Words: Dominic Valvona






If the Glitterbeat Records label had a remit, ‘a raison d’etre’, it would be all about transcending borders, whether it’s the physical, geographical or subconscious kind, to bring the most ‘vibrant’ and ‘committed’ of artists to a global audience.  Finding existing and ‘possible musics’ (to borrow a term from the label’s own reissue of Jon Hassell and Brian Eno‘s iconic 1980 transformative soundscape experiment, Fourth World Volume One: Possible Musics) from across the world, the independent German-based sister label to Glitterhouse Records has in a short timeframe helped reshape and redefine what we know as ‘world music’ – a fatuous term in itself, still largely used to denote anything outside the comfort zone of Western commercial music.

Originally putting out a catalogue of sublime and obscure records from some of Malia’s most important, traversing desert blues and rock artists (from Ben Zabo to Tamikrest and the Songs For Desert Refugees compilation) on Glitterhouse, world traveler bluesman Chris Eckman of Dirtmusic fame (the labels unofficial in-house band) went on to co-found the Glitterbeat imprint with Peter Weber in 2013. The inaugural release on that label, now celebrating its fifth anniversary, was a 12″ remix of Ben Zabo’s Dana by Mark Ernestus (Rhythm & Sound, Basic Channel), released sometime around March 22nd, 2013.

From the already mentioned desert blues stars of Mali and ‘beyond’, Eckman’s ever growing roster of contemporary sonic adventurers hail from a number of other African countries, including Ghana, Mauritania and the Bargou Valley bordering Algeria. And has since gone on to expand its remit and reach out to include music from the Balkans, Southeast Asia, the Levant and South America.

As you can imagine, this global expansion encompasses a myriad of musical styles, many of which were in serious danger of disappearing into obscurity if not for the work of music ethnologists such as Paul Chandler and Grammy Award winning field-recordist/producer Ian Brennan (we were lucky enough to interview Ian a couple of years ago), who both recorded for posterity ‘lost voices’ and atavistic guardianship documented collections for the label under the Hidden Musics series.

So busy and bustling with potential releases, in the last couple of years they’ve set up a congruous imprint of their own, the tak:til scion: an extension and home for more transcendental, meditative and experimental material that doesn’t quite fit the main label. Featuring a mix of re-released and remastered iconic albums from the ambient, soundscape and devotional genres – including the already mentioned inaugural Jon Hassell and Brian Eno collaboration -, Tak:til has featured Širom‘s Slovenian odyssey I Can Be A Clay Snapper and 75 Dollar Bill‘s psychedelic desert rock and trance of the Maghreb, avant-garde, jazz and even swamp boogie delta blues transient W/M/P/P/R/R.

 

From handkerchief waving Albanian songs of sorrow to Istanbul dub; from hybrid collaborations such as Tony Allen‘s album with some of Haiti’s finest musicans, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra, to the electric griot psych of Noura Mint Seymali; from the Turkish pregriation and siren vocals of Gaye Su Akyol to the carnival funk of Bixiga 70; Glitterbeat Records has helped uncover a whole new musical world of discovery for people like me. It’s no surprise that they’ve won the WOMAX label of the year so many times, and attracted heaps of acclaim. I’ve more or less featured every single one of their forty plus releases, and seldom found a dud. And Glitterbeat Records have appeared more times than any other label in our end of year features.

To celebrate the label’s fifth anniversary, I’ve chosen both personal favourite releases and tracks from the back catalogue.


Lobi Traoré  ‘Bamako Nights: Live At Bar Bozo 1995’  2013

From the very beginning, one of Glitterbeat Records earliest releases, Bamako Nights captures the loose, almost extemporized sounding, drift of the late Malian legend Lobi Traoré (who died at the age of 49 in 2010); capturing one of his ‘packed-to-the-rafters’ live shows from the feted and iconic Bar Bozo.  The singer/songwriter takes the crowd with him as he meditatively affects an adroit passage through Mali’s social and political pains. Attenuate guitar lines bolstered by flanger; licks powered by enveloping sustain; and a band whose steady yet often expletory solo spotted, bubbling bass and rapid percussion bind the nuanced accents together, all prove rhythmically hypnotic.

To have been a-fly-on-the-wall at one of these intimate, intense, shows must have been a magical experience; especially as Traoré kept the anticipation building; the appreciative audience either enthralled by every descriptive note and earthy toiled vocal or adding their own backing chorus of spiritual hollering and hand clapping: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a greater live experience and encapsulation of the atavistic West African blues.



Samba Touré  ‘Albala’  2013

As Mali continues to exist in a fragile union after the recent Islamic hijacked insurgency (curtailed by former colonial masters France with additional support from the UK), a host of the country’s great and good (Bassekou KouyateFatoumata DiawaraBaba Salah, Tamikrest to name just a few), compelled to speak out, have added gravitas to their praised sweet tribal blues in defiance of the regimes that would have banned or at the very least censored their music. Known for his work with the late Malian legend, Ali Farka TouréSamba Touré is an amiable enough chap whose previous acclaimed albums, Songhaï Blues and Crocodile Blues, were more genial affairs, shows his disapproval with a grittier, riskier brand of protest on Albala.

Albala – translated from the Songhaï language as ‘danger’ or ‘risk’ – is a darker, albeit lamentably so, album. But so delicately melodious and nimble is the delivery that the cries of woe remain hymn-like and hypnotically diaphanous: the blues may have turned a deeper shade of forlorn yet still sways with meandrous buoyancy and restrained elegance.

A traditional accompaniment from Touré’s regular band mates Djimé Sissoko (on ngoni) and Madou Sanogo (tapping out a suitable candour on congas and djembe), with guest performances from celebrated ‘master’ of the one-stringed violin, the souk, Zoumana Tereta, and fellow Malian ‘neo-traditional’ singer Aminata Wassidje Touré is bolstered by effective guitar and keyboard layers from Hugo Race (The Bad SeedsDirtmusicFatalists). This subtle mix works wonders, giving the overall sound a mystical delta blues feel, resplendent with fuzz, wah-wah and wailing soul.



Aziza Brahim  ‘Soutak’   2014

Born in the hardened landscape of a Saharawi refugee camp on the border of Algeria and the Western Sahara, beguiled vocalist Aziza Brahim embodies the wandering spirit of her people; their settled, though often borderless and disputed lands, previously claimed by Spain, were invaded in 1975 by Morocco. Though made up of many tribes with many different goals the Saharawi people did mount a fight back. It was in this climate that Brahim was hewed.

Soutak, or ‘your voice’, is centered on just that. The backing is striped to a degree, so the poetic reverberated vocals can echo and warble soulfully without interruption. Though there is no mistaking that strong, robust and primal Saharan spirit, the congruous accompaniment is a mix of both Balearic and folk rock styles – especially the deep sleek bass guitar notes that slide and weave under Brahim’s distinctive voice.

Produced by Chris Eckman (of Dirtmusic fame), whose assiduous talents have done wonders with Malian blues rockers Tamikrest and Bamako Afrobeat artist Ben Zabo, Soutak was recorded live in Barcelona: the fluid lilting cosmopolitan sound of that city is unmistakable.

Serene and subtly sung, the choral, almost desert gospel hymns take time to unfurl their charms, so be patient. Once again Glitterbeat and Eckman have a classic world music crossover on their hands.



Dirtmusic  ‘Lion City’  2014

Connecting the ‘dirt music’ environment of an unforgiving Australian outback with the Cajun swamplands, desert and bustling African townships, Glitterbeat Records co-founder and producer of their awe-inspiring roster of world music greats, Chris Eckman, leads his nomad troupe across esoteric and meditative terrain soundscapes.

At times almost alien, their borderless approach to mixing rock, blues and (mostly) West African music in a seamless wash, creates something both mysterious and original. Recorded at the same time as their last album Troubles, in Bamako, Lion City couldn’t help but be guided politically and socially by the upheaval in Mali. A testament to the eerie developments and a lament that also offers hope, Dirtmusic and their guests (which include such luminaries as the Ben Zabo Band and Samba Touré) prove that you can work alongside African artists without succumbing to condensation.

Far more successful if not authentic than anything Albarn or indeed the ‘Radio’ polygenesis collectors The Clash could ever produce, these Westerners move serenely, blurring the cultural boundaries as they circumnavigate the psychogeography of the chaotic city and romanticized but often harsh sand dune landscapes of both West and North Africa. You could say it was a culmination of the entire Glitterbeat labels stock, condescend into one challenging soundtrack.



Noura Mint Seymali  ‘Tzenni’  2014

The technicalities, pentatonic melodies and the fundamental mechanics aside, nothing can quite prepare you for that opening atavistic, panoramic vocal and off-kilter kick-drum and snare; an ancestral lineage that reaches back a thousand odd years, given the most electric crisp production, magically restores your faith in finding new music that can resonate and move you in equal measure.

Hailing from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, nestled in between Algeria, Senegal, Mali and the Western Sahara, with the Atlantic lapping its shoreline, Noura Mint Seymali keeps tradition alive in a modern, tumultuous, climate. Her homeland – run ever since a coup in 2008, by the former general Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, duly elected president in 2009 – was rocked by the immolation sparked Arab Spring and subsequent youth movement protests, all of which were violently suppressed by the authorities. Add the omnipresent problems of FGM, child labour and human trafficking to the equation and you have enough catalysts to last a lifetime. However, Noura’s veracious commanding voice responds with a dualistic spirit, the balance of light and shade putting a mostly positive, if not thumping backbeat, to forlorn and mourning.

Recorded in New York, Dakar and in the Mauritania capital of Nouakchott, Tzenni transverses a cosmopolitan map of influences and musical escapism. The original heritage still remains strong, yet the ancient order of griot finds solace with the psychedelic and beyond.



Jon Hassell/Brian Eno  ‘Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics’  2014

Already riding high on a crust of acclaimed production projects and numerous semi-successful collaborations and solo albums, when Brian Eno touched down in New York City in 1978 he would unintentionally help direct another important development in ambient and world music (and also end up staying for five-years). Absorbed in what the city had to offer him musically, Eno came across the stripped and atmospherically rich experiments of trumpeter/composer Jon Hassell, who’s own pathway from adroit pupil of Stockhausen to seminal work on Terry Riley’s harangued piano guided In C, encompassed an polygenesis of influences: a lineage that draws inspiration from avant-garde progenitors like La Monte Young, and travels far and wide, absorbing sounds from Java to Burundi.

Though a minor figure in the sense of worldwide recognition, and never one to brush with any sort of commercial popular appeal, Hassell irked out his own personal philosophy. With a handy masters degree in composition, he attempted a reification of what he would term the “fourth world”; a style that reimagined an amorphous hybrid of cultures; a merger between the traditions and spiritualism of the third world (conceived during the “cold war” to denote any country that fell outside the industrious wealthier west, and not under the control of the Soviet Empire) and the technology of the first.

Untethered to any particular landscape and age (though traversing for the most part the mysterious, veiled continent of a inter-dimensional Africa), geographical and environmental alluded titles act as points of reference; alluding both to such diverse subject matter as the traditional songs of the Central African pygmy tribes (Ba-Benzéle) and the latitudes and weather phenomenon of an undisclosed landscape or city (Rising Thermal 14° 16’ N; 32° 28’ E).

Moving at a similar pace throughout, the lingering vapours drift over and enclose the listener; hinting always at some mystical or miasma presence; steeping each composition in a sepia of low emitting foggy harbour like droning horns, plastic pipe sounding percussion, tape echo experimentation, panoramic glides over the savannahs and of course Hassell’s stripped bare, reedy and masked stirring trumpet.

An almost continuous set of transient movements, the mood varied from lightly administered rhythmically slow paced pieces to cerebral blankets of panoptic memory; a style coined as “future primitive”. Reissued by Glitterbeat Records under their visionary imprint Tak:til, this album can be read as a principle guiding light and inspiration for their roster and ambitions.



Various ‘Hanoi Masters: War Is A wound, Peace Is A Scar’ 2015

A side excursion, travelling due east to Asia and breathing in the evocative songs of Vietnam, Glitterbeat Records launched their new series of field recordings entitled Hidden Musics with the Hanoi Masters compilation. Finding a congruous musical link with their usual fare of West African releases, the label sent Grammy-award winning producer Ian Brennan (credits include, Tinariwen, Malawi Mouse Boys, The Good Ones) to Vietnam in the summer of 2014 to record some of the most lamentable and haunting resonating war-scarred music. Indelibly linked to what the indigenous population call ‘the American war’, the examples of both yearning and praise pay tribute to the fallen: delivered not in triumphant or propagandist bombast but in a gentle meditative manner, these survivors, forty years on from the end of the harrowing and catastrophic (the repercussion still reverberating in the psyche of the burned America and its allies) war, were still undergoing the healing process.

Tinged with an omnipresent lilting sadness these songs are imbued with battle scars (hence the albums subtitle War Is A wound, Peace Is A Scar), featured artisans and traditional music masters who had joined the cause, sometimes for the first time in years, allow their voices to be heard once again and recorded for posterity.

Considering the history and ill blood between cultures – though this has eroded as capitalism takes hold and the country opens up – it has in the past been difficult to investigate the serene and attentive beauty of the Vietnam music scene, but this earnest and adroit study into a world seldom covered proves enlightening and humbling.



Bixiga 70  ‘III’  2015

Speaking Fela fluently with marked respect and reverence, going as far as to borrow part of the late Nigerian bandleader and doyen of Afrobeat’s backing group moniker, Bixiga 70 may be inspired and informed by Kuti but they do so much more with his high energy polyrhythms and feverish hot-footed anthems. The eclectic Sao Paulo band, who joined the Glitterbeat family in 2015, add even more flavour to the Afrobeat template on this their third album. Energised by their performances in the hotbeds of fusion, from North Africa to Europe, and working with a decentralised method of producing new material, the III album reaches out and embraces an even richer array of world sounds.

Incorporating the rhythms and dances of their own continental home, Bixiga shake and shimmy to the local customs of cumbia and the sensual hip movements of the carimbo on a trio of slinky paeans to the indomitable spirit of joyous release. Congruously they go, flowing from one source to the next deftly, passionately and with a raw powered energy, our Brazilian friends relationship with Glitterbeat has proved to be a sound move; an ideal home for the group’s ever expanding fields of sound and exploration.



Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra  ‘A.H.E.O’  2016

Progenitor and embodiment of the Afrobeat drum sound, still in high demand four decades after his explosive partnership with Fela Kuti, the much-venerated Tony Allen extends his infectious percussion style beyond the African homeland. Sharing an obvious entwined history with Africa, the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti proves both an esoterically mysterious and congruous collaborative foil to Allen’s distinct drumming patois.

Invited to perform in 2014 by the French Institute Of Haiti’s director Corinne Micaelli, Allen’s visit would end with a public broadcasted concert in the main square of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Collaborating with Allen would be a cross-section of local percussionists and singers recruited by vocalist, dancer, ‘voodoo priest’ and director of the Haitian National Bureau Of Ethnology, Erol Josué; Josué would himself lend his sweet yearning and reflective tones to two of the tracks on this album.

The call went out and the great and good of the Haitian music scene came. Racine Mapou de Azor, the Yisra’El Band, Lakou Mizik and RAM. Another Monolith regular and one-time Port-au-Prince resident, Mark Mulholland was drafted in as the experimental orchestra’s guitarist, and as it would turn out, eventual legacy overseer. With only five days of studio rehearsal time to gel and work out their performance, the sessions proved both, as Mulholland observed, ‘chaotic’ and overwhelming’.

Elevating beyond the borders it was created behind, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra root foundations shuffle and shake free of their stereotypes to move freely in an increasingly amorphous musical landscape. You’re just as likely to hear vibrations and traces of Dub, native Indian plaintive ghostly echoes, Sun Ra’s otherworldly jazz and funk as to hear the indigenous Haiti sounds and Afrobeat pulse. Tony Allen is once more at the heart of another bustling, dynamic explosion in rhythm.

Various Artists  ‘Hidden Musics Vol 2.  Every Song Has Its End: Sonic Dispatches From Traditional Mali’  2016



Though no less an achievement, the second volume in Glitterbeat Records “Hidden Musics” series offers the full gamut not just musically but visually too, and is a far more ambitious documentation of a troubled country’s lost tradition than the 2015 Hanoi Masters survey. Expanding to include 11 concatenate videos, Every Song Has Its End is the most complete purview of Mali’s musical roots yet. This is due to the project’s mastermind and architect Paul Chandler, who has documented Mali’s music scene for more than a decade.

Forgotten in some extreme cases, ignored or considered as Mali’s past by new generations, maestros of the 6-string Danh, such as Boukader Coulibaly, and the Balafon, Kassoun Bagayoko, are celebrated and interviewed for this collection. Whether it’s traversing the Gao region in the northwest to record the earthy desert pants of the female vocal ensemble, Group Ekanzam, or capturing a Sokou and N’goni love paean performance by Bina Koumaré & Madou Diabate in the heart of the country, this chronicle of the pains, virtues, trauma and spirit of the country’s musical heritage is an extraordinary love letter and testament to the country.


Bargou 08  ‘Targ’  2017

Ahh…the sounds of a dusky reedy gasba flute; the tactile patted and burnished bendir drum; the rustic, earthy strung loutar, and the flowing, soaring scale vocals of the Bargou 08 project’s chief instigator Nidhal Yahyaoui, set an impressive atmosphere in the first couple of minutes of the album’s opening track, Chechel Khater. And that’s all you’d need, except there’s another eight equally evocative and thrilling tracks to hear.

The source of this sound derives from a relatively uncharted region that lies obscured between the mountains of northwest Tunisia and the Algerian border, called the Bargou Valley, which despite its barren isolation, has cultured a unique musical fusion, stretching back hundreds of years. Captivating and magical enough in its ancestral unchanged form, the songs of the valley, sung in the local Targ dialect (a language that is one part Berber, the other Arabic), are given a contemporary jolt that transforms the atavistic paeans, odes and poetry of yore into an intoxicating swirling rapture of electronic North African funk.

Filled with a legacy of turmoil and tension that goes back an aeon the album’s many themes, from describing a lover’s vital attributes on Mamchout to laments of alienation, resonate strongly with the growing unease of events, initiated six years ago by the Arab Spring. Tunisia itself is facing a struggle and teetering on the edge, with no guarantee that certain cultures won’t just disappear or be fragmented in the ensuing melee. Originally setting out to document his Bargou Valley home’s musical heritage before it disappeared, Yahyaoui has successfully and thankfully, with his musical partner, producer and the album’s keyboard player Sofyann Ben Youssef captured this rich mesmeric culture for posterity. And in doing so, produced a masterpiece that will endure.



Širom  ‘I Can Be A Clay Snapper’  2017

With an unspecified, but as the name suggests, emphasis on the “tactile”, Glitterbeat Records new imprint label gives a welcome platform to entrancing experimental tonal performances and sonic polygenesis traverses alike. In the latter camp is this Slovenian peregrination suite from the landlocked, Alps nestling country’s visceral sonic conjurors, Širom.

Evoking memories and feelings, both real and imagined, with a soundtrack thick with atavistic connections, the trio of punk and post-rockers turn experimental folk and acoustic instrumental cartographers convey a personal relationship to their homeland, on their second album together under the Širom banner.

Yet whatever the backgrounds, traces of North Africa, the Adriatic and the Middle East, the performances sail scenically through a dreamy otherworldly representation of Slovenia: Oriental, alien and Balkan visions permeate the plucked, malleted, chimed and purposefully played compositions, which subtly and rather cleverly build up complicated layers and various overlapping time signatures during the course of their journey.

Theremin like siren voices drift in and out, enacting the myth and seraph, whilst on the watermill turning Everything I Sow Is Fatal Sun Ra travels with John Cale and Pharaoh Sanders on a pilgrimage to Samarkand. The most recurring sounds however pay testament to the Balkans ghosts. The folkloric stirrings, lulls and yearning of Slovenia’s past bordering both a pan-Europa of migration and grief – stretching back a millennia – are transduced into often haunted vistas and metaphysical passages.

A most impressive and expansive inaugural Balkans travail; different from the previous two releases on this burgeoning new imprint, yet keeping to the tactile, accentuate and imaginative remit, whilst conjuring up mystical new soundscapes.



Tamikrest  ‘Kidal’  2017

Still availed of a homeland, though now liberated from their draconian Islamist partners, the Tuareg are once again left as wanderers in their own land, the unofficial guardians and custodians of the Saharan wilderness. For now only a dream, best realized and protested through music, the rock’n’roll Bedouins Tamikrest emerge once more from the barren landscape with a message of “power and resistance” on their fourth, equally entrancing, album Kidal. Paying homage to the strategically and spiritually important cultural trading town of the title, the highly-acclaimed (and rightly so) Tamikrest exude both the sadness and suffering of the dispossessed people who cling to the southwestern Saharan hub that is Kidal: a town which has seen its fair share of fighting, fought over, conquered and reconquered over time, it remains a symbolic home to the Tuareg. This is after all the town that nurtured them and where it all began.

Assiduous, confident and articulate, the musicianship shows not so much a progression as a balance between the meditative and rock’n’roll spirit of the Tuareg musical resistance. Tamikrest are as brilliant as ever musically, and Kidal is, despite its plaintive and lamentable subject woes, a beacon of hope in an ever-darkening world of uncertainty.



Ifriqiyya Électrique  ‘Rûwâhîne’  2017

Capturing something quite unique, the collaborative industrial post-punk and avant-garde rock scenes of Europe clash head-on with the descendants of the Hausa slaves atavistic rituals styled group, Ifriqiyya Electrique, create an often unworldly chthonian conjuncture of Sufi trance, spirit possession performance and technology.

A film project and now immersive sonic experience, inspired by the important Banga music traditions and the accommodating, rather than exorcising, of spirits ceremonial wild dances and call and response chanted exaltations of the black communities – originally transported to the region from sub-Saharan Africa – in the oasis towns of southern Tunisia, this astounding meeting of cultures and history is anything but scenic.

Formed in the Djerid Desert, the idea forged by field-recordist and veteran guitarist of the politically-charged Mediterranean punk and “avant-rock” scenes, François Cambuzat, and bassist Gianna Greco – both of which occasionally join forces with that livewire icon of the N.Y. underground, Lydia Lunch, to form the Putan Club -, the Ifriqiyya Electrique spans both continents and time. For their part, Cambuzat and Greco provide the grind, industrial soundscape texturing, sonorous drones and flayed guitars, but mostly, the “electrique”, whilst, offering a dialogue with the spirits and the tradition, Banga musician Ali Chouchen – joined in the live theatre by an expanded cast of fellow voices, krabebs and Tunisian tabla players from the community, which includes Tarek Sultan, Yahia Chouchen and Youssef Ghazala – provides peripheral sounding evocative echoed and esoteric vocals and equally haunting nagharat.

Spiritual conversations transformed and realigned with the machine age turmoil of industrial noise, Arthur Baker style rock and hip-hop production, post-punk and even Teutonic techno, Rûwâhîne is a rambunctious unique force.



Park Jiha  ‘Communion’  2018

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 of repute.

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.


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WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA
PHOTO CREDIT: JIMMY DE SANA



Jon Hassell   ‘Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two’
tak:til/Glitterbeat Records,  29th September 2017

Proving a fruitful enterprise in the exploratory music department and a welcome extension of the ambient and minimalist genres, the, what should seem on the surface, harmonious partnership between Brian Eno and Jon Hassell proved anything but; leading eventually towards acrimony. These now iconic Fourth World Music albums, the first volume being Possible Musics, were borne entirely from Hassell’s solo traverses in global music experimentation, though Eno’s minor but significant, if not entirely obvious, involvement grabs the attention and headlines: The second volume, Dream Theory In Malaya made no such distinctions, and would be credited wholly to Hassell.

Already artistically riding high on a crust of acclaimed production projects and numerous semi-successful collaborations and solo albums, when the famous Eno touched down in New York City in 1978, the ambient pioneer would nonetheless unintentionally help direct another important development in the fields of ambient and world music. Absorbed in what the city had to offer him musically, Eno would fatefully during his investigations come across the stripped and atmospherically rich experiments of the gifted trumpeter/composer Hassell, whose own pathway from adroit pupil of Stockhausen to seminal work on Terry Riley’s harangued piano guided In C, encompassed a polygenesis of influences: a lineage that draws inspiration from avant-garde progenitors like La Monte Young, and travels far and wide, absorbing sounds from Java to Burundi.

So impressive is Hassell’s CV and study credentials – studying with an array of diverse bastions of indigenous music styles, including Hindustani classical singer and mystic, Pran Nath – that many other such luminaries, both before and since, attempted to court his attention for possible collaborations (Peter Gabriel, David Sylvain included). Though a minor figure in the sense of worldwide recognition, and never one to brush with any sort of commercial popular success, Hassell irked out his own personal philosophy. With a handy masters degree in composition, he attempted a reification of what he would term the “fourth world”; a style that reimagined an amorphous hybrid of cultures; a merger between the traditions and spiritualism of the third world (conceived during the “cold war” to denote any country that fell outside the industrious wealthier west, and not under the control of the Soviet Empire) and the technology of the first. The record that initially charmed and impressed Eno, Hassell’s eclectic Vernal Equinox, blended a mystical suffused atmosphere of the Middle East with vaporous trials of South America and the Orient to the West to create minimalistic transmissions from a timeless geography. A meeting at the performance artist space The Kitchen cemented the deal that would see Eno produce Hassell’s, now iconic, visionary Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics peregrination – also, though a while ago now, reissued by Glitterbeat Records.

Annoyed and aggrieved, Hassell had seen as a result of Eno’s contributions his work categorized under the English ambient progenitors own name in record stores; demoted to support or a bit-part player role on his own compositions. He’d also been more than a bit frustrated and peeved that Eno was heavily borrowing and appropriating Hassell’s Fourth World concepts for his subsequent famous collaborations with David Byrne on the My Life in The Bush Of Ghosts and Remain In Light albums.

Eno was however forgiven long enough to be welcomed back into the fold on Dream Theory; even going as a far as to grant him a trumpet solo on the out-of-body projected traverse of a wet Malaysian jungle peregrination These Times. And because he was always generous with the introductions, and more importantly, they offered ‘exceptional rates’, Eno put Hassell in touch with the ‘enterprising and talented’ Lanois brothers (Daniel and Bob) who at that time, on the cusp of the 80s, were building a steady reputation for themselves out of their ‘chez’ home studio in Hamilton, close by to Toronto.

Adding to this musical exploration dream team was sessions coordinator Michael Brooks (known for his work with the celebrated Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan), who’s home in Toronto Hassell commuted from to the studio each day, and in the most removed way, former Velvet Underground drummer (the first in fact to sit in for the band) and renowned conceptual artist/land art sculptor Walter De Maria, who popped in just for ‘fun’ and may or may not have left a presence of distant drums on the misty fuzz veiled Polynesian fantasy, Courage.




In the borderless compositions of Hassell, evocative traces, hazy semblances and the reification of dreams manifest through transformed instrumentation to create an amorphous reimagined soundscape. As the leading quote from Hassell’s linear notes make clear, this is a new form of classicism – a re-classification if you like -; eroding the dominance of central Europe’s great composers for that of cultures from Southeast Asia, Africa and Australasia.

The concept of Dream Theory In Malaysia is no different, the central theme and interest piqued both by the anthologist study of the same name by Kilton Stewart, and the ‘water splash rhythm with giggling children and birds from a [the Semelai] tribe’ sound recording that accompanied the Queen’s tour of the Commonwealth sanctioned book, Primitive Peoples. Adventurer Stewart famously chronicled the ‘dream tribe’ Senoi people of the central Malaysian peninsular, whose ancestors had made the voyage across from Southern Thailand 4,500 years ago. The Senoi are practitioners of ‘lucid dreaming’ of course, a phenomenon that Hassell lapped up in a romantic affair with the region and its people (as an aside, Hassell’s notes throw in a love tryst with an ‘exotically-tuned’ woman from Kuala Lumpur for good measure).

Leaving his mind to wander, Hassell’s transmogrified nuzzling trumpet was set loose on the dreamy visages of Malaya. Invented scales transcribed over mysterious celluloid picturesque panoramas and more humid, almost stifling and abundant muffled fauna and vegetation wild spaces permeate this ambient escapism, as subtle echoes of the indigenous instrumentation ring out in a ghostly fashion; especially the Malay tambourine known as a ‘rebana’, and the local variant of a gong, as used by the Semelai people – like the Senoi dreamers, another branch of the Orang Asli collective of ethnic peoples that inhabit Malaysia’s peninsular, brought into the sphere of this semi-fictional, semi-factual suite.

Paddle beaten percussion, wooden fluty drones, a languid bass guitar, and what sounds like the kind of car horn you’d find on a Model T Ford, merge in this vaporous swirl of a soundscape. But it’s Hassell’s serialism and transduced tones and layers that guide the listener; from sucked-in heralded fanfares to snuffling and zigzagging ripples of descriptive scene setting and landscaping.

Re-released, for the first time since its original release in 1981, Dream Theory In Malaya is the fourth album in Glitterbeat Records new tak:til series. It fits congruously of course within this imprints framework and vision of a borderless reimagined musical landscape unbeholden to convention and structure. And once again celebrates the mavericks and pioneers striving to reinvent what ‘global music’ can be: in this case an undiscovered expanse of imagination and possibilities.





Aesop Rock to Bob Lind.


Monolith Cocktail: ‘Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul (1963 – 1969)’


Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavours to offer a more eclectic 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 doesn’t deserve the number 32 spot and has been placed at number 33 instead.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums from 2016 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 make some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2016, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a 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.

Split into two parts, the first installment begins with Aesop Rock’s‘s hip-hop masterpiece The Impossible Kid and ends with the latest adroit songbook from the legendary troubadour Bob Lind. In between those two sagacious bookends are albums from David Bowie, David Broughton, Danny Brown, Cluster, Eleanor Friedberger and John Howard (plus many others).

Aesop Rock   ‘The Impossible Kid’  (Rhymesayers)

Monolith Cocktail - Aesop Rock

“The waterfall of words, snide quips and intricate stories recalled from both close to home and far away worlds, are as good as he’s ever done”.  Matt Oliver 

Seeming to get better rather than older (and don’t you dare mention the ageing process as per ‘Lotta Years’), the original ‘Bazooka Tooth’ is still ablaze out of somewhere to the left, but now giving lesser mortals more of a chance of accessing him than ever before. Entirely self-produced and applying funkiness to the bulkiness of alien-scanned beats he’s always rocked his way, AR’s extra superpower as the self-deprecating hero of syllaballistics (“the impossible kid , everything that he touch turns probably to shit”), is to humanise the fantastical and still make the everyday sound like a comic book lead, even when soul is bared for all to analyse. Rock also added more great cover art, and the visuals for ‘Rings’ and ‘Kirby’ are bound to feature in hip-hop video of the year lists.

Read original review here


Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra   ‘A.H.E.O’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Monolith Cocktail - A.H.E.O.

 

‘Elevating beyond the borders it was created behind, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra’s root foundations shuffle and shake free of their stereotypes to move freely in an increasingly amorphous musical landscape. You’re just as likely to hear vibrations and traces of Dub, native Indian plaintive ghostly echoes, Sun Ra’s otherworldly jazz and funk as to hear the indigenous Haiti sounds and Afrobeat pulse. Tony Allen is once more at the heart of another bustling, dynamic explosion in rhythm.’  Dominic Valvona

 

Progenitor and embodiment of the Afrobeat drum sound, still in high demand four decades after his explosive partnership with Fela Kuti, the much-venerated Tony Allen once more extends his infectious percussion style beyond the African homeland. Sharing an obvious entwined history with Africa, the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti proves both an esoterically mysterious and congruous collaborative foil to Allen’s distinct drumming patois.

Invited to perform in 2014 by the French Institute Of Haiti’s director Corinne Micaelli, Allen’s visit would end with a public broadcasted concert in the main square of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Collaborating with Allen would be a cross-section of local percussionists and singers recruited by vocalist, dancer, ‘voodoo priest’ and director of the Haitian National Bureau Of Ethnology, Erol Josué; Josué would himself lend his sweet yearning and reflective tones to two of the tracks on this album.

The call went out and the great and good of the Haitian music scene came. Racine Mapou de Azor, the Yizra’El Band, Lakou Mizik and, featured on the Monolith Cocktail at the start of the year and one of the choice albums of 2016 with their highly-rated Manman M Se Ginen LP, RAM. Another Monolith regular and one-time Port-au-Prince resident, Mark Mulholland was drafted in as the experimental orchestra’s guitarist, and as it would turn out, eventual legacy overseer. Swelling the ranks still further were Olaf Hund, recruited on keyboards and ‘electronics’, and an old friend of Allen’s, the bassist Philippe Dary, who became the de facto musical director. With only five days of studio rehearsal time to gel and work out their performance, the sessions proved both, as Mulholland observed, ‘chaotic’ and overwhelming’. Based upon various sparks of inspiration and rhythmic workouts the eventual structured compositions took shape from organically flowing jams. At the heart of each, Allen’s signature Afrobeat drums and Dary’s liquid, and often funky sumptuous basslines.

Read the full review here…



Bitori  ‘Legend  of  Funaná –  The  Forbidden  Music  Of  The  Cape  Verde  Islands’

(Analog  Africa)

Monolith Cocktail - Legend of Funaná – The Forbidden Music Of The Cape Verde Islands

‘Following the summertime thrills aplenty Space Echo – The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed compilation, with the emphasis on the Funaná; Analog Africa continues to pay homage to the previously suppressed music genre with a reissue of, what many consider, the best Funaná album ever recorded, Bitori Nha Bibinha.’   DV

Helping to ignite a full-on Funaná revival, the quintessential and legendary anthem of Cape Verde’s once banned – considered too salacious and unruly by the Portuguese authorities who ran this archipelago of islands until the mid 1970s – infectious music style was given a reprise by Analog Africa this year. A master class from the inter-generational duo of singer Chando Graciosa and renowned gaïta maestro Victor Tavares (better known as Bitori), who’d both grown up with the blazing and often raucous Funaná, Bitori Nha Bibinha captures the passion and spirit of the people and the times it survived.

Read the full review here…


The Bordellos  ‘How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One’
(Small Bear Records)

Monolith Cocktail

‘Despite the caustic bravado and world-weary bitterness channeled into the antagonistic song titles on this new album, The Bordellos lo fi edicts are always surprisingly melodic. Think of them as a tuneful The Fall; resigned and swiping at society but hopeful enough to challenge it despite banging their collective heads on the doors of the music industry for years.’

Gaining this coveted spot (sic) in our ‘choice albums’ feature for perseverance in the face of despair, the St. Helens trio once more man the barricades with another despondent protest. Feeling, like many of us (I know we do), out of synch with the digital epoch, they rally against the Internet’s most depressing byproducts, and the loss of real ‘motherfuckers’ from the music world – who they duly list on a song of the same name; a cry for a new leader or at least more individuals and rebels. Wearily antagonistic, righting slights and a lifetime of rejection, The Bordellos go for broke on How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One with titles such as ‘Did The Bastards At The BBC Kill John Peel?’, ‘Gary Glitter’ and ‘Piss On Spotify’. Uneasy truths to a lo fi backing of The Velvet Underground, Julian Cope and The Fall abound, yet this could be the group’s best and most complete songbook to date.

Read the full review here…



David Bowie  ‘Blackstar’   (ISO/RCA)

Blackstar cover art - Monolith Cocktail

‘…this could be the most pure, at least concerned, version of Bowie yet. Resurrected free of his characterisations, the gilded “Blackstar” is just as uneasy and scared at the anxieties, stresses and daunting prospects of the future as the rest of us. Fame, celebratory is mere smoke after all and offers little in the way of comfort and safety in the face of the impending end times. Yet despite being easily his best album since Earthling, Blackstar is still underwhelming and falls short of being a classic.’  DV

 

The swansong of an irreplaceable polymath proved to be one of the year’s most sad moments, as the man who fell to Earth, Aladdin Sane, the Young American, the thin white duke, the absolute beginner, whichever version you fell in love with, departed for the ether. We lost a great many unique and inimitable artists in 2016 but though ever death is tragic none left quite the pit of despair that David Bowie‘s did. Don’t even try to crown a successor; he was a force unto himself, the “Blackstar”, the supernova of pop. Reams have been written – a great many by myself – yet no one will ever truly reflect his importance and legacy.

Though released just before his death the augur that is ★ was a curtain call. Just as oblivious to Bowie’s fatal cancer as everyone else, I did remark at the time that this album seemed to be a poignant goodbye, an elegy even. Returning to a first love, jazz, Bowie who proved an eager saxophonist in the burgeoning years of his career worked with a N.Y. West Village jazz troupe to produce one of his best albums in decades. Old faces, including a decomposing Major Tom, themes and sounds returned, with traces of Diamond Dogs, Scary Monsters, Black Tie White Noise and Outside. Despite the often cryptic and veiled words, this was an anxious, weary and reflective Bowie; looking back before a rebirth. A pity time ran out for him.

Read the full review here…


David Thomas Broughton  ‘Crippling Lack Vol. 1 – 3’  (Song, By Toad Records)

Monolith Cocktail - David Thomas Broughton

‘An ambitious undertaking, David Thomas Broughton’s sprawling opus Crippling Lack is both musically and geographically expansive. Recorded trans-continental style with a host of collaborators over the last few years, Broughton, who’s based himself more recently in the capitals of, unbelievably, North and South Korea, has laid down various parts and vocals in France, the UK and the US. Logistically impressive, Crippling Lack is a testament to the DIY ethic and remote collaborative experimentation.’ DV

A magnificent and masterful undertaking by Broughton, the Crippling Lack trio of recordings is demarcated into three parts, the entire song collection, if you decide to experience in one sitting, stretching to 1 hour 40 minutes. It features twelve songs in all of varying meticulously and slowly unfurled beauty, with some, epics in their own right. The press release separates the album out into a musical journey, beginning with what it calls ‘deceptively approachable pop songs’, moving through a more testing ‘unraveling and disintegrating and barely-stretched fragments’ segment, before ending with a final section that ‘slowly weaves’ all the loose and previous sections together.

It is nothing short of a magnum opus; cohesive and flowing along to a sophisticated backing, sonorous with the artist’s venerable travailed voice, and his acerbic foils wit. The album’s scope is immense even though it meanders to a, mostly, folk signature and gentle accompaniment. It is outstanding even by Broughton’s standards.

Read the full review here…


Danny Brown  ‘Atrocity Exhibition’  (Warp)

Monolith Cocktail - Danny Brown

“Juggling the mic like a grenade missing a pin…one of 2016’s most individual threats.”  MO

‘Atrocity Exhibition’ throws up so many positive talking points. #1 – the transatlantic odd couple of Danny Brown and Paul White, a relationship rooted in 2011’s ‘Rapping With Paul White’ album, fears nothing and no-one. #2 – Brown continues to show he has one of the maniacal mic grips in the game that you can’t ignore, here with added malleability. #3 – White’s reputation has really hit its stride on an upward curve; though other producers contribute (Black Milk, Alchemist and Evian Christ are not to be sniffed at), it’s essentially the Englishman’s show on the boards. #4 – a show stopping hook from Kendrick Lamar on ‘Really Doe’ doesn’t hurt one bit. #5 – despite Brown’s mile-a-minute persona shearing safety bars off rollercoasters, and White and co by default becoming the straight man sidekick, you really have no idea what’s around the next corner, from soaring superhero soundtracks to proper hip-hop dope to something suspiciously shuffling through the undergrowth. “This is not regular rap”, Brown offers. Amen.

Read the original review here


Cappo  ‘Dramatic Change of Fortune’  (YNR)

Monolith Cocktail - Cappo

“When autumn becomes winter, here’s your listening.” MO

You should always bet on the flow of Nottingham’s finest that has evolved into a complex work of art. On past albums and years gone by Cappo would’ve destroyed opposition with crosshairs locked and ammo loaded; here his own brand of introspection, still packing uniquely orbital rhyme schemes but now more than ever full of coded messages and open ended verses awaiting interpretation, kills the noise and heighten the mysteries surrounding the emcee’s inner thoughts and circles. It packs two absolutely heaters of singles as well – ‘OOB’ and ‘Ether’ are both unassuming phantoms of the opera, but white hot in a pretty slimline session – another contributing factor to the building of the suspenseful and mournful, chilling on a razor’s edge. YNR took the weight off their plates in 2016, but this was easily the jewel in their calendar year crown.

Read original review here


CHUCK  ‘My Band Is A Computer’  (Old Money Records)

Monolith Cocktail (Dominic Valvona) - CHUCK review

CHUCK’s kooky collage-rock and lo fi wonky electronic pop, which congruously flows between The Magnetic Fields, Mercury Rev, Weezer, Apples In Stereo and even The Pixies, absorbs its influences to create a gorgeous, quietly optimistic, kind of melancholy and pathos.’ DV

From the inimitable label of hopeless optimism and resigned despair another lo fi songbook of obscure modern idiosyncratic pathos. Released via Audio Antihero’s new imprint Old Money Records this marvelous kooky collection from Massachusetts’s songwriter and multi- instrumentalist CHUCK is a congruous bedfellow of the label’s previous releases from Benjamin Shaw, Frog and Cloud.

Bringing an upstate, more pastoral, lilt to the New York metropolis where he now resides, CHUCK’s quasi-Tropicana Casio preset bed of quirky wounded observations are both funny and profoundly sad; lo fi but ambitious. An outsider in some sense; an observer of the foibles and peculiarities of the Brooklyn boroughs, the maverick artist paints a reflective, wry and often ironic picture of our modern times.

Far too good to be hidden away his collection of songs, penned over the last decade, have thankfully been given the platform to reach a wider audience.

Read the full review here…


Clipping  ‘Splendor & Misery’  (Sub Pop)

Monolith Cocktail - Clipping

“Provocative electronics and sermons from the LA leftfielders will clamp you to the edge of your seat.”  MO

For the record, ‘Splendor & Misery’ is a 20/80 split in favour of the latter. Comprehensively proving that the end of the days is still compelling material when done as well as this, particularly in this year of all years, Clipping were another to give themselves a veneer of accessibility with their zero gravity screams. Futility set adrift to a perfectly captured fear found frozen behind the visor, had rhymes dealing with the pending shitstorm with West Coast fearlessness usually reserved for low-rider rollin’. Interspersed with choral episodes praying for the album’s lead, the intelligent stage management demands your full attention; that’s to say, it’s a struggle to dip in and out or pick a favourite track by itself – do so and you’ll risk detracting from the whole performance pushing hip-hop’s outersphere. What odysseys are made of and reputations are built on.

Read the original review here


Cluster  ‘1971 – 1981’  (Bureau B)

Monolith Cocktail - Cluster 1971 - 1981

‘Patriarchs of the German music scene, Cluster, are quite rightly celebrated for their contribution to the last forty-odd years of experimental electronic and ambient music with this latest grandiose gesture of adulation. Though attempts have been sporadic, past collections have gathered together, more or less, all the standard Cluster recordings, leaving out live and more obscure albums, until now. German label Bureau B, concentrating on the group’s output from 1971 to 1981, chronologically compile a full discography from that decade, which for the first time ever includes the previously unreleased Konzerte 1972/1977 album.’ DV

All attentively remastered, rather impressively I might add, by Willem Makkee, the nine-album box set offers the die-hards another excuse to own the back catalogue, with the added bonus of requiring that former live LP that got away, Konzerte, and for those not familiar or with a passing fancy, the best complete picture and evolution yet of the much revered group. 1971- 1981 will serve as a worthy testament and reawakening of the Cluster back catalogue and legacy: now sounding better than ever, the remastering for once very much welcomed.

Read the full review here…



Ian William Craig  ‘Centres’  

Monolith Cocktail - Ian William Craig

Passing us by on release Ian William Craig‘s unassuming but nevertheless epic sweeping ambient opus Centres arrived without much fanfare on its release. However, these cerebral peregrinations, songs of hope, soulful expansive hymns and sonic journeys into space were given rave reviews by those who did pay attention. And so initially missing coverage on the Monolith Cocktail, we’ve made up for it since by featuring tracks from the album in our ‘quarterly playlists’ and now, in our ‘choice albums of 2016’ feature. It is one of the year’s most beautiful, inspiring and often just meditative concatenate suites; offering glimmers of awe.  DV


Dillon & Paton Locke  ‘Food Chain’ (Full Plate)

Monolith Cocktail - Rapture & Verse Hip Hop selection

“Gourmet underground platters rooted in the South but giving you seven courses of funk and back.”  MO

It might only be found as small print on some menus, but who are we to ignore prime indie cuts encouraging you to “pour a bucket of gravy over yourself and just feel that”. When they’re not rewriting the rules of the Ice Bucket Challenge, Dillon & Paton Locke are always gnawing on something, rhyming as they chew it. Funky, crate-rifling beats are laced with an overzealous streak, cogently able to stop the album dead from 60 to 0 and then re-energise it the other way, and a press-record-and-just-go appetite never misses a trick on the mic, with a hint of political soap-boxing and getting down to some grown man, take a look around biz. Their guest chef specials aren’t too salty either – R&V favourites Homeboy Sandman and J-Live, Dres from Black Sheep and people’s president Lobsterdamus, help flavour a certified belly-buster for 2016.

Read the original review here



Ed Scissor & Lamplighter   ‘Tell Them It’s Winter’ (High Focus)

Monolith Cocktail - Ed Scissors & Lamplighter

“An intriguingly created world of wisdom, paranoia, numbness and finding peace in its own mind”.  MO

High Focus have had the mother of all years, the consistency of everything they’ve dropped dominating the last 12 months of homegrown hip-hop. Ocean Wisdom (‘Chaos 93’) boasted youthfully infinite ammunition. Dabbla (‘Year of the Monkey’) got up to a whole load of japery reaching across the bar. Fliptrix (‘Patterns of Escapism’) executed label ideals to the fullest. Yet in the spirit of thinking differently, Ed Scissor and Lamplighter, the absolute antithesis of those mentioned, take the honours by a short head. Blair Witch hip-hop with its nose to the wall, barely keeping its head above water while barely raising an eyebrow, pulls off the Houdini-like stunt of subverting hip-hop norms while sticking close to them like a second skin. A slow and deliberate bittersweet bloom of triumph, creating the ultimate flip script of offering easy solace and comfort when all looks lost.

Read the original review here


Elzhi  ‘Lead Poison’ (Glow365)

Monolith Cocktail - Elzhi

 

“Ear-catching narratives covering the everyday grind…not far off being a complete LP”.  MO

Coming out the other side of mental health issues has Elzhi using ‘Lead Poison’ as catharsis, resulting in some of the year’s most vividly delivered rhymes and storytelling in the process. Done so in near enough bite sized chapters, proves that if the story’s interesting enough, it’s long enough. Never buckling under pressure, even when the likes of ‘Cloud’ feel like everything is conspiring against him (not to mention the potential of his health showing overall weakness), heart is worn on sleeve and self-examinations are set to a forceful soul soundtrack pushing its protagonist. With softer neo-soul going back to Elzhi’s Slum Village heritage, there’s also room for a little light heartedness, with ‘She Sucks’ doing forbidden love by garlic and wooden stakes, and ‘MisRight’ bending the thesaurus. An album that goes from strength to strength, listen on listen.

Read the full review here


Eleanor Friedberger ‘New Views’ (Frenchkiss Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Eleanor Friedberger New View

Another album we missed on its release, Eleanor Friedberger‘s third solo spot New View is another impressive songbook of idiosyncratic pop. Streamlining the signature intelligent reference-heavy prose of her sibling act The Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor continues the clever turns of phrase but in a more attentive, breezier and lightened but less cluttered manner. With elan she sets out on a dry-witted but emotionally philosophical picnic through the East Village with Patti Smith and Harry Nilsson in tow.


Paul Hawkins and the Awkward Silences  ‘Outsider Pop’  (Blang Records)

Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences - Monolith Cocktail

‘Lethargically executed and quintessentially an antifolk statement of protest, Outsider Pop is a highly infectious album of pop parodies that penetrate the bland veneer of the contemporary irksome vacuum known as the mainstream. Shambling discontent at its finest.’  DV

The disgruntled savant of disco funk pop and antifolk Paul Hawkins completely in the dark, oblivious to the dreadful proclamation of David Bowie’s impending death paid an augur homage to his white-suited and booted pop incarnation of the 1980s by transmogrifying ‘China Girl’ into an Outsider Pop anthem. Produced by that nutflake nostalgist, and one of the busiest men in the industry right now Ian Button (of the mighty Papernut Cambridge, Gare du Nord label and umpteen other projects), Hawkins’ third album also finds foibles of inspiration from REM, The Fall, Toto and The Art Of Noise; reflecting a much broader sound than before. The no wave, white funk, pop melodies act as a Trojan Horse, the themes far from advocating a hedonistic lust for life or suggesting the listener suppress the doldrums of modern life, are filled with malcontent at the state of the world.

Read the full review here…


John Howard  ‘Across The Door Sill’  (Occultation Recordings)

Monolith Cocktail - John Howard

 

‘Not so adrift and experimental as to have cut all ties to his signature profound sincerity and sad romanticism, John Howard’s Across The Door Sill dares to go further with an even more immersive experience. Expanding his poetic lyricism and piano performances, stark and stripped-back, his vocals multiplied to fill the space and build the atmosphere; Howard has room and time to create some stirring music. It is a most sagacious reflection from the artist, still finding the inspiration to develop and take risks. In doing so he’s reached what could be one of the creative pinnacles of his career.’  DV

Imbued with the 13th century poet Rumis ‘Quatrains’ poem, which encourages us to broaden our horizons and to not just accept what we’ve done in the past, the adroit songwriter and pianist John Howard experiments with a stripped back sound of multilayered vocals and the melodious gravitas on his latest songbook Across The Door Sill. Attentive and epic the album’s sagacious stream of consciousness is a deeply reflective observance on where we are now. In no hurry to get to a hook or chorus, his source material, a collection of unhindered, unhurried and floating poems, was developed overtime, set to music in an organic fashion. Hence why three of the five songs on this LP are nine-minutes long. On a successful run of collaborations and solo projects Howard is enjoying his most productive period yet in a career that’s spanned five decades.

Read the full review here…


Illogic  ‘A Man Who Thinks With His Own Mind’  (Weightless)

Monolith Cocktail - Illogic

“Streams of quotable IQ create a fever dream. Snooze, you lose.”  MO

Ohio rhyme scientist Illogic provided his own version of a hip-hop out of body experience, a canon of verbosity when bedding down for the night and setting free streams of consciousness while looking through a telescope. This in itself created its own contradiction of being an album expressly trained to set you afloat (The Sound Cultivator’s star-shaped soul powered by plasma rays > strictly no cloud rap), which still kept you wide awake with naturally intricate rhymes, both book and street smart, about life, the universe and everything else. Anyone who starts an album with the observation that “the tofu was not as firm as I’m used to” deserves nothing but praise and respect. The modern equivalent of becoming engrossed in a good book that tells your imagination to run.

Read the original review here


J-Zone   ‘Fish n Grits’  (Old Maid Entertainment)

Monolith Cocktail - J-Zone

“Dripping in home truths from his funk soapbox, disillusionment with hip-hop and its cultural hangers-on has never been more entertaining”.  MO

Better placed than most to justify a love-hate relationship with hip-hop, J-Zone proclaimed “there’s only two types of music – good and bad. Make good music, or shut the fuck up.” Paired with helium alter-ego/juvenile imaginary friend Chief Chinchilla as hilarious equal opportunity offender, and showing the strain of ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ remains strong, ‘Fish n Grits’ goes in with scathingly relatable accuracy about the state of the game, misty-eyed nostalgia replaced by a nose-bloodying team of goons busting a whole load of myths. Additionally, whereas Zone’s production used to pop off all over the place in a skilfully spring-loaded criss-cross, he’s honed his own funk skills into a true mastery to compliment his industry disses. Hallelujah that he can’t leave the game alone.

Read the full review here


Fela Ransome-Kuti And His Koola Lobitos  ‘Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul 1963-1969’  (Knitting Factory Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Fela Kuti

‘Hot stepping and sure footing through Savoy label like jazz and Stax/Volt revue soul, Fela and his first ever professional band Koola Lobitos were the missing link on the eventual road to the Afrobeat phenomenon. An evolving Fela, only a few shuffles short of cultivating his signature, already shows a raw energy on this compilation’s studio and live recordings.’  DV

 

In the midst of another celebration and anniversary appraisal the Afrobeat pioneer and political protagonist Fela Kuti has seen the back catalogue legacy re-released and repackaged countless times. There’s been a stage production of his life, and a documentary film in the last couple of years alone. But one of the most revealing and raw tributes is this burgeoning showman showcase; a labour of love that collates together a number of previously scattered, thought lost, rare early recordings – both in the studio and on stage – from the stax/funk/soul years. A “labour of love”, stemming from Toshiya Endo’s African Music Home Page website, launched in the late 90s, the Fela Kuti and His Koola Lobitos material were collected from around the world, from the collections of various fans. By day a professor of Chemistry at Ngoya University, Endo’s passion and hobby of cataloguing West African music attracted the author of the Fela: The Life & Times Of An African Musical Icon bio Michael E. Veal. Lucky for us the dynamic duo produced this lavish and arduous compilation of explosive early Fela beauties; one of the best and revelatory introductions to the great polymaths work yet.

Read the full review here…


Bob Lind  ‘Magellan Was Wrong’  (Ace Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Bob Lind

Another masterclass from the sagacious Bob Lind, his latest album is a majestical and often jazzy lilting lesson in songwriting. With decades of elan and adroit performance behind him Lind isn’t ready just yet to rest on past melodic triumphs and spoils, showing himself ready to adopt and try out new ideas on Magellan Was Wrong – a reference to the Portuguese explorer who first circumnavigated the world, proving it was of course a globe and not flat, though Lind’s song of the same name and homage metaphor questions that wisdom in the face of despondency and disappointment. The characteristic voice and style is of course signature Lind, the songs and themes timeless. With a host of producers, including progressive jazz pianist and composer Greg Foat, on board this strongly nautical feel and reference strong songbook, both the entertainer and troubadour are lent a new lease of life.


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