Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

Dominic Valvona Forward:

Christ what a depressing annus horribilis 2020 was. Putting aside the pandemic, this was another divisive turd of a year, with hyperbolic indignities and the childish naïve persecution of nearly everything and everyone outside the virtue-card carrying trends of “black square” signaling. Whilst many of my peers were casting the aspirations, collecting bracken for the ritual burnings of the faithless, and delivering the most hypercritical of grandstanding statements on diversity, we were continuing as ever as the outsiders to carry on with a normal service of sharing the most eclectic music from artists across the globe. So many of the most voluminous in this regard are the most guilty of not adhering to their own pontifications: I won’t list them here, but they know who they are; the sort of blog/site that hasn’t even featured a black artist, or not many, let alone bother to look outside their myopic viewfinder to Africa, Southeast Asia and beyond. 

We also lost many comrades and sisters this year, including the king of rock ‘n’ roll Little Richard, the late great Afrobeat rhythm provider Tony Allen, Bill Withers, Vera Lynn, Betty Wright, Phil May, Emit Rhodes, Andy Gill, Peter Green, Eddie Van Halen, Spencer Davis, Kenny Rogers, Florian Schneider, Genesis P-Orridge Manu Dibango, Andrew Weatherall, Ennio Morricone and even the poor old derided Des O’Conner. A right bastard of a year I think we can all agree on.

A challenging year, the effects of which will be felt for a long time to come, 2020 has nevertheless been a great year for new music (thank god).    

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. We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

Void of points systems and voting, the Monolith Cocktail team selection is pretty transparent: just favourites and albums we all feel you, our audience, should check out. Alongside my good self, Matt Oliver and Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea have made the selections this year.

Spread over three parts, the inaugural selection runs from 3 South And Banana to Extradition Order.

Numbers.

3 South And Banana ‘S/T’
(Some Other Planet)

Bouncing and lolloping onto the psychedelic pop and indie scene like a Francophone Shintaro Sakamoto, Aurélien Bernard brought us a most lightly touched but infectious kaleidoscope jangle of a self-titled debut album this year.

Swapping the drum stool and tenure with the sunny-disposition Vadoinmessico – leaving as the band transitioned into Cairobi – for a polymath solo career, the French born, Berlin-based, Bernard has an idiosyncratic musical style; weaving a cantaloupe gait and a lyrical mix of French and English vocals together in a colourful, often fun, way. Radiant, oceanic, translucent and even cosmic with a Gallic shrug of wistful fatalism, the 3 South & Banana cosmos of rooftop fauna wonderment is a swell place to be in these dark, uncertain times. (Dominic Valvona)

Review In Full

A..

A Journey Of Giraffes  ‘Armenia’
(Somewherecold Records)

Seeming to get better with every release, the unassuming maverick ambient and soundscape explorer behind this most picturesque of animalistic monikers, John Lane, has in recent years been highly prolific in churning out the most subtle but deeply effective under-the-radar soundtracks. To be fair it was a toss-up between this, the atavistic Caucasus transverse Armenia, and his “archipelago of the mind” Sunshine Pilgrim Map peregrination: both great albums of ambient and experimental discovery.

Though he couldn’t have foreseen how prescient this part of the world would become in 2020, with an ongoing uneasy truce between modern Armenia and their Azerbaijan neighbours after a recent fight of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Lane has managed to catch this mysterious land with a 44-track oeuvre of psychogeography, myths, ancient readings and poetry forms. From the air-y and sublime to the more ominous, primal and fraught, minimal evocations sit alongside more churned oblique scrapped moody horrors. Voices from the old religions swirl and echo amongst the hewn stone monuments to Armenia’s ghosts on an outstanding mesmerizing soundtrack of differing stirring soundscapes, traverses, contemplations and ruminations. (DV)

Review In Full

Idris Ackamoor And The Pyramids ‘Shaman!’
(Strut Records)

Serving a worthy musical apprenticeship from and imbued by the masters Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Cecil Taylor, the polymath musician, activist, director of The Pyramids ensemble and torchbearer of spiritual and Afrofuturist jazz, Idris Ackamoor once more makes holy communion with the cradle of civilization on the Egyptology cosmology of conscious political statements, Shaman! Imploring a unified message, a connectivity, a reminder that we can all trace our ancestry back to the same place, Ackamoor follows up on We All Be Africans and the epic sweeping album of Afro-jazz 2-Step “Warrior Dances” and plaintive primal jazz catharsis An Angel Fell, with another masterpiece of the form.

From the burnished Sunbear developing bloodied opus of the Pharaoh Sanders, Brother Ah, Jazz Epistles and Sarah Webster Fabio merging breakout title track to the Afrobeat gospel bolero of ‘Eternity’, an enlightening magical travail of the state of the union is sumptuously paired with the wisdom of the ancients. Narrated and sung howls of anguish are soundtracked and serenaded by a jazz-led voyage of gospel, soul, funk and magic. What an album: an odyssey through the divisive debris of modern America.  (DV)

Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela ‘Rejoice’
(World Circuit Records)

Becoming a final bow in the end for both participates in this perfect synergy of Afrojazz, the now late Afrobeat doyen, drummer extraordinaire Tony Allen and his foil trumpet virtuoso, bandleader, activist and South African national treasure, the even later Hugh Masekela, finally got an airing of their 2010 recordings together this year.

With renewed resolution, Allen and producer Nick Gold, with the blessing and participation of Hugh’s estate, unearthed the original tapes and finished recording the album last year at the same London studio where the original sessions had taken place. Allen and Masekela are accompanied on the record by a new generation of well-respected jazz musicians who help lay down a loose Francophone swinging jazz backing to savior: every bit as effortlessly cool, bouncing and smoky as you’d expect. There’s even a nod to Allen’s old bandleader and Afrobeat progenitor Fela Kuti on this smooth bustling, Blue Note in Africa, laidback work of genius.

This album is the sound of two artists in their element, a performance never to be repeated, and sadly one of the final recordings of Allen now. But as the title says: Rejoice!  (DV)

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Axel Holy ‘WonderWorld’
(Split Prophets)

Given the way Axel Holy’s mind works you just know WonderWorld is gonna turn the distorted, freaky reflections found in the hall of mirrors into reality. This ain’t no Scooby Doo haunted theme park caper: the otherwise Baileys Brown slaloms through the queues of demonic smiles for every ride that’s a trap house of horrors. Knowing he can’t leave anything to chance as to what’s real and what’s a genetically modified mirage, yet well aware that fakes and foes never go into hiding, Holy cocks back and breaks the illusion with all of his sawn-off might, possibly under the influence to heighten the experience. ‘Statement’ induces screams as it goes faster, ‘Let It Go’ does a classic switcheroo of upping the anxiety by withdrawing just a touch, and ‘On The Gram’ craftily dispels social media culture, complete with a chorus simply made for a lip synced reel, though like Brown’s ‘Still Fresh’ from last year, there’s definite loosening up towards the album’s end. Grimy, geared to leave your ears ringing and with fellow misfits Jack Danz and Datkid involved, WonderWorld, as a wise scribe once said, will leave you “Delirious like Eddie Murphy”.  (Matt Oliver)

B…

BaBa ZuLa ‘Hayvan Gibi’
(Night Dreamers)

Capturing one of the best performances from the rebellious stalwarts of Anatolian cosmic dub and psych, BaBa ZuLa, the Night Dreamers label’s “direct-to-disc” series proved a congruous creative hothouse for the Istanbul legends.

Fusing the folkloric with solar flares of Krautrock, souk reggae, 60s and 70s Turkish psych and cosmic-blues the rambunctious group come on like a Sublime Porte vision of Can’s Ege Bamyasi and Soundtracks albums, only replacing much of the Teutonic legends setup with more traditional instruments like the “oud” and “saz”: albeit electrified and fuzzed up to the gills.

Recorded before lockdown in the pre-pandemic nightmare, Hayvan Gibi (which means ‘to act with the natural grace of an animal’) includes six almost untethered, unleashed vivid performances from the mavericks. It’s an album that seeks to fulfil the “live” feel and energy that some fans have commented has been lacking on previous studio albums.

A let loose BaBa ZuLa is a most incredible experience; a scuzzed, scuffed, trinket shimmery, rippling and blazing rhythmic energy and dynamism both intense and yet also a mirage of reggae and dub imbued Anatolia mountain gazing. It’s also a reminder of what we’ve been missing in these dragging pandemic restrictive times. (DV)

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Bab L’ Bluz ‘Nayda!’
(Real World Records)

The changing (and welcoming it is too) face of Moroccan music, Bab L’ Bluz offers a voice to those previously left marginalized and left out with an electrified and rebellious vision of the country’s Islamic Gnawa dance, music and poetry exaltations; the ululation trills and storytelling of the Mauritania “Griot” tradition; and the popular folk music of Chabbi.

Led by the “guembri” player and leading siren, Yousra Mansou, who has caused quite a reaction for taking up an instrument traditionally the preserve of men in Morocco, they blend Arabian-Africa with a contemporary view of political upheaval and drama in a post Arab-Spring landscape. Reclaiming the heritage but looking forward, the group injects the godly music and romance of Arabian-Africa with a new energy and dynamism. A 21st century blues excursion of dreamy and political vigor.  (DV)

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Batsauce ‘Helter Skelter’
(Full Plate)

Inevitably beatmakers got busy when it came to making a song and dance out of the pandemic, with Batsauce, the Berlin-based producer and underground stalwart with the all-too-perfect moniker, delivering boom bap bad news from his ‘quarantine beat suite’, Helter Skelter a notable entry in creating a 2020-style instrumental biopic out of a mass of disaster movie samples. From the get-go the assembled cast are under no illusions that a worldwide disease is real and happening – no such silver screen/real world naivety here – starting off slow and tentatively before the fever begins to take hold. Mixing up pensive jazz, soul and psych with drums scooped from the doldrums, twitchy, string-lead horror themes worthy of the album’s title compete with bold flourishes that switch between signifying cometh the hour, cometh the man, and said leading role going in head first without the guarantee of making it back. Crucially the dialogue is strategically placed, never overloaded, so as to let the music really run the narrative of what becomes a titanic struggle, and where tellingly the conclusion throws up some worst case scenarios without completely delivering the Hollywood happy-ever-after. Here’s hoping that Batsauce doesn’t have to have a sequel up his sleeve.  (Matt Oliver)

Big Toast & 184 ‘Who Shit In The Sandpit?’
(Revorg)

Not that he needed the trivial matter of 2020 being a complete debacle to fuel his next fed up invective, but Big Toast’s patience reaches dangerously thin levels on this charming titled, eye/nose-gougingly sleeved ode to the money men, privileged elite, ignorant, in-the-flesh stereotypes, Gazza and general ringmasters to the UK circus. Splattered with damning evidence that’s as clear as day but still needs repeating, some might say it’s easy to home on in the obvious targets responsible for the myriad fiascos in these uncertain times. But Toast, eyes rolling to the heavens until his sockets start to fracture, and whose unhurried words mimicking the puppet mastery of those at the lectern, linger like…well, a bad smell, is not the sort of protestor satisfied with just chucking eggs and milkshakes at those who won’t be told. The title track’s lighters-up, all-in-together chorus confirms his man of the people status, and closing track ‘Us/Them’ is a high quality fade to grey conclusion. All to the tune of 184’s claustrophobic, nostalgia-erasing boom bap, equidistant to the edge of doom and foggily attempting a scramble to safety. The fact you can’t help but laugh at such a desperate state of play is an oh-so-British reaction as well.  (MO)

Black Josh ‘Mannyfornia’
(Blah)

Bumping beats whiplashed through the windscreen and straight to the point rhymes that are one false look from Falling Down, Black Josh as Manchester’s mayor of Mannyfornia – the “Sweg Lord – you don’t want him living next door” – creates civilisation that avoids the big city of dreams prefix and instantly nails the ain’t-always-what-it-seems kicker instead. Lockdown restrictions get laughed out of town as well, with Metrodome on the electoral boards deconstructing and hotwiring speakers. The likes of ‘Demon’ sees sinkholes open up and swallow all before it, treated by Josh as minor inconvenience – “I’m only living cos I have to” – and the title track is an aggravated state of emergency to endear your neighbours to, like Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Old Skool’ gone rogue “on a highway to Hell, but I’m undertaking”. Wired on substance intake and the need to hit as many killshots as possible, only half-quelled on ‘Smoke’ and ‘Endz’ as the album’s back end begins to conserve energy, Mannyfornia is restless, anti-social and doesn’t play fair, but Josh is not one to change his game just cos circumstances are different.  (MO)

Black Taffy  ‘Opal Wand’
(Leaving Records)

When filing under hip-hop Opal Wand is the cheat code of this list, particularly when the scope of what is ostensibly an instrumental trap album immediately appears limited. Fear not though – in the hands of Black Taffy aka Dallas alchemist Donovan Jones, Opal Wand perfects the classic axis of massive (and massively rigid) bottom ends, and riffs atop darting like fireflies, unfolding the arms of the screwfaces and feeding them optimism sourced from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Subtle vinyl crackle scoring similar Disney-style sources, and sorrowful Eastern Bloc ballets tiptoeing across dark but exotic landscapes, help bring about another educated one-two – that of the album being based on a booming system when the cascades of strings command you to light incense and candles. Jones continues to shift the pre-conceived by blinding you with the fantastical until disquiet begins to percolate in the distance from ‘A Foxes Wedding’. Synth-shone secrets and doubts begin to reveal themselves on the spirit-raising ‘Palms Up’, and when fear of the unknown takes hold, then the basses, still giving nothing away other than fluttering their eyelashes at low-riders, come into their own. With plenty to interpret, let its curiosity consume you on a cold winter’s eve.  (MO)

Bloom De Wilde ‘The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe’
(Self-Release)

If only life could be as wonderfully magical as this album. Bloom De Wilde has an aura about her that emits a certain belief in the beauty of life, with her songs of nature and love she gives one hope in these times of backbiting misery and disease that music and love can be the answer.

Maybe we all need to return to the spiritual freedom of 1967 and not be wrapped up in the junk and social media that clouds up our minds and hearts, for this album casts a mighty spell that is bewitchingly hypnotic, that slowly seeps through the layers of self doubt mistrust and ego and has you smiling again, has you laughing, has you counting your blessings and looking forward to living your life and making the most of it as you only have one life so why not make the most of it. The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe is one of those rare albums that is made with pure love and should be treated with pure love: a shimmering delight.  (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea)

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Brian Bordello ‘The King Of No-Fi’
(Metal Postcard Records)

Oh the irony as Brian Bordello himself picked this one for his choice selection of albums from the year: got to hand it to him, the front of the bloke! But then why not, as it seems nearly all blogs and such are now nothing more than promotional platforms for the advancement of their own writers and clique fan club. For those who aren’t aware, Brian has been contributing to the MC for the last couple of years, so this does seem strange: pop will eat itself and all that. Here though is why you should buy it:

The self-anointed king of no-fi returns with another songbook of quasi-demoed wistful despondency and self-deprecation; a stripped-back one-track display of rough charms that cuts to the heart of the cult St. Helens malcontent’s sardonic, but also extremely vulnerable, annoyances about modern life.

Channeling various maverick troubadours, post-punk poets (Dan Treacy springs to mind) and a Brylcreem of rock ’n’ roll idols (ironically enough the release of this album intentionally fell on the anniversary of the true king, Elvis’ death), Brian postulates on a lack of energy and rage in music, the death of the mutherfucker personalities, a bevy of “scarlet” women and lost innocence. Brian can be a romantic sod at times, even sentimental; writing some real tender poetic lines amongst the scorn and despair, with even a hint of Bacharach on ‘Banana Splits’ (yeah, imagine that!). Various stolen kisses, evocations of less complicated, less divisive magical times permeate the album despite the constant references to the death of this and that and the lamentable resignations and threats to give it all up. Sometimes Brian just tersely pays homage to his icons, such as Lou Reed and Billy Fury.  (BBS/DV)

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Apollo Brown & Che’ Noir  ‘As God Intended’
(Mello Music Group)

The embodiment of up-from-the-bootstraps verve and an advocate of what doesn’t kill making you stronger, Buffalo’s Che’ Noir won’t let anyone or anything get in her way right from the very first bar. Despite the dual billing on As God Intended, this is very much her headline act: Apollo Brown retreats into the role of unspoken mentor, nodding his approval from afar without needing too much to prompt sometimes cold-blooded, always measured actions, just rolling out his usual metronome of warm but wary, street-raised, Detroit soul bumps that have seen it all and done it all before. ‘12 Hours’ is an absolute classic storyteller (no spoilers here), and from finding true financial value (‘Money Orientated’, offset by the pull of ‘Worth Gold’) to how to stand up (‘The Apple’, ‘Freedom’ and its theorem of “what’s worse than being physically dead is mentally dying”) and respecting the architects (‘94’), the ice queen bravado is open to just a hint of vulnerability, so that Noir teeters (‘Daddy’s Girl’ and ‘Winter’ contrast relationship obstacles) but never loses her balance. True grit from a fighter expressing her worth as “just a chick from the ‘hood doing Adele numbers”.  (MO)

C….

Lucia Cadotsch ‘Speak Low II’
(We Jazz)

Tripping a light fantastic across a curious and congruous selection of covers and standards, two of We Jazz’s (sort of) house band members, Otis Sandsjo (of Y-OTIS reconstructive hip-hop jazz fame) and Peter Eldh (of the masterful Koma Saxo), once more join forces with the amorphous voiced Lucia Cadotsch to re-shape the unfamiliar familiar under the umbrella of the Berlin-based Swiss singer’s Speak Low Trio. Equally as untethered on a serialism pathway of musical freedom, this broadened set-up that includes both the prestigious ECM label solo pianist Kit Downes and cellist Lucy Railton, meanders, drifts, floats and hovers over a flowing oeuvre of German stage numbers, ancient folk laments, avant-garde troubadour maladies and jazz balladry across a second volume of such loose interpretations.

Songs from artists as diverse as Eno, Duke Ellington, Brecht and Randy Newman are pulled into this beautifully adventurous cosmos. A mirage of bowed, haunted and rasping rhythms and spiraling tonal work Speak Low II is an unburdened songbook of amorphous jazzy reinterpretations that dares to play with the original source material, whilst showcasing the effortlessly gossamer and stretching lush range of Lucia’s magical voice.  (DV)

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Cambatta ‘LSD: Lunar Solar Duality’
(Mello Music Group)

A dose of ‘LSD’ is perhaps a slight departure for Mello Music Group, who once again have had a calendar year the envy of the hip-hop underground. While Cambatta’s label debut unlocks the power of hallucinogens, the super scientific raised from the sewer breaks down the DNA of life, the universe and everything (the maths behind ‘Nxggxrla Txsla’ and ‘Grand Number TheoRam’ will blow your headphones). His persona is a complex, carnivorously blunt mix of Nostradamus, Mr MFN eXquire and prime era Canibus, street apothecary, religious myth buster and otherworldly being, etched with a grim determination to convince everyone of his gospels, particularly as his backdrop is several hell-like leagues beneath the surface at odds with the radiant sleeve (“only in the midst of chaos am I comfortable”). Entertaining in their encyclopaedic intensity, ‘Fall of Feinix’ is a slow-burning cauldron of drug rage (“my spirit animal is a cold turkey”), and ‘33’ is an exceptional, messianic (and very simply formatted) autobiography, but two ear-openers on an album realigning the sun, moon and stars in a bid you flip your belief system.  (MO)

Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers ‘Vodou Alé’
(Bongo Joe Records)

Like so many others before them, allured to the voodoo hypnotism of the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti, Belgian production duo The Ångströmers spent a residency immersing and absorbing the local fusion of ‘mizik rasin’, and working with the Gonaïves-borne collective of Chouk Bwa. The results of which prove congruous and electrifying; a synthesis of Soukri voodoo polyrhythms and bassier dub electronica that proves so attuned to both sensibilities and in-sync as to be difficult to separate the natural ritual from the augmented and synthesized.

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

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COOPS ‘Crimes Against Creation’
(High Focus)

High Focus were found doing High Focus things throughout 2020, making it a tight call on whether to include Light Work by the Duracell-powered creativity of Fliptrix, Onoe Caponoe’s breakneck night terror Invisible War, or The Four Owls’ victorious Nocturnal Instinct (full length review here). Edging past the post is the concise Coops at a skinny eight tracks and twenty five minutes long, that slightly jaded twang between Wretch 32 and Ocean Wisdom both nonchalant and spiteful at once, making him engagingly hard to read between peacekeeping and reacting – at his most relaxed you can still tell that Coops is itching to right wrongs. Holding the streets down under a nice and jazzy shade is producer Talos, who in parallel can turn up the pressure with no discernible tell, hitting the Queensbridge block as Coops knuckles up on the seething ‘Piss Poor’, with a chorus that outdoes any get rich quick-schemers. Picking off opponents with scything simplicity – when annoyed by everyone, Coops calls out all and sundry as per ‘Factory Reared’ passing through a farm for would-be emcees – Crimes is a classy album that won’t wilt in the heat of the moment.  (MO)

Julian Cope ‘Self Civil War’
(Head Heritage)

Julian Cope is one of the last living motherfuckers in rock ‘n’ roll. He is the spirit personified. He has the adventure talent and intelligence to realise that music is not just something to hum along to on the radio whilst doing the dishes. He knows that being in a band is not a past time but a crusade; it is a life affirming art force that fires the mind, belly’s and loins of old and young alike, and Self Civil War is his latest quest, his latest crusade.

A man now in his sixties would be expected maybe to put his feet up and look back on the past outpourings of a fine, much underrated back catalogue. But no, Julian goes and makes his best album since Jehovah Kill.

Self Civil War is an album that combines all his musical loves beautifully: Krautrock, Psych, Prog, folk and of course pure undiluted pop. This is an album of pure invention, inspiration and adventure. This is the sound of a whirling dervish sticking his fingers up at the industry, a man who does not have to think outside the box, as he has no box, and hopefully never will have. He is a true one-off and this album is the sound of a true one-off on top of his game.  (BBS)

Corticem ‘Planetarium’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company)

Less Holst The Planets magnum opus, more lo fi Krautrock purview of a sinister, mysterious cosmology, beamed from a subterranean bunker in Krakow, Corticem’s Plantetarium dials into the present pandemic dystopia whilst casting a soundtrack of awe at those heavenly bodies. I say from Krakow, and a bunker, but the trio have lost their previous studio/rehearsal space; the loss of which acting as an unfortunate stimulus for the mix of industrial, entrancing, cosmic and experimental exploration on this minor-opus of concentrated malcontent, despondency and rage. Formed by members of the “songs strange and not so-strange” Sawak in the Polish city, Corticem finds the trio of orbital sonic cosmonauts Bogdan Markiewicz, Antonello Perfetto and Greg Nieuwsma looking to escape towards the stars but anchored to the malaise and mounting horrors of terra firma: A world gripped in Covid distress. A liberal dark material contortion of Swans, the faUSt pairing of Jean-Hervé Peron and Zappi Diermeir, Mythos, the satellite refraction broadcasts of Gunther Wusthoff, The Cosmic Range, Itchy-O and Ash Ra Tempel, this caustic and often impending oeuvre offers as dystopian and alarming, alien and otherworldly soundtrack to the end times. What’s not to like. (DV)

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Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones ‘Kafou In Avalonia’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company)

Reimaging a time when Earth’s landmasses were being reshaped, the atavistic geological inspired futurist dub unit pose a cultural “what if?” with their fourth “set”, Kafou In Avalonia. Wishful dreaming Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones picture an alternative reality; one in which Avalonia still existed as a gateway between all Earth’s cultures and peoples. It acts as the crossroads that might have set out an entirely different course for civilization; a more integrated, less fractious one perhaps. In this setting Haitian, Brazilian, Angolan and Nigerian deities, spirits and rituals converge with an experimental soundtrack of post-punk dub, Kosmische and electronica. Invoking a lost world, a quasi-Atlantis, they merge voodoo ceremony and tribal incantation with sonorous throbbing basslines, barracking drums, heavy reverb and craning Manuel Gottsching like guitar. Ancestral ghosts meet synthesized futurism on this mystical transformed aural geography, as recordings of various rituals swirl in and around a cosmic soup. A supernatural and celestial, seeping and vaporous vortex of polygenesis sources are gathered together to create an imaginative cosmology hybrid. If The Future Sound Of London and Ash Ra Tempel recorded an album at Lee Scratch Perry’s black ark studio it might very well have sounded something like this. (DV

Crack Cloud ‘Pain Olympics’
(Meat Machines)

A rambunctious expanded collective of filmmakers, artists, designers, and of course musicians, drawn together through drug addiction, the Vancouver-based Crack Cloud channel recovery through much healthier pursuits; raiding the post-punk and no wave wardrobes to form an ever ambitious agit-art-group of malcontents. Rinsing out both the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene along the way, the seven-strong main cohort of this group effort work-in the Gang Of Four, Talking Heads, The Shivers, Officer!, Lydia Lunch, Andy Haas, Pixies and Devo to produce a surprisingly less hostile verdict on the state of the union in 2020.

Pain Olympics is an epic eclectic of torment, frustration and also soaring ethereal voiced scales. The opening diorama ‘Post Truth’ is like a fucked-up, squalid underpass musical on a MGM movie set that moves from a drizzle of industrial Fat White Family post-punk to twinkled These New Puritans dreamy dramatic choral sirens and a performance of electronic Stomp. But changing the makeup, as they do continuously on this album, they go for a creeping merger of La Haine Hip-Hop and Eno on ‘Favour Your Fortune’.  All the while the tensions and tawny angulations of PiL, Wire and Crispy Ambulance wane and conspire in the background. Crack Cloud have managed to convey the unease whilst dreaming big on an album I can’t recommend enough.  (DV)

The Cult Of Free Love ‘Visions’
(Northern Star Records)

What we have here is the first release from the born again influential underground label Northern Star; a label that released the four CD Psychedelica series of compilations that caught the mood and excitement of the bourgeoning new psychedelic scene of the time. This series of releases influenced many a new band and caught some now very well known and established bands early in their careers. So to kick off the rebirth of the mighty fine label we have the second album from The Cult Of Free Love, and to be honest if this album had been released on the Fruits Der Mer label it would have already sold out and been acclaimed as a modern psychedelic masterpiece. Yes, this album is that good.

Orb like trance and late 80’s acid house mingle with the lost summer of love of ‘67 to weave a spell of blissed out magic. There is no one highlight on Visions as the whole album is one long stream of melody and blissed out splendor. This album I cannot recommend enough to anyone with a love of modern psychedelia or somebody wanting to know what it was like to visit the legendary Hacienda in its pomp: An album to turn this winter of discontent into the third summer of love.  (BBS)

D…..

The Dandy’s Boutique ‘Delightful Weirdo’
(Self Release)

I know nothing of The Dandy’s Boutique, an artist I came across being played on the excellent Graham Duff radio show on Totally Radio; the track being the rather wonderful ‘Stay Away’, which has a bass riff and a half part “Girls and Boys”, part grab your handbag put it in the middle of the dancefloor and boogie: Is there anything quite as life affirming as a DIY disco ditty?!

Anyway, ‘Stay Away’ happens to kick off this rather lovely album; an album that combines synth-pop, dance and indie-pop to great effect, and is indeed greatly affecting, especially on the synth ballad ‘Don’t Let Go’. And goes on exploring the virtues of having humour, originality and talent; ‘Pitter Patter’ being a fine instrumental, reminding me what the Great Joe Meek may have done if left alone with a synth for an hour or so. What I like most about this album is the overwhelming atmosphere of melancholy even on the upbeat dance tracks like ‘Passing The Time’. There is a certain feel that I find quite refreshing. I think Dandy’s Boutique might not quite realize how good they actually are, as this is a fine album indeed and people should give it a listen. (BBS)

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Miles Davis ‘The Lost Septet’
(Sleepy Night Records)

Those lucky bastards, and I mean the Viennese crowd lucky enough to have experienced this whomping, sleazed, dark and beastly jazz-rock maelstrom from the late great Miles Davis and his Septet troupe, on the night of the 5th November 1971. Of course they didn’t bloody appreciate it, still hung up on old tooting-in-blue Davis, when the maestro had moved on into the well of mental destruction, hauling his crew across Europe in that pivotal year of bad juju. 

Capturing the grandee of eclectic jazz futurism and an ark of godly status albums (In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Live Evil and Jack Johnson), The Lost Septet (so-called because this magic collection of cats never recorded together in the studio, and so this exists as one of the only testaments to this grouping actually ever happening) simpers, thralls, gushes and boogies in that trumpet genius’s famous “rock phase”. The enviable lineup of Keith Jarrett, Gary Bartz, Michael Henderson, Ndugu Leon Chancler, Charles Don Alias and James Mtume Foreman prowl, skulk, whelp and burble through the riffed-on material, pushing jazz into hard psychedelic heavy rock. Davis’s pal-up with Hendrix was proving a serious influence, and you can hear that throughout this deeply challenging live opus.

From cathouse salacious slinking ‘Honky Tonk’ to a Shamanistic sledge ride through the Ghetto styling of ‘What I Say’, and the sumptuous laidback funk sucker ‘It’s About That Time’, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone sounding this fucking great and dangerously brooding in 2020. Hence why despite being fifty years old, it is still one of the best things you can hope to hear this whole year. Thank Christ it has been saved from bootleg rarity to a proper release in the year of pandemic.  (DV)

Dean & Britta ‘Quarantine Tapes’
(Double Feature Records)

Thank god for the diaphanous, hushed pairing of Luna band mates Britta Philips and Dean Wareham (also formerly of Galaxie 500 fame) to lift spirits and offer a hymnal communal in times of anxious uncertainty. The aptly named Quarantine Tapes is made up of cover versions recorded during the first wave of lockdown, some in the home studio, others taken direct from livestream performances.

It helps that the material is so damn good in the first place, yet the duo’s languid and hauntingly beautiful Lee Hazelwood trademark sound gives a certain translucent and touching quality to songs from acts as diverse as Kraftwerk, The Clash and the late (sadly passing away only this year in March) no wave disco icon Christine. Maybe as a gesture to another unfortunate loss this year (Florian Schneider) they perform a magical, advent version of the candescent Kraftwerk hymn ‘Neonlicht’ (or ‘Neon Lights’) that is just lovely. Elsewhere they give The Bee Gees plaintive ‘Massachusettes’ a touch of Laurel Canyon, and perform a languorous cover of Bardo Pond’s ethereal elegy opus ‘Ride Into The Sun’.

Capturing the current mood music well, the lockdown duo offers a most disarming and quite affair of the heart in mentally fatiguing and depressing times. (DV)  

Die Wilde Jagd ‘Haut’
(Bureau B)

Birthed into another chthonian landscape of incipient stirrings, Sebastian Lee Philipp’s third such ambitious experimental suite continues where the previous eerie 2018 LP, Uhrwald Orange, left off: Lurking, stalking and disappearing into a recondite mystery of esoteric electronica and Techno. Earthy then, with evocations of a wild, veiled terrain populated by the whispering bewitched, strange rituals and metaphysical forces, Haut is a brilliantly realized slow-burning expansive supernatural soundtrack imbued with elements of Krautrock, Kosmische, the psychedelic, avant-garde, industrial and atavistic.

Once more joined by co-producer foil Ralf Beck and live performance drummer Ran Levari, Die Wilde Jagd’s instigator songwriter/producer channels notions of memory, premonition and birth into a filmic quartet of drawn-out chapters.

It’s certainly an imaginative world that awaits the listener on this third grandiose experiment. One that takes a breather, holding back on the beats and kicks for a more expansive and creeping sound production; those anticipated reveals kept on a tight rein. A sign of real quality and patience, Haut marks both a continuation but slight change in the dynamics as Philipp and Beck further erode and stretch the perimeters of Techno and electronic music.  (DV)

The Dupont Circles ‘In Search of the Family Gredunza’
(Beautiful Music Records)

The combination of the majestic jangle of c86 and Beatle boots is and can be a thing of great beauty, especially when it is performed with the vigour and enthusiasm that the – near legendary in some circles – cult band The Dupont Circles gives it. A debut album that has taken 30 years to arrive and now brought to us by the beautiful in name and beautiful in nature and music Beautiful Music Records label.

The Dupont Circles love a good melody and a witty lyric and a 60s garage rock guitar riff: the track ‘Tick Tock’ wouldn’t sound out of a place on a Rubbles comp; a rather marvellous adventure of a track as is the psych tinged Joe Meek like following instrumental, ‘Sputnik’. My Personal favourite track on this album though is the wonderful Television Personalities like ‘53 Bicycles’ – there is also a cover of the TP’S ‘How I Learned To Love The Bomb’. This album is a joyful romp through the magical world of The Dupont Circles; a world where the guitar and Farisa organ is king and the national anthem alternates between “My Generation” and “I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives”. A rather marvellous land I want to move to immediately.  (BBS)

Bob Dylan ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’
(Columbia)

Greyhound bus philosopher, medicine show huckster and Boomer Bible troubadour wanderer, Dylan performs another one of his grand illusions in encompassing a whole generational epoch on his latest songbook. Perhaps among his best work in decades, the “Rough And Rowdy” sagacious chapter in a nigh sixty-year career manages to be both elegiac and playful in equal measures; cramming in every kind of reference point, from historical characters to pop culture and the travails of the Kennedys and their aspirations on the epic eulogy finale ‘Murder Most Foul’: A death knell bookend to the previous fifty years of a dominant America that marks perhaps the failures of a whole generation.

He’s Anne Frank, Indiana Jones and then some (names in lyrics that should elicit groans but somehow don’t sound glib and ridiculous) on an album that’s impact can be measured in swigs from a bottle of fine red wine. A humbled legend accompanied by the subtlest, thinnest of brushed drum shuffles, Hawaiian bowed and bluesy guitar, this is a relaxed Dylan, custodian of the faith, raunchy and statesman like yet juggling resignation with serenaded romance, reverence and death. ‘My Own Version Of You’ runs through a lyrical rasp of persecution, slavery and ideals turned murderous (From Troy to The Crusades to Marx), whilst the hymnal lulled and cooed soothing gospel ‘I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You’ sounds like a genuine token of faith and spiritual willingness. Dylan is almost handing down the baton to the sisterhood on the beautiful saving grace attempt at a spiritual anthem on ‘Mother Of Muses’. Yet Dylan strikes up some of that down ’n’ dirty earthy electrified blues, on the homage to the power of the tragic turned-on blues progenitor Jimmy Reed and his influence.

From Elm Street to the Aquarian Age, and across the Rubicon, Dylan seems as weary as he is unapologetic and nostalgic; dragging that (nearly) 80 year old timbre and soul through the mire to once more offer a grizzled but not yet finished Boomer commentary on our sorry arses. This is the record we deserved and needed, as Dylan proves to be a godsend. Yes it’s nostalgic, and there isn’t any pinning of virtues to any particular political angst, but Dylan isn’t going to make it easy for you. A great work of art that just keeps giving. (DV)

E……

Kahil El’Zabar ‘Spirit Groove Ft. David Murray’ & ‘America The Beautiful’
(Spiritmuse)

Continuing a creative partnership with the Spiritmuse label, Chicago jazz luminary Kahil El’Zabar has released two essential ambitious sweeping titles in 2020; working yet again with an ever changing lineup of fellow visionaries and rising virtuosos from his home city and beyond.  The first of which is the Spirit Groove album collaboration with David Murray, the second, America The Beautiful, sees the School of The Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians alumni and five decade jazz veteran piece together a suitable afflatus cry from the despair of modern America.

Spirit Groove, sees a reconnection, a spiritual bound between the Chicago jazz drumming and percussionist doyen El’ Zabar and his tenor sax and bass clarinet maestro foil Murray. Quenching the soul with that “spiritual groove”, they’ve laid down a both swinging and mesmeric alternative jazz service of mediation but also, and above all, they push for a positive change in the most inflamed and dangerous of times. El’ Zabar’s atavistic with a modern pulse soul and jazz experiments are coupled with Murray’s untethered long and short breath saxophone contortions on an album of new, specially written material and expansions of compositions from the back catalogue.

The second title sees him build a fully realized album around the aggrandized anthem, America The Beautiful. An extraordinary portrait of the current mood, El’ Zabar’s conscious divine spiritual jazz opus channels the contorted soul of Chicago’s rich musical heritage; spanning eras as old as ancient Africa, the be-bop, swing eras, leaping through the avant-garde and 80s dance music culture to create a soulful and always grooving purview of the American social-political divide in 2020: Election year. From Coltrane to Bernstein, primitive Chicago House to Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, this is an expansive dig into the soul, heart and health of a nation in divisive turmoil: A healing process in fact. 

Both albums offer a congruous communion of transformative, essential jazz, just when we needed it.  (DV)

Read In Full Here and Here

Extradition Order ‘American Prometheus’
(Blang/Gare du Nord/HLP19/I Blame/Jezus Factory)

Willed on by a whole quintet of labels, the first album in a good few years from the excitable and soulful no wave Warrington troupe Extradition Order is a poignant return to the American history books. Dedicated in part to founding member Nick Boardman who passed away in 2018 (his legacy permeates this album, whether as a guiding influence or through his bass hooks and singing), the Order’s vessel this time around is “the destroyer of worlds”, polyglot genius behind the fateful A-bomb Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Taking the album’s title from the Oppenheimer biography of the same name, American Prometheus is a guide to a visceral concept of the lamentable, profane and hysterical. Just as the band did with their both pining and erratic opus to the Kennedy dynasty (on the 2015 Kennedy LP), the extended cast of unfortunate and listless wives, lovers, set adrift family members, rivals and enablers are given a voice in the linear story of this incredible scientist; one who, as it turns out, had quite the checkered and controversial life story. With colliery soul requiems, prowling hints of Blurt, cheerleader Grease rah-rah and bursts of My Life Story, The Pop Group, Style Council and The Mekons, Extradition Order find parallels in 2020 by blowing open the myths and dramas behind the conflicted Oppenheimer: warts and all. American Prometheus is another mini triumph from a band that manages to bridge the fury and wrath of punk with the contorting squawks and funk of no wave and the brassy heralded romantic yearns of northern soul: good going guys. (DV)

Read In Full

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

Selected by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Gianluigi Marsibilio.





The decision making process: 

Being the exhaustive and eclectic set of features our (choice) albums of the year are, we know you probably don’t need to or want to dally about reading a long-winded prognosis of our judgement process. But here it is anyway.

Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavors to offer a more visceral and personal spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists, stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album is more deserving of their fatuous numbered spot than another.

With no hierarchical order, we’ve lined our album choices up alphabetically; split into two features – A (Idris Ackamoor) to M (The Moonwalks), andN (Thomas Nation) to (Thom Yorke) Z.

All of our favourite new and reissued albums and EPs from 2018 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to have made some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2018: even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up another year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar or got lost in the noise of more commercial better promoted releases.

All selections have been made by me (Dominic Valvona), Matt Oliver and Gianluigi Marisibilio.

A.

Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids ‘An Angel Fell’ (Strut Records) 

 

Serving a worthy musical apprenticeship from and imbued by the masters Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Cecil Taylor, the polymath musician, activist, director of The Pyramids ensemble and torchbearer of spiritual and Afrofuturist jazz, Idris Ackamoor once more makes holy communion with the cradle of civilisation on the lamentable An Angel Fell. Imploring a unified message, a connectivity, a reminder that we can all trace our ancestry back to the same place, Ackamoor follows up on ‘We All Be Africans’ with an epic sweeping album of Afro-jazz 2-Step ‘Warrior Dances’ and plaintive primal jazz catharsis.

Walking through the Valley of The Kings; sailing aboard Sun Ra’s Arkestra; conducting the empyrean; evoking Kuti’s Lagos Afrobeat jive; Ackamoor and his troupe traverse the mismia of a broken, corrupt world, delivering cries of anguish and auguers aplenty. Whether penning requiems to the gunned-down black victims of the US Justice system (‘Soliloquy For Michael Brown’), or in radiant prayer (‘Sunset’), they effortlessly and wondrously summon forth the leading lights of each musical genre they inhabit. Afrobeat, gospel, spiritual, funk, blues, future-past-present all come together in one of the year’s most important, enlightening and defining opuses.

(Dominic Valvona)

Ammar 808 ‘Maghreb United’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

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

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

Nothing short of visionary. Full review…

(DV)


Angels Die Hard ‘Sundowner’  (Jezus Factory Records)


 

Admittedly taking some time to grow on me, the Angels Die Hard combo’s Monsterism Island meets Les Baxter ethnographic phantasm of a remote Southeast Asian archipelago instrumental concept album, Sundowner, has finely unfurled its full magic: just in time to be included in the annual albums of the year features.

Imbued with a legacy of progressive, alt-rock, psych, exotica and post-punk influences plus Julian Cope’s Krautrock compendium, the Angels transduce and channel a cornucopia of styles once more as they soundscape the tropical island of Andaman. An environmental clarion call as much as a progressive rocking exotica, Sundowner is dedicated, at least partially, to the environmental tragedy of the plastic-strewn oceans.

Beachcombing a radioactive luminous landscape of musical opportunity, from bummer downers to mind-expanding space rock jams, these Angels expand their horizons (literally), on the band’s best album to date. Some ideas work better than others of course, but when they do get it right they produce some fantastic opuses of amorphous abandon. Full review…

(DV)


Any Other ‘Two, Geography’  (42 Records)


The story of Adele Nigro (Any Other) is made of beautiful songs originating from a desire to subvert a rather conservative musical culture, just like the Italian one.

2018 has given us many beautiful pieces, of the most varied atmospheres, but to find a compact and complete album in each of its parts, touch refuge in Two, Geography (42 Records).

The numerous collaborations that Any Other has collected, as a musician, in recent years, have been invaluable to develop, refine and embellish her poetics.

The sonorities of the album are very distinct, and at the same time loquaciously soaked by all the experiences brought on stage (or in the studio) during the year that is inexorably past.

With Two, Geography, however, there is more, Adele coming out with her head held high, they are not only beautiful pieces that stand out for their immediacy and vitality, but also the international character of the project.

Any Other’s work was immediately presented as something else, for depth and acuity, starting from that ‘Roger Roger, Commander’ or from the same singles who announced Two, Geography.

The simplicity in intertwining linear arpeggios, bright rhythmic lines and a voice, both delicate and particular, makes us immediately think of the disc in a different way, we immediately understand that such a sound must be appreciated with attention and in its various nuances.

Since the first bars of ‘Silently. Quietly. Going Away’ (the first work of Any Other) you could see her skill in shaping a song form as a real opportunity for musical and textual speculation.

The song ‘Capricorn No’ is a monument of modernity that comes on, not only for its immediate and deep style, but because it plays with the atmosphere that you can hardly expect from an Italian artist.

The work as a whole is a challenge, a part of  a musical resistance, a progressive push in the sea magnum of ideas that too often settle down, even in brilliant artists.

Any Other is the 2018, the beautiful and fundamental face to make us remember that, all in all, this year went well.

(Gianluigi Marsibilio)


B.

Anton Barbeau ‘Natural Causes’ (Beehive/Gare du Nord)


 

Ian Hunter via Robyn Hitchcock via Luke Haines via Julian Cope, wrapped inside an enigma, the Sacramento born, Berlin-based, Anton Barbeau changes his style of delivery repeatedly yet always maintains an idiosyncratic ingenuity in whatever he does. The results of an aborted project under the Applewax banner, made in the run up to the 2016 US elections, Natural Causes is the reflective, more open antithesis to what would have been a far darker and mournful proposition. Richly melodious and halcyon, this most brilliant new collection finds Barbeau both transforming some of the back catalogue (for the better) and penning new glorious sounding maverick pop songs: The quality of which are cerebral, memorable, melodic but also adventurous and inventive.

Barbeau and a congruous cast of guests lend a touching caress to a songbook of contemporary surreal lyrical musings and love songs. Unrushed, even breezy in places but hardly lacking intensity, there’s an air of nostalgia in homages to the radio stations and DJs that first sparked interest in the young Barbeau on the Hunter fronts Tom Petty band finale Down Around The Radio. And with a nod to one of the music cannons greatest ever records, The Beatles Sgt. Pepper kaleidoscope, a stab at a popsike hit (a missing link from one of Strange Days magazines 80s halcyon compilations) is made with a song that was originally written to be recorded at the venerated Fab Fours’ inner sanctum of Abbey Road, with the quirky Disambiguation.

Fans of Barbeau will be once again charmed by his unique songwriting abilities, and those still unfamiliar with the inimitable generation X artist of renown will find much to love about his psychedelic pop genius. Full review…

(DV) 


MC Paul Barman ‘Echo Chamber’  (Mello Music Group)

“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” RnV May 18

In many ways this is the consummate Paul Barman album, but it bears repeating straight off the bat, while trying super hard to not sound incredulous, that ‘Echo Chamber’ features production from ?uestlove, DOOM and Prince Paul (funky/sidekick status, from stoop to playground), with additional contributions from Mark Ronson (upping the ludicrousness with a tweak of The Ronettes’ ‘Sleigh Ride’), Masta Ace and Open Mike Eagle. That’s some serious string pulling from an explicitly cult concern only reinforcing his standards in lewdness and a smart Aleck riot act both downplaying and toadying a racing IQ (his relocation to Mello Music Group keeps him in his own lane as well). Ridiculous as ever with the dictionary and remaining a brilliant observer – see ‘Youngman Speaks on Race’, and ‘Commandments’ going one better by taking the Decalogue to Sesame Street and Biggie’s Bed-Stuy – Barman carries on making the longest of long shots with battle raps that’ll bamboozle and WTF one-liners that Jackanory or congress will sadly never benefit from. Bigger, better and geekier than ever.



Bixiga 70 ‘Quebra Cabeça’ (Glitterbeat Records)


 

Translating as the ‘puzzle’, Bixiga 70‘s latest album is a full 360-degree panoramic evocation (both joyful and lamentable) of their homeland’s African roots. Translating those roots, an ancestry that runs through many of the band members (some individuals descended from the Africa-Caribbean religion of ‘candomble’ for instance), Bixiga are also inspired on this journey by some of the highly talented artists they’ve shared various stages with over the years. Artists such as the Ghanaian highlife singer Pat Thomas, the Nigerian sublime traversing saxophonist legend Orlando Julius and Brazilian octogenarian star João Donato. Incorporating the lot they merge their brass-y signature carnival funk and shaking Afrobeat sass with cosmic voodoo, Afro-jazz and sloping funk.

The quality as always shines through on every track, with the visions and evocations of both Africa and Bixiga’s city home of Sao Paulo articulated by an energetic but also ruminating soundtrack of the tribal, funky, cosmic, tropical, gospel and ritual. The slave portal of Benin, further outlying deserts of the sub-Sahara and busy rhythmic bustles of Nigeria are channeled via the melting pot hubs of Brazil on the group’s most epic, ancestral and geographical straddling album. It only remains to see just how great it will sound live on stage. Full review…

(DV)



The Bordellos ‘Debt Sounds’ 

Brian Bordello ‘The Death Of Brian Bordello’  (Metal Postcard Records)


 

In a parallel universe the Jesus And Mary Chain never left East Kilbride; Julian Cope never formed the Teardrop Explodes; and Brian Wilson was in fact born in St. Helens in the late 1960s, and recorded all his opusus on a Tascam four-track, inspired by Mark E Smith. This alternative world is one the dysfunctional family circle The Bordellos inhabit. Probably the best lo fi rock’n’roll-meets-post-punk-meets-the-Spaceman 3 hapless band you’ve never heard of, the prolific group, headed by the patriarchal masthead Brian Bordello, have been luridly, sinisterly, laughably and pessimistically knocking-out their brand of disgruntled alternative yearnings for a decade or more with little attention from anyone other than us loyal fans – who probably need our heads examined in all honesty. You either get them or you don’t. And you could find some of their more confrontational dark humour (songs about the BBC killing John Peel, still loving the musical cannon of Gary Glitter, and on this album, Debt Sounds, some sinister predatory sexual allured shclock about Rolf Harris) too unsettling, even perverse.

Debts Sounds, in the manner of a Half Man Half Biscuit play-on-words, is The Bordellos low cost Pet Sounds. That may not be initially obvious. But stay with me on this one. Fashioned and realised by Brian from the band members and even affiliates, girlfriends and whatnots various outpourings and late night sessions into a most epic song book of unrequited love, sick love, obsessed love, compromised love, salacious love, and even some tender love – they excel themselves on the laid bare and touching ‘Spirograph’ and quasi-Beatles ‘My Life’ meets the hardened north romanticism of ‘I May Be Reborn’ (Take this for a line: “Every smoking chimney my Statue of Liberty”), Debt Sounds is full of great maverick performances and songwriting, made in a period of crisis, anxiety and manic depression. Ok…so more Don Van Vliet than Brian Wilson, but still a valid comparison.

Whereas will you hear odes, homages and eulogies to Jimmy Campbell and Faron’s Flamingos to a back track featuring vague indifferent shades of Thom Yorke, Cope, Velvet Underground, Red Crayola, Joy Division and the The Seeds? Nowhere that’s where. Brian Bordello’s Track-by-track breakdown…

Knocking out records on a whim, it seems inconceivable that the leader of the Bordellos has never actually released a solo effort until this year (and only a few weeks from the end of 2018). Paring down, enverated, Brian Bordello steps outside the family unit on his debut solo, The Death Of... Not expecting many flowers on that graveside elegy of a album title, Brian takes a sort of reflective pause and looks back on a litany of tropes that have come to encapsulate his resigned fatalism. With only a clipped, rough and unguarded acoustic guitar and his trusted Tascam for company, Brian pays tribute to rock’n’roll icons Eddie Cochran (again) and Mark E Smith (who Brain thinks should be canonised as a saint); wears his heart on his sleeve cooing songs about lingering memories of bunk-ups, unrequited wooing gone wrong and lost kitchen sink romances; and languishly but candidly weary sonnets on depression.

As lo fi as it can get, Brian’s most intimate, personal performances yet strip away all the caustic dissonance and fuzz to reveal his most brilliant songwriting. The Death Of is an often beautifully morose songbook that lays bare the talents of a true uncompromising outsider.

(DV)


Brace! Brace! ‘S/T’ (Howlin Banana)


 

Producing gorgeous hues of softened psychedelia, new wave, Britpop and slacker indie rock, this young but sophisticated band effortlessly melt the woozy and dreamy with more punchier dynamic urgency on their brilliant debut album.

Squirreled away in self-imposed seclusion, recording in the Jura Mountains, the isolation and concentration has proved more than fruitful. Offering a Sebastian Teller fronts Simian like twist on a cornucopia of North American and British influences, Brace! Brace! glorious debut features pastel shades of Blur, Gene, Dinosaur Jnr., Siouxsie And The Banshees (check the “I wrecked your childhood” refrain post-punk throb and phaser effect symmetry guitar of ‘Club Dorothée’ for proof) and the C86 generation. More contemporary wafts of Metronomy, Mew, Jacco Gardner, the Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Deerhunter (especially) permeate the band’s hazy filtered melodies and thoughtful prose too.

A near-perfect debut album, an introduction to one of the most exciting new fuzzy indie-pop bands of the moment. Full review…

(DV)



Apollo Brown & Joell Ortiz ‘Mona Lisa’ (Mello Music Group)



“Rugged but always smooth, reflective with a forked tongue…there’s a lot of comfort to be taken from the union of two opposing authority figures exercising supreme quality control” – RnV Nov 18

This duo’s mutual will to only work with the elite – Joell Ortiz as a member of Slaughterhouse, Apollo Brown extending his collaborative run after shared albums with Skyzoo, Ghostface Killah, Ras Kass, Planet Asia – is head start number one. Yes these are extremely experienced experts in their field who shouldn’t drop the ball, but 12 tracks, one emcee and one producer, two guests maximum, and everything absolutely finely tuned is still the best advantage to press home. A steadiness to both performances has BPMs instantly finding their sweet point so instrumental richness can build, settle, simmer and seduce, and vocals slip straight into the pocket housing an imperceptible line between recognition and vengeance. The introspection of ‘Mona Lisa’ pays respects with a feeling that it doesn’t pay to dwell, that while everything may be upbeat and secure – visuals of sauntering down a street and coloured in something like a high definition sepia – slippery slopes, with ‘Cocaine Fingertips’ the album’s most rotten apple and situations like the bittersweet resonance of ‘That Place’, are always around the corner. Another win for the seemingly indefatigable Mello Music Group as well.

(Matt Oliver)


C.

The Cold Spells  ‘S/T’  (Gare du Nord)


Esoterically gentle and wistful, The Cold Spells debut long player is a gauze-y organic and ambiguous (to a point) affair of undulating ‘moss covered’ circuitry, folk, quintessential English psych, paisley patterned hallucinogens and Kosmische.

Communing with the ether, connecting with the psychogeography of their chosen environment – from the soft Wiccan with forebode travail of Thomswood Hill to the alluded-to abandoned mental hospital waste ground near Hainault -, a host of spirits tune in and out of the continuous, though (as we’re told) not in a linear order, flowing suite of laudanum imbued Victoriana lyricism and Beatles-esque melody.

A surprise package, quietly unassuming, the trio’s encapsulation of an age of ghostly memories – the ancestors inhabit the band’s present to address the here and now concerns of a troubled, unstable world – is magical and gently lamentable; a perfect evocation of aicd folk and pastoral esotericism, as beautifully plaintive as it is ominous.  Full review…

(DV)



D.

Die Wilde Jagd ‘Uhrwald Orange’  (Bureau B)


 

Fashioning a mysterious ‘Clockwood Orange’ world of Gothic and ominous dreamscapes, inspired by and named, in part, after the studio it was produced in, and by both the 17th century menagerie paintings of the Flemish artist Frans Snyder and the collected devotional Medieval period songs of the Llibre Vermell De Montserrat artifact, Die Wilde Jagd’s Sebastian Lee Philipp takes us on an eerie, cosmic and slinking travail through a throbbing sophisticated earthy electronic soundtrack. His musical partner on the group’s adroit debut self-titled experiment, producer Ralf Beck, is excused from the follow-up but lends out his extensive racks of vintage analogue synthesizers to Philipp, who transforms and obscures their banks of sounds into ghostly permutations, shadowy creatures and lurking, dancing and honking sonorous cries from a murky wilderness.

Uhrwald Orange is a classy imagined score, balancing cool, gleaming and aloof German electronica with menacing, nocturnal earthiness, yet also reaching for the celestial. One minute imbued with hints of Bauhaus, Killing Joke, Eno, Cluster, and Faust, the next slinking on to the Tresor club or Basic Channel dancefloor. In short: a most impressive album. Full review…

(DV)


Dur-Dur Band ‘Dur Dur Of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 And Previously Unreleased Tracks’(Analog Africa)


A highlight in a catalogue of outstanding reissues from the Analog Africa label, intrepid crate digger Samy Ben Redjeb reprises the first two volumes of Somali fusion funk music from the legendary 1980s outfit, the Dur-Dur Band. Embodying a period in the decade when Mogadishu could boast of its cosmopolitan reputation – notably the European chic Via Roma stretch in the Hamar-Weyne district, a colonnade for café culture, cinema and of course music – the hybrid Dur-Dur Band moped up the polygenesis fever of their native city with effortless aplomb during their short heyday.

Saved from ‘tape-hiss’ and ‘wobbles’, remastered to sound the best they’ve ever sounded, these curious but above all loose-limbed nuggets successfully merged a myriad of Somalia traditions with a liberal smattering of disco, reggae (via the northern part of the country’s ‘Daantho’ rhythm style; an uncanny surrogate for Jamaica’s number one export), soul and funk. Mirroring a similar fusion thousands of miles away in New York, the Dur-Dur languidly produced an electrified no wave-new wave melting pot.

Split up across a triple LP and double CD formats the Dur-Dur Band’s first two albums proper, Volumes 1 and 2, and a couple of unreleased tunes feature on this, the first in a promised series of re-issues. Released originally in 1986, the first of these and the band’s debut album, Volume 1, has a rawer unpolished but snazzy sound that saunters, skips and grooves along with aloof coolness to sweltering laidback funk; opening with the wah-wah chops and a fuzzy organ stunner, ‘Ohiyee’ , which lays down a sophisticated but explosive spiritual dance floor thriller. Volume 2 by contrast seems a little brighter and tropical; beginning as it does with the dub echoed, Trenchtown pirate radio broadcast ‘Introduction’.

Going further than most to bring the sounds of Africa to a wider audience, the Dur-Dur Band release proved to be one of the label’s most difficult, as Redjeb tackled the geopolitical fall-out of a country devastated by civil war to bring us a most unique sounding and essential collection. Full review…

(DV)

E.



Elefant ‘Konark Und Bonark’  (9000 Records)


 

Emerging from the Belgium underground scene, with members from a myriad of bands, each one more obscure than the next, the Elefant in this room is a twisted agit-post-punk, boiler come forensic team suited troop of noise peddlers. Lurking around basement venues for a while now, the sludge metal and gallows Krautrock merchants have released a slurry of EPs but never a fully realized album until now.

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

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

(DV)


Bernard Estardy ‘Space Oddities: 1970-82’ (Born Bad)

‘Fragmented D’une Empreinte Magnétique: Rares 1966-2006’ (Gonzai Records)  


 

Because sometimes you just can’t decide, I’ve chucked in two reappraisal celebrating compilations of the odd, curious, thrilling and kitsch flights of fantasy musical fragments/sketches/soundtracks/compositions from the late and most gifted venerated French composer Bernard Estardy. I can’t even claim that these are great collections, let alone the best albums of the year, but they’ve kept me smiling all year.

Nicknamed ‘The Baron’, the founder of the CBE recording studio (which he set up in 1966) collaborated with a host of famous French icons in his time (arranging, producing or sound engineering for Johnny Hallyday, Francoise Hardy, Nino Ferrer, Michel Sardou and Jean Guidoni amongst others), but found an unleashed creative freedom as the master of consoles on his own excursions and dream flights of curiosity. Enjoying a resurrection of a sort in 2018, in part down to his daughter Julie Estardy‘s biography ‘The Giant’, Bernard’s eclectic back catalogue, from the realised to cutting room floor, is being reissued or rediscovered by a new generation through a number of different labels, both in France and internationally.

Two such compilations swept me up in their bombast; the first an album that couldn’t be described any better than the title it comes with, Space Oddities, and the second, Fragmented D’une Empreinte Magnétiquea Gauloises hotbed of weepy venerated organ romanticism and salacious sleek soundtracks. The first takes library music to the stars and beyond on a sassy opulent voyage of esoteric cosmic discovery. Jazz meets deep space on a drum-heavy collection of mysterious thrillers, phantasms and exotic awe. Tracks such as the more romantic, flute-y glide in space blues ‘Slow Very Slow’ sound like they could have made it to the ears of Goldfrapp or Greg Foat. The second of the pairing frequents more Earthy realms, pitching gospel with Bacharach yearnings, sentimental laments (the torn love soliloquy ‘It’s A Lovely Day To Die’ sums it up perfectly) and the strangest of deep-chested sung French cowboy soundtracks (A very Parisian journey to buy your ciggies, ‘La Route Au Tabac’, is rerouted through a lonesome pine trail).  Both are as brilliant as they are audacious; a refreshing escapism and proof of a unique talent.

(DV) 


Evidence ‘Weather or Not’ (Rhymesayers)



“From the moment he draws first breath on ‘Weather or Not’, Evidence embarks on a masterclass” – RnV Feb 18

A meteorological masterpiece showing that it’s rarely sunny in LA, whenever it rains it pours, and that Evidence is always bringing the weather with him. Ever laconic but whose economy of words is always wisely directed and word association seems slight but cuts deep, Ev walks the streets with collar up and hands dug into pockets, seemingly always in search of a contentment whose elusiveness he’s fine with. This prolongs a character pairing the enigmatic with a spokesman calling it straight down the line (“things I never thought about, trying to be elusive in the process, get forgot about”), a wallowing wanderer with whiplash in the tale and forever in control of his destiny (feel the tempered triumph of the concluding ‘By My Side Too’). A spread of AM band forecasts, a splash of psychedelic epiphanies and head nodders that buck like a bronco from Premier, Nottz and Babu, plus some Step Brothers espionage from Alchemist, allow the Dilated Peoples man to find you: because ‘Weather or Not’, you can’t run, you can’t hide.

(MO)


F.

Flora Fishbach ‘À Ta Merci’  (Blue Wrasse)


 

The French music press we’re told have fallen hook, line and synth for the alluring contralto voice of Flora Fishbach, who’s 80s revisionist pop twist on chanson oozes with such sophistication that its difficult not to embrace. Fishbach picked up the album révélation award at the Le Prix des Indés for best independent debut LP, winning high praise and plaudits galore ever since. Looking to make a similar impact across the Channel, the ‘bohemian darling’ has just released a deluxe edition of her electro pop requiem À Ta Merci. That decision is more or less echoed in the album’s title, which translates as, “at your mercy”.

Featuring the original running order and a bonus septet of gorgeous live recordings, this aloofly chic, yet theatrical, and especially when performing, animated album recasts Françoise Hardy as a disco pop and electro swooned crooner. Effortlessly channeling the vaporous dreamy pining of Kazu Makino on the moon dust sprinkled fantasy title-track and ambient textured, synthesizer bass bubbling yearned lament ‘Un beau langage’, and a Gallic Alison Goldfrapp on the opening ice-y cool malady ‘Ma voie lactée’, Fishbach adds a French nuance and sensibility to the synthesized pop ascetic: a signature you could say that despite the revivalist backing of electronic drum pads, post-punk sass, Moroder arpeggiator, Rococo harpsichord and hi-energy is unmistakably contemporary and French.

With the momentum already building in France and with the recent runaway success of music press darling Christine And The Queens (who I personally find utterly dull) I’m sure the UK will embrace this sophisticated chanteuse. This is overwhelmingly a better, more fun record than Christine’s (or the name she’s now adopted, Chris). Fishbach has certainly impressed me enough – what’s not impressive about referencing the philosophical aloof quandary that is Rimbaud’s “Je est un autre” (“I am another”) on a tropical slinking crystalline pop song, Un Autre Que Moi (“Another Me”) – to recommend her as one to watch in 2019. Full review…

(DV)


Fliptrix ‘Inexhale’ (High Focus)



“‘Inexhale’ masters the art of knocking you down with a feather: the pugilistic psychoanalysis is untouchable” – RnV Sept 18

It’s a little disingenuous to say Fliptrix became the High Focus main man this year, given he’s the driving force behind the label and already has a back catalogue of textbook pen and pad amplification. What with the label’s ever bubbling pool of talent seeing Ocean Wisdom blazing all and sundry, Jam Baxter expanding his cult appeal and two late night smokers from Coops, ‘Inexhale’ could’ve played the holding role and sat in the pack. But with breath control putting a copyright on the title and not a single word wasted, it’s an album that will leave you levitating. Be that from his street level strain of spirituality – letting the sharp end of something herbal work him over, or thoroughly aware of the rights and wrongs of his surroundings – or from the velocity of what’s spat (‘Inside the Ride’ doesn’t and won’t ever flop). Then flipping what the surroundings suggest, and never getting lost in the haze even with eyes at the reddest, Fliptrix finds the perfect medium between headphone moments and smacks to the head.

(MO)


Fofoulah ‘Daega Rek’  (Glitterbeat Records)  


 

Bustling onto the transglobal London and Bristol scenes in 2014 with their earthy and urban bombastic fusion of Wolof African culture and dub electronica rich debut LP, the Fofoulah ensemble laid down the template for the a unique adventurous sound. Though taking its time to materialize, four years on, the follow-up album hasn’t just moved on but supersonically zoomed into the experimental void; even an esoteric, spiritual one at times.

Daega Rek, ‘the truth’ when translated from the Wolof language of coastal West Africa, sees Fofoulah’s saxophonist, keyboardist and producer Tom Challenger transmogrify the original Gambian talking drum of the group’s shamanistic rapping lead Kaw Secka and the accompanying percussion and propulsive drumming rhythms of his band members. (All of which were laid down at the Real World studios). Secka would then reappear in post-production to record his half spoken/half-rapped protestations and observations; the results all re-shaped into a ricocheting lunar-tropical bounding dub cosmology.

Skipping and skittish in motion; pushing the envelope as they pay tribute to lost brothers (‘Kaddy’ pays 2-Step rhythmic eulogy to the late photographer Khadija Saye who died in the Grenfell Tower disaster), the visceral taste of home (‘Chebou Jaine’ dedicated to Secka’s cousin, who cooked the best national Gambian dish) and search for the truth, Fofoulah lunge into the electrified dub ether of sonic adventure. Full review…

(DV)


G.

Goatman ‘Rhythms’  (Rocket Recordings)


 

An amorphous exploration of world ‘rhythms’ as transduced by one the mysterious Scandinavian GOAT band members through a an arsenal of filters, modulators and oscillations, the debut Goatman suite blends its polygenesis inspirations perfectly.

Offering up magical and scintillating rhythms galore, from Kuti’s compound Afrobeat to a tremolo and laser bouncing variant of RAM’s Haiti vibe, you can expect to hear the venerable tones of gospel, jazz, reggae, psych and pure ethereal acoustic Kosmische on this sonic flight of fantasy. Earthy yet light enough to soar, this impressive experiment side-project channels its influences perfectly to conjure up new musical ideas. Echoes of GOAT are never far away of course, yet this imaginative take feels more natural, more organic, and above all, more soulful. A fantastic debut.

(DV)


H.

 

Jack Hayter ‘Abbey Wood’ (Gare du Nord)


 

Bringing light, or at least opening up a psycho-geographical narrative dedicated to the very edges of a largely ignored London postcode – so far out on the South Eastern outskirts as to be part of Kent –, an earnest Jack Hayter composes a yearning lament to Abbey Wood on what is his first solo album in fifteen years.

Hayter’s deftly played, with twangs of bucolic and Baroque folk, blues, synthesized atmospherics, Americana and reverent chamber music, multilayered songbook connects with the psychogeography of his chosen location. From songs about the Abbey Wood diaspora and its position as a gateway to the world to laying cooing elegiac wreaths to those unfortunate victims of the WWII Arandora Star passenger ship tragedy, Hayter produces a lived-in musical novel, rich with references, landmarks and peopled by those who left an indelible, if at times fleeting, mark upon this much forgotten or passed over postcode: their ghosts, no matter how small the part they played in its story, never inconsequential; remembered and written about with a certain gravitas by the erstwhile troubadour, who performs the most accomplished and brilliant of testaments.  Full review…

(DV)


Homeboy Sandman & Edan ‘Humble Pi’  (Stones Throw)



“A banquet of slaps that will become one of your five a day, and ultimately year” – RnV Oct 18

If seven or so tracks are good enough for Pusha T, Kanye etc, then they’re an ample fit for this elite underground swashbuckler of a showdown brought to us by the matchmaking Gods. Having flitted around the periphery for what seems forever, Edan returns with some of his best, ear-piercing archaeology to date as he shifts the B-boy-psych continuum once more; and Homeboy Sandman, both revelling in getting in the thick of it and firing off missives as he’s swept along for the ride, gets off the wall (“see me looking photogenic in the Book of Genesis, waving off medicines”), yet reels off some of the realest in recent times (it’s still, and shall remain, all about ‘Never Use the Internet Again’, which stylistically is actually a bit of a left-turn). The feeling pervades that the pair are proudly gladiatorial, indulging in friendly, unspoken competition as much as fighting the good fight as anointed hip-hop saviours. Let’s hope the sub 30-minute running time means the door is open for a second bout some time soon.

(MO)


J.

Juga-Naut & Sonnyjim ‘The Purple Door’ (Eat Good Records)



“Their usual, indomitable personas on the mic never skimp on Michelin-starred quality, and they still aren’t the ones to test if you think they’re pushing their luck” – RnV Aug 18

It’s an album largely based on elitist boasts, expensive trinkets and accessories and some pretty outlandish claims, but hey, these boys done good. Larger than life and living the playboy lifestyle making the ludicrous seem obtainable – you too can be a ‘Purple Door’ gold card holder – Juga-Naut and Sonnyjim transform the Midlands into St Tropez with a load of gala funk to make a red carpet entrance to, with just a hint of a twinkle in its eye like a felonious exile that has everyone’s backing. That said, you can’t live the life of a Rat Packer if you ain’t got the gab, and these two are no novices: the great suitability of their top table rhyme personas – Juga-Naut will have you believing every word he spits, Sonnyjim coming in dry and stonefaced yet smelling (and producing) like a million bucks – shares a love of all things gastronomic on the likes of ‘Duck Season’ that comes sweeping down a spiral staircase, while ‘Look Around’ takes a moment to act more tactfully, pledging family honour like a good fella. It might not be dining etiquette, but these two are pulling chairs from under the competition.

(MO)


Park Jiha ‘Communion’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

Circumnavigating the globe to bring much-needed exposure to new sounds, Glitterbeat Records imprint tak:til gives a second wind to a suite of acuity serialism from Southeast Asia. Released originally in South Korea in 2016, the neo-classical musician/composer Park Jiha’s debut solo album Communion is given an international release by the label.

Inspiring what we’re told is a burgeoning Korean music scene (well, an alternative to the K-Pop craze), a chief progenitor of the movement Jiha alongside collaborative partner Jungmin Seo originally melded the country’s musical heritage with an eclectic range of contemporary sounds as the 숨[suːm] duo in 2007. Releasing the highly influential regional albums Rhythmic Space: A Pause For Breath (2010) and 2nd (2014), Park and Seo crossed the time zones to perform at both WOMAD and SXSW. Congruously putting the duo on hold to explore a more ‘personal’ and minimalistic ‘musical vocabulary’ as a solo artist, Jiha dexterously balances the air-y abstract breathes of the ‘piri’ double reed bamboo flute, the searing twang of the ‘saenghwang’ mouth organ and the softly paddled patter of the ‘yanggeum’ hammered dulcimer in what is a dialogue between a dulcet calm, the meditative and an entangled dissonance.

Transforming Korean traditions into a more experimental language that evokes the avant-garde, neo-classical and jazz yet something quite different, Park Jiha’s tranquil to entangled discourse evocations reach beyond their Southeast Asian borders both musically and metaphysically into something approaching the unique and amorphous.  Full review…

(DV)


John Johanna ‘I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes’  (Faith And Industry)


 

More a mini-album, even 12″ to be contrary, the beautifully cooed, warbled and ached venerable I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes is nothing less than an afflatus anointed paean to a higher purpose. Informed by the mystical cosmology of the Eastern Orthodox Church, John Johanna‘s spiritual blues-y and gospel rock’n’rock hymns are both diaphanous and mesmerizing, even hypnotic; recalling visages of Morricone, Fleetwood Mac, Terakaft, Dirtmusic and Wovenhand as it wanders a picturesque but troubled soundscape.

On the devotional pilgrimage, the troubadour of the most evocative, stirring country burr, switches between aching falsetto yearning to lovelorn cowboy on the Andes romanticised cooing, and from the ethereal to fraught, as he makes communion.

No two songs are quite the same, as the wooing rustic sits next to (what can only be described as) the holy desert rock fusion of Native Indian and Afro-beat title track, and Bossa shuffle meets Yonatan Gat raindance. It all congruously comes together in one most divine service. A minor masterpiece.

(DV)


M.

Marlowe (L’Orange & Solemn Brigham) ‘Marlowe’  (Mello Music Group)



“Both excel in never revealing what’s steaming around the next corner, even when you’ve grabbed your toothcomb for the umpteenth time” – RnV July 18

Another yearly round up, another L’Orange inclusion. North Carolina stands up as latest collaborator Solemn Brigham rhymes his ass off: weirdly, without necessarily feeding off what the producer is trawling, and helping create something of an odd couple match made in heaven. L’Orange sets the scene, usually a funky hoedown, a sample-heavy brouhaha anticipating a stand-off or a psychedelic neck-snap. As is his wont, there’s a narrative to be spun, or some simple time-travelling to be done where no two bops are the same. Brigham on the other hand, blurbed as “summoning the holy spirit of Big L” without getting sucked into the danger zone, just jumps in with a garrulous B-boy stance and goes for it. Without L’Orange surrounding him in a world of imagination, give Brigham a park bench and a ghettoblaster and the results would be the same. What he does guarantee is that you’ll be going back to what he has to say, and whatever the variables, the energy and entertainment (grounded surrealism?) never dips. L’Orange may have found himself an emcee to keep on retainer.   

(MO)


Hugh Masekela ’66-‘76’ (Wrasse Records)


 

A most poignant and timely reminder of one of the true greats, the mammoth 66-’76 collection shows a multifaceted Hugh Masekela: The exile. The trumpet maestro. The bandleader. The activist. The colonial revisionist. The angry young man. But also the conciliatory. These are just some of the many faces of the South African titan of jazz and African musical fusions that can be found inside the latest essential collection of the late great polymaths’ back durable catalogue.

Put together especially by Masekela and his good friend, producer and collaborator on a number of projects together, Stewart Levine, just before he passed away at the beginning of this year, the three disc spanning collection features key tracks from many of his most iconic and experimental albums (two of which are included in their entirety). But what makes this especially appealing to collectors and fans alike, is that many of these albums were never officially released in the UK and Europe before. Progressing in the chronological order they were recorded, we follow Masekela’s journey not just musically but politically across his most formative decade and his partnership with Levine and collaborations with such legendary ensembles as the Hedzoleh Soundz combo. From the combined jazz and Township fusions of The Emancipation Of Hugh Masekela all the way to criss-crossing the transatlantic slave routes on Colonial Man, this collection is a sheer joy. Full review…

(DV)



(MO)

Brona McVittie ‘We Are The Wildlife’

With the lightest, most deft of touches, Irish songstress and harpist Brona McVittie embarks on a voyage of ‘psycho-geographic’ inspired encapsulations of a mysterious, magical landscape and history on her debut album, We Are The Wildlife.

Tracing the sonic contours of London’s urban fringes and the rural landscapes of Mourne, McVittie pitches her fluttery diaphanous harp-led songbook somewhere between post-folk and the cinematic – helped along in part by the drifting trumpet evocations of film composer Hutch Demouilpied, who’s contributions sound at times like Miles Davis Dingo transported to an Irish peat bog.

Her ephemeral harp melodies and phrases often feel like a breath or just the merest hazy lingering presence of the instrument, which might in some ways be down to McVittie’s technique of playing them all on the guitar first before transcribing over. It certainly offers a different perspective and technique. And it certainly takes this heavenly traditional instrument into even more mystical, accentuate abstract realms, helped of course by an accompaniment of meadow flute (Keiron Phelan), sad bowed delicate strings (Richard Curran), searching fleeting slide-guitar and shuffling to full-on breakbeat drums (Myles Cochran). All of which amorphously pushes the often-ancient feelings and geography towards John Martyn and Bert Jansch one minute, towards the Incredible String Band or trip-hop the next.

Played with the lightest of touches, McVittie’s wildlife and Celtic inspired filmscape subtly crafts tradition into a cerebral suite of neo-classical and ambient folk. We Are The Wildlife is the most inviting and unique of debuts. Full review…



(DV)

Minyeshu ‘Daa Dee’ (ARC Music)


 

From the tentative first steps of childhood to the sagacious reflections of middle age, the sublime Ethiopian songstress Minyeshu Kifle Tedla soothingly, yearningly and diaphanously articulates the intergenerational longings and needs of belonging on her epic LP, Daa Dee.

Minyeshu left her native Ethiopia in 1996, but not before discovering and then learning from such acolytes as the doyen of the country’s famous Ethio-Jazz scene, Mulatu Astatke, and the choreographer Tadesse Worku and singers Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gessesse and Bizunesh Bekele. First moving to Belgium and then later to the Netherlands, the burgeoning star of the Ethiopian People To People music and dance production has after decades of coming to terms with her departure finally found a home: a self-realization that home wasn’t a geographical location after all but wherever she felt most comfortable and belonged:“Home is me!”

Evoking that sense of belonging and the theme of roots, but also paying a tribute and lament to the sisterhood, Minyeshu conveys with a sauntering but sorrowful jazzy blues vibe not only the burden and grind of daily life for many of her compatriots back home in the tumultuous climate of a fragmented and often chaotic Ethiopia, but also the joy of song and togetherness.

Not only merging geography but musical styles too, the Daa Dee LP effortlessly weaves jazz (both Western and Ethiopian) R&B, pop, dub, the theatrical, and on the cantering to lolloping skippy ‘Anteneh (It Is You?)’, reggae. Piano, strings and brass mix with the Ethiopian wooden washint flute and masenqo bowed lute to create an exotic but familiar pan-global sound. Minyeshu produces a masterful heartwarming, sometimes giddy, swirling testament that is exciting, diverse and above all else, dynamic. Her voice is flawless, channeling various journeys and travails but always placing a special connection to and emphasis on those special roots. Full review…

(DV)


Moonwalks ‘In Light (The Scales In The Frame)’  (Stolen Body Records)


At least geographically close to the spirit of the Motor City, if generations apart, Detroit’s Moonwalks brood in the shadows of the counterculture doyens that made it such an infamous breeding ground for snarling attitude garage, psych and acid rock in the 60s and early 70s.

Transitioning, so we’re told, from ad hoc abandon warehouse performances as a diy glam psych rock troupe to experimental space rock stoners, spiraling in a vaporous gauzy vortex of 80s British Gothic and acid shoegaze influences, the Moonwalks make a certain dynamic progression on their second full length album, In Light.

Sometimes they sound like a black magic rites Byrds and at others like a doomed The Glass Family on a bum ride. Their curtain call, The Joy Of Geraniums, is the most odd song of all; taking the Moonwalks into a whistling led peyote-induced trip to the Mojave Desert.

Vocally malaise the voices waft between Siouxsie Sioux, Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy and Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell. Of course it fits the nebulous cosmic doom and dreamy psych style of the group perfectly; ambiguously drifting through magical rites and sulky pretensions aplenty. Full review…

(DV)


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