Live Review: Words: Dominic Valvona




U.S.  Girls  Live  At  Stereo,  Glasgow,  May  19th  2018

Swapping the tape collage and loops (to a point) for the full-on experience of a live band on tour, Meg Remy seduces the Glasgow audience tonight with the most sophisticatedly sexy, often louche, of pop dynamics.

Remy is able to captivate with bittersweet pouting malady the most traumatic, darkest nature of patriarchal sexual control and seamiest aspects of capitalism whilst slinking to a cerebral mix of glitterball disco, raunchy pop fantasy and on as demonstrated on the finale from her most recent album, In A Poem Unlimited, and tonight’s curtain dropper, ‘Time’, no wave meets contorted jazzy break beats.

Embracing then, the seductive forces of pop music, Remy’s unsavory but vital exposés and therapeutic exercises in acknowledging trauma and abuse are made more palatable by this shift; and in turn reaches an increasingly wider audience. Channeling femme fatales and maverick artists such as Ronnie Spector and Gloria Ann Taylor and more modern alluring pop stars, Remy slips these dark themes under a sonic soundtrack of glorious disco, boogie and avant-garde experimentalism.

Showcasing a looser funky sound, backed by the Toronto hothouse supergroup The Cosmic Range (a collective that at any one time traverses Afrobeat, Krautrock, boogie and free-jazz), the central force of nature at the heart of what was initially a solo project, since expanded with a full cast of writers, producers and collaborators all willing her on, Remy yet again performs in character. Previously taking the brilliant (and one of our albums of 2015) Half Free out on the road with just the backing vocalist Amanda Grist (of Ice Cream fame) to keep her company, dressed like a leotard wearing Olivia Newton John, sporting a chic cropped hairdo, Remy returns with longer sporty locks, wearing a laced backed crop top, flanked by a duo of energetic male and female vocal sparring partners.

Performing more or less the entirety of this year’s album (her second for 4AD), with subtle transformed versions of Half Free tracks ‘Window Shades’ and ‘Sororal Feelings’ (made far more limbering, elastic and, again, sexy), this flexing multi-limbed incarnation of the U.S. Girls powers through, what seems, a short but explosive set.

Far too many band members to name, let alone all chronicle their ever entangling nuances and connections, Remy’s Cosmic Range troupe notably features husband and native Canadian Maximilian Turnbull, aka the space boogie guitar maverick Slim Twig, on doodling and noodling guitar duties, but also, playing his lungs out, some guy whose name I didn’t catch sucking and blowing on the tiniest of saxophones a wailing but also accentuate contortion of the Plastic Ono Band and a strung-out soul imbued Bowie.

Arriving late and already half-cut (blame the Cup Final, Royal Wedding and a surprisingly summery day in Glasgow; celebrated with liberally poured cheap Champagne from Aldi) we missed ShitKid, who I’m sure was a perfectly congruous support act. But apologies aside the vocals tonight could have been clearer, obfuscated at times by the sonic overload of the Cosmic Range, bouncing off the venues walls and the unfortunately placed concrete column that cuts the room in two. We could have also done with an encore; the band pretty quickly exiting without a word, disappearing off stage with no announcement (in fact there wasn’t any dialogue with the audience at all) at barely 9:30pm (possibly the earliest finishing gig I’ve ever been to). But despite this and though the words and subjects may get lost, the cadence, mood and anger translates into the most hypnotizing of agonies and troubling ecstasy.

Still, the Obama berating cooed disco thumper ‘M.A.H’ sounded lusher and hypnotizingly powerful live, and the twisted gospel Catholic gilted ‘Pearly Gates’ (originally featuring the soulful tones of James Bayley) was positively withering with venerated parody and a sweating chemistry between Remy and her vocal partners. The all too soon last song of the evening, ‘Time’, was a wig out of taut jamming and increasingly distressed, almost primal, screaming: A sonic funk attack.

Remy once again held the audience in her gaze and proved beyond doubt that she is one of the most exciting, dynamic and interesting artists of the last five years. Me and my entourage, and by the look of it that night, the entire Glasgow audience was enthralled anyway.

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Book Review: Words: Dominic Valvona




John Howard   ‘Incidents Crowded With Life’
Fisher King Publishing,   26th March 2018

Enjoying a comfortable revival (of a sort) in what is essentially his semi-retirement, bon vivant pianist, troubadour, former A&R man and now author, John Howard has finally managed, after decades of being misguided and encumbered, to record and release a series of critically successful albums of a cerebral quality on his own terms, without the travails of middlemen and agents. The humble working class lad from Lancashire, Howard’s musical career started off with such potential but was cruelly crushed, hindered by a steady stream of miscreants, businessmen, producers and the BBC, who refused to play his singles – whether, as Howard recounts out of homophobic prejudice, or just plain ignorance we will never really know.

Signed to CBS Records in the early 70s Howard’s glittering debut LP Kid In A Big World was shunted, overproduced than reproduced, passed around and eventually mishandled, until its eventual release in 1975. Rightly revered decades later, with a number of re-releases (including a very recent celebratory version), this debut became an instant cult classic; critically adored but unable to attract commercial success, mainly as a consequence of the to and froing and mismanagement, it was met with general indifference by the public. Despite an obvious talent and potential, Howard’s stop/start career went from bad to worse until he was dropped in 1976 by CBS after various aborted projects and makeovers, including a disco pop crossover with the producer Biddu (enjoying a succession of hit records at the time off the back of Carl Douglas’ Kung Fu Fighting novelty).

Chronicling that burgeoning period in what is the first of a series of autobiographies, Howard candidly reminisces, entwining his family history and eventual move to London with his various musical mishaps and highlights, and his sexual exploits. As much a history of the perils but also free-for-all misadventures of homosexuality as the hardships of making it in the music business, the first part of Howard’s story reads like an ever-horrifying recollection of violent encounters with the most ill suited of partners. Going full circle, the book opens and finishes on one of the most life changing of these ‘incidents’, with Howard’s fateful leap from the window of an apartment he shared with some colourful Filipino gay characters (as it proved, relocating to London to escape the clutches of dictator Ferdinand Marcos), who brought back a mad Russian ‘bit of rough’ intent on murder – Howard would break his back and smash both his feet in the fall. Incidents Crowded With Life then, is recounted via his recuperation; the formative years looked back on with mostly a fondness as a modest curtain is raised ‘on the living-room in a semi-detached council house in Heywood, Lancashire.’






Observations, asides are mixed with the musings on the musicians that inspired him: Dylan, The Beatles, Mothers Of Invention, Incredible String Band, Bolan and of course Bowie. Signs that Howard wasn’t exactly cut from the same Catholic cloth as his family are made abundantly clear when at an early age he develops a crush on PJ Proby – whilst his sister is clamoring and screaming for the Fab Four -, replaces religious symbolism for posters of the elfin beatific Bolan, and as the book’s quote so aptly puts it, ‘swaps the guilt for gilt’. Not that dear Mum and Dad minded; their humble upbringing causing some uncomfortable situations, yet hardly the stuff of fire and brimstone puritanical condemnation. Though they were right to worry about their lad; especially when you read about his stunningly naïve exploits and trusting nature. Incidents that include a savage beating by a thuggish minor East End gangster lover, a lucky escape from a gang rape whilst holidaying in Malta, and an even luckier escape from a serial killer -posing as a taxi driver – in New York. It’s not all bad though, Howard has just as much fun throwing caution to the wind and partaking with abandon in orgiastic gatherings on Hampstead Heath.

Despite experiencing some of the most traumatic escapes, Howard’s accounts are free of victimhood. In a matter of fact way, neither told as a warning or even alluding to the present frenzy of #metoo, Howard’s honesty is unapologetic, with no blame attached to anyone other than himself.

Probably not quite as insightful for those unfamiliar with his work, this 600 page tome details various recording sessions – some of which are at the famous Abbey Road studios -, performances – both as an aspiring artist on his uppers and as a jobbing pianist/singer, making ends meet playing for diners in various hot spots throughout London – and his inspirations; the things that prompted and triggered those beautifully caressed and erudite songs in the first place. It also details all the ensuing rewrites, overdubs and constant bickering – mostly between his management and the litany of producers who were brought in by a label unsure of the precious signing they’d landed. Howard often frames his insights on the creative process with a synopsis on his favorite artists, showing quite a deft passion for music writing. Here’s just an extract from a flowery evocation of Bowie: ‘Setting out surreal, slightly disturbing panoramas like a screenplay writer in a moonlit park at midnight, Bowie intoned each line perfectly. He sang of times gone like a lost Atlantis, while sounding utterly NOW!’

The good times and fatuous nature of the music industry go hand-in-hand with the highlights: such as penning and recording the theme song for the William Holden and Peter Fonda movie Open Season, which started off so well with Hollywood schmoozing and the hint of a brilliant future, but soon turned to shit; the show time TV appearances that amounted to nothing, and the various meetings with iconic songwriters that ended up blindsiding or leading our author down the wrong garden path entirely.

Hardly the first artists to be chewed up and spat out by the corporate fangs of the industry, Howard’s refreshing, witty and sagacious autobiography is an often heartwarming read (especially when talking about his dear old man and dad); absolved and free of regret and bitterness. Coming out the other side, unceremoniously dumped by CBS Records at the end of this first life works volume in 1976, laying in a hospital bed looking ahead lamentably to years of recovery, the reader is left at Howard’s most low period. Without giving too much away, Howard does bounce back, turning to A&R but also continuing to record and play: even though fame will continue to elude him. An entertaining if overlong read, Incidents Crowded With Life is an interesting survey of the ‘nearly man’ of pop, an insight on both the industry and gay life in 70s swinging London.





Previous John Howard posts:








WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




Samba Touré   ‘Wande’   Glitterbeat Records,  25th May 2018

In a country abundant with guitar virtuosos, the highly genial Samba Touré still stands out as one of Mali’s most celebrated; transducing the travails, heartache but also joy of his homeland through his signature articulate nimble-fingered style of playing.

His third album for Glitterbeat Records – the first, Albala, was the label’s inaugural release in 2013 – Wande is billed as a warmer homely songbook. Recorded in under two weeks, allowing weekends for band members to scratch a living playing at weddings, sessions for the album were relaxed, performances captured on their first take with few overdubs. Previous albums Albala and 2015’s Gandadiko were made during the Islamist insurgency that swept aside and hijacked the Northeastern Tuareg communities’ battle for an autonomous state within the desert borderlands of Mali. Based in the western, more urban, Bamako, Touré encapsulated the fears of his fellow countrymen caught up in, what seemed highly probable until an intervention from the former colonial masters France, a struggle of ideologies that threatened to destroy Mali and bloodily remove its government. Reaching far into the Mali interior, certainly victorious in the field of propaganda in taking the legendary trading post of Timbuktu, Touré was well within his rights to feel anguish and fear as the hardliners – hardly an accommodating presence, known to burn instruments and even musicians that entertained anything other than their own warped sense of myopic worship – inched ever-closer to Mali’s capital.


Photo: Karim Diarra.




Darker albums certainly, yet still so lovingly meandrous, even buoyant, as to exude hope and caring sensibility. Better still, and even with the fallout from this insurgency ongoing (if forgotten by western media), Touré calls, as he does now, for unity: a return to peace.

Far from a complete break, the sadness endures on Wande: though Touré sadness is a most beautiful, cantering and lingering one. Especially when paying tribute to his friend and collaborator, sokou fiddle maestro Zoumana Tereta, on the spoken word with wavering drifty, almost dub-like echo-y effects tracks of the same name, which features the late musician’s spindly evocations from beyond the ether.

The ‘Songhai’ and ‘Crocodile’ bluesman, for that is the style he is most synonymous with, wouldn’t pigeonhole himself personally, preferring to call it contemporary ‘universal’ rock music. Touré has previously said, and reiterates now, that he doesn’t play ‘desert blues’ – a term he rightly associates as the music practiced in Northern Mali, Niger and Mauritania -, and you can also forget about calling it African ‘this’ or African ‘that’ too. Yet at the roots and core, for these are the lands where it all started, Touré’s subtle and relaxed guitar lines traverse the very ideas of blues etymology. The lo fi production feel of the rocking blues Yerfara/We Are Tired could be a lost inspiration for 80s period Rolling Stones with its almost transmogrified Start Me Up like Richards riff. Goy Boyro/The Good Work (Well Done) even begins with a Taj Mahal, BB King reminiscent introduction hook, before dipping over the horizon.

Throughout the album, whether it’s in paying a devotional paean to his beloved wife on the title track or gliding magically on the opening Yo Pouhala/Blah Blah Blah, Touré’s electric, and occasionally deft acoustic, guitar is accompanied by the buoyant and bobbing bending rhythms of the traditional tama talking drum, bowed waiving of the sokou and the vibrating spindle sound of the ngoni: All of which are played with an emphasis on the natural, unrehearsed and relaxed.

Not quite such a leap of faith or different to previous albums, an unpolished and laidback methodology has produced a slightly more sagacious, free-floating quality and another essential Touré classic.




REVIEW: DOMINIC VALVONA




Josh T. Pearson   ‘The Straight Hits’    Mute,  13th April  2018

Changing his tune (literally) Josh T. Pearson, the lonesome blues Texan with a wagonload of baggage, heads out on to the range with a swag bag of more joyful, unencumbered ‘golden hits’ on his latest album for Mute Records.

Rather ironic for an artist who despite writing and recording for decades has only one previous solo album to his name (2011’s agonizing confessional Last Of The Country Gentlemen), The Straight Hits feels like a ‘best of’ songbook.

Leaving behind the more apocalyptic gospel concepts of his work with the short-lived but acclaimed Lift To Experience, whose 2001 masterpiece The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads left such an indelible mark on the dirty country and Americana blues scenes, Pearson sets himself new parameters; adhering to a five-point rules system for transforming a “batch of tunes” he’d been working on for a decade. Earmarked originally for the ‘unrecorded’ Bird Songs album, the nine original songs on The Straight Hits are a lighter and as the title suggests ‘straighter’ attempt to change the mood.

Though just as heavy reference wise to the faith, obsessions, cruelties and power of love, Pearson has overcome the all-too real addictions and the collapse of his marriage to fire-off a distilled, riff heavy version of cowboy romance. Motivated recently to share more (“before it’s too late”), an epiphany of a sort sparked by the divisions of the 2016 US elections moved him to question if it was better to spread joy then mope and spread more anger. But it was whilst reading (as you do) the 14th century epic poem The Conference Of The Birds by Attar of Nishapur that Pearson muses, finally turned on the creative tap and helped ease this songbook’s passage.





Far from set in stone – the unwritten rock’n’roll law that all rules are written to be broken is invoked on the tender yearning A Love Song (Set Me Straight) – each song must at least try to follow Pearson’s self-imposed requirements: Number one, all songs must have a verse, a chorus and a bridge; two, the lyrics must run sixteen lines or less; three, they must have the word ‘straight’ in the title; four, that title must be four words or less; and five, they must submit to song above all else i.e. “You do as she tells you, whatever the song tells you”, “You bend to her, and not her to you.”

This probably cuts the fat, indulgence certainly, and makes for a more dynamic sound; especially on the alternative sports anthem opener Straight To The Top! – A pumped-up straight chaser, straight out the gate explosion of country slurred rock and gospel that sounds like Jeff Buckley at the rodeo. Conceived as the sort of fired-up soundtrack Pearson would like to hear, though he says he’s no particular fan, at an American football game, as he prepares for a high-five celebration with his fellow fans. It’s a great start. A fucking great start actually; the faith amped up to match his evangelical bounce back from the precipice: “If you knock me down, I’m gonna rise again. Time after time, there’s no way you can win.”

Taking on a curled lip croon Pearson goes on to sing about interloping lovers on the kooky desert cosmic Straight At Me – playing with the analogies of the old west, and in particular the reservations, the protagonist of this song a native Indian – whilst he reimagines Richard Hell leading The Pretenders through the High Chaparral and bawdy salon piano sing-a-long on Give It To Me Straight. The travails of love are played out to a mix of these more rowdy new wave of Americana hits and more lonesome, serious laments; some of which have a touch of irony, such as the calmer acoustic resigned Damn Straight, the album’s sole cover – originally by the Austin singer/songwriter Jonathan Terrell -, the author of which pines over losing his girl to the seductive power of Nashville’s famous cowboy swooners and crooners. Namechecking a litany of country music legends (“Waylon, Willie and Merle”), the achy-breaky heart singer pines “How could you take her just like that?”, “How could she leave me for a man she don’t even know?”

The Straight Hits is a most rallying rodeo that gives the Americana soundtrack a much-needed kick-in-the-pants; the themes of love, whether it’s the analogical kind, ‘take me right now’ kind, or lamentable kind, enacted across a varied but blistering songbook. Rejecting the stimulants and his demons, Pearson choses the good ol’ fashioned power and redemptive spirit of gospel ye-ye and country rock’n’roll. And don’t it sound just mighty fine and swell!



Dominic Valvona’s new music reviews roundup.





Interesting releases from across the world and music spectrums; Tickling Our Fancy is the most eclectic of reviews roundups. With no themes, demarcations of any kind, or reasoning other than providing a balanced platform for the intriguing, the great and at times, most odd releases, I bring you this month’s latest selection.

I have a truly international spread of releases for you all, even more than usual with one band in particular, the backpacker collective The Turbans, featuring band members from the UK, Eastern Europe, Levant, Africa, Balkans and beyond. I take a look at their borderless debut album for Six Degrees Records. From Mexico way, there’s the b-movie space mambo and cumbia occult of Sonido Gallo Negro: newly signed to Glitterbeat Records and releasing their third album Mambo Cósmico. Uniting for the second time together on a recording, Welsh harpist maestro Catrin Finch and Senegal kora star Seckou Kieta reunite for diaphanous and reflective celebration of the two instruments and their respected native homeland’s heritage on SOAR. Closer to home there’s the latest inimitable psychedelic pop album, Natural Causes, by Anton Barbeau; an EP of blossoming, Kaleidoscopic dance pop from the Leeds duo Lost Colours; the first solo album project to see light after the break-up of The Liars, with Aaron Hemphill’s Nonpareils solo debut Scented Pictures; Sebastian ReynoldsMahajanaka odyssey, now finally getting a soundtrack release; and the tortured industrial noise and biblical raging of the Boston duo Water Fragment.


Nonpareils   ‘Scented Pictures’   Mute,  6th April 2018

With the Liars now, more or less, the sole concern of Angus Andrew, the first fruits of the schism that split the original band up is now unveiled in the shape of Aaron Hemphill’s solo nom de plume Nonpareils: chosen because it’s a “name that didn’t evoke a single person or a producer name, but hopefully something that sounded more like a group or a band…something plural.”

Moving to Berlin in 2015, a year before he left the Liars, Hemphill has had a good two years break from his former band mate, but instead of reflection or acrimonious scorn he’s decided to deliver a cyclonic churning and confusing barrage of sonic displacement; a window in on the woozy state of Hemphill’s mind, all those ideas, snippets and memories channeled through a abstract and broken staccato and heavy reverb obstruction that’s still capable of throwing out some pretty good hooks and tunes.

‘Metaphysically reconstructed pop’ as Hemphill himself calls it, the druggy feel and lingering traces on his inaugural solo debut, Scented Pictures, was all recorded in Berlin using the most haphazard and off-kilter of processes. Recording ‘stacks’ of acoustic instruments whilst ‘doing the silliest’ of experiments upon them, Hemphill also encouraged the engineer on these sessions to distract and hinder him as he bashed away on the drums (without a click-track), and set up the microphones, when on the piano, to deliberately “fall away from the body of the instrument.” And so there is a strange disconnection and time-lapse, in which everything sounds like it’s running away from its main source or languidly slurring, that runs throughout this album. It ties in to the theme of “time-accelerating” and Hemphill’s premise of a “sensory experience of memory”, which encourages the brain to fill-in the gaps of what is a constantly trudging, stuttering soundtrack of disorientated peculiarities. None more so than The Timeless Now, which sounds like a churned and slurred breakdown of time itself, set to eternal damnation and spinning like a centrifugal space sequence.

Amongst the reversed effects, stumbled drums, tetchy loop oscillations there’s hints of Mogadon induced Atlas Sound (on the surprisingly Spector trippy dream pop plaint Makes Me Miss The Misery Girls), a Coil/John Cale hybrid (Cherry Cola), vaporous synth (ala the Eno-esque Press Play), Alan Vega (more specifically the title track, which also includes a subtle trace of Neukölln Bowie, but his ghostly presence can be heard on many tracks) and R. Stevie Moore.

Often resembling a scratched CD having a fit of the jitters; often obscured under a veil of languorous multilayering; often sounding distant; Hemphill still retains an ear for melody, combining the abstract with post-punk, rock’n’roll and techno to produce something dreamy. His ideas are distilled into a seething disorientation of time and memories; tapping in to the anxious and confusion of our times. Not so distant from the Liars sound, yet different enough to be challenging, Scented Pictures is an enigma waiting to be unraveled.






Sonido Gallo Negro  ‘Mambo Cósmico’   Glitterbeat Records,  6th April 2018

Serving up a mystical occult of a third album, the sauntering Sonido Gallo Negro take a trip aboard one of Erich Von Däniken’s ancient astronaut controlled UFO to draw in a wealth of cosmic affected South American styles and exotica.

Slinking all the way the nine-piece outfit reach out beyond the Mexican borderlands to embrace the multicultural dance rhythms brought to the Americas via Africa and the Middle East and of course the centuries ingrained influence of the Hispaniola.

Already interpreting and reframing the popular cumbia – what was originally the folkloric rhythmic dance practiced by the Africans who were en mass displaced and brought to work in Columbia – and mambo on previous records, the group now include a hybrid mix of ‘cha cha’, the Mexican ceremonial dance known as ‘danzón’, and the Sinú River sprung brass orchestra come Caribbean region of Colombia ballroom style ‘porro’.

Oscillating over the Nazca Lines or creeping through the Theremin quivering sorcery mists of Catemaco, every song has an exotic but kitsch like charm; no more so than with the world famous cover of the Mexican bandleader Pablo Beltrán Ruiz’s mambo turn crooner swaying Quién Será?, covered and transformed into an almost comic dash, with Farfisa organ prods and Dick Dale tremolo.

Encompassing Santo vs. the creatures from Mars b-movie cosmic effects (Mambo Cósmico, but also throughout), deity worshipping ritual frazzling (Cumbia Ishtar), bird-like trilled exhales from the cha cha hot-stepping carnival (La Foca Cha Cha Cha), sultry ballroom with Spanish flair (Danzún Fayuquero) and Surf twanged otherworldliness (Danza del Mar), Sonido Gallo Negro perform everything with a lively flair; both busy but controlled.

Like a Mexican Head Hunters celebrating the rich musical diversity and occultist symbolism – from the mysterious allure of Mesoamerican pyramid building societies to magic shamanism – of the Americas, Sonido Gallo Negro meld all their influences together in one big bubbling melting pot of fun.






The Turbans   ‘The Turbans’   Six Degrees Records,  6th April 2018

Collecting band members as they busked together in such exotic locations as Kathmandu, the two instigators, and fellow ‘half-Iranian/half-British nomads’, behind the international backpackers The Turbans, (the self-confessed ‘seventh best guitar player in the band’) Oshan Mahony and violinist Darius Luke Thompson, have amalgamated countless styles and cultures towards a largely upbeat celebration of borderless solidarity.

The term for this cross-pollination of the Levant, Balkans, India and Africa, coined by the group’s Kurdish percussionist Cabber Baba, is ‘music from manywheres’, though their base and center for at least half the time when not on tour is Hackney in London – the other half spent in Goa. They sing of this attachment to Hackney, celebrating its multicultural allure and spirit to a loose backing of electrified souk rock and jostled hand drums on the paean tribute song of the same name.

It would take an age to document each of this globe-stretching group’s credentials and heritage, let alone mention all the additional guests that make this, The Turbans, debut album so richly amorphous, traversing as it does so many cultural and national references. Songs such as the folkloric wandering Sinko Moy, written by the group’s former Bulgarian pop star and Django Ze front man, Miroslav Morski, for instance features the lulling atmospheric choral backing of The London Bulgarian Choir, who project us the diaspora and view from the Carpathians, but then other elements of musicality and tone hint at Cairo, Timbuktu and even Ireland. This shifting sense of location is The Turbans signature; one minute gazing from atop of a camel, searching over sand dune landscapes, the next, regaling a romantic atavistic paean to Flamenco accompaniment in Moorish Spain.

Featuring a rambunctious mix of characters, from Belarus oud player Maxim Shchedrovitzki to guembri maestro Simo Lagnawi, the group throw Tuareg blues, gypsy music, Moroccan pop covers, colonial Tunisian lounge music and Greek folk into one gumbo pot of both harried japes and more serene contemplation.

Political by being so diverse in a climate of hostile nationalism and closed borders, The Turbans don’t so much push an agenda as reference the various travails by which many of its members had to overcome to reach these shores. And so this album is more a celebration of universal collaboration.

Recorded, of all places, in a previously abandoned 500 year old property on the borders of Scotland and England, in the Northumberland farmhouse turned community arts centre where the group’s co-founder Mahony grew up, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more international sound right now.






Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita   ‘SOAR’   bendigedig,  27th April 2018

 

Only two releases in and the bendigedig label – an independent partnership between Theatr Mwldan in Cardigan, Wales and ARC Music – is already proving to have erudite tastes for the finer examples of beautifully-crafted folk and traditional music from the versants of Wales and beyond. Following on from the recent Gwyneth Glyn album Tro, the internationally renowned harpist Catrin Finch once more draws parallels musically and culturally between her native Wales and the West African homeland of musical partner Seckou Keita, on the working duo’s second album together, SOAR.

In a similar vein to her fellow compatriot, Glyn, who just as effortlessly blended her Welsh lilted tones with those of the Indian ghazal singer Tauseef Akhtar on the Ghazalaw LP collaboration and has also supported Keita on tour, Finch merges the angelic elegance of the harp with the equally elegant, spindly diaphanous sound of the harp-like Kora, as played by the maestro from Senegal,

Combining the two distinct, but as you’ll hear highly congruous, instruments together and bringing both experts extensive knowledge and talents to the fore (and the bios of these two practitioners is highly impressive and wide), the duo weave an intricate melodious album that celebrates both their diversity and shared goals.

Originally coming together for the award-winning Clychau Dibon LP in 2013, the harp partnership continue with that album’s avian theme, using it as a springboard for another articulated series of paeans and serious reflections. Though it might not be the most obvious of geographical connections, both artists seamlessly tie their respective backgrounds and heritage together, starting with the divine ‘soar’ and flutter of the Dyfi Osprey on the opening bird of prey homage, Clarach. Immortalizing the first Osprey in modern times to be born in Wales after an absence of 300 years (persecuted to extinction by the end of the 17th century), its survival and 3,000 mile migration to West Africa is celebrated by mirroring its travail between the two continents; this majestic creature’s freedom finds solace and respect through the duo’s charming melodies and interplay. It’s a forced migration, and the theme of colonization, that’s given a more jazzy-blues harp voice on the trembled-held poignant 1677. Tilted after the year that Vice-Admiral Jean Il d’Estrees stormed the Dutch fort on the island of Gorèe off the coast of Keita’s birthplace of Senegal, captured in the name of his master King Louis XIV, it marks the point in history where rule in the region passed to France. Gorèe would become a notorious slave trading port over the next century. Capturing the motion of rocking boats in the interaction between the two instruments, the duo mimic a murky back and forth pattern in plaintive remembrance to those who have left the West African coast behind for a better life, and for those who weren’t so lucky.

Staying close to Keita’s heart, they also perform a reinterpretation of the lovely tribute to Yama Ba; written by Keita’s uncle and fellow kora maestro Solo Cissokho as a paean to the woman who believed in him when times were tough, and was willing to invest in his future, buying him the equipment he needed to amplify his instrument. From the semi-nomadic Fulani people who live all over West Africa, Yama Ba is given a peaceable, softly accentuated homage, with Finch replacing and transforming the original melody played by Cissokho’s bassist Kevin Willoughby. There’s also an inviting gesture of effortless warmth on the Senegal split-language entitled Tèranga Bah: A nod to the country’s version of ‘great hospitality’, Tèranga translates as ‘hospitality’ in the Wolof dialect, Bah as ‘great’ in Senegal’s other most common tongue Mandinka. And one of the oldest tunes in the Senegambia kora repertoire, the difficult (only played we’re told by experienced practitioners) Baisso is twinned with an excerpt from Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the surprisingly seamless and classical reverent turn joyfully serene Bach To Baisso hybrid.

Back to the valleys of Wales, and one of the album’s most serious tunes, Finch commemorates an event, a catalyst for an insurgence in Welsh nationalism that led to a groundswell of protest and even sabotage. Cofiwch Dryweryn is a gorgeous lament to the flooding in 1965 of the Tryweryn valley in north Wales; flooded to create the Llyn Celyn reservoir that supplied water to the city of Liverpool. Those unfortunate enough to have lived or worked its land were forced to leave; an action that led to much resentment and went towards a revival in self-determination – though it would of course take a further forty years for Wales to get a devolved powers from Westminster. Here, lost almost in the flow of the watery gushes and drama, Finch’s whispery tones echo the feelings, “remember Tryweryn”, as Keita lends a yearning vocal and kora pinning accompaniment.

It’s often difficult to hear when one instrument begins and another ends, the kora and Welsh harp in such synchronicity. The earthy spindled kora and plucked ebb and flow of the serene harp both prove the most complimentary of companions. The two heritages and ancestral combine for a united front on the plight of not just a migratory bird but people and ideas too. The exchange articulated with beauty and élan.






Sebastian Reynolds  ‘Mahajanaka EP’  Nonostar, 20th April 2018

Finally releasing the soundtrack part of his beautifully transcendental Mahajanaka odyssey style dance and music collaboration, the Oxford musician/composer/promoter and member of the Flights Of Helios collective Sebastian Reynolds launches an EP’s worth of variations to promote the upcoming live performance of the Mahajanaka Dance Drama at the Wiltshire Music Centre 2nd April 2018. The beautifully softly malleted and chiming peregrination original is transformed subtly and serenely over the course of a live performance – performed with his Solo Collective triumvirate band mates Alex Stolze, Anne Müller and Mike Bannard – and two remixes.

A keen enthusiast of eastern and oriental cultures, especially Buddhism, Reynolds travelled to Thailand a while back as part of a British Council/Arts Council England funded trip. During that visit he laid down the groundwork for the Mahajanaka project, a collaboration fusion of both traditional Thai forms and Western contemporary dance and music, which reinterprets the ancient stories of Buddha on his multiple incarnations journey of perfection towards becoming fully enlightened.

Partners on this reimagining project include Neon Dance and the acclaimed dancer/choreographer Pichet Klunchun, and on the score itself, features both long-term collaborator Jody Prewett (keyboard) and the Thai pop group The Krajidrid Band under the direction of composer/producer Pradit Saengkrai. Recorded playing the classical Thai “piphat” ensemble music, The Krajidrid Band’s evocative sacred finger cymbal chimes and peaceable soft mallet accompaniment is sampled and looped by Reynolds to produce a gently overlapping and mysterious ambient flight of fantasy. It certainly creates the right mood, successfully merging the source material with the atavistic, transformed by Reynolds’ signature process of reinvention.

Featuring his chamber electronic partners from the already mentioned and most brilliant Solo Collective project, there is a trembled bow and gentle stirring strings version, included alongside the original. Performed at the Roter Salon, Berlin on the 6th February 2017, this live recording adds a gently lilting undulation of European cello and violin, courtesy of Müller and Stolze, to the ceremonial Thai drones and lush divine resonance. Taking it in another direction, albeit subtly, the Emseatee remix adds a ice-y vapour and tight enervated clattery beats, ala Bonobo, to the Southeast Asian suite, whilst the Atlasov remix subtly wafts this soundscape towards a gauze-y The Orb and Artificial Intelligence era Warp label direction. Though nothing quite matches the original Jon Hassell like venerable peregrination, a most beautiful evocation of the Buddha enlightenment transported to another realm.




Anton Barbeau   ‘Natural Causes’   Beehive/Gare du Nord,  13th April 2018

Ian Hunter via Robyn Hitchcock via Luke Haines, wrapped inside an enigma, the Sacramento born, Berlin-based, Anton Barbeau changes his style of delivery repeatedly yet always maintains an idiosyncratic ingenuity in whatever he does. Posing in a not too dissimilar fashion to Julian Cope on the cover of his latest (and 23rd) album Natural Causes, he looks to all intents and purposes, standing amongst the long stones, like nature’s son on a Ley Lines trip. You can hear a hint of the arch druid of heads own, more, digestible and melodious brand of psychedelic pop running through Natural Causes, but not exclusively, as he opens up to the 12-string élan of the decade he was born in to: the 60s.

Not so much softening up as choosing a more personal, peaceable approach to ‘glorious sounding’ maverick pop, Barbeau has produced something quite stunning and timely (Barbeau fast approaching his 50th birthday): a cerebral album both instantly memorable, melodic and yet adventurous and inventive.

The results of an aborted project under the Applewax banner, made in the run up to the 2016 US elections, Natural Causes is the reflective, more open antithesis to what would have been a far darker and mournful proposition. In part a request from Barbeau’s French label Beehive (released in conjunction with Monolith Cocktail favourites, Gare du Nord), the album that would eventually grow out of the abandoned Applewax would include remakes of past classics alongside new material.

Having another bite at old faithful, Magazine Street, he amps up the jangle factor and production on this country-rock Byrds meets Green Pajamas classic. There’s also reinforced crisp breezy versions of Creep Tray – this time featuring the lush undulated backing vocals of Karla Kane, who guests on a quintet of songs, adding everything from harmonies to “OMs” – and the fuzzed-out vortex, Just Passing By.

In between the all too fleeting to be effective as anything other than paused intermission style vignettes, Barbeau and a congruous cast of guests lend a touching caress to a songbook of contemporary surreal lyrical musings and love songs. Unrushed, even breezy in places but hardly lacking intensity, there’s an air of nostalgia in homages to the radio stations and DJs that sparked interest in the young Barbeau, on the Hunter fronts Tom Petty band finale Down Around The Radio. And with a nod to one of the music cannons greatest ever records, The Beatles Sgt. Pepper kaleidoscope, a stab at a popsike hit (a missing link from one of Strange Days magazines 80s halcyon compilations) is made with a song that was originally written to be recorded at the venerated Fab Fours’ inner sanctum of Abbey Road, with the quirky Disambiguation, which evidently does have a tenuous link to the Beatles, featuring as it does McCartney (and Pretenders) wingman Robbie McIntosh on 12-string guitar. Meanwhile, the discombobulating time-signature Coffee That Makes The Man Go Round is humbly declared to feature the “second greatest riff ever”, and is in part inspired by one of the 60s most underrated bands, Family.

Perhaps one of the most touching declarations and attempts at a lilting anthem, Summer Of Gold, which features Nick Saloman and Ade Shaw of Bevis Frond fame, and Michael Urbano who works with Neil Finn, sounds like Crowded House backed by a Mellotron accentuated rich Amon Duul II. Adopting an entirely different sound, Barbeau covers a strange space in which Sparks collaborated with Squeeze on Secretion Of The Wafer, and channels George Harrison (yes another Beatles link) on the Krishna referencing peaceful Mumble Something.

Fans of Barbeau will be once again charmed by his unique songwriting abilities, and those still unfamiliar with the inimitable generation X artist of renown will find much to love about his psychedelic pop genius.






Lost Colours   ‘A Different Life EP’   61seconds,  14th March 2018

Featured last month, Lost Colours’ life-affirming cosmos pop single One Space Left sits at the center of their new follow-up extended EP, A Different Life. That debut song, a visceral explosion of colour encapsulating the Leeds-based duo’s optimistic abandon in producing psychedelic pop, with a lilt of globe-travelling trance, to put a smile on your face.

Featured either side of it is a trio of similar universal voyages and a number of various remixes, starting with the slow boat to Goa via the South China Seas caressed and lingering Organic Adventures. Building a relaxed soundtrack into a stronger, more rallying trip-hop explosion, the scale of this adventure expands to include waves of indie rock guitar, strings and crashing drum breaks. On a more jazzy soul trip, part Chemical Brothers, part Acid-jazz, the title track and Technicolor High both feature the earthy indie soulful vocals of Sam Thornton. The first of these is a horns, flute accented cyclonic propelled thrust through “the cosmos”, the second, an indie-dance Coldplay traverse.

A Different Light receives two remix treatments, both of which stretch, chop up or strip the original; the Abstract Orchestra transformation slinky but sharp and optimizing the jazz elements; the Night Stories, amping up the swirls and adding velocity drum’n’bass to the mix. Technicolor High is given the LC Nightshades Euro club treatment, with bongos, vapour trails and ambient pauses.

The Lost Colours duo, already lively for the past few years on the remix scene themselves, have been biding their time, steadily building up material for their move over into producing their own original blossoming, Kaleidoscopic material. They sound to be on the right path, their debut and new EP an unashamed joyful and lifting experience of psychedelic and exotic trance dance music.




Waterman  Fragment   ‘Waterman  Fragment’   Available now on Bandcamp

Though something of an unknown entity, I do know for certain that the often brutal and discordant Waterman Fragment convincingly grind through the miasma, shock and stresses of our unstable, conflict-beckoning world on there recently released self-titled LP. Started by two self-confessed “music survivors” of the 90s New England noise/skronk scene, the Waterman Fragment duo have moved on to summon forth a caustic barrage of demons with this incarnation of metal pummeling, warped and tortuous flagellation.

Quite vivid and fired-up, when you can hear them, the mostly spoken (or barracked through a megaphone) lyrics have a real depth and poetic menace. Layers of meaning and references strike at the bowels of hell; the aftermath of an aerial bombing raid that hits a zoo becomes a quasi prose style menagerie version of Guernica, on the hypnotic quagmire dissection of death from above, A King And A Smak In A Calm. Warning it’s strong stuff, but here’s an example of that distressing vivid lyricism: “Beneath deep rubble reptiles squirm. The aquarium explodes. Monkeys and gorillas flee, hair singeing as they run. Shattered glass aviaries empty themselves. Trapped in their temple, elephants die. Rats work the huge rib cages and mounds of entrails to make a golem, filling its head with flies, as the city shines red through a gate knocked off its hinges in the background.”

The finale, which almost bounces and shimmer along by comparison to the rest of the album, moving along to a double-time mix of the Moon Duo, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Suicide and The Normal, is an elegiac unflinching discourse on the Crystal Meth epidemic sweeping America (but the rust belt in particular): “A lumber saw took his leg, lost all his teeth to crystal meth.”

Harrow be thy name and all that, there’s plenty of Biblical quotation or allusion to it anyway to be found; extracts of Psalm 51 can be found on the fork-tongued exorcism at the foot of the Babel Tower, The Hyssop – a reference to the brightly coloured shrub found in Southern Europe and The Middle East, mentioned in the bible, known for its medicinal properties as an antiseptic. The Swans argue with 4AD era Scott Walker soundtrack certainly sounds like a brooding combat between the esoteric bible and dark forces. There’s plenty of rage, a lot of the daemonic, and plenty of the Old Testament prophecy amongst the blood and guts and tearing flesh.

A theme of breaking free, shouted over the white noise, and the need to breathe; shedding the old skin, escaping the augurs of destruction; and escaping the Skynet possible future of automation and our robot overlords on the repeated steel ring fence kicking and foot pedal throbbing industrial Function: “Come meet the robot god, your soul’s entrusted to take off his metal mask. I’m staring back at you. I am the function of pure self destruction, anti-reproduction, and pro-automation.”

Sawed, drilled, stamped, teared, hammered and bashed, you really will feel like you’ve been savaged and beaten by the time you reach the end. A challenge certainly; the paranormal, biblical, esoteric no match for the realities of human nature and its darkest misdeeds, distilled through the harsh Gothic and industrial noise soundtrack of the uncompromising Waterman Fragment duo. For those who embrace the gloom and mire consider this a most heavy serious recommendation from me.




Words: Dominic Valvona






If the Glitterbeat Records label had a remit, ‘a raison d’etre’, it would be all about transcending borders, whether it’s the physical, geographical or subconscious kind, to bring the most ‘vibrant’ and ‘committed’ of artists to a global audience.  Finding existing and ‘possible musics’ (to borrow a term from the label’s own reissue of Jon Hassell and Brian Eno‘s iconic 1980 transformative soundscape experiment, Fourth World Volume One: Possible Musics) from across the world, the independent German-based sister label to Glitterhouse Records has in a short timeframe helped reshape and redefine what we know as ‘world music’ – a fatuous term in itself, still largely used to denote anything outside the comfort zone of Western commercial music.

Originally putting out a catalogue of sublime and obscure records from some of Malia’s most important, traversing desert blues and rock artists (from Ben Zabo to Tamikrest and the Songs For Desert Refugees compilation) on Glitterhouse, world traveler bluesman Chris Eckman of Dirtmusic fame (the labels unofficial in-house band) went on to co-found the Glitterbeat imprint with Peter Weber in 2013. The inaugural release on that label, now celebrating its fifth anniversary, was a 12″ remix of Ben Zabo’s Dana by Mark Ernestus (Rhythm & Sound, Basic Channel), released sometime around March 22nd, 2013.

From the already mentioned desert blues stars of Mali and ‘beyond’, Eckman’s ever growing roster of contemporary sonic adventurers hail from a number of other African countries, including Ghana, Mauritania and the Bargou Valley bordering Algeria. And has since gone on to expand its remit and reach out to include music from the Balkans, Southeast Asia, the Levant and South America.

As you can imagine, this global expansion encompasses a myriad of musical styles, many of which were in serious danger of disappearing into obscurity if not for the work of music ethnologists such as Paul Chandler and Grammy Award winning field-recordist/producer Ian Brennan (we were lucky enough to interview Ian a couple of years ago), who both recorded for posterity ‘lost voices’ and atavistic guardianship documented collections for the label under the Hidden Musics series.

So busy and bustling with potential releases, in the last couple of years they’ve set up a congruous imprint of their own, the tak:til scion: an extension and home for more transcendental, meditative and experimental material that doesn’t quite fit the main label. Featuring a mix of re-released and remastered iconic albums from the ambient, soundscape and devotional genres – including the already mentioned inaugural Jon Hassell and Brian Eno collaboration -, Tak:til has featured Širom‘s Slovenian odyssey I Can Be A Clay Snapper and 75 Dollar Bill‘s psychedelic desert rock and trance of the Maghreb, avant-garde, jazz and even swamp boogie delta blues transient W/M/P/P/R/R.

 

From handkerchief waving Albanian songs of sorrow to Istanbul dub; from hybrid collaborations such as Tony Allen‘s album with some of Haiti’s finest musicans, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra, to the electric griot psych of Noura Mint Seymali; from the Turkish pregriation and siren vocals of Gaye Su Akyol to the carnival funk of Bixiga 70; Glitterbeat Records has helped uncover a whole new musical world of discovery for people like me. It’s no surprise that they’ve won the WOMAX label of the year so many times, and attracted heaps of acclaim. I’ve more or less featured every single one of their forty plus releases, and seldom found a dud. And Glitterbeat Records have appeared more times than any other label in our end of year features.

To celebrate the label’s fifth anniversary, I’ve chosen both personal favourite releases and tracks from the back catalogue.


Lobi Traoré  ‘Bamako Nights: Live At Bar Bozo 1995’  2013

From the very beginning, one of Glitterbeat Records earliest releases, Bamako Nights captures the loose, almost extemporized sounding, drift of the late Malian legend Lobi Traoré (who died at the age of 49 in 2010); capturing one of his ‘packed-to-the-rafters’ live shows from the feted and iconic Bar Bozo.  The singer/songwriter takes the crowd with him as he meditatively affects an adroit passage through Mali’s social and political pains. Attenuate guitar lines bolstered by flanger; licks powered by enveloping sustain; and a band whose steady yet often expletory solo spotted, bubbling bass and rapid percussion bind the nuanced accents together, all prove rhythmically hypnotic.

To have been a-fly-on-the-wall at one of these intimate, intense, shows must have been a magical experience; especially as Traoré kept the anticipation building; the appreciative audience either enthralled by every descriptive note and earthy toiled vocal or adding their own backing chorus of spiritual hollering and hand clapping: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a greater live experience and encapsulation of the atavistic West African blues.



Samba Touré  ‘Albala’  2013

As Mali continues to exist in a fragile union after the recent Islamic hijacked insurgency (curtailed by former colonial masters France with additional support from the UK), a host of the country’s great and good (Bassekou KouyateFatoumata DiawaraBaba Salah, Tamikrest to name just a few), compelled to speak out, have added gravitas to their praised sweet tribal blues in defiance of the regimes that would have banned or at the very least censored their music. Known for his work with the late Malian legend, Ali Farka TouréSamba Touré is an amiable enough chap whose previous acclaimed albums, Songhaï Blues and Crocodile Blues, were more genial affairs, shows his disapproval with a grittier, riskier brand of protest on Albala.

Albala – translated from the Songhaï language as ‘danger’ or ‘risk’ – is a darker, albeit lamentably so, album. But so delicately melodious and nimble is the delivery that the cries of woe remain hymn-like and hypnotically diaphanous: the blues may have turned a deeper shade of forlorn yet still sways with meandrous buoyancy and restrained elegance.

A traditional accompaniment from Touré’s regular band mates Djimé Sissoko (on ngoni) and Madou Sanogo (tapping out a suitable candour on congas and djembe), with guest performances from celebrated ‘master’ of the one-stringed violin, the souk, Zoumana Tereta, and fellow Malian ‘neo-traditional’ singer Aminata Wassidje Touré is bolstered by effective guitar and keyboard layers from Hugo Race (The Bad SeedsDirtmusicFatalists). This subtle mix works wonders, giving the overall sound a mystical delta blues feel, resplendent with fuzz, wah-wah and wailing soul.



Aziza Brahim  ‘Soutak’   2014

Born in the hardened landscape of a Saharawi refugee camp on the border of Algeria and the Western Sahara, beguiled vocalist Aziza Brahim embodies the wandering spirit of her people; their settled, though often borderless and disputed lands, previously claimed by Spain, were invaded in 1975 by Morocco. Though made up of many tribes with many different goals the Saharawi people did mount a fight back. It was in this climate that Brahim was hewed.

Soutak, or ‘your voice’, is centered on just that. The backing is striped to a degree, so the poetic reverberated vocals can echo and warble soulfully without interruption. Though there is no mistaking that strong, robust and primal Saharan spirit, the congruous accompaniment is a mix of both Balearic and folk rock styles – especially the deep sleek bass guitar notes that slide and weave under Brahim’s distinctive voice.

Produced by Chris Eckman (of Dirtmusic fame), whose assiduous talents have done wonders with Malian blues rockers Tamikrest and Bamako Afrobeat artist Ben Zabo, Soutak was recorded live in Barcelona: the fluid lilting cosmopolitan sound of that city is unmistakable.

Serene and subtly sung, the choral, almost desert gospel hymns take time to unfurl their charms, so be patient. Once again Glitterbeat and Eckman have a classic world music crossover on their hands.



Dirtmusic  ‘Lion City’  2014

Connecting the ‘dirt music’ environment of an unforgiving Australian outback with the Cajun swamplands, desert and bustling African townships, Glitterbeat Records co-founder and producer of their awe-inspiring roster of world music greats, Chris Eckman, leads his nomad troupe across esoteric and meditative terrain soundscapes.

At times almost alien, their borderless approach to mixing rock, blues and (mostly) West African music in a seamless wash, creates something both mysterious and original. Recorded at the same time as their last album Troubles, in Bamako, Lion City couldn’t help but be guided politically and socially by the upheaval in Mali. A testament to the eerie developments and a lament that also offers hope, Dirtmusic and their guests (which include such luminaries as the Ben Zabo Band and Samba Touré) prove that you can work alongside African artists without succumbing to condensation.

Far more successful if not authentic than anything Albarn or indeed the ‘Radio’ polygenesis collectors The Clash could ever produce, these Westerners move serenely, blurring the cultural boundaries as they circumnavigate the psychogeography of the chaotic city and romanticized but often harsh sand dune landscapes of both West and North Africa. You could say it was a culmination of the entire Glitterbeat labels stock, condescend into one challenging soundtrack.



Noura Mint Seymali  ‘Tzenni’  2014

The technicalities, pentatonic melodies and the fundamental mechanics aside, nothing can quite prepare you for that opening atavistic, panoramic vocal and off-kilter kick-drum and snare; an ancestral lineage that reaches back a thousand odd years, given the most electric crisp production, magically restores your faith in finding new music that can resonate and move you in equal measure.

Hailing from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, nestled in between Algeria, Senegal, Mali and the Western Sahara, with the Atlantic lapping its shoreline, Noura Mint Seymali keeps tradition alive in a modern, tumultuous, climate. Her homeland – run ever since a coup in 2008, by the former general Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, duly elected president in 2009 – was rocked by the immolation sparked Arab Spring and subsequent youth movement protests, all of which were violently suppressed by the authorities. Add the omnipresent problems of FGM, child labour and human trafficking to the equation and you have enough catalysts to last a lifetime. However, Noura’s veracious commanding voice responds with a dualistic spirit, the balance of light and shade putting a mostly positive, if not thumping backbeat, to forlorn and mourning.

Recorded in New York, Dakar and in the Mauritania capital of Nouakchott, Tzenni transverses a cosmopolitan map of influences and musical escapism. The original heritage still remains strong, yet the ancient order of griot finds solace with the psychedelic and beyond.



Jon Hassell/Brian Eno  ‘Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics’  2014

Already riding high on a crust of acclaimed production projects and numerous semi-successful collaborations and solo albums, when Brian Eno touched down in New York City in 1978 he would unintentionally help direct another important development in ambient and world music (and also end up staying for five-years). Absorbed in what the city had to offer him musically, Eno came across the stripped and atmospherically rich experiments of trumpeter/composer Jon Hassell, who’s own pathway from adroit pupil of Stockhausen to seminal work on Terry Riley’s harangued piano guided In C, encompassed an polygenesis of influences: a lineage that draws inspiration from avant-garde progenitors like La Monte Young, and travels far and wide, absorbing sounds from Java to Burundi.

Though a minor figure in the sense of worldwide recognition, and never one to brush with any sort of commercial popular appeal, Hassell irked out his own personal philosophy. With a handy masters degree in composition, he attempted a reification of what he would term the “fourth world”; a style that reimagined an amorphous hybrid of cultures; a merger between the traditions and spiritualism of the third world (conceived during the “cold war” to denote any country that fell outside the industrious wealthier west, and not under the control of the Soviet Empire) and the technology of the first.

Untethered to any particular landscape and age (though traversing for the most part the mysterious, veiled continent of a inter-dimensional Africa), geographical and environmental alluded titles act as points of reference; alluding both to such diverse subject matter as the traditional songs of the Central African pygmy tribes (Ba-Benzéle) and the latitudes and weather phenomenon of an undisclosed landscape or city (Rising Thermal 14° 16’ N; 32° 28’ E).

Moving at a similar pace throughout, the lingering vapours drift over and enclose the listener; hinting always at some mystical or miasma presence; steeping each composition in a sepia of low emitting foggy harbour like droning horns, plastic pipe sounding percussion, tape echo experimentation, panoramic glides over the savannahs and of course Hassell’s stripped bare, reedy and masked stirring trumpet.

An almost continuous set of transient movements, the mood varied from lightly administered rhythmically slow paced pieces to cerebral blankets of panoptic memory; a style coined as “future primitive”. Reissued by Glitterbeat Records under their visionary imprint Tak:til, this album can be read as a principle guiding light and inspiration for their roster and ambitions.



Various ‘Hanoi Masters: War Is A wound, Peace Is A Scar’ 2015

A side excursion, travelling due east to Asia and breathing in the evocative songs of Vietnam, Glitterbeat Records launched their new series of field recordings entitled Hidden Musics with the Hanoi Masters compilation. Finding a congruous musical link with their usual fare of West African releases, the label sent Grammy-award winning producer Ian Brennan (credits include, Tinariwen, Malawi Mouse Boys, The Good Ones) to Vietnam in the summer of 2014 to record some of the most lamentable and haunting resonating war-scarred music. Indelibly linked to what the indigenous population call ‘the American war’, the examples of both yearning and praise pay tribute to the fallen: delivered not in triumphant or propagandist bombast but in a gentle meditative manner, these survivors, forty years on from the end of the harrowing and catastrophic (the repercussion still reverberating in the psyche of the burned America and its allies) war, were still undergoing the healing process.

Tinged with an omnipresent lilting sadness these songs are imbued with battle scars (hence the albums subtitle War Is A wound, Peace Is A Scar), featured artisans and traditional music masters who had joined the cause, sometimes for the first time in years, allow their voices to be heard once again and recorded for posterity.

Considering the history and ill blood between cultures – though this has eroded as capitalism takes hold and the country opens up – it has in the past been difficult to investigate the serene and attentive beauty of the Vietnam music scene, but this earnest and adroit study into a world seldom covered proves enlightening and humbling.



Bixiga 70  ‘III’  2015

Speaking Fela fluently with marked respect and reverence, going as far as to borrow part of the late Nigerian bandleader and doyen of Afrobeat’s backing group moniker, Bixiga 70 may be inspired and informed by Kuti but they do so much more with his high energy polyrhythms and feverish hot-footed anthems. The eclectic Sao Paulo band, who joined the Glitterbeat family in 2015, add even more flavour to the Afrobeat template on this their third album. Energised by their performances in the hotbeds of fusion, from North Africa to Europe, and working with a decentralised method of producing new material, the III album reaches out and embraces an even richer array of world sounds.

Incorporating the rhythms and dances of their own continental home, Bixiga shake and shimmy to the local customs of cumbia and the sensual hip movements of the carimbo on a trio of slinky paeans to the indomitable spirit of joyous release. Congruously they go, flowing from one source to the next deftly, passionately and with a raw powered energy, our Brazilian friends relationship with Glitterbeat has proved to be a sound move; an ideal home for the group’s ever expanding fields of sound and exploration.



Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra  ‘A.H.E.O’  2016

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 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 Yisra’El Band, Lakou Mizik and 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. 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’.

Elevating beyond the borders it was created behind, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra 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.

Various Artists  ‘Hidden Musics Vol 2.  Every Song Has Its End: Sonic Dispatches From Traditional Mali’  2016



Though no less an achievement, the second volume in Glitterbeat Records “Hidden Musics” series offers the full gamut not just musically but visually too, and is a far more ambitious documentation of a troubled country’s lost tradition than the 2015 Hanoi Masters survey. Expanding to include 11 concatenate videos, Every Song Has Its End is the most complete purview of Mali’s musical roots yet. This is due to the project’s mastermind and architect Paul Chandler, who has documented Mali’s music scene for more than a decade.

Forgotten in some extreme cases, ignored or considered as Mali’s past by new generations, maestros of the 6-string Danh, such as Boukader Coulibaly, and the Balafon, Kassoun Bagayoko, are celebrated and interviewed for this collection. Whether it’s traversing the Gao region in the northwest to record the earthy desert pants of the female vocal ensemble, Group Ekanzam, or capturing a Sokou and N’goni love paean performance by Bina Koumaré & Madou Diabate in the heart of the country, this chronicle of the pains, virtues, trauma and spirit of the country’s musical heritage is an extraordinary love letter and testament to the country.


Bargou 08  ‘Targ’  2017

Ahh…the sounds of a dusky reedy gasba flute; the tactile patted and burnished bendir drum; the rustic, earthy strung loutar, and the flowing, soaring scale vocals of the Bargou 08 project’s chief instigator Nidhal Yahyaoui, set an impressive atmosphere in the first couple of minutes of the album’s opening track, Chechel Khater. And that’s all you’d need, except there’s another eight equally evocative and thrilling tracks to hear.

The source of this sound derives from a relatively uncharted region that lies obscured between the mountains of northwest Tunisia and the Algerian border, called the Bargou Valley, which despite its barren isolation, has cultured a unique musical fusion, stretching back hundreds of years. Captivating and magical enough in its ancestral unchanged form, the songs of the valley, sung in the local Targ dialect (a language that is one part Berber, the other Arabic), are given a contemporary jolt that transforms the atavistic paeans, odes and poetry of yore into an intoxicating swirling rapture of electronic North African funk.

Filled with a legacy of turmoil and tension that goes back an aeon the album’s many themes, from describing a lover’s vital attributes on Mamchout to laments of alienation, resonate strongly with the growing unease of events, initiated six years ago by the Arab Spring. Tunisia itself is facing a struggle and teetering on the edge, with no guarantee that certain cultures won’t just disappear or be fragmented in the ensuing melee. Originally setting out to document his Bargou Valley home’s musical heritage before it disappeared, Yahyaoui has successfully and thankfully, with his musical partner, producer and the album’s keyboard player Sofyann Ben Youssef captured this rich mesmeric culture for posterity. And in doing so, produced a masterpiece that will endure.



Širom  ‘I Can Be A Clay Snapper’  2017

With an unspecified, but as the name suggests, emphasis on the “tactile”, Glitterbeat Records new imprint label gives a welcome platform to entrancing experimental tonal performances and sonic polygenesis traverses alike. In the latter camp is this Slovenian peregrination suite from the landlocked, Alps nestling country’s visceral sonic conjurors, Širom.

Evoking memories and feelings, both real and imagined, with a soundtrack thick with atavistic connections, the trio of punk and post-rockers turn experimental folk and acoustic instrumental cartographers convey a personal relationship to their homeland, on their second album together under the Širom banner.

Yet whatever the backgrounds, traces of North Africa, the Adriatic and the Middle East, the performances sail scenically through a dreamy otherworldly representation of Slovenia: Oriental, alien and Balkan visions permeate the plucked, malleted, chimed and purposefully played compositions, which subtly and rather cleverly build up complicated layers and various overlapping time signatures during the course of their journey.

Theremin like siren voices drift in and out, enacting the myth and seraph, whilst on the watermill turning Everything I Sow Is Fatal Sun Ra travels with John Cale and Pharaoh Sanders on a pilgrimage to Samarkand. The most recurring sounds however pay testament to the Balkans ghosts. The folkloric stirrings, lulls and yearning of Slovenia’s past bordering both a pan-Europa of migration and grief – stretching back a millennia – are transduced into often haunted vistas and metaphysical passages.

A most impressive and expansive inaugural Balkans travail; different from the previous two releases on this burgeoning new imprint, yet keeping to the tactile, accentuate and imaginative remit, whilst conjuring up mystical new soundscapes.



Tamikrest  ‘Kidal’  2017

Still availed of a homeland, though now liberated from their draconian Islamist partners, the Tuareg are once again left as wanderers in their own land, the unofficial guardians and custodians of the Saharan wilderness. For now only a dream, best realized and protested through music, the rock’n’roll Bedouins Tamikrest emerge once more from the barren landscape with a message of “power and resistance” on their fourth, equally entrancing, album Kidal. Paying homage to the strategically and spiritually important cultural trading town of the title, the highly-acclaimed (and rightly so) Tamikrest exude both the sadness and suffering of the dispossessed people who cling to the southwestern Saharan hub that is Kidal: a town which has seen its fair share of fighting, fought over, conquered and reconquered over time, it remains a symbolic home to the Tuareg. This is after all the town that nurtured them and where it all began.

Assiduous, confident and articulate, the musicianship shows not so much a progression as a balance between the meditative and rock’n’roll spirit of the Tuareg musical resistance. Tamikrest are as brilliant as ever musically, and Kidal is, despite its plaintive and lamentable subject woes, a beacon of hope in an ever-darkening world of uncertainty.



Ifriqiyya Électrique  ‘Rûwâhîne’  2017

Capturing something quite unique, the collaborative industrial post-punk and avant-garde rock scenes of Europe clash head-on with the descendants of the Hausa slaves atavistic rituals styled group, Ifriqiyya Electrique, create an often unworldly chthonian conjuncture of Sufi trance, spirit possession performance and technology.

A film project and now immersive sonic experience, inspired by the important Banga music traditions and the accommodating, rather than exorcising, of spirits ceremonial wild dances and call and response chanted exaltations of the black communities – originally transported to the region from sub-Saharan Africa – in the oasis towns of southern Tunisia, this astounding meeting of cultures and history is anything but scenic.

Formed in the Djerid Desert, the idea forged by field-recordist and veteran guitarist of the politically-charged Mediterranean punk and “avant-rock” scenes, François Cambuzat, and bassist Gianna Greco – both of which occasionally join forces with that livewire icon of the N.Y. underground, Lydia Lunch, to form the Putan Club -, the Ifriqiyya Electrique spans both continents and time. For their part, Cambuzat and Greco provide the grind, industrial soundscape texturing, sonorous drones and flayed guitars, but mostly, the “electrique”, whilst, offering a dialogue with the spirits and the tradition, Banga musician Ali Chouchen – joined in the live theatre by an expanded cast of fellow voices, krabebs and Tunisian tabla players from the community, which includes Tarek Sultan, Yahia Chouchen and Youssef Ghazala – provides peripheral sounding evocative echoed and esoteric vocals and equally haunting nagharat.

Spiritual conversations transformed and realigned with the machine age turmoil of industrial noise, Arthur Baker style rock and hip-hop production, post-punk and even Teutonic techno, Rûwâhîne is a rambunctious unique force.



Park Jiha  ‘Communion’  2018

Circumnavigating the globe to bring much-needed exposure to new sounds, Glitterbeat Records imprint tak:til gives a second wind to a suite of acuity serialism from Southeast Asia. Released originally in South Korea in 2016, the neo-classical musician/composer Park Jiha’s debut solo album Communion is given an international release by the label of repute.

Inspiring what we’re told is a burgeoning Korean music scene (well, an alternative to the K-Pop craze), a chief progenitor of the movement Jiha alongside collaborative partner Jungmin Seo originally melded the country’s musical heritage with an eclectic range of contemporary sounds as the 숨[suːm] duo in 2007. Releasing the highly influential regional albums Rhythmic Space: A Pause For Breath (2010) and 2nd (2014), Park and Seo crossed the time zones to perform at both WOMAD and SXSW. Congruously putting the duo on hold to explore a more ‘personal’ and minimalistic ‘musical vocabulary’ as a solo artist, Jiha dexterously balances the air-y abstract breathes of the ‘piri’ double reed bamboo flute, the searing twang of the ‘saenghwang’ mouth organ and the softly paddled patter of the ‘yanggeum’ hammered dulcimer in what is a dialogue between a dulcet calm, the meditative and an entangled dissonance.

Transforming Korean traditions into a more experimental language that evokes the avant-garde, neo-classical and jazz yet something quite different, Park Jiha’s tranquil to entangled discourse evocations reach beyond their Southeast Asian borders both musically and metaphysically into something approaching the unique.


Playlist


The Quarterly Playlist chosen by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms



A reasonable assessment of the last three months, the Quarterly Playlist features an eclectic selection of ‘choice’ tracks from the Monolith Cocktail team. From across the musical spectrum, songs from the far east sit alongside glittering pop; traversing meditations share room with hip-hop and the Kosmische.

The inaugural revue playlist of 2018 features Plastic Ono Band sultry protest pop from U.S. Girls, fragmented reeling breakbeats from Cut Chemist and friends, Motorik mooning from Station 17, electrified dance jazz from Hailu Mergia, mystical cosmic cumbia from Sonido Gallo Negro, a cappella paean to Nelson Mandela by the Afrika Mamas, direge-y garage rock from the Moonwalks and 38 other equally interesting and varied tracks from across the globe.


Tracks in full:

‘Incidental Boogie’  U.S. Girls (review)
‘Look At Your Hands’  Tune-Yards  (review)
‘Well Who Am I’  Band Of Gold
‘Die Cut (Theme)’  Cut Chemist feat. Deantoni Parks  (review)
‘(((leapfrog)))’  MC Paul Barman  (review)
‘Addis Nat’  Hailu Mergia
‘Ein Knall’  Station 17 feat. Harald Grosskopf and Eberhard Kranemann  (review)
‘The Timeless Now’  Nonpareils
‘1001 Nights’  Ouzo Bazooka  (review)
‘Fresh Product’  Awate
‘Anything Goes’  Andy Cooper feat. Abdominal  (review)
‘Efrati’  Fadaei
‘Black Sambo’  Skyzoo  (review)
‘Kingz & Bosses’  Slim Thug feat. Big K.R.I.T.  (review)
‘That Jazz’  Coops  (review)
‘Cumbia Ishtar’  Sonido Gallo Negro
‘A Casa De Anita’  Camarao
‘All That We Are’  Brickwork Lizards  (review)
‘Hlala Nami’  Hot Soul Singers
‘Le Château’  Fishbach  (review)
‘Into Space’  Sailing Stones
‘Illogical Lullaby’  Hatis Noit  (review)
‘Also’  Astrid Sonne  (review)
‘Reptile’  Soho Rezanejad  (review)
‘Remain Calm’  Tony Njoku
‘Air Rage’  Lukas Creswell-Rost  (review)
‘Embers’  Flights Of Helios  (review)
‘And The Glamour Fell On Her’  Brona McVittie feat. Myles Cochran and Richard Curran (review)
‘Same Old, Same Old’  The Cold Spells  (review)
‘Winter Bound’  Hampshire & Foat  (review)
‘Vidsel-Sthlm, Enkel’  Bättre Lyss  (review)
‘Akokas’  Tal National
‘The Border Crossing’  Dirtmusic  (review)
‘I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes’  John Johanna
‘Diego Says Hello’  Modulus III  (review)
‘Communion’  Park Jiha  (review)
‘De Roda’  Rodrigo Tavares  (review)
‘You Get Brighter’  John Howard  (review)
‘Tata Madiba’  Afrika Mamas  (
review)
‘In Between Stars’  Eleanor Friedberger
‘No Place Like Home’  Life Pass Filter’  (review)
‘I Don’t Wanna Dance (with My Baby)’  Insecure Man
‘Israel Is Real’  Moonwalks  (review)
‘Men Of The Women’  Peter Kernel  (review)
‘We Have Always Lived In The Palace’  Sunflowers  (review)

Words: Dominic Valvona




Hatis Noit   ‘Illogical Dance’   Erased Tapes,  23rd March 2018

An ‘illogical dance’ of voices, a serialism of language, the range of Hatis Noit’s vocals are as sublime as they are artfully experimental. Since finding her calling at the age of sixteen after hearing a lone voice singing in the hallowed sanctuary of the women’s temple in Lumbini, Tibet, the backpacking Noit began a self-taught travail in both the spiritual and avant-garde; adopting and synchronizing a myriad of techniques in a quest to convey ‘nature’s many sounds’ and form a ‘beautiful conversation that isn’t restricted to words like the human language is.’

The Japanese performer, who hails from a small town on the country’s second largest island, Hokkaido, has studied the native Gagaku style of classical music and takes her name from Japan’s lotus flower folklore – the stem of this exotic symbolic flower is said to represent the living world, its roots the spirit world. Yet, this astonishing dialect and vocal articulation reaches beyond those shores to absorb the operatic, pop music, Gregorian chants, atavistic Bulgaria and Balkans styles and, what sometimes sounds like, Orthodox Russia.

Initially improvised, all of the sounds you hear on this impressive EP are sourced entirely from Noit’s voice; re-aligned, cut up and transmogrified into a trio of sonic explorations that reflect the scope of, what is, our oldest ‘powerful’ instrument: the voice. Noit channels a cornucopia of styles, all of which are reconstructed and formed into an abstract dialect both spatial and organic, yet also building towards the ebbs and flows of a diaphanous multilayered cacophony.

Named after the famous oil-transfer monoprint of the same name by one of the most proficient and influential artists of the twentieth century, Paul Klee, Angelus Novus is a stunning hallowed (almost a choral-like hymn), deeply expressive voice-scape that sounds almost cinematic. Cloister hushed whispers are layered, stuttered or harmonically clustered with various breathy and accentuate yearning and amorphous trilling on what is an astounding performance. Anagram c.i.y. has a sharper edge, utterances more chaotic, Noit’s various vocal deconstructions propelled forward in a bity staccato fashion.

There are two versions of Illogical Lullaby included on this showcase EP, the original version, an elegant synchronization of soaring aria, the choral and hummed, and the retreated version from the brilliant Baltimore partnership Matmos, a changeable filmic soundtrack inspired by a scene from the Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky’s bleak, harrowing movie Andrei Rublev. Known for their collaboration with the similarly experimental siren Bjork, Matmos take the Illogical Dance through various stages of transformation, from charming echo-y loops to Medieval sinister intensity and quirky electronica; adding rain, thunder and Foley effects to reflect an imaginary score for one of Andrei Rublev’s most philosophical acts. They create a suitable mirror-y vision that takes Noit’s voice into even more explorative realms.

Highly impressive, far from a cold art-y conceptual study devoid of soul, rhythm and direction, Noit has produced a most beautiful abstract odyssey for the voice. A revelatory progression that goes some way towards creating a fresh dialogue in modern music.




DOMINIC VALVONA’S ESSENTIAL REVIEWS ROUNDUP 





Reaching the sixtieth edition of my eclectic music revue – that’s roughly 500 albums over the last four years – I find an as ever eclectic mix of albums from around the globe; from South Africa to South Korea; from Brazil to Sweden and France.

Searching out the best or at least notable and interesting releases from the last month or so then, my latest circumnavigation includes the Brazilian composer/guitarist Rodrigo Tavares first album on the new Hive Mind Records label, the traversing amorphous road trip Congo, and the second soundtrack-like collaboration between Hampshire & Foat, the yearningly beautiful fairytale suite The Honey Bear. I also take a look at the ambitious debut album from the Oxford-based expansive indie pop and celestial electronic collective Flights Of Helios (Endings); the international debut release of Korean avant-garde, soundscape and minimalism rising star Park Jiha’s Communion; another numeral entitled free-jazz and Kosmische blowout from the USA trio Perhaps; the fourth album of matriarchal harmonious a cappella from the South African vocal group, the Afrika Mamas; a reissue of the obscure Swedish prog and heavy rockers Bättre Lyss’ 1975 private pressing Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge; and the impressive ‘deluxe’ edition of the pop-revisionist chanson album À Ta Merci by French sensation Flora Fishbach.

Hampshire & Foat  ‘The Honey Bear’   Athens Of The North, 28th February 2018

 

As with all fairy tales, the roots of these often enchanting stories lie in real psychological trauma and truths – forewarning metaphors aimed at finding happy endings, yet alerting to the dangers of a myriad of human failings: ones we all share by the way. The congruous partnership of jazz pianist/composer Greg Foat and ex-Bees multi-instrumentalist Warren Hampshire – both natives of the Isle Of Wight, which they use as a base, retreat and inspiration for much of the music on this their second album, as a collaborative duo, together – are ambiguous about the narrative that underpins the charmingly weaved The Honey Bear album, but the references and themes are all signposted well enough to be deciphered.

Based on an imaginative fictional children’s book, each instrumental track attributed to one of its chapters, The Honey Bear could be read in a number of ways; alluding as it does to sagacious rumination, the passing of time and seasons, innocence and of course the travails of addiction, the search for the magic elixir of life. You can substitute ‘honey’ for as many different substances and desires as you want; the kooky candy stitched honey bear that merrily jaunts into a magical if ominous woods on the cover may be all sweet and light, but that innocence is tested in the beautifully yearning bucolic soundtrack.

Foat – riding high creatively off the back of a stunning run of well-thumbed sci-fi novel and library music imbued jazz albums with the Jazzman label – and his Island compatriot Hampshire – no less accomplished, the former Bees band member turned in an equally adroit, articulate performance on the duos last highly praised collaboration, Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand – in what seems like no time at all, embark on their second peaceable relenting journey for the Edinburgh label, Athens Of The North. Always developing and exploring with each release, the duo take a romantic diaphanous traverse through the pastoral; a fantastical world of Ralph McTell folksy storytelling, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (Peter And The Wolf especially), both cult Eastern European dreamscape and Wiccan fable inspired English cinema of the 70s, the Jewish traditional music of Central Europe, and Kosmische (the fluctuating analogue synth whirling that undulates beneath the field recorded buzz of The Hive). An interplay that works well, featuring the string composed arrangements of Foat and Hampshire’s borderless guitar narratives, an album that was envisioned on the Jurassic coastline of Ventnor – about as far east as you can go in the UK – and added to in Edinburgh, travels well across national demarcations, picking up a myriad of inspirations on its 500 mile journey.

 

Following, what might be either a solace or (honey) trap, our lolloping protagonist starts this wandering album with a comforting patchwork accompaniment of gentle plush strings and the fluttery charming song of the flute; meandering towards the warbled and trilling bird call of a Brothers Grimm forest diorama – a certain ache and sadness subtly coming through a beautifully played suite. During an expedition to locate the honeyed prize, the listener is dreamily introduced to characters, the weather and metaphorical objects of desire and reflection.

Expressionistic pucks articulate the clawing scratch of Crow’s Feet – perhaps another analogy to ageing, for obvious reasons -, whilst the cliff or beach head environment – featuring real field recording sounds of seagulls, surf and of course a fly – of the wandering meditative beachcomber and his only companion in this isolated paradise, The Fly And I, feature the most subtle, minimal of acoustic guitar. Almost melancholic and heartbreaking in comparison, the stirring Winter Bound majestically sweeps in storm clouds, as the mood turns sentimentally mournful. Yet without doubt it is the album’s most painfully beautiful track. It doesn’t last long, this sadness, as the mood is lightened with the folksy down-the-rabbit-hole enchantment of Honey Dreams, and the entrancing evergreen Polynesian/South Seas floating The Elderflower. By the time we reach the closing Honey For A Penny, it feels like the clouds and sorrow have dissipated; the burden lifted, as we reach a sort of slow joyful release; played out to a fluttering ascendant flute and tranquil troubadour rhythm guitar.

Plush, often sumptuous, Hampshire & Foat continue to create beautifully articulated narratives and imaginary soundtracks for as yet unmade films. This children’s fairytale is certainly sweet and lilting, yet wise: analogy laden, waiting to be unpicked and interpreted. For Foat it proves a welcome escape from the jazz scene; a showcase for his arrangement skills – with the piano lid firmly shut on this project. For Hampshire, it is another gentle encapsulation of his wandering guitar compositions; unbridled free to roam where the mind takes him across cultures and time.

And to think, without the generosity of others via a crowd funder initiative this album might have never seen the light of day. Those who pledged have been well rewarded with a most gorgeous, yearning and evocative soundtrack.






Rodrigo Tavares ‘Congo’   Hive Mind Records, Available now digital release/Vinyl version 15th March 2018

Far too early of course to define a burgeoning label with only two releases on its roster, but the new amorphous traversing post-rock and jazz travelogue from Brazilian guitarist/composer Rodrigo Tavares shares a similar meditative and spiritual yearn with Hive Mind Records inaugural Maalem Mahmoud Gania communion Colours Of Night.

The spiritual here is represented in Congo’s genesis; the catalyst for Tavares soundtrack inspired by, in part, a visit to the controversial ‘spiritual healer’ John of God – a medium, psychic surgeon of dubious repute -, who lives in the remote central Brazilian town of Abadiânia. The meditative, in this case, runs throughout the suggestive instrumental passages and vignettes that ponderously drift, cascade and ebb across a real and imagined borderless global soundtrack.

Tavares is joined on this ambiguous journey by a host of complementary musicians on accentuate sliding double-bass, brushed and sauntering drums, splashing, softly trickled percussion, octave ascending light Fender Rhodes, the subtlest of Ayers vibraphone notes, pining saxophone and a harmonic twanging, jazzy dreamy guitar.

Suffused throughout are lingering traces of ACT label jazz, minimalism, Tortoise post-rock, Brazilian legends Joâo Gilberto, Dorival Caymmi and Tom Jobim, and removed by quite a few degrees, a hint of the free-form untethered to any easy classification, evolving guitar experimentation of the Sun City Girls – as it happens a show in a remote former gay bar in Brazil by the same band was one of the stopovers on Tavares ‘transformative road trip’; the fruits of which and experience laying down the creative foundations for Congo.

Amorphous as I said before, though there’s no mistaking that South American influence, you could just as easily be anywhere along the Atlantic coastline splashing in the surf on the opening dreamy Rosa Rio, and be transported to Moorish Spain on the romantically mysterious sketch, Cidade Sol II. Still, there’s plenty of that Latin American vibe to be heard on these waterfall and mountain peregrinations; especially on the progressive movement A Raposa E O Corvo and the sauntering De Roda.

Truly transglobal, Tavares helps take Brazilian music – like his fellow compatriot Sentidor – into often trance-y, unburdened and unlabored directions. With few rough edges, this congruous soundtrack makes for a ruminating, thoughtful smooth journey.






Park Jiha  ‘Communion’   tak:til/Glitterbeat Records, 2nd March 2018

Circumnavigating the globe to bring much-needed exposure to new sounds, Glitterbeat Records imprint tak:til gives a second wind to a suite of acuity serialism from Southeast Asia. Released originally in South Korea in 2016, the neo-classical musician/composer Park Jiha’s debut solo album Communion is given an international release by the German-based label or repute.

Inspiring what we’re told is a burgeoning Korean music scene (well, an alternative to the K-Pop craze), a chief progenitor of the movement Jiha alongside collaborative partner Jungmin Seo originally melded the country’s musical heritage with an eclectic range of contemporary sounds as the 숨[suːm] duo in 2007. Releasing the highly influential regional albums Rhythmic Space: A Pause For Breath (2010) and 2nd (2014), Park and Seo crossed the time zones to perform at both WOMAD and SXSW.

Congruously putting the duo on hold to explore a more ‘personal’ and minimalistic ‘musical vocabulary’ as a solo artist, Jiha dexterously balances the air-y abstract breathes of the ‘piri’ double reed bamboo flute, the searing twang of the ‘saenghwang’ mouth organ and the softly paddled patter of the ‘yanggeum’ hammered dulcimer in what is a dialogue between a dulcet calm, the meditative and an entangled dissonance.

Each of these instruments represents a different voice: each one expressing certain sensitivity or a sharpened pique. Along with the equally expressive accompaniment of Kim Oki’s trilling, wildly intense tenor saxophone and yearned bass clarinet, John Bell’s gentle resonating vibraphone, and Kang Tekhyun’s tubular trickling and rattling atmospheric percussion, Jiha’s untethered compositions also articulate the solemn of a holy retreat – the monastery in Leuven, Belgium to be exact; a space used by Jiha’s band to rehearse -, the flow and cascading beauty of water, reverberations from the moon, and the passing of time itself – measured out on the fluctuating rapid movement of a seconds hand and the slower candor tick of an hour hand on the springs, cogs and coil microseism, Accumulation Of Time.

 

Quite tender in the beginning, each track builds a poetic minimalistic and avant-garde jazz interplay between all the numerous traditional instrumentation. It must be said that the tenor sax takes a leading role in piercing the serene and often majestically plucked performances of Jiha, pleading and occasionally pained, even squealing as it does in aching ‘communion’. Sometimes hypnotic, sometimes at a fever pitch of discordant beauty, a balance is cleverly struck between intensity and the attentive. At its most quiet and abstract, you can hear the most delicate of controlled breathing, blowing across the reed. At its most liberated, set free, those same breathes become harsh and attacking.

Transforming Korean traditions into a more experimental language that evokes the avant-garde, neo-classical and jazz yet something quite different, Park Jiha’s tranquil to entangled discourse evocations reach beyond their Southeast Asian borders both musically and metaphysically into something approaching the unique.






Afrika Mamas  ‘Iphupho’   ARC Music, 23rd February 2018

 

Released in the year of what appears to be pique matriarchal fight back in the West, the gorgeous sounding 6-piece a cappella group Afrika Mamas remind us of the travails and hard won freedoms of women from outside the European and North American bubbles. In a year in which we rightly celebrate the achievements of the Women’s suffrage movement in attaining the ‘vote’, the indigenous women of South Africa would have to wait an age longer to not only get that same vote but to also overthrow the entire Apartheid system that had, until the 1990s, kept them segregated by race. Though Nelson Mandela rightly stands as the bastion of reconciliation and unity, the right leader at the right time as history would have it, it is the strong prevailing character and struggles of the country’s matriarch that deserves recognition now; celebrated and cherished on the Mamas’ fourth album together, Iphupho.

Mandela’s legacy can’t help but cast an omnipresent shadow over everything in South Africa; especially as his party have failed in many ways to build on his foundations, with talk of high-level corruption and a ruling government that over the past year has fought to remove the controversial President, Jacob Zuma – who as this goes live has since resigned and stepped down, replaced by the ANC candidate and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, in the face of mounting opposition and an untenable position caused in part by his connections to the wealthy, Indian-born Gupta family. From the most beautiful soprano to the contralto bass, the all-female close-harmony group pays an almost effortlessly soulful paean to ‘Madiba’; Sister Zungu’s penned tribute, which borders on the gospel, touchingly thanks the late leader for bringing, amongst other things, free education to children in primary schools and for getting free school uniforms and food for those children from the most deprived families.

 

Iphupho meaning ‘the dream song’ is itself a reference to the Mamas’ own struggles and ambitions in bringing the Zulu heritage to a wider audience. Made-up of single mothers from Durban striving to make their way in a male-dominated industry, the ladies hope to emulate the success and reach of the four times Grammy award winners, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Vocal wise they are sensational; perfectly pitched, pure and soothing.

The stories, anecdotes and themes of their songs highlight the daily lives and practicalities of survival in a climate of injustice and poverty; exasperated by the hindrance of the menfolk. Despite being tired in some cases of men – Ulwabishi (which means ‘rubbish’), penned by the group’s Sindisiwe Khumalo, makes a languidly cutting disapproval of those men who don’t support their families; instead hanging around, causing a nuisance and not looking for work, yet demanding their food on the table when they dictate – the group recorded this latest album at the famous Sibongiseni Shabalala co-founded United Rhythm Studio with top world music producer and maskandi tradition guitarist Maghinga Radebe. The lyrically named Shabalala is of course the son of Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder and former musical director Joseph – a group he himself joined. That influence can be felt suffused throughout Iphupho with the ‘a cappella’ style they’ve adopted, the ‘isicathamiya,’ a predominantly male vocal Zulu tradition. Those traditions, rolling back and forth from the lead call and backing chorus response are evoked on the lush veld-rolling lament to the plight of the KwaZulu dwellers of Natal on Lapha KwaZulu, and soothing lullaby heartache of ‘my mum is ill’, uMama Uyagula.

Enjoying a real momentum musically and culturally over the last decade, with South African artists as diverse as Die Antwoord, Dope Saint Jude, Spoek Mathambo, and scenes like the Shangaan Electro craze, a small but interesting touch of the contemporary makes its way into the Mamas more traditional rootsy vocal music with the guest appearance of leading South African beatboxer Siyanda Pasgenik Makhathini. He adds a down tempo sort of trip-hop meets R&B percussive rhythm to the Mamas’ graceful if ominously low harmony Ispoki – a song penned by group member Sibongile Nkosi about her father’s belief in the ‘bad spirits’ that make a nuisance of themselves outside his home at night. The only other accompaniment (the only actual instrumentation) is the jangle of percussion and a smattering of hand drums on Ulwabishi from Ayernder Ngcobo. Other than that it’s all down the clear lush, tongue-clicking and strong bass vocals of the ladies.

Highly impressive, articulated beautifully and at times spiritually soaring, the Afrika Mamas thoroughly deserve a place on the global stage. They bring a much-needed perspective, strong and defiant yet achingly blissful and majestic.






Flora Fishbach   ‘À Ta Merci’   Blue Wrasse, Available Now

The French music press we’re told have fallen hook, line and synth for the alluring contralto voice of Flora Fishbach, who’s 80s revisionist pop twist on chanson oozes with such sophistication that its difficult not to embrace. Fishbach picked up the album révélation award at the Le Prix des Indés for best independent debut LP, winning high praise and plaudits galore ever since. Looking to make a similar impact across the Channel, the ‘bohemian darling’ has just released a deluxe edition of her electro pop requiem À Ta Merci. That decision is more or less echoed in the album’s title, which translates as, “at your mercy”.

Featuring the original running order and a bonus septet of gorgeous live recordings, this aloofly chic, yet theatrical, and especially when performing, animated, album recasts Françoise Hardy as a disco pop and electro swooned crooner. Effortlessly channeling the vaporous dreamy pining of Kazu Makino on the moon dust sprinkled fantasy title-track and ambient textured, synthesizer bas bubbling yearned lament Un beau langage, and a Gallic Alison Goldfrapp on the opening ice-y cool malady Ma voie lactée, Fishbach adds a French nuance and sensibility to the synthesized pop ascetic: a signature you could say that despite the revivalist backing of electronic drum pads, post punk sass, Moroder arpeggiator, Rococo harpsichord and hi-energy is unmistakably contemporary and French.

À Ta Merci is a warm album despite the clandestine thriller backing of songs such as the haunted, bell tolled theatre Feu; the soundtrack skipping and modulating through Clavinet boogie, Madonna (the earlier queen of MTV era), Chateau opulent disco, Air and even the fathers of French synth pop, Space.

The bonus material is by contrast, and for obvious reasons stripped of its cleaner production, more intimate with a harder edge. The title-track, recorded at the famous and fateful Bataclan in 2017, maintains a full backing but sounds purposeful; Fishbach sounding emotionally raspy and poised on a version of the original that features an almost venerable pause. Live Le Meilleur de la fête becomes a post-punk Bowie tangoing with Talking Heads. The venerability on these live performances is at the forefront, emotionally starker and raw.

In an industry burdened by a zillion synth-pap artists it will really take some effort from an individual voice to break through. With the momentum already building in France and with the recent runaway success of music press darling Christine And The Queens (who I personally find utterly dull) I’m sure the UK will embrace this sophisticated chanteuse. She’s certainly impressed me enough – what’s not impressive about referencing the philosophical aloof quandary that is Rimbaud’s “Je est un autre” (“I am another”) on a tropical slinking crystalline pop song, Un Autre Que Moi (“Another Me”) – to recommend her as one to watch in 2018.






Flights Of Helios  ‘Endings’  Available now

 

Full on expansive; up amongst the mythological heavens that have inspired the Oxford collectives Titan harbinger of the sun band name and lyricism, Flights Of Helios go deep and spatial on their debut album, Endings.

A credible Everything Everything. A space pop indie band with metaphysical intentions dreaming big, Flights Of Helios bring together a quintet of musicians, producers and composers with backgrounds in a wealth of genres: Seb Reynolds (no stranger to this site) on sonic layering and production duties, Phil Hanaway-Oakley on bass and vocals, Chris Beard on lead vocals, James Maund on guitar texturing and James Currie on drums.

Featuring both previous singles and new material, Endings flights of panoramic fantasy are certainly ambitious; an epic undertaking from a collective who’ve previously honed their balance of space rock, drones, indie and post-rock on a number of celestial transcendental remixes and projects. Far more interesting when touching on the venerable, alluding to spiritual, heavenly or otherworldly elements than when more grounded, the Helios sun worshippers sound like Kasabian on the motorik shuffled cyclonic Factory – a lyrical response we’re told to the Spanish auteur Alejandro Iñãrritu’s convoluted film Biutiful – and an esoteric Klaxons on the haunted, brooding implosion to the enchantress folkloric demons Succubus – who take, so the legend dictates, on the form of an alluring seductress to reel in their male prey. Both of these tracks, previous singles, have more of an urgency and thump about them, whereas the rest of the album’s quartet of, often vulnerable, opuses are allowed the time and subtlety to expand.

The opening twelve-minute Donalogue, a transmogrified version of the traditional a cappella Irish folk ballad, builds and builds. This oscillating cosmological hymn to spurned love introduces us not only to each of the collective’s individual components and the building blocks of the Helios sound, but also the angelic choral quality of Beard’s lofty vocals. Swooning, often fragile, and at times not even decipherable – uttering vowels and mouthed shapes instead of words – Beard stretches his range, helped by Hanaway-Oakley who also provides support.

Remodeling another key influence, alongside atavistic Celtic inspirations, they turn the Bleeding Heat Narrative’s Cartographer track into a hallowed ethereal eulogy. Lingering in a plaintive beauty of angel-kissed whispery synth, reverberated vocals and slow drums, this trance-y swansong sounds like I See You era XX, the Arcade Fire and A Dancing Beggar in a holy communion.

Lolloping in a constant swill of stormy tides and paranormal Gothic metaphors, one of the album’s most striking tracks, Funeral, pitches esoteric Americana and progressive electronica on the high seas. Bashing against the rocks in a barrage of swells, what starts out as Depeche Mode and Radiohead slowly builds like an improvised trip into energetic psych garage.

Evolving within the perimeters of each track, Funeral encapsulates the organic transformations that propel the group forward into such epic grand spaces, creating cerebral sensibility escapist music for a pop and indie audience. Rather than ‘endings’, Flights Of Helios have produced the sonic building blocks for a glowing future under this their most panoramic collective umbrella.






Bättre Lyss  ‘Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge’   Sommer, February 22nd 2018

 

From a label I’ve previously had no experience with, another rarity from the 70s Swedish heavy and progressive rock vaults to drool over with the first ever reissue of the obscure Bättre Lyss group’s private pressing Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge.

Notable for featuring guitarist Anders Nordh of LIFE fame (check out their highly impressive self-titled album from the early 70s) as an outlier member of the Bättre Lyss core trio of Rolf Hammarlund (vocals, bass), Christer Palmquist (vox, acoustic guitar, piano) and Rolf Johansson (drummer and songwriter), the group adopted a whole myriad of rock music influences on this rare find: the soft kind, the glam kind, the progressive kind and the American West Coast psychedelic heavy kind.

Formed during 1973-1974 by mutual friends Hammarlund and Palmquist, the duos first furors together were written in English. Johansson joined just after they switched to singing in the native tongue, and in time to record the group’s debut album, released a year later in ’75. Bolstered, as you will hear, by a number of talented extended pals on guitar, saxophone, flute and organ the group attempt in their own inimitable way to do justice to soft rock power balladry and epic rock outs. Sounding at any one time like 1st era Bee Gees cutting up rough with Spirit on the energetic opener Göta Lejon, or a Scandinavian Bread on the following heart-yielding Emma, or indeed King Crimson on the slightly menacing, slinking saxophone keen Vapnet, they seem to change the nuance and adapt their sound to each song. And so at times it sounds more like a collection of recordings than complete album. The only constant in fact is the often enervated, softly sweet vocals, which do, it must be said, occasionally soar and utter anguish.

Though I can’t fault the musicianship, and there are more than enough convincing, if sentimental, songs to grab you on this album, they can’t help but bare an uncanny resemblance to Blonde On Blonde, Savoy Brown, Forest, Humble Pie, Mott The Hoople, even Boston, throughout. There’s a total of four guitarist too, each one displaying telltale signs of riffage and refrains, bends and pleading lines from the era.

Lilting and flowing between troubadour piano and full-on progressive jamming, this more than competent Swedish slab of rock is well worth reviving. It also offers another look at the, probably largely unnoticed, developments in the Swedish head music scene; picking up what is essentially a rare marriage between the heavy stuff and a more commercial melodic sensibility.






Perhaps  ‘V’   Cassette version available now via Important Records, Vinyl also available now, via Riot Sunset

I can’t be expected to keep tabs on every exciting, mad or Kool-aid chalice glugging band from a scene that is over-subscribed with a landfill sites worth of promising, but quickly disappearing into obscurity, releases. Of course it doesn’t help that the psychedelic-Krautrock-Kosmische-whatever genre is also filled with the most unimaginative and cover-band like pastiches of groups that originally did it so much better. Yet once in a while, finding its way into my inbox, there is a rare find. For ‘head music’ aficionados then, a three-piece of Teutonic, free-jazz, cosmic explorers from Boston, Massachusetts known as Perhaps – an open-ended moniker, without a question mark in sight, that alludes to possibility.

Scant information is provided, only that their origins go back as far as the year of their debut album, Volume One, in 2012, and that the line-up comprises of ‘ringleader’ and bassist Jim Haney, drummer Don Taylor and guitarist Sean McDermott. Unsurprisingly picking up on a few inspired vibes during their collaborations and tours with the rambunctious Acid Mothers Temple and one-time shaman poet Can member Damo Suzuki, Perhaps go all out free-spirited psychedelic and Kosmische on their fifth numeral entitled album V.

The sole track of this album performance, Mood-Stabilizer is a thirty-seven minute continuous ebbing and flowing contortion jam of floating louche saxophone, fret scratching and tangled guitar, and stop/start drums that hints at the Acid Mothers (of course), Brainticket, Guru Guru, Embryo, Agitation Free and in one particular segment, a Mogadon drugged Amon Duul II.

From topographic submerged guitar pangs to tubular fuzzy vortexes and squalls, the trio travel via the primordial soup to gaze into deep space. Moving like a liquid and gaseous entity throughout a combined atmosphere of wafting, languid jazz and more dissonance fuzz frazzling waves of spiraling noise, it’s surprising to hear them meander, almost sexily, into slow jam Funkadelic territory in the first third of this meta space exploration. Whilst at their most heavy they slip into PiL.

Honing their own signature interpretation of the music that so inspires them, Perhaps’ oscillating heavy, Ash Ra commune trip shows a real depth and intelligence; a group sucked in the portal, taking their time to build a space-rock, free-jazz blowout of a journey. Enjoy hitching a transcendental ride into the deepest trenches of contemporary ‘head music’: no ticket required.





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