album of 2019 part one - monolith cocktail


Choice Albums of 2019 Part One: A Journey Of Giraffes to Adam Green


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

Void of points systems and voting, the Monolith Cocktail team selection is pretty transparent: just favourites and albums we all feel you, our audience, should check out. Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Gianluigi Marsibilio and Andrew C. Kidd made all of 2019’s selections.

Spread over three parts, the inaugural selection here runs from A to G, from A Journey Of Giraffes to the Adam Green. Part Two will run from H to P and Part Three from Q to Z.

A.

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Hour Club’ & ‘Kona’









Two atmospherically evocative peaceable ambient suites from the brilliant lo fi maverick A Journey Of Giraffes (nom de plume for many years of the Baltimore composer John Lane) make this year’s ‘choice’ list. Released earlier in 2019, the Hour Club pushes Lane further than ever away from his previous Beach Boys homage experiments into both deeper, darker recesses and sweeping traverses. From Terry Riley to Sky Records, Hour Club is an often-magical soundtrack, with every track sharing a 7 minutes and 1 second rule.

The second album, Kona, an unassuming love letter to the iconic late Japanese composer Susumu Yokota, was premiered back on the Monolith Cocktail in August. Magically ruminating, offering both the beatific and uncertain, this pagoda dreamt fantasy is an exotic, sometimes ceremonial, Zen like album that evokes the Fourth World Possible Musics of Jon Hassell, Popol Vuh and the higher plain communal glistened zither transcendence of Laraaji. Quite possibly, Lane’s most realized, complete album yet. (Dominic Valvona)

Full review feature…

Aesop Rock & TOBACCO ‘Malibu Ken’
(Rhymesayers)




“Both happen upon a sharp splinter of hip-hop pitching to the left, but not way out left” – RnV Jan 19





Straight off the bat the gaudily sleeved Malibu Ken foresees a tough slog in store, given the respective running through brick walls of these decidedly non-plastic conspirators. Aesop Rock rhymes like a rebooted Max Headroom, TOBACCO activates at the moment where Rock starts glitching as synths home in on your VHS tracking button. Obviously it’s a jerky leftfield match made in heaven, primitive videogame set pieces overridden by one of the underground’s most enduring, levelling out bad trips but still very much needing these cracked, skeletal neon runways to assure his own navigation and empowerment. Take it as post-modern, post-Armageddon, welcome respite from the mainstream etc etc, or the faultless engineering of the technical and the broken, backwater flights of fancy and stranger than fiction truths jamming in a keyboard repair shop. (Matt Oliver)

Armstrong ‘Under Blue Skies’
(Country Mile Records)






Julian Pitt, aka Armstrong, is one of the finest songwriters to emerge from Wales in recent years: a man who has been blessed with the gift of melody that can be comparable to McCartney, Wilson and Jimmy Webb – Yes, he really is that good.

This is an expanded reissue of his first LP, which was originally released as a limited edition cdr, one that I played constantly. Thankfully it’s getting a much-deserved official re-release from The Beautiful Music label. I am so happy this great lost LP has finally got the release it deserves; it is no longer lost just simply Great, one of the finest pastoral pop LPs you will ever hear. (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea)

Full review…


B..

Babybird ‘Photosynthesis’







What I love about Stephen Jones, aka Babybird, apart from his wonderful songwriting talent and his dark humor and his obvious love of music and its many genres, is that he has so much soul. He has so much love for music in fact that he makes music not just because he may make a decent living from it but because he has no choice, he has to make it like he has to breath to stay alive. He has to create music, create art, he has to experiment with the magic of melody and write such beautiful songs, and Photosynthesis is an LP full of dark beauty and such bloody good songs. A small dark masterpiece, a master class in songwriting. (BBS)

Full review…


Baileys Brown ‘Still Fresh’
(Potent Funk)




“Skimming the scummy but with buckets of fizz and a little soul stardust answering the title’s call, BB keeps the hottest point of the club within striking distance of a couch and headphones combo” – RnV Aug 19





Investing in a gang of absolute mic-snatching hoodlums, bringing the sort of posse cuts where you dial the first two nines in anticipation, just to be on the safe side, Baileys Brown swings the wrecking ball club-wards before looming as a quiet storm presence fuelling dark alley unease. His best work where you can’t see in front of your face – add damp air or a biting breeze for maximum effect – the raw basics of Still Fresh are more than enough for emcees to chow down on (Axel Holy, Datkid, Dabbla), while a certain juju drifts in and out as if it’s not just testosterone at work. Animal instinct floods from a group who have the trousers to go with the mouth (“yeah I’m talking shit, but you’re doing it without flow”); however, a soulful section towards the back end shows Brown can rise above the rough stuff, reaching out towards a bigger stage for something that shouldn’t be skipped on account of what’s gone before. (MO)


Bantou Mentale ‘ST’
(Glitterbeat Records)







A sizzle. A static shock, a charge that most importantly signals something is changing in the musical fabric; a signal of something dynamic but also something dangerous, a mirror image of the real world, the real refugee and migrant experience and chaos. Vivid and fresh being the optimum words as the Bantou Mentale vehicle shakes up the melting pot convergence of Paris’ infamous Chateau Rouge; addressing assumptions/presumptions about their native Democratic Republic of Congo home in the process. Not so much explosive, the electric quartet seem relaxed, even drifting as they channel the soul and spirit of cooperation; opening up aspects of the DRC culture and humility often lost or obscured in the noise of negativity – and the Congo has had more than its fair share of violence and tumult both pre and post Colonialism.

Kinshasa reloaded; Bantou Mentale is a thoroughly modern sonic vision of peaceful cross-border fraternization. Lingering traces of Jon Hassell & Eno, Radio Tarifa, UNCLE, TV On The Radio and even label mates Dirtmusic are absorbed into an electrified subterranean of frizzles, pylon-scratches and hustle-bustle. Above all, despite the subject matter, despite the polygenesis sonic hubbub this is a soulful soundtrack: cooperation ahead of fractious division and hostility. A more positive collaboration for a 21st century chaos. (DV)

Full review…

Bathtub Gin Band ‘From The Old Navy Club’







The Bathtub Gin Band are a duo from my hometown of St Helens, and this there debut LP. A mini LP in fact, recorded live in a local studio, just acoustic guitar and drums and fine songwriting; the sound of two talented musicians enjoying themselves; an LP that recalls the sound of the Liverpool bandwagon club of the early noughties; quickly strummed guitar ragtime blues telling tales of drunken nights out and failed romantic adventures, an album to listen to as you are getting ready for a wild night out or after you have staggered in after one.

Beautifully written and crafted with well-arranged songs performed with verve and vigor, From The Old Navy Club is another little gem for 2019… (BBS)

Full review…


Blu & Oh No ‘A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night’
(Nature Sounds)




“A mosey across the West Coast to capture the hustles and bustle as a frontline tour guide mapping out all the no-go areas and places to tap into local electricity” – RnV Mar 19




Drawing on both the energy of the locale and when that red mist begins its descent (‘Pop Shots’ feeling the heat to the point of delusion), there’s Blu, unafraid of foregoing any sort of word association for the sake of putting a brick on the accelerator out of Thunderdome – sometimes straight talking will only do when the stakes are high. Then there’s Oh No, performing funky wheelspins between cruising and hot pursuit, capturing all the glamour, glitz, hustle and insanity the City of Angels calls everyday. The pair switch career mode from local big timers to chancers seeing how far their luck will stretch, and A Long Red Hot… is one of the year’s coolest releases; find somewhere where it’s 96 degrees in the shade before throwing on loud, sequenced to directorial perfection so the highs, lows and inbetweens form a logical thread, and where the action-packed comes with composure remaining everything. (MO)


Blue House ‘Gobstopper’
(Faith And Industry)







The fruits of two-years labour, James Howard’s (aka Thomas Nation) latest appearance as principle writer is with the Blue House collaboration; a group that boosts the talents of Ursula Russell (drumming for the brilliant Snapped Ankle, and soon to release music under the Ursa Major Moving Group), Dimitrios Ntontis (film composer and member of a host of bands including Pre Goblin) and Capitol K (the nom de plume of the ever-in-demand star producer Kristian Craig Robinson). Following up on the group’s 2016 acclaimed Suppose LP with another rich mellow empirical state-of-the-nation address, the Blue House’s Gobstopper is suffused with a languid disdain, as they drift through the archetypal bleak waiting rooms of nostalgia and the limbo of benefit Britain.

Gently stunning throughout with hues of a gauze-y Kinks, a less nasal Lennon, a more wistful Bowie and woozy Stereolab, Howard and friends perform a disarming mini opus that soaks up the forlorn stench of an out-of-season postcard seaside pub, air-conditioned gyms and quaint English motorways – ‘Accelerate’ in name only, the speed and candour of a hitched-up caravan that’s more ambling (with the radio dial set to Fleetwood Mac bounce) than autobahn motorik futurism. (DV)

Full review…

Boa Morte ‘Before There Was Air’
(Gare du Nord)







The understated majestic swells of the Irish band Boa Morte don’t come easy, or arrive regularly. Only the band’s third album proper in twenty years, the misty expansive mini-opuses found on the long awaited Before There Was Air are like gentle but deeply resonating ripples from a distant shore. Slow, methodical, every second of these air-y hushed suites moves at a stately pace: in no hurry to arrive, with many of the beautifully purposeful songs disappearing into the ether, out of earshot but forever lingering.

A finely crafted sweeping album Before There Was Air exudes a timeless quality; one that by all accounts has been well worth the wait. (DV)

Full review…

Simon Bonney ‘Past, Present, Future’
(Mute)







Arguably one of the great voices of Australian music over the last four decades, Simon Bonney is nothing if not proficient in taking hiatuses. Emerging from just the most recent one, five years after the release of the last Crime And The City Solution opus American Twilight – itself, the first album by the iconic alienated nihilists turn beatific augurs of country-doom in twenty years -, and twenty-odd years since the shelving of his third solo LP Eyes Of Blue, Bonney has made a welcome return to the musical fold.

Prompted by the decision of Mute Records to facilitate the release of that fabled last solo songbook, the Past, Present, Future collection is both a reminder, featuring as it does tracks from both the 1992 Forever and 1994 Everyman albums, and showcase for six previously unreleased tracks from Eyes Of Blue.

Not new material but a catalyst for projects going forward, this solo collection proves as prescient today as it did back then. Especially the beguiling cover turns homage (in light of Scott Walker’s passing) of the brooding maestro’s stately majestic lament to fading beauty and decadence, ‘Duchess’. Much of the Bonney songbook, delivered with earnest, deep timeless country-imbued veneration, aches, even worships, for a string of muses; an undying, unwavering love to both the unattainable and lost. One such elegiac object of such pathos-inspired yearning is Edgar Allan Poe’s famous ‘Annabelle Lee’ –the metaphorical lamentable figure of the Gothic polymath’s last poem -, who appears on both the eponymous and title tracks from Eyes OF Blue. Lovingly conveyed, even if it marks the death of that lady, it proves symmetry to the album’s profound poetic loss of influence, desire and alluring surface beauty of ‘Duchess’. Eyes Of Blue, which makes up half of this collection, follows on from the previous solo works perfectly. A touch deeper, even reverent perhaps, but every bit as bathed in country suffrage. Salvaged at long last, that lost album offers a closure of a kind. Proving however, to chime with the present, far from dated, this collection is a perfect finish to a great run of epic, though highly intimate, solo opuses; the songwriting as encapsulating and grandiose, earthy as you would expect. (DV)

Full review…

Aziza Brahim ‘Sahari’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Bringing the message of the displaced Saharawi people to the world stage, Western Saharan musician/activist Aziza Brahim follows up both her critically rewarded 2014 album Soutak, and the no less brilliant 2016 serene protest of poetic defiance Abbar el Hamada album with her third for Glitterbeat Records, Sahari.

Imbued as ever with the desert soul of that disputed region, the latest record, with its visual metaphor of optimism in even the most desperate of backdrops and times – dreams of growing up to be a ballerina proving universal – attempts to marry the beautifully longing and heartache yearns of Brahim’s voice to a number of different styles and rhythms: A subtle change towards the experimental. Imbued as ever with the desert soul of that disputed region, the latest record, with its visual metaphor of optimism in even the most desperate of backdrops and times – dreams of growing up to be a ballerina proving universal – attempts to marry the beautifully longing and heartache yearns of Brahim’s voice to a number of different styles and rhythms: A subtle change towards the experimental. Previous encounters have channeled the poetic roots of that heritage and merged it with both Arabian Spain and the lilted buoyancy of the Balearics. Working with the Spanish artist Amparo Sánchez of the band Amparanoia, Brahim has chosen to add a congruous subtle bed of synthesized effects to the recording process: before performing live in the studio, but now recording in various places, the results collected together and pieced together in post-production. This methodology and sound furnishes Brahim’s longing traditional voice with certain freshness and, sometimes, shuffled energy.

A most fantastic, poetic songbook that will further cement Brahim’s deserved reputation as one of the deserts most serene artists. (DV)

Full review…

Bronx Slang ‘Bronx Slang’
(Fabyl)




“Jerry Beeks and Miggs are more sages than saviours, proving you don’t have to settle for what’s supposedly trending. Proper hip-hop citizenship” – RnV Feb 19




Golden era restoration, true school appreciation…so many attempt to recreate/pay respects to hip-hop’s glory days but often overcook it to the point of self-neutering. Nothing of the sort applies here: Bronx Slang press home the pervading advantage (if you can call it that) of volatile politics, loud and clear messaging deriding the powers that be without resorting to playground tactics. Miggs and Jerry Beeks also know they’re in the entertainment business (‘Well Well Well’ > 50 Cent’s ‘21 Questions’/How to Rob’, Jadakiss’ ‘Why?’), and the baritone-midrange contrast frames the all-important dynamic duo telepathy, catching last breaths should anyone step to them. A box fresh success…and this is before the dirty little secret of the downtown funk hustles being hatched by two UK ringers: one-time big beat ne’er-do-well Jadell, assisted by fellow frat partier and bass house dabbler Fake Blood. Proof therefore of 90s boom bap as international language slash Holy Grail. (MO)


Danny Brown ‘uknowwhatimsayin”
(Warp)




“Still coming through loud, clear and uncouth” – RnV Oct 19



A slight tweak to the Danny Brown experience doesn’t make him any less of a livewire. Q-Tip as executive producer is not an invitation to keep his new, freshly coiffured muse in check, and despite a slightly exploratory start sonically, it’s the same old Danny boy keeping the spirit of ODB alive, quickly into his shit-chatting rhythm and proving that emperor’s new clothes do not make the man. Whether he’d enjoy being tagged as more well-rounded (rather than versatile – Brown’s mind remains pretty much one track in its own strain of ADHD that never misses a beat), the likes of ‘Belly of the Beast’ and the title track pull him in different directions but have that up-to-no-good personality keeping the peace, though he’s a smoother operator than you’d probably give credit for. Short but sweet, like a high sugar soda hit, and still highly strung, but hey – that’s entertainment. (MO)


C…

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds ‘Ghosteen’





We knew it would come but not when; Nick Cave’s moving concept elegy Ghosteen articulates both the grief and coming-to-terms of the loss of his son Arthur in 2015. And so this often striking, if lamenting, and beautifully poised opus arrives four years later with grandiose expectations.

Often conflicted, Cave articulates despair to a bared atmospheric led Bad Seeds soundtrack of vivid and poetic images and feelings. With a tonal backing of choirs, the afflatus Kosmische of Roedelius and touches of The Boatman’s Call, Ghosteen is a mournful work of pulchritude and grief. It’s also perhaps one of Cave’s best albums in decades. (DV)

Choosey & Exile ‘Black Beans’
(Dirty Science)




“The comforts of soulful Cali ear butter, and rhymes of a valued familiarity, eye a top 10 spot come the end of the year” – RnV Mar 19




“Come and get your soul food”, a wise band once said. Treating Black Beans as an album that brings the family together around the record player, though it’s just as strong as an edutainment pursuit with headphones and your own private enclave, Choosey and Exile are the master cross-section of warm, good-old-days idealism and a voice providing revisions to nostalgia, telling the fuzzy feelings to sit up straight and tucking you in without forgetting that in love and life there’s always a moral to the story. Aloe Blacc’s deployment to send spines shivering on the all-seasons champ ‘Low Low’ is a masterstroke, the blues and soul source material carefully sifted and restored so that heads are set to thinking that maybe, everything is gonna be alright, pausing today’s mile-a-minute trends and attitudes. Grooves and truths set to soothe and move you. (MO)

Clipping ‘There Existed an Addiction to Blood’
(Sub Pop)




“Where no-one can hear you scream in space until its engine room sucks you in and spits you out” – RnV Oct 19




‘Nothing is Safe’, ‘He Dead’, ‘Run for Your Life’, ‘All in Your Head’…there’s nothing like a cult Clipping cakewalk leaving you gasping for breath. Holographic rhymes and reedy synth beats programmed like a doomed ignition sequence, whose sometimes beatlessness is replaced by wailing walls of surround sound hell and empty, nervous atmospherics, it’s the perfect deployment of the textbook pincer movement, peering stealthily around corners before letting the autofire get open until one great ball of fire engulfs everything. Crew commander Daveed Diggs plays on the edge of rogue Andre3000 operative with ambitions of hero decoration, and as blood both pumps and runs cold, the LA crew still manage to get street lifers Elcamino, Benny the Butcher and La Chat to buy into the mission of a burnt out future – game recognise game. Forget West Coast low-riders, these are the men who fell to earth: you’re pleased they just about survived to tell the tale, and something tells you they’d do it all over again, for club and country. (MO)

Cosmic Range ‘The Gratitude Principle’







Guided by Toronto based everyman Matthew “Doc” Dunn the multi-limbed super-group collective of faces from the city’s most recent creative rise to prominence follow up their 2016 polygenesis New Latitudes debut with more of the same: Spotted dabbed slinking sexy spiritual jazz, flute-y Orientalism, snuggling air-y saxophone, wallowing subterranean funk and primal scream therapy peregrinations.

The Gratitude Principle gathers together the Slim Twig’s raging, wild wah-wah licks, the experimental snozzles and spiraling wildly saxophone of Andy Haas, Isla Craig’s ethereal siren vocal and flute duties, Kieran Adams’ drums and tinkerings with electronics, Brandon Valdivia’s congas and percussion, and the keys of Mike “Muskox” Smith and Jonathan Adjemian in a sub-aquatic yearning union of free and Afro jazz and Krautrock. Another trip into the cerebral: a jam session of epic mapping. (DV)


D….

Jack Danz ‘TMIB’
(Blah)




“Entwining the concepts of lo-fi and low life and guaranteed to get under your skin…the voice of someone who’s seen too much but knows exactly what’s going on” – RnV May 19




With rhymes offered as a grunt through what sounds like a prison intercom, Leeds’ Jack Danz is an on-point example of making something cutting edge out of a squalid image – aka, the Blah battalions. Sawn off trap bass, rinky-dink riffs taking on a spectral/lost perspective, and Danz succumbing/thriving while up to his eyeballs, TMIB is the cold light of day after a dive of debauchery: ideal listening for a trashed hotel room or freshly decorated squat riddled with wrongdoing. Danz’ numbness to what are undeniably a set of head nodders (where everything else appears dead from the neck down), makes his flow both out-of-body and trudgingly destructive. If he happens to be in character, it’s a natural role, giving him an impenetrability that means few can answer back to him. Including the engineered ambiguity of the sleeve, this is high power stuff out of sobering surroundings, particularly as there’s definite vulnerability being shown by the album’s end. (MO)

Datkid ‘Confessions of a Crud Lord’
(High Focus)




“On his worst behaviour when ‘Confessions of a Crud Lord’ writes red-top headlines, Datkid bullies the beats of Leaf Dog until he’s administering toilet swirlies” – RnV Apr 19




Goaded by 16 South Westerly beats that’ll have you nodding your way into an MRI scan – your neighbours will love being trolled by the bottom ends – from the moment the word ‘Crud’ stinks the title out, Datkid has it all his own way. An ambassador for UK hip-hop’s rise of the footsoldier, this Bristol blitzkrieg bop is detailed with the confidence of someone thinking they can take on the whole pub and exit with barely a scratch. Suffice to say it’s a relentless baseball bat swing of not giving a monkeys, loving to pounce on out-of-towner weakness in a heartbeat, and whose purity of show and prove, go hard or go home, is enough for guests Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine and Roc Marciano to show support. Once upon a time this would’ve been slapped with an ASBO, but the Crud is strong with this one: “what’s the point of living if you’re just surviving” shows that Datkid really knows where it’s at. (MO)

Graham Domain ‘Fragments Of Light’
(Metal Postcard Records)







Graham Domain is an acquired taste I suppose. Why, I do not know as everyone needs some dark weird music in their drab lives, an ideal cross taste cannon submerge of Tom Waits, Bela Lugosi and Brian Cant naked massaging the tears out of a neglected and abused cabbage patch doll. Stray keyboard drifts beautifully over simple drum beats whilst duetting with the memory of a long lost lover’s memories of tasting your alcohol on her lips and tongue, the ghost of her naked form haunting the side of the bed that once belonged to her.

This mini album, as has been the other two Graham Domain releases this year, is a really must be heard LP that sadly are not being heard. Why, I really do not know. Maybe they are just too strange or just too emotional or simply people are not getting to know or hear about them. So if you are reading this review give it a listen and tell your friends. (BBS)


E…..

Callum Easter ‘Here Or Nowhere’
(Lost Map Records)







One of those dreamy disarming albums that creeps up on you, the Edinburgh-based Callum Easter’s poised and indolently profound debut, Here Or Nowhere, is a sparse affair of the heart. Often lyrically succinct, saying a lot with few words, Easter shifts tonally between the heavenly and more moody. Songs such as the South Seas charmed and swimmingly ‘Fall In Love’ offers the dreamy, whilst the enervated industrial strikes and gritty Scottish bur narration of ‘Fall Down’ offers something grittier.

After a late conversion to music, the self-taught afflatus voiced troubadour leaving a career in professional football behind him at the age of 21, Easter adopts a number of well-travil(ed) and dragged over musical influences. Somehow he makes them sound new, especially on the wonderful Southern echo-y bar room piano rock’n’roll blues hymnal ‘Only Sun’. There’s also a channeling of Charlie Megira, Alan Vega and The Legendary Stardust Cowboy on a range of beautifully poignant songs, and hints of a lot of 2000s Canadian and American indie.

Despite some of the wry mistrust and resigned despondency, Here Or Nowhere is a spiritual pop album suffused – for the main part – by choral angelics, reverent glissandos and a touch of the afflatus. It’s also an album of singles, with every track standing alone and separate in its own right away from the album as a whole: Nothing short of a marvelous alternative pop and gospel triumph. (DV)

Eerie Wanda ‘Pet Town’
(Joyful Noise Recordings)







The lost sounds of childhood summers, the finger clicking bliss of a Joe Meek hit, the beauty of the lost rainbow in an angels wish, this LP by Eerie Wanda makes me recall all this. Pet Town is a fine album indeed, at times it gives me the same feelings of joy I have when playing The Beach Boys much-underrated classic Friends; songs wrapped up in the power of the pureness in being alone.

This is simple in its beauty and the beauty is its simpleness, the vinyl etchings of acoustic nights wrapped in your ex’s arms soundtracked by a lovingly compiled mixtape of the Marine Girls and Holly Golightly’s softer moments.

Summing up, this is an LP to wrap around you to keep you warm in the coming winter months and the LP to play as you walk in the summer sun remembering how happy sad life can be. A stunner. (BBS)

Full review…

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble ‘Be Known Ancient/Future/Music’
(Spiritmuse Records)







From the doyen of the Chicago scene and alumni of that city’s famous hothouse of talent, the School of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, drummer/percussionist and bandleader Kahil El’Zabar is still exploring, still connecting five decades on from forming the spiritual jazz troupe Ethnic Heritage Ensemble.

Kahil and the current troupe of Corey Wilkes (trumpet), Alex Harding (baritone saxophone) and Ian Maksin (cello) together celebrate a prestigious 45-year career whilst also, and always, looking forward on the latest collection Be Known Ancient/Future/Music. Spanning live performances, recordings and even a track from the 2015 documentary that forms part of the title of this LP, Dwayne Johnson-Cochran’s exploration Be Known, the ensemble once more channel the ever-developing Chicago rhythm that has marked this city out for its unique, often raw, take on R&B, Soul, Dance Music and of course jazz.

Less cosmic than Sun Ra, and less out-of-the-park than the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Kahil and the EHE tread a different path towards enlightenment; spreading the gospel of positive Afrocentric jazz to ever more dizzying and entrancing heights. Spiritual music with a message doesn’t come much better than this, the EHE showing no signs of waning after 45 years in the business. I’m off to hunt down and digest that lengthy cannon now and suggest you do too. (DV)

Full review…


F……

Frog ‘Count Bateman’
(Audio Antihero/Tape Wormies)







Frog are a kiosk by the sea, on a suburban beach. The essence of their work is gathered in a search for intimacy that is expressed in DIY and lo-fi passages; a very successful sound universe touched by Bon Iver, Daniel Johnston and other such sacred monsters. Their flame is lit on Count Bateman.

The new album in fact captures the peak of a clear path and placed lo-fi sound. The interweaving of stories on this record are a safe place that puts us at peace and in dialogue with the idea of Frog’s music.

Frog are like Matisse, painters of windows and fixtures that open in an expanse of neighborhoods, cities and stories. Count Bateman is an open window from which air enters and often there is also a hurricane breeze; in fact the second part of the record is full of unusual sounds and more driven, electronically, for the duo. (Gianluigi Marsibilio)

Full review…


G…….

Mike Gale ‘Summer Deluxe’







Escaping the short days and dreary dampness of an English winter, the Hampshire-based polymath Mike Gale (notable for his work with the Americana imbued Co-Pilgrim) suns himself in the dappled rays of lilted surf pop on his new solo album, Summer Deluxe.

Liberally splashing about in the efflux surf of The Beach Boys the much-prolific Gale (this is his fifth album alone in just five years) hides a certain sorrow, longing and yearn under the most colorful and dreamy of melodious harmonies.

Dazed and hazy, a hushed mirage of summer, the leaf-turning breeze of autumn is never far away, its arrival denoting all the connotations and metaphors you’d expect, that fleeting optimism of the summer masks and makes all our woes seem far less burdening. Summer Deluxe is swimmingly brilliant in its indie slacker charm with hints of Sparklehorse, Animal Collective and McCartney; a scion indeed of that Beach Boys spirit. (DV)

Full review…

Nicolas Gaunin ‘Noa Noa Noa’
(Hive Mind Records)







This is included because it sounds unlike anything else I’ve listened to in 2019. Originally put out in 2018 on the obscure Artetetra Records label, Nicola Sanguin, under his barely concealed appellation alter ego Nicolas Gaunin, strange exotic minimalist Noa Noa Noa LP has found a new home on the Brighton-based imprint Hive Mind.

With vague hints of Krautrock legends Embryo’s more percussive experiments in Africa, the dreamy mysterious invocations of Le Mystere Jazz de Tumbautau, Radio Tarifa, Ethno-jazz at its most untethered and Analogue Bubblebath era Richard James, Sanguin’s fantastical experiments mix vague sounds of thumb-piano, Serengeti and jungle wildlife, bamboo glockenspiel, clacking wooden and bass-heavy hand drums and nuanced workshop Techno.

Noa Noa Noa is indeed a thing of curious evocation; a searing balmy transduced soundtrack worth investigating.

Full review…

Gawd Status ‘Firmamentum’
(Tru Thoughts)




“Militant pride that’ll uproot those sitting on the fence, it’s a saga that must run and run. Absolutely boomin’” – RnV May 19



When the Big Bang wiped everything out first time around, Gawd Status saw it as an opportunity, in which Kashmere’s Strange U spaceship nosedives into the jungle, moondust dementia still sputtering from its exhaust, and Joker Starr swaps the battle arena for the cannibalistic, kill or be killed lawlessness of the Firmamentum outback. The Gawd Status is a complicated one, seriously heavy at a skinflint eight tracks long (even in the current age of artists finally getting album length right, 28 minutes is a bit of a choker), fiercely standing up for itself in articulation of black rage and examination of conspiracy theories, and revelling in The Iguana Man’s thick doomsday fog. The event completed by some utterly bumping soul sisterhood from Fae Simon, its arrival at Tru Thoughts is a slight surprise. Nonetheless it’s a work of art that burns bright like a brilliant, tumultuous dream. (MO)

The Good Ones ‘Rwanda, You Should Be Loved’
(Anti-Records)







Finding the most earthy of uncluttered soul in the most inhospitable and traumatized of environments, global renowned producer/facilitator Ian Brennan once more sets up the most minimalist and unobtrusive of recording sessions; capturing the raw, natural magic of Rwanda’s The Good Ones for posterity before it dies out.

Though moving slowly past the scars of the country’s genocide, the glorious encapsulating and whistling voices that make up this collective live a bare sustenance, eking out a meager life as farmers in the remotest of landscapes.

Recorded at guitarist and vocalist Adrien Kazigira’s hillside farm, Rwanda, You Should Be Loved Place is as poignant as it is hearty; a songbook of lilting lullaby’s, forewarnings and lament. Not that there presence is needed, but a cast of Western artists – Kevin Shields, Corin Tucker, Tunde Adebimpe and Nels Cline – lend support on a number of these beautiful songs.   (DV)

Adam Green ‘Engine Of Paradise’
(30th Century)





Meandering through the modern world of incessant tech-babble and validation cult, the former Moldy Peach turn left banke troubadour Adam Green once more traverses the boulevards and Greenwich Village hangouts of a more simpler, connected time on his wonderful folksy songbook, Engine Of Paradise.

Channeling a homage of Lee Hazlewood, Burt Bacharach, Harry Nilsson, Ian McCulloch, Jim Sullivan and Father John Misty our romantic and candid swooner delivers Midnight Cowboy like cocktail ruminations on love in the context of a society in the grip of an ever intrusive and alienating social media. Nostalgic certainly…but all the better for it. (DV)

Reviews
Dominic Valvona





Reaching a grand eightieth edition of my eclectic roundup, the Tickling My Fancy column continues to highlight the curious and recommended from across the globe. With no agenda, no demarcation of any kind, you can expect to find spiritual jazz alongside dream pop, space rock doom alongside desert blues.

My latest edition includes the long awaited new LP of timeless hushed reverence from Boa Morte, phobia-themed withering contorted progressive industrial jazz from the Russian band Rootea, the latest tactile album of dance music from the Shanghai Restoration Project, a new EP from the maverick lo fi dreamer Origami Repetika, the new aria space apocalypse augur of beauty and supernatural doom from Elizabeth Joan Kelly, and a double bill of cult excavations, the heavy metal prog Lucifer Was and more genteel short-lived soul-psych-folk-beat-group The Fox, from the Guerssen label hub.

Leading the charge though is the upcoming compilation of Somali funk, disco and Afro-Caribbean nuggets, Mogadisco, from Analog Africa.


Various ‘Mogadisco – Dancing Mogadishu (Somali 1972-1991)’

(Analog Africa) LP/ 13th December 2019



In the making since a security nightmare of a trip in 2016, Analog Africa’s chief instigator, Samy Ben Redjeb, finally releases a treasure trove of previously unreleased and passed-over nuggets from the vaults of Radio Mogadishu.

Researched and compiled on that same crate and archive-digging excursion, Analog Africa put out a celebratory compilation of the first two albums by Mogadishu’s legends-in-exile the Dur-Dur Band in 2018; the first bonafide release of the group’s tape cassette ‘volume’ albums. The infectious loose-limbed funk and fuzz pop group provide a trio of sweetly laced movers and serenades for this showcase of Somali wonders. All recorded in 1991, the last year this compilation covers, whilst exiled abroad, the Dur-Dur Band offer a stick-rattling feverish Indian summer love paean (‘Daradara Muxibo’), slicker dabbing mid-tempo funk workout (‘Shaleedayaa’) and oriental dappled-organ swoon (‘Ladaa’).

Covering a generational period arc, from the burgeoning optimistic dawn of Somali under the dictatorial leadership of Siad Barre to that same leader’s fateful swan song in 1991, as a once more liberal regime in just twenty years lurched towards the repressive, Mogadisco reflects the changes in a fractious state. Barre of course took power in a coup (though with an emphasis on the peaceful), yet the arts and music scenes flourished, with an explosion in both state-sanctioned and private bands. Many of the acts on this collection were hot-housed in the various ministerial department affiliated show bands or in the theatre (notably the Dur-Durs), and were open to outside influences, from Flea Kuti’s Afrobeat sensation – brought back, we’re told, to Somalia by the Mogadishu featured Iftin Band, after representing the country at the Festac Festival in Lagos in 1977 – to Bob Marley’s global-conquering brand of reggae, and later on, a moonwalking Michael Jackson. One of the most obvious of these, and continuing to influence Somalia’s finest in the second half of the 80s, Omar Shooli’s spiritually voiced ‘Hob Isii’ languorously sways to a proto-Wailers rock steady beat. Equally the influence of Motown, Stax, and as the compilation’s title makes apparent, disco can be heard ringing loudly throughout this mixed bag that Samy himself describes as music that “swam against the tide”.

Before Somalia imploded in the 90s and descended into a near anarchic state, the capital enjoyed a tourist boom; the Mogadishu boulevards loaded with ever-luxurious hotels, all playing host to the country’s best and most popular groups. Mogadisco however, selects previously dormant and forgotten recordings from the city’s top broadcaster, Radio Mogadishu. Filed away under ‘mainly instrumental and strange music’, an assortment of discarded jingles, background music, interludes, TV show tunes and theatre numbers now finally see daylight on an eye-opening collection of exotic funk-fried shufflers and sashaying Afro-Caribbean swoons.

Notable mentions should go to the Iftin Band for their Ethno-jazz dreamy shimmer ‘Ii Ouy Aniga’, both the Bakaka Band’s uptown rankin’ slinky ‘Gobonimada Jira’ – think the Lijadu Sisters meet Althea & Donna – and their swimmingly spy-thriller like transformation of a warrior’s song, the tropical Highlife tingle ‘Geesiyada Halgamayow’, and the southern ‘Orleans flavoured raunchy disco turn, ‘Baayo’, by Mukhtar Ramadan Iidi – a slicker 80s Arthur Conley if you will.

As always, the usual due diligence and insights into each and every artist/band and label on this latest brilliant compilation are chronicled in the accompanying booklet; a purview of Somalia’s musical legacy set within a tumultuous historical setting. Analog Africa are the first label to actually set foot in the country in years; the capital especially immortalized for a generation or more as one of the most dangerous places on Earth, synonymous for fractions-at-war and pirates. Progress has been made in recent years, hence Samy gaining permission to visit, albeit under heavy protection. For once though, here’s a celebration of the country’s music; a fit and proper essential joyful showcase of disco and funk inspired dynamism.






Shanghai Restoration Project ‘Flashbacks In A Crystal Ball’

(Undercover Culture Music) LP/ 8th November 2019



If brooding synth poets Japan had taken more stimulating drugs and been dragged onto the dancefloor they may very well have sounded a little like this colourful arpeggiator-cascading duo, the Shanghai Restoration Project. Though based in Brooklyn, the electro-symphonic duo transport the listener to an exotic Orient and beyond on a magical, ruminating flight of fantasy.

As the name suggests, on previous recordings the former Bad Boy label songwriter and producer Dave Laing and his foil Sun Yunfan have transduced the jazz and showtime music of a pre-WWII Shanghai; aligning it with, and filtering it through, nuanced electro pop, techno and hip-hop. The results of which have furnished a myriad of adverts, soundtracks, and even the Beijing Olympics.

SRP’s latest neon-lit dreamy dance album is framed as a reaction to “the increasingly fragmented and mindless soundbite culture we live in”. Softening the edges and lightening the tensions, the crystal ball flashbacks on this serene trip err towards elegance and the sophisticated rippling tactile.

This is a landscape of chopstick percussion, pagoda shaded water gardens, undulating marimba vibes, vocoder chanson, mirage-y waveforms, classical Chinese instrumentation and biplane rotor drones. Futuristically motoring and bobbing along, there are shades of Air, Moroder, Mark Ronson, Cuushe and Cornelius on a cosmic soundtrack of avant-garde Tango dalliances, retro-fit rapping R&B, 2-Step jazz, super-charged Tron video arcades and sweetened elegies.

Flashbacks In A Crystal Ball is a pliable dance album full of bright and magical lilted brilliance and fun; slow building dance music of the highest and smartest caliber.



Boa Morte ‘Before There Was Air’
(Gare du Nord) LP/ 29th November 2019


The understated majestic swells of the Irish band Boa Morte don’t come easy, or arrive regularly. Only the band’s third album proper in twenty years, the misty expansive mini-opuses found on the long awaited Before There Was Air are like gentle but deeply resonating ripples from a distant timeless shore.

Slow, methodical, every second of these air-y hushed suites moves at a stately pace: in no hurry to arrive, with many of the beautifully purposeful songs disappearing into the ether, out of earshot but somewhere carrying on forever.

Signing to Ian button’s one-man cottage industry Gare du Nord label this year, the Cork dreamers’ first complete work in nigh on a decade is worth the wait. Maturing in all that time, the peaceable sagacious results are augmented with subtle synthesized tones and stirring ambient atmospherics; building vague landscapes of longing; a constant ebbing tide lapping on the cerebral.

This is a classy magical music that doesn’t make allowances: the equivalent of slow food culture.

Elegantly unfurled, the burnished and brushed soundtrack moves between entrancing folk and the classical, between the choral and yearned. Songs such as the tenderly rendered ‘Cans’ evoke a more soulful Mogwai and, musically, Robert Wyatt, whilst the pastoral dainty ‘The Garden’ transports the listener to an Elizabethan Hampden Court. The pinning guitar-voiced ‘Sea Creatures’ has an air of Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks score.

Lonely pianos, romantic prose, shimmered cymbals and sighed strings reverberate on metaphorical nautical terms of lovelorn detachment and the dangers of an emotional landslide. A finely crafted sweeping album Before There Was Air exudes a timeless quality; one that by all accounts has been well worth the wait.





The Fox ‘For Fox Sake’
Lucifer Was ‘Underground And Beyond’
(Sommer/ Guerssen) LP/ 13th November 2019




Churning out untold forgotten and cult missives and classics alike, the Guerssen umbrella of reissue imprints knocks out albums and compilations at a fair old rate. It’s often easy to miss the odd trio of same date releases from this hub of specialist labels: such is the turnover. One strand of this operation in digging up everything from 80s Spanish political underground cassette tape culture to 70s Turkish kitsch pop, is the 60s/70s garage band, psych, prog and heavy rock leaning Sommor, who retrieve and facilitate first-time vinyl reissues of albums by the blue-eyed soulful psych outfit The Fox and proto-metal theatrical troupe Lucifer Was.

The former of these has been a much sought-after album from a band of also-rans who’s sound harks back to the fag-end of the Mod boom; when beat group combos graduated to more psychedelic and progressive, heavier heights. Recorded a couple years after inception in the Mod haven of Brighton, The Fox released their debut and only LP proper, For Fox Sake, on the cusp of a new and changing decade. Though not entirely past-the-sell-by-date and removed from those shifts, the able-enough group could have been contenders (to a point).

With a dazzle of classical psych-baroque and faux-gospel church organ ala Procol Harum, softened fuzz guitar and swooning soulful vocals this fleeting South Coast combo recorded some glorious, if redolent, halcyon pop paeans and psychedelic shakers. Trouble is, Love Sculpture, Spooky Tooth, The Moody Blues, The Gods, Marmalade, Bread and Chris Farlowe had pretty much already covered this ground already rather well. Outside of those influences The Fox played with a Get Back/White Album honky-tonk McCartney (‘Goodtime Music’), Bacharach (‘As She Walks By’) and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (in fairground waltzing mode on ‘Madame Magical’).

Notable for supporting the Orpheus imbued Herd and opening for a burgeoning Bowie, The Fox’s brief fandango came to an end a year later; the only fruits of their labour being this album and a single. Still, in certain collectors’ circles this is a cult classic. For Fox Sake has its endearing charms and a couple of fuzz-thrilled love potion hits to make it worth the entry price.





A far heavier, and just as rare, prospect is the album-that-never-was from the Nordic psych-metal marauders Lucifer Was. Despite that satanic moniker (the group wore a number of macabre cloaks, such as Empty Coffin/Autumn Serenade and Erza West, before sticking with the daemonic Lucifer Was) the group’s debut dramatic opus is influenced as much by the flighty flute-playing prog of Jethro Tull as by the scuzzed leaden menace of Black Sabbath.

The first incarnation formed in Oslo in 1969 and lasted until ’75. Though they built a reputation and fanbase on the strength of their performances, this bewitched coven never actually recorded an album in that entire period. Songs were written and played live, yet lay dormant until more than two decades later, when a middle-aged version of the band picked-up from where they left off, entering a studio and finally recording that debut showcase. And so with music from another age now propelled into the late 90s, Underground And Beyond is a strange missive of fighting fantasy Tolkienism and River Styx schlock dark arts preening – all brooding romantic warrior troubadour, yearning for his muse whilst skulking by mythological waterways.

If you dig your Edgar Allen Poe, baroque metal, fairytale tangos and doomed tormented love lost suites then get a load of this. Josefus, Steppenwolf, Deep Purple and Ipsissimus hatched by proto-metal Vikings: what’s not to love?!

An album no one asked for, but buy it anyway.





Origami Repetika ‘Night Of The Jaguar’
EP




None the wiser after receiving the second CD of maverick chiming psychedelic pop from Adam Sigmund (otherwise known as Origami Repetika), I’m going blind with this recommendation. With scant information at hand, Sigmund’s drifty hallucinating-like music can be summed up as a stained glass lo fi union of Brian Wilson and Gary Wilson.

Following on from a recent radiant and glorious album, Singing Gulls, the four-track Night Of The Jaguar EP offers something slightly more dreamy and moody. Named not in homage to any literary title, the Jaguar of the title refers to the iconic electric guitar; a birthday present that’s put to good experimental use over a quartet of mellow vibrato and gauze-y alternative melodramas.

Romantic driftwood at its most idiosyncratic; a diy Beach Boys if they signed to Anticon; there’s a certain oddness lyrically. The naivety of the melting candy maudlin ‘Meet Me At The Peppermint’ belies a slight whimsical jar in its finale wafts: “It’s the way you smile, before you lost your teeth”.

This is cozy surf-psych pop and lo fi ambition at its finest. Disarming yet attuned to the ways of the world. Seek out this maverick pop excellence immediately.



Rootea ‘Phobias’
LP




I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as a collective noun for phobias but the strung-out Russian prog-jazz and industrial post-punk band Rootea attempts a reification of thirteen such debilitating fears on this untethered freeform therapy session. An often caustic, sometimes haunted travail, Phobias moves in an unshapely form. The vaporous soundtrack even threatens to drift off and escape from its performers: both riled and wafting into the ether, or down ambiguous passages and the dark recesses of the mind.

Emanating from east of the Urals, from Russia’s “third” city of Yekaterinburg (or Ekaterinburg), Rootea might very well be tapping into not only this Tsarina-christened (named in honour of the first Catherine, Tsar Peter The Great’s wife) city’s historical vantage but its more troubled psychodramas too. This is after all the fatal site of the Romanovs’ horrific, and botched, execution.

Anguish, paranoia, fear but also dream-like slumbers are triggered across a spectrum of air-y pondered phobias; from ‘Autophobia’ (that’s a fear of being alone or lonely) to the oddest, ‘Hellophobia’ (fear of Greeks; perhaps a hangover of that old adage, beware of Greeks bearing gifts). Thirteen tracks long, with a finale of post-industrial withering in its name, sufferers of ‘Triskaidekaphobia’ may want to avoid this album. But for the rest of us, this record (if over long) is a wrangling, caustic hallucinating avant-garde therapy session of apparitional narrators, strangulated guitars, sonorous trickles, Gothic throbs, gangly buzzing resonance and hi-pitched pecked saxophone. Permutations of dank lo-fi, Einstürzende Neubauten, A Happy Kitchen Is A Clean Kitchen, Faust, Cabaret Voltaire and 39 Clocks revolve like a languid carousel.

Untied to a particular location or time, Rootea amorphously linger in both the cerebral and visceral as they transcribe the untranscribable on an ambitious work. A difficult, often overlong, experience Phobias should be prescribed in small doses.





Elizabeth Joan Kelly ‘Farwell, Doomed Planet!’
LP/ 25th October 2019




Into the great expanse of a universe as ominous as it is magically mysterious, New Orleans-based composer Elizabeth Joan Kelly ventures far on her latest electronic suite. From the enormity of space the Cassandra of imperiled doom gazes back at Earth from advantageous lofty heights: a siren voice of lyrically cryptic lament and woe, strung-out aboard some sort of Kubrickian mission to gather research.

Equally deft at composing contemporary symphonies as she is Warp label imbued kinetic and industrial electronica, Kelly coos and soundscapes a lamentable vision of the apocalypse that combines aria-like space operatics with tubular metallic breakdowns, stirring ambient swells and darker twists of contorting nuanced sonics. Kelly even transduces the afflatus classical hymnal music of Bach on the swooned and serene ‘Trinity Quadrant Cantata’.

From pollution on land and in the seas to inner existential angst, the protagonist cosmonaut at the centre of this bleak analysis mourns amongst heavenly bodies in the celestial.

An album of both impending doom, yet filled with wondrous pulchritude, Farwell is a haunting enough score with evident supernatural atmospherics on tracks such as the reversal ethereal elegy ‘Harm’ – echoes of a spooked Broadcast and Quimper – and the ghostly nuclear landscape desolation ‘Exclusion Zone Earth (Or, All Hail Chernobyl Wolves)’.

Present vocally on a majority of the album’s tracks, Kelly’s voice is often veiled and gauze-y: so much so that you can barely hear a trace of it. Even in full song that voice is obscured; sounding like either a spirit from beyond the ether or, a distant broadcast from deepest space and time.

Cinematic in places, setting an astral mirage of dreamy and bestial proportions, Farewell is a beautifully scary drama that evokes touches of Bowie, Tangerine Dream, Bernard Szajner, Diva Dompe, Moroder and Vangelis. Kelly does wonderful things amongst the stars; the apocalypse has seldom sounded so celestially operatic and electronically choral.





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