Choice Albums of 2019 Part Three: Chris Quelle to Yugen Blakrok


Welcome to the final part of our ‘choice albums’ features of 2019. To reiterate once more in case you missed parts one and two, because we’ve never seen the point in arguing the toss over numerical orders, or even compiling a list of the best of albums of the year, the Monolith Cocktail’s lighter, less competitive and hierarchical ‘choice albums’ features have always listed all entrants in alphabetical order (since our inception, a decade ago). We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

Choice were made by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Gianluigi Marsibilio.


Previous parts:

One

Two

Q…………….

Quelle Chris ‘Guns’
(Mello Music Group)




“The definition of enterprising, Quelle Chris remains a singular underground voice, loading latest album ‘Guns’ with intelligent angles on a topic never far from the news” – RnV Apr 19





You’ve got guns, we’ve got guns, the serious ones…Quelle Chris leaps to your attention at the best of times, now notwithstanding an album called Guns and his head engulfed in firearms on the sleeve – he could well have parodied the world’s accessory of choice such is the way he owns his own lane (the next album will guaranteed to be off on a completely different tangent). Instead of simply just pointing and shooting, his firing range is well-rounded opinion and scenario without turning Guns into documentary, his chuntering under his breath potent enough to never have to repeat himself, and knitted tightly enough to get you going back over and over. He holds back some of his stock off-kilterness – “I was never a weirdo, they just had to acclimate” – for production that can go from slight and soulful to screwface to thick and sludgily underground. That said, we can’t pass by the fact that on ‘Straight Shot’, he builds into a solemn contemplation somehow featuring comedian James Acaster as an apparitional, free-roaming sensei. (Matt Oliver)


R………………

Raf And O ‘The Space Between Nothing And Desire’
(Telephone Records)







Imbued by both the musicality and spirit of David Bowie, Scott Walker, David Sylvian (both as a solo artist and with the fey romantics Japan), Kate Bush and in their most avant-garde mode, Bjork, the South London based duo of Raf (Raf Montelli) and O (Richard Smith) occupy the perimeters of alternative art-rock and experimental electronica as the true inheritors of those cerebral inspirations.

Sublime in execution, subtle but with a real depth and levity, TSBNAD is an astonishing piece of new romantic, avant-theater pop and electronica that dares to unlock the mind and fathom emotion. I’m not sure if they’ve found or articulated that space they seek, between nothing and desire, but the duo have certainly created a master class of pulchritude magnificence. Lurking leviathans, strange cosmic spells and trips into the unknown beckon on this, perhaps their most accomplished and best album yet; an example of tactile machinations and a most pure voice in synergy.

The influences might be old and well used, but Raf And O, as quasi-torchbearers, show the way forward. They deserve far more exposure and acclaim, and so here’s hoping that TSBNAD finally gains this brilliant duo their true worth. (Dominic Valvona)

Full review…


Rafiki Jazz ‘Saraba Sufiyana’
(Konimusic)





It’s no idle boast to suggest that the North of England based Rafiki Jazz could be one of the most diverse groups on the world stage. Testament of this can be heard on the troupe’s previous trio of polygenesis albums: an untethered sound that simultaneously evokes Arabia, the Indian Subcontinent, Northern African, the Caribbean, South America and Balkans.

The troupe’s latest visionary songbook is a filmic panoramic beauty, no less worldly and stirring. The opening diaphanous spun ‘Su Jamfata’ encapsulates that perfectly; mirroring the group’s musical freedom and spiritual connection; lilting between a myriad of regions with stunning vocals that evoke both Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Saraba Sufiyana translates as “mystic utopia”, a title that epitomizes the group’s curiosity and respect for other cultures as they build a brave new sonic world of possibility. One that takes in all the dramas and woes of the current international crisis and the lamenting poetry of venerable hardship – the final quartet cycle of prayer and spiritual yearning, ‘My Heart My Home’, beautifully conveys a multitude of gospel and traditional religious plaint, ending on the stirring Hebrew field song ‘Shedemati’. Devotional music at its most captivating and entrancing. (DV)

Full review…


Rapsody ‘Eve’
(Jamla)




“An unflinching belief system sees off the ill-equipped not so much striking a chord as demolishing it with style” – RnV Sep 19



Certainly not short on confidence or ambition – second track ‘Cleo’ goes for self over Phil Collins’ most famous ode to lifeguards – this is good and sassy throughout from an emcee going from strength to strength. ‘Eve’ = education, verbs, entertainment, dovetailing with the knowledge and understanding of Sa-Roc and the fearlessness of Rah Digga. “To be more than a woman now comes with some ties” – but digging in and challenging the status quo is all Rapsody knows, not by just saying that women on the mic aren’t going quietly, but you should know that they’ve always been putting in work. Every track is named after an influential female figure (‘Oprah’, ‘Serena’), and 9th Wonder’s lion’s share of production is a direct reflection of the orator – wise, feisty, a savant of pure hip-hop’s nuts and bolts, playful, and able to take on anyone on away turf. A safe pair of hands for the artform’s future that’s celebratory, but adamantly not cutting corners. (MO)


Ras Kass ‘Soul on Ice 2’
(Mello Music Group)




“In the mood for a high score body count, maximising velocity on every single word as if it’s his last” – RnV Sep 19





If you’re fake, wack or simply don’t measure up to his standards, eternal underdog Ras Kass will call you on it, the ‘sequel’ to 1995’s Soul On Ice roaring out the traps with two opening cuts that should soundtrack summits and state of emergency think tanks. In a way the phony stasis of hip-hop should keep up its shoddy work – it’s all ammunition for the West Coaster to dismantle and hopefully reroute some career paths. More than just a battler to the death doling out deliciously vindictive punchlines, the world in its entirety is made to wobble on its axis once Ras has got stuck into society as well: again, thank God life is hurtling towards hell in a handbasket, so Ras can take its photo like an end of rollercoaster insta-snap. His knowledge of album flow and addition of prestige guests, plus production that 1) makes Ras flip his lid and 2) makes him even more potent when reducing the heat…how many more warnings do you need? Go get. (MO)


Royal Trux ‘White Stuff’
(Fat Possum Records)







Royal Trux has returned without great proclamations and arrogance, to put themselves to the test with a music scene completely revolutionized since the early 90s. The duo have maintained the avant-garde drive and the desire to be something else, completely different from whatever the word Rock means today, because even if important projects such as The War On Drugs, The National or others are easily indicated in one vein, the Royal Trux remain other, but not only in terms of sound, their choice is an aptitude that deeply distances the duo from any other band.

Twin Infinities (1990) could be a good problem, such a monumental work of historical impact can lead to comparisons, further comparisons, but in the end an album like White Stuff also touches important peaks in songs like ‘Sic Em Slow’ or ‘Under Ice’. The psychedelic progression is preponderant in tracks like ‘Purple Audacity #2’, and the dreamlike wandering that lasted about 20 years offers a solid and iconic cue. Hagerty and Herrema show that they can complete themselves extensively, but above all they can make up for each other at the limits of the other, hiding personal and non personal smears and imperfections: it’s clear that the tumultuous journey that ended in 2001 is an example of what it means to complete, wander and start again. (GM)

Full review…


S………………

Sad Man ‘Untitled Album’ ‘Indigenous & Indigenous 2’







Haphazardly prolific, Andrew Spackman, under the plaint alter ego of the Sad Man, improves with every release he puts out. Included yet again in the choice features, a trio of releases from 2019 cement a growing reputation for pushing the electronic music envelope. Still on the peripheral, Spackman has been working like a boffin from his shed, building the homemade musical contraptions that form the base of his loony and radical deconstructions for years.

Perhaps coming near to his most perfect album yet, Untitled is a full spread of cosmic techno imbued and ridiculous pottering’s, debris, flotsam and more celestial dancefloor goers. The Indigenous moiety of releases however further muddies the waters, as Spackman’s improvised mixes of his own tracks go into jazzier, tribal and skittish realms of unpredictability. All three are worthy of your attention.  (DV)


Sampa the Great ‘The Return’
(Ninja Tune)




“A debut to have critics clamouring” – RnV Aug 19





Brought to the fore by the fantastic front foot funk of Final Form, The Return is an event calling the shots as to which top 10s it’ll occupy in the year’s retrospectives. Culturally rich, musically articulate and ambitious, and with a rhymer fighting for every movement and inch of space with a heavy side of attitude blowing bubblegum bombs, The Great one carves out a singular mic presence. The album’s extended length turns the Aussie-based sovereign’s debut into act-by-act theatre, full of moving parts and motifs in shifting through global soul and jazz, always evolving and with twists, turns and exclamation points to jolt you from you wind down and settle you back down from a vicious dancefloor circle. These variations mean that even if your powers of endurance aren’t up to much, you can still make two or three separate playlists from the styles she assimilates and owns, including the crowns previously held by Hill and Badu. (MO)


SAULT ‘5’ and ‘7’
(Forever Living Originals)








Knowing next to nothing about this limbered band of no wave funk ravers, I completely came across this release by chance. SAULT has released two albums of similar sassy ESG meets Liquid Liquid buffalo girls hopscotch this year; the sound of New York, an 1980s one I admit, but they have given it a touch of the contemporary to make it once more dynamically and soundly relevant and alive.

There’s nothing in it really, both albums are equally class in merging political funk with post punk, Annie, R&B, early Hip-Hop and neo-soul to infectious heights of both smooth and elasticated contorting. Buy both. (DV)


Seba Kaapstad ‘Thina’
(Mello Music Group)







Soulfully churning a cornucopia of intricate but organic kinetics and beatific yearnings, the polygenesis Seba Kaapstad create a beautiful cosmology on the sumptuous Thina. Capturing the moment and mood with the most meandrous and softened of diaphanous deliveries, they merge R&B with jazz, hip-hop with neo-soul to forge a seamless celestial and spiritual imbued traverse. Joyful and lamentable in equal measures, Seba Kaapstad lushly reaches dizzying heights on this magically sophisticated bowed, arching, liquid soundtrack. (DV)


Silver Sound Explosion ‘Pop Dithyramp’







Hooray the Silver Sound Explosion is back together after splitting about six or seven years ago. They were and are a wonderful band from the Manchester area. They recorded many demos that make up this their debut LP. And after much encouragement and prompting by myself, they have finally released it.

They’re led by Ben Fuzz, one of those songwriters who has soaked up the spirit and history of Rock N roll and releases the spirit in finely written pop songs that take in 60s pop, garage rock, late seventies power pop and the post punk 80s indie, and mesh it all together to make the most perfect pop imaginable.

You will be hard pressed to find a better debut LP this year; an LP that deserves much more than a small scale release on the bands band camp: creeping out without any fanfare. And it is a pay what you want to download release at that. So what you waiting for?! Fill your winklepickers. A true undiscovered gem that needs discovering. (Brain ‘Bordello’ Shea)


Širom ‘A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat)







Channeling the varied topography of their respective parts of the Slovenian landscape via a kitchen table of both recognizable instrumentation and found assemblage (everything including the kitchen sink and water tank), the Širom trio of Iztok Koren, Ana Kravanja and Samo Kutin create another vivid album of dream realism with their second LP, A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse. Inspired by this environment yet ambiguous, they float across the borders to evoke a certain mystery and yearn to create something new. In so doing, they’ve coined the term ‘imaginary folk’ to describe their amorphous blending of geographical evocations and echoed fables.

From the Mongolian Steppes to sorrows of East Europe and the hints of the Appalachians and Sumatra, Širom draw inspiration – whether intentional or not – from a fecund of sources; the Slovenian backdrop melting into a polygenesis mirage. With this spiritual, ritual, dreamy longing for a kaleidoscope of real and imaginary cultures the trio’s second album for the Glitterbeat label’s instrumental imprint tak:til is as poetically wondrous as it is (sometimes) supernatural and otherworldly. An alternative folk fantasy imbued in part by the hard won geography, Širom once more wander unafraid across an ever-ambiguous musical cartography that (almost) fulfills their wish to produce something unique: A soundtrack of infinite possibilities. (DV)

Full review…


Snapped Ankles ‘Stunning Luxury’







The whirring and exciting sounds of post punk circa 2019 coming at you like a extravagant wholemeal piece of chiffon scarred alternative disco meat; the sound of Devo fucking the brains and beats out of the B52s whilst the horny ghost of Mark E Smith watches on making cutting asides whilst stomping on the hopes and dreams of the not yet born love child of David Byrne and Lena Lovich.

Stunning Luxury is dirty, it is funky, it is experimental, it is blistering rock ‘n’ roll. (BBS)

Full review…


Stereo Total ‘Ah! Que! Cinema’







This LP is bloody genius. Any LP that kicks off with a track that sounds like The Prodigy but played on a Bontempi organ is not going to go very wrong, and then carries on with the pure blissfulness of French lo-fi garage pop.

This LP is so good it has pissed me off a little. I thought I’d made the album of the year with the Bordello and Clark Atlantic Crossing LP, but this has knocked it into a cocked hat. But I don’t mind, especially when there are bands capable of making records of such beauty; when bands can come on like Stereolab one minute and a French Velvet Underground the next – ‘Brazil Says’ is a track worthy of the Velvets at their finest: pure pop heaven.

I think the playing of Ah! Quel Cinema may become a daily event this year; an LP to lose yourself in the pure beauty of perfect lo fi pop. (BBS)

Full review…


SUO ‘Dancing Spots And Dungeons’
(Stolen Body Records)





Stolen Body Records have released some wonderful albums this year, and here is yet another one. This is a fine pop album, all power punk chords and girl group kisses. Part Blondie part Suzi Quatro, it really has a late 70s feel to it; the kind of record you can imagine blasting from your old tiny transistor on a summer night. An LP with a lovely warm sound (maybe one of the best sounding records I’ve have heard all year) it embraces all that is magical about pop music; it is sexy, laid back, moving and fun all at the same time, an album of extremely well written and crafted guitar pop songs with a 70s new wave twist. Dancing Spots And Dungeons is a really lovely sounding record. (BBS)

Full review…


T………………

The Telescopes ‘Exploding Head Syndrome’







There is no place like drone, well not at least if you are a member of The Telescopes: Just over thirty minutes of top class dronery, not something I normally spend my Friday evenings listening to but as they say a change is as good as a rest.

If this LP were a debut album by some young new psychsters they would be being raved about and hailed to the rafters as the second coming, the next new big thing. I hope the same platitudes are heaved onto this wonderful LP by this wonderful band, as it really has taken me by surprise how much I love it and I feel guilty in not expecting to like it. For that The Telescopes I offer my humble apologies you have indeed blown my head. (BBS)

 Full review…


Thirty Pounds Of Bone and Philip Reeder ‘Still Every Year They Went’
(Armellodie Records)







This is a bewitching LP of old sea shanties recorded on a working fishing boat at sea; a wonderful idea and quite stunningly performed. There is a beauty in the loftiness which captures the dark magic romance of the sea and also keeps alive some quite genius beautiful old folk songs.

Acoustic guitars blend beautifully with the sound of crashing waves and sea birds weaving a spellbinding web of sound. In this day and age of here-today- thrown-away-tomorrow it makes more than a refreshing change to hear a album that you will keep and play and be a mainstay in your music collection for the rest of your days: a truly beautiful collection. (BBS)

Full review…


Toxic Chicken ‘Uncomfortable Music’







This LP has everything that I love about the magic and joy of music. It has humour and a madness that at times reminds me of the great Syd Barrett and the wonderful White Noise Electric Storm LP. It is eccentric pushed to the extreme. Songs with the subject matter of eating politicians and love songs for cats and for Mother Nature and what is bad about England, but that track only being under two minutes long does not quite manage to list everything.

Uncomfortable Music is certainly an enjoyable and rewarding listening experience, and at times, the subject matter does live up to its title. But this album is a pay-what-you-want to download, so is well worth a listen. Another great album from a great artist: And I mean artist. And the track ‘Little Snail’ is the best dance track I have heard all year. (BBS)

Full review…


Owen Tromans ‘Between Stones’
(Sacred Geometry)







In the spirit of maverick adventure, Hampshire-based singer-songwriter Owen Tromans walks a similar path to the arch druid of counterculture and psychogeography traversing, Julian Cope. The co-founder of the most informative sonic accompanied rambling fanzine guide, Weird Walks, Tromans (and his co-authors) circumnavigates the hidden British landscape of run-down flat roof pubs whilst waxing lyrical about the fantasy role-play meets Black Metal flowering of the Dungeon synth scene, and the more well-known traipsed chalk pits and megalith landmarks.

The soundtrack is important, both as an enriching experience and communicative tool. And on Between Stones the soundtrack could be said to be a surprising one. Ambling certainly; wandering this sceptered Isle imbued typography with all the ancient lore it entails, yet far from held-down to the British sound, Tromans actually channels a English pen pal version of R.E.M. and the great expansive outdoor epic trudge of Simon Bonney on the album’s hard-won stirring opus ‘Grimcross’: Imagine an 80s American college radio John Barleycorn. There’s even a touch of a mellower Pixies and early Dinosaur Jnr. on the grunge-y ‘Vague Summer’, and hints of Mick Harvey throughout the rest of the album.

Beautifully conveyed throughout with subtle Baroque-psych chamber strings and a country falsetto, Tromans follows the desire lines, hill forts and undulating well-travail(ed) pathways on a most ruminating magical songbook; a thoughtful and poetic accompaniment that goes hand-in-hand with those “weird” and wonderful walks. (DV)

Full review…


Trupa Trupa ‘Of The Sun’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Freshly signing over to the German-based label Glitterbeat, the multi-limbed quartet play off gnarling propulsive post-punk menace and tumult with echo-y falsetto despondent vocals and hymnal rock on their fifth album, Of The Sun. Feeding into the history of their regularly fought-over home city, Gdansk, Trupa Trupa create a monster of an album steeped in psychodrama, dream revelation and hypnotic industrialism.

A sinewy, pendulous embodiment of their Polish city environment and metaphysical philosophy, Trupa Trupa write “songs about extremes”, but use an often ambiguous lyrical message when doing it: usually a repeated like poetic mantra rather than charged protest. On one of those framed “extremes”, the wrangling guitar-heavy post-punk-meets-80s-Aussie-new-wave ‘Remainder’ sounds like Swans covering The Church, as the group repeat the refrain, “Well, it did not take place.”

 The PR spill that accompanies this nihilistic-with-a-heart LP is right to state, “Of The Sun is an unbroken string of hits.” There are no fillers, no let-up in the quality and restless friction, each track could exist as a separate showcase for the group’s dynamism: a single. East European, Baltic facing, lean post-punk mixes it up in the Gdansk backstreets and harbor with spasmodic-jazz, baggy, math-rock, psych, doom and choir practice as this coiled quartet deliver an angst-ridden damnation of humanity in 2019. (DV)

Full review…


U……………….

Uncommon Nasa & Kount Fif ‘City as School’
(Man Bites Dog)




“Blockbuster burners laid end to end as outlaws of the corridors, “trust the process, avoid the nonsense” at all costs” – RnV Nov 19





If Uncommon Nasa and Kount Fif were headmasters, the pep rally would be a Deftones meltdown and the Ofsted inspection would get ‘Funcrusher Plus’, ‘The Cold Vein’, ‘The Multi Platinum Debut Album’ etc straight on the syllabus. Blocky, rocking beats, rhymes that hang with a critical pause and judder across the page for greatest impact, b-boys and backpackers and headbangers all in the same corner…City as School gives hope as to what the underground can still be. By mining the last great boundary and perspective shift from the mid to late 90s, its drum machines and steel rain synth sweeps also sound like a comic book metropolis to sink yourself in, and its New York influence replicates there being so much to take in amidst a battery of dazzling lights, but with something always rumbling in the sewers. “History don’t repeat, it rhymes” is Nasa & Fif’s ‘O Captain My Captain’ call to arms – class not to be dismissed. (MO)


The Untied Knot ‘Falling Off The Evolutionary Ladder’
(Sonic Imperfections)







Imbued with a sense of scientific methodology and monocular dissection, the experimental United Knot duo of Nigel Bryant and Matt Donovan attempt once more to sonically convey the wonders and enormity and chaos of the universe on Falling Off The Evolutionary Ladder.

With both band members serving a variation of roles in the improvisational and electronic music fields, Bryant and Donovan have all the experience and skills needed to create something that is refreshingly dynamic as it is ponderous. Playing hard and loose with a myriad of influences, Donovan’s constantly progressive drum rolls, tribal patters, cymbal burnishes and more skipping jazzy fills recall Faust’s Weiner ‘Zappi’ Diermaier and Guru Guru’s Mani Neumeier, whilst surprisingly, on the late 60s West Coast rock experiment ‘Rhythm From Three Intervals’ a touch of Mick Fleetwood. Meanwhile, Bryant, on both bass and atonal guitar duties (both also share the synth), channels Ax Genrich, Jah Wobble and Youth.

On what could be the duo’s, in this incarnation, last furore together, the Untied Knot sound far from weary and burnt-out: going out on a high. They stretch their influences with improvised skill and depth, a buzz saw, scrawling caustic but investigative soundtrack for the times. (DV)

Full review…


V………………….

Vampire Weekend ‘Father of The Bride’
(Columbia Records)





Vampire Weekend sings on Father of The Bride, of a humanity that lives on a suffering planet. The album is, however, an opportunity to subvert a catastrophic narrative and, in fact, throughout the work, it raises, through a series of pop melodies perfectly designed by Ezra Koenig and his companions, an aura of incredible positivity. Vampire Weekend give their best in songs like ‘Married In a Gold Rush’ or ‘Jerusalem, New York, Berlin’, which through a dialogue between various piano chords draws a line that links stories, eras and ideas, not only in music but also in politics. The key to the album is the story of a humanity that, on the brink of a catastrophe, finds the right coordinates to find itself, to be reborn.

The Vampire Weekend in each of the 18 tracks try to deconstruct, both conceptually and semantically, the idea of an end in itself chaos applied to the world. The essence of the poetic and tragic paradox of life itself is sung in ‘Harmony Hall’: “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die”.

Vampire’s songs always show an ethereal shine, this characteristic has always been fundamental for their clear and absolutely unique songwriting. The culture in which Ezra & co are immersed is a melting pot functional to the construction of a strong identity, and that in a few years has also established itself in the live dimension of the band. The album plays with the tragic and stimulating oppositions of contemporary society, confronts itself with the cultural and technological change that pushes all of us to a deeper analysis, which also touches on issues such as faith and the mystery of humanity.

Ezra Koenig is a pop-priest, but he doesn’t need to draw moral conclusions, he simply points to a new way to tell us the tales of the world.

Exactly in this set of meanings and themes moves this band that, in recent years, has shown to be a multifaceted reality but perfect.

The strength is all in the centered ability to develop a story, an idea and a vision of the world that is transformed into storytelling that speaks and is combined with the present. (GM)


Verb T & Pitch 92 ‘A Question of Time’
(High Focus)




“Grown man hip-hop in the business of casual downtime – will see off those that can’t handle ‘Time’ on their hands” – RnV Sep 19





One of the UK’s great unflinching voices – get all up in his grill and he won’t bat an eyelid, just deconstruct you with a slight shrug – teams with a producer becoming a fixture on the phones of homegrown hip-hop’s best and brightest. A muscular sound full of fluid funk melodies, dimming the lights before snapping out of it with Mobb Deep levels of hectic on ‘Frostbitten’, is glided over by modern life manifestos with the usual one-take snap that could go back to chatting at the bar at any moment. This is the 14th+ album Verb T has put his name to in a remarkably consistent run, but there’s much more to simply knowing what you’re gonna get. He won’t be starting anything stupid, but has formed yet another partnership of strong potential when in cahoots with someone who sounds like he’s tracked his partner’s every move for the whole of the noughties (also see Pitch 92’s ‘3rd Culture’ collaboration from this year). Beats and rhymes not to be questioned. (MO)


Vukovar ‘Cremator’
(Other Voices Records)







In a constant state of erratic flux, you never know which particular inception of Vukovar will show up when the time comes to laying down their brand of hermetic imbued visions for posterity, the only constant being de facto avatar, whether anyone agreed or not to this appointment, Rick Antonsson.

Suffused with disillusion, as they row across a veiled River Styx (or in this case, as alluded to in the yearning slow junk ride over the lapping black waves of tortured cries of ‘The River Of Three Crossings’, the Japanese Buddhist version of that mythological destination), Vukovar and converts add more fuel to a bonfire of vanities to an overall sound that reimagines Bernard Summer as the frontman of a Arthur Baker produced Jesus And Mary Chain.

Though always wearing their influences on their sleeves, there’s also this time around a trio of cover versions, both obvious and more obscure. These include a despondent if scuzzed growling bass with radiant synth live version of the Go-Betweens ‘Dive For Your Memory’, a cooed ethereal voiced dreamy, with phaser-effects set to stun, diaphanous vision of Psychic TV’s ‘The Orchids’, and, most poignant, a gauze-y heaven-bound ghostly homage (complete with Hebrew vocals) to the late Tel Aviv cowboy Charlie Megira, on the hymnal ‘Tomorrow’s Gone’.

Cremator is a death knell; the end of one era and setting in motion of a new chapter: whatever that ends up looking or sounding like. It just happens that they’ve bowed out in style with, perhaps, the original lineup (of a sort) most brooding masterpiece yet. Long may they continue, in one form or another. (DV)

 Full review…


W…………………..

White Fence ‘I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk’







The unassuming maverick artist Tim Presley paints outside the lines; his idiosyncratic applied coloring-in like a double vision of kaleidoscopic floating blurriness. Deeply felt yet softened and often languid in practice, Presley’s off-kilter musings blend lo fi psychedelia with quirky troubadour sadness, jilting punk, library music, and early analogue synthesized music, and on this latest album of sweetened, hazy malady, the Kosmische to create the most dreamy of soft bulletins.

Amorphously wafting between the bucolic and tragic psychedelic whimsy of England, the Warm Jets era of Eno, the fragility lament of Nilsson and the cerebral lurch of The Swell Maps, Richard Hell and David Byrne, Presley’s bendy vulnerabilities sound understated and lo fi but dream big. The title-track, with postmodernist élan, embodies this spirit perfectly, merging the magical if unsure twinkle of Willy Wonka with Pete Dello, Syd Barrett and a slacker Ray Davis. Suffused venerable organs, monastery-like intonations, and the lightest of washes all sit well with the gangly disjointed lolloping guitars and the woozy drug-induced new wave rock’n’roll longing of such tragic mavericks as Johnny Thunders, who Presley dreamt appeared before him, from beyond the grave, with a message of encouragement: “To be honest and simple”.

Tethering a multitude of ideas and influences to something more concrete and solid can’t have been easy, but I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk captures those blurred reimaging’s within the amorphous boundaries of a successful off-kilter album of dreamy magnificence and wonky indulgences. (DV)

Full review…


Y……………………

Your Old Droog ‘Transportation’
(Mongoloid Banks)





“The smoothest source of scornful, so-what couplets and eyewitness accounts” – RnV May 19




An end of year round up in itself given that Droog release two more stellar albums within months of one another, Transportation edges out the prior It Wasn’t Even Close (though just buy both and be done with it) on account of its vaguely attached vehicular theme (see the ad campaign-in-waiting ‘Taxi’). Otherwise it’s Droog groundhog day: punchlines to pull faces to, and that ever pleasingly natural delivery that for all its cheek-pinching aggression is like a serene countryside commute, while a batch of funk, soul and psych rock rifles gambol and prance (YOD doesn’t seem to have a natural habitat beats-wise, everything’s fair game to get taken). Also housing a bunch of sampled misfits, the kind of which you’d only meet on the night train or on the highway with their thumbs out, ‘My Plane’, including the most straightforwardly effective dis on everyone, and ‘Train Love’ smooth it out with a knowing nod, still creating an expressive world as easy on the eye as the ear. (MO)


Yugen Blakrok ‘Anima Mysterium’
(IOT)




“Prophecies and riddles raining down like an RPG sherpa, where you best take the right path or else” – RnV Jan 19





Hip-hop has a long, varied and invariably inaccurate relationship with the scientific and forces of another nature. On Anima Mysterium, South Africa’s Yugen Blakrok pulls back the curtain to her own vision of Alice in Wonderland, a grimly relentless world of full moon theoreticals, secret handshakes and rune-patterned combination locks to burial ground gates. Karma is looking bad, and believable, with this one. With her expressive doom-mongering, Kanif the Jhatmaster’s 50 shades of black production is as big a trigger for imaginations running wild, leaving you fearful as to what’s not being revealed, intimation and presence of blank gaps as powerful as revealing truths by torch light. Which brings up another premise – Yugen, delivering parables like she herself is being subjected to some sort of mind control. You’ll be hard pressed to find an album from the last 12 months that sounds like anything like this one: umpteen rewinds later and you’ll still only be half way towards the truth. (MO)




Choice Albums of 2019 Part Two: Haq to Pozi


For those that might have missed Part One of this three-parter, I will reiterate:

Because we’ve never seen the point in arguing the toss over numerical orders, or even compiling a list of the best of albums of the year, the Monolith Cocktail’s lighter, less competitive and hierarchical ‘choice albums’ features have always listed all entrants in alphabetical order (since our inception, a decade ago). We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

All the albums in part two were chosen by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Ginaluigi Marsibilio.

Part One can be found here…

H……..

Haq ‘Evaporator’
(Bearsuit Records)







The new release from the fine Bearsuit Records finds us tumbling down to the spiraling sounds of Haq; 60s spy theme sexiness merges with the avant-garde dreampop of a bewitched Stereolab playing hopscotch with Delia Derbyshire whilst sucking on the feedback of a JAMC lollipop.

The obvious love and understanding of pop music in its many genres and changes throughout the decades are lovingly brought together to make a wash of beautiful tunes. Angel like vocals float over gentle beats, soulful guitars and well constructed rhythms, delicately plucking at the heartstrings. This album really is a beautiful work of aural magic that can and will take you AWAY from the drudgery of everyday life and makes for quite a moving experience: maybe there is a god after all. (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea)

Full review…


Homeboy Sandman ‘Dusty’
(Mello Music Group)





“Pure skills unfazed by tempo, turning fleeting thoughts into elaborate dissections. Long may the cult of the Sandman continue” – RnV Nov 19




Something that will never be lost to the dusts of time is Homeboy Sandman and that flow that still sounds just past a cipher amongst friends. Mono En Stereo tease out his kooks with production springy in step and managing a melting pot and the bare bones. Actually the continued kooky associations do Homeboy a disservice, as Dusty is Sandman doing what he does best in all his multifaceted greatness, able to pull off sincere and sombre on a sixpence before pulling the rug through sleight of verb (“anybody asks, I was never here/in the lunchroom sitting alone my whole career/wear my pants so you can’t see my underwear”), aiming for personal bests as if the aforementioned cipher is strictly for him. An undisputed battler and hip-hop student, and whose streams of consciousness you won’t find anywhere else (including moulding the mundane into something profound), Homeboy is a good egg who just happens to have the ability to destroy whoever. (Matt Oliver)


Chrissie Hynde & The Valve Bone Orchestra ‘Valve Bone Woe’
(BMG)





I’m probably in a minority, but I feel Chrissie Hynde has been in the past restricted by her proto-rock icon status. Never sounding better, and not entirely a shock, Hynde, linking up with The Valve Bone Orchestra, transduces a collection of standards from stage, film, 60s pop and jazz on, probably, her most mature work yet, Valve Bone Woe.

As showy as it is experimental, this orchestrated album is both romantically brooding and brazen. Dotting brooding and dreamy versions of classics with more spiritual jazz and retro-space age fantasy, Hynde delivers an offbeat jazz snozzled slinky salacious version of Nancy Wilson’s ‘So Glad I Am’, and sends Brian Wilson’s ‘Caroline, No’ drifting off towards the stars, whilst relegating herself to lulling coos on the Charlie Mingus ‘Meditation On A Pair Of Wire Cutters’ – a workout in as much for the ensemble to flex their spirit of peregrination.

Bond like theme visions of Frank Sinatra’s ‘I’m A Fool To Want You’, sit well next to a strung out rendition of ‘Wild Is The Wind’ (made famous by many, but namely Nina Simone and Bowie) on an album that, though beautiful and magical, pushes Hynde to ever dizzying heights of sophistication and experiment. (Dominic Valvona)


Hifiklub & Mike Cooper  ‘Aran Stories’
(Ruptured)





Bringing the ever-evolving Toulon eclectic collective Hifiklub and English polygenesis journeyman Mike Cooper together, the harsh unforgiving coastal terrain and psychogeography of the Isle Of Aran provides a perfect bleak backdrop for an unholy union of conceptual plaint and experimental strung-out visions. Primal, harrowing, steel, waning, craning, expanding and untethered this visceral collaboration hews out an evocative off-kilter post-punk and abstract electronica soundtrack that winds and beats-out of shape tales and traces of the island’s history. The album’s opening lyrics let you know straight away where this is heading: “This year I see a darker side of life”.

The source material for this exploration and therapy is Robert J. Flaherty’s Man Of Aran documentary – his third such documentary feature film after the famous groundbreaking 1922 Nanook of the North and South Seas set Moana – and John Millington Synge’s 1907 The Aran Islands text, which Cooper takes on a more harsh version of Robert Wyatt-like meandering intense wonder.

Dark and ominous, conveying a hardy way of life and travails, this album is a tough but mesmerizing and hauntingly beautiful work of art. (DV)


I………

Ifriqiyya Electrique ‘Laylet el Booree’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Just as electrifying, exotic and barracking as the previous ritualistic post-punk tumult of Rûwâhîne, Ifriqiyya Electrique’s second album, Laylet el Booree, (which translates as the “night of the madness”) features another invigorating surged vortex of rustic percussion, strange computer-generated sounds, static, sparks and two-speed rhythms.

Mirroring the stamping, emotive and sometimes confusing hallowed intensity of the adorcist ritual from the Banga followers of Tozeur that this album’s title references, the collaborative Tunisian-Italian troupe work themselves up into a fervor as they communion with the spirit world. The Electrique integrate different rhythmic changes and timings; seeming to experiment even more this time around; pushing the envelope further without losing that original tumultuous barrage of bombarding drums/percussion and edgy growling grinding industrial guitar sounds. If anything they’ve unleashed the spirits to roam the amorphous sphere of exploration to draw on even more diverse musical inspirations, creating a highly unique invigorating sensory experience in the process. Industrial post-punk ritual leaves the furnace once more to cause an explosive cacophony. (DV)

Full Review


Invisible System ‘Dance To The Full Moon’
(ARC Music)





Taken from the same recording sessions as Dan Harper’s previous album, Bamako Sessions, his latest transportive exploration under the nom de plume of Invisible System once more lends an electrified and synthesized pulse to the spiritual soul of Malian music. Originally put together in a more languorous fashion with a variety of musicians coming and going, jamming in a mattress proofed room in a rented house in the capital, Dance To The Full Moon was created and shaped at the end of a tumultuous and violent period in Mali’s history. That tumult, along with a passion for his adopted country, has been energized as Dan transforms the music of a myriad of Mali’s great and good (a lineup of players that includes Kalifa Koné, Sidi Touré and Sambou Kouyaté) into an attuned and dynamic remix of the Mali soundscape. (DV)

Full review…


J……….

Juga-Naut & Giallo Point ‘Back to the Grill Again’
(Tuff Kong)





“Running through crews like a hot knife through butter, from now only order these cordon bleu beats and rhymes, a gangster gourmet with an all important UK garnish” – RnV Aug 19




Someone who definitely needs to enter the conversation when it comes to naming the UK’s top tier of rhymers, Juga-Naut stays up by showing that show-n-prove and aspirational, ostentatious folly do pay. Given that this follows relatively hot on the heels of 2018’s Bon Vivant, Jugs has officially got both designs for days and commitment to quality control – list toppers others find hard to fathom. Giallo Point, the money man when it comes to Little Italy dramas on the boards, fills his beats with a hydration he usually leaves out on purpose, chaperoning the Nottingham emcee who may shuffle realities – a kind of surrealism that takes logical steps – but fundamentally has the presence to shut down backchatters with granite-set rhymes that calibrates a kind of one inch punch that hasn’t got time for any dramatics. Heavy, no heartburn. (MO)


John Johanna ‘Seven Metal Mountains’
(Faith & Industry)







With afflatus fervor Norfolk-based artist John Johanna transduces the mountain allegories and metaphors as laid down by Noah’s grandfather in the vision-dream-revelatory Book Of Enoch into a gospel-raga-blues and Radio Clash prescient Biblical cosmology. Interrupted from Enoch’s visits to the heavenly realms – where, as Johanna’s Strummer fronts Wah! Heat, Gothic redemption goer ‘Standing At The Gates Of Love’ takes its title from, you will find a no-nonsense angel guarding the Pearly Gates with a flaming sword in hand – the Seven Metal Mountains metallurgy passage is as much an augur as observed proclamation. Used here as a frame for Johanna’s second visionary album of spiritual nutrition in a Godless age for the always brilliant Faith & Industry label, the dour liturgy of Judaic tradition and law inspires a message of forewarning and yearns for less materialistic avarice.

Seven Metal Mountains translates Biblical prophecy marvelously into a vivid eclectic songbook of protestation post-punk, indie, folk, psych and lilting Krautrock. (DV)

Full review…


Junkboy ‘Trains, Trees, Topophilia’







Disarmingly chilled yet full of wistful rumination and contemplation, Junkboy’s Brighton-Seaford-Southend traverse wonders what it would sound like if Brian Wilson was born and bred on the English Riviera instead of Hawthorne, California: The beachcomber vibes of Pet Sounds permeate this quint lush English affair. You can safely add vague notions of Britpop era Octopus, a touch of the Super Furry Animals more folksy psych instrumentals, some early Beta Band, echoes of 90s Chicago post-rock, and on the dreamboat bluegrass lilted-and-silted ‘Sweetheart Of The Estuary’ more than a nod to Roger McGuinn and pals.

The Brothers Hanscomb long awaited new instrumental opus, Trains, Trees, Topophilia is a peaceable musical landscape littered with the ghostly reverb of railways station interchanges, mew-dewed laced green hillsides, tidal ebbs and flows and Cluniac Abbeys. Call it pastoral musical care for the soul; a beautifully conveyed canvas of the imagined and idyllic and a subtle ode to the Southeast cartography and painters, poets, writers that captured it so perfectly. (DV)

Full review…


K………..

Kel Assouf ‘Black Tenere’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Mirroring the borderless Nomadic freewheeling of the Berber ancestral Tuareg people, a loosely atavistic-connected confederacy (to put it into any kind of meaningful context) of diverse tribes that have traditionally roamed Sub-Saharan Africa since time immemorial, Kel Assouf channel a wealth of musical influences both historically and geographically into an electrified reworking of (as vague and over-used a term as it is) desert rock. Headed by charismatic Gibson Flying V slinger front man Anana Ag Haroun, who’s own lineage takes in both the landlocked behemoth Niger and bordering Nigeria, the highly propulsive, cyclonic spiraling trio propel that heritage into the 21st century; thanks in many ways to the futuristic cosmic electronic and bass frequency production of the band’s rising innovative keyboardist/producer Sofyann Ben Youssef.

A stunning rock odyssey that draws its multiple sources together in both defiance and in the spirit of communication – the Kel Tamashek plight, as guardian-custodians of the desert, translated via the poetic heartfelt earthy soulful lyrics of Haroun – Black Tenere stretches the roots of nomadic rock and blues to reflect ever-expanding musical horizons as the global community grows ever-smaller and music becomes more fluid and spreads with ease. Kel Assouf is on another plane entirely, propelling rock music into the future. (DV)

Full review…


Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba ‘Miri’
(Outhere Records)







The courtly sound of the Mali Empire from the 13th century, accompanying the griot tradition of storytelling for an age, the (usually) dried-animal skin wrapped, canoe-shaped ngoni lute has been electrifyingly revitalized in recent years thanks in part to the virtuoso dexterity and energy of one of its leading practitioners, Malian legend, Bassekou Kouyate.

Following up the more electrified 2015 LP, Ba Power (which made our albums of the year feature), with a fifth album of innovative paeans, hymns, protestations and calls for peace, Bassekou takes a more reflective pause for thought on Miri; gazing out across his crisis-ridden homeland, contemplating on how the fragmented landscape and people can be brought back together for the common good. Backed as always by the family band that features his wife, the soulful and beautifully voiced ‘nightingale of the north’, Amy Secko, and his son, Madou Kouyate, on bass ngoni, but also now including his niece Kankou (making a special guest appearance on vocals), the Bamana entitled encapsulation of ‘dream’, or ‘contemplation’, Miri record touches base with Bassekou’s roots.

