Albums Selected By Dominic Valvona and Matt Oliver.





Welcome to Part Two of our alphabetically ordered best/choice/favourite albums of 2018 feature. You can find Part One here…


The decision making process: 

Being the exhaustive and eclectic set of features our albums of the year are, we know you probably don’t need to or want to dally about reading a long-winded prognosis of our judgement process. But in short, here it is anyway.

Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavors to offer a more visceral and personal spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists, stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album is more deserving of their numbered spot than another.

With no hierarchical order, we’ve lined our album choices up alphabetically; split into two features – Part One: A (Idris Ackamoor) to M (Moonwalks); Part Two:(Thomas Nation) to (Thom Yorke).

All of our favourite new and reissued albums and EPs from 2018 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to have made some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2018: even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up another year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar or got lost in the noise of more commercial better promoted releases.

All selections in PART TWO from me (Dominic Valvona) and Matt Oliver.

N.

Thomas Nation ‘Battle Of The Grumbles’ (Faith & Industry)


 

Fixed intently on the anguishes of identity in a post-Brexit voted England, yet bleaching his 1960s bucolic and 1970s lounge (erring towards yacht rock almost) imbued songbook with nostalgia, the lyrics themselves read as augurs yet embedded on parchment, Blue House front-man James Howard weaves a diaphanous if plaintively foreboding chronicle of the past and present.

Creating a whole new persona as Thomas Nation, his commitment to a hazy timeless sound, both rustic and ambitious, goes as far as using only his rough mono mixes; undeveloped and left in their most honest, purest form. You won’t be surprised to learn that Howard has also released his Nation moniker debut, Battle Of The Grumbles, on cassette tape.

Littered with references to this Island’s past (both at home and overseas), from the illustrated album cover scene of the 16th century ‘Battle of the Spurs’ (when the Holy Roman Empire teamed up with Henry VIII’s England) to more ambiguous stirrings and despondent yearnings that feature musical echoes from across that ages, Battle Of The Grumbles stands metaphorically at the precipice of the white cliffs of Dover awaiting Britain’s fate.

A gentle spirit, James Howard creates a pastoral nostalgic journey filled with augurs, despair and disillusion but always diaphanous. The first of what Howard hopes will be an annual ‘pilgrimage’, the Thomas Nation incarnation is a cerebral wonder through the essence of Englishness, questioning and probing the psyche as it meanders through the psychogeography and heart of the countryside. Full review…

(Dominic Valvona)


Tony Njoku ‘H.P.A.C’  (Silent Kid Records)


 

Bringing a very different perspective and life experience to the London avant-garde art and electronic music scene, the British-Nigerian producer with the earthy falsetto, Tony Njoku, articulates a most unique form of magical soul music on his stunning new album. Though undulated with an ethereal to malady suffused backing of sophisticated synthesized travails, Njoku’s vocals always seem to bobble and float above the choppy breaks and ebbing tides.

Adrift in so many ways, through his life experiences, transferring as he did at the age of fourteen to London from a life spent hiding his true personality in the toxic macho boarding schools of Lagos, the sensitive Njoku found at least one kind of solace; able to show a vulnerability and pursue the music career he really wanted having previously recorded a number of hip-hop albums (the first when he was only twelve) that proved entirely counterintuitive, but were completely in tune with Nigerian environment he grew up in. Yet in the arts community he joined in his new home of London, he found few Afrocentric voices or people he could identify with or relate to. From that isolation comes an album inspired by the ‘high art sonic’ forms of Arca and Anhoni, and by the metamorphosis nature of Bjork; Njoku’s own compositions feature a beautiful synthetic shuffle of Afrofuturism soul and more searing discordant synth waves that clash and distort on arrival but gradually sync and become part of the motion. From beauty to pain and release, and often back again, each track (and not in a bad way) seems open-ended; a constant flowing cycle of emotions, which can be healed during that moment, in that space and time, but will inevitably return: A calm followed by turbulence and hopefully the light.

Eloquently in a hymn like fashion between pained malady and the venerable, heavenly but also melancholic and turbulent, H.P.A.C is a futuristic soul album of delicate intellect. Full review…

(DV)



P.

Micall Parknsun & Mr Thing ‘Finish What We Started’  (Village Live)



“Mainstays trusted with hip-hop restoration…with all the answers for those exaggerating hip-hop’s downfall” – RnV July 18

Featuring “beats to make your eyebrow dip” and the flow of one of the UK’s most reliably disdainful when it comes to holding your own, Micall Parknsun and Mr Thing made the very good decision to turn 2017’s one-off ‘The Raw’ into a 40 minute non-apology for playing the game properly. With hip-hop mumbling its way to the dogs, this pair have fire in the belly for the unfashionable return to beats and rhymes designed to stick around and give a damn. Measured run-ups streaked with bluesy, soulful headspace occupancy (with drums front and centre each and every time), a crux of blockbusters and pure boom bap battery, all land like a two-footed tackle, Thing researching and sculpting ‘the real’ without making it a puff piece on nostalgia or announcing they’re here to save the world. Park-E does his utmost to remain an upstanding citizen, pushed to his limits by both Thing’s heavyweight kicks and snares and general scene lethargy. The emcee’s systematic, it’s on when I say so-flow, perfectly lands the elbow once the producer has left you staggering backwards.

(Matt Oliver)

Josh T. Pearson ‘The Straight Hits’  (Mute)


 

Changing his tune (literally) Josh T. Pearson, the lonesome blues Texan with a wagonload of baggage, heads out onto the range with a swag bag of more joyful, unencumbered ‘golden hits’ with his latest album for Mute Records.

Leaving behind the more apocalyptic gospel concepts of his work with the short-lived but acclaimed Lift To Experience, Pearson sets himself new parameters; adhering to a five-point rules system for transforming a “batch of tunes” he’d been working on for a decade. Earmarked originally for the ‘unrecorded’ Bird Songs album, the nine original songs on The Straight Hits are a lighter and as the title suggests ‘straighter’ attempt to change the mood.

Far from set in stone – the unwritten rock’n’roll law that all rules are written to be broken is invoked on the tender yearning A Love Song (Set Me Straight) – each song must at least try to follow Pearson’s self-imposed requirements: Number one, all songs must have a verse, a chorus and a bridge; two, the lyrics must run sixteen lines or less; three, they must have the word ‘straight’ in the title; four, that title must be four words or less; and five, they must submit to song above all else i.e. “You do as she tells you, whatever the song tells you”, “You bend to her, and not her to you.”

The Straight Hits is a most rallying rodeo that gives the Americana soundtrack a much-needed kick-in-the-pants; the themes of love, whether it’s the analogical kind, ‘take me right now’ kind, or lamentable kind, enacted across a varied but blistering songbook. Rejecting the stimulants and his demons, Pearson choses the good ol’ fashioned power and redemptive spirit of gospel ye-ye and country rock’n’roll. And don’t it sound just mighty fine and swell! Full review…

(DV)



Q.

Qujaku ‘Qujaku’ (So I Buried Records)


 

Occupying both the spiritual and cosmic planes, emerging from the gloom and holy sanctuaries of the dead, the brooding Hamamatsu-based Japanese band Qujaku wowed with their second album of operatic Gothic and psychedelic doom-mongering. Beginning as they mean to go on, the opening ‘Shoko No Hakumei’ suite, more an overture, is itself a full on Ring cycle (as conducted by Boris) that is dramatic and sprawling: running almost the entire length of a full side of a traditional vinyl album.

On a very large foreboding canvas, Qujaku build-up an impressive tumult across the album’s nine-tracks of prowling esotericism and galloping drum barrage immensity. Between crescendo-bursting three-part acts and shorter volatile slabs of heavy caustic drone rock, the group often evokes an Oriental Jesus And Mary Chain, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Spacemen 3, or Nine Inch Nails when at their most enraged. Psychedelic in the mode of The Black Angels, but also straying at their most languid and navel-gazing towards Shoegaze, Qujaku’s dark spanning cacophony of throbs and trembles bear many subtle nuances and becalmed breaks amongst the masses and maelstroms.

On an epic scale, dreaming big and intensely, Qujaku perform the most dramatic of daemonic theatre. Full review…

(DV)



R.

RAM ‘August 1791’ 


 

Considering the tumultuous bloody revolution from which an independent Haiti was born, RAM leader Richard A Morse‘s “Our existence is a political statement” mantra is unsurprising. Named after the initials of their road well travailed founder, RAM perform an entrancing spectacle of the ritualistic. Morse, originally born in Puerto Rico but brought up in Connecticut, spent the 80s rubbing shoulders with the polygenesis New York art and music scene’s Jean-Michel Basquiat and Warhol’s factory. His interest piqued by the new wave’s adoption of Afro-diaspora rhythms and world music, Morse decided to travel to his native homeland to study the Haitian sound.

The son of Haiti folk legend Emerante de Pradine, Morse was already well aware of his ancestral roots, but had yet to indulge in or absorb the rich history of the island fully. After an initial short trip, Morse found himself it seems so seduced and inspired by Haiti’s culture that he decided to stay for good. Marrying local dancer and singer Lunise, he kick started the frenzied, rambunctious troupe, channeling the ideas he picked up on in New York and merging them with the signature instrumentation and sounds of the local Vodou belief, mizik-rasin and the drifting currents of the Caribbean and Africa.

This year’s odyssey, guided by the spirits and with dedications to the marternel and those that have helped (including the pivotal film director Jonathan Demme, who prominently featured one of their tracks in his or award-winning Philadelphia movie in 1994) shaped the band over the years, springs from Haiti’s enslaved population’s struggle for independence from its European masters. August 1791, the year and month of revolution (inspired by their colonial masters own revolution), frames this tropical fusion of tragedy and sauntering joy. Returning to the legends that sparked this fight, such as the ill-fated former slave turned leader of revolt, Toussaint Louverture (driving out the Spanish and British but captured and imprisoned under Napoleon’s regime; languishing in a cell at Fort de Joux until he died in 1803), and first Emperor of Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines (assassinated by disgruntled members of the burgeoning administration), RAM evoke the spark that set in motion the first free republic of African heritage people in the Western hemisphere. Their seventh album not only pays tribute but features a musical accompaniment from that era; with a sound more or less, when stripped to its essence, that would be familiar to the Creole and African communities of the late 18th century.

Uniting in a busy percussive fusion the Americas with the roots of Africa, RAM bustle and hustle traditions to produce a paean to the Island they call home.

(DV) 



Soho Rezanejad ‘Six Archetypes’


 

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

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

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

Returning to the soil, so to speak, Rezanejad saves her most heartfelt yearn until the end; lovingly but starkly impassioned, singing in her ancestral tongue of Farsi – Rezanejad is the daughter of first generation Iranian immigrants – the National Council Of Resistance Of Iran’s alternative national song in protest against the state’s heavy-handed ideology.

An ambitious debut opus of dark beauty and ominous despair, Six Archetypes is a highly impressive cosmology of gender, roots and futurism politics and narratives. Full review…

(DV)



S.

Sad Man ‘ROM-COM’


 

Haphazardly prolific, Andrew Spackman, under his most recent of alter egos, the Sad Man, has released an album/collection of giddy, erratic, in a state of conceptual agitation electronica every few months since the beginning of 2017.

The latest and possibly most restive of all his (if you can call it that) albums is the spasmodic computer love transmogrification ROM-COM. An almost seamless record, each track bleeding into, or mind melding with the next, the constantly changing if less ennui jumpy compositions are smoother and mindful this time around. This doesn’t mean it’s any less kooky, leaping from one effect to the next, or, suddenly scrabbling off in different directions following various nodes and interplays, leaving the original source and prompts behind. But I detect a more even, and daresay, sophisticated method to the usual skittish hyperactivity.

Almost uniquely in his own little orbit of maverick bastardize electronic experimentation, Spackman, who builds many of his own bizarre contraptions and instruments, strangulates, pushes and deconstructs Techno, the Kosmische, Trip-Hop and various other branches of the genre to build back up a conceptually strange and bewildering unique sonic shake-up of the electronic music landscape. Full review…

(DV)


Otis Sandsjö ‘Y-OTIS’ (We Jazz Records)  


 

Imbued as much by the complex language of North American and European modernist jazz as those who use it to riff on in the hip-hop and electronic music genres, the adroit Gothenburg saxophonist and composer Otis Sandsjö transmogrifies his own jazz performances so they transcend, or at least amorphously (like liquid) expand into polygenesis soundscapes.

Y-OTIS reimagines a musical union between Flying Lotus and Donny McCaslin, or better still, Madlib reconstructing the work of 3TM; the flow, if you can call it that, sounding like a remix deconstruction in progress as the rapid and dragging fills and staggered rolls of his group’s drummer Tilo Webber are stretched out, inverted and reversed into a staccato to dynamic bursting set of breakbeats and loops. Mirroring all the various cut-and-paste techniques of the turntablist maestros, Sandsjö and his dexterous troupe of keyboardist Elias Stemeseder, bassist Petter Eidh and Webber sound like a group being remixed in real time, live: And it sounds brilliant, as you’re never quite sure where each of these compositions is going to end up.

Sandsjö’s debut album, released via the Helsinki festival and label platform We Jazz Records, is a multilayered serialism suite of ideas and experimental visions. All of which, despite that complexity and blending of sophisticated avant-garde jazz, hip-hop, R&B, trip-hop and dance music, keep an ear out for the melody. If the ACT label, or ECM, ever converges with Leaf and Anticon, Y-OTIS might well be the result. Full review…

(DV)



Scran Cartel ‘Blue Plaque Candidates’  (Scran Cartel)



“A great, belt-loosening spread grilling you with much more than just a bunch of culinary one-liners” – RnV Aug 18

Brit grafters MNSR Frites (Granville Sessions) and Benny Diction (Corners) read you the specials for twelve fascinating tracks, packing foot-related rhetoric from the moment the dinner bell sounds. It’s quite an accomplishment to master such a particular angle without it being a gimmick, and easy to forget that ‘Blue Plaque Candidates’ is not specifically a concept album, just an expression of culinary love. These two really know their cookbooks and have a shopping list that you can’t check out quick enough, from cordon bleu menu toppers to bread and butter basics and young at heart sweetshop favourites, the Estuary English plating your three squares a day with the same near-apathy as they do exotic, forbidden fruit. The jazzy, funky beats are garnish to the duo cookery schooling everyone, indulging in one sub-grime moment on the E-numbered ‘Dundee’, and a cultural knowhow showing that greed isn’t always good, adds weight to their sprattish statement of “we write and record rap songs about food”. A chef fingers’ kiss for this one.

(MO)


Skyzoo ‘In Celebration of Us’  (First Generation Rich)



“Some of the smoothest psychology and concrete consciousness you’ll hear this year. One to be toasted over and over” – RnV Feb 18

Giving ‘In Celebration of Us’ the grown man rap label is a bit of a giveaway given Skyzoo’s opening skit of confiding in a pal about giving up the streets for the sake of his newborn. The Brooklynite and new father speaks a lot of sense, a flow that will express disappointment rather than anger and keep the titular celebrations modest, and attracts a captive audience when aiming at your head twofold, comprehensively ensuring the wateriness of neo-soul doesn’t just ebb away, or the dustiness of Detroit-style beats fugs your judgement. Picture a sometimes reluctant lecturer, as everyman as the tales you’ll familiarise yourself with, but giving you the full education once the mic in his hand. Not clinging to verse, hook, verse structure, Skyzoo doesn’t ramble, rather makes certain that he’s examined everything from top to bottom, very much schooled in knowing that if something’s worth doing, do it properly. Enough to make you feel warm and fuzzy – there are some undeniably slick, R&B moves crossing over as well – and rather more pensive when presented with the cold light of day.

(MO)


The Last Skeptik ‘Under the Patio’  (Thanks for Trying)



“An album simmering down the summer’s sticky restlessness: dusky beats that never fade to black, understated in their genre reach” – RnV July 18

Intense from The Last Skeptik, extremely well connected and arguably more well rounded since after a spell of paying extra-curricular dues. Surrounding himself with a boiling pot of hungry emcees gets a maximum return from teeth gritted, rapid fire, pound the road, witty unpredictables, all of whom casually playing down their iron mic grip. Synth-wired, at times spindly beats either host the back-to-mine session or storm the stage, perfect for its roll call – Bonkaz, Kojey Radical, Doc Brown, Scrufizzer but four headliners to pick from – to move through and dominate while playing the back, with motive or just willing daylight away. While originally noted for soundtracking summer humidity, ‘Under the Patio’ is decidedly not an album for office hours. Dabbling in shades of the exotic and skilfully soulful throughout for an album of rough edges, it’s the careful contrasts – the haunting ‘Hide & Seek’ featuring Matt Wills, the inexplicable but permissible ‘Calm Down’ inviting The Manor round for a knees up (there’s the versatility for you) – and Skeptik’s own version of ‘Deep Cover’ on posse cut ‘Oxymoron’ – that triumph in their cohesion to give TLS a massive W.

(MO)


Stella Sommer ’13 Kinds Of Happiness’ (Affairs Of The Heart)


 

In the vogue of an age-old central European malady, the dour romanticism that permeates the stunning solo debut album from the German singer/songwriter Stella Sommer is wrapped in a most beautiful gauze of melodious uplift and elegiac heartache.

Artistically, as the results prove, making the best decision of her career, Sommer steps out for a sojourn from her role in the German band Die Heiterkeit. Far from an extension of that group (though band mates Hanitra Wagner and Phillip Wolf both join her on this album), there are of course concomitant traces of it. Sommer however makes louder but also accentuates these traces and lingering relationships; her lived-in, far-beyond-her-years vocal more sonorous and commanding than before.

Possibly as perfect as an album can get, 13 Kinds Of Happiness is an ambitious, slowly unveiling album of diaphanous morose. Pastoral folk songs and hymn-like love trysts are transduced by a Gothic and Lutheran choral liturgy rich backing that reimagines Nico fronting Joy Division, or Marianne Faithfull writhing over a Scary Monsters And Super Creeps era Bowie soundtrack (especially on the galloping Northern European renaissance period evoking thunderous drumming ‘Dark Princess, Dark Prince’; just one of the album’s many highlights). I don’t use that Nico reference lightly: Sommer channeling the fatalistic heroine’s best qualities atmospherically speaking.

A curious Teutonic travail of venerable lovelorn despair and modesty, Sommer’s debut LP will take time to work its magic. But work its magic it will. A tremendous talent lyrically and vocally, serious and astute yet melodically enriching and lilted, her sagacious deep tones are starkly dramatic, but above all, rewarding. Here’s to a solo indulgence that I hope long continues. Full review…

(DV)


Station 17 ‘Blick’  (Bureau B)


 

With near enough thirty years of experience behind them and a changeable lineup of both musicians with and without various disabilities, the Station 17 collective once more shift their focus and sound; moving away from the all-out pop of the last album Alles Für Alle for a more improvised travail through the Krautrock, Kosmische and experimental electronica cannon.

Free of predetermined structures, lyrics and ideas they enjoyed an improvised freedom; inviting a host of German musical royalty to take part in what is a collaborative recording experience – something they’ve done in the past, having worked with icons such as Michael Rothar and the late Holger Czukay. And so each of the album’s tracks feature the signatures sounds and quirks of its guests: The writhing prehistoric Krautrock-jazzy Le Coeur Léger, Le Sentiment D’un Travail Bien Fait for example features the guiding avant-garde, ‘musique concrète’ presence of drum and bass partnership of Jean-Hervé Péron (the French title track I dare say his idea) and Zappi Diermaier; key founders of the reverent agent provocateurs Faust, who in recent decades have broken away to form their own iteration of the group under the faUSt banner. And, though only as part of its most modern regeneration, Tangerine Dream’s Ulrich Schnauss appears to gaze through a progressive Kosmische tinged explored ‘astronomical telescope’ on the album’s heaven’s gate opening finale.

From another generation, Dirk Dresselhaus, aka Schneider TM, appears both as an engineer, capturing these sessions and crafting them into a coherent album, and as a collaborator on the kooky bossa nova preset Die Uhr Spricht. Andreas Spechtl of Ja, Panik! infamy appears alongside Station 17 singer Siyavash Gharibi on the poppier, Der Plan-esque Dinge, and another Andreas, Andreas Dorau, joins the same upbeat, marimba like candour on what we’re told is an “enduring appraisal of post-capitalist perversion”, Schaust Du, whilst Datashock travel through the primordial soup into another dimension on the Acid Mothers-hitch-a-ride-aboard-the-Cosmic Jokers-spaceship Zauberpudding.

Turning the dial on an imaginary radio station, attuned to all the highlights from Germany’s most experimental if rhythmic decades, Blick confidently absorbs the influences and inspirations of its multitude of guests to produce social commentary and reflect on the here and now. Full review…

(DV)



T.

Rodrigo Tavares ‘Congo’  (Hive Mind Records)


 

The amorphous traversing post-rock and jazz travelogue from Brazilian guitarist/composer Rodrigo Tavares is filled with a sense of contemplation and meditation, and a yearn for the spiritual. The spiritual is represented in Congo’s genesis; the catalyst for Tavares soundtrack inspired, in part at least, by a visit to the controversial ‘spiritual healer’ John of God – a medium, psychic surgeon of dubious repute -, who lives in the remote central Brazilian town of Abadiânia. The meditative, in this case, runs throughout the suggestive instrumental passages and vignettes that ponderously drift, cascade and ebb across a real and imagined borderless global soundtrack.

Suffused throughout this album you’ll find lingering traces of the ACT jazz label, minimalism, Tortoise post-rock, Brazilian legends Joâo Gilberto, Dorival Caymmi and Tom Jobim, and removed by quite a few degrees, a hint of the free-form untethered to any easy classification, evolving guitar experimentation of the Sun City Girls – as it happens a show in a remote former gay bar in Brazil by the same band was one of the stopovers on Tavares ‘transformative road trip’; the fruits of which and experience laying down the creative foundations for Congo.

Truly transglobal, Tavares helps take Brazilian music – like his fellow compatriot Sentidor – into often trance-y, unburdened and unlabored directions. With few rough edges, this congruous soundtrack makes for a ruminating, thoughtful smooth journey. Full review…

(DV)


Samba Touré ‘Wande’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

In a country abundant with guitar virtuosos, the highly genial Samba Touré still stands out as one of Mali’s most celebrated and accomplished; transducing the travails, heartache but also joy of his homeland through his signature articulate nimble-fingered style of playing.

His third album for Glitterbeat Records – the first, Albala, was the label’s inaugural release in 2013 – Wande is billed as a warmer homely songbook: previous releases were produced during the Islamist insurgency that swept aside and hijacked the Northeastern Tuareg communities’ battle for autonomy in the north eastern regions of Mali. Far from a complete break, the sadness endures on Wande; though Touré sadness is a most beautiful, cantering and lingering one. Especially when paying tribute to his friend and collaborator, sokou fiddle maestro Zoumana Tereta, on the spoken word with wavering drifty, almost dub-like echo-y effects tracks of the same name, which features the late musician’s spindly evocations from beyond the ether.

Recorded in under two weeks, allowing weekends for band members to scratch a living playing at weddings, sessions for the album were relaxed, performances captured on their first take with few overdubs. The lo fi production feel of the rocking blues ‘Yerfara/We Are Tired’ could be a lost inspiration for 80s period Rolling Stones with its almost transmogrified Start Me Up like Richards riff. ‘Goy Boyro/The Good Work (Well Done)’ even begins with a Taj Mahal, BB King reminiscent introduction hook, before dipping over the horizon. But whatever you do, don’t call this is a desert blues album, or even an African one; Touré correctly insistent that this is contemporary ‘universal’ rock music.

Not quite such a leap of faith or different to previous albums, an unpolished and laidback methodology has produced a slightly more sagacious, free-floating quality and another essential Touré masterpiece. Full review…

(DV)


Ty ‘A Work of Heart’  (Jazz Re:Freshed)



“Almost feels like a magic carpet ride over the capital’s skyline; come and spread your arms if you really need a hug” – RnV Mar 18

Soft focus viewed with the wisest of eyes cutting through life’s smokescreen: the eminent UK statesman preserves the essence of never getting too high or too low. Ty has long had that trustworthy delivery of a life coach who can pep you up – inspirational with quiet authority – and tell you to man up without raising his voice, any hints at vulnerability given the very British keep calm and carry on treatment (“when you smile with me publicly I’m wearing a mask, gritting my teeth, a wolf in a bundle of sheep”). The liltingly clean production is what might turn a few ears belonging to those thinking hip-hop’s not for them – right from the off it’s of a Ty-tracked, toasted cinnamon bun snugness, a concrete jungle paved with a yellow brick road heading towards promised lands, but with the plain sailing carrying some turbulence. ‘A Work of Heart’ sounds as good as when Jack Frost comes knocking, as much as when the summer’s hose pipes were forbidden fruit. And like the first blooms of spring. AND the first leaves of autumn falling too.

(MO)



U.

U.S. Girls  ‘In A Poem Unlimited’  (4AD)


 

Featuring most of the Toronto cast of collaborators that propelled the first U.S. Girls release for 4AD records, Half Free, forward, but stretched and lushly flexed into space boogie and other equally eclectic grooves by the city’s multi-limbed collective The Cosmic Range, Meg Remy’s latest cerebral pop revision tones down some of the vibrancy for acerbic, sax-wailing pouted-lips resignation and introversion.

Moving across the border from the USA with her husband and musical collaborator Maximilian Turnbull, aka guitar-slinging maverick Slim Twig, long before Trump reached The White House, Remy has broadened her postmodernist transmogrification of bleeding hearts 60s girl group meets tape-loops signature to accommodate femme fatale disco and funk since making a new home for herself in Canada.

The momentum of this album fluctuates throughout, and compared to Half Free, takes a lot to bed in and flow – and I’m still not sold on the two skits -, starting as it does with the aching ponderous slow burner Velvet 4 Sale – perhaps Remy’s most dark fantasy yet, imaging (just imagining mind) a role reversal of power, as she implores a girl friend to buy a gun for protection, impressing that the only way to change men is for women to use violence. An unsettling twist played out to a dragging soul fuzz backing track, the song’s central tenant imagines a world where women take up arms against men, though Remy ‘deplores violence’ of course. It’s followed by an equally sensually nuzzling sax and yearned vocal performance, and take on the Plastic Ono Band, Rage Of Plastic, before picking up with the album’s most bouncy weaponized boogie, M.A.H. – a chic Ronnie Spector fronting Blondie style diatribe broadside aimed at the democrats venerated saviour Obama, who Remy condemns for the charismatic charm seduction that pulled-the-wool over many supporters eyes, hiding the fact that he presided over a covert number of unsavory drone strikes.

Hardly disarming then, In A Poem Unlimited deplores the present hierarchy with a seething checked rage, set to a challenging but melodious soundtrack of yearning no wave, scintillating chic disco, Plastic Ono Band soul, vaporous 80s pop and even jazz. The patriarch comes in for some scathing poetic justice; played out to some of the year’s best tunes and performances. Full review…

(DV)



V.

Vukovar ‘Infinitum’ (Le Recours Forêts Production)

Vukovar/Michael Cashmore ‘Monument’


 

Among the most prolific of bands, Vukovar have released two of their most stunning albums in just the last quarter of 2018 alone. Keeping to the signature three-syllable grandly entitled Gothic statements of malcontent, melodrama, aggrandizement and melconholy, both Infintum and Monument romantically encircle the void better and with more sagacious quality than previous records. Though only in existence for barely three years, and perhaps already splitting up, Vukovar are improving on every release. Both are included because…well, I can’t make my mind up about which of these recent opuses of despair and hermetic exploration I prefer.  Hell….they’re both great. And here’s why:

The fifth LP in the malcontent’s cannon, Infinitum, pulls at the mortal coil of human misery in a murky quagmire. An endless backing track of reverberating delayed snare strikes, a rolling timpani bounding bass drum, esoteric stately sounding waltzes, unwieldy bestial guitar, resigned new romantic synth and escaped melodies muddily, and often amorphously, swim and oscillate around a combination of longing, if worn down and depressed, swooning vocals and Rimbaud-meets-Crowley-meets-Kant-on-the-edge-of-an-abyss poetic despairing narration, on what is a bleak if at times gloriously dark beauty of an album.

Bound-up in their own self-imposed limitations, these anarchistic dreamers go one further than the Hebrew code of law commandments by adhering to 13 of their own; each one a rule or restriction in the recording process that couldn’t be broken, at any cost. So strict were these conditions that even if the band were close to finishing the album, any infringement no matter how minor, would result in the entire sessions being abandoned. Mercifully they made it through to the end; releasing a troubled, bleak lo fi ritualistic romance of an grand opus.

Cut from the same cloth, but collaborating with an undoubted influence, the group’s sixth LP, Monument, traverses the void with Current 93 stalwart and producer/composer Michael Cashmore (appearing under the guises of his Nature And Organization nom de plume). A congruous in what is a melancholy harrowing romantic partnership with the morbidly curious Vukovar, Cashmore leads with a vaporous, industrial and often godly (whichever God/Gods they be) brutalist swathe of sagacious moodiness. Arguably inheritors of Current 93 and, even more so, Coil’s gnostic-theological mysticism and brooding venerable communions, Cashmore seems the obvious foil. Current’s The Innermost Light and Coil’s (and John Balance’s swan song as it were) The Ape Of Naples both permeate this conceptual opus.

From haunting melodrama to harrowing decay, unrequited love to radiant escape, the loss of innocence and youth to sagacious death rattles, Vukovar prove ideal torchbearers of the cerebral Gothic sound and melancholic romanticism. A meeting of cross-generational minds with both partners on this esoteric immersive experience fulfilling their commitments, Monument shows a real progression for Vukovar, and proves a perfect vehicle for Cashmore’s uncompromising but afflatus ideas to flourish in new settings, whilst confirming his reputation and status.

Whatever happens next, this ambitious work will prove a most fruitful and lasting highlight in the Vukovar cannon; one that’s growing rapidly, six albums in with a seventh already recorded; another ‘momentous’ statement that affirms the band’s reputation as one of the UK’s most important new bands. Full reviews…

(DV)



Y.

‘Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs Of World War II’  (Six Degrees)  


 

In light of the recent Tree Of Life synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh, the increasingly uncomfortable language and hostility from the far Left, and the rising tide of European wide anti-semitism, this most tragic songbook of WWII Soviet Union laments from the Jewish community that joined Stalinist Russia’s defence against the Nazis, is a timely reminder of persecution from the graveyard of history. 400,000 men and women signed up to fight Hitler’s forces in one of the most bloody and apocalyptic campaigns in military history. If gratitude was ever warranted, the fate that awaited many of the survivors was anything but; mistrust and resentment instead led to swathes of the Soviet Union’s Jews being imprisoned, tortured and murdered by Stalin’s regime, their sacrifice for the mother nation all but airbrushed out of existence – almost.

Thought lost in the annals of time; suppressed, if not destroyed, the tragic but poetic WWII testaments, made lyrical prose, of just a small cross-section of Russia’s Jews is given the richly evocative and adroit production showcase it deserves by a collective of professors, producers and musicians. Originally unified in an anthology by an ethnomusicologist from the Kiev Cabinet For Jewish Culture, Moisei Beregovsky, alongside colleague Rovim Lerner, hundreds of Yiddish songs written by Red Army soldiers, victims and survivors of the Nazi’s massacres were gathered in the hope of being eventually published and performed. Unfortunately at the very height of the Communist Party’s purges in the decades that followed the end of WWII, both these well-intentioned preservationists were arrested. Subsequently the project was never finished, the work sealed up and hidden away. But as it would later transpire, not destroyed.

Transcribing these laments and firsthand accounts of endurance (many of which included testament evidence to various Nazi atrocities) would take patience, skill but above all respect. The results of this this most tragic desideratum are underscored by the musical director and violinist Sergei Erdenko‘s conducted stirring accompaniment ensemble of classically trained instrumentalists and singers; all of whom were brought together by the producer, and overseer (one amongst a whole group of people that have perserved, shared and made this project possible over the decades) Dan Rosenberg.

Songs of heroism, stoic belief, and even more violently encouraging prompts to machine gun as many Nazis as possible, are brought back to life. But despite the materials obvious harrowing and tragic heart-wrenching nature, the music throughout is a dizzying, waltzing mix of Yiddish, Roma, Klezmer, folk and even jazzy cabaret that’s often upbeat. The band does a sterling job in giving voice to those suppressed individuals and the songs that were believed lost forever, destroyed by a regime that would treat its loyal Jewish community, many of which made the ultimate sacrifice and wholeheartedly believed in the socialist doctrine, little better than the Nazis they so valiantly overcame. Yiddish Glory is not just a reminder however, or even just a revelation, but a beautifully produced and evocative performance. Full review…

(DV)


Thom Yorke ‘Suspiria (Music For The Luca Guadagnino Film)  (XL Recordings)


 

I’ve no idea of the inimitable Thom Yorke‘s methodology and process – whether he composed directly to a cut of Luca Guadagnino‘s remake, or, went away on the premise that…well, it’s Suspiria, and this iconic Gallo trip knows exactly what sort of a soundtrack it thirsts for, so I’ll just make it up in me head -, but whatever it is, his evocative harrowing soundtrack technique works; providing an eerie balance of spine-chilling tension and beautiful dreamy waltzes.

Elevating further the progressive and ritualistic treatment of the original 1977 Suspiria movie soundtrack by Italy’s revered Goblin, Yorke’s mirror-y hypnotised lingered vignettes and bestial guttural scares are treated with earnest seriousness.

If a film could be even more stylised than its original forbearers, this post-millennial disturbed take by Gundagino is an artistically knowing, conceptually aloof indulgence for the senses that receives the most stunning, richly esoteric of soundtracks. Compelling, alluring and plaintive; using many of the arty macabre’s signature tricks, atmospheric mood stirrers and prompts – from heightened Gothic choral aches to Carpenter meets Oldfield piano note and tubular chiming nerve tinklers – Yorke sets out his soundtrack somewhere between the perimeters of Kubrick, magic realism, psychological drama, Dario Argento, Francois de Roubaix and his very own solo work.

The proof is in the candle-lit shadowy mood induced eating of course, and sitting as I was in the daylight of the early afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel unnerved enough to check behind the curtains for murderous witchery dance troupe teachers, who’s intent was to embed a sacrificial knife into my skull. Yes I was spooked.

A frightful but often ethereal magical score, Yorke matches his Radiohead foil, Jonny Greenwood in the field of soundtracks: an artform all in itself. I’ve no doubt it will become a cult album; equal to the sacred Goblin score, if not, dare I suggest, an improvement.

(DV) 



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Selected by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Gianluigi Marsibilio.





The decision making process: 

Being the exhaustive and eclectic set of features our (choice) albums of the year are, we know you probably don’t need to or want to dally about reading a long-winded prognosis of our judgement process. But here it is anyway.

Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavors to offer a more visceral and personal spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists, stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album is more deserving of their fatuous numbered spot than another.

With no hierarchical order, we’ve lined our album choices up alphabetically; split into two features – A (Idris Ackamoor) to M (The Moonwalks), andN (Thomas Nation) to (Thom Yorke) Z.

All of our favourite new and reissued albums and EPs from 2018 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to have made some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2018: even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up another year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar or got lost in the noise of more commercial better promoted releases.

All selections have been made by me (Dominic Valvona), Matt Oliver and Gianluigi Marisibilio.

A.

Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids ‘An Angel Fell’ (Strut Records) 

 

Serving a worthy musical apprenticeship from and imbued by the masters Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Cecil Taylor, the polymath musician, activist, director of The Pyramids ensemble and torchbearer of spiritual and Afrofuturist jazz, Idris Ackamoor once more makes holy communion with the cradle of civilisation on the lamentable An Angel Fell. Imploring a unified message, a connectivity, a reminder that we can all trace our ancestry back to the same place, Ackamoor follows up on ‘We All Be Africans’ with an epic sweeping album of Afro-jazz 2-Step ‘Warrior Dances’ and plaintive primal jazz catharsis.

Walking through the Valley of The Kings; sailing aboard Sun Ra’s Arkestra; conducting the empyrean; evoking Kuti’s Lagos Afrobeat jive; Ackamoor and his troupe traverse the mismia of a broken, corrupt world, delivering cries of anguish and auguers aplenty. Whether penning requiems to the gunned-down black victims of the US Justice system (‘Soliloquy For Michael Brown’), or in radiant prayer (‘Sunset’), they effortlessly and wondrously summon forth the leading lights of each musical genre they inhabit. Afrobeat, gospel, spiritual, funk, blues, future-past-present all come together in one of the year’s most important, enlightening and defining opuses.

(Dominic Valvona)

Ammar 808 ‘Maghreb United’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

Throwing the traditional unwieldy Maghreb, before it was demarcated and split into colonial spheres of influence, back together again in the name of progress and unity, Sofyann Ben Youssef fuses the atavistic and contemporary. With past form as one half of the Bargou 08 partnership that gave a modern electric jolt to the isolated, capitulating Targ dialect ritual of the Bargou Valley on the northwestern Tunisia and Algeria border, Youssef under the moniker of Ammar 808 once again propels the region’s diverse etymology of languages, rhythms and ceremony into the present, or even future: hopefully a more optimistic one.

Jon Hassell’s ‘possible musics’ meets Major Lazer, the traversing adaptations from the Gnawa, Targ and Rai traditions and ritual are amorphously swirled or bounced around in a gauze of both identifiable and mystically unidentifiable landscapes. Mixing modern R&B, dub, electro effects with the dusky reedy sound of the evocative gasba and bagpipe like zorka, and a range of earthy venerable and yearning vocals from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria artists, Youssef distorts, amps up or intensifies a resonating aura of transformative geography and time.

Nothing short of visionary. Full review…

(DV)


Angels Die Hard ‘Sundowner’  (Jezus Factory Records)


 

Admittedly taking some time to grow on me, the Angels Die Hard combo’s Monsterism Island meets Les Baxter ethnographic phantasm of a remote Southeast Asian archipelago instrumental concept album, Sundowner, has finely unfurled its full magic: just in time to be included in the annual albums of the year features.

Imbued with a legacy of progressive, alt-rock, psych, exotica and post-punk influences plus Julian Cope’s Krautrock compendium, the Angels transduce and channel a cornucopia of styles once more as they soundscape the tropical island of Andaman. An environmental clarion call as much as a progressive rocking exotica, Sundowner is dedicated, at least partially, to the environmental tragedy of the plastic-strewn oceans.

Beachcombing a radioactive luminous landscape of musical opportunity, from bummer downers to mind-expanding space rock jams, these Angels expand their horizons (literally), on the band’s best album to date. Some ideas work better than others of course, but when they do get it right they produce some fantastic opuses of amorphous abandon. Full review…

(DV)


Any Other ‘Two, Geography’  (42 Records)


The story of Adele Nigro (Any Other) is made of beautiful songs originating from a desire to subvert a rather conservative musical culture, just like the Italian one.

2018 has given us many beautiful pieces, of the most varied atmospheres, but to find a compact and complete album in each of its parts, touch refuge in Two, Geography (42 Records).

The numerous collaborations that Any Other has collected, as a musician, in recent years, have been invaluable to develop, refine and embellish her poetics.

The sonorities of the album are very distinct, and at the same time loquaciously soaked by all the experiences brought on stage (or in the studio) during the year that is inexorably past.

With Two, Geography, however, there is more, Adele coming out with her head held high, they are not only beautiful pieces that stand out for their immediacy and vitality, but also the international character of the project.

Any Other’s work was immediately presented as something else, for depth and acuity, starting from that ‘Roger Roger, Commander’ or from the same singles who announced Two, Geography.

The simplicity in intertwining linear arpeggios, bright rhythmic lines and a voice, both delicate and particular, makes us immediately think of the disc in a different way, we immediately understand that such a sound must be appreciated with attention and in its various nuances.

Since the first bars of ‘Silently. Quietly. Going Away’ (the first work of Any Other) you could see her skill in shaping a song form as a real opportunity for musical and textual speculation.

The song ‘Capricorn No’ is a monument of modernity that comes on, not only for its immediate and deep style, but because it plays with the atmosphere that you can hardly expect from an Italian artist.

The work as a whole is a challenge, a part of  a musical resistance, a progressive push in the sea magnum of ideas that too often settle down, even in brilliant artists.

Any Other is the 2018, the beautiful and fundamental face to make us remember that, all in all, this year went well.

(Gianluigi Marsibilio)


B.

Anton Barbeau ‘Natural Causes’ (Beehive/Gare du Nord)


 

Ian Hunter via Robyn Hitchcock via Luke Haines via Julian Cope, wrapped inside an enigma, the Sacramento born, Berlin-based, Anton Barbeau changes his style of delivery repeatedly yet always maintains an idiosyncratic ingenuity in whatever he does. The results of an aborted project under the Applewax banner, made in the run up to the 2016 US elections, Natural Causes is the reflective, more open antithesis to what would have been a far darker and mournful proposition. Richly melodious and halcyon, this most brilliant new collection finds Barbeau both transforming some of the back catalogue (for the better) and penning new glorious sounding maverick pop songs: The quality of which are cerebral, memorable, melodic but also adventurous and inventive.

Barbeau and a congruous cast of guests lend a touching caress to a songbook of contemporary surreal lyrical musings and love songs. Unrushed, even breezy in places but hardly lacking intensity, there’s an air of nostalgia in homages to the radio stations and DJs that first sparked interest in the young Barbeau on the Hunter fronts Tom Petty band finale Down Around The Radio. And with a nod to one of the music cannons greatest ever records, The Beatles Sgt. Pepper kaleidoscope, a stab at a popsike hit (a missing link from one of Strange Days magazines 80s halcyon compilations) is made with a song that was originally written to be recorded at the venerated Fab Fours’ inner sanctum of Abbey Road, with the quirky Disambiguation.

Fans of Barbeau will be once again charmed by his unique songwriting abilities, and those still unfamiliar with the inimitable generation X artist of renown will find much to love about his psychedelic pop genius. Full review…

(DV) 


MC Paul Barman ‘Echo Chamber’  (Mello Music Group)

“Potent politics, funky lounge lizard off-the-tops and bizarre hypotheses, burrowing its way through the toughest of leather bound volumes to have you picking the bones out for weeks on end” RnV May 18

In many ways this is the consummate Paul Barman album, but it bears repeating straight off the bat, while trying super hard to not sound incredulous, that ‘Echo Chamber’ features production from ?uestlove, DOOM and Prince Paul (funky/sidekick status, from stoop to playground), with additional contributions from Mark Ronson (upping the ludicrousness with a tweak of The Ronettes’ ‘Sleigh Ride’), Masta Ace and Open Mike Eagle. That’s some serious string pulling from an explicitly cult concern only reinforcing his standards in lewdness and a smart Aleck riot act both downplaying and toadying a racing IQ (his relocation to Mello Music Group keeps him in his own lane as well). Ridiculous as ever with the dictionary and remaining a brilliant observer – see ‘Youngman Speaks on Race’, and ‘Commandments’ going one better by taking the Decalogue to Sesame Street and Biggie’s Bed-Stuy – Barman carries on making the longest of long shots with battle raps that’ll bamboozle and WTF one-liners that Jackanory or congress will sadly never benefit from. Bigger, better and geekier than ever.



Bixiga 70 ‘Quebra Cabeça’ (Glitterbeat Records)


 

Translating as the ‘puzzle’, Bixiga 70‘s latest album is a full 360-degree panoramic evocation (both joyful and lamentable) of their homeland’s African roots. Translating those roots, an ancestry that runs through many of the band members (some individuals descended from the Africa-Caribbean religion of ‘candomble’ for instance), Bixiga are also inspired on this journey by some of the highly talented artists they’ve shared various stages with over the years. Artists such as the Ghanaian highlife singer Pat Thomas, the Nigerian sublime traversing saxophonist legend Orlando Julius and Brazilian octogenarian star João Donato. Incorporating the lot they merge their brass-y signature carnival funk and shaking Afrobeat sass with cosmic voodoo, Afro-jazz and sloping funk.

The quality as always shines through on every track, with the visions and evocations of both Africa and Bixiga’s city home of Sao Paulo articulated by an energetic but also ruminating soundtrack of the tribal, funky, cosmic, tropical, gospel and ritual. The slave portal of Benin, further outlying deserts of the sub-Sahara and busy rhythmic bustles of Nigeria are channeled via the melting pot hubs of Brazil on the group’s most epic, ancestral and geographical straddling album. It only remains to see just how great it will sound live on stage. Full review…

(DV)



The Bordellos ‘Debt Sounds’ 

Brian Bordello ‘The Death Of Brian Bordello’  (Metal Postcard Records)


 

In a parallel universe the Jesus And Mary Chain never left East Kilbride; Julian Cope never formed the Teardrop Explodes; and Brian Wilson was in fact born in St. Helens in the late 1960s, and recorded all his opusus on a Tascam four-track, inspired by Mark E Smith. This alternative world is one the dysfunctional family circle The Bordellos inhabit. Probably the best lo fi rock’n’roll-meets-post-punk-meets-the-Spaceman 3 hapless band you’ve never heard of, the prolific group, headed by the patriarchal masthead Brian Bordello, have been luridly, sinisterly, laughably and pessimistically knocking-out their brand of disgruntled alternative yearnings for a decade or more with little attention from anyone other than us loyal fans – who probably need our heads examined in all honesty. You either get them or you don’t. And you could find some of their more confrontational dark humour (songs about the BBC killing John Peel, still loving the musical cannon of Gary Glitter, and on this album, Debt Sounds, some sinister predatory sexual allured shclock about Rolf Harris) too unsettling, even perverse.

Debts Sounds, in the manner of a Half Man Half Biscuit play-on-words, is The Bordellos low cost Pet Sounds. That may not be initially obvious. But stay with me on this one. Fashioned and realised by Brian from the band members and even affiliates, girlfriends and whatnots various outpourings and late night sessions into a most epic song book of unrequited love, sick love, obsessed love, compromised love, salacious love, and even some tender love – they excel themselves on the laid bare and touching ‘Spirograph’ and quasi-Beatles ‘My Life’ meets the hardened north romanticism of ‘I May Be Reborn’ (Take this for a line: “Every smoking chimney my Statue of Liberty”), Debt Sounds is full of great maverick performances and songwriting, made in a period of crisis, anxiety and manic depression. Ok…so more Don Van Vliet than Brian Wilson, but still a valid comparison.

Whereas will you hear odes, homages and eulogies to Jimmy Campbell and Faron’s Flamingos to a back track featuring vague indifferent shades of Thom Yorke, Cope, Velvet Underground, Red Crayola, Joy Division and the The Seeds? Nowhere that’s where. Brian Bordello’s Track-by-track breakdown…

Knocking out records on a whim, it seems inconceivable that the leader of the Bordellos has never actually released a solo effort until this year (and only a few weeks from the end of 2018). Paring down, enverated, Brian Bordello steps outside the family unit on his debut solo, The Death Of... Not expecting many flowers on that graveside elegy of a album title, Brian takes a sort of reflective pause and looks back on a litany of tropes that have come to encapsulate his resigned fatalism. With only a clipped, rough and unguarded acoustic guitar and his trusted Tascam for company, Brian pays tribute to rock’n’roll icons Eddie Cochran (again) and Mark E Smith (who Brain thinks should be canonised as a saint); wears his heart on his sleeve cooing songs about lingering memories of bunk-ups, unrequited wooing gone wrong and lost kitchen sink romances; and languishly but candidly weary sonnets on depression.

As lo fi as it can get, Brian’s most intimate, personal performances yet strip away all the caustic dissonance and fuzz to reveal his most brilliant songwriting. The Death Of is an often beautifully morose songbook that lays bare the talents of a true uncompromising outsider.

(DV)


Brace! Brace! ‘S/T’ (Howlin Banana)


 

Producing gorgeous hues of softened psychedelia, new wave, Britpop and slacker indie rock, this young but sophisticated band effortlessly melt the woozy and dreamy with more punchier dynamic urgency on their brilliant debut album.

Squirreled away in self-imposed seclusion, recording in the Jura Mountains, the isolation and concentration has proved more than fruitful. Offering a Sebastian Teller fronts Simian like twist on a cornucopia of North American and British influences, Brace! Brace! glorious debut features pastel shades of Blur, Gene, Dinosaur Jnr., Siouxsie And The Banshees (check the “I wrecked your childhood” refrain post-punk throb and phaser effect symmetry guitar of ‘Club Dorothée’ for proof) and the C86 generation. More contemporary wafts of Metronomy, Mew, Jacco Gardner, the Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Deerhunter (especially) permeate the band’s hazy filtered melodies and thoughtful prose too.

A near-perfect debut album, an introduction to one of the most exciting new fuzzy indie-pop bands of the moment. Full review…

(DV)



Apollo Brown & Joell Ortiz ‘Mona Lisa’ (Mello Music Group)



“Rugged but always smooth, reflective with a forked tongue…there’s a lot of comfort to be taken from the union of two opposing authority figures exercising supreme quality control” – RnV Nov 18

This duo’s mutual will to only work with the elite – Joell Ortiz as a member of Slaughterhouse, Apollo Brown extending his collaborative run after shared albums with Skyzoo, Ghostface Killah, Ras Kass, Planet Asia – is head start number one. Yes these are extremely experienced experts in their field who shouldn’t drop the ball, but 12 tracks, one emcee and one producer, two guests maximum, and everything absolutely finely tuned is still the best advantage to press home. A steadiness to both performances has BPMs instantly finding their sweet point so instrumental richness can build, settle, simmer and seduce, and vocals slip straight into the pocket housing an imperceptible line between recognition and vengeance. The introspection of ‘Mona Lisa’ pays respects with a feeling that it doesn’t pay to dwell, that while everything may be upbeat and secure – visuals of sauntering down a street and coloured in something like a high definition sepia – slippery slopes, with ‘Cocaine Fingertips’ the album’s most rotten apple and situations like the bittersweet resonance of ‘That Place’, are always around the corner. Another win for the seemingly indefatigable Mello Music Group as well.

(Matt Oliver)


C.

The Cold Spells  ‘S/T’  (Gare du Nord)


Esoterically gentle and wistful, The Cold Spells debut long player is a gauze-y organic and ambiguous (to a point) affair of undulating ‘moss covered’ circuitry, folk, quintessential English psych, paisley patterned hallucinogens and Kosmische.

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

A surprise package, quietly unassuming, the trio’s encapsulation of an age of ghostly memories – the ancestors inhabit the band’s present to address the here and now concerns of a troubled, unstable world – is magical and gently lamentable; a perfect evocation of aicd folk and pastoral esotericism, as beautifully plaintive as it is ominous.  Full review…

(DV)



D.

Die Wilde Jagd ‘Uhrwald Orange’  (Bureau B)


 

Fashioning a mysterious ‘Clockwood Orange’ world of Gothic and ominous dreamscapes, inspired by and named, in part, after the studio it was produced in, and by both the 17th century menagerie paintings of the Flemish artist Frans Snyder and the collected devotional Medieval period songs of the Llibre Vermell De Montserrat artifact, Die Wilde Jagd’s Sebastian Lee Philipp takes us on an eerie, cosmic and slinking travail through a throbbing sophisticated earthy electronic soundtrack. His musical partner on the group’s adroit debut self-titled experiment, producer Ralf Beck, is excused from the follow-up but lends out his extensive racks of vintage analogue synthesizers to Philipp, who transforms and obscures their banks of sounds into ghostly permutations, shadowy creatures and lurking, dancing and honking sonorous cries from a murky wilderness.

Uhrwald Orange is a classy imagined score, balancing cool, gleaming and aloof German electronica with menacing, nocturnal earthiness, yet also reaching for the celestial. One minute imbued with hints of Bauhaus, Killing Joke, Eno, Cluster, and Faust, the next slinking on to the Tresor club or Basic Channel dancefloor. In short: a most impressive album. Full review…

(DV)


Dur-Dur Band ‘Dur Dur Of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 And Previously Unreleased Tracks’(Analog Africa)


A highlight in a catalogue of outstanding reissues from the Analog Africa label, intrepid crate digger Samy Ben Redjeb reprises the first two volumes of Somali fusion funk music from the legendary 1980s outfit, the Dur-Dur Band. Embodying a period in the decade when Mogadishu could boast of its cosmopolitan reputation – notably the European chic Via Roma stretch in the Hamar-Weyne district, a colonnade for café culture, cinema and of course music – the hybrid Dur-Dur Band moped up the polygenesis fever of their native city with effortless aplomb during their short heyday.

Saved from ‘tape-hiss’ and ‘wobbles’, remastered to sound the best they’ve ever sounded, these curious but above all loose-limbed nuggets successfully merged a myriad of Somalia traditions with a liberal smattering of disco, reggae (via the northern part of the country’s ‘Daantho’ rhythm style; an uncanny surrogate for Jamaica’s number one export), soul and funk. Mirroring a similar fusion thousands of miles away in New York, the Dur-Dur languidly produced an electrified no wave-new wave melting pot.

Split up across a triple LP and double CD formats the Dur-Dur Band’s first two albums proper, Volumes 1 and 2, and a couple of unreleased tunes feature on this, the first in a promised series of re-issues. Released originally in 1986, the first of these and the band’s debut album, Volume 1, has a rawer unpolished but snazzy sound that saunters, skips and grooves along with aloof coolness to sweltering laidback funk; opening with the wah-wah chops and a fuzzy organ stunner, ‘Ohiyee’ , which lays down a sophisticated but explosive spiritual dance floor thriller. Volume 2 by contrast seems a little brighter and tropical; beginning as it does with the dub echoed, Trenchtown pirate radio broadcast ‘Introduction’.

Going further than most to bring the sounds of Africa to a wider audience, the Dur-Dur Band release proved to be one of the label’s most difficult, as Redjeb tackled the geopolitical fall-out of a country devastated by civil war to bring us a most unique sounding and essential collection. Full review…

(DV)

E.



Elefant ‘Konark Und Bonark’  (9000 Records)


 

Emerging from the Belgium underground scene, with members from a myriad of bands, each one more obscure than the next, the Elefant in this room is a twisted agit-post-punk, boiler come forensic team suited troop of noise peddlers. Lurking around basement venues for a while now, the sludge metal and gallows Krautrock merchants have released a slurry of EPs but never a fully realized album until now.

For an album that grapples with Marilyn Manson, Swans, Killing Joke, Muse, industrial contortions and Germanic experimentation, Konark Und Bonark is a very considered, purposeful statement. Though things get very heavy, implosive and gloomy and the auger like ghosts in the vocals can sound deranged, there is a semblance of melody, a tune and hint of breaking through the confusing, often pummeling, miasma of artificial intelligence armageddon.

A seething rage is tightly controlled throughout, the sporadic flits and Math Rock entangled rhythms threatening to engulf but never quite reaching an overload, or for that matter, becoming a mess. Elefant’s prowling and throbbing sound of creeping menace and visions of an artificial intelligent domineering dystopia is an epic one. Arguably the band have produced their most ambitious slog yet and marked themselves out as one of Belgium’s most important exports of 2018. Full review…

(DV)


Bernard Estardy ‘Space Oddities: 1970-82’ (Born Bad)

‘Fragmented D’une Empreinte Magnétique: Rares 1966-2006’ (Gonzai Records)  


 

Because sometimes you just can’t decide, I’ve chucked in two reappraisal celebrating compilations of the odd, curious, thrilling and kitsch flights of fantasy musical fragments/sketches/soundtracks/compositions from the late and most gifted venerated French composer Bernard Estardy. I can’t even claim that these are great collections, let alone the best albums of the year, but they’ve kept me smiling all year.

Nicknamed ‘The Baron’, the founder of the CBE recording studio (which he set up in 1966) collaborated with a host of famous French icons in his time (arranging, producing or sound engineering for Johnny Hallyday, Francoise Hardy, Nino Ferrer, Michel Sardou and Jean Guidoni amongst others), but found an unleashed creative freedom as the master of consoles on his own excursions and dream flights of curiosity. Enjoying a resurrection of a sort in 2018, in part down to his daughter Julie Estardy‘s biography ‘The Giant’, Bernard’s eclectic back catalogue, from the realised to cutting room floor, is being reissued or rediscovered by a new generation through a number of different labels, both in France and internationally.

Two such compilations swept me up in their bombast; the first an album that couldn’t be described any better than the title it comes with, Space Oddities, and the second, Fragmented D’une Empreinte Magnétiquea Gauloises hotbed of weepy venerated organ romanticism and salacious sleek soundtracks. The first takes library music to the stars and beyond on a sassy opulent voyage of esoteric cosmic discovery. Jazz meets deep space on a drum-heavy collection of mysterious thrillers, phantasms and exotic awe. Tracks such as the more romantic, flute-y glide in space blues ‘Slow Very Slow’ sound like they could have made it to the ears of Goldfrapp or Greg Foat. The second of the pairing frequents more Earthy realms, pitching gospel with Bacharach yearnings, sentimental laments (the torn love soliloquy ‘It’s A Lovely Day To Die’ sums it up perfectly) and the strangest of deep-chested sung French cowboy soundtracks (A very Parisian journey to buy your ciggies, ‘La Route Au Tabac’, is rerouted through a lonesome pine trail).  Both are as brilliant as they are audacious; a refreshing escapism and proof of a unique talent.

(DV) 


Evidence ‘Weather or Not’ (Rhymesayers)



“From the moment he draws first breath on ‘Weather or Not’, Evidence embarks on a masterclass” – RnV Feb 18

A meteorological masterpiece showing that it’s rarely sunny in LA, whenever it rains it pours, and that Evidence is always bringing the weather with him. Ever laconic but whose economy of words is always wisely directed and word association seems slight but cuts deep, Ev walks the streets with collar up and hands dug into pockets, seemingly always in search of a contentment whose elusiveness he’s fine with. This prolongs a character pairing the enigmatic with a spokesman calling it straight down the line (“things I never thought about, trying to be elusive in the process, get forgot about”), a wallowing wanderer with whiplash in the tale and forever in control of his destiny (feel the tempered triumph of the concluding ‘By My Side Too’). A spread of AM band forecasts, a splash of psychedelic epiphanies and head nodders that buck like a bronco from Premier, Nottz and Babu, plus some Step Brothers espionage from Alchemist, allow the Dilated Peoples man to find you: because ‘Weather or Not’, you can’t run, you can’t hide.

(MO)


F.

Flora Fishbach ‘À Ta Merci’  (Blue Wrasse)


 

The French music press we’re told have fallen hook, line and synth for the alluring contralto voice of Flora Fishbach, who’s 80s revisionist pop twist on chanson oozes with such sophistication that its difficult not to embrace. Fishbach picked up the album révélation award at the Le Prix des Indés for best independent debut LP, winning high praise and plaudits galore ever since. Looking to make a similar impact across the Channel, the ‘bohemian darling’ has just released a deluxe edition of her electro pop requiem À Ta Merci. That decision is more or less echoed in the album’s title, which translates as, “at your mercy”.

Featuring the original running order and a bonus septet of gorgeous live recordings, this aloofly chic, yet theatrical, and especially when performing, animated album recasts Françoise Hardy as a disco pop and electro swooned crooner. Effortlessly channeling the vaporous dreamy pining of Kazu Makino on the moon dust sprinkled fantasy title-track and ambient textured, synthesizer bass bubbling yearned lament ‘Un beau langage’, and a Gallic Alison Goldfrapp on the opening ice-y cool malady ‘Ma voie lactée’, Fishbach adds a French nuance and sensibility to the synthesized pop ascetic: a signature you could say that despite the revivalist backing of electronic drum pads, post-punk sass, Moroder arpeggiator, Rococo harpsichord and hi-energy is unmistakably contemporary and French.

With the momentum already building in France and with the recent runaway success of music press darling Christine And The Queens (who I personally find utterly dull) I’m sure the UK will embrace this sophisticated chanteuse. This is overwhelmingly a better, more fun record than Christine’s (or the name she’s now adopted, Chris). Fishbach has certainly impressed me enough – what’s not impressive about referencing the philosophical aloof quandary that is Rimbaud’s “Je est un autre” (“I am another”) on a tropical slinking crystalline pop song, Un Autre Que Moi (“Another Me”) – to recommend her as one to watch in 2019. Full review…

(DV)


Fliptrix ‘Inexhale’ (High Focus)



“‘Inexhale’ masters the art of knocking you down with a feather: the pugilistic psychoanalysis is untouchable” – RnV Sept 18

It’s a little disingenuous to say Fliptrix became the High Focus main man this year, given he’s the driving force behind the label and already has a back catalogue of textbook pen and pad amplification. What with the label’s ever bubbling pool of talent seeing Ocean Wisdom blazing all and sundry, Jam Baxter expanding his cult appeal and two late night smokers from Coops, ‘Inexhale’ could’ve played the holding role and sat in the pack. But with breath control putting a copyright on the title and not a single word wasted, it’s an album that will leave you levitating. Be that from his street level strain of spirituality – letting the sharp end of something herbal work him over, or thoroughly aware of the rights and wrongs of his surroundings – or from the velocity of what’s spat (‘Inside the Ride’ doesn’t and won’t ever flop). Then flipping what the surroundings suggest, and never getting lost in the haze even with eyes at the reddest, Fliptrix finds the perfect medium between headphone moments and smacks to the head.

(MO)


Fofoulah ‘Daega Rek’  (Glitterbeat Records)  


 

Bustling onto the transglobal London and Bristol scenes in 2014 with their earthy and urban bombastic fusion of Wolof African culture and dub electronica rich debut LP, the Fofoulah ensemble laid down the template for the a unique adventurous sound. Though taking its time to materialize, four years on, the follow-up album hasn’t just moved on but supersonically zoomed into the experimental void; even an esoteric, spiritual one at times.

Daega Rek, ‘the truth’ when translated from the Wolof language of coastal West Africa, sees Fofoulah’s saxophonist, keyboardist and producer Tom Challenger transmogrify the original Gambian talking drum of the group’s shamanistic rapping lead Kaw Secka and the accompanying percussion and propulsive drumming rhythms of his band members. (All of which were laid down at the Real World studios). Secka would then reappear in post-production to record his half spoken/half-rapped protestations and observations; the results all re-shaped into a ricocheting lunar-tropical bounding dub cosmology.

Skipping and skittish in motion; pushing the envelope as they pay tribute to lost brothers (‘Kaddy’ pays 2-Step rhythmic eulogy to the late photographer Khadija Saye who died in the Grenfell Tower disaster), the visceral taste of home (‘Chebou Jaine’ dedicated to Secka’s cousin, who cooked the best national Gambian dish) and search for the truth, Fofoulah lunge into the electrified dub ether of sonic adventure. Full review…

(DV)


G.

Goatman ‘Rhythms’  (Rocket Recordings)


 

An amorphous exploration of world ‘rhythms’ as transduced by one the mysterious Scandinavian GOAT band members through a an arsenal of filters, modulators and oscillations, the debut Goatman suite blends its polygenesis inspirations perfectly.

Offering up magical and scintillating rhythms galore, from Kuti’s compound Afrobeat to a tremolo and laser bouncing variant of RAM’s Haiti vibe, you can expect to hear the venerable tones of gospel, jazz, reggae, psych and pure ethereal acoustic Kosmische on this sonic flight of fantasy. Earthy yet light enough to soar, this impressive experiment side-project channels its influences perfectly to conjure up new musical ideas. Echoes of GOAT are never far away of course, yet this imaginative take feels more natural, more organic, and above all, more soulful. A fantastic debut.

(DV)


H.

 

Jack Hayter ‘Abbey Wood’ (Gare du Nord)


 

Bringing light, or at least opening up a psycho-geographical narrative dedicated to the very edges of a largely ignored London postcode – so far out on the South Eastern outskirts as to be part of Kent –, an earnest Jack Hayter composes a yearning lament to Abbey Wood on what is his first solo album in fifteen years.

Hayter’s deftly played, with twangs of bucolic and Baroque folk, blues, synthesized atmospherics, Americana and reverent chamber music, multilayered songbook connects with the psychogeography of his chosen location. From songs about the Abbey Wood diaspora and its position as a gateway to the world to laying cooing elegiac wreaths to those unfortunate victims of the WWII Arandora Star passenger ship tragedy, Hayter produces a lived-in musical novel, rich with references, landmarks and peopled by those who left an indelible, if at times fleeting, mark upon this much forgotten or passed over postcode: their ghosts, no matter how small the part they played in its story, never inconsequential; remembered and written about with a certain gravitas by the erstwhile troubadour, who performs the most accomplished and brilliant of testaments.  Full review…

(DV)


Homeboy Sandman & Edan ‘Humble Pi’  (Stones Throw)



“A banquet of slaps that will become one of your five a day, and ultimately year” – RnV Oct 18

If seven or so tracks are good enough for Pusha T, Kanye etc, then they’re an ample fit for this elite underground swashbuckler of a showdown brought to us by the matchmaking Gods. Having flitted around the periphery for what seems forever, Edan returns with some of his best, ear-piercing archaeology to date as he shifts the B-boy-psych continuum once more; and Homeboy Sandman, both revelling in getting in the thick of it and firing off missives as he’s swept along for the ride, gets off the wall (“see me looking photogenic in the Book of Genesis, waving off medicines”), yet reels off some of the realest in recent times (it’s still, and shall remain, all about ‘Never Use the Internet Again’, which stylistically is actually a bit of a left-turn). The feeling pervades that the pair are proudly gladiatorial, indulging in friendly, unspoken competition as much as fighting the good fight as anointed hip-hop saviours. Let’s hope the sub 30-minute running time means the door is open for a second bout some time soon.

(MO)


J.

Juga-Naut & Sonnyjim ‘The Purple Door’ (Eat Good Records)



“Their usual, indomitable personas on the mic never skimp on Michelin-starred quality, and they still aren’t the ones to test if you think they’re pushing their luck” – RnV Aug 18

It’s an album largely based on elitist boasts, expensive trinkets and accessories and some pretty outlandish claims, but hey, these boys done good. Larger than life and living the playboy lifestyle making the ludicrous seem obtainable – you too can be a ‘Purple Door’ gold card holder – Juga-Naut and Sonnyjim transform the Midlands into St Tropez with a load of gala funk to make a red carpet entrance to, with just a hint of a twinkle in its eye like a felonious exile that has everyone’s backing. That said, you can’t live the life of a Rat Packer if you ain’t got the gab, and these two are no novices: the great suitability of their top table rhyme personas – Juga-Naut will have you believing every word he spits, Sonnyjim coming in dry and stonefaced yet smelling (and producing) like a million bucks – shares a love of all things gastronomic on the likes of ‘Duck Season’ that comes sweeping down a spiral staircase, while ‘Look Around’ takes a moment to act more tactfully, pledging family honour like a good fella. It might not be dining etiquette, but these two are pulling chairs from under the competition.

(MO)


Park Jiha ‘Communion’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

Circumnavigating the globe to bring much-needed exposure to new sounds, Glitterbeat Records imprint tak:til gives a second wind to a suite of acuity serialism from Southeast Asia. Released originally in South Korea in 2016, the neo-classical musician/composer Park Jiha’s debut solo album Communion is given an international release by the label.

Inspiring what we’re told is a burgeoning Korean music scene (well, an alternative to the K-Pop craze), a chief progenitor of the movement Jiha alongside collaborative partner Jungmin Seo originally melded the country’s musical heritage with an eclectic range of contemporary sounds as the 숨[suːm] duo in 2007. Releasing the highly influential regional albums Rhythmic Space: A Pause For Breath (2010) and 2nd (2014), Park and Seo crossed the time zones to perform at both WOMAD and SXSW. Congruously putting the duo on hold to explore a more ‘personal’ and minimalistic ‘musical vocabulary’ as a solo artist, Jiha dexterously balances the air-y abstract breathes of the ‘piri’ double reed bamboo flute, the searing twang of the ‘saenghwang’ mouth organ and the softly paddled patter of the ‘yanggeum’ hammered dulcimer in what is a dialogue between a dulcet calm, the meditative and an entangled dissonance.

Transforming Korean traditions into a more experimental language that evokes the avant-garde, neo-classical and jazz yet something quite different, Park Jiha’s tranquil to entangled discourse evocations reach beyond their Southeast Asian borders both musically and metaphysically into something approaching the unique and amorphous.  Full review…

(DV)


John Johanna ‘I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes’  (Faith And Industry)


 

More a mini-album, even 12″ to be contrary, the beautifully cooed, warbled and ached venerable I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes is nothing less than an afflatus anointed paean to a higher purpose. Informed by the mystical cosmology of the Eastern Orthodox Church, John Johanna‘s spiritual blues-y and gospel rock’n’rock hymns are both diaphanous and mesmerizing, even hypnotic; recalling visages of Morricone, Fleetwood Mac, Terakaft, Dirtmusic and Wovenhand as it wanders a picturesque but troubled soundscape.

On the devotional pilgrimage, the troubadour of the most evocative, stirring country burr, switches between aching falsetto yearning to lovelorn cowboy on the Andes romanticised cooing, and from the ethereal to fraught, as he makes communion.

No two songs are quite the same, as the wooing rustic sits next to (what can only be described as) the holy desert rock fusion of Native Indian and Afro-beat title track, and Bossa shuffle meets Yonatan Gat raindance. It all congruously comes together in one most divine service. A minor masterpiece.

(DV)


M.

Marlowe (L’Orange & Solemn Brigham) ‘Marlowe’  (Mello Music Group)



“Both excel in never revealing what’s steaming around the next corner, even when you’ve grabbed your toothcomb for the umpteenth time” – RnV July 18

Another yearly round up, another L’Orange inclusion. North Carolina stands up as latest collaborator Solemn Brigham rhymes his ass off: weirdly, without necessarily feeding off what the producer is trawling, and helping create something of an odd couple match made in heaven. L’Orange sets the scene, usually a funky hoedown, a sample-heavy brouhaha anticipating a stand-off or a psychedelic neck-snap. As is his wont, there’s a narrative to be spun, or some simple time-travelling to be done where no two bops are the same. Brigham on the other hand, blurbed as “summoning the holy spirit of Big L” without getting sucked into the danger zone, just jumps in with a garrulous B-boy stance and goes for it. Without L’Orange surrounding him in a world of imagination, give Brigham a park bench and a ghettoblaster and the results would be the same. What he does guarantee is that you’ll be going back to what he has to say, and whatever the variables, the energy and entertainment (grounded surrealism?) never dips. L’Orange may have found himself an emcee to keep on retainer.   

(MO)


Hugh Masekela ’66-‘76’ (Wrasse Records)


 

A most poignant and timely reminder of one of the true greats, the mammoth 66-’76 collection shows a multifaceted Hugh Masekela: The exile. The trumpet maestro. The bandleader. The activist. The colonial revisionist. The angry young man. But also the conciliatory. These are just some of the many faces of the South African titan of jazz and African musical fusions that can be found inside the latest essential collection of the late great polymaths’ back durable catalogue.

Put together especially by Masekela and his good friend, producer and collaborator on a number of projects together, Stewart Levine, just before he passed away at the beginning of this year, the three disc spanning collection features key tracks from many of his most iconic and experimental albums (two of which are included in their entirety). But what makes this especially appealing to collectors and fans alike, is that many of these albums were never officially released in the UK and Europe before. Progressing in the chronological order they were recorded, we follow Masekela’s journey not just musically but politically across his most formative decade and his partnership with Levine and collaborations with such legendary ensembles as the Hedzoleh Soundz combo. From the combined jazz and Township fusions of The Emancipation Of Hugh Masekela all the way to criss-crossing the transatlantic slave routes on Colonial Man, this collection is a sheer joy. Full review…

(DV)



(MO)

Brona McVittie ‘We Are The Wildlife’

With the lightest, most deft of touches, Irish songstress and harpist Brona McVittie embarks on a voyage of ‘psycho-geographic’ inspired encapsulations of a mysterious, magical landscape and history on her debut album, We Are The Wildlife.

Tracing the sonic contours of London’s urban fringes and the rural landscapes of Mourne, McVittie pitches her fluttery diaphanous harp-led songbook somewhere between post-folk and the cinematic – helped along in part by the drifting trumpet evocations of film composer Hutch Demouilpied, who’s contributions sound at times like Miles Davis Dingo transported to an Irish peat bog.

Her ephemeral harp melodies and phrases often feel like a breath or just the merest hazy lingering presence of the instrument, which might in some ways be down to McVittie’s technique of playing them all on the guitar first before transcribing over. It certainly offers a different perspective and technique. And it certainly takes this heavenly traditional instrument into even more mystical, accentuate abstract realms, helped of course by an accompaniment of meadow flute (Keiron Phelan), sad bowed delicate strings (Richard Curran), searching fleeting slide-guitar and shuffling to full-on breakbeat drums (Myles Cochran). All of which amorphously pushes the often-ancient feelings and geography towards John Martyn and Bert Jansch one minute, towards the Incredible String Band or trip-hop the next.

Played with the lightest of touches, McVittie’s wildlife and Celtic inspired filmscape subtly crafts tradition into a cerebral suite of neo-classical and ambient folk. We Are The Wildlife is the most inviting and unique of debuts. Full review…



(DV)

Minyeshu ‘Daa Dee’ (ARC Music)


 

From the tentative first steps of childhood to the sagacious reflections of middle age, the sublime Ethiopian songstress Minyeshu Kifle Tedla soothingly, yearningly and diaphanously articulates the intergenerational longings and needs of belonging on her epic LP, Daa Dee.

Minyeshu left her native Ethiopia in 1996, but not before discovering and then learning from such acolytes as the doyen of the country’s famous Ethio-Jazz scene, Mulatu Astatke, and the choreographer Tadesse Worku and singers Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gessesse and Bizunesh Bekele. First moving to Belgium and then later to the Netherlands, the burgeoning star of the Ethiopian People To People music and dance production has after decades of coming to terms with her departure finally found a home: a self-realization that home wasn’t a geographical location after all but wherever she felt most comfortable and belonged:“Home is me!”

Evoking that sense of belonging and the theme of roots, but also paying a tribute and lament to the sisterhood, Minyeshu conveys with a sauntering but sorrowful jazzy blues vibe not only the burden and grind of daily life for many of her compatriots back home in the tumultuous climate of a fragmented and often chaotic Ethiopia, but also the joy of song and togetherness.

Not only merging geography but musical styles too, the Daa Dee LP effortlessly weaves jazz (both Western and Ethiopian) R&B, pop, dub, the theatrical, and on the cantering to lolloping skippy ‘Anteneh (It Is You?)’, reggae. Piano, strings and brass mix with the Ethiopian wooden washint flute and masenqo bowed lute to create an exotic but familiar pan-global sound. Minyeshu produces a masterful heartwarming, sometimes giddy, swirling testament that is exciting, diverse and above all else, dynamic. Her voice is flawless, channeling various journeys and travails but always placing a special connection to and emphasis on those special roots. Full review…

(DV)


Moonwalks ‘In Light (The Scales In The Frame)’  (Stolen Body Records)


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

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

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

Vocally malaise the voices waft between Siouxsie Sioux, Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy and Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell. Of course it fits the nebulous cosmic doom and dreamy psych style of the group perfectly; ambiguously drifting through magical rites and sulky pretensions aplenty. Full review…

(DV)


Album Review/Dominic Valvona





Refree ‘La Otra Mitad’ (tak:til/Glitterbeat Records) 7th December 2018


Recording in the field, catching both on-set and off the dialogue, conversations and even the spontaneous warbling song of a child, the lion’s share of the material on the renowned Spanish producer and film music composer (also solo artist in his own right) Raül Refree’s La Otra Mitad album was created for film director Isaki Lacuesta’s movie exploration of Flamenco, Entre dos Aguas.

Capturing both the essence and environment of the movie’s San Fernando location, and spirit of the non-professional cast, Refree’s often-reflective compositions and sketches represent his unique approach to conveying the abstract and visceral.

Representing at times what I, with my admitted ignorance of the form, recognize as the toiled, yearning and sometimes diaphanous flourishes of the highly-skilled Flamenco tradition, Refree performs the odd deft solitary passage but mostly reconfigures this signature Spanish style, remodeling it into an amorphous soundscape, or reversing it through a vacuum of suspense – ‘Dar a luz (Mix 1)’, which when translated into English means ‘giving birth’, and so makes sense as the sensation sounds like someone being rushed backwards out of a womb-like tunnel of both radiance and trepidation. Tracks such as ‘Barbacoa’ are literal, the composer recording the mood and conversation of the film crew and actors in their downtime at a barbecue; the results of which when edited in Refree’s in-situ studio sound intimate, yet like an ambient mirage. But sometimes the voices are in song, the Flamenco singers Rocio Márquez, Niño de Elche and Pilar Villa find their sonorous wails, lulls and beautifully expressed vocals sampled and turned into the ghostly and transported. Though the brighter, in praise, and less transformed ‘Cuando Salga El Sol (When The Sun Rises)’ is left to work its delightful Flamenco magic.

Lacuesta had in mind the relationship enjoyed by Neil Young and Jim Jarmusch on the collaborative score for the movie Dead Man, when approaching Refree. And in some way there is a semblance of that process; Refree pushing traditional sources into contemporary directions, his eclectic CV, which includes both co-producing and collaborating with Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo (Electric Trim), and Spanish enigmas Silva Pérez Cruz and Rosalía, channeled through an experimental traverse of ideas; from the picturesque to tragic, fleeting to sobering.

Originally earmarked for a two-volume duo of instrumental-leaning 10” solo EPs, La Otra Mitad couples what was two separate envisaged projects together on one album. Volume Two, the soundtrack, I’ve already discussed; Volume One however is a different, but concomitant, proposition. Named after the guitars it was performed on, Jai Alai Vol 01 (as it was titled) featured a series of reflective pining, waning and timeless solo guitar compositions. The LGO played (is that even a guitar?) track features Flamenco gestures and resonating echoes of Ry Cooder country, but also, on the second of the ‘LGO’ performances, a hint of the Middle East permeates an intense to wound-down, heavy to light, ratcheted spring folksy rhythm. The moiety of ‘Ramírez’ experiments feature a plucked, harmonics twanging nuanced guided hand; both sounding classical and sad but transcending subtly their time and place.

An amorphous, removed album of guitar articulations, moods, location and voice that somehow seems simultaneously tethered to Spain yet peculiarly outside of it. An experiment in reification and the aleatory, capturing the essence but also transient, Refree creates an unusual aural experience that’s difficult to categorize; neither avant-garde nor world music as such, nor is it in the perimeters of rock, it is instead a most unique collection.




Album Review: Dominic Valvona




Fofoulah  ‘Daega Rek’  (Glitterbeat Records)   9th November 2018

Bustling onto the transglobal London and Bristol scenes in 2014 with their earthy and urban bombastic fusion of Wolof African culture and dub electronica rich debut LP, the Fofoulah ensemble laid down the template for the a unique adventurous sound. Though taking its time to materialize, four years on, the follow-up album hasn’t just moved on but supersonically zoomed into the experimental void; even an esoteric, spiritual one at times. And in many ways this is down to the production.

Daega Rek, ‘the truth’ when translated from the Wolof language of coastal West Africa, sees Fofoulah’s saxophonist, keyboardist and producer Tom Challenger transmogrify the original Gambian talking drum of the group’s shamanistic rapping lead Kaw Secka and the accompanying percussion and propulsive drumming rhythms of his band members. (All of which were laid down at the Real World studios). Secka would then reappear in post-production to record his half spoken/half-rapped protestations and observations; the results all re-shaped into a ricocheting lunar-tropical bounding dub cosmology.

After a short introductory vignette of mysterious churned tetchy and dampened crunchy beats, the ode to a family’s first born (Secka’s notes emphasis not only the importance but heavy responsibility laid upon the first child; the ‘star’ or in Wolof, ‘Taaw’, must above all set a good example to his siblings), ‘Ndanane’, opens up the music box of effects; languorously swirling in an Afro-dub diaspora; evolving and stretching with interlayered limping beats towards a less zappy Ammar 808 vortex. Continuing with a similar message of responsibility, urging leaders of the country (especially Gambia’s very own president, Adama Barrow), from the very top down to the community, to remember their moral obligations, ‘Njite’ is a sound clash of Lee Scratch Perry, PiL and the On-U sound label. It also envisions an alternative moment in history; a sputnik space launch from Jamaica!

Skipping and skittish in motion; pushing the envelope as they pay tribute to lost brothers (‘Kaddy’ pays 2-Step rhythmic eulogy to the late photographer Khadija Saye who died in the Grenfell Tower disaster), the visceral taste of home (‘Chebou Jaine’ dedicated to Secka’s cousin, who cooked the best national Gambian dish) and search for the truth, Fofoulah lunge into the electrified dub ether.

On the ensemble’s most out-there of experimental dance albums, vague echoes and passing reverberations of R&B connect with roots, hip-hop with drum’n’bass, and the tribal with post-punk synthesized music as rhythms both rapid and chattering flutter with slower slurred ones and synthetic melodic atmospheres. Not to put it any better than the band, Daega Rek embodies the ‘spirit of morphing and connectivity’, and can be read as a sonic attack on the ‘fortress mentality’ and dangers of shutting down borders.

This album proves a congruous fit for Glitterbeat Records, and shares a bond with the musical explorations of their label mates Ammar 808 and Ifriqiyya Électrique, but remains tethered to its own sonic imaging. A great album that improves on the debut, progressing as it does into new fields of dub and beyond experimentation.





Fofoulah band photo courtesy of Alex Bonney.




ALBUM REVIEW/WORDS:DOMINIC VALVONA





Bixiga 70 ‘Quebra Cabeça’ (Glitterbeat Records) 12th October 2018

Few bands speak Fela Kuti so fluently and convincingly as the Brazilian outfit Bixiga 70, fusing, as they do, the Afrobeats progenitor showman’s rhythms with the Latin sounds of South America to such dynamic affect. The Sao Paulo group’s fourth album is once more informed and fueled by this connective spirit to Africa, though arguably more ambitious in scope and musically more complex than previous releases. In the past the ten-strong group have played live in the studio, capturing as close as they can their famous energetic, exciting stage performances. Whilst still continuing to do this, the post-production process has been much longer, with each originally spontaneous recording played with and reshaped to create a longer more shifting musical journey.

A year in the making Quebra Cabeça, which translates as the ‘puzzle’, is a full 360-degree panoramic evocation (both joyful and lamentable) of Brazil’s African roots. That heritage, which has woven almost seamlessly into the very fabric of life and culture, obviously originally sprung forth from the heinous ‘Black Atlantic’ slave trade. The toil, sweat and harrowing maltreatment of this history permeates throughout the album, yet this is also a celebration of the rich musical legacy they brought from Africa to the shores of Brazil.

Translating those roots, an ancestry that runs through many of the band members (some individuals descended from the Africa-Caribbean religion of ‘candomble’ for instance), Bixiga are also inspired on this journey by some of the highly talented artists they’ve shared various stages with over the years. Artists such as the Ghanaian highlife singer Pat Thomas, the Nigerian sublime traversing saxophonist legend Orlando Julius and Brazilian octogenarian star João Donato. Incorporating the lot they merge their brass-y signature carnival funk and shaking Afrobeat sass with cosmic voodoo, Afro-jazz and sloping funk: And that’s just on the opening title-track. Rattling, thumping drums underlay echoes of Santana on the cantering ‘Ilha Vizinha’, traces of Archie Shepp day-tripping in Memphis undulate the veiled sorrowful memories of the ‘Levante’, and the polygenesis fusion of rock guitar, electro rumba and R&B that sends the band off into entirely new spheres on ‘Primeiramente’ envisage a day of the dead march on the moon.


Credit: José de Holanda




The quality shines through on every track, with the visions and evocations of both Africa and Bixiga’s hometown of Sao Paulo articulated by an energetic but also ruminating soundtrack of the tribal, funky, cosmic, tropical, gospel and ritual. The slave portal of Benin, further outlying deserts of the sub-Sahara and busy rhythmic bustles of Nigeria are channeled via the melting pot hubs of Brazil on the group’s most epic, ancestral and geographical straddling album. It only remains to see just how great it will sound live on stage.




Words: Dominic Valvona


Review: Words: Dominic Valvona



Stella Chiweshe  ‘Kasahwa: Early Singles’ (Glitterbeat Records) 14th September 2018

Spearheading a second revival and paving the way to a comeback of a sort, the previously only available as a digital-release version (via that increasingly encroaching behemoth, Bandcamp) of the Zimbabwe music icon and maestro of the mbira instrument Stella Chiweshe’s Kasahwa: Early Singles collection, has been picked up by the award-winning global music label Glitterbeat Records. To be released on the full gamut of formats (both physical and digital) this remastered smattering of previously rare healing paeans and emotional tumults will for many, be an introduction to the diaphanous and earthy roots metal-y springy mbira accompanied soul of Chiweshe.

With her most formative years spent in colonial Rhodesia, before Zimbabwe’s eventual independence in 1980, in an environment that didn’t exactly encourage or foster equality between races let alone sexes, the strong-willed Chiweshe nevertheless pursued a career in music. More attuned to the Western sounds of Rock’n’Roll and Country than the atavistic culture of her native homeland, feasting instead on a diet of Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Jim Reeves and The Everly Brothers (and why not), it would take some time and an epiphany before Chiweshe picked up the mbira: an instrument and style she would soon master; so much so that she would be hailed as the ‘Queen of Mbira’ in the following decades.

Confusingly for the student and novice, mbira refers not only to an instrument – made-up of 22 to 28 metal keys, mounted on a ‘wooden healing tree body’ – but also an all-encompassing Zimbabwean spiritual but also secular culture and way of life. Mbira, which is cultivated by the Shona people of the region, involves the ceremonial ritual practice of invoking contact with deceased ancestors and tribal guardians through musical accompaniment; just one of the influences that imbues the voice and playing style of Chiweshe’s captivating songs.

Showing the independent spirit she’d long be admired and celebrated for, a younger Chiweshe would, despite meeting stoic opposition, overcome the bigotry of her male compatriots and elders to embrace not only the Mbiri heritage but the instrument too. Stiff resistance from teachers and even instrument makers, outright refusing to build her a mbira, wouldn’t stop her from recording a debut single (the one that give’s its name to this compilation) in 1974: even though she would have to borrow an ad hoc thumb piano; unable to lay her hands on a mbira. Chiweshe would not only preserver but flourish.

Trumpeted in our modern virtue-labeling climate as a ‘feminist’, the outspoken star was certainly strong-willed, even a rebel. Making a name for herself overcoming the obstacles of tradition and a patriarchal-dominated society, her obstinacy soon garnered attention, not only in Zimbabwe but further afield. In a decade that saw a surge in Western interest in ‘world music’, thanks in part to (in the UK anyway) such global music explorers and passionate advocates as Andy Kershaw and John Peel (who would play host to two Chiweshe performances on his coveted Radio 1 sessions), the Mbira star would soon be touring internationally: first as a featured soloist with the New National Dance Company of Zimbabwe, and later under her own name. Chiweshe would even make a second home for herself in Berlin, criss-crossing between the German city and her native home for the next 35 years.

Still performing her spiritually soulful intense and trilling vocals and mbira craft, but perhaps not as prominent a figure on the world stage, this re-introduced eight song package of formative years recordings will revive an interest in not only Chiweshe but the music of Zimbabwe: a state that looked to be finally emerging from the grasp of Robert Mugabe, whose role (lets face it) has soured and hidden the true face and culture of the country; though in the aftermath of his resignation and after new elections, his successor in the ZANU-PF party, candidate President Mnangagwa and self-declared winner of those elections, has meted out extreme violence on oppositions supporters (killing a number of them in the process) taking to the streets in protest at the contested results. An uneasy tension exists, even with outside observers presiding over these elections, as Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change candidate Nelson Chamisa stoically refuses to back down, rejecting the results outright.

With helpful encapsulation style suffixes summing up each song’s theme, the early singles opens with the determined ‘Ratidzo’; a high whistling and trickling stream like mbira melodic accompanied invocation of the lush landscapes of Zimbabwe that pretty much encompasses Chiweshe’s struggle to become a musician with its matter-of-fact subtitle, ‘Managing to do what people considered impossible’. More traumatic themes follow, with the unceasing waterfall cascades of the mbira and earthy lamented ‘Musarakunze’ suddenly making an emotional impact when translated as ‘An orphan seeing what the late elders never saw’; so beautifully played as to almost hide the plight. The ‘Innermost emotional pain is like a fishbone stuck in the throat’ ‘Kasahwa’ has a similar air of beautiful delivery even when kicking up the dust and rotating to a more abrasive and rubbing scratchy percussion; the pained evocations confined to that title rather than performance.

Mbira as a living tradition and healing process is enacted on the grasslands lilted ‘Chipindura’‘The herb that transforms anything’ – and the placeable tubular turning ‘Mayaya’ (in two parts no less; the longest articulation on this entire collection) – ‘The effect of healing herbs’. Both of which, whether it’s intentional or not, feature a percussion that reflects the rubbing, grinding preparation of these herbs. Elsewhere the routine travails of a people kept through colonial oppression and then the misrule, surviving in abject poverty, is evoked on the yodeled sung ‘Nhemamusasa’; a song that describes and articulates ‘Cutting branches for a temporal home’.

Channeling the very soul of Zimbabwe, performing the mbira with energy but also certain serenity, and in a soliloquy manner voicing the empirical, Stella Chiweshe’s early recordings may sound swimmingly diaphanous, yet they serve as a reminder to the struggles of change. Recorded during the Chimurenga – roughly translating from the Shona language as ‘revolutionary struggle’, this, the second such ‘war’ or uprising, pitted African Nationalist groups against the predominantly white minority government; also known by its eventual victors as the Zimbabwe Liberation War, it would lead to independence and the rise of one of the resistance’s key figures, Robert Mugabe – revolution these singles, no matter how lilting, could be celebrated as a testament and clarion call for not only a resistance to the patriarch but seen also as a break from the atavistic status quo, with Chiweshe’s twist laying down the path for those to follow; a more equal rebalance giving voice to the often repressed matriarchal singers and musicians of Africa.




NEW MUSIC REVIEWS ROUNDUP: WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA


Photo Credit: Sia Rosenberg

This edition of Tickling Our Fancy includes records by Ammar 808, Alex Stolze, Elefant, Matt Finucane, Pyramid, Lucy Leave, London Plane, Disco Gecko and Waldo Belloso.

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

My latest bumper edition of releases from the last couple of months includes the recent fully realized romantically shadowy chamber pop electronic suite, Outermost Edge, from the Berlin composer, violinist and label boss Alex Stolze; the debut album proper from Belgium’s prowling post-punk, sludge metal experimentalists Elefant, Konark Und Bonark; Sofyann Ben Youssef of the Bargou 08 collaboration, under his Ammar 808 moniker, fuses the atavistic sounds and culture of North Africa with futuristic drum machine effects on his new album for Glitterbeat Records, Maghreb United; Toby Marks aka 90s techno trance star Banco de Gaia, celebrates the 20th anniversary of his label Disco Gecko with a collection of reworked tracks from the catalogue; and the maverick Brighton-based artist Matt Finucane returns with one of his best EPs yet of grueling, grinding Bowie and post-punk influences, Ugly Scene.

But that’s not all, I also take a look at new re-releases of both obscure Argentine exotica and Cologne tripping Kosmische from the Spanish Guerssen hub; the first a reissue (for the first time ever) of Waldo Belloso’s visionary and library music kitsch ‘Afro-Progresivo’, the second, another rare album, the titular album in fact, from the infamous and debatable Krautrock era Pyramid label. Oxford trio Lucy Leave limber, thrash and jerk through their debut album of no wave jazz, math rock, punk and jilting alternative rock, Look/Listen. And finally, the debut album from the New York brooding strobe-lit pop and punchy rock partnership, London Plane.


Ammar 808  ‘Maghreb United’   Glitterbeat Records,   15th June 2018

 

Throwing the traditional unwieldy Maghreb, before it was demarcated and split into colonial spheres of influence, back together again in the name of progress and unity, Sofyann Ben Youssef fuses the atavistic and contemporary. With past form as one half of the Bargou 08 partnership that gave a modern electric jolt to the isolated, capitulating Targ dialect ritual of the Bargou Valley on the northwestern Tunisia and Algeria border, Youssef under the moniker of Ammar 808 once again propels the region’s diverse etymology of languages, rhythms and ceremony into the present, or even future: hopefully a more optimistic one.

An area once connected despite ethnical differences, the Maghreb heritage is reinvented as a metaphor for not only setting course for a brighter, possible future, but in taking control of the past: As Youssef says, “The past is a collective heritage.”

Envisaged as a visual as well as a sonic experience live when the Maghreb United goes out on the road, he has brought together a team of “visual researchers, designers and actors” to create a fully immersive, hypnotic concept. An ambitious odyssey, the music, as Youssef’s alter ego time-traveller nomadic moniker suggests, is a hybrid of past and (retro) futurism; the 808 of that name standing in for the iconic 1980s Roland TR-808 drum machine, a device he uses to transform those traditions into something more cosmic and mysterious.

Jon Hassell’s ‘possible musics’ meets Major Lazer, the traversing adaptations from the Gnawa, Targ and Rai traditions and ritual are amorphously swirled or bounced around in a gauze of both identifiable and mystically unidentifiable landscapes. Mixing modern R&B, dub, electro effects with the dusky reedy sound of the evocative gasba and bagpipe like zorka, and a range of earthy venerable and yearning vocals from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria artists, Youssef distorts, amps up or intensifies a resonating aura of transformative geography and time.

Throbbing, pulsing, entrancing and vaporous, the Ammar 808 effects transport its source material and desert songs towards a new uncertainty.

In a land still rocked and reeling from the impacts of the Arab Spring, with a power vacuum in many cases replacing rotten governments with even less savory administrations at worse, and at best, struggling to cope political parties, the Maghreb has had its fair share of violence and tribulation. Rather than dwell on the negatives, Youssef projects a better future through his science fiction inspired visions of collective ownership.

Not so out there as to be detached from those sources that inform it, the Maghreb United is an interesting sonic experiment which will be enhanced further when experienced live. I don’t know about predicting what will make sense in ten, fifty or a hundred years time, but this fusion makes a lot of sense in the here and now.






Alex Stolze   ‘Outermost Edge’   Nonostar,  23rd March 2018

 

Following up on his previous electronic chamber pop EP, Mankind Animal, the Berlin virtuoso violinist, composer and (in the last year or two) label owner Alex Stolze expands on his signature transformation of the classical and contemporary electronica genres with a fully realized new album suite.

Moving a while back to the pastoral German/Polish borders, renovating a previously ruinous pile into not only a new home for his family but also the inspirational HQ of Alex and his artist wife Andrea Huyoff’s creative cottage industry –Andrea’s art can be seen adorning Alex’s new album -, this accomplished soloist has found a solace away from hustle and bustle of the city. Far from inspiring gentle, peaceable visions of optimism and rejoice from his retreat, Alex creates yearning and haunted shadowy waltzes.

Highly political, yet preferring to romantically allude to the instability and rise of authoritarianism with poetic sonnets and metaphors to mysterious out-of-reach chanteuses and objects of affection (illusions to the enigmatic woman, or women, in Alex’s life that aren’t just seen as equals but much more), Outermost Edge provides neo-classical pop maladies and aching heart love suites that comment without division and rage.

Weaving his European Jewish heritage musically and etymologically with sophisticated undulations of effects and synthesized waves and amped-up trip hop like live drums, Alex mingles scenes and dioramas with guest vocal songs. Usually appearing together, one harmonically echoing the other, Yehuda Amichai and Ofrin exude an often lulled and ghostly presence on the clandestine meeting in cold war Vienna, traffic light analogy lament Serve All Loss, and He Poos Clouds pinned tango New.

Of course at the centre of all this is Alex’s adroit pricked and accentuated weeping bowed violin performances. Never indulgent, if anything still, withheld with a minimalist sensibility, they are beautifully and stirringly administered; channeling both the avant-garde and classical; running through a full gamut of subtle layered emotions.

Released via Alex’s burgeoning label Nonostar – home to the triumvirate Solo Collective of Alex, Anne Müller and Sebastian Reynold’s astonishing Part One album, which made our choice albums of 2017 features – Outermost Edge is yet another plaintively aching and most beautiful shadowy album of neo-classical electronic pop.






Elefant  ‘Konark Und Bonark’   9000 Records,  11th May 2018

 

Emerging from the Belgium underground scene, with members from a myriad of bands, each one more obscure than the next, the Elefant in this room is a twisted agit-post-punk, boiler come forensic team suited troop of noise peddlers.

Lurking around basement venues for a while now, the sludge metal and gallows Krautrock merchants have released a slurry of EPs but never a fully realized album until now.

For an album that grapples with Marilyn Manson, Swans, Killing Joke, Muse, industrial contortions and Germanic experimentation, Konark Und Bonark is a very considered, purposeful statement. Though things get very heavy, implosive and gloomy and the auger like ghosts in the vocals can sound deranged, there is a semblance of melody, a tune and hint of breaking through the confusing, often pummeling, miasma.

Following a concept of narratives (of a sort), the album opens with a plaintive hybrid of machine and human vocals reading out an almost resigned poetic eulogy – part Bowie Diamond Dogs, part Outside. From then on in, as the eerie machinations of an apocalyptic aftermath dissipate, we are thrown into a controlled chaos of supernatural Kosmische and hypnotic industrial ritual: The group’s defector leader vocalist Wolf Vanwymeersch opting for a becalming message of love overcoming the conspired forces of darkness.

In this vacuum of progressive and hardcore influences, Elefant throw up plenty of surprises, pendulously swaying between a tom tom ritual dreamscape on Schräg, but transmogrifying glam rock and Dinosaur Jnr on the tech meltdown finale ‘Norsun Muisti’, or as on the twisting “with our love we will change the world” sentiment of ‘Credulity’, melding Gary Numan and Gothic New Romanticism.

A seething rage is tightly controlled throughout, the sporadic flits and Math Rock entangled rhythms threatening to engulf but never quite reaching an overload, or for that matter, becoming a mess. Elefant’s prowling and throbbing sound of creeping menace and visions of an artificial intelligent domineering dystopia is an epic one. Arguably the band have produced their most ambitious slog yet and marked themselves out as one of the country’s most important bands of 2018.






Various Artists  ‘In The Blink Of An Eye’  Disco Gecko,  6th June 2018

 

Starting out as a platform for the global trance and techno peregrinations of Toby Marks’ alter ego Banco de Gaia in the late 90s, the Disco Gecko label has gone on to expand its remit in the last few years by adding a number of congruous artists from the dance and electronica genres.

Famous for setting off on the mystical eastern bound ‘Last Train To Lhasa’ in 1995, Marks’ initial success was often frustrated by the labels he worked with. And for that reason it seemed perfectly logical for him to set up his own imprint, which now celebrates its twentieth anniversary. It would however take until 2014 before anyone other than Marks released anything on the label; this accolade going to Andrew Heath with his Silent Cartographer LP. Heath, the ambient pianist of ‘lower-case’ contemplation, appears alongside the label’s full roster on this special anniversary compilation.

Rather than a straight-up ‘best of’ showcase, Marks has asked each of the label’s artists to remix or collaborate with each other to produce alternative transformed versions of original tracks from the back catalogue. Seeing as we have already mentioned him, and he appears quite a lot as an integral part of the Disco Gecko story (including a role in creating the artwork and layout of this collection), Heath’s ‘A Stillness Of Place’, as sublimely guided to ever more radiant heights by the Nottingham duo Radium 88, opens this compilation with a serene ambient diaphanous. Later on, with Heath in the role of remixer himself, he subtly accents and stirs the 100th Monkey’s dreamy plaintive and haunted choral ‘The Last Inuit Snow Song’: literally melting before our ears, the serialism piano composer, imbued by one of his most iconic past collaborators Hans-Joachim Roedelius, adds short trails of sonorous piano and amps up the Eno-esque mood.

Probably one of the label’s most commercial coups, the air-y sophisticated soulful singer/songwriter Sophie Barker, who’s tones have appeared on a catalogue of electronica and dance hits by David Guetta, Groove Armada and Robin Guthrie (of Cocteau Twins fame), is represented with her longing ‘Road 66’ song. From Tampere in Finland, Karl Lounela, aka LO18, transforms the original down tempo trepidation and dub like vapours of the original. Alongside Fastlap, Barker in more a collaborated than remix role, gets to passionately ache and yearn on Marks own traverse ‘Glove Puppet’, whilst LO18’s original vision ‘Huima’ is taken in a Sylvain oriental visage direction by 100th Monkey.

Elsewhere on this compilation, the Indian sub-continent enthused ‘Darjeeling Daydream’ submersion by Dr. Trippy is consumed with even more swampy and lunar effects than before by the intercontinental collective The Dragonfly Trio, and Radium 88’s misty mountain ambient journey ‘Bury Each And Every Prayer’ is becalmed even further with sacred panoramic views and Popol Vuh dissipations by polymath composer Simon Power.

Refreshing a relatively short and recent back catalogue with the aim being to move ever forward, In The Blink Of An Eye is a novel conception in both celebrating the Disco Gecko legacy and in looking ahead to the future of ambient and electronic music.






Matt Finucane   ‘Ugly Scene’   Crude Light,  11th May 2018

 

Sporadic yet prolific, the idiosyncratic Matt Finucane has probably appeared on this blog more times than anyone else over the years. Constantly cathartic, pouring out his surly heart on every record, the Brighton-based maverick channels the anxieties of our times with a certain resigned lament over an ever-changing backing of indie, Krautrock, punk and post-punk influences.

His latest exercise in primal scream therapy (though crooning would be a more apt description) is the quasi-Neu!-meets-Faust-meets-Pixies grinding turmoil Ugly Scene EP. Perhaps among his best releases yet, the epic sinewy grueling opener ‘Not Too Far’ could be Bowie fronting The Buzzcocks Spiral Scratch. A listless Finucane languidly swoons for much of the duration of this monotonous track before eventually mooning and howling the “I’m so sick of it all” refrain in various strung-out and deranged ways.

Changing tact slightly, ‘The Wrong Side’ transmogrifies Johnny Thunders, Bowie (again! But why not?!) and shades of Britpop, whilst the EP’s title track throws The Sonics, Damned, Monks and Beefheart into a spinning chaos as an increasingly sneer-y and disillusioned Finucane unburdens himself. Expanding his tastes still further, the steely acoustic guitars and slight English psychedelic hints of ‘Damn Storyteller’ evoke not only Lou Reed but also Kevin Ayers, and the post-punk dub ‘City Consolation’ sounds not too dissimilar (in my warped mind anyway) to an imaginary Black Francis fronted Compass Point Allstars jamming with Jah Wobble.

Hardly the easiest of listening experiences, Finucane letting each track run its natural course, Ugly Scene is nevertheless filled with soul and melody; an experimental EP of resignation and heartache that finds the artist at his most sagacious and venerable but also constructive. Finucane has seldom sounded better and more imaginative.






Lucy Leave   ‘Look/Listen’   27th April 2018

 

Gangly, strung-out, limbering with moments of intensity and entangled noodling the Oxford trio Lucy Leave expand upon their math rock, no wave and grunge amalgamation with the debut album, Look/Listen. Transducing the conceptual Scandi-Socialist tapestries of weaver Hannah Ryggen with the group’s own sense of isolation whilst making this album (still smarting over Brexit; the theme that fired them up on last year’s The Beauty Of The World EP), coupled with a general dissatisfaction at the political landscape, Lucy Leave don’t so much enrage and shout as jerk sporadically through their agit-post-punk and American college radio influences.

The targets and intellectual concerns of their ire are all there to be deciphered in the, mostly, stop/start dynamism. In what seems a generous offering, the eighteen tracks on this album are all laid out in a purposeful manner; a journey, spread out in the fashion of a double album, with shorter vignettes alongside the spikey and more slow building minor epic thrashes.

Flexing their dual vocals, with both taking turns on lead but often shadowing each other, Mike Smith strays between a better mannered PiL era Lydon and milder D. Boon of The Minutemen (incidentally one of the band’s biggest influences), whilst Jenny Oliver fluctuates between Ariel Up and Vivian Goldmine. They begin however with echoes of an a capella Talking Heads on the vocal chorus introduction ‘Barrier Reef’, before the freefall into a spunk rock twist of The Fall, The Damned and (as I’ve already mentioned) The Minutemen on the following pair of congruous songs, ‘Kintsugi’ and ‘Ammoniaman’.

Slowing down occasionally for gentler posturing, meditations, the later third of the album offers some surprising material; the more controlled psychedelic acoustic ‘Hang Out With Now’ bearing hints of Julian Cope and Ultrasound, and the progressive pastoral weepy ‘Long Sequence’ sounding simultaneously like The Moody Blues, 70s Pretty Things and Bowie.

Thrashing elsewhere through Californian Black Hole punk, Sonic Youth, Archers Of Loaf, Deerhoof, The Raincoats and, especially with the drifting contorted saxophone riffs, no wave jazz, Lucy Leave successfully drag together all their influences to convey the present confusion and madness of the times. Entangled, angulated, crashing but never frustrating, Look/Listen is an ambitious debut from a band still finding its groove: and all the better for it.






Pyramid  ‘Pyramid’  Mental Experience,  May 10th 2018

 

Pulled from the archives of an obscure Kosmische label that head music scholars still refute even existed, the title album from the titular amorphous studio set-up behind the legendary Pyramid label appears in the guise of a lost treasure from the 70s Cologne underground. Reissued for the first ever time by the Guerssen hub imprint Mental Experience, this previously lost experiment from the ‘Mad Twiddler’ studio engineer bod Toby Robinson is poured over in the linear notes by The Crack In The Cosmic Egg almanacs’ Alan Freeman: though providence is debatable and the album’s cast difficult to verify.

What we do know (or so the myth goes) is that Robinson, alongside the avant-garde and conceptual antagonistic Fluxus movement’s Robin Page, set the Pyramid label up originally. Though with only a handful; of recordings to emerge from their time together in the mid 70s, it seems that it was never meant to be a commercial enterprise; more a retreat and outlet for unrushed mind expansions and improvisations. Any releases that did escape the studio were confined to ‘micro’ scale pressings (hence their value and status amongst Krautrock connoisseurs). Many still believe these recordings to be the work of nefarious pranksters, recording them decades later, passing them off as finds from the great Krautrock and Kosmische epoch.

Robinson though, as we’re told, was an assistant at a myriad of Cologne studios during that original era; working most famously at Dieter Dierks’ Kosmische incubator, where some of the dream flights and galactic transcendence music of the Ohr and Pilz labels was produced. In the ‘so-called’ dead hours between recording sessions, Robinson and friends, collaborators, would lay down their own ideas.

Split into two, the ‘Dawn Defender’ expansive free-form experiment that straddles the Pyramid LP alludes artistically to Erich von Däniken and Popol Vuh; the Mayan stone tablet (I might be wrong) insignia and mountains at the start of a cosmic highway and massive glitterball (which seems somewhat incongruous and modern for its time and genre), tuning into transcendent and alien dimensions. Musically we have it all (nearly all), the full Kosmische gamut, as the anonymous band traverse different phases yet maintain a repeating vaporous hazy atmosphere. Shifting from faint echoes of UFO era Guru Guru, Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempe in the first ambient air-y and primordial lunar stages to mellotron oscillating Dance Of The Lemmings Amon Düül II, the Far East Family Band and ghostly visitations, the Pyramid collective sound distinctive enough even amongst the quality of their peers.

Trance-y, hypnotic with distant reverberations of the Orient and Tibet, the group does occasionally break out into sporadic displays of acid rock ala Gila and the Acid Mother Temple, but soon simmer down into The Cosmic Jokers style peregrinations. They finish off this uninterrupted flowing half hour opus with some heavenly strings and beautiful flourishes – even though veiled moody distractions and knocks persist; indicating an unearthly presence.

Whoever did produce this work, in whatever circumstances, the Pyramid album is a brilliantly atmospheric and executed Kosmische experience, ticking off all the genres signatures yet still distinctive enough to reveal some interesting passages and ideas.






Cuasares  ‘Afro-Progresivo’   Pharaway Sounds,  10th May 2018

 

From another Guerssen hub offshoot, Pharaway Sounds dig up yet another forgotten ‘nearly ran’ from the peripherals of exotica and cosmic psychedelic. The obscure distant celestial named Cuasares project (which is Spanish for the star like ‘quasars’ that emit large amounts of energy, billions of light years away) is the work of the ‘enigmatic’ Argentine pianist and composer Waldo Belloso, who (unsurprisingly) released it in 1973 to the smallest of fanfares. Afro-Progresivo now resurfaces as a reissue (the first), complete with plenty of scholarly fanboy notes and information.

The title is slightly misleading as this album leans more towards the Latin: merging mambo and samba with both counterculture soundtrack music from the Italian and French b-movie libraries and Les Baxter-esque tropical South Seas Island rituals.

Gazing at celestial bodies and alluding to ‘evanescent’ fleeting romantic phenomena, Waldo funkily trips through Andean kitsch, languid beachcomber Hawaiian wanderings, kooky space fantasy and Southeast Asian exotic psych. His sauntering, jaunty and often musing suites feature increasingly distorted, jarring organ, radiant vibraphone, echo-y drums, fuzzed-up guitar doodles and surreptitiously trickling piano. All of which articulates a sort of acid-Latin Axlerod soundtrack that straddles the South American and Asian continents with cosmic jazz and exotica.

Though this is all fairly well trodden ground, Afro-Progresivo remains a curious example of South American obscure progressive and kitsch-y weird, but remember also funky, experimentation.






London Plane  ‘New York Howl’   18th May 2018

 

A paean to the city that name checks one of New York’s, now defunct, obscure underground groups and, with a poetic license, reimagines the entries of a mysterious stranger’s abandoned diary – lured to the metropolis from Portland in the 1970s – New York Howl is both a romantic yet strobe-lit gothic brooding fantasy. Fronted by enchantress singer Cici James and lead songwriter David Mosey, London Plane (in honor to the American sycamore crossed Oriental plane tree that you see lining the iconic broad walks of New York) reframe the troubled dairy writer protagonist’s sporadic poems, scenes and “half-recounted dreams” in a loose concept album of timeless emotions.

Found by Mosey on the streets of the city, in a suitcase, the London Plane instigator was intrigued enough to take it home with him; leading to an obsession and the spark of inspiration that brought this project together. Written over an eight-year period between 1975-1982, the final abrupt and enigmatic words, ‘I hope he gets it’, proved a fruitful prompt, the results of which suffuse this ten-track songbook of new wave, collage radio rock, synth pop and proto-punk. Letting the mind wonder with entries in the aftermath of such New York tragedies as the murder of John Lennon, the band interrupt the author Francis’ backstory and movements; running through the full gamut of emotions. They allude to a ‘ghost story’; the presence of their protagonist diarist vanishing before they make a connection; haunting the city like a specter and auger, always out of reach.

Musically channeling New York’s obvious musical legacy, but also a far wider spectrum of influences, the bright and brilliant title track hones the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blondie and Ronnie Spector, with Cici’s vocals evoking a rich myriad of more controlled Karen O, Debbie Harry, Madonna and weirdly, on the Broadway synth plaint ‘Make It Our Own’, ‘Losing My Mind’ 80s era Liza Minnelli!

Good solid pop songs mingle with more romantically vaporous tracks; the dreamy fantasy of ‘The Farther Down We Go’ and Chromatics style whispery neon synth ‘Roxanne’ sitting well with the Echo And The Bunnymen meets Blondie style ‘If It Got Me You’. A New York house band obviously in love with their city, mining the last four decades of its heritage, New York Howl may offer musings on isolation, regret and the fears, trepidations of a big city, yet the lingering traces and mystery of Francis are sound tracked with both a dreamy veneer and punchy pop quality. The London Plane could be just the start of a beautiful musical partnership.







WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




Samba Touré   ‘Wande’   Glitterbeat Records,  25th May 2018

In a country abundant with guitar virtuosos, the highly genial Samba Touré still stands out as one of Mali’s most celebrated; transducing the travails, heartache but also joy of his homeland through his signature articulate nimble-fingered style of playing.

His third album for Glitterbeat Records – the first, Albala, was the label’s inaugural release in 2013 – Wande is billed as a warmer homely songbook. Recorded in under two weeks, allowing weekends for band members to scratch a living playing at weddings, sessions for the album were relaxed, performances captured on their first take with few overdubs. Previous albums Albala and 2015’s Gandadiko were made during the Islamist insurgency that swept aside and hijacked the Northeastern Tuareg communities’ battle for an autonomous state within the desert borderlands of Mali. Based in the western, more urban, Bamako, Touré encapsulated the fears of his fellow countrymen caught up in, what seemed highly probable until an intervention from the former colonial masters France, a struggle of ideologies that threatened to destroy Mali and bloodily remove its government. Reaching far into the Mali interior, certainly victorious in the field of propaganda in taking the legendary trading post of Timbuktu, Touré was well within his rights to feel anguish and fear as the hardliners – hardly an accommodating presence, known to burn instruments and even musicians that entertained anything other than their own warped sense of myopic worship – inched ever-closer to Mali’s capital.


Photo: Karim Diarra.




Darker albums certainly, yet still so lovingly meandrous, even buoyant, as to exude hope and caring sensibility. Better still, and even with the fallout from this insurgency ongoing (if forgotten by western media), Touré calls, as he does now, for unity: a return to peace.

Far from a complete break, the sadness endures on Wande: though Touré sadness is a most beautiful, cantering and lingering one. Especially when paying tribute to his friend and collaborator, sokou fiddle maestro Zoumana Tereta, on the spoken word with wavering drifty, almost dub-like echo-y effects tracks of the same name, which features the late musician’s spindly evocations from beyond the ether.

The ‘Songhai’ and ‘Crocodile’ bluesman, for that is the style he is most synonymous with, wouldn’t pigeonhole himself personally, preferring to call it contemporary ‘universal’ rock music. Touré has previously said, and reiterates now, that he doesn’t play ‘desert blues’ – a term he rightly associates as the music practiced in Northern Mali, Niger and Mauritania -, and you can also forget about calling it African ‘this’ or African ‘that’ too. Yet at the roots and core, for these are the lands where it all started, Touré’s subtle and relaxed guitar lines traverse the very ideas of blues etymology. The lo fi production feel of the rocking blues Yerfara/We Are Tired could be a lost inspiration for 80s period Rolling Stones with its almost transmogrified Start Me Up like Richards riff. Goy Boyro/The Good Work (Well Done) even begins with a Taj Mahal, BB King reminiscent introduction hook, before dipping over the horizon.

Throughout the album, whether it’s in paying a devotional paean to his beloved wife on the title track or gliding magically on the opening Yo Pouhala/Blah Blah Blah, Touré’s electric, and occasionally deft acoustic, guitar is accompanied by the buoyant and bobbing bending rhythms of the traditional tama talking drum, bowed waiving of the sokou and the vibrating spindle sound of the ngoni: All of which are played with an emphasis on the natural, unrehearsed and relaxed.

Not quite such a leap of faith or different to previous albums, an unpolished and laidback methodology has produced a slightly more sagacious, free-floating quality and another essential Touré classic.




Dominic Valvona’s new music reviews roundup.





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

I have a truly international spread of releases for you all, even more than usual with one band in particular, the backpacker collective The Turbans, featuring band members from the UK, Eastern Europe, Levant, Africa, Balkans and beyond. I take a look at their borderless debut album for Six Degrees Records. From Mexico way, there’s the b-movie space mambo and cumbia occult of Sonido Gallo Negro: newly signed to Glitterbeat Records and releasing their third album Mambo Cósmico. Uniting for the second time together on a recording, Welsh harpist maestro Catrin Finch and Senegal kora star Seckou Kieta reunite for diaphanous and reflective celebration of the two instruments and their respected native homeland’s heritage on SOAR. Closer to home there’s the latest inimitable psychedelic pop album, Natural Causes, by Anton Barbeau; an EP of blossoming, Kaleidoscopic dance pop from the Leeds duo Lost Colours; the first solo album project to see light after the break-up of The Liars, with Aaron Hemphill’s Nonpareils solo debut Scented Pictures; Sebastian ReynoldsMahajanaka odyssey, now finally getting a soundtrack release; and the tortured industrial noise and biblical raging of the Boston duo Water Fragment.


Nonpareils   ‘Scented Pictures’   Mute,  6th April 2018

With the Liars now, more or less, the sole concern of Angus Andrew, the first fruits of the schism that split the original band up is now unveiled in the shape of Aaron Hemphill’s solo nom de plume Nonpareils: chosen because it’s a “name that didn’t evoke a single person or a producer name, but hopefully something that sounded more like a group or a band…something plural.”

Moving to Berlin in 2015, a year before he left the Liars, Hemphill has had a good two years break from his former band mate, but instead of reflection or acrimonious scorn he’s decided to deliver a cyclonic churning and confusing barrage of sonic displacement; a window in on the woozy state of Hemphill’s mind, all those ideas, snippets and memories channeled through a abstract and broken staccato and heavy reverb obstruction that’s still capable of throwing out some pretty good hooks and tunes.

‘Metaphysically reconstructed pop’ as Hemphill himself calls it, the druggy feel and lingering traces on his inaugural solo debut, Scented Pictures, was all recorded in Berlin using the most haphazard and off-kilter of processes. Recording ‘stacks’ of acoustic instruments whilst ‘doing the silliest’ of experiments upon them, Hemphill also encouraged the engineer on these sessions to distract and hinder him as he bashed away on the drums (without a click-track), and set up the microphones, when on the piano, to deliberately “fall away from the body of the instrument.” And so there is a strange disconnection and time-lapse, in which everything sounds like it’s running away from its main source or languidly slurring, that runs throughout this album. It ties in to the theme of “time-accelerating” and Hemphill’s premise of a “sensory experience of memory”, which encourages the brain to fill-in the gaps of what is a constantly trudging, stuttering soundtrack of disorientated peculiarities. None more so than The Timeless Now, which sounds like a churned and slurred breakdown of time itself, set to eternal damnation and spinning like a centrifugal space sequence.

Amongst the reversed effects, stumbled drums, tetchy loop oscillations there’s hints of Mogadon induced Atlas Sound (on the surprisingly Spector trippy dream pop plaint Makes Me Miss The Misery Girls), a Coil/John Cale hybrid (Cherry Cola), vaporous synth (ala the Eno-esque Press Play), Alan Vega (more specifically the title track, which also includes a subtle trace of Neukölln Bowie, but his ghostly presence can be heard on many tracks) and R. Stevie Moore.

Often resembling a scratched CD having a fit of the jitters; often obscured under a veil of languorous multilayering; often sounding distant; Hemphill still retains an ear for melody, combining the abstract with post-punk, rock’n’roll and techno to produce something dreamy. His ideas are distilled into a seething disorientation of time and memories; tapping in to the anxious and confusion of our times. Not so distant from the Liars sound, yet different enough to be challenging, Scented Pictures is an enigma waiting to be unraveled.






Sonido Gallo Negro  ‘Mambo Cósmico’   Glitterbeat Records,  6th April 2018

Serving up a mystical occult of a third album, the sauntering Sonido Gallo Negro take a trip aboard one of Erich Von Däniken’s ancient astronaut controlled UFO to draw in a wealth of cosmic affected South American styles and exotica.

Slinking all the way the nine-piece outfit reach out beyond the Mexican borderlands to embrace the multicultural dance rhythms brought to the Americas via Africa and the Middle East and of course the centuries ingrained influence of the Hispaniola.

Already interpreting and reframing the popular cumbia – what was originally the folkloric rhythmic dance practiced by the Africans who were en mass displaced and brought to work in Columbia – and mambo on previous records, the group now include a hybrid mix of ‘cha cha’, the Mexican ceremonial dance known as ‘danzón’, and the Sinú River sprung brass orchestra come Caribbean region of Colombia ballroom style ‘porro’.

Oscillating over the Nazca Lines or creeping through the Theremin quivering sorcery mists of Catemaco, every song has an exotic but kitsch like charm; no more so than with the world famous cover of the Mexican bandleader Pablo Beltrán Ruiz’s mambo turn crooner swaying Quién Será?, covered and transformed into an almost comic dash, with Farfisa organ prods and Dick Dale tremolo.

Encompassing Santo vs. the creatures from Mars b-movie cosmic effects (Mambo Cósmico, but also throughout), deity worshipping ritual frazzling (Cumbia Ishtar), bird-like trilled exhales from the cha cha hot-stepping carnival (La Foca Cha Cha Cha), sultry ballroom with Spanish flair (Danzún Fayuquero) and Surf twanged otherworldliness (Danza del Mar), Sonido Gallo Negro perform everything with a lively flair; both busy but controlled.

Like a Mexican Head Hunters celebrating the rich musical diversity and occultist symbolism – from the mysterious allure of Mesoamerican pyramid building societies to magic shamanism – of the Americas, Sonido Gallo Negro meld all their influences together in one big bubbling melting pot of fun.






The Turbans   ‘The Turbans’   Six Degrees Records,  6th April 2018

Collecting band members as they busked together in such exotic locations as Kathmandu, the two instigators, and fellow ‘half-Iranian/half-British nomads’, behind the international backpackers The Turbans, (the self-confessed ‘seventh best guitar player in the band’) Oshan Mahony and violinist Darius Luke Thompson, have amalgamated countless styles and cultures towards a largely upbeat celebration of borderless solidarity.

The term for this cross-pollination of the Levant, Balkans, India and Africa, coined by the group’s Kurdish percussionist Cabber Baba, is ‘music from manywheres’, though their base and center for at least half the time when not on tour is Hackney in London – the other half spent in Goa. They sing of this attachment to Hackney, celebrating its multicultural allure and spirit to a loose backing of electrified souk rock and jostled hand drums on the paean tribute song of the same name.

It would take an age to document each of this globe-stretching group’s credentials and heritage, let alone mention all the additional guests that make this, The Turbans, debut album so richly amorphous, traversing as it does so many cultural and national references. Songs such as the folkloric wandering Sinko Moy, written by the group’s former Bulgarian pop star and Django Ze front man, Miroslav Morski, for instance features the lulling atmospheric choral backing of The London Bulgarian Choir, who project us the diaspora and view from the Carpathians, but then other elements of musicality and tone hint at Cairo, Timbuktu and even Ireland. This shifting sense of location is The Turbans signature; one minute gazing from atop of a camel, searching over sand dune landscapes, the next, regaling a romantic atavistic paean to Flamenco accompaniment in Moorish Spain.

Featuring a rambunctious mix of characters, from Belarus oud player Maxim Shchedrovitzki to guembri maestro Simo Lagnawi, the group throw Tuareg blues, gypsy music, Moroccan pop covers, colonial Tunisian lounge music and Greek folk into one gumbo pot of both harried japes and more serene contemplation.

Political by being so diverse in a climate of hostile nationalism and closed borders, The Turbans don’t so much push an agenda as reference the various travails by which many of its members had to overcome to reach these shores. And so this album is more a celebration of universal collaboration.

Recorded, of all places, in a previously abandoned 500 year old property on the borders of Scotland and England, in the Northumberland farmhouse turned community arts centre where the group’s co-founder Mahony grew up, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more international sound right now.






Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita   ‘SOAR’   bendigedig,  27th April 2018

 

Only two releases in and the bendigedig label – an independent partnership between Theatr Mwldan in Cardigan, Wales and ARC Music – is already proving to have erudite tastes for the finer examples of beautifully-crafted folk and traditional music from the versants of Wales and beyond. Following on from the recent Gwyneth Glyn album Tro, the internationally renowned harpist Catrin Finch once more draws parallels musically and culturally between her native Wales and the West African homeland of musical partner Seckou Keita, on the working duo’s second album together, SOAR.

In a similar vein to her fellow compatriot, Glyn, who just as effortlessly blended her Welsh lilted tones with those of the Indian ghazal singer Tauseef Akhtar on the Ghazalaw LP collaboration and has also supported Keita on tour, Finch merges the angelic elegance of the harp with the equally elegant, spindly diaphanous sound of the harp-like Kora, as played by the maestro from Senegal,

Combining the two distinct, but as you’ll hear highly congruous, instruments together and bringing both experts extensive knowledge and talents to the fore (and the bios of these two practitioners is highly impressive and wide), the duo weave an intricate melodious album that celebrates both their diversity and shared goals.

Originally coming together for the award-winning Clychau Dibon LP in 2013, the harp partnership continue with that album’s avian theme, using it as a springboard for another articulated series of paeans and serious reflections. Though it might not be the most obvious of geographical connections, both artists seamlessly tie their respective backgrounds and heritage together, starting with the divine ‘soar’ and flutter of the Dyfi Osprey on the opening bird of prey homage, Clarach. Immortalizing the first Osprey in modern times to be born in Wales after an absence of 300 years (persecuted to extinction by the end of the 17th century), its survival and 3,000 mile migration to West Africa is celebrated by mirroring its travail between the two continents; this majestic creature’s freedom finds solace and respect through the duo’s charming melodies and interplay. It’s a forced migration, and the theme of colonization, that’s given a more jazzy-blues harp voice on the trembled-held poignant 1677. Tilted after the year that Vice-Admiral Jean Il d’Estrees stormed the Dutch fort on the island of Gorèe off the coast of Keita’s birthplace of Senegal, captured in the name of his master King Louis XIV, it marks the point in history where rule in the region passed to France. Gorèe would become a notorious slave trading port over the next century. Capturing the motion of rocking boats in the interaction between the two instruments, the duo mimic a murky back and forth pattern in plaintive remembrance to those who have left the West African coast behind for a better life, and for those who weren’t so lucky.

Staying close to Keita’s heart, they also perform a reinterpretation of the lovely tribute to Yama Ba; written by Keita’s uncle and fellow kora maestro Solo Cissokho as a paean to the woman who believed in him when times were tough, and was willing to invest in his future, buying him the equipment he needed to amplify his instrument. From the semi-nomadic Fulani people who live all over West Africa, Yama Ba is given a peaceable, softly accentuated homage, with Finch replacing and transforming the original melody played by Cissokho’s bassist Kevin Willoughby. There’s also an inviting gesture of effortless warmth on the Senegal split-language entitled Tèranga Bah: A nod to the country’s version of ‘great hospitality’, Tèranga translates as ‘hospitality’ in the Wolof dialect, Bah as ‘great’ in Senegal’s other most common tongue Mandinka. And one of the oldest tunes in the Senegambia kora repertoire, the difficult (only played we’re told by experienced practitioners) Baisso is twinned with an excerpt from Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the surprisingly seamless and classical reverent turn joyfully serene Bach To Baisso hybrid.

Back to the valleys of Wales, and one of the album’s most serious tunes, Finch commemorates an event, a catalyst for an insurgence in Welsh nationalism that led to a groundswell of protest and even sabotage. Cofiwch Dryweryn is a gorgeous lament to the flooding in 1965 of the Tryweryn valley in north Wales; flooded to create the Llyn Celyn reservoir that supplied water to the city of Liverpool. Those unfortunate enough to have lived or worked its land were forced to leave; an action that led to much resentment and went towards a revival in self-determination – though it would of course take a further forty years for Wales to get a devolved powers from Westminster. Here, lost almost in the flow of the watery gushes and drama, Finch’s whispery tones echo the feelings, “remember Tryweryn”, as Keita lends a yearning vocal and kora pinning accompaniment.

It’s often difficult to hear when one instrument begins and another ends, the kora and Welsh harp in such synchronicity. The earthy spindled kora and plucked ebb and flow of the serene harp both prove the most complimentary of companions. The two heritages and ancestral combine for a united front on the plight of not just a migratory bird but people and ideas too. The exchange articulated with beauty and élan.






Sebastian Reynolds  ‘Mahajanaka EP’  Nonostar, 20th April 2018

Finally releasing the soundtrack part of his beautifully transcendental Mahajanaka odyssey style dance and music collaboration, the Oxford musician/composer/promoter and member of the Flights Of Helios collective Sebastian Reynolds launches an EP’s worth of variations to promote the upcoming live performance of the Mahajanaka Dance Drama at the Wiltshire Music Centre 2nd April 2018. The beautifully softly malleted and chiming peregrination original is transformed subtly and serenely over the course of a live performance – performed with his Solo Collective triumvirate band mates Alex Stolze, Anne Müller and Mike Bannard – and two remixes.

A keen enthusiast of eastern and oriental cultures, especially Buddhism, Reynolds travelled to Thailand a while back as part of a British Council/Arts Council England funded trip. During that visit he laid down the groundwork for the Mahajanaka project, a collaboration fusion of both traditional Thai forms and Western contemporary dance and music, which reinterprets the ancient stories of Buddha on his multiple incarnations journey of perfection towards becoming fully enlightened.

Partners on this reimagining project include Neon Dance and the acclaimed dancer/choreographer Pichet Klunchun, and on the score itself, features both long-term collaborator Jody Prewett (keyboard) and the Thai pop group The Krajidrid Band under the direction of composer/producer Pradit Saengkrai. Recorded playing the classical Thai “piphat” ensemble music, The Krajidrid Band’s evocative sacred finger cymbal chimes and peaceable soft mallet accompaniment is sampled and looped by Reynolds to produce a gently overlapping and mysterious ambient flight of fantasy. It certainly creates the right mood, successfully merging the source material with the atavistic, transformed by Reynolds’ signature process of reinvention.

Featuring his chamber electronic partners from the already mentioned and most brilliant Solo Collective project, there is a trembled bow and gentle stirring strings version, included alongside the original. Performed at the Roter Salon, Berlin on the 6th February 2017, this live recording adds a gently lilting undulation of European cello and violin, courtesy of Müller and Stolze, to the ceremonial Thai drones and lush divine resonance. Taking it in another direction, albeit subtly, the Emseatee remix adds a ice-y vapour and tight enervated clattery beats, ala Bonobo, to the Southeast Asian suite, whilst the Atlasov remix subtly wafts this soundscape towards a gauze-y The Orb and Artificial Intelligence era Warp label direction. Though nothing quite matches the original Jon Hassell like venerable peregrination, a most beautiful evocation of the Buddha enlightenment transported to another realm.




Anton Barbeau   ‘Natural Causes’   Beehive/Gare du Nord,  13th April 2018

Ian Hunter via Robyn Hitchcock via Luke Haines, wrapped inside an enigma, the Sacramento born, Berlin-based, Anton Barbeau changes his style of delivery repeatedly yet always maintains an idiosyncratic ingenuity in whatever he does. Posing in a not too dissimilar fashion to Julian Cope on the cover of his latest (and 23rd) album Natural Causes, he looks to all intents and purposes, standing amongst the long stones, like nature’s son on a Ley Lines trip. You can hear a hint of the arch druid of heads own, more, digestible and melodious brand of psychedelic pop running through Natural Causes, but not exclusively, as he opens up to the 12-string élan of the decade he was born in to: the 60s.

Not so much softening up as choosing a more personal, peaceable approach to ‘glorious sounding’ maverick pop, Barbeau has produced something quite stunning and timely (Barbeau fast approaching his 50th birthday): a cerebral album both instantly memorable, melodic and yet adventurous and inventive.

The results of an aborted project under the Applewax banner, made in the run up to the 2016 US elections, Natural Causes is the reflective, more open antithesis to what would have been a far darker and mournful proposition. In part a request from Barbeau’s French label Beehive (released in conjunction with Monolith Cocktail favourites, Gare du Nord), the album that would eventually grow out of the abandoned Applewax would include remakes of past classics alongside new material.

Having another bite at old faithful, Magazine Street, he amps up the jangle factor and production on this country-rock Byrds meets Green Pajamas classic. There’s also reinforced crisp breezy versions of Creep Tray – this time featuring the lush undulated backing vocals of Karla Kane, who guests on a quintet of songs, adding everything from harmonies to “OMs” – and the fuzzed-out vortex, Just Passing By.

In between the all too fleeting to be effective as anything other than paused intermission style vignettes, Barbeau and a congruous cast of guests lend a touching caress to a songbook of contemporary surreal lyrical musings and love songs. Unrushed, even breezy in places but hardly lacking intensity, there’s an air of nostalgia in homages to the radio stations and DJs that sparked interest in the young Barbeau, on the Hunter fronts Tom Petty band finale Down Around The Radio. And with a nod to one of the music cannons greatest ever records, The Beatles Sgt. Pepper kaleidoscope, a stab at a popsike hit (a missing link from one of Strange Days magazines 80s halcyon compilations) is made with a song that was originally written to be recorded at the venerated Fab Fours’ inner sanctum of Abbey Road, with the quirky Disambiguation, which evidently does have a tenuous link to the Beatles, featuring as it does McCartney (and Pretenders) wingman Robbie McIntosh on 12-string guitar. Meanwhile, the discombobulating time-signature Coffee That Makes The Man Go Round is humbly declared to feature the “second greatest riff ever”, and is in part inspired by one of the 60s most underrated bands, Family.

Perhaps one of the most touching declarations and attempts at a lilting anthem, Summer Of Gold, which features Nick Saloman and Ade Shaw of Bevis Frond fame, and Michael Urbano who works with Neil Finn, sounds like Crowded House backed by a Mellotron accentuated rich Amon Duul II. Adopting an entirely different sound, Barbeau covers a strange space in which Sparks collaborated with Squeeze on Secretion Of The Wafer, and channels George Harrison (yes another Beatles link) on the Krishna referencing peaceful Mumble Something.

Fans of Barbeau will be once again charmed by his unique songwriting abilities, and those still unfamiliar with the inimitable generation X artist of renown will find much to love about his psychedelic pop genius.






Lost Colours   ‘A Different Life EP’   61seconds,  14th March 2018

Featured last month, Lost Colours’ life-affirming cosmos pop single One Space Left sits at the center of their new follow-up extended EP, A Different Life. That debut song, a visceral explosion of colour encapsulating the Leeds-based duo’s optimistic abandon in producing psychedelic pop, with a lilt of globe-travelling trance, to put a smile on your face.

Featured either side of it is a trio of similar universal voyages and a number of various remixes, starting with the slow boat to Goa via the South China Seas caressed and lingering Organic Adventures. Building a relaxed soundtrack into a stronger, more rallying trip-hop explosion, the scale of this adventure expands to include waves of indie rock guitar, strings and crashing drum breaks. On a more jazzy soul trip, part Chemical Brothers, part Acid-jazz, the title track and Technicolor High both feature the earthy indie soulful vocals of Sam Thornton. The first of these is a horns, flute accented cyclonic propelled thrust through “the cosmos”, the second, an indie-dance Coldplay traverse.

A Different Light receives two remix treatments, both of which stretch, chop up or strip the original; the Abstract Orchestra transformation slinky but sharp and optimizing the jazz elements; the Night Stories, amping up the swirls and adding velocity drum’n’bass to the mix. Technicolor High is given the LC Nightshades Euro club treatment, with bongos, vapour trails and ambient pauses.

The Lost Colours duo, already lively for the past few years on the remix scene themselves, have been biding their time, steadily building up material for their move over into producing their own original blossoming, Kaleidoscopic material. They sound to be on the right path, their debut and new EP an unashamed joyful and lifting experience of psychedelic and exotic trance dance music.




Waterman  Fragment   ‘Waterman  Fragment’   Available now on Bandcamp

Though something of an unknown entity, I do know for certain that the often brutal and discordant Waterman Fragment convincingly grind through the miasma, shock and stresses of our unstable, conflict-beckoning world on there recently released self-titled LP. Started by two self-confessed “music survivors” of the 90s New England noise/skronk scene, the Waterman Fragment duo have moved on to summon forth a caustic barrage of demons with this incarnation of metal pummeling, warped and tortuous flagellation.

Quite vivid and fired-up, when you can hear them, the mostly spoken (or barracked through a megaphone) lyrics have a real depth and poetic menace. Layers of meaning and references strike at the bowels of hell; the aftermath of an aerial bombing raid that hits a zoo becomes a quasi prose style menagerie version of Guernica, on the hypnotic quagmire dissection of death from above, A King And A Smak In A Calm. Warning it’s strong stuff, but here’s an example of that distressing vivid lyricism: “Beneath deep rubble reptiles squirm. The aquarium explodes. Monkeys and gorillas flee, hair singeing as they run. Shattered glass aviaries empty themselves. Trapped in their temple, elephants die. Rats work the huge rib cages and mounds of entrails to make a golem, filling its head with flies, as the city shines red through a gate knocked off its hinges in the background.”

The finale, which almost bounces and shimmer along by comparison to the rest of the album, moving along to a double-time mix of the Moon Duo, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Suicide and The Normal, is an elegiac unflinching discourse on the Crystal Meth epidemic sweeping America (but the rust belt in particular): “A lumber saw took his leg, lost all his teeth to crystal meth.”

Harrow be thy name and all that, there’s plenty of Biblical quotation or allusion to it anyway to be found; extracts of Psalm 51 can be found on the fork-tongued exorcism at the foot of the Babel Tower, The Hyssop – a reference to the brightly coloured shrub found in Southern Europe and The Middle East, mentioned in the bible, known for its medicinal properties as an antiseptic. The Swans argue with 4AD era Scott Walker soundtrack certainly sounds like a brooding combat between the esoteric bible and dark forces. There’s plenty of rage, a lot of the daemonic, and plenty of the Old Testament prophecy amongst the blood and guts and tearing flesh.

A theme of breaking free, shouted over the white noise, and the need to breathe; shedding the old skin, escaping the augurs of destruction; and escaping the Skynet possible future of automation and our robot overlords on the repeated steel ring fence kicking and foot pedal throbbing industrial Function: “Come meet the robot god, your soul’s entrusted to take off his metal mask. I’m staring back at you. I am the function of pure self destruction, anti-reproduction, and pro-automation.”

Sawed, drilled, stamped, teared, hammered and bashed, you really will feel like you’ve been savaged and beaten by the time you reach the end. A challenge certainly; the paranormal, biblical, esoteric no match for the realities of human nature and its darkest misdeeds, distilled through the harsh Gothic and industrial noise soundtrack of the uncompromising Waterman Fragment duo. For those who embrace the gloom and mire consider this a most heavy serious recommendation from me.




Words: Dominic Valvona






If the Glitterbeat Records label had a remit, ‘a raison d’etre’, it would be all about transcending borders, whether it’s the physical, geographical or subconscious kind, to bring the most ‘vibrant’ and ‘committed’ of artists to a global audience.  Finding existing and ‘possible musics’ (to borrow a term from the label’s own reissue of Jon Hassell and Brian Eno‘s iconic 1980 transformative soundscape experiment, Fourth World Volume One: Possible Musics) from across the world, the independent German-based sister label to Glitterhouse Records has in a short timeframe helped reshape and redefine what we know as ‘world music’ – a fatuous term in itself, still largely used to denote anything outside the comfort zone of Western commercial music.

Originally putting out a catalogue of sublime and obscure records from some of Malia’s most important, traversing desert blues and rock artists (from Ben Zabo to Tamikrest and the Songs For Desert Refugees compilation) on Glitterhouse, world traveler bluesman Chris Eckman of Dirtmusic fame (the labels unofficial in-house band) went on to co-found the Glitterbeat imprint with Peter Weber in 2013. The inaugural release on that label, now celebrating its fifth anniversary, was a 12″ remix of Ben Zabo’s Dana by Mark Ernestus (Rhythm & Sound, Basic Channel), released sometime around March 22nd, 2013.

From the already mentioned desert blues stars of Mali and ‘beyond’, Eckman’s ever growing roster of contemporary sonic adventurers hail from a number of other African countries, including Ghana, Mauritania and the Bargou Valley bordering Algeria. And has since gone on to expand its remit and reach out to include music from the Balkans, Southeast Asia, the Levant and South America.

As you can imagine, this global expansion encompasses a myriad of musical styles, many of which were in serious danger of disappearing into obscurity if not for the work of music ethnologists such as Paul Chandler and Grammy Award winning field-recordist/producer Ian Brennan (we were lucky enough to interview Ian a couple of years ago), who both recorded for posterity ‘lost voices’ and atavistic guardianship documented collections for the label under the Hidden Musics series.

So busy and bustling with potential releases, in the last couple of years they’ve set up a congruous imprint of their own, the tak:til scion: an extension and home for more transcendental, meditative and experimental material that doesn’t quite fit the main label. Featuring a mix of re-released and remastered iconic albums from the ambient, soundscape and devotional genres – including the already mentioned inaugural Jon Hassell and Brian Eno collaboration -, Tak:til has featured Širom‘s Slovenian odyssey I Can Be A Clay Snapper and 75 Dollar Bill‘s psychedelic desert rock and trance of the Maghreb, avant-garde, jazz and even swamp boogie delta blues transient W/M/P/P/R/R.

 

From handkerchief waving Albanian songs of sorrow to Istanbul dub; from hybrid collaborations such as Tony Allen‘s album with some of Haiti’s finest musicans, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra, to the electric griot psych of Noura Mint Seymali; from the Turkish pregriation and siren vocals of Gaye Su Akyol to the carnival funk of Bixiga 70; Glitterbeat Records has helped uncover a whole new musical world of discovery for people like me. It’s no surprise that they’ve won the WOMAX label of the year so many times, and attracted heaps of acclaim. I’ve more or less featured every single one of their forty plus releases, and seldom found a dud. And Glitterbeat Records have appeared more times than any other label in our end of year features.

To celebrate the label’s fifth anniversary, I’ve chosen both personal favourite releases and tracks from the back catalogue.


Lobi Traoré  ‘Bamako Nights: Live At Bar Bozo 1995’  2013

From the very beginning, one of Glitterbeat Records earliest releases, Bamako Nights captures the loose, almost extemporized sounding, drift of the late Malian legend Lobi Traoré (who died at the age of 49 in 2010); capturing one of his ‘packed-to-the-rafters’ live shows from the feted and iconic Bar Bozo.  The singer/songwriter takes the crowd with him as he meditatively affects an adroit passage through Mali’s social and political pains. Attenuate guitar lines bolstered by flanger; licks powered by enveloping sustain; and a band whose steady yet often expletory solo spotted, bubbling bass and rapid percussion bind the nuanced accents together, all prove rhythmically hypnotic.

To have been a-fly-on-the-wall at one of these intimate, intense, shows must have been a magical experience; especially as Traoré kept the anticipation building; the appreciative audience either enthralled by every descriptive note and earthy toiled vocal or adding their own backing chorus of spiritual hollering and hand clapping: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a greater live experience and encapsulation of the atavistic West African blues.



Samba Touré  ‘Albala’  2013

As Mali continues to exist in a fragile union after the recent Islamic hijacked insurgency (curtailed by former colonial masters France with additional support from the UK), a host of the country’s great and good (Bassekou KouyateFatoumata DiawaraBaba Salah, Tamikrest to name just a few), compelled to speak out, have added gravitas to their praised sweet tribal blues in defiance of the regimes that would have banned or at the very least censored their music. Known for his work with the late Malian legend, Ali Farka TouréSamba Touré is an amiable enough chap whose previous acclaimed albums, Songhaï Blues and Crocodile Blues, were more genial affairs, shows his disapproval with a grittier, riskier brand of protest on Albala.

Albala – translated from the Songhaï language as ‘danger’ or ‘risk’ – is a darker, albeit lamentably so, album. But so delicately melodious and nimble is the delivery that the cries of woe remain hymn-like and hypnotically diaphanous: the blues may have turned a deeper shade of forlorn yet still sways with meandrous buoyancy and restrained elegance.

A traditional accompaniment from Touré’s regular band mates Djimé Sissoko (on ngoni) and Madou Sanogo (tapping out a suitable candour on congas and djembe), with guest performances from celebrated ‘master’ of the one-stringed violin, the souk, Zoumana Tereta, and fellow Malian ‘neo-traditional’ singer Aminata Wassidje Touré is bolstered by effective guitar and keyboard layers from Hugo Race (The Bad SeedsDirtmusicFatalists). This subtle mix works wonders, giving the overall sound a mystical delta blues feel, resplendent with fuzz, wah-wah and wailing soul.



Aziza Brahim  ‘Soutak’   2014

Born in the hardened landscape of a Saharawi refugee camp on the border of Algeria and the Western Sahara, beguiled vocalist Aziza Brahim embodies the wandering spirit of her people; their settled, though often borderless and disputed lands, previously claimed by Spain, were invaded in 1975 by Morocco. Though made up of many tribes with many different goals the Saharawi people did mount a fight back. It was in this climate that Brahim was hewed.

Soutak, or ‘your voice’, is centered on just that. The backing is striped to a degree, so the poetic reverberated vocals can echo and warble soulfully without interruption. Though there is no mistaking that strong, robust and primal Saharan spirit, the congruous accompaniment is a mix of both Balearic and folk rock styles – especially the deep sleek bass guitar notes that slide and weave under Brahim’s distinctive voice.

Produced by Chris Eckman (of Dirtmusic fame), whose assiduous talents have done wonders with Malian blues rockers Tamikrest and Bamako Afrobeat artist Ben Zabo, Soutak was recorded live in Barcelona: the fluid lilting cosmopolitan sound of that city is unmistakable.

Serene and subtly sung, the choral, almost desert gospel hymns take time to unfurl their charms, so be patient. Once again Glitterbeat and Eckman have a classic world music crossover on their hands.



Dirtmusic  ‘Lion City’  2014

Connecting the ‘dirt music’ environment of an unforgiving Australian outback with the Cajun swamplands, desert and bustling African townships, Glitterbeat Records co-founder and producer of their awe-inspiring roster of world music greats, Chris Eckman, leads his nomad troupe across esoteric and meditative terrain soundscapes.

At times almost alien, their borderless approach to mixing rock, blues and (mostly) West African music in a seamless wash, creates something both mysterious and original. Recorded at the same time as their last album Troubles, in Bamako, Lion City couldn’t help but be guided politically and socially by the upheaval in Mali. A testament to the eerie developments and a lament that also offers hope, Dirtmusic and their guests (which include such luminaries as the Ben Zabo Band and Samba Touré) prove that you can work alongside African artists without succumbing to condensation.

Far more successful if not authentic than anything Albarn or indeed the ‘Radio’ polygenesis collectors The Clash could ever produce, these Westerners move serenely, blurring the cultural boundaries as they circumnavigate the psychogeography of the chaotic city and romanticized but often harsh sand dune landscapes of both West and North Africa. You could say it was a culmination of the entire Glitterbeat labels stock, condescend into one challenging soundtrack.



Noura Mint Seymali  ‘Tzenni’  2014

The technicalities, pentatonic melodies and the fundamental mechanics aside, nothing can quite prepare you for that opening atavistic, panoramic vocal and off-kilter kick-drum and snare; an ancestral lineage that reaches back a thousand odd years, given the most electric crisp production, magically restores your faith in finding new music that can resonate and move you in equal measure.

Hailing from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, nestled in between Algeria, Senegal, Mali and the Western Sahara, with the Atlantic lapping its shoreline, Noura Mint Seymali keeps tradition alive in a modern, tumultuous, climate. Her homeland – run ever since a coup in 2008, by the former general Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, duly elected president in 2009 – was rocked by the immolation sparked Arab Spring and subsequent youth movement protests, all of which were violently suppressed by the authorities. Add the omnipresent problems of FGM, child labour and human trafficking to the equation and you have enough catalysts to last a lifetime. However, Noura’s veracious commanding voice responds with a dualistic spirit, the balance of light and shade putting a mostly positive, if not thumping backbeat, to forlorn and mourning.

Recorded in New York, Dakar and in the Mauritania capital of Nouakchott, Tzenni transverses a cosmopolitan map of influences and musical escapism. The original heritage still remains strong, yet the ancient order of griot finds solace with the psychedelic and beyond.



Jon Hassell/Brian Eno  ‘Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics’  2014

Already riding high on a crust of acclaimed production projects and numerous semi-successful collaborations and solo albums, when Brian Eno touched down in New York City in 1978 he would unintentionally help direct another important development in ambient and world music (and also end up staying for five-years). Absorbed in what the city had to offer him musically, Eno came across the stripped and atmospherically rich experiments of trumpeter/composer Jon Hassell, who’s own pathway from adroit pupil of Stockhausen to seminal work on Terry Riley’s harangued piano guided In C, encompassed an polygenesis of influences: a lineage that draws inspiration from avant-garde progenitors like La Monte Young, and travels far and wide, absorbing sounds from Java to Burundi.

Though a minor figure in the sense of worldwide recognition, and never one to brush with any sort of commercial popular appeal, Hassell irked out his own personal philosophy. With a handy masters degree in composition, he attempted a reification of what he would term the “fourth world”; a style that reimagined an amorphous hybrid of cultures; a merger between the traditions and spiritualism of the third world (conceived during the “cold war” to denote any country that fell outside the industrious wealthier west, and not under the control of the Soviet Empire) and the technology of the first.

Untethered to any particular landscape and age (though traversing for the most part the mysterious, veiled continent of a inter-dimensional Africa), geographical and environmental alluded titles act as points of reference; alluding both to such diverse subject matter as the traditional songs of the Central African pygmy tribes (Ba-Benzéle) and the latitudes and weather phenomenon of an undisclosed landscape or city (Rising Thermal 14° 16’ N; 32° 28’ E).

Moving at a similar pace throughout, the lingering vapours drift over and enclose the listener; hinting always at some mystical or miasma presence; steeping each composition in a sepia of low emitting foggy harbour like droning horns, plastic pipe sounding percussion, tape echo experimentation, panoramic glides over the savannahs and of course Hassell’s stripped bare, reedy and masked stirring trumpet.

An almost continuous set of transient movements, the mood varied from lightly administered rhythmically slow paced pieces to cerebral blankets of panoptic memory; a style coined as “future primitive”. Reissued by Glitterbeat Records under their visionary imprint Tak:til, this album can be read as a principle guiding light and inspiration for their roster and ambitions.



Various ‘Hanoi Masters: War Is A wound, Peace Is A Scar’ 2015

A side excursion, travelling due east to Asia and breathing in the evocative songs of Vietnam, Glitterbeat Records launched their new series of field recordings entitled Hidden Musics with the Hanoi Masters compilation. Finding a congruous musical link with their usual fare of West African releases, the label sent Grammy-award winning producer Ian Brennan (credits include, Tinariwen, Malawi Mouse Boys, The Good Ones) to Vietnam in the summer of 2014 to record some of the most lamentable and haunting resonating war-scarred music. Indelibly linked to what the indigenous population call ‘the American war’, the examples of both yearning and praise pay tribute to the fallen: delivered not in triumphant or propagandist bombast but in a gentle meditative manner, these survivors, forty years on from the end of the harrowing and catastrophic (the repercussion still reverberating in the psyche of the burned America and its allies) war, were still undergoing the healing process.

Tinged with an omnipresent lilting sadness these songs are imbued with battle scars (hence the albums subtitle War Is A wound, Peace Is A Scar), featured artisans and traditional music masters who had joined the cause, sometimes for the first time in years, allow their voices to be heard once again and recorded for posterity.

Considering the history and ill blood between cultures – though this has eroded as capitalism takes hold and the country opens up – it has in the past been difficult to investigate the serene and attentive beauty of the Vietnam music scene, but this earnest and adroit study into a world seldom covered proves enlightening and humbling.



Bixiga 70  ‘III’  2015

Speaking Fela fluently with marked respect and reverence, going as far as to borrow part of the late Nigerian bandleader and doyen of Afrobeat’s backing group moniker, Bixiga 70 may be inspired and informed by Kuti but they do so much more with his high energy polyrhythms and feverish hot-footed anthems. The eclectic Sao Paulo band, who joined the Glitterbeat family in 2015, add even more flavour to the Afrobeat template on this their third album. Energised by their performances in the hotbeds of fusion, from North Africa to Europe, and working with a decentralised method of producing new material, the III album reaches out and embraces an even richer array of world sounds.

Incorporating the rhythms and dances of their own continental home, Bixiga shake and shimmy to the local customs of cumbia and the sensual hip movements of the carimbo on a trio of slinky paeans to the indomitable spirit of joyous release. Congruously they go, flowing from one source to the next deftly, passionately and with a raw powered energy, our Brazilian friends relationship with Glitterbeat has proved to be a sound move; an ideal home for the group’s ever expanding fields of sound and exploration.



Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra  ‘A.H.E.O’  2016

Progenitor and embodiment of the Afrobeat drum sound, still in high demand four decades after his explosive partnership with Fela Kuti, the much-venerated Tony Allen extends his infectious percussion style beyond the African homeland. Sharing an obvious entwined history with Africa, the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti proves both an esoterically mysterious and congruous collaborative foil to Allen’s distinct drumming patois.

Invited to perform in 2014 by the French Institute Of Haiti’s director Corinne Micaelli, Allen’s visit would end with a public broadcasted concert in the main square of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Collaborating with Allen would be a cross-section of local percussionists and singers recruited by vocalist, dancer, ‘voodoo priest’ and director of the Haitian National Bureau Of Ethnology, Erol Josué; Josué would himself lend his sweet yearning and reflective tones to two of the tracks on this album.

The call went out and the great and good of the Haitian music scene came. Racine Mapou de Azor, the Yisra’El Band, Lakou Mizik and RAM. Another Monolith regular and one-time Port-au-Prince resident, Mark Mulholland was drafted in as the experimental orchestra’s guitarist, and as it would turn out, eventual legacy overseer. With only five days of studio rehearsal time to gel and work out their performance, the sessions proved both, as Mulholland observed, ‘chaotic’ and overwhelming’.

Elevating beyond the borders it was created behind, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra root foundations shuffle and shake free of their stereotypes to move freely in an increasingly amorphous musical landscape. You’re just as likely to hear vibrations and traces of Dub, native Indian plaintive ghostly echoes, Sun Ra’s otherworldly jazz and funk as to hear the indigenous Haiti sounds and Afrobeat pulse. Tony Allen is once more at the heart of another bustling, dynamic explosion in rhythm.

Various Artists  ‘Hidden Musics Vol 2.  Every Song Has Its End: Sonic Dispatches From Traditional Mali’  2016



Though no less an achievement, the second volume in Glitterbeat Records “Hidden Musics” series offers the full gamut not just musically but visually too, and is a far more ambitious documentation of a troubled country’s lost tradition than the 2015 Hanoi Masters survey. Expanding to include 11 concatenate videos, Every Song Has Its End is the most complete purview of Mali’s musical roots yet. This is due to the project’s mastermind and architect Paul Chandler, who has documented Mali’s music scene for more than a decade.

Forgotten in some extreme cases, ignored or considered as Mali’s past by new generations, maestros of the 6-string Danh, such as Boukader Coulibaly, and the Balafon, Kassoun Bagayoko, are celebrated and interviewed for this collection. Whether it’s traversing the Gao region in the northwest to record the earthy desert pants of the female vocal ensemble, Group Ekanzam, or capturing a Sokou and N’goni love paean performance by Bina Koumaré & Madou Diabate in the heart of the country, this chronicle of the pains, virtues, trauma and spirit of the country’s musical heritage is an extraordinary love letter and testament to the country.


Bargou 08  ‘Targ’  2017

Ahh…the sounds of a dusky reedy gasba flute; the tactile patted and burnished bendir drum; the rustic, earthy strung loutar, and the flowing, soaring scale vocals of the Bargou 08 project’s chief instigator Nidhal Yahyaoui, set an impressive atmosphere in the first couple of minutes of the album’s opening track, Chechel Khater. And that’s all you’d need, except there’s another eight equally evocative and thrilling tracks to hear.

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

Filled with a legacy of turmoil and tension that goes back an aeon the album’s many themes, from describing a lover’s vital attributes on Mamchout to laments of alienation, resonate strongly with the growing unease of events, initiated six years ago by the Arab Spring. Tunisia itself is facing a struggle and teetering on the edge, with no guarantee that certain cultures won’t just disappear or be fragmented in the ensuing melee. Originally setting out to document his Bargou Valley home’s musical heritage before it disappeared, Yahyaoui has successfully and thankfully, with his musical partner, producer and the album’s keyboard player Sofyann Ben Youssef captured this rich mesmeric culture for posterity. And in doing so, produced a masterpiece that will endure.



Širom  ‘I Can Be A Clay Snapper’  2017

With an unspecified, but as the name suggests, emphasis on the “tactile”, Glitterbeat Records new imprint label gives a welcome platform to entrancing experimental tonal performances and sonic polygenesis traverses alike. In the latter camp is this Slovenian peregrination suite from the landlocked, Alps nestling country’s visceral sonic conjurors, Širom.

Evoking memories and feelings, both real and imagined, with a soundtrack thick with atavistic connections, the trio of punk and post-rockers turn experimental folk and acoustic instrumental cartographers convey a personal relationship to their homeland, on their second album together under the Širom banner.

Yet whatever the backgrounds, traces of North Africa, the Adriatic and the Middle East, the performances sail scenically through a dreamy otherworldly representation of Slovenia: Oriental, alien and Balkan visions permeate the plucked, malleted, chimed and purposefully played compositions, which subtly and rather cleverly build up complicated layers and various overlapping time signatures during the course of their journey.

Theremin like siren voices drift in and out, enacting the myth and seraph, whilst on the watermill turning Everything I Sow Is Fatal Sun Ra travels with John Cale and Pharaoh Sanders on a pilgrimage to Samarkand. The most recurring sounds however pay testament to the Balkans ghosts. The folkloric stirrings, lulls and yearning of Slovenia’s past bordering both a pan-Europa of migration and grief – stretching back a millennia – are transduced into often haunted vistas and metaphysical passages.

A most impressive and expansive inaugural Balkans travail; different from the previous two releases on this burgeoning new imprint, yet keeping to the tactile, accentuate and imaginative remit, whilst conjuring up mystical new soundscapes.



Tamikrest  ‘Kidal’  2017

Still availed of a homeland, though now liberated from their draconian Islamist partners, the Tuareg are once again left as wanderers in their own land, the unofficial guardians and custodians of the Saharan wilderness. For now only a dream, best realized and protested through music, the rock’n’roll Bedouins Tamikrest emerge once more from the barren landscape with a message of “power and resistance” on their fourth, equally entrancing, album Kidal. Paying homage to the strategically and spiritually important cultural trading town of the title, the highly-acclaimed (and rightly so) Tamikrest exude both the sadness and suffering of the dispossessed people who cling to the southwestern Saharan hub that is Kidal: a town which has seen its fair share of fighting, fought over, conquered and reconquered over time, it remains a symbolic home to the Tuareg. This is after all the town that nurtured them and where it all began.

Assiduous, confident and articulate, the musicianship shows not so much a progression as a balance between the meditative and rock’n’roll spirit of the Tuareg musical resistance. Tamikrest are as brilliant as ever musically, and Kidal is, despite its plaintive and lamentable subject woes, a beacon of hope in an ever-darkening world of uncertainty.



Ifriqiyya Électrique  ‘Rûwâhîne’  2017

Capturing something quite unique, the collaborative industrial post-punk and avant-garde rock scenes of Europe clash head-on with the descendants of the Hausa slaves atavistic rituals styled group, Ifriqiyya Electrique, create an often unworldly chthonian conjuncture of Sufi trance, spirit possession performance and technology.

A film project and now immersive sonic experience, inspired by the important Banga music traditions and the accommodating, rather than exorcising, of spirits ceremonial wild dances and call and response chanted exaltations of the black communities – originally transported to the region from sub-Saharan Africa – in the oasis towns of southern Tunisia, this astounding meeting of cultures and history is anything but scenic.

Formed in the Djerid Desert, the idea forged by field-recordist and veteran guitarist of the politically-charged Mediterranean punk and “avant-rock” scenes, François Cambuzat, and bassist Gianna Greco – both of which occasionally join forces with that livewire icon of the N.Y. underground, Lydia Lunch, to form the Putan Club -, the Ifriqiyya Electrique spans both continents and time. For their part, Cambuzat and Greco provide the grind, industrial soundscape texturing, sonorous drones and flayed guitars, but mostly, the “electrique”, whilst, offering a dialogue with the spirits and the tradition, Banga musician Ali Chouchen – joined in the live theatre by an expanded cast of fellow voices, krabebs and Tunisian tabla players from the community, which includes Tarek Sultan, Yahia Chouchen and Youssef Ghazala – provides peripheral sounding evocative echoed and esoteric vocals and equally haunting nagharat.

Spiritual conversations transformed and realigned with the machine age turmoil of industrial noise, Arthur Baker style rock and hip-hop production, post-punk and even Teutonic techno, Rûwâhîne is a rambunctious unique force.



Park Jiha  ‘Communion’  2018

Circumnavigating the globe to bring much-needed exposure to new sounds, Glitterbeat Records imprint tak:til gives a second wind to a suite of acuity serialism from Southeast Asia. Released originally in South Korea in 2016, the neo-classical musician/composer Park Jiha’s debut solo album Communion is given an international release by the label of repute.

Inspiring what we’re told is a burgeoning Korean music scene (well, an alternative to the K-Pop craze), a chief progenitor of the movement Jiha alongside collaborative partner Jungmin Seo originally melded the country’s musical heritage with an eclectic range of contemporary sounds as the 숨[suːm] duo in 2007. Releasing the highly influential regional albums Rhythmic Space: A Pause For Breath (2010) and 2nd (2014), Park and Seo crossed the time zones to perform at both WOMAD and SXSW. Congruously putting the duo on hold to explore a more ‘personal’ and minimalistic ‘musical vocabulary’ as a solo artist, Jiha dexterously balances the air-y abstract breathes of the ‘piri’ double reed bamboo flute, the searing twang of the ‘saenghwang’ mouth organ and the softly paddled patter of the ‘yanggeum’ hammered dulcimer in what is a dialogue between a dulcet calm, the meditative and an entangled dissonance.

Transforming Korean traditions into a more experimental language that evokes the avant-garde, neo-classical and jazz yet something quite different, Park Jiha’s tranquil to entangled discourse evocations reach beyond their Southeast Asian borders both musically and metaphysically into something approaching the unique.


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