REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona
Images: Luis Mileo



Lina_Raül Refree ‘S/T’
(Glitterbeat Records) LP/17th January 2020

Stripped bare and rebuilt from the foundations up, the congruous and accentuate sonic and voice union of the striking siren simply known as Lina and Raül Refree subtly revive the often sullen and forlorn Portuguese tradition of ‘fado’. Working together for the first time, this collaborative partnership transforms a classic songbook of material made famous by the queen of fado, Amália Rodrigues, whilst keeping an essence of that folkloric style’s veneration and plaintive pull.

Continuing with a fresh formula that in the last few years has worked wonders for his collaborations with Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and the “incendiary” flamenco artist Rosalia, and created an experimental sonic mirage out of the on and off set atmosphere of Isaki Lacuesta’s flamenco exploration ‘Entre dos Agua’, Refree transports that tradition beyond its origins into an abstract soundscape that could evoke French Chanson as much as the Kosmische, and even the soundtrack work of Angelo Badalamenti. Not so much a sacrilege as a move away from past constrictions the multi talented musician/producer puts a contemporary spin on the indigenous musical form by removing the synonymous acoustic guitar accompaniment for a nuanced atmosphere of augmented, reverent and ambient analogue synthesizer and neoclassical piano.

Enervated circular metallic, vaporous mists and centrifugal forces envelope, caress or appear like distant murmurings, layered beneath Lina’s diaphanous and starkly sonorous vocals; taking the determined and soulful kernel of fado into some gauze-y, ominous and alien dimensions. Channeling the spirit of chanteuse and actress Amália Rodrigues – who did more than anyone to spread fado beyond the borders of Portugal – Lina’s adroit refashioning of the late performer’s repertoire plays centre stage on this experimentally minimalist LP.





A scion of fado, Lina inherited an interest in the style at the age of fifthteen. Broadening horizons, the burgeoning enchantress also studied opera; the barest, although highly impressive, opening up of those scales can be heard at key punctuated moments throughout. Building a reputation for her haunted interpretations and range, Lina has performed as a regular at the venerated Clube de Fado in Lisbon. Venturing into new uncharted soundscapes, Lina invited Refree in to apply a more liberal contemporary, even mysterious, production.

The dynamics of these two artists works in part because of Refree’s lack of investment or adherence to fado’s signatures and history. Relatively unburdened by its weighty worthiness, though no less respectful, these classical lamentable yearns and ballads open out into magical realism, the dreamy and the esoteric. On the echoed ‘Sta Luzia’ Lina sounds like a Portuguese transmogrification of Marianne Faithfull singing the ‘Ballad Of Lucy Jordan’, and on the rising torrid haunted sea omen ‘Gaivota’ you can hear touches of Diamanda Galas.

The beauty of morose and tragedy is explored with a synthesized and reconstructive intimacy that loses none of fado’s naturalistic and guttural heartbroken fragility. Refree’s production proves complimentary if subtly transformative; underpinning and accentuating the power and stark brilliance of Lina’s stirring performances without infringing upon the sensitivity or meaning.

Bellowed, ghostly, sensual, soothed and melodic: this album is all of these. Yet it is also sparse and stripped, almost to just the faintest of renderings with Refree’s presence at times almost recorded from beyond the ether. Fado’s legacy is in good hands as it lingers on into a new decade with a contemporary purpose.

Dominic Valvona





 

Album Reviews
Words: Dominic Valvona




After a short but knackering break from the site – moving house if you must know -, and with a waiting period nearly as long as the proroguing of parliament, as my broadband was activated – surely in this day and age it can’t seriously take over two weeks to be connected – I’m back with another eclectic roundup of the curious and recommended.

An international affair as ever, flying the flag for Colombia, the Bogotá union of Los Pirañas provides a cultish, kitsch and cosmic psychedelic cosmology on their third album, Historia Natural. Back across the Atlantic, and to Nigeria, I take a look at the seminal 80s Highlife-meets-Caribbean Osondi Owendi LP from the legendary Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, whilst in Europe, the Chateau Rouge borne project Bantou Mentale rewires the sounds and energy of the Democratic Republic Of Congo to create a dynamic and soulful new sound for the 21st century chaos. I also find much to enjoy about the Flemish language rewiring of Calypso and Savoy era jazz classics and obscurities from one-time dEUS guitarist Mauro Pawlowski – going under just one many of his alter egos, Maurits Pauwels.

Closer to home, a couple of UK releases, the first, Feel It Go Round, from the folksy psychedelic Oxford-based sibling led Catgod, and the second, Scottish Space Race, from the Glasgow ‘head music’ group The Cosmic Dead.

Finally, I take a look at a duo of albums that rewire and channel the influence of Robert Wyatt; the first, by Max Andrzejewski and his Hütte troupe of friends, pays a special homage to the maverick’s back catalogue, whilst the second, from the alternative pastoral Cold Spells, resonates with his more vulnerable fragile qualities.


Bantou Mentale ‘Bantou Mentale’
(Glitterbeat Records) 25th October 2019



A sizzle. A static shock, a charge that most importantly signals something is changing in the musical fabric; a signal of something dynamic but also something dangerous, a mirror image of the real world, the real refugee and migrant experience and chaos. Vivid and fresh being the optimum words as the Bantou Mentale vehicle shakes up the melting pot convergence of Paris’ infamous Chateau Rouge; addressing assumptions/presumptions about their native Democratic Republic of Congo home in the process. Not so much explosive, the electric quartet seem relaxed, even drifting as they channel the soul and spirit of co-operation; opening up aspects of the DRC culture and humility often lost or obscured in the noise of negativity – and the Congo has had more than its fair share of violence and tumult both pre and post Colonialism.

More light (enlightenment even) than darkness, the rim-shot echo-y untethered sonics chime as much with dub and Afro-psychedelic soul traverses as they do post-punk and a contemporary hybrid of various dance trends. But before we go any deeper, a little background information, some providence is needed.

Drawn from a rich selection of Kinshasa (and beyond) sonic propulsive outfits and artists, including Staff Benda Bilili, Konono No.1, Koffi Olomide, Jupiter & Okwess and Mbongwana Star, concept guy (for this is a project, a statement, that moves beyond music to encompass performance and visuals), drummer and singer/songwriter Cubain Kabeya, guitarist Chicco Katembo and singer Apocalypse have all been around the block, fronting or backing every fresh new development on the Paris scene. Closing the circle, the Irish born and Parisian raised all-rounder and producer Liam Farrell (professionally known as Doctor L) brings an equally impressive resume to the dynamic venture; working with such luminaries as Tony Allen and Babani Koné. Cubain and Katembo both previously worked with Damon Albarn back in 2010 as part of the Kinshasa One Two album, whilst Farrell has collaborated with Cubain on a number of electro-fried African dance projects: Black Cowboys and Negro-P.

Here and now they combine forces with scenester Apocalypse to push the envelope further still, merging the industrial with 2-step, d-n-b, electro, hip-hop, soukous, ndombolo, grime, funk and rock. Everything except the DRC’s rumba; far too smooth for the raw energy and prescient turmoil that the Mentale are articulating.

Borne in the furnace of a riotous, equally hostile city, this latest album follows the migrant’s plight like a pilgrimage, commentating sorrowfully on a pitiful existence traversing deserts on the way to escape – as documented on the reimagined PiL trip-toeing with a dub-transformed Ben Zabo in the wilderness ‘Zanzibar’. Though they also celebrate the fellowship and “wild uncertainty” of the migrant’s progress on the album’s scatter-like ratcheting and kinetic beat homage to the African village diaspora where it all started, ‘Chateau Rouge’: for the band but also the destination for so many migrants too. There’s also cautionary advice on this adventure in the form of the wanton mirage-flange prayer style ‘stay out of jail’, ‘Boloko’.

But for the most part this album is suffused with reverb-relaxed intentions of peace; underscored with a subject close to the quartet’s heart, the travail and inhumanity that has been inflicted on the peaceable Batswa (or Batshua) people by their own community, the ‘Bantou’ of the band name. These atavistic people, guardians of the environment – if not forced out or persecuted -, the Batswa are known by the more derogatory term of “pygmy”. Though once respected for their deep knowledge of nature and close connection with the land, they have been colonized, enslaved and derided by not only the Bantou but also various forest tribes and colonial powers. In more recent years though their story and culture has been shared. Label mate of a kind, and on-hand producer Ian Brennan has even recorded the Why Did We Stop Growing Tall? of Rwanda “abatwa” for Glitterbeat Records Hidden Musics series , and documentaries, such as Livia Simoka’s Extreme Tribe: The Last Pygmies, have shone a light on these communities. In a chance meeting with a Batswa named Wengy Loponya Bilongi, Cubain traveled into the bush and spent time with the “genies of the forest”, as they’re known in more compassionate, complimentary circles. This journey was captured by the filmmakers Renaud Barret and Florent de la Tullaye for the Pygmy Blues film; a journey that has changed Cubain, and now informs at least some of the underlying messages of respect and peaceful reconciliation that are suffused throughout this album.

Kinshasa reloaded; Bantou Mentale is a thoroughly modern sonic vision of peaceful cross-border fraternization. Lingering traces of Jon Hassell & Eno, Radio Tarifa, UNCLE, TV On The Radio and even label mates Dirtmusic are absorbed into an electrified subterranean of frizzles, pylon-scratches and hustle-bustle. Above all, despite the subject matter, despite the polygenesis sonic hubbub this is a soulful soundtrack: cooperation ahead of fractious division and hostility. A more positive collaboration for a 21st century chaos.





Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe  ‘Osondi Owendi’
(Hive Mind)  6th September 2019

Reviving an unassuming Highlife classic from the mid 80s, the Brighton-based vinyl and cassette specialists Hive Mind have chosen to push the laidback balmy saunter delights of the Nigerian legend Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe for their next ‘choice’ release.

First appearing on the Lagos scene in 1958 as a crooning Nat King Cole influenced vocalist with the Steven Amechi led Empire Rhythm Skies Orchestra, the regally entitled Chief Stephen released his debut single, ‘Lagos Life Na So So Enjoyment’, the following year. He’d soon become an important and pivotal figure on the Nigerian scene for decades to come.

Produced at a time when Nigeria’s once popular and dominant Highlife had lost some of its appeal, superseded not only by Fela Kuti’s more explosive Afrobeat marriage of that same style to funk, soul and R&B but a post Biafra War generation cultivated on the music of America and looking for something with a rawer, sometimes hostile, edge, Chief Stephen’s Osondi Owendi LP chimed with the more relaxed, soothing undulations of the 50s and 60s, and the lullaby lilting sounds of South Africa. Sweetly laced with those signature gentle Highlife swinging and singing horns and busy percussion, the two lengthy workouts drift on a raft anchored in the Caribbean, as waves of those Island’s calypso swash are suffused with the sounds of Nigeria.

More or less translated from the old Igbo adage as “what is cherished by some is despised by others”, the album’s title track is a beautifully conceived meander of soothing vocals, rattling and tub-thumping rhythms, scraping percussion and tethered but loose solos: from cupped Afro-Cuban cornet trumpet to thin wah-wah guitar riffs. The searching accompaniment, ‘Nigeria Kanyi Jikota’ is an extension of that relaxed spirit; a downtown canter with a dash more brassy resonance and Spanish Hispaniola frills.

A less intense alternative, more in keeping with the smoother production of 80s soul, the Chief’s quilted shimmy and sway is a tropical fused balance of congruous sweltering sounds; the perfect last dance of the summer season.






Max Andrzejewski’s Hütte ‘Hütte And Guests Play The Music Of Robert Wyatt’
(Why Play Jazz) 4th October 2019



Meandering both playfully and experimentally outside the lucid, often serendipitous, guidelines of their idiosyncratic muse Robert Wyatt, Max Andrzejewski’s Hütte and guests style ensemble pay homage to the fated maverick’s surreal and unpredictable back catalogue.

Originally formed for the 42nd Leipzig Jazztage, bandleader, drummer and vocalist Andrzejewski’s adroit sextet chose to perform the music of the much-cherished icon for a tribute program themed around British jazz artists. Remaining together beyond that inaugural performance they decided to record their unique takes of Wyatt’s original material for posterity.

Counterbalancing the former Soft Machine and Matching Mole alternative-England visionaries’ venerable fragility with his whimsical sense of humour and play, they offer a dreamy tension of free-falling avant-garde jazz and elasticated limbering breaks. Riffing wondrously throughout on their well-chosen track list, picked from across four decades and eight albums, the fluid troupe accentuate the longer, more realised peregrinations and extend some of Wyatt’s shorter mumble-y musings. Fro Wyatt’s interregnum years between the Soft Machine and (albeit with a host of facilitators and collaborators) his solo run there’s a synth-y cosmic soul vision of the 1972 Matching Mole prog and organ heavy (veering towards The Nice) ‘Instant Kitten’ that sounds like a jazzy reworking of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’, and a skippy, gently tumbling soothing take on the Maoist-faux period operatic lament ‘Starting In The Middle Of The Day We Can Drink Our Politics Away’, taken from the Mole’s Little Red Record – marking not only Wyatt’s, far from flirtatious, commitment to Communism (though we won’t hold that against him) but informing his worldly view.

The fantastical Floydian progressive jazz meets Wind In The Willows road trip nursery rhyme moiety of ‘Little Red Riding Hood Hits The Road’ and ‘Little Red Robin Hood Hits The Road’, taken from Wyatt’s 1974 Rock Bottom LP, are faithfully recreated, leaving just enough space and room to be stretched and remodeled into timeless traversing drifts. Band member Cansu Tanrikulu’s high-falutin fluting untethered and Nordic-soul bent vocals on the latter – they’ve chosen to turn the former into a vocal-free instrumental piece – grow increasingly raspy, croaky and almost sulky as she not only sings Wyatt’s original lyrics but Ivor Cutler’s original faux-Scottish Jamaican burr poetics on this whimsical if unsettling piece. Of course, the album that these two choices comes from, Rock Bottom, remains an important turning point for Wyatt, creatively and personally; the almost fatal accident that led to his paraplegic brittle state happened during recording sessions for the album.

Slipping into the oddness of Wyatt’s 80s catalogue, the ensemble transforms the 1982 Eno meets Indian tabla quirk ‘Grass’ by adding an undulation of vibrating, dipping and chirping retro-electronica and tripping vocals. Paying a funny sort of homage to his writing-partner and wife, illustrator/lyricist Alfreda Benge, the bubbled, lax jazzy and vocally mumbled ambling ‘Duchess’, from the 1997 daydreaming LP Shleep, is taken on a particularly meandrous journey. The canter of the old nursery-rhyme riff is further eroded on this tiptoeing version; Tanrikulu applies a cocktail jazz swoon and croon to the original passive/aggressive lyricism.

From this millennium the Jon Hassell breaks bread with Talk Talk venerable ‘You You’, from 2007’s guest-heavy Comicopera, is swerved towards Skip Spence and The Velvet Underground, and the Sparks-esque choral synth elegy to the maligned ‘Cuckoo Madam’, from the 2003 Cuckooland LP, is lent a sympathetic romantic malady.

A seriously good tribute to every facet of the Wyatt sound, with some surprising choices (not all the most obvious jazz-friendly ones neither) Max Andrzejewski’s Hütte and guests fill every nook and twist with something worth listening to. Learning from one of the best, they inhabit but also revive the, unfortunately retired, maverick’s back catalogue with élan and dexterity.



Los Pirañas ‘Historia Natural’
(Glitterbeat Records) 11th October 2019



A proxy “supergroup” of celebrated Colombian musicians, the Los Pirañas   features a triumvirate of Bogotá players from such luminary bands as the Meridian Brothers, Chúpame el Dedo, Frente Cumbiero, Ondatropica and Romperayo. Pals and collaborators since High School, the coalesce trio of Eblis Alvarez, Mario Galeano and Pedro Ojeda return to those school daze roots twenty five years later on their new, and third, album together, Historia Natural.

Harking back to more unburdened and carefree times with a sense of idolized unabashed joy, Los Pirañas   play loose with their influences; transducing decades worth of Colombian culture into a quivery retro-futurist purview.

Yet, though they saunter and sway to the native rhythms throughout this zippy, tropical album there’s a cross-pollination of source material and references from outside the South American idyll woven into the kooky tapestry: ‘Palermo’s Crunch’ take’s its name from the bustling cornucopia capital port city of Sicily, and its musical direction from Tex-Mex 60s garage bands, The Monkees and California surf music to create a lunar Pradomar surf soundtrack.

From Bogotá to Barranquilla, throwing together everything from Cumbia, Afro-Colombia, Champeta, Salsa and Mambo Loco they reignite a familiar backdrop to gallop and canter across a reimagined cosmology. Most of the time this sounds like a tropical island marooned Joe Meek and Les Baxter, and at other times, a quirky oscillating rave-up of the Julián y Su Combo and a hornless version of Glitterbeat label mates Sonido Gallo Negro. They do all this with a lively, sometimes silly, FX heavy backing of retro-calculating computers, kazoos, bee-trapped-in-a-jar and tremolo guitar and a constantly busy tapping, tinkering, rattling and scraping percussion that flows between the relaxed and erratic.

A fun oddity of the traditional, psychedelic and kitsch, Historia Natural conjures up an imaginative fertile landscape of surfin-bird Caribbean facing Colombian beaches, UFO landing site mountain tops, abandoned mythological temples, volcanoes and piranha-infested rivers on what is one hell of a trippy cultish South American lark.






The Cold Spells ‘Interstitial’
(Gare du Nord) 11th October 2019



Tentatively hoping that the English duo’s 2018 self-titled debut (which made our “choice albums of the year” features) wasn’t just a fluke I’m happy to announce that their 2019 follow-up, Interstitial, is every bit as subtly plaintive and melodically beautiful as that record.

A lucid meander across a divisive, anxious landscape in turmoil, Tim Ward and Michael Farmer’s Cold Spells ruminations ponder on the spaces between both the more incidental and loftier metaphysical. This “interstitial” state is a Kosmische folktronica vision; a pylon-dotted pastoral countryside, where the psychic resonance of history bleeds into the present stasis; a place in which Georgian tavern poesy and lamentable tragedy converge with the Canterbury and 60s psychedelic folk scenes.

Vocally they marry the despondent but beatific fragile lyrical profoundness of Robert Wyatt with the estuary lilt of Damon Albarn, musically, the Incredible String Band, Shirley Collins and Davy Graham with the subtlest of synth-generated undertones, undulations and atmospherics: reminiscent in places of both Arthur Russell and Broadcast. It’s a seemingly familiar soundtrack, yet there’s something quite different going on as the duo squeeze what they can out of their influences. And so just when you might have a handle on the Faustian deal-with-the-devil rustic-psych, ‘For All Us Sorry Travellers’, the Thackeray-etched lyricism suddenly jolts with a well-timed, pushed into the present, use of the word “cunt”: In what seems to be an 18th century English sorry tale, with the protagonist spilling his woes from atop of a perched chair, a noose around his neck, suddenly resonates with suicidal despair in the here and now. This counterpoint between timelines continues, suffused, throughout the album. Songs such as the opening ‘Leviathan’ balance a maudlin balmy charm with a codex of aerials and intermittent broadcast signals, and the instrumental title-track interlude imagines an Eagle Comic’s envisioned spaceport in the idylls of a twill English meadow: though it must be said, the album closer, ‘You Play My Mistakes’, stands out for its plaintive Soho lounge bar feel, more in the mode of Scott Walker.

Understated in execution, this sophisticated album gently unfurls its serious ruminations and forlorn slowly to reveal a melodious pastoral-cosmic treasure every bit as deep and unassuming as their magnum opus debut.





Maurits Pauwels en de Benelux Calypso ‘Tien Toppers Uit Trinidad’
(Jezus Factory) 23rd August 2019



Even for a label that prides itself on pushing beyond the alt-rock cliché to discover and then promote new and interesting finds from the Benelux countries, the latest curiosity and change (again) in direction from one-time dEUS guitar-for-hire Mauro Pawlowski could be considered a surprise even by the standards of Jezus Factory Records output. Used to releasing a multitude of projects and sidebars from a host of Northern Europe’s rockers, a Flemish-style rave-up of Calypso music classics and obscurities raises eyebrows. Happily it works, as the sound of the Caribbean is given a rambunctious Lutheran makeover.

Under the Dutch native tongue alter ego of Maurits Pauwels, Mauro and his troupe take on the Calypso sound and the age in which it was most influential; adding Savoy label, be-bop, New Orleans’ ragtime jazz, dancehall and, on the LP’s most surprising break from the formula remit, ‘Alleen een Dwaas’, a kind of mish-mash of saddened progressive balladry and requiem Procol Harum.

Jostling to a backing track accompaniment of cupped and heralding brass, tumbled toms and saloon bar tonk (no honk) piano Mauro and his band sumptuously roll between vine-swinging Jungle Book, Caribbean cruise ships, be-bop joints and Egyptian art deco gin palaces; atmospheres in which you’re likely to hear the jovial Byron Lee, Lloyd Miller, New York Jazz Ensemble, Mighty Sparrow and Dizzy Gillespie rubbing up against more contemporary wry and serious themes: “dancing whilst thinking” as it’s billed.

It works well, as I said, another string to a crowded bow and one of Mauro’s most brilliantly executed and absorbing vehicles yet. And that’s from someone who’s back catalogue features over 90 projects. Take a punt and a swing whilst this limited edition release is still available.





Catgod ‘Feel It Go Round’
September 2019



Less an adoration style worship of a feline deity and more a peaceable, if deep, gentle collection of modern sonnets, the Oxford based Catgod attempt to make sense of all life’s woes with the subtlest of touches on their debut LP, Feel It Go Round.

Fronted, if that’s the right word, by the dual vocalist siblings Robin Christensen-Marriott and Catherine Marriott this gauze-y, dreamy, on occasion haunted, folksy troupe wind through a contemporary Southeast of England landscape in hushed, diaphanous tones.

Somehow making the daily humdrum trudge of commuting sound like a John Martyn psychedelic mirage of beautifully lulled harmonies and hazy-light dappled wistful heartache, they can turn the most mundane into the magical. The song in question here, ‘New Cross’, almost romanticizes Robin’s commute between East London and his Oxford home; immortalizing familiar locations (obviously the title itself but also Dalston) in ruminating song. Standard tropes appear in the form of mortality anxiety on the wonderfully, if plaintive, Catherine lead ‘Heartbeat In My Hand’, and the tumult of a difficult relationship is dramatized on the drowning-in-the-mire of ‘Cold, Numb And Empty’. A concern of our times however, the unease of privacy erosion and validation in an increasingly infringing social media epoch is mused over on the wistful malady chorus piece ‘What They Think’.

Musically untethered in folk and country, Catgod surprisingly often sound like a pastoral hybrid of Radiohead and Lamb at their most interesting and trip-hoping psychedelic: The flute-y ‘Sleep In’ the most surprising song on the entire LP crosses Joni Mitchell with Pentangle and then adds a faux-reggae gait. Vocally (on occasion narrated and half-spoken) the sibling dynamic is entrancing, softly yearning and brilliantly harmonious. Catherine’s voice especially sounds like a Nordic bent version of Sandy Denny or Christine McVie.

A considered placeable debut of both enchantment and forlorn, Feel It Go Round is gently stirring and quite lovely. Indeed, a “hushed reverie” as the PR spill puts it; a better description than any I can find for this magnificent album.



The Cosmic Dead ‘Scottish Space Race’
(Riot Season Records) 20th September 2019



Letting the kaleidoscopic imagination lift-off, Glasgow’s head music astronauts, The Cosmic Dead, blast off from a Central Belt vision of a futuristic spaceport into the void on their latest interstellar overdrive, scoring the “Scottish space race”.

The recently modified line-up (the group’s first LP to feature the propulsive drumming of Tommy Duffin and quivery evocative lap-steel of Russell Andrew Gray) pierces the stratosphere and astral plane in opiate symmetry over four live-recorded performances from the summer of 2018. Sucked through the ‘Portal’ the Dead begin their ascendance in communion with the Kosmische leviathan sculpting of Tangerine Dream, the eastern esoteric acid-psych of the Acid Mothers, mantra incantations of the Dead Skeletons, Native Indian pow wow and sorcery. By the time they reach the “Great Bear” constellation we’re in space rock and acid country; funneling dawn emergent transcending Ash Ra with Xhol caravan, Guru Guru and Rhyton.

The air is heavier however on the album’s title-track, melding Sabbath with Hawkwind on a stomp punctuated by the doom-rock “can you dig it!” refrain, and the galactic chorus, lap-steel waning and bashed out ‘The Grizzard’ feeds The Dead Meadows, Birth Control and Ten Years After into the Hadron Collider.

The Dead set a course for a stoner-doom ridden Krautrock cosmology of sonic possibilities on a sprawling, pulsing epic. Strap yourselves in tightly, the stars have aligned; the Scottish space race now has its own unofficial ‘head music’ soundtrack.





ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona
Photo Credit: 
Tadej Čauševič






Širom ‘A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat)
30th August 2019


Channeling the varied topography of their respective parts of the Slovenian landscape via a kitchen table of both recognizable instrumentation and found assemblage (everything including the kitchen sink and water tank), the Širom trio of Iztok Koren, Ana Kravanja and Samo Kutin create a kind of dream realism. Inspired by this environment yet ambiguous, they float across the borders to evoke a certain mystery and yearn to create something new. In so doing, they’ve coined the term ‘imaginary folk’ to describe their amorphous blending of geographical evocations and echoed fables.

However, the roots of this music is tethered to the cartography of Slovenia, a country that the empirical travel writer Simon Winder summarizes in his Danubia purview as a state “[…] stuck together from the rubble of the [Habsburg] Empire’s end, with its core made up from the Duchy of Carniola with bits of Styria, Gorizia, Istria and a small piece of the old Hungarian country of Vas.” Despite being pulled this way and that over a millennia; despite countless displacements and border changes/reductions – mostly enforced by a succession of conquering empires and invaders – Slovenia’s people remained stoic with a distinct identity. Yet rather than nationalistic pride, the trio in this instance use their native environment’s history and sense of belonging and its apparatus to traverse new sonic terrains. And so with vague undulations and floating echoes of an atavistic Balkans remaining a constant they venture into the Orient, North Africa, Middle East and Americas; never quite settling anywhere, in place or time.

