Review: Dominic Valvona



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


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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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




 

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Reviews Roundup: Dominic Valvona




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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







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



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

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

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

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

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

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







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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







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

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



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

 

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

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

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

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







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



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

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

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

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

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

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







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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







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



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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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



Words: Dominic Valvona



Album Review: Dominic Valvona



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



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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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


Images: Renaud de Foville


Review: Dominic Valvona




Album Review: Dominic Valvona



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



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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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





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

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





Words: Dominic Valvona

 


Album Review: Dominic Valvona



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


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

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

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

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

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


Photo credit: Marilena Delli





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

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

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

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








Words: Dominic Valvona 

Albums Selected By Dominic Valvona and Matt Oliver.





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


The decision making process: 

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

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

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

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

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

N.

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


 

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

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

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

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

(Dominic Valvona)


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


 

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

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

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

(DV)



P.

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



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

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

(Matt Oliver)

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


 

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

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

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

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

(DV)



Q.

Qujaku ‘Qujaku’ (So I Buried Records)


 

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

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

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

(DV)



R.

RAM ‘August 1791’ 


 

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

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

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

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

(DV) 



Soho Rezanejad ‘Six Archetypes’


 

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

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

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

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

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

(DV)



S.

Sad Man ‘ROM-COM’


 

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

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

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

(DV)


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


 

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

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

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

(DV)



Scran Cartel ‘Blue Plaque Candidates’  (Scran Cartel)



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

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

(MO)


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



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

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

(MO)


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



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

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

(MO)


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


 

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

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

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

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

(DV)


Station 17 ‘Blick’  (Bureau B)


 

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

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

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

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

(DV)



T.

Rodrigo Tavares ‘Congo’  (Hive Mind Records)


 

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

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

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

(DV)


Samba Touré ‘Wande’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

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

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

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

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

(DV)


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



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

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

(MO)



U.

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


 

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

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

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

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

(DV)



V.

Vukovar ‘Infinitum’ (Le Recours Forêts Production)

Vukovar/Michael Cashmore ‘Monument’


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

(DV)



Y.

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


 

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

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

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

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

(DV)


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


 

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

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

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

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

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

(DV) 



Selected by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Gianluigi Marsibilio.





The decision making process: 

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

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

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

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

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

A.

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

 

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

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

(Dominic Valvona)

Ammar 808 ‘Maghreb United’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

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

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

Nothing short of visionary. Full review…

(DV)


Angels Die Hard ‘Sundowner’  (Jezus Factory Records)


 

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

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

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

(DV)


Any Other ‘Two, Geography’  (42 Records)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Gianluigi Marsibilio)


B.

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


 

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

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

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

(DV) 


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

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

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



Bixiga 70 ‘Quebra Cabeça’ (Glitterbeat Records)


 

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

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

(DV)



The Bordellos ‘Debt Sounds’ 

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

(DV)


Brace! Brace! ‘S/T’ (Howlin Banana)


 

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

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

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

(DV)



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



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

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

(Matt Oliver)


C.

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


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

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

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

(DV)



D.

Die Wilde Jagd ‘Uhrwald Orange’  (Bureau B)


 

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

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

(DV)


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


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

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

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

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

(DV)

E.



Elefant ‘Konark Und Bonark’  (9000 Records)


 

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

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

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

(DV)


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

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


 

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

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

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

(DV) 


Evidence ‘Weather or Not’ (Rhymesayers)



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

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

(MO)


F.

Flora Fishbach ‘À Ta Merci’  (Blue Wrasse)


 

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

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

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

(DV)


Fliptrix ‘Inexhale’ (High Focus)



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

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

(MO)


Fofoulah ‘Daega Rek’  (Glitterbeat Records)  


 

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

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

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

(DV)


G.

Goatman ‘Rhythms’  (Rocket Recordings)


 

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

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

(DV)


H.

 

Jack Hayter ‘Abbey Wood’ (Gare du Nord)


 

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

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

(DV)


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



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

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

(MO)


J.

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



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

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

(MO)


Park Jiha ‘Communion’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

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

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

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

(DV)


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


 

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

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

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

(DV)


M.

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



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

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

(MO)


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


 

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

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

(DV)



(MO)

Brona McVittie ‘We Are The Wildlife’

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

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

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

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



(DV)

Minyeshu ‘Daa Dee’ (ARC Music)


 

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

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

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

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

(DV)


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


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

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

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

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

(DV)


Album Review/Dominic Valvona





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


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

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

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

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

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

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




Album Review: Dominic Valvona




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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Fofoulah band photo courtesy of Alex Bonney.




ALBUM REVIEW/WORDS:DOMINIC VALVONA





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

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

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

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


Credit: José de Holanda




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




Words: Dominic Valvona


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