NEW MUSIC ROUNDUP
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA


Featuring: Colours Of Raga, Der Plan, Esmark, Ippu Mitsui, Pop Makossa, Roedelius, Chaplin & Heath and Revbjelde.


 

Welcome to the 50th! Yes 50th edition of my most eclectic of new music review roundups. This latest collection is no different in selecting the most interesting, dynamic and obscure of releases from across the world, with the invasive dance beat billed compilation of Cameroon “pop Makossa” from the Analog Africa label, a curated collection of raga recordings and a rare film from the archives of the late Indian music ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya, a phantasmagoria of folk, psych, prog, jazz and beats vision of an esoteric troubled England by Revbjelde, plus electronic suites both diaphanously ambient and equally menacing from Esmark and the triumvirate Roedelius, Chaplin & Heath, and vibrant quirky electro from Ippu Mitsui, and the return, after a 25 year absence of Germany’s highly influential cerebral electronic pop acolytes Der Plan.

Various  ‘Pop Makossa – The Invasive Dance Beat Of Cameroon 1976-1984’
Analog Africa,  16th June 2017

 

Pop goes Makossa! Makossa being, originally, the traditional rhythm and funeral dance of Cameroon’s Sawa and Essewé peoples, later transformed in the country’s cities as it collided with everything from merengue and rumba to Highlife and disco. Urban meets folk, Cameroon’s traditions given a transfusion of electromagnetism and fire, inevitably went “pop” in the latter half of the 1970s. Makossa, which means, “to dance” in the Cameroon Douala language, is a highly loose and adaptable style: as you will hear on this twelve-track collection of hits and rarities from the golden era of pop makossa.

The latest in a tenure adventure of excavating lost treasures from the African continent; Analog Africa’s main man Samy Ben Redjeb once more digs deep, sifting through a daunting mountain-size pile of records and recordings. As with many of these projects, Samy’s expeditions turn into lengthy travails: this compilation being no exception, the label originally putting out feelers and surveying the country’s music scene in 2009, and only now finalized and ready for release. And as with these projects he’s helped by equally passionate experts, in this case DJ/producer Déni Shain who travelled to Cameroon to tie-up the loose ends, license tracks, interview the artists, and rustle through the archives to find the best photographs for a highly informative accompanying booklet.

Honing in on the period when makossa rubbed-up against funk and disco, this balmy dance beat compilation’s pulse is luminous and fluid and most importantly, funky. This is in major part down to some of the most smooth, bouncing, slick and relaxed but constantly busy of bass lines – Cameroon’s bass players rightly revered as among the best throughout the world – and the constantly shuffling hi-hats, tom rolls and splashing drums.

Imitating their western counterparts but going full on in embracing the technology, especially production wise, of the times, in their own inimitable way, Cameroon’s great and good weren’t shy in using the synthesizer. The Mystic Djim & The Spirits use it for instance to glide along on their girl-group chorus beachside disco Yaoundé Girls track, whereas Pasteur Lappé uses it to create a bubbly, aquatic space effect on his 80s tropical disco vibe Sanaga Calypso. Everyone is at it more or less, using wobbly and laser-shot synth waves and gargles that were, very much, in vogue during the later 70s and early 80s. That or the Philly soul sound – check the tender electric guitar accents and sweet prangs together with smooth romantic saxophone on Nkodo Si-Tony’s jolly Miniga Meyong Mese hit – and odyssey style funk. Devoid of this slicker production and de rigueur electronic drum pads and cosmic burbles, the opening blast of pop makossa, an “invasion” in fact, by the Dream Stars is a much more lively and raw recording; closer in sound and performance to the J.B.’s than anything else. The most obscure and rare record in this collection – a real gritty shaker of Afro-soul – the Dream Stars turn makes its official debut, having never been released officially until now.

Every bit as “invasive”(and infectious) as the extended album title suggests, the classy pop massoka sound – once considered the unofficial national sound of Cameroon – is waiting to be rediscovered and let loose once again. In what seems like a recent shift in direction at the Analog Africa label, with the emphasis on the late 70s and 80s – from last year’s Space Echo collection from Cape Verde to reissues of Trinidad & Tobago star Shadow’s Sweet Sweet Dreams and the Benin solo singer Vincent Ahehehinnou’s Best Woman – this latest survey continues to unearth musical treats from the same era, albeit in different geographical settings, yet sharing many of the same production and trends traits. As classy as they come, this sun-basked music scene exposé arrives just in time for the summer.





Der Plan  ‘Unkapitulierbar’
Bureau B,  23rd June 2017

 

Though the heralded return (after a 25 year wait) of the cerebral German trio was prompted by a special reunion performance for Andreas Dorau’s 50th birthday, the momentous changes triggered by Brexit and the election of Trump must have had some effect in galvanizing Der Plan back into action. That recent party gig did however remind the trio of Moritz Reichelt, Kurt Dahlke and Frank Fenstermacher that making music together was fun at least. And so with encouragement they coalesced all the various scrapes, fragments and sketches that had been left dormant in the intervening years and shaped them into a dry-witted soundtrack for the times in which we now find ourselves: in Europe at least.

Of course, they hadn’t all been encased motionless in stasis of hibernation during that quarter century absence. Reichelt, know by his trademarked moniker Moritz R, designed covers and visuals, and alongside his comrades co-founded the influential indie label Ata Tak: releasing albums of varying success by DAF, Andreas Dorau and Element Of Crime. Dahlke meanwhile, no stranger to the Monolith Cocktail, has and continues to programme and produce electronica and techno music under the Pyrolator title; in recent years finishing or “re-constructing” archival material ideas from the vaults of the late kosmische progenitor Conrad Schnitzler. Fenstermacher has also been busy releasing solo material but is also recognized for his contributions to the Düsseldorf band Fehlfarben’s iconic Monarchie & Alltag LP.

Back together again; assembled under the hijacked Delacroix painting of Liberty Leading The People, defending the EU barricades as the American flag lays in tatters underfoot, in an iconic role reversal of the revolutionary spirit, Der Plan’s shtick is obvious in defense, and deference, of the EU constitution. Unkapitulierbar itself is a defiant battle cry, translated as “Uncapitulable” it denotes the group’s will of “continuity” and “unbrokeness” in the face of crisis.

One star poorer on the flag with further uncertainty (possibly my most overused but befitting word of the year) ahead for the EU, Der Plan consolidate and sow the seeds of worry on their first album together in 25 years. To show their scope of musical ideas and sounds, but also continue a link with there past as one of Germany’s most iconic and important electronic pop bands there’s reverberations of Kraftwerk’s Europe Endless synthesized symphony on the bouncy, elasticated sophisticated pop tracks Wie Der Wind Weht (As The Wind Blows) and Lass Die Katze Stehn! (Let The Cat Stand!); a hybrid of electric blue tango and reggae on the philosophical weary Man Leidet Herrlich (One Suffers Splendidly); and a mind-melding of The Beach Boys and Depeche Mode on the cooing expedition into space Die Hände Des Astronauten (The Hands Of The Astronaut).

The tone and vocals are however for the most part dour and dry even when tripping into the dream world flight of fantasy, which features an alluring but sinister female duet, Come Fly With Me (the only track title and song to be sung in English), and the near schmoozing, sentimental ballad Flohmarkt Der Gerfühle (Fleamarket Of Emotions).

Unkapitulierbar reflects both the band’s continued curiosity and development in song writing; their original process of improvising first and adding lyrics later is replaced with one in which ideas and lyrics act as a foundation for the music that follows. And with a wizened pastiche Der Plan prove that 25 years later the trio can at least be relied upon to produce the goods in these increasing volatile times.




Esmark  ‘Mãra I/ Mãra II’
Bureau B,  30th June 2017

 

The latest soundscape union between experimental artist Alsen Rau and sound architect Nikolai von Sallwitz, Esmark, is a disturbing moiety of minimalistic analog hardware manipulations and generated pulses spread over two volumes.

Rau, half of another duo the German partnership On+Brr, has released numerous recordings and is both a co-founder of and curator at the Hamburg based club Kraniche: covering exhibitions, performances and readings. Sallwitz meanwhile, as a vocalist and producer uses the appellation Taprikk Sweezee, and has composed music and sound design for film, theatre and a range of art and pop projects; collaborating at various times with the artists Chris Hoffmann, Andreas Nicolas Fischer and Robert Seidel, who as it happens has made a real time performed video piece for one of Esmark’s tracks.

