zimmermann takes to singing; adding a cryptic whimsy and curiosity of half-narrated and humming, sighing and despondent lyricism to a number of tracks.

A warping, bended and sometimes crystalline, sometimes rattling, reggae-light sonic quirk, Ein Weltleck In Der Echokammer seems to offer a bright window into another world; a ladder out of the echo chamber towards a nice suffusion of Germanic electronic escapism.






Sheltered Workshop Singers ‘Who You Calling Slow?’
Album/18th September 2020




Used to travelling around the globe as the inconspicuous in-the-field recordist and in-situ producer, Ian Brennan has made a critically acclaimed career out of recording some of the most persecuted, ignored and neglected communities: from an Albinism refuge in Tanzania to the Abatwa pygmies of Rwanda and the victims of Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia. It’s a varied career; with projects as diverse as the Malawi Mouse Boys film score that never was to recording the prisoners of that same country’s maximum-security facility in Zomba.

Yet all of those projects share Ian’s overriding raison d’être, as laid out in his brilliantly engaging How Music Dies (Or Lives) tome: ‘My concern is not cultural authenticity, but emotional truth and uncloying performances. Purity, without baggage!’

The Grammy-nominated award winner’s latest project though, is his most personal yet. Collaborating with his only sister, Jane, who has Down Syndrome, Ian uniquely facilitates a platform for the Sheltered Workshop of diverse voices; spotlighting the ‘developmentally-disabled’ population in what could be the first ever album of its kind. In his notes Ian refers to a nameless “music expert” and his recent assertions that there was no such thing as a “virgin birth”, as he called it, left in music, that it was all based on “outside influence”. Ian however calls upon that “expert” to witness “what can happen when you hand a guitar for the first time to someone who has only partial use of their limbs.” As do some of the ensemble on this remarkable set of recordings. For this is a cast that have never before had that access or even opportunity to make themselves heard through the connective joy of music: the same one Ian enjoys with his sister Jane.

This album is far from an exercise in either charitable virtue or worse, exploitation. It’s more an overdue platform for those who have previously been ignored, sidelined and even patronized due to their needs and disabilities; especially vocally with most unable to articulate because of a reduced vocabulary and speech impediment. However, Ian finds that there are few more “expressive singers” than that are “non-verbal”. And the various pure emotions on display from this group of performers, who’ve previously never sung in front of a mic or played an instrument before, are deeply felt and resonating.

It’s a language that often sounds strikingly stripped of convention; often, to my ears, having more in common with Ian’s recordings from Africa, especially the incredibly vulnerable Tanzania Albinism community on the White African Power album. Sometimes almost ghostly and fragile, and at other times harmonic and utterly compelling, these voices can be as succinct as the performer Dan repeating his name with a raspy growl over a twanged guitar string accompaniment, or, as amorphous as the group effect of mourned vocals on ‘I Love You (Farewell Father)’. Incantation mantra meets the soulful and even fearless.

Accompaniments come in the form of the most expressive and unburdened of experimentation. The already mentioned Dan seems to channel both Medieval sonnet and primal blues-y-swamp rock on his opening turn, whilst Grace’s life story, with its guitar buzz, distortion and drone, hints at psychedelic grunge and shoegaze doom. Tom’s disconsolate ‘Sometimes I Feel Just Like A Zombie’ is so mysterious with its throat-singing snouts and hums that it could be some lost Tibetan malady. Glass-sounding xylophone keyboard effects, trembled strings, slapped rhythms and choruses of kazoos all make appearances on this open and candid collection of unbridled and unreserved communication. But don’t ever think to buy this album just out of charity or compassion, or even as a novelty (even though proceeds do go to a great cause); instead buy it because of those purely uncloying and truthful performances. But buy it because it has personality and something important to say.





See also…

Ian Brennan ‘Interview’ (here)

Ustad Saami ‘God Is Not A Terrorist’ (here)

Malawi Mouse Boys ‘Score For A Film About Malawi Without Music From Malawi’ (here)

Tanzania Albinism Collective ‘White African Power’ (here)



Esbe ‘Saqqara’
(New Cat) album/25th September 2020




Channeling a dreamy cast of ancient Egyptian characters (both fictional and historical), the diaphanous-breathed enchantress Esbe conjures up a most atmospheric peregrination on her fifth album, Saqqara. A musical odyssey of imagined reincarnated lives, the vocalist, producer and composer drifts down an atavistic Aswan, past the landmarks of Pharaoh dynasties: A musical traverse that extends from one civilisation to the next, past Arabia towards Uruk and then into the mystifying regions of Indian Sufi.

But firstly, more about the Egyptian allure that drew Esbe in. The album’s title Saqqara (or sometimes spelt as “Sakkara”) refers to the desert edge site of the awe-inspiring pyramid-tomb of the IIIrd dynasty Pharaoh Djoser; son of the dynasty foundress Nimaathap, who ruled sometime between the years of 2667 – 2648 BC. Not just a resting place but a show of power, Djoser’s impressive tomb was conceived by the even more famous polymath prime minister, high priest and royal architect (known by some Egyptologists as the Egyptian Leonardo) Imhotep. It forms part of the legendary City Of The Dead necropolis that extends across Giza and Dahshu, but is the only one still standing. As it inspired countless others before, this Step Pyramid now forms at least some of the storytelling poetry and atmospherics of this continuously hypnotizing electronic, real instruments and vocal mirage.

Under that monument’s shadow Esbe imagines an Egyptian woman dreaming of a lover, symbolically laying down with the revered Arabian leopard, to an entrancing, circling exotic menagerie and a shimmered procession on the album’s opening ambient fusion ‘My Love Knows No Bounds’. Esbe also evokes the torrid romance between Cleopatra and Mark Anthony on an updated vision of the sword and sandal soundtrack, ‘Carry Me Away’. Half Mills & Boon, half alluring lovelorn exotic camel trail; the two star-crossed lovers are cast adrift to a sound-bed of ponderous synthesizer vapours and cluttering drums.

The desires of escapism of a slave girl, seconded to laboring under the deathly heat on the pyramids, form the yearning sorrows of the Celtic-Arabian ‘I’ll Fly’. Subtle tubular Japan-esque synth percussion and sand dune jazz, dusky trumpet serenade and snake rattles converge to create the musical accompaniment.

Biblical augurs of doom are given a pining 80s synth dreamwave of crystal rays on the duel environmental and lunar phenomenon ‘Paint The Moon’, and low key acid-Arabia undulations permeate the caressed astral ‘Bedouin Prince’.

Moving further east to the subcontinent of India, Esbe lulls and coos melodious devotionals in the style of the Sufi music of Qawaali. Inspired by that forms doyen Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Esbe spindles an electronic spiritual version of Transglobal Underground on ‘Qawaali Dance’, and builds up a filmic drama of unfurled beauty on the epic ‘Qawaali Siesta’.

It’s a cinematic musical world that fuses tablas, zither and electronics with the sounds of the desert wildlife. Vocally Esbe draws on her eclectic Polish, Lithuanian and Jewish roots whilst embracing the phrasings, melodies of North Africa, the Middle East and mystical India. It makes for an ambiguous and impressive vocal that soars aria-like and chorally fills the space: A voice that even smolders.

Saqqara is a dreamy soundtrack that perfectly encapsulates an Egyptian fantasy: one that has a lushly performed lyrical and thematic message for the present epoch.






Maitrii Orboreal Ceremony ‘Prismic Passageways’
(Moonside Tapes) Album/11th August 2020




An ethnographical fiction, bordering on Atlantis myth, the shrouded instigators behind this latest experimental ambient peregrination for the always intriguing cassette label Moonside Tapes set sail for an imaginary land of shaman rituals and mysticism.

With a backstory mined from the annals of real historical anthropology and the field recorder’s archives, those mysterious forces of the Maitrii Orboreal Ceremony build up a half-convincing soundscape catalogue of fantastical atmospheres from the missing geographical link of Maitrii, a South Pacific realm that could have been part of another fantastical dreamed-up sunken continent, Aninomola. Because it never existed, it acts as an inspiration and blank canvas for an atavistic soundtrack of quasi-tribal primitivism and spiritualism.

The back-story goes that the only remnants, evidence of this obscure place and civilization are to be found in the notebooks and recordings of the anthropologist Dr. August Maynard, who it seems disappeared; his belongings in turn, found by villagers on the shores of that equally mystical, though very real, abandoned oasis, Easter Island.

Split into two lengthy recordings of grouped together themes, Prismic Passageways is divided into Trance and Meditation suites. “Presented here unabridged” and in “stereo”, the trance quintet of seamlessly strung-together tracks swirls around in Shamanistic communion, whilst the meditation sextet of dreamy esoteric atmospheres ventures past the misty coastline holy places into the interior. That first side of the tape feels like a misty ether veiled rowing boat drift to Skull Island. Summoned forth into a strange landscape, obscured creature calls and the haunted presence of the Maitrii spirits lure the weary travellers into an ambient sound world. A sorcerer’s crystalline ray reaches out to break the omnipresent foggy mirage at one point, and later, those so far feint rolls across a frame drum and lightly woody beaten pallets are ramped up into heavily reverberating, echoed elongated rhythms. It ends in an intoxicant spiral of drug-induced hallucinogenics: a spiral wispy drowsy and unsure ceremony in the catacombs.

That flip side, which traverses a ‘dawn prayer’, the fabled sun eater, and references the Hebrew biblical place of the ‘Land of Beulah’ – a place somewhere between Heaven and Earth -, features a venerable resonance of South Seas ancient mantric voices, bobbing trickled wooden marimba and minimal ambient suffusions.

For those wishing something different from their ambient traverses, enter the strange anthropological mystery of the Maitrii Orboreal Ceremony.





See also:

Jimmy W ‘Midi Canoe’ (here)

Cousin Silas And The Gloves Of Bones ‘Kafou In Avalonia’ (here)




Reissue Features:


Rüstəm Quliyev ‘Azerbaijani Gitara’
(Bongo Joe) Album/18th September 2020




The history and travails of the fecund oil rich country of Azerbaijan are atavistic. This is a nation that has striven to gain independence from a string of empires: both Tsarist and Soviet Russia, Iran, Albania, and much further back, the great Mongol Khan Timur. Desired not only for its abundance in fossil fuels – providing 80% of the Soviet’s oil on the Eastern Front during WWII, and continuing even now to be a vital pipeline for the post-communist Russian Federation – but for its geographical corridor to its fellow Transcaucasia neighbours of Georgia and Armenia in the west, to the south, Iran, in the north, Russia, and to the west, the vast inland lake, the Caspian Sea.

Khanates, caliphates, communism and secularism – Azerbaijan’s first declaration of independence came in 1918 and with it the first secular Muslim state – have all made their marks on this fertile land that in recent years has attempted to make inroads with NATO, the EU and China, whilst shaking off corruption. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and with it Azerbaijan’s second declaration of independence, coups and counter-coups have hampered a smooth transaction towards democracy. Though the country remains stable, if governed for at least the last two decades by the Aliyev family.

 

Bordering as it does so many cultures, its no wonder that one of the country’s most celebrated guitar pioneers Rüstəm Quliyev absorbed and embraced such a diverse range of customs from abroad and far; from local modals, wedding celebrations and traditions to the regal music of the Persian court, Bollywood musicals and dreamy evocations of Arabia. Reissued by those tastemakers at Bongo Joe Records, this incredible sounding compilation brings together a smattering of eclectic guitar led tracks from the late legend’s expansive diy produced catalogue.

As with many of his forbearers and peers, Rüstəm would firstly master the region’s traditional instruments, the tar (an ornate curvy looking waisted long-necked lute) and saz (another long-necked lute instrument, shaped like a teardrop almost) before picking up the guitar; an instrument or version of which first trickled into the country from the Czech factory makers Jolana in the 1960s. But Rüstəm’s first introduction to the “gitara” was whilst serving in the Soviet military in Russia; an episode that soon ended, allowing the burgeoning talent to return to a civil war in his own homeland.

 

Hailing from the disputed mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, Rüstəm’s backyard was in the middle of a war. A convoluted history, but circumstances saw the autonomous Armenian ethnic-majority southern Caucasus area internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but governed by the Republic Of Artsakh. Both breakaway states locked horns in the wake of the Soviet implosion; old rivalries, disputes were bought to the surface and violence soon ensued, including ethnic cleansing atrocities. In 1994 Russia secured a ceasefire after six years of conflict. As a consequence of this upheaval, with populations dispersed in some cases, Rüstəm moved further west towards the country’s Caspian costal capital of Baku; a move that would connect the rural visionary’s formative training with the lakeside cosmopolitan city’s network of international visitors and students, one of which, a student from Afghanistan, would introduce Rüstəm to such Afghan luminaries as Ahmed Zair. Included in this collection, ‘Əfqan Musiqisi’ is inspired by a track on a mixtape his Afghan student pal made for him. As an honour to him this pining song includes the heartfelt lines, “Let’s meet each other again, my friend, because separating is like unexpected death.” It sounds, as does most of his music, like a cross-pollination of influences; a Silk Road lament of bobbed hand drums, threaded lute and synthesized moaning choral voices. That synthesizer patch work is an integral part of the music by the way; a cheap sounding keyboard theatre of misty gazing ambience, punctuation of bass and percussive rolls that accompanies the often rapid, if elegant, nimble guitar performances.

 

Imbued both by doyens of the country’s “gitara” scene, including fellow Karabakh legend Rafiq Hüsey (aka Ramis), yet experimenting himself by refashioning a Jolana Czech guitar, Rüstəm managed to craft a unique merger of the past and present, the traditional and innovative. It helped that he came from a family of engineers, and with his brothers was able to set up a home studio. You can, if inclined, read more details about his tweaks, tunings and such in the liner notes provided by the album’s compilers Ben Wheeler and Stefan William. But in short, his style incorporated a wealth of inspirations, even wider than those already mentioned. For example, you can hear that wealth of influences on both the scenic searching, rough ’n ’ready Persian blues and rock number ‘İran Təranələri’, and the misty-eyed classical, popular Iranian street number, ‘Fars Musiqisi’ – the former via a transmogrified Niles Rodgers. Looking towards India, a famous Bollywood song imbues the strangely windy, horn heralding Western gallop ‘Tancor Disko’: imagine Pino Ruches riding shotgun with Ry Coder and Link Wray. Rüstəm transforms the highly complex classical poetic and improvised folk traditions of the country’s Mugham culture with the silken courtly, echoed fret work of ‘Neyçün Gəlməz’, and replaces the saz for his rapid guitar riffing on the Baba Zula like psychedelic ‘Yanıq Kərəmi’ and 80s sheened wedding dance ‘Baş Sarıtel’.

A caucuses Dick Dale, Omar Souleyman, Hank Marvin, perhaps as some people have proposed, even a touch of funk Mardi Gras Eddie Hazel, Rüstəm was an extraordinary gifted guitarist; one that could riff and strangulate, wrangle a constant trickle of quickened notes and multilayering, resonating poetry. Often he mimics a voice, at other times the lute or saz, yet always sounds mesmerizing and untethered. A rich showcase indeed, it’s time to traverse the Transcaucasia, the Steppes and beyond for those bored with western guitar slingers. Dip your toes into a whole unique and heartening guitar landscape.






Maalam Mahmoud Gania ‘Aicha’
(Hive mind Records) Album/October 2020




After various cultural excursions in South America, Arabia and West Java, Hive Mind Records return full circle to the “Gnawa” music that launched them with a striking reissue package of the beatific Aicha album by the form’s late great doyen Maalam Mahmoud Gania. It was of course Gania’s final studio album Colours Of The Night that first kicked off the label a few years ago. Now, picking up on that saintly venerating Moroccan music again, and in collaboration with Gania’s family, the label have chosen this moment of great turmoil (you could say it was a calm, healing balm just when we needed it most) to release a previously shrouded 90s cassette tape of entrancing communion and invocations from an artist rightly celebrated for pushing Gnawa beyond his hometown of Essaouira to an international audience. For one thing, Gania is celebrated for, perhaps, releasing the first ever Gnawa record, but also for working with such luminaries as Pharaoh Sanders, Bill Laswell and Santana.

The Islamic spiritual devotional poetry, dance and music of the Gnawa ethnic group – a group of Sub-Saharan people descended from slaves – this trance like sound is said to be one of the roots of the “blues” rhythm. Though a scion of the Islamic faith, this music is less restrictive in paying devotion and paean to a host of earthly saints and supernatural “mluk” (or “melk”). These abstract entities, the mluk, are represented by seven saints and seven colours; colours that “entrancer” dancers can wear in the form of robes or scarves. On the album’s bluesy, even jazzy threaded ‘Assamaoui’, those trancers wear blue in reference to the song’s sainted “Sidi Sma” (or “Samaoui”) and their implied ascendant relationship to the sky.

 

Gnawa is, in short, a music, culture of displacement because of its origins, but taken hold in Morocco, especially Gania’s home the key port of Essaouira, a strategically important fortress trading port on the country’s western coastine with the Atlantic. Gania’s home is where this set of recordings was made with an intimate setting of musicians. Though information remains scant, Berkley scholar and curator of the Moroccan Tape Stash blog Tim Abdellah attempts to dig deep and uncover the details; invited as he was to write the extensive liner notes and context for this special reissue. In fact, I’ve learnt a hell of a lot from his writing and scholarly notes on the subject. There’s even a translation of the exonerating call and response lyrics, which are often short lines of veneration for sainted shrines and deities that can be both combined with or sung in any order depending on occasion and mood.

Aicha, itself a reference to “she of many monikers”, a powerful female entity with untold mythical origins, is rich with the anticipated quivery strums and throbbing tensions of Gania’s “gumbari” – a camel-skin covered three-string lute. Bowed, stringy and incessant, but gentler and deeper than his playing on Colours Of The Night, Gania’s signature instrument weaves a nice bluesy accompaniment to his soulful exaltations. As always Gania’s gumbari lead is joined by the scuttled, scratchy tin paddled percussive rhythm of the iron castanets, the “krakebs”. It makes for a lively but soothing liturgy of entrancing adulation and praise.

Hypnotizing as always, with the galloping kept to a minimum, this spiritual six-track album is a Gnawa highlight, and a great place to begin discovering this immersive and special music. The label’s done another first class job of bringing this to a wider audience.





See also…

Maalam Mahmoud Gania ‘Colours Of The Night’  (here)

Houssam Gania ‘Mosawi Swiri’  (here)

Moulay Ahmed El Hassani ‘Atlas Electric’  (here)

Rodrigo Tavares ‘Congo’  (here



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 Reviews Roundup/Dominic Valvona






In-between lockdowns the only good news is that at least this month and next is shaping up to be the busiest months in 2020 so far, with a significant rise in the number of releases. And so, just scratching the surface, I’ve picked out just a smattering of interesting and brilliant albums from the thousands that the Monolith Cocktail receives each month.

German contemporary electronic music pioneer Stefan Schwander under the Harmonious Thelonious title, creates a new sophisticated polygenesis dance album of itchy scratching no wave, the tribal and industrial for the Hamburg label Bureau B; a survey of various contemporary experimental artists come together for charity to interpret the amorphous Plague Score graphic score of Nick Gill; Japanese underground luminary Phew releases a sort of mixed compilation of new material and unreleased sessions from her 2017 album’s Light Sleep and Voice Hardcore for the Disciples imprint. Lurking in the jazz-fusion subterranean, a new project from classically leaning producer and guitarist Leo Abraham and jazz drummer Martin France and their ensemble of collaborators, is the latest release on Glitterbeat’s experimental instrumental imprint tak:til. Krononaut converges the avant-garde with post-rock, post-punk and krautrock. Sometime Roedelius foil Andrew Heath releases yet another understated ambient sound collage of the real and imaginary for the Disco Gecko label; the patient escapist ‘The Alchemist’s Muse’. The Israeli-Russian collective Staraya Derevnya release a treble album haul, though I’m concentrating on the marvellous culmination of improvised performances pieces and additional material avant-garde krautrock folk Inwards Opened The Floor.

Handling the pandemic and escalating divisive free fall with spite, energy and violence, there’s the new Map 71 album, Turn Back Metropolis, and a barricade breaching, loud and primal return for the Young Knives with their first full-on album in nearly seven years, Barbarians.


Young Knives ‘Barbarians’
(Gadzook) Album/4th September 2020


Hurtling back from a four-year hiatus with a barrage, the brothers Dartnall unleash an angry firestorm of a dystopian album; the first fully realised collision since 2013’s Sick Octave.

The now not so Young Knives have been busy sharpening their sonic disconsolations in all that time, ready to pounce with an attack on the senses; reappearing at a most depressingly divisive time. Not that there hasn’t been more than enough material to keep the Knives awake at night, but they’ve been inspired to light the fuse by reading up on the apocalyptic philosopher/writer John Gray’s resigned tract on the illusions (as he sees it) of self-determination, Straw Dogs, and the controversial professional man-hater Valerie Solanas and her patriarchal death-knell, the S.C.U.M. Manifesto (an abbreviation of the Society For Cutting Up Men). In what’s said to be their most “cathartic” and “noisy” release yet, the self-confessed nihilists and miserablists have channeled the Clockwork Orange borstal of primal savage human nature, as explored in Gray’s polarizing theorem, and Solanas’ (what some critics and commentators consider a clever parody, even satire of “the performance of patriarchal social order it refuses”; though attempting to murder Andy Warhol, and by association the American critic Maria Amaya, puts a damper on that suggestion) utopian pipe-dream to knock seven bells out of the indie-dance and post-post-punk blueprints.

Essentially, as the title makes clear, despite all our graces, technologic advances and awareness, humans have never lost their barbaric cruelty. Is this just part of our nature and makeup? And if so, how do we live with it? It’s a quandary that hasn’t diminished over time, and a fate amplified in the pressing destructive times of 2020; a cold war of ideals, divisive politics kindled by a raging pandemic. And so, you can expect an explosive despondency from the Knives as they tear up and skulk through the debris.





It starts by plowing into a sustained menacing buzzy and harassed krautrock like grooving thrust merger of Techno, Siouxsie’s Banshees and PiL (Henry Dartnall will use will Lydon’s signature cocky sneer and haranguing rage throughout this Molotov hurling album), and continues to caustically cut-up a barreling and marching rant of These New Puritans, Scary Monsters and Outside era Bowie, NIN, the Chemical Brothers, Death From Above 1979 and The Slits. There’s even, I might suggest, a hint of supernatural Alex Harvey, albeit jazzed-up with rollicking Bloc Party drums, on the creeping witchery ‘Jenny Haniver’. I’m not surprised it has a daemonic esoteric feel, as the title refers to the ghastly unnatural looking mummified carcasses of rays and skates that have been dried-out and modified to resemble fanciful creatures like dragons and demons.

Brutality is everywhere, with samples of audio from a bare-knuckle brawl on the tortuous fist-clenched whirlwind title-track, and a squall of harsh and heavy breakbeats and alarms constantly rattle the cerebral. Yet breaking the barbarous grind and bounce are moments of brief relief: the venerable and prayerful female chorus on the ‘Holy Name 68’’ vignette (a distorted calm from the past), and the milder relief of a vague brass band finale serenade on the previously Blurt honking post-punk ‘Slashed What I Saw’ curtain call.

Henry shouts that the “scum will inherit the earth” and other such sloganism, knowing full well his rage will inevitably dissipate as the barricades come tumbling down once more. A future hell on repeat, the Knives at least have a good go at firing up the audience; it’s a noise and row that has been largely missing in the music world, and proves the perfect poisoned tonic for these end times. It’s good to have them back.






Phew ‘Vertigo KO’
(Disciples) Album/4th September 2020





In case you haven’t been introduced to the avant-garde voice iterations and various drone landscaping experiments of the Japanese artist known as Phew, then this new and unique compilation of her personal sonic statements and moods is both an eye-opener and a good place to start.

Phew’s entry into this field started with the instigation of the Osaka psychedelic-punk group Aunt Sally in 1978, which she fronted until their brief but influential burnout just a couple of years later. During the next decade Phew would work with an enviable cast of experimental doyens including Ryuchi Sakamoto, Alex Hacke of Einstürzende Neubauten fame and DAF’s Christo Haar, and also making an album with the illustrious Can pairing of Holgar Czukay and Jaki Leibzeit and legendary producer Conny Plank. Fast-forwarding to the noughties and the underground pioneer has performed live and recorded with The Raincoats’ Ana Da Silva, Jim O’Rourke and Ikue Mori and Yoshimi of the OOIOO/Boredoms/Saicobab arc of ensembles. Quite the providence, it’s a back catalogue that can be heard suffused throughout the latest collection of specially recorded new material, unreleased works from Phew’s two most recent solo album sessions (2017’s Light Sleep and Voice Hardcore) and a, removed from its original disjointed source, cover version.

Framed by the artist herself as “An unconscious sound sketch…” and as “personal documentary music”, Vertigo KO is a special kind of compilation. Forward thinking, progressive rather than looking back, the tracks on this album can’t be dated or easily linked back to those previous works. It sounds in fact like a new work entirely, made in the moment, all at the same conjuncture of creativity and thought. The label Disciples has already put out a limited edition cassette, Vertical Jamming, of Phew’s “long form drone work”, but this collection seems untethered, themeless concept wise and musically. Well that’s not entirely true, Phew states that her last two albums from which some of the martial has been lifted is personal and not an attempt at a “worldview”: the overall undercurrent and hidden message being “what a terrible world we live in, but let’s survive”. Phew seems to convey this survival by counterbalancing ascendant crystal rays of nature and heavenly with mysticism, otherworldliness and ominous Sci-fi: The skying drones and refractions that build towards a cathedral in the clouds on the opening ‘The Very Ears Of Morning’ evoke the beauty and enormity of nature’s first light. Yet by the second track Phew has transmogrified the loose post-punk slumbering Raincoats distress ‘The Void’; transporting the bare bones to a neon-futuristic industrial setting, ala Bladerunner.

Some of the more truly “out there” avant-garde moods involve various vocal repetitions and multi layering. These voices, intonations and peculiar annunciations can be in the form of obscured incantations (as they are on the vaporous hive humming consciousness mystery ‘Let’s Dance, Let’s Go’), vowel stretching (on the dial twisting ‘All That Vertigo’) or monastic (on the mystical Buddhist/Shinto call to prayer vacuum ‘Hearts And Flowers’). Sometimes it’s used as a rhythm, at other times as a lingering trace of yearning from the “void”.

Phew’s amorphous sonic sensibilities exist both in the metallic gauze of space and in more concentrated earthly reverence. A pioneer of the form, the Japanese icon of the underground continues to produce some of her strongest work as a new decade beckons, birthed in a pandemic. The signatures, reference points and mode will be familiar to those already well acquainted with the Phew’s varied catalogue, yet Vertigo KO offers some sublime and inventive surprises to be an essential edition to the collection. Those unfamiliar would do well to experience this set of suites and then work backwards.




Krononaut ‘Krononaut’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat Records) 4th September 2020





Out on the peripherals of identifiable jazz-fusion the newly assembled Krononaut ensemble conjure up a mysterious extemporize performance on their debut vision for Glitterbeat’s highly experimental instrumental imprint tak:til.

Instigated, led by producer and guitarist Leo Abraham (who’s contextual guitar lines can be heard on Eno’s sublime Small Craft On A Milk Sea LP) and drummer Martin France (who’s played with, amongst others, Nils Petter Molvaer and Evan Parker) but methodology wise a democratized unit that embraces the atmospherical leanings and peregrinations of its extended lineup of collaborators, Krononaut was created out of a musical disciplinary challenge: To converge Leo’s classical sensibilities and learning with Martin’s jazz background. The results of which linger, spiral and prowl in an abstract subterranean space of hybrid jazz, Jon Hassell’s possible musics, krautrock, post-punk, post-rock and, at least in part, are informed, inspired by the unique rhythms found in the Madoh Shamanic funeral music of Tajikistan.

Recorded in London last year over two sessions, the inaugural featuring multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily (from Tom Waits to Laurie Anderson) on bass, the follow-up, the enigmatic saxophonist Matana Roberts, Swedish trumpeter Arve Henriksen and on bass duties too, Tim Harries, the Krononaut album reimagines a musique concrete Miles Davis, Sam Rivers and Grachen Moncur III skulking a masked, mournful to a point, ether that once in a while floats into the ethereal (in evidence on the diaphanous aria veneration ‘Vision Of The Cross’).

Navigating dark recesses in a spidery probing with the bass on the shadowy ‘Location 14’, and evoking their label mates Pulled By Magnets on the semi-industrial, cavernous and falling ‘Power Law’, this ensemble creep into post-punk; sounding like a transmogrified deconstructive PiL. Yet despite this the Krononaut’s are never so disjointed, dark or brash as to raise the volume above the discordant or even delicate; nothing runs away or untethers itself completely from the musicians’ grip.

Vague bursts of Guru Guru, drifting Eastern horns and filmic qualities drift in and out of serialism vaporuos industrial soundscapes and odd primal lagoons. Sporadic fits of propulsive drummed rhythms materialize from these non-liner recordings, but for the most part we’re strung out in the stresses and entanglements of composed, sophisticated avant-garde explorers: jazz and those classical leanings only really play one of many parts to this conjuncture of elements.

Ponderous, stalking, lolloping, spiritual, fluctuating – an exercise in relearning and discovery in fact – the Krononaut album of fourth world like experiments is free of limitations. It’s a project that escapes, even defies, categorization; another congruous fit with the ethos of the tak:til label.






Harmonious Thelonious ‘Plong’
(Bureau B) 28th August 2020





Fitting congruously within the Bureau B label family, Stefan Schwander’s inaugural album of sophisticated minimalist dance music for the Hamburg platform chimes with its roster of German experimental electronic pioneers; from Zuckerzeit candy era Cluster to the deconstructive Populäre Mechanik and the more contemporary Pyrolator.

More or less ten years into his Harmonious Thelonious alter ego, Schwander now offers a more “industrial sound” made from concrete objects vision of his American “minimalism” convergence with African rhythms and European melodies signatures. Inspired in part by the iconic Basle club of Totentanz, where the German electronic artist spent some of his misspent youth catching performances by the no wave dance act Liquid Liquid, the Gun Club, Jonathan Richman and a very young Aztec Camera, the Plong album channels some of the atmosphere and nostalgic vibes of those formative years. The club is immortalized on the final track; a sort of tribal beat with a barely audible hooted dance track that could be described as “intelligent” techno for the soul. In fact, the Liquid Liquid reference, or at least that vibrant post-new wave dance sound that they excelled at, can be heard permeating tracks like ‘Höhlenmenschenmuzik’; a multi-textural bass pronounced no wave dance of Carl Craig and Kriedler, the title of which translates as “caveman music” and evokes atavistic cave daubings leaping off the dank walls and vibrating, dancing like a host of Keith Harring characters bouncing down a NYC boardwalk.

Elsewhere amongst the deep Detroit techno and house music the tubular and knocking mettalics, tight delayed electronic sequencing and cleverly layered kinetics and mirages of a mysterious Arabia can be detected on the opening desert sands ‘Original Member Of A Wedding Band’. An obscured xylophone or marimba somehow captures an air of Africa on the lightly malleted and translucent itching vibrant ‘Geistertrio Booking’, and the staccato clumsy motioned ‘The Roller’ features a quasi-bobbing West African rhythm.

The tribal is subtly transformed into a futuristic suspense; 80s electro and no wave dance is twinned with lurking industrial electronica; bubbling concoctions float across mechanical refractions on a meticulously constructed deep dance soundtrack of multiple interesting rhythms. Plong, which could be a title Harmonia/Cluster may very well have used, fits perfectly with the Bureau B vibe, yet cuts a clean polygenesis electronic dance sound of its own.




Various ‘Plague Song’
(Via Bandcamp) Album/14th August 2020





A plague has descended on all our houses it seems, with no corner of the globe left untouched by Covid-19. Yet not so much a plague in either the Biblical sense or even a 1000th as destructive as the Black Death that left populations decimated Covid-19 predicted effects and the measures being used to contain it and our civil liberties is proving more destructive and stressful. As lockdown lifts for some, only to be reintroduced as clusters break out in localized areas, and thoughts and anxieties can be translated, we’re seeing creatives release their cathartic impressions and traumas.

One such contextualization, instigated by the North Yorkshire based composer, multi-instrumentalist, solo artist and member of Fireworks Night and The Monroe Transfer ensemble, Nick Gill brings together a international cast of experimental artists and composers to interpret the project leader’s pencil-shaded abstract ‘Plague Song’ graphic score. Following in the footsteps of John Cage who first pioneered the concept, Gill sketches a roughly hewn amorphous score that offers a freehand to those invited to respond. With no instructions as to duration, instrumentation or performance style it’s entirely down to the artists to conjure up something evocative; a sonic representation from the elongated funnels and arched lines found beneath sharper cross-hatching scribbled noise. The author of that graphic score does offer his own interpretation however; offering a suitably atmospheric and watery composition of Craig Ward like multi-textural guitar reverberations.

Erring towards the perimeters of ambient, neo-classical and experimental music the guests on this charitable compilation (proceeds going towards Médecins sans Frontières) produce some searching visions of the present mood. Carrying on the imbued literary (Anthony Burgess to Joseph Heller) cross chatter and abstracted resonance of his many sonic adventures in India and Southeast Asia, Oxford polymath Seb Reynolds cuts-up and morphs a recurring “not as fatal” line with the sound of veiled Orient and tram clatter on his take of the score. Others, such as the renowned NYC stage, film and even opera composer Nico Muhly, produce something more sublime and trembling; the composer behind soundtracks for The Reader and Marnie glides towards a skying ascendance of rippling ambient beauty.

In the quasi Sci-fi mood, electronic composer and performer Hainbach generates some strange off-world atmospheres and primal lunar threats with his interpretation: evoking, I think, Bernard Szajner’s Dune imagings. The spherical Canadian team-up of musician, activist and producer Rebecca Foon and Polaris Prize winning singer-songwriter, producer Patrick Watson prove a congruous pairing, offering up an almost cosmically heavenly searing soundtrack of voices obscured in the vapour.

The track list is numerous; too numerous to mention everyone, so I’ll just mention a few more highlights and standouts. Tiece beckon with a signature “witchery” and “smoky” trip-hop soulful jazzy vision that evokes a warped Four Tet, whilst vocalist, sound artist David Michael Curry goes for something more supernatural, strung-out, with his added locational cryptic post-rock bluesy “scene report from Somerville Masc.” And perhaps one of the oddest interpretations, double-bassist and organist composer, arranger Ben Summers takes the listener through shades of South America, jazzy cocktail hour club soiree and 60s Italian soundtracks: a million miles removed from the compilations leitmotif of shared mysterious ominous drones and recondite ambient carpeting.

Gill’s original graphics are lent a swathe of interpretations, some less somber than others, from a cosmology of contemporary composers. A survey of mood pieces, from science fiction augurs to introspective concentrations. Yet seldom does the soundtrack wallow in the darkness, or creep into nightmares, which considering the title seems both optimistic and a relief. Plague Song is a worthy embrace of the uncertain; a translation of abstract stress and danger given an expansive treatment.






Map 71 ‘Turn Back Metropolis’
(Foolproof Projects/Fourth Dimension Records) Album/4th September 2020





Just the sort of J.G Ballard and Anthony Burgess flavoured dystopian claustrophobia we need in these pandemic striven times; the estuary high-rise colliding duo of disillusioned poet and artist Lisa Jayne and pounding sonic foil Andy Pyne deliver a skulking barrage from the edges of the inner city and suburban wastelands. Under the Map 71 cover they release a fifth album sound-clash of post punk electronica, no wave, post Krautrock and tribal industrial music.

Turn Back Metropolis finds the urban-planners of derision and concrete hardened social realism back in the stairwells and landings of a decaying omnipresent city, dreaming of escapism: “The fields are in sight of the city, but there’s a curfew and the city waits for your return.”

Against the stench of this imposed backdrop of societal misdemeanors, the grime of everyday existence is lyrically and starkly drip-fed by Lisa over beating toms, slinking dub, sporadic drumming, alarmed synths, contorted metals and London swagger. Lisa channels a petulant Ari Up and Viv Albertine, whilst Andy, at any onetime, conjures up an accompaniment of Cabaret Voltaire, Fad Gadget, PiL, The Au Pairs, Lonelady, 80s Rick Rubin and The Classical.

Seething yet composed, they stalk their subjects like prey through the entrancing, spiraling and more cutting on a futuristic punk album of malcontent. Tracks such as the squalling, speed-shifting, arcade-fire over-surge ‘Highrise’ can induce vertigo, and the rattling ‘Stitches’ evokes a seedy switch-bladed administered trauma. Descriptively as livid as it is poetically brilliant, with a musically edgy, harrowing but crafted sonic accompaniment to match, Map 71 delivers another sinister violent architectural imposing shockwave.





Related posts from the Archives:

Map 71 ‘Sado-Technical-Exercise’ Review



Andrew Heath ‘The Alchemist’s Muse’
(Disco Gecko) Album/4th September 2020





Carrying the torch for the kind of ambient and neo-classical swathes and calmly evolving ruminations pioneered by such luminaries as Roedelius, Andrew Heath is a maestro of, what he calls, “small-case minimalism”. Lucky enough to work with the self-taught acolyte and co-founder of the electronic music and kosmsiche legends Kluster/Cluster/Qluster arc, Heath has obviously picked up some ideas from the best in the field. The English composer of refined, understated evocations collaborated with Roedelius on both the Meeting The Magus and Triptych In Blue suites.

The “magus” pupil has become the “alchemist” on this latest exploration of minimalism, texture, tone and the “sonic detritus that litters our environment”. Using, as ever, a kind of English pastoral and esoteric poetry to reference moods and locations, as well as the sources of some of his field recordings, Heath counterbalances his naturalistic settings with delicately played (but deeply felt) piano, resonating electric guitar, and on the album’s title track the swan like and sonorous bass-clarinet of guest Bill Howgego, and of course the various apparatus that transmits those soft, veiled ambient tones and gossamer atmospheres. This translates into translucent compositions that merge the intercom chatter of a pilot’s radio with dropped bauble piano notes and stratospheric gliding, on the opening piece ‘Observers And Airmen’, and the squawk of a woodland menagerie and running water with Eno-esque pining scenic mystery and alien wiry quivers, on ‘Of Mill Leats And The Walter Meadows’.

Hints, traces of voice can be found throughout, but its Heath’s second guest, Romanian poet, writer and journalist Maria Stadnika, who offers the most fragile and emotional. Returning, after appearing on heath’s 2018 Evanfall album, Stadnika’s sighed wistful whispery ‘The Garden Reveals Itself’ receives a ‘Night Mix’ re-run. The senses of those waiting on the inevitable cycle of life and other such poignant chimes on the passing of time are soundtracked with an accentuated magical dreamy night garden score.

Recorded at his home in the Cotswolds’ earlier in the year, and framed as an album that provides a certain sense of calm and tranquility, Heath’s idyllic set piece is indeed rich with moments of stillness and contemplation. It all sounds serenely beautiful. From the announcer on the subway vignette ‘A Good Service,’ to the wooing undercurrents of ‘The Muse And Her Dreams’, both echoes of daily life blend with more mysterious surroundings in a superb sound collage. Ambient music it seems is in good hands, Heath’s seventh album for the Disco Gecko label is a sublime patient suite that offers a rest in these most troubling, intense times.





Archives:

Andrew Heath And Toby Marks ‘Motion’ Review

Andrew Heath ‘Soundings’ Review

Andrew Heath ‘Evenfall’ Review tof068



Staraya Derevnya ‘Inwards Opened The Floor’
(Raash Records) Album/4th September 2020





A culmination of Café OTO Project Space recorded performances from 2017 and additional material from that same year to 2019, the latest avant-garde inter-dimensional experiment from the Russian-Israeli straddling Staraya Derevnya is part of treble release schedule. Alongside the featured Inwards Opened The Floor there’s also a duo of improvisations recorded with Hans Grusel’s Kranken Kabinet entitled Still Life With Apples, released on cassette by Steep Gloss, and more live material under the OTO/Tusk title, released as a double CD spread by TQN-aut. A veritable bonanza of imaginative, much improvised albums from the St. Petersburg metro stop adorned group; though I’m going to concentrate on just the hallucinatory doors-of-perception opening opus, an expansive set of traverses, deconstructive marches and post-punk harangues built around lyrics inspired by the poems of Arthur Molev.

Expanding to accommodate up to twelve musicians, and an assemblage of musique concrete apparatus, radio waves, voices and more conventional instruments the Staraya Derevnya inhabit a shrouded soundscape of kosmische, post-punk and what can only be described as a kind of krautrock folk – think a meeting of The Faust Tapes and Can’s Unlimited scrapes and incipient windows in on cut short experiments but extended and more rhythmic.

Developing, magically entitled tracks such as ‘On How The Thorny Orbs Got Here’ drift off almost dreamily to a hushed narration and strung-out jazzy clarinet, brassy sonorous vibrations and short drum rolls, whilst the attic toy box clockwork march of ‘Chirik’ Is Heard From The Treetops’ chugs along at first like a wooden top Ballet Russes but then takes on a more traumatic force of industrial hooting and ripped, revved guitar: Russian folklore goes bananas.

Kazoos, rocking chairs, a not so “silent cello” help create a mysterious aura throughout: one that moves between the strained and distressed, the ambient and biting. For instance garroting wire cello and wooden tubular like percussion tangle with speed-shift space void effects and scrapes on the menacing ‘Hogweed Is Done With Buckwheat’, and on the almost swooning existential romance ‘Burning Bush And Apple Sauces’; soup plops, a radio broadcasted talky duet and a collage of piano and strings echo with hints of late Popul Vuh, OMD and the Pale Fountains.

The poetry is as whispery, haunting as it is erratic and harassed on these most probing clattery, screamed, rasped but equally fantastical tracks. I’m hooked. This is an astonishing set of cross-city amorphous urges, lingers and deconstructions like no other; an avant-garde wandering into the tapestry of Russian folklore and magic dream realism.




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 REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona





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

As international as ever, this month’s revue includes not one but two releases from the wellspring of Highlife music, Ghana – though only one of these is contemporary, and only one could be considered a link to that signature sound. First, the sixth volume in Glitterbeat RecordsHidden Musics series is, as its title may suggest, a more elegiac-framed affair of rustic processional performances: Fra Fra ‘Funeral Songs’. The second, Edikanfo’s The Pace Setters is the first ever reissue of an iconic 80s album from the Afrodsico troupe, produced, with the lightest of touches, by Brian Eno. From South America, the ever-changing Miguel Sosa (formerly of The Strumpets and IH8 Camera) releases another album under a new alias and with a new sound, Plano Remoto. Japan-based polymath Paul Thomas Kirk, under his Akatombo alias, is granted a (almost) twenty-year spanning highlights collection of discordant gloom industrial dance music by the Japanese label So I Buried Records. From Haiti, we have the collaborative voodoo communion between the locals Chouk Bwa and the Belgium dub electronica duo The Ångströmers, Vodou Alé. And from Kenya, guitarist Fadhilee Itulya releases his debut album fusion of Omutibo music.

Closer to home, though imagining all kinds of cosmological and spiritual visions, Sebastian Reynolds releases a ‘universal’ escapist EP of peregrinations, and Austrian saxophonist Muriel Grossman is granted a showcase of her spiritual jazz suites from the Jazzman label.

Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers   ‘Vodou Alé’
(Bongo Joe Records)   LP/22nd May 2020





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. A hybrid of roots music tradition, the voodoo ceremony enchantments brought over to the Island from the Congo, the folkloric and rock and roll, mizik rasin has been made famous in more recent decades by Richard A. Morse’s acronym Haiti collective RAM, who have in turn welcomed curious acts such as Arcade Fire and tUnE-yArDs to its propulsive rhythm. The late Afrobeat rhythm king Tony Allen also spent time there working with local musicians on the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra project in 2017. It’s easy to see why; the invigorating lively, often locked-in rhythms and spiritual call prove intense and inviting: to dance music artists especially.

The synthesis of Soukri voodoo polyrhythms and bassier dub electronica on this collaboration proves so attuned to both sensibilities and in-sync as to be difficult to separate the natural ritual from the augmented and synthesized. The furious, rushing hand-drumming is subtly reinforced and layered up for the most part with pulsating and throbbing undulations, atmospherics, phaser, echo and reverb reversal effects; all of which are used sparingly and wisely, and even sensitively.

A yearning plaintive procession of voices, both earthly and soulfully, emerge from the swirled vapours to lament Haiti’s tragic run of ecological disasters; the lead single ‘More Tan’ a bobbing and clattery beat with sonorous fuzzy bass lends a moving tribute to all those unfortunate souls affected by a quartet of devastating hurricanes and the Armageddon earthquake of 2010, which killed tens of thousands and left hundreds of thousands displaced, at the mercy of the elements, disease and a destabilized authority.

A primal ceremony of tumbled, fluttered cylindrical rhythms sucked into a vortex of warped dub and ringing oscillations, this collaborative 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.






Muriel Grossmann  ‘Elevation’
(Jazzman)  LP/15th May 2020





Many jazz greats have of course attempted it, the ‘elevation’ of not just the form but consciousness itself. The Egyptologist anointed Pharoah Sanders even named an album after it; an ascendance at a time when jazz was embracing its spiritual roots and historical gravitas: a return to the source in Africa.

The supremely talented saxophonist bandleader Muriel Grossmann, imbued with that same spirit of vague conscious mysticism and experimentation, has now named one of her own impressive Afrojazz odysseys after that totem of an influential album. It won’t come as any surprise to find that the Pharaoh just happens to be one of Grossmann’s influences, alongside such luminaries as John and Alice Coltrane, Lester Young and Eric Dolphy; all of which permeate throughout this survey of the European jazz star’s recent(ish) work.

A sort of introduction for those unfamiliar with an artist who’s spent the last two decades on the European scene, playing with the likes of Joachim and Rolf Kühn, Wolfgang Reisinges and Thomas Heidepriem, the impeccable Jazzman label have chosen to represent Grossmann’s catalogue with suites from the 2016 Natural Time and 2017 Momentum albums; a moiety almost of complimentary records.

In all a quintet of congruous traverses, from a duo of albums, Grossman’s own Elevation seems a fully realised, interconnected and flowing oeuvre that could have been recorded all at the same session, only yesterday. An adventure across desert contours, on the caravan trail in search of enlightenment and jazz nirvana; the impressively invocative saxophonist and her troupe of regulars turn in a fantastical panoramic opus.

We start with the latter of those albums and a trio of pyramid backdrop numbers that pay homage to the Coltranes (especially Alice), the Pharaoh, Archie Shepp and Greenwich-hip era Albert Ayler. That guiding light title-track is a ten-minute plus extravaganza of splashing drums, oozing and swaddled sax and mini plucked out guitar solos. It sounds like the group is on an opulent trinket laden barge. At first lingering, trembling and stirring in milder Nile waters, the action hot’s up as the river becomes more animated and choppy. Grossmann literally spirals towards the stars; giddily blowing so fast that her trademark instrument turns into a clarinet at one point. Almost easing into the shimmery resonating ‘Rising’, the quartet sumptuously treads further along a mysterious pathway. Uros Stamenkovic brushes the sand off his flighty drum kit, and Radomir Milojkovic bends and picks out a dizzying frill of notes on guitar as Grossmann flitters and flutters on another of these conscious trips.

Still gliding or walking that same North African jazz geography, both ‘Your Peace’ and ‘Peace For All’ may very well have furnished another album, but embrace and breath the same spiritual to experimental jazz air. Shifting sands move underfoot on the first of those dusky shufflers, whilst Eastern mystical chimes and serenity make way for progressive soulful sax, successions of deft guitar licks and burnished drums on the second of those mirages.

Hardly a slavish attempt at reproducing Grossmann’s inspirations, Elevation is an impressive, evocative continuation of those forbearers blueprint. A showcase of exploratory jazz left free to follow those same forbearers by a group of European avant-gardists.



Edikanfo  ‘The Pace Setters’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/8th May 2020





Depending on who you listen to, inventive leftfield, ambient music doyen Brian Eno and his part in propelling the Ghanaian troupers Edikanfo to international attention (if for only the briefest of moments), off the back of their dynamic rich bustling debut album, was either merely down to “endorsement” or more to do with his key production skills. The fact that his indelible mark is light, if almost hidden, would suggest a less than fleeting relationship with the eight-piece Afrodisco group. Yet stage-manage the production of this Highlife funk fusion he did.

That endorsement, usually a sign of quality and importance, is shared by self-appointed one-man Ghanaian music industry mover-and-shaker Faisal Helwani. A forceful character in a time when you had to be forward and sometimes ungracious in getting results, Helwani was responsible in kick-starting the modern Ghana scene; setting up the now legendary Napoleon Club complex in the capital of Accra. Club, casino, restaurant and studio – Accra’s first professional recording studio; known as the less than imaginary but history cementing Studio One – all in one, the Napoleon became a lively exchange hub of activity and a hothouse for both emerging and established talent, inside the region and outside of it. With a finger in every conceivable pie, from running the studio to managing, publicizing and contracting bands, Helwani’s grip was strong and nebulous. As Eno – who offers linear notes insight on what is the very first reissue of Edikanfo’s influential and justifiably entitled The Pace Setters album – divulges: ‘Although undoubtedly an important figure in the African music scene he was quite a possessive man. There was a fair amount of grumbling going on among the musicians, who had pretty poor lives. After some of their appearances the band ended up actually owing Faisal money since he owned their equipment and hired it out to them for shows.’

Eno hit upon a novel way of sending the band some money as a thank you, fearing it wouldn’t reach them unless it fell directly into their hands: ‘All the musicians liked the beret I wore at the time, so I had the idea to send one to each of them as a gift – which would be a kind of Trojan horse for the real gift. Back in New York my girlfriend Alex, who had come to Accra with me, carefully sewed a few hundred dollar bills into the rim of each beret and somehow I got a message to them which said ‘DON’T OPEN THE BERETS WHEN FARISAL’S AROUND!!’ It worked…one of the musicians later told me he’d bought a small farm in Central Ghana with his hat-money.’

Helwani had initially approached Eno as a publicity coup after reading about his fostering interest in African music. The impresario invited him as ‘international observer’ to the biennial Festival Of African Song And Dance. It didn’t take long to leap from that to producing Helwani’s recent upcoming electric signing. Staying for around a month, Eno spent time and effort with Edikanfo, who’s live, busy sound proved problematic for the studio manipulator, unaccustomed as he was to recording a live band all at once. Without nearly enough mics for the task at hand, Eno was forced to think on his feet and to eventually just let the performances happen with as little interference as possible. Upon returning to NYC – Eno’s base at the time in the later 70s and early 80s – he released upon listening back to these electric sessions that, for once, his post-production magic as redundant. And so The Pace Setters is a relatively pure, unburdened sound without augmentation; closer to capturing the group’s famed live performances: the sweat and all.

Formed just a couple of years before; Edikanfo would quickly build a momentum after colliding with Eno’s ascended star. His brand soon shone a light that very quickly went out. Brought to an international stage, the octet rose just as their native country was plunged once more into political tumult. A second coup by the military leader-politician Jerry John Rawlings at the end of 1981 removed the civilian government he initially put in place – set up after Rawling’s original junta-led coup in 1979. Ghana had been relatively lucky, having escaped such violent upheaval up until then. Concentrating the mind somewhat and pushing Rawlings into action, the soon-to-be leader was on the former governing power of General Fred Akuffa’s execution list. When he did take over, Rawlings implemented a spot of his own ‘house-cleaning’ of former officials and supporters. The shock of which led to demonstrations, which in turn led to elections; though Rawlings would still win, being re-elected again and again, staying in power until 2001. The early days of power would be severe however, with curfews that soon ‘gutted’ not only the economy but also the live music scene. Restrictions and harassment proved so bad that Edikanfo were forced to part company, scattering overseas.

Now though, almost four decades after their spotlight burned most bright, bandleader, bass player and songwriter Gilbert Amarty Amar and those band mates that survived are back with a new tour prompted by the reissue of their seminal debut. In what can only be described as a laser beam reflective mirror ball of Afrodisco and Highlife funk, The Pace Setters is a humid fusion of sweetened lullaby serenades and busier sunburst dances. A shared effort with near enough each member of the troupe offering up a track, there’s a mix of timings, themes and rhythms. Tracks like the opener ‘Nka Bom’ celebrate “togetherness” with sun-blessed horns, dappled electric piano and open hi-hat bustle, whilst the elastic bass noodling, springy and Orlando Julius loose jazz swaddled ‘Gbenta’ is both peaceable and relaxed. Hints of Osibisa can be found on the lulled hymn like vocal beauty ‘Moonlight Africa’, which puts a faster hustle of drums and bass underneath the twinkled organ caressed chorus of sweetly laced voices. At all times (well nearly) the bounce of refracted laser disco beams ricochet off the brass and rafters.

What a great album: true to its name, setting a sometimes blazing, and others, a sometimes-sashaying pace. Forget the fact it’s now forty years old, turn the mother up and shake-off the woes and weight of life in lockdown. Edikanfo’s 1981 classic is still alive and magical in the here and now; sending us with verve towards the summer: even if that summer is very different to any most of us have ever experienced. Enjoy this most worthy repress.




Fadhilee Itulya   ‘Kwetu’
(Naxos World)   LP/8th May 2020





Though the Kenyan guitarist turn frontman has been around for a decade the Kwetu album of belonging and questioning, released via a re-invigorated Naxos World, is Fadhilee Itulya’s debut.

Channeling what sounds like a lifetime into that inaugural record, Fadhilee combines his Kenyan roots with more contemporary rock, soul, blues, and on the album’s one and only attempt at a celebratory sun-praised club mix, Balearic dance music. Creating a bridge between the more earthy, unspoiled authenticity of tradition and more polished pop production of a modern studio, Fadhilee draws on the Luhya and Isukha peoples of Western Kenya and their ancestral dances, ceremonies and instruments. This includes the duel guitar and empty incessantly tapped soda bottle accompanied chanted Omutibo, and the Isukuti drums of the celebratory dances performed amongst the latter of those communities. The driving syncopated rhythms of Omutibo were developed during the 1950s, into the 60s, before falling out of favour in the 70s. It forms a foundation on the Swahili entitled ‘Kwetu’ song; a title-track that translates as “home”, but carries more weight in what Fadhilee encapsulates as, “a place where I am welcome.” That could be anywhere, not just his homeland, as this is an album as much about international unity and liberation as a songbook that passes commentary on the closer-to-home social and political problems in Kenya.

Language is another constant theme, with Fadhilee switching effortlessly from Swahili to English to the chanted Luhya.

Sprinkled throughout this generous album, the rustic tapped bottle ringing, hand drum propulsed rhythms and chorus of dusty-soul chanting and more enthusiastic female trilling traditions sit alongside smoother, finessed performances: though it all feels like a intimate live session. The album opens with the reedy and flighty “prayer” of ‘‘Afirika’; an opening salvo that sets up the smooth reggae and jazzy-rock sound of Fadhilee’s lilted guitar and the accompanying backing of a rich harmony chorus. It also introduces us to the folksy flute-heavy collaboration of guest musician Adam Adiarra, who’s instrument flutters, weaves and floats throughout that opening introduction. More sauntering rhythms beckon on the spiritually lulled, twinkled piano tribute to women and motherhood ‘Mama’. Whilst the electric sunny funk ‘Tabasm’, which translates as “smile”, works up a fusion of flange-rock and gospel.

Despite moments of intensity and urgency, wilder electric guitar frills and the untethered breaks of tribal ceremonial passion, Kwetu is a mostly gentle, soulful affair. A peaceable showcase for an artist honed on tradition but pushing forward. A commercial album of smooth Kenyan fusions with some rougher edges, Fadhilee’s debut shows an artist as comfortable with the modern studio as he is with the in-situ rustic roots of the Kenyan grasslands.



Akatombo  ‘Discordia: 2003-2020’
(So I Buried Records)   Album/25th May 2020





From a label synonymous for unleashing the sludge-dread rock of those ominous bearers of doom, Qujaku, comes a sort of ‘best of’ collection of similarly caustic menace from the Scottish post-punker turn industrial electronic composer Paul Thomas Kirk. As it turns out, a logical creatively successful leap for the one-time band member of the 80s punk agitators The Actives, Kirk’s magnetic-charged Akatombo avatar fuses, fries and beats-into-shape remnants of that post-punk past. Based in Hiroshima the musician, producer, filmmaker, photographer and label boss has released a quintet of albums, all but one of them under his own Hand-Held Recordings imprint, since 2003. Collected together here is a smattering of buzzy dissonance and growling electronic transmissions from each of the album’s, plus one previously unreleased track, ‘Oblique & Fearless’: a cause metallic evocation of techno punk and Reznor chained industrial dread.

Going back to the beginning, 2003’s inaugural augury Trace Elements – released via the SWIM label – is represented by the Japanese trip-hop Western soundtrack ‘Humid’, the rough UNKLE trip-breaks with snarling bass ‘Overheat’, and dub-y reverb spiraling ‘Ponderlust’. Six years later Kirk would release the Unconfirmed Reports album under his own label. Taking the sonic exploration further towards the experimental, the frizzled distortion and Aphex Twin clattering of ‘A Prior Disengagement’ and Barry Adamson spy thriller tremolo with DJ Shadow drum breaks ‘SSRI’ mark that album’s evolving range and scope. 2011’s False Positives lends the Basic Channel tuned unfolding Kitchen-sink drama ‘Kleptocrat’ and cylindrical, muffled voiced ‘Precariat’ to this compilation.

The prize of opening this Discordia falls to the ominous moist chamber atmospheric ‘Click/Bate’, taken from the 2015 album Sometime, Never. Both lurking in the dark web subterranean yet also communicating with orbital space waves, this bleak vision reimagines The Orb on a downer. Reaching further into the esoteric sound, most recent album Tensile Strength is represented by a trio of industrial, ringing noisy visitations and broadcasts: ‘Debug. Injector’ is a churning vortex of the haunted, whilst the album’s title-track is full of punk snarls.

Veering between the heavy dance music of The Chemical Brothers and the sonorous metal machine music of Emptyset, and between the steaming razor breaks of UNKLE and the industrial wilding of Einsturzende Neubauten, Kirk’s Akatombo manifestation is channeled into a pretty decisive collection of highlights. Too driven to be classed as ‘mood music’ or dark soundtracks, the dystopian discord of Kirk’s sonic augurs and emotions could even be considered dance music: albeit on the fringes of a doomed dancefloor. A great showcase anyway for an electronic artist working in the gloom.






Sebastian Reynolds   ‘The Universe Remembers’
(Faith & Industry)  EP/22nd May 2020





Oxford-based polymath Sebastian Reynolds has finally found the time in his prolific schedule of collaborations, remixes, session work and productions to create his very own solo soundtrack of various eschatology inspired peregrinations. The Universe Remembers EP’s quintet of traverses drifts and wafts across an ambiguous, often vaporous, soundscape of neo-classical composition, retro futurist production, swanned Tibetan mystical jazz, both languid and accelerated running breakbeats, and ghostly visitations – haunted narrated extracts from T.S. Eliot’s all-encompassing philosophical, religious and metaphysical Holy Grail purview The Wasteland can be heard in a fuzzy echo on the EP’s title-track and single.

A cosmological junction of dystopian literature and the Buddhist/Daoism, The Universe Remembers is, as you might expect from a composer/multi-instrumentalist/producer who’s created music as varied as the transcendent Southeast Asian Manīmekhalā score that accompanied the multimedia Mahajanaka Dance Drama and the visceral chamber pieces of his collaboration with the pan-European Solo Collective trio, a mix of evocations simultaneously as dreamy as they are ominous and mysterious; and as contemplative as they are resigned to the fates.

Framed as a distillation of previous incarnations, namely the Keyboard Choir and Braindead Collective, the sound and sonic landscape channels the peaks and descending remembrance of a musical lifetime, with some of the material taken from various periods over the years, transformed and attuned for a concept of Theology; the part that’s concerned with death, judgment and the final destiny of the soul and humankind: Not too big a concept then.

Previously premiered on the Monolith Cocktail the guest produced title track features the attentive skills of Capitol K (who’s label is also facilitating the release of this EP) guiding a musical odyssey of twinkled trembled cascaded piano, slow beats and the mystical fluttering, spiraling and drifting clarinet of guest contributor Rachel Coombes. Featuring Seb’s penchant for the glitch-y piano resonance of Susumu Yokota and a most strangely sourced sample of the revered writer Anthony Burgess purchasing a Bösendorfer piano in Harrods, this magical escapist suite wafts between the snake charmer bazaars of Egypt and Calcutta, the Hitchcockian and avant-garde. It must be emphasized at this point that Burgess’ dystopian visions have had a profound effect on Seb; especially his most famous slim novel A Clockwork Orange. Seb has previously performed at the Burgess Foundation with the Solo Collective and even (in the last week) written a guest post for their website. Not that anything on this EP is even close to aping the synonymous ominous switched-on Bach of Wendy Carlos’ score for the Kubrick vision of that most famous futuristic nightmare.

Opening reverberating vapour ‘Amoniker’ builds a suffused trilled melodic swathe of pastoral merry evocations from a past epoch, smatterings of jazz, and distant masked break-beats around an increasingly echoing and delayed layered counting iteration. Doing what he does best, Seb finds and then takes original samples to explorative new soundscapes and worlds on the EP’s curtain call, ‘You Are Forgotten’. The Oxford polymath uses the baritone like resigned mooning vocal from the track of the same name by Desmond Chancer & The Long Memories as a foundation for a suffused saxophone swaddled and pining (courtesy of Adam Davy) slice of retro-futurist electronica. Spiritual manna phrases like “no memory”, ”no legacy” and “universal” drift into focus from a constructed ether to echo dramatically over the mysterious and masked invocations.

Keeping to the holy mountain of awe footpath, the totem of endurance, mysticism, beauty and immensity ‘Everest’ once more features those Tibetan evoking horns and cosmic awakenings. It also features not so much guitar performances as the essence of lingering notes and wanes (attributed to collaborators James Maund and Andrew Warne) on an ascendant score of both the celestial and peaceable.

If you love your trance, esoteric mysticism, trip-hop, the new age, satellite jazz and the poetic, then stick on The Universe Remembers and be transported to wondrous and meditative planes.




Plano Remoto  ‘Plano Remoto’
(Jezus Factory)  LP/11th May 2020





Whether its ennui or a conscious decision to keep critics, and his audience, on their toes the Argentine maverick Miguel Sosa once more changes direction on his latest album for the marvelous cottage-industry label, Jezus Factory. Sosa’s previous peregrination, Bermudas, was an analogue patchbay cosmic psychogeography of the infamous Bermuda Triangle region; filed under yet another alter ego, the Moog and ARP soundtrack homage Cassini Division. Prior to that the Jezus Factory stalwart had spent a tenure living in Antwerp, instigating or joining all manner of Belgian bands, from IH8 Camera to Strumpets and Parallels. The Strumpets would mutate into Angels Die Hard when Sosa had to return back home.

His latest venture, Plano Remoto, ropes in bass player/singer Mike Young, old pal and the owner of the TDR Studio in Buenos Aires Lucas Becerra, on drums, and Nico Courreges on double-bass. The results of two years of studio jamming and a build-up of Tascam recordings, this informal set-up’s self-titled debut (though it could easily be the first and only LP from this incarnation) is a right old mix of styles and ideas. A return, of sorts, to songwriting it starts with a day dreamy Gilberto Brasilia sandy lull of “la las” and pop with the strangely entitled ‘Bossa Zombie’ – the first part of that title is obvious, the second…not so much. Sosa and friends go on to jangle through removed versions of Bad Finger meets The Olivia Tremor Control balladry, harmony power pop (‘Leona’), Jeff Lynne “ahing” psychedelic anthems (‘Mel’), early 60s European new wave cinematic spell casting circus scene-set jazz lullaby (‘Fantasma’), and Baroque retro-futurist galactic love (‘Sandra’).

You may very well also pick up moments of Alex Harvey showmanship prog, soft rock furnishings and what sounds like an ominous Clockwork Orange space march on an album both simultaneously odd but also essentially pop. It’s a form of songwriting slightly askew and novel, yet pleasant, melodic and comfortable to the ear. God knows where Sosa will take us next.






Fra Fra   ‘Funeral Songs’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/24th April 2020





No stranger to this site, Grammy Award winning producer, author and peacemaker Ian Brennan has appeared countless times; namely as the in-situ producer on a myriad of unfiltered and direct performances and as the subject of an interview in 2016. Continuing his collaboration with Glitterbeat Records, Brennan is back with another chapter in the global expletory label’s Hidden Musics adventure; a series that unearths performances from ad-hoc musicians, located in some of the most remote, off-the-beaten-track, environments.

The sixth volume in this collection follows on from excursions to Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam and Mali, landing somewhere on a dusty road outside the northern Ghana hub of Tamale. Brennan once more entices a captivating set of recordings with as little interference as possible. Those previous records, whether it was capturing the evocative war-scarred yearns of both survivors of the Vietnam War or Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge apocalypse, or lending a voice to the suffering plight of the Abatwa people in the border regions of a post-genocide Rwanda, all adhere to the American producer’s signature technique of less is more. As Brennan himself put it in his How Music Dies (or Lives) book in 2016: ‘My concern is not cultural authenticity, but emotional truth and uncloying performances. Purity without baggage.’

Brennan is not in the business of earnest backslapping or ethnography, rather, he wishes to just make what he calls ‘candid and new punk and dusty records.’ Forget Lomax and company, Hidden Musics is less an exercise in preservation and archiving, and more a trailblazing exposure of relatively unburdened magic outside the confines and restrictions of Western music.   Responsible for all but one of the series – that being Paul Chandler’s Every Song Has Its End sonic dispatch from Mali survey -, Brennan focuses once again on the extremely localized sounds of his destination.

Fra Fra, the colonial name given to this particular tribe found in the northern part of Ghana, is a convenient name for just a trio of musicians who perform the funeral songs, plaints and paeans traditions of the country. A reversal of the north/south divide, it is northern Ghana that is synonymous for its wellspring of blues. That roots lament can be heard in the rustic, rudimental and springy performances of this group of locals. Led by the appropriately named Small, ‘a man who celebrates his diminutive size rather than seeing it as a lack of’, this trio proved difficult to capture. In part this was down to the processional manner of their playing style delivery; a manner that has more than a passing resemblance to New Orleans marching bands, which isn’t hard to figure when you consider the enforced enslavement of Ghanaians who passed through or made their home in the burgeoning port. So Brennan was forced to go for ‘coverage’ instead of precision, as Small and his wingmen gyrated in circles on the gravel floor.

Playing better (so they’d have us believe) when drunk on the production’s beer quota, inebriation seems to have lubricated proceedings for the better. With just the poor imitation of a guitar – the two-string Kologo – and its rusty percussive jangle of dog-tags that hang around the neck, and the tiny boned mouth flutes – which the Fra Fra call ‘horns’ – the funeral laments on this record are a grieving plea between the earthy and hidden spiritual forces. Primal, hypnotic with various sung utterances, call-outs, hums and gabbled streams of despondent sorrow the personable process of grief is opened up to a new audience. Not as mournful however as I’ve described, the cadence of voices, the scraped tremulous rhythms are often energetically poetic and bluesy: albeit far removed from what most people would recognize as the blues.

A chorus and a twang-y, hollowed-out and sporadic accompaniment of serial instrumentation deliver fatalistic subject matters, such as the destiny of orphans and the pining for loved ones.

Sadly we will hear a lot more funeral music before this Covid-19 epidemic ends, which is yet, and we hope it won’t, to hit Africa on the scale that it has in Europe and North America. For those in lockdown discovering music in its purest forms, the sixth showcase in the Hidden Musics series is another essential, unique taste of the sonic road less travelled. A record in which Brennan remains merely the ghostly facilitator.






The Monolith Cocktail needs your support more than ever:

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 REVIEWS
Dominic Valvona





Easing the boredom of coronavirus lockdown, join me from the safety of your own home on a global journey of discovery. Let me do all the footwork for you, as I recommend a batch of interesting and essential new releases from a myriad of genres, which I hope you will support in these anxious times. With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms such as Bandcamp) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it.

From Java, there’s the latest project from the Hive Mind label in collaboration with Indonesian music digger Kai Riedl, a showcase of 2007 recordings from Idjah Hadidjah & Jugala Jaipongan plus a number of reworked transformations from a host of sonic and electronic artists. Various Maghreb artists from the 80s and 90s Lyon café and club scene can be heard for the first time on vinyl with a new compilation from Bongo Joe, the electrified Raï, Chaoui and Staifi K7 Club collection. Formed in London, the combined talents of Senegal singer/songwriter Biram Seck and French guitarist foil Thibaut Remy come together once more under the Awale Jant Band umbrella for another Afrobeat and soul showcase, Yewoulen. I also take a look at the Passepartout Duo of Nicoletta Favari and Christopher Salvito’s amorphous travelogue peregrination through Switzerland, the Caucasus, former Soviet Asiatic satellites and China performances, Vis-à-Vis; available next month on vinyl and digitally.

There’s also the upcoming Mexican cross border fraternization musical odyssey from Sergio Mendoza and his Orkesta, Curandero.

Back in Europe jazz bassist extraordinaire Ville Herrala is doing inventive things as a solo artist with the double bass; releasing his debut experimental LP for the Helsinki label We jazz. Still in a European jazz setting, there’s the debut LP from the disruptive JZ Replacement pairing of Zhenya Strigalev and Jamie Murray; the saxophonist and his drummer foil collide together with a myriad of rhythms and ideas to kick jazz into a new decade. We also have the most recent ambient voyage across graph paper from Moonside Tape’s founder Jimmy W, Midi Canoe.


Idjah Hadidjah & Jugala Jaipongan   ‘Javasounds Vol.1: Jaipongan Music Of West Java’   (Hive Mind) LP/6th March 2020




Borne from a dire situation, Indonesian composer and choreographer Gugum Gumbira circumnavigated the country’s authoritarian ban on rock and roll by creating the traditional infused Jaipongan style. Hidden beneath a hybrid of honest harvesting ritual music and atavistic gamelan lay a more sensual spark that encouraged dancing intimacy and a rapid, galloping rhythm that pushed this musical form towards rock: seen by those who made it and loved it as a rebellious gesture. The authorities seemed to have been unaware of its creator’s motives, as the dynamic sound spread throughout the country, unabated, finding favour amongst both the working classes and more affluent.

Mesmerizing with its quickened, often complicated, rhythms – which either flow constantly like a trickle or tumble in a sporadic fit – and bowed quivers, Jaipongan percussion and undulated metallophones are counterbalanced by untethered vocals of romantic and humbled wooing; sung, in this case, on this new edition of Gumbira recordings by the beautiful aria fluctuating Idjah Hadidjah. Gumbira met his muse in the early 80s, luring the iconic singer away from the Sundanese Shadow Puppet Theatre to join his Jugala Orchestra troupe; a collaboration that would go on to last the decade. They would reunite in 2007, recording at the Jugala Studios in Bandung, Java, backed by the studio’s house band. That session now forms the basis of this new vinyl/digi release from Hive Mind and the Indonesian music evangelist Kai Riedl, who present six original tracks from that reunion and a second disc of ‘reworks’ from a variety of contemporary artists in the field of soundscaping and sonic transformations. Riedl, of the Indo-influenced Macha band, has plenty of experience in this sector having made trips to the island of Java with sound engineer Suny Lyons in the noughties to record everything from solo string players to thirty-member gamelan orchestras, in locations as diverse as a darkly-lit nightclub to off-the-grid hideaways. As facilitators they offer up a showcase of the genre’s most entrancing siren and backing group.

Transporting the listener towards the gateway of an exotic unfamiliar geography, the resonating chimes, trinkets, gongs and clapping woody undulations, in fits and starts, playfully evoke both the earthy and ethereal in equal measure. Songs like ‘Sanja’ have a rustic, ritualistic vibe, yet the accelerating rhythm and beat suggests the club dancefloor.





Those Javanese intonations and accentuate sounds are transformed with this package’s Riedl instigated ‘reworks’, an extension of his project to open-up access to the music of Indonesia to western musicians. A range of assemblage inventive artists takes the source material on a journey of variously successful experiments: a music that lends itself well to this treatment as it happens. The North Carolina based artists Bana Haffar turns in a slow trance-y skying vision of the tumbling ‘Hiji Catetan’. N.Y. based musician Bergsonist transduces gamelan into signaled code on her dreamy Orbital-esque remembrance transformation, and Indonesian composer, sound-designer Fahmi Mursyid ratchets up the material with a Autechre breakdown of rewiring, buzz saw beats, dropped metallic ball bearings and zapped bass. For the most part these reworks wander in a serialism and ambient fashion of transcendence; the use of Hadidjah’s startling vocals especially lends itself well to these float-y deconstructions: It’s Jaipongan, but not as we know it.

This latest well-chosen project from the label and friends is another enticing, captivating window into a musical world few of us are even aware of: A great discovery eastwards, with more to follow hopefully.





JZ Replacement  ‘Disrespectful’
(Rainy Days Record)  LP/13th March 2020




Positively disruptive rather than ‘disrespectful’ to the fundamentals of jazz, the ‘symbiosis’ (as they call it) pairing of saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev (Ambrose Akinmusire, Eric Harland) and drummer Jamie Murray (Sun Ra Arkestra, Native Dancer) play hard and frantically fast with the genre on their latest union, JZ Replacement.

Crossing paths regularly on the London jazz stage, Strigalev has already made an appearance on Murray’s solo project, Beat Replacement. Pooling that talent once more for a new iteration, the JZ duo flex, bounce and distort an abundance of contemporary influences, from trip-hop to d’n’b, on their debut album. Recording with the very much in demand bass guitar maestro Tim Lefebvre – a member of Donny McCaslin’s troupe that famously backed Bowie on his last curtain call -, who brings yet another eclectic layer of dynamism to the polygenesis stew, the JZ pile full-throttle through off-kilter accelerations, breakbeats, hard-bop and vague Eastern European folk traditions to knock jazz into a new decade.

They’re as connected to Roni Size’s own transformative 90s fusions as they are to both modern North American and European jazz, and the explorative deconstructions of Ornette Coleman; blending in a dramatic, sometimes hardcore, fashion a spiraling vortex of squawking bleats with rattling erratic drumming. The previously featured ‘Tubuka’ is an example of those wide-ranging influences; skulking along as it does to a Massive Attack like broody bass line and a dubby post-punk menace before being harried by Murray’s drums and the spooked elephant heraldings of Strigalev’s saxophone. Wavering between a number of rhythmic and intense step-changes, the duo deftly react with both a rush and relaxed vigor. ‘Marmalade For Radhika’ changes that dynamic again with a sweetened drifting exploration that wafts through lingering traces of Savoy label jazz, the blues and the Cuban. But you’re just as likely to hear staccato jerks, short bursts of no wave Blurt and Liquid Liquid, hovering flange, space echoes and piercing squalls in a suffusion of ever-progressive performances.

Two artists at the height of their imaginative prowess, the JZ show a healthy disrespect for conventions as they blast apart the jazz scene; yet somehow make the intensity and waywardness flow. More please!





Awale Jant Band   ‘Yewoulen (Wake Up)’
(ARC)   LP/27th March 2020




Predominantly imbued by the Senegalese heritage and ‘gawlo’ storyteller tradition of this London-formed polygenesis collective’s songwriter/singer Biram Seck, and by some of its drumming/percussionist circle, the Awale Jant Band effortlessly broadens its musical horizons with another loose fusion of Afrobeat, soft heralded horn section soul and bustled funk. A merger of the Dakar-born dynamic Jant band and French guitarist foil Thibaut Remy’s Awale group, the lilted unison of West African and European musicianship once more leaps into action on the debut follow-up Yewoulen.

It’s a title which when translated from the Wolof people’s language – the dialect that Seck mostly sings in – of Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania encourages a “wake up” call. A unifying wake up call that is, with many of the both expressively joyful and sadder yearns driven by injustice and a need for understanding in a morosely hostile society. First though, there’s romanticism of a sort in the form of the album’s ascendant, snozzled horn and soft rolling, rattled and skipping ‘Sope’; a tender love paean that features a soulful trilling Seck vocally crossing paths with Al Green and Youssou N’Dour – which is handy, as the group’s Senegalese percussionist Medoune Ndiaye was a member of his backing group. Equally as loving, even sweet, is the Highlife with echoes of South America celebration ‘Amandine’; written by Remy as a dedication his first daughter. Staying with the upbeat (musically speaking), there’s what sounds like a busy groove-generated stopover in Lagos with the mellow Kuti vibes funk ‘Domi Adama’; a live feel track with plenty of swirling horns and bobbing sabra drumming action, courtesy of Fofoulah’s Kaw Secka). It’s followed by the Accra vibe and Stax Watts’s horn blasting song of happiness ‘Cubalkafo’.

In the more poignant and societal-political vane, Seck pays a plaintive jazzy lament to an old friend on the two-speed cantaloupe ‘Jules’, and comments on the sensitive issue of ritual circumcision on the African-rock lilted ‘Kassak’.

The message though is one of shared ancestry and a coming together for the benefit of others in an increasingly unsympathetic and dangerous world. This combined force of musicians does it with a real swerve on a groove that is constantly, gently moving between the spiritual and the soulful and funky. The Awale Jant Band turns in another great showcase of cross-fertilized rhythms.




Ville Herrala  ‘Pu:’
(We Jazz)  LP/21st February 2020




The Helsinki label of We Jazz is one that excels in pushing and remixing the boundaries of contemporary jazz; especially the role of the soloist, turning out vividly dexterous breathing experiments in counter-flow looped saxophone with Jonah Parzen-Johnson’s Imagine Giving Up, and now a suite of taut and quivering string and rhythmic slapped bodywork miniatures played using only the double-bass, by the Finnish bassist Ville Herrala.

A mainstay of the much admired Scandinavian jazz scene, the Turku born native has lent his adroit skills to such scene-setters as PLOP, Otto Donner, U-Street All Stars, Jukka Eskola Orquesta Bossa and the UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra. Stepping out from the group set-up, the conservatoire graduate goes solo for his debut LP Pu:. Herrala knocks, pads and bends out-of-shape the familiar bass sound to often take on the characteristics of a distressed cello. Consisting of fourteen vignettes split between the bowed and rhythmic, Pu: balances the springy and elasticated with the spindled and ponderous on an album of various moody experiments. ‘Pu:2’ (all the track titles by the way have this suffix) has the sort of quivery sustain intro you might expect to hear on a Hendrix record – hanging on an air-string before launching into a wild psychedelic scream – whilst ‘Pu:6’ has the double-bass almost mooing. In the minimalist, more sound experiment camp, the pendulous ‘Pu:3’ sounds like something scuttling in the attic, and the pitter-patter ‘Pu:5’ sounds like Herrala’s rolling a ball-bearing across the spider-like strings.

There’s oblique runs up the fretboard, bows across the bridge and saw-motioned tautened frictions throughout an LP that is equally as morose and haunted as it is mysteriously avant-garde. Semi-classical, semi-jazz, semi-minimalist and semi-soundscape, Pu: is an inventive suite of articulations, tones and atmospheres fashioned from a double bass in discomfort; stretched to its limits. Herrala proves a congruous edition to a most explorative jazz label on the fringes of reinvention.





Jimmy W  ‘Midi Canoe’
(Moonside Tapes)  LP/22nd February 2020




Featured recently in the last Tickling Our Fancy revue with his Kirigirisu Recordings enabled Singapore Police Background collaboration with fellow ambient peregrination explorer Dan Burwood, James Wilson is back this month with an equally minimal atmospheric solo under the Jimmy W appellation. Released via his own brilliant limited cassette specialist label Moonside Tapes, his latest ebb and flow traverse, Midi Canoe, flutters and drifts across crackling graph paper. A concatenate collection of vignettes, passages and extracts, Wilson builds a evanescent soundtrack of static fields, snozzled foggy wafts and air flows; pricked by bendy space warbles, metallic shivers and a gliding piano. There’s also a masked twinkled chime that sounds like a marimba, falling like droplets on a bedding of gauzy washes.

Tracks like ‘Unnameable Little Broom’ are given a Casio preset choral effect lull, whereas the poetically surreal evoked ‘It Was Evening All Afternoon’ has an air of early Cluster.

Showing just how well read this ambient composer is, there’s a third-note emphasized chiming mirage with space birdy warbled piece entitled ‘Mr. Cogito’s Last Dream’; a reference to the Polish author-poet Zbigniew Herbert’s philosophical canvas everyman of the title, the protagonist of a number of reflective, questioning dialogues and poems written under the despair of Communism. Getting technical, there’s an overlap of ghostly trailing notes and repeated nice piano motifs piece that refers to the white notes ‘Lydian’ scale. A mode as it were, this particular scale includes all the notes of an F scale without the Bb.

A suffused wash of enervated motorization and dreamy resonance, Wilson’s Midi Canoe is a mysterious voyage of inner meditation and the otherworldly that’s well worth seeking out. And whilst you are at it, take a look through the whole Moonside catalogue, especially the 2018 abstract hand-painted Mhva LP Scend, a concentrated vapour of sublime ambience.





Passepartout Duo   ‘Vis-à-Vis’
(AnyOne)   LP/10th April 2020




A project that sadly now seems inconceivable in the face of a growing coronavirus pandemic, the freely traversing duo of Nicoletta Favari and Christopher Salvito use the sounds and discoveries of a journey they made from Switzerland, via the Caucasus and former Soviet Asiatic satellites, to China. In conjunction with the AnyOne Beijing arts company label and curatorial platform to promote experimental and contemporary classical music to a ‘budding’ Chinese audience, the Passepartout Duo collaboration is a transportive album of scrap-built instruments and synthesized peregrinations, split into two separate seventeen-minute amorphous soundtracks.

The first part of these cross-panoramic sound adventures, ‘Heartwood’, expresses a sense of time passing; the metronome ticking away as the cycles of chimed strikes, sonorous drones and scuttling wooden undulations make way to crystalized gleams, spindled mechanisms and vague echoes of gamelan. The final section of this journey moves through uninterrupted duel divided melodies, glassy tubular drops and low veiled foghorn bass until ending on a trance-y spell.

The titular track begins with a busier sonic language of clanging and mallet metallics, overlapped with what sounds like an avant-garde video arcade of speed shifts, trickles and pattered Orientalism.

You’re never really sure of which terrain you might be passing through at any given time on this exploratory project of neo-classical travelogues, and that’s what’s so magical about it: anticipating what sonic landscape might come next, or where the duo will take us. In the process Vis-à-Vis flows through an undefined geography to create something fresh and different; a soundtrack untethered, if you will, to a particular time and place.




Orkesta Mendoza  ‘Curandero’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/10th April 2020




Another crisscrossing romp over the southern border, scion of the Calexico-Giant Sand-Xixa axis of Arizona-Mexican fusions, Sergio Mendoza once more leads his Orkesta out across a fertile musical geography on his new LP, Curandero.

And yet again, Mendoza pays a special homage to the sounds and myriad of styles he heard growing up between his two homes of Nogales, Arizona and Sonora, Mexico on an album that is playful and varied.

With an emphasis on pop, this guest heavy follow-up to 2016’s ¡Vamos A Guarachar! Has a more commercial and light sound. Recorded at a breakneck pace, without much planning. Mendoza and his collaborators go with the flow and mood on a Latino odyssey of reinvigorated musical staples. Songs like the 50s rock’n’roll tonk and cowbell tapping ‘Eres Official’ are meant to evoke the ghost of Buddy Holly, but also stir-up Ritchie Valens. US singer of Latin soul, violinist and fellow Arizona native Quetzal Guerrero makes one of many appearances on this low-rider wolf-whistle of a song. Mendoza says he was thinking about Stuart Copeland of The Police and his loud up the front in production style of drums when recording the bubbly undulated heatwave ‘Head Above Waters’. It sounds though like a jolly trek across the desert with Paul Simon in tow. The strangest flash of inspiration is with the broody love song ‘Little Space’, which features Nick Urata of Devotchka crooning like a mix of the Big O and Chris Isaak. Supposedly starting out like The Jam, Mendoza seems to have instead transformed The Beatles ‘I’m Looking Through You’ with the popular folk tradition of cumbia – a style that has had a renaissance in the last decade; modified, transmogrified to fuse with anything going, including electronica and dance music.

From the rambunctious to sauntering, cumbia is just one of the many Central and South American genres to make this LP. Expect to also hear concertina and raunchy ‘rancho’, blasted and serenaded ‘mariachi’, echoes of Joey Bataan and Andrew Sisters, the ‘boogaloo’ and matinee idol Mexican R&B on this sprawling songbook.

Mendoza is having a great time with all this, as he builds a musical escapism that one minute offers the corney, the next, a Ska like gallop across the border towards the Amazon. It’s a whistle-stop tour of lo fi Casio preset shimmy accompanied cruise ship lounge bars, wistful pining Western savannahs and Tijuana parties; a pop and rock celebration of a multifaceted and inspiring cross border melting pot, with something for everyone.




Various   ‘Maghreb K7 Club: Synth Raï, Chaoui & Staifi 1985-1997’
(Sofa Records & Bongo Joe)   LP/27th March 2020




Music from the North African geography of the Maghreb as you’ve probably never heard it; shimmying with Arabian trinkets, rapid tabbing hand drums and exotic sand dune fantasy certainly, yet made otherworldly cosmic and electro-fied for the burgeoning democratized age of affordable low end tech: welcome to the Arabian expat scene in 80s and 90s Lyon.

From the assured collators Bongo Joe and, on this compilation, their partners Sofa Records a eight-song collection of Casio-preset and synthesized transformed musical poetry and lovelorn heartache from a myriad of Algerian artist’s that congregated around the French city’s North Eastern African café and bar hub. Joints such as the Le But Café, the Croix-Rousse and Guillotière were home to a social network hive of activity for conducting business and booking appearances for weddings, galas and studio sessions.

Musically a crossover of the Oran City folk Raï tradition and Zendari rhythm festive Staifi style from back home, the electrified sounds that emanated from this fertile scene were mostly distributed on cassettes, released by facilitators like Top Music, Édition Merabet and SEDICAV. Extraordinarily, and the reason for this collection, vinyl was discarded for the cheap and flexible culture of tape sharing at the time. The fast turnover, not only in recording these tracks but also in getting them on the market, cut out the middleman and helped foster a thriving local distribution network. Still, the power seemed to be with the publishers who could not only modify the lyrics but tamper with the style itself – adding synthesizer and drums – without seeking consent or even running it by the artists that recorded them. This led to some interesting results, as you’ll hear.

For the first time ever, the Maghreb K7 Club LP makes available a smattering of tracks on vinyl; tunes like the Arabian milky way swish ‘Maliky a Malik’ by Zaidi El Batni – which has a strange intro; someone’s footsteps walking through a cheap echo-chamber effect and some slapping – and the bandy, slinky liquid pop mirage with soothing female sighs ‘Goultili Bye Bye’ by funk-disco maestro Nordine Staïfi. Nordine gets two bites of the dancefloor glazed cherry on this album; his second feature, the infectious whistle-and-clap ‘Zine Ezzinet’ is a standout highlight – imagine an Arabian Nile Rodgers mixing down an Orange Juice funk.

Elsewhere, 808 rattles and harmonium merge with spirited song, whilst heavy accentuated Algerian romanticism is augmented by a Miami soundclash of electro beats. Though the most blatant use of that synthesizer influence is found with Salah El Annabi’s Francophone ‘Hata Fi Annabi’, which unexpectedly drops in a whole chunk of Jean-Michel Jarre’s famous ‘Oxygene’ to the mix.

The 90s sourced tracks in this collection are for obvious reasons more polished, but there’s a certain innocence and fuzzy sheen that I quite like about those older, 80s recordings.

Worth a punt just to own ‘Zine Ezzinet’ – fast becoming one of my favourite, essential movers of the year -, this compilation from Bongo Joe and friends is a wonderful platform to discover another bit of ear-opening musical history.



The Monolith Cocktail is now on the micro-payment donation site 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.



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 REVIEWS
Dominic Valvona





Welcome to the inaugural reviews roundup of 2020 by Dominic Valvona; a cosmopolitan, expansive roundup of interesting albums and oddities.

For your discerning ears this month we have Verona’s caustic dancing punks, Hallelujah. The group pawn their guitars for a synth on the new album, Wanna Dance. The vortex dreamers Deutsche Ashram release their second LP, Whisper Om – club beats meet shoegaze, post-punk and dream wave in one intoxicating vacuum. Glitterbeat’s impressive tactile instrumental imprint tak:til continues to deliver the goods with a re-release of John Hassell and his West African foils Farafina 1987 “possible musics” collaboration, Flash Of The Spirit.

I stomp and roll down Alex Molica’s (the Seattle Stomp) garage-punk-country-blues-slacker on the lo fi acoustic rhythm guitar maverick’s debut LP, Maudlin Madness. Oxford-based Americana troupe The Epstein return with an anthemic epic, the band’s first album in years, Burn The Branches. And Mike Gale releases the first volume of B, C, D Sides.

Electronica wise we have the highly prolific electronic music boffin Andrew Spackman, who starts the New Year with his bestial spew of the weird and ennui, releasing yet another techno maverick LP under the lamentable Sad Man nom de plume. Debut wise, Chinese born and now London-based, sound sculptor Li Yilei releases a synthesis of the evanescent and tactile with her upcoming inspired ambient LP Unabled Form.

Deutsche Ashram  ‘Whisper Om’
(Wormer Bros. Records)  LP/24th January 2020


 

Brought to my attention just as the dream wave vortex duo grow more “spacious and immersive” with their second album, Whisper Om, the Deutsche Ashram have surprised me with their vaporous, druggy-hazed and intense qualities: And for that matter, their sheer audacity. You can’t mistake Ajay Saggar’s reverberating-heavy flange, phaser and resonating guitar chimes nor Merinde Verbeck’s wispy and ethereal vocals, but throughout this mixtape collage of gauze-y tunneling produced tracks you hear shades of Siouxsie And The Banshees, My Bloody Valentine, Strawberry Switchblade, New Order, Adult Net, Moon Duo, Grimes and even Jah Wobble. It’s psychedelic. It’s post-punk. It’s shoegaze. It’s C86. It’s all of these.

Saggar bends and wanes, sounding like a spindly Keith Lavene one minute, a tremolo-fanned Johnny Marr the next, whilst Verbeck’s lingering like tones of love, loss and desire, echo between the breathless, mysterious and ominous candy-pop mirages.

The opening ‘Stumbleweed’ sees the Ashram place a scatter-club beat beneath a shoegaze hallucination, but the majority of this album is an accentuate intoxicating neo-pop vacuum of veiled brilliance; a successful experiment in the “spacious and immersive” that is every bit as melodically dreamy as it is intense.




Li Yilei  ‘Unabled Form’
(LTR Records)  LP/28th February 2020


 

In her synthesis of the evanescent and tactile, the London-based (via sojourns in Tokyo and Vienna) sonic sculptor Li Yilei finds stimulation in the most transient and concrete on her debut album, Unabled Form. From the field recordings of recondite conversations on public transport to, what sounds to me like, the creaking of a metal gate swinging in the breeze, Yilei’s sounds flow in a natural motion through a serialism of both searing and understated ambient soundscapes. These are all of variations oscillations, tidal waves and vapours; piqued and shot through with more static buzzes, clangs, pulses and the barest of incipient humming beats.

Mixing real sounds with synthesized electronics, the familiar (even if removed from its source) with the mysterious and industrial, these atmospheric experiences are imbued with Yilei’s embrace of Buddhism and its values. The daughter of a Buddhist nun, the Chinese born artist embodies that belief’s concepts and ruminations of “emptiness” and “impermanence” (the state of fact of lasting for only a limited time, and the philosophical problems of change) on an album of amorphous, evocative immersions.

Track titles sometimes offer a vague sense of reference and mood, especially ‘A Star Without Guidance’, which fizzles and sizzles in the afterglow of a strange cosmos, and ‘A Filed Of Social Tensions’ – a much more chaotic matrix of warping and tape spool speed shifting that threatens to unwind itself. The ambiguous ‘1920’ – with its alien scuttles, repeated loops of reverberating distant voices, horsehair bows, hints of Tibetan bowls and tetchy electronic percussion – is a more mysterious exploration; a pivotal year of revolution and civil war that also saw the catastrophic earthquake in Haiyun county which killed over 73,000 people. Heavenly bodies seep into the traffic of an industrious city, and cyclonic drones hum and brim under solar winds on an ambient soundscape that is as airy, transparent as it can be shadowy and searing. Unabled Form is both unforced and considered. An album of keenly ventured moods, its an abstracted vision of transience from a merging artist with a more unique outlook and inspiration.




Jon Hassell/Farafina  ‘Flash Of The Spirit’
(tak:til)  LP/7th February 2020


 

Less a trumpet player composer absorbing various ideas from across the globe than a performer vessel capturing the empirical essence of a borderless, seamless ideal of new musical horizons, Jon Hassell is rightly hailed as a true pioneer of visionary ambient and entrancing soundscapes. Adroit pupil of Stockhausen, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Terry Riley and Le Monte Young on his way to creating a truly international language with a concomitant series of iconic and highly influential albums in the late 70s and 80s, the American trumpet maestro famously coined the terms “fourth world musics” and “possible musics” for his own experimental fantasies.

The timeless geography of his earlier Vernal Equinox meanderings would prick the ears of Brian Eno; embarking on his very own ambient peregrinations. Far too disingenuous to suggest Eno discovered Hassell (especially when his records with Eno as a collaborator would be filed in record stores under the Englishman’s name and not his), but they would indeed work together on that albums that helped define Hassell’s legacy. As an enabler processing and filtering Hassell’s amorphous microtonal trumpet blends and lingers, Eno sat in on both the first fourth world sessions (entitled Possible Musics Volume 1) and the Dream Theory In Malaya follow-up. A third manifestation, Flash Of The Spirit stands outside that series as an outlier of those minimalist peregrinations.

Re-released on Glitterbeat’s explorative instrumental imprint tak:til, Hassell’s 1987 partnership with the acclaimed Burkina Faso troupe Farafina is a continuation of that practice in polygenesis traverses, only far more rhythmic, tribal and, well…collaborative. Also the spark and roots of each composition on that dreamy voyage were initiated for the most part by the West African group: Between them, founder and balafon virtuoso and vocalist Mahama Konaté and principle drummer (using the ornamental djembe) Paco Yé are responsible for laying down the foundations. Fresh from working their magic on U2’s Joshua Tree Eno alongside his production partner of note Daniel Lanois, were back in the fold and favour; Lanois recording the original sessions and mixing half of the final album’s track list, Eno reshaping and transforming the rest.

Proposed and facilitated by Jazz In Sardinia Festival director Riccardo Sgualdini the, as it would turn out, fruitful union between Hassell and Farafina didn’t get off to the best of starts. The Farafina octet already seasoned having worked with such luminaries as the Rolling Stones and Ryuichi Sakamoto since their formation in 1978, were initially unsure, even suspicious of this Hassell collaboration. Thankfully something gelled and, settled in, the inspiration flowed; the results sounding like an otherworldly evocation of the familiar: African yet distant and vaporous.

Merging Hassell’s smoky and swaddling trumpet and array of sampled strings, harps with the Farafina group’s myriad of talking drums, percussion, flute and voices, Flash Of The Spirit is both spaciously entrancing and rhythmically tribal. Taking the title from Robert Farris Thompson’s book of the same name, the inspiration behind this often gauze-y communion taps into that book’s exposition of African immigrants experiences in the Americas and how they maintain (keep alive) and transform their traditions through creative adoption; harking at a continuingly fruitful, if forced, “collision of cultures”. And, in what is a congruous layering rather than collision, both histories evoke the atavistic whilst also venturing into an imaginary future of sonic interaction and flow.

Evocative individual track titles, accompanied by their parenthesis spirits, offer a theme or movement of direction on this album. For example, “laughter” precedes the gauze-y dancing title-track itself (a rippling, wafting and woody traverse that reminds me of 80s Miles Davis soundtracks) whilst “fear” permeates the nocturnal dipped and bobbing tribal drumming in liquid motion ‘Night Moves’. Surveying the vast Savannah, the almost sensual ‘Air Afrique’ is as airy and attached to the “wind” as its title suggests, taking off on a fantastical flight above the clouds into uncharted soundscapes. ‘Kaboo (play)’ might well be describing something entirely different, but to these ears sounds like a dreamy crawling caravan through the undergrowth, the resonating voices of unseen trilling poets calling out from the wilderness. There’s a crystal ball like mystery echoed in the shivering glassy materializations of ‘Tales Of The Near Future (clairvoyance)’, and an esoteric swirl to the increasingly intense speedy drumming flares of ‘A Vampire Dances (symmetry)’.

As “possible musics” go, this one is successful in creating an amorphous fusion; neither wholly African nor Western but something less tethered or beholden to any specific location and time. The Burkina Faso troupe add a far more “propulsive” rhythm to Hassell’s peregrinations; adding a certain weight to those signature ambient wisps and swaddled passages, yet still sounding as nuzzling and vaporous as ever. Three decades later and you could argue that Flash Of The Spirit is just as refreshing and novel today as it would have been in 1987; caught as it was on the cusp of a new epoch in ambient and electronic music, an augur of truly borderless sounds. Add this to the collection.




Sad Man  ‘The King Of The Beasts’
(Self-Released)  LP/10th February 2020


 

Starting the year as he means to go on, sporadically releasing albums of varying degrees in kooky electronic music mischief, Andrew Speckman, under his mooning Sad Man persona, unleashes the beasts with his first trick noise making experiment of 2020: The King Of The Beasts.

Like a Loony Tunes Cage or Stockhausen, banished to a makeshift potting shed laboratory, the Coventry boffin once more broadens his sonic horizons on an album that, in an ennui fashion, knocks about between a warped vision of d’n’b, techno and more avant-garde meanderings. Prepare to be thrown into a pinball flipper buffeting chaos as busy itchy electronic percussion and a myriad of mulching, whipping and speed shifting effects come up against a transmogrified Orb, Sakamoto, Major Force and Phylps.

In other words: expect the unexpected as Speckman merges dub techno with nocturnal tropical post-punk (‘Xylophone’), clandestine Howie B with a ghostly visitation soundtrack (‘The Pysician’), Les Baxter exotic lullaby with the Leaf Label (‘Nine’) and a buoying bobbing analogue bubble bath with cosmic sub-Indian alpha waves (‘Bus Swerve’).

Somewhere on the Venn diagram of sublime and ridiculous, the plaintive Sad Man steers a mixed bag of ideas into a constantly developing album; churning, squeezing and contorting plenty of odd and more cerebral mileage out of the experimental dance music genre.




Hallelujah  ‘Wanna Dance’
(Maple Death Records)  LP/21st February 2020


 

From the caustic, abrasive noise raises a limbering fucked-up no wave punk contortion you can dance to: within reason and with the use of heavy opioids and imagination. Having discarded the lead guitar for that most rudimentary but beloved of early synths, the Korg MS20, Verona’s disruptive Hallelujah put a real (di)stress on their main motivator; cranking up and pulling the dials until the lift off and scream into a vortex.

Pared down to a trio, after one of the troupe quit, this industrial unit collide with early Mute Records, DAF, Peter Kernel and The Pop Group on an heavy strength album of seedy scuzz and Italo-grime-y disdain. Sung, hysterically and with disruptive sneering petulance, in English you can’t mistake the reactionary spite and goofed erraticism of letting off steam. And if you do, a track title such as ‘Burka For Everyone’ will soon set you straight. Anyway, it forces its way into and occupies the brain, before leaving its scorched marks with a quick spasm of disruptive jerk-off punked and retro-synth dance chaos.

Rome might well be burning, but Verona’s disgruntled angst noiseniks just fucking “wanna dance”.



Seattle Stomp  ‘Maudlin Madness’
(Crush Grove)  3rd January 2020


 

In a beaten-up saloon, careering down a slackers rock’n’roll garage road map, Alex Molica as the Seattle Stomp channels a familiar musical palette of influences on a battered acoustic guitar with his idiosyncratic wanderers debut LP, Maudlin Madness. Fueled up on a millennial cocktail of self-loathing and anxiety, the self-deprecating lo fi roller in (mostly) languid dishevelment beats and strums about lost love, road trips and alcoholism on an album that threatens to disappear below the radar into obscurity.

Far too good escape attention, Maudlin Madness is a deceptively melodic and infectious minor works of both intense and loose gonzo-indie-beat-garage-punk-country-rock. Short enough to not overstay its welcome on repeat plays, the eight tracks really do grow on you. From the Bosco Delrey meets Jonathan Richman and Alan Vega on a psycho rockabilly bum ride opener, ‘Anxious Thoughts’, to the mid-60s period Jagger breaks bread with Sky Saxon and Wolf Parade nursery rhyme creeper ‘Little Red Ridding Hood’ and the country rocking blues flat beat of ‘Power Jam Situation’, there’s the permeating spirit of an outsider looking in.

Molica in his travels bears wintery blasts (in the mode of The Standells on ‘January’), driving towards Denver mooning over the one-that-drifted-away and gets agitated over the contents of a fridge. Strangely though, the last track (if you can make it past the repeating car alarm-like chirping) moves from rock’n’roll jitters to a Mellotron cosmic narration traverse; Molica talking about voyager and moon craters: escapism into the void. Hardly the most original of albums, Maudlin Madness is still a great little LP that bridges slacker indie with garage, country and rock’n’roll.




The Epstein  ‘Burn The Branches’
(Zawinul Records/Pindrop Records)  LP/14th February 2020


 

Ambitious in its quivered anthem rousing and rich panoramas, Oxford-based Americana troupe The Epstein take it up a notch on their latest album, Burn The Branches. With earnest parched yearning the group return after a long hiatus (releasing only their third LP in twelve years) with an expanded sound and dynamism that ratchets up those root country influences to venture beyond the homestead prairie for pastures anew. Don’t worry though; the alt-country vibe is still very much in evidence still, just grander and erring more towards the light and shade of rock and indie music.

They cement this new expansion with a couplet of loud anthems; the brilliantly stirring ‘life-affirming’ ‘That Voice’ and heavier punctuated, increasingly vocally erratic, epic ‘It Will Pass’. The first of which evokes (for me anyway) hints of Meursault, early Radiohead and Deacon Blue, and the second, the Fleet Foxes, Broken Family Band and Wolf Parade. In their more serene, becalming moments The Epstein shimmer towards the hymnal, even country gospel on the quivering with softened timpani rumbling ‘Grand Canyon’ – a faithful cover no less of The Magnetic Fields’ lovelorn hymn from the iconic 69 Love Songs suite -, and march in plaintive step to a crushed piano and a tender accompaniment on the album’s dramatic curtain call, ‘Funeral’. Elsewhere there’s more scenery building with the ethereal desert spirited forsaken ‘Red Rocks’ and mysterious seeking vision ‘Wandering’.

If Wilco, Richmond Fontaine and CYHSY improbably joined forces for the greater good, they might very well sound something a little like this. Heightened crescendos aplenty and grand gestures await on an album that is both highly commercial yet has a real soulful depth and dynamism lacking in so much more popular anthemic music. This could well be the band’s finest work yet.



Mike Gale  ‘B, C, D Sides Volume 1’
LP/2nd January 2020


 

In no way diminishing what is an actually quite good little album, but former Co-Pilgrim and Black Nielson honcho Mike Gale’s latest release is a stopgap between last year’s brilliant surf noir and Pacific ocean Beach Boys imbued Summer Deluxe and a, as yet, unnamed new LP in September. A gathering of material, left wanton in some cases, and just left off of previous albums, B, C, D Sides Volume 1 is a collection of tracks that somehow manages to work as a congruous album of quality romantic paeans, ruminations, breezes and more experimental ideas: some working better than others. However, apart from the odd starry satellite blinking Electronic meets The Farm pop-like early synthesizer tune, the Bs, Cs and Ds on show here sound anything but unsure or half-finished.

You can almost fit Gale’s music into two categories of influence and sound; the first, the more Beach Boys (with the onus on mike Love and Bruce Johnston) and Marc Eric kind of dappled harmony, and the second, harks back to both the C86 phenomenon and the 90s. Sometimes the two crossover of course; especially on ‘Something’s In The River’, a dreamy vocal track that places that Beach Boys lushness over Japan’s brooding synthesized pizzicato strings. In the former category, the opening beautifully be-jangled Donavan-esque ‘All The Traps Of Earth’ features Mike Gale as nature’s son, whilst the similarly acoustic, but with tambourine and more vigor, monastic haunting ‘Good Day, Doomsday’s Here’ has echoes of Paul Simon paling up with the Wilson brothers – possibly one of those tracks that didn’t make Summer Deluxe perhaps? In the latter camp, Gale places a harsher-toned lo fi rock guitar under a dreamy early Stone Roses vibe on ‘New Frontier’; goes all out epic45 and Casio pre-sets on the electro glide pop ‘Drive Ultimate Robot’; and puts an arpeggiator underneath the lilting lovely Cabinessence feel ‘Weather Patterns’.

Elsewhere on this collection, Gale rises dreamily again from the doldrums on the languid despondency ‘I’m Wasting All My Time’ and pens a romantic modern sonnet to a true love on ‘Your Smile’.

Occasionally you can hear the workings of Gale’s evolutions and mind, but these songs are nothing less than well executed; the songwriting as delightful as always. Far from second best, this first volume of tunes that never made the cut is another quality release that fills a Gale-shaped hole until the next album proper arrives in the autumn.




Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog the Monolith Cocktail. 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.




Choice Albums of 2019 Part Two: Haq to Pozi


For those that might have missed Part One of this three-parter, I will reiterate:

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 (since our inception, a decade ago). We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

All the albums in part two were chosen by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Ginaluigi Marsibilio.

Part One can be found here…

H……..

Haq ‘Evaporator’
(Bearsuit Records)







The new release from the fine Bearsuit Records finds us tumbling down to the spiraling sounds of Haq; 60s spy theme sexiness merges with the avant-garde dreampop of a bewitched Stereolab playing hopscotch with Delia Derbyshire whilst sucking on the feedback of a JAMC lollipop.

The obvious love and understanding of pop music in its many genres and changes throughout the decades are lovingly brought together to make a wash of beautiful tunes. Angel like vocals float over gentle beats, soulful guitars and well constructed rhythms, delicately plucking at the heartstrings. This album really is a beautiful work of aural magic that can and will take you AWAY from the drudgery of everyday life and makes for quite a moving experience: maybe there is a god after all. (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea)

Full review…


Homeboy Sandman ‘Dusty’
(Mello Music Group)





“Pure skills unfazed by tempo, turning fleeting thoughts into elaborate dissections. Long may the cult of the Sandman continue” – RnV Nov 19




Something that will never be lost to the dusts of time is Homeboy Sandman and that flow that still sounds just past a cipher amongst friends. Mono En Stereo tease out his kooks with production springy in step and managing a melting pot and the bare bones. Actually the continued kooky associations do Homeboy a disservice, as Dusty is Sandman doing what he does best in all his multifaceted greatness, able to pull off sincere and sombre on a sixpence before pulling the rug through sleight of verb (“anybody asks, I was never here/in the lunchroom sitting alone my whole career/wear my pants so you can’t see my underwear”), aiming for personal bests as if the aforementioned cipher is strictly for him. An undisputed battler and hip-hop student, and whose streams of consciousness you won’t find anywhere else (including moulding the mundane into something profound), Homeboy is a good egg who just happens to have the ability to destroy whoever. (Matt Oliver)


Chrissie Hynde & The Valve Bone Orchestra ‘Valve Bone Woe’
(BMG)





I’m probably in a minority, but I feel Chrissie Hynde has been in the past restricted by her proto-rock icon status. Never sounding better, and not entirely a shock, Hynde, linking up with The Valve Bone Orchestra, transduces a collection of standards from stage, film, 60s pop and jazz on, probably, her most mature work yet, Valve Bone Woe.

As showy as it is experimental, this orchestrated album is both romantically brooding and brazen. Dotting brooding and dreamy versions of classics with more spiritual jazz and retro-space age fantasy, Hynde delivers an offbeat jazz snozzled slinky salacious version of Nancy Wilson’s ‘So Glad I Am’, and sends Brian Wilson’s ‘Caroline, No’ drifting off towards the stars, whilst relegating herself to lulling coos on the Charlie Mingus ‘Meditation On A Pair Of Wire Cutters’ – a workout in as much for the ensemble to flex their spirit of peregrination.

Bond like theme visions of Frank Sinatra’s ‘I’m A Fool To Want You’, sit well next to a strung out rendition of ‘Wild Is The Wind’ (made famous by many, but namely Nina Simone and Bowie) on an album that, though beautiful and magical, pushes Hynde to ever dizzying heights of sophistication and experiment. (Dominic Valvona)


Hifiklub & Mike Cooper  ‘Aran Stories’
(Ruptured)





Bringing the ever-evolving Toulon eclectic collective Hifiklub and English polygenesis journeyman Mike Cooper together, the harsh unforgiving coastal terrain and psychogeography of the Isle Of Aran provides a perfect bleak backdrop for an unholy union of conceptual plaint and experimental strung-out visions. Primal, harrowing, steel, waning, craning, expanding and untethered this visceral collaboration hews out an evocative off-kilter post-punk and abstract electronica soundtrack that winds and beats-out of shape tales and traces of the island’s history. The album’s opening lyrics let you know straight away where this is heading: “This year I see a darker side of life”.

The source material for this exploration and therapy is Robert J. Flaherty’s Man Of Aran documentary – his third such documentary feature film after the famous groundbreaking 1922 Nanook of the North and South Seas set Moana – and John Millington Synge’s 1907 The Aran Islands text, which Cooper takes on a more harsh version of Robert Wyatt-like meandering intense wonder.

Dark and ominous, conveying a hardy way of life and travails, this album is a tough but mesmerizing and hauntingly beautiful work of art. (DV)


I………

Ifriqiyya Electrique ‘Laylet el Booree’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Just as electrifying, exotic and barracking as the previous ritualistic post-punk tumult of Rûwâhîne, Ifriqiyya Electrique’s second album, Laylet el Booree, (which translates as the “night of the madness”) features another invigorating surged vortex of rustic percussion, strange computer-generated sounds, static, sparks and two-speed rhythms.

Mirroring the stamping, emotive and sometimes confusing hallowed intensity of the adorcist ritual from the Banga followers of Tozeur that this album’s title references, the collaborative Tunisian-Italian troupe work themselves up into a fervor as they communion with the spirit world. The Electrique integrate different rhythmic changes and timings; seeming to experiment even more this time around; pushing the envelope further without losing that original tumultuous barrage of bombarding drums/percussion and edgy growling grinding industrial guitar sounds. If anything they’ve unleashed the spirits to roam the amorphous sphere of exploration to draw on even more diverse musical inspirations, creating a highly unique invigorating sensory experience in the process. Industrial post-punk ritual leaves the furnace once more to cause an explosive cacophony. (DV)

Full Review


Invisible System ‘Dance To The Full Moon’
(ARC Music)





Taken from the same recording sessions as Dan Harper’s previous album, Bamako Sessions, his latest transportive exploration under the nom de plume of Invisible System once more lends an electrified and synthesized pulse to the spiritual soul of Malian music. Originally put together in a more languorous fashion with a variety of musicians coming and going, jamming in a mattress proofed room in a rented house in the capital, Dance To The Full Moon was created and shaped at the end of a tumultuous and violent period in Mali’s history. That tumult, along with a passion for his adopted country, has been energized as Dan transforms the music of a myriad of Mali’s great and good (a lineup of players that includes Kalifa Koné, Sidi Touré and Sambou Kouyaté) into an attuned and dynamic remix of the Mali soundscape. (DV)

Full review…


J……….

Juga-Naut & Giallo Point ‘Back to the Grill Again’
(Tuff Kong)





“Running through crews like a hot knife through butter, from now only order these cordon bleu beats and rhymes, a gangster gourmet with an all important UK garnish” – RnV Aug 19




Someone who definitely needs to enter the conversation when it comes to naming the UK’s top tier of rhymers, Juga-Naut stays up by showing that show-n-prove and aspirational, ostentatious folly do pay. Given that this follows relatively hot on the heels of 2018’s Bon Vivant, Jugs has officially got both designs for days and commitment to quality control – list toppers others find hard to fathom. Giallo Point, the money man when it comes to Little Italy dramas on the boards, fills his beats with a hydration he usually leaves out on purpose, chaperoning the Nottingham emcee who may shuffle realities – a kind of surrealism that takes logical steps – but fundamentally has the presence to shut down backchatters with granite-set rhymes that calibrates a kind of one inch punch that hasn’t got time for any dramatics. Heavy, no heartburn. (MO)


John Johanna ‘Seven Metal Mountains’
(Faith & Industry)







With afflatus fervor Norfolk-based artist John Johanna transduces the mountain allegories and metaphors as laid down by Noah’s grandfather in the vision-dream-revelatory Book Of Enoch into a gospel-raga-blues and Radio Clash prescient Biblical cosmology. Interrupted from Enoch’s visits to the heavenly realms – where, as Johanna’s Strummer fronts Wah! Heat, Gothic redemption goer ‘Standing At The Gates Of Love’ takes its title from, you will find a no-nonsense angel guarding the Pearly Gates with a flaming sword in hand – the Seven Metal Mountains metallurgy passage is as much an augur as observed proclamation. Used here as a frame for Johanna’s second visionary album of spiritual nutrition in a Godless age for the always brilliant Faith & Industry label, the dour liturgy of Judaic tradition and law inspires a message of forewarning and yearns for less materialistic avarice.

Seven Metal Mountains translates Biblical prophecy marvelously into a vivid eclectic songbook of protestation post-punk, indie, folk, psych and lilting Krautrock. (DV)

Full review…


Junkboy ‘Trains, Trees, Topophilia’







Disarmingly chilled yet full of wistful rumination and contemplation, Junkboy’s Brighton-Seaford-Southend traverse wonders what it would sound like if Brian Wilson was born and bred on the English Riviera instead of Hawthorne, California: The beachcomber vibes of Pet Sounds permeate this quint lush English affair. You can safely add vague notions of Britpop era Octopus, a touch of the Super Furry Animals more folksy psych instrumentals, some early Beta Band, echoes of 90s Chicago post-rock, and on the dreamboat bluegrass lilted-and-silted ‘Sweetheart Of The Estuary’ more than a nod to Roger McGuinn and pals.

The Brothers Hanscomb long awaited new instrumental opus, Trains, Trees, Topophilia is a peaceable musical landscape littered with the ghostly reverb of railways station interchanges, mew-dewed laced green hillsides, tidal ebbs and flows and Cluniac Abbeys. Call it pastoral musical care for the soul; a beautifully conveyed canvas of the imagined and idyllic and a subtle ode to the Southeast cartography and painters, poets, writers that captured it so perfectly. (DV)

Full review…


K………..

Kel Assouf ‘Black Tenere’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Mirroring the borderless Nomadic freewheeling of the Berber ancestral Tuareg people, a loosely atavistic-connected confederacy (to put it into any kind of meaningful context) of diverse tribes that have traditionally roamed Sub-Saharan Africa since time immemorial, Kel Assouf channel a wealth of musical influences both historically and geographically into an electrified reworking of (as vague and over-used a term as it is) desert rock. Headed by charismatic Gibson Flying V slinger front man Anana Ag Haroun, who’s own lineage takes in both the landlocked behemoth Niger and bordering Nigeria, the highly propulsive, cyclonic spiraling trio propel that heritage into the 21st century; thanks in many ways to the futuristic cosmic electronic and bass frequency production of the band’s rising innovative keyboardist/producer Sofyann Ben Youssef.

A stunning rock odyssey that draws its multiple sources together in both defiance and in the spirit of communication – the Kel Tamashek plight, as guardian-custodians of the desert, translated via the poetic heartfelt earthy soulful lyrics of Haroun – Black Tenere stretches the roots of nomadic rock and blues to reflect ever-expanding musical horizons as the global community grows ever-smaller and music becomes more fluid and spreads with ease. Kel Assouf is on another plane entirely, propelling rock music into the future. (DV)

Full review…


Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba ‘Miri’
(Outhere Records)







The courtly sound of the Mali Empire from the 13th century, accompanying the griot tradition of storytelling for an age, the (usually) dried-animal skin wrapped, canoe-shaped ngoni lute has been electrifyingly revitalized in recent years thanks in part to the virtuoso dexterity and energy of one of its leading practitioners, Malian legend, Bassekou Kouyate.

Following up the more electrified 2015 LP, Ba Power (which made our albums of the year feature), with a fifth album of innovative paeans, hymns, protestations and calls for peace, Bassekou takes a more reflective pause for thought on Miri; gazing out across his crisis-ridden homeland, contemplating on how the fragmented landscape and people can be brought back together for the common good. Backed as always by the family band that features his wife, the soulful and beautifully voiced ‘nightingale of the north’, Amy Secko, and his son, Madou Kouyate, on bass ngoni, but also now including his niece Kankou (making a special guest appearance on vocals), the Bamana entitled encapsulation of ‘dream’, or ‘contemplation’, Miri record touches base with Bassekou’s roots.

A visceral picture of a land in crisis, yet one that has hope for a united Mali, Miri is a sublime connective and rallying collection of compelling and thrilling performances and songs (Sacko especially on fine form delivering the most tender and rich vocals throughout); another essential album from the ngoni master. (DV)

Full review…


L…………

Labelle ‘Orchestre Univers’
(Infiné)







Jérémy Labelle is clearly a very talented musician, composer and producer. He casts his net of influence wide to draw upon many musical styles. His synthesis of modal harmonies and tribal rhythms is very reminiscent of the ‘Fourth World’ created by the venerable Jon Hassell. His latest album, Orchestre Univers, was performed by the Orchestre Regional of Réunion Island; conducted by Laurent Goossaert. The ten pieces from the album (three previously published and seven original works) were recorded live over four concerts that took place on the island.

I have read numerous interviews with Labelle who cites identity and anthropology as themes that have inspired him to write music. Orchestre Univers feels more like a celebration, a coming together of musicians and audiences to rejoice at the unique music that has emerged from the island of Réunion. The electronics and compositional complexities offered by Labelle are merely 21st century adaptations to what is an age-old sound. They should not be dismissed. His concept of “Maloya electronics” is truly global and will ensure that the next generation of Réunionese continue to declare, “Nous Maloya lé mondial!” (Andrew C. Kidd)

Full review…


Little Brother ‘May the Lord Watch’
(Foreign Exchange Music)





“Effortless and erudite, LB still have the remedy for when your last nerve has been worked over” – RnV Sep 19



The return of Gang Starr claimed a glut of headlines in 2019, but the reconvening of Little Brother’s Phonte and Big Pooh was no undercard announcement, their first album in nine years instantly restoring goodwill to flagging hip-hop naysayers. Supremely funky, soulful, still getting the maximum mileage out of a running joke-made-critical, cultural commentary, and with the likes of Khrysis, Nottz, Focus and Black Milk upholding 9th Wonder’s gold-fingered role on the boards, all is well with the world once this blooms from speakers. The ease of the pair’s back and forth is no less marvelous as we approach the twenties – masterful, as if they’re just hanging somewhere nondescript, and just ready to go and express themselves – there’s still a lot to be said for their all-seeing chemistry, keeping of the faith and words to the wise, even this deep in the game. May there be mercy upon your soul if you’re not already excited for 2028. (MO)


M…………..

Mazouni ‘Un Dandy En Exil/Algérie-France/1969-1983’
(Born Bad Records)







Our review copy must have been lost in the post or missed the inbox, but this compilation of hits and rarities from the exiled dandy of “Francarabe” (a unique blend of French and Arabic lyrics) Mohamed Mazouni was one of the year’s most enchanting discoveries. Swooning and crooning poignant touching and lamenting songs about exile, love and the travails of being a first-generation Algerian immigrant in France, Mazouni sashays, shakes, belly dances and saunters to the sounds of the Orient on the first ever compilation dedicated in his honour. (DV)


Meursault ‘Crow Hill’
(Common Grounds)







An ambitious literary-enriched album with a loose story and range of perspectives that will unfold further in comic book form and through live performance, Neil Scott Pennycook’s Crow Hill diorama delivers a whirlwind of dark emotions; many of which feel like a punch to the heart.

Announced as a new chapter for Pennycook’s alter ego Meursault, released as the launch album for the new independent Common Grounds label, Crow Hill marks a move into fiction for the Edinburgh artist. An “urban horror” of vignettes, each song on this album represents twelve chapters of plaintive and lamentable grief and broken promises from the imagined town’s inhabitants, set to a constantly beautifully aching soundtrack that either builds and builds towards anthemic crescendo or despairingly gallops towards the flames: in the case of the brutal punishing ‘Jennifer’, a discordant scream of anguish, on what could be a crime of domestic abuse.

An outstanding album full of both heartache and brilliance, this is a vivid, richly and descriptively revealing minor-opus; the first chapter or part of a much grander multimedia universe that crosses songwriting with veiled fiction, illustration and performance. As first stabs go, Pennycook has shown an encouraging erudite skill for writing, which translates well when put to music. (DV)

Full review…


Mr Muthaf*ckin’ eXquire ‘Mr Muthaf*ckin’ eXquire’
(Soulspazm)





“Satisfying your ignorant itch and also reducing dancefloors to bloody smithereens, it’s a surprisingly, satisfyingly well-rounded album where the bite backs up the bark” – RnV May 19




In a sea of clones, drone and cookie cutters, eXquire remains the genuine, genuinely outrageous article, putting up without shutting up and attacking this album with bloodlust right from the off. Leaving clubs to check their insurance policies, Mr MFX is the valve that releases the pressure when people are getting in your way, saturating front rows before levelling out with kerbside rollers, showing that with shock value comes some degree of responsibility. Maybe the real cliché is when you come for the outrage (the outright base ‘I Love Hoes’) and end up staying for him having something to say (admittedly, it’s usually to a deafening, disorientating backdrop). ‘Rumblefish’ expertly get emotions tangled, and the prophetic novella ‘Nothing’s What It Seems’: Short Film’ grows artistically ahead of a closing monologue of self-discovery. Whatever his angle, he’s always on and leaves everything in the booth. (MO)


O……………

Occult Character ‘Chittering Noises’
(Small Bear Records)







Here we have the brand new Occult Character LP. Yes another one. This time an all acoustic guitar affair that once again proves my previous claim correct that Occult is the most important songwriter in the USA today: 13 songs in 15 minutes, strumming through short songs dealing with the subjects of abortion, having the shits, being nice to people, among many others all written and sang in Occults inimitable style.

What I love about Occult Character is the point on accuracy of his lyrics and his talent for finding the bizarreness of everyday living – especially him contemplating and commentating on life in a Trump led America – with a verve and shambolic dark humour all of his own. This album and the sister piece LP to this, The Cult Of Ignorance, released on Metal Postcard Records earlier in the year should be downloaded by all American Schools and stored away and in ten years time played to the students as part of their American History lessons. This is another must have album of 2019 and may come to be seen as one of the most important and influential and considered a cult classic in the years to come. (BBS)


Abdallah Ag Oumbadougou ‘Anou Malane’
(Sahel Sounds)







More a ‘choice album’ of 1995 of course, lifted and reset from the original cassette for the first time, this new reissue of the Tuareg legend and doyen of the desert guitar, Abdallah Ag Oumbadougou, is a worthy addition to any right-minded eclectic music lovers collection.

Addressing the troops as a front-runner in the armed Tuareg rebellion of the 1990s – another phase in the long-running campaign for the desert peoples of Northern Mali and bordering regions to set up an autonomous state of their own -, Oumbadougou’s reputation grew from humble, isolated beginnings; his protestations and balladry spread through a network of cassette tape dubbers.

In exile for his troubles, the desert blues minstrel traveled to Benin to record an official release with the West African producer Nel Oliver – known for his work on a number of seminal boogie and afro-funk records of the period. Oliver lends a sauntering boogie and discotheque production to the earthy soulful magic of Oumbadougou’s signature influence on one of the first ever records to capture the Tuareg guitar style. A seminal and essential bridge between styles, Anou Malane is one of the best records to come out of the troubles and period. Own it now! (DV)


P……………

Park Jiha ‘Philos’
(tak:til)







Following her universally applauded debut album, Communion, Park Jiha has chosen Philos – from Greek, plural: loving, fond of, tending to – as the title for her latest release on Glitterbeat‘s sub-label, tak:til.

It has been described as an “evocation of her love for time, space and sound”. This is certainly evidenced in the multi-instrumental and baleful opener, ‘Arrival’, which consists of simple, metronomic strums and reedy high notes that lace around each other in ominous prismaticism. The piri, a double-reed bamboo flute played by Park, features heavily in this piece, as it does later during the album’s title track.

The album departs from the instrumental during the track, ‘Easy’, which features the breezy and philosophical (or, rather, extrajudicial) spoken word of the Lebanese poet, Dima El Sayed. The upper notes intensify and push the vocals to a dizzying and distorting conclusion.

There is an eloquent passage in the album notes which describes Philos as “[looking] to the future whilst continuing to converse with a rich instrumental language from the past”. This admixture of traditional Korean and Western instrumentation, coupled with compositions that lean towards the ambient and neoclassical, transmute Park’s experiences of a world awash with changing tides, transitory weather and ever-expanding cities into something that is indefinably atemporal. (ACK)

Full review…


Per W/Pawlowski ‘Outsider/Insider’
(Jezus Factory/Starman Records)







Thirteen years after their first collaboration together, two stalwarts of the alternative Belgian music scene once more reunite to produce, what they call, their very own unique White Album curiosity. The intergenerational musical partnership of one-time dEUS guitar-slinger for hire Mauro Pawlowski and maverick legend Kloot Per W proves an experimental – if odd – success in mining both artist’s influences and providence; the results of which, transformed into a playful, often knowing and pastiche, misadventure, are performed with conviction. Behind the often-masked mayhem and classic rock poses lurk serious, sometimes cathartic wise observations.

With the deep sagacious and world-weary voice of Per W leading, Outsider/Insider merges the mixed fortunes of both artists; whether it’s the jangly Traveling Wilburys like power rock pastiche ‘KPW On 45’ and its commentary on the cultural overbearing of America (“American rock star live in my European food!”) or, the iron fire-escape tapping, industrial funk gyrating, seductive if awkward ‘Room!’, Per W adds just enough off-center lyricism and ambivalence to make even the most obvious-sounding straight-A tune take a turn into weirdville.

Off-white to The Beatles stark magnolia gloss, Outsider/Insider is hardly a classic – dysfunctional or otherwise –, but is an amusing, sometimes absurd, and well-crafted alternative art-rock record of some ambition and style. (DV)

Full review…


Pozi ‘PZ1’
(PRAH Recordings)







Jabbed finger punk with a cushioned impact of bowed melodic and even dashes of doomed romanticism, the London band Pozi produce a kind of disarming malcontent anger. Like the results of a merger between Stiff Records and Sub Pop, this nervy troupe prod and waltz to spiky punkish drums, brooding bass, and fractious and waning strings as they cast a resigned eye over the current political climate. If the Sleaford Mods had more grace and ideas, they could have sounded like this. Quite simply: bloody brilliant. (DV)


PART ONE


album of 2019 part one - monolith cocktail


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)


Reviews Roundup: Dominic Valvona




Each month Dominic Valvona brings us the most eclectic recommendations roundups, with reviews of albums, singles and EPs from across the globe and genres.

 

This latest edition includes a brand new album of unsettling cosmic traverses from Krautrock and Berlin guitar legend Günter Schickert – working with Ja, Panik main man Andreas Spechtl – based around the concept of his home city’s transport system and a moth; the return of the peaceable voiced folk maiden Katie Doherty and her The Navigators pals; the debut album of Latintronica, psych, prog and Kosmische peregrinations from the Argentine artist Santiago Córdoba, ‘En Otres Lugares’; a trio of World Music showcases from the prolific ARC Music catalogue, with collections from the Vietnamese zither maestro Tri Nguyen, the co-production and musical Sufi mystical transforming partnership of Abdesselam Damoussi & Nour Eddine and traditional Thrace mythological imbued Rodopi Ensemble; the debut solo album of ‘attic noise’ from Benelux alt-rock scenester Heyme Langbroek; and the brilliant new album of sentimental dreampop from Toronto musician Charlie Berger, under his newest incarnation With Hidden Noise.

There’s also the upcoming playful psychedelic pop and tropical lilted dance around the Berlin architecture EP, Rooftop Trees, from Aurélien Bernard – under his 3 South & Banana alter ego; the latest in a line of singles from the Oxford-based Swedish angulated indie pop songstress Julia Meijer;and the profound afflatus elegiac opener, ‘When You’re Gone’, from the marital fronted Settle band Society Of The Silver Cross.



Albums

Günter Schickert ‘Nachtfalter’
(Bureau B) 15th February 2019


Notable progenitor of flanging echo-pedal guitar, free-jazz instigator of the traversing cosmic GAM, No Zen Orchestra and Arumaruma (among the least obscure succession of groups), the Berlin Krautrock legend Günter Schickert continues, like so many of his surviving WWII born and Boomer generation comrades, to circumnavigate the sonic unknown; probing for tears in the fabric, looking to penetrate new horizons.

An extension of Schickert’s previous solo flights of guitar exploration – the 1975 Brain label debut Samtvogel, and the Sky label follow-up of 1980 ÜberfälligNachtfalter features all the signature echo-y reverberations and waning searching guitar accentuations. Recorded back in the summer of 2018, in collaboration with Ja, Panik navigator Andreas Spechtl, who refashioned Schickert’s untethered live performances, adding his very own drum accompaniments and loops, this instrumental album evokes both the cosmic mysticism of Ash Ra Tempel and the more haunting, ominous deep space Kosmische of Tangerine Dream. Spechtl’s production, drum patterns and effects however, add a touch of tubular metallic sheen, futuristic tribal percussion and nuanced Techno to the otherworldly, often threatening, mood.

There are two inspirations at work on this LP; the naturalistic progress and presence, and then demise, of the moth that this album is named after (this said moth also features in the artwork) and the motion, rhythm of public transport in the city of Schickert’s birth. As the artist himself says, “I was born in Berlin and I am a true city child.” And like so many before and after, the city has left it’s indelible mark; the beat (not to be confused with the Dusseldorf birthed ‘motorik’ rhythm of Klaus Dinger) on Nachtfalter mirrors the industrious clang, rattle and cycle of Berlin’s metro and buses to an extent, though the northern European atmosphere of the city’s psychogeography attracts a more darker, eerie misaim throughout. The opening ‘Nocturnus’ (as the title might imply) is especially creepy with its Kubrick monolith pulse and unsettling conch shell horn – imagine Faust and Tangerine Dream invoking the arrival of a cosmic Viking long ship, emerging from the mists. The final all-encompassing merging of Schickert’s full gamut of guitar manipulations and strides, ‘Reflections Of The Future’, even evokes moments of John Carpenter’s synth-tracked horrors.

Despite the heart-of-darkness moods and craning instrumental eulogies to the moth that by happenstance entered the studio (clinging to the ceiling all night before dropping dead the next morning) during recordings, there are occasional bursts of energetic thumping rhythm: bordering on juddering Electro on the gliding, county bowed guitar arching and leaning ‘Wohin’ (which translates as ‘Where’: indeed where?!!). There are glimmers of light to be found amongst the darkened unknowing mystery, and far from suppressive and heavy, Schickert’s guitar roams freely, drifting, wafting and expansively has he accents the spaces before him.

An impressive cool transformation of the guitar innovator’s echoed enveloping signatures and traverses, Nachtfalter benefits enormously from Spechtl contemporary and energetic production. A dynamism and touch of modern electronica is added to the Krautrock messenger’s articulations to produce a most unsettling, interesting of musical experiences.




Santiago Córdoba ‘En Otros Lugares’
(Sounds And Colours) 8th February 2019





A gateway to everything worth celebrating (as much as it might also be confounding and a mystery to many) about the South American and Central American continent, the Sound And Colours hub, which includes one of the most in-depth of reference and news sites, guide books and events, has proved a rich essential source for me. Whether it’s through the site’s cultural, political and historical purview style series of accessible guides to Peru, Brazil and Colombia, or their considered catalogue of music projects, I’m kept up-to-speed and introduced to some of the continent’s most interesting artists and scenes. The latest of which is the emerging and burgeoning solo artist Santiago Córdoba, who releases his panoramic multi-city composed suite En Otros Lugares on the site’s in-house label this month.

 

ormerly a percussionist band member of the ‘revolutionary’ Tango outfit Violentango, the Argentine born Córdoba left his native home in 2016 for a ‘peripatetic’ life, moving from one place to the next; making a fleeting base of operations for himself in Madrid, Italy and Beirut. Backpacker travails and the sounds of each short-stay imbue this eclectic travelogue; though these often free-spirited peregrinations also stir up cosmic, magical and transcendental horizons as much as the Earthly: As the album title itself alludes, En Otros Lugares translates as “in other places” or “elsewhere”.

Both geographically and musically diverse, the opening panorama, ‘La Llamada’ (“the flamed”), traverses an amorphous Andean outback landscape, filled with ghostly echoes, arid hums and a trance backing, whilst Fuck Buttons meet School Of Seven Bells astral planning over the Amazon on the progressive psychedelic ‘A Dos Leagues’ (“two leagues”).

Post-rock influences merge with Latintronica, 2-Step, free-jazz crescendos, the Kosmische, Refree like harmonic plucks and brushed guitar, and radio transmissions tuned to poignant past figures of interest on a condor flight of fantasy and mystical voyage of thoughtful meditation.

The former Tango agitator expands his tastes and picks up a host of new instruments to fashion an impressive ambitious slow-burner of a debut album. Another brilliant South American export.






Katie Doherty & The Navigators ‘And Then’
(Steeplejack Music) 25th January 2019





Sidetracked, in a positive and inspiring way, by a detour into stage production, folk maiden Katie Doherty has probably taken a lot longer than she envisioned to release another album.

The award-winning songwriter released her debut, Bridges, to favorable reviews back in 2007 and went on to share the stage with such luminaries as Karine Polwart, the McGarrigle Sisters and Ray Davis on a giddying trajectory, before (as Doherty herself puts it) ‘life got in the way’. In that time Doherty, far from idle, took on roles as both a composer for a number of Northern Stage productions and as a MD for a Royal Shakespeare Company production. It is these roles, and ‘broadening’ of horizons that now inform Doherty, her Navigators (Shona Mooney on fiddle and vocals and Dave Gray on the button accordion melodeon) and wider backing group (which includes more chorus vocalists, a cellist, percussionist and double bassist) on the concertinaed pastoral theatrical And Then.

Three tracks specifically sound like they were plucked from the stage. And in a roundabout way they were; the peaceable air-y bellowed shanty dedication to ‘leaving a beloved city behind’ ‘Yours’ and gentle-building lulled symphony finale ‘We Burn’ were both originally commissioned by the November Club for ‘Beyond The End Of The Road’, and the enchanting picturesque scene-setting waltz ‘Heartbeat Ballroom’ was commissioned by the Wallsend Memorial Hall for the reopening of the town’s grandiose ballroom.

Marking ‘change’ in various forms and analogies Doherty’s themes encompass the change of the seasons, the life-altering change of bringing up a child in a changing society hooked-up 24 hours to, an often, poisonous internet, and the rapidly escalating changes in society as a consequence of the equality debate: Doherty, in the shape of an enervated ‘anti-apology’ framed protest, takes a dignified stance on the album’s title track, giving a more considered intensity to a R&B pop-folk backing as she reassures us that “This is not war music. This is not a fighting song.”

Such heavy important anxieties, such as the pressures of expectation (epically in our validation age of social media shaming, easy inflamed indignity and virtue signaling) and responsibility are woven into a lovely songbook, as Doherty’s lightly caressing vocals waft and dance to a mix of Celtic tradition, snow flurry landscape malady, buoyant sea motion affairs of the heart and Eastern European travails.

After years spent away from the studio, Katie Doherty emerges with a purposeful and composed reflective collection of distilled folk.




Heyme ‘Noise From The Attic’
(Jezus Factory) TBA





Spending much of his formative musical education in the Benelux, playing with a litany of alternative underground rock and experimental angulated Antwerp bands (Kiss My Jazz, IH8 Camera and Lionel Horowitz & His Combo), the Dutch-born musician Heyme Langbroek now sets out on a solo mission with his curious debut, and self-explanatory entitled, album Noise From The Attic.

Settling (for the last six years at least) in Poland Heyme puts all his past experiences into an understated album of songs and instrumentals created by the use of a loop station; Heyme using this unit to build a basic track which he then plays over the top of with various overlapping melodies, rhythms and improvisations. A quaint routine, Heyme’s attic noises, as the title makes clear, were all recorded in the said attic garret of his house, mostly on alternate Sundays. It might be nothing but by choosing the traditional day of liturgy worship to record his music on, it could be read as a metaphor for cathartic release; unburdening ideas, sentiments and regrets at the altarpiece of a home-recording studio.

Tethered to the past as much as moving forward experimentally, Noise From The Attic is imbued by many of the same performance recording techniques as used by the Antwerp collective of Kiss My Jazz; a group that Heyme served with alongside members from, perhaps Belgium’s most revered and recognized alt-rock group, dEUS. Heyme even reprises one of the band’s estranged songs, ‘Burn In Hell’; a woefully mooning ‘fuck you’ break-up submerged beneath a vacuum of Hawaiian rock’n’roll warbles. On the remainder of the LP he despondently wanes to a suffused template of Casio keyboard like presets, snozzled oozing Roxy Music and Hansa Studio Bowie saxophone, forlorn northern European melodies and chugging guitar. Within those perimeters the moody attic troubadour of alternative lo fi brooding pop does a Sparks, on ‘Klara’, evokes 70s era Floyd, on the mentally fatiguing ‘Paranoid’, adopts Blixa Bargeld’s tonsils and trans-European malady, on ‘Where She Goes (She Goes)’, and channels Eno’s ‘Another Green World’, on the far from discordant row, ‘Noisz’.

Showing the ‘proverbial’ Dutch courage, unloading worn, grizzled sentiments the solitary Heyme provides one of the year’s most peculiar reflective solo experiments. Fans of the solo work of the former dEUS guitar triumvirate of Rudy Trouve, Mauro Pawlowski and Craig Ward will find a fourth such inspired maverick to add to the list.






With Hidden Noise ‘Beside The Sea’
(Loss Leader Records) 18th January 2019





Rising with a certain languid tremble from the nocturnal wintery Canadian frontiers before dissipating back into the ether of a somnolent dreampop soundscape, Charlie Berger under the guises of his newest project, White Hidden Noise, wafts in and out of a fluxes state of pining and sighed romanticism.

Well versed in the dreampop, shoegaze and slowcore departments the Toronto musician-singer-songwriter’s diaphanous brooding album is a congruous continuation in a career that includes stints with Soft Wounds, Slowly and Tone Mirrors, and the launch of his own diy label, Loss Leader Records – of which this LP is released through. In that mode, with influences like Low (a huge influence in fact), Cigarettes After Sex and The Red House Painters lingering throughout the wistful fabric, the veiled Beside The Sea opus dreams big. Berger woos expansive heartache across the panoramas; meditating on the loss of memory to a considered purposeful backing that builds from suffused lulls to gradually built-up and swelled indie-shoegaze choruses.

The album title and gentle prompts, including the artist’s own guidance that this eight-track suite could be “moody late night driving music”, pretty much sets the listener up as to the mood, environment and sentiment. Amongst the bendy tremolo flanges and placid rhythms of the brushed cymbal and echo-y forlorn, the trio of songs, ‘The Other Korea’, ‘Close The Door’ and ‘Look’, placeably break out from their dreamy state into beautiful shoegaze-y Britpop anthems – hues of Slowdive, Gene and Sway drift around in the general absorption of influences.

It could just be me, but I can even hear a touch of early REM in the fanned-drift and soft pained harmony of ‘Further More’ and The Bends era Radiohead on the opening tenderly swooned ‘Window’ metaphor heavy plaint.

Berger’s yearned and pined ‘drive time’ soundtrack beckons the listener into a moody dreamy atmosphere of emotive outpourings; the subject of these songs remaining a lingering presence, lost, with only the traces of those memories remaining. Beside The Sea is a beautiful album – ok, some tracks do overstay their welcome – that reimagines Low as a British 80s dreampop combo.






Rodopi Ensemble ‘Thraki-Thrace-The Path Of Dionysus’
(ARC Music) 25th January 2019

Abdesselam Damoussi & Nour Eddine ‘JEDBA-Spiritual Music From Morocco’
(ARC Music) 25th January 2019

Tri Nguyen ‘The Art Of The Vietnamese Zither-Đàn Tranh’

(ARC Music) 22nd February 2019




Among the most prolific of world music and folk labels the ARC Music catalogue spans eras, genres and geography: In-depth surveys, collections and performances from the Welsh vales to Andean Mountains, from the South African veldts to Arctic Tundra. Probably sending us the most CDs of any label on a weekly basis, ARC’s diverse schedule is always worth further inspection, even if the cover art and packaging suggests the kind of CD you might pick up from a garage – filed under ethnocentric muzak. Far from it, each release is always a showcase of adroit musicianship with only the best examples of every style and tradition covered.

Usually built on the foundations of each respective artists or troupe’s heritage, these albums offer a contemporary twist on occasion: even a fusion.

Not so much randomly but just taking a trio of recent releases from the ARC stable we find three very different examples of this with the music of the atavistic recalled Thracian imbued Rodopi Ensemble, the masterful Vietnamese zither expert Tri Nguyen and Sufi-inspired advocates of Moroccan spiritual music partnership, Abdesselam Damoussi & Nour Eddine. All three commit a new energy to very old forms, and merge with influences outside their source material.

 

The first of this trio reverts back to the ancient moniker of what was straddling region that encompassed Southern Bulgaria, North West Turkey and the tip of Greece, Thrace; an area dominated by the 240 Km stretching mountain range behemoth that lends its name to this quintet’s ensemble, Rodopi. Steeped in Greek mythology, the Rodopi is synonymous for being the final resting place of Queen Rhodope and her husband King Haemus of Thrace; the lovers, so it is told in legend, rather unwisely offended the Gods Zeus and Hera, and were punished by being turned into the said mountain range.

Inspired by this homeland, Rodopi musically travel through Ottoman dervish, fluting Egyptian and Balkan folk on an erudite and immaculately performed collection of matrimonial, free form and scarf-waving giddy dances. Providing a swirling, but when acquired equally poised forlorn performance, the spindled spiraling lute and Kanun, heavy range of percussion (from the exotic ‘riqq’ to ‘dara-bakka’ and bendir’), swooned clarinet and weeping violin conjure up a vivid homage to a continuously changing landscape. In dual-language, songs and titles cross between Greek and Turkish; wrapped up in the obvious history of the two former dominant Empires: whether it’s in the traditional romantic flower and fauna metaphorical accompaniment of Asia Minors Greek refugees ‘Menexédes Kai Zouboulia’ (Violets And Hyacinths), or, in the tribute to the ensemble’s late clarinetist, Sol Hasan, on the improvisational ‘Roman Havasi’ (The Air Of Gypsies).

A wonderful dance of yearning remembrance and tradition, the music of Thrace is brought back to life with a touch of contemporary dynamism, flair and love.



Presenting the Vietnamese Zither, otherwise known as the sixteen-string Đàn Tranh, in a new light, ‘bi-cultural’ practitioner Tri Nguyen uses both his classical Western training and Vietnamese ancestry to delicately accentuate a collection of poetically brush-stroked scenes and moods. This congruous marriage of forms and cultures often results in moments and swells that evoke the gravitas of the opera or ballet, yet seldom drown out the light deft touches of the lead instrument.

Just as renowned for his adroit pianist articulations as he is for bringing the Đàn Tranh – a cousin of the Chinese ‘guzheng’, Japanese ‘koto’ and Korean ‘gayageum’ – to a wider international audience, Nguyen caresses a diaphanous web of descriptive quivers over classical strings and percussion on this latest showcase.

Emphasizing his native homeland and the countries that border it he mirrors the elements (the flow of a stream; the droplets of gentle rain), wildlife (the blackbird singing proudly; a galloping stoic horse) and moods (a contemplative sad refrain that ushers in a seasonal and metaphorical change; the joy of returning home after a sojourn spent away).

From lullaby to the Imperial, whether it’s a picturesque meditation or a tale from the time of China’s Three Kingdoms, the musical performances are beautifully immaculate. In truth, too classical and varnished for my taste, I have to admire the faultless musicianship.






Personally the more interesting for me of these three ARC titles is the co-production partnership of Moroccan composers Abdesselam Damoussi and Nour Eddine, who bring together a cast of authentic Sufi singers and musicians on the dynamic Jedba album showcase.

With backgrounds in everything from Hip-Hop to Jazz, Rock, Electronica, World Music and (in Eddine’s case) the Vatican’s vaults of Classical music, both musician-producers provide an exciting backing of bombastic percussion and hypnotizing rhythms to the venerable spiritual mystique of the Sufi tradition. Literally invited and transported into the studio from their impromptu performances in the famous walled marketplace of Jemaa el-Fnaa, located in the heart of Marrakech, a cast of mystics, poets and players from various tribes and disciplines gathered together for one collective exchange: The “Jedba” of the title referring to a collective dance in which people from multi faiths including Jewish, Christian and Muslim hold hands in a symbol of harmony and friendship; “united in love of the divine”.

The magic is in the fusion, as instruments as exotic and diverse as the wind equivalent of the Scottish bagpipes, the ‘ghaita’, rasps over a swanning break beat like percussion on the opening title-track, or, Arabian female tongue trills excitably warble in divine celebration over a dramatic filmic bounding accompaniment on the song-of-praise ‘Allah Hay’. Encompassing Berber desert rock, the adoring commanding vocals of Yemdah Selem (the ‘diva’ of desert music as Damoussi puts it), the solitary prayers of the bred and born Sufi and imam of a mosque in Tangiers, Said Lachhab, and giddy dance, the chants and exaltations of these Marrakech street performers is given a new dynamism and energy via the dual purpose of preservation and in beaming this entrancing mystical tradition to a new audience.





EPS

3 South & Banana ‘Rooftop Trees’
(Some Other Planet Records/Kartel) 1st March 2019





Stepping-out from the sunny-dispositional ranks of the psychedelic indie and tropical lilted London-based Cairobi – formerly, for a decade previous to the name-change in 2017, Vadoinmessico – the group’s drummer Aurélien Bernard follow’s up on his last two singles with a new EP of bright disarming soft-shoe shufflers.

The French-born but Berlin-based all rounder uses his adoptive home as inspiration, though musically the compass is pointing towards the tropical equator. The angulated skip and catchy opening track, ‘Magdalen Eye’, treats Berlin as a jump-off point; its architecture and history (where do you start?!!) echoing and reverberating in what sounds like a psychedelic dream pop with Nirvana grunge drop Ariel Pink. It also reminds me of the recent brilliance of fellow French new wavers, grunge and indie sensations Brace! Brace! The very French-esque float-y and whistle-y ‘Soleil’, sung in the native tongue, wistfully bids farewell to the long Berlin winter as the “first warmer sunny days of April” ease in.

Named after one of Bernard’s previous singles, the four-track EP includes 2018’s ‘Rooftop Trees’ and ‘Fake Jungle’ records. The first of which poses a meditation on the tensions between man-made and natural structures to a woozy psychedelic jaunt: Literally dancing to architecture, Bernard dapples the catchiest of psych and cool Gallic pop on a concrete environment. The latter, rather unbelievably, was inspired by a one-off jam session with James Brown (a throwback to Bernard’s days as a session drummer in Las Vegas), and sounds like a swimmingly Malian Syd Barrett produced by Nino Ferrer.

Light and jaunty but with a depth and sense of concern, Bernard’s oddly entitled 3 South & Banana alter-ego delivers a sumptuous cantaloupe lolloping EP of playful catchy brilliance.







Singles

Julia Meijer ‘Train Ticket’
15th March 2019





It seems almost obligatory, at least in the last decade, to affix the fatuous term of Scandi-pop to every single artist or band emerging from Sweden: whether they play guitars or programme synths. Native Swede songstress-musician Julia Meijer is no different. Even though she lives in Oxford her taciturn, slightly skewed angulated indie-pop sound falls easily into the Scandi-pop fold of classification.

With a string of singles behind her, Meijer is finding her feet; trying out new things on every one, with the only real consistency being quality and depth.

The latest, Train Ticket, is no different. A collaborative affair that features a couple of Guillemots in the ranks (Greig Stewart on drums and Fyfe Dangerfield on suffused low-ray burnished Hammond organ) and Oxford’s busiest polymath of the moment Sebastian Reynolds (Flights Of Helios, the Solo Collective, Mahajanaka project) on swallow undulated synth duties, Meijar’s musical partners construct a counterbalance between a Kate Nash fronted New Young Pony Club version of art school indie and looser, almost, quasi-Talking Heads African lilted mirage-y chorus.

Every bit as taut and tense as Meijer planned – reflecting the lyrical anxious sentiments of uncertainty, expectations and disappointments –yet bendy and supple when that same tension is lifted, the page-turning autobiographical Train Ticket proves to be yet another sophisticated slice of unsure protagonist yearned pop, and wrangled, just raw and edgy enough, indie.

Still adapting and evolving, Julia Meijer has laid down a quality series of singles thus far, all slightly different. We’ll be able to soon experience the full effect when she delivers that debut album, Always Awake, in May.




Society Of The Silver Cross ‘When You’re Gone’





Feasting out on the strength of their most afflatus (and only) single, ‘When You’re Gone’, the venerable marital-fronted Society Of The Silver Cross have built up quite a momentum and drawn some considerable weighty acclaim. Wafting on to my radar at the end of last year – included on the last Monolith Cocktail ‘choice’ playlist of 2018 – this bellowed harmonium and zither-droned esoteric profound elegy reimagines the Velvet Underground led by a lapsed-Catholic Kurt Cobain.

Achingly diaphanous despite its forlorn succinct wise cycle of lyrics (“When you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone. We’re only here for a while. We’re only here for a day.”), this humbled sea shanty-motion mystery was in part inspired by the band’s husband and wife protagonists’ travels across India; part of that Velvet imbued sound enacted by the Indian auto-harp, the shahi baaja.

With the spotlight drawn towards this Seattle outfit’s Joe Reineke and Karyn Gold-Reineke partnership, the Society Of The Silver Cross does also include a small but extended cast of enablers on an accompaniment that features the mellotron, accordion and host of similar evocative instruments.

Vividly dreamy in a plaintive humbled atmosphere filled with various visual references of haunting iconography, Society Of The Silver Cross’s inaugural single is a most sagacious opener; a stark but confident creation of real quality and depth that merges the underground with Gothic Americana. Brilliant.





Words: Dominic Valvona

Review Roundup: Words: Brian ‘Shea’ Bordello




Delicate Steve ‘Till I Burn Up’
(Anti/ Epitaph) 1st March 2019


Well this LP by Delicate Steve is a music publisher’s dream, if I had handed this into my publishers they would be performing cartwheels and my back would be bruised from all the backslapping. Nine well written well performed instrumental works that are catchy without being annoyingly so commercial, without being overly commercial. Tracks that will be played on both FM and alternative radio shows; instrumentals that one can be imagined used in adverts and TV shows of all genres, Sci-Fi, spy, romantic dramas, tunes being played behind the days sporting highlights.

This LP is ideal for soundtracking your daily routine without interfering too much in it. The music goes from having a modern day vibeness funk of Daft Punk, ‘Selfie Of A Man’ to the wonderful opening track ‘Way Too Long’, which if anything is way too short: With its squonky Synths and Robert Quine like guitar this is the kind of track you would have run home from school in the 70s for.

My personal favourite track is the royally majestic procession of a thing, the synth driven beauty Purple Boy, a song if not named in tribute to the sadly missed wonder that was Prince should have been.

It’s an LP that is well worth investigation.





Mozes And The Firstborn ‘Dadcore’
(Burger Records) 25th January 2019




An LP that wants to be a mixtape, a very good idea; an LP that is a love letter to rock music is music to these ears. Anyone who knows anything about my band The Bordellos loves such concepts, and know all-too-well how we go for things like that: Our How To Hate Friends And Influence No-one was a hate letter to the music industry and how bland it was becoming. I can happily report that this LP is in no way bland or boring but is a fine power pop album: All Glitter band drums, Raspberries guitars and melodies you could float on.

Songs that mention radio in the lyrics is always a good guide, whether the band have pop nouse and can be trusted with your pop heart, and any band that rips off The Beat’s ‘Save It For Later’ (or should I say is influenced by it) is alright with me as one should also try and rip off the best.

The opening title track is a fine example of what The Clash performing the Bay City Rollers ‘Saturday Night’ might sound like, if you ever wondered. Any lovers of The Eels and Fountains Of Wayne will no doubt embrace this LP; it has all the right chords in all the right places, it has its heart in its art; it has the right amount of darkness – as we all know when the darkness meets the light magic can happen and it does happen on a number of occasions on this LP.

It’s also nice to see that Burger Records can get things right occasionally (they turned down the chance to release a Bordellos LP (I’m not bitter, just a little twisted) but I do not hold grudges, even if I did I would still say this is a worthy addition to any lover of guitar pop collections.





Bibi Den’s Tshibayi ‘Sensible’
(Pharaway Records) 14th February 2019




This album is a gem of Ivory Coast Funk, kicking off with ‘Africa Mawa’, a wonderful mixture of jangly guitars and post-punk-funk like Synths; if it wasn’t for the vocals you could imagine it fitting nicely on Orange Juices’ Rip It Up album: A great way to start an LP. It is followed by the quite lovely ballad ‘Djwa Yango’; again of its time, this LP being recorded in 1983, it has the 80s synth sound but a wonderfully repetitive haunting synth riff.

Track three started and it sent me spinning back into the past: I was all of a sudden 18 again listening to the wonderful John Peel show, as he so very often filled the airwaves with quite wonderful African funk and the Sensible title track is indeed wonderful African music – maybe my favorite track of this four track album, quite marvelous in fact. Chanting vocals, funk guitar and incredible drumming, a song that puts the fun into funk. Then the final song comes all to soon the only fault I can find with this LP that at just over twenty five minutes on length it is over all too soon. I have not heard an album this joyful in a long time. In fact I’m going to put it on again.





Sir Robert Orange Peel ‘Turn That Bloody Racket Down!’
(Metal Postcard Records) 31st January 2019




Another LP from the wonderful Metal Postcard Records; this label releases so much wonderful music that is wrongly ignored. I am here to put that right.

This LP is a fine example; any LP that starts off with a wonderful farting synth and proceeds to erupt into a fury of lo fi funk before going on to a sample of telephone scammers over a slow drumbeat (slow very funny and very strange) is what the world is crying out for; music that deals with everyday life but with a dark smile on its face.

Who else would take a 70s sample of Mastermind the TV quiz show, when the persons specialist subject was the Sex Pistols, and just put a simple drumbeat behind it?!! As I have already said, insane but brilliant, the whole LP carries on in a similar vein and conjurers up both feelings for the nostalgic days of the past and the horrors of the world today.

I will not go into the subjects of all the tracks, as I do not want to spoil this wonderful eccentric dance record for you. GO AND DOWNLOAD IT AND CHEER YOURSELF UP!





Words: Brian ‘Shea’ Bordello

%d bloggers like this: