ALBUM REVIEW
DOMINIC VALVONA

Gillian Stone ‘Spirit Photographs’

Dressed like a spiritualist flapper of the 1920s on the cover of her new EP, the Toronto siren and artist Gillian Stone summons various manifestations in the pursuit of processing both grief and the debilitating effects of mental health.

Made apparent by the title, the 19th century and early 20th century phenomena of “spirit photography” lends a somewhat esoteric, supernatural and mysterious angle to what is in fact the more academic psychiatric method of dealing with, and in time, coming to terms with loss. For each song on this deeply felt, atmospheric release represents one of the five stages of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ pioneering model: that’s Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally, Acceptance. The Swiss-American doyen of psychiatry, heralded in Time magazine as one of the 20th century’s “100 Most Important Thinkers’, wrote one of the leading works (On Death And Dying) on accepting the inevitable in the late 1960s, after personally witnessing such traumas and dealing with childhood illness herself – an epiphany was struck after facing the aftermath of the Second World War’s concentration camps.

More or less the standard in counseling and navigating death, Kübler-Ross’ process is merged with unscientific empirical desperation and the often charlatan practice of Spiritualism. As a practice that grew out of the infancy of photography itself, and in part from the collective grief of the American Civil War, certain practitioners using various techniques added dead family members, loved ones in apparitional form to sitting portraits – usually lurking behind the very much alive subject, or manifesting from their supposed psyche. What may have been a comfort to some – proof of life-after-death and messages from beyond the ether – was essentially a trick. However, Stone draws that which cannot be quantified, explained together with the scientific mind in an act of describing her own anxieties, pains, but eventual release from the spectre of depression. And although this is a sometimes haunting, uneasy EP, Stone’s beautifully accented prose and emotions are delivered with a lighter, diaphanous touch that exudes as much promise as sorrow. Even when covering the heavy melancholy of Black Sabbath’s morbidly curious ‘Solitude’ Stone turns a self-pitied gloom of a tune into a Pentangle (the quintessential English acid-psych-folk ensemble not the Satanic symbol) like, medieval reaching and more sweetened proposition.        

Stone obviously turns the original’s pained, male-prospective on its head: with everything that entails. Mind, it’s still a trudge through the miserable, and it’s also used to represent ‘stage four” on the scale: depression. Talking though of addressing gender imbalances, Stone enters, at times, the heavily over-subscribed post-rock arena on many of the EP’s tracks. It’s a genre I’m not too impressed with personally, and find quite boring and mundane – sacrilege I know, but God I hate Mogwai and their self-indulgent turgid malaise. Stone however, brings an endearing, inviting almost, quality to that genre; especially on the gently sweeping, almost sleepwalking dreamt spell ‘June’, which opens the EP. Representing the first stage, denial, this slow drummed bohemian and quivery-droned chill is one of Stone’s most sublime turns; a kind of haunted communion of Dana Gavinski, Michael Peter Olsen, the Heartless Bastards and Aldous Harding – two of which appear on Stone’s specially created playlist of EP influences.

Working with co-producer Michael Peter Olsen (Zoom, The Hidden Cameras) and drummer Spencer Cole (Weaver, Weather Staion) Stone’s singular talents are amplified by the accentuated, careful and purposeful contributions of her foils. Especially on the two tracks already mentioned, but also on the folksy and gothic travelled tumultuous ‘Amends’ (Provincials and These Trials break bread with All About Eve as a snuggled suffused saxophone-like drone weeps), and David Sylvain mood piece ‘Raven’s Song’. The latter I’m sure has some American Gothic, Poe-like inspiration about it; after all, it is supernatural in sound with touches of creeping hymnal atmospherics and even the ominous clopping of hooves.

That’s both “anger” and “bargaining” dealt with on this journey. The final stage, turning point you could say, is of course “acceptance”, and this is reflected on the siren song ‘The Throne’. Full of “drowning” metaphors it might be, but the waters of despair also cleanse and wash away the helpless state of a mental stumbling block in the process. Hints of 70s folk-rock and country can be, intentional or not, detected on what is another beautifully conveyed plaint. I must emphasis however that Stone’s timbre, cadence and tone is far from mournful, or even helpless. Instead the abstract of dealing with such problems, illness and grief is articulated with a certain beauty (that word yet again) and spirit of perseverance and understanding. In an age, as Stone quotes, of “collective trauma” it can feel so comforting to know that others get your pain, or, in this case can transform it into something so constructive and creatively therapeutic: no matter how bleak. But unlike the parlour tricks, charade of spirit photography, Stone casts her ghostly visitations aside, finding a release and source of light in the darkness of both inner and outer torment.

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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GRAHAM DOMAIN’S REVIEWS SPECIAL

ALBUMS

Old Fire ‘Voids’
(Western Vinyl Records) 4th November 2022

Voids is the second album by Old Fire, AKA composer and producer John Mark Lapham (formerly of The Earlies). Whilst the first album received comparisons to This Mortal Coil, the new one comes across like the soundtrack to a bleak art film, particularly the instrumental tracks. Which isn’t to say it’s not great! Indeed, the music is often uplifting in its sadness and beauty.

Over the five years in which it was recorded, the Pandemic happened, Lapham lost both parents and split from his long-term partner. Feelings of loss, isolation and desolation form the themes of the album and are ever present in the music and songs throughout. Partly a collaborative affair there are fantastic performances from Bill Callahan, Julia Holter, Loma’s Emily Cross and Adam Torres!

The album begins with the instrumental ‘All Gone’, which fades in on mournful brass and echoing piano with squiggles of babbling synth noise, space FX and virtual ghost choir! Soon giving way to ‘Blue Star’ a dream-pop/country/jazz song that part recalls Marissa Nadler circa ‘Drone-flower’. This gem of a song features the wonderful Emily Cross of Lomawith a voice as devastating as Lana Del Rey!

‘When I was in My Prime’ features the magnificent Bill Callahan (Smog) intoning a tale of summer love, loss, sadness and longing. Beginning with a droning orchestra it soon conjures a picture of flying insects feeding on wild flowers, the anticipation and the thrill of love, the freeing of the soul. A double bass and brushed drums add to the air of ease. But all too soon, as birds swoop down, still feeding at the death, a lonely guitar sings of the emptiness left behind as love leaves and a relationship ends!

‘Corpus’ follows – wind noise and droning keyboards mix with sad brass, tremolo guitar, brushed drums and discordant noise while Mr Smog intones a mantra that rests somewhere in-between Nick Cave and Ian McCulloch but, ultimately, could only be Bill Callahan. ‘Love is Only Dreaming’ is next, an instrumental that is more about atmosphere than melody sounding not unlike the throb of an alien space craft in a 1950’s Sci-fi B-Movie!

Adam Torres sings the fantastic ‘Dreamless’ sounding somewhere in-between Billy Mackenzie and Russell Mael with his soaring falsetto. The song and electronic music give the feel of floating in space – drifting endlessly in the black void – dreamless!

An outstanding piano version of John Martyn’s ‘Don’t You Go’ sung by Bill Callahan is a definite highlight! The sad themes of loss and mourning fitting in perfectly with the rest of the album.

The strange sci-fi world of ‘Window’ features Julia Holter singing through a voice processor or vocoder making her sound cold and alien, machine like almost! This contrasts with the warm music of woodwind, harp, brass, brushed drums and tremolo guitar. The overall feel is like something from the Cocteau Twins circa ‘Echoes in a Shallow Bay’– Wonderful!

The album ends with four superb instrumental pieces. In ‘Uninvited’, swashes of guitar fade in as the cold dawn peers through the curtains. The sound of early morning comedown, half dream, half surreal train ride down the rabbit hole of perception! ‘Memory’ creates feelings of unease, of distorted reality, a mushroom trip too far, a silent scream! Beauty born of sorrow and realisation. Like taking ownership for the weight of the world! This sense of sorrow overwhelms, bursting its banks in ‘Father as a Child’. While ‘Circles’ finds calm reflection after the storm, the floodwaters finally beginning to subside as the Sun breaks through the clouds and birds return to the skies!

FaltyDL ‘A Nurse to my Patience’
(Blueberry Records)  11th November 2022

The new album by FaltyDL (Electronic Musician and New York based Producer Drew Lustman) is a departure from his more dance-orientated records. The album draws on the sounds more often associated with less commercial independent or experimental artists. There are still tracks that can be danced to, but perhaps not in the usual dance clubs. ‘Zoo Jarre’ is reminiscent of New Order while ‘God Light’ filters in The Cure. ‘Come See Us’ features Interpol’s Paul Banks on vocals over a pounding drum machine and synth driven electronic alternative 80s style song! Much better are ‘Four Horses’ and ‘A Brother Bears the Silence’ – two acoustic psychedelic songs featuring the incredible Julianna Barwick on background vocals (check out her own incredible Healing is a Miracle album). ‘Doves Fears’ ends the album on an instrumental high note of anthemic surf guitar and pop synth summer melody.

A O Gerber ‘Meet Me at the Gloaming’
(Hand in Hive / Father Daughter Records)

The second album by LA resident A O Gerber explores childhood trauma, her fraught upbringing in a religious community, childhood fear of the unknown. However, the introspective songs are filled with melody and sound almost pop-country in their stripped back guitar, vocals, bass, drums format. Vocally she reminds me of Susanna Hoffs from the Bangles. However, the songs exist in the unreality of twilight, the gloaming, where dreams meet material existence, a reality half hidden by the falling shadows of night.

Modern Stars ‘Space Trips for the Masses’
(Little Cloud Records)  11th November 2022

The third album by psychedelic riders of the storm, Modern Stars, falls somewhere between The Mission and The Fields of the Nephilim. New single ‘Monkey Blues’ also has hints of the Doors and may have been an underground hit had it come out in 1987! That’s not necessarily a criticism as the 3-piece band hail from Italy and perhaps, are not too familiar with 1980’s UK Goth! ‘Mmmm’ is a Goth anthem if ever there was one, complete with flanged metallic drums. While, ‘My Messiah’ musically sounds like a discarded Joy Division jam from 1978 but in a good way! ‘Drowning’ adds tabla hand drums and sitar to the mix. The album ends with ‘Ninna Nanna’ a song that sounds a bit different with female vocals. Unfortunately, the vocal melody sounds like ‘Come by yar my lord’, perhaps making it the first Goth-spel song? Overall, a fine, if not totally original, album.

Ben Pagano ‘Exploring Dreams’
(Bandcamp)

This is the third release from New York singer songwriter and keyboard maestro Ben Pagano. The album is a collection of seven songs that sit vocally somewhere between Supertramp and Randy Newman! My favourite song is ‘Everybody’s Ghost’. The arrangements are pleasant with piano, synths, guitar, bass and drums and the overall sound has a 1970’s soft rock or AOR feel that will find favour with many. If he can stamp more of his own personality and quirkiness on the songs, he may get the success he seeks. One to watch!

I Work in Communications ‘Kiss My Emoji Ring’
(Tier)

‘The taste of Square Sausage versus the taste of sausages of other shape’ has perhaps never been considered for a ‘Panorama’ Special Investigation! However, under the watchful eye of Dr Arthur Mind MBS there has now been an investigative study to show that the shape of food can and does have a positive effect on its taste!

Consider the Triangle, for example, and its effect on the cheesiness of food! Former Cosmonaut Alexi Kraft discovered the wonders of this shape when he invented Kraft Cheese Slices in order to supply the first man in space Yuri Gagarin with a calcium filled snack that would strengthen his bones whilst orbiting the Earth in Vostok 1 on April 12 1961. After several attempts to sustain enough calcium for the space flight using oblong shaped cheese, the triangle was discovered by accident to be the perfect shape for maximum cheesiness, when one of the oblong shaped cheeses broke diagonally in half while Yuri was riding his bicycle down a hill in preparation for the G Force of the rocket launch!

Of course, in modern times it is quite apparent that a Babybel round cheese is nowhere near as tasty as a Kraft Cheese Triangle! However, the shape of food was soon to play a devastating part in Gagarin’s life. Tragedy struck Gagarin when in 1966 he inadvertently ate a Quality Street green triangle whilst filming an advert for Kraft! His ‘hero status’ in tatters, Gagarin was forced to flee to the West. He never recovered from his fall from grace, ending his days hidden in a bear costume-playing Bungle on Rainbow.

Like the dream reality of Yuri Gagarin, Kiss My Emoji Ring is heroic, strange, troubled, shaped with taste like a square sausage, weird! Doomed to global obscurity but reaching for the stars!

AND A COUPLE OF SINGLES

Tigercub ‘The Perfume of Decay’
(Loosegroove Records)

Gillian Stone ‘Ravens Song’
(Bandcamp)

Taken from the forthcoming EP Spirit Photographs, the new single from this Toronto-based experimental singer and musician is a sparse yet cinematic soundscape-folk song. It reminds of Nick Cave or P J Harvey in its moonlit darkness – can’t wait for the EP!

Reviews Jamboree
Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent releases include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, the diatribe ‘Boris Johnson Massacre’ and just in the last couple of months, both The King Of No-Fi album, and a collaborative derangement with the Texas miscreant Occult Character, Heart To Heart. He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics. And just this week, Metal Postcard Records have put out a collection live Bordellos material on Bandcamp.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.

Singles/Videos/Tracks.

Volcano Victims ‘Canicular Years’

I like this for a number of reasons, the first being they are called the Volcano Victims, what a great name for a band, the second thing I like is that it is a lovely jangly affair full of melody and spring freshness: the kind of song I may hum to myself if the occasion merits it. And also, it has a guitar solo; one that I don’t just ignore and push to the back of my mind [I on the whole hate guitar solos], but one I actively enjoyed and brought a smile to my face. So well done Volcano Victims.

Tori Amos ‘Better Angels’
(Decca Records) Taken from the 4th December released Christmastide EP

Sometimes you need a bit of over the top melodrama from Tori Amos, so why not a bit of over the top Christmas melodrama from Tori Amos. Crashing piano, Brian May like guitar flourishes and Tori emoting about what a bad year 2020 has been, but at least we have made through to Christmas: well some of us have. But this is a lovely dramatic swoosh of a velvet stage curtain of a song; one to drink port while looking out onto the cold dark but still beautiful world in which we live haunted by the memories of the year past.

Jumbo ‘Fluorescence/Mouse’
27th November 2020

This is a fine two track DIY pop single from Jumbo. It reminds me of both the Flaming Lips and Polyphonic Spree in the way their music at times has a cracked wonder and life affirming joy that delights, thrills and wants one to get a gang of friends around and sit in a field playing guitars and drinking bottles of milk stout or other beverages of your choice, and being young and carefree. Once again pop pickers another example of the magic of music.

Mandrake Handshake ‘Gonkulator’
(Nice Swan Records) 20th November 2020

I really love this track, more Jefferson Airplane than The Brian Jones Town Massacre (which is quite unusual these days), this track being more old school psych than the have a guitar peddle will press it and be buggered with the writing a melody malarkey bunch. For this does not just have a melody but a wonderful flute floating throughout the lovely song.

Gillian Stone ‘Bridges’
20th November 2020

‘Bridges’ is a dark and beautiful song; a song of many textures all of them warm in a very cold and brittle kind of way; a song that deals with life memories and all of their unbecoming and becoming raptures, it is the kind of song that one should only share with their closest and to be trusted friend. But that is the beauty of music as all listeners are the artist’s friends and this song deserves many friends as it is a lovely fragile tattered love letter to hope and remembrance of the dark and light in one’s life past and present.

‘Covid Christmas Nightmare’
(Metal Postcard Records)

A dark spooky Christmas lullaby from a unknown unnamed act [even though I think I know who the culprit is], a tinkling keyboard and lyrics concerning facemasks and Covid related issues, poor Santa is hold up at home with Covid-19, but not to worry he has posted the presents to the children’s parents: Let’s hope he has used royal mail and not Hermes. A nice and bewitching track, one to download and add to your Christmas playlist.

Albums..

Sunstack Jones  ‘Golden Repair’
(Mai 68 Records)

Sunstack Jones might well be a band from Liverpool but they’re a band steeped in the sun and melody of the West Coast of California circa 1968-1973. Gentle guitar jangle and fuzz merge with the harmonies of Crosby Stills and Nash, and at times bring to mind The Charlatans/Primal Scream/Stone Roses/The Verve in their more laid-back moments. This is maybe not the most original of albums but not all albums have to be original to be enjoyed, and any fans of the bands just mentioned will no doubt find Golden Repair an enjoyable listening experience.

The Salem Trials ‘Meet The Memory Police’

Oh my lord here we go again. Yes, it is time to review yet another album by the finest guitar band of 2020: The Salem Trials. Meet The Memory Police is the trials 6th album of the year and once again is as excellent and entertaining as their previous five; this one having a strange Rolling Stones vibe about some of the tracks but still retains the strange Salem Trials sound/feel that is totally unique to them.

They have a strange twisted aura of summers gone by, the sound of reliving the glory of last night’s party with cold pizza and leftover wine and awaking in the arms of the girl that used to be. There is a melancholy joy that runs throughout their music and indeed runs throughout this fine album. The Salem Trials are like a magical musical sponge soaking up many influences from the last 50 years of rock ‘n’ roll and when you give it a squeeze music with sleaze, dirt, danger and a dark madness drip ever so slowly, leaving a puddle on the floor for the wayward likeminded souls to splash and strip and writhe and shout and scream. If rock ‘n’ roll is dead this is the soundtrack to the wake: the sound of faded glamour and sordid memories. Once again the work of a truly special band.

See also…

Salem Trials ‘Fear For Whatever Comes Next’  (Here)


Salem Trials ‘Do Something Dangerous’  (Here)

Salem Trials ‘Pictures Of Skin’  (Here)

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