REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona
Photo: (of BaBa ZuLa) 
Emir Sıvacı






Freely traversing borders once more, Dominic Valvona’s regular roundup of discoveries and interesting finds this month circumnavigates Japan, Israel, Turkey, Poland before returning to the more chilled pastoral Estuary greenery of the Sussex and Essex landscapes. There’s a double-helping of upcoming releases from Glitterbeat Records stable with the return of the Turkish dub cosmology legends Baba ZuLa – their first studio LP in five years, Derin Derin – and a new album of post-punk limbering from the Gdansk band, Trupa Trupa. In a similar vane to the ZuLa, Israeli troupe Taichmania also fuse a cosmology of sounds, and use both the an electrified dynamism of the “oud” and “saz” to fuzz and amp up a merger of Middle Eastern traditions with jazz and prog. Their debut LP, Seventh Heaven is given the once-over. The trio of radio show host ethnomusicologist Matthew Nelson, Hopi musician Clark Tenakhongva and world-renowned flutist Gary Stroutsos come together on sacred ground to invoke a magical homage to the music of the Hopi people on the beautifully evocative LP Öngtupqa. Inspired by more Eastern mysticism the Seattle coupling of Society Of The Silver Cross release their debut long-suite, 1 Verse, and an amazing freefall-in-motion jazz exploration from Philip Gropper’s Philm, entitled Consequences.

There’s horror of a diaphanous apparitional kind with the latest solo album of invocations and ether siren sighed sonnets from Jodie Lowther, and the first album in five years from Junkboy, the marvelous scenic Trains, Trees, Topophilia, and, finally, the inaugural release from Ippu Mitsui’s brand new electronic music label, Pure Spark Records, the House Of Tapes two-track Embers Dreams.


BaBa ZuLa ‘Derin Derin’
(Glitterbeat Records) 27th September 2019



Stalwarts of Turkish cosmology dub, the Istanbul Ege Bamyasi acolytes BaBa ZuLa return to the fray with their first studio LP in five years. And what a time to make that return, as Turkey, or rather its increasingly apoplectic quasi-Sultan-in-waiting Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, continues a policy of conformism that endangers any form of oppositional descent, and threatens artists and critics alike with severe censorship. The once famous secular moderate bridge between Europe and Asia is growing hostile to the West as the administration errs towards a hardline form of Islam, and moves closer towards Putin’s Russia.

Maintaining a constant rebellious streak throughout their twenty-three year career, whatever the ruling regime, the recent turmoil propels the ZuLa to reconvene; raising their heads above the barricades in a creative act of defiance: Music for dangerous times.

Still led, in part, by the switched-on electric ‘saz’ maestro Osman Murat Ertel, the group weaves together another expansive soundtrack of vivid souk dub and sashaying rambunctious post-punk on Derin Derin. Inspired by a number of things, not just the current political climate, the album is imbued by BaBa ZuLa’s long-running collaborations with the late Jaki Liebezeit: who was himself in turn influenced by a myriad of Anatolian rhythms – which you can hear permeating throughout both the Can legacy and his own many collaborative projects over the decades. The Can metronome and drumming doyen sat in with the group on a number of occasions, and the resonance, at least, of those sessions can in part be felt on this newest album. Especially on the Krautrock pulse of the solo fuzzed saz-snarling ‘Kizil Gözlüm’, which runs through a gamut of Germanic sounds, from Can to Blixa Bargeld and 80s Berlin post-punk. There’s even an air of Michael Karoli’s signature cosmic flares and reverberating wanes, as played on an amped-up oud (or saz), on the Sublime Porte reimagined vision of King Tubby, ‘Port Pass’. In retrospect, the band considers Jaki as an unassuming mentor.

Another thread to this album is the group’s ancestral connection, with musical ties that stretch back generations: Ertel paying a special homage to his artistic forbearers, enthused by traditions but also the country’s psychedelic furors in the 60s and 70s. From the 150 year-old photographic plate process used to produce the album cover, to the inclusion of a song penned by Ertel, his wife and young son, ‘U Are The Swing’, there’s a deep sense of family and inheritance; BaBa ZuLa as custodians of the faith.

A third strand, the instrumental portions of this Oriental cosmic album grew out of a soundtrack commission; the group asked to record music for a documentary about falcons, created a suitably exotic echo of serene flight and soaring majesty, as they accentuated the bird-of-prey plunging and floating over evocative commendable heights. These do act as mini-branches, vignettes and interludes between the longer songs.

The rest of the album oscillates and saunters between camel ride momentum Arabian Desert blues (thanks in part to the inclusion of an electrified oud), futurist Bosphorus reggae (via On-U-Sound and the Warp label) and even alternative rock. In the process they find an echo-y balance between the haunting and abrasive, and the elasticated and intense. A mystical union of the entrancing, sweeping and often chaotic, BaBa ZuLa ‘s hybrid of Turkish and Middle Eastern exotica straddles time and geography to once more create a fearless rump of defiance, yet also inspiring some hope.








Trupa Trupa ‘Of The Sun’
(Glitterbeat Records) 13th September 2019



The second Glitterbeat release to feature in my roundup up this month, the counterbalanced Polish band Trupa Trupa couldn’t be further apart, sound wise, from the more languid looseness dub of their label mates Baba ZuLa.

Freshly signing over to the German-based label, the multi-limbed quartet play off gnarling propulsive post-punk menace and tumult with echo-y falsetto despondent vocals and hymnal rock on their fifth album, Of The Sun. Feeding into the history of their regularly fought-over home city, Gdansk, Trupa Trupa create a monster of an album steeped in psychodrama, dream revelation and hypnotic industrialism.

In a perpetual tug-of-war for dominion with its Prussian, then German neighbors Gdansk strategic and commercial position as Poland’s most important post has seen the famous city become a sort of geopolitical bargaining chip over the centuries because of its gateway to the Baltic. After one such episode in a “convoluted” legacy, the city and much of its surrounding atelier of villages were turned into the Free City state of Danzig after WWI; a part compromise result of the Versailles Treaty in 1919. Famous son-of-Gdansk, philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer is credited as a major influence on the group and this album, and though not strictly born within the city limits, the infamous madman of cinema, Klaus Kinski – in one of his most wild-eyed legendary roles as the obsessive loon opera impresario, Brian Sweeney “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald – is also mentioned in the PR spill: the “great effort of pathetic failure” and “strain sublimating into nothing” of that barely veiled characterization proving fruitful suffrage and inner turmoil for the group.

A sinewy, pendulous embodiment of that environment and metaphysical philosophy, Trupa Trupa write “songs about extremes”, but use an often ambiguous lyrical message when doing it: usually a repeated like poetic mantra rather than charged protest. On one of those framed “extremes”, the wrangling guitar-heavy post-punk-meets-80s-Aussie-new-wave ‘Remainder’ sounds like Swans covering The Church, as the group repeat the refrain, “Well, it did not take place.”

Though taut, industrial with ominous machinations, there’s a surprising melodious quality to the turmoil and free fall of Trupa Trupa’s proto-Gothic rumblings. In amongst the slogging, chain dragging of the Killing Joke, PiL, Bauhaus and Gang Of Four are echoes of a wandering angelic House Of Love, Echo And The Bunnymen, early Stone Roses, Pavement and flange-fanned Siouxsie And The Banshees. Strangely, however, the dreamy haunted title-track evokes Thom Yorke in a dystopian Bertolt Brecht theatre, and the stripped-to-bare-bones acoustic ‘Angle’ even sounds like a odd, if charming, folksy harmonics pinged missive from Can’s Unlimited archives: Incidentally, Can’s walrus mustache maverick, Holger Czukay, was born in Gdansk, or rather Danzig as it was known at the time.

