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.





LP REVIEW
Words: Ayfer Simms


Conrad Schnitzler & Pole - Monolith Cocktail

Conrad  Schnitzler / Pole   ‘Con-Struct’
Released  by  Bureau  B,  24th  March  2017

This music is described as avant-garde because on the surface the notes appear to be unwelcoming, obscure and almost shuddery, like a sort of peering into a black hole, with simply no place to grip. However the feeling quickly changes as the story emerges skillfully, then, it is like watching a scene shot thirty thousand years ago. The late Conrad Schnitzler, didn’t describe the future, he forged his music drawing from the depth of consciousness, not just the individual’s, but from humankind’s waking one.

Do you hear the sound of the flint, taping on a rock, mechanically and continuously, for centuries?

Sounds of the album are drawn from the past, from our very own flesh as death looms on us, as it did on our ancestors. The future is behind us, within us, the tracks construct the stages of history in their most subtle aspects. On this beautiful album, time is dismantled, space, gravity, dimensions appear like a flash, a glimmer in the most savage and dreary landscape, portraying the different periods of man who despite his insipidity, has gathered, prudently at first, under thorny elements and emerged strong against the deep, coarse and indifferent nature. And now can you hear how a simple combination of synths-effects renders the strength of ancients? That natural longing for war in the thick of our heart as we hunt, gather and hunt. Hunt until our own blossoming death?

Conrad’s frictionless world is the past disguised in the future. To break the code of the album, it’s best listened to loud and near the ears. The tracks will then unlock and tap straight into your bloodstream.



LABEL LAUNCH/SINGLE
Words: Dominic Valvona


Jono Podmore & Swantje Lichtenstein - Monolith Cocktail

Jono Podmore  &  Swantje Lichtenstein   ‘Miss Slipper/Lewes’
Released  on  Psychomat,  6th  March  2017

Responsible for a stream of experimental electronic projects, both on the cutting edge of technology and vanguard of a return to the roots of analogue, and a member of the manifesto guided metamono trio, Jono Podmore has cranked-up the generator, punched in new coordinates and blown the dust off the dials to relaunch his influential 90s label, Psychomat.

Renowned for his cerebral collaborations with a number of luminaries from across the electronic music spectrum, but famously for his work with both Can’s Irmin Schmidt (together as the Kumo and Irmin Schmidt duo) and the late Jaki Liebezeit (Cyclopean), Jono’s inaugural label comeback pairs him with the Düsseldorf-based sound writer/performance artist Swantje Lichtenstein.

A conceptual meeting of minds, the duo’s upcoming Michaela Eichwald cover art adorned 7”, which is billed as an actual “work of art” in its own right, features two serialism performance-manipulations recorded at Jono’s on the day of the funeral of his friend, the publisher Felix Hiner, in 2014.

The first of these, Miss Slipper, is of all things, riffing off a piece of writing by Jono’s daughter. A spontaneous freewheeling interpretation of an innocent description of a school art teacher is pushed towards the alien by ring modulations and filter trickery. Obscured and transmogrified into something almost sinister, even daemonic, Swantje’s voice shifts between squelched and metallic strange tongues.

Lingering in the same atmosphere, beyond the stratospheric, the idyllic pastoral East Sussex town of Lewes slips into a parallel dimension of weirdness; the metamono sat-nav tuning into a beacon communal with unknown entities, somewhere yonder in the ether. Based on a set of directions given to the group for a gig in Lewes, this extemporized art-piece glitches, buzzes and chants its amorphous script until it becomes directionless; untethered on wave after wave of tubular ringing, echoed and chromed effects; disappearing into the torn fabrics of space.

Miss Slipper/Lewes is every bit as conceptual and experimental as you’d expect, and lays down the start of, what I hope, will be a fruitful union of art and sound work. We may not have to wait long though for the next installment, as a series of remixes from Pete Hope, Hairy Kipper, Inky Blackness, Bastard Status, Jono in his Kumo guise, and Professor Michael Ball (a colleague of Jono’s and a professor of electronic composition), will be released in the coming weeks and months.





NEW MUSIC REVIEW ROUNDUP
Words: Dominic Valvona


Monolith Cocktail - Bargou 08


Tickling Our Fancy 045: A Journey Of Giraffes, Bargou 08, Delicate Steve, Dr Chan, Emptyset, The Food Of Love Project, Le Petit Diable and Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr.

In this edition of Tickling Our Fancy, the great and good of experimental and atavistic folk interpret sonnets and songs referenced in the works of Shakespeare, on The Food Of Love Project; John Lane produces his most experimental, esoteric, collection of field recordings yet, under his A Journey Of Giraffes alter ego; Delicate Steve marks his return with his first solo LP in four years, a collection of personable “songs without words”, entitled This Is Steve; Dr. Chan make their most “mature” howling skate punk meets primal garage row yet, $outh$ide $uicide; there’s mesmerizing Tunisian desert funk and atavistic vibes from Glitterbeat’s latest signing, the Bargou 08 project; the latest reification sonic suite from Emptyset; the accomplished jazz siblings, Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr’s recruit David Bowie’s Blackstar line-up for their Landed In Brooklyn suite; and finally, a welcome new solo direction from Jinko Vilova’s Ander López.


Bargou 08   ‘Targ’
Released  by  Glitterbeat  Records,  17th  February  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Bargou 08

Ahh…the sounds of a dusky reedy gasba flute; the tactile patted and burnished bendir drum; the rustic, earthy strung loutar, and the flowing, scaling 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, Chechel Khater.

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.

 

In the same way that Noura Mint Seymali’s griot traditions of Mauritania were boosted by an infusion of psych and a polyrhythmic, bordering on breakbeat jazz, drums the Bargou valley’s heritage is given a fattened keyboard bassline, warping Moog oscillations and a modern production. The results are exciting and often lively. The dynamics, especially Yahyaoui’s emotionally powerful vocals, are an especially imaginative giddy thumping mix of desert rock, Arabian dance music and snake-charming mysticism. Suffused with this cocktail of sounds, each passionate evocation, learned and passed on by the village elders, begins with a signature introduction of searching, plaintive or mysterious flute before a pulsing backbeat kicks in; suddenly jump-starting and placing those songs in a modern context. Modulating between the nocturnal desert soundclash of Dek Biya and the Barbary coastal tidal motion candor of Le Min Ijina, different eras are magnificently bridged.

 

Honed on the road, the Bargou 08 project, conceived by Yahyaoui and steered by his musical partner and friend, keyboard player and producer Sofyann Ben Youssef, was recorded in an ad hoc manner: Youssef juggling both the recording equipment whilst playing the Moog. Yet despite its often loose and hypnotic nature, devoid of tension, this album is a highly sophisticated, joyful, groovy and tight; the musicianship first rate.

 

Filled with a legacy of turmoil and tension that goes back an aeon the song’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 Youssef, captured this rich mesmeric culture for posterity. And in doing so, produced a masterpiece that will endure. 2017 will have to be an exceptional year if Targ doesn’t make this year’s “best of lists”; it’s certainly earmarked for ours.





Various  Artists  ‘The  Food  Of  Love’
Released  by  Autolycus  Records,  via  PinDrop  and  TMD  Media, 20th February 2017


Monolith Cocktail - Food Of Love Project

 

Despite being one the most laid back people I know, though judging by the multiple projects, schemes, events and albums he’s working on at any one time he may just be tired out, Oxford polymath Sebastian Reynolds is in a constant state of ennui. He made the TOF column four times in a row last year with various remixes and productions including the multimedia Thai meets West production Mahajanaka – a collaboration fusion of both traditional Thai forms and Western contemporary dance and music, which reinterprets the ancient stories of Buddha on his multiple incarnations journey of perfection towards becoming fully enlightened. In between his roles as a promoter and head honcho at PinDrop, Seb’s set to release a pair of solo albums, Remembrance and Epiphany, later in the year. It is once again in his role as both a performer and instigator that sees him, alongside Tom McDonnell of TMD Media, commission and curate a celebration of the great bard Shakespeare.

 

Originally part of the wider Oxford Shakespeare Jubilee festival programme in 2016, the adroitly conceived compilation has had some trouble with its official release date, being put back and now hovering over January ready to drop at anytime. But the wait has been worthwhile. The twelve-strong track list features an inspired choice of both Oxford locals and carefully plucked international artists interpreting, transmogrifying and playing around with both the most fleeting and integral songs performed or merely referenced in Shakespeare great cannon of work. In what is now an obligatory requisite, Seb performs with both the electronic-indie outfit he’s been a member for years, Flights Of Helios, and as one half of a unique collaboration with Food Of Love project partner McDonnell, under The Children Of The Midnight Chimes appellation. The first of these is a constantly evolving alternative indie and trip-hop dance peregrination of I Loathe That I Did Love from Hamlet, the latter, is a heavy, thick supernatural vortex drone representation of O Death, Rock Me Asleep from Henry IV Part 2. Considering its source is “allegedly” from a poem written by the tragic fateful Anne Boleyn on the eve of her execution, this abstract soundscape, which features shrouded in the ether vocals from McDonnell, is like a haunting: the unrested spectre of Ann caught in perpetual anguish.

 

Equally good at removing the original material from any sort of familiarity, taking it over the threshold into alien realms, steam-punk maverick and musical contraption inventor Thomas Truax transforms the Tudor court stalwart Greensleeves into a ethereal cosmic trip abroad Gene Roddenberry’s Starship Enterprise; landing on The Tempest inspired Forbidden Planet. David Thomas Broughton meanwhile closes the album with a ten-minute experimental finale, reinterpreting Lawn As White As Driven Snow from A Winter’s Tale. Sounding like multiple takes of the same song, set into motion at different times and played all at once, Broughton impressively weaves all the discord, overlaps and amorphous bleeds together to create a drifting, sometimes anemic panoply.

 

In a more congruous manner, closer to the times they were written in, the Scottish troubadour Alasdair Roberts, with only the minimal though attentively atmospheric “historically accurate” lute of Gordon Ferries to back him up, steps straight off a Tudor tapestry to coo in an atavistic lulling timbre the “oblique” referenced Caleno Custure Me from Henry IV Part 2. Elsewhere the tone is of a folksy twee yet often stark and ominous droning beauty. A Highland imbued version of Strength In A Whisper, from Much Ado About Nothing, by, another Scott, the folk songstress Kirsty Law, and a stirring quivered Celtic orchestral treatment of Bonnie Sweet Robin Is To The Greenwood Gone, from Hamlet, by the Dead Rat Orchestra both share hints of Jed Kurzel’s mesmerizing score for the 2015 movie version of Macbeth.

 

Missing unfortunately from the line-up, the classical folk legend John Renbourn sadly passed away before recording his contribution. The Food Of Love is as a result dedicated to his memory. And it is a touching tribute but most importantly a successful exercise in bringing vitality to Shakespeare’s yellowed parchment; lifting what were in many ways just fleetingly touched upon songs to life.





Delicate  Steve  ‘This  Is  Steve’
Released  by  ANTI-,  27th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Delicate Steve

I must confess. Delicate Steve (as he’s known) has until now escaped my detection. The accompanying bio however offers an impressive resume, listing David Byrne, The Dirty Projectors, Lee Ranaldo and tUnE-yArDs as admirers and collaborators. As a testament to Steve’s range, the erudite guitarist and songwriter has “cut records” with both Sondre Lerche and Death Grip’s Zach Hill; and recently appeared playing guitar on the new Paul Simon record.

His first solo album in four years, and the first for the Anti- label, This Is Steve is billed as an “introduction” from the artist to you, the audience. A one-man band, producing and playing everything himself, Steve’s peaceable, often acid-country and surf twanged jaunty and ruminative, guitar themes run through an eclectic array of genres without settling on any specific. The signature cosmic swirling phaser guitar effect and intricate but relaxed perusal technique apes a number of other instruments, including the sitar on the opening glam-psych wilderness of Animals, the zither on the George Harrison exotic bluegrass walk along a California boardwalk Winners, and a Theremin on the nocturnal slouchy candor Nightlife.

Untethered as such; meandering mostly, but at times more forcefully careering through expressions and moods, Steve is scuzzing down ZZ Top’s highway towards a Todd Rundgren drive-through one minute (Cartoon Rock) and yearningly picking out a poignant personal Woodstock gospel anthem the next (This Is Steve).

 

Despite it being an entirely instrumental affair, you may find yourself singing along. And that’s due to each song’s uncanny familiarity, but also down to Steve’s personable touch, unguarded, channeling a lifetime of both conscious and unconscious melodies and articulating them in his own unique manner.





Emptyset  ‘Borders’
Released by Thrill  Jockey,  January  27th  2017


Emptyset - Monolith Cocktail

 

Transmogrifying, compressing and distorting their chosen “tactile” instruments (which include a six-stringed zither-like contraption and a drum) through vintage analogue equipment, the Emptyset duo perform a live contortion of fuzzy and frazzling trepidation on this latest conceptual offering, Borders.

Commissioned in the past to articulate musically and sonically the abstract; Emptyset have produced successful reification suits, with a number of self-imposed rules, from a number of architectural spaces, including the decommissioned Trawsfynydd nuclear power station and the neo-gothic Woodchester Mansion. This time around, sat in a Faraday cage as towering metal leviathans communicate with each other overhead, James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas set themselves another series of prompting parameters to work within. On this particular score the duo focus on subtly adjusting the timbral qualities of their performance, for an often ominous concatenate series of sonorous and abrasive evocations.

 

Though Borders doesn’t seem to offer a specific architectural environment; it evokes instead an electrified industrial-scarred force field of dread. Sounding not too dissimilar to Sunn O))) making a cerebral techno album on Basic Channel, the eleven-track soundtrack is suffused with long drawn-out pylon throbbing rhythms, seething and flexing with various fluctuated menace. Descent for instance opens the furnace door of a machine-age fire-breathing Moloch, whilst Speak brays with a monstrous didgeridoo-like rasp.

The album is a heavy dose of bestial sizzled magnetic crackling and giant rumblings; an electrified fence of static doom, both highly atmospheric but also teasing with anticipation.








A  Journey  Of  Giraffes   ‘F²’
Self-released,  January  11th  2017


A Journey Of Giraffes - Monolith Cocktail

 

A Journey Of Giraffes’ John Lane has come a long way since his chirpier and languorous lo fi Beach Boys (circa Pet Sounds and SMiLE) inspired renderings and washes. Now almost fully immersed in the esoteric; exploring strange new soundscapes, Lane takes “a long walk into the deep forest” of his Maryland, USA home for something approaching the supernatural. Those California vapours of old do still linger, though removed even further, lost on a swell of reverb, Foley sounds and a heavy miasma of abstracted experimentation. A leitmotif of field recordings from the Hampton’s Cromwell Valley Park underpin this latest journey: the trampling underfoot of the valley floor and, threatening to blow us off-course, gusts of wind create an environment that sounds like an ominous meander into the Blair Witch Project.

Best described as Coil picking apart Panda Bear on the way to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, (an element which you won’t find on the periodic table; a symbol instead that Lane uses to represent a sentiment of “family first”) features venerable monk-like chants and wordplay, subterranean echoes, Tibetan chimes and paranormal doo-wop. Hermitages, caves, atavistic idols to old gods the ghosts of previous generations that once hewed a living from the landscape and the sainted Father Damien De Veuster of the 19th century leprosy colony of Hawaii’s Molokai Island, all haunt Lane’s imagination.

 

Self-released via Bandcamp, almost happenstance style, this avant-garde soundtrack opus benefits from the kind of freedom that the internet can offer. However, with no restrictions and a methodology of total exploration, the album is perhaps overly long in places and can stretch the listener’s patience. Still, Lane works out his ideas and expands his sound further on every release; taking that original Beach Boys influence into seldom charted waters.





Dr  Chan  ‘Southside Suicide’
Released  by  Stolen  Body  Records,  24th  February  2017


Dr Chan - Monolith Cocktail

 

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, Standells, Rationals, 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 $uicideboy$, into the riot. 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.

The opening title track is a lively introduction to this controlled chaos; the distorted scrawling spunk-rockers rumbling and attacking surf, bluegrass and rock n roll in adolescent fury. It isn’t always this fast and noisy. I Can’t Change for example takes a, dare I say, poignant respite; sounding like a yearning Roky Erikson dodging the whistling drop of bombs from above.

 

Despite the increasingly distressed cartoon screamed resigned sentiment of the swansong, Life Is Not Fun – Southside Suicide is a blast. Riled and obviously pissed about the current state of affairs both at home and overseas, Dr Chan’s protests are in keeping with the primal spirit of rock’n’roll: fun, fun, fun! It’s a blast.





Julian  &  Roman  Wasserfuhr   ‘Landed In Brooklyn’
Released  by  ACT,  24th  February  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr

 

It can hardly be denied that New York always has and always will be an epicenter of musical innovation and fusion. Sure, there’s a growing unease at not just New York but mega beacons of creativity everywhere in the West. That the artists are pushed out and forced into the outlier regions because of gentrification, high rents and a general enervation of culture. Manhattan still has the jazz legacy and sports the venues (from the Lincoln Centre to The Village), but we’re increasingly told the “action” is happening elsewhere: in the borough of Brooklyn to be exact. A sprawling region of the New York panoply, Brooklyn has become a cheaper, more viable alternative; though in the last decade this hotspot has seen a massive influx of millennials, students and creatives flood the area, and so changed the very nature of the neighborhoods and inevitably made it more expensive.

Lured to this hotspot, the exceptionally talented trumpet (though on the latest album also partial to the flugelhorn) and piano sibling partnership of Julian and Roman Wasserfuhr “land” in Brooklyn for their 5th LP together. Prompted by the German jazz label ACT, and producer Siggi Loch (one of the first to foster the brothers talent, Loch produced their debut 2006 album Remember Chet, as part of that label’s “Young German Jazz” series) the duo initially hadn’t given much thought to the project. Spurred on however by the mounting reputation of New York’s largest borough, the brothers relocated. Imbuing themselves with Brooklyn’s history and present “where the action is” status, they recruited members of David Bowie’s Blackstar backline; man-of-the-moment tenor saxophonist and bandleader Donny McCaslin and the equally in-demand, former New York native, electric and double-bass player, Tim Lefebvre. Both have, in great part due to the attention Bowie inevitably drew, helped shape the city’s persona and rep for pushing the boundaries of jazz. And here they do what they do best; lifting and taking ideas and melodies into ever more inventive directions. Consummate enough to boost the foundations, yet also erudite enough to know when to blow or noodle away ten-to-the-dozen, they prove a congruous fit. Finishing the lineup, another link to McCaslin, is supremo drummer Nate Wood, who gets the chance to showboat with a salvo of never-ending rolls and crescendos on the cover of Tokio Hotel’s power-rock ballad, Durch den Monsun – a vast improvement upon the original.




Making a final connection to the city’s wider jazz legacy; the brothers chose to record at Joe & Nancy Marciano’s legendary System Two Recording Studio; using the venerated studio’s classic ribbon mic, once owned by John Coltrane no less, and a piano previously used for concerts at Carnegie Hall. Utilizing the environment, which has seen its fair share of legendary names from the jazz lexicon record there, the quintet produced an extemporized performance. Far from rehearsed and contrived – other than the choice of covers and the odd bit of sheet music – there’s little prompting on Landed In Brooklyn. Instead we get a flowing, loose semi-improvised interplay between all involved. This method is demonstrated on the opening “ensemble sound”, Bernie’s Tune. Relaxed, springy even, Julian Wasserfuhr and McCaslin’s interweaving horn section flews impressively over a quickened backbeat to create an update on the New York siren wailed TV detective theme tune. Roman Wasserfuhr, who leads on most of the album, is deft and supple on the ivories; caressing warming with a rippling effect even though you can tell he’s working hard on some complex countermelodies.

 

Whether it’s been planned, or unintentionally just floated into the quintet’s melting pot sound, there are traces and nods to a number of key jazz doyens throughout. There’s purposeful, and noted in the album’s accompanying booklet, hints of the horn geniuses Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine for instance on a couple of tracks, most notably however on the nestled trumpet and swaddling saxophone – Gershwin on Blue Note – Tinderly.

 

Elsewhere there’s Marimba-lilted waltzes; a 5/4 timing transformation of a moribund Sting song; and a cluttering railway-track travail style meditation on America’s past segregation woes to take in. And marvelous they all sound too. There can be no denying that this is a quality line-up; musically speaking, even if the covers are hardly inspiring, this is an accomplished recording. The Wasserfuhr brothers do creative things with the scenery and mood of a hub currently in the spotlight; producing an album that arguably bridges the old with the new guard.





Le  Petit  Diable   ‘Seeds’
Self-released  through  Bandcamp,  available now


Le Petit Diable - Monolith Cocktail

 

An important force for good on the underground Spanish music scene, predominantly in the last five years with the Krautrock and “Motor City” inspired Jinko Vilova, songwriter/musician and full-on space-rocker Ander López has taken on a new role as a troubadour for his solo album.

As demonstrated on his new collection, under the Le Petit Diable guise, López removes all but a brassy-stringed resonating acoustic guitar from the Jinko Vilova blueprint sound. Taken from the group’s previous LP, Líquid, the opening gambit, You’re Standing, is reduced from its original cosmic thickset Detroit bombast to a far more intimate acoustic affair, which sounds at times like a missing track from Can’s Unlimited Edition. It serves as a transitional introduction to ease the listener into the new raw, stripped direction. The album, Seeds (a metaphor for the ideas he’s evidently planting), has a real live quality about it, recorded in an atmospherically favourable space that lends itself to the echoing chimes and rings of his “lived-in” guitar playing.

Countering a gentler picking and plucking articulation with a mixture of attacking and ringing reverberation style rhythm guitar, López works up a fair old pace at times; filling the space when he needs to: The rebellious folk gallop, Purple Sphere, could be considered even spiky!

Vocally he channels a litany of hard-worn melancholic wayfarers; including Blixa Bargeld (Who Cast The First Stone), Nico (Snake’s Dance, Follow The Leader) and Roy Harper (My Eyes). There’s even a hint of the languid Damo Suzuki about López on the opener.

Le Petit Diable is a welcome move towards a parallel solo career; a surprise exploration and change from the music he’s become synonymous with. There is a lot of promise on this album, and the future looks bright.




LP  REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona

Monolith Cocktail - Moebius Musik fur Metropolis


Moebius   ‘Musik  fur  Metropolis’
Released  on  CD/LP/DD  by  Bureau B,  January  6th  2017

Standing like a shard beacon of expressionist light in 20th century cinema Fritz Lang’s, and let’s not forget his wife and co-auteur on this visionary opus Thea von Harbou, futuristic visual requiem Metropolis is rightly hailed as a classic. Borne out of the most tumultuous of periods in German history, as the artistically creative but decadent disconnect of the Weimar Republic was about to crumble and the menace of the National Socialists was goose-stepping towards an eventual Armageddon, Metropolis may have been about a future world but was making glaringly obvious analogies and metaphors about the present.

Modeled in the Art Deco style of its day the centuries old struggle between the elite and those on the lower strata of society continued unabated in the movie’s 21st century dystopian setting. A privileged minority of wealthy industrialists, living in the lofty heights of a N.Y. on steroids skyline, lorded it over those who toil in perpetual labour below, firing up and feeding the machinery that keeps the balance of power in check. The cast includes the love spurned mad scientist Rotwang, whose resurrection totem robot creation became the poster child for the film and continues to be one of the most iconic symbols of malevolent technology; the dandy of the ‘upper world’ turn inspired ‘mediator’, reformed hero Freder and his father the city’s “master” Joh Fredersen; and the idealist heroine of the piece, Maria. All parties are forced to reconcile after a series of events, sparked by Freder’s epiphany after witnessing a deadly explosion in the boiler rooms; enchanted and led to the workers via his love for Maria.

 

Ambitious in any era, Metropolis despite pushing cinematography towards dizzying heights of inventiveness and scope was considered too lengthy and it’s central tenet naïve on its inaugural release. A substantial cut was made, losing many scenes and even characters, before a final edited version was released to the greater public. Believed discarded and lost, the original became something of an enigma until a full-length version turned up in 2005 in a museum in Argentina. Restored to near 95% completion it was unveiled five-years later and has ever since been lavished with special screenings and accompanied by a myriad of different scores, including the catalyst for this special release. Invited in 2012 to perform a semi-improvised soundtrack leading avant-garde composer and founding member of the Kluster/Cluster/Harmonia triumvirate of cosmic progressives Dieter Moebius composed a suitably atmospheric, often unsettling and evocative industrial suite. Not the first and certainly not the last artist to soundscape this Silent Age behemoth, attempts to furnish the action with a suitable musical score stretch right back to Gottfried Huppertz’s original in 1928, to Moroder and “friends” gratuitous pop soundtrack remake in the 80s, and the more successful interpretations of Techno music giant Jeff Mills in 2000 and the lavish 96-piece orchestra and 60-strong choir opus in 2004 by Abel Korzeniowski.

 

Using pre-arranged tracks and samples, treated by an array of effects, Moebius’ one-off performance was always destined for release at a later date. Unfortunately as it turned out a reimagined album version would elude the Kosmische pioneer who passed away in the summer of 2015. With the help and support of his widow Irene and longtime musical partners Tim Story and Jon Leidecker, the Berlin musician Jonas Förster finished the remaining work that needed to be done and completed the production: quite satisfactorily as it transpires. A performance in four concomitant acts, Moebius loyally matches up the drama onscreen with a serial suffused and nuanced avant-garde narrative. Swaying in their unison of drudgery the somnolent work gangs of the opening Schicht (“layer”) section are accorded a lamentable industrial march. At the core of this soundscape is a monotony of hissing valves, descending and bending generator drones and the sound of steam-pumped hydraulics. Layer upon layer is carefully administered whilst the clocking-in gong vibrates a foreboding signal for the day’s subjugated graft.





In a film packed with vivid iconography, analogies and scenes, Freder’s hallucinogenic like vision of the city’s underbelly, the boiler room if you will, reimagines the machineries of Metropolis transformed into the atavistic figurehead for a sacrificial ritual: workers climb the altar steps to be fed into the furnace mouth of the Canaanite god Moloch in one of the movie’s most memorable sequences, and the second chapter on this album. The atmosphere more esoteric, features an ominous – as you’d quite rightly expect – tribal rhythm with stifled synthesizer screams and strange obscured hoots. Yet Moebius, who could go all out on this bestial scene, is quite reserved, holding back from full Biblical bombast and horror. Tiefenbahen is equally as disturbing with its static field of electrons buzzing away to the loading of an unidentified mechanism and the discarded discord of bounding bass drums and a venerable organ: a lingering signature from Kluster. An attempt is made to set into motion a shuffling groove of some kind; again heavy and in keeping with the monotonous miasma of the storyline but offering a glimmer, a lift from the veils of the macabre.

Finally the “mediator” or Mittler, the dystopian end run that brings together all parties and forces mediation – though Lang’s not so subtle communist solutions proved naïve –, beginning with a death grapple between Freder and the miscreant scientist Rotwang, is accompanied by a finger-cymbal and sleigh bells percussion, sharp metallic pulses and what sounds like iron filings being moved around on a sheet of metal.

In safe hands, Moebius’ posthumous Metropolis soundtrack proves a distinctly descriptive enough and evocative narrative experience in isolation, separated from the visual motivation of the film. Fans of the Kosmische progenitor’s work will find it familiar territory but notice enough examples of subtle explorations and interplay unique to an improvised performance to find it worthwhile purchasing.




%d bloggers like this: