REVIEWS ROUNDUP/ WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




Welcome to Dominic Valvona’s regular reviews roundup. This latest edition of Tickling Our Fancy includes albums, EPs and singles by Rat The Magnificent, Papernut Cambridge, Kumo, Deben Bhattacharya, Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami, Moa Mckay, Crayola Lectern and Ippu Mitsui.

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

Electronic music composer extraordinaire Jono Podmore is back under the guises of Kumo with another serialism styled field recording, released through the London-based cassette tape label, Tapeworm; Rat The Magnificent rock, grunge, drone and grind their way through a new caustic shoegaze and industrial album, The Body As Pleasure; ARC Music sift through more of the celebrated late ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya’s archives to bring us the fifth edition of their Musical Explorers series, Waves Of Joy/Bauls From Bengal, and also bring us a mesmerizing album of Kurdish traditional performances, Melodic Circles, by the Iranian cousins Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami; the Gare Du Nord label’s unofficial house band, Papernut Cambridge, return with another enviable ensemble led songbook of Glam Rock, Psych and poetic resignation, honouring the late polymath maverick scientist and utopian dreamer, Richard Buckminster Fuller; the enchanting quivery psychedelic bathers, Crayola Lectern, return with a new album of ghostly voiced heartbreak, ‘Happy Endings’. We also have the new peppy modern soul pop fusion EP from Moa McKay and friends, Illusions Of A Dream, and a more relaxed, calming electronic cruise from the Tokyo composer Ippu Mitsui.


Rat The Magnificent  ‘The Body As Pleasure’  TTWD Records,  21st June 2018

Not as the name suggests, celebrating their rodent status whilst scratching like vermin at the bin bags in the gutter, as more guttural with seething yearning, Rat The Magnificent claw away in melodically dark despair on the new album, The Body As Pleasure. The noisy rock trio both clash and ponder on a grinding synthesis of pain, regret and isolation; dragging an impressive chorus of guest drone, grunge, shoegaze and post-rock exponents behind them. For the record, at any one time either caustic twiddling guitar, sonorous bass notes and harrowing longing vocals from Future Of The Left and Art Brut wingman Ian Gatskilkin, My Bloody Valentine and Graham Coxon band member Jen Marco and Hot Sauce Pony’s Caroline Gilchrist appear alongside a number of guest contributors – another Gilchrist for one, Stephen Gilchrist of Graham Coxon, The Damned and the Cardiacs infamy, being just one of the many.

That main catalyst and drive however is pendulously swung and elliptically (especially on the off-set rotation of the increasingly unhinged and entangled ‘Where You Been’) powered by the maverick trio maelstrom. Yet it’s a maelstrom of both fuzzed-up sinister prowling and melodious sensibilities. Like a Nordic sounding Thom Yorke drowning in a heavy dynamism of Swans, Interpol and Death From Above 1979 one minute, and plaintively following the contours of The Telescopes drones the next, the band conjure up all kinds of heavy rock and indie-on-steroids splinters, from The Birthday Party to DEUS, Marilyn Manson and the Archers Of Loaf.

Though the forebode and drone of songs like the skate punk Muse meets slacker rock ‘Olon’ and the Nick Cave No More Shall We Part swooned and trilled female vocalized like ‘Inevitable’ there’s a hint of lovelorn despair and confession. The most subdued dissipation, and oddest of finales, is the piano-accompanied-by-a-strange-crunching-Foley-sound ‘Panarron’, which stripes away the vortex of industrial anguish for an esoteric ambient soliloquy; the vocals so hushed as to be barely audible, as if the singer’s run out of steam, enervated and worn out: everything now off his chest, relieved yet fucked.

Noisy and caustic for sure, yet full of surprises (even space-age alpha wave synth on one track) The Body As Pleasure contorts and channels the energetic chaos through a prism of relief and accentuated tinkering. An illusion to all manner of references, the rodent’s left scurrying in the aftermath pick at the morsels to deliver a most intense album.




Papernut Cambridge  ‘Outstairs Instairs’  Gare Du Nord,  29th June 2018

 

The first full length album since 2016’s generous carrier-bag packaged Love The Things Your Lover Love, the Ian Button instigated cottage industry, known as the Anglo-French romanticized Gare Du Nord, finally releases a follow-up from the label’s unofficial house band, Papernut Cambridge. Like a session group but made-up of mostly deft and critically applauded artists in their own rights, Button’s ragtag group of friends, acquaintances and label mates includes such refined minstrels and troubadours as Darren Hayman, Robert Rotifer, Jack Hayter, Emma Watson and Ralegh Long. This already enviable ensemble is broadened by the Hunky Dory period piano accents and Mike Garson plays Gershwin flourishes of pianists Terry Miles and Luke Smith, smatterings of Malcolm Doherty’s recorder arrangements, Sterling Roswell’s synth and the wailing, squawking and slinking Roxy Music saxophone of Stabs Mackenzie.

In a convoluted family tree style, this cast has consistently overlapped on a myriad of projects and releases; all emanating from Button’s end of the London train line HQ on the borders of Kent. As with that previous album and incarnation, the Papernut Cambridge conveys idiosyncratic tragedies, injustices and heartache through an often wistful and whimsical prism of 1970s musical nostalgia; the cut-off point of their inspiration and influence being the change over from the snug hazy security of late 60s to mid 70s Top Of The Pops, beaming and disarming the gender-bending teenage angst of Glam and Art Rock through a fond afterglow, to the petulant arrival of punk. Certainly nostalgic and cosy then, Outstairs Instairs builds a rich melody and frequent Glam-beat stonk around its deeper themes of loss, anger, resentment and malady. Yet with quintessential English humour dragging Button and his cast from feeling despondent and conceited, lyrics often finish with a subtle note of resigned wit to snap the protagonists and listener from despair: The Hollies conducting an elegiac service of remembrance styled ‘No Pressure’ pays a fond and warm homage to Button’s late father; humble recollections of dad’s sagacious advice to tickling ivory is saved from over-sentimentality by the final line of the song, “Sometimes you have to cater for cunts!”

As referencing goes, conducing the maverick utopia and inventive theorems of the late American scientist polymath Richard Buckminster Fuller takes some doing. Yet, from borrowing his, perhaps, far too over-analyzed (and thought) but astronomically accurate method of describing the actions of going up or down a staircase – going as far as to cleverly cut the vinyl version of this album so each side mirrors this spiraling rotation – for an album title to framing the name given in his honour for a carbon molecular, the ‘Fullercenes’, as a metaphor for the charged chemistry of love on the starry Alvin Stardust-Mott The Hoople-Bowie-esque opening track, Papernut Cambridge weave their icons and cerebral pining’s into articulate hazy pop. Though, making concessions for, as I’ve already remarked, 60s beat groups, psych and even grown-up rock’n’roll blues, the Nuts graze Goats Head Soup era Stones romantic weeping on ‘How To Love Someone’, and waft in their honky tonk Orleans boogie on the pastoral garden party ‘House Of Pink Icing’.   On the Victoriana fairground knees-up comes sad tale of the “best dog in Battersea”, ‘Angelo Eggy’, they sound like a mongrel-breed of the Alex Harvey Band, Wings and Marmalade, and on the St. Peter-as-overburdened-civil-servant ‘New Forever’, they reimagine Highway 61 Revisited Dylan fronts The Soup Dragons or early The Charlatans. You can also expect to hear at any one time in the mix, hints of Edison Lighthouse, Fleetwood Mac, Cockney Rebel and The Rubettes.

From ill fated, nee cursed, characters to the all too-real forgotten victims of industry and losers in life, the Papernut Cambridge envelop pain and resignation in a warm caring blanket of nostalgic and beautifully crafted pop music. With an ensemble to die for, this is a sweetened if sad album of cherished memories and augurs to come; a missing link between 70s Top Of The Pops annuals, Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane Bowie, Glam Rock and I Can See For Miles’ halcyon English songwriting compilations. A most magnificent return from a most maverick of outfits.






Crayola Lectern  ‘Happy Endings’  Onomatopoeia,  1st June 2018

 

Bathing in the same South Downs of Southeast England water, even if it’s further west along the coastline at Worthing, as the gentle psych imbued outfits Electric Soft Parade and The Fiction Aisle, the Chris Anderson instigated Crayola Lectern embark on a most pastoral, stirring malady on the group’s second album, Happy Endings.

Featuring band members and guest spots from the former of those two Brighton bands, but also a trio from London stalwarts, The Cardiacs, the Crayola Lectern fondly and nostalgically absorb a cannon of rich 1960s psychedelia, seaside vaudeville, dancehall tea parties and quintessential irreverent witty eccentricity. Gazing through the pea green sea-like gauze-y sepia of the album’s cover (a photo of Anderson’s grandmother on her wedding day), revisiting old ghosts to a vague backing of early Floyd, Robert Wyatt, and even at times a spot of Family, Anderson moves amorphously through time whilst alluding to a rafter of contemporary problems: One of the overriding sentiments of which, gleamed from the beautifully hazy melodious piano led, and cherubic sung, opener ‘Rescue Mission’, is that love is really all; but whatever this self-centered world throws at you, “Don’t let the buggers bring you down.”

 Diaphanously played throughout, softened, occasionally venerable and choral with dreaming visages of mellotron, trumpet and finely cast musical spells, the album can seem like it’s being summoned from the ether and beyond. Emerging from a burial-at-sea like seaweed covered aquatic specters on the ode to a ‘Submarine’ metaphor (which even includes lines in Latin), or caught in a nursery rhyme loop, lying in bed each night thinking of the inevitable, the theme of death is always close at hand; but handled with sighing reassurance and the comforting strains of a dashing about lullaby.

From end-of-the-pier shows to séances on a wet afternoon, the nostalgic quaintness of Happy Endings dips its toes into vibrato like waters, with shades of The Beach Boys Surf’s Up on ‘Secrets’, and presence of a lapping tide on the theatrical pining and beautiful ‘Barbara’s Persecution Complex’. A general ebb and flow motion, not just rhythmically and musically but in the relationship between an almost childlike innocence and the sagacious meditations of experience, is suffused throughout; though breakouts of rock opera, ascendant spiraling and more dramatic loveliness do splash about in the psychedelic mysterious waters. And on the title track, though it’s prefixed in brackets with ‘(No More)’, there’s an allusion to alien visitors that could be read as a metaphor for the illegal alien otherness of not starbound extraterrestrials but migrants, refugees and even our cousins across the Channel.

Conveying the mood and plaguing anxieties of the past and contemporary; circumnavigating the choppy waters of uncertainty; Anderson and his troupe effortlessly exude a subtle elegance and enchanting charm to produce a gauze-y psychedelic melodrama. Lush and quivery, Anderson’s vocals almost ghostly heartbreaking throughout, the piano played with an understated but emotive caring patience, Happy Endings is a peaceably beauty of a minor opus.






Various  ‘Musical Explorers: Waves Of Joy/Bauls From Bengal: Field Recordings By Deben Bhattacharya’  ARC Music,  25th May 2018

If you’re a regular visitor to my reviews roundup then you might already be familiar with ARC Music’s Musical Explorer series: celebrating the work of pioneering ethnomusicologists, and currently sifting through the renowned archives of the late Indian field recordist and filmmaker, Deben Bhattacharya.

The fifth volume in this series once again delves into the rich vaults of material Bhattacharya captured when travelling his native Indian homeland: Other volumes highlight his recordings from Taiwan and Tibet; though he recorded in a multitude of locations and countries during his career.

Settling in London at the turn of the 1950s with mixed results (though after juggling many jobs, finally able to make a living from documenting exotic music, at the time mostly unknown to Western ears), Bhattacharya made many return trips, especially to his birthplace of Benares in Bengal. Previous editions in this explorers series (Colours Of Raga, Krishna In Spring) have either included or alluded to music from the region, and the dual film/audio recordings of Waves Of Joy/Bauls From Bengal is no different.

Amateurish and make-do by the technical standards of today, Bhattacharya’s ’12-volt battery’ powered laden ‘one-man mobile’ recording apparatus still magically captures the most unpretentious in-situ purity of performances. In natural surroundings, the majority in adulation or paean to spiritualist guidance and, not exclusively by any means, Hinduism, these timeless recordings seem to have been caught serendipitously: the opposite of staged, directed and scholarly.

 

Recorded before his death in 2001, the audio part of this package features a revolving troupe of players performing the spiritual enlightened poetics of the traditional holy wandering minstrels known as the Baul. Translated from the original Sanskrit word for ‘vatula’ or ‘mad’ – though in this case a kind of entranced devotional madness -, these sagacious weavers of philosophical devotion study the ambiguity between divine and sensual love; unburdened by established religion or dogma. Finding a commonality with the Sufis, and especially the ideas of the Persian mystic Rumi, the Baul’s song (also known as ‘bauls’, which can be confusing) are filled with poetic worship, but always stating humbleness, offering nothing other than love as the opening ‘Doya Kore Esho’, sung in exultation by Robi Das Baul, exemplifies:

How shall I adore Thy feet – incomparable?

No prayer or dedication have I

O gracious one!

No devotion,

nor wisdom do appear within my heart of hearts,

Bid farewell to my joylessness,

Give me more joy

In this humble abode of my heart.

 

Analogies to a “shoreless sea” and the desirable banks of joyful aspiration and nirvana that meet its waves coupled with symbolist fauna, dealing with death, and the conversion of lost souls to whatever guru is being venerated flow throughout this collection’s fourteen track songbook on a buoyant bending and dipping rhythmical accompaniment. Beautifully sung, hollering and soaring even, a quintet of baul minstrels take turns, accompanied by atavistic instrumentation. An intrinsic feature of which is the tucked under the arm ‘anandalahari’, a tabla like tension drum with a plucked string. Held tightly in one arm, the player can pull on a small knob to stretch this string whilst using his other hand to pluck away with a plectrum. Its bending resonance can be heard alongside the one-string drone ‘ektara’, fretless long-necked lute like ‘dotara’, small metal pellet ankle bells chiming ‘ghungru’, bamboo flute ‘banshi’ and tied around the waist clay kettle drum, the ‘duggi’.

All recorded in Shantiniketan, an area synonymous with baul history, these performances feature compositions from such revered gurus as the 19th century mystic/poet Lalon Shah Fakir and Matam Chand Gosain, but also more contemporary figures, such as the film actor and folk musician Mujib Paradeshi and lyricist, composer Bhaba Pagla: It all sounds timeless however, with only a subtle allocation made for more modern themed metaphors.

The documentary, filmed in 1973, is a grainy but colourful informative (if slightly stiff in narration) highlight, featuring as it does the Kenduli Mela festival in West Bengal. A huge momentous musical and religious gathering, it’s held at the birthplace of the famous poet Jaidev in the Birbhum district, attracting, as you’ll see, a myriad of baul ensembles. Probably unrecognizable today – in fact Simon Broughton, of Songlines fame, and the author of this compilation’s linear notes, remarks on its built-up modernity – the plains and riverside of Kenduli in the 1970s is agrarian with the only transport in sight, a multitude of ox pulled carts. Reading out poetic, wise lyrics whilst moving the camera from temples to villages and bazaars, the narrator informs and explains not only the folklore and myths of the baul, but also the basics of the instruments and songs. The message of this study is of the individual’s pursuit in communing with their spiritual guide unburdened by barriers, as the words, read out whilst resting the camera on the icon carvings of a temple sum up so well:

The road to you is barricaded with temples and mosques

I hear you calling my lord, but cannot reach you.

Teachers, preachers and prophets bar the way.  

 

Both revelatory and insightful, an education you could say, Bhattacharya’s extensive archives showcase Indian music at its most venerable and spiritual. A snapshot on the devotional and a survey on the baul phenomenon this latest stimulating Musical Explorers package is a visual and audio treat.




Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami  ‘Melodic Circles: Urban Classical Music From Iran’ ARC Music, 27th July 2018

 

The second ARC Music release to grab my attention this month, the entrancing circular and eastern mirage rippling evocations of the Mehdi & Adib Rostami cousins bring a certain modernity to the classical ‘urban’ music of their homeland, Iran. Tensions between Iran (both with the nebulas and all too real physical influences) and its neighbours in the region, and of course the West, have never been shakier; especially with the recent collapse of the ‘nuclear deal’ and renewal of sanctions, but also with its military presence in Syria and the Yemen. And with the roots of the Rostami cousins’ performances deriving from the Kurdish music of Iran’s Fars province (‘widely considered’, as the liner notes suggests, ‘the cultural capital of Iran’; it is indeed the original home of the Persian people after all) you can’t help but think of the controversies and complexities that hound the Kurdish people in a number of violent flashpoints; most of which derive from the fight for an independent state: though not all Kurds are involved or even agree on the issue.

It makes a change then, to celebrate rather than hector or feel despondent about Iranian culture; ARC Music shedding a light on a positive, magical aspect of the country and its musicians; showcasing, as they do, the technical and creative improvisational skills of the Rostami maestros.

Conventionally divided into two general branches; one deriving from the ethnic minorities (which also includes Nomadic traditions), each with its own distant musical system, the second, and what you’ll hear on this album, is the urban tradition, though it’s a much later style: the ‘radif-e dastgāhi’. Passed down orally, the, what seems like an amalgamation of systems and ‘melodic circles’ structures (so named for the manner in which these Iranian melodies link together to form ‘circles’), ‘radif’ is traditionally divided into ‘instrumental and vocal music’. A serious dedication is needed, as each student of this system must learn their art with a number of masters; the ultimate goal of which, we’re told, is ‘for the musician to cultivate, through many years of practice and performance, the capacity to improvise, wherein ideally, the musician would create a new work in each performance.’ Not just able scions of that learning but international artists of repute and masters of their chosen Iranian instruments, the long-necked, plucked lute ‘setār’ and goblet-shaped drum, the ‘tombak’, the cousins studied with a wealth of talent. Mehdi began playing the wooden fretted setār at the tender age of six, going on to study under the tutelage of Mohammadreza Lofi and Hossein Alizadeh, and take a ‘masterclass’ with Kayhan Kalhor, whilst Adib started out learning the principal percussion instrument, the tombak, on his own before later taking lessons and refining his technique with Mohammed Ghodsi and Pejman Hadadi. He also studied the Iranian fiddle, the ‘kamancheh’, with Roozbeh Asadian and Lofi, and as his cousin did, took masterclasses with Kalhor.

Performing several times in the UK, including as part of the BBC Proms season and with the Syrian ‘qanum’ player Maya Youssef, under the Awj Trio collaboration, the cousins are calling this album their first official release. An album in two parts, subdivided into a trio and a quartet of various passages, Melodic Circles is essentially a contemporary interpretation of the atavistic Kurdish ‘Bayāt-e Tork’ and ‘Bayāt-e Esfahān’ cycles. Though following the handed-down prompts of these age old ‘modes’, they imbue their versions with deft improvisation; breathing in the atmosphere and mood of their surroundings and feelings on the day of the recordings to offer something organic and fresh.

‘Circle One’, comprised of three separate chapters, arises from the Persian epoch with a spindled trickle of ancient evocations; cantering and rolling when the rapid tub-thumping percussion joins in, beside the waters of the Fertile Crescent. The opening section, ‘Nostalgia’, alludes musically to another era, mystical and timeless but unmistakably played out in the present. It’s followed by any equally dusty mirage of enchantment and cascading dripping plucked notes on the travelling ‘Journey’; which, by the end of its perusal, turns a trickle into a flood.

The final piece of that trilogy, ‘Delight’, dashes straight in with a speedy, mesmerizing display of blurry percussion; the lute gliding and entrancing until locking into a circular loop, resonating with brass-y echoes and spiraling nuances.

The second ‘circle’, featuring a quartet of pieces, opens with the longing ‘Lonely’. Romantic gestures, ripples and vibrations gather momentum until reaching a crescendo and dissipating, on this dusky earthy track. Picking up on the intensity, ‘Life’ is like an energetic camel trot across mirage shimmered deserts, whilst, reaching tranquil, less galloping, waters ‘Past’ is the musing respite before the frenzied hypnotic circulations of the ‘Mystic Dance’ spin into play.

Caught in the moment, feeding off each other whilst channeling their intensive studies, the cousins perform with dexterous, masterful skill and a sense of freedom. Melodic Circles faithfully keeps the traditions of the Rostami’s native heritage alive in a contemporary setting; a heritage that is seldom celebrated in the West, especially in such trying times, yet proves an intoxicating experience of discovery.



Kumo  ‘Day/Night’  Tapeworm

 

Releasing a myriad of ‘micro-scale’ peregrinations via his revitalized imprint Psychomat and now through the London-based cassette tape label Tapeworm, Jono Podmore once again channels his longest running alter-ego as Kumo for another serialism style trip into the unknown.

Finding a suitable home for his latest experiment with the highly conceptual Tapeworm (a label with an aloof roster of projects from serious thinkers and avant-garde artists alike, including the late Derek Jarman, Stephen O’Malley, Philip Jeck and Can’s one time front-of-house shaman, Damo Suzuki), the professor of ‘popular music practice’ at Cologne’s Hochschule für Musik, sometime Irmin Schmidt foil and guiding light of the Can legacy (the recent Lost Tapes being just one project he helped put together and produce), and founding instigator of the rebellious analogue adventurers Metamono, imbues a set of field recordings with decades of electronic experience.

Lifting off from the concrete of terra firma into alien Kosmische amorphous realms, his Day/Night moiety converts the environmental sounds (from mopeds to barking dogs, the sonorous bass boom of a subwoofer drifting from a car stereo, to city landscape birds squawking and commercial airplanes flying overhead) he recorded from the balcony of his South East London flat into something often mysterious and even at times transient. Both tracks are undulated with Tangerine Dream ambient machinations and oscillations, and ethereal siren trilled Theremin: left to linger, waft and occasionally ascend above the looming hovering clouds.

There are subtle differences between the two aspects of the same day of course; the movements and appearance of nocturnal wildlife and the human inhabitation of Podmore’s estate reverberate on the ‘Night’ recording; inverted owl-like signature sound and orbiting satellites overlap with darker stirrings and the visage shimmers of an unknown presence.

A Kosmische and avant-garde electronic panorama, viewed from a concrete vantage point, Podmore’s efflux styled synthesis convolutes the 360-degree city environment with engineered sounds to create another quality ambient drone and kinetic recording. If you like early Cluster (Kluster even), TD, Orb, even early Kraftwerk, and a lifetime of cerebral techno minimalism then track this tape down. You better be quick though, as it’s limited to only 125 copies!



Moa McKay ‘Illusions Of A Dream’  29th June 2018

Though I know absolutely nothing about – what sounds to my ears like a sassy bubblegum soulstress with millennial pep – the pop-y soul singer Moa McKay, the lilting but deep grooves of the opening track from her summery new EP, wafting from my speakers, immediately caught my attention when I first heard it recently: alluringly intriguing, drawing me.

Though the lingering breezy jazz tones may evoke Frank era Amy Winehouse with a tinge of American R&B, McKay actually hails from Stockholm and resides in Berlin: a city that doesn’t exactly scream soul. Earlier material, from what I can deduce, is more in the mode of Scandi-pop heartbreak; sung in McKay’s native dialect. With a fresh outlook and collaborating with a trio of musicians that includes guitarist Tristan Banks, drummer Gabriele Gabrin and bass player Per Monstad, McKay now expands her vocal range on an EP’s worth of summertime retro soul pop hits.

Sounding as effortless and floaty as that summer breeze she arrives on, this smoky lounge meets urban suite is rich with nice little funk licks and twangs, rolling jazzy blues percussion and a live feel backing. R&B heartache with attitude, she weaves the woes and travails – from first person perspective to looking in from the outside – of relationships in the modern age. She won’t take any crap mind: channeling as she does, the steely women of 1960s soul and turning the “tramp” put-down on its head.

A modern take on the sort of fusion soul and jazz that the Talkin’ Loud label used to pump out in the 90s, but with nods to the original blueprints, McKay and her partners create a brilliant EP of pliable, melodious and sophisticated sun-dappled soul and pop.




Ippu Mitsui  ‘Shift Down EP’  Submarine Broadcasting Company, 6th July 2018

Atypical of EPs from the mysterious Tokyo-based composer of quirky ennui electronica, Ippu Mitsui’s latest transmission, as the title suggests, is a (gear)‘shift down’ from his usual broken-up, bit-y and effects cornucopia signature style of dance music. Choosing to flow and relax on a neon-glowed cruise through a quartet of both nocturnal prowls and sunset beckoning castaways, Mitsui’s kooky visions summon evocations of a Leaf Label soundtracked Drive, or Warp transmogrified Tokyo Drift: a pulse, you could say, perfect for motoring runs across an Akira illustrated cityscape.

Still throwing us curve-balls; bending and morphing, twisting and turning; changing the odd note for example on a bass run; despite throwing us occasionally, our enigmatic producer creates his most peaceful suite yet. From hanging out the back of a Sega games console 16-bit pixelated sports car on the title track, to imagining the Yellow Magic Orchestra pumping out from an 1980s West Coast lowrider stereo on ‘Squeeze 87’, and navigating early Aphex Twin and futurist Baroque on ‘Rotation’, Mitsui melds TR-808 electro and acid Techno with swelling strings to once again soundscape his own imaginations.

Idiosyncratic, sophisticated and plowing his own furrow, this emerging talent remains a well-kept secret on the electronic music scene. Hopefully, translating from his native Japan, and distributed in the last couple of years through independent UK labels and platforms, such as Bearsuit Records and, on this latest release, the Submarine Broadcasting Company, he’ll now reach a much wider audience at last.





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NEW MUSIC REVUE  WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Featuring another eclectic borderless roundup of interesting and innovative, and sometimes previously lost, treasures, this latest edition of my reviews package includes a fond and timeless quality collection of songs from the Irish folk legend John Dunhan; the second album from Oxford’s English tea dance meets Ottoman jig outfit, the Brickwork Lizards; a morning chorus inspired EP of homage covers from the adroit John Howard; Lukas Creswell-Rost transforms and remodels his soft rock triumph Go Dream into something more abstract, eclectic and dreamier; and a promising pair of debut albums from the ‘Celtic phantasmagoria’ inspired Irish harpist and songstress Brona McVittie, and the abstract sonic sculptor Anna Sonne. We also have, yet another blast of garage, doom, psych and this time Gothic mooning fun from the Stolen Body Records label, in the guise of the Portuguese boy/girl Sunflowers.

And if that isn’t enough already, I have a roundup of equally interesting and eclectic ‘shorts’ from as far afield as Canada and Paris too, with tracks, singles and oddities from the Parisian Anglo-French group Orouni, Toronto-based producer Luxgaze and the Leeds Psych pop electronic outfit Lost Colours.

Brona McVittie  ‘We Are The Wildlife’  Available Now

 

With the lightest, most deft of touches, Irish songstress and harpist Brona McVittie embarks on a voyage of ‘psycho-geographic’ inspired encapsulations of a mysterious, magical landscape and history on her debut album, We Are The Wildlife.

The title of this original and transformed traditional suite alludes to the premise that even people and the modern infrastructure (pylons for instance) that spans the land are just as important and intrinsic to the landscape as ‘spiders and cobwebs’; acting as they do throughout this album as both manmade and natural catalysts with which to bounce ideas and sounds from, or even off of – the inspiration for the pining bliss of the ethereal voiced and caressed bucolic, Under The Pines, arose from hearing the reverberation of a dog’s bark off the trees that stand on the edge of the Rostrevor pine forest.

Tracing the sonic contours of London’s urban fringes and the rural landscapes of Mourne, McVittie pitches her fluttery diaphanous harp-led songbook somewhere between post-folk and the cinematic – helped along in part by the drifting trumpet evocations of film composer Hutch Demouilpied, who’s contributions sound at times like Miles Davis Dingo transported to an Irish peat bog.

Her ephemeral harp melodies and phrases often feel like a breath or just the merest hazy lingering presence of the instrument, which – and I’ve never heard of anyone else doing this before – might in some ways be down to McVittie’s technique of playing them all on the guitar first before transcribing over. It certainly offers a different perspective and technique. And it certainly takes this heavenly traditional instrument into even more mystical, accentuate abstract realms, helped of course by an accompaniment of meadow flute (Keiron Phelan), sad bowed delicate strings (Richard Curran), searching fleeting slide-guitar and shuffling to full-on breakbeat drums (Myles Cochran). All of which amorphously pushes the often-ancient feelings and geography towards John Martyn and Bert Jansch one minute, towards the Incredible String Band or trip-hop the next.

 

As an additional running theme to that of a modern natural panorama, McVittie also draws deep from the well of Irish musical folklore and literature, borrowing as she does both titles and ‘the great Celtic phantasmagoria whose meaning no man has discovered, nor any angel revealed’ (interrupted on the yearning instrumental The Vast And Vague Extravagance That Lies At The Bottom Of The Celtic Heart) lyrical adage from W.B. Yeats to reinterpret her ancestral home’s legacy and hard to define feelings. Taking the And The Glamour Fell On Her reference to mean, in a manner, ‘away with the fairies’, and When The Angels Wake You, a reference to the ancient Celtic perception of death, from Yeats, McVittie’s quivering harp caresses and translucent vocals articulate a misty veiled dreamscape; both haunting and peaceable.

Transformed with a subtle undulation of electronic ambience, traditional fare such as the resigned death lament The Jug Of Punch (“When I am dead in my grave, no costly tombstone will I have. Lay me down by my native peat, with a jug of punch at my head and feet.”), and more obscure County Down love ballads, such as the greenery meandrous tip-toe Newry Mountain, have an eerie, elegiac echo, shrouded as they are in the haze of a pastoral adumbrate swooning soundtrack.

Played, as I said at the very beginning, with the lightest of touches, McVittie’s wildlife and Celtic inspired filmscape subtly crafts tradition into a cerebral suite of neo-classical and ambient folk. We Are The Wildlife is the most inviting and unique of debuts.






Astrid Sonne  ‘Human Lines’   Escho,  19th February 2018

 

Merging a background in the classical with a love for electronic composition, the Copenhagen-based composer/musician Astrid Sonne examines the balance between computer-generated and organic sounds on her spatial sonic debut LP, Human Lines. Conceptually minded, Sonne is know for her burgeoning work in creating site-specific compositions for a number of installations in Denmark, including the old ruins under the Danish Parliament and a stretch of the Copenhagen Metro – part of the Trans Metro Express for the Strøm Festival. Human Lines sounds at times like an extension of this: certainly informed by it in the use of space and depth.

Structurally and thematically exploring both the organic and mechanical, but also, as Sonne puts it, ‘the balance between repetition and renewal in various universes which responds to different emotional stages’, each piece develops from either its initial crystal sharp sonorous pings or tubular metallic twitches into interconnecting hovers or fissure stretching cyclonic warps.

 

Leaving it to the listener to interpret, each ambient, drone and transduced viola performance seems to spark or stutter into action on its own accord, as though Sonne gathers the elements together and once generated lets them fall, probe and encircle where and how they desire. There’s clean scattered nodes and seeping melody on the Kosmische style Also, gabbling crushed and warped percussive loops and a cosmic ethereal repeating choir on the heavier Real, and a hint of Japanese electronica on the abstract, arpeggiator A Modular Body; all of which, as does most of the album, ascend, marvel and encircle the celestial.

It’s left to the final and most achingly beautiful sad composition, Alta, to break free from the machine (almost) and find the humanity. Erring towards the playing of Tony Conrad and John Cale, Sonne’s last impression bows towards her classical learning, with only the subtlest of synthesized sound to accompany a touching, atmospheric, viola performance.

Still developing and searching ideas, Sonne’s debut is a very promising start; combining the conceptual with techno, darkwave and ambient. The balance suggests the machine element hasn’t completely taken over just yet.




John Howard  ‘Songs From The Morning’  John Howard/Kobalt,  Available Now

 

Probably more productive than he’s ever been, during a career that spans five decades, songwriter/pianist troubadour and A&R man John Howard has in recent years worked with a myriad of collaborative talent (the Robert Rotifer, Andy Lewis and Ian Button instigated, and most brilliant revival, John Howard & The Night Mail) and released a number of solo albums and EPs – the last of which, the stunning cerebral Across The Door Sill, made our choice albums of 2016 features.

Enjoying a calm and restrained renaissance of a sort since the feted days of his acclaimed debut Kid In A Big World, Howard’s status as a seriously adroit songwriter and assiduous tickler of the ivory is assured and proven beyond doubt with every subsequent project. His latest collection, a five-track homage EP of covers, is a welcome breather, even stopgap, between albums. Howard is set to release his eighteenth long-player this summer, with news of a nineteenth to follow – though this is purely at the writing stage at the moment.

 

Perhaps a reflection and circumstance of Howard’s approaching 65th birthday, Songs From The Morning muses at a leisure over a selection of favorite songs from the artist’s formative years in the late 60s and early 70s – a time when he was adoring fan, and not quite the confirmed artist. Highly influential, imbuing Howard’s own craft, a carefully chosen quartet of tracks themed around both the celebration and lament of the morning sun, have been subtly lifted and transformed with signature aplomb. Showing a great taste in music, he picks from the golden spring of both lauded and tragic songwriter artists.

Featured a couple of months back on the Monolith Cocktail as a taster, a Waterboys-esque, almost jangly version of the fated Nick Drake’s most touching pulchritude – which more or less lends its name to the EP title – From The Morning is given the venerated praise treatment by Howard. This is a leitmotif, an almost deep reverence that comes out as pastoral gospel. Sharing with Howard a certain promise that failed to crossover into commercial success, though of course the understated quiet figure spiraled into a mental abyss and tragically committed suicide at the age of only 26 – the year before Howard’s debut album release – Drake was renowned for penning the mournful and serious, yet he wrote this most uplifting of beauties, a favourite of Howard.

In a similar vein, Mike Heron’s – of The Incredible String Band fame –bucolic delight You Get Brighter is another glorious declaration of love for nature’s brightest life-giving force. Positively radiant, meandering as it does through a Baroque folk majesty, Howard subtly marks the original with his own peaceable nature and joy.

Wishing to hold off the morning’s rays, Tom Springfield’s lovelorn plea, Morning, Please Don’t Come – originally recorded with his sister Dusty in 1969 for his own LP Love’s Philosophy – playfully yearns for the dawn to never come; a signal as it seems for his love to leave his bedside, and maybe step out of his life forever. Howard rings out the tambourine, lightly caresses the piano and swoons a faithful tribute.

Once again drawn to the tragic, Howard also does justice to Sandy Denny’s complex woven lament The Lady and Tim Buckley’s equally troubled, but achingly beautiful, Morning Glory. Savoring the challenge of translating “rather a lot of chords” (as Denny herself puts it on a live recording of this elegiac delight) on to piano, Howard transposes the malady and bellowed heartbreak to sound like a lost Elton John classic. He turns Buckley’s rather ambiguous 1967 ballad into a 70s style epic that rolls on and on. Accompanying anecdotal notes of interest from Howard explain each song’s appeal and influence, with a mention about the ‘musical scholars’ debate over the meaning of Buckley’s “fleeting house” lyric; a reference that Howard himself believes alludes to a ‘house we only live in temporally, like the hobo the lyric mentions several times in the song.’ Whatever you decipher from this cryptic and great lyric, the song is somehow congruous to the collection, yet barely mentions the ‘morning’; just as easily conjures up an ambivalent atmosphere of time and the seasons.

 

A great songbook, lifted and subtly turned into a venerable homage, Songs From The Morning is an articulate often peaceable collection from an artist happy to spend a moment contemplating and celebrating those that inspired him, but also a pause before launching into a string of new solo work.






John Duhan ‘The Irishman’s Finest Collection’   ARC Music,  Available Now

 

With a certain earnest sentimentality and the Irish brogue of a “folkie” Springsteen, songwriting legend John Duhan’s five decade spanning songbook is for many of his admirers both a heartfelt hymn to life and love and an article of faith.

Despite penning highly popular peaceable anthems and the most romantic of love songs, Duhan’s music has mostly been brought to attention via international Irish icons such as Mary Black and The Dubliners. His most popular hit of all, the timeless Emerald Isle metaphorical seafaring paean The Voyage, was a much loved sentiment to overcoming life’s obstacles together as a couple and family (a recurring theme throughout), much beloved by Duhan’s local community but propelled to global success by Christy Moore, who covered it in 1989.

And so for many this latest collection come compendium musical accompaniment to his autobiography, To The Light (a title taken from the leading track of his album of the same name), is an introduction to the songwriter/performer who originally started out in the 60s as the fifteen year old frontman for the highly successful Irish beat group Granny’s Intentions, before going on to carve out a career as a lone troubadour.

Corresponding to each of the four chapters of that bio, songs have been ‘carefully’ selected from a quartet of his most ‘epic’ albums: Just Another Town, The Voyage, Flame, and, of course, To The Light itself. Self-confessedly never following ‘trends or fashions’, Duhan’s music remains timeless, accompanied as it is by gentle oboe, violins, cello, pipes, the accordion and his tender guitar. There is some room however for modernity, with the subtlest of technological advancements allowed to create synthesized atmospheres and melodies when wanted.

Following a toiled life story, it makes perfect sense to start at the beginning, paying homage to the town of his birth, Limerick. Featuring a diorama cast of locals and scenes that have obviously touched and been lived by its author, Duhan muses that his town is “just another town” like any other, but it’s the first of two occasions to include lyrics that reference his old dad – lyrically etched as a character, singing in baritone, ‘with the emphasis on the ‘bar’’ – on the track of the same name and on the rousing Don’t Give Up Till It’s Over, and paints a fond picture of home.

 

All the cornerstones of the family and the touchstones of a life well lived are drawn upon for material, including the offering of a steady hand of assurance to both his teenage daughter – in the middle of some tumult on Your Sure Hand – and to his son Kevin – on the immensity of the great unknown and our place in the scheme of things pondering Face The Night. There’s a coo-like bowed tribute to his mum in the form of a charming reminder from the past on Song Of the Bird; a tale of when Duhan and his Mum nursed an injured bird back to life, offering hope and a fond memory of his mum when she sadly passed away.

Through it all, from meandering family rifts to stargazing philosophically, there’s a deep sense of faith and the tender gesture of overcoming adversity. Mostly set in the here and now, though musically transcending any specific timeline, the only song that deviates from this is The Blight. A sad saga about the fatal disease that infected and destroyed as a consequence so many potato harvests in Ireland, known by its Latin name as Phytophthora infestans but named ‘the Blight’ by those communities it devastated, this obviously emotionally aching chapter from the Island’s history is turned into a tale of death and survival on the ‘blight’ riddled toiled fields and lands by Duhan, but it could so easily be an ode to the hardships of eking out substance on the American frontier as well.

 A perfectly pleasant guide to one of Ireland’s greatest living songwriters – who it must be said is also pretty deft and handy with the guitar too – Duhan’s Finest Collection gently explores his adroit magic and sincerity over time, and will remain one of the best encapsulations of his craft for years to come.




Brickwork Lizards  ‘Haneen’   Available Now

 

A beneficial creative exchange of musical backgrounds that blossomed from a chance meeting between Oxford stalwart Tom O’ Hawk and the Egyptian vocalist and oud player Tarik Beshir – of the town’s Arabic ensemble Oxford Maqam – into the fusion, the Brickwork Lizards, sprung from a mutual love for the 1930s harmony group The Ink Spots, but also a yearning for a, mostly, lost past.

Nostalgic reverberations from both the exotic Ottoman Empire of yore and 1920s English dancehalls seamlessly elope off together to create something fairly unique and congruous. This second LP to date, Haneen, is an often joyful bound across time, soaking up lines, melodies, riffs and the atmosphere of a shellac scratchy tea dance one minute, a lavishly decorated, carpeted seraglio the next.

The very definition of that album title in Arabic describes a longing sense of the past. And so timelines align as the two distinct backgrounds of the group’s founders harmonize with surprising results. You will for example hear a Tim Westwood style late night radio host introduce a wartime blitz era ballroom romantic crooned lullaby of sentimental assurance (Old Fashioned Song) and a creeping transformation of a traditional 16th/17th century ‘hanging song’ that takes in both the atavistic bucolic of merry ole England but also features an air of Latin American (The Hanging Tune).

 

Better when they evoke and redeem the exotic – reclaiming almost forgotten Ottoman pieces Hijaz Zeybek and Hijaz Mandira: the prefix alluding to an eclectic transformation that takes these traditional encapsulations out of their epoch into something more electric, from the Silk Road to cocktails at The Ritz – than the bohemian, the Brickwork Lizards most promising excursions are amongst the amorphous sand dunes and bazaars of a vague North Africa and Middle East panoply. Songs such as the mosey wagon trail western metaphor, Come On Home, – which as a tinge of White Album McCartney about it – and the cornet trumpet nuzzled cabaret swoon, Queen Of Bohemia, can sound twee and pastiche, but this is made up for with the album’s abundance of zeal and fun at fusing pastures new – Ottoman rap, anyone?!




Sunflowers  ‘Castle Spell’   Stolen Body Records,  February 9th 2018

 

In what is proving to be a busy year for the Bristol label Stolen Body Records – we must have featured at least four bands from the label’s ever-expanding roster in the last month alone – we have yet another garage-psych-stoner-doom backbeat propelled slice of international mayhem to wake-up the dead with. In the guise of a Portuguese Cramps embracing The B52s, Moon Duo and Black Lips inside Grandpa Munster’s cloak of Gothic looning, the Sunflowers, despite the name and fiery vigor, lurk in the graveyard of human metaphorical gloom.

Their second album, Castle Spell, is full of fantasy and voodoo, yet throbs, bends and whines with pantomime horror. Tongue-firmly-in-cheek, the girl/boy yahoo, mooning and wooing vocals and tumult backing of scuzz, fuzz, spunk rock and explosive blues suggests some fun. Though in no way does this mean it’s a cartoon imitation or joke, as the group do get very heavy and the lyrics echo a sort of inevitability, an illusion to death, grief and kool-aid enthused destruction.

Tumbling off-kilter on the tangled lunar-hopping, fretwork in space, opener The Siren, we’re introduced to the Sunflowers spikey howling energy, as each track careers and thrashes its way to a destination; be it Link Wray riding the big one down to the Mexican coast on the ole! tremolo-twanged Surfin With The Phantom, or creeping like The Black Angels in Poe’s cemetery on Grieving Tomb. For pure zaniness and what-the-fuck-is-all-that-aboutness, the barking scuzzed A Spasmodic Milkshake features the most bizarre boy/girl exchange of lyrics (“I’m a milkshake don’t disturb me, I don’t want to die!”), and the finale, We Have Always Lived In The Palace, is just…well, weird: a ponderous bass riff stride through the palatial palaces of the mind.

Still, a cracking great album, full of thrills; light and shade dynamics but heavy as fuck, Castle Spell is a real explosive blues, garage thumping, punky doom withering surfin’ cosmic psych blast.






Lukas Creswell-Rost   ‘Gone Dreamin’’  Plain Sailing Records,  Available Now

 

An Extension. A re-contextualization. A transmogrification leading to a concatenate yet new set of songs, developed from the English troubadour Lukas Creswell-Rost‘s 2014 Go Dream songbook, Gone Dreamin’ is a reimagined transformation of that original misanthropic tragedy, culled from Rock’s Back Pages. Taken off into more experimental realms, with ideas, scraps of dialogue, riffs and melodies ‘flying around’, merged with various effects and breaks, these original beautifully vaporous soft rock ballads and cruising songs are given a new lease of life.

Alluding to track titles from Go Dream and sounding at times like the Animal Collective remixing Michael Angelo and Paul McCartney, or 10cc fronted by Michael Farneti, this latest nine-track suite – described by Lukas as: ‘A pop soundscape road trip going through different radio stations that are all haunted by the same voice.’ – builds upon the sentiments and dazed recollected tales of fate, suicide and ego on rock’s highway, but drinks liberally from the woozy poisoned chalice of Kool-aid woe.

 

Championing Go Dream at the time, becoming a sort of cult album, Lukas has revisited that collection, which weaved such blissful, cursing visages on the fate of Bad Finger, the strange unnerving limbo of a transient life on the road as a touring band in the 70s, the detachment of star power, sipping cocktail aimlessly in Miami, and the tantrums of an air bound miscreant Yngwie Malmsteen. Though amorphous in dipping in and out of that album to conjure up something new, it’s difficult to recognize what bit of which song he’s used, echoed with effects or turned inside out. Gone Dreamin’ has just Cocktails, whilst Go Dream had Ten Dollar Cocktails. Gone Dream also has Patient Pilot, whilst Gone Dreamin’ has Air Rage. Yet neither particularly collate; just the essence and vague linger. Shimmery, shining with synth percussion, sauntering bossa rhythms, troubadour acoustic guitar and echoes of a sun-dappled Laurel Canyon Lukas’ music is now submerged and remodeled with ambient music, hallucinogenic and garish 80s pop production – Here In Hollywood signposts every signature buzz, drum-pad pre-set, vapours and electro boogie sound from that decade, sounding like Nile Rodgers on speed.

Lukas has done a great job too; loosening, bending, crystallizing and stretching his 70s blessed, Pacific Ocean Blue meets Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan crafted cerebral soft rock songs into something experimentally more colorful and, even, dreamier.







Shorts: curios, oddities, great sounds and tracks floating our orbit this month.

Orouni   ‘Uca Pugilator’   Taken from the Somewhere In Dreamland EP

Making a return visit to their 2014 musical travelogue album Grand Tour, this time with singer and flutist Emma Broughton at the helm – the previously admired from afar Anglo-French artist, provider of a rich, effortless timbre, is now a paid-up full time member of the band – the Parisian pop band Orouni recast a quartet of older songs on their latest EP, Somewhere In Dreamland.

The shape of things to come, Emma Broughton features as the lead singer on all of the reconfigured EP’s tracks, Somewhere In Dreamland will act as a bridge of sorts to an upcoming album, released later this year.

Blending world music instrumentation – usually picked up on their travels – with a kind of clever, air-y and breezy melodic style of lilting pop, Orouni glide amorphously between a myriad of French and English influences. Sounding at times like a French-African Belle & Sebastian, or a Breton styled New Pornographers.

Taken from their new EP – a taster if you like – the opening Uca Pugilator is described as ‘a two-chord pop song about Senegalese wrestling’ by the group. Formerly the first track from the group’s Grand Tour, this alternative version features a more up-tempo rhythm guitar pick-me-up – part Bowie, part Kate Bush, part Postcard Records – and of course now features Broughton on lead vocals. Dreamily conjuring up the well-traveled tourist’s observations – imagine Goddard on a road trip with Paul Simon across West Africa – about a Senegalese pugilistic ritual, this beautiful light but sophisticated song promises the most glittering of African adventures. And it’s very, very nice indeed: swimmingly so.




Luxgaze   ‘Pretty Eyes’

Vaporizing before our ears the latest electronic track from Toronto-based music producer Luxgaze (Natalie Veronica) is a dreamy instrumental of slow beats, mirror rippling and reverse effects entitled Pretty Eyes. This glass-y abstract trip-hop meets electronica track meanders; swirling gently and indolently in its space like a chilled mystery.

It follows on from a trio of similar previous singles and also acts as a guide towards the upcoming full-length debut LP. Keep a lookout on the site for more details in the future.




Lost Colours  ‘One Space Left’   12th February 2018

Splashing a range of dreamy kaleidoscopic ‘colours’ on their celebratory, almost life-affirming, universal pop psychedelic spectacular One Space Left, the Leeds paint a most ambitious canvas with their debut single. In what will be a busy year going forward for the band, ahead of both their Different Life EP and Talking In Technicolour LP releases (to be released consecutively over the next two months), One Space Left is open invitation to soak up the band’s expansive, even transcendental, ambitions.

Alluding to the Indian subcontinent, this flight of fantasy features the ethereal calls of Rebekah Dobbins (of Nouvelle Vague and The Living Gods Of Haiti fame) drifting over subtle hints of sitar and the echoes of an undulating exotic voyage, as a constant bloom and cycle of drums and stargazing opulence – not a million miles from MGMT or Snowball II – materialize like ether.

A Ty Unwin remix of that same song – one of the three versions on this three-track release that also features an instrumental – strips the song back, sending it towards a dreamscape trance. Unwin reweaves the original threads and vocals, untethering what are already quite float-y and light voices until they become translucent, as samples of those Indian sounds waft in and out of a most vaporous, celestial, atmosphere until reaching the final section of the remix, which introduces sonorous bass and glassy shard percussion.

Lost Colours aim to put ‘huge smiles on peoples faces’ with their cinematic electronic and pop psychedelia, and One Space Left, I can thankfully conform, does just that. I’ll be keeping an ear out and hopefully will bring you more news and a possible review in the near future.




 

CHOICE  ALBUMS/EPS  OF  2017  PART  ONE:  A – L
SELECTION/WORDS:  DOMINIC  VALVONA  &  MATT  OLIVER





The decision making process: 

Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavors to offer a more eclectic spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album is more deserving of their fatuous number 32 spot than another.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums and EPs from 2017 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to have made some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2017, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar or got lost in the noise of more commercial better promoted releases.

 

The Context: An Age Of Hysteria. Dominic Valvona

The silent majority to the wrath and often derision of a mouthy, louder, minority carried on defying and surprising the establishment on both sides of the political divide in 2017. The ‘outraged’ of Tunbridge Wells in the letters pages of yore has been replaced with the ‘outraged of social media’, as the year’s unofficial collective anxious end times tagline #losingourshit replaces moderation, distance and analyses: comment before taking it in fully and reading without prejudice.

Context is thrown out the window when the instant gratification of outrage surfaces.

Despite the rolling news miasma of events feeding into the social media vacuum that has now, more or less, become impossible to ignore or leave; despite the encroachment on every facet of our daily lives by technology and the progressive zealots augurs of a complete matrix like synchronization with our gadgets and tech, the fact that people can be bothered to release music on vinyl still, let alone cassette tapes, is heartening, even if the naysayers bemoan that it’s a gimmick, mostly repackaging old material and reissues or an excuse to charge a lot of money for the tactile and physical. The death of everything physical – from books to newspapers, vinyl to CDs – has always been exaggerated; fueled in hope more than actual demand by the camarilla of Silicon Valley.

Still, streaming is fast becoming the most popular model, even though hardly anyone is benefitting – even Spotify, whose business model is particularly hostile towards the artist, is branching out into other industries, including makeup, because though their value is constantly marketed as high, they have failed to make a profit. Soundcloud, running ads now, is constantly teetering on the edge of folding. And the high expectations, glossy launch of the artist love-in Tidal has failed likewise in changing that model, currently languishing way behind its rivals. Bandcamp meanwhile remains the best choice for artists at present, and gives more control to those who use it. Yet, Bandcamp have recently moved into marketing those who frequent its site, writing roundups and blog posts, moving into a promotional critic’s role. How far this will go is anyone’s guess, I’m a little uncomfortable myself with its implications, its method of choosing the worthy from its vast catalogue, and what incentivizes them. How any of these platforms will hold-up going into another uncertain year politically and economically is anyone’s guess, yet despite the constant harping and expectancy of one of these sites and many like them to close, they’ve all managed to limp on regardless.

A teetering stasis between the physical and the digital exists for now. Writing anyone off at this stage would be foolish.

 

History is a marvelous scholarly pursuit. Yet anything past the year dot of social media’s conception is either revised to fit contemporary fashions or discarded totally. And so a sense of perspective is needed more than ever, especially up against the worrying diplomatic and military developments taking place throughout the Middle East, Europe (both at the very heart of the EU, including Brexit and with the unfolding independence row in Catalonia, but also Russia’s continuing moves and baiting in the Ukraine), Central and South America and Asia.

We also have the march of the robots and automation to consider, the impact of which will take a little time to filter through but will eventually change all our lives, not necessarily for the better – the most repeated mantra that it will only replace the most monotonous, labour intensive and under resourced job roles shtick is evidently untrue, as automation, bots and the programs being designed and rolled out are coming not only for the middle class occupations but all our creative roles too.

Unsurprisingly much of the music that has been released in the past year reflects the ‘fake news’ obsessed, Trumpism, post-postmodern era in which we find ourselves, some brilliantly, others whining and melodramatic – the cyclone of #metoo and the mounting charge sheet of sexual assaults and misdemeanours stacking up against men in, it seems, most industries is live, but yet to filter through yet on record (well there are few exceptions of course). Not many artists offer answers, certainty or solutions though. And some would say that we’re missing the venom, bite, and the rebellious streak that defined the spirit of rock’n’roll, punk and hip-hop.

And so below, the albums and EPs chosen by myself, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms reflect the concerns, protestation, lament of the times in which we live: for better or for worse. And not just from the myopic view of the UK, Europe and North American music scenes, but also from Africa, South America, Australasia and Southeast Asia. The Monolith Cocktail has always done its utmost to draw our readers attention to what’s happening outside the Western dominated music industry, and this year’s two-part feature includes artists as diverse as the entrancing Algerian/Tunisian Bargou 08 and Moroccan Gnawa legend Maalem Mahmoud Gania.

So without further ado…here is the first part of this year’s ‘choice albums’ feature. Part two will follow in a week’s time, and our final Quarterly Revue Playlist the week after that.

A.

Yazz Ahmed   ‘La Saboteuse’   (Naim Records)

Encapsulating the dreamy enchantment and exotic peregrinations of her Bahrain heritage with the polygenesis jazz scene of her London home, soloist, collaborator and composer extraordinaire Yazz Ahmed takes us on an evocative, transcendental at times, voyage with her new album, La Saboteuse.

Working with everyone from Radiohead – who’s Bloom track is covered by Yazz on this imaginative Arabian suffused suite – to These New Puritans, from Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry to Amel Zen, trumpet virtuoso – though she seems to be proficient with most wind and brass instruments, including the flugelhorn – Yazz steps out to lead her own small troupe on her first solo album since 2011’s Finding My Way Home. With Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet and Naadia Sheriff on Fender Rhodes piano, she lingers in an entrancing and often mysterious world of magical brooding vistas and dusky silhouetted sand dunes.

Isolated trumpet lingers and wafting meditations and traverse style vignettes are placed between longer performances of spiritual and Miles Davis sublimity, as Yazz guides us under the starry skies of Arabia and beyond. Dominic Valvona


Tony Allen  ‘The Source’  (Bluenote)

The divine rhythm-provider to Fela Kuti, trustee of the Afrobeat groove, Tony Allen has, and not before time, been recognized for his ability to transcend the style he’s rightly venerated for. Hardly surprising to find him furnishing the jazz tastemakers choice label, Blue Note, with an impressive hybrid album of both – though arguably Afrobeat and jazz have influenced and inspired each other over the decades.

Releasing a four-track homage earlier in the year for the same label, a nod to one of his inspirations, Art Blakey (A Tribute To Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers), Allen traverses that Blakey swing and the sound of the Savoy label via Lagos and the Parisian joints of the city he has called home for years on the polyrhythm elasticated The Source. Joining him on this enterprise is a band of Paris jazz musicians and the Cameroonian guitarist Indy Dibongue providing the licks, as well as the odd guest spot, including Damon Albarn’s low key contribution to the heralding Kuti funk Cool Cats – a reference no doubt to ‘Sir’ Victor Olaiya’s highlife band of the same name that Allen was hired to play claves for in his early career.

As I say, it has the swing, it has the funk, it has the jazz, and most definitely it returns to the source. Allen bends morphs and pushes those rhythms beyond showboating to produce a remarkable fusion and synergy. DV


Chino Amobi  ‘PARADISO’  (UNO)

Looking out from the balcony of a crumbling civilization, reciting a chilling poetic melodramatic transmogrification of Edgar Allan Poe’s The City In The Sea, as tumultuous storms and waves, the sound of seagulls, the crashing of towers fallen into the sea and gargling howls conjure up all manner of Chthonian trepidation, Chino Amobi’s displaced stark and bleak electronic collage soundtrack PARADISO begins as it means to go on.

The Richmond, Virginia artist has dropped his Diamond Black Hearted Boy moniker in favour of his own name for this expansive plunge into the void. And what a dark world it is to discard masks and alter egos in.

A co-founder of the NON collective of African artists, and of the diaspora, Amobi’s remit is focused on ‘using sound as’ the ‘primary media, to articulate the visible and invisible structures that create binaries in society, and in turn distribute power. The exploration of ‘non, prior to the adjective gives intel into the focus of the label, creating sound opposing contemporary canons’.

This translates in the short concatenate serialist style vignettes and passages of worrying trepidation, heavy thumping, bleak, chilling and uncertain twisted minimal electronica, concrete, post punk, Foley sounds and experimental dystopian vistas. A long list of NON collaborators make appearances on this disturbing, at times violent, end times suite, whether it’s through narrated passages, occasional erratic and gauze-y raps or radio show interjections.

A contorted reality awaits, a world without end. Are we circling the void or already in it? Meanwhile crows feed on the flesh, heralded fanfares sound and bestial cyclones blow us off course from Paradise Lost into a sonic chaos. Yet, we’re not so lost as to be totally incapable of redemption; and the ill effects, as the glimmers that do appear allude and Amobi himself has suggested, are reversible. DV


Austra  ‘Future Politics’

Imbued by, amongst others, the work of Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams and their manifesto for the end of capitalism tome, Inventing The Future, which calls for and envisions better days for all of us – an escape from the toxic neoliberalism that has defined that last twenty years -, the Canadian synth siren Katie Stelmanis creates a most encapsulating, pining and beautiful glossy synthesizer pop opus on Future Politics.

Written before the Trump victory of 2016 and the spiraling decay of both political and societal moderation that followed in its wake, Stelmanis, under her Austra persona, has inadvertently synchronized her angelical and suffused dreamy pop swooning airs, arias and coos to the anxious end times.

Stelmanis excels, as you will hear for yourselves, in evocative and cool glimmer-of-hope dreamy minimalist electronica pop. She strips away any excess this time around, going further than usual in producing a starker but highly melodious, trance-y and vaporous swooning melodrama fit for the club and heart. DV


B.

Bargou 08  ‘Targ’  (Glitterbeat Records)

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

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

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

Full review…


Beans  ‘Love Me Tonight’  (Tygr Rawwk Records)

 

Returning after a short hiatus with a highly prolific fervor, the founding member of the legendary Anti-Pop Consortium leftfield hip-hop troop Beans has made a sort of triple album comeback; putting out a triumvirate of bold, salacious, congruous and provocative records all within a few months of each other. It’s hard to choose but preference dictates that it is the middle of that trio Love Me Tonight that edges it.

A futuristic gleam of eeriness and trepidation hangs over proceedings as Beans travails Cliff Martinez meets Daft Punk club, torture chamber chiming gloom, Super Mario jazz acceleration, Exorcist organ and female led R&B. Changing moods convincingly each and every time, you think you’re getting a Kanye West style dancefloor disco rap album one minute, the next, a dystopian cerebral hip-hop ride into the abyss.

Reading out prose, narratives, scripts and passages like a rap ‘beat poet’ (as well as recording Beans has also released his debut novel, Die Tonight, this year) Beans spit is almost like abstract narration; lyrics broken down into compounds like chemistry and descriptive soliloquy.

In keeping with rap music’s provocative of featuring a roll call of collaborators and guests, Elucid and the Kid Prolific chide in on the hiccup scratching, “that dream is over”, – and perhaps my favourite track of Beans – dark chiming Waterboarding, and the darkwave R&B artist Prince Terrence adding the right soulful yearning tones to the Talons love-in, and pep to the club pumped opener, Apeshit.

Passing lyrical dexterity and abstract thoughts on all the ills currently spinning round in the tumult vortex of 2017, but also carrying on a theme of domestic abuse through a number of tracks, with a running forensic detailed commentary on a father and son crime scene on the disturbing V.X., Beans Love Me Tonight seems like a cry for help, or at least an attempt to make sense of it all. Though at times the lyrics are outright schlock pornographic, and accent hardly plaintive. In a manner it’s a tease, attracting certain condemnation as well as respect. DV


Big Toast & Ill Move Sporadic  ‘You Are Not Special’  (Starch Records)

“Blocking today’s culture of aspiration with dollops of common sense; a specialist subject for this year’s UK curriculum that won’t fail you”. RnV, Aug 17

In these troubled times we need assurance and support more than ever. Big Toast and Ill Move Sporadic are not the knights in shining armour the situation requires, rerouting British bulldog spirit by mapping out modern reality more genuine than a million so called keep-it-realists. With one of the great voices to dwarf the mic on his way to becoming his own protest march, Big Toast hammers home the black and white of life ten times over, a dismissive totem who won’t budge for anyone and will battle any life aspect until it’s crying back to its casting couch.

IMS has the cheek to throw in a couple of slow jams to tuck you in when Toast is tucking you up, otherwise coming out swinging from the first bell and landing tooth-loosening one-twos. Anti-motivational speakers who will get your arse in gear, and what the youth of today should be listening to. Matt Oliver


Black Angels  ‘Death Song’  (Partisan Records)

If you were looking for a creative musical reaction to Trump and the anxious times we live in then The Black Angels beautiful apocalyptic Death Song must be one of the most anguished and daemonic of responses. The Austin psych-rocking overlords first album in four years was written and recorded during the miasma of the US elections after all: and doesn’t it show!

An emotionally charged despair and anger with moments of catharsis, carried out to a Byzantine flavored soundtrack of esoteric Amon Duul II and Far East Family Band psych, a vortex of 80s Goth inspirations – including The cult and Siouxsie and the Banshees – and the tolling chimes of doom and drone, Death Song is, as the title suggests, a heavy, but most excellent trip.

Brooding romantically in Gothic tragedy as the world continues to turn, undaunted by the prospects of universal uncertainty, The Black Angels spread their wings magnificently on what is, perhaps, one of their best albums yet. The leviathans of the psych-rock scene have learnt much and after a recording hiatus return with something sharper, refined but just as mystical and hallucinatory. DV

Full review…


The Bordellos  ‘Love, Life And Billy Fury’  (Recordiau Prin)

Prolific, if haphazardly, dropping albums upon the unsuspecting, and quite frankly undeserving, public at a whim, St. Helen’s greatest dysfunctional family bring us one of their most ambitious collections of cynical derision and honest yearned anxiety yet: a kind of Joy ‘de vive’ Division.

More or less The Bordellos love songs collection, this latest lo fi affair – that makes even The Fall sound professional – is a raw opening of the heart, and in some cases, the veins. Transmogrifying Spector’s voices of the beehives (The Crystals to The Ronettes), the Spacemen 3, The Cure and, of course, The Velvet Underground, The Bordellos eulogize the nearly man of British rock’n’roll, Billy Fury, craft (perhaps) one of their most beautiful ballads, Starcrossed Radio, and pen a “speeding train” metaphor themed ode to breakups.

Romancing the stoned, the life, loves and failures of rock’n’roll are laid bear and as usual, ignored by an unsympathetic, disinterested public. But despite mostly alluding recognition and validation (because that seems to be all that matters in the social media age: affirmation from the echo-chamber of peers), The Bordellos mope and grind on, producing some of the most important diatribes and, in this case, scuzzy, dirge-y and primal garage band spirited love-pained grievances. DV

Full review…


Brother Ali  ‘All the Beauty in This Whole Life’  (Rhymesayers)

“A triumph of crowd gathering words to the wise meets devil’s advocacy, guaranteeing end of term honours”.  RnV. May 17

In these troubled times we need assurance and support more than ever. Comparing two of 2017’s most prominent protesters, Joey Bada$$ (on All Amerikkkan Bada$$) got you to show your colours while keeping it funky. Brother Ali on the other hand was there so a circle could form around him when handing out affirmative rhymes that wouldn’t sound out of a place around a campfire, promising the “type of love you can’t type with your thumbs”.

Without detracting from the former, it’s the latter’s warmth that makes him sound like he’s talking to you one to one, and where a rapt audience will follow, that gets the nod; a soft, grit-speckled delivery assuring everything’s gonna work out even when he’s recounting history lessons to the contrary. To a backdrop of blazing suns starting to dip and winter huddles taking shape thanks to great cleanse and polish from Atmosphere’s Ant Davis, it’s confirmation you should always put faith in Brother Ali’s hands. MO


C.

Dr. Chan  ‘Southside Suicides’  (Stolen Body Records)

Like some obscure French exchange garage band of students – the kind you’d find if it existed, on a European version of the Teenage Shutdown! compilations – hanging out in the 80s L.A. of plaid shirt and paisley bandana fatigue wearing skater-punks, Dr Chan are an abrasive and coarse mix of renegade petulant inspirations.

Essentially powered by garage rock and all its various manifestations, the group from the south of France hurtle through an up tempo and raging backbeat of The Chocolate Watch Band, The Standells, The Rationales, Black Lips and Detroit Cobras. The difference here is that they also throw in a miscreant Molotov of thrash punk, courtesy of Fidlar, and “death rap” – cue Florida’s $uicideboy$ and their dollar sign typeface indulgence – into the riot on their Southside Suicides protest. It gives the Chan’s brand of garage band mania a different intensity and drive: more screaming in a ball of flames spikiness than tripping psych.

Riled and obviously pissed about the current state of affairs both at home and overseas, Dr Chan’s rage and insolence is in keeping with the primal spirit of rock’n’roll: fun, fun, fun! It’s a blast. DV

Full review…


Oliver Cherer  ‘The Myth Of Violet Meek’  (Wayside & Woodland)

Set in the Forest of Dean, this lamentable concept album (billed as ‘part-fiction’ ‘part fact’) from the man behind Dollboy, Oliver Cherer, weaves the dreamy folkloric story of the tragic protagonist Violet Meek (a play on words of ‘violence’); mauled to death or not by the dancing bears of a visiting circus troupe in the twisted and, musically alluded ominous maybe magical, tree thickened woods. Based we’re told on a vaguely real event that happened in the 1880s, Cherer’s story isn’t just a vintage walk in the past and melodic indictment on the cruelty of Victorian society towards women, but draws parallels with the continuing issues of inequality, chauvinism and mistreatment still prevalent in our own times.

This is an unforgiving unflattering portrayal of England, a nascent nostalgic one with little room for equality and the presence of outsiders, but every bit as revealing about our present. As lovely, often dreamily so, as the music is the 70s pastoral accompaniment is often trembling and quivering, the fiddles distressed and bewitchery, enticing us into a esoteric psychogeography that features a languid brushed backbeat and Morris Dancers like flourish around the maypole on one song, but finds evil in the idyllic scenery on another.

In short, it is a most stunning, ambitious and beautiful minor opus. For those who like their folk and pastoral eerie and esoteric. DV

Full review…


The Church  ‘Man Woman Life Death Infinity’

To infinity and beyond, Australia’s stalwart alternative rock and pop guitar romantics The Church, nearly thirty years since their inception continue to breathily produce quiet masterpieces; continue to experiment and explore new sonic textures. Travelling into the ethereal, the sagacious Man Woman Life Death Infinity is a suffused glide and traverse of air-y vapours and misty mystery; beginning with the opening, soaring minor opus Another Century, sustained throughout, with each song materializing out of the ether.

Reflecting but an unconscious inspiration, The Church’s founding member Steve Kirby calls this album the group’s “water record”. Though all the characteristics of water, trickling chords, cascaded dripping notes and a sense of floating are all correct, this dreamy pop and transient songbook seems to leave the ocean floor and rivers for something more astral. Songs such as Submarine for instance seem imbued with a spirit of the Kosmische. Yet fans of the group’s staple of pop guitar swan songs and subtle psychedelic 80s lovelorn classics will love Before The Deluge and I Don’t Know How I Don’t Know: both of which show traces of that college rock meets garage riffage that arguably inspired or was picked up by The Stone Roses.

Still writing timeless anthems without lazily reverting to the back catalogue, still pushing forward after four decades, The Church can still illuminate and surprise. This, there 26th, album is anything but jaded. If anything it seems that The Church are still very much in the game, and able to balance familiarity with discovery.  DV


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah  ‘The Tourist’

Inimitably jump-starting a cerebral indie-pop scene in the mid noughties with his unique off-kilter melodies and quivered, yodeled vocals, the fiercely independent, Alec Ounsworth created major ripples with his nom de plume, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-released debut in 2005.

Ounsworth stumbles and ponders through a “post factual” strewn world of challenging emotions trying to make sense of it all on The Tourist. At times the album title could even be said to act as a metaphor for the artist’s own estranged and removed soul-searching: a tourist in his own country. Despite some sad and profound pathos heavy lyricism, Ounsworth’s “purging” of thoughts is meant to be a cathartic experience. The anxieties of our times can’t help but leak from every other line, yet this album is a fairly warm, jangly surprise package of lolloping and anthemic songs.

Building and soaring to an emotive brightened crescendo of sweetness and yearning on The Vanity Of Trying; contorting and bending guitar textures in a Robert Fripp fashion on the psych-pop gnarled Down (Is Where I Want To Be); and, up close and personal (every breathe audible) to the mic, driving through an 80s nocturnal rock ballad on Better Off, the inimitable Ounsworth careers through a full gamut of moods and chaos in the most natural and energetically purposeful way.

Clocking in at well under the forty minute mark (bands and artists take note) The Tourist is an unlabored, near-perfect melodious album. It says all it needs to and more; free of indulgence, and despite its bombast, sophisticated suffused layering is incredibly lean and brisk. A most enjoyable if poignant experience, this album already sets the benchmark in 2017, and is without doubt one of CYHSY’s best. DV

Full review…



Anna Coogan  ‘The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time’

Not the easiest of bedfellows, difficult to love and often (rightly) condemned as indulgent and overblown, but the worlds of rock and opera do occasionally overlap in a congruous union. The unquestionably talented Anna Coogan for instance, mixes the two majestically, using her finely trained 3-octave soprano and classical background to offer fluttering siren-like arias that seem to surreptitiously manifest from, what is, an ever-changing metamorphosis of musical styles, on her latest album, The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time.

Inspired by scientific discoveries, a “childhood listening to Puccini’s La Boheme”, the fateful poet Sylvia Plath, the tumultuous grave mistakes of intervention in the Middle East and, no surprises, the 2016 US elections Coogan’s ambitious suite of songs and instrumental evocations is far from lofty and classical.

Spanning country, Ry Cooder desert meditations, Anna Calvi like trembled sensual emulations, PJ Harvey and even bubbly synth pop, Coogan together with musical collaborator Willie B – offering atmospheric Moog bass line undertones and drums – produces a ‘wave’ fixated lamenting and balletic travail and a surprise highlight of 2017. DV

Full review…


D.

Daniel Son  ‘Remo Gaggi’  (Crate Divizion)

“Toasting the high life and low lives, gangster rap bearing honourable intentions”. RnV, May 17

Canadian slick talker Daniel Son is the front for this, one of many Giallo Point heists that the UK producer ran during 2017. With the authentic mob experience evident in such titles as Flat Tyers, Car Seizures, Strippers Den etc and the kingpin adoring the sleeve, it’s instantly noticeable how dry GP’s noir-ish production is; sharply tailored loops of muted house band jazz that has seen nefarious comings and goings, but are gagged by confidentiality agreements and the fear of loose lips sinking ships.

Potent in what it doesn’t disclose, display one bead of sweat and you’re in trouble. Before you know it Daniel Son – “we the reason that the yacht insurance be going up” – has decked you with a leg sweep before disappearing back into the night. While it’s easy to apply Godfatherly stereotypes to Remo Gaggi, the style of this international union contrasting brash and diligent, compellingly separates the best from the rest. MO


Dope KNife  ‘NineteenEightyFour’  (Strange Famous)

“An absolute battering ram of four wheel drive blasting through the boggiest of boom bap. Big Brother would think twice about listening in”.  RnV, Feb 17

We’re not trying to discredit Dope KNife by saying that NineteenEightyFour is an almost unfashionable antidote to tween trap, happily, mercilessly fanning the flames of the very 2017 argument of what constitutes real hip-hop between upstarts and originals (and if there’s an argument abound, it’s only right that Sage Francis is tagged in as well). Far from an Orwellian vision yet probably something of a dystopia to some as he walks with an intimidating shadow, DK comes slathered in dirt, ready to punch you in the ear with a splattered larynx.

As a one-man steamroller on beats and rhymes it’s not an exact science, but that’s absolutely fine with us, the battle-hardened, bitter-as-blasé (yet also able to reference the Fresh Prince theme tune) Georgia emcee leaving competition standing (“I can’t help being a damn cynic, this damn planet got a fucking lot of wack in it”). MO



The Doppelgangaz  ‘Dopp Hopp’  (Groggy Pack)

“A drop of ‘Dopp Hopp’ a day will keep the haters away; will creep up on the button marked ‘repeat’ until it progresses to heavy rotation”. RnV, Jul 17

Despite the sub-Gothic sleeve looking like the NY pair are auditioning badly for a death metal gig, Dopp Hopp ranks high on this year’s list on the strength of its smoothness alone. “Live by the cloak, die by the cloak” say The Ghastly Duo; but the mystery ends once their views from West Coast low riders, developing a smoky lens that’s intoxicating but never fuggy, embrace the inevitable sunshine.

Also readymade for reminiscing as on E.W.W. and Strong Ankles, the ‘Gangaz have set themselves the relatively easy task of riding the vibes properly, and they oblige with a natty turn of phrase prepared to shift towards the nearest street corner at their leisure. Dopp Hopp is another feather in a cap looking more and more like the crown jewels. Beats and rhymes guarantee return visits to golden-edged climes, where you simply have to rewind the boast that “if ‘Dopp Hopp’ was a beer, it’d be an IPA”. MO


75 Dollar Bill  ‘Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock’
(Glitterbeat Records)

This album could have rightly qualified for last year’s feature, but re-launched, repackaged for Glitterbeat Records’ burgeoning new imprint tak:til, 75 Dollar Bill gets another shot: mainly because it slipped under most radars on its maiden voyage in 2016. Now in 2017 with a hopefully wider global release it will shine.

Adhering to Jon Hassell’s “fourth world music” blurring of the division between futurism and tradition the 75 Dollar Bill duo of NYC-based musicians Rick Brown and Che Chen, traverse the psychedelic desert rock and trance of the Maghreb, avant-garde, jazz and even swamp boogie delta blues in a most indolent but listless transient manner on W/M/P/P/R/R. Motivated by an interest in “compound meters” – meter involves the way multiple pulse layers work together to organize music in time; a compound essentially dividing the beat into three equal parts -, but playing in a fashion that feels natural and organic, the follow-up to 2015’s more “forward momentum, stomping and shaking” style Wooden Bag is a nuanced clever exploration of interconnected tonality and tactile responses to a wealth of harmonics and melodies from a pan-global array of influences: from modal jazz to Arabic modes and eastern scales.

What they produce is an often adumbrate, repetitive experience that builds gradually, slowly releasing various tangents of interplay between the principle duo and their extended backing group of friends; traversing genres and moods to evoke new expletory musical spaces. DV

Full review…


E.

Ester Poly  ‘Pique Dame’  (Ikarus Records)

Experimentally rocking the cantons of their Swiss home for a while in their respective separate outfits, Béatrice Graf and Martina Bérther unite as an unholy drum and electric bass alliance under the Ester Poly (a scramble of ‘polyester’ of course) banner.

Pitching generation X(er) Bérther with Y(er) Graf, this rambunctious vehicle for the duo’s feminist protestations and irony is hardly hampered by the limitations of their chosen drum and bass instrumentation, and hardly comparable to any of the many such similar combinations plying their trade. Instead, Ester Poly use a stack of effects and distortion tools to widen their sound spectrum; evoking hints and obvious homages to post-punk, art school, Jazz, doom rock, heavy metal, no wave and Krautrock in the process.

Recorded in more or less one-takes, both combatants facing off against each other in the studio with no headphones or click track, Pique Dame captures not only the lively, hostile and enraged but also the humour (even if it is dark and resigned) of this energetic union. Despite the raging tumults, dynamism and soundclash of ideas, this album is a steady and even showcase of festering ideas and moods. It’s also quite brilliant and encapsulates the ‘pique’ perfectly; arousing, curious and irritated! DV

Full Review…


F.

Faust  ‘Fresh Air’  (Bureau B)

Still banging the cement-mixer drum and manning the barricades after forty odd years in the business, the Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner “Zappi” Diermaier duo version of Faust – at its most base drummer/percussionist and bassist-come-tormentor of sound – and their latest protestation Fresh Air is a sort of art-provocateur road trip of the USA, featuring an abundance of locals and internationalist artists and musicians, picked-up on the way through New York, Texas and California: A counter-cultural agitation travail from coast to coast.

Featuring the usual Faust totems and that workmanlike methodology of extracting sounds and evocations from machinery, found objects, debris and the architecture – even Péron’s front door hinges from home make an appearance – Fresh Air is an urgent gasp for relief from the polluted, choked, environment. It’s also a highly convoluted attempt at transforming geometrical forms and abstractions into a sonic score. Three of the tracks on this album take their inspiration from a faux-workshop at the highly regarded California Institute of the Arts. A session that includes the loony 23-second vocal exercise symphony Partitur – defined loosely as “a sort of Dadaist choir, a musique impressionniste” by Péron –; the loose Slits do souk jazz, camel ride Chlorophyll, which features Barbara Manning “sneaking” in word association sketches alongside Zappi’s own strange utterings; and the saxophone squalling, motoring Lights Flicker, which again features Manning, bridging the role of Laurie Anderson and Patti Smith, repeating an agitated mantra over a quasi art-dance backing.

Continuing with their signature agitation, often menacing, call-to-arms whilst also sonically turning the abstract into something audible, Péron and Zappi can still be relied upon to create provocative statements, five decades on from when the original Faust dynamic barraged audiences with the most confrontational and experimental sound ideas. Struggling like the rest of us, but finding a comradely with another generation of artists and musicians, they look for hope in the miasma. DV

Full Review…


Craig Finn  ‘We All Want The Same’  (Partisan Records)

Occupying a rich postmodern American literary landscape, channeling such celebrated chroniclers as Bruce Springsteen and Vic Chesnutt, former The Hold Steady, and prior to that Lifter Puller, front man Craig Finn has in more recent years carved out a career as a successful solo artist. In true Springsteen style, though with far less guttural bombast, Finn brings a certain levity and importance to the lives of America’s “ordinary folk”, building a highly erudite diorama to stage the unfolding, and to outsiders, the often inconsequential dramas that are acted out across the States on a daily cycle.

Subtly tapping into the “liberal” creative psyche of America, one that’s still in a state of shock, but also the so-called “blue collar” America that put Trump in the White House, Finn doesn’t so much point fingers or berate as reflect the resignation of a cast on the peripherals of society.

Enriched with the graceful subtle presence and soaring vocal harmonies of Caithlin De Marrais and singer/songwriter Annie Nero, the keys of Sam Kassirer, swaddling and lifting horns maestro Stuart Bogie and longtime contributor from The Hold Steady, guitarist Tad Kubler, the musical backdrop is a mix of rolling Warren Zevon piano psychodrama, bluesy rock’n’roll and Ashbury Park period E Street Band brass. A solid performance and assiduous edition to the modern American songbook, Finn’s third solo album shows a full-bodied, sagacious artist at his pinnacle. DV

Full review…


G.

Maalem Mahmoud Gania  ‘Colour Of The Night’  (Hive Mind Records)

Maalem Mahmoud Gania, the near-exulted star of the Moroccan honed Gnawa – a style of traditional Islamic dance, music and poetry with roots spread across the sub-Saharan crescent of Africa; considered by many to be one of the origins of the “blues” rhythm – and artisan of the genre’s key instrument, the camel-skin covered three-string lute like “guimbri”, released an extensive catalogue of recordings for labels such as Tichkaphone, La Voix El Maaref and Sonya Disques.

Choosing such a revered icon with which to launch their inaugural new imprint Hive Mind Records, the Brighton outfit’s inaugural baptism is the legend’s final studio recording, the afflatus, entrancing Colours Of The Night. What makes it special is that this is the first solo release by the artist outside his native homeland to be released on vinyl.

Stringy, wiry, occasionally a tone or two lower and played like a quasi-bass guitar, Gania’s playing style is raw, deep and always infectious: from blistering solos to slower and lighter ruminating descriptive articulations; this is equally matched by his atavistic soulful voice and the chorus of swooning, venerated female and male voices and harmonies that join him on each track.

Colours Of The Night is a highly hypnotic collection of performances both magical and transcendental, beautifully traversing Arabia and desert blues traditions. DV

Full review…


Golden Teacher  ‘No Luscious Life’

Seeming to just follow wherever the groove takes them, whether it’s ESG uptown/downtown Boho Noho Soho New York, electro Afrobeat, the griot traditions of West Africa or 80s Chicago House, the polygenesis influences of Glasgow’s sonic multilingual Golden Teacher sextet seamlessly entwine to produce the most solid of on-message dance music.

Flexing and limbering to a hip 80s heavy melting pot of sounds and references, the Glasgow troupe move like liquid through a soundtrack of polyrhythms, acid and tight drum presets, oscillations, clean and not so clean futuristic galactic house funk. Not many groups can inaugurate and move between both the Senegalese griot matriarch Aby Ngana Diop and Cabaret Voltaire on the same album, but such is the myriad of musical backgrounds, and they encompass every kind of genre you can think of, of the band members that make up this loose collective, you’re never quite sure what you might hear next.

Though rhythmically and melodically, pumping and sonically doing all the talking for them, there are succinct, atmospheric vocals from Cassie Ojay and Charles Lavenac to give either a certain sway and louche entrancing quality or, as on the opening Afro-funk meets pumping House Sauchiehall Withdrawal – a reference to one of Glasgow’s most, famous and popular main thoroughfares, with everything from the Glasgow School Of Art and CCA art hub of venues and galleries to shopping and nightclubs on its mile and a half long strip – a soulful austerity groundhog day political context: dutifully working the daily slog and for what?!

Moving to Glasgow, from about as far south of the border as you can go, a couple of years ago, one of the first gigs I saw was a sort of impromptu, diy style, performance from the group at The Old Hairdressers in town. Improvised to a degree they caught the wide-eyed excitement and dynamism of an earlier time as if it was fresh and new. A must-see live turn, the group has, unlike so many others before them, captured that free spirit and looseness on record. Yet production is really slick.

The city has always enjoyed a reputation for the eclectic, and Golden Teacher more than most, encapsulate that cross-pollination, borderless approach to absorbing music from across the globe – from The Levant to Compass Point – and making it funky. DV


H.

Happyiness  ‘Write-In’  (Moshi Moshi)

Ah…the sound of a band embracing the heartfelt warmth, accentuated dazed melodies and special feel of such 70s fare as Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and Big Star, Happyness evoke the hazy fond memories and subtle sophistication of these and other complimentary artists on their brilliant album Write In.

The opening Falling Down gambit, with its radiant phaser guitar, conjures up the Scottish indie supremos (and fellow Big Star acolytes) Teenage Fanclub, whilst the pastel-shaded saddened tone of The Reel Starts Again sounds like a lost, ghostly remnant of a George Harrison and Jeff Lynne malady. A touch of the Brighten The Corners era Pavement permeates the band’s weary slacker muffled Uptrend/Style Raids, but by the time we reach the halfway stage of the album the lads are back to thrashing out a languorous grunge-y grind on Bigger Glass Less Full.

Subtle and confident, Write In is a halcyon, beautifully executed album with real depth and personality. Happyness have found their flow with loose but perceptively well-crafted gentle pop songs of a timeless quality: to be played as the “credits roll forever”. DV

Full review…


Here Are The Young Men And Uncle Peanut   ‘This Is Standard Life’
(Musical Bear Records)

Unceremoniously released almost on the sly, though because we are inundated with 100s of releases every week it could be we missed this one, the brilliant cut price, and with far more humour, authenticity and irony than the Sleaford Mods (as if scribbled by David Shrigley) Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut are back with a load more broadsides leveled at life’s most cunty personalities and foibles.

Not so much poetic, not really rap in the true sense of the word either, they make observational snatches of overheard misnomers, condemnations and Estuary patois on the modern toss life of a pissed-stained mattress society. Modern life isn’t so much rubbish as depressingly shite, as the group transmogrify a sort of Daft Punk ‘Teachers’ style litany of great influential bands into a council estate, backroom punk paean to the spirit of punk and good music; safe in the knowledge that Mark E Smith Is Still Doing The Fall, even after a hundred years!

Diatribes on outsourcing, hipsters (the Day The Hipsters Stole Our Look; those penny-farthing riding tossers), lads banter (“yes mate, yes mate, standard”), gentrification, “nobbers” (who are “fucking everywhere!” on the Underworld goes punk song of the same name) and pop stars abound, and there’s even collaborations with Art Brut’s inimitable Eddie Argos (on the and Billie Ray Martin (of S’Express and Electribe 101 fame).

It’s nothing short of fucking brilliant, short and anything but sweet. The use of swearing alone is commendable. A sort of vitriolic, generation X middle-aged series of rants on what we’ve lost, what we are set to lose and what we could do without. DV


I.

Ifriqiyya Électrique  ‘Rûwâhîne’  (Glitterbeat Records)

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

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

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

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

Full review…


J.

Jam Baxter  ‘Mansion 38’  (High Focus)

“Half cut, whip smart. Ultimate, grungy outlaw hip-hop, putting the trap in trapdoor”.  RnV, Mar 17

UK crown rulers High Focus reached new levels of cult when Mansion 38 became that creepy house at the end of the road that may be good for a heart-in-mouth laugh at Halloween, but not somewhere you’d venture to acquire a friendly cup of sugar.

Recorded and produced in Bangkok, Jam Baxter’s quotable cynicism is of an emcee breed that gets caught in a landslide escaping reality in a bid to keep himself amused, but whose focus is actually doing overtime. Seeming nonsense suddenly swoops down at you with lethal intent, most notably on the shrewd consumerist commentary on offer For a Limited Time Only. He of The Gruesome Features squats on Chemo’s production, and where there’s no such thing as a wrong turn, it’s alien, exotic, and worryingly comforting at once, slowly beginning sinkhole formation, and with Dumb demanding you take cover while running in slow-motion. Bugged out, bug-bombed, brilliant. MO


Jehst  ‘Billy Green is Dead’  (YNR)

“Showing the sort of word association and plain English penmanship that has long made him the UK’s premier emcee”. RnV, Jun 17

Whether the eponymous subject of Jehst’s sixth full-length is man or myth, a reflection on society or the High Plains Drifter letting his imagination run wild while disclosing clues from his own personal memoirs, you’ll be hanging on Billy Green’s every move, tic and confession.

It’s the album’s lost, tired soul trying to keep the walls from closing in, but then seeming to be at peace with any pending doom. It’s the human element, from the debilitation of an everyday Joe to referencing the Kardashians and when the most important decisions can sometimes boil down to choosing “the Snickers or the Mars, E&J liquor or the six-pack of the Stella Artois”. It’s Jehst’s delivery that even when close to succumbing to heat exhaustion, finds a reserve from deep down that’s of an improbable, impeccable sharpness. It’s the simmering sphere of wax and wane production whose highs and lows run a perfect parallel. ‘Billy Green is Dead’, long live Jehst. MO


Jonwayne  ‘Rap Album Two’  (Authors Recording Co)

“Personal struggle both poignant and unapologetic for showing its hand…watch its humble humanity become the choice of the open eared this year”.  RnV, Feb 17

 Rap Album Two approaches that long-standing hip-hop (and society in general) elephant in the room: the refusal to admit vulnerability. In laying crises on the line, Jonwayne becomes his own therapist and subsequently an outlet for the hesitant and anxious to claim as their own. At his most lo-fi, the times to think become deafening and don’t necessarily mean there’s a clean pathway to redemption.

It would take a kingsized about-turn for Jonwayne to become self-destructive on record, but it’s the legitimacy of his 20/20 vision and the potential of the what-ifs that sit kindly. Particularly on the beautifully dejected/accepting Out of Sight and Afraid of Us, bearing the powerful “look at these people, counting on me when I can’t even count on myself”, you can hear him fighting for his very survival. Also behind the excellent Black Boy Meets World by Danny Watts (who features here), Rap Album Two bridges the gap between cult hero and everyman icon. MO


K.

King Ayisoba  ‘1000 Can Die’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Sounding the klaxon call in defense of his native Ghana, and Africa at large, on his inaugural LP for Glitterbeat Records, the striking, lively King Ayisoba, from the roots up, uses his guttural earthy howl and atavistic kologo lute to great effect in demonstrating not only a raw anger but also a deep love for a much misunderstood continent.

From the very outset Ayisoba and his contributors Wanlov da Kubolar & Big Gad – just two of the many guest appearances on this album – rap, sing and stamp a slogan sentiment on the opening Africa Needs Africa of, “Let’s fight for Africa/Africa needs us.” Covering the North African diaspora, the boat people’s sorry saga, the colonial past and umpteen other issues that more or less shape the image that those observers from outside the continent believe is the only side to Africa – between a misplaced sentimentality and outright ignorance. There is protestation and indictment, but also a lively focus on the positives too; finding solutions through the medium of music and culture.

In-between the fiery, bordering on punk, clatter of guluku, dundun and Djembe drums and rambunctious electronic phasing beats there are more plaintive, yearning stripped-back moments: Grandfather Song, a toiled from the soil of tragedy lament, offers a more intimate knee-jerk from the full-on band sound, and Dapagara is sent off into a sweeping, wafting vista by the Nigerian legend Orlando Julius’ traversing, reedy accentuated saxophone.

Raw from the heart, highly evocative and rebellious, King Ayisoba’s songs of rage and vitality actually offer a kind of hope in the face of adversity. The future of Ghana’s music scene is in good hands at least. DV

Full review…


L.

L’Orange  ‘The Ordinary Man’  (Mello Music Group)

“An evocative performance capturing a concerto producer whose trick-from-sleeve ratio remains visionary”.  RnV, Nov 17

Another 12 months of might and magic on Mello Music Group, including must-checks from Oddisee and Mr Lif and Akrobatik as the reconvening Perceptionists. However, it’s the beatsmith with the knack from Nashville building up quite the back catalogue where Tenneseein’ is Tennebelievin’. Loosely based around the sleight-handed history of when illusionists were the rockstars of their day – on premise alone, L’Orange is out by himself – the mostly instrumental The Ordinary Man is described as “vaguely reminiscent of RJD2’s ‘Deadringer’”, where loops slip off straitjackets and straight up gallivant.

Reserving the mic for only a handful of guests after a starry stack of collaborative LPs, L’Orange offers jazziness with a spring in its step, even when its grainy monochrome quality appears to be suffering (perhaps reflecting his own personal health issues). Covered in a sweet patchwork of samples, the headnodding will rock your neck stiff (Cooler than Before soars like the plane on Raekwon’s Criminology), while placing it delicately upon a pillow. MO


Liars  ‘TFCF’  (Mute)

The confusing soundtrack to a musical divorce, the enduring creative partnership behind the Liars, Angus Andrew and Aaron Hemphill, finally fell apart after the release of Mess. Though confounding fans and critics alike on every release, the now streamlined version of the Liars sees Andrew at the helm of, essentially, a one-man band, churning up and lurching through what should by rights be another ‘mess’ of ideas to produce something quite vivid and experimentally sharp.

Chronicling what he felt was akin to a musical marriage, Andrew sitting miserably slumped in a wedding dress, left holding the bouquet on the cover of TFCF (Theme From Crying Fountain) charts a deteriorating relationship, with dysfunctional material – some of which was marked for the next Hemphill & Andrew Liars album – spun into a brilliant sulky, miserable melodrama of electronic, new wave, punk and cerebral pop.

Leaving L.A. for his native home of Australia, a dethatched Andrew transmogrifies those American influences into acoustic, labored drum break lamentable sneers (The Grand Delusional), Love style Mexican psych flare crossed with Medieval courtship (Cliché Suite) and disjointed daggered, The Knack meets Beck, lurches (Cred Woes).

Often resigned, hurt, pranged with pity throughout, it hardly sounds appealing, yet TFCF is full of reinvention, experimentation and lyrically, both dreamily and petulantly opprobrious. DV


Al Lover Meets Cairo Liberation Front  ‘Nymphaea Caerulea’  (Hoga Nord)

A meeting of exotic minds, San Francisco producer/remixer Al Lover (The Brian Jonestown Massacre to Goat) and the Tilburg collective Cairo Liberation Front set out on an evocative mesmerizing flight of escapist fantasy on the extended Nymphaea Caerulea EP.

 

Continuing a partnership with the Hoga Nord label and following up the previous Zodiak Versions, Al and his collaborators merge psychedelic dance music with a spiritually mysterious imagined vision of Egypt: Nymphaea Caerulea being the Latin name for the blue Egyptian lotus, a flower of the Orient.

Over six ‘levels’ they traverse and evoke entrancing Egyptian flute led feverish ritual, mysticism, sweeping desert winds, ancient kingdoms, belly dancing and cyclonic Afro-Futurist beats.

References to a new sonic deliverance, a musical Arab Spring, infuse the six instrumental tracks with a certain levity and theme. But rather than bang the drum of rage and protest in the land of the Pharaohs and old gods, Al and the Cairo Liberators create a moody mysterious, veiled soundtrack fit for the dancefloor. DV


MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL MONTHLY HIP-HOP ROUNDUP





Singles/EPs

With Rapture & Verse writing letters to Santa asking for Record Store Day specials from Prodigy, Dilla, Three6Mafia, Latyrx and a not-safe-for-turntables Christmas ice breaker from Kool Keith, the long held preconception that bad boys move in silence proves to be nothing but fake news. To the tune of stink-eye jazz, a warning shot causing whiplash is Ocean Wisdom maintaining ‘Eye Contact’, flowing comfortably before reaching his trademark warp speed without loss of clarity. Fresh hell from Onoe Caponoe unsheathes a similar typhoon tongue, taking the form of ‘Pennywize’ to a trap hammer horror thrown under the bus with the kitchen sink. Res One’s clinical and dangerous ‘Preach Nothing’ ensures you’ll burn in hell, Vicious Creep producing a funeral hymn remembering a Wild West shoot out. Beads jangling, consider the bird well and truly flipped when Dabbla goes ‘Flying’ – only first class, of course. Even the proper Professor Elemental is sent into a tailspin when James Flamestar turns ‘Knock Knock’ into a sub-EDM battering ram.





Bring your bludgeoned ears to the house of Handbook, who’ll look after you (and many an emcee) with the soulfully strong instrumentals ‘Holding You’/’Nightlife’. MrE simmers down and lights up with ‘Fairy Tale’, a well executed storyteller twisting bedtime favourites and fables into a pointed Bronx lullaby. But if you’re sitting comfortably to Beatnick Dee & Allen Poe’s ‘Composure’ EP, the LA-Kentucky match-up will pull the seat from under you, soulful for body and brain, with a conscience prepared to do double shifts. Fearing the worst when a club track called ‘Opulence’ with a poolside sleeve is cued, K Gaines leads the flashy set a merry dance with funk and flow setting and nailing simple targets.

One of Sage Francis’ signature fact-finding devastations gets a re-up, ‘Hoofprints in the Sand’ remixed by SonOfKarl as homely calm tries to keep the wolves from the door. Coating bar after bar in blood, KXNG Crooked & Royce 5’9” dispense ‘Truth’, ruthlessly bursting the bubble of bleary trap whose race sounds run. One of DJ Premier’s back pocket boom bappers gets A$AP Ferg to reclaim ‘Our Streets’, a nice beats and rhymes combination operating at about 75% and still eliminating imitators and New York naysayers in their droves. Another DOOM special team – metal-faced sagging meeting the street-carbonated Westside Gunn – comes more underground than a mole’s metro system, on the picture disc payday ‘Gorilla Monsoon’/‘2 Stings’.






Albums

Cappo, Juga-Naut and Vandal Savage power up again as valued vehicle of vengeance VVV, using the pointed end of the dunce cap to gut opposition on ‘Bozo Boyz’. Wearing Nottingham swagbasco like its rockstar cologne, the trio take apart prowling club beats powered by the high beams of an 80s sportscar, a wink and a nod helping slice through lingering gunsmoke.





Reading last rites on ‘2000BD’, Babylon Dead are the governing body of Illinformed, in bedevilled form on the boards, and Jman, riding dirty with ragga rawness on the mic. An uncompromising last days scorch that can you make jump and shout as much as sending you cowering to the corner. The ever bloodshot Bisk and his supply of dropped out hip-hop continues unabated, the typically fitful ‘Fly Sh!t’ and his affiliation of anything but tranquil tranquilizers, Morriarchi, Lee Scott, Sam Zircon and Drae da Skimask, dealing in lo-fi at extreme pressure. Back for seconds, DJ Format and Abdominal adjust the napkin for ‘Still Hungry: The Remixes’, eight extra courses of funkiness that you don’t even have to tip the dynamic duo for.





We’ve all thought it – Armand van Helden and Jan Hammer would make a toothpaste-selling dream team. For now, it’s Armand Hammer leaving Chelsea smiles, New York duo Elucid and Billy Woods heading to ‘Rome’ as underground gladiators whose coat of arms reads “I’m the solution, I’m the condition, I’m a symptom”. Dense, sprawling heat, headed by Messiah Musik and August Fanon on some press-record-and-go business, ‘Rome’ becomes a coliseum-sized battle when reality and ill illusions converge.

The dapper delights of L’Orange’s ‘The Ordinary Man’, instrumental top hat and tails with the creases kept in, create an evocative performance capturing in black and white a concerto producer forming his own magic circle. Right hand men drop in on the mic – Blu, Elzhi, Del, Oddisee – to flank a fantastic sample archive wearing a slightly world-weary pose, from a producer whose trick-from-sleeve ratio remains visionary.





Bringing bangers from the Balkans to Boston, Mr Lif runs with Brass Menažeri for an album of oompah-pa power. ‘Resilient’ sees Lif’s customary nose for a cautionary tale and willingness to occupy outside space, woven to a backdrop of massive horns and cosmopolitan live musicianship let off the leash. Hearty but no novelty, the odd couple/fantasy lineup raises smiles and earns respect.

D4rksid3’s ‘The Dark Tape’ is an envoy of gloom, but slick with it, nestling in hip-hop’s recesses but keeping it moving and able to scoop victory from the jaws of defeat. What starts as groggy gangsterism sparks into life when Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs strike gold in uncovering ‘Gems from the Equinox’, a shady, honour-shattering set that with Roc Marciano Action Bronson, Conway, and Mr MFN eXquire in tow, gets into the groove of steam rollering suckers stoopid. Music to out-train Rocky to, Stoneface’s ‘The Stone Age’ runs strictly on rugged terrain on his way to affirmation, quiet storms dive-bombing off clifftops. Do not listen if you’re not up for the fight.



“Boom bap be the music of choice, baritone be the range of the voice”: on an album called ‘Back to the Basics (The Boom Bap)’, the demands of LS Camp are pretty plain. Defenders of the faith who sail smoothly through beats and rhymes, without viewing the world through rose (or golden) tinted glasses. Talking of smooth, Blu & Exile’s ‘In The Beginning: Before the Heavens’ is a prequel talking a lot of sense as it sits atop its predecessor like California cream on top of flavourful pie.

 

Mixtapes

Accomplished enough to be an album in its own right, Sampa the Great’s ‘Birds and The Bee9’ brings to mind the best of Bahamadia. As much as a relaxant as a pricker of ears, global vibes and soulful, gossamer licks consistently dropping shamanic B-girl jewels, confirm one-to-watch status. Chris Read reruns the fun of The Pharcyde’s ‘Bizarre Ride II…’ with a 25th anniversary mix giving you 48 minutes of all the band’s celebrated, accelerated funk and foibles, plus the finger food in between.



On this week’s Gogglebox: Chester P’s premonitions, Rye Shabby’s hometown tour, and Rapsody’s ascension.










Look out for Rapture & Verse’s picks of the year in Monolith Cocktail’s comprehensive 2017 round up, coming soon.


HIP-HOP REVUE
WORDS: MATT OLIVER





Singles/EPs

Straight into it this month, and re-emerging as per the ID, Nomad rides five tracks produced by the Richardson Brothers – dusty, but crisp with it – with a moth-eaten mic and the flow of someone who’s been up all night. No fear though, ‘Preludes’ has the canniness that has long defined the slumbering SFDB imprint. Coming off the top turnbuckle, Legion of Goon luminaries Stig of the Dump and Stu the Don hold a B-boy stance until godly status prevails, ‘YKWTI’ shellacking you with North East show and prove. Less delicacy, more slow boiler with a kick below the tongue, ‘Sushi’ has Bisk, Milkavelli, Salar and Lee Scott huddling against the elements and keeping it low key.





Booda French skulks like a sensei pickpocket on the equally discreet ‘Masterpiece’: give him an inch and he’ll sneak a mile. Champions of ‘The Working Class’, The Other Guys ease back with a batch of instrumentals handing you a cold beer at the end of a day’s toil, with a shot of something stronger to go with it. With expert reminiscing from no less sages than Masta Ace and Large Professor, Son of Sam’s ‘Come a Long Way’ is a heartening, butter smooth breakaway doing big things for the imminent album. As Diamond D waits on him, you can tell culinary mic crusher Dillon has been dying to dine out on the line “I had to link up with Diggin’ In The Crates/the homie Dillon keeps the fork diggin’ in the plates”. Notes for ‘Feast’: earthy, with a twang. Drip feeding you fresh dirt, DOOM’s achingly intense ‘Negus’ with Sean Price is the dark alley you shouldn’t pass through after dark.






Albums

Selfie takers. Broken Britain contributors. Portuguese football managers (maybe). ‘You Are Not Special’ is the call of the towering Big Toast and Ill Move Sporadic’s slap-up studio skills, blocking today’s culture of aspiration with dollops of common sense. Match a highly strung yet heavyweight flow and fast bowler-beats targeting your unguarded bonce with a touch of sidespin, and this is reality brought down to earth with a major bump. A specialist subject for this year’s UK curriculum that won’t fail you.





Getting his kingpin on where power and respect can never be overstated, Da Flyy Hooligan goes for his on ‘S.C.U.M.’, brusquely piling his platinum plate high with producer Agor keeping him decked out in fine and furious funk styles. The iron braided West Londoner preaches designer danger, a wardrobe ready for war and the trigger temper and snap of a mantrap, momentarily checked by a tribute to Sean Price.

Ideas about newfound maturity have been bandied about upon the release of Tyler The Creator’s ‘Flower Boy’. If anything he’s making his character more complex, and probably even more polarising when lavish funk and soul musicianship beds down the articulate thoughts of an at-odds soul inviting in Frank Ocean, Estelle, Jaden Smith and Lil Wayne. The fact he’s still able to rip a few new ones without a second thought and turn over Dee-lite’s greatest hit, suggests the nous of his operations has gone up a few gears.

The psychedelic experience shattering the rainbow and ransacking the pot of gold at the end of it, Kutmah’s dense layering exacts ‘The Revenge of Black Belly Button!’ Though unwieldy, his instrumental curveballs are fascinating, electronic hip-hop shapeshifts and fly-by-night sketches-made-epic finding some sort of groove, and the right accompaniment when needs be in Holy Smoke, Jonwayne, N8noface and Chris P Cuts. Cornering the B-Boy/android/mad scientist market, Kutmah’s ‘TROBB’ crash-lands hip-hop and gets high off the fumes before simmering down.





Blues, soul, boom bap: Illinformed’s instrumental ‘The Age of Ignorance’ swaggers on through with lots of character, whether that be honourable old timer or the brashly pimpish, from well executed loop work. Don’t take Mic Legg’s ‘Chill Yard’ as seen (or heard); a beat tape full of finger-tapping pleasantness and loop doodles turned steady rockers, with a nice slice of subversion undercutting your comfort zone as the chill develops into an icepick. Aver’s ‘Die Berlin Dateien’ is another classy lounger pouncing on any whiff of danger, like putting your feet up with a pistol still stashed in your sock: a wind down zone for those playing with flick knives like a fidget spinner. Throwing in a lot of funk and whatever radio reception he can get on his road trip aiming to beat the setting of the sun, Don Leisure as the mysterious convoy leader ‘Shaboo’ pieces together a treasure map full of prize breaks and tantalising titbits. Bin the sat-nav and up the volume. Laidback and steaming the creases out of your day, Jermiside cuts the mic and goes resplendently horizontal as he takes ‘A Moment Between Places’.





‘Step Up to Get Your Rep Up’: a cast-iron call out from home bankers Heavy Links, El Tel, Habitat and Donnie Propa pumping out pure Lincolnshire firepower and reliably safeguarding hip-hop’s essentials with the best of British. With runaway chatter reminiscent of a certain bottle blond motormouth in his prime, Rick Fury as the don ‘Lego Scarface’ reps Newcastle at length with entertaining, can’t-sit-still facts and fuck-yous. “Broke since Donovan rocked that dreamcoat”, he’s backed by 80s patron DJ A.D.S., including a memorable meddling in the affairs of Foreigner. Ho’way the lad.

Value for money comes as standard from Tanya Morgan’s ‘YGWY$4 (You Get What You Pay For)’. Donwill and VonPea peak with a slick ease of unifying, buxom funk, pulling the (purse) strings of the best outdoor shindig you’ve ever attended, including skits that keep the album moving and spirits high. A party album also acting as the responsible adult, giving you the benefit of experience while mixing it with the in-crowd. We need a ‘Resolution’, and we’ve also long needed Mr Lif and Akrobatik to reunite as The Perceptionists. Though missing DJ Fakts One, it’s the perfect two-man blend of street and book knowledge, keeping the faith, mic swaps and the narrative style that served ‘Black Dialogue’ so well, and knowing when to attack (including some surprise trap offensives) and when to defend.





Once Danny Lover has had you over for ‘The Church Restaurant Official Soundtrack’, sucker punching you into a beanbag that continues to sag from under you, imagine if trap came loaded with an actual trapdoor; and instead of the bass booming from the boot, it was more a primal, tribal heartbeat of an unknown force or being. That’s kind of the deal with ZGTOShigeto and ZelooperZ – who shun the club for ‘A Piece of the Geto’. The slang stays the same, but when entwined with the inhospitable below the underground, a strange voodoo is summoned as sharp and threatening as trap’s regular 808 players. Uncommon Nasa’s ‘Written at Night’ invokes the fire in which independent rap burned in its late 90s heyday, beats and rhymes fired at awkward angles but grittily entrenched in the underground as it clocks up the light years. Guilty Simpson, Mike Ladd and King Kashmere are on hand with extra sonic screwdrivers.





Raydar Ellis is back with a ‘Bang!’, the ‘Late Pass’ provider dropping eight engaging tracks going straight up and broadening out as a source of infotainment until you’re sticking ‘em up in appreciation. Playful, introspective and tightly coiled all at once, Open Mike Eagle’s ‘Brick Body Kids Still Daydream’ has “been woke so long I might need to take a nap”, provides the hard man anthem of the year, and concludes with supreme condemnation: all while maintaining his rightful place in the line of ghetto superheroes.



Mixtapes

For those itching to get their Halloween decorations up, Onry Ozzborn has got your back for when the gates of hell swing open. ‘Black Phillip’ is only 35 minutes long, but that’s more than enough time for your speakers to pay attention as if guided by poltergeist power. The sound of looking at the sun for too long, Ireland trap tranquilizers NEOMADiC revel in summer’s last moments with ‘The NEOMADiC Tape’: boys in their own bubble personalising the snooze button experience.

 

Tune into Rap Noir’s weather forecast, understated negotiating from Action Bronson, and Dave East telling you to pace yourself.










NEW MUSIC REVIEW
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA

Featuring: The Bordellos, Diagnos, Eberhard Kranemann & Harald Grosskopf, Lucy Leave, The Telescopes and Terry.





More eclectic sounds from across the whole spectrum and from around the world in this edition of Dominic Valvona’s ramshackle reviews roundup, including the disarming snappy punk and cool pop of Melbourne’s scenester gang Terry, Oxford’s elastic new wave funk and math rock trio Lucy Leave, the pastoral pagan psychedelic and folky Kosmische Swedish duo Diagnos, St. Helen’s most dysfunctional lo fi rock’n’roll gods, The Bordellos, paragons of the (rather missive termed) Krautrock epoch, Eberhard Kranemann & Harald Grosskopf, and sonic vessels of the void, The Telescopes.

Terry  ‘Remember Terry’
Upset The Rhythm,  July 7th 2017

 

The Terry gang is back in town. The disarming world-weary punk and quirky pop touting quartet of Melbourne scenesters, banding together under the ubiquitous titular moniker, follow up a prolific run of 2016 EPs and their debut LP with another acerbic witted, snappy melodious release of profound disenchantment and wistful “wish fulfillment”.

Continuing with the shared girl/boy dynamic of lulling, placeable idiosyncratic vocals and flexible punk, country and new wave bubblegum backing, Terry look to expand their repertoire on Remember. The combined musical savvy and experiences of band members Amy Hill (of Constant Mongrel and School Of Radiant Living), Al Montfort (UV Race, Dick Diver, Total Control), Zephyr Pavey (Eastlink, Russell St Bombings and also Total Control) and Xanthe White (Mick Harvey, Primo) push the quartet into all kinds of nonchalant mischief. The gang embraces nonplussed French new wave chanteuse vibes on the brilliant breezy, mosey country lilting, Toy Love meets Serge Gainsbourg Take Me To The City (one of the tracks of the summer), and snappy, bouncy indie synth pop on Rio. At their most raucous, rough and ready to tumble, Terry softens the edges of The Damned on both their keystone kops rave-up Start The Tape and spiky frazzling Give Up The Crown.

Suggesting nothing more rebellious than a cheeky smoke behind the bike sheds, the group’s knockabout catchy hooks and charm cloak a personal profound response to the political and personal anxieties and dramas of the times. And they do this with a certain aloof coolness and adroit ear for a great tune, making this a most melodious and catchy album of knowing pop slanted punk.






Lucy Leave  ‘The Beauty Of The World’
15th June,  2017

 

Venting opprobrious discourse at the result and ongoing shambles of Brexit – though I’m waiting for creative responses from the “leave” camp to materialize – the burgeoning Oxford trio Lucy Leave put forward an ennui fit of 80s downtown white funk and erratic polyrhythm bendy protestation on their latest EP’s opening diatribe, Talk Danish To Me.

Written whilst on holiday in the Danish capital, this discordant yet highly elastically funky number is as complicated as it sounds; the group reflecting the Brexit vote of 52% for leave with irrational dissonance and a whole tone scale flourish. Yet, despite this, that opening tumultuous track is surprisingly flexible and even melodic; tracing a path back through The Rapture, Liquid Liquid, ESG, A Certain Ratio, American alt rock, grunge and Oxford’s own synonymous – well made famous by – “math rock” scene.

The press one-sheet may have other ideas on where the trio’s influences lie, citing Deerhoof, Tortoise and The Minutemen. But on songs such as the spasmodic disjoint title track they channel PiL (the bass lines most definitely deftly sliding and dipping towards Jah Wobble), and, of all groups, the Red Hot Chili Peppers (though don’t hold that against Lucy Leave, as they sound a whole lot more credible), whilst it’s the floating semblances of Pink Floyd coupled with the slacker mumblings of grunge in the ascendance on Josh. Their appetite for sounds is as omnivorous as it is pliable.

Lucy Leave’s siblings Pete (on drums) and Mike Smith (guitar), and Jenny Oliver (bass and occasional succinct saxophone jazz gestures) all take it in turns to sing. Each bringing a subtle distinct tone and phrasing, especially Oliver who sounds like a submerged Vivian Goldmine or Dominique Levillain of Family Fodder, on the watery reggae gait and psychedelic swelling car crash inspired NIGHTROAD.

Hurtling without a map but a studious head for music theory and figures through The Beauty Of The World, Lucy Leave produce a magnificent bendy chaos. Without a doubt one of the most interesting new bands and among the most unpredictable releases of 2017 for me.






The Telescopes  ‘As Light Return’
Tapete Records,  7th July 2017

 

After thirty years of tuning in and out of the void The Telescopes – or rather the only founding member to have endured this sonic travail, Stephen Lawrie – suggest there might be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel on their ninth drone behemoth album, As Light Return. Don’t get your hopes up just yet though. The miasma caustic discord still hangs like a millstone around Lawrie’s neck; a heavy weight that all but keeps him from clawing out of the vault towards the surface for air: the shoegaze melodious elements and audible vocals of yore all but dissipated and recondite.

If there is any kind of let up in this latest album’s unrelenting sustained waves of abrasive and searing feedback then its very subtle one. Whilst not quite daemonic and not quite as bleak as the visions of Sunn O))), As Light Return is still unyieldingly dark.

Relief is hard won, with any emerging semblances of a Mogadon induced Spector motorcycle gang doo-wop and Spacemen 3 redemption – most notably on the opening lament You Can’t Reach What You Hunger – being obscured and dragged under the ominous efflux of guitars. Just as the fuzz, squalls and unflinching bed of drawn out drones resemble anything moodily melodic they meet a stubborn indolence of gnawing white noise. As usual Lawrie’s vocals remain cryptically veiled in the gauzy production: detached in a stupor as the overpowering seething vortex of layering consumes all.

Using a revolving door policy of guitarists and continuing to change set ups, though Lawrie once again indoctrinates band members from St Deluxe on this album, As Light Return shares much musically, within the perimeters of anyway, with the previous drone suite album, Hidden Fields. However, the tone is even darker and serious, despite the light referenced title; sonically turning the cursed ashes of unheeded augurs into an atmospheric malaise and sound experience.




Diagnos  ‘Diagnos’
Control Kitten Records,  July 14th 2017

 

Building on an initial music project stemming from Marcus Harrling’s filmskills (one half of the Diagnos duo) this extended eponymous soundtrack of concomitant mystical ambient electronica, folk and psych is the perfect accompaniment for an imaginary 1970s set pagan horror: a kind of Scandinavian Wicker Man if you like.

Harrling, a graduate filmmaker of The Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, originally developed Diagnos with Per Nyström to score a number of his super 8 camera shot travel films. Both stalwarts of their native Swedish independent music scene; members of The Concretes, Monsters, Mackaper, and Sons Of Cyrus; the duo ask a number of compatriots to contribute to their debut (proper) album. The roots of which first emerged in 2009 when Daniel Fagerström of The Skull Defekts arranged a “one-minute-festival” show for them; a performance that led to the creation of the incipient radiant synth and swooning incantation When The Sun Comes Up: a full version of which now closes this album.

Made up of instrumental passages, vignettes and cooing, psychedelic folky vocal tracks, Diagnos uses a backing of suffused sampled sounds, keyboards, purposeful attentive drums and guitar loops to create the right dreamy esoteric and folkloric atmosphere. Guest collaborators Nadine Byrne, Tove El, Maria Eriksson, Niek Meul, Oscar Moberg and Felix Unsöld add wafting, swaddled saxophone, lulling and supernatural pastoral lush vocals and hallucinogenic inducing tones to this magical journey.

Floating between flute-y synthesizers, primal tribal reverberation percussion and more drawn-out, but softened, drones, this suite weaves progressive and Kosmische influences into a gauze-y bed of spiritual and ominous layers; recalling the dissipating echoes of early Popol Vuh, Kluster, Ash Ra Tempel, Sonic Youth, Land Observation, Air, and on the languid trip-hop like Reflections, the soundtracks of Basil Poledouris.




Eberhard Kranemann & Harald Grosskopf   ‘Krautwerk’
Bureau B,  28th July 2017

 

Stalwarts of Germany’s influential late 1960s and 70s experimental transformative Kosmische and Krautrock music scenes, Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf join forces to celebrate a legacy. Representing two of the country’s most important epicenters and incubators of electronic music, Berlin and Dusseldorf, the duo glide and ponder through all the various iterations from that era on the pun-intended Krautwerk album.

Provenance wise Grosskopf drummed on a number of early Klaus Schulze albums (reverberations of the legendary electronic composer can be found throughout) and recorded thirteen albums with the Ashra incarnation of the iconic acid transcendental Ash Ra Tempel originators (again, traces of which can be heard here). Kranemann’s travails in Krautrock took the usual course, studies in more classical music at the Dortmund Conservatory and art at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf (studying under the behemoth of European conceptualism, Joseph Beuys), followed by a baptism of fire, propelled into the earliest developments of German electronica, co-founding such giants of the scene as Kraftwerk, Neu! and Pissoff.

In the aftermath of that most important decade in German music history both artists went on to release numerous solo projects. Their paths however didn’t cross until 2016, and by chance; both solo artists booked to perform at the very same music festival, where they planned this melding of minds project.

Two schools of thought and conceptualism, Krautwerk is a sophisticated, sagacious sextet of analogue (featuring of all things an Hawaiian guitar and, not so surprising, a cello) and synthesized peregrinations and moods. Channeling a wealth of experience and influences this congruous partnership combines the graceful transience and stirring futuristic ambience of Cluster and Tangerine Dream with the tangled, industrial guitar playing of Manuel Göttsching and the progressive kinetic beats of the Pyrolator and Kraftwerk. Clandestine romanticized reflections captured at midnight appear alongside mystical cello etched beasts in the Tibetan mists, on the Deutsch Nepal trail, and more nonsensical Japanese phonetic silliness to cover a swathe of Dusseldorf and Berlin inspirations.

Though there’s also a strong nod in the direction of the musical styles that evolved from and ran parallel to Krautrock/Kosmische with Moroder style arpeggiator propulsion and 80s drum machine percussion on the vortex sucking and reversed hi-hat Basic Channel transmogrified Be Cool, and Jeff Mills cerebral techno on the Tresor club turn Banco de Gaia trance journey Happy Blue.

Every bit as erudite as you’d expect; finely tuned and considered, Kranemann and Grosskopf celebrate a full gamut and heritage. Yet sound relatively contemporary at times and fresh despite the fact that these musical genres were created in the 60s. Fans of Kosmische and electronica music in general will lap it up.




The Bordellos  ‘Life, Love & Billy Fury’
Recordiau Prin,  16th June 2017

Prolific, if haphazardly, dropping albums upon the unsuspecting, and quite frankly undeserving, public, St. Helen’s greatest dysfunctional family bring us one of their most ambitious collections of cynical derision and honest yearned anxiety yet: a kind of Joy ‘de vive’ Division.

More or less The Bordellos love songs collection, this latest lo fi affair – that makes even The Fall sound professional – is a raw opening of the heart, and in some cases, the veins. Transmogrifying Spector’s voices of the beehives (The Crystals to The Ronettes), the Spacemen 3, The Cure and, of course, The Velvet Underground, The Bordellos eulogize the nearly man of British rock’n’roll, Billy Fury, craft (perhaps) one of their most beautiful ballads, Starcrossed Radio, and pen a “speeding train” metaphor themed ode to breakups.

That signature mumbled and pained expression of malaise and the miserable backbeat and tambourine jangled foundations, we Bordellos fans love and find so endearing, prevail but are joined by meandered detours and passing fancies of inspiration: on the heavily medicated Secret Love it’s a touch of (would you believe it) Lee Hazlewood and Nick Cave, on the breezier “what’s cooking” kitchen sulk Brief Taste it’s a conjuncture of Siouxsie Sioux’s Banshees and The Clean, and on the Adriatic wooing Signomi, Arketa!, I can hear Talk Talk beating out a military tattoo rhythm on Adam and the Ants Burundi drums.

Romancing the stoned, the life, loves and failures of rock’n’roll are laid bear and as usual, ignored by an unsympathetic, disinterested public. But despite mostly alluding recognition and validation (because that seems to be all that matters in the social media age: affirmation from the echo-chamber of peers), The Bordellos mope and grind on, producing some of the most important diatribes and, in this case, scuzzy, dirge-y and primal garage band spirited love-pained grievances.





NEW MUSIC REVIEWS ROUNDUP

Words: Dominic Valvona


Roll Call: The Black Angels, Anna Coogan, Cotton Wolf, Happyness, King Ayisoba, Lake, Alex Stolze, Swamp Sounds/Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods, Vassals, Andrew Wasylyk.




A mega edition of the regular tickling our fancy reviews roundup this month, before the Easter Break and the Monolith Cocktail’s week long sabbatical to Palermo, we take you on a whirlwind trip through some of the “choice” most recent and upcoming releases. Pleasantries aside. Let’s crack on…

King Ayisoba ‘1000 Can Die’
Glitterbeat Records, 31st March 2017

Credit: Jacob Crawfurd

 

Sounding the klaxon call in defense of his native Ghana, and Africa at large, on his inaugural LP for Glitterbeat Records, the striking King Ayisoba, from the roots up, uses his guttural earthy howl and atavistic kologo lute to great effect in demonstrating not only a raw anger but also a deep love for a much misunderstood continent.

From the very outset Ayisoba and his contributors Wanlov da Kubolar & Big Gad – just two of the many guest appearances on this album – rap, sing and stamp a slogan sentiment on the opening Africa Needs Africa of, “Let’s fight for Africa/Africa needs us.” Covering the North African diaspora, the boat people’s sorry saga, the colonial past and umpteen other issues that more or less shape the image that those observers from outside the continent believe is the only side to Africa – between a misplaced sentimentality and outright ignorance. There is protestation and indictment, but also a lively focus on the positives too; finding solutions through the medium of music and culture.

Though Ayisoba advocates the “power of tradition” and the primal thrust of instrumentation is one passed down from generation to generation, 1000 Can Die features an eclectic and electric fusion of musical styles. The homegrown Ghanaian “hiplife” – a mix of rap, electronic beats and traditional rhythms – rubs up against ragga, dancehall and dub; a grandee doyen of which, the inimitable Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, appears postulating a herb-hazed wisdom on the album’s rustically plucked and enraged title track.

In-between the fiery, bordering on punk, clatter of guluku, dundun and Djembe drums and rambunctious electronic phasing beats there are more plaintive, yearning stripped-back moments: Grandfather Song, a toiled from the soil of tragedy lament, offers a more intimate knee-jerk from the full-on band sound, and Dapagara is sent off into a sweeping, wafting vista by the Nigerian legend Orlando Julius’ traversing, reedy accentuated saxophone.

Raw from the heart, highly evocative and rebellious, King Ayisoba’s songs of rage and vitality actually offer a kind of hope in the face of adversity. The future of Ghana’s music scene is in good hands at least.






The Black Angels ‘Death Song’
Partisan Records, 21st April 2017

 

If you were looking for a creative musical reaction to Trump and the anxious times we live in then The Black Angels beautiful apocalyptic melodrama, Death Song, must be one of the most anguished and daemonic of responses. The Austin psych-rocking overlords first album in four years was written and recorded during the miasma of the US elections after all: and doesn’t it show!

An emotionally charged despair and anger with moments of catharsis, carried out to a Byzantine flavored soundtrack of esoteric Amon Duul II and Far East Family Band psych, a vortex of 80s Goth inspirations – including The cult and Siouxsie and the Banshees – and the tolling chimes of doom and drone, Death Song is, as the title suggests, a heavy, but most excellent trip. It begins with one of the Angels heaviest productions yet; a dark arts pulsing bestial diatribe on the controlling influence of money, entitled Currency. From there we’re guided across choppy seas between brighter less cymbal crashing hypnotics and swaying macabre, through the metaphorical “killing fields” of the huntress (I’d Kill For Her); the enslaved intoxicant spell casting of enchantresses (Half Believing); and the upside down: the final Floyd and Amon Duul II-esque Orpheus-is-comfortably-numb-in-the-underworld opus, Life Song.

Brooding romantically in Gothic tragedy as the world continues to turn, undaunted by the prospects of universal uncertainty, The Black Angels spread their wings magnificently on what is, perhaps, one of their best albums yet. The leviathans of the psych-rock scene have learnt much and after a recording hiatus return with something sharper, refined but just as mystical and hallucinatory.









Anna Coogan  ‘The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time’
28th April 2017

 

Not the easiest of bedfellows, difficult to love and often (rightly) condemned as indulgent and overblown, but the worlds of rock and opera do occasionally overlap in a congruous union. The unquestionably talented Anna Coogan for instance, mixes the two majestically, using her finely trained 3-octave soprano and classical background to offer fluttering siren-like arias that seem to surreptitiously manifest from, what is, an ever-changing metamorphosis of musical styles, on her latest album, The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time.

Spanning country, Ry Cooder desert meditations, Anna Calvi like trembled sensual emulations, PJ Harvey and even bubbly synth pop, Coogan together with musical collaborator Willie B – offering atmospheric Moog bass line undertones and drums – produce a wave (whether the gravitational kind, as serenaded and alluded to on the brilliant opening title track or, the metaphorical high seas kind, as referenced throughout) fixated lamenting and balletic travail.

 

Inspired by scientific discoveries, a “childhood listening to Puccini’s La Boheme”, the fateful poet Sylvia Plath, the tumultuous grave mistakes of intervention in the Middle East and, no surprises, the 2016 US elections Coogan’s ambitious suite of songs and instrumental evocations is far from lofty and classical. The operatic, learnt at the prestigious Mozarteum University of Salzburg, elements are transduced through a background of rifling through her father’s record collection of protest troubadours, and busking on the streets of Seattle, to leave only traces that appear naturally.

Occasionally rocking, most of the music has a cinematic more expansive touch, with three of the songs on this album originally composed to accompany the Soviet filmmaker Jakov Protazanov 1929 camp alien invasion/Russian revolution analogy Aelita, Queen Of Mars (the title track) and the French director Jean Epstein’s 1928 interruption of Poe’s classic, The Fall Of The House Of Usher (If You Were The Sun, A Wedding Vow).

Almost uninterrupted with each track flowing or bleeding over into the next, the album moves seamlessly between its musical and thematic influences. I could probably do without the romantic twinkled space helmet vocal synth pop Meteor, but overall this is an impressive performance, Coogan’s quivering wah wah and tremolo articulations matched equally by that heavenly, soaring voice.





Lake ‘Forever Or Never’
Tapete Records, April 7th 2017

 

Meant as anything but disingenuous, it’s surprising what the experimental pop group Lake get away with on their latest and eighth album, Forever Or Never. Remodeling an array of 70s/80s influences with a 21st century spin, they can turn some of the stalest MOR vaporous blue-eyed soul synth ballads and soft rock melodramas into something melodically enchanting but very poignant; analogies channeling the political and social maelstroms of our times, as most of the music coming out of the USA does in 2017.

Celebrating a recent tenth anniversary with perhaps the most exhaustive of performances, playing every song from their ninety-track back catalogue in an Herculean ten-hour set, Lake continue to submerge themselves in the Pacific Ocean Blue waters of nostalgia.

Finely attuned, lean and devoid of the superfluous, Forever Or Never is a mostly gentle, wistful breeze through yacht rock, Belle & Sebastian daydreaming romanticism, shoegaze and pop. Shared male/female vocals duties offer a constant variety that bears traces of Blonde Redhead, Harry Nilsson and The Pastels. And joining the betrothed founders Ashley Eriksson and Elijah Moore, and long-term band members Andrew Dorsett and Mark “Markly” Morrison before she passed away, the artist/musician Geneviève Castrée (for whom this album is dedicated) lent lush coos and backing vocals to the tumultuous Gone Against The Wind and bright, easy-going finale, Magazine.

Sometimes it’s like hearing Fleetwood Mac if they’d formed during the C86 phenomenon, and at other times, a strange transmutation of Captain & Tennille, and a vague stab at a post Sunflower Beach Boys jamming with Hall & Oates. Disarming and emotionally sophisticated throughout, with subtle, warm but diligent songwriting, Forever Or Never is a melody rich harmonious meditation on inner turmoil, forgiveness and mourning, that can’t help but also comment on the recent political landscape.








Alex Stolze  ‘Mankind Animal’
Nonostar Records, 31st March 2017

 

Transforming the traditionally entrenched sound and indeed reputation of the violin, German composer/producer Alex Stolze attempts to reanimate the instrument, “preserving” it, as he states, “for future generations, without being a conservative classicist.”

No stranger to reinvention, recently performing radical deconstructions of Bach’s Kunst der Fuge with the Armida Quartet, at Berlin’s Radial System venue, Stolze has gained a certain exploratory reputation for his work with the electronica acts Bodi Bull and Unmap (amongst others).

Concentrating the mind, finding a certain solace, the Berlin urbane stalwart has relocated to the German/Polish borders for a more pastoral life of contemplation; spending time on rebuilding an old ruin in the countryside but focusing on the vision for his solo work. Nothing short of guiding humanity towards a less destructive, more empathetic spirituality, Stolze attempts to bridge classicism and contemporary amorphous electronic music on his debut solo record, Mankind Animal.

Less Roedelius neo-classical, or for that matter Tony Conrad Dream Syndicate, and more John Cale inspired viola distortions and that titan of the German avant-garde Stockhausen and his electronic processing of orchestral instrumentation, the five-track Mankind Animal suite is surprisingly fluid and melodic. Conceptual and avant-garde in influence certainly, but far from a grueling or challenging experience.

A chamber ensemble mix of electro-acoustics, ambient traverses and, at times, kinetic beat undulating soul, this pan-Europa soundtrack often evokes transmogrified traces of traditional scores and folkloric music from central and eastern Europe: The articulate plucks, quivers, wanes and yearnings that emanate from Stolze’s five-string custom-made violin often sounding a link back towards the past, and ghosts of an old continent. Tradition is very prominent, but an intricate bed of low synth, contained sophisticated beats and mechanics bring it into the present.

Over the top of this score, Stolze’s succinct campfire lyrics of profound prose make allusive references to the here and now though again these concerns are often age-old: from, “where to start if you want to change the system”, on the lyrical resigned meander through the universal condition The Crown, to the more personable inner sage advice of “don’t try to be someone else/otherwise who would be you”, on the opening Don’t Try To Be.

From the cinematic Eraser to the softened timpani minor-overture Stringent, Stolze and his ensemble produce a considered postmodernist suite, both experimental in merging the classical with the contemporary, and yet a pleasurable, even soulful and thoughtfully poised listening experience.






Joji Hirota & The London Taiko Drummers  ‘Japanese Taiko’
ARC Music, 28th April 2017

 

One of Taiko drumming form’s most prestigious of stars of the last forty years, Joji Hirota cements his sizable reputation with this latest collection, simply named Japanese Taiko. Literally, as is the case with most of these direct from Japanese translations, the ancient style of Taiko itself means “big, fat drums”, (which you can’t really argue with) and on this album features a number of these drum shapes and sizes, from the smallest, a “uchiwa tom”, to the behemoth sized “oh daiko” (again, literally a “big drum” that measures 140cms in diameter).

Inspired by the volcano piqued hot springs landscape of his native Hokkaido – Japan’s most northerly of main islands – Hirota, who started training at the age of eleven, merges majestic traditions with a unique modern approach: He was after all among the first of the Taiko practitioners to bring the style to the West, and has more recently lent his music to the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese’s latest martyrdom, Silence. Together with his four male and eight female strong London ensemble the maestro thunderously rolls through Taiko’s folkloric, Noh theatre, Kabuki, Buddhist and Shinto religious ceremony origins with agility and at times entrancing aplomb.

Building up pattering rumble evocations of the Spring Breeze or, stroking the drum skins to an atavistic Japanese flute accompaniment in ritual to a Harvest god (Kokiriko), this dynamic, though often monotonous, chorus of drummers is surprisingly melodic. A barrage yes, but the drumming wall of sound is often elevated by poetic vocals – usually in chorus, though there is a strange mix of call and response staccato rapping on Akita – and subtle mood and tonal changes; from wood clapping to finger bells and cymbal swells.

To experience live is something else: a synchronized art form of music and theater. But this showcase of tradition and experimentation, with half the compositions written by the man himself, is a great introduction to the form.


Cotton Wolf   ‘Life In Analogue’
Bubblewrap Collective, 28th April 2017

 

As technology’s ever-domineering progress takes over and algorithms creep into the creative process it’s a relief to see and hear that the Kraftwerkian dream of complete immersion between humans and machines, with all music created by a computerized brainiac, is still a long way off. And though by its very democratized nature and access electronic music is obviously wholly reliant on tech, which is getting ever cheaper and easier to use, there are many artists who wish to (and excuse my trite cliché) put the soul back into the machine. The Cotton Wolf Welsh duo of “super producer” Llion Robertson and classically trained composer Seb Goldfinch are among those, “living in the analogue”, who leave an indelible human mark on electronic music.

Their debut album is an often sophisticated, downtempo, merger of small, organic Leaf Label like synthetic drums and tight percussion and subtle atmospheric waves and suffused strings – part of the symphonic quality and melody the duo wish to emphasis. With guest vocals from the attentive soulful Alys Williams, on the gauzy veiled Lliwiau, and calm fluttering siren Lois Rogers, on the softened Massive Attack-esque Future Never, Cotton Wolf omit for a sense of performance and humility.

“Unapologetically” Welsh, Williams for example sings in the dialect, the duo is rightly proud of their heritage. And they are in some ways in the middle of a golden resurgence, with countless fellow Welsh electronic artists, from The Conformist to R. Seiliog and Gwenno Saunders to name just three, gaining critical attention and flying the flag. But, apart from the language, there isn’t a common identity in the music itself. There is no such thing as a “Wales sound” in the genre. Life In Analogue is if anything a global soundtrack, with traces as diverse as Kosmische, EDM, Bonobo and even mellowed South American electronica all under one roof.

More than a little classy, electronica with a human touch, Cotton Wolf weave the symphonic articulately into an album with depth but also commercial appeal.



Swamp Sounds/Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods   ‘ST’
Bearsuit Records, 24th March 2017

 

A split offering from the Edinburgh label of idiosyncratic experimental sonics and more lo fi indie pop fare, Bearsuit Records bring us an incongruous curious pairing of, mainly, electronic music mavericks.

From further up the Scottish east coast, Dundee artist/musician Douglas Wallace, under the strange Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods appellation, has fashioned an imaginary Hondo City futuristic soundscape that bares little relation to the track titles. With a backing of trebly crisp electronic percussion, tetchy cymbals, clean crystalized synths and trans mutated guitar wails, Wallace’s science fiction travails make ephemeral references to Murcof, Bowie’s Heroes peregrinations, Ryuichi Sakamoto and the sort of 80s vapour ice-misty synth soundtrack fare you’d find on the video-nasty, Shogun Assassin. Reverent at times, primordial at others (check the lost world of Song For Broken Singers), ole Uncle Pop’s contribution is a subtle, meditative counterpoint to his album companion’s ennui flitting Casio car-crash bombardment.

Hailing from Nagoya, Japan, experimental electronic music artist and founder of Sleep Jam Records, Yuuya Kuno flirts with a number of aliases including House of Tapes but for this label and in this capacity goes under the Swamp Sounds moniker. Chopped-up into a loopy soundclash of Casio pre-set schlock and drama, Kuno’s 80s meltdown collage is both ridiculous and yet full of interesting surprises. Tracks such as Skull Disco feed Daft Punk through a dial-up connection and grinder, and Houndstooth sends Atari Teenage Riot to a laser quest showdown.

Run of the mill for Bearsuit, who constantly release such curiosities, but for us the listener these experiments prove intriguing; bringing to our attention some unique artists, working on the peripherals of sonic reinvention and cut-up mania.





Andrew Wasylyk  ‘Themes From Buildings And Spaces’
Tape Club Records, 28th April 2017

 

The second artist in my roundup to hail from the fair city port of Dundee, musician/composer Andrew Mitchell (nee Wasylyk) pays a moving sort of homage to his home on Themes From Buildings And Spaces. With the onus on the psychogeography of the architecture in Scotland’s fourth-largest city, its history as the capital of Jute production features heavily as a recurring theme; the ghosts and lingering traces of Tayside mills and the people who worked the oppressive Industrial Revolution machinery within them making their presence known on the reflective Lower Dens Work.

Memories both haunting and meditative are made concrete, prompted by the iconic images of the late, “father of Scottish modern photography”, Joseph MacKenzie and a mix of architectural markers – only ever seen in Scotland – from across time: stoic granite beauty to hard-to-love Brutalism. The very evolution of Dundee, over eight instrumental evocations, is lent both a melancholic and romantic soundtrack of lapping piano tides, gentle swooning colliery jazz brass, synthesized choral voices and peaceable textures. Sounding unique, even pastoral at times, these suites conjure up a Caledonian Air, yet at other times errs towards the ether, conjuring up those old ghosts and spirits.

Andrew sheds a new light in many ways on Dundee with the most reflective of timeless scores.






Happyness  ‘Write In’
Moshi Moshi, 7th April 2017

 

Ah…the sound of a band embracing the heartfelt warmth, accentuated dazed melodies and special feel of such 70s fare as Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and Big Star, Happyness evoke the hazy fond memories and subtle sophistication of these and other complimentary artists on their new album, Write In.

Having previously covered and absorbed tootsie roll Beach Boys idyllics and the Athens, Georgia college radio rock of the obscure Club Gaga on last year’s Tunnel Vision On Your Part EP – the title-track of which appears alongside the drowsy-sighed pop spankler Anna, Lisa Calls on this, the group’s second LP –, and often drawn favorable comparisons to Wilco and Pavement, Happyness find themselves liltingly tuning into a more eclectic array of influences for their most melodious, engaging songbook collection yet.

The opening Falling Down gambit, with its radiant phaser guitar, conjures up the Scottish indie supremos (and fellow Big Star acolytes) Teenage Fanclub, whilst the pastel-shaded saddened tone of The Reel Starts Again (Man As Ostrich) sounds like a lost, ghostly remnant of a George Harrison and Jeff Lynne malady. A touch of the Brighten The Corners era Pavement permeates the band’s weary slacker muffled Uptrend/Style Raids, but by the time we reach the halfway stage of the album the lads are back to thrashing out a languorous grunge-y grind on Bigger Glass Less Full.

Subtle and confident, Write In is a halcyon, beautifully executed album with real depth and personality. Happyness have found their flow with loose but perceptively well-crafted gentle pop songs of a timeless quality: to be played as the “credits roll forever”.





Vassals  ‘Halogen Days EP’
Post Fun, 7th April 2017

 

You have Audio Antihero’s indefatigable Jamie Halliday to thank for dropping this EP from Brooklyn misfits Vassals onto my radar. The backing band of Audio Antihero signing Magana, the trio’s latest release bandies between, as the press release puts it, a sort of “bleak beauty” and “chaotic minimalism” that strays into “slacker-rock ambivalence” and “post-punk cynicism”. I can confirm all of that, but would like to add the following if I may.

There’s more than a touch of the new wave on Halogen Days quartet of power-pop and grungy-romanticism. The slacker and grunge elements made brighter and indolently tuneful for it.

A run through of the EP then: We have the pendulous drum and echoed vocals of the opener Sea Spells, which sounds like a young Glenn Tilbrook fronting The Yeah Yeah Yeahs; the Moonless (“night”) build up swell of crescendos that evokes the Tokyo Police Club and Wampire; and the return to the source of inspiration with traces of The Pixies and Dinosaur Jnr on the stumbling SoHo. The finale meanwhile, Ghostwood, traverses Pavement and The Strokes (when they were something), on a peaks and lulls, heavy and accentuate crafted N.Y.C. indie resigned anthem, that literally spirals and pounds away until lifting off.

Bright hopes indeed and nowhere near as petulant as you’d expect. There is amongst that cynicism and effortless sounding despondency some real thought and musicianship, the lyrics actually far more aching and heartfelt than they might admit.






EXCLUSIVE VIDEO
Words: Dominic Valvona


Sankofa - Monolith Cocktail

 

Intoxicatingly beckoned by their satanic majesties into the subterranean, the bewitching new single from the reputable morbidly curious Liverpool band Sankofa, Into The Wild, is a sassy, knowing two-geared esoteric augur. Following hot on the heels of their last, and equally daemonic psych single, All The While, ahead of the band’s debut album (released later this year), this entrancing incandescent liquid lightshow video adorned doom-monger shifts from a malady of Crime And The City Solution style tremolo twanged gothic country, The Doors and The Creeps, to a final unyielding, heavy rock guitar crescendo. In case you missed the subtle hints and miasma, both sonically and lyrically, the cover art can’t help but give you nightmares, alluding as it does to very real metaphors of puritanical regimes and their witch-hunts.

Into The Wild will be released by the, burgeoning, independent Glasgow-based In Black Records label (home to Acting Strange and Mark McGowan) on the 3rd March 2017; for now, you can catch our exclusive taster video.





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