New music reviews/Words: Dominic Valvona





Welcome to Dominic Valvona’s regular reviews roundup. This latest edition of Tickling Our Fancy includes albums, EPs and singles by the Dur-Dur Band, Spike & Debbie, Angels Die Hard, Cassini Division, Vigüela and Kiddus.

As always an eclectic mix of music from around the globe, the latest edition of my reviews jamboree and recommendations includes two albums released through the Benelux-heavy Jezus Factory label; the first, a prog, alt-rock, math rock and Krautrock environmental charged tropical Island soundtrack from Angels Die Hard, the second, an analogue synth driven oceanography purview of the Bermuda Triangle phenomena (released on cassette tape) by Miguel Sosa, under the guises of his Cassini Division moniker. Analog Africa keep up the good work in digging up and reissuing the most essential music from Africa and beyond with their latest and most dangerously sourced album collection yet: the very rare first two albums from the Somalia new wave-funk-reggae-soul-traditional fusion sensations, the Dur-Dur Band.

ARC Music bring us another meticulously researched and performed traditional songbook of music from Spain; the Vigüela troupe, ‘Ronda’ style, once more breathing life into sones, laments, carols and fandangos from the country’s interior; and Tiny Global Productions bring us a compilation of past musical projects from the Afro-Caribbean meets C86 indie partnership Spike & Debbie; and finally we have the brand new EP from the hallucinogenic languid soulful new Bristolian talent Kiddus, Snake Girls.


Dur-Dur Band ‘Dur Dur Of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 And Previously Unreleased Tracks’ (Analog Africa) 14th September 2018

Bravely (or foolishly) indifferent o the climate of the Somalia flashpoint of Mogadishu, Analog Africa’s head honcho Samy Ben Redjeb travelled to the former trading hub jewel of the African NorthEast coast in 2016 to both dig and soak up the atmosphere and history of the very streets and sounds that once provided the infectious deep funk fusions of the legendary Dur-Dur Band.

A failed state in fluxes since the 1990s, Somali and by extension the faction-fighting battleground of its capital is, to put it mildly, bloody dangerous! Accustomed to risky and contentious political no-go zones Redjeb has form in visiting some of Africa’s most volatile hotspots in his pursuit of tracing the artists and original recordings down. This trip, which had been on the cards for years and had become a personal preoccupation, was I imagine hinging on security issues. But with an armed escort (an ad hoc volunteer at that) in tow at all times, Redjeb eventually arrived to source that elusive band’s impressive discography.

Going further than most to prove it was all worthwhile Redjeb digs up one of the funkiest and cool finds from the African continent yet. Embodying a period in the 1980s when Mogadishu could boast of its cosmopolitan reputation – notably the European chic Via Roma stretch in the Hamar-Weyne district, a colonnade for café culture, cinema and of course music – the hybrid Dur-Dur Band moped up the polygenesis fever of their native city with effortless aplomb. Particular places of interest in this story and geography are the iconic moiety of record shops the Shankarphone and Iftinphone, both run by members of the Dur-Dur Band’s nearest rivals, the Iftin Band, and the Jubba Hotel, where the Dur-Dur enjoyed a fractious residency: Balancing this coveted spot at one-point with a, by popular demand, extended run as the backing band for the play ‘Jascyl Laba Ruux Mid Ha Too Rido (May One Of Us Fall In Love)’ play, at the Mogadishu national theatre.

Making an impact, creating a “wow” from the outset, they enjoyed a short reign as the country’s number one band; releasing a quick-succession of albums, the first two volumes of which alongside two previously unreleased tracks make up this, the first in a series of Dur-Dur Band, re-releases. Though certainly a sensational and popular act the civil unrest that followed in the 90s would all but stifle their potential. They would only come to a greater audience outside Somalia via cassette-copying, Youtube and by happenstance; most notably the Milwaukee-based musicologist John Beadle, who in 2007 uploaded a tape he’d been handed twenty years previously by a Somalia student to his Likembe blog. Featured under the now famous ‘Mystery Somali Funk’ heading, Beadle’s post originally miscredited this convulsing funk gem to their Dur-Dur Band’s chief rivals of the time, the already mentioned Iftin Band – a mistake rectified by the Iftin’s band leader, who suggested it was in fact the fabled Dur-Dur.





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

They were fortunate with their insightful founder and keyboard star Isse Dahir who molded a formidable forward-thinking group from a number of other Somali bands, including the rhythm providers, Ujeeri on bass (plucked from the Somali Jazz) and Handel on drums (the Bakaka Band). He also drafted in his siblings, with Abukaron taking on lead guitar and Ahmed enrolled as the band’s permanent sound engineer; a role that partially explains why they became known as one of the country’s ‘best sounding’ groups. The vocals meanwhile, which sway between the spiritually devotional and pop, were split three ways between another former Bakaka Band member, and Daantho style acolyte, Shimaal, the young female singer, whose voice assails the homeland to sound at times almost Indian, Sahra Dawo, and the spaghetti body shaped, nicknamed, Baastow – brought in for his ‘deep knowledge’ of traditional Somali music, in particular the atavistic spirit summoning ‘Saar’, a style perceived as far too dangerous by the manager of the infamous Jubba Hotel for his European guests: “I am not going to risk having Italian tourists possessed by Somali spirits! Stick to disco and reggae.”

