Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

Dominic Valvona Forward:

Christ what a depressing annus horribilis 2020 was. Putting aside the pandemic, this was another divisive turd of a year, with hyperbolic indignities and the childish naïve persecution of nearly everything and everyone outside the virtue-card carrying trends of “black square” signaling. Whilst many of my peers were casting the aspirations, collecting bracken for the ritual burnings of the faithless, and delivering the most hypercritical of grandstanding statements on diversity, we were continuing as ever as the outsiders to carry on with a normal service of sharing the most eclectic music from artists across the globe. So many of the most voluminous in this regard are the most guilty of not adhering to their own pontifications: I won’t list them here, but they know who they are; the sort of blog/site that hasn’t even featured a black artist, or not many, let alone bother to look outside their myopic viewfinder to Africa, Southeast Asia and beyond. 

We also lost many comrades and sisters this year, including the king of rock ‘n’ roll Little Richard, the late great Afrobeat rhythm provider Tony Allen, Bill Withers, Vera Lynn, Betty Wright, Phil May, Emit Rhodes, Andy Gill, Peter Green, Eddie Van Halen, Spencer Davis, Kenny Rogers, Florian Schneider, Genesis P-Orridge Manu Dibango, Andrew Weatherall, Ennio Morricone and even the poor old derided Des O’Conner. A right bastard of a year I think we can all agree on.

A challenging year, the effects of which will be felt for a long time to come, 2020 has nevertheless been a great year for new music (thank god).    

Because we’ve never seen the point in arguing the toss over numerical orders, or even compiling a list of the best of albums of the year, the Monolith Cocktail’s lighter, less competitive and hierarchical ‘choice albums’ features have always listed all entrants in alphabetical order. We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

Void of points systems and voting, the Monolith Cocktail team selection is pretty transparent: just favourites and albums we all feel you, our audience, should check out. Alongside my good self, Matt Oliver and Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea have made the selections this year.

Spread over three parts, the inaugural selection runs from 3 South And Banana to Extradition Order.

Numbers.

3 South And Banana ‘S/T’
(Some Other Planet)

Bouncing and lolloping onto the psychedelic pop and indie scene like a Francophone Shintaro Sakamoto, Aurélien Bernard brought us a most lightly touched but infectious kaleidoscope jangle of a self-titled debut album this year.

Swapping the drum stool and tenure with the sunny-disposition Vadoinmessico – leaving as the band transitioned into Cairobi – for a polymath solo career, the French born, Berlin-based, Bernard has an idiosyncratic musical style; weaving a cantaloupe gait and a lyrical mix of French and English vocals together in a colourful, often fun, way. Radiant, oceanic, translucent and even cosmic with a Gallic shrug of wistful fatalism, the 3 South & Banana cosmos of rooftop fauna wonderment is a swell place to be in these dark, uncertain times. (Dominic Valvona)

Review In Full

A..

A Journey Of Giraffes  ‘Armenia’
(Somewherecold Records)

Seeming to get better with every release, the unassuming maverick ambient and soundscape explorer behind this most picturesque of animalistic monikers, John Lane, has in recent years been highly prolific in churning out the most subtle but deeply effective under-the-radar soundtracks. To be fair it was a toss-up between this, the atavistic Caucasus transverse Armenia, and his “archipelago of the mind” Sunshine Pilgrim Map peregrination: both great albums of ambient and experimental discovery.

Though he couldn’t have foreseen how prescient this part of the world would become in 2020, with an ongoing uneasy truce between modern Armenia and their Azerbaijan neighbours after a recent fight of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Lane has managed to catch this mysterious land with a 44-track oeuvre of psychogeography, myths, ancient readings and poetry forms. From the air-y and sublime to the more ominous, primal and fraught, minimal evocations sit alongside more churned oblique scrapped moody horrors. Voices from the old religions swirl and echo amongst the hewn stone monuments to Armenia’s ghosts on an outstanding mesmerizing soundtrack of differing stirring soundscapes, traverses, contemplations and ruminations. (DV)

Review In Full

Idris Ackamoor And The Pyramids ‘Shaman!’
(Strut Records)

Serving a worthy musical apprenticeship from and imbued by the masters Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Cecil Taylor, the polymath musician, activist, director of The Pyramids ensemble and torchbearer of spiritual and Afrofuturist jazz, Idris Ackamoor once more makes holy communion with the cradle of civilization on the Egyptology cosmology of conscious political statements, Shaman! Imploring a unified message, a connectivity, a reminder that we can all trace our ancestry back to the same place, Ackamoor follows up on We All Be Africans and the epic sweeping album of Afro-jazz 2-Step “Warrior Dances” and plaintive primal jazz catharsis An Angel Fell, with another masterpiece of the form.

From the burnished Sunbear developing bloodied opus of the Pharaoh Sanders, Brother Ah, Jazz Epistles and Sarah Webster Fabio merging breakout title track to the Afrobeat gospel bolero of ‘Eternity’, an enlightening magical travail of the state of the union is sumptuously paired with the wisdom of the ancients. Narrated and sung howls of anguish are soundtracked and serenaded by a jazz-led voyage of gospel, soul, funk and magic. What an album: an odyssey through the divisive debris of modern America.  (DV)

Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela ‘Rejoice’
(World Circuit Records)

Becoming a final bow in the end for both participates in this perfect synergy of Afrojazz, the now late Afrobeat doyen, drummer extraordinaire Tony Allen and his foil trumpet virtuoso, bandleader, activist and South African national treasure, the even later Hugh Masekela, finally got an airing of their 2010 recordings together this year.

With renewed resolution, Allen and producer Nick Gold, with the blessing and participation of Hugh’s estate, unearthed the original tapes and finished recording the album last year at the same London studio where the original sessions had taken place. Allen and Masekela are accompanied on the record by a new generation of well-respected jazz musicians who help lay down a loose Francophone swinging jazz backing to savior: every bit as effortlessly cool, bouncing and smoky as you’d expect. There’s even a nod to Allen’s old bandleader and Afrobeat progenitor Fela Kuti on this smooth bustling, Blue Note in Africa, laidback work of genius.

This album is the sound of two artists in their element, a performance never to be repeated, and sadly one of the final recordings of Allen now. But as the title says: Rejoice!  (DV)

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Axel Holy ‘WonderWorld’
(Split Prophets)

Given the way Axel Holy’s mind works you just know WonderWorld is gonna turn the distorted, freaky reflections found in the hall of mirrors into reality. This ain’t no Scooby Doo haunted theme park caper: the otherwise Baileys Brown slaloms through the queues of demonic smiles for every ride that’s a trap house of horrors. Knowing he can’t leave anything to chance as to what’s real and what’s a genetically modified mirage, yet well aware that fakes and foes never go into hiding, Holy cocks back and breaks the illusion with all of his sawn-off might, possibly under the influence to heighten the experience. ‘Statement’ induces screams as it goes faster, ‘Let It Go’ does a classic switcheroo of upping the anxiety by withdrawing just a touch, and ‘On The Gram’ craftily dispels social media culture, complete with a chorus simply made for a lip synced reel, though like Brown’s ‘Still Fresh’ from last year, there’s definite loosening up towards the album’s end. Grimy, geared to leave your ears ringing and with fellow misfits Jack Danz and Datkid involved, WonderWorld, as a wise scribe once said, will leave you “Delirious like Eddie Murphy”.  (Matt Oliver)

B…

BaBa ZuLa ‘Hayvan Gibi’
(Night Dreamers)

Capturing one of the best performances from the rebellious stalwarts of Anatolian cosmic dub and psych, BaBa ZuLa, the Night Dreamers label’s “direct-to-disc” series proved a congruous creative hothouse for the Istanbul legends.

Fusing the folkloric with solar flares of Krautrock, souk reggae, 60s and 70s Turkish psych and cosmic-blues the rambunctious group come on like a Sublime Porte vision of Can’s Ege Bamyasi and Soundtracks albums, only replacing much of the Teutonic legends setup with more traditional instruments like the “oud” and “saz”: albeit electrified and fuzzed up to the gills.

Recorded before lockdown in the pre-pandemic nightmare, Hayvan Gibi (which means ‘to act with the natural grace of an animal’) includes six almost untethered, unleashed vivid performances from the mavericks. It’s an album that seeks to fulfil the “live” feel and energy that some fans have commented has been lacking on previous studio albums.

A let loose BaBa ZuLa is a most incredible experience; a scuzzed, scuffed, trinket shimmery, rippling and blazing rhythmic energy and dynamism both intense and yet also a mirage of reggae and dub imbued Anatolia mountain gazing. It’s also a reminder of what we’ve been missing in these dragging pandemic restrictive times. (DV)

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Bab L’ Bluz ‘Nayda!’
(Real World Records)

The changing (and welcoming it is too) face of Moroccan music, Bab L’ Bluz offers a voice to those previously left marginalized and left out with an electrified and rebellious vision of the country’s Islamic Gnawa dance, music and poetry exaltations; the ululation trills and storytelling of the Mauritania “Griot” tradition; and the popular folk music of Chabbi.

Led by the “guembri” player and leading siren, Yousra Mansou, who has caused quite a reaction for taking up an instrument traditionally the preserve of men in Morocco, they blend Arabian-Africa with a contemporary view of political upheaval and drama in a post Arab-Spring landscape. Reclaiming the heritage but looking forward, the group injects the godly music and romance of Arabian-Africa with a new energy and dynamism. A 21st century blues excursion of dreamy and political vigor.  (DV)

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Batsauce ‘Helter Skelter’
(Full Plate)

Inevitably beatmakers got busy when it came to making a song and dance out of the pandemic, with Batsauce, the Berlin-based producer and underground stalwart with the all-too-perfect moniker, delivering boom bap bad news from his ‘quarantine beat suite’, Helter Skelter a notable entry in creating a 2020-style instrumental biopic out of a mass of disaster movie samples. From the get-go the assembled cast are under no illusions that a worldwide disease is real and happening – no such silver screen/real world naivety here – starting off slow and tentatively before the fever begins to take hold. Mixing up pensive jazz, soul and psych with drums scooped from the doldrums, twitchy, string-lead horror themes worthy of the album’s title compete with bold flourishes that switch between signifying cometh the hour, cometh the man, and said leading role going in head first without the guarantee of making it back. Crucially the dialogue is strategically placed, never overloaded, so as to let the music really run the narrative of what becomes a titanic struggle, and where tellingly the conclusion throws up some worst case scenarios without completely delivering the Hollywood happy-ever-after. Here’s hoping that Batsauce doesn’t have to have a sequel up his sleeve.  (Matt Oliver)

Big Toast & 184 ‘Who Shit In The Sandpit?’
(Revorg)

Not that he needed the trivial matter of 2020 being a complete debacle to fuel his next fed up invective, but Big Toast’s patience reaches dangerously thin levels on this charming titled, eye/nose-gougingly sleeved ode to the money men, privileged elite, ignorant, in-the-flesh stereotypes, Gazza and general ringmasters to the UK circus. Splattered with damning evidence that’s as clear as day but still needs repeating, some might say it’s easy to home on in the obvious targets responsible for the myriad fiascos in these uncertain times. But Toast, eyes rolling to the heavens until his sockets start to fracture, and whose unhurried words mimicking the puppet mastery of those at the lectern, linger like…well, a bad smell, is not the sort of protestor satisfied with just chucking eggs and milkshakes at those who won’t be told. The title track’s lighters-up, all-in-together chorus confirms his man of the people status, and closing track ‘Us/Them’ is a high quality fade to grey conclusion. All to the tune of 184’s claustrophobic, nostalgia-erasing boom bap, equidistant to the edge of doom and foggily attempting a scramble to safety. The fact you can’t help but laugh at such a desperate state of play is an oh-so-British reaction as well.  (MO)

Black Josh ‘Mannyfornia’
(Blah)

Bumping beats whiplashed through the windscreen and straight to the point rhymes that are one false look from Falling Down, Black Josh as Manchester’s mayor of Mannyfornia – the “Sweg Lord – you don’t want him living next door” – creates civilisation that avoids the big city of dreams prefix and instantly nails the ain’t-always-what-it-seems kicker instead. Lockdown restrictions get laughed out of town as well, with Metrodome on the electoral boards deconstructing and hotwiring speakers. The likes of ‘Demon’ sees sinkholes open up and swallow all before it, treated by Josh as minor inconvenience – “I’m only living cos I have to” – and the title track is an aggravated state of emergency to endear your neighbours to, like Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Old Skool’ gone rogue “on a highway to Hell, but I’m undertaking”. Wired on substance intake and the need to hit as many killshots as possible, only half-quelled on ‘Smoke’ and ‘Endz’ as the album’s back end begins to conserve energy, Mannyfornia is restless, anti-social and doesn’t play fair, but Josh is not one to change his game just cos circumstances are different.  (MO)

Black Taffy  ‘Opal Wand’
(Leaving Records)

When filing under hip-hop Opal Wand is the cheat code of this list, particularly when the scope of what is ostensibly an instrumental trap album immediately appears limited. Fear not though – in the hands of Black Taffy aka Dallas alchemist Donovan Jones, Opal Wand perfects the classic axis of massive (and massively rigid) bottom ends, and riffs atop darting like fireflies, unfolding the arms of the screwfaces and feeding them optimism sourced from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Subtle vinyl crackle scoring similar Disney-style sources, and sorrowful Eastern Bloc ballets tiptoeing across dark but exotic landscapes, help bring about another educated one-two – that of the album being based on a booming system when the cascades of strings command you to light incense and candles. Jones continues to shift the pre-conceived by blinding you with the fantastical until disquiet begins to percolate in the distance from ‘A Foxes Wedding’. Synth-shone secrets and doubts begin to reveal themselves on the spirit-raising ‘Palms Up’, and when fear of the unknown takes hold, then the basses, still giving nothing away other than fluttering their eyelashes at low-riders, come into their own. With plenty to interpret, let its curiosity consume you on a cold winter’s eve.  (MO)

Bloom De Wilde ‘The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe’
(Self-Release)

If only life could be as wonderfully magical as this album. Bloom De Wilde has an aura about her that emits a certain belief in the beauty of life, with her songs of nature and love she gives one hope in these times of backbiting misery and disease that music and love can be the answer.

Maybe we all need to return to the spiritual freedom of 1967 and not be wrapped up in the junk and social media that clouds up our minds and hearts, for this album casts a mighty spell that is bewitchingly hypnotic, that slowly seeps through the layers of self doubt mistrust and ego and has you smiling again, has you laughing, has you counting your blessings and looking forward to living your life and making the most of it as you only have one life so why not make the most of it. The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe is one of those rare albums that is made with pure love and should be treated with pure love: a shimmering delight.  (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea)

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Brian Bordello ‘The King Of No-Fi’
(Metal Postcard Records)

Oh the irony as Brian Bordello himself picked this one for his choice selection of albums from the year: got to hand it to him, the front of the bloke! But then why not, as it seems nearly all blogs and such are now nothing more than promotional platforms for the advancement of their own writers and clique fan club. For those who aren’t aware, Brian has been contributing to the MC for the last couple of years, so this does seem strange: pop will eat itself and all that. Here though is why you should buy it:

The self-anointed king of no-fi returns with another songbook of quasi-demoed wistful despondency and self-deprecation; a stripped-back one-track display of rough charms that cuts to the heart of the cult St. Helens malcontent’s sardonic, but also extremely vulnerable, annoyances about modern life.

Channeling various maverick troubadours, post-punk poets (Dan Treacy springs to mind) and a Brylcreem of rock ’n’ roll idols (ironically enough the release of this album intentionally fell on the anniversary of the true king, Elvis’ death), Brian postulates on a lack of energy and rage in music, the death of the mutherfucker personalities, a bevy of “scarlet” women and lost innocence. Brian can be a romantic sod at times, even sentimental; writing some real tender poetic lines amongst the scorn and despair, with even a hint of Bacharach on ‘Banana Splits’ (yeah, imagine that!). Various stolen kisses, evocations of less complicated, less divisive magical times permeate the album despite the constant references to the death of this and that and the lamentable resignations and threats to give it all up. Sometimes Brian just tersely pays homage to his icons, such as Lou Reed and Billy Fury.  (BBS/DV)

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Apollo Brown & Che’ Noir  ‘As God Intended’
(Mello Music Group)

The embodiment of up-from-the-bootstraps verve and an advocate of what doesn’t kill making you stronger, Buffalo’s Che’ Noir won’t let anyone or anything get in her way right from the very first bar. Despite the dual billing on As God Intended, this is very much her headline act: Apollo Brown retreats into the role of unspoken mentor, nodding his approval from afar without needing too much to prompt sometimes cold-blooded, always measured actions, just rolling out his usual metronome of warm but wary, street-raised, Detroit soul bumps that have seen it all and done it all before. ‘12 Hours’ is an absolute classic storyteller (no spoilers here), and from finding true financial value (‘Money Orientated’, offset by the pull of ‘Worth Gold’) to how to stand up (‘The Apple’, ‘Freedom’ and its theorem of “what’s worse than being physically dead is mentally dying”) and respecting the architects (‘94’), the ice queen bravado is open to just a hint of vulnerability, so that Noir teeters (‘Daddy’s Girl’ and ‘Winter’ contrast relationship obstacles) but never loses her balance. True grit from a fighter expressing her worth as “just a chick from the ‘hood doing Adele numbers”.  (MO)

C….

Lucia Cadotsch ‘Speak Low II’
(We Jazz)

Tripping a light fantastic across a curious and congruous selection of covers and standards, two of We Jazz’s (sort of) house band members, Otis Sandsjo (of Y-OTIS reconstructive hip-hop jazz fame) and Peter Eldh (of the masterful Koma Saxo), once more join forces with the amorphous voiced Lucia Cadotsch to re-shape the unfamiliar familiar under the umbrella of the Berlin-based Swiss singer’s Speak Low Trio. Equally as untethered on a serialism pathway of musical freedom, this broadened set-up that includes both the prestigious ECM label solo pianist Kit Downes and cellist Lucy Railton, meanders, drifts, floats and hovers over a flowing oeuvre of German stage numbers, ancient folk laments, avant-garde troubadour maladies and jazz balladry across a second volume of such loose interpretations.

Songs from artists as diverse as Eno, Duke Ellington, Brecht and Randy Newman are pulled into this beautifully adventurous cosmos. A mirage of bowed, haunted and rasping rhythms and spiraling tonal work Speak Low II is an unburdened songbook of amorphous jazzy reinterpretations that dares to play with the original source material, whilst showcasing the effortlessly gossamer and stretching lush range of Lucia’s magical voice.  (DV)

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Cambatta ‘LSD: Lunar Solar Duality’
(Mello Music Group)

A dose of ‘LSD’ is perhaps a slight departure for Mello Music Group, who once again have had a calendar year the envy of the hip-hop underground. While Cambatta’s label debut unlocks the power of hallucinogens, the super scientific raised from the sewer breaks down the DNA of life, the universe and everything (the maths behind ‘Nxggxrla Txsla’ and ‘Grand Number TheoRam’ will blow your headphones). His persona is a complex, carnivorously blunt mix of Nostradamus, Mr MFN eXquire and prime era Canibus, street apothecary, religious myth buster and otherworldly being, etched with a grim determination to convince everyone of his gospels, particularly as his backdrop is several hell-like leagues beneath the surface at odds with the radiant sleeve (“only in the midst of chaos am I comfortable”). Entertaining in their encyclopaedic intensity, ‘Fall of Feinix’ is a slow-burning cauldron of drug rage (“my spirit animal is a cold turkey”), and ‘33’ is an exceptional, messianic (and very simply formatted) autobiography, but two ear-openers on an album realigning the sun, moon and stars in a bid you flip your belief system.  (MO)

Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers ‘Vodou Alé’
(Bongo Joe Records)

Like so many others before them, allured to the voodoo hypnotism of the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti, Belgian production duo The Ångströmers spent a residency immersing and absorbing the local fusion of ‘mizik rasin’, and working with the Gonaïves-borne collective of Chouk Bwa. The results of which prove congruous and electrifying; a synthesis of Soukri voodoo polyrhythms and bassier dub electronica that proves so attuned to both sensibilities and in-sync as to be difficult to separate the natural ritual from the augmented and synthesized.

A primal ceremony of tumbled, fluttered cylindrical rhythms sucked into a vortex of warped dub and ringing oscillations, this union proves just how intoxicating and electrifying the voodoo spell can be. Given a sympathetic undercurrent and resonance of atmospheric electronica, the ritual sound and outpour of Haiti is reframed, guided into the 21st century. Not so much a novel direction as a subtle electronic music boost to tradition.  (DV)

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COOPS ‘Crimes Against Creation’
(High Focus)

High Focus were found doing High Focus things throughout 2020, making it a tight call on whether to include Light Work by the Duracell-powered creativity of Fliptrix, Onoe Caponoe’s breakneck night terror Invisible War, or The Four Owls’ victorious Nocturnal Instinct (full length review here). Edging past the post is the concise Coops at a skinny eight tracks and twenty five minutes long, that slightly jaded twang between Wretch 32 and Ocean Wisdom both nonchalant and spiteful at once, making him engagingly hard to read between peacekeeping and reacting – at his most relaxed you can still tell that Coops is itching to right wrongs. Holding the streets down under a nice and jazzy shade is producer Talos, who in parallel can turn up the pressure with no discernible tell, hitting the Queensbridge block as Coops knuckles up on the seething ‘Piss Poor’, with a chorus that outdoes any get rich quick-schemers. Picking off opponents with scything simplicity – when annoyed by everyone, Coops calls out all and sundry as per ‘Factory Reared’ passing through a farm for would-be emcees – Crimes is a classy album that won’t wilt in the heat of the moment.  (MO)

Julian Cope ‘Self Civil War’
(Head Heritage)

Julian Cope is one of the last living motherfuckers in rock ‘n’ roll. He is the spirit personified. He has the adventure talent and intelligence to realise that music is not just something to hum along to on the radio whilst doing the dishes. He knows that being in a band is not a past time but a crusade; it is a life affirming art force that fires the mind, belly’s and loins of old and young alike, and Self Civil War is his latest quest, his latest crusade.

A man now in his sixties would be expected maybe to put his feet up and look back on the past outpourings of a fine, much underrated back catalogue. But no, Julian goes and makes his best album since Jehovah Kill.

Self Civil War is an album that combines all his musical loves beautifully: Krautrock, Psych, Prog, folk and of course pure undiluted pop. This is an album of pure invention, inspiration and adventure. This is the sound of a whirling dervish sticking his fingers up at the industry, a man who does not have to think outside the box, as he has no box, and hopefully never will have. He is a true one-off and this album is the sound of a true one-off on top of his game.  (BBS)

Corticem ‘Planetarium’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company)

Less Holst The Planets magnum opus, more lo fi Krautrock purview of a sinister, mysterious cosmology, beamed from a subterranean bunker in Krakow, Corticem’s Plantetarium dials into the present pandemic dystopia whilst casting a soundtrack of awe at those heavenly bodies. I say from Krakow, and a bunker, but the trio have lost their previous studio/rehearsal space; the loss of which acting as an unfortunate stimulus for the mix of industrial, entrancing, cosmic and experimental exploration on this minor-opus of concentrated malcontent, despondency and rage. Formed by members of the “songs strange and not so-strange” Sawak in the Polish city, Corticem finds the trio of orbital sonic cosmonauts Bogdan Markiewicz, Antonello Perfetto and Greg Nieuwsma looking to escape towards the stars but anchored to the malaise and mounting horrors of terra firma: A world gripped in Covid distress. A liberal dark material contortion of Swans, the faUSt pairing of Jean-Hervé Peron and Zappi Diermeir, Mythos, the satellite refraction broadcasts of Gunther Wusthoff, The Cosmic Range, Itchy-O and Ash Ra Tempel, this caustic and often impending oeuvre offers as dystopian and alarming, alien and otherworldly soundtrack to the end times. What’s not to like. (DV)

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Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones ‘Kafou In Avalonia’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company)

Reimaging a time when Earth’s landmasses were being reshaped, the atavistic geological inspired futurist dub unit pose a cultural “what if?” with their fourth “set”, Kafou In Avalonia. Wishful dreaming Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones picture an alternative reality; one in which Avalonia still existed as a gateway between all Earth’s cultures and peoples. It acts as the crossroads that might have set out an entirely different course for civilization; a more integrated, less fractious one perhaps. In this setting Haitian, Brazilian, Angolan and Nigerian deities, spirits and rituals converge with an experimental soundtrack of post-punk dub, Kosmische and electronica. Invoking a lost world, a quasi-Atlantis, they merge voodoo ceremony and tribal incantation with sonorous throbbing basslines, barracking drums, heavy reverb and craning Manuel Gottsching like guitar. Ancestral ghosts meet synthesized futurism on this mystical transformed aural geography, as recordings of various rituals swirl in and around a cosmic soup. A supernatural and celestial, seeping and vaporous vortex of polygenesis sources are gathered together to create an imaginative cosmology hybrid. If The Future Sound Of London and Ash Ra Tempel recorded an album at Lee Scratch Perry’s black ark studio it might very well have sounded something like this. (DV

Crack Cloud ‘Pain Olympics’
(Meat Machines)

A rambunctious expanded collective of filmmakers, artists, designers, and of course musicians, drawn together through drug addiction, the Vancouver-based Crack Cloud channel recovery through much healthier pursuits; raiding the post-punk and no wave wardrobes to form an ever ambitious agit-art-group of malcontents. Rinsing out both the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene along the way, the seven-strong main cohort of this group effort work-in the Gang Of Four, Talking Heads, The Shivers, Officer!, Lydia Lunch, Andy Haas, Pixies and Devo to produce a surprisingly less hostile verdict on the state of the union in 2020.

Pain Olympics is an epic eclectic of torment, frustration and also soaring ethereal voiced scales. The opening diorama ‘Post Truth’ is like a fucked-up, squalid underpass musical on a MGM movie set that moves from a drizzle of industrial Fat White Family post-punk to twinkled These New Puritans dreamy dramatic choral sirens and a performance of electronic Stomp. But changing the makeup, as they do continuously on this album, they go for a creeping merger of La Haine Hip-Hop and Eno on ‘Favour Your Fortune’.  All the while the tensions and tawny angulations of PiL, Wire and Crispy Ambulance wane and conspire in the background. Crack Cloud have managed to convey the unease whilst dreaming big on an album I can’t recommend enough.  (DV)

The Cult Of Free Love ‘Visions’
(Northern Star Records)

What we have here is the first release from the born again influential underground label Northern Star; a label that released the four CD Psychedelica series of compilations that caught the mood and excitement of the bourgeoning new psychedelic scene of the time. This series of releases influenced many a new band and caught some now very well known and established bands early in their careers. So to kick off the rebirth of the mighty fine label we have the second album from The Cult Of Free Love, and to be honest if this album had been released on the Fruits Der Mer label it would have already sold out and been acclaimed as a modern psychedelic masterpiece. Yes, this album is that good.

Orb like trance and late 80’s acid house mingle with the lost summer of love of ‘67 to weave a spell of blissed out magic. There is no one highlight on Visions as the whole album is one long stream of melody and blissed out splendor. This album I cannot recommend enough to anyone with a love of modern psychedelia or somebody wanting to know what it was like to visit the legendary Hacienda in its pomp: An album to turn this winter of discontent into the third summer of love.  (BBS)

D…..

The Dandy’s Boutique ‘Delightful Weirdo’
(Self Release)

I know nothing of The Dandy’s Boutique, an artist I came across being played on the excellent Graham Duff radio show on Totally Radio; the track being the rather wonderful ‘Stay Away’, which has a bass riff and a half part “Girls and Boys”, part grab your handbag put it in the middle of the dancefloor and boogie: Is there anything quite as life affirming as a DIY disco ditty?!

Anyway, ‘Stay Away’ happens to kick off this rather lovely album; an album that combines synth-pop, dance and indie-pop to great effect, and is indeed greatly affecting, especially on the synth ballad ‘Don’t Let Go’. And goes on exploring the virtues of having humour, originality and talent; ‘Pitter Patter’ being a fine instrumental, reminding me what the Great Joe Meek may have done if left alone with a synth for an hour or so. What I like most about this album is the overwhelming atmosphere of melancholy even on the upbeat dance tracks like ‘Passing The Time’. There is a certain feel that I find quite refreshing. I think Dandy’s Boutique might not quite realize how good they actually are, as this is a fine album indeed and people should give it a listen. (BBS)

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Miles Davis ‘The Lost Septet’
(Sleepy Night Records)

Those lucky bastards, and I mean the Viennese crowd lucky enough to have experienced this whomping, sleazed, dark and beastly jazz-rock maelstrom from the late great Miles Davis and his Septet troupe, on the night of the 5th November 1971. Of course they didn’t bloody appreciate it, still hung up on old tooting-in-blue Davis, when the maestro had moved on into the well of mental destruction, hauling his crew across Europe in that pivotal year of bad juju. 

Capturing the grandee of eclectic jazz futurism and an ark of godly status albums (In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Live Evil and Jack Johnson), The Lost Septet (so-called because this magic collection of cats never recorded together in the studio, and so this exists as one of the only testaments to this grouping actually ever happening) simpers, thralls, gushes and boogies in that trumpet genius’s famous “rock phase”. The enviable lineup of Keith Jarrett, Gary Bartz, Michael Henderson, Ndugu Leon Chancler, Charles Don Alias and James Mtume Foreman prowl, skulk, whelp and burble through the riffed-on material, pushing jazz into hard psychedelic heavy rock. Davis’s pal-up with Hendrix was proving a serious influence, and you can hear that throughout this deeply challenging live opus.

From cathouse salacious slinking ‘Honky Tonk’ to a Shamanistic sledge ride through the Ghetto styling of ‘What I Say’, and the sumptuous laidback funk sucker ‘It’s About That Time’, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone sounding this fucking great and dangerously brooding in 2020. Hence why despite being fifty years old, it is still one of the best things you can hope to hear this whole year. Thank Christ it has been saved from bootleg rarity to a proper release in the year of pandemic.  (DV)

Dean & Britta ‘Quarantine Tapes’
(Double Feature Records)

Thank god for the diaphanous, hushed pairing of Luna band mates Britta Philips and Dean Wareham (also formerly of Galaxie 500 fame) to lift spirits and offer a hymnal communal in times of anxious uncertainty. The aptly named Quarantine Tapes is made up of cover versions recorded during the first wave of lockdown, some in the home studio, others taken direct from livestream performances.

It helps that the material is so damn good in the first place, yet the duo’s languid and hauntingly beautiful Lee Hazelwood trademark sound gives a certain translucent and touching quality to songs from acts as diverse as Kraftwerk, The Clash and the late (sadly passing away only this year in March) no wave disco icon Christine. Maybe as a gesture to another unfortunate loss this year (Florian Schneider) they perform a magical, advent version of the candescent Kraftwerk hymn ‘Neonlicht’ (or ‘Neon Lights’) that is just lovely. Elsewhere they give The Bee Gees plaintive ‘Massachusettes’ a touch of Laurel Canyon, and perform a languorous cover of Bardo Pond’s ethereal elegy opus ‘Ride Into The Sun’.

Capturing the current mood music well, the lockdown duo offers a most disarming and quite affair of the heart in mentally fatiguing and depressing times. (DV)  

Die Wilde Jagd ‘Haut’
(Bureau B)

Birthed into another chthonian landscape of incipient stirrings, Sebastian Lee Philipp’s third such ambitious experimental suite continues where the previous eerie 2018 LP, Uhrwald Orange, left off: Lurking, stalking and disappearing into a recondite mystery of esoteric electronica and Techno. Earthy then, with evocations of a wild, veiled terrain populated by the whispering bewitched, strange rituals and metaphysical forces, Haut is a brilliantly realized slow-burning expansive supernatural soundtrack imbued with elements of Krautrock, Kosmische, the psychedelic, avant-garde, industrial and atavistic.

Once more joined by co-producer foil Ralf Beck and live performance drummer Ran Levari, Die Wilde Jagd’s instigator songwriter/producer channels notions of memory, premonition and birth into a filmic quartet of drawn-out chapters.

It’s certainly an imaginative world that awaits the listener on this third grandiose experiment. One that takes a breather, holding back on the beats and kicks for a more expansive and creeping sound production; those anticipated reveals kept on a tight rein. A sign of real quality and patience, Haut marks both a continuation but slight change in the dynamics as Philipp and Beck further erode and stretch the perimeters of Techno and electronic music.  (DV)

The Dupont Circles ‘In Search of the Family Gredunza’
(Beautiful Music Records)

The combination of the majestic jangle of c86 and Beatle boots is and can be a thing of great beauty, especially when it is performed with the vigour and enthusiasm that the – near legendary in some circles – cult band The Dupont Circles gives it. A debut album that has taken 30 years to arrive and now brought to us by the beautiful in name and beautiful in nature and music Beautiful Music Records label.

The Dupont Circles love a good melody and a witty lyric and a 60s garage rock guitar riff: the track ‘Tick Tock’ wouldn’t sound out of a place on a Rubbles comp; a rather marvellous adventure of a track as is the psych tinged Joe Meek like following instrumental, ‘Sputnik’. My Personal favourite track on this album though is the wonderful Television Personalities like ‘53 Bicycles’ – there is also a cover of the TP’S ‘How I Learned To Love The Bomb’. This album is a joyful romp through the magical world of The Dupont Circles; a world where the guitar and Farisa organ is king and the national anthem alternates between “My Generation” and “I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives”. A rather marvellous land I want to move to immediately.  (BBS)

Bob Dylan ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’
(Columbia)

Greyhound bus philosopher, medicine show huckster and Boomer Bible troubadour wanderer, Dylan performs another one of his grand illusions in encompassing a whole generational epoch on his latest songbook. Perhaps among his best work in decades, the “Rough And Rowdy” sagacious chapter in a nigh sixty-year career manages to be both elegiac and playful in equal measures; cramming in every kind of reference point, from historical characters to pop culture and the travails of the Kennedys and their aspirations on the epic eulogy finale ‘Murder Most Foul’: A death knell bookend to the previous fifty years of a dominant America that marks perhaps the failures of a whole generation.

He’s Anne Frank, Indiana Jones and then some (names in lyrics that should elicit groans but somehow don’t sound glib and ridiculous) on an album that’s impact can be measured in swigs from a bottle of fine red wine. A humbled legend accompanied by the subtlest, thinnest of brushed drum shuffles, Hawaiian bowed and bluesy guitar, this is a relaxed Dylan, custodian of the faith, raunchy and statesman like yet juggling resignation with serenaded romance, reverence and death. ‘My Own Version Of You’ runs through a lyrical rasp of persecution, slavery and ideals turned murderous (From Troy to The Crusades to Marx), whilst the hymnal lulled and cooed soothing gospel ‘I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You’ sounds like a genuine token of faith and spiritual willingness. Dylan is almost handing down the baton to the sisterhood on the beautiful saving grace attempt at a spiritual anthem on ‘Mother Of Muses’. Yet Dylan strikes up some of that down ’n’ dirty earthy electrified blues, on the homage to the power of the tragic turned-on blues progenitor Jimmy Reed and his influence.

From Elm Street to the Aquarian Age, and across the Rubicon, Dylan seems as weary as he is unapologetic and nostalgic; dragging that (nearly) 80 year old timbre and soul through the mire to once more offer a grizzled but not yet finished Boomer commentary on our sorry arses. This is the record we deserved and needed, as Dylan proves to be a godsend. Yes it’s nostalgic, and there isn’t any pinning of virtues to any particular political angst, but Dylan isn’t going to make it easy for you. A great work of art that just keeps giving. (DV)

E……

Kahil El’Zabar ‘Spirit Groove Ft. David Murray’ & ‘America The Beautiful’
(Spiritmuse)

Continuing a creative partnership with the Spiritmuse label, Chicago jazz luminary Kahil El’Zabar has released two essential ambitious sweeping titles in 2020; working yet again with an ever changing lineup of fellow visionaries and rising virtuosos from his home city and beyond.  The first of which is the Spirit Groove album collaboration with David Murray, the second, America The Beautiful, sees the School of The Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians alumni and five decade jazz veteran piece together a suitable afflatus cry from the despair of modern America.

Spirit Groove, sees a reconnection, a spiritual bound between the Chicago jazz drumming and percussionist doyen El’ Zabar and his tenor sax and bass clarinet maestro foil Murray. Quenching the soul with that “spiritual groove”, they’ve laid down a both swinging and mesmeric alternative jazz service of mediation but also, and above all, they push for a positive change in the most inflamed and dangerous of times. El’ Zabar’s atavistic with a modern pulse soul and jazz experiments are coupled with Murray’s untethered long and short breath saxophone contortions on an album of new, specially written material and expansions of compositions from the back catalogue.

The second title sees him build a fully realized album around the aggrandized anthem, America The Beautiful. An extraordinary portrait of the current mood, El’ Zabar’s conscious divine spiritual jazz opus channels the contorted soul of Chicago’s rich musical heritage; spanning eras as old as ancient Africa, the be-bop, swing eras, leaping through the avant-garde and 80s dance music culture to create a soulful and always grooving purview of the American social-political divide in 2020: Election year. From Coltrane to Bernstein, primitive Chicago House to Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, this is an expansive dig into the soul, heart and health of a nation in divisive turmoil: A healing process in fact. 

Both albums offer a congruous communion of transformative, essential jazz, just when we needed it.  (DV)

Read In Full Here and Here

Extradition Order ‘American Prometheus’
(Blang/Gare du Nord/HLP19/I Blame/Jezus Factory)

Willed on by a whole quintet of labels, the first album in a good few years from the excitable and soulful no wave Warrington troupe Extradition Order is a poignant return to the American history books. Dedicated in part to founding member Nick Boardman who passed away in 2018 (his legacy permeates this album, whether as a guiding influence or through his bass hooks and singing), the Order’s vessel this time around is “the destroyer of worlds”, polyglot genius behind the fateful A-bomb Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Taking the album’s title from the Oppenheimer biography of the same name, American Prometheus is a guide to a visceral concept of the lamentable, profane and hysterical. Just as the band did with their both pining and erratic opus to the Kennedy dynasty (on the 2015 Kennedy LP), the extended cast of unfortunate and listless wives, lovers, set adrift family members, rivals and enablers are given a voice in the linear story of this incredible scientist; one who, as it turns out, had quite the checkered and controversial life story. With colliery soul requiems, prowling hints of Blurt, cheerleader Grease rah-rah and bursts of My Life Story, The Pop Group, Style Council and The Mekons, Extradition Order find parallels in 2020 by blowing open the myths and dramas behind the conflicted Oppenheimer: warts and all. American Prometheus is another mini triumph from a band that manages to bridge the fury and wrath of punk with the contorting squawks and funk of no wave and the brassy heralded romantic yearns of northern soul: good going guys. (DV)

Read In Full

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

Reviews
Dominic Valvona

In this amorphous crisscross of genres and borders I take a look at the latest in the label Night Dreamers ‘direct-to-disc’ series, a dynamic live album of fresh performances from Istanbul’s legendary souk reggae/dub and Krautrock psych legends BaBa ZuLa; Analog Africa delve through the stranger corners of the “B-movie” Colombian label Disco Machuca on their upcoming La Locura de Machuca compilation; and Daniel O’Sullivan explores library music for his latest transformation, a series of instrumental albums in collaboration with KPM.

Two front vocalists step away from their bands to go solo, with Ghent stoner/alt-rock band Wallace Vanborn frontman Ian Clement returning to the fold after many travails with a personal songbook collection, See Me In Synchronicity, and Diamond Thug’s Chantel Van T going out on her own with a debut country blues imbued songbook, entitled Nicalochan.

There’s also a label special, with three recent and upcoming ambient and experimental imbued records from the North American hub Somewherecold Records: an ambitious cosmic suite of Kosmische analogue synth odysseys from Giacomelli, snapshots, threads and lingering traces of esoteric and ether materialised country and bluegrass guitar sketches from Droneroom, and an emotive suite of love-lost movements from Vision Eternel.

BaBa ZuLa ‘Hayvan Gibi’
(Night Dreamers) Album/2nd October 2020

The latest release in Night Dreamer’s “direct-to-disc” series stars the rebellious stalwarts of Anatolian cosmic dub and psych, BaBa ZuLa: a three decade spanning Istanbul group originally birthed from the embers of the band ZeN.

Fusing the folkloric with solar flares of Krautrock, souk reggae, 60s and 70s Turkish psych and cosmic-blues the rambunctious group come on like a Sublime Porte vision of Can’s Ege Bamyasi and Soundtracks albums, only replacing much of the Teutonic legends setup with more traditional instruments like the “oud” and “saz”: albeit electrified and fuzzed up to the gills. That Can reference isn’t so surprising, as the BaBa have worked with the band’s late human metronome Jaki Liebezeit on numerous occasions: his two-way influence felt and inspiration noted on BaBa’s 2019 album Derin Derin. That same 2019 album, like so much of their output, was originally produced for a soundtrack, a documentary about falcons. And this latest “live” and direct special showcase includes a number of such tracks scored for film and stage; it also, like that falcon inspired work captures the materializations, mood, feelings of a menagerie of symbolic animal subjects.

Recorded before lockdown in the pre-pandemic nightmare, Hayvan Gibi (which means ‘to act with the natural grace of an animal’) includes six almost untethered, unleashed vivid performances from the Istanbul mavericks. It’s an album that seeks to fulfil the “live” feel and energy that some fans have commented has been lacking on previous studio albums. Invited to the Artune Studio setting in Haarlem by the label, they were encouraged to freely take-off on a flight of Eastern fantasy; encouraged to also riff on and extend past glories too. “A musician’s dream” as the band’s electric, scuzzy defacto leader and founding member Osman Murat Ertel puts it, this, also challenging, method of recording and cutting a disc from start to finish on one session gives them that energetic impetus. It also showcases each of the band’s talents. On the elliptical rhythmic Can-like dervish ‘Sipa Dub’ (also known as “The Foal”), the group’s braying oud soloist and keyboardist Periklis Tsoukalas gets to shine and sing a kind of spiritual Sufi-imbued emotive intensity on a song about an Aegean coast donkey and its foal. Percussionist virtuoso Ümit Adakale is unleashed unaided on the drilling, rattling and hotfooted breakbeat ‘Nal’ (or “Horseshoes”).

Old favourites like the ‘Çöl Aslanlari’ (“desert lion”) composition, originally made for Antonie de Saint-Exupéry’s stage production of The Little Prince, go off on a long improvised peregrination of clopping psych-rock and shimmering cymbal washes, whilst the group’s earliest groove, ‘Tavus Havasi’ (which furnished the soundtrack to the Tabutta Rövasata film) assails close to the mooning of Guru Guru and a Turkish Bar dance.

A let loose BaBa ZuLa is a most incredible experience; a scuzzed, scuffed, trinket shimmery, rippling and blazing rhythmic energy and dynamism both intense and yet also a mirage of reggae and dub imbued Anatolia mountain gazing. It’s also a reminder of what we’ve been missing in these dragging pandemic restrictive times.

Further Reading…

BaBa ZuLa ‘Derin Derin’  here….

BaBa ZuLa ‘XX’  here…

Various ‘La Locura de Machuca: 1975 – 1980’
(Analog Africa) Album/16th October 2020

Quite possibly the kookiest oddity so far in the Analog Africa catalogue, this distant outlandish relative to the label’s Diablos Del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot 1960 – 1985 compilation from 2012 is the sort of “B-movie” discovery you’d expect Finders Keepers to release. From the same international Colombian gateway of Barranquilla as that collection’s purview, La Locura de Machuca: 1975 – 1980 features a similar spread of Afro-Colombian saunters, scuttles and scratchy percussive funk as that record, yet finds a twist: a kink.

For all the familiar traces of that folkloric electrified Cumbia, the Caribbean-African-Colombian hybrid Champeta Criolle, and Congolese rumba (to name just a few styles), the music that flourished from the Colombian underground is…well, different. Much of this is down to the genius and bizarre mind of the former tax-lawyer turn record company executive Rafael Machuca, who wowed and seduced by the Barranquilla music scene jacked in the day job to set-up and sit behind the control desk as the producer of his own label enterprise, Disco Machuca. This was the heady mid 70s, an age in which Colombia’s music scene was thriving with the sounds of imported nuggets and blasts from the African continent. Though native dance styles such as Bolero and Vallento still rocketed up the charts, the fervor was for a spread of Afro prefixed sounds that proved popular at the neighbourhood sound-system joints, known as “the picos”. The locals would in time add more traditional flavours, including the already mentioned versatile Cumbia, but also more modern influences such as psychedelic music and disco.

Machuca channeled that exciting dance mix with his unique label of specially put-together one-offs and more established mavericks; the often experimental and kitsch productions of which is described as the “B-movies of Colombian music” by the label’s stalwart recording engineer Eduardo Dávila. Some of that self-depreciative description is warranted for the label’s roster of artists and acts, but also for Machuca’s habit of just creating from scratch a studio band to front one-off singles and albums when he couldn’t find the right band to realize whatever vision he had leaping about in his head. Two of which, the mono skiffley itching and squiggly, Stylophone like buzz and gargled organ Samba Negra and the bongo rattling, carnival lolloping space age garage band El Grupo Folelórico, lasted only the time it took to enter the studio and press stop on the recording desk. Both of these outlets feature heavily on the compilation. Though the El Grupo Folelórico’s binary data zapping Afro bustle ‘Tamba’ qualifies as the closet of these tracks towards that B-movie status.

The label could accommodate such fancies with the money they made from more established and popular stars; such as Alejandro Durán (left off this more unconventional comp) and Aníbal Velásquez (who does feature with his slightly unhinged belly laughing and hurried Cumbia track ‘La Mazamorra del Diablo’). “Fringe artists” like La Bande Africana, King Somalie, Conjunto Barbaco and Aberladro Carbono were able to cut loose off the back of those hit-makers. The first of those names lends the collection a salacious boy/girl hush and sigh of Gainsbourg meets Bollywood in a Colombian coastal town, with their coquettish and playful ‘Te Clavola…Mano’. King Somalie meanwhile riffs on the “funky monkey” with a talky Afro-boogie and turns in a sexy fun conversational on ‘La Mongui’.

Personal favourite of mine is The Grupo Bela Roja, or to be more exact their both swooning and jaunty lead singer who channels a young Miriam Makeba on the beachside ‘Caracol’.

There’s much to discover from this sometimes-unhinged label, yet nothing so avant-garde or “loco” as to neglect an essential rhythm or hypnotic good groove. Samy Ben Redjeb’s decade-long-in-the-making project unearths some mesmerising rarities from the stretched-descriptive scenes of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Colombian music, throwing in some curveballs and raw 45s.

For those looking for a fresh perspective and for something strange, the La Locura de Machura compilation will fill that need. Ad for everyone else, this is just a great vibrant mad world of South American sounds that deserves space inside your noggin.

Further Reading…

Analog Africa Tenth Anniversary Special  here…

Various ‘Jambú e Os Míticos Sons Da Amazônia’  here…

Chantel Van T ‘Nicalochan’
Album/23rd October 2020

Stepping out on her own from the South African dreamy space-indie Diamond Thug, the country blues and folksy lilted voiced Chantel Van T makes a boldly intimate and vulnerable statement on the debut solo songbook Nicalochan. Via a Danish solstice and summers spent contemplating at the shoreline’s edge, the hushed and swooned songwriter/singer opens up in a considered, soothed and sometimes creeping fragile manner over gently sweeping Dylan-esque Western soundtracks, mountain songs, the knowing enchantment of Lee Hazelwood, and lush morning dew yearn of Catherine Howe.

With a maturity and depth beyond her years, the often sadly but constantly dreamy Cape Town artist seems to channel a country twang that evokes shades of Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Dobson, and on the prohibition era Appalachian Lomax ‘Bittersweet Absolute’ a touch of Josephine Foster. Chantel has a voice deep, diaphanous, ached, resigned, and drifting, yet at times almost fatalistic.

An introduction to Chantel as much a candid therapy and chance to let all those thoughts and philosophically poetic questions on what reciprocated love really means (and how far it can be taken), the growing pains of womanhood and childhood.

A suffused accompaniment (all recorded with the Danish producer Anders Christopherson and a small intimate ensemble of musicians) of wallowed brass, softened string caresses, gauzy tremolo twanged and acoustic rhythm guitar, and patted toms and splashes of cymbal provide a subtle stripped backing track. One that sometimes can’t help but meander into Dylan’s ‘Knocking On Heavens Door’ on the leading, waning beauty travail single ‘Rumble And Crawl’, and a 50s yuletide mix of Rosemary Clooney and bobby-sox Spector on the album’s early punt at a seasonal number, ‘Christmas’.

Full of pining, searching affairs of the heart Nicalochan is a most hazy and beautifully executed testament of timeless country blues imbued vulnerability from an artist going it alone: A great debut of understated wisdom and inquisitive questioning songwriting, which I can see making many of the end-of-year lists, including my own.

A Somewherecold Records Special:

Vision Eternel ‘For Farwell Of Nostalgia’ Out Now
Giacomelli ‘Cosmic Order’ 9th October 2020
Droneroom ‘Blood On Blood’ 16th October 2020

All three released via Somewherecold Records.

From the highly prolific online magazine/shop-front and facilitator of various underground electronic and experimental artists, a trio of recent refined and concept-bound releases has drifted onto the Monolith Cocktail’s radar: Just three from an exhaustive roster that’s updated weekly. Extensively a soundboard and platform for composers and mavericks alike from both sides of the North American border, Somewherecold Records offer up the intimate and ambitious, depth and the translucent, peregrinations and wanderings with their most recent spread of albums.

The first of these is the grand Kosmische analogue spanning opus from Silicon Valley composer Steve Giacomelli; a triple CD expansive series of cosmic ordered suites that traverse the astral plane, new age transcendence, various thermos, gases and topographic ebbs and flows. Giacomelli’s fourth such album of cosmic ambient minimalism for the label, this celestial and evolutionary mined impressive ARP Odyssey (portable) synth birthed work of thirty-six scales into deep space, refractions of light play, pulse and gravitas uses a number of techniques to accomplish an overall sound of forgotten Sky Record maestros, Tangerine Dream, early Cluster, Tomat and Vangelis. This synthesised vision – that can sometimes err towards the ominous forebode and mystery of Kubrick – synthesis of the abstract, deep space, the inner mind, nature and the heavenly is accomplished with an apparently limited pallet and the use of counterpoint sequences, the generative and a method, favoured by Frank Zappa, called “xenochrony” – that is the extracting of a solo or other part from its original context and placing it into a completely different song/composition.

A three-hour journey through the imaginings of Giacomelli’s inner and outer star-guided mind, compositions vary between the beautiful cathedral-in-the-sky heralded ‘Cosmic Fanfare’ and the Klaus Schulze-rescores-Zardoz forebode and deep space hum of ‘The Best Laid Plans’; from the 8-bit orchestral manoeuvres of ‘SMPTE Of The Universe’ to the heavenly choral-blowing space fantasy ‘Diplodicus Green’, and the tubular generator, dash communicating ‘Remembrance Petition’.

No matter where he guides us, Giacomelli fashions a most diaphanous and mysterious epic. The Cosmic Order is a grand project, nothing short of immersive and starry.

The second of this trio of albums and EPs from the label takes us into the Kosmische-cowboy experimental soundscaping world of the Louisville-based artist Blake Edward Conley. Trading, moseying and meandering under the Droneroom alter ego, Conley pulls together a number of tracks and ideas from compilations for this transformative and transduced album of layered resonating guitar soundtracks and pauses.

A “two-lane blacktop” drive across the imagined travails of an alternative strung-out country and bluegrass accompanied America of gas station stops, mechanical breakdowns, and side road excursions, Blood On Blood gathers those “stray tracks”, threads and “snapshots” to meander through an evocative if distant landscape. Whether inspired by or in their finished state sailing close to, a number of these drowsed post-country instrumentals are dedicated to Conley’s fellow compatriots, and both explorative and old testament liturgy guitar imbued artists: The Tennessee psalm fanning Joseph Allred and folk artist Cole Morse to name just two.

Some of these sonic-thoughts-out-loud ruminations and traverses are more country than others. A certain cowboy swoon can be plucked from the lingering traces of ghostly country blues and bowing vibrato of ‘Truckstop Déjà vu’, and there’s an air of a Lynchian vision of Ry Coder on the galvanized steel gate stick rattled and didgeridoo like drone mysterious ‘And On The Last Day The Land Did Sing Me’. A removed form of Americana, with the tremolo wanes and quivers and spirit all there but veiled by the Baroque, Latin, cosmic and supernatural, ‘Let The Bluegrass Hold My Head’ is anything but. However, the dreamily acid ‘The Coyote Adrift In The Unfamiliar’ evokes a more Kosmische and Krautrock influence; sounding like an esoteric ripple in the fabric by Ash Ra Temple. In fact there’s a lot of spacey spectral leanings, an otherness, even alien, from beyond the ether: There’s even a supernatural enough transmission from that void in the shape of ‘Ghosts For Sale’.

Another impressive if unassuming album for the label that does something different, out there with its source, Droneroom’s Blood On Blood is an incredibly strange album of guitar experimentation that warrants discovery: A cult album in the making.

Back towards the ambient spectrum, the final release in the special is a most emotively drawn and purposeful EP of intimate mood music by the Montréal-based Vision Eternel. Coining the phrase “melogaze” to describe his lush “emo” brand of majestic and caressed swirling feelings, heartbreaks and loves, the band’s founder Alexander Julien soundtracks a love lost affair with a most swaddled suite of ambient music, shoegazing, and semi-classical longings.

Over a quartet of channeled “movements” (rain, absence, intimacy and nostalgia), Julien charts this affair-of-the-heart with a both cinematic and melodious touch. The EP though is a greater conceptual work that even arrives accompanied by a short story and plenty of poetic, stirring baggage. Lingering reminisces pour from this composer’s light yet deep vaporuos yearnings.

On the cover itself, Julien is painted as some kind of Left Banke thinker meets Graham Greene Third Man and shoe-string Marlowe; a riff on 50s and older covers of that vogue. And so nostalgia is certainly evoked on this almost timeless EP of abstracted emotionally pulled memories made tangible. It’s actually a most lovely, touching trembled and graceful encapsulation of the themes; beautifully put together. It’s also entirely different and like all three of these releases pushes experimental, ambient music in different directions, yet never loses sight of taking the listener on those same sonic journeys into the cosmic, imaginary, and intimate.

Somewherecold Records is proving a catalyst and platform for some of the most interesting and ambitious of under-the-radar artists. Expect to see plenty more or their releases on the Monolith Cocktail in the future.

Ian Clement ‘See Me In Synchronicity’
(Cobraside Records) Album/October 2nd 2020

All the better for it, full of sagacious yearning, frontman of the Ghent stoner/alt-rock band Wallace Vanborn, Ian Clement makes a welcoming return to the musical fold with his second solo album See Me In Synchronicity. After many travails and a series of breakdowns, Clement opens up with a songbook collection of musings on troubled romances, escaping, intimacy and more mystical, metaphysical queries on the altered states of consciousness: a subject that stems from the earnest singer/songwriters interest in mysticism and the spiritual, and its place in an increasingly secularized, atheistic Western culture.

Further, as Clement himself illuminates, “mysticism and madness touch each other, even in ordinary life. The daydreamers whose hope lies in love and fantasy or in loneliness or madness, is something that everyone can relate to.” And there is, at least, some of that title’s “synchronicity”; as also reflected on the album cover’s dream state alpine juxtaposed with cityscape and beret fitted beachcomber meandering below a seductive muse collage artwork.

Though far from mystical sounding or esoteric, this is a solid songbook with just enough edge to set it apart from the well-worn tropes and sounds found in most alt-rock of a similar persuasion. For Clement traverses not only hard rock but also country (verging on Americana), indie, post-Britpop and, even, new wave (chugging away tot the dashboard emotional pulling pop motor pop of The Cars on the “consciousness” imbued ‘Turtle & Crow’). And so you can expect to hear a subtle pallet of influences and sounds prompting this brooding but often mature and wise album.

Vocally Clement evokes a touch of Jeff Buckley (via Blackbud’s Joe Taylor) and Mark Lanegan, whilst the mix of blazing rock guitar shadings and hooks leans towards Bends period Radiohead, post-punk and early noughties Bowie. However, the most surprising humbling and yet bittersweet romantic song, ‘Bliss’, strays into the Floydian. There’s also a dappled gospel-tinged organ that keeps popping up throughout the album; a kind of low-key Muscle Shoals vibe.

Making sure this all gels, and offering some of that edge, is the luminary German producer Renė Tinner, who knows a thing or two about pushing the envelope and finding that important synchronicity between the commercial and experimental having worked with such polar opposites as Can and George Harrison. This culminates in a production and sound with depth, soul and a few surprises. Clement unloads his pains and intimate resolutions on a most sophisticated, hard-fought and lyrical work: A brave work at that.

Daniel O’Sullivan ‘Electric Māyā: Dream Flotsam And Astral Hinterlands’
(VHF Records/KPM) Album/23rd October 2020

The latest in a long run of explorative transformations for Daniel O’Sullivan, of both Grumbling Fur and This Is Not This Heat fame, sees the London-based musical polyglot traversing the “library music” oeuvre.

Although often the preserve for lovers of cult mavericks and the kitsch, library music is infinite in scope and varies considerably in quality. Often, because of its very nature dismissed as either a pale imitator of the sound and music it’s trying to ape, or void of true artistry and depth: produced in many cases as a background soundtrack and cheap off-the-shelf filler. Of course this is all bullshit, the label itself now so diverse and overused as to include some truly gifted composers alongside one-offs and obscure unknown peddlers of lo fi and unassuming skits. Essentially though, it is seen as music that fits specific criteria or commission, as O’Sullivan puts it, music made “more for functionality than sonic self-portraiture”.

It also includes, in more recent years, an increasing number of artists-in-the-know appropriating library music’s guilty pleasures and forgotten acolytes: Not so much as pastiche but rather in the mode of homage and mining ever more obscure sounds. And so a very much “knowing” O’Sullivan in collaboration with those purveyors of such rediscovered treasures, KPM, invests a lot of time and effort in producing an 18-track suite of sophisticated redolent library music gestures, sweeps, memories and fleeting incipient soundtracks on the first of a trio of such albums. The challenge however is in creating a fully-realised composition with a start, middle and sort of conclusion in short form: every track on the album being more or less under the 3-minute mark.

Delving into the cosmology of the elaborately psychedelic entitled Electric Māyā: Dream Flotsam And Astral Hinterlands you’ll find a full body of atmospheres, inner spaces, emotions, sciences and supernatural elements articulated by a diverse pallet of sounds and instrumentation. O’Sullivan caters for every occasion, from beatific meditation Eastern transcendence (‘Adoring Solitude’) to emerging from a mysterious mist-clearing landscape (‘Butterscotch Broth’) and Tomat evoked celestial cathedrals-in-the-sky (‘Eagle Ears’). And that’s all within the first five tracks: the mystical, the ambient unveiling of inspired scenery and the cosmos. Elsewhere there’s deft evocations of the sort of tender Italian pianist-driven soundtracks of the 70s favoured by Greg Foat (‘Flashbulb Memory’), a bird’s eye view from above wispy, translucent clouds (‘Feathered Earth’), a kooky burbled and steam-post-punk merger of Kraftwerk, Bernard Estardy and Jon Hassell (‘Gray’s March’) and haunted monastic dream muses (‘Sybil’).

From the sublime to the strange, ethereal to the earthy, most bases are covered on this expansive album of the vapourous and gazing. Most of which is beautifully produced and entrancing. Mixing semi-classical with ambient music, avant-garde and electronica, O’Sullivan has created an inspiring sonic journey through library music’s most lunar and traversing, stirring highlights without reverting to that pastiche and lazy homage. It is nothing short of a great piece of instrumental work, the soundtrack to a most wondrous ambitious movie.

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

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.




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