Pitching up in the isolation of a Scandinavian cartography, where the impressive Spitzbergan glacier that not only lends its name to the duo’s name but also acts as a looming subject study, the Mãra recordings oscillate, hover and vibrate between the menacing presence of that cold landscape and the unworldly mystery of unknown signals from space and the ether. Moving at an often glacial pace, a build-up of strange forces penetrate the humming and drones that act as an often worrying bed of bleakness or ominousness. Subtly putting their analog kit of synth boxes and drum computers through changing chains of various effects and filters, feeding the results they’ve captured on tape back into the compositions, the duo evoke early Cluster, Phaedra-era Tangerine Dream, and on the Geiger counter rhythmic Krav, Can.

Acting as a prompt and reflection of the places and times they were recorded, each track title offers a vague reference point. Volume I seemly alludes to more earthly realms, naming peaks and points of interest, from what I can gather, though the atmosphere modulates and probes the spiked and flared communications of distant worlds and hovers like an apparition between dimensions. Volume II however, offers coded and scientific-fangled titles such as Objekt P62410 – which actually sounds like the warping debris from a UFO at times – and Tæller 3.981. The scariest of many such haunted trepidations on this volume, the supernatural dark material vibrations and hum of Lianen sounds like a portal opening up in the latest series of the Twin Peaks universe.

Something resembling a percussive rhythm and even a beat does occasionally form and take shape, prompting speedier and more intense movement. But whether it’s nature or the imagination being traversed and given sound, the pace is mostly creeping.

The Esmark collaboration transduces the earth-bound landscape and its omnipresent glacier into an unsettling sci-fi score and sound-art exploration that treads threateningly on the precipice of the unknown.




Ippu Mitsui  ‘L+R’
Bearsuit Records,  24th June 2017

 

Continuing to showcase relatively obscure (and bonkers occasionally) electronic and alternative music from both Scotland and Japan, the Edinburgh-based label Bearsuit Records has once again caught my attention. This time with the joystick-guided experimental dance music of the Tokyo artist/producer/musician Ippu Mitsui.

Since a self-produced debut in 2012 Mitsui has gone on to release a variety of records for different labels, before signing to Bearsuit in 2016. Flying solo again after sharing an EP with label comrades The Moth Poets last year, Mitsui now follows up his most recent E Noise EP with a full-on album of heavy, sharp reversal percussive layering and quirky electro and techno.

The colourful and vibrant L+R spins at different velocities of that quirkiness; from the flighty bubbly house style Tropicana in space Bug’s Wings, to the 32-bit, dial-up tone and laser-shooting skittish collage version of the Art Of Noise Random Memory.

Programmed to both entertain as much as jolt, Mitsui’s beats flow but also routinely shudder and trip into fits and phases of crazy discord or increasingly stretch their looping parameters until loosening into ever-widening complex cycles of percussion. Orbiting the influential spheres of Ed Banger – the transmogrified engine-revving accelerator Small Rider could easily be a lost track from one of the French label’s samplers – the Leaf label, the Yellow Magic Orchestra, 80s Chicago house, and the Nimzo-Indian, L+R is full of experimental ideas and sounds from whatever floats Mitsui’s boat. Some that work better than others it must be said, and some, which stem from drum breaks or synth waves that perhaps fail to go anywhere more interesting.

If you already know the Bearsuit label then Mitsui’s new-found base of operations proves a congruous choice to mount his dance music attacks from; fitting in well with their electronic music roster of the weird, avant-garde, humorous even, but always challenging.






‘Musical Explorers: Colours Of Raga’  Recordings by Deben Bhattacharya curated by Simon Broughton
ARC Music,  23rd June 2017

 

The inaugural release in a new series devoted to ethnomusicologists and the, often obscure, musicians they’ve recorded, Musical Explorers is the latest project from one of the busiest of “world music” labels, ARC. Championing the often haphazard art of field recording and capturing, what are in many examples, improvised one-off performances from all corners of the globe, ARC have chosen to kick start this new collection with music from the archives of the late renowned filmmaker Deben Bhattacharya.

Highly unusual for the times, the Indian born Bhattacharya was not only self-taught but one of the only ethnomusicologist to come from outside Europe or America. Moving to Britain in the late 1940s, he simultaneously worked for the post office and, as a porter, for John Lewis, whilst making radio programmes on Indian music for the BBC. He went on to produce over twenty such films and over a hundred plus albums of music, not just from the Indian subcontinent but also Europe and the Middle East.

Invited to “curate” and choose just six recordings from this extensive catalogue, Songlines editor-in-chief, author of the handy reference “rough guides” to world music series, and filmmaker, Simon Broughton hones in on the signature sound of India’s raga tradition; picking a concomitant suite of performances from Bhattacharya’s birthplace of Benara. Recorded in 1954, with the exception of Amiya Gopal Bhattacharya’s traversing and reflectively plucked and attentively gestured composition Todi, which was recorded much later in ’68, these tracks are sublime windows into a complex musical heritage.

Part of the western music scene for well over fifty years, embraced, appropriated, by Harrison and Jones most famously during the conscious shift from teenage melodrama of the early 60s to the psychedelic drug and musical quest for revelation and enlightenment in the mid to later part of that decade, the beautifully resonating harmonics and serenity of the sitar and the dipping palm and calm to galloping open handed tapping of the tabla have become part of the British musical landscape. Still representing the path to spiritualism and meaning, though also used still in the most uninspiring of ways as a shortcut to the exotic, the Indian sound and most notably ragas, continue to fascinate, yet are far from being fully understood.

Here then is a worthy instruction in the rudimentary: For example, framed as the most characteristic forms of Indian classical music, the raga derives its name and meaning from the Sanskrit word “ranji”, which means “to colour” (hence the collection’s title). Ragas also come in many moods (tenderness, serenity, contemplation) and themes, and must be played at particular times of the day in particular settings: ideally. To be played in the open air and after 7pm, the courtly Kedara not only sets a one of meditative optimism but introduces the listener to the lilting double-reed sound of the North Indian woodwind instrument, the “shenai”; played in an ascending/descending floating cycle of brilliance, alongside the Indian kettle drum, the “duggi”, by Kanhalyo Lall and his group – most probably on a prominent platform above the temple gate as tradition dictates.

Elsewhere Jyotish Chandra Chowdury eloquently, almost coquettish, radiates playing the more familiar sitar. He’s accompanied by the quickened rhythm and knocking tabla on the curtseying majestic Khamma – to be played between the very precise hours of 9-10pm. Swapping over to the zither-like “rudravina” Chowdury articulates the onset of the rain season, as the very first droplets hit the parched ground, on Miyan Ki Malhas.

Despite the hours and moods, which include a Hindi love song that goes on and on, these compositions are all very relaxing; submerging the listener if he wishes, into an, unsurprising, reflective but tranquil state.

Accompanying this audio collection is one of Bhattacharya’s introductory films on Indian music. Simply entitled Raga. Unfortunately most of his footage, originally commissioned by, of all people, Richard Attenborough, has been lost. And so this 1969 film remains one of the earliest examples left from the archives. Very representative of the times it was made, fronted by the stiff-collared Yehudi Menuhin, it serves a purpose as an historical document. Menuhin had it must be said. Little knowledge of the subject matter yet still wrote a script, which was replaced by Bhattacharya’s own to create a hybrid of the two, the focus being shifted away where possible from travelogue to technique and an endorsement of Indian music. The footage however introduces the viewer to a number of exceptional musicians, including a rare performance from the revered sitar player – one of the famous triumvirates of sitar gods alongside Vilayet Khan and Ravi ShankarHalim Jaffer Khan. It is an interesting companion piece to the main recordings, enhancing the whole experience with a visual record that captures a particular time in the development of Indian raga.

An illuminating, transcendental start to the series, Colours Of Raga acts as both a reference guide and gateway to exploring the enchanting beauty of the Indian raga further.


