ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona




Roedelius   ‘Selbstporträt Wahre Liebe’
(Bureau B)   LP/10th April 2020


Losing none of that zest for creating and wonderment, the eight-five year old progenitor of ambient, new age and neo-classical music Hans-Joachim Roedelius is still exploring and still producing experimental compositions at a prolific rate. There is, four decades on from his richest period of self-discovery and defining the perimeters of what electronic music could be, no let up in the Roedelius schedule. As famous for his collaborative partnership with the late Dieter Moebius in the Kluster/Cluster/Qluster arc, the Berlin born masseur and physiotherapist turned self-taught composer, has also laid down a breadcrumb trail of impressive and highly influential solo releases, numbering somewhere in the 100s.

Just one part of that extensive catalogue of solo work, the introspective Selbstporträt series is being revisited by the aging doyen for the Bureau B label. Originally made during various sessions for Cluster, between 1973 to 1979, these intimate contemplative and ruminating self-portraits were released in the late 70s and early 80s – later volumes appear sporadically in the 90s and 2000s too. Though always going forward, Roedelius has been nudged into a challenge as Bureau B founder Gunther Buskies proposes the octogenarian return to the processes and methodology of that period to create another ‘Selbstporträt’. Cheekily as the PR spill has it, seeing if he, ‘was capable of “beaming back” to his youthful years, reaching into the sonic past of the Self-Portrait series to deliver similarly persuasive results.’ The short answer to that is: Yes. But before we divine the results of Selbstporträt Wahre Liebe, a little background colour first.





A founding pillar of the Kosmische sound in the late 1960s and early 70s, originally taking shape from experimental performances at the legendary Berlin club they helped found, the Zodiak Free Arts Lab, the first incarnation of this amorphous partnership that made Roedelius’ name, Cluster, featured Joseph Beuys disciple and electronic music progenitor Conrad Schnitzler; the music, almost dark, Lutheran and hymn like, an early modulation of piano, organ and guitar, fed through an array of homemade effects, that made its debut on a label sonorous for its stoic church organ music. This was the first incarnation, Kluster.

Many ‘head music’ fans will be enamored or at least familiar with the second phase, as Kluster interchanged its capital letter to a ‘C’ and Schnitzler left (for the first time). Releasing some of the most sublime peregrinations and odd candy coated pop electronica under the Cluster banner, their most formative period during the early to mid 70s remains their most famous and influential. This brought plenty of admirers and fellow sonic travelers to the Forst located woodland glade studio retreat. Most famously Brian Eno and Michael Rothar of Neu! Both of whom would join Roedelius and Moebius to form the (a)side project supergroup Harmonia.

Apart from a dormant period during the 80s, as Roedelius and Moebius pursued both solo and collaborative careers (many of which would overlap), Cluster survived well into the next century. Finally calling it a day in 2010: For this version of the partnership anyway. Dropping the C for a ‘Q’ this time around, Roedelius found a new collaborative partner in the sound installation artist and like-minded sonic explorer keyboardist Onnen Bock. After a number of albums together the duo expanded to a trio when bass player virtuoso and (another) keyboardist Armin Metz joined the ranks. In the last few years the Qluster trio have been drawn to Roedelius’ neo-classical piano compositional improvisations and sketches; the previous suite Tasten was built around a trio of them, and the more electronic offering Echtzeit, though far less so, also seemed informed by it.

In many ways following on from the last album together, making a return to the warmth and traversing heavenly space sounds we have come to associate with all things Kosmische, the golden epoch of that genre filled our ears once more on Qluster’s seventh (and so far last) album, Elemente; a feat that is repeated on this solo portrait.

 

Leaving Qluster aside for the moment, Onnen Bock, together with Wolf Bock, shadows Roedelius on this vintage warm-up. Intimately (re)acquainted with himself, the fascinations and interests that originally sparked the previous series of visceral sketches may have changed but the soundboard tools remain the same, with Roedelius once more making use of the Farfisa organ, Fender Rhodes, drum machine and tape-delay to fashion a new empirical suite of Kosmische neo-classical moods and dreamgazing.

Though it’s been over four decades since those iconic peaceable recordings, the old apparatus from that period is just as warm and receptive to the ambient progenitor’s touch and imagination. If you’re familiar with those composition then you’ll bound to recognize the recurring Baroque fairground piped merry-go-rounds and serene glide motifs that appear on this wonderful erudite album. Especially the playful but calmed trans-alpine gliding ‘Geruhsam’, which – in my imagination anyway – conjured up an image of either a bossa signature steamboat sailing across a Swiss lake, or, a enervated chuffing steam engine travelling across a tranquil mindscape.

Elsewhere the bright diaphanous notes of the Rhodes lightly hang in the air as they did before; lingering with an echo of glassy Kosmische reverent soul on compositions such as the romantic resonate ‘Wahre Liebe’ – that’s ‘true love’ – and dreamily fanned on the comforting cloud breathing ‘Nahwärme’ – which translates as, depending on your fancy, either ‘local heating’ or ‘convenient heat’; an aloof soundtrack for a German boiler installation company perhaps? Sometimes that organ glistens and at other times almost drifts into the ecclesiastical. The complimentary Farfisa is equally as gorgeous; deftly played and perfectly attuned. A real warmth is created (there’s that word again), but also an overlapping cascade of bulb-like notation and subtle refractions of light play.

 

Reverent, beautiful, encapsulating, with even a touch of giddy uncertainty – I’m referring to the ‘roundabout’ motion of ‘Im Kreisel’ – Roedelius has lost none of his sparkle, or for that matter his romanticism and hope. A fine balance between past triumphs and the new, Selbstporträt Wahre Liebe is unhurried and playfully understated; a timeless album simultaneously made with a sagacious touch and young curiosity. At the stately age of 85, Roedelius proves to still be on form as he looks back once more before easing forward.






Related posts from the Archives:

Hans-Joachim Roedelius Interview

Qluster ‘Elemente’ Review

Hans-Joachim Roedelius ‘Kollektion 2: Roedelius – Electronic Music Compiled By Lloyd Cole’ &   ‘Tape Archive 1973-1978’ Review

Cluster ‘1971 – 1981’ Boxset Review


And Now, A Word From Our Founder

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

ALBUM REVIEW
Dominic Valvona




Various   ‘INTENTA: Experimental & Electronic Music From Switzerland 1981 – 1993’   (Les Disques Bongo Joe/Décalé Records)   LP/28th February 2020


Overshadowed by its neighbours, the landlocked trans-alpine polyglot nation of Switzerland has a mixed history, both politically and culturally. The neutralized haven for at least the last century, the 26 canton state has proved a fertile climate for the arts especially; a key incubator for the birth of Dadaism and in turn, from its ashes, Surrealism (dreamed up in part by the Zurich Cabaret Voltaire of such luminaries Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tzara, Richard Huelsenbeck and Hans Arp, to name just a few), to the role of modern conceptual stars such as Urs Fischer, Thomas Hirschhorn and Sylvie Fleury.

Musically though, I draw a bit of a blank.

Bongo Joe along with their partners on this electrified Swiss odyssey, Décalé Records, are here to help, filling in those blanks with at least one important transitional period in the country’s music history; a twelve-year window in which the synthesized ‘hedonism’ of club and burgeoning Techno scenes emerged from a more politicized radical youth-led movement.

From 1981 onwards the great and good and more obscure mavericks of Switzerland embraced the technology and production; experimenting to varying degrees of success, from louche Euro-pop to the avant-garde; Kosmische style peregrinations to lo fi futurism. Plucked from the crates by Matthias Orsett and Maxi Fischer, a mixed bag of the ‘under-appreciated’, ‘sought-after’ and plain odd are brought together under the INTENTA title.

An intergenerational compilation, old hands like the multi-tasker artist/actor/poet/ski instructor and Jacques Brel adapt Jean-Pierre Huser feature alongside a rabble of Swiss post-punk-turn-synth-pioneers such as the ex-Grauzone saxophonist Claudine Chirac. The former, Huser, high on the Gauloises nicotine of Gainsbourg wraps a seedy Yello-esque gauze-y electro production around the 1984 down and out cocaine languor in ‘Chinatown’; the latter, sees Chirac reimagine what it might sound like if Wendy Carlos had been signed to the early Mute label, composing a Baroque-futurist elegy on the 1982 ‘Etudes’ exercise: part neoclassical, part videogame.





Quality and access, from the privately pressed to bigger full-on slick productions, this collection – which is neither linear nor thematic – dots Eurovision starlets amongst the most rudimentary of early synth tinkerings. At the more polished end, Swiss pop-chanteuse Carol Rich makes the cut with the vaporous hushed air-y ‘Computered Love’; the congruous flip side to Rich’s 1984 Eurovision entry ‘Tokyo Boy’. At the more lofi level, Dressed Up Animals 1983 serialism and ritualistic sound experiment ‘Mondtanz’, morphs Faust and Cabaret Voltaire.

The influences are just as wide-ranging; smoky, sexy Grace Jones vibes and Trevor Horn on Peter Philippe Weiss’ soulfully sultry underground transport diorama ‘Subway’ – a private pressing with high production values, remastered especially for this compilation – and D-Sire’s French-esque bluesy drumpad splash crescendo ‘Wintertime’.





