ALBUMS AND EXTENDED RELEASE REVIEWS/PLUS A SPECIAL LITTLE SOMETHING/Dominic Valvona

PHOTO CREDIT: Joona Möttö

SPECIAL LITTLE SOMETHING

IFRIQIYYA ELECTRIQUE ‘Nafta Naghara’
From the 25th March 2022

From our friends IFRIQIYYA ELECTRIQUE, a mesmerizing, loud and incredible dynamic fusion of unworldly chthonian elements, Sufi trance, spirit possession performance and post-punk electronics; recorded live in the last month at La Casa Musicale in Perpignan, France.

Originally formed in the Djerid Desert, a coloration between field-recordist and veteran guitarist of the politically-charged Mediterranean punk and “avant-rock” scenes, François Cambuzat, and bassist Gianna Greco – both of which occasionally join forces with that livewire icon of the N.Y. underground, Lydia Lunch, to form the Putan Club – and Banga musician Ali Chouchen – joined in the live theatre by an expanded cast of fellow voices, krabebs and Tunisian tabla players from the community, which has featured Tarek Sultan, Yahia Chouchen and Youssef Ghazala – the lineup has fluctuated over two stunning albums and live dates.

Performing a track from their second album Laylet El Booree (released back in 2019) ‘Nafta Naghara’ sees both Syna Awel and Dyaa Zniber (on both voice duties and percussion) change the dynamic once more as they join Greco (voice & bass) and Cambuzat (on guitar, choir & computer) for breathtaking communal.

ALBUMS

Jane Inc. ‘Faster Than I Can Take’
(Telephone Explosion Records) 22nd April 2022

Although the musical DNA was there from the start, through her dance pop duo Ice Cream with Amanda Crist and contributions to Darlene Shrugg and Meg Remy’s ever growing U.S. Girls ensemble, Carlyn Bezic effortlessly shimmied towards the disco, dream-pop dancefloor with last year’s Number One album debut as Jane Inc. – one of my choice albums of 2021.

Bearing all the strains, vulnerabilities but shorn of pity, Carlyn makes good on that previous congruous change with a both disarming fantasy and more heartbreaking plaintive songbook, fit for the age of high anxiety, self-doubt and connection through the computer, smart phone lens.

Life just never feels right, and time…well, time seems to have sped up, hijacked by those seeking to consume all our precise use of it, concentrated down the portal of a constantly changing feed of attention grabbing, virtue competiveness and narcissistic obsessions. Without the space to breathe, process, to take it all in, we’ve been mostly reduced to vacuous, fleeting well-wishers; meaningful, deep connections just for a few, because whose got the time to offer anything lasting. Ok, I’ve gone slightly off the rail, but our epoch, lurches from, but then forgetting, one crisis to the next: though in recent months that carousal has swung from the climate emergency to Covid to the cost-of-living and Ukraine. Who wouldn’t be anxious, drained mentally under such an onslaught?

On the album’s opener, and first single, ‘Contortionists’ Carlyn sings about the effects of time anxiety, of being both trapped simultaneously in the past, present and future, all in the same moment. Transfiguring a 80s musical palette, this crystalized arpeggiator emotional pull dances through softened shades of n-r-g, robotic soul pop, fitness video music and disco: with a certain echo of Chaka Khan thrown in. Fellow Toronto collaborator Dorothea Pass adds a touch of ethereal cooing to a vulnerable but danceable highlight.

Although a mostly synthesized, electro affair, Carlyn finds the human soul, a connectedness throughout. No more so then on tracks like ‘Human Being’ (for obvious reasons), which explores isolation, the requirements of instagram, and that always living your ‘best life’ crap, in an online world to the dualist Giallo glitterball pop, and suggestions of the Juan MacLean and St. Vincent (via Wendy & Lisa). Dreamy realism meets with a haunted reflection, with another signature mirror turn. In a similar lamentable disconnect, the four-to-the-floor, Vogue era Madonna ‘Dancing With You’ projects a romantic embraced dance at the Paradise Garage, but is really a dance for one in front of the computer screen in a bedroom.

Amongst the glitterball emitting lasers Carlyn expands the musical scope, sauntering down to Rio like a 70s Joni Mitchell sharing a fantasy with Seu Jorge on ‘Picture The Future’ – which actually, despite its accompaniment of soft-paddled samba moves, describes a calendar rota of metaphorical growth. ‘An Ordinary Thing’ takes an acoustic direction towards the troubadour sorrow of Evie Sands or Catherine Howe on a cathartic, candid Baroque turn of resignation. The close, ‘Pummeled Into Sand’, features strains of both reversed phaser and Brian May guitar licks, hints of Aldous Harding and Eleanor Friedberger on the Mexican border.

I’m drawn however to the gorgeous if heartbreaking ‘Every Rip’. A Diplo remixed Vangelis patterned lush ache of vulnerability, this dream-wave pop lament will bring a tear to the eye.

The absence of the physical (love, friendship) echoed through the full spectrum of emotions couldn’t sound more effortless. Even if the artist feels fragile, this second album under the Jane Inc. flag couldn’t be more assured in pop brilliance. Taking the familiar tones of disco, pop, new wave, fitness video n-r-g, Carlyn takes a more carefree, danceable approach to deeper feelings in an era of rapid change and disorientation. You won’t hear much better.

Birds In The Brickwork ‘Recovery’
(Wayside And Woodland)

The first in a promised series of multimedia releases from Benjamin Holton’s latest inspired alias, Birds In The Brickwork, the Recovery album contours a both faded and quintessentially damp English landscape; as seen through Holt’s photographic lens.

A concomitant partner to the gauzy, washed guitar and synth music of epic45, his longstanding duo with foil Rob Glover, Holton once more plugs into a familiar, if far more dreamy and beautifully languid, mode.

Before we dive in though, a little background to this newly adopted moniker is needed. Sympathising greatly myself with this, Holton was forced to give up work due to a ‘massive flare-up’ with his back. During a time of recovery (hence that title) the Staffordshire native attempted to document the period with the tools-at-hand. This included that already mentioned guitar (both acoustic and electric by the sounds of it), a camera and computer.

Finding all life’s answers, pathos and bathos in the natural typography and its artificial markers, structures, the focus of this project is on the landscape; something that could be seen as a reoccurring feature, theme in much of his work, especially the pylon straddled haze and nostalgic glaze of My Autumn Empire

Capturing the ephemeral through various instrumental traverses, Holton sculpts magical, mysterious radiating versant slopes, hills and the ghostly pastoral visage of a village hall, as he wells up a mood board of the wondrous, universal and cerebral. Evoking a languorous Land Observations without his bass notes, the descriptive and higher-purposed guitar playing of Craig Ward, Spiritualized Jason Pierce and Myles Cochran, Holton evokes the halcyon, conversational, the empirical.

Through lingered, floated, finely attuned guitar work, synthesized washes and waves, pitch-shifts and attentive drums he gently encompasses the fields of post-rock, the psychedelic, shoegaze, acid-country and kosmische; whether that’s unveiling the enormity of the great expanse or in solitude, waiting to get back out into the world of small wonders: ‘small glimmers’, the ‘old blossom’ and the reconnected resonance of ‘people talking’. All things missed and now documented with a lightness of touches.

The inaugural visions of a geography taken for granted, barely noticed, comes to life in the first Birds In The Brickwork audio setting. With art prints, DVDs and postcards still to come Recovery puts down the marker for a fruitful new musical horizon: even if it was borne out of pain.

Kota Motomura ‘Pay It Forward’
(Hobbes Music) 22nd April 2022

Although it’s been a few years, the experimental Tokyo artist Kota Motomura makes good on his previous free-floating, swimmingly jacked-up House and Balearic flowed EP for the Hobbes Music imprint with a just as tropical, eclectic album.

Pay It Forward once more sees Kota reunited with his foil Mutsumi Takeuchi on reeds. Later on, with this album’s paradise plaint closer, ‘Flowers’, a second guest, Akichi, joins the twosome, adding a wistful but dreamy Balearic acoustic guitar accompaniment, sat under a canopy of heavenly bird song and humid tropical heat. That curtain call is the most placid, scenic track on the whole album, with the rest destined for the club environment: albeit set in the rainforests or in some futuristic vision of 80s Tokyo.

The actual entitled ‘Paradise’ features Mutsumi’s snozzled jazz-house toots, spirals and drifted hazy rasps and Kota’s detuned, almost distorted, piano stabs over a sort of Japanese 80s new wave pop production with shooting lasers: imagine a bit of Haruomi Hosono shaking it down with Yasuaki Shimizu.

A change in style, ‘Tropical’ sounds more like an ethnographic sampled lost treasure from Byrne and Eno or, the sort of no wave experiment Basquiat would have been throwing down in ’82. Native voices, pneumatic drilled samples, shuttled sticks and hand drums evoke the veldt, the Maasai, as remixed by Coldcut and the 900ft Jesus.

‘To Be Free’ is an upbeat number of Farley Jackmaster Funk’s Chicago grooves, handclap beats, arpeggiator patterns and funk, whilst ‘Emotion’ sees Mutsumi on flute, blowing merry suffused charms over a pumped N-R-G meets New Orleans Mardi Gras House music groove.

The highlight for me though is the constantly changing, evolving percussive and drumming relay, ‘Rhythm’. It could be a Brazilian Samba band, the African diaspora or even a Cuban rhythm section on a coked-up Miami night, but the beats just keep rolling and rattling, even galloping.

Pay It Forward is essentially a well-crafted, fun experiment in dance music genre hopping. It’s House and Techno music with a spirit of adventure that’s never idol and always up for taking the audience across a movable dance floor.

OK:KO ‘Liesu’
(We Jazz) 15th April 2022

Named after its drummer-composer/bandleader Okko Saastamoinen, the Finnish OK:KO quartet have been accumulating fans and acclaim alike over the last five years. Now onto their third album with the leading Euro jazz label and festival hub (and now quarterly magazine) We Jazz, they once more show-off a signature sound that’s imbued by the roots of hard-bop, free jazz and the more explorative, envelope pushing of a small tight combo. The notes sum up that style perfectly as, ‘adventurous but accessible’. 

In practice that means Coltrane and Harden on the Savoy label, Charlie Parker, the Bill Evans Trio, Nate Morgan and Sonny Stitt taken on a scenic, poetic ride across the Finnish pastoral. Mikael Saastamoinen’s double-bass on the most naturalistic composition, ‘Kirkkis’, even manages to emote an oaken tree spreading its branching: The bass actually begins to sound like a cello against a wooded stretch of rim rattles and brushes. Later on, with that same composition, the quartet moves towards both the blues and luxuriant swing; beamed and trained on 60s NYC.

Bandleader Okko’s drums follow a constant leitmotif of splashed cymbals and rolling maelstroms that never quite penetrate the sea wall defenses, as Jarno Tikka goes high with flighty spirals and lower register rasps and descriptive lulls, and Toomas Keski-Säntti plays piano with a sense of both freedom and emergent-gestured melodies.   

Tunes vary between expressive dances and erudite scene-setting emotions. The opener, ‘Anima’, goes for a visceral encapsulation of that title’s Latin origins – the breath, soul, spirit of vital forces -, whilst ‘Arvo’ pushes into more serious, noirish directions: like a bluesy but mysterious sassy accompanied skulk in a 1950s stripe joint.   Throughout this album were constantly drawn back to the sea; both a very real Baltic one but also a metaphorical one of choppy emotions and swelled intensities. There’s drama yet nothing that ever proves too frantic, fierce, as this quartet keep it all in check, constantly flowing no matter how high those waves get. I love it, and still think Finland is producing some of the best contemporary jazz in not only Europe but beyond that. OK:KO’s reputation is save and broadening on the strength of this third album of the lively and emotive. 

Kloot Per W ‘Arbre A Filles’
(Jezus Factory) 22nd April 2022

Despite doing it all so well, the maverick Kloot Per W, as a Belgian from the other side of the multi-linguistic quandary that is Belgium, apparently should be frowned upon, snubbed for singing in the French vernacular. In a culture, historical battle I’m unwilling to get drawn into, there’s a whole legacy of political backlashes against those with the Flemish mother tongue singing or speaking in the much-guarded French language: Jacques Brel aside. Actually that’s a terrible example, as Brel’s Flemish family actually dropped it to adopt the French language.

Anyway, the seven-decade spanning journeyman Kloot has decided to give it another bash, following the success of his inaugural Francophone EP, Nuits Blanches, from last year. Like the already mentioned Brel, and because of a history of reinvention, sagacious wit and self-depreciation, the Flemish cult artist dons a gauloise smoking jacket with élan and a certain fuck you attitude on his new songbook, Arbre A Filles (or the odd phrased “girl tree”).

A sort of intergenerational project, again, Kloot calls upon the production, collaborative help of Pascal Deweze: a full twenty-years Kloot’s junior we’re informed. And swinging by the studio, repeat offender foil, guitar-slinger for hire and ex dEUS band member Mauro Pawlowski and his collaborative partner Randy Trouvé add a bit of (middle-age) youthfulness; a taste of contemporary alt-rock to the songs. Keen Monolith Cocktail followers will of course remember (hopefully) that Marco and Kloot brought out their very own dysfunctional, knockabout White Album, called Outsider/Insider, a while back (making our choice picks at the time).

A road well-travailed, Kloot’s numerous musical changes – stretching back to the late 60s and early 70s as a bassist for The Misters and as a guitarist for The Employees, to a solo spell and the JJ Brunel produced Polyphonic Size – have lent the music a wise ring of authenticity; a life well-lived and experienced. And on this new songbook themes range from such timeless concerns as facing one’s mortality and more contemporary fare like Internet conspiracy theorists, cultural divisions. This is a grown-ups album then: despite the reference to Kloot’s worries on his cock size, though thankfully not a French speaker, I have no idea where this obsession springs-up on the album, as it’s only pointed out in the accompanying notes.

It all begins with the opening fuck you attitude of the French new wave, via Lou Reed, Mick Harvey and Anton Barbeau, styled ‘Tu Me Troubles’ (“you disturb me”), which has both bristle and sophistication, coquettish doo wop female backing singers and a touch of Britpop melody. ‘Le Pays’ (“the country”) moves the action towards a smoky blend of the Jazz Butcher and the Bad Seeds, as satellites’ twinkled communications blink over a psychedelic starry, starry night café scene. A spooked Morricone creeps around on the vibrato, cooing female-voiced backed ‘Girl On The Phone’, but it’s Blixa Bargeld fronting the Os Mutantes in a haunted jazz lounge on the title-track.

Raspy, grizzled and also mooning when not crooning, Kloot’s lyricism is fitted with a movable backing of both salon and Muscle Shores piano, strokes of beat music, glam, rock ‘n’ roll, radio city music hall, a touch of Cohen, and on the “lalala” flittered ‘Super Likeus’ a hint of both rebel country and the paisley underground. Yet everything is still contained in the French vogue, if from a unique perspective.

There’s a lot to like about this album, and it goes someway to Andrew Bennett (Jezus Factory’s one-man cottage industry founder) aggrandisement that Kloot is “Belgium’s best kept secret”. If there was any justice in the world (you’re kidding, right?!) this album would reach a wide audience and shine a light on, certainly, one of Belgium’s great talents. It’s also a killer French language songbook that proves the Flemish can indeed sing the Frenchman blues.

Jörg Thomasius ‘Acht Gesänge der Schwarzen Hunde (Experimenteller Elektronik-Underground DDR 1989)’ (Bureau B) 15th April 2022

From the steel curtained side of the Berlin Wall, a second GDR dedicated showcase of electronica from the noted Jörg Thomasius. At various times an artist in his own right (under the Tomato moniker), but also a member of the Das Freie Orchester, a radio show presenter, author, boiler man and exhibition technician, the East German maverick knocked-about with the likes of Andreas Grosser, Lars Stroschen and Conrad Schnitzler – working with the last two to set up the Tonart label. 

It was the former, the renowned technician Grosser who opened up a whole world of electronic exploration, and instigated a train of events that led to Jörg meeting Terry Riley: freely handing out LSD at the time. Whilst under the authoritarian grip, Jörg still managed to connect with the burgeoning scene in West Berlin. And his experiments, collected together here from three different sources, easily fall into the greater Kosmische and new wave brackets.

Acht Gesänge der Schwarzen Hunde brings together diy explorations, peregrinations, sketches from his 80-85 documented Schwarze Hände (“black hands”) cassette, his own Kröten Kassetten label’s Gesänge der Komparsen (“songs of the extras”) 89 release, and the 90s After Eight – released again on another of his own label hubs, just after he left Das Freie Orchester.

Across the majority of this collection each modulated, oscillated, effected idea weighs in under the three-minute mark; glimpsing at, vanishing clips of what could be more expanded, drawn-out scores. The opener, ‘Besen Im kopf’ (“broom in the head”), seems to feature a strung-out, deconstructed orchestra of the avant-garde, classical and even Fluxus kind: Low ship horns sound, the inner workings of a piano resonate with a brassy metallic spindly sound. ‘Okoschadel’ (“eco skull”) and ‘Erste Himmelsmelodie’ (“first heavenly melody”) have more than a hint of early computer tech sampling; the kind Sakamoto was experimenting with in the early 80s. A mix if synthesized cut-ups, tubular bell percussion and staccato fashioned splurges.

‘Küss Mich Mien Liebchen’ (“kiss my love”) features (I take it) Jörg’s vocal ravings over a squiggled loon of underground tape culture, post-punk, Faust and Populäre Mechanik weirdness.

Ghosts in the machine, aerial whirled chattering space birds, slapped beats, timpani and lo fi computerized effects permeate the first nine oddities on this compilation. The tenth and final track however is an expansive twenty-minute plus sun rays ‘Meditation’. In that languid, relaxed time frame, Jörg astral-planes hints of Popol Vuh, Frosse, Ocean Of Tenderness Ash Ra on a new age equinox of spiritual alignment.

The Hamburg label Bureau B continues as custodians of Germany’s past and present electronic, experimental, Kosmische and new wave genres with another intriguing showcase come reminder of East Germany’s part in the underground music scene that defined a generation. Fans of those musical fields will find this an interesting addition to that story.

Qrauer ‘Heeded’
(Nonostar Records) 22nd April 2022

The most electronic signing yet to Alex Stolze’s burgeoning Nonostar imprint, the congruous fit of Christian Grochau and Ludwig Bauer coalesce their respective disciplines once more as the Qrauer duo.

With Christian’s percussionist, production and remix and Ludwig’s pianist, multi-instrumentalist and composing skills, Qrauer’s latest EP is a sophisticated shift of layered electronic body movement techno and reverberated spells both on and inside a neoclassical attuned piano. In the former camp, the EP’s first trio of tracks includes the subtle air-pinched filtered, cybernetic convergence of Four Tet, Carl Graig and trance style techno ‘The Mess’; the tinkling, translucent bulb mirrored short ‘Stardoll’; and the more clean-cut beats meets mysterious and gauzy wooed ‘No Sh.Left’, which features the wafted, ghostly and vaporous vocals of the German singer Sea Of Love.

Taking a slightly different path, the title-track is a sort of experiment in scoring a mini electroacoustic soundtrack. ‘Heeded’ is highly atmospheric, with the echoed resonance of a piano’s guts being touched by various textured materials, and a moving melody of both singular and a more uninterrupted flow of notes played from the keyboard itself. Almost a seamless follow-on, ‘Lustend’ features staccato cut-up samples of a voice and piano, but soon, in a relaxed fashion, bobs along to jug-poured and steel drum reverberated techno effects – like a calypso Phylyps on Basic Channel.

Sounding in many ways like a remix of chamber piano work, with all the original elements washed-out, the Heeded EP is a cerebral version of techno, trance and electronic dance music for people who hanker after more than just a four-to-the-floor beat and repetition. 

Astrel K ‘Flickering I’
(Duophonic Super 45s Mail Order) 29th April 2022

Like one long mirage, a psychedelic tinged wavy trip inside the preoccupations of Rhys Edwards, the newly imagined Astrel K set-up sees the one-time Ulrika Spacek member swim in solo Scandinavian waters.

Although a solo platform, a moniker under which to pursue his songwriting, Astrel K does in fact include an array of local musicians from Rhys new(ish) home of Stockholm. We should of course name them at least: Lili Holényi, Milton Öhrström, Niklas Mellberg and Thomas Hellberg; all of whom make it possible for this hallucinogenic musical world to float.

Leaving behind the now defunct Spacek music factory, KEN, in (one of my old stomping grounds) Homerton, Rhys finds inspiration in the Swedish capital. Via the mail order label, Duophonic Super 45s, his debut Astrel long-player (the first single, the wobbled, languid and quivered Beatles and Velvets jangle, ‘You Could If You Can’ sold out rapidly on vinyl) swimmingly and with a gauzy lushness balances hazy winding L.A. scenery detective and romantic movie scores and tinkled ray-shining Library music with somnolent Floyd, Edward Penfold and Flaming Lips psychedelic pop, dreamwave and distant lingered, suffused trails of saxophone. All elements that come together across golden slumber cooed songs and shorter Stereolab and KPM like instrumental interludes.

Actually, one of the album’s best tracks is the expanded burnished and sax-swaddled ambient score ‘Forwardmomentum’ – reminding me of the Canadian school of such astral peregrinations, Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn’s work.

Whimsy, wistfulness and druggy stupors hide pressing matters in the real world: the anxieties of the environment and online worlds especially. Certain paradoxes and idiosyncratic observations, plaints are dreamily wooed to a most fluid and softened backing of light and shade. Occasionally there’s a touch of fuzz, a little electric grind, but it’s mostly a lunar and tropical affair of psychedelic pop, enervated soundtrack strings, quirky changes, knowing easy-listening and beautifully conveyed, soulful songwriting.

No matter what the themes are, Flickering i is a languorous, swell and trippy bubble of a place to sit and reflect.     

Sinnen ‘Hawk Moth Man’
(Hreám Recordings) 11th April 2022

I’m going to be honest with you all. I’m going in blind with this slow-release of pent-up energy; woes and guitar pedal effects sustain contouring.

Released on the always intriguing, and reliable, Hreám Recordings, Sinnen’s latest drudge and cymbal-splashed resonated traverse has an esoteric menace running throughout its gnawing and yearned core. A psychogeography of darwave, grunge, slowcore, the industrial, doom and the dreamy, the sword and sorcery title referencing Hawk Moth Man reimagines Mike Cooper fronting Sunn O))). Well, at least some of the time.

Shafts of soulful despondency, a release of abstract imagings languidly emerges from a slow-motion dissipation of shimmy and halftime beaten drums and amplified hums, drones. After one of those amplifier-contoured lead-ins, the first expanded track proper, ‘Painting Daisy’, grinds through a sludge of Codine, Fritch and Dinosaur Jnr.; a haze of the occult and that already mentioned grunge sound.

As the title would suggest, the next slow driven gruel, ‘Bury Your Regrets In Frozen Ground’, drags the listener across a harrowed soundscape. By contrast, a brief pause, an interlude of a sorts, ‘Shifter’ is an ambient (almost) vignette of holy orders as preached by Popol Vuh and Vukovar.

Personally I’m hearing shades of Outside Bowie on the very strange and curious ‘Hill’: a creeping sense of menace, trauma that seems to reach back into civil war period England. But it’s the semi-epic slowcore and flange wave, force field vibrating ‘Se Boda’, which sounds like Michael Stipe singing with The Telescopes, in some alternate universe, that I especially love.

There’s much to untangle, demystify from the heavy atmosphere of suspended pain, discord: one being, why the reference to the swordsman character from the 80s cartoon adventure, The Black Cauldron, ‘Taran’? What’s that all about then?

In all that slow dissonance there’s still some light, and so it never feels too dark, too much to bear. Having never crossed paths with the band/artist before, this could be their stock-in-trade signature: or not of course. Anyway, it gets a recommendation from me.

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.

A LOOK AT WHAT’S OUT THERE/DOMINIC VALVONA

FIRST RESPONDERS: SINGLES/VIDEOS/TRACKS

Jane Inc. ‘Contortions’
(Telephone Explosion Records)

Pretty enamoured with Toronto music scene instigator Carlyn Bezic‘s most recent incarnation, Jane Inc., the debut fruits from that solo endeavour, last year’s Number One album, made our ‘choice albums of 2021’. Something different, escapist even from Carlyn’s musical partnership with Amanda Crist in the synth pop duo Ice Cream, and her roles as a foil to Meg Remy in U.S. Girls and Darlene Shrugg, the Jane persona pouts as much as agonizes under a glitter ball, the rays of light that sparkle from its mirror reflective spins turning into needle sharp cuts at topics that include the harmful effects of social media, our sense of self worth, and the soul-sucking results of gentrification. On a similar but different wave, Carlyn ups the sparse pop and Moroder-esque arpeggiator ratio (with what sounds like a feint echo of Chaka Khan) on her new Jane Inc. single ‘Contortion’. Label mate Dorothea Paas (of U.S. Girls, Badge Epoque Ensemble fame) offers ethereal like backing vocal on an anxious sentiment about time.

The second Jane Inc. album, Faster Than I Can Take, is release by Telephone Explosion on the 22nd April 2022. Keep an eye out for our review.

Širom ‘Grazes, Wrinkles, Drifts Into Sleep’
(Glitterbeat Records)

Declaration time. Yes, I did write the press release, words for this exceptional imaginative folk and avant-garde Slovene trio. And so it does feel a little odd recommending it, but here we go. From the dream-realists new and most epic, transportive long form album yet, The Liquified Throne of Simplicity, the incredible scenic, illusionary and pastoral ‘Grazes, Wrinkles, Drifts into Sleep’.

For the first time the trio ignore the normal time constraints of a standard vinyl record to fashion longer, more fully developed entrancing and hypnotising peregrinations. This new, amended, approach results in 80 minutes of abstract and rustic folklore, explorative intensity and cathartic ritual. And within that array of realms there’s evocations of Jon Hassell’s Fourth World experiments, visions of Samarkand, the esoteric mysteries of Tibet, an unplugged faUSt and pastoral hurdy-gurdy churned Medieval Europe.

The Liquified Throne of Simplicity will be released via Glitterbeat Records on the 8th April 2022.

Crystal Eyes ‘Don’t Turn Around’
(Bobo Intergral)

Thankfully not a god awful version of Azwad’s hit, but something far more promising: hazed psychedelic and 80s alt-rock dream propulsions. Yes, the Alberta band are back with a new softened pummel of gauze-y moodiness. Guitar riffs communed from Joy Division, Simple Minds and U2 ring out and are held over a live drum loop, and C86 via shoegaze wafted, and almost howled, Anita Lane reminiscent vocals. ‘Don’t Turn Around’ is taken from the upcoming album, The Sweetness Restored, released via Bobo Integral on the 22nd April 2022.

PTČ ‘LP’

The second track/video from Slovenia this week, couldn’t be more different. The Ljubljana based duo of PTČ must be part of one of the smallest minority genres in Europe: Slovenian Hip-Hop. That aside, they’re really good, and this is the second track we’ve covered – last summer it was the duo’s ‘PAPAGAJ’ single, which featured fellow compatriot and rapper Vazz (check him out on youtube).

New single-video ‘LP’ (that tile refers to the Slovene abbreviation for yours truly) takes us through some of the Slovenian capital’s hidden gems to the sound of experimental Massive Attack like break beats, long moody synth, and a deep sense of unease.

THE ALBUMS AND EXTENDED RELEASES

Houseplants ‘II’
(Win Big Records) 4th March 2022

It’s a difficult task, keeping up with the highly prolific Oli Heffernan. Another season, another alias and moniker. This time around it’s a return to the Houseplants collaboration, a relatively short exchange with only one previous release to its name (a debut cassette from 2016).

Six years on, arriving in the wake of a multitude of projects (King Champion Sounds, University Challenged) and after a long run of Ivan The Tolerable releases, Oli is back with oft foil Leighton Crook (of Country Teasers, Arndales and Badgewearer infamy) to put the world to rights on the succinct entitled II hallucination. To further the dreamy, languid cause, the ranks are swelled by Neil Turpin’s (of Bilge Pump, Objections and Yann Tiersen providence) live drums and Robbie Major’s (of Benefits) synths. All together they traverse a despondent broken land and trawl the Internet of shame, with Leighton drip-feeding a deadpan and disdainful “eat dirt and die” form of gonzo and street philosophy poetry over swimmingly dubby, krautrock and psychedelic waves of music. 

With a wide net cast the influences are unending; the beat and spoken word delivery of ‘The Barrows’ evoking Renegade Soundwave, Dan Tracey, Ian Dury, Jah Wobble, the Untied Knot and a droopy Spaceman 3. ‘I Want To Drive You Home’ could be a lost Silver Apples communion with a relaxed motorik Klaus Dinger; perhaps even Fujiya & Miyagi caught in a vortex with Unlimited outtakes Can and the 13th Floor Elevators. ‘Half A Monkey Loser’ sounds more like The Specials on the mosquito coast – though one repeated echoed sound evokes the thawing out dripping of icicles. Lyric wise a pretty vacant haze of dystopian capitalism and online miasma is delivered over that semi-tropical backing: “I am a new Nostradamus, an old school rapper, your best friend online, and your favourite stripper. I have one million dollars and a soul like a crater.”  

By the end declaration the musical mood is more Alan Vega and the Stardust Cowboy; a gauzy, druggy malaise that contrasts the gammon faced insults of the lyrics.

My take is a cosmic, lava lamp acid trip with lax post-punk and krautrock inspirations, laid down for a rich if defeated narration and poetry reading summary of a miserable world filled the nouveau riche, online influencers, greedy avarice, unbalanced capitalism (take that has a given), the shambolic decisions taken at Westminster, Brexit (another given), fake news misinformation and the stirring up of division: did I miss anything? We are but apes wearing ties, caught up in the maelstrom; locked into the vacuous unimportance of trivia: something like that anyway. Make room in the house for these, anything but innocuous, plants, you won’t regret it.


Nova Charm ‘Bracelet’
(Pain Management) 4th March 2022

Scanning a desolate opioid-dependent wasteland of mental stresses in the tent cities of a one-sided, unbalanced, unkind and failed economic strategy, the dissonant union of both the candid, chronic and near-hysterical wordsmith Die The Monk and skull-crush industrial beatmaker N.O.I.S.E.W.I.Z.A.R.D. grind and drill on their opening salvo debut, Bracelet.  

The inaugural pummelling and paranoiac statement from the duo marks not only their first furore but introduces us to this partnership’s ambitions as a self-starter label collective, which promises a host of like-minded, bruised and battered by the system artist releases throughout 2022, all under the Pain Management umbrella. Spilt personality psychosis and millennial Salinger echoes of phony-ism, corruption and the pressures of a 24/7 connective online lifestyle are wrapped up in a part scowled, part resigned, part seething style of trap and industrial rap. This is delivered over and around a concentrated, heavy menace of underpass grime, sinister NIN-like beat tortures, the hyperventilated and the most caustic of noises. Together it sounds like a brilliant pneumatic headache of Death Grips, Ghostemane, IC3Pack, Nick Blackos, Nukuluk, Gizmo and Cadence Weapon. On the strength of this, I’d say this union and collective look very promising.   

Deepak Pandit & Pratibha Singh Baghel w/the Budapest Symphony Orchestra ‘Inheritance’ 
(Sufiscore) 14th February 2022

The idea, to breathe new life into the 19th century Indian romantic poems and melodies known as “thumris”, is certainly all correct and proper. Yet the collaboration between the acclaimed composer/violinist Deepak Pandit, the diaphanous voiced Hindustani singer Pratibha Singh Baghel and the post WWII established Budapest Symphony Orchestra proves pretty timeless.

Sentimental, romantic and plaintive poetics from an age of tumult, including the exiled (by the British Raj) last king of Awadh, Wajid Al Shah’s morning Raga-inspired and much cherished ‘Babul Mora Najhar Chhooto Jaye’ (reconfigured and shortened to ‘Babul More’: “oh father of mine”), are indeed given a beautifully dramatic lift and swoon.

Pratibha channels her Bollywood cinematic grounding, a suggestion of stage, theatre to reach softly undulated ethereal heights and to reflect various states of emotion: longing, yearning and heartily romantic. Her incredible voice floats or fluctuates over the brassy resonating drones, fluttered and tapped table and the orchestral swells, spirals and moving punctuations.

Deepak’s twenty-year spanning work with the late “ghazel” vocal legend Jagit Singh puts him in good stead for composing the right tones and arrangements for his foil of five years; especially on the adapted ‘Hamari Atariya’ (“come to my balcony”). This lyrical landscape analogy thumri waivers beautifully between Raga, jazz, the classical and balletic. The latter is hardly surprising, as this 19th century form is also associated with dance and dramatic gestures (mind eroticism too!), the name deriving itself from the Hindi verb “thumakna”, which means to “walk with dancing steps so the ankle bells tinkle”. There’s plenty of that going on by the way; shaking, chimed and shimmered danced trinkets and bells.

All of which is augmented and lifted even further by the Daniel Boico led Budapest Symphony Orchestra, those signature Indian sounds and gestures given a greater atmosphere and rousing sense of gravitas. This collaborative merger sounds positively cinematic on the aching, sorrowful mused ‘Saiyaah Bina’, and almost starry on the ascending strings-rich ‘Lakhon Ke Bol’.

It’s a match made in heaven; a passing of the baton to another generation who’ve managed to capture the poetic forms courtly and romantic sensual origins whilst expanding the musical scope and delivery. Inheritance is a lovingly, vocally outstanding, crafted vision of that extraordinary language and art. 

Ismabard Khroustaliov ‘Shanzhai Acid’
(Not Applicable Recordings) 4th March 2022

The award winning, far too qualified, electronic and sound composer Sam Britton is at it again, fusing humankind with the machine in yet another A.I. type project; this time around interacting with modular synthesizers to create some very ‘granular’ fizzled and whirred space oddities.

A serial offender in this department with the notable Long Division and Fake Fish Distribution experiments and through collaborations with such lauded operators as the Aphex Twin (via the Remote Orchestra project) and Matthew Herbert (New Radiophonic Workshop), Britton, under the Ismabard Khroustaliov alias, lets automation, through some guidance, once more lets digital do the talking and thinking. The results of which prove simultaneously quaintly amusing, galactic, supernatural, scientific, haywire and messed up.

Both signals from Geiger-counters and Fortean Times spirit detectors click across a rewired kosmische bed of raspberry blowing electronics, propeller powered leviathans and slithered fuzz on the first few ‘cybernetic’ experiments. After that it’s all disjointed beeper communications, cosmic feedback, flutters, zips, bity-ness, squints and accelerating loop-da-loops.

The notes mention Autuchere and Fennesz, which seems fair, but you can also add a touch of Faust’s synth oscillating maverick Gunter Westhoff’s solo work, maybe some Kluster (when Conrad Schnitzler was in tow) and even some µ-Ziq to that list.

Of course, all electronic music in some degree is autonomous, and has certainly made it easier to replace, make humans surplus to requirement. But in this instance, I’m assured humans won’t be replaced anytime soon. Still, a very interesting project.     

Bank Myna ‘Volaverunt’
(Araki Records/A La Dérive Records (CA)/Stellar Frequencies/Duality Records/Cold Dark Matter Records) 25th February 2022

Highly atmospheric invocations of Gothic, doom and incense-burning Byzantine dark arts are conjured up by the French trio of Bank Myna on their debut multilingual album, Volaverunt (which translates as “they flew away”).

Composed in ‘one go’, an almost seamless five-act singular soundtrack, this mystical suffused esoteric turn is a slow-burning candle lit covenant of wafted ethereal siren vocals and sustained skulking acid-folk, psych-magick and krautrock. A gradual build-up of the Telescopes and Godspeed You! Black Emperor drone sculpting, the entrancing scores of early Popol Vuh and Tibetan evoked meditations of Ash Ra Tempel slowly hit a swelled, dramatic climax of scaling, squalling and heavy-loaded doomy drums as the trio stir the cauldron and cross the Styx. With an assemblage of chiming clocks and noise box effects alongside more traditional instrumentation and summoning vocals (though sometimes they sound like a very removed All About Eve) Bank Myna mix Greek tragedy with the industrial and Acid Mothers as they open up the doors of perception for an epic, progressive score that’s part dread, part allurement, but all very mystifyingly serious. 

Neuro…No Neuro ‘Faces & Fragments’
(Audiobulb Records) 2nd March 2022

Transducing an organized bauble of fizzled, blurred and decaying memories and recollections into a crisper hallucination of mostly clean tubular icicles, crystal bulb arpeggiator, primal pops and liquids, and a general cosmic oddness, the arid-plane based Tuscon, Arizona synthesist, drummer and artist Kirk Markarian delivers an electronic mirage with his new album, Faces & Fragments.  

Under the binary Neuro…No Neuro alias Kirk, we’re told, ‘illuminates fragments of memory and speech, as they wander out of focus in the growing aperture of time’.  This translates into 12 tracks – the final track and thirteenth, ‘And The Energy Goes Back To The Ground’, is the one exception (relatively a sci-fi ambient etude with orbiting synthesised waves) – of gate-clipped and interrupted Mouse On Mars bleeps, Sakamoto’s most far-out early 80s experiments on his new computer, cult library music, a futuristic scoring Vangelis and slurred, slowed down voices from inside the machine.

Fragments then of fuzzy hive buzzes, cartoon sounds and sub-bass grumbles flicker in and out of Kirk’s mind. A trip switch makes sure that the flow is, although mostly liquefied and spongy in sonic shaping, constantly stopped: Just as one detuned loop, Forbidden Planet power source, blob-y collection of notes, clicks and retro computer calculus appears it’s soon cut off. A strangely disrupted soundtrack appears like a futuristic dream from a broken feed. Kirk does however shine, illuminate with certain clarity on the most clean if weird of radiating abstract electronic navigations.

It’s as much down to his painter’s eye as it is his ear that these electronic episodes prompt the ‘synesthete’ in me: a mix of pastel-shaded pink oblongs and washed-out red cylinders and round bottomed shapes if you must know; not unlike Kirk’s album artwork itself. Colours, shapes, memory chips have never sounded quite so interesting.

Le Pietre Dei Giganti ‘Vetie e Culti’
(Overdub Recordings) 25th February 2022

The Florence quartet find runes, mystical masks and portals to other worlds instead of love seats or lovers initials craved into the trees of the esoteric forest they traverse on their second album, Vetie e Culti (or in English, “vetoes and cults”). For this is album is an atmospheric balance of dark arts and the light: the dreamy too.

Almost organic, naturel, a bridge between the surreal and magical characters of the artist alchemist DEM and us humans, this album proposes a sort of ‘co-existence’ between the Chthonian and Apollinarian: with all its crushing doubt dread and escapism. Latin deamonic and primal rituals meet on the forest pathway; the wild, barely tamed caravan of romanticists and philosophy bookworms invited to take leave of their hangups for a both supernatural and dramatic musical journey of highs and lows.

Le Pietre Dei Giganti embark on a successfully well-planned, thought out epic of Medieval romance, the classics, Dante’s Inferno, woodland folklore and grinding bestial black magic – like a doom-metal version of Aphrodite’s Child ala 666

If a Gothic Piano Magic led by a Tarot card fatalistic Mighty Joe Moon era Grant Lee Buffalo ever existed on some imaginary plane, this is what it would sound like. That and a spell of Soundgarden, Audioslave, Royal Blood, Muse, Mazeppa, Wovenhand and Pink Floyd. Actually, a lot of Floyd, albeit one lurking under dark forest canopies, ritualistically reaching out to the underworld, rather than setting the controls for the heart of the sun. 

Progressive then in parts, dragging a leaded coffin over crushed bones in others, this heavy vision also offers ambiguous monastic throat singers, timeless interludes, poetic Jeff Buckley vocal highs, shimmers of radiance, and on ‘Polvere’ (“dust”) even a brief glimpse of soft, languid hazy Bacharach trumpet.

I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece, but Vetie e Culti is a powerful grinded and enlightened fantasy from the Italian group; serious, pained yet open to far more optimistic escapism.

Gidouille ‘Zineogenesis’
(Wormhole World) 25th February 2022

It’s been a long since I’ve seen a Marshal McLuhan quote, let alone hear a record inspired by the media Cassandra. My own knowledge is rusty (it was over twenty years ago, in my formative years at art school since I studied him), but I’m surprised the 20th century philosopher’s soothsayer pronouncements haven’t gained more traction in a world he had foreseen; especially his good old maxim that ‘The medium is the message’ one-liner.

Falling out of style perhaps, his tracts on the future of media, its delivery, aren’t even disputed. Here, on Gidouille’s new release, Zineogenesis, his ‘laws of media’ are cut-up into quarters and represented through the prism of the ‘fanzine’; the physicality, attachment of which kept the avant-garde group going during the lockdowns.

Each heading (Enhance, Flip, Retrieve and Obsolesce) is discussed, treated across an experimental, atmospheric and often kosmische or krautrock art school sound and talked collage. From the mouths of four chosen fanzine heads, thoughts and documentary style encapsulations of the whys and wherefores of producing the tangible in the Internet age (a place in which long term relationships with creators is scarce and where the transient, surface is overpowering anything more meaningful and deeper) are merged with sound-effects and streams of consciousness music. In an era of click validation, the art of small interest fanzines reminds us of what we’ve lost; the ease, democratization (to a point) of blogging having mostly replaced those cottage industries. And so, it’s refreshing to hear such dedicated ventures, immortalised as they are on this homage (of a kind).

Invited to offer their perceptions, processes, self-awareness is TQ Zine’s Andy Wood, Letomagic Zone’s Jan Stöver (who also produced the artwork for this album), Curious British Television Zine’s Ben Ricketts and Breath Like The Trunk Of A Tree and a myriad of illustrative zines creator Jean McEwan. Their words are looped, often obscured, and melded with a highly experimental soundscape of constant Xerox photocopier printing, analogue bubbled pops and clicks, Morse and Geiger counter signals, lingering’s of saxophone and flute, and coarse electrode scratches. Distant suffusions of the heavenly, supernatural and mechanical appear throughout on four pieces of strange abstract curious devices; a meeting of underground figures in an ether of Cage, Froese, Ilhan Mimaroglu, Faust, Throbbing Gristle and the Italian and Spanish agit-political tape cultures of the 70s and 80s.

A celebration of that whole zine culture then, each participant in this exploration echoes, in their own inimitable fashion, McLuhan’s principles, augurs. In a nutshell, that every form of media ‘enhances’ something, can ‘flip’ it, ‘retrieves’ something from the past and makes something ‘obsolescent’ – the end process of the obsolete, outdated and no longer used. That final marker hasn’t quite come to fruition, as these zinesters are still hard at it, sharing their thoughts, writing, and producing art through a physical format: though Andy Wood brings up the idea of maybe creating a PDF version of his zine, already using the ‘flip’ principle by producing a CDR copy of a “virtual gig”. Jean McEwan for her part describes a whole list of reasons why she produces zines, seeing it as “a real valuable way of processing an experience”, of “exploring a thought”, “communicating and idea”.  But also, as a diary, a space in which to process and reflect.

Thank god such tactile souls exist. Ironically this review appears online, but the sentiment remains, as Homeboy Sandman and Edan once rapped in unison, “never use the internet again”. Down with the empirical and fatuous and viva the fanzines, because even in the face of an ever-growing screen-obsessed society these guys are fighting back with something far more tangible.

Park Jiha ‘The Gleam’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat Records) 25th February 2022

Into a fourth year partnership with the instrumental, exploratory tak:til label – a sister act to Glitterbeat Records – the adroit South Korean musician Park Jiha turns attention to the light on her third international solo album The Gleam.

The light in question, from the first gleams of sunrise to the last gleam of light that dies away as the day turns to night, is captured by Jiha who transduce’s the changeable, fleeting patterns and impressions of that source on a number of textures both naturalistic and coarse.

Previous albums have featured a number of collaborators, but this time around Jiha flies’ solo with a contemplated octet of suites; taking up a solitary position as a light gazer, recording what we often take for granted, the play, the natural geometric shapes of light and they way it indicates, measures time.

Unsurprisingly Covid had a lot to do with the manner in which The Gleam was fashioned: pushing back a performance of the ‘meditative improvisation’ ‘Temporary Inertia’, destined for a bunker-like designed space by the architect Ando Tadao. This frayed minimalistic encapsulation of daylight from the artist/observer brings this emotive, transporting album to a close, but it acts as a leitmotif, thematic inspiration for the rest of the album’s considered performances.

Jiha’s transformative sound is created by the use of a distinctive sounding ‘piri’ double-reed bamboo flute, the soaring twanged ‘saenghwang’ mouth organ, softly paddled ‘yanggeum’ hammered dulcimer and the glockenspiel. Played separately, in couplets or together these mostly southeast Asian instruments can sound very exotic, and always atmospheric: ‘At Dawn’ evokes a sonorous, sometimes piercing, roused from sleep scenery that’s ancient and serene, whilst searing ray-lit mirrored ‘Sunshine; A Song Of Two Humans’ (originally created as a live soundtrack for the black and white movie of the same name) is almost venerable with the light pouring in through a stained glass window.

Park Jiha successfully and intricately conveys a sprawling, fanned and also singular evanescent light source that never quite falls upon the array of surfaces or in the spaces that the artist instinctively reflects, in the exact same way twice.

Something we often take for granted – painter’s aside – is made melodically and sonically eternal on yet another highly tactile, resonate album that pushes the boundaries and our understanding of South Korean music in the 21st century.

In these troubled times, with so much stacked against independent, unsponsored voices, you can help us to continue probing and delivering great new music:

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.

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