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)


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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.




REVIEW/FEATURE
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




Various  Artists  ‘Hidden Music Volume 4:  Abatwa (The Pygmy): Why Did We Stop Growing Tall?’
Glitterbeat Records,  18th August 2017

Renowned producer (and author of some note) Ian Brennan, yet again probing the furthest, most inhospitable and outright dangerous places in the world to record marginalized voices, journeys to the post genocide borderlands of Rwanda on the latest volume in Glitterbeat Records illuminating Hidden Musics series.

Taking the unmarked, haphazard, road (less traveled) to the edges of Rwanda, avoiding the animosity and embers of vengeance that still burn and remain between the country’s minority Tutsis and majority Hutu communities, Brennan visited and recorded for posterity the Abatwa tribe’s seldom heard lament, anger and incredible soulful, if raw, blues.

Though not directly involved in the ensuing genocide that followed on from the country’s apocalyptic civil war in the mid 90s – officially and despite much skeptical revisionism over the years, this genocide was started by the Hutu and carried out with terrifying savagery upon the Tutsis, the population of which, depending on the source you use, was decimated by up to 70% (that equates to between 500,000 to a million murdered, all within a matter of three months) – the Abatwa both lost around a third of its own tribe and carried out some of the attacks.

If the Abatwa name is remains mostly unknown outside Africa, that’s because, due to their limited growth, we know them better as the ‘Pygmy’. A derogatory name loaded with infamy, yet preferred by the very people it derides, the tribe rather that put-down than (as Brennan puts it) “the official PC mouthful/post-genocidal replacement: The people who were left behind because of the facts of Rwandan history.”

In part, those size limitations have were shaped and made worse by the fact that traditionally the tallest women in the Abatwa attracted outside attention, and were taken as wives by other tribes – one answer to the album’s rhetorical title, “Why Did We Stop Growing Tall?”


Local comedian Simbuvara photo by Marilena Delli




In this environment – described in linear notes with the signature frank, un-PC, highly informative and entertaining Brennan travelogue style – peppered with teenage breakdancers that ‘could out-battle any South Queens sidewalk challenger’, a enervated surreal ‘tag-team lounge duo playing an off-key Bob Marley medley’, and plenty of anecdotes to dispel a rafter of myths and assumptions – the hands-off field recorder finds both inspiring and veracious acts of endurance and survival.


Patrick Manishimine photo by Marilena Delli




There are a number of themes that run through both this, volume four in the series, and the previous three documentations, Hanoi Masters, Khmer Rouge Survivors and Paul Chandler’s phenomenal Every Song Has Its End: Sonic Dispatches From Traditional Mali (all of which made our albums of the year lists): including the saving of traditions and voices of communities under attack from the onslaught of modernism and erosion of cultures outside the mainstream; and drawing attention to the legacy of problems arising from war and insurrection. But there is also similarities sound wise between all four volumes; namely a form of atavistic, primal, and in my opinion the best kind, of blues, that is eerily echoed in what is one of the genres birthplaces, Mali, but can also be found ringing in the deltas of Cambodia.

Sitting in for, and one of the progenitors no doubt to the six-string, are the ragtag assembled instruments of tradition: the one-string ‘Umuduli’ and eleven-string ‘Icyembe’. Practitioners of these two stalwart attenuate instruments can be heard on the scratchy, tangled spring-y Rwanda Nzizza (Beautiful Rwanda) paean by the great soulful voiced Emmanuel Hatungimana, and the caressing, peacefully played Ihorere (Stop Crying Now) duet lament by the wife and husband duo Emmanuel Habumuremy and Ange Kamagaju.

A kind of boxed canoe turn surfboard with strings the icyembe stands almost as tall as those who pluck its reverberating, sharp spindly quiver. It’s umuduli counterpart, both far less cumbersome and mobile, does despite only having the one string and repetitive scratchy twang, provide a suitable, evocative rhythm.


Emmanuel Habumuremy (husband) & Ange Kamagaju (wife) photo by Marilena Delli




Make no mistake; this is performance in its most deconstructive raw form. Devoid of embellishments and overbearing production, recorded in situ with only the rudimentary elements and atmosphere for company, it sounds great.

