NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Welcome as always to the latest edition of my reviews roundup. Meeting with my approval this month, there’s the (both literally and musically metaphorical) ‘laissez passer’ wandering TootArd from the Golan Heights making an international debut on Glitterbeat Records; the return, in a manner, of the enigmatic Brighton-based artist Matt Finucane; a stunning theatrical avant-garde meets Chanson and morose romantic pop opus from AUDIAC, waltzing onto the stage after years of inactivity; the pique soundclash of Swiss drum and electric bass combo Ester Poly; and the fourth album of ‘lower-case’ minimalism and ambient music from Andrew Heath.

I also take a look at the fanboy style resurrection of the obscure 80s Pennsylvania garage, punk, post-rock and psych outfit In Time, by thrift store digger Steve Krakow, who celebrates the fleeting and undiscovered group’s only album (found unloved by Krakow on cassette tape) and a number of unreleased attic recordings for the Guerssen label. Last but in no means the least of today’s selections, I take a look at the debut album from the Berlin duo of kooky and fun electronica and techno, Psycho & Plastic, Kosmopop. Championed from the very start on this very blog, it seems to have taken the duo – who to be fair are busy with a multitude of projects including the running of their label GiveUsYourGOLD – an age to finally release it.

Read on…

TootArd  ‘Laissez Passer’
Glitterbeat Records,  10th November 2017

 

Photo credit: Mercedes Ortego González.

Caught in, what might seem to them, a perpetual limbo, devoid of a recognized identity, the collective band members of the omnivorous Levant group TootArd are officially stateless: citizens in effect of nowhere. Growing up in the contested, bloodily fought over, Golan Heights the group’s mouthpiece, guitarist Hasan Nakhleh, articulates the predicament of a population stuck between two, once, warring factions – feeling detached with no legal representation; no sense of belonging – throughout the press notes that accompanied this, their latest album, Laissez Passer.

Carved up in two by the former warring states of Syria and Israel after the divisive Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the eventual ceasefire that followed – with the greater share by some distance given to the latter -, the Golan Heights has been uneasily observed by both parties for decades. Under an accord the following year, an international buffer zone – known as the UNDOF ‘purple line’ – was put in place to help keep a fragile peace. Before the apocalyptic civil – and proxy – war in Syria begun, both nations seemed to be approaching some agreement over the region. Israel however, following a policy of non-intervention, is in no hurry to secede ground to Syria.

Under the authority of Israel but without official citizenship, the native inhabitants of the western Golan Heights region are forced to carry the special situation, ‘laissez passer,’ papers of TootArd’s album title to cross borders and travel. Despite this the group have found a certain musical freedom; amorphously drifting across those imposed demarcation lines to adopt styles from across the entire Levant; from Africa and even Jamaica. Originally covering the Caribbean island’s most famous musical export, the group started out playing reggae covers before relishing a change in direction.

However, before settling on their recent traverse fusion of desert blues – finding a commonality and affinity with the Beaudion and, equally stateless, Tuareg -, Arabic modalities, rock and funk influences, the founding members of the group all left for Europe; all going their separate ways: Hasen Nakhleh moving to Berlin and then Bern, recalls that this sojourn period would split the collective up internationally, yet when visiting home they would all regroup for impromptu performances in their native villages, as if they’d never been apart. After a two-year hiatus Hasen and his brother, multi-instrumentalist Rami Nakhleh – missing their fellow compatriots – organized a reunion of a sort, preparing the way forward for a reincarnation of their band.

 

With a new enthusiasm, new material and new sound, TootArd’s second album – though billed as their ‘international’ debut showcase – Laissez Passer has much to contemplate and pine over; framed as it is in the ‘blues’ tradition. Themes of identity and the chaos that continues to engulf their homeland dominate the album. Yet far from lamentable and sad this latest effort is surprisingly relaxed, with controlled swells of more funky and soulful driven upbeat rhythms throughout, and even the odd saunter of swaying joy. The languid reggae candor, transmogrified into a Levant groove, helps to create a sort of Baba Zula souk gait, whilst hints of Tamikrest and Tinariwen’s camel gangly, handclapping, desert blues funk gives the music a drive on both the title-track and, almost galloping and spinning into Dervish territory, Bayati Blues.

But those bluesy ruminating and gazing ponderously inducing themes do often sound haunting; especially with the addition of Ams Mdah’s snake charming and romantically dusky jazz saxophone evocations, and Hasen’s modified oud sounding electric guitar – extra frets added to ape the synonymous dulcet tones of the short-necked lute-like string instrument.

Bringing people together under darkening skies or gazing out across the Golan Heights prism back towards Syria with a Rast scale composed travailing moody accompaniment, TootArd flow and spiral subtly across the region soaking up ancestral musical customs as they go. Though imposed upon them, the Laissez Passer status hasn’t held the group back creatively: forcing them in fact by circumstance to find a new musical freedom. They are, even if it sounds a tad clichéd, only limited by their own restless imaginations, and this album indeed dreams big.




AUDIAC   ‘So Waltz’
Klangbad Records,  20th October 2017


In the age in which the majority of recording artists and bands are struggling to survive on the mediocre, almost vaporous, earnings from their craft and graft, it could be argued that without a monetary reward (no matter how modest) and without security you may as well take risks; push the boundaries; never compromise, and in the case of the Tübingen and Hamburg straddling duo AUDIAC, concentrate your efforts on producing a ‘work of art’. And make no mistake So Waltz is an ambitious album’ bordering at times on the theatrical, but definitely art-y.

Knowing admittedly nothing about this duo, I can only assume they were lucky enough to have at least the time to pursue these artistic ambitions. Though as the press release is not entirely clear, I assume this latest album is the follow up to Alexander Wiemer von Veen and Niklas David’s 2003 debut, Thank You For Not Discussing The Outside World; marking quite an absence between releases, but nevertheless indicating that they certainly had enough time to create an epic suite. They also had one of the (infamous) original co-founders of Germany’s most uncompromising iconic groups, the mighty Faust, Hans Joachim Irmler on board to produce; his impressive skillset, shaped in a baptism of fire during the Krautrock epoch, and explorations pushing his chagrins further into sonic experimentation.

 

Remaining true to that debut album however, AUDIAC still sound inspired by Chanson, trip-hop, chamber pop, psychedelic music and Kurt Weill. Only they drop some of those more psychedelic pretensions this time in favour of melodrama and spectacle; dancing in malcontent and lament to a semi-classical avant-garde soundtrack, both melodically beautiful and elegiacally forlorn.

With all the limitations and pressures lifted, the duo is able to put forward their grandiose schemes undaunted by commercial success: or so they say. And so moving quasi-classical soul merges with Popol Vuh like divine choral atmospheres, and harsher, stark declarations of pained expression. Not quite in the realms of Scott Walker but sailing pretty close, the vocals and backing fluctuate the malady intensity and constantly restless plunging piano playing and voice combo of Diamanda Galas at its most harrowing – especially on the tumultuous, in a state of despair and rage, Doberman -, and the aching blue-eyed soul of George Michael and cerebral crooning accentuation of David Sylvian at its most romantic. Yet this concatenate pan-European songbook, mostly travailing the moody northern realms of Germany, France and the Lowlands, evokes a penchant for the UK too. Hints of Massive Attack, Thom Yorke, an enervated Underworld, early Queen and the Welsh maverick John Cale appear amongst the waltzing, gushing and graceful allusions of a spurned brooding European protagonist – probably sucking on a Gitanes; carrying all the weight of the world’s problems on his shoulders.

Returning with an impressive minor opus, So Waltz sounds like it took a lot of time and effort to create. Highly dramatic, occasionally indulgent, yet always quite moving they make quite the statement with this bleak but diaphanous and expressive tragedy.






Psycho & Plastic  ‘Kosmopop’
GiveUsYourGOLD,  20th October 2017


 

Guiding lights into the expanses of an imaginary galaxy, the Psycho & Plastic duo of Berlin dance music stalwarts, Thomas Tichai and Alexandre Decoupigny, search both inner and outer space with a suave funky and cosmic techno soundtrack on their new album, Kosmopop.

Previously releasing a string of EPs and videos, with the emphasis on fun and quirky electronic dance music experimentation – bordering at times on the goofy and cartoonish -, the duo have finally found time to produce a more complex, daresay conceptual, album; with aloof wondrous inspirations abound. Self-released through their burgeoning label GiveUsYourGOLD (Armour, AXLOTL, Irk Yste), their debut album proper dials down the more loony, bubbly and tropical kooky influences in favour of smoother, groovier rhythms. This isn’t to suggest they’ve suddenly become serious; the larks and optimism remain, with fond homages to the first and second summers of love, and a particular penchant for the unconscious organic flowering of the 90s rave scene.

 

Alluding to certain science-fiction ascetics in the artwork, the music is itself alien and mysterious at times, erring towards Kosmische influences like Tangerine Dream on the more enigmatic searching voyages – check the brocaded synth fanning, solar winds blowing and whistling satellite signally Superflare and Banco de Gaia does Mayan temple dub Entropy.

For the major part however, the music sounds like a Mir Space Station house band of Der Plan, Niles Rodgers, International Pony and Felix da Housecat beaming down a love-in direct to the berlin dancefloors. Expect to hear astral funk lightly entwining with early echoes of the electro hip hop compilations; echoes and specs of an alien presence reverberating and floating over Chicago House; sitar like brass-y meditations chiming along to pocket calculator algorithms; stoic Germanic tuned narration encouraging philosophical self-discoveries across the universe whilst also urging the listener “to get down” to tribal beats and 808 preset percussion – the four-to-the-floor disco punk Divine Loser even reimagines Depeche mode being born in Düsseldorf rather than Basildon.

Psycho & Plastic’s interstellar travels flow in a cyber boogie motion, gazing as they do into the wonders of a funky techno and as pop disco vision of space. Kosmopop is a cracking debut album and marks a small but significant sophisticated change in the duo’s style; more ambitious, smoother and sleeker.






Andrew Heath  ‘Soundings’
Disco Gecko,  3rd November 2017


 

Praised as a sort of progressive sound and ambient music torchbearer of a genre renowned for such luminaries as Brian Eno and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Andrew Heath’s own experiments in the field lean towards the reification of the fleeting, disturbed and ephemeral quiet traces of ‘people within spaces’. The self-styled composer of ‘lower-case’ minimalism evokes enigmatic, mysterious and occasionally mournful passages of evolving, passing time through the use of found and created sound manipulation and in-situ (a concatenate theme that connects to Heath’s site specific video art) field recordings.

His fourth solo album for Disco Gecko follows on from previous work, building up both synthetic and natural textural layers, drones, obscured broadcast voices and sonorous piano phrases. However, the main difference with Soundings is the atmosphere it creates; the echoing leitmotif of creaking footsteps pacing up and down a room and the almost heavy methodical concentration of memories pouring from the typewriter notation for me conjure up a writer’s garret: the author’s struggle, turmoil and thoughts represented by Heath’s serialism soundtrack.

Used subtly the neo-classical instrumentation that swirls and floats around the concrete sounds is used to bring melody, intrigue and sometimes, sadness. As well as Heath’s lingering, pondering classical piano notes and scales, there’s a touching twinkling and warmer Fender Rhodes offering lighter jazzy tinged, comfort and balance; a counterpoint interaction between the two instruments that began in the 90s when Heath collaborated with Felix Joy under the experimental Aqueous banner. It also resonates with similar piano explorations by Roedelius, who as it happens has worked with both Heath and Joy previously, most famously on the Meeting The Magus album, and more recently with Heath and fellow avant-garde composer/artist Christopher Chaplin on the live improvised recording Triptych In Blue. Roedelius could be said to have an open-ended collaboration with Heath, who it must be said can’t help but be enthused by the Kluster/Cluster/(and in more recent times) Qluster trinity steward of Kosmische and neo-classical exploration.

Another (on-going) collaboration with the Dutch ambient musician Anne Chris Bakkes continues on both the album’s winter moody traipse through the Dutch province of Noorderhaven, and the serene Happenstance articulation. Bakkes on her part performs a masked and fluttering guitar peregrination and plays with more unusual, mostly unidentifiable background sounds on the two tracks: described in the press release as ‘ephemeral’.

Breaking the veiled, swirling clouds hovering atmospherics, Stéphane Marlet and Bill Howgego are on hand to offer both arching serious, lamentable, and swooned jazz inspiration; the former enriches the cyclonic pondering Days In-Between with saddening cello, the latter tenderly sailing above the Tibetan imaginations of A Break In The Clouds with a striking clarinet flourish.

Pivoting between levitating above the heavens and space and counting the days in a haunted soundscape of captured movements and memories on Earth, Soundings hints at scenes and scenery alike; the traces of which make up this gently unfolding series of ambient descriptive passages in time.






Matt Finucane  ‘Threaten Me With Your Love’
Light Crude,  25th October 2017


 

Returning after what seems an age away from crafting some of the most understated moodily resigned and mentally fatigued indie, Brighton-based all-rounder Matt Finucane is back with an instrumentally pared down, but just as sophisticated, duo of EPs this Autumn.

Not that we wish to pry, and only knowing Finucane from a distance, it seems his travails and dysfunctional personal life has got the better of him recently and in the past: hence the absence; part of which was spent in rehab. Threaten Me With Your Love is the idiosyncratic troubadour’s first proper release since then.

Back doing what he does so well, with eight new songs split between two staggered EPs, Finucane has employed the talents of fellow Brighton musician Mik Hanscomb – one half of the city’s (via Southend) pastoral Laurel Canyon imbued folk siblings Junkboy – to accompany him both live and on this recording.

 

Once again channeling vague notions of Lou Reed, David Slyvian, Ian Hunter, Bowie and Bolan, Finucane’s more relaxed, even languid, acoustic heavy material has an unintentional but accepted ‘druggy malaise’ feel to it. Crooning with a certain drowsy but meandrous confidence, our swooning maverick also often channels the quivering moodiness and slick sneer of a 50s rock’n’roll performer – similar in style to Bradford Cox’s very own donning of the vestiges of a crooning 50s rock’n’roll balladeer on the Atlas Sound LP Parallax. Updated of course with slivers of glam rock and post punk, and with the concerns and sentiments closer in principle to the loss of innocence and the emotional wreckage of ‘dead man’s curve’ than the harmless High School melodramas of the genre.

Experimenting with delivery throughout, the vocals often trail off, swooning into the crevices of Finucane’s darkened room, or loosely hovering between both the high and low registers; tripping along in what sounds like an exercise in catharsis; releasing thoughts in a melodically enriching counsel session. The music echoes that mood, both rallying and accentuating the sentiment and evocations on the acoustic rhythm and electric guitar – Moon Madness for some reason reminded me of Mick Harvey. However, the final song of this four track collection, Self Possession Version Two, moves through a number of musical ideas; reverberating brassy guitar strings jangle through Gothic cowboy boot spurs rattling back beat, new romanticism and the Velvet Underground before pushing into a bent-out-of-shape Sonic Youth and ending on a haunting final waning dissipation.

Still finding his range with one of his most stripped-down recordings yet, Finucane thankfully makes a welcome return to the music scene, and once again defies categorization with a unique, if despondent lovelorn, style of delivery.






In Time  ‘Inside Your Mind’
Mental Experience via Guerssen,  13th October 2017


 

The, what seemed almost limitless at the time, pool of lost and obscure garage band treasures was drained a long time ago. Well, at least the halcyon days of the original primal punk, pop-sike, blue-eyed soul and psychedelic R&B back beat era in the 60s; the architects of the Nuggets-Rubbles-Pebbles-Teenage Shutdown compilations feast truly now exhausted. Drying up the reserves of every band and tenuous collection of misfits that ever recorded a single or had a whiff of a named – no matter how minor and obscure – record label or, managed to wow the locals in the provincial state scene for even the most briefest of moments, many crate-diggers and dewy-eyed salivating acid and garage freaks started dredging up the most amateur of home recordings and wannabe demos.

This process has been repeated for most genres, moving on to different more fertile ground in the following decades, and as with this obscurity from Pennsylvania outfit In Time, honing in on the 80s revival; though equally at the apex of both the raw indie and grunge fusions that were to come.

Skeptical about these finds ever since a musician I used to knock about with in the 90s – Spacemen 3 and Sun Ra enthusiast I recall – told me the story of when he and his band mates used to mischievously pass off mock garage band recordings of themselves as authentic lost ‘nuggets’ from the 60s USA hinterland; leaving these constructed recordings on cassette tapes in secondhand stores, or as the American’s would say “thrift stores”. Whether anyone was ever taken in or not, discovering such curiosities has always made me cautious and nervous. In the photocopied ‘ultra rare’ D.I.Y. mode, what might be a cunning ruse or by luck a damn good find, the only ever release by the In Time quartet, Inside Your Mind, was discovered in such circumstances in a Chicago ‘thrift store’. How it got there is anyone’s guess, but this discovery enthused the guy who found it, the Plastic Crimwave’s Steve Krakow, enough to set in motion a fanboy like zeal to track down the culprits responsible; leading to an official reissue style celebratory vinyl release of the boys only proper showcase: boosted by a number of unreleased raw and experimental detritus from the attic.

Krakow pinned down for long enough one of the original members of the shallow angst and knockabout youth punk-garage-psych for a terse interview; chronicling the little information he did obtain in the Ugly Things/Greg Shaw typewritten fanzine style accompanying liner notes. Surprised that anyone gave a shit, two decades on, Stephen Turk, Stephen Daly, Ed Keer and Anthony (AJ) Fischer nonetheless are now immortalized, in a fashion, by their champion Krakow.

 

‘Homespun’ indeed, In Time sound rough and sloppy, powering through a dizzy carnage of the TV Personalities, Subway Sect, 13th Floor Elevators, Swell Maps, The Dils, a thoroughly unclean version of The Clean, and The Gruesomes for starters. Growling and looning throughout, the often hard-to-fathom vocals change from a surly Yank version of John Lydon to a disheveled Dan Treacy; the music from primal rough’n ready Apache beat garage rock to indulgent shimmery meandering. Theme wise the band takes adolescent swipes at the elderly (Old Ladies) and those who meet the ire, or moon about isolation and detachment from the Outside world whilst reserving a special kind of malcontent and rage at a love spurned.

Whether its aping The Residents strangulating Paint It Black on the astonishing and lolloping Antonetta Perplexes Me, or sinking in the hallucinatory toxins of a vat of Kool Aid on the phaser messy experiment Many Are The Tears, the musical reference points are numerous and thickly applied. Despite sounding erratic, on the edge of distortion – the volume and cacophony constantly threatening to overload the sound – and about to fall apart, In Times spirited recordings and unfinished, rehearsal style ideas betray a melodious sophistication and decent performance dynamic. Too late for the original garage band phenomenon and for punk obviously, the band made sure they’d make, no matter how fleeting, some kind of mark on the 80s revival. And yet they are an augur for what was to follow, with hints of post-rock and grunge, and at times sounding like the forefathers of bands such as The Hunches.

 

Well there time has finally come, or at least a fanboy nod of approval in the right direction, a mark of respect. This collection is every bit as much about the obsession of Krakow as much as it is about the injustice that such a group could fail to catch on, disappearing instead into the ether…well, at least Pennsylvania’s attics and Chicago’s thrift stores.






Ester Poly  ‘Pique Dame’
Ikarus Records,  October 6th 2017


 

Experimentally rocking the cantons of their Swiss home for a while in their respective separate outfits, Béatrice Graf and Martina Bérther unite as an unholy drum and electric bass alliance under the Ester Poly (a scramble of ‘polyester’ of course) banner.

Pitching generation X(er) Bérther with Y(er) Graf, this rambunctious vehicle for the duo’s feminist protestations and irony began as a casual improvised meeting of minds a few years back, before blossoming and gaining traction with more structured, paced material. The spirit of volatility and avant-garde probing experimentation is no less diminished now that they’ve channeled that energy and ennui into nine, more controlled, songs: granted many fall outside the perimeters of the formulaic; amorphously clashing and flaying, dissipating and fading out between the loosest of vocal and instrumental performances and narratives.

 

Framed as a clash of styles and inspirations, with even the record label unsure of how exactly to position the duo’s new album, Pique Dame, Ester Poly perform with great dexterity and articulation as they thrash through brash Stilts bravado (Slutwalk); catch themselves in an overlap, churlishly antagonizing the 72 virgins myth to a Giallo paperback thriller soundtrack (72 Vierges); sultrily but with ominous overtones, apply trebly gangly Pylon throbbing basslines and a Raincoats reggae gait to a sinister Chanson cover (La Vie En Rose); and smash along to a bestial doom soundscapes (The Rise Of The Witches).

Not hampered in anyway by the limitations of their chosen drum and bass instrumentation, and hardly comparable to any of the many such similar combinations plying their trade, Ester Poly use a stack of effects and distortion tools to widen the sound spectrum; evoking hints and obvious homages to post-punk, art school, Jazz, doom rock, heavy metal, no wave and Krautrock in the process. The latter influence of which pops up a lot actually. Whether it’s the transmogrified inaction of a limping Mother Sky by Can on Dienstag, or the redolent constant rolling motion syncopation of the same group’s late rhythm provider, Jaki Liebezeit, or the prowling, growling bended bass playing of Faust’s Jean-Hervé Péron, that Teutonic influence be heard loud and clear: they even sound like a riot grrrl Neu! on the track Big Bang.

 

Recorded in more or less one-takes, both combatants facing off against each other in the studio with no headphones or click track, Pique Dame captures not only the lively, hostile and enraged but also the humour (even if it is dark and resigned) of this energetic union. Despite the raging tumults, dynamism and soundclash of ideas, this album is a steady and even showcase of festering ideas and moods. It’s also quite brilliant and encapsulates the ‘pique’ perfectly; arousing, curious and irritated!





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NEW MUSIC REVIEW ROUNDUP
Words: Dominic Valvona


Monolith Cocktail - Bargou 08


Tickling Our Fancy 045: A Journey Of Giraffes, Bargou 08, Delicate Steve, Dr Chan, Emptyset, The Food Of Love Project, Le Petit Diable and Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr.

In this edition of Tickling Our Fancy, the great and good of experimental and atavistic folk interpret sonnets and songs referenced in the works of Shakespeare, on The Food Of Love Project; John Lane produces his most experimental, esoteric, collection of field recordings yet, under his A Journey Of Giraffes alter ego; Delicate Steve marks his return with his first solo LP in four years, a collection of personable “songs without words”, entitled This Is Steve; Dr. Chan make their most “mature” howling skate punk meets primal garage row yet, $outh$ide $uicide; there’s mesmerizing Tunisian desert funk and atavistic vibes from Glitterbeat’s latest signing, the Bargou 08 project; the latest reification sonic suite from Emptyset; the accomplished jazz siblings, Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr’s recruit David Bowie’s Blackstar line-up for their Landed In Brooklyn suite; and finally, a welcome new solo direction from Jinko Vilova’s Ander López.


Bargou 08   ‘Targ’
Released  by  Glitterbeat  Records,  17th  February  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Bargou 08

Ahh…the sounds of a dusky reedy gasba flute; the tactile patted and burnished bendir drum; the rustic, earthy strung loutar, and the flowing, scaling vocals of the Bargou 08 project’s chief instigator, Nidhal Yahyaoui, set an impressive atmosphere in the first couple of minutes of the album’s opening, Chechel Khater.

The source of this sound derives from a relatively uncharted region that lies obscured between the mountains of northwest Tunisia and the Algerian border, called the Bargou Valley, which despite its barren isolation, has cultured a unique musical fusion, stretching back hundreds of years. Captivating and magical enough in its ancestral unchanged form, the songs of the valley, sung in the local Targ dialect (a language that is one part Berber, the other Arabic), are given a contemporary jolt that transforms the atavistic paeans, odes and poetry of yore into an intoxicating swirling rapture of electronic North African funk.

 

In the same way that Noura Mint Seymali’s griot traditions of Mauritania were boosted by an infusion of psych and a polyrhythmic, bordering on breakbeat jazz, drums the Bargou valley’s heritage is given a fattened keyboard bassline, warping Moog oscillations and a modern production. The results are exciting and often lively. The dynamics, especially Yahyaoui’s emotionally powerful vocals, are an especially imaginative giddy thumping mix of desert rock, Arabian dance music and snake-charming mysticism. Suffused with this cocktail of sounds, each passionate evocation, learned and passed on by the village elders, begins with a signature introduction of searching, plaintive or mysterious flute before a pulsing backbeat kicks in; suddenly jump-starting and placing those songs in a modern context. Modulating between the nocturnal desert soundclash of Dek Biya and the Barbary coastal tidal motion candor of Le Min Ijina, different eras are magnificently bridged.

 

Honed on the road, the Bargou 08 project, conceived by Yahyaoui and steered by his musical partner and friend, keyboard player and producer Sofyann Ben Youssef, was recorded in an ad hoc manner: Youssef juggling both the recording equipment whilst playing the Moog. Yet despite its often loose and hypnotic nature, devoid of tension, this album is a highly sophisticated, joyful, groovy and tight; the musicianship first rate.

 

Filled with a legacy of turmoil and tension that goes back an aeon the song’s many themes, from describing a lover’s vital attributes on Mamchout to laments of alienation, resonate strongly with the growing unease of events, initiated six years ago by the Arab Spring. Tunisia itself is facing a struggle and teetering on the edge, with no guarantee that certain cultures won’t just disappear or be fragmented in the ensuing melee. Originally setting out to document his Bargou Valley home’s musical heritage before it disappeared, Yahyaoui has successfully and thankfully, with Youssef, captured this rich mesmeric culture for posterity. And in doing so, produced a masterpiece that will endure. 2017 will have to be an exceptional year if Targ doesn’t make this year’s “best of lists”; it’s certainly earmarked for ours.





Various  Artists  ‘The  Food  Of  Love’
Released  by  Autolycus  Records,  via  PinDrop  and  TMD  Media, 20th February 2017


Monolith Cocktail - Food Of Love Project

 

Despite being one the most laid back people I know, though judging by the multiple projects, schemes, events and albums he’s working on at any one time he may just be tired out, Oxford polymath Sebastian Reynolds is in a constant state of ennui. He made the TOF column four times in a row last year with various remixes and productions including the multimedia Thai meets West production Mahajanaka – a collaboration fusion of both traditional Thai forms and Western contemporary dance and music, which reinterprets the ancient stories of Buddha on his multiple incarnations journey of perfection towards becoming fully enlightened. In between his roles as a promoter and head honcho at PinDrop, Seb’s set to release a pair of solo albums, Remembrance and Epiphany, later in the year. It is once again in his role as both a performer and instigator that sees him, alongside Tom McDonnell of TMD Media, commission and curate a celebration of the great bard Shakespeare.

 

Originally part of the wider Oxford Shakespeare Jubilee festival programme in 2016, the adroitly conceived compilation has had some trouble with its official release date, being put back and now hovering over January ready to drop at anytime. But the wait has been worthwhile. The twelve-strong track list features an inspired choice of both Oxford locals and carefully plucked international artists interpreting, transmogrifying and playing around with both the most fleeting and integral songs performed or merely referenced in Shakespeare great cannon of work. In what is now an obligatory requisite, Seb performs with both the electronic-indie outfit he’s been a member for years, Flights Of Helios, and as one half of a unique collaboration with Food Of Love project partner McDonnell, under The Children Of The Midnight Chimes appellation. The first of these is a constantly evolving alternative indie and trip-hop dance peregrination of I Loathe That I Did Love from Hamlet, the latter, is a heavy, thick supernatural vortex drone representation of O Death, Rock Me Asleep from Henry IV Part 2. Considering its source is “allegedly” from a poem written by the tragic fateful Anne Boleyn on the eve of her execution, this abstract soundscape, which features shrouded in the ether vocals from McDonnell, is like a haunting: the unrested spectre of Ann caught in perpetual anguish.

 

Equally good at removing the original material from any sort of familiarity, taking it over the threshold into alien realms, steam-punk maverick and musical contraption inventor Thomas Truax transforms the Tudor court stalwart Greensleeves into a ethereal cosmic trip abroad Gene Roddenberry’s Starship Enterprise; landing on The Tempest inspired Forbidden Planet. David Thomas Broughton meanwhile closes the album with a ten-minute experimental finale, reinterpreting Lawn As White As Driven Snow from A Winter’s Tale. Sounding like multiple takes of the same song, set into motion at different times and played all at once, Broughton impressively weaves all the discord, overlaps and amorphous bleeds together to create a drifting, sometimes anemic panoply.

 

In a more congruous manner, closer to the times they were written in, the Scottish troubadour Alasdair Roberts, with only the minimal though attentively atmospheric “historically accurate” lute of Gordon Ferries to back him up, steps straight off a Tudor tapestry to coo in an atavistic lulling timbre the “oblique” referenced Caleno Custure Me from Henry IV Part 2. Elsewhere the tone is of a folksy twee yet often stark and ominous droning beauty. A Highland imbued version of Strength In A Whisper, from Much Ado About Nothing, by, another Scott, the folk songstress Kirsty Law, and a stirring quivered Celtic orchestral treatment of Bonnie Sweet Robin Is To The Greenwood Gone, from Hamlet, by the Dead Rat Orchestra both share hints of Jed Kurzel’s mesmerizing score for the 2015 movie version of Macbeth.

 

Missing unfortunately from the line-up, the classical folk legend John Renbourn sadly passed away before recording his contribution. The Food Of Love is as a result dedicated to his memory. And it is a touching tribute but most importantly a successful exercise in bringing vitality to Shakespeare’s yellowed parchment; lifting what were in many ways just fleetingly touched upon songs to life.





Delicate  Steve  ‘This  Is  Steve’
Released  by  ANTI-,  27th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Delicate Steve

I must confess. Delicate Steve (as he’s known) has until now escaped my detection. The accompanying bio however offers an impressive resume, listing David Byrne, The Dirty Projectors, Lee Ranaldo and tUnE-yArDs as admirers and collaborators. As a testament to Steve’s range, the erudite guitarist and songwriter has “cut records” with both Sondre Lerche and Death Grip’s Zach Hill; and recently appeared playing guitar on the new Paul Simon record.

His first solo album in four years, and the first for the Anti- label, This Is Steve is billed as an “introduction” from the artist to you, the audience. A one-man band, producing and playing everything himself, Steve’s peaceable, often acid-country and surf twanged jaunty and ruminative, guitar themes run through an eclectic array of genres without settling on any specific. The signature cosmic swirling phaser guitar effect and intricate but relaxed perusal technique apes a number of other instruments, including the sitar on the opening glam-psych wilderness of Animals, the zither on the George Harrison exotic bluegrass walk along a California boardwalk Winners, and a Theremin on the nocturnal slouchy candor Nightlife.

Untethered as such; meandering mostly, but at times more forcefully careering through expressions and moods, Steve is scuzzing down ZZ Top’s highway towards a Todd Rundgren drive-through one minute (Cartoon Rock) and yearningly picking out a poignant personal Woodstock gospel anthem the next (This Is Steve).

 

Despite it being an entirely instrumental affair, you may find yourself singing along. And that’s due to each song’s uncanny familiarity, but also down to Steve’s personable touch, unguarded, channeling a lifetime of both conscious and unconscious melodies and articulating them in his own unique manner.





Emptyset  ‘Borders’
Released by Thrill  Jockey,  January  27th  2017


Emptyset - Monolith Cocktail

 

Transmogrifying, compressing and distorting their chosen “tactile” instruments (which include a six-stringed zither-like contraption and a drum) through vintage analogue equipment, the Emptyset duo perform a live contortion of fuzzy and frazzling trepidation on this latest conceptual offering, Borders.

Commissioned in the past to articulate musically and sonically the abstract; Emptyset have produced successful reification suits, with a number of self-imposed rules, from a number of architectural spaces, including the decommissioned Trawsfynydd nuclear power station and the neo-gothic Woodchester Mansion. This time around, sat in a Faraday cage as towering metal leviathans communicate with each other overhead, James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas set themselves another series of prompting parameters to work within. On this particular score the duo focus on subtly adjusting the timbral qualities of their performance, for an often ominous concatenate series of sonorous and abrasive evocations.

 

Though Borders doesn’t seem to offer a specific architectural environment; it evokes instead an electrified industrial-scarred force field of dread. Sounding not too dissimilar to Sunn O))) making a cerebral techno album on Basic Channel, the eleven-track soundtrack is suffused with long drawn-out pylon throbbing rhythms, seething and flexing with various fluctuated menace. Descent for instance opens the furnace door of a machine-age fire-breathing Moloch, whilst Speak brays with a monstrous didgeridoo-like rasp.

The album is a heavy dose of bestial sizzled magnetic crackling and giant rumblings; an electrified fence of static doom, both highly atmospheric but also teasing with anticipation.








A  Journey  Of  Giraffes   ‘F²’
Self-released,  January  11th  2017


A Journey Of Giraffes - Monolith Cocktail

 

A Journey Of Giraffes’ John Lane has come a long way since his chirpier and languorous lo fi Beach Boys (circa Pet Sounds and SMiLE) inspired renderings and washes. Now almost fully immersed in the esoteric; exploring strange new soundscapes, Lane takes “a long walk into the deep forest” of his Maryland, USA home for something approaching the supernatural. Those California vapours of old do still linger, though removed even further, lost on a swell of reverb, Foley sounds and a heavy miasma of abstracted experimentation. A leitmotif of field recordings from the Hampton’s Cromwell Valley Park underpin this latest journey: the trampling underfoot of the valley floor and, threatening to blow us off-course, gusts of wind create an environment that sounds like an ominous meander into the Blair Witch Project.

Best described as Coil picking apart Panda Bear on the way to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, (an element which you won’t find on the periodic table; a symbol instead that Lane uses to represent a sentiment of “family first”) features venerable monk-like chants and wordplay, subterranean echoes, Tibetan chimes and paranormal doo-wop. Hermitages, caves, atavistic idols to old gods the ghosts of previous generations that once hewed a living from the landscape and the sainted Father Damien De Veuster of the 19th century leprosy colony of Hawaii’s Molokai Island, all haunt Lane’s imagination.

 

Self-released via Bandcamp, almost happenstance style, this avant-garde soundtrack opus benefits from the kind of freedom that the internet can offer. However, with no restrictions and a methodology of total exploration, the album is perhaps overly long in places and can stretch the listener’s patience. Still, Lane works out his ideas and expands his sound further on every release; taking that original Beach Boys influence into seldom charted waters.





Dr  Chan  ‘Southside Suicide’
Released  by  Stolen  Body  Records,  24th  February  2017


Dr Chan - Monolith Cocktail

 

Like some obscure French exchange garage band of students – the kind you’d find, if it existed, on a European version of the Teenage Shutdown! compilations – hanging out in the 80s L.A. of plaid shirt and paisley bandana fatigue wearing skater-punks, Dr Chan are an abrasive and coarse mix of renegade petulant inspirations.

Essentially powered by garage rock and all its various manifestations, the group from the south of France hurtle through an up tempo and raging backbeat of The Chocolate Watch Band, Standells, Rationals, Black Lips and Detroit Cobras. The difference here is that they also throw in a miscreant Molotov of thrash punk, courtesy of Fidlar, and “death rap”, cue Florida’s $uicideboy$, into the riot. It gives the Chan’s brand of garage band mania a different intensity and drive: more screaming in a ball of flames spikiness than tripping psych.

The opening title track is a lively introduction to this controlled chaos; the distorted scrawling spunk-rockers rumbling and attacking surf, bluegrass and rock n roll in adolescent fury. It isn’t always this fast and noisy. I Can’t Change for example takes a, dare I say, poignant respite; sounding like a yearning Roky Erikson dodging the whistling drop of bombs from above.

 

Despite the increasingly distressed cartoon screamed resigned sentiment of the swansong, Life Is Not Fun – Southside Suicide is a blast. Riled and obviously pissed about the current state of affairs both at home and overseas, Dr Chan’s protests are in keeping with the primal spirit of rock’n’roll: fun, fun, fun! It’s a blast.





Julian  &  Roman  Wasserfuhr   ‘Landed In Brooklyn’
Released  by  ACT,  24th  February  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr

 

It can hardly be denied that New York always has and always will be an epicenter of musical innovation and fusion. Sure, there’s a growing unease at not just New York but mega beacons of creativity everywhere in the West. That the artists are pushed out and forced into the outlier regions because of gentrification, high rents and a general enervation of culture. Manhattan still has the jazz legacy and sports the venues (from the Lincoln Centre to The Village), but we’re increasingly told the “action” is happening elsewhere: in the borough of Brooklyn to be exact. A sprawling region of the New York panoply, Brooklyn has become a cheaper, more viable alternative; though in the last decade this hotspot has seen a massive influx of millennials, students and creatives flood the area, and so changed the very nature of the neighborhoods and inevitably made it more expensive.

Lured to this hotspot, the exceptionally talented trumpet (though on the latest album also partial to the flugelhorn) and piano sibling partnership of Julian and Roman Wasserfuhr “land” in Brooklyn for their 5th LP together. Prompted by the German jazz label ACT, and producer Siggi Loch (one of the first to foster the brothers talent, Loch produced their debut 2006 album Remember Chet, as part of that label’s “Young German Jazz” series) the duo initially hadn’t given much thought to the project. Spurred on however by the mounting reputation of New York’s largest borough, the brothers relocated. Imbuing themselves with Brooklyn’s history and present “where the action is” status, they recruited members of David Bowie’s Blackstar backline; man-of-the-moment tenor saxophonist and bandleader Donny McCaslin and the equally in-demand, former New York native, electric and double-bass player, Tim Lefebvre. Both have, in great part due to the attention Bowie inevitably drew, helped shape the city’s persona and rep for pushing the boundaries of jazz. And here they do what they do best; lifting and taking ideas and melodies into ever more inventive directions. Consummate enough to boost the foundations, yet also erudite enough to know when to blow or noodle away ten-to-the-dozen, they prove a congruous fit. Finishing the lineup, another link to McCaslin, is supremo drummer Nate Wood, who gets the chance to showboat with a salvo of never-ending rolls and crescendos on the cover of Tokio Hotel’s power-rock ballad, Durch den Monsun – a vast improvement upon the original.




Making a final connection to the city’s wider jazz legacy; the brothers chose to record at Joe & Nancy Marciano’s legendary System Two Recording Studio; using the venerated studio’s classic ribbon mic, once owned by John Coltrane no less, and a piano previously used for concerts at Carnegie Hall. Utilizing the environment, which has seen its fair share of legendary names from the jazz lexicon record there, the quintet produced an extemporized performance. Far from rehearsed and contrived – other than the choice of covers and the odd bit of sheet music – there’s little prompting on Landed In Brooklyn. Instead we get a flowing, loose semi-improvised interplay between all involved. This method is demonstrated on the opening “ensemble sound”, Bernie’s Tune. Relaxed, springy even, Julian Wasserfuhr and McCaslin’s interweaving horn section flews impressively over a quickened backbeat to create an update on the New York siren wailed TV detective theme tune. Roman Wasserfuhr, who leads on most of the album, is deft and supple on the ivories; caressing warming with a rippling effect even though you can tell he’s working hard on some complex countermelodies.

 

Whether it’s been planned, or unintentionally just floated into the quintet’s melting pot sound, there are traces and nods to a number of key jazz doyens throughout. There’s purposeful, and noted in the album’s accompanying booklet, hints of the horn geniuses Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine for instance on a couple of tracks, most notably however on the nestled trumpet and swaddling saxophone – Gershwin on Blue Note – Tinderly.

 

Elsewhere there’s Marimba-lilted waltzes; a 5/4 timing transformation of a moribund Sting song; and a cluttering railway-track travail style meditation on America’s past segregation woes to take in. And marvelous they all sound too. There can be no denying that this is a quality line-up; musically speaking, even if the covers are hardly inspiring, this is an accomplished recording. The Wasserfuhr brothers do creative things with the scenery and mood of a hub currently in the spotlight; producing an album that arguably bridges the old with the new guard.





Le  Petit  Diable   ‘Seeds’
Self-released  through  Bandcamp,  available now


Le Petit Diable - Monolith Cocktail

 

An important force for good on the underground Spanish music scene, predominantly in the last five years with the Krautrock and “Motor City” inspired Jinko Vilova, songwriter/musician and full-on space-rocker Ander López has taken on a new role as a troubadour for his solo album.

As demonstrated on his new collection, under the Le Petit Diable guise, López removes all but a brassy-stringed resonating acoustic guitar from the Jinko Vilova blueprint sound. Taken from the group’s previous LP, Líquid, the opening gambit, You’re Standing, is reduced from its original cosmic thickset Detroit bombast to a far more intimate acoustic affair, which sounds at times like a missing track from Can’s Unlimited Edition. It serves as a transitional introduction to ease the listener into the new raw, stripped direction. The album, Seeds (a metaphor for the ideas he’s evidently planting), has a real live quality about it, recorded in an atmospherically favourable space that lends itself to the echoing chimes and rings of his “lived-in” guitar playing.

Countering a gentler picking and plucking articulation with a mixture of attacking and ringing reverberation style rhythm guitar, López works up a fair old pace at times; filling the space when he needs to: The rebellious folk gallop, Purple Sphere, could be considered even spiky!

Vocally he channels a litany of hard-worn melancholic wayfarers; including Blixa Bargeld (Who Cast The First Stone), Nico (Snake’s Dance, Follow The Leader) and Roy Harper (My Eyes). There’s even a hint of the languid Damo Suzuki about López on the opener.

Le Petit Diable is a welcome move towards a parallel solo career; a surprise exploration and change from the music he’s become synonymous with. There is a lot of promise on this album, and the future looks bright.




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