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”.




Reviews Column: Dominic Valvona




Back after a short hiatus, my eclectic spread of recommendations and reviews features, as ever, a bumper edition of recent releases. There’s a suitably seasonal solo album from a Beach Boys imbued Mike Gale that wallows in the scorching rays, called Summer Deluxe; some live action from the Ottoman/Edwardian imbued period fusion of Arab and English music hall Brickwork Lizards, who’s new EP features a quartet of live recorded tracks from the St. Giles sessions; there’s a trippy psych peregrination hard sell from the Submarine Broadcasting Company in the form of a GOATS (not that one, this is another group entirely) cassette tape called Far Out; the latest beautifully, if despondently, articulated songbook from Oliver Cherer, I Feel Nothing Most Days; the musical suite in all its glory from Bethany Stenning’s multimedia conceptual art film The Human Project, released via the artist’s Stanlaey alter-ego. I review the fruits of a congruous union between Glitterbeat Records instrumental imprint tak:til and the ‘21st century guitar’ American label VDSQ Records, a new nocturnal hour suite from Chris Brokaw called End Of The Night; and there’s new album from the Benelux specialists Jezus Factory, the cathartic Wilderwolves rocker Inhale, Increase The Dose.

I also take a look at the latest album from the elasticated electro-pop and neo-Kraut Cologne-based Von Spar and friends, Under Pressure, plus singles from two afflatus acts, the Indian-imbued Society Of The Silver Cross (‘Kali Om’ and ‘The Mighty Factory of Death’) and Book Of Enoch, Judaic inspired John Johanna (‘Children Of Zion’).



 

Mike Gale ‘Summer Deluxe’

May 2019

Once more escaping the short days and dreary dampness of an English winter, the Hampshire-based polymath Mike Gale (notable for his work with the Americana imbued Co-Pilgrim) suns himself again in the dappled rays of lilted surf pop on his new solo album, Summer Deluxe.

Liberally splashing about in the efflux surf of The Beach Boys the much-prolific Gale (this is his fifth album alone in just five years) hides a certain sorrow, longing and yearn under the most colorful and dreamy of melodious harmonies. Sometimes it’s just the one Beach Boy who springs to mind when listening to this seasonal paean: Dennis Wilson, who flits about with McCartney and The Animal Collective on the breezy but deeply felt ‘Barecaraa’, and a filtered version of Pet Sounds era Brian – via Sparklehorse and the little known She Sells Seashells Expo homage project by the lo fi American artist John Lane. There’s even a hint of Surf’s Up noir Brian Johnston echoing around the tranquil summer abandon of ‘You Have A Way’. But you get the picture: that Beach Boys influence is prominent; something that is impossible to pull-off unless you have the talent, which Gale obviously has and proves here, no matter how unassumingly he does it.

A beautifully articulated songbook throughout, the best is saved until (almost) last with the hymnal-turn-diaphanous upbeat chorus of bubbly-synth and wafting saxophone anthem ‘Every Cloud Has A Cloud’. A comfort blanket wrapped around the repeating plaint of “You feel like nothing’s really working out”, this final vocal track sounds like the weight of the shoreline is burdening a wistful Gale as he plunges into the ocean depths to escape.

Dazed and hazy, a hushed mirage of summer, the leaf-turning breeze of autumn is never far away, its arrival denoting all the connotations and metaphors you’d expect, that fleeting optimism of the summer masks and makes all our woes seem far less burdening. Summer Deluxe is swimmingly brilliant in its indie slacker charm; a scion indeed of the Beach Boys spirit.










 

Von Spar ‘Under Pressure’

(Bureau B) 10th May 2019

Finding it all a bit much, in a society the Von Spar have coined as “surveillance capitalism”, the Cologne-based “modular system” (their description not mine) convey delusion and anxiety on their first LP in five years, Under Pressure.

Far from dour, defiant and angry the Von Spar and guests lift the miasma and mood with a most classy soulful electro-pop and neo-Kraut dance album; a sophisticated affair that even opens with a two-part dream sequence, the first part, featuring the float-y hushed coos of the Japanese singer/songwriter Eiko Ishibashi drifting to a House music rewired vision of Tony Allen drumming and bouncing refracted polygons, the second part, brings in the familiar enervated falsetto soul of Canadian polymath Chris A. Cummings with a more gliding Italo House beat; the plaint sentiment of both being “all is well until it is not”. Cummings sweet malaise and wistful tones as principle vocalist can be heard on a quartet of equally chic dance tracks; the Yellow Magic Orchestra synth Orientalism drifty ‘Happiness’, winding spiraled prog-suspense mirage ‘Better Life’, and Duran Duran meets bubbly cosmic synth ray ‘Not To Forget’.