And so you hear some of the most stripped and revelatory of performances that make their equivalents back in the West sound sterile and bloated in comparison. Artists such as the 19-year-old female rapper Rosine Nyiranshimiyimana who improvises vividly on the stylophone clickety-buzzing sassy, take-it-to-the-yard R&B Umwana W’umuhanda (The Child From The Streets), and the sublime but humble Beatrice Mukarungi, who leads her ‘sons’ on the spiritual chorus plaint Urwanikamiheto (War Song), perform somehow different and askewer fresh takes on the music we find familiar.

Battery powered electronics and rusty, ramshackle dusty instruments come together in hybrids that evoke ritual, the ceremonial but equally the blues, soul and hip-hop; all played with an undeniably emotional Rwandan verve and lilt.

 

Once again Brennan highlights the forgotten musical legacy and voices of a traumatized community – alcoholism and depression rife in their isolated communities; allusions made by Brennan that draw similarities with the pre-casino era American Indian reservations -, recovering in the uneasy truce of one of the 20th century’s worst genocides – and as we are all aware, it had some stiff competition in those stakes.

Hidden Musics has become an unmissable and equally important series; field recordings of hope and recovery in the face of despair.





ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona


 

Tanzania Albinism Collective  ‘White African Power’
Six Degrees Records, 2nd June 2017

If anyone is perturbed, fear not as the man behind this slightly ironically entitled White African Power album, guiding hand and producer extraordinaire Ian Brennan, puts us straight:

“As one of the most persecuted groups on the planet, when a member of the Albinism community in Tanzania – especially one who has been relocated by the government for his own physical protection – asserts his “power”, it should not be denied. And if anyone has earned the right for the use of irony, it is those that have suffered such atrocities and ostracism from birth, yet still manage to endure.”

In so many respects a “spiritual follow-up” to Brennan’s Grammy Award-nominated Zomba Prison Project and follow-on from the equally evocative and raw Hanoi Masters sessions, White African Power attentively and respectfully draws out the repressed voices of the Albino community in Tanzania. Brennan’s productions often serve as a kind of hands-off form of creative counseling and healing; helping people to overcome trauma, such as the survivors of Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia. He’s renowned for being the most inconspicuous of in the field and on location producers, letting the atmosphere and elements, the moment if you like, and even serendipity bleed into the performances he captures for posterity. And the production methodology used for this latest project, recording the songs of the standing Voice Community of Ukerewe, is no different.

As superstitions still prevail in many parts of east Africa, none more so than in Tanzania, the albino community are ghoulishly hunted down or ostracized. If they’re lucky, they make it to sanctuaries such as the Ukerewe Island retreat: dumped for their own safety by families and the government but also abandoned. If they’re unlucky than they will find a much more horrendous fate is in store for them, pursued, murdered and dismembered for their limbs by those who believe that an albino’s body parts have magical properties. However you look at it, albinos in Tanzania are shunned and persecuted: one of the most common insults being that they, “belong to the whites”, or worse, that they are demonic.

A safe haven, Ukerewe, where Ian travelled to in 2016 to document their plight, is the largest inland island in Africa, only reachable by a four-hour ferry ride. Its community is, hardly surprising, haunted by their experiences. Self-conscious, avoiding eye contact, it proved a difficult task for the producer to encourage his subjects to open up. But open up they did, and the results are often surprisingly melodious, poetic, and diaphanous if raw and emotional. Far from a harrowing catalogue of despair and pity, the 23 recordings on this collection prove illuminating.





Though sung in the “discouraged and censored” (following unification in 1964) dialects of Kikirewe and Jeeta, the English translated song titles will leave you in no doubt as to each one’s message and lament: from disbelief at their treatment, on the Casio keyboard preset backed alternative 80s, sweet but troubled, The World Has Gone Mad, and the double-bass trembled Stop The Murders, to the hope and calls for normality on the mysterious sounding electric-guitar blues I Will Build A Home, Someday, and the harp-plucked music box serenaded Happiness.

Another indictment if needed on those perpetrators and a population that have harassed and murdered them, other titles sadly reflect tragic insights into their lives: Stigma Everywhere, They Gossiped When I Was Born, Standing Voices (Once, I Was Abandoned). And as though any right-thinking decent human being needed it, there’s a jolting reminder that Disability Is Not A Curse.

 

Fitting no obvious style, these amorphous performances do however resonate both with the delta blues of Louisiana and the stark, stripped down and earthy blues of South East Asia. Touches of raw African dusty tradition do appear, ascending and descending alongside gospel and soulful voices, naturally echoed, sighed and open-heartedly sung with a pure vulnerability. They’re accompanied either by stark lo fi electric guitar performances, that range from scratchy, straggly proto-punk to slower scrabbly emotive twangs, or an acoustic backing of rubber-band and bottle shaking percussion. Standing out production wise though is the classical – imagine Brahms on harpsichord transferred to East Africa in the 80s – reverberating cradling deep soulful ballad, Never Forget The Killings.

 

Ian Brennan coaxes another startling, eye opening, set of recordings from the victims of trauma; one that proves every bit as impressive as it does plaintive and sad. The collective will astonish, if not surprise listeners, those suppressed voices, thankfully released and given an international platform, sound emotionally honest and revelatory.

Released just ahead of the U.N.’s International Albinism Awareness Day on June 13th, the voices of White African Power can also be seen at this year’s WOMAD festival this summer (July 27-30th).


NEW MUSIC REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona




Featuring: Sergio Beercock, The Bordellos, faUSt, ANi Glass, Duncan Lloyd, Carlo Mazzoli and Mount Song.



Back from a recent sabbatical in Palermo and catching up with all the most interesting releases of the last month, this edition of my regular Tickling Our Fancy revue features an assortment of albums/EPs and tracks from both April and May. An unofficial sort of house band for the blog, St.Helens’ greatest lo fi, les miserable, export The Bordellos have featured on this blog countless times over the years, I take a look at their latest sampler EP, Debt Sounds. There’s also the latest art-attack protestation from the infamous faUSt, a vitriol extemporized road trip across the States with friends entitled Fresh Air, and the latest cathartic songbook from Jacob Johansson, under his latest moniker Mount Song, the second Duncan Lloyd outing, IOUOME, from the Maximo Park guitarist/songwriter, the latest EP from the Welsh siren of the most ethereal and danceable protest rousing electronic pop ANi GLASS, and two new showcase albums from Italian-based bards/troubadours Carlo Mazzoli and Sergio Beercock.

faUSt  ‘Fresh Air’
Bureau B, 26th May 2017


 

Belligerently sharing the Faust moniker, splitting into a moiety of founding member versions of the original group that so terrorized the 70s underground music scene, the glaring capital letter “US” in this incarnation is used by founding fathers Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner “Zappi” Diermaier.

Still banging the cement-mixer drum and manning the barricades after forty odd years in the business, the, at its most base drummer/percussionist and bassist-come-tormentor of sound, duo’s latest protestation is a sort of art-provocateur road trip of the USA, featuring an abundance of locals and internationalist artists and musicians, picked-up on the way through New York, Texas and California: A counter-cultural agitation travail from coast to coast.

Featuring the usual Faust totems and that workmanlike methodology of extracting sounds and evocations from machinery, found objects, debris and the architecture – even Péron’s front door hinges from home make an appearance – Fresh Air is an urgent gasp for relief from the polluted, choked, environment. It’s also a highly convoluted attempt at transforming geometrical forms and abstractions into a sonic score. Three of the tracks on this album take their inspiration from a faux-workshop at the highly regarded California Institute of the Arts. A session that includes the loony 23-second vocal exercise symphony Partitur – defined loosely as “a sort of Dadaist choir, a musique impressionniste’ by Péron –; the loose Slits do souk jazz, camel ride Chlorophl, which features Barbara Manning “sneaking” in word association sketches alongside Zappi’s own strange utterings; and the saxophone squalling, motoring Lights Flicker, which again features Manning, bridging the role of Laurie Anderson and Patti Smith, repeating an agitated mantra over a quasi art-dance backing.

From the east coast Jersey City leg of their travels, viola player Ysanne Spevack adds a stirring, Jed Kurzel like harrowed drone to the album’s title track. A seven and a half minute opus, building from the narration of a poem, written by a French school friend of Pérons, to a struggle for life, Fresh Air shows that the spirit of ’68 and hunger for transforming and tearing down the destructive political environment hasn’t diminished in all those years. It’s bookended with a soliloquy-like Péron narration on, among other tropes, the confusing, alarming change from childhood to young adulthood on the album’s curtain call, Fish. Tidal washes and suitable transitional analogies on the soul and growing pains profoundly roll over another viola drone and minimal bass drum accompaniment before entering a noisy cacophony of oscillations and sonic crescendos.

Passing through Austin, faUSt capture the Birds Of Texas, merging their crowing calls with a suitable enough mirage-y, Peyote-induced desert peregrination, and open up an interstellar box of tricks to create a space-funk, Teutonic swamp performance – not a million miles away from Can – on La Poulie.

Continuing with their signature agitation, often menacing, call-to-arms whilst also sonically turning the abstract into something audible, Péron and Zappi can still be relied upon to create provocative statements, five decades on from when the original Faust dynamic barraged audiences with the most confrontational and experimental sound ideas. Struggling like the rest of us, but finding a comradely with another generation of artists and musicians, they look for hope in the miasma.



Mount Song  ‘Mount Song’
Suncave Recordings, 5th May 2017

Previously garnering plaudits in his native Sweden for his debut album under the appellation of The Big Monster (no less heralded as the Swedish debut of the year in 2014 by the country’s biggest music publication), the longing singer/songwriter Jacob Johansson is back to contemplate all of life’s harsh lessons and trials on this latest venture, Mount Song.

This self-titled songbook of ambitious poetic campfire musings and inner turmoil spun yearnings is simultaneously both intense and intimate; mixing a catharsis of emotions with a soundtrack of acid-folk, country, psych and alternative pop. As the accompanying notes and music itself testifies, Johansson was “brought up on grunge.” And throughout the album this American export leaves its indelible mark with hazy languid lingering traces and washes of Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr. Far from slavishly recreating that grunge sound, our philosophical troubadour and his band merely hint at its presence and influence with a certain panache.

More to the point, it’s that 90s demigod of plaintive despair and torment, Jeff Buckley, who imbues Johansson’s vocals and sound the most. Most obviously and unabashed you can hear an unmistakable melody sequence three quarters of the way through the light and shade softened crescendo Here It Goes. As for that genius fluctuating vocal, from Latin choirboy to candid outpourings of grief, Johansson goes for it on the skipping backbeat psych-grunge Make Up with a falsetto and almost trembling howled vocal performance.

The opening melodrama Halo, which wells up from subtle jangled acoustic guitar to a deeply atmospheric synth and repeating thudding drum punctuation of sorrow, deals with one’s demons in the manner of a sober, more somber Jose Gonzalez and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – two more important influences for Johansson.

Though there’s plenty of sadness and even wallowing, Johansson can hardly be accused of drawing copious amounts of melancholy from the well of self-pity. There is hope after all. And a certain, if naïve at times, call for peace, even a protest song of disarmament in the fashion of the Thunderclap Newman does New Radicals protest anthem, All Over The World.

You can’t avoid, sidestep the multiple political storm clouds amassing overhead, and with all those “inner demons” in tow, not feel anxious and dare say despondent. Though whether the sun will shine through the miasma is another matter, but Johansson handles all this swimmingly, in a gauzy sound space of dissipated crescendos and attentive melodies. Mount Song will take time to unveil its, often languid, subtleties, but is an album with more than enough push and direction.





Duncan Lloyd  ‘IOUOME’
Afternoon In Bed Records, 26th May 2017

Seeing as I’d never previously had the inclination nor desire to listen to a Maximo Park record, finding not much of worth and interest in their second-generation Britpop with attitude sound, it’s hardly surprising that the solo career of one of the “driving forces” behind the Newcastle upon Tyne group, guitarist/songwriter Duncan Lloyd, has so far alluded me.

Cut loose of that band I’m happy to reveal that Lloyd has not only stepped out of the – if ever there was a poisoned chalice of validation – Mercury Music Prize nominated stars shadow but creatively blossomed on his own terms.

A fair weather friend, I’ve arrived late, Lloyd having already built-up a considerable catalogue of releases under numerous titles (Decades In Exile, Nano Kino) with various labels (Warp, PIAS, Crash Symbols Tapes). His latest solo outing (the second album released using his own name) is a melodic guitar led mix of gauze-y looseness and swimming longing.

With Maximo drummer Tom English in tow, the IOUOME album travels back further for its inspiration, recalling Postcard Records less fidgety and more hazy offerings, and the early 80s sound of Manchester. Candidly wistful nuanced twanged songs such as You Seem Confused’ bare traces of The Cure and even The House Of Love, underpinned with the limp gait of The Smiths, whilst the halcyon rays through a downpour Steel Pin Raindrops rumbles along to a Joy Division-esque toms beat and disheartened romantic synth. However, our cousins across the Atlantic can be heard on the loose but controlled enough and attentive Tomorrow Fires, as an imaginary Postcard era The Byrds share the melodic sonic landscape with early R.E.M and Midlake.

“Being Frank”, as one of the album’s song titles suggests, is what Lloyd is all about. Not so much a case of moping around in his softened layers and sprawling, relaxed but accentuated network of guitar riffs and lines, our protagonist faces all his emotional turmoil and strife with a songbook of composed observations and intimacy. Written on the road, usually at the end of the day, as ideas become less concrete and evolve instead into something more challenging, these yearnings on “ailing relationships, division and self-destruction” are executed well, both the songwriting and guitar playing subtle but memorable with a real depth of character.



The Bordellos  ‘Debt Sounds Sampler EP’
Small Bear Records, Available now

 

If sales and general acknowledgment amongst the masses is considered validations that a band is entering the general psyche, all my previous efforts to propel St. Helen’s greatest musical export The Bordellos beyond a small circle of appreciative followers and critics have failed dismally. Still mining the pit face of unashamed discordant lo-fi irritant indie after decades, The Bordellos is it seems fated to be forever ignored by the general public.

A hard act to sell granted; knocking out disgruntled low-key underground releases that barely register ad hoc style and keeping a creditable distance from the rest of the music industry. Like a band perpetually mourning the age before Spotify, plugged-in to a continuous John Peel session from a time when it seemed a group of miscreant family band members could take on the world, they seem totally adrift of the times they live in. And all the better for it: if “modern life” was “rubbish” the “tech age” is plain fucking awful.

Even cheaper than The Fall, the group’s tools of trade are usually brought from Cash Converters or Poundland. Their abundance of EPs and albums are created in a rush, often recorded in one take in the shabbiest of mockup home studios. Plucked from a 2009 LP, the group’s third full-length release, the four-tracks on this latest Bandcamp platform broadcast from The Bordellos demonstrate this method well.

Stripped down and raw, Debt Sounds originally vanished as soon as it appeared. Previously, for many obvious reasons, unavailable online, originally sold as a limited run on CDR and snubbed as unsalable by their label at the time, Brutarian, Debt Sounds is a 17-track encapsulation of moping romanticism fueled by late night drinking and whatever else did the trick sessions and self pity. Setting themselves the most restrictive and loony perimeters, including no overdubs and one-take vocals, each song on the album had to be recorded within the same week it was written – and at a nocturnal hour by the sounds of it.

A quartet of tunes, the strain of which helped to break up two relationships, are almost randomly taken from that album and collated under the Sampler EP suffix title; the first of which, Fading Honey sets the My Bloody Valentine on Mogadon, despondent love-sick, bordering on sinister, mood. In a late hour atmosphere of whining plugging-in amp socket hum and low emitting fuzzy static The Bordellos pour out their hearts.

A meeting of generations, the youngest member of this unhappy brood Dan was only seventeen at the time and elder statesman Brian considerably older and cynically wiser, Debt Sounds pits teen angst against a midlife crisis; both appearing to meld in the intimate shared, Inspiral Carpets on a budget, You Better Run and elsewhere.

Really flexing those “outsider” credentials, the next song, Seal Head, is a surreal melodica derangement that languidly emerges then submerges into a slumberous mad-hatter state of weirdness. The most ominous, stalkerish even, is saved until last. Honeypie is an unhinged, electric guitar thrashing and pumped-up bass line session on the psychiatrist’s couch, which features a druggy-drowsy female chorus that sounds like the protagonist’s girlfriend singing it is more captive than willing participant. A lost Jesus And Mary Chain grinder meets stoner garage punk malaise, Honeypie slumps over a sorry state of romantic affairs.

Re-released by the Isle of Man independent label Small Bear Records, you can now appreciate or ignore some lowlights from Debt Sounds album once again; a lost triumph from the band’s rebellious back catalogue that stakes a claim to the real spirit of rock’n’roll. It acts in any case as a bridge between new releases; The Bordellos threatening to release their next album this summer on the Welsh label Recordiau Prin. In the meantime get your lug holes around this underground lo fi down and out.






Sergio Beercock  ‘Wollow’
800a Records, May 2017

 

Quite by chance Sergio Beercock is the first of two artists in this revue to hail from Italy, or rather in his case the strongly independent minded Island of Sicily.

Enjoying a slow revival in fortunes; open for business and tourism after a tumultuous period of inter-war between the Island’s most destabilizing blot on the landscape and psyche, the costra nostra, a tough but fair mayor in the shape of Leoluca Orlando has over several terms in office transformed the capital of Palermo, putting away a huge swathe of Mafioso and funneling their ill-gotten gains into rebuilding the infrastructure and reputation of the city and Sicily as a whole.

Overshadowed for so many decades by this miasma, the capital of Palermo is enjoying a boom in visitors and interest, as I’ve seen firsthand myself after a recent holiday there. With much still to be done, the migrant crisis for one thing – Sicily’s position as a stepping stone between the north African coastline and Europe attracting record numbers – and the staggeringly high unemployment figures, especially among the young, there are still optimistic signs of a resurgence: culturally and musically. Recorded at the 800a collectives multipurpose Indigo Studios in the city, Beercock’s new minimal and bucolic switched-on folk meets acoustic-electro Wollow album is evidence of that optimism.

Half British, half Italian, the Kingston-upon-Hull singer/bard moved to his mother’s homeland at an early age. Working, quite successfully it seems, in both music and theatre the bi-linguist Beercock has built a name for himself in Italy. Wollow though has its sights firmly set on the UK market, with the troubadour presently promoting and showcasing his talent at a number of events and festivals across the country – only last week performing live on London’s Resonance FM and playing spots in Hull, Oxford, Liverpool and at the Wood Festival.

Almost entirely sung in English, except for the final stripped and stark a cappella version of the Argentine singer Pedro Anzer’s stirring Silencio, which is delivered in Spanish, the Wollow album is a pastoral, bordering on Elizabethan at times, and quaintly English “metaphorical journey” through the travails and sounds that have inspired Beercock. The opening gently-plucked entwining Reason – which introduces us to the bard’s impressive though peaceable vocal range -, reverent like misty veils of Canterbury Tor, guitar picked swirling beauty, Naked, and the tumble-in-the-fields-whilst-the-old-man’s-not-looking weary parable, The Barley And Rye, are all unashamedly submerged in the English tradition.

You could say the mix of song covers and original material is of a “timeless” quality. Redefining folk and the atavistic tales of forewarning and life in the manner of such artists as James Yorkston and many others.

Breaking it up however with more ambient instrumental soundscape passages and soaring evocations, Beercock also sails towards the Americas; using a Bolivian flute and the atmospherics of The Andes and Amazon to lift and elevate both An Exaggerated Song and Jester from the less than exotic and magical tempered atmospheres of Northern Europe.

Using a mostly acoustic range of instruments (and even his own body) and his voice – which sounds at times like a chamber-folk Jeff Buckley – our troubadour ups the ante on occasion with a few surprises, launching congruously throughout into energetic, twisting, stretching and straining cello and double bass slapping and avant-jazz like dance beat liveners.

Probably the first time many of us will have heard the Sicilian-based troubadour, Wollow is an attentively as any crafted showcase introduction to a burgeoning experimental folk talent.





Carlo Mazzoli  ‘Avalanche Blues’
Available now

 

The second artist in this revue from Italy, the founding member of folk-rock band Dead Bouquet, Carlo Mazzoli branches out on his own with this self-produced solo effort, Avalanche Blues. Billed as the most intimate of his releases so far, this ambitious songbook flexes Mazzoli’s talents as a yearning blues songwriter and performer troubadour; equally at home romantically flourishing and cascading through a Freddie Mercury like rousing ballad on the piano, as donning the mantle of Neil Diamond and Springsteen on a steel-pedal waning Nashville love tryst.

Singing in English, influenced by a UK/US axis of blues, balladry, country, folk and 70s songwriting inspirations there’s no reference, except a hint in the burr, or signs of Italy to be found. This is after all an international affair musically and thematically, full of the age-old tropes of sadness and joy that are common to all of us.

If there were, however, a leitmotif, an aching bond of familiarity, it would be in Mazzoli’s penchant for the dusty old west trail. There’s certain overtures made to the stoic reflective journeyman and cowboy of that old west lore on Steel Rail Blues, on the rougher-hewn King At The End, and on the Dylan-esque, tremolo twanged love-pranged Goin’ Astray. Flirtations, executed impressively with attentiveness and lyricism, with the mosey-on down blues, Nilsson, Grant Lee and even Elton John – on the closing gospel meets 70s rock radio piano anthem On The Horizons.

From the cynical wells of despair and pity (“It might be the darkest place but it’s not the bottom of the sewer.”) to mountain climb metaphors, Mazzoli flows between crescendo splashes of anguish and saloon dive barreling swank throughout. The field is crowded but there’s more than enough talent and a certain unique style to set Mazzoli out from the legions on Avalanche Blues. As I’ve said before, this is an ambitious album, but also expansive, delving as it does into a myriad of musical styles with a certain ernest elan.





ANi GLASS  ‘Ffrwydad Tawel’
Recordiau Neb

Credit: Ani Saunders

 

Part of a groundswell of artists and bands supporting the use, and by that preservation, of the Welsh language (and Cornish too, but that’s another story for another time), electronic siren, photographer and artist Ani Saunders, better know musically as ANi GLASS, uses what is a most phonetically poetic dialect beautifully. Even when it’s used as a rallying cry on the opening glassy-visage labour of love Y Newid, which weaves the lingering ruminants of a rousing speech by the Socialist activist and Labour councilor Ray Davis with Ani’s breathy defense of the trade union movement, her voice sails close to the ethereal. Echoing even the most amorphous exhaled sighs, utterances and vocal sounds alongside the pronounced, Ani’s Welsh protestations and longings for “change” always sound passionate but disarming.

The obvious impassioned themes of keeping the Welsh heritage alive, of reconnection with that heritage and country, and the hope of building a more stable fair society in the face of such hostile uncertainty runs deep throughout. Inspired by the use and mix of bleak colours and destruction by fellow Welsh contemporary artist Ivor Davis’ 2016 major exhibition at the National Museum Cardiff, Ani’s latest EP reflects that show’s despondent expositions of society in Wales. Later invited to perform with Davis as part of this extended vision, Ani’s resulting material can be heard channeled through the – perhaps most beautifully performed protest song of 2017 – lamentable panoramic closing track Cariad Cudd, which charts the “cruel” decline of Welsh industry.

Elsewhere on this six-track collection, she traverses Baroque new romanticism on the breathy echoing Y Ddawns – last year’s single included once again in this package -, Alison Goldfrapp whispery Dietrich candy strobe light meets Grimes on the cool reflective pulsing Dal I Droi, and a Valley-girl Madonna riding over sine waves on the Moroder-esque Geiriau. It all sounds quite Europhile – in fact Y Ddawns is a prime Eurovision entry in waiting – and glowing, straddling the serious with crystal synth pop.

Critics are always finding the most tenuous evidence and links for trends or movements in music, but Ani is the second former Welsh member of the twee doo-wop girl group The Pipettes to make the shift into electronic music, following her sister, the rising and critically lauded Gwenno, in honing a solo career. Both sisters arrive on a wave of a renaissance in Welsh electronica, with mostly unassuming artists and bedroom mavericks producing some of the best and interesting examples of the genre in the last five or so years; from the avant-garde and techno of R. Seiliog and the Cam o’r Tywyllwch radio show to the Ritalin-starved hyper sample electro-punk of The Conformist.

Ani Saunders is another impressive advocate of the Welsh spirit and artistic confidence, producing some of the most danceable and evocatively politically, socially charged electronic pop in 2017.





ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona



Vieux Farka Touré  ‘Samba’
Six Degrees Records,  12th May 2017

Lucky enough to have witnessed firsthand the erudite guitar majestic skills of one of Mali’s leading artists last year, as part of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival line-up, I still find myself decidedly jealous of the intimate small audience that were invited to Vieux Farka Touré’s Woodstock Session later that same year in October. A studio recording with a difference, played out and developed live in front of just fifty lucky people in Saugerties, N.Y., Touré’s latest blurs the boundaries between performance and the processes of making an album.

Ever the consummate maestro and backed by an equally accomplished band of musicians, there was some initial apprehension on Touré’s on allowing an audience in to the studio. Though we have the finished product, free of any mistakes, restarts and disagreements, it seems this audience far from unnerving the band, egged it on, with the results sounding effortless and natural. There were overdubs of course and one of the songs was recorded back home in Mali – the calabash driven Ni Negarba. But far from cutting corners or relying on the back catalogue, Touré has fashioned an entirely new songbook of vocal and instrumental material for Samba. Some of which amorphously touches upon unfamiliar influences, including reggae on the unapologetically roots-y swaying Ouaga.

 

Still a commanding presence, though he makes it look easy and so serene, emanating almost uninterrupted waves of phaser-effect guitar permutations and nuanced fretboard noodling, Touré continues to languidly merge his own lyrical form of worship and goodwill with the blues, rock and R&B. Often alluded to as some kind of Saharan Hendrix, his heritage and reputation is actually linked to the more urbane capital of Bamako in the southwest of Mali, which has its very own amalgamation of styles and unique history. Still, those desert blues styles, synonymous with the Tuareg especially, do crossover and can be detected in Touré’s music.

 

Touré is as the Songhai title of his new album Samba translates, the second son of the late Ali Farka Touré, a doyen of the Mali music scene himself who left an indelible mark. If we expand on the title’s meaning, “Samba” is a byword for “one who never breaks”, “who never runs from threats, who is not afraid”. It is even said that those adorned with the name are “blessed with good luck.” Inspired by his ancestry, imbued with three generations, Touré’s album is suffused with special tributes to his family. In the mode of a praise song, the spindly weaved heartfelt Mariam pays homage to the last born of the family, his youngest sister, but is also by extension a paean to both the women of the Peule and “all sisters of the world”. Samba Si Kari, based on a song Touré’s grandfather used to sing to him as a child, pays a reflective impassioned tribute to his parents. Expanding the goodwill further, to those outside the ancestral line, he’s also penned, what sounds like, a hoof-cantering percussive camel ride with celestial desert sky illuminations keyboard – courtesy of old pal Idan Raichel –, sweet dedication to his manager and friend Eric Herman’s daughter Maya. The press release offers a further subtext to this particular song, one of multifaith cohesion; Touré a Muslim and Herman a Jew, spreading a message of tolerance.

 

Outside the family sphere, Touré confronts both Mali’s recent Jihadist takeover – only stopped and defeated by the intervention of the country’s former colonial masters, France – on the radiantly rippling, chorus of voices, funky blues number Homafu Wawa, and environmental issues on the dexterously nimble-fingered bluesy rock, Nature.

 

The almost never-ending efflux, the constant lapping waves of textures that Touré plays, which offer a cyclonic bed on which to add the deftest licks, have never sounded so sagacious and free flowing. This ain’t no Saharan Hendrix at work, this is something else entirely, and better for it. This is the devotional, earthy soul of Mali, channeled through a six-string electric guitar.

 

Originally scheduled for 2015, the Woodstock Session would have still been a revelatory showcase and classic, but with that extra year, with the travails of being in constant demand on the road and the rapid turn of events Samba in 2017 makes even more sense, resonating with a message of respect, peace and tolerance.





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