The PR spill that accompanies this nihilistic-with-a-heart LP is right to state, “Of The Sun is an unbroken string of hits.” There are no fillers, no let-up in the quality and restless friction, each track could exist as a separate showcase for the group’s dynamism: a single. East European, Baltic facing, lean post-punk mixes it up in the Gdansk backstreets and harbor with spasmodic-jazz, baggy, math-rock, psych, doom and choir practice as this coiled quartet deliver an angst-ridden damnation of humanity in 2019.








Taichmania ‘Seventh Heaven’
21st June 2019



The second group in this roundup to fuse the “saz” and “oud” within a cross-border traverse of Arabia and Turkey, Israeli troupe Taichmania take a similar line to BaBa ZuLa in freely merging musical cultures.

Well-traveled founding member, and the man whose name appears so prominently in the band moniker, Yaniv Taichman has a rich and varied pedigree having studied jazz at the Rimon College Of Music, Turkish music with Professor Mutlu Torun in Istanbul, and Indian music with Pt. Shivanath Mishra in Varanasi. His band mates, Sharon Petrover on drums, Yoni Meltzer on keys and electronics, and Lois Ozeri on bass, are no less musically worldly in that respect.

Stalwarts on the Israel scene in various forms, together under the Taichmania umbrella the quartet limber across a panoramic landscape of Sufi funk, souk-rock, prog and jazz on their debut suite, Seventh Heaven. A veritable elasticated fantasy of both intense hypnotic rhythms and desert peregrinations, this heavenly bound odyssey entwines the traditional sounds and scents of the Arabian Orient with zappy cosmic electronic undulations of synth atmospherics.

Broadcast samples from Middle East radio linger through a kind of spicy exotic brooding mix of Natasha Atlas and the Transglobal Underground on the opening ‘Arabesk’, whilst other such exotic intensity as the contorting spiraling title-track, and post-punk bendy ‘Saba’ are whole journeys, sagas, in their own right; moving between progressive-jazz fusion and futuristic Arabian vapours.

Taking classic leanings to the heavens and beyond, Taichmania knottily skip, scuffle, spindle, echo, quiver and solo through their magical influences to produce a live-feel Oriental soundtrack: heavy on the Prog!





Junkboy ‘Trains, Trees, Topophilia’
(Fretsore Records) 2nd August 2019



Regular readers will (hopefully) be aware that we premiered the Hanscomb brothers’ vibrato-mirage-y ‘Waiting Room’ single last month. This Baroque-pop fashioned nugget, bathed in a halcyon shimmer, proved an idyllic introduction to a pastoral album of geographical traversing instrumentals.

As its album title suggests, public transport(ive) and a strong sense of place have inspired the brothers first album since the much acclaimed 2014 album, Sovereign Sky: Both relocating years ago from Southend-On-Sea to the south coast ideals of Brighton, Junkboy siblings Mik and Rich compose a twelve-track suite to the back-and-forth journeys they made between the two counties of Essex and East Sussex. The “Topophilia” of that title, a term wrongly as it transpires attributed to John Betjeman, can be roughly translated as a love for certain aspects of a place that often gets mixed with a sense of cultural identity.

Passing through a myriad of versions of this landscape, influences include the troubled World War artists of England who depicted the torn-up apocalyptic aftermaths of Europe and the results of bomb raids across the English topography (becoming the doyens of the English modernist movement in the process), to the passing glimpses of the versant downs, beaches and “splendor towns” from a train window, and (friend and Junkboy photographer) Christopher Harrup’s Thames Estuary photo album. The first of these inspirations offers both a colour palette and a semi-abstract empirical vision of that countryside; messrs Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and John Piper, a triumvirate of influential painters, providing a suitable rich canvas: Just one of the guests on this charming LP (and no stranger to this blog) Oliver Cherer even helps pen a Nash homage, ‘A Chance Encounter’ plays with the light musically on a magical pop melody of slow jazzy brass, relaxed drums and flute-y forlorn.

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

Trains, Trees, Topophilia is a peaceable musical landscape littered with the ghostly reverb of railways station interchanges, mew-dewed laced green hillsides, tidal ebbs and flows and Cluniac Abbeys – the millennia-old, Benedictine scion religious brethren, brought over in droves after William The Conqueror’s invasion of England, make a historical connection between both the album’s Essex and East Sussex locations; the orders’ priory in the Prittlewell of the same song title, originally set up by Cluniac monks from Lewes, just outside Brighton.

Pastoral musical care for the soul, Junkboy’s instrumental album is a beautifully conveyed canvas of the imagined and idyllic; a subtle ode to the Southeast cartography and painters, poets, writers that captured it so perfectly. This is an album that will grow on you over time, revealing its sophistication and nuanced layers slowly but surely: a lovely hour to wile away your time.






Jodie Lowther ‘The Cat Collects’
26th July 2019



One apparitional half of the surrealist Quimper duo, vaporous siren Jodie Lowther has been known to, on occasion, float solo. Her latest haunted diaphanous malady, The Cat Collects, is (as ever) a magical suite of dream realism and supernatural theater.

Between the characters of ethereal seraph and alluring cat lover, Jodie warbles, coos and entrances with a voice so fragile and gauze-y as to be almost an evanescent whisper: Jodie transmitting her vocals from the spirit side of the ether like a aria woozy Mina Crandon.

Drifting in a seeping cantabile sigh throughout this witchery spell of spooky misty songs and graveyard crypt sonnets is a subtle backing of feint melodies and stripped electronica – think Ultravox marooned on the Forbidden Planet or, an early Mute Records vision of 70s British horror soundtracks (Amicus, Hammer, British Lion). From invocations of Vampire lovers to black magic nuptials, The Cat Collects stirs up the right balance of scares and esoteric enchantment on an album of mysterious, creeping beauty and hazy Gothic soundtracks.





Society Of The Silver Cross ‘1 Verse’
28th June 2019



Over the last few months, and featured in previous editions of my roundups, the Seattle coupling of Joe Reinke and Karyn Gold-Reinke, under the auspicious appellation of the Society Of The Silver Cross, have presented us with a trio of evocative-enough Eastern death cult imbued video-singles. Making good on those mystical visions, the duo have released an album that both continues the Velvet Underground say “Om” Indian Gothic drone psychedelia of those tracks but also widens the musical palette to take in shoegaze, new wave and 90s alt-rock.

Still inspired by their spiritual travels to India, and adopting the invocation drone of the “shahi baaja” (Indian autoharp) and induced bowing of the “dilruba”, the Silver Cross explore the “transformative and renewing powers of death” as they flick through a bewitching songbook of Orientalism, Byzantium incense-scented opulence and bellowing sea shanty Edgar Poe scribed Gothic coastlines.

Leaving aside that run of singles (‘When You’re Gone’, ‘Kali Om’ and ‘The Mighty Factory Of Death’) the book of spells adorned 1 Verse piles on the melodrama of opiate arcane rites and woozy harmonium pumped esoteric atmospherics; opening with the repeated echo-y chanting ritual ‘Diamond Eyes’. In a similar mystical vain, distant tolled bells and the reverberations of a choral Popol Vuh creep into the holy processional lamented ‘Funeral Of Sorrows’. Yet, amongst the death marches and promises of spiritual release, rejuvenation and the inevitable there’s more radiant escapism in the form of spindled Baroque-psych (‘Dissolve And Merge’), alt-pop (‘Because’ imagines The Cars and Why? in holy communion) and even a bastardized Travelling Wilburys (‘Can’t Bury Me Again’).

Kneeling at the altar of a many-faced god/goddess the Silver Cross play freely with all those many influences; indulging in the Eastern arts but expanding horizons and even absorbing past Seattle imbued projects.

If you’ve only thus far heard the singles then much of the second half of this album will be a surprise. Dreamy mantra and morbid curiosity coalesce to produce a mesmerizing, hypnotic ritual; opening the door to further experimentation and proving a worthy new incarnation for Joe and Karyn to channel.





