ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona



Various ‘Jambú e Os Míticos Sons Da Amazônia’
(Analog Africa) 21st June 2019


As varied and fertile as the numerous diverse waterways that pour into its Amazonian basin geography, and cultures that arrive (either forcibly via the Atlantic slave trade corridor or through mutual trade) by the boatload on its tide, the Brazilian port city of Belém proves an abundant spring of polygenesis discoveries. Returning to the South American continent to showcase the music and story of this important trading post, the northern state of Pará hub, “enveloped by the mystical wonders of the Amazonian forest”, bridged a myriad of communities and musical genres, developing, but often, creating wholly unique styles.

Cross-fertilizing multiple languages, traditions, embracing both imported African and indigenous religions and ritual, and straddling the delta, port and forest environments the Belém pulse can, however, be whittled down to a quartet of distinctive rhythms: Carimbó, Siriá, Lambada and the witchcraft fusion offshoot of the Afro-Brazilian practiced Macumba, “mironga”. There’s of course plenty more (Lundon, Banguê) but this latest compilation from the Analog Africa label concentrates on those particular movements – an accompanying 44-page booklet outlines and details the full provenance…where it can be established that is.





Like an old trusted returning friend, the star of the label’s 2014 Siriá album, Mestre Cupijóe is included once more on the Jambú e Os Míticos Sons Da Amazônia collection. With a sound incubated on the shores of the Tocantini River, in the legendary Quilombos settlement originally founded by escaped slaves, Cupijó’s modernized version of the local rambunctious music he made famous was funneled through the Belém clubs and studios to produce (what I called at the time) a sound that can only be described as a Sicilian funeral procession band gatecrashing a Mexican wedding party. A 1973 recorded performance from the Favela nightspot in Cametá of the song ‘Despedida’ (“Farewell”) is no different in that respect: slightly more woozy but just as brilliantly shambling and loose. It’s also the very first modern Siriá recording of its kind.

Legends of the electrified Carimbó style are numerous. A style with folkloric roots, though there is much debate as to its origins, Carimbó is split between those who adhere to its heritage and those who amp it up and give it some oomph! One such energetic fella, singer/composer/bandleader Aurino Quirino Gonçalves, otherwise known as Pinduca – a nickname that refers to the signature assortment of ornaments that hung from his massive straw hat –, took the style to an international audience with his energetic, quickened take on the highly popular music. Represented by a trio of signature scuffled shufflers, Pinduca’s tropical itchy, humming bassline, goer ‘Vamos Farrear’, wobbly Afro-Brazilian quivery supernatural cult ‘Pai Xangô’, and slicker turn ‘Coco Da Bahia’ are all suffused with effortless balmy energy and constantly infectious moving percussion. What a find!

A real family affair, Pinduca’s brother Pim can be heard as the vocalist on the reckless careering down the train-tracks motioned ‘Von Andorinha’. Part of the Grupo da Pesada rock band, who were more used to turning out Bolero and Mambo before being encouraged to reinvent themselves as a Carimbó band, Pim would leave to pursue a successful solo career.

Another icon that plays such a prominent role on this compilation is the “King of Carimbó” (no less) Augusto Gomes Rodrigues, otherwise known by his stage name of “Verequete” – a reference to the Vodun divinity that featured in the ceremonial song ‘Choma Verequete’. Through many travails the renowned composer and influencer spent years carving out a living – with jobs as diverse and hard-laboured as a butcher, chef and lumberjack – in the wilderness until releasing his family-band debut in 1970. Two of the troupe’s signature “stick and chord” driven rattlers are included on this collection; the rustic, tumbling lively ‘Mambo Assanhado’ and jungle march ‘Da Garrafa Uma Pinga’.





Meanwhile, representing if not inventing the Lambada is another legend in the Belém story, Vieira. This virtuoso multi-instrumentalist who swapped the banjo and mandolin for an electric guitar, fused bits of Mambo, Choro, Samba and Merengue together to create a unique, sweet-toned dance sensation. The larger-than-life actor of the fabled Bye Bye Brazil movie, Janjâo offers a one-track glimpse into the bewitching “Mironga” sound on the harp-like spellbinding Western ‘Meu Barquinho’. Mironga of course has its origins in the mystique of the slave imported Macumba religion; the deities of which, the strong figure of aggression and resistance, Xangô, and mother of oceans (and safe passage), Yemanjá, are invoked not only in the songs of this towering presence but across Belém and South America.

 

Brought to the attention of Analog Africa’s boss, Samy Ben Redjeb, by this collection’s instigator, the Australian crate-digger and producer with Brazilian roots, Carlo Xavier, the magical fusions of Belém prove scintillating, sexy and at times rambunctious fun; a transportive carnival of rhythms and sounds that capture a lesser known part of South American music history; just as alive and dynamic today as it was back in the 1970s.










Words: Dominic Valvona

Images all taken from the compilation accompanying booklet. 

Reviews Column: Dominic Valvona




Back after a short hiatus, my eclectic spread of recommendations and reviews features, as ever, a bumper edition of recent releases. There’s a suitably seasonal solo album from a Beach Boys imbued Mike Gale that wallows in the scorching rays, called Summer Deluxe; some live action from the Ottoman/Edwardian imbued period fusion of Arab and English music hall Brickwork Lizards, who’s new EP features a quartet of live recorded tracks from the St. Giles sessions; there’s a trippy psych peregrination hard sell from the Submarine Broadcasting Company in the form of a GOATS (not that one, this is another group entirely) cassette tape called Far Out; the latest beautifully, if despondently, articulated songbook from Oliver Cherer, I Feel Nothing Most Days; the musical suite in all its glory from Bethany Stenning’s multimedia conceptual art film The Human Project, released via the artist’s Stanlaey alter-ego. I review the fruits of a congruous union between Glitterbeat Records instrumental imprint tak:til and the ‘21st century guitar’ American label VDSQ Records, a new nocturnal hour suite from Chris Brokaw called End Of The Night; and there’s new album from the Benelux specialists Jezus Factory, the cathartic Wilderwolves rocker Inhale, Increase The Dose.

I also take a look at the latest album from the elasticated electro-pop and neo-Kraut Cologne-based Von Spar and friends, Under Pressure, plus singles from two afflatus acts, the Indian-imbued Society Of The Silver Cross (‘Kali Om’ and ‘The Mighty Factory of Death’) and Book Of Enoch, Judaic inspired John Johanna (‘Children Of Zion’).



 

Mike Gale ‘Summer Deluxe’

May 2019

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

Liberally splashing about in the efflux surf of The Beach Boys the much-prolific Gale (this is his fifth album alone in just five years) hides a certain sorrow, longing and yearn under the most colorful and dreamy of melodious harmonies. Sometimes it’s just the one Beach Boy who springs to mind when listening to this seasonal paean: Dennis Wilson, who flits about with McCartney and The Animal Collective on the breezy but deeply felt ‘Barecaraa’, and a filtered version of Pet Sounds era Brian – via Sparklehorse and the little known She Sells Seashells Expo homage project by the lo fi American artist John Lane. There’s even a hint of Surf’s Up noir Brian Johnston echoing around the tranquil summer abandon of ‘You Have A Way’. But you get the picture: that Beach Boys influence is prominent; something that is impossible to pull-off unless you have the talent, which Gale obviously has and proves here, no matter how unassumingly he does it.

A beautifully articulated songbook throughout, the best is saved until (almost) last with the hymnal-turn-diaphanous upbeat chorus of bubbly-synth and wafting saxophone anthem ‘Every Cloud Has A Cloud’. A comfort blanket wrapped around the repeating plaint of “You feel like nothing’s really working out”, this final vocal track sounds like the weight of the shoreline is burdening a wistful Gale as he plunges into the ocean depths to escape.

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










 

Von Spar ‘Under Pressure’

(Bureau B) 10th May 2019

Finding it all a bit much, in a society the Von Spar have coined as “surveillance capitalism”, the Cologne-based “modular system” (their description not mine) convey delusion and anxiety on their first LP in five years, Under Pressure.

Far from dour, defiant and angry the Von Spar and guests lift the miasma and mood with a most classy soulful electro-pop and neo-Kraut dance album; a sophisticated affair that even opens with a two-part dream sequence, the first part, featuring the float-y hushed coos of the Japanese singer/songwriter Eiko Ishibashi drifting to a House music rewired vision of Tony Allen drumming and bouncing refracted polygons, the second part, brings in the familiar enervated falsetto soul of Canadian polymath Chris A. Cummings with a more gliding Italo House beat; the plaint sentiment of both being “all is well until it is not”. Cummings sweet malaise and wistful tones as principle vocalist can be heard on a quartet of equally chic dance tracks; the Yellow Magic Orchestra synth Orientalism drifty ‘Happiness’, winding spiraled prog-suspense mirage ‘Better Life’, and Duran Duran meets bubbly cosmic synth ray ‘Not To Forget’.

Adding an effortless lifetime of sassy dub and reggae scholarship to the Slits-in-chrome and Grace Jones stalking ‘Boyfriends (Dead Or Alive)’, the grand dame of music writing and post-punk Vivien Goldmine characteristically turns vulnerability into a strength, dismissing a string of exes in the process towards self-realization. Other notable doyens and cult figures include Stereolab’s iconic Kosmische siren Laetitia Sadier, who liltingly adds her signature float-y tones to the motorik electro-pop ‘Extend The Song’, and prolific idiosyncratic lo fi genius R. Stevie Moore, who turns in an anguished Laurie Anderson as A.I. psychiatrist performance (an inquisitive “should I worry”, becomes ever more agitated) on the Jah Wobble goes arpeggiator, feeding the consumer machine, ‘Falsetto Giuseppe’.

On an album that spans and twists so many genres, it is the closing shifting-shards panoramic turn rhythm tumbling instrumental, ‘Mont Ventoux’ that travels the furthest, moving from progressive West Coast psych folk to shades of Popol Vuh, Cluster, Vangelis and video-nastie synth soundtrack: A epic, reflective way to finish.

Under pressure maybe, but it doesn’t show as the Von Spar and friends produce a constantly evolving sophisticated dance album of soulful yearning.







Chris Brokaw ‘End Of The Night’

(tak:til) 24th May 2019

Representing a union between Glitterbeat Records experimental international instrumental imprint tak:til and the equally expletory American VDSQ, two tactile delights from the “21st century guitar’ label’s catalogue have been given a European-wide release for the very first time. Both released at the end of May, Chuck Johnson’s 2017 Balsams album will be available for the first time on CD, whilst the nocturnal inspired Chris Brokaw suite End Of The Night is an entirely new album of attentive and placable musings.

Review wise, I’ve only had time to peruse the latter, a swoozy, atmospheric accompaniment to the Codeine and Come band members various moods, reflections and observation, framed within the pitched idea by VDSQ label boss Steve Lowenthal as the “existential” pondered ideal “last record of the night” – the results of Brokaw and Lowenthal’s late night record listening sessions. Taking up the offer, to record that perfect twilight hour album, Brokaw collected ideas for years until the opportunity arose to finally put thoughts to tape.

Joining him on these various traverses and nuanced concentrations is an ensemble of congruous musicians, some recommended by Lowenthal. Appearing in a myriad of combinations, from duo to trio and quartet, is the “Chet Baker” redolent trumpet-player Greg Kelly (Chet being a big influence on Brokaw), violinist Samara Lubelski (who’s briefly played with, like Brokaw, Thurston Moore), viola player David Michael Curry, cellists Lori Goldston and Jonah Sacks, bass-player Timo Shanko and on drums, Luther Gray.

