Album Review: Dominic Valvona

Simon Bonney ‘Past, Present, Future’

(Mute) 3rd May 2019


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 makes a welcome return to the 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.

Caught in the industry merger machinations of the late 90s, the Detroit imbued-recorded Eyes Of Blue fell victim to the fallout of A&M Records, “dissolved” into the behemoth of the Universal Music Corp just as Bonney was agreeing a deal with them to release it. As a consequence, what would have been his third solo outing and the perfect bookend to a brilliant run of country blues inspired songbooks, instead sat in the vaults, waiting patiently to get released.

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 the recent passing of Scott Walker) of the brooding maestro’s stately majestic lament to fading beauty and decadence, ‘Duchess’. Brought to Bonney’s attention during recording suggestions for Eyes Of Blue by his producer on those sessions, Dave Feeny, Walker’s sullen lyrical masterpiece proves a congruous fit for the Australian’s rich lap steel and Dobro resonator thumbed and waning country malady signature style.





The effects of time and the changing landscape are running themes in all of Bonney’s solo work. Echoing loudly with the ongoing divisive debate of the present, many of these beautifully articulated sad declarations feature a protagonist searching for their place in the world, set often to a kind of American West favoured by The Band, but also the Outback. Alienation is a given: Bonney’s own past travails richly mined; the teenage runaway leaving behind the vast rustic expanses of Tasmania for the city life of Sydney, via the Australian metropolis’s Red Light district and squats. It was of course where the fourteen-year-old outsider formed the first incarnation of Crime And The City Solution, one of four such phases, the next taking shape with a move to London in 1984 and including both Mick Harvey and Rowland S. Howard (alongside the equally notable Harry Howard and Swell Maps’ Epic Soundtracks), the third such version taking shape in Berlin (embracing musicians from the city’s post-punk and post-Krautrock scenes, such as Einstürzende Neubauten’s Alexander Hacke), and fourth, in Detroit.

The greatest panoramic opus, an unedited version of the Everyman LP’s leitmotif, is in three parts a grand sweep with military snap snares. Bonney in resigned fatalism almost, swoons “I’m looking for a life I can’t explain” as a full-on assault from all directions bombards him. ‘Ravenswood’, taken from the Forever LP, is in a similar Western mythos mode a hard worn thunder and rain-beaten plaints with the age-old “rain on, rain on, rain on me” yearn that sets our high plains drifter on a course for redemptive change. Following in its wake is a ran of highlights from both Forever and Everyman, including the Orbison plays twanged angel to the Lone Justice declaration ‘Don’t Walk Away From Love’, the Lynchian motel spell (complete with a bongo anguish) ‘There Can Only Be One’, and bowing Greyhound bust tour through Texas Rose country runaway ‘Where Trouble Is Easier To Find’.

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, the Eyes Of Blue part of 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.

Bonney remerges just when we need him; back after many setbacks, but enjoying music again (he says). Past, Present, Future can also be seen as perfect compilation of that solo catalogue for both hardy fans of the artist and as an introduction to one of Australia’s outstanding talents.





Words: Dominic Valvona


Album Feature: Dominic Valvona



Ethnic Heritage Ensemble ‘Be Known Ancient/Future/Music’
(Spiritmuse Records) 21st June 2019


I’d readily admit I still find it a daunting task reviewing jazz, in all its different forms. Further along in my education of course, beyond the rudiments, but in no way an aficionado. I’m constantly discovering and exploring pieces in the jazz story. And yet, it seems almost unforgivable that such a 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 has until now escaped me. Such is his vital contribution to Spiritual and African imbued jazz that he really shouldn’t have.

Renowned most notably for the ensemble he formed after graduating and still plays with, Kahil’s impressive CV also includes various roles playing with such luminaries as the great Pharaoh Sanders, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre and “Light” Henry Huff, and tour spots with titans, Dizzy Gillespie, Archie Shepp, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder and Lester Bowie.

 

Leading a myriad of different lineups of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble since their inception in the early 1970s, 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, Kahil’s ensemble once more explore 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.





Atavistic with a modern pulse, improvising and riffing off repetition, the “ancient” in the title stands for the EHE’s African roots and inspiration; heard through the rustic waterhole evoked bottle pouring and wooden percussion, tribal drum patterns and Egyptology invocations. In theory, it runs throughout Western music, but is felt keenly in the ensemble’s floorless integrations here, which flow and adopt a wealth of genres: a Louisiana feel, be bop skip and dance hall swing on ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’, hints of prime Savoy label jazz, Cab Calloway and Dizzy himself on the homage tumbling drums take on Freddie Hubburd’s ‘Little Sunflower’ standard, and Hugh Masekela in his Hedzoleh Soundz phase, on the Serengeti shuffler ‘Wish I Knew’.

 

Looking back not only to the “ancients”, this album mourns the loss and pays homage to a catalogue of notaries and progenitors, including a host of jazz stars lost in 2018; a trio of which, Randy Weston, Jerry Gonzalez and Cecil Taylor, are given a nod on the opening peregrination ‘N2Deep’, a primitive House music meets gospel and deep serenaded saxophone bounce of a performance that imagines the Modern Jazz Quartet hooking up with a time-travelling Marshall Jefferson.

From Leon Thomas like pronouncements, shamanistic magic, arcane fiddles, elephant heralded honked baritone and spiritual yearnings, all the African bases are confidently covered.

 

The ‘future” that is shared in this album’s title, attached to Afro-Futurist, is represented by both the amorphous blending of sounds, from Swing to Hard Bop to Avant-garde, and in the freeform ease of improvised playing; built around repeating but constantly evolving rhythms and motifs. At times Kahil and his troupe soulfully pine over a stripped acoustic dance beat bordering on gospel-House music and at other times, cleverly merge two different distinct rhythms, one more elliptical the other off-kilter, together simultaneously until final syncopation.

 

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.





Album Review: Dominic Valvona




Raf And O ‘The Space Between Nothing And Desire’
(Telephone Records) 31st May 2019

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.

Previous albums by the unique duo have featured the most spellbinding, frayed accentuate of Bowie covers, with even Aladdin Sane’s oft pianist Mike Garson extolling their strung out exploration of ‘Lady Grinning Soul’, and a version of the Philly Soul period ‘Win’, quite exceptional in its purring beauty, that ranks amongst the best covers I’ve ever heard. Paying further tribune to, easily, the duo’s most revered musical deity, they lay a diaphanous ethereal accompanied wreath at the metaphorical graveside on the latest, and fourth, album opener ‘A Bow To Bowie’. With all the duo’s hymnal and venerable qualities in full bloom, Raf’s dream-realism coos and fluctuating accented velvety tones ripple through the Bowie cosmos; sending thanks across a strange space-y soundscape of satellite bleeps, mirror reversals and twilight vortex. If he is indeed somewhere up there in the void or ether, pricking our consciousness, I’m sure he’ll appreciate such sentiments and idol worship.

To add to the covers tally, Raf And O also weave a sophisticated dreamy elegy of the early but burgeoning Bowie plaint ‘The London Boys’; a wistful malady, already ghostly when it first emerged, resurrected by Bowie himself and slipped into later setlists, now elegantly clothed in a spell bounding, draped gauze by our duo.

 

Almost held in as high esteem, sharing the pantheon of idols, Kate Bush can be heard channeled through Raf’s extraordinary vocals: on the surface vulnerable and stark yet beneath lies a steely intensity that often whips, lashes and jolts. It’s unsurprising considering that Raf’s most recent side-project, the Kick Inside, is an acoustic tribute to Kate Bush that almost spookily capture’s the doyen’s phrasings and deft piano skills perfectly.

On their spiritual and philosophical quest to articulate the space between nothing and desire, Raf embodies that influence once more; crystallizing and reshaping to just an essence; part of a diverse vocal range that always manages to sound delicate but otherworldly, like an alien pirouette doll full of colourful giddy exuberance, yet a darker distress and tragedy lurks in the shadows.

 

Swept up in the Lutheran romantic maladies of a third idol, Scott Walker, Raf And O strip down and reconstruct the late lonesome maverick’s Jack Nitzsche-string conducted gravitas ‘Such A Small Love’. That stirring, solemn almost, ballad of existential yearning was originally part of the inaugural solo-launched songbook Scott. In this version those strings are replaced by, at first, a minimal revolving acoustic guitar and wash of sonorous bass. And instead of the reverential cooed baritone Raf’s hushed beatific voice is shadowed instead by a second slurred, slowed and deep, almost artificial, one: think a dying HAL.

 

Beautifully spinning a fine web of both delicate vulnerability and strength, at times even ominous, Raf And O seek out enchanting pleasures beneath the sea on ‘Underwater Blues’, crank up the gramophone and let the tanks trundle across a churning lamentable wasteland re-imagination of Bertolt Brecht’s famous unfinished WWI Downfall Of The Egoist Johann Fatzer on ‘With Fatzer’, and coo with a strange clipped vocal gate over a mellotron-like supernatural ballad soundtrack on ‘The Windmill’.

 

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 masterclass 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.





Review: Dominic Valvona



Altin Gün ‘Gece’
(Glitterbeat Records) 26th April 2019


Injecting an enthusiastic energy and desire into the music of their forbearers, the Dutch sextet with Turkish roots revitalize the Anatolian songbook once again, on the follow-up LP to last year’s debut.

As the band name eludes, Altin Gün, or “golden days”, celebrate a halcyon age in Turkish music, with the germ being the country’s folk legacy, but emphasis on the developments and reinvention of the 1960s and 1970s.

Pitched somewhere between the cult, often kitsch, nuggets you find in abundance on various collections compiled by the Finders Keepers troupe (Özdemir Erdoğan ‘Karaoğlan Almanya’da’ in particular, and anything from Sevil & Ayla), and the failed Eurovision missives of bubbly zappy disco, this limbering dexterous group take the listener on a sonic flight of fantasy: both romantic and cosmic.

Some of the chosen songs on this album are associated with the late national icon, Neset Ertaś, others less so familiar. Whatever the source the halcyon tingle, shimmer and psychedelic funk licks that pump throughout each one are given a contemporary livener, but undoubtedly sound retro – though there is at least one original composition, the Lalo Schifrin meets Anatolian rap funked-up psych number, ‘Şofor Bey’.

Currently very much in vogue – though the already mentioned Finders Keepers team and many crate diggers were already on this wave decades ago -, both the old and present Turkish music scenes are enjoying their moment of exposure. Glitterbeat Records, the fine provider of this group’s latest album, have already had success with the burgeoning psychedelic-Turkish siren Gaye Su Akyol and released a collection from the legendary Istanbul doyens of acid-saz and dub, Baba Zulu. All of which, alongside Altin Gün can’t help but feed into the prescient politics of Turkey itself – all of which is far too convoluted and numerous to go into detail here, but in short, a country under the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, moving away from the more secular foundations of its celebrated moderniser Atatürk towards authoritarianism under a leadership that – after a staged (allegedly) coup – has crushed countless dissenters, critics and oppositional voices. In this heightened tension, artists, both in the country and overseas, remain cautious; the very act of playing certain kinds of music almost rebellious, especially anything with traces or a heritage that can be traced to the Kurds.

 

The group’s second LP, Gece, looks out wider than its own borders however, absorbing an eclectic collage of Egyptian, Moroder like arpeggiator, Bossa, fuzzed-up psych and funk; a sound that often simultaneously evokes Africa, Arabia and the Mediterranean.

Though tracing an ancestry back to Turkey, the sextet only born-and-raised band member from the homeland is Merve Daşdemir, who as one of the lead vocalists lends a lingering dreamy romanticism to the music, shifting between nostalgic B-movie soundtrack swoon and gauzy disco diva. Sharing those duties with her is the oozing, yearning and resigned suffering Erdinç Ecevit.

Rifling through the crates of an Istanbul record mart bazar, Altin Gün revitalizes a golden period in Turkish music; a grand age reconfigured and introduced to a global audience, saved from certain obscurity. Many listeners won’t be concerned with any of that, and will nevertheless enjoy the cosmic-fuzzed internationalism of a troupe on the rise. The Turkish legacy is in good hands.




 


Album Review: Dominic Valvona




Larry “Ratso” Sloman ‘Stubborn Heart’

(Lucky Number) 5th April 2019


Schmoozing with the very best of them over the decades, both as a receptacle and fountain of inspiration in his own right, author-lyricist Larry “Ratso” Sloman’s knockabout career trajectory has taken as many blows as successes. Lifted straight from Rock’s Back Pages, Sloman, who resembles Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan as rumpled gumshoes with a penchant for filing pathos in the style of gonzo pulp, vividly documented the counter-cultural heroes of the 1960s and 70s for a litany of titles, including, when it mattered, Rolling Stone.

Most notably encapsulating the whirlwind adulation and reverence of Dylan-on-tour, Sloman’s self-explanatory entitled On The Road With Bob Dylan account of the troubadour’s 1975 Rolling Thunder tour remains both a template and benchmark in music writing. In that same sphere of influence, rubbing shoulders with luminaries such as the already mentioned Cohen but also Lou Reed and Joan Baez (who anointed the scruffy-attired writer with that Midnight Cowboy “Ratso” nickname), Sloman collaborated with a number of doyens, writing lyrics for John Cale and Rick Derringer.

A biography specialist-investigator though, he’s also both principally and co-written books on the baby-boomer generation antagonist and revolutionary figure Abbie Hoffman (Steel The Dream), the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ frontman Anthony Kiedis (Scar Tissue), and with magic historian William Kalush, a controversial propound account of the life-and-death of Houdini (The Secret Life Of Houdini). With his star in ascendance this year – that co-authored escapologist investigation is heading to the big screen alongside a Martin Scorsese directed documentary of the fabled Days Of Thunder – Sloman has decided, in his seventies, to finally take the plunge and release his debut long player, Stubborn Heart.

Imbued by those past and present relationships and attachments he sagacious grizzled narrator borrows Dylan and Cohen’s (well at least one of them won’t be using it anymore) signature burr and half-spoken wisdom; using it well to unburden himself; opening up that old, stubborn heart of his to the overriding power of love…or something along those lines. Though the tropes are well worn, Sloman’s patter still rings true, the disheveled bon vivant parading his wisdom in a semi-confessional, semi-elder statesman style of liberation.





Every song on this album has a story, a certain providence, with the first third of this songbook featuring a cast of more contemporary soul mates. The relaxed smoky lounge smooching opener ‘I Want Everything’, which features the ariel alluring ache of the Lebanese polymath and leading progenitor of Middle Eastern electronica (as a founder of the Soapkills duo) Yasmine Hamdan, indolently journeys from youthful “world domination” exuberance and hubris to the self-realization in maturity “that love IS the drug”, and that “sacrifices must be made.” The elegantly romantic, venerable-tinged, “star-crossed” ‘Our Lady Of Light’ features Nick Cave, in The Boatman’s Call era fine fettle, dueting with Sloman on a yearning song of hypnotic worship, chained empirically to the power of their muse, whilst the sun-dappled E Street Band lilted ‘Caribbean Sunset’ features the wafting smoky-jazz blues saxophone of Paul Shapiro and dueted soul of the singer/songwriter and violinist Imani Coppola. Though my copy didn’t credit anyone on the album’s country Stones waning finale to a false deity, ‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’, this Western mythological Gram Parson’s like gospel-country hymn features (more or less) a revolving chorus of guest vocalists.

Talking of myth and its making, the often somber remorseful and venerable ‘Dying On The Vine’ was originally conceived in a hotel room off Sunset Boulevard; the result of trading lines with Tom Waits and Chuck E. Weiss we’re told. The angelic swoon of Cohen co-writer, producer and back-up singer Sharon Robinson can be heard on this sanctified plaint; that swoon going a long way in creating the right mood of grizzled exoneration at that last chance saloon, Robinson’s support came in exchange for Sloman writing the preface to On Tour With Leonard Cohen.

Night creeper Dr. John like allusions with the “children of the night” recording from a phooey Dracula movies, Muscle Shoals Stones and bowing saxophone elegy follow as Sloman offers a myriad of sage-y metaphors and analogy: Some offer consolation, others, redemption.

Wearing it well, Sloman embodies the sagacious storytelling and voice of his Boomer generation peers with relish. Like a character from his own back pages, the bon vivant of cocktail and yacht lounge blues and candid romantic troubadour rock proves it’s never too late to add another proverbial string to, an already stretched, bow. This Stubborn Heart is one classy affair.





Words: Dominic Valvona


Album Review: Dominic Valvona



Black Flower ‘Future Flora’
(Sdban Ultra) 12th April 2019


The soundtrack to a cross-pollination of the mystical and cosmological, Black Flower’s darkened flora scent of Afro-Futurist and Ethiopian jazz drifts and wafts across an atmospheric, amorphous landscape. Continuing to dream up eclectic instrumental vistas, from the loose vine-creeping and astral probed excavations of the famous Cambodian Khmer Empire-built ‘Ankor Wat’ temple complex to the trilling saxophone, desert trudge meets cornet Savoy Jazz dancehall fantasy encapsulation of the atavistic Northern Ethiopian city of Aksum, the Belgium quintet map out a musical terrain both tribally funky and expletory.

Hitching a ride on the Chariot of the Gods as they traverse legendary and hidden cities, the pyramids and desert trading posts, they absorb sounds and rhythms from all over the globe; including the bowed and percussive droning blues of the Réunion Island and archipelago derived Maloya – banned for years by the French authorities that ruled this dependency – and various Balkan traditions. And so as the emerging light of a nuzzled suffused saxophone and snake charmer flute accompanied dawn evokes an Egyptian setting at first, on the title-track odyssey, by the end of this trip the quintet have limbered and swanned through Mulatu Astatke dappled organ led Ethio-jazz, Afro-psych and ritualistic funk. The tooting horns and bouncing, spotting ‘Clap Hands’ sways between Lagos and New York, whilst the retro-fitted cosmic ‘Early Days Of Space Travel Part 2’ takes-off on a flight of psychedelic dub fantasy from an imagined West African outpost of NASA.

Though framed as a metaphor for the importance of “feeding and watering powerful and revolutionary ideas and initiatives that can save the world”, Black Flower express themselves with a controlled vigor and magical rhapsody: exotic, experimental but deeply thoughtful.

Future Flora invokes escapism yet chimes with the need to articulate the uncertainties and anguish of our present times by creating a rich tapestry of universal unity; channeling the sounds, heritage and history of cultures seldom celebrated in the West. Magical, mystical, diverse, Black Flower take jazz into some interesting directions; the roots of which, incubated in the Ethiopian hothouse, look set to break through the brutal concrete miasma to blossom in the light.





Album Review: Dominic Valvona



Per W/Pawlowski ‘Outsider/Insider’
(Jezus Factory/Starman Records) 29th March 2019



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.

No stranger to regular readers of this blog, the Hitsville Drunk and solo collaborator in a host of projects that include a Zappa bastardized covers album with The Flat Earth Society and a Dutch language folk record under the Maurits Pauwels appellation, Pawlowski last appeared as a member of the Pawlowski, Trouve & Ward triumvirate, who’s soloist shared collection, Volume 2, showcased various expletory suites from each respective artist involved. For his part, Pawlowski contributed a 80s schlock driller-killer, straight-to-video, soundtrack (complete with made-up advert slots); the highlight of which, and a blast of inspiration for this latest album, was the pyrotechnic explosion, fist-bumping, AM radio rock anthem, ‘Starught’.

His compatriot on this ride, Per W, has a form that stretches right back to the late 60s, most notably as the bassist for The Misters and then as a guitarist for The Employees. A solo career in the early 80s saw the idiosyncratic musician knock out a slew of albums, the majority of which were purposely limited to cassette only releases; his first proper vinyl album, Pearls Before Swine, arriving in the later part of that decade. Various stints in the JJ Burnel produced Polyphonic Size and the Sandie Trash, Strictly Rockers, Chop Chicks and De Lama followed. In more recent years he’s recorded an album of Velvet Underground covers (called Inhale Slowly And Feel) and the DRILL collection of abstract music, composed for an art installation based on rebuilding the composer and inventor Raymond Scott’s Manhattan Research Inc. studio. A mixed resume I’m sure you’ll agree; one that fuels a diverse twenty-one track spanning opus of songs, traverses and instrumental vignettes.

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 overbearance of American culture (“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.

There are twilight rodeo love swoons, complete with female muse (‘We Won’t Lose Touch’), pendulous Marillion-meets-Dave Arnold-soundtrack like jabbering allusions to Beatles songs (a cover for all I know of ‘Eleanor Rigby’, or just nicking the title), early Soluwax cowbell synth-rock (‘Waitin’ For The Con Man’), and various probes into the cosmos with the arpeggiator stained-glass synth-y new romantics ‘Human Groin’, space-rock doctors waiting room diorama ‘Say What You Do’, and glistened Tangerine Dream, ‘The Dream Pop Spa’. Visages of new wave pop bastions The Cars connect with Gothic vapours; breakouts of dEUS rock wrangle with Outside era Bowie sinister art-school pretensions; and Eagle-Eye Cherry drowns in post-punk malady on an album of both wizened angst and “que sera sera” relief.

At ease in their own skins, these two mischievous bedfellows have a devil-may-care attitude to making music; free of commercial pressures (to a point) Pawlowski and Per W seem to record whatever the fuck they want, yet do it with total conviction and adroit skill.

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.




Review: Dominic Valvona



Vukovar ‘Cremator’
(Other Voices Records) 25th May 2019


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.

Yet in only four years since laying down the foundations of their stark morbid curiosity and industrial Gothic pop debut Emperor, Vukovar have managed to record seven albums via umpteen labels and always via a series of travails and fall-outs. Flanked at the time of recording by Dan Shea and Buddy Preston, and with the dutiful Phil Reynolds of Small Bear Records fame sticking it all together once more as producer, the seventh three-syllable signature grand theatre of despondent romanticism is a collaborative affairs of a kind, featuring as it does both the vaporous linger and narration of Holly Hero (Smell & Quim) and omnipresence of Simon Morris (The Ceramic Hobs).

Cremator arrives just as the Vukovar look certain to split: Buddy and Dan breaking away recently to form the Beauty Stab duo, their debut single already released on Metal Postcard Records. Carrying the torch for now, going forward, Rick will continue with the Vukovar mantle. Far from orchestrated, Cremator is nonetheless a swansong, a curtain call at least for the original lineup. It just happens to also be one of the band’s best and most accomplished works.

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’.

Elsewhere a Gothic esoteric atmosphere of post-punk and apparition crooned rock’n’roll invokes a communion between Alan Vega and the Silver Apples on the magisterial downer ‘Internment By Mirrors’, Coil and Joy Division on the album’s imperial vortex of sorrow, half-narrated, opener ‘Roma Invicta’, and Blixa Bargeld era Bad Seeds leap into the augur’s furnace with The Sisters Of Mercy, on the heavy toiled ‘Voices/Seers/Voices’.

It sounds darkly glorious in all its melodrama and pomposity, with as cerebral high artistic references as the infamous Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s feature length documentary ‘Love Meetings’, and the ‘Decameron’ 100-story spanning novellas of the 14th century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio: In fact, what with the album’s opening use of the triumphal Latin mantra of an all-conquering Roman Empire (before it’s famous fall), there’s a lot of Italian, both atavistic and modern, on show; that and a prevailing theme of love, whether it’s spurned, lost, mourned or unspoken.

Once more unto the breach, Vukovar cast augurs or reflect, mooningly on the past; channeling various vessels from beyond the ether as they prowl the shadow world in pursuit or articulating a vision of dark arts experimental drama. As with the previous Monument LP they recorded with the gloom luminary Michael Cashmore, Vukovar find congruous soul mates in their choice of collaborators, Hero and Morris; attuning those individuals equally mysterious and supernatural leanings and illusions to the ambitious Vukovar mysticism.

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.





Words: Dominic Valvona


Playlist: Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver




I’ll be brief – less chat, more music please – as you want the goods, but the Quarterly Revue is our chance to pick out choice tracks to represent a three month period in the Monolith Cocktail’s output. New releases and the best of reissues plucked from the team – me, Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Andrew C. Kidd and Gianluigi Marsibilio – rub shoulders in the most eclectic of playlists. The full track list is awesome, global and diverse and can be found below.



Tracklist in full: 

Abdesselem Damoussi & Nour Eddine ‘Sabaato Rijal’
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba (Ft. Abdoulaye Diabate) ‘Fanga’
Foals ‘Cafe D’Athens’
Kel Assouf ‘Tenere’
Deep Cut ‘Sharp Tongues’
Royal Trux ‘Suburban Junky Lady’
Ifriqiyya Electrique ‘Mashee Kooka’
39 Clocks ‘Psycho Beat’
The Proper Ornaments ‘Crepuscular Child’
Swazi Gold ‘Free Nelly’
Eerie Wanda ‘Magnetic Woman’
Julia Meijer ‘Fall Into Place’
Mozes And The Firstborn (Ft. PANGEA) ‘Dadcore’
Lite Storm ‘People (Let It Go Now)’
Downstroke & Gee Bag ‘Ooh My My My’
Errol Dunkley ‘Satisfaction’
Old Paradice/Confucius MC/Morriarchi ‘Sunkissed’
Black Flower ‘Future Flora’
Santiago Cordoba ‘Red’
Dexter Story (Ft. Kibrom Birhane) ‘Bila’
Houssam Gania ‘Moulay Lhacham’
Garrett N. ‘Avant’
Sir Robert Orange Peel ‘I’ve Started So I’ll Finish’
Gunter Schickert ‘Wohin’
Defari & Evidence ‘Ackknowledgement’
Eddie Russ ‘The Lope Song’
Oh No & Madlib ‘Big Whips’
CZARFACE & Ghostface ‘Mongolian Beef’
Greencryptoknight ‘Superman’
Choosey & Exile (Ft. Aloe Blacc) ‘Low Low’
Little Albert ‘Gucci Geng’
The KingDem ‘The Conversation (We Ain’t Done Yet)’
Wiki ‘Cheat Code’
Dear Euphoria ‘Push-Pull’
Tim Linghaus ‘Crossing Bornholmer (Reprise, Pt. II)’
Station 17 (Ft. Harald Grosskopf & Eberhard Kranemann) ‘…And Beyond’
Heyme ‘Noisz’
Clovvder ‘Solipsismo’
Ustad Saami ‘God Is’
Louis Jucker ‘Seagazer’
The Telescopes ‘Don’t Place Your Happiness In The Hands Of Another’
Blue House ‘Margate Jukebox’
Tempertwig ‘Apricot’
3 South & Banana ‘Magdalen Eye’
With Hidden Noise ‘The Other Korea’
Beauty Stab ‘O Eden’
Coldharbourstores ‘Something You Do Not Know’
Katie doherty & The Navigators ‘I’ll Go Out’
Mekons ‘How Many Stars?’
Graham Domain ‘Farewell Song’


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