REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona





As usual, another international whirlwind of stopovers awaits reader, as I pick out choice and interesting new releases and reissues from across the globe. Channeling his traverses, mountain climbs and treks across the California wilderness into ambient peregrinations, Fran Dominguez as the Forest Robot, takes the listener out into the great outdoors, with his latest suite After Geography. An aural escape, a safe spatial plain, Dominguez creates an environment in which to take stock. A Finnish-American freeform jazz partnership is in vogue with Stanley J. Zappa’s new album for the Baltic coastal label We Jazz. Saxophonist and clarinetist Zappa (a nephew of the late Frank) and drummer/percussionist Simo Laihonen traverse British-Columbia and all points in-between on Muster Point. Creating the most hushed and diaphanous of cinematic dreampop, Israeli artist Zoe Polanski releases the Violent Flower album. I also take a look at the troubadour pianist John Howard, who from his Spanish studio home, ties in his latest adroit songbook To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection with the second part of his published memoirs, Illusions Of Happiness, this month. And in my reissues section there’s the first ever reissue of the West Java Yanti Bersaudara sisters honeyed soul and beat group psych exotic self-titled ’71 nugget. The Australian born, but bought up in a rural backwater of England troubadour Campbell Sibthorpe returns back to his roots with the expansive storybook, Ytown.

 

Towards the fantastical, though based in geological science, experimental dub unit Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones reimagine a lost continental bridge of shared deities and cultures on the new album Kafou In Avalonia. And finally, we have the new no-fi songbook of despondent poetic scorn and resignation from our very own Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, The King Of No-Fi’.

Zoe Polanski ‘Violent Flower’
(Youngbloods) Album/17th July 2020





Despite, at various times, living in one of the most contested dangerous spots on the global stage, Israeli artist Zoe Polanski transduces all the violence, danger and stresses into a most diaphanous, sometimes fantastical, synthesized musical haze. Her latest fully-realized shoegaze electronic swoon of an album – co produced and written with the Tel Aviv producer Aviad Zinemanas – is subtle but immersive, moody yet dreamy. Lit though by Polanski’s travails, a deep sense of sadness and sighed questioning lyricism permeates the wispy vaporous smoke machine pop production.

Beautiful throughout, hushed and fragile, Violent Flowers is a sweeping cinematic articulation of conflicted feelings. The title-track, and former single, draws upon the ongoing Israeli-Palestine tensions; which has taken on even more drama in recent months with the policy of planned Israeli annexations in the West Bank.

Channeling the Cocteau Twins and Chromatics, this gauzy serenade of blossoming synth-pop is a disarming evocation of lightness that features Polanski yearningly searching for a way back home amid the division. The album’s second single, ‘The Willows’, mourns not only the painful end of a “surreal” affair whilst travelling across the USA, but is also inspired by Polanski’s mixed feelings of empathy towards her Palestine neighbours with a longing to escape the rocket attacks that passed overhead when she lived in the atavistic port city of Jaffa, during the 2014 conflict with Gaza.

Born in another ancient city port, Haifa, on the slopes of Mount Carmel, Polanski escaped the tumult through music and cinema. After obligatory service with the IDF, the experimentally burgeoning musician, singer moved to the States; recording with the NYC band Katamine and enrolling on a summer course in cinematography at the prestigious School of Visual Arts. The fruits of which can be heard evoking a kind of dream realism on this filmic scored album.

As it happens, on returning to Israel and settling in the liberal creative hothouse of Tel Aviv, Polanski started a new project of soaked-reverb “slow cinema verite” named after the renowned Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr. Tarr’s actual cinematographer Fred Kelemen caught Polanski at a live show. So impressed, he invited her to score his own upcoming film.

This latest vision sees the visual-audio talent reach ethereal, almost apparitional scales of atmospheric beauty as she sings veiled lines over her creative foil Zinemanas’ mirror-y and airy synthesis of arpeggiator, sine waves and enervated percussion. Dream pop and neon lit electronica meets Israeli panoramas, mysterious island inlets, touches of Vangelis (on the glassy contoured ‘Humboldt Current’), soft bobbing beats and pulchritude waves of silk.

Gentle, enchanting with an aching depth, Zoe Polanski together with Zinemanas have created a refreshing vision of dreamwave electronic pop and filmic music; one that offers a different perspective and sumptuous mystery. Turmoil has seldom sounded so gossamer and hushed.







Kalporz X Monolith Cocktail: Zoe Polanski ‘Pharaoh’s Island’



Stanley J. Zappa ‘Muster Point’
(We Jazz) Album/7th August 2020




A regular stopover on my global tour of reviews, the Helsinki festival-label-store hub We Jazz are proving to be among the most prolific deliverers of quality contemporary and experimental jazz. Earlier this month the assured label put out albums from the Danish-Finn JAF Trio and Gothenburg saxophonist Otis Sandsjö. Their latest release pairs up two former acolytes of the Mitford Graves school of free jazz enterprise: the American tenor/soprano saxophonist and alto clarinetist Stanley J. Zappa (who’s name embellished this LP) and Finnish drummer, percussionist Simo Laihonen. The Queens-made drummer extraordinaire and teacher Graves is renowned for his avant-garde contributions working with Albert Ayler, Paul Bley and the N.Y. Art Quartet; a reputation that is lapped up by his former students on this set of probing impulsive serialism recordings.

You may have guessed by the name, and yes Stanley is indeed a scion of the famous Zappa family tree: a nephew of the late rock-fusion genius Frank. Erring towards jazz, Stanley proves that old adage that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; highly adroit and proficient in pushing at the foundations, able to switch between the spiritual and hard bop. His foil Laihonen, of the long-standing Black Motor trio, proves equally as talented, propelling in bursts and snaps or in an amorphous fashion hitting and reeling shapeless accents and meanderings.

Joining them on the odd radial exploration, bassist Ville Rauhala adds some stringy, rubber-band thrummed double-bass runs and bodywork thwacking: less rhythmic and traditional, more loose and wandering.

Muster Point, a reference heavy album of track title locations (much of which name check places in Stanley’s British Columbia Canadian home), was recorded both in the studio and out on the road. You can hear some of the live spontaneity and an appreciative applause on the flighty clarinet and looming bass, with sporadic drum breaks, avant-garde piece ‘Muster Point IV’. Split between shorter ambling and more energetic incipient Muster Point entitled flexes, and deeper, longer workouts this album strikes out towards Pharaoh Sanders’ Egypt on the opening suite to dishing out tougher, heavier breaks on the street map ‘538 E14th, City Of Piss, USA’.

Fluting, twirling and coiling over the tumbling drums, rumbling timpani and shaking percussion, Stanley’s vibrato sax hawks and spirals with both longer and shorter breaths. Often sailing at a counter speed to Laihonen’s quickened rolling patterns, that wondering instrument trills freely as light as air itself. Well, for the most part. Stanley can also toot rapidly and with force when the occasion arises.

From drawing on the ancestral (on the Kahil El’ Zabar watery percussive underflow ‘Pleasant Avenue’) to skitting across a NYC boardwalk, Muster Point plays hard and footloose with freeform jazz; dipping into the spiritual and rapidly evoking hard bop dashes. Yet again its another fruitful experiment and performance from the We Jazz label.




Otis Sandsjo ‘Y-Otis 2’

JAF Trio ‘ST’


Forest Robot ‘After Geography’
Album/28th August 2020





With a deep connective respect to the landscapes this intrepid mountaineer and sonic explorer has scaled and traversed, Fran Dominguez provides a subtly evocative safe space in the most tumultuous of times. When all the elements of a virus epidemic and the ongoing tensions of Black Lives Matter mix with the divisive rage of social media and fake news, the only tool we have left to navigate the storm of constant faux-outrage is “intuition”. Put both together, as the California-based trekker Dominguez has done, and you get a most beautifully subversive ambient soundtrack; a tenderly produced sonic psychogeography of both the synthesized and naturalistic; a million miles away from the hubbub and stress of the online world. A sort of self-help guide for contemplation and rest you could say, the softened bobbing and trickled piano notes and gently blowing winds washing over the listener with just enough depth and interest to transport them to the awe-inspiring landmarks of nature.