Other notable attractions on this selection include the opening ‘Untitled’ Krautrock traverse, attributed to the 19th century Swiss folk hero Andreas Hofer – the Tyrolean innkeeper/drover turn rebel leader in the fight against Bonaparte; captured and later executed -; the Ryuichi Sakamoto with touches of the Yellow Magic Orchestra, dance across the Alpine glacial, ‘Swiss Air’, by Bells Of Kyoto; and mechanical water-treading ‘Django’, labeled as the Unknownmix.

As varied as Juan Atkins is to the 39 Clocks or Niles Rodger’s 80s Bowie production is to The Normal, the differences in synthesizer production and style is numerous. You can hear more or less every development in electronic music, from soundscaping to city lights NYC electro funk on this eager compilation that traces a less cherished passage in the evolution of European electronica. A collection of artists that absorbed but lent a certain Swiss bent to the genre. INTENTA is well worth seeking out, if not only to own some very rare and expensive sounds.





The Monolith Cocktail is now on Ko-Fi

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

Video/Single
Words: Dominic Valvona
Photo Credit: James Kriszyk



Simon McCorry  ‘The Nothing That Is’
(Close Recordings)  Single/7th February 2020


Following on from last year’s acclaimed (especially by us) ambient album of field recording manipulations Border Land, classically trained cellist and composer Simon McCorry is back with an equally evocative, though far less supernatural and mysterious, work of atonal art, ‘The Nothing That Is’.

Created from the musical ideas that informed his involvement with the original score for Javaad Alipoor’s play Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran – which premiered at the Traverse as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019 -, ‘The Nothing That Is’ peregrination is a subtly airy and stripped back performance that builds upon McCorry’s use of live looping and computer processing: processes and technologies that transform the cello to sound ever more ambiguous.

As McCorry explains it: “Each layer [on ‘The Nothing That Is’] has one sustained note followed by silence. As one note finishes the next is added. An overall harmonic motion is established that pushes the piece to its conclusion. There is no melodic solo line to tie everything together. The cycling individual tones all together create an emotive power. By themselves they are just looped individual notes and reveal nothing.”

Imbued with Brian Eno’s pioneering long tape loop works of Discreet Music and in part by ‘Fratres, Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten and Tabula Rasa by Arvo Pärt, The Nothing That Is – which takes its title from a line in the American modernist poet Wallace Stevens’ seminal and empirical ‘The Snowman’ poem –The Nothing That Is continues McCorry’s exploration of compositional techniques that perfectly marry sound, space and silence.

Expanding on the track and accompanying video, McCorry explains, “My thought is being influenced by reading David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World or rather I’m finding a lot that resonates in how I’m thinking at the moment. The Nothing That Is video looks at diverse processes and their cycles in time and how they are all similar, whether “artificial” or “natural”. They all ‘flow’ and ‘ebb’ in similar ways. There is also an underlying theme of the anthropocene and the decay of civilization, the tension between our dominant ‘modern’ logical positivist approach to the world around us and dislocation from ourselves as other animals, as living breathing entities in a living breathing environment.”

The Monolith Cocktail is pleased to share with its readers the precursor video version of this track ahead of its official release tomorrow, Friday the 7th February 2020.


 







Background: Having worked as a composer for theatre, contemporary dance and circus, McCorry has channeled his experiences of creatively supporting the conveyance of a narrative or theme and laid down a series of responses to what he sees in the world at large. Originally born in London to mixed Indian/British heritage, McCorry trained in cello at The Centre for Young Musicians & Morley College then studied philosophy at Durham University. He is now based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. As a performer McCorry is well travelled, he has performed at many prestigious events and institutions including in Orlando Warrior with Julia Cheng at the South Bank as part of China Changing Festival 2017 and more recently supported luminaries such as ambient electronic legends The Orb.

Further Reading From The Archives:

Border Land in review from 2019

PREMIERE
Words: Matt Oliver




Syd Nukuluk  ‘Plasticene (feat. Monika)’
Taken from the upcoming debut EP Data X Change, released on the 24th January 2020 via Slowfoot Records


When a seasonal centrepiece gets caught in Thanksgiving/Christmas crossfire and also flashbacks to The Simpsons episode when Jasper Beardley inadvertently did his part for DIY cryogenics, South London fever dreamer Syd Nukuluk presents the off-the-wall video for the eye-catching urban disturbia of ‘Plasticene’. A bit of Soundgarden, ‘Black Hole Sun’ eye-widening thrown into the mix as well from the blown brains of ones-to-watch Luke Kulukundis and Arthur Studholme, French-British emcee and poultry enemy #1 Monika becomes a symbol of modern times while rewriting the mantra of protect your neck, lightheartedness succumbing to deathly, deafening undertones.

‘Plasticene’ is released as part of the debut five-track Data X Change EP, a lo-fi quintet of synapse-firing electronica pushing indie, R&B and hip-hop to a shadowy left, on January 24th via the Slowfoot imprint.





Find the Data X Change EP via Bandcamp

Or through the following:


Slowfoot Website

Syd Nukuluk Website

PLAYLIST SPECIAL 
COMPILED: Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Gianluigi Marsibilio
ARTWORK: Gianluigi Marsibilio 




From an abundance of sources, via a myriad of social media platforms and messaging services, even accosted when buying a coffee from a barristo-musician, the Quarterly Revue is expanding constantly to accommodate a reasonable spread that best represents the Monolith Cocktail’s raison d’etre.

As you will hear for yourselves, new releases and the best of reissues plucked from the team – that’s me, Dominic Valvona, and Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Andrew C. Kidd and Gianluigi Marsibilio (who also put together the playlist artwork) – rub shoulders in a continuous musical journey.

The final playlist of 2019 is no less eclectic and frantic, with electrifried peregrinations from Mali next to the best new hip-hop cuts and a wealth of post-punk, souk rock, jazz, noise, indie and the avant-garde.


That tracklist in full:

Automatic  ‘Too Much Money’
Dead Rituals  ‘Closer’
Comet Gain  ‘The Girl With The Melted Mind And Her Fear Of The Open Door’
BRONCHO  ‘Boys Got To Go’
SUO  ‘Honey I’m Down’
Pocket Knife  ‘Manger Constructeur’
Prince Rama  ‘F.A.T.E (Bought Us Together)’
Cate Le Bon & Bradford Cox  ‘Fireman’
Elizabeth Joan Kelly  ‘Baleen Executioner’
Bear With Me  ‘Cry’
Max Andrzejewski’s HUTTE  ‘Little Red Robin Hood Hits The Road’
Tapan Meets Generation Taragalte ‘Yogi Yamahssar’
Junis Paul  ‘Baker’s Dozen’
Invisible System  ‘Diarabi’
Homeboy Sandman  ‘Yes Iyah’
Guilty Simpson & Phat Kat  ‘Sharking’
Iftin Band  ‘Il Ooy Aniga’
Kalbata ft. TIGRIS  ‘Tamera’
The Budos Band  ‘Old Engine Oil’
Aziza Brahim  ‘Hada Jil’
Atomic Forest  ‘Life Is Anew’
Klashnekoff ft. K9 & Ricko Capito  ‘The Road Is Long’
Chris Orrick & The Lasso  ‘No Place Is Safe’
Blockhead  ‘Spicy Peppercorn’
Willie Scott & The Birmingham Spirituals  ‘Keep Your Faith To The Sky’
Jehst & Confucius MC  ‘Autumn Nights’
Xenia Rubinos  ‘DIOSA’
Genesis Elijah  ‘Haunted Trap House’
Rico James & Santos  ‘New York Cut’
Hiach Ber Na  ‘Another Human Brain’
Mike Patton & Jean-Claude Vannier  ‘Cold Sun Warm Beer’
TELGATE  ‘Cherrytight’
Land Of OOO  ‘Waiting For The Whales (Radio Edit)’
Big Thief  ‘Not’
Gary Davenport ‘True Freedom’
Northwest  ‘The Day’
The Cold Spells  ‘I Hate It When You’re Sad’
Mick Harvey & Christopher Richard Barker  ‘A Secret Hidden Message’
Boa Morte  ‘Sleep/Before The Landslide’
Vola Tila  ‘All Alone’
Owen Tromans  ‘Burying The Moon King’
The Good Ones  ‘My Wife Is As Beautiful As A Sunset’
Dub Chieftain  ‘Enter The Chieftain’
Provincials  ‘Cat’s Cradle’
Right Hand Left Hand  ‘White Sands’
Ringfinger  ‘Burning’
Giant Swan  ‘YFPHNT’
Rafiki Jazz  ‘My Heart My Home Home (Shallow Brown/Light of Guidance/The Settlers Wife/Shedemati)’


PREVIOUS QUARTERLIES




Album Reviews
Words: Dominic Valvona
Photo Credit: Aziza Brahim taken by Ana Valiño






This week’s recommendations and reviews (for the most part) share a musical hunger for the polygenesis; combining and merging a cornucopia of international sounds and cultures to spread a message of universal suffrage. A case in point, the ever-evolving North-of-England assemblage of migrants and refugees, Rafiki Jazz feature voices and musicians from all over the globe: from Arabia to India. Their fourth and upcoming captivating album, Saraba Sufiyana, is featured in this roundup. Channeling a mystical Maghreb, the French trio of Karkara goes heavy and transcendent on their new acid-doom-rock epic, Crystal Gazer. The Belgium outfit Compro Oro manages to circumnavigate a myriad of international destinations without leaving the suburbs of their native home on the new dance jazz LP Suburban Exotica, and UK producer Dan Harper, under the Invisible System title, once more transforms the traditional and courtly music of Mali, on the new album Dance To The Full Moon. Closer to European shores, Xylouris White, the Hellenic framed project of Dirty Three drummer Jim White and Greek lute player Giorgos Xylouris, release a fourth installment of their Cretan soundscapes, The Sisypheans.

Leading the charge this week though is the encapsulating soulful Aziza Brahim with her upcoming new album, Sahari. Born in the hardened landscape of a Saharawi refugee camp on the border of Algeria and the Western Sahara, the beguiled vocalist now lives in a state of exile in Spain. Her latest album continues to draw attention to not only that plight but also that of all refugees on an album that tries some a little bit different musically.

Something a little different, and away from this general thread of global initiatives, Belgium composer Alex Stordiau releases his inaugural album of Kosmische imbued neo-classical visions, Poking Your Imagination, for Pure Spark Records.

Preview/Feature




Aziza Brahim ‘Sahari’
(Glitterbeat Records) Album/ 15th November 2019


Bringing the message of the displaced Saharawi people to the world stage, Western Saharan musician/activist Aziza Brahim follows up both her critically rewarded 2014 album Soutak, and the no less brilliant 2016 serene protest of poetic defiance Abbar el Hamada album with her third for Glitterbeat Records, Sahari.

Born in the hardened landscape of a Saharawi refugee camp on the border of Algeria and the Western Sahara, beguiled vocalist Aziza embodies the wandering spirit of her people; their settled, though often borderless and disputed lands, previously claimed by Spain, were invaded in 1975 by Morocco. Though made up of many tribes with many different goals the Saharawi people mounted a fight back. It was in this climate that Brahim was hewed. Exiled in effect, her travails have extended to Cuba, where she was educated as a teenager, and Barcelona, where she now resides and makes music.

Imbued as ever with the desert soul of that disputed region, the latest record, with its visual metaphor of optimism in even the most desperate of backdrops and times – dreams of growing up to be a ballerina proving universal – attempts to marry the beautifully longing and heartache yearns of Brahim’s voice to a number of different styles and rhythms: A subtle change towards the experimental.

Previous encounters have channeled the poetic roots of that heritage and merged it with both Arabian Spain and the lilted buoyancy of the Balearics. Working with the Spanish artist Amparo Sánchez of the band Amparanoia, Brahim has chosen to add a congruous subtle bed of synthesized effects to the recording process: before performing live in the studio, but now recording in various places, the results collected together and pieced together in post-production. This methodology and sound furnishes Brahim’s longing traditional voice with certain freshness and, sometimes, shuffled energy. Songs such as the loose and free ‘Hada Jil’ lay a two-step dance beat underneath a desert song drift. Later on there are dub-y rim-shot echoes and undulating waves of atmospheric tonal synthesizer underpinning that blues-y startling timbre. However, the most surprising fusions to be found on Sahari are the Compass Point reggae-gait ‘Las Huellas’ and the Arabian soul channeling Fado ‘Lmanfra’. There’s even room for a piano on the balladry ‘Ardel el Hub’; a song that plaintively conveys the “impossibility of returning home”, a sentiment the activist Brahim is only too familiar with – denied entry or the right of return, effectively in exile.

The sound of the Sahrawi is never far off, despite the technological upgrade. That most traditional of handed-down instruments, the “tabal drum”, can be heard guiding the rhythm throughout; rattling away and tapping out a beat that changes from the threadbare to the clattering. Brahim’s vocals are as ever effortlessly enriching, captivating and trilling. I dare say even veracious.

Articulating a broader message of global suffrage, Brahim once more encapsulates the sorrows of the exiled and stateless on a sumptuous album, The wanderer and Saharan siren invites new dynamics without changing the intrinsic character and message of her craft, yet ventures beyond those roots to embrace bold new sounds. A most fantastic, poetic songbook that will further cement Brahim’s deserved reputation as one of the deserts most serene artists.






Reviews

Compro Oro ‘Suburban Exotica’
(Sdban Ultra) Album/ 18th October 2019





Illuminating Belgium suburbia with a cornucopia of entrancing and limbering sounds and rhythms from across the world, Compro Oro transport the listener to imaginative vistas on their latest album of jazz imbued exotics. Making waves as part of a loose jazzy Benelux scene, the troupe have even managed to rope in the help of Ry Cooder’s accomplished scion, the multi-instrumentalist talent Joachim Cooder, who adds an “effects-laden” mbira and percussion to a trio of imaginative tracks.

Like their comrades on that scene, Black Flower, the Compro sail into various melting-pot rich harbors, soaking up the atmosphere and embracing what they found, weaving the multilingual sounds into a vibrant soundtrack of tropical new wave pop, dance music, alt rock ‘n’ roll, Turkish-psych and Ethno-jazz fantasy. Cal Tjader, Mulatu Astatke and Marc Ribot are all cited as inspirations, their indelible mark suffused throughout this LP. Add to that trio a strange interpretation of Herbie Hancock (on the Somalia ease-up ‘Mogadishu’; imagine the Dur-Dur Band floating on a kooky jazz cloud above the tumultuous city), Soulwax (on the palm tree Latin dance funk ‘Miami New Wave’) and a rewired Modern Jazz Quartet (that will be the often twinkly and trickling use of vibraphone, but also the marimba too). The curtain call thriller ‘Kruidvat’ even evokes the darker stirrings of later period Can, and the wafting ambiguous snuffles of Jon Hassell.

For the most part dreamy and under a gauze-y veil, Suburban Exotica sashays and drifts across a musical landscape of Arabia, Anatolia, Eastern Africa, The Caribbean and Hispaniola without setting foot outside of their Belgium front door. The more you listen the more you discover and get out of this brilliant dance album of borderless jazz. What a treat to the ears and feet.





Invisible System ‘Dance To The Full Moon’
(ARC Music) Album/ 25th October 2019





An apt hand in transforming the traditional sounds of Mali, the British producer Dan Harper’s experiment in this field stretches back two decades; set in motion by the rudimental laptop-produced Acid Mali project he created whilst working as a Capacity Builder for a local Malian environmental NGO. So taken was Harper with the country, he ended up not only meeting his future wife there but setting up home and a studio in the capital, Bamako. His wife, Hawa, would introduce Dan to childhood friend and renowned guitarist Bandjougou, who in turn would bring in tow the dusty soulful rich vocalist Sambou koyaté to sing for him. Both artists appear on this new album alongside the griot siren Astou Niamé Diabaté, who as it turns out sang at Dan and Hawa’s wedding.

Taken from the same recording sessions as Dan’s previous album, Bamako Sessions, his latest transportive exploration under the nom de plume of Invisible System, once more lends an electrified and synthesized pulse to the spiritual soul of Malian music. Originally put together in a more languorous fashion with a variety of musicians coming and going, jamming in a mattress proofed room in a rented house in the capital, Dance To The Full Moon took shape at the end of a tumultuous and violent period in Mali’s history. Experiencing firsthand (literally on Dan’s own doorstep) the terrorist attacks that followed in the wake of a, finally curtailed, Islamist insurrection and the ongoing war between Mali’s government in the West and the Tuaregs of the North and Eastern desert borders, fighting to set-up an autonomous region, known as the Azawad. Though a certain stability has returned in part to Mali, attacks still occur sporadically; the effects of which permeate throughout the work of the country’s artists, the majority offering a conciliatory tone with the emphasis on unity and understanding. With that in mind, Dan’s album is rich with passionate expressive longing and intensity; the varied juxtapositions of the griot tradition and less rural, more urban vocals combine to deliver some startling performances.

The gently resonate accents and fanned waft of the Malian guitarist’s Kalifa Koné and Sidi Touré accentuate the brilliant vocal parts; a gathering of powerful griot acolytes, singers and even a rapper (Mali rap star Penzy) that includes the already mentioned trio of Bandjougou, Koyaté and Diabaté spiral between the sweetened and intense, the hymnal and physical. Dan boosts and filters those strong performances with a production of techno, modern R&B, dub and futuristic post-punk that sonically weaves in echoes of Massive Attack, Daniel Lanois, King Ayisoba and Dennis Bovell.

Nothing can ever truly improve upon the roots and soul of the traditional courtly music of Mali, its desert blues and Bamako rock of course, but you can push it into exciting directions. Dan’s rewired buzz and pulse does just that, giving a kick and lending an attuned production to the Mali soundscape.



Alex Stordiau ‘Poking Your Imagination’
(Pure Spark) Album/ 30th September 2019





Enticing former label mates from Edinburgh’s Bearsuit Records to his burgeoning venture Pure Spark, Tokyo electronic wizkid Ippu Mitsui welcomes the Brussels based composer Alex Stordiau to the ranks. Featuring alongside House Of Tapes Yuuya Kuno, Stordiau also previously appeared on the Mid Lothian Bearsuit roster – mentioned on this very blog for his standout Vangelis-style voyager waltz into the cosmos ‘Fulfilling Eclipse’, from the label’s The Invisible And Divided Sea compilation.

Like a missing neoclassical Kosmische suite from the Sky Records vault, Stordiau’s inaugural album for Mitsui’s imprint is a serene, though often dramatically stirring, exercise in sculpting retro-electronic soundtracks.

With a classical background, studying at various Belgium conservators, Stordiau combines elements of cascading, romantically accentuated piano and suffused strings with synthesized and computer programmed sine waves, glassy tubular glistened percussion and vaporous sweeps.

The Belgium visionary often works with Bristol musician Lee Williams, who plays, among other things, both electric guitar and bass, and sometimes drums. It sounds as if Williams is present once more, on hand with warm ponderous bass and the odd bit of wilder kooky lead guitar.

Track titles on Poking Your Imagination only go so far in describing each composition’s route on an album of undulating mood pieces. The opening descriptive ‘In The Tepid Shine’ is pure escapist air-bending; crafting vague echoes of Jean Michel Jarre with Roedelius’ more beautifully spherical elevations. Most of these tracks waver over the course of duration; changing or pausing between parts, starting off like the Blade Runner neon skyline lighted ‘Tree Healing’ with a darker, theatrical classical grandeur but suddenly joined by drums and a touch of Vangelis sci-fi. Elsewhere you’re bound to identify the space peril looming shadow of Tangerine Dream and the more popcorn kookiness of Cluster amongst the Baroque cathedral and gravity arcing visions.

A panoramic, mostly cosmic soundtrack of classical Kosmische and humanized electronica, Poking Your Imagination is an assiduous suite of the mysterious, scientific and dreamy.





The Mining Co. ‘Frontier’
Album/ 25th October 2019





Not that you can detect it from his lilted peaceable, if hearty, Americana burr, or the Western-alluded nom de plume that he goes under, but singer/songwriter Michael Gallagher was born in Ireland. Obvious now you’ve read his actual name I know, but just sound wise, it is difficult to hear that Irish bent. In a similar vein to such luminaries as Simon Bonney, the County Donegal troubadour subtly channels a timeless vision of the lyrical, pioneering old West (and South for that matter) on his new LP, Frontier.

Via a Nashville, Texas and New Mexico panorama, Gallagher tailors personal anxieties of disconnection, dislocation and growing pains with familiar old tropes on a songbook of “hangdog” country fare. A romantic album at that, with shades of a pining Josh T. Pearson, The Thrills, Lee Hazlewood, Tom Petty and the Eels, Frontier showcases the artist’s most tender swoons and yearnings. This is a soundtrack of purposeful blues, skiffles and mellow gospel, all softly laced with a subtle echo of Mariachi horns and tremolo twang.

Various memories of a childhood back in Ireland (the night Elvis died sounding a special resonance on the lilted lap-steel rich ‘The Promised Line’) and phobias (a rational fear in my book of flying inspiring the country-prayer ‘Empty Row’) are transported to wistfully articulate American musical settings; a landscape and sound it seems Gallagher belongs.

The third such album from his The Mining Co. alter ego, Frontier is full of romantic intent and stirring candid cathartic heartache; a shuffling songbook handled with care and tenderness that will unfurl its charms over time.




Xylouris White ‘The Sisypheans’
(Drag City) Album/ 8th November 2019





Less a Greek tragedy, more a kind of acceptance of one’s fate (or, play the hand you’re dealt and make the best of it), the Hellenic inspired collaboration project of Giorgos Xylouris and Jim White take their lead on the purgatory fate of boulder carrier Sisyphean from Albert Camus: to a point.

The absurdist doyen once wrote a famous tract on that Greek fella’s predicament: Punished by Zeus to roll a large boulder up a mountainside in Hades, each time he reached the top the boulder would roll right back down to the start. And so the process began all over again: An endless, thankless trudge and metaphor for all the all too real daily grind of life outside the mythological imagination. Or so you’d think. Camus however saw it not has a pointless waste of effort and slow punishing meaningless task but as a challenge: noble even. That Sisypheans’ repeated burden should be seen as an achievement, that the struggle should be enough to “fill a man’s heart”. Sisyphean has accepted his it and so should you, or, words and sentiment to that effect.

Of course, even deeper contentions can be found in Camus’ essay; how our tragic figure confined to a limited limbo landscape created in his mind a whole universe from it. Xylouris and White themselves pondered how he might experiment with carrying that burdensome rock; alternating hands, carrying behind his back and so on. Essentially though, this is about experiencing, seeing and discovering anew each day with a concentrated mind the things you take for granted: especially your surroundings. The duo initially turn to the atavistic in conveying these ideas and sentiments; using the suffused blown stirrings of the Greek flute (Aulos) and vibrato resonating spindly fanning tones of the laouto (a long-necked fretted scion of the lute family). In addition to these two lead instruments, the scene is set with shrouded misty and soulfully yearned voices, Giorgos’ son Nick on cello and on the serialism waning moodscape second track a ‘Goat Hair Bowed’ instrument. And so a sweeping, mournful at times, traverse that takes in dancing Grecian figures, wedding celebrations, bewailed lament and travels to the furthest reaches of the Greek borders: sailing at one point into the tumultuous mysterious vision of the much-disputed and fought over ‘Black Sea’.

However, the both taught and freeform, skittish experimental percussion and breaks of Dirty Three drummer White adds another dimension to the rootsy and earthy feel. Always tactile and congruous, White lifts or underpins certain tracks with avant-garde taps, clutters, rim rattles and jazzy frills and crescendos. A touch of progressive jazz, even Krautrock, that sends this project into more contemporary climes.

Between the chthonian and ethereal, the philosophical and viscerally dreamy, The Sisypheans minor epic is an extraordinary musical peregrination worth exploring: Music for the cerebral and the senses.




Rafiki Jazz  ‘Saraba Sufiyana’
(Konimusic) Album/ October 2019





It’s no idle boast to suggest that the North of England based Rafiki Jazz could be one of the most diverse groups on the world stage. Testament of this can be heard on the troupe’s previous trio of polygenesis albums: an untethered sound that simultaneously evokes Arabia, the Indian Subcontinent, Northern African, the Caribbean, South America and Balkans.

With representatives from nearly every continent, many of which have escaped from their homelands to find sanctuary in the UK, Rafiki Jazz is an ever-evolving ensemble of migrants and refugees alike coming together to produce sweeping divine borderless music.

Their latest visionary songbook is a filmic panoramic beauty, no less worldly and stirring. The opening diaphanous spun ‘Su Jamfata’ encapsulates that perfectly; mirroring the group’s musical freedom and spiritual connection; lilting between a myriad of regions with stunning vocals that evoke both Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The following floaty and ethereal well-of-sorrows ‘Azadi’ even features a Celtic and folksy air (one that is repeated later on). This is in part due of course to the guest performances of both the English fiddle extraordinaire and songwriter Nancy Kerr and traditional Gaelic singer Kaitlin Ross. A third vocal addition, Juan Gabriel, can be heard lending a guttural throated underbelly to an already eclectic chorus of singers.

Buoyant tablas and spindled kora sit in perfect harmony with Arabian oud, tropical steel drums, the Brazilian berimbau and the varied voices of Sufi, Hebrew, Hindu, Egyptian-Coptic and Islamic, without ever feeling crowded or strained.

Saraba Sufiyana translates as “mystic utopia”, a title that epitomizes the group’s curiosity and respect for other culture as they build a brave new sonic world of possibility. One that takes in all the dramas and woes of the current international crisis and the lamenting poetry of venerable hardship – the final quartet cycle of prayer and spiritual yearning, ‘My Heart My Home’, beautifully conveys a multitude of gospel and traditional religious plaint, ending on the stirring Hebrew field song ‘Shedemati’. Twenty years in and still improving on that global remit, Rafiki Jazz delivers a magical and rich fourth LP. Devotional music at its most captivating and entrancing.



Karkara ‘Crystal Gazer’
(Stolen Body Records) Album/ 25th October 2019





There’s a hell of a lot wind blowing throughout the mystical and spiritually Toulouse trio of Karkara’s Crystal Gazer epic. North African wind that is; the exotic charms and mystery of the Maghreb on a swirling breeze, flows through and introduces each incantation heavy communal transcendence.

The mirage-shimmery title-track vignette even features a sirocco echo of ghostly enervated Tuareg desert guitars, whilst the electrified speed freak ‘Zarathoustra’ doesn’t just allude to Nietzsche’s infamous Thus Spoke but astrally heads back to the founding father of that mystical Persian faith via an eastern Link Wray and Gothic soup of Krautrock jazz and acid rock.

The counter flow breathes of another desert also permeate this LP, the sound of a veiled didgeridoo constantly present in building atmosphere and mysticism. Loud and physical, though not without some sensitivity, the trio chant, howl and pray their way through a vortex of flange and fuzz as they soar over a fantastical landscape that takes in the southern constellation star of “proxima centauri” and the gates of the Tunisian Medina, ‘Jedid’.

Allusions to seers, mystics and Gothic romantics abound, whilst the musical inspirations fluctuate between heavy space rock (Hawkwind) and Krautrock (Xhol Caravan, Embryo), post-punk (Killing Joke) and baggy (Stone Roses on a bum ride), and spooked, sleazy rock’ n ’roll (Alan Vega).

Transcended Tangier trips, Karkara aren’t exactly the first group to occupy this space, but they do it with volume and dreamy élan.




Premiere
Words: Dominic Valvona




A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Kona’
(Somewherecold Records) 23rd August 2019


John Lane has travelled a long way, in musical terms, from his burgeoning lo fi days recreating a Casio keyboard vision of Brian Wilson’s beachcomber dreamy beatifications, under the seashell symphony ego of Expo, to the more transcendental meditative beginnings of his present alter ego, A Journey Of Giraffes. The safari has moved, in more recent years, away from the Beach Boys to more ambient and traversing experimental influences. The last album from the unassuming Baltimore composer that we featured, a couple of years back, went all out on an aimless supernatural field-recorded walk through the forest. is an eerie and strange affair; a mixture of Arthur Russell meets Panda Bear and Alejandro Jodorowsky in the backyard of Maryland.

Taking another road-less-travail kind of amble through another sort of imaginative woods setting, Lane’s latest, and quite possibly his most complete, album Kona, which we are lucky and indeed honored to be premiering today, is inspired by a Japanese art, music and contemplation. A love letter in many ways to the late Japanese electronic composer Susumu Yokota, this sweeping, often subtly matriculate and ambient affair, suite pays a homage not only to his more washed and ruminative musical peregrinations but his quotes as well. The album title is itself taken from one such lyrical pronouncement/augur: “Bones of the dead are shattered like kona and sprinkled over the homeland. Children can fly in the sky when sprinkled with Angel’s kona.”

Known for bridging techno, house and more minimalistic, and almost the neo-classical, fields of electronic music to forge a thoroughly modern Japanese sound, it is Yokota’s brushed calligraphy and mysterious evocations that are used like footnotes to Lane’s interpretive exploration: Less the Jeff Mills and Rob Hood acid burbles and intelligent techno of Acid Mt. Fuji, and more the gliding, thoughtful intricacies and panoramas of Sakura.

A clue as to what you might expect to hear from Lane’s Japonism, the quilted bird-in-motion artwork (Swallow and Camellia by Itō Jakuchū) is a suitable guide to this deep immersive experience; one that is influenced as much but the literary finesse of Natsume Soseki‘s The Three Cornered World novella as it is by Studio Ghibli’s seminal animated movie, Spirited Away. Kona is full of glistening water pool grottos and firefly lit paper lantern trails; a night garden both mysterious and imbued with peaceable Taoist understatement. You can certainly expect to hear dulcet thumb-plucked strings cascade against reverberated singular piano notes and pestle-and-mortar like scrapings, or, an insect chorus and water droplets falling on a millennia-aged and stoic moistened rock whilst hovering low synthetic drones pulse and throb. Beats are kept to a minimal, but they are there in the sophisticated mix of the fairytale and plaintive.

Magically ruminating, offering both the beatific and uncertain, Kona is an exotic, sometimes ceremonial, Zen like soundtrack that evokes the Fourth World Possible Musics of Jon Hassell, Popol Vuh and the higher plain communal glistened zither transcendence of Laraaji. As I’ve already said, this could be Lane’s most realized, complete album yet. And you can now wander that path yourself, as we premiere the album today, here:




REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona
Photo: (of BaBa ZuLa) 
Emir Sıvacı






Freely traversing borders once more, Dominic Valvona’s regular roundup of discoveries and interesting finds this month circumnavigates Japan, Israel, Turkey, Poland before returning to the more chilled pastoral Estuary greenery of the Sussex and Essex landscapes. There’s a double-helping of upcoming releases from Glitterbeat Records stable with the return of the Turkish dub cosmology legends Baba ZuLa – their first studio LP in five years, Derin Derin – and a new album of post-punk limbering from the Gdansk band, Trupa Trupa. In a similar vane to the ZuLa, Israeli troupe Taichmania also fuse a cosmology of sounds, and use both the an electrified dynamism of the “oud” and “saz” to fuzz and amp up a merger of Middle Eastern traditions with jazz and prog. Their debut LP, Seventh Heaven is given the once-over. The trio of radio show host ethnomusicologist Matthew Nelson, Hopi musician Clark Tenakhongva and world-renowned flutist Gary Stroutsos come together on sacred ground to invoke a magical homage to the music of the Hopi people on the beautifully evocative LP Öngtupqa. Inspired by more Eastern mysticism the Seattle coupling of Society Of The Silver Cross release their debut long-suite, 1 Verse, and an amazing freefall-in-motion jazz exploration from Philip Gropper’s Philm, entitled Consequences.

There’s horror of a diaphanous apparitional kind with the latest solo album of invocations and ether siren sighed sonnets from Jodie Lowther, and the first album in five years from Junkboy, the marvelous scenic Trains, Trees, Topophilia, and, finally, the inaugural release from Ippu Mitsui’s brand new electronic music label, Pure Spark Records, the House Of Tapes two-track Embers Dreams.


BaBa ZuLa ‘Derin Derin’
(Glitterbeat Records) 27th September 2019



Stalwarts of Turkish cosmology dub, the Istanbul Ege Bamyasi acolytes BaBa ZuLa return to the fray with their first studio LP in five years. And what a time to make that return, as Turkey, or rather its increasingly apoplectic quasi-Sultan-in-waiting Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, continues a policy of conformism that endangers any form of oppositional descent, and threatens artists and critics alike with severe censorship. The once famous secular moderate bridge between Europe and Asia is growing hostile to the West as the administration errs towards a hardline form of Islam, and moves closer towards Putin’s Russia.

Maintaining a constant rebellious streak throughout their twenty-three year career, whatever the ruling regime, the recent turmoil propels the ZuLa to reconvene; raising their heads above the barricades in a creative act of defiance: Music for dangerous times.

Still led, in part, by the switched-on electric ‘saz’ maestro Osman Murat Ertel, the group weaves together another expansive soundtrack of vivid souk dub and sashaying rambunctious post-punk on Derin Derin. Inspired by a number of things, not just the current political climate, the album is imbued by BaBa ZuLa’s long-running collaborations with the late Jaki Liebezeit: who was himself in turn influenced by a myriad of Anatolian rhythms – which you can hear permeating throughout both the Can legacy and his own many collaborative projects over the decades. The Can metronome and drumming doyen sat in with the group on a number of occasions, and the resonance, at least, of those sessions can in part be felt on this newest album. Especially on the Krautrock pulse of the solo fuzzed saz-snarling ‘Kizil Gözlüm’, which runs through a gamut of Germanic sounds, from Can to Blixa Bargeld and 80s Berlin post-punk. There’s even an air of Michael Karoli’s signature cosmic flares and reverberating wanes, as played on an amped-up oud (or saz), on the Sublime Porte reimagined vision of King Tubby, ‘Port Pass’. In retrospect, the band considers Jaki as an unassuming mentor.

Another thread to this album is the group’s ancestral connection, with musical ties that stretch back generations: Ertel paying a special homage to his artistic forbearers, enthused by traditions but also the country’s psychedelic furors in the 60s and 70s. From the 150 year-old photographic plate process used to produce the album cover, to the inclusion of a song penned by Ertel, his wife and young son, ‘U Are The Swing’, there’s a deep sense of family and inheritance; BaBa ZuLa as custodians of the faith.

A third strand, the instrumental portions of this Oriental cosmic album grew out of a soundtrack commission; the group asked to record music for a documentary about falcons, created a suitably exotic echo of serene flight and soaring majesty, as they accentuated the bird-of-prey plunging and floating over evocative commendable heights. These do act as mini-branches, vignettes and interludes between the longer songs.

The rest of the album oscillates and saunters between camel ride momentum Arabian Desert blues (thanks in part to the inclusion of an electrified oud), futurist Bosphorus reggae (via On-U-Sound and the Warp label) and even alternative rock. In the process they find an echo-y balance between the haunting and abrasive, and the elasticated and intense. A mystical union of the entrancing, sweeping and often chaotic, BaBa ZuLa ‘s hybrid of Turkish and Middle Eastern exotica straddles time and geography to once more create a fearless rump of defiance, yet also inspiring some hope.








Trupa Trupa ‘Of The Sun’
(Glitterbeat Records) 13th September 2019



The second Glitterbeat release to feature in my roundup up this month, the counterbalanced Polish band Trupa Trupa couldn’t be further apart, sound wise, from the more languid looseness dub of their label mates Baba ZuLa.

Freshly signing over to the German-based label, the multi-limbed quartet play off gnarling propulsive post-punk menace and tumult with echo-y falsetto despondent vocals and hymnal rock on their fifth album, Of The Sun. Feeding into the history of their regularly fought-over home city, Gdansk, Trupa Trupa create a monster of an album steeped in psychodrama, dream revelation and hypnotic industrialism.

In a perpetual tug-of-war for dominion with its Prussian, then German neighbors Gdansk strategic and commercial position as Poland’s most important post has seen the famous city become a sort of geopolitical bargaining chip over the centuries because of its gateway to the Baltic. After one such episode in a “convoluted” legacy, the city and much of its surrounding atelier of villages were turned into the Free City state of Danzig after WWI; a part compromise result of the Versailles Treaty in 1919. Famous son-of-Gdansk, philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer is credited as a major influence on the group and this album, and though not strictly born within the city limits, the infamous madman of cinema, Klaus Kinski – in one of his most wild-eyed legendary roles as the obsessive loon opera impresario, Brian Sweeney “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald – is also mentioned in the PR spill: the “great effort of pathetic failure” and “strain sublimating into nothing” of that barely veiled characterization proving fruitful suffrage and inner turmoil for the group.

A sinewy, pendulous embodiment of that environment and metaphysical philosophy, Trupa Trupa write “songs about extremes”, but use an often ambiguous lyrical message when doing it: usually a repeated like poetic mantra rather than charged protest. On one of those framed “extremes”, the wrangling guitar-heavy post-punk-meets-80s-Aussie-new-wave ‘Remainder’ sounds like Swans covering The Church, as the group repeat the refrain, “Well, it did not take place.”

Though taut, industrial with ominous machinations, there’s a surprising melodious quality to the turmoil and free fall of Trupa Trupa’s proto-Gothic rumblings. In amongst the slogging, chain dragging of the Killing Joke, PiL, Bauhaus and Gang Of Four are echoes of a wandering angelic House Of Love, Echo And The Bunnymen, early Stone Roses, Pavement and flange-fanned Siouxsie And The Banshees. Strangely, however, the dreamy haunted title-track evokes Thom Yorke in a dystopian Bertolt Brecht theatre, and the stripped-to-bare-bones acoustic ‘Angle’ even sounds like a odd, if charming, folksy harmonics pinged missive from Can’s Unlimited archives: Incidentally, Can’s walrus mustache maverick, Holger Czukay, was born in Gdansk, or rather Danzig as it was known at the time.

The PR spill that accompanies this nihilistic-with-a-heart LP is right to state, “Of The Sun is an unbroken string of hits.” There are no fillers, no let-up in the quality and restless friction, each track could exist as a separate showcase for the group’s dynamism: a single. East European, Baltic facing, lean post-punk mixes it up in the Gdansk backstreets and harbor with spasmodic-jazz, baggy, math-rock, psych, doom and choir practice as this coiled quartet deliver an angst-ridden damnation of humanity in 2019.








Taichmania ‘Seventh Heaven’
21st June 2019



The second group in this roundup to fuse the “saz” and “oud” within a cross-border traverse of Arabia and Turkey, Israeli troupe Taichmania take a similar line to BaBa ZuLa in freely merging musical cultures.

Well-traveled founding member, and the man whose name appears so prominently in the band moniker, Yaniv Taichman has a rich and varied pedigree having studied jazz at the Rimon College Of Music, Turkish music with Professor Mutlu Torun in Istanbul, and Indian music with Pt. Shivanath Mishra in Varanasi. His band mates, Sharon Petrover on drums, Yoni Meltzer on keys and electronics, and Lois Ozeri on bass, are no less musically worldly in that respect.

Stalwarts on the Israel scene in various forms, together under the Taichmania umbrella the quartet limber across a panoramic landscape of Sufi funk, souk-rock, prog and jazz on their debut suite, Seventh Heaven. A veritable elasticated fantasy of both intense hypnotic rhythms and desert peregrinations, this heavenly bound odyssey entwines the traditional sounds and scents of the Arabian Orient with zappy cosmic electronic undulations of synth atmospherics.

Broadcast samples from Middle East radio linger through a kind of spicy exotic brooding mix of Natasha Atlas and the Transglobal Underground on the opening ‘Arabesk’, whilst other such exotic intensity as the contorting spiraling title-track, and post-punk bendy ‘Saba’ are whole journeys, sagas, in their own right; moving between progressive-jazz fusion and futuristic Arabian vapours.

Taking classic leanings to the heavens and beyond, Taichmania knottily skip, scuffle, spindle, echo, quiver and solo through their magical influences to produce a live-feel Oriental soundtrack: heavy on the Prog!





Junkboy ‘Trains, Trees, Topophilia’
(Fretsore Records) 2nd August 2019



Regular readers will (hopefully) be aware that we premiered the Hanscomb brothers’ vibrato-mirage-y ‘Waiting Room’ single last month. This Baroque-pop fashioned nugget, bathed in a halcyon shimmer, proved an idyllic introduction to a pastoral album of geographical traversing instrumentals.

As its album title suggests, public transport(ive) and a strong sense of place have inspired the brothers first album since the much acclaimed 2014 album, Sovereign Sky: Both relocating years ago from Southend-On-Sea to the south coast ideals of Brighton, Junkboy siblings Mik and Rich compose a twelve-track suite to the back-and-forth journeys they made between the two counties of Essex and East Sussex. The “Topophilia” of that title, a term wrongly as it transpires attributed to John Betjeman, can be roughly translated as a love for certain aspects of a place that often gets mixed with a sense of cultural identity.

Passing through a myriad of versions of this landscape, influences include the troubled World War artists of England who depicted the torn-up apocalyptic aftermaths of Europe and the results of bomb raids across the English topography (becoming the doyens of the English modernist movement in the process), to the passing glimpses of the versant downs, beaches and “splendor towns” from a train window, and (friend and Junkboy photographer) Christopher Harrup’s Thames Estuary photo album. The first of these inspirations offers both a colour palette and a semi-abstract empirical vision of that countryside; messrs Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and John Piper, a triumvirate of influential painters, providing a suitable rich canvas: Just one of the guests on this charming LP (and no stranger to this blog) Oliver Cherer even helps pen a Nash homage, ‘A Chance Encounter’ plays with the light musically on a magical pop melody of slow jazzy brass, relaxed drums and flute-y forlorn.

Disarmingly chilled yet full of wistful rumination, Junkboy’s Brighton-Seaford-Southend traverse wonders what it would sound like if Brian Wilson was born and bred on the English Rivera instead of Hawthorne, California; the beachcomber vibes of Pet Sounds permeating throughout this quint lush English affair. You can safely add vague notions of Britpop era Octopus, a touch of the Super Furry Animals more folksy psych instrumentals, some early Beta Band, echoes of 90s Chicago post-rock, and on the dreamboat bluegrass lilted-and-silted ‘Sweetheart Of The Estuary’ more than a nod to Roger McGuinn and pals.

Trains, Trees, Topophilia is a peaceable musical landscape littered with the ghostly reverb of railways station interchanges, mew-dewed laced green hillsides, tidal ebbs and flows and Cluniac Abbeys – the millennia-old, Benedictine scion religious brethren, brought over in droves after William The Conqueror’s invasion of England, make a historical connection between both the album’s Essex and East Sussex locations; the orders’ priory in the Prittlewell of the same song title, originally set up by Cluniac monks from Lewes, just outside Brighton.

Pastoral musical care for the soul, Junkboy’s instrumental album is a beautifully conveyed canvas of the imagined and idyllic; a subtle ode to the Southeast cartography and painters, poets, writers that captured it so perfectly. This is an album that will grow on you over time, revealing its sophistication and nuanced layers slowly but surely: a lovely hour to wile away your time.






Jodie Lowther ‘The Cat Collects’
26th July 2019



One apparitional half of the surrealist Quimper duo, vaporous siren Jodie Lowther has been known to, on occasion, float solo. Her latest haunted diaphanous malady, The Cat Collects, is (as ever) a magical suite of dream realism and supernatural theater.

Between the characters of ethereal seraph and alluring cat lover, Jodie warbles, coos and entrances with a voice so fragile and gauze-y as to be almost an evanescent whisper: Jodie transmitting her vocals from the spirit side of the ether like a aria woozy Mina Crandon.

Drifting in a seeping cantabile sigh throughout this witchery spell of spooky misty songs and graveyard crypt sonnets is a subtle backing of feint melodies and stripped electronica – think Ultravox marooned on the Forbidden Planet or, an early Mute Records vision of 70s British horror soundtracks (Amicus, Hammer, British Lion). From invocations of Vampire lovers to black magic nuptials, The Cat Collects stirs up the right balance of scares and esoteric enchantment on an album of mysterious, creeping beauty and hazy Gothic soundtracks.





Society Of The Silver Cross ‘1 Verse’
28th June 2019



Over the last few months, and featured in previous editions of my roundups, the Seattle coupling of Joe Reinke and Karyn Gold-Reinke, under the auspicious appellation of the Society Of The Silver Cross, have presented us with a trio of evocative-enough Eastern death cult imbued video-singles. Making good on those mystical visions, the duo have released an album that both continues the Velvet Underground say “Om” Indian Gothic drone psychedelia of those tracks but also widens the musical palette to take in shoegaze, new wave and 90s alt-rock.

Still inspired by their spiritual travels to India, and adopting the invocation drone of the “shahi baaja” (Indian autoharp) and induced bowing of the “dilruba”, the Silver Cross explore the “transformative and renewing powers of death” as they flick through a bewitching songbook of Orientalism, Byzantium incense-scented opulence and bellowing sea shanty Edgar Poe scribed Gothic coastlines.

Leaving aside that run of singles (‘When You’re Gone’, ‘Kali Om’ and ‘The Mighty Factory Of Death’) the book of spells adorned 1 Verse piles on the melodrama of opiate arcane rites and woozy harmonium pumped esoteric atmospherics; opening with the repeated echo-y chanting ritual ‘Diamond Eyes’. In a similar mystical vain, distant tolled bells and the reverberations of a choral Popol Vuh creep into the holy processional lamented ‘Funeral Of Sorrows’. Yet, amongst the death marches and promises of spiritual release, rejuvenation and the inevitable there’s more radiant escapism in the form of spindled Baroque-psych (‘Dissolve And Merge’), alt-pop (‘Because’ imagines The Cars and Why? in holy communion) and even a bastardized Travelling Wilburys (‘Can’t Bury Me Again’).

Kneeling at the altar of a many-faced god/goddess the Silver Cross play freely with all those many influences; indulging in the Eastern arts but expanding horizons and even absorbing past Seattle imbued projects.

If you’ve only thus far heard the singles then much of the second half of this album will be a surprise. Dreamy mantra and morbid curiosity coalesce to produce a mesmerizing, hypnotic ritual; opening the door to further experimentation and proving a worthy new incarnation for Joe and Karyn to channel.





Tenakhongva, Stroutsos And Nelson ‘Öngtupqa: Sacred Music Of The Hopi Tribe’
(ARC Music) 26th July 2019



Breathing (literally) life back into the ancestral evocative paeans and spiritual communions of the Hopi people, the trio of radio show host ethnomusicologist Matthew Nelson, Hopi musician Clark Tenakhongva and world-renowned flutist Gary Stroutsos come together on sacred ground to invoke a magical homage.

First a little background. The Hopi, unlike many of their fellow communities of Native Indian tribes in the Americas, lived in more permanent villages, across swathes of South East Utah, North East Arizona, North West Mexico and South West Colorado. These dwellings, some very complex in their construction, gave birth to the Colonist appellation, the Pueblo People, but also because they were considered a more civilized, polite community; their concept of life based on a reverence for all things.

At the heart of this stirring earthy but often-transcendent project is the atavistic instrument that set it all in motion: the 1500-year-old Hopi long clay flute. Unearthed in the last century by the archeologist Earl Halstead Morris, who was leading a Carnegie Institute Expedition to the Prayer Rock district in North East Arizona in the 1930s, these hollow, reedless flutes were part of a thousand artifact haul of discoveries. Relatively remaining a mystery for decades to come, it wasn’t until further research in the 1960s that these flutes from the now renamed “Broken Flute Cave” could be confidently dated to around 620- 670 AD. What remains remarkable is that this sacred instrument was thought lost by the Hopi descendants themselves; disappearing hundred of years ago, until flute specialist Stroutsos with project instigator Nelson played a replica version in front of Hopi custodian Tenakhongva, who promptly invited him to play it in front of his entire family and then, at a later date, at a venerated spot near where the original clay flutes were found.

Part of the wider Canyon Music Festival in 2017, at the Mary Colter built Desert View Watchtower, the trio’s performance, with Nelson keeping rhythm on clay pot drums (keeping it all historically accurate, stretched-skin drums being out of time and step with the 7th century flutes), Strouthos improvising on flute and Tenakhongva singing whilst handling the percussive rasps, rattles and gourd, was filmed and recorded. An “approximation” of how the Hopi’s holy music would have sounded almost 1500 years ago, the Öngtupqa (the name given by the Hopi people to the canyon in which our trio played) nine-track suite remains untouched, unmodified or edited two years on.

Setting the atmosphere of both earthy soul connectedness and flighty astral mystery, the obviously talented and well-honed players perfectly capture the dream-like ritual and awe-inspiring panorama that surrounds them. If you were expecting the synonymous rain dance and powwow holler chants of much Native Indian music, think on. Öngtupqa is more entrancing, ambient in places, with the vocals, or chanting, graceful and often melodious but deep. Lifting out of the canyon to dizzying cloud-ruminating heights, you’ll still constantly reminded of the vast American outdoors and desert landscape: A rattlesnake shakes his distracting tail here, a panpipe flight of a condor or thunderbird over there on the mountainside.

An intimate tribute to the Hopi cycle of life (as Tenakhongva explains it, “…we were born within the Grand Canyon and when we are done, we return back to this place to rejuvenate life of a new beginning…”), the stories and music of that scared site are offered and opened-up to a global audience; a message of the communal, of preservation, being at the very heart of this vivid undertaking. The ancestors will be proud, as the two millennia old blessings and spiritualism of the Hopi is brought back to life.





House Of Tapes ‘Embers Dreams’
(Pure Spark Records) 7th August 2019



The Japanese electronic music wiz kid Ippu Mitsui has graced these roundups on a number of occasions over the years, and featured on numerous Monolith Cocktail playlists. Releasing a varied kaleidoscope of futuristic Tokyo electro-glides-in-blue and kinetic techno on a spread of labels, Mitsui originally came to my attention through his releases for the Edinburgh-based Bearsuit Records. Still recording ad hoc, Mitsui has now just launched his very own imprint, Pure Spark Records. Another one of Bearsuit’s extensive roster of mavericks, the inaugural release on that venture is from the experimental composer Yuuya Kuno, who under a variety of alter egos has prolifically knocked out a mix of the weird and sublime electronica.

Back recording under the House Of Tapes moniker in this instance (known as Swamp Sounds when passing sonic oddities through Bearsuit), Kuno’s two-track showcase, Embers Dreams, is a lucid, air-y and sophisticated affair. The “Embers” of that title is an inviting exotic amble through a moist-vegetated oasis of itchy, scratchy, woody and echo-y deep electro percussion, whilst the accompanying ‘Melted Ice’ offers a glass-y trance-y, robotics-in-motion slice of downtempo chiming soundtrack. A great subtle and deep piece of electronic manna and flow with which to launch Mitsui’s brand new label, House Of Tapes kickstarter is a serious piece of classy techno: an augur, a good omen I hope of what’s to come.





Philipp Gropper’s Philm ‘Consequences’
(Why Play Jazz)



A balletic jazz freefall in motion, the latest tumultuous suite from the acclaimed “David Bowie of jazz”, tenor saxophonist/composer/bandleader Philipp Gropper (and his Philm troupe), is a highly experimental reification of contortions and sporadic, spasmodic chaos: albeit a controlled, kept-in-check, vision of an avant-garde one.

The multifaceted title of this orderly breakdown in heightened tensions and liberating angst can be read in many ways: The “consequences”, for example, of our political divisive times can be heard and read loudly crashing throughout this six track album of disjointed intensity; the fallout from all sides of the societal divide causing enough anxiety, suffering and despondency to fuel Gropper for the next decade or more. In fact the whole course of “neo-liberalism” itself is on trail (or at least its knock-on effects of intervention), however abstract that might be.

Space expletory wondrous track titles aside, the filthy lucre spiral of dependency and spluttering wild ’32 Cents’, and funneling discordant interchange ‘Thinking From The Future (Are You Privilaged?)’ are both the most obvious proponents of that socially “woke” commentary – though whose privilege needs to be checked exactly in this exchange is open to debate.

The concerns of “interpersonal” and “interrelationships” within this charged political landscape are also a major focus for the Berlin-based jazz man; adding to a uncertain free flow of both centrifugal spinning discourse and more haunted, sometimes diaphanous, twinkling.

Escaping the atmosphere, orbiting the cosmology of deep space, Gropper’s most serene dance of glistened, starry majesty and mystery is the astral soundtrack to ‘Saturn’. Both the enormity and expansive uncertainty of this planetary titan is expressed evocatively enough by Gropper’s otherworldly Theremin aria like reedy breaths on the tenor sax, as his companions bounce and skip around the planet’s rings. Saturn holds a strong fascination for all of us, but it can’t have escaped Gropper’s notice that jazz music’s most celestial star, and progenitor of Afrofuturism, Sun Ra, claimed to have ascended to Earth from his Saturn home.

The musicianship is, as you expect, first rate, with Gropper’s sax totally untethered, squawking, fluting, brilling and even trembling, whilst his band of Elias Stemeseder (on piano and synth), Robert Landfermann (on double-bass) and Oliver Steidle (on drums) react decisively with limbering, elasticated reflexes. Together hey create an iridescent breakdown and reconstruction of digital calculus, science-fiction and the cerebral; merging contemporary European jazz with elements of Coltrane, Coleman, Billy Cobham, Stockhausen, The Soft Machine and the electronic and hip-hop genres. Futurism and avant-garde classicism collide in an oscillating and tumbling fusion of complex ideas: Consequences is a musical language on the verge of collapse. How it all stays together is anyone’s guess. This is a most impressive adventure in jazz.





REVIEWS ROUNDUP
Words: Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

Toxic Chicken - Monolith Cocktail



Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. Each month we end him a deluge of new releases on his virtual desk to see what sticks.

Toxic Chicken ‘Uncomfortable Music’
21st July 2019


I don’t apologise for writing another review of Toxic Chicken, as this is his 3rd LP in as many months, and this like the other two is a work of pure maverick pop genius: and not just because there is a four second track called ‘Brian From The Bordellos’ on it!

This LP has everything that I love about the magic and joy of music. It has humour and a madness that at times reminds me of the great Syd Barrett and the wonderful White Noise Electrical Storm LP. It is eccentric pushed to the extreme. Songs with the subject matter of eating politicians and love songs for cats and for Mother Nature and what is bad about England, but that track only being under two minutes long does not quite manage to list everything.

Uncomfortable Music is certainly an enjoyable and rewarding listening experience, and at times, the subject matter does live up to its title. But this album is a pay-what-you-want to download, so is well worth a listen. Another great album from a great artist: And I mean artist. And the track ‘Little Snail’ is the best dance track I have heard all year.





Snapped Ankles ‘Stunning Luxury’
1st March 2019



The whirring and exciting sounds of post punk circa 2019 coming at you like a extravagant wholemeal piece of chiffon scarred alternative disco meat; the sound of Devo fucking the brains and beats out of the B52s whilst the horny ghost of Mark E Smith watches on making cutting asides whilst stomping on the hopes and dreams of the not yet born love child of David Byrne and Lena Lovich.

This LP is one big extravagance of dark dance and post punk joy, the sort of album to soundtrack your wildest night out ever: sordid clubs, cheap drinks, hanging out with girls and boys who really should know better, the best musical electro porn one could ever hope to gorge oneself on.

Stunning Luxury is dirty, it is funky, it is experimental, it is blistering rock ‘n’ roll. A luxury indeed. One that should be enjoyed by all.





Anton Barbeau ‘Berliner Grotesk’
(Beehive Records / Pink Hedgehog Records) 19th July 2019



There is a dark playful melancholy I love about this LP, not the weeping into your hanky kind, or, the “oh I feel so sorry for myself kind”, but the, “I am middle aged and looking back at my life through the good and bad the happy and bad” kind. There is hope in the future kind, the kind of melancholy that Martin Newell thrives at writing. Even the cover of the Beatles ‘Love Me Do’ is enriched with a sadness the original misses; this version overcomes the familiarity by transforming it into a slightly electro reggae beauty.

But not all is sadness and tears there is also fine pop of the power variety: the sort Jellyfish so excelled at releasing. The Bowie Mott and the Fabs influences of course shine bright bringing a lovely old time Englishness that is so often ignored in modern music of today. This LP is a finely crafted pop album, with enough quirks and twists to make it a very enjoyable listen.





Simon Waldram ‘Into The Blue’
27th July 2019



Simon Waldram made one of my favourite LPs from 2016, the wonderful self released Insolation, an LP that dipped and swayed, taking in JAMC one minute and the next, beautiful swathes of psych folk. This, his new album, Into The Blue, takes off where that album left off, but is a slightly more subdued affair: Songs of darkness, love, depression and hope merge into a quite beautiful collection.

In these days when the acoustic guitar has taken over the electric, sales wise, there is certainly a market for LPs of softly strummed melancholia, and Simon does it far better than most; bringing to mind at times, the beautiful slowcore shimmer of Low (especially on ‘Breaking Waves’), at other times, recalling the magic of the Go Betweens and The Smiths.

The highlight for me though is the beautiful psych folk instrumental ‘Sea Turtles’: a few moments of total bliss.

Into The Blue is a fine LP and with the right backing and a bit of luck could well fight its way to the top of the overcrowded melancholic brigade, and could find favor on many late night radio shows. An album of real beauty and sadness and hope.





Moody Mae ‘Throwing Rocks at John E. Road’
2nd July 2019



Indie pop from Sweden is on the whole a wonderful thing indeed, and this EP/mini LP from Moody Mae keeps within that wonderful remit. Beatles like ‘Martha My Dear’ piano, lovingly could not give a toss female vocals, ba ba bas and lofi psychedelia join forces to force music lovers to nod their heads and grin like grinning idiots. And to think that this was recorded in 2005 and has taken 14 years to see the light of day. I think it may be time for Moody Mae to reform and record a full length waxing. For when a band has the gift of pure pop wonderment it is a shame not to share that wonderment with the less fortunate. A treasure of a release.




Radio Europa ‘Community Is Revolution’
(Wormhole) 19th July 2019



It seems like a weekly event that Wormhole Records release a new underground LP of chilled out darkness. This weeks release is by Radio Europa and is an LP of chilled out darkness with the odd offering of a glimpse of light appearing through the cracks of the drawn heavy curtains called life: The beam of light showing the particles of dust exploding and hovering around the thoughts of insolvent tomorrows and the broken promises of yesterday.

Gentle soft spoken vocals lilt into the wave of dark synth and drum beats that blanket you in the warmth of the cold that whispers sweet nothings whilst grinding a worn down stiletto heel into your vacant soul.

Community Is Revolution is an album to soundtrack these uncertain times; an album to close your eyes and let the music sweep over you and take you to the dark recess of your mind where devils and angels juggle with the happy/sad of your life.





bigflower ‘Night And Day’
13th July 2019


Another week another fine free to download single from bigflower. An explosion of post punk guitars do battle with horns and a bass riff so mighty it would make Jean Jacques Burnel want to call it a day and to take up flower arranging. When oh when are this mighty band going to be picked up by some label. For this is far to a fine a track to slip under the radar yet again. Blogs, djs of the alternative variety should be ramming this down people’s throats instead of some acoustic guitar charlatan whining on about how twee their girlfriend’s vagina is [like they have saw their girlfriend’s vagina! They saw an egg box and let their imagination take hold]

Bigflower are one of the most exciting underground bands around at the moment and we at the Monolith Cocktail will keep ranting on about their majestic take on modern life until the less with-it blogs catch on. Blogs, djs, record labels for God sake get your fingers out.





Why Sun ‘Frugte’
14th June 2019



Softly strummed guitars and deeply crooned vocals kick start this beautiful five track EP of softly strummed guitars and deeply crooned vocals; songs that bring the joys of Galaxie 500 and the Wild Swans oozing into my mind, and lovers of those bands and the many bands of that ilk should enjoy this. So give it a listen especially if you are hung-over or on the verge of doing fuck all.






Album review: Andrew C. Kidd



Toby Marks & Andrew Heath ‘Motion’

(Disco Gecko) 10th May 2019


The search for the gesamtkunstwerk led to Toby Marks and Andrew Heath embarking on a tour in the four cardinal directions of England and Wales to record more than one hundred hours of audio. The conjoint and condensed output is Motion.

I am first drawn to Marks and Heath’s metric structure. After the introductory and rather magnificent antiphonal chanting on the opening track For Stone (West) Parts 1-3, the reverberated guitar notes surge and swell like rolling waves. Multiple progressive rhythms surface from this repetitive phrase and others that emerge as the album advances. I am equally impressed by their capabilities as sound engineers. The stereo width is as broad as anything I have heard on Loscil’s Submers (Kranky, 2002) and is best illustrated by the breadth of frequencies played on For Stone (West) Parts 1-3: crisp piano notes immediately contrast the low rumble of background synths, the vibrations of which filter into ears nestled in headphones.

An iron horse slowly gathers pace in the second part of For Stone (West) Parts 1-3; the sound is heavy as it weighs against sleepers and tracks. Trains in ambient music always bring me back to Elvis On The Radio, Steel Guitar In My Soul from The KLF’s Chill Out album (Wax Trax!, 1991). Motion’s finale, By Fire (East) Parts 1-4, commences abruptly with the clamorous din of a whistling steam locomotive. The guitar notes that follow are water droplets falling from the boiler of an engine. The meditative modulations of the deep bass mirror the oscillations of a piston firing back and forth inside a cylinder. The screeches of wheels on the curve of a railroad are the drawn-out distortions of amplified strings.

Marks and Heath’s idea of kinesis is not just confined to the automatic. They also turn to the sounds of nature, or rather, natural phenomena. The merging of natural and man-made sounds is done so seamlessly that I am often left wondering as to which is which. Non-mechanical examples include waves lapping against a sandy shoreline on With Iron (South) Parts 1-3 and the familiar sound of buzzing bees in flight on In Air On Water (North) Parts 1-3, the latter contrasting against the hum and rattle of a single-engine aircraft.

This is a very human album. The distorted train announcer and youthful calls on By Fire (East) Parts 1-4 and the muffled laughs heard through the wall of water on For Stone (West) Parts 1-3 invoke many feelings. Small cracks appear in the field recordings which create a sense of vulnerability. The mostly major keys employed by the duo are uplifting and there are moments of blinding brightness; exempli gratia, the synth sequences and guitar tremolos on By Fire (East) Parts 1-4.

Near-perfect equilibrium is achieved on In Air On Water (North) Parts 1-3. Clear bell chimes ring around birdsong. Human voices chatter beneath the warmth of a bright ‘duet’ of piano and guitar as storm clouds gather. The most memorable moment of the album follows: pulses start to race with the deafening roar of a plane and the claps of thunder that crash around the granular and delayed decay of the background synths; the relief of rain after the storm serves as a calming coda.

It was the Greek philosopher Empedocles who first described the four ‘roots’ of earth, water, air and fire alluded to in Marks and Heath’s track titles. He considered each of the four roots to have their own nature and that diversity could be created by combining them. Science has obviously moved forward some two thousand years and rationalists like Lavoisier have helped place Empedocles’s theories in the basket of archaic curiosities. Nevertheless, Empedocles made an early attempt to explain the inner workings of a world that, at times, simply cannot be explained. Marks and Heath have also sought to explore the same inner workings and every time I listen to Motion new emergent properties arise from its natural, mechanistic and human components. In my opinion, that is their biggest triumph.


Andrew C. Kidd