A visceral picture of a land in crisis, yet one that has hope for a united Mali, Miri is a sublime connective and rallying collection of compelling and thrilling performances and songs (Sacko especially on fine form delivering the most tender and rich vocals throughout); another essential album from the ngoni master. (DV)

Full review…


L…………

Labelle ‘Orchestre Univers’
(Infiné)







Jérémy Labelle is clearly a very talented musician, composer and producer. He casts his net of influence wide to draw upon many musical styles. His synthesis of modal harmonies and tribal rhythms is very reminiscent of the ‘Fourth World’ created by the venerable Jon Hassell. His latest album, Orchestre Univers, was performed by the Orchestre Regional of Réunion Island; conducted by Laurent Goossaert. The ten pieces from the album (three previously published and seven original works) were recorded live over four concerts that took place on the island.

I have read numerous interviews with Labelle who cites identity and anthropology as themes that have inspired him to write music. Orchestre Univers feels more like a celebration, a coming together of musicians and audiences to rejoice at the unique music that has emerged from the island of Réunion. The electronics and compositional complexities offered by Labelle are merely 21st century adaptations to what is an age-old sound. They should not be dismissed. His concept of “Maloya electronics” is truly global and will ensure that the next generation of Réunionese continue to declare, “Nous Maloya lé mondial!” (Andrew C. Kidd)

Full review…


Little Brother ‘May the Lord Watch’
(Foreign Exchange Music)





“Effortless and erudite, LB still have the remedy for when your last nerve has been worked over” – RnV Sep 19



The return of Gang Starr claimed a glut of headlines in 2019, but the reconvening of Little Brother’s Phonte and Big Pooh was no undercard announcement, their first album in nine years instantly restoring goodwill to flagging hip-hop naysayers. Supremely funky, soulful, still getting the maximum mileage out of a running joke-made-critical, cultural commentary, and with the likes of Khrysis, Nottz, Focus and Black Milk upholding 9th Wonder’s gold-fingered role on the boards, all is well with the world once this blooms from speakers. The ease of the pair’s back and forth is no less marvelous as we approach the twenties – masterful, as if they’re just hanging somewhere nondescript, and just ready to go and express themselves – there’s still a lot to be said for their all-seeing chemistry, keeping of the faith and words to the wise, even this deep in the game. May there be mercy upon your soul if you’re not already excited for 2028. (MO)


M…………..

Mazouni ‘Un Dandy En Exil/Algérie-France/1969-1983’
(Born Bad Records)







Our review copy must have been lost in the post or missed the inbox, but this compilation of hits and rarities from the exiled dandy of “Francarabe” (a unique blend of French and Arabic lyrics) Mohamed Mazouni was one of the year’s most enchanting discoveries. Swooning and crooning poignant touching and lamenting songs about exile, love and the travails of being a first-generation Algerian immigrant in France, Mazouni sashays, shakes, belly dances and saunters to the sounds of the Orient on the first ever compilation dedicated in his honour. (DV)


Meursault ‘Crow Hill’
(Common Grounds)







An ambitious literary-enriched album with a loose story and range of perspectives that will unfold further in comic book form and through live performance, Neil Scott Pennycook’s Crow Hill diorama delivers a whirlwind of dark emotions; many of which feel like a punch to the heart.

Announced as a new chapter for Pennycook’s alter ego Meursault, released as the launch album for the new independent Common Grounds label, Crow Hill marks a move into fiction for the Edinburgh artist. An “urban horror” of vignettes, each song on this album represents twelve chapters of plaintive and lamentable grief and broken promises from the imagined town’s inhabitants, set to a constantly beautifully aching soundtrack that either builds and builds towards anthemic crescendo or despairingly gallops towards the flames: in the case of the brutal punishing ‘Jennifer’, a discordant scream of anguish, on what could be a crime of domestic abuse.

An outstanding album full of both heartache and brilliance, this is a vivid, richly and descriptively revealing minor-opus; the first chapter or part of a much grander multimedia universe that crosses songwriting with veiled fiction, illustration and performance. As first stabs go, Pennycook has shown an encouraging erudite skill for writing, which translates well when put to music. (DV)

Full review…


Mr Muthaf*ckin’ eXquire ‘Mr Muthaf*ckin’ eXquire’
(Soulspazm)





“Satisfying your ignorant itch and also reducing dancefloors to bloody smithereens, it’s a surprisingly, satisfyingly well-rounded album where the bite backs up the bark” – RnV May 19




In a sea of clones, drone and cookie cutters, eXquire remains the genuine, genuinely outrageous article, putting up without shutting up and attacking this album with bloodlust right from the off. Leaving clubs to check their insurance policies, Mr MFX is the valve that releases the pressure when people are getting in your way, saturating front rows before levelling out with kerbside rollers, showing that with shock value comes some degree of responsibility. Maybe the real cliché is when you come for the outrage (the outright base ‘I Love Hoes’) and end up staying for him having something to say (admittedly, it’s usually to a deafening, disorientating backdrop). ‘Rumblefish’ expertly get emotions tangled, and the prophetic novella ‘Nothing’s What It Seems’: Short Film’ grows artistically ahead of a closing monologue of self-discovery. Whatever his angle, he’s always on and leaves everything in the booth. (MO)


O……………

Occult Character ‘Chittering Noises’
(Small Bear Records)







Here we have the brand new Occult Character LP. Yes another one. This time an all acoustic guitar affair that once again proves my previous claim correct that Occult is the most important songwriter in the USA today: 13 songs in 15 minutes, strumming through short songs dealing with the subjects of abortion, having the shits, being nice to people, among many others all written and sang in Occults inimitable style.

What I love about Occult Character is the point on accuracy of his lyrics and his talent for finding the bizarreness of everyday living – especially him contemplating and commentating on life in a Trump led America – with a verve and shambolic dark humour all of his own. This album and the sister piece LP to this, The Cult Of Ignorance, released on Metal Postcard Records earlier in the year should be downloaded by all American Schools and stored away and in ten years time played to the students as part of their American History lessons. This is another must have album of 2019 and may come to be seen as one of the most important and influential and considered a cult classic in the years to come. (BBS)


Abdallah Ag Oumbadougou ‘Anou Malane’
(Sahel Sounds)







More a ‘choice album’ of 1995 of course, lifted and reset from the original cassette for the first time, this new reissue of the Tuareg legend and doyen of the desert guitar, Abdallah Ag Oumbadougou, is a worthy addition to any right-minded eclectic music lovers collection.

Addressing the troops as a front-runner in the armed Tuareg rebellion of the 1990s – another phase in the long-running campaign for the desert peoples of Northern Mali and bordering regions to set up an autonomous state of their own -, Oumbadougou’s reputation grew from humble, isolated beginnings; his protestations and balladry spread through a network of cassette tape dubbers.

In exile for his troubles, the desert blues minstrel traveled to Benin to record an official release with the West African producer Nel Oliver – known for his work on a number of seminal boogie and afro-funk records of the period. Oliver lends a sauntering boogie and discotheque production to the earthy soulful magic of Oumbadougou’s signature influence on one of the first ever records to capture the Tuareg guitar style. A seminal and essential bridge between styles, Anou Malane is one of the best records to come out of the troubles and period. Own it now! (DV)


P……………

Park Jiha ‘Philos’
(tak:til)







Following her universally applauded debut album, Communion, Park Jiha has chosen Philos – from Greek, plural: loving, fond of, tending to – as the title for her latest release on Glitterbeat‘s sub-label, tak:til.

It has been described as an “evocation of her love for time, space and sound”. This is certainly evidenced in the multi-instrumental and baleful opener, ‘Arrival’, which consists of simple, metronomic strums and reedy high notes that lace around each other in ominous prismaticism. The piri, a double-reed bamboo flute played by Park, features heavily in this piece, as it does later during the album’s title track.

The album departs from the instrumental during the track, ‘Easy’, which features the breezy and philosophical (or, rather, extrajudicial) spoken word of the Lebanese poet, Dima El Sayed. The upper notes intensify and push the vocals to a dizzying and distorting conclusion.

There is an eloquent passage in the album notes which describes Philos as “[looking] to the future whilst continuing to converse with a rich instrumental language from the past”. This admixture of traditional Korean and Western instrumentation, coupled with compositions that lean towards the ambient and neoclassical, transmute Park’s experiences of a world awash with changing tides, transitory weather and ever-expanding cities into something that is indefinably atemporal. (ACK)

Full review…


Per W/Pawlowski ‘Outsider/Insider’
(Jezus Factory/Starman Records)







Thirteen years after their first collaboration together, two stalwarts of the alternative Belgian music scene once more reunite to produce, what they call, their very own unique White Album curiosity. The intergenerational musical partnership of one-time dEUS guitar-slinger for hire Mauro Pawlowski and maverick legend Kloot Per W proves an experimental – if odd – success in mining both artist’s influences and providence; the results of which, transformed into a playful, often knowing and pastiche, misadventure, are performed with conviction. Behind the often-masked mayhem and classic rock poses lurk serious, sometimes cathartic wise observations.

With the deep sagacious and world-weary voice of Per W leading, Outsider/Insider merges the mixed fortunes of both artists; whether it’s the jangly Traveling Wilburys like power rock pastiche ‘KPW On 45’ and its commentary on the cultural overbearing of America (“American rock star live in my European food!”) or, the iron fire-escape tapping, industrial funk gyrating, seductive if awkward ‘Room!’, Per W adds just enough off-center lyricism and ambivalence to make even the most obvious-sounding straight-A tune take a turn into weirdville.

Off-white to The Beatles stark magnolia gloss, Outsider/Insider is hardly a classic – dysfunctional or otherwise –, but is an amusing, sometimes absurd, and well-crafted alternative art-rock record of some ambition and style. (DV)

Full review…


Pozi ‘PZ1’
(PRAH Recordings)







Jabbed finger punk with a cushioned impact of bowed melodic and even dashes of doomed romanticism, the London band Pozi produce a kind of disarming malcontent anger. Like the results of a merger between Stiff Records and Sub Pop, this nervy troupe prod and waltz to spiky punkish drums, brooding bass, and fractious and waning strings as they cast a resigned eye over the current political climate. If the Sleaford Mods had more grace and ideas, they could have sounded like this. Quite simply: bloody brilliant. (DV)


PART ONE


album of 2019 part one - monolith cocktail


album of 2019 part one - monolith cocktail


Choice Albums of 2019 Part One: A Journey Of Giraffes to Adam Green


Because we’ve never seen the point in arguing the toss over numerical orders, or even compiling a list of the best of albums of the year, the Monolith Cocktail’s lighter, less competitive and hierarchical ‘choice albums’ features have always listed all entrants in alphabetical order. We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

Void of points systems and voting, the Monolith Cocktail team selection is pretty transparent: just favourites and albums we all feel you, our audience, should check out. Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Gianluigi Marsibilio and Andrew C. Kidd made all of 2019’s selections.

Spread over three parts, the inaugural selection here runs from A to G, from A Journey Of Giraffes to the Adam Green. Part Two will run from H to P and Part Three from Q to Z.

A.

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Hour Club’ & ‘Kona’









Two atmospherically evocative peaceable ambient suites from the brilliant lo fi maverick A Journey Of Giraffes (nom de plume for many years of the Baltimore composer John Lane) make this year’s ‘choice’ list. Released earlier in 2019, the Hour Club pushes Lane further than ever away from his previous Beach Boys homage experiments into both deeper, darker recesses and sweeping traverses. From Terry Riley to Sky Records, Hour Club is an often-magical soundtrack, with every track sharing a 7 minutes and 1 second rule.

The second album, Kona, an unassuming love letter to the iconic late Japanese composer Susumu Yokota, was premiered back on the Monolith Cocktail in August. Magically ruminating, offering both the beatific and uncertain, this pagoda dreamt fantasy is an exotic, sometimes ceremonial, Zen like album that evokes the Fourth World Possible Musics of Jon Hassell, Popol Vuh and the higher plain communal glistened zither transcendence of Laraaji. Quite possibly, Lane’s most realized, complete album yet. (Dominic Valvona)

Full review feature…

Aesop Rock & TOBACCO ‘Malibu Ken’
(Rhymesayers)




“Both happen upon a sharp splinter of hip-hop pitching to the left, but not way out left” – RnV Jan 19





Straight off the bat the gaudily sleeved Malibu Ken foresees a tough slog in store, given the respective running through brick walls of these decidedly non-plastic conspirators. Aesop Rock rhymes like a rebooted Max Headroom, TOBACCO activates at the moment where Rock starts glitching as synths home in on your VHS tracking button. Obviously it’s a jerky leftfield match made in heaven, primitive videogame set pieces overridden by one of the underground’s most enduring, levelling out bad trips but still very much needing these cracked, skeletal neon runways to assure his own navigation and empowerment. Take it as post-modern, post-Armageddon, welcome respite from the mainstream etc etc, or the faultless engineering of the technical and the broken, backwater flights of fancy and stranger than fiction truths jamming in a keyboard repair shop. (Matt Oliver)

Armstrong ‘Under Blue Skies’
(Country Mile Records)






Julian Pitt, aka Armstrong, is one of the finest songwriters to emerge from Wales in recent years: a man who has been blessed with the gift of melody that can be comparable to McCartney, Wilson and Jimmy Webb – Yes, he really is that good.

This is an expanded reissue of his first LP, which was originally released as a limited edition cdr, one that I played constantly. Thankfully it’s getting a much-deserved official re-release from The Beautiful Music label. I am so happy this great lost LP has finally got the release it deserves; it is no longer lost just simply Great, one of the finest pastoral pop LPs you will ever hear. (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea)

Full review…


B..

Babybird ‘Photosynthesis’







What I love about Stephen Jones, aka Babybird, apart from his wonderful songwriting talent and his dark humor and his obvious love of music and its many genres, is that he has so much soul. He has so much love for music in fact that he makes music not just because he may make a decent living from it but because he has no choice, he has to make it like he has to breath to stay alive. He has to create music, create art, he has to experiment with the magic of melody and write such beautiful songs, and Photosynthesis is an LP full of dark beauty and such bloody good songs. A small dark masterpiece, a master class in songwriting. (BBS)

Full review…


Baileys Brown ‘Still Fresh’
(Potent Funk)




“Skimming the scummy but with buckets of fizz and a little soul stardust answering the title’s call, BB keeps the hottest point of the club within striking distance of a couch and headphones combo” – RnV Aug 19





Investing in a gang of absolute mic-snatching hoodlums, bringing the sort of posse cuts where you dial the first two nines in anticipation, just to be on the safe side, Baileys Brown swings the wrecking ball club-wards before looming as a quiet storm presence fuelling dark alley unease. His best work where you can’t see in front of your face – add damp air or a biting breeze for maximum effect – the raw basics of Still Fresh are more than enough for emcees to chow down on (Axel Holy, Datkid, Dabbla), while a certain juju drifts in and out as if it’s not just testosterone at work. Animal instinct floods from a group who have the trousers to go with the mouth (“yeah I’m talking shit, but you’re doing it without flow”); however, a soulful section towards the back end shows Brown can rise above the rough stuff, reaching out towards a bigger stage for something that shouldn’t be skipped on account of what’s gone before. (MO)


Bantou Mentale ‘ST’
(Glitterbeat Records)







A sizzle. A static shock, a charge that most importantly signals something is changing in the musical fabric; a signal of something dynamic but also something dangerous, a mirror image of the real world, the real refugee and migrant experience and chaos. Vivid and fresh being the optimum words as the Bantou Mentale vehicle shakes up the melting pot convergence of Paris’ infamous Chateau Rouge; addressing assumptions/presumptions about their native Democratic Republic of Congo home in the process. Not so much explosive, the electric quartet seem relaxed, even drifting as they channel the soul and spirit of cooperation; opening up aspects of the DRC culture and humility often lost or obscured in the noise of negativity – and the Congo has had more than its fair share of violence and tumult both pre and post Colonialism.

Kinshasa reloaded; Bantou Mentale is a thoroughly modern sonic vision of peaceful cross-border fraternization. Lingering traces of Jon Hassell & Eno, Radio Tarifa, UNCLE, TV On The Radio and even label mates Dirtmusic are absorbed into an electrified subterranean of frizzles, pylon-scratches and hustle-bustle. Above all, despite the subject matter, despite the polygenesis sonic hubbub this is a soulful soundtrack: cooperation ahead of fractious division and hostility. A more positive collaboration for a 21st century chaos. (DV)

Full review…

Bathtub Gin Band ‘From The Old Navy Club’







The Bathtub Gin Band are a duo from my hometown of St Helens, and this there debut LP. A mini LP in fact, recorded live in a local studio, just acoustic guitar and drums and fine songwriting; the sound of two talented musicians enjoying themselves; an LP that recalls the sound of the Liverpool bandwagon club of the early noughties; quickly strummed guitar ragtime blues telling tales of drunken nights out and failed romantic adventures, an album to listen to as you are getting ready for a wild night out or after you have staggered in after one.

Beautifully written and crafted with well-arranged songs performed with verve and vigor, From The Old Navy Club is another little gem for 2019… (BBS)

Full review…


Blu & Oh No ‘A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night’
(Nature Sounds)




“A mosey across the West Coast to capture the hustles and bustle as a frontline tour guide mapping out all the no-go areas and places to tap into local electricity” – RnV Mar 19




Drawing on both the energy of the locale and when that red mist begins its descent (‘Pop Shots’ feeling the heat to the point of delusion), there’s Blu, unafraid of foregoing any sort of word association for the sake of putting a brick on the accelerator out of Thunderdome – sometimes straight talking will only do when the stakes are high. Then there’s Oh No, performing funky wheelspins between cruising and hot pursuit, capturing all the glamour, glitz, hustle and insanity the City of Angels calls everyday. The pair switch career mode from local big timers to chancers seeing how far their luck will stretch, and A Long Red Hot… is one of the year’s coolest releases; find somewhere where it’s 96 degrees in the shade before throwing on loud, sequenced to directorial perfection so the highs, lows and inbetweens form a logical thread, and where the action-packed comes with composure remaining everything. (MO)


Blue House ‘Gobstopper’
(Faith And Industry)







The fruits of two-years labour, James Howard’s (aka Thomas Nation) latest appearance as principle writer is with the Blue House collaboration; a group that boosts the talents of Ursula Russell (drumming for the brilliant Snapped Ankle, and soon to release music under the Ursa Major Moving Group), Dimitrios Ntontis (film composer and member of a host of bands including Pre Goblin) and Capitol K (the nom de plume of the ever-in-demand star producer Kristian Craig Robinson). Following up on the group’s 2016 acclaimed Suppose LP with another rich mellow empirical state-of-the-nation address, the Blue House’s Gobstopper is suffused with a languid disdain, as they drift through the archetypal bleak waiting rooms of nostalgia and the limbo of benefit Britain.

Gently stunning throughout with hues of a gauze-y Kinks, a less nasal Lennon, a more wistful Bowie and woozy Stereolab, Howard and friends perform a disarming mini opus that soaks up the forlorn stench of an out-of-season postcard seaside pub, air-conditioned gyms and quaint English motorways – ‘Accelerate’ in name only, the speed and candour of a hitched-up caravan that’s more ambling (with the radio dial set to Fleetwood Mac bounce) than autobahn motorik futurism. (DV)

Full review…

Boa Morte ‘Before There Was Air’
(Gare du Nord)







The understated majestic swells of the Irish band Boa Morte don’t come easy, or arrive regularly. Only the band’s third album proper in twenty years, the misty expansive mini-opuses found on the long awaited Before There Was Air are like gentle but deeply resonating ripples from a distant shore. Slow, methodical, every second of these air-y hushed suites moves at a stately pace: in no hurry to arrive, with many of the beautifully purposeful songs disappearing into the ether, out of earshot but forever lingering.

A finely crafted sweeping album Before There Was Air exudes a timeless quality; one that by all accounts has been well worth the wait. (DV)

Full review…

Simon Bonney ‘Past, Present, Future’
(Mute)







Arguably one of the great voices of Australian music over the last four decades, Simon Bonney is nothing if not proficient in taking hiatuses. Emerging from just the most recent one, five years after the release of the last Crime And The City Solution opus American Twilight – itself, the first album by the iconic alienated nihilists turn beatific augurs of country-doom in twenty years -, and twenty-odd years since the shelving of his third solo LP Eyes Of Blue, Bonney has made a welcome return to the musical fold.

Prompted by the decision of Mute Records to facilitate the release of that fabled last solo songbook, the Past, Present, Future collection is both a reminder, featuring as it does tracks from both the 1992 Forever and 1994 Everyman albums, and showcase for six previously unreleased tracks from Eyes Of Blue.

Not new material but a catalyst for projects going forward, this solo collection proves as prescient today as it did back then. Especially the beguiling cover turns homage (in light of Scott Walker’s passing) of the brooding maestro’s stately majestic lament to fading beauty and decadence, ‘Duchess’. Much of the Bonney songbook, delivered with earnest, deep timeless country-imbued veneration, aches, even worships, for a string of muses; an undying, unwavering love to both the unattainable and lost. One such elegiac object of such pathos-inspired yearning is Edgar Allan Poe’s famous ‘Annabelle Lee’ –the metaphorical lamentable figure of the Gothic polymath’s last poem -, who appears on both the eponymous and title tracks from Eyes OF Blue. Lovingly conveyed, even if it marks the death of that lady, it proves symmetry to the album’s profound poetic loss of influence, desire and alluring surface beauty of ‘Duchess’. Eyes Of Blue, which makes up half of this collection, follows on from the previous solo works perfectly. A touch deeper, even reverent perhaps, but every bit as bathed in country suffrage. Salvaged at long last, that lost album offers a closure of a kind. Proving however, to chime with the present, far from dated, this collection is a perfect finish to a great run of epic, though highly intimate, solo opuses; the songwriting as encapsulating and grandiose, earthy as you would expect. (DV)

Full review…

Aziza Brahim ‘Sahari’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Bringing the message of the displaced Saharawi people to the world stage, Western Saharan musician/activist Aziza Brahim follows up both her critically rewarded 2014 album Soutak, and the no less brilliant 2016 serene protest of poetic defiance Abbar el Hamada album with her third for Glitterbeat Records, Sahari.

Imbued as ever with the desert soul of that disputed region, the latest record, with its visual metaphor of optimism in even the most desperate of backdrops and times – dreams of growing up to be a ballerina proving universal – attempts to marry the beautifully longing and heartache yearns of Brahim’s voice to a number of different styles and rhythms: A subtle change towards the experimental. Imbued as ever with the desert soul of that disputed region, the latest record, with its visual metaphor of optimism in even the most desperate of backdrops and times – dreams of growing up to be a ballerina proving universal – attempts to marry the beautifully longing and heartache yearns of Brahim’s voice to a number of different styles and rhythms: A subtle change towards the experimental. Previous encounters have channeled the poetic roots of that heritage and merged it with both Arabian Spain and the lilted buoyancy of the Balearics. Working with the Spanish artist Amparo Sánchez of the band Amparanoia, Brahim has chosen to add a congruous subtle bed of synthesized effects to the recording process: before performing live in the studio, but now recording in various places, the results collected together and pieced together in post-production. This methodology and sound furnishes Brahim’s longing traditional voice with certain freshness and, sometimes, shuffled energy.

A most fantastic, poetic songbook that will further cement Brahim’s deserved reputation as one of the deserts most serene artists. (DV)

Full review…

Bronx Slang ‘Bronx Slang’
(Fabyl)




“Jerry Beeks and Miggs are more sages than saviours, proving you don’t have to settle for what’s supposedly trending. Proper hip-hop citizenship” – RnV Feb 19




Golden era restoration, true school appreciation…so many attempt to recreate/pay respects to hip-hop’s glory days but often overcook it to the point of self-neutering. Nothing of the sort applies here: Bronx Slang press home the pervading advantage (if you can call it that) of volatile politics, loud and clear messaging deriding the powers that be without resorting to playground tactics. Miggs and Jerry Beeks also know they’re in the entertainment business (‘Well Well Well’ > 50 Cent’s ‘21 Questions’/How to Rob’, Jadakiss’ ‘Why?’), and the baritone-midrange contrast frames the all-important dynamic duo telepathy, catching last breaths should anyone step to them. A box fresh success…and this is before the dirty little secret of the downtown funk hustles being hatched by two UK ringers: one-time big beat ne’er-do-well Jadell, assisted by fellow frat partier and bass house dabbler Fake Blood. Proof therefore of 90s boom bap as international language slash Holy Grail. (MO)


Danny Brown ‘uknowwhatimsayin”
(Warp)




“Still coming through loud, clear and uncouth” – RnV Oct 19



A slight tweak to the Danny Brown experience doesn’t make him any less of a livewire. Q-Tip as executive producer is not an invitation to keep his new, freshly coiffured muse in check, and despite a slightly exploratory start sonically, it’s the same old Danny boy keeping the spirit of ODB alive, quickly into his shit-chatting rhythm and proving that emperor’s new clothes do not make the man. Whether he’d enjoy being tagged as more well-rounded (rather than versatile – Brown’s mind remains pretty much one track in its own strain of ADHD that never misses a beat), the likes of ‘Belly of the Beast’ and the title track pull him in different directions but have that up-to-no-good personality keeping the peace, though he’s a smoother operator than you’d probably give credit for. Short but sweet, like a high sugar soda hit, and still highly strung, but hey – that’s entertainment. (MO)


C…

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds ‘Ghosteen’





We knew it would come but not when; Nick Cave’s moving concept elegy Ghosteen articulates both the grief and coming-to-terms of the loss of his son Arthur in 2015. And so this often striking, if lamenting, and beautifully poised opus arrives four years later with grandiose expectations.

Often conflicted, Cave articulates despair to a bared atmospheric led Bad Seeds soundtrack of vivid and poetic images and feelings. With a tonal backing of choirs, the afflatus Kosmische of Roedelius and touches of The Boatman’s Call, Ghosteen is a mournful work of pulchritude and grief. It’s also perhaps one of Cave’s best albums in decades. (DV)

Choosey & Exile ‘Black Beans’
(Dirty Science)




“The comforts of soulful Cali ear butter, and rhymes of a valued familiarity, eye a top 10 spot come the end of the year” – RnV Mar 19




“Come and get your soul food”, a wise band once said. Treating Black Beans as an album that brings the family together around the record player, though it’s just as strong as an edutainment pursuit with headphones and your own private enclave, Choosey and Exile are the master cross-section of warm, good-old-days idealism and a voice providing revisions to nostalgia, telling the fuzzy feelings to sit up straight and tucking you in without forgetting that in love and life there’s always a moral to the story. Aloe Blacc’s deployment to send spines shivering on the all-seasons champ ‘Low Low’ is a masterstroke, the blues and soul source material carefully sifted and restored so that heads are set to thinking that maybe, everything is gonna be alright, pausing today’s mile-a-minute trends and attitudes. Grooves and truths set to soothe and move you. (MO)

Clipping ‘There Existed an Addiction to Blood’
(Sub Pop)




“Where no-one can hear you scream in space until its engine room sucks you in and spits you out” – RnV Oct 19




‘Nothing is Safe’, ‘He Dead’, ‘Run for Your Life’, ‘All in Your Head’…there’s nothing like a cult Clipping cakewalk leaving you gasping for breath. Holographic rhymes and reedy synth beats programmed like a doomed ignition sequence, whose sometimes beatlessness is replaced by wailing walls of surround sound hell and empty, nervous atmospherics, it’s the perfect deployment of the textbook pincer movement, peering stealthily around corners before letting the autofire get open until one great ball of fire engulfs everything. Crew commander Daveed Diggs plays on the edge of rogue Andre3000 operative with ambitions of hero decoration, and as blood both pumps and runs cold, the LA crew still manage to get street lifers Elcamino, Benny the Butcher and La Chat to buy into the mission of a burnt out future – game recognise game. Forget West Coast low-riders, these are the men who fell to earth: you’re pleased they just about survived to tell the tale, and something tells you they’d do it all over again, for club and country. (MO)

Cosmic Range ‘The Gratitude Principle’







Guided by Toronto based everyman Matthew “Doc” Dunn the multi-limbed super-group collective of faces from the city’s most recent creative rise to prominence follow up their 2016 polygenesis New Latitudes debut with more of the same: Spotted dabbed slinking sexy spiritual jazz, flute-y Orientalism, snuggling air-y saxophone, wallowing subterranean funk and primal scream therapy peregrinations.