With over 400 ascents and 6,000 odd miles of cross-country exploring under his belt, Dominguez tunes into those experiences when composing music under the Forest Robot title. Intuition, that main motivation and driver for the latest tonal contouring suite, After Geography, comes into practice after all the preparation in the world fails to allow for the variables that arise when climbing those magnificent rocky peaks. Though obviously a great title in itself and an encapsulation of the Forest Robot’s meditative semi-classical, semi-Kosmische maps, the inspiration behind it comes from Ringo Starr. As the anecdote from rock’s backpages goes, the bejeweled digit fingered Beatles drummer proposed it when the Fab Four were stumped for a title for their next album after Revolver. As a lighthearted chide at the rivals, The Rolling Stones, who’d just released Aftermath, Starr chimed in with “After Geography”. It seems highly appropriate in this context, and in this time.

An escapist survey that breaths in the influences of Roedelius, Boards Of Canada, Erik Satie, Harold Budd, Nils Frahm and Small Craft On A Milk Sea era Eno, the album covers the terrain in a gauze of delicate resonance, notation and obscured woody movements. Track titles become descriptive reference points and wildlife moments experienced, on this aural map; a clue at times to the scenic inspirations that encouraged them. ‘Of Birds Migrating In The Distance’ is for example a winged patted dance and flutter across the ivory, and the marimba-like bobbing ‘Glacial Architecture Of The Mountain Corridor’ features crystalized icy notes and melting droplets: it’s almost as if Dominguez captures the sunlight gleaming off the slowly melting glacier. ‘Over The Drainage Divide’, which doesn’t exactly sound very inspiring, is surprisingly wondrous, even spiritual, with its choral ethereal waves and hints of ghostly visitations. An ascendant version of that choral spirit can also be heard on the soft droning, delayed and bouncing notes beauty ‘All Across The High Plain After The Storm’.

A mostly peaceable geography, Dominguez’s latest impressive suite offers the safety of a timeless rugged pristine panorama. A breath of fresh air; a sonic plain on which to gain some perspective, that intuitive methodology proves highly successful on a most pleasing, imaginative ambient experience.





Campbell Sibthorpe ‘Ytown’
EP/21st July 2020




Following up on the impressive choral anthem ‘Good Lord’, which we premiered last month on the MC, the yearning troubadour Campbell Sibthorpe proves he has more than it takes to deliver the full emotionally stimulating package with his new, generous EP Ytown. Over seven tracks of similar beautifully realised rustic anthems and shorter mood passages, Campbell expands his themes of escaping the pastoral backwaters of small town life.

Both a travail down memory lane and pilgrimage, nature’s son returns from London to the town in which he spent those formative years, on the outskirts of Bristol, to mull over the past, but above all, as the Australian born songwriter/multi-instrumentalist set out to serenely on that ‘God Lord’ hymn, seeks to find himself amongst the humdrum scenery. Ytown could be many towns, any town, yet it proves evocative and creatively fertile enough to inspire this expansive songbook. The very essence of the place seeps into the music through field recordings and the sound of the local church’s pump organ – used very subtly as a sadly reverent undertow on the setting-sun curtain call ‘Strawberry Line Pt. 2’ a couplet to the EP’s only scenic twinkled if musing instrumental, The Shins like ‘Strawberry Line Pt. 1’.

Entirely self-produced and recorded from the bedroom of his youth, Ytown pays homage to innocence, to his childhood relationship with his ‘Father Carpenter’, and the unburdened freedoms of nature. The first of those is a powered-up Midlake country folk anthem, the latter, an achingly harmony rich longing to be as free and detached as the ‘Dandelion’.

Almost echoing an early Radiohead paired with the Fleet Foxes, the tender woven poetic ‘Pastel Porcelain’ seems to have stepped out of a medieval tapestry, and the opening dappled lit blossoming ‘The Sun Appeared’ shows an almost filmic and experimental quality to Campbell’s music.

A balance of acoustic naturalism and full on, climatic singles, Ytown is a great piece of expansive storytelling, a conceptual EP perfect in length, depth and heartfelt searching.





Campbell Sibthorpe ‘Good Lord’ Premiere


Brian Bordello ‘The King Of No-Fi’
(Metal Postcard Records) Album/16th August





The self-anointed king of no-fi returns with another songbook of quasi-demoed wistful despondency and self-deprecation; a stripped-back one-track display of rough charms that cuts to the heart of the cult St. Helens malcontent’s sardonic, but also extremely vulnerable, annoyances about modern life.

The idiosyncratic de facto leader of the long standing dysfunctional family legends The Bordellos, and the barely concealed instigator of the anti-Brit pop and plodding rock Idiot Blur Fanboy, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea (who I must also point out is a regular contributor to these very pages) follows up on his recent solo offerings, the Liverpool Hipster Scene EP and Boris Johnson Massacre single, with another album for the Aussie platform, Metal Postcard Records. Recorded during lockdown whilst growing tired at the lack of revolutionary zeal and wit in contemporary music, and the reliance upon of nostalgia, regurgitation in the industry (both musically and through blogs, publications, radio), Brian has penned a quite sincere collection of romanticized sufferings, regrets and love songs.

Making even Sparklehorse sound like ELO in comparison, the no-fi production values on offer are raw but never really coarse or discordant. No augmentation, filters, effects or sundry, just a bare accompaniment of rough’n’ready but melodious acoustic guitar and the whirling of a rudimental four-track; the click of the record button and, at the end of each performance, the stop button.

Channeling various maverick troubadours, post-punk poets (Dan Treacy springs to mind) and a Brylcreem of rock’n’roll idols (ironically enough the release of this album intentionally falls on the anniversary of the true king, Elvis’ death), Brian postulates on a lack of energy and rage in music, the death of the mutherfucker personalities, a bevy of “scarlet” women and lost innocence. Brian can be a romantic sod at times, even sentimental; writing some real tender poetic lines amongst the scorn and despair, with even a hint of Bacharach on ‘Banana Splits’ (yeah, imagine that!). Various stolen kisses, evocations of less complicated, less divisive magical times permeate the album despite the constant references to the death of this and that and the lamentable resignations and threats to give it all up. Sometimes Brian just tersely pays homage to his icons, such as Lou Reed and Billy Fury.

Quite swooning in places, this is neither a plaintive nor angry songbook, but as I said before a sincere often humorous yearn from a maverick soul stuck in lockdown. The King is dead; long live the King.


The Bordellos ‘Debt Sounds’

The Bordellos ‘Will.I.Am You’re Really Nothing’



Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones ‘Kafou In Avalonia’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company) Album/19th June 2020





Reimaging a time when Earth’s landmasses were being reshaped, the atavistic geological inspired futurist dub unit pose a cultural “what if?” with their fourth “set”, Kafou In Avalonia. Developing out of a volcanic arc at the northern edges of the “supercontinent” Gondwana (we’re talking about 550 million years ago; when this leviathan contained one-fifth of all the planet’s land) but decoupling to form a drifting micro continent of its own, Avalonia, if it didn’t eventually breakup and collide with Pangea, would have bridged what is now the Atlantic Ocean. Crustal fragments underlie parts of Southwest England, Southern Ireland and the East Coast of America. Wishful dreaming Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones picture an alternative reality; one in which Avalonia still existed as a gateway between all Earth’s cultures and peoples. It acts as the crossroads that might have set out an entirely different course for civilization; a more integrated, less fractious one perhaps. In this setting Haitian, Brazilian, Angolan and Nigerian deities, spirits and rituals converge with an experimental soundtrack of post-punk dub, Kosmische and electronica.

Invoking a lost world, a quasi-Atlantis, they merge voodoo ceremony and tribal incantation with sonorous throbbing basslines, barracking drums, heavy reverb and craning Manuel Gottsching like guitar.

A reference heavy album, with various “Loa” (spirits) and divinities summoned and made offerings, the track titles name check a pantheon of the worshipped. The opening gabbling dub and primordial shrouded ethereal jug-poured ‘Oxûm Over Water’ pays homage to the Yoruba peoples river goddess, while the singing chorus and insect chirped trans-Europa rail momentum Kraftwerk meets Guru Guru ‘Oxalá Of The White Sky’ takes its name from the Brazilian “sky father” and creator of human beings. Elsewhere, Haiti’s spiritual ancestors are represented in the shape of the serpent creator of the cosmos, Damballa (the On-U-Sound dub prowling low frequency crumbled bass languorous ‘Damballah Of The Dark Sky’), and senior Petro visitation born from the heinous savagery and injustice of slavery, Ezilí Dantor (the lolloping Orb submersion ‘Ezilí Dantor Awake’). Incidentally, that last spirit especially took kindly too offerings of crème de cacao and jewelry, and on its birthday, a wild pig. It’s believed that one such feast in honor to Dantor preceded the infamous slave revolt of 1791.

