Review/Dominic Valvona




Bróna McVittie ‘The Man In The Mountain’
(Company Of Corkbots) Album/2nd September 2020


The diaphanous voiced and ephemeral harpist Bróna McVittie once again beckons us into her imaginary gossamer world of alternative Celtic fables and mystery with a second album of poetic imbued brilliance. Following on from the much-admired trip-folk cinematic debut We Are Wildlife (which evidently made our choice albums of that year), the Northern Irish enchantress roams a similar gauzy landscape of lingering, lightly-touched evocations; a place in which giants fight over causeways and warrior suitors declare chaste love for the chieftain’s “flower of the hazel glade” daughter.

Though the cover interpretations of old have been “dialed back” for more original songs, the evergreen Man In The Mountain album is heavy with references and inspirational threads from such gifted luminaries as Siegfried Sassoon, Pablo Neruda, William Wordsworth and Henry Williamson. The music is pretty timeless too; a misty shrouded soundtrack based more on the hushed cadence of Bróna’s voice and the subtle trails and wafted semblance of instrumentation than rhythm or the traditional perimeters of folk music.

Yet there’s a modern touch to those both pining and woodland sprite entranced folklores with collaborations from both the electronic duo Isan and Nordic avant-garde composer Arve Henriksen. The former provides an understated ripple of incipient bobbing and skimming percussive Techno for, and co-arranges, the nuclear fusion updated vision of the Greek tragedy, ‘Falling For Icarus’, and the cantering Bert Jansch-breaks-bread-with-Curved Air swoon ‘Eileen Aroun’ – a peaceable, softly-plucked take on Carroll O’Daly’s 14th century declaration of love. Henriksen, for his part, helps entice Bróna towards the airy amorphous soundscape visions of Jon Hassell and Eno’s ‘fourth world’ ambient jazz traverses, Dingo era Miles Davis and a lulled Don Cherry on her transformation of Samuel Ferguson’s famous ballad, ‘The Lark In The Clean Air’.

Legendary Irish mythological figures, ill-fated sacrificial souls and even the “green man” are placed in less familiar settings: a sort of resonance from a banjo sounding instrument takes us away from the Emerald Isle towards the waning drift of Miles Cochran’s alternative Americana soundscapes. It’s a sound inspired as much by the Boards Of Canada as it is the Incredible String Band.

Despite being so softly sung, it’s Bróna’s vocals that seem to be the highlight; improving all the time; holding notes so breathlessly long and yearned, and almost raspingly, dreamily emerging from the ether of some ancient headland to lull pursed lip sonnets and tales.

Beautifully conceived and imaginative, Bróna McVittie and her subtle foils on this eloquent lush songbook push Celtic imbued folk gently towards electronica and experimental jazz. This is done with such ease and grace that those seeking the traditional will find little in the way of discourse or friction, or even anything approaching radicalism. The Man In The Mountain is rather a caressed, vaporuos doorway into an alternative musical tapestry of folk that isn’t afraid to expand into the synthesized and modern.





See also…

Bróna McVittie   ‘The Green Man’ (Here)

‘We Are Wildlife’ Album Review  (Here)




Premiere/Dominic Valvona




Junkboy ‘Salt Water’


(Fretsore Records) Download only single, released 14th August 2020. Taken from the upcoming digitally issued/reissued Sovereign Sky album, released on the 25th September 2020

Attracting a sort of cult status over the years since it’s initial release back in 2014, the Estuary soft psychedelic and pastoral beachcomber Hanscomb brothers’ unassuming Sovereign Sky album, it seems, was limited to only a select few despite its critical acclaim: especially by the Monolith Cocktail. A culmination of Mik and Rich Hanscomb‘s experiments with a number of styles, Sovereign Sky adopted a relaxed attitude to the pastoral, cooing frat-folk, surf music, psychedelia, Britpop and the hip sound of Tokyo’s Shibuya Kei district. That album gave fair voice and a wistfully charmed backing of tenderly picked acoustic guitars, stirring strings and hushed, almost whispered, vocals to both the pains and loves of maturity, the brothers mellowed tones and introspection offered a mature observation on the world around them: especially, at the time, their new found home of Brighton. It’s a place in which Marc Eric meets Cornelius, and epic45 make friends with Harpers Bizarre; a place where Hawthorne, California is transcribed to the English downs and seaside.

One such convert to that most peaceable of songbooks is Fretsore Records’ Ian Sephton, who signed the brothers back in 2019, releasing their South Coast topography imbued Trains Trees Topophilia album that same year. He suggested re-releasing the album on all digital platforms and on digipack CD; augmented with liner notes written by Parisian record collector, vinyl archivist and fellow believer, Quentin Orlean. The boys rightly jumped at that suggestion, as Mik explains: ‘We used this as an opportunity to go back to the tapes and improve the sound for digital release utilizing our home studio’s new outboard gear and tech acquired in the interim period. And the benefit of hindsight!’





Sovereign Sky channels the kind of music Mik and Rich have listened to since their youth. A Thames Estuary take on the lo-fidelity, budget -baroque of the first Cardinal LP and the vintage mellifluousness of The Lilys. There’s also a healthy dose of British Romanticism – an imaginary Albion in their heads somewhere between the socialist utopia of William Morris and Bob Stanley’s Gather In The Mushrooms compilations- while their hearts lie sun-kissed and blissed in Southern California like a pair of burnt out troubadours in deck shoes sourced with meticulous discernment from the Shibuya Kei district of Tokyo.

‘And yes’ confirms Rich, ‘we were enamoured with so many (often) home studio cooked and lost West Coast psych records – A Gift from Euphoria by Euphoria, Save for a Rainy Day by Jan & Dean, Another Day, Another Lifetime by The David, Initiation of a Mystic by Bob Ray, The Smoke’s self-titled album, Marc Eric’s A Midsummer’s Day Dream, and anything by Merrell Fankhauser….’

Presented here in an enhanced format that manages to transcend even the original vinyl’s beauty, Sovereign Sky is a Nugget that deserves to be a little less lost and a lot more loved.

 

Taken from that revitalised album we have the video accompanied teaser, reminder, and downloadable single, the relaxed soulful Love-esque rhythm guitar played lapping tidal reflection ‘Salt Water’. A concise, post-sike ode to the soul replenishing nature of sea side town existence, the brothers made field recordings at Hove Lagoon, East Sussex and wove them into a song built around a circular riff Rich devised after he woke up from a dream in which a version of ‘Yacht Dance’ by XTC produced by American Beauty era Jerry Garcia was on the radio twenty-four-seven. Sweet dream, man!

For the video, the boys sought to juxtapose the gaudy, grim reality of Brighton beach with the soothing calm waves of neighbouring Hove by means of a gently psychedelic, deep chilled Zen trip undertaken by an origami boat: Music and visuals in perfect harmony. Lap it up while you can.





Related posts from the Archives:

Junkboy ‘Sovereign Sky’ Review

Albums of 2019: Junkboy ‘Trains, Trees, Topophilia’

Premiere ‘Waiting Room’

‘Fulfil b/w Streets Of Dobuita’ Review


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.

 

REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona





As usual, another international whirlwind of stopovers awaits reader, as I pick out choice and interesting new releases and reissues from across the globe. Channeling his traverses, mountain climbs and treks across the California wilderness into ambient peregrinations, Fran Dominguez as the Forest Robot, takes the listener out into the great outdoors, with his latest suite After Geography. An aural escape, a safe spatial plain, Dominguez creates an environment in which to take stock. A Finnish-American freeform jazz partnership is in vogue with Stanley J. Zappa’s new album for the Baltic coastal label We Jazz. Saxophonist and clarinetist Zappa (a nephew of the late Frank) and drummer/percussionist Simo Laihonen traverse British-Columbia and all points in-between on Muster Point. Creating the most hushed and diaphanous of cinematic dreampop, Israeli artist Zoe Polanski releases the Violent Flower album. I also take a look at the troubadour pianist John Howard, who from his Spanish studio home, ties in his latest adroit songbook To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection with the second part of his published memoirs, Illusions Of Happiness, this month. And in my reissues section there’s the first ever reissue of the West Java Yanti Bersaudara sisters honeyed soul and beat group psych exotic self-titled ’71 nugget. The Australian born, but bought up in a rural backwater of England troubadour Campbell Sibthorpe returns back to his roots with the expansive storybook, Ytown.

 

Towards the fantastical, though based in geological science, experimental dub unit Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones reimagine a lost continental bridge of shared deities and cultures on the new album Kafou In Avalonia. And finally, we have the new no-fi songbook of despondent poetic scorn and resignation from our very own Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, The King Of No-Fi’.

Zoe Polanski ‘Violent Flower’
(Youngbloods) Album/17th July 2020





Despite, at various times, living in one of the most contested dangerous spots on the global stage, Israeli artist Zoe Polanski transduces all the violence, danger and stresses into a most diaphanous, sometimes fantastical, synthesized musical haze. Her latest fully-realized shoegaze electronic swoon of an album – co produced and written with the Tel Aviv producer Aviad Zinemanas – is subtle but immersive, moody yet dreamy. Lit though by Polanski’s travails, a deep sense of sadness and sighed questioning lyricism permeates the wispy vaporous smoke machine pop production.

Beautiful throughout, hushed and fragile, Violent Flowers is a sweeping cinematic articulation of conflicted feelings. The title-track, and former single, draws upon the ongoing Israeli-Palestine tensions; which has taken on even more drama in recent months with the policy of planned Israeli annexations in the West Bank.

Channeling the Cocteau Twins and Chromatics, this gauzy serenade of blossoming synth-pop is a disarming evocation of lightness that features Polanski yearningly searching for a way back home amid the division. The album’s second single, ‘The Willows’, mourns not only the painful end of a “surreal” affair whilst travelling across the USA, but is also inspired by Polanski’s mixed feelings of empathy towards her Palestine neighbours with a longing to escape the rocket attacks that passed overhead when she lived in the atavistic port city of Jaffa, during the 2014 conflict with Gaza.

Born in another ancient city port, Haifa, on the slopes of Mount Carmel, Polanski escaped the tumult through music and cinema. After obligatory service with the IDF, the experimentally burgeoning musician, singer moved to the States; recording with the NYC band Katamine and enrolling on a summer course in cinematography at the prestigious School of Visual Arts. The fruits of which can be heard evoking a kind of dream realism on this filmic scored album.

As it happens, on returning to Israel and settling in the liberal creative hothouse of Tel Aviv, Polanski started a new project of soaked-reverb “slow cinema verite” named after the renowned Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr. Tarr’s actual cinematographer Fred Kelemen caught Polanski at a live show. So impressed, he invited her to score his own upcoming film.

This latest vision sees the visual-audio talent reach ethereal, almost apparitional scales of atmospheric beauty as she sings veiled lines over her creative foil Zinemanas’ mirror-y and airy synthesis of arpeggiator, sine waves and enervated percussion. Dream pop and neon lit electronica meets Israeli panoramas, mysterious island inlets, touches of Vangelis (on the glassy contoured ‘Humboldt Current’), soft bobbing beats and pulchritude waves of silk.

Gentle, enchanting with an aching depth, Zoe Polanski together with Zinemanas have created a refreshing vision of dreamwave electronic pop and filmic music; one that offers a different perspective and sumptuous mystery. Turmoil has seldom sounded so gossamer and hushed.







Kalporz X Monolith Cocktail: Zoe Polanski ‘Pharaoh’s Island’



Stanley J. Zappa ‘Muster Point’
(We Jazz) Album/7th August 2020




A regular stopover on my global tour of reviews, the Helsinki festival-label-store hub We Jazz are proving to be among the most prolific deliverers of quality contemporary and experimental jazz. Earlier this month the assured label put out albums from the Danish-Finn JAF Trio and Gothenburg saxophonist Otis Sandsjö. Their latest release pairs up two former acolytes of the Mitford Graves school of free jazz enterprise: the American tenor/soprano saxophonist and alto clarinetist Stanley J. Zappa (who’s name embellished this LP) and Finnish drummer, percussionist Simo Laihonen. The Queens-made drummer extraordinaire and teacher Graves is renowned for his avant-garde contributions working with Albert Ayler, Paul Bley and the N.Y. Art Quartet; a reputation that is lapped up by his former students on this set of probing impulsive serialism recordings.

You may have guessed by the name, and yes Stanley is indeed a scion of the famous Zappa family tree: a nephew of the late rock-fusion genius Frank. Erring towards jazz, Stanley proves that old adage that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; highly adroit and proficient in pushing at the foundations, able to switch between the spiritual and hard bop. His foil Laihonen, of the long-standing Black Motor trio, proves equally as talented, propelling in bursts and snaps or in an amorphous fashion hitting and reeling shapeless accents and meanderings.

Joining them on the odd radial exploration, bassist Ville Rauhala adds some stringy, rubber-band thrummed double-bass runs and bodywork thwacking: less rhythmic and traditional, more loose and wandering.

Muster Point, a reference heavy album of track title locations (much of which name check places in Stanley’s British Columbia Canadian home), was recorded both in the studio and out on the road. You can hear some of the live spontaneity and an appreciative applause on the flighty clarinet and looming bass, with sporadic drum breaks, avant-garde piece ‘Muster Point IV’. Split between shorter ambling and more energetic incipient Muster Point entitled flexes, and deeper, longer workouts this album strikes out towards Pharaoh Sanders’ Egypt on the opening suite to dishing out tougher, heavier breaks on the street map ‘538 E14th, City Of Piss, USA’.

Fluting, twirling and coiling over the tumbling drums, rumbling timpani and shaking percussion, Stanley’s vibrato sax hawks and spirals with both longer and shorter breaths. Often sailing at a counter speed to Laihonen’s quickened rolling patterns, that wondering instrument trills freely as light as air itself. Well, for the most part. Stanley can also toot rapidly and with force when the occasion arises.

From drawing on the ancestral (on the Kahil El’ Zabar watery percussive underflow ‘Pleasant Avenue’) to skitting across a NYC boardwalk, Muster Point plays hard and footloose with freeform jazz; dipping into the spiritual and rapidly evoking hard bop dashes. Yet again its another fruitful experiment and performance from the We Jazz label.




Otis Sandsjo ‘Y-Otis 2’

JAF Trio ‘ST’


Forest Robot ‘After Geography’
Album/28th August 2020





With a deep connective respect to the landscapes this intrepid mountaineer and sonic explorer has scaled and traversed, Fran Dominguez provides a subtly evocative safe space in the most tumultuous of times. When all the elements of a virus epidemic and the ongoing tensions of Black Lives Matter mix with the divisive rage of social media and fake news, the only tool we have left to navigate the storm of constant faux-outrage is “intuition”. Put both together, as the California-based trekker Dominguez has done, and you get a most beautifully subversive ambient soundtrack; a tenderly produced sonic psychogeography of both the synthesized and naturalistic; a million miles away from the hubbub and stress of the online world. A sort of self-help guide for contemplation and rest you could say, the softened bobbing and trickled piano notes and gently blowing winds washing over the listener with just enough depth and interest to transport them to the awe-inspiring landmarks of nature.

With over 400 ascents and 6,000 odd miles of cross-country exploring under his belt, Dominguez tunes into those experiences when composing music under the Forest Robot title. Intuition, that main motivation and driver for the latest tonal contouring suite, After Geography, comes into practice after all the preparation in the world fails to allow for the variables that arise when climbing those magnificent rocky peaks. Though obviously a great title in itself and an encapsulation of the Forest Robot’s meditative semi-classical, semi-Kosmische maps, the inspiration behind it comes from Ringo Starr. As the anecdote from rock’s backpages goes, the bejeweled digit fingered Beatles drummer proposed it when the Fab Four were stumped for a title for their next album after Revolver. As a lighthearted chide at the rivals, The Rolling Stones, who’d just released Aftermath, Starr chimed in with “After Geography”. It seems highly appropriate in this context, and in this time.

An escapist survey that breaths in the influences of Roedelius, Boards Of Canada, Erik Satie, Harold Budd, Nils Frahm and Small Craft On A Milk Sea era Eno, the album covers the terrain in a gauze of delicate resonance, notation and obscured woody movements. Track titles become descriptive reference points and wildlife moments experienced, on this aural map; a clue at times to the scenic inspirations that encouraged them. ‘Of Birds Migrating In The Distance’ is for example a winged patted dance and flutter across the ivory, and the marimba-like bobbing ‘Glacial Architecture Of The Mountain Corridor’ features crystalized icy notes and melting droplets: it’s almost as if Dominguez captures the sunlight gleaming off the slowly melting glacier. ‘Over The Drainage Divide’, which doesn’t exactly sound very inspiring, is surprisingly wondrous, even spiritual, with its choral ethereal waves and hints of ghostly visitations. An ascendant version of that choral spirit can also be heard on the soft droning, delayed and bouncing notes beauty ‘All Across The High Plain After The Storm’.

A mostly peaceable geography, Dominguez’s latest impressive suite offers the safety of a timeless rugged pristine panorama. A breath of fresh air; a sonic plain on which to gain some perspective, that intuitive methodology proves highly successful on a most pleasing, imaginative ambient experience.





Campbell Sibthorpe ‘Ytown’
EP/21st July 2020




Following up on the impressive choral anthem ‘Good Lord’, which we premiered last month on the MC, the yearning troubadour Campbell Sibthorpe proves he has more than it takes to deliver the full emotionally stimulating package with his new, generous EP Ytown. Over seven tracks of similar beautifully realised rustic anthems and shorter mood passages, Campbell expands his themes of escaping the pastoral backwaters of small town life.

Both a travail down memory lane and pilgrimage, nature’s son returns from London to the town in which he spent those formative years, on the outskirts of Bristol, to mull over the past, but above all, as the Australian born songwriter/multi-instrumentalist set out to serenely on that ‘God Lord’ hymn, seeks to find himself amongst the humdrum scenery. Ytown could be many towns, any town, yet it proves evocative and creatively fertile enough to inspire this expansive songbook. The very essence of the place seeps into the music through field recordings and the sound of the local church’s pump organ – used very subtly as a sadly reverent undertow on the setting-sun curtain call ‘Strawberry Line Pt. 2’ a couplet to the EP’s only scenic twinkled if musing instrumental, The Shins like ‘Strawberry Line Pt. 1’.

Entirely self-produced and recorded from the bedroom of his youth, Ytown pays homage to innocence, to his childhood relationship with his ‘Father Carpenter’, and the unburdened freedoms of nature. The first of those is a powered-up Midlake country folk anthem, the latter, an achingly harmony rich longing to be as free and detached as the ‘Dandelion’.

Almost echoing an early Radiohead paired with the Fleet Foxes, the tender woven poetic ‘Pastel Porcelain’ seems to have stepped out of a medieval tapestry, and the opening dappled lit blossoming ‘The Sun Appeared’ shows an almost filmic and experimental quality to Campbell’s music.

A balance of acoustic naturalism and full on, climatic singles, Ytown is a great piece of expansive storytelling, a conceptual EP perfect in length, depth and heartfelt searching.





Campbell Sibthorpe ‘Good Lord’ Premiere


Brian Bordello ‘The King Of No-Fi’
(Metal Postcard Records) Album/16th August





The self-anointed king of no-fi returns with another songbook of quasi-demoed wistful despondency and self-deprecation; a stripped-back one-track display of rough charms that cuts to the heart of the cult St. Helens malcontent’s sardonic, but also extremely vulnerable, annoyances about modern life.

The idiosyncratic de facto leader of the long standing dysfunctional family legends The Bordellos, and the barely concealed instigator of the anti-Brit pop and plodding rock Idiot Blur Fanboy, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea (who I must also point out is a regular contributor to these very pages) follows up on his recent solo offerings, the Liverpool Hipster Scene EP and Boris Johnson Massacre single, with another album for the Aussie platform, Metal Postcard Records. Recorded during lockdown whilst growing tired at the lack of revolutionary zeal and wit in contemporary music, and the reliance upon of nostalgia, regurgitation in the industry (both musically and through blogs, publications, radio), Brian has penned a quite sincere collection of romanticized sufferings, regrets and love songs.

Making even Sparklehorse sound like ELO in comparison, the no-fi production values on offer are raw but never really coarse or discordant. No augmentation, filters, effects or sundry, just a bare accompaniment of rough’n’ready but melodious acoustic guitar and the whirling of a rudimental four-track; the click of the record button and, at the end of each performance, the stop button.

Channeling various maverick troubadours, post-punk poets (Dan Treacy springs to mind) and a Brylcreem of rock’n’roll idols (ironically enough the release of this album intentionally falls on the anniversary of the true king, Elvis’ death), Brian postulates on a lack of energy and rage in music, the death of the mutherfucker personalities, a bevy of “scarlet” women and lost innocence. Brian can be a romantic sod at times, even sentimental; writing some real tender poetic lines amongst the scorn and despair, with even a hint of Bacharach on ‘Banana Splits’ (yeah, imagine that!). Various stolen kisses, evocations of less complicated, less divisive magical times permeate the album despite the constant references to the death of this and that and the lamentable resignations and threats to give it all up. Sometimes Brian just tersely pays homage to his icons, such as Lou Reed and Billy Fury.

Quite swooning in places, this is neither a plaintive nor angry songbook, but as I said before a sincere often humorous yearn from a maverick soul stuck in lockdown. The King is dead; long live the King.


The Bordellos ‘Debt Sounds’

The Bordellos ‘Will.I.Am You’re Really Nothing’



Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones ‘Kafou In Avalonia’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company) Album/19th June 2020





Reimaging a time when Earth’s landmasses were being reshaped, the atavistic geological inspired futurist dub unit pose a cultural “what if?” with their fourth “set”, Kafou In Avalonia. Developing out of a volcanic arc at the northern edges of the “supercontinent” Gondwana (we’re talking about 550 million years ago; when this leviathan contained one-fifth of all the planet’s land) but decoupling to form a drifting micro continent of its own, Avalonia, if it didn’t eventually breakup and collide with Pangea, would have bridged what is now the Atlantic Ocean. Crustal fragments underlie parts of Southwest England, Southern Ireland and the East Coast of America. Wishful dreaming Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones picture an alternative reality; one in which Avalonia still existed as a gateway between all Earth’s cultures and peoples. It acts as the crossroads that might have set out an entirely different course for civilization; a more integrated, less fractious one perhaps. In this setting Haitian, Brazilian, Angolan and Nigerian deities, spirits and rituals converge with an experimental soundtrack of post-punk dub, Kosmische and electronica.

Invoking a lost world, a quasi-Atlantis, they merge voodoo ceremony and tribal incantation with sonorous throbbing basslines, barracking drums, heavy reverb and craning Manuel Gottsching like guitar.

A reference heavy album, with various “Loa” (spirits) and divinities summoned and made offerings, the track titles name check a pantheon of the worshipped. The opening gabbling dub and primordial shrouded ethereal jug-poured ‘Oxûm Over Water’ pays homage to the Yoruba peoples river goddess, while the singing chorus and insect chirped trans-Europa rail momentum Kraftwerk meets Guru Guru ‘Oxalá Of The White Sky’ takes its name from the Brazilian “sky father” and creator of human beings. Elsewhere, Haiti’s spiritual ancestors are represented in the shape of the serpent creator of the cosmos, Damballa (the On-U-Sound dub prowling low frequency crumbled bass languorous ‘Damballah Of The Dark Sky’), and senior Petro visitation born from the heinous savagery and injustice of slavery, Ezilí Dantor (the lolloping Orb submersion ‘Ezilí Dantor Awake’). Incidentally, that last spirit especially took kindly too offerings of crème de cacao and jewelry, and on its birthday, a wild pig. It’s believed that one such feast in honor to Dantor preceded the infamous slave revolt of 1791.

Ancestral ghosts meet synthesized futurism on this mystical transformed aural geography, as recordings of various rituals swirl in and around a cosmic soup. A supernatural and celestial, seeping and vaporous vortex of polygenesis sources are gathered together to create an imaginative cosmology hybrid. If The Future Sound Of London and Ash Ra Tempel recorded an album at Lee Scratch Perry’s black ark studio it might very well have sounded something like this. And that’s me saying this is a bloody great experimental dub album. Seek out now.




John Howard ‘To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection’
(UK John Howard/USA through Kool Kat Musik) Album/7th August 2020




Chiming with the second candid, sometimes wistful, chapter in the pianist raconteur’s memoirs, this latest fragrant songbook manages past regrets with wizened heartfelt balladry. With plenty of time, including the lockdown, to mull over the past, after writing two volumes of self-effacing recollections (part two, Illusions Of Happiness, is scheduled to tie in with this album, published on the 7th August) John Howard channels a lifetime of setbacks and learning through the philosophical and metaphorical.

Coming to terms and letting go in some respects, the fledging 70s star set back by a series of career mishaps and a traumatic accident (forced to make a fateful leap from the window of an apartment he shared in Earl’s Court with some colourful Filipino gay characters, who brought back a mad Russian ‘bit of rough’ intent on murder) muses over breakups (the la la, almost Christmas seasonal, chiming mini anthem ‘I’m Over You’) and a broken friendship (the regretful heartache ‘Echoes Of Pauline’). The latter’s real life subject appears as a recurring figure of that regret in John’s work; the best friend from school losing touch since 1973 (as John admits, probably down to him and not Pauline) first pops up on ‘The Flame’ from the career launching Kid In A Big World showcase, and later on ‘Pauline’s Song’, which featured on the 2009 EP Songs For A Lifetime.

Pauline’s presence, companionship is much missed it seems, as John looks out from his Spanish home veranda on an uncertain, if scenic, world. Idyllic though it is, his life in the Southeastern Spanish town of Murcia can’t make up for the pining of his former Welsh home, and even further back, Lancashire. Moving across the seas to preempt Brexit, John recalls a Welsh pastoral bliss on the wistfully beautiful melodious ‘And Another Day’. Yet both lyrically and through his signature subtle minor key changes moves deftly into the sadness of leaving it all behind. The scented waltz-y ‘Illusions Of Happiness’ ambles through a perfumed garden of delights but also mournfully wades out into the sea; waiting on something, a ship, vessel, the final boat ride perhaps.

Old ghosts mingle with analogies of saviors, and the tropes of coming-to-terms with one’s decisions. This is all done with a most adroit touch of pastoral organ, Baroque chamber pop, gentle Dylan-esque harmonica, concertina and softened tambourine rattled crescendos: all of which is played by John. It’s a sound that is saved from the saccharine and pushed towards the yearning beauty of the early Bee Gees, late 60s Beach Boys and the Incredible String Band, whilst echoing the flourishes of John’s burgeoning pianist troubadour career in the 70s.

The 17th album proper in a career that has regularly stalled (mostly down to the mishandling of others), with gaping holes in which John turned his hand to A&R, the lyrical To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection follows on from last year’s brilliant Cut The Wire – just one album in a long line of such releases from arguably his most creatively prolific tenure. The poetically scene-setting songbook is a perfect accompaniment to those memoirs; a mature retrospection of a life well lived.








John Howard ‘Cut The Wire’

John Howard ‘Incidents Crowded With Life’

John Howard ‘Across The Door Sill’



Reissue

Yanti Bersaudara ‘ST’
(La Munai Records) Album/7th July 2020





A beautiful three-part harmony serenade drifting out of West Java, the much sought after 1971 album from the endearing Yanti sisters is finally being reissued for the first time ever. From Indonesian musical treasure hunters, La Munai Records, a befitting repackaged version of that original Bamboo Music magical Sundanese suffused treat.

Previous twee recordings, which swing between Merseybeat and enervated gospel soul, have made it digitally onto a number of platforms and compilations over the years, but the sisters’ later self-titled nugget has remained pretty elusive.

Released towards the end of their tenure, this beautifully cooed, lulled and charming harmony rich record seems oddly out of step with its time; though the strict regime in Indonesia had the gall to ban rock’n’roll, and so outpourings of fuzz-thrilled rebellion and salacious gyrating were kept to the minimum: more the early fab four’s ‘Tell Me Why’ or anything by The Tremeloes than the dirty scuzz and teasing of the Rolling Stones. That’s not to say the odd frizzle of psych and a coarse guitar twang or two doesn’t pop up here and there, but this early 70s songbook is mostly dreamy, heavenly even, and spiritual.

Whilst channeling the siblings (that’s Yani, Tina and Lin Hardjakusumah) West Javanese heritage of Bamboo Music, Gamelan and Jaipongan, you will also hear a constant sustained and fanning ray of church organ too. The lovely honeyed vocals even reach the ethereal heights, sounding like an Indonesian version of Dusty sings gospel.

The second most populous ethnic group in Indonesia, the Sundanese people (a name derived from the Sanskrit prefix “su”, which means “goodness”), of which the sisters belong, reside in a part of the country synonymous for its rich musical traditions. Soothed into an exotic dreamboat mix of angklung ringing and bamboo bobbing, reedy staccato surf guitar and ticking away drums those delicate ancestral chimes are propelled into the beat group era, and on the misty organ ghostly ‘Bulan Dagoan’, a spooked funhouse garage band era.

Coquettish, enticing, at other times like the 5th Dimension and choral rhyming, the girls vocal sound is sweetened; flourishing with yearned and exotic swooning.

For those of you wishing to enjoy a languorous dreamy slow boat to Java, with just enough fuzz thrills to pique the interest, let the Yanti sisters provide the hip accompaniment. If you’ve already been entertained by the trio, then you’ll find this ’71 release less saccharine and girl-group than previous albums; more magical and with more stained glass soul.






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.

Premiere Single/Dominic Valvona




Provincials   ‘One-Armed Swordsman’
(Sacred Geometry)   Single/Video


Released during the tumult and crisis of 2019, in the throes of post-Brexit negotiations, alternative-folk duo Provincials produced the mesmerizing and spellbinding miasma The Dark Ages. At the time it can be seen as a protestation against the forces of Nationalism, even Imperialism, but as Covid-19 reaps its harvest and sweeps across the world in 2020 you can’t help but see it now as an augur of an all too real plague-crisis Dark Age. Despite the dread, the duo portrayed that Domesday dystopia with a diaphanous lulled and beautifully administered deft touch, painting a bleakly poetic diorama of being swept under a despairing riptide. That album – the duo’s second – was an increasingly more experimental move away from the serene changing-of-the-seasons joyful reflection of their earlier work, especially the Ascending Summer EP: which seemed like a dreamy folk ode and peaceable traverse of the English scenery.

Meandering along a path that stretches from the Norman church dotted shingly shoreline of the southeast coast of Romney to a revenge-soaked Iberia, taking in the trauma, stress of The Crimean War and WWI, Provincials conjured up a lamentable present on that last minor-epic. Recorded in the same period but left off the album, today’s premiere ‘One-Armed Swordsman’ was deemed perhaps too wild, different and incongruous to sit on that songbook. Not a problem, as the duo has found the ideal time to release it as a separate entity in the most anxious of epochs, and furnished with a rustic-set esoteric symbolized video, shot in lockdown isolation. In separate rural homes, Seb Hunter hangs his head wearily from atop of the stable, strains the lyrics from some dusty tome form behind his eagle like garden sculpture and re-strings his ‘baritone-growled’ guitar, whilst siren foil Polly Perry flails and dances round the Theremin. Both exude the pining mood of our alienated stasis.

A precursor to their third LP (scheduled for the Spring of 2021), to be released on Weird Walks co-founder and psychogeography musical artist Owen Tromans’ marvelous expletory landscape inspired label, Sacred Geometry, this gnarled, grunge-y plaintive tumult was recorded and produced by Dan Parkinson at Wooden Heart Studios, Hampshire. Dan also plays the grinded-out drums, which take time to emerge from the opening sustained gristle and entanglement of Hunter’s experimental guitar and Polly’s Theremin fluctuations lead-in.

A pained expression waiting to be let out, the encumbered ‘One-Armed Swordsman’ sounds like a torrid merger of Swans, Dinosaur Jnr. and Ultrasound. Marking a change perhaps in direction, this single may have been recorded in less daunting times, but encompasses the feelings of disconnection and nervousness in the now. We wait to hear the results of lockdown on the Provincials next album in the Spring of 2021.





Related posts from the Archives:

Provincials ‘Dark Ages’ Review

Provincials ‘Ascending Summer EP’   Review

Owen Tromans ‘Between Stones’   Review



You can now support the Monolith Cocktail via the micro-donation platform 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 interest/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.

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 Bob Destiny, Elefant, John Howard, MAI MAI MAI, Mazeppa and Remington Super 60.


Bob Destiny  ‘Wang Dang/Mahna (Troubles)’
(Pharaway Sounds/Guerssen)  Double A-Side Single/19th February 2020



‘Wang Dang thank you ma’am!’ Another scintillating raucous obscurity from the Spanish Guerssen umbrella of reissue label specialists, the Puerto Rico born, Harlem furnace baptized Bob Destiny’s double A-sider is a blistering souk soul missive from the North African r’n’b back pages. Originally dug up by the Habibi Funk crew a few years back and featured on one of their compilations, ‘Wang Dang’ is a scuzz-y howled hustler that was laid down in Algeria, of all places. Bob headed out there at the tail end of the 60s to teach music at the Algerian National Theater. He continued a singing career whilst living there, and in 1970 released both the ‘Wang Dang’ and more localized percussive and sauntering ‘Mahna (Troubles)’ 45s.

Pharaway Sounds have chosen to select tracks from both singles to make up this blazing reissue 45.

The backstory is as interesting as the fusion of funk. Bob started playing piano as a child (self-taught) and tap danced with the Five Chocolate Drops when he was just six years old. He’d go on to meet and play with Billie Holliday, appear in a film with Shirley Temple, hot-foot it in musicals on Broadway, dance at Mankiewicz’s movie Cleopatra, and sing at the San Remo Festival. All this before he made it across the Atlantic, where he also played in Morocco with Hahmed Maraki and formed bands like The Fingers. A well-travelled man, Bob moved to Spain the 80s where he created a jazz school in Zaragoza and was involved with the famous Jazz en la Margen festival. In the 90s, Bob hopped over the border to France, focusing on composition, gospel, musicals and soundtracks. Sadly, he passed away on March 31, 2016. This then serves as a befitting tribute.



Remington Super 60  ‘New EP’
(Café Superstar Recordings)  EP/29th January 2020





How beautifully melodious is this?! Like a hazy 60s Californian dappled light shining on a velvet morning, the nostalgic lulling Norwegian band of Remington Super 60 have caressingly released a brand New EP. On the circuit for twenty odd years these dreamy drifters of soft lush psychedelia, folk and peaceable troubadour wholesomeness have released several albums, EPs and appeared on numerous compilation albums since their inception in 1998. Set-up by producer and songwriter Christoffer Schou the band has featured a changing lineup that includes Magnus Abelsen, Benedicte Sveinsson and Elisabeth Thorsen, among others.

Released through their own label imprint Cafe Superstar Recordings, and also as a cassette version through the small Slovakian indie label Z-Tapes, this disarming six-song collection evokes dreamy recollections of Fleetwood Mac, Bacharach, Lee Hazelwood & Nancy Sinatra, Stereolab, the Velvet Underground, Susan Christie, Chuck and Mary Perrin and the Beach Boys. In other words, a nice gentle wash of softly lulled gossamer pop and undulating synthesized liquid lushness. The most attractive thing about this EP though is that it sounds and feels like an endless dreamy summer; the kind we’re all in desperate need of.


John Howard  ‘It’s Not All Over Yet’
Single/7th February 2020





In a second nee third, even fourth, wind of creativity the enigmatic pianist troubadour John Howard has enjoyed a considerable renaissance in the last decade. Choosing his projects wisely and wholly on artistic and desirable (enjoyable too) merit, Howard has recorded a well-received collaboration with Andy Lewis, Ian Button and Robert Rotifer, under The Night Mail moniker, the cerebral open-ended experimental Across The Door Sill opus, and delivered the first volume in a vivid and travail rich autobiography (part two to follow anytime soon) that not only deals with Howard’s haphazard rise and misfortunes in the music industry but chronicles the misadventures of a gay artist in a far from understanding world. Though he gave up the recording and performing for a good couple of decades to focus on A&R, Howard hasn’t wasted any time in returning to the fold; more prolific than ever. Howard’s last album, and 16th, was released just last year on the You Are The Cosmos label; the beautifully rich romantic balladry and stage show-like Cut The Wire.

Since then there has been the odd congruous set of recordings, including the piano suite Four Piano Pieces. And now, a tender rendition of Daniel McGeever’s fatherly tearjerker It’s Not All Over Yet; a label mate of Howard’s on the You Are The Cosmos label.

Attracted to this steadily building wash of recollection – which when Howard gets going, and on the highest vocal notes, sounds very Friends era Beach Boys – Howard says: ‘I first heard the song on Daniel’s album Cross The Water…I instantly fell in love with the album, especially It’s Not All Over Yet, which resonated with me very much. Daniel wrote it for his father Andrew McGeever, who died just a few days before Daniel recorded it. My own father was poorly then too; he died in the summer of 2018.

The lyrics tell of how Daniel’s dad inspired him and how his influence will remain forever. I grew up listening to my dad playing the piano, as a toddler I’d hear him practicing for his gigs with his jazz band, something he continued to enjoy into his eighties.

It was because of hearing my dad play in our front room in Lancashire in the 1950s that my ambition to become a pianist myself grew. I started taking piano lessons aged seven with a determination to be as good as my dad. I don’t think I ever achieved that – Dad was an amazing jazz pianist admired by his musician friends and anyone who watched him play at the various clubs he performed in from the age of fourteen.

When you listen to the song, you’ll understand how it blew me away the first time I heard it and why it touched me so deeply.’

Today, we’re sharing the video version of this faithful but inimitable cover.

Howard explains the imagery used on it: ‘The video features photos of my dad through the years, including a couple which Neil took during our last visit to Dad in his nursing home near Rochdale. He had advanced Alzheimer’s by then but he absolutely loved seeing pics of his old mates from his jazz band days, telling us the name of each musician and what they were like as people. His fondness for them and those times were still tangible, even in dad’s frail state of health by then. He was 93 when he passed away.’



Mazeppa  ‘The Way In’
Single/29th January 2020





Coming on like a Kabbalah Patti Smith wafting and lingering around an intoxicating incense of Middle Eastern and Byzantium psychedlica, the second single from the Haifa, Israel based Mazeppa is an entrancing hallucination of esoteric spiritualism.

Formed in 2017 for the purpose of putting a psychedelic score to the poetry of the Bohemia-Austrian lyrical poet Rainer Maria Rilke, the quartet of Michal Perez Noy (vocals and guitar), Juicyjew Koren (guitar), Elad Bardes (bass) and Amir Nomiros Noy (drums) have started to incorporate Michal’s own lyrics into the heady astral mix.

‘The Way In’ will be followed in the summer by the group’s debut LP.


Elefant  ‘Ultra Plus Ultra’
Video/Latest track taken from the Bejahung LP





Sludge metal and gallows Krautrock merchants of the Belgium underground Elefant are back. With a contortion of phaser drudge fuzz and industrial post-punk elasticated distress, Wolf Vanwymeersch’s led collective of agitated miscreants once more wrestle with NIN, Swans and the Killing Joke on the group’s latest video track ‘Ultra Plus Ultra’.

Following on from 2018’s dystopian deranging Konark Und Bonark (which made our albums of the year feature), the boiler-suited misfits (think forensic team meet Time Bandits villains) have just released, rather sneakily, their second LP Bejahung; of which this is the second single to emerge. For the most part a continuation of that same disillusionment and basement dwelling creepiness, the latest offering seems to be more roomy, spacious and varied this time around. In short: an alarming twisted work of art-rock and menace.


MAI MAI MAI (Feat. Vocalist Maria Violenza)  ‘’Il Secondo Coro delle Lavandaie’
(La Tempesta)  Single/21st February 2020





Continuing to transmogrify, in part, the ethnographic recordings made by Alan Lomax and Diego Carpitella in the 60s and 70s of Italian southern music, native noise tormentor Mai Mai Mai follows up on the previous dark arts caustic Nel Sud LP with another disturbing vision of a folk obscurity.

Translated as the ‘Second chorus Of The Washerwomen’, the lamentable beauty of Roberto De Simon’s (with the Compagnia di Nuovo Canto Popolare) original is lent a discordant, hypnotizing and gradually more sinister fizzle of ritualistic and primal voodoo pulsations. The real Southern Gothic, ‘Il Secondo Coro delle Lavandaie’ features the voice of Maria Violenza, who can be heard in choral mantra amongst the intoxicating scuzz, whistling and dreamy industrial churns.

The spill from the PR sums it up perfectly: A dark journey into the past of the Italian south, a ‘Mediterranean Hauntology’, this ominous extended single encompasses an ethnic and folkloric tradition in a more contemporary way, conjuring a work in which art, music & theatre intersect.

Ahead of its official release in two weeks time, we’re sharing the video, which I warn you is a menacing cartoonish horror show: The protagonist limbering up with the worst ever Kung-Fu workout before increasingly deranged, stalking and volatile commits bloody murder.

LP REVIEW
Dominic Valvona




The Provincials ‘The Dark Ages’
(Itchen Recordings) LP/ 15th November 2019


In full Panavision, The Provincials duo of vocalist Polly Perry and guitarist and author Seb Hunter articulate a mesmerizing and spellbinding miasma of a domesday on their long awaited second LP, The Dark Ages. The original dark ages epoch was named so for a lack of documentary and archeological evidence from as, we now know, a rich if tumultuous period in the history of these Isles and beyond: A time that roughly marks the decline of the Roman Empire to the beginning of the next millennium. It’s used here of course to weave a lyrical, sometimes Shakespearean, vision of our contemporary times: Brexit especially (I presume). Even if they portray it with a diaphanous lulled and beautifully administered deft touch, The Provincials paint a bleakly poetic diorama of being swept under a despairing riptide. Depending on which side of that divide you feel comfortable pontificating or barracking from, Brexit and by association (though far more complex to all tie-in) so-called “populism” in politics, you either believe that this is all an exciting, tide-turning, opportunity or, the end times!

And so reminders of past imperial ventures overseas (an empirical vague gesture to the infamous ‘Inkerman’; a decisive score draw monumental battle in the Crimean War saga) and the slaughter and PTSD anguish legacy of WWI (the Shell-shocked Medieval waltz ‘We Lost Our Minds’) are woven into a musical hallucination of dour romanticism and melancholy. However, the pains and woes are handled deftly; especially from the aria like performances of Perry, who’s range longingly flows between the ethereal and dramatic. Counterbalancing nimbly-picked Pentangle folk with more rousing swamp boogie and flange-dreamy Britpop, Hunter’s acoustic and electrified guitar playing rings out, offering both stripped-back accentuate caresses and moods, and more punctuating punches. The only additional instrumentation (the barest of stirring ambience, with trickled and sonorous bass note piano parts and drums courtesy of producer Dan Parkinson) is used most sparingly, with the most full-on songs being the breakout rocking ‘Inkerman’, which sounds like a crescendo stomping combo of The White Stripes, Anna Calvi, The Classical and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. More winding and suffused with mysterious ambient tones tough, the sonnet-like trickling ‘The Western Shore’ bears the atmospherics of Popol Vuh’s Affenstunde.

Meandering along a path that stretches from the Norman church dotted shingly shoreline of the southeast coast of Romney to a revenge-soaked Iberia, The Provincials conjure up a lamentable present. Perhaps we are indeed doomed. Perhaps these are the end days or the darkness before the light. Whatever the truth, this diaphanous duo has articulated such augurs with a gauze-y, beautiful veneer worth savoring and improved no end since their last album.







Video
Dominic Valvona



Elizabeth Everts   ‘Black Is The Colour’


Recently featured in on this blog with her diaphanous malady EP of controlled tumult of romantic brooding and lament, Contraband, the Californian born but Munich-based confessional balladeer Elizabeth Evert further accentuates that signature melodies ebb and flow style with a visual accompaniment. When articulating her own original songs Everts sounds vaguely like a cross between Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Raf Mantelli put to an accompaniment of lounge-jazz, trip-hop, Casio keyboard presets and the classical, but on the recent EP’s closing elegy, the attuned weepy cover of the traditional Scottish folk lament, ‘Black Is The Colour’ she almost plays it straight. Made famous to a degree by that controversial folk troubadour Christy Moore, Everts pays homage here with a new video.

Evert offers the following insights, and explains her choice of ancient malady:

“Black is the Color” is a folk song that is said to originate in Scotland. I have always loved this song and wanted to do my own version of it. One day it hit me that the version I would create of this lovely song would be nostalgic, a bit intense – to explore the dark side of vulnerability.

 As I worked on the song, it made me start thinking about how love can create such a vulnerability that it can lead to destruction. This destruction can occur in multiple places, even all at once, or in its simplest form of one individual suffering in the beauty of love.

 I tried to capture these ideas in the video – when light exists, darkness must also exist and that is sometimes difficult to manage emotionally. And in my experience, the lighter the light, the darker the dark.

The video was primarily filmed in Munich, Germany and I created the video myself. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Lyrics

Black is the color of my true love’s hair

His lips are something wondrous fair

The sweetest face and the gentlest hands

I love the ground on which he stands

 

I love my love and well he knows

I love the ground on which he goes

If him on earth no more I see

My life will simply fade away

 

Black is the color of my true love’s hair





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






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

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

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

Preview/Feature




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


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

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

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

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

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

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






Reviews

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





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

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

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





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





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

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

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

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



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





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

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

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

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

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

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





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





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

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

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

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




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





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

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

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

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

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




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





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

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

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

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

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



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





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

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

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

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

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




Premiere
Words: Dominic Valvona




Invested with the powers of the Zion cosmological, the afflatus Norwich-based troubadour of psychedelic folk and gospel liturgy John Johanna turned Judaic augurs into a sublime songbook of post-punk, dub, indie, and Krautrock on his most recent, and well-received, LP Seven Metal Mountains. Using the mountain allegories and metaphors, as laid down by Noah’s grandfather in the vision-dream-revelatory Book Of Enoch as inspiration, Johanna crafted a gospel-raga-blues and Radio Clash prescient Biblical work of art.

The latest single/video to be released from that fine album, ‘Prodigal Son’, arrives just before Johanna’s next performance, supporting alongside the Ursa Major Moving Group ensemble, Faith & Industry labelmates Champagne Dub at the Folklore in Hackney.

The most swimmingly wavy and translucent undulated soulful psych-synth – with just the most vague tinges of South America and Africa – cooing track from that album, ‘Prodigal Son’ is, as the title makes clear, inspired by the atavistic parable. If you need a quick recap on that old adage, it goes something like this:

A father has two sons. The younger son asks the father for his inheritance, and the father grants his son’s request. However, the younger son is prodigal (i.e., wasteful and extravagant) and squanders his fortune, eventually becoming destitute. The younger son is forced to return home empty-handed and intends to beg his father to accept him back as a servant. To the son’s surprise, he is not scorned by his father but is welcomed back with celebration and fanfare. Envious, the older son refuses to participate in the festivities. The father tells the older son “you are ever with me, and all that I have is yours, but thy younger brother was lost and now he is found”

The neo-colourful stop-motion paper cuts sequenced video that accompanies it was created by Studio Kissu, a London based French creative studio. They explain the motivation, themes and methodology thus:

“I wanted to make something joyful and colourful to illustrate love between beloved in a family, and I played with abstraction as the idea of leaving and find yourself somewhere else. I used words to illustrate the strong feelings of missing home while geometry comes to draw the sadness, illustrating human being facing their limit and finding strength in love”.

John Johanna says “ I am overjoyed with Studio Kissu’s video for ‘Prodigal Son’. It far exceeds the bounds of my own visual imagination but I couldn’t have hoped for a more sympathetic treatment of the song! It’s a haunting, strange and delightful exploration of the meanings in the lyric”.




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