Split up across a triple LP and double CD formats the Dur-Dur Band’s first two albums proper, Volumes 1 and 2, and a couple of unreleased tunes feature on this, the first in a promised series of re-issues. Released originally in 1986, the first of these and the band’s debut album, Volume 1, has a rawer unpolished but snazzy sound that saunters, skips and grooves along with aloof coolness to sweltering laidback funk. Opening with wah-wah chops and a fuzzy organ, ‘Ohiyee’ lays down a sophisticated but explosive spiritual dancefloor thriller. This is repeated on the bands first official hit ‘Yabaal’, which turns a traditional song into something approaching the no wave of ESG, mixed with tooting Afrobeat sax and disco swerves. The bendy warbled guitar soloing, snozzled sax fluttering ‘Doon Baa Maraysoo’ sounds like The J.B’s cantering down the Via Roma, or a lost Stax Vaults recording.

Volume 2 by contrast seems a little brighter and tropical; beginning as it does with the dub echoed, Trenchtown pirate radio broadcast ‘Introduction’. Sweeter dreamy saunters meet Muslim belt funk on songs such as ‘Jaceyi Mirahiis’, and on the singles ‘Dab’ and ‘Diinleeya’ you can hear evocations of quasi-reggae: Mogadishu meets Kingston on a spiritual plain!

A highlight in a catalogue of outstanding reissues, the Dur-Dur Band collection is quite unique. And a shining example of African fusions seldom heard outside the borders of its origins. Redjeb’s perseverance has paid off, introducing us to the formidable and exciting Somali polygenesis funk scene of the 80s. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that can compare or compete with this band’s solid sound.




Spike & Debbie  ‘Always Sunshine, Always Rain’  (Tiny Global Productions)  21st September 2018





A convoluted rock family tree, the meandering interwoven historiography behind one of Cardiff’s ultimate underground indie sensations, The Young Marble Giants, draws in the congruous lilted partnership behind this most brilliant new collection from the Tiny Global Productions label.

As a catalyst facilitator for the YMG’s leap from disbandment on the cusp of the 1980s to success and cult status after signing to a burgeoning Rough Trade, Mark ‘Spike’ Williams is perhaps forever immortalized as the ‘guitar pal’ who talked the feted band into recording the two tracks that would turn-around their fortunes: Already a well known figure on the diy Cardiff scene, instigating various projects (Reptile Ranch being just one) and co-founding Z Block Records, he encouraged a dejected YMG into providing a couple of songs for the Is The War Over? compilation; the rest is history as they say.

Forming all manner of collaborations with various YMG band members, Spike has and continues to work with the band’s Alison Statton (originally as the Weekend and currently going under the Bimini moniker), but also formed Bomb And Dagger with more or less the entire Giants lineup in 1983 (an offshoot of another Cardiff obscurity, Splott). From outside the YMG sphere, Bomb And Dagger would feature Debbie ‘Debris’ Pritchard, an artist and disarming vocalist who’d appear alongside Spike under an umbrella of guises including Table Table and The Pepper Trees. From this union a collection is born, Always Sunshine, Always Rain, pretty much a fey summary of the partnerships sighing demeanor and sound collects all manner of recordings from across the full spectrum of their endeavors.

Beautifully sung to a mostly lo fi Afro-Caribbean meets C86 indie backing of scuffling skiffle brushed drums, tropical lilted melodies and post-punk guitar, the sunny disposition of the music is a counterpoint to the political messages that lie at the heart of Debbie’s peaceable protestations and multicultural celebrations. From what is a collection of mostly rare recordings, ‘Strike’ builds a musical union between the under-the-cosh miners of Wales and their kin in South Africa. A post-punk Paul Simon twinning Cardiff indie with Soweto solidarity, ‘Strike’ (a track originally recorded for a miners benefit compilation) is a perfect example of Spike & Debbie’s pleasant shuffling and soulful magic.

Finding a tropical balance between Family Fodder, The Marine Girls and The Raincoats, the duo delivered messages of anxiety, oppression, patriarchal domineering, both physically and mentally (a recurring theme of being suffocated, drained and controlled by a partner in a relationship, permeate) to a most sauntering backing. At times limbering towards Camera Obscura and even the Cocteau Twins, they evoke a fantastical vision of Pauline Black fronting Ludas, though the most odd conjuncture is the elasticated ‘Houses’, which sounds like The Raincoats’ Ana da Silva fronting an Unlimited Edition Can.

For fan and completest alike this collection features the original lo fi quality skitty soul meets ruminating pop ‘Seaport Town’, later revisited by Spike and the Alison Statton, and the ‘Ilkeston’ version of a scratching dawdled guitar and echo-y ‘Assured Energy’, which appeared in a completely different form on the Stuart Moxham (another YMG, but going under The Gist title here) album Holding Pattern.

