REVIEWS ROUNDUP/ WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




Welcome to Dominic Valvona’s regular reviews roundup. This latest edition of Tickling Our Fancy includes albums, EPs and singles by Rat The Magnificent, Papernut Cambridge, Kumo, Deben Bhattacharya, Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami, Moa Mckay, Crayola Lectern and Ippu Mitsui.

Interesting releases from across the world and music spectrums; Tickling Our Fancy is my most eclectic of reviews roundups. With no themes, demarcations of any kind, or reasoning other than providing a balanced platform for the intriguing, the great and at times, most odd releases, I bring you this month’s selection.

Electronic music composer extraordinaire Jono Podmore is back under the guises of Kumo with another serialism styled field recording, released through the London-based cassette tape label, Tapeworm; Rat The Magnificent rock, grunge, drone and grind their way through a new caustic shoegaze and industrial album, The Body As Pleasure; ARC Music sift through more of the celebrated late ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya’s archives to bring us the fifth edition of their Musical Explorers series, Waves Of Joy/Bauls From Bengal, and also bring us a mesmerizing album of Kurdish traditional performances, Melodic Circles, by the Iranian cousins Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami; the Gare Du Nord label’s unofficial house band, Papernut Cambridge, return with another enviable ensemble led songbook of Glam Rock, Psych and poetic resignation, honouring the late polymath maverick scientist and utopian dreamer, Richard Buckminster Fuller; the enchanting quivery psychedelic bathers, Crayola Lectern, return with a new album of ghostly voiced heartbreak, ‘Happy Endings’. We also have the new peppy modern soul pop fusion EP from Moa McKay and friends, Illusions Of A Dream, and a more relaxed, calming electronic cruise from the Tokyo composer Ippu Mitsui.


Rat The Magnificent  ‘The Body As Pleasure’  TTWD Records,  21st June 2018

Not as the name suggests, celebrating their rodent status whilst scratching like vermin at the bin bags in the gutter, as more guttural with seething yearning, Rat The Magnificent claw away in melodically dark despair on the new album, The Body As Pleasure. The noisy rock trio both clash and ponder on a grinding synthesis of pain, regret and isolation; dragging an impressive chorus of guest drone, grunge, shoegaze and post-rock exponents behind them. For the record, at any one time either caustic twiddling guitar, sonorous bass notes and harrowing longing vocals from Future Of The Left and Art Brut wingman Ian Gatskilkin, My Bloody Valentine and Graham Coxon band member Jen Marco and Hot Sauce Pony’s Caroline Gilchrist appear alongside a number of guest contributors – another Gilchrist for one, Stephen Gilchrist of Graham Coxon, The Damned and the Cardiacs infamy, being just one of the many.

That main catalyst and drive however is pendulously swung and elliptically (especially on the off-set rotation of the increasingly unhinged and entangled ‘Where You Been’) powered by the maverick trio maelstrom. Yet it’s a maelstrom of both fuzzed-up sinister prowling and melodious sensibilities. Like a Nordic sounding Thom Yorke drowning in a heavy dynamism of Swans, Interpol and Death From Above 1979 one minute, and plaintively following the contours of The Telescopes drones the next, the band conjure up all kinds of heavy rock and indie-on-steroids splinters, from The Birthday Party to DEUS, Marilyn Manson and the Archers Of Loaf.

Though the forebode and drone of songs like the skate punk Muse meets slacker rock ‘Olon’ and the Nick Cave No More Shall We Part swooned and trilled female vocalized like ‘Inevitable’ there’s a hint of lovelorn despair and confession. The most subdued dissipation, and oddest of finales, is the piano-accompanied-by-a-strange-crunching-Foley-sound ‘Panarron’, which stripes away the vortex of industrial anguish for an esoteric ambient soliloquy; the vocals so hushed as to be barely audible, as if the singer’s run out of steam, enervated and worn out: everything now off his chest, relieved yet fucked.

Noisy and caustic for sure, yet full of surprises (even space-age alpha wave synth on one track) The Body As Pleasure contorts and channels the energetic chaos through a prism of relief and accentuated tinkering. An illusion to all manner of references, the rodent’s left scurrying in the aftermath pick at the morsels to deliver a most intense album.




Papernut Cambridge  ‘Outstairs Instairs’  Gare Du Nord,  29th June 2018

 

The first full length album since 2016’s generous carrier-bag packaged Love The Things Your Lover Love, the Ian Button instigated cottage industry, known as the Anglo-French romanticized Gare Du Nord, finally releases a follow-up from the label’s unofficial house band, Papernut Cambridge. Like a session group but made-up of mostly deft and critically applauded artists in their own rights, Button’s ragtag group of friends, acquaintances and label mates includes such refined minstrels and troubadours as Darren Hayman, Robert Rotifer, Jack Hayter, Emma Watson and Ralegh Long. This already enviable ensemble is broadened by the Hunky Dory period piano accents and Mike Garson plays Gershwin flourishes of pianists Terry Miles and Luke Smith, smatterings of Malcolm Doherty’s recorder arrangements, Sterling Roswell’s synth and the wailing, squawking and slinking Roxy Music saxophone of Stabs Mackenzie.

