Dominic Valvona’s new music reviews roundup





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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New music reviews/Words: Dominic Valvona





Welcome to Dominic Valvona’s regular reviews roundup. This latest edition of Tickling Our Fancy includes albums, EPs and singles by the Dur-Dur Band, Spike & Debbie, Angels Die Hard, Cassini Division, Vigüela and Kiddus.

As always an eclectic mix of music from around the globe, the latest edition of my reviews jamboree and recommendations includes two albums released through the Benelux-heavy Jezus Factory label; the first, a prog, alt-rock, math rock and Krautrock environmental charged tropical Island soundtrack from Angels Die Hard, the second, an analogue synth driven oceanography purview of the Bermuda Triangle phenomena (released on cassette tape) by Miguel Sosa, under the guises of his Cassini Division moniker. Analog Africa keep up the good work in digging up and reissuing the most essential music from Africa and beyond with their latest and most dangerously sourced album collection yet: the very rare first two albums from the Somalia new wave-funk-reggae-soul-traditional fusion sensations, the Dur-Dur Band.

ARC Music bring us another meticulously researched and performed traditional songbook of music from Spain; the Vigüela troupe, ‘Ronda’ style, once more breathing life into sones, laments, carols and fandangos from the country’s interior; and Tiny Global Productions bring us a compilation of past musical projects from the Afro-Caribbean meets C86 indie partnership Spike & Debbie; and finally we have the brand new EP from the hallucinogenic languid soulful new Bristolian talent Kiddus, Snake Girls.


Dur-Dur Band ‘Dur Dur Of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 And Previously Unreleased Tracks’ (Analog Africa) 14th September 2018

Bravely (or foolishly) indifferent o the climate of the Somalia flashpoint of Mogadishu, Analog Africa’s head honcho Samy Ben Redjeb travelled to the former trading hub jewel of the African NorthEast coast in 2016 to both dig and soak up the atmosphere and history of the very streets and sounds that once provided the infectious deep funk fusions of the legendary Dur-Dur Band.

A failed state in fluxes since the 1990s, Somali and by extension the faction-fighting battleground of its capital is, to put it mildly, bloody dangerous! Accustomed to risky and contentious political no-go zones Redjeb has form in visiting some of Africa’s most volatile hotspots in his pursuit of tracing the artists and original recordings down. This trip, which had been on the cards for years and had become a personal preoccupation, was I imagine hinging on security issues. But with an armed escort (an ad hoc volunteer at that) in tow at all times, Redjeb eventually arrived to source that elusive band’s impressive discography.

Going further than most to prove it was all worthwhile Redjeb digs up one of the funkiest and cool finds from the African continent yet. Embodying a period in the 1980s when Mogadishu could boast of its cosmopolitan reputation – notably the European chic Via Roma stretch in the Hamar-Weyne district, a colonnade for café culture, cinema and of course music – the hybrid Dur-Dur Band moped up the polygenesis fever of their native city with effortless aplomb. Particular places of interest in this story and geography are the iconic moiety of record shops the Shankarphone and Iftinphone, both run by members of the Dur-Dur Band’s nearest rivals, the Iftin Band, and the Jubba Hotel, where the Dur-Dur enjoyed a fractious residency: Balancing this coveted spot at one-point with a, by popular demand, extended run as the backing band for the play ‘Jascyl Laba Ruux Mid Ha Too Rido (May One Of Us Fall In Love)’ play, at the Mogadishu national theatre.

Making an impact, creating a “wow” from the outset, they enjoyed a short reign as the country’s number one band; releasing a quick-succession of albums, the first two volumes of which alongside two previously unreleased tracks make up this, the first in a series of Dur-Dur Band, re-releases. Though certainly a sensational and popular act the civil unrest that followed in the 90s would all but stifle their potential. They would only come to a greater audience outside Somalia via cassette-copying, Youtube and by happenstance; most notably the Milwaukee-based musicologist John Beadle, who in 2007 uploaded a tape he’d been handed twenty years previously by a Somalia student to his Likembe blog. Featured under the now famous ‘Mystery Somali Funk’ heading, Beadle’s post originally miscredited this convulsing funk gem to their Dur-Dur Band’s chief rivals of the time, the already mentioned Iftin Band – a mistake rectified by the Iftin’s band leader, who suggested it was in fact the fabled Dur-Dur.





So what makes this band and their rare recordings so special? Saved from ‘tape-hiss’ and ‘wobbles’, remastered to sound the best they’ve ever sounded, these curious but above all loose-limbed nuggets successfully merged a myriad of Somalia traditions with a liberal smattering of disco, reggae (via the northern part of the country’s ‘Daantho’ rhythm style; an uncanny surrogate for Jamaica’s number one export), soul and funk. Mirroring a similar fusion thousands of miles away in New York, the Dur-Dur languidly produced an electrified no wave new wave melting pot.

They were fortunate with their insightful founder and keyboard star Isse Dahir who molded a formidable forward-thinking group from a number of other Somali bands, including the rhythm providers, Ujeeri on bass (plucked from the Somali Jazz) and Handel on drums (the Bakaka Band). He also drafted in his siblings, with Abukaron taking on lead guitar and Ahmed enrolled as the band’s permanent sound engineer; a role that partially explains why they became known as one of the country’s ‘best sounding’ groups. The vocals meanwhile, which sway between the spiritually devotional and pop, were split three ways between another former Bakaka Band member, and Daantho style acolyte, Shimaal, the young female singer, whose voice assails the homeland to sound at times almost Indian, Sahra Dawo, and the spaghetti body shaped, nicknamed, Baastow – brought in for his ‘deep knowledge’ of traditional Somali music, in particular the atavistic spirit summoning ‘Saar’, a style perceived as far too dangerous by the manager of the infamous Jubba Hotel for his European guests: “I am not going to risk having Italian tourists possessed by Somali spirits! Stick to disco and reggae.”

Split up across a triple LP and double CD formats the Dur-Dur Band’s first two albums proper, Volumes 1 and 2, and a couple of unreleased tunes feature on this, the first in a promised series of re-issues. Released originally in 1986, the first of these and the band’s debut album, Volume 1, has a rawer unpolished but snazzy sound that saunters, skips and grooves along with aloof coolness to sweltering laidback funk. Opening with wah-wah chops and a fuzzy organ, ‘Ohiyee’ lays down a sophisticated but explosive spiritual dancefloor thriller. This is repeated on the bands first official hit ‘Yabaal’, which turns a traditional song into something approaching the no wave of ESG, mixed with tooting Afrobeat sax and disco swerves. The bendy warbled guitar soloing, snozzled sax fluttering ‘Doon Baa Maraysoo’ sounds like The J.B’s cantering down the Via Roma, or a lost Stax Vaults recording.

Volume 2 by contrast seems a little brighter and tropical; beginning as it does with the dub echoed, Trenchtown pirate radio broadcast ‘Introduction’. Sweeter dreamy saunters meet Muslim belt funk on songs such as ‘Jaceyi Mirahiis’, and on the singles ‘Dab’ and ‘Diinleeya’ you can hear evocations of quasi-reggae: Mogadishu meets Kingston on a spiritual plain!

A highlight in a catalogue of outstanding reissues, the Dur-Dur Band collection is quite unique. And a shining example of African fusions seldom heard outside the borders of its origins. Redjeb’s perseverance has paid off, introducing us to the formidable and exciting Somali polygenesis funk scene of the 80s. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that can compare or compete with this band’s solid sound.




Spike & Debbie  ‘Always Sunshine, Always Rain’  (Tiny Global Productions)  21st September 2018





A convoluted rock family tree, the meandering interwoven historiography behind one of Cardiff’s ultimate underground indie sensations, The Young Marble Giants, draws in the congruous lilted partnership behind this most brilliant new collection from the Tiny Global Productions label.

As a catalyst facilitator for the YMG’s leap from disbandment on the cusp of the 1980s to success and cult status after signing to a burgeoning Rough Trade, Mark ‘Spike’ Williams is perhaps forever immortalized as the ‘guitar pal’ who talked the feted band into recording the two tracks that would turn-around their fortunes: Already a well known figure on the diy Cardiff scene, instigating various projects (Reptile Ranch being just one) and co-founding Z Block Records, he encouraged a dejected YMG into providing a couple of songs for the Is The War Over? compilation; the rest is history as they say.

Forming all manner of collaborations with various YMG band members, Spike has and continues to work with the band’s Alison Statton (originally as the Weekend and currently going under the Bimini moniker), but also formed Bomb And Dagger with more or less the entire Giants lineup in 1983 (an offshoot of another Cardiff obscurity, Splott). From outside the YMG sphere, Bomb And Dagger would feature Debbie ‘Debris’ Pritchard, an artist and disarming vocalist who’d appear alongside Spike under an umbrella of guises including Table Table and The Pepper Trees. From this union a collection is born, Always Sunshine, Always Rain, pretty much a fey summary of the partnerships sighing demeanor and sound collects all manner of recordings from across the full spectrum of their endeavors.

Beautifully sung to a mostly lo fi Afro-Caribbean meets C86 indie backing of scuffling skiffle brushed drums, tropical lilted melodies and post-punk guitar, the sunny disposition of the music is a counterpoint to the political messages that lie at the heart of Debbie’s peaceable protestations and multicultural celebrations. From what is a collection of mostly rare recordings, ‘Strike’ builds a musical union between the under-the-cosh miners of Wales and their kin in South Africa. A post-punk Paul Simon twinning Cardiff indie with Soweto solidarity, ‘Strike’ (a track originally recorded for a miners benefit compilation) is a perfect example of Spike & Debbie’s pleasant shuffling and soulful magic.

Finding a tropical balance between Family Fodder, The Marine Girls and The Raincoats, the duo delivered messages of anxiety, oppression, patriarchal domineering, both physically and mentally (a recurring theme of being suffocated, drained and controlled by a partner in a relationship, permeate) to a most sauntering backing. At times limbering towards Camera Obscura and even the Cocteau Twins, they evoke a fantastical vision of Pauline Black fronting Ludas, though the most odd conjuncture is the elasticated ‘Houses’, which sounds like The Raincoats’ Ana da Silva fronting an Unlimited Edition Can.

For fan and completest alike this collection features the original lo fi quality skitty soul meets ruminating pop ‘Seaport Town’, later revisited by Spike and the Alison Statton, and the ‘Ilkeston’ version of a scratching dawdled guitar and echo-y ‘Assured Energy’, which appeared in a completely different form on the Stuart Moxham (another YMG, but going under The Gist title here) album Holding Pattern.

In chronological order, it is fair to say that most of the compilation has until now remained difficult to acquire or source. Differing in recording quality with slight musical differences between groups of songs, as each project adds or draws in a myriad of inspirations and musicians, this twenty strong collection is full of sunny gentle post-punk gems. The story of Spike & Debbie, their projection across a decade and more, proves an essential and pleasurable missing chapter in the story of the Welsh indie scene.






Angels Die Hard  ‘Sundowner’ (Jezus Factory)  1st September 2018





Keeping to the instrumental group’s psychedelic imaginations the latest concept album from Angels Die Hard is set in the dreamy, if in peril, Monsterism Island meets Les Baxter ethnographic phantasm of a remote Southeast Asian archipelago.

On a sabbatical, retreating to the wilds and ideals of life on the tropical island of Andaman, where, so the faux-legend spill goes, they hoped to find and record the mating call of the Drongo bird, the original trio passed the time playing all the local dives, opium dens and beach clubs. Chancing upon fellow sonic explorer and drummer/percussionist Alain Ryant, who was on a break from playing with Maxon Blewitt & Eriksson-Delcroix, the Angels expanded the ranks to become a quartet after some sort of tribal rites-of-passage style ceremony.

As backpacker anecdotes go this colourful semi-fictional backstory is one of liberal exotica consumption. It does however have a serious note: the ecological impact of a plastics-Moloch consuming society on the brink of a cataclysmic point-of-no-return, as the detritus of a throwaway globalized marketplace leaves no idyllic, isolated paradise untouched. Seeing the plastics efflux wash-up on the coastline of their present haven – a story about the final straw breaking the metaphorical camel’s back was seeing a local ‘sea gipsy’ smoking a bong made out of a Starbucks cup – the Angels were feted to dedicate, at least partially, their third and newest album, Sundowner, to this environmental tragedy. Of course a sizable chunk is also dedicated to those old tropes of emotional complexity (more specifically and blushingly, the ‘complex sensations’ before and after the act of lovemaking); articulated somehow in the group’s instrumental sagas and workouts.

Imbued with a legacy of progressive, alt-rock, psych, exotica and post-punk influences plus Julian Cope’s Krautrock compendium, the Angels transduce and channel a cornucopia of styles once more. Though this album doesn’t truly come alive until it reaches the VHS esoteric Western soundtrack title-track. It’s the first time we hear the arpeggiator neon space dream sequences, mixed with a panoramic Adam’s Castle view of psychedelic math rock: and highly dramatic and highly atmospheric it sounds too. Slower waveforms and smoke-machine effects appear on the lost Sky Records Kosmische meets Moroder cult theme tune meets Air ‘Dancing Algae’. But this album really gets going on the lengthy epic ‘Gutter Glory’, a two-part fantasy that progresses from a holy union of late 70s Eno, Jah Wobble and Andean soaring noodling to a full-on Brainticket sonic assault. Almost its twin in scale, ‘Acid Beach’ reimagines mid-70s Amon Duul II and Battles beachside at Cape Canaveral: the guitars mimicking a space shuttles thrusters and boosters.

Earlier tracks sound like space cowboy peregrinations accompanied by a cosmic reimagined vision of early U2 and Simple Minds, Holy Fuck and a motorik version of dEUS: A lot of ideas bouncing around inside the group’s shared mind-meld. They end on the album’s most serene if plaintive meditation, ‘Dirty Sunset’; a Floydian kind of jazzy blues serenading, with guitar notes falling like tears, the last image saved, the sun going down on a besmirched paradise: a downer bro.

You got to hand it to the Angels for expanding their horizons (literally), though far too many tracks end up going nowhere particularly new or rewarding. Yet when they do get it right they produce some fantastic opuses of amorphous abandon. Beachcombing a radioactive luminous landscape of musical opportunity they produce one of their best albums yet.






Cassini Division ‘Bermudas’ (Jezus Factory)  August 31st 2018





The enigma that is the Bermuda Triangle, a confounding phenomena, a twilight zone of improbability, a loosely demarcated area in the North Atlantic Ocean that has been written about and inspired countless generations. Unexplained disappearance central, a chasm for the ships and aircraft that have either lost momentarily or forever within its dimensions, the Bermuda Triangle (also called the Devil’s Triangle) lies across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. For though hundreds of incidents have been recorded over the centuries, they form an almost insignificant percentage of the overall traffic that made it through this mysterious void unscathed. Many of these disappearances have been exaggerated and misreported, so accounts are spurious. Yet this hasn’t stopped the endless flow of conspiracy theories: extraterrestrial interference being top of the list alongside inter-dimensional fantasies, the paranormal and governmental maleficence.

Jezus Factory stalwart Miguel Sosa, better known for his part in the bands Strumpet, iH8 Camera, Monguito and Parallels, composes a conceptual purview of not only the Triangle but the surrounding geography on his analogue cosmic cassette tape special, Bermudas. Under the solo Cassini Division mantle, beaming an experimental score from his Buenos Aires studio, Sosa seems to be having fun with his 70s/80s rack of switchboard patches and analogue equipment, retuning and configuring the pioneering quirkiness of fellow Argentine Waldo Belloso, the more Kosmische soaring otherworldliness of Tangerine Dream, and on the album’s scarier foreboding and wilder moments (‘Tropical Cyclone’ for one), a union of John Carpenter’s score for The Fog and W. Michael Lewis & Mark Lindsay’s soundtrack for Shogun Assassin.

A barely veiled tribute to the burgeoning age of the Moog and ARP Odyssey this kooky experiment is filled with all the signature burbles, wobbles, modulations/oscillations you’d expect to hear; from the primordial soup miasma to the bubbling apparatus of a mad scientist and 8-bit loading sounds of a Commodore 64 game. Every now and then you hear something really odd, especially when the drum machine is added; tight-delayed paddled snares and toms are rapidly sped-up or strung out and staggered. There’s even, what sounds like, a marimba on the Tangerine Dream transmogrify The Beach Boys ‘Seaweed Theme’.

For the most part articulating looming otherworldly leviathans and ominous confusion, Bermudas extends UFO period Guru Guru with a supernatural oceanography of submarine sonar rebounds and tidal motion sine waves. Arthur C. Clarke’s Cradle meets Chariots Of The Gods; Sosa’s analogue visions channel every facet of the Triangle’s legacy – the alien, supernatural, human and environmental -, his track titles plotting interesting and relevant historical and topographical references to events such as the point (or plateau) from which the Transatlantic cable started to the natural phenomenon of this region’s hazardous weather conditions.

As a break from the catalogue of bands he often plays with and leads, the Cassini Division instrumental psychogeography proves a worthy oddity of analogue synth curiosity.






Vigüela ‘A Tiempo Real – A New Take On Spanish Tradition’ (ARC Music) 24th August 2018


 

As the title of the latest album by the much-acclaimed Spanish troupe Vigüela makes clear, this atavistic imbued group of adroit multi-instrumentalists and singers offer a revitalization, a twist on the traditional paeans, chants, carols and yearning songs of their native homeland: especially their own El Carpiode Tajo village. Traditionally the music that permeates throughout Vigüela’s signature sound was never meant for the stage, but is played informally, almost unrehearsed, throughout the hamlets and villages of Spain’s interior.

Meandering through a timeless landscape finding and learning all manner of old customs, always ready to be taught or re-educated, an introductory anecdote from the group’s Juan Antonio Torres Delgado goes some way encapsulating both Vigüela’s methodology and inspirations. Torres believing he was quite well informed when it came to the courtship dance and folk song style of the Spanish ‘Jota’, was soon humbled by one of its leading lights, the singer Tia Chata, who he’d made a special pilgrimage to see in her home village of Menasalbas (located within the Toledo province, where the lion’s share of the music on this ambitious collection derives). Bringing out his guitar and (bearing in mind Torres is a pretty deft accomplished player) striking up a Jota rhythm, he was abruptly stopped in his flow by his muse: “Dear boy, you don’t know how to play the Jota. Wait until my husband comes home from work, he will show you.” The lady was right, once her husband returned home after work he really did show Torres how to play it. Though to be fair the Jota differs from region to region, each part of the country adopting its own unique version. As a testament to both their commitment and intergenerational interactions, learning and keeping local traditions alive, it proves a good one.

Returning to the source, adopting various customs on the way, they take a particular fancy to the ‘walking and singing in the street’ custom of ‘Ronda’. They reinterpret this unplugged carousing and minstrel like performance style alongside of others, including Christmas carols, ‘Seguidillas’, ‘Sones’ and the ‘Fandango’.

Spread over two discs with a generous running time of a hundred minutes, A Tiempo Real showcases not only the soul and aching heart of Spain but of course also shows off the masterful musicianship and voices of the groups meticulous lineup, which often expands to accommodate even more players: increasing in this case, from a quartet. Pretty much tapping, rubbing, peddling, plucking and strumming every sort of Spanish instrument they could lay their hands on, as well as a hardware store of miscellaneous object that include bottles and kitchen utensils, Vigüela go to work on their songbook collection.

With a more stripped and pared down accompaniment the first CD of this double album features an accompaniment of bottle-washer rattling percussion, huffing blows from an instrument (think a ceramic trombone crossed with a heifer) I can’t identify and the strange ‘Zambomba’ drum (traditionally used for music at Christmas to accompany chants and carols; played by hand with sticks or metal brushes). The impressive duets, call and response and chorus ensemble vocals are prominent above this backing. From rustic bewailing to robust a capella, these voices are all stoic, pained and even critical: Songs such as the theatrical, wry but joyful ‘Eldemonio El Calderero (The Demon Coppersmith)’ are characterized as a ‘Romance story’, yet you will find a satirical criticism within the lyrics, aimed at the Catholic Church. Raw but beautiful, endurance reigns above all else; the dreams and love trysts of a rural population exquisitely bound up in effortless serenades and Cantina porch sways, Vigüela bring us reverberations of Española, the Arabic Spain, and its overseas colonies in Northwestern and Southern America.

Metaphorical lovers depicted as birds (‘El Pájaroya Voló and ‘Arrímate, Pichón, A Mi’), laments brought back from the frontlines of war in 19th century Cuba (‘Allá En La Habana’) and tribunes to love interests (‘Moreno Mío, Cuán To Te Quiero’ and ‘La Niña De Sevilla’) are given a new lease of life by Vigüela. Straddling eras, blowing off the dust, they inject a bit of energy and dynamism back into the songs of their ancestors.

Taking a slightly different route on the second CD, the guitars are finally unleashed; courtship dances and songs of defiance now feature a fuller, sometimes cantering rhythm and flourish. Those signature trills, crescendos and unfurled castanets now accent or punctuate this songbook, giving it a great deal more volume, yet still subtle enough to accommodate and not override the beautiful chorus of voices.

It’s not integral – though this is every bit as academic a recording as it is an entertaining performance – but the linear notes, which are extensive, provide a providence and go some way to explaining exactly what you’re listening to and how Vigüela personalized it: Take ‘Que Si Quieres, Moreno’, a typical melodic variant from Campo de Montiel en La Mancha de Ciudad Real, it differs from some styles and ways of playing the Fandango by featuring the signature accent on the first beat. It helps to know all this of course to fully appreciate the group’s skill and attention to detail.

Already attracting plaudits in Spanish music circles, Vigüela could always do with finding a wider audience for their sincere interpretations and twists on the traditional music of the regions they research and relive. Hopefully this latest album will help; it will certainly enhance their reputation if nothing else. With a foot in both eras, they bridge the divides and generations to encapsulate the provincially isolated spirit of Spain; reaffirming a joy but also preserving songs previously neglected and forgotten.



Kiddus ‘Crazy You (Video/Single)’ & ‘Snake Girls (EP)’  TBA/Sometime in October

If Drake or The Young Fathers had made a record with the Anticon or UNO label it wouldn’t have sounded too dissimilar to the upcoming EP from the teenage Bristolian enigma, Kiddus. Shifting between hallucinogenic states of listless discord, Kiddus’ cathartic visages melt with languid beauty throughout. Dripping R&B amorphously merges with hip-hop and reverberations of The Gazelle Twin, Chino Amobi and the sort of neo-experimental electronic soul that sits well over at Erased Tapes on every track of this impressive release.

Just like The Gazelle Twin before him, Kiddus transmogrifies his own version of a Prince classic, ‘Crazy You’. The lead single from Snake Girls, this transformation of an early Prince classic replaces the original’s tingling percussion, falsetto and oozing sexuality with something far more sauntering, beat-y and loose. It sounds great: an over-layering acid trip of veiled soulful sadness and sophistication.

That quality of lingering sadness and nuanced encrypted inspirations is spread throughout the rest of the EP’s assuage meanderings. ‘Dreaming In 30 Fps’ and ‘Vapid Me’ (as the title suggests) are as vaporously float-y as they are disorientating. Multiple samples linger and echo in and out of focus, mirroring and articulating the various conflictions and anxieties of the young artist; building into a chaotic crescendo on the Radiohead-esque cyclonic drum fitting ‘ARGH’. Indolently beautiful in a dreamy psychosis, the finale ‘theplumeetwhenuronurown’ features fragmented warnings and a quant sample that disarms a message, perhaps, of terminally drifting off into a never-ending sleep.

Snake Girls is essentially a soul record: a deeply soulful one at that. A recontextualized vision of troubadour soul crooning, lost in a confused hyper-digitized virtual reality, Kiddus’ senses blinker, light up and then dissipate to a 21st century soundtrack of pliable experimentation.



REVIEWS ROUNDUP/ WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




Welcome to Dominic Valvona’s regular reviews roundup. This latest edition of Tickling Our Fancy includes albums, EPs and singles by Rat The Magnificent, Papernut Cambridge, Kumo, Deben Bhattacharya, Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami, Moa Mckay, Crayola Lectern and Ippu Mitsui.

Interesting releases from across the world and music spectrums; Tickling Our Fancy is my 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 selection.

Electronic music composer extraordinaire Jono Podmore is back under the guises of Kumo with another serialism styled field recording, released through the London-based cassette tape label, Tapeworm; Rat The Magnificent rock, grunge, drone and grind their way through a new caustic shoegaze and industrial album, The Body As Pleasure; ARC Music sift through more of the celebrated late ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya’s archives to bring us the fifth edition of their Musical Explorers series, Waves Of Joy/Bauls From Bengal, and also bring us a mesmerizing album of Kurdish traditional performances, Melodic Circles, by the Iranian cousins Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami; the Gare Du Nord label’s unofficial house band, Papernut Cambridge, return with another enviable ensemble led songbook of Glam Rock, Psych and poetic resignation, honouring the late polymath maverick scientist and utopian dreamer, Richard Buckminster Fuller; the enchanting quivery psychedelic bathers, Crayola Lectern, return with a new album of ghostly voiced heartbreak, ‘Happy Endings’. We also have the new peppy modern soul pop fusion EP from Moa McKay and friends, Illusions Of A Dream, and a more relaxed, calming electronic cruise from the Tokyo composer Ippu Mitsui.


Rat The Magnificent  ‘The Body As Pleasure’  TTWD Records,  21st June 2018

Not as the name suggests, celebrating their rodent status whilst scratching like vermin at the bin bags in the gutter, as more guttural with seething yearning, Rat The Magnificent claw away in melodically dark despair on the new album, The Body As Pleasure. The noisy rock trio both clash and ponder on a grinding synthesis of pain, regret and isolation; dragging an impressive chorus of guest drone, grunge, shoegaze and post-rock exponents behind them. For the record, at any one time either caustic twiddling guitar, sonorous bass notes and harrowing longing vocals from Future Of The Left and Art Brut wingman Ian Gatskilkin, My Bloody Valentine and Graham Coxon band member Jen Marco and Hot Sauce Pony’s Caroline Gilchrist appear alongside a number of guest contributors – another Gilchrist for one, Stephen Gilchrist of Graham Coxon, The Damned and the Cardiacs infamy, being just one of the many.

That main catalyst and drive however is pendulously swung and elliptically (especially on the off-set rotation of the increasingly unhinged and entangled ‘Where You Been’) powered by the maverick trio maelstrom. Yet it’s a maelstrom of both fuzzed-up sinister prowling and melodious sensibilities. Like a Nordic sounding Thom Yorke drowning in a heavy dynamism of Swans, Interpol and Death From Above 1979 one minute, and plaintively following the contours of The Telescopes drones the next, the band conjure up all kinds of heavy rock and indie-on-steroids splinters, from The Birthday Party to DEUS, Marilyn Manson and the Archers Of Loaf.

Though the forebode and drone of songs like the skate punk Muse meets slacker rock ‘Olon’ and the Nick Cave No More Shall We Part swooned and trilled female vocalized like ‘Inevitable’ there’s a hint of lovelorn despair and confession. The most subdued dissipation, and oddest of finales, is the piano-accompanied-by-a-strange-crunching-Foley-sound ‘Panarron’, which stripes away the vortex of industrial anguish for an esoteric ambient soliloquy; the vocals so hushed as to be barely audible, as if the singer’s run out of steam, enervated and worn out: everything now off his chest, relieved yet fucked.

Noisy and caustic for sure, yet full of surprises (even space-age alpha wave synth on one track) The Body As Pleasure contorts and channels the energetic chaos through a prism of relief and accentuated tinkering. An illusion to all manner of references, the rodent’s left scurrying in the aftermath pick at the morsels to deliver a most intense album.




Papernut Cambridge  ‘Outstairs Instairs’  Gare Du Nord,  29th June 2018

 

The first full length album since 2016’s generous carrier-bag packaged Love The Things Your Lover Love, the Ian Button instigated cottage industry, known as the Anglo-French romanticized Gare Du Nord, finally releases a follow-up from the label’s unofficial house band, Papernut Cambridge. Like a session group but made-up of mostly deft and critically applauded artists in their own rights, Button’s ragtag group of friends, acquaintances and label mates includes such refined minstrels and troubadours as Darren Hayman, Robert Rotifer, Jack Hayter, Emma Watson and Ralegh Long. This already enviable ensemble is broadened by the Hunky Dory period piano accents and Mike Garson plays Gershwin flourishes of pianists Terry Miles and Luke Smith, smatterings of Malcolm Doherty’s recorder arrangements, Sterling Roswell’s synth and the wailing, squawking and slinking Roxy Music saxophone of Stabs Mackenzie.

In a convoluted family tree style, this cast has consistently overlapped on a myriad of projects and releases; all emanating from Button’s end of the London train line HQ on the borders of Kent. As with that previous album and incarnation, the Papernut Cambridge conveys idiosyncratic tragedies, injustices and heartache through an often wistful and whimsical prism of 1970s musical nostalgia; the cut-off point of their inspiration and influence being the change over from the snug hazy security of late 60s to mid 70s Top Of The Pops, beaming and disarming the gender-bending teenage angst of Glam and Art Rock through a fond afterglow, to the petulant arrival of punk. Certainly nostalgic and cosy then, Outstairs Instairs builds a rich melody and frequent Glam-beat stonk around its deeper themes of loss, anger, resentment and malady. Yet with quintessential English humour dragging Button and his cast from feeling despondent and conceited, lyrics often finish with a subtle note of resigned wit to snap the protagonists and listener from despair: The Hollies conducting an elegiac service of remembrance styled ‘No Pressure’ pays a fond and warm homage to Button’s late father; humble recollections of dad’s sagacious advice to tickling ivory is saved from over-sentimentality by the final line of the song, “Sometimes you have to cater for cunts!”

