Choice Albums of 2019 Part Two: Haq to Pozi


For those that might have missed Part One of this three-parter, I will reiterate:

Because we’ve never seen the point in arguing the toss over numerical orders, or even compiling a list of the best of albums of the year, the Monolith Cocktail’s lighter, less competitive and hierarchical ‘choice albums’ features have always listed all entrants in alphabetical order (since our inception, a decade ago). We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

All the albums in part two were chosen by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Ginaluigi Marsibilio.

Part One can be found here…

H……..

Haq ‘Evaporator’
(Bearsuit Records)







The new release from the fine Bearsuit Records finds us tumbling down to the spiraling sounds of Haq; 60s spy theme sexiness merges with the avant-garde dreampop of a bewitched Stereolab playing hopscotch with Delia Derbyshire whilst sucking on the feedback of a JAMC lollipop.

The obvious love and understanding of pop music in its many genres and changes throughout the decades are lovingly brought together to make a wash of beautiful tunes. Angel like vocals float over gentle beats, soulful guitars and well constructed rhythms, delicately plucking at the heartstrings. This album really is a beautiful work of aural magic that can and will take you AWAY from the drudgery of everyday life and makes for quite a moving experience: maybe there is a god after all. (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea)

Full review…


Homeboy Sandman ‘Dusty’
(Mello Music Group)





“Pure skills unfazed by tempo, turning fleeting thoughts into elaborate dissections. Long may the cult of the Sandman continue” – RnV Nov 19




Something that will never be lost to the dusts of time is Homeboy Sandman and that flow that still sounds just past a cipher amongst friends. Mono En Stereo tease out his kooks with production springy in step and managing a melting pot and the bare bones. Actually the continued kooky associations do Homeboy a disservice, as Dusty is Sandman doing what he does best in all his multifaceted greatness, able to pull off sincere and sombre on a sixpence before pulling the rug through sleight of verb (“anybody asks, I was never here/in the lunchroom sitting alone my whole career/wear my pants so you can’t see my underwear”), aiming for personal bests as if the aforementioned cipher is strictly for him. An undisputed battler and hip-hop student, and whose streams of consciousness you won’t find anywhere else (including moulding the mundane into something profound), Homeboy is a good egg who just happens to have the ability to destroy whoever. (Matt Oliver)


Chrissie Hynde & The Valve Bone Orchestra ‘Valve Bone Woe’
(BMG)





I’m probably in a minority, but I feel Chrissie Hynde has been in the past restricted by her proto-rock icon status. Never sounding better, and not entirely a shock, Hynde, linking up with The Valve Bone Orchestra, transduces a collection of standards from stage, film, 60s pop and jazz on, probably, her most mature work yet, Valve Bone Woe.

As showy as it is experimental, this orchestrated album is both romantically brooding and brazen. Dotting brooding and dreamy versions of classics with more spiritual jazz and retro-space age fantasy, Hynde delivers an offbeat jazz snozzled slinky salacious version of Nancy Wilson’s ‘So Glad I Am’, and sends Brian Wilson’s ‘Caroline, No’ drifting off towards the stars, whilst relegating herself to lulling coos on the Charlie Mingus ‘Meditation On A Pair Of Wire Cutters’ – a workout in as much for the ensemble to flex their spirit of peregrination.

Bond like theme visions of Frank Sinatra’s ‘I’m A Fool To Want You’, sit well next to a strung out rendition of ‘Wild Is The Wind’ (made famous by many, but namely Nina Simone and Bowie) on an album that, though beautiful and magical, pushes Hynde to ever dizzying heights of sophistication and experiment. (Dominic Valvona)


Hifiklub & Mike Cooper  ‘Aran Stories’
(Ruptured)





Bringing the ever-evolving Toulon eclectic collective Hifiklub and English polygenesis journeyman Mike Cooper together, the harsh unforgiving coastal terrain and psychogeography of the Isle Of Aran provides a perfect bleak backdrop for an unholy union of conceptual plaint and experimental strung-out visions. Primal, harrowing, steel, waning, craning, expanding and untethered this visceral collaboration hews out an evocative off-kilter post-punk and abstract electronica soundtrack that winds and beats-out of shape tales and traces of the island’s history. The album’s opening lyrics let you know straight away where this is heading: “This year I see a darker side of life”.

The source material for this exploration and therapy is Robert J. Flaherty’s Man Of Aran documentary – his third such documentary feature film after the famous groundbreaking 1922 Nanook of the North and South Seas set Moana – and John Millington Synge’s 1907 The Aran Islands text, which Cooper takes on a more harsh version of Robert Wyatt-like meandering intense wonder.

Dark and ominous, conveying a hardy way of life and travails, this album is a tough but mesmerizing and hauntingly beautiful work of art. (DV)


I………

Ifriqiyya Electrique ‘Laylet el Booree’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Just as electrifying, exotic and barracking as the previous ritualistic post-punk tumult of Rûwâhîne, Ifriqiyya Electrique’s second album, Laylet el Booree, (which translates as the “night of the madness”) features another invigorating surged vortex of rustic percussion, strange computer-generated sounds, static, sparks and two-speed rhythms.

Mirroring the stamping, emotive and sometimes confusing hallowed intensity of the adorcist ritual from the Banga followers of Tozeur that this album’s title references, the collaborative Tunisian-Italian troupe work themselves up into a fervor as they communion with the spirit world. The Electrique integrate different rhythmic changes and timings; seeming to experiment even more this time around; pushing the envelope further without losing that original tumultuous barrage of bombarding drums/percussion and edgy growling grinding industrial guitar sounds. If anything they’ve unleashed the spirits to roam the amorphous sphere of exploration to draw on even more diverse musical inspirations, creating a highly unique invigorating sensory experience in the process. Industrial post-punk ritual leaves the furnace once more to cause an explosive cacophony. (DV)

Full Review


Invisible System ‘Dance To The Full Moon’
(ARC Music)





Taken from the same recording sessions as Dan Harper’s previous album, Bamako Sessions, his latest transportive exploration under the nom de plume of Invisible System once more lends an electrified and synthesized pulse to the spiritual soul of Malian music. Originally put together in a more languorous fashion with a variety of musicians coming and going, jamming in a mattress proofed room in a rented house in the capital, Dance To The Full Moon was created and shaped at the end of a tumultuous and violent period in Mali’s history. That tumult, along with a passion for his adopted country, has been energized as Dan transforms the music of a myriad of Mali’s great and good (a lineup of players that includes Kalifa Koné, Sidi Touré and Sambou Kouyaté) into an attuned and dynamic remix of the Mali soundscape. (DV)

Full review…


J……….

Juga-Naut & Giallo Point ‘Back to the Grill Again’
(Tuff Kong)





“Running through crews like a hot knife through butter, from now only order these cordon bleu beats and rhymes, a gangster gourmet with an all important UK garnish” – RnV Aug 19




Someone who definitely needs to enter the conversation when it comes to naming the UK’s top tier of rhymers, Juga-Naut stays up by showing that show-n-prove and aspirational, ostentatious folly do pay. Given that this follows relatively hot on the heels of 2018’s Bon Vivant, Jugs has officially got both designs for days and commitment to quality control – list toppers others find hard to fathom. Giallo Point, the money man when it comes to Little Italy dramas on the boards, fills his beats with a hydration he usually leaves out on purpose, chaperoning the Nottingham emcee who may shuffle realities – a kind of surrealism that takes logical steps – but fundamentally has the presence to shut down backchatters with granite-set rhymes that calibrates a kind of one inch punch that hasn’t got time for any dramatics. Heavy, no heartburn. (MO)


John Johanna ‘Seven Metal Mountains’
(Faith & Industry)







With afflatus fervor Norfolk-based artist John Johanna transduces the mountain allegories and metaphors as laid down by Noah’s grandfather in the vision-dream-revelatory Book Of Enoch into a gospel-raga-blues and Radio Clash prescient Biblical cosmology. Interrupted from Enoch’s visits to the heavenly realms – where, as Johanna’s Strummer fronts Wah! Heat, Gothic redemption goer ‘Standing At The Gates Of Love’ takes its title from, you will find a no-nonsense angel guarding the Pearly Gates with a flaming sword in hand – the Seven Metal Mountains metallurgy passage is as much an augur as observed proclamation. Used here as a frame for Johanna’s second visionary album of spiritual nutrition in a Godless age for the always brilliant Faith & Industry label, the dour liturgy of Judaic tradition and law inspires a message of forewarning and yearns for less materialistic avarice.

Seven Metal Mountains translates Biblical prophecy marvelously into a vivid eclectic songbook of protestation post-punk, indie, folk, psych and lilting Krautrock. (DV)

Full review…


Junkboy ‘Trains, Trees, Topophilia’







Disarmingly chilled yet full of wistful rumination and contemplation, Junkboy’s Brighton-Seaford-Southend traverse wonders what it would sound like if Brian Wilson was born and bred on the English Riviera instead of Hawthorne, California: The beachcomber vibes of Pet Sounds permeate this quint lush English affair. You can safely add vague notions of Britpop era Octopus, a touch of the Super Furry Animals more folksy psych instrumentals, some early Beta Band, echoes of 90s Chicago post-rock, and on the dreamboat bluegrass lilted-and-silted ‘Sweetheart Of The Estuary’ more than a nod to Roger McGuinn and pals.

The Brothers Hanscomb long awaited new instrumental opus, Trains, Trees, Topophilia is a peaceable musical landscape littered with the ghostly reverb of railways station interchanges, mew-dewed laced green hillsides, tidal ebbs and flows and Cluniac Abbeys. Call it pastoral musical care for the soul; a beautifully conveyed canvas of the imagined and idyllic and a subtle ode to the Southeast cartography and painters, poets, writers that captured it so perfectly. (DV)

Full review…


K………..

Kel Assouf ‘Black Tenere’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Mirroring the borderless Nomadic freewheeling of the Berber ancestral Tuareg people, a loosely atavistic-connected confederacy (to put it into any kind of meaningful context) of diverse tribes that have traditionally roamed Sub-Saharan Africa since time immemorial, Kel Assouf channel a wealth of musical influences both historically and geographically into an electrified reworking of (as vague and over-used a term as it is) desert rock. Headed by charismatic Gibson Flying V slinger front man Anana Ag Haroun, who’s own lineage takes in both the landlocked behemoth Niger and bordering Nigeria, the highly propulsive, cyclonic spiraling trio propel that heritage into the 21st century; thanks in many ways to the futuristic cosmic electronic and bass frequency production of the band’s rising innovative keyboardist/producer Sofyann Ben Youssef.

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

Full review…


Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba ‘Miri’
(Outhere Records)







The courtly sound of the Mali Empire from the 13th century, accompanying the griot tradition of storytelling for an age, the (usually) dried-animal skin wrapped, canoe-shaped ngoni lute has been electrifyingly revitalized in recent years thanks in part to the virtuoso dexterity and energy of one of its leading practitioners, Malian legend, Bassekou Kouyate.

Following up the more electrified 2015 LP, Ba Power (which made our albums of the year feature), with a fifth album of innovative paeans, hymns, protestations and calls for peace, Bassekou takes a more reflective pause for thought on Miri; gazing out across his crisis-ridden homeland, contemplating on how the fragmented landscape and people can be brought back together for the common good. Backed as always by the family band that features his wife, the soulful and beautifully voiced ‘nightingale of the north’, Amy Secko, and his son, Madou Kouyate, on bass ngoni, but also now including his niece Kankou (making a special guest appearance on vocals), the Bamana entitled encapsulation of ‘dream’, or ‘contemplation’, Miri record touches base with Bassekou’s roots.

A visceral picture of a land in crisis, yet one that has hope for a united Mali, Miri is a sublime connective and rallying collection of compelling and thrilling performances and songs (Sacko especially on fine form delivering the most tender and rich vocals throughout); another essential album from the ngoni master. (DV)

Full review…


L…………

Labelle ‘Orchestre Univers’
(Infiné)







Jérémy Labelle is clearly a very talented musician, composer and producer. He casts his net of influence wide to draw upon many musical styles. His synthesis of modal harmonies and tribal rhythms is very reminiscent of the ‘Fourth World’ created by the venerable Jon Hassell. His latest album, Orchestre Univers, was performed by the Orchestre Regional of Réunion Island; conducted by Laurent Goossaert. The ten pieces from the album (three previously published and seven original works) were recorded live over four concerts that took place on the island.

I have read numerous interviews with Labelle who cites identity and anthropology as themes that have inspired him to write music. Orchestre Univers feels more like a celebration, a coming together of musicians and audiences to rejoice at the unique music that has emerged from the island of Réunion. The electronics and compositional complexities offered by Labelle are merely 21st century adaptations to what is an age-old sound. They should not be dismissed. His concept of “Maloya electronics” is truly global and will ensure that the next generation of Réunionese continue to declare, “Nous Maloya lé mondial!” (Andrew C. Kidd)

Full review…


Little Brother ‘May the Lord Watch’
(Foreign Exchange Music)





“Effortless and erudite, LB still have the remedy for when your last nerve has been worked over” – RnV Sep 19



The return of Gang Starr claimed a glut of headlines in 2019, but the reconvening of Little Brother’s Phonte and Big Pooh was no undercard announcement, their first album in nine years instantly restoring goodwill to flagging hip-hop naysayers. Supremely funky, soulful, still getting the maximum mileage out of a running joke-made-critical, cultural commentary, and with the likes of Khrysis, Nottz, Focus and Black Milk upholding 9th Wonder’s gold-fingered role on the boards, all is well with the world once this blooms from speakers. The ease of the pair’s back and forth is no less marvelous as we approach the twenties – masterful, as if they’re just hanging somewhere nondescript, and just ready to go and express themselves – there’s still a lot to be said for their all-seeing chemistry, keeping of the faith and words to the wise, even this deep in the game. May there be mercy upon your soul if you’re not already excited for 2028. (MO)


M…………..

Mazouni ‘Un Dandy En Exil/Algérie-France/1969-1983’
(Born Bad Records)







Our review copy must have been lost in the post or missed the inbox, but this compilation of hits and rarities from the exiled dandy of “Francarabe” (a unique blend of French and Arabic lyrics) Mohamed Mazouni was one of the year’s most enchanting discoveries. Swooning and crooning poignant touching and lamenting songs about exile, love and the travails of being a first-generation Algerian immigrant in France, Mazouni sashays, shakes, belly dances and saunters to the sounds of the Orient on the first ever compilation dedicated in his honour. (DV)


Meursault ‘Crow Hill’
(Common Grounds)







An ambitious literary-enriched album with a loose story and range of perspectives that will unfold further in comic book form and through live performance, Neil Scott Pennycook’s Crow Hill diorama delivers a whirlwind of dark emotions; many of which feel like a punch to the heart.

Announced as a new chapter for Pennycook’s alter ego Meursault, released as the launch album for the new independent Common Grounds label, Crow Hill marks a move into fiction for the Edinburgh artist. An “urban horror” of vignettes, each song on this album represents twelve chapters of plaintive and lamentable grief and broken promises from the imagined town’s inhabitants, set to a constantly beautifully aching soundtrack that either builds and builds towards anthemic crescendo or despairingly gallops towards the flames: in the case of the brutal punishing ‘Jennifer’, a discordant scream of anguish, on what could be a crime of domestic abuse.

An outstanding album full of both heartache and brilliance, this is a vivid, richly and descriptively revealing minor-opus; the first chapter or part of a much grander multimedia universe that crosses songwriting with veiled fiction, illustration and performance. As first stabs go, Pennycook has shown an encouraging erudite skill for writing, which translates well when put to music. (DV)

Full review…


Mr Muthaf*ckin’ eXquire ‘Mr Muthaf*ckin’ eXquire’
(Soulspazm)





“Satisfying your ignorant itch and also reducing dancefloors to bloody smithereens, it’s a surprisingly, satisfyingly well-rounded album where the bite backs up the bark” – RnV May 19




In a sea of clones, drone and cookie cutters, eXquire remains the genuine, genuinely outrageous article, putting up without shutting up and attacking this album with bloodlust right from the off. Leaving clubs to check their insurance policies, Mr MFX is the valve that releases the pressure when people are getting in your way, saturating front rows before levelling out with kerbside rollers, showing that with shock value comes some degree of responsibility. Maybe the real cliché is when you come for the outrage (the outright base ‘I Love Hoes’) and end up staying for him having something to say (admittedly, it’s usually to a deafening, disorientating backdrop). ‘Rumblefish’ expertly get emotions tangled, and the prophetic novella ‘Nothing’s What It Seems’: Short Film’ grows artistically ahead of a closing monologue of self-discovery. Whatever his angle, he’s always on and leaves everything in the booth. (MO)


O……………

Occult Character ‘Chittering Noises’
(Small Bear Records)







Here we have the brand new Occult Character LP. Yes another one. This time an all acoustic guitar affair that once again proves my previous claim correct that Occult is the most important songwriter in the USA today: 13 songs in 15 minutes, strumming through short songs dealing with the subjects of abortion, having the shits, being nice to people, among many others all written and sang in Occults inimitable style.

What I love about Occult Character is the point on accuracy of his lyrics and his talent for finding the bizarreness of everyday living – especially him contemplating and commentating on life in a Trump led America – with a verve and shambolic dark humour all of his own. This album and the sister piece LP to this, The Cult Of Ignorance, released on Metal Postcard Records earlier in the year should be downloaded by all American Schools and stored away and in ten years time played to the students as part of their American History lessons. This is another must have album of 2019 and may come to be seen as one of the most important and influential and considered a cult classic in the years to come. (BBS)


Abdallah Ag Oumbadougou ‘Anou Malane’
(Sahel Sounds)







More a ‘choice album’ of 1995 of course, lifted and reset from the original cassette for the first time, this new reissue of the Tuareg legend and doyen of the desert guitar, Abdallah Ag Oumbadougou, is a worthy addition to any right-minded eclectic music lovers collection.

Addressing the troops as a front-runner in the armed Tuareg rebellion of the 1990s – another phase in the long-running campaign for the desert peoples of Northern Mali and bordering regions to set up an autonomous state of their own -, Oumbadougou’s reputation grew from humble, isolated beginnings; his protestations and balladry spread through a network of cassette tape dubbers.

In exile for his troubles, the desert blues minstrel traveled to Benin to record an official release with the West African producer Nel Oliver – known for his work on a number of seminal boogie and afro-funk records of the period. Oliver lends a sauntering boogie and discotheque production to the earthy soulful magic of Oumbadougou’s signature influence on one of the first ever records to capture the Tuareg guitar style. A seminal and essential bridge between styles, Anou Malane is one of the best records to come out of the troubles and period. Own it now! (DV)


P……………

Park Jiha ‘Philos’
(tak:til)







Following her universally applauded debut album, Communion, Park Jiha has chosen Philos – from Greek, plural: loving, fond of, tending to – as the title for her latest release on Glitterbeat‘s sub-label, tak:til.

It has been described as an “evocation of her love for time, space and sound”. This is certainly evidenced in the multi-instrumental and baleful opener, ‘Arrival’, which consists of simple, metronomic strums and reedy high notes that lace around each other in ominous prismaticism. The piri, a double-reed bamboo flute played by Park, features heavily in this piece, as it does later during the album’s title track.

The album departs from the instrumental during the track, ‘Easy’, which features the breezy and philosophical (or, rather, extrajudicial) spoken word of the Lebanese poet, Dima El Sayed. The upper notes intensify and push the vocals to a dizzying and distorting conclusion.

There is an eloquent passage in the album notes which describes Philos as “[looking] to the future whilst continuing to converse with a rich instrumental language from the past”. This admixture of traditional Korean and Western instrumentation, coupled with compositions that lean towards the ambient and neoclassical, transmute Park’s experiences of a world awash with changing tides, transitory weather and ever-expanding cities into something that is indefinably atemporal. (ACK)

Full review…


Per W/Pawlowski ‘Outsider/Insider’
(Jezus Factory/Starman Records)







Thirteen years after their first collaboration together, two stalwarts of the alternative Belgian music scene once more reunite to produce, what they call, their very own unique White Album curiosity. The intergenerational musical partnership of one-time dEUS guitar-slinger for hire Mauro Pawlowski and maverick legend Kloot Per W proves an experimental – if odd – success in mining both artist’s influences and providence; the results of which, transformed into a playful, often knowing and pastiche, misadventure, are performed with conviction. Behind the often-masked mayhem and classic rock poses lurk serious, sometimes cathartic wise observations.

With the deep sagacious and world-weary voice of Per W leading, Outsider/Insider merges the mixed fortunes of both artists; whether it’s the jangly Traveling Wilburys like power rock pastiche ‘KPW On 45’ and its commentary on the cultural overbearing of America (“American rock star live in my European food!”) or, the iron fire-escape tapping, industrial funk gyrating, seductive if awkward ‘Room!’, Per W adds just enough off-center lyricism and ambivalence to make even the most obvious-sounding straight-A tune take a turn into weirdville.

Off-white to The Beatles stark magnolia gloss, Outsider/Insider is hardly a classic – dysfunctional or otherwise –, but is an amusing, sometimes absurd, and well-crafted alternative art-rock record of some ambition and style. (DV)

Full review…


Pozi ‘PZ1’
(PRAH Recordings)







Jabbed finger punk with a cushioned impact of bowed melodic and even dashes of doomed romanticism, the London band Pozi produce a kind of disarming malcontent anger. Like the results of a merger between Stiff Records and Sub Pop, this nervy troupe prod and waltz to spiky punkish drums, brooding bass, and fractious and waning strings as they cast a resigned eye over the current political climate. If the Sleaford Mods had more grace and ideas, they could have sounded like this. Quite simply: bloody brilliant. (DV)


PART ONE


album of 2019 part one - monolith cocktail


Hip-Hop Revue
Matt Oliver




Singles/EPs

Rapture & Verse is King, a wise man may have said – onward! Undimmed by the fact that ‘A Lot of People Tell Me I Have a Fake Guitar’, Morriarchi goes inside his astral plane for a gentle handful of spellcaster instrumentals drifting in its own funkular helix (even if one happens to be called ‘Veggie Farts’). ‘The Wave’s Coming’ warns Bristol’s Wish Master, who might offer you salvation but isn’t afraid to let go either, parallel parked with Buggsy and Tac to the Simiah-produced track that tightropes between dreamy and booby trapped.




Imaginary Other and Chuuwee’s rebirth of slick on ‘THE (Hawaiian Button Up)’ shows a smooth mack game when all around are losing it in the woollens aisle. The balance of confidence/arrogance from LA’s IQ brings melody with a hidden jagged edge following ‘Everywhere I Go’, and the same goes for Tha Truth’s ‘Cool With It’, cutting the tension with a barely concealed blade (and a great hook), despite declaring being “cool like the breeze on a warm summer’s eve” like it’s an Andrex vox pop.

 

Albums

‘Dusty’ will leave you feeling at ease with the mathematics of the inimitable Homeboy Sandman, that slightly kooky persona that’s actually just pure skills unfazed by tempo, and turning fleeting thoughts into elaborate dissections. Just when you’re thinking he’s coming in from a softer side, he goes absolutely nuts on pots-n-pans slam ‘Yes Iyah’, before heading to the just lovely ‘Picture on the Wall’ and the pretty sleazy, yet entirely forgivable, ‘Pussy’. Long may the cult of the Sandman continue.




Out the blue, Brother Ali’s ‘Secrets & Escapes’ produced by Evidence is a helluva early Christmas present, the near enough spontaneity of the recording sessions making the respective skills on display even more sickeningly good. You know how they do – wise, open-eyed rhymes, evocative slash ready-to-scrap beats – plus guest spots from Pharoahe Monch and Talib Kweli, and ghoulish artwork open to a thousand interpretations. How’s that? Give their gifts this season.




All that glitters is ‘Green & Gold’ when Mr Key and Greenwood Sharps combine for something that, in other hands, would be dour or boorish (the delivery mixing label mates Verb T and Ed Scissor) in letting fading memories slip away. The pair prudently raise themselves and those in earshot from a slump, chronicling slow but sure shoots of recovery and understanding, knowing they still have to put the work in to do so (being woke ain’t the one either). The mere seven tracks become an engrossing evening’s listening.

Red alert under a full moon: ‘The Creature from Beneath the Mainstream’ is Genesis Elijah’s perfect Halloween soundtrack, good and angst-ridden as he stomps the warpath straight to your front door, switching between fire-breather and whispering death on the creeping, skittering back story. Rewind ‘Haunted Trap House’ three times and expect to catch your last breath. A strong starting XI makes Reklews’ second squad of ‘Rap Type Beats’, bassy head shots splashed with a fear traceable to emcees flinching at the quality of gauntlet thrown down in front of them. Perfect for bleak midwinter forecasts.

Whenever Big Toast starts limbering up you know it’s not gonna be a fair fight, and with Strange Neighbour matching him punch for punch, the Tuff Boyz twosome splash off the top rope on ‘Bat Night’. Wading in while Oliver Sudden takes scalps on the boards with funk thicker than the stodgiest of winter stews, this is all girth, no gimmicks. Snowflakes, this really isn’t for you, though the eight track running time is the only mercy shown.




His usual dice game generating wisdom from an inward path, now attending to extra grown man business, and trigger-nometry taking casualties, including an interesting rework of Siouxsie and The Banshees, Klashnekoff’s ‘Iona’ is a welcome return to the forefront. An album epitomising the need to sleep with one eye (and two ears) open, and a model example of navigating life’s shark-infested waters without scoffing at vulnerability.

Hell bent on stuffing you into a locker while balancing a ghetto blaster on its shoulder, Uncommon Nasa and Kount Fif’s ‘City as School’ is the New York underground incarnate; at pains to not fit into ‘traditional’ parameters but making so much sense in doing so, where the post-apocalyptic is unerringly, unnervingly near to modern day. Blockbuster burners laid end to end as outlaws of the corridors, “trust the process, avoid the nonsense” at all costs.

On the subject of local representation, 21 tracks and 50 emcees later and you should have a pretty good idea of the Motor City sound according to Apollo Brown. The sepia-toned soul of ‘Sincerely, Detroit’ is seamlessly able to shake itself down and roll with force to stay on course, and everyone involved – from staple spokesmen Elzhi, Illa J and Royce da 5’9”, to project investors Boog Brown, Nolan the Ninja and Bronze Nazareth – takes their time so the intimated free-for-all is avoided. Pull on your headphones, get snug and let the accomplished Michigan craft leave you misty-eared as Brown hits the peak of his powers.




Admittedly/inevitably there are a bounty of guests, skits, questions as to its timing and whether there’s really enough of its ever eloquent protagonist to go around, but Gang Starr’s ‘One of the Best Yet’ is a respectful honouring of the Guru legacy. Business as usual from DJ Premier’s infinite stash of kicks and snares, chops and swoops is the ultimate case of if it ain’t broke, and the 2019 reboot find its direction through introspection without overturning too many applecarts.

“A dive into the complex dynamics of the eternal paper chase, about capitalism, greed and excess” – so kind of unsurprising that the piece de resistance of Crimeapple’s ‘Viridi Panem’ cites ‘All About the Benjamins’ like a grim business studies 101. Another to approach the day of reckoning like it’s a Sunday morning stroll, zombie relentlessness enabled by Buck Dudley’s production, the apple of your ear only takes half hour to save the world.




Stalley’s ‘Reflection of Self: The Head Trip’ isn’t quite as meditative as it suggests, but as a mini-album lolls nicely thanks to Jansport J’s clement, lightly fuggy soul, and Stalley’s ease on the mic when sorting those needing putting in their place. “You can try and box me in, but I’m a find my way out” indicates his ease of finding solutions when others struggle with the instructions.

HIP-HOP REVUE
Words: Matt Oliver




Singles/EPs

Love Island audition failed once again, Rapture & Verse reverts to bringing you the tastiest hip-hop to tango your chops with. Redbeard’s ‘Misc’ EP packs a fistful of strong, down-to-earth rhymes, triumphing with joypad flex ‘Dead Pixels’, as the iron-chinned guardian to dreamlike assurance that veers into knocks sponsored by seven bells. Loose lips sink ships, but Sinking Ships bite back with the three-track conundrum ‘Foudroyant’, Leviathan and Rat Bastard pushing the everyday into the abstract along a high wire and striding comfortably through a no man’s land defined by one false move. Brollies up for when the ‘Tidal Wave’ of Cappo and Senz Beats breaks defences and provides blunt counsel that shouldn’t be slept on. A superlative remix package has Jazz T, Uncommon NASA, REDA and Lex Boogie all coping with catastrophe with individual adapt/survive tactics. J Lawson’s search for ‘Fools Gold’ over a mean Senz Beats brawler isn’t a bad look either.

Unlikely to put his ‘Reeboks’ on and have a little dance, Baileys Brown bites into a dub bludgeon laced with cosmic sparkles and Axel Holy, Stinking Slumrok and Datkid in tow. A steamroller acting like it ain’t nothing. ‘The Green House’ effect of Eric the Red and El Grobbo is straight goading music by the half dozen, going nose to nose with the crowd in an odd couple throwdown: thickset beats provide shadow when catching rhymes bouncing off the walls. The super ‘Final Form’ is Sampa the Great flattening opposition to the fattest of disco-funk fanfares: get up-stand up multiplied by can’t stop-won’t stop, generates something unstoppable.








Both scholarly and bathed in sunshine, Blu & Exile’s welcome ‘True & Livin’ EP wants to get everyone together, whether that be within cypher, backyard barbeque or think tank, packing more within three tracks than most manage across whole albums. Blu also makes an appearance on the drowsy ‘What Ifs?’, a drifter from Morriarchi and Confucius MC in Old Paradice mode, the subtle spike of discomfort funked up in cool loungewear by Swarvy on the remix. An ode to the ‘Night Shift’ from Murs looks back to set the record straight with some pertinent quotable, Kash’s blooming piano nodding in agreement, before a re-team with 9th Wonder parades a ‘Ga$ Station Gucci Belt’ as a heavyweight challenge staying light on its feet.



There’s no better demonstration of being in the zone than Homeboy Sandman travelling to the ‘West Coast’ and making light speed seem like a Sunday drive. Aesop Rock on the boards serves pure robot-chasing Def Juxism for the circuitous purpose of making complete sense. Ringing bells with boom bap to leave you hunchbacked, J57 and Blame One stoke the fire that causes Mark Ski’s ‘Voodoo’, answering the question that there is such a thing as joyous demolition lasting under two and half minutes. Finland’s Cut Beetlez and New York’s Good People to and fro for the fun ‘Cut People’ EP, an anything goes six tracker of rhymes wounding like a sarcastic slow clap, and a smorgasbord of boom bap rammed into by raw samples and the Beetlez’ trademark contempt for turntables.




Albums

Entwining the concepts of lo-fi and low life and guaranteed to get under your skin, Jack Danz’ germ peddling ‘TMIB’ gets stone cold/cold stoned as the walls start to drip and reality disintegrates. Mesmeric on his own terms, the voice of someone who’s seen too much but knows exactly what’s going on, manipulates the midnight hour into a seedy object of disdain, remaining heavy enough to give environmental health the finger.





Jazz instrumentalism to a tee from DJ Obsolete induces ‘The Mandela Effect II’, complemented by a crew of emcees to be reckoned with, hurrying up the queue to the booth until another head clocker from the German producer comes through. Nice and relaxed, but with that mean streak made easy, like the 90s used to do. The second volume of Rhettmatic’s ‘Loops, Chops, Beats & Vibes’ is precisely not just that. Early doors the instrumentals are certainly coming from inside the house, the Beat Junkie’s slasher-in-waiting boom bap headlining a bulk load of work for that neck. A premium rate number is DJ Drinks’ ‘Nightline’, switching between getting jazz to force the issue so a red mist starts to fall, and easing on back until ears get warm and blurry. Half an hour of beats that won’t leave you hanging.

The Revorg label compilation ‘Est 2013’ brings up to speed the rock-dwelling community with all of its biggest hitters. Big Toast, Gee Bag, Gatecrasherz, Jack Diggs, CNT, as well as Phoenix da Icefire and MysDiggi, all steam in on a 16-track expo of British firepower: melodious, speaker-tipping beats, and rhymes running ridiculing rings around the unenlightened. Essential.

A seen-it-all-before eye roll set to surprisingly pleasant music – a classic in brave-facing it when the contrary is obvious. Chris Orrick is ‘Out to Sea’, treading water to survive but never leaving you high and dry. A concise collection of Detroit straight talking and a specialist in which battles can and can’t be won, Orrick is able to cut himself some slack with entertaining odes to the munchies and online fraternising.





The serving suggestion for the new Pro album is ‘After Dinner Before Dawn’, and is an album you can’t fault for honesty, in terms of both professional and personal integrity. Someone who won’t stutter, will project his voice and speak clearly, easily slip into a West Coast groove out of East Coast bumps, and whose wisdom fully comes to the fore as the album moves along. Good value.

 Chaotic scenes abound when Injury Reserve’s self-titled album climbs off the bench, though you probably shouldn’t expect anything else from a crew who recorded their first mixtape in a dentist’s office. Tails are up when Rico Nasty, Cakes da Killa and Freddie Gibbs join the trio in creating aggro, when generally they’re not looking to cause trouble or bother nobody. An abrasive leftfield pile-on that levels out, just short of delivering a hotchpotch. Talking of chaotic, Beast Coast are hardly subtle in their ‘Escape from New York’, the massed ranks including Joey Bada$$, Flatbush Zombies, The Underachievers, Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution riding trap-for-all like a wave machine before creating perplexing sensations when smoothing it out. Strength in numbers barges this one past the winning post.





HIP-HOP REVIEW: WORDS: MATT OLIVER




Singles/EPs

If you can look away from Kanye rediscovering his Twitter password, here’s the new Rapture & Verse to clog up your social media feeds with self-amusing jpegs, resent at royal wedding snubs, and wondering who’ll step up next after J Cole’s ‘KOD’ and Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’. The saga continues when Salar examines the ‘Demigod Complex’, whose who-wants-some rhymes come wrapped in dynasty strings measuring you for a horse’s head. S. Kalibre takes the weather personal on ‘Sun and Rain’, a quiet storm looking for a sliver of light in burdened times. Bluesy keys and dipping sunshine won’t hold back Fliptrix, asserting ‘It’s Like That’ with bladed precision synching syllables against the shimmer. “If the bars don’t get ‘em, then the flow will” – Legion of Goon lump you with extra credit, ‘AIOFO’ and ‘Flashing Lights’ keeping up their strain of witty unpredictable. ‘Lock Your Doors’ is a pretty flimsy means of resistance once Ramson Badbonez does his best Jack Torrance impression, and ‘Safe’ by Kalieon won’t provide shelter from a measured pounding of the streets battling uphill.

The sweg of sarky master Lee Scott continues unabated, ‘Oh, The Fun We’re All Having’ a seven tracker finding pleasing ways to rise up from his customary wit pricking dulled psychedelica. ‘When It Rains It Pours’, and when Lewis Parker reaches cucumber temperature, it’s normally a keys and breeze classic, smoothness to the Nth degree with Verbz on the mic a good fit for street forecasting. Three times for your mind, the P Brothers’ buccaneering ‘Mentaltainment’, with Daniel Son, Doo Wop, Your Old Droog and Milano picking up and brandishing the baton, does heavyweight jail breaking you’ll lose your shoes over. On 2018’s system update of ‘don’t touch that dial’, Homeboy Sandman and Edan attempt to break superhighway shackles and ‘#NeverUseTheInternetAgain’, a fun old skool caper with a hook from the rooftops capping exasperated moral guardianship/public health warning.








Interesting spoken word/rhyming at both ends of the candle from Lausse the Cat tells the tale of ‘The Girl, The Cat and The Tree’. A cosy jazz bedding of some splendour can show its claws, and the comfortably muted storytelling joins the dots between telltale realities of love and life, and what’s going on through the looking glass. The powerful, stark prose and spectacle in the spotlight of ‘Without Certainty’ has Ceiling Demons speaking up in a bid to bring a pertinent good cause to the fore: job done if it strikes a chord or doesn’t leave you sitting comfortably. “Emotional damage, you know I’m a vet” – at the junction of heartbreak ridge and breaking point, WLK’s ‘The Gry’ EP is a bid for survival knocking you sideways: industrially scalded, claustrophobic in surround sound, and lashing out when rationality evaporates. With a Guilty Simpson-esque roughness around the edges, MIKE’s ‘Black Soap’ EP is a steel wool wash of loops and freestyle static circling the drain, that gruff command structuring and keeping heads above water.




Albums

A whiny, shrill, eyeballs bulging flow researching Cage at the height of his neuroses with a dash of Chester P: that’s the mist of Eric the Red descending on ‘Caught Red Handed’. Eric’s mugshot is front and centre while Illinformed helps himself out back, in prime form with 14 shots to the dome and his own mutinous agenda. A swift in and out job, as much about partnering in crime as trying to stitch one another up, this is a thick cut of hella lairy British beef.





Spraying bars to bleach your grey cells and decreeing “I’d rather be real shallow than fake deep”, Lunar C has got the smarts to back the undoubted brat factor. ‘Dirtbrain’ rides mischief and sledgehammers found on grime stairwells (see the scales-breaking ‘Skwolla’), with WTF wordplay goading the rewind button. But canny operations that could well take him further, show his strength for the gift of gab beyond gobbing off. Ain’t no such things as halfway crooks, but there is The Mouse Outfit’s ‘Jagged Tooth Crook’, which is neo-soul, nailed. Manchester’s late night live band stick to the script and show the usual steady steps spiced by a rota of emcees and guests.

With assistance from Earl Sweatshirt and Knxwledge, Denmark Vessey’s ‘Sun Go Nova’ is a laborious half and half of rhymes most ears won’t be ready for, and a turnaround of instrumentals riffing off of needle fluff. “For lack of a better word, it’s alternative and leftfield” says the man himself, which is putting it mildly. An insurgent radio station needing the deftest of twiddles to lock onto, follows an audience address admirable for its single-mindedness, chipping away at your defences.

If the origins and whereabouts of Pan Amsterdam lead your search engine down a dead end, ‘The Pocket Watch’ shrugs ‘so what?’ if its skittish ghetto Jackanory leads you down a rabbit hole/Never-Netherlands. Easily distracted with thought pieces of no why and wherefore, the coolest town crier refuting time and space that you’d never imagine medicates to funk, jazz and electro paying low rent but giving glints of bygone razzle dazzle. Unfazed, unconstrained, and easily up for cult listen of the year.





Instrumental scaremongering from Dew8 offers a one-way ticket to a two-way street of the outer limits and no man’s land with lo-fi ghoulishness, ‘Pigeon Feed’ perfecting the classic of letting your ears fill in the gaps for what horrors will follow. Parallel altered state ambience and patent anxiety from Sam Zircon reserved ‘For Shipping and/or Storage’ is like trying to piece together the ghosts of dreams past, offering sub zero degrees of nostalgic comfort and a boom bap itch that you can never quite get to.

Solidify your summertime listening with Dumi RIGHT’s ‘Doing It The Right Way’, the Zimbabwe Legit emcee doing user-friendly consciousness with help from Mr Lif and Mike G of the Jungle Brothers; a good one to throw on once debate breaks out over beers and barbeque. Follow suit with Offwhyte’s ‘Both Sides of the Mississippi’, packing contemplative punch from that fairly gentle, ever fluent flow of his, where rhymes manifest over perfectly matched beats until he’s the last man standing. More fire from The Doppelgangaz tells you to open wide and say ‘Aaaaggghh’. Tinted a little darker than their rockingly good ‘Dopp Hopp’, still crossing from East to West but like they’ve dimmed the high beams on the low-rider (‘Slay Bells’ demands are you listening), all praise remains due to The Cloak from one of the baddest assed pairs out there.





The love of lexicon is still the apple of Paul Barman’s eye. More than meets the ear in his answer-for-everything, stimulator kook role, ‘Echo Chamber’ carries on closing the gap between potent politics, funky lounge lizard off-the-tops and bizarre hypotheses, burrowing its way through the toughest of leather bound volumes to have you picking the bones out for weeks on end. A supporting cast of ?uestlove, Mark Ronson, Open Mike Eagle, Prince Paul, DOOM and Masta Ace means it’s not far from frickin’ awesome. Blu and Shafiq Husayn’s flaky ‘The Blueprint’ has funk to be found, but sounds like it’s constantly going in and out of tunnels while it breaks down gang divisions and geography by the most basic means possible.

Some proper old skool, four-track business out of Cali produces a re-up of The Nonce’s ‘1990’, the Project Blowed affiliates finding their feet with De La Soul-style rhymes, pointers towards Peanut Butter Wolf & Charizma and The Pharcyde, and interplay and concepts (little metaphor needed for the napkin-tucking ‘Chocolate Cake’) getting the most out of raw materials. Royce da 5’9” continues to go from strength to strength when unlocking the ‘Book of Ryan’, piled high with battles and confessionals, life lessons and fears to open eyes and ears. Given the LP’s length, ‘I’m not getting better, I’m just getting started” will make you think twice if you thought you knew everything about the man already.





With so much drama in the CNT it’s kinda hard being the LDZ. Funky DL does GTA, and Sam Krats has got the cream.













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