THE ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVUE
Words: Matt Oliver





 

Amidst the debate whether you’re pro-playlist Drake or give a damn about Kendrick, this is the real hip-hop bombshell. To quote Chris Rock: “love rap & hip-hop – tired of defending it”.

Within the ever turning reissue market and with the bun fight of Record Store Day upon us, some re-ups you may wanna check. Slick Rick’s ‘Children’s Story’ is now logically an illustrated volume for bedtime, Blockhead’s ‘Uncle Tony’s Colouring Book’ gets a reboot on wax, and DOOM & Danger Mouse’s ‘DANGERDOOM’ goes deluxe. More bizarre (and Rapture & Verse had to check it wasn’t April 1st), is the new Raekwon album that can be worn as a backpack, where the audio kind of works as a rumble pack for your body. True story.

Singles/EPs

IAMBENJI’s instrumental righteousness summons a headbanging vision of ‘Jesus Walks’ with ‘Its You’, chopping exultant soul into pulpit pressure: a true four minute warning. Korede’s ‘Humble Beginnings’, a smart mini-expo showing what he’s made for J-Live, has got a chunky drum-n-groove jangle to it like heavy jewellery. An impressive half dozen hangout between Juga-Naut and Micall Parknsun lobs ‘Six Bricks’, with Cappo and Scorzayzee adding extra mortar to a fortress built in Nottingham and with a strict policy on the fundamentals. The highly strung Smellington Piff and Sean Peng take solace under ‘Purple Trees’ in a bid to divert jazz cat, beret and goatee vibes, and the champion sound of Mongrels’ ‘Attack the Monolith’ is now an awesome remix movement. The ‘Attack the Megalith’ EP beams a bat signal to a big time octet, including Hashfinger sliding over a cop car bonnet and Third Person Lurkin going a grim-reapin’, to transform the Yorkshire supernovas second time around.



CunninLynguists’ fine ‘The Rose’ EP gets the barricade rocking with soul-stirring open letters eloquently asking questions and patiently waiting for answers. Aiming to make a difference as much as it whispers to bask in the sun, Maurice Brown & Talib Kweli’s ‘Stand Up’ is the epitome of peaceful protest, and something of a nice dilemma to have. Killa Kyleon’s well executed ‘Killing Over Jays’ is a nifty two-way that’s both cautionary tale and industry/cultural call out, to an oxymoron of smoothed out, box fresh trap. ‘Alone by Choice’ but with plenty to offer, Jango gives you a seven track pick n mix of sharp trap and plush roll outs with the flow to match; a GQ EP pretty much pinpointing what your ears need as and when.






Albums

Should you heed the call of Raekwon’s ‘The Wild?’ It’s not a bad shout, showing something close to vintage Wu-gambinoism, open to the conceptual (‘Marvin’, a fine biopic of Marvin Gaye with Cee-Lo; some alphabet aerobics alongside P.U.R.E.), and cajoling Lil Wayne into a decent verse for ‘My Corner’. The huntsman mentality pulls the album over the line just when the glossy crossovers airing his dirty Gucci laundry in public threaten to nullify the threat.

In a way the same can be said for Joey Bada$$’ ‘All-Amerikkkan Bada$$’, whose clear and effective state of the nation addresses come presented in funk and soul pageantry aiming for Chance the Rapper’s all rounder status. The appeal of the supple, easygoing beats, polished hooks and timely gathering together of everyone is obvious (2pac comparisons come easy as well), though it’s an album that settles into a groove and perhaps at times isn’t quite as hungry as the subject matter would welcome. Nonetheless, Bada$$’ development makes him a candidate for end of year honours.

Turntable ringmasters Boca45 and DJ Woody saddle up into the sunset again on ‘Carousel’, where you must be this fly to join the ride. In a myriad of needles, spins and samples, BluRum13 threatening to steal the show as mic anchor, breaks needing another belt notch, and energetic fun (not forgetting the obligatory electro pop-n-lock), technique and entertainment takes lesser DJs to clown school when these two go back to back. BocaWoody boss the big top like Barnum.





Indiana’s irresistible force Freddie Gibbs is someone not for dislodging. Like a Bond villain who doesn’t know what a P45 is, ‘You Only Live 2wice’ does grim low riding, lord praising, quiet storming and do-or-die roulette spinning, all the while Gibbs reads the gangsta gospel slash riot act with that swerveless flow of his going all in. At eight tracks long you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s left a lot in the locker, but it’s a pretty comprehensive, fluid body of work.

Renowned rhyme brawler Apathy cuts the mic adrift and goes instrumental for ‘Dive Medicine: Chapter One’, displaying sonic skills well in tune with his usual vocal rips. Soulful but with plenty of punch, as if Apathy will look you straight in the eye before rattling your ribcage, the sleeve may suggest boom bap kitted out for submarines, but the likes of ‘Scuba Groupie’ and ‘Subterranean Meditation’ are happier chilling in a deckchair amidst a bunch of mean, street-ready flexes. Re-upping straight bat boom bap from social media’s olden days, Sraw’s ‘Beat Weeks’ is the Scandinavian timetabling instrumentals that go bump in the night, jazzy foot tappers over coffee, and wheezing whacks to the loaf. Nice enough to take some time with. The mind expansions of Frenchman Al’Tarba look at instrumentals through a prism mounted atop a plasma ball, ‘La Nuit Se Lève’ the score to a film only streaming in flashbacks you haven’t experienced yet, caught in a cold-veined tailspin with dubstep choking on its exhaust.





Wired between confessional and eccentric wisdom explaining ‘How to Fake Your Own Death’, backwater hip-hop from Ecid unfurls a slow and precise, me-against-everything scuzz of discomfort holding up a mirror to the world in a typical Midwest post-malaise. One to be passed around huddles of the disenfranchised. They should then transfer to the occult of A7PHA, Anticon messengers Doesone and Mestizo delivering a dense, walls-are-closing-in distortion of reality “releasing heat so hot it disinfects metal”, and whose silhouettes make the ponderous and rabid unnerving bedfellows, reaching a crescendo/crisis point. A collection so strictly underground it should come with its own canary, Copywrite and Planet Asia are naturally all about taking care of business with ‘Unfinished & Untitled’; forget the title, these are prizefighters in all their pomp.





With the reserved flow of an all-seeing shaman, Zaire Black stamps the passport of DJ Drez’ global trip of simmering colours on the studious ‘Aficionados’, making work a mismatch of a slight vocal reticence and rich, probing production (check ‘I Will I Want’ for its range of unlikely samples, though ‘That DJ’ goes a bit EDM loco). A collection of remixes for Lessondary’s top drawer ‘Ahead of Schedule’ will do just nicely: ‘RE:Scheduled’ has twangy funk and head nod high noons from Jamie Cooley, Donwill, Jermiside and ZFTP slipping nicely into a support role going toe-to-toe with the quality of the original. The smoothness of Brooklyn’s ScienZe orders ‘Kind of Dessert’ to go with the nightcap he’s suggesting you come up for; cosmopolitan swirls, boho brainstorming, neo-soul niceness and vibes that wake when they want before hitting the ground running. Still one of the game’s surest things when it comes to storytelling, Murs as ‘Captain California’ drops you slap bang in the middle of the action, as well as walking you through tales step by step with simple start-beginning-end structures. Buoyant beats help Murs’ Mills-n-Booning no end, and his show-n-prove still ain’t bad either.






Mixtapes

Dishing out more mixtape pleasure, Donnie Propa goes to town on the play and record buttons for a second Masta Ace masterclass; a standard fix-up of classics, one-offs etc, ‘The Ace Tape volume 2’ won’t let a single beat, rhyme, cut or blend miss a step. A great DJ curates a great emcee.

Front and centre this month: Danny Brown’s must-see, Evidence’s latest weather report, The Last Skeptik going split-screen, and Bohze’s weekend attire.

 













Choice Playlist Revue
Words: Dominic Valvona
Selection: DV, Ayfer Simms and Matt Oliver




The inaugural quarterly revue of 2017 gathers together a faithful purview of the last three months of reviews and articles on the Monolith Cocktail. Myself, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms have chosen a mere smattering of our favourite music; featuring both tunes from albums/singles/EPs/collections we’ve reviewed or featured on the site and some we just never had the time to include.

As usual an ever-eclectic amorphous affair, with the most avant-garde pieces of music sitting in harmony with the most edgy hip-hop, Malian sand dunes blues alongside Belgium alternative rock’n’roll and psychedelic noodling, the first quarterly playlist of the year features The XX, Sentidor, Mauro Pawlowski, Baba Zula, Tamikrest, Emptyset, Your Old Droog, Likwuid, King Ayisoba and many more. A full tracklist is below, with links to relevant posts.


Tracklist:

The XX  ‘On Hold’
Austra  ‘We Were Alive’
Sentidor  “Pedreira (Quarry)’  Feature
Porter Ray (ft. Asian T, Rife)  ‘Waves’  Feature
Mauro Pawlowski  ‘In Starlight (We Must Be Alive)’  Review
Baba Zula (Dr.Das Mix)  ‘Iki Alem (Dub Version)’  Review
Baluji Shrivastav  ‘Dance Of Erzulie’   Review
Bargou 08  ‘Mamchout’  Review
Terakaft  ‘Djer Aman (Afriquoi Remix)’   Review
Dearly Beloved  ‘Who Wants To Know’  Review
Taos Humm  ‘RC’  Review
Dr.Chan  ‘Yannnnk$$$ (Life I$ Not Fun)’  Review
Rudy Trouve  ‘Torch’  Review
Irk Yste  ‘Wumpe’  Review
Mauro Pawlowski  ‘Men In Sheds Pt.1’  Review
Emptyset  ‘Border’ Review
Nick Blackos  ‘No Answer’ Review
Your Old Droog (ft. Edan, Wiki)  ‘Help’  Feature
Paul White and Danny Brown  ‘Lion’s Den’  Feature
Blue Orchids  ‘The Devil’s Answer’  Review
Alasdair Roberts (ft. Gordon Ferries)  ‘Caleno Custure Me’  Review
James McArthur & The Head Gardeners  ’14 Seconds’  Review
Piano Magic  ‘Attention To Life’  Review
Sankofa  ‘Into The Wild’  Feature
Delicate Steve  ‘Nightlife’  Review
Retoryka  ‘Right Up Your Street Pt.1’  Review
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah  ‘Down (Is Where I Want To Be)’  Review
Craig Finn  ‘Ninety Bucks’
Shadow  ‘Dreaming’
Tinariwen  ‘Oualahila ar Tesninam (Transglobal Underground Remix)’  Review
Animal Collective  ‘Kinda Bonkers’
Likwuid (Ft. 2 Hungry Bros)  ‘Illfayted’  Feature
Oddisee  ‘Digging Deep’  Feature
M-Dot (Ft. Camp Lo, Tribeca)  ‘True Lies’  Feature
Oh No (ft. Tristate)  ‘Showroom Floor’  Feature
Dope Knife  ‘Nothing To Lose’  Feature
King Ayisoba (Ft. Wanlov da Kubolor & Big Gad)  ‘Africa Needs Africa’
Tamikrest  ‘Erres Hin Atouan’  Review

MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW




Rapture & Verse’s March hares are made up of dirt-slinging duo Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj (naturally, Foxy Brown then has her two penneth worth as well), Snoop blurring the line between life and art when it comes to America’s next top president, Joey Badass having a John Lennon-style, ‘Bigger than Jesus’ moment, Tupac ‘memorabilia’ reaching unhealthy new levels, and a right flash-looking reissue of Kool Keith and Dan the Automator’s trailblazing weirdo ‘Dr Octagonecologyst’ (when an Easter egg just won’t do). All topped with Will I Am appearing in a new video with the realest of the Rovers Return, Liz McDonald.

Talib Kweli joins the UK B-Boy World Championships with an April performance (probably not as a contestant…well, you never know). Big Daddy Kane reiterates he’s still got juice with a London appearance in May bound to bring in scores of hip-hop nostalgics; and home-grown old skool originals London Posse go on a wee road trip to tell all the current gun finger spitters how slang should really sound. Also upcoming on these shores – DJ Q-Bert, Masta Ace and Jedi Mind Tricks, all making it rain like an April shower.






Singles/EPs

A teeny-tiny singles selection this month starts with a quintet of instrumentals seeing who’s big enough to plug a mic in. Urban Click’s ‘Half Past Two’ does boom bap that keeps time and plants seeds of doubt; just enough fear factor to have you looking over your shoulder mid head-nod, until ‘Payback’ brings the hatchet into full view. In need of an assertive, affirmative funk jam with a worldview to cause roadblocks? Rob Cave’s singsong exasperation telling you ‘Hold Your Head’ is that very jam. Follow that with a remix of Mista Sinista’s ‘Life Without Fear’, another partier making a point with Worldarama, Illa Ghee & Chordz Cordero wrapping up Eitan Noyze’s bulbous funker. Milano Constantine gets grimy on the belt-loosening ‘Rasclart’, with Conway and Big Twins helping extort DJ Skizz’ mob skanking.






Albums

Action packed storytelling kicks off Your Old Droog’s triumphant ‘Packs’, that languid NY flow quickly working a number of hustles and stakes-high dice games, all with a penchant for humour and words to the wise stashed in the trunk. From go-slows to arse kicks, adopting the same readiness for and awareness of when the streets come calling, and with Danny Brown, Edan and Heems on his team, YOD perfects the unfathomable: a varied album with no time to waste or room for error. 14 silk cuts, if you will.

With a flow somewhere between honey dipped and Seattle high, Porter Ray’s seesaw twang that’s always laidback in a perpetual state of motion grounds spacey, floaty forecasts replacing low riders with ambient parachute jumps. ‘Watercolor’ is vaporous but tangible gangsta living from under the stars with a creditable amount of earnestness, with Ray’s role as some kind of avenging angel leaving his mark on you, one way or another.





UK crews control this month starts with the Gatecrasherz getting parties jumping and scrawling their names all over the VIP list on ‘Uninvited’. A more patient unit than expected, inasmuch as each emcee queues obediently before showing ill discipline on the mic (in turn letting you pick your own distinctively-twanged rapper like you’re swapping stickers), a broadside of bumping beats (including ‘2-3 Break’ playing out like a choose-your-own-adventure book), gets doors off hinges.

 

Steady Rock and Oliver Sudden push flavour in your ear with ‘Preservatives’. The BBP reliability always plays the game the right way, spanning humble brags, straight shots, living as they live it, tales told while getting ‘em in and beats getting bobbleheaded on life’s dashboard. What you hear is what you get. Amos & Kaz’ ‘Year of the Ram’ justifies all natural assumptions of locking horns and being capable of a battering. Forceful personality dominates business, pleasure and pain; these two are up for a scrap, or at least a good pantsing, after their knowledge has driven its way down your ear canal. Granville Sessions power through without pretension on ‘Monument’, demanding a captive amphitheatre rather than threatening the front row. A forthright manifesto playing no games makes for a well regimented campaign.

 

After the ‘Barrydockalypse’, Joe Dirt is the last real rapper alive on an album that’s a pessimist’s paradise. Repping Squid Ninjaz by showing strong survival instincts, keeping composure is paramount on a great, stomach-unsettling set for those getting kicks out of losing themselves past the wrong side of the tracks. Safe to say Jam Baxter’s ‘Mansion 38’ is not surrounded by a postcard-perfect white picket fence; half cut, whip smart, and hoovering up Chemo’s top-to-bottom production so that the pair sink until they strike the gold of rock bottom. Ultimate, grungy outlaw hip-hop, putting the trap in trapdoor.





As a flipside, Dabbla barfs out bonus project ‘Chapsville’ (location: London twinned with Tennessee and Thunderdome), spraying obnoxiously hot bars at water cannon pressure while DJ Frosty twists the shapeshfiting landscapes around him. Leaf Dog’s ‘Dyslexic Disciple’ is a proper UK hip-hop knees-up, awash with weed and scuffles always likely to break out because it’s all family. Funk and blues buck like a bronco, plucky and bullish rhymes will step to a mic whatever the weather, Kool Keith drops by to diss you without you realising, and a grand finale of a giant posse cut lands the knockout blow.





Oddisee is his usual engaging self on ‘The Iceberg’. With music as crisp as freshly plucked Romaine, effortlessly upping the pace when the time’s right, the personal becomes appealing so that you can’t help but pore over eloquent diary entries where the ink never runs dry. Ultimately you agree with his clearly made points of view as Oddisee is becoming the master of his own destiny who could make takeaway menus or the phone book sound compelling. From the supple to the ambitious/exhaustive, Beans releases three albums simultaneously (!) – ‘Wolves of the World’, ‘Love Me Tonight’ and ‘HAAST’ – as well as an accompanying novel. Fantastical seat of your pants scenarios and breathless narratives seemingly doing real life and politics in fast forward even if caught in traffic, the Anti-Pop Consortium alumni loves the feel of a fine tooth comb throughout.

NYC’s El Michels Affair have reached the same level of dynasty as their Staten Island source of inspiration. Back covering another batch of Wu-Tang Clan trademarks in an irrepressible, funk and soul, live band experience, ‘Return to the 37th Chamber’ repeats their craft of cultish kung-fu cabaret rewriting the scrolls of Shaolin methodology. Though they dart in as quickly as they sneak out, they’re politely nuthin’ to fuck wit’ when you’re trying to name that tune.

 

A jawbreaker flow meets boom-bap control; ZoTheJerk and Frost Gamble’s ‘Black Beach’ makes strong statements, showing Detroit determination to put things right – or at least stay vigilant – in a world full of buck-passing. A good combination that cruises before T-boning ya. Fuelled by hard liquor and blackmarket diesel, TOPR’s ‘Afterlife of the Party’ is a 13 track brawl finding “epiphanies in heresy, poetry in vulgarity”, kicking down doors and spitting wisdom with the force of a slammed down shot glass. Even at its calmest, there’s only one (albeit methodical) trajectory, justifying arguments and rabble rousing as a hard-bitten B-boy. The usual safe-breaking, toothpick-chewing, phone-tapping vibes from Roc Marciano plots ‘Rosebudd’s Revenge’, a seedy shoulder-brusher putting its kingpin in a familiar position of power, to the sound of a soul jukebox watching trife life go by.





Hosting a sophisticated dinner party but still putting fresh kicks on the table, Dr Drumah runs a tight ship of instrumentals passing round cigar-n-scotch jazz and choice samples keeping ears attracted late on. ‘90’s Mindz’ is precisely put together, a showcase of simple pleasures that’s got plenty of mileage. Once that’s soiree’s over and done with, head over to Vital’s ‘Pieces of Time’ for pretty much more of the same; hard shells with soft centres and golden age hues, in an easy access network of neck work. Argentinean Gas-Lab boasts an international cast to take you ahead of the sunrise on the soul dejeuner ‘Fusion’, all piano keys and horns applying shine to respectful spit. ‘Rise N Shine’ shakes the bottle and wakes a little Samba in Spaniard Alex Rocks, an easygoing beatsmith who gets his US guests licking their lips from the stoop. With a squeeze of bossa funk in the mix as well, it sticks to the script enough for soft tops and sunloungers to start folding themselves back.





Welcoming your retinas this month: Open Mike Eagle turns superhero, Joey Badass pledges allegiance, Knowledge Nick gives a thumbs down, and Ash the Author keeps on track.














The most eclectic of playlists

Monolith Cocktail - Magna


Reflecting the eclectic scope of the music featured and critiqued on the Monolith Cocktail the Quarterly Playlist is a three monthly showcase of both our favorite tracks and of those that may have dipped below the radar and we recommend you dig out. Our last hurrah of 2016, the final collection and final post of the year, opens with the fiery psychic drone rock of Wolf People and the motorik speedball shoegaze of Teksti-TV 666, moving on through the petulant skulk of the grunge-rockers PABST and the New York troubadour pop of Eleanor Friedberger, before gently slipping into a ambient traversing section that features the Cosmic Range, BE project and The Orb.  Matt Oliver‘s Rapture & Verse Hip-Hop picks are next, with a medley of the Wheelchair Sports Camp, The Mongrels and A Tribe Called Quest, followed by the comedown and the final ethereal curtain call of Bob Lind.

A full tracklist with links to reviews is included below. We’ve also added the previous three playlists.


Wolf People  ‘Ninth Night’
Teksti-TV 666  ‘Metsarosvo’
PABST  ‘Bias’
Deep Heat  ‘Pick Up The Pieces’
Eleanor Friedberger  ‘Cathy With The Curly Hair’
Scandinavia  ‘SexLife’
Magna  ‘Get It Right’
MTG  ‘Scrap It’
Soft Hearted Bastards  ‘The Creeps’
The Bordellos  ‘Did The Bastards At The BBC Kill John Peel’
Dungen  ‘Trollkarlen och Fageldrakten’
The Cosmic Range  ‘Kowboy’
BE  ‘Into’
The Orb  ‘First – Consider The Limits’
Wheelchair Sports Camp  ‘Teeth’
The Mongrels  ‘Duppy Conqueror’
Mickey Factz, Nottz, Showtyme  ‘Some People’
A Tribe Called Quest  ‘Dis Generation’
Elzhi  ‘Introverted’
Midaz The Beast, Planet Asia, Murdoc  ‘Cunning Lyricists’
Zion I, Ariano  ‘Not Ur Fault’
Aesop Rock  ‘My Belly’
CZARFACE  ‘Two In The Chest’
Danny Brown  ‘Ain’t It Funny’
L’Orange, Mr. Lif, Akrobatik, DJ Qbert  ‘The Scribe’
Trance Farmers  ‘The Veil’
Ben Reed  ‘Station Masters’
The Lancashire Hustlers  ‘June Wedding’
Robert Rotifer  ‘Keep It Together’
Bob Lind  ‘A Break In The Rain’


Part Three 



Part Two



Part One



Aesop Rock to Bob Lind.


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


Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavours to offer a more eclectic spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists; stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album doesn’t deserve the number 32 spot and has been placed at number 33 instead.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums from 2016 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to make some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2016, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar.

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

Aesop Rock   ‘The Impossible Kid’  (Rhymesayers)

Monolith Cocktail - Aesop Rock

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

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

Read original review here


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

Monolith Cocktail - A.H.E.O.

 

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

 

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

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

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

Read the full review here…



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

(Analog  Africa)

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

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

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

Read the full review here…


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

Monolith Cocktail

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

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

Read the full review here…



David Bowie  ‘Blackstar’   (ISO/RCA)

Blackstar cover art - Monolith Cocktail

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

 

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

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

Read the full review here…


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

Monolith Cocktail - David Thomas Broughton

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

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

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

Read the full review here…


Danny Brown  ‘Atrocity Exhibition’  (Warp)

Monolith Cocktail - Danny Brown

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

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

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Cappo  ‘Dramatic Change of Fortune’  (YNR)

Monolith Cocktail - Cappo

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

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

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

Monolith Cocktail (Dominic Valvona) - CHUCK review

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

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

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

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

Read the full review here…


Clipping  ‘Splendor & Misery’  (Sub Pop)

Monolith Cocktail - Clipping

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

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

Read the original review here


Cluster  ‘1971 – 1981’  (Bureau B)

Monolith Cocktail - Cluster 1971 - 1981

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

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

Read the full review here…



Ian William Craig  ‘Centres’  

Monolith Cocktail - Ian William Craig

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


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

Monolith Cocktail - Rapture & Verse Hip Hop selection

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

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

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

Monolith Cocktail - Ed Scissors & Lamplighter

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

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

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Elzhi  ‘Lead Poison’ (Glow365)

Monolith Cocktail - Elzhi

 

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

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

Read the full review here


Eleanor Friedberger ‘New Views’ (Frenchkiss Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Eleanor Friedberger New View

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


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

Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences - Monolith Cocktail

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

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

Read the full review here…


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

Monolith Cocktail - John Howard

 

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

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

Read the full review here…


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

Monolith Cocktail - Illogic

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

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

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

Monolith Cocktail - J-Zone

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

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

Read the full review here


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

Monolith Cocktail - Fela Kuti

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

 

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

Read the full review here…


Bob Lind  ‘Magellan Was Wrong’  (Ace Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Bob Lind

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


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