Roedelius, Chaplin & Heath  ‘Triptych In Blue’
Disco Gecko,  7th July 2017

 

Twenty years after first partnering with kosmische and neo-classicists most prolific composer Hans-Joachim Roedelius, ambient producer/musician Andrew Heath asked the legendary octogenarian to appear alongside him and the equally experimental composer Christopher Chaplin for a live performance in 2016. Part of a Heath curated concert at The Brunel Goods Shed in Stroud, this trio’s performances as the title makes obvious has a leitmotif, a fixation on the number three: three carefully chosen artists whose individual processes compliment and trigger each other so well produce three peregrinations of serialism to represent, or play with, three different shades of blue. It may also be a reference to the famous Triptych Bleu I, II, III paintings by the Spanish genius Joan Miró; a set of similar blue dominated works summarizing the abstract painters themes and techniques to that point in 1961, blue being for him a symbol of a world of cosmic dreams, an unconscious state where his mind flowed clearly and without any sort of order.

Heath’s previous collaboration of experimental ambience with Roedelius, Meeting The Magus, was recorded under the Aqueuous moniker with his duo partner Felix Joy in 1997. This proved to be the perfect grounding and experience for musical synergy, even if it took another two decades to follow up, as Heath picks up from where he left off on Triptych In Blue. Chaplin for his part has performed with the Qluster/Cluster/Kluster steward before. But as with most Roedelius featured projects, and he’s been part of a great many in his time, each performance is approached with fresh ears.

Self-taught with a far from conventional background in music, Roedelius has nevertheless helped to create new forms based on classism and the avant-garde. The piano has returned to the forefront, especially on recent Qluster releases. And it appears here with signature diaphanous touches and succinct, attentive cascades floating, drifting and sometimes piercing the multilayered textures of aleatory samples and generated atmospherics.

Tonally similar but nuanced and changeable each shade of blue title has its own subtle articulations. The meteorite-crystallized source of Azurite is represented by a starry-echoed piano notes, the hovering presence of some leviathan force and the synthetic created tweeting of alien wildlife. A sonorous de-tuning bell chimes through a gauzy melody of sadly bowed strings, distant voices in a market, and a moody low throbbing bass on Ultramarine, whilst Cobalt is described in gracefully stirring classical waves, searing drones, scrapped and bottle top opening percussion, and chilled winds.

Subtly done, each track is however taken into some ominous glooms and mysterious expanses of uncertainty by the trio, who guide those neo-classical and kosmische genres into some unfamiliar melodic and tonal ambient spaces. And all three in their own way are quite melodious and sometimes beautiful.

Not to take anything away from his companions on this performance, but the musical equivalent of a safety kitemark, Roedelius’ name guarantees quality. And Triptych In Blue is no different, a worthy collaboration and “lower case” study success for both Heath and Chaplin. Hopefully this trinity will continue to work together on future projects.



Revbjelde  ‘S/T’
Buried Treasure, available now

 

Flagged up as a potential review subject for the Monolith Cocktail by Pete Brookes, one part of the Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut outfit, whose 2015 Gimmie! Gimmie! Gimmie! Peanut Punk diatribe made our choice albums of that year; the Berkshire-based Revbjelde’s self-titled debut for the Buried Treasure imprint is billed as an industrial-jazz-psych-motorik-folk phantasmagoria (that last word is mine not theirs).

Soundtracking a somber, spooky dystopian vision of England, the group and their guest contributors create a suitably Fortean supernatural soundscape. One that is inhabited by the ghosts of the past, present and future, and the nationalistic (whether in jingoistic poetic pride or as an auger against such lyrical bombast) verse and poetry of some of “Albion’s” finest visionaries. Relics and crumbling edifices of religion and folklore for instance, such as Reading Abbey and the non-specific Cloister, feature either stern haunted Blake-esque narrations, courtesy of the brilliantly descriptive Dolly Dolly – Lycan and cuckoo metaphors, blooded stone steps and the decaying stench of an inevitable declining empire conjure up a vivid enough set of images – or the spindle-weaved clandestine instrumental atmospherics of a place that’s borne witness to something macabre.

Bewitched pastoral folk from a less than “merry olde England” morphs into daemonic didgeridoo lumbering gait jazz from an unworldly outback; Medieval psychogeography bleeds into bestial esoteric blues; and on the lunar-bounding strange instrumental Out Of The Unknown, reverberations of 80s Miles Davis, UNKLE and trip-hop amorphously settle in as congruous bedfellows on a trip into a mindfuck of an unholy cosmos.

Communing with false spirits, as with the infamous 17th century poltergeist tale nonsense of the “Tidworth drummer”, and losing themselves under the spell of The Weeping Tree, Revbjelde traverse a diorama of old wives tales, myth and all too real tragedy. Retreating one minute into the atavistic subterranean, hurtling along to Teutonic motoring techno the next as ethereal sirens coo a lulling and spine-tingling chorus, time is breached and fashioned to the band’s own ends. An alternative England, more befitting of writers such as Alan Moore, dissipates before the listener’s ears, evoking the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Sproatly Smith, The Incredible String Band, Aphrodite’s Child, mystical Byzantine hypnotics and a myriad of 60s to 70s British horror soundtracks. “Supernatural perhaps; Baloney, perhaps not!” As Bela Lugosi once retorted on film to his skeptic acquaintance’s dismissive gambit. After all there is a far deeper and serious theme to this album, one that touches upon the very tumultuous and horror of our present uncertain times.





NEW MUSIC REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona




Featuring: Sergio Beercock, The Bordellos, faUSt, ANi Glass, Duncan Lloyd, Carlo Mazzoli and Mount Song.



Back from a recent sabbatical in Palermo and catching up with all the most interesting releases of the last month, this edition of my regular Tickling Our Fancy revue features an assortment of albums/EPs and tracks from both April and May. An unofficial sort of house band for the blog, St.Helens’ greatest lo fi, les miserable, export The Bordellos have featured on this blog countless times over the years, I take a look at their latest sampler EP, Debt Sounds. There’s also the latest art-attack protestation from the infamous faUSt, a vitriol extemporized road trip across the States with friends entitled Fresh Air, and the latest cathartic songbook from Jacob Johansson, under his latest moniker Mount Song, the second Duncan Lloyd outing, IOUOME, from the Maximo Park guitarist/songwriter, the latest EP from the Welsh siren of the most ethereal and danceable protest rousing electronic pop ANi GLASS, and two new showcase albums from Italian-based bards/troubadours Carlo Mazzoli and Sergio Beercock.

faUSt  ‘Fresh Air’
Bureau B, 26th May 2017


 

Belligerently sharing the Faust moniker, splitting into a moiety of founding member versions of the original group that so terrorized the 70s underground music scene, the glaring capital letter “US” in this incarnation is used by founding fathers Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner “Zappi” Diermaier.

Still banging the cement-mixer drum and manning the barricades after forty odd years in the business, the, at its most base drummer/percussionist and bassist-come-tormentor of sound, duo’s latest protestation is a sort of art-provocateur road trip of the USA, featuring an abundance of locals and internationalist artists and musicians, picked-up on the way through New York, Texas and California: A counter-cultural agitation travail from coast to coast.

Featuring the usual Faust totems and that workmanlike methodology of extracting sounds and evocations from machinery, found objects, debris and the architecture – even Péron’s front door hinges from home make an appearance – Fresh Air is an urgent gasp for relief from the polluted, choked, environment. It’s also a highly convoluted attempt at transforming geometrical forms and abstractions into a sonic score. Three of the tracks on this album take their inspiration from a faux-workshop at the highly regarded California Institute of the Arts. A session that includes the loony 23-second vocal exercise symphony Partitur – defined loosely as “a sort of Dadaist choir, a musique impressionniste’ by Péron –; the loose Slits do souk jazz, camel ride Chlorophl, which features Barbara Manning “sneaking” in word association sketches alongside Zappi’s own strange utterings; and the saxophone squalling, motoring Lights Flicker, which again features Manning, bridging the role of Laurie Anderson and Patti Smith, repeating an agitated mantra over a quasi art-dance backing.

From the east coast Jersey City leg of their travels, viola player Ysanne Spevack adds a stirring, Jed Kurzel like harrowed drone to the album’s title track. A seven and a half minute opus, building from the narration of a poem, written by a French school friend of Pérons, to a struggle for life, Fresh Air shows that the spirit of ’68 and hunger for transforming and tearing down the destructive political environment hasn’t diminished in all those years. It’s bookended with a soliloquy-like Péron narration on, among other tropes, the confusing, alarming change from childhood to young adulthood on the album’s curtain call, Fish. Tidal washes and suitable transitional analogies on the soul and growing pains profoundly roll over another viola drone and minimal bass drum accompaniment before entering a noisy cacophony of oscillations and sonic crescendos.

