ALBUM REVIEW
Andrew C. Kidd

Christina Vantzou, Michael Harrison and John Also Bennett ‘Self-Tilted’
(Séance Centre)

The Séance Centre is one of those labels that rove. They are a little bit like Phaethon with headphones except that they are in control of the chariot. From the map-making Schleswig​-Holstein Aufnahmen (Phil Struck) to the modular musings of Kobzir (Oren Cantrell) and dubby zings of Le Sommeil Vertical (Shelter) they command a central place in the cobbled and too-often potholed ambient avenue of today. Bandcamp Daily even featured them in one of their revues last year. Before Dominic Valvona (Editor of The Monolith Cocktail) contacted me about this self-titled release, I had listened to Fly Me to the Moon (Joseph Shabason/ Vibrant Matter) during a Bandcamp lottery play day earlier this year.

So enter Christina Vantzou, Michael Harrison and John Also Bennett with a very different sound. Their principal instrument is the piano, played by Harrison. There is clever use of droning synthetics by Bennett. Under Vantzou’s direction (or “observation”, as alluded to in the pre-release information provided by the label), their tri-synergy is powerful. It is a difficult sound to describe. I have tried a few different approaches to summarising what has been offered here. The creator of the faded geometric artwork that accompanies the album (Parul Gupta) is quoted as saying that “the songs feel like an extension of silence”. I think this is an accurate description.

The listener is immediately met by ‘Open Delay’, which wave-forms and disfigures to scale its octaves. Notes are held before being gently released. The left hand keys are altered and rustle quietly in the background. ‘Tilang (33SC)’ opens up to showcase more technical pianistic nous. A tilang is a classical Indian raga, or form of melodic improvisation. Both the ascent up (arohana) and descent down the scale (avarohana) are played here. The piano on this album is the string of a sitar, and the synth is the plucking of a tanpura.

There are beautifully expressive moments on the album, such as those played on ‘Bageshri’ and ‘Joanna’. More on ‘Bageshri‘ later. The piano notes of Joanna play atop a droning and subtly changing synth backdrop. The piano notes have an indefinable depth of feeling. I cannot tell if loss or joy was felt when the composer penciled this. I suppose it does not matter as each emotion inevitably self-circles to meet the other in the ceaseless sphere of life. This contrasts heavily with the discord of ‘Piano on Tape’. The left hand of the piano climbs a seemingly unattainable summit. It is masterfully contained.

Electronics feature heavily in tracks such as ‘Sirens’ and ‘Open Delay’. The former opens with a Vangelis-esque whorl of modular synths, as if wind is coursing through its coiled and interconnecting wires. There are analogue ‘Subotnicktronics’ that dial in later. The elongated acoustics melt in like long notes played on a future accordion where the ivories have been replaced by emotionally receptive faders. The album at times feels like a giant echo chamber.

‘Open Delay 2’ shares reverberances with its predecessor. It is more fragmented though, as if some of the wavelengths have been swallowed in the endless ether of space. The same can be said of the heptatonic ‘Harp of Yaman (33SC)’. When viewed on my music player, its amplitudes display as a sawtooth-like waveforms. The tone is not sharp but muted. Its denouement is an album highlight where deep bass notes gradually climb to grace note at the scale’s peak.

As previously alluded to, ‘Bageshri’ is beautiful. A bageshri is a raga that portrays the emotions of a lover’s reunion. In this piece we have the soft interplay of finely balanced notes that are sustained by clever foot peddling. An introspective motif appears around its halfway mark and expands to hit piercingly high top notes that tie. The frequencies do not exceed pianissimo or mezzo piano. A feeling of anticipation is invoked here. The entire piece also sits within a major key, which is joyous. It gently filters away in quasi niente. What a peaceful way to conclude this most delicate and modest of albums.

ALBUM REVIEW
Andrew C. Kidd

Jill Richards/Kevin Volans  ‘Études’
(Diatribe Records)

Kevin Volans is probably most famous for the 1984 Kronos reworking of White Man Sleeps. His beginnings in South Africa to the Neue Einfacheit (in English, New Simplicity) of West Germany with the theorist Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose seminal sine-waves and soundscapes shaped the landscape we understand in electronic music today, are well-documented. The Man With Footsoles of Wind, an opera about the enterprise of the influential poet Arthur Rimbaud in Ethiopia, remains very much on my ‘listening wishlist’. Volans is obviously a musicologist. He is undoubtedly a modernist. This is 2022. He has offered us Études, a collection of his own previously unreleased solo piano works performed by Jill Richards and a second-half where he performs Liszt. The listener has been invited into “a sound world” with “extremely complex and challenging arrangements”. There is also an allusion to twenty fingers playing, rather than ten. These are just some of the insights that accompany the liner notes. My following review reflects the two halves of this collection.

