NOVEL PREVIEW
Words: Ayfer Simms




Until recently a regular contributor to the Monolith Cocktail, Ayfer Simms has taken time away from the blog to concentrate on finishing her debut novel, A Rumor In Üsküdar. Living with her husband and daughter in the same region of that title, in the sprawling metropolis that is Istanbul, Ayfer moved back into the family home after her father was unfortunately taken ill: later passing away. Within a wider context of political hostility in Turkey (bordering on the dystopian), the process of grieving is explored both evocatively and metaphysically by Ayfer in what is a semi-biographical, semi-alternative futuristic geopolitical purview of her home country and home city.

We’ve so far been proud to feature three extracts from A Rumor In Üsküdar. Part four in this series of previews from the book is both a real and metaphorical archeologist dig into the problems facing modern Turkey. A psychogeography you could say; one that merges veiled fantasy versions of a political cast and events.

 

Part Four:

Mrs. Muazzez must now be at least 100 years old or perhaps older. Specialized in Sumerian culture, she has a vast knowledge in all archeological matters. In 2006, at the age of 92, she was accused of hating the state: for having published a book on the wearing of the veil. She claimed that the custom came from the Sumerians, priestesses initiating young people to sexual practices.

Veysel pulled his hair no doubt and put the veil back in its place. He is not crazy, however, and did not incarcerate the centenary. Mrs. Muazzez lives on the European side in an old house that looks like a museum. She has an unprecedented passion for Veysel’s dead rival, Mustapha. At her age, she saw the former statesman shake the country and give a bit of a voice to women (mostly privileged ones).

 

370 days after the beginning of the excavations under the Bosphorus, the digging got interrupted by the discovery of Byzantine vessels, silver coins, cooking utensils and other trinkets. Skeletons have also resurfaced that day. What we did with them I do not know. I did not see them at the Istanbul Archeology Museum, at least not yet. Time erases the status of humanity, everyone knows it. The Üsküdar wharf was then disemboweled in a hurry, in a rush, because there was a lot of money to lose. The Japanese were politely impatient: they wanted to finish there anti seismic tunnel and leave at once.

I was not yet in Istanbul during these works, but I arrived just in time to see the opening of the new Marmaray line. The train station was planted in the middle of the ruins; the rest was covered with earth, after taking pictures that were hung on the walls leading to the turnstiles. The archaeologists spread coffee all over their shirt to save everything, but they were hungry and witnessed the swallowing of the site with cold sweats.

Since the opening of the line that joins Asia to Europe under the sea, several years have passed while work continues everywhere. Large shopping centers, widening of the wharf and other projects make the wound still fresh.

I see from time to time the black casings rising from the cement, the glowing stones – are they old? I try to guess what is hidden in the old earth, hoping also to discover the Byzantines or the traces of the life of those who walked on this patch before us. It’s a stealthy look that I throw nevertheless. I check over my shoulder that the mud spits out its piece.

 

An object has however made its appearance during the excavations and the rumors reach us only now. Turkish archaeologists – those who are not in cahoots with the government in power, or who are unaware of the impact of their discovery, or who are conscious of having to protect it at all costs – are scientifically eager to let the international scene know: on they pass it to a French specialist team. The results of which, we have only echoes despite discretion, suggest that this is something likely to displease the President of the Republic Veysel. The latter also ordered to stop the excavations, the object in question would have been confiscated upon the return of archaeologists and they were obliged to “resign”. It is impossible for us to know if this news is true or if it is the propaganda tool of the opponents of Veysel or is invented by its own entourage to make a diversion on other fundamental subjects. As nonsense is commonplace, we believe everything and we believe nothing.

The president is not afraid of anything. But, it is said, bad tongues – that he is afraid of his wife. She let him put his head on her knees, and ask her to recite prayers to appease his troubles and ill moods.

She whispers to him “God is great and he is behind you”.

It is said that he has seizures of depression. That he happens to be confused. That he sometimes does not believe in God.

That he has shoeboxes full of money.

That he has nightmares. That one hears him exclaim in the morning: “I killed God !!”

In the opacity of the still deep night, he murmurs, “I’m the greatest”, at the same time he beats with all his might his chest like a furious gorilla. He takes an ax and strikes God in the face. No more reverence. Veysel knocks, beats the air and collapses. They say he sleeps badly. We understand why. How can you sleep well after doıng what he does? He looks terrible, yet his cancer is healed – his cancer is also hidden – but his complexion remains pale and faded. Is he cured, really? Like a superhuman defying all the viruses feared by all of us? The emotions shake him and it is visible in his features. He is agitated. But he does not die of illness like his population.

Veysel feels great but lost. He has reflexes of a believer and has shaped his image on Islam. Islam is its legitimacy. He must perhaps now go beyond religion to remain powerful.

Why say such a thing? It would cost a lot to anyone who dares saying that kind of thing: Unless it’s a rumor. The object accidentally extracted from the depths of the Bosphorus, or rather from the banks of the Bosphorus, would put an end to the monotheistic religions, they say. They would put these religions in the class of superstitions or medieval folklore. This book/object (we do not know anything more) would be like the famous comet that put an end to dinosaurs.

Veysel is naked without his religion. We imagine that it would be his end. That, however, we still have trouble believing it. The danger is that he does not give up so easily. He would continue to urge women to have four children, to avoid laughing out loud, to be modest in all sense of the term.

I look over my shoulder. Watch a smart shark spring from the waters of the Bosphorus to swallow me for thinking these things. The Bosphorus swallowed me once; I fell in it when I was 4 years old. My parents’ friend fished me out before anyone noticed I was gone. I do not remember. It left me with a fear of algae and everything that swarms in the undulating mass. The second time in 1999, the sea caused an earthquake of 8.7 on the Richter scale and claimed 17,000 lives. That summer, my apartment in Kozyatagi was scorching with heat. It was one of those summers that we could only spend dozing. I was bored. Birant had decided to leave me without telling me openly by planning a holiday to the south. I had hoped he would not leave me behind, but I read it in his eyes.

The evening of the earthquake, I drank wine, alone. When I was ready to go to bed, drunk, and feverish I was like Veysel facing a dilemma: to be independent and turn the page over Birant or continue my pathetic grip. When I decided to leave Turkey, Veysel was put in prison for 4 months for reciting a poem judged to be inciting religious hatred.

When I came back some twenty years later, as it happens it is him who boxed us all in.


Extracts from Ayfer Simms debut novel, ‘A Rumor In Üsküdar’




An integral part of the Monolith Cocktail team for the last six or more years, cosmopolitan writer Ayfer Simms has contributed countless music/film reviews (Ouzo Bazooka, Pale Honey, Gaye Su Akyol, Murder On The Orient Express, The Hateful Eight) and interviews (Sea + Air, The Magic Lantern) – and even appeared in the video of one of our featured artists (Blue Rose Code).

Taking time away from the blog to focus on her debut novel, Ayfer has spent the last 18 months busily working away at a story that encompasses not only the personal (including the death of her father) but the wider psychogeography and geopolitics of her native home of Istanbul.

Born in the outlier pastoral regions of Paris to Turkish parents, Ayfer spent her formative years in France dreaming about following in the travelling footsteps of her great literature love, Agatha Christie. After studying for a degree in literature (writing music reviews on the side), Ayfer moved to Ireland for six years before travelling aboard the famous Trans Siberian railway and settling in Japan. Initially visiting her sister, Ayfer not only stayed indefinitely but got married and had a daughter. Deciding to attempt a life in Turkey, where the family is originally from, they moved into Ayfer’s great-grandmother’s house in the Üsküdar district, on the Asian banks of the sprawling Istanbul metropolis.

A Rumor In Üsküdar is in so many ways autobiographical, the first chapter, which we previewed back in March 2019, and subsequent ones, including today’s chapter three extracts, are inspired by the death of Ayfer’s father a few years back. Part three, ‘The Old Man’, plays out a part soliloquy, part grieving monologue like imagined conversation between Ayfer and her late father, set to various Istanbul landmarks, one of which turns out to be a final resting place.

These familiar settings are given a slightly dystopian mystique and ominous threat by Ayfer, who reimagines the Üsküdar neighbourhood of the novel’s title being isolated and quarantined by the government, as they test out a piece of (propaganda orchestrated) news on the population.

That’s just the umbrella story though, within that framing we have the main character confronted by the country where she originated from imprisoned but ready to face it all and hoping for a wind of change.

Translated into English from the original French and Turkish language versions, an extract from chapter three, ‘An Old Man’, awaits.

CHAPTER 3 

An Old Man


I go up the stairs looking at the time. All I can do now is to take the boat to reach the European shore. An old man blocks my way. I feel my irritation rise, as since this morning there seem to be too many obstacles.

– Help me daughter.

He is old. Too old to hurt me but I do not want to be disturbed. I imagine shaking him and feel satisfied that he is no threat. I weigh him up like I do every other person who comes up against me, just in case. Could I neutralize him with a twist of an arm? What do my years of training in martial arts serve me if I can not let some steam off mentally, if I cannot stretch my limbs and let others rush to it, break their balance whilst keeping my center, what do I care if they fall on me like comets from the stars?

– Sir, I do not have time, I say.

He is so wrinkled that I feel remorse. I change my phrase.

– What can I do for you?

– I live near the quarters of Ayazma. Put me on the right path, will you. I’m lost.

– It’s near my house.

He is polite, haggard.

 

Around us the rumor swells that there is no boat, the bridge is blocked. Taxis do not take travelers. I am stuck. I warn my teacher. He must think my excuse is a bit phony. Excuses are the martial artists’ enemy and downfall. Train at all cost.

– Times have changed, but I do not see very clearly. Where are the fig trees…?

He turns to me, the crowd is pouring over us, and he is waiting for me to react. I do not answer, I’m stuck, frozen and the words as usual are heaped in my throat. Because taken by surprise my Turkish sometimes takes odd forms.

– I’m dead my daughter. That’s why you have to help me.

– Don’t say that! You are in good shape.

– I died 120 years ago.

– Sorry?

He is a poet or he is crazy. However complaining about one’s health is not unusual in Turkey, the idea of ​​old age settling early confers a vulnerability and respect that Turks bizarrely seem to enjoy. But already I believe him. He is a ghost.

 

There are helicopters in the sky. The titans are fighting and we hear the squeaky echoes of their metal armor. It is probably Veysel who tries to crush his opponents, they fight back, and it is their chase we hear in the starry sky. Or just patrols, special operations, special measures, a hunt for anything that moves, so called terrorists.

– I’m dead; I’m not any wiser though. I know nothing more than I knew in my lifetime. I realize it now that I am here. It’s a shame; death is useless in fact. A rest maybe, but since I woke up…

– Who woke you up?

– I would like to know … I feel like I have not learned anything since my death. The ignorant souls remain so too and that is a pity. A real pity. Disappointing in fact. Well, that does not stop me from being curious…and the absence of fig trees bothers me.

– They are around still.

– I do not know by what mystery I find myself here. God is great; I am the result of his miracle. The dead sleep peacefully in their bed. Their tomb says, “He was a person who loved kindness and justice”. At Karacahmet, Uskudar’s most treasured cemetery, we rest surrounded by trees in the breeze of the sea not far away; calm prevails. We are the permanent quiet residents under the hiss of the leaves, except at the time of visits, too numerous I should say, which force us to sink a little more in the ground, not to undergo the lamentations. The living pour out their anguish in the form of prayers. Yet already I am no longer. I am old, buried in the beautiful cemetery of Uskudar. I listen to the cry of the living, their desperate whispers, I see their patience rolling in their throats, they raise their hands to the sky to see something, because they find it difficult to bear. They have trouble breathing while me from my bed I feel the nature that lasts and the earth under my bones stretching to the center of the earth. I do not say that to defend death, I’m not crazy. I speak to the person that I was in my lifetime; I address the anxieties that I felt for years at the thought of silence and cold and especially the thought of loosing my loved ones. I fought day and night against those thoughts that sometimes made my life dreadful. But you must know that there is only peace later. Peace in the soul and in the body. The land feeds us. Good and evil blend in a nameless heap, the human veil spreads in the air so that it loses all meaning. It remains only shapeless hands underground, intertwined because the enemies of the past become our neighbours, in indifference.

So when our visitors arrive with their tears, the dead man turns in his hole, really.

He does not want to delve into the universe he has finally escaped. If the dead man is old, he does not have enough desire to remember wanting to live. If he clung to life, perhaps a young dead he probably worries about his loved ones, he does not want to see them in tears again. Why do we want to remember those whom our death has made suffer? Do we wish to stir painful emotions, to mop up the darkness or to see again sad faces, tears that bead in a wounded soul?

To revive these emotions means to revive a bygone era, to try to inject blood there, to release it from its natural pallor whereas when the ardours and the passions dry up it is not necessary to wake the dead.

 

The old man walks slowly forcing me to stand still. I begin to see it as the fruit of my unconscious still bereaved by the death of my father.

– Life is a constant unfolding of dramas. I was lucky despite everything, I will never pretend otherwise. But even the lucky ones have to say goodbye. There is no good way to die or to leave forever. To die is an enormous responsibility. I died without surprise. Old. A little tired. The mind does not always learn to cease to exist. My body could not take it anymore, but my soul? At the time of departure, I thought that my head no longer held. In my time I attended the departures of my family. I stayed in my neighborhood and faced their absence. They had vanished, yet still more alive than they were alive. On each wall I saw their face, or rather their “being” infused into the bricks. And for a long time I had the impression that their departure was only temporary. They would come back and we would laugh at those separate moments. How sad to say goodbye. It is better to hide the truth. Keep thinking vaguely that one day there will be a meeting.

– And sometimes it is possible?

– You are speaking to a dead person. Or…who am I? Why am I here? I do not know anyone, what’s the point of coming back? I do not feel in tune with anyone here. I do not even care about them. Those who have suffered from my absence are already underground. They shrug. The living have a great deal of trouble with the notion of death, and the dead are no longer living.

 

The old man does not speak anymore. The name of Karacahmet makes me shudder. My father often talked about death, joking about his own end, telling me “I’m going to finish in Karacahmet soon”. This cemetery, a terrible character, a monstrous beast between my French and Turkish village, remains like a suspension bridge. So is it any wonder that, finally on his deathbed, he refused to be buried there? He did not even pronounce its name again, he just said, “Do not burry me in Istanbul, they’ll lose me there.” He turned his back on me, doing me a favor without knowing it because I live near the Karacahmet cemetery. How did he understand? That he spared me, that I will not have to avoid this graveyard because of uncomfortable fits of sadness?

With this specter, I wander between the mosques of the sixteenth century, while it brews stories: century-old trees, Byzantine ruins, wells of another age…the ruins we brush against, under our steps, are tunnels and hot brick stones. He says “the well made of red lime under us leads to a buried archduke”. That the bizarre plant in my garden wriggling and breezing through the otherwise solid rock, its roots covered with small, seductive paws goes back his époque. This bizarre plant horrifies me in a way, I say.

 

With the ghost of this old man, my father seems far away whilst I am struck by the gap between them and us, the past and the present, the dead and the living, even if death does not mean anything, anything at all.


Words: Ayfer Simms

Novel Preview: Ayfer Simms





Contributing regularly to Monolith Cocktail for the last six or more years, cosmopolitan writer Ayfer Simms has posted countless music/film reviews (Ouzo Bazooka, Pale Honey, Gaye Su Akyol, Murder On The Orient Express, The Hateful Eight) and conducted a far amount of interviews (Sea + Air, The Magic Lantern) – she’s even appeared, alongside her daughter, in the video of one of our featured artists (Blue Rose Code).

Taking time away from the blog to pursue dreams of writing a novel, Ayfer has spent the last 18 months busily working away at a story that encompasses not only the personal (including the death of her father) but the wider psychogeography and geopolitics of her native home of Istanbul.

 

Born in the outlier pastoral regions of Paris to Turkish parents, Ayfer spent her formative years in France dreaming about following in the travelling footsteps of her great literature love, Agatha Christie. After studying for a degree in literature (writing music reviews on the side for a number of popular French fanzines), Ayfer moved to Ireland for six years before alighting aboard the famous Trans Siberian railway as she made her way east towards Japan. Initially visiting her sister, Ayfer not only stayed indefinitely but also got married and had a daughter. Deciding to attempt a life in Turkey, where the family is originally from, they moved into Ayfer’s great-grandmother’s house in the Üsküdar district, on the Asian banks of the sprawling Istanbul metropolis.

A Rumor In Üsküdar is in some ways autobiographical, the first chapter, which we previewed back in March, was inspired by the death of Ayfer’s father, a few years back. A familiar setting is given a slightly dystopian mystique and ominous threat by Ayfer who reimagines the Üsküdar neighbourhood of that title being isolated and quarantined by the government, as they test out a piece of (propaganda orchestrated) news on the population.

That’s just the umbrella story though; within that setting we have the main character confronted by the country where she originated from imprisoned but ready to face it all and hoping for a wind of change.

Translated into English from the original French and Turkish language versions, an extract from chapter two, ‘Back For Good’, arrives just as the authoritarian controlled Erdoğan government seeks to overturn or re-run the recent Mayoral elections (which his AKP party lost) in Istanbul. How this will pan out is anyone’s guess, with tensions running high.



Chapter 2- Back For Good

The neighbors, the passers-by, the baker, the hairdresser, the grocer, are puzzled to why I am in Turkey.

Once upon a time, a Turk coined the phrase, “to come back for good” – probably in the 1980s, when the first people started to tiptoe back (a small percentage no doubt).

Did you know that he who returns never leaves? Says a voice to me. That’s because moving between countries is not to be taken lightly for these “migrants”.

Well, I say, to that invisible person, this is why you are curious about me. I move like a feather in the barn. With no intentions or plans.

That question pounds in my head: “did you come back for good?” Why?

In the 1980s the French government offered emigrants the chance to give up all their rights in exchange for a sufficient amount of money to buy an apartment in Turkey (under the conditions of the economy of the time). Most of my friends’ parents have seized the opportunity, the chance for a new start in their home countries. My parents shrugged: why block the future of our children?

Turks of that wave are forever hybrids. Their emerging personality got thrown into another world. None of them accept to reveal their secret. None of them admit why they are here. Money or a fake sense of nationalist flattery. Stuck between monuments, caught like seagulls in the net. (Seagulls are monstrous animals, pierce kitten eyes, and defy crows, cats, and humans).

“I have never lived here”. I simply add. I can’t say anything else in truth.

The idea that the experience of being here or there is immutable seems to me incongruous. I get tangled in my explanations of my deep complex sentiments. I am in moving sand facing people who’ve never left this ground. Do they care? They are not listening.

“Well”, I say, “I’m not a clairvoyant, and I can not now say that I will not leave again. I may, or may not.”

– Do you want to leave?

– I did not say that”.

Confusing explanations.

Their eyes are floating in the air as if I did not speak Turkish.

“If it were me, I would have stayed there,” they say dreamily.

 

The country is bleeding, especially in recent years. The Turk takes to one’s heels, those who can anyway. I can, and I did take to one’s heel for lesser troubles. I’d rather not, leave behind my father’s house.

Others continue to vote for Veysel. Who are they?

We are in a decadent Eldorado.

Those who support Veysel from abroad are too comfortable in Europe. They have no wish to settle back here. We, on the other hand, are raving mad. The Turk drinks tea and surveys the Bosphorus and the seagulls, the currents could take him far.

I envied these people for a long time, the chant of the birds above their heads. I imagined they had a sense of belonging. I did not know then seagulls sounded like a baby’s tormented shrieking cries.

 

“Why undo what your parents did?” Someone once said to me.

“I am after the seagulls”, I said.

It’s better if I don’t answer these remarks because I can flee when I wish; I am a bird with a crooked leg (hard for landing).

 

“Of the two countries, which one is the most beautiful?”

I hasten to praise the merits of Turkey, to please them, and I pierce in the looks a sign of relief while heavy sweat runs down my neck. I look like a cripple. “We may not be able to leave, but at least we have a nice village”, that’s the message.

 

My house is surrounded by five historical mosques, all equipped with loudspeakers, and every morning and noon, afternoon, evening and dawn, it begins to sizzle before the pugnacious verve of a young religious preceptor compresses the air of his lungs as if to tear it better before unleashing his chant. Powerful cries erupt, wild animals land in the middle of a city after a hundred years’ war. He is imposing himself like a farmyard rooster. Some old-people-as well as the most devout-rise up, mumbling prayers on the way to their ablutions. The woman: with a samovar from the East boils the tea in the early morning. The call to prayer follows the movements of the sun, tea, that of the Turkish soul. When calm returns, the far-flung mosques scattered throughout Istanbul complete their tunes in turn and descend on us like a whisper.

Yet this morning the call is late. Instead of falling asleep, I look at the time. I have to take the Marmaray for my Judo class. Yesterday the Great Wealth Party proudly occupied Üsküdar’s Square to make speeches about its glory and shook small flags there. There were women in bright scarves. Under these scarves, something shaping the skulls in a rather wide form, giving them the look of praying mantises and the comparison has nothing to do with the name of the insect. This is it seems the official fashion of the women of the party.

 

When I go down Uncular Street, it’s still dark, but an electric blue rises from the depths of the night. The streets are deserted. Most gray buildings sprawl on twisted sidewalks. I dreaded taking this street dominated by men, when I came on summer vacations growing up. Today it’s different. I am no longer afraid and those who intimidated me at the time are dead. Sadly this is valid for my father.

 

In front of the stone market with the rusty shutters, at the intersection of the street overlooking the Marmaray, a man fails to overthrow me. He rushes towards the wall that surrounds the Mosque, pressing the pace; he hastily wraps a scarf over his head. The fabric floats in his legs and barely hides his belly emerging like an island in the middle of the ocean. He runs up and does not apologize for almost tearing my arm out.

He disappears in the big yard. Several men in a lively discussion jostle me again on the steps that lead to the train. One is short of breath, his cheeks are red and his headdress is in his hand. He follows the others with great difficulty. I hold in my mouth dry comments. Do not be angry in Istanbul because there are so many opportunities.

 

Living space in the public arena is as hard to find as cherries in winter. We push each other to the detriment of others: those before us, old people, pregnant women: no other rules than one self apply.

Sometimes I lose control. I hurry, I breathe, I push with my elbow through an aggressive mass, ready for anything, to get on the train or be in the elevator first, aiming for free places, rushing. A movement then, before sinking in the seat satisfied.

Once I did a crooked-foot. I realized the gravity of my act when I saw my ogre profile in full edge on the train window.

On the platform, a man from the railway company blocks me: the trains are canceled for the day, because of a “generalized breakdown”. The last travelers from the European side come down. Men in robes flock. Something is happening in the city this morning.


Words: Ayfer Simms

Preview: Ayfer Simms




An integral part of the Monolith Cocktail team for the last six or more years, cosmopolitan writer Ayfer Simms has contributed countless music/film reviews (Ouzo Bazooka, Pale Honey, Gaye Su Akyol, Murder On The Orient Express, The Hateful Eight) and interviews (Sea + Air, The Magic Lantern) – and even appeared in the video of one of our featured artists (Blue Rose Code).

Taking time away from the blog to focus on her debut novel, Ayfer has spent the last 18 months busily working away at a story that encompasses not only the personal (including the death of her father) but the wider psychogeography and geopolitics of her native home of Istanbul.

Born in the outlier pastoral regions of Paris to Turkish parents, Ayfer spent her formative years in France dreaming about following in the travelling footsteps of her great literature love, Agatha Christie. After studying for a degree in literature (writing music reviews on the side), Ayfer moved to Ireland for six years before travelling aboard the famous Trans Siberian railway and settling in Japan. Initially visiting her sister, Ayfer not only stayed indefinitely but got married and had a daughter. Deciding to attempt a life in Turkey, where the family is originally from, they moved into Ayfer’s great-grandmother’s house in the Üsküdar district, on the Asian banks of the sprawling Istanbul metropolis.

 

A Rumor In Üsküdar is in some ways autobiographical, the first chapter, which we are excited to be previewing today, inspired by the death of Ayfer’s father a few years back. A familiar setting is given a slightly dystopian mystique and ominous threat by Ayfer who reimagines the Üsküdar neighbourhood of that title being isolated and quarantined by the government, as they test out a piece of (propaganda orchestrated) news on the population.

That’s just the umbrella story though, within that setting we have the main character confronted by the country where she originated from imprisoned but ready to face it all and hoping for a wind of change.

Translated into English from the original French and Turkish language versions, an extract from chapter one, ‘When Going Üsküdar’, awaits.


CHAPTER 1 

When going to Üsküdar


It is two years after the death of my father that the very first dream of mourning appeared, leaving me startled. Reality caught up with the other world. Or rather I did. For these last two years, my dad could clearly not get up, but he was alive, in a good mood, in fine health in his bed. We laughed together. My unconscious did not wish to alarm me and even spared me for all this time.

At the beginning of the week, everything changed.

In that dream, my father’s name was Depardieu and I saw myself crying for him without knowing why. In the morning, I wondered about this fusion of characters. Were the protuberant bellies of the two men the common denominator perhaps? Dreams never rely on one single clue however. They conjure deeper meanings. And then I got it: so simple. The French actor’s name, of course, indicated to me the sad reality of his absence for “de par Dieu” means “ by God”.

Now, dreams, thus my subconscious, are warning me: “He’s dead. You see, he’s dead”. “Why do you think it is a good time to stop sparing me?” I say out loud. When I wake up, I am not happy and feel outraged. 

“I will rebel! I say. He died once; I do not want to be deprived of these short, nocturnal encounters.

Dreams are my meager, but cherished consolation. Reality is aiming far this time, all the way to the sunken heart of intimacy. This phenomenon leaves me aghast. The same evening, I put on my warrior armor. Nobody should touch my father in the pith of my kingdom. I decide to enter this universe consciously, to resurrect my dead.

The night splits in two. In my first dream, he appears in a bad mood. He does not even glimpse at me. He blames my mother of being naive. My mother nods without emotion. SHE knows and she agrees. He says with his eyes “What are you trying to do?”

When I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning, I realize my semi-success. Semi, because despite appearing alive, he is anxious whilst warnings us. His attraction for the cold land is obvious. Where else would a dead man want to belong? I consider the encounter a failed one.

Before going back to sleep, I repeat several times: “No, not like that, that’s not how I want to see him”.  On I go back with my battle attire, perfectly prepared. Indeed as soon as heavy sand sacks falls on my eyes, I manage to see him smiling. He is lying in a large comfortable bed. In the background, I see a television set. He is relaxed. He says to me, “Yes it’s alright, but I do not know what to do with my days, bedridden that I am”.

There, I realize the measure of the problem. It is all very well to make him come back but isn’t he bored there in the cluster of my mind? After this conversation, I find myself eating sweet cakes with my mother in our old village apartment. The light is dim in the narrow kitchen but the room is filled with warmth.

When I wake up again, I feel like this is a small victory. I see that upon summoning I can meet him again, to fill the void of his absolute silence.

Yet what am I really to do? Listen to the messages of my subconscious and make peace or prepare for battle and mutiny every day?

I know the truth without wanting to admit it. My inner self will win because it is always a step ahead of me in its frantic rationality. For 2 years, the subtle message has been the same: My father will never rise again.

Drunk, he used to sing:

When going to Uskudar, there is rain

The coat of my clerk is long; his basques are covered with mud

The clerk belongs to me and I belong to him, why would anyone care?

The boats passing from Uskudar to Istanbul

My clerk sits, he peels hazelnuts

In his dream, the clerk speaks to me aloud

The clerk belongs to me and I belong to him, why would anyone care?

 

Now, here I am in Üsküdar, in the house where he was born and where he died. I was not in a hurry to leave the country but the recent events have forced me to stay.


Words: Ayfer Simms

Illustration: Volkan Albayrak

Istanbul writer, Ayfer Simms new column of music reviews.





Here’s the premise: We throw loads of new music releases at our contributor in Istanbul, the Franco-Turkish writer (currently working for the French Institute, and in the middle of writing her second novel) Ayfer Simms, and wait for the lyrical, literature-rich responses. Currently deflated, with the worse kind of despondent hangover after the results of Turkey’s recent elections, Ayfer finds sanctuary, joy, solace, sense and escape in the music of Canshaker Pi, Simon Love, Pete Astor, St. Jude The Obscure and Soft Science, on her daily journey across the Bosphorus.

Ayfer Simms:

I am far from the tumult of the western cities, buzzing with the sound of many musicians and artists trying to make it out there.

I listen to these bands on the Bosphorus, crossing from one shore to the other on my way to work each day. No matter what day of the year it is, the sea always shimmers and is for us “Istanbullulars” the mirror of all our thoughts, and therefor of those bands that arrive to me via the Monolith Cocktail.

One morning, Pete Astor transported me to a breezy afternoon, made for cups of tea and literature and love. And lightness, and hope, and grass, apple green, for melodies as fresh as the pine on a festive tree, sprayed with golden metallic dust. Pete Astor’s details, pop, clock and gentleness soothes me, you or anyone else who dares to be gloomy. Deep Wild West, regular beats, enough to go on smoothly rocking the past or present. It does not matter; just raise that glass with Pete.

Sharply intuitive Pete has a gentle soul. The guitar is reassuring, going country at times, Indie, brandy, chilling, happy and ever so romantic. “You better dream” is perhaps a mundane message for you if you’re sitting in a grey office with no hope of ever escaping your much needed boring work, yet, it works if like me you live under a dictatorship. Dreaming chases all our demands; gives courage, makes the impossible come true. I’ve looked at the shiny sea while crossing with my headset on and listened to Pete’s bright songs, and it made me jolly. Even though ‘golden boy’ rules the country, we dream away with those who rise a glass to beauty.





Days after that I was just strolling to catch the boat, and a real explosion happened with St. Jude the Obscure, the tunes capable of taking veins, like riverbeds out of their courses and through ants and bees, a sensation of fire and bites, impossible to ignore or not care, as I turned my eyes toward the sea, in the faint hope of seeing dolphins – they come out real early in the morning- but with these notes I threw the book I was reading in my bag and stood up in the middle of the boat and danced to the music: euphoric. Or could have done it very easily. In the same line, I cursed my poor Wifi connection and slid my fingers on the phone to get a non-connected version of their songs and couldn’t get to it. There’s one spot on the Bosphorus where you are not “connected” because it’s the sea and it is so vast, so I entered a stage of panic. Repeated the same tracks. Communed with nature. Got elevated. I’ve been playing them at parties (the few free Spotify tracks) and can’t get enough.



A different kind of energy with Canshaker Pi as they roll up and down on a broken escalator; they shout, with pots and string less guitars, or rave on rock n roll in your neighbour’s basement – in my case on the boat next door, to wake up everyone: rise and shine early my friend. And then the rave becomes a head shaking grunge ballad on the shore of your city, at that spot where it is ok to drink cheap wine-dog killer – and be cool. Any way you look at it, Canshaker Pi is noisy-good – and rebellious with it.



Here is a proper “pop” maker: Simon Love is a very British one (at least by the sound of it), soft voice, of that theatrical-semi comique style breed, he takes revenge on his past in the one (free) tune released on the internet. A good little listen if you don’t want to dig too far and too deep into your own mood. It’s quiet witty, and romantic in its own special way.



Ethereal, longing, serene, let yourself glide with the Soft Science’s contemplative pop rock. I found this single a perfect way of ignoring reality outside my window: Exotic and compelling melodies, enough energetic and firm guitar presence to tie your arms behind your back and stay there, waiting to learn what your fate will be. The lead singer’s voice is sweet and crispy, palatable and eatable: Yum.





Today I am not taking my usual boat. I am staying in, mourning the total end of democracy in Turkey after yesterday’s election and the re-election of the dictator. He said, “Democracy won”. What are we to do? Stay fearless and keep the music flowing.

Ayfer Simms


ALBUM  REVIEW
WORDS:  DOMINIC  VALVONA


Dirtmusic   ‘Bu Bir Ruya’
Glitterbeat Records,  26th January 2018

Ushering in the New Year with a lament to the ongoing refugee crisis, the ambiguous blues nomads Dirtmusic grapple in the most traversing of ways with soundtracking and encapsulating the Levant diaspora on their new, and fifth, album Bu Bir Ruya.

The unofficial house band and catalyst for the much-acclaimed (especially by me) award-winning Glitterbeat Records label, the band have taken the blues genre on a polygenesis odyssey over the last decade – from the dusty porches of the American south to Timbuktu. Expanding and inter-changing their core of experimental guitarists Chris Eckman and Hugo Race, picking up desert blues and urbane Mali (a country that Eckman and Race have a special affinity with) legends such as the great Samba Touré and Ben Zabo on route, each and every one of their albums has been inspired by the band’s travails.

 

Setting up camp in the turbulent atmosphere of Istanbul, recruiting label mate and helmsman of the Bosphorus-spanning metropolis legendary psychedelic dub outfit Baba Zula, Murat Ertel, Eckman and Race add a ‘saz’ heavy modern and atavistic Turkish dynamic to their vaporous, drifting and plaintive blues resonance. Recording at Ertel’s converted mechanic’s garage studio in the city, during a period of extreme anxiety as Erdoğan’s Turkey – leaders at the top of Amnesty International’s table for most imprisoned journalists; a country worryingly drifting from Europe and NATO towards Russia – slowly turns into a quasi Ottoman caliphate, Bu Bir Ruya captures the distress and political realities of not only Turkey but Syria and North Africa: the desperate flight of millions of refugees, looking for sanctuary in Europe, escaping from a civil war apocalypse.

Obviously encouraging sympathy and putting forward a compassionate sonic plea for a borderless welcoming continent, Dirtmusic’s sentiments will go largely unnoticed where it counts, as even Germany, now plunged into its own governmental crisis as the previous ‘safe hands’ Merkel struggles to form a working coalition after the recent elections in Germany, her majority arguably weakened and hindered by the resettlement policy of a million Syrian refugees, takes time to mule over that decision – with hardline right wing leaning parties calling for some refugees to be returned and the welcoming committee to be disbanded in favour of tighter restrictions. EU neighbours and outlier states, from the Balkans to Norway, have thrown up both theoretical and physical walls of obstruction; the future looking bleak for access to European soil from the North African and Middle East.

In no way at an end or at least not a solution most of us in the West feel happy with, the Syrian war is reaching a conclusion, and ISIS look to be defeated – well, the idea of a caliphate has been destroyed for now at least; fighters for the course have slipped away in their hundreds to take up the fight in the Sinai and Nigeria, or in Europe, with many starting to return back home, still indoctrinated, still dangerous. Libya continues to be an unstable tumult, the coastal launch for millions of refugees and migrants hoping to reach the outer islands and asylum of Italy, yet recent reports would suggest that this ebb and flow is being hampered, with far less managing to travel across. In five years time we may even see a return as reconstruction takes hold – if Assad stays or not is anyone’s guess, the Russians already announcing that they will be pulling out soon (though they have eyed up a foothold in the country, a strategic port, and so it remains to be seen if they ever completely pull their forces from Syria) and contracts have already been divvied up between those who supported and held up the wretched regime.

Still, millions have fled, many stuck in a limbo. And it’s this ‘limbo’ that Dirtmusic hypnotically and ominously guides the listener through.

That journey begins with the Levant blues and exotic cinemascope Bi De Sen Söyle, which drifts with a certain fluidness through Baba Zula style souk candour rhythms, clattering danceable percussion (nod to Ümit Adakale for that), Ry Cooder transient blues meditations and distant Arabic wailing (courtesy of Brenna Mac Crimmon). A Leonard Cohen if he was harmonizing with Blixa Bargeld and Tom Waits style narration, both whispery deep and serious, lingers over the entire proceedings to bring both desperate and almost cynical, resigned atmosphere to the refugee plight and absence of humanity.

The monotony of facing-off against the physical borders and the ‘unwelcoming’ committees of closed minds is reflected in the psychedelic buzz saw saz trance-y The Border Crossing, the main appeal of which is to help a brother/sister in need. A club bass underpins the amorphous guitar riffs and searching plaint Go The Distance, and guest Istanbul psychedelic siren (and another fellow Glitterbeat artist) Gaye Su Akyol adds a serious swoon and ululates to the multi-veiled dreamy Byzantine Love Is A Foreign Country.

Accentuating a myriad of dispossessed voices and anguishes, Dirtmusic’s churning tumult and gauze-y multilayered grinding and transient blues doesn’t offer solutions but empathy and compassion. Though vocals, whether cooed or somewhat huskily resigned to fate, even pissed off, leave us in nod doubt as to the band’s feelings – though the original intention was to produce an entirely instrumental soundtrack.

With Ertel’s Istanbul psychedelic dub elements adding an exotic Middle Eastern, Ottoman flavor to the Malian heavy blues signature of Eckman and Race, a border-hopping hybrid of wafting congruous musical soundscaping is combined in a force of solidarity. Despite the plight and toxic whiff of authoritarianism in the air, Dirtmusic’s Turkish adventure lingers, suffuses and even grooves over the symbolic contours of a miasma. Not quite their best effort yet, but certainly in the top three, and a serious musical visionary start to the year.


LIVE REVIEW
Words: Ayfer Simms



Tinariwen live Zourlo, Istanbul 2017

We sit, and wait. The lights are on, the stage is empty, there’s a glow but we are unsure where it comes from. The room, a sort of Amphitheatre dressed in red velvety fabric has the allure of a drama play setting, it is dressed for it, whereas it has witnessed some grandiose, yet intimate moments I shan’t say.

The public is young and energetic; this public can appreciate what is to come. The public in Turkey is not eclectic. You can cut it with a sharp knife, clean carving; you will most definitely not see any lines get blurry in the cultural arena. This crowd is educated, have a bit of money, and is relentless, perhaps in the light of the newish developments that have been occurring: the rise of power all trapped in one single man. Read between the lines, that is how much we can give without watching over our shoulder these days.

 

This public is thirsty for this music, rather than an easy escape, it is a sort of shamanistic experience that they/we call for. As if the need for leaving our body would somehow liberate us for a moment, of the unspoken troubled iron fist that tightens its grip on this particular youth- and everyone else if they care to notice- in this modern area of Istanbul, a bastion in the fight against bigotry and subjection. We wonder then how being seated will work for us, nailed to our chair while our chests are already glowing in the midst of the room, as one great energy swirling around, ready to combust. Our bodies will enter a weirdly autistic convulsion, and our legs locked and handcuffed will soon frantically shake, like stoners from the 60s, our chains eager to break free will chime like those of the slaves on a field. We smile. We lose our breath when they finally appear on stage, one by one with a cool sobriety.

 

They take us higher than we’d imagine, with their ever so cool blues and mystical presence. There they are, welcomed by the crowd as if they carried under their shiny djellabas the secrets of freedom. Trance, entrance, and slowly the rhythms pick up and, some break free in the crowd and out of the cuckoo nest gather in the empty spaces between seats and vales, march in tremor, taken by seizures of pleasure, and surf the notes to outburst in front of the blue lights, summed by the members of the band. Tinariwen didn’t bring the desert to Istanbul, as enticing and magical that may be, they brought an air of rebellious fever, quenching the thirst for freedom, for all the while that they played we felt hope, we lost fear, and we felt igniting in our core, the courage to fight back. We left the venue filled with a reinforced desire to defeat our own local demons, if not with our fists, at least with our art. And as long as these bands don’t abandon us, we will be alright.



Ayfer Simms is a Franco-Turkish author, Agatha Christie obsessive, martial arts practitioner and contributor to the Monolith Cocktail who lives in the ancestral family home of Üsküdar-old Scrutari in Istanbul, Turkey with her husband and daughter. Ayfer currently works for the Institute Francais in Istanbul; a role that has recently involved her organising musical soirees and helping to bring Mali’s desert blues doyans Tinariwen to Turkey. Ayfer is just putting the finishing touches to her debut novel. 


New Music Reviews Roundup
Words: Dominic Valvona


Monolith Cocktail - Baba Zula


Welcome back to the first review roundup of 2017, which gets off to a grand start with this dazzling cornucopia of new releases from Baba Zula, Dearly Beloved, Hanitra, Mikko Joensuu, Piano Magic, James McArthur and Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward. 

In this edition of my regular review roundup we have the grand sweeping gestures of Mikko Joensuu’s second album in the Amen cycle; the second idiosyncratic folk and country idyllic songbook from James McArthur; some tender sounds “from the heart of Madagascar” in the shape of the Island’s talented songstress Hanitra; plus a bit of hardcore from the Dearly Beloved. There’s also a trio of special anniversary releases, the first, a triumvirate of solo work from Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward, celebrating the tenth birthday of Jezus Factory Records, the second and third mark the twentieth anniversaries of both the chamber pop dreamers Piano Magic, who have chosen to have one last fling before disbanding this year, and the polygenesis dub Istanbul outfit Baba Zula.


Baba  Zula   ‘XX’
Released  by  Glitterbeat  Records,  27th  January  2017


BABA ZULA. (FOTOGRAF: CAN EROK - 20.09.2016)

BABA ZULA. (FOTOGRAF: CAN EROK – 20.09.2016)

 

Bastions of a psychedelic Istanbul scene, they’ve arguably made their very own, the omnivorous Anatolian Acid Mother Temple of dub-styled Baba Zula have been melding all their many musical inspirations together for twenty years now. Co-founded by Osman Muret Ertel and Levent Akman in 1996, the kaleidoscopic group originally sprung from Ertel’s previous ZeN Outfit as a one-off soundtrack project for a film director friend. Two decades later and we can surely assume that Baba Zula won out.

Inspired by the first wave of Turkish bands, that grew out of a previous generations atavistic folk scene, in the 1960s, notably the psych pioneers Moğollar, Ertel and Akman helped revitalize an age of experimentation, lost during the tumultuous upheavals of Turkey’s coups in the 70s and 80s. Politically acute, challenging the authorities with trance-like joyous expression, Baba Zula are once again finding themselves overshadowed by developments in their own backyard. And so just when we and their comrades need them that discerning label of new musical discoveries from the African continent and beyond, Glitterbeat Records, have decided to celebrate the band’s legacy with a generous double helping of reimagined material and a whole host of transmogrified dub treatments from congruous bedfellows and admirers alike – including the Mad Professor, Dr. Das and Glitterbeat’s quasi in-house band Dirtmusic.

Choosing a unique method of documenting that twenty-year career (and counting), Ertel explains: “None of the pieces here are in their original forms. Instead, we picked remixes, re-recordings, collaborations, live tracks, all the possibilities, but none of these have been released before.”



Transformed but not enough to completely obscure the source, the first of these two CDs (or albums) travels back and forth across the decades, with the earliest example being the feverish female protagonist orgasm over a DJ Shadow backbeat Erotika Hop from 1997, and one of the latest, a nine-minute Tamikrest-on-an-exchange-trip-to Byzantine Aşiklarin Sözu Kalir (otherwise known as “External Is The Word Of Poets”). Elsewhere you’ll find the group’s biggest hit to date, Bir Sana Bir De Bana (“One For You And One For Me”) playfully re-styled as a Gainsbourg-on-the-Bosphorus duet between a French woman and an Armenian man.

Opening this meandering journey, Ozgür Ruh showcases the group’s signature languid dub sound; a free-spirited melting of ascending, whirling electric saz (a long-necked lute-like instrument), accentuated brushed bendir hand drums, longing male and female vocals and a cosmic Jamaica blown off course towards the Adriatic, vibe. However, there’s no mistaking the band’s roots on Biz Size Asik Olduk; a curious dervish romance with the candor and atmosphere of a desert blues serenaded camel caravan trail. The final two tracks are live. There’s, what sounds at first like a tuning-up session, kosmische freestyle Çöl Aslanlari performance from the Bada Bing in Berlin (handed over to Einstürzende Neubauten’s Alexander Hacke to mix) and a nineteen-minute experimental reverb-heavy dub odyssey version of Abdülcanbaz from the Piraeus Resistance Festival In Greece to lose oneself in. Both are great examples of their untethered abandon and float-y transcendental mesmerism.

 

The accompanying (mis)adventures in dub companion is a veritable feast of the most somnolent drifting mixes. It helps that Baba Zulu’s exotic vapours lend themselves so well to dub, imbued as they are by it. But with no limits set and with a litany of dub explorers allowed a free-reign to remodel, the band’s material is swathed in so much echo that it almost disappears into the ether.

The first few tracks are by the group themselves and someone known as “arastaman”. Reshaping their own catalogue and sound they use the lingering traces of a song and submerge beneath a smog of warbled theremin and phaser effects on Alem and cut up the vocals on a mind-bending Ufak. Guest mixes include the radical Asian Dub Foundations’ Dr Das and his Uncle style heavy shake-up of Iki Alem; Dirtmusic’s mysterious lunar sandscaped ‘Hopche’; and The Mad Professor’s quartet of polygenesis traverses: merging a South American tropical groove to the Istanbul guitar cycles of ‘Baso’ and playing with the convulsing vocals and howling calls of ‘Erotik Adab’.

 

To a backdrop of continued violence (at the time of going to press there’s been both the shootings at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub and the car bomb/gun attack on the courthouse in Izmir, in just the last two weeks alone) and heightened turmoil, caught in the midst of suppressive regime currently removing dissenting and alternative voices from the street with the most tenuous of reasons it’s hardly surprising that many wish to escape the realities of daily life. Baba Zula know more than most how dire the situation is; Ertel’s own late uncle, a journalist, was tortured and imprisoned for his troubles. Though highly entrancing and mostly destined for psychedelic shindigs this eclectic voyage is every bit the rallying call of protestation; just existing amounts to a form of dissention in the face of increasing nationalism. Here’s to another twenty years of stirring the omnivorous musical stew.



Dearly  Beloved   ‘Admission’
Released  by  Aporia  Records,  January  27th  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Dearly Beloved

Recorded through Dave Grohl’s acquired custom-built 70s Neve 8028 analogue console, at his famous Studio 606, the desk that that facilitated Nirvana’s Nevermind has imbued the latest steely hardcore row from the Dearly Beloved duo. Still thundering along at a furious velocity, thrash-powering their way through a scowling mix of Black Flag, Black Sabbath and The Pixies, the dynamic Niva Chow/Rob Higgins gut-thumping and bewailing partnership have acquired an extra, controlled, ingredient of grunge.

More suffused, the light and shade of Admission rages in a thoughtful depth between dystopian drones and full-on esoteric rock’n’roll, ala a Mogadon induced Royal Trux in a switchblade scuffle with The Black Keys – the opening RIP track showing a flair even for southern boogie blues, albeit a very noisy one. For a band that fluidly absorbs a litany of hardcore, punk and doom influences, Admission is surprisingly melodic and nuanced. And so you’re are just as likely to hear echoes of Placebo and the Moon Duo as you are Death From Above 1979, and run through not just broody miasma moods but also fun-thrilled frolics.

 

Whipped into shape (not literally of course!) by Ramones and Misfits producer Daniel Rey who laid out a relentless schedule that had the duo rehearse in a East L.A. sweatbox for eight hours a day for a week, the Dearly Beloved for the first time entrusted an outsider to sit behind the controls. As it turns out, the road-tested and solid work out sessions have captured the duo’s live energy perfectly, delivering a lean, sinewy, heavy-as-fuck rage with all the indulgences and chaff taken out. That tumultuous, controlled but far from caged performance matches the turbulence of the times we’re living in.




Pawlowski,  Trouvé  &  Ward   ‘Volume 2’
Released via  Jezus  Factory  Records,  January  20th  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward ‘Volume 2’

 

A decade on from the last Mauro Pawlowski, Rudy Trouvé and Craig Ward triumvirate compilation of solo work and to celebrate the tenure of the label vassal of so many Belgium borne alternative rock projects, Jezus Factory Records have now released a long-awaited follow up; named simply Volume 2. All at one point or another members of Belgium’s, arguably, most famous export dEUS, all three musicians have also shared a highly complex interlocking relationship; each serving together in a rambunctious myriad of side projects, team-ups and explorations, most notably The Love Substitutes, iH8 Camera and Kiss My Jazz: if anyone could ever be bothered, it would make a convoluted but interesting rock family tree diagram. Crossing over and extending beyond the dEUS hub it feels like the common bond of releasing their material on Jezus Factory could see the trio join forces at any moment.

Showcasing their individual flights of fantasy, this second volume of solo work is sometimes bizarre, often curious and occasionally silly; traversing the more serious glacial suffused drones of Ward’s four-track travail; the guitar and post-punk synth of Trouvé; and the killer-ziller-driller lunacy of Pawlowski’s imaginary 80s movie soundtrack, complete with commercial breaks!

A familiar face on the Monolith Cocktail, the erudite Scottish guitarist/composer Craig Ward was originally invited many moons ago to holiday in the Belgium city of Antwerp by dEUS and Zita Swoon stalwart Stef Kamil Carlens. Somehow instead of returning home, he stayed and signed-up for in a stint in a local band, Kiss My Jazz, before inevitably joining the dEUS fraternity; playing guitar and delivering vocals on the In A Bar Under The Sea and The Ideal Crash albums. Ward subsequently left to form both The Love Substitutes and A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen. More recently he’s carved out a solo niche for himself with the suitably evocative ambient suite New Third Lanark whilst also running a guesthouse in his native Scotland. Earlier in 2016 he was awarded a Scottish Arts Council grant to complete his ambitious solo opus Leave Everything Move Out, which was actually recorded in France with the Grammy Award winner David Odlum. Sticking to the same tone of moody strangeness and drawn-out drones, his environmentally descriptive quartet of soundscapes cover the territory of Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream. Ward circumnavigates with a touch of subtle gravitas the mysterious veiled landmarks, circling the behemoth omnipresence of Mount Betsy; hovering In The Wet Maze; dreamily rowing the topographic ocean from Island To Any Islands; and lurking in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a Sunless compression of resonating guitar notes and heavy-leaden synth modulations. It’s classic Ward at his deepest.





Still holding down the day job as a member of dEUS, Pawlowski has really gone for broke on this compilation with his 80s pastiche soundtrack. A quick run-through of the CV is needed first before we go into the details. Pawlowski originally rose to fame in the Evil Superstars, until they called it quits at the peak of their career. He went on however to release the Dave Sardy produced album Songs From A Bad Hat and launch a string of experimental groups and collaborations, including a Dutch language folk LP under the Maurits Pauwels appellation, and the Hitsville Drunks and Gruppo Di Pawlowski (recorded incidentally by Steve Albini) projects.

Throwing a tongue-in-cheek (I assume) curveball at 80s cinema, his eleven-track mix of Casio demo display crescendos, yapping seal noises, and Carpenter meets John Hughes is pure bonkers. There’s bad acid telly binges and garbled industrial menace aplenty, but the best is saved until last with the finale firework exploding retro tribute to AM college radio rock, Starught: a mix-up of Strangers When We Meet era Bowie, The Cars, Queen and Boston, it is an unashamed punch-in-the-air love song anthem. Pawlowski’s contribution is certainly the most varied and odd, detached from the more serious and dour tones of his album mates.

 

The final leg, the baton handed over to Trouvé, fluctuates between the stripped guitar sounds of The Durutti Column and a 80s homage of despondent Visage and Soft Cell synth maladies. Originally a founder member of dEUS but tiring of the group’s major label success and all the bullshit that comes with it (the band’s debut was released on Island Records), Trouvé left to form the Heavenhotel Presents label and play in the Ornette Coleman inspired experimental project Tape Cuts Tape, the The Mechanics (with Pawlowski) and the “all star” improvising iH8 Camera.

With a wealth of experience and enough of an eclectic swag of influences behind him, from post-punk to avant-garde jazz, ready to surface at anytime, his twelve-strong contribution of meditative and considered explorations reflects an omnivorous craving. And so one minute you’ll hear a hint of Spiritualized or DAF, the next minute, John Cale, yet the underlying sound remains signature Trouvé.

 

A decade in, weary and beleaguered with the current Brexit woes (just wait until it’s actually been triggered and unraveled), Andrew Bennett’s showcase label for music from the nation that unfortunately symbolizes both the best and worst excesses of the EU, has a challenging future ahead of it. There’s no signs however of fatigue nor a dip in quality or originality; Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward still producing the goods no matter what the augurs foretell.




James  McArthur  and  the  Head  Gardeners   ‘Burnt  Moth’
Released  via  Moorland  Records,  20th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - James McArthur

Conjuring up an idyllic image of sipping Cider with Rosie on the back of Constable’s Hay Wain, Welsh-born troubadour James McArthur and his Head Gardeners troupe return with another lilting album of bucolic folk and country songs on Burnt Moth.

Following up on the Strange Readings From The Weather Station debut, which announced McArthur’s move from backing Paul Weller on drums to fronting his very own songbook, this second peaceable collection continues to wander a perpetual end of summer into early autumn seasonal landscape. Picking away and plucking attentively in the style of Bert Jansch or Mike Cooper, the serenade-style poetic musicianship on display is effortlessly timeless, yet the often meandering lyrics chime with the contemporary themes of an ever-changing society moving unabated towards a digital, even virtual, immersion: encroaching on the tranquility and earnest pastoral ideals of a slower-paced more personal interactive world, which to all intents and purposes is proving a sanctuary from the fully-connected hum of the internet.

 

Mostly acoustic, McArthur is also accompanied throughout by an accentuated backing of burnished and dampened drums, slowly released from its quivered tension strings (all co-written and arranged with Jim Willis, who also plays mandolin on the album), rustic pining pedal steel guitar and on the classically leaning yearned To Do the lulling coos of guest vocalist Samantha Whates. Not only assisting McArthur in the making of this album but also chipping in with backing vocals and bass on the roulette wheel of lovelorn fortune, Evens On Green, is Joel Magill of the psychedelic Canterbury band Syd Arthur.

 

Burnt Moth is a charming sun-dappled tapestry of McCartney-esque, and on the title track finale, Harry Nilsson (fronting a dreamy Morricone romance) idiosyncratic storytelling and musings. McArthur is in no hurry to reveal and unfurl the album’s many nuances and beauty; toiling away gently to create a most enjoyable and thoughtful songbook.




Mikko  Joensuu   ‘Amen  2’
Released  by  Svart  Records,  end  of  2016.


Monolith Cocktail - Mikko Joensuu

 

The middle of an ambitious all-expansive soul-searching trilogy, the second Amen chapter finds a vulnerable Mikko Joensuu rising from the porch of his cabin retreat to step forth into the radiant majesty of the Finnish landscape. Finding an obvious awe-inspiring beauty in the stunning vistas yet equally overwhelmed, Joensuu attempts to cope with his troubled past. An epiphany if you like, the Finnish troubadour “lost his religion” a while back and has since been attempting to draw back from a mental abyss. Imbued with the candid soul and gospel of Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized and the melodious drone of My Bloody Valentine, Joensuu’s second album in this triumvirate cycle balances the ethereal with a tumultuous chorus of peaks and lows; the opening Drop Me Down opus for example gently builds from the diaphanous to a nosier cacophony of horns. Even when the fuzz, distortion and tribal backbeat dynamics are let loose the dappled light pours in.

An alternative questioning and sincere hymn supported by the North Finnish veranda, Amen 2 is a grandiose stunning visceral work of art.




Hanitra   ‘Lasa’
Released  by  ARC  Music,  6th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Hanitra ‘Lasa’

 

An unofficial cultural ambassador for her homeland of Madagascar, the sagacious and much-celebrated talented songstress Hanitra sheds light on both the personal and environmental plights of the unique Indian Ocean Island and the universal suffrage of women in the wider world on her latest album Lasa.

For many, Madagascar continues to be an enigma: Famous unfortunately as the title of a DreamWorks animation franchise, but apart from its reputation as a colourful menagerie for all kinds of exotic wildlife and fauna, it remains a mystery to many. Musically speaking it has attracted a host of composers and musicians, including the recently revived French ethno jazz maestro Jef Gilson with his Et Malagasy masterpiece.

 

Almost as an anthropological experiment and survey Madagascar’s isolation and history has fascinated many. Lying off the southeastern coast of Africa, it’s strategic position has made it a popular port-of-call for traders and explorers, though many literally bumped into it unaware it existed. Despite a litany of famed travellers, from the Arabs to Marco Polo, recording its discovery over the centuries, it would be France that colonized it. However, whether warranted or not, conquerors and traders alike left traces, resulting in a cross-pollination of influences including music. On Lasa you can hear this legacy well with elements of jazz, the Balearics, Arabia and even the reverberations of an old Afghanistan – resonating from the evocative sound of that country’s lute-like rubab instrument; used to plaintive dreamy effect throughout on this album – entwined with a distinct foundation of Madagascar folk and gentle African rhythms. But it’s the award-winning siren’s vocals, flexing with élan, which encompass this imbued richness. Inherently timeless, fluidly moving between cooing, almost lullaby, and effortless soaring tension, Hanitra’s voice subtly matches the themes of her album without showboating. The double-meaning title song for instance, translated from the Malagasy dialect as to “go past”, is an elegy of a sort to the French-Canadian singer Lhasa de Sela, who passed away in 2010 from breast cancer. Yet this touching tribute to a singer is far from sentimental; its Middle Eastern permutations and tenderness sweet and reflective rather than downcast and lamentable.

 

Soothingly in an array of colourful hues and tones, Hanitra addresses the themes of maltreatment, meted out both physically and psychologically towards women, on Eka and Avia, deforestation, in particular the devastating environmental costs of cutting down and selling Madagascar’s rosewood, on Mivalo, and another of those tributes, this time to the Vezo fishermens wives on the Island’s southeastern coastlines, eking out a hard living, on the oceanic motion Ampela. There’s celebration, paeans even, with the relaxed, lilting defense of same-sex marriage on Myriam and an invitation to dance in joyful abandon on Lalao. Whatever the emotion, Hanitra articulates her concerns and protestations with a soulful sincerity.

 

Lasa’s extended title is “from the heart of Madagascar”, and this is very true, yet the Island’s melting pot of musical influences and Hanitra’s own global travels mean this album is in fact universal.



Piano  Magic   ‘Closure’
Released  by  Second  Language  Music,  20th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Piano Magic

Calling time on a twenty-year career with one last swansong, the Anglo-French Baroque indie dreamers Piano Magic echo the sentiments and themes of their 2000 song No Closure on their final majestic and profound album, Closure.

The self-proclaimed purveyors of “ghost rock”, formed at the height of the Britpop, have traversed and mapped out a moody romantic pathway for themselves over the years. Originally starting out as a lo-fi electronica trio in 1996, soon finding favour with John Peel, Piano Magic gradually grew into a full-on tour de force alternative rock band as the millennium drew near; recording amongst their notable cannon both a soundtrack for the Spanish director Bigas Luna’s Son De Mar and the Writers Without Homes album, which famously featured the folk legend Vashti Bunyan – who emerged from a 30-year musical silence to dust off the quelled vocal chords for the band. Still far off his critical-applauded born again renaissance as a “torch singer”, that same album also featured the dour talents of John Grant; just one of many collaborations over the years, the band also working at one time or another with Alan Sparhawk of Low, Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance, Cornershop and Tarwater. Closure is no different in featuring a suitably congruous number of guest spots, with Peter Milton Walsh, singer of the fellow chamber pop, Australian band, The Apartments channeling Mick Harvey, and Oliver Cheer (aka Dollboy) providing a south of the Rio Grande style swooning brass accompaniment on the Choir Boys-travail-a-literary-rich-Outback Attention To Life. Offering harmonic and atmospheric support on backing vocals, Josh Hight of Irons can be heard wafting about on the album’s opening grandiose and subtle opus title track and the stripped-down electro pop, in a quasi New Order style, Exile.

 

Drawn to a despondent melancholy, a most diaphanous one at that, the sagacious founder member and songwriter Glen Johnson is aided in this enterprise by Franck Alba (guitars), Jerome Tcherneyan (drums, percussion), Alasdair Steer (bass) and the band’s original drummer from their debut gig at the infamous Wag Club, Paul Tornbohm, now providing keyboards. Wounded and troubled as ever by the lingering traces and ghosts of past relationships and liaisons, Johnson’s resigned poetics attempt to meet head-on those feelings he just can’t seem to lay to rest: as Johnson calls it, the “mythical formal conclusion”, the need to “move on” from broken relationships is not so easy. And so he croons, “Let’s get this thing sewn up” on the Morricone meets Ry Cooder cinematic title track, knowing full well that “…you never get closure.” The supernatural echoes of a lost love, channeled through a dusty answering machine message séance, on Landline leave the singer’s voice paled and weakened; lamenting loss form the far side of the ether. Marooned as a passive onlooker to the goings-on in the backstreets of his southeast London neighbourhood, a voyeuristic, removed Johnson (in Talk Talk mode) vanishes almost completely before our very ears. The song’s sad lyrics it must be said are a most beautiful kind of misery.

 

Magnificent in their despair, the musicianship poised, purposeful and subtly stirring, Piano Magic’s last ever fling is one of the band’s most accomplished, and definitely one to savour. As near perfect as any Piano Magic suite can be, Closure proves that you can perhaps after all find a satisfactory ending.




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