VIDEO PREMIERE
Dominic Valvona




Hallelujah!   ‘Minipony’
(Maple Death Records)   Video


Assaulting our ears recently with their partially ironically entitled caustic synth punk album Wanna Dance, the disruptive Verona misfits Hallelujah! have recently pawned their lead guitar for a Korg MS20. The results of which sound like a retro-synth scuzzed chaos, fit for the dungeon dancefloor; a remolded sleazy spasm of Mute Records, DAF, Peter Kernel and The Pop Group.

Taken from that same album, released at the end of February, the erratic megaphone hailed fuzzed-up and bleeping abused ‘Minipony’ has been granted an equally diy style video. Directed insanely by Andrew Tee, this dog’s dinner of a weird set-up tells the tail of the love between one man and his canine pal – though it does seem to all intents and purposes as if the protagonist is actually ‘picking’ up the said dog from a bar. Fun and japes ensue from a trio of noiseniks that seem to have an obsession with animals.



Related posts from the Archives

Wanna Dance Review



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.

ALBUM REVIEWS
Dominic Valvona





Welcome to the inaugural reviews roundup of 2020 by Dominic Valvona; a cosmopolitan, expansive roundup of interesting albums and oddities.

For your discerning ears this month we have Verona’s caustic dancing punks, Hallelujah. The group pawn their guitars for a synth on the new album, Wanna Dance. The vortex dreamers Deutsche Ashram release their second LP, Whisper Om – club beats meet shoegaze, post-punk and dream wave in one intoxicating vacuum. Glitterbeat’s impressive tactile instrumental imprint tak:til continues to deliver the goods with a re-release of John Hassell and his West African foils Farafina 1987 “possible musics” collaboration, Flash Of The Spirit.

I stomp and roll down Alex Molica’s (the Seattle Stomp) garage-punk-country-blues-slacker on the lo fi acoustic rhythm guitar maverick’s debut LP, Maudlin Madness. Oxford-based Americana troupe The Epstein return with an anthemic epic, the band’s first album in years, Burn The Branches. And Mike Gale releases the first volume of B, C, D Sides.

Electronica wise we have the highly prolific electronic music boffin Andrew Spackman, who starts the New Year with his bestial spew of the weird and ennui, releasing yet another techno maverick LP under the lamentable Sad Man nom de plume. Debut wise, Chinese born and now London-based, sound sculptor Li Yilei releases a synthesis of the evanescent and tactile with her upcoming inspired ambient LP Unabled Form.

Deutsche Ashram  ‘Whisper Om’
(Wormer Bros. Records)  LP/24th January 2020


 

Brought to my attention just as the dream wave vortex duo grow more “spacious and immersive” with their second album, Whisper Om, the Deutsche Ashram have surprised me with their vaporous, druggy-hazed and intense qualities: And for that matter, their sheer audacity. You can’t mistake Ajay Saggar’s reverberating-heavy flange, phaser and resonating guitar chimes nor Merinde Verbeck’s wispy and ethereal vocals, but throughout this mixtape collage of gauze-y tunneling produced tracks you hear shades of Siouxsie And The Banshees, My Bloody Valentine, Strawberry Switchblade, New Order, Adult Net, Moon Duo, Grimes and even Jah Wobble. It’s psychedelic. It’s post-punk. It’s shoegaze. It’s C86. It’s all of these.

Saggar bends and wanes, sounding like a spindly Keith Lavene one minute, a tremolo-fanned Johnny Marr the next, whilst Verbeck’s lingering like tones of love, loss and desire, echo between the breathless, mysterious and ominous candy-pop mirages.

The opening ‘Stumbleweed’ sees the Ashram place a scatter-club beat beneath a shoegaze hallucination, but the majority of this album is an accentuate intoxicating neo-pop vacuum of veiled brilliance; a successful experiment in the “spacious and immersive” that is every bit as melodically dreamy as it is intense.




Li Yilei  ‘Unabled Form’
(LTR Records)  LP/28th February 2020


 

In her synthesis of the evanescent and tactile, the London-based (via sojourns in Tokyo and Vienna) sonic sculptor Li Yilei finds stimulation in the most transient and concrete on her debut album, Unabled Form. From the field recordings of recondite conversations on public transport to, what sounds to me like, the creaking of a metal gate swinging in the breeze, Yilei’s sounds flow in a natural motion through a serialism of both searing and understated ambient soundscapes. These are all of variations oscillations, tidal waves and vapours; piqued and shot through with more static buzzes, clangs, pulses and the barest of incipient humming beats.

Mixing real sounds with synthesized electronics, the familiar (even if removed from its source) with the mysterious and industrial, these atmospheric experiences are imbued with Yilei’s embrace of Buddhism and its values. The daughter of a Buddhist nun, the Chinese born artist embodies that belief’s concepts and ruminations of “emptiness” and “impermanence” (the state of fact of lasting for only a limited time, and the philosophical problems of change) on an album of amorphous, evocative immersions.

Track titles sometimes offer a vague sense of reference and mood, especially ‘A Star Without Guidance’, which fizzles and sizzles in the afterglow of a strange cosmos, and ‘A Filed Of Social Tensions’ – a much more chaotic matrix of warping and tape spool speed shifting that threatens to unwind itself. The ambiguous ‘1920’ – with its alien scuttles, repeated loops of reverberating distant voices, horsehair bows, hints of Tibetan bowls and tetchy electronic percussion – is a more mysterious exploration; a pivotal year of revolution and civil war that also saw the catastrophic earthquake in Haiyun county which killed over 73,000 people. Heavenly bodies seep into the traffic of an industrious city, and cyclonic drones hum and brim under solar winds on an ambient soundscape that is as airy, transparent as it can be shadowy and searing. Unabled Form is both unforced and considered. An album of keenly ventured moods, its an abstracted vision of transience from a merging artist with a more unique outlook and inspiration.




Jon Hassell/Farafina  ‘Flash Of The Spirit’
(tak:til)  LP/7th February 2020


 

Less a trumpet player composer absorbing various ideas from across the globe than a performer vessel capturing the empirical essence of a borderless, seamless ideal of new musical horizons, Jon Hassell is rightly hailed as a true pioneer of visionary ambient and entrancing soundscapes. Adroit pupil of Stockhausen, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Terry Riley and Le Monte Young on his way to creating a truly international language with a concomitant series of iconic and highly influential albums in the late 70s and 80s, the American trumpet maestro famously coined the terms “fourth world musics” and “possible musics” for his own experimental fantasies.

The timeless geography of his earlier Vernal Equinox meanderings would prick the ears of Brian Eno; embarking on his very own ambient peregrinations. Far too disingenuous to suggest Eno discovered Hassell (especially when his records with Eno as a collaborator would be filed in record stores under the Englishman’s name and not his), but they would indeed work together on that albums that helped define Hassell’s legacy. As an enabler processing and filtering Hassell’s amorphous microtonal trumpet blends and lingers, Eno sat in on both the first fourth world sessions (entitled Possible Musics Volume 1) and the Dream Theory In Malaya follow-up. A third manifestation, Flash Of The Spirit stands outside that series as an outlier of those minimalist peregrinations.

Re-released on Glitterbeat’s explorative instrumental imprint tak:til, Hassell’s 1987 partnership with the acclaimed Burkina Faso troupe Farafina is a continuation of that practice in polygenesis traverses, only far more rhythmic, tribal and, well…collaborative. Also the spark and roots of each composition on that dreamy voyage were initiated for the most part by the West African group: Between them, founder and balafon virtuoso and vocalist Mahama Konaté and principle drummer (using the ornamental djembe) Paco Yé are responsible for laying down the foundations. Fresh from working their magic on U2’s Joshua Tree Eno alongside his production partner of note Daniel Lanois, were back in the fold and favour; Lanois recording the original sessions and mixing half of the final album’s track list, Eno reshaping and transforming the rest.

Proposed and facilitated by Jazz In Sardinia Festival director Riccardo Sgualdini the, as it would turn out, fruitful union between Hassell and Farafina didn’t get off to the best of starts. The Farafina octet already seasoned having worked with such luminaries as the Rolling Stones and Ryuichi Sakamoto since their formation in 1978, were initially unsure, even suspicious of this Hassell collaboration. Thankfully something gelled and, settled in, the inspiration flowed; the results sounding like an otherworldly evocation of the familiar: African yet distant and vaporous.

Merging Hassell’s smoky and swaddling trumpet and array of sampled strings, harps with the Farafina group’s myriad of talking drums, percussion, flute and voices, Flash Of The Spirit is both spaciously entrancing and rhythmically tribal. Taking the title from Robert Farris Thompson’s book of the same name, the inspiration behind this often gauze-y communion taps into that book’s exposition of African immigrants experiences in the Americas and how they maintain (keep alive) and transform their traditions through creative adoption; harking at a continuingly fruitful, if forced, “collision of cultures”. And, in what is a congruous layering rather than collision, both histories evoke the atavistic whilst also venturing into an imaginary future of sonic interaction and flow.

Evocative individual track titles, accompanied by their parenthesis spirits, offer a theme or movement of direction on this album. For example, “laughter” precedes the gauze-y dancing title-track itself (a rippling, wafting and woody traverse that reminds me of 80s Miles Davis soundtracks) whilst “fear” permeates the nocturnal dipped and bobbing tribal drumming in liquid motion ‘Night Moves’. Surveying the vast Savannah, the almost sensual ‘Air Afrique’ is as airy and attached to the “wind” as its title suggests, taking off on a fantastical flight above the clouds into uncharted soundscapes. ‘Kaboo (play)’ might well be describing something entirely different, but to these ears sounds like a dreamy crawling caravan through the undergrowth, the resonating voices of unseen trilling poets calling out from the wilderness. There’s a crystal ball like mystery echoed in the shivering glassy materializations of ‘Tales Of The Near Future (clairvoyance)’, and an esoteric swirl to the increasingly intense speedy drumming flares of ‘A Vampire Dances (symmetry)’.

As “possible musics” go, this one is successful in creating an amorphous fusion; neither wholly African nor Western but something less tethered or beholden to any specific location and time. The Burkina Faso troupe add a far more “propulsive” rhythm to Hassell’s peregrinations; adding a certain weight to those signature ambient wisps and swaddled passages, yet still sounding as nuzzling and vaporous as ever. Three decades later and you could argue that Flash Of The Spirit is just as refreshing and novel today as it would have been in 1987; caught as it was on the cusp of a new epoch in ambient and electronic music, an augur of truly borderless sounds. Add this to the collection.




Sad Man  ‘The King Of The Beasts’
(Self-Released)  LP/10th February 2020


 

Starting the year as he means to go on, sporadically releasing albums of varying degrees in kooky electronic music mischief, Andrew Speckman, under his mooning Sad Man persona, unleashes the beasts with his first trick noise making experiment of 2020: The King Of The Beasts.

Like a Loony Tunes Cage or Stockhausen, banished to a makeshift potting shed laboratory, the Coventry boffin once more broadens his sonic horizons on an album that, in an ennui fashion, knocks about between a warped vision of d’n’b, techno and more avant-garde meanderings. Prepare to be thrown into a pinball flipper buffeting chaos as busy itchy electronic percussion and a myriad of mulching, whipping and speed shifting effects come up against a transmogrified Orb, Sakamoto, Major Force and Phylps.

In other words: expect the unexpected as Speckman merges dub techno with nocturnal tropical post-punk (‘Xylophone’), clandestine Howie B with a ghostly visitation soundtrack (‘The Pysician’), Les Baxter exotic lullaby with the Leaf Label (‘Nine’) and a buoying bobbing analogue bubble bath with cosmic sub-Indian alpha waves (‘Bus Swerve’).

Somewhere on the Venn diagram of sublime and ridiculous, the plaintive Sad Man steers a mixed bag of ideas into a constantly developing album; churning, squeezing and contorting plenty of odd and more cerebral mileage out of the experimental dance music genre.




Hallelujah  ‘Wanna Dance’
(Maple Death Records)  LP/21st February 2020


 

From the caustic, abrasive noise raises a limbering fucked-up no wave punk contortion you can dance to: within reason and with the use of heavy opioids and imagination. Having discarded the lead guitar for that most rudimentary but beloved of early synths, the Korg MS20, Verona’s disruptive Hallelujah put a real (di)stress on their main motivator; cranking up and pulling the dials until the lift off and scream into a vortex.

Pared down to a trio, after one of the troupe quit, this industrial unit collide with early Mute Records, DAF, Peter Kernel and The Pop Group on an heavy strength album of seedy scuzz and Italo-grime-y disdain. Sung, hysterically and with disruptive sneering petulance, in English you can’t mistake the reactionary spite and goofed erraticism of letting off steam. And if you do, a track title such as ‘Burka For Everyone’ will soon set you straight. Anyway, it forces its way into and occupies the brain, before leaving its scorched marks with a quick spasm of disruptive jerk-off punked and retro-synth dance chaos.

Rome might well be burning, but Verona’s disgruntled angst noiseniks just fucking “wanna dance”.



Seattle Stomp  ‘Maudlin Madness’
(Crush Grove)  3rd January 2020


 

In a beaten-up saloon, careering down a slackers rock’n’roll garage road map, Alex Molica as the Seattle Stomp channels a familiar musical palette of influences on a battered acoustic guitar with his idiosyncratic wanderers debut LP, Maudlin Madness. Fueled up on a millennial cocktail of self-loathing and anxiety, the self-deprecating lo fi roller in (mostly) languid dishevelment beats and strums about lost love, road trips and alcoholism on an album that threatens to disappear below the radar into obscurity.

Far too good escape attention, Maudlin Madness is a deceptively melodic and infectious minor works of both intense and loose gonzo-indie-beat-garage-punk-country-rock. Short enough to not overstay its welcome on repeat plays, the eight tracks really do grow on you. From the Bosco Delrey meets Jonathan Richman and Alan Vega on a psycho rockabilly bum ride opener, ‘Anxious Thoughts’, to the mid-60s period Jagger breaks bread with Sky Saxon and Wolf Parade nursery rhyme creeper ‘Little Red Ridding Hood’ and the country rocking blues flat beat of ‘Power Jam Situation’, there’s the permeating spirit of an outsider looking in.

Molica in his travels bears wintery blasts (in the mode of The Standells on ‘January’), driving towards Denver mooning over the one-that-drifted-away and gets agitated over the contents of a fridge. Strangely though, the last track (if you can make it past the repeating car alarm-like chirping) moves from rock’n’roll jitters to a Mellotron cosmic narration traverse; Molica talking about voyager and moon craters: escapism into the void. Hardly the most original of albums, Maudlin Madness is still a great little LP that bridges slacker indie with garage, country and rock’n’roll.




The Epstein  ‘Burn The Branches’
(Zawinul Records/Pindrop Records)  LP/14th February 2020


 

Ambitious in its quivered anthem rousing and rich panoramas, Oxford-based Americana troupe The Epstein take it up a notch on their latest album, Burn The Branches. With earnest parched yearning the group return after a long hiatus (releasing only their third LP in twelve years) with an expanded sound and dynamism that ratchets up those root country influences to venture beyond the homestead prairie for pastures anew. Don’t worry though; the alt-country vibe is still very much in evidence still, just grander and erring more towards the light and shade of rock and indie music.

They cement this new expansion with a couplet of loud anthems; the brilliantly stirring ‘life-affirming’ ‘That Voice’ and heavier punctuated, increasingly vocally erratic, epic ‘It Will Pass’. The first of which evokes (for me anyway) hints of Meursault, early Radiohead and Deacon Blue, and the second, the Fleet Foxes, Broken Family Band and Wolf Parade. In their more serene, becalming moments The Epstein shimmer towards the hymnal, even country gospel on the quivering with softened timpani rumbling ‘Grand Canyon’ – a faithful cover no less of The Magnetic Fields’ lovelorn hymn from the iconic 69 Love Songs suite -, and march in plaintive step to a crushed piano and a tender accompaniment on the album’s dramatic curtain call, ‘Funeral’. Elsewhere there’s more scenery building with the ethereal desert spirited forsaken ‘Red Rocks’ and mysterious seeking vision ‘Wandering’.

If Wilco, Richmond Fontaine and CYHSY improbably joined forces for the greater good, they might very well sound something a little like this. Heightened crescendos aplenty and grand gestures await on an album that is both highly commercial yet has a real soulful depth and dynamism lacking in so much more popular anthemic music. This could well be the band’s finest work yet.



Mike Gale  ‘B, C, D Sides Volume 1’
LP/2nd January 2020


 

In no way diminishing what is an actually quite good little album, but former Co-Pilgrim and Black Nielson honcho Mike Gale’s latest release is a stopgap between last year’s brilliant surf noir and Pacific ocean Beach Boys imbued Summer Deluxe and a, as yet, unnamed new LP in September. A gathering of material, left wanton in some cases, and just left off of previous albums, B, C, D Sides Volume 1 is a collection of tracks that somehow manages to work as a congruous album of quality romantic paeans, ruminations, breezes and more experimental ideas: some working better than others. However, apart from the odd starry satellite blinking Electronic meets The Farm pop-like early synthesizer tune, the Bs, Cs and Ds on show here sound anything but unsure or half-finished.

You can almost fit Gale’s music into two categories of influence and sound; the first, the more Beach Boys (with the onus on mike Love and Bruce Johnston) and Marc Eric kind of dappled harmony, and the second, harks back to both the C86 phenomenon and the 90s. Sometimes the two crossover of course; especially on ‘Something’s In The River’, a dreamy vocal track that places that Beach Boys lushness over Japan’s brooding synthesized pizzicato strings. In the former category, the opening beautifully be-jangled Donavan-esque ‘All The Traps Of Earth’ features Mike Gale as nature’s son, whilst the similarly acoustic, but with tambourine and more vigor, monastic haunting ‘Good Day, Doomsday’s Here’ has echoes of Paul Simon paling up with the Wilson brothers – possibly one of those tracks that didn’t make Summer Deluxe perhaps? In the latter camp, Gale places a harsher-toned lo fi rock guitar under a dreamy early Stone Roses vibe on ‘New Frontier’; goes all out epic45 and Casio pre-sets on the electro glide pop ‘Drive Ultimate Robot’; and puts an arpeggiator underneath the lilting lovely Cabinessence feel ‘Weather Patterns’.

Elsewhere on this collection, Gale rises dreamily again from the doldrums on the languid despondency ‘I’m Wasting All My Time’ and pens a romantic modern sonnet to a true love on ‘Your Smile’.

Occasionally you can hear the workings of Gale’s evolutions and mind, but these songs are nothing less than well executed; the songwriting as delightful as always. Far from second best, this first volume of tunes that never made the cut is another quality release that fills a Gale-shaped hole until the next album proper arrives in the autumn.




Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog the Monolith Cocktail. 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.

%d bloggers like this: