ALBUM REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona





Easing the boredom of coronavirus lockdown, join me from the safety of your own home once more on a global journey of discovery. Let me do all the footwork for you, as I recommend a batch of interesting and essential new releases from a myriad of genres. All of which I hope you will support in these anxious and trying times. With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it.

As international as ever, this month’s revue includes not one but two releases from the wellspring of Highlife music, Ghana – though only one of these is contemporary, and only one could be considered a link to that signature sound. First, the sixth volume in Glitterbeat RecordsHidden Musics series is, as its title may suggest, a more elegiac-framed affair of rustic processional performances: Fra Fra ‘Funeral Songs’. The second, Edikanfo’s The Pace Setters is the first ever reissue of an iconic 80s album from the Afrodsico troupe, produced, with the lightest of touches, by Brian Eno. From South America, the ever-changing Miguel Sosa (formerly of The Strumpets and IH8 Camera) releases another album under a new alias and with a new sound, Plano Remoto. Japan-based polymath Paul Thomas Kirk, under his Akatombo alias, is granted a (almost) twenty-year spanning highlights collection of discordant gloom industrial dance music by the Japanese label So I Buried Records. From Haiti, we have the collaborative voodoo communion between the locals Chouk Bwa and the Belgium dub electronica duo The Ångströmers, Vodou Alé. And from Kenya, guitarist Fadhilee Itulya releases his debut album fusion of Omutibo music.

Closer to home, though imagining all kinds of cosmological and spiritual visions, Sebastian Reynolds releases a ‘universal’ escapist EP of peregrinations, and Austrian saxophonist Muriel Grossman is granted a showcase of her spiritual jazz suites from the Jazzman label.

Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers   ‘Vodou Alé’
(Bongo Joe Records)   LP/22nd May 2020





Like so many others before them, allured to the voodoo hypnotism of the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti, Belgian production duo The Ångströmers spent a residency immersing and absorbing the local fusion of ‘mizik rasin’, and working with the Gonaïves-borne collective of Chouk Bwa. A hybrid of roots music tradition, the voodoo ceremony enchantments brought over to the Island from the Congo, the folkloric and rock and roll, mizik rasin has been made famous in more recent decades by Richard A. Morse’s acronym Haiti collective RAM, who have in turn welcomed curious acts such as Arcade Fire and tUnE-yArDs to its propulsive rhythm. The late Afrobeat rhythm king Tony Allen also spent time there working with local musicians on the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra project in 2017. It’s easy to see why; the invigorating lively, often locked-in rhythms and spiritual call prove intense and inviting: to dance music artists especially.

The synthesis of Soukri voodoo polyrhythms and bassier dub electronica on this collaboration proves so attuned to both sensibilities and in-sync as to be difficult to separate the natural ritual from the augmented and synthesized. The furious, rushing hand-drumming is subtly reinforced and layered up for the most part with pulsating and throbbing undulations, atmospherics, phaser, echo and reverb reversal effects; all of which are used sparingly and wisely, and even sensitively.

A yearning plaintive procession of voices, both earthly and soulfully, emerge from the swirled vapours to lament Haiti’s tragic run of ecological disasters; the lead single ‘More Tan’ a bobbing and clattery beat with sonorous fuzzy bass lends a moving tribute to all those unfortunate souls affected by a quartet of devastating hurricanes and the Armageddon earthquake of 2010, which killed tens of thousands and left hundreds of thousands displaced, at the mercy of the elements, disease and a destabilized authority.

A primal ceremony of tumbled, fluttered cylindrical rhythms sucked into a vortex of warped dub and ringing oscillations, this collaborative union proves just how intoxicating and electrifying the voodoo spell can be. Given a sympathetic undercurrent and resonance of atmospheric electronica, the ritual sound and outpour of Haiti is reframed, guided into the 21st century. Not so much a novel direction as a subtle electronic music boost to tradition.






Muriel Grossmann  ‘Elevation’
(Jazzman)  LP/15th May 2020





Many jazz greats have of course attempted it, the ‘elevation’ of not just the form but consciousness itself. The Egyptologist anointed Pharoah Sanders even named an album after it; an ascendance at a time when jazz was embracing its spiritual roots and historical gravitas: a return to the source in Africa.

The supremely talented saxophonist bandleader Muriel Grossmann, imbued with that same spirit of vague conscious mysticism and experimentation, has now named one of her own impressive Afrojazz odysseys after that totem of an influential album. It won’t come as any surprise to find that the Pharaoh just happens to be one of Grossmann’s influences, alongside such luminaries as John and Alice Coltrane, Lester Young and Eric Dolphy; all of which permeate throughout this survey of the European jazz star’s recent(ish) work.

A sort of introduction for those unfamiliar with an artist who’s spent the last two decades on the European scene, playing with the likes of Joachim and Rolf Kühn, Wolfgang Reisinges and Thomas Heidepriem, the impeccable Jazzman label have chosen to represent Grossmann’s catalogue with suites from the 2016 Natural Time and 2017 Momentum albums; a moiety almost of complimentary records.

In all a quintet of congruous traverses, from a duo of albums, Grossman’s own Elevation seems a fully realised, interconnected and flowing oeuvre that could have been recorded all at the same session, only yesterday. An adventure across desert contours, on the caravan trail in search of enlightenment and jazz nirvana; the impressively invocative saxophonist and her troupe of regulars turn in a fantastical panoramic opus.

We start with the latter of those albums and a trio of pyramid backdrop numbers that pay homage to the Coltranes (especially Alice), the Pharaoh, Archie Shepp and Greenwich-hip era Albert Ayler. That guiding light title-track is a ten-minute plus extravaganza of splashing drums, oozing and swaddled sax and mini plucked out guitar solos. It sounds like the group is on an opulent trinket laden barge. At first lingering, trembling and stirring in milder Nile waters, the action hot’s up as the river becomes more animated and choppy. Grossmann literally spirals towards the stars; giddily blowing so fast that her trademark instrument turns into a clarinet at one point. Almost easing into the shimmery resonating ‘Rising’, the quartet sumptuously treads further along a mysterious pathway. Uros Stamenkovic brushes the sand off his flighty drum kit, and Radomir Milojkovic bends and picks out a dizzying frill of notes on guitar as Grossmann flitters and flutters on another of these conscious trips.

Still gliding or walking that same North African jazz geography, both ‘Your Peace’ and ‘Peace For All’ may very well have furnished another album, but embrace and breath the same spiritual to experimental jazz air. Shifting sands move underfoot on the first of those dusky shufflers, whilst Eastern mystical chimes and serenity make way for progressive soulful sax, successions of deft guitar licks and burnished drums on the second of those mirages.

Hardly a slavish attempt at reproducing Grossmann’s inspirations, Elevation is an impressive, evocative continuation of those forbearers blueprint. A showcase of exploratory jazz left free to follow those same forbearers by a group of European avant-gardists.



Edikanfo  ‘The Pace Setters’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/8th May 2020





Depending on who you listen to, inventive leftfield, ambient music doyen Brian Eno and his part in propelling the Ghanaian troupers Edikanfo to international attention (if for only the briefest of moments), off the back of their dynamic rich bustling debut album, was either merely down to “endorsement” or more to do with his key production skills. The fact that his indelible mark is light, if almost hidden, would suggest a less than fleeting relationship with the eight-piece Afrodisco group. Yet stage-manage the production of this Highlife funk fusion he did.

That endorsement, usually a sign of quality and importance, is shared by self-appointed one-man Ghanaian music industry mover-and-shaker Faisal Helwani. A forceful character in a time when you had to be forward and sometimes ungracious in getting results, Helwani was responsible in kick-starting the modern Ghana scene; setting up the now legendary Napoleon Club complex in the capital of Accra. Club, casino, restaurant and studio – Accra’s first professional recording studio; known as the less than imaginary but history cementing Studio One – all in one, the Napoleon became a lively exchange hub of activity and a hothouse for both emerging and established talent, inside the region and outside of it. With a finger in every conceivable pie, from running the studio to managing, publicizing and contracting bands, Helwani’s grip was strong and nebulous. As Eno – who offers linear notes insight on what is the very first reissue of Edikanfo’s influential and justifiably entitled The Pace Setters album – divulges: ‘Although undoubtedly an important figure in the African music scene he was quite a possessive man. There was a fair amount of grumbling going on among the musicians, who had pretty poor lives. After some of their appearances the band ended up actually owing Faisal money since he owned their equipment and hired it out to them for shows.’

Eno hit upon a novel way of sending the band some money as a thank you, fearing it wouldn’t reach them unless it fell directly into their hands: ‘All the musicians liked the beret I wore at the time, so I had the idea to send one to each of them as a gift – which would be a kind of Trojan horse for the real gift. Back in New York my girlfriend Alex, who had come to Accra with me, carefully sewed a few hundred dollar bills into the rim of each beret and somehow I got a message to them which said ‘DON’T OPEN THE BERETS WHEN FARISAL’S AROUND!!’ It worked…one of the musicians later told me he’d bought a small farm in Central Ghana with his hat-money.’

Helwani had initially approached Eno as a publicity coup after reading about his fostering interest in African music. The impresario invited him as ‘international observer’ to the biennial Festival Of African Song And Dance. It didn’t take long to leap from that to producing Helwani’s recent upcoming electric signing. Staying for around a month, Eno spent time and effort with Edikanfo, who’s live, busy sound proved problematic for the studio manipulator, unaccustomed as he was to recording a live band all at once. Without nearly enough mics for the task at hand, Eno was forced to think on his feet and to eventually just let the performances happen with as little interference as possible. Upon returning to NYC – Eno’s base at the time in the later 70s and early 80s – he released upon listening back to these electric sessions that, for once, his post-production magic as redundant. And so The Pace Setters is a relatively pure, unburdened sound without augmentation; closer to capturing the group’s famed live performances: the sweat and all.

Formed just a couple of years before; Edikanfo would quickly build a momentum after colliding with Eno’s ascended star. His brand soon shone a light that very quickly went out. Brought to an international stage, the octet rose just as their native country was plunged once more into political tumult. A second coup by the military leader-politician Jerry John Rawlings at the end of 1981 removed the civilian government he initially put in place – set up after Rawling’s original junta-led coup in 1979. Ghana had been relatively lucky, having escaped such violent upheaval up until then. Concentrating the mind somewhat and pushing Rawlings into action, the soon-to-be leader was on the former governing power of General Fred Akuffa’s execution list. When he did take over, Rawlings implemented a spot of his own ‘house-cleaning’ of former officials and supporters. The shock of which led to demonstrations, which in turn led to elections; though Rawlings would still win, being re-elected again and again, staying in power until 2001. The early days of power would be severe however, with curfews that soon ‘gutted’ not only the economy but also the live music scene. Restrictions and harassment proved so bad that Edikanfo were forced to part company, scattering overseas.

Now though, almost four decades after their spotlight burned most bright, bandleader, bass player and songwriter Gilbert Amarty Amar and those band mates that survived are back with a new tour prompted by the reissue of their seminal debut. In what can only be described as a laser beam reflective mirror ball of Afrodisco and Highlife funk, The Pace Setters is a humid fusion of sweetened lullaby serenades and busier sunburst dances. A shared effort with near enough each member of the troupe offering up a track, there’s a mix of timings, themes and rhythms. Tracks like the opener ‘Nka Bom’ celebrate “togetherness” with sun-blessed horns, dappled electric piano and open hi-hat bustle, whilst the elastic bass noodling, springy and Orlando Julius loose jazz swaddled ‘Gbenta’ is both peaceable and relaxed. Hints of Osibisa can be found on the lulled hymn like vocal beauty ‘Moonlight Africa’, which puts a faster hustle of drums and bass underneath the twinkled organ caressed chorus of sweetly laced voices. At all times (well nearly) the bounce of refracted laser disco beams ricochet off the brass and rafters.

What a great album: true to its name, setting a sometimes blazing, and others, a sometimes-sashaying pace. Forget the fact it’s now forty years old, turn the mother up and shake-off the woes and weight of life in lockdown. Edikanfo’s 1981 classic is still alive and magical in the here and now; sending us with verve towards the summer: even if that summer is very different to any most of us have ever experienced. Enjoy this most worthy repress.




Fadhilee Itulya   ‘Kwetu’
(Naxos World)   LP/8th May 2020





Though the Kenyan guitarist turn frontman has been around for a decade the Kwetu album of belonging and questioning, released via a re-invigorated Naxos World, is Fadhilee Itulya’s debut.

Channeling what sounds like a lifetime into that inaugural record, Fadhilee combines his Kenyan roots with more contemporary rock, soul, blues, and on the album’s one and only attempt at a celebratory sun-praised club mix, Balearic dance music. Creating a bridge between the more earthy, unspoiled authenticity of tradition and more polished pop production of a modern studio, Fadhilee draws on the Luhya and Isukha peoples of Western Kenya and their ancestral dances, ceremonies and instruments. This includes the duel guitar and empty incessantly tapped soda bottle accompanied chanted Omutibo, and the Isukuti drums of the celebratory dances performed amongst the latter of those communities. The driving syncopated rhythms of Omutibo were developed during the 1950s, into the 60s, before falling out of favour in the 70s. It forms a foundation on the Swahili entitled ‘Kwetu’ song; a title-track that translates as “home”, but carries more weight in what Fadhilee encapsulates as, “a place where I am welcome.” That could be anywhere, not just his homeland, as this is an album as much about international unity and liberation as a songbook that passes commentary on the closer-to-home social and political problems in Kenya.

Language is another constant theme, with Fadhilee switching effortlessly from Swahili to English to the chanted Luhya.

Sprinkled throughout this generous album, the rustic tapped bottle ringing, hand drum propulsed rhythms and chorus of dusty-soul chanting and more enthusiastic female trilling traditions sit alongside smoother, finessed performances: though it all feels like a intimate live session. The album opens with the reedy and flighty “prayer” of ‘‘Afirika’; an opening salvo that sets up the smooth reggae and jazzy-rock sound of Fadhilee’s lilted guitar and the accompanying backing of a rich harmony chorus. It also introduces us to the folksy flute-heavy collaboration of guest musician Adam Adiarra, who’s instrument flutters, weaves and floats throughout that opening introduction. More sauntering rhythms beckon on the spiritually lulled, twinkled piano tribute to women and motherhood ‘Mama’. Whilst the electric sunny funk ‘Tabasm’, which translates as “smile”, works up a fusion of flange-rock and gospel.

Despite moments of intensity and urgency, wilder electric guitar frills and the untethered breaks of tribal ceremonial passion, Kwetu is a mostly gentle, soulful affair. A peaceable showcase for an artist honed on tradition but pushing forward. A commercial album of smooth Kenyan fusions with some rougher edges, Fadhilee’s debut shows an artist as comfortable with the modern studio as he is with the in-situ rustic roots of the Kenyan grasslands.



Akatombo  ‘Discordia: 2003-2020’
(So I Buried Records)   Album/25th May 2020





From a label synonymous for unleashing the sludge-dread rock of those ominous bearers of doom, Qujaku, comes a sort of ‘best of’ collection of similarly caustic menace from the Scottish post-punker turn industrial electronic composer Paul Thomas Kirk. As it turns out, a logical creatively successful leap for the one-time band member of the 80s punk agitators The Actives, Kirk’s magnetic-charged Akatombo avatar fuses, fries and beats-into-shape remnants of that post-punk past. Based in Hiroshima the musician, producer, filmmaker, photographer and label boss has released a quintet of albums, all but one of them under his own Hand-Held Recordings imprint, since 2003. Collected together here is a smattering of buzzy dissonance and growling electronic transmissions from each of the album’s, plus one previously unreleased track, ‘Oblique & Fearless’: a cause metallic evocation of techno punk and Reznor chained industrial dread.

Going back to the beginning, 2003’s inaugural augury Trace Elements – released via the SWIM label – is represented by the Japanese trip-hop Western soundtrack ‘Humid’, the rough UNKLE trip-breaks with snarling bass ‘Overheat’, and dub-y reverb spiraling ‘Ponderlust’. Six years later Kirk would release the Unconfirmed Reports album under his own label. Taking the sonic exploration further towards the experimental, the frizzled distortion and Aphex Twin clattering of ‘A Prior Disengagement’ and Barry Adamson spy thriller tremolo with DJ Shadow drum breaks ‘SSRI’ mark that album’s evolving range and scope. 2011’s False Positives lends the Basic Channel tuned unfolding Kitchen-sink drama ‘Kleptocrat’ and cylindrical, muffled voiced ‘Precariat’ to this compilation.

The prize of opening this Discordia falls to the ominous moist chamber atmospheric ‘Click/Bate’, taken from the 2015 album Sometime, Never. Both lurking in the dark web subterranean yet also communicating with orbital space waves, this bleak vision reimagines The Orb on a downer. Reaching further into the esoteric sound, most recent album Tensile Strength is represented by a trio of industrial, ringing noisy visitations and broadcasts: ‘Debug. Injector’ is a churning vortex of the haunted, whilst the album’s title-track is full of punk snarls.

Veering between the heavy dance music of The Chemical Brothers and the sonorous metal machine music of Emptyset, and between the steaming razor breaks of UNKLE and the industrial wilding of Einsturzende Neubauten, Kirk’s Akatombo manifestation is channeled into a pretty decisive collection of highlights. Too driven to be classed as ‘mood music’ or dark soundtracks, the dystopian discord of Kirk’s sonic augurs and emotions could even be considered dance music: albeit on the fringes of a doomed dancefloor. A great showcase anyway for an electronic artist working in the gloom.






Sebastian Reynolds   ‘The Universe Remembers’
(Faith & Industry)  EP/22nd May 2020





Oxford-based polymath Sebastian Reynolds has finally found the time in his prolific schedule of collaborations, remixes, session work and productions to create his very own solo soundtrack of various eschatology inspired peregrinations. The Universe Remembers EP’s quintet of traverses drifts and wafts across an ambiguous, often vaporous, soundscape of neo-classical composition, retro futurist production, swanned Tibetan mystical jazz, both languid and accelerated running breakbeats, and ghostly visitations – haunted narrated extracts from T.S. Eliot’s all-encompassing philosophical, religious and metaphysical Holy Grail purview The Wasteland can be heard in a fuzzy echo on the EP’s title-track and single.

A cosmological junction of dystopian literature and the Buddhist/Daoism, The Universe Remembers is, as you might expect from a composer/multi-instrumentalist/producer who’s created music as varied as the transcendent Southeast Asian Manīmekhalā score that accompanied the multimedia Mahajanaka Dance Drama and the visceral chamber pieces of his collaboration with the pan-European Solo Collective trio, a mix of evocations simultaneously as dreamy as they are ominous and mysterious; and as contemplative as they are resigned to the fates.

Framed as a distillation of previous incarnations, namely the Keyboard Choir and Braindead Collective, the sound and sonic landscape channels the peaks and descending remembrance of a musical lifetime, with some of the material taken from various periods over the years, transformed and attuned for a concept of Theology; the part that’s concerned with death, judgment and the final destiny of the soul and humankind: Not too big a concept then.

Previously premiered on the Monolith Cocktail the guest produced title track features the attentive skills of Capitol K (who’s label is also facilitating the release of this EP) guiding a musical odyssey of twinkled trembled cascaded piano, slow beats and the mystical fluttering, spiraling and drifting clarinet of guest contributor Rachel Coombes. Featuring Seb’s penchant for the glitch-y piano resonance of Susumu Yokota and a most strangely sourced sample of the revered writer Anthony Burgess purchasing a Bösendorfer piano in Harrods, this magical escapist suite wafts between the snake charmer bazaars of Egypt and Calcutta, the Hitchcockian and avant-garde. It must be emphasized at this point that Burgess’ dystopian visions have had a profound effect on Seb; especially his most famous slim novel A Clockwork Orange. Seb has previously performed at the Burgess Foundation with the Solo Collective and even (in the last week) written a guest post for their website. Not that anything on this EP is even close to aping the synonymous ominous switched-on Bach of Wendy Carlos’ score for the Kubrick vision of that most famous futuristic nightmare.

Opening reverberating vapour ‘Amoniker’ builds a suffused trilled melodic swathe of pastoral merry evocations from a past epoch, smatterings of jazz, and distant masked break-beats around an increasingly echoing and delayed layered counting iteration. Doing what he does best, Seb finds and then takes original samples to explorative new soundscapes and worlds on the EP’s curtain call, ‘You Are Forgotten’. The Oxford polymath uses the baritone like resigned mooning vocal from the track of the same name by Desmond Chancer & The Long Memories as a foundation for a suffused saxophone swaddled and pining (courtesy of Adam Davy) slice of retro-futurist electronica. Spiritual manna phrases like “no memory”, ”no legacy” and “universal” drift into focus from a constructed ether to echo dramatically over the mysterious and masked invocations.

Keeping to the holy mountain of awe footpath, the totem of endurance, mysticism, beauty and immensity ‘Everest’ once more features those Tibetan evoking horns and cosmic awakenings. It also features not so much guitar performances as the essence of lingering notes and wanes (attributed to collaborators James Maund and Andrew Warne) on an ascendant score of both the celestial and peaceable.

If you love your trance, esoteric mysticism, trip-hop, the new age, satellite jazz and the poetic, then stick on The Universe Remembers and be transported to wondrous and meditative planes.




Plano Remoto  ‘Plano Remoto’
(Jezus Factory)  LP/11th May 2020





Whether its ennui or a conscious decision to keep critics, and his audience, on their toes the Argentine maverick Miguel Sosa once more changes direction on his latest album for the marvelous cottage-industry label, Jezus Factory. Sosa’s previous peregrination, Bermudas, was an analogue patchbay cosmic psychogeography of the infamous Bermuda Triangle region; filed under yet another alter ego, the Moog and ARP soundtrack homage Cassini Division. Prior to that the Jezus Factory stalwart had spent a tenure living in Antwerp, instigating or joining all manner of Belgian bands, from IH8 Camera to Strumpets and Parallels. The Strumpets would mutate into Angels Die Hard when Sosa had to return back home.

His latest venture, Plano Remoto, ropes in bass player/singer Mike Young, old pal and the owner of the TDR Studio in Buenos Aires Lucas Becerra, on drums, and Nico Courreges on double-bass. The results of two years of studio jamming and a build-up of Tascam recordings, this informal set-up’s self-titled debut (though it could easily be the first and only LP from this incarnation) is a right old mix of styles and ideas. A return, of sorts, to songwriting it starts with a day dreamy Gilberto Brasilia sandy lull of “la las” and pop with the strangely entitled ‘Bossa Zombie’ – the first part of that title is obvious, the second…not so much. Sosa and friends go on to jangle through removed versions of Bad Finger meets The Olivia Tremor Control balladry, harmony power pop (‘Leona’), Jeff Lynne “ahing” psychedelic anthems (‘Mel’), early 60s European new wave cinematic spell casting circus scene-set jazz lullaby (‘Fantasma’), and Baroque retro-futurist galactic love (‘Sandra’).

You may very well also pick up moments of Alex Harvey showmanship prog, soft rock furnishings and what sounds like an ominous Clockwork Orange space march on an album both simultaneously odd but also essentially pop. It’s a form of songwriting slightly askew and novel, yet pleasant, melodic and comfortable to the ear. God knows where Sosa will take us next.






Fra Fra   ‘Funeral Songs’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/24th April 2020





No stranger to this site, Grammy Award winning producer, author and peacemaker Ian Brennan has appeared countless times; namely as the in-situ producer on a myriad of unfiltered and direct performances and as the subject of an interview in 2016. Continuing his collaboration with Glitterbeat Records, Brennan is back with another chapter in the global expletory label’s Hidden Musics adventure; a series that unearths performances from ad-hoc musicians, located in some of the most remote, off-the-beaten-track, environments.

The sixth volume in this collection follows on from excursions to Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam and Mali, landing somewhere on a dusty road outside the northern Ghana hub of Tamale. Brennan once more entices a captivating set of recordings with as little interference as possible. Those previous records, whether it was capturing the evocative war-scarred yearns of both survivors of the Vietnam War or Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge apocalypse, or lending a voice to the suffering plight of the Abatwa people in the border regions of a post-genocide Rwanda, all adhere to the American producer’s signature technique of less is more. As Brennan himself put it in his How Music Dies (or Lives) book in 2016: ‘My concern is not cultural authenticity, but emotional truth and uncloying performances. Purity without baggage.’

Brennan is not in the business of earnest backslapping or ethnography, rather, he wishes to just make what he calls ‘candid and new punk and dusty records.’ Forget Lomax and company, Hidden Musics is less an exercise in preservation and archiving, and more a trailblazing exposure of relatively unburdened magic outside the confines and restrictions of Western music.   Responsible for all but one of the series – that being Paul Chandler’s Every Song Has Its End sonic dispatch from Mali survey -, Brennan focuses once again on the extremely localized sounds of his destination.

Fra Fra, the colonial name given to this particular tribe found in the northern part of Ghana, is a convenient name for just a trio of musicians who perform the funeral songs, plaints and paeans traditions of the country. A reversal of the north/south divide, it is northern Ghana that is synonymous for its wellspring of blues. That roots lament can be heard in the rustic, rudimental and springy performances of this group of locals. Led by the appropriately named Small, ‘a man who celebrates his diminutive size rather than seeing it as a lack of’, this trio proved difficult to capture. In part this was down to the processional manner of their playing style delivery; a manner that has more than a passing resemblance to New Orleans marching bands, which isn’t hard to figure when you consider the enforced enslavement of Ghanaians who passed through or made their home in the burgeoning port. So Brennan was forced to go for ‘coverage’ instead of precision, as Small and his wingmen gyrated in circles on the gravel floor.

Playing better (so they’d have us believe) when drunk on the production’s beer quota, inebriation seems to have lubricated proceedings for the better. With just the poor imitation of a guitar – the two-string Kologo – and its rusty percussive jangle of dog-tags that hang around the neck, and the tiny boned mouth flutes – which the Fra Fra call ‘horns’ – the funeral laments on this record are a grieving plea between the earthy and hidden spiritual forces. Primal, hypnotic with various sung utterances, call-outs, hums and gabbled streams of despondent sorrow the personable process of grief is opened up to a new audience. Not as mournful however as I’ve described, the cadence of voices, the scraped tremulous rhythms are often energetically poetic and bluesy: albeit far removed from what most people would recognize as the blues.

A chorus and a twang-y, hollowed-out and sporadic accompaniment of serial instrumentation deliver fatalistic subject matters, such as the destiny of orphans and the pining for loved ones.

Sadly we will hear a lot more funeral music before this Covid-19 epidemic ends, which is yet, and we hope it won’t, to hit Africa on the scale that it has in Europe and North America. For those in lockdown discovering music in its purest forms, the sixth showcase in the Hidden Musics series is another essential, unique taste of the sonic road less travelled. A record in which Brennan remains merely the ghostly facilitator.






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Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.


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) 



Melt  Yourself  Down  to  Sam  Zircon

Monolith Cocktail - Cabo Verde

Welcome to part two of our eclectic ‘choice albums of 2016’ feature, which starts with Melt Yourself Down‘s seething trans-Egypt-Nubia-London jazz funk and post-punk fusion Last Evenings On Earth and ends on Sam Zircons psychosis-induced Anxiety Skits hip-hop peregrinations. 

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums from 2016 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 make some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2016, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar.

Choice picks from Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms.




Melt Yourself Down  ‘Last Evenings On Earth’   (Leaf Label) 

Monolith Cocktail - Melt Yourself Down

Unbelievable that we never had room to review this withering polygenesis explosion of jazz, funk, no wave, dub, electro and post-punk on its release; it is after all what the Monolith Cocktail was started for. A trans-North African travail of sounds and mysticism channeled via the Blurt/Konk/ESG scene of 80s melting pot New York and PiL hangout London of the late 70s Last Evenings On Earth is a seething tension and prowling doomsday soundtrack for our times. Pulled together from a cornucopia of Afrobeat, spiritual and conscious jazz bands – including Sons Of Kemet, The Heliocentrics, Mulatu Astatke, Zun Zun Egui and Transglobal Underground – and headed by former Acoustic Ladyland saxophonist Pete Wareham, Melt Yourself Down straddle esoteric Egyptian funk, Roman galley paursarius drumming, a coherent James Chance and the clarion calling horns of Jericho. It’s nothing short of exhilarating.


Mongrels  ‘Attack the Monolith’  (Invisible Spies)

Monolith Cocktail - Mongrels

“A couldn’t-give-a-monkeys classic…their focus on the basics is undiluted, making the mundane darkly humorous”.  MO

Resurrected by Sheffield hip-hop superheroes Benjamin Hatton and Kid Acne (remember, don’t fuck with Eddy Fresh), the Mongrels respawn was a very British affair cataloguing mind boggling artefacts like a mad scientist emptying an Argos book and TV Times from a time capsule, but was never found minding its Ps and Qs. The arid wit and on-point delivery billowing from a beaten up mic, went glove-like with old skool boom bap frayed around the edges and pushing the reds. New Kingdom’s Sebash revelled in his role as honorary third member – a collaboration whose relevance wasn’t lost on the lyricism – by rabidly spoiling any remaining British primness. Topped off by being released as a painstakingly put together vinyl package, and you have a labour of love that bangs from South Yorks to New York.

Read original review here…


Melody Parker  ‘Archipelago’ 

Monolith Cocktail - Melody Parker

‘The musicians behind Melody Parker form an orchestra unique for each track; kindling the day with its bright and dense aura. The early morning sun burns the dusty tarmac; the city, the village, the town, the burg wakes up in style. Festivity and pleasure exude from the album.’  Ayfer Simms

Bounding between imaginary locations and timeframes, from WWII boogie-woogie to Otterman tango, the idiosyncratic Melody Parker sings her magical songs from the belfry and the minaret. A chamber pop version of the Dirty Projectors and Bjork, dreamily fluttering and fluctuating all the way, Parker embraces the atavistic romance of the accordion one minute and liltingly sways to the echoes of the Hawaiian slide guitar the next.

Read the full review here…


L’Orange & Mr Lif  ‘The Life & Death of Scenery’  (Mello Music Group)

Monolith Cocktail - L'Orange and Mr Lif

“Classily, caustically executed…as the national anthem bangs drums of death, it’s worth sneaking a listen to come blackout.”  MO

Just pipping Mr Lif’s other release this year by a hair’s breadth – Don’t Look Down, a very fine album that walked a thin line between introspection, life coaching and role playing – The Life and Death of Scenery showed that the concept album isn’t dead, that skits can still work if they’re done correctly, that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and that such opuses don’t have to be 80 minute-plus rambles. With producer L’Orange quietly but quickly assembling a top drawer back catalogue of collaborative LPs (Jeremiah Jae, Kool Keith), his artistry paired with the Boston emcee’s distinctive flow hitting a nimble apex explored a “light-hearted dystopia” – words deserving of instant exploring while igniting a minor fear factor. Pure theatre that doesn’t hang around in taking you to strange new places, without resorting to cliché.

Read the original review here…


Edward Penfold   ‘Caulkhead’  (Stolen Body Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Edward Penfold

 

‘Gargling with the electric kool aid, swimming in a soft gauze of vaguely familiar Syd Barrett, Kevin Ayers, Pete Dello and Idle Race-isms, Penfold joins the best of England’s bygone eccentric songwriters. Like some profound demos recorded for posterity, dusted off for future generations, his heavily compressed single-track tape machine obscurities sound simultaneously nostalgic and modern; evocating both the louche shimmer of The Beatles LSD experiments in swaddled hallucinogenic sounds and the lo fi enervated personifications of Greg Boring and Ty Segall.’  DV

Isle of Wight émigré in Bristol Edward Penfold wistfully hones his native homeland’s outsider spirit of maverick, if languid, poetics and hazy, blurry psychedelia on his debut solo effort Caulkhead – the nickname given to anyone who wasn’t born there. Capturing perfectly the sense of isolation, strung-out and detached from reality, the despondent themes tune into the literary and musical psychedelic mavericks that made the Island home during the last couple of hundred years and of course the orginal festival legacy, Ed weaves a unique lo fi typestry of the bucolic and Victorinia. Almost soporific in parts, untethered and close to slowly drifting away off into the ether, Ed manages to convey the mood effortlessly.

Read the full review here…


Raf And O  ‘Portal’

Monolith Cocktail - Raf and O Portal

‘Sucked through a Portal into a parallel musical universe, the idiosyncratic London duo of Raf Mantelli and Richard Smith submerge the listener once again into their beguiling futuristic panorama. Re-imagining a world in which a Memory of a Free Festival arts lab and Gemini Spacecraft Bowie enmeshed with Portishead, Raf and O’s gothic and magical references are twisted to conjure up ominous visions, to a backing track of free-spirited avant-jazz drumming, trip-hop and contorted machine music.’  DV

And so whilst a multitude of bewailing and lamentable artists outpoured their grieve over Bowie’s death this year, and ignored just why the creative force was so lauded in the first place, at least the amorphous London duo of Raf And O could be depended upon to pay homage by continuing to orbit around the pheripherials of the avant garde. With the most strung-out and tactile cosmic lulled space age version of the crooning soul incarnated Bowie’s ‘Win’ ever recorded, the maverick double act blessed his passing. However, what their most impressive release to date showcased best was the duo’s challenging cybernetic baroque and progressive trip-hop sound, of which no one else on the radar can come close. Through the imaginary interdimensional Portal we go!

Read the full review here…


RAM   ‘6: Manman M Se Ginen’

Monolith Cocktail

‘Constantly moving, transforming often-complex interplay with transcontinental imbued high energy and the local carnival spirit, RAM combine their activism and messages of hope and struggle with a strong evocative and infectious groove. Manman M Se Ginen is a beguiling and infectious album, full of tradition but electrified for a contemporary audience.’  DV

Although still playing their residency gigs at the Hotel Oloffson, jamming with the likes of Arcade Fire, in Port-au-Prince and playing live throughout the world, Richard A. Morse‘s mizik-rasin (a style that combines traditional Haitian Vodou with folkloric and rock and roll music) powerhouse ensemble RAM have remained absent from the recording studio for the past decade. Until now. Returning to take up the peoples struggle on wax with a record whose feverish and yearning rhythms fall congruously into two spheres of influence; both the Haitian and African rich fusion of the atavistic and modern have never sounded better together. The group hurl themselves headfirst into the tumultuous chaos with a frenzy of blurting saxophone punctuated stonks and barricade storming freefalling Ethno-jazz and Ska frenzies; reflecting the recent tumultuous upheavals and trauma of both the political and natural disasters that have rocked the Island. Elsewhere the album is stripped off its ferocity, replaced by gentler island breezes and ambling sweet West African highlife. ‘Koulou Koulou’ is a perfect example of this; the hymn like soothing Kreyol vocals of Lunise wafting over a sauntering highlife backing. Or on the disarming plaintive ballad ‘Ogou Oh’, which begins with a Popol Vuh like soothing but venerable piano and later breaks out into a tribal drumming ritual. Magical and rambunctious in equal measure.

Read the full review here…


Xenia Rubinos   ‘Black Terry Cat’  (ANTI-)

Monolith Cocktail - Xenia Rubinos ‘Black Terry Cat’

Xenia Rubinos wants to bite, deep. She sings like an intimidating snake in the outback, her venom appears thick and long, like a spitted chewing gum from the mouth of another, yet she is like candy. She must understand the coarse skin of the enemy, perhaps teach a few lessons, she must not fear but simply face it, sing with it, groove with it, with tunes that make our tendons tremble. Disguised in an urban daredevil, there’s no real grudge here, style and subjects are up to date, the banter is mutual, the succeeding embrace even stronger. Her battle of the raised fist is to boost consciousness, for the better and worse but really for the better.’  AS

With far more roots, soul, jazz and sazz than anything her more celebrated counterparts could ever produce, Xenia Rubinos flamboyant rage is delivered with a salacious wit and sensibility sadly lacking elsewhere in the mainstream. Whilst plaudits are given to Beyonce and her camarilla of uber-protesters – which failed spectacularly in the face of “Trumpism” -, Rubinos subtle but no less enraged cornucopia of influences (from R&B to rock) are the true voice of authenticity. And what a voice! Once heard never forgotten, a distinctive mix that both soothes and jolts but always remains soulful and warm. And the somewhat controversial ‘Mexican Chef’ is one of the year’s best tracks by far. This is just a great album by a great talent: simple as.

Read the full review here…


Noura Mint Seymali   ‘Arbina’   (Glitterbeat Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Noura Mint Seymali

‘Continuing to in-trance, constantly moving in a rotating spell, Noura’s follow-up Arbina, we’re told, ‘delves deeper into the wellspring’ of her Moorish roots. And with recent tumultuous events, not only in West Africa but also throughout an increasingly insecure world, Noura reaches for the divine: the album title of Arbina being an appellation for God.’  DV

Emerging from the shifting sand-dune landscape of Mauritania in 2014 with one of the year’s most captivating, and at times almost uniquely otherworldly, albums, Tzenni, the griot chanteuse Noura Mint Seymali returned with an equally heady intoxicating embodiment of the ‘trans-Saharan’ culture and spiritual sounds of worship. With a familiar signature of drowsy slinking low-end bass lines, propulsive swirling breakbeat drums and tremolo quivering spindly alien guitar (provided by Noura’s husband, the adroit masterful Jeiche Ould Chighaly), there’s a certain confidence and refinement on this, the second of Noura’s international releases. Closer in momentum and candour to the previous album’s ‘El Barm’ and ‘El Mougelmen’  tracks, Arbina widens its scope; stretching the desert blues and psych funk template to accommodate twangs and inspirations from further afield. Always at one with the textures and contours of her homeland, the time signatures also continue to breezily, almost surreptitiously, change at will, with many of the songs on this album changing from one rhythm to the next halfway through. Meanwhile Noura’s amplified vocals resonate strongly, lingering loudly; the poetic and lyrical storytelling griot tradition thrust into a new century with renewed energy and musicality. Passionate throughout yet attentive and controlled, that melodious voice is even richer and soulful than before. Working in a circular movement, Noura’s vocals are both celestial and earthly, as the songs of veneration and guidance flow in waves or, repeat in an impressive breathless mantra. It is another magical peregrination from the Mauritanian soulstress.

Read the full review here…


Sidestepper   ‘Supernatural Love’   (Real World Records)

Monolith Cocktail

Supernatural Love is a bright, flowing encapsulation of the current Colombian music scene, with sonic feelers reaching out across the continent and towards Africa. Unrushed and organic, with exceptional musicianship throughout the collective return with one of their best albums yet, merging gospel, soul, cumbia, salsa, Afro-Colombian, folk, psych and dub seamlessly together to produce something infectiously fresh.’  DV

Sharing a couple of commonalities and passions with another choice album and group, RAM and and their Manman M Se Ginen album, the electro-cumbia doyans Sidestepper have also made a comeback after a recording sabbatical, returning with sauntering diaphanous embodiment of their Bogota barrio, La Candelaria, on Supernatural Love. Joyous, an evocation of that city and the Colombian music scene both atavistic and contemporary, they weave the most free-spirited and soulful becalming soundtrack; repeating leitmotifs and letting the energy and music just carry itself to where it needs to go. Co-founded in 1996 by former Real World Records studio engineer and producer/DJ Richard Blair, who originally travelled to Colombia in the mid 90s to work with Afro-Colombian folk star Toto La Momposina, but decided he loved the culture and music so much he’d stay for good, and local singer/songwriter/producer Iván Benavides, Sidestepper were renowned instigators of the electro-cumbia fusion that swept its way across the clubs of Medellin, London and New York. However, bored with hearing the same old “kick, snare and hi-hat”, Blair and a reinvigorated Sidestepper line up that features virtuoso percussionist Juan Carlos ‘Chongo’ Puello and “soulboy/vocalist” Edgardo ‘Guajiro’ Garcés joining the band’s lead singer Erika ‘Eka’ Muñoz and guitarist Ernesto ‘Teto’ Ocampo, has changed direction with this adventurous and ‘supernatural love’ for Colombian music’s roots.

Read the full review here…



 

Si-Phili  ‘The 11th Hour’  (Phoenix Recordings)

Monolith Cocktail - Si-Phili

 

“Simply unstoppable. A mic crusher with a touch of class, the heart of a lion and machine gun lungs”.  MO

Go hard or go home. All or nothing. Never give less than 100%. Ready to battle, whatever the time of day. Show-n-prove, call-n-response, leading to crowd surfs. Introspection to give the hurricane an angle of humanity, without dousing the flames. Stacking up punchlines that are then sent cartwheeling over non believers like giant Jenga bricks. A kickstart to your day, and a gee up to get you out of a fix. The right way to do things, both in UK hip-hop and life in general. All over a premium selection of boom bap and soulful stoking of the fire, provided by Richy Spitz, Urban Click, Leaf Dog and Pete Cannon. The sheer focus, belief and single-minded consistency of Si Phili, a standard bred from his Phi-Life Cypher days, is a rampage that can only be admired. ‘The 11th Hour’ has the mic veteran approaching national institution status.

Read the full review here…


Soundsci  ‘Walk the Earth’ (World Expo)

Monolith Cocktail - Soundsci

“Big funk, no front; ‘Walk the Earth’ is up there with hip-hop’s best for the year.”  MO

So good in fact that we forgot to review first time round. Amateurs. Anyway, enriched funky beats and liquid mic swaps from the Soundsci crew, who proved their reliability with ‘Walk the Earth’ maximising the performance bests of Solesides and Jurassic 5. Giving a knowing look to show promoters everywhere, in no small part due to the involvement of the Herbaliser‘s Ollie Teeba, the crew’s third album has a precision at its core liable to explode into the front rows of the crowd. And while not bragging about how versatile they most definitely are, there’s a lot here for everyone to grab a piece and go home happy with.


Teksti-TV 666   ‘1,2,3’   (SVART Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Teksti-TV 666

‘Probably as influential as it’s ever been, one of the most over-used, misunderstood and clichéd influences, Krautrock – a missive if ever there was one – occasionally acts as a springboard to more interesting and unique places. Teksti-TV 666 takes it towards a gothic CBGBs, as motorik goes “hey, ho”.’  DV

Despite the USP boast of featuring six guitarists in their lineup, Finland’s Teksti-TV 666 manage to quell the egos and rein-in the resulting maelstrom with a driven but attentive light and shade style Krautrock/Punk fusion. More a showcase than an album proper, SVART have pieced together the group’s previous three EPs for an attack on the senses.

Though a million others have tried to bend and hone Krautrock to deliver something fresh, Teksti-TV have injected a speedball cocktail into the motorik pulse of Neu!, merging it with spiky monotone fun of The Ramones and the gothic shoegaze and drones of umpteen 80s bands. Every song is an epic in itself, building up gradually with finesse; running through the full gamut of emotions before a final release. Edgy and moody enough to suggest the ominous and despondent, and hard enough to shake the rafters, the miasma that threatens to engulf is always eased up on for something calmer and celestial. Finland’s multi-limbed guitar cacophony is quite unique; transforming their influences with as much humour as fury.

Read the full review here…


Various Artists  ‘Khmer Rouge Survivors – They Will Kill You, If You Cry’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Monolith Cocktail

 

Growing in stature and reputation Glitterbeat Records continue to release many of the best, most influential contemporary albums and collections from around the world. Expanding on their original West African remit under the adroit stewardship of musician/producer Chris Eckman, they have also brought us various evocative and profound records from some of the least represented locations including South East Asia. Sending Grammy-award winning producer and celebrated author Ian Brennan to capture the dying art and memories of Vietnam veterans for the startling Hanoi Masters testament last year, they’ve followed up in 2016 with an equally vivid and harrowing account from Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge survivors.

Proving that the roots and primal howl of the blues is every bit as entrenched in the Cambodian delta as the African and the Americas, those who suffered at the hands of Pol Pot’s genocide recall and lament on their own experiences: both as a therapy and to remind a new generation brought up in a completely different age, almost ignorant of the country’s recent past, of the trauma and turmoils that for many still run deep. As raw and captivating as you’d imagine, Brennan’s hands-off, in-the-moment, approach to production allows these battle-scarred victims an ad-hoc platform to share their sad but diaphanous songs globally.

Read the Ian Brennan interview here…


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

Monolith Cocktail - Every Song Has Its End - Sonic Dispatches from Traditional Mali (2400)

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

Glitterbeat Records once again feature heavily in our ‘choice albums features’ with a quartet of releases making the grade this year, including Paul Chandler‘s compilation and accompanying film panoply, Sonic Dispatches From Traditional Mali. Recording, before it disappears forever, the fragile Mali atavistic roots, which prove far more polygenesis than you’d ever imagine, a diverse range of cultures have left their indelible mark upon the landscape and population. Forgotten in some extreme cases, ignored or considered as Mali’s past by new generations, maestros of the 6-string Danh, such as Boukader Coulibaly, and the Balafon, Kassoun Bagayoko, are celebrated and interviewed for this collection. Whether it’s traversing the Gao region in the northwest to record the earthy desert pants of the female vocal ensemble, Group Ekanzam, or capturing a Sokou and N’goni love paean performance by Bina Koumaré & Madou Diabate in the heart of the country, this chronicle of the pains, virtues, trauma and spirit of the country’s musical heritage is an extraordinary love letter and testament to Mali.

Read the full review here…


Various  Artists   ‘Space Echo –  The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed’   (Analog Africa)

Monolith Cocktail - Cabo Verde

‘Selected for our enjoyment by the Celeste/Mariposa crew, a sound system based in Lisbon, Mexico-based producer Deni Shain, and Analog Africa’s founder Samy Ben Redjeb, this compilation offers an undeniably infectious dance soundtrack for the summer.’ DV

350 miles adrift of the West African coast Cape Verde lies almost isolated out in the Atlantic Ocean. But this former overseas ‘department’ of Portugal fatefully, so the local legend goes, happened to be stuck in the exact right place when a shipment of the latest Rhodes, Moog, Farfisa, Hammond and Korg synthesizers and keyboards bound for the Exposição Mundial Do Son Eletrônico Exhibition in Rio De Janeiro ended up marooned on one of the archipelago’s ten volcanic islands in 1968. The real story grows ever more mysterious, as the cargo, destined to reach a promising market in South America, disappeared off the radar on a calm morning the same day it set sail from Baltimore and ended up 8km away from the Cape Verde coastline in a field near the village of Cachaço. And so a new era in the Island’s musical development was borne as the melting pot of Mornas, Coladeras, carnival and previously prohibited – deemed far too risqué and sensual by the Portuguese overseers- Funaná styles of music were given a new lease of life and modern twist by the booty of futuristic sounding synthesizers. However, despite the emphasis on the strange space like emulations and modulations of the keyboard technology and its impact on the Cape Verde music scene, this compilation is really about a former suppressed colony finding its own independence; revitalising once banned traditions and giving them, for the time, a unique twist.

Read the full review here…


Verbal Kent & !llmind  ‘Weight of Your World’ (Mello Music Group)

Monolith Cocktail - Verbal Kent & !llmind

“Sarcastic punchlines wired to a big-assed boom-bap plunger…dominant, imposing music to lay warpaths by”.  MO

Mello Music Group reeled off killer album after killer album in 2016, boasting a roster of underground burners plentiful in their potent variety. Within something of an internal Venn diagram, Apollo Brown gave soul a kickstart/kick up the jacksie so that Ugly Heroes comrades Red Pill and Verbal Kent (‘Everything in Between’) and Skyzoo ‘(‘The Easy Truth’) could demonstrate parallels in muscular grace, heaviness done with heart. Verbal Kent and !llmind’s ‘Weight of Your World’ warned that “beggars who are choosers are heading for bruises”, and while all three are worthy picks, we’ll plump for the latter. With the added advantage of being absolutely free, it’s cocksure enough to seemingly look at clubs with disdain before slyly leading with its elbows, laying down battle humour with the jib of vintage Canibus and Jadakiss that would reduce ciphers to smithereens, and packing a mean strut at all times. All hail the power of being pissed off.

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Wovenhand   ‘Star Treatment’  (Sargent House/Glitterhouse Records)

Monolith Cocktail - WovenHand

‘Inspired in a wondrous and metaphysical sense by humanities navigational dependence, worship and cultural fascination with the stars, David Eugene Edwards sets out on another esoteric Americana adventure on his latest opus, Star Treatment. The former 16 Horsepower front man saddles up and unfurls the Wovenhand banner, traversing the great western plains of historical reality and literature to produce a gothic Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee meets the Egyptian Book Of The Dead.’  DV

Spiritual interdimensional peregrinations abound on David Eugene EdwardsWovenhand epic. Linking parallels between atavistic tropes of loss, wisdom, a sense of wonder and nature with the original holy lands and the new world promised land of America’s west. Working on many levels with this star-guided concept, Edwards meta panorama may look towards the night skies yet it also digs beneath sacred ground to conjure up the ancestral; mixing America’s indigenous culture, ritual and ceremony with those of the most ancient mariners and travellers from the ‘fertile crescent’. This is an ambitious piece of work, taking as it does Americana to another more ambitious and afflatus level, as expansive and full of gravitas as the landscapes he searches.

Read the full review here…


Sam Zircon  ‘Anxiety Skits’  (Blah)

Monolith Cocktail - Sam Zircon

“The ultimate instrumental downer on eggshells…an excellent, tantalisingly poised headswim against the tide.”  MO

On the impressively individual Blah Records, another UK imprint to have a blinder of a year with releases from Morriarchi, Bisk, Blak Josh and Sleazy F Baby, typically it was one of the labels silent assassins who wore a ruling crown of thorns for the last 12 months. In a year when instrumental sets were pleasingly still doing a brisk trade, Sam Zircon forwent the usual rub downs of funk and soul loops and picked off opposition by pricking goosebumps with a harrowing virus. Anxiety Skits plays like the recovered footage of an explorer long lost to the wilderness, but whose demise you can only assume was grisly and/or involving hypothermia. Catching some of the implied psychoses of Company Flow’s ‘Little Johnny from the Hospitul’, you know Zircon is doing his job when disorientating frostbite starts developing around your headphones.

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Aesop Rock to Bob Lind.


Monolith Cocktail: ‘Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul (1963 – 1969)’


Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavours to offer a more eclectic spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists; stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album doesn’t deserve the number 32 spot and has been placed at number 33 instead.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums from 2016 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 make some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2016, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar.

Split into two parts, the first installment begins with Aesop Rock’s‘s hip-hop masterpiece The Impossible Kid and ends with the latest adroit songbook from the legendary troubadour Bob Lind. In between those two sagacious bookends are albums from David Bowie, David Broughton, Danny Brown, Cluster, Eleanor Friedberger and John Howard (plus many others).

Aesop Rock   ‘The Impossible Kid’  (Rhymesayers)

Monolith Cocktail - Aesop Rock

“The waterfall of words, snide quips and intricate stories recalled from both close to home and far away worlds, are as good as he’s ever done”.  Matt Oliver 

Seeming to get better rather than older (and don’t you dare mention the ageing process as per ‘Lotta Years’), the original ‘Bazooka Tooth’ is still ablaze out of somewhere to the left, but now giving lesser mortals more of a chance of accessing him than ever before. Entirely self-produced and applying funkiness to the bulkiness of alien-scanned beats he’s always rocked his way, AR’s extra superpower as the self-deprecating hero of syllaballistics (“the impossible kid , everything that he touch turns probably to shit”), is to humanise the fantastical and still make the everyday sound like a comic book lead, even when soul is bared for all to analyse. Rock also added more great cover art, and the visuals for ‘Rings’ and ‘Kirby’ are bound to feature in hip-hop video of the year lists.

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Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra   ‘A.H.E.O’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Monolith Cocktail - A.H.E.O.

 

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

 

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

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

The call went out and the great and good of the Haitian music scene came. Racine Mapou de Azor, the Yizra’El Band, Lakou Mizik and, featured on the Monolith Cocktail at the start of the year and one of the choice albums of 2016 with their highly-rated Manman M Se Ginen LP, RAM. Another Monolith regular and one-time Port-au-Prince resident, Mark Mulholland was drafted in as the experimental orchestra’s guitarist, and as it would turn out, eventual legacy overseer. Swelling the ranks still further were Olaf Hund, recruited on keyboards and ‘electronics’, and an old friend of Allen’s, the bassist Philippe Dary, who became the de facto musical director. With only five days of studio rehearsal time to gel and work out their performance, the sessions proved both, as Mulholland observed, ‘chaotic’ and overwhelming’. Based upon various sparks of inspiration and rhythmic workouts the eventual structured compositions took shape from organically flowing jams. At the heart of each, Allen’s signature Afrobeat drums and Dary’s liquid, and often funky sumptuous basslines.

Read the full review here…



Bitori  ‘Legend  of  Funaná –  The  Forbidden  Music  Of  The  Cape  Verde  Islands’

(Analog  Africa)

Monolith Cocktail - Legend of Funaná – The Forbidden Music Of The Cape Verde Islands

‘Following the summertime thrills aplenty Space Echo – The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed compilation, with the emphasis on the Funaná; Analog Africa continues to pay homage to the previously suppressed music genre with a reissue of, what many consider, the best Funaná album ever recorded, Bitori Nha Bibinha.’   DV

Helping to ignite a full-on Funaná revival, the quintessential and legendary anthem of Cape Verde’s once banned – considered too salacious and unruly by the Portuguese authorities who ran this archipelago of islands until the mid 1970s – infectious music style was given a reprise by Analog Africa this year. A master class from the inter-generational duo of singer Chando Graciosa and renowned gaïta maestro Victor Tavares (better known as Bitori), who’d both grown up with the blazing and often raucous Funaná, Bitori Nha Bibinha captures the passion and spirit of the people and the times it survived.

Read the full review here…


The Bordellos  ‘How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One’
(Small Bear Records)

Monolith Cocktail

‘Despite the caustic bravado and world-weary bitterness channeled into the antagonistic song titles on this new album, The Bordellos lo fi edicts are always surprisingly melodic. Think of them as a tuneful The Fall; resigned and swiping at society but hopeful enough to challenge it despite banging their collective heads on the doors of the music industry for years.’

Gaining this coveted spot (sic) in our ‘choice albums’ feature for perseverance in the face of despair, the St. Helens trio once more man the barricades with another despondent protest. Feeling, like many of us (I know we do), out of synch with the digital epoch, they rally against the Internet’s most depressing byproducts, and the loss of real ‘motherfuckers’ from the music world – who they duly list on a song of the same name; a cry for a new leader or at least more individuals and rebels. Wearily antagonistic, righting slights and a lifetime of rejection, The Bordellos go for broke on How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One with titles such as ‘Did The Bastards At The BBC Kill John Peel?’, ‘Gary Glitter’ and ‘Piss On Spotify’. Uneasy truths to a lo fi backing of The Velvet Underground, Julian Cope and The Fall abound, yet this could be the group’s best and most complete songbook to date.

Read the full review here…



David Bowie  ‘Blackstar’   (ISO/RCA)

Blackstar cover art - Monolith Cocktail

‘…this could be the most pure, at least concerned, version of Bowie yet. Resurrected free of his characterisations, the gilded “Blackstar” is just as uneasy and scared at the anxieties, stresses and daunting prospects of the future as the rest of us. Fame, celebratory is mere smoke after all and offers little in the way of comfort and safety in the face of the impending end times. Yet despite being easily his best album since Earthling, Blackstar is still underwhelming and falls short of being a classic.’  DV

 

The swansong of an irreplaceable polymath proved to be one of the year’s most sad moments, as the man who fell to Earth, Aladdin Sane, the Young American, the thin white duke, the absolute beginner, whichever version you fell in love with, departed for the ether. We lost a great many unique and inimitable artists in 2016 but though ever death is tragic none left quite the pit of despair that David Bowie‘s did. Don’t even try to crown a successor; he was a force unto himself, the “Blackstar”, the supernova of pop. Reams have been written – a great many by myself – yet no one will ever truly reflect his importance and legacy.

Though released just before his death the augur that is ★ was a curtain call. Just as oblivious to Bowie’s fatal cancer as everyone else, I did remark at the time that this album seemed to be a poignant goodbye, an elegy even. Returning to a first love, jazz, Bowie who proved an eager saxophonist in the burgeoning years of his career worked with a N.Y. West Village jazz troupe to produce one of his best albums in decades. Old faces, including a decomposing Major Tom, themes and sounds returned, with traces of Diamond Dogs, Scary Monsters, Black Tie White Noise and Outside. Despite the often cryptic and veiled words, this was an anxious, weary and reflective Bowie; looking back before a rebirth. A pity time ran out for him.

Read the full review here…


David Thomas Broughton  ‘Crippling Lack Vol. 1 – 3’  (Song, By Toad Records)

Monolith Cocktail - David Thomas Broughton

‘An ambitious undertaking, David Thomas Broughton’s sprawling opus Crippling Lack is both musically and geographically expansive. Recorded trans-continental style with a host of collaborators over the last few years, Broughton, who’s based himself more recently in the capitals of, unbelievably, North and South Korea, has laid down various parts and vocals in France, the UK and the US. Logistically impressive, Crippling Lack is a testament to the DIY ethic and remote collaborative experimentation.’ DV

A magnificent and masterful undertaking by Broughton, the Crippling Lack trio of recordings is demarcated into three parts, the entire song collection, if you decide to experience in one sitting, stretching to 1 hour 40 minutes. It features twelve songs in all of varying meticulously and slowly unfurled beauty, with some, epics in their own right. The press release separates the album out into a musical journey, beginning with what it calls ‘deceptively approachable pop songs’, moving through a more testing ‘unraveling and disintegrating and barely-stretched fragments’ segment, before ending with a final section that ‘slowly weaves’ all the loose and previous sections together.

It is nothing short of a magnum opus; cohesive and flowing along to a sophisticated backing, sonorous with the artist’s venerable travailed voice, and his acerbic foils wit. The album’s scope is immense even though it meanders to a, mostly, folk signature and gentle accompaniment. It is outstanding even by Broughton’s standards.

Read the full review here…


Danny Brown  ‘Atrocity Exhibition’  (Warp)

Monolith Cocktail - Danny Brown

“Juggling the mic like a grenade missing a pin…one of 2016’s most individual threats.”  MO

‘Atrocity Exhibition’ throws up so many positive talking points. #1 – the transatlantic odd couple of Danny Brown and Paul White, a relationship rooted in 2011’s ‘Rapping With Paul White’ album, fears nothing and no-one. #2 – Brown continues to show he has one of the maniacal mic grips in the game that you can’t ignore, here with added malleability. #3 – White’s reputation has really hit its stride on an upward curve; though other producers contribute (Black Milk, Alchemist and Evian Christ are not to be sniffed at), it’s essentially the Englishman’s show on the boards. #4 – a show stopping hook from Kendrick Lamar on ‘Really Doe’ doesn’t hurt one bit. #5 – despite Brown’s mile-a-minute persona shearing safety bars off rollercoasters, and White and co by default becoming the straight man sidekick, you really have no idea what’s around the next corner, from soaring superhero soundtracks to proper hip-hop dope to something suspiciously shuffling through the undergrowth. “This is not regular rap”, Brown offers. Amen.

Read the original review here


Cappo  ‘Dramatic Change of Fortune’  (YNR)

Monolith Cocktail - Cappo

“When autumn becomes winter, here’s your listening.” MO

You should always bet on the flow of Nottingham’s finest that has evolved into a complex work of art. On past albums and years gone by Cappo would’ve destroyed opposition with crosshairs locked and ammo loaded; here his own brand of introspection, still packing uniquely orbital rhyme schemes but now more than ever full of coded messages and open ended verses awaiting interpretation, kills the noise and heighten the mysteries surrounding the emcee’s inner thoughts and circles. It packs two absolutely heaters of singles as well – ‘OOB’ and ‘Ether’ are both unassuming phantoms of the opera, but white hot in a pretty slimline session – another contributing factor to the building of the suspenseful and mournful, chilling on a razor’s edge. YNR took the weight off their plates in 2016, but this was easily the jewel in their calendar year crown.

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CHUCK  ‘My Band Is A Computer’  (Old Money Records)

Monolith Cocktail (Dominic Valvona) - CHUCK review

CHUCK’s kooky collage-rock and lo fi wonky electronic pop, which congruously flows between The Magnetic Fields, Mercury Rev, Weezer, Apples In Stereo and even The Pixies, absorbs its influences to create a gorgeous, quietly optimistic, kind of melancholy and pathos.’ DV

From the inimitable label of hopeless optimism and resigned despair another lo fi songbook of obscure modern idiosyncratic pathos. Released via Audio Antihero’s new imprint Old Money Records this marvelous kooky collection from Massachusetts’s songwriter and multi- instrumentalist CHUCK is a congruous bedfellow of the label’s previous releases from Benjamin Shaw, Frog and Cloud.

Bringing an upstate, more pastoral, lilt to the New York metropolis where he now resides, CHUCK’s quasi-Tropicana Casio preset bed of quirky wounded observations are both funny and profoundly sad; lo fi but ambitious. An outsider in some sense; an observer of the foibles and peculiarities of the Brooklyn boroughs, the maverick artist paints a reflective, wry and often ironic picture of our modern times.

Far too good to be hidden away his collection of songs, penned over the last decade, have thankfully been given the platform to reach a wider audience.

Read the full review here…


Clipping  ‘Splendor & Misery’  (Sub Pop)

Monolith Cocktail - Clipping

“Provocative electronics and sermons from the LA leftfielders will clamp you to the edge of your seat.”  MO

For the record, ‘Splendor & Misery’ is a 20/80 split in favour of the latter. Comprehensively proving that the end of the days is still compelling material when done as well as this, particularly in this year of all years, Clipping were another to give themselves a veneer of accessibility with their zero gravity screams. Futility set adrift to a perfectly captured fear found frozen behind the visor, had rhymes dealing with the pending shitstorm with West Coast fearlessness usually reserved for low-rider rollin’. Interspersed with choral episodes praying for the album’s lead, the intelligent stage management demands your full attention; that’s to say, it’s a struggle to dip in and out or pick a favourite track by itself – do so and you’ll risk detracting from the whole performance pushing hip-hop’s outersphere. What odysseys are made of and reputations are built on.

Read the original review here


Cluster  ‘1971 – 1981’  (Bureau B)

Monolith Cocktail - Cluster 1971 - 1981

‘Patriarchs of the German music scene, Cluster, are quite rightly celebrated for their contribution to the last forty-odd years of experimental electronic and ambient music with this latest grandiose gesture of adulation. Though attempts have been sporadic, past collections have gathered together, more or less, all the standard Cluster recordings, leaving out live and more obscure albums, until now. German label Bureau B, concentrating on the group’s output from 1971 to 1981, chronologically compile a full discography from that decade, which for the first time ever includes the previously unreleased Konzerte 1972/1977 album.’ DV

All attentively remastered, rather impressively I might add, by Willem Makkee, the nine-album box set offers the die-hards another excuse to own the back catalogue, with the added bonus of requiring that former live LP that got away, Konzerte, and for those not familiar or with a passing fancy, the best complete picture and evolution yet of the much revered group. 1971- 1981 will serve as a worthy testament and reawakening of the Cluster back catalogue and legacy: now sounding better than ever, the remastering for once very much welcomed.

Read the full review here…



Ian William Craig  ‘Centres’  

Monolith Cocktail - Ian William Craig

Passing us by on release Ian William Craig‘s unassuming but nevertheless epic sweeping ambient opus Centres arrived without much fanfare on its release. However, these cerebral peregrinations, songs of hope, soulful expansive hymns and sonic journeys into space were given rave reviews by those who did pay attention. And so initially missing coverage on the Monolith Cocktail, we’ve made up for it since by featuring tracks from the album in our ‘quarterly playlists’ and now, in our ‘choice albums of 2016’ feature. It is one of the year’s most beautiful, inspiring and often just meditative concatenate suites; offering glimmers of awe.  DV


Dillon & Paton Locke  ‘Food Chain’ (Full Plate)

Monolith Cocktail - Rapture & Verse Hip Hop selection

“Gourmet underground platters rooted in the South but giving you seven courses of funk and back.”  MO

It might only be found as small print on some menus, but who are we to ignore prime indie cuts encouraging you to “pour a bucket of gravy over yourself and just feel that”. When they’re not rewriting the rules of the Ice Bucket Challenge, Dillon & Paton Locke are always gnawing on something, rhyming as they chew it. Funky, crate-rifling beats are laced with an overzealous streak, cogently able to stop the album dead from 60 to 0 and then re-energise it the other way, and a press-record-and-just-go appetite never misses a trick on the mic, with a hint of political soap-boxing and getting down to some grown man, take a look around biz. Their guest chef specials aren’t too salty either – R&V favourites Homeboy Sandman and J-Live, Dres from Black Sheep and people’s president Lobsterdamus, help flavour a certified belly-buster for 2016.

Read the original review here



Ed Scissor & Lamplighter   ‘Tell Them It’s Winter’ (High Focus)

Monolith Cocktail - Ed Scissors & Lamplighter

“An intriguingly created world of wisdom, paranoia, numbness and finding peace in its own mind”.  MO

High Focus have had the mother of all years, the consistency of everything they’ve dropped dominating the last 12 months of homegrown hip-hop. Ocean Wisdom (‘Chaos 93’) boasted youthfully infinite ammunition. Dabbla (‘Year of the Monkey’) got up to a whole load of japery reaching across the bar. Fliptrix (‘Patterns of Escapism’) executed label ideals to the fullest. Yet in the spirit of thinking differently, Ed Scissor and Lamplighter, the absolute antithesis of those mentioned, take the honours by a short head. Blair Witch hip-hop with its nose to the wall, barely keeping its head above water while barely raising an eyebrow, pulls off the Houdini-like stunt of subverting hip-hop norms while sticking close to them like a second skin. A slow and deliberate bittersweet bloom of triumph, creating the ultimate flip script of offering easy solace and comfort when all looks lost.

Read the original review here


Elzhi  ‘Lead Poison’ (Glow365)

Monolith Cocktail - Elzhi

 

“Ear-catching narratives covering the everyday grind…not far off being a complete LP”.  MO

Coming out the other side of mental health issues has Elzhi using ‘Lead Poison’ as catharsis, resulting in some of the year’s most vividly delivered rhymes and storytelling in the process. Done so in near enough bite sized chapters, proves that if the story’s interesting enough, it’s long enough. Never buckling under pressure, even when the likes of ‘Cloud’ feel like everything is conspiring against him (not to mention the potential of his health showing overall weakness), heart is worn on sleeve and self-examinations are set to a forceful soul soundtrack pushing its protagonist. With softer neo-soul going back to Elzhi’s Slum Village heritage, there’s also room for a little light heartedness, with ‘She Sucks’ doing forbidden love by garlic and wooden stakes, and ‘MisRight’ bending the thesaurus. An album that goes from strength to strength, listen on listen.

Read the full review here


Eleanor Friedberger ‘New Views’ (Frenchkiss Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Eleanor Friedberger New View

Another album we missed on its release, Eleanor Friedberger‘s third solo spot New View is another impressive songbook of idiosyncratic pop. Streamlining the signature intelligent reference-heavy prose of her sibling act The Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor continues the clever turns of phrase but in a more attentive, breezier and lightened but less cluttered manner. With elan she sets out on a dry-witted but emotionally philosophical picnic through the East Village with Patti Smith and Harry Nilsson in tow.


Paul Hawkins and the Awkward Silences  ‘Outsider Pop’  (Blang Records)

Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences - Monolith Cocktail

‘Lethargically executed and quintessentially an antifolk statement of protest, Outsider Pop is a highly infectious album of pop parodies that penetrate the bland veneer of the contemporary irksome vacuum known as the mainstream. Shambling discontent at its finest.’  DV

The disgruntled savant of disco funk pop and antifolk Paul Hawkins completely in the dark, oblivious to the dreadful proclamation of David Bowie’s impending death paid an augur homage to his white-suited and booted pop incarnation of the 1980s by transmogrifying ‘China Girl’ into an Outsider Pop anthem. Produced by that nutflake nostalgist, and one of the busiest men in the industry right now Ian Button (of the mighty Papernut Cambridge, Gare du Nord label and umpteen other projects), Hawkins’ third album also finds foibles of inspiration from REM, The Fall, Toto and The Art Of Noise; reflecting a much broader sound than before. The no wave, white funk, pop melodies act as a Trojan Horse, the themes far from advocating a hedonistic lust for life or suggesting the listener suppress the doldrums of modern life, are filled with malcontent at the state of the world.

Read the full review here…


John Howard  ‘Across The Door Sill’  (Occultation Recordings)

Monolith Cocktail - John Howard

 

‘Not so adrift and experimental as to have cut all ties to his signature profound sincerity and sad romanticism, John Howard’s Across The Door Sill dares to go further with an even more immersive experience. Expanding his poetic lyricism and piano performances, stark and stripped-back, his vocals multiplied to fill the space and build the atmosphere; Howard has room and time to create some stirring music. It is a most sagacious reflection from the artist, still finding the inspiration to develop and take risks. In doing so he’s reached what could be one of the creative pinnacles of his career.’  DV

Imbued with the 13th century poet Rumis ‘Quatrains’ poem, which encourages us to broaden our horizons and to not just accept what we’ve done in the past, the adroit songwriter and pianist John Howard experiments with a stripped back sound of multilayered vocals and the melodious gravitas on his latest songbook Across The Door Sill. Attentive and epic the album’s sagacious stream of consciousness is a deeply reflective observance on where we are now. In no hurry to get to a hook or chorus, his source material, a collection of unhindered, unhurried and floating poems, was developed overtime, set to music in an organic fashion. Hence why three of the five songs on this LP are nine-minutes long. On a successful run of collaborations and solo projects Howard is enjoying his most productive period yet in a career that’s spanned five decades.

Read the full review here…


Illogic  ‘A Man Who Thinks With His Own Mind’  (Weightless)

Monolith Cocktail - Illogic

“Streams of quotable IQ create a fever dream. Snooze, you lose.”  MO

Ohio rhyme scientist Illogic provided his own version of a hip-hop out of body experience, a canon of verbosity when bedding down for the night and setting free streams of consciousness while looking through a telescope. This in itself created its own contradiction of being an album expressly trained to set you afloat (The Sound Cultivator’s star-shaped soul powered by plasma rays > strictly no cloud rap), which still kept you wide awake with naturally intricate rhymes, both book and street smart, about life, the universe and everything else. Anyone who starts an album with the observation that “the tofu was not as firm as I’m used to” deserves nothing but praise and respect. The modern equivalent of becoming engrossed in a good book that tells your imagination to run.

Read the original review here


J-Zone   ‘Fish n Grits’  (Old Maid Entertainment)

Monolith Cocktail - J-Zone

“Dripping in home truths from his funk soapbox, disillusionment with hip-hop and its cultural hangers-on has never been more entertaining”.  MO

Better placed than most to justify a love-hate relationship with hip-hop, J-Zone proclaimed “there’s only two types of music – good and bad. Make good music, or shut the fuck up.” Paired with helium alter-ego/juvenile imaginary friend Chief Chinchilla as hilarious equal opportunity offender, and showing the strain of ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ remains strong, ‘Fish n Grits’ goes in with scathingly relatable accuracy about the state of the game, misty-eyed nostalgia replaced by a nose-bloodying team of goons busting a whole load of myths. Additionally, whereas Zone’s production used to pop off all over the place in a skilfully spring-loaded criss-cross, he’s honed his own funk skills into a true mastery to compliment his industry disses. Hallelujah that he can’t leave the game alone.

Read the full review here


Fela Ransome-Kuti And His Koola Lobitos  ‘Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul 1963-1969’  (Knitting Factory Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Fela Kuti

‘Hot stepping and sure footing through Savoy label like jazz and Stax/Volt revue soul, Fela and his first ever professional band Koola Lobitos were the missing link on the eventual road to the Afrobeat phenomenon. An evolving Fela, only a few shuffles short of cultivating his signature, already shows a raw energy on this compilation’s studio and live recordings.’  DV

 

In the midst of another celebration and anniversary appraisal the Afrobeat pioneer and political protagonist Fela Kuti has seen the back catalogue legacy re-released and repackaged countless times. There’s been a stage production of his life, and a documentary film in the last couple of years alone. But one of the most revealing and raw tributes is this burgeoning showman showcase; a labour of love that collates together a number of previously scattered, thought lost, rare early recordings – both in the studio and on stage – from the stax/funk/soul years. A “labour of love”, stemming from Toshiya Endo’s African Music Home Page website, launched in the late 90s, the Fela Kuti and His Koola Lobitos material were collected from around the world, from the collections of various fans. By day a professor of Chemistry at Ngoya University, Endo’s passion and hobby of cataloguing West African music attracted the author of the Fela: The Life & Times Of An African Musical Icon bio Michael E. Veal. Lucky for us the dynamic duo produced this lavish and arduous compilation of explosive early Fela beauties; one of the best and revelatory introductions to the great polymaths work yet.

Read the full review here…


Bob Lind  ‘Magellan Was Wrong’  (Ace Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Bob Lind

Another masterclass from the sagacious Bob Lind, his latest album is a majestical and often jazzy lilting lesson in songwriting. With decades of elan and adroit performance behind him Lind isn’t ready just yet to rest on past melodic triumphs and spoils, showing himself ready to adopt and try out new ideas on Magellan Was Wrong – a reference to the Portuguese explorer who first circumnavigated the world, proving it was of course a globe and not flat, though Lind’s song of the same name and homage metaphor questions that wisdom in the face of despondency and disappointment. The characteristic voice and style is of course signature Lind, the songs and themes timeless. With a host of producers, including progressive jazz pianist and composer Greg Foat, on board this strongly nautical feel and reference strong songbook, both the entertainer and troubadour are lent a new lease of life.


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