Reviews Column: Dominic Valvona




Back after a short hiatus, my eclectic spread of recommendations and reviews features, as ever, a bumper edition of recent releases. There’s a suitably seasonal solo album from a Beach Boys imbued Mike Gale that wallows in the scorching rays, called Summer Deluxe; some live action from the Ottoman/Edwardian imbued period fusion of Arab and English music hall Brickwork Lizards, who’s new EP features a quartet of live recorded tracks from the St. Giles sessions; there’s a trippy psych peregrination hard sell from the Submarine Broadcasting Company in the form of a GOATS (not that one, this is another group entirely) cassette tape called Far Out; the latest beautifully, if despondently, articulated songbook from Oliver Cherer, I Feel Nothing Most Days; the musical suite in all its glory from Bethany Stenning’s multimedia conceptual art film The Human Project, released via the artist’s Stanlaey alter-ego. I review the fruits of a congruous union between Glitterbeat Records instrumental imprint tak:til and the ‘21st century guitar’ American label VDSQ Records, a new nocturnal hour suite from Chris Brokaw called End Of The Night; and there’s new album from the Benelux specialists Jezus Factory, the cathartic Wilderwolves rocker Inhale, Increase The Dose.

I also take a look at the latest album from the elasticated electro-pop and neo-Kraut Cologne-based Von Spar and friends, Under Pressure, plus singles from two afflatus acts, the Indian-imbued Society Of The Silver Cross (‘Kali Om’ and ‘The Mighty Factory of Death’) and Book Of Enoch, Judaic inspired John Johanna (‘Children Of Zion’).



 

Mike Gale ‘Summer Deluxe’

May 2019

Once more 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 again 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. Sometimes it’s just the one Beach Boy who springs to mind when listening to this seasonal paean: Dennis Wilson, who flits about with McCartney and The Animal Collective on the breezy but deeply felt ‘Barecaraa’, and a filtered version of Pet Sounds era Brian – via Sparklehorse and the little known She Sells Seashells Expo homage project by the lo fi American artist John Lane. There’s even a hint of Surf’s Up noir Brian Johnston echoing around the tranquil summer abandon of ‘You Have A Way’. But you get the picture: that Beach Boys influence is prominent; something that is impossible to pull-off unless you have the talent, which Gale obviously has and proves here, no matter how unassumingly he does it.

A beautifully articulated songbook throughout, the best is saved until (almost) last with the hymnal-turn-diaphanous upbeat chorus of bubbly-synth and wafting saxophone anthem ‘Every Cloud Has A Cloud’. A comfort blanket wrapped around the repeating plaint of “You feel like nothing’s really working out”, this final vocal track sounds like the weight of the shoreline is burdening a wistful Gale as he plunges into the ocean depths to escape.

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; a scion indeed of the Beach Boys spirit.










 

Von Spar ‘Under Pressure’

(Bureau B) 10th May 2019

Finding it all a bit much, in a society the Von Spar have coined as “surveillance capitalism”, the Cologne-based “modular system” (their description not mine) convey delusion and anxiety on their first LP in five years, Under Pressure.

Far from dour, defiant and angry the Von Spar and guests lift the miasma and mood with a most classy soulful electro-pop and neo-Kraut dance album; a sophisticated affair that even opens with a two-part dream sequence, the first part, featuring the float-y hushed coos of the Japanese singer/songwriter Eiko Ishibashi drifting to a House music rewired vision of Tony Allen drumming and bouncing refracted polygons, the second part, brings in the familiar enervated falsetto soul of Canadian polymath Chris A. Cummings with a more gliding Italo House beat; the plaint sentiment of both being “all is well until it is not”. Cummings sweet malaise and wistful tones as principle vocalist can be heard on a quartet of equally chic dance tracks; the Yellow Magic Orchestra synth Orientalism drifty ‘Happiness’, winding spiraled prog-suspense mirage ‘Better Life’, and Duran Duran meets bubbly cosmic synth ray ‘Not To Forget’.

Adding an effortless lifetime of sassy dub and reggae scholarship to the Slits-in-chrome and Grace Jones stalking ‘Boyfriends (Dead Or Alive)’, the grand dame of music writing and post-punk Vivien Goldmine characteristically turns vulnerability into a strength, dismissing a string of exes in the process towards self-realization. Other notable doyens and cult figures include Stereolab’s iconic Kosmische siren Laetitia Sadier, who liltingly adds her signature float-y tones to the motorik electro-pop ‘Extend The Song’, and prolific idiosyncratic lo fi genius R. Stevie Moore, who turns in an anguished Laurie Anderson as A.I. psychiatrist performance (an inquisitive “should I worry”, becomes ever more agitated) on the Jah Wobble goes arpeggiator, feeding the consumer machine, ‘Falsetto Giuseppe’.

On an album that spans and twists so many genres, it is the closing shifting-shards panoramic turn rhythm tumbling instrumental, ‘Mont Ventoux’ that travels the furthest, moving from progressive West Coast psych folk to shades of Popol Vuh, Cluster, Vangelis and video-nastie synth soundtrack: A epic, reflective way to finish.

Under pressure maybe, but it doesn’t show as the Von Spar and friends produce a constantly evolving sophisticated dance album of soulful yearning.







Chris Brokaw ‘End Of The Night’

(tak:til) 24th May 2019

Representing a union between Glitterbeat Records experimental international instrumental imprint tak:til and the equally expletory American VDSQ, two tactile delights from the “21st century guitar’ label’s catalogue have been given a European-wide release for the very first time. Both released at the end of May, Chuck Johnson’s 2017 Balsams album will be available for the first time on CD, whilst the nocturnal inspired Chris Brokaw suite End Of The Night is an entirely new album of attentive and placable musings.

Review wise, I’ve only had time to peruse the latter, a swoozy, atmospheric accompaniment to the Codeine and Come band members various moods, reflections and observation, framed within the pitched idea by VDSQ label boss Steve Lowenthal as the “existential” pondered ideal “last record of the night” – the results of Brokaw and Lowenthal’s late night record listening sessions. Taking up the offer, to record that perfect twilight hour album, Brokaw collected ideas for years until the opportunity arose to finally put thoughts to tape.

Joining him on these various traverses and nuanced concentrations is an ensemble of congruous musicians, some recommended by Lowenthal. Appearing in a myriad of combinations, from duo to trio and quartet, is the “Chet Baker” redolent trumpet-player Greg Kelly (Chet being a big influence on Brokaw), violinist Samara Lubelski (who’s briefly played with, like Brokaw, Thurston Moore), viola player David Michael Curry, cellists Lori Goldston and Jonah Sacks, bass-player Timo Shanko and on drums, Luther Gray.

Channeling many of the artists he’s worked with, Thurston Moore, Evan Dando and Stephen O’Malley, as he deftly picks out descriptive notes and builds up a swell of resonance, Brokaw both dreamily and moodily drifts through gestures of jazz, post-rock, grunge, tremolo-echo-y country and on the reverb-heavy vapour drift, ‘Blue Out’, a cosmic kind of blues music. Suspense, even mystery and narrative are handled with descriptive poise, with the guitar-playing evoking traces of Jeff Buckley, Jonny Greenwood and on the hushed brushed drums, dipping motion ‘His Walking’, the results of melding Chris Isaak with J Mascis.

Meditative and lingering for the most part, End Of The Night counters somnolent reflection with cerebral ponder to create the desired nocturnal atmosphere; at least a great record to finish any session on, if not quite the “perfect” one.




Oliver Cherer ‘I Feel Nothing Most Days’

(Second Language Music) 26th April 2019

An artist most lyrically out of time, full of removed observations, set to the most relaxed and wafting of stripped accompaniments, a wistful Oliver Cherer exchanges the part fact/part fiction Victorian Forest of Dean folkloric diorama of The Myth Of Violet Meek for the vague resonating traces of the 1980s on his recent despondent entitled I Feel Nothing Most Days album.

The third such impressive songbook from the prolific Hastings-based earnest troubadour to be released under his own name (previous alter-egos have included DollBoy, Gilroy Mere, Rhododendron, The Assistant) in as few years, this often dreamy affair, originally conceived decades ago – a very young Cherer putting his burgeoning ideas on to a Yamaha 4-track cassette recorder in 1983 -, is imbued by the lingering articulated drip-fed and amorphous cycles of The Durutti Column, but also a wealth of similar ethereal artists, borders on shoegaze from the late 80s epoch of 4AD.

Attuned to the Durutti first time around no doubt, Cherer, by some cosmic-aligned luck, found that he owned Vini Reilly’s Fender guitar (the one used on Morrissey’s first solo LP, Viva Hate as well). Put to good use then, as Cherer reprises his early 80s (what was left of them; when salvaged from the attic and played on a modern cassette-player that two of the original quartet of tracks came out at half-speed, the remainder, in reverse) recordings, the mood of this album is gauzy memory; music pulled from another time, an ether even – some of this down to the harmonies, choral and often atmosphere-setting guest vocals of an apparition cooing Claudia Barton and Riz Maslen.

Despite the drifting, mirror-y visage of washed troubadour, Talk Talk, C86, shoegaze and even Yacht-rock, a barely concealed rage at the divisionist-driven tensions that have sown so much caustic discord in recent years; throwing a proverbial, sacrificial “baby” out with the bath water to the wolves on the veiled Robert Wyatt-esque ‘Weight Of The Water’, in what could be a denouncement on Brexit, and the sophisticated rock with hints of The Pale Fountains ‘Sinners Of The World’ is no less gently scathing.

Elsewhere Cherer moons on the wistfully enchanted French fantasy, ‘Seberg’, a lamentable swaddled delight r-imagination of a scene, played out to a reference heavy lyricism about the aloof, Gauloise smoke cool New Wave cinema icon Jean Seberg (Cherer playing an unlikely role of Jean-Paul Belmondo), and pens a magically sad, Laurel Canyon, swoon to dementia, fading memory and age on ‘An Unfamiliar Kitchen’.

Beautifully articulated throughout, the shifting memories of time assembling just long enough to provide a vaporous soundtrack, I Feel Nothing Most Days is despite the malaise, anguish and sense of injustice a lovely, soulful songbook; another essential Oliver Cherer release.







Stanlaey ‘The Human Project’

(Stanlaey Art) May 2019

Two years after the premiere of Bethany Stenning’s ambitious multi-media The Human Project, the full-on immersive audio soundtrack from that film arrives in the form of a debut album; the first under Stenning’s amalgamated pseudonym of Stanlaey through her own imprint label. Featuring a cast of over seventy artists, actors/actresses, videographers and of course musicians, Stenning’s plaudit-attracting opus is heavy on the themes of both duality and juxtaposition; the myriad of twists and turns as the polymath artist studies our chaotic modern relationship with nature, symbolized visually and musically over a number of concept-driven performances.

Creating an alternative pastoral fairytale world, Stenning brings us a highly experimental beguiling soundscape that is often as bewildering as it is diaphanous and melodious. Untethered throughout, weaving amorphously between Earth Mother folk, jazz, R&B, Tricky-like trip-hop and the avant-garde The Human Project is in a constant state of movement as it attempts to articulate and phrase the seven elements that underpin it. Stenning’s distinct voice is itself difficult to pin down, fluctuating, soaring, meandering as it does in giddy childlike innocent wonder one minute, a ghost the next: Joanna Newsom, Bjork and Janelle Monae wrapped into one woodland sprite.

A quartet of conceptual video tracks from the album have already been drip-fed in the run-up to its release as an audio only experience – which works equally without its visual moiety as a whole new immersive experience -; the earthy winding Ghostpoet-esque ‘The Mountain Collector’, the bowl-pouring nod to antiquity’s poetic titan and striving yearn to escape an “Iron Age of destruction” for one of gold, ‘Ode To Ovid’, the breathy ethereal with Tibetan wind chimes metaphorical encapsulation of fluidity (elegantly portrayed by the harmonious display of acro-yoga in the video) ‘Properties Of Ice’, and the gauzy anguished forest spirit turns wild and intense lament to a brought-to-life mannequin wanting to escape their constraints, ‘Wooden Womb’, have already been doing the rounds.

This leaves the silvery moon pool serenade love song between a werewolf and ‘The Moon’, the Lamplighter meets Erased Tapes, dub-y ponderous flood of consciousness ‘Eldor’ (which features the rapping of Pedro DG Correia), and sonic splashed, undulated interpretation of water (its healing properties as much as a backdrop to Stenning’s emotions) ‘Aquarium’. There’s also, as a sort of extra unveiling, the angelic wafting through a void spell of ‘Orbs’, which originally was used to play out the end credits of The Human Project film.

Neither art, performance nor purely a soundtrack, this album is captivating and distinct, working on all levels: sound and music so often fails when brought into the conceptual field of creative arts, but Stenning has pulled it off wonderfully.







 

Brickwork Lizards ‘Live At St. Giles’

(Vyvyfyr Records) 17th May 2019

Plucked from the era of top hat and tails tea dances and the more rouge-ish double entendre romantically swooned crooning gin joints, the Ink Spots via Sublime Porte imbued Brickwork Lizards seem to have been lifted from an old His Master’s Voice label shellac record. A meeting of musical mind, the Oxford based troupe merge co-founder Tom O’Hawk’s penchant for clipped vocal harmony and the swing of the roaring 20s and early 30s with his musical foil Tarik Beshir’s romanticized and longing sounds of Turkey and the Orient to create a unique fusion.

Enjoying the spotlight that shines on this Arabic jazz ensemble, off the back of two albums (the second of which, 2018’s Haneen, was given the thumb’s up by myself on this blog) and joint-jumping live performances, the group’s vocalist, oud player and instigator Beshir was invited to work as a musical consultant on the new Disney Aladdin reboot; members of the Lizards even formed part of the Sultan’s palace house band.

It is the live performance quality of the band that is celebrated for posterity on their latest release, a four-track EP recorded in front of an audience at the Oxford Jazz at St. Giles showcase. All new, even if they sound nostalgic, the St. Giles quartet of vocal and instrumental maladies, swoons and bounding dances features both original-penned compositions and re-imaginings of Ottoman bohemia, and an even older Arabic love poem They begin with one of these homage transformations, the Anatolian Tango suspense turn Balkan-rush treatment of the legendary Ottoman composer Tanburi Cemil Bey’s turn-of-the-20th century sweep of the bay ‘Nikriz Longa’ instrumental. On the final performance, Beshir yearningly improvises with an Arabic love paean to a weepy and complicated, but effortlessly played, 10/8 beat accompaniment on the Mowashah tradition inspired ‘Sama’I Waltz’.

With one foot in the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band camp, the Lizards pay respect to the racy sincerity of the doo-wop harmony group the Ink Spots on the jazzy crooned ‘I Want To Spend The Night With You’. And on their ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’ evoking serenaded idyllic punt down the river ‘Roses’, you can easily imagine the Lizards lounging on the Sultan’s palace rug, wistfully sighing sweet nothings to their muse.

With certain élan and flair, not forgetting a real commitment to their form, the Brickwork Lizards refine and reinterpret their nostalgic inspirations to produce a re-electrified fusion that transcends both its Ottoman and quaint Edwardian music hall legacies. Going by these St. Giles recordings they prove a great band to catch live in the flesh.




 

GOATS ‘Far Out’

(Submarine Broadcasting Co.) 16th May 2019

As if there weren’t enough Goat orientated bands already to contend with, here’s another. This collective rabble (not to be confused with that equally tripping, but African-imbued, lot from Sweden) of moonlight acid and experimental pseudo daemonic cult mind-bending is led by the brilliantly-named maverick Alan Morse Davis, with Jorge Mario Zuleta, Dec Owen and a list of pseudonyms to back him up.

Astral planning the nonsensical, channeling a wealth of acid-rock, hippie folk, Kosmische, Krautrock and avant-garde inspirations, these Holy Mountain(side) goats chew on the most lethal of intoxicating hallucinatory strength grass. Following up on their previous self-titled LP – which I’m told did some impressive sales – the GOATS latest wheeze, appropriately entitled Far Out, is one continuous forty-minute exploratory track of spliced sections, released on that most revived and limited of formats, the cassette tape.

Setting off through a reversal-heavy drug-y drone daze our navigators on this trip meander through an ever-changing soundscape of Incredible String Band commune ditsy childish folk, indigestion-hampered throat singing, early period Amon Duul II Gothic chorus of angels and Germanic myth, caustic confusion noodling, Spacemen 3 go baggy go Velvets psych-garage lo fi, and harmonium bellowed Indian fantasy mirage. That’s without mentioning the vortex sucking sample of The Creation’s ‘How Does It Feel To Feel’, the doodling melting evocations of the Acid Mothers Temple and the blown-out wafts of Kraut-jazz trumpet that get thrown in to what is a most experimental soundtrack; equally in search of hippie nirvana and free love aboard the Hawkwind mothership as amorphous fuckery.

Far Out is an often-ridiculous collage built around a few more thrashed-out, almost conventional, song ideas and meanderings. As ‘head music’ goes the GOATS have sown together a mind-melting rich peregrination of sketches, passing fancies, the afflatus and out-right weird to create their very own disturbed vision; a release that is more ennui, hard come-down Gong communing with Popol Vuh than Faust Tapes.







Wilderwolves ‘Inhale, Increase The Dose’

(Jezus Factory) 29th May 2019

From the Benelux alternative and experimental rock specialists Jezus Factory, and featuring a heavy-guitar rotation of guests and collaborators from the Angels Die Hard, Broken Circle Breakdown and Eriksson/Delcroix triangle of bands from that region, arrives the second LP of sincere anxiety and travail from the Wilderwolves. A vehicle for the songwriting of Alain Rylant, who also sings and plays guitar, the Wilderwolves lean towards introspective rage on the finely produced Inhale, Increase The Dose; though there’s a certain ambiguity in the lyrics, waiting to be decoded, and a lot of violence (metaphorical or not) meted-out and suffered in a number of moody love tussles.

Pitched then as an album about love, though with a side caveat that “it’s about everything” and “it’s about nothing”, all seen and experienced through the self-medicated haze of lethargy; Rylant attempts to rattle the listener (and himself) from a resigned stupor.

Full of the wrangling, sinewy, angulated and sometimes caustic guitar shapes we’ve come to expect from the label’s roster, the various cast of musicians on this album work their way through grunge, stoner, post-rock, Britpop and Americana. On the desperate sinking ‘Smoked’ and bloodied sinister ‘Tooth And Claw’ they brush-up against Placebo at their more refined, and on the post relationship fall-out of ‘Your Scars’ it’s a combination of Alice In Chains and Grant Lee Buffalo. The more relaxed, ambling ‘Underwater’ however, reminds me of an Arcade Fire song I’ve long since forgotten the title of.

A personal, candid offering that taps into the current need to share the sort of woes, stresses and anxieties usually left on the psychiatrist’s couch, in hope that it will somehow help, Inhale, Increase The Dose is a great cathartic indulgence that rocks.







Singles

John Johanna ‘Children Of Zion’

(Faith & Industry) Out Now

Ahead of a new biblical-inspired album in July, the first holy revelation from John Johanna’s upcoming Judaic apocalyptic Seven Metal Mountains opus is the lilting, cymbal resonating heavy, but deep, ‘Children Of Zion’.

Slightly lighter of touch, though just as steeped in religious liturgy, the latest single from the Norfolk artist once more traverses the Holy Land with a call-to-service melt of desert-blues, post-rock and psychedelic folk. Conceptually built around the ancient apocalyptic work laid down in the Book Of Enoch (the protagonist of that cannon being Noah’s grandfather, who’s visits to heavenly realms and augurs of doom are presented through visions, dreams and revelations), Johanna’s Seven Metal Mountains symbolize “the world empires that have successfully oppressed and controlled mankind”.

‘Children Of Zion’ has Johanna adopting a faux-reggae Arabian gait to deliver a message of worshipful defiance; throwing the moneylenders out of the temple, bringing down the towers of Babylon so to speak: “No politician gonna heal me/Only love and self control.” A return to Zion it is, the most venerated of sites; a return to the garden, Johanna has found his calling once more.

For those wowed and won-over (I previously included Johanna’s previous Afro-blues, gospel and rustic Americana rich mini LP, I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes in last year’s ‘choice albums’ features), prepare yourself for another divine communion.







Society Of The Silver Cross ‘Kali Om’ and ‘Mighty Factory Of Death’

Both out now

Nothing less than a clarion call for an “awakening to the universality of all people and things”, the second single of enlightened cosmic pathos from the matrimonial Seattle band once more merges a spiritual penchant for India with grunge and the Gothic. The afflatus Joe Reinke and Karyn Gold-Reinke couple behind the dramatic sounding Society Of The Silver Cross have shifted their musical tastes and inspirations in recent years after travelling; taking a hiatus to the Indian subcontinent after the break-up of Joe’s Alien Crime Syndicate. Fully imbued, bringing not only the message but also the stirring sounds of holy innovation with them back to Seattle, the couple have embraced the use of the Indian autoharp (known as the “shahi baaja”), bellowed harmonium and a droning inducing bowed instrument called the “dilruba”.

Far more Gothic, darker even, than anything you’d hear in the divine rituals of those Indian inspirations, this conversion is often full of daemonic stirrings and gauze-y mists of shoegaze and grunge. ‘Kali Om’ being the second such mix of these influences is a song that once more features an effective if succinct message and musical leitmotif in it’s opening chimes that signals a continuation of their debut single, ‘When You’re Gone’. ‘Kali”, the great redeemer, “Om”, the universal sound of consciousness, is a suitably atmospheric evocation; rich with dreamy mantra, spindled and lush tones, hints of Moorish Spain and of course, the ethereal lingering voice of Karyn.

Following in its ebb and flow, the group’s third single offers a more stark, morbid outlook through its ‘The Mighty Factory Of Death’ title, yet is no less lush and ethereal, when it does break from its gong-sounding harrowed majesty and doom. From the pages of The Book Of The Dead, this Egyptology-ringing acceptance of the fates levitation-towards-the-light breaks from its heavy veil to find heavenly relief. Indian veneration communes with Cobain’s Nirvana and The Velvet Underground, the Society Of The Silver Cross magic up an evocative enough message with both their recent singles.

The debut album, 1 Verse, is due out at the end of June.








Words: Dominic Valvona

The Quarterly Playlist chosen by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms



A reasonable assessment of the last three months, the Quarterly Playlist features an eclectic selection of ‘choice’ tracks from the Monolith Cocktail team. From across the musical spectrum, songs from the far east sit alongside glittering pop; traversing meditations share room with hip-hop and the Kosmische.

The inaugural revue playlist of 2018 features Plastic Ono Band sultry protest pop from U.S. Girls, fragmented reeling breakbeats from Cut Chemist and friends, Motorik mooning from Station 17, electrified dance jazz from Hailu Mergia, mystical cosmic cumbia from Sonido Gallo Negro, a cappella paean to Nelson Mandela by the Afrika Mamas, direge-y garage rock from the Moonwalks and 38 other equally interesting and varied tracks from across the globe.


Tracks in full:

‘Incidental Boogie’  U.S. Girls (review)
‘Look At Your Hands’  Tune-Yards  (review)
‘Well Who Am I’  Band Of Gold
‘Die Cut (Theme)’  Cut Chemist feat. Deantoni Parks  (review)
‘(((leapfrog)))’  MC Paul Barman  (review)
‘Addis Nat’  Hailu Mergia
‘Ein Knall’  Station 17 feat. Harald Grosskopf and Eberhard Kranemann  (review)
‘The Timeless Now’  Nonpareils
‘1001 Nights’  Ouzo Bazooka  (review)
‘Fresh Product’  Awate
‘Anything Goes’  Andy Cooper feat. Abdominal  (review)
‘Efrati’  Fadaei
‘Black Sambo’  Skyzoo  (review)
‘Kingz & Bosses’  Slim Thug feat. Big K.R.I.T.  (review)
‘That Jazz’  Coops  (review)
‘Cumbia Ishtar’  Sonido Gallo Negro
‘A Casa De Anita’  Camarao
‘All That We Are’  Brickwork Lizards  (review)
‘Hlala Nami’  Hot Soul Singers
‘Le Château’  Fishbach  (review)
‘Into Space’  Sailing Stones
‘Illogical Lullaby’  Hatis Noit  (review)
‘Also’  Astrid Sonne  (review)
‘Reptile’  Soho Rezanejad  (review)
‘Remain Calm’  Tony Njoku
‘Air Rage’  Lukas Creswell-Rost  (review)
‘Embers’  Flights Of Helios  (review)
‘And The Glamour Fell On Her’  Brona McVittie feat. Myles Cochran and Richard Curran (review)
‘Same Old, Same Old’  The Cold Spells  (review)
‘Winter Bound’  Hampshire & Foat  (review)
‘Vidsel-Sthlm, Enkel’  Bättre Lyss  (review)
‘Akokas’  Tal National
‘The Border Crossing’  Dirtmusic  (review)
‘I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes’  John Johanna
‘Diego Says Hello’  Modulus III  (review)
‘Communion’  Park Jiha  (review)
‘De Roda’  Rodrigo Tavares  (review)
‘You Get Brighter’  John Howard  (review)
‘Tata Madiba’  Afrika Mamas  (
review)
‘In Between Stars’  Eleanor Friedberger
‘No Place Like Home’  Life Pass Filter’  (review)
‘I Don’t Wanna Dance (with My Baby)’  Insecure Man
‘Israel Is Real’  Moonwalks  (review)
‘Men Of The Women’  Peter Kernel  (review)
‘We Have Always Lived In The Palace’  Sunflowers  (review)

NEW MUSIC REVUE  WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Featuring another eclectic borderless roundup of interesting and innovative, and sometimes previously lost, treasures, this latest edition of my reviews package includes a fond and timeless quality collection of songs from the Irish folk legend John Dunhan; the second album from Oxford’s English tea dance meets Ottoman jig outfit, the Brickwork Lizards; a morning chorus inspired EP of homage covers from the adroit John Howard; Lukas Creswell-Rost transforms and remodels his soft rock triumph Go Dream into something more abstract, eclectic and dreamier; and a promising pair of debut albums from the ‘Celtic phantasmagoria’ inspired Irish harpist and songstress Brona McVittie, and the abstract sonic sculptor Anna Sonne. We also have, yet another blast of garage, doom, psych and this time Gothic mooning fun from the Stolen Body Records label, in the guise of the Portuguese boy/girl Sunflowers.

And if that isn’t enough already, I have a roundup of equally interesting and eclectic ‘shorts’ from as far afield as Canada and Paris too, with tracks, singles and oddities from the Parisian Anglo-French group Orouni, Toronto-based producer Luxgaze and the Leeds Psych pop electronic outfit Lost Colours.

Brona McVittie  ‘We Are The Wildlife’  Available Now

 

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

The title of this original and transformed traditional suite alludes to the premise that even people and the modern infrastructure (pylons for instance) that spans the land are just as important and intrinsic to the landscape as ‘spiders and cobwebs’; acting as they do throughout this album as both manmade and natural catalysts with which to bounce ideas and sounds from, or even off of – the inspiration for the pining bliss of the ethereal voiced and caressed bucolic, Under The Pines, arose from hearing the reverberation of a dog’s bark off the trees that stand on the edge of the Rostrevor pine forest.

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

Her ephemeral harp melodies and phrases often feel like a breath or just the merest hazy lingering presence of the instrument, which – and I’ve never heard of anyone else doing this before – might in some ways be down to McVittie’s technique of playing them all on the guitar first before transcribing over. It certainly offers a different perspective and technique. And it certainly takes this heavenly traditional instrument into even more mystical, accentuate abstract realms, helped of course by an accompaniment of meadow flute (Keiron Phelan), sad bowed delicate strings (Richard Curran), searching fleeting slide-guitar and shuffling to full-on breakbeat drums (Myles Cochran). All of which amorphously pushes the often-ancient feelings and geography towards John Martyn and Bert Jansch one minute, towards the Incredible String Band or trip-hop the next.

 

As an additional running theme to that of a modern natural panorama, McVittie also draws deep from the well of Irish musical folklore and literature, borrowing as she does both titles and ‘the great Celtic phantasmagoria whose meaning no man has discovered, nor any angel revealed’ (interrupted on the yearning instrumental The Vast And Vague Extravagance That Lies At The Bottom Of The Celtic Heart) lyrical adage from W.B. Yeats to reinterpret her ancestral home’s legacy and hard to define feelings. Taking the And The Glamour Fell On Her reference to mean, in a manner, ‘away with the fairies’, and When The Angels Wake You, a reference to the ancient Celtic perception of death, from Yeats, McVittie’s quivering harp caresses and translucent vocals articulate a misty veiled dreamscape; both haunting and peaceable.

Transformed with a subtle undulation of electronic ambience, traditional fare such as the resigned death lament The Jug Of Punch (“When I am dead in my grave, no costly tombstone will I have. Lay me down by my native peat, with a jug of punch at my head and feet.”), and more obscure County Down love ballads, such as the greenery meandrous tip-toe Newry Mountain, have an eerie, elegiac echo, shrouded as they are in the haze of a pastoral adumbrate swooning soundtrack.

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






Astrid Sonne  ‘Human Lines’   Escho,  19th February 2018

 

Merging a background in the classical with a love for electronic composition, the Copenhagen-based composer/musician Astrid Sonne examines the balance between computer-generated and organic sounds on her spatial sonic debut LP, Human Lines. Conceptually minded, Sonne is know for her burgeoning work in creating site-specific compositions for a number of installations in Denmark, including the old ruins under the Danish Parliament and a stretch of the Copenhagen Metro – part of the Trans Metro Express for the Strøm Festival. Human Lines sounds at times like an extension of this: certainly informed by it in the use of space and depth.

Structurally and thematically exploring both the organic and mechanical, but also, as Sonne puts it, ‘the balance between repetition and renewal in various universes which responds to different emotional stages’, each piece develops from either its initial crystal sharp sonorous pings or tubular metallic twitches into interconnecting hovers or fissure stretching cyclonic warps.

 

Leaving it to the listener to interpret, each ambient, drone and transduced viola performance seems to spark or stutter into action on its own accord, as though Sonne gathers the elements together and once generated lets them fall, probe and encircle where and how they desire. There’s clean scattered nodes and seeping melody on the Kosmische style Also, gabbling crushed and warped percussive loops and a cosmic ethereal repeating choir on the heavier Real, and a hint of Japanese electronica on the abstract, arpeggiator A Modular Body; all of which, as does most of the album, ascend, marvel and encircle the celestial.

It’s left to the final and most achingly beautiful sad composition, Alta, to break free from the machine (almost) and find the humanity. Erring towards the playing of Tony Conrad and John Cale, Sonne’s last impression bows towards her classical learning, with only the subtlest of synthesized sound to accompany a touching, atmospheric, viola performance.

Still developing and searching ideas, Sonne’s debut is a very promising start; combining the conceptual with techno, darkwave and ambient. The balance suggests the machine element hasn’t completely taken over just yet.




John Howard  ‘Songs From The Morning’  John Howard/Kobalt,  Available Now

 

Probably more productive than he’s ever been, during a career that spans five decades, songwriter/pianist troubadour and A&R man John Howard has in recent years worked with a myriad of collaborative talent (the Robert Rotifer, Andy Lewis and Ian Button instigated, and most brilliant revival, John Howard & The Night Mail) and released a number of solo albums and EPs – the last of which, the stunning cerebral Across The Door Sill, made our choice albums of 2016 features.

Enjoying a calm and restrained renaissance of a sort since the feted days of his acclaimed debut Kid In A Big World, Howard’s status as a seriously adroit songwriter and assiduous tickler of the ivory is assured and proven beyond doubt with every subsequent project. His latest collection, a five-track homage EP of covers, is a welcome breather, even stopgap, between albums. Howard is set to release his eighteenth long-player this summer, with news of a nineteenth to follow – though this is purely at the writing stage at the moment.

 

Perhaps a reflection and circumstance of Howard’s approaching 65th birthday, Songs From The Morning muses at a leisure over a selection of favorite songs from the artist’s formative years in the late 60s and early 70s – a time when he was adoring fan, and not quite the confirmed artist. Highly influential, imbuing Howard’s own craft, a carefully chosen quartet of tracks themed around both the celebration and lament of the morning sun, have been subtly lifted and transformed with signature aplomb. Showing a great taste in music, he picks from the golden spring of both lauded and tragic songwriter artists.

Featured a couple of months back on the Monolith Cocktail as a taster, a Waterboys-esque, almost jangly version of the fated Nick Drake’s most touching pulchritude – which more or less lends its name to the EP title – From The Morning is given the venerated praise treatment by Howard. This is a leitmotif, an almost deep reverence that comes out as pastoral gospel. Sharing with Howard a certain promise that failed to crossover into commercial success, though of course the understated quiet figure spiraled into a mental abyss and tragically committed suicide at the age of only 26 – the year before Howard’s debut album release – Drake was renowned for penning the mournful and serious, yet he wrote this most uplifting of beauties, a favourite of Howard.

In a similar vein, Mike Heron’s – of The Incredible String Band fame –bucolic delight You Get Brighter is another glorious declaration of love for nature’s brightest life-giving force. Positively radiant, meandering as it does through a Baroque folk majesty, Howard subtly marks the original with his own peaceable nature and joy.

Wishing to hold off the morning’s rays, Tom Springfield’s lovelorn plea, Morning, Please Don’t Come – originally recorded with his sister Dusty in 1969 for his own LP Love’s Philosophy – playfully yearns for the dawn to never come; a signal as it seems for his love to leave his bedside, and maybe step out of his life forever. Howard rings out the tambourine, lightly caresses the piano and swoons a faithful tribute.

Once again drawn to the tragic, Howard also does justice to Sandy Denny’s complex woven lament The Lady and Tim Buckley’s equally troubled, but achingly beautiful, Morning Glory. Savoring the challenge of translating “rather a lot of chords” (as Denny herself puts it on a live recording of this elegiac delight) on to piano, Howard transposes the malady and bellowed heartbreak to sound like a lost Elton John classic. He turns Buckley’s rather ambiguous 1967 ballad into a 70s style epic that rolls on and on. Accompanying anecdotal notes of interest from Howard explain each song’s appeal and influence, with a mention about the ‘musical scholars’ debate over the meaning of Buckley’s “fleeting house” lyric; a reference that Howard himself believes alludes to a ‘house we only live in temporally, like the hobo the lyric mentions several times in the song.’ Whatever you decipher from this cryptic and great lyric, the song is somehow congruous to the collection, yet barely mentions the ‘morning’; just as easily conjures up an ambivalent atmosphere of time and the seasons.

 

A great songbook, lifted and subtly turned into a venerable homage, Songs From The Morning is an articulate often peaceable collection from an artist happy to spend a moment contemplating and celebrating those that inspired him, but also a pause before launching into a string of new solo work.






John Duhan ‘The Irishman’s Finest Collection’   ARC Music,  Available Now

 

With a certain earnest sentimentality and the Irish brogue of a “folkie” Springsteen, songwriting legend John Duhan’s five decade spanning songbook is for many of his admirers both a heartfelt hymn to life and love and an article of faith.

Despite penning highly popular peaceable anthems and the most romantic of love songs, Duhan’s music has mostly been brought to attention via international Irish icons such as Mary Black and The Dubliners. His most popular hit of all, the timeless Emerald Isle metaphorical seafaring paean The Voyage, was a much loved sentiment to overcoming life’s obstacles together as a couple and family (a recurring theme throughout), much beloved by Duhan’s local community but propelled to global success by Christy Moore, who covered it in 1989.

And so for many this latest collection come compendium musical accompaniment to his autobiography, To The Light (a title taken from the leading track of his album of the same name), is an introduction to the songwriter/performer who originally started out in the 60s as the fifteen year old frontman for the highly successful Irish beat group Granny’s Intentions, before going on to carve out a career as a lone troubadour.

Corresponding to each of the four chapters of that bio, songs have been ‘carefully’ selected from a quartet of his most ‘epic’ albums: Just Another Town, The Voyage, Flame, and, of course, To The Light itself. Self-confessedly never following ‘trends or fashions’, Duhan’s music remains timeless, accompanied as it is by gentle oboe, violins, cello, pipes, the accordion and his tender guitar. There is some room however for modernity, with the subtlest of technological advancements allowed to create synthesized atmospheres and melodies when wanted.

Following a toiled life story, it makes perfect sense to start at the beginning, paying homage to the town of his birth, Limerick. Featuring a diorama cast of locals and scenes that have obviously touched and been lived by its author, Duhan muses that his town is “just another town” like any other, but it’s the first of two occasions to include lyrics that reference his old dad – lyrically etched as a character, singing in baritone, ‘with the emphasis on the ‘bar’’ – on the track of the same name and on the rousing Don’t Give Up Till It’s Over, and paints a fond picture of home.

 

All the cornerstones of the family and the touchstones of a life well lived are drawn upon for material, including the offering of a steady hand of assurance to both his teenage daughter – in the middle of some tumult on Your Sure Hand – and to his son Kevin – on the immensity of the great unknown and our place in the scheme of things pondering Face The Night. There’s a coo-like bowed tribute to his mum in the form of a charming reminder from the past on Song Of the Bird; a tale of when Duhan and his Mum nursed an injured bird back to life, offering hope and a fond memory of his mum when she sadly passed away.

Through it all, from meandering family rifts to stargazing philosophically, there’s a deep sense of faith and the tender gesture of overcoming adversity. Mostly set in the here and now, though musically transcending any specific timeline, the only song that deviates from this is The Blight. A sad saga about the fatal disease that infected and destroyed as a consequence so many potato harvests in Ireland, known by its Latin name as Phytophthora infestans but named ‘the Blight’ by those communities it devastated, this obviously emotionally aching chapter from the Island’s history is turned into a tale of death and survival on the ‘blight’ riddled toiled fields and lands by Duhan, but it could so easily be an ode to the hardships of eking out substance on the American frontier as well.

 A perfectly pleasant guide to one of Ireland’s greatest living songwriters – who it must be said is also pretty deft and handy with the guitar too – Duhan’s Finest Collection gently explores his adroit magic and sincerity over time, and will remain one of the best encapsulations of his craft for years to come.




Brickwork Lizards  ‘Haneen’   Available Now

 

A beneficial creative exchange of musical backgrounds that blossomed from a chance meeting between Oxford stalwart Tom O’ Hawk and the Egyptian vocalist and oud player Tarik Beshir – of the town’s Arabic ensemble Oxford Maqam – into the fusion, the Brickwork Lizards, sprung from a mutual love for the 1930s harmony group The Ink Spots, but also a yearning for a, mostly, lost past.

Nostalgic reverberations from both the exotic Ottoman Empire of yore and 1920s English dancehalls seamlessly elope off together to create something fairly unique and congruous. This second LP to date, Haneen, is an often joyful bound across time, soaking up lines, melodies, riffs and the atmosphere of a shellac scratchy tea dance one minute, a lavishly decorated, carpeted seraglio the next.

The very definition of that album title in Arabic describes a longing sense of the past. And so timelines align as the two distinct backgrounds of the group’s founders harmonize with surprising results. You will for example hear a Tim Westwood style late night radio host introduce a wartime blitz era ballroom romantic crooned lullaby of sentimental assurance (Old Fashioned Song) and a creeping transformation of a traditional 16th/17th century ‘hanging song’ that takes in both the atavistic bucolic of merry ole England but also features an air of Latin American (The Hanging Tune).

 

Better when they evoke and redeem the exotic – reclaiming almost forgotten Ottoman pieces Hijaz Zeybek and Hijaz Mandira: the prefix alluding to an eclectic transformation that takes these traditional encapsulations out of their epoch into something more electric, from the Silk Road to cocktails at The Ritz – than the bohemian, the Brickwork Lizards most promising excursions are amongst the amorphous sand dunes and bazaars of a vague North Africa and Middle East panoply. Songs such as the mosey wagon trail western metaphor, Come On Home, – which as a tinge of White Album McCartney about it – and the cornet trumpet nuzzled cabaret swoon, Queen Of Bohemia, can sound twee and pastiche, but this is made up for with the album’s abundance of zeal and fun at fusing pastures new – Ottoman rap, anyone?!




Sunflowers  ‘Castle Spell’   Stolen Body Records,  February 9th 2018

 

In what is proving to be a busy year for the Bristol label Stolen Body Records – we must have featured at least four bands from the label’s ever-expanding roster in the last month alone – we have yet another garage-psych-stoner-doom backbeat propelled slice of international mayhem to wake-up the dead with. In the guise of a Portuguese Cramps embracing The B52s, Moon Duo and Black Lips inside Grandpa Munster’s cloak of Gothic looning, the Sunflowers, despite the name and fiery vigor, lurk in the graveyard of human metaphorical gloom.

Their second album, Castle Spell, is full of fantasy and voodoo, yet throbs, bends and whines with pantomime horror. Tongue-firmly-in-cheek, the girl/boy yahoo, mooning and wooing vocals and tumult backing of scuzz, fuzz, spunk rock and explosive blues suggests some fun. Though in no way does this mean it’s a cartoon imitation or joke, as the group do get very heavy and the lyrics echo a sort of inevitability, an illusion to death, grief and kool-aid enthused destruction.

Tumbling off-kilter on the tangled lunar-hopping, fretwork in space, opener The Siren, we’re introduced to the Sunflowers spikey howling energy, as each track careers and thrashes its way to a destination; be it Link Wray riding the big one down to the Mexican coast on the ole! tremolo-twanged Surfin With The Phantom, or creeping like The Black Angels in Poe’s cemetery on Grieving Tomb. For pure zaniness and what-the-fuck-is-all-that-aboutness, the barking scuzzed A Spasmodic Milkshake features the most bizarre boy/girl exchange of lyrics (“I’m a milkshake don’t disturb me, I don’t want to die!”), and the finale, We Have Always Lived In The Palace, is just…well, weird: a ponderous bass riff stride through the palatial palaces of the mind.

Still, a cracking great album, full of thrills; light and shade dynamics but heavy as fuck, Castle Spell is a real explosive blues, garage thumping, punky doom withering surfin’ cosmic psych blast.






Lukas Creswell-Rost   ‘Gone Dreamin’’  Plain Sailing Records,  Available Now

 

An Extension. A re-contextualization. A transmogrification leading to a concatenate yet new set of songs, developed from the English troubadour Lukas Creswell-Rost‘s 2014 Go Dream songbook, Gone Dreamin’ is a reimagined transformation of that original misanthropic tragedy, culled from Rock’s Back Pages. Taken off into more experimental realms, with ideas, scraps of dialogue, riffs and melodies ‘flying around’, merged with various effects and breaks, these original beautifully vaporous soft rock ballads and cruising songs are given a new lease of life.

Alluding to track titles from Go Dream and sounding at times like the Animal Collective remixing Michael Angelo and Paul McCartney, or 10cc fronted by Michael Farneti, this latest nine-track suite – described by Lukas as: ‘A pop soundscape road trip going through different radio stations that are all haunted by the same voice.’ – builds upon the sentiments and dazed recollected tales of fate, suicide and ego on rock’s highway, but drinks liberally from the woozy poisoned chalice of Kool-aid woe.

 

Championing Go Dream at the time, becoming a sort of cult album, Lukas has revisited that collection, which weaved such blissful, cursing visages on the fate of Bad Finger, the strange unnerving limbo of a transient life on the road as a touring band in the 70s, the detachment of star power, sipping cocktail aimlessly in Miami, and the tantrums of an air bound miscreant Yngwie Malmsteen. Though amorphous in dipping in and out of that album to conjure up something new, it’s difficult to recognize what bit of which song he’s used, echoed with effects or turned inside out. Gone Dreamin’ has just Cocktails, whilst Go Dream had Ten Dollar Cocktails. Gone Dream also has Patient Pilot, whilst Gone Dreamin’ has Air Rage. Yet neither particularly collate; just the essence and vague linger. Shimmery, shining with synth percussion, sauntering bossa rhythms, troubadour acoustic guitar and echoes of a sun-dappled Laurel Canyon Lukas’ music is now submerged and remodeled with ambient music, hallucinogenic and garish 80s pop production – Here In Hollywood signposts every signature buzz, drum-pad pre-set, vapours and electro boogie sound from that decade, sounding like Nile Rodgers on speed.

Lukas has done a great job too; loosening, bending, crystallizing and stretching his 70s blessed, Pacific Ocean Blue meets Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan crafted cerebral soft rock songs into something experimentally more colorful and, even, dreamier.







Shorts: curios, oddities, great sounds and tracks floating our orbit this month.

Orouni   ‘Uca Pugilator’   Taken from the Somewhere In Dreamland EP

Making a return visit to their 2014 musical travelogue album Grand Tour, this time with singer and flutist Emma Broughton at the helm – the previously admired from afar Anglo-French artist, provider of a rich, effortless timbre, is now a paid-up full time member of the band – the Parisian pop band Orouni recast a quartet of older songs on their latest EP, Somewhere In Dreamland.

The shape of things to come, Emma Broughton features as the lead singer on all of the reconfigured EP’s tracks, Somewhere In Dreamland will act as a bridge of sorts to an upcoming album, released later this year.

Blending world music instrumentation – usually picked up on their travels – with a kind of clever, air-y and breezy melodic style of lilting pop, Orouni glide amorphously between a myriad of French and English influences. Sounding at times like a French-African Belle & Sebastian, or a Breton styled New Pornographers.

Taken from their new EP – a taster if you like – the opening Uca Pugilator is described as ‘a two-chord pop song about Senegalese wrestling’ by the group. Formerly the first track from the group’s Grand Tour, this alternative version features a more up-tempo rhythm guitar pick-me-up – part Bowie, part Kate Bush, part Postcard Records – and of course now features Broughton on lead vocals. Dreamily conjuring up the well-traveled tourist’s observations – imagine Goddard on a road trip with Paul Simon across West Africa – about a Senegalese pugilistic ritual, this beautiful light but sophisticated song promises the most glittering of African adventures. And it’s very, very nice indeed: swimmingly so.




Luxgaze   ‘Pretty Eyes’

Vaporizing before our ears the latest electronic track from Toronto-based music producer Luxgaze (Natalie Veronica) is a dreamy instrumental of slow beats, mirror rippling and reverse effects entitled Pretty Eyes. This glass-y abstract trip-hop meets electronica track meanders; swirling gently and indolently in its space like a chilled mystery.

It follows on from a trio of similar previous singles and also acts as a guide towards the upcoming full-length debut LP. Keep a lookout on the site for more details in the future.




Lost Colours  ‘One Space Left’   12th February 2018

Splashing a range of dreamy kaleidoscopic ‘colours’ on their celebratory, almost life-affirming, universal pop psychedelic spectacular One Space Left, the Leeds paint a most ambitious canvas with their debut single. In what will be a busy year going forward for the band, ahead of both their Different Life EP and Talking In Technicolour LP releases (to be released consecutively over the next two months), One Space Left is open invitation to soak up the band’s expansive, even transcendental, ambitions.

Alluding to the Indian subcontinent, this flight of fantasy features the ethereal calls of Rebekah Dobbins (of Nouvelle Vague and The Living Gods Of Haiti fame) drifting over subtle hints of sitar and the echoes of an undulating exotic voyage, as a constant bloom and cycle of drums and stargazing opulence – not a million miles from MGMT or Snowball II – materialize like ether.

A Ty Unwin remix of that same song – one of the three versions on this three-track release that also features an instrumental – strips the song back, sending it towards a dreamscape trance. Unwin reweaves the original threads and vocals, untethering what are already quite float-y and light voices until they become translucent, as samples of those Indian sounds waft in and out of a most vaporous, celestial, atmosphere until reaching the final section of the remix, which introduces sonorous bass and glassy shard percussion.

Lost Colours aim to put ‘huge smiles on peoples faces’ with their cinematic electronic and pop psychedelia, and One Space Left, I can thankfully conform, does just that. I’ll be keeping an ear out and hopefully will bring you more news and a possible review in the near future.




 

%d bloggers like this: