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.




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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.


Playlist


DOMINIC VALVONA’S ESSENTIAL REVIEWS ROUNDUP 





Reaching the sixtieth edition of my eclectic music revue – that’s roughly 500 albums over the last four years – I find an as ever eclectic mix of albums from around the globe; from South Africa to South Korea; from Brazil to Sweden and France.

Searching out the best or at least notable and interesting releases from the last month or so then, my latest circumnavigation includes the Brazilian composer/guitarist Rodrigo Tavares first album on the new Hive Mind Records label, the traversing amorphous road trip Congo, and the second soundtrack-like collaboration between Hampshire & Foat, the yearningly beautiful fairytale suite The Honey Bear. I also take a look at the ambitious debut album from the Oxford-based expansive indie pop and celestial electronic collective Flights Of Helios (Endings); the international debut release of Korean avant-garde, soundscape and minimalism rising star Park Jiha’s Communion; another numeral entitled free-jazz and Kosmische blowout from the USA trio Perhaps; the fourth album of matriarchal harmonious a cappella from the South African vocal group, the Afrika Mamas; a reissue of the obscure Swedish prog and heavy rockers Bättre Lyss’ 1975 private pressing Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge; and the impressive ‘deluxe’ edition of the pop-revisionist chanson album À Ta Merci by French sensation Flora Fishbach.

Hampshire & Foat  ‘The Honey Bear’   Athens Of The North, 28th February 2018

 

As with all fairy tales, the roots of these often enchanting stories lie in real psychological trauma and truths – forewarning metaphors aimed at finding happy endings, yet alerting to the dangers of a myriad of human failings: ones we all share by the way. The congruous partnership of jazz pianist/composer Greg Foat and ex-Bees multi-instrumentalist Warren Hampshire – both natives of the Isle Of Wight, which they use as a base, retreat and inspiration for much of the music on this their second album, as a collaborative duo, together – are ambiguous about the narrative that underpins the charmingly weaved The Honey Bear album, but the references and themes are all signposted well enough to be deciphered.

Based on an imaginative fictional children’s book, each instrumental track attributed to one of its chapters, The Honey Bear could be read in a number of ways; alluding as it does to sagacious rumination, the passing of time and seasons, innocence and of course the travails of addiction, the search for the magic elixir of life. You can substitute ‘honey’ for as many different substances and desires as you want; the kooky candy stitched honey bear that merrily jaunts into a magical if ominous woods on the cover may be all sweet and light, but that innocence is tested in the beautifully yearning bucolic soundtrack.

Foat – riding high creatively off the back of a stunning run of well-thumbed sci-fi novel and library music imbued jazz albums with the Jazzman label – and his Island compatriot Hampshire – no less accomplished, the former Bees band member turned in an equally adroit, articulate performance on the duos last highly praised collaboration, Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand – in what seems like no time at all, embark on their second peaceable relenting journey for the Edinburgh label, Athens Of The North. Always developing and exploring with each release, the duo take a romantic diaphanous traverse through the pastoral; a fantastical world of Ralph McTell folksy storytelling, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (Peter And The Wolf especially), both cult Eastern European dreamscape and Wiccan fable inspired English cinema of the 70s, the Jewish traditional music of Central Europe, and Kosmische (the fluctuating analogue synth whirling that undulates beneath the field recorded buzz of The Hive). An interplay that works well, featuring the string composed arrangements of Foat and Hampshire’s borderless guitar narratives, an album that was envisioned on the Jurassic coastline of Ventnor – about as far east as you can go in the UK – and added to in Edinburgh, travels well across national demarcations, picking up a myriad of inspirations on its 500 mile journey.

 

Following, what might be either a solace or (honey) trap, our lolloping protagonist starts this wandering album with a comforting patchwork accompaniment of gentle plush strings and the fluttery charming song of the flute; meandering towards the warbled and trilling bird call of a Brothers Grimm forest diorama – a certain ache and sadness subtly coming through a beautifully played suite. During an expedition to locate the honeyed prize, the listener is dreamily introduced to characters, the weather and metaphorical objects of desire and reflection.

Expressionistic pucks articulate the clawing scratch of Crow’s Feet – perhaps another analogy to ageing, for obvious reasons -, whilst the cliff or beach head environment – featuring real field recording sounds of seagulls, surf and of course a fly – of the wandering meditative beachcomber and his only companion in this isolated paradise, The Fly And I, feature the most subtle, minimal of acoustic guitar. Almost melancholic and heartbreaking in comparison, the stirring Winter Bound majestically sweeps in storm clouds, as the mood turns sentimentally mournful. Yet without doubt it is the album’s most painfully beautiful track. It doesn’t last long, this sadness, as the mood is lightened with the folksy down-the-rabbit-hole enchantment of Honey Dreams, and the entrancing evergreen Polynesian/South Seas floating The Elderflower. By the time we reach the closing Honey For A Penny, it feels like the clouds and sorrow have dissipated; the burden lifted, as we reach a sort of slow joyful release; played out to a fluttering ascendant flute and tranquil troubadour rhythm guitar.

Plush, often sumptuous, Hampshire & Foat continue to create beautifully articulated narratives and imaginary soundtracks for as yet unmade films. This children’s fairytale is certainly sweet and lilting, yet wise: analogy laden, waiting to be unpicked and interpreted. For Foat it proves a welcome escape from the jazz scene; a showcase for his arrangement skills – with the piano lid firmly shut on this project. For Hampshire, it is another gentle encapsulation of his wandering guitar compositions; unbridled free to roam where the mind takes him across cultures and time.

And to think, without the generosity of others via a crowd funder initiative this album might have never seen the light of day. Those who pledged have been well rewarded with a most gorgeous, yearning and evocative soundtrack.






Rodrigo Tavares ‘Congo’   Hive Mind Records, Available now digital release/Vinyl version 15th March 2018

Far too early of course to define a burgeoning label with only two releases on its roster, but the new amorphous traversing post-rock and jazz travelogue from Brazilian guitarist/composer Rodrigo Tavares shares a similar meditative and spiritual yearn with Hive Mind Records inaugural Maalem Mahmoud Gania communion Colours Of Night.

The spiritual here is represented in Congo’s genesis; the catalyst for Tavares soundtrack inspired by, in part, 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.

Tavares is joined on this ambiguous journey by a host of complementary musicians on accentuate sliding double-bass, brushed and sauntering drums, splashing, softly trickled percussion, octave ascending light Fender Rhodes, the subtlest of Ayers vibraphone notes, pining saxophone and a harmonic twanging, jazzy dreamy guitar.

Suffused throughout are lingering traces of ACT label jazz, 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.

Amorphous as I said before, though there’s no mistaking that South American influence, you could just as easily be anywhere along the Atlantic coastline splashing in the surf on the opening dreamy Rosa Rio, and be transported to Moorish Spain on the romantically mysterious sketch, Cidade Sol II. Still, there’s plenty of that Latin American vibe to be heard on these waterfall and mountain peregrinations; especially on the progressive movement A Raposa E O Corvo and the sauntering De Roda.

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.






Park Jiha  ‘Communion’   tak:til/Glitterbeat Records, 2nd March 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 German-based label or 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.

Each of these instruments represents a different voice: each one expressing certain sensitivity or a sharpened pique. Along with the equally expressive accompaniment of Kim Oki’s trilling, wildly intense tenor saxophone and yearned bass clarinet, John Bell’s gentle resonating vibraphone, and Kang Tekhyun’s tubular trickling and rattling atmospheric percussion, Jiha’s untethered compositions also articulate the solemn of a holy retreat – the monastery in Leuven, Belgium to be exact; a space used by Jiha’s band to rehearse -, the flow and cascading beauty of water, reverberations from the moon, and the passing of time itself – measured out on the fluctuating rapid movement of a seconds hand and the slower candor tick of an hour hand on the springs, cogs and coil microseism, Accumulation Of Time.

 

Quite tender in the beginning, each track builds a poetic minimalistic and avant-garde jazz interplay between all the numerous traditional instrumentation. It must be said that the tenor sax takes a leading role in piercing the serene and often majestically plucked performances of Jiha, pleading and occasionally pained, even squealing as it does in aching ‘communion’. Sometimes hypnotic, sometimes at a fever pitch of discordant beauty, a balance is cleverly struck between intensity and the attentive. At its most quiet and abstract, you can hear the most delicate of controlled breathing, blowing across the reed. At its most liberated, set free, those same breathes become harsh and attacking.

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.






Afrika Mamas  ‘Iphupho’   ARC Music, 23rd February 2018

 

Released in the year of what appears to be pique matriarchal fight back in the West, the gorgeous sounding 6-piece a cappella group Afrika Mamas remind us of the travails and hard won freedoms of women from outside the European and North American bubbles. In a year in which we rightly celebrate the achievements of the Women’s suffrage movement in attaining the ‘vote’, the indigenous women of South Africa would have to wait an age longer to not only get that same vote but to also overthrow the entire Apartheid system that had, until the 1990s, kept them segregated by race. Though Nelson Mandela rightly stands as the bastion of reconciliation and unity, the right leader at the right time as history would have it, it is the strong prevailing character and struggles of the country’s matriarch that deserves recognition now; celebrated and cherished on the Mamas’ fourth album together, Iphupho.

Mandela’s legacy can’t help but cast an omnipresent shadow over everything in South Africa; especially as his party have failed in many ways to build on his foundations, with talk of high-level corruption and a ruling government that over the past year has fought to remove the controversial President, Jacob Zuma – who as this goes live has since resigned and stepped down, replaced by the ANC candidate and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, in the face of mounting opposition and an untenable position caused in part by his connections to the wealthy, Indian-born Gupta family. From the most beautiful soprano to the contralto bass, the all-female close-harmony group pays an almost effortlessly soulful paean to ‘Madiba’; Sister Zungu’s penned tribute, which borders on the gospel, touchingly thanks the late leader for bringing, amongst other things, free education to children in primary schools and for getting free school uniforms and food for those children from the most deprived families.

 

Iphupho meaning ‘the dream song’ is itself a reference to the Mamas’ own struggles and ambitions in bringing the Zulu heritage to a wider audience. Made-up of single mothers from Durban striving to make their way in a male-dominated industry, the ladies hope to emulate the success and reach of the four times Grammy award winners, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Vocal wise they are sensational; perfectly pitched, pure and soothing.

The stories, anecdotes and themes of their songs highlight the daily lives and practicalities of survival in a climate of injustice and poverty; exasperated by the hindrance of the menfolk. Despite being tired in some cases of men – Ulwabishi (which means ‘rubbish’), penned by the group’s Sindisiwe Khumalo, makes a languidly cutting disapproval of those men who don’t support their families; instead hanging around, causing a nuisance and not looking for work, yet demanding their food on the table when they dictate – the group recorded this latest album at the famous Sibongiseni Shabalala co-founded United Rhythm Studio with top world music producer and maskandi tradition guitarist Maghinga Radebe. The lyrically named Shabalala is of course the son of Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder and former musical director Joseph – a group he himself joined. That influence can be felt suffused throughout Iphupho with the ‘a cappella’ style they’ve adopted, the ‘isicathamiya,’ a predominantly male vocal Zulu tradition. Those traditions, rolling back and forth from the lead call and backing chorus response are evoked on the lush veld-rolling lament to the plight of the KwaZulu dwellers of Natal on Lapha KwaZulu, and soothing lullaby heartache of ‘my mum is ill’, uMama Uyagula.

Enjoying a real momentum musically and culturally over the last decade, with South African artists as diverse as Die Antwoord, Dope Saint Jude, Spoek Mathambo, and scenes like the Shangaan Electro craze, a small but interesting touch of the contemporary makes its way into the Mamas more traditional rootsy vocal music with the guest appearance of leading South African beatboxer Siyanda Pasgenik Makhathini. He adds a down tempo sort of trip-hop meets R&B percussive rhythm to the Mamas’ graceful if ominously low harmony Ispoki – a song penned by group member Sibongile Nkosi about her father’s belief in the ‘bad spirits’ that make a nuisance of themselves outside his home at night. The only other accompaniment (the only actual instrumentation) is the jangle of percussion and a smattering of hand drums on Ulwabishi from Ayernder Ngcobo. Other than that it’s all down the clear lush, tongue-clicking and strong bass vocals of the ladies.

Highly impressive, articulated beautifully and at times spiritually soaring, the Afrika Mamas thoroughly deserve a place on the global stage. They bring a much-needed perspective, strong and defiant yet achingly blissful and majestic.






Flora Fishbach   ‘À Ta Merci’   Blue Wrasse, Available Now

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 bas 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.

À Ta Merci is a warm album despite the clandestine thriller backing of songs such as the haunted, bell tolled theatre Feu; the soundtrack skipping and modulating through Clavinet boogie, Madonna (the earlier queen of MTV era), Chateau opulent disco, Air and even the fathers of French synth pop, Space.

The bonus material is by contrast, and for obvious reasons stripped of its cleaner production, more intimate with a harder edge. The title-track, recorded at the famous and fateful Bataclan in 2017, maintains a full backing but sounds purposeful; Fishbach sounding emotionally raspy and poised on a version of the original that features an almost venerable pause. Live Le Meilleur de la fête becomes a post-punk Bowie tangoing with Talking Heads. The venerability on these live performances is at the forefront, emotionally starker and raw.

In an industry burdened by a zillion synth-pap artists it will really take some effort from an individual voice to break through. 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. She’s 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 2018.






Flights Of Helios  ‘Endings’  Available now

 

Full on expansive; up amongst the mythological heavens that have inspired the Oxford collectives Titan harbinger of the sun band name and lyricism, Flights Of Helios go deep and spatial on their debut album, Endings.

A credible Everything Everything. A space pop indie band with metaphysical intentions dreaming big, Flights Of Helios bring together a quintet of musicians, producers and composers with backgrounds in a wealth of genres: Seb Reynolds (no stranger to this site) on sonic layering and production duties, Phil Hanaway-Oakley on bass and vocals, Chris Beard on lead vocals, James Maund on guitar texturing and James Currie on drums.

Featuring both previous singles and new material, Endings flights of panoramic fantasy are certainly ambitious; an epic undertaking from a collective who’ve previously honed their balance of space rock, drones, indie and post-rock on a number of celestial transcendental remixes and projects. Far more interesting when touching on the venerable, alluding to spiritual, heavenly or otherworldly elements than when more grounded, the Helios sun worshippers sound like Kasabian on the motorik shuffled cyclonic Factory – a lyrical response we’re told to the Spanish auteur Alejandro Iñãrritu’s convoluted film Biutiful – and an esoteric Klaxons on the haunted, brooding implosion to the enchantress folkloric demons Succubus – who take, so the legend dictates, on the form of an alluring seductress to reel in their male prey. Both of these tracks, previous singles, have more of an urgency and thump about them, whereas the rest of the album’s quartet of, often vulnerable, opuses are allowed the time and subtlety to expand.

The opening twelve-minute Donalogue, a transmogrified version of the traditional a cappella Irish folk ballad, builds and builds. This oscillating cosmological hymn to spurned love introduces us not only to each of the collective’s individual components and the building blocks of the Helios sound, but also the angelic choral quality of Beard’s lofty vocals. Swooning, often fragile, and at times not even decipherable – uttering vowels and mouthed shapes instead of words – Beard stretches his range, helped by Hanaway-Oakley who also provides support.

Remodeling another key influence, alongside atavistic Celtic inspirations, they turn the Bleeding Heat Narrative’s Cartographer track into a hallowed ethereal eulogy. Lingering in a plaintive beauty of angel-kissed whispery synth, reverberated vocals and slow drums, this trance-y swansong sounds like I See You era XX, the Arcade Fire and A Dancing Beggar in a holy communion.

Lolloping in a constant swill of stormy tides and paranormal Gothic metaphors, one of the album’s most striking tracks, Funeral, pitches esoteric Americana and progressive electronica on the high seas. Bashing against the rocks in a barrage of swells, what starts out as Depeche Mode and Radiohead slowly builds like an improvised trip into energetic psych garage.

Evolving within the perimeters of each track, Funeral encapsulates the organic transformations that propel the group forward into such epic grand spaces, creating cerebral sensibility escapist music for a pop and indie audience. Rather than ‘endings’, Flights Of Helios have produced the sonic building blocks for a glowing future under this their most panoramic collective umbrella.






Bättre Lyss  ‘Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge’   Sommer, February 22nd 2018

 

From a label I’ve previously had no experience with, another rarity from the 70s Swedish heavy and progressive rock vaults to drool over with the first ever reissue of the obscure Bättre Lyss group’s private pressing Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge.

Notable for featuring guitarist Anders Nordh of LIFE fame (check out their highly impressive self-titled album from the early 70s) as an outlier member of the Bättre Lyss core trio of Rolf Hammarlund (vocals, bass), Christer Palmquist (vox, acoustic guitar, piano) and Rolf Johansson (drummer and songwriter), the group adopted a whole myriad of rock music influences on this rare find: the soft kind, the glam kind, the progressive kind and the American West Coast psychedelic heavy kind.

Formed during 1973-1974 by mutual friends Hammarlund and Palmquist, the duos first furors together were written in English. Johansson joined just after they switched to singing in the native tongue, and in time to record the group’s debut album, released a year later in ’75. Bolstered, as you will hear, by a number of talented extended pals on guitar, saxophone, flute and organ the group attempt in their own inimitable way to do justice to soft rock power balladry and epic rock outs. Sounding at any one time like 1st era Bee Gees cutting up rough with Spirit on the energetic opener Göta Lejon, or a Scandinavian Bread on the following heart-yielding Emma, or indeed King Crimson on the slightly menacing, slinking saxophone keen Vapnet, they seem to change the nuance and adapt their sound to each song. And so at times it sounds more like a collection of recordings than complete album. The only constant in fact is the often enervated, softly sweet vocals, which do, it must be said, occasionally soar and utter anguish.

Though I can’t fault the musicianship, and there are more than enough convincing, if sentimental, songs to grab you on this album, they can’t help but bare an uncanny resemblance to Blonde On Blonde, Savoy Brown, Forest, Humble Pie, Mott The Hoople, even Boston, throughout. There’s a total of four guitarist too, each one displaying telltale signs of riffage and refrains, bends and pleading lines from the era.

Lilting and flowing between troubadour piano and full-on progressive jamming, this more than competent Swedish slab of rock is well worth reviving. It also offers another look at the, probably largely unnoticed, developments in the Swedish head music scene; picking up what is essentially a rare marriage between the heavy stuff and a more commercial melodic sensibility.






Perhaps  ‘V’   Cassette version available now via Important Records, Vinyl also available now, via Riot Sunset

I can’t be expected to keep tabs on every exciting, mad or Kool-aid chalice glugging band from a scene that is over-subscribed with a landfill sites worth of promising, but quickly disappearing into obscurity, releases. Of course it doesn’t help that the psychedelic-Krautrock-Kosmische-whatever genre is also filled with the most unimaginative and cover-band like pastiches of groups that originally did it so much better. Yet once in a while, finding its way into my inbox, there is a rare find. For ‘head music’ aficionados then, a three-piece of Teutonic, free-jazz, cosmic explorers from Boston, Massachusetts known as Perhaps – an open-ended moniker, without a question mark in sight, that alludes to possibility.

Scant information is provided, only that their origins go back as far as the year of their debut album, Volume One, in 2012, and that the line-up comprises of ‘ringleader’ and bassist Jim Haney, drummer Don Taylor and guitarist Sean McDermott. Unsurprisingly picking up on a few inspired vibes during their collaborations and tours with the rambunctious Acid Mothers Temple and one-time shaman poet Can member Damo Suzuki, Perhaps go all out free-spirited psychedelic and Kosmische on their fifth numeral entitled album V.

The sole track of this album performance, Mood-Stabilizer is a thirty-seven minute continuous ebbing and flowing contortion jam of floating louche saxophone, fret scratching and tangled guitar, and stop/start drums that hints at the Acid Mothers (of course), Brainticket, Guru Guru, Embryo, Agitation Free and in one particular segment, a Mogadon drugged Amon Duul II.

From topographic submerged guitar pangs to tubular fuzzy vortexes and squalls, the trio travel via the primordial soup to gaze into deep space. Moving like a liquid and gaseous entity throughout a combined atmosphere of wafting, languid jazz and more dissonance fuzz frazzling waves of spiraling noise, it’s surprising to hear them meander, almost sexily, into slow jam Funkadelic territory in the first third of this meta space exploration. Whilst at their most heavy they slip into PiL.

Honing their own signature interpretation of the music that so inspires them, Perhaps’ oscillating heavy, Ash Ra commune trip shows a real depth and intelligence; a group sucked in the portal, taking their time to build a space-rock, free-jazz blowout of a journey. Enjoy hitching a transcendental ride into the deepest trenches of contemporary ‘head music’: no ticket required.





ALBUM  REVIEW
WORDS:  DOMINIC  VALVONA


Dirtmusic   ‘Bu Bir Ruya’
Glitterbeat Records,  26th January 2018

Ushering in the New Year with a lament to the ongoing refugee crisis, the ambiguous blues nomads Dirtmusic grapple in the most traversing of ways with soundtracking and encapsulating the Levant diaspora on their new, and fifth, album Bu Bir Ruya.

The unofficial house band and catalyst for the much-acclaimed (especially by me) award-winning Glitterbeat Records label, the band have taken the blues genre on a polygenesis odyssey over the last decade – from the dusty porches of the American south to Timbuktu. Expanding and inter-changing their core of experimental guitarists Chris Eckman and Hugo Race, picking up desert blues and urbane Mali (a country that Eckman and Race have a special affinity with) legends such as the great Samba Touré and Ben Zabo on route, each and every one of their albums has been inspired by the band’s travails.

 

Setting up camp in the turbulent atmosphere of Istanbul, recruiting label mate and helmsman of the Bosphorus-spanning metropolis legendary psychedelic dub outfit Baba Zula, Murat Ertel, Eckman and Race add a ‘saz’ heavy modern and atavistic Turkish dynamic to their vaporous, drifting and plaintive blues resonance. Recording at Ertel’s converted mechanic’s garage studio in the city, during a period of extreme anxiety as Erdoğan’s Turkey – leaders at the top of Amnesty International’s table for most imprisoned journalists; a country worryingly drifting from Europe and NATO towards Russia – slowly turns into a quasi Ottoman caliphate, Bu Bir Ruya captures the distress and political realities of not only Turkey but Syria and North Africa: the desperate flight of millions of refugees, looking for sanctuary in Europe, escaping from a civil war apocalypse.

Obviously encouraging sympathy and putting forward a compassionate sonic plea for a borderless welcoming continent, Dirtmusic’s sentiments will go largely unnoticed where it counts, as even Germany, now plunged into its own governmental crisis as the previous ‘safe hands’ Merkel struggles to form a working coalition after the recent elections in Germany, her majority arguably weakened and hindered by the resettlement policy of a million Syrian refugees, takes time to mule over that decision – with hardline right wing leaning parties calling for some refugees to be returned and the welcoming committee to be disbanded in favour of tighter restrictions. EU neighbours and outlier states, from the Balkans to Norway, have thrown up both theoretical and physical walls of obstruction; the future looking bleak for access to European soil from the North African and Middle East.

In no way at an end or at least not a solution most of us in the West feel happy with, the Syrian war is reaching a conclusion, and ISIS look to be defeated – well, the idea of a caliphate has been destroyed for now at least; fighters for the course have slipped away in their hundreds to take up the fight in the Sinai and Nigeria, or in Europe, with many starting to return back home, still indoctrinated, still dangerous. Libya continues to be an unstable tumult, the coastal launch for millions of refugees and migrants hoping to reach the outer islands and asylum of Italy, yet recent reports would suggest that this ebb and flow is being hampered, with far less managing to travel across. In five years time we may even see a return as reconstruction takes hold – if Assad stays or not is anyone’s guess, the Russians already announcing that they will be pulling out soon (though they have eyed up a foothold in the country, a strategic port, and so it remains to be seen if they ever completely pull their forces from Syria) and contracts have already been divvied up between those who supported and held up the wretched regime.

Still, millions have fled, many stuck in a limbo. And it’s this ‘limbo’ that Dirtmusic hypnotically and ominously guides the listener through.

That journey begins with the Levant blues and exotic cinemascope Bi De Sen Söyle, which drifts with a certain fluidness through Baba Zula style souk candour rhythms, clattering danceable percussion (nod to Ümit Adakale for that), Ry Cooder transient blues meditations and distant Arabic wailing (courtesy of Brenna Mac Crimmon). A Leonard Cohen if he was harmonizing with Blixa Bargeld and Tom Waits style narration, both whispery deep and serious, lingers over the entire proceedings to bring both desperate and almost cynical, resigned atmosphere to the refugee plight and absence of humanity.

The monotony of facing-off against the physical borders and the ‘unwelcoming’ committees of closed minds is reflected in the psychedelic buzz saw saz trance-y The Border Crossing, the main appeal of which is to help a brother/sister in need. A club bass underpins the amorphous guitar riffs and searching plaint Go The Distance, and guest Istanbul psychedelic siren (and another fellow Glitterbeat artist) Gaye Su Akyol adds a serious swoon and ululates to the multi-veiled dreamy Byzantine Love Is A Foreign Country.

Accentuating a myriad of dispossessed voices and anguishes, Dirtmusic’s churning tumult and gauze-y multilayered grinding and transient blues doesn’t offer solutions but empathy and compassion. Though vocals, whether cooed or somewhat huskily resigned to fate, even pissed off, leave us in nod doubt as to the band’s feelings – though the original intention was to produce an entirely instrumental soundtrack.

With Ertel’s Istanbul psychedelic dub elements adding an exotic Middle Eastern, Ottoman flavor to the Malian heavy blues signature of Eckman and Race, a border-hopping hybrid of wafting congruous musical soundscaping is combined in a force of solidarity. Despite the plight and toxic whiff of authoritarianism in the air, Dirtmusic’s Turkish adventure lingers, suffuses and even grooves over the symbolic contours of a miasma. Not quite their best effort yet, but certainly in the top three, and a serious musical visionary start to the year.


CHOICE  ALBUMS/EPS  OF  2017  PART  ONE:  A – L
SELECTION/WORDS:  DOMINIC  VALVONA  &  MATT  OLIVER





The decision making process: 

Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavors to offer a more eclectic 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 number 32 spot than another.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums and EPs from 2017 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 2017, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a 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.

 

The Context: An Age Of Hysteria. Dominic Valvona

The silent majority to the wrath and often derision of a mouthy, louder, minority carried on defying and surprising the establishment on both sides of the political divide in 2017. The ‘outraged’ of Tunbridge Wells in the letters pages of yore has been replaced with the ‘outraged of social media’, as the year’s unofficial collective anxious end times tagline #losingourshit replaces moderation, distance and analyses: comment before taking it in fully and reading without prejudice.

Context is thrown out the window when the instant gratification of outrage surfaces.

Despite the rolling news miasma of events feeding into the social media vacuum that has now, more or less, become impossible to ignore or leave; despite the encroachment on every facet of our daily lives by technology and the progressive zealots augurs of a complete matrix like synchronization with our gadgets and tech, the fact that people can be bothered to release music on vinyl still, let alone cassette tapes, is heartening, even if the naysayers bemoan that it’s a gimmick, mostly repackaging old material and reissues or an excuse to charge a lot of money for the tactile and physical. The death of everything physical – from books to newspapers, vinyl to CDs – has always been exaggerated; fueled in hope more than actual demand by the camarilla of Silicon Valley.

Still, streaming is fast becoming the most popular model, even though hardly anyone is benefitting – even Spotify, whose business model is particularly hostile towards the artist, is branching out into other industries, including makeup, because though their value is constantly marketed as high, they have failed to make a profit. Soundcloud, running ads now, is constantly teetering on the edge of folding. And the high expectations, glossy launch of the artist love-in Tidal has failed likewise in changing that model, currently languishing way behind its rivals. Bandcamp meanwhile remains the best choice for artists at present, and gives more control to those who use it. Yet, Bandcamp have recently moved into marketing those who frequent its site, writing roundups and blog posts, moving into a promotional critic’s role. How far this will go is anyone’s guess, I’m a little uncomfortable myself with its implications, its method of choosing the worthy from its vast catalogue, and what incentivizes them. How any of these platforms will hold-up going into another uncertain year politically and economically is anyone’s guess, yet despite the constant harping and expectancy of one of these sites and many like them to close, they’ve all managed to limp on regardless.

A teetering stasis between the physical and the digital exists for now. Writing anyone off at this stage would be foolish.

 

History is a marvelous scholarly pursuit. Yet anything past the year dot of social media’s conception is either revised to fit contemporary fashions or discarded totally. And so a sense of perspective is needed more than ever, especially up against the worrying diplomatic and military developments taking place throughout the Middle East, Europe (both at the very heart of the EU, including Brexit and with the unfolding independence row in Catalonia, but also Russia’s continuing moves and baiting in the Ukraine), Central and South America and Asia.

We also have the march of the robots and automation to consider, the impact of which will take a little time to filter through but will eventually change all our lives, not necessarily for the better – the most repeated mantra that it will only replace the most monotonous, labour intensive and under resourced job roles shtick is evidently untrue, as automation, bots and the programs being designed and rolled out are coming not only for the middle class occupations but all our creative roles too.

Unsurprisingly much of the music that has been released in the past year reflects the ‘fake news’ obsessed, Trumpism, post-postmodern era in which we find ourselves, some brilliantly, others whining and melodramatic – the cyclone of #metoo and the mounting charge sheet of sexual assaults and misdemeanours stacking up against men in, it seems, most industries is live, but yet to filter through yet on record (well there are few exceptions of course). Not many artists offer answers, certainty or solutions though. And some would say that we’re missing the venom, bite, and the rebellious streak that defined the spirit of rock’n’roll, punk and hip-hop.

And so below, the albums and EPs chosen by myself, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms reflect the concerns, protestation, lament of the times in which we live: for better or for worse. And not just from the myopic view of the UK, Europe and North American music scenes, but also from Africa, South America, Australasia and Southeast Asia. The Monolith Cocktail has always done its utmost to draw our readers attention to what’s happening outside the Western dominated music industry, and this year’s two-part feature includes artists as diverse as the entrancing Algerian/Tunisian Bargou 08 and Moroccan Gnawa legend Maalem Mahmoud Gania.

So without further ado…here is the first part of this year’s ‘choice albums’ feature. Part two will follow in a week’s time, and our final Quarterly Revue Playlist the week after that.

A.

Yazz Ahmed   ‘La Saboteuse’   (Naim Records)

Encapsulating the dreamy enchantment and exotic peregrinations of her Bahrain heritage with the polygenesis jazz scene of her London home, soloist, collaborator and composer extraordinaire Yazz Ahmed takes us on an evocative, transcendental at times, voyage with her new album, La Saboteuse.

Working with everyone from Radiohead – who’s Bloom track is covered by Yazz on this imaginative Arabian suffused suite – to These New Puritans, from Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry to Amel Zen, trumpet virtuoso – though she seems to be proficient with most wind and brass instruments, including the flugelhorn – Yazz steps out to lead her own small troupe on her first solo album since 2011’s Finding My Way Home. With Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet and Naadia Sheriff on Fender Rhodes piano, she lingers in an entrancing and often mysterious world of magical brooding vistas and dusky silhouetted sand dunes.

Isolated trumpet lingers and wafting meditations and traverse style vignettes are placed between longer performances of spiritual and Miles Davis sublimity, as Yazz guides us under the starry skies of Arabia and beyond. Dominic Valvona


Tony Allen  ‘The Source’  (Bluenote)

The divine rhythm-provider to Fela Kuti, trustee of the Afrobeat groove, Tony Allen has, and not before time, been recognized for his ability to transcend the style he’s rightly venerated for. Hardly surprising to find him furnishing the jazz tastemakers choice label, Blue Note, with an impressive hybrid album of both – though arguably Afrobeat and jazz have influenced and inspired each other over the decades.

Releasing a four-track homage earlier in the year for the same label, a nod to one of his inspirations, Art Blakey (A Tribute To Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers), Allen traverses that Blakey swing and the sound of the Savoy label via Lagos and the Parisian joints of the city he has called home for years on the polyrhythm elasticated The Source. Joining him on this enterprise is a band of Paris jazz musicians and the Cameroonian guitarist Indy Dibongue providing the licks, as well as the odd guest spot, including Damon Albarn’s low key contribution to the heralding Kuti funk Cool Cats – a reference no doubt to ‘Sir’ Victor Olaiya’s highlife band of the same name that Allen was hired to play claves for in his early career.

As I say, it has the swing, it has the funk, it has the jazz, and most definitely it returns to the source. Allen bends morphs and pushes those rhythms beyond showboating to produce a remarkable fusion and synergy. DV


Chino Amobi  ‘PARADISO’  (UNO)

Looking out from the balcony of a crumbling civilization, reciting a chilling poetic melodramatic transmogrification of Edgar Allan Poe’s The City In The Sea, as tumultuous storms and waves, the sound of seagulls, the crashing of towers fallen into the sea and gargling howls conjure up all manner of Chthonian trepidation, Chino Amobi’s displaced stark and bleak electronic collage soundtrack PARADISO begins as it means to go on.

The Richmond, Virginia artist has dropped his Diamond Black Hearted Boy moniker in favour of his own name for this expansive plunge into the void. And what a dark world it is to discard masks and alter egos in.

A co-founder of the NON collective of African artists, and of the diaspora, Amobi’s remit is focused on ‘using sound as’ the ‘primary media, to articulate the visible and invisible structures that create binaries in society, and in turn distribute power. The exploration of ‘non, prior to the adjective gives intel into the focus of the label, creating sound opposing contemporary canons’.

This translates in the short concatenate serialist style vignettes and passages of worrying trepidation, heavy thumping, bleak, chilling and uncertain twisted minimal electronica, concrete, post punk, Foley sounds and experimental dystopian vistas. A long list of NON collaborators make appearances on this disturbing, at times violent, end times suite, whether it’s through narrated passages, occasional erratic and gauze-y raps or radio show interjections.

A contorted reality awaits, a world without end. Are we circling the void or already in it? Meanwhile crows feed on the flesh, heralded fanfares sound and bestial cyclones blow us off course from Paradise Lost into a sonic chaos. Yet, we’re not so lost as to be totally incapable of redemption; and the ill effects, as the glimmers that do appear allude and Amobi himself has suggested, are reversible. DV


Austra  ‘Future Politics’

Imbued by, amongst others, the work of Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams and their manifesto for the end of capitalism tome, Inventing The Future, which calls for and envisions better days for all of us – an escape from the toxic neoliberalism that has defined that last twenty years -, the Canadian synth siren Katie Stelmanis creates a most encapsulating, pining and beautiful glossy synthesizer pop opus on Future Politics.

Written before the Trump victory of 2016 and the spiraling decay of both political and societal moderation that followed in its wake, Stelmanis, under her Austra persona, has inadvertently synchronized her angelical and suffused dreamy pop swooning airs, arias and coos to the anxious end times.

Stelmanis excels, as you will hear for yourselves, in evocative and cool glimmer-of-hope dreamy minimalist electronica pop. She strips away any excess this time around, going further than usual in producing a starker but highly melodious, trance-y and vaporous swooning melodrama fit for the club and heart. DV


B.

Bargou 08  ‘Targ’  (Glitterbeat Records)

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. DV

Full review…


Beans  ‘Love Me Tonight’  (Tygr Rawwk Records)

 

Returning after a short hiatus with a highly prolific fervor, the founding member of the legendary Anti-Pop Consortium leftfield hip-hop troop Beans has made a sort of triple album comeback; putting out a triumvirate of bold, salacious, congruous and provocative records all within a few months of each other. It’s hard to choose but preference dictates that it is the middle of that trio Love Me Tonight that edges it.

A futuristic gleam of eeriness and trepidation hangs over proceedings as Beans travails Cliff Martinez meets Daft Punk club, torture chamber chiming gloom, Super Mario jazz acceleration, Exorcist organ and female led R&B. Changing moods convincingly each and every time, you think you’re getting a Kanye West style dancefloor disco rap album one minute, the next, a dystopian cerebral hip-hop ride into the abyss.

Reading out prose, narratives, scripts and passages like a rap ‘beat poet’ (as well as recording Beans has also released his debut novel, Die Tonight, this year) Beans spit is almost like abstract narration; lyrics broken down into compounds like chemistry and descriptive soliloquy.

In keeping with rap music’s provocative of featuring a roll call of collaborators and guests, Elucid and the Kid Prolific chide in on the hiccup scratching, “that dream is over”, – and perhaps my favourite track of Beans – dark chiming Waterboarding, and the darkwave R&B artist Prince Terrence adding the right soulful yearning tones to the Talons love-in, and pep to the club pumped opener, Apeshit.

Passing lyrical dexterity and abstract thoughts on all the ills currently spinning round in the tumult vortex of 2017, but also carrying on a theme of domestic abuse through a number of tracks, with a running forensic detailed commentary on a father and son crime scene on the disturbing V.X., Beans Love Me Tonight seems like a cry for help, or at least an attempt to make sense of it all. Though at times the lyrics are outright schlock pornographic, and accent hardly plaintive. In a manner it’s a tease, attracting certain condemnation as well as respect. DV


Big Toast & Ill Move Sporadic  ‘You Are Not Special’  (Starch Records)

“Blocking today’s culture of aspiration with dollops of common sense; a specialist subject for this year’s UK curriculum that won’t fail you”. RnV, Aug 17

In these troubled times we need assurance and support more than ever. Big Toast and Ill Move Sporadic are not the knights in shining armour the situation requires, rerouting British bulldog spirit by mapping out modern reality more genuine than a million so called keep-it-realists. With one of the great voices to dwarf the mic on his way to becoming his own protest march, Big Toast hammers home the black and white of life ten times over, a dismissive totem who won’t budge for anyone and will battle any life aspect until it’s crying back to its casting couch.

IMS has the cheek to throw in a couple of slow jams to tuck you in when Toast is tucking you up, otherwise coming out swinging from the first bell and landing tooth-loosening one-twos. Anti-motivational speakers who will get your arse in gear, and what the youth of today should be listening to. Matt Oliver


Black Angels  ‘Death Song’  (Partisan Records)

If you were looking for a creative musical reaction to Trump and the anxious times we live in then The Black Angels beautiful apocalyptic Death Song must be one of the most anguished and daemonic of responses. The Austin psych-rocking overlords first album in four years was written and recorded during the miasma of the US elections after all: and doesn’t it show!

An emotionally charged despair and anger with moments of catharsis, carried out to a Byzantine flavored soundtrack of esoteric Amon Duul II and Far East Family Band psych, a vortex of 80s Goth inspirations – including The cult and Siouxsie and the Banshees – and the tolling chimes of doom and drone, Death Song is, as the title suggests, a heavy, but most excellent trip.

Brooding romantically in Gothic tragedy as the world continues to turn, undaunted by the prospects of universal uncertainty, The Black Angels spread their wings magnificently on what is, perhaps, one of their best albums yet. The leviathans of the psych-rock scene have learnt much and after a recording hiatus return with something sharper, refined but just as mystical and hallucinatory. DV

Full review…


The Bordellos  ‘Love, Life And Billy Fury’  (Recordiau Prin)

Prolific, if haphazardly, dropping albums upon the unsuspecting, and quite frankly undeserving, public at a whim, St. Helen’s greatest dysfunctional family bring us one of their most ambitious collections of cynical derision and honest yearned anxiety yet: a kind of Joy ‘de vive’ Division.

More or less The Bordellos love songs collection, this latest lo fi affair – that makes even The Fall sound professional – is a raw opening of the heart, and in some cases, the veins. Transmogrifying Spector’s voices of the beehives (The Crystals to The Ronettes), the Spacemen 3, The Cure and, of course, The Velvet Underground, The Bordellos eulogize the nearly man of British rock’n’roll, Billy Fury, craft (perhaps) one of their most beautiful ballads, Starcrossed Radio, and pen a “speeding train” metaphor themed ode to breakups.

Romancing the stoned, the life, loves and failures of rock’n’roll are laid bear and as usual, ignored by an unsympathetic, disinterested public. But despite mostly alluding recognition and validation (because that seems to be all that matters in the social media age: affirmation from the echo-chamber of peers), The Bordellos mope and grind on, producing some of the most important diatribes and, in this case, scuzzy, dirge-y and primal garage band spirited love-pained grievances. DV

Full review…


Brother Ali  ‘All the Beauty in This Whole Life’  (Rhymesayers)

“A triumph of crowd gathering words to the wise meets devil’s advocacy, guaranteeing end of term honours”.  RnV. May 17

In these troubled times we need assurance and support more than ever. Comparing two of 2017’s most prominent protesters, Joey Bada$$ (on All Amerikkkan Bada$$) got you to show your colours while keeping it funky. Brother Ali on the other hand was there so a circle could form around him when handing out affirmative rhymes that wouldn’t sound out of a place around a campfire, promising the “type of love you can’t type with your thumbs”.

Without detracting from the former, it’s the latter’s warmth that makes him sound like he’s talking to you one to one, and where a rapt audience will follow, that gets the nod; a soft, grit-speckled delivery assuring everything’s gonna work out even when he’s recounting history lessons to the contrary. To a backdrop of blazing suns starting to dip and winter huddles taking shape thanks to great cleanse and polish from Atmosphere’s Ant Davis, it’s confirmation you should always put faith in Brother Ali’s hands. MO


C.

Dr. Chan  ‘Southside Suicides’  (Stolen Body Records)

Like some obscure French exchange garage band of students – the kind you’d find if it existed, on a European version of the Teenage Shutdown! compilations – hanging out in the 80s L.A. of plaid shirt and paisley bandana fatigue wearing skater-punks, Dr Chan are an abrasive and coarse mix of renegade petulant inspirations.

Essentially powered by garage rock and all its various manifestations, the group from the south of France hurtle through an up tempo and raging backbeat of The Chocolate Watch Band, The Standells, The Rationales, Black Lips and Detroit Cobras. The difference here is that they also throw in a miscreant Molotov of thrash punk, courtesy of Fidlar, and “death rap” – cue Florida’s $uicideboy$ and their dollar sign typeface indulgence – into the riot on their Southside Suicides protest. It gives the Chan’s brand of garage band mania a different intensity and drive: more screaming in a ball of flames spikiness than tripping psych.

Riled and obviously pissed about the current state of affairs both at home and overseas, Dr Chan’s rage and insolence is in keeping with the primal spirit of rock’n’roll: fun, fun, fun! It’s a blast. DV

Full review…


Oliver Cherer  ‘The Myth Of Violet Meek’  (Wayside & Woodland)

Set in the Forest of Dean, this lamentable concept album (billed as ‘part-fiction’ ‘part fact’) from the man behind Dollboy, Oliver Cherer, weaves the dreamy folkloric story of the tragic protagonist Violet Meek (a play on words of ‘violence’); mauled to death or not by the dancing bears of a visiting circus troupe in the twisted and, musically alluded ominous maybe magical, tree thickened woods. Based we’re told on a vaguely real event that happened in the 1880s, Cherer’s story isn’t just a vintage walk in the past and melodic indictment on the cruelty of Victorian society towards women, but draws parallels with the continuing issues of inequality, chauvinism and mistreatment still prevalent in our own times.

This is an unforgiving unflattering portrayal of England, a nascent nostalgic one with little room for equality and the presence of outsiders, but every bit as revealing about our present. As lovely, often dreamily so, as the music is the 70s pastoral accompaniment is often trembling and quivering, the fiddles distressed and bewitchery, enticing us into a esoteric psychogeography that features a languid brushed backbeat and Morris Dancers like flourish around the maypole on one song, but finds evil in the idyllic scenery on another.

In short, it is a most stunning, ambitious and beautiful minor opus. For those who like their folk and pastoral eerie and esoteric. DV

Full review…


The Church  ‘Man Woman Life Death Infinity’

To infinity and beyond, Australia’s stalwart alternative rock and pop guitar romantics The Church, nearly thirty years since their inception continue to breathily produce quiet masterpieces; continue to experiment and explore new sonic textures. Travelling into the ethereal, the sagacious Man Woman Life Death Infinity is a suffused glide and traverse of air-y vapours and misty mystery; beginning with the opening, soaring minor opus Another Century, sustained throughout, with each song materializing out of the ether.

Reflecting but an unconscious inspiration, The Church’s founding member Steve Kirby calls this album the group’s “water record”. Though all the characteristics of water, trickling chords, cascaded dripping notes and a sense of floating are all correct, this dreamy pop and transient songbook seems to leave the ocean floor and rivers for something more astral. Songs such as Submarine for instance seem imbued with a spirit of the Kosmische. Yet fans of the group’s staple of pop guitar swan songs and subtle psychedelic 80s lovelorn classics will love Before The Deluge and I Don’t Know How I Don’t Know: both of which show traces of that college rock meets garage riffage that arguably inspired or was picked up by The Stone Roses.

Still writing timeless anthems without lazily reverting to the back catalogue, still pushing forward after four decades, The Church can still illuminate and surprise. This, there 26th, album is anything but jaded. If anything it seems that The Church are still very much in the game, and able to balance familiarity with discovery.  DV


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah  ‘The Tourist’

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

Ounsworth stumbles and ponders through a “post factual” strewn world of challenging emotions trying to make sense of it all on The Tourist. At times the album title could even be said to act as a metaphor for the artist’s own estranged and removed soul-searching: a tourist in his own country. Despite some sad and profound pathos heavy lyricism, Ounsworth’s “purging” of thoughts is meant to be a cathartic experience. The anxieties of our times can’t help but leak from every other line, yet this album is a fairly warm, jangly surprise package of lolloping and anthemic songs.

Building and soaring to an emotive brightened crescendo of sweetness and yearning on The Vanity Of Trying; contorting and bending guitar textures in a Robert Fripp fashion on the psych-pop gnarled Down (Is Where I Want To Be); and, up close and personal (every breathe audible) to the mic, driving through an 80s nocturnal rock ballad on Better Off, the inimitable Ounsworth careers through a full gamut of moods and chaos in the most natural and energetically purposeful way.

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

Full review…



Anna Coogan  ‘The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time’

Not the easiest of bedfellows, difficult to love and often (rightly) condemned as indulgent and overblown, but the worlds of rock and opera do occasionally overlap in a congruous union. The unquestionably talented Anna Coogan for instance, mixes the two majestically, using her finely trained 3-octave soprano and classical background to offer fluttering siren-like arias that seem to surreptitiously manifest from, what is, an ever-changing metamorphosis of musical styles, on her latest album, The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time.

Inspired by scientific discoveries, a “childhood listening to Puccini’s La Boheme”, the fateful poet Sylvia Plath, the tumultuous grave mistakes of intervention in the Middle East and, no surprises, the 2016 US elections Coogan’s ambitious suite of songs and instrumental evocations is far from lofty and classical.

Spanning country, Ry Cooder desert meditations, Anna Calvi like trembled sensual emulations, PJ Harvey and even bubbly synth pop, Coogan together with musical collaborator Willie B – offering atmospheric Moog bass line undertones and drums – produces a ‘wave’ fixated lamenting and balletic travail and a surprise highlight of 2017. DV

Full review…


D.

Daniel Son  ‘Remo Gaggi’  (Crate Divizion)

“Toasting the high life and low lives, gangster rap bearing honourable intentions”. RnV, May 17

Canadian slick talker Daniel Son is the front for this, one of many Giallo Point heists that the UK producer ran during 2017. With the authentic mob experience evident in such titles as Flat Tyers, Car Seizures, Strippers Den etc and the kingpin adoring the sleeve, it’s instantly noticeable how dry GP’s noir-ish production is; sharply tailored loops of muted house band jazz that has seen nefarious comings and goings, but are gagged by confidentiality agreements and the fear of loose lips sinking ships.

Potent in what it doesn’t disclose, display one bead of sweat and you’re in trouble. Before you know it Daniel Son – “we the reason that the yacht insurance be going up” – has decked you with a leg sweep before disappearing back into the night. While it’s easy to apply Godfatherly stereotypes to Remo Gaggi, the style of this international union contrasting brash and diligent, compellingly separates the best from the rest. MO


Dope KNife  ‘NineteenEightyFour’  (Strange Famous)

“An absolute battering ram of four wheel drive blasting through the boggiest of boom bap. Big Brother would think twice about listening in”.  RnV, Feb 17

We’re not trying to discredit Dope KNife by saying that NineteenEightyFour is an almost unfashionable antidote to tween trap, happily, mercilessly fanning the flames of the very 2017 argument of what constitutes real hip-hop between upstarts and originals (and if there’s an argument abound, it’s only right that Sage Francis is tagged in as well). Far from an Orwellian vision yet probably something of a dystopia to some as he walks with an intimidating shadow, DK comes slathered in dirt, ready to punch you in the ear with a splattered larynx.

As a one-man steamroller on beats and rhymes it’s not an exact science, but that’s absolutely fine with us, the battle-hardened, bitter-as-blasé (yet also able to reference the Fresh Prince theme tune) Georgia emcee leaving competition standing (“I can’t help being a damn cynic, this damn planet got a fucking lot of wack in it”). MO



The Doppelgangaz  ‘Dopp Hopp’  (Groggy Pack)

“A drop of ‘Dopp Hopp’ a day will keep the haters away; will creep up on the button marked ‘repeat’ until it progresses to heavy rotation”. RnV, Jul 17

Despite the sub-Gothic sleeve looking like the NY pair are auditioning badly for a death metal gig, Dopp Hopp ranks high on this year’s list on the strength of its smoothness alone. “Live by the cloak, die by the cloak” say The Ghastly Duo; but the mystery ends once their views from West Coast low riders, developing a smoky lens that’s intoxicating but never fuggy, embrace the inevitable sunshine.

Also readymade for reminiscing as on E.W.W. and Strong Ankles, the ‘Gangaz have set themselves the relatively easy task of riding the vibes properly, and they oblige with a natty turn of phrase prepared to shift towards the nearest street corner at their leisure. Dopp Hopp is another feather in a cap looking more and more like the crown jewels. Beats and rhymes guarantee return visits to golden-edged climes, where you simply have to rewind the boast that “if ‘Dopp Hopp’ was a beer, it’d be an IPA”. MO


75 Dollar Bill  ‘Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock’
(Glitterbeat Records)

This album could have rightly qualified for last year’s feature, but re-launched, repackaged for Glitterbeat Records’ burgeoning new imprint tak:til, 75 Dollar Bill gets another shot: mainly because it slipped under most radars on its maiden voyage in 2016. Now in 2017 with a hopefully wider global release it will shine.

Adhering to Jon Hassell’s “fourth world music” blurring of the division between futurism and tradition the 75 Dollar Bill duo of NYC-based musicians Rick Brown and Che Chen, traverse the psychedelic desert rock and trance of the Maghreb, avant-garde, jazz and even swamp boogie delta blues in a most indolent but listless transient manner on W/M/P/P/R/R. Motivated by an interest in “compound meters” – meter involves the way multiple pulse layers work together to organize music in time; a compound essentially dividing the beat into three equal parts -, but playing in a fashion that feels natural and organic, the follow-up to 2015’s more “forward momentum, stomping and shaking” style Wooden Bag is a nuanced clever exploration of interconnected tonality and tactile responses to a wealth of harmonics and melodies from a pan-global array of influences: from modal jazz to Arabic modes and eastern scales.

What they produce is an often adumbrate, repetitive experience that builds gradually, slowly releasing various tangents of interplay between the principle duo and their extended backing group of friends; traversing genres and moods to evoke new expletory musical spaces. DV

Full review…


E.

Ester Poly  ‘Pique Dame’  (Ikarus Records)

Experimentally rocking the cantons of their Swiss home for a while in their respective separate outfits, Béatrice Graf and Martina Bérther unite as an unholy drum and electric bass alliance under the Ester Poly (a scramble of ‘polyester’ of course) banner.

Pitching generation X(er) Bérther with Y(er) Graf, this rambunctious vehicle for the duo’s feminist protestations and irony is hardly hampered by the limitations of their chosen drum and bass instrumentation, and hardly comparable to any of the many such similar combinations plying their trade. Instead, Ester Poly use a stack of effects and distortion tools to widen their sound spectrum; evoking hints and obvious homages to post-punk, art school, Jazz, doom rock, heavy metal, no wave and Krautrock in the process.

Recorded in more or less one-takes, both combatants facing off against each other in the studio with no headphones or click track, Pique Dame captures not only the lively, hostile and enraged but also the humour (even if it is dark and resigned) of this energetic union. Despite the raging tumults, dynamism and soundclash of ideas, this album is a steady and even showcase of festering ideas and moods. It’s also quite brilliant and encapsulates the ‘pique’ perfectly; arousing, curious and irritated! DV

Full Review…


F.

Faust  ‘Fresh Air’  (Bureau B)

Still banging the cement-mixer drum and manning the barricades after forty odd years in the business, the Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner “Zappi” Diermaier duo version of Faust – at its most base drummer/percussionist and bassist-come-tormentor of sound – and their latest protestation Fresh Air is a sort of art-provocateur road trip of the USA, featuring an abundance of locals and internationalist artists and musicians, picked-up on the way through New York, Texas and California: A counter-cultural agitation travail from coast to coast.

Featuring the usual Faust totems and that workmanlike methodology of extracting sounds and evocations from machinery, found objects, debris and the architecture – even Péron’s front door hinges from home make an appearance – Fresh Air is an urgent gasp for relief from the polluted, choked, environment. It’s also a highly convoluted attempt at transforming geometrical forms and abstractions into a sonic score. Three of the tracks on this album take their inspiration from a faux-workshop at the highly regarded California Institute of the Arts. A session that includes the loony 23-second vocal exercise symphony Partitur – defined loosely as “a sort of Dadaist choir, a musique impressionniste” by Péron –; the loose Slits do souk jazz, camel ride Chlorophyll, which features Barbara Manning “sneaking” in word association sketches alongside Zappi’s own strange utterings; and the saxophone squalling, motoring Lights Flicker, which again features Manning, bridging the role of Laurie Anderson and Patti Smith, repeating an agitated mantra over a quasi art-dance backing.

Continuing with their signature agitation, often menacing, call-to-arms whilst also sonically turning the abstract into something audible, Péron and Zappi can still be relied upon to create provocative statements, five decades on from when the original Faust dynamic barraged audiences with the most confrontational and experimental sound ideas. Struggling like the rest of us, but finding a comradely with another generation of artists and musicians, they look for hope in the miasma. DV

Full Review…


Craig Finn  ‘We All Want The Same’  (Partisan Records)

Occupying a rich postmodern American literary landscape, channeling such celebrated chroniclers as Bruce Springsteen and Vic Chesnutt, former The Hold Steady, and prior to that Lifter Puller, front man Craig Finn has in more recent years carved out a career as a successful solo artist. In true Springsteen style, though with far less guttural bombast, Finn brings a certain levity and importance to the lives of America’s “ordinary folk”, building a highly erudite diorama to stage the unfolding, and to outsiders, the often inconsequential dramas that are acted out across the States on a daily cycle.

Subtly tapping into the “liberal” creative psyche of America, one that’s still in a state of shock, but also the so-called “blue collar” America that put Trump in the White House, Finn doesn’t so much point fingers or berate as reflect the resignation of a cast on the peripherals of society.

Enriched with the graceful subtle presence and soaring vocal harmonies of Caithlin De Marrais and singer/songwriter Annie Nero, the keys of Sam Kassirer, swaddling and lifting horns maestro Stuart Bogie and longtime contributor from The Hold Steady, guitarist Tad Kubler, the musical backdrop is a mix of rolling Warren Zevon piano psychodrama, bluesy rock’n’roll and Ashbury Park period E Street Band brass. A solid performance and assiduous edition to the modern American songbook, Finn’s third solo album shows a full-bodied, sagacious artist at his pinnacle. DV

Full review…


G.

Maalem Mahmoud Gania  ‘Colour Of The Night’  (Hive Mind Records)

Maalem Mahmoud Gania, the near-exulted star of the Moroccan honed Gnawa – a style of traditional Islamic dance, music and poetry with roots spread across the sub-Saharan crescent of Africa; considered by many to be one of the origins of the “blues” rhythm – and artisan of the genre’s key instrument, the camel-skin covered three-string lute like “guimbri”, released an extensive catalogue of recordings for labels such as Tichkaphone, La Voix El Maaref and Sonya Disques.

Choosing such a revered icon with which to launch their inaugural new imprint Hive Mind Records, the Brighton outfit’s inaugural baptism is the legend’s final studio recording, the afflatus, entrancing Colours Of The Night. What makes it special is that this is the first solo release by the artist outside his native homeland to be released on vinyl.

Stringy, wiry, occasionally a tone or two lower and played like a quasi-bass guitar, Gania’s playing style is raw, deep and always infectious: from blistering solos to slower and lighter ruminating descriptive articulations; this is equally matched by his atavistic soulful voice and the chorus of swooning, venerated female and male voices and harmonies that join him on each track.

Colours Of The Night is a highly hypnotic collection of performances both magical and transcendental, beautifully traversing Arabia and desert blues traditions. DV

Full review…


Golden Teacher  ‘No Luscious Life’

Seeming to just follow wherever the groove takes them, whether it’s ESG uptown/downtown Boho Noho Soho New York, electro Afrobeat, the griot traditions of West Africa or 80s Chicago House, the polygenesis influences of Glasgow’s sonic multilingual Golden Teacher sextet seamlessly entwine to produce the most solid of on-message dance music.

Flexing and limbering to a hip 80s heavy melting pot of sounds and references, the Glasgow troupe move like liquid through a soundtrack of polyrhythms, acid and tight drum presets, oscillations, clean and not so clean futuristic galactic house funk. Not many groups can inaugurate and move between both the Senegalese griot matriarch Aby Ngana Diop and Cabaret Voltaire on the same album, but such is the myriad of musical backgrounds, and they encompass every kind of genre you can think of, of the band members that make up this loose collective, you’re never quite sure what you might hear next.

Though rhythmically and melodically, pumping and sonically doing all the talking for them, there are succinct, atmospheric vocals from Cassie Ojay and Charles Lavenac to give either a certain sway and louche entrancing quality or, as on the opening Afro-funk meets pumping House Sauchiehall Withdrawal – a reference to one of Glasgow’s most, famous and popular main thoroughfares, with everything from the Glasgow School Of Art and CCA art hub of venues and galleries to shopping and nightclubs on its mile and a half long strip – a soulful austerity groundhog day political context: dutifully working the daily slog and for what?!

Moving to Glasgow, from about as far south of the border as you can go, a couple of years ago, one of the first gigs I saw was a sort of impromptu, diy style, performance from the group at The Old Hairdressers in town. Improvised to a degree they caught the wide-eyed excitement and dynamism of an earlier time as if it was fresh and new. A must-see live turn, the group has, unlike so many others before them, captured that free spirit and looseness on record. Yet production is really slick.

The city has always enjoyed a reputation for the eclectic, and Golden Teacher more than most, encapsulate that cross-pollination, borderless approach to absorbing music from across the globe – from The Levant to Compass Point – and making it funky. DV


H.

Happyiness  ‘Write-In’  (Moshi Moshi)

Ah…the sound of a band embracing the heartfelt warmth, accentuated dazed melodies and special feel of such 70s fare as Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and Big Star, Happyness evoke the hazy fond memories and subtle sophistication of these and other complimentary artists on their brilliant album Write In.

The opening Falling Down gambit, with its radiant phaser guitar, conjures up the Scottish indie supremos (and fellow Big Star acolytes) Teenage Fanclub, whilst the pastel-shaded saddened tone of The Reel Starts Again sounds like a lost, ghostly remnant of a George Harrison and Jeff Lynne malady. A touch of the Brighten The Corners era Pavement permeates the band’s weary slacker muffled Uptrend/Style Raids, but by the time we reach the halfway stage of the album the lads are back to thrashing out a languorous grunge-y grind on Bigger Glass Less Full.

Subtle and confident, Write In is a halcyon, beautifully executed album with real depth and personality. Happyness have found their flow with loose but perceptively well-crafted gentle pop songs of a timeless quality: to be played as the “credits roll forever”. DV

Full review…


Here Are The Young Men And Uncle Peanut   ‘This Is Standard Life’
(Musical Bear Records)

Unceremoniously released almost on the sly, though because we are inundated with 100s of releases every week it could be we missed this one, the brilliant cut price, and with far more humour, authenticity and irony than the Sleaford Mods (as if scribbled by David Shrigley) Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut are back with a load more broadsides leveled at life’s most cunty personalities and foibles.

Not so much poetic, not really rap in the true sense of the word either, they make observational snatches of overheard misnomers, condemnations and Estuary patois on the modern toss life of a pissed-stained mattress society. Modern life isn’t so much rubbish as depressingly shite, as the group transmogrify a sort of Daft Punk ‘Teachers’ style litany of great influential bands into a council estate, backroom punk paean to the spirit of punk and good music; safe in the knowledge that Mark E Smith Is Still Doing The Fall, even after a hundred years!

Diatribes on outsourcing, hipsters (the Day The Hipsters Stole Our Look; those penny-farthing riding tossers), lads banter (“yes mate, yes mate, standard”), gentrification, “nobbers” (who are “fucking everywhere!” on the Underworld goes punk song of the same name) and pop stars abound, and there’s even collaborations with Art Brut’s inimitable Eddie Argos (on the and Billie Ray Martin (of S’Express and Electribe 101 fame).

It’s nothing short of fucking brilliant, short and anything but sweet. The use of swearing alone is commendable. A sort of vitriolic, generation X middle-aged series of rants on what we’ve lost, what we are set to lose and what we could do without. DV


I.

Ifriqiyya Électrique  ‘Rûwâhîne’  (Glitterbeat Records)

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. DV

Full review…


J.

Jam Baxter  ‘Mansion 38’  (High Focus)

“Half cut, whip smart. Ultimate, grungy outlaw hip-hop, putting the trap in trapdoor”.  RnV, Mar 17

UK crown rulers High Focus reached new levels of cult when Mansion 38 became that creepy house at the end of the road that may be good for a heart-in-mouth laugh at Halloween, but not somewhere you’d venture to acquire a friendly cup of sugar.

Recorded and produced in Bangkok, Jam Baxter’s quotable cynicism is of an emcee breed that gets caught in a landslide escaping reality in a bid to keep himself amused, but whose focus is actually doing overtime. Seeming nonsense suddenly swoops down at you with lethal intent, most notably on the shrewd consumerist commentary on offer For a Limited Time Only. He of The Gruesome Features squats on Chemo’s production, and where there’s no such thing as a wrong turn, it’s alien, exotic, and worryingly comforting at once, slowly beginning sinkhole formation, and with Dumb demanding you take cover while running in slow-motion. Bugged out, bug-bombed, brilliant. MO


Jehst  ‘Billy Green is Dead’  (YNR)

“Showing the sort of word association and plain English penmanship that has long made him the UK’s premier emcee”. RnV, Jun 17

Whether the eponymous subject of Jehst’s sixth full-length is man or myth, a reflection on society or the High Plains Drifter letting his imagination run wild while disclosing clues from his own personal memoirs, you’ll be hanging on Billy Green’s every move, tic and confession.

It’s the album’s lost, tired soul trying to keep the walls from closing in, but then seeming to be at peace with any pending doom. It’s the human element, from the debilitation of an everyday Joe to referencing the Kardashians and when the most important decisions can sometimes boil down to choosing “the Snickers or the Mars, E&J liquor or the six-pack of the Stella Artois”. It’s Jehst’s delivery that even when close to succumbing to heat exhaustion, finds a reserve from deep down that’s of an improbable, impeccable sharpness. It’s the simmering sphere of wax and wane production whose highs and lows run a perfect parallel. ‘Billy Green is Dead’, long live Jehst. MO


Jonwayne  ‘Rap Album Two’  (Authors Recording Co)

“Personal struggle both poignant and unapologetic for showing its hand…watch its humble humanity become the choice of the open eared this year”.  RnV, Feb 17

 Rap Album Two approaches that long-standing hip-hop (and society in general) elephant in the room: the refusal to admit vulnerability. In laying crises on the line, Jonwayne becomes his own therapist and subsequently an outlet for the hesitant and anxious to claim as their own. At his most lo-fi, the times to think become deafening and don’t necessarily mean there’s a clean pathway to redemption.

It would take a kingsized about-turn for Jonwayne to become self-destructive on record, but it’s the legitimacy of his 20/20 vision and the potential of the what-ifs that sit kindly. Particularly on the beautifully dejected/accepting Out of Sight and Afraid of Us, bearing the powerful “look at these people, counting on me when I can’t even count on myself”, you can hear him fighting for his very survival. Also behind the excellent Black Boy Meets World by Danny Watts (who features here), Rap Album Two bridges the gap between cult hero and everyman icon. MO


K.

King Ayisoba  ‘1000 Can Die’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Sounding the klaxon call in defense of his native Ghana, and Africa at large, on his inaugural LP for Glitterbeat Records, the striking, lively King Ayisoba, from the roots up, uses his guttural earthy howl and atavistic kologo lute to great effect in demonstrating not only a raw anger but also a deep love for a much misunderstood continent.

From the very outset Ayisoba and his contributors Wanlov da Kubolar & Big Gad – just two of the many guest appearances on this album – rap, sing and stamp a slogan sentiment on the opening Africa Needs Africa of, “Let’s fight for Africa/Africa needs us.” Covering the North African diaspora, the boat people’s sorry saga, the colonial past and umpteen other issues that more or less shape the image that those observers from outside the continent believe is the only side to Africa – between a misplaced sentimentality and outright ignorance. There is protestation and indictment, but also a lively focus on the positives too; finding solutions through the medium of music and culture.

In-between the fiery, bordering on punk, clatter of guluku, dundun and Djembe drums and rambunctious electronic phasing beats there are more plaintive, yearning stripped-back moments: Grandfather Song, a toiled from the soil of tragedy lament, offers a more intimate knee-jerk from the full-on band sound, and Dapagara is sent off into a sweeping, wafting vista by the Nigerian legend Orlando Julius’ traversing, reedy accentuated saxophone.

Raw from the heart, highly evocative and rebellious, King Ayisoba’s songs of rage and vitality actually offer a kind of hope in the face of adversity. The future of Ghana’s music scene is in good hands at least. DV

Full review…


L.

L’Orange  ‘The Ordinary Man’  (Mello Music Group)

“An evocative performance capturing a concerto producer whose trick-from-sleeve ratio remains visionary”.  RnV, Nov 17

Another 12 months of might and magic on Mello Music Group, including must-checks from Oddisee and Mr Lif and Akrobatik as the reconvening Perceptionists. However, it’s the beatsmith with the knack from Nashville building up quite the back catalogue where Tenneseein’ is Tennebelievin’. Loosely based around the sleight-handed history of when illusionists were the rockstars of their day – on premise alone, L’Orange is out by himself – the mostly instrumental The Ordinary Man is described as “vaguely reminiscent of RJD2’s ‘Deadringer’”, where loops slip off straitjackets and straight up gallivant.

Reserving the mic for only a handful of guests after a starry stack of collaborative LPs, L’Orange offers jazziness with a spring in its step, even when its grainy monochrome quality appears to be suffering (perhaps reflecting his own personal health issues). Covered in a sweet patchwork of samples, the headnodding will rock your neck stiff (Cooler than Before soars like the plane on Raekwon’s Criminology), while placing it delicately upon a pillow. MO


Liars  ‘TFCF’  (Mute)

The confusing soundtrack to a musical divorce, the enduring creative partnership behind the Liars, Angus Andrew and Aaron Hemphill, finally fell apart after the release of Mess. Though confounding fans and critics alike on every release, the now streamlined version of the Liars sees Andrew at the helm of, essentially, a one-man band, churning up and lurching through what should by rights be another ‘mess’ of ideas to produce something quite vivid and experimentally sharp.

Chronicling what he felt was akin to a musical marriage, Andrew sitting miserably slumped in a wedding dress, left holding the bouquet on the cover of TFCF (Theme From Crying Fountain) charts a deteriorating relationship, with dysfunctional material – some of which was marked for the next Hemphill & Andrew Liars album – spun into a brilliant sulky, miserable melodrama of electronic, new wave, punk and cerebral pop.

Leaving L.A. for his native home of Australia, a dethatched Andrew transmogrifies those American influences into acoustic, labored drum break lamentable sneers (The Grand Delusional), Love style Mexican psych flare crossed with Medieval courtship (Cliché Suite) and disjointed daggered, The Knack meets Beck, lurches (Cred Woes).

Often resigned, hurt, pranged with pity throughout, it hardly sounds appealing, yet TFCF is full of reinvention, experimentation and lyrically, both dreamily and petulantly opprobrious. DV


Al Lover Meets Cairo Liberation Front  ‘Nymphaea Caerulea’  (Hoga Nord)

A meeting of exotic minds, San Francisco producer/remixer Al Lover (The Brian Jonestown Massacre to Goat) and the Tilburg collective Cairo Liberation Front set out on an evocative mesmerizing flight of escapist fantasy on the extended Nymphaea Caerulea EP.

 

Continuing a partnership with the Hoga Nord label and following up the previous Zodiak Versions, Al and his collaborators merge psychedelic dance music with a spiritually mysterious imagined vision of Egypt: Nymphaea Caerulea being the Latin name for the blue Egyptian lotus, a flower of the Orient.

Over six ‘levels’ they traverse and evoke entrancing Egyptian flute led feverish ritual, mysticism, sweeping desert winds, ancient kingdoms, belly dancing and cyclonic Afro-Futurist beats.

References to a new sonic deliverance, a musical Arab Spring, infuse the six instrumental tracks with a certain levity and theme. But rather than bang the drum of rage and protest in the land of the Pharaohs and old gods, Al and the Cairo Liberators create a moody mysterious, veiled soundtrack fit for the dancefloor. DV


NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Welcome as always to the latest edition of my reviews roundup. Meeting with my approval this month, there’s the (both literally and musically metaphorical) ‘laissez passer’ wandering TootArd from the Golan Heights making an international debut on Glitterbeat Records; the return, in a manner, of the enigmatic Brighton-based artist Matt Finucane; a stunning theatrical avant-garde meets Chanson and morose romantic pop opus from AUDIAC, waltzing onto the stage after years of inactivity; the pique soundclash of Swiss drum and electric bass combo Ester Poly; and the fourth album of ‘lower-case’ minimalism and ambient music from Andrew Heath.

I also take a look at the fanboy style resurrection of the obscure 80s Pennsylvania garage, punk, post-rock and psych outfit In Time, by thrift store digger Steve Krakow, who celebrates the fleeting and undiscovered group’s only album (found unloved by Krakow on cassette tape) and a number of unreleased attic recordings for the Guerssen label. Last but in no means the least of today’s selections, I take a look at the debut album from the Berlin duo of kooky and fun electronica and techno, Psycho & Plastic, Kosmopop. Championed from the very start on this very blog, it seems to have taken the duo – who to be fair are busy with a multitude of projects including the running of their label GiveUsYourGOLD – an age to finally release it.

Read on…

TootArd  ‘Laissez Passer’
Glitterbeat Records,  10th November 2017

 

Photo credit: Mercedes Ortego González.

Caught in, what might seem to them, a perpetual limbo, devoid of a recognized identity, the collective band members of the omnivorous Levant group TootArd are officially stateless: citizens in effect of nowhere. Growing up in the contested, bloodily fought over, Golan Heights the group’s mouthpiece, guitarist Hasan Nakhleh, articulates the predicament of a population stuck between two, once, warring factions – feeling detached with no legal representation; no sense of belonging – throughout the press notes that accompanied this, their latest album, Laissez Passer.

Carved up in two by the former warring states of Syria and Israel after the divisive Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the eventual ceasefire that followed – with the greater share by some distance given to the latter -, the Golan Heights has been uneasily observed by both parties for decades. Under an accord the following year, an international buffer zone – known as the UNDOF ‘purple line’ – was put in place to help keep a fragile peace. Before the apocalyptic civil – and proxy – war in Syria begun, both nations seemed to be approaching some agreement over the region. Israel however, following a policy of non-intervention, is in no hurry to secede ground to Syria.

Under the authority of Israel but without official citizenship, the native inhabitants of the western Golan Heights region are forced to carry the special situation, ‘laissez passer,’ papers of TootArd’s album title to cross borders and travel. Despite this the group have found a certain musical freedom; amorphously drifting across those imposed demarcation lines to adopt styles from across the entire Levant; from Africa and even Jamaica. Originally covering the Caribbean island’s most famous musical export, the group started out playing reggae covers before relishing a change in direction.

However, before settling on their recent traverse fusion of desert blues – finding a commonality and affinity with the Beaudion and, equally stateless, Tuareg -, Arabic modalities, rock and funk influences, the founding members of the group all left for Europe; all going their separate ways: Hasen Nakhleh moving to Berlin and then Bern, recalls that this sojourn period would split the collective up internationally, yet when visiting home they would all regroup for impromptu performances in their native villages, as if they’d never been apart. After a two-year hiatus Hasen and his brother, multi-instrumentalist Rami Nakhleh – missing their fellow compatriots – organized a reunion of a sort, preparing the way forward for a reincarnation of their band.

 

With a new enthusiasm, new material and new sound, TootArd’s second album – though billed as their ‘international’ debut showcase – Laissez Passer has much to contemplate and pine over; framed as it is in the ‘blues’ tradition. Themes of identity and the chaos that continues to engulf their homeland dominate the album. Yet far from lamentable and sad this latest effort is surprisingly relaxed, with controlled swells of more funky and soulful driven upbeat rhythms throughout, and even the odd saunter of swaying joy. The languid reggae candor, transmogrified into a Levant groove, helps to create a sort of Baba Zula souk gait, whilst hints of Tamikrest and Tinariwen’s camel gangly, handclapping, desert blues funk gives the music a drive on both the title-track and, almost galloping and spinning into Dervish territory, Bayati Blues.

But those bluesy ruminating and gazing ponderously inducing themes do often sound haunting; especially with the addition of Ams Mdah’s snake charming and romantically dusky jazz saxophone evocations, and Hasen’s modified oud sounding electric guitar – extra frets added to ape the synonymous dulcet tones of the short-necked lute-like string instrument.

Bringing people together under darkening skies or gazing out across the Golan Heights prism back towards Syria with a Rast scale composed travailing moody accompaniment, TootArd flow and spiral subtly across the region soaking up ancestral musical customs as they go. Though imposed upon them, the Laissez Passer status hasn’t held the group back creatively: forcing them in fact by circumstance to find a new musical freedom. They are, even if it sounds a tad clichéd, only limited by their own restless imaginations, and this album indeed dreams big.




AUDIAC   ‘So Waltz’
Klangbad Records,  20th October 2017


In the age in which the majority of recording artists and bands are struggling to survive on the mediocre, almost vaporous, earnings from their craft and graft, it could be argued that without a monetary reward (no matter how modest) and without security you may as well take risks; push the boundaries; never compromise, and in the case of the Tübingen and Hamburg straddling duo AUDIAC, concentrate your efforts on producing a ‘work of art’. And make no mistake So Waltz is an ambitious album’ bordering at times on the theatrical, but definitely art-y.

Knowing admittedly nothing about this duo, I can only assume they were lucky enough to have at least the time to pursue these artistic ambitions. Though as the press release is not entirely clear, I assume this latest album is the follow up to Alexander Wiemer von Veen and Niklas David’s 2003 debut, Thank You For Not Discussing The Outside World; marking quite an absence between releases, but nevertheless indicating that they certainly had enough time to create an epic suite. They also had one of the (infamous) original co-founders of Germany’s most uncompromising iconic groups, the mighty Faust, Hans Joachim Irmler on board to produce; his impressive skillset, shaped in a baptism of fire during the Krautrock epoch, and explorations pushing his chagrins further into sonic experimentation.

 

Remaining true to that debut album however, AUDIAC still sound inspired by Chanson, trip-hop, chamber pop, psychedelic music and Kurt Weill. Only they drop some of those more psychedelic pretensions this time in favour of melodrama and spectacle; dancing in malcontent and lament to a semi-classical avant-garde soundtrack, both melodically beautiful and elegiacally forlorn.

With all the limitations and pressures lifted, the duo is able to put forward their grandiose schemes undaunted by commercial success: or so they say. And so moving quasi-classical soul merges with Popol Vuh like divine choral atmospheres, and harsher, stark declarations of pained expression. Not quite in the realms of Scott Walker but sailing pretty close, the vocals and backing fluctuate the malady intensity and constantly restless plunging piano playing and voice combo of Diamanda Galas at its most harrowing – especially on the tumultuous, in a state of despair and rage, Doberman -, and the aching blue-eyed soul of George Michael and cerebral crooning accentuation of David Sylvian at its most romantic. Yet this concatenate pan-European songbook, mostly travailing the moody northern realms of Germany, France and the Lowlands, evokes a penchant for the UK too. Hints of Massive Attack, Thom Yorke, an enervated Underworld, early Queen and the Welsh maverick John Cale appear amongst the waltzing, gushing and graceful allusions of a spurned brooding European protagonist – probably sucking on a Gitanes; carrying all the weight of the world’s problems on his shoulders.

Returning with an impressive minor opus, So Waltz sounds like it took a lot of time and effort to create. Highly dramatic, occasionally indulgent, yet always quite moving they make quite the statement with this bleak but diaphanous and expressive tragedy.






Psycho & Plastic  ‘Kosmopop’
GiveUsYourGOLD,  20th October 2017


 

Guiding lights into the expanses of an imaginary galaxy, the Psycho & Plastic duo of Berlin dance music stalwarts, Thomas Tichai and Alexandre Decoupigny, search both inner and outer space with a suave funky and cosmic techno soundtrack on their new album, Kosmopop.

Previously releasing a string of EPs and videos, with the emphasis on fun and quirky electronic dance music experimentation – bordering at times on the goofy and cartoonish -, the duo have finally found time to produce a more complex, daresay conceptual, album; with aloof wondrous inspirations abound. Self-released through their burgeoning label GiveUsYourGOLD (Armour, AXLOTL, Irk Yste), their debut album proper dials down the more loony, bubbly and tropical kooky influences in favour of smoother, groovier rhythms. This isn’t to suggest they’ve suddenly become serious; the larks and optimism remain, with fond homages to the first and second summers of love, and a particular penchant for the unconscious organic flowering of the 90s rave scene.

 

Alluding to certain science-fiction ascetics in the artwork, the music is itself alien and mysterious at times, erring towards Kosmische influences like Tangerine Dream on the more enigmatic searching voyages – check the brocaded synth fanning, solar winds blowing and whistling satellite signally Superflare and Banco de Gaia does Mayan temple dub Entropy.

For the major part however, the music sounds like a Mir Space Station house band of Der Plan, Niles Rodgers, International Pony and Felix da Housecat beaming down a love-in direct to the berlin dancefloors. Expect to hear astral funk lightly entwining with early echoes of the electro hip hop compilations; echoes and specs of an alien presence reverberating and floating over Chicago House; sitar like brass-y meditations chiming along to pocket calculator algorithms; stoic Germanic tuned narration encouraging philosophical self-discoveries across the universe whilst also urging the listener “to get down” to tribal beats and 808 preset percussion – the four-to-the-floor disco punk Divine Loser even reimagines Depeche mode being born in Düsseldorf rather than Basildon.

Psycho & Plastic’s interstellar travels flow in a cyber boogie motion, gazing as they do into the wonders of a funky techno and as pop disco vision of space. Kosmopop is a cracking debut album and marks a small but significant sophisticated change in the duo’s style; more ambitious, smoother and sleeker.






Andrew Heath  ‘Soundings’
Disco Gecko,  3rd November 2017


 

Praised as a sort of progressive sound and ambient music torchbearer of a genre renowned for such luminaries as Brian Eno and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Andrew Heath’s own experiments in the field lean towards the reification of the fleeting, disturbed and ephemeral quiet traces of ‘people within spaces’. The self-styled composer of ‘lower-case’ minimalism evokes enigmatic, mysterious and occasionally mournful passages of evolving, passing time through the use of found and created sound manipulation and in-situ (a concatenate theme that connects to Heath’s site specific video art) field recordings.

His fourth solo album for Disco Gecko follows on from previous work, building up both synthetic and natural textural layers, drones, obscured broadcast voices and sonorous piano phrases. However, the main difference with Soundings is the atmosphere it creates; the echoing leitmotif of creaking footsteps pacing up and down a room and the almost heavy methodical concentration of memories pouring from the typewriter notation for me conjure up a writer’s garret: the author’s struggle, turmoil and thoughts represented by Heath’s serialism soundtrack.

Used subtly the neo-classical instrumentation that swirls and floats around the concrete sounds is used to bring melody, intrigue and sometimes, sadness. As well as Heath’s lingering, pondering classical piano notes and scales, there’s a touching twinkling and warmer Fender Rhodes offering lighter jazzy tinged, comfort and balance; a counterpoint interaction between the two instruments that began in the 90s when Heath collaborated with Felix Joy under the experimental Aqueous banner. It also resonates with similar piano explorations by Roedelius, who as it happens has worked with both Heath and Joy previously, most famously on the Meeting The Magus album, and more recently with Heath and fellow avant-garde composer/artist Christopher Chaplin on the live improvised recording Triptych In Blue. Roedelius could be said to have an open-ended collaboration with Heath, who it must be said can’t help but be enthused by the Kluster/Cluster/(and in more recent times) Qluster trinity steward of Kosmische and neo-classical exploration.

Another (on-going) collaboration with the Dutch ambient musician Anne Chris Bakkes continues on both the album’s winter moody traipse through the Dutch province of Noorderhaven, and the serene Happenstance articulation. Bakkes on her part performs a masked and fluttering guitar peregrination and plays with more unusual, mostly unidentifiable background sounds on the two tracks: described in the press release as ‘ephemeral’.

Breaking the veiled, swirling clouds hovering atmospherics, Stéphane Marlet and Bill Howgego are on hand to offer both arching serious, lamentable, and swooned jazz inspiration; the former enriches the cyclonic pondering Days In-Between with saddening cello, the latter tenderly sailing above the Tibetan imaginations of A Break In The Clouds with a striking clarinet flourish.

Pivoting between levitating above the heavens and space and counting the days in a haunted soundscape of captured movements and memories on Earth, Soundings hints at scenes and scenery alike; the traces of which make up this gently unfolding series of ambient descriptive passages in time.






Matt Finucane  ‘Threaten Me With Your Love’
Light Crude,  25th October 2017


 

Returning after what seems an age away from crafting some of the most understated moodily resigned and mentally fatigued indie, Brighton-based all-rounder Matt Finucane is back with an instrumentally pared down, but just as sophisticated, duo of EPs this Autumn.

Not that we wish to pry, and only knowing Finucane from a distance, it seems his travails and dysfunctional personal life has got the better of him recently and in the past: hence the absence; part of which was spent in rehab. Threaten Me With Your Love is the idiosyncratic troubadour’s first proper release since then.

Back doing what he does so well, with eight new songs split between two staggered EPs, Finucane has employed the talents of fellow Brighton musician Mik Hanscomb – one half of the city’s (via Southend) pastoral Laurel Canyon imbued folk siblings Junkboy – to accompany him both live and on this recording.

 

Once again channeling vague notions of Lou Reed, David Slyvian, Ian Hunter, Bowie and Bolan, Finucane’s more relaxed, even languid, acoustic heavy material has an unintentional but accepted ‘druggy malaise’ feel to it. Crooning with a certain drowsy but meandrous confidence, our swooning maverick also often channels the quivering moodiness and slick sneer of a 50s rock’n’roll performer – similar in style to Bradford Cox’s very own donning of the vestiges of a crooning 50s rock’n’roll balladeer on the Atlas Sound LP Parallax. Updated of course with slivers of glam rock and post punk, and with the concerns and sentiments closer in principle to the loss of innocence and the emotional wreckage of ‘dead man’s curve’ than the harmless High School melodramas of the genre.

Experimenting with delivery throughout, the vocals often trail off, swooning into the crevices of Finucane’s darkened room, or loosely hovering between both the high and low registers; tripping along in what sounds like an exercise in catharsis; releasing thoughts in a melodically enriching counsel session. The music echoes that mood, both rallying and accentuating the sentiment and evocations on the acoustic rhythm and electric guitar – Moon Madness for some reason reminded me of Mick Harvey. However, the final song of this four track collection, Self Possession Version Two, moves through a number of musical ideas; reverberating brassy guitar strings jangle through Gothic cowboy boot spurs rattling back beat, new romanticism and the Velvet Underground before pushing into a bent-out-of-shape Sonic Youth and ending on a haunting final waning dissipation.

Still finding his range with one of his most stripped-down recordings yet, Finucane thankfully makes a welcome return to the music scene, and once again defies categorization with a unique, if despondent lovelorn, style of delivery.






In Time  ‘Inside Your Mind’
Mental Experience via Guerssen,  13th October 2017


 

The, what seemed almost limitless at the time, pool of lost and obscure garage band treasures was drained a long time ago. Well, at least the halcyon days of the original primal punk, pop-sike, blue-eyed soul and psychedelic R&B back beat era in the 60s; the architects of the Nuggets-Rubbles-Pebbles-Teenage Shutdown compilations feast truly now exhausted. Drying up the reserves of every band and tenuous collection of misfits that ever recorded a single or had a whiff of a named – no matter how minor and obscure – record label or, managed to wow the locals in the provincial state scene for even the most briefest of moments, many crate-diggers and dewy-eyed salivating acid and garage freaks started dredging up the most amateur of home recordings and wannabe demos.

This process has been repeated for most genres, moving on to different more fertile ground in the following decades, and as with this obscurity from Pennsylvania outfit In Time, honing in on the 80s revival; though equally at the apex of both the raw indie and grunge fusions that were to come.

Skeptical about these finds ever since a musician I used to knock about with in the 90s – Spacemen 3 and Sun Ra enthusiast I recall – told me the story of when he and his band mates used to mischievously pass off mock garage band recordings of themselves as authentic lost ‘nuggets’ from the 60s USA hinterland; leaving these constructed recordings on cassette tapes in secondhand stores, or as the American’s would say “thrift stores”. Whether anyone was ever taken in or not, discovering such curiosities has always made me cautious and nervous. In the photocopied ‘ultra rare’ D.I.Y. mode, what might be a cunning ruse or by luck a damn good find, the only ever release by the In Time quartet, Inside Your Mind, was discovered in such circumstances in a Chicago ‘thrift store’. How it got there is anyone’s guess, but this discovery enthused the guy who found it, the Plastic Crimwave’s Steve Krakow, enough to set in motion a fanboy like zeal to track down the culprits responsible; leading to an official reissue style celebratory vinyl release of the boys only proper showcase: boosted by a number of unreleased raw and experimental detritus from the attic.

Krakow pinned down for long enough one of the original members of the shallow angst and knockabout youth punk-garage-psych for a terse interview; chronicling the little information he did obtain in the Ugly Things/Greg Shaw typewritten fanzine style accompanying liner notes. Surprised that anyone gave a shit, two decades on, Stephen Turk, Stephen Daly, Ed Keer and Anthony (AJ) Fischer nonetheless are now immortalized, in a fashion, by their champion Krakow.

 

‘Homespun’ indeed, In Time sound rough and sloppy, powering through a dizzy carnage of the TV Personalities, Subway Sect, 13th Floor Elevators, Swell Maps, The Dils, a thoroughly unclean version of The Clean, and The Gruesomes for starters. Growling and looning throughout, the often hard-to-fathom vocals change from a surly Yank version of John Lydon to a disheveled Dan Treacy; the music from primal rough’n ready Apache beat garage rock to indulgent shimmery meandering. Theme wise the band takes adolescent swipes at the elderly (Old Ladies) and those who meet the ire, or moon about isolation and detachment from the Outside world whilst reserving a special kind of malcontent and rage at a love spurned.

Whether its aping The Residents strangulating Paint It Black on the astonishing and lolloping Antonetta Perplexes Me, or sinking in the hallucinatory toxins of a vat of Kool Aid on the phaser messy experiment Many Are The Tears, the musical reference points are numerous and thickly applied. Despite sounding erratic, on the edge of distortion – the volume and cacophony constantly threatening to overload the sound – and about to fall apart, In Times spirited recordings and unfinished, rehearsal style ideas betray a melodious sophistication and decent performance dynamic. Too late for the original garage band phenomenon and for punk obviously, the band made sure they’d make, no matter how fleeting, some kind of mark on the 80s revival. And yet they are an augur for what was to follow, with hints of post-rock and grunge, and at times sounding like the forefathers of bands such as The Hunches.

 

Well there time has finally come, or at least a fanboy nod of approval in the right direction, a mark of respect. This collection is every bit as much about the obsession of Krakow as much as it is about the injustice that such a group could fail to catch on, disappearing instead into the ether…well, at least Pennsylvania’s attics and Chicago’s thrift stores.






Ester Poly  ‘Pique Dame’
Ikarus Records,  October 6th 2017


 

Experimentally rocking the cantons of their Swiss home for a while in their respective separate outfits, Béatrice Graf and Martina Bérther unite as an unholy drum and electric bass alliance under the Ester Poly (a scramble of ‘polyester’ of course) banner.

Pitching generation X(er) Bérther with Y(er) Graf, this rambunctious vehicle for the duo’s feminist protestations and irony began as a casual improvised meeting of minds a few years back, before blossoming and gaining traction with more structured, paced material. The spirit of volatility and avant-garde probing experimentation is no less diminished now that they’ve channeled that energy and ennui into nine, more controlled, songs: granted many fall outside the perimeters of the formulaic; amorphously clashing and flaying, dissipating and fading out between the loosest of vocal and instrumental performances and narratives.

 

Framed as a clash of styles and inspirations, with even the record label unsure of how exactly to position the duo’s new album, Pique Dame, Ester Poly perform with great dexterity and articulation as they thrash through brash Stilts bravado (Slutwalk); catch themselves in an overlap, churlishly antagonizing the 72 virgins myth to a Giallo paperback thriller soundtrack (72 Vierges); sultrily but with ominous overtones, apply trebly gangly Pylon throbbing basslines and a Raincoats reggae gait to a sinister Chanson cover (La Vie En Rose); and smash along to a bestial doom soundscapes (The Rise Of The Witches).

Not hampered in anyway by the limitations of their chosen drum and bass instrumentation, and hardly comparable to any of the many such similar combinations plying their trade, Ester Poly use a stack of effects and distortion tools to widen the sound spectrum; evoking hints and obvious homages to post-punk, art school, Jazz, doom rock, heavy metal, no wave and Krautrock in the process. The latter influence of which pops up a lot actually. Whether it’s the transmogrified inaction of a limping Mother Sky by Can on Dienstag, or the redolent constant rolling motion syncopation of the same group’s late rhythm provider, Jaki Liebezeit, or the prowling, growling bended bass playing of Faust’s Jean-Hervé Péron, that Teutonic influence be heard loud and clear: they even sound like a riot grrrl Neu! on the track Big Bang.

 

Recorded in more or less one-takes, both combatants facing off against each other in the studio with no headphones or click track, Pique Dame captures not only the lively, hostile and enraged but also the humour (even if it is dark and resigned) of this energetic union. Despite the raging tumults, dynamism and soundclash of ideas, this album is a steady and even showcase of festering ideas and moods. It’s also quite brilliant and encapsulates the ‘pique’ perfectly; arousing, curious and irritated!





REVIEW
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA
PHOTO CREDIT: JIMMY DE SANA



Jon Hassell   ‘Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two’
tak:til/Glitterbeat Records,  29th September 2017

Proving a fruitful enterprise in the exploratory music department and a welcome extension of the ambient and minimalist genres, the, what should seem on the surface, harmonious partnership between Brian Eno and Jon Hassell proved anything but; leading eventually towards acrimony. These now iconic Fourth World Music albums, the first volume being Possible Musics, were borne entirely from Hassell’s solo traverses in global music experimentation, though Eno’s minor but significant, if not entirely obvious, involvement grabs the attention and headlines: The second volume, Dream Theory In Malaya made no such distinctions, and would be credited wholly to Hassell.

Already artistically riding high on a crust of acclaimed production projects and numerous semi-successful collaborations and solo albums, when the famous Eno touched down in New York City in 1978, the ambient pioneer would nonetheless unintentionally help direct another important development in the fields of ambient and world music. Absorbed in what the city had to offer him musically, Eno would fatefully during his investigations come across the stripped and atmospherically rich experiments of the gifted trumpeter/composer Hassell, whose own pathway from adroit pupil of Stockhausen to seminal work on Terry Riley’s harangued piano guided In C, encompassed a 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.

So impressive is Hassell’s CV and study credentials – studying with an array of diverse bastions of indigenous music styles, including Hindustani classical singer and mystic, Pran Nath – that many other such luminaries, both before and since, attempted to court his attention for possible collaborations (Peter Gabriel, David Sylvain included). Though a minor figure in the sense of worldwide recognition, and never one to brush with any sort of commercial popular success, 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. The record that initially charmed and impressed Eno, Hassell’s eclectic Vernal Equinox, blended a mystical suffused atmosphere of the Middle East with vaporous trials of South America and the Orient to the West to create minimalistic transmissions from a timeless geography. A meeting at the performance artist space The Kitchen cemented the deal that would see Eno produce Hassell’s, now iconic, visionary Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics peregrination – also, though a while ago now, reissued by Glitterbeat Records.

Annoyed and aggrieved, Hassell had seen as a result of Eno’s contributions his work categorized under the English ambient progenitors own name in record stores; demoted to support or a bit-part player role on his own compositions. He’d also been more than a bit frustrated and peeved that Eno was heavily borrowing and appropriating Hassell’s Fourth World concepts for his subsequent famous collaborations with David Byrne on the My Life in The Bush Of Ghosts and Remain In Light albums.

Eno was however forgiven long enough to be welcomed back into the fold on Dream Theory; even going as a far as to grant him a trumpet solo on the out-of-body projected traverse of a wet Malaysian jungle peregrination These Times. And because he was always generous with the introductions, and more importantly, they offered ‘exceptional rates’, Eno put Hassell in touch with the ‘enterprising and talented’ Lanois brothers (Daniel and Bob) who at that time, on the cusp of the 80s, were building a steady reputation for themselves out of their ‘chez’ home studio in Hamilton, close by to Toronto.

Adding to this musical exploration dream team was sessions coordinator Michael Brooks (known for his work with the celebrated Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan), who’s home in Toronto Hassell commuted from to the studio each day, and in the most removed way, former Velvet Underground drummer (the first in fact to sit in for the band) and renowned conceptual artist/land art sculptor Walter De Maria, who popped in just for ‘fun’ and may or may not have left a presence of distant drums on the misty fuzz veiled Polynesian fantasy, Courage.




In the borderless compositions of Hassell, evocative traces, hazy semblances and the reification of dreams manifest through transformed instrumentation to create an amorphous reimagined soundscape. As the leading quote from Hassell’s linear notes make clear, this is a new form of classicism – a re-classification if you like -; eroding the dominance of central Europe’s great composers for that of cultures from Southeast Asia, Africa and Australasia.

The concept of Dream Theory In Malaysia is no different, the central theme and interest piqued both by the anthologist study of the same name by Kilton Stewart, and the ‘water splash rhythm with giggling children and birds from a [the Semelai] tribe’ sound recording that accompanied the Queen’s tour of the Commonwealth sanctioned book, Primitive Peoples. Adventurer Stewart famously chronicled the ‘dream tribe’ Senoi people of the central Malaysian peninsular, whose ancestors had made the voyage across from Southern Thailand 4,500 years ago. The Senoi are practitioners of ‘lucid dreaming’ of course, a phenomenon that Hassell lapped up in a romantic affair with the region and its people (as an aside, Hassell’s notes throw in a love tryst with an ‘exotically-tuned’ woman from Kuala Lumpur for good measure).

Leaving his mind to wander, Hassell’s transmogrified nuzzling trumpet was set loose on the dreamy visages of Malaya. Invented scales transcribed over mysterious celluloid picturesque panoramas and more humid, almost stifling and abundant muffled fauna and vegetation wild spaces permeate this ambient escapism, as subtle echoes of the indigenous instrumentation ring out in a ghostly fashion; especially the Malay tambourine known as a ‘rebana’, and the local variant of a gong, as used by the Semelai people – like the Senoi dreamers, another branch of the Orang Asli collective of ethnic peoples that inhabit Malaysia’s peninsular, brought into the sphere of this semi-fictional, semi-factual suite.

Paddle beaten percussion, wooden fluty drones, a languid bass guitar, and what sounds like the kind of car horn you’d find on a Model T Ford, merge in this vaporous swirl of a soundscape. But it’s Hassell’s serialism and transduced tones and layers that guide the listener; from sucked-in heralded fanfares to snuffling and zigzagging ripples of descriptive scene setting and landscaping.

Re-released, for the first time since its original release in 1981, Dream Theory In Malaya is the fourth album in Glitterbeat Records new tak:til series. It fits congruously of course within this imprints framework and vision of a borderless reimagined musical landscape unbeholden to convention and structure. And once again celebrates the mavericks and pioneers striving to reinvent what ‘global music’ can be: in this case an undiscovered expanse of imagination and possibilities.





NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





This latest roundup of the imaginative, exploratory, venerable and refined musical discoveries includes a second collection of film and field recordings from the late legend ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya; the third peregrination from Glitterbeat Records’ new imprint tak:tile, Širom’s Slovenian soundscape odyssey I Can Be A Clay Snapper; a rebooted soul-in-the-machine electronica collection from Nosaj Thing; and the latest ambient soundtrack from Odd Nosdam.

But first of all we have a reenergized Afrobeat collaboration between the genre’s doyen rhythm guru, Tony Allen, and the eclectic, protest driven, Chicago Afrobeat Project, called What Goes Up.

Read on…

Chicago Afrobeat Project Feat. Tony Allen   ‘What Goes Up’
September 15th,  2017


Starting life as a shifting collective of musicians jamming in a artist’s loft, channeling the fervor of Afrobeat’s progenitor Fela Kuti, the Chicago Afrobeat Project initially covered the Nigerian icon’s back catalogue before developing their own variant style. Transducing the sound of downtown Lagos and the Afro-Spot nightclub via the rich musical heritage of their own native metropolis, the group, now settling with a regular lineup, open the studio doors to embrace the city’s famous blues, soul, R&B, jazz, gospel, house and hip-hop culture.

Expanding on and playing with the Afrobeat foundations but staying true to the roots of the African fusion that first merged the popular Ghanaian Highlife hybrid with funk and soul, the project members invite a number of vocalists and rappers from the area to enthuse, lead and prompt the music towards the political; reinforcing the main message and activism behind much of Kuti’s own, often dangerous, protestations and rebellious denouncements.

As if it wasn’t already enough, the Afrobeat ante is upped with the appearance of Kuti’s wingman and rhythm guru, Tony Allen. Showing those youngsters a thing or two, Allen brings certain levity, a craft and connection to the source, to this ten-track album. Flown in especially from his home in Paris, Allen, who’s also recently recorded a tribute album to Art Blakey (which he says fits in well with the Chicago Afrobeat Projects What Goes Up), doesn’t just turn up to add a roll and drum flair here and there, he plays on all the tracks, laying down the foundations, leading the way and rattles off his trademark polyrhythm shuffles, jazz timed syncopations and, most important of all, infectious grooves: the fight against injustice has never rarely so funky.

The elder statesman of Afrobeat, sounding almost effortless with his limbering and relaxed drumming, brings a sagacious quality to What Goes Up, though his comrades bring the bright and heralding horns, laser zappy synths, church organ and sunny Hammond sustained rays to the get-down.

Guests, of which there are many, on this sweltering and sauntering conscious album include a new jack swinging, bordering on gospel house style hook, protesting JC Brooks (Race Hustle and Sunday Song); an Igbo lullaby and Afro-futurist meets atavistic soul of Western Africa Oranmiyan (Cut The Infection, Must Come Down and Afro Party); the soulfully sassy, tumbling R&B songstress Kiara Lanier (No Bad News); and a metaphorical conversationalist style Rico Sisney and Maggie Vagle (as sparring partner) of Sidewalk Chalk (Marker 48).

As Rico Sisney puts it on the skit for environmental justice, Marker 48: “Something’s gotta change!” And over the course of the album the collective tackle every kind of current injustice filling up the newsfeed: from the alarming murder rate in the inner cities, including Chicago’s own widely publicized tragic rates and by extension the Black Lives Matter campaign; racial profiling and harassment; tensions between communities; and of course, Trump.

Speaking Kuti fluently, channeling the Afrobeat totems and the most hustling, hot footing rhythms, the Chicago collective offer a unique take on the genre under the watchful eye of Tony Allen. Bridging two generations, adding some fresh licks and eclectic sounds from their own backyard, they do more than most in reenergizing the Afrobeat blueprint.




Nosaj Thing   ‘Parallels’
Innovative Leisure,  8th September

 

An urgent rewire; a forced reboot; the fourth album from the Los Angeles-based electronic producer/composer/performer Jason Chung, under his Nosaj Thing alter ego, focused the mind like no other project before. As a warning to us all that backing up your hard drive is not only vital and reassuring but also a security precaution, Chung lost three years worth of demos, sketches and compositions, many of which were destined for this LP, in a robbery whilst out on tour with Warp Record’s signing Clark.

Losing all his equipment and a number of precise hard drives, all of which were never backed-up or saved anywhere else, meant that Chung would have to start from scratch, and as it has proven, reexamine not only his methods of storage and quality control but also his process of creativity.

Parallels is in fact billed as some kind of “epiphany” for Chung; a journey into “uncharted territories” for an artist renowned for his collaborative fusions with Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi and Chance The Rapper. Changing direction and playing to it to his advantage, Chung uses this as an opportunity to explore deeper expanses. Far from wild and edgy however, Parallels is a quite vaporous but controlled soulful listening experience. Counterpointing various succinct philosophical questions (‘Dystopia or Paradise’, “Love or Regret?’) and themes (‘Emotions vs. Technology’, ‘Soul vs. Machines’) Chung’s electronic suffusions linger in a woozy sometimes haunting fashion between his many juxtapositions, yet always remains connected with a touch of humanity: from the resonating visages of a taped conversation with a security guard watching over the Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time exhibition, to the trio of varying degrees of ethereal and soulful vocal contributions from guests Kazu Makino, Steven Spacek and Zuri Marley.

Emerging from the ether, Chung opens the album with a veiled drone rumble, piano arpeggiator and ring of articulate beats before hooking up with London producer/singer Spacek on the haunted broody lament, set to a Polygon Windows meets minimalist R&B pop, All Point Back To You. A precursor, a taster, of what you can expect to hear on the future Makino/Chung collaborative EP (released we’re told at some point later on in 2017), the breathlessly whispered cooed and chilled suffrage How We Do, adds a ticking drum beat and Japan style ice-y synth to the gauzy shoegazing Blonde Redhead signature. Nocturnal dreamy downtempo house, ambient meditations and finely-tuned kinetic soul-in-the-machine meanders follow, before reaching Marley’s rich soaring to lilting contour hovering past love affair ruminations on Way We Were.

Finely chilled, articulated electronica, amorphously floating between escapism and dystopia, Parallels never quite settles on either. And despite a number of equations that pitch technology and the machine against humans, Chung’s music has a real soul and yearning.






Odd Nosdam  ‘LIF’
Sound In Silence

 

Few have changed the direction of hip-hop and modern ambient soundscapes like David P. Madson, the co-founder of both one of rap music’s most experimental outfits, cLOUDDEAD, and the seminal Anticon label. Forging a post millennium course with a number of collaborators, including Dose One, Yoni Wolf and Jel, Madson deconstructed, eviscerated and then rebuilt a more avant-garde, strung-out and expansive vision for hip-hop.

Under the Odd Nosdam title, inspired by the minimalist composers, and on this latest soundscape immersion, the degrading in quality traces and language of sound/video artist and composer William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops IV, he delves ever deeper into the ambient sphere.

Informed by a prolonged spell of “nonstop rain” in his native Bay Area home, the LIF album transduces the West Coast of America’s winds and rains weather patterns into an analogue controlled, filtered and manipulated field of ebbing and flowing pulsing electricity. The capital three lettered titles (codes? Abbreviations?) fade in and out; like passing through a cloudy overcast or static resonating wave, which eventually dies out. Subtly alluded to, drizzling downpours are simulated, falling on glass, on the slight Japanese sounding RAI, and detuned TV set feedback accentuated moiety KEI I and KEI II. Whilst far gentler droplets fall like notes on the enervated rasping vignette AIN.

Prompts and themes of loneliness – and when listening to the varied ambient passages, you’ll find plenty of space to ruminate in isolation -, love and fear are key to unlocking, or at least perhaps deciphering, these ten mood compositions: articulated at times through subtle plucked out notation, bellowed harmonium, dreamy ascents above the clouds and floating lingers of melody. Refining emotion from a pylon hum, showers of rain or generators, Madson’s minimalist soundscapes traverse the Kosmische and ambient genres with a contemporary feel and movement.






Deben Bhattacharya  ‘Musical Explorers: Krishna In Spring’
ARC Music,  25th August 2017

 

In praise of the field recordists, leading world music label ARC continues to champion the music and film recordings of the late ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya in its latest series venture, Musical Explorers.

The project was launched back in June with Bhattacharya’s 1950s and late 1960s spanning Colours Of Raga, which included an introduction and illuminating set of notes from Songlines editor-in-chief, author of the “rough guides” to world music, Simon Broughton, who once again offers context and insight on this, the second volume in the series.

A self-taught producer, recording not only the sounds of his native India but also the Middle East, Asia and Europe, Bhattacharya travelled extensively cataloguing rare performances, bringing his exotic wonders to a his adopted British home and audience via various BBC commissioned documentaries and radio programs.

As the title suggests, Krishna In Spring is a paean of instrumentals, dances and venerable verses dedicated to, perhaps, the most venerated and famous deities in Hindu mythology. Demon vanquisher, protector of the common people, the mischievous incandescent blue portrayed god represents the “spirit for life” and for his tumultuous love affair with Radha. Said to have the common touch; never happier than when cavorting and leaping and springing about with milkmaids in his role as humble cow herder, Krishna is often depicted flute in hand, amongst the earnest folk. Almost every love song in the Hindu songbook is in his honour or at least references him. The diaphanous articulated Indian bamboo flute, the Bansuri, is even used as a colloquial signature and evocation of his presence.

Taking the full extended performances, seen and heard briefly on the soundtrack, from the title’s twenty-five minute documentary come public information film (first aired in 1969), Bhattacharya captures a panoply vision of the famous Holi Festival: the “festival of colours” that ushers in the Spring, dedicated to the deeds and spirit of Krishna, or as Bhattacharya himself puts it, “…to surrender oneself to the spirit of life. That is the message of Krishna in Spring.”

Humongous sized drums; bicycle-pump tie-dye abandonment; women browbeating their menfolk with broom handles, enacting Radha’s stormy love affair with Krishna; silky clothed flag carriers and joyful communion, the Holi Festival footage, even in its scratchy washed-out by time and quaintly narrated form, encapsulates a vivid, chaotic worship. It is a festival steeped in tradition and seems out of time with modernity, but as we are told in the album’s accompanying notes, continues to be practiced in the exact same way today.

Glimpses, as I said, of the evocative drones, syllabic ‘bols’ speak and poet exultations are played-out in their entirety on this collection’s eight sweet and beautiful audio recordings. Half of which feature the backing of R.K. Bharati laying down elegant melodies and drones on the short-necked Indian fiddle, the ‘sarangi’, Hidayat Khan taping out various coda and frenzied sophisticated patterns on the tabla, and Chiranjilal planting atmospheric brassy drones foundations.

Touched with the afflatus, there are fine examples of dusky hour pentatonic scale flightiness and serenaded flute pulchritude to Krishna throughout, including Suraj Narayan Purohit and Indermall Mathur’s Raga Bhupali, the adulating voiced incantation to the many names and trials of the beloved deity Devotional Song Of The Ballabh Sect In Praise Of Krishna performed by Amarlal, and the lengthy lyrical prose turn conversational drama, based on the late 14th century poet Chandidas’ original and the subsequent additional litany of poet contributions throughout the ages, Mathur, performed by singers from the Mitra-Thakur family.

Every bit as revelatory, especially to those unfamiliar with India’s multifaceted belief systems and extraordinary musical heritage, as the first of Bhattacharya’s collections in the Musical Explorers series, Krishna In Spring does however offer an even deeper and varied window on classical Indian music: A celebration of sounds that traverse Rajasthan, West Bengal but above all the holy.



Širom  ‘I Can Be A Clay Snapper’
tak:til,  8th September 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 (launched earlier this year with 75 Dollar Bill’s Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock and Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society’s Simultonality albums) 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.

Though part of a litany of Empires, including the Habsburgs, Italian and either through their own forced amorphous cultural, ancestral ties with neighboring regions and peoples, became part of the Croat-Slovenian and Yugoslavian annexations at one time, Slovenia has despite its size and battle for independence, maintained a distinct identity. In less glowing terms but pretty accurate, the writer Simon Winder in his Habsburg travel saga Danubia, described what we know as the modern Slovenia as being, “[…] stuck together from the rubble of the [Habsburg] Empire’s end, with its core made up from the Duchy of Carniola with bits of Styria, Gorizia, Istria and a small piece of the old Hungarian county of Vas.”

One of the central themes of I Can Be A Clay Snapper, and amongst the country’s most richly abundant resources, is water; the leitmotif of which appears throughout the album’s five odysseys, evoking mountain streams, lazy lowland meandering rivers and the mysterious vanishing water of Karst through a sonic transcription.

Revisiting a number of locations held dear, including some that proved very difficult to reach, Samo Kutin, Iztok Koren and Ana Kravanja travelled to locations as diverse as the bright yellow turnip rape fields of Prekmurje to the snowy mountain top of Kal above the village of Čadry to channel their inspirations and compose from improvisations this, often, meditative peaceable experience. As if the music didn’t quite signal the intentions and psychogeography well enough already, the trio have also made a film, Memoryscapes, to document this landscape surveying experiment: each, the album and the film, influencing and informing the other.





Though all three of Širom have different varied experiences to share, with both Kutin and Kravanja citing punk rock as a starting point, both playing apart in various bands in the Slovenian capital before eventually crossing paths at an improvisational music workshop and forming the kalimba-based Najoua duo, and Koren meanwhile, feeling a peculiar shame at listening to music during his childhood, but making it up for it ever since, serving in a succession of metal and post-rock bands, they manage to accommodate each other’s particular strengths, personalities and depth. Which can’t be easy especially when you glance at the scope of instrumentation used; each band member a deft practitioner of instruments as cosmopolitan and eclectic as the balafon, banjo, mizmar, lyre, ribab and as humdrum – but when put to good use and made into a impromptu device for making a rhythm or unusual sound – as common everyday objects such as a pair of drawers and household junk.

Yet whatever the backgrounds, traces of North Africa, Adriatic and the middle East, and individual influences, 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.

Changing tact so to speak, following the first two and ahead of a fourth re-issue (a second volume of Jon Hassell’s pioneering Fourth World ambient evocations is to be released just a few weeks after Širom’s LP), I Can Be A Clay Snapper is the first tak:til imprint to meander into south central Europe. And what an impressive and expansive inaugural Balkans travail it is too; different from the previous two releases, yet keeping to the tactile, accentuate and imaginative remit; whilst conjuring up mystical new soundscapes.



ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona




Ifriqiyya Electrique  ‘Rûwâhîne’
Glitterbeat Records,  26th May 2017

I’m going to stick to my initial reaction, I first exclaimed on hearing the first two tracks from this extraordinary sound clash, Rûwâhîne, and once more reiterate that it sounds like the Funboy Three meets Einstürzende Neubauten in the southern desert regions of Tunisia. But for the purposes of a more insightful review I will expand on that one liner.

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. And don’t for one-minute use that, rightly maligned (insulting you could say), catchall term “world music”. This is far beyond ideal, misjudged categorization. After all, to paraphrase the words of Grammy-award winning music producer Ian Brennan, “all music is world music”.





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. The band name itself is a reference to the Medieval “entity” that contained present-day Tunisia and parts of Algeria and Libya; much along the African province boundaries inherited from the Roman Empire. On their part, Cambuzat and Greco provide the grind, industrial soundscape texturing, sonorous drones and flayed guitars, but mostly, the “electrique”. 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.

From the very start of this album we’re immersed in the strange cavernous atmosphere of the Banga’s Sidi Marzûq ritual, with summoned forth voices and drums emerging from oscillating winds on laa la ila allah; followed up with the first of many triple cycle entitled tracks qaadrii-salaam alaik-massarh, which travails a dusky, dusty landscape of industrial-strength clanging and anvil hammering and wild guitar lines that fluctuate between reggae, noise, dance music and Faust – incidentally, Cologne rivals, Can are mentioned in the press release as an influence, and you can hear echoes of their E.F.S. experiments on the track mawwel.

We find ourselves taking on the role of voyeur, interloper even, on the less intense and more stripped field recordings that dot this album. Personal, intimate conversations and channeling sound like they were caught on the wind or by passing by the humble abodes of those in communion. When the intensity returns, these voices get lost in the rhythmic cycles and turmoil and sound even more ancient, even ghostly and otherworldly: the “electrique” throwing the trance like union between the old and present into a spiraling chaos.

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.

Alongside the recent Bargou 08 release from the same label, Glitterbeat Records, both albums shed light on the often overlooked, if not unknown, music of Tunisia; focusing on an understanding and dynamic showcase for a country that often attracts attention for all the wrong reasons.





NEW MUSIC REVIEWS ROUNDUP

Words: Dominic Valvona


Roll Call: The Black Angels, Anna Coogan, Cotton Wolf, Happyness, King Ayisoba, Lake, Alex Stolze, Swamp Sounds/Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods, Vassals, Andrew Wasylyk.




A mega edition of the regular tickling our fancy reviews roundup this month, before the Easter Break and the Monolith Cocktail’s week long sabbatical to Palermo, we take you on a whirlwind trip through some of the “choice” most recent and upcoming releases. Pleasantries aside. Let’s crack on…

King Ayisoba ‘1000 Can Die’
Glitterbeat Records, 31st March 2017

Credit: Jacob Crawfurd

 

Sounding the klaxon call in defense of his native Ghana, and Africa at large, on his inaugural LP for Glitterbeat Records, the striking King Ayisoba, from the roots up, uses his guttural earthy howl and atavistic kologo lute to great effect in demonstrating not only a raw anger but also a deep love for a much misunderstood continent.

From the very outset Ayisoba and his contributors Wanlov da Kubolar & Big Gad – just two of the many guest appearances on this album – rap, sing and stamp a slogan sentiment on the opening Africa Needs Africa of, “Let’s fight for Africa/Africa needs us.” Covering the North African diaspora, the boat people’s sorry saga, the colonial past and umpteen other issues that more or less shape the image that those observers from outside the continent believe is the only side to Africa – between a misplaced sentimentality and outright ignorance. There is protestation and indictment, but also a lively focus on the positives too; finding solutions through the medium of music and culture.

Though Ayisoba advocates the “power of tradition” and the primal thrust of instrumentation is one passed down from generation to generation, 1000 Can Die features an eclectic and electric fusion of musical styles. The homegrown Ghanaian “hiplife” – a mix of rap, electronic beats and traditional rhythms – rubs up against ragga, dancehall and dub; a grandee doyen of which, the inimitable Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, appears postulating a herb-hazed wisdom on the album’s rustically plucked and enraged title track.

In-between the fiery, bordering on punk, clatter of guluku, dundun and Djembe drums and rambunctious electronic phasing beats there are more plaintive, yearning stripped-back moments: Grandfather Song, a toiled from the soil of tragedy lament, offers a more intimate knee-jerk from the full-on band sound, and Dapagara is sent off into a sweeping, wafting vista by the Nigerian legend Orlando Julius’ traversing, reedy accentuated saxophone.

Raw from the heart, highly evocative and rebellious, King Ayisoba’s songs of rage and vitality actually offer a kind of hope in the face of adversity. The future of Ghana’s music scene is in good hands at least.






The Black Angels ‘Death Song’
Partisan Records, 21st April 2017

 

If you were looking for a creative musical reaction to Trump and the anxious times we live in then The Black Angels beautiful apocalyptic melodrama, Death Song, must be one of the most anguished and daemonic of responses. The Austin psych-rocking overlords first album in four years was written and recorded during the miasma of the US elections after all: and doesn’t it show!

An emotionally charged despair and anger with moments of catharsis, carried out to a Byzantine flavored soundtrack of esoteric Amon Duul II and Far East Family Band psych, a vortex of 80s Goth inspirations – including The cult and Siouxsie and the Banshees – and the tolling chimes of doom and drone, Death Song is, as the title suggests, a heavy, but most excellent trip. It begins with one of the Angels heaviest productions yet; a dark arts pulsing bestial diatribe on the controlling influence of money, entitled Currency. From there we’re guided across choppy seas between brighter less cymbal crashing hypnotics and swaying macabre, through the metaphorical “killing fields” of the huntress (I’d Kill For Her); the enslaved intoxicant spell casting of enchantresses (Half Believing); and the upside down: the final Floyd and Amon Duul II-esque Orpheus-is-comfortably-numb-in-the-underworld opus, Life Song.

Brooding romantically in Gothic tragedy as the world continues to turn, undaunted by the prospects of universal uncertainty, The Black Angels spread their wings magnificently on what is, perhaps, one of their best albums yet. The leviathans of the psych-rock scene have learnt much and after a recording hiatus return with something sharper, refined but just as mystical and hallucinatory.









Anna Coogan  ‘The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time’
28th April 2017

 

Not the easiest of bedfellows, difficult to love and often (rightly) condemned as indulgent and overblown, but the worlds of rock and opera do occasionally overlap in a congruous union. The unquestionably talented Anna Coogan for instance, mixes the two majestically, using her finely trained 3-octave soprano and classical background to offer fluttering siren-like arias that seem to surreptitiously manifest from, what is, an ever-changing metamorphosis of musical styles, on her latest album, The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time.

Spanning country, Ry Cooder desert meditations, Anna Calvi like trembled sensual emulations, PJ Harvey and even bubbly synth pop, Coogan together with musical collaborator Willie B – offering atmospheric Moog bass line undertones and drums – produce a wave (whether the gravitational kind, as serenaded and alluded to on the brilliant opening title track or, the metaphorical high seas kind, as referenced throughout) fixated lamenting and balletic travail.

 

Inspired by scientific discoveries, a “childhood listening to Puccini’s La Boheme”, the fateful poet Sylvia Plath, the tumultuous grave mistakes of intervention in the Middle East and, no surprises, the 2016 US elections Coogan’s ambitious suite of songs and instrumental evocations is far from lofty and classical. The operatic, learnt at the prestigious Mozarteum University of Salzburg, elements are transduced through a background of rifling through her father’s record collection of protest troubadours, and busking on the streets of Seattle, to leave only traces that appear naturally.

Occasionally rocking, most of the music has a cinematic more expansive touch, with three of the songs on this album originally composed to accompany the Soviet filmmaker Jakov Protazanov 1929 camp alien invasion/Russian revolution analogy Aelita, Queen Of Mars (the title track) and the French director Jean Epstein’s 1928 interruption of Poe’s classic, The Fall Of The House Of Usher (If You Were The Sun, A Wedding Vow).

Almost uninterrupted with each track flowing or bleeding over into the next, the album moves seamlessly between its musical and thematic influences. I could probably do without the romantic twinkled space helmet vocal synth pop Meteor, but overall this is an impressive performance, Coogan’s quivering wah wah and tremolo articulations matched equally by that heavenly, soaring voice.





Lake ‘Forever Or Never’
Tapete Records, April 7th 2017

 

Meant as anything but disingenuous, it’s surprising what the experimental pop group Lake get away with on their latest and eighth album, Forever Or Never. Remodeling an array of 70s/80s influences with a 21st century spin, they can turn some of the stalest MOR vaporous blue-eyed soul synth ballads and soft rock melodramas into something melodically enchanting but very poignant; analogies channeling the political and social maelstroms of our times, as most of the music coming out of the USA does in 2017.

Celebrating a recent tenth anniversary with perhaps the most exhaustive of performances, playing every song from their ninety-track back catalogue in an Herculean ten-hour set, Lake continue to submerge themselves in the Pacific Ocean Blue waters of nostalgia.

Finely attuned, lean and devoid of the superfluous, Forever Or Never is a mostly gentle, wistful breeze through yacht rock, Belle & Sebastian daydreaming romanticism, shoegaze and pop. Shared male/female vocals duties offer a constant variety that bears traces of Blonde Redhead, Harry Nilsson and The Pastels. And joining the betrothed founders Ashley Eriksson and Elijah Moore, and long-term band members Andrew Dorsett and Mark “Markly” Morrison before she passed away, the artist/musician Geneviève Castrée (for whom this album is dedicated) lent lush coos and backing vocals to the tumultuous Gone Against The Wind and bright, easy-going finale, Magazine.

Sometimes it’s like hearing Fleetwood Mac if they’d formed during the C86 phenomenon, and at other times, a strange transmutation of Captain & Tennille, and a vague stab at a post Sunflower Beach Boys jamming with Hall & Oates. Disarming and emotionally sophisticated throughout, with subtle, warm but diligent songwriting, Forever Or Never is a melody rich harmonious meditation on inner turmoil, forgiveness and mourning, that can’t help but also comment on the recent political landscape.








Alex Stolze  ‘Mankind Animal’
Nonostar Records, 31st March 2017

 

Transforming the traditionally entrenched sound and indeed reputation of the violin, German composer/producer Alex Stolze attempts to reanimate the instrument, “preserving” it, as he states, “for future generations, without being a conservative classicist.”

No stranger to reinvention, recently performing radical deconstructions of Bach’s Kunst der Fuge with the Armida Quartet, at Berlin’s Radial System venue, Stolze has gained a certain exploratory reputation for his work with the electronica acts Bodi Bull and Unmap (amongst others).

Concentrating the mind, finding a certain solace, the Berlin urbane stalwart has relocated to the German/Polish borders for a more pastoral life of contemplation; spending time on rebuilding an old ruin in the countryside but focusing on the vision for his solo work. Nothing short of guiding humanity towards a less destructive, more empathetic spirituality, Stolze attempts to bridge classicism and contemporary amorphous electronic music on his debut solo record, Mankind Animal.

Less Roedelius neo-classical, or for that matter Tony Conrad Dream Syndicate, and more John Cale inspired viola distortions and that titan of the German avant-garde Stockhausen and his electronic processing of orchestral instrumentation, the five-track Mankind Animal suite is surprisingly fluid and melodic. Conceptual and avant-garde in influence certainly, but far from a grueling or challenging experience.

A chamber ensemble mix of electro-acoustics, ambient traverses and, at times, kinetic beat undulating soul, this pan-Europa soundtrack often evokes transmogrified traces of traditional scores and folkloric music from central and eastern Europe: The articulate plucks, quivers, wanes and yearnings that emanate from Stolze’s five-string custom-made violin often sounding a link back towards the past, and ghosts of an old continent. Tradition is very prominent, but an intricate bed of low synth, contained sophisticated beats and mechanics bring it into the present.

Over the top of this score, Stolze’s succinct campfire lyrics of profound prose make allusive references to the here and now though again these concerns are often age-old: from, “where to start if you want to change the system”, on the lyrical resigned meander through the universal condition The Crown, to the more personable inner sage advice of “don’t try to be someone else/otherwise who would be you”, on the opening Don’t Try To Be.

From the cinematic Eraser to the softened timpani minor-overture Stringent, Stolze and his ensemble produce a considered postmodernist suite, both experimental in merging the classical with the contemporary, and yet a pleasurable, even soulful and thoughtfully poised listening experience.






Joji Hirota & The London Taiko Drummers  ‘Japanese Taiko’
ARC Music, 28th April 2017

 

One of Taiko drumming form’s most prestigious of stars of the last forty years, Joji Hirota cements his sizable reputation with this latest collection, simply named Japanese Taiko. Literally, as is the case with most of these direct from Japanese translations, the ancient style of Taiko itself means “big, fat drums”, (which you can’t really argue with) and on this album features a number of these drum shapes and sizes, from the smallest, a “uchiwa tom”, to the behemoth sized “oh daiko” (again, literally a “big drum” that measures 140cms in diameter).

Inspired by the volcano piqued hot springs landscape of his native Hokkaido – Japan’s most northerly of main islands – Hirota, who started training at the age of eleven, merges majestic traditions with a unique modern approach: He was after all among the first of the Taiko practitioners to bring the style to the West, and has more recently lent his music to the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese’s latest martyrdom, Silence. Together with his four male and eight female strong London ensemble the maestro thunderously rolls through Taiko’s folkloric, Noh theatre, Kabuki, Buddhist and Shinto religious ceremony origins with agility and at times entrancing aplomb.

Building up pattering rumble evocations of the Spring Breeze or, stroking the drum skins to an atavistic Japanese flute accompaniment in ritual to a Harvest god (Kokiriko), this dynamic, though often monotonous, chorus of drummers is surprisingly melodic. A barrage yes, but the drumming wall of sound is often elevated by poetic vocals – usually in chorus, though there is a strange mix of call and response staccato rapping on Akita – and subtle mood and tonal changes; from wood clapping to finger bells and cymbal swells.

To experience live is something else: a synchronized art form of music and theater. But this showcase of tradition and experimentation, with half the compositions written by the man himself, is a great introduction to the form.


Cotton Wolf   ‘Life In Analogue’
Bubblewrap Collective, 28th April 2017

 

As technology’s ever-domineering progress takes over and algorithms creep into the creative process it’s a relief to see and hear that the Kraftwerkian dream of complete immersion between humans and machines, with all music created by a computerized brainiac, is still a long way off. And though by its very democratized nature and access electronic music is obviously wholly reliant on tech, which is getting ever cheaper and easier to use, there are many artists who wish to (and excuse my trite cliché) put the soul back into the machine. The Cotton Wolf Welsh duo of “super producer” Llion Robertson and classically trained composer Seb Goldfinch are among those, “living in the analogue”, who leave an indelible human mark on electronic music.

Their debut album is an often sophisticated, downtempo, merger of small, organic Leaf Label like synthetic drums and tight percussion and subtle atmospheric waves and suffused strings – part of the symphonic quality and melody the duo wish to emphasis. With guest vocals from the attentive soulful Alys Williams, on the gauzy veiled Lliwiau, and calm fluttering siren Lois Rogers, on the softened Massive Attack-esque Future Never, Cotton Wolf omit for a sense of performance and humility.

“Unapologetically” Welsh, Williams for example sings in the dialect, the duo is rightly proud of their heritage. And they are in some ways in the middle of a golden resurgence, with countless fellow Welsh electronic artists, from The Conformist to R. Seiliog and Gwenno Saunders to name just three, gaining critical attention and flying the flag. But, apart from the language, there isn’t a common identity in the music itself. There is no such thing as a “Wales sound” in the genre. Life In Analogue is if anything a global soundtrack, with traces as diverse as Kosmische, EDM, Bonobo and even mellowed South American electronica all under one roof.

More than a little classy, electronica with a human touch, Cotton Wolf weave the symphonic articulately into an album with depth but also commercial appeal.



Swamp Sounds/Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods   ‘ST’
Bearsuit Records, 24th March 2017

 

A split offering from the Edinburgh label of idiosyncratic experimental sonics and more lo fi indie pop fare, Bearsuit Records bring us an incongruous curious pairing of, mainly, electronic music mavericks.

From further up the Scottish east coast, Dundee artist/musician Douglas Wallace, under the strange Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods appellation, has fashioned an imaginary Hondo City futuristic soundscape that bares little relation to the track titles. With a backing of trebly crisp electronic percussion, tetchy cymbals, clean crystalized synths and trans mutated guitar wails, Wallace’s science fiction travails make ephemeral references to Murcof, Bowie’s Heroes peregrinations, Ryuichi Sakamoto and the sort of 80s vapour ice-misty synth soundtrack fare you’d find on the video-nasty, Shogun Assassin. Reverent at times, primordial at others (check the lost world of Song For Broken Singers), ole Uncle Pop’s contribution is a subtle, meditative counterpoint to his album companion’s ennui flitting Casio car-crash bombardment.

Hailing from Nagoya, Japan, experimental electronic music artist and founder of Sleep Jam Records, Yuuya Kuno flirts with a number of aliases including House of Tapes but for this label and in this capacity goes under the Swamp Sounds moniker. Chopped-up into a loopy soundclash of Casio pre-set schlock and drama, Kuno’s 80s meltdown collage is both ridiculous and yet full of interesting surprises. Tracks such as Skull Disco feed Daft Punk through a dial-up connection and grinder, and Houndstooth sends Atari Teenage Riot to a laser quest showdown.

Run of the mill for Bearsuit, who constantly release such curiosities, but for us the listener these experiments prove intriguing; bringing to our attention some unique artists, working on the peripherals of sonic reinvention and cut-up mania.





Andrew Wasylyk  ‘Themes From Buildings And Spaces’
Tape Club Records, 28th April 2017

 

The second artist in my roundup to hail from the fair city port of Dundee, musician/composer Andrew Mitchell (nee Wasylyk) pays a moving sort of homage to his home on Themes From Buildings And Spaces. With the onus on the psychogeography of the architecture in Scotland’s fourth-largest city, its history as the capital of Jute production features heavily as a recurring theme; the ghosts and lingering traces of Tayside mills and the people who worked the oppressive Industrial Revolution machinery within them making their presence known on the reflective Lower Dens Work.

Memories both haunting and meditative are made concrete, prompted by the iconic images of the late, “father of Scottish modern photography”, Joseph MacKenzie and a mix of architectural markers – only ever seen in Scotland – from across time: stoic granite beauty to hard-to-love Brutalism. The very evolution of Dundee, over eight instrumental evocations, is lent both a melancholic and romantic soundtrack of lapping piano tides, gentle swooning colliery jazz brass, synthesized choral voices and peaceable textures. Sounding unique, even pastoral at times, these suites conjure up a Caledonian Air, yet at other times errs towards the ether, conjuring up those old ghosts and spirits.

Andrew sheds a new light in many ways on Dundee with the most reflective of timeless scores.






Happyness  ‘Write In’
Moshi Moshi, 7th April 2017

 

Ah…the sound of a band embracing the heartfelt warmth, accentuated dazed melodies and special feel of such 70s fare as Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and Big Star, Happyness evoke the hazy fond memories and subtle sophistication of these and other complimentary artists on their new album, Write In.

Having previously covered and absorbed tootsie roll Beach Boys idyllics and the Athens, Georgia college radio rock of the obscure Club Gaga on last year’s Tunnel Vision On Your Part EP – the title-track of which appears alongside the drowsy-sighed pop spankler Anna, Lisa Calls on this, the group’s second LP –, and often drawn favorable comparisons to Wilco and Pavement, Happyness find themselves liltingly tuning into a more eclectic array of influences for their most melodious, engaging songbook collection yet.

The opening Falling Down gambit, with its radiant phaser guitar, conjures up the Scottish indie supremos (and fellow Big Star acolytes) Teenage Fanclub, whilst the pastel-shaded saddened tone of The Reel Starts Again (Man As Ostrich) sounds like a lost, ghostly remnant of a George Harrison and Jeff Lynne malady. A touch of the Brighten The Corners era Pavement permeates the band’s weary slacker muffled Uptrend/Style Raids, but by the time we reach the halfway stage of the album the lads are back to thrashing out a languorous grunge-y grind on Bigger Glass Less Full.

Subtle and confident, Write In is a halcyon, beautifully executed album with real depth and personality. Happyness have found their flow with loose but perceptively well-crafted gentle pop songs of a timeless quality: to be played as the “credits roll forever”.





Vassals  ‘Halogen Days EP’
Post Fun, 7th April 2017

 

You have Audio Antihero’s indefatigable Jamie Halliday to thank for dropping this EP from Brooklyn misfits Vassals onto my radar. The backing band of Audio Antihero signing Magana, the trio’s latest release bandies between, as the press release puts it, a sort of “bleak beauty” and “chaotic minimalism” that strays into “slacker-rock ambivalence” and “post-punk cynicism”. I can confirm all of that, but would like to add the following if I may.

There’s more than a touch of the new wave on Halogen Days quartet of power-pop and grungy-romanticism. The slacker and grunge elements made brighter and indolently tuneful for it.

A run through of the EP then: We have the pendulous drum and echoed vocals of the opener Sea Spells, which sounds like a young Glenn Tilbrook fronting The Yeah Yeah Yeahs; the Moonless (“night”) build up swell of crescendos that evokes the Tokyo Police Club and Wampire; and the return to the source of inspiration with traces of The Pixies and Dinosaur Jnr on the stumbling SoHo. The finale meanwhile, Ghostwood, traverses Pavement and The Strokes (when they were something), on a peaks and lulls, heavy and accentuate crafted N.Y.C. indie resigned anthem, that literally spirals and pounds away until lifting off.

Bright hopes indeed and nowhere near as petulant as you’d expect. There is amongst that cynicism and effortless sounding despondency some real thought and musicianship, the lyrics actually far more aching and heartfelt than they might admit.






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