Whilst improvisation is part of the initial creative process for Širom, all these drifting and free moving sounding peregrinations are planned and crafted with precision: the end results very considered and articulated and not left to chance.





A concomitant extension of their last musical journey, I Can Be A Clay Snapper (which made our albums of 2017 features), the propound folkloric entitled A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse features many of the lingering, visionary magical astral planning themes of that previous unique album. Humdrum items from the trio’s rural retreat studio rub against a myriad of instrumentation from every continent: ribab, balafon, gamelan, banjo and lyre. In their hands a rack of kitchen utensils can suddenly be transformed into something cosmic and mystical, even ominous. And on this five-track suite, there’s plenty of that. Even the voice takes on a veiled new form, as both Kravanja and Kutin bewail, lull and warble melodically like sirens and ghosts: Kravanja, on the opening magik soundtrack ‘Spran Fantič Iz Vreče Žabje Vzema Fosile’ (A Washed Out Boy Taking Fossils From A Frog Sack), simultaneously evokes, with her vivid longing wails, images of India, Kathmandu, Marrakesh and Greek tragedy.

From the Mongolian Steppes to sorrows of East Europe and the hints of the Appalachians and Sumatra, Širom draw inspiration – whether intentional or not – from a fecund of sources; the Slovenian backdrop melting into a polygenesis mirage. With this spiritual, ritual, dreamy longing for a kaleidoscope of real and imaginary cultures the trio’s second album for the Glitterbeat label’s instrumental imprint tak:til is as poetically wondrous as it is (sometimes) supernatural and otherworldly. An alternative folk fantasy imbued in part by the hard won geography, Širom once more wander unafraid across an ever-ambiguous musical cartography that (almost) fulfills their wish to produce something unique: A soundtrack of infinite possibilities.

If you were in love with, or found a connection with the last album than this latest expansive query will not disappoint. There are really few musical excursions and explorations quite like it.





Photo Credit: Tadej Čauševič

PLAYLIST
Compiled: Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver
Art: Gianluigi Marsibilio









From an abundance of sources, via a myriad of social media platforms and messaging services, even accosted when buying a coffee from a barristo-musician, the Quarterly Revue is expanding constantly to accommodate a reasonable spread that best represents the Monolith Cocktail’s raison d’etre.

As you will hear for yourselves, new releases and the best of reissues plucked from the team – me, Dominic ValvonaMatt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Andrew C. Kidd and Gianluigi Marsibilio (who also put together the playlist artwork) – rub shoulders in the most eclectic of playlists, with tracks as geographically different to each other as Belem and Palermo.

Digest and discover as you will, but we compile each playlist to run in order so it feels like the best uninterrupted radio show or most surprising of DJ sets.



REVIEWS ROUNDUP
Words: Dominic Valvona

75 Dollar Bill - Monolith Cocktail


Another eclectic roundup of recommendations from Dominic Valvona, with recent and upcoming albums and EPs from the polygenesis amorphous traversing NYC band 75 Dollar Bill, cellist sound-sculptor of ambiguous environments Simon McCorry, oddball Belgian Manu Louis, the Dhoad Gypsies Of Rajasthan, Dictaphone welder Joe Posset and improvise experimental cellist, Charlie Ulyatt, and Balearic expletory House and Techno artist Kota Motomura.

Building their own ambitious universes Camino Willow releases his debut electronic vision Monotopia and Edinburgh artist Neil Scott Pennycook, under his Meursault alter ego, launches a move into fiction with his latest masterpiece Crow Hill. I also take a look at two special cult favourite reissues, the first from the Venezuelan legend Chelique Sarabia – his transformed psych vision of the country’s traditional music, ‘Revolución “Electrónica” en Música Venezolana’ – the second, from the Anglo-French troubadour Nick Garrie – the late 60s debut psychedelic and folksy opus The Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas.




75 Dollar Bill  ‘I Was Real’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat/Thin Wrist Recordings)  28th June 2019


Via Glitterbeat’s burgeoning specialist imprint tak:til and Thin Wrist Recordings, a second album of uncharted transient instrumental performances, passages and traverses from the polygenesis sophisticated NYC troupe, 75 Dollar Bill. Headed, though by no means controlled or dictated, by multi-instrumentalists Rick Brown and Che Chen, the amorphous group expands its ranks accordingly to feature a highly talented lineup of musicians and fellow experimentalists.

Previously making a subtle impact with their long-winded staccato entitled Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock album a few years back, Chen and Brown travelled a listless pan-global terrain; a fourth world Hassell imbued sonic geography of possibility.

Extending the perimeters and cast – expanding to a double album release this time around –, I Was Real features a variety of instrumental and sound manipulated combinations on a mix of performances, jams and studio created “fragment” sound collages. One of which, the opening sextet performed ‘Every Last Coffee Or Tea’, is a rearrangement of the same entitled song that originally appeared on the debut album, Cassette, whilst the “ghost inverted” follow-on of that opener, ‘C or T (Verso)’, references their cassette tape release of the same name. The former of these atmospheric peregrinations features a haze of wafting baritone sax and suffused viola and guitar lines, set to a “classic 3 against 2 rhythm”; a effortless but technical transportative soundtrack that evokes both the shrouded mystery of a Tibetan shrine and waking up to the sound of cattle herders in Mali. The reversal mirage of the latter of these two tracks sucks that opening suite backwards through a transmogrified Captain Beefheart prism.

The title-track, on what is an album that often uses past material to build anew, is itself a regular 75 Dollar Bill live set closer. Often building up a momentum that could run to thirty minutes, ‘I Was Real’ is more like a springboard; never quite repeating itself, always performed in different settings and taking in not only more recognizable instruments but also the surrounding environment. By contrast this seventeen-minute studio version is considered relatively “short”, though no less extemporized, as it takes in similar concrete reverberations, hums and drones.

The “impromptu” unruly avant-garde blues jam ‘There’s No Such Thing As A King Bee’ is one of my favourites. A “rebuke” to the titan of the form, Slim Harpo, and his famous raw blues-standard, this scuzzy, flange-effect overload boogie hoedown (with furious hi-hat bashing from Carey Balch) is wild: even primal.

Cleverly bending, no matter how free and improvised they might be, complicated timings and adroit microtonal notes to their will, 75 Dollar Bill turn elliptic and compound rhythms, undefined adventurous playing and collaged fragments into either 21st century desert musing blues or futuristic swamp music. As re-inventive as ever, I Was Real transforms the familiar to roam the borderless.







Simon McCorry  ‘Border Land’
14th June 2019


Strange escapist environments and spaces materialize from the gauzy wanes and gestures of Simon McCorry’s cello on the ambiguous atmosphere-building Border Land. The third such ambient album of field recording manipulations from the classically trained cellist, this latest highly evocative work of the otherworldly transforms the recognizable into something mysterious, even on occasion, the supernatural.

Cloaked in echo and various effects, even the wind whistling through the rustic metal gate to an Orkney lighthouse can suddenly become a strange spooked siren song of countless memories; the sound of lost souls from beyond the ether perhaps: suggestible much?! One of a duo of similar recordings made on a road trip to the Island of Westray – the other windy projection being the Ambient Works era Aphex Twin influenced ‘Sacred Geometrics’ – the fog enveloped ‘Not One Thing’ channels the psychogeography of the environment in which it was recorded to create an entirely new imaginative soundscape.

Remnants and traces of McCorry’s principle instrument can be heard mournfully and achingly guiding the listener towards the skylight: Towards a warm glimmer on the haunted chilled rising ‘Awake A Moment’, and towards the aura of an orbiting astral object of serene desire, on the Tangerine Dream like ‘Spheric’.

Traversing detuned descending aerial arcs, dusty particles, gaseous clouds and corridors to constellations without actually remaining locked to any particular sound or atmospheric mood, the sonic possibilities seem endless: the ambiguity too. And although much of this album is mysterious and uncertain, so untethered, as it is to anything concrete and tenable, McCorry is really exploring the ideas of “stillness”; finding something approaching it anyway, a purposeful pause and break from the chaotic overload of our intensive and intrusive technologically-connected modern world.

Border Land reframes its sources, masks its frayed and bowed cello articulations to produce an often vivid transient amorphous series of intelligently improvised environments and horizons: both inward and outward.







Meursault  ‘Crow Hill’
(Common Grounds)  21st June 2019


An ambitious literary-enriched album with a loose story and range of perspectives that will unfold further in comic book form and through live performance, Neil Scott Pennycook’s Crow Hill diorama delivers a whirlwind of dark emotions; many of which feel like a punch to the heart.

Announced as a new chapter for Pennycook’s alter ego Meursault, released as the launch album for the new independent Common Grounds label (set-up and run by the Edinburgh Chamber Studios owner and engineer Graeme Young; the location for the recording of this album) Crow Hill marks a move into fiction for the Edinburgh artist. An “urban horror” of vignettes, each song on this album represents twelve chapters of plaintive and lamentable grief and broken promises from the imagined town’s inhabitants, set to a constantly beautifully aching soundtrack that either builds and builds towards anthemic crescendo or despairingly gallops towards the flames: in the case of the brutal punishing ‘Jennifer’, a discordant scream of anguish, on what could be a crime of domestic abuse.

Gazing into the dark souls of his cast with tales of inner demons and the like, Pennycook can be as ominous as he can be achingly vulnerable. Especially on the heartbreaking psychiatric episode title-track, “She sees me with kindness in my eyes/And tells me she still loves me” being just one of many poignant lines.

Though constantly impressive in the past, his characteristic Lothian burr quivery warble and tumult-pained vocals have never been delivered with such depth and profound elegiac maturity. Still channeling Clap Your Hands Say Yeah with a penchant for country, an Indie-Americana feel and banjo rhythm permeates throughout most of the album. There’s even a campfire version of Audrey Williams gospel-country teary ‘I Heard My Mother Weeping For Me’, a venerable hymn made famous by Audrey’s tragic cowboy husband Hank no less. With the pinning hurt and travails of such an icon ringing in his ear, Pennycock’s own lonesome trail is unmistakably honed in austerity Britain.

Apart from the country influences – as filtered through the Scottish East Coast –you may also pick up echoes of Adrian Moffett, Talk Talk, Radiohead era The Bends, and even Bowie on the increasingly hostile, whipped and thrashed ‘Art School’ fuck-off.

An outstanding album full of both heartache and brilliance, Crow Hill is a vivid, richly and descriptively revealing minor-opus; the first chapter or part of a much grander multimedia universe that crosses songwriting with veiled fiction, illustration and performance. As first stabs go, Pennycook has shown an encouraging erudite skill for writing, which translates well when put to music. This will be an album in many end-of-year lists.





Dhoad Gypsies Of Rajasthan ‘Times Of Maharaja’
(ARC Music) 28th June 2019


Proud custodians of the courtly music of the Maharajas, Rahis Bharti and his brothers Amrat Hussain, Teepu and Sanjay Khan continue a family tradition that can be traced back over seven generations. Handed-down through their gifted great grandfather Ustad Rasool Buxkhan and his equally talented grandson Ustad Rasool, the sibling troupe practice the travelling Khan Saheb style that originated amongst the Romani population who left India over a thousand years ago. It is a special musical caste and title bestowed upon these followers by the bejeweled rulers, in an era when opulence was king in Rajasthan.

The court house band so to speak, these most exhilarating musicians provided both the ceremonial, celebratory and entertaining accompaniment to religious and public events; marking everything from births to marriages and even the arrival of the rain season. Times Of Maharaja is a brilliant showcase to that grand tradition; a tradition that comes alive through dynamic virtuoso playing and the just as complex, remarkable vocals.

Already a well-established and acclaimed group, playing notably for a host of world leaders, the Queen and even at Mick Jagger’s birthday, the Gypsies gallop and giddily swirl through an effortless songbook of paeans and majestic longings as they wind back the clock to the palace epoch.

The jubilance of a new born prince is buoyantly celebrated on the brassy-resonant sumptuous ‘Sona Ra Button Banna’, whilst the “dream wedding” is given a yearned, pondered – later hurriedly – accompaniment on the processional ‘Dhanraj Sahebji’. An album of solid showmanship throughout at every turn, with the flickering, fluttering tablas almost catching fire at times, such is the blurry rapidness of the playing, Times of Maharaja is a rich regal tableau of romantic exultations, elephant lolloping sways, suffused drones and bobbing rhythms. No longer in the service of those legendary kings and queens of India, this travelling band spread their music internationally as both an educational tool and of course as entertainment. They prove that the legacy is, without doubt, in good hands.




Camino Willow ‘Monotopia’
(Willow Music)  28th June 2019


Exploring the post-millennial epoch burgeoning Bedford-based producer and songwriter Maximillian Newell explores both the anguish and potentials of an ever intrusive and dominant Internet. Sharing and connecting more than ever yet simultaneously feeling more lonely and vulnerable, the benefits outweighed by a Pandora’s Box of unfiltered anger, validation causing anxiety and discord, Newell represents generation smartphone; a generation working out individual expression in a “collective consciousness”.

Further tied conceptually to “an adventure in a cult-like city in the sky where the main characters embark on an epic journey into the desert”, Newell’s ambitious debut album has a wide scope thematically and sonically. Creating his own universe of both the plaintive and euphoric, the inward and expansive, under the Camino Willow moniker – a world that will be extended to the medium of graphic novel in the future – he circumnavigates modern-day suburban Britain; escaping boredom and constriction of uncertainty and depression for moments of languid hypnotics and blasts of neo-pop ascendant electro anthems.

Throughout, Monotopia is full of light and shade, despondency and hope, with passages and more full realized tracks (some featuring soulful vocals, some purely instrumental) flowing into each other almost uninterrupted. And with a nuanced balance that is musically imbued by Dean Blunt one minute, Django Django the next, even Fuck Buttons and Liars, Newell sounds like Everything Everything signed to Ninja Tunes as centrifugal drums meet breakbeat, the ambient meets dreamy blissful psych-pop and R&B, the romantic meets sophisticated cynicism.

There’s a lot to be excited about as Newell’s visions take shape. Though cast as a project of despondency and uncertainty, reflecting the state of the author and his subject’s mental health, there’s plenty of emergent dreamy efference and diaphanous light to be found on this escape from the suburbs. Monotopia is a glittering start to an ambitious career.




Posset/Ulyatt ‘A Jar Full’
(Crow Versus Crow) 7th June 2019


It won’t come as any surprise to find that the most unlikely of experimental pairings, between a sporadic and garbled Dictaphone operator and frayed, friction-stretched cellist, offers up the strangest of results.

The first set of recordings from this peculiar avant-garde union, released digitally and on (very) limited cassette tape, features both uninterrupted serialism pieces, knocked back and forth between Dictaphone welder Joe Posset and cellist Charlie Ulyatt, and extemporized live performance.

Side A of this revived physical format version posts the results of a remote exchange; both artists’ providing first-take experiments for their counterparts to further improvise over. With no advance preparations and neither artist interfering, not even peremptorily listening to the results, the final versions of ‘At This Lost Hour’ and ‘A Reasonable Remedy’ are as surprising to them as they are to us. Squiggly, warping, real-time and rewound slurred and more fidgety recognizable voices emanate from Posset’s overworked Dictaphone as the strung-out quivers and free-roaming plucks and prods of Ulyatt’s creaking cello amorphously wanes away. The first of these odd couplings (think Faust Tapes meets Fluxus and The Books in Tony Conrad’s Dream Factory) features almost demonical voices and obscured snatches of dialogue as the cello meanders, yet also offers at least a small string of plucked notes. The second of these tracks has a harsher edge, with the violent tape spool cutting and horsehair bow carving away at its prey.

Previous to these exchanges, both artists performed an impromptu set together at a venue in Posset’s hometown of Nottingham. Inhabiting a shared space of mention in a magazine, Posset invited Ulyatt to play a one-off collaboration. Only meeting for the first time a few hours before the show, with no rehearsal or preparation the pairing performed, as the second side of this tape bears out, a haunting environmental invocation. Using the whole cello, especially its wooden body to evoke the uneasy sound of unsettling movement (like spirits making their presence known by knocking, kicking a box down some steps and scraping large objects across the floor), Ulyatt conjures up sounds you wouldn’t believe possible as Posset, attuned to the same esoteric mood, triggers just as ominous sounding supernatural elements from the ether.

Mysteriously tangled, surreptitious voices and creaking atmospherics abound on both these live tracks, ‘High Head’ and ‘At The Angel’, and on the mini-album as a whole. Perfectly in keeping with the Crow Versus Crow house style of such sonic and tape-collage experiments, A Jar Full is a strange avant-garde proposition worth your attention: It sounds both mad and fucked-up, but also paranormal.







Manu Louis ‘Cream Parade’
(Igloo Records) July 2019


At the heart of the Belgian artists Manu Louis’s second album lays a disenchantment with society’s dependence on technology; the Internet of these visions rightly examined through the medium of, often, odd-ball unrequited serenades and cybernetic jazz elegy. Kooky throughout, Louis and his guests – which include the versatile London-based singer Heidi Heidelberg shadowing Louis or channeling an automated staccato vessel on a series of quasi-duets, and fellow Belgian and virtuoso saxophonist Greg Tirtiaux adding strung-out blues-y and romantically pining horns – roam freely across a number of musical genres in their quest to articulate that unease.

After the initial opening introductory futuristic smoky cocktail lounge horn suffused waft of ‘Saxophone’, Louis traverses Yello, Kreidler and Jack Dutronic on ‘Internet’, and on the clack-y percussive (down to another guest, Brazilian percussionist Nylo Canella) skip and pulse ‘Efface’, Stereo Total meets Einstürzende Neubauten. Technology’s electronic presence comes up against more traditional, if masked, instrumentation on what is, despite the anxious themes, a mostly bouncy, goofy and cool affair: A cynical Louis perhaps, even lampooning his own idiosyncratic European heritage, laying-it-on-thick vocally on the album’s part-homage, part despondent finale ‘Tardigrade’; increasingly losing the plot with a loopy aria as he yearns about the peculiar, near-immortal, microscopic ‘water bear’ of the title; an animal whose resilience to environmental extremities is second to none: Perhaps the only other living thing kicking about with cockroaches in a nuclear aftermath.

Vogue chanson crosses paths with Station 17, Sparks with Dean Blunt and Stereolab on an album that fuses the Belle Epoch with Tresor, Euro-kitsch pop with St. Vincent. However odd, colorful and unique these aloof visionary tales and yearnings might sound they are meant to be dystopian and serious in nature – partly inspired by Samuel Beckett’s own literary depictions of a “postmodern world of obsession and social and existential disorientation” outlined in his Unnameable and Molly novels. A pilotless journey in fact, into the all-consuming matrix, an augur alarm before it’s all too late and the Internet’s strangulating tentacles cut off our air of free will forever. It just so happens to be fun.







Chelique Sarabia ‘Revolución “Electrónica” en Música Venezolana’
(Pharaway Sounds) 29th May 2019


A welcome distraction from the current political tumult in Venezuela, the whacked-out flange and reverb-drenched visions of the country’s legendary polymath José Enrique “Chelique” Sarabia arrive just in time as a reminder of that South America’s cultural legacy; from a period when the country enjoyed a renaissance in arts and music, partly fueled (as we will see) by the oil boom of the 1960s and 70s.

Going through a number of incarnations, originally released exclusively as part of a Christmas gift package for employees and customers of Shell in 1973, under the title of 4 Fases del Cuatro-Música Venezulana desarrollada Electrónicamente por Chelique sarabia (translating as 4 Phases of four – Venezuelan Music Electronically Developed By Chelique Sarabia), the retitled and repackaged 1971 Revolución “Electrónica” en Música Venezolana has been dusted off once more and given a new lease of life.

An example of when an established composer/arranger takes a sudden leap into the unknown, the “electronic revolución” that Chelique created was one that transformed the traditional folkloric music of the country into an exotica space-age trip. Already established and renowned, notably for penning the famous ‘Ansiedad’ and for a substantial back catalogue of standards, Chelique took a gamble, plugging himself into the psychedelic mainframe and going wild with a troupe of adroit musicians in an effect-mad studio. Using we’re told, “especially developed equipment (M.R.A.A.), based off of the principles of the Moog”, the now very experimental minded maverick filtered more traditional instruments – such as the local variant of the four-string Spanish folk guitar, the “cuatro”, and pear-shaped chordophone “bandola Llanera” – through cavernous echo, tape delay and synthesized frequencies to create a resonating mirage.

The source material of signature cantina and mountainside folk, via flourishing Flamingo and Spanish Catholic liturgy, is consumed and removed so that only veiled watery and ghostly traces remain: vapours even.

Hardly created in a vacuum, this musical quartet themed album often saunters up to the chic open-top driving music of Italian and French soundtrack composers, to the breakbeat psychedelics of David Axelrod, kitsch-jazz and pop. It could also fall into the cult Library Music missive; an oddball South American fusion of hallucinatory reimagined traditions.

You don’t necessarily need this LP in your life, but it’s plenty of fun and worth a punt out of curiosity if nothing else. Viva la electronic revolution.







Nick Garrie ‘The Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas’
(Tapete Records) 29th June 2019


Worthy of a proper release, resurfacing for the first time in 2005, but finally receiving a full revival by Tapete Records, the poet-troubadour Nick Garrie’s lost debut album of 1969 is remarkable for a number of reasons. Provenance alone being one, recorded as it was at the studios of the Parisian label Disc AZ with Eddie Vartan and his full orchestra on swelling gravitas duties (even if Garrie wasn’t exactly happy with the results; much preferring, as the demos bear out, a more stripped acoustic intimacy). Remarkable still, despite being the weary and worldly restless traveller that he was, Garrie was only nineteen at the time.

The son of a fiery turbulent union between a Russian father and Scottish mother, living for a time in England (long enough for Nick to be dragged through the boarding school system; his peers evidentially, because of his Russian ancestry and original Miansarow family name, assumed he was Jewish and so meted out plenty of bullying punishment) before being forced to take up French citizenship with a move across the channel, Garrie was always too British for the French, and too French for the British. However, whilst making roots in France, Garrie studied European literature – the inspiration and foundations of his music starting out as an exercise in Surrealist automatic writing. Dodging the compulsory French requirement for national service (two-years service from the age of eighteen), he went on the run; taking his guitar and gift for considered poetic evocation with him. He would soon turn up in Brussels, where he soon renounced that French citizenship, auditioning for the fated Disc AZ label boss Lucien Morisse: “I got my guitar out and played ‘Deeper Tune Of Blue’. He pulled out a contract and said ‘signez, monsieur, signez!’

Given a great opportunity, especially so young, to record an album, what would be the Anglo-French artist’s debut was lavished with sumptuous orchestration; a pomp that gave Garrie’s more stripped originals an air of the string-grandeur of Nirvana, The Herd, Love Sculpture and pre-progressive Aphrodite’s Child. Fate unfortunately struck on the eve of its release, with the suicide of Morisse, which sent everything into chaos for the label and Garrie. His debut suite would end up in limbo, with only a few copies making it out of the factory before deletion. Gaining an instant cult status, this lost treasure has only officially seen the light of day on a couple of occasions since.

The ‘nightmare’ of both this album title’ and the all-too-real one of seeing a burgeoning career curtailed, is the backstory and theme of this properly sanctioned re-release. The collection and original ‘nightmare’ entitled standout, is also a rousing minor-opus to finding identity and belonging. Weaving that Russian heritage into a George Harrison-esque guitar motif, swirling strings rich globetrotting fantasy, inspired by that literary learning and penchant for automatic writing, Garrie laments about his own self as an alter ego, finding out and unveiling his true ancestry: much to his dismay. ‘The Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas’ is an anthem to wrap the rest of this songbook around, with few tracks matching its gravitas and scale as a Psychedelic and folk pop opus.

Featuring the full running order original, both sides of Garrie’s ‘Queen Of Spades’ single and a septet of demos, this showcase captures the torn troubadour in youthful escapism. It also shows an artist finding his niche, a checkered songbook of Bacharach-like pastoral romance (‘Can I Stay With You’), the spiritual and filmic (‘David’s Prayer’), Mike Nesmith Monkees (‘The Wanderer’, ‘Little Bird’) and The Moody Blues adrift a Turkish flying carpet (the 1968 demo ‘Stone And Silk’). Scattered amongst these redolent love-serenades and brooding pathos is the more curious coach trip ‘Bungle’s Tours’ (an air of sniffy snobbishness and Magical Mystery Tour showhall scorn about mass-tourism – then in its infancy of course – and package tours that sounds like the Bonzos and Simon & Garfunkel are at the wheel) and lampooning country-gal hoedown ‘Queen Of Queens’.

The most elegiac bit of inevitable pathos is saved for the original album’s swansong, ‘Evening’. A highly descriptive nocturnal diorama unfolds as it reflects a metaphorical end to all our days, this plaintive spell is as sad as it is poignantly beautiful.

As a debut from a fairly young aspiring artist poet, The Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas’ is quite impressive and ambitious, if not quite original or unique enough to stand-out from his peers that did make it, on either side of the Channel. Yet, there’s some interesting experimentation and lyricism at play to make this a worthwhile purchase; a curiosity of a lost album from an unparalleled epoch.





Kota Motomura ‘New Experience’
(Hobbes Music) Vinyl/Stream: 14th June 2019, DL: 13th September 2019


Free floating on a moistened tropical air that blows between the rainforests and the Balearics, Tokyo artist Kota Motomura makes an impressive debut on the Hobbes Music imprint with his new exotic EP suite. Motomura moves fluidly but deeply through a myriad of House, Techno and electronic sub-styles to produce an often sauntering, bobbing cornucopia of lush entranced dance music.

Via proper study, learning the aural/pitch/sight-reading method of Solfege under the tutelage of Master Masahiko Muraoka, and a penchant for the music of Japanese Techno legend Ken Ishii, Motomura has been steadily, if without much fanfare, building a reputation for his unique experiments.

But this release nearly never happened. Originally sending demos to Hobbes as far back as 2017, and agreeing on a release, the line went dead for more than six months. It eventually transpired that Motomura had been taken ill, and so dropped off the radar. Better late than never, and back in contact, New Experiences- is now finally seeing the light of day.

The four-track, expanding to six on the ‘download’ version, EP first touches down in a sonic paradise on the lapping tidal, glistening tranquil opener ‘Aboy’, and then dreamily travels inland to a greenery of bird calls, frogs and insect choruses on the bopping 808 beats chiming electro-pop progression ‘Yes’. Melting swaddled and wafting jazzy-lilt saxophone (courtesy of Mutsumi Takeuchi) and veiled diaphanous vocals (Sawako Yanagida) with deep beats and Chicago House style piano motifs, Motomura plays around merging Bossa Nova with orgasmic slow-fucking samples on the shaking ‘Status’, and weaves echoes of early Moby, Carl Craig and Felix da Housecat into an increasingly warping Morse code slice of classy dance music on ‘Cry Baby’. Of the bonus tracks, ‘Satellites’ (as you’d expect from its title) features a Sputnik circumnavigating orbit of transduced lunar broadcasts and submarine sonar bleeps, which gets more piercing and mad as it goes on, whilst ‘Return’ has an otherworldly X Files vibe to it.

In all a great showcase of the exotic, lush and more mysterious that propels the origins of House and Techno into curious, mostly subtropical directions.





Words: Dominic Valvona


Review: Dominic Valvona



Altin Gün ‘Gece’
(Glitterbeat Records) 26th April 2019


Injecting an enthusiastic energy and desire into the music of their forbearers, the Dutch sextet with Turkish roots revitalize the Anatolian songbook once again, on the follow-up LP to last year’s debut.

As the band name eludes, Altin Gün, or “golden days”, celebrate a halcyon age in Turkish music, with the germ being the country’s folk legacy, but emphasis on the developments and reinvention of the 1960s and 1970s.

Pitched somewhere between the cult, often kitsch, nuggets you find in abundance on various collections compiled by the Finders Keepers troupe (Özdemir Erdoğan ‘Karaoğlan Almanya’da’ in particular, and anything from Sevil & Ayla), and the failed Eurovision missives of bubbly zappy disco, this limbering dexterous group take the listener on a sonic flight of fantasy: both romantic and cosmic.

Some of the chosen songs on this album are associated with the late national icon, Neset Ertaś, others less so familiar. Whatever the source the halcyon tingle, shimmer and psychedelic funk licks that pump throughout each one are given a contemporary livener, but undoubtedly sound retro – though there is at least one original composition, the Lalo Schifrin meets Anatolian rap funked-up psych number, ‘Şofor Bey’.

Currently very much in vogue – though the already mentioned Finders Keepers team and many crate diggers were already on this wave decades ago -, both the old and present Turkish music scenes are enjoying their moment of exposure. Glitterbeat Records, the fine provider of this group’s latest album, have already had success with the burgeoning psychedelic-Turkish siren Gaye Su Akyol and released a collection from the legendary Istanbul doyens of acid-saz and dub, Baba Zulu. All of which, alongside Altin Gün can’t help but feed into the prescient politics of Turkey itself – all of which is far too convoluted and numerous to go into detail here, but in short, a country under the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, moving away from the more secular foundations of its celebrated moderniser Atatürk towards authoritarianism under a leadership that – after a staged (allegedly) coup – has crushed countless dissenters, critics and oppositional voices. In this heightened tension, artists, both in the country and overseas, remain cautious; the very act of playing certain kinds of music almost rebellious, especially anything with traces or a heritage that can be traced to the Kurds.

 

The group’s second LP, Gece, looks out wider than its own borders however, absorbing an eclectic collage of Egyptian, Moroder like arpeggiator, Bossa, fuzzed-up psych and funk; a sound that often simultaneously evokes Africa, Arabia and the Mediterranean.

Though tracing an ancestry back to Turkey, the sextet only born-and-raised band member from the homeland is Merve Daşdemir, who as one of the lead vocalists lends a lingering dreamy romanticism to the music, shifting between nostalgic B-movie soundtrack swoon and gauzy disco diva. Sharing those duties with her is the oozing, yearning and resigned suffering Erdinç Ecevit.

Rifling through the crates of an Istanbul record mart bazar, Altin Gün revitalizes a golden period in Turkish music; a grand age reconfigured and introduced to a global audience, saved from certain obscurity. Many listeners won’t be concerned with any of that, and will nevertheless enjoy the cosmic-fuzzed internationalism of a troupe on the rise. The Turkish legacy is in good hands.




 

Reviews Roundup: Dominic Valvona




Welcome to Dominic Valvona’s regular monthly roundup of eclectic pan-global recommendations and reviews.

This month’s edition includes the iconic Mekons debut release for Glitterbeat – a desert psychodrama of an album, the band’s first in eight years; the stunning sweetly despondent and woozy melodious new album from Blue House, ‘Gobstopper’; the poetic sound designer troubadour and composer Ben Osborn’s debut album for and in conjunction with Alex Stolze’s Nonostar imprint, Letters From The Border; a flight of analogue synth fantasy (literally) from the Cambridge composer Willie Gibson, with his aviation imbued homage to Saint-Ex; the second songbook of Anatolian and Kurdish imbued tradition from the soaring Turkish siren Olcay Bayir, Rüya; and a boxset oeuvre of the obscure but legendary late 70s and 80s Hanover cult band The 39 Clocks.

There’s also two recent unearthed curios of both psychedelic and improvisational counter-culture “head music” from the Spanish Guerssen label hub – the first, rediscovered nuggets from the English prog and pop-sike fuzzed Mandrake Paddle Steamer, the second, a blues odyssey of free-form jazz and Fillmore style West Coast acid from the Hasting’s Street Opera.

And finally, I also celebrate the 20th anniversary of Vinita Joshi’s most eclectic independent label, with a perusal of the special Rocket Girl compilation; a collection of mostly unreleased tracks from both artists that have featured on the label and admirers alike, which includes tracks from Dan Treacy, Silver Apples, Bardo Pond and Andrew Weatherall.



Mekons ‘Deserted’
(Glitterbeat Records) 29th March 2019

Removed by geographical distance and a general disinterest from the headline grabbing London punk explosion the infamous Leed’s outfit the Mekons enjoyed a wry, cynical at times, disassociation from their earnest over-preened compatriots in the capital. This distance allowed them to build up a unique reputation; the rambunctious gang of musical misfits more engaged with reality than myth, questioning the motives and authenticity of others with such barricade rattlers as ‘Where Were You’ and ‘Never Been In A Riot’.

Always on the fringes, drawn throughout their five-decade (and still going) haphazard career to the rough and ready origins of not only punk but also, and with this their latest album, country music, the Mekons have suffered as many setbacks as triumphs. One example of a Lazarus like rise in popularity being through the infamous Revenge Of The Mekons movie, which gained them new audiences and a new generation of followers in the US on its release.

Gravitating towards Joshua Tree in California, with all the various lore and history that iconic location holds, the Mekons rabble find all the space and landscape they need on their first album in eight years, Deserted. Recording just outside the shrine to counter-culture country – resting place homage of that visionary troubadour Gram Parsons -, at the studio of Mekons bassist and foundering member Dave Trumfio, the group explore the metaphysical and psychogeography of their desert muse: An open-ended stark landscape that’s, since the dawn of time, inspired a wealth of literature, music, film and travelogue.

Though entrenched in the “big country” desert panoramas of the USA, the Mekons scope falls wider, taking in the cultural isolation and self-imposed exile of a mournful Rimbaud – turning his back on poetry to leave his fated France to trade coffee – in the remote Ethiopian city of Harar on the slightly swaggering young poet channeled, wandering ‘Harar 1883’, and, at least, by referencing T.E. Lawrence’s Arab freedom fighter persona in ‘Lawrence Of California’, the deserts of Arabia. The wonder, awe and sense of isolation as a speck in the great expanse goes further than the sandscape and into space itself: Grains of sand as stars and galaxies; the Mekons mixing the desert wilderness with respect for the infinitesimal.

Gangly traversing this landscape without a roadmap, they have been pushed, successively, into new terrain sonic wise. Entirely self-imposed, the band showed up to recording sessions without any finished songs; just a few ideas exchanged over email. A continuation of the Mekons un-ended visions, Deserted certainly offers adventure, yet not so experimental as to lose the band’s signature rebellious streak and sound. Spikey, striding towards a mirage, sharing the camel-driven caravan with the Bad Seeds, Damned, Slits, Wovenhand, Radio Clash, Damon Albarn and PiL, they limber in a dub-y post-punk fashion or rattle through a hexed no-wave arid plain when in desert imbued mode, and channel ‘child-of-the-Jago’ old English romanticized poesy and Ronnie Lane gypsy serenaded folk rock when gazing upwards at the night skies.

Two of the album’s most distinctive tracks, ‘How Many Stars?’ and ‘Weimar Vending Machine/Priest?’ pose inquisitive and surreal open-ended titles, but also leave the sandy trail to go off-road into the past and plain weird. The former of these, which features the atmospheric atavistic Celtic swoons and haunting malady of Susie Honeyman’s violin, reimagines a sweetly, if fatefully forlorn, Georgian lament (“Father dig my grave, upon my hand a velvet glove to show I died for love.”), the latter, riffs on a drug-induced (no doubt) Iggy Pop anecdote from the hazy, heady junked-up days of Berlin – the sinewy maverick apparently coming across a peculiar vending machine that sold bags of sand. This madcap, or metaphorical dream, inspired tale launches the band on a suitably Kurt Weil – as bastardised by Iggy and Bowie – like strut that takes in Aladdin Sane at the drive-in, a disturbed Mott The Hoople glam doo-wop chorus and a subtle hint of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’.

To be fair, there is a hell of a lot going on sonically and texturally; the instrumental accompaniment featuring such exotic sounds as the saz and cumbus, but also violin and accordion alongside the standard wanes, tremolo and bendy heated vapour trail guitar and shared vocal duties.

Forty-one years in and showing no signs of fatigue, prompted to probe new sonic horizons, the Mekons inaugural album for Glitterbeat Records (easily one of the best, most diverse labels of the last five years) is possibly the Leeds troupe’s most expansive, deep and tactile albums yet: A distillation of all the group’s best assets. Without doubt one of 2019’s most impressive albums, Deserted reaffirms a legacy and status but offers a way going forward for a band baptized in the inferno of punk.







Blue House ‘Gobstopper’
(Faith And Industry) 29th March 2019



On a roll of late, the sweetly despondent songwriter-singer-musician James Howard continues to survey This Sceptred Isle with wistful melodious aplomb. Howard, under the guise of the Thomas Nation alter ego, delivered a minor historical-spanning album that metaphorically attempted to make sense of Brexit, and in turn nationhood, community and sense of belonging. That cassette tape chronicle, Battle Of The Grumbles – which rightfully made the Monolith Cocktail’s ‘choice albums of 2018’ features – never raised above a peaceable whisper and sigh, but through articulate melody and subtly worked its magic well enough.

The fruits of two-years labour, Howard’s latest appearance as principle writer, is with the Blue House collaboration; a group that boosts the talents of Ursula Russell (drumming for the brilliant Snapped Ankle, and soon to release music under the Ursa Major Moving Group), Dimitrios Ntontis (film composer and member of a host of bands including Pre Goblin) and Capitol K (the nom de plume of the ever-in-demand star producer Kristian Craig Robinson). Following up on the group’s 2016 acclaimed Suppose LP with another rich mellow empirical state-of-the-nation address, the Blue House’s Gobstopper is suffused with a languid disdain, as they drift through the archetypal bleak waiting rooms of nostalgia and the limbo of benefit Britain.

Gently stunning throughout with hues of a gauze-y Kinks, a less nasal Lennon, a more wistful Bowie and woozy Stereolab, Howard and friends perform a disarming mini opus that soaks up the forlorn stench of an out-of-season postcard seaside pub, air-conditioned gyms and quaint English motorways – ‘Accelerate’ in name only, the speed and candour of a hitched-up caravan that’s more ambling (with the radio dial set to Fleetwood Mac bounce) than autobahn motorik futurism.

Revealing its beauty and ambitious scope slowly, Gobstopper often soars with aria like ethereal warbles and dreamy filmic soundtrack panoramas: The soliloquy sepia tinged memory lane heartache of ‘Stay With Me’ marries Morricone with Lee Hazlewood and Richard Hawley, whilst the swooned ‘Delecta’ reimagines an English dancehall Lou Reed rewriting the introduction from the TV show, Jamie And The Magic Torch. Countless passing musical references linger, including the coach tour surrealism of The Magical Mystery Tour, the more serene elements of David Axelrod, Aiden Moffat and Serge Gainsbourg (if he worked on a minimum hours contract in Margate); a full ploughman’s lunch of cozy, if pining, 60s and 70s quality songwriting.

A snapshot of a lifetime, both misspent and blue, Blue House suck on the bitter aftertaste of the original peoples vote, whilst reflecting on the idyllic misrepresentations of nostalgia, yet also drawing forlorn comments on fleeting indignations and trends: Howard references a string of quintessential English preoccupations, from Abu Hamza to Coronation Street (which I never miss an episode of personally), reminding us of the inevitable nature of these obsessions that distract us, “When this is over, something else will come along.”

I may find plenty to discuss, even disagree with, but Gobstopper is without doubt a magnificent, beautifully crafted album; already a choice highlight of 2019.







Ben Osborn ‘Letters From The Border’
(Nonostar Records) 19th April 2019



For a number of reasons the poet-troubadour composer and sound-design architect Ben Osborn could be said to have found an ideal platform for his music, joining the German-based Nonostar label. Sharing both an East European Jewish heritage with its founder, the artist/producer/violinist maestro Alex Stolze, Osborn’s often majestic, sometimes mournful, quality minimal electronic undulated neoclassical compositions and lyrical pining also seem heaven-made for this label; at times crossing over and seeming almost indistinguishable (in a good way) from Stolze’s very own signature solo work. This is hardly surprising as Stolze also produced this debut effort, crafting this subtle gentle songbook at his remote studio on the German-Polish border, in the summer of 2018.

An idyllic sounding retreat that can’t fail to lend the recordings a suffused naturalistic feel, this border positioned studio allowed elements of the surrounding environment to bleed into the production. Aleatory to a point, helping to form a certain ambience, the wandering winds, distant birdsong and chatter, and creaking, stretching movements seem, alongside all the musical breaths, notes and melodies to be purposefully placed: almost perfectly so.

The award-winning sound designer and deft soundtrack composer of acclaimed “libretti” feeds a rich provenance into his debut, Letters From The Border. Drawing parallels with the lamentable diaspora of his ancestors heart-breaking displacement during WWII with the current flight of migrants from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, Osborn yearnfully finds a common ground. The heartache of isolation and alienation are beautifully swooned and felt throughout this tactile diaphanous album; the movement of people across, increasingly, hostile borders often hauntingly conveyed in the most emotive if nuanced of maladies; points made in a disarming series of venerable but poetically descriptive lyrics.

Reaching into the mystical profound etymology of that Jewish heritage, Osborn chooses to open his ethereal-charmed plucked album with a minor romantic instrumental overture, based around the atavistic Hebrew word for “joy”, ‘Chedvah’. As Osborn himself explains the reasoning behind this choice, the sad waning and earnest introduction represents “…the joy of connecting to something bigger than yourself.” Musicality wise this piece follows a numerical sequence based on the Hebrew letters of the same word: originally taught to Osborn as a breathing meditation by the artist Daniel Laufer.

Later on, coming full circle, he references the equally profound if lamenting, third section of the Hebrew Bible passage, ‘Psalm 22’, on the album’s dreamily nigh sky finale. This oft-quoted, if debated and trawled for meaning, passage features the famous “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” line; the words of a people in exile at the time; the distress, plight and search for some kind of meaning and purpose to their sufferings inspiring Osborn’s far less despairing but aching swansong.

The plight of refugees, a subject close to both Osborn and Stolze’s hearts, as they occupy the tip-toe piano and choral mood accompanied border soundscape of the Leonard Cohen meets T Bone Burnett like title track, or, wistfully cross a clitter-clatter train track motioned avian symbolic ‘Bridge Of Starlings’.

Osborn also shares, if under a veil of hazy descriptive metaphor, even more personable material amongst the border themes. The woozy, delightfully longing clarinet featured nostalgic malady, with tints of that imbued East European ancestry, ‘My Sister The Swimmer’, is elegiac like; Osborn tenderly cooing sepia toned pool side recollections and memories. No less personable, if meant to “examine” a “universal experience of grief and bereavement”, the dainty piano with quivered violin and gleaned wispy harp accompanied ‘A Guide To Gothenburg’ uses the city’s backdrop to find solace.

Beautifully conveyed at every turn, Ben Osborn uses an assiduous steady hand to evoke connection; a connection to nature; a connection to the plight of modern-day displacement; a connection to our shared roots. Letters From The Border is a delicate, yearning reveal of an album; an album that finds a fine balance between the classical and contemporary to soundtrack an accomplished suite of lyrical venerability and learning: Poetically sublime.







Various ‘Rocket Girl 20’
(Rocket Girl) 1st March 2019



Perhaps one of the most cherished of independent UK labels, Vinita Joshi’s Rocket Girl imprint has over the last twenty years attained an impressive legacy and loyalty from its artists. A mark of that loyalty and respect can be found by way of the contributors lining up to celebrate the label’s twentieth anniversary: some of who, never even released a record on it.

Vinita has come a long way, on a haphazard travail trajectory at times. The Indian lass from Rugby – called an ‘anomaly’ in a white male-dominated music industry by this compilation’s chosen linear note biographer, the Faber author (and super-fan) Richard Milward – gained one of many footholds in the business by managing the influential void-of-despair probing Telescopes. As a precursor to Rocket Girl itself, Vinita set-up, in conjunction with Nick Allport, the London-based Ché label, in 1991; borne from the ashes of the Chere label, intended as a vehicle for the music of Disco Inferno but expanding the remit to include the Tindersticks and the Detroit duo Füxa, who would later, join Rocket Girl, and feature on this anniversary special – a Congo Hammer remix of their acid-blurp Orb-meets-Cabaret-Voltaire dreamy goer ‘Sun Is Shining’ is featured on this most eclectic of spreads.

Despite personal tragedies and various setbacks, Vinita’s label has been both successful and prolific since its inception in 1998, the inaugural ‘rgirl1’ release a 7” single featuring the wonderful psychedelic cosmic electronic progenitors, Silver Apples. Long since a solo affair, the original late 60s founded duo sadly losing Danny Taylor in 2005, under the custodianship of Simeon Oliver Coxe III the Silver Apples brand continues to covet acclaim and attention as an experimental force of giddy nature. Now, as then, a whirly wiz-bang remix of the surreal culinary, chicken-dish mad, ‘Susie’, opens the compilation.

Both established icons and emerging ones appear regularly in the label’s back catalogue; this anniversary package that spans a series of special flexi-discs (a throwback to one of the first formats Vinita was involved with) collectable 7” singles, prints, a fully illustrated hardback book and 16-track compilation (a fuller digital version, which I reviewed, includes the flexi-disc tracks to make it 20), features just a mere smattering of them. The most poignant of which, the Television Personalities wry ramble through their maverick troubled leaders reputable back pages, ‘All Coming Back’, represents one of Vinita’s most enduring if turbulent musical relationships. The TV’s erratic treasured icon Dan Treacy has received plenty of prestige as an influence on everyone from Pavement to Pete Doherty, and released a string of comeback records, including 2006’s acclaimed My Dark Places LP. Volatile and prone to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Treacy has suffered badly for his art; addicted to drugs, battling mental health, adding up at one point on remand, the enigma has been off the radar since suffering from a brain injury in 2011, his legacy and blessing for the featured song on this compilation, taken from a small batch of unreleased tracks he recorded before these latest woes, coming from Treacy’s sister.

Another leading light of their particular sound, and again, major influence on those to follow, Robin Guthrie, co-founder of the ethereal vaporous Cocteau Twins, makes an appearance with the suitably echo-y heaven spindled track, ‘Flicker’. Joining him from north of the English border, fellow Scottish band, doyens of post-rock filmic panoramas, Mogwai, lend their fishing port earnest opus ‘Fight For Work’, as one of the flexi-disc specials.

A diverse roster is represented by artists as different and distinct as those earlier acrylates of (though they hate the term) the witch house phenomena, White Ring, and philosophical name-dropping no wave disco troubadour Kirk Lake. White Ring on their part offer a daemonic pulsing industrial skulk with broken-up salacious siren vocals on the brilliant darkwave ‘Heavy’, Lake, goes-for-broke parading countless symbolist thinkers (Lucan, Foucault, Barthes and the song’s own “Adorna”) as he limbers to a DFA meets Blurt NYC sidewalk shuffling ‘Go Ask Adorna’.

It’s telling that the Rocket Girl back catalogue and class of those who gravitate towards it is so immense with quality and diverse in breadth that I’ve not even mentioned the stoner anthemic Philly act Bardo Pond, or the Hazelwood dream pairing with Richard Hawley hymnal troubadour John DeRosa, or, even, the polygenesis producer/remixer extraordinaire Andrew Weatherall. And I could go on.

With discerning taste and strength-of-character to take chances, Vinita has built up a formidable if unassuming and assured label; one that has the depth and scope to keep on going in the face of ever uncertainty. The Rocket Girl anniversary package is a perfect encapsulation of that independent spirit. Go enjoy and celebrate one of the true individuals of the industry while you can. And let’s hopefully raise a glass to another twenty years of equally quality risk-taking.







Mandrake Paddle Steamer ‘Pandemonium Shadow Show’
(Sommor) 17th January 2019

Hasting’s Street Opera ‘Slippery When Wet’
(Out-Sider) 17th January 2019



Via the “head music” and rediscovered musical nuggets channel of Guerssen two extreme rarities from the 1960s for fuzz freaks and progressive psych rock fans to drool over. The first, Mandrake Paddle Steamer’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, released by the Sommor imprint, collates a smattering of the Middle Earth Tolkien imbued Walthamstow band’s archived recordings (none of which were ever released), whilst the second, Hasting’s Street Opera’s Slippery When Wet, released by the most brilliant Out-Sider label, makes a previously private pressing (less than a hundred copies ever produced, and only ever handed out to friends and family) available to the great unwashed public for the very first time.

 

Formed by an art-school rabble of pals from an East End postcode, the Mandrake Paddle Steamer’s providence is most notable for the fleeting 45” they recorded at Abbey Road in 1967 for Parlophone. Though this fabled label, run by straights admittedly, launched The Beatles, the band was aiming for a deal with the more switched-on and hip Harvest label. Neither in the end took them on, and so what is a “lost classic”, the fuzz pop-sike ‘Strange Walking Man’ single remains their only shot. Still, in a short blossoming, they managed to support Floyd, The Nice and Vanilla Fudge (all three of which rubbed off on them sound wise), do a turn at the infamous salacious spit-and-sawdust Star Club, and set up their own club night (in honor of The Lord Of The Rings naturally) called Asgard.

The Pandemonium Shadow Show features nine varying tracks of bewitching esoteric psych, bordering on the progressive, from the key years of 1968 and 1970: The year they disbanded for good; even after dropping the river boat “paddle steamer” from their name to become just Mandrake. 1968 does seem to garner the lion’s share, with six of the nine tracks recorded in that musical pivotal year, as psych got real and heavy; the step-change being not just culturally but politically too; folk even more weaponised as the totems of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement across the Atlantic sank into the consciousness of the Boomer generation that kicked off the whole Hippie revolution. Still inspired on this side of the pond by the antagonistic post-mod rave-ups of John’s Children and Piper At The Gates Of Dawn Floyd, the MPS condensed these inspirations and the metaphorical language of Gothic Poe into the title-track that opens this album. Painting a vivid Halloween phantasm that stars a “moon shadowed witch” siren waltzing on a “fairground of fate”, the band go all out on a spooky acid trip. With the use of the funhouse organ and that quintessential Mellotron – part Procol Harum hymnal tripping, part mind-melting carousel – they evoke The Doors, sometimes, Family, and when the bell tolls and shit gets real, Deep Purple. On the ominous unhinged funny farm ‘The World Whistles By’ – a place where the melancholic and all-too serious themes of mental illness and isolation are highlighted – I’m sure I can hear the early genes of Genesis and even The Alex Harvey Band.

By 1970 they were knee-deep in the primordial, building from a mists-of-time like trudge towards a tavern-staggering-patron opus that consumes The Master’s Apprentice and Vanilla Fudge in a rolling crescendo of epic prog-psych rock lament on the sea-shanty fantasy ‘Stella Mermaid’. And on the waning shimmery wavy, with a polka-like merry-go-round gallop, ‘Simple Song’, they almost merge Focus with The Nice.

All the right ingredients, even ahead of their time as far as the progressive elements are concerned, the MPS story could be painted as a sorrowful tale of a band that were denied a shot – Parlophone putting the kibosh on that inaugural 45” launch after a general lack of interest. Yet, as good as they sound, certainly ambitious, they weren’t quite there and lacked the magic and personality (though luck does come into it too) of their peers who did. Still, the Pandemonium is a real discovery that’s worth investigation and a punt.







Willie Gibson ‘Saint-Ex’
(Gare du Nord) 1st March 2019



An electric glide in blue, maverick synth composer Willie Gibson sets off for an aerial traverse of the philosophical articulated horizons of the legendary pioneering aviator and author Antoine de Saint Expéry. Using the fateful aristocratic pilot’s poetic 1939 published memoir Wind Sand And Stars as a launch pad, Gibson channels the spirit and lament of romanticized adventure through his Eurorack of various iconic modular synths and plugins.

A famed French laureate, the author of The Little Prince novella found his own inspiration in the clouds; first as a commercial mail pilot, later as war drew near, joining the (as yet defeated) French Air Force. When Hitler’s Germany forced an armistice with France, Saint-Ex found himself demobilized. Moving soon after to North America for a total of 27 months, he bided his time writing and importantly trying to convince the USA to enter the war. It was during this imposed sojourn that the enigmatic polymath wrote three of his most important works, including the lyrical, elemental book that now informs this album. Far from grounded, he would travel to join the Free French resistance air force in North Africa. Spurring untold flights of fantasy, Saint-Ex went missing in 1944, disappearing after a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean: Neither his body or plane were ever found.

The stuff of adventure then, Saint-Ex’s fate and various exploits as chronicled by those memoirs make for an interesting concept; the passion for flying that underlines it all shared by Gibson, who has himself obtained a “private pilot’s license”. Finding “similarities between operating light aircraft and patching and crafting sounds” with his modular synth apparatus, Gibson composes a linear suite of various knowing library music and 1970s synthesizer imbued peregrinations. His first mini-opus of original music – the previous album, Seasons Change, being a Wendy Carlos like neo-classical riff on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – plays with the formula, inviting the Gare du Nord label polymath, founder and producer, Ian Button to drive along two of the suites’ five tracks on drums, and Deerful’s Emma Winston to woo the odd accentuate vocal line.

Following an arc, from takeoff to Bermuda Triangle mystery disappearance, Gibson’s fantastic voyage ascends loftily from Saint-Ex’s book cover to arch and loom across a South American, European and North African panorama to a Kosmische style accompaniment that evokes Tangerine Dream, Rick van der Linden and Moroder. Once-up, up and away the serene ‘Dawn Flight’ offers ‘time for reflection”; stirring idyllic memories of the artist’s childhood in Saint-Maurice with a Baroque-synth and Theremin quivery soundtrack that conjures up not only images of the past but some otherworldly, even alien, ones too. The next two desert strafing tracks allude to both Saint-Ex’s dangerous and awe-inspiring mail-drops; ‘Cap Juby’ a staging post on the hazardous Saharan route, where Saint-Ex and his co-pilot navigator crashed in 1935, the pair lucky to survive were rescued by a Bedouin, and ‘Black Pebbles On A White Plateau’, which features a paean to a desolate white stone mesa (tabletop) landing spot – the shiny black pebbles that covered this plateau having a philosophical profound effect on the aviator. The first of these uses a crystalized sandscape of ominous sounds to describe the jeopardy, whilst the second stirs-up the immensity of nature with cathedral and tubular grandeur, and ethereal wafted cooing.

A theatre of lament, ‘July 44’ marks Saint-Ex’s final ascendance into the history books. Gibson uses a stained glass Edgar Froese and Klaus Schulze sonic palette to convey a certain tragedy on this venerable soaring mission.

An odyssey of aerial balletic synths and more moody cascading arpeggiator elemental drama, Gibson’s homage to Saint-Ex is another curious oddity of retro-futurism and serious modular-synth based composing from the Cambridge-based maverick; a nostalgic trip that despite the addition of Button and Winston seems plucked from the pioneering analogue electronica age of the early 1970s. Interesting though, and a potential cult release in its right, Saint-Ex is worth the indulgence.







Olcay Bayir ‘Rüya’
(ARC) 29th March 2019



Marrying an Anatolian heritage with the polygenesis sound of the London metropolis, the multi-disciplined singer Olcay Bayir has injected a new energy and enthusiasm into the traditions and cultures of her homeland.

The daughter of a famed ‘ashik’, a musical bard of the Anatolian region, the purveyors of oral culture in the Alevi sect of the Muslim religion that follows the more mystical teachings of Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali, who ruled over the fourth caliph between 656-661 AD, and his twelve Inman successors – Bayir’s most formative years were imbued with the atavistic music of worship and social ceremony. Born in the ancient southern Turkey city of Gaziantep – among the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world; so old in fact that even the ancient Hittites were around to destroy it – her musical odyssey, from the very start, was steeped in history and reverence: That same city stands as both a “geographical and cultural counterpart” to the fated Syrian city of Aleppo, which lies just across the border.

The southern regions are where Anatolian Turkish and Kurdish cultures meet; forming the inspiration for Bayir’s own music alongside a belief that it’s “culture more than religion or nationality that provides identity.” It is an often frayed relationship; those that follow the Alevi tradition, whether Turkish or Kurdish, for obvious reasons, coming to blows with their Northern compatriots; the Kurdish question of autonomy and in recent years implosive civil war and ISIS insurgency in Syria enabling an ever more autocratic Turkish leader to ramp-up divisions.

Moving around the region every few years with her jobbing ashik father, Bayir was introduced to a cross-pollination of communities before the family’s eventual move to the London melting pot. A cultural shock, to put it mildly, for the sixteen year old who didn’t yet speak any English – though to be fair, Bayir is multilingual, her debut LP sang in five different languages. But through music the vulnerable burgeoning siren slowly opened-up; as the press release puts it, “music was the manner by which Olcay could best interact with the new world around her.”

Absorbing even more of the electric hubbub of her new city, Bayir, who began composing at the age of six, trained as a classical soprano. Those aria soars and vocal control are unmistakable when you hear those rich performances, adding a certain gravitas and expanding the range still further. Refashioned to reflect this providence, the folk songs of Bayir’s homeland were given an endearing, swanned lift on the 2014 debut album Neva (‘harmony”). An introduction to a highly skilled adroit vocal talent, this album showcase brought attention to the Anatolian songbook. Steeped more in that tradition, Neve provided the groundwork for Bayir’s new dream entitled album Rüya.

Still alluding, even referencing, the spiritual yearn and pining mountain steppe folk of that tradition, the afflatus Rüya showcases for the, first time, Bayir’s own original compositions. Taking sagacious romantic wisdom from both the Alevi and Sufi poets, she weaves the journey metaphor of the renowned bard Âşik Veysel Satiroğlu into the album’s serene opener ‘Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayim’ (“long narrowed road”), riffs on the tradition’s analogy for the folly of trying to separate those both destined and integral to each other, such as the honey and bee, on the album’s slinky swooned closer ‘Ari Oldum’ (“I become a bee”), and covers the “graceful” brooding Kurdish love song ‘Ferzê’.

Using a similar enriched lyricism to envisage a better world, whilst yearning wistfully about lost and found love, Bayir’s original lines seem almost indistinguishable from those written in lore.

Lifting those traditions with a sophisticated production and backing, Giuliano Modarelli and Al MacSween of the transglobal music collective Kefaya accentuate the timeless qualities of Bayir’s melodies with a nuanced swirl of jazz, bouncy backbeats, amorphous sounds from Arabia and North Africa, and on the 17th century homage to the asik minstrel Karacaoĝlan, ‘Elif’, a whiff of Ennio Morricone.

Livening up the Anatolian songbook once more, Olcay Bayir and her collaborators make those traditions relevant; stirring the melting pot with dynamic vibrancy, and pushing those enchanting, soaring but also earthly vocals even further.







The 39 Clocks ‘Next Dimension Transfer’
(Tapete Records) 22nd March 2019



Going it alone as the sunglass adorned leather clad beatniks, Hanover’s 1980s cult lo fi (with ambition) miscreants The 39 Clocks were always a bit of an anomaly. Alienating even their fans with a general attitude of indifference and antagonizing audiences with shambling performances more Dadaist provocation than musical (replacing guitars with cleaning appliances for one), even the duo’s identities were masked (well, barely), with chemical equation code, JG-39 and CH-39, replacing the human vessels of Jürgen Gleve and Christian Henjes.

Neither hardcore proponents of punk nor comfortable in the company of Germany’s emerging New Wave, the Clocks were an idiosyncratic bridge between the Lutheran Gothic drone of The Velvet Underground and primal garage band petulance of Nuggets; the results of which proved highly influential to the next generation breaking through: Their self-coined signature “psychobeat” can be heard driving The Jesus And Mary Chain and most of their ilk.

Delivered in the driest of tones with an almost comical heavy deadpan German accent, but with English lyrics, the Clocks, on paper anyway, read as a put-up job from the mischievous mind of Martin Kippenberger. Yet they were certainly committed, and had providence; the Clocks arriving via after two previous incarnations, the Killing Rats and The Automats; the groundwork done during the punk epoch. They even had a cheerleader, in the guise of that most archetypal German-named boffin of rock trivia and taste, Diedrich Diederichsen, who considers them to be the best German band of the entire 1980s.

They only released a handful of albums and singles proper during their tenure career, but left, as this oeuvre-spanning box set proves, quite the legacy. Over-egged in places and perhaps indulged, nonetheless Next Dimension Transfer collects sixty revealing recordings from the duo’s (though they could of course expand to accommodate extra band members when the occasion raised) official and unofficial back catalogue for the very first time.

Sanctioned by the band themselves and featuring a bundle of previously unreleased tracks, both studio and live, this behemoth eases in those that are unfamiliar with this group; the first 2 CDs in this 5xCD overview featuring the Clocks first two albums, 1981’s Pain It Black and the 1982 Subnarotic. The first of these introduces the Clocks’ punk hangover turned spindly jangly futurism rock; tracks such as the grueling cold-war chiller ’78 Soldiers Dead’ inhabit, phantom style, The Normal, Cabaret Voltaire and garage terrains, whilst ‘Psycho Beat’ lays on the flange and phasers, accelerating towards a sulk-in with both the Velvets and Hawkwind. Saxophone, neither jazz nor no wave, is added to a general broody deadpan Gothic stringy malaise; a highlight being a prowling Lou Reed on Mogadon live version of ‘Twist And Shout’ (‘Twisted & Shouts’) that reimagines a bastardised Star Club Beatles transported decades into the future, playing at family fun day event at the local social club.





Subnarotic is no less abrasive and strung-out, beating its junk to a psychodrama of Suicide, Nico, the Voidoids (again, check ‘Shake The Hippie’ from that last album) and Can. ‘Rainy Night Insanities’ though, with its whining nerve-endings violin, sounds like unholy communion between Terry Conrad and John Cale, and ‘A Touch Of Rot’ merges Johnny Thunders, Television and Eno.

Previously (probably for our benefit) unreleased, five scuzzed-up vortex indulgent live performances from the Clocks’ heyday make-up the entire third CD of this set. Met with mostly silence, the odd hand clap applause from either an indifferent or stunned audience, extended versions of ‘Shake The Hippie’, ‘DNS’ and ‘Past Tense Hope And Instant Fears On 42nd Street’ are caked-in reverb, fuzz and distortion – ‘Three Floors Down’ has an erratic avant-garde ring of the Beefheart about it. Shambolic in places, on the verge of collapse, wandering out-of-time, these lo fi deconstructions are heavy and experimental. As a warning, there’s plenty of screeching feedback to pierce the eardrums, so look out. As atmospheres go it is a dank, creepy and Gothic one, the quality of recordings raw.

Let’s be honest, this shelved “live” LP and the material missives that make-up CD4 and CD5 will be what fans and hardliners are craving. With the duo’s involvement, overseeing this collation of their material, there’s plenty of oddities and “what ifs” from the vaults to drool over. Tracks like the California punk, ala The Dils, ‘New Crime Appeal’ and Siouxsie Sioux flanged dreamwave ‘39 Progress Of A Psychotic’ are interesting, and the lion’s share of that 1987 collection 13 More Protest Songs is fantastic: all transmogrified acoustic and electric guitar Byrds and harmonica Bob Dylan, mixed with the Velvets.

If you haven’t heard of The 39 Clocks than wow, what a revelation this box set is going to be for you. They will undoubtedly soon become your favourite 1980s visionaries. For diehards there is something to get excited about in the unreleased 1981 live album and two collections, updated, which make up this homage.



Words: Dominic Valvona



Album Review: Dominic Valvona



Ifriqiyya Electrique ‘Laylet el Booree’
(Glitterbeat Records) 5th April 2019



Once more into the furnace of voluminous excitations and ritual, the collaborative Ifriqiyya Electrique project that merges Sufi like trance and spirit possession performance from the atavistic mystical depths of Southern Tunisia with grinding deconstructive industrial post-punk from the West, builds on the foundations of the electrifying 2017 debut, Rûwâhîne.

With a slight change in personal, but still led by the musical union’s chief instigators Gianna Greco and François R. Cambuzat, the Electrique broaden the perimeters on their latest intense chthonian frantic exploration of the religious ritual ‘Banga’, Laylet el Booree. Joining the constant scrapped and rattling tin chorus of ‘tchektchekas’ hand percussion and shared exaltation chanting vocals new recruit Fatma Chabbi throws herself into the tumult storm that at times resembles an excitable communion between NIN, Einstürzende Neubauten, Tago Mago era Can and the Tunisian spirit world.

Redefining what it means to totally immerse oneself in exotic, often arcane mystical cultures, Mediterranean punk and avant rock scene stalwarts turn field-recording filmmakers Greco and Cambuzat – when not combining forces with the enigmatic Lydia Lunch under the Putan Club moniker – confront head-on the psychogeography and music of often volatile regions and cultures – previous excursions include the hotly-contested Kurdish regions of Southern Turkey, and the Uyghur region of China; the predominantly Muslim worshiping ethnic group have made the world news in recent months, a million or so of their community interned in the Chinese authority’s detention camps as the Communist regime seeks to ‘re-educate’ and remove any outside influence, culture or religious adherence from the population –, including the legacy of the original Hausa slave people who elevated the celebrated 13th century Sufi mystic Sidi Marzug to the status of venerated saint.





To this day the black communities of Tozeus, Metlaoui and Nefta honour their ancestor, who it is said had at his disposal a retinue, or, “diwan” (“assembly”) of “rûwâhîne” (“spirits”) as allies and servants to call upon through the ritual of Banga. Not so much an “exorcism” as an “adorcism” we’re told, this lively ceremony is meant to placate and calm the spirit who posses the participating initiate. Mesmerized by the hypnotic chanting, drumming dancing performances that accompany it, Greco and Cambuzat moved from bystander documenters to participates; joining the spiritual hubbub by adding a searing, abrasive fuzz, buzz and edgy sawing taste of guitars and effects to the already esoteric experience.

Worried how this hybrid and intrusion would look to the community of the Djerid desert in which it was instigated, the duo and their Electrique company of Hausa collaborators, Tarek Sultan, Yahia Chouchen and Youssef Ghazala performed their debut in the sacred town of Nefta, the sanctuary that holds the body of the “black saint” himself, Sidi Marzug. Though obviously nervous, the locals recognized a “shared music” when they heard it, giving their seal of approval; this baptism of fire inspiring the desired effect as the locals sang, danced, and even went into a trance. Free of hierarchy and structure the Electrique sits well within the untethered traditions of North Africa, yet this meeting of the brutal industrial sound palette and religious spectacle, though unique, also seems to have wowed and had the desired effect on Western audiences.

The second album, Laylet el Booree, which translates as the “night of the madness”, is just as electrifying, exotic and barracking. Mirroring the stamping, emotive and sometimes confusing hallowed intensity of the adorcist ritual from the Banga followers of Tozeur that this album’s title references, the troupe work themselves up into a fervor: this is after all the night when the spirits “actually” take possession of their initiate’s bodies.

Call-and-response chants and communion echo around in a vortex of rustic percussion, strange computer-generated sounds, static, sparks and two-speed rhythms throughout this equally powerful and heavily atmospheric album. Tracks such as the creepy piano prodded, galley-slave rowed Gothic ‘he eh lalla’ sound like Trent Reznor leading The Bad Seeds across an ominous sandy terrain, whilst the next evocation, ‘beesmellah beedeet’, goes ‘baggy’, and ‘moola nefta’ merges dub with snake-charmer Arabian saz mysticism.

Still locked-in to the trance-like venerations of spirit channeling, the Electrique integrate different rhythmic changes and timings; seeming to experiment even more this time around; pushing the envelope further without losing that original tumultuous barrage of bombarding drums/percussion and edgy growling grinding industrial guitar sounds. If anything they’ve unleashed the spirits to roam the amorphous sphere of exploration to draw on even more diverse musical inspirations, creating a highly unique invigorating sensory experience in the process. Industrial post-punk ritual leaves the furnace once more to cause an explosive cacophony.


Images: Renaud de Foville


Review: Dominic Valvona




Album Review: Dominic Valvona



Kel Assouf ‘Black Tenere’
(Glitterbeat Records) 15th February 2019



Mirroring the borderless Nomadic freewheeling of the Berber ancestral Tuareg people, a loosely atavistic-connected confederacy (to put it into any kind of meaningful context) of diverse tribes that have traditionally roamed Sub-Saharan Africa since time immemorial, Kel Assouf channels a wealth of musical influences both historically and geographically into an electrified reworking of (as vague and over-used a term as it is) desert rock.

Headed by charismatic Gibson Flying V slinger front man Anana Ag Haroun, who’s own lineage takes in both the landlocked behemoth Niger and bordering Nigeria, the highly propulsive, cyclonic spiraling trio propel that heritage into the 21st century; thanks in many ways to the futuristic cosmic electronic and bass frequency production of the band’s rising innovative keyboardist/producer Sofyann Ben Youssef – a name that should be familiar to regular readers as the dynamic force behind the multimedia musical Pan-Maghreb Ammar 808 project (one of our albums of 2018) and member of the electric jolted Algerian borderlands Bargou 08.

Informed, if not driven, lyrically by Haroun’s Tuareg roots, the Black Tenere album wastes no time in drawing the listener’s attention to the violent struggles endured by the Bedouin in their fight for autonomy and survival. A diverse society of various people, grouped together in an age that demands definition and demarcation, even the term ‘Tuareg’ is highly contested: arguably brought into the lexicon through the language of European Colonialism, though etymology traces the term back further to multiple sources. Haroun would prefer we used the original ‘Kel Tamashek’. The elliptic soft lunging rhythmic desert canter opening ‘Fransa’ poetically, in earthy earnestness, encapsulates these struggles and travails:

 

“The war during the French colonization was won
by the swords, shields and spears of our ancestors.
How do you want potential allies to provide you with modern cannons and
missiles?
Do you see your sisters every day climbing the border mountains (Tassili),
 clandestinely, exhausted, on their knees with bruised feet.”

 

Much is made of the past and ancestral rights, but the plight of the Kel Tamashek is ongoing. For now an uneasy truce exists between the various city-state governments and their rural and desert populations, especially in Mali, the Kel Tamashek uprisings that first kick-started a decades long fight for an autonomous state, known as the Azawad, in the north eastern desert regions of the Mali, began in the late 1960s; continuing throughout until more recent times when they made worldwide headlines as their struggle was hijacked spectacularly by Islamist insurgents – worryingly gaining ground as a Trojan Horse within their nomadic allies fight for independence; the destructive Islamist fascists horrified many when they took the ancient seat of West African learning and trade, Timbuktu, and preceded to demolish it like barbarians. Former Colonial masters France were forced to intervene, finally halting the insurgents progress before forcing all groups involved back to where they started, and many across the border. Far from ideal, the Islamist usurpers dissipated to a degree but then switched to sporadic acts of terrorism, carrying out smaller militia attacks in Mali’s capital.

In the bordering Niger, the Kel Tamashek have remained more obscure as they fight to maintain their lands and way of life, which is being eroded by climate-change and over-desertification (when relatively dry land becomes increasingly arid, losing bodies of water, vegetation and the wildlife with it).





Sonically given a dynamic but equally yearning, even romantic (especially on the gospel organ and mulling guitar accompanied ethereal-scenic paean to a virtual oasis, ‘Taddout’), boost to the nomadic heritage, they have a certain synthesized edge and twist missing from fellow desert rock groups such as Tinariwen (a major influence on Kel Assouf) and Tamikrest. Those familiar circling trance-y guitar riffs and camel-ride motions of the desert rock genre remain, yet the influence of heavy-hitters such as Hendrix, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin blend with acid psychedelic rock and more languid stoner rock, ‘astral ambience’ (their words not mine) and even club beats, take it in new directions. Add to this bubbling stew Haroun’s absorption of the cross-pollinating international music of his hometown – for the last eleven years – of Brussels, and the inclusion of local Belgium jazz drummer Oliver Penu adding off-kilter swerve, bounce, shimmery cymbal crescendos and limber, and you have a truly exciting global sound that evokes tribal medicine man dances, ambient traverses, rockier elements of Funkadelic, the Muscle Shoals studio, Black Merde, Terakaft and labelmates Dirtmusic: Sonorous beats and various desert settings from Africa, Mid Western America and the Australian Outback are evoked at any one time in this blazing mix.

A stunning rock odyssey that draws its multiple sources together in both defiance and in the spirit of communication – the Kel Tamashek plight, as guardian-custodians of the desert, translated via the poetic heartfelt earthy soulful lyrics of Haroun – Black Tenere stretches the roots of nomadic rock and blues to reflect ever-expanding musical horizons as the global community grows ever-smaller and music becomes more fluid and spreads with ease. Kel Assouf are on another plane entirely; propelling rock music into the future.





Words: Dominic Valvona

 


Album Review: Dominic Valvona



Ustad Saami ‘God Is Not A Terrorist’
(Glitterbeat Records) January 18th 2019


No-one quite sums up the dangerous lunacy of field recording in the world’s most hostile, often deadly, environments better than the Grammy award-winning producer, author and (very handy as it goes) violence prevention expert Ian Brennan. Self-deprecating with it, and candid, Brennan’s linear notes capture the cultures and locations of his many in-situ raw recording sessions with a stimulating honesty.

Probably appearing more than any other producer on this blog, including an interview, Brennan’s prolific career is as long as it is varied. Choosing an international cast (some more obscure and hidden than others; some more poignant and tragic too) drawn from forgotten, even, shunned communities. Whether it’s capturing the roadside roasted mouse sellers turn rustic otherworldly bluesmen Malawi Mouse Boys, or members of the persecuted Albino community in Tanzania, Brennan’s raison de terre still stands: “My concern is not cultural authenticity, but emotional truth and uncloying performances. Purity without baggage!”

And so, letting his subject naturally perform in the purest of settings – usually outside the confines of a modern equipped studio -, he travels to the remotest, hostile of places. Among his most enduring partnerships, the continuing relationship with Glitterbeat Records has taken him to quite a few of the most dangerous hotspots; especially for the Hidden Music series of albums. Previous editions of this series have found Brennan braving Rwanda, Cambodia and Vietnam. But the most foolhardy yet, and subject of Volume 5 of this healing music survey collection, takes him to Pakistan.

As he reminds us, “In the land where Osama Bin Laden last hid”, a “state so feared that the US government does not allow its staff to stay in hotels anywhere in the entire country”, Pakistan is a highly volatile, military heavy state: The most worrying concern being that they’re a nuclear state. If further proof was needed of the trigger-finger tensions, Brennan sets the vivid scene further: “Driving in from the airport I noticed a man cleaning what I thought was a musical instrument, but then realized was a machine gun. Weaponry is another visual motif throughout the city. En route, we passed celebrity-soldier sponsor billboards for house paint. Here, army officers carry a similar hollow cache to reality stars in America.”

Despite the evident dangers, he’s here to record for posterity the mesmerizing atavistic voice of the country’s much-revered classical singer, Ustad Saami, whose specialized Surti microtonal and multilingual expressions, accompanied by dipping buoyant tabla and long-drawn out harmonium drones, may very well die out when he does. Despite the somewhat provocative title, the beauty, serenity and sincerity of Saami’s music seems far from controversial. Yet to the more extremist sections of the Islamic faith, his spiritual yearnings represent a rebellious, defaming voice, an individual breaking with the hardline insistence of a myopic form of worship. For Saami’s blended form of Farsi, Sanskrit, Hindi, the ancient and dead language of Vedic, ‘gibberish’, Arabic and Urdu predates Islam. As the spread of a dogmatic Islam spreads across the globe, and as we’ve seen in Mali, a distrust but violently imposed break from anything outside the doctrine and history of Islam has seen the ritual burning of instruments and ban of most musical forms.


Photo credit: Marilena Delli





With all this in mind, the task of recording, in what was an energy-sapping all-night session – though the spritely vigorous 75 year-old maestro proved he could play all night, even into the next morning without a break, his companions were knackered – such afflatus magical music seems (to put it mildly) daunting.

Almost in a trance, the impressive Hindustani Khayál classical 49-note scale system Saami uses (deriving from the Arabic for ‘imagination’, this style was originally conceived by, we’re told, a mixed race royal whose lifelong endeavor was to make peace with duality through art) can hypnotize and draw the listener in. Though it sounds far from intense, it takes some concentration and endurance to play uninterrupted – at least two of the tracks on this collection run over the ten-minute mark. A predecessor to an even older form called Qawwal, Khayál it seems is more about feeling and atmosphere, the lyrics of the call-and-response performances almost incidental.

Sharing this divine music with the world before it disappears – the inevitability of a tradition only ever passed down possessively between family members -, the God Is Not A Terrorist sessions connect with a thousand and more years of encapsulating praise. Simultaneously uttering earthy deep longings and soaring tribute to a higher plain, Saami and his troupe pay amorphous service to the holy on ‘God Is’; “Om” and in phlegm voiced dedication ponderously elevate with a paean to romance on ‘My Beloved Is On The Way’; woo and yearn in the dusk of ‘Twilight’; and in a swirl of bellowed harmonium, lull entranced on the transportive ‘Longing’.

An incredible recording, thankfully in the hands (more hands-off) of an accomplished producer, Saami Ustad’s endangered music is safely shared to a global audience. As preservation goes, this latest volume in a much accomplished and surprising series of ethnomusicology is a mesmeric study in keeping a form alive in the face of persecution and fate.








Words: Dominic Valvona 

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