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 REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona

Baluji Shrivastav - Monolith Cocktail

Tickling Our Fancy 046:  Srdjan Beronja,  Nick Blackos,  Clap Your Hands Say Yeah,  Irk Yste,  IRL Remixes,  The Nightjar and Baluji Shrivastav.

In this edition of Tickling Our Fancy, Alec Ounsworth, under his famous Clap Your Hands Say Yeah moniker, returns with a brilliant new “cathartic” purging of an album, The Tourist; the inconspicuous but effective in spreading ever more eclectic world music sounds to a wider audience, Independent Records Ltd label, celebrates its first fifteen years in the business with an album of transmogrified remixes, entitled Terraforming In Analogue Space; ARC Music release two Indian music inspired albums, with a Best Of the legendary Baluji Shrivastav (who made London his home in the early 80s) and a new travelogue that straddles not only India, but also the Balkans and the Middle East, from the erudite Serbian multi instrumentalist Srdjan Beronja; The Nightjar unfurl their accentuated and stark contemplated post-folk debut, Objects; plus the inaugural release for the German label, GiveUsYourGOLD, from the Weimar Techno duo Irk Yste, and a new album of Nick Blackos hip-hop instrumentals from the burgeoning ONV blueprint.


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah   ‘The Tourist’
Released  24th February 2017


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Monolith Cocktail

 

 

Inimitably jump-starting a cerebral indie-pop scene in the mid noughties with his unique off-kilter melodies and quivered, yodeled vocals, the fiercely independent, Alec Ounsworth created major ripples with his nom de plume, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-released debut in 2005.

Every critics nightmare in the labored name department, and so abbreviated to save precious time (oh pity us poor feckless critic darlings!), CYHSY was instrumental in influencing and inspiring a rafter of artists and bands. Ounsworth’s peers have evidently caught up, and his fifth album, The Tourist, reflects this; suffused as it is with familiar echoes of The Parenthetical Girls, Les Savy Fav, Elliot Smith, the Arcade Fire, and on the askew r’n’b lite, A Chance To Cure, Chk Chk Chk.

One man’s vision, orchestrated in a solitary fashion, Ounsworth is self-confessedly “stubborn” when it comes to recording. However, though he writes and arranges everything he’s joined in the studio by a bassist and drummer, who offer a bright, expanded “band feel” to the material. These recordings were further embellished with additional back-up vocals, keyboards, guitars and percussion, tidied up by engineer Nick Krill and eventually mixed (and egged-on) by CYHSY “anchor” Dave Friedman – who previously worked of course on the Some Loud Thunder and Only Run albums. The results of this process are magnificent; the anxiety-ridden, rich challenging themes channeled through an airy and often breezy big sound.

Ounsworth stumbles and ponders through a “post factual” strewn world of challenging emotions trying, to make sense of it all. At times the album title could even be said to act as a metaphor for the artist’s own estranged and removed soul-searching: a tourist in his own country. As lyrically adroit as ever, he carefully crams in as many associated references and wordplays as he can, squeezing a lot out of every phrase and expression in a characteristic style that leans towards a more cheery disposed Thom Yorke. Despite some sad and profound pathos heavy lyricism, Ounsworth’s “purging” of thoughts is meant to be a cathartic experience. The anxieties of our times can’t help but leak from every other line, yet The Tourist is a fairly warm, jangly surprise package of lolloping and anthemic songs. Building and soaring to an emotive brightened crescendo of sweetness and yearning on The Vanity Of Trying; contorting and bending guitar textures in a Robert Fripp fashion on the psych-pop gnarled Down (Is Where I Want To Be); and, up close and personal (every breathe audible) to the mic, driving through an 80s nocturnal rock ballad on Better Off, the inimitable Ounsworth careers through a full gamut of moods and chaos in the most natural and energetically purposeful way.

Clocking in at well under the forty minute mark (bands and artists take note) The Tourist is an unlabored, near-perfect melodious album. It says all it needs to and more; free of indulgence, and despite its bombast, sophisticated suffused layering is incredibly lean and brisk. A most enjoyable if poignant experience, this album already sets the benchmark in 2017, and is without doubt one of CYHSY’s best.





Various   ‘Terraforming In Analogue Space  –  IRL Remixes 2000  –  2015’
Released  by  IRL,  24th  February  2017


terraforming-in-analogue-space - Monolith Cocktail

 

Celebrating fifteen years (the first that is) of “global music” transmogrification – transforming what are in many cases the most raw and basic of field recordings into stunning peregrinations and flights of internationally amorphous fantasy – Independent Records Ltd. have chosen label stalwart Nick “Dubulah” Page to curate a 100th release special of remixes, that once again, in-keeping with their “raison d’être”, offers an alternative sonic vision of choice tracks from the back catalogue.

Regular Monolith Cocktail followers may recall my review of Page’s Xaos mythical Hellenistic soundscape collaboration with Ahetas Jimi and a group of traditional musicians, which made the blog’s choice albums of 2015 feature. The multi-instrumentalist, producer and writer may also be familiar to readers for his work with Transglobal Underground and Dub Colossus. All three of which appear in one form or another on this reinvigorated album: that reimagined Greek tragedy Xaos, for instance, is represented with a David Sylvian flittering, and quickened rhythm and beats swaddled TJ Rehmi mix of Pindos Full Moon, and a subtle bounding timpani, 80s synth-horror soundtrack style treatment, by Stereo Mike, of the esoteric Byzantine evocation Processional – one part atavistic Biblical Aphrodite’s Child, the other, John Carpenter in the “fog”.

But before we venture any further, a little background is needed. The illusive IRL – not one to herald and pontificate loudly – have remained a highly influential purveyor of music from across the most wild, isolated and wondrous corners of the world, even if they remain on the peripherals; relatively obscure. Originally formed by a trio of artist/band managers, whose eclectic CV included managing at one time or another, Sinead O’Connor, Beth Orton, Rialto, Jah Wobble and The Wonder Stuff, IRL’s remit was to remain inconspicuous. Key figures in this enterprise, the guitarist and in recent years, member of Robert Plant’s Sensational Space Shifters, Justin Adams, and field recording specialist extraordinaire and general polymath of distinction, Ian Brennan, have brought the goods, or at least help shape them. And it’s no surprise that they feature heavily, with both their own productions and songs receiving the remix treatment, but also appearing in their original form on a second CD. Brennan, who I interviewed for the blog last year, memorably introduced the sublime ragged and dusty gospel-influenced Malawi Mouse Boys to the label. The rodent kebab sellers and, as it turns out, gifted musicians/singers from one of the poorest of poor hamlets are given a galloping dubstep-lite flitter by The Dhol Foundation on the village serenaded and lolloping, Ndinasangalala (I Was Happy), and acquire a Teutonic electro affects package of drum pad lasers, modulating contoured synth and handclap percussion (remolded from the joyous clapping on the original) on Dalek Romeo’s horizon floating mix of Manja (Clap Your Hands). Other choice Brennan productions, reconfigured and taken off-course, include the Lunar Drive mix of General Paolino’s Congratulations South Sudan, which shifts between two-step accelerated shuffling and half-time dreamy lilting soul, and the Penguin Café Orchestra’s, as ever, lush and subtle scenic mix of Acholi Machon’s Convoy.

ahetas-dubulah- Monolith Cocktail


Making the most appearances however, the already mentioned Justin Adams appears in many guises, both as a solo artist and as a collaborator and producer. His own lo fi Desert Road trip is underlain with a percussive cycle of tight-delayed electronic snare and soft prodding synthesized bass by Dub Colossus, but keeps its original mirage-shimmering candor. There’s also a lunar whistling and quivering Radar Station mix of Adams’, with Juldeh Camera’s Ngamen, and a trio of, mostly subtle transformations of the French chanson group Lo’Jo, who Adams produced. Heavily intoxicated by North African musical influences, Lo’Jo in fact took Adams on his first trip to Mali, which as a result, led to them both producing the sublime Tuareg desert blues group Tinariwen’s legendary 2001 release, The Radio Tisdas Sessions.

Complementing Lo’Jo’s Arab-Franco signatures further, as if in some kind of dreamscape, Bernard O’Neill (comrade-in-arms of Page in Dub Colossus and other incarnations), appearing here under the Syriana banner, accentuates the jazzy seductive, liaison-amongst-the-Tunisian-sand-dunes, mood with a Holger Czukay-like evocation on the group’s Sur Des Carnet Nus. A Boyscout mix of their languid Yalaki reimagines them as Moloko, whilst album closer, Carnet US Vatican Radio, also mixed by O’Neill, lets the concertinaed, yearning lived-in French vocals and atmospheric crackles dissipate into the ether.

Broadening musical horizons, if politically and societally it seems many are retreating towards nationalistic introspection, IRL have released some superb albums. It was through the label’s 2003 Festival In The Desert LP that I first heard the mesmerizing Saharan transcendental blues of Tinariwen. And the “terraforming in analogue space” album opens with a suitably suffused desert contoured and Kraftwerk-like kinetic beats driven peregrination of their entrancing Oualahila by the world music and electronica fusion doyens Transglobal Underground.

Taking the LP title literally, “terraforming” describes the process of making a planet habitable for us humans, changing the atmosphere and life-giving properties to that of Earths. In this instance, IRL allow others to reshape their back catalogue in an attempt to introduce the listener to inhabit an ever richer and eclectic space. Despite drifting untethered into the galaxy, at times sounding almost alien, this remix appraisal seeks to bring the global community together in the spirit of human commonality.




The Nightjar   ‘Objects’
Released  17th  March  2017


The Nightjar - Monolith Cocktail

 

To the group’s credit, The Nightjar’s accentuated and stark contemplations on the human condition and the constructs that give meaning to reality itself, including the inevitable specter of death, couldn’t have sounded more peaceable and full of grace. Such heavy themes as these, inspired in part by both Eastern philosophy and the Catholic afflatus metaphysical quandaries, posed by the late venerable French composer Olivier Messiaen, usually promise a hard slog and grueling experience for the listener. Yet, despite the raw directness of this Bristol ensemble’s naturalistic, poised, songbook of “hope, loss and disaster”, every performance is beautifully and dreamily executed.

Referring to their debut album, Objects, as a collection of “songs for the end of time”, “concerned with transformation, transience and impermanence”, The Nightjar articulates the fleeting and sings of a time when nature reclaims the encroaching man-made landscape. Describing their particular style as “lo fi post-folk”, they do push and experiment with the folk genre, though the choice of themes, and even with the inclusion of the re-arranged traditional songs Hangman and Dle Yaman, summon up the atavistic. For instance, the age-old standard, Hangman, is a scion of over hundreds of variations on the same central trope; an unknown fated protagonist waits, hoping that out of a litany of visitors, from family members to lovers, someone will arrive in time with the right coinage bribe to free them from the hangman’s noose. The Nightjar hauntingly resurrect this morbid tale with a suitable lamentable vocal, paused, sighing electric guitar and a harrowed bowed drone. Albeit from what I can gather with little information, Dle Yaman is another standard, this time a plaintive Armenian ode, an exclamation of mourning, which the group furnishes with a divine sacrosanct ascendency.

Exploring the void, submerged under a amorphous gauze of diaphanous and ether atmospherics, The Nightjar recorded their album in rural Portugal on the most basic of equipment. Informed by such “interesting” locations as a dilapidated bar in the Old Town of Sertã, and the distressed run-down piano that came with it, they fluctuate between (what sounds like) a gramophone scratched transmission, from the great beyond, and a clearer, more evocative and resonated style or recording. The backing is mostly subtle and attentive: the electric and acoustic guitars erudite and drums attentive throughout, ascending, descending in the ebb and flow of the building drama. But most striking is the vocal work of Mo Kirby, who perfectly articulates the mood with a measured performance of sorrow, yearning, tumultuous lament and the ethereal.

Finding a passage through an allegorical “wardrobe” into an earnest, toiled world of cockleshell dredger inhabited coastal shorelines and riverbeds; swallowed whole by the soil into the psychogeography, The Nightjar waft through centuries of despair and meaning to map out an auger of unease about our future.





Baluji  Shrivastav   ‘Best  Of…’
Srdjan Beronja   ‘Sounds  Of  The  East:  Music  From  The  Balkans,  India  And The  Middle  East’
Both released by ARC Music,  24th  February 2017


Photo credit to Simon Richardson

Photo credit to Simon Richardson

 

Capping off last year’s 40th anniversary celebrations with a top three placing in the highly regarded Womex “top 20 labels” awards, the industrious world music label ARC Music starts the new year as they mean to go on, with a duo of congruous Eastern imbued musical travelogues from Baluji Shrivastav and Srdjan Beronja. The first of which is a “best of” collection and timely appreciation of the revered Indian music virtuoso – who was recently honoured with an OBE -, the second, is a collection of field recordings taken from a geographical triangle of India, the Balkans and the Middle East. Both albums overlap; Shrivastav’s polygenesis array of ragas and concepts chiming with Beronja’s own sitar and Indian redolent cornucopia of recordings. And coming as they do from different starting points and cultures, compliment each other well.

Highly qualified, gaining a degree for his vocal studies from the University of Lucknow, and a BA for tablas and an MA for sitar from the Allahabad University, respectfully, multi-instrumentalist composer Baluji Shrivastav has journeyed a well-travail(ed) road to reach his richly deserved status as one of India’s most cherished exports. Musically championed of course on this collection, he’s equally respected for his fervent campaigning as a cofounder, alongside his wife, the composer and songwriter Linda Shanson, of the London-based Baluji Music Foundation. Shrivastav, who was blinded at only eight months from glaucoma, and Shanson’s foundation has and continues to help further the cause of the blind and visually impaired, as well as disabled in music. Whilst this impairment hasn’t held the gifted and tactile musician back – if anything, inspiring experimentation and an alternative, sometimes original, way of doing things – it has obviously shaped him.

A positive extension of his foundation is the Inner Vision Orchestra; steered and directed by Shrivastav, the 14-piece ensemble is a melting pot of cultures, with members from the Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, Japan, and Nigeria. This troupe can be heard on both the exotic Persian love yearned Chashma Sia Dari (sung in the Dari dialect, a spoken form of Persian used in Afghanistan), and the swimmingly reedy ensemble-vocal piece, Diggy Diggy Diggy Ya Rababa.


Photo credit to Simon Richardson

Photo credit to Simon Richardson




Making London his home in the early 80s, Shrivastav’s humble journey from the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to the streets of the England capital informs most of the material. Taken from his recording career over this four-decade period, some tracks make more obvious allusions to this than others. One of the earliest, Fruit from 1982, is a lilting sitar version of the Linda Shanovitch written South American-bound love tryst. Languid Cuban flavours and sauntering sway work well with the Indian instrumentation, in what is a fusion of styles we seldom hear. Reflecting, in a more grandiose manner, his attentive first steps in, and embrace of, London, there’s the instrumental trilogy of Discovering London & Friendship, Walking Through The Streets and Mixing With The Crowd And Spirit Of Joy. All of which tie together Shrivastav’s experiences, mixing classical British pomp and circumstance with the exotic reverberations of India across three various mood soundtracks. The rest of this collection mixes more traditional adaptations with contemporary arrangements; devotional standards such as the melodious Raag Shobhavari, and the spritely, full of life, Indian dance, Nartaki.

As highly complex and intricate as you’d expect, with countless forms, scales and “ascending’, “descending” notes of praise, adulation and contemplation, as well as guest appearances from not only Inner Vision but also the Egyptian master tabla player Hossam Ramzy, Andy Sheppard and Guy Baker, all these performances remain organic and fluid – there is a detailed inventory and backstory booklet however for those who wish to dip further into the finer details.

Though he’s worked with a dizzying cast of eclectic performers including tabla legends Anindo Chatterji and Ustad Fayaz Khan, and artists as diverse as Massive Attack and Stevie Wonder over the years, Baluji Shrivastav is now enjoying a welcome appraisal: On top of that OBE he received in the Queen’s birthday honours list last year, a GG2 Leadership Award for Achievement Through Adversity, there’s also a new documentary about the Inner Vision Orchestra, Colours Of Sound, from the director Marie-Cécile Embleton, and now this highly enjoyable survey compilation. An introduction and retrospective, this Best Of album will endear the listener to the prowess and multifaceted evocations of the sitar and its accompanying Indian instrumentation.


Srdjan Beronja - Monolith Cocktail

Imbued with a similar Indian sound palette, though one that has amorphously blended it with those of the Middle East and the Balkans, Serbian composer Srdjan Beronja takes the familiar buzz of the sitar and highly deft, rapid tapping rhythms of the tabla and merges them with a host of instruments from ancient Persia and North Africa on his latest album, Sounds Of The East. Drifting across a geographical triangle of influence, the ethnomusicologist travels between all three corners of his sonic map, recording both traditional and original field recordings and improvised performances. It is in short, a veritable odyssey of discoveries; moving seamlessly through the exotic landscape, capturing many unusual and surprising sounds.

Following on “effortlessly” from his previous 2015 album, Sounds Of Varanasi – the Indian holy town of the title appears again on this collection -, Beronja, again, spends most of his time in India. Recordings vary in length and drama; from the menagerie “morning chorus” of wild twirling, hooting and convoluted birdlife, found on the heat-sapping Alapana – recorded in Kerala – to the gunpowder explosion firework snapshot of the famous Diwali Festival Of Light, on Visphot – meant as a poignant reflection on the damage that this bombastic firework display inflicts on the environment. There’s also more performance-based instrumentals, including the improvised, joyful, Raag Jog Dhun, which partners Beronja on the tabla-like darabuka drum with maestro violinist Pt Sukhdev Prasad Misha (a revered ambassador of Hindustani classical music no less), and the more groovy but reflective, Raga Sitar-Daf Kirvani, which sees Beronja play the Persian frame “daf” drum and the notable Pt Dhruv Nath Mishra sit in on the sitar.

Leaving behind the scenery but not the music, those Indian sounds lingering on as Beronja journeys to the Middle East and the Balkans. The strangest recording, Nora Of Hama, captures the weird buzzsaw and motorbike revving sounds of a wooden water wheel in the Syrian town of the title. Disturbing, almost ominous, the scraping and creaking mechanics offer a surreal window into age-old apparatus; still in use; still providing an essential resource. In a similar landscape of musical influence, the Serbian composer invites the Sarajevo born oud player and multi-instrumentalist Marina Tošić to join him on the “open air” improvised liturgy, Maqam Bayati Oud Taqsim. Tošić also appears, playing the pan flute, on the live in concert recorded, Shepherd’s Love Song. Two musical spheres and traditions, one from (again) India, the other, the Balkans, entwine on this sad tale of the lonely shepherd pining on the hillside in wistful lament because of a former lover’s unreciprocated love. Another “virtuoso” (just one of the many) oud player, but also more than handy on the zither-like qanun, Stefan Sablić plucks away dreamily on the ethereal album closer lullaby, Maqam Ajam Qanun Taqsim.

As with many ARC Music releases, in depth notes can be found in the accompanying album booklet. Not that you need an extensive knowledge, and with so many different influences and ways of interpreting meaning from the highly sophisticated, centuries old traditions of specific scales, it’s better to let the music breathe unburdened. Of course it’s all interesting and informative, but it also shows the cross-pollination process and intricate blending of styles that makes this music so universally connected. Sounds Of The East is an intriguing, often surprising, musical travelogue; one that reminds us just how erroneous those musical borders really are, as Beronja finds the sounds that bind us.






Nick  Blackos  &  LOA   ‘No Reason’
Released  by  ONV,  available  now


Nick Blackos/ONV - Monolith Cocktail

 

Dropping releases surreptitiously without any fanfares or grandstanding, the burgeoning London-based hip-hop (and all it’s many congruous bedfellows) label ONV has in the last week, shinnied an eight-track instrumental showcase up the flagpole in the hope someone will salute it. Entitled No Reason of course, this latest collection of transmogrified 808 beats, tight kinetic drums, tetchy glitches, and warped languid samples is every bit as in line with the label’s signature subterranean and gritty London-soundscape style as previous EPs, LPs and odd tracks.

No Reason travails a strewn, strung-out sonic landscape, littered with cryptic chemicals (T88), vortex obscured utterances, speech and lulling voices (Four Horsemen, Get Away), languid vapours of dubstep and grime (Grotti), and the slow ticking away of time (Tranceforma). Lo fi and off most radars, ONV’s principle Nick Blackos, and the mysterious LOA, have produced another curious, underground and leftfield hip-hop album.




Irk Yste   ‘Wumpe/Stroppe’
Released  by  GiveUsYourGOLD,  3rd  February  2017


Irk Yste - Monolith Cocktail

 

The first release of the year from our friends at GiveUsYourGOLD – the artist-run Berlin label founded a few years ago by Alexandre Decoupigny and Thomas Tichai, of Psycho & Plastic fame -, the cool aloof Irk Yste debut is a sophisticated three-track techno transmission from the historically and culturally important eastern German town of Weimar.

Since bonding in the sandbox of their playschool in ’84, the Irk Yste’s Christoph and Benjamin (no surnames given) have shared a penchant for music, especially acid techno. Introduced to the style whilst in Denmark during the dawn of the noughties, the musical partnership toured the (as the bio describes it) “flattest of kingdoms” to ride on that inimitable acid wave. Via a number of projects, including The Zonnhaider’s Club and Norsal Flow, and a sojourn studying electroacoustics at the SeaM institute, in the city they now call home, the Weimar duo now release their inaugural explorations under their latest darkly melodic techno incarnation.

Informed by an “iterative” process of building sonic structure and harmony before dismantling and starting anew, the three-track Wumpe/Stroppe suite is a sophisticated, suffused mix of minimal techno, house and, even, jazz. The opening machine-age with soul, Wumpe, starts with a nauanced chain reaction of R&S and Basic Channel flavoured kinetic beats and a sonorous bass drum, but gradually builds to an ascendant, cinematic melody finish. From a similar mould but hinting towards a more lilting nocturnal escape, Stroppe is a metallic glistening slow ride into an unsure future scape. More a vignette, the final track, Pumps, fades in on a stirring pronounced synthesizer drone wave, before a serial accompaniment of warping, wobbling robotic and dial-up sounds interweave with the minimalist stripped-down techno foundations.

An impressive glimpse inside the machine, GiveUsYourGOLD promise that there’s more to come from their latest signing. Stay tuned for further techno explorations in the future-now.



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