In a convoluted family tree style, this cast has consistently overlapped on a myriad of projects and releases; all emanating from Button’s end of the London train line HQ on the borders of Kent. As with that previous album and incarnation, the Papernut Cambridge conveys idiosyncratic tragedies, injustices and heartache through an often wistful and whimsical prism of 1970s musical nostalgia; the cut-off point of their inspiration and influence being the change over from the snug hazy security of late 60s to mid 70s Top Of The Pops, beaming and disarming the gender-bending teenage angst of Glam and Art Rock through a fond afterglow, to the petulant arrival of punk. Certainly nostalgic and cosy then, Outstairs Instairs builds a rich melody and frequent Glam-beat stonk around its deeper themes of loss, anger, resentment and malady. Yet with quintessential English humour dragging Button and his cast from feeling despondent and conceited, lyrics often finish with a subtle note of resigned wit to snap the protagonists and listener from despair: The Hollies conducting an elegiac service of remembrance styled ‘No Pressure’ pays a fond and warm homage to Button’s late father; humble recollections of dad’s sagacious advice to tickling ivory is saved from over-sentimentality by the final line of the song, “Sometimes you have to cater for cunts!”

As referencing goes, conducing the maverick utopia and inventive theorems of the late American scientist polymath Richard Buckminster Fuller takes some doing. Yet, from borrowing his, perhaps, far too over-analyzed (and thought) but astronomically accurate method of describing the actions of going up or down a staircase – going as far as to cleverly cut the vinyl version of this album so each side mirrors this spiraling rotation – for an album title to framing the name given in his honour for a carbon molecular, the ‘Fullercenes’, as a metaphor for the charged chemistry of love on the starry Alvin Stardust-Mott The Hoople-Bowie-esque opening track, Papernut Cambridge weave their icons and cerebral pining’s into articulate hazy pop. Though, making concessions for, as I’ve already remarked, 60s beat groups, psych and even grown-up rock’n’roll blues, the Nuts graze Goats Head Soup era Stones romantic weeping on ‘How To Love Someone’, and waft in their honky tonk Orleans boogie on the pastoral garden party ‘House Of Pink Icing’.   On the Victoriana fairground knees-up comes sad tale of the “best dog in Battersea”, ‘Angelo Eggy’, they sound like a mongrel-breed of the Alex Harvey Band, Wings and Marmalade, and on the St. Peter-as-overburdened-civil-servant ‘New Forever’, they reimagine Highway 61 Revisited Dylan fronts The Soup Dragons or early The Charlatans. You can also expect to hear at any one time in the mix, hints of Edison Lighthouse, Fleetwood Mac, Cockney Rebel and The Rubettes.

From ill fated, nee cursed, characters to the all too-real forgotten victims of industry and losers in life, the Papernut Cambridge envelop pain and resignation in a warm caring blanket of nostalgic and beautifully crafted pop music. With an ensemble to die for, this is a sweetened if sad album of cherished memories and augurs to come; a missing link between 70s Top Of The Pops annuals, Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane Bowie, Glam Rock and I Can See For Miles’ halcyon English songwriting compilations. A most magnificent return from a most maverick of outfits.






Crayola Lectern  ‘Happy Endings’  Onomatopoeia,  1st June 2018

 

Bathing in the same South Downs of Southeast England water, even if it’s further west along the coastline at Worthing, as the gentle psych imbued outfits Electric Soft Parade and The Fiction Aisle, the Chris Anderson instigated Crayola Lectern embark on a most pastoral, stirring malady on the group’s second album, Happy Endings.

Featuring band members and guest spots from the former of those two Brighton bands, but also a trio from London stalwarts, The Cardiacs, the Crayola Lectern fondly and nostalgically absorb a cannon of rich 1960s psychedelia, seaside vaudeville, dancehall tea parties and quintessential irreverent witty eccentricity. Gazing through the pea green sea-like gauze-y sepia of the album’s cover (a photo of Anderson’s grandmother on her wedding day), revisiting old ghosts to a vague backing of early Floyd, Robert Wyatt, and even at times a spot of Family, Anderson moves amorphously through time whilst alluding to a rafter of contemporary problems: One of the overriding sentiments of which, gleamed from the beautifully hazy melodious piano led, and cherubic sung, opener ‘Rescue Mission’, is that love is really all; but whatever this self-centered world throws at you, “Don’t let the buggers bring you down.”

 Diaphanously played throughout, softened, occasionally venerable and choral with dreaming visages of mellotron, trumpet and finely cast musical spells, the album can seem like it’s being summoned from the ether and beyond. Emerging from a burial-at-sea like seaweed covered aquatic specters on the ode to a ‘Submarine’ metaphor (which even includes lines in Latin), or caught in a nursery rhyme loop, lying in bed each night thinking of the inevitable, the theme of death is always close at hand; but handled with sighing reassurance and the comforting strains of a dashing about lullaby.

From end-of-the-pier shows to séances on a wet afternoon, the nostalgic quaintness of Happy Endings dips its toes into vibrato like waters, with shades of The Beach Boys Surf’s Up on ‘Secrets’, and presence of a lapping tide on the theatrical pining and beautiful ‘Barbara’s Persecution Complex’. A general ebb and flow motion, not just rhythmically and musically but in the relationship between an almost childlike innocence and the sagacious meditations of experience, is suffused throughout; though breakouts of rock opera, ascendant spiraling and more dramatic loveliness do splash about in the psychedelic mysterious waters. And on the title track, though it’s prefixed in brackets with ‘(No More)’, there’s an allusion to alien visitors that could be read as a metaphor for the illegal alien otherness of not starbound extraterrestrials but migrants, refugees and even our cousins across the Channel.

Conveying the mood and plaguing anxieties of the past and contemporary; circumnavigating the choppy waters of uncertainty; Anderson and his troupe effortlessly exude a subtle elegance and enchanting charm to produce a gauze-y psychedelic melodrama. Lush and quivery, Anderson’s vocals almost ghostly heartbreaking throughout, the piano played with an understated but emotive caring patience, Happy Endings is a peaceably beauty of a minor opus.