Channeling many of the artists he’s worked with, Thurston Moore, Evan Dando and Stephen O’Malley, as he deftly picks out descriptive notes and builds up a swell of resonance, Brokaw both dreamily and moodily drifts through gestures of jazz, post-rock, grunge, tremolo-echo-y country and on the reverb-heavy vapour drift, ‘Blue Out’, a cosmic kind of blues music. Suspense, even mystery and narrative are handled with descriptive poise, with the guitar-playing evoking traces of Jeff Buckley, Jonny Greenwood and on the hushed brushed drums, dipping motion ‘His Walking’, the results of melding Chris Isaak with J Mascis.

Meditative and lingering for the most part, End Of The Night counters somnolent reflection with cerebral ponder to create the desired nocturnal atmosphere; at least a great record to finish any session on, if not quite the “perfect” one.




Oliver Cherer ‘I Feel Nothing Most Days’

(Second Language Music) 26th April 2019

An artist most lyrically out of time, full of removed observations, set to the most relaxed and wafting of stripped accompaniments, a wistful Oliver Cherer exchanges the part fact/part fiction Victorian Forest of Dean folkloric diorama of The Myth Of Violet Meek for the vague resonating traces of the 1980s on his recent despondent entitled I Feel Nothing Most Days album.

The third such impressive songbook from the prolific Hastings-based earnest troubadour to be released under his own name (previous alter-egos have included DollBoy, Gilroy Mere, Rhododendron, The Assistant) in as few years, this often dreamy affair, originally conceived decades ago – a very young Cherer putting his burgeoning ideas on to a Yamaha 4-track cassette recorder in 1983 -, is imbued by the lingering articulated drip-fed and amorphous cycles of The Durutti Column, but also a wealth of similar ethereal artists, borders on shoegaze from the late 80s epoch of 4AD.

Attuned to the Durutti first time around no doubt, Cherer, by some cosmic-aligned luck, found that he owned Vini Reilly’s Fender guitar (the one used on Morrissey’s first solo LP, Viva Hate as well). Put to good use then, as Cherer reprises his early 80s (what was left of them; when salvaged from the attic and played on a modern cassette-player that two of the original quartet of tracks came out at half-speed, the remainder, in reverse) recordings, the mood of this album is gauzy memory; music pulled from another time, an ether even – some of this down to the harmonies, choral and often atmosphere-setting guest vocals of an apparition cooing Claudia Barton and Riz Maslen.

Despite the drifting, mirror-y visage of washed troubadour, Talk Talk, C86, shoegaze and even Yacht-rock, a barely concealed rage at the divisionist-driven tensions that have sown so much caustic discord in recent years; throwing a proverbial, sacrificial “baby” out with the bath water to the wolves on the veiled Robert Wyatt-esque ‘Weight Of The Water’, in what could be a denouncement on Brexit, and the sophisticated rock with hints of The Pale Fountains ‘Sinners Of The World’ is no less gently scathing.

Elsewhere Cherer moons on the wistfully enchanted French fantasy, ‘Seberg’, a lamentable swaddled delight r-imagination of a scene, played out to a reference heavy lyricism about the aloof, Gauloise smoke cool New Wave cinema icon Jean Seberg (Cherer playing an unlikely role of Jean-Paul Belmondo), and pens a magically sad, Laurel Canyon, swoon to dementia, fading memory and age on ‘An Unfamiliar Kitchen’.

Beautifully articulated throughout, the shifting memories of time assembling just long enough to provide a vaporous soundtrack, I Feel Nothing Most Days is despite the malaise, anguish and sense of injustice a lovely, soulful songbook; another essential Oliver Cherer release.







Stanlaey ‘The Human Project’

(Stanlaey Art) May 2019

Two years after the premiere of Bethany Stenning’s ambitious multi-media The Human Project, the full-on immersive audio soundtrack from that film arrives in the form of a debut album; the first under Stenning’s amalgamated pseudonym of Stanlaey through her own imprint label. Featuring a cast of over seventy artists, actors/actresses, videographers and of course musicians, Stenning’s plaudit-attracting opus is heavy on the themes of both duality and juxtaposition; the myriad of twists and turns as the polymath artist studies our chaotic modern relationship with nature, symbolized visually and musically over a number of concept-driven performances.

Creating an alternative pastoral fairytale world, Stenning brings us a highly experimental beguiling soundscape that is often as bewildering as it is diaphanous and melodious. Untethered throughout, weaving amorphously between Earth Mother folk, jazz, R&B, Tricky-like trip-hop and the avant-garde The Human Project is in a constant state of movement as it attempts to articulate and phrase the seven elements that underpin it. Stenning’s distinct voice is itself difficult to pin down, fluctuating, soaring, meandering as it does in giddy childlike innocent wonder one minute, a ghost the next: Joanna Newsom, Bjork and Janelle Monae wrapped into one woodland sprite.

A quartet of conceptual video tracks from the album have already been drip-fed in the run-up to its release as an audio only experience – which works equally without its visual moiety as a whole new immersive experience -; the earthy winding Ghostpoet-esque ‘The Mountain Collector’, the bowl-pouring nod to antiquity’s poetic titan and striving yearn to escape an “Iron Age of destruction” for one of gold, ‘Ode To Ovid’, the breathy ethereal with Tibetan wind chimes metaphorical encapsulation of fluidity (elegantly portrayed by the harmonious display of acro-yoga in the video) ‘Properties Of Ice’, and the gauzy anguished forest spirit turns wild and intense lament to a brought-to-life mannequin wanting to escape their constraints, ‘Wooden Womb’, have already been doing the rounds.

This leaves the silvery moon pool serenade love song between a werewolf and ‘The Moon’, the Lamplighter meets Erased Tapes, dub-y ponderous flood of consciousness ‘Eldor’ (which features the rapping of Pedro DG Correia), and sonic splashed, undulated interpretation of water (its healing properties as much as a backdrop to Stenning’s emotions) ‘Aquarium’. There’s also, as a sort of extra unveiling, the angelic wafting through a void spell of ‘Orbs’, which originally was used to play out the end credits of The Human Project film.

Neither art, performance nor purely a soundtrack, this album is captivating and distinct, working on all levels: sound and music so often fails when brought into the conceptual field of creative arts, but Stenning has pulled it off wonderfully.







 

Brickwork Lizards ‘Live At St. Giles’

(Vyvyfyr Records) 17th May 2019

Plucked from the era of top hat and tails tea dances and the more rouge-ish double entendre romantically swooned crooning gin joints, the Ink Spots via Sublime Porte imbued Brickwork Lizards seem to have been lifted from an old His Master’s Voice label shellac record. A meeting of musical mind, the Oxford based troupe merge co-founder Tom O’Hawk’s penchant for clipped vocal harmony and the swing of the roaring 20s and early 30s with his musical foil Tarik Beshir’s romanticized and longing sounds of Turkey and the Orient to create a unique fusion.

Enjoying the spotlight that shines on this Arabic jazz ensemble, off the back of two albums (the second of which, 2018’s Haneen, was given the thumb’s up by myself on this blog) and joint-jumping live performances, the group’s vocalist, oud player and instigator Beshir was invited to work as a musical consultant on the new Disney Aladdin reboot; members of the Lizards even formed part of the Sultan’s palace house band.

It is the live performance quality of the band that is celebrated for posterity on their latest release, a four-track EP recorded in front of an audience at the Oxford Jazz at St. Giles showcase. All new, even if they sound nostalgic, the St. Giles quartet of vocal and instrumental maladies, swoons and bounding dances features both original-penned compositions and re-imaginings of Ottoman bohemia, and an even older Arabic love poem They begin with one of these homage transformations, the Anatolian Tango suspense turn Balkan-rush treatment of the legendary Ottoman composer Tanburi Cemil Bey’s turn-of-the-20th century sweep of the bay ‘Nikriz Longa’ instrumental. On the final performance, Beshir yearningly improvises with an Arabic love paean to a weepy and complicated, but effortlessly played, 10/8 beat accompaniment on the Mowashah tradition inspired ‘Sama’I Waltz’.

With one foot in the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band camp, the Lizards pay respect to the racy sincerity of the doo-wop harmony group the Ink Spots on the jazzy crooned ‘I Want To Spend The Night With You’. And on their ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’ evoking serenaded idyllic punt down the river ‘Roses’, you can easily imagine the Lizards lounging on the Sultan’s palace rug, wistfully sighing sweet nothings to their muse.

With certain élan and flair, not forgetting a real commitment to their form, the Brickwork Lizards refine and reinterpret their nostalgic inspirations to produce a re-electrified fusion that transcends both its Ottoman and quaint Edwardian music hall legacies. Going by these St. Giles recordings they prove a great band to catch live in the flesh.




 

GOATS ‘Far Out’

(Submarine Broadcasting Co.) 16th May 2019

As if there weren’t enough Goat orientated bands already to contend with, here’s another. This collective rabble (not to be confused with that equally tripping, but African-imbued, lot from Sweden) of moonlight acid and experimental pseudo daemonic cult mind-bending is led by the brilliantly-named maverick Alan Morse Davis, with Jorge Mario Zuleta, Dec Owen and a list of pseudonyms to back him up.

Astral planning the nonsensical, channeling a wealth of acid-rock, hippie folk, Kosmische, Krautrock and avant-garde inspirations, these Holy Mountain(side) goats chew on the most lethal of intoxicating hallucinatory strength grass. Following up on their previous self-titled LP – which I’m told did some impressive sales – the GOATS latest wheeze, appropriately entitled Far Out, is one continuous forty-minute exploratory track of spliced sections, released on that most revived and limited of formats, the cassette tape.

Setting off through a reversal-heavy drug-y drone daze our navigators on this trip meander through an ever-changing soundscape of Incredible String Band commune ditsy childish folk, indigestion-hampered throat singing, early period Amon Duul II Gothic chorus of angels and Germanic myth, caustic confusion noodling, Spacemen 3 go baggy go Velvets psych-garage lo fi, and harmonium bellowed Indian fantasy mirage. That’s without mentioning the vortex sucking sample of The Creation’s ‘How Does It Feel To Feel’, the doodling melting evocations of the Acid Mothers Temple and the blown-out wafts of Kraut-jazz trumpet that get thrown in to what is a most experimental soundtrack; equally in search of hippie nirvana and free love aboard the Hawkwind mothership as amorphous fuckery.

Far Out is an often-ridiculous collage built around a few more thrashed-out, almost conventional, song ideas and meanderings. As ‘head music’ goes the GOATS have sown together a mind-melting rich peregrination of sketches, passing fancies, the afflatus and out-right weird to create their very own disturbed vision; a release that is more ennui, hard come-down Gong communing with Popol Vuh than Faust Tapes.







Wilderwolves ‘Inhale, Increase The Dose’

(Jezus Factory) 29th May 2019

From the Benelux alternative and experimental rock specialists Jezus Factory, and featuring a heavy-guitar rotation of guests and collaborators from the Angels Die Hard, Broken Circle Breakdown and Eriksson/Delcroix triangle of bands from that region, arrives the second LP of sincere anxiety and travail from the Wilderwolves. A vehicle for the songwriting of Alain Rylant, who also sings and plays guitar, the Wilderwolves lean towards introspective rage on the finely produced Inhale, Increase The Dose; though there’s a certain ambiguity in the lyrics, waiting to be decoded, and a lot of violence (metaphorical or not) meted-out and suffered in a number of moody love tussles.

Pitched then as an album about love, though with a side caveat that “it’s about everything” and “it’s about nothing”, all seen and experienced through the self-medicated haze of lethargy; Rylant attempts to rattle the listener (and himself) from a resigned stupor.

Full of the wrangling, sinewy, angulated and sometimes caustic guitar shapes we’ve come to expect from the label’s roster, the various cast of musicians on this album work their way through grunge, stoner, post-rock, Britpop and Americana. On the desperate sinking ‘Smoked’ and bloodied sinister ‘Tooth And Claw’ they brush-up against Placebo at their more refined, and on the post relationship fall-out of ‘Your Scars’ it’s a combination of Alice In Chains and Grant Lee Buffalo. The more relaxed, ambling ‘Underwater’ however, reminds me of an Arcade Fire song I’ve long since forgotten the title of.

