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


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REVIEWS ROUNDUP 
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Right, quick as you like, look lively. We have a lot to get through this month.

Part catch-up and partly featuring releases to come, the latest TOF review includes the latest poetically alluring and chorister evocations suite, Circuits, by Rowan Coupland; a new mix of electronic music and Curaçao traditions, colliding in a sonic explosive protest, from the Amsterdam-based Kuenta i Tambú; an esoteric and spooky seasonal EP of curios, Little Legs For Little Eggs, from the mysterious Quimper; strange cartoon Moog soundtracks and space japes from the late Guatemala electronic composer Emilio Aparicio; a collection of lost recordings from the bucolic and fuzz psych Swedish trio Cymbeline; the Anglo-German experimental triumvirate of Anne Müller, Sebastian Reynolds & Alex Stolze, with their first collective album of neo-classical and ambient performances, Part One; and form the Edinburgh-based sonic experimentalist Reverse Engineer a stunning low key album of transitional electronica and field recordings, Elusive Geometry.

I also have singles and EPs from pianist and troubadour extraordinaire John Howard, releasing his cover of Nick Drakes diaphanous From The Morning; the latest track, Mastakink, with accompanying remixes, from the cerebral electronic duo Room of Wires; and the debut EP of thrashing indie and new wave rock from Oxford’s Easter Island Statues, Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?.

Read on…



Kuenta i Tambú  ‘Rais’
Buchi Records,  15th November 2017

Fired-up and blazing out of Amsterdam, the Dutch-based (‘major leaguers’) Kuenta i Tambú, with their collision of dance music and Afro-Caribbean hard-hitting sonic triggers and attacks, make an explosive impression with their latest global beat travailing Rais album. Apparently attempts have already been made to frame this force of nature with a coherent or trendy tag: ‘new sound global bass’ and ‘tambútronic’ being the frontrunners, the former a bit clumsy, the latter more catchy and closer to the truth.

Built around the Dutch-Caribbean island musical traditions of the group’s founder Roël Calister, a native of Curaçao, the group uses the indigenous Papiamento language and dialect of that island not only for their moniker, which translates as ‘Tales and Drums’, but the title too, which means ‘Roots’: The ‘Tambú’ part of that band name also refers to a particular Curaçao style of dance and music, named after the drums that accompany it. You can hear those traditional hand drums pummeling away throughout this exuberant, restless but directed chaos of strutting synthesizer betas and earthy echoes of the ancestors.

Transfusing the signature sounds, from reggae to dancehall, with a dose of Major Lazer and MIA, Calister and his troupe pays certain homage to those ‘roots’, energizing and keeping ‘alive’ the sound of that southern Caribbean island –name checking notable Curaçao artists such as his sister Izaline Calister, Grupo Issoco and Elia Isenia – whilst blasting it forward into a polygenesis futuristic fusion.

Amplifying into a twerking, booty-shaking voodoo summoning bombast of rapping, spitting and soul-with-attitude vocal led charges, traditions come alive; those tribal atavistic themes entwined with the galloping urgency and incessant vibrations of dancefloor protest. A call-to-arms in one sense with its fierce shouts, laser strafing and pneumatic drilling bass, Kuenta i Tambú sound like a tropical island Die Antwoord, at other times, especially on the bottle-tapping and hand drum blitz Roll like the Ghana’s King Ayisoba.

Truly omnivorous the group throw Bhangra, R&B, Techno and Samba carnival saunters into a mix of swaggering male vocals, a local children’s choir and the equally ferocious, though also sultry and lulling, voice of Diamanta Kock. Recording half the album on Curaçao itself, soaking up the atmosphere, Kuenta i Tambú’s lively fervor propels the local culture forward into the 21st century with a spirited, even rebellious injection of loops, effects and colliding rhythms. In the words of the group, they are, in a manner, more “like a Caribbean punk band”, going “harder and harder, louder and louder!” Rais proves a perfect testament to that.







 

Rowan Coupland   ‘Circuit’ (Album and Illustrated Book)
27th October 2017

It’s the voice of course that draws you in: that ability to convey deep, though eloquently lights, descriptions so effortlessly whilst trilling and cooing between the role of chorister and Medieval bard, countercultural folk troubadour and earnest poet. The highly capable Rowan Coupland lets the words tumble and fall with great care, even when he packs those articulate observations into a cramped bar or two, as he does on occasion almost without taking a breathe, his diction natural and unhurried.

Difficult to define in an era in which artists can easily cross boundaries and take inspiration from anyone, Coupland’s voice is rich with both traditional and modern influences. Some of which are merely aspirational, whereas others colour each and every line. Indebted to the relatively obscure though highly influential 60s/70s English folk singer/songwriter Anne Briggs, who’s list of followers and admirers is both lengthy and legendary (Bert Jansch and Sandy Denny for starters), and the starry folklore of Shirley Collins (The Power Of True Love Knot for sure) there’s also mentions of the powerful atmospheric bowed and quivered music partnership of Richard Dawson and Rhodri Davies, and similar tremulous waning violin work of John Cale on this most impressive songbook. In the modern camp, echoes of I Poo Clouds, Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley waft through the undercurrents.

Expanding his repertoire and progressing forward gaining more experience and skills, Coupland has gone from a formative home-recording artist and Brighton scenester to polygenesis singer/songwriter/composer. Moving from his native Bath to Berlin in 2010, Coupland’s global travelogues – touring Canada and Europe – are enriched by his numerous collaborations, many of which relate again to the past: including the renaissance madrigal group Garland Hearse, folk singer Mary Hampton and the Vancouver gamelan orchestra, Gamelan Gita Asmara.

In fact modernity seems somehow out of place in the beautifully doleful geography of Circuit. A wistful, uneasy balance exists then between age-old sentiment and scenery and the encroachment of technology: the poetically endeared ephemeral observations of a scenic bicycle ride, the spell of which is interrupted by mono-crackled noise emanating from the mobile phone of a passing jogger, to the metaphorical lamentable changing facades of a community, encapsulated in the ebb and flow of one transient culture replacing a more entrenched one; a history of displaced people taking root from another time (“burnt out synagogues”) replaced by one of “internet cafes” and “late night casinos”.

On the weary chamber weepy The Canadian Whole Earth Almanack, which includes a diaphanous classical piano guest spot from Sr. Charli, Coupland waxes lyrical about legacy: both his own and that of mother natures. Meandering through a geologically descriptive rich terra firma, dotted with Arthurian like references to a poisoned chalice nee cup and his own mortal fate, he offers up the old adage that “You can’t take out what you didn’t put in.” Indeed.

Imbued with a sense of the ancestral, with vague evocations to a variety of mixed-up chapters and atmospheres from across the ages, Circuit’s moody but always gently majestically played accompaniment also has a timeless quality. So it comes as no surprise that parts of the album were recorded in the hallow sanctity of an ancient church, in the Brandenburg village of Grüneburg. You can hear Coupland tapping into those venerable surroundings on the sorrowful, Medieval echoed suite, Opening.

The landscape and architecture of the main recording location, in and around the artist’s Berlin home, can be felt too; the language, music and expressions evoking the beauty and isolation of the central northern belt of Europe and the Flemish countryside, framing songs such as Frozen River in the snowy Bavarian expenses like a Pieter Bruegel the Elder painting.

Though recorded in fact in the summer, there are countless references and a prevailing mood of winter, the wilderness and harsh but breathtaking panoramas of Coupland’s other topographical inspiration, Canada.

Saving perhaps the best until last, the less morbidly curious and more pep in his step version of Leonard Cohen (another tie to the Canadian landscape, albeit a cultural one) tiptoeing finale Puzzle Pieces is an inquisitive wondering and plaintive curtain call; lightly and gently stirring, Coupland doles out some great lines on this classically theatrical star turn: “I cried like a child on the day we left, I cried the same again on a day to forget. I cried like the sound of upturned teacups, like fallen turrets of conversations out of earshot.”

Circuit is an ambitious suite (an accompanying book of illustrations by Vancouver-based artist Eva Dominelli expands upon and adds an extra interpretative layer of meta to Coupland’s concepts) that showcases Rowan Coupland at his best and most intelligent, both lyrically and musically. This is a most rewarding and impressive album.







Room Of Wires  ‘Mastakink’
30th October 2017

Featured a few months back in one of my last round-ups, and on the last Quarterly Revue playlist, the Room Of Wires duo impressed with their sophisticated amalgamation of cerebral techno, dark beats and corrosive mind and outer body soundtracks rich Black Medicine EP. Little is known, or at least volunteered, information wise about this cloaked in mystery duo; only that they work apart in isolation, in different locations. Whatever the methodology: it works. And works well.

Their latest bandcamp release, Mastakink, is a single and trio of remixes: each one varying in abstraction and intensity. The original version is a hollowed-out sonar rotating dance track of unidentified voices, expanding chrome machinery, ascending and descending tetchy techno and dubstep beats and blips. MTCH’s transmogrification, imbued with a hint of acid, bit-crushing, rebounding warping Aphex Twin, is first up and stretches the effects with a breakdown of alien interference. However, Vlnc Drks applies a mistier, veiled cosmic trance treatment; adding slithery reel-to-reel – almost slithering off the tape spools – sounds, a sort of quasi-UNCLE like slower beat breakdown and laser quest zaps.

Wolf Asylum goes all out with a cacophony of speed-shifting effects, busy kinetic beats, and rapid breakbeat drums. Reshaping the original and having fun at the same time by the sounds of it, the Wolf’s remix sounds like a missing Polygon Window track.

They used to call this sort of beats programming, or something very similar, ‘intelligent techno’ back in the nineties; a term that quickly lost its original elevation for pretension. Yet it does prove a handy if glib label for the sophistication of this and many of the duo’s output. And that should be taken as a compliment.







Quimper   ‘Little Legs For Little Eggs’
14th October 2017

It comes as no surprise to find the mysterious maverick duo that is Quimper paying a near nonsensical homage to one of the Surrealists – and for that matter the German titan of late twentieth century conceptual mayhem, Martin Kippenberger – favorite symbols, the egg, on the latest in a series of curio EPs.

Their third such collection of 2017, Little Legs For Little Eggs, errs towards the haunted with its vaporous, mumbled and wafting esoteric siren call and undulating foggy horror schlock synth.

Released in time for Halloween, Jodie Lowther relays her vocals from beyond the ether; her musical foil John Vertigen, in the role of spiritualist, channeling those ethereal coos and nursery rhyme coquettish voices via the Ouija board.

Ominous though as it may sound, these little eggs and spooky shtick companions are often whimsical; the shocks, such as the black cat tip-toeing over a grave spine-tingling notes, aria like ghostly calls and ectoplasm dripping atmospherics are more in keeping with the Belbury Poly and The Advisory Circle than the wrenching doom and harrowing bestial augurs of Scott Walker and such Fortean Times ghost hunters as the Crow Versus Crow label.

Information, such as it is, remains scant, but the former Soft Bodies Record instigators, Lowther and Vertigen, offer a smattering of influential references” Lynch and Broadcast being two of the most obvious from a list that also includes The Associates – the closest they come to that is on the Eastern-tinged strange opener, Thomas Egg Has Little Legs, which channels Billy Mackenzie through Coil. Lynch creeps from the gloom, his presence just hanging there, on the Carpathian choir, ring modulating Halloween treat Shrike, whilst the much fated Broadcast influence can be heard throughout the rest of the EP’s trio of lilting spooky visages. However, there’s a strong whiff of the grand doyen of 70s and 80s horror soundtracks, John Carpenter, on the miasma heartbeat drum throbs Cut Below The Knee, which pairs the composer with a miserable, malcontent version of Clannad.

Difficult to frame or pin down, Quimper’s strange traverses are translucent, untethered and evanescent, threatening to float away or evaporate on touch. Little Legs For Little Eggs is part avant-garde chanson, part witchery synth and completely weird.







Cymbeline   ‘1965 – 1971’
Guerssen,  16th November 2017
Emilio Aparicio Moog   ‘Expansión Galáctica’
Mental Experience,  16th November 2017

 

Proving themselves a regular provider of the forgotten (sometimes for a good reason) and weirdly kitsch, Spanish vessel Guerssen has surprised as much as amused me with their busy 2017 release schedule. From thrift shop mid 80s garage to Franco era holiday resort disco flamenco, the crate-digging enthusiasts have resuscitated some astounding eclectic deadbeats, mavericks and, occasionally, pioneers from their metaphorical deathbeds of obscurity.

From the latest batch, all released during the next two weeks, I’ve picked out the primordial and Kosmische koolaid electronic nonsense 70s recordings of Emilio Aparicio (released through Mental Experience, and fed through the Guerssen promotion hub) and the, as it happens, pretty decent 60s/70s psych, bucolic folk home recordings of the Swedish trio Cymbeline to chew over. Though there is a bounty of odd and strange compilations also worth checking out.

Guatemala seems both the most unlikely and obvious fertile environment to find an odd burbling Bruce Haack like Moog classic. Seldom making headlines, for better or worse, the Central American country – part of the umbilical shaped cord that tethers the North and South American continents together – shared a common revolutionary zeal with its Latin neighbours. Simultaneously enjoying an economic boom whilst the local branches of the Revolutionary Movement fought a guerilla war, Guatemala’s youth, well some of them, tuned into America’s counterculture. With ties to a fortune, or at least a family of drinks maker industrialists, Emilio Aparicio, under the patronage of fellow compatriot, the painter and producer Roberto Abularach, created some of the country’s most curious electronic music compositions and exotic flights of fantasy. Lucky enough to have Abularach sipping from the same magic cup, – both, along with a number of Guatemala bohemians and ‘heads’, indulged themselves with copious amounts of LSD and Datura in the lead up to these recordings – the producer on his return from a trip to New York in 1969, where he met Robert Moog himself, brought back home two of the newly-fangled analogue synthesizers, one of which he presented to Aparicio as a gift.



After two years of stimulant induced experimentation, and released staggered over just a month-long window, the resulting Moog recordings were far too loony, zany and futuristically strange for the Guatemalan market. And so, pressed privately as a series of 45” records, some given away as part of a drink’s promotion for that family connection’s business (in exchange for four corks of the local brew), these oddities have remained stored away and mostly unheard: none of them ever making the record stores.

Long forgotten, copies so scarce that it took this compilation’s architect, Ruffy Tint (of Discodelic) some serious excavation work amongst the rat dung and dusty grotty basement of a rock-o-la machines distributor in the Guatemalan city of Quetzaltenango to find the missing and complete set of Aparicio recordings that make up Expansión Galáctica (no translation needed).

Undulating between transmogrified library music and a Latin variant of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, these curios range in cosmic kitsch influences; from primordial Joe Meek crouched in a moist subterranean space vault to bubbly candy Zuckerzeit period Cluster. The two finds that initiated this collection, Brujería and Transfiguración del Iniciado pitch the ritualistic and bewitching in an acid-dandy vision of Hanna-Barbera haunted house spell casting, the first of which conjures up a misty spooky soup of babbling, trips-y beats and yawning silly gaping cries from the dungeon, the second, more serious but no less kitsch saunters towards the altar of some cultish brethren.

Goggle-eyed bossa nova wobbles, warbles and bleeps permeate the Moog modulated scenery of a space chasm Sputnik era version of space. And for the most part it seems quite quaint. As an exotic example of Moog performed exotica and weirdness, the late Aparicio’s recordings could be considered a rare missing link in electronic music. The travails of saving these obscure quirks has been worth the effort, and in a small way brought attention to a scene few had ever even heard of. Just don’t get too excited about it; Guatemala’s part is a footnote not a game changer.





Meanwhile back on European soil, the equally obscure Swedish trio Cymbeline were, in-between their respectful gigs for a host of Scandinavian beat groups, producing a variety of recordings during the 60s, which would remain mostly unheard as demos and home recordings collecting dust, until forty years later. Laid dormant until founding member, the former lead guitarist of The Rovers, Michael Journath retrieved them from the loft and begun digitizing and uploading to Youtube, these increasingly – as the years went on during the band’s six-year history – professional recordings and extemporized experiments came to the attention of the Guerssen label, who quickly realized they’d found some gems.

Mostly recorded at the home of the group’s co-founder Anders Weyde (another lead guitarist, notably with Swede outfit The Scarlet Ribbons), this mix and match of styles, quality and line-ups follows the trajectory of a band finding its sound over one of the most changeable, rich periods of music development in history. Originally formed out of a yearning to write and perform their own material in 1965, bored with covers, Journath and Weyde along with old classmate Lars Hygrell, holed-up in the home studio, began aping the Rolling Stones and skulking moody garage rock of the States on their first records, the melancholic Everly Brothers harmony Look At The Stars and lamentable bucolic, Lady Jane-like haunted, Imagination.

At the same time however they also started improvising; incorporating their surroundings, from furniture for drums to the sound of birds, an electric cocktail mixer and even a refuse chute. The results of these expansions and melodious meanders were filed at the Image title series, of which the Third, Fifth and Sixth survived and are gathered together on this collection – the latter is a re-recorded 1970 version of the original. Starting with a bass guitar line, riff or plucked classical prompt these images were allowed to wander and end-up where they may: Fifth being a sun-dappled pastoral dreamy garage psych track that wouldn’t seem to out of place on an early Tyrannosaurus Rex album, Third a hoof-footed Electric Prunes in Allan Edgar Poe mayhem, and Sixth, a Moody Blues pastoral paean to love amongst the elements, which appeared on the group’s only single as the flipside to the ’71 released New York.

As time went on and improvements were made at Weyde’s home studio, Cymbeline adopted more folksy and progressive influences, looking across to the tapestry bucolic of England and the American West Coast, and to the wah-wah psychedelic songs of Jimi Hendrix, who’s famous standard The Wind Cries Mary is covered and given a gentle, almost muffled treatment by Cymbeline. Echoes of Donavon, Buffalo Springfield and backward/forward dreamy guitar-pedal effects feature through the trio’s late 60s repertoire. Some of which is mere pastiche, others, pretty decent, including the brilliant Traffic-esque Motala Ström from ’68.

A whiff of late success beckoned when Ulf Ryberg joined the trimmed-down to a duo Cymbeline in 1970, his amiable proto-glam meets Manfred Mann style acoustic rhythm travelogue New York became the band’s only official release. Prospects for an album in ’71 saw the trio locating from the industrial town of Norrköping for the Europa Film Studios in Stockholm to record a number of demos. Supposedly channeling the feel of the band’s live performances, a couple of tracks seem to be all that remains from this period; one of which is a more urgent but still wistful fuzz and shimmering cymbal retake of an earlier Stolta Vingar, the other, the more Amon Düül II acid-prog Strax Nedanför Tornen. Unfortunately during this late surge the band split up indefinitely before an album could be finished.

Obscurity and the right to be forgotten seems an impossible option in the internet age, and so even a lost box of nuggets as this Cymbeline collection can reach an audience previously cut-off through third parties (take your pick, from labels to management and radio) or the inactions of the group itself. Just when you believe or hope there’s nothing left to drag or dig up – thinking you may have finally got a fix on the whole Scandinavian folk and psych scene of the sixties – something comes along that grabs and surprises you into reevaluating what you know. Cymbeline is another one of those ‘what ifs’, though both good enough to have certainly gone further than they did, you can also see, in a crowded market, how they could so easily be lost and passed over for the multitude of quality that defines the whole era.







Easter Island Statues   ‘Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?’
15th December 2017

Bonding over a shared passion for the music of The Pixies (plenty of that on display) and the Neutral Milk Hotel (not so much), amongst a variety of other similar bands, in 2015, the Oxford trio of Easter Island Statues Donald Campbell, James Askwith and Tom Hitch are set to release their debut EP, the five track Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?, next month.

Leading single Bow & Arrow, which has been doing the rounds recently, has already pricked the attention of 6Music’s Tom Robinson with its lively maelstrom of shimmery crashing cymbal and rapid-fire tight drums, The Walkman like angulated thrashing guitars and serenaded Mexican trumpet accompaniment. Running moodily over the downs the trio create a busy but perfectly executed slice of rambunctious Pixies via The Manics style alternative rock single bursting with energy, moodiness and elan.

In a similar vein the opener, Jousting Colours, offers little in the way of chivalry, but plenty of thrashing spiky punk and post-Britpop American rock: early Franz Ferdinand, The Buzzcocks and The Strokes to name just three.

Things get interesting with the split and changeable Little Bird/Ballerina, which runs through a number of musical changes, from Interpol style post-punk to senorita yearning brass, country and crashing indie. Holy Day is another sea change with its acoustic treatment, plucked prangs of ascending strings, funeral pyre analogies and mandolin. It’s is one of the best and most original, most mature and sophisticated tracks on the EP. The finale, Street Static, is a mix of all the influences in a way, controlled yet just as lively, with hints of R.E.M. and the same crashing, full-on alternative rock guitar riffs and crescendos as Jousting Colours and Bows & Arrows.

An impressive debut indeed from the often crashing and blasting, but thoughtful and assured trio.





The Reverse Engineer   ‘Elusive Geometry’
Floored Music,  24th November 2017

Both in the moniker by which the Edinburgh-based ‘sonic experimentalist’ Dave House is known by, and deduced from the title of his latest album, Elusive Geometry, we can view the sound-artist’s music as a restructuring of sounds and mechanics.

House unravels, strips and inverts his apparatus of field recordings and sampled instruments to reconstruct new, often mysterious and at times foreboding soundscapes; some of which recall Jon Hassell’s Fourth World Musics explorations: a trace of the Javanese or Malay can be heard like a veil hanging over the uneasy densely packed traverse of cascading crystal droplets, marimba and tubular echoed Proto, and a similar, familiar yet obscured sense of place can be heard on the bamboo shuttling Insider, which also features the bobbing and dipped percussion and tablas of sound-designer and producer Pete Vilk.

Exotic sensory concepts of reimagined ‘possible musics’ and places can also be detected in the transduced display of dreamy African plain aria, scatting, soaring and soulful vocals by the jazz vocalist Matty Eeles, on the down tempo shuffling minimalistic Metastability. Fluidly interchanging between the soothed and soaring, Eeles’ voice is manipulated until her diction become almost alien, animalistic, stripped to just vowels sounds and exhales. And whether it’s meant to or not, the glass-bottle tapping and hand drum patterned Rhythmed has an air of the Haitian about it.

A transformation of House’s themes of ‘transition, self (re)discovery and moving on’, the precise chemistry of his compositions and use of collaborators – the already mentioned Vilk and Eeles are joined by harpist Esther Swift and BAFTA award-winning cellist Atzi Murumatsu – sends these explorations off into numerous nuanced, but untethered, atmospheres. Masked looming leviathans, honked saxophone like probes, coils and springs, stone and vegetation, the odd guitar strike drift over or interweave through sophisticated minimalist beats and breaks – the most abstract and discordant drum break of which features on the hallucinatory Decoherence -, with the mood fluctuating between both controlled uncertainty and more deconstructive chaos.

The closing arched trembled cello etched and splayed crunched beat peregrination Post is a perfect example of the kind of beauty, emotion and trepidation that permeates throughout this ‘elusive geometry’. It ends with the line, “It’s so beautiful here”, which appears out of the embers of a fading strung-out breakdown, drone and melancholy dreamy ambient wave.

Fashioning his own sonic descriptions; sending us off into our own space to contemplate and picture these re-engineered imaginations, House’s photographer brother John has even created a series of limited edition prints, created in response to the music – though these are only available as part of the ‘special’ CD edition. It’s no wonder that they’ve inspired such artwork photography, those low key but expansive, often dreamy and gauze-y sonic journeys evoke all manner of emotion and narratives, both introspective and worldly. Elusive Geometry will tease out and reveal its textures and intricacies slowly, each listen drawing your attention to some other interesting interplay and sparse sound. House has in short created a brilliant album of thoughtful, moody transitions and discovery.








 

John Howard   ‘From The Morning’
John Howard Label,  1st December 2017

A signature adroit, deep piano and wise but lightly sprung vocal performance from John Howard, covering – as so many have tired before – one of England’s most tragic introverts, the late Nick Drake, on his first solo release-proper since 2016’s beautifully expansive masterpiece, Across The Door Sill (which rightly made our ‘choice albums of 2016’ features). Howard’s Waterboys style, enervated gospel organ undertone version of Drake’s original diaphanous but so obviously sorrowful From The Morning marks a subtle change in Howard’s methodology; releasing, as he will on December the 1st, this homage paean single style precursor to next year’s extended five track EP of similar inspired covers, Songs From The Morning.

A virtuoso, seldom matched, both technically and creatively – not just because he could confound or at least make it difficult to replicate his music, using as he did his own tuning methodology – the shy and fatefully mentally-anguished Drake, who took his own life at the age of 26, is an obvious muse for Howard whose own debut Goodbye Suzie, and most iconic album, Kid In A Big World, share a unique sense of isolated detachment from the music scene of the times, and were also overlooked commercially, though critically applauded.

Taken from Drake’s final album, Pink Moon, From The Morning is rendered a venerated rolling, tambourine-shaking dawn chorus by Howard; guiding the original towards an awakened brighter day.




 

Solo Collective   ‘Part One’
Nonostar Records,  10th November 2017

Gathered together in a congruous union under the Solo Collective umbrella, the Anglo-German partnership of Anne Müller, Seb Reynolds and Alex Stolze take turns in the spotlight and provide supporting roles with a cast of additional collaborators on the chamber pop meets traversing evocations suite Part One.

An interconnected triangle of familiar themes and musicality, with each musician also individually experimenting and creating their own solo pathway, in their respective field, all three artists have crossed paths and worked together previously on a variety of projects; some of which, in alternative neo-classical stripped versions, appear on this album. For instance, the original pizzicato acoustic-electronic Don’t Try To Be, from the violinist Stolze’s 2016 EP, Mankind Animal, now features Müller’s yearning emphatic cello, and is striped of its synthesizer electronics in favour of woodblock percussion and doleful low bass notes to create a more tragic and sad version.

No stranger to the Monolith Cocktail, Reynolds has been one of the most prolific polymaths to feature on the blog over the last couple of years, whether its for his work as a solo artist, producer, promoter, remixer or collaborator – which includes his recent Thai-inspired gamelan peregrination collaboration with the Neon Dance Company, Mahajanaka and Puzzle Creature. It’s as an exploratory avant-garde with classical inclinations pianist that Reynolds appears on this collective experiment however; his, depending on how you hear it innocent (if foreboding) transcendence or fear-evoking prowl of a drone looming overhead, gradually ascending and descending ambient traverse Ascension features both Müller and Stolze but also Mike Bannard. Rotating the line-up, Reynolds beatific undulating opuscule Holy Island retains both Müller’s beautifully pining presence and Bannard’s but also features Jonathan Quinn and Andrew Warne helping to perform one of the album’s most ethereal highlights.

Going ‘solo solo’, Müller, who has toured and recorded with Agnes Obel and is a regular musical foil to Nils Frahm, provides the tubular chimed expansive air Silbersee, and Stolze, a stalwart of the Berlin techno scene but also a violinist virtuoso pushing the instruments boundaries, provides the classically 18th century attuned stirring melodious meets twanged, crushing abrasive, approaching leviathans, Cell To Cell. Both also perform as a duo on the opening Philip Glass evoking elegant and quivery Solo Repeat!.

A showcase for a particularly harmonious partnership of individuals with a pan-Europa vision of collaboration and crossing sublime musical boundaries, Part One – of what I hope will be a continuing venture – proves to be a stirring neo-classical ambient collection of solo and ensemble performances; each artists sharing and pooling their obvious talents to find a common interplay and a bond to create a challenging but mostly beautiful album.





NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Welcome as always to the latest edition of my reviews roundup. Meeting with my approval this month, there’s the (both literally and musically metaphorical) ‘laissez passer’ wandering TootArd from the Golan Heights making an international debut on Glitterbeat Records; the return, in a manner, of the enigmatic Brighton-based artist Matt Finucane; a stunning theatrical avant-garde meets Chanson and morose romantic pop opus from AUDIAC, waltzing onto the stage after years of inactivity; the pique soundclash of Swiss drum and electric bass combo Ester Poly; and the fourth album of ‘lower-case’ minimalism and ambient music from Andrew Heath.

I also take a look at the fanboy style resurrection of the obscure 80s Pennsylvania garage, punk, post-rock and psych outfit In Time, by thrift store digger Steve Krakow, who celebrates the fleeting and undiscovered group’s only album (found unloved by Krakow on cassette tape) and a number of unreleased attic recordings for the Guerssen label. Last but in no means the least of today’s selections, I take a look at the debut album from the Berlin duo of kooky and fun electronica and techno, Psycho & Plastic, Kosmopop. Championed from the very start on this very blog, it seems to have taken the duo – who to be fair are busy with a multitude of projects including the running of their label GiveUsYourGOLD – an age to finally release it.

Read on…

TootArd  ‘Laissez Passer’
Glitterbeat Records,  10th November 2017

 

Photo credit: Mercedes Ortego González.

Caught in, what might seem to them, a perpetual limbo, devoid of a recognized identity, the collective band members of the omnivorous Levant group TootArd are officially stateless: citizens in effect of nowhere. Growing up in the contested, bloodily fought over, Golan Heights the group’s mouthpiece, guitarist Hasan Nakhleh, articulates the predicament of a population stuck between two, once, warring factions – feeling detached with no legal representation; no sense of belonging – throughout the press notes that accompanied this, their latest album, Laissez Passer.

Carved up in two by the former warring states of Syria and Israel after the divisive Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the eventual ceasefire that followed – with the greater share by some distance given to the latter -, the Golan Heights has been uneasily observed by both parties for decades. Under an accord the following year, an international buffer zone – known as the UNDOF ‘purple line’ – was put in place to help keep a fragile peace. Before the apocalyptic civil – and proxy – war in Syria begun, both nations seemed to be approaching some agreement over the region. Israel however, following a policy of non-intervention, is in no hurry to secede ground to Syria.

Under the authority of Israel but without official citizenship, the native inhabitants of the western Golan Heights region are forced to carry the special situation, ‘laissez passer,’ papers of TootArd’s album title to cross borders and travel. Despite this the group have found a certain musical freedom; amorphously drifting across those imposed demarcation lines to adopt styles from across the entire Levant; from Africa and even Jamaica. Originally covering the Caribbean island’s most famous musical export, the group started out playing reggae covers before relishing a change in direction.

However, before settling on their recent traverse fusion of desert blues – finding a commonality and affinity with the Beaudion and, equally stateless, Tuareg -, Arabic modalities, rock and funk influences, the founding members of the group all left for Europe; all going their separate ways: Hasen Nakhleh moving to Berlin and then Bern, recalls that this sojourn period would split the collective up internationally, yet when visiting home they would all regroup for impromptu performances in their native villages, as if they’d never been apart. After a two-year hiatus Hasen and his brother, multi-instrumentalist Rami Nakhleh – missing their fellow compatriots – organized a reunion of a sort, preparing the way forward for a reincarnation of their band.

 

With a new enthusiasm, new material and new sound, TootArd’s second album – though billed as their ‘international’ debut showcase – Laissez Passer has much to contemplate and pine over; framed as it is in the ‘blues’ tradition. Themes of identity and the chaos that continues to engulf their homeland dominate the album. Yet far from lamentable and sad this latest effort is surprisingly relaxed, with controlled swells of more funky and soulful driven upbeat rhythms throughout, and even the odd saunter of swaying joy. The languid reggae candor, transmogrified into a Levant groove, helps to create a sort of Baba Zula souk gait, whilst hints of Tamikrest and Tinariwen’s camel gangly, handclapping, desert blues funk gives the music a drive on both the title-track and, almost galloping and spinning into Dervish territory, Bayati Blues.

But those bluesy ruminating and gazing ponderously inducing themes do often sound haunting; especially with the addition of Ams Mdah’s snake charming and romantically dusky jazz saxophone evocations, and Hasen’s modified oud sounding electric guitar – extra frets added to ape the synonymous dulcet tones of the short-necked lute-like string instrument.

Bringing people together under darkening skies or gazing out across the Golan Heights prism back towards Syria with a Rast scale composed travailing moody accompaniment, TootArd flow and spiral subtly across the region soaking up ancestral musical customs as they go. Though imposed upon them, the Laissez Passer status hasn’t held the group back creatively: forcing them in fact by circumstance to find a new musical freedom. They are, even if it sounds a tad clichéd, only limited by their own restless imaginations, and this album indeed dreams big.




AUDIAC   ‘So Waltz’
Klangbad Records,  20th October 2017


In the age in which the majority of recording artists and bands are struggling to survive on the mediocre, almost vaporous, earnings from their craft and graft, it could be argued that without a monetary reward (no matter how modest) and without security you may as well take risks; push the boundaries; never compromise, and in the case of the Tübingen and Hamburg straddling duo AUDIAC, concentrate your efforts on producing a ‘work of art’. And make no mistake So Waltz is an ambitious album’ bordering at times on the theatrical, but definitely art-y.

Knowing admittedly nothing about this duo, I can only assume they were lucky enough to have at least the time to pursue these artistic ambitions. Though as the press release is not entirely clear, I assume this latest album is the follow up to Alexander Wiemer von Veen and Niklas David’s 2003 debut, Thank You For Not Discussing The Outside World; marking quite an absence between releases, but nevertheless indicating that they certainly had enough time to create an epic suite. They also had one of the (infamous) original co-founders of Germany’s most uncompromising iconic groups, the mighty Faust, Hans Joachim Irmler on board to produce; his impressive skillset, shaped in a baptism of fire during the Krautrock epoch, and explorations pushing his chagrins further into sonic experimentation.

 

Remaining true to that debut album however, AUDIAC still sound inspired by Chanson, trip-hop, chamber pop, psychedelic music and Kurt Weill. Only they drop some of those more psychedelic pretensions this time in favour of melodrama and spectacle; dancing in malcontent and lament to a semi-classical avant-garde soundtrack, both melodically beautiful and elegiacally forlorn.

With all the limitations and pressures lifted, the duo is able to put forward their grandiose schemes undaunted by commercial success: or so they say. And so moving quasi-classical soul merges with Popol Vuh like divine choral atmospheres, and harsher, stark declarations of pained expression. Not quite in the realms of Scott Walker but sailing pretty close, the vocals and backing fluctuate the malady intensity and constantly restless plunging piano playing and voice combo of Diamanda Galas at its most harrowing – especially on the tumultuous, in a state of despair and rage, Doberman -, and the aching blue-eyed soul of George Michael and cerebral crooning accentuation of David Sylvian at its most romantic. Yet this concatenate pan-European songbook, mostly travailing the moody northern realms of Germany, France and the Lowlands, evokes a penchant for the UK too. Hints of Massive Attack, Thom Yorke, an enervated Underworld, early Queen and the Welsh maverick John Cale appear amongst the waltzing, gushing and graceful allusions of a spurned brooding European protagonist – probably sucking on a Gitanes; carrying all the weight of the world’s problems on his shoulders.

Returning with an impressive minor opus, So Waltz sounds like it took a lot of time and effort to create. Highly dramatic, occasionally indulgent, yet always quite moving they make quite the statement with this bleak but diaphanous and expressive tragedy.






Psycho & Plastic  ‘Kosmopop’
GiveUsYourGOLD,  20th October 2017


 

Guiding lights into the expanses of an imaginary galaxy, the Psycho & Plastic duo of Berlin dance music stalwarts, Thomas Tichai and Alexandre Decoupigny, search both inner and outer space with a suave funky and cosmic techno soundtrack on their new album, Kosmopop.

Previously releasing a string of EPs and videos, with the emphasis on fun and quirky electronic dance music experimentation – bordering at times on the goofy and cartoonish -, the duo have finally found time to produce a more complex, daresay conceptual, album; with aloof wondrous inspirations abound. Self-released through their burgeoning label GiveUsYourGOLD (Armour, AXLOTL, Irk Yste), their debut album proper dials down the more loony, bubbly and tropical kooky influences in favour of smoother, groovier rhythms. This isn’t to suggest they’ve suddenly become serious; the larks and optimism remain, with fond homages to the first and second summers of love, and a particular penchant for the unconscious organic flowering of the 90s rave scene.

 

Alluding to certain science-fiction ascetics in the artwork, the music is itself alien and mysterious at times, erring towards Kosmische influences like Tangerine Dream on the more enigmatic searching voyages – check the brocaded synth fanning, solar winds blowing and whistling satellite signally Superflare and Banco de Gaia does Mayan temple dub Entropy.

For the major part however, the music sounds like a Mir Space Station house band of Der Plan, Niles Rodgers, International Pony and Felix da Housecat beaming down a love-in direct to the berlin dancefloors. Expect to hear astral funk lightly entwining with early echoes of the electro hip hop compilations; echoes and specs of an alien presence reverberating and floating over Chicago House; sitar like brass-y meditations chiming along to pocket calculator algorithms; stoic Germanic tuned narration encouraging philosophical self-discoveries across the universe whilst also urging the listener “to get down” to tribal beats and 808 preset percussion – the four-to-the-floor disco punk Divine Loser even reimagines Depeche mode being born in Düsseldorf rather than Basildon.

Psycho & Plastic’s interstellar travels flow in a cyber boogie motion, gazing as they do into the wonders of a funky techno and as pop disco vision of space. Kosmopop is a cracking debut album and marks a small but significant sophisticated change in the duo’s style; more ambitious, smoother and sleeker.






Andrew Heath  ‘Soundings’
Disco Gecko,  3rd November 2017


 

Praised as a sort of progressive sound and ambient music torchbearer of a genre renowned for such luminaries as Brian Eno and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Andrew Heath’s own experiments in the field lean towards the reification of the fleeting, disturbed and ephemeral quiet traces of ‘people within spaces’. The self-styled composer of ‘lower-case’ minimalism evokes enigmatic, mysterious and occasionally mournful passages of evolving, passing time through the use of found and created sound manipulation and in-situ (a concatenate theme that connects to Heath’s site specific video art) field recordings.

His fourth solo album for Disco Gecko follows on from previous work, building up both synthetic and natural textural layers, drones, obscured broadcast voices and sonorous piano phrases. However, the main difference with Soundings is the atmosphere it creates; the echoing leitmotif of creaking footsteps pacing up and down a room and the almost heavy methodical concentration of memories pouring from the typewriter notation for me conjure up a writer’s garret: the author’s struggle, turmoil and thoughts represented by Heath’s serialism soundtrack.

Used subtly the neo-classical instrumentation that swirls and floats around the concrete sounds is used to bring melody, intrigue and sometimes, sadness. As well as Heath’s lingering, pondering classical piano notes and scales, there’s a touching twinkling and warmer Fender Rhodes offering lighter jazzy tinged, comfort and balance; a counterpoint interaction between the two instruments that began in the 90s when Heath collaborated with Felix Joy under the experimental Aqueous banner. It also resonates with similar piano explorations by Roedelius, who as it happens has worked with both Heath and Joy previously, most famously on the Meeting The Magus album, and more recently with Heath and fellow avant-garde composer/artist Christopher Chaplin on the live improvised recording Triptych In Blue. Roedelius could be said to have an open-ended collaboration with Heath, who it must be said can’t help but be enthused by the Kluster/Cluster/(and in more recent times) Qluster trinity steward of Kosmische and neo-classical exploration.

Another (on-going) collaboration with the Dutch ambient musician Anne Chris Bakkes continues on both the album’s winter moody traipse through the Dutch province of Noorderhaven, and the serene Happenstance articulation. Bakkes on her part performs a masked and fluttering guitar peregrination and plays with more unusual, mostly unidentifiable background sounds on the two tracks: described in the press release as ‘ephemeral’.

Breaking the veiled, swirling clouds hovering atmospherics, Stéphane Marlet and Bill Howgego are on hand to offer both arching serious, lamentable, and swooned jazz inspiration; the former enriches the cyclonic pondering Days In-Between with saddening cello, the latter tenderly sailing above the Tibetan imaginations of A Break In The Clouds with a striking clarinet flourish.

Pivoting between levitating above the heavens and space and counting the days in a haunted soundscape of captured movements and memories on Earth, Soundings hints at scenes and scenery alike; the traces of which make up this gently unfolding series of ambient descriptive passages in time.






Matt Finucane  ‘Threaten Me With Your Love’
Light Crude,  25th October 2017


 

Returning after what seems an age away from crafting some of the most understated moodily resigned and mentally fatigued indie, Brighton-based all-rounder Matt Finucane is back with an instrumentally pared down, but just as sophisticated, duo of EPs this Autumn.

Not that we wish to pry, and only knowing Finucane from a distance, it seems his travails and dysfunctional personal life has got the better of him recently and in the past: hence the absence; part of which was spent in rehab. Threaten Me With Your Love is the idiosyncratic troubadour’s first proper release since then.

Back doing what he does so well, with eight new songs split between two staggered EPs, Finucane has employed the talents of fellow Brighton musician Mik Hanscomb – one half of the city’s (via Southend) pastoral Laurel Canyon imbued folk siblings Junkboy – to accompany him both live and on this recording.

 

Once again channeling vague notions of Lou Reed, David Slyvian, Ian Hunter, Bowie and Bolan, Finucane’s more relaxed, even languid, acoustic heavy material has an unintentional but accepted ‘druggy malaise’ feel to it. Crooning with a certain drowsy but meandrous confidence, our swooning maverick also often channels the quivering moodiness and slick sneer of a 50s rock’n’roll performer – similar in style to Bradford Cox’s very own donning of the vestiges of a crooning 50s rock’n’roll balladeer on the Atlas Sound LP Parallax. Updated of course with slivers of glam rock and post punk, and with the concerns and sentiments closer in principle to the loss of innocence and the emotional wreckage of ‘dead man’s curve’ than the harmless High School melodramas of the genre.

Experimenting with delivery throughout, the vocals often trail off, swooning into the crevices of Finucane’s darkened room, or loosely hovering between both the high and low registers; tripping along in what sounds like an exercise in catharsis; releasing thoughts in a melodically enriching counsel session. The music echoes that mood, both rallying and accentuating the sentiment and evocations on the acoustic rhythm and electric guitar – Moon Madness for some reason reminded me of Mick Harvey. However, the final song of this four track collection, Self Possession Version Two, moves through a number of musical ideas; reverberating brassy guitar strings jangle through Gothic cowboy boot spurs rattling back beat, new romanticism and the Velvet Underground before pushing into a bent-out-of-shape Sonic Youth and ending on a haunting final waning dissipation.

Still finding his range with one of his most stripped-down recordings yet, Finucane thankfully makes a welcome return to the music scene, and once again defies categorization with a unique, if despondent lovelorn, style of delivery.






In Time  ‘Inside Your Mind’
Mental Experience via Guerssen,  13th October 2017


 

The, what seemed almost limitless at the time, pool of lost and obscure garage band treasures was drained a long time ago. Well, at least the halcyon days of the original primal punk, pop-sike, blue-eyed soul and psychedelic R&B back beat era in the 60s; the architects of the Nuggets-Rubbles-Pebbles-Teenage Shutdown compilations feast truly now exhausted. Drying up the reserves of every band and tenuous collection of misfits that ever recorded a single or had a whiff of a named – no matter how minor and obscure – record label or, managed to wow the locals in the provincial state scene for even the most briefest of moments, many crate-diggers and dewy-eyed salivating acid and garage freaks started dredging up the most amateur of home recordings and wannabe demos.

This process has been repeated for most genres, moving on to different more fertile ground in the following decades, and as with this obscurity from Pennsylvania outfit In Time, honing in on the 80s revival; though equally at the apex of both the raw indie and grunge fusions that were to come.

Skeptical about these finds ever since a musician I used to knock about with in the 90s – Spacemen 3 and Sun Ra enthusiast I recall – told me the story of when he and his band mates used to mischievously pass off mock garage band recordings of themselves as authentic lost ‘nuggets’ from the 60s USA hinterland; leaving these constructed recordings on cassette tapes in secondhand stores, or as the American’s would say “thrift stores”. Whether anyone was ever taken in or not, discovering such curiosities has always made me cautious and nervous. In the photocopied ‘ultra rare’ D.I.Y. mode, what might be a cunning ruse or by luck a damn good find, the only ever release by the In Time quartet, Inside Your Mind, was discovered in such circumstances in a Chicago ‘thrift store’. How it got there is anyone’s guess, but this discovery enthused the guy who found it, the Plastic Crimwave’s Steve Krakow, enough to set in motion a fanboy like zeal to track down the culprits responsible; leading to an official reissue style celebratory vinyl release of the boys only proper showcase: boosted by a number of unreleased raw and experimental detritus from the attic.

Krakow pinned down for long enough one of the original members of the shallow angst and knockabout youth punk-garage-psych for a terse interview; chronicling the little information he did obtain in the Ugly Things/Greg Shaw typewritten fanzine style accompanying liner notes. Surprised that anyone gave a shit, two decades on, Stephen Turk, Stephen Daly, Ed Keer and Anthony (AJ) Fischer nonetheless are now immortalized, in a fashion, by their champion Krakow.

 

‘Homespun’ indeed, In Time sound rough and sloppy, powering through a dizzy carnage of the TV Personalities, Subway Sect, 13th Floor Elevators, Swell Maps, The Dils, a thoroughly unclean version of The Clean, and The Gruesomes for starters. Growling and looning throughout, the often hard-to-fathom vocals change from a surly Yank version of John Lydon to a disheveled Dan Treacy; the music from primal rough’n ready Apache beat garage rock to indulgent shimmery meandering. Theme wise the band takes adolescent swipes at the elderly (Old Ladies) and those who meet the ire, or moon about isolation and detachment from the Outside world whilst reserving a special kind of malcontent and rage at a love spurned.

Whether its aping The Residents strangulating Paint It Black on the astonishing and lolloping Antonetta Perplexes Me, or sinking in the hallucinatory toxins of a vat of Kool Aid on the phaser messy experiment Many Are The Tears, the musical reference points are numerous and thickly applied. Despite sounding erratic, on the edge of distortion – the volume and cacophony constantly threatening to overload the sound – and about to fall apart, In Times spirited recordings and unfinished, rehearsal style ideas betray a melodious sophistication and decent performance dynamic. Too late for the original garage band phenomenon and for punk obviously, the band made sure they’d make, no matter how fleeting, some kind of mark on the 80s revival. And yet they are an augur for what was to follow, with hints of post-rock and grunge, and at times sounding like the forefathers of bands such as The Hunches.

 

Well there time has finally come, or at least a fanboy nod of approval in the right direction, a mark of respect. This collection is every bit as much about the obsession of Krakow as much as it is about the injustice that such a group could fail to catch on, disappearing instead into the ether…well, at least Pennsylvania’s attics and Chicago’s thrift stores.






Ester Poly  ‘Pique Dame’
Ikarus Records,  October 6th 2017


 

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 began as a casual improvised meeting of minds a few years back, before blossoming and gaining traction with more structured, paced material. The spirit of volatility and avant-garde probing experimentation is no less diminished now that they’ve channeled that energy and ennui into nine, more controlled, songs: granted many fall outside the perimeters of the formulaic; amorphously clashing and flaying, dissipating and fading out between the loosest of vocal and instrumental performances and narratives.

 

Framed as a clash of styles and inspirations, with even the record label unsure of how exactly to position the duo’s new album, Pique Dame, Ester Poly perform with great dexterity and articulation as they thrash through brash Stilts bravado (Slutwalk); catch themselves in an overlap, churlishly antagonizing the 72 virgins myth to a Giallo paperback thriller soundtrack (72 Vierges); sultrily but with ominous overtones, apply trebly gangly Pylon throbbing basslines and a Raincoats reggae gait to a sinister Chanson cover (La Vie En Rose); and smash along to a bestial doom soundscapes (The Rise Of The Witches).

Not hampered in anyway by the limitations of their chosen drum and bass instrumentation, and hardly comparable to any of the many such similar combinations plying their trade, Ester Poly use a stack of effects and distortion tools to widen the sound spectrum; evoking hints and obvious homages to post-punk, art school, Jazz, doom rock, heavy metal, no wave and Krautrock in the process. The latter influence of which pops up a lot actually. Whether it’s the transmogrified inaction of a limping Mother Sky by Can on Dienstag, or the redolent constant rolling motion syncopation of the same group’s late rhythm provider, Jaki Liebezeit, or the prowling, growling bended bass playing of Faust’s Jean-Hervé Péron, that Teutonic influence be heard loud and clear: they even sound like a riot grrrl Neu! on the track Big Bang.

 

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!





NEW MUSIC REVIEWS ROUNDUP
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





A mixed bag, even for me, this month, with a triple haul of albums from the Kent estuary dreamers wishing to travel far, Gare du Nord. A trio of releases from Ian Button‘s pet project label includes a Pop-sike collection from Joss Cope, fairytale metaphor folk spells from Karla Kane and a ‘switched-on Bach’ like treatment of Vivaldi Baroque classics from modular synth composer Willie Gibson. We also have a new album of Victorian themed pastoral forebode that chimes with our times from Oliver Cherer; a brilliant experimental grunge, new wave and alt-rock experimental album from Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand; the debut album from Gwyneth Glyn for the new artist/label partnership Bendigedig; and finally, two chaotic avant-garde electronic music soundclashes from maverick artist Andrew Speckman, under his recently adopted Sad Man persona.  

 

Read on….



Joss Cope  ‘Unrequited Lullabies’  (6th October 2017)
Karla Kane  ‘King’s Daughters Home For Incurables’  (6th October 2017)
Willie Gibson  ‘Vivaldi: Seasons Change’  (13th October 2017)
All three released on the Gare du Nord.

Absent from my review selections for a while now, estuary romantics Gare du NordIan Button’s independent label, run from an HQ that sits on the edge of the metropolis of London and the pastoral pleasantries of backwaters Kent – have sent us a triple bundle of releases, all earmarked for release in the first half of October. This autumnal flurry includes a new album of psychedelic pop soft bulletins from Joss Cope; an Anglophile hushabye fairytale of folk from Californian sun-kissed artist Karla Kane, of The Corner Laughers fame; and a transduced ‘switched-on’ modular synth treatment of Baroque Vivaldi classics from, the non de plume of George Baker, Willie Gibson.

A real mixture you’ll agree, the first of which, Cope’s Unrequited Lullabies, is in the mode of classic 60s revivalism and 80s psychedelic pop.

Sibling to arch druid polymath of the ‘head’ community, Julian, brother Joss Cope shares an equally colourful CV; serving and rubbing shoulders during his formative years with a number of famous and cult figures from the Liverpool music scene, including Echo & The Bunnymen Les Pattinson, Wah Heat’s Peter Wylie and Spiritualized’s Mike Mooney. Not before fleetingly spearheading Bam Caruso label favorites Freight Train – releasing the modestly pivotal album Man’s Laughter in 1985 – before splitting and joining ‘rivals’ the Mighty Lemon Drops, Joss left Liverpool to be absorbed into the Creation Records mayhem of London. During his spell in the capital he played with Crash, The Weather Reports and Rose McDowell before carving out a solo career, releasing two albums under the Something Pretty Beautiful banner.

Inevitably Joss would at some point cross paths with his elder brother, contributing famously to the Fried and St. Julian solo albums; co-writing with both Julian and his former Freight Train band mate Donald Ross Skinner the album tracks Pulsar and Christmas Morning.

 

Before this becomes just a biography, Joss would form and play with many more bands during the 90s and noughties – The United States of Mind, Dexter Bentley and Sergeant Buzfuz among them -, balancing music with a careers as a video director for MTV, narrator for a children’s BBC animation series and an online producer/activist for Greenpeace.

This latest chapter in a checkered backstory of affiliations sprung from Joss’ regular sleepovers in Finland, home to his current partner, the cartoonist Virpi Oinonen. In 2016 he began collaborating with the guitarist Veli- Pekka Oinonen, bassist Esa Lehporturo and percussionist Ville Raasakka trio of Helsinki talent, and the (what must be the most Irish of Irish sounding names in history) keyboardist O’Reilly O’Rourke on what would become this album, Unrequited Lullabies.





Not quite as gentle as the title suggests, but still quite meandrous, peaceable and safe, the lullabies, coastal tidal ebbs and flows and metaphorical drownings include the full range of influences from Joss’ earlier output on Bam Caruso; namely the cult label’s Circus Days compilations of obscurities and novelties from the mostly kaleidoscopic afterglow music scene of English psych and pop-sike. At various times you can expect to hear traces of 70s era Pretty Things, House Of Love, Mock Turtles, early Charlatans, Robyn Hitchcock, Dave Edmunds, XTC, The Eyes, and most obviously (and prominent) Syd Barrett. Controlled with assured maturity throughout, those influences loosely flow between the pastoral, shoegaze, backbeat pop and acid psychedelia.

Yet despite tripping occasionally into mellotron steered mild hallucinogenics, there’s nothing here that ventures beyond the ‘calico wall’; no surprises or raw energetics; no teeth rattling scuzz and fuzz or melting chocolate watchbands. Unrequited Lullabies is instead an understated effort, erring towards gestures of love – as Joss himself rather poignantly and regretfully puts it about one particular song, “Love songs to the children I never had…’ -, with a side order of ruminations and the sagacious forewarning advice of a late generation X(er) on the ‘good and bad’ aspects of life ‘in this magical place’. All played out to a most melodic songbook of classic psychedelic pop.





Time-travelling off on a completely different tangent, the Willie Gibson alter-pseudonym of one-time British soul journeyman George Barker (playing trumpet back in the late 60s and early 70s with J J Jackson, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and the “sweet soul music” Stax legend, Arthur Conley) transduces the Baroque classics of Vivaldi via a range of modular synthesizers; ala a strange kitsch sounding combination of Wendy Carlos, stock 80s paranormal soundtracks and a quaint sounding Kraftwerk.

Moving from soul into post-minimalist electronica on the cusp of a new era in technological advances, Barker was among the first recipients of the iconic all-in-one multi purpose digital synth/sampler/workstation, the Fairlight CMI; using its signature sound to produce sound design and music for radio and TV commercials in the 80s, whilst also lending his skills on this apparatus to Madness and Red Box on a number of recordings during the same period. Under the Ravenwood Music banner, Barker has carved out a career for himself as a producer and music publisher of synth based composition.

Modulating a fine sine wave between ‘on hold’ call-waiting style background electronica classicism and cult retro-futurism, this latest treatment of the Italian genius’ most familiar and celebrated set of opuses – Opus 8, Il Quatrro Staginoni i.e. ‘the four seasons’ – certainly has its moments. The actual execution, made more difficult by Barker’s process of ‘un-creatable’ layering, playing one part at a time with no recall, but constantly evolving his set-up and expanding until all that remains is the ‘control data’ – like the written score itself – is quite clever.

Split into triplets of quarters, each section features a subtle fluctuation of changes and melodies. The first trio of compositions, La Primavera 1 – 3, features fluttering arpeggiators, heralded pomp and glassy toned spritely descending and ascending robotic harpsichord. It sounds at times like a 80s video arcade symphony from Stranger Things. Both majestically reverent and cascading patterns follow, as Barker conducts his way through a carnival four seasons and trilling Baroque sitting room recital. Later on however, the L’Inverno 1 – 3 suite sends Vivaldi towards Georges Méliès visions of space; bounding and mooning around on a nostalgic romanticized dreamy lunar surface.

A future cult obscurity, Seasons Change is a knowing, clever exercise in retro-modular synthonics; returning to the classical source to produce a well-produced and crafted homage.




The final album release of October from the label is in conjunction with the group that US troubadour Karla Kane leads, The Corner Laughers: all three band members including husband Khoi Huynh, who co-produces and accompanies Kane throughout, appear on this album.

A cross-Atlantic venture between the two, Kane’s debut solo, King’s Daughters Home For Incurables, unveils its true intentions and angst from behind an enchanting, lullaby-coated folksy and disarming veneer. Partly post-Trump diatribe fashioned to a rich metaphor of Grimm tale whimsy and a Lewis Carroll meets a lilting Ray Davis like meander through – what I interpret as – a sulky ironic vision of an old insular England and aside at those who voted for Brexit, this songbook, written under the comforting shade of a beloved oak tree in Kane’s California backyard, states a clear position; knowing exactly which side of the fence it sits.

An Anglophile of a sort, much of this solo debut is informed by Kane’s experiences touring the UK. Recordings from an idyllic pastoral England, courtesy of Richard Youell, imbue endearing lulls with birdsong and the friendly buzz of bumblebees. Also from this ‘septic isle’, the idiosyncratic Martin Newell of the cult favorites Cleaners From Venus fame is invited to add a narrated stream of British institutions and romanticized descriptions of eccentric foibles and pastimes in a sort of Larkin-style (“cricket matches seen from trains”).

Mellifluously sung and played, though on a few occasions pushed through with bit of intensity and swelling anger, Kane’s sugar-coated ruminations are deeply serious; touching as they do on feminism, immigration and the anxieties of motherhood in what can, especially in the demarcated political bubble of social media, seem like an ever more oppressive climate. Kane does hold out hope however; as the accompanying PR blurb cites, Kane has a deep desire to summon optimism and hope in a dark world. Something I can confirm she conveys extremely well on this, her debut solo album.








Oliver Cherer   ‘The Myth Of Violet Meek’
Wayside & Woodland,  29th September 2017

Wayside & Woodland, home to haunting folk, conceived not under an old steadfast oak tree but the man-made pylon, and super 8 nostalgic field recordings, has been busy of late. A flurry of activity has seen a duo of albums – an appraisal collection of Home Electronics produced in the 90s by the Margate dreamers of ambitious electro and new wave pop, They Go Boom!!, and the Bedrooms, Fields & Houses compilation sampler of label artists – released in recent weeks. And now, following in their wake, and earmarked for a 29th September release date, is this latest brilliant travail from Oliver Cherer, The Myth Of Violet Meek.

Probably most recognized for his Dollboy persona, Cherer’s varied musical affiliations and projects also includes the big beat Cooler, Non-Blank and experimental popsters Rhododendron. Here, he drifts towards a hazy fictional reminiscent style of folk and pastoral psych, a musical vision pulled from the ether and a Bellows Camera captured past, on this poignant fantastical tale of Victoriana.

Set in the Forest of Dean, this lamentable concept album (billed as ‘part-fiction’ ‘part fact’) weaves the dreamy folkloric story of the tragic 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 album is also a homage of a sort to Cherer’s own formative years as a teenager spent in the Forest of Dean – the diorama setting for this sorry tale – and a troubled and plaintive denouncement of the suspicions and distrust of a small community; casting out the strange misunderstood and foreign. It is the treatment of Violet though, slurred by innuendo – sharing a similar kind of ‘horseplay’ sexual predilection of idle gossip, and immature sniggers that continues to still colour the reputation of Catherine The Great – that lies at the heart of and moves on this beautifully articulated collection of harmonious crooning, lulling laments and leitmotif instrumentals.

This is an unforgiving unflattering portrayal of England, a nascent nostalgic one with little room for equality and the presence of outsiders, which is every bit as revealing about the 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.

Traces of 70s era Floyd, Wiccan folk, the Super Furry Animals and Darren Hayman’s civil war opus The Violence fill my senses; though Cherer stamps his own signature confidently among the inspirations and influences. Dollboy fans will find much to admire in this understated, assured and beautifully put together minor opus, as will those familiar with the Wayside & Woodland label output. A most stunning and beautiful work.







Sad Man  ‘S/T’ (OFF Records),  ‘CTRL’ (Self-released)
Both released on 8th September 2017

From the harebrained imagination of garden shed avant-garde (and often bonkers) electronic music composer Andrew Spackman, emanates another of his personas, the Sad Man. Like an unconscious, untethered, stream of sonic confusion and madness, Spackman’s experiments, played and transmogrified through a collection of purpose-built gizmos – including remodeled and shunted together turntables -, combine art school practice conceptualism with the last thirty years worth of developments in the electronic and dance music arenas.

Acid, techno, trip-hop, breakbeat, UNKLE, DJ Shadow and early Warp (especially the Aphex Twin) are all channeled through the Duchampian inspired artist’s brain and transformed into an often rambunctious, competitive soundclash.

Featured on the Monolith Cocktail under his previous Nimzo-Indian identity, Spackman’s newest regeneration is an exploration in creating ‘the saddest music possible’. It is far from that. More a sort of middle age resigned sigh and sonic assault with moments of celestial melodic awe than plaintive and melancholic despair. Perhaps throwing even more into the Sad Man transformation than he did with the Nimzo-Indian, all the signature wonky squiggles, interchanges; quirks and quarks remain firmly in place, though heavier and even more bombast.

Usually found, and despite my positive reviews, by mistake, languishing on Bandcamp, Spackman deserves a far wider audience for his maverick mayhem and curiosity. This month he plows on with a duo of Sad Man showcases; the first, a generous self-titled compilation of released through the Belgian enterprise OFF Records, the other, a shorter self-released keyboard command inspired album, CTRL. The former, launched from a most suitable platform, features an idiosyncratic collection of obscure recordings, spread over a traditional 2xCD format. Full tracks of caustic, twitchy, glitches-out cosmic mayhem and internal combustions sit alongside shorter sketches and edits, presenting the full gamut of the Sad Man musical vernacular. CTRL meanwhile, if it has a concept or pattern at all, seems to be a more quantifiable, complete experience, far less manic and thunderously chaotic.

Kosmische, acid gargles, breakbeats, trip-hop and the trusty faithful speeded-up drum beat pre-sets of late 80s and 90s techno music wrestle with each other for dominance on this seven-track LP – each track named after a key command, all five combining for some imaginary keyboard shortcut. Struggling to break through a constant rattling, distressed and distorted barrage of fuzzy panel-beaten breaks are cosmic symphonic melodies, stain glass organs and tablas. And so, pummeled, punch bag warping ride over serene glimpse of the cosmos, and raspy rocket thrusters blast off into more majestic parts of the galaxy. A space oddity for sure, a tumultuous flight into the unknown lunar expanses, but also a soundtrack of more Earthly chaos, CTRL is essentially a mental breakdown yet strangely also packed full of lighter more fun moments.

Thankfully neither of the Sad Man releases live up to the central ‘saddest music’ tenet, though probably best experienced in small doses to be on the safe side. This duo of offerings will hopefully cement a reputation for eccentric electronic cacophonies, and showcase an interesting body of work.








Gwyneth Glyn  ‘Tro’
Bendigedig,  29th September 2017

Lighting the way for a new ‘integrated independent partnership’ between the Cardigan-based Theatr Mwldan, the polygenesis renowned ARC label, and artist, the first major solo album from assiduous writer, poet and songstress Gwyneth Glyn, effortlessly traverses the Welsh valleys, Scottish Highlands, Appalachian Mountains and West African landscapes with an assured earnestness and the most delicate of touches.

In what will be a long gap in scheduled releases – the next in line an album from Catrin Finch and Seckou keita won’t be out until April 2018 -, Glyn’s inaugural album of both Welsh and English language sung songs proves a wise choice with which to usher in the Bendigedig platform.

The Jesus College, Oxford philosophy and theology student and revue performer, with stints in the folk Americana group Coco Rose and the Dirty Cousins, was the Welsh poet laureate for children between 2006 and 2007, and it’s her native home to which she returns again on Tro. A journey back to Glyn’s roots in rural Eifionydd, after a five-year sojourn in Cardiff, Tro, or ‘turn’, is inherently a Welsh imbued songbook. However, despite ten of the thirteen odes, ballads, elegies and explorations being sung in the native tongue, Glyn’s transformations of universal and ancestral standards drift subtly across the Welsh borders into a Celtic and beyond inspired influence of sound and ideas.

Previous collaborations with Indian music artist Tauseef Akhtar and the already mentioned Senegal kora player Seckou Keita resonate on this ‘Wales meets the world’ self-styled album. Keita in fact adds a touch of plucked lilting Africa to many of the songs on Tro; joining the sounds of the metal tine African mbira, played throughout by Glyn’s producer and the multi-instrumentalist Dylan Fowler, who also performs on an array of equally exotic instruments from around the globe on Tro.

Dampened, often wafting along or mirroring the ebb and flow of the tides and shifts of both the ominous and changing prevailing winds, the backing of plucked mandocello, tabwrdd one-handed snare drum, bellowed shruti box and banjo sitar genteelly emphasis and pushes along the imagined atmospheres; moving from the Celtic to country genres, the Indian drone to the south of the equator music zones.

Glyn’s choice of cover material and her controlled but stirring, lingering vocals hint at America and Britain’s legacy of counterculture troubadour heroines, including Joan Baez, Vashti Bunyan, Joni Mitchell – a famous quote of Mitchell’s, ‘Chase away the demons, and they will take the angels with them’, is used as catalyst for Glyn’s music in the press release – and the not so political, more sedate, Linda Ronstadt. The train-like motion rhythm Ffair, – a translation of the Irish folk song She Moved Through The Fair – even sounds like a Celtic Baez, and the American/Scottish woe Y Gnawas (The Bitch) – an adaption of the old standard Katie Cruel – was first brought to Glyn’s attention via another revered voice of the times, Karen Dalton, who as you expect, made her own inimitable, unique mark upon the song when she covered it many moons ago.

Unfamiliar with the Welsh dialect as I am, I can only imagine that the lyrical tumults offer the usual fare of sad betiding’s and lament. Whatever the subject may be, she sings, nee swoons, with ease and comfort; the phrasing unforced, flowing but far from untethered. And so Glyn proves to be a singer of great talent and skill as she bares her soul across an age of pastoral, rural furrowed folk.

Ushering in the label/artist partnership on an adroit, though at times indolent, debut, Tro is a subtle refined encapsulation of the Bendigedig platform’s raison d’être; an enriching experience and showcase for an impressive singer. On the strength of this album alone that new venture looks set to be creatively rewarding.





Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand  ‘Wonderland Wins’
Jangle Nest,  September 2nd 2017

Recording under a variety of guises over the years, including Dog, Paper, Submarine and This Heel, the Swedish songwriter and multi instrumentalist Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand uses his own name once again on this, perhaps one of his most, omnivorous of albums. Stridently changing styles at a whim, Sjöstrand has previously tested himself with lo fi, instrumental surf, prog and alternative rock, but now tries his luck with a mixture of grunge, indie and new wave influences on the recently released Wonderland Wins.

Those influences play out over a combination of shorter incipient doodles and fleeting meditations and more complete songs; Pavement on the garbled megaphone vocal lo fi strummed In the Orbit Of The Neutron and sunshine pop remix of Calla Lily, Weezer on Man Of Self Contempt, and Nirvana, well, everywhere else. But saying that, you’re just as likely to pick up references to Guided By Voices, Devo, The Residents, Flaming Lips and DEUS on an album that doesn’t really have a theme as such or musical leitmotif.

There is a sort of coherency here however with the album’s brilliant Archers Of Loaf meets Placebo power pop alt-rocker Waiting: a full on electric Yank-twanged vocal version opens the album, and a stripped-down more poignant and sad live version (Live At The Animal Feed Plant) closes it. Waiting for a myriad of cryptic endings and a release, this standout minor anthem sounds like a missing gem from the grunge era of the early 90s.

Sjöstrand also likes to experiment, and those already mentioned shorter excursions certainly head off on curious tangents. The most silly being the self-titled fairground organ giddy romp; the most plaintive, the acoustically picked romantic “last dance”, Myling; and the most ominous, the force field pulsing bassline warning and crackling heavy transmission, The Moon Is A Playground.

A quirky take on a familiar back catalogue of inspirations, playing with a number of classic alt-rock tropes, Sjöstrand’s Wonderland is a well-produced, confident album of ideas, and more importantly has one or two great tunes.





NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





This latest roundup of the imaginative, exploratory, venerable and refined musical discoveries includes a second collection of film and field recordings from the late legend ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya; the third peregrination from Glitterbeat Records’ new imprint tak:tile, Širom’s Slovenian soundscape odyssey I Can Be A Clay Snapper; a rebooted soul-in-the-machine electronica collection from Nosaj Thing; and the latest ambient soundtrack from Odd Nosdam.

But first of all we have a reenergized Afrobeat collaboration between the genre’s doyen rhythm guru, Tony Allen, and the eclectic, protest driven, Chicago Afrobeat Project, called What Goes Up.

Read on…

Chicago Afrobeat Project Feat. Tony Allen   ‘What Goes Up’
September 15th,  2017


Starting life as a shifting collective of musicians jamming in a artist’s loft, channeling the fervor of Afrobeat’s progenitor Fela Kuti, the Chicago Afrobeat Project initially covered the Nigerian icon’s back catalogue before developing their own variant style. Transducing the sound of downtown Lagos and the Afro-Spot nightclub via the rich musical heritage of their own native metropolis, the group, now settling with a regular lineup, open the studio doors to embrace the city’s famous blues, soul, R&B, jazz, gospel, house and hip-hop culture.

Expanding on and playing with the Afrobeat foundations but staying true to the roots of the African fusion that first merged the popular Ghanaian Highlife hybrid with funk and soul, the project members invite a number of vocalists and rappers from the area to enthuse, lead and prompt the music towards the political; reinforcing the main message and activism behind much of Kuti’s own, often dangerous, protestations and rebellious denouncements.

As if it wasn’t already enough, the Afrobeat ante is upped with the appearance of Kuti’s wingman and rhythm guru, Tony Allen. Showing those youngsters a thing or two, Allen brings certain levity, a craft and connection to the source, to this ten-track album. Flown in especially from his home in Paris, Allen, who’s also recently recorded a tribute album to Art Blakey (which he says fits in well with the Chicago Afrobeat Projects What Goes Up), doesn’t just turn up to add a roll and drum flair here and there, he plays on all the tracks, laying down the foundations, leading the way and rattles off his trademark polyrhythm shuffles, jazz timed syncopations and, most important of all, infectious grooves: the fight against injustice has never rarely so funky.

The elder statesman of Afrobeat, sounding almost effortless with his limbering and relaxed drumming, brings a sagacious quality to What Goes Up, though his comrades bring the bright and heralding horns, laser zappy synths, church organ and sunny Hammond sustained rays to the get-down.

Guests, of which there are many, on this sweltering and sauntering conscious album include a new jack swinging, bordering on gospel house style hook, protesting JC Brooks (Race Hustle and Sunday Song); an Igbo lullaby and Afro-futurist meets atavistic soul of Western Africa Oranmiyan (Cut The Infection, Must Come Down and Afro Party); the soulfully sassy, tumbling R&B songstress Kiara Lanier (No Bad News); and a metaphorical conversationalist style Rico Sisney and Maggie Vagle (as sparring partner) of Sidewalk Chalk (Marker 48).

As Rico Sisney puts it on the skit for environmental justice, Marker 48: “Something’s gotta change!” And over the course of the album the collective tackle every kind of current injustice filling up the newsfeed: from the alarming murder rate in the inner cities, including Chicago’s own widely publicized tragic rates and by extension the Black Lives Matter campaign; racial profiling and harassment; tensions between communities; and of course, Trump.

Speaking Kuti fluently, channeling the Afrobeat totems and the most hustling, hot footing rhythms, the Chicago collective offer a unique take on the genre under the watchful eye of Tony Allen. Bridging two generations, adding some fresh licks and eclectic sounds from their own backyard, they do more than most in reenergizing the Afrobeat blueprint.




Nosaj Thing   ‘Parallels’
Innovative Leisure,  8th September

 

An urgent rewire; a forced reboot; the fourth album from the Los Angeles-based electronic producer/composer/performer Jason Chung, under his Nosaj Thing alter ego, focused the mind like no other project before. As a warning to us all that backing up your hard drive is not only vital and reassuring but also a security precaution, Chung lost three years worth of demos, sketches and compositions, many of which were destined for this LP, in a robbery whilst out on tour with Warp Record’s signing Clark.

Losing all his equipment and a number of precise hard drives, all of which were never backed-up or saved anywhere else, meant that Chung would have to start from scratch, and as it has proven, reexamine not only his methods of storage and quality control but also his process of creativity.

Parallels is in fact billed as some kind of “epiphany” for Chung; a journey into “uncharted territories” for an artist renowned for his collaborative fusions with Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi and Chance The Rapper. Changing direction and playing to it to his advantage, Chung uses this as an opportunity to explore deeper expanses. Far from wild and edgy however, Parallels is a quite vaporous but controlled soulful listening experience. Counterpointing various succinct philosophical questions (‘Dystopia or Paradise’, “Love or Regret?’) and themes (‘Emotions vs. Technology’, ‘Soul vs. Machines’) Chung’s electronic suffusions linger in a woozy sometimes haunting fashion between his many juxtapositions, yet always remains connected with a touch of humanity: from the resonating visages of a taped conversation with a security guard watching over the Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time exhibition, to the trio of varying degrees of ethereal and soulful vocal contributions from guests Kazu Makino, Steven Spacek and Zuri Marley.

Emerging from the ether, Chung opens the album with a veiled drone rumble, piano arpeggiator and ring of articulate beats before hooking up with London producer/singer Spacek on the haunted broody lament, set to a Polygon Windows meets minimalist R&B pop, All Point Back To You. A precursor, a taster, of what you can expect to hear on the future Makino/Chung collaborative EP (released we’re told at some point later on in 2017), the breathlessly whispered cooed and chilled suffrage How We Do, adds a ticking drum beat and Japan style ice-y synth to the gauzy shoegazing Blonde Redhead signature. Nocturnal dreamy downtempo house, ambient meditations and finely-tuned kinetic soul-in-the-machine meanders follow, before reaching Marley’s rich soaring to lilting contour hovering past love affair ruminations on Way We Were.

Finely chilled, articulated electronica, amorphously floating between escapism and dystopia, Parallels never quite settles on either. And despite a number of equations that pitch technology and the machine against humans, Chung’s music has a real soul and yearning.






Odd Nosdam  ‘LIF’
Sound In Silence

 

Few have changed the direction of hip-hop and modern ambient soundscapes like David P. Madson, the co-founder of both one of rap music’s most experimental outfits, cLOUDDEAD, and the seminal Anticon label. Forging a post millennium course with a number of collaborators, including Dose One, Yoni Wolf and Jel, Madson deconstructed, eviscerated and then rebuilt a more avant-garde, strung-out and expansive vision for hip-hop.

Under the Odd Nosdam title, inspired by the minimalist composers, and on this latest soundscape immersion, the degrading in quality traces and language of sound/video artist and composer William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops IV, he delves ever deeper into the ambient sphere.

Informed by a prolonged spell of “nonstop rain” in his native Bay Area home, the LIF album transduces the West Coast of America’s winds and rains weather patterns into an analogue controlled, filtered and manipulated field of ebbing and flowing pulsing electricity. The capital three lettered titles (codes? Abbreviations?) fade in and out; like passing through a cloudy overcast or static resonating wave, which eventually dies out. Subtly alluded to, drizzling downpours are simulated, falling on glass, on the slight Japanese sounding RAI, and detuned TV set feedback accentuated moiety KEI I and KEI II. Whilst far gentler droplets fall like notes on the enervated rasping vignette AIN.

Prompts and themes of loneliness – and when listening to the varied ambient passages, you’ll find plenty of space to ruminate in isolation -, love and fear are key to unlocking, or at least perhaps deciphering, these ten mood compositions: articulated at times through subtle plucked out notation, bellowed harmonium, dreamy ascents above the clouds and floating lingers of melody. Refining emotion from a pylon hum, showers of rain or generators, Madson’s minimalist soundscapes traverse the Kosmische and ambient genres with a contemporary feel and movement.






Deben Bhattacharya  ‘Musical Explorers: Krishna In Spring’
ARC Music,  25th August 2017

 

In praise of the field recordists, leading world music label ARC continues to champion the music and film recordings of the late ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya in its latest series venture, Musical Explorers.

The project was launched back in June with Bhattacharya’s 1950s and late 1960s spanning Colours Of Raga, which included an introduction and illuminating set of notes from Songlines editor-in-chief, author of the “rough guides” to world music, Simon Broughton, who once again offers context and insight on this, the second volume in the series.

A self-taught producer, recording not only the sounds of his native India but also the Middle East, Asia and Europe, Bhattacharya travelled extensively cataloguing rare performances, bringing his exotic wonders to a his adopted British home and audience via various BBC commissioned documentaries and radio programs.

As the title suggests, Krishna In Spring is a paean of instrumentals, dances and venerable verses dedicated to, perhaps, the most venerated and famous deities in Hindu mythology. Demon vanquisher, protector of the common people, the mischievous incandescent blue portrayed god represents the “spirit for life” and for his tumultuous love affair with Radha. Said to have the common touch; never happier than when cavorting and leaping and springing about with milkmaids in his role as humble cow herder, Krishna is often depicted flute in hand, amongst the earnest folk. Almost every love song in the Hindu songbook is in his honour or at least references him. The diaphanous articulated Indian bamboo flute, the Bansuri, is even used as a colloquial signature and evocation of his presence.

Taking the full extended performances, seen and heard briefly on the soundtrack, from the title’s twenty-five minute documentary come public information film (first aired in 1969), Bhattacharya captures a panoply vision of the famous Holi Festival: the “festival of colours” that ushers in the Spring, dedicated to the deeds and spirit of Krishna, or as Bhattacharya himself puts it, “…to surrender oneself to the spirit of life. That is the message of Krishna in Spring.”

Humongous sized drums; bicycle-pump tie-dye abandonment; women browbeating their menfolk with broom handles, enacting Radha’s stormy love affair with Krishna; silky clothed flag carriers and joyful communion, the Holi Festival footage, even in its scratchy washed-out by time and quaintly narrated form, encapsulates a vivid, chaotic worship. It is a festival steeped in tradition and seems out of time with modernity, but as we are told in the album’s accompanying notes, continues to be practiced in the exact same way today.

Glimpses, as I said, of the evocative drones, syllabic ‘bols’ speak and poet exultations are played-out in their entirety on this collection’s eight sweet and beautiful audio recordings. Half of which feature the backing of R.K. Bharati laying down elegant melodies and drones on the short-necked Indian fiddle, the ‘sarangi’, Hidayat Khan taping out various coda and frenzied sophisticated patterns on the tabla, and Chiranjilal planting atmospheric brassy drones foundations.

Touched with the afflatus, there are fine examples of dusky hour pentatonic scale flightiness and serenaded flute pulchritude to Krishna throughout, including Suraj Narayan Purohit and Indermall Mathur’s Raga Bhupali, the adulating voiced incantation to the many names and trials of the beloved deity Devotional Song Of The Ballabh Sect In Praise Of Krishna performed by Amarlal, and the lengthy lyrical prose turn conversational drama, based on the late 14th century poet Chandidas’ original and the subsequent additional litany of poet contributions throughout the ages, Mathur, performed by singers from the Mitra-Thakur family.

Every bit as revelatory, especially to those unfamiliar with India’s multifaceted belief systems and extraordinary musical heritage, as the first of Bhattacharya’s collections in the Musical Explorers series, Krishna In Spring does however offer an even deeper and varied window on classical Indian music: A celebration of sounds that traverse Rajasthan, West Bengal but above all the holy.



Širom  ‘I Can Be A Clay Snapper’
tak:til,  8th September 2017

 

With an unspecified, but as the name suggests, emphasis on the “tactile”, Glitterbeat Records new imprint label gives a welcome platform to entrancing experimental tonal performances (launched earlier this year with 75 Dollar Bill’s Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock and Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society’s Simultonality albums) and sonic polygenesis traverses alike. In the latter camp is this Slovenian peregrination suite from the landlocked, Alps nestling country’s visceral sonic conjurors, Širom.

Evoking memories and feelings, both real and imagined, with a soundtrack thick with atavistic connections, the trio of punk and post-rockers turn experimental folk and acoustic instrumental cartographers convey a personal relationship to their homeland, on their second album together under the Širom banner.

Though part of a litany of Empires, including the Habsburgs, Italian and either through their own forced amorphous cultural, ancestral ties with neighboring regions and peoples, became part of the Croat-Slovenian and Yugoslavian annexations at one time, Slovenia has despite its size and battle for independence, maintained a distinct identity. In less glowing terms but pretty accurate, the writer Simon Winder in his Habsburg travel saga Danubia, described what we know as the modern Slovenia as being, “[…] stuck together from the rubble of the [Habsburg] Empire’s end, with its core made up from the Duchy of Carniola with bits of Styria, Gorizia, Istria and a small piece of the old Hungarian county of Vas.”

One of the central themes of I Can Be A Clay Snapper, and amongst the country’s most richly abundant resources, is water; the leitmotif of which appears throughout the album’s five odysseys, evoking mountain streams, lazy lowland meandering rivers and the mysterious vanishing water of Karst through a sonic transcription.

Revisiting a number of locations held dear, including some that proved very difficult to reach, Samo Kutin, Iztok Koren and Ana Kravanja travelled to locations as diverse as the bright yellow turnip rape fields of Prekmurje to the snowy mountain top of Kal above the village of Čadry to channel their inspirations and compose from improvisations this, often, meditative peaceable experience. As if the music didn’t quite signal the intentions and psychogeography well enough already, the trio have also made a film, Memoryscapes, to document this landscape surveying experiment: each, the album and the film, influencing and informing the other.





Though all three of Širom have different varied experiences to share, with both Kutin and Kravanja citing punk rock as a starting point, both playing apart in various bands in the Slovenian capital before eventually crossing paths at an improvisational music workshop and forming the kalimba-based Najoua duo, and Koren meanwhile, feeling a peculiar shame at listening to music during his childhood, but making it up for it ever since, serving in a succession of metal and post-rock bands, they manage to accommodate each other’s particular strengths, personalities and depth. Which can’t be easy especially when you glance at the scope of instrumentation used; each band member a deft practitioner of instruments as cosmopolitan and eclectic as the balafon, banjo, mizmar, lyre, ribab and as humdrum – but when put to good use and made into a impromptu device for making a rhythm or unusual sound – as common everyday objects such as a pair of drawers and household junk.

Yet whatever the backgrounds, traces of North Africa, Adriatic and the middle East, and individual influences, the performances sail scenically through a dreamy otherworldly representation of Slovenia: Oriental, alien and Balkan visions permeate the plucked, malleted, chimed and purposefully played compositions, which subtly and rather cleverly build up complicated layers and various overlapping time signatures during the course of their journey.

Theremin like siren voices drift in and out, enacting the myth and seraph, whilst on the watermill turning Everything I Sow Is Fatal Sun Ra travels with John Cale and Pharaoh Sanders on a pilgrimage to Samarkand. The most recurring sounds however pay testament to the Balkans ghosts. The folkloric stirrings, lulls and yearning of Slovenia’s past bordering both a pan-Europa of migration and grief – stretching back a millennia – are transduced into often haunted vistas and metaphysical passages.

Changing tact so to speak, following the first two and ahead of a fourth re-issue (a second volume of Jon Hassell’s pioneering Fourth World ambient evocations is to be released just a few weeks after Širom’s LP), I Can Be A Clay Snapper is the first tak:til imprint to meander into south central Europe. And what an impressive and expansive inaugural Balkans travail it is too; different from the previous two releases, yet keeping to the tactile, accentuate and imaginative remit; whilst conjuring up mystical new soundscapes.



REVIEWS/PREVIEWS ROUNDUP
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Not that I ever mean to do it, but this month’s roundup does have a tenuous theme of sorts, or rather many of the releases in this, the 52nd edition of my eclectic revues, are more or less all experimenting with the electronic music format in one way or another. The sagacious counterculture totem and beatnik poet of renown, John Sinclair leads the charge this month, his vivid jazz lyricism recitations put to an evocative soundtrack by Youth on the mini-album Beatnik Youth Ambient. Jono Podmore’s recently re-launched label, Psychomat, follows up on the inaugural release with another electronic peregrination – this time far more melodic and dreamy –, from the mysterious Reason Stendec. Working in isolation and apart, never meeting in person, the Room Of Wires duo release their third EP of otherworldly and atmospheric techno and downtempo beats, Black Medicine. And an assortment of artists from the ambient, trance, electronica fields contribute towards the One String Inspiration project, highlighting and collecting money for the Syria Relief charity effort.

We also have the latest and it seems final album of outsider New York slacker pathos from Charles Griffin Gilson, otherwise known as CHUCK. Calling it quits on his alter ego, due to a multitude of reasons, Gilson records his sincere CHUCK swan songs collection, Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store, for the Audio Antihero label.

Read on for full analysis and review…


John Sinclair  ‘Beatnik Youth Ambient’
Ironman Records,  28th July 2017


Synonymous for steering and kicking out the jams in his short role as manager of Detroit’s renowned rebel rousing motherfuckers The MC5, renegade poet, scholar, activist and establishment rattler John Sinclair is also remembered for his free radical zeal and dalliances with the law.

Even too hardcore for the MC5, Sinclair’s foundation of the anti-racist socialist White Panthers, and his countless associations with equally revolutionary counterculture players and shakers, marked him out; leading as it did to the now infamous drug bust for marijuana possession in 1969. Whilst his love for the herb and gesticulations, whether through poetry or diatribes, is in no doubt, the way this particular bust was set-up (for what was a very insignificant amount of drugs) is considered heavy-handed and unjustifiable. Handed an initial ten-year sentence, Sinclair’s status in the “heads” and political agitators communities had singled him out as a poster child for deterring the like-minded boomer generation from stepping out of line. Fortunately (to a degree) this sentence and media furor galvanized support and sympathy and reduced that ten-year stretch to two, with Sinclair emerging from jail in 1971.

Keeping his hand in so to speak, but taking up residency in Amsterdam – a much safer bet -, the beatnik jazz sage continued, and as you can hear on this latest recording, continues, to record and perform in a host of setups with a multitude of contributors and backing bands.

 

The appropriately (in every sense) entitled Beatnik Youth Ambient mini LP is a foretaste, and as the title implies, ambient treatment version of material from a full-length album, due to be released later on in September. The “Youth” of that title refers of course to the Killing Joke bassist turn in-demand producer Martin Glover. Arguably one of the most consistent producers over the last few decades in the UK, Glover, under his Youth alter ego, has taken on more or less most forms of music and worked on both commercial and underground experimental projects. But he’s perhaps better known for pushing the boundaries of dub through his own productions and with a number of other artists; notably setting up the WAU! Mr. Modo imprint with fellow Orb band member Alex Paterson in 1989.

He now provides Sinclair’s “literary synthesis” with a suitable “beatnik ambient” soundtrack: a serialism quartet of turmoil, turbulent jazz and dreamier trance.

Split into two sides, Sinclair’s sagacious burr recitations are left to flow with only an occasional echo, reverb or metallic ominous effect added for atmosphere or to reinforce the sentiment and hallucinatory philosophy. The opening history lesson, Do It, which enthuses this generation to once again upend the status quo, turns Sinclair’s cerebral lyricism into a quasi-dance track rallying cry: the lingering reflective melodic and amorphous synth chorus in the first half of the track gradually joined by an Orb-like cloud-bursting trance beat.

Running through a vivid purview of postwar counterculture, bringing to life the energy and excitement that writers such as Kerouac (who gets referenced a lot) captured when seeing the Bebop jazz revolution and its great proponents perform, Sinclair delivers a magical enthusiastic experience on the next peregrination and nod to Thelonious Monk’s 1957 LP of the same name, Brilliant Corners. Titans of American beatnik and psychedelic literature lineup, Burroughs, Ginsberg and Neal Cassady (“…had the ability to park a car anywhere”, just one of his talents alongside his status as the “human bridge between the 50s and 60s.”), rubbing shoulders with jazz music’s new guard Lester Young, Byrd and Gillespie; immortalized by Sinclair to “head music” cosmos of jazzy lamenting woe, ghostly squawking and hooting saxophone and swirling mirages.

The greatest “head trip” however is saved until last. Sinclair channeling Captain Beefheart delivering the most “high” meandering TED talk ever, translates, or rather makes a reification of the almost impossible to articulate spark and feelings that kick started the whole boomer generation of beatniks, on the spiritual jazz voyage Sitarrtha. Sitars shimmer, an electric guitar twists and contorts, snares are played in a military, misty revolutionary reveille style, and the saxophone battles on as Sinclair implores us to grasp his message: a return to the real.

A eulogy of a sort, certainly homage, fellow renegade and jailbird, the late convivial Welsh sage Howard Marks reads out a befitting War On Drugs. Part epistle, part rambling thoughts, Marks, the cosmic prophet, weaves between the nonsensical and profound, the intimate and enraged. An obvious candidate and fellow drug evangelist, Marks makes a welcome addition to Sinclair’s congregation.

 

If anything, Beatnik Youth Ambient leaves the listener pining for a lost age; Sinclair’s evocative prose and delivery lifted (and cradled at times) by Youth’s congruous seething tensions and floaty dream-like production, which enthrall me to once again get stuck in to the “beat generation” and spin those Savoy label jazz totem recordings again. A prompt for the present times, the zeal of the postwar “baby boomers” (those with a soul anyway) counterculture not necessarily translating to generations X, Y and Z, even if it is needed; Sinclair’s language is nevertheless just as powerfully descriptive and energizing now as it was over forty years ago.




Reason Stendec  ‘Impulsion EP’
Psychomat,  17th July 2017


 

Wingman to Can’s Irmin Schmidt and the late Jaki Liebezeit, on both a myriad of band legacy projects and various collaborations over the years; solo electronic music composer, and professor to boot; and in the last few years, part of the analogue manifesto enthused trio, Metamono; Jono Podmore has just recently, in the last two months, after a twenty year hiatus, re-launched his 90s Psychomat record label. The aim being to release, in both physical and digital formats, a cerebral experimental run of electronic music 7”s.

 

Featured on the Monolith Cocktail in June the inaugural extemporized Podmore & Swantje Lichtenstein partnership of serialism amorphous avant-garde backing and exploratory spoken word, Miss Slipper/Lewes, and subsequent series of remixes that followed, laid down the foundations and signature ascetics of the label. Record number two, Reason Stendec’s Impulsion EP, congruously keeps up the momentum: just as shrouded in mystery; every bit as challenging, but this time around for more melodic and flowing, and on Podmore’s (under his Kumo persona) remix treatment transforms the original material into a bubbling Roland TRs acid techno (reminiscent of Waveform Transmission era Jeff Mills and Derrick Carter) thumper.

 

An interesting story lies behind that Reason Stendec moniker, which helps to reinforce a sense of mystique. “Stendec” was the last, and as it turned out confounding, word of a Morse code message sent by the crew of the doomed Lancastrian flight between Buenos Aires and Santiago on August 2nd 1947. Turning into a conspirator dream factory of ever outlandish, convoluted theories, including the obligatory alien abduction angle, the Stendec saga had to wait 51 years to be finally laid to rest. It certainly had all the right components for a conspiracy or unworldly mystery, disappearing completely as it did, with no signs of wreckage, no bodies and the most cryptic of messages left to unscramble. But as it turned out the plane crashed, the impact as it hit one the looming mountain ranges triggered an avalanche that buried and entombed the plane and passengers for decades in an area known as the Tupungato glacier. As it thawed over those years, the plane was exposed and finally discovered by mountain climbers.

With this in mind, Reason Stendec cast a spell of otherworldliness; wafting along on a ghostly visage of Pan-European and Arabian sounding influences: like a breeze over an imaginary sand dune landscape, heightened by knife-sharpening percussion.

Like Grace Jones’ Parisian tango en vogue dalliances and contralto husky romantic burr crossed with a restrained Diamanda Galas, the vocals on this track follow the sonic contours; switching from an opening chant to English, French and German. A Vocal Mix version of the same track manipulates, pitch-shifts, bit-crushes, and refashions the voice into various forms: ominous and cybernetic, ritualistic and floating; one minute quivering towards the operatic, the next, in an incantation style.

A languid, lingering and sophisticated turn, the Impulsion EP is another electronica adventure and move in the right direction; both befitting the Psychomat label’s raison d’être yet cerebrally drifting off into more melodic, flowing directions.





CHUCK  ‘Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store’
Audio Antihero,  18th August 2017


Bowing out (or bailing out) on a high note with another signature collection of pathos rich idiosyncratic slacker anthems and plaints, Charles Griffin Gilson calls time on his alter ego CHUCK. Stating a number of reasons for this closure, including his recent marriage, hitting thirty and honestly feeling he just hasn’t got it in him anymore, Gilson releases his final swansong, Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store, on the perfect home for such a maverick artists, Audio Antihero.

A most generous offering it is too: fifteen observatory songs and instrumentals of wistful, often of a despondent, bent, with ruminations on diets, exercise, work, love, TV and animals – more in the metaphorical sense.

An outsider of a kind, originally upping sticks from his Massachusetts home to New York, Gilson’s CHUCK persona whimsically, though often stirringly sad, looks at the foibles of living in the metropolis. This is exemplified in the most direct way on the bubbly knockabout (tongue-in-cheek) tribute to New York and its citizens, New Yorker, which lists a number of postcard landmarks made (in)famous in song and reputation (from Rockaway Beach to Hipster Williamsburg), and the personal traits, such as their stereotype brash offensive manner, of many of its residents: “Get the hell outta my way/Now go and die.”

Though just as domineering theme wise is the ‘social media’ constraints and context of a wider world, encroaching upon (as much as deriving from) these New York musings. This can be heard on the millennial blues trysts Becky and Bodies, which both feature a number of references to our obsession for validation in the online world. The pains of never growing up, streaming lives through a never-ending feed of updates and memes, Gilson encapsulates in his slightly nasal lo fi emo meets Tom Petty, Jonathan Richman, Clouds and Daniel Johnston waking up late in a Williamsburg bedsit style of delivery the regrets and anxieties of a generation growing up in a society that’s never offline: one that conducts its love affairs over a smart phone.

 

There’s a real sadness to many of these relationship-themed laments; the modern travails of long-distance love in an ever-connected but alienating world, and as with the Dylan-esque flowing turn pizzicato Arcade Fire rousing Caroline, an almost resigned to fate, shrugged, relationship with the ill-suited cavalier subject of the title: “My friends say you’re wasting my time/Baby I don’t mind.”

Whether dreamily drifting along to tropical palm swaying alluded notes, lasers, synthesizer presets and fanned phaser effects, Gilson sings of both unrequited love, gaining and regaining love in a languorous candid manner: removed but betraying a real fragility and care for his characters.

And so we bid fond well to CHUCK, though whether that means a more grown-up post-millennial with commitments Gilson emerges in its wake remains to be seen and heard. I only know that it’s a real shame that he’s decided to call time on his creation. Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store is a fitting swansong.








Various Artists  ‘One String Inspirations’


 

So much has happened on the international stage since the April release date of this benefit for Syria album, yet the bitter catastrophic Syrian civil war still rages on unabated by talks and the erosion of ISIS in the country and bordering regions (especially more recently, Iraq). Now in its seventh year with no sign of ending anytime soon, the ensuing humanitarian tragedy throws more desperate Syrian refugees to the mercy of people smugglers and their cadre. Entangled with a never-ending flood of those escaping the devastation of this conflict and with those escaping poverty and violence from across a wide area of the Middle East, Asia and Africa, the Mediterranean has, even this summer, seen huge numbers desperately making the crossing to Europe.

Statistics are staggering: the Syria Relief charity website, which all funds from this release go towards, refers to 6 million children inside the warzone currently needing urgent humanitarian assistance, alone. With this glaring travesty in mind, the 28-track One String Inspiration compilation offers a stirring collection of poetic (and not so poetic: see the bish bosh no-nonsense punk raging Hostile Skies by 3 Chords & A Lie) indictments and bleak instrumental soundtrack atmospheres. The premise of which, alluded to in some ways via the title, challenges each artist to feature either a found or self-made instrument in their composition. Not that any of the results sound restrictive, even if it means some artists have had to move outside their “comfort zones” in the process.

 

Most of the contributions could be classed in the ambient or experimental sound and mood categories: The opening tabla rattling, spinning travail Night Journey To The Coast by Bowmer Holmes setting the right scene of magical Middle Eastern promise and reflection. Serene veiled drones and obscured leviathan movements follow with the Melodic Energy Commission’s Hole In Timeless and the transmogrified Animal Waves, by Can, put through a wobbly switched-on Bach treatment Budget Airlines from Detlev Everling – which shows a certain sense of humor and offers a kooky respite from the moodier material.

Tribal futurism, ratchet-y workshop mechanics, Transglobal Underground laments and duck quacks abound until reaching the stark folksy plaintive lyricism of Anna Knight’s unapologetic indictment on the refugee crisis, With His Lifejacket. Following the fateful plight of one poor unfortunate child, drowned like so many others crossing the straits to Europe, Knight somberly mourns but also attacks the inhumanity and cruelty of it all.

Full-on warping drum’n’bass and techno (courtesy of the tetchy Kitchen Sink Drama by Glove Of Bones) at its most lively, tapping an object to produce a serial environmental accompaniment at its most minimalist, and whistling to a wood shavings itchy dub track at its most strange, One String Inspiration features a diverse and generous range of wonders; many of which evoke the Warp (early on in its creation), Leaf and First World labels.

 

A few months on and just as vital, the collection in its own small way keeps the crisis in the spotlight, as more and more artists do their bit and make sense of such chaos.






Room Of Wires  ‘Black Medicine’
Section 27

 

For a duo of sonic experimentalists that have never met – working apart in total isolation -, the Room Of Wires partnership, no matter how seething with ominous twists and turns, is a complimentary synchronized meeting of minds.

The rather anonymous, faceless downtempo and in industrial techno composers manipulate, churn and whip up a mysterious combination of futuristic atmospheres and inner turmoil on their third, most recent, EP Black Medicine.

Beginning as they mean to progress, the kinetic chain snaking opener Game Over builds gradually, weaving touches of Kraftwerk, Basic Channel and Mike Dred to a rhythmic soundscape of harmonious discord. Undulating spheres, radio waves, obscured broadcasted voices and stretching creaks and expanding steel structures move overhead on the following space journey Protected Space, whilst Temple Run juxtaposes lumbering bit-crushing monolith punctuations with a haunting Oriental siren chorus.

Unsettling and sonorous in places, yet able to lift the miasma and darkness with lightened breaks of more serene, glowing synth waves, Room Of Wires constantly offer glimmers of humanity and nature: even if the voices, transmissions sound lost and ebbing away like ghostly visages. A mouthful of Black Medicine that won’t do you any harm.





NEW MUSIC ROUNDUP
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA


Featuring: Colours Of Raga, Der Plan, Esmark, Ippu Mitsui, Pop Makossa, Roedelius, Chaplin & Heath and Revbjelde.


 

Welcome to the 50th! Yes 50th edition of my most eclectic of new music review roundups. This latest collection is no different in selecting the most interesting, dynamic and obscure of releases from across the world, with the invasive dance beat billed compilation of Cameroon “pop Makossa” from the Analog Africa label, a curated collection of raga recordings and a rare film from the archives of the late Indian music ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya, a phantasmagoria of folk, psych, prog, jazz and beats vision of an esoteric troubled England by Revbjelde, plus electronic suites both diaphanously ambient and equally menacing from Esmark and the triumvirate Roedelius, Chaplin & Heath, and vibrant quirky electro from Ippu Mitsui, and the return, after a 25 year absence of Germany’s highly influential cerebral electronic pop acolytes Der Plan.

Various  ‘Pop Makossa – The Invasive Dance Beat Of Cameroon 1976-1984’
Analog Africa,  16th June 2017

 

Pop goes Makossa! Makossa being, originally, the traditional rhythm and funeral dance of Cameroon’s Sawa and Essewé peoples, later transformed in the country’s cities as it collided with everything from merengue and rumba to Highlife and disco. Urban meets folk, Cameroon’s traditions given a transfusion of electromagnetism and fire, inevitably went “pop” in the latter half of the 1970s. Makossa, which means, “to dance” in the Cameroon Douala language, is a highly loose and adaptable style: as you will hear on this twelve-track collection of hits and rarities from the golden era of pop makossa.

The latest in a tenure adventure of excavating lost treasures from the African continent; Analog Africa’s main man Samy Ben Redjeb once more digs deep, sifting through a daunting mountain-size pile of records and recordings. As with many of these projects, Samy’s expeditions turn into lengthy travails: this compilation being no exception, the label originally putting out feelers and surveying the country’s music scene in 2009, and only now finalized and ready for release. And as with these projects he’s helped by equally passionate experts, in this case DJ/producer Déni Shain who travelled to Cameroon to tie-up the loose ends, license tracks, interview the artists, and rustle through the archives to find the best photographs for a highly informative accompanying booklet.

Honing in on the period when makossa rubbed-up against funk and disco, this balmy dance beat compilation’s pulse is luminous and fluid and most importantly, funky. This is in major part down to some of the most smooth, bouncing, slick and relaxed but constantly busy of bass lines – Cameroon’s bass players rightly revered as among the best throughout the world – and the constantly shuffling hi-hats, tom rolls and splashing drums.

Imitating their western counterparts but going full on in embracing the technology, especially production wise, of the times, in their own inimitable way, Cameroon’s great and good weren’t shy in using the synthesizer. The Mystic Djim & The Spirits use it for instance to glide along on their girl-group chorus beachside disco Yaoundé Girls track, whereas Pasteur Lappé uses it to create a bubbly, aquatic space effect on his 80s tropical disco vibe Sanaga Calypso. Everyone is at it more or less, using wobbly and laser-shot synth waves and gargles that were, very much, in vogue during the later 70s and early 80s. That or the Philly soul sound – check the tender electric guitar accents and sweet prangs together with smooth romantic saxophone on Nkodo Si-Tony’s jolly Miniga Meyong Mese hit – and odyssey style funk. Devoid of this slicker production and de rigueur electronic drum pads and cosmic burbles, the opening blast of pop makossa, an “invasion” in fact, by the Dream Stars is a much more lively and raw recording; closer in sound and performance to the J.B.’s than anything else. The most obscure and rare record in this collection – a real gritty shaker of Afro-soul – the Dream Stars turn makes its official debut, having never been released officially until now.

Every bit as “invasive”(and infectious) as the extended album title suggests, the classy pop massoka sound – once considered the unofficial national sound of Cameroon – is waiting to be rediscovered and let loose once again. In what seems like a recent shift in direction at the Analog Africa label, with the emphasis on the late 70s and 80s – from last year’s Space Echo collection from Cape Verde to reissues of Trinidad & Tobago star Shadow’s Sweet Sweet Dreams and the Benin solo singer Vincent Ahehehinnou’s Best Woman – this latest survey continues to unearth musical treats from the same era, albeit in different geographical settings, yet sharing many of the same production and trends traits. As classy as they come, this sun-basked music scene exposé arrives just in time for the summer.





Der Plan  ‘Unkapitulierbar’
Bureau B,  23rd June 2017

 

Though the heralded return (after a 25 year wait) of the cerebral German trio was prompted by a special reunion performance for Andreas Dorau’s 50th birthday, the momentous changes triggered by Brexit and the election of Trump must have had some effect in galvanizing Der Plan back into action. That recent party gig did however remind the trio of Moritz Reichelt, Kurt Dahlke and Frank Fenstermacher that making music together was fun at least. And so with encouragement they coalesced all the various scrapes, fragments and sketches that had been left dormant in the intervening years and shaped them into a dry-witted soundtrack for the times in which we now find ourselves: in Europe at least.

Of course, they hadn’t all been encased motionless in stasis of hibernation during that quarter century absence. Reichelt, know by his trademarked moniker Moritz R, designed covers and visuals, and alongside his comrades co-founded the influential indie label Ata Tak: releasing albums of varying success by DAF, Andreas Dorau and Element Of Crime. Dahlke meanwhile, no stranger to the Monolith Cocktail, has and continues to programme and produce electronica and techno music under the Pyrolator title; in recent years finishing or “re-constructing” archival material ideas from the vaults of the late kosmische progenitor Conrad Schnitzler. Fenstermacher has also been busy releasing solo material but is also recognized for his contributions to the Düsseldorf band Fehlfarben’s iconic Monarchie & Alltag LP.

Back together again; assembled under the hijacked Delacroix painting of Liberty Leading The People, defending the EU barricades as the American flag lays in tatters underfoot, in an iconic role reversal of the revolutionary spirit, Der Plan’s shtick is obvious in defense, and deference, of the EU constitution. Unkapitulierbar itself is a defiant battle cry, translated as “Uncapitulable” it denotes the group’s will of “continuity” and “unbrokeness” in the face of crisis.

One star poorer on the flag with further uncertainty (possibly my most overused but befitting word of the year) ahead for the EU, Der Plan consolidate and sow the seeds of worry on their first album together in 25 years. To show their scope of musical ideas and sounds, but also continue a link with there past as one of Germany’s most iconic and important electronic pop bands there’s reverberations of Kraftwerk’s Europe Endless synthesized symphony on the bouncy, elasticated sophisticated pop tracks Wie Der Wind Weht (As The Wind Blows) and Lass Die Katze Stehn! (Let The Cat Stand!); a hybrid of electric blue tango and reggae on the philosophical weary Man Leidet Herrlich (One Suffers Splendidly); and a mind-melding of The Beach Boys and Depeche Mode on the cooing expedition into space Die Hände Des Astronauten (The Hands Of The Astronaut).

The tone and vocals are however for the most part dour and dry even when tripping into the dream world flight of fantasy, which features an alluring but sinister female duet, Come Fly With Me (the only track title and song to be sung in English), and the near schmoozing, sentimental ballad Flohmarkt Der Gerfühle (Fleamarket Of Emotions).

Unkapitulierbar reflects both the band’s continued curiosity and development in song writing; their original process of improvising first and adding lyrics later is replaced with one in which ideas and lyrics act as a foundation for the music that follows. And with a wizened pastiche Der Plan prove that 25 years later the trio can at least be relied upon to produce the goods in these increasing volatile times.




Esmark  ‘Mãra I/ Mãra II’
Bureau B,  30th June 2017

 

The latest soundscape union between experimental artist Alsen Rau and sound architect Nikolai von Sallwitz, Esmark, is a disturbing moiety of minimalistic analog hardware manipulations and generated pulses spread over two volumes.

Rau, half of another duo the German partnership On+Brr, has released numerous recordings and is both a co-founder of and curator at the Hamburg based club Kraniche: covering exhibitions, performances and readings. Sallwitz meanwhile, as a vocalist and producer uses the appellation Taprikk Sweezee, and has composed music and sound design for film, theatre and a range of art and pop projects; collaborating at various times with the artists Chris Hoffmann, Andreas Nicolas Fischer and Robert Seidel, who as it happens has made a real time performed video piece for one of Esmark’s tracks.

Pitching up in the isolation of a Scandinavian cartography, where the impressive Spitzbergan glacier that not only lends its name to the duo’s name but also acts as a looming subject study, the Mãra recordings oscillate, hover and vibrate between the menacing presence of that cold landscape and the unworldly mystery of unknown signals from space and the ether. Moving at an often glacial pace, a build-up of strange forces penetrate the humming and drones that act as an often worrying bed of bleakness or ominousness. Subtly putting their analog kit of synth boxes and drum computers through changing chains of various effects and filters, feeding the results they’ve captured on tape back into the compositions, the duo evoke early Cluster, Phaedra-era Tangerine Dream, and on the Geiger counter rhythmic Krav, Can.

Acting as a prompt and reflection of the places and times they were recorded, each track title offers a vague reference point. Volume I seemly alludes to more earthly realms, naming peaks and points of interest, from what I can gather, though the atmosphere modulates and probes the spiked and flared communications of distant worlds and hovers like an apparition between dimensions. Volume II however, offers coded and scientific-fangled titles such as Objekt P62410 – which actually sounds like the warping debris from a UFO at times – and Tæller 3.981. The scariest of many such haunted trepidations on this volume, the supernatural dark material vibrations and hum of Lianen sounds like a portal opening up in the latest series of the Twin Peaks universe.

Something resembling a percussive rhythm and even a beat does occasionally form and take shape, prompting speedier and more intense movement. But whether it’s nature or the imagination being traversed and given sound, the pace is mostly creeping.

The Esmark collaboration transduces the earth-bound landscape and its omnipresent glacier into an unsettling sci-fi score and sound-art exploration that treads threateningly on the precipice of the unknown.




Ippu Mitsui  ‘L+R’
Bearsuit Records,  24th June 2017

 

Continuing to showcase relatively obscure (and bonkers occasionally) electronic and alternative music from both Scotland and Japan, the Edinburgh-based label Bearsuit Records has once again caught my attention. This time with the joystick-guided experimental dance music of the Tokyo artist/producer/musician Ippu Mitsui.

Since a self-produced debut in 2012 Mitsui has gone on to release a variety of records for different labels, before signing to Bearsuit in 2016. Flying solo again after sharing an EP with label comrades The Moth Poets last year, Mitsui now follows up his most recent E Noise EP with a full-on album of heavy, sharp reversal percussive layering and quirky electro and techno.

The colourful and vibrant L+R spins at different velocities of that quirkiness; from the flighty bubbly house style Tropicana in space Bug’s Wings, to the 32-bit, dial-up tone and laser-shooting skittish collage version of the Art Of Noise Random Memory.

Programmed to both entertain as much as jolt, Mitsui’s beats flow but also routinely shudder and trip into fits and phases of crazy discord or increasingly stretch their looping parameters until loosening into ever-widening complex cycles of percussion. Orbiting the influential spheres of Ed Banger – the transmogrified engine-revving accelerator Small Rider could easily be a lost track from one of the French label’s samplers – the Leaf label, the Yellow Magic Orchestra, 80s Chicago house, and the Nimzo-Indian, L+R is full of experimental ideas and sounds from whatever floats Mitsui’s boat. Some that work better than others it must be said, and some, which stem from drum breaks or synth waves that perhaps fail to go anywhere more interesting.

If you already know the Bearsuit label then Mitsui’s new-found base of operations proves a congruous choice to mount his dance music attacks from; fitting in well with their electronic music roster of the weird, avant-garde, humorous even, but always challenging.






‘Musical Explorers: Colours Of Raga’  Recordings by Deben Bhattacharya curated by Simon Broughton
ARC Music,  23rd June 2017

 

The inaugural release in a new series devoted to ethnomusicologists and the, often obscure, musicians they’ve recorded, Musical Explorers is the latest project from one of the busiest of “world music” labels, ARC. Championing the often haphazard art of field recording and capturing, what are in many examples, improvised one-off performances from all corners of the globe, ARC have chosen to kick start this new collection with music from the archives of the late renowned filmmaker Deben Bhattacharya.

Highly unusual for the times, the Indian born Bhattacharya was not only self-taught but one of the only ethnomusicologist to come from outside Europe or America. Moving to Britain in the late 1940s, he simultaneously worked for the post office and, as a porter, for John Lewis, whilst making radio programmes on Indian music for the BBC. He went on to produce over twenty such films and over a hundred plus albums of music, not just from the Indian subcontinent but also Europe and the Middle East.

Invited to “curate” and choose just six recordings from this extensive catalogue, Songlines editor-in-chief, author of the handy reference “rough guides” to world music series, and filmmaker, Simon Broughton hones in on the signature sound of India’s raga tradition; picking a concomitant suite of performances from Bhattacharya’s birthplace of Benara. Recorded in 1954, with the exception of Amiya Gopal Bhattacharya’s traversing and reflectively plucked and attentively gestured composition Todi, which was recorded much later in ’68, these tracks are sublime windows into a complex musical heritage.

Part of the western music scene for well over fifty years, embraced, appropriated, by Harrison and Jones most famously during the conscious shift from teenage melodrama of the early 60s to the psychedelic drug and musical quest for revelation and enlightenment in the mid to later part of that decade, the beautifully resonating harmonics and serenity of the sitar and the dipping palm and calm to galloping open handed tapping of the tabla have become part of the British musical landscape. Still representing the path to spiritualism and meaning, though also used still in the most uninspiring of ways as a shortcut to the exotic, the Indian sound and most notably ragas, continue to fascinate, yet are far from being fully understood.

Here then is a worthy instruction in the rudimentary: For example, framed as the most characteristic forms of Indian classical music, the raga derives its name and meaning from the Sanskrit word “ranji”, which means “to colour” (hence the collection’s title). Ragas also come in many moods (tenderness, serenity, contemplation) and themes, and must be played at particular times of the day in particular settings: ideally. To be played in the open air and after 7pm, the courtly Kedara not only sets a one of meditative optimism but introduces the listener to the lilting double-reed sound of the North Indian woodwind instrument, the “shenai”; played in an ascending/descending floating cycle of brilliance, alongside the Indian kettle drum, the “duggi”, by Kanhalyo Lall and his group – most probably on a prominent platform above the temple gate as tradition dictates.

Elsewhere Jyotish Chandra Chowdury eloquently, almost coquettish, radiates playing the more familiar sitar. He’s accompanied by the quickened rhythm and knocking tabla on the curtseying majestic Khamma – to be played between the very precise hours of 9-10pm. Swapping over to the zither-like “rudravina” Chowdury articulates the onset of the rain season, as the very first droplets hit the parched ground, on Miyan Ki Malhas.

Despite the hours and moods, which include a Hindi love song that goes on and on, these compositions are all very relaxing; submerging the listener if he wishes, into an, unsurprising, reflective but tranquil state.

Accompanying this audio collection is one of Bhattacharya’s introductory films on Indian music. Simply entitled Raga. Unfortunately most of his footage, originally commissioned by, of all people, Richard Attenborough, has been lost. And so this 1969 film remains one of the earliest examples left from the archives. Very representative of the times it was made, fronted by the stiff-collared Yehudi Menuhin, it serves a purpose as an historical document. Menuhin had it must be said. Little knowledge of the subject matter yet still wrote a script, which was replaced by Bhattacharya’s own to create a hybrid of the two, the focus being shifted away where possible from travelogue to technique and an endorsement of Indian music. The footage however introduces the viewer to a number of exceptional musicians, including a rare performance from the revered sitar player – one of the famous triumvirates of sitar gods alongside Vilayet Khan and Ravi ShankarHalim Jaffer Khan. It is an interesting companion piece to the main recordings, enhancing the whole experience with a visual record that captures a particular time in the development of Indian raga.

An illuminating, transcendental start to the series, Colours Of Raga acts as both a reference guide and gateway to exploring the enchanting beauty of the Indian raga further.


Roedelius, Chaplin & Heath  ‘Triptych In Blue’
Disco Gecko,  7th July 2017

 

Twenty years after first partnering with kosmische and neo-classicists most prolific composer Hans-Joachim Roedelius, ambient producer/musician Andrew Heath asked the legendary octogenarian to appear alongside him and the equally experimental composer Christopher Chaplin for a live performance in 2016. Part of a Heath curated concert at The Brunel Goods Shed in Stroud, this trio’s performances as the title makes obvious has a leitmotif, a fixation on the number three: three carefully chosen artists whose individual processes compliment and trigger each other so well produce three peregrinations of serialism to represent, or play with, three different shades of blue. It may also be a reference to the famous Triptych Bleu I, II, III paintings by the Spanish genius Joan Miró; a set of similar blue dominated works summarizing the abstract painters themes and techniques to that point in 1961, blue being for him a symbol of a world of cosmic dreams, an unconscious state where his mind flowed clearly and without any sort of order.

Heath’s previous collaboration of experimental ambience with Roedelius, Meeting The Magus, was recorded under the Aqueuous moniker with his duo partner Felix Joy in 1997. This proved to be the perfect grounding and experience for musical synergy, even if it took another two decades to follow up, as Heath picks up from where he left off on Triptych In Blue. Chaplin for his part has performed with the Qluster/Cluster/Kluster steward before. But as with most Roedelius featured projects, and he’s been part of a great many in his time, each performance is approached with fresh ears.

Self-taught with a far from conventional background in music, Roedelius has nevertheless helped to create new forms based on classism and the avant-garde. The piano has returned to the forefront, especially on recent Qluster releases. And it appears here with signature diaphanous touches and succinct, attentive cascades floating, drifting and sometimes piercing the multilayered textures of aleatory samples and generated atmospherics.

Tonally similar but nuanced and changeable each shade of blue title has its own subtle articulations. The meteorite-crystallized source of Azurite is represented by a starry-echoed piano notes, the hovering presence of some leviathan force and the synthetic created tweeting of alien wildlife. A sonorous de-tuning bell chimes through a gauzy melody of sadly bowed strings, distant voices in a market, and a moody low throbbing bass on Ultramarine, whilst Cobalt is described in gracefully stirring classical waves, searing drones, scrapped and bottle top opening percussion, and chilled winds.

Subtly done, each track is however taken into some ominous glooms and mysterious expanses of uncertainty by the trio, who guide those neo-classical and kosmische genres into some unfamiliar melodic and tonal ambient spaces. And all three in their own way are quite melodious and sometimes beautiful.

Not to take anything away from his companions on this performance, but the musical equivalent of a safety kitemark, Roedelius’ name guarantees quality. And Triptych In Blue is no different, a worthy collaboration and “lower case” study success for both Heath and Chaplin. Hopefully this trinity will continue to work together on future projects.



Revbjelde  ‘S/T’
Buried Treasure, available now

 

Flagged up as a potential review subject for the Monolith Cocktail by Pete Brookes, one part of the Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut outfit, whose 2015 Gimmie! Gimmie! Gimmie! Peanut Punk diatribe made our choice albums of that year; the Berkshire-based Revbjelde’s self-titled debut for the Buried Treasure imprint is billed as an industrial-jazz-psych-motorik-folk phantasmagoria (that last word is mine not theirs).

Soundtracking a somber, spooky dystopian vision of England, the group and their guest contributors create a suitably Fortean supernatural soundscape. One that is inhabited by the ghosts of the past, present and future, and the nationalistic (whether in jingoistic poetic pride or as an auger against such lyrical bombast) verse and poetry of some of “Albion’s” finest visionaries. Relics and crumbling edifices of religion and folklore for instance, such as Reading Abbey and the non-specific Cloister, feature either stern haunted Blake-esque narrations, courtesy of the brilliantly descriptive Dolly Dolly – Lycan and cuckoo metaphors, blooded stone steps and the decaying stench of an inevitable declining empire conjure up a vivid enough set of images – or the spindle-weaved clandestine instrumental atmospherics of a place that’s borne witness to something macabre.

Bewitched pastoral folk from a less than “merry olde England” morphs into daemonic didgeridoo lumbering gait jazz from an unworldly outback; Medieval psychogeography bleeds into bestial esoteric blues; and on the lunar-bounding strange instrumental Out Of The Unknown, reverberations of 80s Miles Davis, UNKLE and trip-hop amorphously settle in as congruous bedfellows on a trip into a mindfuck of an unholy cosmos.

Communing with false spirits, as with the infamous 17th century poltergeist tale nonsense of the “Tidworth drummer”, and losing themselves under the spell of The Weeping Tree, Revbjelde traverse a diorama of old wives tales, myth and all too real tragedy. Retreating one minute into the atavistic subterranean, hurtling along to Teutonic motoring techno the next as ethereal sirens coo a lulling and spine-tingling chorus, time is breached and fashioned to the band’s own ends. An alternative England, more befitting of writers such as Alan Moore, dissipates before the listener’s ears, evoking the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Sproatly Smith, The Incredible String Band, Aphrodite’s Child, mystical Byzantine hypnotics and a myriad of 60s to 70s British horror soundtracks. “Supernatural perhaps; Baloney, perhaps not!” As Bela Lugosi once retorted on film to his skeptic acquaintance’s dismissive gambit. After all there is a far deeper and serious theme to this album, one that touches upon the very tumultuous and horror of our present uncertain times.





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.






NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona



Tickling Our Fancy 047: Ah! Kosmos, Armellodie Records, La Mambanegra, Mokoomba, Omar Rahbany, Taos Humm, and Charles Vaughn.



Welcome to another edition of Dominic Valvona’s, most eclectic, review roundup of new releases. #47 includes a lively and sizzling revitalization of the Salsa music and dance style by Colombia’s La Mambanegra; an ambitious global-stamped passport of world music peregrinations, suites and songs from the Lebanese polymath Omar Rahbany; a Tonga ancestry soundtrack to love, loss and displacement from Zimbabwe’s breezy and playful lilting Mokoomba; the debut kaleidoscope misadventures of Taos Humm; a two-track EP of sophisticated electronic and cerebral synth pop from Ah! Kosmos, and psychogeography style ruminations on the omnipresence of pylons from Charles Vaughn. Plus, Glasgow’s Armellodie Records celebrate their tenth anniversary with a special celebratory showcase compilation of indie and quirky pop.

Omar  Rahbany   ‘Passport’
Released  10th  March  2017


 

Talk about ambitious. The grandiose debut, part Middle Eastern rhapsody, part global symphony, from the Lebanese musical polymath Omar Rahbany, boasts a cast of 180 musicians and performers, from twelve different nationalities; all pulling together to produce an hour-long lyrical odyssey.

Taking the Beirut-born Rahbany three years to finish, his well-stamped Passport is inspired by a whirlwind of ideas and mediums. Broadening his “total work of art” conceptions to include film and choreography, projecting a mix of evocative instrumentals and vocal suites across a wide-screen vista, his “borderless” experiments are sophisticated, multi-layered and sweeping; often amorphously dropping from the classical into jazz-fusion.

The action and the themes, however, are deeply rooted, growing from a city that’s seen thousands of years of turmoil. Beirut, and the Lebanon, has been both scarred and enriched by countless civilizations, and as a result, the city is a patchwork of languages and religions, all sharing a history no one can agree on, or as the press statement puts it, Lebanon is “a nation that undertakes a constant struggle to find its ‘absolute identity’.” Imbued with a rich heritage that goes back at least two generations – his grandfather, Mansour, and great uncle, Assi, wowed the country with their distinct innovative compositions as the Rahbany Brothers; and his father is a playwright composer/lyricist and mother a famed professional dancer – Omer Rahbany’s opus is unmistakably steeped in the psychogeography of his native land.

 

Passport begins with a heralded Overture suite, which glides majestically through trilling flutes, accordion, piano and softened timpani, interpreting seasons as it goes and gradually building to a tumultuous crescendo. The Kiev City Symphony, conducted by Volodymyr Sirenko, adds a momentous grandeur of classicism and Bernstein to the Lebanese panorama. This full gamut of emotions score is followed by the heart aching Arabian lamented musical-esque, Umbrella Woman, which features the French Chanson like beautiful spiraling vocal performance of Ghada Nehme, and again, a grandiose orchestra accompaniment. Keeping a semblance of the sinfonietta, but also talking a cue from Amandia period Miles Davis, Rahbany and his extensive cast of players create an askewer avant-garde jazz, reggae and rock music soundtrack to the Biblical referenced vanity project, the tower of Babel, on the constantly evolving and changing Programmusik: Babel. A suitable cacophony is enacted to what was a legendary tower, built to reach the heavens and channel all communications under one universal language; TV and radio transmissions crackle alongside rocket bombardments and speeches to make the point.

Waltzes, rituals, the Tango, Byzantium, allusions to astral-travelling and spiritual peace are played on a mix of both traditional Western and Eastern instruments, including the bezok, rezok and oud. They articulate a wide spectrum of landscapes, from the deserts of North Africa to the reaches of outer space.

A soundtrack to an, as yet, unmade global spanning movie, Passport drifts from Lebanese theatre to jazz and the classical on what is an enthralling and ambitious whirlwind of a modern world music symphony.


https://soundcloud.com/omarrahbany/07-mouwachahat



La  Mambanegra  ‘El  Callegüeso  y  su  Mala  Maña’
Released  by  Movimientos  Records,  3rd  March  2017


 

Nothing short of reinventing Salsa, the “machine-drilled nine-piece orchestra” from Colombia, La Mambanegra, promises an indecorous rebirth of the liveliest of Latin America’s music and dance styles. Injecting street smarts and a venomous dose of sass to a genre that has lost its luster in recent times, Jacobo Velez in his role as bandleader takes liberal pinches of inspiration from Salsa’s most vibrant and dynamic old guard and adds a eclectic mix of Nuyorican funk, soul, hip-hop and ragamuffin.

Translating as “The Black Mamba”, the La Mambanegra name and concept is embellished with Colombian mysticism and legend, loosely based on fact and fiction. Charting the story of an anonymous “hero” from the Barrio Obrero neighborhood in Cali (Colombia’s third largest city) and his “fantastic” adventures via La Habana, as he makes a journey to New York. Inspired by Velez’s own great grandfather, the musician Thomas Renteria (known to many as El Callegüeso Antigua), and his misadventures on a perilous voyage to the “Big Apple”, El Callegüeso y su Mala Maña celebrates as much as it focuses on Colombia’s tumultuous history; from the country’s own internal flight of people from the worst-hit areas of fighting between the government and FARC forces (though negotiations for an end to this fifty-year conflict are reaching, what looks like, a peaceful resolution), to cities such as Cali, and the migration to more stable states across the region and further afield, especially to the already mentioned New York. Renteria escaped drowning, thrown overboard on his intrepid voyage. Thankfully he made land; washed-up and stranded in Cuba, his stay proved to have been a productive one as he soon made friends with the famed Chano Pozo, who gave him, as legend has it, a “magical flute” from Africa. This infamous flute made that eventual journey to the USA, and was passed on to Velez, who uses it now as the source of his band name.

 

Migrating protagonists and snake spirited flutes aside, Velez and his troupe’s self-styled “break Salsa” transformation shoves Salsa towards its original revolutionary and communal dynamism. Sizzling with a wealth of Colombian talent, the La Mambanegra hub expands its ranks to include guest spots from Latin America’s finest. Dutch trumpeter, and Colombian-resident, Maite Hantele appears with the Colombian percussionist Denilson Ibargüen on the sultry, brightened horns, Fania-style trip to Africa via Miami opener, Pure Potenkem, and jazz great, Eddy Martinez can be heard on the more lilting, serenaded, lyrical tongue-twisting, Contare Para Vos. They sweep, but mostly saunter, through a grandiose mix of Kid Frost meet DJ Muggs Latino funking rap (La Compostura and Barrio Caliente, which features a lingering candour of The Pazant Brothers A Gritty Nitty); Albert Ayler jamming with Lalo Schifrin to create a Havana-style Salsa and jazz hybrid (Me Parece Perfecto); and Henri-Pierre Noel Haitian disco converges with South American cabaret (La Kokinbomba).

La Mambanegra’s uncoiled snake spirit spits out a fiery fusion, straddling the old and new guards and adding some 21st century grunt and excitement to a Salsa rebirth. One of many great groups from Colombia enlivened and confident of their vigorous cross-border influences, this multi-limbed orchestra steps up with an invigorated Latin celebration and revival.






Mokoomba  ‘Luyando’
Released  by  Outhere  Records,  March  10th  2017




The next stop on our global music review is Zimbabwe; home to the energetic Mokoomba. Imbued by the awe-inspiring, life-giving forces of the Victoria Falls and Zambezi River scenery that nurtures the region, the group pay homage, not just with their name, which translates and encapsulates a “deep respect for the river”, but in their lyrics too. Most notably on the opening pan-flute lilting, nylon-string plucked guitar swooning Mokole, which literally translates as “water” in the Ndebele tongue, and pays tribute to the beauty and importance of those impressive and immensely powerful Falls.

Though they use a mix of languages on their latest, self-produced, album Luyando, it is the ethnicity of the Tonga that proves to be the integral ingredient to the Mokoomba sound and subject matters. One of Zimbabwe and the neighboring Zambia’s smallest ethnic groups, the Tonga’s ancestry goes back an age, yet in the second half of the twentieth century they were unceremoniously uprooted from their homes to make way for the Kariba dam. No repatriations were ever made, and fifty odd years later, many are still waiting to be connected to electricity. Their plight forms the backbone of the atavistic meets organically building, call and response, breakbeat Kambowa track. An articulation of pain, loss and longing, this traditional drum and group vocal performance begins as a glimpse into history but soon grows rhythmically, hurtling down the railway track towards a joyful funk.

The balance between tradition and the contemporary continues throughout the album. Growing up in the Chinotimba Township, the group learnt to blend their roots with the rhythms of Zimrock, soukous, ska and salsa. Moving closer towards those roots, Mokoomba have changed direction slightly from their debut in 2012, Rising Tide, which was a more switched-on rocking affair. Luyando is in comparison, more raw and stripped; a mostly acoustic performance that leans towards the local sounds of the region on what the bio declares, “is a quest for the wisdom of tradition and history as well as insight and solace amid contemporary crisis.”

Of course, no conversation, commentary and review on Zimbabwe can continue for long without mentioning the omnipresent Mugabe. Completely impervious to his own people and the neighboring borders and greater international communities; splitting his fiefdom into fierce rivalries whilst the country grinds to a slow collapse, Robert Mugabe has unsurprisingly few admirers within the arts and music world. Yet far from rattling the rafters and bawling in protest, Makoomba meander peaceably through their Tonga heritage, making a connection with the rituals and ceremonies that shaped them: looking back to go forward in a sense. The title track for instance, “mother’s love”, alludes to the Makishi masquerade and joyous graduation ceremony called Chilende; an initiation for boys between the ages of eight and twelve, who leave their village homes and live for one to three months at a bush camp. The song itself is a soothing sweet paean, punctuated by various hooting, animal-like, noises. And the moving, dusty earthy soulful Kumukanda is built around another Tonga initiation ceremony, on the band experienced in their teens.

Raw and emotional raspy; plucking and picking; shuffling and winding; Mokoomba channel their ancestral roots through an often lulled and playful, though at times more intense, spiritually harmonious blend of local and cross border rhythms. The voice of protest and the quest to find an answer to all the turmoil has seldom sounded so breezy and sweetened.





Taos  Humm  ‘Flute  Of  The  Noodle  Bender’
Released  by  Stolen  Body  Records/ Howling  Owl  Records,  17th  March  2017


 

The burgeoning Bristol label, Stolen Body Records, has carved a certain niche for itself delivering some of the best garage band and psychedelic releases of late; somehow squeezing something fresh and inventive out of genres that, lets face it, have been flogged to death.

Among their rich roster, and a constant surprise, is the Isle of Wight émigré abound in Bristol, Edward Penfold, whose debut languid beyond-the-calico-wall psychedelic solo LP, Caulkhead, made our choice albums of 2016. Another year, another set-up and this time a congruous shared release with Howling Owl Records sees Penfold joined by fellow psych initiates Joe Paradisos and Matt Robbins, under the Taos Humm banner.

The trio’s debut, Flute Of The Noodle Bender, might imply some kind of allusion to psychedelia’s golden age, but there’s more of a post-punk, cacophonous feel to this twisted kaleidoscope of haunted somnolence and erratic, jerking, razor-cutting guitar hysteria: and indeed noodling. Though vocally – when there are lyrics, narration and voiced utterances to be found – the reverberations of Kevin Ayers, Syd Barrett and gramophone, calling from a bygone bucolic age, Tiny Tim permeate Taos Humm sound musically like a lax clash of Postcard Record label releases from the early 80s – on the discordant strangulated guitar vortex Hi Hats Are For Post Punk Heroes – and a Galapagos islands Fiery Furnaces – on the alternating attack/ sustain amorphous Velociraptortoise.

 

Despite the spikiness, intense tremolo quivers and the tortuous Gothic schlock horror screaming and screeching guitar mooning of BB, there’s a semblance of melting psychedelia, shoegaze and pondering post-rock lingering in between the erraticism and urgency. This kool-aid inebriated state can be heard on the wafting, mirage melodious Meek, and the lulling South Seas peregrination Tapestar, which has the group perform a suitable drifting, lush, instrumental and hushed cooing workout over the top of a recorded loop, played off what sounds like (as the title would imply) a tape recorder, from John Barry’s You Only Live Twice soundtrack.

Flute Of The Noodle Bender is full of ideas, both maniacal and languorously vague. Psychedelia, lo fi, shoegaze, post this past that all merge into a mix of wig out adventures and off-kilter velocity that’s way beyond the imaginations of most bands.









Various  Artists  ‘Armellodie  Is  10’
Released  by  Armellodie  Records,  10th  March  2017


 

Self-deprecating. Mocking their status as a relatively obscure record label – as demonstrated by the cover art, which features a blasé Daft Punk, as though beamed down from another planet, loftily show their ignorance to a Glaswegian record shop assistant – the thankless task duo behind Glasgow’s Armellodie Records, Al Nero and Scott Maple, celebrate their tenth anniversary.

A beacon for countless mavericks and eccentrics, Armellodie has – despite alluding universal recognition from silly robotic-helmeted French electronic music stars – released a steady flow of exciting, interesting and melodically diaphanous indie and quirky pop records over the last ten years. Encapsulating, what is and has been, a varied roster Armellodie Is 10 documents the label’s output; picking out twenty tracks.

Featured on the Monolith Cocktail a while back, the collection’s opening artist, the idiosyncratic Yip Man, offers an skewered rhythmic gait version of Squeeze on the inventive pop ditty Barnburner. Also previously receiving our seal of approval, the lush anthemic indie stargazers, The Hazey Janes, are represented by their magnificent Manics-esque emotional rollercoaster The Fathom Line.

Elsewhere, Appletop make US college radio alt-rock sound somehow inimitably Scottish on Burning Land; the rambunctious Super Adventure Club turn in a distressed math rock stormer with Pick Up Sticks; and Conor Mason hands-in the lingering, charming country pick-up Words.

Immensely proud of their roots, referencing through band names and song titles Scotland’s tumultuous but proud history: For instance, The Scottish Enlightenment, which proves to be a great band moniker. However, The Douglas Firs (another cracking name), with all the sincerity in the world, pay a sort of homage to that cult favorite, Highlander – we’ll forget about the loose historical inaccuracies, it is a fantasy after all. The Quickening, which proves to be a folky peregrination around the campfires – pondering between sweetness and ambient experimentation –, takes its title from the, shoddy and usually over-egged pyrotechnic blast onscreen, duel to the death by decapitation of the film and TV franchises’ “immortals”. The song itself sounds serious enough and quite beautiful.

 

Not that any validation is needed, Armellodie Is 10 is a most brilliant showcase and anniversary celebration from a label that has remained constant. This is a label that thoroughly deserves championing. Here’s to the next anniversary in 2027.






Ah! Kosmos  ‘Together  We  Collide’




Featured for the first time on the Monolith Cocktail in 2013, the Istanbul-born sound designer and electronic music composer Basak Günak was just starting out on a fruitful career, releasing the alien subterranean debut EP, Flesh. Under the cosmological guise of Ah! Kosmos, Günak has, we’re happy to say, gone on to reach international acclaim.

Relocating to Berlin a while back, Günak has composed numerous sound-art pieces and soundtracks for installations, site-specific work, short films and plays, and has also garnered favorable reviews for her experimental electronic and dance music performances. Her latest release, Together We Collide, is a two-track EP; the first track of which, From The Land Below, features the rich polygenesis soulful vocals of Warp label signed artist LAFAWNDAH. Clattering-stick percussion, taut delay, nuanced swaddling horns and a number of synchronized rhythms, both Techno and futuristic jazz leaning, form a sophisticated soundtrack for the undulating vocals. Moody in the manner of Massive Attack, this mythological, spiritual trip starts to click after repeated plays, and sounds more and more melodies each time.

Keeping From The Land Below company is the Tricky-swooning-to-the-moon-above-Eastern-skies, winding and pondering, Silent Safe. Awaiting the listener is a wilderness with symbolic spellbinding ritual yearning, cooing lyricism and tribal trip-hop beats, verging on leftfield synth pop.

Highly sophisticated, nuanced and dare say, cerebral, Günak continues to produce a deep thoughtful mix of electronic and melodic poetics, this latest EP another brilliant example of her growing reputation as an inventive composer and artist.




Charles  Vaughan  ‘Pylon  Reveries’
Released  by  Wayside  &  Woodland  Recordings,  24th  March  2017


 

Despite being vividly warned-off, like many of us kids in the 1980s, exposed to TV public health and warning announcements films from playing anywhere near pylons (for obvious reasons). Charles Vaughan is fascinated with these metal leviathans. Collected from a decade’s worth of filled-up hard drives and miscellaneous tapes, his fourth soundscape come psychogeography soundtrack is suffused with the pylons constant throbbing and charged omnipresence.

Attempting in a conceptual sonic manner to escape the overburdened mind, plugged into the overbearing data avalanche of an increasing impossible to break free from technologically connected world, Vaughan shows that even in the middle of an isolated field/meadow it’s near impossible to find a sense of disconnection: the hum, pulse and crackle of technology always close at hand; symbolized by the proliferation of pylons, straddling the landscape.

Handled with subtlety, the fizzled droning undulations of these looming “sentinels” move slowly and sonorously; often in trepidation and constantly unsettling. From shorter, passing vignettes and ruminations to longer, drawn-out ambient pieces, Pylon Reveries fluctuates between Ambient Works era Aphex Twin and Kosmische pioneer Asmus Tietchens, and on the transmogrified harpsichord-like arpeggiator, neo-classical, Revery, Thomas Dinger and Hans-Joachim Roedelius.

There’s a certain wonder and reflection on these “totems”, but also a sense of nostalgia too, one borne out of an interest for the type of dystopia themed TV shows of the late 70s and 80s. Vaughan after all takes his name from a character in the British lo fi drama, Survivors; the synopsis of which has a virus wipe out 98% (very specific!) of the world’s population. Vaughan emerges in the aftermath of this catastrophe with a band of “survivors” to a desolate wilderness. Tasked with collecting information and exploring he hopes to rebuild society from the ground up. Here he is then, reimagined, documenting and creating a reification of the infrastructure that encroaches upon the land and our lives: Is technology freeing us or slowly binding us to a new reliance?

 

Increasingly uncomfortable with the fears of an ever-connected society, one that is moving towards a fully integrated technology, Vaughan has a myriad of feelings and meditations to represent through sound, but it is an atmosphere of unease and uncertainty, which dominates and prevails.





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