Dominic Valvona’s Reviews Collection

Everything’s in a right old mess despite the news of a magic vaccine. We can only hope that things can return to some sort of normality next year; though this would be the chance to rethink a lot of things, including the work/life balance, the state of the national health service etc. During this whole time, and despite the horrendous effects of coronavirus and the lockdowns on the creative sector and arts, great music continues to be made. Next month’s choice albums articles will testify to that. Yes, in many ways a lot of the music we are hearing now in 2020 was made last year, or at the start of this one, but many have tried to record and produce fine work in the most constricted circumstances during this whole rotten period.

Before we hurtle into those end of year pieces, I’m going to furnish you all with another selection of new releases.

Launching an all-female led new label venture, Dream Society Records, the regular Monolith Cocktail featured dream weaver Bloom de Wilde selects a compilation of musical mavericks and outsiders making curious and beautiful music for a new compilation; Neil Debnam’s Japanese-based label Kirigirisu Recordings moves into the tape business with two very different releases, Geeker-Natsumi electro pop kooky Heloctoro and the avant-garde Lorenzo Gomez Oviedo Bardo Todol’s Tu Cara Estrada Por El Extasis; The Psychotic Monks provide an ambitious frisson of space rock, doom, garage and punk on their epic second album ‘Private Meaning First’; Chamber pop and electronica star Alex Stolze returns with another classically bent album of bowed plaintive strings and sophisticated synthesized beats, Kinship Stories. Also, Italian producer Furtherset finds spatial cosmic emotional pulls and cerebral swells from the most caustic of dissonance and loops on his new album To Live Tenderly Anew, and the pairing of Iranian contemporary artists Hooshayer Khayam and Bamdad Afshar give us their take on the atavistic Gwati healing music of Southern Iran, with the inaugural release for the new Iranian music label 30M Records.

Hooshayer Khayam/Bamdad Afshar ‘RAAZ’
(30M Records) 20th November 2020

With the US election results certainly likely, despite the pending court cases and odd uncounted ballot box, to see Biden take the helm in 2021 there could be, yet, another change in policy towards Iran in the pipeline. It will of course remain to be seen if the Democrat administration will lift the current crippling sanctions, or if the nuclear deal that Trump withdrew in 2018 will once more be renegotiated (maybe even reversed), but at present Iran is suffering the double whammy of pariah state boycott and the devastating effects of Coronavirus.

Pity the poor musician in all this turmoil, especially when they’re cut off from international audiences, unable to travel and spread the goodwill. Pre-lockdown, and pre-Trump’s momentous decision to reverse that controversial nuclear deal, Iranian cultural and historical enthusiast and old German music industry hand Matthias Koch was organizing various international performances in the country for artists as diverse as the German composer Martin Kohlstedt and the Icelandic multi-instrumentalist Olafur Arnolds. That all came to a swift end in the summer of 2018, as trade barriers were erected and flight bans were brought in. The results of which made it near impossible for Iranian artists to gig abroad or release music; the costs alone skyrocketed. Koch however has decided to set up the beneficial 30M record label: a platform that will not only release Iranian music but provide networks and help with negotiating more favorable contracts for its artists. Based in Hamburg, the 30M label is imbued by that very Iranian culture, its title a shorthand form of the Persian “Simorgh”, the “si” of which is “30” in Farsi, the “morgh” part a famous mythical bird. The roster itself, a rich upcoming selection of provincial Persian music and modern treatments, promises a window in on the few remaining artists and keepers of the form. The first release of which is from the transformative pairing of pianist/composer Hooshyar Khayam and electronic composer Bamdad Afshar, who work their magic on the atavistic healing music known as “Gwati”, from the southern Baluchistan region of Iran.  

A region, culture shaped by the various crosswinds that blow, almost unceasingly, across its landscape, the Baluchistan traditions have been hewn from an arid desert and mountainous cartography. It’s the central part to be exact of this the second largest province in all of Iran that informs Afshar and Khayam’s experiment of infused Persian folk and spiritual music. In the Baluchi language Gwati translates as “wind”, and is used to temper the harsh prevailing breezes. So important are these winds there’s a whole lexicon of descriptive words for them. One such wind is for obvious reasons the 120-day wind cycle that lasts from May until September. Mystics and purveyors of the musical form believe these winds are responsible for all manner of torments and mental ills, and so to placate these effects, to drive them away, they perform an ecstatic ceremony of music and dance. This is the music that now informs the basis, foundations of this first release on the 30M Records label.

With a background in augmenting and in experimenting with the neoclassical genre, both Afsher and Khayam take the source material on a near avant-garde exploration of the esoteric and mysterious. Their new collaboration RAAZ, which means “secret” in Farsi, is just that, a secretive sonic world of obscured Baluchi tones and modal structures, edged into a contemporary magical mirage. A both synthesized and classical set-up of piano and strings merge with a translucent trio of Gwati voices and instruments.

Spindled, fanned and brassy resonating timbres chime and evoke a very old, spiritual legacy that spans the Baluchi people’s homeland and greater diaspora. And so at times you could be whisked away to a horn-blowing wail of ancient trumpeted Afghanistan mysticism or, the courtly and banqueting dances of India; two geographical evocations from the opening Babylonian ‘Yə’ k’. Enchantments follow on a soundtrack panorama that subtly affects a yearning array of soulfully earthy vocals with wobbled glitches and resonance, and adds warped, fizzing, propulsive electronic beats to bobbing tablas and bird-like quivering, waning and rubbed instrumentation. 

At times the production really pushes into the strung-out and experimental, especially on tracks such as the padded fretboard patting and plucking supernatural ‘Dow’. But coming full circle, ending with some of that infamous wind, the finale ‘Noh’ uses a cut-up ringtone, staccato rhythms and the enticing song of a female siren to create a most dreamy aura.  

Healing infected souls in its original form, this contemporary elevation of that tradition is certainly providing a refreshing musical dialogue. This inaugural release fulfills the criteria in introducing a contemporary audience to an obscured and lost Iranian heritage, whilst creating a classy new and immersive fusion. Despite the political turmoil it seems this blossoming label venture is at least brightening sonic horizons.

See also…

Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami  ‘Melodic Circles: Urban Classical Music From Iran’  (Here…)

Liraz ‘Zan’  (Here…)

The Psychotic Monks ‘Private Meaning First’
(Fat Cat Records) 27th November 2020

A palpable tumult of tension threatens to explode and speed into hyperspace on the second grand opus from France’s The Psychotic Monks. Crammed, we’re told, into claustrophobic isolation, cut off in the French countryside from outside influences, the plaintive and seething band’s concentration has been focused on delivering a most ambitious, progressive, noisy, tormented and caustic friction that’s both dramatic and distressing.

Inner thoughts and romanticisms are propelled into an often-cosmic velocity driven void of fuzzed and frazzled stoner rock, industrial grinding metalwork, Faust and Birth Control style Krautrock, post-punk and sludgy dreading doom.

Surely inspired by those legendary infamous doyens of everything from spasmodic garage to psychedelia, The Monks, these Psychotic apostles seem just as radical in crossing musical streams; from the haunted slumbered, almost grunge-y opener ‘Pale Dream’ to the scuzzed Lydon fronting Sonic Youth accelerated thrashing and vocally increasingly syllable strung-out ‘A Coherent Appearance’. A gristly avalanche of overwhelmed emotion, ‘Isolation’ bruises through Sabbath, Black Angels, Slift, Spacehawks, Swans and NIN.

Yet despite the galvanized tolls, heavy dissonance and menacing augurs, the Private Meaning First is an expansive album of shade and light: for every doom-ringing crescendo and thump from the bowls of the void there’s a moment of downcast but controlled melody and pining. Something that approaches an ethereal like chorus quality on the Moonshake-esque and hallucinogenic loosened ‘Emotional Disease’. Which means you’re just as likely to hear a trudge across brooding, funneled ominous wastelands as you are to be catapulted into a chasm of wrenching, tormented longing. 

Tracks build up a momentum that really soars and burns on the album’s fifteen-minute closer, ‘Every Sight’. In old money what used to be nearly the entire side of a vinyl LP, this colossal of a aching Gothic passion begins with incipient stirrings and a gasp at direction, before a battered guitar and choral shadow takes over. It ends on a crashing noisy finale of caustic discordant smash-ups and ferocity.  

A dense anguish of strife and squalling suffocation, The Psychotic Monks’ second album is an epic collision of punk, doom and space rock that (by design or luck) seems perfect for the annus horribilis that is 2020. It is an album of anger, anxiety and mental distress amplified to shake the foundations.

Alex Stolze ‘Kinship Stories’
(Nonostar Records) 4th December 2020

In what seems (to a point) like a return to the finely balanced neoclassical and chamber electronica of 2016’s Mankind Animal, violinist maestro, composer, artist, producer, label boss and creative community steward Alex Stolze once more blends a swell and bowed plaint of strings with sophisticated synthesized beats and ripples of effects on his latest album suite, Kinship Stoires.

Still an open borders and open minded kind of a guy, Stolze both weeps for and sensitively evangelizes a more tolerant acceptance of migrants coming to European shores. The former German star of the highly popular Bodi Bill group is all too personally aware of the sinister creeping poison and hate that continues to besiege his own Jewish heritage: both on the far right and far left. Despite everything history has taught us, and the atavistic persecution of that faith and the nation state of Israel, intolerances and violence towards Jews remains a constant presence in Europe. Comparisons are made between the volatile uncertainties of our own contemporary age and the political aftershocks of the 1929 crash on this new album’s striking elegiac augur ‘Babylon’, which features Stolze’s foil Ben Osborn on ‘liberato’ hymnal lamenting duties. The poet, sound designer and artist Osborn shares a similar Eastern-European Jewish background with Stolze: the roots both musically and tragically driving this Weimer collapsing, Tarot card imaginary wasteland-without-a-vision and foreboding Cohen requiem. A pivotal year, just like 2020, the year of the great stock market crash helped fuel resentment and anger, leading to the aggrandizement of fascism as huge swathes of the population in Germany rejected the institutions. So many parallels can be drawn from not only ‘Babylon’, but also much of the album, which consists of both songs and shorter instrumental passages, mini soundtracks.

Leading from the front, Stolze equates that catastrophic prejudice with the ongoing crisis of both refuges and economic migrants piling into Europe. Leaving Berlin a decade ago for the relatively isolated abandoned wilds and forgotten borderlands of what was East Germany, Stolze, his family and friends have built a new creative hub from scratch. A welcoming homestead that houses a studio, art spaces and workshops it is open to all; playing host to an international set of collaborators and unsurprisingly working to affect a change in attitudes. In between stirring evocated classical pieces on Berlin landmarks and Biblical desert lands, there is a collaboration with the West African vocalists Marlaye and King Ali on the modern R&B pop and toasting migrants burden, ‘Rucksack’. The travails of those unfortunate souls is palpable; especially on the bobbing motioned, pining Depeche Mode-esque ‘Orphan’ and the electronic pop undulated, soulfully mourning ocean baptism ‘The Way We Care’.  

Sad yet beautifully communal and full of subtle pop melodies, the pizzicato and bowing exquisite violins, resonating, bass-y piano notes work well with the purposeful synth twitches, tweaks, tight delay settings and ghostly shimmers; producing an album with feet both in the past and present sonically. The introductory opener, ‘German Desert’ (the third such reference to those arid landscapes, both geographically and metaphorically) for instance combines Bach reminisces with ripples and a suffusion of arpeggiator electronics and atmospheres: A meeting between Rick Van der Linden and Wendy Carlos.

Yet amongst the fragility, disunity and plaintive charges Stolze has much room for declarations of love; pleading his case for a love that’s never ending on the rim stick drummed, golden-rayed paean ‘Manic Magician’.   Once more composing contemporary sonnets to a mix of Eastern-European classical music, buoyant modern pop R&B and electronic pop, Stolze caresses the prevailing dark tides of dissonance to offer sympathy and a caring open hand of friendship. Kinship Stories is a safe musical harbour in the political storm. A complicated picture, we can probably all agree that voices like Stolze’s are most welcome in finding common ground with a remedy to solving the pains and intolerances of an ever-divisive society.     

Furtherset ‘To Live Tenderly Anew’
(-Ous) 11th December 2020

Managing to draw an emotional pull and sense of awe from a dense mass of transformed rasping, caustic pulsations and fizzles Italian producer Furtherset finds a rhythm and synergy from his electronic apparatus on the romanticized imbued suite, To Live Tenderly Anew.

Taking its title from the tragic experimental Italian poet Amelia Rosseli’s 1956 poem ‘Diairo in tre Lingue’, this concluding chapter to a sonic triptych of releases for the –Ous label is an expansive evocative work of six movements; each one driven by the producer’s prize of finding, exploring the “hidden connections beyond harmonies and rhythm”.  This is achieved in some ways by pushing repetitive incipient sonics until they reveal a melody of a sort and something almost cosmic sounding. Poetically inspired by the words of the trilingual Rosseli (daughter of the assassinated liberal socialist activist Carlo Rosseli) Furtherset’s static fuzzes and centrifugal rotating soundbed of tensions, thrusts and noise expand into the heavenly and beyond. In even the most discordant and cause of harsh, razor churns the journey can’t help but find either a sense of questioning enormity, beauty and even optimism.

Transmogrified rave-y techno elements are cast towards the majesty of a space cathedral, whilst metallic tubular chops are worked into space walking hymns.

It almost even sounds classical in places, and like a combination of Tomat and Nonpareil in others. You can read various augurs, quandaries and emotion states in these building, thrashing, spilling noise symphonies that manage to turn the limits of dissonant electronica into something dreamily cerebral and expansive.

Various ‘Paragon’
(Dream Society Records) 20th November 2020

Providing a home for an eclectic array of daydreamers, malcontents and adventurers alike, the blissful artist/producer Bloom de Wilde and Damiët Philippona have set up a new label venture, the Dream Society Records. They’ve even roped in the Monolith Cocktail’s very own no fi cult miserablist Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, who furnishes the enterprise’s inaugural compilation sampler with his vague notional homage to the founder, ‘Bloom of de Wilde’. Riffing on a pun (which our Brain has a knack for) he immortalizes the Dutch artist in his sincere, bedraggled, beaten romantic courtship – imagine if the TV Personalities’ Dan Treacy or Daniel Johnston had been brought up on 70s Top of the Pops, Bagpuss and Gene Vincent in England’s Northeast. It seems a befitting place for the St. Helens troubadour, who shares billing with Bloom herself and a handpicked selection of curious finds.

Launching one of the very few female orchestrated and led record labels, with a soft remit to share undiscovered gems that make the world a more beautiful and harmonious place, Paragon is both a kind of sampler preview of future releases and a statement of intent.

No stranger to the MC, the prolific Bloom has featured many times with her spellbinding, idiosyncratic experimental pop songs. Like a lulled Sugarcubes mixed with a twist of trip-hop, Mother Nature’s daughter features twice on this compilation; bookending the collection with the twinkled and blessed, almost jazzy voiced, flowered ‘Flying Carpenters’, and in a double-Dutch duet with the odd folksy troubadour Timo de la Mar on the dreamy, earnest ‘Sparkle’.  Bloom’s vocals blend a sort of childlike curiosity with a deeper organically untethered richness that aches and also soars.

Sticking to relatively guitar-based music with a little touch of synthesizer, Absolute State furnish the collection with a neu-pop soul longing of Black, David Slyvian and Mark Hollis on the plaint string swelled ‘Fool’, whilst Constance offer a courtship dance of doo wop pop on ‘You Can’t Handle This’

In the, almost total, fields of electronic experimentation there’s oddities from the Homosampaliens & Toxic Chicken pairing in the shape of the Southeast Asian vaporous space music glitched ‘Milk’ – a strange hallucination of virtual Tokyo billboards, gamelan and The Orb -; a 8-bit crush Aphex Twin vision of Street Fighter by The Snoppjes called ‘Polipo’; and a bubbling brook of shredded reversals and Techno by 4Fists entitled ‘Sweat & Bray’. An imaginative curiosity, unburdened by theme, location and genre, this showcase debut from the label is as ridiculous as it is sublime. It bodes well for the future, pointing the way to a beautiful relationship between a largely unconnected network of musical mavericks and outsiders.

Geeker-Natsumi ‘Heloctoro’
Lorenzo Gomez Oviedo Bardo Todol ‘Tu Cara Estrada Por El Extasis’
(Kirigirisu Recordings)

Entering the cassette business for the first time, Neil Debnam’s (of Flying Kites and Broken Shoulder post-rock and beyond fame) Tokyo-based label releases a couplet of strikingly different albums from artists working at polar opposites. Previously providers of obscure music limited to very small runs on CDR, Debnam extends the Kirigirisu’s label’s range of formats for two extraordinary experiences from Japan and Argentina.

The first of these is a dizzy electro-pop vision of kooky video game sonics and candy stick bamboo music – imagine Shintaro Sakamoto meets Grimes – from the lo fi tech Geeker-Natsumi (pronounced we are assured as “Gay-Car-Na-Too-Me”).  Celebrating quitting her previous job (whatever that was) a few years back with the debut leap, Relative To Refire, Geeker’s second collection of odd pop and bitcrush electronica shunts together “Hero” and “Electro” to create a hyperbolic album title. Using a mix of Casiotone portable keyboard, looped drums, Garageband and the in-built mic on a Macbook she centers a musical avant-garde bubble of R&B for Mario Cart, spirited platform leaping Rainbow Islands electro, static shooting futurism and pop princess siren wooing. It’s actually quite something; a kind of knowing cuteness of out-there J-Pop reshaped by a merger of Cuushe and Bix Medard; with themes as ridiculous and convoluted as ‘Mexico Salamanders’, a weird rattily techy crème-puff looping electro track about the Meican neotonic walking fish that reaches adulthood without undergoing metamorphous (thanks Wiki), Make what you will of that.

To be honest it defies even my skills as a critic in explaining its charms (of which there are many), or, what you can expect from the brilliantly kooky songbook of electronic-pop exploration. But it has really grown on me, and deserves attention for some of its infectious weirdness and fun – the walking salamander (a live favourite we’re assured) being a particular good ’un.

In another part of the world, the avant-garde pairing of Cordoba artists Pablo Pico and Lorenzo Gomez Oviedo compliment each other’s mysterious evocations (and invocations) on the highly explorative Tu Cara Estrada Por El Extasis quartet of peregrinations and soundtrack imaginations. Both born (almost) in the same place, and following similar musical pathways, the two Argentine composers/artists had never met or crossed paths before the fated December of 2017. Finding, as it seems, common ground they went into a sort of “recording camp” the following February; creating the foundations of this shared mystical work. Said to “evoke” expressive passages of Friedrich Hölderlin, the famous German poet-philosopher responsible for much of that Germanic romanticized idealism, the serial sounds, stirrings and heightened bowing weeps of violin describe a more supernatural, otherworldly immersion of séances; the reverberations of children-at-play; and traces of conversations and sonic illusions.  

Oviedo on his part exudes forbade and mystery with his particular passages of transformed gamelan, neo-classical spine tingling, stabbed piano and Morse code strained cries. The title track itself, attributed to Oviedo, messes with tape recorded poetics and longing airy strings to produce a haunting recital.

His partner on this strange concentration of the cerebral and daunting is just as mysterious: if not more mystical sounding. Synthesized throbs and vibrating bass permeate the constant twinkling cascaded trinket percussive fantasy of Popol Vuh and early Amon Düül II eastern occultism found on ‘Susurran También Las Corrientas’. And Pablo looks Inside The Dream Factory as he invokes a mourning tone of magik on the ringing, churning ‘Voluntarj Amente Venicido Ante Las Estrelles’.

A remarkable transference, with each artist dedicating their surreal passages to the other, it seems for the most part an expression of freely flowing descriptive sonic surrealism; a reification of memories, thoughts and inspirations directed towards an evocative immersive mirage.

It would be difficult to find two such different diverse experiments released on the same day by one label, but that’s Debnam’s imprint for you. Well worth the punt if you’re looking to expand horizons, or just enjoy some challenging music, whether it be Japanese electro pop or magically haunting avant-garde music from Argentina. Be quick though as there’s only a very small run of tapes for both.

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.

PREMIERE/Dominic Valvona




Alex Stolze ft. Ben Osborn and Anne Müller   ‘Babylon’
(Nonostar)   Single/10th April 2020


A Nonostar imprint communion, chamber-electronic star Alex Stolze once again teams up with his label’s roster of congruous artists to poetically lament about an ever-fracturing Europe on the new biblical augur entitled single ‘Babylon’. Receiving its UK premiere on the Monolith Cocktail ahead of its official release on the 10th April, this sparse, stark but gorgeously arranged neoclassical elegy brings together the talents of violinist, composer, label boss Stolze, lyricist, pianist, award-winning sound designer and deft soundtrack composer of acclaimed “libretti” Ben Osborn, and renowned experimental-cellist and solo artist Anne Müller.

Repeated foils, both Osborn and Müller have collaborated with the Berlin-based Stolze on number of occasions in the last few years: Müller joining Stolze and the UK polymath Sebastian Reynolds on two volumes of the Anglo-German Solo Collective project, and Osborn, finding common ground through his shared Jewish ancestry with the former Bodi Bill, Unmap, and the experimental avant-garde Dictaphone star, releasing his debut LP Letters From The Border on Stolze’s burgeoning label in 2019.

Channeling that Jewish musical heritage once more on this fragile suite, Osborn’s perceptive and haunting Tarot liturgy-rich lyrics, sung by Stolze, echo over a classical bowed Eastern European toiled arrangement of despair and protest at the state of a continent on its downers. A plaintive chamber-pop requiem simultaneously timeless and chiming with the political lurch towards populism, nationalism and a rejection of neo-liberalism and institutions in general, ‘Babylon’ is a foreboding travail through an imagined vivid European wasteland.

As Alex explains: “Babylon is a tribute to community and the dreadful consequences that can occur when societies lose a sense of communal cooperation, with this in mind it made sense to develop Babylon in this highly collaborative way”.

Alex adds: ‘“Ben’s lyrics talk about what’s happening in Europe at the moment, and all over the world. My favourite phrase is ‘I was walking home through the streets unknown when a fist struck out of the silence, and a voice called ‘yours is to walk alone’. It’s an image our time, when nationalist and far right fear coincide with stock market crashes and it feels like we’ve gone back to 1929.”

But then came Coronavirus, and now all hell has been unleashed at a time of great fragility, not only Europe, but around the entire world. It remains to be seen how we all pull together, especially when the message is one of self-isolation and distancing.

 

You may very well detect it, but among the lofty inspirations for ‘Babylon’ are the later protest themed works of Leonard Cohen – specifically the albums You Want it Darker, The Future and I’m Your Man – and the legendary 1736 arrangement of the liturgical song ‘Stabat Mater’, by Italian composer Pergolesi. You can add just a hint of Anthony And The Johnsons too to that rich cerebral mix.

Stolze’s latest beatific if pining single follows on from a brilliant electronic chamber pop EP, Mankind Animal, and the 2018 fully realized album suite Outermost Edge. Highly political, yet preferring to romantically allude to the instability and rise of authoritarianism and the ongoing migrant crisis with both poetic sonnets and metaphors, Stolze provides neo-classical pop maladies and aching heart music that comments without division and rage. That last LP weaved sophisticated undulations of effects and synthesized waves with amped-up trip-hop like live drums brilliantly. ‘Babylon’ however returns to a more stripped, less synthesized augmented production. A song of unity in turbulent times, at a moment in history where minds have never been more concentrated, let’s hope the message of this song leaves an indelible impression, and sets in motion a change.


PLAYLIST
Compiled: Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver
Art: Gianluigi Marsibilio









From an abundance of sources, via a myriad of social media platforms and messaging services, even accosted when buying a coffee from a barristo-musician, the Quarterly Revue is expanding constantly to accommodate a reasonable spread that best represents the Monolith Cocktail’s raison d’etre.

As you will hear for yourselves, new releases and the best of reissues plucked from the team – me, Dominic ValvonaMatt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Andrew C. Kidd and Gianluigi Marsibilio (who also put together the playlist artwork) – rub shoulders in the most eclectic of playlists, with tracks as geographically different to each other as Belem and Palermo.

Digest and discover as you will, but we compile each playlist to run in order so it feels like the best uninterrupted radio show or most surprising of DJ sets.


ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona



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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Reviews Roundup: Dominic Valvona




Welcome to Dominic Valvona’s regular monthly roundup of eclectic pan-global recommendations and reviews.

This month’s edition includes the iconic Mekons debut release for Glitterbeat – a desert psychodrama of an album, the band’s first in eight years; the stunning sweetly despondent and woozy melodious new album from Blue House, ‘Gobstopper’; the poetic sound designer troubadour and composer Ben Osborn’s debut album for and in conjunction with Alex Stolze’s Nonostar imprint, Letters From The Border; a flight of analogue synth fantasy (literally) from the Cambridge composer Willie Gibson, with his aviation imbued homage to Saint-Ex; the second songbook of Anatolian and Kurdish imbued tradition from the soaring Turkish siren Olcay Bayir, Rüya; and a boxset oeuvre of the obscure but legendary late 70s and 80s Hanover cult band The 39 Clocks.

There’s also two recent unearthed curios of both psychedelic and improvisational counter-culture “head music” from the Spanish Guerssen label hub – the first, rediscovered nuggets from the English prog and pop-sike fuzzed Mandrake Paddle Steamer, the second, a blues odyssey of free-form jazz and Fillmore style West Coast acid from the Hasting’s Street Opera.

And finally, I also celebrate the 20th anniversary of Vinita Joshi’s most eclectic independent label, with a perusal of the special Rocket Girl compilation; a collection of mostly unreleased tracks from both artists that have featured on the label and admirers alike, which includes tracks from Dan Treacy, Silver Apples, Bardo Pond and Andrew Weatherall.



Mekons ‘Deserted’
(Glitterbeat Records) 29th March 2019

Removed by geographical distance and a general disinterest from the headline grabbing London punk explosion the infamous Leed’s outfit the Mekons enjoyed a wry, cynical at times, disassociation from their earnest over-preened compatriots in the capital. This distance allowed them to build up a unique reputation; the rambunctious gang of musical misfits more engaged with reality than myth, questioning the motives and authenticity of others with such barricade rattlers as ‘Where Were You’ and ‘Never Been In A Riot’.

Always on the fringes, drawn throughout their five-decade (and still going) haphazard career to the rough and ready origins of not only punk but also, and with this their latest album, country music, the Mekons have suffered as many setbacks as triumphs. One example of a Lazarus like rise in popularity being through the infamous Revenge Of The Mekons movie, which gained them new audiences and a new generation of followers in the US on its release.

Gravitating towards Joshua Tree in California, with all the various lore and history that iconic location holds, the Mekons rabble find all the space and landscape they need on their first album in eight years, Deserted. Recording just outside the shrine to counter-culture country – resting place homage of that visionary troubadour Gram Parsons -, at the studio of Mekons bassist and foundering member Dave Trumfio, the group explore the metaphysical and psychogeography of their desert muse: An open-ended stark landscape that’s, since the dawn of time, inspired a wealth of literature, music, film and travelogue.

Though entrenched in the “big country” desert panoramas of the USA, the Mekons scope falls wider, taking in the cultural isolation and self-imposed exile of a mournful Rimbaud – turning his back on poetry to leave his fated France to trade coffee – in the remote Ethiopian city of Harar on the slightly swaggering young poet channeled, wandering ‘Harar 1883’, and, at least, by referencing T.E. Lawrence’s Arab freedom fighter persona in ‘Lawrence Of California’, the deserts of Arabia. The wonder, awe and sense of isolation as a speck in the great expanse goes further than the sandscape and into space itself: Grains of sand as stars and galaxies; the Mekons mixing the desert wilderness with respect for the infinitesimal.

Gangly traversing this landscape without a roadmap, they have been pushed, successively, into new terrain sonic wise. Entirely self-imposed, the band showed up to recording sessions without any finished songs; just a few ideas exchanged over email. A continuation of the Mekons un-ended visions, Deserted certainly offers adventure, yet not so experimental as to lose the band’s signature rebellious streak and sound. Spikey, striding towards a mirage, sharing the camel-driven caravan with the Bad Seeds, Damned, Slits, Wovenhand, Radio Clash, Damon Albarn and PiL, they limber in a dub-y post-punk fashion or rattle through a hexed no-wave arid plain when in desert imbued mode, and channel ‘child-of-the-Jago’ old English romanticized poesy and Ronnie Lane gypsy serenaded folk rock when gazing upwards at the night skies.

Two of the album’s most distinctive tracks, ‘How Many Stars?’ and ‘Weimar Vending Machine/Priest?’ pose inquisitive and surreal open-ended titles, but also leave the sandy trail to go off-road into the past and plain weird. The former of these, which features the atmospheric atavistic Celtic swoons and haunting malady of Susie Honeyman’s violin, reimagines a sweetly, if fatefully forlorn, Georgian lament (“Father dig my grave, upon my hand a velvet glove to show I died for love.”), the latter, riffs on a drug-induced (no doubt) Iggy Pop anecdote from the hazy, heady junked-up days of Berlin – the sinewy maverick apparently coming across a peculiar vending machine that sold bags of sand. This madcap, or metaphorical dream, inspired tale launches the band on a suitably Kurt Weil – as bastardised by Iggy and Bowie – like strut that takes in Aladdin Sane at the drive-in, a disturbed Mott The Hoople glam doo-wop chorus and a subtle hint of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’.

To be fair, there is a hell of a lot going on sonically and texturally; the instrumental accompaniment featuring such exotic sounds as the saz and cumbus, but also violin and accordion alongside the standard wanes, tremolo and bendy heated vapour trail guitar and shared vocal duties.

Forty-one years in and showing no signs of fatigue, prompted to probe new sonic horizons, the Mekons inaugural album for Glitterbeat Records (easily one of the best, most diverse labels of the last five years) is possibly the Leeds troupe’s most expansive, deep and tactile albums yet: A distillation of all the group’s best assets. Without doubt one of 2019’s most impressive albums, Deserted reaffirms a legacy and status but offers a way going forward for a band baptized in the inferno of punk.







Blue House ‘Gobstopper’
(Faith And Industry) 29th March 2019



On a roll of late, the sweetly despondent songwriter-singer-musician James Howard continues to survey This Sceptred Isle with wistful melodious aplomb. Howard, under the guise of the Thomas Nation alter ego, delivered a minor historical-spanning album that metaphorically attempted to make sense of Brexit, and in turn nationhood, community and sense of belonging. That cassette tape chronicle, Battle Of The Grumbles – which rightfully made the Monolith Cocktail’s ‘choice albums of 2018’ features – never raised above a peaceable whisper and sigh, but through articulate melody and subtly worked its magic well enough.

The fruits of two-years labour, Howard’s 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.

Revealing its beauty and ambitious scope slowly, Gobstopper often soars with aria like ethereal warbles and dreamy filmic soundtrack panoramas: The soliloquy sepia tinged memory lane heartache of ‘Stay With Me’ marries Morricone with Lee Hazlewood and Richard Hawley, whilst the swooned ‘Delecta’ reimagines an English dancehall Lou Reed rewriting the introduction from the TV show, Jamie And The Magic Torch. Countless passing musical references linger, including the coach tour surrealism of The Magical Mystery Tour, the more serene elements of David Axelrod, Aiden Moffat and Serge Gainsbourg (if he worked on a minimum hours contract in Margate); a full ploughman’s lunch of cozy, if pining, 60s and 70s quality songwriting.

A snapshot of a lifetime, both misspent and blue, Blue House suck on the bitter aftertaste of the original peoples vote, whilst reflecting on the idyllic misrepresentations of nostalgia, yet also drawing forlorn comments on fleeting indignations and trends: Howard references a string of quintessential English preoccupations, from Abu Hamza to Coronation Street (which I never miss an episode of personally), reminding us of the inevitable nature of these obsessions that distract us, “When this is over, something else will come along.”

I may find plenty to discuss, even disagree with, but Gobstopper is without doubt a magnificent, beautifully crafted album; already a choice highlight of 2019.







Ben Osborn ‘Letters From The Border’
(Nonostar Records) 19th April 2019



For a number of reasons the poet-troubadour composer and sound-design architect Ben Osborn could be said to have found an ideal platform for his music, joining the German-based Nonostar label. Sharing both an East European Jewish heritage with its founder, the artist/producer/violinist maestro Alex Stolze, Osborn’s often majestic, sometimes mournful, quality minimal electronic undulated neoclassical compositions and lyrical pining also seem heaven-made for this label; at times crossing over and seeming almost indistinguishable (in a good way) from Stolze’s very own signature solo work. This is hardly surprising as Stolze also produced this debut effort, crafting this subtle gentle songbook at his remote studio on the German-Polish border, in the summer of 2018.

An idyllic sounding retreat that can’t fail to lend the recordings a suffused naturalistic feel, this border positioned studio allowed elements of the surrounding environment to bleed into the production. Aleatory to a point, helping to form a certain ambience, the wandering winds, distant birdsong and chatter, and creaking, stretching movements seem, alongside all the musical breaths, notes and melodies to be purposefully placed: almost perfectly so.

The award-winning sound designer and deft soundtrack composer of acclaimed “libretti” feeds a rich provenance into his debut, Letters From The Border. Drawing parallels with the lamentable diaspora of his ancestors heart-breaking displacement during WWII with the current flight of migrants from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, Osborn yearnfully finds a common ground. The heartache of isolation and alienation are beautifully swooned and felt throughout this tactile diaphanous album; the movement of people across, increasingly, hostile borders often hauntingly conveyed in the most emotive if nuanced of maladies; points made in a disarming series of venerable but poetically descriptive lyrics.

Reaching into the mystical profound etymology of that Jewish heritage, Osborn chooses to open his ethereal-charmed plucked album with a minor romantic instrumental overture, based around the atavistic Hebrew word for “joy”, ‘Chedvah’. As Osborn himself explains the reasoning behind this choice, the sad waning and earnest introduction represents “…the joy of connecting to something bigger than yourself.” Musicality wise this piece follows a numerical sequence based on the Hebrew letters of the same word: originally taught to Osborn as a breathing meditation by the artist Daniel Laufer.

Later on, coming full circle, he references the equally profound if lamenting, third section of the Hebrew Bible passage, ‘Psalm 22’, on the album’s dreamily nigh sky finale. This oft-quoted, if debated and trawled for meaning, passage features the famous “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” line; the words of a people in exile at the time; the distress, plight and search for some kind of meaning and purpose to their sufferings inspiring Osborn’s far less despairing but aching swansong.

The plight of refugees, a subject close to both Osborn and Stolze’s hearts, as they occupy the tip-toe piano and choral mood accompanied border soundscape of the Leonard Cohen meets T Bone Burnett like title track, or, wistfully cross a clitter-clatter train track motioned avian symbolic ‘Bridge Of Starlings’.

Osborn also shares, if under a veil of hazy descriptive metaphor, even more personable material amongst the border themes. The woozy, delightfully longing clarinet featured nostalgic malady, with tints of that imbued East European ancestry, ‘My Sister The Swimmer’, is elegiac like; Osborn tenderly cooing sepia toned pool side recollections and memories. No less personable, if meant to “examine” a “universal experience of grief and bereavement”, the dainty piano with quivered violin and gleaned wispy harp accompanied ‘A Guide To Gothenburg’ uses the city’s backdrop to find solace.

Beautifully conveyed at every turn, Ben Osborn uses an assiduous steady hand to evoke connection; a connection to nature; a connection to the plight of modern-day displacement; a connection to our shared roots. Letters From The Border is a delicate, yearning reveal of an album; an album that finds a fine balance between the classical and contemporary to soundtrack an accomplished suite of lyrical venerability and learning: Poetically sublime.







Various ‘Rocket Girl 20’
(Rocket Girl) 1st March 2019



Perhaps one of the most cherished of independent UK labels, Vinita Joshi’s Rocket Girl imprint has over the last twenty years attained an impressive legacy and loyalty from its artists. A mark of that loyalty and respect can be found by way of the contributors lining up to celebrate the label’s twentieth anniversary: some of who, never even released a record on it.

Vinita has come a long way, on a haphazard travail trajectory at times. The Indian lass from Rugby – called an ‘anomaly’ in a white male-dominated music industry by this compilation’s chosen linear note biographer, the Faber author (and super-fan) Richard Milward – gained one of many footholds in the business by managing the influential void-of-despair probing Telescopes. As a precursor to Rocket Girl itself, Vinita set-up, in conjunction with Nick Allport, the London-based Ché label, in 1991; borne from the ashes of the Chere label, intended as a vehicle for the music of Disco Inferno but expanding the remit to include the Tindersticks and the Detroit duo Füxa, who would later, join Rocket Girl, and feature on this anniversary special – a Congo Hammer remix of their acid-blurp Orb-meets-Cabaret-Voltaire dreamy goer ‘Sun Is Shining’ is featured on this most eclectic of spreads.

Despite personal tragedies and various setbacks, Vinita’s label has been both successful and prolific since its inception in 1998, the inaugural ‘rgirl1’ release a 7” single featuring the wonderful psychedelic cosmic electronic progenitors, Silver Apples. Long since a solo affair, the original late 60s founded duo sadly losing Danny Taylor in 2005, under the custodianship of Simeon Oliver Coxe III the Silver Apples brand continues to covet acclaim and attention as an experimental force of giddy nature. Now, as then, a whirly wiz-bang remix of the surreal culinary, chicken-dish mad, ‘Susie’, opens the compilation.

Both established icons and emerging ones appear regularly in the label’s back catalogue; this anniversary package that spans a series of special flexi-discs (a throwback to one of the first formats Vinita was involved with) collectable 7” singles, prints, a fully illustrated hardback book and 16-track compilation (a fuller digital version, which I reviewed, includes the flexi-disc tracks to make it 20), features just a mere smattering of them. The most poignant of which, the Television Personalities wry ramble through their maverick troubled leaders reputable back pages, ‘All Coming Back’, represents one of Vinita’s most enduring if turbulent musical relationships. The TV’s erratic treasured icon Dan Treacy has received plenty of prestige as an influence on everyone from Pavement to Pete Doherty, and released a string of comeback records, including 2006’s acclaimed My Dark Places LP. Volatile and prone to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Treacy has suffered badly for his art; addicted to drugs, battling mental health, adding up at one point on remand, the enigma has been off the radar since suffering from a brain injury in 2011, his legacy and blessing for the featured song on this compilation, taken from a small batch of unreleased tracks he recorded before these latest woes, coming from Treacy’s sister.

Another leading light of their particular sound, and again, major influence on those to follow, Robin Guthrie, co-founder of the ethereal vaporous Cocteau Twins, makes an appearance with the suitably echo-y heaven spindled track, ‘Flicker’. Joining him from north of the English border, fellow Scottish band, doyens of post-rock filmic panoramas, Mogwai, lend their fishing port earnest opus ‘Fight For Work’, as one of the flexi-disc specials.

A diverse roster is represented by artists as different and distinct as those earlier acrylates of (though they hate the term) the witch house phenomena, White Ring, and philosophical name-dropping no wave disco troubadour Kirk Lake. White Ring on their part offer a daemonic pulsing industrial skulk with broken-up salacious siren vocals on the brilliant darkwave ‘Heavy’, Lake, goes-for-broke parading countless symbolist thinkers (Lucan, Foucault, Barthes and the song’s own “Adorna”) as he limbers to a DFA meets Blurt NYC sidewalk shuffling ‘Go Ask Adorna’.

It’s telling that the Rocket Girl back catalogue and class of those who gravitate towards it is so immense with quality and diverse in breadth that I’ve not even mentioned the stoner anthemic Philly act Bardo Pond, or the Hazelwood dream pairing with Richard Hawley hymnal troubadour John DeRosa, or, even, the polygenesis producer/remixer extraordinaire Andrew Weatherall. And I could go on.

With discerning taste and strength-of-character to take chances, Vinita has built up a formidable if unassuming and assured label; one that has the depth and scope to keep on going in the face of ever uncertainty. The Rocket Girl anniversary package is a perfect encapsulation of that independent spirit. Go enjoy and celebrate one of the true individuals of the industry while you can. And let’s hopefully raise a glass to another twenty years of equally quality risk-taking.







Mandrake Paddle Steamer ‘Pandemonium Shadow Show’
(Sommor) 17th January 2019

Hasting’s Street Opera ‘Slippery When Wet’
(Out-Sider) 17th January 2019



Via the “head music” and rediscovered musical nuggets channel of Guerssen two extreme rarities from the 1960s for fuzz freaks and progressive psych rock fans to drool over. The first, Mandrake Paddle Steamer’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, released by the Sommor imprint, collates a smattering of the Middle Earth Tolkien imbued Walthamstow band’s archived recordings (none of which were ever released), whilst the second, Hasting’s Street Opera’s Slippery When Wet, released by the most brilliant Out-Sider label, makes a previously private pressing (less than a hundred copies ever produced, and only ever handed out to friends and family) available to the great unwashed public for the very first time.

 

Formed by an art-school rabble of pals from an East End postcode, the Mandrake Paddle Steamer’s providence is most notable for the fleeting 45” they recorded at Abbey Road in 1967 for Parlophone. Though this fabled label, run by straights admittedly, launched The Beatles, the band was aiming for a deal with the more switched-on and hip Harvest label. Neither in the end took them on, and so what is a “lost classic”, the fuzz pop-sike ‘Strange Walking Man’ single remains their only shot. Still, in a short blossoming, they managed to support Floyd, The Nice and Vanilla Fudge (all three of which rubbed off on them sound wise), do a turn at the infamous salacious spit-and-sawdust Star Club, and set up their own club night (in honor of The Lord Of The Rings naturally) called Asgard.

The Pandemonium Shadow Show features nine varying tracks of bewitching esoteric psych, bordering on the progressive, from the key years of 1968 and 1970: The year they disbanded for good; even after dropping the river boat “paddle steamer” from their name to become just Mandrake. 1968 does seem to garner the lion’s share, with six of the nine tracks recorded in that musical pivotal year, as psych got real and heavy; the step-change being not just culturally but politically too; folk even more weaponised as the totems of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement across the Atlantic sank into the consciousness of the Boomer generation that kicked off the whole Hippie revolution. Still inspired on this side of the pond by the antagonistic post-mod rave-ups of John’s Children and Piper At The Gates Of Dawn Floyd, the MPS condensed these inspirations and the metaphorical language of Gothic Poe into the title-track that opens this album. Painting a vivid Halloween phantasm that stars a “moon shadowed witch” siren waltzing on a “fairground of fate”, the band go all out on a spooky acid trip. With the use of the funhouse organ and that quintessential Mellotron – part Procol Harum hymnal tripping, part mind-melting carousel – they evoke The Doors, sometimes, Family, and when the bell tolls and shit gets real, Deep Purple. On the ominous unhinged funny farm ‘The World Whistles By’ – a place where the melancholic and all-too serious themes of mental illness and isolation are highlighted – I’m sure I can hear the early genes of Genesis and even The Alex Harvey Band.

By 1970 they were knee-deep in the primordial, building from a mists-of-time like trudge towards a tavern-staggering-patron opus that consumes The Master’s Apprentice and Vanilla Fudge in a rolling crescendo of epic prog-psych rock lament on the sea-shanty fantasy ‘Stella Mermaid’. And on the waning shimmery wavy, with a polka-like merry-go-round gallop, ‘Simple Song’, they almost merge Focus with The Nice.

All the right ingredients, even ahead of their time as far as the progressive elements are concerned, the MPS story could be painted as a sorrowful tale of a band that were denied a shot – Parlophone putting the kibosh on that inaugural 45” launch after a general lack of interest. Yet, as good as they sound, certainly ambitious, they weren’t quite there and lacked the magic and personality (though luck does come into it too) of their peers who did. Still, the Pandemonium is a real discovery that’s worth investigation and a punt.







Willie Gibson ‘Saint-Ex’
(Gare du Nord) 1st March 2019



An electric glide in blue, maverick synth composer Willie Gibson sets off for an aerial traverse of the philosophical articulated horizons of the legendary pioneering aviator and author Antoine de Saint Expéry. Using the fateful aristocratic pilot’s poetic 1939 published memoir Wind Sand And Stars as a launch pad, Gibson channels the spirit and lament of romanticized adventure through his Eurorack of various iconic modular synths and plugins.

A famed French laureate, the author of The Little Prince novella found his own inspiration in the clouds; first as a commercial mail pilot, later as war drew near, joining the (as yet defeated) French Air Force. When Hitler’s Germany forced an armistice with France, Saint-Ex found himself demobilized. Moving soon after to North America for a total of 27 months, he bided his time writing and importantly trying to convince the USA to enter the war. It was during this imposed sojourn that the enigmatic polymath wrote three of his most important works, including the lyrical, elemental book that now informs this album. Far from grounded, he would travel to join the Free French resistance air force in North Africa. Spurring untold flights of fantasy, Saint-Ex went missing in 1944, disappearing after a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean: Neither his body or plane were ever found.

The stuff of adventure then, Saint-Ex’s fate and various exploits as chronicled by those memoirs make for an interesting concept; the passion for flying that underlines it all shared by Gibson, who has himself obtained a “private pilot’s license”. Finding “similarities between operating light aircraft and patching and crafting sounds” with his modular synth apparatus, Gibson composes a linear suite of various knowing library music and 1970s synthesizer imbued peregrinations. His first mini-opus of original music – the previous album, Seasons Change, being a Wendy Carlos like neo-classical riff on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – plays with the formula, inviting the Gare du Nord label polymath, founder and producer, Ian Button to drive along two of the suites’ five tracks on drums, and Deerful’s Emma Winston to woo the odd accentuate vocal line.

Following an arc, from takeoff to Bermuda Triangle mystery disappearance, Gibson’s fantastic voyage ascends loftily from Saint-Ex’s book cover to arch and loom across a South American, European and North African panorama to a Kosmische style accompaniment that evokes Tangerine Dream, Rick van der Linden and Moroder. Once-up, up and away the serene ‘Dawn Flight’ offers ‘time for reflection”; stirring idyllic memories of the artist’s childhood in Saint-Maurice with a Baroque-synth and Theremin quivery soundtrack that conjures up not only images of the past but some otherworldly, even alien, ones too. The next two desert strafing tracks allude to both Saint-Ex’s dangerous and awe-inspiring mail-drops; ‘Cap Juby’ a staging post on the hazardous Saharan route, where Saint-Ex and his co-pilot navigator crashed in 1935, the pair lucky to survive were rescued by a Bedouin, and ‘Black Pebbles On A White Plateau’, which features a paean to a desolate white stone mesa (tabletop) landing spot – the shiny black pebbles that covered this plateau having a philosophical profound effect on the aviator. The first of these uses a crystalized sandscape of ominous sounds to describe the jeopardy, whilst the second stirs-up the immensity of nature with cathedral and tubular grandeur, and ethereal wafted cooing.

A theatre of lament, ‘July 44’ marks Saint-Ex’s final ascendance into the history books. Gibson uses a stained glass Edgar Froese and Klaus Schulze sonic palette to convey a certain tragedy on this venerable soaring mission.

An odyssey of aerial balletic synths and more moody cascading arpeggiator elemental drama, Gibson’s homage to Saint-Ex is another curious oddity of retro-futurism and serious modular-synth based composing from the Cambridge-based maverick; a nostalgic trip that despite the addition of Button and Winston seems plucked from the pioneering analogue electronica age of the early 1970s. Interesting though, and a potential cult release in its right, Saint-Ex is worth the indulgence.







Olcay Bayir ‘Rüya’
(ARC) 29th March 2019



Marrying an Anatolian heritage with the polygenesis sound of the London metropolis, the multi-disciplined singer Olcay Bayir has injected a new energy and enthusiasm into the traditions and cultures of her homeland.

The daughter of a famed ‘ashik’, a musical bard of the Anatolian region, the purveyors of oral culture in the Alevi sect of the Muslim religion that follows the more mystical teachings of Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali, who ruled over the fourth caliph between 656-661 AD, and his twelve Inman successors – Bayir’s most formative years were imbued with the atavistic music of worship and social ceremony. Born in the ancient southern Turkey city of Gaziantep – among the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world; so old in fact that even the ancient Hittites were around to destroy it – her musical odyssey, from the very start, was steeped in history and reverence: That same city stands as both a “geographical and cultural counterpart” to the fated Syrian city of Aleppo, which lies just across the border.

The southern regions are where Anatolian Turkish and Kurdish cultures meet; forming the inspiration for Bayir’s own music alongside a belief that it’s “culture more than religion or nationality that provides identity.” It is an often frayed relationship; those that follow the Alevi tradition, whether Turkish or Kurdish, for obvious reasons, coming to blows with their Northern compatriots; the Kurdish question of autonomy and in recent years implosive civil war and ISIS insurgency in Syria enabling an ever more autocratic Turkish leader to ramp-up divisions.

Moving around the region every few years with her jobbing ashik father, Bayir was introduced to a cross-pollination of communities before the family’s eventual move to the London melting pot. A cultural shock, to put it mildly, for the sixteen year old who didn’t yet speak any English – though to be fair, Bayir is multilingual, her debut LP sang in five different languages. But through music the vulnerable burgeoning siren slowly opened-up; as the press release puts it, “music was the manner by which Olcay could best interact with the new world around her.”

Absorbing even more of the electric hubbub of her new city, Bayir, who began composing at the age of six, trained as a classical soprano. Those aria soars and vocal control are unmistakable when you hear those rich performances, adding a certain gravitas and expanding the range still further. Refashioned to reflect this providence, the folk songs of Bayir’s homeland were given an endearing, swanned lift on the 2014 debut album Neva (‘harmony”). An introduction to a highly skilled adroit vocal talent, this album showcase brought attention to the Anatolian songbook. Steeped more in that tradition, Neve provided the groundwork for Bayir’s new dream entitled album Rüya.

Still alluding, even referencing, the spiritual yearn and pining mountain steppe folk of that tradition, the afflatus Rüya showcases for the, first time, Bayir’s own original compositions. Taking sagacious romantic wisdom from both the Alevi and Sufi poets, she weaves the journey metaphor of the renowned bard Âşik Veysel Satiroğlu into the album’s serene opener ‘Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayim’ (“long narrowed road”), riffs on the tradition’s analogy for the folly of trying to separate those both destined and integral to each other, such as the honey and bee, on the album’s slinky swooned closer ‘Ari Oldum’ (“I become a bee”), and covers the “graceful” brooding Kurdish love song ‘Ferzê’.

Using a similar enriched lyricism to envisage a better world, whilst yearning wistfully about lost and found love, Bayir’s original lines seem almost indistinguishable from those written in lore.

Lifting those traditions with a sophisticated production and backing, Giuliano Modarelli and Al MacSween of the transglobal music collective Kefaya accentuate the timeless qualities of Bayir’s melodies with a nuanced swirl of jazz, bouncy backbeats, amorphous sounds from Arabia and North Africa, and on the 17th century homage to the asik minstrel Karacaoĝlan, ‘Elif’, a whiff of Ennio Morricone.

Livening up the Anatolian songbook once more, Olcay Bayir and her collaborators make those traditions relevant; stirring the melting pot with dynamic vibrancy, and pushing those enchanting, soaring but also earthly vocals even further.







The 39 Clocks ‘Next Dimension Transfer’
(Tapete Records) 22nd March 2019



Going it alone as the sunglass adorned leather clad beatniks, Hanover’s 1980s cult lo fi (with ambition) miscreants The 39 Clocks were always a bit of an anomaly. Alienating even their fans with a general attitude of indifference and antagonizing audiences with shambling performances more Dadaist provocation than musical (replacing guitars with cleaning appliances for one), even the duo’s identities were masked (well, barely), with chemical equation code, JG-39 and CH-39, replacing the human vessels of Jürgen Gleve and Christian Henjes.

Neither hardcore proponents of punk nor comfortable in the company of Germany’s emerging New Wave, the Clocks were an idiosyncratic bridge between the Lutheran Gothic drone of The Velvet Underground and primal garage band petulance of Nuggets; the results of which proved highly influential to the next generation breaking through: Their self-coined signature “psychobeat” can be heard driving The Jesus And Mary Chain and most of their ilk.

Delivered in the driest of tones with an almost comical heavy deadpan German accent, but with English lyrics, the Clocks, on paper anyway, read as a put-up job from the mischievous mind of Martin Kippenberger. Yet they were certainly committed, and had providence; the Clocks arriving via after two previous incarnations, the Killing Rats and The Automats; the groundwork done during the punk epoch. They even had a cheerleader, in the guise of that most archetypal German-named boffin of rock trivia and taste, Diedrich Diederichsen, who considers them to be the best German band of the entire 1980s.

They only released a handful of albums and singles proper during their tenure career, but left, as this oeuvre-spanning box set proves, quite the legacy. Over-egged in places and perhaps indulged, nonetheless Next Dimension Transfer collects sixty revealing recordings from the duo’s (though they could of course expand to accommodate extra band members when the occasion raised) official and unofficial back catalogue for the very first time.

Sanctioned by the band themselves and featuring a bundle of previously unreleased tracks, both studio and live, this behemoth eases in those that are unfamiliar with this group; the first 2 CDs in this 5xCD overview featuring the Clocks first two albums, 1981’s Pain It Black and the 1982 Subnarotic. The first of these introduces the Clocks’ punk hangover turned spindly jangly futurism rock; tracks such as the grueling cold-war chiller ’78 Soldiers Dead’ inhabit, phantom style, The Normal, Cabaret Voltaire and garage terrains, whilst ‘Psycho Beat’ lays on the flange and phasers, accelerating towards a sulk-in with both the Velvets and Hawkwind. Saxophone, neither jazz nor no wave, is added to a general broody deadpan Gothic stringy malaise; a highlight being a prowling Lou Reed on Mogadon live version of ‘Twist And Shout’ (‘Twisted & Shouts’) that reimagines a bastardised Star Club Beatles transported decades into the future, playing at family fun day event at the local social club.





Subnarotic is no less abrasive and strung-out, beating its junk to a psychodrama of Suicide, Nico, the Voidoids (again, check ‘Shake The Hippie’ from that last album) and Can. ‘Rainy Night Insanities’ though, with its whining nerve-endings violin, sounds like unholy communion between Terry Conrad and John Cale, and ‘A Touch Of Rot’ merges Johnny Thunders, Television and Eno.

Previously (probably for our benefit) unreleased, five scuzzed-up vortex indulgent live performances from the Clocks’ heyday make-up the entire third CD of this set. Met with mostly silence, the odd hand clap applause from either an indifferent or stunned audience, extended versions of ‘Shake The Hippie’, ‘DNS’ and ‘Past Tense Hope And Instant Fears On 42nd Street’ are caked-in reverb, fuzz and distortion – ‘Three Floors Down’ has an erratic avant-garde ring of the Beefheart about it. Shambolic in places, on the verge of collapse, wandering out-of-time, these lo fi deconstructions are heavy and experimental. As a warning, there’s plenty of screeching feedback to pierce the eardrums, so look out. As atmospheres go it is a dank, creepy and Gothic one, the quality of recordings raw.

Let’s be honest, this shelved “live” LP and the material missives that make-up CD4 and CD5 will be what fans and hardliners are craving. With the duo’s involvement, overseeing this collation of their material, there’s plenty of oddities and “what ifs” from the vaults to drool over. Tracks like the California punk, ala The Dils, ‘New Crime Appeal’ and Siouxsie Sioux flanged dreamwave ‘39 Progress Of A Psychotic’ are interesting, and the lion’s share of that 1987 collection 13 More Protest Songs is fantastic: all transmogrified acoustic and electric guitar Byrds and harmonica Bob Dylan, mixed with the Velvets.

If you haven’t heard of The 39 Clocks than wow, what a revelation this box set is going to be for you. They will undoubtedly soon become your favourite 1980s visionaries. For diehards there is something to get excited about in the unreleased 1981 live album and two collections, updated, which make up this homage.



Words: Dominic Valvona


NEW MUSIC REVIEWS ROUNDUP: WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA


Photo Credit: Sia Rosenberg

This edition of Tickling Our Fancy includes records by Ammar 808, Alex Stolze, Elefant, Matt Finucane, Pyramid, Lucy Leave, London Plane, Disco Gecko and Waldo Belloso.

Interesting releases from across the world and music spectrums; Tickling Our Fancy is the, Monolith Cocktails founder, Dominic Valvona’s most eclectic of reviews roundups. With no themes, demarcations of any kind, or reasoning other than providing a balanced platform for the intriguing, the great and at times, most odd releases, I bring you this month’s latest selection.

My latest bumper edition of releases from the last couple of months includes the recent fully realized romantically shadowy chamber pop electronic suite, Outermost Edge, from the Berlin composer, violinist and label boss Alex Stolze; the debut album proper from Belgium’s prowling post-punk, sludge metal experimentalists Elefant, Konark Und Bonark; Sofyann Ben Youssef of the Bargou 08 collaboration, under his Ammar 808 moniker, fuses the atavistic sounds and culture of North Africa with futuristic drum machine effects on his new album for Glitterbeat Records, Maghreb United; Toby Marks aka 90s techno trance star Banco de Gaia, celebrates the 20th anniversary of his label Disco Gecko with a collection of reworked tracks from the catalogue; and the maverick Brighton-based artist Matt Finucane returns with one of his best EPs yet of grueling, grinding Bowie and post-punk influences, Ugly Scene.

But that’s not all, I also take a look at new re-releases of both obscure Argentine exotica and Cologne tripping Kosmische from the Spanish Guerssen hub; the first a reissue (for the first time ever) of Waldo Belloso’s visionary and library music kitsch ‘Afro-Progresivo’, the second, another rare album, the titular album in fact, from the infamous and debatable Krautrock era Pyramid label. Oxford trio Lucy Leave limber, thrash and jerk through their debut album of no wave jazz, math rock, punk and jilting alternative rock, Look/Listen. And finally, the debut album from the New York brooding strobe-lit pop and punchy rock partnership, London Plane.


Ammar 808  ‘Maghreb United’   Glitterbeat Records,   15th June 2018

 

Throwing the traditional unwieldy Maghreb, before it was demarcated and split into colonial spheres of influence, back together again in the name of progress and unity, Sofyann Ben Youssef fuses the atavistic and contemporary. With past form as one half of the Bargou 08 partnership that gave a modern electric jolt to the isolated, capitulating Targ dialect ritual of the Bargou Valley on the northwestern Tunisia and Algeria border, Youssef under the moniker of Ammar 808 once again propels the region’s diverse etymology of languages, rhythms and ceremony into the present, or even future: hopefully a more optimistic one.

An area once connected despite ethnical differences, the Maghreb heritage is reinvented as a metaphor for not only setting course for a brighter, possible future, but in taking control of the past: As Youssef says, “The past is a collective heritage.”

Envisaged as a visual as well as a sonic experience live when the Maghreb United goes out on the road, he has brought together a team of “visual researchers, designers and actors” to create a fully immersive, hypnotic concept. An ambitious odyssey, the music, as Youssef’s alter ego time-traveller nomadic moniker suggests, is a hybrid of past and (retro) futurism; the 808 of that name standing in for the iconic 1980s Roland TR-808 drum machine, a device he uses to transform those traditions into something more cosmic and mysterious.

Jon Hassell’s ‘possible musics’ meets Major Lazer, the traversing adaptations from the Gnawa, Targ and Rai traditions and ritual are amorphously swirled or bounced around in a gauze of both identifiable and mystically unidentifiable landscapes. Mixing modern R&B, dub, electro effects with the dusky reedy sound of the evocative gasba and bagpipe like zorka, and a range of earthy venerable and yearning vocals from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria artists, Youssef distorts, amps up or intensifies a resonating aura of transformative geography and time.

Throbbing, pulsing, entrancing and vaporous, the Ammar 808 effects transport its source material and desert songs towards a new uncertainty.

In a land still rocked and reeling from the impacts of the Arab Spring, with a power vacuum in many cases replacing rotten governments with even less savory administrations at worse, and at best, struggling to cope political parties, the Maghreb has had its fair share of violence and tribulation. Rather than dwell on the negatives, Youssef projects a better future through his science fiction inspired visions of collective ownership.

Not so out there as to be detached from those sources that inform it, the Maghreb United is an interesting sonic experiment which will be enhanced further when experienced live. I don’t know about predicting what will make sense in ten, fifty or a hundred years time, but this fusion makes a lot of sense in the here and now.






Alex Stolze   ‘Outermost Edge’   Nonostar,  23rd March 2018

 

Following up on his previous electronic chamber pop EP, Mankind Animal, the Berlin virtuoso violinist, composer and (in the last year or two) label owner Alex Stolze expands on his signature transformation of the classical and contemporary electronica genres with a fully realized new album suite.

Moving a while back to the pastoral German/Polish borders, renovating a previously ruinous pile into not only a new home for his family but also the inspirational HQ of Alex and his artist wife Andrea Huyoff’s creative cottage industry –Andrea’s art can be seen adorning Alex’s new album -, this accomplished soloist has found a solace away from hustle and bustle of the city. Far from inspiring gentle, peaceable visions of optimism and rejoice from his retreat, Alex creates yearning and haunted shadowy waltzes.

Highly political, yet preferring to romantically allude to the instability and rise of authoritarianism with poetic sonnets and metaphors to mysterious out-of-reach chanteuses and objects of affection (illusions to the enigmatic woman, or women, in Alex’s life that aren’t just seen as equals but much more), Outermost Edge provides neo-classical pop maladies and aching heart love suites that comment without division and rage.

Weaving his European Jewish heritage musically and etymologically with sophisticated undulations of effects and synthesized waves and amped-up trip hop like live drums, Alex mingles scenes and dioramas with guest vocal songs. Usually appearing together, one harmonically echoing the other, Yehuda Amichai and Ofrin exude an often lulled and ghostly presence on the clandestine meeting in cold war Vienna, traffic light analogy lament Serve All Loss, and He Poos Clouds pinned tango New.

Of course at the centre of all this is Alex’s adroit pricked and accentuated weeping bowed violin performances. Never indulgent, if anything still, withheld with a minimalist sensibility, they are beautifully and stirringly administered; channeling both the avant-garde and classical; running through a full gamut of subtle layered emotions.

Released via Alex’s burgeoning label Nonostar – home to the triumvirate Solo Collective of Alex, Anne Müller and Sebastian Reynold’s astonishing Part One album, which made our choice albums of 2017 features – Outermost Edge is yet another plaintively aching and most beautiful shadowy album of neo-classical electronic pop.






Elefant  ‘Konark Und Bonark’   9000 Records,  11th May 2018

 

Emerging from the Belgium underground scene, with members from a myriad of bands, each one more obscure than the next, the Elefant in this room is a twisted agit-post-punk, boiler come forensic team suited troop of noise peddlers.

Lurking around basement venues for a while now, the sludge metal and gallows Krautrock merchants have released a slurry of EPs but never a fully realized album until now.

For an album that grapples with Marilyn Manson, Swans, Killing Joke, Muse, industrial contortions and Germanic experimentation, Konark Und Bonark is a very considered, purposeful statement. Though things get very heavy, implosive and gloomy and the auger like ghosts in the vocals can sound deranged, there is a semblance of melody, a tune and hint of breaking through the confusing, often pummeling, miasma.

Following a concept of narratives (of a sort), the album opens with a plaintive hybrid of machine and human vocals reading out an almost resigned poetic eulogy – part Bowie Diamond Dogs, part Outside. From then on in, as the eerie machinations of an apocalyptic aftermath dissipate, we are thrown into a controlled chaos of supernatural Kosmische and hypnotic industrial ritual: The group’s defector leader vocalist Wolf Vanwymeersch opting for a becalming message of love overcoming the conspired forces of darkness.

In this vacuum of progressive and hardcore influences, Elefant throw up plenty of surprises, pendulously swaying between a tom tom ritual dreamscape on Schräg, but transmogrifying glam rock and Dinosaur Jnr on the tech meltdown finale ‘Norsun Muisti’, or as on the twisting “with our love we will change the world” sentiment of ‘Credulity’, melding Gary Numan and Gothic New Romanticism.

A seething rage is tightly controlled throughout, the sporadic flits and Math Rock entangled rhythms threatening to engulf but never quite reaching an overload, or for that matter, becoming a mess. Elefant’s prowling and throbbing sound of creeping menace and visions of an artificial intelligent domineering dystopia is an epic one. Arguably the band have produced their most ambitious slog yet and marked themselves out as one of the country’s most important bands of 2018.






Various Artists  ‘In The Blink Of An Eye’  Disco Gecko,  6th June 2018

 

Starting out as a platform for the global trance and techno peregrinations of Toby Marks’ alter ego Banco de Gaia in the late 90s, the Disco Gecko label has gone on to expand its remit in the last few years by adding a number of congruous artists from the dance and electronica genres.

Famous for setting off on the mystical eastern bound ‘Last Train To Lhasa’ in 1995, Marks’ initial success was often frustrated by the labels he worked with. And for that reason it seemed perfectly logical for him to set up his own imprint, which now celebrates its twentieth anniversary. It would however take until 2014 before anyone other than Marks released anything on the label; this accolade going to Andrew Heath with his Silent Cartographer LP. Heath, the ambient pianist of ‘lower-case’ contemplation, appears alongside the label’s full roster on this special anniversary compilation.

Rather than a straight-up ‘best of’ showcase, Marks has asked each of the label’s artists to remix or collaborate with each other to produce alternative transformed versions of original tracks from the back catalogue. Seeing as we have already mentioned him, and he appears quite a lot as an integral part of the Disco Gecko story (including a role in creating the artwork and layout of this collection), Heath’s ‘A Stillness Of Place’, as sublimely guided to ever more radiant heights by the Nottingham duo Radium 88, opens this compilation with a serene ambient diaphanous. Later on, with Heath in the role of remixer himself, he subtly accents and stirs the 100th Monkey’s dreamy plaintive and haunted choral ‘The Last Inuit Snow Song’: literally melting before our ears, the serialism piano composer, imbued by one of his most iconic past collaborators Hans-Joachim Roedelius, adds short trails of sonorous piano and amps up the Eno-esque mood.

Probably one of the label’s most commercial coups, the air-y sophisticated soulful singer/songwriter Sophie Barker, who’s tones have appeared on a catalogue of electronica and dance hits by David Guetta, Groove Armada and Robin Guthrie (of Cocteau Twins fame), is represented with her longing ‘Road 66’ song. From Tampere in Finland, Karl Lounela, aka LO18, transforms the original down tempo trepidation and dub like vapours of the original. Alongside Fastlap, Barker in more a collaborated than remix role, gets to passionately ache and yearn on Marks own traverse ‘Glove Puppet’, whilst LO18’s original vision ‘Huima’ is taken in a Sylvain oriental visage direction by 100th Monkey.

Elsewhere on this compilation, the Indian sub-continent enthused ‘Darjeeling Daydream’ submersion by Dr. Trippy is consumed with even more swampy and lunar effects than before by the intercontinental collective The Dragonfly Trio, and Radium 88’s misty mountain ambient journey ‘Bury Each And Every Prayer’ is becalmed even further with sacred panoramic views and Popol Vuh dissipations by polymath composer Simon Power.

Refreshing a relatively short and recent back catalogue with the aim being to move ever forward, In The Blink Of An Eye is a novel conception in both celebrating the Disco Gecko legacy and in looking ahead to the future of ambient and electronic music.






Matt Finucane   ‘Ugly Scene’   Crude Light,  11th May 2018

 

Sporadic yet prolific, the idiosyncratic Matt Finucane has probably appeared on this blog more times than anyone else over the years. Constantly cathartic, pouring out his surly heart on every record, the Brighton-based maverick channels the anxieties of our times with a certain resigned lament over an ever-changing backing of indie, Krautrock, punk and post-punk influences.

His latest exercise in primal scream therapy (though crooning would be a more apt description) is the quasi-Neu!-meets-Faust-meets-Pixies grinding turmoil Ugly Scene EP. Perhaps among his best releases yet, the epic sinewy grueling opener ‘Not Too Far’ could be Bowie fronting The Buzzcocks Spiral Scratch. A listless Finucane languidly swoons for much of the duration of this monotonous track before eventually mooning and howling the “I’m so sick of it all” refrain in various strung-out and deranged ways.

Changing tact slightly, ‘The Wrong Side’ transmogrifies Johnny Thunders, Bowie (again! But why not?!) and shades of Britpop, whilst the EP’s title track throws The Sonics, Damned, Monks and Beefheart into a spinning chaos as an increasingly sneer-y and disillusioned Finucane unburdens himself. Expanding his tastes still further, the steely acoustic guitars and slight English psychedelic hints of ‘Damn Storyteller’ evoke not only Lou Reed but also Kevin Ayers, and the post-punk dub ‘City Consolation’ sounds not too dissimilar (in my warped mind anyway) to an imaginary Black Francis fronted Compass Point Allstars jamming with Jah Wobble.

Hardly the easiest of listening experiences, Finucane letting each track run its natural course, Ugly Scene is nevertheless filled with soul and melody; an experimental EP of resignation and heartache that finds the artist at his most sagacious and venerable but also constructive. Finucane has seldom sounded better and more imaginative.






Lucy Leave   ‘Look/Listen’   27th April 2018

 

Gangly, strung-out, limbering with moments of intensity and entangled noodling the Oxford trio Lucy Leave expand upon their math rock, no wave and grunge amalgamation with the debut album, Look/Listen. Transducing the conceptual Scandi-Socialist tapestries of weaver Hannah Ryggen with the group’s own sense of isolation whilst making this album (still smarting over Brexit; the theme that fired them up on last year’s The Beauty Of The World EP), coupled with a general dissatisfaction at the political landscape, Lucy Leave don’t so much enrage and shout as jerk sporadically through their agit-post-punk and American college radio influences.

The targets and intellectual concerns of their ire are all there to be deciphered in the, mostly, stop/start dynamism. In what seems a generous offering, the eighteen tracks on this album are all laid out in a purposeful manner; a journey, spread out in the fashion of a double album, with shorter vignettes alongside the spikey and more slow building minor epic thrashes.

Flexing their dual vocals, with both taking turns on lead but often shadowing each other, Mike Smith strays between a better mannered PiL era Lydon and milder D. Boon of The Minutemen (incidentally one of the band’s biggest influences), whilst Jenny Oliver fluctuates between Ariel Up and Vivian Goldmine. They begin however with echoes of an a capella Talking Heads on the vocal chorus introduction ‘Barrier Reef’, before the freefall into a spunk rock twist of The Fall, The Damned and (as I’ve already mentioned) The Minutemen on the following pair of congruous songs, ‘Kintsugi’ and ‘Ammoniaman’.

Slowing down occasionally for gentler posturing, meditations, the later third of the album offers some surprising material; the more controlled psychedelic acoustic ‘Hang Out With Now’ bearing hints of Julian Cope and Ultrasound, and the progressive pastoral weepy ‘Long Sequence’ sounding simultaneously like The Moody Blues, 70s Pretty Things and Bowie.

Thrashing elsewhere through Californian Black Hole punk, Sonic Youth, Archers Of Loaf, Deerhoof, The Raincoats and, especially with the drifting contorted saxophone riffs, no wave jazz, Lucy Leave successfully drag together all their influences to convey the present confusion and madness of the times. Entangled, angulated, crashing but never frustrating, Look/Listen is an ambitious debut from a band still finding its groove: and all the better for it.






Pyramid  ‘Pyramid’  Mental Experience,  May 10th 2018

 

Pulled from the archives of an obscure Kosmische label that head music scholars still refute even existed, the title album from the titular amorphous studio set-up behind the legendary Pyramid label appears in the guise of a lost treasure from the 70s Cologne underground. Reissued for the first ever time by the Guerssen hub imprint Mental Experience, this previously lost experiment from the ‘Mad Twiddler’ studio engineer bod Toby Robinson is poured over in the linear notes by The Crack In The Cosmic Egg almanacs’ Alan Freeman: though providence is debatable and the album’s cast difficult to verify.

What we do know (or so the myth goes) is that Robinson, alongside the avant-garde and conceptual antagonistic Fluxus movement’s Robin Page, set the Pyramid label up originally. Though with only a handful; of recordings to emerge from their time together in the mid 70s, it seems that it was never meant to be a commercial enterprise; more a retreat and outlet for unrushed mind expansions and improvisations. Any releases that did escape the studio were confined to ‘micro’ scale pressings (hence their value and status amongst Krautrock connoisseurs). Many still believe these recordings to be the work of nefarious pranksters, recording them decades later, passing them off as finds from the great Krautrock and Kosmische epoch.

Robinson though, as we’re told, was an assistant at a myriad of Cologne studios during that original era; working most famously at Dieter Dierks’ Kosmische incubator, where some of the dream flights and galactic transcendence music of the Ohr and Pilz labels was produced. In the ‘so-called’ dead hours between recording sessions, Robinson and friends, collaborators, would lay down their own ideas.

Split into two, the ‘Dawn Defender’ expansive free-form experiment that straddles the Pyramid LP alludes artistically to Erich von Däniken and Popol Vuh; the Mayan stone tablet (I might be wrong) insignia and mountains at the start of a cosmic highway and massive glitterball (which seems somewhat incongruous and modern for its time and genre), tuning into transcendent and alien dimensions. Musically we have it all (nearly all), the full Kosmische gamut, as the anonymous band traverse different phases yet maintain a repeating vaporous hazy atmosphere. Shifting from faint echoes of UFO era Guru Guru, Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempe in the first ambient air-y and primordial lunar stages to mellotron oscillating Dance Of The Lemmings Amon Düül II, the Far East Family Band and ghostly visitations, the Pyramid collective sound distinctive enough even amongst the quality of their peers.

Trance-y, hypnotic with distant reverberations of the Orient and Tibet, the group does occasionally break out into sporadic displays of acid rock ala Gila and the Acid Mother Temple, but soon simmer down into The Cosmic Jokers style peregrinations. They finish off this uninterrupted flowing half hour opus with some heavenly strings and beautiful flourishes – even though veiled moody distractions and knocks persist; indicating an unearthly presence.

Whoever did produce this work, in whatever circumstances, the Pyramid album is a brilliantly atmospheric and executed Kosmische experience, ticking off all the genres signatures yet still distinctive enough to reveal some interesting passages and ideas.






Cuasares  ‘Afro-Progresivo’   Pharaway Sounds,  10th May 2018

 

From another Guerssen hub offshoot, Pharaway Sounds dig up yet another forgotten ‘nearly ran’ from the peripherals of exotica and cosmic psychedelic. The obscure distant celestial named Cuasares project (which is Spanish for the star like ‘quasars’ that emit large amounts of energy, billions of light years away) is the work of the ‘enigmatic’ Argentine pianist and composer Waldo Belloso, who (unsurprisingly) released it in 1973 to the smallest of fanfares. Afro-Progresivo now resurfaces as a reissue (the first), complete with plenty of scholarly fanboy notes and information.

The title is slightly misleading as this album leans more towards the Latin: merging mambo and samba with both counterculture soundtrack music from the Italian and French b-movie libraries and Les Baxter-esque tropical South Seas Island rituals.

Gazing at celestial bodies and alluding to ‘evanescent’ fleeting romantic phenomena, Waldo funkily trips through Andean kitsch, languid beachcomber Hawaiian wanderings, kooky space fantasy and Southeast Asian exotic psych. His sauntering, jaunty and often musing suites feature increasingly distorted, jarring organ, radiant vibraphone, echo-y drums, fuzzed-up guitar doodles and surreptitiously trickling piano. All of which articulates a sort of acid-Latin Axlerod soundtrack that straddles the South American and Asian continents with cosmic jazz and exotica.

Though this is all fairly well trodden ground, Afro-Progresivo remains a curious example of South American obscure progressive and kitsch-y weird, but remember also funky, experimentation.






London Plane  ‘New York Howl’   18th May 2018

 

A paean to the city that name checks one of New York’s, now defunct, obscure underground groups and, with a poetic license, reimagines the entries of a mysterious stranger’s abandoned diary – lured to the metropolis from Portland in the 1970s – New York Howl is both a romantic yet strobe-lit gothic brooding fantasy. Fronted by enchantress singer Cici James and lead songwriter David Mosey, London Plane (in honor to the American sycamore crossed Oriental plane tree that you see lining the iconic broad walks of New York) reframe the troubled dairy writer protagonist’s sporadic poems, scenes and “half-recounted dreams” in a loose concept album of timeless emotions.

Found by Mosey on the streets of the city, in a suitcase, the London Plane instigator was intrigued enough to take it home with him; leading to an obsession and the spark of inspiration that brought this project together. Written over an eight-year period between 1975-1982, the final abrupt and enigmatic words, ‘I hope he gets it’, proved a fruitful prompt, the results of which suffuse this ten-track songbook of new wave, collage radio rock, synth pop and proto-punk. Letting the mind wonder with entries in the aftermath of such New York tragedies as the murder of John Lennon, the band interrupt the author Francis’ backstory and movements; running through the full gamut of emotions. They allude to a ‘ghost story’; the presence of their protagonist diarist vanishing before they make a connection; haunting the city like a specter and auger, always out of reach.

Musically channeling New York’s obvious musical legacy, but also a far wider spectrum of influences, the bright and brilliant title track hones the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blondie and Ronnie Spector, with Cici’s vocals evoking a rich myriad of more controlled Karen O, Debbie Harry, Madonna and weirdly, on the Broadway synth plaint ‘Make It Our Own’, ‘Losing My Mind’ 80s era Liza Minnelli!

Good solid pop songs mingle with more romantically vaporous tracks; the dreamy fantasy of ‘The Farther Down We Go’ and Chromatics style whispery neon synth ‘Roxanne’ sitting well with the Echo And The Bunnymen meets Blondie style ‘If It Got Me You’. A New York house band obviously in love with their city, mining the last four decades of its heritage, New York Howl may offer musings on isolation, regret and the fears, trepidations of a big city, yet the lingering traces and mystery of Francis are sound tracked with both a dreamy veneer and punchy pop quality. The London Plane could be just the start of a beautiful musical partnership.







Dominic Valvona’s new music reviews roundup.





Interesting releases from across the world and music spectrums; Tickling Our Fancy is the most eclectic of reviews roundups. With no themes, demarcations of any kind, or reasoning other than providing a balanced platform for the intriguing, the great and at times, most odd releases, I bring you this month’s latest selection.

I have a truly international spread of releases for you all, even more than usual with one band in particular, the backpacker collective The Turbans, featuring band members from the UK, Eastern Europe, Levant, Africa, Balkans and beyond. I take a look at their borderless debut album for Six Degrees Records. From Mexico way, there’s the b-movie space mambo and cumbia occult of Sonido Gallo Negro: newly signed to Glitterbeat Records and releasing their third album Mambo Cósmico. Uniting for the second time together on a recording, Welsh harpist maestro Catrin Finch and Senegal kora star Seckou Kieta reunite for diaphanous and reflective celebration of the two instruments and their respected native homeland’s heritage on SOAR. Closer to home there’s the latest inimitable psychedelic pop album, Natural Causes, by Anton Barbeau; an EP of blossoming, Kaleidoscopic dance pop from the Leeds duo Lost Colours; the first solo album project to see light after the break-up of The Liars, with Aaron Hemphill’s Nonpareils solo debut Scented Pictures; Sebastian ReynoldsMahajanaka odyssey, now finally getting a soundtrack release; and the tortured industrial noise and biblical raging of the Boston duo Water Fragment.


Nonpareils   ‘Scented Pictures’   Mute,  6th April 2018

With the Liars now, more or less, the sole concern of Angus Andrew, the first fruits of the schism that split the original band up is now unveiled in the shape of Aaron Hemphill’s solo nom de plume Nonpareils: chosen because it’s a “name that didn’t evoke a single person or a producer name, but hopefully something that sounded more like a group or a band…something plural.”

Moving to Berlin in 2015, a year before he left the Liars, Hemphill has had a good two years break from his former band mate, but instead of reflection or acrimonious scorn he’s decided to deliver a cyclonic churning and confusing barrage of sonic displacement; a window in on the woozy state of Hemphill’s mind, all those ideas, snippets and memories channeled through a abstract and broken staccato and heavy reverb obstruction that’s still capable of throwing out some pretty good hooks and tunes.

‘Metaphysically reconstructed pop’ as Hemphill himself calls it, the druggy feel and lingering traces on his inaugural solo debut, Scented Pictures, was all recorded in Berlin using the most haphazard and off-kilter of processes. Recording ‘stacks’ of acoustic instruments whilst ‘doing the silliest’ of experiments upon them, Hemphill also encouraged the engineer on these sessions to distract and hinder him as he bashed away on the drums (without a click-track), and set up the microphones, when on the piano, to deliberately “fall away from the body of the instrument.” And so there is a strange disconnection and time-lapse, in which everything sounds like it’s running away from its main source or languidly slurring, that runs throughout this album. It ties in to the theme of “time-accelerating” and Hemphill’s premise of a “sensory experience of memory”, which encourages the brain to fill-in the gaps of what is a constantly trudging, stuttering soundtrack of disorientated peculiarities. None more so than The Timeless Now, which sounds like a churned and slurred breakdown of time itself, set to eternal damnation and spinning like a centrifugal space sequence.

Amongst the reversed effects, stumbled drums, tetchy loop oscillations there’s hints of Mogadon induced Atlas Sound (on the surprisingly Spector trippy dream pop plaint Makes Me Miss The Misery Girls), a Coil/John Cale hybrid (Cherry Cola), vaporous synth (ala the Eno-esque Press Play), Alan Vega (more specifically the title track, which also includes a subtle trace of Neukölln Bowie, but his ghostly presence can be heard on many tracks) and R. Stevie Moore.

Often resembling a scratched CD having a fit of the jitters; often obscured under a veil of languorous multilayering; often sounding distant; Hemphill still retains an ear for melody, combining the abstract with post-punk, rock’n’roll and techno to produce something dreamy. His ideas are distilled into a seething disorientation of time and memories; tapping in to the anxious and confusion of our times. Not so distant from the Liars sound, yet different enough to be challenging, Scented Pictures is an enigma waiting to be unraveled.






Sonido Gallo Negro  ‘Mambo Cósmico’   Glitterbeat Records,  6th April 2018

Serving up a mystical occult of a third album, the sauntering Sonido Gallo Negro take a trip aboard one of Erich Von Däniken’s ancient astronaut controlled UFO to draw in a wealth of cosmic affected South American styles and exotica.

Slinking all the way the nine-piece outfit reach out beyond the Mexican borderlands to embrace the multicultural dance rhythms brought to the Americas via Africa and the Middle East and of course the centuries ingrained influence of the Hispaniola.

Already interpreting and reframing the popular cumbia – what was originally the folkloric rhythmic dance practiced by the Africans who were en mass displaced and brought to work in Columbia – and mambo on previous records, the group now include a hybrid mix of ‘cha cha’, the Mexican ceremonial dance known as ‘danzón’, and the Sinú River sprung brass orchestra come Caribbean region of Colombia ballroom style ‘porro’.

Oscillating over the Nazca Lines or creeping through the Theremin quivering sorcery mists of Catemaco, every song has an exotic but kitsch like charm; no more so than with the world famous cover of the Mexican bandleader Pablo Beltrán Ruiz’s mambo turn crooner swaying Quién Será?, covered and transformed into an almost comic dash, with Farfisa organ prods and Dick Dale tremolo.

Encompassing Santo vs. the creatures from Mars b-movie cosmic effects (Mambo Cósmico, but also throughout), deity worshipping ritual frazzling (Cumbia Ishtar), bird-like trilled exhales from the cha cha hot-stepping carnival (La Foca Cha Cha Cha), sultry ballroom with Spanish flair (Danzún Fayuquero) and Surf twanged otherworldliness (Danza del Mar), Sonido Gallo Negro perform everything with a lively flair; both busy but controlled.

Like a Mexican Head Hunters celebrating the rich musical diversity and occultist symbolism – from the mysterious allure of Mesoamerican pyramid building societies to magic shamanism – of the Americas, Sonido Gallo Negro meld all their influences together in one big bubbling melting pot of fun.






The Turbans   ‘The Turbans’   Six Degrees Records,  6th April 2018

Collecting band members as they busked together in such exotic locations as Kathmandu, the two instigators, and fellow ‘half-Iranian/half-British nomads’, behind the international backpackers The Turbans, (the self-confessed ‘seventh best guitar player in the band’) Oshan Mahony and violinist Darius Luke Thompson, have amalgamated countless styles and cultures towards a largely upbeat celebration of borderless solidarity.

The term for this cross-pollination of the Levant, Balkans, India and Africa, coined by the group’s Kurdish percussionist Cabber Baba, is ‘music from manywheres’, though their base and center for at least half the time when not on tour is Hackney in London – the other half spent in Goa. They sing of this attachment to Hackney, celebrating its multicultural allure and spirit to a loose backing of electrified souk rock and jostled hand drums on the paean tribute song of the same name.

It would take an age to document each of this globe-stretching group’s credentials and heritage, let alone mention all the additional guests that make this, The Turbans, debut album so richly amorphous, traversing as it does so many cultural and national references. Songs such as the folkloric wandering Sinko Moy, written by the group’s former Bulgarian pop star and Django Ze front man, Miroslav Morski, for instance features the lulling atmospheric choral backing of The London Bulgarian Choir, who project us the diaspora and view from the Carpathians, but then other elements of musicality and tone hint at Cairo, Timbuktu and even Ireland. This shifting sense of location is The Turbans signature; one minute gazing from atop of a camel, searching over sand dune landscapes, the next, regaling a romantic atavistic paean to Flamenco accompaniment in Moorish Spain.

Featuring a rambunctious mix of characters, from Belarus oud player Maxim Shchedrovitzki to guembri maestro Simo Lagnawi, the group throw Tuareg blues, gypsy music, Moroccan pop covers, colonial Tunisian lounge music and Greek folk into one gumbo pot of both harried japes and more serene contemplation.

Political by being so diverse in a climate of hostile nationalism and closed borders, The Turbans don’t so much push an agenda as reference the various travails by which many of its members had to overcome to reach these shores. And so this album is more a celebration of universal collaboration.

Recorded, of all places, in a previously abandoned 500 year old property on the borders of Scotland and England, in the Northumberland farmhouse turned community arts centre where the group’s co-founder Mahony grew up, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more international sound right now.






Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita   ‘SOAR’   bendigedig,  27th April 2018

 

Only two releases in and the bendigedig label – an independent partnership between Theatr Mwldan in Cardigan, Wales and ARC Music – is already proving to have erudite tastes for the finer examples of beautifully-crafted folk and traditional music from the versants of Wales and beyond. Following on from the recent Gwyneth Glyn album Tro, the internationally renowned harpist Catrin Finch once more draws parallels musically and culturally between her native Wales and the West African homeland of musical partner Seckou Keita, on the working duo’s second album together, SOAR.

In a similar vein to her fellow compatriot, Glyn, who just as effortlessly blended her Welsh lilted tones with those of the Indian ghazal singer Tauseef Akhtar on the Ghazalaw LP collaboration and has also supported Keita on tour, Finch merges the angelic elegance of the harp with the equally elegant, spindly diaphanous sound of the harp-like Kora, as played by the maestro from Senegal,

Combining the two distinct, but as you’ll hear highly congruous, instruments together and bringing both experts extensive knowledge and talents to the fore (and the bios of these two practitioners is highly impressive and wide), the duo weave an intricate melodious album that celebrates both their diversity and shared goals.

Originally coming together for the award-winning Clychau Dibon LP in 2013, the harp partnership continue with that album’s avian theme, using it as a springboard for another articulated series of paeans and serious reflections. Though it might not be the most obvious of geographical connections, both artists seamlessly tie their respective backgrounds and heritage together, starting with the divine ‘soar’ and flutter of the Dyfi Osprey on the opening bird of prey homage, Clarach. Immortalizing the first Osprey in modern times to be born in Wales after an absence of 300 years (persecuted to extinction by the end of the 17th century), its survival and 3,000 mile migration to West Africa is celebrated by mirroring its travail between the two continents; this majestic creature’s freedom finds solace and respect through the duo’s charming melodies and interplay. It’s a forced migration, and the theme of colonization, that’s given a more jazzy-blues harp voice on the trembled-held poignant 1677. Tilted after the year that Vice-Admiral Jean Il d’Estrees stormed the Dutch fort on the island of Gorèe off the coast of Keita’s birthplace of Senegal, captured in the name of his master King Louis XIV, it marks the point in history where rule in the region passed to France. Gorèe would become a notorious slave trading port over the next century. Capturing the motion of rocking boats in the interaction between the two instruments, the duo mimic a murky back and forth pattern in plaintive remembrance to those who have left the West African coast behind for a better life, and for those who weren’t so lucky.

Staying close to Keita’s heart, they also perform a reinterpretation of the lovely tribute to Yama Ba; written by Keita’s uncle and fellow kora maestro Solo Cissokho as a paean to the woman who believed in him when times were tough, and was willing to invest in his future, buying him the equipment he needed to amplify his instrument. From the semi-nomadic Fulani people who live all over West Africa, Yama Ba is given a peaceable, softly accentuated homage, with Finch replacing and transforming the original melody played by Cissokho’s bassist Kevin Willoughby. There’s also an inviting gesture of effortless warmth on the Senegal split-language entitled Tèranga Bah: A nod to the country’s version of ‘great hospitality’, Tèranga translates as ‘hospitality’ in the Wolof dialect, Bah as ‘great’ in Senegal’s other most common tongue Mandinka. And one of the oldest tunes in the Senegambia kora repertoire, the difficult (only played we’re told by experienced practitioners) Baisso is twinned with an excerpt from Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the surprisingly seamless and classical reverent turn joyfully serene Bach To Baisso hybrid.

Back to the valleys of Wales, and one of the album’s most serious tunes, Finch commemorates an event, a catalyst for an insurgence in Welsh nationalism that led to a groundswell of protest and even sabotage. Cofiwch Dryweryn is a gorgeous lament to the flooding in 1965 of the Tryweryn valley in north Wales; flooded to create the Llyn Celyn reservoir that supplied water to the city of Liverpool. Those unfortunate enough to have lived or worked its land were forced to leave; an action that led to much resentment and went towards a revival in self-determination – though it would of course take a further forty years for Wales to get a devolved powers from Westminster. Here, lost almost in the flow of the watery gushes and drama, Finch’s whispery tones echo the feelings, “remember Tryweryn”, as Keita lends a yearning vocal and kora pinning accompaniment.

It’s often difficult to hear when one instrument begins and another ends, the kora and Welsh harp in such synchronicity. The earthy spindled kora and plucked ebb and flow of the serene harp both prove the most complimentary of companions. The two heritages and ancestral combine for a united front on the plight of not just a migratory bird but people and ideas too. The exchange articulated with beauty and élan.






Sebastian Reynolds  ‘Mahajanaka EP’  Nonostar, 20th April 2018

Finally releasing the soundtrack part of his beautifully transcendental Mahajanaka odyssey style dance and music collaboration, the Oxford musician/composer/promoter and member of the Flights Of Helios collective Sebastian Reynolds launches an EP’s worth of variations to promote the upcoming live performance of the Mahajanaka Dance Drama at the Wiltshire Music Centre 2nd April 2018. The beautifully softly malleted and chiming peregrination original is transformed subtly and serenely over the course of a live performance – performed with his Solo Collective triumvirate band mates Alex Stolze, Anne Müller and Mike Bannard – and two remixes.

A keen enthusiast of eastern and oriental cultures, especially Buddhism, Reynolds travelled to Thailand a while back as part of a British Council/Arts Council England funded trip. During that visit he laid down the groundwork for the Mahajanaka project, a collaboration fusion of both traditional Thai forms and Western contemporary dance and music, which reinterprets the ancient stories of Buddha on his multiple incarnations journey of perfection towards becoming fully enlightened.

Partners on this reimagining project include Neon Dance and the acclaimed dancer/choreographer Pichet Klunchun, and on the score itself, features both long-term collaborator Jody Prewett (keyboard) and the Thai pop group The Krajidrid Band under the direction of composer/producer Pradit Saengkrai. Recorded playing the classical Thai “piphat” ensemble music, The Krajidrid Band’s evocative sacred finger cymbal chimes and peaceable soft mallet accompaniment is sampled and looped by Reynolds to produce a gently overlapping and mysterious ambient flight of fantasy. It certainly creates the right mood, successfully merging the source material with the atavistic, transformed by Reynolds’ signature process of reinvention.

Featuring his chamber electronic partners from the already mentioned and most brilliant Solo Collective project, there is a trembled bow and gentle stirring strings version, included alongside the original. Performed at the Roter Salon, Berlin on the 6th February 2017, this live recording adds a gently lilting undulation of European cello and violin, courtesy of Müller and Stolze, to the ceremonial Thai drones and lush divine resonance. Taking it in another direction, albeit subtly, the Emseatee remix adds a ice-y vapour and tight enervated clattery beats, ala Bonobo, to the Southeast Asian suite, whilst the Atlasov remix subtly wafts this soundscape towards a gauze-y The Orb and Artificial Intelligence era Warp label direction. Though nothing quite matches the original Jon Hassell like venerable peregrination, a most beautiful evocation of the Buddha enlightenment transported to another realm.




Anton Barbeau   ‘Natural Causes’   Beehive/Gare du Nord,  13th April 2018

Ian Hunter via Robyn Hitchcock via Luke Haines, wrapped inside an enigma, the Sacramento born, Berlin-based, Anton Barbeau changes his style of delivery repeatedly yet always maintains an idiosyncratic ingenuity in whatever he does. Posing in a not too dissimilar fashion to Julian Cope on the cover of his latest (and 23rd) album Natural Causes, he looks to all intents and purposes, standing amongst the long stones, like nature’s son on a Ley Lines trip. You can hear a hint of the arch druid of heads own, more, digestible and melodious brand of psychedelic pop running through Natural Causes, but not exclusively, as he opens up to the 12-string élan of the decade he was born in to: the 60s.

Not so much softening up as choosing a more personal, peaceable approach to ‘glorious sounding’ maverick pop, Barbeau has produced something quite stunning and timely (Barbeau fast approaching his 50th birthday): a cerebral album both instantly memorable, melodic and yet adventurous and inventive.

The results of an aborted project under the Applewax banner, made in the run up to the 2016 US elections, Natural Causes is the reflective, more open antithesis to what would have been a far darker and mournful proposition. In part a request from Barbeau’s French label Beehive (released in conjunction with Monolith Cocktail favourites, Gare du Nord), the album that would eventually grow out of the abandoned Applewax would include remakes of past classics alongside new material.

Having another bite at old faithful, Magazine Street, he amps up the jangle factor and production on this country-rock Byrds meets Green Pajamas classic. There’s also reinforced crisp breezy versions of Creep Tray – this time featuring the lush undulated backing vocals of Karla Kane, who guests on a quintet of songs, adding everything from harmonies to “OMs” – and the fuzzed-out vortex, Just Passing By.

In between the all too fleeting to be effective as anything other than paused intermission style vignettes, Barbeau and a congruous cast of guests lend a touching caress to a songbook of contemporary surreal lyrical musings and love songs. Unrushed, even breezy in places but hardly lacking intensity, there’s an air of nostalgia in homages to the radio stations and DJs that sparked interest in the young Barbeau, on the Hunter fronts Tom Petty band finale Down Around The Radio. And with a nod to one of the music cannons greatest ever records, The Beatles Sgt. Pepper kaleidoscope, a stab at a popsike hit (a missing link from one of Strange Days magazines 80s halcyon compilations) is made with a song that was originally written to be recorded at the venerated Fab Fours’ inner sanctum of Abbey Road, with the quirky Disambiguation, which evidently does have a tenuous link to the Beatles, featuring as it does McCartney (and Pretenders) wingman Robbie McIntosh on 12-string guitar. Meanwhile, the discombobulating time-signature Coffee That Makes The Man Go Round is humbly declared to feature the “second greatest riff ever”, and is in part inspired by one of the 60s most underrated bands, Family.

Perhaps one of the most touching declarations and attempts at a lilting anthem, Summer Of Gold, which features Nick Saloman and Ade Shaw of Bevis Frond fame, and Michael Urbano who works with Neil Finn, sounds like Crowded House backed by a Mellotron accentuated rich Amon Duul II. Adopting an entirely different sound, Barbeau covers a strange space in which Sparks collaborated with Squeeze on Secretion Of The Wafer, and channels George Harrison (yes another Beatles link) on the Krishna referencing peaceful Mumble Something.

Fans of Barbeau will be once again charmed by his unique songwriting abilities, and those still unfamiliar with the inimitable generation X artist of renown will find much to love about his psychedelic pop genius.






Lost Colours   ‘A Different Life EP’   61seconds,  14th March 2018

Featured last month, Lost Colours’ life-affirming cosmos pop single One Space Left sits at the center of their new follow-up extended EP, A Different Life. That debut song, a visceral explosion of colour encapsulating the Leeds-based duo’s optimistic abandon in producing psychedelic pop, with a lilt of globe-travelling trance, to put a smile on your face.

Featured either side of it is a trio of similar universal voyages and a number of various remixes, starting with the slow boat to Goa via the South China Seas caressed and lingering Organic Adventures. Building a relaxed soundtrack into a stronger, more rallying trip-hop explosion, the scale of this adventure expands to include waves of indie rock guitar, strings and crashing drum breaks. On a more jazzy soul trip, part Chemical Brothers, part Acid-jazz, the title track and Technicolor High both feature the earthy indie soulful vocals of Sam Thornton. The first of these is a horns, flute accented cyclonic propelled thrust through “the cosmos”, the second, an indie-dance Coldplay traverse.

A Different Light receives two remix treatments, both of which stretch, chop up or strip the original; the Abstract Orchestra transformation slinky but sharp and optimizing the jazz elements; the Night Stories, amping up the swirls and adding velocity drum’n’bass to the mix. Technicolor High is given the LC Nightshades Euro club treatment, with bongos, vapour trails and ambient pauses.

The Lost Colours duo, already lively for the past few years on the remix scene themselves, have been biding their time, steadily building up material for their move over into producing their own original blossoming, Kaleidoscopic material. They sound to be on the right path, their debut and new EP an unashamed joyful and lifting experience of psychedelic and exotic trance dance music.




Waterman  Fragment   ‘Waterman  Fragment’   Available now on Bandcamp

Though something of an unknown entity, I do know for certain that the often brutal and discordant Waterman Fragment convincingly grind through the miasma, shock and stresses of our unstable, conflict-beckoning world on there recently released self-titled LP. Started by two self-confessed “music survivors” of the 90s New England noise/skronk scene, the Waterman Fragment duo have moved on to summon forth a caustic barrage of demons with this incarnation of metal pummeling, warped and tortuous flagellation.

Quite vivid and fired-up, when you can hear them, the mostly spoken (or barracked through a megaphone) lyrics have a real depth and poetic menace. Layers of meaning and references strike at the bowels of hell; the aftermath of an aerial bombing raid that hits a zoo becomes a quasi prose style menagerie version of Guernica, on the hypnotic quagmire dissection of death from above, A King And A Smak In A Calm. Warning it’s strong stuff, but here’s an example of that distressing vivid lyricism: “Beneath deep rubble reptiles squirm. The aquarium explodes. Monkeys and gorillas flee, hair singeing as they run. Shattered glass aviaries empty themselves. Trapped in their temple, elephants die. Rats work the huge rib cages and mounds of entrails to make a golem, filling its head with flies, as the city shines red through a gate knocked off its hinges in the background.”

The finale, which almost bounces and shimmer along by comparison to the rest of the album, moving along to a double-time mix of the Moon Duo, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Suicide and The Normal, is an elegiac unflinching discourse on the Crystal Meth epidemic sweeping America (but the rust belt in particular): “A lumber saw took his leg, lost all his teeth to crystal meth.”

Harrow be thy name and all that, there’s plenty of Biblical quotation or allusion to it anyway to be found; extracts of Psalm 51 can be found on the fork-tongued exorcism at the foot of the Babel Tower, The Hyssop – a reference to the brightly coloured shrub found in Southern Europe and The Middle East, mentioned in the bible, known for its medicinal properties as an antiseptic. The Swans argue with 4AD era Scott Walker soundtrack certainly sounds like a brooding combat between the esoteric bible and dark forces. There’s plenty of rage, a lot of the daemonic, and plenty of the Old Testament prophecy amongst the blood and guts and tearing flesh.

A theme of breaking free, shouted over the white noise, and the need to breathe; shedding the old skin, escaping the augurs of destruction; and escaping the Skynet possible future of automation and our robot overlords on the repeated steel ring fence kicking and foot pedal throbbing industrial Function: “Come meet the robot god, your soul’s entrusted to take off his metal mask. I’m staring back at you. I am the function of pure self destruction, anti-reproduction, and pro-automation.”

Sawed, drilled, stamped, teared, hammered and bashed, you really will feel like you’ve been savaged and beaten by the time you reach the end. A challenge certainly; the paranormal, biblical, esoteric no match for the realities of human nature and its darkest misdeeds, distilled through the harsh Gothic and industrial noise soundtrack of the uncompromising Waterman Fragment duo. For those who embrace the gloom and mire consider this a most heavy serious recommendation from me.




CHOICE TRACKS OF 2017: PART FOUR
SELECTION: DOMINIC VALVONA, AYFER SIMMS, MATT OLIVER





Wrapping up 2017 with the final part of our quarterly playlist revue, Matt Oliver, Ayfer Simms and Dominic Valvona have chosen another eclectic genre spanning collection of ‘choice’ tracks from the latter end of the year. From the Golan Heights (TootArd) to the cantons of Switzerland (Ester Poly), from weaponised disco pop (U.S. Girls) to attacking vibrant Curaçao electro protest (Kuenta i Tambú), from Gilbert and Sullivan cerebral pop (Sparks) to unearthed lost golden 60s nuggets (Cymbeline), this last curtain call of the year playlist reflects our tastes and opinions, and reflects what has been an anxious, unsettling twelve months.


Tracklist:

Mark Barrott  ‘The Pathways Of Our Lives’
Snapped Ankles  ‘Hanging With The Moon’
Kuenta i Tambu  ‘E Kalakuna’
TootArd  ‘Laissez Passer’
Mustafa Ozkent  ‘Kasap’
Los Camaroes  ‘Mbembe Ndoman’
The Movers  ‘Kansas City’
U.S. Girls  ‘Mad As Hell’
Destroyer  ‘Cover From The Sun’
Wild Ones  ‘Invite Me In’
The Moth Poets  ‘The Shabby Gentlemen’
Ester Poly  ‘Dienstag’
Alpine Those Myriads  ‘Mail Order Doom (WHWGH)’
L’Orange  ‘Cooler Than Before’
Danny Watts & Aye Mitch  ‘Young & Reckless’
Evidence  ‘Jim Dean’
Thavius Beck  ‘Akhenaten’
Ocean Wisdom  ‘Eye Contact’
Antiheroes, Lee Scott & Salar  ‘No Sleep Till Mars’
Psycho & Plastic  ‘Boojum’
Alexander Stordiau  ‘Fulfilling Eclipse’
Solo Collective: Anne Muller & Alex Stolze  ‘Solo? Repeat! (Live)’
Audiac  ‘Gospels Unreal’
Bjork  ‘Arisen My Senses’
Miles Cooper Seaton  ‘I Am That’
Gwyneth Glyn  ‘Tanau’
The Cornshed Sisters  ‘The Message’
Girl Ray  ‘Preacher (Radio Edit)’
Wesley Gonzalez  ‘Piece Of Mind’
Cymbeline  ‘Strax Nedenfor Tomen’
Martian Subculture  ‘Chewing Gum’
John Howard  ‘From The Morning’
Sparks  ‘I Wish You Were Fun’

Previous Quarterly Playlists from 2017:

Part 3

 

Part 2

 

Part 1



REVIEWS ROUNDUP 
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Right, quick as you like, look lively. We have a lot to get through this month.

Part catch-up and partly featuring releases to come, the latest TOF review includes the latest poetically alluring and chorister evocations suite, Circuits, by Rowan Coupland; a new mix of electronic music and Curaçao traditions, colliding in a sonic explosive protest, from the Amsterdam-based Kuenta i Tambú; an esoteric and spooky seasonal EP of curios, Little Legs For Little Eggs, from the mysterious Quimper; strange cartoon Moog soundtracks and space japes from the late Guatemala electronic composer Emilio Aparicio; a collection of lost recordings from the bucolic and fuzz psych Swedish trio Cymbeline; the Anglo-German experimental triumvirate of Anne Müller, Sebastian Reynolds & Alex Stolze, with their first collective album of neo-classical and ambient performances, Part One; and form the Edinburgh-based sonic experimentalist Reverse Engineer a stunning low key album of transitional electronica and field recordings, Elusive Geometry.

I also have singles and EPs from pianist and troubadour extraordinaire John Howard, releasing his cover of Nick Drakes diaphanous From The Morning; the latest track, Mastakink, with accompanying remixes, from the cerebral electronic duo Room of Wires; and the debut EP of thrashing indie and new wave rock from Oxford’s Easter Island Statues, Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?.

Read on…



Kuenta i Tambú  ‘Rais’
Buchi Records,  15th November 2017

Fired-up and blazing out of Amsterdam, the Dutch-based (‘major leaguers’) Kuenta i Tambú, with their collision of dance music and Afro-Caribbean hard-hitting sonic triggers and attacks, make an explosive impression with their latest global beat travailing Rais album. Apparently attempts have already been made to frame this force of nature with a coherent or trendy tag: ‘new sound global bass’ and ‘tambútronic’ being the frontrunners, the former a bit clumsy, the latter more catchy and closer to the truth.

Built around the Dutch-Caribbean island musical traditions of the group’s founder Roël Calister, a native of Curaçao, the group uses the indigenous Papiamento language and dialect of that island not only for their moniker, which translates as ‘Tales and Drums’, but the title too, which means ‘Roots’: The ‘Tambú’ part of that band name also refers to a particular Curaçao style of dance and music, named after the drums that accompany it. You can hear those traditional hand drums pummeling away throughout this exuberant, restless but directed chaos of strutting synthesizer betas and earthy echoes of the ancestors.

Transfusing the signature sounds, from reggae to dancehall, with a dose of Major Lazer and MIA, Calister and his troupe pays certain homage to those ‘roots’, energizing and keeping ‘alive’ the sound of that southern Caribbean island –name checking notable Curaçao artists such as his sister Izaline Calister, Grupo Issoco and Elia Isenia – whilst blasting it forward into a polygenesis futuristic fusion.

Amplifying into a twerking, booty-shaking voodoo summoning bombast of rapping, spitting and soul-with-attitude vocal led charges, traditions come alive; those tribal atavistic themes entwined with the galloping urgency and incessant vibrations of dancefloor protest. A call-to-arms in one sense with its fierce shouts, laser strafing and pneumatic drilling bass, Kuenta i Tambú sound like a tropical island Die Antwoord, at other times, especially on the bottle-tapping and hand drum blitz Roll like the Ghana’s King Ayisoba.

Truly omnivorous the group throw Bhangra, R&B, Techno and Samba carnival saunters into a mix of swaggering male vocals, a local children’s choir and the equally ferocious, though also sultry and lulling, voice of Diamanta Kock. Recording half the album on Curaçao itself, soaking up the atmosphere, Kuenta i Tambú’s lively fervor propels the local culture forward into the 21st century with a spirited, even rebellious injection of loops, effects and colliding rhythms. In the words of the group, they are, in a manner, more “like a Caribbean punk band”, going “harder and harder, louder and louder!” Rais proves a perfect testament to that.







 

Rowan Coupland   ‘Circuit’ (Album and Illustrated Book)
27th October 2017

It’s the voice of course that draws you in: that ability to convey deep, though eloquently lights, descriptions so effortlessly whilst trilling and cooing between the role of chorister and Medieval bard, countercultural folk troubadour and earnest poet. The highly capable Rowan Coupland lets the words tumble and fall with great care, even when he packs those articulate observations into a cramped bar or two, as he does on occasion almost without taking a breathe, his diction natural and unhurried.

Difficult to define in an era in which artists can easily cross boundaries and take inspiration from anyone, Coupland’s voice is rich with both traditional and modern influences. Some of which are merely aspirational, whereas others colour each and every line. Indebted to the relatively obscure though highly influential 60s/70s English folk singer/songwriter Anne Briggs, who’s list of followers and admirers is both lengthy and legendary (Bert Jansch and Sandy Denny for starters), and the starry folklore of Shirley Collins (The Power Of True Love Knot for sure) there’s also mentions of the powerful atmospheric bowed and quivered music partnership of Richard Dawson and Rhodri Davies, and similar tremulous waning violin work of John Cale on this most impressive songbook. In the modern camp, echoes of I Poo Clouds, Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley waft through the undercurrents.

Expanding his repertoire and progressing forward gaining more experience and skills, Coupland has gone from a formative home-recording artist and Brighton scenester to polygenesis singer/songwriter/composer. Moving from his native Bath to Berlin in 2010, Coupland’s global travelogues – touring Canada and Europe – are enriched by his numerous collaborations, many of which relate again to the past: including the renaissance madrigal group Garland Hearse, folk singer Mary Hampton and the Vancouver gamelan orchestra, Gamelan Gita Asmara.

In fact modernity seems somehow out of place in the beautifully doleful geography of Circuit. A wistful, uneasy balance exists then between age-old sentiment and scenery and the encroachment of technology: the poetically endeared ephemeral observations of a scenic bicycle ride, the spell of which is interrupted by mono-crackled noise emanating from the mobile phone of a passing jogger, to the metaphorical lamentable changing facades of a community, encapsulated in the ebb and flow of one transient culture replacing a more entrenched one; a history of displaced people taking root from another time (“burnt out synagogues”) replaced by one of “internet cafes” and “late night casinos”.

On the weary chamber weepy The Canadian Whole Earth Almanack, which includes a diaphanous classical piano guest spot from Sr. Charli, Coupland waxes lyrical about legacy: both his own and that of mother natures. Meandering through a geologically descriptive rich terra firma, dotted with Arthurian like references to a poisoned chalice nee cup and his own mortal fate, he offers up the old adage that “You can’t take out what you didn’t put in.” Indeed.

Imbued with a sense of the ancestral, with vague evocations to a variety of mixed-up chapters and atmospheres from across the ages, Circuit’s moody but always gently majestically played accompaniment also has a timeless quality. So it comes as no surprise that parts of the album were recorded in the hallow sanctity of an ancient church, in the Brandenburg village of Grüneburg. You can hear Coupland tapping into those venerable surroundings on the sorrowful, Medieval echoed suite, Opening.

The landscape and architecture of the main recording location, in and around the artist’s Berlin home, can be felt too; the language, music and expressions evoking the beauty and isolation of the central northern belt of Europe and the Flemish countryside, framing songs such as Frozen River in the snowy Bavarian expenses like a Pieter Bruegel the Elder painting.

Though recorded in fact in the summer, there are countless references and a prevailing mood of winter, the wilderness and harsh but breathtaking panoramas of Coupland’s other topographical inspiration, Canada.

Saving perhaps the best until last, the less morbidly curious and more pep in his step version of Leonard Cohen (another tie to the Canadian landscape, albeit a cultural one) tiptoeing finale Puzzle Pieces is an inquisitive wondering and plaintive curtain call; lightly and gently stirring, Coupland doles out some great lines on this classically theatrical star turn: “I cried like a child on the day we left, I cried the same again on a day to forget. I cried like the sound of upturned teacups, like fallen turrets of conversations out of earshot.”

Circuit is an ambitious suite (an accompanying book of illustrations by Vancouver-based artist Eva Dominelli expands upon and adds an extra interpretative layer of meta to Coupland’s concepts) that showcases Rowan Coupland at his best and most intelligent, both lyrically and musically. This is a most rewarding and impressive album.







Room Of Wires  ‘Mastakink’
30th October 2017

Featured a few months back in one of my last round-ups, and on the last Quarterly Revue playlist, the Room Of Wires duo impressed with their sophisticated amalgamation of cerebral techno, dark beats and corrosive mind and outer body soundtracks rich Black Medicine EP. Little is known, or at least volunteered, information wise about this cloaked in mystery duo; only that they work apart in isolation, in different locations. Whatever the methodology: it works. And works well.

Their latest bandcamp release, Mastakink, is a single and trio of remixes: each one varying in abstraction and intensity. The original version is a hollowed-out sonar rotating dance track of unidentified voices, expanding chrome machinery, ascending and descending tetchy techno and dubstep beats and blips. MTCH’s transmogrification, imbued with a hint of acid, bit-crushing, rebounding warping Aphex Twin, is first up and stretches the effects with a breakdown of alien interference. However, Vlnc Drks applies a mistier, veiled cosmic trance treatment; adding slithery reel-to-reel – almost slithering off the tape spools – sounds, a sort of quasi-UNCLE like slower beat breakdown and laser quest zaps.

Wolf Asylum goes all out with a cacophony of speed-shifting effects, busy kinetic beats, and rapid breakbeat drums. Reshaping the original and having fun at the same time by the sounds of it, the Wolf’s remix sounds like a missing Polygon Window track.

They used to call this sort of beats programming, or something very similar, ‘intelligent techno’ back in the nineties; a term that quickly lost its original elevation for pretension. Yet it does prove a handy if glib label for the sophistication of this and many of the duo’s output. And that should be taken as a compliment.







Quimper   ‘Little Legs For Little Eggs’
14th October 2017

It comes as no surprise to find the mysterious maverick duo that is Quimper paying a near nonsensical homage to one of the Surrealists – and for that matter the German titan of late twentieth century conceptual mayhem, Martin Kippenberger – favorite symbols, the egg, on the latest in a series of curio EPs.

Their third such collection of 2017, Little Legs For Little Eggs, errs towards the haunted with its vaporous, mumbled and wafting esoteric siren call and undulating foggy horror schlock synth.

Released in time for Halloween, Jodie Lowther relays her vocals from beyond the ether; her musical foil John Vertigen, in the role of spiritualist, channeling those ethereal coos and nursery rhyme coquettish voices via the Ouija board.

Ominous though as it may sound, these little eggs and spooky shtick companions are often whimsical; the shocks, such as the black cat tip-toeing over a grave spine-tingling notes, aria like ghostly calls and ectoplasm dripping atmospherics are more in keeping with the Belbury Poly and The Advisory Circle than the wrenching doom and harrowing bestial augurs of Scott Walker and such Fortean Times ghost hunters as the Crow Versus Crow label.

Information, such as it is, remains scant, but the former Soft Bodies Record instigators, Lowther and Vertigen, offer a smattering of influential references” Lynch and Broadcast being two of the most obvious from a list that also includes The Associates – the closest they come to that is on the Eastern-tinged strange opener, Thomas Egg Has Little Legs, which channels Billy Mackenzie through Coil. Lynch creeps from the gloom, his presence just hanging there, on the Carpathian choir, ring modulating Halloween treat Shrike, whilst the much fated Broadcast influence can be heard throughout the rest of the EP’s trio of lilting spooky visages. However, there’s a strong whiff of the grand doyen of 70s and 80s horror soundtracks, John Carpenter, on the miasma heartbeat drum throbs Cut Below The Knee, which pairs the composer with a miserable, malcontent version of Clannad.

Difficult to frame or pin down, Quimper’s strange traverses are translucent, untethered and evanescent, threatening to float away or evaporate on touch. Little Legs For Little Eggs is part avant-garde chanson, part witchery synth and completely weird.







Cymbeline   ‘1965 – 1971’
Guerssen,  16th November 2017
Emilio Aparicio Moog   ‘Expansión Galáctica’
Mental Experience,  16th November 2017

 

Proving themselves a regular provider of the forgotten (sometimes for a good reason) and weirdly kitsch, Spanish vessel Guerssen has surprised as much as amused me with their busy 2017 release schedule. From thrift shop mid 80s garage to Franco era holiday resort disco flamenco, the crate-digging enthusiasts have resuscitated some astounding eclectic deadbeats, mavericks and, occasionally, pioneers from their metaphorical deathbeds of obscurity.

From the latest batch, all released during the next two weeks, I’ve picked out the primordial and Kosmische koolaid electronic nonsense 70s recordings of Emilio Aparicio (released through Mental Experience, and fed through the Guerssen promotion hub) and the, as it happens, pretty decent 60s/70s psych, bucolic folk home recordings of the Swedish trio Cymbeline to chew over. Though there is a bounty of odd and strange compilations also worth checking out.

Guatemala seems both the most unlikely and obvious fertile environment to find an odd burbling Bruce Haack like Moog classic. Seldom making headlines, for better or worse, the Central American country – part of the umbilical shaped cord that tethers the North and South American continents together – shared a common revolutionary zeal with its Latin neighbours. Simultaneously enjoying an economic boom whilst the local branches of the Revolutionary Movement fought a guerilla war, Guatemala’s youth, well some of them, tuned into America’s counterculture. With ties to a fortune, or at least a family of drinks maker industrialists, Emilio Aparicio, under the patronage of fellow compatriot, the painter and producer Roberto Abularach, created some of the country’s most curious electronic music compositions and exotic flights of fantasy. Lucky enough to have Abularach sipping from the same magic cup, – both, along with a number of Guatemala bohemians and ‘heads’, indulged themselves with copious amounts of LSD and Datura in the lead up to these recordings – the producer on his return from a trip to New York in 1969, where he met Robert Moog himself, brought back home two of the newly-fangled analogue synthesizers, one of which he presented to Aparicio as a gift.



After two years of stimulant induced experimentation, and released staggered over just a month-long window, the resulting Moog recordings were far too loony, zany and futuristically strange for the Guatemalan market. And so, pressed privately as a series of 45” records, some given away as part of a drink’s promotion for that family connection’s business (in exchange for four corks of the local brew), these oddities have remained stored away and mostly unheard: none of them ever making the record stores.

Long forgotten, copies so scarce that it took this compilation’s architect, Ruffy Tint (of Discodelic) some serious excavation work amongst the rat dung and dusty grotty basement of a rock-o-la machines distributor in the Guatemalan city of Quetzaltenango to find the missing and complete set of Aparicio recordings that make up Expansión Galáctica (no translation needed).

Undulating between transmogrified library music and a Latin variant of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, these curios range in cosmic kitsch influences; from primordial Joe Meek crouched in a moist subterranean space vault to bubbly candy Zuckerzeit period Cluster. The two finds that initiated this collection, Brujería and Transfiguración del Iniciado pitch the ritualistic and bewitching in an acid-dandy vision of Hanna-Barbera haunted house spell casting, the first of which conjures up a misty spooky soup of babbling, trips-y beats and yawning silly gaping cries from the dungeon, the second, more serious but no less kitsch saunters towards the altar of some cultish brethren.

Goggle-eyed bossa nova wobbles, warbles and bleeps permeate the Moog modulated scenery of a space chasm Sputnik era version of space. And for the most part it seems quite quaint. As an exotic example of Moog performed exotica and weirdness, the late Aparicio’s recordings could be considered a rare missing link in electronic music. The travails of saving these obscure quirks has been worth the effort, and in a small way brought attention to a scene few had ever even heard of. Just don’t get too excited about it; Guatemala’s part is a footnote not a game changer.





Meanwhile back on European soil, the equally obscure Swedish trio Cymbeline were, in-between their respectful gigs for a host of Scandinavian beat groups, producing a variety of recordings during the 60s, which would remain mostly unheard as demos and home recordings collecting dust, until forty years later. Laid dormant until founding member, the former lead guitarist of The Rovers, Michael Journath retrieved them from the loft and begun digitizing and uploading to Youtube, these increasingly – as the years went on during the band’s six-year history – professional recordings and extemporized experiments came to the attention of the Guerssen label, who quickly realized they’d found some gems.

Mostly recorded at the home of the group’s co-founder Anders Weyde (another lead guitarist, notably with Swede outfit The Scarlet Ribbons), this mix and match of styles, quality and line-ups follows the trajectory of a band finding its sound over one of the most changeable, rich periods of music development in history. Originally formed out of a yearning to write and perform their own material in 1965, bored with covers, Journath and Weyde along with old classmate Lars Hygrell, holed-up in the home studio, began aping the Rolling Stones and skulking moody garage rock of the States on their first records, the melancholic Everly Brothers harmony Look At The Stars and lamentable bucolic, Lady Jane-like haunted, Imagination.

At the same time however they also started improvising; incorporating their surroundings, from furniture for drums to the sound of birds, an electric cocktail mixer and even a refuse chute. The results of these expansions and melodious meanders were filed at the Image title series, of which the Third, Fifth and Sixth survived and are gathered together on this collection – the latter is a re-recorded 1970 version of the original. Starting with a bass guitar line, riff or plucked classical prompt these images were allowed to wander and end-up where they may: Fifth being a sun-dappled pastoral dreamy garage psych track that wouldn’t seem to out of place on an early Tyrannosaurus Rex album, Third a hoof-footed Electric Prunes in Allan Edgar Poe mayhem, and Sixth, a Moody Blues pastoral paean to love amongst the elements, which appeared on the group’s only single as the flipside to the ’71 released New York.

As time went on and improvements were made at Weyde’s home studio, Cymbeline adopted more folksy and progressive influences, looking across to the tapestry bucolic of England and the American West Coast, and to the wah-wah psychedelic songs of Jimi Hendrix, who’s famous standard The Wind Cries Mary is covered and given a gentle, almost muffled treatment by Cymbeline. Echoes of Donavon, Buffalo Springfield and backward/forward dreamy guitar-pedal effects feature through the trio’s late 60s repertoire. Some of which is mere pastiche, others, pretty decent, including the brilliant Traffic-esque Motala Ström from ’68.

A whiff of late success beckoned when Ulf Ryberg joined the trimmed-down to a duo Cymbeline in 1970, his amiable proto-glam meets Manfred Mann style acoustic rhythm travelogue New York became the band’s only official release. Prospects for an album in ’71 saw the trio locating from the industrial town of Norrköping for the Europa Film Studios in Stockholm to record a number of demos. Supposedly channeling the feel of the band’s live performances, a couple of tracks seem to be all that remains from this period; one of which is a more urgent but still wistful fuzz and shimmering cymbal retake of an earlier Stolta Vingar, the other, the more Amon Düül II acid-prog Strax Nedanför Tornen. Unfortunately during this late surge the band split up indefinitely before an album could be finished.

Obscurity and the right to be forgotten seems an impossible option in the internet age, and so even a lost box of nuggets as this Cymbeline collection can reach an audience previously cut-off through third parties (take your pick, from labels to management and radio) or the inactions of the group itself. Just when you believe or hope there’s nothing left to drag or dig up – thinking you may have finally got a fix on the whole Scandinavian folk and psych scene of the sixties – something comes along that grabs and surprises you into reevaluating what you know. Cymbeline is another one of those ‘what ifs’, though both good enough to have certainly gone further than they did, you can also see, in a crowded market, how they could so easily be lost and passed over for the multitude of quality that defines the whole era.







Easter Island Statues   ‘Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?’
15th December 2017

Bonding over a shared passion for the music of The Pixies (plenty of that on display) and the Neutral Milk Hotel (not so much), amongst a variety of other similar bands, in 2015, the Oxford trio of Easter Island Statues Donald Campbell, James Askwith and Tom Hitch are set to release their debut EP, the five track Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?, next month.

Leading single Bow & Arrow, which has been doing the rounds recently, has already pricked the attention of 6Music’s Tom Robinson with its lively maelstrom of shimmery crashing cymbal and rapid-fire tight drums, The Walkman like angulated thrashing guitars and serenaded Mexican trumpet accompaniment. Running moodily over the downs the trio create a busy but perfectly executed slice of rambunctious Pixies via The Manics style alternative rock single bursting with energy, moodiness and elan.

In a similar vein the opener, Jousting Colours, offers little in the way of chivalry, but plenty of thrashing spiky punk and post-Britpop American rock: early Franz Ferdinand, The Buzzcocks and The Strokes to name just three.

Things get interesting with the split and changeable Little Bird/Ballerina, which runs through a number of musical changes, from Interpol style post-punk to senorita yearning brass, country and crashing indie. Holy Day is another sea change with its acoustic treatment, plucked prangs of ascending strings, funeral pyre analogies and mandolin. It’s is one of the best and most original, most mature and sophisticated tracks on the EP. The finale, Street Static, is a mix of all the influences in a way, controlled yet just as lively, with hints of R.E.M. and the same crashing, full-on alternative rock guitar riffs and crescendos as Jousting Colours and Bows & Arrows.

An impressive debut indeed from the often crashing and blasting, but thoughtful and assured trio.





The Reverse Engineer   ‘Elusive Geometry’
Floored Music,  24th November 2017

Both in the moniker by which the Edinburgh-based ‘sonic experimentalist’ Dave House is known by, and deduced from the title of his latest album, Elusive Geometry, we can view the sound-artist’s music as a restructuring of sounds and mechanics.

House unravels, strips and inverts his apparatus of field recordings and sampled instruments to reconstruct new, often mysterious and at times foreboding soundscapes; some of which recall Jon Hassell’s Fourth World Musics explorations: a trace of the Javanese or Malay can be heard like a veil hanging over the uneasy densely packed traverse of cascading crystal droplets, marimba and tubular echoed Proto, and a similar, familiar yet obscured sense of place can be heard on the bamboo shuttling Insider, which also features the bobbing and dipped percussion and tablas of sound-designer and producer Pete Vilk.

Exotic sensory concepts of reimagined ‘possible musics’ and places can also be detected in the transduced display of dreamy African plain aria, scatting, soaring and soulful vocals by the jazz vocalist Matty Eeles, on the down tempo shuffling minimalistic Metastability. Fluidly interchanging between the soothed and soaring, Eeles’ voice is manipulated until her diction become almost alien, animalistic, stripped to just vowels sounds and exhales. And whether it’s meant to or not, the glass-bottle tapping and hand drum patterned Rhythmed has an air of the Haitian about it.

A transformation of House’s themes of ‘transition, self (re)discovery and moving on’, the precise chemistry of his compositions and use of collaborators – the already mentioned Vilk and Eeles are joined by harpist Esther Swift and BAFTA award-winning cellist Atzi Murumatsu – sends these explorations off into numerous nuanced, but untethered, atmospheres. Masked looming leviathans, honked saxophone like probes, coils and springs, stone and vegetation, the odd guitar strike drift over or interweave through sophisticated minimalist beats and breaks – the most abstract and discordant drum break of which features on the hallucinatory Decoherence -, with the mood fluctuating between both controlled uncertainty and more deconstructive chaos.

The closing arched trembled cello etched and splayed crunched beat peregrination Post is a perfect example of the kind of beauty, emotion and trepidation that permeates throughout this ‘elusive geometry’. It ends with the line, “It’s so beautiful here”, which appears out of the embers of a fading strung-out breakdown, drone and melancholy dreamy ambient wave.

Fashioning his own sonic descriptions; sending us off into our own space to contemplate and picture these re-engineered imaginations, House’s photographer brother John has even created a series of limited edition prints, created in response to the music – though these are only available as part of the ‘special’ CD edition. It’s no wonder that they’ve inspired such artwork photography, those low key but expansive, often dreamy and gauze-y sonic journeys evoke all manner of emotion and narratives, both introspective and worldly. Elusive Geometry will tease out and reveal its textures and intricacies slowly, each listen drawing your attention to some other interesting interplay and sparse sound. House has in short created a brilliant album of thoughtful, moody transitions and discovery.








 

John Howard   ‘From The Morning’
John Howard Label,  1st December 2017

A signature adroit, deep piano and wise but lightly sprung vocal performance from John Howard, covering – as so many have tired before – one of England’s most tragic introverts, the late Nick Drake, on his first solo release-proper since 2016’s beautifully expansive masterpiece, Across The Door Sill (which rightly made our ‘choice albums of 2016’ features). Howard’s Waterboys style, enervated gospel organ undertone version of Drake’s original diaphanous but so obviously sorrowful From The Morning marks a subtle change in Howard’s methodology; releasing, as he will on December the 1st, this homage paean single style precursor to next year’s extended five track EP of similar inspired covers, Songs From The Morning.

A virtuoso, seldom matched, both technically and creatively – not just because he could confound or at least make it difficult to replicate his music, using as he did his own tuning methodology – the shy and fatefully mentally-anguished Drake, who took his own life at the age of 26, is an obvious muse for Howard whose own debut Goodbye Suzie, and most iconic album, Kid In A Big World, share a unique sense of isolated detachment from the music scene of the times, and were also overlooked commercially, though critically applauded.

Taken from Drake’s final album, Pink Moon, From The Morning is rendered a venerated rolling, tambourine-shaking dawn chorus by Howard; guiding the original towards an awakened brighter day.




 

Solo Collective   ‘Part One’
Nonostar Records,  10th November 2017

Gathered together in a congruous union under the Solo Collective umbrella, the Anglo-German partnership of Anne Müller, Seb Reynolds and Alex Stolze take turns in the spotlight and provide supporting roles with a cast of additional collaborators on the chamber pop meets traversing evocations suite Part One.

An interconnected triangle of familiar themes and musicality, with each musician also individually experimenting and creating their own solo pathway, in their respective field, all three artists have crossed paths and worked together previously on a variety of projects; some of which, in alternative neo-classical stripped versions, appear on this album. For instance, the original pizzicato acoustic-electronic Don’t Try To Be, from the violinist Stolze’s 2016 EP, Mankind Animal, now features Müller’s yearning emphatic cello, and is striped of its synthesizer electronics in favour of woodblock percussion and doleful low bass notes to create a more tragic and sad version.

No stranger to the Monolith Cocktail, Reynolds has been one of the most prolific polymaths to feature on the blog over the last couple of years, whether its for his work as a solo artist, producer, promoter, remixer or collaborator – which includes his recent Thai-inspired gamelan peregrination collaboration with the Neon Dance Company, Mahajanaka and Puzzle Creature. It’s as an exploratory avant-garde with classical inclinations pianist that Reynolds appears on this collective experiment however; his, depending on how you hear it innocent (if foreboding) transcendence or fear-evoking prowl of a drone looming overhead, gradually ascending and descending ambient traverse Ascension features both Müller and Stolze but also Mike Bannard. Rotating the line-up, Reynolds beatific undulating opuscule Holy Island retains both Müller’s beautifully pining presence and Bannard’s but also features Jonathan Quinn and Andrew Warne helping to perform one of the album’s most ethereal highlights.

Going ‘solo solo’, Müller, who has toured and recorded with Agnes Obel and is a regular musical foil to Nils Frahm, provides the tubular chimed expansive air Silbersee, and Stolze, a stalwart of the Berlin techno scene but also a violinist virtuoso pushing the instruments boundaries, provides the classically 18th century attuned stirring melodious meets twanged, crushing abrasive, approaching leviathans, Cell To Cell. Both also perform as a duo on the opening Philip Glass evoking elegant and quivery Solo Repeat!.

A showcase for a particularly harmonious partnership of individuals with a pan-Europa vision of collaboration and crossing sublime musical boundaries, Part One – of what I hope will be a continuing venture – proves to be a stirring neo-classical ambient collection of solo and ensemble performances; each artists sharing and pooling their obvious talents to find a common interplay and a bond to create a challenging but mostly beautiful album.





PLAYLIST
SELECTIONS: DOMINIC VALVONA, MATT OLIVER AND AYFER SIMMS





The second quarterly revue of 2017 gathers together a faithful purview of the last three months of reviews and articles on the Monolith Cocktail. Myself, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms have chosen a mere smattering of our favourite music from that period; featuring both tunes from albums/singles/EPs/collections we’ve reviewed or featured on the site and some we just never had the time to include.

Our customary eclectic playlist features synthesized peregrinations and quirky electronica from Ippu Mitsui, AXL OTL and Swamp Sounds; forlorn desert blues and experimental polygenesis traverses and bombast from Ifriqiya Electrique, King Ayisoba, Tanzania Albinism Collective and Songhoy Blues; a smattering of choice cuts from Matt Oliver’s Rapture & Verse hip-hop review, including Raekwon, Prozack Turner, Brother Ali and Shabazz Palaces; plus pop makossa vibes from Cameroon, aria electric guitar cosmological paeans from Anna Coogan, heavy doom psychedelia from the Black Angels and much, much more. In all: A sense of anxiety. A sense of angst. A sense of unease. And a sense of wonder.



Tracks:

Ippu Mitsui  ‘Bug’s Wings’  (review)
AXL OTL  ‘Ondes Beta’
Swamp Sounds  ‘Skull Disco’  (review)
In Flagranti  ‘Sidewalk Salsa’
Flamingods  ‘Mixed Blessings’
King Ayisoba (ft. Wanlov da Kubolor & Big Gad)  ‘Africa Needs Africa’  (review)
Ifriqiyya Electrique  ‘Arrah arrah abbaina-Bahari-Tenouiba’  (review)
Tanzania Albinism Collective  ‘Tanzania Is Our Country, Too’  (review)
Vieux Farka Toure  ‘Bonheur’  (review)
Tanzania Albinism Collective  ‘Mistreated’
Colin Stetson  ‘Spindrift’
Uncle Pops & The Dumbloods  ‘Harry Smith’s Paper Planes’  (review)
Raekwon  ‘Crown Of Thorns’
BocaWoody (ft, Blu Rum 13)  ‘At It Again’  (review)
The Last Skeptik (ft. Scrufizzer, Mikill Pane, Dream Mclean, Al The Native)  ‘Drumroll Please’ (review)
DJ Format & Abdominal  ‘Still Hungry’  (review)
Prozack Turner  ‘Obsession’  (review)
Danger Mouse & Run The Jewels  ‘Chase Me’  (review)
Ramson Badbonez & DJ Fingerfood  ‘Hypnodic’  (review)
Jehst (ft. Eric Biddines & Strange U)  (review)
Brother Ali  ‘Own Light (What Hearts Are For)’  (review)
Shabazz Palaces (ft. Thaddillac)  ‘Shine A Light’  (review)
El Michels Affair (ft. Lee Fields & The Shacks)  ‘Tearz’  (review)
Alex Stolze  ‘Don’t Try To Be’  (review)
Earlham Mystics  ‘Truth’
Andrew Wasylyk  ‘Under High Blue Skies’  (review)
Bill Loko  ‘Nen Lambo’  (review)
Vincent Ahehehinnou  ‘Best Woman’
Songhoy Blues  ‘Bamako’
The Black Angels  ‘Hunt Me Down’  (review)
Faust  ‘Lights Flicker’  (review)
Oiseaux-Tempete  ‘Baalshamin’
Anna Coogan  ‘The Lonely Cry Of Space And Time’  (review)
Sergio Beercock  ‘Jester’  (review)
Sparks  ‘What The Hell Is It This Time?’
Der Plan  ‘Lass die Katze stehn’  (review)
Arcade Fire  ‘Creature Comfort’
Lucy Leave  ‘Talk Danish To Me’
Vassals  ‘Sea Spells’  (review)
Mount Song  ‘Nothing’  (review)
Carlo Mazzoli  ‘Avalanche Blues’  (review)
Happyness  ‘Tunnel Vision On Your Part’  (review)


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