Various  ‘Musical Explorers: Waves Of Joy/Bauls From Bengal: Field Recordings By Deben Bhattacharya’  ARC Music,  25th May 2018

If you’re a regular visitor to my reviews roundup then you might already be familiar with ARC Music’s Musical Explorer series: celebrating the work of pioneering ethnomusicologists, and currently sifting through the renowned archives of the late Indian field recordist and filmmaker, Deben Bhattacharya.

The fifth volume in this series once again delves into the rich vaults of material Bhattacharya captured when travelling his native Indian homeland: Other volumes highlight his recordings from Taiwan and Tibet; though he recorded in a multitude of locations and countries during his career.

Settling in London at the turn of the 1950s with mixed results (though after juggling many jobs, finally able to make a living from documenting exotic music, at the time mostly unknown to Western ears), Bhattacharya made many return trips, especially to his birthplace of Benares in Bengal. Previous editions in this explorers series (Colours Of Raga, Krishna In Spring) have either included or alluded to music from the region, and the dual film/audio recordings of Waves Of Joy/Bauls From Bengal is no different.

Amateurish and make-do by the technical standards of today, Bhattacharya’s ’12-volt battery’ powered laden ‘one-man mobile’ recording apparatus still magically captures the most unpretentious in-situ purity of performances. In natural surroundings, the majority in adulation or paean to spiritualist guidance and, not exclusively by any means, Hinduism, these timeless recordings seem to have been caught serendipitously: the opposite of staged, directed and scholarly.

 

Recorded before his death in 2001, the audio part of this package features a revolving troupe of players performing the spiritual enlightened poetics of the traditional holy wandering minstrels known as the Baul. Translated from the original Sanskrit word for ‘vatula’ or ‘mad’ – though in this case a kind of entranced devotional madness -, these sagacious weavers of philosophical devotion study the ambiguity between divine and sensual love; unburdened by established religion or dogma. Finding a commonality with the Sufis, and especially the ideas of the Persian mystic Rumi, the Baul’s song (also known as ‘bauls’, which can be confusing) are filled with poetic worship, but always stating humbleness, offering nothing other than love as the opening ‘Doya Kore Esho’, sung in exultation by Robi Das Baul, exemplifies:

How shall I adore Thy feet – incomparable?

No prayer or dedication have I

O gracious one!

No devotion,

nor wisdom do appear within my heart of hearts,

Bid farewell to my joylessness,

Give me more joy

In this humble abode of my heart.

 

Analogies to a “shoreless sea” and the desirable banks of joyful aspiration and nirvana that meet its waves coupled with symbolist fauna, dealing with death, and the conversion of lost souls to whatever guru is being venerated flow throughout this collection’s fourteen track songbook on a buoyant bending and dipping rhythmical accompaniment. Beautifully sung, hollering and soaring even, a quintet of baul minstrels take turns, accompanied by atavistic instrumentation. An intrinsic feature of which is the tucked under the arm ‘anandalahari’, a tabla like tension drum with a plucked string. Held tightly in one arm, the player can pull on a small knob to stretch this string whilst using his other hand to pluck away with a plectrum. Its bending resonance can be heard alongside the one-string drone ‘ektara’, fretless long-necked lute like ‘dotara’, small metal pellet ankle bells chiming ‘ghungru’, bamboo flute ‘banshi’ and tied around the waist clay kettle drum, the ‘duggi’.

All recorded in Shantiniketan, an area synonymous with baul history, these performances feature compositions from such revered gurus as the 19th century mystic/poet Lalon Shah Fakir and Matam Chand Gosain, but also more contemporary figures, such as the film actor and folk musician Mujib Paradeshi and lyricist, composer Bhaba Pagla: It all sounds timeless however, with only a subtle allocation made for more modern themed metaphors.

The documentary, filmed in 1973, is a grainy but colourful informative (if slightly stiff in narration) highlight, featuring as it does the Kenduli Mela festival in West Bengal. A huge momentous musical and religious gathering, it’s held at the birthplace of the famous poet Jaidev in the Birbhum district, attracting, as you’ll see, a myriad of baul ensembles. Probably unrecognizable today – in fact Simon Broughton, of Songlines fame, and the author of this compilation’s linear notes, remarks on its built-up modernity – the plains and riverside of Kenduli in the 1970s is agrarian with the only transport in sight, a multitude of ox pulled carts. Reading out poetic, wise lyrics whilst moving the camera from temples to villages and bazaars, the narrator informs and explains not only the folklore and myths of the baul, but also the basics of the instruments and songs. The message of this study is of the individual’s pursuit in communing with their spiritual guide unburdened by barriers, as the words, read out whilst resting the camera on the icon carvings of a temple sum up so well:

The road to you is barricaded with temples and mosques

I hear you calling my lord, but cannot reach you.

Teachers, preachers and prophets bar the way.  

 

Both revelatory and insightful, an education you could say, Bhattacharya’s extensive archives showcase Indian music at its most venerable and spiritual. A snapshot on the devotional and a survey on the baul phenomenon this latest stimulating Musical Explorers package is a visual and audio treat.




Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami  ‘Melodic Circles: Urban Classical Music From Iran’ ARC Music, 27th July 2018

 

The second ARC Music release to grab my attention this month, the entrancing circular and eastern mirage rippling evocations of the Mehdi & Adib Rostami cousins bring a certain modernity to the classical ‘urban’ music of their homeland, Iran. Tensions between Iran (both with the nebulas and all too real physical influences) and its neighbours in the region, and of course the West, have never been shakier; especially with the recent collapse of the ‘nuclear deal’ and renewal of sanctions, but also with its military presence in Syria and the Yemen. And with the roots of the Rostami cousins’ performances deriving from the Kurdish music of Iran’s Fars province (‘widely considered’, as the liner notes suggests, ‘the cultural capital of Iran’; it is indeed the original home of the Persian people after all) you can’t help but think of the controversies and complexities that hound the Kurdish people in a number of violent flashpoints; most of which derive from the fight for an independent state: though not all Kurds are involved or even agree on the issue.

It makes a change then, to celebrate rather than hector or feel despondent about Iranian culture; ARC Music shedding a light on a positive, magical aspect of the country and its musicians; showcasing, as they do, the technical and creative improvisational skills of the Rostami maestros.

Conventionally divided into two general branches; one deriving from the ethnic minorities (which also includes Nomadic traditions), each with its own distant musical system, the second, and what you’ll hear on this album, is the urban tradition, though it’s a much later style: the ‘radif-e dastgāhi’. Passed down orally, the, what seems like an amalgamation of systems and ‘melodic circles’ structures (so named for the manner in which these Iranian melodies link together to form ‘circles’), ‘radif’ is traditionally divided into ‘instrumental and vocal music’. A serious dedication is needed, as each student of this system must learn their art with a number of masters; the ultimate goal of which, we’re told, is ‘for the musician to cultivate, through many years of practice and performance, the capacity to improvise, wherein ideally, the musician would create a new work in each performance.’ Not just able scions of that learning but international artists of repute and masters of their chosen Iranian instruments, the long-necked, plucked lute ‘setār’ and goblet-shaped drum, the ‘tombak’, the cousins studied with a wealth of talent. Mehdi began playing the wooden fretted setār at the tender age of six, going on to study under the tutelage of Mohammadreza Lofi and Hossein Alizadeh, and take a ‘masterclass’ with Kayhan Kalhor, whilst Adib started out learning the principal percussion instrument, the tombak, on his own before later taking lessons and refining his technique with Mohammed Ghodsi and Pejman Hadadi. He also studied the Iranian fiddle, the ‘kamancheh’, with Roozbeh Asadian and Lofi, and as his cousin did, took masterclasses with Kalhor.

Performing several times in the UK, including as part of the BBC Proms season and with the Syrian ‘qanum’ player Maya Youssef, under the Awj Trio collaboration, the cousins are calling this album their first official release. An album in two parts, subdivided into a trio and a quartet of various passages, Melodic Circles is essentially a contemporary interpretation of the atavistic Kurdish ‘Bayāt-e Tork’ and ‘Bayāt-e Esfahān’ cycles. Though following the handed-down prompts of these age old ‘modes’, they imbue their versions with deft improvisation; breathing in the atmosphere and mood of their surroundings and feelings on the day of the recordings to offer something organic and fresh.

‘Circle One’, comprised of three separate chapters, arises from the Persian epoch with a spindled trickle of ancient evocations; cantering and rolling when the rapid tub-thumping percussion joins in, beside the waters of the Fertile Crescent. The opening section, ‘Nostalgia’, alludes musically to another era, mystical and timeless but unmistakably played out in the present. It’s followed by any equally dusty mirage of enchantment and cascading dripping plucked notes on the travelling ‘Journey’; which, by the end of its perusal, turns a trickle into a flood.

The final piece of that trilogy, ‘Delight’, dashes straight in with a speedy, mesmerizing display of blurry percussion; the lute gliding and entrancing until locking into a circular loop, resonating with brass-y echoes and spiraling nuances.

The second ‘circle’, featuring a quartet of pieces, opens with the longing ‘Lonely’. Romantic gestures, ripples and vibrations gather momentum until reaching a crescendo and dissipating, on this dusky earthy track. Picking up on the intensity, ‘Life’ is like an energetic camel trot across mirage shimmered deserts, whilst, reaching tranquil, less galloping, waters ‘Past’ is the musing respite before the frenzied hypnotic circulations of the ‘Mystic Dance’ spin into play.

Caught in the moment, feeding off each other whilst channeling their intensive studies, the cousins perform with dexterous, masterful skill and a sense of freedom. Melodic Circles faithfully keeps the traditions of the Rostami’s native heritage alive in a contemporary setting; a heritage that is seldom celebrated in the West, especially in such trying times, yet proves an intoxicating experience of discovery.



Kumo  ‘Day/Night’  Tapeworm

 

Releasing a myriad of ‘micro-scale’ peregrinations via his revitalized imprint Psychomat and now through the London-based cassette tape label Tapeworm, Jono Podmore once again channels his longest running alter-ego as Kumo for another serialism style trip into the unknown.

Finding a suitable home for his latest experiment with the highly conceptual Tapeworm (a label with an aloof roster of projects from serious thinkers and avant-garde artists alike, including the late Derek Jarman, Stephen O’Malley, Philip Jeck and Can’s one time front-of-house shaman, Damo Suzuki), the professor of ‘popular music practice’ at Cologne’s Hochschule für Musik, sometime Irmin Schmidt foil and guiding light of the Can legacy (the recent Lost Tapes being just one project he helped put together and produce), and founding instigator of the rebellious analogue adventurers Metamono, imbues a set of field recordings with decades of electronic experience.

Lifting off from the concrete of terra firma into alien Kosmische amorphous realms, his Day/Night moiety converts the environmental sounds (from mopeds to barking dogs, the sonorous bass boom of a subwoofer drifting from a car stereo, to city landscape birds squawking and commercial airplanes flying overhead) he recorded from the balcony of his South East London flat into something often mysterious and even at times transient. Both tracks are undulated with Tangerine Dream ambient machinations and oscillations, and ethereal siren trilled Theremin: left to linger, waft and occasionally ascend above the looming hovering clouds.

There are subtle differences between the two aspects of the same day of course; the movements and appearance of nocturnal wildlife and the human inhabitation of Podmore’s estate reverberate on the ‘Night’ recording; inverted owl-like signature sound and orbiting satellites overlap with darker stirrings and the visage shimmers of an unknown presence.

A Kosmische and avant-garde electronic panorama, viewed from a concrete vantage point, Podmore’s efflux styled synthesis convolutes the 360-degree city environment with engineered sounds to create another quality ambient drone and kinetic recording. If you like early Cluster (Kluster even), TD, Orb, even early Kraftwerk, and a lifetime of cerebral techno minimalism then track this tape down. You better be quick though, as it’s limited to only 125 copies!



Moa McKay ‘Illusions Of A Dream’  29th June 2018

Though I know absolutely nothing about – what sounds to my ears like a sassy bubblegum soulstress with millennial pep – the pop-y soul singer Moa McKay, the lilting but deep grooves of the opening track from her summery new EP, wafting from my speakers, immediately caught my attention when I first heard it recently: alluringly intriguing, drawing me.

Though the lingering breezy jazz tones may evoke Frank era Amy Winehouse with a tinge of American R&B, McKay actually hails from Stockholm and resides in Berlin: a city that doesn’t exactly scream soul. Earlier material, from what I can deduce, is more in the mode of Scandi-pop heartbreak; sung in McKay’s native dialect. With a fresh outlook and collaborating with a trio of musicians that includes guitarist Tristan Banks, drummer Gabriele Gabrin and bass player Per Monstad, McKay now expands her vocal range on an EP’s worth of summertime retro soul pop hits.

Sounding as effortless and floaty as that summer breeze she arrives on, this smoky lounge meets urban suite is rich with nice little funk licks and twangs, rolling jazzy blues percussion and a live feel backing. R&B heartache with attitude, she weaves the woes and travails – from first person perspective to looking in from the outside – of relationships in the modern age. She won’t take any crap mind: channeling as she does, the steely women of 1960s soul and turning the “tramp” put-down on its head.

A modern take on the sort of fusion soul and jazz that the Talkin’ Loud label used to pump out in the 90s, but with nods to the original blueprints, McKay and her partners create a brilliant EP of pliable, melodious and sophisticated sun-dappled soul and pop.




Ippu Mitsui  ‘Shift Down EP’  Submarine Broadcasting Company, 6th July 2018

Atypical of EPs from the mysterious Tokyo-based composer of quirky ennui electronica, Ippu Mitsui’s latest transmission, as the title suggests, is a (gear)‘shift down’ from his usual broken-up, bit-y and effects cornucopia signature style of dance music. Choosing to flow and relax on a neon-glowed cruise through a quartet of both nocturnal prowls and sunset beckoning castaways, Mitsui’s kooky visions summon evocations of a Leaf Label soundtracked Drive, or Warp transmogrified Tokyo Drift: a pulse, you could say, perfect for motoring runs across an Akira illustrated cityscape.

Still throwing us curve-balls; bending and morphing, twisting and turning; changing the odd note for example on a bass run; despite throwing us occasionally, our enigmatic producer creates his most peaceful suite yet. From hanging out the back of a Sega games console 16-bit pixelated sports car on the title track, to imagining the Yellow Magic Orchestra pumping out from an 1980s West Coast lowrider stereo on ‘Squeeze 87’, and navigating early Aphex Twin and futurist Baroque on ‘Rotation’, Mitsui melds TR-808 electro and acid Techno with swelling strings to once again soundscape his own imaginations.

Idiosyncratic, sophisticated and plowing his own furrow, this emerging talent remains a well-kept secret on the electronic music scene. Hopefully, translating from his native Japan, and distributed in the last couple of years through independent UK labels and platforms, such as Bearsuit Records and, on this latest release, the Submarine Broadcasting Company, he’ll now reach a much wider audience at last.





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DOMINIC VALVONA’S ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC REVIEW ROUNDUP



Welcome back after the Christmas holidays to the inaugural 2018 edition of my TOF reviews; plenty to get through, so without further ado let’s have a quick run through of this month’s releases.

In a blaze of transmogrified 80s inspirations, Merrill Garbus kicks off 2018 with a honed and vibrant new Tune-Yards LP, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, and Danish artist Soho Rezanejad poses a striking celestial and throbbing distressed staccato shimming opus on gender, roots and futurism politics with her debut LP Six Archetypes. From the new Spanish imprint, Insane Muzak, we have an extensive collection of diy style cassette tape recordings and mayhem from Spain’s burgeoning underground scene of the 80s. Making their debut on Ian Button’s cottage industry Kent label Gare du Nord, Estuary trio The Cold Spells offer up their first incantation style psychedelic and folk long player. With an already packed schedule of new release and bands planned for 2018, Stolen Body Records kick off the year with the space rock garage and shoegaze of Detroit’s Moonwalks, and before they plow forward with a busy roster of new releases, I take a look at the last two albums of 2017 from the Greek ‘boutique’ label, Sound In Silence: a heavenly ascendant ambient drone collection from A Lily and an emotional classical meets Baroque and electronica suite from Jason Sweeney.


Tune-Yards   ‘I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life’
4AD,  18th January 2018

 

Reassembling the alternating lowercase and capital letter typography of her polygenesis nom de plume for a less rambunctious mnemonic on this latest offering, Merrill Garbus refines and pars down the kaleidoscopic Haitian and bubblegum neo-geo pop of 2015’s Nikki Nack triumph for something more attuned to the post-Trump epoch. Still under the Tune-Yards banner, officially billed as a duo, Garbus is back with her longtime collaborators and foil Nate Brenner on this ruminating dance album.

Also still clattering with a glimmer of those Hispaniola and African rhythm, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life mines that most popular of decades, the 80s, for its inspiration. Highly sophisticated and always inventive Garbus and Brenner bounce amorphously between Chicago House, electro, ESG and the merest hints of Lodger era Bowie – the feel and melody of African Nite Flights instantly springs to mind when listening to Colonizer. Dub scales and ponderous bass guitar, kinetic beats, lamenting trilling saxophone, modern pop R&B and synthesized whip cracking percussion are added to this colourful mix of dynamics.

Vocally and lyrically flexing Garbus’ voice throughout, from lullaby to bordering on gospel, the hot topics of the last two years are inwardly auspice and conveyed via repetitive sloganist repose, lines from personal experience and augers; much of which features a MPC transmogrified robotic vocal effect – Garbus says this is to counter the sincerity, though it adds an often warbled warped reverb and manipulation (trapped in the machine) to her voice, it odes little to diminish the emotional pull and anger.

Race, politics, ‘intersectional feminism’, and environmental concerns – a very apt burning California analogy appears on the nursery rhyme damnation ABC 123 – are all run through the vibrant, soulful electro fantasia of Tune-Yards most psychedelic pop signature. Clever, sharp, indicative of a weary worried section of outsider, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life sounds like Grace Jones mixing it up with Deerhunter, St.Vincent and the LCD Soundsystem at the foot of Trump Towers.









V/A   ‘Golpea Tu Cerebro: Spanish Underground Cassette Culture 1980 – 1988’
Insane Muzak,  15th January 2018

 

‘Rock music is dead. It’s absolutely repulsive.’Arturo Lanz (Disco Actualidad) 1981.

Unleashed in the dying embers of Franco’s dictatorial epoch, Spain’s generation X screamed and riled with an unchecked geyser like gush of industrial, avant-garde, noise and lo fi analogue electronica experimental defiance. Still confined to the outsiders underground status, Spain’s new guard, inspired by the punk and post developments of the UK and especially – as you’ll hear aped throughout this collection – Cabaret Voltaire, Psychic TV, Throbbing Gristle and SPK, let loose with a torrid of primal, often maniacal, and extreme sonic and vocal transmogrifications.

Set into motion by early pioneers of the scene such as Esplendor Geométrico (from Madrid) whose first single in 1981 and ‘fabled’ EGO 1 cassette release from ‘82 are both considered worthy exponents and torchbearers for the underground scene, a golden period is documented by Alex Carretero of Guerssen Records in a generous – if exhausting and challenging an experience – double album set; complete with scholarly liner notes and research.

Honing in on the cassette tape phenomenon especially, the platform medium of choice for a generation with scant resources any only the most basics of recording equipment, Carretero’s choice favourites track the key developments in a diy scene originally spread via fanzines and the burgeoning ‘free’ radio stations that began to pop up in the aftermath of Spain’s fascistic past.





Imbued by both Spain’s instigation of Surrealism, and to an extent its predecessor Dadaism, and by George Maciunas’ ludicrous Fluxus movement of 60s/70s America, including composers Nam June Paik and George Brecht, the cassette kids – and many of the artists behind these tracks were just that when they started out – channeled the absurd, the madness, into their political, often hostile, sound manipulations.

Be warned. Many of these tracks can test the patience: my neighbours must have thought I was torturing some poor screaming unfortunates next door, such is the agonizing distressed screams that feature heavily in these uncompromising mind fucks.

Fucked-up reel-to-reel and squealing tape manipulations abound as abstract white noise and obscured voices bark, pant, shrill and cry for help from beyond the void (check out an extract from Brigada Nadie’s Sin Título and Bulbo Raquídeo’s Cuando Me Entra El Teléle for starters – the translation of the later offering a surreal metaphorical description, ‘when the telephone enters me’).

Strangulated daemonic entities squeal in terrifying reverb madness (Línea Táctica Ambient Music For Empty Congress), a Tangerine Dream alien invasion force oscillates in orbit above Earth (Iéximal Jélimite La Noche De Las Vísceras Palpitantes), and a primal yodeling Tarzan is devoured by his own companions (ZusammenWachsen Sin Títule) on what is an often harrowing mix of experimental pain and lunacy.

Constantly fuzzy and distorted, there are however the odd signs of relief as Casio keyboard melodies, Kosmische style drones and swells and post-punk riffs prop up: for example, Oh-Casio-Ón (as the moniker suggests) switch on the Yellow Magic Orchestra accompaniment preset on Anuncios Pur Palabras, and El Coleccionista De Poliedros scrape together cutlery and what sounds like a churning washing machine drum to produce a Stone Age techno beat on Golpea Tu Cerebro. There’s even the tinkling of a transmogrified piano, a slurred and speeded-up Flamenco song and banshee singing hidden in amongst the gabbling tape spool fuckery.



From the primordial soup to the paranormal, the industrial to hallucinogenic. The pummeling punishment of a pneumatic drill to white noise ambience, there’s a constant reverberating atmosphere of distress and forbade; a sonic Guernica, a political howl from deep transduced via homemade equipment on the cheapest of mediums.

The inaugural release on Alex Carretero’s (appropriately named) new label, this extensive collection shines a fanzine style obsessive light on the Spanish underground, illuminating one of the country’s most avant-garde envelope-pushing decades of musical exploration and sonic pain. Not for the faint of heart.



The Cold Spells   ‘S/T’
Gare du Nord,  2nd February 2018

 

Strange bucolic manifestations linger on the outskirts that divide East London and the border of Essex; the bedroom pastoral psychedelic troupe The Cold Spells, the latest group of Estuary dwellers to join Ian Button’s Kent label Gare du Nord, lurk on the edges like ghosts looking in.

Not so much a reference to weather fronts as an illusion to magic, the Morse code styled typography structured to resemble a traditional ‘Abracadabra’ incantation. Esoterically gentle and wistful, the trio’s debut long player is a gauze-y organic and ambiguous (to a point) affair of undulating ‘moss covered’ circuitry, folk, quintessential English psych, paisley patterned hallucinogens and Kosmische.

Communing with the ether, connecting with the psychogeography of their chosen environment – from the soft Wiccan with forebode travail of Thomswood Hill to the alluded to abandoned mental hospital waste ground near Hainault -, a host of spirits tune in and out of the continuous, though (as we’re told) not in a linear order, flowing suite of laudanum imbued Victoriana lyricism and Beatles-esque melody.

At any one time you can expect to hear not only the warping reversal effects and Magical Mystery Tour and transduced Eleanor Rigby lonely lament musicality of The Beatles but also shades of Nico, Robert Wyatt, Kaleidoscope, Shirley Collins, Cluster and Martin Carthy – The Ghosts Of Them What Didn’t Make It sounds like a WWI Western Front Jona Lewie.

Meanderingly evoking the age old themes of death, love and everything via the 60s halcyon embrace of Lewis Carroll and his strange acid dazed literary chums, a “painted wooden horse” both resembles the magical Freudian symbolism of Leonora Carrington’s children’s rocking horse and the Trojan tragedy Greek gift horse as a metaphor for escaping pressures and misunderstanding: mounting a most sad immobile steed, going nowhere.

As I’ve already stated, The Cold Spells is a quintessential English record, with its daemonic countryside – a place of beauty but atavistic surreal dangers and magic too – and seafaring rich tapestry of analogy. Channeling an age of ghostly memories, the ancestors inhabit the band’s present to address the here and now concerns of a troubled, unstable world. A most brilliant, magical if troubled album.





Moonwalks   ‘In Light (The Scales In The Frame)’
Stolen Body Records,   January 26th 2018

 

At least geographically close to the spirit of the Motor City, if generations apart, Detroit’s Moonwalks brood in the shadows of the counterculture doyens that made it such an infamous breeding ground for snarling attitude garage, psych and acid rock in the 60s and early 70s.

Transitioning, so we’re told, from ad hoc abandon warehouse performances as a diy glam psych rock troupe to experimental space rock stoners, spiraling in a vaporous gauzy vortex of 80s British Gothic and acid shoegaze influences, the Moonwalks make a certain progression on their second full length album, In Light.

Throwing up a wall of multilayered, almost continuous, twisting reverb and phaser effect guitars and motorik to ritualistic totem heavy drumming the feel of this, the group’s first international release, is that of a controlled interstellar maelstrom. Taking flight on the grinding trebly oscillating opener, A Little Touch Of Gravity, the lunar imbued group head into a musical vacuum of Hawkwind space rock influences. But by the Cultish esoteric Dust Is Magic we’re plunged dreamily into BRMC or The Black Angels on a Scorpio Rising kick territory.

Sometimes they sound like a black magic rites Byrds and at others like a doomed The Glass Family on a bum ride. Their curtain call, The Joy Of Geraniums, is the most odd vignette of all; taking the Moonwalks into a whistling led peyote-induced trip to the Mojave Desert.

Vocally malaise with only the odd lyric picked out by myself, the voices wafts between Siouxsie Sioux, Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy and Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell. Of course it fits the nebulous cosmic doom and dreamy psych style of the group perfectly, ambiguous, drifting through magical rites and petulant as it is.

Bringing one of Detroit’s burgeoning underground acts, hopefully, to a wider audience outside their home state, the most brilliant Bristol label Stolen Body Records kick off the year on a high with another worthy addition to their roster. I’ll be keeping an eye on the band’s progress for sure.






A Lily  ‘Ten Drones On Cassette’
Sweeney  ‘Middle Ages’
Both available now through Sound In Silence

 

From the fag end of 2017 a pair of cinematic ambient suites and emotionally yearned songs from the collectables boutique Athens label, Sound In Silence.

The purveyors of limited edition experiments and works of sonic art, the Greek label’s roster of artists has recently been boosted by the addition of the Brighton based musician James Vella, better known as A Lily. A member of the post-rock outfit Yndi Halda, Vella has also carved out a name for himself producing a mix of ambient, folktronica and classical releases for a myriad of labels, including Dynamophone, Fierce Panda and Love Thy Neighbour.

Navigating solo into heavenly ambient spheres, Vella’s first album for the label (his first full length record since 2011) is a subtle minimalist collection of cinematic drones that ascend and ebb between the mysterious and ethereal. Each track – inspired by or named after a specific person – on this cassette tape conceptualized album serenely hovers above the clouds. Atmospherically encircling smoky valleys (Hildur) or hauntingly mimicking angelic choral breaths (Jas), Vella’s sonic imaginings are mostly majestic, spiraling in a dappled intriguing light. There are however slightly denser evocations and signs of alien forbade: for instance, the otherworldly tubular and humming gateway to a parallel dimension soundtrack, Miles, and the Zeppelin engine leviathan gliding Konstantin.

A collection of pulchritude drone currents with ascendant and subtle gravitas, Ten Drones On Cassette is surprisingly melodic in places. Neither warm nor cold, but just right, it is a quality ambient experience, and cinematic in scope. Limited, as are all Sound In Silence releases, to only 200 handmade and hand-numbered copies – better than its original release, confined to just one copy of each track on a separate cassette – you can thankfully access it via the label’s Bandcamp page. And it rightly deserves a wider audience.





Complimentary but quite different, the second release from the label is a neo-soul classical tumult of emotional suffrage and mythical yearning love from the Adelaide musician, interactive artist and composer Jason Sweeney.

Recording for the last two decades under a stream of solo guises (Panoptique Electrical, Simpática) and with friends in various groups (far too many to name, but includes Pretty Boy Crossover, Sweet William and Par Avion), Sweeney pours his heart out, making use of his back catalogue and wider projects producing work for galleries and theatre, on his latest romantic heart-wrenching album, Middle Ages. As the title suggests – though could also be a reference to a middle age crisis – this album features a sort of Medieval trace of the choral; a hymn-like venerated beauty of yore. You could say it had a timeless quality, blending as it does the classical with subtle electronica elements, including misty and peaceable synth.

With collaborators Jed Palmer and Zoë Barry providing plaintive, accentuate and pining string arrangements (though they both also offer bass, guitar and accordion accompaniment) to Sweeney’s elegant melodic piano and mournful, Antony Hegarty meets James Blake, vocals, there’s a real elegiac quality to this mix of suffused Baroque poetry and sophisticated dramatic malady.

Thematically an album about men, or rather the spurned or requited love for them, but also a commentary on man’s place in the world, both old and contemporary, from birth to eventual death – check the morbidly curious full-circle-is-complete leitmotif of the curtain call, Burial. Beautifully sung, Sweeney exudes a sort of worshipped love for the Man Of Dreams on one of the album’s most tender enchanting paeans: Sweeney’s object of affection conjurer’s up a Greek warrior from the side of an earthenware vase. A love carried across an ancient timeline, there’s Talk Talk like odes to goddesses (Oh Goddess), Scott Walkeresque poetry (End Of Men) and swelling orchestral chamber pop diorama (Night At Spirit Lake).

Tender and fraught, moving and at times deeply sad, Middle Ages is a mature literary rich and mythological cerebral highlight from a musician at the top of his game.






Soho Rezanejad  ‘Six Archetypes’
Silicone Records,  19th January 2018

 

Impressive in all its striking celestial and throbbing distressed staccato shimmer the experimental Danish artist Soho Rezanejad’s ethereal but equally futurist dystopian ambitious new LP, Six Archetypes, is a bold exploration of identity politics.

Interplaying six of the major character symbols (The Guardian, The Orphan, The Seeker, The Russian, The Idealist, The Prostitute) from the Tarot with Carl Jung’s Psychological writings on the collective and structured reality, Rezanejad weaves the complex contemporary themes of gender liquidity and self-discovery into an amorphous mix of electronica, darkwave and Gothic pop suites.

Though not always audible, Rezanejad’s untethered vocals – vaporous and often ghostly undulating in an aria style – whisper, coo, lull, pant, wrench and shout throughout the shard majestic and multilayered intricate backing of synthesized, programmed, modeled sounds. It’s a striking voice too. At times, such as the beautiful but serious stellar flight of the navigator, Bjork meets Chino Amobi, rotary opener Pilot The Guardian, she sounds like Nico. And at other times, such as the lush Bowie/Sylvian synchronicity, Soon, her vocals sound like a mixture of Jesus Zola and Lykke Li.

Whilst lyrics float, linger and carve through the microtonal melodies and ambient visages, we have to wait until the Actor’s Monologue to hear, in almost clarity, Rezanejad’s stark phaser modulated rapid flowing message of protest: advocating an escape from the restrictions of the body you were born into; that the mind is all; and that normality is suppression.

Fluidity musically as well as lyrically and thematically, there’s echoes of space-age darkness Massive Attack on the “moonless world” cry of the plaint Reptile, scuttling panoramic metallic techno on the heartbeat-based pulse of Intermezzo, and transmorphic avant-jazz on the broody romantic December Song.

Returning to the soil, so to speak, Rezanejad saves her most heartfelt yearn until the end; lovingly but starkly impassioned, singing in her ancestral tongue of Farsi – Rezanejad is the daughter of first generation Iranian immigrants – the National Council Of Resistance Of Iran’s alternative national song in protest against the state’s heavy-handed ideology. With its Middle Eastern exotic forbade and plaintive beauty, Elegie speaks of exile and proves to be a perceptive song to include in these anxious times as the world (well unlikely figures such as Trump at least) watches to see what happens next with the small but significant current demonstrations in the country that began last month in 2017 – calling for jobs and an end to economic failures, a movement of protest has spread throughout Iran and been met with strong resistance; though at the time of writing this review, at least 20 plus protesters had been killed and thousands arrested.

An ambitious debut opus of dark beauty and ominous despair, Six Archetypes is a highly impressive cosmology of gender, roots and futurism politics and narratives, perhaps already a 2018 creative highlight.





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