In chronological order, it is fair to say that most of the compilation has until now remained difficult to acquire or source. Differing in recording quality with slight musical differences between groups of songs, as each project adds or draws in a myriad of inspirations and musicians, this twenty strong collection is full of sunny gentle post-punk gems. The story of Spike & Debbie, their projection across a decade and more, proves an essential and pleasurable missing chapter in the story of the Welsh indie scene.






Angels Die Hard  ‘Sundowner’ (Jezus Factory)  1st September 2018





Keeping to the instrumental group’s psychedelic imaginations the latest concept album from Angels Die Hard is set in the dreamy, if in peril, Monsterism Island meets Les Baxter ethnographic phantasm of a remote Southeast Asian archipelago.

On a sabbatical, retreating to the wilds and ideals of life on the tropical island of Andaman, where, so the faux-legend spill goes, they hoped to find and record the mating call of the Drongo bird, the original trio passed the time playing all the local dives, opium dens and beach clubs. Chancing upon fellow sonic explorer and drummer/percussionist Alain Ryant, who was on a break from playing with Maxon Blewitt & Eriksson-Delcroix, the Angels expanded the ranks to become a quartet after some sort of tribal rites-of-passage style ceremony.

As backpacker anecdotes go this colourful semi-fictional backstory is one of liberal exotica consumption. It does however have a serious note: the ecological impact of a plastics-Moloch consuming society on the brink of a cataclysmic point-of-no-return, as the detritus of a throwaway globalized marketplace leaves no idyllic, isolated paradise untouched. Seeing the plastics efflux wash-up on the coastline of their present haven – a story about the final straw breaking the metaphorical camel’s back was seeing a local ‘sea gipsy’ smoking a bong made out of a Starbucks cup – the Angels were feted to dedicate, at least partially, their third and newest album, Sundowner, to this environmental tragedy. Of course a sizable chunk is also dedicated to those old tropes of emotional complexity (more specifically and blushingly, the ‘complex sensations’ before and after the act of lovemaking); articulated somehow in the group’s instrumental sagas and workouts.

Imbued with a legacy of progressive, alt-rock, psych, exotica and post-punk influences plus Julian Cope’s Krautrock compendium, the Angels transduce and channel a cornucopia of styles once more. Though this album doesn’t truly come alive until it reaches the VHS esoteric Western soundtrack title-track. It’s the first time we hear the arpeggiator neon space dream sequences, mixed with a panoramic Adam’s Castle view of psychedelic math rock: and highly dramatic and highly atmospheric it sounds too. Slower waveforms and smoke-machine effects appear on the lost Sky Records Kosmische meets Moroder cult theme tune meets Air ‘Dancing Algae’. But this album really gets going on the lengthy epic ‘Gutter Glory’, a two-part fantasy that progresses from a holy union of late 70s Eno, Jah Wobble and Andean soaring noodling to a full-on Brainticket sonic assault. Almost its twin in scale, ‘Acid Beach’ reimagines mid-70s Amon Duul II and Battles beachside at Cape Canaveral: the guitars mimicking a space shuttles thrusters and boosters.

Earlier tracks sound like space cowboy peregrinations accompanied by a cosmic reimagined vision of early U2 and Simple Minds, Holy Fuck and a motorik version of dEUS: A lot of ideas bouncing around inside the group’s shared mind-meld. They end on the album’s most serene if plaintive meditation, ‘Dirty Sunset’; a Floydian kind of jazzy blues serenading, with guitar notes falling like tears, the last image saved, the sun going down on a besmirched paradise: a downer bro.

You got to hand it to the Angels for expanding their horizons (literally), though far too many tracks end up going nowhere particularly new or rewarding. Yet when they do get it right they produce some fantastic opuses of amorphous abandon. Beachcombing a radioactive luminous landscape of musical opportunity they produce one of their best albums yet.






Cassini Division ‘Bermudas’ (Jezus Factory)  August 31st 2018





The enigma that is the Bermuda Triangle, a confounding phenomena, a twilight zone of improbability, a loosely demarcated area in the North Atlantic Ocean that has been written about and inspired countless generations. Unexplained disappearance central, a chasm for the ships and aircraft that have either lost momentarily or forever within its dimensions, the Bermuda Triangle (also called the Devil’s Triangle) lies across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. For though hundreds of incidents have been recorded over the centuries, they form an almost insignificant percentage of the overall traffic that made it through this mysterious void unscathed. Many of these disappearances have been exaggerated and misreported, so accounts are spurious. Yet this hasn’t stopped the endless flow of conspiracy theories: extraterrestrial interference being top of the list alongside inter-dimensional fantasies, the paranormal and governmental maleficence.

Jezus Factory stalwart Miguel Sosa, better known for his part in the bands Strumpet, iH8 Camera, Monguito and Parallels, composes a conceptual purview of not only the Triangle but the surrounding geography on his analogue cosmic cassette tape special, Bermudas. Under the solo Cassini Division mantle, beaming an experimental score from his Buenos Aires studio, Sosa seems to be having fun with his 70s/80s rack of switchboard patches and analogue equipment, retuning and configuring the pioneering quirkiness of fellow Argentine Waldo Belloso, the more Kosmische soaring otherworldliness of Tangerine Dream, and on the album’s scarier foreboding and wilder moments (‘Tropical Cyclone’ for one), a union of John Carpenter’s score for The Fog and W. Michael Lewis & Mark Lindsay’s soundtrack for Shogun Assassin.

A barely veiled tribute to the burgeoning age of the Moog and ARP Odyssey this kooky experiment is filled with all the signature burbles, wobbles, modulations/oscillations you’d expect to hear; from the primordial soup miasma to the bubbling apparatus of a mad scientist and 8-bit loading sounds of a Commodore 64 game. Every now and then you hear something really odd, especially when the drum machine is added; tight-delayed paddled snares and toms are rapidly sped-up or strung out and staggered. There’s even, what sounds like, a marimba on the Tangerine Dream transmogrify The Beach Boys ‘Seaweed Theme’.

For the most part articulating looming otherworldly leviathans and ominous confusion, Bermudas extends UFO period Guru Guru with a supernatural oceanography of submarine sonar rebounds and tidal motion sine waves. Arthur C. Clarke’s Cradle meets Chariots Of The Gods; Sosa’s analogue visions channel every facet of the Triangle’s legacy – the alien, supernatural, human and environmental -, his track titles plotting interesting and relevant historical and topographical references to events such as the point (or plateau) from which the Transatlantic cable started to the natural phenomenon of this region’s hazardous weather conditions.

As a break from the catalogue of bands he often plays with and leads, the Cassini Division instrumental psychogeography proves a worthy oddity of analogue synth curiosity.






Vigüela ‘A Tiempo Real – A New Take On Spanish Tradition’ (ARC Music) 24th August 2018


 

As the title of the latest album by the much-acclaimed Spanish troupe Vigüela makes clear, this atavistic imbued group of adroit multi-instrumentalists and singers offer a revitalization, a twist on the traditional paeans, chants, carols and yearning songs of their native homeland: especially their own El Carpiode Tajo village. Traditionally the music that permeates throughout Vigüela’s signature sound was never meant for the stage, but is played informally, almost unrehearsed, throughout the hamlets and villages of Spain’s interior.

Meandering through a timeless landscape finding and learning all manner of old customs, always ready to be taught or re-educated, an introductory anecdote from the group’s Juan Antonio Torres Delgado goes some way encapsulating both Vigüela’s methodology and inspirations. Torres believing he was quite well informed when it came to the courtship dance and folk song style of the Spanish ‘Jota’, was soon humbled by one of its leading lights, the singer Tia Chata, who he’d made a special pilgrimage to see in her home village of Menasalbas (located within the Toledo province, where the lion’s share of the music on this ambitious collection derives). Bringing out his guitar and (bearing in mind Torres is a pretty deft accomplished player) striking up a Jota rhythm, he was abruptly stopped in his flow by his muse: “Dear boy, you don’t know how to play the Jota. Wait until my husband comes home from work, he will show you.” The lady was right, once her husband returned home after work he really did show Torres how to play it. Though to be fair the Jota differs from region to region, each part of the country adopting its own unique version. As a testament to both their commitment and intergenerational interactions, learning and keeping local traditions alive, it proves a good one.

Returning to the source, adopting various customs on the way, they take a particular fancy to the ‘walking and singing in the street’ custom of ‘Ronda’. They reinterpret this unplugged carousing and minstrel like performance style alongside of others, including Christmas carols, ‘Seguidillas’, ‘Sones’ and the ‘Fandango’.

Spread over two discs with a generous running time of a hundred minutes, A Tiempo Real showcases not only the soul and aching heart of Spain but of course also shows off the masterful musicianship and voices of the groups meticulous lineup, which often expands to accommodate even more players: increasing in this case, from a quartet. Pretty much tapping, rubbing, peddling, plucking and strumming every sort of Spanish instrument they could lay their hands on, as well as a hardware store of miscellaneous object that include bottles and kitchen utensils, Vigüela go to work on their songbook collection.

With a more stripped and pared down accompaniment the first CD of this double album features an accompaniment of bottle-washer rattling percussion, huffing blows from an instrument (think a ceramic trombone crossed with a heifer) I can’t identify and the strange ‘Zambomba’ drum (traditionally used for music at Christmas to accompany chants and carols; played by hand with sticks or metal brushes). The impressive duets, call and response and chorus ensemble vocals are prominent above this backing. From rustic bewailing to robust a capella, these voices are all stoic, pained and even critical: Songs such as the theatrical, wry but joyful ‘Eldemonio El Calderero (The Demon Coppersmith)’ are characterized as a ‘Romance story’, yet you will find a satirical criticism within the lyrics, aimed at the Catholic Church. Raw but beautiful, endurance reigns above all else; the dreams and love trysts of a rural population exquisitely bound up in effortless serenades and Cantina porch sways, Vigüela bring us reverberations of Española, the Arabic Spain, and its overseas colonies in Northwestern and Southern America.