Adding an effortless lifetime of sassy dub and reggae scholarship to the Slits-in-chrome and Grace Jones stalking ‘Boyfriends (Dead Or Alive)’, the grand dame of music writing and post-punk Vivien Goldmine characteristically turns vulnerability into a strength, dismissing a string of exes in the process towards self-realization. Other notable doyens and cult figures include Stereolab’s iconic Kosmische siren Laetitia Sadier, who liltingly adds her signature float-y tones to the motorik electro-pop ‘Extend The Song’, and prolific idiosyncratic lo fi genius R. Stevie Moore, who turns in an anguished Laurie Anderson as A.I. psychiatrist performance (an inquisitive “should I worry”, becomes ever more agitated) on the Jah Wobble goes arpeggiator, feeding the consumer machine, ‘Falsetto Giuseppe’.

On an album that spans and twists so many genres, it is the closing shifting-shards panoramic turn rhythm tumbling instrumental, ‘Mont Ventoux’ that travels the furthest, moving from progressive West Coast psych folk to shades of Popol Vuh, Cluster, Vangelis and video-nastie synth soundtrack: A epic, reflective way to finish.

Under pressure maybe, but it doesn’t show as the Von Spar and friends produce a constantly evolving sophisticated dance album of soulful yearning.







Chris Brokaw ‘End Of The Night’

(tak:til) 24th May 2019

Representing a union between Glitterbeat Records experimental international instrumental imprint tak:til and the equally expletory American VDSQ, two tactile delights from the “21st century guitar’ label’s catalogue have been given a European-wide release for the very first time. Both released at the end of May, Chuck Johnson’s 2017 Balsams album will be available for the first time on CD, whilst the nocturnal inspired Chris Brokaw suite End Of The Night is an entirely new album of attentive and placable musings.

Review wise, I’ve only had time to peruse the latter, a swoozy, atmospheric accompaniment to the Codeine and Come band members various moods, reflections and observation, framed within the pitched idea by VDSQ label boss Steve Lowenthal as the “existential” pondered ideal “last record of the night” – the results of Brokaw and Lowenthal’s late night record listening sessions. Taking up the offer, to record that perfect twilight hour album, Brokaw collected ideas for years until the opportunity arose to finally put thoughts to tape.

Joining him on these various traverses and nuanced concentrations is an ensemble of congruous musicians, some recommended by Lowenthal. Appearing in a myriad of combinations, from duo to trio and quartet, is the “Chet Baker” redolent trumpet-player Greg Kelly (Chet being a big influence on Brokaw), violinist Samara Lubelski (who’s briefly played with, like Brokaw, Thurston Moore), viola player David Michael Curry, cellists Lori Goldston and Jonah Sacks, bass-player Timo Shanko and on drums, Luther Gray.

Channeling many of the artists he’s worked with, Thurston Moore, Evan Dando and Stephen O’Malley, as he deftly picks out descriptive notes and builds up a swell of resonance, Brokaw both dreamily and moodily drifts through gestures of jazz, post-rock, grunge, tremolo-echo-y country and on the reverb-heavy vapour drift, ‘Blue Out’, a cosmic kind of blues music. Suspense, even mystery and narrative are handled with descriptive poise, with the guitar-playing evoking traces of Jeff Buckley, Jonny Greenwood and on the hushed brushed drums, dipping motion ‘His Walking’, the results of melding Chris Isaak with J Mascis.

Meditative and lingering for the most part, End Of The Night counters somnolent reflection with cerebral ponder to create the desired nocturnal atmosphere; at least a great record to finish any session on, if not quite the “perfect” one.




Oliver Cherer ‘I Feel Nothing Most Days’

(Second Language Music) 26th April 2019

An artist most lyrically out of time, full of removed observations, set to the most relaxed and wafting of stripped accompaniments, a wistful Oliver Cherer exchanges the part fact/part fiction Victorian Forest of Dean folkloric diorama of The Myth Of Violet Meek for the vague resonating traces of the 1980s on his recent despondent entitled I Feel Nothing Most Days album.

The third such impressive songbook from the prolific Hastings-based earnest troubadour to be released under his own name (previous alter-egos have included DollBoy, Gilroy Mere, Rhododendron, The Assistant) in as few years, this often dreamy affair, originally conceived decades ago – a very young Cherer putting his burgeoning ideas on to a Yamaha 4-track cassette recorder in 1983 -, is imbued by the lingering articulated drip-fed and amorphous cycles of The Durutti Column, but also a wealth of similar ethereal artists, borders on shoegaze from the late 80s epoch of 4AD.

Attuned to the Durutti first time around no doubt, Cherer, by some cosmic-aligned luck, found that he owned Vini Reilly’s Fender guitar (the one used on Morrissey’s first solo LP, Viva Hate as well). Put to good use then, as Cherer reprises his early 80s (what was left of them; when salvaged from the attic and played on a modern cassette-player that two of the original quartet of tracks came out at half-speed, the remainder, in reverse) recordings, the mood of this album is gauzy memory; music pulled from another time, an ether even – some of this down to the harmonies, choral and often atmosphere-setting guest vocals of an apparition cooing Claudia Barton and Riz Maslen.

Despite the drifting, mirror-y visage of washed troubadour, Talk Talk, C86, shoegaze and even Yacht-rock, a barely concealed rage at the divisionist-driven tensions that have sown so much caustic discord in recent years; throwing a proverbial, sacrificial “baby” out with the bath water to the wolves on the veiled Robert Wyatt-esque ‘Weight Of The Water’, in what could be a denouncement on Brexit, and the sophisticated rock with hints of The Pale Fountains ‘Sinners Of The World’ is no less gently scathing.

Elsewhere Cherer moons on the wistfully enchanted French fantasy, ‘Seberg’, a lamentable swaddled delight r-imagination of a scene, played out to a reference heavy lyricism about the aloof, Gauloise smoke cool New Wave cinema icon Jean Seberg (Cherer playing an unlikely role of Jean-Paul Belmondo), and pens a magically sad, Laurel Canyon, swoon to dementia, fading memory and age on ‘An Unfamiliar Kitchen’.

Beautifully articulated throughout, the shifting memories of time assembling just long enough to provide a vaporous soundtrack, I Feel Nothing Most Days is despite the malaise, anguish and sense of injustice a lovely, soulful songbook; another essential Oliver Cherer release.







Stanlaey ‘The Human Project’

(Stanlaey Art) May 2019

Two years after the premiere of Bethany Stenning’s ambitious multi-media The Human Project, the full-on immersive audio soundtrack from that film arrives in the form of a debut album; the first under Stenning’s amalgamated pseudonym of Stanlaey through her own imprint label. Featuring a cast of over seventy artists, actors/actresses, videographers and of course musicians, Stenning’s plaudit-attracting opus is heavy on the themes of both duality and juxtaposition; the myriad of twists and turns as the polymath artist studies our chaotic modern relationship with nature, symbolized visually and musically over a number of concept-driven performances.

Creating an alternative pastoral fairytale world, Stenning brings us a highly experimental beguiling soundscape that is often as bewildering as it is diaphanous and melodious. Untethered throughout, weaving amorphously between Earth Mother folk, jazz, R&B, Tricky-like trip-hop and the avant-garde The Human Project is in a constant state of movement as it attempts to articulate and phrase the seven elements that underpin it. Stenning’s distinct voice is itself difficult to pin down, fluctuating, soaring, meandering as it does in giddy childlike innocent wonder one minute, a ghost the next: Joanna Newsom, Bjork and Janelle Monae wrapped into one woodland sprite.

A quartet of conceptual video tracks from the album have already been drip-fed in the run-up to its release as an audio only experience – which works equally without its visual moiety as a whole new immersive experience -; the earthy winding Ghostpoet-esque ‘The Mountain Collector’, the bowl-pouring nod to antiquity’s poetic titan and striving yearn to escape an “Iron Age of destruction” for one of gold, ‘Ode To Ovid’, the breathy ethereal with Tibetan wind chimes metaphorical encapsulation of fluidity (elegantly portrayed by the harmonious display of acro-yoga in the video) ‘Properties Of Ice’, and the gauzy anguished forest spirit turns wild and intense lament to a brought-to-life mannequin wanting to escape their constraints, ‘Wooden Womb’, have already been doing the rounds.

This leaves the silvery moon pool serenade love song between a werewolf and ‘The Moon’, the Lamplighter meets Erased Tapes, dub-y ponderous flood of consciousness ‘Eldor’ (which features the rapping of Pedro DG Correia), and sonic splashed, undulated interpretation of water (its healing properties as much as a backdrop to Stenning’s emotions) ‘Aquarium’. There’s also, as a sort of extra unveiling, the angelic wafting through a void spell of ‘Orbs’, which originally was used to play out the end credits of The Human Project film.

Neither art, performance nor purely a soundtrack, this album is captivating and distinct, working on all levels: sound and music so often fails when brought into the conceptual field of creative arts, but Stenning has pulled it off wonderfully.







 

Brickwork Lizards ‘Live At St. Giles’

(Vyvyfyr Records) 17th May 2019

Plucked from the era of top hat and tails tea dances and the more rouge-ish double entendre romantically swooned crooning gin joints, the Ink Spots via Sublime Porte imbued Brickwork Lizards seem to have been lifted from an old His Master’s Voice label shellac record. A meeting of musical mind, the Oxford based troupe merge co-founder Tom O’Hawk’s penchant for clipped vocal harmony and the swing of the roaring 20s and early 30s with his musical foil Tarik Beshir’s romanticized and longing sounds of Turkey and the Orient to create a unique fusion.

Enjoying the spotlight that shines on this Arabic jazz ensemble, off the back of two albums (the second of which, 2018’s Haneen, was given the thumb’s up by myself on this blog) and joint-jumping live performances, the group’s vocalist, oud player and instigator Beshir was invited to work as a musical consultant on the new Disney Aladdin reboot; members of the Lizards even formed part of the Sultan’s palace house band.

It is the live performance quality of the band that is celebrated for posterity on their latest release, a four-track EP recorded in front of an audience at the Oxford Jazz at St. Giles showcase. All new, even if they sound nostalgic, the St. Giles quartet of vocal and instrumental maladies, swoons and bounding dances features both original-penned compositions and re-imaginings of Ottoman bohemia, and an even older Arabic love poem They begin with one of these homage transformations, the Anatolian Tango suspense turn Balkan-rush treatment of the legendary Ottoman composer Tanburi Cemil Bey’s turn-of-the-20th century sweep of the bay ‘Nikriz Longa’ instrumental. On the final performance, Beshir yearningly improvises with an Arabic love paean to a weepy and complicated, but effortlessly played, 10/8 beat accompaniment on the Mowashah tradition inspired ‘Sama’I Waltz’.

With one foot in the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band camp, the Lizards pay respect to the racy sincerity of the doo-wop harmony group the Ink Spots on the jazzy crooned ‘I Want To Spend The Night With You’. And on their ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’ evoking serenaded idyllic punt down the river ‘Roses’, you can easily imagine the Lizards lounging on the Sultan’s palace rug, wistfully sighing sweet nothings to their muse.

With certain élan and flair, not forgetting a real commitment to their form, the Brickwork Lizards refine and reinterpret their nostalgic inspirations to produce a re-electrified fusion that transcends both its Ottoman and quaint Edwardian music hall legacies. Going by these St. Giles recordings they prove a great band to catch live in the flesh.




 

GOATS ‘Far Out’

(Submarine Broadcasting Co.) 16th May 2019

As if there weren’t enough Goat orientated bands already to contend with, here’s another. This collective rabble (not to be confused with that equally tripping, but African-imbued, lot from Sweden) of moonlight acid and experimental pseudo daemonic cult mind-bending is led by the brilliantly-named maverick Alan Morse Davis, with Jorge Mario Zuleta, Dec Owen and a list of pseudonyms to back him up.

Astral planning the nonsensical, channeling a wealth of acid-rock, hippie folk, Kosmische, Krautrock and avant-garde inspirations, these Holy Mountain(side) goats chew on the most lethal of intoxicating hallucinatory strength grass. Following up on their previous self-titled LP – which I’m told did some impressive sales – the GOATS latest wheeze, appropriately entitled Far Out, is one continuous forty-minute exploratory track of spliced sections, released on that most revived and limited of formats, the cassette tape.

Setting off through a reversal-heavy drug-y drone daze our navigators on this trip meander through an ever-changing soundscape of Incredible String Band commune ditsy childish folk, indigestion-hampered throat singing, early period Amon Duul II Gothic chorus of angels and Germanic myth, caustic confusion noodling, Spacemen 3 go baggy go Velvets psych-garage lo fi, and harmonium bellowed Indian fantasy mirage. That’s without mentioning the vortex sucking sample of The Creation’s ‘How Does It Feel To Feel’, the doodling melting evocations of the Acid Mothers Temple and the blown-out wafts of Kraut-jazz trumpet that get thrown in to what is a most experimental soundtrack; equally in search of hippie nirvana and free love aboard the Hawkwind mothership as amorphous fuckery.

Far Out is an often-ridiculous collage built around a few more thrashed-out, almost conventional, song ideas and meanderings. As ‘head music’ goes the GOATS have sown together a mind-melting rich peregrination of sketches, passing fancies, the afflatus and out-right weird to create their very own disturbed vision; a release that is more ennui, hard come-down Gong communing with Popol Vuh than Faust Tapes.







Wilderwolves ‘Inhale, Increase The Dose’

(Jezus Factory) 29th May 2019

From the Benelux alternative and experimental rock specialists Jezus Factory, and featuring a heavy-guitar rotation of guests and collaborators from the Angels Die Hard, Broken Circle Breakdown and Eriksson/Delcroix triangle of bands from that region, arrives the second LP of sincere anxiety and travail from the Wilderwolves. A vehicle for the songwriting of Alain Rylant, who also sings and plays guitar, the Wilderwolves lean towards introspective rage on the finely produced Inhale, Increase The Dose; though there’s a certain ambiguity in the lyrics, waiting to be decoded, and a lot of violence (metaphorical or not) meted-out and suffered in a number of moody love tussles.

Pitched then as an album about love, though with a side caveat that “it’s about everything” and “it’s about nothing”, all seen and experienced through the self-medicated haze of lethargy; Rylant attempts to rattle the listener (and himself) from a resigned stupor.

Full of the wrangling, sinewy, angulated and sometimes caustic guitar shapes we’ve come to expect from the label’s roster, the various cast of musicians on this album work their way through grunge, stoner, post-rock, Britpop and Americana. On the desperate sinking ‘Smoked’ and bloodied sinister ‘Tooth And Claw’ they brush-up against Placebo at their more refined, and on the post relationship fall-out of ‘Your Scars’ it’s a combination of Alice In Chains and Grant Lee Buffalo. The more relaxed, ambling ‘Underwater’ however, reminds me of an Arcade Fire song I’ve long since forgotten the title of.

A personal, candid offering that taps into the current need to share the sort of woes, stresses and anxieties usually left on the psychiatrist’s couch, in hope that it will somehow help, Inhale, Increase The Dose is a great cathartic indulgence that rocks.







Singles

John Johanna ‘Children Of Zion’

(Faith & Industry) Out Now

Ahead of a new biblical-inspired album in July, the first holy revelation from John Johanna’s upcoming Judaic apocalyptic Seven Metal Mountains opus is the lilting, cymbal resonating heavy, but deep, ‘Children Of Zion’.

Slightly lighter of touch, though just as steeped in religious liturgy, the latest single from the Norfolk artist once more traverses the Holy Land with a call-to-service melt of desert-blues, post-rock and psychedelic folk. Conceptually built around the ancient apocalyptic work laid down in the Book Of Enoch (the protagonist of that cannon being Noah’s grandfather, who’s visits to heavenly realms and augurs of doom are presented through visions, dreams and revelations), Johanna’s Seven Metal Mountains symbolize “the world empires that have successfully oppressed and controlled mankind”.

‘Children Of Zion’ has Johanna adopting a faux-reggae Arabian gait to deliver a message of worshipful defiance; throwing the moneylenders out of the temple, bringing down the towers of Babylon so to speak: “No politician gonna heal me/Only love and self control.” A return to Zion it is, the most venerated of sites; a return to the garden, Johanna has found his calling once more.

For those wowed and won-over (I previously included Johanna’s previous Afro-blues, gospel and rustic Americana rich mini LP, I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes in last year’s ‘choice albums’ features), prepare yourself for another divine communion.







Society Of The Silver Cross ‘Kali Om’ and ‘Mighty Factory Of Death’

Both out now

Nothing less than a clarion call for an “awakening to the universality of all people and things”, the second single of enlightened cosmic pathos from the matrimonial Seattle band once more merges a spiritual penchant for India with grunge and the Gothic. The afflatus Joe Reinke and Karyn Gold-Reinke couple behind the dramatic sounding Society Of The Silver Cross have shifted their musical tastes and inspirations in recent years after travelling; taking a hiatus to the Indian subcontinent after the break-up of Joe’s Alien Crime Syndicate. Fully imbued, bringing not only the message but also the stirring sounds of holy innovation with them back to Seattle, the couple have embraced the use of the Indian autoharp (known as the “shahi baaja”), bellowed harmonium and a droning inducing bowed instrument called the “dilruba”.

Far more Gothic, darker even, than anything you’d hear in the divine rituals of those Indian inspirations, this conversion is often full of daemonic stirrings and gauze-y mists of shoegaze and grunge. ‘Kali Om’ being the second such mix of these influences is a song that once more features an effective if succinct message and musical leitmotif in it’s opening chimes that signals a continuation of their debut single, ‘When You’re Gone’. ‘Kali”, the great redeemer, “Om”, the universal sound of consciousness, is a suitably atmospheric evocation; rich with dreamy mantra, spindled and lush tones, hints of Moorish Spain and of course, the ethereal lingering voice of Karyn.

Following in its ebb and flow, the group’s third single offers a more stark, morbid outlook through its ‘The Mighty Factory Of Death’ title, yet is no less lush and ethereal, when it does break from its gong-sounding harrowed majesty and doom. From the pages of The Book Of The Dead, this Egyptology-ringing acceptance of the fates levitation-towards-the-light breaks from its heavy veil to find heavenly relief. Indian veneration communes with Cobain’s Nirvana and The Velvet Underground, the Society Of The Silver Cross magic up an evocative enough message with both their recent singles.

The debut album, 1 Verse, is due out at the end of June.








Words: Dominic Valvona

Album Review: Dominic Valvona



Alessio Bondi ‘Nivuru’
(800A Records) February 2019


The prodigal son returns: And not for the first time. Returning to the bejeweled Mediterranean oasis that is Sicily, after various adventures travelling across South America and Africa, the Sicilian troubadour, balladeer and romantic poet Alessio Bondi once more embraces his roots on a new songbook of heart-wrenched soul and pop.

It’s hard not to fall head-over-heels in love with the Island home of Bondi, despite its obvious dark history – though the grip of organized crime has been loosened in recent decades; Sicily breathing far more easily with a certain confidence, as it enjoys a rightful renaissance, and attracts more and more tourists -; a landscape enriched not scared by its conquerors; the various impressive architectural styles and monuments of the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Spanish so ingrained as to be taken for granted by the locals strike a sense of awe and exaltation in the tourist. Having visited the cosmopolitan palmed metropolis capital of Palermo myself a couple of years back (making a return trip I might add in April) I was astounded, hypnotized by the film set like scale of it all: The incredible Triumphal and Porte Felice gateways that stand like titanic totems at either side of the Corso Vittorio Emanuele could have adorned the entrance to an MGM studios sword-and-sandals imagined Babylonian set.

Long ignored, unless for all the wrong reasons, Italy’s often discarded treasure is abundant with a culture and art scene far more polygenesis and open to outsiders than its official Rome-centric administered overlords. Rome pulls and sucks in those looking to escape the provinces in the same way most major capitals or cities of influence do. For example, even one of our hosts when we last stayed in Palermo was based there; the natural international draw for generations of Sicilians, including even Bondi, who moved to Rome to study theatre, graduating as an actor from the Accademia d’Arte Drammatica Corrado Pani.

Continuing to celebrate the melancholic malaise and, almost, sagacious pessimistic – but philosophical – language that runs deep in the Sicilian mindset and art, Bondi follows up his 2015 debut album Sfardo with an equally inviting lyrical collection of both yearning sonnets and more uptempo declarations of love.

The darker pained expression of torrid love affairs, love spurned heartache, the troubled mind and the uneasy relationship that exists between Sicilians and the active volcanic force of the omnipresent Mt. Etna are adhered to by the title of Bondi’s second album, Nivuru, which translates as “black”. Sung in the Sicilian dialect, which isn’t totally alien to those who know their Italian, but has a number of accents, turn-of-phrases and localized pearls of wisdom wordplays unique to the Island, Bondi’s lyrics emphasis a passionate attachment to the “black” miasma that has fueled so much of Sicily’s literature and music.

However Nivuru is predominantly a reference to the “nivi nivura”, the ‘black snow” by-product of Mt. Etna when it erupts. Bondi, channeling Jeff Buckley, pens an especially metaphorical poetic soundtrack to the volcano behemoth that looms ready to one day perhaps destroy the Island, but also nurtures it, on the song of the same title: “Eyes of onyx, ocean of anisette. A volcano’s sciara above me, volcano of flowers inside me.” Evidently, the “sciara” of those lyrics relates to the cooled-down lava when it becomes solid; a phenomenon that attracts tourists; best seen at night when incandescent and showing off its full palette of colours. I only know this because the artist includes footnotes throughout the booklet that accompanies this LP.

Elsewhere Bondi pays a paean of sorts to the Island on the drum shuffling, musing flute and trumpet serenaded ‘L’Amuri Miu Pi Tia’ (“my love for you”); running through a menagerie of Sicily’s natural inhabitants in a swooning declaration of love. But the album’s most heart-twanged lament, ‘Un Favuri’, features an imaginary conversation between Palermo’s famous Formula 1 legend Ninni Vaccarella and his ill-fated son Giovanni; the consequence, in this tale of following in the footsteps of a famous father, ending in tragedy.

The language quirks, expressions are all Sicily, but musically Bondi absorbs the musical influences of his travels to add an often-tropical lilt and rhythm to the earthy romanticism of the Island’s folk traditions. Geographically nestling at the toe of Italy, Sicily is actually a gateway historically, especially in recent years with the migration crisis, to the African continent. Less than a hundred miles from the Tunisian coastline and the next disembarkation spot after the tiny islet of Lampedusa – the first port of call for many migrants making the crossing from Africa to Europe -, Sicily has seen an untold cycle of arrivals. Taking a more practical, even welcoming approach Palermo’s most liberal of mayors, Leoluca Orlando, has attempted to help and integrate these vulnerable migrant arrivals; or at least keep them out of the clutches of the mafia, who he has successfully fought against, jailing in high numbers, confiscating their ill-gotten gains to the benefit of the public, and changing the attitude of locals by encouraging businesses to stop paying for protection (extraordinarily brave in the past, but growing in recent years, shops, cafes et al can even display a sticker in their shop window professing their refusal to pay); encouraging tourism and in the process as, arguably, the architect of Palermo’s renaissance – a city that only two decades ago resembled a war zone, with shoot-outs, explosives and hits carried out on a daily basis, in broad daylight by rival Mafioso clans. Bondi reflects all this by absorbing Afro-funk and fuzz and West African percussion (Djembe, Balafon) on such tumultuous heartbreak as ‘Dammi Una Vasata’ – though there’s an unmistakable air of The Balearics about this song too.

Bringing his signature South American lilt on Bolivian flute to the jazzy, metaphorical drinking-in atmosphere of ‘Café’, fellow Sicilian (well half, the other half being British) troubadour of note, Sergio Beercock helps widen the musical eclectic influences even further.

From a kind of sexy Curtis Mayfield funk vibe to musica popular do Brasil, smooth jazz horns to outright commercial pop, Bondi filters his various musical-peppered travels to produce a cosmopolitan sound: the very epitome of Sicilian culture itself.

Literally baring one’s soul, heart worn on the outside, Bondi is almost always the protagonist, though he shares his sons with a host of hot-blooded Latin stereotypes yet to sign-up to the #metoo agenda –some rather touchy-feely examples. A sensitive poet, Bondi even pens a strange searching requiem to the sisterhood on the starry and filmic ‘Si Fussi Fimmina’, which may lose something in translation (‘if I were a woman”) but is also quite a pained attempt at solidarity.

Guilt, loss, revelation and longing, the full emotional gamut is represented as Bondi, like a cross-between Devendra Banhart and St. Francis of Assisi, or, a penitent balladeer of Sicilian lore breaking bread with Jeff Buckley, channels the earthy soul of Sicily to produce an unguarded love letter to his Island paradise.



Words: Dominic Valvona


Reviews Roundup: Dominic Valvona




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

 

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

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



Albums

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


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

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

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

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

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




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





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

 

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

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

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

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






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





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

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

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

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

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

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




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





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

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

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

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






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





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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

(ARC Music) 22nd February 2019




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

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

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

 

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

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

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



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

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

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

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






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

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

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





EPS

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





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

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

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

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







Singles

Julia Meijer ‘Train Ticket’
15th March 2019





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

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

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

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

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




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





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

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

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

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





Words: Dominic Valvona

%d bloggers like this: