REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona

Amanda Whiting ‘After Dark’
(Jazzman) 9th April 2021

Gilded reminisces, meandered trains of thought and turbulent mood fluctuations provide the soundtrack for this harp-led nocturnal album of ‘after dark’ evocations. Bridging both jazz and the classical the adroit Welsh harpist Amanda Whiting,and her lightness-of-touch troupe of John Reynolds on drums and Aidan Thomas on bass, effortlessly seem to glide and skip between eras and moods on a nighttime flit. 

First of all let’s get the most obvious reference points and influences out of the way. Yes, there is indeed an air and touch of the lineage of those transcendental, transportive and diaphanous jazz-harpist forbearers Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane about these performances, but you can also detect a touch of Corky Hale and the much more contemporary and sublime Brandee Younger too. Whiting however seems to flow across passages of Savoy, swing, the conscious, the experimental, and the bluesy. There’s even moments of Latin saunters and cocktail hour jazz on happier, feet dancing on the sand tracks like ‘Back To It’.   

In Whiting’s hands the harp performs both spells of the angelic and melancholic; the plaintive and translucent. Like water being caressed and charmed, there’s both waterfalls and trickles of the plucked and accentuate. Yet also shorter, sharper more attacking stabs and grating on ‘Just Blue’ and the rumbling, hard-bop swinging ‘The Feist’.

Providing another musical tangent, Glasgow’s tastemaker DJ and burgeoning remixer Rebecca Vasement is given the task of reimaging the album’s title track; which she does by casting the original in a more meditative state of dreamy, vaporous slumber. The lulled soulful coos and airy hummed vocal utterances of Nadya Albertsson can be heard floating and caressing this lifted spiritual treatment. You can hear the moodier, reflective original version later on in the album’s running order.

A quick mention to the articulate, occasionally bursting and splashed drums of Reynolds and mumbling, down-low runs and phrases and punctuation of Thomas’ bass is called for, as they provide a perfect sparse and sophisticated bed for Whiting’s untethered glistening harp music.

The midnight hour proves an inspired choice for Whiting as she freely moves with grace and élan across a cocktail of moods, memories and inventive play, on what is a most experimentally pleasant and heavenly jazz album.

Der Plan ‘Save Your Software’
(Bureau B) 16th April 2021

For a German electronic group that’s made various conceptual returns over the last forty odd years – even making a fleeted comeback as virtual avatars at one point – it seems unsurprising that the Der Plan vehicle would have in its vaults a take on Kraftwerk’s robotic assimilation schlock: the Man-Machine manifesto that saw the ‘showroom dummies’ become increasingly sophisticated in erasing their useless human shells for automated cybernetic ones.

Framed as a ‘long lost album’ from their 80s oeuvre, the Dusseldorf formed doyens of the Neue Deutsche Welle (the New German Wave) movement have decided to release the kooky, playful and often ridiculous Save Your Software conceptual electro and synth-pop LP. More ‘DAFT’ than DAF, this take on Kraftwerk’s computer world and various robotic riffs has a whole backstory of Tomorrow’s World invention. Founding members Moritz Reichelt (known as Moritz R®) and Frank Fenstermacher, joined in the 80s by Kurt ‘The Pyrolator’ Dahlke, are said to have ‘initiated’ the ‘Fanuks’ project to make themselves immortal as ‘Mensch-Machines’. Fanuks, a play on the actual all-too real Japanese robotics producer FANUC, involves all kinds of technological as well as philosophical themes; hardware as well as software talk. A vessel it seems for the possibilities but also concerns, ethics of A.I.: especially its role in the creative process. There’s even mention of a mysterious Bavarian philosopher, Nigelius Senada, brought in to advise on the project: clues to the mischievous nature of this album cover story really start to drop when this character turns up, his so-called ‘Theory Of Obscurity’ pinched from an infamous documentary film on The Residents.

The whole tale is narrated in a twelve-minute audio-documentary; the concept, interviews with band members and their robot forms sound-tracked by passages of music from the album, and to denote international scenery changes, archetypal Japanese mood music. It’s unfortunately, for me, all in German. But you get the gist nevertheless, the drive but failure to fully converge with that robotic host.

Der Plan however, have used the data, calculations, silly android voices to construct a quite enjoyable cyber-pop Techno album that bounces around in a retro arcade of arpeggiator and ascending, descending lit-up fruit machines, or, goes whistling around the bend on a Bullet Train. Zerox copiers dance, legs akimbo to Herbie’s ‘Roket’, Arthur Baker’s electro and the Art Of Noise’s sampled scratch barks. A creature it seems of the times it was supposedly created in (though sounds like it was made last week), there’s all those influences plus Neuclaus banging on the proverbial door of Yello’s studio, the Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sparks and Populäre Mechanik. Oh yeah, Der Plan pull them all in on the retro-futurist computer belter that springs and rolls through the discothèque, art gallery and workshop.

Der Plan merge Kippenberger like deadpan with a prototype Fanuk in crisis – the randy rebellious machine of ‘I Want To Sing Like Ella’, caught in the middle of identity catharsis -, an L.A. disaster movie answer machine message with a transmogrified form of neon new wave Miami boogie; and turn Chris Montez’s ‘Let’s Dance’ twister into a futuristic dummies bop. 

A throwback to an era of rudimental robotics, when the utopian view of A.I. connectivity was in its infancy, this Kraftwerkian flip feels just as relevant now in the current climate as tech seems to be fast approaching the holy grail of ‘equivalence’. We’re also seeing the dystopian visions of that same 80s period, when this album was apparently recorded. Clever, sophisticated, arty, on-tech but playfully tongue-in-cheek, Save Your Software is the 80s new wave pop album that never was. And I love it. 