A personal, candid offering that taps into the current need to share the sort of woes, stresses and anxieties usually left on the psychiatrist’s couch, in hope that it will somehow help, Inhale, Increase The Dose is a great cathartic indulgence that rocks.







Singles

John Johanna ‘Children Of Zion’

(Faith & Industry) Out Now

Ahead of a new biblical-inspired album in July, the first holy revelation from John Johanna’s upcoming Judaic apocalyptic Seven Metal Mountains opus is the lilting, cymbal resonating heavy, but deep, ‘Children Of Zion’.

Slightly lighter of touch, though just as steeped in religious liturgy, the latest single from the Norfolk artist once more traverses the Holy Land with a call-to-service melt of desert-blues, post-rock and psychedelic folk. Conceptually built around the ancient apocalyptic work laid down in the Book Of Enoch (the protagonist of that cannon being Noah’s grandfather, who’s visits to heavenly realms and augurs of doom are presented through visions, dreams and revelations), Johanna’s Seven Metal Mountains symbolize “the world empires that have successfully oppressed and controlled mankind”.

‘Children Of Zion’ has Johanna adopting a faux-reggae Arabian gait to deliver a message of worshipful defiance; throwing the moneylenders out of the temple, bringing down the towers of Babylon so to speak: “No politician gonna heal me/Only love and self control.” A return to Zion it is, the most venerated of sites; a return to the garden, Johanna has found his calling once more.

For those wowed and won-over (I previously included Johanna’s previous Afro-blues, gospel and rustic Americana rich mini LP, I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes in last year’s ‘choice albums’ features), prepare yourself for another divine communion.







Society Of The Silver Cross ‘Kali Om’ and ‘Mighty Factory Of Death’

Both out now

Nothing less than a clarion call for an “awakening to the universality of all people and things”, the second single of enlightened cosmic pathos from the matrimonial Seattle band once more merges a spiritual penchant for India with grunge and the Gothic. The afflatus Joe Reinke and Karyn Gold-Reinke couple behind the dramatic sounding Society Of The Silver Cross have shifted their musical tastes and inspirations in recent years after travelling; taking a hiatus to the Indian subcontinent after the break-up of Joe’s Alien Crime Syndicate. Fully imbued, bringing not only the message but also the stirring sounds of holy innovation with them back to Seattle, the couple have embraced the use of the Indian autoharp (known as the “shahi baaja”), bellowed harmonium and a droning inducing bowed instrument called the “dilruba”.

Far more Gothic, darker even, than anything you’d hear in the divine rituals of those Indian inspirations, this conversion is often full of daemonic stirrings and gauze-y mists of shoegaze and grunge. ‘Kali Om’ being the second such mix of these influences is a song that once more features an effective if succinct message and musical leitmotif in it’s opening chimes that signals a continuation of their debut single, ‘When You’re Gone’. ‘Kali”, the great redeemer, “Om”, the universal sound of consciousness, is a suitably atmospheric evocation; rich with dreamy mantra, spindled and lush tones, hints of Moorish Spain and of course, the ethereal lingering voice of Karyn.

Following in its ebb and flow, the group’s third single offers a more stark, morbid outlook through its ‘The Mighty Factory Of Death’ title, yet is no less lush and ethereal, when it does break from its gong-sounding harrowed majesty and doom. From the pages of The Book Of The Dead, this Egyptology-ringing acceptance of the fates levitation-towards-the-light breaks from its heavy veil to find heavenly relief. Indian veneration communes with Cobain’s Nirvana and The Velvet Underground, the Society Of The Silver Cross magic up an evocative enough message with both their recent singles.

The debut album, 1 Verse, is due out at the end of June.








Words: Dominic Valvona

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.




%d bloggers like this: