THE ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVUE
Words: Matt Oliver





 

Amidst the debate whether you’re pro-playlist Drake or give a damn about Kendrick, this is the real hip-hop bombshell. To quote Chris Rock: “love rap & hip-hop – tired of defending it”.

Within the ever turning reissue market and with the bun fight of Record Store Day upon us, some re-ups you may wanna check. Slick Rick’s ‘Children’s Story’ is now logically an illustrated volume for bedtime, Blockhead’s ‘Uncle Tony’s Colouring Book’ gets a reboot on wax, and DOOM & Danger Mouse’s ‘DANGERDOOM’ goes deluxe. More bizarre (and Rapture & Verse had to check it wasn’t April 1st), is the new Raekwon album that can be worn as a backpack, where the audio kind of works as a rumble pack for your body. True story.

Singles/EPs

IAMBENJI’s instrumental righteousness summons a headbanging vision of ‘Jesus Walks’ with ‘Its You’, chopping exultant soul into pulpit pressure: a true four minute warning. Korede’s ‘Humble Beginnings’, a smart mini-expo showing what he’s made for J-Live, has got a chunky drum-n-groove jangle to it like heavy jewellery. An impressive half dozen hangout between Juga-Naut and Micall Parknsun lobs ‘Six Bricks’, with Cappo and Scorzayzee adding extra mortar to a fortress built in Nottingham and with a strict policy on the fundamentals. The highly strung Smellington Piff and Sean Peng take solace under ‘Purple Trees’ in a bid to divert jazz cat, beret and goatee vibes, and the champion sound of Mongrels’ ‘Attack the Monolith’ is now an awesome remix movement. The ‘Attack the Megalith’ EP beams a bat signal to a big time octet, including Hashfinger sliding over a cop car bonnet and Third Person Lurkin going a grim-reapin’, to transform the Yorkshire supernovas second time around.



CunninLynguists’ fine ‘The Rose’ EP gets the barricade rocking with soul-stirring open letters eloquently asking questions and patiently waiting for answers. Aiming to make a difference as much as it whispers to bask in the sun, Maurice Brown & Talib Kweli’s ‘Stand Up’ is the epitome of peaceful protest, and something of a nice dilemma to have. Killa Kyleon’s well executed ‘Killing Over Jays’ is a nifty two-way that’s both cautionary tale and industry/cultural call out, to an oxymoron of smoothed out, box fresh trap. ‘Alone by Choice’ but with plenty to offer, Jango gives you a seven track pick n mix of sharp trap and plush roll outs with the flow to match; a GQ EP pretty much pinpointing what your ears need as and when.






Albums

Should you heed the call of Raekwon’s ‘The Wild?’ It’s not a bad shout, showing something close to vintage Wu-gambinoism, open to the conceptual (‘Marvin’, a fine biopic of Marvin Gaye with Cee-Lo; some alphabet aerobics alongside P.U.R.E.), and cajoling Lil Wayne into a decent verse for ‘My Corner’. The huntsman mentality pulls the album over the line just when the glossy crossovers airing his dirty Gucci laundry in public threaten to nullify the threat.

In a way the same can be said for Joey Bada$$’ ‘All-Amerikkkan Bada$$’, whose clear and effective state of the nation addresses come presented in funk and soul pageantry aiming for Chance the Rapper’s all rounder status. The appeal of the supple, easygoing beats, polished hooks and timely gathering together of everyone is obvious (2pac comparisons come easy as well), though it’s an album that settles into a groove and perhaps at times isn’t quite as hungry as the subject matter would welcome. Nonetheless, Bada$$’ development makes him a candidate for end of year honours.

Turntable ringmasters Boca45 and DJ Woody saddle up into the sunset again on ‘Carousel’, where you must be this fly to join the ride. In a myriad of needles, spins and samples, BluRum13 threatening to steal the show as mic anchor, breaks needing another belt notch, and energetic fun (not forgetting the obligatory electro pop-n-lock), technique and entertainment takes lesser DJs to clown school when these two go back to back. BocaWoody boss the big top like Barnum.





Indiana’s irresistible force Freddie Gibbs is someone not for dislodging. Like a Bond villain who doesn’t know what a P45 is, ‘You Only Live 2wice’ does grim low riding, lord praising, quiet storming and do-or-die roulette spinning, all the while Gibbs reads the gangsta gospel slash riot act with that swerveless flow of his going all in. At eight tracks long you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s left a lot in the locker, but it’s a pretty comprehensive, fluid body of work.

Renowned rhyme brawler Apathy cuts the mic adrift and goes instrumental for ‘Dive Medicine: Chapter One’, displaying sonic skills well in tune with his usual vocal rips. Soulful but with plenty of punch, as if Apathy will look you straight in the eye before rattling your ribcage, the sleeve may suggest boom bap kitted out for submarines, but the likes of ‘Scuba Groupie’ and ‘Subterranean Meditation’ are happier chilling in a deckchair amidst a bunch of mean, street-ready flexes. Re-upping straight bat boom bap from social media’s olden days, Sraw’s ‘Beat Weeks’ is the Scandinavian timetabling instrumentals that go bump in the night, jazzy foot tappers over coffee, and wheezing whacks to the loaf. Nice enough to take some time with. The mind expansions of Frenchman Al’Tarba look at instrumentals through a prism mounted atop a plasma ball, ‘La Nuit Se Lève’ the score to a film only streaming in flashbacks you haven’t experienced yet, caught in a cold-veined tailspin with dubstep choking on its exhaust.





Wired between confessional and eccentric wisdom explaining ‘How to Fake Your Own Death’, backwater hip-hop from Ecid unfurls a slow and precise, me-against-everything scuzz of discomfort holding up a mirror to the world in a typical Midwest post-malaise. One to be passed around huddles of the disenfranchised. They should then transfer to the occult of A7PHA, Anticon messengers Doesone and Mestizo delivering a dense, walls-are-closing-in distortion of reality “releasing heat so hot it disinfects metal”, and whose silhouettes make the ponderous and rabid unnerving bedfellows, reaching a crescendo/crisis point. A collection so strictly underground it should come with its own canary, Copywrite and Planet Asia are naturally all about taking care of business with ‘Unfinished & Untitled’; forget the title, these are prizefighters in all their pomp.





With the reserved flow of an all-seeing shaman, Zaire Black stamps the passport of DJ Drez’ global trip of simmering colours on the studious ‘Aficionados’, making work a mismatch of a slight vocal reticence and rich, probing production (check ‘I Will I Want’ for its range of unlikely samples, though ‘That DJ’ goes a bit EDM loco). A collection of remixes for Lessondary’s top drawer ‘Ahead of Schedule’ will do just nicely: ‘RE:Scheduled’ has twangy funk and head nod high noons from Jamie Cooley, Donwill, Jermiside and ZFTP slipping nicely into a support role going toe-to-toe with the quality of the original. The smoothness of Brooklyn’s ScienZe orders ‘Kind of Dessert’ to go with the nightcap he’s suggesting you come up for; cosmopolitan swirls, boho brainstorming, neo-soul niceness and vibes that wake when they want before hitting the ground running. Still one of the game’s surest things when it comes to storytelling, Murs as ‘Captain California’ drops you slap bang in the middle of the action, as well as walking you through tales step by step with simple start-beginning-end structures. Buoyant beats help Murs’ Mills-n-Booning no end, and his show-n-prove still ain’t bad either.






Mixtapes

Dishing out more mixtape pleasure, Donnie Propa goes to town on the play and record buttons for a second Masta Ace masterclass; a standard fix-up of classics, one-offs etc, ‘The Ace Tape volume 2’ won’t let a single beat, rhyme, cut or blend miss a step. A great DJ curates a great emcee.

Front and centre this month: Danny Brown’s must-see, Evidence’s latest weather report, The Last Skeptik going split-screen, and Bohze’s weekend attire.

 













Choice Playlist Revue
Words: Dominic Valvona
Selection: DV, Ayfer Simms and Matt Oliver




The inaugural quarterly revue of 2017 gathers together a faithful purview of the last three months of reviews and articles on the Monolith Cocktail. Myself, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms have chosen a mere smattering of our favourite music; featuring both tunes from albums/singles/EPs/collections we’ve reviewed or featured on the site and some we just never had the time to include.

As usual an ever-eclectic amorphous affair, with the most avant-garde pieces of music sitting in harmony with the most edgy hip-hop, Malian sand dunes blues alongside Belgium alternative rock’n’roll and psychedelic noodling, the first quarterly playlist of the year features The XX, Sentidor, Mauro Pawlowski, Baba Zula, Tamikrest, Emptyset, Your Old Droog, Likwuid, King Ayisoba and many more. A full tracklist is below, with links to relevant posts.


Tracklist:

The XX  ‘On Hold’
Austra  ‘We Were Alive’
Sentidor  “Pedreira (Quarry)’  Feature
Porter Ray (ft. Asian T, Rife)  ‘Waves’  Feature
Mauro Pawlowski  ‘In Starlight (We Must Be Alive)’  Review
Baba Zula (Dr.Das Mix)  ‘Iki Alem (Dub Version)’  Review
Baluji Shrivastav  ‘Dance Of Erzulie’   Review
Bargou 08  ‘Mamchout’  Review
Terakaft  ‘Djer Aman (Afriquoi Remix)’   Review
Dearly Beloved  ‘Who Wants To Know’  Review
Taos Humm  ‘RC’  Review
Dr.Chan  ‘Yannnnk$$$ (Life I$ Not Fun)’  Review
Rudy Trouve  ‘Torch’  Review
Irk Yste  ‘Wumpe’  Review
Mauro Pawlowski  ‘Men In Sheds Pt.1’  Review
Emptyset  ‘Border’ Review
Nick Blackos  ‘No Answer’ Review
Your Old Droog (ft. Edan, Wiki)  ‘Help’  Feature
Paul White and Danny Brown  ‘Lion’s Den’  Feature
Blue Orchids  ‘The Devil’s Answer’  Review
Alasdair Roberts (ft. Gordon Ferries)  ‘Caleno Custure Me’  Review
James McArthur & The Head Gardeners  ’14 Seconds’  Review
Piano Magic  ‘Attention To Life’  Review
Sankofa  ‘Into The Wild’  Feature
Delicate Steve  ‘Nightlife’  Review
Retoryka  ‘Right Up Your Street Pt.1’  Review
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah  ‘Down (Is Where I Want To Be)’  Review
Craig Finn  ‘Ninety Bucks’
Shadow  ‘Dreaming’
Tinariwen  ‘Oualahila ar Tesninam (Transglobal Underground Remix)’  Review
Animal Collective  ‘Kinda Bonkers’
Likwuid (Ft. 2 Hungry Bros)  ‘Illfayted’  Feature
Oddisee  ‘Digging Deep’  Feature
M-Dot (Ft. Camp Lo, Tribeca)  ‘True Lies’  Feature
Oh No (ft. Tristate)  ‘Showroom Floor’  Feature
Dope Knife  ‘Nothing To Lose’  Feature
King Ayisoba (Ft. Wanlov da Kubolor & Big Gad)  ‘Africa Needs Africa’
Tamikrest  ‘Erres Hin Atouan’  Review

MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW




Rapture & Verse’s March hares are made up of dirt-slinging duo Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj (naturally, Foxy Brown then has her two penneth worth as well), Snoop blurring the line between life and art when it comes to America’s next top president, Joey Badass having a John Lennon-style, ‘Bigger than Jesus’ moment, Tupac ‘memorabilia’ reaching unhealthy new levels, and a right flash-looking reissue of Kool Keith and Dan the Automator’s trailblazing weirdo ‘Dr Octagonecologyst’ (when an Easter egg just won’t do). All topped with Will I Am appearing in a new video with the realest of the Rovers Return, Liz McDonald.

Talib Kweli joins the UK B-Boy World Championships with an April performance (probably not as a contestant…well, you never know). Big Daddy Kane reiterates he’s still got juice with a London appearance in May bound to bring in scores of hip-hop nostalgics; and home-grown old skool originals London Posse go on a wee road trip to tell all the current gun finger spitters how slang should really sound. Also upcoming on these shores – DJ Q-Bert, Masta Ace and Jedi Mind Tricks, all making it rain like an April shower.






Singles/EPs

A teeny-tiny singles selection this month starts with a quintet of instrumentals seeing who’s big enough to plug a mic in. Urban Click’s ‘Half Past Two’ does boom bap that keeps time and plants seeds of doubt; just enough fear factor to have you looking over your shoulder mid head-nod, until ‘Payback’ brings the hatchet into full view. In need of an assertive, affirmative funk jam with a worldview to cause roadblocks? Rob Cave’s singsong exasperation telling you ‘Hold Your Head’ is that very jam. Follow that with a remix of Mista Sinista’s ‘Life Without Fear’, another partier making a point with Worldarama, Illa Ghee & Chordz Cordero wrapping up Eitan Noyze’s bulbous funker. Milano Constantine gets grimy on the belt-loosening ‘Rasclart’, with Conway and Big Twins helping extort DJ Skizz’ mob skanking.






Albums

Action packed storytelling kicks off Your Old Droog’s triumphant ‘Packs’, that languid NY flow quickly working a number of hustles and stakes-high dice games, all with a penchant for humour and words to the wise stashed in the trunk. From go-slows to arse kicks, adopting the same readiness for and awareness of when the streets come calling, and with Danny Brown, Edan and Heems on his team, YOD perfects the unfathomable: a varied album with no time to waste or room for error. 14 silk cuts, if you will.

With a flow somewhere between honey dipped and Seattle high, Porter Ray’s seesaw twang that’s always laidback in a perpetual state of motion grounds spacey, floaty forecasts replacing low riders with ambient parachute jumps. ‘Watercolor’ is vaporous but tangible gangsta living from under the stars with a creditable amount of earnestness, with Ray’s role as some kind of avenging angel leaving his mark on you, one way or another.





UK crews control this month starts with the Gatecrasherz getting parties jumping and scrawling their names all over the VIP list on ‘Uninvited’. A more patient unit than expected, inasmuch as each emcee queues obediently before showing ill discipline on the mic (in turn letting you pick your own distinctively-twanged rapper like you’re swapping stickers), a broadside of bumping beats (including ‘2-3 Break’ playing out like a choose-your-own-adventure book), gets doors off hinges.

 

Steady Rock and Oliver Sudden push flavour in your ear with ‘Preservatives’. The BBP reliability always plays the game the right way, spanning humble brags, straight shots, living as they live it, tales told while getting ‘em in and beats getting bobbleheaded on life’s dashboard. What you hear is what you get. Amos & Kaz’ ‘Year of the Ram’ justifies all natural assumptions of locking horns and being capable of a battering. Forceful personality dominates business, pleasure and pain; these two are up for a scrap, or at least a good pantsing, after their knowledge has driven its way down your ear canal. Granville Sessions power through without pretension on ‘Monument’, demanding a captive amphitheatre rather than threatening the front row. A forthright manifesto playing no games makes for a well regimented campaign.

 

After the ‘Barrydockalypse’, Joe Dirt is the last real rapper alive on an album that’s a pessimist’s paradise. Repping Squid Ninjaz by showing strong survival instincts, keeping composure is paramount on a great, stomach-unsettling set for those getting kicks out of losing themselves past the wrong side of the tracks. Safe to say Jam Baxter’s ‘Mansion 38’ is not surrounded by a postcard-perfect white picket fence; half cut, whip smart, and hoovering up Chemo’s top-to-bottom production so that the pair sink until they strike the gold of rock bottom. Ultimate, grungy outlaw hip-hop, putting the trap in trapdoor.





As a flipside, Dabbla barfs out bonus project ‘Chapsville’ (location: London twinned with Tennessee and Thunderdome), spraying obnoxiously hot bars at water cannon pressure while DJ Frosty twists the shapeshfiting landscapes around him. Leaf Dog’s ‘Dyslexic Disciple’ is a proper UK hip-hop knees-up, awash with weed and scuffles always likely to break out because it’s all family. Funk and blues buck like a bronco, plucky and bullish rhymes will step to a mic whatever the weather, Kool Keith drops by to diss you without you realising, and a grand finale of a giant posse cut lands the knockout blow.





Oddisee is his usual engaging self on ‘The Iceberg’. With music as crisp as freshly plucked Romaine, effortlessly upping the pace when the time’s right, the personal becomes appealing so that you can’t help but pore over eloquent diary entries where the ink never runs dry. Ultimately you agree with his clearly made points of view as Oddisee is becoming the master of his own destiny who could make takeaway menus or the phone book sound compelling. From the supple to the ambitious/exhaustive, Beans releases three albums simultaneously (!) – ‘Wolves of the World’, ‘Love Me Tonight’ and ‘HAAST’ – as well as an accompanying novel. Fantastical seat of your pants scenarios and breathless narratives seemingly doing real life and politics in fast forward even if caught in traffic, the Anti-Pop Consortium alumni loves the feel of a fine tooth comb throughout.

NYC’s El Michels Affair have reached the same level of dynasty as their Staten Island source of inspiration. Back covering another batch of Wu-Tang Clan trademarks in an irrepressible, funk and soul, live band experience, ‘Return to the 37th Chamber’ repeats their craft of cultish kung-fu cabaret rewriting the scrolls of Shaolin methodology. Though they dart in as quickly as they sneak out, they’re politely nuthin’ to fuck wit’ when you’re trying to name that tune.

 

A jawbreaker flow meets boom-bap control; ZoTheJerk and Frost Gamble’s ‘Black Beach’ makes strong statements, showing Detroit determination to put things right – or at least stay vigilant – in a world full of buck-passing. A good combination that cruises before T-boning ya. Fuelled by hard liquor and blackmarket diesel, TOPR’s ‘Afterlife of the Party’ is a 13 track brawl finding “epiphanies in heresy, poetry in vulgarity”, kicking down doors and spitting wisdom with the force of a slammed down shot glass. Even at its calmest, there’s only one (albeit methodical) trajectory, justifying arguments and rabble rousing as a hard-bitten B-boy. The usual safe-breaking, toothpick-chewing, phone-tapping vibes from Roc Marciano plots ‘Rosebudd’s Revenge’, a seedy shoulder-brusher putting its kingpin in a familiar position of power, to the sound of a soul jukebox watching trife life go by.





Hosting a sophisticated dinner party but still putting fresh kicks on the table, Dr Drumah runs a tight ship of instrumentals passing round cigar-n-scotch jazz and choice samples keeping ears attracted late on. ‘90’s Mindz’ is precisely put together, a showcase of simple pleasures that’s got plenty of mileage. Once that’s soiree’s over and done with, head over to Vital’s ‘Pieces of Time’ for pretty much more of the same; hard shells with soft centres and golden age hues, in an easy access network of neck work. Argentinean Gas-Lab boasts an international cast to take you ahead of the sunrise on the soul dejeuner ‘Fusion’, all piano keys and horns applying shine to respectful spit. ‘Rise N Shine’ shakes the bottle and wakes a little Samba in Spaniard Alex Rocks, an easygoing beatsmith who gets his US guests licking their lips from the stoop. With a squeeze of bossa funk in the mix as well, it sticks to the script enough for soft tops and sunloungers to start folding themselves back.





Welcoming your retinas this month: Open Mike Eagle turns superhero, Joey Badass pledges allegiance, Knowledge Nick gives a thumbs down, and Ash the Author keeps on track.














HIP-HOP ROUNDUP
Words: Matt Oliver


M Dot - Rapture & Verse x Monolith Cocktail


Singles/EPs

Having had all our ideas for a witty intro brainwashed by the off-piste pizzazz of Strange U’s ‘#LP4080’, (you don’t wanna know about a Biggie/Faith Evans duets album anyway), lead space cadet Kashmere has also been dabbling in backstreet voodoo with Bambooman on the ‘Supergod’ EP. Verbally out of shape as usual, a wee drop of alchemy sprinkled over stripped backdrops goes a long way. Dabbla, in his usual style sounding like he’s dashing in and out of rush hour traffic, shows off how good his ‘Cardio’ is, and Joker Starr does whatever he can to bring doom without the cartoon to ‘Spy Da Man’. Dream McLean and The Last Skeptik know the value of the basics: the ‘Cheese on Brown Bread’ EP is four tracks, not needing any extra garnish, just cunningly sharp words pricking simple neck chops. Back in the old routine, DJ Format and Abdominal ready a new album with a pair of funky head hunters: industry tell-tale ‘Behind the Scenes’, and 100mph throwdown ‘Diamond Hammer’.





Instrumentals to both ease and expand minds from IMAKEMADBEATS on the seven-starred ‘Better Left Unsaid’, include a remoulding of 10CC and views of hip-hop from afar. Attempting to stay Gd up while keeping to a righteous path, Obi J reps ‘Red City’ with reflection and retaliation. The non-stop hustle of Avarice, bending jazz under his control into a hard-as-nails enforcement of ferocious rhymes, makes ‘Words and Sounds’ anything but simplistic, where the only greed is to go all out. Six tracks that stand up to be counted.

Raekwon beat down ‘This is What It Comes Too’ is a timely reminder to respect the gods, well set up by Xtreme’s subtle flip of a hip-hop fundamental that lets the Chef build and destroy. On ‘The Art of Rock Climbing’, Boldy James welcomes you to the total gangsta experience. Whether in the thick of it or just lounging in the aftermath, the DJ Butter-assisted EP runs rewindable rackets out of Detroit. Wallowing ‘In the Mud’, deM atlaS questions everything and nurses a life hangover in the process, and Vince Staples wilds out, plain and simple, on ‘BagBak’. Passport Rav and Asi Frio will measure you for concrete shoes ahead of a trip to the ‘Shark Tank’ in a callous mob style, while on ‘Help’, the all out 16s of Your Old Droog, Wiki and Edan leap from building to building while the world implodes under a prog rock plume and Rob Base is the last voice of reason. Not a track found pussy footing.





Getting sunshine to glance round the corner, Chris Read & Pugs Atomz air it out over ‘Chocolate Milk’, neo-soul with the bonus of a great hook. ‘Black Nite’ goes deeper and slinkier, with two twizzly remixes from Myke Forte. Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s timeless ‘They Reminisce Over You’ makes its 7” debut and enhances its legend that little bit more.

 

Albums

‘The Building’, a towering B-boy document from honourable humanitarians Mazzi and SOUL Purpose, gives familiar samples new life and piles high banks of bricks and mortar beats and rhymes you can always back to do the business. No punches pulled, see it hanging around year bests in 10 months time. Sucker puncher M Dot gets into it with the ‘Ego and The Enemy’, a spokesman for pessimists arguing reality where there’s no such thing as hard luck stories or second chances. Impressive assists from Hi-Tek, Method Man, Camp Lo, Marco Polo, Large Professor and Marley Marl (craftily flipping of all people, Ms Dynamite) help the Boston brawler grab the game by the scruff of the neck and pop vertebrae like bubblegum.





A heavy dose of Oh No & Tristate cuts class A dope for ‘3 Dimensional Prescriptions’; following the Gangrene cookbook, a dangerous connection casting their own shadow and treating willowy funk and soul like a cross-border haul, it’s an album that sounds equal parts elite and illicit, glamour and gall. Get fixed up. Great all round game from LiKWUiD, with 2 Hungry Bros feeding the machine on the boards, makes ‘Fay Grim’ a storybook full of sass, stress, strike outs and scholarly knowledge that shows fairytales for what they are. An album not rhyming for the sake of riddling. Dope KNife’s ‘NineteenEightyFour’ is an absolute battering ram of four wheel drive blasting through the boggiest of boom bap. Describing the savagery as “the movie Taxi Driver in rap form” is no joke, and Big Brother would think twice about listening in.





A clutch of autobiographical styles from the UK now: the composure of Loyle Carner’s low-key ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, even when the odds of the day to day aren’t always even, creates a new and relatable street bard elect. The decidedly more unrepentant Devlin and the ferocity of ‘The Devil’s In’ is perfect synching second time around after the overproduction that strangled his debut; and Big Heath reminding not to take home comforts and hard work for granted on ‘Smells of Beef’ gets the essentials all in order. Less introspective and just balls out slimy, Stinkin Slumrock & Morriarchi’s ‘Morrstinkin’ parades a doomed brand of swaggering sewer rat rap, hinting what once was polished and optimistic is now ripe for red light zones and no man’s land.

 

Quelle Chris’ ‘Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often’ catches itself in ups, downs (either going in hard or trying to function) and managing the in betweens. Therefore it never sits still both lyrically and stylistically, with wit and reflection both sharp and slowly revealing itself. Worth taking time with. A similarly individual look at the human condition is Stik Figa’s ‘Central Standard Time’, making the verbally dense levitate – “I got some idioms for idiots if anybody interested” – and displaying appealing introspection and emotional intelligence that’s just the right volume of far out. More of a catharsis is ‘Rap Album Two’, Jonwayne’s return that makes personal struggle both poignant and unapologetic for showing its hand. Suitably muted but speaking strongly and openly, in hushed tones without looking for sympathy, watch its humble humanity become the choice of the open eared this year.

 

When you can’t see the angles no more, you in trouble. Alternatively, when Corners come into view, fresh UK hip-hop will get you going. Beit Nun, Benny Diction and Deeflux pass the mic like a Sunday morning game of frisbee, and the casualness of their goodness taking the sting out of everyday slogging is pretty devastating. Eight-track ear swim ‘Tape Echo – Gold Floppies’ has dynamic duo Torb The Roach and Floppy McSpace sedating speakers in some unknown realm. Instrumentals grab armfuls of samples and cook them in slowly boiled delirium to create a thick beat stew. The broth of Batsauce for the ‘Clean Plate’ series is also a heavy ladle using battered wax as a serving suggestion; apple-bobbing funk, hot pockets of flavour, and samples strewn to make some kind of sense. Chrome’s ‘The Remix’ funky-freshens a bunch of Britcore classics, golden age staples, and queues Kanye, Edan, Ty, Savvy and De La Soul for a session in his win-win, no fee surgery.




Mixtapes

Currently giving Midas tips on how to win, Paul White goes through his psychedelic wax satchel and like a hypnotist, comes up with ‘Everything You’ve Forgotten’, a free mix of past/present/future beats marbling into one. Fighting the power with a comprehensive manifesto , Lushlife’s ‘My Idols are Dead + My Enemies are in Power’ is unequivocal in its activism, a rolling funk fire to get hearts racing and fists clenched at once. Ain’t nothing sweet about the tongue lashing ‘Pick & Mix Experience’ of Ramson Badbonez and Jazz T, a half hour of hard nuts to crack teeth and heat that’s off the Scoville scale.





Feet to the floor with A7PHA and Paul White & Danny Brown, and street takes from HPPYPPL and Gatecrasherz.













NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona

Baluji Shrivastav - Monolith Cocktail

Tickling Our Fancy 046:  Srdjan Beronja,  Nick Blackos,  Clap Your Hands Say Yeah,  Irk Yste,  IRL Remixes,  The Nightjar and Baluji Shrivastav.

In this edition of Tickling Our Fancy, Alec Ounsworth, under his famous Clap Your Hands Say Yeah moniker, returns with a brilliant new “cathartic” purging of an album, The Tourist; the inconspicuous but effective in spreading ever more eclectic world music sounds to a wider audience, Independent Records Ltd label, celebrates its first fifteen years in the business with an album of transmogrified remixes, entitled Terraforming In Analogue Space; ARC Music release two Indian music inspired albums, with a Best Of the legendary Baluji Shrivastav (who made London his home in the early 80s) and a new travelogue that straddles not only India, but also the Balkans and the Middle East, from the erudite Serbian multi instrumentalist Srdjan Beronja; The Nightjar unfurl their accentuated and stark contemplated post-folk debut, Objects; plus the inaugural release for the German label, GiveUsYourGOLD, from the Weimar Techno duo Irk Yste, and a new album of Nick Blackos hip-hop instrumentals from the burgeoning ONV blueprint.


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah   ‘The Tourist’
Released  24th February 2017


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Monolith Cocktail

 

 

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

Every critics nightmare in the labored name department, and so abbreviated to save precious time (oh pity us poor feckless critic darlings!), CYHSY was instrumental in influencing and inspiring a rafter of artists and bands. Ounsworth’s peers have evidently caught up, and his fifth album, The Tourist, reflects this; suffused as it is with familiar echoes of The Parenthetical Girls, Les Savy Fav, Elliot Smith, the Arcade Fire, and on the askew r’n’b lite, A Chance To Cure, Chk Chk Chk.

One man’s vision, orchestrated in a solitary fashion, Ounsworth is self-confessedly “stubborn” when it comes to recording. However, though he writes and arranges everything he’s joined in the studio by a bassist and drummer, who offer a bright, expanded “band feel” to the material. These recordings were further embellished with additional back-up vocals, keyboards, guitars and percussion, tidied up by engineer Nick Krill and eventually mixed (and egged-on) by CYHSY “anchor” Dave Friedman – who previously worked of course on the Some Loud Thunder and Only Run albums. The results of this process are magnificent; the anxiety-ridden, rich challenging themes channeled through an airy and often breezy big sound.

Ounsworth stumbles and ponders through a “post factual” strewn world of challenging emotions trying, to make sense of it all. At times the album title could even be said to act as a metaphor for the artist’s own estranged and removed soul-searching: a tourist in his own country. As lyrically adroit as ever, he carefully crams in as many associated references and wordplays as he can, squeezing a lot out of every phrase and expression in a characteristic style that leans towards a more cheery disposed Thom Yorke. Despite some sad and profound pathos heavy lyricism, Ounsworth’s “purging” of thoughts is meant to be a cathartic experience. The anxieties of our times can’t help but leak from every other line, yet The Tourist is a fairly warm, jangly surprise package of lolloping and anthemic songs. Building and soaring to an emotive brightened crescendo of sweetness and yearning on The Vanity Of Trying; contorting and bending guitar textures in a Robert Fripp fashion on the psych-pop gnarled Down (Is Where I Want To Be); and, up close and personal (every breathe audible) to the mic, driving through an 80s nocturnal rock ballad on Better Off, the inimitable Ounsworth careers through a full gamut of moods and chaos in the most natural and energetically purposeful way.

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





Various   ‘Terraforming In Analogue Space  –  IRL Remixes 2000  –  2015’
Released  by  IRL,  24th  February  2017


terraforming-in-analogue-space - Monolith Cocktail

 

Celebrating fifteen years (the first that is) of “global music” transmogrification – transforming what are in many cases the most raw and basic of field recordings into stunning peregrinations and flights of internationally amorphous fantasy – Independent Records Ltd. have chosen label stalwart Nick “Dubulah” Page to curate a 100th release special of remixes, that once again, in-keeping with their “raison d’être”, offers an alternative sonic vision of choice tracks from the back catalogue.

Regular Monolith Cocktail followers may recall my review of Page’s Xaos mythical Hellenistic soundscape collaboration with Ahetas Jimi and a group of traditional musicians, which made the blog’s choice albums of 2015 feature. The multi-instrumentalist, producer and writer may also be familiar to readers for his work with Transglobal Underground and Dub Colossus. All three of which appear in one form or another on this reinvigorated album: that reimagined Greek tragedy Xaos, for instance, is represented with a David Sylvian flittering, and quickened rhythm and beats swaddled TJ Rehmi mix of Pindos Full Moon, and a subtle bounding timpani, 80s synth-horror soundtrack style treatment, by Stereo Mike, of the esoteric Byzantine evocation Processional – one part atavistic Biblical Aphrodite’s Child, the other, John Carpenter in the “fog”.

But before we venture any further, a little background is needed. The illusive IRL – not one to herald and pontificate loudly – have remained a highly influential purveyor of music from across the most wild, isolated and wondrous corners of the world, even if they remain on the peripherals; relatively obscure. Originally formed by a trio of artist/band managers, whose eclectic CV included managing at one time or another, Sinead O’Connor, Beth Orton, Rialto, Jah Wobble and The Wonder Stuff, IRL’s remit was to remain inconspicuous. Key figures in this enterprise, the guitarist and in recent years, member of Robert Plant’s Sensational Space Shifters, Justin Adams, and field recording specialist extraordinaire and general polymath of distinction, Ian Brennan, have brought the goods, or at least help shape them. And it’s no surprise that they feature heavily, with both their own productions and songs receiving the remix treatment, but also appearing in their original form on a second CD. Brennan, who I interviewed for the blog last year, memorably introduced the sublime ragged and dusty gospel-influenced Malawi Mouse Boys to the label. The rodent kebab sellers and, as it turns out, gifted musicians/singers from one of the poorest of poor hamlets are given a galloping dubstep-lite flitter by The Dhol Foundation on the village serenaded and lolloping, Ndinasangalala (I Was Happy), and acquire a Teutonic electro affects package of drum pad lasers, modulating contoured synth and handclap percussion (remolded from the joyous clapping on the original) on Dalek Romeo’s horizon floating mix of Manja (Clap Your Hands). Other choice Brennan productions, reconfigured and taken off-course, include the Lunar Drive mix of General Paolino’s Congratulations South Sudan, which shifts between two-step accelerated shuffling and half-time dreamy lilting soul, and the Penguin Café Orchestra’s, as ever, lush and subtle scenic mix of Acholi Machon’s Convoy.

ahetas-dubulah- Monolith Cocktail


Making the most appearances however, the already mentioned Justin Adams appears in many guises, both as a solo artist and as a collaborator and producer. His own lo fi Desert Road trip is underlain with a percussive cycle of tight-delayed electronic snare and soft prodding synthesized bass by Dub Colossus, but keeps its original mirage-shimmering candor. There’s also a lunar whistling and quivering Radar Station mix of Adams’, with Juldeh Camera’s Ngamen, and a trio of, mostly subtle transformations of the French chanson group Lo’Jo, who Adams produced. Heavily intoxicated by North African musical influences, Lo’Jo in fact took Adams on his first trip to Mali, which as a result, led to them both producing the sublime Tuareg desert blues group Tinariwen’s legendary 2001 release, The Radio Tisdas Sessions.

Complementing Lo’Jo’s Arab-Franco signatures further, as if in some kind of dreamscape, Bernard O’Neill (comrade-in-arms of Page in Dub Colossus and other incarnations), appearing here under the Syriana banner, accentuates the jazzy seductive, liaison-amongst-the-Tunisian-sand-dunes, mood with a Holger Czukay-like evocation on the group’s Sur Des Carnet Nus. A Boyscout mix of their languid Yalaki reimagines them as Moloko, whilst album closer, Carnet US Vatican Radio, also mixed by O’Neill, lets the concertinaed, yearning lived-in French vocals and atmospheric crackles dissipate into the ether.

Broadening musical horizons, if politically and societally it seems many are retreating towards nationalistic introspection, IRL have released some superb albums. It was through the label’s 2003 Festival In The Desert LP that I first heard the mesmerizing Saharan transcendental blues of Tinariwen. And the “terraforming in analogue space” album opens with a suitably suffused desert contoured and Kraftwerk-like kinetic beats driven peregrination of their entrancing Oualahila by the world music and electronica fusion doyens Transglobal Underground.

Taking the LP title literally, “terraforming” describes the process of making a planet habitable for us humans, changing the atmosphere and life-giving properties to that of Earths. In this instance, IRL allow others to reshape their back catalogue in an attempt to introduce the listener to inhabit an ever richer and eclectic space. Despite drifting untethered into the galaxy, at times sounding almost alien, this remix appraisal seeks to bring the global community together in the spirit of human commonality.




The Nightjar   ‘Objects’
Released  17th  March  2017


The Nightjar - Monolith Cocktail

 

To the group’s credit, The Nightjar’s accentuated and stark contemplations on the human condition and the constructs that give meaning to reality itself, including the inevitable specter of death, couldn’t have sounded more peaceable and full of grace. Such heavy themes as these, inspired in part by both Eastern philosophy and the Catholic afflatus metaphysical quandaries, posed by the late venerable French composer Olivier Messiaen, usually promise a hard slog and grueling experience for the listener. Yet, despite the raw directness of this Bristol ensemble’s naturalistic, poised, songbook of “hope, loss and disaster”, every performance is beautifully and dreamily executed.

Referring to their debut album, Objects, as a collection of “songs for the end of time”, “concerned with transformation, transience and impermanence”, The Nightjar articulates the fleeting and sings of a time when nature reclaims the encroaching man-made landscape. Describing their particular style as “lo fi post-folk”, they do push and experiment with the folk genre, though the choice of themes, and even with the inclusion of the re-arranged traditional songs Hangman and Dle Yaman, summon up the atavistic. For instance, the age-old standard, Hangman, is a scion of over hundreds of variations on the same central trope; an unknown fated protagonist waits, hoping that out of a litany of visitors, from family members to lovers, someone will arrive in time with the right coinage bribe to free them from the hangman’s noose. The Nightjar hauntingly resurrect this morbid tale with a suitable lamentable vocal, paused, sighing electric guitar and a harrowed bowed drone. Albeit from what I can gather with little information, Dle Yaman is another standard, this time a plaintive Armenian ode, an exclamation of mourning, which the group furnishes with a divine sacrosanct ascendency.

Exploring the void, submerged under a amorphous gauze of diaphanous and ether atmospherics, The Nightjar recorded their album in rural Portugal on the most basic of equipment. Informed by such “interesting” locations as a dilapidated bar in the Old Town of Sertã, and the distressed run-down piano that came with it, they fluctuate between (what sounds like) a gramophone scratched transmission, from the great beyond, and a clearer, more evocative and resonated style or recording. The backing is mostly subtle and attentive: the electric and acoustic guitars erudite and drums attentive throughout, ascending, descending in the ebb and flow of the building drama. But most striking is the vocal work of Mo Kirby, who perfectly articulates the mood with a measured performance of sorrow, yearning, tumultuous lament and the ethereal.

Finding a passage through an allegorical “wardrobe” into an earnest, toiled world of cockleshell dredger inhabited coastal shorelines and riverbeds; swallowed whole by the soil into the psychogeography, The Nightjar waft through centuries of despair and meaning to map out an auger of unease about our future.





Baluji  Shrivastav   ‘Best  Of…’
Srdjan Beronja   ‘Sounds  Of  The  East:  Music  From  The  Balkans,  India  And The  Middle  East’
Both released by ARC Music,  24th  February 2017


Photo credit to Simon Richardson

Photo credit to Simon Richardson

 

Capping off last year’s 40th anniversary celebrations with a top three placing in the highly regarded Womex “top 20 labels” awards, the industrious world music label ARC Music starts the new year as they mean to go on, with a duo of congruous Eastern imbued musical travelogues from Baluji Shrivastav and Srdjan Beronja. The first of which is a “best of” collection and timely appreciation of the revered Indian music virtuoso – who was recently honoured with an OBE -, the second, is a collection of field recordings taken from a geographical triangle of India, the Balkans and the Middle East. Both albums overlap; Shrivastav’s polygenesis array of ragas and concepts chiming with Beronja’s own sitar and Indian redolent cornucopia of recordings. And coming as they do from different starting points and cultures, compliment each other well.

Highly qualified, gaining a degree for his vocal studies from the University of Lucknow, and a BA for tablas and an MA for sitar from the Allahabad University, respectfully, multi-instrumentalist composer Baluji Shrivastav has journeyed a well-travail(ed) road to reach his richly deserved status as one of India’s most cherished exports. Musically championed of course on this collection, he’s equally respected for his fervent campaigning as a cofounder, alongside his wife, the composer and songwriter Linda Shanson, of the London-based Baluji Music Foundation. Shrivastav, who was blinded at only eight months from glaucoma, and Shanson’s foundation has and continues to help further the cause of the blind and visually impaired, as well as disabled in music. Whilst this impairment hasn’t held the gifted and tactile musician back – if anything, inspiring experimentation and an alternative, sometimes original, way of doing things – it has obviously shaped him.

A positive extension of his foundation is the Inner Vision Orchestra; steered and directed by Shrivastav, the 14-piece ensemble is a melting pot of cultures, with members from the Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, Japan, and Nigeria. This troupe can be heard on both the exotic Persian love yearned Chashma Sia Dari (sung in the Dari dialect, a spoken form of Persian used in Afghanistan), and the swimmingly reedy ensemble-vocal piece, Diggy Diggy Diggy Ya Rababa.


Photo credit to Simon Richardson

Photo credit to Simon Richardson




Making London his home in the early 80s, Shrivastav’s humble journey from the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to the streets of the England capital informs most of the material. Taken from his recording career over this four-decade period, some tracks make more obvious allusions to this than others. One of the earliest, Fruit from 1982, is a lilting sitar version of the Linda Shanovitch written South American-bound love tryst. Languid Cuban flavours and sauntering sway work well with the Indian instrumentation, in what is a fusion of styles we seldom hear. Reflecting, in a more grandiose manner, his attentive first steps in, and embrace of, London, there’s the instrumental trilogy of Discovering London & Friendship, Walking Through The Streets and Mixing With The Crowd And Spirit Of Joy. All of which tie together Shrivastav’s experiences, mixing classical British pomp and circumstance with the exotic reverberations of India across three various mood soundtracks. The rest of this collection mixes more traditional adaptations with contemporary arrangements; devotional standards such as the melodious Raag Shobhavari, and the spritely, full of life, Indian dance, Nartaki.

As highly complex and intricate as you’d expect, with countless forms, scales and “ascending’, “descending” notes of praise, adulation and contemplation, as well as guest appearances from not only Inner Vision but also the Egyptian master tabla player Hossam Ramzy, Andy Sheppard and Guy Baker, all these performances remain organic and fluid – there is a detailed inventory and backstory booklet however for those who wish to dip further into the finer details.

Though he’s worked with a dizzying cast of eclectic performers including tabla legends Anindo Chatterji and Ustad Fayaz Khan, and artists as diverse as Massive Attack and Stevie Wonder over the years, Baluji Shrivastav is now enjoying a welcome appraisal: On top of that OBE he received in the Queen’s birthday honours list last year, a GG2 Leadership Award for Achievement Through Adversity, there’s also a new documentary about the Inner Vision Orchestra, Colours Of Sound, from the director Marie-Cécile Embleton, and now this highly enjoyable survey compilation. An introduction and retrospective, this Best Of album will endear the listener to the prowess and multifaceted evocations of the sitar and its accompanying Indian instrumentation.


Srdjan Beronja - Monolith Cocktail

Imbued with a similar Indian sound palette, though one that has amorphously blended it with those of the Middle East and the Balkans, Serbian composer Srdjan Beronja takes the familiar buzz of the sitar and highly deft, rapid tapping rhythms of the tabla and merges them with a host of instruments from ancient Persia and North Africa on his latest album, Sounds Of The East. Drifting across a geographical triangle of influence, the ethnomusicologist travels between all three corners of his sonic map, recording both traditional and original field recordings and improvised performances. It is in short, a veritable odyssey of discoveries; moving seamlessly through the exotic landscape, capturing many unusual and surprising sounds.

Following on “effortlessly” from his previous 2015 album, Sounds Of Varanasi – the Indian holy town of the title appears again on this collection -, Beronja, again, spends most of his time in India. Recordings vary in length and drama; from the menagerie “morning chorus” of wild twirling, hooting and convoluted birdlife, found on the heat-sapping Alapana – recorded in Kerala – to the gunpowder explosion firework snapshot of the famous Diwali Festival Of Light, on Visphot – meant as a poignant reflection on the damage that this bombastic firework display inflicts on the environment. There’s also more performance-based instrumentals, including the improvised, joyful, Raag Jog Dhun, which partners Beronja on the tabla-like darabuka drum with maestro violinist Pt Sukhdev Prasad Misha (a revered ambassador of Hindustani classical music no less), and the more groovy but reflective, Raga Sitar-Daf Kirvani, which sees Beronja play the Persian frame “daf” drum and the notable Pt Dhruv Nath Mishra sit in on the sitar.

Leaving behind the scenery but not the music, those Indian sounds lingering on as Beronja journeys to the Middle East and the Balkans. The strangest recording, Nora Of Hama, captures the weird buzzsaw and motorbike revving sounds of a wooden water wheel in the Syrian town of the title. Disturbing, almost ominous, the scraping and creaking mechanics offer a surreal window into age-old apparatus; still in use; still providing an essential resource. In a similar landscape of musical influence, the Serbian composer invites the Sarajevo born oud player and multi-instrumentalist Marina Tošić to join him on the “open air” improvised liturgy, Maqam Bayati Oud Taqsim. Tošić also appears, playing the pan flute, on the live in concert recorded, Shepherd’s Love Song. Two musical spheres and traditions, one from (again) India, the other, the Balkans, entwine on this sad tale of the lonely shepherd pining on the hillside in wistful lament because of a former lover’s unreciprocated love. Another “virtuoso” (just one of the many) oud player, but also more than handy on the zither-like qanun, Stefan Sablić plucks away dreamily on the ethereal album closer lullaby, Maqam Ajam Qanun Taqsim.

As with many ARC Music releases, in depth notes can be found in the accompanying album booklet. Not that you need an extensive knowledge, and with so many different influences and ways of interpreting meaning from the highly sophisticated, centuries old traditions of specific scales, it’s better to let the music breathe unburdened. Of course it’s all interesting and informative, but it also shows the cross-pollination process and intricate blending of styles that makes this music so universally connected. Sounds Of The East is an intriguing, often surprising, musical travelogue; one that reminds us just how erroneous those musical borders really are, as Beronja finds the sounds that bind us.






Nick  Blackos  &  LOA   ‘No Reason’
Released  by  ONV,  available  now


Nick Blackos/ONV - Monolith Cocktail

 

Dropping releases surreptitiously without any fanfares or grandstanding, the burgeoning London-based hip-hop (and all it’s many congruous bedfellows) label ONV has in the last week, shinnied an eight-track instrumental showcase up the flagpole in the hope someone will salute it. Entitled No Reason of course, this latest collection of transmogrified 808 beats, tight kinetic drums, tetchy glitches, and warped languid samples is every bit as in line with the label’s signature subterranean and gritty London-soundscape style as previous EPs, LPs and odd tracks.

No Reason travails a strewn, strung-out sonic landscape, littered with cryptic chemicals (T88), vortex obscured utterances, speech and lulling voices (Four Horsemen, Get Away), languid vapours of dubstep and grime (Grotti), and the slow ticking away of time (Tranceforma). Lo fi and off most radars, ONV’s principle Nick Blackos, and the mysterious LOA, have produced another curious, underground and leftfield hip-hop album.




Irk Yste   ‘Wumpe/Stroppe’
Released  by  GiveUsYourGOLD,  3rd  February  2017


Irk Yste - Monolith Cocktail

 

The first release of the year from our friends at GiveUsYourGOLD – the artist-run Berlin label founded a few years ago by Alexandre Decoupigny and Thomas Tichai, of Psycho & Plastic fame -, the cool aloof Irk Yste debut is a sophisticated three-track techno transmission from the historically and culturally important eastern German town of Weimar.

Since bonding in the sandbox of their playschool in ’84, the Irk Yste’s Christoph and Benjamin (no surnames given) have shared a penchant for music, especially acid techno. Introduced to the style whilst in Denmark during the dawn of the noughties, the musical partnership toured the (as the bio describes it) “flattest of kingdoms” to ride on that inimitable acid wave. Via a number of projects, including The Zonnhaider’s Club and Norsal Flow, and a sojourn studying electroacoustics at the SeaM institute, in the city they now call home, the Weimar duo now release their inaugural explorations under their latest darkly melodic techno incarnation.

Informed by an “iterative” process of building sonic structure and harmony before dismantling and starting anew, the three-track Wumpe/Stroppe suite is a sophisticated, suffused mix of minimal techno, house and, even, jazz. The opening machine-age with soul, Wumpe, starts with a nauanced chain reaction of R&S and Basic Channel flavoured kinetic beats and a sonorous bass drum, but gradually builds to an ascendant, cinematic melody finish. From a similar mould but hinting towards a more lilting nocturnal escape, Stroppe is a metallic glistening slow ride into an unsure future scape. More a vignette, the final track, Pumps, fades in on a stirring pronounced synthesizer drone wave, before a serial accompaniment of warping, wobbling robotic and dial-up sounds interweave with the minimalist stripped-down techno foundations.

An impressive glimpse inside the machine, GiveUsYourGOLD promise that there’s more to come from their latest signing. Stay tuned for further techno explorations in the future-now.



ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Matt Oliver


Strange U - Monolith Cocktail

Strange  U   ‘#LP4080’
Released  by  High  Focus,  10th  February  2017

“I worship the Sega God with the blue fur; my mother’s Lara Lor-Van, my father’s Lex Luther”.

Though the chrome may not be shiny and the cylinders can’t help but misfire, High Focus’ ownership of 2016 (summarised here) is safe in the hands of Strange U’s voodoo children for the New Year. Venerable UK hip-hop rogues Kashmere (The Iguana Man, Lord Rao), and Dr Zygote (The Maghreban), theorise conspiracies through comic book schlock writing its own legend. A classic hip-hop one-two manning long established loose cannons, #LP4080 has a deftness that allows it to be daft, transplanting MF Doom and Kool Keith through zodiac mind warps and Vulcan death grips.

Kashmere’s telling of stranger than fiction tales, sex drugs and rock & roll laced with wild one-liners that’ll either gob smack you or smack you in the gob, joyrides Zygote’s primitive vision of the future made to the specification of a mint condition Dalek (intermission Taurus makes a public service announcement of a space colony being unveiled by the year 2000). Black hole-sized beats, decommissioned Casios, arcade consoles that have long flashed ‘game over’, and electro downloaded over dial-up internet, create the perfect simulation of space’s loaded vastness, always one false move away from catastrophic consequences. If the ship’s going down, Strange U are gonna fly it their way, accentuating High Focus’ cast of many characters that would fill a sticker book.

How you feel the Gs is down to tracks like Bullet Proof Mustache: trying to achieve a body count of the 80s silver screen megastars it references, acting the fool and plotting nonsensical courses is Strange U’s smartest move, particularly with Lee Scott boarding the same vessel like Dave Lister. The unexpected self-deprecation Waste of Space shows that guardians of the galaxy have to start somewhere, without exactly speaking up for the little guy, and Mumm Ra, stepping up the supreme Veronica RIP from Kashmere’s In the Hour of Chaos, plays Russian Roulette with a female species, Zygote taking the narrative on the run with doomed boom-bap.

The emcee’s power up has also sharpened his social awareness. Despite long peddling the world’s end, reality means tragedy must accompany comedy, showing that #4080 is still the devil’s number. On Mr Kill, the star strider inaugurates himself as Alan B’stard (“this is not Jeremy Corbyn in a tie-dye vest…the type of sub-human you would love to own the country”), and with the graphic Armageddon of Eden’s Husk – the guesting Jehst rhyming like a correspondent live at the scene – the outlandish predicament sounds like what boffins have been predicting for years, plastered across the front page of your favourite red top.

For all the anecdotal complexity, the sandpapered English is virtually always plain, call and response choruses leaping into the front row in carrying on the good work of Power Cosmic’s Bang! Splat!. The appeal of Strange U’s odyssey is simple respect of the basics in beats and rhymes, no matter how far bent to the left. Syllables set to stun in the middle of an Asteroids field, it’s a first class bizarre ride to and from the far side.







HIP-HOP REVUE
Words: Matt Oliver


Monolith Cocktail - Rapture & Verse/Matt Oliver


Happy new year to the gazillion followers of Rapture & Verse, jumping on some previously unpulled Christmas crackers and wading into the New Year like the flyest of flyweights – after all, this is the season where Soulja Boy and Chris Brown (including a Mike Tyson diss record) and 50 Cent versus Riff Raff are taking it upon themselves to pick up from where 2016 left off. January cabin fever already? You can choose upcoming UK appearances from Drake, KRS One, Loyle Carner and Rae Sremmurd, or follow the I Love 90s hip-hop tour, with Coolio, Salt n Pepa and Vanilla Ice headlining.

Monolith Cocktail - Rapture & Verse/Matt Oliver



Singles/EPs

Sounding like he actually enjoyed the clusterfuck that was 2016, Jam Baxter’s ‘Teeth Marks’/’Soi 36’, to the sound of Chemo dredging the depths, is an intriguing yet debilitating start to the year. Micall Parknsun ‘Practicing Tag Team Moves’ lets you know you are now rocking with the best, Jehst and Durrty Goodz joining in the belligerence to snap barbells. Lucid Logic’s ‘Falling into Winter’ EP – “our gift to you as we make the transition from Fall to Winter” – is not exactly the simple comfort blanket as appears advertised, Illogic and Lucid Optics providing a boiling pot of ideas and colours. Quelle Chris both flips and upholds hip-hop egotism on ‘Buddies’, Godz Chyld’s ‘Crazy’ vividly illustrates street psychosis that won’t fade, and Reef the Lost Cauze beats his chest with authority as funk fire ‘Grizzly’ matches the talk with the walk.




Instrumental funk that’ll get you stretching your hamstrings for auditions as both ‘floor-burning B-boy and crime fighter from when men were men?’  That’ll be DJ DSK’s 7” pair ‘Lamine’ and ‘I Know You Got Sole’, the boxfresh sneaker freak laced by Mystro. A pensive EP of head down beats, chopping folk as needle fluff dictates, dives through the back of the wardrobe in the name of guarded headphone instrumentalism: L’Orange’s ‘Koala’ EP challenges the cute and cuddly. Meanwhile, Torb The Roach & Floppy McSpace’s dope ‘Tusen Baht’ turns a foreign film dub into a hoodlum’s magic carpet ride, and Nottz conducts his own ghetto Fantasia for Stik Figa and Elzhi to make their ‘Down Payment’ substantial.



The epitome of impetus, Jermiside and L-Marr the Starr air it all out on six track soul nourishment ‘God Bless the Child’ that will both stroke your ego and shake you by your shoulders. Oddisee begins his next critically acclaimed year by sprinting out the gate with ‘Things’, a most spry guru of the groove. Of an older vintage, The Beatnuts’ ‘Off the Books’ – that gangster flute lick with Big Pun ripping it up – and Too $hort, in typically mild-mannered form on the Lil Jon-produced ‘Blow the Whistle’, both get 7” second winds begging for your shopping basket. Corleone holidaying in the sun from Oh No, Tristate & Evidence takes an ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’, some of that old Wu-Tang grit from Masta Killa, Redman and Method Man rocks a ‘Keep It Thoro’-style bruiser and sweeps ‘Therapy’ through a three minute snowstorm, and a familiar heart-stopping boom bap whirlwind from Endemic allows Bankai Fam to smash into the calendar ahead.





Albums

In case you’ve been hibernating to this point, Run the Jewels dropped ‘RTJ3’ at Christmas and have already gone close to making 2017 null and void in terms of competition coming close. Their gunfingers-n-gold chain bravado unsheathes another shedload of quotable, tripping the switch to consistently controlled explosions dialling in their sub-sci-fi, slyly evolving short shrift. Extending the telekinetic chokehold of the previous two albums (and why shouldn’t they? – if it ain’t broke…), El-P and Killer Mike are finding hip-hop’s throne at the top table most comfortable.

 

Taking a New Year’s trip to ‘Paranoid City’, the unnerving calm of Sleaze and Sonnyjim sparks a dangerous combination of smoked out and razor sharp. Lead by the immaculate ironman ‘Lobster Bisque’ and with a supreme cast on the boards (Reklews, Illinformed, Sumgii, Sam Zircon), this is true eyes-on-the-prize hip-hop shot through with the everyday, personas split between callous opportunists and kingpins at play. Take it home at your first opportunity.




A similar character assassination (as well as some of the same production personnel) can be aimed at Lee Scott, whose scallywagging ‘Nice Swan’ is of a loaded nonchalance maxing out the Blah Records patent lining hip-hop’s underbelly. Snivelling between unharmed shrugging and expressly not giving a fuck, Scott reveals the great squalor of opening track ‘Bootl£gliving’, a succession of quality snides, and insomnia-battling technicality “stepping on your dreams with elephant-sized feet”. Perfect to combat the bite of January with.

 

‘The Madness’, while only allowing momentary folly, is Attikus kicking no frills lessons, knuckling down while he knuckles up. Out of Vancouver with a touch of the Midwest, the niceness of his nitty gritty puts hoods up, but then tightens the drawstring to noose-like levels. The golden touch of MidaZ is rarely a subtle one, a chew-up-and-spit-out emcee with a flow rarely resting between scoffs, making ‘Loops Two’ a thorough boost to the bicep. Working around funk with money on its mind while twirling a gun round his finger, it’s an LP maintaining inescapable intimidation at all times. To be fair, both pale in comparison to the monocle and tweed parody of ‘Professor Elemental & His Amazing Friends’, sergeant major styling sounding like a block party thrown by Tom Caruana for the Downtown Abbey massive. Chocks away, tally-ho, and so on.




Given hip-hop’s obsession with the finer things in life, it takes someone like Cab Cabernet to step it up into something aristocratic. ‘Krushed Grapes: Harlem Vintage’ sees the ex-Maspyke member swirling bouquets of beats and reeling off rhymes from the wine list, only dealing in the dapper. Strap your gators on, cos this is slick. Blowing impressive fresh air into your ears are Benny Diction and Blue Buttonz, a UK-SA connect on cruise control for ‘Button Up’ where confidence breeds optimism – even at its sternest, its vibe of yearning is something to sidle up to. eMCee Killa, MNSR Fries, Luca Brazi and Elliot Fresh come along for the smoothest of rides. Yet another Statik Selektah casting session remixes ‘The A3C’ series, wrapping Dave East, Action Bronson, The Underachievers, Mick Jenkins and Vince Staples in new threads frayed from all the shoulder brushing.

 

Run-DMC’s self-titled debut gets a reformat; VIP hip-hop that’s a different world away as it churned up all before it, the primal avant-garde of crunching drum machines and scratches, rawk riffs and full steam tag teamin’ with a brand new attitude, is a stark reminder as much as a shot of nostalgia.

Free to download, Giallo Point adds a fresh lick of majestic menace to the aggravations of Percee P, Nas, KRS-One, Shabazz the Disciple, and a daring flip of OC’s signature switchblade. ‘The Remixes’ practises the ski mask way with some fast life coasting – do not make one false move. A massive ode to real hip-hop demanding you respect his hustle, Optimystic’s two-disc, 32-track ‘Day of the Guiding Light’/’Followed by the Shadow’ finds its lane and never swerves. The Aussie emcee makes his buoyancy loud and clear, that in spite of recruiting a mass regiment of hired guns and old skool soldiers – Jeru the Damaja, Killa Priest, Chip Fu, Krazy Drayz, Mr Cheeks, Keith Murray – is a one man army revering the essence.





Mixtapes

You can never go wrong with a Donnie Propa mixtape. After tributes to Masta Ace and J Dilla, ‘Straight from the Crate Cave’ honours all that is golden aged in the garden of Pete Rock. It’s the full spectrum of the Chocolate Boy Wonder that’ll have you auto reversing in no time. Certainties in life: death, taxes, and the freshness of J-Live. ‘At the Date of this Writing’ – tagline: ‘advocate dope’ – offers more soaring standards of enlightenment, maximising damning indictments and wordplay to get your grey cells cramming. Only seven tracks only, it’s the first of a series of one-man mixtapes to put you in a thinker’s pose.

 

Got a twin tape ghetto blaster for Christmas? Get ‘Cuts for the Boombox’ on it and watch the blockbuster haul from Oso Blanco & Matt Kuartz start rocking and tripping from your shoulder. Don’t forget to rewind. Neatly finishing up this month, DJ Skarface puts DJ Shadow beats underneath Run the Jewels wrath for a well executed 20 minute mash up to get everyone talking.



Maximise your browsers for M- Dot’s life through a lens, Jabee’s face-off, and Geechi Suede getting grooves on.











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.

Read original review here


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.

Read original review here


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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