Metaphorical lovers depicted as birds (‘El Pájaroya Voló and ‘Arrímate, Pichón, A Mi’), laments brought back from the frontlines of war in 19th century Cuba (‘Allá En La Habana’) and tribunes to love interests (‘Moreno Mío, Cuán To Te Quiero’ and ‘La Niña De Sevilla’) are given a new lease of life by Vigüela. Straddling eras, blowing off the dust, they inject a bit of energy and dynamism back into the songs of their ancestors.

Taking a slightly different route on the second CD, the guitars are finally unleashed; courtship dances and songs of defiance now feature a fuller, sometimes cantering rhythm and flourish. Those signature trills, crescendos and unfurled castanets now accent or punctuate this songbook, giving it a great deal more volume, yet still subtle enough to accommodate and not override the beautiful chorus of voices.

It’s not integral – though this is every bit as academic a recording as it is an entertaining performance – but the linear notes, which are extensive, provide a providence and go some way to explaining exactly what you’re listening to and how Vigüela personalized it: Take ‘Que Si Quieres, Moreno’, a typical melodic variant from Campo de Montiel en La Mancha de Ciudad Real, it differs from some styles and ways of playing the Fandango by featuring the signature accent on the first beat. It helps to know all this of course to fully appreciate the group’s skill and attention to detail.

Already attracting plaudits in Spanish music circles, Vigüela could always do with finding a wider audience for their sincere interpretations and twists on the traditional music of the regions they research and relive. Hopefully this latest album will help; it will certainly enhance their reputation if nothing else. With a foot in both eras, they bridge the divides and generations to encapsulate the provincially isolated spirit of Spain; reaffirming a joy but also preserving songs previously neglected and forgotten.



Kiddus ‘Crazy You (Video/Single)’ & ‘Snake Girls (EP)’  TBA/Sometime in October

If Drake or The Young Fathers had made a record with the Anticon or UNO label it wouldn’t have sounded too dissimilar to the upcoming EP from the teenage Bristolian enigma, Kiddus. Shifting between hallucinogenic states of listless discord, Kiddus’ cathartic visages melt with languid beauty throughout. Dripping R&B amorphously merges with hip-hop and reverberations of The Gazelle Twin, Chino Amobi and the sort of neo-experimental electronic soul that sits well over at Erased Tapes on every track of this impressive release.

Just like The Gazelle Twin before him, Kiddus transmogrifies his own version of a Prince classic, ‘Crazy You’. The lead single from Snake Girls, this transformation of an early Prince classic replaces the original’s tingling percussion, falsetto and oozing sexuality with something far more sauntering, beat-y and loose. It sounds great: an over-layering acid trip of veiled soulful sadness and sophistication.

That quality of lingering sadness and nuanced encrypted inspirations is spread throughout the rest of the EP’s assuage meanderings. ‘Dreaming In 30 Fps’ and ‘Vapid Me’ (as the title suggests) are as vaporously float-y as they are disorientating. Multiple samples linger and echo in and out of focus, mirroring and articulating the various conflictions and anxieties of the young artist; building into a chaotic crescendo on the Radiohead-esque cyclonic drum fitting ‘ARGH’. Indolently beautiful in a dreamy psychosis, the finale ‘theplumeetwhenuronurown’ features fragmented warnings and a quant sample that disarms a message, perhaps, of terminally drifting off into a never-ending sleep.

Snake Girls is essentially a soul record: a deeply soulful one at that. A recontextualized vision of troubadour soul crooning, lost in a confused hyper-digitized virtual reality, Kiddus’ senses blinker, light up and then dissipate to a 21st century soundtrack of pliable experimentation.



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DOMINIC VALVONA’S ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC REVIEW ROUNDUP



Welcome back after the Christmas holidays to the inaugural 2018 edition of my TOF reviews; plenty to get through, so without further ado let’s have a quick run through of this month’s releases.

In a blaze of transmogrified 80s inspirations, Merrill Garbus kicks off 2018 with a honed and vibrant new Tune-Yards LP, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, and Danish artist Soho Rezanejad poses a striking celestial and throbbing distressed staccato shimming opus on gender, roots and futurism politics with her debut LP Six Archetypes. From the new Spanish imprint, Insane Muzak, we have an extensive collection of diy style cassette tape recordings and mayhem from Spain’s burgeoning underground scene of the 80s. Making their debut on Ian Button’s cottage industry Kent label Gare du Nord, Estuary trio The Cold Spells offer up their first incantation style psychedelic and folk long player. With an already packed schedule of new release and bands planned for 2018, Stolen Body Records kick off the year with the space rock garage and shoegaze of Detroit’s Moonwalks, and before they plow forward with a busy roster of new releases, I take a look at the last two albums of 2017 from the Greek ‘boutique’ label, Sound In Silence: a heavenly ascendant ambient drone collection from A Lily and an emotional classical meets Baroque and electronica suite from Jason Sweeney.


Tune-Yards   ‘I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life’
4AD,  18th January 2018

 

Reassembling the alternating lowercase and capital letter typography of her polygenesis nom de plume for a less rambunctious mnemonic on this latest offering, Merrill Garbus refines and pars down the kaleidoscopic Haitian and bubblegum neo-geo pop of 2015’s Nikki Nack triumph for something more attuned to the post-Trump epoch. Still under the Tune-Yards banner, officially billed as a duo, Garbus is back with her longtime collaborators and foil Nate Brenner on this ruminating dance album.

Also still clattering with a glimmer of those Hispaniola and African rhythm, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life mines that most popular of decades, the 80s, for its inspiration. Highly sophisticated and always inventive Garbus and Brenner bounce amorphously between Chicago House, electro, ESG and the merest hints of Lodger era Bowie – the feel and melody of African Nite Flights instantly springs to mind when listening to Colonizer. Dub scales and ponderous bass guitar, kinetic beats, lamenting trilling saxophone, modern pop R&B and synthesized whip cracking percussion are added to this colourful mix of dynamics.

Vocally and lyrically flexing Garbus’ voice throughout, from lullaby to bordering on gospel, the hot topics of the last two years are inwardly auspice and conveyed via repetitive sloganist repose, lines from personal experience and augers; much of which features a MPC transmogrified robotic vocal effect – Garbus says this is to counter the sincerity, though it adds an often warbled warped reverb and manipulation (trapped in the machine) to her voice, it odes little to diminish the emotional pull and anger.

Race, politics, ‘intersectional feminism’, and environmental concerns – a very apt burning California analogy appears on the nursery rhyme damnation ABC 123 – are all run through the vibrant, soulful electro fantasia of Tune-Yards most psychedelic pop signature. Clever, sharp, indicative of a weary worried section of outsider, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life sounds like Grace Jones mixing it up with Deerhunter, St.Vincent and the LCD Soundsystem at the foot of Trump Towers.









V/A   ‘Golpea Tu Cerebro: Spanish Underground Cassette Culture 1980 – 1988’
Insane Muzak,  15th January 2018

 

‘Rock music is dead. It’s absolutely repulsive.’Arturo Lanz (Disco Actualidad) 1981.

Unleashed in the dying embers of Franco’s dictatorial epoch, Spain’s generation X screamed and riled with an unchecked geyser like gush of industrial, avant-garde, noise and lo fi analogue electronica experimental defiance. Still confined to the outsiders underground status, Spain’s new guard, inspired by the punk and post developments of the UK and especially – as you’ll hear aped throughout this collection – Cabaret Voltaire, Psychic TV, Throbbing Gristle and SPK, let loose with a torrid of primal, often maniacal, and extreme sonic and vocal transmogrifications.

Set into motion by early pioneers of the scene such as Esplendor Geométrico (from Madrid) whose first single in 1981 and ‘fabled’ EGO 1 cassette release from ‘82 are both considered worthy exponents and torchbearers for the underground scene, a golden period is documented by Alex Carretero of Guerssen Records in a generous – if exhausting and challenging an experience – double album set; complete with scholarly liner notes and research.

Honing in on the cassette tape phenomenon especially, the platform medium of choice for a generation with scant resources any only the most basics of recording equipment, Carretero’s choice favourites track the key developments in a diy scene originally spread via fanzines and the burgeoning ‘free’ radio stations that began to pop up in the aftermath of Spain’s fascistic past.





Imbued by both Spain’s instigation of Surrealism, and to an extent its predecessor Dadaism, and by George Maciunas’ ludicrous Fluxus movement of 60s/70s America, including composers Nam June Paik and George Brecht, the cassette kids – and many of the artists behind these tracks were just that when they started out – channeled the absurd, the madness, into their political, often hostile, sound manipulations.

Be warned. Many of these tracks can test the patience: my neighbours must have thought I was torturing some poor screaming unfortunates next door, such is the agonizing distressed screams that feature heavily in these uncompromising mind fucks.

Fucked-up reel-to-reel and squealing tape manipulations abound as abstract white noise and obscured voices bark, pant, shrill and cry for help from beyond the void (check out an extract from Brigada Nadie’s Sin Título and Bulbo Raquídeo’s Cuando Me Entra El Teléle for starters – the translation of the later offering a surreal metaphorical description, ‘when the telephone enters me’).

Strangulated daemonic entities squeal in terrifying reverb madness (Línea Táctica Ambient Music For Empty Congress), a Tangerine Dream alien invasion force oscillates in orbit above Earth (Iéximal Jélimite La Noche De Las Vísceras Palpitantes), and a primal yodeling Tarzan is devoured by his own companions (ZusammenWachsen Sin Títule) on what is an often harrowing mix of experimental pain and lunacy.

Constantly fuzzy and distorted, there are however the odd signs of relief as Casio keyboard melodies, Kosmische style drones and swells and post-punk riffs prop up: for example, Oh-Casio-Ón (as the moniker suggests) switch on the Yellow Magic Orchestra accompaniment preset on Anuncios Pur Palabras, and El Coleccionista De Poliedros scrape together cutlery and what sounds like a churning washing machine drum to produce a Stone Age techno beat on Golpea Tu Cerebro. There’s even the tinkling of a transmogrified piano, a slurred and speeded-up Flamenco song and banshee singing hidden in amongst the gabbling tape spool fuckery.



From the primordial soup to the paranormal, the industrial to hallucinogenic. The pummeling punishment of a pneumatic drill to white noise ambience, there’s a constant reverberating atmosphere of distress and forbade; a sonic Guernica, a political howl from deep transduced via homemade equipment on the cheapest of mediums.

The inaugural release on Alex Carretero’s (appropriately named) new label, this extensive collection shines a fanzine style obsessive light on the Spanish underground, illuminating one of the country’s most avant-garde envelope-pushing decades of musical exploration and sonic pain. Not for the faint of heart.



The Cold Spells   ‘S/T’
Gare du Nord,  2nd February 2018

 

Strange bucolic manifestations linger on the outskirts that divide East London and the border of Essex; the bedroom pastoral psychedelic troupe The Cold Spells, the latest group of Estuary dwellers to join Ian Button’s Kent label Gare du Nord, lurk on the edges like ghosts looking in.

Not so much a reference to weather fronts as an illusion to magic, the Morse code styled typography structured to resemble a traditional ‘Abracadabra’ incantation. Esoterically gentle and wistful, the trio’s debut long player is a gauze-y organic and ambiguous (to a point) affair of undulating ‘moss covered’ circuitry, folk, quintessential English psych, paisley patterned hallucinogens and Kosmische.

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

At any one time you can expect to hear not only the warping reversal effects and Magical Mystery Tour and transduced Eleanor Rigby lonely lament musicality of The Beatles but also shades of Nico, Robert Wyatt, Kaleidoscope, Shirley Collins, Cluster and Martin Carthy – The Ghosts Of Them What Didn’t Make It sounds like a WWI Western Front Jona Lewie.

Meanderingly evoking the age old themes of death, love and everything via the 60s halcyon embrace of Lewis Carroll and his strange acid dazed literary chums, a “painted wooden horse” both resembles the magical Freudian symbolism of Leonora Carrington’s children’s rocking horse and the Trojan tragedy Greek gift horse as a metaphor for escaping pressures and misunderstanding: mounting a most sad immobile steed, going nowhere.

As I’ve already stated, The Cold Spells is a quintessential English record, with its daemonic countryside – a place of beauty but atavistic surreal dangers and magic too – and seafaring rich tapestry of analogy. Channeling an age of ghostly memories, the ancestors inhabit the band’s present to address the here and now concerns of a troubled, unstable world. A most brilliant, magical if troubled album.





Moonwalks   ‘In Light (The Scales In The Frame)’
Stolen Body Records,   January 26th 2018

 

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

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

Throwing up a wall of multilayered, almost continuous, twisting reverb and phaser effect guitars and motorik to ritualistic totem heavy drumming the feel of this, the group’s first international release, is that of a controlled interstellar maelstrom. Taking flight on the grinding trebly oscillating opener, A Little Touch Of Gravity, the lunar imbued group head into a musical vacuum of Hawkwind space rock influences. But by the Cultish esoteric Dust Is Magic we’re plunged dreamily into BRMC or The Black Angels on a Scorpio Rising kick territory.

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

Vocally malaise with only the odd lyric picked out by myself, the voices wafts between Siouxsie Sioux, Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy and Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell. Of course it fits the nebulous cosmic doom and dreamy psych style of the group perfectly, ambiguous, drifting through magical rites and petulant as it is.

Bringing one of Detroit’s burgeoning underground acts, hopefully, to a wider audience outside their home state, the most brilliant Bristol label Stolen Body Records kick off the year on a high with another worthy addition to their roster. I’ll be keeping an eye on the band’s progress for sure.






A Lily  ‘Ten Drones On Cassette’
Sweeney  ‘Middle Ages’
Both available now through Sound In Silence

 

From the fag end of 2017 a pair of cinematic ambient suites and emotionally yearned songs from the collectables boutique Athens label, Sound In Silence.

The purveyors of limited edition experiments and works of sonic art, the Greek label’s roster of artists has recently been boosted by the addition of the Brighton based musician James Vella, better known as A Lily. A member of the post-rock outfit Yndi Halda, Vella has also carved out a name for himself producing a mix of ambient, folktronica and classical releases for a myriad of labels, including Dynamophone, Fierce Panda and Love Thy Neighbour.

Navigating solo into heavenly ambient spheres, Vella’s first album for the label (his first full length record since 2011) is a subtle minimalist collection of cinematic drones that ascend and ebb between the mysterious and ethereal. Each track – inspired by or named after a specific person – on this cassette tape conceptualized album serenely hovers above the clouds. Atmospherically encircling smoky valleys (Hildur) or hauntingly mimicking angelic choral breaths (Jas), Vella’s sonic imaginings are mostly majestic, spiraling in a dappled intriguing light. There are however slightly denser evocations and signs of alien forbade: for instance, the otherworldly tubular and humming gateway to a parallel dimension soundtrack, Miles, and the Zeppelin engine leviathan gliding Konstantin.

A collection of pulchritude drone currents with ascendant and subtle gravitas, Ten Drones On Cassette is surprisingly melodic in places. Neither warm nor cold, but just right, it is a quality ambient experience, and cinematic in scope. Limited, as are all Sound In Silence releases, to only 200 handmade and hand-numbered copies – better than its original release, confined to just one copy of each track on a separate cassette – you can thankfully access it via the label’s Bandcamp page. And it rightly deserves a wider audience.





Complimentary but quite different, the second release from the label is a neo-soul classical tumult of emotional suffrage and mythical yearning love from the Adelaide musician, interactive artist and composer Jason Sweeney.

Recording for the last two decades under a stream of solo guises (Panoptique Electrical, Simpática) and with friends in various groups (far too many to name, but includes Pretty Boy Crossover, Sweet William and Par Avion), Sweeney pours his heart out, making use of his back catalogue and wider projects producing work for galleries and theatre, on his latest romantic heart-wrenching album, Middle Ages. As the title suggests – though could also be a reference to a middle age crisis – this album features a sort of Medieval trace of the choral; a hymn-like venerated beauty of yore. You could say it had a timeless quality, blending as it does the classical with subtle electronica elements, including misty and peaceable synth.

With collaborators Jed Palmer and Zoë Barry providing plaintive, accentuate and pining string arrangements (though they both also offer bass, guitar and accordion accompaniment) to Sweeney’s elegant melodic piano and mournful, Antony Hegarty meets James Blake, vocals, there’s a real elegiac quality to this mix of suffused Baroque poetry and sophisticated dramatic malady.

Thematically an album about men, or rather the spurned or requited love for them, but also a commentary on man’s place in the world, both old and contemporary, from birth to eventual death – check the morbidly curious full-circle-is-complete leitmotif of the curtain call, Burial. Beautifully sung, Sweeney exudes a sort of worshipped love for the Man Of Dreams on one of the album’s most tender enchanting paeans: Sweeney’s object of affection conjurer’s up a Greek warrior from the side of an earthenware vase. A love carried across an ancient timeline, there’s Talk Talk like odes to goddesses (Oh Goddess), Scott Walkeresque poetry (End Of Men) and swelling orchestral chamber pop diorama (Night At Spirit Lake).

Tender and fraught, moving and at times deeply sad, Middle Ages is a mature literary rich and mythological cerebral highlight from a musician at the top of his game.






Soho Rezanejad  ‘Six Archetypes’
Silicone Records,  19th January 2018

 

Impressive in all its striking celestial and throbbing distressed staccato shimmer the experimental Danish artist Soho Rezanejad’s ethereal but equally futurist dystopian ambitious new LP, Six Archetypes, is a bold exploration of identity politics.

Interplaying six of the major character symbols (The Guardian, The Orphan, The Seeker, The Russian, The Idealist, The Prostitute) from the Tarot with Carl Jung’s Psychological writings on the collective and structured reality, Rezanejad weaves the complex contemporary themes of gender liquidity and self-discovery into an amorphous mix of electronica, darkwave and Gothic pop suites.

Though not always audible, Rezanejad’s untethered vocals – vaporous and often ghostly undulating in an aria style – whisper, coo, lull, pant, wrench and shout throughout the shard majestic and multilayered intricate backing of synthesized, programmed, modeled sounds. It’s a striking voice too. At times, such as the beautiful but serious stellar flight of the navigator, Bjork meets Chino Amobi, rotary opener Pilot The Guardian, she sounds like Nico. And at other times, such as the lush Bowie/Sylvian synchronicity, Soon, her vocals sound like a mixture of Jesus Zola and Lykke Li.

Whilst lyrics float, linger and carve through the microtonal melodies and ambient visages, we have to wait until the Actor’s Monologue to hear, in almost clarity, Rezanejad’s stark phaser modulated rapid flowing message of protest: advocating an escape from the restrictions of the body you were born into; that the mind is all; and that normality is suppression.

Fluidity musically as well as lyrically and thematically, there’s echoes of space-age darkness Massive Attack on the “moonless world” cry of the plaint Reptile, scuttling panoramic metallic techno on the heartbeat-based pulse of Intermezzo, and transmorphic avant-jazz on the broody romantic December Song.

Returning to the soil, so to speak, Rezanejad saves her most heartfelt yearn until the end; lovingly but starkly impassioned, singing in her ancestral tongue of Farsi – Rezanejad is the daughter of first generation Iranian immigrants – the National Council Of Resistance Of Iran’s alternative national song in protest against the state’s heavy-handed ideology. With its Middle Eastern exotic forbade and plaintive beauty, Elegie speaks of exile and proves to be a perceptive song to include in these anxious times as the world (well unlikely figures such as Trump at least) watches to see what happens next with the small but significant current demonstrations in the country that began last month in 2017 – calling for jobs and an end to economic failures, a movement of protest has spread throughout Iran and been met with strong resistance; though at the time of writing this review, at least 20 plus protesters had been killed and thousands arrested.

An ambitious debut opus of dark beauty and ominous despair, Six Archetypes is a highly impressive cosmology of gender, roots and futurism politics and narratives, perhaps already a 2018 creative highlight.





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