ALBUM REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona





Easing the boredom of coronavirus lockdown, join me from the safety of your own home once more on a global journey of discovery. Let me do all the footwork for you, as I recommend a batch of interesting and essential new releases from a myriad of genres. All of which I hope you will support in these anxious and trying times. With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it.

As international as ever, this month’s revue includes not one but two releases from the wellspring of Highlife music, Ghana – though only one of these is contemporary, and only one could be considered a link to that signature sound. First, the sixth volume in Glitterbeat RecordsHidden Musics series is, as its title may suggest, a more elegiac-framed affair of rustic processional performances: Fra Fra ‘Funeral Songs’. The second, Edikanfo’s The Pace Setters is the first ever reissue of an iconic 80s album from the Afrodsico troupe, produced, with the lightest of touches, by Brian Eno. From South America, the ever-changing Miguel Sosa (formerly of The Strumpets and IH8 Camera) releases another album under a new alias and with a new sound, Plano Remoto. Japan-based polymath Paul Thomas Kirk, under his Akatombo alias, is granted a (almost) twenty-year spanning highlights collection of discordant gloom industrial dance music by the Japanese label So I Buried Records. From Haiti, we have the collaborative voodoo communion between the locals Chouk Bwa and the Belgium dub electronica duo The Ångströmers, Vodou Alé. And from Kenya, guitarist Fadhilee Itulya releases his debut album fusion of Omutibo music.

Closer to home, though imagining all kinds of cosmological and spiritual visions, Sebastian Reynolds releases a ‘universal’ escapist EP of peregrinations, and Austrian saxophonist Muriel Grossman is granted a showcase of her spiritual jazz suites from the Jazzman label.

Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers   ‘Vodou Alé’
(Bongo Joe Records)   LP/22nd May 2020





Like so many others before them, allured to the voodoo hypnotism of the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti, Belgian production duo The Ångströmers spent a residency immersing and absorbing the local fusion of ‘mizik rasin’, and working with the Gonaïves-borne collective of Chouk Bwa. A hybrid of roots music tradition, the voodoo ceremony enchantments brought over to the Island from the Congo, the folkloric and rock and roll, mizik rasin has been made famous in more recent decades by Richard A. Morse’s acronym Haiti collective RAM, who have in turn welcomed curious acts such as Arcade Fire and tUnE-yArDs to its propulsive rhythm. The late Afrobeat rhythm king Tony Allen also spent time there working with local musicians on the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra project in 2017. It’s easy to see why; the invigorating lively, often locked-in rhythms and spiritual call prove intense and inviting: to dance music artists especially.

The synthesis of Soukri voodoo polyrhythms and bassier dub electronica on this collaboration proves so attuned to both sensibilities and in-sync as to be difficult to separate the natural ritual from the augmented and synthesized. The furious, rushing hand-drumming is subtly reinforced and layered up for the most part with pulsating and throbbing undulations, atmospherics, phaser, echo and reverb reversal effects; all of which are used sparingly and wisely, and even sensitively.

A yearning plaintive procession of voices, both earthly and soulfully, emerge from the swirled vapours to lament Haiti’s tragic run of ecological disasters; the lead single ‘More Tan’ a bobbing and clattery beat with sonorous fuzzy bass lends a moving tribute to all those unfortunate souls affected by a quartet of devastating hurricanes and the Armageddon earthquake of 2010, which killed tens of thousands and left hundreds of thousands displaced, at the mercy of the elements, disease and a destabilized authority.

A primal ceremony of tumbled, fluttered cylindrical rhythms sucked into a vortex of warped dub and ringing oscillations, this collaborative union proves just how intoxicating and electrifying the voodoo spell can be. Given a sympathetic undercurrent and resonance of atmospheric electronica, the ritual sound and outpour of Haiti is reframed, guided into the 21st century. Not so much a novel direction as a subtle electronic music boost to tradition.






Muriel Grossmann  ‘Elevation’
(Jazzman)  LP/15th May 2020





Many jazz greats have of course attempted it, the ‘elevation’ of not just the form but consciousness itself. The Egyptologist anointed Pharoah Sanders even named an album after it; an ascendance at a time when jazz was embracing its spiritual roots and historical gravitas: a return to the source in Africa.

The supremely talented saxophonist bandleader Muriel Grossmann, imbued with that same spirit of vague conscious mysticism and experimentation, has now named one of her own impressive Afrojazz odysseys after that totem of an influential album. It won’t come as any surprise to find that the Pharaoh just happens to be one of Grossmann’s influences, alongside such luminaries as John and Alice Coltrane, Lester Young and Eric Dolphy; all of which permeate throughout this survey of the European jazz star’s recent(ish) work.

A sort of introduction for those unfamiliar with an artist who’s spent the last two decades on the European scene, playing with the likes of Joachim and Rolf Kühn, Wolfgang Reisinges and Thomas Heidepriem, the impeccable Jazzman label have chosen to represent Grossmann’s catalogue with suites from the 2016 Natural Time and 2017 Momentum albums; a moiety almost of complimentary records.

In all a quintet of congruous traverses, from a duo of albums, Grossman’s own Elevation seems a fully realised, interconnected and flowing oeuvre that could have been recorded all at the same session, only yesterday. An adventure across desert contours, on the caravan trail in search of enlightenment and jazz nirvana; the impressively invocative saxophonist and her troupe of regulars turn in a fantastical panoramic opus.

We start with the latter of those albums and a trio of pyramid backdrop numbers that pay homage to the Coltranes (especially Alice), the Pharaoh, Archie Shepp and Greenwich-hip era Albert Ayler. That guiding light title-track is a ten-minute plus extravaganza of splashing drums, oozing and swaddled sax and mini plucked out guitar solos. It sounds like the group is on an opulent trinket laden barge. At first lingering, trembling and stirring in milder Nile waters, the action hot’s up as the river becomes more animated and choppy. Grossmann literally spirals towards the stars; giddily blowing so fast that her trademark instrument turns into a clarinet at one point. Almost easing into the shimmery resonating ‘Rising’, the quartet sumptuously treads further along a mysterious pathway. Uros Stamenkovic brushes the sand off his flighty drum kit, and Radomir Milojkovic bends and picks out a dizzying frill of notes on guitar as Grossmann flitters and flutters on another of these conscious trips.

Still gliding or walking that same North African jazz geography, both ‘Your Peace’ and ‘Peace For All’ may very well have furnished another album, but embrace and breath the same spiritual to experimental jazz air. Shifting sands move underfoot on the first of those dusky shufflers, whilst Eastern mystical chimes and serenity make way for progressive soulful sax, successions of deft guitar licks and burnished drums on the second of those mirages.

Hardly a slavish attempt at reproducing Grossmann’s inspirations, Elevation is an impressive, evocative continuation of those forbearers blueprint. A showcase of exploratory jazz left free to follow those same forbearers by a group of European avant-gardists.



Edikanfo  ‘The Pace Setters’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/8th May 2020





Depending on who you listen to, inventive leftfield, ambient music doyen Brian Eno and his part in propelling the Ghanaian troupers Edikanfo to international attention (if for only the briefest of moments), off the back of their dynamic rich bustling debut album, was either merely down to “endorsement” or more to do with his key production skills. The fact that his indelible mark is light, if almost hidden, would suggest a less than fleeting relationship with the eight-piece Afrodisco group. Yet stage-manage the production of this Highlife funk fusion he did.

That endorsement, usually a sign of quality and importance, is shared by self-appointed one-man Ghanaian music industry mover-and-shaker Faisal Helwani. A forceful character in a time when you had to be forward and sometimes ungracious in getting results, Helwani was responsible in kick-starting the modern Ghana scene; setting up the now legendary Napoleon Club complex in the capital of Accra. Club, casino, restaurant and studio – Accra’s first professional recording studio; known as the less than imaginary but history cementing Studio One – all in one, the Napoleon became a lively exchange hub of activity and a hothouse for both emerging and established talent, inside the region and outside of it. With a finger in every conceivable pie, from running the studio to managing, publicizing and contracting bands, Helwani’s grip was strong and nebulous. As Eno – who offers linear notes insight on what is the very first reissue of Edikanfo’s influential and justifiably entitled The Pace Setters album – divulges: ‘Although undoubtedly an important figure in the African music scene he was quite a possessive man. There was a fair amount of grumbling going on among the musicians, who had pretty poor lives. After some of their appearances the band ended up actually owing Faisal money since he owned their equipment and hired it out to them for shows.’

Eno hit upon a novel way of sending the band some money as a thank you, fearing it wouldn’t reach them unless it fell directly into their hands: ‘All the musicians liked the beret I wore at the time, so I had the idea to send one to each of them as a gift – which would be a kind of Trojan horse for the real gift. Back in New York my girlfriend Alex, who had come to Accra with me, carefully sewed a few hundred dollar bills into the rim of each beret and somehow I got a message to them which said ‘DON’T OPEN THE BERETS WHEN FARISAL’S AROUND!!’ It worked…one of the musicians later told me he’d bought a small farm in Central Ghana with his hat-money.’

Helwani had initially approached Eno as a publicity coup after reading about his fostering interest in African music. The impresario invited him as ‘international observer’ to the biennial Festival Of African Song And Dance. It didn’t take long to leap from that to producing Helwani’s recent upcoming electric signing. Staying for around a month, Eno spent time and effort with Edikanfo, who’s live, busy sound proved problematic for the studio manipulator, unaccustomed as he was to recording a live band all at once. Without nearly enough mics for the task at hand, Eno was forced to think on his feet and to eventually just let the performances happen with as little interference as possible. Upon returning to NYC – Eno’s base at the time in the later 70s and early 80s – he released upon listening back to these electric sessions that, for once, his post-production magic as redundant. And so The Pace Setters is a relatively pure, unburdened sound without augmentation; closer to capturing the group’s famed live performances: the sweat and all.

Formed just a couple of years before; Edikanfo would quickly build a momentum after colliding with Eno’s ascended star. His brand soon shone a light that very quickly went out. Brought to an international stage, the octet rose just as their native country was plunged once more into political tumult. A second coup by the military leader-politician Jerry John Rawlings at the end of 1981 removed the civilian government he initially put in place – set up after Rawling’s original junta-led coup in 1979. Ghana had been relatively lucky, having escaped such violent upheaval up until then. Concentrating the mind somewhat and pushing Rawlings into action, the soon-to-be leader was on the former governing power of General Fred Akuffa’s execution list. When he did take over, Rawlings implemented a spot of his own ‘house-cleaning’ of former officials and supporters. The shock of which led to demonstrations, which in turn led to elections; though Rawlings would still win, being re-elected again and again, staying in power until 2001. The early days of power would be severe however, with curfews that soon ‘gutted’ not only the economy but also the live music scene. Restrictions and harassment proved so bad that Edikanfo were forced to part company, scattering overseas.

Now though, almost four decades after their spotlight burned most bright, bandleader, bass player and songwriter Gilbert Amarty Amar and those band mates that survived are back with a new tour prompted by the reissue of their seminal debut. In what can only be described as a laser beam reflective mirror ball of Afrodisco and Highlife funk, The Pace Setters is a humid fusion of sweetened lullaby serenades and busier sunburst dances. A shared effort with near enough each member of the troupe offering up a track, there’s a mix of timings, themes and rhythms. Tracks like the opener ‘Nka Bom’ celebrate “togetherness” with sun-blessed horns, dappled electric piano and open hi-hat bustle, whilst the elastic bass noodling, springy and Orlando Julius loose jazz swaddled ‘Gbenta’ is both peaceable and relaxed. Hints of Osibisa can be found on the lulled hymn like vocal beauty ‘Moonlight Africa’, which puts a faster hustle of drums and bass underneath the twinkled organ caressed chorus of sweetly laced voices. At all times (well nearly) the bounce of refracted laser disco beams ricochet off the brass and rafters.

What a great album: true to its name, setting a sometimes blazing, and others, a sometimes-sashaying pace. Forget the fact it’s now forty years old, turn the mother up and shake-off the woes and weight of life in lockdown. Edikanfo’s 1981 classic is still alive and magical in the here and now; sending us with verve towards the summer: even if that summer is very different to any most of us have ever experienced. Enjoy this most worthy repress.




Fadhilee Itulya   ‘Kwetu’
(Naxos World)   LP/8th May 2020





Though the Kenyan guitarist turn frontman has been around for a decade the Kwetu album of belonging and questioning, released via a re-invigorated Naxos World, is Fadhilee Itulya’s debut.

Channeling what sounds like a lifetime into that inaugural record, Fadhilee combines his Kenyan roots with more contemporary rock, soul, blues, and on the album’s one and only attempt at a celebratory sun-praised club mix, Balearic dance music. Creating a bridge between the more earthy, unspoiled authenticity of tradition and more polished pop production of a modern studio, Fadhilee draws on the Luhya and Isukha peoples of Western Kenya and their ancestral dances, ceremonies and instruments. This includes the duel guitar and empty incessantly tapped soda bottle accompanied chanted Omutibo, and the Isukuti drums of the celebratory dances performed amongst the latter of those communities. The driving syncopated rhythms of Omutibo were developed during the 1950s, into the 60s, before falling out of favour in the 70s. It forms a foundation on the Swahili entitled ‘Kwetu’ song; a title-track that translates as “home”, but carries more weight in what Fadhilee encapsulates as, “a place where I am welcome.” That could be anywhere, not just his homeland, as this is an album as much about international unity and liberation as a songbook that passes commentary on the closer-to-home social and political problems in Kenya.

Language is another constant theme, with Fadhilee switching effortlessly from Swahili to English to the chanted Luhya.

Sprinkled throughout this generous album, the rustic tapped bottle ringing, hand drum propulsed rhythms and chorus of dusty-soul chanting and more enthusiastic female trilling traditions sit alongside smoother, finessed performances: though it all feels like a intimate live session. The album opens with the reedy and flighty “prayer” of ‘‘Afirika’; an opening salvo that sets up the smooth reggae and jazzy-rock sound of Fadhilee’s lilted guitar and the accompanying backing of a rich harmony chorus. It also introduces us to the folksy flute-heavy collaboration of guest musician Adam Adiarra, who’s instrument flutters, weaves and floats throughout that opening introduction. More sauntering rhythms beckon on the spiritually lulled, twinkled piano tribute to women and motherhood ‘Mama’. Whilst the electric sunny funk ‘Tabasm’, which translates as “smile”, works up a fusion of flange-rock and gospel.

Despite moments of intensity and urgency, wilder electric guitar frills and the untethered breaks of tribal ceremonial passion, Kwetu is a mostly gentle, soulful affair. A peaceable showcase for an artist honed on tradition but pushing forward. A commercial album of smooth Kenyan fusions with some rougher edges, Fadhilee’s debut shows an artist as comfortable with the modern studio as he is with the in-situ rustic roots of the Kenyan grasslands.



Akatombo  ‘Discordia: 2003-2020’
(So I Buried Records)   Album/25th May 2020





From a label synonymous for unleashing the sludge-dread rock of those ominous bearers of doom, Qujaku, comes a sort of ‘best of’ collection of similarly caustic menace from the Scottish post-punker turn industrial electronic composer Paul Thomas Kirk. As it turns out, a logical creatively successful leap for the one-time band member of the 80s punk agitators The Actives, Kirk’s magnetic-charged Akatombo avatar fuses, fries and beats-into-shape remnants of that post-punk past. Based in Hiroshima the musician, producer, filmmaker, photographer and label boss has released a quintet of albums, all but one of them under his own Hand-Held Recordings imprint, since 2003. Collected together here is a smattering of buzzy dissonance and growling electronic transmissions from each of the album’s, plus one previously unreleased track, ‘Oblique & Fearless’: a cause metallic evocation of techno punk and Reznor chained industrial dread.

Going back to the beginning, 2003’s inaugural augury Trace Elements – released via the SWIM label – is represented by the Japanese trip-hop Western soundtrack ‘Humid’, the rough UNKLE trip-breaks with snarling bass ‘Overheat’, and dub-y reverb spiraling ‘Ponderlust’. Six years later Kirk would release the Unconfirmed Reports album under his own label. Taking the sonic exploration further towards the experimental, the frizzled distortion and Aphex Twin clattering of ‘A Prior Disengagement’ and Barry Adamson spy thriller tremolo with DJ Shadow drum breaks ‘SSRI’ mark that album’s evolving range and scope. 2011’s False Positives lends the Basic Channel tuned unfolding Kitchen-sink drama ‘Kleptocrat’ and cylindrical, muffled voiced ‘Precariat’ to this compilation.

The prize of opening this Discordia falls to the ominous moist chamber atmospheric ‘Click/Bate’, taken from the 2015 album Sometime, Never. Both lurking in the dark web subterranean yet also communicating with orbital space waves, this bleak vision reimagines The Orb on a downer. Reaching further into the esoteric sound, most recent album Tensile Strength is represented by a trio of industrial, ringing noisy visitations and broadcasts: ‘Debug. Injector’ is a churning vortex of the haunted, whilst the album’s title-track is full of punk snarls.

Veering between the heavy dance music of The Chemical Brothers and the sonorous metal machine music of Emptyset, and between the steaming razor breaks of UNKLE and the industrial wilding of Einsturzende Neubauten, Kirk’s Akatombo manifestation is channeled into a pretty decisive collection of highlights. Too driven to be classed as ‘mood music’ or dark soundtracks, the dystopian discord of Kirk’s sonic augurs and emotions could even be considered dance music: albeit on the fringes of a doomed dancefloor. A great showcase anyway for an electronic artist working in the gloom.






Sebastian Reynolds   ‘The Universe Remembers’
(Faith & Industry)  EP/22nd May 2020





Oxford-based polymath Sebastian Reynolds has finally found the time in his prolific schedule of collaborations, remixes, session work and productions to create his very own solo soundtrack of various eschatology inspired peregrinations. The Universe Remembers EP’s quintet of traverses drifts and wafts across an ambiguous, often vaporous, soundscape of neo-classical composition, retro futurist production, swanned Tibetan mystical jazz, both languid and accelerated running breakbeats, and ghostly visitations – haunted narrated extracts from T.S. Eliot’s all-encompassing philosophical, religious and metaphysical Holy Grail purview The Wasteland can be heard in a fuzzy echo on the EP’s title-track and single.

A cosmological junction of dystopian literature and the Buddhist/Daoism, The Universe Remembers is, as you might expect from a composer/multi-instrumentalist/producer who’s created music as varied as the transcendent Southeast Asian Manīmekhalā score that accompanied the multimedia Mahajanaka Dance Drama and the visceral chamber pieces of his collaboration with the pan-European Solo Collective trio, a mix of evocations simultaneously as dreamy as they are ominous and mysterious; and as contemplative as they are resigned to the fates.

Framed as a distillation of previous incarnations, namely the Keyboard Choir and Braindead Collective, the sound and sonic landscape channels the peaks and descending remembrance of a musical lifetime, with some of the material taken from various periods over the years, transformed and attuned for a concept of Theology; the part that’s concerned with death, judgment and the final destiny of the soul and humankind: Not too big a concept then.

Previously premiered on the Monolith Cocktail the guest produced title track features the attentive skills of Capitol K (who’s label is also facilitating the release of this EP) guiding a musical odyssey of twinkled trembled cascaded piano, slow beats and the mystical fluttering, spiraling and drifting clarinet of guest contributor Rachel Coombes. Featuring Seb’s penchant for the glitch-y piano resonance of Susumu Yokota and a most strangely sourced sample of the revered writer Anthony Burgess purchasing a Bösendorfer piano in Harrods, this magical escapist suite wafts between the snake charmer bazaars of Egypt and Calcutta, the Hitchcockian and avant-garde. It must be emphasized at this point that Burgess’ dystopian visions have had a profound effect on Seb; especially his most famous slim novel A Clockwork Orange. Seb has previously performed at the Burgess Foundation with the Solo Collective and even (in the last week) written a guest post for their website. Not that anything on this EP is even close to aping the synonymous ominous switched-on Bach of Wendy Carlos’ score for the Kubrick vision of that most famous futuristic nightmare.

Opening reverberating vapour ‘Amoniker’ builds a suffused trilled melodic swathe of pastoral merry evocations from a past epoch, smatterings of jazz, and distant masked break-beats around an increasingly echoing and delayed layered counting iteration. Doing what he does best, Seb finds and then takes original samples to explorative new soundscapes and worlds on the EP’s curtain call, ‘You Are Forgotten’. The Oxford polymath uses the baritone like resigned mooning vocal from the track of the same name by Desmond Chancer & The Long Memories as a foundation for a suffused saxophone swaddled and pining (courtesy of Adam Davy) slice of retro-futurist electronica. Spiritual manna phrases like “no memory”, ”no legacy” and “universal” drift into focus from a constructed ether to echo dramatically over the mysterious and masked invocations.

Keeping to the holy mountain of awe footpath, the totem of endurance, mysticism, beauty and immensity ‘Everest’ once more features those Tibetan evoking horns and cosmic awakenings. It also features not so much guitar performances as the essence of lingering notes and wanes (attributed to collaborators James Maund and Andrew Warne) on an ascendant score of both the celestial and peaceable.

If you love your trance, esoteric mysticism, trip-hop, the new age, satellite jazz and the poetic, then stick on The Universe Remembers and be transported to wondrous and meditative planes.




Plano Remoto  ‘Plano Remoto’
(Jezus Factory)  LP/11th May 2020





Whether its ennui or a conscious decision to keep critics, and his audience, on their toes the Argentine maverick Miguel Sosa once more changes direction on his latest album for the marvelous cottage-industry label, Jezus Factory. Sosa’s previous peregrination, Bermudas, was an analogue patchbay cosmic psychogeography of the infamous Bermuda Triangle region; filed under yet another alter ego, the Moog and ARP soundtrack homage Cassini Division. Prior to that the Jezus Factory stalwart had spent a tenure living in Antwerp, instigating or joining all manner of Belgian bands, from IH8 Camera to Strumpets and Parallels. The Strumpets would mutate into Angels Die Hard when Sosa had to return back home.

His latest venture, Plano Remoto, ropes in bass player/singer Mike Young, old pal and the owner of the TDR Studio in Buenos Aires Lucas Becerra, on drums, and Nico Courreges on double-bass. The results of two years of studio jamming and a build-up of Tascam recordings, this informal set-up’s self-titled debut (though it could easily be the first and only LP from this incarnation) is a right old mix of styles and ideas. A return, of sorts, to songwriting it starts with a day dreamy Gilberto Brasilia sandy lull of “la las” and pop with the strangely entitled ‘Bossa Zombie’ – the first part of that title is obvious, the second…not so much. Sosa and friends go on to jangle through removed versions of Bad Finger meets The Olivia Tremor Control balladry, harmony power pop (‘Leona’), Jeff Lynne “ahing” psychedelic anthems (‘Mel’), early 60s European new wave cinematic spell casting circus scene-set jazz lullaby (‘Fantasma’), and Baroque retro-futurist galactic love (‘Sandra’).

You may very well also pick up moments of Alex Harvey showmanship prog, soft rock furnishings and what sounds like an ominous Clockwork Orange space march on an album both simultaneously odd but also essentially pop. It’s a form of songwriting slightly askew and novel, yet pleasant, melodic and comfortable to the ear. God knows where Sosa will take us next.






Fra Fra   ‘Funeral Songs’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/24th April 2020





No stranger to this site, Grammy Award winning producer, author and peacemaker Ian Brennan has appeared countless times; namely as the in-situ producer on a myriad of unfiltered and direct performances and as the subject of an interview in 2016. Continuing his collaboration with Glitterbeat Records, Brennan is back with another chapter in the global expletory label’s Hidden Musics adventure; a series that unearths performances from ad-hoc musicians, located in some of the most remote, off-the-beaten-track, environments.

The sixth volume in this collection follows on from excursions to Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam and Mali, landing somewhere on a dusty road outside the northern Ghana hub of Tamale. Brennan once more entices a captivating set of recordings with as little interference as possible. Those previous records, whether it was capturing the evocative war-scarred yearns of both survivors of the Vietnam War or Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge apocalypse, or lending a voice to the suffering plight of the Abatwa people in the border regions of a post-genocide Rwanda, all adhere to the American producer’s signature technique of less is more. As Brennan himself put it in his How Music Dies (or Lives) book in 2016: ‘My concern is not cultural authenticity, but emotional truth and uncloying performances. Purity without baggage.’

Brennan is not in the business of earnest backslapping or ethnography, rather, he wishes to just make what he calls ‘candid and new punk and dusty records.’ Forget Lomax and company, Hidden Musics is less an exercise in preservation and archiving, and more a trailblazing exposure of relatively unburdened magic outside the confines and restrictions of Western music.   Responsible for all but one of the series – that being Paul Chandler’s Every Song Has Its End sonic dispatch from Mali survey -, Brennan focuses once again on the extremely localized sounds of his destination.

Fra Fra, the colonial name given to this particular tribe found in the northern part of Ghana, is a convenient name for just a trio of musicians who perform the funeral songs, plaints and paeans traditions of the country. A reversal of the north/south divide, it is northern Ghana that is synonymous for its wellspring of blues. That roots lament can be heard in the rustic, rudimental and springy performances of this group of locals. Led by the appropriately named Small, ‘a man who celebrates his diminutive size rather than seeing it as a lack of’, this trio proved difficult to capture. In part this was down to the processional manner of their playing style delivery; a manner that has more than a passing resemblance to New Orleans marching bands, which isn’t hard to figure when you consider the enforced enslavement of Ghanaians who passed through or made their home in the burgeoning port. So Brennan was forced to go for ‘coverage’ instead of precision, as Small and his wingmen gyrated in circles on the gravel floor.

Playing better (so they’d have us believe) when drunk on the production’s beer quota, inebriation seems to have lubricated proceedings for the better. With just the poor imitation of a guitar – the two-string Kologo – and its rusty percussive jangle of dog-tags that hang around the neck, and the tiny boned mouth flutes – which the Fra Fra call ‘horns’ – the funeral laments on this record are a grieving plea between the earthy and hidden spiritual forces. Primal, hypnotic with various sung utterances, call-outs, hums and gabbled streams of despondent sorrow the personable process of grief is opened up to a new audience. Not as mournful however as I’ve described, the cadence of voices, the scraped tremulous rhythms are often energetically poetic and bluesy: albeit far removed from what most people would recognize as the blues.

A chorus and a twang-y, hollowed-out and sporadic accompaniment of serial instrumentation deliver fatalistic subject matters, such as the destiny of orphans and the pining for loved ones.

Sadly we will hear a lot more funeral music before this Covid-19 epidemic ends, which is yet, and we hope it won’t, to hit Africa on the scale that it has in Europe and North America. For those in lockdown discovering music in its purest forms, the sixth showcase in the Hidden Musics series is another essential, unique taste of the sonic road less travelled. A record in which Brennan remains merely the ghostly facilitator.






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Ranil y su Conjunto Tropical -monolith cocktail


A quick shifty, glance, a perusal of the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload our inboxes this month by me, Dominic Valvona.

This week’s roll call of honours includes A Journey Of Giraffes, Northwest, Ranil and Violet Nox.


Ranil y su Conjunto Tropical ‘Cumbia Sin Nombre’
(Analog Africa)   Teaser from the upcoming LP ‘Iquitos – Amazonía – Perú’, released 20th March 2020



Drifting back towards the Amazon, Analog Africa – via their congruous Limited Dance Editions imprint – once more float upstream towards the outposts of the South American continent to discover the sauntering sumptuous delights of ‘cumbia’ music. Venturing past the city of Manaus and past the Brazilian/Peruvian border, to the city of Iquitos. It might be fatalistic or encouraging depending on your feelings about the film, but the remote Iquitos, completely cut off from the Peruvian coast, accessible only by air and water, and surrounded by impenetrable forests, was where Werner Herzog filmed the maddening visionary Fitzcarraldo: the epic story of one man’s struggle to bring opera to the Amazon; the travails of which entailed dragging a great big paddle ship over a mountain. Cut off then from the outside world, this lush if hardy place to eke out a living, incubated a novel version of the famous, polygenesis folkloric music.

Though everyone on the continent has had a go at adopting and tinkering with the original form, the melodious Cumbia hails from Colombia. Informed by a trio of cultural influences it can be broken down as thus: the rhythmic foundations derive from Africa, the indigenous offer up the flute-y sound, and the Europeans the costume and choreography. In recent times it has been electrified, adopted by untold contemporary bands.

Iquitos’ favourite son of cumbia Raúl Llerena Vásquez – known to the world as Ranil – was a Peruvian singer, bandleader, record-label entrepreneur and larger-than-life personality who moved to the heady lights of the capital, Lima where he swirled the teeming buzz of the Amazonian jungle, the unstoppable rhythms of Colombian and Brazilian dance music, and the psychedelic electricity of guitar-driven rock-and-roll into a knock-out, party-starting concoction.

When Ranil returned to Iquitos after several years teaching in small towns, he assembled a group of musicians and prepared to take the city’s nightlife by storm. His unique blend of galloping rhythms and trebly, reverberant guitar was so successful that he was soon able to take his new band to Lima to record their first record at MAG studios, where many of Peru’s most successful psych, rock and salsa bands began their recording careers.

Yet Ranil had no intention of entering into the indentured servitude that comes with signing one’s life away to a record company. Instead he established Produccions Llerena – possibly the first record label founded in the Peruvian Amazon – which allowed him to maintain complete control over the release and distribution of his music. His fearsome negotiation skills and his insistence on organising his own tours turned him into one of the central figures of the Amazonian music scene.

Although his records were popular throughout the region, Ranil never sought his fortune in the capital, preferring to remain in his hometown of Iquitos where, in recent decades, he has concentrated his considerable energies on his radio and television stations, and become involved with local civic politics. Yet his legacy has continued to grow among those fortunate enough to track down copies of his legendary – and legendarily difficult to find – LPs.

Ranil’s extraordinary output has remained one of the best-kept secrets among collectors of the genre and psychedelic Latin sounds.

Ahead of the Ranil y su Conjunto Tropical album we’re sharing just one of the three teaser tracks currently doing the rounds; the sauntering lilted and scrappy ‘Cumbia Sin Nombre’. This will go some way to keeping you warm during these miserable rain-lashed and freezing winter months.

Of interest from the Archives:

Analog Africa Tenth Anniversary Special

Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo ‘Siriá’ Compilation Review

Bitori ‘Legend of Funaná ‘The Forbidden Music Of The Cape Verde Islands’ LP Review

Dur-Dur Band ‘Dur Dur Of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 And Previously Unreleased Tracks’ Review


Northwest ‘All Of A Sudden’
(Temple Arts) Video





On occasion, due to time constraints and the sheer volume of requests/submissions thrust upon the Monolith Cocktail each day (let alone week or month) the odd sublime band slips through our hands. The adroit cerebral and artfully beautiful Northwest duo is one such example of this: though we managed to at least feature the slow-released beatific ‘The Day’ lull in our last ever Quarterly Revue Playlist, at the end of 2019. Taken from the duos most recent (and second) album of subtle yearning pop and neo-classical lent mini-opuses II, the achingly ethereal voiced and purposeful heart-breaking ‘All Of A Sudden’ has been furnished with a new video. A favourite not only of ours but the duo themselves, who consider it one of the best songs they’ve ever written (they might just be right on that), Northwest’s heavenly voiced Mariuca García-Lomas explains that the message behind this tender feely classically brushed and gauze-y trembled strings evocation has been difficult to express before in words. Hopefully these metaphorically blinded and bandaged visuals – recorded on an emotionally charged cold morning in an English garden – will enlighten us further.

Taking the plunge a few years back, quitting their jobs in the bargain and relocating to the UK, Mariuca and her foil Ignacio Simón have released two albums so far under the Northwest moniker, though they also appear under various other guises – this particular incarnation of the duo expands to accommodate a small chamber orchestra. They’ve also recently launched their own label hub, Temple Arts, for all theses projects; a one-stop platform you could say. Not confined to just breathtaking music, they’ve also released a series of little films and performances, two manifestos, organized an arts festival in a church in London and collaborated with a wealth of other artists, such as dancers and costume designers.

Romantically plaintive with a political dimension, their last video-track ‘Pyramid’ (taken from the first LP) was directed by the artist Álvaro Gómez-Pidal on 16mm film and used a drawn-on-film animation technique. This latest visual accompaniment is no less sublime.

Of interest from the Archives

Quarterly Revue Playlist Part 4



Violet Nox  ‘Future Fast’
(Sleep FUSE)  EP/Out Now





A slightly disorientating and ominous vision of futurism waits on the new unearthly cybernetic EP from the Boston, Massachusetts synth-heavy troupe Violet Nox. Gazing into the mainframe this quartet of light-bending minimal techno and ambient explorers fashion a strange cosmology from their tech setup. The subtly engineered wispy and whispery vapour trail opening ‘Cosmic Bits’ features an ever-intense soundscape of lightbeams, downplayed acid burbles, resonating satellite signals and air-y sine waves. It also reminded me a bit of the organic subterranean trance of the Future Sound of London and various records put out by the R&S and Hart House labels in the early to mid 90s. The moist atmospheric ‘Moonshine’ merges post-punk with bity techno, with its use of what sounds like flange-y guitar – though this could be the sound of a guest ‘ukulele’ – reverberations, bendy effects and cybernetic voices on an increasingly mind-altering journey. More metallic robotic like voices can be found on the fizzle lashed echo-y ‘Superfan’ – a track that just keeps getting weirder and nosier as it progresses – whilst ‘Bell Song’ sends those broadcasts and masked annunciations into a vacuum of trance-y tubular ambience and vague percussive industrial washes.

More intriguing and mysterious than dystopian augur, Violet Nox’s warped explorations prove intriguing and adroit in navigating brave new (alien) worlds.



A Journey Of Giraffes  ‘Armenia’
LP/Out Now





Seeming to get better with every release, the unassuming maverick ambient and soundscape explorer behind this most picturesque of animalistic monikers, John Lane, has in recent years been prolific in churning out the most subtle but deeply effective under-the-radar soundtracks. The safari has moved, in more recent years, away from Lane’s Beach Boys imbued driftwood suites to more ambient and traversing experimental influences. Previous excursions from the Baltimore composer include an aimless supernatural field-recorded walk through the forest, – a mixture of Arthur Russell meets Panda Bear and Alejandro Jodorowsky in John’s Maryland backyard -, and the love letter to the late Japanese electronic composer Susumu Yokota, Kona – a ceremonial, Zen like soundtrack that evokes the Fourth World Possible Musics of Jon Hassell, Popol Vuh and the higher plain communal glistened zither transcendence of Laraaji.

The latest album looks to the edges of Eastern Europe, where the Caucasus meets the Middle East, and the mysterious of Armenia. A land much disputed, fought over and most tragically, its population during WWI herded from their lands towards one of the 20th century’s most heinous genocides (still contested by the perpetrates to this day). Atavistic psychogeography, myths, ancient readings and poetry form the inspiration on this generous 44-track album of differing stirring soundscapes, traverses, contemplations and ruminations. From the air-y and sublime to the more ominous, primal and fraught, minimal evocations sit alongside more churned oblique scrapped moody horrors. Voices from the old religions swirl and echo amongst the hewn stone monuments to Armenia’s ghosts on an outstanding mesmerizing soundtrack. I’m not sure how many more great records John has to make before he gets the recognition he deserves, but it better be soon.

Of interest from the Archives

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Kona’

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘F²’

Expo ‘She Sells Seashells’


The Monolith Cocktail is now on Ko-fi

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

Singles, Previews & Oddities Roundup
Dominic Valvona



A quick shifty, glance, a perusal of the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload our inboxes this month by me, Dominic Valvona.

Featured artists include Ani Glass, Dijf Sanders, Betacrack, Kamilta, Jonah Parzen-Johnson and Liz Davinci.

Dijf Sanders  ‘Ravana’
(Unday Records)  Single/2nd January 2020




A plucking, steaming and lumbering exotica of amorphous esoteric Tibet, the Far East and China, the leading single from David ‘Dijf’ Sanders new album, Puja, is a downtempo fantasy of vague ethio-jazz, psychedelic and breaks. The Belgium composer and multi instrumentalist follows up previous traversing suites with another dramatic vision of borderless escapism. Sourced from a Hindu epic, ‘Ravana’ is a courtly sumptuous and hypnotic introduction to a sonic layered world of mystery.


Jonah Parzen-Johnson  ‘Up’ & ‘Stand Still’
(We Jazz)  Preview tracks from the upcoming new LP, Imagine Giving Up, released 7th February 2020


From a label we have tried to champion over the last couple of years, We Jazz, another inventive ambient explorative jazz suite (make that two) from the Brooklyn based baritone saxophonist Jonah Parzen-Johnson. Doing imaginative things with the saxophone and an undulation of lopping, augmented synth effects, Jonah produces a kind of Hassell meets Colin Stetson vision of untethered and unburdened music. Taken from the upcoming new LP, Imagine Giving Up, there’s the minimalist wafted and swaddling sax drifting over a ‘fourth world musics’ like electronic choppy reverb ‘Up’, and the more electrified and elongating, shimmery romanticism of ‘Stand Still’. It all makes for a very promising album.


Ani Glass  ‘Mirores’
(Recordiau Neb)  Single/17th January 2020




Welsh dream-synth chanteuse Ani Glass casts enchanting diaphanous gossamer shapes over a Moroder style bedding of enervated glitterings, vapours and piqued bubbles on her new single ‘Mirores’. Sang in the native Welsh tones, and with that veiled magical 80s soundtrack accompaniment, Ani’s coos glide towards fantasy.

‘Mirores’ is taken from the upcoming debut LP of the same name, due out on the 6th March 2020; summed up here from the press clippings: ‘With its tapestry of electronic sounds, elliptical melodies and samples threaded into a song cycle, MIRORES is based around the idea of movement and progress – one which takes us on a journey around her hometown of Cardiff. You can hear Ani’s recorded sounds of the urban landscape throughout; the movement of traffic and people and the magical yet infrequent sounds of nature coming together to create the score of a city’s symphony.’


Kamilita  ‘Broken Hearted Freak’


Going to keep this one as brisk and vaporous as the artist’s music, but Kamilita wafts through an 80s backtrack of dreamy hazy Grimes meets Sugababes electro pop plaint on the latest single ‘Broken Hearted Freak’. Not much is known about the Seattle artist, who seems to have just materialized from the net to produce neo-pop visions of hi-nrg fitness video sass. Go seek and find out more.


Betacrack  ‘Unselected Ambient Works Vol.1’
(Grumpy Records)  LP/17th January 2020




The poor relation to Richard James’ iconic and highly influential Ambient Works collections, the ‘deranged’ components in the makeup of Betacrack’s electronic renderings sound like they’ve just gone plain wrong at their most resigned (‘Allude’), yet pickup for a caustic bity livener when they threaten to break out of the matrix (‘Duldrum’). A (re)Warp of the Aphex Twin and Analouge Bubblebath for an anguished, distressed mind, these Unselected Ambient Works from the Portland, Oregon wiz span many fields of introverted experimentation and minimalist Techno escapism. Basically: great. Again, please seek out!


Liz Davinci  ‘Harvest Time’
Video/Single 11th January 2020




Starting the New Year with a new name and new video single, maverick chanteuse of semi-classical brooding aria pop Elizabeth Everts will from this point forward be addressed as the renaissance styled Liz Davinci. As a baptism of sorts, the American troubadour (living and composing music abroad in Munich) has released the inaugural video/single under the Davinci moniker, ‘Harvest Time’. Finding plenty of favour on a multitude of playlists and radio station selections, Liz’s understated 2019 EP Contraband featured on the Monolith Cocktail. The diaphanous rolling, almost operatic, sowed ‘Harvest Time’ is taken from that same EP.

Dominic Valvona


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


Reviews Roundup: Dominic Valvona




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

 

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

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



Albums

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


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

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

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

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

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




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





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

 

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

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

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

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






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





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

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

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

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

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

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




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





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

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

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

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






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





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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

(ARC Music) 22nd February 2019




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

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

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

 

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

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

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



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

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

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

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






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

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

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





EPS

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





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

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

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

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







Singles

Julia Meijer ‘Train Ticket’
15th March 2019





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

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

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

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

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




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





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

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

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

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





Words: Dominic Valvona


Review & Recommendations Roundup – Dominic Valvona




Kicking off 2019 this inaugural edition of Dominic Valvona’s eclectic roundup of new releases includes the new, and only second solo, autobiographical framed album from art/sex/music icon Cosey Fanni Tutti; the dual-album celebration of Germany’s Station 17 collective (originally formed as a musical therapeutic experiment between a Hamburg group of mentally handicapped residents and musicians), marking thirty years of experimental sonic sculpting and collaboration; the dazed jingle-jangle shoegaze from the London outfit Deep Cut – releasing their first album for the Gare du Nord label –, a new album from Tim Presley’s White Fence of soft psychedelic, new wave, fragile troubadour and yearning off-kilter analogue electronic bulletins; a single-type release of bewitching romantic morose from the Uruguay duo Clovvder and a real bona-fide 7” slice of vinyl from legendary English psychedelic luminary Twink and the Gare du Nord label’s unofficial house band all-stars, Papernut Cambridge and Picturebox.

 

Chasing up releases from the fag-end of 2018 I also take a look at the repackage appraisal of the rare and much sought-after 1978 Celtic-folk album from Flibbertigibbet, Whistling Jigs To The Moon, and a collection of previously unreleased recordings from the obscure 60s/70s, genre spanning Paraguay duo JODI, plus delve into the mind of the music composer artist Garrett N., who follows up (tens year later) on his debut album with an ambitious progressive suite of high quality-produced hard rock, funk, sound collage, Hip-Hop, psych and astral synth, Let’s Get Surreal.



Albums

Cosey Fanni Tutti ‘Tutti’
(Conspiracy International) 8th February 2019




After five decades at the cutting edge of subversive performance, conceptual art, and with pushing the envelope of cerebral industrial electronic music there’s no sign of stopping the grand dame icon of the leftfield Cosey Fanni Tutti from continuing to deconstruct and contextualise the limits of the sonic abyss.

Even in recent framed ‘autobiographical’ years, Cosey could hardly be accused of languishing on past glories; the results of a pinnacle year in retrospection revitalized and worked to produce this, Cosey’s only solo album since 1982’s Time To Tell. It could be said that the controversially open artist’s – who has all but laid herself bare physically and sexually in the pursuit of pushing the boundaries of morality, taste and censorship – practice is wholly autobiographical; Tutti being no different in that respect.

Originally created as a soundtrack for the Harmonic Coumaction film as part of a wider COUM Transmissions retrospect (the Dadaist, and to an extent, Fluxus inspired enfant terror group of which Cosey, alongside Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P-Orridge, co-founded in 1969) that opened the Hull, UK City of Culture celebrations in 2017, the caustic but often vaporous diaphanous eight soundscapes that make-up this latest album can be read as a continuum of Cosey’s biography (published in the same year) and on-going assessment.

Untethered to any particular place or time, spanning the decades to inform both present and future, Tutti is meant to be both an extension yet ‘stand alone document’. Transformed, manipulated and re-processed in the ‘now’, the various abstract perspectives and past incarnations are presented as a sophisticated soundtrack of mostly serialism shifting moods and evocations.

Nuanced and subtle, Cosey refines a legacy that includes Throbbing Gristle and various Chris Carter partnerships to produce a minimalist Techno with ominous otherworldly atmospherics, wafting esoteric style jazz pines and both inner and outer minded cosmological elemental style conceptual album. The title-track itself layers lingering mysterious exotic lingers of jazzy saxophone over distant pounded kinetic beats, cutting tetchy subdued mechanics and suffused drones that touch upon that sonic legacy.

Elsewhere on this series of suites pattering beats cloak alien avian squawks on the wilderness of ‘Drone’; hollow winds blow through metallic rotations on the wizened alluded ‘Sophic Ripple’; Cosey’s veiled apparition lulls drift amorphously in liquid reverberations on ‘Heily’; and leviathans pass over a bending Tangerine Dream like expanse on ‘En’.

Those more familiar with Cosey’s history might recognize title references, sonic prompts, and the use of atavistic arcane spiritual language (the album’s cascading crystalized mirror, ‘Orenda’, using and channeling the Iroquois group of Native American tribes’ name for the spiritual power inherent in people and their environment; the force behind divination, prophecy and soothsaying, amongst others), yet Tutti is a deconstructive breakdown of that same past, built back-up and put together to offer a new dialogue and visage going forward.

Not so much a revelation as ‘continuum’, Cosey’s first solo album in over thirty-six years is a clever atmospherically mysterious and sagacious soundtrack that transmogrifies a lifetime of ‘art, sex and music’ into a most recondite purview of effective electronica.









Station 17 ‘Werkschau’ & ‘Ausblick’
(Bureau B) 1st February 2019




Growing and developing way beyond the initial perimeters of a social experiment between the mentally handicapped residents of a Hamburg community and the independent musician Kai Boysen, Station 17 (as they would become known) has made a sizable and influential mark on the German music scene. From humble beginnings as a stimuli therapeutic project in 1989, the always evolving collaborative group has blossomed into an internationally acclaimed touring band, released over ten albums of eclectic experimentation and worked with an enviable cast of cross-generational artists: from members of the old guard such as Can, Faust, Tangerine Dream and Neu! to more contemporary Techno and electronic artists as DJ Koze, Datashock and Kurt ‘the Pyrolator’ Dahlke.

Spontaneous throughout, the constantly-changing lineup behind Station 17 effortlessly merge and rework Krautrock, Kosmische, Pop, Post-Punk and Techno music into something unique and, above all, democratized: the varying disabilities of the collective’s cast inevitably feed into the process, yet offer no barrier to creativity.

Celebrating thirty years of such experimental and inspired music exploration and performance, on the 1st of February Station 17 will both pause to take stock of the back catalogue, with the retrospective collection Werkschau, whilst looking forward to new sonic horizons, with the release of their eleventh LP proper, Ausblick – a companion piece to last year’s Blick (which made our albums of the year features). The first of these albums – sporting a homage to Can’s Landed album cover art – Werkschau crisscrosses the group’s cannon; from the 1990 self-titled debut album right up to the already mentioned 2018 triumph, Blick.

Certain albums gravitated towards the trends and zeitgeist of the times, but tracks, often a decade or more apart, sit together well with no discernable difference in quality or production. The first trio of tracks for instance, stretch across three decades; moving between the panted, mooning and gasped vocal free-form post-punk of ‘Feeger’, from the Debut LP, to the industrial drum’n’bass, Kraftwerkian meets NIN ‘Budemeister’, taken from the 2006 LP Mikroproffer, and the shimmery bossa electro-pop of ‘Techno Museum 2’, taken from the 1997 LP, Bravo. Elsewhere there are shades of limbering DFA Records-sign-Populare Mechanik, on the 2011 Fieber album track ‘Uh-Uh-Uh’; Bowie oozing over the Art Of Noise on, what could be homage to the Hamburg district and city’s infamous pirate insignia football club, ‘St. Pauli Der Hat Heute Geburts Tag’; and the luminous lunar bound’s of Can’s ‘Dizzy Dizzy’ can be heard permeating another 2011 track, ‘Zuckermalone’.



Guest appearances/collaborations being Station 17’s forte this retrospective includes an abundance of them; including the gangly-Hip-Hop Fetter Brot match-up ‘Ohne Regen Kein Regenbogen’ and the slick sonar reverberated Yellow Magic Orchestra hued, Michael Rothar travelling ‘Bogie Bogie Báka’. (Both tracks of which are taken from the collaborative dedicated 2008 album, Goldstein Variation). It also neatly ties-in with the group’s upcoming album rather well, featuring as it does Station 17’s bridging collaboration with Andreas Spechtl of Ja, Panik! fame, ‘Dinge’, taken from the last album Blick: The upcoming Ausblick conceived in the PR spill as that record’s congruous twin. A companion piece, it shares more or less the very same lineup of guests, featuring once more the mischievous faUSt instigators Zappi and Jean-Hervé, new wave pop appropriator Andreas Dorau, the power-up Düsseldorf and Berlin straddling duo of one-time Ashra and Klaus Schulze drummer Harald Grosskopf and former Kraftwerk, Neu! and Pissoff journeyman Eberhard Kranemann, Tangerine Dream convert Ulrich Schnauss, contemporary electronic artist Schneider TM and of course, Spechtl.

Though this time around tracks seem to be far more expansive on the whole, loose and cosmic, especially the Pyrolator team-up ‘Geisterstunde, Baby’, which bounds and bends to a craning Jah Wobble-esque elasticity, and the Soon Over Babaluma galactic dusting ‘Un Astronaut’, which features both Schneider and old Krautrock hand, founder of GAM and echo guitar pioneer, Günter Schickert.

Wafting aromas of Eastern mystery, free-form jazz and liquid serialism permeate this album as Techno meets with Industrial, post-punk funk and My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts era bass lines; resulting in one of Station 17’s most sophisticated, mature and thoughtful albums yet. A Teutonic odyssey, Ausblick’s enviable guest list certainly helps, yet it is the enthusiasm and spirit of the collective’s ‘wohngruppe’ that enrich and offer a distinct perspective.

Not resting on their laurels, Station 17 simultaneously looks back whilst cosmically being propelled forward, releasing both their new and retrospective albums on the same day. Thirty years in, those humble origins far exceeding expectations, Station 17 continue to produce the goods.



White Fence ‘I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk’
(Drag City) January 25th 2019




The unassuming maverick artist Tim Presley paints outside the lines; his idiosyncratic applied coloring-in like a double vision of kaleidoscopic floating blurriness. Deeply felt yet softened and often languid in practice, Presley’s off-kilter musings blend lo fi psychedelia with quirky troubadour sadness, jilting punk, library music, and early analogue synthesized music, and on this latest album of sweetened, hazy malady, the Kosmische, to create the most dreamy of soft bulletins.

Wise in his choice of associations, Presley has in recent years formed a fruitful bond with fellow American maverick Ty Segall – their latest collaboration, Joy, was released back in the summer of 2018 -, and Welsh artist Cate Le Bon – pairing up to form the odd lolloping DRINKS. It was whilst bunking down at Le Bon’s grotto in the Lake District in the winter that he wrote the songbook that would eventually become I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk; the admittedly rudimental skilled Presley, sat crafting ideas on Le Bon’s piano whilst she was out adding another string to her already stretched polymath bow, designing wooden furniture at night school.

Once back in the States, imbued even further by his recent move from L.A. to San Francisco, Presley called upon fellow lo fi graduate and face of Lazy Magnet, Jeremy Harris, to help mold and transform his halcyon transatlantic sketches. Harris is credited as the all-round talent that learnt and then, more or less, played and recorded this curious collection in the San Fran located studio of former Bees founder and producer, Paul Butler.

Amorphously wafting between the bucolic and tragic psychedelic whimsy of England, the Warm Jets era of Eno, the fragility lament of Nilsson and the cerebral lurch of The Swell Maps, Richard Hell and David Byrne, Presley’s bendy vulnerabilities sound understated and lo fi but dream big. The title-track, with postmodernist élan, embodies this spirit perfectly; merging the magical if unsure twinkle of Willy Wonka with Pete Dello, Syd Barrett and a slacker Ray Davis. Suffused venerable organs, monastery-like intonations, and the lightest of washes all sit well with the gangly disjointed lolloping guitars and the woozy drug-induced new wave rock’n’roll longing of such tragic mavericks as Johnny Thunders, who Presley dreamt appeared before him, from beyond the grave, with a message of encouragement: “To be honest and simple”. Opening up to a point, Presley’s sighed, understated vocals deliver lyrics swaddled in psychedelic analogy and lazed daydreaming resignation.

Closing the album, the final two-part suite of Ham Reductions, is an experiment in perpetual arpeggiator analogue-electronics. Split in to ‘A: Morning’ and ‘B: Street & Inside Mind’ bookends, these pleasant retro-futurist never-ending instrumentals both evoke the familiarity of Cluster and Eno. Reconfiguring a binary computerized language, each piece is probed and piqued by glistened but more caustic harsher interruptions flows and the sound of the traffic: The inner workings of Presley’s mind transduced into calculating, ruminative passages from another era.

Tethering a multitude of ideas and influences to something more concrete and solid can’t have been easy, but I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk captures those blurred reimaging’s within the amorphous boundaries of a successful off-kilter album of dreamy magnificence and wonky indulgences.





Flibbertigibbet ‘Whistling Jigs To The Moon’
(Sommer) December 5th 2019

JODI ‘My Espontáneo’
(Out-Sider Music) December 5th 2019




Feeding an insatiable hunger for obscure (sometimes for good reason) missives and forgotten links in the chain of music history, the Spanish Guerssen hub of multifaceted labels dishes up an abundance of rarities from around the world, and across time. Two such rare finds have piqued my interest this month, the first from the Paraguay duo JODI, and second, a reissue of the fleeting Celtic lunar imbued Flibbertigibbet album, Whistling Jigs To The Moon.

Faithful to the name, the Out-Sider Music imprint digs out a hotchpotch of previously unreleased recordings from the Wenger brothers, Joem and Dirk. Gathered together under the Pop Espontáneo title – a title that only goes so far in describing the duo’s highly diverse styles and influences – this compilation captures the brother’s at their most experimental, as they graduated from the schoolmates band The Rabbits to the sibling duo JODI and later still, after signing a contract with EMI-Argentina, IODI.

Isolated to a degree in their Paraguay homeland, cut-off to an extent from their peers, an unburdened and unpressured JODI relentlessly recorded an abundance of genre-bending songs and instrumentals at their 8-track studio in Asunción. The results of which, in the main, were self-financed and released in very small numbers privately.

Early adepts of the Moog, which they use with a cosmic relish throughout the majority of these recordings, the Wenger’s could be said to have been innovators in South American psychedelic boogie and space-age disco rock. Aggrandizing the brothers further, the PR spill and accompanying linear notes hold them up as pioneers; diy and lo fi doyens whose sound was ahead of its time. To be fair, at times you think you’re hearing the kernel of Ariel Pink or R Stevie Moore, but far from humble beginnings, the Wenger’s certainly had the cash to spill, owning as they did a state-of-the-art studio, a mellotron, moog and clavinet, which were hardly cheap or even easy to come by at the time of their late 60s and early 70s flowering.

If you’ve already heard Out-Sider’s repackage of the duo’s 1971 album, Pops de Vanguardia – possibly, as claimed, the first lo fi diy garage-psych album to be produced on the continent – you’ll be familiar with their method of blending Santana-like Latin rock with clavinet croaking heavenly funk and psychedelic garage to produce melodious pop. Digging deeper into the archives and stockroom, their ‘sound-alikes’ collection unearths such hidden gems as ‘Change Your Mind About Me’, which pitches soft American 70s rock with phaser-guitar and tropical percussion; the Steppenwolf-in-leather bastardized Beatles riff at the discotheque Glam-rocking, ‘Take Me Higher’; the Brian Auger rock’n’roll meets psych sermon, ‘Sunburst Of Bees’; and The Monkees harmonize over The Smoke, ‘I Will Wait For You’. But you’re bound to hear smatterings of Bolan, Mick Ronson, Sensations Fix, Amen Corner and The Kinks on this crisscrossing compilation.

Technically proficient they use all kinds of tricks, effects and overlays to skewer their visionary rock music pop. And if this kind of thing interests you, then you’ll be pleased to hear that the booklet describes all these various methods and the instruments used in great detail – guitar wise, the brothers showed a penchant for the Fender Jaguar and Jazz bass. Unfortunately enervated by the pressures of recording for a major label, the German-Paraguay brothers were forced to record more commercially viable hits. And so these recordings are only seeing the light of day forty odd years later, after the JODI heydays of the mid 70s.

This is a worthy collection and obscure curiosity that could lead to revival of forgotten treats from 60s/70s Paraguay; the sons and daughters of the German diaspora that ended up there, sharing an unconscious link to similar pioneering musical innovations back in the Krautrock homeland.












In a different direction entirely, the Sommer imprint revival of the critically well-received but commercially poor Whistling Jigs To The Moon album by Flibbertigibbet looks to place the Celtic-South African troupe in the upper echelons of prog and psych-folk greats.

Formed after the break-up of the earlier cult Irish group Mellow Candle by band members Alison O’Donnell and David Williams, after an unsuccessful 1972 album release for the Deream label – Swaddling Songs despite the attention and band’s reputation, failing to revive the Candle’s fortunes -, the prevailing Flibbertigibbet was born in the immigrant and local communal houses and clubs of the South African folk scene. Leaving the Emerald Isle after that Candle’s light went out for good, O’Donnell and Williams hooked-up in South Africa with ex-pats Barrie Glenn and Jo Dudding to form the earnest, romantically lamentable band of well-travail(ed) musicians.

From initial live performances in a homely community, the obviously gifted and talented group of like-minded folk lovers were soon patronized; their admirer and facilitator, Prof. David Marks soon offering them the help to record and release, what would be, their debut LP. Expanding the ranks further with classical first violinist Francesco Cignoli, jazz bassist Dennis Lalouette, string-bassist Nippy Cripwell, flutist Colin Shapiro and fiddle player Dave Lambert, they recorded an attentive songbook of beautifully lulled traditional folk sagas.

Taking old Irish standards, but also weaving their own deft tapestries, they dance jigs in drunken stupor to the moon cycles and swoon like the French Lieutenant’s Woman, waiting on the smugglers cove for loved-ones to return. They do this with the most understated of lilting charm, evoking the subtlest hues of Fairport Convention prog and the softest of psychedelic rock influences.

The stalwarts of bucolic and coastal folk are all present and correct – from English Oak and seafaring analogies to the protestations of the oppressed working classes -, as Flibbertigibbet travel back and forth across timelines. Special mention must go to O’Donnell’s voice, which is diaphanous and longing, channeling Sandy Denny, Linda Ronstadt and The Poppy Family as she woos and sighs over both the perfectly administered acoustic and electrified backing – itself a mix of the Trees, American country-folk rock, Fotheringay and Fleetwood Mac, but also a faithful interpretation of far older, more bodhran frame drum led, traditional forms too.

Saved hopefully from obscurity and the clutches of record-dealers – the original 1978 album fetching a pretty price online, if you can indeed find a copy – this repackaged appraisal of a folk rarity should be well-received by the folk and head music communities. Beautifully crafted storytelling from a band with much to offer, Whistling Jigs To The Moon is an enjoyable and stirring treat for the soul.




Deep Cut ‘Different Planet’
(Gare du Nord) January 25th 2019




As if Ian Button isn’t busy enough already juggling a multitude of projects, he’s not only the drummer in the London-based Deep Cut band but also facilitating the release of their third LP, Different Planet, through his very own Kentish cottage industry imprint, Gare du Nord (a good time to mention that labels impressive showing in our albums of the year list).

Formed around the dreampop shoegazing indie pop songwriting of the group’s founder, Mat Flint, and Emma Bailey, Deep Cut could be said to appeal to the Gare du Nord label’s penchant for nostalgia. Squeezing plenty of mileage out of The Byrds (8 Miles of it in fact on the track ‘Washed Up’), Lush, My Bloody Valentine, Jesus And Mary Chain, Throwing Muses and Ride, they inhabit another decade – though considering how bloody popular the 80s and Britpop eras both are, they’ve probably hit upon a winning formula.

In a spirograph haze of jingle-jangle paisley hued fuzz, drifting lingering cooing vocals and attitude power pop, the former Revolver frontman and Death In Vegas bassist Mat adds shades of his previous bands sound to the make-up; pitching up with trip-hop indie beats on the baggy-candour ‘Spiraling’, and switching on the Fujiya And Miyagi version of the motorik, on the early pulsing Sheffield electronic ‘Alarm Button’.

Playing with that lush signature of cracking indie pop, Emma (shadowed on backing vocals and harmony throughout by Mat) can at any one time channel Tanya Donelly, Sonya Madan and Miki Berenyi simultaneously. Though as breezy and shrouded in vapours as it is, Emma has a certain swagger and attitude that manages to pierce the daze.

The backing meanwhile shifts between all those already mentioned reference points, but can also throw up a few surprises, especially with vague passing influences such as Cabaret Voltaire, Ringo Deathstarr, Teenage Fanclub, Altered images and the Happy Mondays all swirling around.

A decent sound with plenty of variation, subtitles and energy, Deep Cut refine and breathe life back into the yearning shoegaze and Britpop of another era. With conviction, well-crafted songwriting and a captivating lead singer, they manage to stand apart from their influences just enough to avoid cliché and a reliance on the nostalgic.





Garrett N. ‘Let’s Get Surreal’




Channeled into an eclectically blended opus of a showcase, in a sense a purview of Garrett’s tenure as a composer and sound designer creating incidental music and soundtracks for a litany of American networks, the pun-tended riff entitled Let’s Get Surreal runs through the full gamut of its creator’s skillset and tastes. In the decade since his first and only other album thus far, Instrumentals And Oddities, there’s been a hell of a lot water-under-the-bridge, and Garrett’s album at times seems like one out-of-sync with its time: Leitmotifs and themes, including a growing cacophony of multiple George Bush Juniors reading out his infamous address to a nation speech on the eve of the second Gulf War (overlapping and twisted until the word “terrorism” echoes like a broken mantra), are evoked on the WMD condemnation, undulated by a Kubrickian menacing drone, ‘Saddam/Espace’ – just one example of a subject overtaken by a catalogue of equally destructive and important events; the incessant hunger for stimulation, reaction and validation of 24-hour news feeds quickly replacing world events at such a rate as to make anything longer than a few years back seem ancient history.

The sound quality indicates a talent for production: Garrett N. is attempting to bring hi-fidelity and a verve of polish back to music production; arguably a lost art in so many ways, especially in an era when availability and convenience is valued above audio quality, and when music is accessed, predominantly, through compressed digital streaming platforms on smartphones. If nothing else, Let’s Get Surreal sounds good in its bombast; loud when it needs to be, clean and crisp when more thoughtfully meditative and ambient. It makes a refreshing change to hear it.

The music itself is epically framed, following a concept that errs towards progressive rock and beats opera; there’s even an ‘Overture’ to kick things off, part of a triple suite of tracks that (surreal indeed) morphs Michael Caine’s anecdotes about gay slurs and allusions to a changing musical landscape of 70s Floyd, ethereal synth work, hues of heavy Muse prog guitar gestures, brighter shades of MGMT and psychedelic pop and Todd Rundgren. Continuous with recurring hooks, bridges and fades connecting each track on this hour plus filmic soundtrack, Let’s Get Surreal blends lofty noodling with longing composure as it confidently zaps and fuses the cosmic with Hip-Hop instrumentalism, library music with 80s flange rock, 8-bit robotics with conga funk, and low-riding RNB with the psychedelic.

A curious album from an obviously talented music producer and musician, this ambitious suite does seem like a home-studio project from a bedroom maverick, dressed-up as a resume, yet remains an impressive expansive astral oddity of constantly progressive and twisting musical tastes: An album where nothing, quite literally, is spared!




Singles

Twink ‘Brand New Morning/ Dream Turn into Rainbows’
(Gare du Nord) February 1st 2019




A match made in halcyon nostalgic haven, quintessential English psychedelic journeyman Twink (the nom de plume of former Pretty Things, Pink Fairies, Tomorrow, and the fleeting Stars instigator, Mohammed Abdullah John Adler) breaks bread with Ian Button’s Gare du Nord label’s unofficial house bands, Papernut Cambridge and Picturebox, on his latest bucolic single.

Taking a while to materialize on wax, the Gare du Nord lineup of Button, Robert Rotifer, David Woolf and Robert Halcrow first worked with Twink back in 2017; backing one of the doyens of early psych for a series of ‘rare’ shows, which included a guest slot at Kaleidoscope’s 50th anniversary Tangerine Dream jamboree.

Essentially Twink’s spotlight, the (traditional) A-side, ‘Brand New Morning’, was co-written with Picturebox main man Halcrow. A genital kind of vicarage Baroque-chimed harpsichord period Syd Barrett dream capsule from psychedelic rock’s back pages, this earnest Village Green enchanted ditty breaths in the optimism of a sunny-side-up kind of day. The more interesting companion B-side, ‘Dreams Turn Into Rainbows’, is a flute-y and mellotron dreamy romantic yearned number. Building from folky psychedelics echoes into a diaphanous Moody Blues fantasy, Twink’s repeated sentiment of, “I still dream about you/ But dreams they turn into rainbows”, is carried on the currents and vapours of his backing troupe’s melodious lush lingers.

Ever expanding the catalogue of nostalgic and halcyon age signings, Ian Button’s label dissects the past but lives in the present, whether it’s the 60s, 70s or even 80s (see the label’s Deepcut LP, which also features in this roundup): The metaphors and analogies proving timeless, even if the music isn’t. Twink is an obvious fit and addition to a label so endeared with England’s less celebrated mavericks.

By the time this review reaches you, the limited-to-200-copies vinyl single should be available via the shared Twink Bandcamp page. A digital copy for streamers is also being made available.





Clovvder ‘Traits’
November 13th 2018




Invoked during an ‘astral winter by the seas’ of the Uruguay port city they call home, Montevideo, the Gothic atmospheric conjurers Clovvder and their most recent couplet of eerie and poetically forlorn bewitching drones (Traits) merges the ominous with the ritualistic diaphanous surrealism to unsettling, spiritualist effect.

Channeling the unconventional morality of the celebrated surrealist Uruguayan-born French writer/poet Isidore Lucien Ducasse’s Les Chants de Maldoror, ‘old gods’, magik and hermetic beliefs, the duo’s Tanky and CO3RA personal peer dramatically into the void as they navigate the aloof philosophical quandaries of existence and self: The second of the two tracks, ‘Solipsismo’ can be translated as both ‘alone’ and ‘self’, a prompt in this case to the eternal downer that the ‘self is all that exists’.

Tar black waters, swirls of minimal dark majesty, resignation, and wispy apparitions posing descriptive esoteric longing lyricism (“Black abysses, swirling/I felt born in me”) materialize in waves across both of Traits haunted soundtrack evocations. A sad melancholic beauty and glints of escapism however lift the mood of the drowning-in-the-River-Styx vibe.

Relatively obscure, with only a handful of singles online, Clovvder may well dissipate back into the ether that they appeared from; their non-linear visions and dark arts sorcery poetic minimalism (imbued in part by the genius experimental cinema of Russia’s exalted Andrei Tarkovsky: Scenes from his loose amorphous interconnected autobiographical movie The Mirror are used to accompany ‘Hydrophila’) demand total absorption and the time to take hold.

Difficult to place; neither electronica, field recordings, drones or that dismissive ‘Witch’ prefix trend, Traits is closer to the perimeters of occult soundtrack magic realism poetry and despondent esoteric romanticism.






Words – Dominic Valvona

REVIEW
Words: Ayfer Simms


Retoryka - Monolith Cocktail

Retoryka   ‘Enhanced  Techniques  I.’  &  ‘Enhanced  Techniques  II.  EPs’
Released  by  Everyday  Life  Recordings,  20th  January  2017

Retoryka hooks its amplifiers somewhere in the horizon, to let their sound blow with the four winds, standing perfectly tranquil amid the chaos and commotion they create with their instruments: there’s a party under a shade.

Dazed, rapturous and noisy, underground and yet classy, peaceful even, the melodic vintage compositions of the band are like masses of energy breaking down in brief fluttering lethal notes, all mingling together in a distorted tireless ensemble.

The tunes under that shade give the spotlights to well-approved guitar swirls, whilst turmoil prevails in the tiny details of all the tracks. Retoryka seems to go loose, walking gleefully along a greasy and messy road full of complexity because different styles collide and merge, the same way they would on a newly forming galaxy. At first we feel off balanced and then the cohesion miraculously appears.

Our feet are dangling from a truck; we are dizzy while the music plays. The instruments’ cords slowly become our umbilical sweaty bond that provides us with nourishment and an ear-splitting nursery rhythm to our nights.

These are destructive younglings, in search, of the perfect shriek, with sprouting shy impressions in the first EP and calmer ripened attitude in the second. In contrast the vocals are soft and endearing, welcoming, like the soft touch of a wobbly titan.

The notes and the guitar may show some rebellious arching but the listen is all around light, with agreeable melodies and “safe” spurts of the instruments.





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