IOKOI ‘Tales Of Another Felt Sense Of Self’
(-Ous) 26th March 2021

Creating a total immersive experience for all the senses, sound artist, vocalist and composer Maria Micciché deconstructs what has gone before so she and her collaborators on this latest project can create a set of new ‘sensations’ and experiences in which to address the theme of digital age disembodiment.

Under the IOKOI mantle, Micciché has pulled together the resources and creative skills of the videographer Michele Foti, olfactory (that’s sense of smell) artist Klara Ravat and graphic designer Sarah Parsons to take on a full exploration: part performance, part installation. It’s a cerebral project that taken three years to put together, with its multidisciplinary strands which includes Foti’s video clip studies of structure, movement, nature and the human body; Parson’s 208 page accompanying booklet of condescend video stills and fragments of Micciché’s song lyrics; and Ravat’s specially made room scent – to be applied when listening to the music.

Tales Of Another Felt Sense Of Self is a search, understanding of the differences and multifaceted dimensions of the ‘self’, ‘other’ and ‘same’. But it’s also a highly personal, intimate inward journey for the artist who utters, expels and in hushed tones narrates deeply personal sensations of longing and understanding. Tracks such as ‘SOS’, as it suggests, seem to be a signal, call out for help in the midst of variously voiced repetitions of the albums leitmotif mantra: those layered vocal cycles sound like enticing ad slogans echoing from out of a sort of Blade Runner futuristic soundtrack.  Elsewhere the birds sing a sweet song, yet ‘Bloody Life’ is full of sad narrated gestures and a neo-classical like piano that plays on in a tinkled, out-of-time fashion. Micciché in an almost resigned, quiet voice yearns for the sensations of certain reminisced scenic caresses whilst addressing the question of harmonious balance in our lives: finding it, as the lyrics whisper, in our complimentary opposites.

The whole experience of strung-out phonetics, reverberating breathy airy and almost hyperventilated voiced phrases and lyrics that float and manifest in the middle of electronic currents, tubular-like didgeridoo echoed rhythms and the vaporous is akin at times to walking around in a radiophonics rich space, kitted out with surround sound.

Taken separately as an aural experience, Micciché’s soundtrack is evocative and immersive enough. When put together with the aromas and imagery it must be and incredibly full-on perceptive experience.

This is conceptual sound art brought out of the gallery space and into the home; an experience made all the more intimate and personal.  

Conrad Schnitzler ‘Paracon (The Paragon Session Outtakes 1978-1979)’
(Bureau B) 26th March 2021

Continuing to reveal, and in some cases rejuvenate, the previously lain dormant archives of the Kosmische and electronic pioneer Conrad Schnitzler, Hamburg label of quality and repute, Bureau B, has released yet another treasure trove of his interstellar space experiments. This time it’s a session collection of outtakes from the late 70s, created at the Paragon named studio of tangerine dreamer and solo innovator Peter Baumann.

For those unaware of Schnitzler’s prestige, the Dusseldorf-born visionary co-founded the infamous Zodiak Free Arts Lab incubator, helped put together the first incarnation of the Kosmische superstars Cluster (or Kluster as it was known back then; his foils Roedelius and Moebius dropping the ‘K’ for a ‘C’ on Schnitzler’s departure) and appeared on the inaugural Tangerine Dream suite, Electronic Meditation, before founding Eruption in late ’71.  A solo career with a host of collaborations on the way lasted until his death in 2011.

One such partnership was with Populäre Mechanik stalwart and artist Wolfgang Seidel (appearing under the alias of Wolf Sequenza, and collaborating in recent years with artists as diverse as Lloyd Cole), the co-author of these particular expansions of space and minimalist-techno probes. Seidal became a regular foil for years: especially on the two Consequenz albums. With no track titles, just an ambiguous numerical ordering of recordings, the Paracon tracks sound pretty much like finished works in their own right; all sharing a mysterious cosmic and alien sound that’s both almost ominous and yet playfully evolving. There’s much of that rich Kosmische dancing and searching Tangerine Dream sound in these starry visions; Schnitzler bound for galactic travels aboard a propeller engine craft hovering over lunar vistas and primal soups. Throbbing metallic leviathans and flapping, slithered entities move about in the deep space as sonorous balls of refracted light cascade and twinkle. Yes it’s that sort of trip.

At times Schnitzler creates a calculus of falling data and Library music like chemistry sets activity, and at other times, begins to bring in some base-techno rhythms. It’s a similar palette of synthesized square waves, presets and early midi-electronica that permeates, yet there’s some eerie, spooked uneasy engine pulsing tones of Bernard Szajner and more majestic moon dust kooky waltzing amongst the comets to be found too. It seems bot Schnitzler and Seidel had some vision of the future whilst producing these tracks, bridging as they do both the Kosmische with early signs of Techno music.

Not so much ‘outtakes’ as an extended album of congruous space excursions and metallic machine music, these sessions are a worthy edition to the Schnitzler catalogue of unearthed electronica traverses: A great, expansive cosmic-mining album in its own right.

Kirk Barley/Church Andrews ‘Parallels’
(Takuroko) 5th April 2021

Here’s an idea that you don’t really ever see, an artist appearing both as themselves and under an alias on the same split release. In what is a congruous experiment, and division of labour, Kirk Barley does just that.

Via the prolific in-house Café OTO label, Barley uses, more or less, the same sound palette and set of tools to create two complimentary but different outcomes. As Barley the placable light-of-touch creator of this EP’s first half section (‘Parallels A1 – A5’), tubular-like chimes of metallic marimba (or xylophone, or even something else like it) and detuned, duller sounded bells ring, shimmer, cascade and float across a cosmos of avant-garde classical Japanese scenes, a very removed version of gamelan and sparse kooky 70s electronic Library music. Reverberating with depth and shadowed on some of these parallels by a traceable echo of the main baubles and bobbled rhythms and repeated interplay, these diaphanous chimed experiments also feature a sort of transduced language of globules and retro glassy computerized data. A Kosmische Sakamoto contemplating the blooming blossom, these more tranquil, sparse suites are dreamy and playful.

The Church Andrews alter ego meanwhile transforms that apparatus into something heavier: to a point. It’s a mirage of sorts: a staccato trippy, wavy fashioning of Warp and Ninja Tunes Techno, and even House Music (‘Parallels 8’ could be a drunken groove meeting between Felix Da Housecat and Luke Vibret). Introduced into this section of the split are more quickened rhythms, enveloping and thrusting effects. At times it sounds like a remix, transformation of the first half: you can hear those tubular chimes, undulations when the tight delay and faster iteration loops slacken off.

It’s all about the ‘motion’ and ‘percussive patterns’ on this sophisticated spread of Techno ingenuity, as opposed to the trickled washes and untethered approach of Barley’s first five ‘parallels’. Both however prove dreamy and reflective; creatively springing forth from the same source and musically entwined. Barley and Church, or Barley Church; two experimental visions from the same mind.   

Violet Nox ‘Whispering Galaxy’
(Infinity Vine Records) 9th April 2021

Pretty much encapsulated in the title of the Boston-based synth group’s fourth album, Whispering Galaxy is just that; a dreamy, ethereal chorus of hushed, diaphanous whispery voices, emanating from and sending out siren’s waves across an expansive galaxy.

A reverberating apparatus of various synthesizers, machines, a turntable and post-punk flange-guitar manipulate and fashion a vaporous pink ether of various hymnal and more mysterious haunted heavenly vocalists to woo over on a cosmic cruise into the great expanses of space. Wispy, airy but with a lot of depth the album’s space journeys fluctuate between the dry-ice, breathy, cybertronic jacked-up Kosmische and subtle Techno visitations of ‘Shapeshifter’, and the more esoteric Banshee-dreamed ‘Selene’ – which reimagines a sort of synthesized neo-folk vampiric Velvet Underground casting shadows beneath a full moon. On the almost spiritual voiced ‘Haumea’, Violet Nox’s spacecraft hurtles through a trippy, warped sonic vortex towards a dwarf planet, located just beyond Neptune’s orbit. Named after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth, and only discovered in 2004, Haumea inspires a suitable enough galaxy quest soundscape; one in which the Nox seem to turn off the engines and just drift towards in a suspended state of aria vocalized homage.

With touches, glimpses of mid-90s Bowie, Brian Reitzell and countless dreamy, synth-pop inspirations Violet Nox coo and woo sweet ‘somethings’ to the awe, mystique and trepidation of the galaxy beyond our reach.       

Federico Balducci/Fourthousandblackbirds ‘Anta Odeli Uta’
(Somewherecold Records) 9th April 2021

A return to the fold for the highly prolific adroit guitar sculptor of ‘dreamscapes for hope & the facilitation of enlightenment’ Federico Balducci, and a label debut for the experimental, abstract artist Albérick (appearing under the avian inspired Fourthousandblackbirds moniker), this drone, ambient and contemporary classical collaboration proves a most congruous fit and balance of the sparring partners musical art forms.

The two mavericks compliment each other on a most atmospheric soundtrack of paranormal like communications and drifts. I say paranormal, the opening ‘Wake’ seems to be tapping into channel ether on an esoteric TV set. FTB for his part produces a sizzle and crackled tuning of fuzz, flits and squiggles, and a sort of quasi-haunted organ as Balducci drops and lingers lightly administered guitar phrases and notes that hang on the edge of slight dislocation and even jilt a little: nearly in dissonance. A chill of the subterranean and the Gothic permeates the renaissance corpus ebb and tide of the next suite, ‘Ligeti And Gira Floating In A Pool Filled With Soy Milk’. A reference I assume to both the Swans’ instigator Michael Gira and the famous avant-garde, contemporary classical doyen György Ligeti, this haunted pool of gauzy mirages could be said to straddle their inventive influences: especially Ligeti’s signature ‘musical hallucination’. ‘Lux’ dwells in a sort of dank cavern, though the guitar parts, harmonically echo, ting and sparkle with a certain lightness of touch. There’s a repeating chorus of bird song on the next passage, ‘Toxoplasmois’, to balance out the title’s reference to a parasitic disease. You can hear the resonance of Balducci’s hand movements, up and down the tingled spine of his guitar; some movements, gestures, brushes of which sound almost harp-like.

Finishing on a communicative broadcast, ‘Queen Of Mars’ pairs FTBB’s Morse-coded dot-dashes and synthesized glassy bobs with Balducci’s woozy spirals and cyclonic whittled notes. That last track, and the album’s title too, are both reference points to the Soviet sci-fi film vision Aelita: Queen Of Mars, directed by Yakov Protazanov and based on Alexi Tolstoy’s 1923 novel of the same name. “Anta Odeli Uta” is the alien message beamed from Mars, which notifies Earth of their presence. A sort of Bolshevik version of John Carter Of Mars, it tells the tale of a Soviet engineer travelling to the red planet in a rocket ship, where he soon leads a popular uprising against the ruling Elders and falls in love with the planet’s queen. Except it all turns out to be a daydream, which in a way is where this visitation soundtrack heads. For this collaboration is an incipient dream state that lurks and drifts across an atmosphere of the spooked, hallucinating and strange to great success. Let’s hope both partners on this journey continue to work together in the future.

Sone Institute ‘New Vermin Replace Old’
(Mystery Bridge Records) 16th April 2021

From the as yet burnt-out ashes of previous ambient excursions, Roman Bezdyk pushes on into ‘uncharted territory’ with a newly fashioned quartet suite of the cerebral. Formerly a stalwart of the Manchester based Front & Follow label, Bezdyk has chosen to release this latest Sone Institute fronted production of ambient imbued, sophisticated simmering Techno on his own Mystery Bridge Records imprint.

Relating to but also casting adrift of past experiments, the opprobrious entitled New Vermin Replaces Old EP probes and ascends the astral with a subtle hand of guidance: not entirely untethered but free to roam and venture both the awe-inspired expanses of space and the more grounded, ominous ruins of our contemporary society.

It all begins with a most astro-nautical climb (nee glide) into the stratosphere and beyond with the opening ambient skying ‘Studded By Stars 1’. A light wind and square wave ease us into a most ‘starry’ atmosphere; yet subtly stirring in the midst of this cloud base is the resonating movements of objects and unseen forces. That’s the most ambient-esque it gets; from then on there’s added tubular metallic percussion, fluttering kinetic beats and threaded gnarled post-punk like traces of guitar.

‘Vulpine Smile’ may allude to something cunning and crafty, but the sonics reverberate and rattle towards the Germanic and echoes of labels such as Harthouse and R&S in the 90s. That same vibe of Teutonic propulsion can be heard on the Kraftwerkian (if they signed to Basic Channel), springy and bobbed cyber ‘Little Nurse’.

Dropping ball bearings in slot machines and spindling the transmogrified sounds of chimed bells, the twisting, almost clandestine ‘Dazzling Darkness’ seems to strangle the guts of a celeste on a near menacing and quite distinct experiment. 

The more you listen, the more you hear revealed from the subtle multilayering of descriptive sonics, rhythms and expletory strands. New Vermin Replace Old is a most intelligent, emotive immersion into the visceral: a highly conscious electronic journey into the unknown. 

Matt Donovan ‘Underwater Swimming’
24th March 2021

His short succinct bandcamp bio doesn’t do Matt Donovan justice, especially as (even if it’s to some degrees correct) his craft and reputation is foremost as a drummer, he’s branched out much further on previous projects before this latest solo offering. Formerly the motorizing Krautrock beat provider for Eat Lights Become Lights, and one half (alongside Nigel Bryant) of the now sadly defunct Untied Knot (two of their albums made our choice features of the year in the past), Donovan was already apt at extending his musicianship, composing and production chops.

Now venturing it alone, unheralded and just happy to share, he’s released a floatation, trippy wash album of hazed and quasi-nostalgic melody explorations: both instrumental and sung. Always full of surprises, Underwater Swimming is a dreamy recollection of C86, post-punk, Madchester, the rave era, spacy and industrial indie influences; refracted and molded to reflect Donovan’s search for melodious release in a time of great anxiety, tumult and uncertainty.

Songs and traverses (both utterly cosmic and more bruising, gnarled) seem to evoke various chapters, scenes and cathartic concerns: even studies. Many of which seem to be imbued by his formative years, growing up loving music in the 80s and early 90s. There’s furors into the baggy on the dreamed edge of the second summer of love ‘Mountain Missed’; an acid wash of The Charlatans, House Of Love, Stone Roses and The Essence. There’s a vibe, trace of the Hacienda years, and hints of Factory Records on the more pumped, bass rumbled ‘Wakhan Thanka’, and halcyon melodica-like plaintive Joy(ous) Division meets Spacemen 3 and The Church on ‘Lap Creature’. Donovan somehow manages to merge elements of The Tubeway Army, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Telescope and Popol Vuh on the motored, broody ‘Watch The Pressure’. It’s an album that takes in A.I. lamentable electro-blues, horizon gazing Kosmische, and a strange, magical Beach Boys (via John Lane) vision of oceanic ruminating. Under the light of celestial phenomenons, or around an Ibiza campfire with acoustic guitar, serenading, Donovan extends his portfolio and tastes and most importantly musicianship (going as far as to introduce subtle passages of piano and even prog rock into his oeuvre) on an exploration of ideas that all prove melodious. I’d say that was a success then. 

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog 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 to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.



The second 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 from that period; 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.

Our customary eclectic playlist features synthesized peregrinations and quirky electronica from Ippu Mitsui, AXL OTL and Swamp Sounds; forlorn desert blues and experimental polygenesis traverses and bombast from Ifriqiya Electrique, King Ayisoba, Tanzania Albinism Collective and Songhoy Blues; a smattering of choice cuts from Matt Oliver’s Rapture & Verse hip-hop review, including Raekwon, Prozack Turner, Brother Ali and Shabazz Palaces; plus pop makossa vibes from Cameroon, aria electric guitar cosmological paeans from Anna Coogan, heavy doom psychedelia from the Black Angels and much, much more. In all: A sense of anxiety. A sense of angst. A sense of unease. And a sense of wonder.


Ippu Mitsui  ‘Bug’s Wings’  (review)
AXL OTL  ‘Ondes Beta’
Swamp Sounds  ‘Skull Disco’  (review)
In Flagranti  ‘Sidewalk Salsa’
Flamingods  ‘Mixed Blessings’
King Ayisoba (ft. Wanlov da Kubolor & Big Gad)  ‘Africa Needs Africa’  (review)
Ifriqiyya Electrique  ‘Arrah arrah abbaina-Bahari-Tenouiba’  (review)
Tanzania Albinism Collective  ‘Tanzania Is Our Country, Too’  (review)
Vieux Farka Toure  ‘Bonheur’  (review)
Tanzania Albinism Collective  ‘Mistreated’
Colin Stetson  ‘Spindrift’
Uncle Pops & The Dumbloods  ‘Harry Smith’s Paper Planes’  (review)
Raekwon  ‘Crown Of Thorns’
BocaWoody (ft, Blu Rum 13)  ‘At It Again’  (review)
The Last Skeptik (ft. Scrufizzer, Mikill Pane, Dream Mclean, Al The Native)  ‘Drumroll Please’ (review)
DJ Format & Abdominal  ‘Still Hungry’  (review)
Prozack Turner  ‘Obsession’  (review)
Danger Mouse & Run The Jewels  ‘Chase Me’  (review)
Ramson Badbonez & DJ Fingerfood  ‘Hypnodic’  (review)
Jehst (ft. Eric Biddines & Strange U)  (review)
Brother Ali  ‘Own Light (What Hearts Are For)’  (review)
Shabazz Palaces (ft. Thaddillac)  ‘Shine A Light’  (review)
El Michels Affair (ft. Lee Fields & The Shacks)  ‘Tearz’  (review)
Alex Stolze  ‘Don’t Try To Be’  (review)
Earlham Mystics  ‘Truth’
Andrew Wasylyk  ‘Under High Blue Skies’  (review)
Bill Loko  ‘Nen Lambo’  (review)
Vincent Ahehehinnou  ‘Best Woman’
Songhoy Blues  ‘Bamako’
The Black Angels  ‘Hunt Me Down’  (review)
Faust  ‘Lights Flicker’  (review)
Oiseaux-Tempete  ‘Baalshamin’
Anna Coogan  ‘The Lonely Cry Of Space And Time’  (review)
Sergio Beercock  ‘Jester’  (review)
Sparks  ‘What The Hell Is It This Time?’
Der Plan  ‘Lass die Katze stehn’  (review)
Arcade Fire  ‘Creature Comfort’
Lucy Leave  ‘Talk Danish To Me’
Vassals  ‘Sea Spells’  (review)
Mount Song  ‘Nothing’  (review)
Carlo Mazzoli  ‘Avalanche Blues’  (review)
Happyness  ‘Tunnel Vision On Your Part’  (review)


Featuring: Colours Of Raga, Der Plan, Esmark, Ippu Mitsui, Pop Makossa, Roedelius, Chaplin & Heath and Revbjelde.


Welcome to the 50th! Yes 50th edition of my most eclectic of new music review roundups. This latest collection is no different in selecting the most interesting, dynamic and obscure of releases from across the world, with the invasive dance beat billed compilation of Cameroon “pop Makossa” from the Analog Africa label, a curated collection of raga recordings and a rare film from the archives of the late Indian music ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya, a phantasmagoria of folk, psych, prog, jazz and beats vision of an esoteric troubled England by Revbjelde, plus electronic suites both diaphanously ambient and equally menacing from Esmark and the triumvirate Roedelius, Chaplin & Heath, and vibrant quirky electro from Ippu Mitsui, and the return, after a 25 year absence of Germany’s highly influential cerebral electronic pop acolytes Der Plan.

Various  ‘Pop Makossa – The Invasive Dance Beat Of Cameroon 1976-1984’
Analog Africa,  16th June 2017


Pop goes Makossa! Makossa being, originally, the traditional rhythm and funeral dance of Cameroon’s Sawa and Essewé peoples, later transformed in the country’s cities as it collided with everything from merengue and rumba to Highlife and disco. Urban meets folk, Cameroon’s traditions given a transfusion of electromagnetism and fire, inevitably went “pop” in the latter half of the 1970s. Makossa, which means, “to dance” in the Cameroon Douala language, is a highly loose and adaptable style: as you will hear on this twelve-track collection of hits and rarities from the golden era of pop makossa.

The latest in a tenure adventure of excavating lost treasures from the African continent; Analog Africa’s main man Samy Ben Redjeb once more digs deep, sifting through a daunting mountain-size pile of records and recordings. As with many of these projects, Samy’s expeditions turn into lengthy travails: this compilation being no exception, the label originally putting out feelers and surveying the country’s music scene in 2009, and only now finalized and ready for release. And as with these projects he’s helped by equally passionate experts, in this case DJ/producer Déni Shain who travelled to Cameroon to tie-up the loose ends, license tracks, interview the artists, and rustle through the archives to find the best photographs for a highly informative accompanying booklet.

Honing in on the period when makossa rubbed-up against funk and disco, this balmy dance beat compilation’s pulse is luminous and fluid and most importantly, funky. This is in major part down to some of the most smooth, bouncing, slick and relaxed but constantly busy of bass lines – Cameroon’s bass players rightly revered as among the best throughout the world – and the constantly shuffling hi-hats, tom rolls and splashing drums.

Imitating their western counterparts but going full on in embracing the technology, especially production wise, of the times, in their own inimitable way, Cameroon’s great and good weren’t shy in using the synthesizer. The Mystic Djim & The Spirits use it for instance to glide along on their girl-group chorus beachside disco Yaoundé Girls track, whereas Pasteur Lappé uses it to create a bubbly, aquatic space effect on his 80s tropical disco vibe Sanaga Calypso. Everyone is at it more or less, using wobbly and laser-shot synth waves and gargles that were, very much, in vogue during the later 70s and early 80s. That or the Philly soul sound – check the tender electric guitar accents and sweet prangs together with smooth romantic saxophone on Nkodo Si-Tony’s jolly Miniga Meyong Mese hit – and odyssey style funk. Devoid of this slicker production and de rigueur electronic drum pads and cosmic burbles, the opening blast of pop makossa, an “invasion” in fact, by the Dream Stars is a much more lively and raw recording; closer in sound and performance to the J.B.’s than anything else. The most obscure and rare record in this collection – a real gritty shaker of Afro-soul – the Dream Stars turn makes its official debut, having never been released officially until now.

Every bit as “invasive”(and infectious) as the extended album title suggests, the classy pop massoka sound – once considered the unofficial national sound of Cameroon – is waiting to be rediscovered and let loose once again. In what seems like a recent shift in direction at the Analog Africa label, with the emphasis on the late 70s and 80s – from last year’s Space Echo collection from Cape Verde to reissues of Trinidad & Tobago star Shadow’s Sweet Sweet Dreams and the Benin solo singer Vincent Ahehehinnou’s Best Woman – this latest survey continues to unearth musical treats from the same era, albeit in different geographical settings, yet sharing many of the same production and trends traits. As classy as they come, this sun-basked music scene exposé arrives just in time for the summer.

Der Plan  ‘Unkapitulierbar’
Bureau B,  23rd June 2017


Though the heralded return (after a 25 year wait) of the cerebral German trio was prompted by a special reunion performance for Andreas Dorau’s 50th birthday, the momentous changes triggered by Brexit and the election of Trump must have had some effect in galvanizing Der Plan back into action. That recent party gig did however remind the trio of Moritz Reichelt, Kurt Dahlke and Frank Fenstermacher that making music together was fun at least. And so with encouragement they coalesced all the various scrapes, fragments and sketches that had been left dormant in the intervening years and shaped them into a dry-witted soundtrack for the times in which we now find ourselves: in Europe at least.

Of course, they hadn’t all been encased motionless in stasis of hibernation during that quarter century absence. Reichelt, know by his trademarked moniker Moritz R, designed covers and visuals, and alongside his comrades co-founded the influential indie label Ata Tak: releasing albums of varying success by DAF, Andreas Dorau and Element Of Crime. Dahlke meanwhile, no stranger to the Monolith Cocktail, has and continues to programme and produce electronica and techno music under the Pyrolator title; in recent years finishing or “re-constructing” archival material ideas from the vaults of the late kosmische progenitor Conrad Schnitzler. Fenstermacher has also been busy releasing solo material but is also recognized for his contributions to the Düsseldorf band Fehlfarben’s iconic Monarchie & Alltag LP.

Back together again; assembled under the hijacked Delacroix painting of Liberty Leading The People, defending the EU barricades as the American flag lays in tatters underfoot, in an iconic role reversal of the revolutionary spirit, Der Plan’s shtick is obvious in defense, and deference, of the EU constitution. Unkapitulierbar itself is a defiant battle cry, translated as “Uncapitulable” it denotes the group’s will of “continuity” and “unbrokeness” in the face of crisis.

One star poorer on the flag with further uncertainty (possibly my most overused but befitting word of the year) ahead for the EU, Der Plan consolidate and sow the seeds of worry on their first album together in 25 years. To show their scope of musical ideas and sounds, but also continue a link with there past as one of Germany’s most iconic and important electronic pop bands there’s reverberations of Kraftwerk’s Europe Endless synthesized symphony on the bouncy, elasticated sophisticated pop tracks Wie Der Wind Weht (As The Wind Blows) and Lass Die Katze Stehn! (Let The Cat Stand!); a hybrid of electric blue tango and reggae on the philosophical weary Man Leidet Herrlich (One Suffers Splendidly); and a mind-melding of The Beach Boys and Depeche Mode on the cooing expedition into space Die Hände Des Astronauten (The Hands Of The Astronaut).

The tone and vocals are however for the most part dour and dry even when tripping into the dream world flight of fantasy, which features an alluring but sinister female duet, Come Fly With Me (the only track title and song to be sung in English), and the near schmoozing, sentimental ballad Flohmarkt Der Gerfühle (Fleamarket Of Emotions).

Unkapitulierbar reflects both the band’s continued curiosity and development in song writing; their original process of improvising first and adding lyrics later is replaced with one in which ideas and lyrics act as a foundation for the music that follows. And with a wizened pastiche Der Plan prove that 25 years later the trio can at least be relied upon to produce the goods in these increasing volatile times.

Esmark  ‘Mãra I/ Mãra II’
Bureau B,  30th June 2017


The latest soundscape union between experimental artist Alsen Rau and sound architect Nikolai von Sallwitz, Esmark, is a disturbing moiety of minimalistic analog hardware manipulations and generated pulses spread over two volumes.

Rau, half of another duo the German partnership On+Brr, has released numerous recordings and is both a co-founder of and curator at the Hamburg based club Kraniche: covering exhibitions, performances and readings. Sallwitz meanwhile, as a vocalist and producer uses the appellation Taprikk Sweezee, and has composed music and sound design for film, theatre and a range of art and pop projects; collaborating at various times with the artists Chris Hoffmann, Andreas Nicolas Fischer and Robert Seidel, who as it happens has made a real time performed video piece for one of Esmark’s tracks.

Pitching up in the isolation of a Scandinavian cartography, where the impressive Spitzbergan glacier that not only lends its name to the duo’s name but also acts as a looming subject study, the Mãra recordings oscillate, hover and vibrate between the menacing presence of that cold landscape and the unworldly mystery of unknown signals from space and the ether. Moving at an often glacial pace, a build-up of strange forces penetrate the humming and drones that act as an often worrying bed of bleakness or ominousness. Subtly putting their analog kit of synth boxes and drum computers through changing chains of various effects and filters, feeding the results they’ve captured on tape back into the compositions, the duo evoke early Cluster, Phaedra-era Tangerine Dream, and on the Geiger counter rhythmic Krav, Can.

Acting as a prompt and reflection of the places and times they were recorded, each track title offers a vague reference point. Volume I seemly alludes to more earthly realms, naming peaks and points of interest, from what I can gather, though the atmosphere modulates and probes the spiked and flared communications of distant worlds and hovers like an apparition between dimensions. Volume II however, offers coded and scientific-fangled titles such as Objekt P62410 – which actually sounds like the warping debris from a UFO at times – and Tæller 3.981. The scariest of many such haunted trepidations on this volume, the supernatural dark material vibrations and hum of Lianen sounds like a portal opening up in the latest series of the Twin Peaks universe.

Something resembling a percussive rhythm and even a beat does occasionally form and take shape, prompting speedier and more intense movement. But whether it’s nature or the imagination being traversed and given sound, the pace is mostly creeping.

The Esmark collaboration transduces the earth-bound landscape and its omnipresent glacier into an unsettling sci-fi score and sound-art exploration that treads threateningly on the precipice of the unknown.

Ippu Mitsui  ‘L+R’
Bearsuit Records,  24th June 2017


Continuing to showcase relatively obscure (and bonkers occasionally) electronic and alternative music from both Scotland and Japan, the Edinburgh-based label Bearsuit Records has once again caught my attention. This time with the joystick-guided experimental dance music of the Tokyo artist/producer/musician Ippu Mitsui.

Since a self-produced debut in 2012 Mitsui has gone on to release a variety of records for different labels, before signing to Bearsuit in 2016. Flying solo again after sharing an EP with label comrades The Moth Poets last year, Mitsui now follows up his most recent E Noise EP with a full-on album of heavy, sharp reversal percussive layering and quirky electro and techno.

The colourful and vibrant L+R spins at different velocities of that quirkiness; from the flighty bubbly house style Tropicana in space Bug’s Wings, to the 32-bit, dial-up tone and laser-shooting skittish collage version of the Art Of Noise Random Memory.

Programmed to both entertain as much as jolt, Mitsui’s beats flow but also routinely shudder and trip into fits and phases of crazy discord or increasingly stretch their looping parameters until loosening into ever-widening complex cycles of percussion. Orbiting the influential spheres of Ed Banger – the transmogrified engine-revving accelerator Small Rider could easily be a lost track from one of the French label’s samplers – the Leaf label, the Yellow Magic Orchestra, 80s Chicago house, and the Nimzo-Indian, L+R is full of experimental ideas and sounds from whatever floats Mitsui’s boat. Some that work better than others it must be said, and some, which stem from drum breaks or synth waves that perhaps fail to go anywhere more interesting.

If you already know the Bearsuit label then Mitsui’s new-found base of operations proves a congruous choice to mount his dance music attacks from; fitting in well with their electronic music roster of the weird, avant-garde, humorous even, but always challenging.

‘Musical Explorers: Colours Of Raga’  Recordings by Deben Bhattacharya curated by Simon Broughton
ARC Music,  23rd June 2017


The inaugural release in a new series devoted to ethnomusicologists and the, often obscure, musicians they’ve recorded, Musical Explorers is the latest project from one of the busiest of “world music” labels, ARC. Championing the often haphazard art of field recording and capturing, what are in many examples, improvised one-off performances from all corners of the globe, ARC have chosen to kick start this new collection with music from the archives of the late renowned filmmaker Deben Bhattacharya.

Highly unusual for the times, the Indian born Bhattacharya was not only self-taught but one of the only ethnomusicologist to come from outside Europe or America. Moving to Britain in the late 1940s, he simultaneously worked for the post office and, as a porter, for John Lewis, whilst making radio programmes on Indian music for the BBC. He went on to produce over twenty such films and over a hundred plus albums of music, not just from the Indian subcontinent but also Europe and the Middle East.

Invited to “curate” and choose just six recordings from this extensive catalogue, Songlines editor-in-chief, author of the handy reference “rough guides” to world music series, and filmmaker, Simon Broughton hones in on the signature sound of India’s raga tradition; picking a concomitant suite of performances from Bhattacharya’s birthplace of Benara. Recorded in 1954, with the exception of Amiya Gopal Bhattacharya’s traversing and reflectively plucked and attentively gestured composition Todi, which was recorded much later in ’68, these tracks are sublime windows into a complex musical heritage.

Part of the western music scene for well over fifty years, embraced, appropriated, by Harrison and Jones most famously during the conscious shift from teenage melodrama of the early 60s to the psychedelic drug and musical quest for revelation and enlightenment in the mid to later part of that decade, the beautifully resonating harmonics and serenity of the sitar and the dipping palm and calm to galloping open handed tapping of the tabla have become part of the British musical landscape. Still representing the path to spiritualism and meaning, though also used still in the most uninspiring of ways as a shortcut to the exotic, the Indian sound and most notably ragas, continue to fascinate, yet are far from being fully understood.

Here then is a worthy instruction in the rudimentary: For example, framed as the most characteristic forms of Indian classical music, the raga derives its name and meaning from the Sanskrit word “ranji”, which means “to colour” (hence the collection’s title). Ragas also come in many moods (tenderness, serenity, contemplation) and themes, and must be played at particular times of the day in particular settings: ideally. To be played in the open air and after 7pm, the courtly Kedara not only sets a one of meditative optimism but introduces the listener to the lilting double-reed sound of the North Indian woodwind instrument, the “shenai”; played in an ascending/descending floating cycle of brilliance, alongside the Indian kettle drum, the “duggi”, by Kanhalyo Lall and his group – most probably on a prominent platform above the temple gate as tradition dictates.

Elsewhere Jyotish Chandra Chowdury eloquently, almost coquettish, radiates playing the more familiar sitar. He’s accompanied by the quickened rhythm and knocking tabla on the curtseying majestic Khamma – to be played between the very precise hours of 9-10pm. Swapping over to the zither-like “rudravina” Chowdury articulates the onset of the rain season, as the very first droplets hit the parched ground, on Miyan Ki Malhas.

Despite the hours and moods, which include a Hindi love song that goes on and on, these compositions are all very relaxing; submerging the listener if he wishes, into an, unsurprising, reflective but tranquil state.

Accompanying this audio collection is one of Bhattacharya’s introductory films on Indian music. Simply entitled Raga. Unfortunately most of his footage, originally commissioned by, of all people, Richard Attenborough, has been lost. And so this 1969 film remains one of the earliest examples left from the archives. Very representative of the times it was made, fronted by the stiff-collared Yehudi Menuhin, it serves a purpose as an historical document. Menuhin had it must be said. Little knowledge of the subject matter yet still wrote a script, which was replaced by Bhattacharya’s own to create a hybrid of the two, the focus being shifted away where possible from travelogue to technique and an endorsement of Indian music. The footage however introduces the viewer to a number of exceptional musicians, including a rare performance from the revered sitar player – one of the famous triumvirates of sitar gods alongside Vilayet Khan and Ravi ShankarHalim Jaffer Khan. It is an interesting companion piece to the main recordings, enhancing the whole experience with a visual record that captures a particular time in the development of Indian raga.

An illuminating, transcendental start to the series, Colours Of Raga acts as both a reference guide and gateway to exploring the enchanting beauty of the Indian raga further.

Roedelius, Chaplin & Heath  ‘Triptych In Blue’
Disco Gecko,  7th July 2017


Twenty years after first partnering with kosmische and neo-classicists most prolific composer Hans-Joachim Roedelius, ambient producer/musician Andrew Heath asked the legendary octogenarian to appear alongside him and the equally experimental composer Christopher Chaplin for a live performance in 2016. Part of a Heath curated concert at The Brunel Goods Shed in Stroud, this trio’s performances as the title makes obvious has a leitmotif, a fixation on the number three: three carefully chosen artists whose individual processes compliment and trigger each other so well produce three peregrinations of serialism to represent, or play with, three different shades of blue. It may also be a reference to the famous Triptych Bleu I, II, III paintings by the Spanish genius Joan Miró; a set of similar blue dominated works summarizing the abstract painters themes and techniques to that point in 1961, blue being for him a symbol of a world of cosmic dreams, an unconscious state where his mind flowed clearly and without any sort of order.

Heath’s previous collaboration of experimental ambience with Roedelius, Meeting The Magus, was recorded under the Aqueuous moniker with his duo partner Felix Joy in 1997. This proved to be the perfect grounding and experience for musical synergy, even if it took another two decades to follow up, as Heath picks up from where he left off on Triptych In Blue. Chaplin for his part has performed with the Qluster/Cluster/Kluster steward before. But as with most Roedelius featured projects, and he’s been part of a great many in his time, each performance is approached with fresh ears.

Self-taught with a far from conventional background in music, Roedelius has nevertheless helped to create new forms based on classism and the avant-garde. The piano has returned to the forefront, especially on recent Qluster releases. And it appears here with signature diaphanous touches and succinct, attentive cascades floating, drifting and sometimes piercing the multilayered textures of aleatory samples and generated atmospherics.

Tonally similar but nuanced and changeable each shade of blue title has its own subtle articulations. The meteorite-crystallized source of Azurite is represented by a starry-echoed piano notes, the hovering presence of some leviathan force and the synthetic created tweeting of alien wildlife. A sonorous de-tuning bell chimes through a gauzy melody of sadly bowed strings, distant voices in a market, and a moody low throbbing bass on Ultramarine, whilst Cobalt is described in gracefully stirring classical waves, searing drones, scrapped and bottle top opening percussion, and chilled winds.

Subtly done, each track is however taken into some ominous glooms and mysterious expanses of uncertainty by the trio, who guide those neo-classical and kosmische genres into some unfamiliar melodic and tonal ambient spaces. And all three in their own way are quite melodious and sometimes beautiful.

Not to take anything away from his companions on this performance, but the musical equivalent of a safety kitemark, Roedelius’ name guarantees quality. And Triptych In Blue is no different, a worthy collaboration and “lower case” study success for both Heath and Chaplin. Hopefully this trinity will continue to work together on future projects.

Revbjelde  ‘S/T’
Buried Treasure, available now


Flagged up as a potential review subject for the Monolith Cocktail by Pete Brookes, one part of the Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut outfit, whose 2015 Gimmie! Gimmie! Gimmie! Peanut Punk diatribe made our choice albums of that year; the Berkshire-based Revbjelde’s self-titled debut for the Buried Treasure imprint is billed as an industrial-jazz-psych-motorik-folk phantasmagoria (that last word is mine not theirs).

Soundtracking a somber, spooky dystopian vision of England, the group and their guest contributors create a suitably Fortean supernatural soundscape. One that is inhabited by the ghosts of the past, present and future, and the nationalistic (whether in jingoistic poetic pride or as an auger against such lyrical bombast) verse and poetry of some of “Albion’s” finest visionaries. Relics and crumbling edifices of religion and folklore for instance, such as Reading Abbey and the non-specific Cloister, feature either stern haunted Blake-esque narrations, courtesy of the brilliantly descriptive Dolly Dolly – Lycan and cuckoo metaphors, blooded stone steps and the decaying stench of an inevitable declining empire conjure up a vivid enough set of images – or the spindle-weaved clandestine instrumental atmospherics of a place that’s borne witness to something macabre.

Bewitched pastoral folk from a less than “merry olde England” morphs into daemonic didgeridoo lumbering gait jazz from an unworldly outback; Medieval psychogeography bleeds into bestial esoteric blues; and on the lunar-bounding strange instrumental Out Of The Unknown, reverberations of 80s Miles Davis, UNKLE and trip-hop amorphously settle in as congruous bedfellows on a trip into a mindfuck of an unholy cosmos.

Communing with false spirits, as with the infamous 17th century poltergeist tale nonsense of the “Tidworth drummer”, and losing themselves under the spell of The Weeping Tree, Revbjelde traverse a diorama of old wives tales, myth and all too real tragedy. Retreating one minute into the atavistic subterranean, hurtling along to Teutonic motoring techno the next as ethereal sirens coo a lulling and spine-tingling chorus, time is breached and fashioned to the band’s own ends. An alternative England, more befitting of writers such as Alan Moore, dissipates before the listener’s ears, evoking the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Sproatly Smith, The Incredible String Band, Aphrodite’s Child, mystical Byzantine hypnotics and a myriad of 60s to 70s British horror soundtracks. “Supernatural perhaps; Baloney, perhaps not!” As Bela Lugosi once retorted on film to his skeptic acquaintance’s dismissive gambit. After all there is a far deeper and serious theme to this album, one that touches upon the very tumultuous and horror of our present uncertain times.

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