Passing through Austin, faUSt capture the Birds Of Texas, merging their crowing calls with a suitable enough mirage-y, Peyote-induced desert peregrination, and open up an interstellar box of tricks to create a space-funk, Teutonic swamp performance – not a million miles away from Can – on La Poulie.

Continuing with their signature agitation, often menacing, call-to-arms whilst also sonically turning the abstract into something audible, Péron and Zappi can still be relied upon to create provocative statements, five decades on from when the original Faust dynamic barraged audiences with the most confrontational and experimental sound ideas. Struggling like the rest of us, but finding a comradely with another generation of artists and musicians, they look for hope in the miasma.



Mount Song  ‘Mount Song’
Suncave Recordings, 5th May 2017

Previously garnering plaudits in his native Sweden for his debut album under the appellation of The Big Monster (no less heralded as the Swedish debut of the year in 2014 by the country’s biggest music publication), the longing singer/songwriter Jacob Johansson is back to contemplate all of life’s harsh lessons and trials on this latest venture, Mount Song.

This self-titled songbook of ambitious poetic campfire musings and inner turmoil spun yearnings is simultaneously both intense and intimate; mixing a catharsis of emotions with a soundtrack of acid-folk, country, psych and alternative pop. As the accompanying notes and music itself testifies, Johansson was “brought up on grunge.” And throughout the album this American export leaves its indelible mark with hazy languid lingering traces and washes of Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr. Far from slavishly recreating that grunge sound, our philosophical troubadour and his band merely hint at its presence and influence with a certain panache.

More to the point, it’s that 90s demigod of plaintive despair and torment, Jeff Buckley, who imbues Johansson’s vocals and sound the most. Most obviously and unabashed you can hear an unmistakable melody sequence three quarters of the way through the light and shade softened crescendo Here It Goes. As for that genius fluctuating vocal, from Latin choirboy to candid outpourings of grief, Johansson goes for it on the skipping backbeat psych-grunge Make Up with a falsetto and almost trembling howled vocal performance.

The opening melodrama Halo, which wells up from subtle jangled acoustic guitar to a deeply atmospheric synth and repeating thudding drum punctuation of sorrow, deals with one’s demons in the manner of a sober, more somber Jose Gonzalez and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – two more important influences for Johansson.

Though there’s plenty of sadness and even wallowing, Johansson can hardly be accused of drawing copious amounts of melancholy from the well of self-pity. There is hope after all. And a certain, if naïve at times, call for peace, even a protest song of disarmament in the fashion of the Thunderclap Newman does New Radicals protest anthem, All Over The World.

You can’t avoid, sidestep the multiple political storm clouds amassing overhead, and with all those “inner demons” in tow, not feel anxious and dare say despondent. Though whether the sun will shine through the miasma is another matter, but Johansson handles all this swimmingly, in a gauzy sound space of dissipated crescendos and attentive melodies. Mount Song will take time to unveil its, often languid, subtleties, but is an album with more than enough push and direction.





Duncan Lloyd  ‘IOUOME’
Afternoon In Bed Records, 26th May 2017

Seeing as I’d never previously had the inclination nor desire to listen to a Maximo Park record, finding not much of worth and interest in their second-generation Britpop with attitude sound, it’s hardly surprising that the solo career of one of the “driving forces” behind the Newcastle upon Tyne group, guitarist/songwriter Duncan Lloyd, has so far alluded me.

Cut loose of that band I’m happy to reveal that Lloyd has not only stepped out of the – if ever there was a poisoned chalice of validation – Mercury Music Prize nominated stars shadow but creatively blossomed on his own terms.

A fair weather friend, I’ve arrived late, Lloyd having already built-up a considerable catalogue of releases under numerous titles (Decades In Exile, Nano Kino) with various labels (Warp, PIAS, Crash Symbols Tapes). His latest solo outing (the second album released using his own name) is a melodic guitar led mix of gauze-y looseness and swimming longing.

With Maximo drummer Tom English in tow, the IOUOME album travels back further for its inspiration, recalling Postcard Records less fidgety and more hazy offerings, and the early 80s sound of Manchester. Candidly wistful nuanced twanged songs such as You Seem Confused’ bare traces of The Cure and even The House Of Love, underpinned with the limp gait of The Smiths, whilst the halcyon rays through a downpour Steel Pin Raindrops rumbles along to a Joy Division-esque toms beat and disheartened romantic synth. However, our cousins across the Atlantic can be heard on the loose but controlled enough and attentive Tomorrow Fires, as an imaginary Postcard era The Byrds share the melodic sonic landscape with early R.E.M and Midlake.

“Being Frank”, as one of the album’s song titles suggests, is what Lloyd is all about. Not so much a case of moping around in his softened layers and sprawling, relaxed but accentuated network of guitar riffs and lines, our protagonist faces all his emotional turmoil and strife with a songbook of composed observations and intimacy. Written on the road, usually at the end of the day, as ideas become less concrete and evolve instead into something more challenging, these yearnings on “ailing relationships, division and self-destruction” are executed well, both the songwriting and guitar playing subtle but memorable with a real depth of character.



The Bordellos  ‘Debt Sounds Sampler EP’
Small Bear Records, Available now

 

If sales and general acknowledgment amongst the masses is considered validations that a band is entering the general psyche, all my previous efforts to propel St. Helen’s greatest musical export The Bordellos beyond a small circle of appreciative followers and critics have failed dismally. Still mining the pit face of unashamed discordant lo-fi irritant indie after decades, The Bordellos is it seems fated to be forever ignored by the general public.

A hard act to sell granted; knocking out disgruntled low-key underground releases that barely register ad hoc style and keeping a creditable distance from the rest of the music industry. Like a band perpetually mourning the age before Spotify, plugged-in to a continuous John Peel session from a time when it seemed a group of miscreant family band members could take on the world, they seem totally adrift of the times they live in. And all the better for it: if “modern life” was “rubbish” the “tech age” is plain fucking awful.

Even cheaper than The Fall, the group’s tools of trade are usually brought from Cash Converters or Poundland. Their abundance of EPs and albums are created in a rush, often recorded in one take in the shabbiest of mockup home studios. Plucked from a 2009 LP, the group’s third full-length release, the four-tracks on this latest Bandcamp platform broadcast from The Bordellos demonstrate this method well.

Stripped down and raw, Debt Sounds originally vanished as soon as it appeared. Previously, for many obvious reasons, unavailable online, originally sold as a limited run on CDR and snubbed as unsalable by their label at the time, Brutarian, Debt Sounds is a 17-track encapsulation of moping romanticism fueled by late night drinking and whatever else did the trick sessions and self pity. Setting themselves the most restrictive and loony perimeters, including no overdubs and one-take vocals, each song on the album had to be recorded within the same week it was written – and at a nocturnal hour by the sounds of it.

A quartet of tunes, the strain of which helped to break up two relationships, are almost randomly taken from that album and collated under the Sampler EP suffix title; the first of which, Fading Honey sets the My Bloody Valentine on Mogadon, despondent love-sick, bordering on sinister, mood. In a late hour atmosphere of whining plugging-in amp socket hum and low emitting fuzzy static The Bordellos pour out their hearts.

A meeting of generations, the youngest member of this unhappy brood Dan was only seventeen at the time and elder statesman Brian considerably older and cynically wiser, Debt Sounds pits teen angst against a midlife crisis; both appearing to meld in the intimate shared, Inspiral Carpets on a budget, You Better Run and elsewhere.

Really flexing those “outsider” credentials, the next song, Seal Head, is a surreal melodica derangement that languidly emerges then submerges into a slumberous mad-hatter state of weirdness. The most ominous, stalkerish even, is saved until last. Honeypie is an unhinged, electric guitar thrashing and pumped-up bass line session on the psychiatrist’s couch, which features a druggy-drowsy female chorus that sounds like the protagonist’s girlfriend singing it is more captive than willing participant. A lost Jesus And Mary Chain grinder meets stoner garage punk malaise, Honeypie slumps over a sorry state of romantic affairs.

Re-released by the Isle of Man independent label Small Bear Records, you can now appreciate or ignore some lowlights from Debt Sounds album once again; a lost triumph from the band’s rebellious back catalogue that stakes a claim to the real spirit of rock’n’roll. It acts in any case as a bridge between new releases; The Bordellos threatening to release their next album this summer on the Welsh label Recordiau Prin. In the meantime get your lug holes around this underground lo fi down and out.






Sergio Beercock  ‘Wollow’
800a Records, May 2017

 

Quite by chance Sergio Beercock is the first of two artists in this revue to hail from Italy, or rather in his case the strongly independent minded Island of Sicily.

Enjoying a slow revival in fortunes; open for business and tourism after a tumultuous period of inter-war between the Island’s most destabilizing blot on the landscape and psyche, the costra nostra, a tough but fair mayor in the shape of Leoluca Orlando has over several terms in office transformed the capital of Palermo, putting away a huge swathe of Mafioso and funneling their ill-gotten gains into rebuilding the infrastructure and reputation of the city and Sicily as a whole.

Overshadowed for so many decades by this miasma, the capital of Palermo is enjoying a boom in visitors and interest, as I’ve seen firsthand myself after a recent holiday there. With much still to be done, the migrant crisis for one thing – Sicily’s position as a stepping stone between the north African coastline and Europe attracting record numbers – and the staggeringly high unemployment figures, especially among the young, there are still optimistic signs of a resurgence: culturally and musically. Recorded at the 800a collectives multipurpose Indigo Studios in the city, Beercock’s new minimal and bucolic switched-on folk meets acoustic-electro Wollow album is evidence of that optimism.

Half British, half Italian, the Kingston-upon-Hull singer/bard moved to his mother’s homeland at an early age. Working, quite successfully it seems, in both music and theatre the bi-linguist Beercock has built a name for himself in Italy. Wollow though has its sights firmly set on the UK market, with the troubadour presently promoting and showcasing his talent at a number of events and festivals across the country – only last week performing live on London’s Resonance FM and playing spots in Hull, Oxford, Liverpool and at the Wood Festival.

Almost entirely sung in English, except for the final stripped and stark a cappella version of the Argentine singer Pedro Anzer’s stirring Silencio, which is delivered in Spanish, the Wollow album is a pastoral, bordering on Elizabethan at times, and quaintly English “metaphorical journey” through the travails and sounds that have inspired Beercock. The opening gently-plucked entwining Reason – which introduces us to the bard’s impressive though peaceable vocal range -, reverent like misty veils of Canterbury Tor, guitar picked swirling beauty, Naked, and the tumble-in-the-fields-whilst-the-old-man’s-not-looking weary parable, The Barley And Rye, are all unashamedly submerged in the English tradition.

You could say the mix of song covers and original material is of a “timeless” quality. Redefining folk and the atavistic tales of forewarning and life in the manner of such artists as James Yorkston and many others.

Breaking it up however with more ambient instrumental soundscape passages and soaring evocations, Beercock also sails towards the Americas; using a Bolivian flute and the atmospherics of The Andes and Amazon to lift and elevate both An Exaggerated Song and Jester from the less than exotic and magical tempered atmospheres of Northern Europe.

Using a mostly acoustic range of instruments (and even his own body) and his voice – which sounds at times like a chamber-folk Jeff Buckley – our troubadour ups the ante on occasion with a few surprises, launching congruously throughout into energetic, twisting, stretching and straining cello and double bass slapping and avant-jazz like dance beat liveners.

Probably the first time many of us will have heard the Sicilian-based troubadour, Wollow is an attentively as any crafted showcase introduction to a burgeoning experimental folk talent.





Carlo Mazzoli  ‘Avalanche Blues’
Available now

 

The second artist in this revue from Italy, the founding member of folk-rock band Dead Bouquet, Carlo Mazzoli branches out on his own with this self-produced solo effort, Avalanche Blues. Billed as the most intimate of his releases so far, this ambitious songbook flexes Mazzoli’s talents as a yearning blues songwriter and performer troubadour; equally at home romantically flourishing and cascading through a Freddie Mercury like rousing ballad on the piano, as donning the mantle of Neil Diamond and Springsteen on a steel-pedal waning Nashville love tryst.

Singing in English, influenced by a UK/US axis of blues, balladry, country, folk and 70s songwriting inspirations there’s no reference, except a hint in the burr, or signs of Italy to be found. This is after all an international affair musically and thematically, full of the age-old tropes of sadness and joy that are common to all of us.

If there were, however, a leitmotif, an aching bond of familiarity, it would be in Mazzoli’s penchant for the dusty old west trail. There’s certain overtures made to the stoic reflective journeyman and cowboy of that old west lore on Steel Rail Blues, on the rougher-hewn King At The End, and on the Dylan-esque, tremolo twanged love-pranged Goin’ Astray. Flirtations, executed impressively with attentiveness and lyricism, with the mosey-on down blues, Nilsson, Grant Lee and even Elton John – on the closing gospel meets 70s rock radio piano anthem On The Horizons.

From the cynical wells of despair and pity (“It might be the darkest place but it’s not the bottom of the sewer.”) to mountain climb metaphors, Mazzoli flows between crescendo splashes of anguish and saloon dive barreling swank throughout. The field is crowded but there’s more than enough talent and a certain unique style to set Mazzoli out from the legions on Avalanche Blues. As I’ve said before, this is an ambitious album, but also expansive, delving as it does into a myriad of musical styles with a certain ernest elan.





ANi GLASS  ‘Ffrwydad Tawel’
Recordiau Neb

Credit: Ani Saunders

 

Part of a groundswell of artists and bands supporting the use, and by that preservation, of the Welsh language (and Cornish too, but that’s another story for another time), electronic siren, photographer and artist Ani Saunders, better know musically as ANi GLASS, uses what is a most phonetically poetic dialect beautifully. Even when it’s used as a rallying cry on the opening glassy-visage labour of love Y Newid, which weaves the lingering ruminants of a rousing speech by the Socialist activist and Labour councilor Ray Davis with Ani’s breathy defense of the trade union movement, her voice sails close to the ethereal. Echoing even the most amorphous exhaled sighs, utterances and vocal sounds alongside the pronounced, Ani’s Welsh protestations and longings for “change” always sound passionate but disarming.

The obvious impassioned themes of keeping the Welsh heritage alive, of reconnection with that heritage and country, and the hope of building a more stable fair society in the face of such hostile uncertainty runs deep throughout. Inspired by the use and mix of bleak colours and destruction by fellow Welsh contemporary artist Ivor Davis’ 2016 major exhibition at the National Museum Cardiff, Ani’s latest EP reflects that show’s despondent expositions of society in Wales. Later invited to perform with Davis as part of this extended vision, Ani’s resulting material can be heard channeled through the – perhaps most beautifully performed protest song of 2017 – lamentable panoramic closing track Cariad Cudd, which charts the “cruel” decline of Welsh industry.

Elsewhere on this six-track collection, she traverses Baroque new romanticism on the breathy echoing Y Ddawns – last year’s single included once again in this package -, Alison Goldfrapp whispery Dietrich candy strobe light meets Grimes on the cool reflective pulsing Dal I Droi, and a Valley-girl Madonna riding over sine waves on the Moroder-esque Geiriau. It all sounds quite Europhile – in fact Y Ddawns is a prime Eurovision entry in waiting – and glowing, straddling the serious with crystal synth pop.

Critics are always finding the most tenuous evidence and links for trends or movements in music, but Ani is the second former Welsh member of the twee doo-wop girl group The Pipettes to make the shift into electronic music, following her sister, the rising and critically lauded Gwenno, in honing a solo career. Both sisters arrive on a wave of a renaissance in Welsh electronica, with mostly unassuming artists and bedroom mavericks producing some of the best and interesting examples of the genre in the last five or so years; from the avant-garde and techno of R. Seiliog and the Cam o’r Tywyllwch radio show to the Ritalin-starved hyper sample electro-punk of The Conformist.

Ani Saunders is another impressive advocate of the Welsh spirit and artistic confidence, producing some of the most danceable and evocatively politically, socially charged electronic pop in 2017.





ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Ayfer Simms



Alasdair Roberts  ‘Pangs’
Drag City

We would dance around a flame to a convivial, festive and bustling horde some centuries ago, we would be amid a budding ardent party with a Celtic twist, we would have a sense of freedom, and jubilation, the kind that swept across the 60s, we would raise our hands and let the flowing, upbeat, melancholic songs of Alasdair Roberts guide us through the path of some ancient relief’s concoctions.

We would feel the pain, striking and sharp, brought upon by the fear of some eerie creatures lurking in the dark forest and we would find comfort in being hurdled together singing Alasdair’s airs.

We’d wield our hands remarkably close to the sparks of the heat, at the center of things, to signify the greatness of human bonds, we would hold some electric guitars and add an era to those ancient rhymes, we would follow the wind’s direction and let the vocal chords vibrate like Alasdair’s haunting whispers.

His music awakens some long forgotten practices, some exalted moments between individuals, such as weeping of joy and mourning together in front of the invisible great black wolves aura nagging our psyches. With this modern folk music, the world seems forever colossal and our hopes even more heightened.





PLAYLIST
Compiled by Dominic Valvona


Monolith Cocktail - playlist 27

Continuing in 2017 with the first of, we hope, many Monolith Cocktail Socials, Dominic Valvona presents another eclectic playlist. In case you don’t know the drill, previously only ever shared via our Facebook profile and on Spotify, our regular Monolith Cocktail Social playlists will also be posted here on the blog itself. With no themes or demarcated reasoning we pick songs from across a wide spectrum of genres, and from all eras. #27 includes thoughtful post-country evocations from Bruce Langhorne; southern-drawled, Steppenwolf-esque, roadtrip musings from Circuit Rider; a rebooted live version (with friends) of I Have Known Love by Silver Apples; diaphanous soulful rays of Africa from post-punk outfit Family Fodder; a Malian jazz odyssey from Le Mystere Jazz de Tombouctou; desert rock yearnings from Mdou Moctar; exquisite balladry from Drakkar Nowhere; the sweetest of soul takes from the felonious The Edge Of Daybreak; and 23 other equally evocative, stirring, foot-shuffling and sublime tracks from across the decades.



Bruce Langhorne  ‘Opening’
Circuit Rider  ‘Forever Angels Proud’
Trance Farmers  ‘She’s Made Of Rainbows’
Mistress Mary  ‘Dance Little Girl’
Elyse Weinberg  ‘Your Place Or Mine’
Sensations Fix  ‘Grow On You’
Silver Apples  ‘I Have Known Love’
Family Fodder/Vic Corringham  ‘Walls Of Ice’
Diane Coffee  ‘Never Lonely’
Black Peaches  ‘Chops On Tchoupitoulas’
Le Mystère Jazz de Tombouctou  ‘Leli’
Khiyo  ‘Amar Protibaader Bhasha’
T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo  ‘Finlin Ho’
Mdou Moctar  ‘Iblis Amghar’
Black Hippies  ‘Love’
The Beach Boys  ‘Here She Comes’
Dr. Lonnie Smith/George Benson/Ron Carter/Joe Lovano  ‘Apex’
Mongo Santamaria  ‘In The Mood’
Volta Jazz  ‘Air Volta’
The Frightnrs  ‘Trouble In Here’
The Olympians  ‘Sirens Of Jupiter’
King Tubby  ‘King Tubby’s Special’
SOMA  ‘Deepa’
Moloch  ‘Dance Chaney Dance’
Takeshi Terauchi (Blue Jeans)  ‘Tsugaru Jongarabushi’
Los York’s  ‘Facil Baby’
The Critters  ‘Blow My Mind’
Pierre Cavalli  ‘Cacador’
The Edge Of Daybreak  ‘Your Destiny’
Roy Wood  ‘Songs Of Praise’
Drakkar Nowhere  ‘Any Way’


New Music Reviews Roundup
Words: Dominic Valvona


Monolith Cocktail - Baba Zula


Welcome back to the first review roundup of 2017, which gets off to a grand start with this dazzling cornucopia of new releases from Baba Zula, Dearly Beloved, Hanitra, Mikko Joensuu, Piano Magic, James McArthur and Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward. 

In this edition of my regular review roundup we have the grand sweeping gestures of Mikko Joensuu’s second album in the Amen cycle; the second idiosyncratic folk and country idyllic songbook from James McArthur; some tender sounds “from the heart of Madagascar” in the shape of the Island’s talented songstress Hanitra; plus a bit of hardcore from the Dearly Beloved. There’s also a trio of special anniversary releases, the first, a triumvirate of solo work from Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward, celebrating the tenth birthday of Jezus Factory Records, the second and third mark the twentieth anniversaries of both the chamber pop dreamers Piano Magic, who have chosen to have one last fling before disbanding this year, and the polygenesis dub Istanbul outfit Baba Zula.


Baba  Zula   ‘XX’
Released  by  Glitterbeat  Records,  27th  January  2017


BABA ZULA. (FOTOGRAF: CAN EROK - 20.09.2016)

BABA ZULA. (FOTOGRAF: CAN EROK – 20.09.2016)

 

Bastions of a psychedelic Istanbul scene, they’ve arguably made their very own, the omnivorous Anatolian Acid Mother Temple of dub-styled Baba Zula have been melding all their many musical inspirations together for twenty years now. Co-founded by Osman Muret Ertel and Levent Akman in 1996, the kaleidoscopic group originally sprung from Ertel’s previous ZeN Outfit as a one-off soundtrack project for a film director friend. Two decades later and we can surely assume that Baba Zula won out.

Inspired by the first wave of Turkish bands, that grew out of a previous generations atavistic folk scene, in the 1960s, notably the psych pioneers Moğollar, Ertel and Akman helped revitalize an age of experimentation, lost during the tumultuous upheavals of Turkey’s coups in the 70s and 80s. Politically acute, challenging the authorities with trance-like joyous expression, Baba Zula are once again finding themselves overshadowed by developments in their own backyard. And so just when we and their comrades need them that discerning label of new musical discoveries from the African continent and beyond, Glitterbeat Records, have decided to celebrate the band’s legacy with a generous double helping of reimagined material and a whole host of transmogrified dub treatments from congruous bedfellows and admirers alike – including the Mad Professor, Dr. Das and Glitterbeat’s quasi in-house band Dirtmusic.

Choosing a unique method of documenting that twenty-year career (and counting), Ertel explains: “None of the pieces here are in their original forms. Instead, we picked remixes, re-recordings, collaborations, live tracks, all the possibilities, but none of these have been released before.”



Transformed but not enough to completely obscure the source, the first of these two CDs (or albums) travels back and forth across the decades, with the earliest example being the feverish female protagonist orgasm over a DJ Shadow backbeat Erotika Hop from 1997, and one of the latest, a nine-minute Tamikrest-on-an-exchange-trip-to Byzantine Aşiklarin Sözu Kalir (otherwise known as “External Is The Word Of Poets”). Elsewhere you’ll find the group’s biggest hit to date, Bir Sana Bir De Bana (“One For You And One For Me”) playfully re-styled as a Gainsbourg-on-the-Bosphorus duet between a French woman and an Armenian man.

Opening this meandering journey, Ozgür Ruh showcases the group’s signature languid dub sound; a free-spirited melting of ascending, whirling electric saz (a long-necked lute-like instrument), accentuated brushed bendir hand drums, longing male and female vocals and a cosmic Jamaica blown off course towards the Adriatic, vibe. However, there’s no mistaking the band’s roots on Biz Size Asik Olduk; a curious dervish romance with the candor and atmosphere of a desert blues serenaded camel caravan trail. The final two tracks are live. There’s, what sounds at first like a tuning-up session, kosmische freestyle Çöl Aslanlari performance from the Bada Bing in Berlin (handed over to Einstürzende Neubauten’s Alexander Hacke to mix) and a nineteen-minute experimental reverb-heavy dub odyssey version of Abdülcanbaz from the Piraeus Resistance Festival In Greece to lose oneself in. Both are great examples of their untethered abandon and float-y transcendental mesmerism.

 

The accompanying (mis)adventures in dub companion is a veritable feast of the most somnolent drifting mixes. It helps that Baba Zulu’s exotic vapours lend themselves so well to dub, imbued as they are by it. But with no limits set and with a litany of dub explorers allowed a free-reign to remodel, the band’s material is swathed in so much echo that it almost disappears into the ether.

The first few tracks are by the group themselves and someone known as “arastaman”. Reshaping their own catalogue and sound they use the lingering traces of a song and submerge beneath a smog of warbled theremin and phaser effects on Alem and cut up the vocals on a mind-bending Ufak. Guest mixes include the radical Asian Dub Foundations’ Dr Das and his Uncle style heavy shake-up of Iki Alem; Dirtmusic’s mysterious lunar sandscaped ‘Hopche’; and The Mad Professor’s quartet of polygenesis traverses: merging a South American tropical groove to the Istanbul guitar cycles of ‘Baso’ and playing with the convulsing vocals and howling calls of ‘Erotik Adab’.

 

To a backdrop of continued violence (at the time of going to press there’s been both the shootings at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub and the car bomb/gun attack on the courthouse in Izmir, in just the last two weeks alone) and heightened turmoil, caught in the midst of suppressive regime currently removing dissenting and alternative voices from the street with the most tenuous of reasons it’s hardly surprising that many wish to escape the realities of daily life. Baba Zula know more than most how dire the situation is; Ertel’s own late uncle, a journalist, was tortured and imprisoned for his troubles. Though highly entrancing and mostly destined for psychedelic shindigs this eclectic voyage is every bit the rallying call of protestation; just existing amounts to a form of dissention in the face of increasing nationalism. Here’s to another twenty years of stirring the omnivorous musical stew.



Dearly  Beloved   ‘Admission’
Released  by  Aporia  Records,  January  27th  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Dearly Beloved

Recorded through Dave Grohl’s acquired custom-built 70s Neve 8028 analogue console, at his famous Studio 606, the desk that that facilitated Nirvana’s Nevermind has imbued the latest steely hardcore row from the Dearly Beloved duo. Still thundering along at a furious velocity, thrash-powering their way through a scowling mix of Black Flag, Black Sabbath and The Pixies, the dynamic Niva Chow/Rob Higgins gut-thumping and bewailing partnership have acquired an extra, controlled, ingredient of grunge.

More suffused, the light and shade of Admission rages in a thoughtful depth between dystopian drones and full-on esoteric rock’n’roll, ala a Mogadon induced Royal Trux in a switchblade scuffle with The Black Keys – the opening RIP track showing a flair even for southern boogie blues, albeit a very noisy one. For a band that fluidly absorbs a litany of hardcore, punk and doom influences, Admission is surprisingly melodic and nuanced. And so you’re are just as likely to hear echoes of Placebo and the Moon Duo as you are Death From Above 1979, and run through not just broody miasma moods but also fun-thrilled frolics.

 

Whipped into shape (not literally of course!) by Ramones and Misfits producer Daniel Rey who laid out a relentless schedule that had the duo rehearse in a East L.A. sweatbox for eight hours a day for a week, the Dearly Beloved for the first time entrusted an outsider to sit behind the controls. As it turns out, the road-tested and solid work out sessions have captured the duo’s live energy perfectly, delivering a lean, sinewy, heavy-as-fuck rage with all the indulgences and chaff taken out. That tumultuous, controlled but far from caged performance matches the turbulence of the times we’re living in.




Pawlowski,  Trouvé  &  Ward   ‘Volume 2’
Released via  Jezus  Factory  Records,  January  20th  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward ‘Volume 2’

 

A decade on from the last Mauro Pawlowski, Rudy Trouvé and Craig Ward triumvirate compilation of solo work and to celebrate the tenure of the label vassal of so many Belgium borne alternative rock projects, Jezus Factory Records have now released a long-awaited follow up; named simply Volume 2. All at one point or another members of Belgium’s, arguably, most famous export dEUS, all three musicians have also shared a highly complex interlocking relationship; each serving together in a rambunctious myriad of side projects, team-ups and explorations, most notably The Love Substitutes, iH8 Camera and Kiss My Jazz: if anyone could ever be bothered, it would make a convoluted but interesting rock family tree diagram. Crossing over and extending beyond the dEUS hub it feels like the common bond of releasing their material on Jezus Factory could see the trio join forces at any moment.

Showcasing their individual flights of fantasy, this second volume of solo work is sometimes bizarre, often curious and occasionally silly; traversing the more serious glacial suffused drones of Ward’s four-track travail; the guitar and post-punk synth of Trouvé; and the killer-ziller-driller lunacy of Pawlowski’s imaginary 80s movie soundtrack, complete with commercial breaks!

A familiar face on the Monolith Cocktail, the erudite Scottish guitarist/composer Craig Ward was originally invited many moons ago to holiday in the Belgium city of Antwerp by dEUS and Zita Swoon stalwart Stef Kamil Carlens. Somehow instead of returning home, he stayed and signed-up for in a stint in a local band, Kiss My Jazz, before inevitably joining the dEUS fraternity; playing guitar and delivering vocals on the In A Bar Under The Sea and The Ideal Crash albums. Ward subsequently left to form both The Love Substitutes and A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen. More recently he’s carved out a solo niche for himself with the suitably evocative ambient suite New Third Lanark whilst also running a guesthouse in his native Scotland. Earlier in 2016 he was awarded a Scottish Arts Council grant to complete his ambitious solo opus Leave Everything Move Out, which was actually recorded in France with the Grammy Award winner David Odlum. Sticking to the same tone of moody strangeness and drawn-out drones, his environmentally descriptive quartet of soundscapes cover the territory of Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream. Ward circumnavigates with a touch of subtle gravitas the mysterious veiled landmarks, circling the behemoth omnipresence of Mount Betsy; hovering In The Wet Maze; dreamily rowing the topographic ocean from Island To Any Islands; and lurking in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a Sunless compression of resonating guitar notes and heavy-leaden synth modulations. It’s classic Ward at his deepest.





Still holding down the day job as a member of dEUS, Pawlowski has really gone for broke on this compilation with his 80s pastiche soundtrack. A quick run-through of the CV is needed first before we go into the details. Pawlowski originally rose to fame in the Evil Superstars, until they called it quits at the peak of their career. He went on however to release the Dave Sardy produced album Songs From A Bad Hat and launch a string of experimental groups and collaborations, including a Dutch language folk LP under the Maurits Pauwels appellation, and the Hitsville Drunks and Gruppo Di Pawlowski (recorded incidentally by Steve Albini) projects.

Throwing a tongue-in-cheek (I assume) curveball at 80s cinema, his eleven-track mix of Casio demo display crescendos, yapping seal noises, and Carpenter meets John Hughes is pure bonkers. There’s bad acid telly binges and garbled industrial menace aplenty, but the best is saved until last with the finale firework exploding retro tribute to AM college radio rock, Starught: a mix-up of Strangers When We Meet era Bowie, The Cars, Queen and Boston, it is an unashamed punch-in-the-air love song anthem. Pawlowski’s contribution is certainly the most varied and odd, detached from the more serious and dour tones of his album mates.

 

The final leg, the baton handed over to Trouvé, fluctuates between the stripped guitar sounds of The Durutti Column and a 80s homage of despondent Visage and Soft Cell synth maladies. Originally a founder member of dEUS but tiring of the group’s major label success and all the bullshit that comes with it (the band’s debut was released on Island Records), Trouvé left to form the Heavenhotel Presents label and play in the Ornette Coleman inspired experimental project Tape Cuts Tape, the The Mechanics (with Pawlowski) and the “all star” improvising iH8 Camera.

With a wealth of experience and enough of an eclectic swag of influences behind him, from post-punk to avant-garde jazz, ready to surface at anytime, his twelve-strong contribution of meditative and considered explorations reflects an omnivorous craving. And so one minute you’ll hear a hint of Spiritualized or DAF, the next minute, John Cale, yet the underlying sound remains signature Trouvé.

 

A decade in, weary and beleaguered with the current Brexit woes (just wait until it’s actually been triggered and unraveled), Andrew Bennett’s showcase label for music from the nation that unfortunately symbolizes both the best and worst excesses of the EU, has a challenging future ahead of it. There’s no signs however of fatigue nor a dip in quality or originality; Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward still producing the goods no matter what the augurs foretell.




James  McArthur  and  the  Head  Gardeners   ‘Burnt  Moth’
Released  via  Moorland  Records,  20th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - James McArthur

Conjuring up an idyllic image of sipping Cider with Rosie on the back of Constable’s Hay Wain, Welsh-born troubadour James McArthur and his Head Gardeners troupe return with another lilting album of bucolic folk and country songs on Burnt Moth.

Following up on the Strange Readings From The Weather Station debut, which announced McArthur’s move from backing Paul Weller on drums to fronting his very own songbook, this second peaceable collection continues to wander a perpetual end of summer into early autumn seasonal landscape. Picking away and plucking attentively in the style of Bert Jansch or Mike Cooper, the serenade-style poetic musicianship on display is effortlessly timeless, yet the often meandering lyrics chime with the contemporary themes of an ever-changing society moving unabated towards a digital, even virtual, immersion: encroaching on the tranquility and earnest pastoral ideals of a slower-paced more personal interactive world, which to all intents and purposes is proving a sanctuary from the fully-connected hum of the internet.

 

Mostly acoustic, McArthur is also accompanied throughout by an accentuated backing of burnished and dampened drums, slowly released from its quivered tension strings (all co-written and arranged with Jim Willis, who also plays mandolin on the album), rustic pining pedal steel guitar and on the classically leaning yearned To Do the lulling coos of guest vocalist Samantha Whates. Not only assisting McArthur in the making of this album but also chipping in with backing vocals and bass on the roulette wheel of lovelorn fortune, Evens On Green, is Joel Magill of the psychedelic Canterbury band Syd Arthur.

 

Burnt Moth is a charming sun-dappled tapestry of McCartney-esque, and on the title track finale, Harry Nilsson (fronting a dreamy Morricone romance) idiosyncratic storytelling and musings. McArthur is in no hurry to reveal and unfurl the album’s many nuances and beauty; toiling away gently to create a most enjoyable and thoughtful songbook.




Mikko  Joensuu   ‘Amen  2’
Released  by  Svart  Records,  end  of  2016.


Monolith Cocktail - Mikko Joensuu

 

The middle of an ambitious all-expansive soul-searching trilogy, the second Amen chapter finds a vulnerable Mikko Joensuu rising from the porch of his cabin retreat to step forth into the radiant majesty of the Finnish landscape. Finding an obvious awe-inspiring beauty in the stunning vistas yet equally overwhelmed, Joensuu attempts to cope with his troubled past. An epiphany if you like, the Finnish troubadour “lost his religion” a while back and has since been attempting to draw back from a mental abyss. Imbued with the candid soul and gospel of Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized and the melodious drone of My Bloody Valentine, Joensuu’s second album in this triumvirate cycle balances the ethereal with a tumultuous chorus of peaks and lows; the opening Drop Me Down opus for example gently builds from the diaphanous to a nosier cacophony of horns. Even when the fuzz, distortion and tribal backbeat dynamics are let loose the dappled light pours in.

An alternative questioning and sincere hymn supported by the North Finnish veranda, Amen 2 is a grandiose stunning visceral work of art.




Hanitra   ‘Lasa’
Released  by  ARC  Music,  6th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Hanitra ‘Lasa’

 

An unofficial cultural ambassador for her homeland of Madagascar, the sagacious and much-celebrated talented songstress Hanitra sheds light on both the personal and environmental plights of the unique Indian Ocean Island and the universal suffrage of women in the wider world on her latest album Lasa.

For many, Madagascar continues to be an enigma: Famous unfortunately as the title of a DreamWorks animation franchise, but apart from its reputation as a colourful menagerie for all kinds of exotic wildlife and fauna, it remains a mystery to many. Musically speaking it has attracted a host of composers and musicians, including the recently revived French ethno jazz maestro Jef Gilson with his Et Malagasy masterpiece.

 

Almost as an anthropological experiment and survey Madagascar’s isolation and history has fascinated many. Lying off the southeastern coast of Africa, it’s strategic position has made it a popular port-of-call for traders and explorers, though many literally bumped into it unaware it existed. Despite a litany of famed travellers, from the Arabs to Marco Polo, recording its discovery over the centuries, it would be France that colonized it. However, whether warranted or not, conquerors and traders alike left traces, resulting in a cross-pollination of influences including music. On Lasa you can hear this legacy well with elements of jazz, the Balearics, Arabia and even the reverberations of an old Afghanistan – resonating from the evocative sound of that country’s lute-like rubab instrument; used to plaintive dreamy effect throughout on this album – entwined with a distinct foundation of Madagascar folk and gentle African rhythms. But it’s the award-winning siren’s vocals, flexing with élan, which encompass this imbued richness. Inherently timeless, fluidly moving between cooing, almost lullaby, and effortless soaring tension, Hanitra’s voice subtly matches the themes of her album without showboating. The double-meaning title song for instance, translated from the Malagasy dialect as to “go past”, is an elegy of a sort to the French-Canadian singer Lhasa de Sela, who passed away in 2010 from breast cancer. Yet this touching tribute to a singer is far from sentimental; its Middle Eastern permutations and tenderness sweet and reflective rather than downcast and lamentable.

 

Soothingly in an array of colourful hues and tones, Hanitra addresses the themes of maltreatment, meted out both physically and psychologically towards women, on Eka and Avia, deforestation, in particular the devastating environmental costs of cutting down and selling Madagascar’s rosewood, on Mivalo, and another of those tributes, this time to the Vezo fishermens wives on the Island’s southeastern coastlines, eking out a hard living, on the oceanic motion Ampela. There’s celebration, paeans even, with the relaxed, lilting defense of same-sex marriage on Myriam and an invitation to dance in joyful abandon on Lalao. Whatever the emotion, Hanitra articulates her concerns and protestations with a soulful sincerity.

 

Lasa’s extended title is “from the heart of Madagascar”, and this is very true, yet the Island’s melting pot of musical influences and Hanitra’s own global travels mean this album is in fact universal.



Piano  Magic   ‘Closure’
Released  by  Second  Language  Music,  20th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Piano Magic

Calling time on a twenty-year career with one last swansong, the Anglo-French Baroque indie dreamers Piano Magic echo the sentiments and themes of their 2000 song No Closure on their final majestic and profound album, Closure.

The self-proclaimed purveyors of “ghost rock”, formed at the height of the Britpop, have traversed and mapped out a moody romantic pathway for themselves over the years. Originally starting out as a lo-fi electronica trio in 1996, soon finding favour with John Peel, Piano Magic gradually grew into a full-on tour de force alternative rock band as the millennium drew near; recording amongst their notable cannon both a soundtrack for the Spanish director Bigas Luna’s Son De Mar and the Writers Without Homes album, which famously featured the folk legend Vashti Bunyan – who emerged from a 30-year musical silence to dust off the quelled vocal chords for the band. Still far off his critical-applauded born again renaissance as a “torch singer”, that same album also featured the dour talents of John Grant; just one of many collaborations over the years, the band also working at one time or another with Alan Sparhawk of Low, Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance, Cornershop and Tarwater. Closure is no different in featuring a suitably congruous number of guest spots, with Peter Milton Walsh, singer of the fellow chamber pop, Australian band, The Apartments channeling Mick Harvey, and Oliver Cheer (aka Dollboy) providing a south of the Rio Grande style swooning brass accompaniment on the Choir Boys-travail-a-literary-rich-Outback Attention To Life. Offering harmonic and atmospheric support on backing vocals, Josh Hight of Irons can be heard wafting about on the album’s opening grandiose and subtle opus title track and the stripped-down electro pop, in a quasi New Order style, Exile.

 

Drawn to a despondent melancholy, a most diaphanous one at that, the sagacious founder member and songwriter Glen Johnson is aided in this enterprise by Franck Alba (guitars), Jerome Tcherneyan (drums, percussion), Alasdair Steer (bass) and the band’s original drummer from their debut gig at the infamous Wag Club, Paul Tornbohm, now providing keyboards. Wounded and troubled as ever by the lingering traces and ghosts of past relationships and liaisons, Johnson’s resigned poetics attempt to meet head-on those feelings he just can’t seem to lay to rest: as Johnson calls it, the “mythical formal conclusion”, the need to “move on” from broken relationships is not so easy. And so he croons, “Let’s get this thing sewn up” on the Morricone meets Ry Cooder cinematic title track, knowing full well that “…you never get closure.” The supernatural echoes of a lost love, channeled through a dusty answering machine message séance, on Landline leave the singer’s voice paled and weakened; lamenting loss form the far side of the ether. Marooned as a passive onlooker to the goings-on in the backstreets of his southeast London neighbourhood, a voyeuristic, removed Johnson (in Talk Talk mode) vanishes almost completely before our very ears. The song’s sad lyrics it must be said are a most beautiful kind of misery.

 

Magnificent in their despair, the musicianship poised, purposeful and subtly stirring, Piano Magic’s last ever fling is one of the band’s most accomplished, and definitely one to savour. As near perfect as any Piano Magic suite can be, Closure proves that you can perhaps after all find a satisfactory ending.




%d bloggers like this: