Album Review/Dominic Valvona

Rafiki Jazz ‘NDUGGU’
(Konimusic) 26th March 2021

With possibly one of the most diverse lineups going, the polygenesis Rafiki Jazz ensemble can boast of eight different languages and between them play at least thirty different instruments, and that’s without counting their guest contributors.

The foundation core of eight band members represents near enough every corner of the globe; from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, India and Africa. It’s a cross-pollination of cultures that musically weaves together each member’s heritage seamlessly. And so you’re just as likely to hear the West African spindly harp-like kora alongside a tapping, bobbing set of tablas, or a vague air of Moorish Spain, South America and romantic Urdu vocals all sharing space in the same song. 

Following on from 2019’s entrancing and captivating ‘mystic utopia’ translated Saraba Sufiyana album, and with funding from the Arts Council in England, Rafiki Jazz now reveal their fifth omnivorous geographical songbook, recorded remotely in lockdown, NDUGGU. Pronounced “dug-goo” that title means “dust”; a theme that is mentioned throughout the album but one that is in particular a reference to the increasing desertification of the Sahel region in Northern Africa, where climate change is having an erosive and unstable effect.

Dust, as the PR spill reminds us, is also our ‘ultimate destiny’. The lingering dust of previous generations imbues this eight track album of serious but diaphanous, harmoniously articulated dreams and filmic quality traverses. Though deeply affecting, these borderless mergers somehow wash over the listener with a certain translucence and lightness of touch; like a silken veil over the romantic floated Turkish language ‘Gesi Baglari’ (an ode to the band’s manager), and sadder, clandestine Tango across the Arabian Seas to Pakistan ‘Tum Na Aaye’.

Elsewhere there’s a lyrical, sweet synchronicity of Tamil, India and West Africa on the opening enchanted, almost-duet(ed) fluty ‘Naalaikku Nalla Naal’, and a languid Ghanaian Highlife hop between the Hispaniola, South Seas and Afro-Caribbean that settles down into a snuggled sunny groove, ‘Ngozi Ucheoma’.

Intoxicated opium scented Arabia to the Upper Nile via a magical Kashmir lullaby, scenes, and concerns are set to heartfelt yearning vocals and gently stirred rhythms. Rafiki Jazz’s main strength then, is in transferring listeners to these exotic musical environments – many of which are suffering from the harshest consequences of climate change, and in many cases too, violent conflict.

Created in the shadow of Covid with all the restrictions it brings, and because of that recorded remotely, NDUGGU is still every bit as beautifully conceived, harmonious, and of course as embracing of diversity, as previous international affairs from the band.  With a focus on drawing attention to communities on the frontline of global change and extreme upheaval, Rafiki Jazz keep a number of forgotten people, their compatriots in many cases, in the spotlight. They do this with a most stunning, panoramic and worldly rich and lyrical songbook: a celebration in a sense against the forces that have tried to disconnect, disunite these international voices and musicians.   

See also…

Rafiki Jazz  ‘Saraba Sufiyana’

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

PLAYLIST/DOMINIC VALVONA

For those of you unfamiliar with the long-running Monolith Cocktail Social Playlist, this is Dominic Valvona’s eclectic and cross-generational imaginary and dream version of the blog’s radio show. It’s also a chance to show off his record collection, and the sort of music he’d play when DJing over the past thirty years. Expect the unexpected, as the oddities and the sublime rub up against each other on a curated playlist with no limits, no borders, and no one to please other than ourselves: we just hope you enjoy and share some of our tastes, or get switched and turned on to what we rave about.

Volume #53 includes the mad, bad and dangerous to know alongside turns from the post-pink, pub rock, jazz, Krautrock, psychedlic, garage, transient, soundtrack genres. Dominic also raises a glass to both the 50th anniversary of Amon Duul II’s Dance Of The Lemmings and the 30th anniversary of R.E.M.’s Out Of Time albums.

The Full Track List Is As Follows:

The Count Bishops ‘Down In The Bottom’
Viv And The Sect. ‘Blues Days’
Poison Girls ‘Underbitch’
Oblivians ‘Motorcycle Leather Boy’
Bailey’s Nervous Kats ‘Surf Express’
Avavikko ‘Alas Volgaa’
Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski ‘Sweet Beat’
Ihre Kinder ‘Wrote’
Message ‘THOUGHTS’
Afous ‘Malha’
Ernie Hawks ‘Cold Turkey Time’
Phill Most Chill ‘This Is What It Is’
Lejuan Love ‘My Hardcore Rhymes’
Marley Marl & Craig G ‘Droppin’ Science’
Falle Nioke ‘Barke’
Exuma ‘Empty Barrels’
The Cutlass Dance Band ‘Odofo Na Aden’
Comadre Florzinha ‘Arauna’
Maria Monti ‘Il Pavone’
Freur ‘Matters Of The Heart’
The Sixth Great Lake ‘Ballad Of A Sometimes Traveller’
The Field Mice ‘End Of An Affair’
R.E.M. ‘Country Feedback (Live)’
Supreme Dicks. ‘In A Sweet Song’
Elysian Spring ‘2 & 2’
Dennis Farnon ‘The Trackers’
Compton & Batteau ‘Honeysuckle’
Bill Jerpe ‘Mrs. Frost’
Michael Bundt ‘Midnight Orange Juice’
Alphataurus ‘Croma’
Ruth Copeland ‘Your Love Been So Good To Me’
Peace and Love ‘Until’
Remigio Ducros ‘Fabbrica Vuota’
Amon Duul II ‘Chamsin: Toxicological Whispering’
Eroc ‘Abendmeer’


Compilation Breakdown/Review: Words by Dominic Valvona

Disco Zombies  ‘South London Stinks’
(Optic Nerve)  29th January 2021

Emerging from a fit of bands during the punk era, Leicester’s Disco Zombies never quite broke through despite meeting with the approval of John Peel and bridging both the agreeable knockabout youthfulness of The Undertones and more sneering, University Challenge politico riling of their Tory-baiting peers. Pub rock to fuzz; new wave and even post-punk, they could sound at any one time like The Skids, Damned, Magazine, Swell Maps, Subway Sect and even (on the slower Indie roaming ‘New Scars’) XTC.

Formed almost at the apex of the punk explosion by Andy Ross (vocals and guitar), Johnny ‘Guitar’ Hawkins (as his moniker makes pretty obvious, guitar), Geoff ‘Dod’ Dodimead (bass) and Andy Fullerton (drums), the DC played their debut gig at the student halls of residence, we’re told, to “a packed room of cross-legged intellectuals”. That line-up soon expanded to accommodate Dave Henderson of The Blazers; all part of a scene that could boast the cult obscurity of bands like The Foamettes, Dead Fly Syndrome and The RTRs. The DC would bring in The Foamettes’ guitarist Steve Gerrard when they soon relocated to London in the vain hope of making it to replace founding member Johnny Guitar, who couldn’t go as he had another year at Uni to finish. As it happened, he never really missed his break, as even his replacement soon returned home from the capital due to the lack of success. Gerrard would however make it into Leicester’s version of Rock’s Back Pages by joining another cult band, The Bomb Party.

In an age characterised by the spirit of diy and lo fi, the band recorded their first EP for the fleeting Uptwon Records venture set up by Carl Tebbutt. This now legendary EP, recorded in one four-hour session, featured a Blazer’s number (‘Top Of The Pops’) and a trio of rough ’n’ ready Stiff Records, tongue-in-cheek adolescent ravers (‘Time Will Tell’, ‘Punk A GoGo’, and ‘Disco Zombies’). It was unfortunately shelved due to the occupational hazard of these enterprises going bust. They still carried on however, recording a session for a local radio station, the only fruits of which (included on this twenty-track revision compilation of mishits) is the rebel-country meets Skids goggle-box sneer ‘TV Screen Existence’. The DC would also go on a mini tour showcase of their hometown, playing five nights in five different pubs. But a move to the Big Smoke was on the cards after exhausting the Leicester scene, and hopefully a crack at breaking through. It’s hardly a spoiler to suggest they didn’t; the compilation title of South London Stinks a dead giveaway, and perhaps broadside at the Deptford clique of the time.

In another customary shift of line-up, the group recruited Mark Sutherland to fill the gap left by Gerrard. Gigs at a litany of infamous London showcase spots followed: the Scala, Hope & Anchor, North London Poly. Out of frustration, or just ennui, Andy Ross launched his own label, South Circular Records as a vehicle to releasing the band’s debut single proper; the gnarled Jam-knocks-about-with-The-Clash National Front parodied, ‘Drums Over London’. A classic single of the period, it was totally misinterpreted by Rock Against Racism, who missed the irony, believing it to be an endorsement of far right anti-immigration rhetoric. John Peel had to weigh-in on the side of the DC, to clear up the misunderstanding. It’s more or less the band’s anthem. Alongside overseeing an EP from the Peel approved Adicts, Ross’ label put out the Magazine fatalism with white disco Dr. Boss drum machine shaking, ‘Here Come The Buts’: Another slight turn in direction for the band, now expanding their two-minute blasts to over four, you can hear a hint of more brooding post-punk and a resigned polemic on that record. Just before that diy label folded, the DC recorded the Damned like parody sporting spectacle (“Best position to the chase and pursuit”) ‘The Year Of The SexOlympics’, the wrangled guitar and Lou Reed fronts Voidiods, lyrically violent, ‘Target Practice’, and the already mentioned ‘New Scars’. None of which ever saw the light of day. Still, persevering and now in the dying embers of punk they knocked out the brilliant, more upbeat new wave track ‘Where Have You Been Lately Tony Hately’.  Showing a keenness for knockabout pun and chirpy wit, with references to pop and sporting culture they paid a sort of wry homage to the extremely well-travelled English centre-forward of the title: A player who moved between eleven clubs in his two decade plus career, even joining (for the briefest of times) the beleaguered USA side, the Boston Minutemen.  In a similar vane, but perhaps obscuring a more honest debate about the sex industry and its troubled, used-up pinups, and voyeurism, detachment, the band released a Monochrome Set meets Swell Maps imbued aphorism to the 70s sexpot Mary Millington; star of untold jazz-mags and blue movies in the UK, and the girl-next-door fuck fantasy of a million men.  Drugs, depression, debt, the old bill, and the moralist guardians of so-called decency hounded and hampered Mary into an early grave, the sex star taking her own life by overdose in 1979. With that in mind, the DC song is more tragedy, elegy than rave-up and sniggering schoolboy hijinks.

‘Tony Hately’ met with Peel enthusiasm, but other than a test pressing, the single was never properly released; ending up only subsequently on the Cordelia label’s Obscure Independent Classics compilation – a title that tells you all you need to know about that particular chapter in the band’s career. A consequence of this was the break-up of the band. Sutherland opened a studio in Bow, London; Dodimead (god forbid) got a day job, and Fullerton…well he was already in gainful employment. The remainder joined the experimental Club Tango; though later on, Ross would go on to discover bands himself, such as Blur most famously, for the legendary Brit-pop era Food label he started with the ex-Teardrop Explodes’ David Balfe.

Yet they could never let it lie, and thirty years after initially splitting up, the DC (ala the drum machine incarnation) descended upon Sutherland’s studio to record the extremely limited edition 10” pairing of the Sci-Fi homage ‘Night Of The Big Heat’ and bandy JFK conspiracy shtick ‘LHO’.  The first of these is a broody indie take on the cult Terence Fisher directed and Hammer double-act of Lee and Cushing 1967 environmental terror of the same name, its partner, a motorcade denunciation vision of a Brit-pop Dead Kennedys. A few years later original drummer Andy Fullerton kicked the staid Dr. Rhythm into touch, recording a trio of originals from a bygone punk age: the antithesis of X-Factor chart-topping mediocrity ‘Hit’, The Dickies bash around with Ramones Cold War pastiche ‘Lenin’s Tomb’ (“All good Russians visit Lenin’s Tomb” you know), and polka-punk resigned parody on the banality of nuclear Armageddon ‘Paint It Red’ (“As the arms race escalates, refit the double-glazing”). All three were released on limited 10”. That recent hurrah style resurrection was followed up by a gig at The Dublin Castle in 2019. And just to make certain that the Disco Zombies don’t vanish from Sniffin’ Glues Back Pages, Optic Nerve have collected all those singles, tracks and missives into this “stinking” collection: probably the first and only chance to find the back catalogue in one place, from a band that seldom managed to release much music to the public.

Shelved recordings, ones salvaged from obscurity mingle with Peel favourites and the few actual physical records they managed to put out. Not really part of any particular scene, out-of-sorts with the London set anyway, the Disco Zombies were never as rowdy and antagonistic as the Pistols, but never quite as cuddly as Eddie And The Hot Rods. They did cover many bases however, developing and changing with the times. Above all that and most importantly, they made some cracking records: which you will discover yourself when digging into this fandom compilation. Another piece in the UK punk jigsaw filled in. Dominic Valvona

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Reviews Column
Dominic Valvona

Regular followers may have picked up that my Tickling Our Fancy roundup is mostly an albums heavy affair, and that I’ve tried to post (quite sporadically) a separate singles, EPs, videos and one-offs style column (the Perusal) in the past. Due to the demand and fact that I’m just knackered keeping up, I’m going to try out a new format of sorts, to include everything in one place. With that in mind, there’s new singles from HighSchool, Sebastian Reynolds, and Escupemetralla. And both a performance excerpt and EP from the Jerusalem sludge rock outfit Andarta.

Albums wise we have the long-player debut from agit-soul-punk ensemble Iklan, epic45 ruminate with a wash of rural House indie and nostalgic gauzy tones on their new album Cropping The Aftermath; a most experimental overlap of Afro-Caribbean and Panamanian jazz from the dynamic Aquiles Navarro & Tcheser Holmes union (a side excursion to their part in the Irreversible Entanglements quintet); and John Lane, as the menagerie A Journey Of Giraffes, soundtracks a mindful escape on his latest suite for Somewherecold Records, Sunshine Pilgrim Map. Also, we have Spacelab on a mission to delve through alien soundscapes and mischievous foolery on their new oeuvre Kaleidomission, and Blang Records celebrate fifteen years in the business with another label compilation of maverick antifolk, punk, indie and underpass soul.

Singles.

Escupemetralla ‘I Always Reivindico El Nail Art’
3rd October 2020

You can try to describe and explain the crazy that is the organism, organization, the fiendish underground hub of the disturbing avant-garde and experimental, the makers of sound bites and broadcasts, the damned hub that is Escupemetralla (Spanish we’re assured for “spits shrapnel”) but no one can quite put it like those anonymous miscreants themselves. Just take a gander at this following description for the nail painting muse single ‘I Always Reivindico El Nail Art’.

“Our new track benefits from the wonderful collaboration of the sublime, immeasurable and chiripitifláutica plutonic artist known as Rosalía, muse of surrealism since Salvador Dalí walked her half dressed in Granollers (province of Barcelona) on the back of a giant plastic camel in one of his well-known happenings of the ‘60s. After her glittering appearances in corpore glutinoso at the Latin-Chichimeca Kilogrammy Awards and her yelling participation in some plumbeous works by illustrious rappers, trappers, folk singers and flamenco artists of every moral and amoral nature, our singer blesses us with her archangelic presence in this melodic song by Escupemetralla, with whom she has signed an exclusive contract for the next four or five years.

Ever since Dalí roared that famous mantra, “Booterrflaí, booterrflaí” [that is, “Butterfly, butterfly” as pronounced by a Spaniard not trying to sound British] live on TV, only Rosalía managed to condense so much chestnut-flavored Spanglish into a single sentence: “I always reivindico el nail art” [that is, “I always vindicate nail art”]. With this phrase she revealed to us once and for all the sources from which she draws the inspiration with which she commits her outrages: Fu Manchu, Freddy Kruger and Edward Scissorhands.”

I don’t believe a word of it. But who cares when such disturbing Fangoria nightmarish hallucinatory surrealisms sound this great. A perfect fantasy in time for Halloween.

Sebastian Reynolds ‘Diving Board’
(Faith & Industry) 9th October 2020

In the run-up to next year’s Nihilism is Pointless EP (released 29th January 2021), the highly prolific Oxford-based polymath keyboard player, pianist, producer and label owner Sebastian Reynolds is releasing a number of singles from this evocatively sweeping and sophisticated multi-layering suite during 2020. The first of which is the semi-classical quivery swelled spatial drama with moments of grinded and sparked dissonance ‘Diving Board’.

Following on from his recent The Universe Remembers EP – a philosophical, religious and metaphysical cosmological junction of dystopian literature and Buddhist Eschatology – and the incredibly personal stand-alone single ‘Heartbeat/My Mother Was The Wind’, Reynolds once more sends out the mind-expanding frequencies, channeling, as he puts it, “…the altered states of consciousness experienced through meditation, cold water exposure and prayer, it represents the deep breath before taking the plunge.”

Nihilism is Pointless and the new single are being released via producer Capitol K’s Faith & Industry label, the release platform for Capitol K’s output as well as John Johanna, Blue House, Thomas Nation (all three of which have featured on the MC and made our “choice” albums of the year) and Champagne Dub.

Expect a full review in due course next year.

See also…

Sebastian Reynolds ‘The Universe Remembers’  (here..)

HighSchool ‘New York, Paris And London’
(Dalliance Recordings) 16th October 2020

After making a splash with their debut broody bounced and hazed Joy Division meets The Cure debut single ‘Frosting’, the effortlessly cool Melbourne duo have signed to the UK label Dalliance Recordings for the aloof triple-cities of culture entitled follow-up, New York, Paris And London. Exuberating a kind of bonus-of-youth with states of indolent dependency, the post-punk naval gazers explore the “pendulum that swings between social anxiety and elation” on this languorous new single that bares hints of The Smiths, Strokes and, again, The Cure.

The single was recorded by noted engineer Naomune Anzai (Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Cash Savage and the Last Drinks, The Teskey Brothers) and mastered by Mikey Young (Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Total Control) – the Total Control reference there making perfect sense when you listen back to New York, Paris And London. Anyway I think they’re bloody great; and I’m quite excited about what they’ll release next.

See also…

HighSchool ‘Frosting’  (here…)

Andarta ‘Live at Studio Straus (an excerpt)’
‘ST’ EP

More miscellaneous then single/album whatever, I just had to share this incredible dark, grinding, thrashing lumbering concentration of dragging doom from the holy center of the impending Biblical Armageddon, Jerusalem. Andarta, which sort of means memorial statue in Hebrew, is a causal union of friends corralled by local label honcho and drummer Itai Anker. Here I’ve included them in live mode and the link to their most recent EP. The spoils of one of their most recent ritual interactions are expressed as a weaponized vision of morbidly curious early Bad Seeds, Swans and dark metal sludge. 

ALBUMS..

Aquiles Navarro & Tcheser Holmes ‘Heritage Of The Invisible II’
(International Anthem) October 23rd 2020

Channeling a combination of Panamanian and Afro-Caribbean heritages, the trumpet and percussionist duo of Aquiles Navarro and Tcheser Holmes come on like an abstract Latin version of the Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell union with their experimental jazz partnership. A side excursion, exploration from the duo’s membership of the burgeoning freewheeling avant-garde quintet Irreversible Entanglements, the Navarro-Holmes combo brings a partnership that began and took root when the two were studying at the New England Conservatory back together for an untethered gyration, contortion of “existential joy”. For this is a sort of escapism from the Irreversible mood of political angst and dissonant freefalling for something approaching improvised “jubilance”. 

Navarro and Holmes feed off their polygenesis upbringings and travails with a sound imbued by the luminaries of the Panama jazz and Latin scenes, the experimental doyens of America’s Mid-West and East Coast, and the Caribbean; all of which sprung or progressed from Africa. Navarro, who’s principle instrument is the trumpet but also proves a deft touch on the upright piano (like a saloon style Oscar Peterson), Moog and Juno synths, was born in Toronto; his family uprooted from their Panama home during the murky Manuel Noriega chapter, the fall out of which saw America invade the Central American canal corridor in the late 80s. He proved a real talent, studying with compatriot trumpeter and Fania All Stars luminary Victor “Vitan” Paz and composer, saxophonist Carlos Garnett. Holmes meanwhile was born into the Pan-African community of Brooklyn; revolving around the spiritual Ausar Auset Society and his family’s Bennu Auser Dance Company. The blossoming energetic drummer, percussionist was encouraged to study by his cultural arts programmer mum and classically trained pianist uncle (and this is where the two crossover) from Panama.  Both future explorers of contemporary jazz would meet in Boston whilst studying, forming a congruous union that holds together an amorphous dynamism of the strung-out and incipient.

Sparring at different intensities, speeds and signatures the duo keep various off-the-grid tangents, visions, together; combining acoustic improvisation with overdubs of synth, vocals, additional instrumentation and recurring snatches of musing conversations. Some of this comes from a guest list that includes the Spanish poet Marcos de la Fuente, pianist Nick Sanders (who plays a Thelonious style jazzy blues mosey on the album’s honky-tonk and Savoy label roll back ‘M.O.N.K (Most Only Never Know)’), Panamanian “mejuranero” (a folkloric five-string chordophone carved from a single block of wood) player Ricardo de León, and the soulful tripping vocalist Brigitte Zozula. A further guest spot arrives in the form of an Autechre-crosses-streams-with-DJ Shadow acid gauzy Techno transformation from the Philly-based composer and electronic artist Madam Data.  A barest semblance of the duo can be heard in a repeating loop to infinity that echoes throughout a wobbly warping dance mix of pulsing futurism.

The rest of this album features profound poetics reverberating in a play-off between Holmes thrashing rolling tight breaks, cymbal splashes, rattles and twills and Navarro’s blurts, spirals, airy ascendancy and short, repeated bursts. The opening meditational reading pitches Gurumanix and Kosmische undertows of slithery acid-synth against “unstructured” Cecil Taylor. And on the “celebration of life” framed optimistic augur of hope and unity, ‘Pueblo’, a lilted Latin Herb Albert teams up with Don Cherry. It’s a constant shifting balance of falling and less chaotic, more rhythmic sparring.

Empirical memories and reverberations of recognizable voice, instrumentation in the most abstracted passages merge with tightened pliable performances. Technically brilliant; pushing at the perimeters without losing the listener, the duo have an exceptional feel and relationship, guiding as they do, each other towards such recondite extremes of experimentation and articulation.

Lending the language of the avant-garde jazz of their heritage, the “invisible” people whose contributions to the form and beyond go largely unnoticed, emerge to inspire this impressive album; a sort of Clouddead of jazz every bit as progressive and interesting as their contributions to the Irreversible project. Whilst that unit’s live tour has been put on hold, a pandemic-imposed reality has concentrated the minds of the duo and given them space to experiment and follow a different path: A really clever one at that.

epic45 ‘Cropping The Aftermath’
(Wayside & Woodland Recordings) 23rd October 2020

From those stuck-in-the-sticks bedroom music dreamers epic45, another expansive gauzy soundtrack of translucent gazing and pastoral electronica dance music with whiffs of nostalgia and ruminations on the, all too quick, passing of time. Yes, Ben Holton, Rob Glover and long-term collaborator James Yates articulate an abstract longing for less dreadful times with a wash of diaphanous atmospherics, radiant House music sparkles, Bloc Party indie breakbeats and trance.

Framed, at least in the promotional email, as a kind of trip back down memory lane, the roots, blossoming of epic45’s inception – a creative escapism from the boredom of life in the middle-of-nowhere – in the 90s starts the ball rolling with reminiscing tones. Musically the lads evoke a redolent soundboard of 808 State, Bowie’s more downbeat moments on Earthling, the softened lingering’s of the Durutti Column guitar, shoegazing and the Aphex Twin. That’s some spread, and one that’s wrapped up in a lush dreamy drift of both the audibly and more hushed whispered, reverberated meanderings and heartened sensibilities of the vocalized sentiments. 

The second project from epic45 in 2020, Cropping The Aftermath continues with the sonic scenic illusions of their We Were Never Here photo book; snapshots and longer gazes from the past, entwined with moods transduced into shimmery mirages and rainstorms. Feeling at times like another summer of love, there’s a real sense of that late 80s club and indie sound so beloved of Madchester: radient-House you could call it. ‘Garage Days’ actually sounds like the band remixing themselves on an acid-soaked glide of oceanic techno, ghostly vocal traces and electronic bobbing toms. Those Bloc Party-esque indie breakbeat drums busily work away (sometimes venturing into d’n’b and even jazz) throughout the album as the washes and gossamer synthesized orbiting shimmers and sweeps waft around in the foreground. There’s a moment when it even all evokes a kind of Ibiza indie mirage; the sort Tim Burgess has been found to swim around in.

In between we have those lingered pastoral sets. As the name obviously suggests, ‘Waking Up In A Field’ is full of chirping morning bird choruses and the dewy sounds of, well, a field, but interspersed with fleeting reversal effects and a synthesized come-down.

The passing of time and the profound acknowledgement of reaching middle age with all its realizations is a right inevitable bastard to wrestle with. But few manage to fit it in such a picturesque soundtrack of gauzy, hazy yearnings. As that old adage goes: don’t grow up, it’s a con (or words to that affect). epic45 have come a long way since those bedroom music making days, yet that early wonder, hunger and camaraderie in hasn’t diminished one bit; the lads pushing the envelope as ever with a flair for producing minor rural electronic yearnings of profound veiled beauty.   

Iklan ‘Album Number 1’
(Soulpunk) 19th October 2020

Despite the attitude and volatility, this assembled cast of pissed-off musical malcontents sounds surprisingly controlled and soulful when chucking a proverbial Molotov into the current incendiary mix of division and pandemic.

Under the collective platform of Iklan, Mercury Prize winning producer and four-decade-plus stalwart of the underground music scene Timothy London, singer-nurse Law Holt and, on backing vocals, 90s one-hit wonders Jacqui and Pauline Cuff (aka the Leith Congregational Choir and before that “Hippychick” hitsters Soho) come together to fire off sonic and verbal broadsides at the current shower. For his part, London brings a sophisticated edgy production of tetchy, piston tapping Trip-Hop, House and both synth-pop and synth-sinister to the mix, whilst Holt brings fire and soul in equal measures; switching from meandrous spiky R&B to rap. Accentuating or punctuating those vocals, the Cuffs offer a suffused chorus that sometimes borders on dark cyber-gospel.

The name of the label for this venture coins the group’s sound well: “soulpunk”. It certainly has the spirit of punk (and post-punk for that matter), and is extremely, despite the rhetoric ad flippant birdfinger “fuck u”, delivered with a soulful wandering pitch.  Despondent as much as incandescent with rage, Iklan come across as a kind of subtle TV On The Radio. Better still, Young Fathers – which isn’t surprising as Law has appeared with the Edinburgh group on a number of occasions and is part of that capital’s much-talked about scene. You could also throw in FKA Twigs, Tamar Kaman (of the Van Allen Belt), Tricky and even a wallowing, more foreboding version of tune-yards to that list. Though the Iklan sound is a mostly ominous one, full of futuristic dystopian warpings and woozy despondency; wrapped up in a subtle deep groove and staggered sound bed of meticulously techy beats, buzzes, sirens and metallic percussion: A record that looms large in the stairwell of a broken estate, yet shakes, dances and thumps with a f-bomb littered fury that proves far more articulate and rhythmic than you’d expect.

Law struts as much as riles in encapsulating her daily life experiences as a young black woman and nurse in the increasingly hostile environment of a pandemic gripped city – there’s even lyrical references to a shooting. It’s antipop in a way; the message delivered in a velvet gauntlet of R&B infused rioting. An album fit for the times we’re living through.

Also see..

Iklan ‘Suffer 2’ Single (here…)

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Sunshine Pilgrim Map’
(Somewherecold Records) 23rd October 2020

From the very beginning of the Monolith Cocktail a decade ago, the career of the sonic explorer John Lane seems to have tied in with our own development: from the very first Beach Boys lo fi seashell bedroom symphonies of John’s first submission to the blog under the Expo moniker, through to his ever more experimental peregrinations under the menagerie A Journey Of Giraffes, and his most recent blossoming releasing music with the Somewherecold label.

His homage love Haiku to Susumu Yokota Kona album and ambitious atavistic Caucasus purview Armenia probably two of his best ambient oeuvres both arrived with little fanfare in the last year. His fourth, and diaphanous, album for that label is no less impressive: an “archipelago of the mind” evoking sunshine pilgrimage, soundtracked by the tropics and fantastical.  

Drifting across a translucent ocean to a virtual oasis, John lures the listener away from the pandemic suffocation of reality. As castaways in our own thoughts, pilgrims to, perhaps, an as yet unspoiled island, we’re submerged in a gently unfurled soundscape of mystery; an ambient wash of mirror-y love letters to Bamboo music and Sokamoto, metallic industrial scored dramas and weather reports. It’s a microcosm of Japanese referenced sparks of inspiration, profound philosophical island paradise references and contemplation; a world in which idiosyncratic oriental art forms (“Kintsugi”, the art of replacing broken pottery of all things) and fortune cookies crumble into a Bermudan dreamy islet, probed by a Kosmische accompanied submersible dive into the depths of the cerebral.

Pitched between the golden radiance of Laraaji and the more mysterious ghostly soundtracks of Brian Reitzell, there’s also a nod to John’s Brian Wilson influence, with a transformed vision of Pet Sounds acid-tropical tremolo, vibrato and shaking percussion signature on the album’s finale, ‘Asana The Giant’.

Tunneled drones, submerged obscured marine life, oriental chimes, crystallizations, rain patters on metal surfaces, moist droplets, cyclonic vapours, rolling storm clouds, glassy scribbles, insect chatter all converge to form a most subtly mindful safe zone: a hideaway from the real world. How John can continue to be overlooked in the world of ambient and experimental music is beyond me. He seriously deserves recognition, support and above all else, credit. I can only help continuing to spread the word. Get on the Sunshine Pilgrim tour and discover for yourselves.

See also…

Expo ‘She Sells Seashells’ (here…)

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Sandy Point’ (here…

‘Kona’  (here…

Spacelab ‘Kaleidomission’
(Wormhole Records/HREA-M Recordings) 16th October 2020

A sort of Faust Tapes of out-of-context dialogue samples, fucked-with drum breaks and Kosmische otherworldliness, the new experimental album from Spacelab runs through a thirty-nine spanning track list of fleeting incipient ideas and the strange. Some of which last less time than it takes to pronounce the title. There’s even tracks that seem to exist purely for their visual mirrored effect on Soundcloud: The piques of the reversed then switched back around ‘Goodbye’ creating a nice symmetrical image. 

“The soundtrack to an extra-terrestrial journey from a time unknown”, Kaleidomission runs and also peruses a both thoughtful and more oft-hand exploration of minimalism, ambient and cosmic dreamy space music. Early traces of Popol Vuh (before the heavens parted era), Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Mythos and, well, a Kosmische(olgy) of inter-dimensional travellers can be heard permeating this galaxy quest.  There’s even a title nod to those miscreants of Krautrock and beyond, Faust (‘We Love Faust’) that kind of orbits their sphere of magic box sonic experimentation: Spacelab’s homage features a repeating timeless acoustic guitar motif that echoes against a rising and falling away ambient field of melodious illusions. 

Those titles more or less sum up the intention behind each of these acid tripping film dialogue snatches, majestic floats through the heavens, crystal mirages and more cartoon scores. Some act as a breather, whilst other leaps out of a mystique void. There are also spells of a supernatural kind (an obvious one, ‘Trick The Devil’) to be found in the album’s darker recesses.  

From lunar caves to magic woods, astral gateways and the fatuous, Spacelab prove sonically creative and mischievous in producing a cosmology of investigation worthy of attention. It’s Kosmische music but not quite as we know it.  

Various ‘Scratchcard’
(Blang Records) 16th October 2020

An anti-establishment of malcontents and those without a musical home, the Blang label, as purveyors of the “antifolk” scene, has offered sanctuary and comradeship for cross-generational bands and artists like the psych rock ’n’ roll maverick Tav Falco and cult London troupe David Cronenberg’s Wife.

Fifteen years on from their inaugural heralding release, the 2005 compilation Fruit Machine, Blang celebrate with an anniversary year that includes a takeover of Soho Radio, an “outsider music” documentary bio and compilations.  One of those compilations, Scratchcard, marks the label’s most recent five-year plan, from 2016 to a laborious pandemic 2020.

Not quite the punt ad promise of riches that go with that scratchcard title, this fifteen-track collection offers an amble through the modern austerity shitshow equivalent of a dole queue 80s British underground music scene: a bit of sneering; some snot rock; doses of despondent naval-gazing indie; post-punk dislocation; rebel country attitude; and kitchen sink estate dramas. The sort you’ll find on David Cronenberg’s Wife’s introductory opener ‘Suli’s House’: a wrangling Link Wray guitar led ditty that disarms with its country sway and twang a sorrowful step-by-step guide to shooting up heroin.

Originally an extension of Blang’s infamous monthly nights at the now defunct London Westend spot, The 12 Bar Club, and inspired by the NYC East Village antifolk scene of Moldy Peaches and Jeffrey Lewis (a scene that sprung from the also now defunct Sidewalk Café), the label has become a much cherished and liked platform. That antifolk raison d’etre has since expanded to include anything the Yorkshire hub sees fit to give an airing; anything that is which falls beneath the DIY ascetic, or rather as they call it (in broad Yorkshire accents) “DIT”: “Do it thissen”.

I’ve personally featured quite a few of their roster; though only a handful considering the size of the catalogue (a 100 plus release so far). Many of which feature on this compilation, including the already mentioned DCW with their despondent and sardonic witty rich The Octoberman Sequence in 2018. But there’s also the agit-rabble of Sergeant Buzfuz, whose horrible histories Pope bashing Go To The Devil And Shake Yourself opus made my choice albums of 2012. Here they offer a Parisian staged modern tale of deceit and resignation with the XTC meets Richard Hell in Montparnasse ‘Fill In The Blanks’.

Popping up back in February of this year on the blog, Extradition Order delivered a musical vision of the Oppenheimer story with their American Prometheus album (a definite pick for this year’s choice features). From that impressive mini-opus, the Warrington group is represented by the Tamela Motown channeled Style Council and B52s swooning lament, ‘Baby, What Have You Done For Me Lately?

The Awkward Silences in a different guise appeared on the blog back in 2016 with the brilliant white-funk no wave Outsider Pop album. Here they are closing the collection with a transmogrified Talking Heads (if played by The Futureheads or Bloc Party) blast of narrated self-realization and a poignant tale of death, mourning.

Joining that lot are the Joan Jett attitude stomping and rattling, former Fall members outfit Brix & The Extricated (‘Something To Lose’); an idiosyncratic Casio chiming, pulsing Yoni Wolf like Seth Faergolzia (‘Wait For The Beep’); the do “fuck all” all day bandy Deptford post-punk meeting of a roguish Blockheads, geezer Renegade Soundwave and Dandy Warhols Jack Medley’s Secure Men (‘Taking Care Of Business’); and the Graham Greene reimagined as an end of a seaside holiday midlife crisis, played out by a noir Squeeze and Turtles, Trailer Crash (‘Brighton Rock’).

Other worthy mentions include the all-round cult talent and already mentioned in my opening paragraph, Tav Falco, who gets his drugstore cowboy Sir Douglas Quintet version of the Stax soul-snap ‘Tramp’ (retitled as ‘Tram?’) on the comp: A grizzled, cool fuck you of unrepentant redneck swagger. If the promise of miscreant, social political upstarts making fucked-up country, folk, indie and punk (and even badly-lit underpass soul; courtesy of Milk Kan’s ‘My Baby’s Gone Viral On The Brain’) grabs you, then get a load of this concentration of disgruntled reprobates. Raise a toast, better still buy the bloody CD or download it you tight ungrateful urchins. Here’s to another fifteen years of true musical independence!

See also…

David Cronenberg’s Wife ‘The Octoberman Sequence’ (here…)

Sergeant Buzfuz ‘Go To The Devil And Shake Yourself’ (here…)

Extradition Order ‘American Prometheus’ (here…)

Paul Hawkins And The Awkward Silences ‘Outsider Pop’  (here…)

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Album Review/Dominic Valvona

Kahil El’Zabar ‘America The Beautiful’
(Spiritmuse) 23rd October 2020

Continuing a creative partnership with the Spiritmuse label, Chicago jazz luminary Kahil El’Zabar releases his third African rhythmic imbued spiritual album in two years; working yet again with an ever changing lineup of fellow visionaries and rising virtuosos from his home city and beyond. Following last year’s Be Known Ancient/Future/Music (which made our albums of the year) and this year’s Spirit Groove album collaboration with David Murray, the jazz incubator School of The Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians alumni and five decade jazz veteran pieces together a suitable afflatus cry from the despair of modern America on his latest sweeping grand gesture, America The Beautiful.

Though obviously, as you will hear for yourselves, chiming with the current divisive turmoil that has erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s “unconstitutional murder, and the Covid-19 pandemic, the catalyst was Kahil’s score for Darryl Robert’s award winning documentary film of the same title: a 2007 film about “self-image” in the USA. That title music, two versions of which bookend this ancient with a modern pulse oeuvre, is itself both an ironic and sneering riff on the original patriotic anthem that was written by Katherine Lee Bater, with music by church organist Samuel A. Ward, over a century ago. Bates the scholar, collage professor and highly prolific writer first wrote the proud-swelling lyrics as a poem (Rikes Peak) after being inspired by the great American outdoors and the country’s own version of the seven wonders. Countless versions have been performed, recorded since, including the maverick jazz artist Gary McFarland who devoted a conceptual eclectic musical suite to its rousing evocations; in the process jazzing and funking up the old bird. This take however finds little to rouse patriotism, sharing more in common with Ornette Coleman’s grandiose symphonic dissonance Skies Of America; that suite a contortion of Coleman’s naturalistic Native American rituals inspired master plan.

Kahil includes both a lilted and horn blown Bernstein-via-a-century’s-worth-of-Chicago jazz instrumental take, and a 80s pepped dance groove vocal version: The latter features the bandleader straining, pulling, mooning and crooning the original lyrics of ‘America The Beautiful’ to a dance limbering Chicago House like beat.

Building a fully realized album around that anthem, Kahil went back to record an array of new material and riffs on standards: his choices proving more spiritual, healing than angry and enraged. For this is a jazz artist preaching connectivity during a momentous epoch. A time, he hopes, that despite the tumultuous unrest and anxieties can offer us time to pause, reflect and reassess. In the spirit of one of Kahil’s idols, Coltrane, his inspiration is that grand doyen of jazz’s message of a “love supreme”, and also the African adventures of Byrd and Gillespie via Sun Ra’s cosmology of Afro-futurism. And so musically, despite the swells and layering of discordant instrumentation wailing, and crying out, this is a mostly divine experience; sweetened by the inclusion of a romanticized, serenaded beautiful version of the Bee Gees (via Al Green’s more soulfully hushed vision) ‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart’. Only Kahil switches the “you” to “we”, and in doing so forces the emphasis on all of us to mend the rift. Musically it’s a swoon; a walk through a sweet Central Park backdrop. It has an air of both pained heartbreak yet also hope, and is the album’s most tender performance.

Swinging to a ‘Orleans gait, Kahil’s big band version of Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s famous strut ‘Express Yourself’ is reimagined as a semi-classical jazz funk of King Curtis and Albert Ayler. Classically trained jazz cellist and Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble student, Tomeka Reid offers part of that semi-classical feel with a deep, arching quivery cello accompaniment.

Closing a quartet of congruous cover transformations, Kahil ad his troupe expand on the Afro-jazz percussive-heavy ‘Afro-Blue’ odyssey; the first jazz standard in the States built on a typical African 3:2 cross rhythm. Made famous by Mongo Santamaria with the Cal Tjader Sextet in ’59, and transformed by Coltrane who took it in a waltz-y swinging direction, this Chicago hothouse of talent goes earthy and deep, atavistic and dramatic. Samuel Williams plays a harassed, pointed elbow thrashing violin against the clay percussion and Masekela trumpet on a message from the motherland. 

With all the original connotations bought into a modern epoch of discord, these standards now echo a longing and pain for change.

The rest of the album channels the inimitable groove that runs through Chicago jazz, soul, R&B, blues and dance music. ‘Jump And Shout (For Those Now Gone)’ is a poignant example of this history; evoking the city’s spiritual and avant-garde masters – The Art Ensemble Of Chicago being one. It’s a kind of sentiment, a yearning for justice, but with a bounce and venerated enlightenment. ‘Freedom March’ couldn’t be more relevant; the long march to equality accompanied by apparitional wails, shackles shaking percussion and anguished rasps of sax. It also sadly marks one of the late baritone saxophonist greats, Hamiet Bluiett’s last performances. Not only a phenomenal sax presence, but also a renowned clarinetist and composer, the co-founder of the late 60s Louisiana Black Artists Group and former member of the Charlie Mingus Quintet and the Sam Rivers large ensemble, blows a moving honked and aria-like squealing raspy baritone through this counterbalance of Mardi Gras swing and the disconsolate.

Kahil, literally, preys for guidance on both the electric piano dabbing, lamenting swell ‘That We Ask Of Our Creator, and the sweeping fluty beat-stretched ‘Prayer For The Unwarranted Sufferings’.  Both draw from the pool of despair, yet find just as much hope to offer some glimmer of overcoming the impasse.

An extraordinary portrait of the current mood, Kahil’s conscious divine spiritual jazz opus channels the contorted soul of Chicago’s rich musical heritage; spanning eras as old as atavistic Africa, the be-bop, swing eras, leaping through the avant-garde and 80s dance music culture to create a soulful and always grooving purview of the American social-political divide in 2020: Election year.

An incredible jazz score no less from one of the most active and transformative artists in the field, a true acolyte of the scene’s most celebrated, progressive greats, Kahil carries the torch for a more healing engagement with the causes, activism he holds dear. There’s no mistaking where he’s coming from, with an album that has never been more vital and enriching to a culture and creative form under pressure and fire to react to the changes taking place.

See also…

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble ‘Be Known Ancient/Future/Music’  (here…)

Kahil El’ Zabar’s ‘Spirit Groove Ft. David Murray’ (here…)

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Reviews
Dominic Valvona

In this amorphous crisscross of genres and borders I take a look at the latest in the label Night Dreamers ‘direct-to-disc’ series, a dynamic live album of fresh performances from Istanbul’s legendary souk reggae/dub and Krautrock psych legends BaBa ZuLa; Analog Africa delve through the stranger corners of the “B-movie” Colombian label Disco Machuca on their upcoming La Locura de Machuca compilation; and Daniel O’Sullivan explores library music for his latest transformation, a series of instrumental albums in collaboration with KPM.

Two front vocalists step away from their bands to go solo, with Ghent stoner/alt-rock band Wallace Vanborn frontman Ian Clement returning to the fold after many travails with a personal songbook collection, See Me In Synchronicity, and Diamond Thug’s Chantel Van T going out on her own with a debut country blues imbued songbook, entitled Nicalochan.

There’s also a label special, with three recent and upcoming ambient and experimental imbued records from the North American hub Somewherecold Records: an ambitious cosmic suite of Kosmische analogue synth odysseys from Giacomelli, snapshots, threads and lingering traces of esoteric and ether materialised country and bluegrass guitar sketches from Droneroom, and an emotive suite of love-lost movements from Vision Eternel.

BaBa ZuLa ‘Hayvan Gibi’
(Night Dreamers) Album/2nd October 2020

The latest release in Night Dreamer’s “direct-to-disc” series stars the rebellious stalwarts of Anatolian cosmic dub and psych, BaBa ZuLa: a three decade spanning Istanbul group originally birthed from the embers of the band ZeN.

Fusing the folkloric with solar flares of Krautrock, souk reggae, 60s and 70s Turkish psych and cosmic-blues the rambunctious group come on like a Sublime Porte vision of Can’s Ege Bamyasi and Soundtracks albums, only replacing much of the Teutonic legends setup with more traditional instruments like the “oud” and “saz”: albeit electrified and fuzzed up to the gills. That Can reference isn’t so surprising, as the BaBa have worked with the band’s late human metronome Jaki Liebezeit on numerous occasions: his two-way influence felt and inspiration noted on BaBa’s 2019 album Derin Derin. That same 2019 album, like so much of their output, was originally produced for a soundtrack, a documentary about falcons. And this latest “live” and direct special showcase includes a number of such tracks scored for film and stage; it also, like that falcon inspired work captures the materializations, mood, feelings of a menagerie of symbolic animal subjects.

Recorded before lockdown in the pre-pandemic nightmare, Hayvan Gibi (which means ‘to act with the natural grace of an animal’) includes six almost untethered, unleashed vivid performances from the Istanbul mavericks. It’s an album that seeks to fulfil the “live” feel and energy that some fans have commented has been lacking on previous studio albums. Invited to the Artune Studio setting in Haarlem by the label, they were encouraged to freely take-off on a flight of Eastern fantasy; encouraged to also riff on and extend past glories too. “A musician’s dream” as the band’s electric, scuzzy defacto leader and founding member Osman Murat Ertel puts it, this, also challenging, method of recording and cutting a disc from start to finish on one session gives them that energetic impetus. It also showcases each of the band’s talents. On the elliptical rhythmic Can-like dervish ‘Sipa Dub’ (also known as “The Foal”), the group’s braying oud soloist and keyboardist Periklis Tsoukalas gets to shine and sing a kind of spiritual Sufi-imbued emotive intensity on a song about an Aegean coast donkey and its foal. Percussionist virtuoso Ümit Adakale is unleashed unaided on the drilling, rattling and hotfooted breakbeat ‘Nal’ (or “Horseshoes”).

Old favourites like the ‘Çöl Aslanlari’ (“desert lion”) composition, originally made for Antonie de Saint-Exupéry’s stage production of The Little Prince, go off on a long improvised peregrination of clopping psych-rock and shimmering cymbal washes, whilst the group’s earliest groove, ‘Tavus Havasi’ (which furnished the soundtrack to the Tabutta Rövasata film) assails close to the mooning of Guru Guru and a Turkish Bar dance.

A let loose BaBa ZuLa is a most incredible experience; a scuzzed, scuffed, trinket shimmery, rippling and blazing rhythmic energy and dynamism both intense and yet also a mirage of reggae and dub imbued Anatolia mountain gazing. It’s also a reminder of what we’ve been missing in these dragging pandemic restrictive times.

Further Reading…

BaBa ZuLa ‘Derin Derin’  here….

BaBa ZuLa ‘XX’  here…

Various ‘La Locura de Machuca: 1975 – 1980’
(Analog Africa) Album/16th October 2020

Quite possibly the kookiest oddity so far in the Analog Africa catalogue, this distant outlandish relative to the label’s Diablos Del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot 1960 – 1985 compilation from 2012 is the sort of “B-movie” discovery you’d expect Finders Keepers to release. From the same international Colombian gateway of Barranquilla as that collection’s purview, La Locura de Machuca: 1975 – 1980 features a similar spread of Afro-Colombian saunters, scuttles and scratchy percussive funk as that record, yet finds a twist: a kink.

For all the familiar traces of that folkloric electrified Cumbia, the Caribbean-African-Colombian hybrid Champeta Criolle, and Congolese rumba (to name just a few styles), the music that flourished from the Colombian underground is…well, different. Much of this is down to the genius and bizarre mind of the former tax-lawyer turn record company executive Rafael Machuca, who wowed and seduced by the Barranquilla music scene jacked in the day job to set-up and sit behind the control desk as the producer of his own label enterprise, Disco Machuca. This was the heady mid 70s, an age in which Colombia’s music scene was thriving with the sounds of imported nuggets and blasts from the African continent. Though native dance styles such as Bolero and Vallento still rocketed up the charts, the fervor was for a spread of Afro prefixed sounds that proved popular at the neighbourhood sound-system joints, known as “the picos”. The locals would in time add more traditional flavours, including the already mentioned versatile Cumbia, but also more modern influences such as psychedelic music and disco.

Machuca channeled that exciting dance mix with his unique label of specially put-together one-offs and more established mavericks; the often experimental and kitsch productions of which is described as the “B-movies of Colombian music” by the label’s stalwart recording engineer Eduardo Dávila. Some of that self-depreciative description is warranted for the label’s roster of artists and acts, but also for Machuca’s habit of just creating from scratch a studio band to front one-off singles and albums when he couldn’t find the right band to realize whatever vision he had leaping about in his head. Two of which, the mono skiffley itching and squiggly, Stylophone like buzz and gargled organ Samba Negra and the bongo rattling, carnival lolloping space age garage band El Grupo Folelórico, lasted only the time it took to enter the studio and press stop on the recording desk. Both of these outlets feature heavily on the compilation. Though the El Grupo Folelórico’s binary data zapping Afro bustle ‘Tamba’ qualifies as the closet of these tracks towards that B-movie status.

The label could accommodate such fancies with the money they made from more established and popular stars; such as Alejandro Durán (left off this more unconventional comp) and Aníbal Velásquez (who does feature with his slightly unhinged belly laughing and hurried Cumbia track ‘La Mazamorra del Diablo’). “Fringe artists” like La Bande Africana, King Somalie, Conjunto Barbaco and Aberladro Carbono were able to cut loose off the back of those hit-makers. The first of those names lends the collection a salacious boy/girl hush and sigh of Gainsbourg meets Bollywood in a Colombian coastal town, with their coquettish and playful ‘Te Clavola…Mano’. King Somalie meanwhile riffs on the “funky monkey” with a talky Afro-boogie and turns in a sexy fun conversational on ‘La Mongui’.

Personal favourite of mine is The Grupo Bela Roja, or to be more exact their both swooning and jaunty lead singer who channels a young Miriam Makeba on the beachside ‘Caracol’.

There’s much to discover from this sometimes-unhinged label, yet nothing so avant-garde or “loco” as to neglect an essential rhythm or hypnotic good groove. Samy Ben Redjeb’s decade-long-in-the-making project unearths some mesmerising rarities from the stretched-descriptive scenes of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Colombian music, throwing in some curveballs and raw 45s.

For those looking for a fresh perspective and for something strange, the La Locura de Machura compilation will fill that need. Ad for everyone else, this is just a great vibrant mad world of South American sounds that deserves space inside your noggin.

Further Reading…

Analog Africa Tenth Anniversary Special  here…

Various ‘Jambú e Os Míticos Sons Da Amazônia’  here…

Chantel Van T ‘Nicalochan’
Album/23rd October 2020

Stepping out on her own from the South African dreamy space-indie Diamond Thug, the country blues and folksy lilted voiced Chantel Van T makes a boldly intimate and vulnerable statement on the debut solo songbook Nicalochan. Via a Danish solstice and summers spent contemplating at the shoreline’s edge, the hushed and swooned songwriter/singer opens up in a considered, soothed and sometimes creeping fragile manner over gently sweeping Dylan-esque Western soundtracks, mountain songs, the knowing enchantment of Lee Hazelwood, and lush morning dew yearn of Catherine Howe.

With a maturity and depth beyond her years, the often sadly but constantly dreamy Cape Town artist seems to channel a country twang that evokes shades of Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Dobson, and on the prohibition era Appalachian Lomax ‘Bittersweet Absolute’ a touch of Josephine Foster. Chantel has a voice deep, diaphanous, ached, resigned, and drifting, yet at times almost fatalistic.

An introduction to Chantel as much a candid therapy and chance to let all those thoughts and philosophically poetic questions on what reciprocated love really means (and how far it can be taken), the growing pains of womanhood and childhood.

A suffused accompaniment (all recorded with the Danish producer Anders Christopherson and a small intimate ensemble of musicians) of wallowed brass, softened string caresses, gauzy tremolo twanged and acoustic rhythm guitar, and patted toms and splashes of cymbal provide a subtle stripped backing track. One that sometimes can’t help but meander into Dylan’s ‘Knocking On Heavens Door’ on the leading, waning beauty travail single ‘Rumble And Crawl’, and a 50s yuletide mix of Rosemary Clooney and bobby-sox Spector on the album’s early punt at a seasonal number, ‘Christmas’.

Full of pining, searching affairs of the heart Nicalochan is a most hazy and beautifully executed testament of timeless country blues imbued vulnerability from an artist going it alone: A great debut of understated wisdom and inquisitive questioning songwriting, which I can see making many of the end-of-year lists, including my own.

A Somewherecold Records Special:

Vision Eternel ‘For Farwell Of Nostalgia’ Out Now
Giacomelli ‘Cosmic Order’ 9th October 2020
Droneroom ‘Blood On Blood’ 16th October 2020

All three released via Somewherecold Records.

From the highly prolific online magazine/shop-front and facilitator of various underground electronic and experimental artists, a trio of recent refined and concept-bound releases has drifted onto the Monolith Cocktail’s radar: Just three from an exhaustive roster that’s updated weekly. Extensively a soundboard and platform for composers and mavericks alike from both sides of the North American border, Somewherecold Records offer up the intimate and ambitious, depth and the translucent, peregrinations and wanderings with their most recent spread of albums.

The first of these is the grand Kosmische analogue spanning opus from Silicon Valley composer Steve Giacomelli; a triple CD expansive series of cosmic ordered suites that traverse the astral plane, new age transcendence, various thermos, gases and topographic ebbs and flows. Giacomelli’s fourth such album of cosmic ambient minimalism for the label, this celestial and evolutionary mined impressive ARP Odyssey (portable) synth birthed work of thirty-six scales into deep space, refractions of light play, pulse and gravitas uses a number of techniques to accomplish an overall sound of forgotten Sky Record maestros, Tangerine Dream, early Cluster, Tomat and Vangelis. This synthesised vision – that can sometimes err towards the ominous forebode and mystery of Kubrick – synthesis of the abstract, deep space, the inner mind, nature and the heavenly is accomplished with an apparently limited pallet and the use of counterpoint sequences, the generative and a method, favoured by Frank Zappa, called “xenochrony” – that is the extracting of a solo or other part from its original context and placing it into a completely different song/composition.

A three-hour journey through the imaginings of Giacomelli’s inner and outer star-guided mind, compositions vary between the beautiful cathedral-in-the-sky heralded ‘Cosmic Fanfare’ and the Klaus Schulze-rescores-Zardoz forebode and deep space hum of ‘The Best Laid Plans’; from the 8-bit orchestral manoeuvres of ‘SMPTE Of The Universe’ to the heavenly choral-blowing space fantasy ‘Diplodicus Green’, and the tubular generator, dash communicating ‘Remembrance Petition’.

No matter where he guides us, Giacomelli fashions a most diaphanous and mysterious epic. The Cosmic Order is a grand project, nothing short of immersive and starry.

The second of this trio of albums and EPs from the label takes us into the Kosmische-cowboy experimental soundscaping world of the Louisville-based artist Blake Edward Conley. Trading, moseying and meandering under the Droneroom alter ego, Conley pulls together a number of tracks and ideas from compilations for this transformative and transduced album of layered resonating guitar soundtracks and pauses.

A “two-lane blacktop” drive across the imagined travails of an alternative strung-out country and bluegrass accompanied America of gas station stops, mechanical breakdowns, and side road excursions, Blood On Blood gathers those “stray tracks”, threads and “snapshots” to meander through an evocative if distant landscape. Whether inspired by or in their finished state sailing close to, a number of these drowsed post-country instrumentals are dedicated to Conley’s fellow compatriots, and both explorative and old testament liturgy guitar imbued artists: The Tennessee psalm fanning Joseph Allred and folk artist Cole Morse to name just two.

Some of these sonic-thoughts-out-loud ruminations and traverses are more country than others. A certain cowboy swoon can be plucked from the lingering traces of ghostly country blues and bowing vibrato of ‘Truckstop Déjà vu’, and there’s an air of a Lynchian vision of Ry Coder on the galvanized steel gate stick rattled and didgeridoo like drone mysterious ‘And On The Last Day The Land Did Sing Me’. A removed form of Americana, with the tremolo wanes and quivers and spirit all there but veiled by the Baroque, Latin, cosmic and supernatural, ‘Let The Bluegrass Hold My Head’ is anything but. However, the dreamily acid ‘The Coyote Adrift In The Unfamiliar’ evokes a more Kosmische and Krautrock influence; sounding like an esoteric ripple in the fabric by Ash Ra Temple. In fact there’s a lot of spacey spectral leanings, an otherness, even alien, from beyond the ether: There’s even a supernatural enough transmission from that void in the shape of ‘Ghosts For Sale’.

Another impressive if unassuming album for the label that does something different, out there with its source, Droneroom’s Blood On Blood is an incredibly strange album of guitar experimentation that warrants discovery: A cult album in the making.

Back towards the ambient spectrum, the final release in the special is a most emotively drawn and purposeful EP of intimate mood music by the Montréal-based Vision Eternel. Coining the phrase “melogaze” to describe his lush “emo” brand of majestic and caressed swirling feelings, heartbreaks and loves, the band’s founder Alexander Julien soundtracks a love lost affair with a most swaddled suite of ambient music, shoegazing, and semi-classical longings.

Over a quartet of channeled “movements” (rain, absence, intimacy and nostalgia), Julien charts this affair-of-the-heart with a both cinematic and melodious touch. The EP though is a greater conceptual work that even arrives accompanied by a short story and plenty of poetic, stirring baggage. Lingering reminisces pour from this composer’s light yet deep vaporuos yearnings.

On the cover itself, Julien is painted as some kind of Left Banke thinker meets Graham Greene Third Man and shoe-string Marlowe; a riff on 50s and older covers of that vogue. And so nostalgia is certainly evoked on this almost timeless EP of abstracted emotionally pulled memories made tangible. It’s actually a most lovely, touching trembled and graceful encapsulation of the themes; beautifully put together. It’s also entirely different and like all three of these releases pushes experimental, ambient music in different directions, yet never loses sight of taking the listener on those same sonic journeys into the cosmic, imaginary, and intimate.

Somewherecold Records is proving a catalyst and platform for some of the most interesting and ambitious of under-the-radar artists. Expect to see plenty more or their releases on the Monolith Cocktail in the future.

Ian Clement ‘See Me In Synchronicity’
(Cobraside Records) Album/October 2nd 2020

All the better for it, full of sagacious yearning, frontman of the Ghent stoner/alt-rock band Wallace Vanborn, Ian Clement makes a welcoming return to the musical fold with his second solo album See Me In Synchronicity. After many travails and a series of breakdowns, Clement opens up with a songbook collection of musings on troubled romances, escaping, intimacy and more mystical, metaphysical queries on the altered states of consciousness: a subject that stems from the earnest singer/songwriters interest in mysticism and the spiritual, and its place in an increasingly secularized, atheistic Western culture.

Further, as Clement himself illuminates, “mysticism and madness touch each other, even in ordinary life. The daydreamers whose hope lies in love and fantasy or in loneliness or madness, is something that everyone can relate to.” And there is, at least, some of that title’s “synchronicity”; as also reflected on the album cover’s dream state alpine juxtaposed with cityscape and beret fitted beachcomber meandering below a seductive muse collage artwork.

Though far from mystical sounding or esoteric, this is a solid songbook with just enough edge to set it apart from the well-worn tropes and sounds found in most alt-rock of a similar persuasion. For Clement traverses not only hard rock but also country (verging on Americana), indie, post-Britpop and, even, new wave (chugging away tot the dashboard emotional pulling pop motor pop of The Cars on the “consciousness” imbued ‘Turtle & Crow’). And so you can expect to hear a subtle pallet of influences and sounds prompting this brooding but often mature and wise album.

Vocally Clement evokes a touch of Jeff Buckley (via Blackbud’s Joe Taylor) and Mark Lanegan, whilst the mix of blazing rock guitar shadings and hooks leans towards Bends period Radiohead, post-punk and early noughties Bowie. However, the most surprising humbling and yet bittersweet romantic song, ‘Bliss’, strays into the Floydian. There’s also a dappled gospel-tinged organ that keeps popping up throughout the album; a kind of low-key Muscle Shoals vibe.

Making sure this all gels, and offering some of that edge, is the luminary German producer Renė Tinner, who knows a thing or two about pushing the envelope and finding that important synchronicity between the commercial and experimental having worked with such polar opposites as Can and George Harrison. This culminates in a production and sound with depth, soul and a few surprises. Clement unloads his pains and intimate resolutions on a most sophisticated, hard-fought and lyrical work: A brave work at that.

Daniel O’Sullivan ‘Electric Māyā: Dream Flotsam And Astral Hinterlands’
(VHF Records/KPM) Album/23rd October 2020

The latest in a long run of explorative transformations for Daniel O’Sullivan, of both Grumbling Fur and This Is Not This Heat fame, sees the London-based musical polyglot traversing the “library music” oeuvre.

Although often the preserve for lovers of cult mavericks and the kitsch, library music is infinite in scope and varies considerably in quality. Often, because of its very nature dismissed as either a pale imitator of the sound and music it’s trying to ape, or void of true artistry and depth: produced in many cases as a background soundtrack and cheap off-the-shelf filler. Of course this is all bullshit, the label itself now so diverse and overused as to include some truly gifted composers alongside one-offs and obscure unknown peddlers of lo fi and unassuming skits. Essentially though, it is seen as music that fits specific criteria or commission, as O’Sullivan puts it, music made “more for functionality than sonic self-portraiture”.

It also includes, in more recent years, an increasing number of artists-in-the-know appropriating library music’s guilty pleasures and forgotten acolytes: Not so much as pastiche but rather in the mode of homage and mining ever more obscure sounds. And so a very much “knowing” O’Sullivan in collaboration with those purveyors of such rediscovered treasures, KPM, invests a lot of time and effort in producing an 18-track suite of sophisticated redolent library music gestures, sweeps, memories and fleeting incipient soundtracks on the first of a trio of such albums. The challenge however is in creating a fully-realised composition with a start, middle and sort of conclusion in short form: every track on the album being more or less under the 3-minute mark.

Delving into the cosmology of the elaborately psychedelic entitled Electric Māyā: Dream Flotsam And Astral Hinterlands you’ll find a full body of atmospheres, inner spaces, emotions, sciences and supernatural elements articulated by a diverse pallet of sounds and instrumentation. O’Sullivan caters for every occasion, from beatific meditation Eastern transcendence (‘Adoring Solitude’) to emerging from a mysterious mist-clearing landscape (‘Butterscotch Broth’) and Tomat evoked celestial cathedrals-in-the-sky (‘Eagle Ears’). And that’s all within the first five tracks: the mystical, the ambient unveiling of inspired scenery and the cosmos. Elsewhere there’s deft evocations of the sort of tender Italian pianist-driven soundtracks of the 70s favoured by Greg Foat (‘Flashbulb Memory’), a bird’s eye view from above wispy, translucent clouds (‘Feathered Earth’), a kooky burbled and steam-post-punk merger of Kraftwerk, Bernard Estardy and Jon Hassell (‘Gray’s March’) and haunted monastic dream muses (‘Sybil’).

From the sublime to the strange, ethereal to the earthy, most bases are covered on this expansive album of the vapourous and gazing. Most of which is beautifully produced and entrancing. Mixing semi-classical with ambient music, avant-garde and electronica, O’Sullivan has created an inspiring sonic journey through library music’s most lunar and traversing, stirring highlights without reverting to that pastiche and lazy homage. It is nothing short of a great piece of instrumental work, the soundtrack to a most wondrous ambitious movie.

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.


Review
Words: Dominic Valvona




Ustad Saami ‘Pakistan Is For The Peaceful’
(Glitterbeat Records) Album/9th October 2020


The only living master of an ancient Sufi devotional form in transcendence, the seventy-six year old Ustad Saami lives in hope that his transportive blessed “Surti” music may yet bring peace to a most turbulent and dangerous Pakistan. In a region in which fundamentalism holds a powerful grip of fear on the population, most forms of music that don’t conform to a strict Islamic code are banned or at the very least pressured to go underground.

The danger is all too real and prevalent, and in venturing to Pakistan a few years ago to record the great adorations of Saami, the in-situ American producer Ian Brennan (no stranger to this blog) was taking a huge risk. Brennan is of course used (to a point) of luring out forgotten, ignored and obscure voices from some of the most inhospitable places and warzones in the world. The Hidden Music series for Glitterbeat Records, of which this is the second Saami album to be appear, has seen the Grammy Award winning producer already travel to both a post genocide Rwanda and Cambodia, and also to a mine-riddled Vietnam to coax out the most striking emotional of open and frank recordings. Now capturing for posterity, he once again facilitates the most intimate conditions for another deeply immersive liturgy of heavenly Surti adulations.





Pakistan Is For The Peaceful is, considering the geopolitical tumult and violence, a hopeful title. But then the exalted master has spent a lifetime in the service of his music; learning the forms 49-note microtonal system of vocal prayers since being singled out for the pathway to devotion. It has been a harsh learning at that; the pupil Saami forbidden by his master from speaking or communicating verbally, instead guided towards lyrical expressions. He wouldn’t even get to step on stage to perform this eight centuries generational hand-me-down veneration until the age of thirty-five. And then, until only in recent years, more or less confined to his home of Pakistan. Now in his mid seventies, a more worn Saami still manages to rise every morning at 4am to practice and perform his drill exercises until dawn.

Following on from the well-received 2019 album God Is Not A Terrorist this second brassy resonating, concertinaed and bellowed magisterial rich suite of incredibly hypnotic lengthy performances is even better.

Joined by his four sons (Rauf, Urooj, Ahmed and Azeem), who both vocally respond to Saami’s paeans and provide an assortment of dipped, purposeful and reverberating harmonium, tambura and tabla, the master conjures up a holy out-of-body experience. Performing from Saami’s rooftop home in Karachi, this ensemble entrance and send the listener off into the inspired heavens.

The leading voice of Saami comes from the gut, but isn’t so much guttural as aching in its reverence and otherworldliness. Those shimmering nodes of resonance and sorrowed drones meanwhile stir up a spiritual epiphany: something extremely special.

This album is why I started this whole damn blog; a search for those uncynical real performances that get lost in the daily hubris of incessant noise and divisive outrage. This is music from another dimension in comparison to all that. And thanks in part to Brennan; it will now exist as a recorded testament forever, even if it this form of Islamic spiritualist music is set to die out with its leading light. As sad as that sounds, that dying art has never sounded so ethereal and yet alive. So I say: soak it up; bathe in the glow.





Also…

Ustad Saami ‘God Is Not A Terrorist’ here…

Glitterbeat Records 5th anniversary special here…

The Ian Brennan interview here…


Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.


Review
Words: Dominic Valvona




Rupert Lally ‘Marine Life’
(Glass Reservoir) Album/21st September 2020


From an experimental gently challenging label that has only just resurfaced after a long hiatus – following the release of Darren Hayman’s out-of-the-box exploration, Wembley Eiffel Tower -, Glass Reservoir is thankfully back with a roster of new releases in 2020. They’ve picked a right old apocalyptic time to make that return mind, but they have and I for one am happy with that.

GR is an imprint with a remit. That is, to explore the boundaries between the electronic and acoustic. Each release is an invitation to the artist; each release confined to digital download and a limited copy run of hand printed CDs.

The first of a trio of announced releases, Rupert Lally adds to his previous recent subtle Strange Systems and Lost To The Past suites with another evocative ambient soundtrack, Marine Life. An ocean purview, Lally’s aquatic delving compositions provide an out-of-body (of water) experience both beneath and above an unspecified, amorphous sea.

Less Jacques Cousteau and more a blend of Kosmische glide, Vangelis and Arthur C. Clarke’s Cradle, the marine life in this case is mysteriously majestic, supernatural and even alien. The album’s most surprising departure from the signature shimmery efflux, radiant and floating serenity is the almost dreamy, hallucinogenic ‘The Diving Bell’. Frazzled, fizzing splashes cast that bell into the depths of Atlantis on a submerged Bladerunner-esque, ghostly windswept score.

Tranquility beckons though on the album’s opening diaphanous becalmed tide stunner ‘Deceptively Calm’. Lally sends the listener sailing across topographic oceans, or diving into the enormity of nature across squarewaves, subtle melodious synth wanes, vapours and rotor-like undulations. It’s an album of synthesized nature, of refracted light play and the aural senses. Lally creates a great scenic soundtrack to re-launch a quality, unassuming, label.






Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Premiere
Words: Dominic Valvona




Giacomelli ‘The Best Of Both Possible Worlds, Part II’ taken from the upcoming album suite Cosmic Order released by Somewherecold Records, 9th October 2020



Beamed across the Atlantic by the North American hub Somewherecold Records, we have a most grand spanning opus from Silicon Valley composer Steve Giacomelli, who releases his triple CD expansive series of cosmic ordered suites for the experimental ambient and electronic label next month.

His fourth such album of ambient minimalism for the label, this celestial and evolutionary mined impressive ARP Odyssey synth birthed album of thirty-six ascendants, refractions, pulses and gravitas inspiring space music uses a number of techniques to accomplish an overall sound of forgotten Sky Record maestros (think Asmus Tietchens, Wolfgang Riechmann), Tangerine Dream, early Cluster, Vangelis, Tomat and solo Roedelius. This synthesized vision – that can sometimes err towards the ominous forebode and mystery of Kubrick – synthesis of the abstract, deep space, the inner mind, nature and the heavenly is accomplished with an apparently limited pallet and the use of counterpoint sequences, the generative and a method, favoured by Frank Zappa, called “xenochrony” – that is the extracting of a solo or other part from its original context and placing it into a completely different song/composition. These techniques make for a most impressive traverse of the astral planes, new age transcendence, theorems, gases and topographic ebbs and flows.

From that three-hour epic, the Monolith Cocktail is premièring the geometric patterned and busy algorithm Kosmische junction of nature and technology, ‘The Best Of Both Possible Worlds II’. Personally I’m hearing a cross serenity and pulse of Kraftwerk, Eno and Cage, but see what you think as we share this sweeping analogue soundtrack.

 

The 3XCD and digital download Cosmic Oder album is released by Somewherecold Records on the 9th October 2020






Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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