The Gratitude Principle gathers together the Slim Twig’s raging, wild wah-wah licks, the experimental snozzles and spiraling wildly saxophone of Andy Haas, Isla Craig’s ethereal siren vocal and flute duties, Kieran Adams’ drums and tinkerings with electronics, Brandon Valdivia’s congas and percussion, and the keys of Mike “Muskox” Smith and Jonathan Adjemian in a sub-aquatic yearning union of free and Afro jazz and Krautrock. Another trip into the cerebral: a jam session of epic mapping. (DV)


D….

Jack Danz ‘TMIB’
(Blah)




“Entwining the concepts of lo-fi and low life and guaranteed to get under your skin…the voice of someone who’s seen too much but knows exactly what’s going on” – RnV May 19




With rhymes offered as a grunt through what sounds like a prison intercom, Leeds’ Jack Danz is an on-point example of making something cutting edge out of a squalid image – aka, the Blah battalions. Sawn off trap bass, rinky-dink riffs taking on a spectral/lost perspective, and Danz succumbing/thriving while up to his eyeballs, TMIB is the cold light of day after a dive of debauchery: ideal listening for a trashed hotel room or freshly decorated squat riddled with wrongdoing. Danz’ numbness to what are undeniably a set of head nodders (where everything else appears dead from the neck down), makes his flow both out-of-body and trudgingly destructive. If he happens to be in character, it’s a natural role, giving him an impenetrability that means few can answer back to him. Including the engineered ambiguity of the sleeve, this is high power stuff out of sobering surroundings, particularly as there’s definite vulnerability being shown by the album’s end. (MO)

Datkid ‘Confessions of a Crud Lord’
(High Focus)




“On his worst behaviour when ‘Confessions of a Crud Lord’ writes red-top headlines, Datkid bullies the beats of Leaf Dog until he’s administering toilet swirlies” – RnV Apr 19




Goaded by 16 South Westerly beats that’ll have you nodding your way into an MRI scan – your neighbours will love being trolled by the bottom ends – from the moment the word ‘Crud’ stinks the title out, Datkid has it all his own way. An ambassador for UK hip-hop’s rise of the footsoldier, this Bristol blitzkrieg bop is detailed with the confidence of someone thinking they can take on the whole pub and exit with barely a scratch. Suffice to say it’s a relentless baseball bat swing of not giving a monkeys, loving to pounce on out-of-towner weakness in a heartbeat, and whose purity of show and prove, go hard or go home, is enough for guests Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine and Roc Marciano to show support. Once upon a time this would’ve been slapped with an ASBO, but the Crud is strong with this one: “what’s the point of living if you’re just surviving” shows that Datkid really knows where it’s at. (MO)

Graham Domain ‘Fragments Of Light’
(Metal Postcard Records)







Graham Domain is an acquired taste I suppose. Why, I do not know as everyone needs some dark weird music in their drab lives, an ideal cross taste cannon submerge of Tom Waits, Bela Lugosi and Brian Cant naked massaging the tears out of a neglected and abused cabbage patch doll. Stray keyboard drifts beautifully over simple drum beats whilst duetting with the memory of a long lost lover’s memories of tasting your alcohol on her lips and tongue, the ghost of her naked form haunting the side of the bed that once belonged to her.

This mini album, as has been the other two Graham Domain releases this year, is a really must be heard LP that sadly are not being heard. Why, I really do not know. Maybe they are just too strange or just too emotional or simply people are not getting to know or hear about them. So if you are reading this review give it a listen and tell your friends. (BBS)


E…..

Callum Easter ‘Here Or Nowhere’
(Lost Map Records)







One of those dreamy disarming albums that creeps up on you, the Edinburgh-based Callum Easter’s poised and indolently profound debut, Here Or Nowhere, is a sparse affair of the heart. Often lyrically succinct, saying a lot with few words, Easter shifts tonally between the heavenly and more moody. Songs such as the South Seas charmed and swimmingly ‘Fall In Love’ offers the dreamy, whilst the enervated industrial strikes and gritty Scottish bur narration of ‘Fall Down’ offers something grittier.

After a late conversion to music, the self-taught afflatus voiced troubadour leaving a career in professional football behind him at the age of 21, Easter adopts a number of well-travil(ed) and dragged over musical influences. Somehow he makes them sound new, especially on the wonderful Southern echo-y bar room piano rock’n’roll blues hymnal ‘Only Sun’. There’s also a channeling of Charlie Megira, Alan Vega and The Legendary Stardust Cowboy on a range of beautifully poignant songs, and hints of a lot of 2000s Canadian and American indie.

Despite some of the wry mistrust and resigned despondency, Here Or Nowhere is a spiritual pop album suffused – for the main part – by choral angelics, reverent glissandos and a touch of the afflatus. It’s also an album of singles, with every track standing alone and separate in its own right away from the album as a whole: Nothing short of a marvelous alternative pop and gospel triumph. (DV)

Eerie Wanda ‘Pet Town’
(Joyful Noise Recordings)







The lost sounds of childhood summers, the finger clicking bliss of a Joe Meek hit, the beauty of the lost rainbow in an angels wish, this LP by Eerie Wanda makes me recall all this. Pet Town is a fine album indeed, at times it gives me the same feelings of joy I have when playing The Beach Boys much-underrated classic Friends; songs wrapped up in the power of the pureness in being alone.

This is simple in its beauty and the beauty is its simpleness, the vinyl etchings of acoustic nights wrapped in your ex’s arms soundtracked by a lovingly compiled mixtape of the Marine Girls and Holly Golightly’s softer moments.

Summing up, this is an LP to wrap around you to keep you warm in the coming winter months and the LP to play as you walk in the summer sun remembering how happy sad life can be. A stunner. (BBS)

Full review…

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble ‘Be Known Ancient/Future/Music’
(Spiritmuse Records)







From the doyen of the Chicago scene and alumni of that city’s famous hothouse of talent, the School of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, drummer/percussionist and bandleader Kahil El’Zabar is still exploring, still connecting five decades on from forming the spiritual jazz troupe Ethnic Heritage Ensemble.

Kahil and the current troupe of Corey Wilkes (trumpet), Alex Harding (baritone saxophone) and Ian Maksin (cello) together celebrate a prestigious 45-year career whilst also, and always, looking forward on the latest collection Be Known Ancient/Future/Music. Spanning live performances, recordings and even a track from the 2015 documentary that forms part of the title of this LP, Dwayne Johnson-Cochran’s exploration Be Known, the ensemble once more channel the ever-developing Chicago rhythm that has marked this city out for its unique, often raw, take on R&B, Soul, Dance Music and of course jazz.

Less cosmic than Sun Ra, and less out-of-the-park than the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Kahil and the EHE tread a different path towards enlightenment; spreading the gospel of positive Afrocentric jazz to ever more dizzying and entrancing heights. Spiritual music with a message doesn’t come much better than this, the EHE showing no signs of waning after 45 years in the business. I’m off to hunt down and digest that lengthy cannon now and suggest you do too. (DV)

Full review…


F……

Frog ‘Count Bateman’
(Audio Antihero/Tape Wormies)







Frog are a kiosk by the sea, on a suburban beach. The essence of their work is gathered in a search for intimacy that is expressed in DIY and lo-fi passages; a very successful sound universe touched by Bon Iver, Daniel Johnston and other such sacred monsters. Their flame is lit on Count Bateman.

The new album in fact captures the peak of a clear path and placed lo-fi sound. The interweaving of stories on this record are a safe place that puts us at peace and in dialogue with the idea of Frog’s music.

Frog are like Matisse, painters of windows and fixtures that open in an expanse of neighborhoods, cities and stories. Count Bateman is an open window from which air enters and often there is also a hurricane breeze; in fact the second part of the record is full of unusual sounds and more driven, electronically, for the duo. (Gianluigi Marsibilio)

Full review…


G…….

Mike Gale ‘Summer Deluxe’







Escaping the short days and dreary dampness of an English winter, the Hampshire-based polymath Mike Gale (notable for his work with the Americana imbued Co-Pilgrim) suns himself in the dappled rays of lilted surf pop on his new solo album, Summer Deluxe.

Liberally splashing about in the efflux surf of The Beach Boys the much-prolific Gale (this is his fifth album alone in just five years) hides a certain sorrow, longing and yearn under the most colorful and dreamy of melodious harmonies.

Dazed and hazy, a hushed mirage of summer, the leaf-turning breeze of autumn is never far away, its arrival denoting all the connotations and metaphors you’d expect, that fleeting optimism of the summer masks and makes all our woes seem far less burdening. Summer Deluxe is swimmingly brilliant in its indie slacker charm with hints of Sparklehorse, Animal Collective and McCartney; a scion indeed of that Beach Boys spirit. (DV)

Full review…

Nicolas Gaunin ‘Noa Noa Noa’
(Hive Mind Records)







This is included because it sounds unlike anything else I’ve listened to in 2019. Originally put out in 2018 on the obscure Artetetra Records label, Nicola Sanguin, under his barely concealed appellation alter ego Nicolas Gaunin, strange exotic minimalist Noa Noa Noa LP has found a new home on the Brighton-based imprint Hive Mind.

With vague hints of Krautrock legends Embryo’s more percussive experiments in Africa, the dreamy mysterious invocations of Le Mystere Jazz de Tumbautau, Radio Tarifa, Ethno-jazz at its most untethered and Analogue Bubblebath era Richard James, Sanguin’s fantastical experiments mix vague sounds of thumb-piano, Serengeti and jungle wildlife, bamboo glockenspiel, clacking wooden and bass-heavy hand drums and nuanced workshop Techno.

Noa Noa Noa is indeed a thing of curious evocation; a searing balmy transduced soundtrack worth investigating.

Full review…

Gawd Status ‘Firmamentum’
(Tru Thoughts)




“Militant pride that’ll uproot those sitting on the fence, it’s a saga that must run and run. Absolutely boomin’” – RnV May 19



When the Big Bang wiped everything out first time around, Gawd Status saw it as an opportunity, in which Kashmere’s Strange U spaceship nosedives into the jungle, moondust dementia still sputtering from its exhaust, and Joker Starr swaps the battle arena for the cannibalistic, kill or be killed lawlessness of the Firmamentum outback. The Gawd Status is a complicated one, seriously heavy at a skinflint eight tracks long (even in the current age of artists finally getting album length right, 28 minutes is a bit of a choker), fiercely standing up for itself in articulation of black rage and examination of conspiracy theories, and revelling in The Iguana Man’s thick doomsday fog. The event completed by some utterly bumping soul sisterhood from Fae Simon, its arrival at Tru Thoughts is a slight surprise. Nonetheless it’s a work of art that burns bright like a brilliant, tumultuous dream. (MO)

The Good Ones ‘Rwanda, You Should Be Loved’
(Anti-Records)







Finding the most earthy of uncluttered soul in the most inhospitable and traumatized of environments, global renowned producer/facilitator Ian Brennan once more sets up the most minimalist and unobtrusive of recording sessions; capturing the raw, natural magic of Rwanda’s The Good Ones for posterity before it dies out.

Though moving slowly past the scars of the country’s genocide, the glorious encapsulating and whistling voices that make up this collective live a bare sustenance, eking out a meager life as farmers in the remotest of landscapes.

Recorded at guitarist and vocalist Adrien Kazigira’s hillside farm, Rwanda, You Should Be Loved Place is as poignant as it is hearty; a songbook of lilting lullaby’s, forewarnings and lament. Not that there presence is needed, but a cast of Western artists – Kevin Shields, Corin Tucker, Tunde Adebimpe and Nels Cline – lend support on a number of these beautiful songs.   (DV)

Adam Green ‘Engine Of Paradise’
(30th Century)





Meandering through the modern world of incessant tech-babble and validation cult, the former Moldy Peach turn left banke troubadour Adam Green once more traverses the boulevards and Greenwich Village hangouts of a more simpler, connected time on his wonderful folksy songbook, Engine Of Paradise.

Channeling a homage of Lee Hazlewood, Burt Bacharach, Harry Nilsson, Ian McCulloch, Jim Sullivan and Father John Misty our romantic and candid swooner delivers Midnight Cowboy like cocktail ruminations on love in the context of a society in the grip of an ever intrusive and alienating social media. Nostalgic certainly…but all the better for it. (DV)

PLAYLIST
DOMINIC VALVONA
GRAPHICS: GIANLUIGI MARSIBILIO 


Monolith Cocktail Social - Gianluigi Marsibilio


Cool shit that the Monolith Cocktail founder and instigator Dominic Valvona has pulled together, the Social playlist is a themeless selection of eclectic tracks from across the globe and ages. Representing not only his tastes but the blogs, these regular playlists can be viewed as an imaginary radio show, a taste of Dominic’s DJ sets over 25 plus years. Placed in a way as to ape a listening journey, though feel free to listen to it as you wish, each playlist bridges a myriad of musical treasures to enjoy and also explore – and of course, to dance away the hours to.

 

As you can see, volume XLI of this regular playlist selection is accompanied by Gianluigi Marsibilio‘s new snazzy graphics. As diverse in scope as ever, we start of this jamboree with some rough and ready post punk and spunk rock (The Exploding Budgies, The Real Kids, Iceage) before sliding into some sweet soul music (Wilson Pickett, Jimmy Castor) and a short boogie down Bronx stopover (D-Nice). Later on there’s Krautrock royalty (Kraan), maverick Italian soundtracks (Piero Umiliani), psychedelic flights of fantasy (The Tangerine Zoo, J.K & Co.) and a sauntered funked out vision of 2001: A Space Odyssey (Atomic Forest).





Starring in selection XLI:

The Exploding Budgies  ‘Kenneth Anger’
The Pale Fountains  ‘Shelter’
The Real Kids  ‘I’d Rather Go To Jail’
Iceage  ‘Everything Drifts’
The Blue Magoos  ‘I Can Hear The Grass Grow’
Paul Revere & The Raiders  ‘Him Or Me – What’s It Gonna Be?’
Wilson Pickett  ‘Born To Be Wild’
Jimmy Castor  ‘Rattle Snake’
D-Nice  ‘Straight From The Bronx’
Souls Of Mischief  ‘Make Your Mind Up – Rock On Mix’
Hardnoise  ‘Bongo Attack’
Ernesto Djedje  ‘Dogbohone’
Ersen ve Dadaşlar  ‘Garip Gönlüm’
Ibo Combo  ‘Pour Elle’
Pasteur Lappe  ‘Sanaga Calypso’
Sir Victor Uwaifo  ‘Ebos De Gaiza (Ekassa)’
Matata  ‘I Need Somebody’
Letta Mbulu  ‘Gumba Gumba’
Ema Franklin  ‘You’ve Been Cancelled’
Koushik  ‘Roller Combat’
Piero Umiliani  ‘Produzione’
Black Randy & The Metrosquad  ‘I Wanna Be A Nark’
The Aurora Pushups  ‘Victims Of Terrorism’
Bush Tetras  ‘Cowboys In Africa’
Kraan  ‘Silver Wings’
Marc Benno  ‘Welcome To Hollywood’
The Tangerine Zoo  ‘Trip To The Zoo’
Jean-Claude Vannier  ‘L’Ours Paresseux’
Gary McFarland & Gabor Szabo  ‘Cool Water’
Dzyan  ‘Khali’
J.K. & Co.  ‘Fly’
Atomic Forest  ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

ALBUM REVIEW
Dominic Valvona



Our Daily Bread 354: Right Hand Left Hand  ‘Zone Rouge’
(Bubblewrap Collective)  LP/ 15th November 2019



A truly global traversing album in which all the compass points referenced could be considered the ideal dark tourist package, the Welsh band Right Hand Left Hand rev-up for a tour de force of environmental trauma on their second LP, Zone Rouge. Bordering deep into the psychogeography, the tainted soil of a number of both well-known and more mysterious cities, towns, islands and plains provide the backdrop for eleven, mostly instrumental, post-punk, math, prog and alt-rock soundtracks. Bad vibes permeate, whether it’s environmental damage or acts of barbarism each stopover shares the common themes of human malevolence, intrusion and ego.

The scars run deep as the band tunnel into the hell’s gate open pit of the Russian diamond mining town of ‘Mirny’ or, beating out a sinister unwieldy industrial reification of the French village tragedy of ‘Oradour-sur-glane’ – scene of a Nazi-meted atrocity in 1944. A second French scene lends its name to the album itself, Zone Rouge being a legacy of WWI, a stretch of battleground contaminated with unexploded munitions, parts of which are still off-limits to this day. Battles style toms and corrosive guitar meet classical mournful melodies on a plaintive survey of this spoiled ground.

The Hands lend a growled, gnarling, cell-door banging abstracted slammed version of the QOTSA and Nine Inch Nails to the idealized Brutalism of the Nazi holiday resort, ‘Prora’; lend an Aegean flavor clandestine menace to the atavistic pawn in a history of warfare and conquer between Turkey and Greece on ‘Smyrna’; and offer a chilling heart of darkness lament to the former Chilean nitrate mine workers town turn Pinochet concentration camp, ‘Chacabuco’. The latter is also one of the only tracks to feature vocals, with former Estrons front-woman Taliesyn Kallstrom not only singing but exhaling, huffing and shouting on the most ghostly of evocations.

Each track on this album is accompanied with various notes in case many of these map references prove too obscure, but they also prompt further investigation. The stories behind the broken-down quasi-Buzzcocks riff with Mexican tremolo ‘Clipperton’ and menacing turn utopia cloud-breaking ‘Florenna’ are really fucked-up: the former, the both tragic and miraculous survivors tale of guano-extracting workers families escaping starvation and a tyrannical murderous rapist lighthouse keeper, the latter, a Galapagos Islands misadventure of abuse.

The Hands snarl and rile, wane and speed through a tumult of influences, from Battles to Holy Fuck, Adam’s Castle to Die Wilde Jagd, on what is an ambitious album in scale and dynamics; one that counterbalances breaks of light with the miasma of greed and trauma; delving deep into the earth as a metaphor for the recesses of humanity’s darkest intentions.  (DV)





Reviews
Dominic Valvona





Reaching a grand eightieth edition of my eclectic roundup, the Tickling My Fancy column continues to highlight the curious and recommended from across the globe. With no agenda, no demarcation of any kind, you can expect to find spiritual jazz alongside dream pop, space rock doom alongside desert blues.

My latest edition includes the long awaited new LP of timeless hushed reverence from Boa Morte, phobia-themed withering contorted progressive industrial jazz from the Russian band Rootea, the latest tactile album of dance music from the Shanghai Restoration Project, a new EP from the maverick lo fi dreamer Origami Repetika, the new aria space apocalypse augur of beauty and supernatural doom from Elizabeth Joan Kelly, and a double bill of cult excavations, the heavy metal prog Lucifer Was and more genteel short-lived soul-psych-folk-beat-group The Fox, from the Guerssen label hub.

Leading the charge though is the upcoming compilation of Somali funk, disco and Afro-Caribbean nuggets, Mogadisco, from Analog Africa.


Various ‘Mogadisco – Dancing Mogadishu (Somali 1972-1991)’

(Analog Africa) LP/ 13th December 2019



In the making since a security nightmare of a trip in 2016, Analog Africa’s chief instigator, Samy Ben Redjeb, finally releases a treasure trove of previously unreleased and passed-over nuggets from the vaults of Radio Mogadishu.

Researched and compiled on that same crate and archive-digging excursion, Analog Africa put out a celebratory compilation of the first two albums by Mogadishu’s legends-in-exile the Dur-Dur Band in 2018; the first bonafide release of the group’s tape cassette ‘volume’ albums. The infectious loose-limbed funk and fuzz pop group provide a trio of sweetly laced movers and serenades for this showcase of Somali wonders. All recorded in 1991, the last year this compilation covers, whilst exiled abroad, the Dur-Dur Band offer a stick-rattling feverish Indian summer love paean (‘Daradara Muxibo’), slicker dabbing mid-tempo funk workout (‘Shaleedayaa’) and oriental dappled-organ swoon (‘Ladaa’).

Covering a generational period arc, from the burgeoning optimistic dawn of Somali under the dictatorial leadership of Siad Barre to that same leader’s fateful swan song in 1991, as a once more liberal regime in just twenty years lurched towards the repressive, Mogadisco reflects the changes in a fractious state. Barre of course took power in a coup (though with an emphasis on the peaceful), yet the arts and music scenes flourished, with an explosion in both state-sanctioned and private bands. Many of the acts on this collection were hot-housed in the various ministerial department affiliated show bands or in the theatre (notably the Dur-Durs), and were open to outside influences, from Flea Kuti’s Afrobeat sensation – brought back, we’re told, to Somalia by the Mogadishu featured Iftin Band, after representing the country at the Festac Festival in Lagos in 1977 – to Bob Marley’s global-conquering brand of reggae, and later on, a moonwalking Michael Jackson. One of the most obvious of these, and continuing to influence Somalia’s finest in the second half of the 80s, Omar Shooli’s spiritually voiced ‘Hob Isii’ languorously sways to a proto-Wailers rock steady beat. Equally the influence of Motown, Stax, and as the compilation’s title makes apparent, disco can be heard ringing loudly throughout this mixed bag that Samy himself describes as music that “swam against the tide”.

Before Somalia imploded in the 90s and descended into a near anarchic state, the capital enjoyed a tourist boom; the Mogadishu boulevards loaded with ever-luxurious hotels, all playing host to the country’s best and most popular groups. Mogadisco however, selects previously dormant and forgotten recordings from the city’s top broadcaster, Radio Mogadishu. Filed away under ‘mainly instrumental and strange music’, an assortment of discarded jingles, background music, interludes, TV show tunes and theatre numbers now finally see daylight on an eye-opening collection of exotic funk-fried shufflers and sashaying Afro-Caribbean swoons.

Notable mentions should go to the Iftin Band for their Ethno-jazz dreamy shimmer ‘Ii Ouy Aniga’, both the Bakaka Band’s uptown rankin’ slinky ‘Gobonimada Jira’ – think the Lijadu Sisters meet Althea & Donna – and their swimmingly spy-thriller like transformation of a warrior’s song, the tropical Highlife tingle ‘Geesiyada Halgamayow’, and the southern ‘Orleans flavoured raunchy disco turn, ‘Baayo’, by Mukhtar Ramadan Iidi – a slicker 80s Arthur Conley if you will.

As always, the usual due diligence and insights into each and every artist/band and label on this latest brilliant compilation are chronicled in the accompanying booklet; a purview of Somalia’s musical legacy set within a tumultuous historical setting. Analog Africa are the first label to actually set foot in the country in years; the capital especially immortalized for a generation or more as one of the most dangerous places on Earth, synonymous for fractions-at-war and pirates. Progress has been made in recent years, hence Samy gaining permission to visit, albeit under heavy protection. For once though, here’s a celebration of the country’s music; a fit and proper essential joyful showcase of disco and funk inspired dynamism.






Shanghai Restoration Project ‘Flashbacks In A Crystal Ball’

(Undercover Culture Music) LP/ 8th November 2019



If brooding synth poets Japan had taken more stimulating drugs and been dragged onto the dancefloor they may very well have sounded a little like this colourful arpeggiator-cascading duo, the Shanghai Restoration Project. Though based in Brooklyn, the electro-symphonic duo transport the listener to an exotic Orient and beyond on a magical, ruminating flight of fantasy.

As the name suggests, on previous recordings the former Bad Boy label songwriter and producer Dave Laing and his foil Sun Yunfan have transduced the jazz and showtime music of a pre-WWII Shanghai; aligning it with, and filtering it through, nuanced electro pop, techno and hip-hop. The results of which have furnished a myriad of adverts, soundtracks, and even the Beijing Olympics.

SRP’s latest neon-lit dreamy dance album is framed as a reaction to “the increasingly fragmented and mindless soundbite culture we live in”. Softening the edges and lightening the tensions, the crystal ball flashbacks on this serene trip err towards elegance and the sophisticated rippling tactile.

This is a landscape of chopstick percussion, pagoda shaded water gardens, undulating marimba vibes, vocoder chanson, mirage-y waveforms, classical Chinese instrumentation and biplane rotor drones. Futuristically motoring and bobbing along, there are shades of Air, Moroder, Mark Ronson, Cuushe and Cornelius on a cosmic soundtrack of avant-garde Tango dalliances, retro-fit rapping R&B, 2-Step jazz, super-charged Tron video arcades and sweetened elegies.

Flashbacks In A Crystal Ball is a pliable dance album full of bright and magical lilted brilliance and fun; slow building dance music of the highest and smartest caliber.



Boa Morte ‘Before There Was Air’
(Gare du Nord) LP/ 29th November 2019


The understated majestic swells of the Irish band Boa Morte don’t come easy, or arrive regularly. Only the band’s third album proper in twenty years, the misty expansive mini-opuses found on the long awaited Before There Was Air are like gentle but deeply resonating ripples from a distant timeless shore.

Slow, methodical, every second of these air-y hushed suites moves at a stately pace: in no hurry to arrive, with many of the beautifully purposeful songs disappearing into the ether, out of earshot but somewhere carrying on forever.

Signing to Ian button’s one-man cottage industry Gare du Nord label this year, the Cork dreamers’ first complete work in nigh on a decade is worth the wait. Maturing in all that time, the peaceable sagacious results are augmented with subtle synthesized tones and stirring ambient atmospherics; building vague landscapes of longing; a constant ebbing tide lapping on the cerebral.

This is a classy magical music that doesn’t make allowances: the equivalent of slow food culture.

Elegantly unfurled, the burnished and brushed soundtrack moves between entrancing folk and the classical, between the choral and yearned. Songs such as the tenderly rendered ‘Cans’ evoke a more soulful Mogwai and, musically, Robert Wyatt, whilst the pastoral dainty ‘The Garden’ transports the listener to an Elizabethan Hampden Court. The pinning guitar-voiced ‘Sea Creatures’ has an air of Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks score.

Lonely pianos, romantic prose, shimmered cymbals and sighed strings reverberate on metaphorical nautical terms of lovelorn detachment and the dangers of an emotional landslide. A finely crafted sweeping album Before There Was Air exudes a timeless quality; one that by all accounts has been well worth the wait.





The Fox ‘For Fox Sake’
Lucifer Was ‘Underground And Beyond’
(Sommer/ Guerssen) LP/ 13th November 2019




Churning out untold forgotten and cult missives and classics alike, the Guerssen umbrella of reissue imprints knocks out albums and compilations at a fair old rate. It’s often easy to miss the odd trio of same date releases from this hub of specialist labels: such is the turnover. One strand of this operation in digging up everything from 80s Spanish political underground cassette tape culture to 70s Turkish kitsch pop, is the 60s/70s garage band, psych, prog and heavy rock leaning Sommor, who retrieve and facilitate first-time vinyl reissues of albums by the blue-eyed soulful psych outfit The Fox and proto-metal theatrical troupe Lucifer Was.

The former of these has been a much sought-after album from a band of also-rans who’s sound harks back to the fag-end of the Mod boom; when beat group combos graduated to more psychedelic and progressive, heavier heights. Recorded a couple years after inception in the Mod haven of Brighton, The Fox released their debut and only LP proper, For Fox Sake, on the cusp of a new and changing decade. Though not entirely past-the-sell-by-date and removed from those shifts, the able-enough group could have been contenders (to a point).

With a dazzle of classical psych-baroque and faux-gospel church organ ala Procol Harum, softened fuzz guitar and swooning soulful vocals this fleeting South Coast combo recorded some glorious, if redolent, halcyon pop paeans and psychedelic shakers. Trouble is, Love Sculpture, Spooky Tooth, The Moody Blues, The Gods, Marmalade, Bread and Chris Farlowe had pretty much already covered this ground already rather well. Outside of those influences The Fox played with a Get Back/White Album honky-tonk McCartney (‘Goodtime Music’), Bacharach (‘As She Walks By’) and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (in fairground waltzing mode on ‘Madame Magical’).

Notable for supporting the Orpheus imbued Herd and opening for a burgeoning Bowie, The Fox’s brief fandango came to an end a year later; the only fruits of their labour being this album and a single. Still, in certain collectors’ circles this is a cult classic. For Fox Sake has its endearing charms and a couple of fuzz-thrilled love potion hits to make it worth the entry price.





A far heavier, and just as rare, prospect is the album-that-never-was from the Nordic psych-metal marauders Lucifer Was. Despite that satanic moniker (the group wore a number of macabre cloaks, such as Empty Coffin/Autumn Serenade and Erza West, before sticking with the daemonic Lucifer Was) the group’s debut dramatic opus is influenced as much by the flighty flute-playing prog of Jethro Tull as by the scuzzed leaden menace of Black Sabbath.

The first incarnation formed in Oslo in 1969 and lasted until ’75. Though they built a reputation and fanbase on the strength of their performances, this bewitched coven never actually recorded an album in that entire period. Songs were written and played live, yet lay dormant until more than two decades later, when a middle-aged version of the band picked-up from where they left off, entering a studio and finally recording that debut showcase. And so with music from another age now propelled into the late 90s, Underground And Beyond is a strange missive of fighting fantasy Tolkienism and River Styx schlock dark arts preening – all brooding romantic warrior troubadour, yearning for his muse whilst skulking by mythological waterways.

If you dig your Edgar Allen Poe, baroque metal, fairytale tangos and doomed tormented love lost suites then get a load of this. Josefus, Steppenwolf, Deep Purple and Ipsissimus hatched by proto-metal Vikings: what’s not to love?!

An album no one asked for, but buy it anyway.





Origami Repetika ‘Night Of The Jaguar’
EP




None the wiser after receiving the second CD of maverick chiming psychedelic pop from Adam Sigmund (otherwise known as Origami Repetika), I’m going blind with this recommendation. With scant information at hand, Sigmund’s drifty hallucinating-like music can be summed up as a stained glass lo fi union of Brian Wilson and Gary Wilson.

Following on from a recent radiant and glorious album, Singing Gulls, the four-track Night Of The Jaguar EP offers something slightly more dreamy and moody. Named not in homage to any literary title, the Jaguar of the title refers to the iconic electric guitar; a birthday present that’s put to good experimental use over a quartet of mellow vibrato and gauze-y alternative melodramas.

Romantic driftwood at its most idiosyncratic; a diy Beach Boys if they signed to Anticon; there’s a certain oddness lyrically. The naivety of the melting candy maudlin ‘Meet Me At The Peppermint’ belies a slight whimsical jar in its finale wafts: “It’s the way you smile, before you lost your teeth”.

This is cozy surf-psych pop and lo fi ambition at its finest. Disarming yet attuned to the ways of the world. Seek out this maverick pop excellence immediately.



Rootea ‘Phobias’
LP




I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as a collective noun for phobias but the strung-out Russian prog-jazz and industrial post-punk band Rootea attempts a reification of thirteen such debilitating fears on this untethered freeform therapy session. An often caustic, sometimes haunted travail, Phobias moves in an unshapely form. The vaporous soundtrack even threatens to drift off and escape from its performers: both riled and wafting into the ether, or down ambiguous passages and the dark recesses of the mind.

Emanating from east of the Urals, from Russia’s “third” city of Yekaterinburg (or Ekaterinburg), Rootea might very well be tapping into not only this Tsarina-christened (named in honour of the first Catherine, Tsar Peter The Great’s wife) city’s historical vantage but its more troubled psychodramas too. This is after all the fatal site of the Romanovs’ horrific, and botched, execution.

Anguish, paranoia, fear but also dream-like slumbers are triggered across a spectrum of air-y pondered phobias; from ‘Autophobia’ (that’s a fear of being alone or lonely) to the oddest, ‘Hellophobia’ (fear of Greeks; perhaps a hangover of that old adage, beware of Greeks bearing gifts). Thirteen tracks long, with a finale of post-industrial withering in its name, sufferers of ‘Triskaidekaphobia’ may want to avoid this album. But for the rest of us, this record (if over long) is a wrangling, caustic hallucinating avant-garde therapy session of apparitional narrators, strangulated guitars, sonorous trickles, Gothic throbs, gangly buzzing resonance and hi-pitched pecked saxophone. Permutations of dank lo-fi, Einstürzende Neubauten, A Happy Kitchen Is A Clean Kitchen, Faust, Cabaret Voltaire and 39 Clocks revolve like a languid carousel.

Untied to a particular location or time, Rootea amorphously linger in both the cerebral and visceral as they transcribe the untranscribable on an ambitious work. A difficult, often overlong, experience Phobias should be prescribed in small doses.





Elizabeth Joan Kelly ‘Farwell, Doomed Planet!’
LP/ 25th October 2019




Into the great expanse of a universe as ominous as it is magically mysterious, New Orleans-based composer Elizabeth Joan Kelly ventures far on her latest electronic suite. From the enormity of space the Cassandra of imperiled doom gazes back at Earth from advantageous lofty heights: a siren voice of lyrically cryptic lament and woe, strung-out aboard some sort of Kubrickian mission to gather research.

Equally deft at composing contemporary symphonies as she is Warp label imbued kinetic and industrial electronica, Kelly coos and soundscapes a lamentable vision of the apocalypse that combines aria-like space operatics with tubular metallic breakdowns, stirring ambient swells and darker twists of contorting nuanced sonics. Kelly even transduces the afflatus classical hymnal music of Bach on the swooned and serene ‘Trinity Quadrant Cantata’.

From pollution on land and in the seas to inner existential angst, the protagonist cosmonaut at the centre of this bleak analysis mourns amongst heavenly bodies in the celestial.

An album of both impending doom, yet filled with wondrous pulchritude, Farwell is a haunting enough score with evident supernatural atmospherics on tracks such as the reversal ethereal elegy ‘Harm’ – echoes of a spooked Broadcast and Quimper – and the ghostly nuclear landscape desolation ‘Exclusion Zone Earth (Or, All Hail Chernobyl Wolves)’.

Present vocally on a majority of the album’s tracks, Kelly’s voice is often veiled and gauze-y: so much so that you can barely hear a trace of it. Even in full song that voice is obscured; sounding like either a spirit from beyond the ether or, a distant broadcast from deepest space and time.

Cinematic in places, setting an astral mirage of dreamy and bestial proportions, Farewell is a beautifully scary drama that evokes touches of Bowie, Tangerine Dream, Bernard Szajner, Diva Dompe, Moroder and Vangelis. Kelly does wonderful things amongst the stars; the apocalypse has seldom sounded so celestially operatic and electronically choral.





LP REVIEW
Dominic Valvona




The Provincials ‘The Dark Ages’
(Itchen Recordings) LP/ 15th November 2019


In full Panavision, The Provincials duo of vocalist Polly Perry and guitarist and author Seb Hunter articulate a mesmerizing and spellbinding miasma of a domesday on their long awaited second LP, The Dark Ages. The original dark ages epoch was named so for a lack of documentary and archeological evidence from as, we now know, a rich if tumultuous period in the history of these Isles and beyond: A time that roughly marks the decline of the Roman Empire to the beginning of the next millennium. It’s used here of course to weave a lyrical, sometimes Shakespearean, vision of our contemporary times: Brexit especially (I presume). Even if they portray it with a diaphanous lulled and beautifully administered deft touch, The Provincials paint a bleakly poetic diorama of being swept under a despairing riptide. Depending on which side of that divide you feel comfortable pontificating or barracking from, Brexit and by association (though far more complex to all tie-in) so-called “populism” in politics, you either believe that this is all an exciting, tide-turning, opportunity or, the end times!

And so reminders of past imperial ventures overseas (an empirical vague gesture to the infamous ‘Inkerman’; a decisive score draw monumental battle in the Crimean War saga) and the slaughter and PTSD anguish legacy of WWI (the Shell-shocked Medieval waltz ‘We Lost Our Minds’) are woven into a musical hallucination of dour romanticism and melancholy. However, the pains and woes are handled deftly; especially from the aria like performances of Perry, who’s range longingly flows between the ethereal and dramatic. Counterbalancing nimbly-picked Pentangle folk with more rousing swamp boogie and flange-dreamy Britpop, Hunter’s acoustic and electrified guitar playing rings out, offering both stripped-back accentuate caresses and moods, and more punctuating punches. The only additional instrumentation (the barest of stirring ambience, with trickled and sonorous bass note piano parts and drums courtesy of producer Dan Parkinson) is used most sparingly, with the most full-on songs being the breakout rocking ‘Inkerman’, which sounds like a crescendo stomping combo of The White Stripes, Anna Calvi, The Classical and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. More winding and suffused with mysterious ambient tones tough, the sonnet-like trickling ‘The Western Shore’ bears the atmospherics of Popol Vuh’s Affenstunde.

Meandering along a path that stretches from the Norman church dotted shingly shoreline of the southeast coast of Romney to a revenge-soaked Iberia, The Provincials conjure up a lamentable present. Perhaps we are indeed doomed. Perhaps these are the end days or the darkness before the light. Whatever the truth, this diaphanous duo has articulated such augurs with a gauze-y, beautiful veneer worth savoring and improved no end since their last album.







Album Review
Dominic Valvona




Owen Tromans ‘Between Stones’
(Sacred Geometry) 11th October 2019


In the spirit of maverick adventure, Hampshire-based singer-songwriter Owen Tromans walks a similar path to the arch druid of counterculture and psychogeography traversing, Julian Cope. The co-founder of the most informative sonic accompanied rambling fanzine guide, Weird Walks, Tromans (and his co-authors) circumnavigates the hidden British landscape of run-down flat roof pubs whilst waxing lyrical about the fantasy role-play meets Black Metal flowering of the Dungeon synth scene, and the more well-known traipsed chalk pits and megalith landmarks.

The soundtrack is important, both as an enriching experience and communicative tool. And on Between Stones the soundtrack could be said to be a surprising one. Ambling certainly; wandering this sceptered Isle imbued typography with all the ancient lore it entails, yet far from held-down to the British sound, Tromans actually channels a English pen pal version of R.E.M. and the great expansive outdoor epic trudge of Simon Bonney on the album’s hard-won stirring opus ‘Grimcross’: Imagine an 80s American college radio John Barleycorn. There’s even a touch of a mellower Pixies and early Dinosaur Jnr. on the grunge-y ‘Vague Summer’, and hints of Mick Harvey throughout the rest of the album.

It’s not just musically, but also the album’s mythology and fantastical themes that reach beyond these shores. Between The Stones entwines both episodes (real and imaginary) from Greek and German history into a rich green tableau. The protagonist in the former, a lamentable questioning soldier on the shores of Troy, attempts to make sense of the woes of that infamous war whilst communing with Zeus on the subtle organ-bathed ‘A Dialogue’, the latter, explores the fact and fiction behind the Disney castle eccentric Bavarian King, Ludwig II, on the plaintive Neil Young-esque ‘Burying The Moon King’. Perhaps only ever immortalized before by the Munich acid-rock gods Amon Düül II in a suite of songs from their Germanic conceptual epic, Made In Germany, the “mad” fantastical Ludwig may or may not have met his demise on Lake Starnberg at the hands of nebulas intrigue and the encroaching behavior of a unified German authority – Ludwig’s own ministers conspired to have him sanctioned at one point. Troy of course plays well in the lyrical alternative history of Britain; through a convoluted suspension of belief historiography, via the pen of many atavistic chroniclers (including Geoffrey of Monmouth), the fleeing survivors of that legendary city and war have been linked to the founding of both Rome, through their champion Aeneas, and Britain, through his descendant Brutus.

Beautifully conveyed throughout with subtle Baroque-psych chamber strings and a country falsetto, Tromans follows the desire lines, hill forts and undulating well-travail(ed) pathways on a most ruminating magical songbook; a thoughtful and poetic accompaniment that goes hand-in-hand with those “weird” and wonderful walks.




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