ALBUM REVIEW/WORDS:DOMINIC VALVONA





Bixiga 70 ‘Quebra Cabeça’ (Glitterbeat Records) 12th October 2018

Few bands speak Fela Kuti so fluently and convincingly as the Brazilian outfit Bixiga 70, fusing, as they do, the Afrobeats progenitor showman’s rhythms with the Latin sounds of South America to such dynamic affect. The Sao Paulo group’s fourth album is once more informed and fueled by this connective spirit to Africa, though arguably more ambitious in scope and musically more complex than previous releases. In the past the ten-strong group have played live in the studio, capturing as close as they can their famous energetic, exciting stage performances. Whilst still continuing to do this, the post-production process has been much longer, with each originally spontaneous recording played with and reshaped to create a longer more shifting musical journey.

A year in the making Quebra Cabeça, which translates as the ‘puzzle’, is a full 360-degree panoramic evocation (both joyful and lamentable) of Brazil’s African roots. That heritage, which has woven almost seamlessly into the very fabric of life and culture, obviously originally sprung forth from the heinous ‘Black Atlantic’ slave trade. The toil, sweat and harrowing maltreatment of this history permeates throughout the album, yet this is also a celebration of the rich musical legacy they brought from Africa to the shores of Brazil.

Translating those roots, an ancestry that runs through many of the band members (some individuals descended from the Africa-Caribbean religion of ‘candomble’ for instance), Bixiga are also inspired on this journey by some of the highly talented artists they’ve shared various stages with over the years. Artists such as the Ghanaian highlife singer Pat Thomas, the Nigerian sublime traversing saxophonist legend Orlando Julius and Brazilian octogenarian star João Donato. Incorporating the lot they merge their brass-y signature carnival funk and shaking Afrobeat sass with cosmic voodoo, Afro-jazz and sloping funk: And that’s just on the opening title-track. Rattling, thumping drums underlay echoes of Santana on the cantering ‘Ilha Vizinha’, traces of Archie Shepp day-tripping in Memphis undulate the veiled sorrowful memories of the ‘Levante’, and the polygenesis fusion of rock guitar, electro rumba and R&B that sends the band off into entirely new spheres on ‘Primeiramente’ envisage a day of the dead march on the moon.


Credit: José de Holanda




The quality shines through on every track, with the visions and evocations of both Africa and Bixiga’s hometown of Sao Paulo articulated by an energetic but also ruminating soundtrack of the tribal, funky, cosmic, tropical, gospel and ritual. The slave portal of Benin, further outlying deserts of the sub-Sahara and busy rhythmic bustles of Nigeria are channeled via the melting pot hubs of Brazil on the group’s most epic, ancestral and geographical straddling album. It only remains to see just how great it will sound live on stage.




Words: Dominic Valvona


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NEW MUSIC REVIEW ROUNDUP

WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




A somewhat shorter selection but just as much quality and eclecticism, my final roundup of the year includes the cinematic pop and harrowing void explorations of Alpine Those Myriads; the latest compilations from Edinburgh label of alternative and post rock mavericks and sonic explorers, Bearsuit RecordsThe Invisible & Divided Sea, and the altruistic, charity driven Submarine Broadcasting Company’s latest sprawling collection, Post:Soc; the fourth edition of Knitting Factory’s curated Fela Kuti box sets, with albums chosen by that rebel soul songstress and polymath Erykah Badu; and for the first time ever the entire – admittedly small – 1970s recorded oeuvre of one of Cameroon’s leading Gandjal rhythm providers, Hamad Kalkaba and his Golden Sounds band.

Alpine Those Myriads   ‘Visions & Disorders’
See Hear Feel Smell,  out now.

 

Set adrift out into the void, though as the motivational prompt, ‘climb the mountain and jump off it!’ that was taped to the artist’s working desk during the process of making this harrowing beauty of a minor opus suggests, Alpine Those Myriads’ Marius Bastiansen is, if throwing himself into a chasm of uncertainty and pushing limits, still tethered to earthly realms.

Now deduced to a solo project, cut loose from previous incarnations of the Norwegian group that originally got together back in 2001, the one-man band ATM is highly ambitious musically and conceptually. Inspired by the evanescent memories of watching both the dreamy visionary cinema of Russian auteur Tarkovsky (in particular, by the sounds of and echoes of retro-futuristic signals that are suffused throughout this album, the late filmmakers celebrated science fiction magnum opus Solaris) and the existential, love/hate figure, Lars Von Trier – depending on who you listen to either a madman, risqué agent of controversy or genius.

Aching with a Nordic poetic romanticism, often frail but cutting through the sonic maelstrom and haunted panoramas, Bastiansen merges the gloom and ominous miasma of Scott Walker with The Parenthetical Girls, Fever Ray and Oh No Ono on this cosmological kaleidoscopic concatenate set of traverses, Visions & Disorders. The latter of that title and constant shift towards the discordant is handled with a certain élan; churning, lumbering, bleating, caustic, sending out paranormal broadcasts and on the daemonic reprise version of the album’s opener, Nocturnal Hysteria, featuring the presence of some sort of Lovecraftian Clutha submerged in the subterranean dankness, the horror and uncertainty never quite reaches Walker’s sublime distress, always returning as it does to an uncomfortable but still melodious beauty.

Challenging but balanced, an implosion of tight progressive electronic beats and pained bedraggled saxophone is pitched against the theatrical on the Pale Fountains remixed by Haxan Cloak opener, Radiohead swirl in a charged techno hinterland on Mail Order Doom (WHWGH), Sparks relocate to the Forbidden Planet on the synthesizer pop melodrama Milk The Peacock, and the finale, An Archetype veers into Baroque Kosmische and switched-on Wendy Carlos transduced harpsichord.

Hallowed organs and Moss Garden evocations are layered against ice-y synths, off-kilter lurching loops and warping effects as the ether joins the cosmic in what is a highly impressive cinematic rich album of sonic pop exploration: imagine a more intense Tomat’s 01-06 June with Simon Bookish vocals.






Various   ‘The Invisible And Divided Sea’
Bearsuit Records,  1st December 2017

 

Supplying me during the year with a never-ending variety of disjointed alternative lo fi post-rock and maverick electronic music releases, Edinburgh’s inimitable Bearsuit Records has kept up their impressive momentum by sending me this latest compilation of the kooky, odd and curious: to be fair, some of the artists on this compilation are actually more conventionally brilliant, especially the opening undulated Vangelis voyager style waltz into the cosmos, Fulfilling Eclipse, a serene with moments of trepidation electronic strings traverse by the Brussels composer/producer Alexander Stordiau and one of the album’s most outstanding contributions.

Featuring both present and the odd upcoming track from the label’s expanding roster of international artists, this latest collection congruously moves between the Holger Czukay like chanteuse jazz meets chaotic shouting hysteria of Tous Les Rochers by the mysterious Yponomeutaneko, and the spooky shoegaze ephemeral Julee Cruise-esque swooned Le Sablier, by the Boston electronic composer Petridisch – both of which get to submit two tracks, and both of which have a certain penchant for the French language.

Though every contribution has its merits, some are more dysfunctional than others, some interesting and pushing boundaries. Just out and out weird however, the wax cylinder sounding oomph band on the trail of the lonesome pine, comically voiced missive from some scratchy old western movie, World Travel Of The Piano Tuner, and concertinaed, bellowed, childish Wednesday (January 1992), both by the Japanese folky pop artist Shinnosuke Sugata, are utterly dotty and bewildering, if quaint. Joining them in the almost impossible to categorize ‘out there’ stakes is the avant-garde cut-up workshop The Ha-Happy App derangements of the Scottish and Japanese duo Kirameki.

Social worker by day, channeling his Talking heads eaten up and spat out in tetchy, scratchy spitball of cuckoo Clanger sounds and post-rock by Deerhoof, the Hamburg musician Martin Pozdrowicz, under his PoProPo alter ego, adds rhythm to his strange inventive Freakshow-Dance 2. Elsewhere label stalwarts The Moth Poets see who comes off worse in their musical battle between Jeff Mills and St.Vincent on the crushed indie curio The Shabby Gentlemen, the Edinburgh duo Ageing Children stalk and limber through hip-hop, and PiL style post-punk on the broody industrial beat shuffling Sick Puppy – a teaser/taster track from their, as yet untitled, upcoming new release, due in 2018 -, and Evan O’Malley, donning the Martian Subculture moniker, languidly broadcasts a tripsy soft bulletin from the lunar surface on his yearned space psych ode Chewing Gum.

Bringing a certain calm, float-y and softly played final breath of serenity to the collection, Glasgow based musician Chas ‘Annie’ Kinnis contributes a sort of twinkled lullaby, his peaceable Annie & The Station Orchestra Song For The Invalid Drivers represented by a most dreamy tranquil Ullapul remix. It is a befitting end to a compilation of such extremes: the psychedelic to trip-hop, ambient to orchestral, from the avant-garde to cosmic. Bearsuit continue to surprise; attracting some of the most strange and experimental of music makers, and confounding (in a good way) with every release.






Various   ‘Post:Soc’
Compiled and distributed by the Submarine Broadcasting Co,  out now

 

A convenient segue way exists between this compilation and Bearsuit Records; this latest altruistic (all proceeds going to the DePaul International Group for homeless charities) project from the Submarine Broadcasting Company features a number of artists from the Edinburgh label, including Bunny And The Invalid Singers and Kirameki. It is a congruous partner to The Invisible & Divided Sea on many levels, sharing with it a similar sense of experiment with a roster of equally obscure, mysterious and lo fi composers and artists.

Responsible for the Syrian Relief compilation One-String Inspiration, the enabler curators behind the Post:Soc behemoth (30 tracks with a second overspill type volume moiety, Post:Script also available) have once again made the call for submissions, asking for sonic interpretations and evocations of a post-everything society: post-Trump, post-truth, post-factual, post-Brexit, post-postmodern, post-isms even, you name it someone’s been inspired or enraged by it. The only perimeter that were set, and which are breached countless times, is that each track should try to not overrun a six-minute set duration. Other than that it seems a free-for-all.

As you’d expect, the hysterical age in which we live is hardly the stuff of uplifting, happy-go-lucky paeans and celebrations – unless you did vote for Brexit, May, Trump or Catalonian Independence, in which case your views won’t be articulated here – for most artists on the left. And so this collection seethes with either self-pitying contempt (Bridget Wishart & Everling’s dystopian augur Yesterday’s Future) or less obvious ominous and haunting ambient peregrinations (at least a third of the contributions fall into this bracket, from the paranormal organ of Mean Flow’s Post-Necropsy Society to the trance-y Mogwai barren post-rock of Martin Neubold’s Music For A Post-Intolerant Society – ouch with the title!).

As the defining decision of recent times in Britain, Brexit cops its fair share of plaintive dower melancholy and protest. It even gets its own atmospherically ice-y-vaporous Post-Ambient suite, courtesy of Playman 54.

Elsewhere the caps locked SOLILOQUA dredges back up those fatuous images of the David Cameron #piggate affair, with the moody techno Lipstick On The Pig; Anata Wa Sukkari & Tsukarete Shimai offer up a shoegazing and glitchy fuzzy eulogy, Post-Mortem; the Crayon Angels sing a quaint disarming folksy lullaby about a metaphorical Insect Bite (the sort of veiled tsetse fly poison that encourages ignorance); and Ian Haygreen posing the understated We Live In Interesting Times surmise, merges Revolution 9 with Scott Walker and trip-hop.

Mostly instrumental, and with that ambient, Post:Soc offers a full gamut of moods and explorations, evocations and sad meditations on the present state of affairs. It promises both the peaceful and doom inducing, and goes some way to offering a musical soundtrack to what may yet be the end times!






Fela Kuti   ‘Vinyl Box Set #4: Curated By Erykah Badu’
Knitting Factory,  15th December 2017

 

Despite it being a good few years since Knitting Factory and a host of other labels and ventures began a schedule of Fela Kuti evangelism, Fela fever is still alive going strong. There’s already been a celebratory run of events, from theatre production to cover albums, festivals and of course the remaster repackaging of every album Nigeria’s favourite son recorded, but going forward into 2018, there will also be a number of events commemorating what would have been Kuti’s 80th birthday.

One of the many Kuti evaluations, the Knitting Factory’s ‘curated series’ of box sets has reached its fourth edition. Previous editions have featured Questlove, Ginger Baker and Brian Eno choosing personal favourites from Kuti’s extensive back catalogue of 50 plus albums. Lavishly packaged with both original artwork, essays from the curators and experts alike – including Afrobeat historian Chris May – unseen photos, lyrics and of course remastered/restored versions of the original tracks, these deluxe box sets offer, what surely must be by now, the final word: the ultimate collection as it were.

Lending her sagacious ear and fiery ‘no-shit’ defiant attitude to this latest edition, rebel, actress, activist, Grammy Award winning polymath Erykah Badu picks albums from Kuti’s most elegiac, despondently enraged and also clarion calls for a united Africa periods.

A fierce critic, martyr at times, of Nigeria’s successive corruptible governments and elites – from the decade-long military rule that followed the country’s Biafra Civil War in 1969, to the miscreants that took office in the aftermath – politics defined Kuti’s music: the two were inseparable. Even though the music remained sizzling, funky and bright after years, nee decades of fighting the system – with relatives bearing the brunt of establishment attacks – Kuti’s protestations remained fierce if softened in part by the scintillating, sauntering Afrobeat rhythm and effortless candour of the musicianship.





Coffin For Head Of State, one of the seven albums chosen by Badu, was perhaps his saddest statement. Released at the beginning of a new decade of hope, the two-part remembrance service condemns those involved in the fateful events that led to the death of his mother, Funmilayo. A raid on Kuti’s infamous compound, the Kalakuta Republic, in 1977 saw soldiers threw Funmilayo out of a second floor window. And though she wouldn’t die until later, the injuries sustained at the time of this assault contributed to medical complications and her death. In a bold act of defiance, Kuti, family and followers carried her coffin to the army barracks entrance, petitioning for Funmilayo to assume the position of President of Nigeria. Despite the somber mood the music that it inspired, though of course noticeably pinning with elegiac mantras, is understated, sweet and also infectiously funky.

‘The Black President’, a name synonymous with Kuti’s stature and unofficial role as the alternative, countercultural candidate of choice for presidency might have happened if he’d run for office. The denouncement, vilification platform of V.I.P. (or Vagabonds In Power) could be read as a quasi-opening to a political campaign, this live album recorded at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1978 featured the man-who-could-be-president addressing a European audience, delivering a scathing attack on Nigeria’s ruling classes whilst calling for a better understanding of African culture to a customary shuffling Afrobeat and jazz accompaniment. Rumours abound that the proceeds from the show would go towards his presidential campaign. This didn’t exactly go down well with his beleaguered band. The increasingly disgruntled legendary Afrika ‘70 fell out with their bandleader over money and split; V.I.P. being the last album they recorded together.





In a chronological order, the golden Kuti period of the 70s – though he’d of course carry on making records into the 1990s, and only stopped a few years before his death in 1997 – is represented on this box set of Badu choices by the preaching condemnation, gospel dabs electric organ, female chorus, saw wailing jazzy funk of Yellow Fever – a reference to the dubious, dangerous skin-bleaching chemicals used to whiten complexions, though it gave off a more jaundiced, ill skin tone, hence the album title -; the Lester Bowie – of the jazz godfathers of avant-garde, the Art Ensemble Of Chicago – starring trumpet trills and spiraling, simmering soul rich No Agreement; and the ‘Live at the Kalakuta Republic’ recorded sumptuous, hand drum rattling Johnny Just Drop.

With a new incarnation of his backing group, Afrika ’80, denoting a new decade, Kuti’s relaxed entrancing but bright Army Arrangement protestation featured a soulful Kuti sticking it once again to the powers that be – by now, and even with a large oil wealth at their disposal and the end of military rule Nigeria was every bit as corrupt, stifling and quick to denounce, eradicate descent; Kuti was himself trumped up on dubious charges and thrown in prison during Muhammadu Buhari’s short reign as head of state in the mid 80s. Even later into the 90s, with Kuti being accused of taking part in a murder and facing ill health, the final album in this survey, Underground System, keeps up the antagonism, repeating accusations of ‘thievery’ to a busy tight, piano spotting groove on part one, and aping (literally) the derogatory language of the racist colonial masters (“give me banana”, “jump like a monkey”) on the probing, horn lingering breakbeat second installment. If anything this ’92 album was every bit as good as his more popular 70s material.

Keeping it Afrocentric, even when abroad, Kuti’s most repeated mantras of unity, pride and a return to the roots and atavistic values of pre-colonial African continent are echoed in Badu’s own work. But as Badu explains, it’s the “effortless” candour she so loves: “IT’S SO GOOD that there is NO way he gave it any thought. With Fela, it seems to just have spilled right out of him.”

Badu goes on to pontificate with passion that she was also attracted to the connectivity and the “pure honesty” that Kuti delivered in abundance. Her final words recommend setting up the right listening experience atmosphere: “listen to these tracks, preferably with a nice blunt…with a nice slow burn.”

Whether you take up that preferred choice or recreational enjoyment or not, Badu’s selection is not the most powerful Afrobeat frenzy of ‘deluxe box sets’, but possibly the most leisurely, meditative and rich one.






Hamad Kalkaba And The Golden Sounds  ‘1974 – 1975’
Analog Africa,  8th December 2017

 

Purveyors of Africa’s finest and explosive forgotten treasures, Analog Africa can always be relied upon to dig up some fascinating musical discoveries. Continuing to shed light on Cameroon’s rich history of mostly obscure and passed-over marvels, the German-based label follows up this summer’s eye-opening Pop Makossa ‘invasive dance beat’ compilation with the collected singles of Gandjal sauntering maverick Hamad Kalkaba and his Golden Sounds backing group.

Hamad’s entire recorded oeuvre stretched to just three, hard to source, singles; all released over a twelve-month period in the mid 70s – hence the title. So this is quite an obscure compendium, and as Analog Africa’s Samy Ben Redjeb reminisces in the compilation’s liner notes, chanced upon by complete accident. The initial 7-inch that kick started this project was found in a record store in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde; a transfixed Samy, by now the expert crate digger, sniffed out the goods, playing what would turn out to be Hamad’s Gandjal Kessoum/Toufle single on repeat. A chain of events led to him eventually tracking down the fabled original second and third singles – one of which took six years to find –, copies of which (and here’s a result) had lain dormant unplayed and untouched.

Part of the attraction of these finds were the picture covers that housed them: vividly scared down both sides of his face by tribal markings, Hamad’s gaze is as serious looking as it is cool. Born into the Musgum culture and heritage of northern Cameroon, squeezed between Chad to the east and Nigeria to the west, Hamad scored into his face the tribe’s vertical marks as a young boy. Promoting those traditions and the homegrown Gandjal rhythm in what would turn out to be a brief musical career, Hamad put out a trio of scintillating, shuffling singles, all backed by The Golden Sounds.

Following one of the other Musgum legacies, he would pretty much turn his back on that most fleeting of musical careers to join the army and to thrive as an athlete: when Samy tracked him down he found Hamad was not only a retired colonel but the current President of The Confederation Of African Athletics. Though enthusiastic about the idea of this collection, he was initially dismissive of his youthful dalliances as a singer. Yet the sentiment and drive were commendable, and the music, as you will hear, was both entrancing and relaxingly swinging.

The A-sides and B-sides have been separated and mixed up on this six track compilation, so the slinky, snake charming, bendy opener Astadjam Dada Sare, originally found on the third single release called Nord Cameroon Rhythms, is followed by one side of the initial single that set this collection in motion, the sweetly laced, swaddling horns and languid saxophone dappled Toufle. Hamad’s vocals are either relaxed in a sort of veneration – no doubt emphasized by the equally religious toned organ – style of prayer (Fouh Sei Allah) or more dynamically charged, on the cusp of a Stax showman, shouty and lively (Lamido).

Cooking up a funk and soulful stew, at times sending the needles into the red and distorting, Hamad and his troupe don’t so much blast or hurtle towards the thrills, lifts and breaks as amble: A band in no hurry to arrive at their destination.

 

It’s a shame Hamad didn’t stick it out, as these few but illuminating, sauntering Gandjal heavy tracks and dancefloor shufflers prove he had plenty of potential and talent. Released in the run-up to Christmas, this little collection will warm up the winter freeze and transport you to far sunnier climates. Analog Africa end the years as they started it with another essential showcase from Africa’s mostly ignored and forgotten musical past.



NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





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

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

Read on…

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Nosaj Thing   ‘Parallels’
Innovative Leisure,  8th September

 

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

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

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

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

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






Odd Nosdam  ‘LIF’
Sound In Silence

 

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

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

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

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






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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

 

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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



Aesop Rock to Bob Lind.


Monolith Cocktail: ‘Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul (1963 – 1969)’


Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavours to offer a more eclectic spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists; stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album doesn’t deserve the number 32 spot and has been placed at number 33 instead.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums from 2016 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to make some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2016, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar.

Split into two parts, the first installment begins with Aesop Rock’s‘s hip-hop masterpiece The Impossible Kid and ends with the latest adroit songbook from the legendary troubadour Bob Lind. In between those two sagacious bookends are albums from David Bowie, David Broughton, Danny Brown, Cluster, Eleanor Friedberger and John Howard (plus many others).

Aesop Rock   ‘The Impossible Kid’  (Rhymesayers)

Monolith Cocktail - Aesop Rock

“The waterfall of words, snide quips and intricate stories recalled from both close to home and far away worlds, are as good as he’s ever done”.  Matt Oliver 

Seeming to get better rather than older (and don’t you dare mention the ageing process as per ‘Lotta Years’), the original ‘Bazooka Tooth’ is still ablaze out of somewhere to the left, but now giving lesser mortals more of a chance of accessing him than ever before. Entirely self-produced and applying funkiness to the bulkiness of alien-scanned beats he’s always rocked his way, AR’s extra superpower as the self-deprecating hero of syllaballistics (“the impossible kid , everything that he touch turns probably to shit”), is to humanise the fantastical and still make the everyday sound like a comic book lead, even when soul is bared for all to analyse. Rock also added more great cover art, and the visuals for ‘Rings’ and ‘Kirby’ are bound to feature in hip-hop video of the year lists.

Read original review here


Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra   ‘A.H.E.O’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Monolith Cocktail - A.H.E.O.

 

‘Elevating beyond the borders it was created behind, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra’s root foundations shuffle and shake free of their stereotypes to move freely in an increasingly amorphous musical landscape. You’re just as likely to hear vibrations and traces of Dub, native Indian plaintive ghostly echoes, Sun Ra’s otherworldly jazz and funk as to hear the indigenous Haiti sounds and Afrobeat pulse. Tony Allen is once more at the heart of another bustling, dynamic explosion in rhythm.’  Dominic Valvona

 

Progenitor and embodiment of the Afrobeat drum sound, still in high demand four decades after his explosive partnership with Fela Kuti, the much-venerated Tony Allen once more extends his infectious percussion style beyond the African homeland. Sharing an obvious entwined history with Africa, the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti proves both an esoterically mysterious and congruous collaborative foil to Allen’s distinct drumming patois.

Invited to perform in 2014 by the French Institute Of Haiti’s director Corinne Micaelli, Allen’s visit would end with a public broadcasted concert in the main square of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Collaborating with Allen would be a cross-section of local percussionists and singers recruited by vocalist, dancer, ‘voodoo priest’ and director of the Haitian National Bureau Of Ethnology, Erol Josué; Josué would himself lend his sweet yearning and reflective tones to two of the tracks on this album.

The call went out and the great and good of the Haitian music scene came. Racine Mapou de Azor, the Yizra’El Band, Lakou Mizik and, featured on the Monolith Cocktail at the start of the year and one of the choice albums of 2016 with their highly-rated Manman M Se Ginen LP, RAM. Another Monolith regular and one-time Port-au-Prince resident, Mark Mulholland was drafted in as the experimental orchestra’s guitarist, and as it would turn out, eventual legacy overseer. Swelling the ranks still further were Olaf Hund, recruited on keyboards and ‘electronics’, and an old friend of Allen’s, the bassist Philippe Dary, who became the de facto musical director. With only five days of studio rehearsal time to gel and work out their performance, the sessions proved both, as Mulholland observed, ‘chaotic’ and overwhelming’. Based upon various sparks of inspiration and rhythmic workouts the eventual structured compositions took shape from organically flowing jams. At the heart of each, Allen’s signature Afrobeat drums and Dary’s liquid, and often funky sumptuous basslines.

Read the full review here…



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

(Analog  Africa)

Monolith Cocktail - Legend of Funaná – The Forbidden Music Of The Cape Verde Islands

‘Following the summertime thrills aplenty Space Echo – The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed compilation, with the emphasis on the Funaná; Analog Africa continues to pay homage to the previously suppressed music genre with a reissue of, what many consider, the best Funaná album ever recorded, Bitori Nha Bibinha.’   DV

Helping to ignite a full-on Funaná revival, the quintessential and legendary anthem of Cape Verde’s once banned – considered too salacious and unruly by the Portuguese authorities who ran this archipelago of islands until the mid 1970s – infectious music style was given a reprise by Analog Africa this year. A master class from the inter-generational duo of singer Chando Graciosa and renowned gaïta maestro Victor Tavares (better known as Bitori), who’d both grown up with the blazing and often raucous Funaná, Bitori Nha Bibinha captures the passion and spirit of the people and the times it survived.

Read the full review here…


The Bordellos  ‘How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One’
(Small Bear Records)

Monolith Cocktail

‘Despite the caustic bravado and world-weary bitterness channeled into the antagonistic song titles on this new album, The Bordellos lo fi edicts are always surprisingly melodic. Think of them as a tuneful The Fall; resigned and swiping at society but hopeful enough to challenge it despite banging their collective heads on the doors of the music industry for years.’

Gaining this coveted spot (sic) in our ‘choice albums’ feature for perseverance in the face of despair, the St. Helens trio once more man the barricades with another despondent protest. Feeling, like many of us (I know we do), out of synch with the digital epoch, they rally against the Internet’s most depressing byproducts, and the loss of real ‘motherfuckers’ from the music world – who they duly list on a song of the same name; a cry for a new leader or at least more individuals and rebels. Wearily antagonistic, righting slights and a lifetime of rejection, The Bordellos go for broke on How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One with titles such as ‘Did The Bastards At The BBC Kill John Peel?’, ‘Gary Glitter’ and ‘Piss On Spotify’. Uneasy truths to a lo fi backing of The Velvet Underground, Julian Cope and The Fall abound, yet this could be the group’s best and most complete songbook to date.

Read the full review here…



David Bowie  ‘Blackstar’   (ISO/RCA)

Blackstar cover art - Monolith Cocktail

‘…this could be the most pure, at least concerned, version of Bowie yet. Resurrected free of his characterisations, the gilded “Blackstar” is just as uneasy and scared at the anxieties, stresses and daunting prospects of the future as the rest of us. Fame, celebratory is mere smoke after all and offers little in the way of comfort and safety in the face of the impending end times. Yet despite being easily his best album since Earthling, Blackstar is still underwhelming and falls short of being a classic.’  DV

 

The swansong of an irreplaceable polymath proved to be one of the year’s most sad moments, as the man who fell to Earth, Aladdin Sane, the Young American, the thin white duke, the absolute beginner, whichever version you fell in love with, departed for the ether. We lost a great many unique and inimitable artists in 2016 but though ever death is tragic none left quite the pit of despair that David Bowie‘s did. Don’t even try to crown a successor; he was a force unto himself, the “Blackstar”, the supernova of pop. Reams have been written – a great many by myself – yet no one will ever truly reflect his importance and legacy.

Though released just before his death the augur that is ★ was a curtain call. Just as oblivious to Bowie’s fatal cancer as everyone else, I did remark at the time that this album seemed to be a poignant goodbye, an elegy even. Returning to a first love, jazz, Bowie who proved an eager saxophonist in the burgeoning years of his career worked with a N.Y. West Village jazz troupe to produce one of his best albums in decades. Old faces, including a decomposing Major Tom, themes and sounds returned, with traces of Diamond Dogs, Scary Monsters, Black Tie White Noise and Outside. Despite the often cryptic and veiled words, this was an anxious, weary and reflective Bowie; looking back before a rebirth. A pity time ran out for him.

Read the full review here…


David Thomas Broughton  ‘Crippling Lack Vol. 1 – 3’  (Song, By Toad Records)

Monolith Cocktail - David Thomas Broughton

‘An ambitious undertaking, David Thomas Broughton’s sprawling opus Crippling Lack is both musically and geographically expansive. Recorded trans-continental style with a host of collaborators over the last few years, Broughton, who’s based himself more recently in the capitals of, unbelievably, North and South Korea, has laid down various parts and vocals in France, the UK and the US. Logistically impressive, Crippling Lack is a testament to the DIY ethic and remote collaborative experimentation.’ DV

A magnificent and masterful undertaking by Broughton, the Crippling Lack trio of recordings is demarcated into three parts, the entire song collection, if you decide to experience in one sitting, stretching to 1 hour 40 minutes. It features twelve songs in all of varying meticulously and slowly unfurled beauty, with some, epics in their own right. The press release separates the album out into a musical journey, beginning with what it calls ‘deceptively approachable pop songs’, moving through a more testing ‘unraveling and disintegrating and barely-stretched fragments’ segment, before ending with a final section that ‘slowly weaves’ all the loose and previous sections together.

It is nothing short of a magnum opus; cohesive and flowing along to a sophisticated backing, sonorous with the artist’s venerable travailed voice, and his acerbic foils wit. The album’s scope is immense even though it meanders to a, mostly, folk signature and gentle accompaniment. It is outstanding even by Broughton’s standards.

Read the full review here…


Danny Brown  ‘Atrocity Exhibition’  (Warp)

Monolith Cocktail - Danny Brown

“Juggling the mic like a grenade missing a pin…one of 2016’s most individual threats.”  MO

‘Atrocity Exhibition’ throws up so many positive talking points. #1 – the transatlantic odd couple of Danny Brown and Paul White, a relationship rooted in 2011’s ‘Rapping With Paul White’ album, fears nothing and no-one. #2 – Brown continues to show he has one of the maniacal mic grips in the game that you can’t ignore, here with added malleability. #3 – White’s reputation has really hit its stride on an upward curve; though other producers contribute (Black Milk, Alchemist and Evian Christ are not to be sniffed at), it’s essentially the Englishman’s show on the boards. #4 – a show stopping hook from Kendrick Lamar on ‘Really Doe’ doesn’t hurt one bit. #5 – despite Brown’s mile-a-minute persona shearing safety bars off rollercoasters, and White and co by default becoming the straight man sidekick, you really have no idea what’s around the next corner, from soaring superhero soundtracks to proper hip-hop dope to something suspiciously shuffling through the undergrowth. “This is not regular rap”, Brown offers. Amen.

Read the original review here


Cappo  ‘Dramatic Change of Fortune’  (YNR)

Monolith Cocktail - Cappo

“When autumn becomes winter, here’s your listening.” MO

You should always bet on the flow of Nottingham’s finest that has evolved into a complex work of art. On past albums and years gone by Cappo would’ve destroyed opposition with crosshairs locked and ammo loaded; here his own brand of introspection, still packing uniquely orbital rhyme schemes but now more than ever full of coded messages and open ended verses awaiting interpretation, kills the noise and heighten the mysteries surrounding the emcee’s inner thoughts and circles. It packs two absolutely heaters of singles as well – ‘OOB’ and ‘Ether’ are both unassuming phantoms of the opera, but white hot in a pretty slimline session – another contributing factor to the building of the suspenseful and mournful, chilling on a razor’s edge. YNR took the weight off their plates in 2016, but this was easily the jewel in their calendar year crown.

Read original review here


CHUCK  ‘My Band Is A Computer’  (Old Money Records)

Monolith Cocktail (Dominic Valvona) - CHUCK review

CHUCK’s kooky collage-rock and lo fi wonky electronic pop, which congruously flows between The Magnetic Fields, Mercury Rev, Weezer, Apples In Stereo and even The Pixies, absorbs its influences to create a gorgeous, quietly optimistic, kind of melancholy and pathos.’ DV

From the inimitable label of hopeless optimism and resigned despair another lo fi songbook of obscure modern idiosyncratic pathos. Released via Audio Antihero’s new imprint Old Money Records this marvelous kooky collection from Massachusetts’s songwriter and multi- instrumentalist CHUCK is a congruous bedfellow of the label’s previous releases from Benjamin Shaw, Frog and Cloud.

Bringing an upstate, more pastoral, lilt to the New York metropolis where he now resides, CHUCK’s quasi-Tropicana Casio preset bed of quirky wounded observations are both funny and profoundly sad; lo fi but ambitious. An outsider in some sense; an observer of the foibles and peculiarities of the Brooklyn boroughs, the maverick artist paints a reflective, wry and often ironic picture of our modern times.

Far too good to be hidden away his collection of songs, penned over the last decade, have thankfully been given the platform to reach a wider audience.

Read the full review here…


Clipping  ‘Splendor & Misery’  (Sub Pop)

Monolith Cocktail - Clipping

“Provocative electronics and sermons from the LA leftfielders will clamp you to the edge of your seat.”  MO

For the record, ‘Splendor & Misery’ is a 20/80 split in favour of the latter. Comprehensively proving that the end of the days is still compelling material when done as well as this, particularly in this year of all years, Clipping were another to give themselves a veneer of accessibility with their zero gravity screams. Futility set adrift to a perfectly captured fear found frozen behind the visor, had rhymes dealing with the pending shitstorm with West Coast fearlessness usually reserved for low-rider rollin’. Interspersed with choral episodes praying for the album’s lead, the intelligent stage management demands your full attention; that’s to say, it’s a struggle to dip in and out or pick a favourite track by itself – do so and you’ll risk detracting from the whole performance pushing hip-hop’s outersphere. What odysseys are made of and reputations are built on.

Read the original review here


Cluster  ‘1971 – 1981’  (Bureau B)

Monolith Cocktail - Cluster 1971 - 1981

‘Patriarchs of the German music scene, Cluster, are quite rightly celebrated for their contribution to the last forty-odd years of experimental electronic and ambient music with this latest grandiose gesture of adulation. Though attempts have been sporadic, past collections have gathered together, more or less, all the standard Cluster recordings, leaving out live and more obscure albums, until now. German label Bureau B, concentrating on the group’s output from 1971 to 1981, chronologically compile a full discography from that decade, which for the first time ever includes the previously unreleased Konzerte 1972/1977 album.’ DV

All attentively remastered, rather impressively I might add, by Willem Makkee, the nine-album box set offers the die-hards another excuse to own the back catalogue, with the added bonus of requiring that former live LP that got away, Konzerte, and for those not familiar or with a passing fancy, the best complete picture and evolution yet of the much revered group. 1971- 1981 will serve as a worthy testament and reawakening of the Cluster back catalogue and legacy: now sounding better than ever, the remastering for once very much welcomed.

Read the full review here…



Ian William Craig  ‘Centres’  

Monolith Cocktail - Ian William Craig

Passing us by on release Ian William Craig‘s unassuming but nevertheless epic sweeping ambient opus Centres arrived without much fanfare on its release. However, these cerebral peregrinations, songs of hope, soulful expansive hymns and sonic journeys into space were given rave reviews by those who did pay attention. And so initially missing coverage on the Monolith Cocktail, we’ve made up for it since by featuring tracks from the album in our ‘quarterly playlists’ and now, in our ‘choice albums of 2016’ feature. It is one of the year’s most beautiful, inspiring and often just meditative concatenate suites; offering glimmers of awe.  DV


Dillon & Paton Locke  ‘Food Chain’ (Full Plate)

Monolith Cocktail - Rapture & Verse Hip Hop selection

“Gourmet underground platters rooted in the South but giving you seven courses of funk and back.”  MO

It might only be found as small print on some menus, but who are we to ignore prime indie cuts encouraging you to “pour a bucket of gravy over yourself and just feel that”. When they’re not rewriting the rules of the Ice Bucket Challenge, Dillon & Paton Locke are always gnawing on something, rhyming as they chew it. Funky, crate-rifling beats are laced with an overzealous streak, cogently able to stop the album dead from 60 to 0 and then re-energise it the other way, and a press-record-and-just-go appetite never misses a trick on the mic, with a hint of political soap-boxing and getting down to some grown man, take a look around biz. Their guest chef specials aren’t too salty either – R&V favourites Homeboy Sandman and J-Live, Dres from Black Sheep and people’s president Lobsterdamus, help flavour a certified belly-buster for 2016.

Read the original review here



Ed Scissor & Lamplighter   ‘Tell Them It’s Winter’ (High Focus)

Monolith Cocktail - Ed Scissors & Lamplighter

“An intriguingly created world of wisdom, paranoia, numbness and finding peace in its own mind”.  MO

High Focus have had the mother of all years, the consistency of everything they’ve dropped dominating the last 12 months of homegrown hip-hop. Ocean Wisdom (‘Chaos 93’) boasted youthfully infinite ammunition. Dabbla (‘Year of the Monkey’) got up to a whole load of japery reaching across the bar. Fliptrix (‘Patterns of Escapism’) executed label ideals to the fullest. Yet in the spirit of thinking differently, Ed Scissor and Lamplighter, the absolute antithesis of those mentioned, take the honours by a short head. Blair Witch hip-hop with its nose to the wall, barely keeping its head above water while barely raising an eyebrow, pulls off the Houdini-like stunt of subverting hip-hop norms while sticking close to them like a second skin. A slow and deliberate bittersweet bloom of triumph, creating the ultimate flip script of offering easy solace and comfort when all looks lost.

Read the original review here


Elzhi  ‘Lead Poison’ (Glow365)

Monolith Cocktail - Elzhi

 

“Ear-catching narratives covering the everyday grind…not far off being a complete LP”.  MO

Coming out the other side of mental health issues has Elzhi using ‘Lead Poison’ as catharsis, resulting in some of the year’s most vividly delivered rhymes and storytelling in the process. Done so in near enough bite sized chapters, proves that if the story’s interesting enough, it’s long enough. Never buckling under pressure, even when the likes of ‘Cloud’ feel like everything is conspiring against him (not to mention the potential of his health showing overall weakness), heart is worn on sleeve and self-examinations are set to a forceful soul soundtrack pushing its protagonist. With softer neo-soul going back to Elzhi’s Slum Village heritage, there’s also room for a little light heartedness, with ‘She Sucks’ doing forbidden love by garlic and wooden stakes, and ‘MisRight’ bending the thesaurus. An album that goes from strength to strength, listen on listen.

Read the full review here


Eleanor Friedberger ‘New Views’ (Frenchkiss Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Eleanor Friedberger New View

Another album we missed on its release, Eleanor Friedberger‘s third solo spot New View is another impressive songbook of idiosyncratic pop. Streamlining the signature intelligent reference-heavy prose of her sibling act The Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor continues the clever turns of phrase but in a more attentive, breezier and lightened but less cluttered manner. With elan she sets out on a dry-witted but emotionally philosophical picnic through the East Village with Patti Smith and Harry Nilsson in tow.


Paul Hawkins and the Awkward Silences  ‘Outsider Pop’  (Blang Records)

Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences - Monolith Cocktail

‘Lethargically executed and quintessentially an antifolk statement of protest, Outsider Pop is a highly infectious album of pop parodies that penetrate the bland veneer of the contemporary irksome vacuum known as the mainstream. Shambling discontent at its finest.’  DV

The disgruntled savant of disco funk pop and antifolk Paul Hawkins completely in the dark, oblivious to the dreadful proclamation of David Bowie’s impending death paid an augur homage to his white-suited and booted pop incarnation of the 1980s by transmogrifying ‘China Girl’ into an Outsider Pop anthem. Produced by that nutflake nostalgist, and one of the busiest men in the industry right now Ian Button (of the mighty Papernut Cambridge, Gare du Nord label and umpteen other projects), Hawkins’ third album also finds foibles of inspiration from REM, The Fall, Toto and The Art Of Noise; reflecting a much broader sound than before. The no wave, white funk, pop melodies act as a Trojan Horse, the themes far from advocating a hedonistic lust for life or suggesting the listener suppress the doldrums of modern life, are filled with malcontent at the state of the world.

Read the full review here…


John Howard  ‘Across The Door Sill’  (Occultation Recordings)

Monolith Cocktail - John Howard

 

‘Not so adrift and experimental as to have cut all ties to his signature profound sincerity and sad romanticism, John Howard’s Across The Door Sill dares to go further with an even more immersive experience. Expanding his poetic lyricism and piano performances, stark and stripped-back, his vocals multiplied to fill the space and build the atmosphere; Howard has room and time to create some stirring music. It is a most sagacious reflection from the artist, still finding the inspiration to develop and take risks. In doing so he’s reached what could be one of the creative pinnacles of his career.’  DV

Imbued with the 13th century poet Rumis ‘Quatrains’ poem, which encourages us to broaden our horizons and to not just accept what we’ve done in the past, the adroit songwriter and pianist John Howard experiments with a stripped back sound of multilayered vocals and the melodious gravitas on his latest songbook Across The Door Sill. Attentive and epic the album’s sagacious stream of consciousness is a deeply reflective observance on where we are now. In no hurry to get to a hook or chorus, his source material, a collection of unhindered, unhurried and floating poems, was developed overtime, set to music in an organic fashion. Hence why three of the five songs on this LP are nine-minutes long. On a successful run of collaborations and solo projects Howard is enjoying his most productive period yet in a career that’s spanned five decades.

Read the full review here…


Illogic  ‘A Man Who Thinks With His Own Mind’  (Weightless)

Monolith Cocktail - Illogic

“Streams of quotable IQ create a fever dream. Snooze, you lose.”  MO

Ohio rhyme scientist Illogic provided his own version of a hip-hop out of body experience, a canon of verbosity when bedding down for the night and setting free streams of consciousness while looking through a telescope. This in itself created its own contradiction of being an album expressly trained to set you afloat (The Sound Cultivator’s star-shaped soul powered by plasma rays > strictly no cloud rap), which still kept you wide awake with naturally intricate rhymes, both book and street smart, about life, the universe and everything else. Anyone who starts an album with the observation that “the tofu was not as firm as I’m used to” deserves nothing but praise and respect. The modern equivalent of becoming engrossed in a good book that tells your imagination to run.

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J-Zone   ‘Fish n Grits’  (Old Maid Entertainment)

Monolith Cocktail - J-Zone

“Dripping in home truths from his funk soapbox, disillusionment with hip-hop and its cultural hangers-on has never been more entertaining”.  MO

Better placed than most to justify a love-hate relationship with hip-hop, J-Zone proclaimed “there’s only two types of music – good and bad. Make good music, or shut the fuck up.” Paired with helium alter-ego/juvenile imaginary friend Chief Chinchilla as hilarious equal opportunity offender, and showing the strain of ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ remains strong, ‘Fish n Grits’ goes in with scathingly relatable accuracy about the state of the game, misty-eyed nostalgia replaced by a nose-bloodying team of goons busting a whole load of myths. Additionally, whereas Zone’s production used to pop off all over the place in a skilfully spring-loaded criss-cross, he’s honed his own funk skills into a true mastery to compliment his industry disses. Hallelujah that he can’t leave the game alone.

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Fela Ransome-Kuti And His Koola Lobitos  ‘Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul 1963-1969’  (Knitting Factory Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Fela Kuti

‘Hot stepping and sure footing through Savoy label like jazz and Stax/Volt revue soul, Fela and his first ever professional band Koola Lobitos were the missing link on the eventual road to the Afrobeat phenomenon. An evolving Fela, only a few shuffles short of cultivating his signature, already shows a raw energy on this compilation’s studio and live recordings.’  DV

 

In the midst of another celebration and anniversary appraisal the Afrobeat pioneer and political protagonist Fela Kuti has seen the back catalogue legacy re-released and repackaged countless times. There’s been a stage production of his life, and a documentary film in the last couple of years alone. But one of the most revealing and raw tributes is this burgeoning showman showcase; a labour of love that collates together a number of previously scattered, thought lost, rare early recordings – both in the studio and on stage – from the stax/funk/soul years. A “labour of love”, stemming from Toshiya Endo’s African Music Home Page website, launched in the late 90s, the Fela Kuti and His Koola Lobitos material were collected from around the world, from the collections of various fans. By day a professor of Chemistry at Ngoya University, Endo’s passion and hobby of cataloguing West African music attracted the author of the Fela: The Life & Times Of An African Musical Icon bio Michael E. Veal. Lucky for us the dynamic duo produced this lavish and arduous compilation of explosive early Fela beauties; one of the best and revelatory introductions to the great polymaths work yet.

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Bob Lind  ‘Magellan Was Wrong’  (Ace Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Bob Lind

Another masterclass from the sagacious Bob Lind, his latest album is a majestical and often jazzy lilting lesson in songwriting. With decades of elan and adroit performance behind him Lind isn’t ready just yet to rest on past melodic triumphs and spoils, showing himself ready to adopt and try out new ideas on Magellan Was Wrong – a reference to the Portuguese explorer who first circumnavigated the world, proving it was of course a globe and not flat, though Lind’s song of the same name and homage metaphor questions that wisdom in the face of despondency and disappointment. The characteristic voice and style is of course signature Lind, the songs and themes timeless. With a host of producers, including progressive jazz pianist and composer Greg Foat, on board this strongly nautical feel and reference strong songbook, both the entertainer and troubadour are lent a new lease of life.


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