NEW MUSIC REVIEWS ROUNDUP: WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA


Photo Credit: Sia Rosenberg

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

 

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

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

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

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






Lucy Leave   ‘Look/Listen’   27th April 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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






Pyramid  ‘Pyramid’  Mental Experience,  May 10th 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

 

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

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

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

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






London Plane  ‘New York Howl’   18th May 2018

 

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

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

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

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







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NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





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

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

Read on…

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

 

Photo credit: Mercedes Ortego González.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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




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


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

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

 

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

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

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






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


 

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

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

 

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

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

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






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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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






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


 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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






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


 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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






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


 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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





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