As referencing goes, conducing the maverick utopia and inventive theorems of the late American scientist polymath Richard Buckminster Fuller takes some doing. Yet, from borrowing his, perhaps, far too over-analyzed (and thought) but astronomically accurate method of describing the actions of going up or down a staircase – going as far as to cleverly cut the vinyl version of this album so each side mirrors this spiraling rotation – for an album title to framing the name given in his honour for a carbon molecular, the ‘Fullercenes’, as a metaphor for the charged chemistry of love on the starry Alvin Stardust-Mott The Hoople-Bowie-esque opening track, Papernut Cambridge weave their icons and cerebral pining’s into articulate hazy pop. Though, making concessions for, as I’ve already remarked, 60s beat groups, psych and even grown-up rock’n’roll blues, the Nuts graze Goats Head Soup era Stones romantic weeping on ‘How To Love Someone’, and waft in their honky tonk Orleans boogie on the pastoral garden party ‘House Of Pink Icing’.   On the Victoriana fairground knees-up comes sad tale of the “best dog in Battersea”, ‘Angelo Eggy’, they sound like a mongrel-breed of the Alex Harvey Band, Wings and Marmalade, and on the St. Peter-as-overburdened-civil-servant ‘New Forever’, they reimagine Highway 61 Revisited Dylan fronts The Soup Dragons or early The Charlatans. You can also expect to hear at any one time in the mix, hints of Edison Lighthouse, Fleetwood Mac, Cockney Rebel and The Rubettes.

From ill fated, nee cursed, characters to the all too-real forgotten victims of industry and losers in life, the Papernut Cambridge envelop pain and resignation in a warm caring blanket of nostalgic and beautifully crafted pop music. With an ensemble to die for, this is a sweetened if sad album of cherished memories and augurs to come; a missing link between 70s Top Of The Pops annuals, Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane Bowie, Glam Rock and I Can See For Miles’ halcyon English songwriting compilations. A most magnificent return from a most maverick of outfits.






Crayola Lectern  ‘Happy Endings’  Onomatopoeia,  1st June 2018

 

Bathing in the same South Downs of Southeast England water, even if it’s further west along the coastline at Worthing, as the gentle psych imbued outfits Electric Soft Parade and The Fiction Aisle, the Chris Anderson instigated Crayola Lectern embark on a most pastoral, stirring malady on the group’s second album, Happy Endings.

Featuring band members and guest spots from the former of those two Brighton bands, but also a trio from London stalwarts, The Cardiacs, the Crayola Lectern fondly and nostalgically absorb a cannon of rich 1960s psychedelia, seaside vaudeville, dancehall tea parties and quintessential irreverent witty eccentricity. Gazing through the pea green sea-like gauze-y sepia of the album’s cover (a photo of Anderson’s grandmother on her wedding day), revisiting old ghosts to a vague backing of early Floyd, Robert Wyatt, and even at times a spot of Family, Anderson moves amorphously through time whilst alluding to a rafter of contemporary problems: One of the overriding sentiments of which, gleamed from the beautifully hazy melodious piano led, and cherubic sung, opener ‘Rescue Mission’, is that love is really all; but whatever this self-centered world throws at you, “Don’t let the buggers bring you down.”

 Diaphanously played throughout, softened, occasionally venerable and choral with dreaming visages of mellotron, trumpet and finely cast musical spells, the album can seem like it’s being summoned from the ether and beyond. Emerging from a burial-at-sea like seaweed covered aquatic specters on the ode to a ‘Submarine’ metaphor (which even includes lines in Latin), or caught in a nursery rhyme loop, lying in bed each night thinking of the inevitable, the theme of death is always close at hand; but handled with sighing reassurance and the comforting strains of a dashing about lullaby.

From end-of-the-pier shows to séances on a wet afternoon, the nostalgic quaintness of Happy Endings dips its toes into vibrato like waters, with shades of The Beach Boys Surf’s Up on ‘Secrets’, and presence of a lapping tide on the theatrical pining and beautiful ‘Barbara’s Persecution Complex’. A general ebb and flow motion, not just rhythmically and musically but in the relationship between an almost childlike innocence and the sagacious meditations of experience, is suffused throughout; though breakouts of rock opera, ascendant spiraling and more dramatic loveliness do splash about in the psychedelic mysterious waters. And on the title track, though it’s prefixed in brackets with ‘(No More)’, there’s an allusion to alien visitors that could be read as a metaphor for the illegal alien otherness of not starbound extraterrestrials but migrants, refugees and even our cousins across the Channel.

Conveying the mood and plaguing anxieties of the past and contemporary; circumnavigating the choppy waters of uncertainty; Anderson and his troupe effortlessly exude a subtle elegance and enchanting charm to produce a gauze-y psychedelic melodrama. Lush and quivery, Anderson’s vocals almost ghostly heartbreaking throughout, the piano played with an understated but emotive caring patience, Happy Endings is a peaceably beauty of a minor opus.






Various  ‘Musical Explorers: Waves Of Joy/Bauls From Bengal: Field Recordings By Deben Bhattacharya’  ARC Music,  25th May 2018

If you’re a regular visitor to my reviews roundup then you might already be familiar with ARC Music’s Musical Explorer series: celebrating the work of pioneering ethnomusicologists, and currently sifting through the renowned archives of the late Indian field recordist and filmmaker, Deben Bhattacharya.

The fifth volume in this series once again delves into the rich vaults of material Bhattacharya captured when travelling his native Indian homeland: Other volumes highlight his recordings from Taiwan and Tibet; though he recorded in a multitude of locations and countries during his career.

Settling in London at the turn of the 1950s with mixed results (though after juggling many jobs, finally able to make a living from documenting exotic music, at the time mostly unknown to Western ears), Bhattacharya made many return trips, especially to his birthplace of Benares in Bengal. Previous editions in this explorers series (Colours Of Raga, Krishna In Spring) have either included or alluded to music from the region, and the dual film/audio recordings of Waves Of Joy/Bauls From Bengal is no different.

Amateurish and make-do by the technical standards of today, Bhattacharya’s ’12-volt battery’ powered laden ‘one-man mobile’ recording apparatus still magically captures the most unpretentious in-situ purity of performances. In natural surroundings, the majority in adulation or paean to spiritualist guidance and, not exclusively by any means, Hinduism, these timeless recordings seem to have been caught serendipitously: the opposite of staged, directed and scholarly.

 

Recorded before his death in 2001, the audio part of this package features a revolving troupe of players performing the spiritual enlightened poetics of the traditional holy wandering minstrels known as the Baul. Translated from the original Sanskrit word for ‘vatula’ or ‘mad’ – though in this case a kind of entranced devotional madness -, these sagacious weavers of philosophical devotion study the ambiguity between divine and sensual love; unburdened by established religion or dogma. Finding a commonality with the Sufis, and especially the ideas of the Persian mystic Rumi, the Baul’s song (also known as ‘bauls’, which can be confusing) are filled with poetic worship, but always stating humbleness, offering nothing other than love as the opening ‘Doya Kore Esho’, sung in exultation by Robi Das Baul, exemplifies:

How shall I adore Thy feet – incomparable?

No prayer or dedication have I

O gracious one!

No devotion,

nor wisdom do appear within my heart of hearts,

Bid farewell to my joylessness,

Give me more joy

In this humble abode of my heart.

 

Analogies to a “shoreless sea” and the desirable banks of joyful aspiration and nirvana that meet its waves coupled with symbolist fauna, dealing with death, and the conversion of lost souls to whatever guru is being venerated flow throughout this collection’s fourteen track songbook on a buoyant bending and dipping rhythmical accompaniment. Beautifully sung, hollering and soaring even, a quintet of baul minstrels take turns, accompanied by atavistic instrumentation. An intrinsic feature of which is the tucked under the arm ‘anandalahari’, a tabla like tension drum with a plucked string. Held tightly in one arm, the player can pull on a small knob to stretch this string whilst using his other hand to pluck away with a plectrum. Its bending resonance can be heard alongside the one-string drone ‘ektara’, fretless long-necked lute like ‘dotara’, small metal pellet ankle bells chiming ‘ghungru’, bamboo flute ‘banshi’ and tied around the waist clay kettle drum, the ‘duggi’.

All recorded in Shantiniketan, an area synonymous with baul history, these performances feature compositions from such revered gurus as the 19th century mystic/poet Lalon Shah Fakir and Matam Chand Gosain, but also more contemporary figures, such as the film actor and folk musician Mujib Paradeshi and lyricist, composer Bhaba Pagla: It all sounds timeless however, with only a subtle allocation made for more modern themed metaphors.

The documentary, filmed in 1973, is a grainy but colourful informative (if slightly stiff in narration) highlight, featuring as it does the Kenduli Mela festival in West Bengal. A huge momentous musical and religious gathering, it’s held at the birthplace of the famous poet Jaidev in the Birbhum district, attracting, as you’ll see, a myriad of baul ensembles. Probably unrecognizable today – in fact Simon Broughton, of Songlines fame, and the author of this compilation’s linear notes, remarks on its built-up modernity – the plains and riverside of Kenduli in the 1970s is agrarian with the only transport in sight, a multitude of ox pulled carts. Reading out poetic, wise lyrics whilst moving the camera from temples to villages and bazaars, the narrator informs and explains not only the folklore and myths of the baul, but also the basics of the instruments and songs. The message of this study is of the individual’s pursuit in communing with their spiritual guide unburdened by barriers, as the words, read out whilst resting the camera on the icon carvings of a temple sum up so well:

The road to you is barricaded with temples and mosques

I hear you calling my lord, but cannot reach you.

Teachers, preachers and prophets bar the way.  

 

Both revelatory and insightful, an education you could say, Bhattacharya’s extensive archives showcase Indian music at its most venerable and spiritual. A snapshot on the devotional and a survey on the baul phenomenon this latest stimulating Musical Explorers package is a visual and audio treat.




Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami  ‘Melodic Circles: Urban Classical Music From Iran’ ARC Music, 27th July 2018

 

The second ARC Music release to grab my attention this month, the entrancing circular and eastern mirage rippling evocations of the Mehdi & Adib Rostami cousins bring a certain modernity to the classical ‘urban’ music of their homeland, Iran. Tensions between Iran (both with the nebulas and all too real physical influences) and its neighbours in the region, and of course the West, have never been shakier; especially with the recent collapse of the ‘nuclear deal’ and renewal of sanctions, but also with its military presence in Syria and the Yemen. And with the roots of the Rostami cousins’ performances deriving from the Kurdish music of Iran’s Fars province (‘widely considered’, as the liner notes suggests, ‘the cultural capital of Iran’; it is indeed the original home of the Persian people after all) you can’t help but think of the controversies and complexities that hound the Kurdish people in a number of violent flashpoints; most of which derive from the fight for an independent state: though not all Kurds are involved or even agree on the issue.

It makes a change then, to celebrate rather than hector or feel despondent about Iranian culture; ARC Music shedding a light on a positive, magical aspect of the country and its musicians; showcasing, as they do, the technical and creative improvisational skills of the Rostami maestros.

Conventionally divided into two general branches; one deriving from the ethnic minorities (which also includes Nomadic traditions), each with its own distant musical system, the second, and what you’ll hear on this album, is the urban tradition, though it’s a much later style: the ‘radif-e dastgāhi’. Passed down orally, the, what seems like an amalgamation of systems and ‘melodic circles’ structures (so named for the manner in which these Iranian melodies link together to form ‘circles’), ‘radif’ is traditionally divided into ‘instrumental and vocal music’. A serious dedication is needed, as each student of this system must learn their art with a number of masters; the ultimate goal of which, we’re told, is ‘for the musician to cultivate, through many years of practice and performance, the capacity to improvise, wherein ideally, the musician would create a new work in each performance.’ Not just able scions of that learning but international artists of repute and masters of their chosen Iranian instruments, the long-necked, plucked lute ‘setār’ and goblet-shaped drum, the ‘tombak’, the cousins studied with a wealth of talent. Mehdi began playing the wooden fretted setār at the tender age of six, going on to study under the tutelage of Mohammadreza Lofi and Hossein Alizadeh, and take a ‘masterclass’ with Kayhan Kalhor, whilst Adib started out learning the principal percussion instrument, the tombak, on his own before later taking lessons and refining his technique with Mohammed Ghodsi and Pejman Hadadi. He also studied the Iranian fiddle, the ‘kamancheh’, with Roozbeh Asadian and Lofi, and as his cousin did, took masterclasses with Kalhor.

Performing several times in the UK, including as part of the BBC Proms season and with the Syrian ‘qanum’ player Maya Youssef, under the Awj Trio collaboration, the cousins are calling this album their first official release. An album in two parts, subdivided into a trio and a quartet of various passages, Melodic Circles is essentially a contemporary interpretation of the atavistic Kurdish ‘Bayāt-e Tork’ and ‘Bayāt-e Esfahān’ cycles. Though following the handed-down prompts of these age old ‘modes’, they imbue their versions with deft improvisation; breathing in the atmosphere and mood of their surroundings and feelings on the day of the recordings to offer something organic and fresh.

‘Circle One’, comprised of three separate chapters, arises from the Persian epoch with a spindled trickle of ancient evocations; cantering and rolling when the rapid tub-thumping percussion joins in, beside the waters of the Fertile Crescent. The opening section, ‘Nostalgia’, alludes musically to another era, mystical and timeless but unmistakably played out in the present. It’s followed by any equally dusty mirage of enchantment and cascading dripping plucked notes on the travelling ‘Journey’; which, by the end of its perusal, turns a trickle into a flood.

The final piece of that trilogy, ‘Delight’, dashes straight in with a speedy, mesmerizing display of blurry percussion; the lute gliding and entrancing until locking into a circular loop, resonating with brass-y echoes and spiraling nuances.

The second ‘circle’, featuring a quartet of pieces, opens with the longing ‘Lonely’. Romantic gestures, ripples and vibrations gather momentum until reaching a crescendo and dissipating, on this dusky earthy track. Picking up on the intensity, ‘Life’ is like an energetic camel trot across mirage shimmered deserts, whilst, reaching tranquil, less galloping, waters ‘Past’ is the musing respite before the frenzied hypnotic circulations of the ‘Mystic Dance’ spin into play.

Caught in the moment, feeding off each other whilst channeling their intensive studies, the cousins perform with dexterous, masterful skill and a sense of freedom. Melodic Circles faithfully keeps the traditions of the Rostami’s native heritage alive in a contemporary setting; a heritage that is seldom celebrated in the West, especially in such trying times, yet proves an intoxicating experience of discovery.



Kumo  ‘Day/Night’  Tapeworm

 

Releasing a myriad of ‘micro-scale’ peregrinations via his revitalized imprint Psychomat and now through the London-based cassette tape label Tapeworm, Jono Podmore once again channels his longest running alter-ego as Kumo for another serialism style trip into the unknown.

Finding a suitable home for his latest experiment with the highly conceptual Tapeworm (a label with an aloof roster of projects from serious thinkers and avant-garde artists alike, including the late Derek Jarman, Stephen O’Malley, Philip Jeck and Can’s one time front-of-house shaman, Damo Suzuki), the professor of ‘popular music practice’ at Cologne’s Hochschule für Musik, sometime Irmin Schmidt foil and guiding light of the Can legacy (the recent Lost Tapes being just one project he helped put together and produce), and founding instigator of the rebellious analogue adventurers Metamono, imbues a set of field recordings with decades of electronic experience.

Lifting off from the concrete of terra firma into alien Kosmische amorphous realms, his Day/Night moiety converts the environmental sounds (from mopeds to barking dogs, the sonorous bass boom of a subwoofer drifting from a car stereo, to city landscape birds squawking and commercial airplanes flying overhead) he recorded from the balcony of his South East London flat into something often mysterious and even at times transient. Both tracks are undulated with Tangerine Dream ambient machinations and oscillations, and ethereal siren trilled Theremin: left to linger, waft and occasionally ascend above the looming hovering clouds.

There are subtle differences between the two aspects of the same day of course; the movements and appearance of nocturnal wildlife and the human inhabitation of Podmore’s estate reverberate on the ‘Night’ recording; inverted owl-like signature sound and orbiting satellites overlap with darker stirrings and the visage shimmers of an unknown presence.

A Kosmische and avant-garde electronic panorama, viewed from a concrete vantage point, Podmore’s efflux styled synthesis convolutes the 360-degree city environment with engineered sounds to create another quality ambient drone and kinetic recording. If you like early Cluster (Kluster even), TD, Orb, even early Kraftwerk, and a lifetime of cerebral techno minimalism then track this tape down. You better be quick though, as it’s limited to only 125 copies!



Moa McKay ‘Illusions Of A Dream’  29th June 2018

Though I know absolutely nothing about – what sounds to my ears like a sassy bubblegum soulstress with millennial pep – the pop-y soul singer Moa McKay, the lilting but deep grooves of the opening track from her summery new EP, wafting from my speakers, immediately caught my attention when I first heard it recently: alluringly intriguing, drawing me.

Though the lingering breezy jazz tones may evoke Frank era Amy Winehouse with a tinge of American R&B, McKay actually hails from Stockholm and resides in Berlin: a city that doesn’t exactly scream soul. Earlier material, from what I can deduce, is more in the mode of Scandi-pop heartbreak; sung in McKay’s native dialect. With a fresh outlook and collaborating with a trio of musicians that includes guitarist Tristan Banks, drummer Gabriele Gabrin and bass player Per Monstad, McKay now expands her vocal range on an EP’s worth of summertime retro soul pop hits.

Sounding as effortless and floaty as that summer breeze she arrives on, this smoky lounge meets urban suite is rich with nice little funk licks and twangs, rolling jazzy blues percussion and a live feel backing. R&B heartache with attitude, she weaves the woes and travails – from first person perspective to looking in from the outside – of relationships in the modern age. She won’t take any crap mind: channeling as she does, the steely women of 1960s soul and turning the “tramp” put-down on its head.

A modern take on the sort of fusion soul and jazz that the Talkin’ Loud label used to pump out in the 90s, but with nods to the original blueprints, McKay and her partners create a brilliant EP of pliable, melodious and sophisticated sun-dappled soul and pop.




Ippu Mitsui  ‘Shift Down EP’  Submarine Broadcasting Company, 6th July 2018

Atypical of EPs from the mysterious Tokyo-based composer of quirky ennui electronica, Ippu Mitsui’s latest transmission, as the title suggests, is a (gear)‘shift down’ from his usual broken-up, bit-y and effects cornucopia signature style of dance music. Choosing to flow and relax on a neon-glowed cruise through a quartet of both nocturnal prowls and sunset beckoning castaways, Mitsui’s kooky visions summon evocations of a Leaf Label soundtracked Drive, or Warp transmogrified Tokyo Drift: a pulse, you could say, perfect for motoring runs across an Akira illustrated cityscape.

Still throwing us curve-balls; bending and morphing, twisting and turning; changing the odd note for example on a bass run; despite throwing us occasionally, our enigmatic producer creates his most peaceful suite yet. From hanging out the back of a Sega games console 16-bit pixelated sports car on the title track, to imagining the Yellow Magic Orchestra pumping out from an 1980s West Coast lowrider stereo on ‘Squeeze 87’, and navigating early Aphex Twin and futurist Baroque on ‘Rotation’, Mitsui melds TR-808 electro and acid Techno with swelling strings to once again soundscape his own imaginations.

Idiosyncratic, sophisticated and plowing his own furrow, this emerging talent remains a well-kept secret on the electronic music scene. Hopefully, translating from his native Japan, and distributed in the last couple of years through independent UK labels and platforms, such as Bearsuit Records and, on this latest release, the Submarine Broadcasting Company, he’ll now reach a much wider audience at last.





ALBUM REVIEW
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




Various   ‘The Ultimate Guide To Welsh Folk: Compiled By Cerys Matthews’
ARC Music,  27th October 2017

A springboard introduction but nevertheless mammoth undertaking, the latest entry in a series of indigenous folk collections from the leading world music showcase label ARC, leaves no patch of land, valley, croft, mining town and backroom of Wales untouched or forgotten in its quest to encapsulate the diversity of Welsh folk music.

Familiar faces, even chart toppers, appear alongside more obscure and atavistic doyens of the genre on, what is, a most generous survey, stretched over two CDs. Following on from previous Scottish and English editions, ARC settles in for a gorgeous sounding ‘ultimate guide’ under the assured curatorship of Welsh polymath Cerys Matthews (MBE no less). Admittedly casting “with the largest net possible”, Cerys has put together a fond and occasionally divine traverse of her native pastures. Anyone who tunes into Cerys’ regular spots on 6Music will no doubt admire her knowledge and championing of fellow Welsh artists, and so it comes as no surprise to find her fronting this collection. It will also come as no surprise to find her included amongst the many luminaries, the Nashville lilted and smoky voiced rearrangement of the hymn-like Sosban Fach, taken from Cerys’ ‘most successful’ solo album Tir, a congruous and worthy addition to a compilation packed with some of the most diaphanous and moving voices in Welsh music history.

Listeners will probably recognize a fair few of the artists and songs; no doubt accustomed to the highly talented songstress Gwyneth Glyn, who I praised and featured most recently with her new solo album Tro. Glyn’s ‘love poetry’ communion collaboration of 2015, Ghazalaw, with Ghazal signing sensation Tauseef Akhtar traversed the Vales of Wales and ‘Muslim and Urdu’ enclave, merging for the first time ever the Welsh tradition to a style of ancestral singing formerly kept separate from the outside world, confined to India. A perfectly romantic and airy example of that cross-fertilization from the album, Moliannwn is a ‘children’s favorite adapted into a softened tabla rattling backed endearing paean.

Staying with contemporary choices, there’s a short but enchanting twee, Magic Roundabout-like instrumental vignette from the sibling heavy Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog (Didl-Dei); fairytale dreamy folk rock from the Welsh Avalon evoking 9Bach (Pontypridd), the trickling brooks and gallop of wild horses meets Western Sahara pulchritude collaboration between Catrin Finch and the Senegalese artist Seckou Keita (Ceffylau), and a plucked acoustic contour of the local diaphanous topography by former Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci frontman Euro Childs (Roedd hi’n nofio y bore bach).





Paying homage to Wales signature beatific harp traditions, Cerys opens the first part of this double compilation with a heavenly performance from the ‘Queen of the harp’ (no idle boast) Nansi Richards; compared no less to Jimi Hendrix for her own unique showmanship of tricks, such as playing behind her back and playing two harps at a time. Angelic indeed, Richards Pwt Ar y Bys (translates as ‘A little something for the fingers’) sounds effortless, light, almost translucent, and is a great introduction from the harp grandee: many of who’s scions and pupils appear scattered throughout this collection. As Cerys says: ‘The harp reigns supreme in Welsh folk music’. And so there is a wealth of its synonymous empyrean tones to be found, including the specialized triple harp evocations of Robin Huw Bowen, with his graceful tip-toeing Romany Gypsy Waltz, and the classical sounding pitter-patter caresses of another influential doyen and teacher of the instrument, Elinor Bennett, on Pant Corlan yr Wyn.

Another signature sound of Wales, the male voice choir, is best exemplified by the deeply moving ethereal ascendant recording Tydi a roddaist, by the North Wales miners Rhos Male Voice Choir. Cerys makes a strong case for such choirs in a compilation that celebrates folk music, tracing its roots back through the mists of time and, rightly so, comparing it to the gospel music of the American south; the voice and communion of an earnest poor community of miners, some of which braved the scars and trauma of a colliery accident the day before to proudly summon the energy and poignancy to deliver a rousing hymn.

As you might imagine there’s some competition in the vocal stakes, with both wizened and breathtaking voices seemingly commonplace; the superlatives running out by the time you reach the Cardiff marvel Heather Jones and her star Celtic turn Lisa Lãn, a most stunning vocal delivery that soars.





The width and breadth as I say is large and expansive, with international troubadours, such as the ‘Welsh Bob Dylan’ Meic Stevens (who is allowed two tracks to match his undeniable status in the Welsh music scene over the decades) sitting alongside the ‘nightingale’ trilling and shrilled eccentric singing of the local elder South Glamorgan legend Phil Tanner; the church hall recorded marching song of the Free Wales Army radical campaigner Cayo Evans alongside the Crosby, Stills and Nash country rock folk of the three-piece Cardiff act the Hennessys.

 

Over a century’s worth of Welsh icons and lesser known (but of course, no less important) local and often amateur talent, spread over a generous collection, the Ultimate Guide is both a visceral and fondly compiled survey; more or less including something from every branch of the folk genre, and even the many international fusions that have helped spread the allure of Welsh music to all four corners of the globe. Even if this compilation falls short of its mighty title boast, then it can at the very least act as an exceptional introduction for further research or immersion.


NEW MUSIC REVIEWS ROUNDUP
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





A mixed bag, even for me, this month, with a triple haul of albums from the Kent estuary dreamers wishing to travel far, Gare du Nord. A trio of releases from Ian Button‘s pet project label includes a Pop-sike collection from Joss Cope, fairytale metaphor folk spells from Karla Kane and a ‘switched-on Bach’ like treatment of Vivaldi Baroque classics from modular synth composer Willie Gibson. We also have a new album of Victorian themed pastoral forebode that chimes with our times from Oliver Cherer; a brilliant experimental grunge, new wave and alt-rock experimental album from Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand; the debut album from Gwyneth Glyn for the new artist/label partnership Bendigedig; and finally, two chaotic avant-garde electronic music soundclashes from maverick artist Andrew Speckman, under his recently adopted Sad Man persona.  

 

Read on….



Joss Cope  ‘Unrequited Lullabies’  (6th October 2017)
Karla Kane  ‘King’s Daughters Home For Incurables’  (6th October 2017)
Willie Gibson  ‘Vivaldi: Seasons Change’  (13th October 2017)
All three released on the Gare du Nord.

Absent from my review selections for a while now, estuary romantics Gare du NordIan Button’s independent label, run from an HQ that sits on the edge of the metropolis of London and the pastoral pleasantries of backwaters Kent – have sent us a triple bundle of releases, all earmarked for release in the first half of October. This autumnal flurry includes a new album of psychedelic pop soft bulletins from Joss Cope; an Anglophile hushabye fairytale of folk from Californian sun-kissed artist Karla Kane, of The Corner Laughers fame; and a transduced ‘switched-on’ modular synth treatment of Baroque Vivaldi classics from, the non de plume of George Baker, Willie Gibson.

A real mixture you’ll agree, the first of which, Cope’s Unrequited Lullabies, is in the mode of classic 60s revivalism and 80s psychedelic pop.

Sibling to arch druid polymath of the ‘head’ community, Julian, brother Joss Cope shares an equally colourful CV; serving and rubbing shoulders during his formative years with a number of famous and cult figures from the Liverpool music scene, including Echo & The Bunnymen Les Pattinson, Wah Heat’s Peter Wylie and Spiritualized’s Mike Mooney. Not before fleetingly spearheading Bam Caruso label favorites Freight Train – releasing the modestly pivotal album Man’s Laughter in 1985 – before splitting and joining ‘rivals’ the Mighty Lemon Drops, Joss left Liverpool to be absorbed into the Creation Records mayhem of London. During his spell in the capital he played with Crash, The Weather Reports and Rose McDowell before carving out a solo career, releasing two albums under the Something Pretty Beautiful banner.

Inevitably Joss would at some point cross paths with his elder brother, contributing famously to the Fried and St. Julian solo albums; co-writing with both Julian and his former Freight Train band mate Donald Ross Skinner the album tracks Pulsar and Christmas Morning.

 

Before this becomes just a biography, Joss would form and play with many more bands during the 90s and noughties – The United States of Mind, Dexter Bentley and Sergeant Buzfuz among them -, balancing music with a careers as a video director for MTV, narrator for a children’s BBC animation series and an online producer/activist for Greenpeace.

This latest chapter in a checkered backstory of affiliations sprung from Joss’ regular sleepovers in Finland, home to his current partner, the cartoonist Virpi Oinonen. In 2016 he began collaborating with the guitarist Veli- Pekka Oinonen, bassist Esa Lehporturo and percussionist Ville Raasakka trio of Helsinki talent, and the (what must be the most Irish of Irish sounding names in history) keyboardist O’Reilly O’Rourke on what would become this album, Unrequited Lullabies.





Not quite as gentle as the title suggests, but still quite meandrous, peaceable and safe, the lullabies, coastal tidal ebbs and flows and metaphorical drownings include the full range of influences from Joss’ earlier output on Bam Caruso; namely the cult label’s Circus Days compilations of obscurities and novelties from the mostly kaleidoscopic afterglow music scene of English psych and pop-sike. At various times you can expect to hear traces of 70s era Pretty Things, House Of Love, Mock Turtles, early Charlatans, Robyn Hitchcock, Dave Edmunds, XTC, The Eyes, and most obviously (and prominent) Syd Barrett. Controlled with assured maturity throughout, those influences loosely flow between the pastoral, shoegaze, backbeat pop and acid psychedelia.

Yet despite tripping occasionally into mellotron steered mild hallucinogenics, there’s nothing here that ventures beyond the ‘calico wall’; no surprises or raw energetics; no teeth rattling scuzz and fuzz or melting chocolate watchbands. Unrequited Lullabies is instead an understated effort, erring towards gestures of love – as Joss himself rather poignantly and regretfully puts it about one particular song, “Love songs to the children I never had…’ -, with a side order of ruminations and the sagacious forewarning advice of a late generation X(er) on the ‘good and bad’ aspects of life ‘in this magical place’. All played out to a most melodic songbook of classic psychedelic pop.





Time-travelling off on a completely different tangent, the Willie Gibson alter-pseudonym of one-time British soul journeyman George Barker (playing trumpet back in the late 60s and early 70s with J J Jackson, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and the “sweet soul music” Stax legend, Arthur Conley) transduces the Baroque classics of Vivaldi via a range of modular synthesizers; ala a strange kitsch sounding combination of Wendy Carlos, stock 80s paranormal soundtracks and a quaint sounding Kraftwerk.

Moving from soul into post-minimalist electronica on the cusp of a new era in technological advances, Barker was among the first recipients of the iconic all-in-one multi purpose digital synth/sampler/workstation, the Fairlight CMI; using its signature sound to produce sound design and music for radio and TV commercials in the 80s, whilst also lending his skills on this apparatus to Madness and Red Box on a number of recordings during the same period. Under the Ravenwood Music banner, Barker has carved out a career for himself as a producer and music publisher of synth based composition.

Modulating a fine sine wave between ‘on hold’ call-waiting style background electronica classicism and cult retro-futurism, this latest treatment of the Italian genius’ most familiar and celebrated set of opuses – Opus 8, Il Quatrro Staginoni i.e. ‘the four seasons’ – certainly has its moments. The actual execution, made more difficult by Barker’s process of ‘un-creatable’ layering, playing one part at a time with no recall, but constantly evolving his set-up and expanding until all that remains is the ‘control data’ – like the written score itself – is quite clever.

Split into triplets of quarters, each section features a subtle fluctuation of changes and melodies. The first trio of compositions, La Primavera 1 – 3, features fluttering arpeggiators, heralded pomp and glassy toned spritely descending and ascending robotic harpsichord. It sounds at times like a 80s video arcade symphony from Stranger Things. Both majestically reverent and cascading patterns follow, as Barker conducts his way through a carnival four seasons and trilling Baroque sitting room recital. Later on however, the L’Inverno 1 – 3 suite sends Vivaldi towards Georges Méliès visions of space; bounding and mooning around on a nostalgic romanticized dreamy lunar surface.

A future cult obscurity, Seasons Change is a knowing, clever exercise in retro-modular synthonics; returning to the classical source to produce a well-produced and crafted homage.




The final album release of October from the label is in conjunction with the group that US troubadour Karla Kane leads, The Corner Laughers: all three band members including husband Khoi Huynh, who co-produces and accompanies Kane throughout, appear on this album.

A cross-Atlantic venture between the two, Kane’s debut solo, King’s Daughters Home For Incurables, unveils its true intentions and angst from behind an enchanting, lullaby-coated folksy and disarming veneer. Partly post-Trump diatribe fashioned to a rich metaphor of Grimm tale whimsy and a Lewis Carroll meets a lilting Ray Davis like meander through – what I interpret as – a sulky ironic vision of an old insular England and aside at those who voted for Brexit, this songbook, written under the comforting shade of a beloved oak tree in Kane’s California backyard, states a clear position; knowing exactly which side of the fence it sits.

An Anglophile of a sort, much of this solo debut is informed by Kane’s experiences touring the UK. Recordings from an idyllic pastoral England, courtesy of Richard Youell, imbue endearing lulls with birdsong and the friendly buzz of bumblebees. Also from this ‘septic isle’, the idiosyncratic Martin Newell of the cult favorites Cleaners From Venus fame is invited to add a narrated stream of British institutions and romanticized descriptions of eccentric foibles and pastimes in a sort of Larkin-style (“cricket matches seen from trains”).

Mellifluously sung and played, though on a few occasions pushed through with bit of intensity and swelling anger, Kane’s sugar-coated ruminations are deeply serious; touching as they do on feminism, immigration and the anxieties of motherhood in what can, especially in the demarcated political bubble of social media, seem like an ever more oppressive climate. Kane does hold out hope however; as the accompanying PR blurb cites, Kane has a deep desire to summon optimism and hope in a dark world. Something I can confirm she conveys extremely well on this, her debut solo album.








Oliver Cherer   ‘The Myth Of Violet Meek’
Wayside & Woodland,  29th September 2017

Wayside & Woodland, home to haunting folk, conceived not under an old steadfast oak tree but the man-made pylon, and super 8 nostalgic field recordings, has been busy of late. A flurry of activity has seen a duo of albums – an appraisal collection of Home Electronics produced in the 90s by the Margate dreamers of ambitious electro and new wave pop, They Go Boom!!, and the Bedrooms, Fields & Houses compilation sampler of label artists – released in recent weeks. And now, following in their wake, and earmarked for a 29th September release date, is this latest brilliant travail from Oliver Cherer, The Myth Of Violet Meek.

Probably most recognized for his Dollboy persona, Cherer’s varied musical affiliations and projects also includes the big beat Cooler, Non-Blank and experimental popsters Rhododendron. Here, he drifts towards a hazy fictional reminiscent style of folk and pastoral psych, a musical vision pulled from the ether and a Bellows Camera captured past, on this poignant fantastical tale of Victoriana.

Set in the Forest of Dean, this lamentable concept album (billed as ‘part-fiction’ ‘part fact’) weaves the dreamy folkloric story of the tragic Violet Meek (a play on words of ‘violence’); mauled to death or not by the dancing bears of a visiting circus troupe in the twisted and, musically alluded ominous maybe magical, tree thickened woods. Based we’re told on a vaguely real event that happened in the 1880s, Cherer’s story isn’t just a vintage walk in the past and melodic indictment on the cruelty of Victorian society towards women, but draws parallels with the continuing issues of inequality, chauvinism and mistreatment still prevalent in our own times.

This album is also a homage of a sort to Cherer’s own formative years as a teenager spent in the Forest of Dean – the diorama setting for this sorry tale – and a troubled and plaintive denouncement of the suspicions and distrust of a small community; casting out the strange misunderstood and foreign. It is the treatment of Violet though, slurred by innuendo – sharing a similar kind of ‘horseplay’ sexual predilection of idle gossip, and immature sniggers that continues to still colour the reputation of Catherine The Great – that lies at the heart of and moves on this beautifully articulated collection of harmonious crooning, lulling laments and leitmotif instrumentals.

This is an unforgiving unflattering portrayal of England, a nascent nostalgic one with little room for equality and the presence of outsiders, which is every bit as revealing about the present. As lovely, often dreamily so, as the music is the 70s pastoral accompaniment is often trembling and quivering, the fiddles distressed and bewitchery, enticing us into a esoteric psychogeography that features a languid brushed backbeat and Morris Dancers like flourish around the maypole on one song, but finds evil in the idyllic scenery on another.

Traces of 70s era Floyd, Wiccan folk, the Super Furry Animals and Darren Hayman’s civil war opus The Violence fill my senses; though Cherer stamps his own signature confidently among the inspirations and influences. Dollboy fans will find much to admire in this understated, assured and beautifully put together minor opus, as will those familiar with the Wayside & Woodland label output. A most stunning and beautiful work.







Sad Man  ‘S/T’ (OFF Records),  ‘CTRL’ (Self-released)
Both released on 8th September 2017

From the harebrained imagination of garden shed avant-garde (and often bonkers) electronic music composer Andrew Spackman, emanates another of his personas, the Sad Man. Like an unconscious, untethered, stream of sonic confusion and madness, Spackman’s experiments, played and transmogrified through a collection of purpose-built gizmos – including remodeled and shunted together turntables -, combine art school practice conceptualism with the last thirty years worth of developments in the electronic and dance music arenas.

Acid, techno, trip-hop, breakbeat, UNKLE, DJ Shadow and early Warp (especially the Aphex Twin) are all channeled through the Duchampian inspired artist’s brain and transformed into an often rambunctious, competitive soundclash.

Featured on the Monolith Cocktail under his previous Nimzo-Indian identity, Spackman’s newest regeneration is an exploration in creating ‘the saddest music possible’. It is far from that. More a sort of middle age resigned sigh and sonic assault with moments of celestial melodic awe than plaintive and melancholic despair. Perhaps throwing even more into the Sad Man transformation than he did with the Nimzo-Indian, all the signature wonky squiggles, interchanges; quirks and quarks remain firmly in place, though heavier and even more bombast.

Usually found, and despite my positive reviews, by mistake, languishing on Bandcamp, Spackman deserves a far wider audience for his maverick mayhem and curiosity. This month he plows on with a duo of Sad Man showcases; the first, a generous self-titled compilation of released through the Belgian enterprise OFF Records, the other, a shorter self-released keyboard command inspired album, CTRL. The former, launched from a most suitable platform, features an idiosyncratic collection of obscure recordings, spread over a traditional 2xCD format. Full tracks of caustic, twitchy, glitches-out cosmic mayhem and internal combustions sit alongside shorter sketches and edits, presenting the full gamut of the Sad Man musical vernacular. CTRL meanwhile, if it has a concept or pattern at all, seems to be a more quantifiable, complete experience, far less manic and thunderously chaotic.

Kosmische, acid gargles, breakbeats, trip-hop and the trusty faithful speeded-up drum beat pre-sets of late 80s and 90s techno music wrestle with each other for dominance on this seven-track LP – each track named after a key command, all five combining for some imaginary keyboard shortcut. Struggling to break through a constant rattling, distressed and distorted barrage of fuzzy panel-beaten breaks are cosmic symphonic melodies, stain glass organs and tablas. And so, pummeled, punch bag warping ride over serene glimpse of the cosmos, and raspy rocket thrusters blast off into more majestic parts of the galaxy. A space oddity for sure, a tumultuous flight into the unknown lunar expanses, but also a soundtrack of more Earthly chaos, CTRL is essentially a mental breakdown yet strangely also packed full of lighter more fun moments.

Thankfully neither of the Sad Man releases live up to the central ‘saddest music’ tenet, though probably best experienced in small doses to be on the safe side. This duo of offerings will hopefully cement a reputation for eccentric electronic cacophonies, and showcase an interesting body of work.








Gwyneth Glyn  ‘Tro’
Bendigedig,  29th September 2017

Lighting the way for a new ‘integrated independent partnership’ between the Cardigan-based Theatr Mwldan, the polygenesis renowned ARC label, and artist, the first major solo album from assiduous writer, poet and songstress Gwyneth Glyn, effortlessly traverses the Welsh valleys, Scottish Highlands, Appalachian Mountains and West African landscapes with an assured earnestness and the most delicate of touches.

In what will be a long gap in scheduled releases – the next in line an album from Catrin Finch and Seckou keita won’t be out until April 2018 -, Glyn’s inaugural album of both Welsh and English language sung songs proves a wise choice with which to usher in the Bendigedig platform.

The Jesus College, Oxford philosophy and theology student and revue performer, with stints in the folk Americana group Coco Rose and the Dirty Cousins, was the Welsh poet laureate for children between 2006 and 2007, and it’s her native home to which she returns again on Tro. A journey back to Glyn’s roots in rural Eifionydd, after a five-year sojourn in Cardiff, Tro, or ‘turn’, is inherently a Welsh imbued songbook. However, despite ten of the thirteen odes, ballads, elegies and explorations being sung in the native tongue, Glyn’s transformations of universal and ancestral standards drift subtly across the Welsh borders into a Celtic and beyond inspired influence of sound and ideas.

Previous collaborations with Indian music artist Tauseef Akhtar and the already mentioned Senegal kora player Seckou Keita resonate on this ‘Wales meets the world’ self-styled album. Keita in fact adds a touch of plucked lilting Africa to many of the songs on Tro; joining the sounds of the metal tine African mbira, played throughout by Glyn’s producer and the multi-instrumentalist Dylan Fowler, who also performs on an array of equally exotic instruments from around the globe on Tro.

Dampened, often wafting along or mirroring the ebb and flow of the tides and shifts of both the ominous and changing prevailing winds, the backing of plucked mandocello, tabwrdd one-handed snare drum, bellowed shruti box and banjo sitar genteelly emphasis and pushes along the imagined atmospheres; moving from the Celtic to country genres, the Indian drone to the south of the equator music zones.

Glyn’s choice of cover material and her controlled but stirring, lingering vocals hint at America and Britain’s legacy of counterculture troubadour heroines, including Joan Baez, Vashti Bunyan, Joni Mitchell – a famous quote of Mitchell’s, ‘Chase away the demons, and they will take the angels with them’, is used as catalyst for Glyn’s music in the press release – and the not so political, more sedate, Linda Ronstadt. The train-like motion rhythm Ffair, – a translation of the Irish folk song She Moved Through The Fair – even sounds like a Celtic Baez, and the American/Scottish woe Y Gnawas (The Bitch) – an adaption of the old standard Katie Cruel – was first brought to Glyn’s attention via another revered voice of the times, Karen Dalton, who as you expect, made her own inimitable, unique mark upon the song when she covered it many moons ago.

Unfamiliar with the Welsh dialect as I am, I can only imagine that the lyrical tumults offer the usual fare of sad betiding’s and lament. Whatever the subject may be, she sings, nee swoons, with ease and comfort; the phrasing unforced, flowing but far from untethered. And so Glyn proves to be a singer of great talent and skill as she bares her soul across an age of pastoral, rural furrowed folk.

Ushering in the label/artist partnership on an adroit, though at times indolent, debut, Tro is a subtle refined encapsulation of the Bendigedig platform’s raison d’être; an enriching experience and showcase for an impressive singer. On the strength of this album alone that new venture looks set to be creatively rewarding.





Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand  ‘Wonderland Wins’
Jangle Nest,  September 2nd 2017

Recording under a variety of guises over the years, including Dog, Paper, Submarine and This Heel, the Swedish songwriter and multi instrumentalist Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand uses his own name once again on this, perhaps one of his most, omnivorous of albums. Stridently changing styles at a whim, Sjöstrand has previously tested himself with lo fi, instrumental surf, prog and alternative rock, but now tries his luck with a mixture of grunge, indie and new wave influences on the recently released Wonderland Wins.

Those influences play out over a combination of shorter incipient doodles and fleeting meditations and more complete songs; Pavement on the garbled megaphone vocal lo fi strummed In the Orbit Of The Neutron and sunshine pop remix of Calla Lily, Weezer on Man Of Self Contempt, and Nirvana, well, everywhere else. But saying that, you’re just as likely to pick up references to Guided By Voices, Devo, The Residents, Flaming Lips and DEUS on an album that doesn’t really have a theme as such or musical leitmotif.

There is a sort of coherency here however with the album’s brilliant Archers Of Loaf meets Placebo power pop alt-rocker Waiting: a full on electric Yank-twanged vocal version opens the album, and a stripped-down more poignant and sad live version (Live At The Animal Feed Plant) closes it. Waiting for a myriad of cryptic endings and a release, this standout minor anthem sounds like a missing gem from the grunge era of the early 90s.

Sjöstrand also likes to experiment, and those already mentioned shorter excursions certainly head off on curious tangents. The most silly being the self-titled fairground organ giddy romp; the most plaintive, the acoustically picked romantic “last dance”, Myling; and the most ominous, the force field pulsing bassline warning and crackling heavy transmission, The Moon Is A Playground.

A quirky take on a familiar back catalogue of inspirations, playing with a number of classic alt-rock tropes, Sjöstrand’s Wonderland is a well-produced, confident album of ideas, and more importantly has one or two great tunes.





NEW MUSIC ROUNDUP
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA


Featuring: Colours Of Raga, Der Plan, Esmark, Ippu Mitsui, Pop Makossa, Roedelius, Chaplin & Heath and Revbjelde.


 

Welcome to the 50th! Yes 50th edition of my most eclectic of new music review roundups. This latest collection is no different in selecting the most interesting, dynamic and obscure of releases from across the world, with the invasive dance beat billed compilation of Cameroon “pop Makossa” from the Analog Africa label, a curated collection of raga recordings and a rare film from the archives of the late Indian music ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya, a phantasmagoria of folk, psych, prog, jazz and beats vision of an esoteric troubled England by Revbjelde, plus electronic suites both diaphanously ambient and equally menacing from Esmark and the triumvirate Roedelius, Chaplin & Heath, and vibrant quirky electro from Ippu Mitsui, and the return, after a 25 year absence of Germany’s highly influential cerebral electronic pop acolytes Der Plan.

Various  ‘Pop Makossa – The Invasive Dance Beat Of Cameroon 1976-1984’
Analog Africa,  16th June 2017

 

Pop goes Makossa! Makossa being, originally, the traditional rhythm and funeral dance of Cameroon’s Sawa and Essewé peoples, later transformed in the country’s cities as it collided with everything from merengue and rumba to Highlife and disco. Urban meets folk, Cameroon’s traditions given a transfusion of electromagnetism and fire, inevitably went “pop” in the latter half of the 1970s. Makossa, which means, “to dance” in the Cameroon Douala language, is a highly loose and adaptable style: as you will hear on this twelve-track collection of hits and rarities from the golden era of pop makossa.

The latest in a tenure adventure of excavating lost treasures from the African continent; Analog Africa’s main man Samy Ben Redjeb once more digs deep, sifting through a daunting mountain-size pile of records and recordings. As with many of these projects, Samy’s expeditions turn into lengthy travails: this compilation being no exception, the label originally putting out feelers and surveying the country’s music scene in 2009, and only now finalized and ready for release. And as with these projects he’s helped by equally passionate experts, in this case DJ/producer Déni Shain who travelled to Cameroon to tie-up the loose ends, license tracks, interview the artists, and rustle through the archives to find the best photographs for a highly informative accompanying booklet.

Honing in on the period when makossa rubbed-up against funk and disco, this balmy dance beat compilation’s pulse is luminous and fluid and most importantly, funky. This is in major part down to some of the most smooth, bouncing, slick and relaxed but constantly busy of bass lines – Cameroon’s bass players rightly revered as among the best throughout the world – and the constantly shuffling hi-hats, tom rolls and splashing drums.

Imitating their western counterparts but going full on in embracing the technology, especially production wise, of the times, in their own inimitable way, Cameroon’s great and good weren’t shy in using the synthesizer. The Mystic Djim & The Spirits use it for instance to glide along on their girl-group chorus beachside disco Yaoundé Girls track, whereas Pasteur Lappé uses it to create a bubbly, aquatic space effect on his 80s tropical disco vibe Sanaga Calypso. Everyone is at it more or less, using wobbly and laser-shot synth waves and gargles that were, very much, in vogue during the later 70s and early 80s. That or the Philly soul sound – check the tender electric guitar accents and sweet prangs together with smooth romantic saxophone on Nkodo Si-Tony’s jolly Miniga Meyong Mese hit – and odyssey style funk. Devoid of this slicker production and de rigueur electronic drum pads and cosmic burbles, the opening blast of pop makossa, an “invasion” in fact, by the Dream Stars is a much more lively and raw recording; closer in sound and performance to the J.B.’s than anything else. The most obscure and rare record in this collection – a real gritty shaker of Afro-soul – the Dream Stars turn makes its official debut, having never been released officially until now.

Every bit as “invasive”(and infectious) as the extended album title suggests, the classy pop massoka sound – once considered the unofficial national sound of Cameroon – is waiting to be rediscovered and let loose once again. In what seems like a recent shift in direction at the Analog Africa label, with the emphasis on the late 70s and 80s – from last year’s Space Echo collection from Cape Verde to reissues of Trinidad & Tobago star Shadow’s Sweet Sweet Dreams and the Benin solo singer Vincent Ahehehinnou’s Best Woman – this latest survey continues to unearth musical treats from the same era, albeit in different geographical settings, yet sharing many of the same production and trends traits. As classy as they come, this sun-basked music scene exposé arrives just in time for the summer.





Der Plan  ‘Unkapitulierbar’
Bureau B,  23rd June 2017

 

Though the heralded return (after a 25 year wait) of the cerebral German trio was prompted by a special reunion performance for Andreas Dorau’s 50th birthday, the momentous changes triggered by Brexit and the election of Trump must have had some effect in galvanizing Der Plan back into action. That recent party gig did however remind the trio of Moritz Reichelt, Kurt Dahlke and Frank Fenstermacher that making music together was fun at least. And so with encouragement they coalesced all the various scrapes, fragments and sketches that had been left dormant in the intervening years and shaped them into a dry-witted soundtrack for the times in which we now find ourselves: in Europe at least.

Of course, they hadn’t all been encased motionless in stasis of hibernation during that quarter century absence. Reichelt, know by his trademarked moniker Moritz R, designed covers and visuals, and alongside his comrades co-founded the influential indie label Ata Tak: releasing albums of varying success by DAF, Andreas Dorau and Element Of Crime. Dahlke meanwhile, no stranger to the Monolith Cocktail, has and continues to programme and produce electronica and techno music under the Pyrolator title; in recent years finishing or “re-constructing” archival material ideas from the vaults of the late kosmische progenitor Conrad Schnitzler. Fenstermacher has also been busy releasing solo material but is also recognized for his contributions to the Düsseldorf band Fehlfarben’s iconic Monarchie & Alltag LP.

Back together again; assembled under the hijacked Delacroix painting of Liberty Leading The People, defending the EU barricades as the American flag lays in tatters underfoot, in an iconic role reversal of the revolutionary spirit, Der Plan’s shtick is obvious in defense, and deference, of the EU constitution. Unkapitulierbar itself is a defiant battle cry, translated as “Uncapitulable” it denotes the group’s will of “continuity” and “unbrokeness” in the face of crisis.

One star poorer on the flag with further uncertainty (possibly my most overused but befitting word of the year) ahead for the EU, Der Plan consolidate and sow the seeds of worry on their first album together in 25 years. To show their scope of musical ideas and sounds, but also continue a link with there past as one of Germany’s most iconic and important electronic pop bands there’s reverberations of Kraftwerk’s Europe Endless synthesized symphony on the bouncy, elasticated sophisticated pop tracks Wie Der Wind Weht (As The Wind Blows) and Lass Die Katze Stehn! (Let The Cat Stand!); a hybrid of electric blue tango and reggae on the philosophical weary Man Leidet Herrlich (One Suffers Splendidly); and a mind-melding of The Beach Boys and Depeche Mode on the cooing expedition into space Die Hände Des Astronauten (The Hands Of The Astronaut).

The tone and vocals are however for the most part dour and dry even when tripping into the dream world flight of fantasy, which features an alluring but sinister female duet, Come Fly With Me (the only track title and song to be sung in English), and the near schmoozing, sentimental ballad Flohmarkt Der Gerfühle (Fleamarket Of Emotions).

Unkapitulierbar reflects both the band’s continued curiosity and development in song writing; their original process of improvising first and adding lyrics later is replaced with one in which ideas and lyrics act as a foundation for the music that follows. And with a wizened pastiche Der Plan prove that 25 years later the trio can at least be relied upon to produce the goods in these increasing volatile times.




Esmark  ‘Mãra I/ Mãra II’
Bureau B,  30th June 2017

 

The latest soundscape union between experimental artist Alsen Rau and sound architect Nikolai von Sallwitz, Esmark, is a disturbing moiety of minimalistic analog hardware manipulations and generated pulses spread over two volumes.

Rau, half of another duo the German partnership On+Brr, has released numerous recordings and is both a co-founder of and curator at the Hamburg based club Kraniche: covering exhibitions, performances and readings. Sallwitz meanwhile, as a vocalist and producer uses the appellation Taprikk Sweezee, and has composed music and sound design for film, theatre and a range of art and pop projects; collaborating at various times with the artists Chris Hoffmann, Andreas Nicolas Fischer and Robert Seidel, who as it happens has made a real time performed video piece for one of Esmark’s tracks.

Pitching up in the isolation of a Scandinavian cartography, where the impressive Spitzbergan glacier that not only lends its name to the duo’s name but also acts as a looming subject study, the Mãra recordings oscillate, hover and vibrate between the menacing presence of that cold landscape and the unworldly mystery of unknown signals from space and the ether. Moving at an often glacial pace, a build-up of strange forces penetrate the humming and drones that act as an often worrying bed of bleakness or ominousness. Subtly putting their analog kit of synth boxes and drum computers through changing chains of various effects and filters, feeding the results they’ve captured on tape back into the compositions, the duo evoke early Cluster, Phaedra-era Tangerine Dream, and on the Geiger counter rhythmic Krav, Can.

Acting as a prompt and reflection of the places and times they were recorded, each track title offers a vague reference point. Volume I seemly alludes to more earthly realms, naming peaks and points of interest, from what I can gather, though the atmosphere modulates and probes the spiked and flared communications of distant worlds and hovers like an apparition between dimensions. Volume II however, offers coded and scientific-fangled titles such as Objekt P62410 – which actually sounds like the warping debris from a UFO at times – and Tæller 3.981. The scariest of many such haunted trepidations on this volume, the supernatural dark material vibrations and hum of Lianen sounds like a portal opening up in the latest series of the Twin Peaks universe.

Something resembling a percussive rhythm and even a beat does occasionally form and take shape, prompting speedier and more intense movement. But whether it’s nature or the imagination being traversed and given sound, the pace is mostly creeping.

The Esmark collaboration transduces the earth-bound landscape and its omnipresent glacier into an unsettling sci-fi score and sound-art exploration that treads threateningly on the precipice of the unknown.




Ippu Mitsui  ‘L+R’
Bearsuit Records,  24th June 2017

 

Continuing to showcase relatively obscure (and bonkers occasionally) electronic and alternative music from both Scotland and Japan, the Edinburgh-based label Bearsuit Records has once again caught my attention. This time with the joystick-guided experimental dance music of the Tokyo artist/producer/musician Ippu Mitsui.

Since a self-produced debut in 2012 Mitsui has gone on to release a variety of records for different labels, before signing to Bearsuit in 2016. Flying solo again after sharing an EP with label comrades The Moth Poets last year, Mitsui now follows up his most recent E Noise EP with a full-on album of heavy, sharp reversal percussive layering and quirky electro and techno.

The colourful and vibrant L+R spins at different velocities of that quirkiness; from the flighty bubbly house style Tropicana in space Bug’s Wings, to the 32-bit, dial-up tone and laser-shooting skittish collage version of the Art Of Noise Random Memory.

Programmed to both entertain as much as jolt, Mitsui’s beats flow but also routinely shudder and trip into fits and phases of crazy discord or increasingly stretch their looping parameters until loosening into ever-widening complex cycles of percussion. Orbiting the influential spheres of Ed Banger – the transmogrified engine-revving accelerator Small Rider could easily be a lost track from one of the French label’s samplers – the Leaf label, the Yellow Magic Orchestra, 80s Chicago house, and the Nimzo-Indian, L+R is full of experimental ideas and sounds from whatever floats Mitsui’s boat. Some that work better than others it must be said, and some, which stem from drum breaks or synth waves that perhaps fail to go anywhere more interesting.

If you already know the Bearsuit label then Mitsui’s new-found base of operations proves a congruous choice to mount his dance music attacks from; fitting in well with their electronic music roster of the weird, avant-garde, humorous even, but always challenging.






‘Musical Explorers: Colours Of Raga’  Recordings by Deben Bhattacharya curated by Simon Broughton
ARC Music,  23rd June 2017

 

The inaugural release in a new series devoted to ethnomusicologists and the, often obscure, musicians they’ve recorded, Musical Explorers is the latest project from one of the busiest of “world music” labels, ARC. Championing the often haphazard art of field recording and capturing, what are in many examples, improvised one-off performances from all corners of the globe, ARC have chosen to kick start this new collection with music from the archives of the late renowned filmmaker Deben Bhattacharya.

Highly unusual for the times, the Indian born Bhattacharya was not only self-taught but one of the only ethnomusicologist to come from outside Europe or America. Moving to Britain in the late 1940s, he simultaneously worked for the post office and, as a porter, for John Lewis, whilst making radio programmes on Indian music for the BBC. He went on to produce over twenty such films and over a hundred plus albums of music, not just from the Indian subcontinent but also Europe and the Middle East.

Invited to “curate” and choose just six recordings from this extensive catalogue, Songlines editor-in-chief, author of the handy reference “rough guides” to world music series, and filmmaker, Simon Broughton hones in on the signature sound of India’s raga tradition; picking a concomitant suite of performances from Bhattacharya’s birthplace of Benara. Recorded in 1954, with the exception of Amiya Gopal Bhattacharya’s traversing and reflectively plucked and attentively gestured composition Todi, which was recorded much later in ’68, these tracks are sublime windows into a complex musical heritage.

Part of the western music scene for well over fifty years, embraced, appropriated, by Harrison and Jones most famously during the conscious shift from teenage melodrama of the early 60s to the psychedelic drug and musical quest for revelation and enlightenment in the mid to later part of that decade, the beautifully resonating harmonics and serenity of the sitar and the dipping palm and calm to galloping open handed tapping of the tabla have become part of the British musical landscape. Still representing the path to spiritualism and meaning, though also used still in the most uninspiring of ways as a shortcut to the exotic, the Indian sound and most notably ragas, continue to fascinate, yet are far from being fully understood.

Here then is a worthy instruction in the rudimentary: For example, framed as the most characteristic forms of Indian classical music, the raga derives its name and meaning from the Sanskrit word “ranji”, which means “to colour” (hence the collection’s title). Ragas also come in many moods (tenderness, serenity, contemplation) and themes, and must be played at particular times of the day in particular settings: ideally. To be played in the open air and after 7pm, the courtly Kedara not only sets a one of meditative optimism but introduces the listener to the lilting double-reed sound of the North Indian woodwind instrument, the “shenai”; played in an ascending/descending floating cycle of brilliance, alongside the Indian kettle drum, the “duggi”, by Kanhalyo Lall and his group – most probably on a prominent platform above the temple gate as tradition dictates.

Elsewhere Jyotish Chandra Chowdury eloquently, almost coquettish, radiates playing the more familiar sitar. He’s accompanied by the quickened rhythm and knocking tabla on the curtseying majestic Khamma – to be played between the very precise hours of 9-10pm. Swapping over to the zither-like “rudravina” Chowdury articulates the onset of the rain season, as the very first droplets hit the parched ground, on Miyan Ki Malhas.

Despite the hours and moods, which include a Hindi love song that goes on and on, these compositions are all very relaxing; submerging the listener if he wishes, into an, unsurprising, reflective but tranquil state.

Accompanying this audio collection is one of Bhattacharya’s introductory films on Indian music. Simply entitled Raga. Unfortunately most of his footage, originally commissioned by, of all people, Richard Attenborough, has been lost. And so this 1969 film remains one of the earliest examples left from the archives. Very representative of the times it was made, fronted by the stiff-collared Yehudi Menuhin, it serves a purpose as an historical document. Menuhin had it must be said. Little knowledge of the subject matter yet still wrote a script, which was replaced by Bhattacharya’s own to create a hybrid of the two, the focus being shifted away where possible from travelogue to technique and an endorsement of Indian music. The footage however introduces the viewer to a number of exceptional musicians, including a rare performance from the revered sitar player – one of the famous triumvirates of sitar gods alongside Vilayet Khan and Ravi ShankarHalim Jaffer Khan. It is an interesting companion piece to the main recordings, enhancing the whole experience with a visual record that captures a particular time in the development of Indian raga.

An illuminating, transcendental start to the series, Colours Of Raga acts as both a reference guide and gateway to exploring the enchanting beauty of the Indian raga further.


Roedelius, Chaplin & Heath  ‘Triptych In Blue’
Disco Gecko,  7th July 2017

 

Twenty years after first partnering with kosmische and neo-classicists most prolific composer Hans-Joachim Roedelius, ambient producer/musician Andrew Heath asked the legendary octogenarian to appear alongside him and the equally experimental composer Christopher Chaplin for a live performance in 2016. Part of a Heath curated concert at The Brunel Goods Shed in Stroud, this trio’s performances as the title makes obvious has a leitmotif, a fixation on the number three: three carefully chosen artists whose individual processes compliment and trigger each other so well produce three peregrinations of serialism to represent, or play with, three different shades of blue. It may also be a reference to the famous Triptych Bleu I, II, III paintings by the Spanish genius Joan Miró; a set of similar blue dominated works summarizing the abstract painters themes and techniques to that point in 1961, blue being for him a symbol of a world of cosmic dreams, an unconscious state where his mind flowed clearly and without any sort of order.

Heath’s previous collaboration of experimental ambience with Roedelius, Meeting The Magus, was recorded under the Aqueuous moniker with his duo partner Felix Joy in 1997. This proved to be the perfect grounding and experience for musical synergy, even if it took another two decades to follow up, as Heath picks up from where he left off on Triptych In Blue. Chaplin for his part has performed with the Qluster/Cluster/Kluster steward before. But as with most Roedelius featured projects, and he’s been part of a great many in his time, each performance is approached with fresh ears.

Self-taught with a far from conventional background in music, Roedelius has nevertheless helped to create new forms based on classism and the avant-garde. The piano has returned to the forefront, especially on recent Qluster releases. And it appears here with signature diaphanous touches and succinct, attentive cascades floating, drifting and sometimes piercing the multilayered textures of aleatory samples and generated atmospherics.

Tonally similar but nuanced and changeable each shade of blue title has its own subtle articulations. The meteorite-crystallized source of Azurite is represented by a starry-echoed piano notes, the hovering presence of some leviathan force and the synthetic created tweeting of alien wildlife. A sonorous de-tuning bell chimes through a gauzy melody of sadly bowed strings, distant voices in a market, and a moody low throbbing bass on Ultramarine, whilst Cobalt is described in gracefully stirring classical waves, searing drones, scrapped and bottle top opening percussion, and chilled winds.

Subtly done, each track is however taken into some ominous glooms and mysterious expanses of uncertainty by the trio, who guide those neo-classical and kosmische genres into some unfamiliar melodic and tonal ambient spaces. And all three in their own way are quite melodious and sometimes beautiful.

Not to take anything away from his companions on this performance, but the musical equivalent of a safety kitemark, Roedelius’ name guarantees quality. And Triptych In Blue is no different, a worthy collaboration and “lower case” study success for both Heath and Chaplin. Hopefully this trinity will continue to work together on future projects.



Revbjelde  ‘S/T’
Buried Treasure, available now

 

Flagged up as a potential review subject for the Monolith Cocktail by Pete Brookes, one part of the Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut outfit, whose 2015 Gimmie! Gimmie! Gimmie! Peanut Punk diatribe made our choice albums of that year; the Berkshire-based Revbjelde’s self-titled debut for the Buried Treasure imprint is billed as an industrial-jazz-psych-motorik-folk phantasmagoria (that last word is mine not theirs).

Soundtracking a somber, spooky dystopian vision of England, the group and their guest contributors create a suitably Fortean supernatural soundscape. One that is inhabited by the ghosts of the past, present and future, and the nationalistic (whether in jingoistic poetic pride or as an auger against such lyrical bombast) verse and poetry of some of “Albion’s” finest visionaries. Relics and crumbling edifices of religion and folklore for instance, such as Reading Abbey and the non-specific Cloister, feature either stern haunted Blake-esque narrations, courtesy of the brilliantly descriptive Dolly Dolly – Lycan and cuckoo metaphors, blooded stone steps and the decaying stench of an inevitable declining empire conjure up a vivid enough set of images – or the spindle-weaved clandestine instrumental atmospherics of a place that’s borne witness to something macabre.

Bewitched pastoral folk from a less than “merry olde England” morphs into daemonic didgeridoo lumbering gait jazz from an unworldly outback; Medieval psychogeography bleeds into bestial esoteric blues; and on the lunar-bounding strange instrumental Out Of The Unknown, reverberations of 80s Miles Davis, UNKLE and trip-hop amorphously settle in as congruous bedfellows on a trip into a mindfuck of an unholy cosmos.

Communing with false spirits, as with the infamous 17th century poltergeist tale nonsense of the “Tidworth drummer”, and losing themselves under the spell of The Weeping Tree, Revbjelde traverse a diorama of old wives tales, myth and all too real tragedy. Retreating one minute into the atavistic subterranean, hurtling along to Teutonic motoring techno the next as ethereal sirens coo a lulling and spine-tingling chorus, time is breached and fashioned to the band’s own ends. An alternative England, more befitting of writers such as Alan Moore, dissipates before the listener’s ears, evoking the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Sproatly Smith, The Incredible String Band, Aphrodite’s Child, mystical Byzantine hypnotics and a myriad of 60s to 70s British horror soundtracks. “Supernatural perhaps; Baloney, perhaps not!” As Bela Lugosi once retorted on film to his skeptic acquaintance’s dismissive gambit. After all there is a far deeper and serious theme to this album, one that touches upon the very tumultuous and horror of our present uncertain times.





New Music Reviews Roundup
Words: Dominic Valvona


Monolith Cocktail - Baba Zula


Welcome back to the first review roundup of 2017, which gets off to a grand start with this dazzling cornucopia of new releases from Baba Zula, Dearly Beloved, Hanitra, Mikko Joensuu, Piano Magic, James McArthur and Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward. 

In this edition of my regular review roundup we have the grand sweeping gestures of Mikko Joensuu’s second album in the Amen cycle; the second idiosyncratic folk and country idyllic songbook from James McArthur; some tender sounds “from the heart of Madagascar” in the shape of the Island’s talented songstress Hanitra; plus a bit of hardcore from the Dearly Beloved. There’s also a trio of special anniversary releases, the first, a triumvirate of solo work from Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward, celebrating the tenth birthday of Jezus Factory Records, the second and third mark the twentieth anniversaries of both the chamber pop dreamers Piano Magic, who have chosen to have one last fling before disbanding this year, and the polygenesis dub Istanbul outfit Baba Zula.


Baba  Zula   ‘XX’
Released  by  Glitterbeat  Records,  27th  January  2017


BABA ZULA. (FOTOGRAF: CAN EROK - 20.09.2016)

BABA ZULA. (FOTOGRAF: CAN EROK – 20.09.2016)

 

Bastions of a psychedelic Istanbul scene, they’ve arguably made their very own, the omnivorous Anatolian Acid Mother Temple of dub-styled Baba Zula have been melding all their many musical inspirations together for twenty years now. Co-founded by Osman Muret Ertel and Levent Akman in 1996, the kaleidoscopic group originally sprung from Ertel’s previous ZeN Outfit as a one-off soundtrack project for a film director friend. Two decades later and we can surely assume that Baba Zula won out.

Inspired by the first wave of Turkish bands, that grew out of a previous generations atavistic folk scene, in the 1960s, notably the psych pioneers Moğollar, Ertel and Akman helped revitalize an age of experimentation, lost during the tumultuous upheavals of Turkey’s coups in the 70s and 80s. Politically acute, challenging the authorities with trance-like joyous expression, Baba Zula are once again finding themselves overshadowed by developments in their own backyard. And so just when we and their comrades need them that discerning label of new musical discoveries from the African continent and beyond, Glitterbeat Records, have decided to celebrate the band’s legacy with a generous double helping of reimagined material and a whole host of transmogrified dub treatments from congruous bedfellows and admirers alike – including the Mad Professor, Dr. Das and Glitterbeat’s quasi in-house band Dirtmusic.

Choosing a unique method of documenting that twenty-year career (and counting), Ertel explains: “None of the pieces here are in their original forms. Instead, we picked remixes, re-recordings, collaborations, live tracks, all the possibilities, but none of these have been released before.”



Transformed but not enough to completely obscure the source, the first of these two CDs (or albums) travels back and forth across the decades, with the earliest example being the feverish female protagonist orgasm over a DJ Shadow backbeat Erotika Hop from 1997, and one of the latest, a nine-minute Tamikrest-on-an-exchange-trip-to Byzantine Aşiklarin Sözu Kalir (otherwise known as “External Is The Word Of Poets”). Elsewhere you’ll find the group’s biggest hit to date, Bir Sana Bir De Bana (“One For You And One For Me”) playfully re-styled as a Gainsbourg-on-the-Bosphorus duet between a French woman and an Armenian man.

Opening this meandering journey, Ozgür Ruh showcases the group’s signature languid dub sound; a free-spirited melting of ascending, whirling electric saz (a long-necked lute-like instrument), accentuated brushed bendir hand drums, longing male and female vocals and a cosmic Jamaica blown off course towards the Adriatic, vibe. However, there’s no mistaking the band’s roots on Biz Size Asik Olduk; a curious dervish romance with the candor and atmosphere of a desert blues serenaded camel caravan trail. The final two tracks are live. There’s, what sounds at first like a tuning-up session, kosmische freestyle Çöl Aslanlari performance from the Bada Bing in Berlin (handed over to Einstürzende Neubauten’s Alexander Hacke to mix) and a nineteen-minute experimental reverb-heavy dub odyssey version of Abdülcanbaz from the Piraeus Resistance Festival In Greece to lose oneself in. Both are great examples of their untethered abandon and float-y transcendental mesmerism.

 

The accompanying (mis)adventures in dub companion is a veritable feast of the most somnolent drifting mixes. It helps that Baba Zulu’s exotic vapours lend themselves so well to dub, imbued as they are by it. But with no limits set and with a litany of dub explorers allowed a free-reign to remodel, the band’s material is swathed in so much echo that it almost disappears into the ether.

The first few tracks are by the group themselves and someone known as “arastaman”. Reshaping their own catalogue and sound they use the lingering traces of a song and submerge beneath a smog of warbled theremin and phaser effects on Alem and cut up the vocals on a mind-bending Ufak. Guest mixes include the radical Asian Dub Foundations’ Dr Das and his Uncle style heavy shake-up of Iki Alem; Dirtmusic’s mysterious lunar sandscaped ‘Hopche’; and The Mad Professor’s quartet of polygenesis traverses: merging a South American tropical groove to the Istanbul guitar cycles of ‘Baso’ and playing with the convulsing vocals and howling calls of ‘Erotik Adab’.

 

To a backdrop of continued violence (at the time of going to press there’s been both the shootings at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub and the car bomb/gun attack on the courthouse in Izmir, in just the last two weeks alone) and heightened turmoil, caught in the midst of suppressive regime currently removing dissenting and alternative voices from the street with the most tenuous of reasons it’s hardly surprising that many wish to escape the realities of daily life. Baba Zula know more than most how dire the situation is; Ertel’s own late uncle, a journalist, was tortured and imprisoned for his troubles. Though highly entrancing and mostly destined for psychedelic shindigs this eclectic voyage is every bit the rallying call of protestation; just existing amounts to a form of dissention in the face of increasing nationalism. Here’s to another twenty years of stirring the omnivorous musical stew.



Dearly  Beloved   ‘Admission’
Released  by  Aporia  Records,  January  27th  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Dearly Beloved

Recorded through Dave Grohl’s acquired custom-built 70s Neve 8028 analogue console, at his famous Studio 606, the desk that that facilitated Nirvana’s Nevermind has imbued the latest steely hardcore row from the Dearly Beloved duo. Still thundering along at a furious velocity, thrash-powering their way through a scowling mix of Black Flag, Black Sabbath and The Pixies, the dynamic Niva Chow/Rob Higgins gut-thumping and bewailing partnership have acquired an extra, controlled, ingredient of grunge.

More suffused, the light and shade of Admission rages in a thoughtful depth between dystopian drones and full-on esoteric rock’n’roll, ala a Mogadon induced Royal Trux in a switchblade scuffle with The Black Keys – the opening RIP track showing a flair even for southern boogie blues, albeit a very noisy one. For a band that fluidly absorbs a litany of hardcore, punk and doom influences, Admission is surprisingly melodic and nuanced. And so you’re are just as likely to hear echoes of Placebo and the Moon Duo as you are Death From Above 1979, and run through not just broody miasma moods but also fun-thrilled frolics.

 

Whipped into shape (not literally of course!) by Ramones and Misfits producer Daniel Rey who laid out a relentless schedule that had the duo rehearse in a East L.A. sweatbox for eight hours a day for a week, the Dearly Beloved for the first time entrusted an outsider to sit behind the controls. As it turns out, the road-tested and solid work out sessions have captured the duo’s live energy perfectly, delivering a lean, sinewy, heavy-as-fuck rage with all the indulgences and chaff taken out. That tumultuous, controlled but far from caged performance matches the turbulence of the times we’re living in.




Pawlowski,  Trouvé  &  Ward   ‘Volume 2’
Released via  Jezus  Factory  Records,  January  20th  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward ‘Volume 2’

 

A decade on from the last Mauro Pawlowski, Rudy Trouvé and Craig Ward triumvirate compilation of solo work and to celebrate the tenure of the label vassal of so many Belgium borne alternative rock projects, Jezus Factory Records have now released a long-awaited follow up; named simply Volume 2. All at one point or another members of Belgium’s, arguably, most famous export dEUS, all three musicians have also shared a highly complex interlocking relationship; each serving together in a rambunctious myriad of side projects, team-ups and explorations, most notably The Love Substitutes, iH8 Camera and Kiss My Jazz: if anyone could ever be bothered, it would make a convoluted but interesting rock family tree diagram. Crossing over and extending beyond the dEUS hub it feels like the common bond of releasing their material on Jezus Factory could see the trio join forces at any moment.

Showcasing their individual flights of fantasy, this second volume of solo work is sometimes bizarre, often curious and occasionally silly; traversing the more serious glacial suffused drones of Ward’s four-track travail; the guitar and post-punk synth of Trouvé; and the killer-ziller-driller lunacy of Pawlowski’s imaginary 80s movie soundtrack, complete with commercial breaks!

A familiar face on the Monolith Cocktail, the erudite Scottish guitarist/composer Craig Ward was originally invited many moons ago to holiday in the Belgium city of Antwerp by dEUS and Zita Swoon stalwart Stef Kamil Carlens. Somehow instead of returning home, he stayed and signed-up for in a stint in a local band, Kiss My Jazz, before inevitably joining the dEUS fraternity; playing guitar and delivering vocals on the In A Bar Under The Sea and The Ideal Crash albums. Ward subsequently left to form both The Love Substitutes and A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen. More recently he’s carved out a solo niche for himself with the suitably evocative ambient suite New Third Lanark whilst also running a guesthouse in his native Scotland. Earlier in 2016 he was awarded a Scottish Arts Council grant to complete his ambitious solo opus Leave Everything Move Out, which was actually recorded in France with the Grammy Award winner David Odlum. Sticking to the same tone of moody strangeness and drawn-out drones, his environmentally descriptive quartet of soundscapes cover the territory of Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream. Ward circumnavigates with a touch of subtle gravitas the mysterious veiled landmarks, circling the behemoth omnipresence of Mount Betsy; hovering In The Wet Maze; dreamily rowing the topographic ocean from Island To Any Islands; and lurking in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a Sunless compression of resonating guitar notes and heavy-leaden synth modulations. It’s classic Ward at his deepest.





Still holding down the day job as a member of dEUS, Pawlowski has really gone for broke on this compilation with his 80s pastiche soundtrack. A quick run-through of the CV is needed first before we go into the details. Pawlowski originally rose to fame in the Evil Superstars, until they called it quits at the peak of their career. He went on however to release the Dave Sardy produced album Songs From A Bad Hat and launch a string of experimental groups and collaborations, including a Dutch language folk LP under the Maurits Pauwels appellation, and the Hitsville Drunks and Gruppo Di Pawlowski (recorded incidentally by Steve Albini) projects.

Throwing a tongue-in-cheek (I assume) curveball at 80s cinema, his eleven-track mix of Casio demo display crescendos, yapping seal noises, and Carpenter meets John Hughes is pure bonkers. There’s bad acid telly binges and garbled industrial menace aplenty, but the best is saved until last with the finale firework exploding retro tribute to AM college radio rock, Starught: a mix-up of Strangers When We Meet era Bowie, The Cars, Queen and Boston, it is an unashamed punch-in-the-air love song anthem. Pawlowski’s contribution is certainly the most varied and odd, detached from the more serious and dour tones of his album mates.

 

The final leg, the baton handed over to Trouvé, fluctuates between the stripped guitar sounds of The Durutti Column and a 80s homage of despondent Visage and Soft Cell synth maladies. Originally a founder member of dEUS but tiring of the group’s major label success and all the bullshit that comes with it (the band’s debut was released on Island Records), Trouvé left to form the Heavenhotel Presents label and play in the Ornette Coleman inspired experimental project Tape Cuts Tape, the The Mechanics (with Pawlowski) and the “all star” improvising iH8 Camera.

With a wealth of experience and enough of an eclectic swag of influences behind him, from post-punk to avant-garde jazz, ready to surface at anytime, his twelve-strong contribution of meditative and considered explorations reflects an omnivorous craving. And so one minute you’ll hear a hint of Spiritualized or DAF, the next minute, John Cale, yet the underlying sound remains signature Trouvé.

 

A decade in, weary and beleaguered with the current Brexit woes (just wait until it’s actually been triggered and unraveled), Andrew Bennett’s showcase label for music from the nation that unfortunately symbolizes both the best and worst excesses of the EU, has a challenging future ahead of it. There’s no signs however of fatigue nor a dip in quality or originality; Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward still producing the goods no matter what the augurs foretell.




James  McArthur  and  the  Head  Gardeners   ‘Burnt  Moth’
Released  via  Moorland  Records,  20th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - James McArthur

Conjuring up an idyllic image of sipping Cider with Rosie on the back of Constable’s Hay Wain, Welsh-born troubadour James McArthur and his Head Gardeners troupe return with another lilting album of bucolic folk and country songs on Burnt Moth.

Following up on the Strange Readings From The Weather Station debut, which announced McArthur’s move from backing Paul Weller on drums to fronting his very own songbook, this second peaceable collection continues to wander a perpetual end of summer into early autumn seasonal landscape. Picking away and plucking attentively in the style of Bert Jansch or Mike Cooper, the serenade-style poetic musicianship on display is effortlessly timeless, yet the often meandering lyrics chime with the contemporary themes of an ever-changing society moving unabated towards a digital, even virtual, immersion: encroaching on the tranquility and earnest pastoral ideals of a slower-paced more personal interactive world, which to all intents and purposes is proving a sanctuary from the fully-connected hum of the internet.

 

Mostly acoustic, McArthur is also accompanied throughout by an accentuated backing of burnished and dampened drums, slowly released from its quivered tension strings (all co-written and arranged with Jim Willis, who also plays mandolin on the album), rustic pining pedal steel guitar and on the classically leaning yearned To Do the lulling coos of guest vocalist Samantha Whates. Not only assisting McArthur in the making of this album but also chipping in with backing vocals and bass on the roulette wheel of lovelorn fortune, Evens On Green, is Joel Magill of the psychedelic Canterbury band Syd Arthur.

 

Burnt Moth is a charming sun-dappled tapestry of McCartney-esque, and on the title track finale, Harry Nilsson (fronting a dreamy Morricone romance) idiosyncratic storytelling and musings. McArthur is in no hurry to reveal and unfurl the album’s many nuances and beauty; toiling away gently to create a most enjoyable and thoughtful songbook.




Mikko  Joensuu   ‘Amen  2’
Released  by  Svart  Records,  end  of  2016.


Monolith Cocktail - Mikko Joensuu

 

The middle of an ambitious all-expansive soul-searching trilogy, the second Amen chapter finds a vulnerable Mikko Joensuu rising from the porch of his cabin retreat to step forth into the radiant majesty of the Finnish landscape. Finding an obvious awe-inspiring beauty in the stunning vistas yet equally overwhelmed, Joensuu attempts to cope with his troubled past. An epiphany if you like, the Finnish troubadour “lost his religion” a while back and has since been attempting to draw back from a mental abyss. Imbued with the candid soul and gospel of Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized and the melodious drone of My Bloody Valentine, Joensuu’s second album in this triumvirate cycle balances the ethereal with a tumultuous chorus of peaks and lows; the opening Drop Me Down opus for example gently builds from the diaphanous to a nosier cacophony of horns. Even when the fuzz, distortion and tribal backbeat dynamics are let loose the dappled light pours in.

An alternative questioning and sincere hymn supported by the North Finnish veranda, Amen 2 is a grandiose stunning visceral work of art.




Hanitra   ‘Lasa’
Released  by  ARC  Music,  6th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Hanitra ‘Lasa’

 

An unofficial cultural ambassador for her homeland of Madagascar, the sagacious and much-celebrated talented songstress Hanitra sheds light on both the personal and environmental plights of the unique Indian Ocean Island and the universal suffrage of women in the wider world on her latest album Lasa.

For many, Madagascar continues to be an enigma: Famous unfortunately as the title of a DreamWorks animation franchise, but apart from its reputation as a colourful menagerie for all kinds of exotic wildlife and fauna, it remains a mystery to many. Musically speaking it has attracted a host of composers and musicians, including the recently revived French ethno jazz maestro Jef Gilson with his Et Malagasy masterpiece.

 

Almost as an anthropological experiment and survey Madagascar’s isolation and history has fascinated many. Lying off the southeastern coast of Africa, it’s strategic position has made it a popular port-of-call for traders and explorers, though many literally bumped into it unaware it existed. Despite a litany of famed travellers, from the Arabs to Marco Polo, recording its discovery over the centuries, it would be France that colonized it. However, whether warranted or not, conquerors and traders alike left traces, resulting in a cross-pollination of influences including music. On Lasa you can hear this legacy well with elements of jazz, the Balearics, Arabia and even the reverberations of an old Afghanistan – resonating from the evocative sound of that country’s lute-like rubab instrument; used to plaintive dreamy effect throughout on this album – entwined with a distinct foundation of Madagascar folk and gentle African rhythms. But it’s the award-winning siren’s vocals, flexing with élan, which encompass this imbued richness. Inherently timeless, fluidly moving between cooing, almost lullaby, and effortless soaring tension, Hanitra’s voice subtly matches the themes of her album without showboating. The double-meaning title song for instance, translated from the Malagasy dialect as to “go past”, is an elegy of a sort to the French-Canadian singer Lhasa de Sela, who passed away in 2010 from breast cancer. Yet this touching tribute to a singer is far from sentimental; its Middle Eastern permutations and tenderness sweet and reflective rather than downcast and lamentable.

 

Soothingly in an array of colourful hues and tones, Hanitra addresses the themes of maltreatment, meted out both physically and psychologically towards women, on Eka and Avia, deforestation, in particular the devastating environmental costs of cutting down and selling Madagascar’s rosewood, on Mivalo, and another of those tributes, this time to the Vezo fishermens wives on the Island’s southeastern coastlines, eking out a hard living, on the oceanic motion Ampela. There’s celebration, paeans even, with the relaxed, lilting defense of same-sex marriage on Myriam and an invitation to dance in joyful abandon on Lalao. Whatever the emotion, Hanitra articulates her concerns and protestations with a soulful sincerity.

 

Lasa’s extended title is “from the heart of Madagascar”, and this is very true, yet the Island’s melting pot of musical influences and Hanitra’s own global travels mean this album is in fact universal.



Piano  Magic   ‘Closure’
Released  by  Second  Language  Music,  20th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Piano Magic

Calling time on a twenty-year career with one last swansong, the Anglo-French Baroque indie dreamers Piano Magic echo the sentiments and themes of their 2000 song No Closure on their final majestic and profound album, Closure.

The self-proclaimed purveyors of “ghost rock”, formed at the height of the Britpop, have traversed and mapped out a moody romantic pathway for themselves over the years. Originally starting out as a lo-fi electronica trio in 1996, soon finding favour with John Peel, Piano Magic gradually grew into a full-on tour de force alternative rock band as the millennium drew near; recording amongst their notable cannon both a soundtrack for the Spanish director Bigas Luna’s Son De Mar and the Writers Without Homes album, which famously featured the folk legend Vashti Bunyan – who emerged from a 30-year musical silence to dust off the quelled vocal chords for the band. Still far off his critical-applauded born again renaissance as a “torch singer”, that same album also featured the dour talents of John Grant; just one of many collaborations over the years, the band also working at one time or another with Alan Sparhawk of Low, Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance, Cornershop and Tarwater. Closure is no different in featuring a suitably congruous number of guest spots, with Peter Milton Walsh, singer of the fellow chamber pop, Australian band, The Apartments channeling Mick Harvey, and Oliver Cheer (aka Dollboy) providing a south of the Rio Grande style swooning brass accompaniment on the Choir Boys-travail-a-literary-rich-Outback Attention To Life. Offering harmonic and atmospheric support on backing vocals, Josh Hight of Irons can be heard wafting about on the album’s opening grandiose and subtle opus title track and the stripped-down electro pop, in a quasi New Order style, Exile.

 

Drawn to a despondent melancholy, a most diaphanous one at that, the sagacious founder member and songwriter Glen Johnson is aided in this enterprise by Franck Alba (guitars), Jerome Tcherneyan (drums, percussion), Alasdair Steer (bass) and the band’s original drummer from their debut gig at the infamous Wag Club, Paul Tornbohm, now providing keyboards. Wounded and troubled as ever by the lingering traces and ghosts of past relationships and liaisons, Johnson’s resigned poetics attempt to meet head-on those feelings he just can’t seem to lay to rest: as Johnson calls it, the “mythical formal conclusion”, the need to “move on” from broken relationships is not so easy. And so he croons, “Let’s get this thing sewn up” on the Morricone meets Ry Cooder cinematic title track, knowing full well that “…you never get closure.” The supernatural echoes of a lost love, channeled through a dusty answering machine message séance, on Landline leave the singer’s voice paled and weakened; lamenting loss form the far side of the ether. Marooned as a passive onlooker to the goings-on in the backstreets of his southeast London neighbourhood, a voyeuristic, removed Johnson (in Talk Talk mode) vanishes almost completely before our very ears. The song’s sad lyrics it must be said are a most beautiful kind of misery.

 

Magnificent in their despair, the musicianship poised, purposeful and subtly stirring, Piano Magic’s last ever fling is one of the band’s most accomplished, and definitely one to savour. As near perfect as any Piano Magic suite can be, Closure proves that you can perhaps after all find a satisfactory ending.




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