PLAYLIST REVUE/Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brain ‘Bordello’ Shea




Join us for the most eclectic of musical journeys as the Monolith Cocktail compiles another monthly playlist of new releases and recent reissues we’ve featured on the site, and tracks we’ve not had time to write about but have been on our radar.

Expect to hear everything and anything; from Azerbaijan guitar heroes (very perceptive at the moment considering the geopolitical border shooting in the news), jazz peregrinations, lopsided psychedelic pop, stop-start funk, abstract deconstructions, Beach Boys imbued ebb and flow ruminating, sketches from a doyen of Krautrock, a cross pollination of 808 Maghreb and India, poignant personal ambient laments, plus a load of choice Hip-Hop cuts. 50 tracks in all. 


Those Tracks In Full Are:

Songhoy Blues ‘Barre’
Leron Thomas ‘Endicott’
Nubya Garcia ‘The Message Continues’
Dele Sosimi, Medlar ‘Gudu Gudu Kan’
Sidi Toure ‘Farra Woba’
Floodlights ‘Matter Of Time’
Lou Terry  ‘The View’
Lizzy Young ‘Obvious’
Sampa The Great, Junglepussy ‘Time’s Up (Remix)’
Marques Martin ‘Hailey’
Nicky William ‘Pathetic Fuck’
Gibberish ‘I Dreamed U’
La China de La Gasolina ‘El Camino’
The Green Child ‘Fashion Light’
Ludwig Dreistern  ‘New Oddity’
Namir Blade ‘Stay’
This Is The Kit ‘Coming To Get You Nowhere’
Esbe ‘My Love Knows No Bounds’
Stella Sommer ‘The Eyes Of The Summer’
Brona McVittie ft. Isan & Myles Cochran ‘Falling For Icarus’
Badge Epoque Ensemble ft. U.S. Girls & Dorothea Pass ‘Sing A Silent Gospel’
Liraz ‘Injah’
Junkboy ‘Belo Horizonte’
Rustem Quilyev ‘Ay Dili Dili’
Phew ‘All That Vertigo’
Krononaut ‘Leaving Alhambra’
The Strange Neighbour ‘Stuntman’
dedw8, Conway The Machine, 0079 ‘Clean The Whole Room Out’
Syrup, Twit One, Turt, C.Tappin, Summers Sons ‘Burn Out’
Verb T, Illinformed ‘New Paths’
Good Doom ‘Zig Zag’
Sheltered Workshop Singers ‘Dan I Am’
Staraya Derevnya ‘Hogweed Is Done With Buckwheat’
Sheltered Workshop Singers ‘My Life’
Violent Vickie ‘Serotonin’
Julia Meijer ft. Fyfe Dangerfield ‘The Place Where You Are’
Mike Gale ‘Pastel Coloured Warm’
Michael Rother ‘Bitter Tang’
Extradition Order ‘Let’s Touch Again’
Schlammpeitziger ‘Huftgoldpolka’
Ammar 808 ft. Kali Dass ‘Ey Paavi’
Edrix Puzzle ‘Jonny Buck Buck’
SOMA, Shumba Maasai, Hermes ‘Rudeboi’
Babylon Dead ‘Nineteen84’
The Jux, Turkish Dcypha, Wavy Boy Smith ‘Lost In Powers’
Verbz, Mr. Slipz ‘2202 Fm’
Tune-Yards ‘Nowhere, Man’
Chiminyo ‘I Am Panda’
Sebastian Reynolds ‘Heartbeat’
Tamar Collocutor, Tenesha The Wordsmith, Rebecca Vasmant ‘Yemaya (Vasmant Mixmaster)’



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.

PLAYLIST/Dominic Valvona





Welcome friends to another one of Dominic Valvona’s eclectic/generational spanning playlists; the Monolith Cocktail’s imaginary radio show. In practice this amounts to Dominic picking whatever he sees fit, including tributes to fallen idols and tracks from recent reissues. This month’s edition pays a small homage to the late Italian deity of soundtracks and composition, Ennio Morricone. Joining him in on this journey is Art Decade, VoilaaaKahvas Jute, Tono S.Pharoah Sanders, Electric Eels, Faris, VED, Abel Lima, The Staple Singers, Jerzy Milian and twenty-three other eclectic choice artists.

Listen how you choose, but each playlist is curated in a special order.

As usual, for those without Spotify (or boycotting it, pissed with it or whatever) you can find a smattering of videos from the set below the track list.



Track List:

Mike James Kirkland ‘What Have We Done’
Voilaaa   ‘Manu ecoute ca…’
Pharaoh Sanders ‘Farrell Tune (live In Paris 1975)’
Tono S. & DJ Metys ‘Recept Na Uspech’
Lord Finesse with Sadat X and Large Professor ‘Actual Fatcs’
Weldon Irvine ‘Love Your Brother’
Ted Hawkins ‘Sweet Baby’
Tripsichord ‘The New World’
Kahvas Jute ‘Shes So Hard To Shake’
Country Weather ‘Boy Without A Home’
Orangutan ‘Chocolate Piano’
Jessamine ‘Inevitably’
Electric Eels ‘Sewercide’
Indianizer ‘Mazel Tov II’
Hypnotuba ‘Hubbubuzz’
Art Decade ‘Delta’
Ndikho Xaba ‘In Praise Of Women’
VED ‘Sture External’
Faris ‘Oulhawen Win Tidit’
Velvett Fogg ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941’
Group 1850 ‘Hunger’
Pisces ‘Oh Lord’
Yanti Bersaudara ‘Pohon Kenari’
DakhaBrakha ‘Vynnaya Ya’
Abel Lima ‘Aonte’
Ennio Morricone ‘Arianna’
Marva Josie ‘He Does It Better’
Gryphon ‘Mother Nature’s Son’
Robert Lester Folsom ‘Ginger’
Quiet World ‘Star’
Minami Deutsch ‘Sunrise, Sunset’
Uniting Of Opposites ‘Ancient Lights’
Jerzy Milian ‘Hausdrache’
Ennio Morricone ‘The Chase’
The Staple Singers ‘Washington We’re Watching you’

VIDEOS:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





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.

LP REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona
Images: Shida Masataka 




Tamikrest   ‘Tamotaït’
(Glitterbeat Records)   LP/27th March 2020


It’s been well over seven years since Mali was last thrust into the world’s media spotlight; the Nomadic Tuareg’s, or as they would rather be called, the Kel Tamasheq, age-old cause to gain control of an autonomous region in the country’s northwest border was abruptly hijacked by a less than sympathetic branch of al-Qaeda. Declaring an independent state, known as the Azawad, in 2012 the Kel Tamasheq were soon compromised by their far more radical destructive partners: their ambitions reaching far further with an insurgency that threatened to destabilize the entire country. In their wake these extremists reduced many historical and revered sites to dust, and imposed the harshest forms of Islamist rule wherever they went: much to the distress of the Kel Tamasheq.

Though this initial insurgency was more or less all-over within a year, the Mali government was forced to seek military assistance from the former colonial overlords, France, who stymied but never quelled the insurgency and uprising. They did however restore some stability to the west of the country and centers of government. In the last few years Islamist terrorist campaigns run alongside ever bigger and more terrifying sporadic and haphazard attacks. Government advice in the UK describes these as indiscriminate, going on to advise avoiding ‘…all large gatherings, including music festivals, sporting events and any public marches or demonstrations. The Festival au Désert in Timbuktu was cancelled in January 2017 and has not taken place since due to security concerns. Festivals in other parts of the country, such as the Festival sur le Niger in Segou, are also vulnerable to attack. There may be a heightened risk of attack during election periods’.

It’s a multifaceted conflict with many dimensions, and has subsequently spread from Mali to the neighbouring countries of Burkina Faso and Niger. This is all despite the presence of 4,500 French troops in the Sahel region (a colossal area between the Sahara, to the north, and the Sudanian Savanna, to the south) and a further 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force.

The spiritually restless Kel Tamasheq population, trapped between a hostile government, armed militias loyal to al-Qaeda and the encroaching threat posed by global corporations eager to commodify their desert home, remain stuck in the middle.






Still without a homeland, though liberated from their draconian partners, they’re once again left, as wanderers in their own lands, the unofficial guardians and custodians of the Saharan wilderness. For now only a dream, best realized and protested through music, the rock’ n ’roll Bedouins Tamikrest emerge from the barren landscape with a message of “power and resistance and hope”. Exiled from the southwestern Saharan crossroad town of Kidal, home but also the birthplace of this entrancing desert rock band, the Tamikrest troupe lives between the bordering regions, Algeria and also Paris. They paid homage to that strategically and spiritually important cultural trading town on their last album, back in 2017; an album that exuded both the sadness and suffering of the dispossessed people who cling to the Saharan hub that is Kidal, a town which has seen its fair share of fighting. Fought over, conquered and reconquered over time, it remains a symbolic home: This is after all the town that nurtured them and where it all began.

Supposedly back with the most powerful statement since the group’s 2013 Chatma album, the message of Tamikrest’s fifth studio album is once again one of hope and reflection: a message that is literally reflected in the translation of the album’s Tamotaït title. Not that you’d know it from the poetically earthy longing vocals, but songs like the opening mirage-y gritty blues boogie ‘Awnafin’ are powered by a message of ‘defiance’, whilst the group’s percussionist and singer Aghaly Ag Mohamedine declares a message of a “revolution in the Tamasheq culture”, when discussing the sirocco Future Days (at its most heavenly and liquid) buoyed narrated ‘As Sastnan Hidjan’. For something so revolutionary in rhetoric, and born out of such a tragic upheaval, the latest album is mostly an articulately electrified soulful affair that lingers and resonates between the sand dunes and the cosmic. Despite some rough and fuzzed guitar and a rocking beat, Tamikrest articulate a sighed, almost hushed form of gospel blues; especially spiritually diaphanous and enriched when a chorus of sweeter male and female vocalists weigh in, as they do on the down-and-sandy slide guitar and drum tabbing yearning ‘Amidinin Tad Adouniya’, and with the gossamer Balearics camel-motion ‘Amzagh’ – which sways close the backing music of the band’s label mate, the Saharan siren Aziza Brahim.

Arguably always open to embracing sounds and music from outside Mali, Tamikrest find an affinity with the perfumed alluring coos and gauzy longing of the Moroccan singer/actress Hindi Zahra. Connected not just geographically but through the group’s transcendent guitarist Paul Salvagnac, who played in Zahra’s band for several years, the acclaimed siren – known for singing in both English and the atavistic Berber languages – casts a suitable spell on the album track ‘Timtarin’. So congruous and at ease with the setup, apparently she recorded her vocals without any rehearsal, on the first take. Her turn on this atonal dream sends the band on a wind across the Sahara towards Persia.

Tamikrest also find kinship with the traditional music of Japan. Whilst on tour in the Far East, Ag Mohamedine was drawn to the spindly threaded and quivered sounds of the three-stringed, plectrum strummed ‘shamisen’ and five-string ‘tonkori’: an odd looking instrument said to have been shaped to resemble a woman’s body, the strings are openly strummed with one hand, whilst the other hand plucks out individual strings. Guesting on the album’s closer, ‘Tabsit’, Atsushi Sakta and Oki Kano lend an Oriental resonance to the group’s desert shimmered guitar tones in a union between two very different worlds. It’s another congruous fit, one that transcends both.

Remaining true to the sound that has so defined them, Tamikrest have also continued to expand sonically across their quintet of albums. Roots music taken on a voyage of discovery to a myriad of compass points, Tamotaït once more transforms the lingered traces of desert blues and rock’ n ’roll to produce a richly woven tapestry of fired-up protestation and hope.





Related posts from the Archives:

Tamikrest ‘Chatma’ 

Tamikrest ‘Kidal’ 

Terakaft ‘Alone’

Glitterbeat 5th Anniversary Special 



Support the Monolith Cocktail via Ko-Fi

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.

PREVIEW/REVIEW
Dominic Valvona





A quick shifty, glance, a perusal of the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload our inboxes this month by me, Dominic Valvona.

For your consideration this week, tracks, even a film trailer, from The Band, Chassol, Nordine Staifi, Graham Costello’s Strata and, Van Pool.


Graham Costello’s Strata  ‘Cygnus’
(Gearbox Records)  Single/14th February 2020




From out the burgeoning Glasgow jazz scene rises Graham Costello’s Strata; an impressive sextet that edges towards post-rock and minimalism but was founded on a synthesis of flowing progressive and fusion jazz. Embodied in their latest untethered mini-opus, a free-flowing ascendance to the northern constellation of ‘Cygnus’, drummer Graham and his Strata troupe dynamically turn in an amorphous performance. Both moody and mysterious, with a certain gravitas, they build subtly from horizon emergent lingering caressed saxophone and ebbing gentle piano to a crescendo of rapid percussive barreling rolls, punchier horns, slam the lid down on the keys avant-garde piano and Afro-jazz undulations on a suffused journey towards the stars.

A freestanding single, ‘Cygnus’ was recorded, as it happens, at Bryan Ferry’s Studio One in West London, and engineered by Hugh Padgham. Alongside Graham on this night flight peregrination were Harry Weir on tenor saxophone, Liam Shortall on trombone, Fergus McCreadie on piano, Mark Hendry on guitar and Joe Williamson on electric bass.

Of interest from the Archives:

Also on Gearbox Records: Abdullah Ibrahim ‘The Balance’ (review)



Nordine Staifi  ‘Zine Ezzinet’
(Sofa Records/Bongo Joe)  Teaser track from the MAGHREB K7 CLUB: Synth Raï, Chaoui & Staifi 1985​-​1997 compilation/27th March 2020




The Maghreb as you’ve probably never heard it before: All whistles, Casio presets and boogie disco on the cusp of alt-pop, like a North African Postcard Records. Sofa Records in conjunction with Les Disques Bongo Joe present Maghreb K7 Club: Synth Raï, Chaoui & Staiif 1985-1997, a compilation of tracks recorded and produced between those years in Lyon, France by musicians from North Africa’s Maghreb region; created in the hothouse environment of the city’s café culture by artist mostly from Algeria. This compilation brings together eight tracks that were then released on audio cassettes only, offering them for the first time ever on vinyl. Now there’s an offer you should find hard to refuse.

As the PR spill explains: ‘Most of Lyon’s musical scene is composed of men originating from eastern Algeria, but since the 1950s, the Croix-Rousse and Guillotière cafés have counted musicians from all over Maghreb. These cafés were social hubs, where these individuals met up weekly; playing together and sharing their everyday life experience — but they also had a major role in the development of popular music of French-based North Africans. In Lyon, Le But Café in the 3rd arrondissement or the bars on Sébastien Gryphe Street in the 7th arrondissement were among these: one could conduct business there, getting booked for a wedding, a baptism, a gala, or a studio session… all took place there.

Playing together in Lyon. The practice of music was cross-regional with different North African influences, but also with local traditions. These versatile musicians also absorbed new local influences: music within the context of immigration was a perfect school for musical cosmopolitanism. Chachacha or tango versions of some Cheikh El Hasnaoui tracks come to mind, or Mohamed Mazouni’s jerks and twists. Like their predecessors, the musicians in this compilation brilliantly integrate raï or staïfi tunes with disco aesthetics or funk guitar riffs as Nordine Staifi did. You could also think of Salah El Annabi who used the Oxygene theme (1976) by Jean-Michel Jarre, the Lyon-based composer and electronic music pioneer. “As we say around here, mixed weddings make good-looking lads!” said Abbès Hamou, a musician from Place du Pont. Following on from their musical traditions and unrestrained inventiveness, the musicians’ repertoire naturally assimilated their era’s aesthetics and technologies.’

From that compilation here’s Nordine Staifi’s ‘Zine Ezzinet’. Expect a full review report next month.


Robbie Robertson And The Band documentary   ‘Once Were Brothers’
Film/Select cinemas from 21st February 2020




As the earnest progenitors of a peregrination soundtrack, later to be expanded into a whole genre in its own right, under the audacious ‘Americana’ moniker, The Band defined a bygone pioneering spirit at a time when the American youth (especially) were pushing for both social and political change. Their songs spoke and sympathized with a certain inherent truth and hardiness from an age of steam, aligned with the country’s most destructive historical chapter, the civil war; out-of-step yet somehow wholly relevant in the face of civil rights and the Vietnam war. In a manner they would also be chief instigators of the whole ‘revival’ scene that saw The Beatles and bands like The Kinks return to more pastoral roots.

It didn’t matter, and is a totally fatuous bum-steer that four fifths of that quintet were born and raised over the boarder in Canada; an historical America will forever be immortalized by such summary tales of the old west as ‘The Weight’, ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ and ‘Across The Great Divide’ regardless of the authors nationality. Tales, which were so vivid as to be cinematic in their storytelling and nature; encompassing both tragedy and perseverance through the eyes of richly textured characters: the sort of individuals that could have easily stepped out of the novels of Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemmingway and the photo-plated almanac chronicles of the 19th century.

It wasn’t just the landscape and their own interpretations they owned so convincingly, they could also be relied upon to adopt the mantle of the artists they covered too, from Chuck Berry to Sam Cooke. As a backing band themselves for such luminaries as Ronnie Hawkins, through to Bob Dylan (electrifying the troubadour laureate’s sound), that spiritually revered line-up of Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel lived up to their presumptuous ‘THE BAND’ moniker; incorporating the sweet gospel soul of the deep south with country, ragtime, Tin Pan Alley and bluegrass at the drop of an old proverbial hat; they were ethereal and superior in musicianship, way beyond most of their contemporaries reach.

Rightly receiving another moment in the spotlight, a new documentary film, focused towards the group’s only surviving member, Once Were Brothers is inspired by Robertson’s 2016 bestselling memoir testimony of the same name. Presumptuous (that word again) to now single out his name (Robbie Robertson and the Band), even if he saw himself as unelected leader, this latest overview is billed as a confessional, cautionary, and sometimes humorous tale of Robertson’s young life and the creation of one of the most enduring groups in the history of popular music. The film, directed and put together by the trio of old hand Martin Scorsese (who of course memorably captured The Band’s The Last Waltz curtain call for posterity), Brian Grazer and Ron Howard blends rare archival footage and interviews with many of Robertson’s friends and collaborators, including Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Scorsese, Taj Mahal, Peter Gabriel, David Geffen and Ronnie Hawkins, among others.

Hopefully it will prove a worthy chapter in the story of one of the greatest Bands to have ever stalked the Earth.



Chassol  ‘Rollercoaster (pt.2)’
(Tricatel)  Single/Out Now




On the big dipper of life, the surreal mindscape of the very much in-vogue idiosyncratic French producer Chassol is as cerebral as it is fun.

Firstly though, for those who’d like a bit of background, Paris-Martiniquais Chassol (real name Christophe Chassol) has been finessing his own experimental ‘ultrascore’ approach to composition, in which – inspired by Steve Reich and Hermeto Pascoal – vocal and ambient sounds from video footage are harmonised in perfect sync to create a living, breathing soundtrack. His experiments caught the ear of Diplo, who in turn put Frank Ocean onto Chassol’s 2013 album, Indiamore. Ocean – at the time working on Blonde – then tapped Chassol to join him at Abbey Road, to develop speech harmonisation on the album (following a period of Chassol ignoring his calls, having no idea who Ocean was). Shortly afterwards Solange – having Shazam-ed his music at a performance installation – sought out Chassol to produce several tracks on 2019’s When I Get Home.

His latest album, the upcoming Ludi (released on 6th March) is inspired by Hermann Hesse’s first long-form novel The Glass Bead Game, or as it is sometimes published the Magister Ludi (hence the LP title), and the themes of play, both in relation to that novel’s central board game theory and to an inspired reification of four sociology-based elements of ‘play’, as envisaged by sociologist Roger Caillois: chance, masks, competition (as depicted in the previous single, ‘Savana, Céline, Aya’) and on this latest single, ‘Rollercoaster (Pt.2)’, vertigo.

A bizarre ride that transduces and harmonises the sounds and sights Chassol captured on a ride at the Tokyo Dome theme park (captured GoPro gonzo style and without permission in the accompanying video), ‘Rollercoaster (pt.2)’ is a kooky adrenaline rush that features the guest vocal “ohms” of Alice Lewis, Thomas de Pourquery and Alice Orpheus.

There are certainly some heavy depths to both this single and the forthcoming multi-disciplinary double-album, yet a sense of wonderment, exploration and excitement too.


Van Pool  ‘Bathing In The Open’
LP/26th January 2020




If you’re familiar with the expletory saxophone playing and electronic manipulations of the prolific Andy Haas – from his burgeoning days as a Muffin in Martha’s new wave outfit in the late 70s to his work with Meg Remy’s ever expanding U.S. Girls troupe, to his myriad of solo and collaborative projects, then you’ll be thrilled to hear he’s just formed a new group, the Van Pool. Different in mood to the amorphous unsettling augers and outright nightmares that permeated the evocations of his collaboration with Dan Fiorino on the American Nocturne visions, this latest improvised experiment of smoldering, squawking and yearning saxophone contortions and attuned blowing is a traverse of contemporary jazz.

Joining Andy on the quartet’s second album, Bathing In The Open, are the guiartist/bassists Omer Leibovitz and Kirk Schoenherr and drummer Layton Weedeman. From tranquil undergrowth wanderings, permeated by wafted guitar twangs and lingering saxophone to the more bent out of shape, more piercing and intense, this fantastical, transportive suite of ‘ideas’ is for fans of the Cosmic Range, Donny McCaslin, the Ross McHenry Trio, but also just fans of free-form, unburdened performance in general.

Of interest from the Archives:

Don Fiorino and Andy Haas ‘American Nocturne’ Review

U.S. Girls ‘In A Poem Unlimited’ Review


The Monolith Cocktail is now on Ko-fi

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.

Album Review: Dominic Valvona



Kel Assouf ‘Black Tenere’
(Glitterbeat Records) 15th February 2019



Mirroring the borderless Nomadic freewheeling of the Berber ancestral Tuareg people, a loosely atavistic-connected confederacy (to put it into any kind of meaningful context) of diverse tribes that have traditionally roamed Sub-Saharan Africa since time immemorial, Kel Assouf channels a wealth of musical influences both historically and geographically into an electrified reworking of (as vague and over-used a term as it is) desert rock.

Headed by charismatic Gibson Flying V slinger front man Anana Ag Haroun, who’s own lineage takes in both the landlocked behemoth Niger and bordering Nigeria, the highly propulsive, cyclonic spiraling trio propel that heritage into the 21st century; thanks in many ways to the futuristic cosmic electronic and bass frequency production of the band’s rising innovative keyboardist/producer Sofyann Ben Youssef – a name that should be familiar to regular readers as the dynamic force behind the multimedia musical Pan-Maghreb Ammar 808 project (one of our albums of 2018) and member of the electric jolted Algerian borderlands Bargou 08.

Informed, if not driven, lyrically by Haroun’s Tuareg roots, the Black Tenere album wastes no time in drawing the listener’s attention to the violent struggles endured by the Bedouin in their fight for autonomy and survival. A diverse society of various people, grouped together in an age that demands definition and demarcation, even the term ‘Tuareg’ is highly contested: arguably brought into the lexicon through the language of European Colonialism, though etymology traces the term back further to multiple sources. Haroun would prefer we used the original ‘Kel Tamashek’. The elliptic soft lunging rhythmic desert canter opening ‘Fransa’ poetically, in earthy earnestness, encapsulates these struggles and travails:

 

“The war during the French colonization was won
by the swords, shields and spears of our ancestors.
How do you want potential allies to provide you with modern cannons and
missiles?
Do you see your sisters every day climbing the border mountains (Tassili),
 clandestinely, exhausted, on their knees with bruised feet.”

 

Much is made of the past and ancestral rights, but the plight of the Kel Tamashek is ongoing. For now an uneasy truce exists between the various city-state governments and their rural and desert populations, especially in Mali, the Kel Tamashek uprisings that first kick-started a decades long fight for an autonomous state, known as the Azawad, in the north eastern desert regions of the Mali, began in the late 1960s; continuing throughout until more recent times when they made worldwide headlines as their struggle was hijacked spectacularly by Islamist insurgents – worryingly gaining ground as a Trojan Horse within their nomadic allies fight for independence; the destructive Islamist fascists horrified many when they took the ancient seat of West African learning and trade, Timbuktu, and preceded to demolish it like barbarians. Former Colonial masters France were forced to intervene, finally halting the insurgents progress before forcing all groups involved back to where they started, and many across the border. Far from ideal, the Islamist usurpers dissipated to a degree but then switched to sporadic acts of terrorism, carrying out smaller militia attacks in Mali’s capital.

In the bordering Niger, the Kel Tamashek have remained more obscure as they fight to maintain their lands and way of life, which is being eroded by climate-change and over-desertification (when relatively dry land becomes increasingly arid, losing bodies of water, vegetation and the wildlife with it).





Sonically given a dynamic but equally yearning, even romantic (especially on the gospel organ and mulling guitar accompanied ethereal-scenic paean to a virtual oasis, ‘Taddout’), boost to the nomadic heritage, they have a certain synthesized edge and twist missing from fellow desert rock groups such as Tinariwen (a major influence on Kel Assouf) and Tamikrest. Those familiar circling trance-y guitar riffs and camel-ride motions of the desert rock genre remain, yet the influence of heavy-hitters such as Hendrix, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin blend with acid psychedelic rock and more languid stoner rock, ‘astral ambience’ (their words not mine) and even club beats, take it in new directions. Add to this bubbling stew Haroun’s absorption of the cross-pollinating international music of his hometown – for the last eleven years – of Brussels, and the inclusion of local Belgium jazz drummer Oliver Penu adding off-kilter swerve, bounce, shimmery cymbal crescendos and limber, and you have a truly exciting global sound that evokes tribal medicine man dances, ambient traverses, rockier elements of Funkadelic, the Muscle Shoals studio, Black Merde, Terakaft and labelmates Dirtmusic: Sonorous beats and various desert settings from Africa, Mid Western America and the Australian Outback are evoked at any one time in this blazing mix.

A stunning rock odyssey that draws its multiple sources together in both defiance and in the spirit of communication – the Kel Tamashek plight, as guardian-custodians of the desert, translated via the poetic heartfelt earthy soulful lyrics of Haroun – Black Tenere stretches the roots of nomadic rock and blues to reflect ever-expanding musical horizons as the global community grows ever-smaller and music becomes more fluid and spreads with ease. Kel Assouf are on another plane entirely; propelling rock music into the future.





Words: Dominic Valvona

 

Selected by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Gianluigi Marsibilio.





The decision making process: 

Being the exhaustive and eclectic set of features our (choice) albums of the year are, we know you probably don’t need to or want to dally about reading a long-winded prognosis of our judgement process. But here it is anyway.

Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavors to offer a more visceral and personal spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists, stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album is more deserving of their fatuous numbered spot than another.

With no hierarchical order, we’ve lined our album choices up alphabetically; split into two features – A (Idris Ackamoor) to M (The Moonwalks), andN (Thomas Nation) to (Thom Yorke) Z.

All of our favourite new and reissued albums and EPs from 2018 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to have made some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2018: even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up another year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar or got lost in the noise of more commercial better promoted releases.

All selections have been made by me (Dominic Valvona), Matt Oliver and Gianluigi Marisibilio.

A.

Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids ‘An Angel Fell’ (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 civilisation on the lamentable An Angel Fell. 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’ with an epic sweeping album of Afro-jazz 2-Step ‘Warrior Dances’ and plaintive primal jazz catharsis.

Walking through the Valley of The Kings; sailing aboard Sun Ra’s Arkestra; conducting the empyrean; evoking Kuti’s Lagos Afrobeat jive; Ackamoor and his troupe traverse the mismia of a broken, corrupt world, delivering cries of anguish and auguers aplenty. Whether penning requiems to the gunned-down black victims of the US Justice system (‘Soliloquy For Michael Brown’), or in radiant prayer (‘Sunset’), they effortlessly and wondrously summon forth the leading lights of each musical genre they inhabit. Afrobeat, gospel, spiritual, funk, blues, future-past-present all come together in one of the year’s most important, enlightening and defining opuses.

(Dominic Valvona)

Ammar 808 ‘Maghreb United’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

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

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

Nothing short of visionary. Full review…

(DV)


Angels Die Hard ‘Sundowner’  (Jezus Factory Records)


 

Admittedly taking some time to grow on me, the Angels Die Hard combo’s Monsterism Island meets Les Baxter ethnographic phantasm of a remote Southeast Asian archipelago instrumental concept album, Sundowner, has finely unfurled its full magic: just in time to be included in the annual albums of the year features.

Imbued with a legacy of progressive, alt-rock, psych, exotica and post-punk influences plus Julian Cope’s Krautrock compendium, the Angels transduce and channel a cornucopia of styles once more as they soundscape the tropical island of Andaman. An environmental clarion call as much as a progressive rocking exotica, Sundowner is dedicated, at least partially, to the environmental tragedy of the plastic-strewn oceans.

Beachcombing a radioactive luminous landscape of musical opportunity, from bummer downers to mind-expanding space rock jams, these Angels expand their horizons (literally), on the band’s best album to date. Some ideas work better than others of course, but when they do get it right they produce some fantastic opuses of amorphous abandon. Full review…

(DV)


Any Other ‘Two, Geography’  (42 Records)


The story of Adele Nigro (Any Other) is made of beautiful songs originating from a desire to subvert a rather conservative musical culture, just like the Italian one.

2018 has given us many beautiful pieces, of the most varied atmospheres, but to find a compact and complete album in each of its parts, touch refuge in Two, Geography (42 Records).

The numerous collaborations that Any Other has collected, as a musician, in recent years, have been invaluable to develop, refine and embellish her poetics.

The sonorities of the album are very distinct, and at the same time loquaciously soaked by all the experiences brought on stage (or in the studio) during the year that is inexorably past.

With Two, Geography, however, there is more, Adele coming out with her head held high, they are not only beautiful pieces that stand out for their immediacy and vitality, but also the international character of the project.

Any Other’s work was immediately presented as something else, for depth and acuity, starting from that ‘Roger Roger, Commander’ or from the same singles who announced Two, Geography.

The simplicity in intertwining linear arpeggios, bright rhythmic lines and a voice, both delicate and particular, makes us immediately think of the disc in a different way, we immediately understand that such a sound must be appreciated with attention and in its various nuances.

Since the first bars of ‘Silently. Quietly. Going Away’ (the first work of Any Other) you could see her skill in shaping a song form as a real opportunity for musical and textual speculation.

The song ‘Capricorn No’ is a monument of modernity that comes on, not only for its immediate and deep style, but because it plays with the atmosphere that you can hardly expect from an Italian artist.

The work as a whole is a challenge, a part of  a musical resistance, a progressive push in the sea magnum of ideas that too often settle down, even in brilliant artists.

Any Other is the 2018, the beautiful and fundamental face to make us remember that, all in all, this year went well.

(Gianluigi Marsibilio)


B.

Anton Barbeau ‘Natural Causes’ (Beehive/Gare du Nord)


 

Ian Hunter via Robyn Hitchcock via Luke Haines via Julian Cope, wrapped inside an enigma, the Sacramento born, Berlin-based, Anton Barbeau changes his style of delivery repeatedly yet always maintains an idiosyncratic ingenuity in whatever he does. The results of an aborted project under the Applewax banner, made in the run up to the 2016 US elections, Natural Causes is the reflective, more open antithesis to what would have been a far darker and mournful proposition. Richly melodious and halcyon, this most brilliant new collection finds Barbeau both transforming some of the back catalogue (for the better) and penning new glorious sounding maverick pop songs: The quality of which are cerebral, memorable, melodic but also adventurous and inventive.

Barbeau and a congruous cast of guests lend a touching caress to a songbook of contemporary surreal lyrical musings and love songs. Unrushed, even breezy in places but hardly lacking intensity, there’s an air of nostalgia in homages to the radio stations and DJs that first sparked interest in the young Barbeau on the Hunter fronts Tom Petty band finale Down Around The Radio. And with a nod to one of the music cannons greatest ever records, The Beatles Sgt. Pepper kaleidoscope, a stab at a popsike hit (a missing link from one of Strange Days magazines 80s halcyon compilations) is made with a song that was originally written to be recorded at the venerated Fab Fours’ inner sanctum of Abbey Road, with the quirky Disambiguation.

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

(DV) 


MC Paul Barman ‘Echo Chamber’  (Mello Music Group)

“Potent politics, funky lounge lizard off-the-tops and bizarre hypotheses, burrowing its way through the toughest of leather bound volumes to have you picking the bones out for weeks on end” RnV May 18

In many ways this is the consummate Paul Barman album, but it bears repeating straight off the bat, while trying super hard to not sound incredulous, that ‘Echo Chamber’ features production from ?uestlove, DOOM and Prince Paul (funky/sidekick status, from stoop to playground), with additional contributions from Mark Ronson (upping the ludicrousness with a tweak of The Ronettes’ ‘Sleigh Ride’), Masta Ace and Open Mike Eagle. That’s some serious string pulling from an explicitly cult concern only reinforcing his standards in lewdness and a smart Aleck riot act both downplaying and toadying a racing IQ (his relocation to Mello Music Group keeps him in his own lane as well). Ridiculous as ever with the dictionary and remaining a brilliant observer – see ‘Youngman Speaks on Race’, and ‘Commandments’ going one better by taking the Decalogue to Sesame Street and Biggie’s Bed-Stuy – Barman carries on making the longest of long shots with battle raps that’ll bamboozle and WTF one-liners that Jackanory or congress will sadly never benefit from. Bigger, better and geekier than ever.



Bixiga 70 ‘Quebra Cabeça’ (Glitterbeat Records)


 

Translating as the ‘puzzle’, Bixiga 70‘s latest album is a full 360-degree panoramic evocation (both joyful and lamentable) of their homeland’s African roots. Translating those roots, an ancestry that runs through many of the band members (some individuals descended from the Africa-Caribbean religion of ‘candomble’ for instance), Bixiga are also inspired on this journey by some of the highly talented artists they’ve shared various stages with over the years. Artists such as the Ghanaian highlife singer Pat Thomas, the Nigerian sublime traversing saxophonist legend Orlando Julius and Brazilian octogenarian star João Donato. Incorporating the lot they merge their brass-y signature carnival funk and shaking Afrobeat sass with cosmic voodoo, Afro-jazz and sloping funk.

The quality as always shines through on every track, with the visions and evocations of both Africa and Bixiga’s city home of Sao Paulo articulated by an energetic but also ruminating soundtrack of the tribal, funky, cosmic, tropical, gospel and ritual. The slave portal of Benin, further outlying deserts of the sub-Sahara and busy rhythmic bustles of Nigeria are channeled via the melting pot hubs of Brazil on the group’s most epic, ancestral and geographical straddling album. It only remains to see just how great it will sound live on stage. Full review…

(DV)



The Bordellos ‘Debt Sounds’ 

Brian Bordello ‘The Death Of Brian Bordello’  (Metal Postcard Records)


 

In a parallel universe the Jesus And Mary Chain never left East Kilbride; Julian Cope never formed the Teardrop Explodes; and Brian Wilson was in fact born in St. Helens in the late 1960s, and recorded all his opusus on a Tascam four-track, inspired by Mark E Smith. This alternative world is one the dysfunctional family circle The Bordellos inhabit. Probably the best lo fi rock’n’roll-meets-post-punk-meets-the-Spaceman 3 hapless band you’ve never heard of, the prolific group, headed by the patriarchal masthead Brian Bordello, have been luridly, sinisterly, laughably and pessimistically knocking-out their brand of disgruntled alternative yearnings for a decade or more with little attention from anyone other than us loyal fans – who probably need our heads examined in all honesty. You either get them or you don’t. And you could find some of their more confrontational dark humour (songs about the BBC killing John Peel, still loving the musical cannon of Gary Glitter, and on this album, Debt Sounds, some sinister predatory sexual allured shclock about Rolf Harris) too unsettling, even perverse.

Debts Sounds, in the manner of a Half Man Half Biscuit play-on-words, is The Bordellos low cost Pet Sounds. That may not be initially obvious. But stay with me on this one. Fashioned and realised by Brian from the band members and even affiliates, girlfriends and whatnots various outpourings and late night sessions into a most epic song book of unrequited love, sick love, obsessed love, compromised love, salacious love, and even some tender love – they excel themselves on the laid bare and touching ‘Spirograph’ and quasi-Beatles ‘My Life’ meets the hardened north romanticism of ‘I May Be Reborn’ (Take this for a line: “Every smoking chimney my Statue of Liberty”), Debt Sounds is full of great maverick performances and songwriting, made in a period of crisis, anxiety and manic depression. Ok…so more Don Van Vliet than Brian Wilson, but still a valid comparison.

Whereas will you hear odes, homages and eulogies to Jimmy Campbell and Faron’s Flamingos to a back track featuring vague indifferent shades of Thom Yorke, Cope, Velvet Underground, Red Crayola, Joy Division and the The Seeds? Nowhere that’s where. Brian Bordello’s Track-by-track breakdown…

Knocking out records on a whim, it seems inconceivable that the leader of the Bordellos has never actually released a solo effort until this year (and only a few weeks from the end of 2018). Paring down, enverated, Brian Bordello steps outside the family unit on his debut solo, The Death Of... Not expecting many flowers on that graveside elegy of a album title, Brian takes a sort of reflective pause and looks back on a litany of tropes that have come to encapsulate his resigned fatalism. With only a clipped, rough and unguarded acoustic guitar and his trusted Tascam for company, Brian pays tribute to rock’n’roll icons Eddie Cochran (again) and Mark E Smith (who Brain thinks should be canonised as a saint); wears his heart on his sleeve cooing songs about lingering memories of bunk-ups, unrequited wooing gone wrong and lost kitchen sink romances; and languishly but candidly weary sonnets on depression.

As lo fi as it can get, Brian’s most intimate, personal performances yet strip away all the caustic dissonance and fuzz to reveal his most brilliant songwriting. The Death Of is an often beautifully morose songbook that lays bare the talents of a true uncompromising outsider.

(DV)


Brace! Brace! ‘S/T’ (Howlin Banana)


 

Producing gorgeous hues of softened psychedelia, new wave, Britpop and slacker indie rock, this young but sophisticated band effortlessly melt the woozy and dreamy with more punchier dynamic urgency on their brilliant debut album.

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

A near-perfect debut album, an introduction to one of the most exciting new fuzzy indie-pop bands of the moment. Full review…

(DV)



Apollo Brown & Joell Ortiz ‘Mona Lisa’ (Mello Music Group)



“Rugged but always smooth, reflective with a forked tongue…there’s a lot of comfort to be taken from the union of two opposing authority figures exercising supreme quality control” – RnV Nov 18

This duo’s mutual will to only work with the elite – Joell Ortiz as a member of Slaughterhouse, Apollo Brown extending his collaborative run after shared albums with Skyzoo, Ghostface Killah, Ras Kass, Planet Asia – is head start number one. Yes these are extremely experienced experts in their field who shouldn’t drop the ball, but 12 tracks, one emcee and one producer, two guests maximum, and everything absolutely finely tuned is still the best advantage to press home. A steadiness to both performances has BPMs instantly finding their sweet point so instrumental richness can build, settle, simmer and seduce, and vocals slip straight into the pocket housing an imperceptible line between recognition and vengeance. The introspection of ‘Mona Lisa’ pays respects with a feeling that it doesn’t pay to dwell, that while everything may be upbeat and secure – visuals of sauntering down a street and coloured in something like a high definition sepia – slippery slopes, with ‘Cocaine Fingertips’ the album’s most rotten apple and situations like the bittersweet resonance of ‘That Place’, are always around the corner. Another win for the seemingly indefatigable Mello Music Group as well.

(Matt Oliver)


C.

The Cold Spells  ‘S/T’  (Gare du Nord)


Esoterically gentle and wistful, The Cold Spells debut long player is a gauze-y organic and ambiguous (to a point) affair of undulating ‘moss covered’ circuitry, folk, quintessential English psych, paisley patterned hallucinogens and Kosmische.

Communing with the ether, connecting with the psychogeography of their chosen environment – from the soft Wiccan with forebode travail of Thomswood Hill to the alluded-to abandoned mental hospital waste ground near Hainault -, a host of spirits tune in and out of the continuous, though (as we’re told) not in a linear order, flowing suite of laudanum imbued Victoriana lyricism and Beatles-esque melody.

A surprise package, quietly unassuming, the trio’s encapsulation of an age of ghostly memories – the ancestors inhabit the band’s present to address the here and now concerns of a troubled, unstable world – is magical and gently lamentable; a perfect evocation of aicd folk and pastoral esotericism, as beautifully plaintive as it is ominous.  Full review…

(DV)



D.

Die Wilde Jagd ‘Uhrwald Orange’  (Bureau B)


 

Fashioning a mysterious ‘Clockwood Orange’ world of Gothic and ominous dreamscapes, inspired by and named, in part, after the studio it was produced in, and by both the 17th century menagerie paintings of the Flemish artist Frans Snyder and the collected devotional Medieval period songs of the Llibre Vermell De Montserrat artifact, Die Wilde Jagd’s Sebastian Lee Philipp takes us on an eerie, cosmic and slinking travail through a throbbing sophisticated earthy electronic soundtrack. His musical partner on the group’s adroit debut self-titled experiment, producer Ralf Beck, is excused from the follow-up but lends out his extensive racks of vintage analogue synthesizers to Philipp, who transforms and obscures their banks of sounds into ghostly permutations, shadowy creatures and lurking, dancing and honking sonorous cries from a murky wilderness.

Uhrwald Orange is a classy imagined score, balancing cool, gleaming and aloof German electronica with menacing, nocturnal earthiness, yet also reaching for the celestial. One minute imbued with hints of Bauhaus, Killing Joke, Eno, Cluster, and Faust, the next slinking on to the Tresor club or Basic Channel dancefloor. In short: a most impressive album. Full review…

(DV)


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


A highlight in a catalogue of outstanding reissues from the Analog Africa label, intrepid crate digger Samy Ben Redjeb reprises the first two volumes of Somali fusion funk music from the legendary 1980s outfit, the Dur-Dur Band. Embodying a period in the decade when Mogadishu could boast of its cosmopolitan reputation – notably the European chic Via Roma stretch in the Hamar-Weyne district, a colonnade for café culture, cinema and of course music – the hybrid Dur-Dur Band moped up the polygenesis fever of their native city with effortless aplomb during their short heyday.

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

Split up across a triple LP and double CD formats the Dur-Dur Band’s first two albums proper, Volumes 1 and 2, and a couple of unreleased tunes feature on this, the first in a promised series of re-issues. Released originally in 1986, the first of these and the band’s debut album, Volume 1, has a rawer unpolished but snazzy sound that saunters, skips and grooves along with aloof coolness to sweltering laidback funk; opening with the wah-wah chops and a fuzzy organ stunner, ‘Ohiyee’ , which lays down a sophisticated but explosive spiritual dance floor thriller. Volume 2 by contrast seems a little brighter and tropical; beginning as it does with the dub echoed, Trenchtown pirate radio broadcast ‘Introduction’.

Going further than most to bring the sounds of Africa to a wider audience, the Dur-Dur Band release proved to be one of the label’s most difficult, as Redjeb tackled the geopolitical fall-out of a country devastated by civil war to bring us a most unique sounding and essential collection. Full review…

(DV)

E.



Elefant ‘Konark Und Bonark’  (9000 Records)


 

Emerging from the Belgium underground scene, with members from a myriad of bands, each one more obscure than the next, the Elefant in this room is a twisted agit-post-punk, boiler come forensic team suited troop of noise peddlers. Lurking around basement venues for a while now, the sludge metal and gallows Krautrock merchants have released a slurry of EPs but never a fully realized album until now.

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

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

(DV)


Bernard Estardy ‘Space Oddities: 1970-82’ (Born Bad)

‘Fragmented D’une Empreinte Magnétique: Rares 1966-2006’ (Gonzai Records)  


 

Because sometimes you just can’t decide, I’ve chucked in two reappraisal celebrating compilations of the odd, curious, thrilling and kitsch flights of fantasy musical fragments/sketches/soundtracks/compositions from the late and most gifted venerated French composer Bernard Estardy. I can’t even claim that these are great collections, let alone the best albums of the year, but they’ve kept me smiling all year.

Nicknamed ‘The Baron’, the founder of the CBE recording studio (which he set up in 1966) collaborated with a host of famous French icons in his time (arranging, producing or sound engineering for Johnny Hallyday, Francoise Hardy, Nino Ferrer, Michel Sardou and Jean Guidoni amongst others), but found an unleashed creative freedom as the master of consoles on his own excursions and dream flights of curiosity. Enjoying a resurrection of a sort in 2018, in part down to his daughter Julie Estardy‘s biography ‘The Giant’, Bernard’s eclectic back catalogue, from the realised to cutting room floor, is being reissued or rediscovered by a new generation through a number of different labels, both in France and internationally.

Two such compilations swept me up in their bombast; the first an album that couldn’t be described any better than the title it comes with, Space Oddities, and the second, Fragmented D’une Empreinte Magnétiquea Gauloises hotbed of weepy venerated organ romanticism and salacious sleek soundtracks. The first takes library music to the stars and beyond on a sassy opulent voyage of esoteric cosmic discovery. Jazz meets deep space on a drum-heavy collection of mysterious thrillers, phantasms and exotic awe. Tracks such as the more romantic, flute-y glide in space blues ‘Slow Very Slow’ sound like they could have made it to the ears of Goldfrapp or Greg Foat. The second of the pairing frequents more Earthy realms, pitching gospel with Bacharach yearnings, sentimental laments (the torn love soliloquy ‘It’s A Lovely Day To Die’ sums it up perfectly) and the strangest of deep-chested sung French cowboy soundtracks (A very Parisian journey to buy your ciggies, ‘La Route Au Tabac’, is rerouted through a lonesome pine trail).  Both are as brilliant as they are audacious; a refreshing escapism and proof of a unique talent.

(DV) 


Evidence ‘Weather or Not’ (Rhymesayers)



“From the moment he draws first breath on ‘Weather or Not’, Evidence embarks on a masterclass” – RnV Feb 18

A meteorological masterpiece showing that it’s rarely sunny in LA, whenever it rains it pours, and that Evidence is always bringing the weather with him. Ever laconic but whose economy of words is always wisely directed and word association seems slight but cuts deep, Ev walks the streets with collar up and hands dug into pockets, seemingly always in search of a contentment whose elusiveness he’s fine with. This prolongs a character pairing the enigmatic with a spokesman calling it straight down the line (“things I never thought about, trying to be elusive in the process, get forgot about”), a wallowing wanderer with whiplash in the tale and forever in control of his destiny (feel the tempered triumph of the concluding ‘By My Side Too’). A spread of AM band forecasts, a splash of psychedelic epiphanies and head nodders that buck like a bronco from Premier, Nottz and Babu, plus some Step Brothers espionage from Alchemist, allow the Dilated Peoples man to find you: because ‘Weather or Not’, you can’t run, you can’t hide.

(MO)


F.

Flora Fishbach ‘À Ta Merci’  (Blue Wrasse)


 

The French music press we’re told have fallen hook, line and synth for the alluring contralto voice of Flora Fishbach, who’s 80s revisionist pop twist on chanson oozes with such sophistication that its difficult not to embrace. Fishbach picked up the album révélation award at the Le Prix des Indés for best independent debut LP, winning high praise and plaudits galore ever since. Looking to make a similar impact across the Channel, the ‘bohemian darling’ has just released a deluxe edition of her electro pop requiem À Ta Merci. That decision is more or less echoed in the album’s title, which translates as, “at your mercy”.

Featuring the original running order and a bonus septet of gorgeous live recordings, this aloofly chic, yet theatrical, and especially when performing, animated album recasts Françoise Hardy as a disco pop and electro swooned crooner. Effortlessly channeling the vaporous dreamy pining of Kazu Makino on the moon dust sprinkled fantasy title-track and ambient textured, synthesizer bass bubbling yearned lament ‘Un beau langage’, and a Gallic Alison Goldfrapp on the opening ice-y cool malady ‘Ma voie lactée’, Fishbach adds a French nuance and sensibility to the synthesized pop ascetic: a signature you could say that despite the revivalist backing of electronic drum pads, post-punk sass, Moroder arpeggiator, Rococo harpsichord and hi-energy is unmistakably contemporary and French.

With the momentum already building in France and with the recent runaway success of music press darling Christine And The Queens (who I personally find utterly dull) I’m sure the UK will embrace this sophisticated chanteuse. This is overwhelmingly a better, more fun record than Christine’s (or the name she’s now adopted, Chris). Fishbach has certainly impressed me enough – what’s not impressive about referencing the philosophical aloof quandary that is Rimbaud’s “Je est un autre” (“I am another”) on a tropical slinking crystalline pop song, Un Autre Que Moi (“Another Me”) – to recommend her as one to watch in 2019. Full review…

(DV)


Fliptrix ‘Inexhale’ (High Focus)



“‘Inexhale’ masters the art of knocking you down with a feather: the pugilistic psychoanalysis is untouchable” – RnV Sept 18

It’s a little disingenuous to say Fliptrix became the High Focus main man this year, given he’s the driving force behind the label and already has a back catalogue of textbook pen and pad amplification. What with the label’s ever bubbling pool of talent seeing Ocean Wisdom blazing all and sundry, Jam Baxter expanding his cult appeal and two late night smokers from Coops, ‘Inexhale’ could’ve played the holding role and sat in the pack. But with breath control putting a copyright on the title and not a single word wasted, it’s an album that will leave you levitating. Be that from his street level strain of spirituality – letting the sharp end of something herbal work him over, or thoroughly aware of the rights and wrongs of his surroundings – or from the velocity of what’s spat (‘Inside the Ride’ doesn’t and won’t ever flop). Then flipping what the surroundings suggest, and never getting lost in the haze even with eyes at the reddest, Fliptrix finds the perfect medium between headphone moments and smacks to the head.

(MO)


Fofoulah ‘Daega Rek’  (Glitterbeat Records)  


 

Bustling onto the transglobal London and Bristol scenes in 2014 with their earthy and urban bombastic fusion of Wolof African culture and dub electronica rich debut LP, the Fofoulah ensemble laid down the template for the a unique adventurous sound. Though taking its time to materialize, four years on, the follow-up album hasn’t just moved on but supersonically zoomed into the experimental void; even an esoteric, spiritual one at times.

Daega Rek, ‘the truth’ when translated from the Wolof language of coastal West Africa, sees Fofoulah’s saxophonist, keyboardist and producer Tom Challenger transmogrify the original Gambian talking drum of the group’s shamanistic rapping lead Kaw Secka and the accompanying percussion and propulsive drumming rhythms of his band members. (All of which were laid down at the Real World studios). Secka would then reappear in post-production to record his half spoken/half-rapped protestations and observations; the results all re-shaped into a ricocheting lunar-tropical bounding dub cosmology.

Skipping and skittish in motion; pushing the envelope as they pay tribute to lost brothers (‘Kaddy’ pays 2-Step rhythmic eulogy to the late photographer Khadija Saye who died in the Grenfell Tower disaster), the visceral taste of home (‘Chebou Jaine’ dedicated to Secka’s cousin, who cooked the best national Gambian dish) and search for the truth, Fofoulah lunge into the electrified dub ether of sonic adventure. Full review…

(DV)


G.

Goatman ‘Rhythms’  (Rocket Recordings)


 

An amorphous exploration of world ‘rhythms’ as transduced by one the mysterious Scandinavian GOAT band members through a an arsenal of filters, modulators and oscillations, the debut Goatman suite blends its polygenesis inspirations perfectly.

Offering up magical and scintillating rhythms galore, from Kuti’s compound Afrobeat to a tremolo and laser bouncing variant of RAM’s Haiti vibe, you can expect to hear the venerable tones of gospel, jazz, reggae, psych and pure ethereal acoustic Kosmische on this sonic flight of fantasy. Earthy yet light enough to soar, this impressive experiment side-project channels its influences perfectly to conjure up new musical ideas. Echoes of GOAT are never far away of course, yet this imaginative take feels more natural, more organic, and above all, more soulful. A fantastic debut.

(DV)


H.

 

Jack Hayter ‘Abbey Wood’ (Gare du Nord)


 

Bringing light, or at least opening up a psycho-geographical narrative dedicated to the very edges of a largely ignored London postcode – so far out on the South Eastern outskirts as to be part of Kent –, an earnest Jack Hayter composes a yearning lament to Abbey Wood on what is his first solo album in fifteen years.

Hayter’s deftly played, with twangs of bucolic and Baroque folk, blues, synthesized atmospherics, Americana and reverent chamber music, multilayered songbook connects with the psychogeography of his chosen location. From songs about the Abbey Wood diaspora and its position as a gateway to the world to laying cooing elegiac wreaths to those unfortunate victims of the WWII Arandora Star passenger ship tragedy, Hayter produces a lived-in musical novel, rich with references, landmarks and peopled by those who left an indelible, if at times fleeting, mark upon this much forgotten or passed over postcode: their ghosts, no matter how small the part they played in its story, never inconsequential; remembered and written about with a certain gravitas by the erstwhile troubadour, who performs the most accomplished and brilliant of testaments.  Full review…

(DV)


Homeboy Sandman & Edan ‘Humble Pi’  (Stones Throw)



“A banquet of slaps that will become one of your five a day, and ultimately year” – RnV Oct 18

If seven or so tracks are good enough for Pusha T, Kanye etc, then they’re an ample fit for this elite underground swashbuckler of a showdown brought to us by the matchmaking Gods. Having flitted around the periphery for what seems forever, Edan returns with some of his best, ear-piercing archaeology to date as he shifts the B-boy-psych continuum once more; and Homeboy Sandman, both revelling in getting in the thick of it and firing off missives as he’s swept along for the ride, gets off the wall (“see me looking photogenic in the Book of Genesis, waving off medicines”), yet reels off some of the realest in recent times (it’s still, and shall remain, all about ‘Never Use the Internet Again’, which stylistically is actually a bit of a left-turn). The feeling pervades that the pair are proudly gladiatorial, indulging in friendly, unspoken competition as much as fighting the good fight as anointed hip-hop saviours. Let’s hope the sub 30-minute running time means the door is open for a second bout some time soon.

(MO)


J.

Juga-Naut & Sonnyjim ‘The Purple Door’ (Eat Good Records)



“Their usual, indomitable personas on the mic never skimp on Michelin-starred quality, and they still aren’t the ones to test if you think they’re pushing their luck” – RnV Aug 18

It’s an album largely based on elitist boasts, expensive trinkets and accessories and some pretty outlandish claims, but hey, these boys done good. Larger than life and living the playboy lifestyle making the ludicrous seem obtainable – you too can be a ‘Purple Door’ gold card holder – Juga-Naut and Sonnyjim transform the Midlands into St Tropez with a load of gala funk to make a red carpet entrance to, with just a hint of a twinkle in its eye like a felonious exile that has everyone’s backing. That said, you can’t live the life of a Rat Packer if you ain’t got the gab, and these two are no novices: the great suitability of their top table rhyme personas – Juga-Naut will have you believing every word he spits, Sonnyjim coming in dry and stonefaced yet smelling (and producing) like a million bucks – shares a love of all things gastronomic on the likes of ‘Duck Season’ that comes sweeping down a spiral staircase, while ‘Look Around’ takes a moment to act more tactfully, pledging family honour like a good fella. It might not be dining etiquette, but these two are pulling chairs from under the competition.

(MO)


Park Jiha ‘Communion’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

Circumnavigating the globe to bring much-needed exposure to new sounds, Glitterbeat Records imprint tak:til gives a second wind to a suite of acuity serialism from Southeast Asia. Released originally in South Korea in 2016, the neo-classical musician/composer Park Jiha’s debut solo album Communion is given an international release by the label.

Inspiring what we’re told is a burgeoning Korean music scene (well, an alternative to the K-Pop craze), a chief progenitor of the movement Jiha alongside collaborative partner Jungmin Seo originally melded the country’s musical heritage with an eclectic range of contemporary sounds as the 숨[suːm] duo in 2007. Releasing the highly influential regional albums Rhythmic Space: A Pause For Breath (2010) and 2nd (2014), Park and Seo crossed the time zones to perform at both WOMAD and SXSW. Congruously putting the duo on hold to explore a more ‘personal’ and minimalistic ‘musical vocabulary’ as a solo artist, Jiha dexterously balances the air-y abstract breathes of the ‘piri’ double reed bamboo flute, the searing twang of the ‘saenghwang’ mouth organ and the softly paddled patter of the ‘yanggeum’ hammered dulcimer in what is a dialogue between a dulcet calm, the meditative and an entangled dissonance.

Transforming Korean traditions into a more experimental language that evokes the avant-garde, neo-classical and jazz yet something quite different, Park Jiha’s tranquil to entangled discourse evocations reach beyond their Southeast Asian borders both musically and metaphysically into something approaching the unique and amorphous.  Full review…

(DV)


John Johanna ‘I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes’  (Faith And Industry)


 

More a mini-album, even 12″ to be contrary, the beautifully cooed, warbled and ached venerable I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes is nothing less than an afflatus anointed paean to a higher purpose. Informed by the mystical cosmology of the Eastern Orthodox Church, John Johanna‘s spiritual blues-y and gospel rock’n’rock hymns are both diaphanous and mesmerizing, even hypnotic; recalling visages of Morricone, Fleetwood Mac, Terakaft, Dirtmusic and Wovenhand as it wanders a picturesque but troubled soundscape.

On the devotional pilgrimage, the troubadour of the most evocative, stirring country burr, switches between aching falsetto yearning to lovelorn cowboy on the Andes romanticised cooing, and from the ethereal to fraught, as he makes communion.

No two songs are quite the same, as the wooing rustic sits next to (what can only be described as) the holy desert rock fusion of Native Indian and Afro-beat title track, and Bossa shuffle meets Yonatan Gat raindance. It all congruously comes together in one most divine service. A minor masterpiece.

(DV)


M.

Marlowe (L’Orange & Solemn Brigham) ‘Marlowe’  (Mello Music Group)



“Both excel in never revealing what’s steaming around the next corner, even when you’ve grabbed your toothcomb for the umpteenth time” – RnV July 18

Another yearly round up, another L’Orange inclusion. North Carolina stands up as latest collaborator Solemn Brigham rhymes his ass off: weirdly, without necessarily feeding off what the producer is trawling, and helping create something of an odd couple match made in heaven. L’Orange sets the scene, usually a funky hoedown, a sample-heavy brouhaha anticipating a stand-off or a psychedelic neck-snap. As is his wont, there’s a narrative to be spun, or some simple time-travelling to be done where no two bops are the same. Brigham on the other hand, blurbed as “summoning the holy spirit of Big L” without getting sucked into the danger zone, just jumps in with a garrulous B-boy stance and goes for it. Without L’Orange surrounding him in a world of imagination, give Brigham a park bench and a ghettoblaster and the results would be the same. What he does guarantee is that you’ll be going back to what he has to say, and whatever the variables, the energy and entertainment (grounded surrealism?) never dips. L’Orange may have found himself an emcee to keep on retainer.   

(MO)


Hugh Masekela ’66-‘76’ (Wrasse Records)


 

A most poignant and timely reminder of one of the true greats, the mammoth 66-’76 collection shows a multifaceted Hugh Masekela: The exile. The trumpet maestro. The bandleader. The activist. The colonial revisionist. The angry young man. But also the conciliatory. These are just some of the many faces of the South African titan of jazz and African musical fusions that can be found inside the latest essential collection of the late great polymaths’ back durable catalogue.

Put together especially by Masekela and his good friend, producer and collaborator on a number of projects together, Stewart Levine, just before he passed away at the beginning of this year, the three disc spanning collection features key tracks from many of his most iconic and experimental albums (two of which are included in their entirety). But what makes this especially appealing to collectors and fans alike, is that many of these albums were never officially released in the UK and Europe before. Progressing in the chronological order they were recorded, we follow Masekela’s journey not just musically but politically across his most formative decade and his partnership with Levine and collaborations with such legendary ensembles as the Hedzoleh Soundz combo. From the combined jazz and Township fusions of The Emancipation Of Hugh Masekela all the way to criss-crossing the transatlantic slave routes on Colonial Man, this collection is a sheer joy. Full review…

(DV)



(MO)

Brona McVittie ‘We Are The Wildlife’

With the lightest, most deft of touches, Irish songstress and harpist Brona McVittie embarks on a voyage of ‘psycho-geographic’ inspired encapsulations of a mysterious, magical landscape and history on her debut album, We Are The Wildlife.

Tracing the sonic contours of London’s urban fringes and the rural landscapes of Mourne, McVittie pitches her fluttery diaphanous harp-led songbook somewhere between post-folk and the cinematic – helped along in part by the drifting trumpet evocations of film composer Hutch Demouilpied, who’s contributions sound at times like Miles Davis Dingo transported to an Irish peat bog.

Her ephemeral harp melodies and phrases often feel like a breath or just the merest hazy lingering presence of the instrument, which might in some ways be down to McVittie’s technique of playing them all on the guitar first before transcribing over. It certainly offers a different perspective and technique. And it certainly takes this heavenly traditional instrument into even more mystical, accentuate abstract realms, helped of course by an accompaniment of meadow flute (Keiron Phelan), sad bowed delicate strings (Richard Curran), searching fleeting slide-guitar and shuffling to full-on breakbeat drums (Myles Cochran). All of which amorphously pushes the often-ancient feelings and geography towards John Martyn and Bert Jansch one minute, towards the Incredible String Band or trip-hop the next.

Played with the lightest of touches, McVittie’s wildlife and Celtic inspired filmscape subtly crafts tradition into a cerebral suite of neo-classical and ambient folk. We Are The Wildlife is the most inviting and unique of debuts. Full review…



(DV)

Minyeshu ‘Daa Dee’ (ARC Music)


 

From the tentative first steps of childhood to the sagacious reflections of middle age, the sublime Ethiopian songstress Minyeshu Kifle Tedla soothingly, yearningly and diaphanously articulates the intergenerational longings and needs of belonging on her epic LP, Daa Dee.

Minyeshu left her native Ethiopia in 1996, but not before discovering and then learning from such acolytes as the doyen of the country’s famous Ethio-Jazz scene, Mulatu Astatke, and the choreographer Tadesse Worku and singers Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gessesse and Bizunesh Bekele. First moving to Belgium and then later to the Netherlands, the burgeoning star of the Ethiopian People To People music and dance production has after decades of coming to terms with her departure finally found a home: a self-realization that home wasn’t a geographical location after all but wherever she felt most comfortable and belonged:“Home is me!”

Evoking that sense of belonging and the theme of roots, but also paying a tribute and lament to the sisterhood, Minyeshu conveys with a sauntering but sorrowful jazzy blues vibe not only the burden and grind of daily life for many of her compatriots back home in the tumultuous climate of a fragmented and often chaotic Ethiopia, but also the joy of song and togetherness.

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

(DV)


Moonwalks ‘In Light (The Scales In The Frame)’  (Stolen Body Records)


At least geographically close to the spirit of the Motor City, if generations apart, Detroit’s Moonwalks brood in the shadows of the counterculture doyens that made it such an infamous breeding ground for snarling attitude garage, psych and acid rock in the 60s and early 70s.

Transitioning, so we’re told, from ad hoc abandon warehouse performances as a diy glam psych rock troupe to experimental space rock stoners, spiraling in a vaporous gauzy vortex of 80s British Gothic and acid shoegaze influences, the Moonwalks make a certain dynamic progression on their second full length album, In Light.

Sometimes they sound like a black magic rites Byrds and at others like a doomed The Glass Family on a bum ride. Their curtain call, The Joy Of Geraniums, is the most odd song of all; taking the Moonwalks into a whistling led peyote-induced trip to the Mojave Desert.

Vocally malaise the voices waft between Siouxsie Sioux, Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy and Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell. Of course it fits the nebulous cosmic doom and dreamy psych style of the group perfectly; ambiguously drifting through magical rites and sulky pretensions aplenty. Full review…

(DV)


LP REVIEW: WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




Malawi Mouse Boys ‘Score For A film About Malawi Without Music From Malawi’ 21st September 2018

 

The cheek of it, yet sadly all too common practice of the film and music industries I’m afraid to say, the authentic sound of the much-loved and acclaimed Malawi Mouse Boys was unceremoniously dropped from the first ever Malawi feature film; replaced by the music of an ‘experienced’ composer from outside the country. The location and story of impoverishment is one the Mouse Boys know only too well: a group if anything that after seeing footage from the film felt they were even poorer than the stories poverty-stricken protagonist, whom they felt was actually well off in comparison.

Though unconventionally discovered by the Grammy Award winning producer, instigator and field recording maestro Ian Brennan (no stranger to this blog) at the side of a Malawi freeway selling barbecued mice skewered on sticks as a fast food pick-me-up for passing motorists (hence the group’s, as it turns out, self explanatory if odd nom de plume), their earthy gospel blues vocals revealed, caught on tape and subsequently beamed to a global audience, the Mouse Boys lives changed it seemed for the better; the revenue from their first LP showcase with Brennan He Is #1 making things a little more tolerable; enabling them the fundamental comforts of an air mattress, as opposed to sleeping directly on the hard dirty floor, English lessons and a bicycle. Despite this they remain embedded in the same community, but resented by some of their compatriots for the little success they’ve had but destitute enough to have no access to a reliable electricity source or running water. And two of the core quartet that emerged out of an originally wider circle of mouse-hunters and coal-hawkers (slightly safer than catching mice in the snake infested dangerous wild bush) from the Sunday Church imbibed community, have through desperation fled across borders to find work in an increasingly hostile-to-incomers South Africa.

In a country where most of the population live on less than a dollar a day, the Mouse Boys have at least reached out beyond their impoverished state and received a small compensation for their unique gospel imbued talents: Not the first Westerner to discover this community of phenomenal rough-around-the-edges singers and players, the revered producer is the only one to keep to his side of the deal, returning to Malawi and handing over every cent they’re due.





Saving what could have been a major financial setback for the group after they forked out the money and time to produce the material for a soundtrack that wasn’t to be, Brennan, who’s done more than most to facilitate and bring the music of isolated communities to an international audience (often as part of a healing process after various traumas; see his work in Cambodia and Vietnam), has helped to salvage their spurned material; collating an alternative cinematic score, releasing it as the Mouse Boys fourth official album. Of course the title says it all; instead of abandoning what is a highly supernatural otherworldly but also earthy dusty sketchbook of vignettes, fragments and longer pieces of mostly stripped-down-to-an-essence vocal and Musique Concrete – the real sources used to create an almost esoteric sound environment deriving from water buckets, a broken spoke, beer bottles, an alpha monkey’s call, shovel scrapes and a machete – that fateful ghostly soundtrack lives on.

Raw and atmospherically in-tune with the film’s premise, it would have been great to experience the audio and visuals together. But we are where we are. And we are asked to experience the sounds and music in isolation; our imagination left to fill in the blanks.

Track titles describe what would have been the film scenes; from the distant sonorous booms and crackle of the opening ‘Power Lines’ to the tool-clanging and ad hoc rhythmic patterns that emerge from clambering over a ‘Tin Roof’. Those celebrated gospel choral vocals, when they do appear (spread out between the more experimental environment soundscapes), are transcendent, plaintive and venerable. Making an afflatus call on the beautifully yearned hymn ‘Hunger’, or, tongue-clicking and soulfully gathered in ‘Hope’, the vocal chorus is as heavenly as it is earthy and sad.

Experimenting like never before there’s plenty of strange, sometimes eerie, sounds being used to conjure up both the spiritually alien and all too real tragedy of survival in Malawi. ‘Dirt Floors’ for instance stirs up a spindly, twanging synthesis of rustic blues from striking, scraping and pulling at and running up and down the frets of a homemade amplified and distorted guitar, whilst ‘Ghosts’ appropriately features an apparitional looming scene, produced in part from a chirping chorus of jarred bugs.

The Malawi Mouse Boys first leap into cinema may have hit the buffers, but with Brennan’s help they manage to save what is a most unique soundtrack from total obscurity. Few albums will sound as raw, remote or strange this year as this truly haunting, as it is beautiful and experimental, score.





Words: Dominic Valvona


Album Review: Words: Phil Vanderyken




Fatoumata Diawara ‘Fenfo’  (Republic Of Music)  Available Now

This is such a beautiful record.

For every action there is a re-action. As bigotry, xenophobia and ultra-nationalism appear to be gaining ground all over the Western world, there is also a surprisingly fast growing popularity for what once would have been called “world music”, that is, music from anywhere but the UK or the US. In the age of globalization and a hyper-connected world, it’s only logical that human beings from very different parts of the world discover each other’s culture and all kinds of interesting and new musical hybrids are springing up. And there is a growing audience for it.

Immigration is of course, the key development that is making this happen. It brings us bands like The Turbans and the Brickwork Lizards in the UK who make a kind of music that is truly multicultural, bringing together British musicians with first and second-generation immigrants, communicating through the universal language that is music. In the US, Kronos Quartet collaborated with Trio da Kali from Mali on their stellar album Ladilikan, a multicultural mini-masterpiece.

Multiculturalism has also been making inroads into pop music. In France, pop star Indira is of Algerian, Cambodian, Egyptian and Indian descent. Her music pulls influences from hip hop, reggae, gypsy swing, raga and more to create a unique style of irresistible pop music that has been very successful.

Fatoumata Diawara’s case is somewhat different. The actress, singer and musician was born in Ivory Coast of Malian parents before immigrating to Paris as a teenager in order to escape the pressures of her traditionalist family. Fatoumata sings in her native language, and her music is deeply rooted in her culture. Her first album Fatou could be described as acoustic African pop and received praise from the likes of Pitchfork. In contrast Fenfo, her second album, incorporates elements of pop, funk, and rock into a very popular hybrid that has wooed audiences in Europe and the US while still very much remaining quintessentially African.

I first became aware of Fatoumata through the beautiful music video for her song ‘Nterini’, the opening track, a very moving and current song about a refugee who has been separated from his beloved, trying to make his way to a better future for himself and his family.

Fatoumata does not shy away from controversial topics. She sings about slavery, female genital mutilation, a practice that is still very common in Africa today, and the ban on marriages between different ethnic groups. But she does so without rancour or negativity, and her music is deeply joyous and full of life, practically jumping out of the speakers.

‘Kokoro’ is the kind of desert blues popularized by the Touareg guitarist Bombino, featuring soaring psychedelic lead guitar like Hendrix camped out in the Sahara.

‘Mama’ is a tender acoustic ballad with acoustic guitar and majestic cello, over which Fatoumata’s world-weary vocals hover and soar.

‘Bonya’ is the most poppy track of the album, with a sing along chorus and a solid funk vibe that would not sound out of place on a Suffers record. Sweetly meandering guitar lines keep bringing the listener’s mind back to the steppes and townships of Africa.

As if to drive home the virtuosic eclecticism of this release, ‘Dibi Bo’ sounds like a mix of Afropop and Motown, whereas ‘Don Do’ is a subdued ending to the album, another acoustic offering that combines guitar and cello, showcasing Fatoumata’s stunning vocal delivery one last time.

Fenfo is an ambitious, far-reaching record that combines many strands of music while remaining firmly rooted in African culture. There is nothing ‘naïve’ about the album’s sunny optimism and joyous energy. Rather, it is a stubborn celebration of life, in spite of all the challenges, hardships and ugliness one faces. Fenfo is a deeply spiritual declaration of love for the world and everyone in it. This album makes me happy and gives me hope for the future.





Words: Phil Vanderyken

WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




Samba Touré   ‘Wande’   Glitterbeat Records,  25th May 2018

In a country abundant with guitar virtuosos, the highly genial Samba Touré still stands out as one of Mali’s most celebrated; transducing the travails, heartache but also joy of his homeland through his signature articulate nimble-fingered style of playing.

His third album for Glitterbeat Records – the first, Albala, was the label’s inaugural release in 2013 – Wande is billed as a warmer homely songbook. Recorded in under two weeks, allowing weekends for band members to scratch a living playing at weddings, sessions for the album were relaxed, performances captured on their first take with few overdubs. Previous albums Albala and 2015’s Gandadiko were made during the Islamist insurgency that swept aside and hijacked the Northeastern Tuareg communities’ battle for an autonomous state within the desert borderlands of Mali. Based in the western, more urban, Bamako, Touré encapsulated the fears of his fellow countrymen caught up in, what seemed highly probable until an intervention from the former colonial masters France, a struggle of ideologies that threatened to destroy Mali and bloodily remove its government. Reaching far into the Mali interior, certainly victorious in the field of propaganda in taking the legendary trading post of Timbuktu, Touré was well within his rights to feel anguish and fear as the hardliners – hardly an accommodating presence, known to burn instruments and even musicians that entertained anything other than their own warped sense of myopic worship – inched ever-closer to Mali’s capital.


Photo: Karim Diarra.




Darker albums certainly, yet still so lovingly meandrous, even buoyant, as to exude hope and caring sensibility. Better still, and even with the fallout from this insurgency ongoing (if forgotten by western media), Touré calls, as he does now, for unity: a return to peace.

Far from a complete break, the sadness endures on Wande: though Touré sadness is a most beautiful, cantering and lingering one. Especially when paying tribute to his friend and collaborator, sokou fiddle maestro Zoumana Tereta, on the spoken word with wavering drifty, almost dub-like echo-y effects tracks of the same name, which features the late musician’s spindly evocations from beyond the ether.

The ‘Songhai’ and ‘Crocodile’ bluesman, for that is the style he is most synonymous with, wouldn’t pigeonhole himself personally, preferring to call it contemporary ‘universal’ rock music. Touré has previously said, and reiterates now, that he doesn’t play ‘desert blues’ – a term he rightly associates as the music practiced in Northern Mali, Niger and Mauritania -, and you can also forget about calling it African ‘this’ or African ‘that’ too. Yet at the roots and core, for these are the lands where it all started, Touré’s subtle and relaxed guitar lines traverse the very ideas of blues etymology. The lo fi production feel of the rocking blues Yerfara/We Are Tired could be a lost inspiration for 80s period Rolling Stones with its almost transmogrified Start Me Up like Richards riff. Goy Boyro/The Good Work (Well Done) even begins with a Taj Mahal, BB King reminiscent introduction hook, before dipping over the horizon.

Throughout the album, whether it’s in paying a devotional paean to his beloved wife on the title track or gliding magically on the opening Yo Pouhala/Blah Blah Blah, Touré’s electric, and occasionally deft acoustic, guitar is accompanied by the buoyant and bobbing bending rhythms of the traditional tama talking drum, bowed waiving of the sokou and the vibrating spindle sound of the ngoni: All of which are played with an emphasis on the natural, unrehearsed and relaxed.

Not quite such a leap of faith or different to previous albums, an unpolished and laidback methodology has produced a slightly more sagacious, free-floating quality and another essential Touré classic.