Reviews
Dominic Valvona

In this amorphous crisscross of genres and borders I take a look at the latest in the label Night Dreamers ‘direct-to-disc’ series, a dynamic live album of fresh performances from Istanbul’s legendary souk reggae/dub and Krautrock psych legends BaBa ZuLa; Analog Africa delve through the stranger corners of the “B-movie” Colombian label Disco Machuca on their upcoming La Locura de Machuca compilation; and Daniel O’Sullivan explores library music for his latest transformation, a series of instrumental albums in collaboration with KPM.

Two front vocalists step away from their bands to go solo, with Ghent stoner/alt-rock band Wallace Vanborn frontman Ian Clement returning to the fold after many travails with a personal songbook collection, See Me In Synchronicity, and Diamond Thug’s Chantel Van T going out on her own with a debut country blues imbued songbook, entitled Nicalochan.

There’s also a label special, with three recent and upcoming ambient and experimental imbued records from the North American hub Somewherecold Records: an ambitious cosmic suite of Kosmische analogue synth odysseys from Giacomelli, snapshots, threads and lingering traces of esoteric and ether materialised country and bluegrass guitar sketches from Droneroom, and an emotive suite of love-lost movements from Vision Eternel.

BaBa ZuLa ‘Hayvan Gibi’
(Night Dreamers) Album/2nd October 2020

The latest release in Night Dreamer’s “direct-to-disc” series stars the rebellious stalwarts of Anatolian cosmic dub and psych, BaBa ZuLa: a three decade spanning Istanbul group originally birthed from the embers of the band ZeN.

Fusing the folkloric with solar flares of Krautrock, souk reggae, 60s and 70s Turkish psych and cosmic-blues the rambunctious group come on like a Sublime Porte vision of Can’s Ege Bamyasi and Soundtracks albums, only replacing much of the Teutonic legends setup with more traditional instruments like the “oud” and “saz”: albeit electrified and fuzzed up to the gills. That Can reference isn’t so surprising, as the BaBa have worked with the band’s late human metronome Jaki Liebezeit on numerous occasions: his two-way influence felt and inspiration noted on BaBa’s 2019 album Derin Derin. That same 2019 album, like so much of their output, was originally produced for a soundtrack, a documentary about falcons. And this latest “live” and direct special showcase includes a number of such tracks scored for film and stage; it also, like that falcon inspired work captures the materializations, mood, feelings of a menagerie of symbolic animal subjects.

Recorded before lockdown in the pre-pandemic nightmare, Hayvan Gibi (which means ‘to act with the natural grace of an animal’) includes six almost untethered, unleashed vivid performances from the Istanbul mavericks. It’s an album that seeks to fulfil the “live” feel and energy that some fans have commented has been lacking on previous studio albums. Invited to the Artune Studio setting in Haarlem by the label, they were encouraged to freely take-off on a flight of Eastern fantasy; encouraged to also riff on and extend past glories too. “A musician’s dream” as the band’s electric, scuzzy defacto leader and founding member Osman Murat Ertel puts it, this, also challenging, method of recording and cutting a disc from start to finish on one session gives them that energetic impetus. It also showcases each of the band’s talents. On the elliptical rhythmic Can-like dervish ‘Sipa Dub’ (also known as “The Foal”), the group’s braying oud soloist and keyboardist Periklis Tsoukalas gets to shine and sing a kind of spiritual Sufi-imbued emotive intensity on a song about an Aegean coast donkey and its foal. Percussionist virtuoso Ümit Adakale is unleashed unaided on the drilling, rattling and hotfooted breakbeat ‘Nal’ (or “Horseshoes”).

Old favourites like the ‘Çöl Aslanlari’ (“desert lion”) composition, originally made for Antonie de Saint-Exupéry’s stage production of The Little Prince, go off on a long improvised peregrination of clopping psych-rock and shimmering cymbal washes, whilst the group’s earliest groove, ‘Tavus Havasi’ (which furnished the soundtrack to the Tabutta Rövasata film) assails close to the mooning of Guru Guru and a Turkish Bar dance.

A let loose BaBa ZuLa is a most incredible experience; a scuzzed, scuffed, trinket shimmery, rippling and blazing rhythmic energy and dynamism both intense and yet also a mirage of reggae and dub imbued Anatolia mountain gazing. It’s also a reminder of what we’ve been missing in these dragging pandemic restrictive times.

Further Reading…

BaBa ZuLa ‘Derin Derin’  here….

BaBa ZuLa ‘XX’  here…

Various ‘La Locura de Machuca: 1975 – 1980’
(Analog Africa) Album/16th October 2020

Quite possibly the kookiest oddity so far in the Analog Africa catalogue, this distant outlandish relative to the label’s Diablos Del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot 1960 – 1985 compilation from 2012 is the sort of “B-movie” discovery you’d expect Finders Keepers to release. From the same international Colombian gateway of Barranquilla as that collection’s purview, La Locura de Machuca: 1975 – 1980 features a similar spread of Afro-Colombian saunters, scuttles and scratchy percussive funk as that record, yet finds a twist: a kink.

For all the familiar traces of that folkloric electrified Cumbia, the Caribbean-African-Colombian hybrid Champeta Criolle, and Congolese rumba (to name just a few styles), the music that flourished from the Colombian underground is…well, different. Much of this is down to the genius and bizarre mind of the former tax-lawyer turn record company executive Rafael Machuca, who wowed and seduced by the Barranquilla music scene jacked in the day job to set-up and sit behind the control desk as the producer of his own label enterprise, Disco Machuca. This was the heady mid 70s, an age in which Colombia’s music scene was thriving with the sounds of imported nuggets and blasts from the African continent. Though native dance styles such as Bolero and Vallento still rocketed up the charts, the fervor was for a spread of Afro prefixed sounds that proved popular at the neighbourhood sound-system joints, known as “the picos”. The locals would in time add more traditional flavours, including the already mentioned versatile Cumbia, but also more modern influences such as psychedelic music and disco.

Machuca channeled that exciting dance mix with his unique label of specially put-together one-offs and more established mavericks; the often experimental and kitsch productions of which is described as the “B-movies of Colombian music” by the label’s stalwart recording engineer Eduardo Dávila. Some of that self-depreciative description is warranted for the label’s roster of artists and acts, but also for Machuca’s habit of just creating from scratch a studio band to front one-off singles and albums when he couldn’t find the right band to realize whatever vision he had leaping about in his head. Two of which, the mono skiffley itching and squiggly, Stylophone like buzz and gargled organ Samba Negra and the bongo rattling, carnival lolloping space age garage band El Grupo Folelórico, lasted only the time it took to enter the studio and press stop on the recording desk. Both of these outlets feature heavily on the compilation. Though the El Grupo Folelórico’s binary data zapping Afro bustle ‘Tamba’ qualifies as the closet of these tracks towards that B-movie status.

The label could accommodate such fancies with the money they made from more established and popular stars; such as Alejandro Durán (left off this more unconventional comp) and Aníbal Velásquez (who does feature with his slightly unhinged belly laughing and hurried Cumbia track ‘La Mazamorra del Diablo’). “Fringe artists” like La Bande Africana, King Somalie, Conjunto Barbaco and Aberladro Carbono were able to cut loose off the back of those hit-makers. The first of those names lends the collection a salacious boy/girl hush and sigh of Gainsbourg meets Bollywood in a Colombian coastal town, with their coquettish and playful ‘Te Clavola…Mano’. King Somalie meanwhile riffs on the “funky monkey” with a talky Afro-boogie and turns in a sexy fun conversational on ‘La Mongui’.

Personal favourite of mine is The Grupo Bela Roja, or to be more exact their both swooning and jaunty lead singer who channels a young Miriam Makeba on the beachside ‘Caracol’.

There’s much to discover from this sometimes-unhinged label, yet nothing so avant-garde or “loco” as to neglect an essential rhythm or hypnotic good groove. Samy Ben Redjeb’s decade-long-in-the-making project unearths some mesmerising rarities from the stretched-descriptive scenes of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Colombian music, throwing in some curveballs and raw 45s.

For those looking for a fresh perspective and for something strange, the La Locura de Machura compilation will fill that need. Ad for everyone else, this is just a great vibrant mad world of South American sounds that deserves space inside your noggin.

Further Reading…

Analog Africa Tenth Anniversary Special  here…

Various ‘Jambú e Os Míticos Sons Da Amazônia’  here…

Chantel Van T ‘Nicalochan’
Album/23rd October 2020

Stepping out on her own from the South African dreamy space-indie Diamond Thug, the country blues and folksy lilted voiced Chantel Van T makes a boldly intimate and vulnerable statement on the debut solo songbook Nicalochan. Via a Danish solstice and summers spent contemplating at the shoreline’s edge, the hushed and swooned songwriter/singer opens up in a considered, soothed and sometimes creeping fragile manner over gently sweeping Dylan-esque Western soundtracks, mountain songs, the knowing enchantment of Lee Hazelwood, and lush morning dew yearn of Catherine Howe.

With a maturity and depth beyond her years, the often sadly but constantly dreamy Cape Town artist seems to channel a country twang that evokes shades of Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Dobson, and on the prohibition era Appalachian Lomax ‘Bittersweet Absolute’ a touch of Josephine Foster. Chantel has a voice deep, diaphanous, ached, resigned, and drifting, yet at times almost fatalistic.

An introduction to Chantel as much a candid therapy and chance to let all those thoughts and philosophically poetic questions on what reciprocated love really means (and how far it can be taken), the growing pains of womanhood and childhood.

A suffused accompaniment (all recorded with the Danish producer Anders Christopherson and a small intimate ensemble of musicians) of wallowed brass, softened string caresses, gauzy tremolo twanged and acoustic rhythm guitar, and patted toms and splashes of cymbal provide a subtle stripped backing track. One that sometimes can’t help but meander into Dylan’s ‘Knocking On Heavens Door’ on the leading, waning beauty travail single ‘Rumble And Crawl’, and a 50s yuletide mix of Rosemary Clooney and bobby-sox Spector on the album’s early punt at a seasonal number, ‘Christmas’.

Full of pining, searching affairs of the heart Nicalochan is a most hazy and beautifully executed testament of timeless country blues imbued vulnerability from an artist going it alone: A great debut of understated wisdom and inquisitive questioning songwriting, which I can see making many of the end-of-year lists, including my own.

A Somewherecold Records Special:

Vision Eternel ‘For Farwell Of Nostalgia’ Out Now
Giacomelli ‘Cosmic Order’ 9th October 2020
Droneroom ‘Blood On Blood’ 16th October 2020

All three released via Somewherecold Records.

From the highly prolific online magazine/shop-front and facilitator of various underground electronic and experimental artists, a trio of recent refined and concept-bound releases has drifted onto the Monolith Cocktail’s radar: Just three from an exhaustive roster that’s updated weekly. Extensively a soundboard and platform for composers and mavericks alike from both sides of the North American border, Somewherecold Records offer up the intimate and ambitious, depth and the translucent, peregrinations and wanderings with their most recent spread of albums.

The first of these is the grand Kosmische analogue spanning opus from Silicon Valley composer Steve Giacomelli; a triple CD expansive series of cosmic ordered suites that traverse the astral plane, new age transcendence, various thermos, gases and topographic ebbs and flows. Giacomelli’s fourth such album of cosmic ambient minimalism for the label, this celestial and evolutionary mined impressive ARP Odyssey (portable) synth birthed work of thirty-six scales into deep space, refractions of light play, pulse and gravitas uses a number of techniques to accomplish an overall sound of forgotten Sky Record maestros, Tangerine Dream, early Cluster, Tomat and Vangelis. This synthesised vision – that can sometimes err towards the ominous forebode and mystery of Kubrick – synthesis of the abstract, deep space, the inner mind, nature and the heavenly is accomplished with an apparently limited pallet and the use of counterpoint sequences, the generative and a method, favoured by Frank Zappa, called “xenochrony” – that is the extracting of a solo or other part from its original context and placing it into a completely different song/composition.

A three-hour journey through the imaginings of Giacomelli’s inner and outer star-guided mind, compositions vary between the beautiful cathedral-in-the-sky heralded ‘Cosmic Fanfare’ and the Klaus Schulze-rescores-Zardoz forebode and deep space hum of ‘The Best Laid Plans’; from the 8-bit orchestral manoeuvres of ‘SMPTE Of The Universe’ to the heavenly choral-blowing space fantasy ‘Diplodicus Green’, and the tubular generator, dash communicating ‘Remembrance Petition’.

No matter where he guides us, Giacomelli fashions a most diaphanous and mysterious epic. The Cosmic Order is a grand project, nothing short of immersive and starry.

The second of this trio of albums and EPs from the label takes us into the Kosmische-cowboy experimental soundscaping world of the Louisville-based artist Blake Edward Conley. Trading, moseying and meandering under the Droneroom alter ego, Conley pulls together a number of tracks and ideas from compilations for this transformative and transduced album of layered resonating guitar soundtracks and pauses.

A “two-lane blacktop” drive across the imagined travails of an alternative strung-out country and bluegrass accompanied America of gas station stops, mechanical breakdowns, and side road excursions, Blood On Blood gathers those “stray tracks”, threads and “snapshots” to meander through an evocative if distant landscape. Whether inspired by or in their finished state sailing close to, a number of these drowsed post-country instrumentals are dedicated to Conley’s fellow compatriots, and both explorative and old testament liturgy guitar imbued artists: The Tennessee psalm fanning Joseph Allred and folk artist Cole Morse to name just two.

Some of these sonic-thoughts-out-loud ruminations and traverses are more country than others. A certain cowboy swoon can be plucked from the lingering traces of ghostly country blues and bowing vibrato of ‘Truckstop Déjà vu’, and there’s an air of a Lynchian vision of Ry Coder on the galvanized steel gate stick rattled and didgeridoo like drone mysterious ‘And On The Last Day The Land Did Sing Me’. A removed form of Americana, with the tremolo wanes and quivers and spirit all there but veiled by the Baroque, Latin, cosmic and supernatural, ‘Let The Bluegrass Hold My Head’ is anything but. However, the dreamily acid ‘The Coyote Adrift In The Unfamiliar’ evokes a more Kosmische and Krautrock influence; sounding like an esoteric ripple in the fabric by Ash Ra Temple. In fact there’s a lot of spacey spectral leanings, an otherness, even alien, from beyond the ether: There’s even a supernatural enough transmission from that void in the shape of ‘Ghosts For Sale’.

Another impressive if unassuming album for the label that does something different, out there with its source, Droneroom’s Blood On Blood is an incredibly strange album of guitar experimentation that warrants discovery: A cult album in the making.

Back towards the ambient spectrum, the final release in the special is a most emotively drawn and purposeful EP of intimate mood music by the Montréal-based Vision Eternel. Coining the phrase “melogaze” to describe his lush “emo” brand of majestic and caressed swirling feelings, heartbreaks and loves, the band’s founder Alexander Julien soundtracks a love lost affair with a most swaddled suite of ambient music, shoegazing, and semi-classical longings.

Over a quartet of channeled “movements” (rain, absence, intimacy and nostalgia), Julien charts this affair-of-the-heart with a both cinematic and melodious touch. The EP though is a greater conceptual work that even arrives accompanied by a short story and plenty of poetic, stirring baggage. Lingering reminisces pour from this composer’s light yet deep vaporuos yearnings.

On the cover itself, Julien is painted as some kind of Left Banke thinker meets Graham Greene Third Man and shoe-string Marlowe; a riff on 50s and older covers of that vogue. And so nostalgia is certainly evoked on this almost timeless EP of abstracted emotionally pulled memories made tangible. It’s actually a most lovely, touching trembled and graceful encapsulation of the themes; beautifully put together. It’s also entirely different and like all three of these releases pushes experimental, ambient music in different directions, yet never loses sight of taking the listener on those same sonic journeys into the cosmic, imaginary, and intimate.

Somewherecold Records is proving a catalyst and platform for some of the most interesting and ambitious of under-the-radar artists. Expect to see plenty more or their releases on the Monolith Cocktail in the future.

Ian Clement ‘See Me In Synchronicity’
(Cobraside Records) Album/October 2nd 2020

All the better for it, full of sagacious yearning, frontman of the Ghent stoner/alt-rock band Wallace Vanborn, Ian Clement makes a welcoming return to the musical fold with his second solo album See Me In Synchronicity. After many travails and a series of breakdowns, Clement opens up with a songbook collection of musings on troubled romances, escaping, intimacy and more mystical, metaphysical queries on the altered states of consciousness: a subject that stems from the earnest singer/songwriters interest in mysticism and the spiritual, and its place in an increasingly secularized, atheistic Western culture.

Further, as Clement himself illuminates, “mysticism and madness touch each other, even in ordinary life. The daydreamers whose hope lies in love and fantasy or in loneliness or madness, is something that everyone can relate to.” And there is, at least, some of that title’s “synchronicity”; as also reflected on the album cover’s dream state alpine juxtaposed with cityscape and beret fitted beachcomber meandering below a seductive muse collage artwork.

Though far from mystical sounding or esoteric, this is a solid songbook with just enough edge to set it apart from the well-worn tropes and sounds found in most alt-rock of a similar persuasion. For Clement traverses not only hard rock but also country (verging on Americana), indie, post-Britpop and, even, new wave (chugging away tot the dashboard emotional pulling pop motor pop of The Cars on the “consciousness” imbued ‘Turtle & Crow’). And so you can expect to hear a subtle pallet of influences and sounds prompting this brooding but often mature and wise album.

Vocally Clement evokes a touch of Jeff Buckley (via Blackbud’s Joe Taylor) and Mark Lanegan, whilst the mix of blazing rock guitar shadings and hooks leans towards Bends period Radiohead, post-punk and early noughties Bowie. However, the most surprising humbling and yet bittersweet romantic song, ‘Bliss’, strays into the Floydian. There’s also a dappled gospel-tinged organ that keeps popping up throughout the album; a kind of low-key Muscle Shoals vibe.

Making sure this all gels, and offering some of that edge, is the luminary German producer Renė Tinner, who knows a thing or two about pushing the envelope and finding that important synchronicity between the commercial and experimental having worked with such polar opposites as Can and George Harrison. This culminates in a production and sound with depth, soul and a few surprises. Clement unloads his pains and intimate resolutions on a most sophisticated, hard-fought and lyrical work: A brave work at that.

Daniel O’Sullivan ‘Electric Māyā: Dream Flotsam And Astral Hinterlands’
(VHF Records/KPM) Album/23rd October 2020

The latest in a long run of explorative transformations for Daniel O’Sullivan, of both Grumbling Fur and This Is Not This Heat fame, sees the London-based musical polyglot traversing the “library music” oeuvre.

Although often the preserve for lovers of cult mavericks and the kitsch, library music is infinite in scope and varies considerably in quality. Often, because of its very nature dismissed as either a pale imitator of the sound and music it’s trying to ape, or void of true artistry and depth: produced in many cases as a background soundtrack and cheap off-the-shelf filler. Of course this is all bullshit, the label itself now so diverse and overused as to include some truly gifted composers alongside one-offs and obscure unknown peddlers of lo fi and unassuming skits. Essentially though, it is seen as music that fits specific criteria or commission, as O’Sullivan puts it, music made “more for functionality than sonic self-portraiture”.

It also includes, in more recent years, an increasing number of artists-in-the-know appropriating library music’s guilty pleasures and forgotten acolytes: Not so much as pastiche but rather in the mode of homage and mining ever more obscure sounds. And so a very much “knowing” O’Sullivan in collaboration with those purveyors of such rediscovered treasures, KPM, invests a lot of time and effort in producing an 18-track suite of sophisticated redolent library music gestures, sweeps, memories and fleeting incipient soundtracks on the first of a trio of such albums. The challenge however is in creating a fully-realised composition with a start, middle and sort of conclusion in short form: every track on the album being more or less under the 3-minute mark.

Delving into the cosmology of the elaborately psychedelic entitled Electric Māyā: Dream Flotsam And Astral Hinterlands you’ll find a full body of atmospheres, inner spaces, emotions, sciences and supernatural elements articulated by a diverse pallet of sounds and instrumentation. O’Sullivan caters for every occasion, from beatific meditation Eastern transcendence (‘Adoring Solitude’) to emerging from a mysterious mist-clearing landscape (‘Butterscotch Broth’) and Tomat evoked celestial cathedrals-in-the-sky (‘Eagle Ears’). And that’s all within the first five tracks: the mystical, the ambient unveiling of inspired scenery and the cosmos. Elsewhere there’s deft evocations of the sort of tender Italian pianist-driven soundtracks of the 70s favoured by Greg Foat (‘Flashbulb Memory’), a bird’s eye view from above wispy, translucent clouds (‘Feathered Earth’), a kooky burbled and steam-post-punk merger of Kraftwerk, Bernard Estardy and Jon Hassell (‘Gray’s March’) and haunted monastic dream muses (‘Sybil’).

From the sublime to the strange, ethereal to the earthy, most bases are covered on this expansive album of the vapourous and gazing. Most of which is beautifully produced and entrancing. Mixing semi-classical with ambient music, avant-garde and electronica, O’Sullivan has created an inspiring sonic journey through library music’s most lunar and traversing, stirring highlights without reverting to that pastiche and lazy homage. It is nothing short of a great piece of instrumental work, the soundtrack to a most wondrous ambitious movie.

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the 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.

NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona



Tickling Our Fancy 047: Ah! Kosmos, Armellodie Records, La Mambanegra, Mokoomba, Omar Rahbany, Taos Humm, and Charles Vaughn.



Welcome to another edition of Dominic Valvona’s, most eclectic, review roundup of new releases. #47 includes a lively and sizzling revitalization of the Salsa music and dance style by Colombia’s La Mambanegra; an ambitious global-stamped passport of world music peregrinations, suites and songs from the Lebanese polymath Omar Rahbany; a Tonga ancestry soundtrack to love, loss and displacement from Zimbabwe’s breezy and playful lilting Mokoomba; the debut kaleidoscope misadventures of Taos Humm; a two-track EP of sophisticated electronic and cerebral synth pop from Ah! Kosmos, and psychogeography style ruminations on the omnipresence of pylons from Charles Vaughn. Plus, Glasgow’s Armellodie Records celebrate their tenth anniversary with a special celebratory showcase compilation of indie and quirky pop.

Omar  Rahbany   ‘Passport’
Released  10th  March  2017


 

Talk about ambitious. The grandiose debut, part Middle Eastern rhapsody, part global symphony, from the Lebanese musical polymath Omar Rahbany, boasts a cast of 180 musicians and performers, from twelve different nationalities; all pulling together to produce an hour-long lyrical odyssey.

Taking the Beirut-born Rahbany three years to finish, his well-stamped Passport is inspired by a whirlwind of ideas and mediums. Broadening his “total work of art” conceptions to include film and choreography, projecting a mix of evocative instrumentals and vocal suites across a wide-screen vista, his “borderless” experiments are sophisticated, multi-layered and sweeping; often amorphously dropping from the classical into jazz-fusion.

The action and the themes, however, are deeply rooted, growing from a city that’s seen thousands of years of turmoil. Beirut, and the Lebanon, has been both scarred and enriched by countless civilizations, and as a result, the city is a patchwork of languages and religions, all sharing a history no one can agree on, or as the press statement puts it, Lebanon is “a nation that undertakes a constant struggle to find its ‘absolute identity’.” Imbued with a rich heritage that goes back at least two generations – his grandfather, Mansour, and great uncle, Assi, wowed the country with their distinct innovative compositions as the Rahbany Brothers; and his father is a playwright composer/lyricist and mother a famed professional dancer – Omer Rahbany’s opus is unmistakably steeped in the psychogeography of his native land.

 

Passport begins with a heralded Overture suite, which glides majestically through trilling flutes, accordion, piano and softened timpani, interpreting seasons as it goes and gradually building to a tumultuous crescendo. The Kiev City Symphony, conducted by Volodymyr Sirenko, adds a momentous grandeur of classicism and Bernstein to the Lebanese panorama. This full gamut of emotions score is followed by the heart aching Arabian lamented musical-esque, Umbrella Woman, which features the French Chanson like beautiful spiraling vocal performance of Ghada Nehme, and again, a grandiose orchestra accompaniment. Keeping a semblance of the sinfonietta, but also talking a cue from Amandia period Miles Davis, Rahbany and his extensive cast of players create an askewer avant-garde jazz, reggae and rock music soundtrack to the Biblical referenced vanity project, the tower of Babel, on the constantly evolving and changing Programmusik: Babel. A suitable cacophony is enacted to what was a legendary tower, built to reach the heavens and channel all communications under one universal language; TV and radio transmissions crackle alongside rocket bombardments and speeches to make the point.

Waltzes, rituals, the Tango, Byzantium, allusions to astral-travelling and spiritual peace are played on a mix of both traditional Western and Eastern instruments, including the bezok, rezok and oud. They articulate a wide spectrum of landscapes, from the deserts of North Africa to the reaches of outer space.

A soundtrack to an, as yet, unmade global spanning movie, Passport drifts from Lebanese theatre to jazz and the classical on what is an enthralling and ambitious whirlwind of a modern world music symphony.


https://soundcloud.com/omarrahbany/07-mouwachahat



La  Mambanegra  ‘El  Callegüeso  y  su  Mala  Maña’
Released  by  Movimientos  Records,  3rd  March  2017


 

Nothing short of reinventing Salsa, the “machine-drilled nine-piece orchestra” from Colombia, La Mambanegra, promises an indecorous rebirth of the liveliest of Latin America’s music and dance styles. Injecting street smarts and a venomous dose of sass to a genre that has lost its luster in recent times, Jacobo Velez in his role as bandleader takes liberal pinches of inspiration from Salsa’s most vibrant and dynamic old guard and adds a eclectic mix of Nuyorican funk, soul, hip-hop and ragamuffin.

Translating as “The Black Mamba”, the La Mambanegra name and concept is embellished with Colombian mysticism and legend, loosely based on fact and fiction. Charting the story of an anonymous “hero” from the Barrio Obrero neighborhood in Cali (Colombia’s third largest city) and his “fantastic” adventures via La Habana, as he makes a journey to New York. Inspired by Velez’s own great grandfather, the musician Thomas Renteria (known to many as El Callegüeso Antigua), and his misadventures on a perilous voyage to the “Big Apple”, El Callegüeso y su Mala Maña celebrates as much as it focuses on Colombia’s tumultuous history; from the country’s own internal flight of people from the worst-hit areas of fighting between the government and FARC forces (though negotiations for an end to this fifty-year conflict are reaching, what looks like, a peaceful resolution), to cities such as Cali, and the migration to more stable states across the region and further afield, especially to the already mentioned New York. Renteria escaped drowning, thrown overboard on his intrepid voyage. Thankfully he made land; washed-up and stranded in Cuba, his stay proved to have been a productive one as he soon made friends with the famed Chano Pozo, who gave him, as legend has it, a “magical flute” from Africa. This infamous flute made that eventual journey to the USA, and was passed on to Velez, who uses it now as the source of his band name.

 

Migrating protagonists and snake spirited flutes aside, Velez and his troupe’s self-styled “break Salsa” transformation shoves Salsa towards its original revolutionary and communal dynamism. Sizzling with a wealth of Colombian talent, the La Mambanegra hub expands its ranks to include guest spots from Latin America’s finest. Dutch trumpeter, and Colombian-resident, Maite Hantele appears with the Colombian percussionist Denilson Ibargüen on the sultry, brightened horns, Fania-style trip to Africa via Miami opener, Pure Potenkem, and jazz great, Eddy Martinez can be heard on the more lilting, serenaded, lyrical tongue-twisting, Contare Para Vos. They sweep, but mostly saunter, through a grandiose mix of Kid Frost meet DJ Muggs Latino funking rap (La Compostura and Barrio Caliente, which features a lingering candour of The Pazant Brothers A Gritty Nitty); Albert Ayler jamming with Lalo Schifrin to create a Havana-style Salsa and jazz hybrid (Me Parece Perfecto); and Henri-Pierre Noel Haitian disco converges with South American cabaret (La Kokinbomba).

La Mambanegra’s uncoiled snake spirit spits out a fiery fusion, straddling the old and new guards and adding some 21st century grunt and excitement to a Salsa rebirth. One of many great groups from Colombia enlivened and confident of their vigorous cross-border influences, this multi-limbed orchestra steps up with an invigorated Latin celebration and revival.






Mokoomba  ‘Luyando’
Released  by  Outhere  Records,  March  10th  2017




The next stop on our global music review is Zimbabwe; home to the energetic Mokoomba. Imbued by the awe-inspiring, life-giving forces of the Victoria Falls and Zambezi River scenery that nurtures the region, the group pay homage, not just with their name, which translates and encapsulates a “deep respect for the river”, but in their lyrics too. Most notably on the opening pan-flute lilting, nylon-string plucked guitar swooning Mokole, which literally translates as “water” in the Ndebele tongue, and pays tribute to the beauty and importance of those impressive and immensely powerful Falls.

Though they use a mix of languages on their latest, self-produced, album Luyando, it is the ethnicity of the Tonga that proves to be the integral ingredient to the Mokoomba sound and subject matters. One of Zimbabwe and the neighboring Zambia’s smallest ethnic groups, the Tonga’s ancestry goes back an age, yet in the second half of the twentieth century they were unceremoniously uprooted from their homes to make way for the Kariba dam. No repatriations were ever made, and fifty odd years later, many are still waiting to be connected to electricity. Their plight forms the backbone of the atavistic meets organically building, call and response, breakbeat Kambowa track. An articulation of pain, loss and longing, this traditional drum and group vocal performance begins as a glimpse into history but soon grows rhythmically, hurtling down the railway track towards a joyful funk.

The balance between tradition and the contemporary continues throughout the album. Growing up in the Chinotimba Township, the group learnt to blend their roots with the rhythms of Zimrock, soukous, ska and salsa. Moving closer towards those roots, Mokoomba have changed direction slightly from their debut in 2012, Rising Tide, which was a more switched-on rocking affair. Luyando is in comparison, more raw and stripped; a mostly acoustic performance that leans towards the local sounds of the region on what the bio declares, “is a quest for the wisdom of tradition and history as well as insight and solace amid contemporary crisis.”

Of course, no conversation, commentary and review on Zimbabwe can continue for long without mentioning the omnipresent Mugabe. Completely impervious to his own people and the neighboring borders and greater international communities; splitting his fiefdom into fierce rivalries whilst the country grinds to a slow collapse, Robert Mugabe has unsurprisingly few admirers within the arts and music world. Yet far from rattling the rafters and bawling in protest, Makoomba meander peaceably through their Tonga heritage, making a connection with the rituals and ceremonies that shaped them: looking back to go forward in a sense. The title track for instance, “mother’s love”, alludes to the Makishi masquerade and joyous graduation ceremony called Chilende; an initiation for boys between the ages of eight and twelve, who leave their village homes and live for one to three months at a bush camp. The song itself is a soothing sweet paean, punctuated by various hooting, animal-like, noises. And the moving, dusty earthy soulful Kumukanda is built around another Tonga initiation ceremony, on the band experienced in their teens.

Raw and emotional raspy; plucking and picking; shuffling and winding; Mokoomba channel their ancestral roots through an often lulled and playful, though at times more intense, spiritually harmonious blend of local and cross border rhythms. The voice of protest and the quest to find an answer to all the turmoil has seldom sounded so breezy and sweetened.





Taos  Humm  ‘Flute  Of  The  Noodle  Bender’
Released  by  Stolen  Body  Records/ Howling  Owl  Records,  17th  March  2017


 

The burgeoning Bristol label, Stolen Body Records, has carved a certain niche for itself delivering some of the best garage band and psychedelic releases of late; somehow squeezing something fresh and inventive out of genres that, lets face it, have been flogged to death.

Among their rich roster, and a constant surprise, is the Isle of Wight émigré abound in Bristol, Edward Penfold, whose debut languid beyond-the-calico-wall psychedelic solo LP, Caulkhead, made our choice albums of 2016. Another year, another set-up and this time a congruous shared release with Howling Owl Records sees Penfold joined by fellow psych initiates Joe Paradisos and Matt Robbins, under the Taos Humm banner.

The trio’s debut, Flute Of The Noodle Bender, might imply some kind of allusion to psychedelia’s golden age, but there’s more of a post-punk, cacophonous feel to this twisted kaleidoscope of haunted somnolence and erratic, jerking, razor-cutting guitar hysteria: and indeed noodling. Though vocally – when there are lyrics, narration and voiced utterances to be found – the reverberations of Kevin Ayers, Syd Barrett and gramophone, calling from a bygone bucolic age, Tiny Tim permeate Taos Humm sound musically like a lax clash of Postcard Record label releases from the early 80s – on the discordant strangulated guitar vortex Hi Hats Are For Post Punk Heroes – and a Galapagos islands Fiery Furnaces – on the alternating attack/ sustain amorphous Velociraptortoise.

 

Despite the spikiness, intense tremolo quivers and the tortuous Gothic schlock horror screaming and screeching guitar mooning of BB, there’s a semblance of melting psychedelia, shoegaze and pondering post-rock lingering in between the erraticism and urgency. This kool-aid inebriated state can be heard on the wafting, mirage melodious Meek, and the lulling South Seas peregrination Tapestar, which has the group perform a suitable drifting, lush, instrumental and hushed cooing workout over the top of a recorded loop, played off what sounds like (as the title would imply) a tape recorder, from John Barry’s You Only Live Twice soundtrack.

Flute Of The Noodle Bender is full of ideas, both maniacal and languorously vague. Psychedelia, lo fi, shoegaze, post this past that all merge into a mix of wig out adventures and off-kilter velocity that’s way beyond the imaginations of most bands.









Various  Artists  ‘Armellodie  Is  10’
Released  by  Armellodie  Records,  10th  March  2017


 

Self-deprecating. Mocking their status as a relatively obscure record label – as demonstrated by the cover art, which features a blasé Daft Punk, as though beamed down from another planet, loftily show their ignorance to a Glaswegian record shop assistant – the thankless task duo behind Glasgow’s Armellodie Records, Al Nero and Scott Maple, celebrate their tenth anniversary.

A beacon for countless mavericks and eccentrics, Armellodie has – despite alluding universal recognition from silly robotic-helmeted French electronic music stars – released a steady flow of exciting, interesting and melodically diaphanous indie and quirky pop records over the last ten years. Encapsulating, what is and has been, a varied roster Armellodie Is 10 documents the label’s output; picking out twenty tracks.

Featured on the Monolith Cocktail a while back, the collection’s opening artist, the idiosyncratic Yip Man, offers an skewered rhythmic gait version of Squeeze on the inventive pop ditty Barnburner. Also previously receiving our seal of approval, the lush anthemic indie stargazers, The Hazey Janes, are represented by their magnificent Manics-esque emotional rollercoaster The Fathom Line.

Elsewhere, Appletop make US college radio alt-rock sound somehow inimitably Scottish on Burning Land; the rambunctious Super Adventure Club turn in a distressed math rock stormer with Pick Up Sticks; and Conor Mason hands-in the lingering, charming country pick-up Words.

Immensely proud of their roots, referencing through band names and song titles Scotland’s tumultuous but proud history: For instance, The Scottish Enlightenment, which proves to be a great band moniker. However, The Douglas Firs (another cracking name), with all the sincerity in the world, pay a sort of homage to that cult favorite, Highlander – we’ll forget about the loose historical inaccuracies, it is a fantasy after all. The Quickening, which proves to be a folky peregrination around the campfires – pondering between sweetness and ambient experimentation –, takes its title from the, shoddy and usually over-egged pyrotechnic blast onscreen, duel to the death by decapitation of the film and TV franchises’ “immortals”. The song itself sounds serious enough and quite beautiful.

 

Not that any validation is needed, Armellodie Is 10 is a most brilliant showcase and anniversary celebration from a label that has remained constant. This is a label that thoroughly deserves championing. Here’s to the next anniversary in 2027.






Ah! Kosmos  ‘Together  We  Collide’




Featured for the first time on the Monolith Cocktail in 2013, the Istanbul-born sound designer and electronic music composer Basak Günak was just starting out on a fruitful career, releasing the alien subterranean debut EP, Flesh. Under the cosmological guise of Ah! Kosmos, Günak has, we’re happy to say, gone on to reach international acclaim.

Relocating to Berlin a while back, Günak has composed numerous sound-art pieces and soundtracks for installations, site-specific work, short films and plays, and has also garnered favorable reviews for her experimental electronic and dance music performances. Her latest release, Together We Collide, is a two-track EP; the first track of which, From The Land Below, features the rich polygenesis soulful vocals of Warp label signed artist LAFAWNDAH. Clattering-stick percussion, taut delay, nuanced swaddling horns and a number of synchronized rhythms, both Techno and futuristic jazz leaning, form a sophisticated soundtrack for the undulating vocals. Moody in the manner of Massive Attack, this mythological, spiritual trip starts to click after repeated plays, and sounds more and more melodies each time.

Keeping From The Land Below company is the Tricky-swooning-to-the-moon-above-Eastern-skies, winding and pondering, Silent Safe. Awaiting the listener is a wilderness with symbolic spellbinding ritual yearning, cooing lyricism and tribal trip-hop beats, verging on leftfield synth pop.

Highly sophisticated, nuanced and dare say, cerebral, Günak continues to produce a deep thoughtful mix of electronic and melodic poetics, this latest EP another brilliant example of her growing reputation as an inventive composer and artist.




Charles  Vaughan  ‘Pylon  Reveries’
Released  by  Wayside  &  Woodland  Recordings,  24th  March  2017


 

Despite being vividly warned-off, like many of us kids in the 1980s, exposed to TV public health and warning announcements films from playing anywhere near pylons (for obvious reasons). Charles Vaughan is fascinated with these metal leviathans. Collected from a decade’s worth of filled-up hard drives and miscellaneous tapes, his fourth soundscape come psychogeography soundtrack is suffused with the pylons constant throbbing and charged omnipresence.

Attempting in a conceptual sonic manner to escape the overburdened mind, plugged into the overbearing data avalanche of an increasing impossible to break free from technologically connected world, Vaughan shows that even in the middle of an isolated field/meadow it’s near impossible to find a sense of disconnection: the hum, pulse and crackle of technology always close at hand; symbolized by the proliferation of pylons, straddling the landscape.

Handled with subtlety, the fizzled droning undulations of these looming “sentinels” move slowly and sonorously; often in trepidation and constantly unsettling. From shorter, passing vignettes and ruminations to longer, drawn-out ambient pieces, Pylon Reveries fluctuates between Ambient Works era Aphex Twin and Kosmische pioneer Asmus Tietchens, and on the transmogrified harpsichord-like arpeggiator, neo-classical, Revery, Thomas Dinger and Hans-Joachim Roedelius.

There’s a certain wonder and reflection on these “totems”, but also a sense of nostalgia too, one borne out of an interest for the type of dystopia themed TV shows of the late 70s and 80s. Vaughan after all takes his name from a character in the British lo fi drama, Survivors; the synopsis of which has a virus wipe out 98% (very specific!) of the world’s population. Vaughan emerges in the aftermath of this catastrophe with a band of “survivors” to a desolate wilderness. Tasked with collecting information and exploring he hopes to rebuild society from the ground up. Here he is then, reimagined, documenting and creating a reification of the infrastructure that encroaches upon the land and our lives: Is technology freeing us or slowly binding us to a new reliance?

 

Increasingly uncomfortable with the fears of an ever-connected society, one that is moving towards a fully integrated technology, Vaughan has a myriad of feelings and meditations to represent through sound, but it is an atmosphere of unease and uncertainty, which dominates and prevails.





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