Tenakhongva, Stroutsos And Nelson ‘Öngtupqa: Sacred Music Of The Hopi Tribe’
(ARC Music) 26th July 2019



Breathing (literally) life back into the ancestral evocative paeans and spiritual communions of the Hopi people, the trio of radio show host ethnomusicologist Matthew Nelson, Hopi musician Clark Tenakhongva and world-renowned flutist Gary Stroutsos come together on sacred ground to invoke a magical homage.

First a little background. The Hopi, unlike many of their fellow communities of Native Indian tribes in the Americas, lived in more permanent villages, across swathes of South East Utah, North East Arizona, North West Mexico and South West Colorado. These dwellings, some very complex in their construction, gave birth to the Colonist appellation, the Pueblo People, but also because they were considered a more civilized, polite community; their concept of life based on a reverence for all things.

At the heart of this stirring earthy but often-transcendent project is the atavistic instrument that set it all in motion: the 1500-year-old Hopi long clay flute. Unearthed in the last century by the archeologist Earl Halstead Morris, who was leading a Carnegie Institute Expedition to the Prayer Rock district in North East Arizona in the 1930s, these hollow, reedless flutes were part of a thousand artifact haul of discoveries. Relatively remaining a mystery for decades to come, it wasn’t until further research in the 1960s that these flutes from the now renamed “Broken Flute Cave” could be confidently dated to around 620- 670 AD. What remains remarkable is that this sacred instrument was thought lost by the Hopi descendants themselves; disappearing hundred of years ago, until flute specialist Stroutsos with project instigator Nelson played a replica version in front of Hopi custodian Tenakhongva, who promptly invited him to play it in front of his entire family and then, at a later date, at a venerated spot near where the original clay flutes were found.

Part of the wider Canyon Music Festival in 2017, at the Mary Colter built Desert View Watchtower, the trio’s performance, with Nelson keeping rhythm on clay pot drums (keeping it all historically accurate, stretched-skin drums being out of time and step with the 7th century flutes), Strouthos improvising on flute and Tenakhongva singing whilst handling the percussive rasps, rattles and gourd, was filmed and recorded. An “approximation” of how the Hopi’s holy music would have sounded almost 1500 years ago, the Öngtupqa (the name given by the Hopi people to the canyon in which our trio played) nine-track suite remains untouched, unmodified or edited two years on.

Setting the atmosphere of both earthy soul connectedness and flighty astral mystery, the obviously talented and well-honed players perfectly capture the dream-like ritual and awe-inspiring panorama that surrounds them. If you were expecting the synonymous rain dance and powwow holler chants of much Native Indian music, think on. Öngtupqa is more entrancing, ambient in places, with the vocals, or chanting, graceful and often melodious but deep. Lifting out of the canyon to dizzying cloud-ruminating heights, you’ll still constantly reminded of the vast American outdoors and desert landscape: A rattlesnake shakes his distracting tail here, a panpipe flight of a condor or thunderbird over there on the mountainside.

An intimate tribute to the Hopi cycle of life (as Tenakhongva explains it, “…we were born within the Grand Canyon and when we are done, we return back to this place to rejuvenate life of a new beginning…”), the stories and music of that scared site are offered and opened-up to a global audience; a message of the communal, of preservation, being at the very heart of this vivid undertaking. The ancestors will be proud, as the two millennia old blessings and spiritualism of the Hopi is brought back to life.





House Of Tapes ‘Embers Dreams’
(Pure Spark Records) 7th August 2019



The Japanese electronic music wiz kid Ippu Mitsui has graced these roundups on a number of occasions over the years, and featured on numerous Monolith Cocktail playlists. Releasing a varied kaleidoscope of futuristic Tokyo electro-glides-in-blue and kinetic techno on a spread of labels, Mitsui originally came to my attention through his releases for the Edinburgh-based Bearsuit Records. Still recording ad hoc, Mitsui has now just launched his very own imprint, Pure Spark Records. Another one of Bearsuit’s extensive roster of mavericks, the inaugural release on that venture is from the experimental composer Yuuya Kuno, who under a variety of alter egos has prolifically knocked out a mix of the weird and sublime electronica.

Back recording under the House Of Tapes moniker in this instance (known as Swamp Sounds when passing sonic oddities through Bearsuit), Kuno’s two-track showcase, Embers Dreams, is a lucid, air-y and sophisticated affair. The “Embers” of that title is an inviting exotic amble through a moist-vegetated oasis of itchy, scratchy, woody and echo-y deep electro percussion, whilst the accompanying ‘Melted Ice’ offers a glass-y trance-y, robotics-in-motion slice of downtempo chiming soundtrack. A great subtle and deep piece of electronic manna and flow with which to launch Mitsui’s brand new label, House Of Tapes kickstarter is a serious piece of classy techno: an augur, a good omen I hope of what’s to come.





Philipp Gropper’s Philm ‘Consequences’
(Why Play Jazz)



A balletic jazz freefall in motion, the latest tumultuous suite from the acclaimed “David Bowie of jazz”, tenor saxophonist/composer/bandleader Philipp Gropper (and his Philm troupe), is a highly experimental reification of contortions and sporadic, spasmodic chaos: albeit a controlled, kept-in-check, vision of an avant-garde one.

The multifaceted title of this orderly breakdown in heightened tensions and liberating angst can be read in many ways: The “consequences”, for example, of our political divisive times can be heard and read loudly crashing throughout this six track album of disjointed intensity; the fallout from all sides of the societal divide causing enough anxiety, suffering and despondency to fuel Gropper for the next decade or more. In fact the whole course of “neo-liberalism” itself is on trail (or at least its knock-on effects of intervention), however abstract that might be.

Space expletory wondrous track titles aside, the filthy lucre spiral of dependency and spluttering wild ’32 Cents’, and funneling discordant interchange ‘Thinking From The Future (Are You Privilaged?)’ are both the most obvious proponents of that socially “woke” commentary – though whose privilege needs to be checked exactly in this exchange is open to debate.

The concerns of “interpersonal” and “interrelationships” within this charged political landscape are also a major focus for the Berlin-based jazz man; adding to a uncertain free flow of both centrifugal spinning discourse and more haunted, sometimes diaphanous, twinkling.

Escaping the atmosphere, orbiting the cosmology of deep space, Gropper’s most serene dance of glistened, starry majesty and mystery is the astral soundtrack to ‘Saturn’. Both the enormity and expansive uncertainty of this planetary titan is expressed evocatively enough by Gropper’s otherworldly Theremin aria like reedy breaths on the tenor sax, as his companions bounce and skip around the planet’s rings. Saturn holds a strong fascination for all of us, but it can’t have escaped Gropper’s notice that jazz music’s most celestial star, and progenitor of Afrofuturism, Sun Ra, claimed to have ascended to Earth from his Saturn home.

The musicianship is, as you expect, first rate, with Gropper’s sax totally untethered, squawking, fluting, brilling and even trembling, whilst his band of Elias Stemeseder (on piano and synth), Robert Landfermann (on double-bass) and Oliver Steidle (on drums) react decisively with limbering, elasticated reflexes. Together hey create an iridescent breakdown and reconstruction of digital calculus, science-fiction and the cerebral; merging contemporary European jazz with elements of Coltrane, Coleman, Billy Cobham, Stockhausen, The Soft Machine and the electronic and hip-hop genres. Futurism and avant-garde classicism collide in an oscillating and tumbling fusion of complex ideas: Consequences is a musical language on the verge of collapse. How it all stays together is anyone’s guess. This is a most impressive adventure in jazz.





ALBUM  REVIEW
WORDS:  DOMINIC  VALVONA


Dirtmusic   ‘Bu Bir Ruya’
Glitterbeat Records,  26th January 2018

Ushering in the New Year with a lament to the ongoing refugee crisis, the ambiguous blues nomads Dirtmusic grapple in the most traversing of ways with soundtracking and encapsulating the Levant diaspora on their new, and fifth, album Bu Bir Ruya.

The unofficial house band and catalyst for the much-acclaimed (especially by me) award-winning Glitterbeat Records label, the band have taken the blues genre on a polygenesis odyssey over the last decade – from the dusty porches of the American south to Timbuktu. Expanding and inter-changing their core of experimental guitarists Chris Eckman and Hugo Race, picking up desert blues and urbane Mali (a country that Eckman and Race have a special affinity with) legends such as the great Samba Touré and Ben Zabo on route, each and every one of their albums has been inspired by the band’s travails.

 

Setting up camp in the turbulent atmosphere of Istanbul, recruiting label mate and helmsman of the Bosphorus-spanning metropolis legendary psychedelic dub outfit Baba Zula, Murat Ertel, Eckman and Race add a ‘saz’ heavy modern and atavistic Turkish dynamic to their vaporous, drifting and plaintive blues resonance. Recording at Ertel’s converted mechanic’s garage studio in the city, during a period of extreme anxiety as Erdoğan’s Turkey – leaders at the top of Amnesty International’s table for most imprisoned journalists; a country worryingly drifting from Europe and NATO towards Russia – slowly turns into a quasi Ottoman caliphate, Bu Bir Ruya captures the distress and political realities of not only Turkey but Syria and North Africa: the desperate flight of millions of refugees, looking for sanctuary in Europe, escaping from a civil war apocalypse.

Obviously encouraging sympathy and putting forward a compassionate sonic plea for a borderless welcoming continent, Dirtmusic’s sentiments will go largely unnoticed where it counts, as even Germany, now plunged into its own governmental crisis as the previous ‘safe hands’ Merkel struggles to form a working coalition after the recent elections in Germany, her majority arguably weakened and hindered by the resettlement policy of a million Syrian refugees, takes time to mule over that decision – with hardline right wing leaning parties calling for some refugees to be returned and the welcoming committee to be disbanded in favour of tighter restrictions. EU neighbours and outlier states, from the Balkans to Norway, have thrown up both theoretical and physical walls of obstruction; the future looking bleak for access to European soil from the North African and Middle East.

In no way at an end or at least not a solution most of us in the West feel happy with, the Syrian war is reaching a conclusion, and ISIS look to be defeated – well, the idea of a caliphate has been destroyed for now at least; fighters for the course have slipped away in their hundreds to take up the fight in the Sinai and Nigeria, or in Europe, with many starting to return back home, still indoctrinated, still dangerous. Libya continues to be an unstable tumult, the coastal launch for millions of refugees and migrants hoping to reach the outer islands and asylum of Italy, yet recent reports would suggest that this ebb and flow is being hampered, with far less managing to travel across. In five years time we may even see a return as reconstruction takes hold – if Assad stays or not is anyone’s guess, the Russians already announcing that they will be pulling out soon (though they have eyed up a foothold in the country, a strategic port, and so it remains to be seen if they ever completely pull their forces from Syria) and contracts have already been divvied up between those who supported and held up the wretched regime.

Still, millions have fled, many stuck in a limbo. And it’s this ‘limbo’ that Dirtmusic hypnotically and ominously guides the listener through.

That journey begins with the Levant blues and exotic cinemascope Bi De Sen Söyle, which drifts with a certain fluidness through Baba Zula style souk candour rhythms, clattering danceable percussion (nod to Ümit Adakale for that), Ry Cooder transient blues meditations and distant Arabic wailing (courtesy of Brenna Mac Crimmon). A Leonard Cohen if he was harmonizing with Blixa Bargeld and Tom Waits style narration, both whispery deep and serious, lingers over the entire proceedings to bring both desperate and almost cynical, resigned atmosphere to the refugee plight and absence of humanity.

The monotony of facing-off against the physical borders and the ‘unwelcoming’ committees of closed minds is reflected in the psychedelic buzz saw saz trance-y The Border Crossing, the main appeal of which is to help a brother/sister in need. A club bass underpins the amorphous guitar riffs and searching plaint Go The Distance, and guest Istanbul psychedelic siren (and another fellow Glitterbeat artist) Gaye Su Akyol adds a serious swoon and ululates to the multi-veiled dreamy Byzantine Love Is A Foreign Country.

Accentuating a myriad of dispossessed voices and anguishes, Dirtmusic’s churning tumult and gauze-y multilayered grinding and transient blues doesn’t offer solutions but empathy and compassion. Though vocals, whether cooed or somewhat huskily resigned to fate, even pissed off, leave us in nod doubt as to the band’s feelings – though the original intention was to produce an entirely instrumental soundtrack.

With Ertel’s Istanbul psychedelic dub elements adding an exotic Middle Eastern, Ottoman flavor to the Malian heavy blues signature of Eckman and Race, a border-hopping hybrid of wafting congruous musical soundscaping is combined in a force of solidarity. Despite the plight and toxic whiff of authoritarianism in the air, Dirtmusic’s Turkish adventure lingers, suffuses and even grooves over the symbolic contours of a miasma. Not quite their best effort yet, but certainly in the top three, and a serious musical visionary start to the year.


Choice Playlist Revue
Words: Dominic Valvona
Selection: DV, Ayfer Simms and Matt Oliver




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

As usual an ever-eclectic amorphous affair, with the most avant-garde pieces of music sitting in harmony with the most edgy hip-hop, Malian sand dunes blues alongside Belgium alternative rock’n’roll and psychedelic noodling, the first quarterly playlist of the year features The XX, Sentidor, Mauro Pawlowski, Baba Zula, Tamikrest, Emptyset, Your Old Droog, Likwuid, King Ayisoba and many more. A full tracklist is below, with links to relevant posts.


Tracklist:

The XX  ‘On Hold’
Austra  ‘We Were Alive’
Sentidor  “Pedreira (Quarry)’  Feature
Porter Ray (ft. Asian T, Rife)  ‘Waves’  Feature
Mauro Pawlowski  ‘In Starlight (We Must Be Alive)’  Review
Baba Zula (Dr.Das Mix)  ‘Iki Alem (Dub Version)’  Review
Baluji Shrivastav  ‘Dance Of Erzulie’   Review
Bargou 08  ‘Mamchout’  Review
Terakaft  ‘Djer Aman (Afriquoi Remix)’   Review
Dearly Beloved  ‘Who Wants To Know’  Review
Taos Humm  ‘RC’  Review
Dr.Chan  ‘Yannnnk$$$ (Life I$ Not Fun)’  Review
Rudy Trouve  ‘Torch’  Review
Irk Yste  ‘Wumpe’  Review
Mauro Pawlowski  ‘Men In Sheds Pt.1’  Review
Emptyset  ‘Border’ Review
Nick Blackos  ‘No Answer’ Review
Your Old Droog (ft. Edan, Wiki)  ‘Help’  Feature
Paul White and Danny Brown  ‘Lion’s Den’  Feature
Blue Orchids  ‘The Devil’s Answer’  Review
Alasdair Roberts (ft. Gordon Ferries)  ‘Caleno Custure Me’  Review
James McArthur & The Head Gardeners  ’14 Seconds’  Review
Piano Magic  ‘Attention To Life’  Review
Sankofa  ‘Into The Wild’  Feature
Delicate Steve  ‘Nightlife’  Review
Retoryka  ‘Right Up Your Street Pt.1’  Review
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah  ‘Down (Is Where I Want To Be)’  Review
Craig Finn  ‘Ninety Bucks’
Shadow  ‘Dreaming’
Tinariwen  ‘Oualahila ar Tesninam (Transglobal Underground Remix)’  Review
Animal Collective  ‘Kinda Bonkers’
Likwuid (Ft. 2 Hungry Bros)  ‘Illfayted’  Feature
Oddisee  ‘Digging Deep’  Feature
M-Dot (Ft. Camp Lo, Tribeca)  ‘True Lies’  Feature
Oh No (ft. Tristate)  ‘Showroom Floor’  Feature
Dope Knife  ‘Nothing To Lose’  Feature
King Ayisoba (Ft. Wanlov da Kubolor & Big Gad)  ‘Africa Needs Africa’
Tamikrest  ‘Erres Hin Atouan’  Review

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.




%d bloggers like this: