A LOOK AT WHAT’S OUT THERE: Dominic Valvona’s Reviews Roundup

PHOTO CREDIT: Iveta Rysava.

Amine Mesnaoui & Labelle ‘African Prayers’
(Lo Recordings) 1st April 2022

Back again conducting wonders, Jérémy Labelle finally makes the album he always dreamed of with friend and musical partner, the Moroccan-in-Paris pianist, Amine Mesnaoui, 15 years after first crossing paths on the Seine riverbank. As backstories go it’s a fated one, Labelle DJing a Techno set (just one of many musical genres under his belt) suddenly leaping into action to save his future collaborator and party attendee, drowning in the iconic river. Thrown together under the most insane conditions, both musician-composers formed a bond, which is now transduced into a most atmospheric mood suite of atavistic ritual, ceremony and futurism.

Already riding high this year off the back of his expansive universal vision of Maloy music and the classical, this January’s Éclat album, Labelle now appears alongside his classical and jazz studied foil on a both electroacoustic and avant-garde transformation of the North African, but more specifically Moroccan, Gnawa Ritual of the Seven Colours liturgy.

Performed traditionally with the entrancing music of the ‘maâlem’ masters and the spiritual guidance of a ‘shuwafa’ (a clairvoyant, of a kind) this important communion, invocation of the seven main manifestations of the divine ‘demiurgic’ activity calls for the seven saints and ‘mluk’ who are all represented by various shades of colour – hence the name. To go deeper into the meaning, this ritual represents a prismatic decomposition of the original light/energy; the first sacrifice and genesis of the universe as outlined in this Islamic belief and form of religious songs, rhythms, poetry and dance.

However, instead of the signature hypnotic scratchy, scrapped energy of the ‘guembri’ we instead have Mensnaoui’s modified brassy, buzzy resonating piano, which has various objects, props inserted into its strings, and Labelle’s array of electronic interactions and effects to stimulate the mystery and ethereal prayer of that arcane ritual. The mood is every bit as mystical and venerable, only those colourful representations now extend into Cage-style modern classical experimentation, deconstructive spiritual jazz and electronica.

‘Lueur’, ‘white” the colour of the Gnawa religion itself, does have a hint of spindled desert contouring Arabia yet features softened but deep bass stamps and thuds and quivery trills of something otherworldly. Those ‘celestial spirits’ are invoked on the “dark blue” shaded ‘Pérjastre’, stirred up by both chimed and spidery runs up and down the piano’s strings, the sound of softened foot pedal movements, percussive shimmers and breaths from the ether.

The rhythms really get moving on the colour ensemble of ‘Krazé Muneataf Tanzen’, the tribal and avant-garde coming together in a reimagined dance that evokes a meeting between Jeff Mills and Afrikan Sciences. On the aquatic, liquid ‘Bleu Noir’ (the album’s lead single, and in case you didn’t guess, represents the colour “light blue”, a symbol of the ocean and sky) Mesnaoui plays freely with trickled and cascading notes, sounding not that far off from the experimental works of Abdullah Ibrahim.

Familiar African percussion, cattle and long tubular bells and piano turn into electrified forms of futurism. It’s certainly a different perspective, playful, explorative yet attuned to the source material, inspiration. This is Gnawa music and ritual as you’ve never heard it; moving into new realms of sonic enterprise. Just don’t wait so long next time guys, as this is a match made in the elementals. 

   

Nicolas Zullo ‘Credendoti Montagna’
(Ibexhouse) 18th March 2022

The Italian philosophy student turn songwriter Nicolas Zullo interprets and translates a fertile imagination into a lucid dream theatre on his debut solo album, Credendoti Montagna: that’s “believing you are a mountain” to my non-Italian speaking friends.

Unravelling a most poetic psyche, Zullo is aided by Mirko Bianchini on bass, Eduardo Dinelli on drums, Umberto Ciccarelli on keys and the notable Alessandro Fiori on synths, violin and choirs; he also helps to record these enigmatic songs, journeys of the mind, which gently unfurl to traverse the Renaissance, psychedelic, folk, prog, Britpop, 70s soft rock and spells of 60s troubadourism.

Imbued with the bellissimo diverse splendours of the Viareggio, with its gorgeous coastlines, lakes and mountains, these softened studies move with ease through a magical world: simultaneously Freudian and Flyodian! That’s both a Syd-era Pipers At The Gates Of Dawn and a post-Syd Dark Side Of The Moon meets The Wall versions of the Floyd I might add. Unconsciously perhaps, though Zullo name checks a list of artists he grew up absorbing, there’s a light of touch lean towards the Floyd across at least half this album. That and beatified echoes of 10cc, Tame Impala, The Beatles, Ralph McTell, Donovan, Dylan’s harmonica, and 60s/70s Italian cinema soundtracks. Although the part cabaret, part circus trippy ‘Se Fussi’ (“if I were”) is like a Sgt. Pepper Jacques Brel.   

Submerged into an enchanted songbook and subconscious of swoons, swirls, romanticism and reflection the listener will find the soft, almost pop-lit with touches of the neoclassical, just quirky enough to hold the attention. Throughout a bathos and pathos of interpretation, and an escape from the ugly machine, there’s a lovely fluid lyricism – OK I’m going on the timbre, candour, feeling, as despite my name and roots I cannot speak Italian. Zullo has crafted a spellbinding, impressive debut, a magnificent, sensory dream-realism of scale and erudite musicianship.    

Bart Davenport ‘Episodes’
(Tapete Records) 25th March 2022

A revolving door of labels, from mod to blues singer and soft rock troubadour, Bart Davenport seems to inhabit them all, and many others, on his new episodic songbook.

There’s a certain 60s backbeat in evidence, and chinks and brassy rings of The Beatles and The Byrds, Powerman era Kinks, crooning swoons from the Scott Walker playbook (a sort of reminiscence of ‘Deadlier Than The Male’, removed to Turkish shores, on the eastern psych Ipcress Files scored ‘Naked Man’)and 70s singer/songwriter vibes. Fans of the L.A. artist will feel comfortable anyway, as Bart, in a disarming, melodically timeless fashion, immortalises idiosyncratic characters, lovelorn remiss and more psychedelic episodes from an everyday diorama.      

Bart’s joined in this enterprise by regular band mates Jessica Espeleto (on bass) and Wayne Faler (on lead guitar). The invitation is however extended beyond those two regulars. Complimenting the Davenport combo is drummer Graeme Gibson, who eases that backbeat I mentioned on the album’s wanton Baroque and Glenn Tilbrock-like ‘It’s You’ (one of my favourites by the way); percussionist Andres Renteria (of Jose Gonzales and Roderigo Amaranto note), providing sauntered shakers and (I take it) the quasi-Curtis Mayfield soft soul hand drums on the tropicola-like George Michael on AM radio ‘Easy Listeners’; and Aaron M. Olson, adding inspiral suffused organ to the second eastern-psych, with Spanish flourishes and deft Rolling Stones guitar scales, ‘Strange Animals’.  Aaron has already, in the past, produced the Bart & The Bedazzled’s previous album Blue Motel, so he knows this set-up well. Swelling with subtle cinematic, romantic and sentimental strings, Dina Macabee lays down a number of original arrangements; notably on the Greek/Med serenaded ‘Billionaires’ and more acoustic folk-psych yearn ‘Alice Arrives’. The first of those is a quite forlorn, if laughable wistful window in on the tech giant oligarchs: messers Bezos, Gates and Zuck radiating a deep sadness and emptiness, as witnessed by our troubadour. They soon have the last laugh as they board a rocket bound to some new idyllic utopia they can fuck up. The second of these songs uses a befitting psychedelic language of paisley and flowery acid-folk, a mix of Fairport Convention acoustic backing and Ralph McTell delivery.

Bart proves he has an ear for a familiar tune, as he regales heartfelt declarations, ambles through modern life and interacts with a strange cast. His melodious craftsmanship often hides, at least some, of the deeper social tragedy and lamentable ills of a world in deep shit. Yet, it’s all there in full comical glory. Episodes will really grow on you as a first rate songbook from an artist who knows how to write a good tune. 

Harry Christelis & Pedro Velasco ‘Scribbling’
(Ubuntu Music) 25th March 2022

It’s a title that suggests the mere scribbled doodles, unplanned accumulations of two musicians idling away their time until something more meaningful, better comes along to focus on. In fact the congruous (as it would appear) and adroit partnership of acclaimed guitarists Harry Christelis and Pedro Velasco is anything but: improvise most certainly but skilfully measured and crafted all the same.

Both based in London – though of course Pedro is originally from Portugal – and so crossing paths over the years (actually first coming together to play at a concert in 2016 in the capital) via their respective improvised experimental and jazz set-ups (from Harry’s part in the Walrus Trio, Jamie Doe’s The Magic Lantern and his very own Moostak Trio, to Pedro’s own trio, Akimbo and Machimbombo led turns), this pairing once more teamed-up, just before lockdown restriction in the December of 2020. As the pandemic (hopefully) ebbs and life in the UK gradually starts to look more normal, those mental strains of isolation and themes of disconnection now seem almost to pale insignificance to the onset of war in Eastern Europe. Scribbling’s intentions remain just as relevant, important, to find solace, a space in which to escape the distractions of our modern overpowering Internet age. As a platform to ‘focus, to develop’ and measure time in a more serene way this album of both shared and individual composed mood music gently evokes and mines each artist’s state of mind and musings at that particular point in time.

Chimes, gestures, subtle phrases and caresses of the blues, jazz, neoclassical, Iberian evoke everything from late Clapton and Ferderico Balducci to Myles Cochran and Pink Floyd. Pedro’s off world hovered ‘Nos Entrentos do Silênco’ (“In between the silence”) even has an air of the Kosmische about it: a bit of Ash Ra Tempel perhaps. Laidback jazzy summer wine melodies share the space with atonal mirages and more abstract vignettes; tracks that concentrate more on the effects, spidery finger tabs on buzzing electrified guitar strings and the sound manipulation, contouring of amp hums and reverb.

Both guitarists never seem to indulge themselves, nor overfill that special emotive space with excessive soloing. There’s even room for the synthesized, with a constant presence of ambient waves, drones, tape reversals, tubular metals and more sci-fi computerised sums. Together these elements, atmospheres add mystery, calculation, and the cosmic to proceedings: the electronic bits on the opener, ‘Paul’s Closet’, even reminded me of a very early Aphex Twin.   

A fine balance of contemplation, the measuring of time in a reflective way, and pedal board hardware trickery is struck. The artful and obvious articulate skills of both Harry and Pedro emote far deeper connections, descriptions and horizons than mere daubing’s. Scribbling is a fine piece of sagacious, subtle musicianship.

Yamash’ta & The Horizon ‘Sunrise From West Sea Live’
(WEWANTSOUNDS) 1st April 2022

Reissue specialists WEWANTSOUNDS (their caps lock signature not mine) continue to drop rarities, cult favourites and avant0garde eccentricities with the first ever reissue of Yamash’ta & The Horizon’s ’71 dream team live special, Sunrise From West Sea. This edited down spilt peregrination of freefrom jazz, kool-aid and Fluxus-like classical deconstruction, performed at the Yamaha Hall in Tokyo on April 18th of that year, can now be yours on vinyl; remastered, it should be added, from the original tapes. 

The Julliard and Bekrlee alumni and Japanese genius Stomu Yamash’ta assembles an enviable cast, joined in this far-out improvisation by fellow jazz pianist compatriot and Berklee student Masahiko Satoh, the Julian Cope Japrocksampler noted and Fluxus instigator/composer/violinist/artist Takehisa Kosugi on electric violin, and electrified shamisen player (a traditional three-string Japanese instrument played with a ‘bachi’ plectrum) Hideakira Sakurai. All together, untethered from reality and the rules of composition this Japanese quartet inhabits an alien soundscape of the submerged and wildly bendy!

From the depths of Atlantis to the South China Seas into an archipelago of Pacific Island native drumming circles, the associations are free and loosely ethnological and yet beyond any real tangible geography that exists.

As you might expect from a critically renowned percussionist (hailed no less by John Cage, who he worked with on occasion, as one of the world’s best) there’s plenty of hand-drumming and rasps, thrashes of obscured percussive instrumentation to be found, both serial and galloping or, slapped into something that resembles a rhythmic propulsion. In the meantime Satoh seems to scratch and physically pull at the inner workings of his piano; occasionally tinkling with actual recognisable notes. Taj Mahel Traveller Kosugi pinches, strains and bows away at the catgut; somehow making the electric-violin sound otherworldly, wailing and quivered. In a similar vein Sakurai transports us to some abstract, primordial vision of the Far East, again, only now and then offering his shamisen instrument an easy ride with recognisable frayed stirrings and yearns.

‘Part 2’ is almost filmic in places, which is unsurprising as both Yamash’ta and Satoh were engaged in or, about to score some movies. Yamash’ta already well versed having a collaborative relationship with the English conductor Peter Maxwell Davies, who’s score for Altman’s 1972 Images movie would feature his contributions, also instigated, ran the Red Buddha Theatre and had his music used in Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth and later, the BBC’s Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Satoh would most notably go on to provide the score for the 1973 cult erotic psychedelic anime Bellodonna of Sadness.

Four avant-garde travellers cross paths and dream about the life-giving forces on the West Sea horizon in a show of explorative mania, trepidation, supernatural and cosmic hovering. This is a weird performative space of tightrope walked resonated string instrument drama, whale song, shuttled percussion and abstract forces. The sort of thing Cope would lap up and recommend to the head music community.

Ben Vida And Lea Bertucci ‘Murmurations’
(Cibachrome Editions) 1st April 2022

Stalwarts of the NYC experimental scene Ben Vida And Lea Bertucci appear together for the first time as an electroacoustic and transformed voice duo. At opposite sides of the same mountain in the famous arts and music retreat of Woodstock, both artists initially began conversing as friends before taking the plunge and developing a special ‘non-hierarchical’ improvised collaboration.

Although more or less obscuring, coating in various effects each other’s contributions, murmurs of Lea’s wind instruments and rasped, reedy saxophone can just be detected amongst the magnetic fizzles and slithery, tentacle tape thrashing. Live tape manipulation, modular synth, sampling, real-time instrumental and vocal improvisation are all set in motion to create an often alien, avant-garde and often low-grade industrial atmosphere; a cosmic soundtrack and art gallery installation score.

It constantly feels as intimate as it does expansive, with the looming and hovering presence of some kind of extra-terrestrial craft. There are hums, pulses that could be motors, and the sound of rippled propellers in the air. Some passages even evoke the lunar. Yet there’s also the resonance of some eco-system: strange bird echoes, insects chatter and the most humid of sub-tropical heats buzz – think A.I. exotica of Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama.

Fluted hinged and solar windy funnelled real instruments blow across a sulphur spool of vapour and wispy ghostly waves. Occasionally you can hear the most un-rhythmic of tub patters in that atmosphere.

Both artists work with the human voice too, offering Cuushe-like utterances of an undefined language, and on the album’s title-track, a transformed, broken-up conversation between Ben and Lea. Phonetic breakdowns, sucked up and reversed snippets of dialog turn into harped arias and the giggles.

This could be a static-charged paradise or a virtual existence in the bubble, whatever it is Murmurations has some strange, explorative sonic worlds and new esoteric-like communication processes to draw the listener in.        

Kumo ‘Three Tigers’
(Self Release)

Unless you’re Chinese or a student of that country’s culture or, like the electronic polymath Jono Podmore, an acolyte of its martial arts (in this case the Taoist-imbued Tai Chi), it may very well have escaped your notice that 2022 is the year of the ‘Tiger’.

Born under that Chinese Zodiac cycle myself I was always curious to its omens, augurs. Of which, the Tai Chi teaching Jono seems to have predicated an omen, a very bad one, when asked by a student back in February (the official start of the Chinese calendar) what to expect in the year of the Tiger. His answer: war! And so perhaps we can blame him now for what’s happened in light of the invasion of Ukraine – only kidding.

However, we’re informed that despite this magnificent animal’s more dangerous attributes, ‘there are many tigers’ to decipher, to draw meaning from: the ‘strength’ to overcome problems, its beauty, even calmness.

Exploring all these aspects, traits and metaphorical quandaries, symbols Jono draws from the atavistic Tai Chi teachings on his latest Kumo alias release. And just like that regal big cat’s dualism – ‘a force for peace and reconciliation as a harbinger of war’ – the trio of electronic encapsulations, calligraphy brushed evocations, are a surprising mix of the experimental and dynamic.

In a more serene setting the opening ‘Tiger Lies Down’ surveys an electrified Spring landscape of lush flowing, cascaded waters, our magnificent beats wandering an ambient-charged calm that encourages tranquillity and meditative pause: at least a moment to retract those claws anyway. Undulating this natural scene is a subtle, nuanced bobbing Orb and Banco da Gaia like trance beat, synthesized percussive shimmers and dissipating steam. Things do turn a little wild at the end with a contortion of transmitted wiry signals; a sound that will return later on.

Upping the energy, ‘(Retreat To) Ride Tiger’ prowls a techno and house infused bob and bounce beat of Jeff Mills, Juan Atkins and Felix Da Housecat coming together for Basic Channel. Representing the tiger’s reluctance to take passengers, but taking that wild ride anyway, the waves, dance pulses, glints of spiritual mystery and danger keeps on coming.

The final push to holy peaks brings our subject to the mountains for perhaps the most serial, explorative track of the three. Edging through tubular bamboo and undergrowth, Jono guides us through an arching, bendy and looming electronic terrain. Oscillating spirits, the echoes of a sacred space envelope a sensory tread. Those signal frequencies from the fist track make that return I mentioned, as the tone become more otherworldly, mythical and cosmic.

Neither in the spirit of Eno’s own Tiger mountain excursions nor in the manner of Orientalism, Jono surprises with a soundtrack representation devoid of those Chinese musical signatures. Instead, traversing ambient, techno, soundscaping and the kosmische he paints a unique homage, respectful acknowledgment to China’s ancient symbolism and the most majestic, powerful (unfortunately endangered; much of which is down to the Chinese themselves hunting them down to extract their magical properties for medicines) of creatures. Juts please don’t act the Cassandra again! We have enough on our plates already without more predictions!

Adams, Dunn & Haas ‘Future Moons’

New York postcard penpal Andy Haas (you can find Andy’s Covid years series of regular Museum of Modern Art imbued postcards on our Instagram account) with regular Toronto foil Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn and Kieran Adams travel untethered to one of our nearest constellations and beyond on the starry Future Moons.

A contortion of wailed avant-garde, galactic freeform jazz, cosmic courier kosmische and far-out peregrinations, each sonic astronaut brings something both different and explorative to the far-flung outer limits.

But before we travel any further, a little provenance is needed. Adams CV includes the synth pop group DIANA and various stints alongside Bonjay, the Weather Station, and Joseph Shabason. His latest project is Vibrant Matter. Dunn’s been a chief instigator in the experimental Canadian scene, most notably as the driver behind The Cosmic Range collective. Haas’ near five-decade career includes the Canadian new wave trailblazers and international hit makers Martha And The Muffins, and an enviable catalogue of collaborative ensemble projects with Mar Ribot, Zeena Parkins, John Zorn, Ikue Mori, Don Fiorino, U.S. Girls plus Dunn’s Cosmic Range. Here and now, Haas’ fluted, spiralled and wild signature saxophone contours and trilling blowouts veer off like a mirage of Sam Rivers, Pete Brützmann and former foil Zorn as Adams and Dunn’s drums and electronic apparatus run amok in hyper space, hinting at Ilhan Mimaroglu, Anatoly Vaprirov and Dzyan.

Within that swanned nebula and astral worship there’s oboe-like sounds from a removed Arabia, strangled screams, flailed wails and cries and library music like leaps, bubbly chemistry, space gate light speed tripping, holy disorder and modal jazz blues: sonnets, screaming declarations and flowery offerings to majestic universal bodies. Strung-out in the highest heavens of space this exploratory, expressive trio navigate an abstract starry passage to new dimensions.    

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

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Another fine assortment of eclectic album reviews from me this month, with new releases from Papernut Cambridge, Sad Man, Grand Blue Heron, Don Fiorino and Andy Haas, Junkboy, Dr. Chan, Minyeshu, Earthling Society and Brace! Brace!

In brief there’s the saga of belonging epic new LP from the Ethiopian songstress Minyeshu, Daa Dee, a second volume of Mellotron-inspired library music from Papernut Cambridge, the latest Benelux skulking Gothic rock album from Grand Blue Heron, another maverick electronic album of challenging experimentation from Andrew Spackman, under his most recent incarnation as the Sad Man, a primal avant-garde jazz cry from the heart of Trump’s America from Don Fiorino and Andy Haas, the rage and maelstrom transduced through their latest improvised project together, American Nocturne; and a bucolic taster, and Music Mind compilation fundraiser track, from the upcoming new LP from the beachcomber psychedelic folk duo Junkboy.

I’ve also lined up the final album from the Krautrock, psychedelic space rocking Earthling Society, who sign off with an imaginary soundtrack to the cult Shaw Brothers Studio schlockier The Boxer’s Omen, plus two most brilliant albums from the French music scene, the first a shambling skater slacker punk meets garage petulant teenage angst treat from Dr. Chan, The Squier, and the second, the debut fuzzy colourful indie-pop album from the Parisian outfit Brace! Brace!


Minyeshu ‘Daa Dee’ (ARC Music) 26th October 2018

From the tentative first steps of childhood to the sagacious reflections of middle age, the sublime Ethiopian songstress Minyeshu Kifle Tedla soothingly, yearningly and diaphanously articulates the intergenerational longings and needs of belonging on her latest epic LP, Daa Dee. The sound of reassurance that Ethiopian parents coo to accompany their child’s baby steps, the title of Minyeshu’s album reflects her own, more uncertain, childhood. The celebrated singer was herself adopted; though far from held back or treated with prejudice, moving to the central hub of Addis Ababa at the age of seventeen, Minyeshu found fame and recognition after joining the distinguished National Theatre.

In a country that has borne the scars of both famine and war, Ethiopia has remained a fractious state. No wonder many of its people have joined a modern era diaspora. Though glimmers of hope remain, and in spite of these geopolitical problems and the fighting, the music and art scenes have continued to blossom. Minyeshu left in 1996, but not before discovering such acolytes as the doyen of the country’s famous Ethio-Jazz scene, Mulatu Astatke, the choreographer Tadesse Worku and singers Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gessesse and Bizunesh Bekele; all of whom she learnt from. First moving to Belgium and then later to the Netherlands, the burgeoning star of the Ethiopian People To People music and dance production has after decades of coming to terms with her departure finally found a home: a self-realization that home wasn’t a geographical location after all but wherever she felt most comfortable and belonged: “Home is me!”

The beautifully stirring ‘Yetal (Where Is It?)’ for example is both a winding saga, with the lifted gravitas of swelling and sharply accented strings, and acceptance of settling into that new European home.

Evoking that sense of belonging and the theme of roots, but also paying a tribute and lament to the sisterhood, Minyeshu conveys with a sauntering but sorrowful jazzy blues vibe the overladen daily trudge of collecting wood on ‘Enchet Lekema’; a hardship borne by the women of many outlier Ethiopian communities. Though it can be read as a much wider metaphor. The blues, in this case, the Ethiopian version of it (perhaps one of its original sources) that you find on ‘Tizita’ (which translates as ‘longing’ or ‘nostalgia’), has never sounded so lilting and divine; Minyeshu’s cantabile, charismatic soul harmonies, trills and near contralto accenting the lamentable themes.

There is celebration and joy too; new found views on life and a revived tribute to her birthplace feature on the opulently French-Arabian romance ‘Hailo Gaja (Let’s Dance)’, and musically meditating, the panoramic dreamy ‘Yachi Elet (That Moment)’ is a blissed and blessed encapsulation of memories and place – the album’s most traversing communion, with its sweet harmonies, bird-like flighty flutes and waning saxophone.

Not only merging geography but musical styles too, the Daa Dee LP effortlessly weaves jazz (both Western and Ethiopian) R&B, pop, dub, the theatrical, and on the cantering to lolloping skippy ‘Anteneh (It Is You?)’, reggae. Piano, strings and brass mix with the Ethiopian wooden washint flute and masenqo bowed lute to create an exotic but familiar pan-global sound. Minyeshu produces a heartwarming, sometimes giddy swirling, testament that is exciting, diverse and above all else, dynamic. Her voice is flawless, channeling our various journeys and travails but always placing a special connection to those Ethiopian roots.





Don Fiorino and Andy Haas ‘American Nocturne’ (Resonantmusic) 16th September 2018

 

Amorphous unsettling augers and outright nightmares permeate the evocations of the American Nocturne visionaries Don Fiorino and Andy Haas on their latest album together. Alluded, as the title suggests, by the nocturne definition ‘a musical composition inspired by the night’, the darkest hour(s) in this case can’t help but build a plaintive warning about the political divisive administration of Trump’s America: Nicola Plana’s sepia adumbrated depiction of Liberty on the album’s cover pretty much reinforces the grimness and casting shadows of fear.

Musically strung-out, feeding off each other’s worries, protestations and confusion, Fiorino and Haas construct a lamentable cry and tumult of anger from their improvised synthesis of multi-layered abstractions.

Providence wise, Haas, who actually sent me this album after seeing my review of a U.S. Girls gig from earlier in the year (he was kind enough to note my brief mention of his Plastic Ono Band meets exile-in-America period Bowie saxophone playing on the tour; Haas being a member of Meg Remy’s touring band after playing on her recent LP, In A Poem Unlimited), once more stirs up a suitably pining, troubled saxophone led atmosphere; cast somewhere between Jon Hassell and Eno’s Possible Musics traverses, serialism jazz and the avant-garde. The Toronto native, originally during the 70s and early 80s a band member of the successful Canadian New wave export Martha And The Muffins, is an experimental journeyman. Having moved to New York for a period in the mid 80s to collaborate with a string of diverse underground artists (John Zorn, Marc Ribot, Thurston Moore and God Is My Co-Pilot) he’s made excursions back across the border; in recent times joining up with the Toronto supergroup, which features a lion’s share of the city’s most interesting artists and of course much of the backing group that now supports Meg Remy’s U.S. Girls, the Cosmic Range (who’s debut LP New Latitudes made our albums of the year feature in 2016). He’s also been working with that collective’s founder, Matt ‘Doc’ Dunn, on a new duo project named KIM (the fruits of which will be released later this year). But not only a collaborator, Haas has also recorded a stack of albums for the Resonantmusic imprint over the years (15 in total), the first of which, from 2005, included his American Nocturne foil, Fiorino. An artist with a penchant for stringed instruments (guitar, glissenter, lap steel, banjo, lotar, mandolin), Fiorino is equally as experimental; the painter musician imbued by blues, rock, psychedelic, country, jazz, Indian and Middle Eastern music has also played in and with a myriad of suitably eclectic musicians and projects (Radio I Ching, Hanuman Sextet, Adventures In Bluesland and Ronnie Wheeler’s Blues).

Recorded live with no overdubs, the adroit duo is brought together in a union of discordant opprobrious and visceral suffrage. Haas’ signature pained hoots,   snozzled snuffles and more suffused saxophone lines drift at their most lamentable and blow hard at their most venerable and despondent over and around the spindly bended, quivery warbled and weird guitar phrases of Fiorino. Setting both esoteric and mysterious atmospheres, Haas is also in charge of the manic, often reversed or inverted, and usually erratic drum machine and bit-crushing warped electronic effects. Any hint of rhythm or a lull in proceedings, and it’s snuffed out by an often primal and distressed breakdown of some kind.

Skulking through some interesting soundscapes and fusions, tracks such as the opening ‘Waning Empire Blues’ conjures up a Southern American States gloom (where the Mason-Dixon line meets the dark ambient interior of New York) via a submerged vision of India. It also sounds, in part, like an imaginary partnership between Hassell and Ry Cooder. ‘Days Of The Jackals’ has a sort of Spanish Texas merges with Byzantium illusion and ‘New Orphans’ transduces the Aphex Twin into a shapeless, spiraling cacophony of pain.

With hints of the industrial, tubular metallic, blues, country, electro and Far East to be found, American Nocturne is essentially a deconstructive jazz album. Further out than most, even for a genre used to such heavy abstract experimentation, this cry from the bleeding heart of Trumpism opposition is as musically traumatic as it is complex and creatively descriptive. Fiorino and Haas envision a harrowing soundtrack fit for the looming miasma of our times.



Papernut Cambridge ‘Mellotron Phase: Volume 2’ (Ravenwood Music/Gare du Nord) 5th October 2018

 

A one-man cottage industry (a impressively prolific one at that) Ian Button’s Eurostar connection inspired label seems to pop up in every other roundup of mine. The unofficial houseband/supergroup and Button pet project Papernut Cambridge, the ranks of which often swell or contract to accommodate an ever-growing label roster of artists, is once again widening its nostalgic pop and psychedelic tastes.

Following on from Button’s debut leap into halcyon cult and kitsch library music, Mellotron Phase: Volume 1 is another suite of similar soft melodic compositions, built around the hazy and dreamy polyphonic loops of the iconic keyboard: An instrument used to radiant, often woozy, affect on countless psych and progressive records. That first volume was a blissful, float-y visage of quasi-David Axelrod psychedelic litany, pop-sike, quaint 60s romances and a mellotron moods version of Claude Denjean cult lounge Moog covers.

This time around the basis for each instrumental vision is the rhythm accompaniments from Mattel’s disc-based Ontigan home-entertainment instrument. These early examples of instrumental loops and musical breaks were set out across the instrument’s keys so that chord sequences and variations can be used to construct an arrangement. Mellowed and toned-down in comparison to the first volume, though still featuring drum breaks, percussion, bass and on the Bacharach-composes-a-screwball-tribute-to-French-Western-pulp-fiction (Paris, Texas to Paris, France) ‘A Cowboy In Montmartre’, an accordion. If the French Wild West grabs you then there’s plenty of other weird and wonderful mélanges to be found on this whimsically romantic, sometimes comically vaudeville, and often-yearning fondly nostalgic album. The swirling cascade of soft focus tremolo vibrations of the stuttered ‘Cha-Cha-Charlie’ sounds like Blue Gene Tyranny catching a flight on George Harrison’s Magical Mystery Tour. The Sputnik space harp pastiche of ‘Cygnus Probe’ is equally as Gerry Anderson as it is Philippe Guerre, and ‘Boss Club’ reimagines Trojan Records transduced through lounge music. Kooky Bavarian Oompah Bands at an acid-tripping Technicolor circus add to the mirage-like mellotron kaleidoscope on ‘Sergeant Major Mushrooms’, Len Deighton’s quintessentially English clandestine spy everyman, as scored by John Barry, cameos on the clavinet spindly and The Kramford Look-esque ‘Parker’s Last Case’, and Amen Corner wear their soft soul shufflers on the Tamala backbeat ‘Soul Brogues’.

A curious love letter to the forgotten (though a host of champions, from individuals to labels, have revalued and showcased their work) composers and mavericks behind some of the best and most odd library music, Mellotron Phase will in time become a cult album itself. As quirky as it is serenading, alternative recalled obscure soundtracks that vaguely recall Jean-Pierre Decerf, Jimmy Harris, Stereolab, Jean-Claude Vannier and even Roy Budd are given a fond awakening by Button and his dusted-off mellotron muse.






Sad Man ‘ROM-COM’ October 2018

 

Haphazardly prolific, Andrew Spackman, under his most recent of alter egos, the Sad Man, has released an album/collection of giddy, erratic, in a state of conceptual agitation electronica every few months since the beginning of 2017. Many of which have featured in one form or another in this column.

The latest and possibly most restive of all his (if you can call it that) albums is the spasmodic computer love transmogrification ROM-COM. An almost seamless record, each track bleeding into, or mind melding with the next, the constantly changing if less ennui jumpy compositions are smoother and mindful this time around. This doesn’t mean it’s any less kooky, leaping from one effect to the next, or, suddenly scrabbling off in different directions following various nodes and interplays, leaving the original source and prompts behind. But I detect a more even, and daresay, sophisticated method to the usual skittish hyperactivity.

Showing that penchant for exploration tracks such as the tribal cosmic synwave ‘Play In The Sky’ fluctuate between the Twilight Zone and tetchy, tentacle slithery techno; whilst the shifting bit-crush cybernetic ‘Hat’ sounds like a transplanted to late 80s Detroit Art Of Noise one minute, the next, like a isotope chilled thriller soundtrack. Reverberating piano rays, staggered against abrasive drumbeats await the listener on the sadly melodic ‘King Of ‘. That is until a drilling drum break barrels in and gets jammed, turning the track into a jarring cylindrical headbanger. ‘Coat’ whip-cracks to a primitive homemade drum machine snare as it, lo fi style, dances along to a three-way of Harmonia, The Normal and Populare Mechanik, and the brilliantly entitled ‘Wasp Meat’ places Kraftwerk in Iain Banks Factory.

Almost uniquely in his own little orbit of maverick bastardize electronic experimentation, Spackman, who builds many of his own bizarre contraptions and instruments, strangulates, pushes and deconstructs techno, the Kosmische, Trip-Hop and various other branches of the genre to build back up a conceptually strange and bewildering new sonic shake-up of the electronic music landscape.



Grand Blue Heron ‘Come Again’ (Jezus Factory) October 19th 2018

 

Grand Blue Heron, or GBH as it were, do some serious grievous harm to the post-punk and alt-rock genres on their latest abrasive heavy-hitter, Come Again. Partial to the Gothic, the Benelux quartet prowl in the miasma; skulking under a repressed gauze and creeping fog of doom as they trudge across a esoteric landscape of STDs, metaphorical crimes of the heart and rejection.

Born out of the embers of the band Hitch, band mates Paul Lamont (who also served time with the experimental Belgium group and Jezus Factory label mates, A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen) and Oliver Wyckhuyse formed GBH in 2015 as a vehicle for songs written by Lamont. Straight out of the blocks on their thrashing debut Hatch, they’ve hewn a signature sound that has proven difficult to pin down.

Both boldly loud with smashing drums and gritty distorted guitars, yet melodic and nuanced, they sound like The Black Angels and Bauhaus working over noir rock on the vortex that is ‘Wwyds’, a grunge-y Belgium version of John Lyndon backed by The Pixies on the controlled maelstrom title-track, and Metallica on the country-twanging, pendulous skull-banger ‘Head’. They also sail close to The Killing Joke, Sisters Of Mercy (especially on the decadent wastrel Gothic ‘The Cult’), Archers Of Loaf and, even, The Foo Fighters. They rollick in fits of rage and despondency, beating into shape all these various inspirations, yet they come out on top with their own sound in the end.

Playing live alongside some pretty decent bands of late (White Denim, Elefant, The Cult Of Dom Keller) the GBH continue to grow with confidence; producing a solid heavy rock and punk album that reinforces the justified, low-level as it might be, hype of the Belgium, and by extension, Flanders scene.






Dr. Chan ‘Squier’ (Stolen Body Records) October 12th 2018

 

Keeping up the petulant garage-punk-skate-slacker discourse of their obstinate debut, the French group with just a little more control and panache once more hang loose and play fast with their spikey influences on the second LP Squier.

Hanging out with a disgruntled shrug in a 1980s visage of L.A. central back lots, skating autumn time drained pools in a nocturnal motel setting, Dr. Chan crow about the transition from adolescence to infantile adulthood. Hardly more than teenagers themselves, the band seem obsessed with their own informative years of slackerdom; despondently ripping into the status of outsiders the lead singer sulkingly declares himself as “Just a young messy loser” on the opening boom bap garage turn space punk spiraling ‘Wicked & Wasted’, and a “Teenage motherfucker” on the funhouse skater-punk meets Thee Headcoats ‘Empty Pockets’.

The pains but also thrills of that time are channeled through a rolling backbeat of Black Lips, Detroit Cobras, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Hunches, Nirvana and new wave influences. The most surprising being glimmers of The Strokes, albeit a distressed version, on the thrashed but polished, even melodic, ‘Girls!’ And, perhaps one of the album’s best tracks (certainly most tuneful), the bedeviled ride on the 666 Metro line ‘The Sinner’, could be an erratic early Arctic Monkeys missive meets Blink 182 outtake.

The Squier is an unpretentious strop, fueled as much by jacking-up besides over spilling dumpsters, zombified states of emptiness and despair as it is by carefree cathartic releases of bird-finger rebellious fun. Reminiscing for an adolescence that isn’t even theirs, Dr. Chan’s directed noise is every bit informed by the pin-ups of golden era 80s Thrasher magazine as by Nuggets, grunge and Jon Savage’s Black Hole: Californian Punk compilation. The fact they’re not even of the generation X fraternity that lived it, or even from L.A. for that matter, means there is an interesting disconnection that offers a rousing, new energetic take. In short: Ain’t a damn thing changed; the growing pains of teenage angst still firing most of the best and most dynamic shambling music.





Brace! Brace! ‘S/T’ (Howlin Banana) 12th October 2018

 

Looking for your next favourite French indie-pop group? Well look no further, the colourful Parisian outfit Brace! Brace! are here. Producing gorgeous hues of softened psychedelia, new wave, Britpop and slacker indie rock, this young but sophisticated band effortlessly melt the woozy and dreamy with more punchier dynamic urgency on their brilliant debut album.

Squirreled away in self-imposed seclusion, recording in the Jura Mountains, the isolation and concentration has proved more than fruitful. Offering a Sebastian Teller fronts Simian like twist on a cornucopia of North American and British influences, Brace! Brace! glorious debut features pastel shades of Blur, Gene, Dinosaur Jnr., Siouxsie And The Banshees (check the “I wrecked your childhood” refrain post-punk throb and phaser effect symmetry guitar of ‘Club Dorothée’ for proof) and the C86 generation. More contemporary wafts of Metronomy, Mew, Jacco Gardner, the Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Deerhunter (especially) permeate the band’s hazy filtered melodies and thoughtful prose too.

At the heart of it all lies the subtly crafted melodies and choruses. Never overworked, the lead-up and bridges gently meet their rendezvous with sweet élan and pace. Vocals are shared and range from the lilted to the wistful and more resigned; the themes of chaste and compromised love lushly and wantonly represented.

This is an album of two halves, the first erring towards quirky new wave, shoegaze-y hearty French pop – arguably featuring some of the band’s best melodies -, the second, a more drowsy echo-y affair. Together it makes for a near-perfect debut album, an introduction to one of the most exciting new fuzzy indie-pop bands of the moment.






Junkboy ‘Old Camera, New Film’Taken from Fretsore Record’s upcoming Music Minds fundraiser compilation; released on the 12th October 2018

 

Quiet of late, or so we thought, the unassuming South Coast brothers Hanscomb have been signing love letters, hazy sonnets and languorous troubadour requests from the allegorical driftwood strewn yesteryear for a number of years now. The Brighton & Hove located siblings have garnered a fair amount of favorable press for their beautifully etched Baroque-pastoral idyllic psychedelic folk and delicately softly spoken harmonies.

To celebrate the release of their previous album, Sovereign Sky, the Monolith Cocktail invited the duo to compile a congruous Youtube playlist. Proper Blue Sky Thinking didn’t disappoint; the brothers’ Laurel Canyon, Freshman harmony scions and softened psychedelic inspirations acting like signposts and reference points for their signature nostalgic sound: The Beach Boys, Thorinshield, Mark Eric, The Lettermen, The Left Bank all more an appearance.

A precursor to, we hope, Junkboy’s next highly agreeable melodious LP, Trains, Trees, Topophilia (no release date has been set yet), the tenderly ruminating new instrumental (and a perfect encapsulation of their gauzy feel) ‘Old Camera, New Film’ offers a small preview of what’s to come. It’s also just one of the generous number of tracks donated to the worthy Music Minds (‘supporting healthy minds’) cause by a highly diverse and intergenerational cast of artists. Featuring such luminaries as Tom Robinson, Glen Tilbrook and Graham Goldman across three discs, the Fretsore Records release coincides with World Mental Health Day on the 12th October.

Sitting comfortably on the second disc with (two past Monolith Cocktail recommendations) My Autumn Empire, Field Harmonics and Yellow Six, Junkboy’s mindful delicate swelling strings with a hazy brassy, more harshly twanged guitar leitmotif beachcomber meditations prove a most perfect fit.






Earthling Society ‘MO – The Demon’ (Riot Season) 28th September 2018

 

Bowing out after fifteen years the Earthling Society’s swansong, MO – The Demon, transduces all the group’s various influences into a madcap Kool-aid bathed imaginary soundtrack. Inspired by the deranged Shaw Brothers film studio’s bad-taste-running-rampart straight-to-video martial arts horror schlock The Boxer’s Omen, the band scores the most appropriate of accompaniments.

The movie’s synopsis (though I’m not sure anyone ever actually wrote this story out; making it up in their head as they went along more likely) involves a revenge plot turn titanic spiritual struggle between the dark arts, as the mobster brother of a Hong Kong kickboxer, paralyzed by a cheating Thai rival, sets out on a path of vengeance only to find himself sidetracked by the enlightened allure of a Buddhist monastery and the quest to save the soul of a deceased monk (who by incarnated fate happens to be our protagonist’s brother from a previous life) killed by black magic. A convoluted plot within a story of vengeance, The Boxer’s Omen is a late night guilty pleasure; mixing as it does, truly terrible special effects with demon-bashing Kung Fu and Kickboxing.

Recorded at Leeds College of Music between November 2017 and February of 2018, MO – The Demon is an esoteric Jodorowsky cosmology of Muay Thai psychedelics, space rock, shoegaze, Krautrock and Far East fantasy. Accenting the mystical and introducing us to the soundtrack’s leitmotif, the opening theme song shimmers and cascades to faint glimmers of Embryo and Gila; and the craning, waning guitar that permeates throughout often resembles Manuel Göttsching later lines for Ash Ra Tempel. By the time we reach the bell-tolled spiritual vortex of the ‘Inauguration Of The Buddha Temple’ we’re in Acid Mothers territory, and the album’s most venerable sky-bound ascendant ‘Spring Snow’ has more than a touch of the Popol Vuh about it: The first section of this two-part vision features Korean vocalist Bomi Seo (courtesy of Tirikiliatops) casting incantation spells over a heavenly ambient paean, as the miasma and ominous haze dissipates to reveal a path to nirvana, before escalating into a laser whizzing Amon Duul II talks to Yogi style jam. The grand finale, ‘Jetavana Grove’, even reimagines George Harrison in a meeting of minds with Spiritualized and the Stone Roses; once more setting out on the Buddhist path of enlightenment.

Sucked into warped battle scenes on the spiritual planes, Hawkwind (circa Warriors On The Edge Of Time) panorama jams and various maelstroms, the Earthling Society capture the hallucinogenic, tripping indulgences of their source material well whilst offering the action and prompts for another set of heavy psych and Krautrock imbued performances. The Boxer’s Omen probably gets a much better soundtrack than it deserves, as the band sign off on a high.





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