Ancestral ghosts meet synthesized futurism on this mystical transformed aural geography, as recordings of various rituals swirl in and around a cosmic soup. A supernatural and celestial, seeping and vaporous vortex of polygenesis sources are gathered together to create an imaginative cosmology hybrid. If The Future Sound Of London and Ash Ra Tempel recorded an album at Lee Scratch Perry’s black ark studio it might very well have sounded something like this. And that’s me saying this is a bloody great experimental dub album. Seek out now.




John Howard ‘To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection’
(UK John Howard/USA through Kool Kat Musik) Album/7th August 2020




Chiming with the second candid, sometimes wistful, chapter in the pianist raconteur’s memoirs, this latest fragrant songbook manages past regrets with wizened heartfelt balladry. With plenty of time, including the lockdown, to mull over the past, after writing two volumes of self-effacing recollections (part two, Illusions Of Happiness, is scheduled to tie in with this album, published on the 7th August) John Howard channels a lifetime of setbacks and learning through the philosophical and metaphorical.

Coming to terms and letting go in some respects, the fledging 70s star set back by a series of career mishaps and a traumatic accident (forced to make a fateful leap from the window of an apartment he shared in Earl’s Court with some colourful Filipino gay characters, who brought back a mad Russian ‘bit of rough’ intent on murder) muses over breakups (the la la, almost Christmas seasonal, chiming mini anthem ‘I’m Over You’) and a broken friendship (the regretful heartache ‘Echoes Of Pauline’). The latter’s real life subject appears as a recurring figure of that regret in John’s work; the best friend from school losing touch since 1973 (as John admits, probably down to him and not Pauline) first pops up on ‘The Flame’ from the career launching Kid In A Big World showcase, and later on ‘Pauline’s Song’, which featured on the 2009 EP Songs For A Lifetime.

Pauline’s presence, companionship is much missed it seems, as John looks out from his Spanish home veranda on an uncertain, if scenic, world. Idyllic though it is, his life in the Southeastern Spanish town of Murcia can’t make up for the pining of his former Welsh home, and even further back, Lancashire. Moving across the seas to preempt Brexit, John recalls a Welsh pastoral bliss on the wistfully beautiful melodious ‘And Another Day’. Yet both lyrically and through his signature subtle minor key changes moves deftly into the sadness of leaving it all behind. The scented waltz-y ‘Illusions Of Happiness’ ambles through a perfumed garden of delights but also mournfully wades out into the sea; waiting on something, a ship, vessel, the final boat ride perhaps.

Old ghosts mingle with analogies of saviors, and the tropes of coming-to-terms with one’s decisions. This is all done with a most adroit touch of pastoral organ, Baroque chamber pop, gentle Dylan-esque harmonica, concertina and softened tambourine rattled crescendos: all of which is played by John. It’s a sound that is saved from the saccharine and pushed towards the yearning beauty of the early Bee Gees, late 60s Beach Boys and the Incredible String Band, whilst echoing the flourishes of John’s burgeoning pianist troubadour career in the 70s.

The 17th album proper in a career that has regularly stalled (mostly down to the mishandling of others), with gaping holes in which John turned his hand to A&R, the lyrical To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection follows on from last year’s brilliant Cut The Wire – just one album in a long line of such releases from arguably his most creatively prolific tenure. The poetically scene-setting songbook is a perfect accompaniment to those memoirs; a mature retrospection of a life well lived.








John Howard ‘Cut The Wire’

John Howard ‘Incidents Crowded With Life’

John Howard ‘Across The Door Sill’



Reissue

Yanti Bersaudara ‘ST’
(La Munai Records) Album/7th July 2020





A beautiful three-part harmony serenade drifting out of West Java, the much sought after 1971 album from the endearing Yanti sisters is finally being reissued for the first time ever. From Indonesian musical treasure hunters, La Munai Records, a befitting repackaged version of that original Bamboo Music magical Sundanese suffused treat.

Previous twee recordings, which swing between Merseybeat and enervated gospel soul, have made it digitally onto a number of platforms and compilations over the years, but the sisters’ later self-titled nugget has remained pretty elusive.

Released towards the end of their tenure, this beautifully cooed, lulled and charming harmony rich record seems oddly out of step with its time; though the strict regime in Indonesia had the gall to ban rock’n’roll, and so outpourings of fuzz-thrilled rebellion and salacious gyrating were kept to the minimum: more the early fab four’s ‘Tell Me Why’ or anything by The Tremeloes than the dirty scuzz and teasing of the Rolling Stones. That’s not to say the odd frizzle of psych and a coarse guitar twang or two doesn’t pop up here and there, but this early 70s songbook is mostly dreamy, heavenly even, and spiritual.

Whilst channeling the siblings (that’s Yani, Tina and Lin Hardjakusumah) West Javanese heritage of Bamboo Music, Gamelan and Jaipongan, you will also hear a constant sustained and fanning ray of church organ too. The lovely honeyed vocals even reach the ethereal heights, sounding like an Indonesian version of Dusty sings gospel.

The second most populous ethnic group in Indonesia, the Sundanese people (a name derived from the Sanskrit prefix “su”, which means “goodness”), of which the sisters belong, reside in a part of the country synonymous for its rich musical traditions. Soothed into an exotic dreamboat mix of angklung ringing and bamboo bobbing, reedy staccato surf guitar and ticking away drums those delicate ancestral chimes are propelled into the beat group era, and on the misty organ ghostly ‘Bulan Dagoan’, a spooked funhouse garage band era.

Coquettish, enticing, at other times like the 5th Dimension and choral rhyming, the girls vocal sound is sweetened; flourishing with yearned and exotic swooning.

For those of you wishing to enjoy a languorous dreamy slow boat to Java, with just enough fuzz thrills to pique the interest, let the Yanti sisters provide the hip accompaniment. If you’ve already been entertained by the trio, then you’ll find this ’71 release less saccharine and girl-group than previous albums; more magical and with more stained glass soul.






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

ALBUM REVIEWS
Dominic Valvona





I certainly never planned it that way (honest) but artists from the experimental electronica and ambient music fields dominate this month’s roundup. To start off there’s the all-spanning retrospective collection of the eclectic Finnish electronic one-man cult Jimi Tenor to salivate over; the double album compilation NY, Hel, Barca collects together many of his most seminal tracks from across his first six solo LPs (many of which have been deleted). Finally, after at least four years in the making, Welsh vaporous and diaphanous chanteuse Ani Glass releases her debut album, the cerebral electro pop Mirores. And Rainbow Island produces a colourful fuck-up of cosmic spasmodic bandy effects and break beats on their new LP, Illmatrix.

From the more ambient and understated end of electronic music, there’s the Dan Burwood and James Wilson collaboration for the Tokyo-based obscure label, Kirigirsu Recordings, Singapore Police Background, and musician/composer/sound artist Tony James Morton, inspired by the early developments in Hip-Hop, uses real-time sampled vinyl to create minimalist soundscapes on his new mini-CD release Fragments.

A few exceptions though, including the latest grandiose space opus from the Toulouse trio, Slift, the most recent dreamy shoegaze EP from the Brooklyn trio Vivienne Eastwood and a Turkish-Scandinavian progressive jazz fusion obscurity, Matao with Atilla Engin’s Turkish Delight.


Jimi Tenor   ‘NY, Hel, Barca’
(Bureau B)   LP/6th March 2020


Birthed from a combination of the signature instrument that permeates his omnivorous mixed bag of prolific music and the 70s teen idol, Finnish cult multi instrumentalist and composer Jimi Tenor is unarguably due this double-album overhaul. The later-ego of one Lassi O.T. Lehto, the eclectic ennui-shifting moniker has both absorbed and created a host of fusions over a thirty-plus period – and still continues to do so -, first as the leader of Jimi Tenor And His Shamans and then as both a solo artist and collaborator on a wealth of projects with such luminaries as Tony Allen, Abdissa Assefai, Nicole Willis and The Soul Investigators. From bootyliscious disco funk to Afrojazz and cult soundtracks, Tenor has covered it all. This retrospective spread concentrates on the first six solo albums (of a so far eleven album solo run); covering tracks from the inaugural 1994 Sähkömies album for the Finnish label Sähko, right through to the new millennium and the 2001 album Utopian Dream.

Recorded, hence the first location city of this collection’s title, in a New York apartment on rudimentary equipment, Sähkömies spawned Tenor’s first major club hit, the silly but infectious electro-house bouncing ‘Take Me Baby’. A game-changer, this DAF meets Depeche Mode on the dancefloor earworm took off after Tenor performed it at the Berlin Love Parade. It made the charts in the process and led to a three-album deal for Tenor with the iconic Warp label in the second half of the 1990s. That popular dance anthem is unsurprisingly included here alongside the more erratic burbling Bruno Spoerii-rubs-against-early-hip-hop kooky ‘Teräsmies’ and electronic chemistry set space quirk ‘Voimamies’. The follow-up album for the same label – released a year later – Europa, is represented by the Afro-Techno and minimalist Basic Channel apparition ‘Fantom’, the gyrating sexed-up Yello-House ‘A Daughter Of The Snow’, and lush flute-y Library Music with hints of a Japanese Style Council ‘Unmentionables’.

Moving on to Warp in ’97, the first of a trio of albums for the edgy-electronic label, Intervision, lends four tracks of differing creative influences to this compilation. There’s a transmogrified Lalo Schifrin meets Theremin aria quivered homage to ‘Tesla’, the Glam-skulking Alan Vega seedy ‘Sugardaddy’, Shintaro Sakamoto Kosmische ‘Shore Hotel’ and bubbly, filtered Acid-Jazz spruced ‘Outta Space’. Next up in that run, Orgamism is no less escapist and polygenesis. An Afro-futurist safari of clockwork birds-of-paradise, psychedelic folk flute and square-wave buzzes are conduced on the first track of that cusp-of-a-new-millennia album, ‘Xinotape Heat’, which also kicks off this whole collection. Playing up that millennial doomsday, ‘Year Of The Apocalypse’ is a David Axlerod Biblical somehow waylaid to the Paradise Garage – the rapture played out to a Chicago House piano gospel funk. From the same album the compiler’s of this retrospective have also chosen the jazzy lounge Zombies brooding ‘My Mind’; a semi-romantic curiosity that features Tenor on wafting serenaded saxophone duties.





Into the noughties, the final Warp album, Out Of Nowhere, finds Tenor on a funk odyssey vibe, taking Curtis Mayfield on another of those Acid-Jazz and sitar psychedelic trips with the high value production and commercial ‘Spell’. On the same record, Tenor pairs up with the Riga Symphony Orchestra to spin Easy Listening into a Rotary Connection meets Johnny Richards’ thriller of drama and suspense on ‘Backbone Of Night’. By this point we’re long used to the exotic menagerie of styles and crossovers, and by the time we reach the final solo album, 2001’s Utopian Dream, nothing is a surprise to the ears: The tile track, with its cyber elephant nozzle vacuuming, silly robotic voices and flighty saxophone transduces Marshall Jefferson, whilst on ‘Natural Cosmic Relief’ Tenor puts a pseudo Ian Curtis vocal over a kooky Japanese psychedelic backing.

 

As likely to hear Orlando Julius and Don Cherry as the Pet Shop Boys, International Pony or Ennio Morricone on acid, Jimi Tenor can mix the commercial dancefloor hit with the most cult and fused of sounds too. On this mixed bag, which is neither linear or thematic in it’s choosing and alignment, Garage follows Jazz follows Library Music oddities follows Funk follows Psychedelic Soul. A great place to start for those new to the influential composer, NY, Hel, Barca is a great retrospective but also an opportunity to own a load of tracks from a deleted back catalogue. Hopefully this compilation will also rightly cement a fairly underground maverick’s place in the development and story of electronic music fusion. There’s something, nearly, for everyone on this twenty-track purview.





Ani Glass   ‘Mirores’
(Recordiau Neb)   LP/6th March 2020





It has taken a good few years to materialize but finally the gauze-y vaporous debut album from the Welsh synth-pop siren Ani Glass has dreamily emerged. Since being enticed back to the Welsh hinterlands after leaving the frothy pop belles The Pipettes, the Cardiff native has been busy both with post-graduate studies in Urban And Regional Development (graduating in 2018) and involvement in promoting, through her solo musical projects, the Welsh and overlapping Cornish languages – all the way back in 2013, Ani joined the Cornish Corsedh, a group that awards those who’ve contributed to the Celtic spirit and bardship of that atavistic culture. The play on words title from this inaugural LP is itself taken, in part, from that West Coast vernacular: ‘miras’ being the Cornish word for “to look”, the Miró bit a nod to Ani’s favourite artist, the Spanish abstract doyen Joan Miró. Mirores we’re told,’essentially translates as ‘Observer’ thus presenting the album as Ani’s observation of the city in which she was born and now lives.’

Arriving four years after her initial solo EP debut Ffrwydrad Tawel the follow-up arrives in the wake of so much turmoil political and geographical turmoil. Now would seem as good a time as any to push a disappearing vernacular and heritage as Brexit emboldens Welsh nationalism. All this obviously feeds into the gossamer woven translucent ethereal pop of Mirores; an album that is based on a wealth of concepts. One of which is of course preservation, but another, the idea of movement and progress both societally speaking, but also in the sense of a journey; the contours of a picturesque Welsh landscape set against the more churning busy urban soundscape – a counterbalance that you’ll hear for yourselves, suffused throughout the atmospheric undulations of nature and sampled speeches, broadcasts.





After studying it so intensely, it will come as no surprise that another underpinning thread of this album, ‘A reaction to the values of capitalism’s priorities over the valued needs of society’s most unfortunate’, is the American-Canadian author activist Jane Jacobs most infamous polemic blast at the “urban renewal” zealots, The Death And Life Of Great American Cities.

In the interregnum between releases Ani learnt a good deal about production. And on Mirores she’s borrowed from some of the best purveyors of synthesized music: Vengalis, Moroder, Jean-Michel Jarre and Arthur Russell. The results of which send Ani through the looking glass of air-y untethered dreaminess. The arty wispy ‘Peiriawaith Perffaith’ (Perfect Machinery) has a touch of Kylie, even a Welsh Carol Rich, about it; the slightly more fearful and less lyrical ‘Cathedral In The Desert’ bears shades of both Soft Cell and early OMD. Taking a vignette style break from the veiled Celtic Avalon synth-pop, Ani merges South African Township gospel with choral Welsh colliery protest yearn on ‘I.B.T.’.

From the glassy transparent to more hazed-dream weaving, from homages to minimalist abstract painter Agnes Martin to lulled activism, Ani Glass’ patience has paid off with a disarmingly sophisticated pop album of subtleties that gradually seep into the unconsciousness.



Slift   ‘Ummon’
(Stolen Body Records)  28th February 2020





The Titan themed Ummon is a supersonic Hawkwind, with Steve Vai in tow as a band member, catching a lift on the Silver Surfers’ board, on an adventure into deep space. I could leave it at just that, but I feel duty bound to expand. So here we go. In search of one of the original heaven and earth usurpers, the Titan seer’s Hyperion (god of heavenly light, father to sun, moon and dawn deities Helios, Selene and Eos), the Toulouse trio of Slift go full on space rock opera with an interstellar epic of doom metal and heavy psychedelic prog.

Trudging with ominous intentions as it is grandiose and squalling in a vortex of bombast, this lengthy conceptual opus swirls around a milky way inhabited by our makers: A universe that, as it happens, rocks to a sonic soundtrack of the Cosmic Dead, Ipsissimus, Sabbath, the Black Angels, Dead Meadows, Pink Floyd, the already Hawkwind, and at its most star-gazing, Spiritualized. Though that’s only half the story. It’s a bastardization of Viking pagan-metal and psych on the fantastical salute to the gods, ‘Thousand Helmets Of Gold’; ‘Width Of A Circle’ era Ronson battles a subdued motorik Can and baggy Stone Roses on the three-parter, ‘Citadel On A Satellite’; and a Teutonic bashing version of The Skids and Saints on the cosmic-punk curtain closer ‘Lions, Tigers And Bears’.

Galactus sized riffs and crescendos are numerous as the stars in the Mother Sky on this Moorcockian misadventure. Ummon is a solid heavy trip with plenty of space dust and ethereal dreamy escapism to break-up the onslaught. Slift go big and bold as the entice Hyperion back from exile to clear up the mess and spread some light on a space-rock epic that is anything but pompous. Slift, we salute you in your endeavor. Keep up the good work.




Singapore Police Background   ‘Antiworlds’
(Kirigirisu Recordings)   Out Now





Quiet of late even for a label that operates under the radar in relative obscurity, Neil Debnam’s (of cult favourites Flying Kites and, post-accident, Broken Shoulder fame) Tokyo-based label makes a welcome return in 2020 with another understated ambient exploration of soporific entrancing unease. The brilliantly named Singapore Police Background is a collaboration between Dan Burwood of Calm! and James Wilson of Opt Out; two artists that have previously both released ambient peregrinations on the Moonside Tapes facilitators.

Methodology wise the pair recorded together but polished off their evanescent ‘hypnagogic’ (the state immediately before falling asleep) experiments separately. This process results in an indolent suite of purred and murmuring ambient drone ‘Fragments’ and sedative induced reverberating lingers. Antiworlds is in most cases disarming and drifting; the barest traces of piano and guitar hidden beneath hazy square waves transmitted from the ether. Haunted, often creeping, elements of uncertainty can be found on the wearily entitled ‘See The Conkering Heroine Comes/Watching Newsnight Taking Valium’ couplet of malaise. This is continued on the equally entrancing ebb and flow sonic diptych ‘Iridescent Bodies/Under The Awning’. Standing out some what from the Boards Of Canada, sound In Silence and Eno-esque dreamy traverses, the beautifully contemplative ‘Outside The Blossoming Trees Wept Like Waiting Room Laughter’ is a conjuncture of a musical haiku, a scene from post WWII art house Japanese cinema and something lamentably and resigned, dreamt up by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. There are actually some real nice understated melodic evocations to be found on this languid affair: the opening fragmentary drone being a prime example.

Intermittent signs of the elements and humanity often surface among the oscillations and dissipated swathes on an album by a collaborative partnership that shows potential and promise. Hopefully we’ll hear more from this effective duo in the future.



Tony James Morton  ‘Fragments’
(Focused Silence)   Mini-CD/17th February 2020





It might not sound apparent but the cylindrical generated ambience, opaque minimalist stirrings and waves of the musician/composer/sound artist Tony James Morton’s latest ‘fragmentary’ experiments are, process wise, inspired by techniques used in the early development of Hip-Hop; namely, creating new improvised sonic traverses in real time from samples taken directly from vinyl.

‘A fragmented interpretation’ as the PR spill describes it; Morton passes his sources through a custom-built sampler using a specially created visual programme language for music, the Max/MSP. That technique and method is interesting enough, pitching, as it does, Morton as a kind of conceptual DJ. But the most important thing is: how’s it sound.

Well, the sound is quite subtle with soundscapes materializing slowly, building towards fizzled peaks before dissipating gradually. ‘Fragment #1’ of this gently spinning moiety features enervated cause drones and crystallizations that eventually go on to form a heavenly momentum of cosmic rays. The second Fragment has a rotor like motion that turns out a vaporous melody. A distant muffled thunder acts as a deep bass whilst the dreamy and mysterious are evoked from Morton’s sustained pulses and buzzes.

The Fragments material is a stimulating, stirring couplet of improvisations; an evanescent passing of sound that has its moments.


Matao with Atilla Engin   ‘Turkish Delight’
(Arsivplak/Guerssen)   LP/19th February 2020





It won’t surprise you to learn that this latest obscure quirk from the Guerssen hub (this time via the Arsivplak label) is yet another example of a record that didn’t quite make the grade; a strange brew from the edges of jazz-fusion, close but not close enough technically, artistically or inventive wise to break through a crowded market.

A Turkish Delight from the Danish recorded union of the Matao trio and Atilla Engin, this rare (intentionally I’m sure) convergence of Turkish traditional music and progressive jazz, bordering at times on cult library music and at others on Krautrock (Agitation Free, Xhol Caravan) was only ever released in Denmark, but never, surprisingly, released in its spiritual home of Turkey. An exotic shimmy of belly-dancer sequins and trinkets, noodling and whirling between souk rock and sublime porte kitsch, Engin’s rootsy Turkish galloping and rattling percussion goes up against the 5/8 signature wah-wah, fuzzed and choppy electric guitar and clavinet-like electric piano on a series of instrumental jams that ape Santana, Pink Floyd, Passport, Elias Rahbani and Mustafa Ozkent.

Taking another punt a year on, the label is now releasing this exotic curio on limited vinyl, and again via the usual digital channels. Whether you need this Turkish flavoured fusion in your life or not remains debatable. However, that’s not to say there isn’t some interesting highlights or fine playing as the mixed Scandi-Turk quartet certainly stoke up a far zappy progressive noise and dynamic enough rhythm.

Anyone recently introduced to such modern Turkish psychedelic movers like Altin Gun will love it.




Vivienne Eastwood  ‘Home Movies’
EP/2nd January 2020





Appropriating the grand disheveled dame of punk couture, but with a slight change in compass point direction, the gauze-y American dream-wave and shoegaze band Vivienne Eastwood have drifted into my inbox of submissions this month with a melodious, submerged in a dreamy liquid EP of sepia Home Movies. With scant information it seems the trio have been knocking around the lush flange-reverb coated scene of hazy guitar pop for eight years.

Progressively more dreamy in a wash of phaser drifting echo, previous releases have been more cause, fuzzy and distorted compared to this six-track of lo fi diaphanous malingering. Less Ariel Pink or No Age and more Lowtide and Slowdive, Home Movies’ sound spirals in a mirror-y fashion between the veiled layering pop of Sam Flex meets Lush opener ‘Hanging Gardens’, and the John Hughes soundtracked by Holy Wave ‘Afterall’. Nearer the backend of the EP, ‘No Toes’ seems to slide towards acoustic grunge.

It’s a lovely dream-pop, with certain post-punk edge, kind of EP, rich with wafting recollections and yearnings.





Rainbow Island  ‘Illmatrix’
(Artetetra)  LP/2nd February 2020





For a label synonymous for the chthonian and dangerous, the latest spams of omnivorous derangement from the sugarcoated named Italian quartet Rainbow Island at least finds some cosmic levity amongst the despair of the age. Though the recondite facilitator label responsible for this, as usual, limited release – the Italian experimental underground specialists Artetera – says it features darker, heavier sonorities than usual, Illmatrix rebounds across a frazzled bubble bath of bandy and bendy effects and off-kilter drum breaks. Certainly under a multitude of stresses and contorted manipulations, the fucked-up matrix has its moments of tangible rhythm and even melody to lock onto.

From a polygenesis source, with all four members spread throughout the UK, Thailand and their native Italy, the Rome conceived Islanders have pulled and stretched in all directions. Somehow it all comes together though, in an admittedly weird fashion. The opening candy kook ‘Jesterbus Ride’ is simultaneously lax, primal, Kosmische and psychedelic; a spherical chemistry of ever-shifting ideas that sounds like a Trip-Hop meets Library Music remix-in-motion by Andrew Weatherall. Elsewhere you hear what sounds like someone repeatedly hitting plastic tubes with a paddle reverberating beats, obscured masked voices and conversations, the clashing of blunt swords and menacing vacuum reversals.

It’s an odd sonic world indeed; a cosmology that harries the more mysterious sedation of Cluster with a 2-Step Dub beat (‘Simmia’), evokes the spasm-industrial sound of Populäre Mechanik (‘Cacao Hip Mini’) and plays Ping-Pong with Autechre and Unlimited outtakes Can (‘Dropzone’). It’s dance music on the verge of a nervous breakdown in one instance, utterly fucked-up the next, a deranged colorful information overload transduced into a concentrated energy of warped brilliance.

If you find Rainbow Island somehow cute, then you can always try the more sobering augurs of apocalyptic doom from label mate and fellow compatriot Giancarlo Brambillia. Released at the same time as the Illmatrix LP – a double bill if you like – the Milan-based maverick pitches the end of the “human epoch” on his limited cassette tape discourse Bee Extinction. Under the Kuthi Jin moniker, the drone-monger gives a less than optimistic outcome to our chances of survival.

Both albums from Artetetra inhabit a similar anxiety yet couldn’t sound more different. Go seek out, and whilst you’re at it take a perusal of the label’s entire back catalogue. You won’t be disappointed.








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Reviews Roundup: Dominic Valvona




Each month Dominic Valvona brings us the most eclectic recommendations roundups, with reviews of albums, singles and EPs from across the globe and genres.

 

This latest edition includes a brand new album of unsettling cosmic traverses from Krautrock and Berlin guitar legend Günter Schickert – working with Ja, Panik main man Andreas Spechtl – based around the concept of his home city’s transport system and a moth; the return of the peaceable voiced folk maiden Katie Doherty and her The Navigators pals; the debut album of Latintronica, psych, prog and Kosmische peregrinations from the Argentine artist Santiago Córdoba, ‘En Otres Lugares’; a trio of World Music showcases from the prolific ARC Music catalogue, with collections from the Vietnamese zither maestro Tri Nguyen, the co-production and musical Sufi mystical transforming partnership of Abdesselam Damoussi & Nour Eddine and traditional Thrace mythological imbued Rodopi Ensemble; the debut solo album of ‘attic noise’ from Benelux alt-rock scenester Heyme Langbroek; and the brilliant new album of sentimental dreampop from Toronto musician Charlie Berger, under his newest incarnation With Hidden Noise.

There’s also the upcoming playful psychedelic pop and tropical lilted dance around the Berlin architecture EP, Rooftop Trees, from Aurélien Bernard – under his 3 South & Banana alter ego; the latest in a line of singles from the Oxford-based Swedish angulated indie pop songstress Julia Meijer;and the profound afflatus elegiac opener, ‘When You’re Gone’, from the marital fronted Settle band Society Of The Silver Cross.



Albums

Günter Schickert ‘Nachtfalter’
(Bureau B) 15th February 2019


Notable progenitor of flanging echo-pedal guitar, free-jazz instigator of the traversing cosmic GAM, No Zen Orchestra and Arumaruma (among the least obscure succession of groups), the Berlin Krautrock legend Günter Schickert continues, like so many of his surviving WWII born and Boomer generation comrades, to circumnavigate the sonic unknown; probing for tears in the fabric, looking to penetrate new horizons.

An extension of Schickert’s previous solo flights of guitar exploration – the 1975 Brain label debut Samtvogel, and the Sky label follow-up of 1980 ÜberfälligNachtfalter features all the signature echo-y reverberations and waning searching guitar accentuations. Recorded back in the summer of 2018, in collaboration with Ja, Panik navigator Andreas Spechtl, who refashioned Schickert’s untethered live performances, adding his very own drum accompaniments and loops, this instrumental album evokes both the cosmic mysticism of Ash Ra Tempel and the more haunting, ominous deep space Kosmische of Tangerine Dream. Spechtl’s production, drum patterns and effects however, add a touch of tubular metallic sheen, futuristic tribal percussion and nuanced Techno to the otherworldly, often threatening, mood.

There are two inspirations at work on this LP; the naturalistic progress and presence, and then demise, of the moth that this album is named after (this said moth also features in the artwork) and the motion, rhythm of public transport in the city of Schickert’s birth. As the artist himself says, “I was born in Berlin and I am a true city child.” And like so many before and after, the city has left it’s indelible mark; the beat (not to be confused with the Dusseldorf birthed ‘motorik’ rhythm of Klaus Dinger) on Nachtfalter mirrors the industrious clang, rattle and cycle of Berlin’s metro and buses to an extent, though the northern European atmosphere of the city’s psychogeography attracts a more darker, eerie misaim throughout. The opening ‘Nocturnus’ (as the title might imply) is especially creepy with its Kubrick monolith pulse and unsettling conch shell horn – imagine Faust and Tangerine Dream invoking the arrival of a cosmic Viking long ship, emerging from the mists. The final all-encompassing merging of Schickert’s full gamut of guitar manipulations and strides, ‘Reflections Of The Future’, even evokes moments of John Carpenter’s synth-tracked horrors.

Despite the heart-of-darkness moods and craning instrumental eulogies to the moth that by happenstance entered the studio (clinging to the ceiling all night before dropping dead the next morning) during recordings, there are occasional bursts of energetic thumping rhythm: bordering on juddering Electro on the gliding, county bowed guitar arching and leaning ‘Wohin’ (which translates as ‘Where’: indeed where?!!). There are glimmers of light to be found amongst the darkened unknowing mystery, and far from suppressive and heavy, Schickert’s guitar roams freely, drifting, wafting and expansively has he accents the spaces before him.

An impressive cool transformation of the guitar innovator’s echoed enveloping signatures and traverses, Nachtfalter benefits enormously from Spechtl contemporary and energetic production. A dynamism and touch of modern electronica is added to the Krautrock messenger’s articulations to produce a most unsettling, interesting of musical experiences.




Santiago Córdoba ‘En Otros Lugares’
(Sounds And Colours) 8th February 2019





A gateway to everything worth celebrating (as much as it might also be confounding and a mystery to many) about the South American and Central American continent, the Sound And Colours hub, which includes one of the most in-depth of reference and news sites, guide books and events, has proved a rich essential source for me. Whether it’s through the site’s cultural, political and historical purview style series of accessible guides to Peru, Brazil and Colombia, or their considered catalogue of music projects, I’m kept up-to-speed and introduced to some of the continent’s most interesting artists and scenes. The latest of which is the emerging and burgeoning solo artist Santiago Córdoba, who releases his panoramic multi-city composed suite En Otros Lugares on the site’s in-house label this month.

 

ormerly a percussionist band member of the ‘revolutionary’ Tango outfit Violentango, the Argentine born Córdoba left his native home in 2016 for a ‘peripatetic’ life, moving from one place to the next; making a fleeting base of operations for himself in Madrid, Italy and Beirut. Backpacker travails and the sounds of each short-stay imbue this eclectic travelogue; though these often free-spirited peregrinations also stir up cosmic, magical and transcendental horizons as much as the Earthly: As the album title itself alludes, En Otros Lugares translates as “in other places” or “elsewhere”.

Both geographically and musically diverse, the opening panorama, ‘La Llamada’ (“the flamed”), traverses an amorphous Andean outback landscape, filled with ghostly echoes, arid hums and a trance backing, whilst Fuck Buttons meet School Of Seven Bells astral planning over the Amazon on the progressive psychedelic ‘A Dos Leagues’ (“two leagues”).

Post-rock influences merge with Latintronica, 2-Step, free-jazz crescendos, the Kosmische, Refree like harmonic plucks and brushed guitar, and radio transmissions tuned to poignant past figures of interest on a condor flight of fantasy and mystical voyage of thoughtful meditation.

The former Tango agitator expands his tastes and picks up a host of new instruments to fashion an impressive ambitious slow-burner of a debut album. Another brilliant South American export.






Katie Doherty & The Navigators ‘And Then’
(Steeplejack Music) 25th January 2019





Sidetracked, in a positive and inspiring way, by a detour into stage production, folk maiden Katie Doherty has probably taken a lot longer than she envisioned to release another album.

The award-winning songwriter released her debut, Bridges, to favorable reviews back in 2007 and went on to share the stage with such luminaries as Karine Polwart, the McGarrigle Sisters and Ray Davis on a giddying trajectory, before (as Doherty herself puts it) ‘life got in the way’. In that time Doherty, far from idle, took on roles as both a composer for a number of Northern Stage productions and as a MD for a Royal Shakespeare Company production. It is these roles, and ‘broadening’ of horizons that now inform Doherty, her Navigators (Shona Mooney on fiddle and vocals and Dave Gray on the button accordion melodeon) and wider backing group (which includes more chorus vocalists, a cellist, percussionist and double bassist) on the concertinaed pastoral theatrical And Then.

Three tracks specifically sound like they were plucked from the stage. And in a roundabout way they were; the peaceable air-y bellowed shanty dedication to ‘leaving a beloved city behind’ ‘Yours’ and gentle-building lulled symphony finale ‘We Burn’ were both originally commissioned by the November Club for ‘Beyond The End Of The Road’, and the enchanting picturesque scene-setting waltz ‘Heartbeat Ballroom’ was commissioned by the Wallsend Memorial Hall for the reopening of the town’s grandiose ballroom.

Marking ‘change’ in various forms and analogies Doherty’s themes encompass the change of the seasons, the life-altering change of bringing up a child in a changing society hooked-up 24 hours to, an often, poisonous internet, and the rapidly escalating changes in society as a consequence of the equality debate: Doherty, in the shape of an enervated ‘anti-apology’ framed protest, takes a dignified stance on the album’s title track, giving a more considered intensity to a R&B pop-folk backing as she reassures us that “This is not war music. This is not a fighting song.”

Such heavy important anxieties, such as the pressures of expectation (epically in our validation age of social media shaming, easy inflamed indignity and virtue signaling) and responsibility are woven into a lovely songbook, as Doherty’s lightly caressing vocals waft and dance to a mix of Celtic tradition, snow flurry landscape malady, buoyant sea motion affairs of the heart and Eastern European travails.

After years spent away from the studio, Katie Doherty emerges with a purposeful and composed reflective collection of distilled folk.




Heyme ‘Noise From The Attic’
(Jezus Factory) TBA





Spending much of his formative musical education in the Benelux, playing with a litany of alternative underground rock and experimental angulated Antwerp bands (Kiss My Jazz, IH8 Camera and Lionel Horowitz & His Combo), the Dutch-born musician Heyme Langbroek now sets out on a solo mission with his curious debut, and self-explanatory entitled, album Noise From The Attic.

Settling (for the last six years at least) in Poland Heyme puts all his past experiences into an understated album of songs and instrumentals created by the use of a loop station; Heyme using this unit to build a basic track which he then plays over the top of with various overlapping melodies, rhythms and improvisations. A quaint routine, Heyme’s attic noises, as the title makes clear, were all recorded in the said attic garret of his house, mostly on alternate Sundays. It might be nothing but by choosing the traditional day of liturgy worship to record his music on, it could be read as a metaphor for cathartic release; unburdening ideas, sentiments and regrets at the altarpiece of a home-recording studio.

Tethered to the past as much as moving forward experimentally, Noise From The Attic is imbued by many of the same performance recording techniques as used by the Antwerp collective of Kiss My Jazz; a group that Heyme served with alongside members from, perhaps Belgium’s most revered and recognized alt-rock group, dEUS. Heyme even reprises one of the band’s estranged songs, ‘Burn In Hell’; a woefully mooning ‘fuck you’ break-up submerged beneath a vacuum of Hawaiian rock’n’roll warbles. On the remainder of the LP he despondently wanes to a suffused template of Casio keyboard like presets, snozzled oozing Roxy Music and Hansa Studio Bowie saxophone, forlorn northern European melodies and chugging guitar. Within those perimeters the moody attic troubadour of alternative lo fi brooding pop does a Sparks, on ‘Klara’, evokes 70s era Floyd, on the mentally fatiguing ‘Paranoid’, adopts Blixa Bargeld’s tonsils and trans-European malady, on ‘Where She Goes (She Goes)’, and channels Eno’s ‘Another Green World’, on the far from discordant row, ‘Noisz’.

Showing the ‘proverbial’ Dutch courage, unloading worn, grizzled sentiments the solitary Heyme provides one of the year’s most peculiar reflective solo experiments. Fans of the solo work of the former dEUS guitar triumvirate of Rudy Trouve, Mauro Pawlowski and Craig Ward will find a fourth such inspired maverick to add to the list.






With Hidden Noise ‘Beside The Sea’
(Loss Leader Records) 18th January 2019





Rising with a certain languid tremble from the nocturnal wintery Canadian frontiers before dissipating back into the ether of a somnolent dreampop soundscape, Charlie Berger under the guises of his newest project, White Hidden Noise, wafts in and out of a fluxes state of pining and sighed romanticism.

Well versed in the dreampop, shoegaze and slowcore departments the Toronto musician-singer-songwriter’s diaphanous brooding album is a congruous continuation in a career that includes stints with Soft Wounds, Slowly and Tone Mirrors, and the launch of his own diy label, Loss Leader Records – of which this LP is released through. In that mode, with influences like Low (a huge influence in fact), Cigarettes After Sex and The Red House Painters lingering throughout the wistful fabric, the veiled Beside The Sea opus dreams big. Berger woos expansive heartache across the panoramas; meditating on the loss of memory to a considered purposeful backing that builds from suffused lulls to gradually built-up and swelled indie-shoegaze choruses.

The album title and gentle prompts, including the artist’s own guidance that this eight-track suite could be “moody late night driving music”, pretty much sets the listener up as to the mood, environment and sentiment. Amongst the bendy tremolo flanges and placid rhythms of the brushed cymbal and echo-y forlorn, the trio of songs, ‘The Other Korea’, ‘Close The Door’ and ‘Look’, placeably break out from their dreamy state into beautiful shoegaze-y Britpop anthems – hues of Slowdive, Gene and Sway drift around in the general absorption of influences.

It could just be me, but I can even hear a touch of early REM in the fanned-drift and soft pained harmony of ‘Further More’ and The Bends era Radiohead on the opening tenderly swooned ‘Window’ metaphor heavy plaint.

Berger’s yearned and pined ‘drive time’ soundtrack beckons the listener into a moody dreamy atmosphere of emotive outpourings; the subject of these songs remaining a lingering presence, lost, with only the traces of those memories remaining. Beside The Sea is a beautiful album – ok, some tracks do overstay their welcome – that reimagines Low as a British 80s dreampop combo.






Rodopi Ensemble ‘Thraki-Thrace-The Path Of Dionysus’
(ARC Music) 25th January 2019

Abdesselam Damoussi & Nour Eddine ‘JEDBA-Spiritual Music From Morocco’
(ARC Music) 25th January 2019

Tri Nguyen ‘The Art Of The Vietnamese Zither-Đàn Tranh’

(ARC Music) 22nd February 2019




Among the most prolific of world music and folk labels the ARC Music catalogue spans eras, genres and geography: In-depth surveys, collections and performances from the Welsh vales to Andean Mountains, from the South African veldts to Arctic Tundra. Probably sending us the most CDs of any label on a weekly basis, ARC’s diverse schedule is always worth further inspection, even if the cover art and packaging suggests the kind of CD you might pick up from a garage – filed under ethnocentric muzak. Far from it, each release is always a showcase of adroit musicianship with only the best examples of every style and tradition covered.

Usually built on the foundations of each respective artists or troupe’s heritage, these albums offer a contemporary twist on occasion: even a fusion.

Not so much randomly but just taking a trio of recent releases from the ARC stable we find three very different examples of this with the music of the atavistic recalled Thracian imbued Rodopi Ensemble, the masterful Vietnamese zither expert Tri Nguyen and Sufi-inspired advocates of Moroccan spiritual music partnership, Abdesselam Damoussi & Nour Eddine. All three commit a new energy to very old forms, and merge with influences outside their source material.

 

The first of this trio reverts back to the ancient moniker of what was straddling region that encompassed Southern Bulgaria, North West Turkey and the tip of Greece, Thrace; an area dominated by the 240 Km stretching mountain range behemoth that lends its name to this quintet’s ensemble, Rodopi. Steeped in Greek mythology, the Rodopi is synonymous for being the final resting place of Queen Rhodope and her husband King Haemus of Thrace; the lovers, so it is told in legend, rather unwisely offended the Gods Zeus and Hera, and were punished by being turned into the said mountain range.

Inspired by this homeland, Rodopi musically travel through Ottoman dervish, fluting Egyptian and Balkan folk on an erudite and immaculately performed collection of matrimonial, free form and scarf-waving giddy dances. Providing a swirling, but when acquired equally poised forlorn performance, the spindled spiraling lute and Kanun, heavy range of percussion (from the exotic ‘riqq’ to ‘dara-bakka’ and bendir’), swooned clarinet and weeping violin conjure up a vivid homage to a continuously changing landscape. In dual-language, songs and titles cross between Greek and Turkish; wrapped up in the obvious history of the two former dominant Empires: whether it’s in the traditional romantic flower and fauna metaphorical accompaniment of Asia Minors Greek refugees ‘Menexédes Kai Zouboulia’ (Violets And Hyacinths), or, in the tribute to the ensemble’s late clarinetist, Sol Hasan, on the improvisational ‘Roman Havasi’ (The Air Of Gypsies).

A wonderful dance of yearning remembrance and tradition, the music of Thrace is brought back to life with a touch of contemporary dynamism, flair and love.



Presenting the Vietnamese Zither, otherwise known as the sixteen-string Đàn Tranh, in a new light, ‘bi-cultural’ practitioner Tri Nguyen uses both his classical Western training and Vietnamese ancestry to delicately accentuate a collection of poetically brush-stroked scenes and moods. This congruous marriage of forms and cultures often results in moments and swells that evoke the gravitas of the opera or ballet, yet seldom drown out the light deft touches of the lead instrument.

Just as renowned for his adroit pianist articulations as he is for bringing the Đàn Tranh – a cousin of the Chinese ‘guzheng’, Japanese ‘koto’ and Korean ‘gayageum’ – to a wider international audience, Nguyen caresses a diaphanous web of descriptive quivers over classical strings and percussion on this latest showcase.

Emphasizing his native homeland and the countries that border it he mirrors the elements (the flow of a stream; the droplets of gentle rain), wildlife (the blackbird singing proudly; a galloping stoic horse) and moods (a contemplative sad refrain that ushers in a seasonal and metaphorical change; the joy of returning home after a sojourn spent away).

From lullaby to the Imperial, whether it’s a picturesque meditation or a tale from the time of China’s Three Kingdoms, the musical performances are beautifully immaculate. In truth, too classical and varnished for my taste, I have to admire the faultless musicianship.






Personally the more interesting for me of these three ARC titles is the co-production partnership of Moroccan composers Abdesselam Damoussi and Nour Eddine, who bring together a cast of authentic Sufi singers and musicians on the dynamic Jedba album showcase.

With backgrounds in everything from Hip-Hop to Jazz, Rock, Electronica, World Music and (in Eddine’s case) the Vatican’s vaults of Classical music, both musician-producers provide an exciting backing of bombastic percussion and hypnotizing rhythms to the venerable spiritual mystique of the Sufi tradition. Literally invited and transported into the studio from their impromptu performances in the famous walled marketplace of Jemaa el-Fnaa, located in the heart of Marrakech, a cast of mystics, poets and players from various tribes and disciplines gathered together for one collective exchange: The “Jedba” of the title referring to a collective dance in which people from multi faiths including Jewish, Christian and Muslim hold hands in a symbol of harmony and friendship; “united in love of the divine”.

The magic is in the fusion, as instruments as exotic and diverse as the wind equivalent of the Scottish bagpipes, the ‘ghaita’, rasps over a swanning break beat like percussion on the opening title-track, or, Arabian female tongue trills excitably warble in divine celebration over a dramatic filmic bounding accompaniment on the song-of-praise ‘Allah Hay’. Encompassing Berber desert rock, the adoring commanding vocals of Yemdah Selem (the ‘diva’ of desert music as Damoussi puts it), the solitary prayers of the bred and born Sufi and imam of a mosque in Tangiers, Said Lachhab, and giddy dance, the chants and exaltations of these Marrakech street performers is given a new dynamism and energy via the dual purpose of preservation and in beaming this entrancing mystical tradition to a new audience.





EPS

3 South & Banana ‘Rooftop Trees’
(Some Other Planet Records/Kartel) 1st March 2019





Stepping-out from the sunny-dispositional ranks of the psychedelic indie and tropical lilted London-based Cairobi – formerly, for a decade previous to the name-change in 2017, Vadoinmessico – the group’s drummer Aurélien Bernard follow’s up on his last two singles with a new EP of bright disarming soft-shoe shufflers.

The French-born but Berlin-based all rounder uses his adoptive home as inspiration, though musically the compass is pointing towards the tropical equator. The angulated skip and catchy opening track, ‘Magdalen Eye’, treats Berlin as a jump-off point; its architecture and history (where do you start?!!) echoing and reverberating in what sounds like a psychedelic dream pop with Nirvana grunge drop Ariel Pink. It also reminds me of the recent brilliance of fellow French new wavers, grunge and indie sensations Brace! Brace! The very French-esque float-y and whistle-y ‘Soleil’, sung in the native tongue, wistfully bids farewell to the long Berlin winter as the “first warmer sunny days of April” ease in.

Named after one of Bernard’s previous singles, the four-track EP includes 2018’s ‘Rooftop Trees’ and ‘Fake Jungle’ records. The first of which poses a meditation on the tensions between man-made and natural structures to a woozy psychedelic jaunt: Literally dancing to architecture, Bernard dapples the catchiest of psych and cool Gallic pop on a concrete environment. The latter, rather unbelievably, was inspired by a one-off jam session with James Brown (a throwback to Bernard’s days as a session drummer in Las Vegas), and sounds like a swimmingly Malian Syd Barrett produced by Nino Ferrer.

Light and jaunty but with a depth and sense of concern, Bernard’s oddly entitled 3 South & Banana alter-ego delivers a sumptuous cantaloupe lolloping EP of playful catchy brilliance.







Singles

Julia Meijer ‘Train Ticket’
15th March 2019





It seems almost obligatory, at least in the last decade, to affix the fatuous term of Scandi-pop to every single artist or band emerging from Sweden: whether they play guitars or programme synths. Native Swede songstress-musician Julia Meijer is no different. Even though she lives in Oxford her taciturn, slightly skewed angulated indie-pop sound falls easily into the Scandi-pop fold of classification.

With a string of singles behind her, Meijer is finding her feet; trying out new things on every one, with the only real consistency being quality and depth.

The latest, Train Ticket, is no different. A collaborative affair that features a couple of Guillemots in the ranks (Greig Stewart on drums and Fyfe Dangerfield on suffused low-ray burnished Hammond organ) and Oxford’s busiest polymath of the moment Sebastian Reynolds (Flights Of Helios, the Solo Collective, Mahajanaka project) on swallow undulated synth duties, Meijar’s musical partners construct a counterbalance between a Kate Nash fronted New Young Pony Club version of art school indie and looser, almost, quasi-Talking Heads African lilted mirage-y chorus.

Every bit as taut and tense as Meijer planned – reflecting the lyrical anxious sentiments of uncertainty, expectations and disappointments –yet bendy and supple when that same tension is lifted, the page-turning autobiographical Train Ticket proves to be yet another sophisticated slice of unsure protagonist yearned pop, and wrangled, just raw and edgy enough, indie.

Still adapting and evolving, Julia Meijer has laid down a quality series of singles thus far, all slightly different. We’ll be able to soon experience the full effect when she delivers that debut album, Always Awake, in May.




Society Of The Silver Cross ‘When You’re Gone’





Feasting out on the strength of their most afflatus (and only) single, ‘When You’re Gone’, the venerable marital-fronted Society Of The Silver Cross have built up quite a momentum and drawn some considerable weighty acclaim. Wafting on to my radar at the end of last year – included on the last Monolith Cocktail ‘choice’ playlist of 2018 – this bellowed harmonium and zither-droned esoteric profound elegy reimagines the Velvet Underground led by a lapsed-Catholic Kurt Cobain.

Achingly diaphanous despite its forlorn succinct wise cycle of lyrics (“When you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone. We’re only here for a while. We’re only here for a day.”), this humbled sea shanty-motion mystery was in part inspired by the band’s husband and wife protagonists’ travels across India; part of that Velvet imbued sound enacted by the Indian auto-harp, the shahi baaja.

With the spotlight drawn towards this Seattle outfit’s Joe Reineke and Karyn Gold-Reineke partnership, the Society Of The Silver Cross does also include a small but extended cast of enablers on an accompaniment that features the mellotron, accordion and host of similar evocative instruments.

Vividly dreamy in a plaintive humbled atmosphere filled with various visual references of haunting iconography, Society Of The Silver Cross’s inaugural single is a most sagacious opener; a stark but confident creation of real quality and depth that merges the underground with Gothic Americana. Brilliant.





Words: Dominic Valvona

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