Jill Richards plays Kevin Volans

Jill Richards by Graham de Lacy

An étude is a short piece of music that demonstrates skill. The skill is in the composition as well as the performance. Jill Richards, an accomplished pianist and long-standing collaborator of Volans, opens with the Second Étude. It is a rift of split chords and dissociated notation. There are mirroring moments: chords that delve inwards, returning later at varying degrees, but never selfsame. The piece is steady but not stately. It is measured, and open. Throughout this first half, this openness, or rather, these open spaces, are particularly evident on the Seventh Étude where the musical interstices are left unfilled. He also offers more fleeting movements such as the brushed-stabs that flee as harmonic echoes on the Fourth Étude and the alarm-like opening to the First Étude. The latter piece has a walk-around dance motif which toes lightly over the weighty bass clef. Volans opts to juxtapose the tempos of his works on Études. He presses for accelerando whilst raising the reins of decelerando. The icy and pointed Third Étude marks a sudden departure from the glacial kinesia of the Second Étude. The notes of the former rise and fall. Nothing is sequential. There is rhythmic abandonment, best evidenced by the First Étude. The Sixth Étude is an example of anti-meter. It quietly stirs. The Seventh Étude is periodic and concludes by disintegrating completely.

Kevin Volans plays Franz Liszt

Kevin Volans by Jose Pedro Salinar

From the glissandos that flitter away like rippling caustics of light through water on Fountains Of The Villa D’este to the sweeping whorl of Transcendental Étude No 11 Harmonies Du Soir, Volans captures the beauty and rhythmic complexity of Lizst. On Cypresses Of The Villa D’este, a padding crescendo presses and stresses and accentuates. Liszt’s transcription of Wagner’s Liebestod (from the German, liebe, love, and tod, death) was originally the concluding act to Wagner’s operatic drama, Tristan und Isolde. The famous five-note motif is delicately played by Volans. The lovers are beside one another. The piano slowly grows, the tremolandi becomes stronger, the accelerando pulses, the appassionato intensifies. There is quiet transfiguration in its concluding major key. Here Isolde is weeping over the dead Tristan. The calando that Volans plays out continues to emanate away into the lull and loft of her tears that river and mouth and basin. The theme is solemn, yet the piano notes wave and glint away like sun-glitter. The listener is carried outwards to drift on this sonorous and sonic sea. My water metaphor was inspired by the libretto from Tristan: “ertrinken, versinken, – unbewusst, – höchste Lust!” (in English, “to drown, to founder – unconscious – utmost bliss!”).

I consider Études to be a diptych. Volans showcases his pianistic skill and appreciation of the transformative romanticism of Liszt. There is catharsis in the atonality and arrhythmia of his preceding compositions that blow open like air. In the interstitial spaces of each half, he beckons the listener into darkness, yet ultimately bathes us in light.

ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita ‘Echo’
(bendigedig) 27th May 2022

Marking a decade-long collaboration, the harmonic pairing of Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegal kora player and vocalist Seckou Keita are back with the third in a trilogy of cross-lineage, cross-cultural and cross-border gilded rich albums.

Imbued by traditions that go back centuries, Finch’s legacy includes Celtic folklore, the classical and the harp’s age-old reverence – Finch was at one time the UK’s Royal Harpist to Prince Charles, a revered title revived at the turn of the millennium, last used during the Autumn years of Queen Victoria’s reign. Keita can trace his lineage back to a long line of Griot bards and kings, and through his father, right back directly to the Medieval Malian Empire’s founder Sunjata Keita.

Garnering much critical and creative praise for their previous SOAR (2018) and Clychau Dibon (2013) records, the duo, caught up like the rest of us obviously in the pandemic, suffered the travails of social-distancing to complete this latest shared experience of loss, reflection and hope. Unable to work this incredible, adroit collaboration of instruments remotely however, both partners in this international union managed to book a conference room in a hotel on the outskirts of Birmingham, in the UK. 

Possibly not the most inspiring of locations, both removed artists found themselves having to reconnect, as if from scratch, separated as they had been by distance, and of course with lockdowns: concentrating on those closer to home and pursing more localized projects. 

As sparks and prompts, accumulated projects as varied as a ballet score to TV commissions, festival collaborations and work-in-progress sketches offered a framework on which to build new ideas. It helps that both maestros of their disciplines have an enviable CV and plenty of experience, awards and concert performances (more than 200) to their names. And so this distance, break in the creative period couldn’t hold the partnership back from picking up on where they left off, pre-Covid.

The backstory to this partnership, a bringing together of musical spheres and instrumentation from, what looks on the surface unrelated, suddenly makes sense; a harmonious connection, fueled by the duo’s last two albums together. For the very first time, Echo welcomes the addition of a strings; a couple of violin, viola, cello and double-bass players from Cardiff. The initial idea was inspired by the partnerships work in 2021 with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Here it offers a whole new layer, and a swell of moving classicism and a cinematic score quality to the weaved and enchanted sounds of the harp and kora.  

As always, each composition tells a story, is motivated by the personal and organically showcases a particular unique tuning and skill without losing sight of the melody. Devoid of soulless displays of virtuoso Echo draws the listener right into the moment.

Despite the horrendous last two years, the album actually starts with a peaceable, charmed and gliding display of hope. Originally the ‘overture’ score for the ballet Giselle, and a “scrap of a tune” that surfaced during a sound-check jam before a 2019 gig in Manchester, ‘Gobaith’ (which means “hope” in Welsh) us remolded, turned into a lushly blessed performance of subtle filmic strings, lilted lattice work kora and gently sparkling harp.

Lifting the emotional pull, the string ensemble-free ‘Dual Rising’ weaves a groove out of quickened caresses, flourishes and undulations. With a dash of the Latin, even some Greco antiquity, that liquid – with only some softened small stamps – rhythmic workout takes its inspiration from the duo’s past collaboration with the ‘breackneck’ speedy style of Edmar Castañeda’s Colombian harp.

In a display of the lightened and sweetened, ‘Tabadbang’ has a spring in its step, a sense of happy adventure. In keeping a restless kid busy, hanging around as the adults wish to discuss something far too important for prying ears, back in Keita’s homeland they’d send the youngsters on a wild goose chase of distraction. Here that memory is turned into a lifted, hummed-like lullaby amble.

A testament to this duo’s hybrid of languages, craft and inspirations the enervated pulse setting, spindled and soaring ballad ‘Jeleh Calon’ brings together the Mandinka work for ‘smile’ and Welsh for ‘heart’. It was actually sparked off by Finch’s NHS research into tinnitus, which led to investigating the yoga of sound and, in particular, – hence the heartbeat-like rhythm – the practice of synching one’s heartbeat to a specific timing, or ‘entrainment’ as it’s known.

Though every composition feeds on that hybrid and the counterbalance of cultures, the harmonious qualities of each artist’s particular instrument, ‘Julu Kuta’ challenges both, but especially the kora, with a tricky chromatic scale. As a tribute to innovation, inspired by Keita’s experiment in 2007 to construct a double-necked kora (which he managed to successfully pull-off with the help of his cousin), the Db to D to Eb to E to A scale sounds like a beautiful spell being unfurled. Despite being difficult, Finch’s heaven-calling brushes and waves and Keita’s dainty spirals and spins sound melodically reminiscent and very much at ease.

As a timely reminder of loss and remembrance, there’s the sweetly pronounced ‘Chaminuka’ dedication to Keita’s late friend and fellow musician, the mbira player Chartwell Dutiro. Instead of a mournful elegy, this is a beautifully sung (both in Dutiro’s native Zimbabwean dialect of Shona and in Keita’s own Mandinka) and soothingly played homage.  

The journey from West Africa to Wales has never seemed shorter; the difference in cultures never so close. Finch and Keita perform wondrous parallels together, further elevated by the subtle but evocative additional classical strings. Echo moves this combined strength further along the road, adding depth to the duo’s sound and showing that despite the hardships, distancing, everything still comes together in a unified brilliance of forms and shared experiences. 

music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

PLAYLIST SPECIAL

An encapsulation of the last month, the Monolith Cocktail team (Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Graham Domain) chose some of the choicest and favourite tracks from February. It may have been the shortest of months, yet we’ve probably put together our largest playlist in ages: all good signs that despite everything, from Covid to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, artists, bands everywhere are continuing to create.

65 tracks, over 4 hours of music, February’s edition can be found below:

That exhaustive track list in full:::

Animal Collective ‘Walker’
Modern Nature ‘Performance’
Gabrielle Ornate ‘Spirit Of The Times’
The Conspiracy ‘Red Bird’
Cubbiebear/Seez Mics ‘All Friended Up’
Dubbledge/Chemo ‘Itchy Itchy’
Dirty Dike ‘Bucket Kicker’
Future Kult ‘Beasts With No Name’
Lunch Money Life ‘Jimmy J Sunset’
Ben Corrigan/Hannah Peel ‘Unbox’
Uncommon Nasa ‘Epiphany’
War Women Of Kosovo ‘War Is Very Hard’
Ben Corrigan/Douglas Dare ‘Ministry 101’
Sven Helbig ‘Repetition (Ft. Surachai)’
Ayver ‘Reconciliacion Con La Vida’
Lucidvox ‘Swarm’
Provincials ‘Planetary Stand-Off’
Wovenhand ‘Acacia’
Aesop Rock ‘Kodokushi (Blockhead Remix)’
Junglepussy ‘Critiqua’
Tanya Morgan/Brickbeats ‘No Tricks (Chris Crack) Remix’
Buckwild ‘Savage Mons (Ft. Daniel Son, Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon & Eto) Remix’
Che Noir ‘Praises’
Koma Saxo w/Sofia Jernberg ‘Croydon Koma’
Medicine Singers/Yontan Gat/Jamie Branch ‘Sanctuary’
Black Josh/Milkavelli/Lee Scott ‘Die To This’
Funky DL ‘I Can Never Tell (Ft. Stee Moglie)’
Mopes ‘Home Is Like A Tough Leather Jacket’
ANY Given TWOSDAY ‘Hot Sauce (Ft. Sum)’
Split Prophets/Res One/Bil Next/Upfront Mc/0079 ‘Bet Fred’
Nelson Dialect/Mr. Slipz/Vitamin G/Verbz ‘Oxford Scholars’
Immi Larusso/Morriarchi ‘Inland’
Homeboy Sandman ‘Keep That Same Energy’
Wax Tailor/Mick Jenkins ‘No More Magical’
Ilmiliekki Quartet ‘Sgr A*’
Your Old Droog/The God Fahim ‘War Of Millionz’
Ramson Badbonez/Jehst ‘Alpha’
Ghosts Of Torrez ‘The Wailing’
Pom Poko ‘Time’
Daisy Glaze ‘Statues Of Villians’
Orange Crate Art ‘Wendy Underway’
Seigo Aoyama ‘Overture/Loop’
Duncan Park ‘Rivers Are A Place Of Power’
Drug Couple ‘Linda’s Tripp’
Ebi Soda/Yazz Ahmed ‘Chandler’
Brian Bordello ‘Yes, I Am The New Nick Drake’
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets ‘Bubblegum Infinity’
Steve Gunn ‘Protection (Ft. Mdou Moctar)’
Jane Inc. ‘Contortionists’
Black Flower ‘Morning in The Jungle (Ft. Meskerem Mees)’
Jo Schornikow ‘Visions’
The Goa Express ‘Everybody In The UK’
Pintandwefall ‘Aihai’
Thomas Dollbaum ‘God’s Country’
Crystal Eyes ‘Don’t Turn Around’
Glue ‘Red Pants’
Super Hit ‘New Day’
Legless Trials ‘Junior Sales Club Of America’
Monoscopes ‘The Edge Of The Day’
Alabaster DePlume ‘Don’t Forget You’re Precious’
Orlando Weeks ‘High Kicking’
Carl Schilde ‘The Master Tape’
Bank Myna ‘Los Ojos de un Cielo sin Luz’
Park Jiha ‘Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans’
Simon McCorry ‘Interstices’



Video
Dominic Valvona



Elizabeth Everts   ‘Black Is The Colour’


Recently featured in on this blog with her diaphanous malady EP of controlled tumult of romantic brooding and lament, Contraband, the Californian born but Munich-based confessional balladeer Elizabeth Evert further accentuates that signature melodies ebb and flow style with a visual accompaniment. When articulating her own original songs Everts sounds vaguely like a cross between Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Raf Mantelli put to an accompaniment of lounge-jazz, trip-hop, Casio keyboard presets and the classical, but on the recent EP’s closing elegy, the attuned weepy cover of the traditional Scottish folk lament, ‘Black Is The Colour’ she almost plays it straight. Made famous to a degree by that controversial folk troubadour Christy Moore, Everts pays homage here with a new video.

Evert offers the following insights, and explains her choice of ancient malady:

“Black is the Color” is a folk song that is said to originate in Scotland. I have always loved this song and wanted to do my own version of it. One day it hit me that the version I would create of this lovely song would be nostalgic, a bit intense – to explore the dark side of vulnerability.

 As I worked on the song, it made me start thinking about how love can create such a vulnerability that it can lead to destruction. This destruction can occur in multiple places, even all at once, or in its simplest form of one individual suffering in the beauty of love.

 I tried to capture these ideas in the video – when light exists, darkness must also exist and that is sometimes difficult to manage emotionally. And in my experience, the lighter the light, the darker the dark.

The video was primarily filmed in Munich, Germany and I created the video myself. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Lyrics

Black is the color of my true love’s hair

His lips are something wondrous fair

The sweetest face and the gentlest hands

I love the ground on which he stands

 

I love my love and well he knows

I love the ground on which he goes

If him on earth no more I see

My life will simply fade away

 

Black is the color of my true love’s hair





NEW MUSIC REVIEWS ROUNDUP
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





A mixed bag, even for me, this month, with a triple haul of albums from the Kent estuary dreamers wishing to travel far, Gare du Nord. A trio of releases from Ian Button‘s pet project label includes a Pop-sike collection from Joss Cope, fairytale metaphor folk spells from Karla Kane and a ‘switched-on Bach’ like treatment of Vivaldi Baroque classics from modular synth composer Willie Gibson. We also have a new album of Victorian themed pastoral forebode that chimes with our times from Oliver Cherer; a brilliant experimental grunge, new wave and alt-rock experimental album from Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand; the debut album from Gwyneth Glyn for the new artist/label partnership Bendigedig; and finally, two chaotic avant-garde electronic music soundclashes from maverick artist Andrew Speckman, under his recently adopted Sad Man persona.  

 

Read on….



Joss Cope  ‘Unrequited Lullabies’  (6th October 2017)
Karla Kane  ‘King’s Daughters Home For Incurables’  (6th October 2017)
Willie Gibson  ‘Vivaldi: Seasons Change’  (13th October 2017)
All three released on the Gare du Nord.

Absent from my review selections for a while now, estuary romantics Gare du NordIan Button’s independent label, run from an HQ that sits on the edge of the metropolis of London and the pastoral pleasantries of backwaters Kent – have sent us a triple bundle of releases, all earmarked for release in the first half of October. This autumnal flurry includes a new album of psychedelic pop soft bulletins from Joss Cope; an Anglophile hushabye fairytale of folk from Californian sun-kissed artist Karla Kane, of The Corner Laughers fame; and a transduced ‘switched-on’ modular synth treatment of Baroque Vivaldi classics from, the non de plume of George Baker, Willie Gibson.

A real mixture you’ll agree, the first of which, Cope’s Unrequited Lullabies, is in the mode of classic 60s revivalism and 80s psychedelic pop.

Sibling to arch druid polymath of the ‘head’ community, Julian, brother Joss Cope shares an equally colourful CV; serving and rubbing shoulders during his formative years with a number of famous and cult figures from the Liverpool music scene, including Echo & The Bunnymen Les Pattinson, Wah Heat’s Peter Wylie and Spiritualized’s Mike Mooney. Not before fleetingly spearheading Bam Caruso label favorites Freight Train – releasing the modestly pivotal album Man’s Laughter in 1985 – before splitting and joining ‘rivals’ the Mighty Lemon Drops, Joss left Liverpool to be absorbed into the Creation Records mayhem of London. During his spell in the capital he played with Crash, The Weather Reports and Rose McDowell before carving out a solo career, releasing two albums under the Something Pretty Beautiful banner.

Inevitably Joss would at some point cross paths with his elder brother, contributing famously to the Fried and St. Julian solo albums; co-writing with both Julian and his former Freight Train band mate Donald Ross Skinner the album tracks Pulsar and Christmas Morning.

 

Before this becomes just a biography, Joss would form and play with many more bands during the 90s and noughties – The United States of Mind, Dexter Bentley and Sergeant Buzfuz among them -, balancing music with a careers as a video director for MTV, narrator for a children’s BBC animation series and an online producer/activist for Greenpeace.

This latest chapter in a checkered backstory of affiliations sprung from Joss’ regular sleepovers in Finland, home to his current partner, the cartoonist Virpi Oinonen. In 2016 he began collaborating with the guitarist Veli- Pekka Oinonen, bassist Esa Lehporturo and percussionist Ville Raasakka trio of Helsinki talent, and the (what must be the most Irish of Irish sounding names in history) keyboardist O’Reilly O’Rourke on what would become this album, Unrequited Lullabies.





Not quite as gentle as the title suggests, but still quite meandrous, peaceable and safe, the lullabies, coastal tidal ebbs and flows and metaphorical drownings include the full range of influences from Joss’ earlier output on Bam Caruso; namely the cult label’s Circus Days compilations of obscurities and novelties from the mostly kaleidoscopic afterglow music scene of English psych and pop-sike. At various times you can expect to hear traces of 70s era Pretty Things, House Of Love, Mock Turtles, early Charlatans, Robyn Hitchcock, Dave Edmunds, XTC, The Eyes, and most obviously (and prominent) Syd Barrett. Controlled with assured maturity throughout, those influences loosely flow between the pastoral, shoegaze, backbeat pop and acid psychedelia.

Yet despite tripping occasionally into mellotron steered mild hallucinogenics, there’s nothing here that ventures beyond the ‘calico wall’; no surprises or raw energetics; no teeth rattling scuzz and fuzz or melting chocolate watchbands. Unrequited Lullabies is instead an understated effort, erring towards gestures of love – as Joss himself rather poignantly and regretfully puts it about one particular song, “Love songs to the children I never had…’ -, with a side order of ruminations and the sagacious forewarning advice of a late generation X(er) on the ‘good and bad’ aspects of life ‘in this magical place’. All played out to a most melodic songbook of classic psychedelic pop.





Time-travelling off on a completely different tangent, the Willie Gibson alter-pseudonym of one-time British soul journeyman George Barker (playing trumpet back in the late 60s and early 70s with J J Jackson, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and the “sweet soul music” Stax legend, Arthur Conley) transduces the Baroque classics of Vivaldi via a range of modular synthesizers; ala a strange kitsch sounding combination of Wendy Carlos, stock 80s paranormal soundtracks and a quaint sounding Kraftwerk.

Moving from soul into post-minimalist electronica on the cusp of a new era in technological advances, Barker was among the first recipients of the iconic all-in-one multi purpose digital synth/sampler/workstation, the Fairlight CMI; using its signature sound to produce sound design and music for radio and TV commercials in the 80s, whilst also lending his skills on this apparatus to Madness and Red Box on a number of recordings during the same period. Under the Ravenwood Music banner, Barker has carved out a career for himself as a producer and music publisher of synth based composition.

Modulating a fine sine wave between ‘on hold’ call-waiting style background electronica classicism and cult retro-futurism, this latest treatment of the Italian genius’ most familiar and celebrated set of opuses – Opus 8, Il Quatrro Staginoni i.e. ‘the four seasons’ – certainly has its moments. The actual execution, made more difficult by Barker’s process of ‘un-creatable’ layering, playing one part at a time with no recall, but constantly evolving his set-up and expanding until all that remains is the ‘control data’ – like the written score itself – is quite clever.

Split into triplets of quarters, each section features a subtle fluctuation of changes and melodies. The first trio of compositions, La Primavera 1 – 3, features fluttering arpeggiators, heralded pomp and glassy toned spritely descending and ascending robotic harpsichord. It sounds at times like a 80s video arcade symphony from Stranger Things. Both majestically reverent and cascading patterns follow, as Barker conducts his way through a carnival four seasons and trilling Baroque sitting room recital. Later on however, the L’Inverno 1 – 3 suite sends Vivaldi towards Georges Méliès visions of space; bounding and mooning around on a nostalgic romanticized dreamy lunar surface.

A future cult obscurity, Seasons Change is a knowing, clever exercise in retro-modular synthonics; returning to the classical source to produce a well-produced and crafted homage.




The final album release of October from the label is in conjunction with the group that US troubadour Karla Kane leads, The Corner Laughers: all three band members including husband Khoi Huynh, who co-produces and accompanies Kane throughout, appear on this album.

A cross-Atlantic venture between the two, Kane’s debut solo, King’s Daughters Home For Incurables, unveils its true intentions and angst from behind an enchanting, lullaby-coated folksy and disarming veneer. Partly post-Trump diatribe fashioned to a rich metaphor of Grimm tale whimsy and a Lewis Carroll meets a lilting Ray Davis like meander through – what I interpret as – a sulky ironic vision of an old insular England and aside at those who voted for Brexit, this songbook, written under the comforting shade of a beloved oak tree in Kane’s California backyard, states a clear position; knowing exactly which side of the fence it sits.

An Anglophile of a sort, much of this solo debut is informed by Kane’s experiences touring the UK. Recordings from an idyllic pastoral England, courtesy of Richard Youell, imbue endearing lulls with birdsong and the friendly buzz of bumblebees. Also from this ‘septic isle’, the idiosyncratic Martin Newell of the cult favorites Cleaners From Venus fame is invited to add a narrated stream of British institutions and romanticized descriptions of eccentric foibles and pastimes in a sort of Larkin-style (“cricket matches seen from trains”).

Mellifluously sung and played, though on a few occasions pushed through with bit of intensity and swelling anger, Kane’s sugar-coated ruminations are deeply serious; touching as they do on feminism, immigration and the anxieties of motherhood in what can, especially in the demarcated political bubble of social media, seem like an ever more oppressive climate. Kane does hold out hope however; as the accompanying PR blurb cites, Kane has a deep desire to summon optimism and hope in a dark world. Something I can confirm she conveys extremely well on this, her debut solo album.








Oliver Cherer   ‘The Myth Of Violet Meek’
Wayside & Woodland,  29th September 2017

Wayside & Woodland, home to haunting folk, conceived not under an old steadfast oak tree but the man-made pylon, and super 8 nostalgic field recordings, has been busy of late. A flurry of activity has seen a duo of albums – an appraisal collection of Home Electronics produced in the 90s by the Margate dreamers of ambitious electro and new wave pop, They Go Boom!!, and the Bedrooms, Fields & Houses compilation sampler of label artists – released in recent weeks. And now, following in their wake, and earmarked for a 29th September release date, is this latest brilliant travail from Oliver Cherer, The Myth Of Violet Meek.

Probably most recognized for his Dollboy persona, Cherer’s varied musical affiliations and projects also includes the big beat Cooler, Non-Blank and experimental popsters Rhododendron. Here, he drifts towards a hazy fictional reminiscent style of folk and pastoral psych, a musical vision pulled from the ether and a Bellows Camera captured past, on this poignant fantastical tale of Victoriana.

Set in the Forest of Dean, this lamentable concept album (billed as ‘part-fiction’ ‘part fact’) weaves the dreamy folkloric story of the tragic Violet Meek (a play on words of ‘violence’); mauled to death or not by the dancing bears of a visiting circus troupe in the twisted and, musically alluded ominous maybe magical, tree thickened woods. Based we’re told on a vaguely real event that happened in the 1880s, Cherer’s story isn’t just a vintage walk in the past and melodic indictment on the cruelty of Victorian society towards women, but draws parallels with the continuing issues of inequality, chauvinism and mistreatment still prevalent in our own times.

This album is also a homage of a sort to Cherer’s own formative years as a teenager spent in the Forest of Dean – the diorama setting for this sorry tale – and a troubled and plaintive denouncement of the suspicions and distrust of a small community; casting out the strange misunderstood and foreign. It is the treatment of Violet though, slurred by innuendo – sharing a similar kind of ‘horseplay’ sexual predilection of idle gossip, and immature sniggers that continues to still colour the reputation of Catherine The Great – that lies at the heart of and moves on this beautifully articulated collection of harmonious crooning, lulling laments and leitmotif instrumentals.

This is an unforgiving unflattering portrayal of England, a nascent nostalgic one with little room for equality and the presence of outsiders, which is every bit as revealing about the present. As lovely, often dreamily so, as the music is the 70s pastoral accompaniment is often trembling and quivering, the fiddles distressed and bewitchery, enticing us into a esoteric psychogeography that features a languid brushed backbeat and Morris Dancers like flourish around the maypole on one song, but finds evil in the idyllic scenery on another.

Traces of 70s era Floyd, Wiccan folk, the Super Furry Animals and Darren Hayman’s civil war opus The Violence fill my senses; though Cherer stamps his own signature confidently among the inspirations and influences. Dollboy fans will find much to admire in this understated, assured and beautifully put together minor opus, as will those familiar with the Wayside & Woodland label output. A most stunning and beautiful work.







Sad Man  ‘S/T’ (OFF Records),  ‘CTRL’ (Self-released)
Both released on 8th September 2017

From the harebrained imagination of garden shed avant-garde (and often bonkers) electronic music composer Andrew Spackman, emanates another of his personas, the Sad Man. Like an unconscious, untethered, stream of sonic confusion and madness, Spackman’s experiments, played and transmogrified through a collection of purpose-built gizmos – including remodeled and shunted together turntables -, combine art school practice conceptualism with the last thirty years worth of developments in the electronic and dance music arenas.

Acid, techno, trip-hop, breakbeat, UNKLE, DJ Shadow and early Warp (especially the Aphex Twin) are all channeled through the Duchampian inspired artist’s brain and transformed into an often rambunctious, competitive soundclash.

Featured on the Monolith Cocktail under his previous Nimzo-Indian identity, Spackman’s newest regeneration is an exploration in creating ‘the saddest music possible’. It is far from that. More a sort of middle age resigned sigh and sonic assault with moments of celestial melodic awe than plaintive and melancholic despair. Perhaps throwing even more into the Sad Man transformation than he did with the Nimzo-Indian, all the signature wonky squiggles, interchanges; quirks and quarks remain firmly in place, though heavier and even more bombast.

Usually found, and despite my positive reviews, by mistake, languishing on Bandcamp, Spackman deserves a far wider audience for his maverick mayhem and curiosity. This month he plows on with a duo of Sad Man showcases; the first, a generous self-titled compilation of released through the Belgian enterprise OFF Records, the other, a shorter self-released keyboard command inspired album, CTRL. The former, launched from a most suitable platform, features an idiosyncratic collection of obscure recordings, spread over a traditional 2xCD format. Full tracks of caustic, twitchy, glitches-out cosmic mayhem and internal combustions sit alongside shorter sketches and edits, presenting the full gamut of the Sad Man musical vernacular. CTRL meanwhile, if it has a concept or pattern at all, seems to be a more quantifiable, complete experience, far less manic and thunderously chaotic.

Kosmische, acid gargles, breakbeats, trip-hop and the trusty faithful speeded-up drum beat pre-sets of late 80s and 90s techno music wrestle with each other for dominance on this seven-track LP – each track named after a key command, all five combining for some imaginary keyboard shortcut. Struggling to break through a constant rattling, distressed and distorted barrage of fuzzy panel-beaten breaks are cosmic symphonic melodies, stain glass organs and tablas. And so, pummeled, punch bag warping ride over serene glimpse of the cosmos, and raspy rocket thrusters blast off into more majestic parts of the galaxy. A space oddity for sure, a tumultuous flight into the unknown lunar expanses, but also a soundtrack of more Earthly chaos, CTRL is essentially a mental breakdown yet strangely also packed full of lighter more fun moments.

Thankfully neither of the Sad Man releases live up to the central ‘saddest music’ tenet, though probably best experienced in small doses to be on the safe side. This duo of offerings will hopefully cement a reputation for eccentric electronic cacophonies, and showcase an interesting body of work.








Gwyneth Glyn  ‘Tro’
Bendigedig,  29th September 2017

Lighting the way for a new ‘integrated independent partnership’ between the Cardigan-based Theatr Mwldan, the polygenesis renowned ARC label, and artist, the first major solo album from assiduous writer, poet and songstress Gwyneth Glyn, effortlessly traverses the Welsh valleys, Scottish Highlands, Appalachian Mountains and West African landscapes with an assured earnestness and the most delicate of touches.

In what will be a long gap in scheduled releases – the next in line an album from Catrin Finch and Seckou keita won’t be out until April 2018 -, Glyn’s inaugural album of both Welsh and English language sung songs proves a wise choice with which to usher in the Bendigedig platform.

The Jesus College, Oxford philosophy and theology student and revue performer, with stints in the folk Americana group Coco Rose and the Dirty Cousins, was the Welsh poet laureate for children between 2006 and 2007, and it’s her native home to which she returns again on Tro. A journey back to Glyn’s roots in rural Eifionydd, after a five-year sojourn in Cardiff, Tro, or ‘turn’, is inherently a Welsh imbued songbook. However, despite ten of the thirteen odes, ballads, elegies and explorations being sung in the native tongue, Glyn’s transformations of universal and ancestral standards drift subtly across the Welsh borders into a Celtic and beyond inspired influence of sound and ideas.

Previous collaborations with Indian music artist Tauseef Akhtar and the already mentioned Senegal kora player Seckou Keita resonate on this ‘Wales meets the world’ self-styled album. Keita in fact adds a touch of plucked lilting Africa to many of the songs on Tro; joining the sounds of the metal tine African mbira, played throughout by Glyn’s producer and the multi-instrumentalist Dylan Fowler, who also performs on an array of equally exotic instruments from around the globe on Tro.

Dampened, often wafting along or mirroring the ebb and flow of the tides and shifts of both the ominous and changing prevailing winds, the backing of plucked mandocello, tabwrdd one-handed snare drum, bellowed shruti box and banjo sitar genteelly emphasis and pushes along the imagined atmospheres; moving from the Celtic to country genres, the Indian drone to the south of the equator music zones.

Glyn’s choice of cover material and her controlled but stirring, lingering vocals hint at America and Britain’s legacy of counterculture troubadour heroines, including Joan Baez, Vashti Bunyan, Joni Mitchell – a famous quote of Mitchell’s, ‘Chase away the demons, and they will take the angels with them’, is used as catalyst for Glyn’s music in the press release – and the not so political, more sedate, Linda Ronstadt. The train-like motion rhythm Ffair, – a translation of the Irish folk song She Moved Through The Fair – even sounds like a Celtic Baez, and the American/Scottish woe Y Gnawas (The Bitch) – an adaption of the old standard Katie Cruel – was first brought to Glyn’s attention via another revered voice of the times, Karen Dalton, who as you expect, made her own inimitable, unique mark upon the song when she covered it many moons ago.

Unfamiliar with the Welsh dialect as I am, I can only imagine that the lyrical tumults offer the usual fare of sad betiding’s and lament. Whatever the subject may be, she sings, nee swoons, with ease and comfort; the phrasing unforced, flowing but far from untethered. And so Glyn proves to be a singer of great talent and skill as she bares her soul across an age of pastoral, rural furrowed folk.

Ushering in the label/artist partnership on an adroit, though at times indolent, debut, Tro is a subtle refined encapsulation of the Bendigedig platform’s raison d’être; an enriching experience and showcase for an impressive singer. On the strength of this album alone that new venture looks set to be creatively rewarding.





Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand  ‘Wonderland Wins’
Jangle Nest,  September 2nd 2017

Recording under a variety of guises over the years, including Dog, Paper, Submarine and This Heel, the Swedish songwriter and multi instrumentalist Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand uses his own name once again on this, perhaps one of his most, omnivorous of albums. Stridently changing styles at a whim, Sjöstrand has previously tested himself with lo fi, instrumental surf, prog and alternative rock, but now tries his luck with a mixture of grunge, indie and new wave influences on the recently released Wonderland Wins.

Those influences play out over a combination of shorter incipient doodles and fleeting meditations and more complete songs; Pavement on the garbled megaphone vocal lo fi strummed In the Orbit Of The Neutron and sunshine pop remix of Calla Lily, Weezer on Man Of Self Contempt, and Nirvana, well, everywhere else. But saying that, you’re just as likely to pick up references to Guided By Voices, Devo, The Residents, Flaming Lips and DEUS on an album that doesn’t really have a theme as such or musical leitmotif.

There is a sort of coherency here however with the album’s brilliant Archers Of Loaf meets Placebo power pop alt-rocker Waiting: a full on electric Yank-twanged vocal version opens the album, and a stripped-down more poignant and sad live version (Live At The Animal Feed Plant) closes it. Waiting for a myriad of cryptic endings and a release, this standout minor anthem sounds like a missing gem from the grunge era of the early 90s.

Sjöstrand also likes to experiment, and those already mentioned shorter excursions certainly head off on curious tangents. The most silly being the self-titled fairground organ giddy romp; the most plaintive, the acoustically picked romantic “last dance”, Myling; and the most ominous, the force field pulsing bassline warning and crackling heavy transmission, The Moon Is A Playground.

A quirky take on a familiar back catalogue of inspirations, playing with a number of classic alt-rock tropes, Sjöstrand’s Wonderland is a well-produced, confident album of ideas, and more importantly has one or two great tunes.





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