ALBUM REVIEW/DOMINIC VALVONA

Xhosa Cole ‘K(no)w Them, K(no)w Us’
(Stoney Lane Records)  30th July 2021

Collecting an enviable array of accolades already, at such an early point in their career, the Jazz FM Breakthrough Artist of the Year in 2020 and BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year in 2018 tipped saxophonist Xhosa Cole, can boast quite a resume. With it however comes great expectations and anticipation.

Xhosa certainly has the skills, as shown when performing at the BBC Proms and at Ronnie Scotts’; rubbing shoulders with the UK’s stalwart jazz luminary Courtney Pine and Monty Alexander. There’s also been the most congruous of guest spots on both Soweto Kinch’s The Black Peril and the R&B songwriter Machalia’s Love And Compromise albums.

That’s the professional CV out of the way. Let’s now talk about Xhosa’s formative years, exposed to the African-American progenitors of jazz. Various anecdotal experiences that unleashed a passion in the saxophonist are channeled into this debut album of jazz standards reinterpretations; and surprisingly a number of smoother 1920s romantic serenades from the great American songbook,

Through a contemporary ‘black British lens’, as it’s framed, K(no)w Them, K(no)w Us (which adopts and repurposes Dizzy Gillespie’s original homage quote about Louis Armstrong: ‘no him, no me’) is a largely faithful attempt to capture the spark, joy and essence of creating something new with old jazz favorites. Although loaded with a biography in the press spill, with all good intentional references to Xhosa’s LGBTQIA+ community identity, the issues of race, and campaigns to help black hopefuls to get a decent break in the music industry, this album isn’t so much a cry for justice, opportunity and equality but a very decent, sometimes exceptional, transformation from a different, contemporary perspective of jazz music that in its own way was just as fresh, dynamic and game changing back in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. An expression of fluidity and freedom you could say that finds room to expand and play with the original signatures of those seven classic compositions.





Joining Xhosa on this homage to the greats, the innovators, and sweet spot inspirations are Jay Phelps on trumpet, James Owston on double bass and James Bashford on drums. This set up is further expanded with guest spots from fellow Birmingham jazz talents, the already mentioned saxophonist Kinch and pianist Reuben James. All of who prove as adroit, masterful and dynamic as their focal bandleader.
 
It all begins with a free rolling NYC style skyline tooted and spiralled horns version of Woody Shaw’s Hungarian folk opera and Lydian mode free jazz march ‘Zoltan’. Originally the kick starter on the organist Larry Young’s iconic ‘post-bop’ classic Unity, for the equally iconic Blue Note label in ’66, Xhosa and quartet turn it inside out with dry spit rasping horns, splashes and cushioned tight drilled drum rolls. They do however maintain the core drive and melodies of the original.
 
The great innovator extraordinaire and saxophone god Ornette Coleman, has his turn-of-the-60s ‘Blues Connotation’ composition injected with a well-oiled dynamism that feels quite faithful to the source again. Appearing on Coleman’s fifth album, This Is Our Music, with his quartet, that track followed a thematic concept; blending all the various strands of group improvisation, from Dixie to the progressive, and of course the blues and swing. This take of that class performance skips, quickens and even rushes along to that same set of influences, both wildly and in step; loose and fluted; swinging and abstract.
 
Another of the great jazz progenitors, Thelonious Monk sees his ’59 ‘Played Twice’ composition handled with care by the quartet. The original of course featured on Monk and his quintet’s (hence the album riffed title) 5 By Monk By 5 album. With a dash of be-bop swing and leaning towards Dizzy, this contemporary version seems to be constantly on the move in a dot-dash like progression.
 
Album finale, ‘Untitled Boogaloo’ by the fatalistic trumpet demigod Lee Morgan also gets into the swing of things; Boogaloo alright, bordering on driving R&B and Stax like soul. The original appears on a couple of posthumously released late 70 albums (on the Blue Note catalogue), but was recorded a decade before. A real hot-stepper groove, Xhosa uses it to announce and credit each member of his band; all of who get a little solo spot. Just as cool, rambunctious and fun, the ensemble makes a great job of it.
 
In a less busy mode, and playing to the romantic in Xhosa, there’s a trio of pre-war standards. The oldest of which, ‘Manhattan’, first appeared in the Garrick Gaieties revue of ’25. Composed by Richard Rodgers with words by Lorenz Hart, this meandrous jolly lovers budget tour of the city skit made lyrical “delights” out of Manhattan’s least desirable spots and cheap side landmarks: “We’ll turn Manhattan into an Isle Of Joy”. Wordless on this occasion, the quartet play hard and fast with the original score; refashioning the piano parts to resemble Oscar Peterson’s idiosyncratic touch rather than roaring 20s gaiety. It must be stated at this point that James’ pianist skills are very, very good; with keyboard patterns that seem to flow like a waterfall, merged with more loosened trills, dabs and off-kilter singular stabs.   
 
A moonlit serenade, Tadd Dameron’s (in this version arranged by W. Markham) bluesy caress, ‘On A Misty Night’, is played with a tenderness. This legendary composer and arranger worked with a litany of the crème de crème: from Count Basie through to Coltrane and Dizzy. And this song has been reinterpreted by the best of them to in the past, with Xhosa’ version sailing closest to the latter of those great names.
 
Also close to Xhosa’s heart is Bob Haggart’s original 30s torch song, ‘What’s New’, which a year after its initial unveiling by Bob Crosby and his Orchestra saw Johnny Burke add ‘casual conversational lovers’ style lyrics. Again, covered by a litany of legends, from Louis Armstrong to Dexter Gordon, and made extra special and stirring by Billie Holiday, Xhosa and guests conjure up a sentimental enough and elegant performance of wandering languorous yearned saxophone and walking basslines. 
 
If anything, all these reinterpretations prove just how innovative and even pleasurable the source material was, and still is. And this album remains a touching, respectful tribute to those pleasures. There’s always enough space to chance something a little different and fresh; some individual flares, expansions and concentrated thrills. Despite all the outside motivations that are funnelled into this debut, it remains a loving homage to the unadulterated joys of discovering music in your formative years; especially something you can instantly relate to, or that makes the growing pains, woes and uncertainties of youth seem so much clearer: an inspiration rather than drawback. Whilst never personally really thinking at all about the sexuality of those that have gone before in the jazz community, Xhosa offers a fresh perspective, musical language in what is, at least from my experiences, still an overwhelmingly heterosexual male dominated scene: an extremely egotistical and snobby one at that.
 
What Xhosa does is now help to widen that community and scope, whilst still keeping faithful to the music. And what a talent Xhosa is; backed by a more than capable, in fact highly adroit, band that feels its way around a great legacy. One to keep an ear out for; the potential is great in this rising jazz star.

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.

ALBUM REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona

Lisa Gerrard & Jules Maxwell ‘Burn’
(Atlantic Curve) 7th May 2021

Those already enraptured by the sublime billowing vistas and ethereal music of the four-decade spanning Dead Can Dance will quite rightly settle for nothing less than the stunning. Those fans will be hoping for the best in light of this new project conceived by that partnership’s leading siren Lisa Gerrard and the most recent member to join the Dead Can Dance fold (playing keyboards and co-composing for the Melbourne-birthed band since the world tour of 2012) Jules Maxwell.

Well, I can tell you it’s a sonic-voiced match made in the heavens; every bit as grandiose, visceral, dreamy and moving as anything Gerrard recorded under the DCD banner. Once more in the amorphous swell and vapour of atavistic and more recent cultural influences, myth and folklore whilst progressing towards something new, Gerrard and Maxwell conjure up a visionary, filmic opera of the neo-classical and electronica.

The quality and scope of elementals are unsurprising, with the contralto/mezzo-soprano voiced Gerrard channeling past collaborations with Bulgarian choirs, the otherworldly and cinematic, and her foil the Irish theatre composer, songwriter bringing his explorative grandeur.

Two become three with the addition of the English record producer, Last Space Recordings label founder, songwriter, remixer and artist in his own right (under the MAPS guise) James Chapman, who brings yet another air of experimental sophistication and some more horizon-gazing to the project.

Before we continue we need some background to how this immersive triumvirate took shape. The story goes right back to Maxwell’s inauguration as a live band member of, the long established, Dead Can Dance band in 2012. Not only playing keyboards but also already starting to write material from the outset with Gerrard, this creative partnership’s blossoming ‘Rising Of The Moon’ suite became the band’s final encore choice. Moving forward a few years, and having now struck up a certain ‘affinity’, Maxwell invited his siren partner to co-write songs for The Mystery Of The Bulgarian Voices project; travelling to Gerrard’s Australian studio to put this beautifully conceived choral requiem together. It was during these sessions that the duo also began writing ideas and conceptions for what would be the cerebral Burn album saga.

Chapman’s involvement stemmed from an introduction through Maxwell’s publisher over dinner in Sofia: proposed as a possible congruous edition to an already artfully transportive collaboration.

Fast forward to the pandemic epoch, and with the trio now scattered between three locations (Gerrard in Australia, Maxwell in France and Chapman in England), Burn finally and thankfully made it. And what an album experience it is; a slow-released epic of deep yet gauzy and ambitious dense atmospheric layering. Gerrard is as ever on a whole different plane to anyone; one minute dredging the longing yearn of shield maidens and at other times singing in diaphanous, weep inducing tongues like an operatic aria version of Elizabeth Frazer. She evokes everything from Fado and the Celtic, to the Ancient proscenium; a worldly amorphous intake of influences that stretches from the Balkans to Anatolia. She even made me bloody cry on the interstellar veneration, and one of the album’s stand-out grand scale longing visions, ‘Orion (The Weary Huntsman)’.

It’s passionate, stirring stuff that fills the soul, set to a musical score that transduces the synthesized film soundtrack futurist rayed visions of Vangelis (and a touch of Moroder), the pulsed emotive moody basslines of In Rainbows era Radiohead (‘All I Need’ springs to mind), slow controlled swelling drums, the celestial and beatific cathedral ascendance. The themes are no less full of both the same gravitas and the more tactile: made even more prescient and personal in the current isolating pandemic. Yet the sagacious title track is itself an invitation to (no less) “walk in peace, unlock the passive passion within, engage in the diversity of life and celebrate.”       

So unbelievably beautiful in parts and always emotionally powerful, Burn is an incredible statement from this creative communion. A triumph even and among the best, most heart aching and immersive experiences you’ll hear this year: nothing short of sublime.

Comorian ‘We Are An Island, But We’re Not Alone’
(Glitterbeat Records) 7th May 2021

A crossroads of migratory civilizations in the Indian Ocean, the volcanic archipelago of islets collectively known as the Comoro Islands lies between Madagascar and the mainland African coastline of Mozambique (located in what is referred to as the Mozambique channel to be precise). Though the exact date of human habitation is vague – dating to somewhere in the 6th century – these distant islands are populated by the ancestors of those oceanic travellers from the Middle East, Africa and even further afield. In the 19th century it was the turn of European colonization, with the French planting a flag on the relatively far-flung islands. And so amongst the local Comoran dialect (a mixture of both Swahili and Arabic) and Arabic languages you’ll also find French being spoken and used still to name the largest of the Comoro Island’s, ‘Grande Comore’. It’s the location that the Grammy Award winning producer and polymath Ian Brennan and his partner (and wife) on such ventures, the Italian-Rwandan filmmaker, author, activist and photographer Marilena Umuhoza Delli, travelled to record the latest installment of blog favorites Glitterbeat RecordsHidden Musics series.  

Brennan is once more well-matched for the task of capturing the raw, unfretted and most direct performances of those African islands, having already travelled to some of the world’s most dangerous, furthest places; recording all but one volume of this now eight volume series for the label. Previous editions have taken Brennan (twice) to Pakistan (Ustad Saami  ‘Pakistan Is For The Peaceful’ and ‘God Is not A Terrorist’ albums), Cambodia (‘They Will Kill You, If You Cry’), Vietnam (‘Hanoi Masters’), Rwanda (‘Why Did We Stop Growing Tall’) and Ghana (Fra Fra ‘Funeral Songs’). Many of these recordings have acted almost like healing sessions, whilst others have amplified the voices of many oppressed, forgotten and ignored ethnic communities.

The whole Hidden Musics raison d’etre is to illuminate ‘localized sounds that are time-honored’ and bound to a specific place, culture. You couldn’t get much more obscure and hidden than this latest excursion. Brennan’s air miles must be jaw dropping, with this journey alone taking six flights to reach the final destination. 

Painting a vivid and desperate picture of Island life (as laidback as it is), Brennan’s own linear notes describe such illuminating observations as the sunblock mud masks worn by local women, the litter strewn lapping tides that throw up a world’s ocean of international crap against the beachside walls of the President’s Palace (previous coup leader Azali Assoumani holds that role in case you were asking), and Comorian’s relationship to the car. As Brennan found out, there’s just as many empty car wrecks, strewn at the side of the Island’s few roads, as there are working ones. It’s the shell of one such abandoned car that the producer used as the most rudimental of on-location studios; shielded from the harsh winds blowing in off the Indian Ocean.

Packing light as usual, and setting up the most nonintrusive of recording apparatus, Brennan presses record and let’s the natural surroundings take their course – there’s a great anecdote about breaking a cardinal rule of recording; packing up too early, but determined to catch what would have perhaps been one of those empirical moments in the sodden rain with just a handheld back-up mic and device, only to find the moisture had killed it.

Attempting even to find the Island’s musicians proved almost as convoluted as the journey; a contact of a contact introduces Brennan to the album’s eventual stars Soubi, his musical mentor partner Mmadi and the guma drummer and background vocalist D. Alimzé. Unfortunately the legendary reputation of the Island’s ‘ndzumara’ players (a sort of double-reed pipe; a primitive oboe if you will) is declared ‘dead’ upon arrival. Soubi and Mmadi however seem to have mastered it – sounding at times like a weird kazoo at times when things get excitable.

Renowned for letting events take their course, with little, even no interference (even post-production, which is often done there and then) Brennan puts his trio subjects at ease. The music, utterances, yearns and roots-like blues exaltations just flow because of that hands-off approach.

Taking it in turns on lead vocals, Mmadi offers up sung and head and lips shaking spirit-channeled emotions (this becomes fiery and madly agitated on the highly energetic ‘America, Crazy’) and earthy soul. He even channels a merger of Ritchie Havens and The Last Poets on the foot-tapped timed, quasi-rap tune ‘Bandits Are Doing Bad Deeds’. Soubi for his part, also playing the rustic string-y spindly and threaded ‘gambussi’ (a localized version of the Yemen short-necked lute, transformed when brought overseas with a replaced flat-shaped pegbox and a different soundbox), gives a lulled at times soft yearn and spiritual voice to these illuminating performances. His gambussi playing meanwhile evokes hints of Appalachian banjo and a fecund of descendent lute-like instruments as far away as China.  But the crosswinds meeting of cultures can be heard with vague traces of Arabia, Malawi, Madagascar and even Polynesia.

Once more ‘free of artifice’, with those matter-of fact titled declarations, traumas and prayers; once more with the most stripped-down and lo fi of productions, Brennan captures music in its most natural environment. The desperations of an Island microcosm, with the allurement of leaving to find a better life on the mainland, and the travails of subsistence are transduced through these incredible performances. And again, it’s unlike anything you would have quite heard before; I’d say that was another illuminating success.

Koma Saxo ‘Live’
(We Jazz) 30th April 2021

Devoid of live music (for nearly most of us anyway) during the last year of the pandemic, the reputable Helsinki based label We Jazz is making up for this loss with an abundance of live albums from its roster; most of which were recorded in 2019. The latest live extravaganza in that loose run of performances is the dynamic, excitable and egged-on dizzy run of folk songs, lullaby transformations, Soviet era symphonies and the avant-garde by the Koma Saxo quintet.

With a heavy Swedish jazz bent, the Saxo boast an impressive lineup. Leading the charge is band instigator and bassist Petter Eldh, joined by a trio of saxophonists (as the band name stresses) that includes Otis Sandsjö and Jonas Kullhammer on tenor and Mikko Innanen on alto and baritone, plus drummer Christian Lilling. Sandsjö, riding high these days off the back of his remix in motion style of trip-hop, hip-hop and electronica Y-OTIS albums (imagine Madlib and J Dilla deconstructing and rebuilding contemporary European jazz in play), of course features the ever adaptable Eldh and Kullhammer in his own band and recordings. So this exchange of ideas and musicianship has already been forged, and already ablaze with energy.

The Saxo made their debut with a clutch of impressive freewheeling jazz singles in 2019, followed up by a phenomenal encouraged (by the audience and band) free-fall live performance at We Jazz’s annul Helsinki-sited festival in the December of that same year. A full-extended self-titled album parade of the troupe’s own compositions plus a number of re-interpretations popped up just before that, as it proves, legendary live furor. There doesn’t seem to be much material from that inaugural longplayer on this improvised tumult; only the Sergi Prokofiev fairytale meets avant-garde tripping jazz woodland fluted ‘Blumer’.

What does make an appearance is the early singe-sharing double A-side ‘Fanfarum Fur Komarum’ anthem, a ‘fanfare’ as it were, and sort of anthem signature. The original’s tooted Valley of the Kings procession of Sun Ra, Ayler period Spiritual Unity, Leon Thomas and more hustled NYC skyline components are all present and correct, but with an added excitement of the live atmosphere and crowd reaction. Dizzying piques and even screaming sax contort and blurt out (almost in reedy breathlessness at one point) over the jostling carnival turn stuttering and strung-out movement.

It all starts however with the almost twinned opening torrent of ‘Euro Koma’ and ‘Puls Koma’. The First of which begins with a tuning session on a cartoon harassed frisk but develops quickly into a scuttle and bumbled tumbling physical of New Orleans Mardi Gras brass, hip-hop breakbeat and ska (even a squawked transmogrified version of ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag’). The latter, strains and stretches out into a no less exciting dash and commotion, with hints of that Andy Haas magic.

For examples of the quintet’s most explorative and stripped-down ventures there’s a sort of breather vignette passage that has Sandsjö and Lilling adapt their respective tenor sax and drums into a metal workshop of descriptive sounds and scuttles over corrugated tin and industrial apparatus.

There are re-interpretations of a kind too, in the shape of the semi-classical serenaded ‘Fiskeskärsmelodin’ (a Meta riff on a riff take on the Swedish polymath and national poet Evert Taube’s own made version of a traditional lullaby), and the quickened jazz Russian Polyphonic Spree meets Sun Ra choral ‘Stepp, Min Step’ (riffing on the 60s Swedish jazz pianist Jan Johansson’s version of a 30s Soviet paean). The band and audience seem to have fun on that last one with a finale group effort of lulling solemn choir antics, in unison to an unmistakable familiar Russian tune.

Koma Saxo shows a certain virtuoso playfulness live; the music deeply felt however, even almost pining, but thoroughly enjoyed and pushed to the limits. It’s an infectious atmosphere that makes you ache (same thing I said about another We Jazz live wonder, Timo Lassy and Teppo Mäkynen’s communion game-changer back in March) for the intimacy and the now(ness) of a live performance. I envy those who were present that day, as even this recorded version threatens to leap out of the speakers and engulf you – it sounds to all intents and purposes like the group were playing in the middle of the audience, surrounded on all sides. Vibrant, flexing and free-spirited, the sax heavy troupe runs away with it: another essential contemporary jazz album from one of Europe’s best labels.   

NOUS Alpha ‘A Walk In The Woods’
(Our Silent Canvas) 7th May 2021

Well they’ve picked as good a spot as any to inspire them, out in the dense woodlands and on the mountains that make up part of the famous Catskills landscape. Part of the larger Appalachians, this film set backdrop and gravitas inspiration for the Hudson River School of painters has always been a draw for creatives of every stripe. It’s home to Woodstock for Christ sake; how could it not be a mecca for musicians and artists.

That spirit, atmosphere now lends itself to the second album by the collaborative sonic partnership NOUS Alpha; bringing together the transatlantic and well-travelled sagacious musicianship of both the American composer, songwriter and founder of the multidisciplinary label hub Our Silent Canvas (the facilitator platform for this project) Christopher Bono and esteemed English producer, engineer, digital pioneer Gareth Jones. You expect great things from the duo’s combined CV, which includes Bono’s multiple experimental projects BARDO, Ghost Against Ghost and NOUS, and Jones’ countless production, engineering contributions to the Mute Records catalogue (including Crime And The City Solution, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Wire) and for introducing such luminaries as the Mode and Einstürzende Neubauten to sampling. In fact, some of those previous named doyens of the industrial and synthesized radiance pop scenes make themselves heard on this sophisticated mantra of the universal, blessed nature and more esoteric investigations: especially both Depeche Mode and Einstürzende Neubauten. Some of the sonic material is produced from the foliage, the stones and rocks picked up on the duo’s gong struck meditative strolls; and some of the sourced sounds for what they call ‘foraged sounds’ (great phrase that) came from a tranquil pond.

With grand spiritual plans of rejuvenation and self-discovery, it seems both Bono and Jones didn’t flinch away from stirring the waters of a darker sub-consciousness too: ‘Black Water’, as the title may suggest, sounds like a cloaked holy chorus of fraters rowing across the Styx; the waters around them slithery and atmosphere occult. But in the main we’re treated to the cathedral electronica of a cosmic, connective requiem; vaporised moody metallic ripples; a constantly in flux momentum of tapped, pattered sampled kinetic beats and calculations; and repeated, if cut-up and manipulated, mantras sent out into the wilds. It reminded me in places of both His Name Is Alive and Daniel Lanois, and on the album’s final woodland peregrination spell, ‘Forest Jam’, an Appalachian country astral version of Ash Ra Tempel: In my book that’s a winner. A light and shaded ‘walk in the woods’ with sparks of ingenuity and emotive transcendence, this continued collaboration sets an otherworldly, spiritual scene; a funnelled journey into the cerebral and back out into the expanse that offers sonic awakenings and meditative revelations aplenty.

IKLAN ‘Album Number 2’
(Soulpunk) 23rd April 2021

A collective, a manifesto that draws in a myriad of intergenerational artists, musicians and fashion designers from across three cities (Edinburgh, London and Birmingham) IKLAN once more dance towards the barricades with another iron fist in a velvet glove groove album of disarming soul-punk and R&B. For despite the complete purview of propaganda (the music being the main focus of a campaign of information networks, art, pamphlets and booklets) and protest diy ascetics, IKLAN’s sound is produced by Mercury Prize winner and stalwart of the UK underground scene for forty years, Tim London, who’s sagacious skills and experience lift it out of what could be a discordant, caustic rabble of rage.

It’s actually quite high value in that respect, mixing elements of post-punk, trip-hop, neo-soul, indie and pop together in a loose cross-pollination of influences that flows in natural cohesion: one minute Family Fodder, the next, Xenia Rubinos.

Taking it in turns to front each track on this latest eclectic album are the singer-nurse Law Holt, the JnP siblings (otherwise known as Jacqui and Pauline Cuff of the Leith Congregational Choir and the Soho Sisters Of Love), the Dalston-based Washington RaysFabio D’Agostino (stepping in as the pay-as-you-go guru on the divine retribution ‘Come To My Church’) and Nigerian, via Scottish capital, singer Cheng Cheng. Holt as usual leads in this department with a voice that evokes a soulful imbued Merrill Garbus, FKA Twigs and Tamar Kamen. She appears on the lion’s share of material, from the Lilly Allen and M.I.A. bouncing to a carnival sauntering filthy lucre chanted ‘Money’, to the Morcheeba in cahoots with Tricky atonal and atmospheric turn churned-up industrial vortex ‘Funny Man’. London himself appears as a sort of Boggles faded (robot-like) voice on the saddened Stereolab Kosmische ‘Karaoke’: a hallucinogenic dreamy plaint to immortality on wax.  JnP’s efforts include the Siouxsie Sioux fronts Crack Cloud strut with punk aria echoes ‘Big Boss’, and disconnected, surface-only ‘holiday romance’ on the Iberian coastline ‘Ola Ola’. Below a vaporous gauzy wash, Cheng Cheng channels Macy Gray as she pines in ‘lockdown isolation’ on the sparser, dub and kinetic beat tingled, wavy ‘Sure You’re Doing Fine’. Almost wistful, faded, lost in the enormity of the pandemic and divisive anxieties of our present times, the IKLAN collective aren’t so much resigned or indolent as controlled in firing broadsides at the ire of their discontent and scorn. Mental health, the Tories, the crushed desires of Capitalism’s losers, and the commercial, validation, enervation of art and music are all explored with a soulful energy of melodious strength; an album of earworms essentially. The intention, propaganda of change has never sounded so harmonious and well produced.

Bagaski ‘Final’
(See Blue Audio) 16th April 2021

More shade than light we’re told in the label’s notes for this latest atmospheric album from the Barcelona-based imprint See Blue Audio – those fine providers and facilitators for some of the most unrushed sublime ambient, electronica and slow-release cinematic works from a rich roster of leading sonic explorers. Yet to these ears it seems the opposite might be true, as the Cretan traveller, now resident Berliner, Bagaski refracts, turns to face, and radiates from the shadows and darkened spaces of a synthesized soundscape towards the light on his newest album, Final

From the opening reverent glasshouse Kosmische psalm to nature’s cathedrals in the sky ‘Spring Prayer’, to the caustic fizzled lapping tides and Roedelius modes of the descriptive explanation ‘Lydian Sequence & Filtered Noise’ (the ‘Lydian’ bit a reference to the atavistic F scale and Anatolian kingdom that gives it the name) there’s either a subtle hint of emitted light sources; sometimes a bathing radiance, at other times, as empirical, distant as a star twinkling in a great universal expanse. 

Bagaski’s often translucent, vaporous world is as diaphanous as it is often mysterious and deep. For amongst the gentle breathes and blowing, the cloud hovering and incipient hazy, faded stirrings there’s passages of distilled scuzz and beats from the early days of Techno and House, and even further back to the birth of Mute Records – I’m sure I can hear the moody echoes of the first Human League incarnation wafting in the lunar strangeness, coo-y warbles and 2-step tetchy beats of ‘Bellcat Melt’.

But in many ways this sounds like a soundtrack imbued by those progenitors of the Kosmische sound (from Tangerine Dream and Conrad Schnitzler to Asmus Tietchens), especially on both the already mentioned springtime opener and the bookended ethereal veneration ‘Heartfelt IV’. Talking of the ethereal, the barely concealed ‘homage’ to 4AD Records’ own pioneers (‘AD4’) channels that label’s Shoegaze gauzy luminaries MBV and the equally beatific ambient, synwave and electronic music innovator His Name Is Alive on what is a short drifting passage.

A lovely affecting album of the tidal, spiritual, cosmic, Bagaski’s sonic odyssey is a most rewarding experience of adroit, ascending and lofted materialisations: another impressive if unassuming release on the selective See Blue Audio label – fast becoming a stamp of excellence.

Orca, Attack! ‘C.M.S.O. (Learning By Listening Vol.1)’
16th April 2021

Not a million light years away from the orbital draw of New Orleans sonic siren Elizabeth Joan Kelly’s afflatus celestial imperilled Farewell, Doomed Planet album (featured back on the Monolith Cocktail in November of 2019), this latest venture, in collaboration with fellow Orleans writer, teacher and musician David Rodriguez, once more travels in the cosmic, astral direction. Under the killer whale actionist moniker the duo embrace the Tomorrow’s World library music visions of Raymond Scott (plus a touch of both the equally maverick Bruno Spoeri and Franco Battiato), Star Trek Foley and nods to Tangerine Dream and Air Liquide on a conceptual suite part tech guru mindfulness, part new age middle management speak and part self-help navigated gobbledegook.

Under the auspices and the inaugural chapter of the ‘Strategic Tape Reserve’ series – in short, ‘an instructive cassette tape series designed to bring information of the world into your home and your brain’ -, the kitsch consultancy entitled ‘Course Management System Optimization’ programme plunges the listener into this creative partnership’s odd knowing electronic world of theatrics and retro-futurism.

A writer of repute on the failures of tech, communication and self-preservation, Rodriguez (who also files his musical experiments under Alison’s Disapproval) lends a constantly filtered and affected spoken word narration across all six tracks as Kelly swans, touches the ethereal with her diaphanous woos, calls, arias (a merger of Laurie Anderson, cosmic opera and Jane Weaver). Often transmogrified by robotic effects and the slowing and speeding up of that instructive monologue, Rodriguez’s message is constantly warped, broken up: sometimes on the verge of some Max Headroom glitch stutter, or the slurred falling apart speech of HAL.

Musically the mood weaves serenely between a Kosmische floatation tank and more ominous pitched piped reverent organ scares. A suffusion of various filters, modulators, oscillations and arpeggiator do their work in coating this experiment with an almost tongue-in-cheek homage to the more altruistic, hopeful early pioneers of Electronica and those who never set out to be corralled into such a pigeon hole vacuum of genre demarcation but found themselves filed under Library music. There’s obviously some serious message hiding within the playful spirit of enterprise and scrambled self-help therapy, but for the most part this is a strange glide and traverse across the astral planes that’s well worth the price of travel.  

 

In Short:

There now follows condensed mentions and recommendations that I also found appealing:

Federico Balducci ‘And Watch The Earth Below (Cadet Chronicles I)’
2nd April 2021

The prolific adroit guitar sculptor takes an untethered flight above the clouds on his most recent gently resonating, spacey and drifting album. Signature spells of the jazzy, empirical, neo-classical, ambient and experimental merge on a most beautiful scenic and inner meditation. Whether floating in a hot-air balloon, accompanied by sparse Leaf Label like slow beats and dipped and wafted hanging notes, or in a more spherical dreamy broadcast, touching on the cosmic, Balducci uses the subtlest, most gentle of touches: even on the album finale, ‘Bridgers’, which echoes along on a bed of coarser droning electric guitar sustain. An incredible album to lose yourself in.

See also Balducci’s recent collaboration atmospheric soundtrack of paranormal like communications and drifts with Fourthousandblackbirds, Anta Odeli Uta.

David Newlyn ‘Tapes And Ghosts’
(Somewherecold Records) 30th April 2021

Deserves far more room than I’m able to give this month, but the seductively diaphanous lower case ambient suites of the UK’s David Newlyn need raving about (quietly). The Cathedral Transmissions label boss is set to release this mostly peaceable, sensory illusion of neoclassical and Cluster/Roedelius imbued compositions on the ridiculously prolific North American facilitator Somewherecold Records at the end of this month. 

Elegant, adroit, spacious and also ruminating, Tapes And Ghosts draws you in to a softly composed sublimity. I implore you to try it. Better still, buy into it.

Daughters Of The Desert ‘Sorrow Soothe’
(New Cat) 26th March 2021

Through mutual appreciation, coming together in the Resonance FM hothouse, three daughters of the hallowed and illusionary desert join forces on the plaint soundscape and mirage rich Sorrow Soothe album. Regular readers will (hopefully) recognize one of those sand dune traversing sisters, the diaphanous-breathed enchantress Esbe (featured on the blog last year with the congruous desert bathed epic Saqqara). That composer, and producer on this album, siren is joined on this both vexed and fantastical odyssey by the writer, presenter Jude Cowan Montague and audio engineer Mia Kukathasan. All three have a special connection, roots or affinity to the desert landscape they now use as a mysterious, aching and reverberating backdrop.

Magical and echoed with mystical electronica, Sorrow Soothe is a most stunning, vaporous, venerable and dreamy resonated merger of electronica, the filmic and vocal incantations, enchantments and lament. Desert songs have seldom sounded so atavistic yet modern: especially when dealing with the prescient themes of the times, as this album does.  It’s a brilliantly conceived atmospheric project, pulled together in isolation and in the middle of a pandemic. 

See Esbe’s review here from last September (Here).

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.

Dominic Valvona’s Reviews Roundup

The Invisible Sessions ‘Echoes Of Africa’ (Space Echo) 29th January 2021

The very first sounds you hear on the long awaited follow up to The Invisible Sessions last album in 2006 are those of an aircraft touching down on the runway, somewhere between a straddled geography of Lagos and Addis Ababa. From then on in those compass points of inspiration permeate the collective’s first album for the newly launched Space Echo imprint.

An odyssey across the motherland, The Invisible Sessions instigator Luciano Cantone (also the co-founder of the Schema label) is joined by the multi-instrumentalist and trombonist Gianluca Petrella, poet, rapper/MC, lyrist Martin Thomas Paavilainen, and a host of respected players on this respectful homage to African music, culture and consciousness. A congruous display of riches, from Egypt 80 Afro-beat epiphany to trinket shimmering spiritual jazz, the extended ranks of this group benefit from the stirring spindled and spun weaving of the Gambian kora maestro Jalimansa Haruna Kuyatech and the rhythm setting Ethiopian drummer and percussionist Abdisa “Mambo” Assefato.   

In the intervening years, busy with other projects, running a label and sow forth, Cantone has taken note of all the world’s ills and woes, from BLM to the climate change emergency: two themes that dominate what is a loose drift, limped and brassy heralding strut through the continent’s rich musical heritage. Ethio-jazz, and more specifically, the vibraphone spells, reverberations of the iconic Mulatu Astake inspire tracks like the bandy, bendy guitar lolloping reggae gait motioned ‘Journey To The East’, the more quickened, sprouted ‘Breathe The Rhythm’, and the Addis Ababa version of The Shadows casting dreamy vibrato and twanged shapes over the city ‘Entoto’.  Elsewhere it’s a fluency of Kuti and Tony Allen that is suffused throughout the simmering upbeat ‘West Island’ and funkier, skipping, knowing ‘Pull The Handbrake’. Both of which also evoke hints of Orlando Julius and The Heliocentrics recordings.

It’s soul music that sumptuously seeps into the tunes with either a conscious stream of narration or repeated silkily voiced enforced message of social commentary action. In that mode there’s the Issac Hayes in Africa, or even a touch of Curtis Mayfield and The 4th Coming, echo-peddle dreamy ‘Ideas Can Make The World’, the Undisputed Truth affirmation, horns rising ‘People All Around The World Can Make It’, and Gil Scott-Heron (at a pinch), earthly plaint ‘Mother Forgive Me’.  Paavilainen is joined in his loose style of spoken wake-up calls, despair and half-sung laments by fellow stateside vocalist Joyce Elaine Yuille, who shadows, harmonizes and wafts along.

A conscious ark of funk, jazz and soul; a homage and thank you to a continent that has heard, inspired Cantone and his sparring partners, Echoes Of Africa is a travelogue of protestation, spiritualism and love performed by a most impressive tight unit of African music acolytes. 

Don Cherry ‘Cherry Jam’
(Gearbox Records) 26th February 2021

On his way to becoming the restless musical nomad of jazz lore, the mid 1960s Don Cherry was already well acquainted with Scandinavia, especially Denmark. The burgeoning trumpeter and cornet star played in the country’s capital of Copenhagen in ’63 with Archie Shepp, and in ’64 with Albert Ayler before returning in the pivotal year of ’65 to record a quartet of original and standard performances for Denmark’s national radio station.  Though often dismissed by cats like Miles Davis for a lack of technical proficiency, Cherry’s constantly evolving visceral style had gained him an envious apprenticeship, partnering up as a foil to a litany of be-bop, hard-bop and free jazz doyens: from Sonny Rollins to John Coltrane and Ornate Coleman, appearing in the pioneer’s groundbreaking Shape Of Jazz To Come quartet of ’59.

Just a short time from releasing his first album as band leader – the “landmark” Complete Communion for the prestigious seal-of-approval Blue Note – Cherry once more found himself in the northern European hub of jazz, collaborating in a jam session mode with the Danish pianist Atli Bjørn. It was this set up and communal that attracted local attention, leading to the session recordings that until recently lay dormant in the radio station vaults: only ever heard when first broadcast over the airwaves in ’65.

Those sessions was collected together as the Cherry Jam EP by Gearbox Records;originally for Record Store Day. Now in 2021 and to tie-in with the recent opening of offices in the land of the jazz obsessive collector, Japan, the label is making this record more widely and worldly available – previously part of the Japanese Edition series that GB launched exclusively for the far east.  

Mastered from the original tapes and showcased in the label’s customary well-furnished style and linear notes, this four track EP is neither wholly rehearsed nor spontaneous in the way it sounds; capturing as it does a still reasonably tethered Cherry, yet to completely immerse himself in those out-there traverses and world fusions.  

Working with the Danish quartet of tenor saxophonist Mogens Bollerup, double-bassist Benny Nielson, drummer Simon Koppel and the already mentioned, and future Dexter Gordon foil, Bjørn on piano, Cherry toots, pipes, trills and spirals through a trio of his own compositions and the Broadway legend Richard Rodgers alternative, sassy stage ballad ‘You Took Advantage Of Me’.

In an expressive, playful mood Cherry and his troupe provide a disarming, bluesy rendition of ‘The Ambassador From Greenland’ – written by Cherry in his youth. Too light to be bumbling, there’s a certain hang low like noodling, descending feel to this one. The sax and cornet almost override, bump into each other at certain moments, with even a few muffed notes and a piano style that moves between stage and striking, struck high notes.

The second Cherry original, ‘Priceless’, has a bop-like swing to its jamming candor. Duel horns contort, swan and blurt as the drums bounce and double-bass runs away with it. Everyone gets at least a spotlight opportunity on a track that sends the listener back to NYC. ‘Nigeria’ is the most obvious example of Cherry’s Marco Polo spirit of embracing international sounds: a more freely flowing bluesy performance that saunters along to Afro-Cuban influences.  

To finish it off, the cover of Rodgers stalwart theatre number is soulfully handled, the playing like a sort of mating-call serenade: a dinner jazz sorbet.

There’s nothing especially dynamic about this captured performance, but as a lost recording chapter in the development of Cherry’s time in Denmark and his craft it is an intriguing link in the story; and a testament to the icon’s abilities in the run-up to his first album as a band leader.  

Omar Khorshid ‘With Love’
(Wewantsounds) 26th February 2021

It seems there were few styles the dashing and tragic Middle Eastern hot-trotting Omar Khorshid wouldn’t weave into his Egyptian imbued guitar-led music; from the cinematic to rock and roll, Arabia to the giddy spindled Hellenic chimes of Zorba the Greek.

As it would seem in the land of his birth, most of Egypt’s stars diversified as matinee screen idols, singers, musicians for hire, and Khorshid was no different; pursuing a career in the film business before dying in a motorbike accident at the age of only 36, in 1981 – apparently speeding down Giza’s El Haram Street, his pillion passenger, the third of four wives, Dina miraculously surviving the head-on collision with a pole.

Born in 1945 and wasting no time in picking up the violin and piano, it would be a third instrument, the guitar that would make him famous. By the mid 60s he had attracted wide attention as part of the Western-influenced, pop(ish) act Les Petits Chats, invited to play with fellow compatriot and legend Abdel Halim Hafez, who in turn led him to the country’s most celebrated, accomplished and rated of divas, Umm Kulthum.

A new decade brought civil and international strife for Egypt and its neighbours: war with Israel, the oil embargo. Khorshid upped and left the homeland for the Lebanon in ’73, where he began recording records for the Voice Of Lebanon and Voice Of Orient labels. As peace was finally agreed between Egypt and Israel later that decade, the Egyptian president Anwar El-Sadet invited the roaming guitarist to play at the celebrations that came after the famous Camp David peace treaty, taking part at the White House. For a brief time during that same period he hopped over into Syria, where he acted and soaked up even more musical influences, before once again returning to his roots in ’78: the year that this instrumental classic, now remastered and reissued for the first time on vinyl by those Arabian specialists Wewantsounds, was originally released.

A rich tapestry of Egyptian and extended Arabian fusions, With Love offers up a serenade and desert-romance camel led caravan of transformed timeless cover versions from some of the regions greats. Mohamed Abdel Wahab’s ‘Ahwak’ in the deft hands of Khorshid sounds like some undersea enchantment with its mermaid-like sung aria high quivers and submerged production. But then just when you think you have this song pegged, this beautifully ethereal composition suddenly comes up for air in a sort of Joe Meek version of Egyptian rock and roll.  

An interpretation of Farid El-Alrache’s ‘Hebbina Hebbina’ (a favourite we’re told of Eno), with its tambourine trinkets, heavy flange and galloping tremolo, could be an Arabian Shadows. Whilst the Rahbani Brothers‘Rahbaniyat’ slides towards rattled hand drums, synthesizer laser bobbing Arabian disco.  

I’ve already referenced that famous Greek signature evocation, ‘Zorba’, which Khorshid plays with dizzying skill, spindling that original into a sort of mix of Anton Karas zither and an old fashioned fairground ride. Unfamiliar as I am with much of the remaining material, ‘Habibati’ saunters and trots between romantic thriller and a Wurlitzer matinee soundtrack, and ‘Beyni Ou Beynak puts vibrato siren like spooks amongst cult Italian 60s cinema.

Almost at odds with the times it was made, yet ahead in adopting subtle hints of synth and Western musical influences, this gift from the Egyptian icon swoons in and out of the decades that preceded it. With Love is a dreamy fantasy of balladry, surf-y twanged cult rock and roll and film scores; an Arabian adventure amongst the sand dunes and Cairo discothèques that serves as a showcase for an artists able to flip between Mambo, music hall orchestration, the blues and even psychedelic. A tribute to an Egyptian musical innovator that can now, at last, be yours to own.

His Name Is Alive ‘Hope Is A Candle: Home Recordings Vol.3’
(Disciples) 12th February 2021

His Name Is Alive with the sound of beatific abrasive reversals on the third such collection of untethered incipient sonic renderings from Warren Defever’s creative process archives. Part of a much wider survey of the prolific HNIA appellation Detroit artist, producer, engineer and remixer that now includes (with this latest volume) a trio of albums of home-recorded developing material, Help Is A Candle features much of the nucleus of music that was duplicated on the “infamous” tape that first caught the ear of Ivo Watts-Russell, leading to a seven album run for the 4AD label in the 90s. Elements of which were reworked for the album Livonia: the title a reference to his birthplace in Michigan.  

Circulated in a bootleg form for many years, Defever now showcases this archival scrapbook of sonic ideas in a new light; remastered from the original tape reels so that the quality now shines through.

Guides, impressions and slowly, gently unfolding, the candle light is never in danger of blowing out as atmospherics and ascending tones emerge from blessed post-punk ambience and industrial, coarser reverberations. You’re going to hear many comparisons to both This Mortal Coil and The Cocteau Twins, and that’s more than fair. But much of this material remains cut adrift of either example, neither dissonant nor vaporous. Traces and lingers of familiarity offer a semblance of Daniel Lanois, Eno, and the collection’s most caustic, sharpened knife cutting reversal of dark matter, ‘Halo’, evokes a vision of a fuzztone Hendrix as lead guitarist in The Telescopes. 

Murky, lurking moods sit alongside tingled enchantments and even country music ragas, as hints of rattled, transformed hand drums, spindled zither-like spiritual crystal shimmers, slapped and crying, waning bass guitar and mechanical tic-tocking devices resonate.

Envisioned as his very own Reichian Music For 18 Musicians, though falling short at the first hurdle having few friends let alone 18 to enact such a grand scale performance, Defever instead contributed to developing a rafter of music scenes off the back of his 80s home recordings. You can hear the seedlings, inspiration in the work of artists as diverse as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Dean Blunt, Inga Coupland and Land Observation. It’s no wonder he was on Bowie’s radar and playlist.

Following on from All The Mirrors In The House and Return To Never, and part of a greater light shedding exercise in evaluating, elevating Defever’s formative experiments, Hope Is A Candle is subtle and minimal. This album points the way to some of the more developed pieces in the series. It works though as a showcase for the visions to come; tracks that you can take a lot away from; tracks that evoke; tracks to mull over.  

Camera ‘Prousthuman’
(Bureau B) 19th February 2021

Third, fourth generation disciples of Krautrock, the decade-old Berlin instigators of “guerilla” tactic performance art-rock Camera once more shed band members for a new intake (well, partly) of idea-bouncing reciprocators on the fifth studio album, Prousthuman.

With all the connotations and baggage that title’s titan of prose holds, the newest conception of the trio thrash, jerk, limber and lollop through familiar influences in the Teutonic cannon. Anchored by the only original, remaining, founding member Michael Drummer, Camera moves away from the dual keyboard dynamics of the previous album (Emotional Detox) for a more squealing, flange and phaser swirled new wave, psot-punk and even C86 guitar suffusion. Drummer, who unsurprisingly is the band’s drummer, but also weighs in on the guitar riffs, ropes in the composer and musician Alex Kozmidid as a six-string sparring partner. To finish this trio off and informally first joining Camera for their 2017 USA tour as a performance and video artist, Tim Schroeder unveils a talent for the synth.

Locked down in self-isolation for at least some of the recording sessions and jams for this latest Krautrock replica, the trio’s methodology and process has obviously been affected by the raging pandemic. Rather then claustrophobic, the latest chapter contorts or glides out of confinement in the search for space, room. Even when coming on like the sound of Island Records ’79 new wave meets the Gang Of Four, Wire and Neu! on the opening guitar squall and no-wave disco hi-hat action jam ‘Kartoffelstampf’ (that’s “mashed potatoes” in English).

They’ve already changed the timings and mood style by the album’s next track, ‘Alar Alar’; bounding to a stretched quasi-dub gait that also features the drifting melodies of something Egyptian or Turkish: plus loads of dial bending Kosmische fun.

It’s a soundtrack that weaves motorik Klaus Dinger with the solo Kosmische scores of his brother Thomas; the Au Pairs with Sky Records’ greats; Dunkelziffer with Holgar Czukay; and Faust radio broadcasts with Cluster and early 80s Tangerine Dream soundtracks. Though at its most spiky, wrangling and fuzzy, tracks like the buzzy ‘Schmwarf’ mash NIN with Kriedler and Can. Skying in synthesized harpsichord mirrored circles, grinding out a submerged woozy and gauzy dream envelope, and tuning into old frequencies, Camera emerge from their basement studio and the pandemic with a brilliant and knowing post-punk-krautrock-kosmische trip. 

Mapstation ‘My Frequencies, When We’
(Bureau B/TAL) 26th February 2021

A second album on the Bureau B imprint roster this month that benefits from and taps into the Hamburg label’s ever-expanding catalogue of Kosmische and neu-electronica explorers: even some of the form’s progenitors, from Roedelius to his early foil Conrad Schnitzler. Both of these doyens can be heard permeating this, the 8th album under Stefan Schneider’s Mapstation alias, the former, prolific soloist and co-founder of the Kluster/Cluster/Qluster arc and mini Kosmische supergroup Harmonia, Roedelius even paired up with Schneider for an eponymous entitled collaborative album in 2011: A very congruous union as it turned out.  

The Düsseldorf artist and label honcho (running the Tal label) channels that Kosmische first, and second, generation influence on a highly sophisticated minimalist traverse if Sci-Fi, futuristic and tubular metallic looping and warping environments. An album for the times we find ourselves in – at least methodology and production wise -, for the first time in years Schneider flies solo. This stripped down, undulated pulsing and rhythmic album is marked by an absence of collaborators and guests.

Simplification is key it seems, with Schneider aware that the intensity of some of his past productions may have got lost in the enthusiasm to add too many instruments and sounds. My Frequencies, When We then is very considered sparse production of lo fi futurism; rich with reverberations, signals, squelches and the chiming acid-techno rings of early Warp Records, 90s Seal Phuric and Kreidler; even touches of Matthew Dear and a stripped Boris Dzanck. 

On the opening mused ‘No No Staying’ Schneider adds Eno-esque hushed voices to a pared down form of techno. Whilst tracks like ‘My Mother Sailor’ evoke images of Tangerine Dream standing in front of a large patch bay apparatus, plugging leads into various holes as gaseous and reversed loops swirl around them. Elsewhere you’ll hear the motor buzzing hum and throb of Affenstunde era Popol Vuh, synthesized bells, 808 drum machine pre-set percussion, slithered electronic magnetics and Schneider’s whispered underpass anxieties about the, now distant, movement, bustle of cities.

I’d suggest that Schneider has found a good balance in creating intensity, and setting moods with a more sparse, minimalist intelligent sound. Lean but just as expressive, this new Mapstation album might be amongst his most sagacious and sophisticated; a coming together of various strands in the electronic music sphere that soundtracks the current emptiness and unsure atmospherical moods of the present.

Julia Meijer ‘The place Where You Are’
(PinDrop Records) 26th February 2021

A consolidation if you like of recent singles and the self-titled song from the debut album, Always Awake, the Swedish singer-songwriter and guitarist’s latest EP seems a good opportunity to catch up with Julia Meijer’s tactile songbook.

From glacial enormity to the more intimate; the hymnal to indie-pop; Meijer has proved a very interesting artist over the last few years, and this showcase offers a full oeuvre.

The glimpse into a dream EP opener is sparse but full of depth and moving atmospherics. It’s a lushly conceived slice of folk and pop, with Kate Nash-esque tones and an air of Fairfield Parlour about it. Next we have the first of a couplet of singles to feature ex-Guillemot and regular foil Fyfe Dangerfield. ‘Under Water’ is submerged in a suffusion of both lulling and sighed harmonies, dreamy undulations (again) and splashes of cymbal. The song melts between two rhythm signatures on a snorkeling meditation beneath an aquatic expanse.

Scandinavian illusions are cast on the EP’s third song ‘Skydda Dig’; a song originally even more intimate, performed as a solo live that’s now given a steady and minimal augmentation by guests, guitarist Andrew Warne and bassist Jamie Morris, who actually turns to the keyboard for this recorded version. A protective plaint theme wise, Julia’s Swedish evocation resonates with haunted sorrow and almost otherworldly trembles as turns over a sort of late 80s, early 90s, American indie riff.

The finale, and second song to see Julie accompanied by Dangerfield, ‘The Place Where You Are’ expresses loss to an ebb and flow of subtle organ and Irish folk lament.   Beautifully conceived as ever, flowing between a never world of dreams and indie guitar music reflections, Julia’s latest showcase serves her talent for experimenting without the loss of melody and songwriting craft well. I recommend you seek her back catalogue out.

Obay Alsharani ‘Sandbox’
(Hive Mind Records) 19th February 2021

Finding solace and escapism in equal measures in the colder Baltic air of Sweden, Syrian migrant and beat-maker Obay Alsharani, forced to leave behind the chaos of an imploding homeland, takes in the awe and beauty of his Scandinavian refuge on the debut album Sandbox.

For despite a background in composing lo fi productions of dusty Arabic samplers under the Khan El Rouch moniker, Obay now reaches out into more glacier tonal ambient soundscapes; finding sanctuary in icy snow-covered and woodland gladded environments on an album geographically remote from the heat and sandy horizons of the Middle East.

It’s good to hear a success story in the convoluted tumult of the Syrian crisis. A decade on from the civil war that has now engulfed almost the entire region, and grown into the most complicated of proxy wars, Syria’s ruling Bashar al-Assad regime may yet collapse due to an economic fall out prompted by neighbouring Lebanon and the catastrophic failure off its government and banking crisis. As it stands, and now with the global pandemic just another tier of burden upon a region and population that’s suffered beyond any of our imaginations, Russia now has that foothold it always wanted on the Mediterranean coastline of Syria; Turkey has widened its own borders, unopposed in threatening the Kurds in the south, who are fighting for autonomy; and ISIL have been all but beaten, with fragmenting survivors scurrying away to spread panic and their death cult into Eastern and Central Africa. Those resistance groups that grew from the oppressive clamp down by the Syrian government remain in small clusters, holding on, whilst Iran without its nebulous mastermind and death-bringer general Qassim Suleiman, remain in the area holding up Bashir’s regime.

The fallout has resulted in eye-watering numbers of displaced people, with more than six million Syrians forced into neighbouring safe havens or further overseas into Europe and North America. Obay gained a lifeline himself through a scholarship in Sweden, leading to an extended period of stay in refugee accommodation in the far north of the country. After finally gaining a permanent residency, Obay was able to resume his music, whilst also experimenting with visual art (providing the colourful-feedback cover art for the limited edition cassette format of his debut album).

Branching out sound wise, Obay now captures the breath-taking spectacle and calmness of his new home. Literally, those breath-chilled winds of the far north can be heard channeled through often majestic, gliding and crackled static textured ambient suites: all of which evoke a certain stillness and sense of spaciousness. Less sandbox and more Artic, frozen tubular and piped notes, haunted but lovely church music and icicle-like droplets drip, drift and are cast across a snowy pine-covered land as the Northern Lights shimmer and play with the refractive light overhead. ‘Release’ evokes a far breezier scene though, out on the porch of some woodland cabin, with birds chirping away in the noisy movement of branches and leaves. Added to this weather recording are glassy piercing bulbs of synthesized music and what sounds like a lingering electric-organ. From coarser static grains and blowing, to soft bellows and concertinaed wisps, and even a bestial landscape of unidentified wildlife, Obay subtly creates a moving scenic and reflective study of a very different horizon to the one that he was forced to abandon. It sounds as if the Syrian beat-maker turned assiduous composer has at least sonically found a semblance of solace and a safe environment in which to reflect and heal. Music almost as therapy, Sandbox without any context is really just a deeply affected fine example of minimal and ambient mood music: A most beautiful conception.

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.

Monolith Cocktail Social #52

February 10, 2021

Playlist/Dominic Valvona

The inaugural Monolith Cocktail Social playlist of 2021, the blog’s eclectic/generational spanning version of our ideal radio show, includes the unusual mix of wonders, gems, missives and oddities from across time. With a couple of tracks in tribute to those we’ve recently lost too (including former down ‘n’ dirty Doll face glam puss Sylvain Sylvain and British progressive folk darlings the Trees siren Celia Humphris).

Tracks:..

Grazia  ‘Soyle Beni’

Tiger B. Smith  ‘Everything I Need’
Sylvain Sylvain  ‘Trash’
The Spaceshits  ‘Backstreet Boogie’
Paladin  ‘Third World’
Prince Lasha, Sonny Simmons  ‘Psalms Of Solomon’
Hareton Salvanini  ‘Seios’
Cleveland Eaton  ‘Chitown Theme’
Rotary Connection  ‘The Weight’
Christy Essien  ‘Take Life Easy’
King Tee  ‘At Your Own Risk (Marley Marl Remix)’
Blade  ‘Fade ‘Em Out’
Killa Instinct  ‘The Bambi Murders’
Black Sheep  ‘Yeaaahhh’
Marion Brown  ’27 Cooper Square’
Night Beats  ‘Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark’
Tucker Zimmerman  ‘Bird Lives’
Anne Briggs  ‘Step Right Up’

Trees  ‘Epitaph’
Sven Wunder  ‘Toryanse’
Jody Grind  ‘Plastic Shit’
Andrew Cyrille  ‘Metamusican’s Stomp’
Colosseum  ‘Take Me Back To Doomsday’
Electric Moon  ‘Hotel Hell’

Rialto  ‘Untouchable’
Made In Sweden  ‘Winter’s A Bummer’
Mythos  ‘Terra Incognita’
Odd Nosdam  ‘Wig 02’
Rancho Relaxo  ‘Sugar For The Devil’
Annexus Quam  ‘Osmose I’
African Head Charge  ‘Crocodile Shoes’
MRR-ADM  ‘11even’
The Auteurs Vs µ-Ziq  ‘Chinese Bakery’

Colin Newman  ‘I’ve Waited Ages’ Martin Dupont  ‘I Love The Lovers’
Ron Geesin  ‘Parallel Bar’
Krohme  ‘Goon Opera’
Azanyah  ‘Let God Come First’
Yumi Arai  ‘曇り空’
Dino Valente  ‘Tomorrow’

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.

Album Review/Dominic Valvona

Kahil El’Zabar ‘America The Beautiful’
(Spiritmuse) 23rd October 2020

Continuing a creative partnership with the Spiritmuse label, Chicago jazz luminary Kahil El’Zabar releases his third African rhythmic imbued spiritual album in two years; working yet again with an ever changing lineup of fellow visionaries and rising virtuosos from his home city and beyond. Following last year’s Be Known Ancient/Future/Music (which made our albums of the year) and this year’s Spirit Groove album collaboration with David Murray, the jazz incubator School of The Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians alumni and five decade jazz veteran pieces together a suitable afflatus cry from the despair of modern America on his latest sweeping grand gesture, America The Beautiful.

Though obviously, as you will hear for yourselves, chiming with the current divisive turmoil that has erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s “unconstitutional murder, and the Covid-19 pandemic, the catalyst was Kahil’s score for Darryl Robert’s award winning documentary film of the same title: a 2007 film about “self-image” in the USA. That title music, two versions of which bookend this ancient with a modern pulse oeuvre, is itself both an ironic and sneering riff on the original patriotic anthem that was written by Katherine Lee Bater, with music by church organist Samuel A. Ward, over a century ago. Bates the scholar, collage professor and highly prolific writer first wrote the proud-swelling lyrics as a poem (Rikes Peak) after being inspired by the great American outdoors and the country’s own version of the seven wonders. Countless versions have been performed, recorded since, including the maverick jazz artist Gary McFarland who devoted a conceptual eclectic musical suite to its rousing evocations; in the process jazzing and funking up the old bird. This take however finds little to rouse patriotism, sharing more in common with Ornette Coleman’s grandiose symphonic dissonance Skies Of America; that suite a contortion of Coleman’s naturalistic Native American rituals inspired master plan.

Kahil includes both a lilted and horn blown Bernstein-via-a-century’s-worth-of-Chicago jazz instrumental take, and a 80s pepped dance groove vocal version: The latter features the bandleader straining, pulling, mooning and crooning the original lyrics of ‘America The Beautiful’ to a dance limbering Chicago House like beat.

Building a fully realized album around that anthem, Kahil went back to record an array of new material and riffs on standards: his choices proving more spiritual, healing than angry and enraged. For this is a jazz artist preaching connectivity during a momentous epoch. A time, he hopes, that despite the tumultuous unrest and anxieties can offer us time to pause, reflect and reassess. In the spirit of one of Kahil’s idols, Coltrane, his inspiration is that grand doyen of jazz’s message of a “love supreme”, and also the African adventures of Byrd and Gillespie via Sun Ra’s cosmology of Afro-futurism. And so musically, despite the swells and layering of discordant instrumentation wailing, and crying out, this is a mostly divine experience; sweetened by the inclusion of a romanticized, serenaded beautiful version of the Bee Gees (via Al Green’s more soulfully hushed vision) ‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart’. Only Kahil switches the “you” to “we”, and in doing so forces the emphasis on all of us to mend the rift. Musically it’s a swoon; a walk through a sweet Central Park backdrop. It has an air of both pained heartbreak yet also hope, and is the album’s most tender performance.

Swinging to a ‘Orleans gait, Kahil’s big band version of Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s famous strut ‘Express Yourself’ is reimagined as a semi-classical jazz funk of King Curtis and Albert Ayler. Classically trained jazz cellist and Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble student, Tomeka Reid offers part of that semi-classical feel with a deep, arching quivery cello accompaniment.

Closing a quartet of congruous cover transformations, Kahil ad his troupe expand on the Afro-jazz percussive-heavy ‘Afro-Blue’ odyssey; the first jazz standard in the States built on a typical African 3:2 cross rhythm. Made famous by Mongo Santamaria with the Cal Tjader Sextet in ’59, and transformed by Coltrane who took it in a waltz-y swinging direction, this Chicago hothouse of talent goes earthy and deep, atavistic and dramatic. Samuel Williams plays a harassed, pointed elbow thrashing violin against the clay percussion and Masekela trumpet on a message from the motherland. 

With all the original connotations bought into a modern epoch of discord, these standards now echo a longing and pain for change.

The rest of the album channels the inimitable groove that runs through Chicago jazz, soul, R&B, blues and dance music. ‘Jump And Shout (For Those Now Gone)’ is a poignant example of this history; evoking the city’s spiritual and avant-garde masters – The Art Ensemble Of Chicago being one. It’s a kind of sentiment, a yearning for justice, but with a bounce and venerated enlightenment. ‘Freedom March’ couldn’t be more relevant; the long march to equality accompanied by apparitional wails, shackles shaking percussion and anguished rasps of sax. It also sadly marks one of the late baritone saxophonist greats, Hamiet Bluiett’s last performances. Not only a phenomenal sax presence, but also a renowned clarinetist and composer, the co-founder of the late 60s Louisiana Black Artists Group and former member of the Charlie Mingus Quintet and the Sam Rivers large ensemble, blows a moving honked and aria-like squealing raspy baritone through this counterbalance of Mardi Gras swing and the disconsolate.

Kahil, literally, preys for guidance on both the electric piano dabbing, lamenting swell ‘That We Ask Of Our Creator, and the sweeping fluty beat-stretched ‘Prayer For The Unwarranted Sufferings’.  Both draw from the pool of despair, yet find just as much hope to offer some glimmer of overcoming the impasse.

An extraordinary portrait of the current mood, Kahil’s conscious divine spiritual jazz opus channels the contorted soul of Chicago’s rich musical heritage; spanning eras as old as atavistic Africa, the be-bop, swing eras, leaping through the avant-garde and 80s dance music culture to create a soulful and always grooving purview of the American social-political divide in 2020: Election year.

An incredible jazz score no less from one of the most active and transformative artists in the field, a true acolyte of the scene’s most celebrated, progressive greats, Kahil carries the torch for a more healing engagement with the causes, activism he holds dear. There’s no mistaking where he’s coming from, with an album that has never been more vital and enriching to a culture and creative form under pressure and fire to react to the changes taking place.

See also…

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble ‘Be Known Ancient/Future/Music’  (here…)

Kahil El’ Zabar’s ‘Spirit Groove Ft. David Murray’ (here…)

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.

Album Review/Dominic Valvona

Bastien Keb ‘The Killing Of Eugene Peeps’
(Gearbox Records) 9th October 2020

The soundtrack to an American-noir-meets-Jackie Brown-meets-cross-continental-cult-60s movie that’s playing out in the head of Sebastian Jones, this ambitious suite of partly lulled and narrated cinematics, instrumentals and set pieces is as diaphanous as it is mournful. With a wide lens Jones (under the nom de plume of Bastien Keb) languidly drip feeds his fatigued melancholy, anxieties and deepest thoughts through a sorry tale of death and despair; as unveiled by a gonzo/Burroughs monologue style gumshoe, and sung, cooed by a fragile soul.

An ode we’re told to Italian Gallo paperbacks on screen, crime flicks of many other kinds and French New Wave cinema, The Killing Of Eugene Peeps mixes genres and influences up into a nostalgic opus that also has something to say about the draining mental stresses and indolent fatalism of the modern world too. Jones, using music as some kind of therapeutic outpouring, impressively managed to find the strength and will to create this impressive (if downbeat and aching) album whilst working a hard slog in a warehouse each night: The exhausting effects of which Jones says turned him into a zombie for a year.

The talented multi-instrumentalist, apart from guest spots by Kenneth Viota, Cappo and Camille Imogues, even played, recorded and produced this whole album single-handedly.

A work in three parts (the film score, soundtrack and incidental music), the dead-body-in-the-room Peeps is not so much told as a murder mystery but dissected in the form of soliloquys and resigned derisions on how this sad tragic event unfolded.

There’s plenty of title riffing on those crime flick inspirations, and musically Jones uses a leitmotif of nods to Lalo Schifrin, Issac Hayes, Alessandro Alessandroni and Krzysztof. A recurring San Fran/New York 70s detective movie and TV sound can he heard on the opening ‘Main Title’, which sounds like Hayes conducting an elegiac Corleone death march side-by-side with a New Orleans band, as a proto Tom Waits drawled figure narrates our city skyline information. Yet musically Jones moves on with the very next track, the soulful oozing pained ‘Lucky (Oldest Grave)’, which has an air of both a choral Clouddead (especially Yoni Wolf) and TV On The Radio about it. Sometimes the vocals are double-tracked, with one track being slurred as to sound almost drugged and lethargic.  By the time we reach ‘Theme for An Old Man’ the brass and timpani detective noir is mixed seamlessly with jazz, soul and trip-hop (imagine Four Tet playing around with Portishead). And then the dreamy fluty gauze of ‘All That Love In Your Heart’ evokes some kind of 60s Italian or French flashback.

Echoes of dub, vibes, Ethno-jazz, Bernard Estardy, Miklos Roza, James Reese And The Progressions, Curtis Mayfield and hip-hop follow. Deft Nottingham rapper Cappo switches the narrative and sound, letting loose to a zappy 70s cult score with a consciousness left to roam freely flow on the ominous ‘Paprika’. A jazzy vision of Mike Patten and Jean-Claude Vannier’s creative partnership one moment, a wah-wah soul maverick cop score the next, Jones eclectic musicianship produces a modern noir both poignant and clever. All those various strands are pulled together for a sophisticated despair and eulogy, but also curiosity. This is a most beautiful, ambitious if often traumatic inquiry of a fully released drama, a filmic album of great depth and scope that has Jones channel his personal struggles to the soundtrack of poignant drama.     


PLAYLIST REVUE/Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brain ‘Bordello’ Shea




Join us for the most eclectic of musical journeys as the Monolith Cocktail compiles another monthly playlist of new releases and recent reissues we’ve featured on the site, and tracks we’ve not had time to write about but have been on our radar.

Expect to hear everything and anything; from Azerbaijan guitar heroes (very perceptive at the moment considering the geopolitical border shooting in the news), jazz peregrinations, lopsided psychedelic pop, stop-start funk, abstract deconstructions, Beach Boys imbued ebb and flow ruminating, sketches from a doyen of Krautrock, a cross pollination of 808 Maghreb and India, poignant personal ambient laments, plus a load of choice Hip-Hop cuts. 50 tracks in all. 


Those Tracks In Full Are:

Songhoy Blues ‘Barre’
Leron Thomas ‘Endicott’
Nubya Garcia ‘The Message Continues’
Dele Sosimi, Medlar ‘Gudu Gudu Kan’
Sidi Toure ‘Farra Woba’
Floodlights ‘Matter Of Time’
Lou Terry  ‘The View’
Lizzy Young ‘Obvious’
Sampa The Great, Junglepussy ‘Time’s Up (Remix)’
Marques Martin ‘Hailey’
Nicky William ‘Pathetic Fuck’
Gibberish ‘I Dreamed U’
La China de La Gasolina ‘El Camino’
The Green Child ‘Fashion Light’
Ludwig Dreistern  ‘New Oddity’
Namir Blade ‘Stay’
This Is The Kit ‘Coming To Get You Nowhere’
Esbe ‘My Love Knows No Bounds’
Stella Sommer ‘The Eyes Of The Summer’
Brona McVittie ft. Isan & Myles Cochran ‘Falling For Icarus’
Badge Epoque Ensemble ft. U.S. Girls & Dorothea Pass ‘Sing A Silent Gospel’
Liraz ‘Injah’
Junkboy ‘Belo Horizonte’
Rustem Quilyev ‘Ay Dili Dili’
Phew ‘All That Vertigo’
Krononaut ‘Leaving Alhambra’
The Strange Neighbour ‘Stuntman’
dedw8, Conway The Machine, 0079 ‘Clean The Whole Room Out’
Syrup, Twit One, Turt, C.Tappin, Summers Sons ‘Burn Out’
Verb T, Illinformed ‘New Paths’
Good Doom ‘Zig Zag’
Sheltered Workshop Singers ‘Dan I Am’
Staraya Derevnya ‘Hogweed Is Done With Buckwheat’
Sheltered Workshop Singers ‘My Life’
Violent Vickie ‘Serotonin’
Julia Meijer ft. Fyfe Dangerfield ‘The Place Where You Are’
Mike Gale ‘Pastel Coloured Warm’
Michael Rother ‘Bitter Tang’
Extradition Order ‘Let’s Touch Again’
Schlammpeitziger ‘Huftgoldpolka’
Ammar 808 ft. Kali Dass ‘Ey Paavi’
Edrix Puzzle ‘Jonny Buck Buck’
SOMA, Shumba Maasai, Hermes ‘Rudeboi’
Babylon Dead ‘Nineteen84’
The Jux, Turkish Dcypha, Wavy Boy Smith ‘Lost In Powers’
Verbz, Mr. Slipz ‘2202 Fm’
Tune-Yards ‘Nowhere, Man’
Chiminyo ‘I Am Panda’
Sebastian Reynolds ‘Heartbeat’
Tamar Collocutor, Tenesha The Wordsmith, Rebecca Vasmant ‘Yemaya (Vasmant Mixmaster)’



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.

Review/Dominic Valvona




Various ‘Door To The Cosmos’
(On The Corner) Album/18th September 2020


The celebrated polygenesis label On The Corner go all out to mark the release of their tenth mind-expanding record, Door To The Cosmos. Every bit as cosmological as that title suggests – borrowed from Saturn’s jazz messenger envoy Sun-Ra: “dare to knock at the door of the cosmos” – this eclectic experimental dance compilation brings together a representative showcase of both label stalwarts and the fresh intake of burgeoning signings. All of which share the practice of fusing sounds and sonics from various global cultures to create a more exotic, denser and layered vision of dance music, fit for the 21st century.

Not that you can easily separate into tangible categories of influence or genre, but for the benefit of this run-through, and to make my task easier, I’m going to at least attempt to break these 24-tracks down into genres of a kind. In the jazz sphere we’re offered both a combination of ensemble pieces and treatments from soloists alike. The first of which straight away falls outside of those perimeters with Black Classical floating to a jazzy evoked deep-bass and spiritually voiced hybrid of trip-hop and Low End Theory A Tribe Called Quest soundings on his ‘Sisters Brew’. Luminary of the Glasgow club and blossoming, thriving, jazz scene Rebecca Vasmant appears both as a soloist producer-composer with the disco glistened Afro-jazz-soul mover ‘Teen Town’, and, in the role of remixer, subtly taking a dip in the spoken-word conscious day-spar tranquility of Tenesha The Wordsmith and Tamar ‘Collocutor’ Osborn’s disarming fluty ‘Yemya’ collaboration. Composer and saxophonist Osborn furnishes this collection with a trio of tracks; appearing with a full troupe of modal style jazz musicians on the spiralling horns, amorphous swamp-jazz turn Miles Davis galactic funk implosion ‘Everywhere Live At TRC’ – which is further sent off into that heralded cosmos by Black Classical on “speed” mix duties -, and swirling around in a moody jumble of erratic breaks, prodded sax and vaporuos flute on ‘Lost And Found’ – another treated version, this time with Afrikan Sciences behind the transformation.





Another jazz, be it futuristic and eclectic in inspirations, combo turns in a celestial jam for the compilation in the guise of the Nathan ‘Tugg’ Curran led flexing Edrikz Puzzle, who produce a hard-bop in free fall with ‘Jonny Buck Buck’. Snozzled sax and double bass meets with a more harassed Jaki Liebeziet splurge of drum rolls and bounces on this peregrination.

In the Afro-futurist and transformative indigenous cultures mode, “new spirit” producer Azu Tiwaline opens this survey with the tubular percussive Arabian space mirage ‘Violent Curves’. Featuring also Cinna Peyghamy as foil, this shrouded desert drift mines Azu’s southwestern Tunisian roots to produce something moody and sophisticated: a submersive camel trail across sand dunes. Gazing towards the Indian sub-continent, another producer Abdellah M. Hassak as the alter ego Guedra Guedra adds a deep House bass, metallic pulses and vaporous throbs to the brassy resonance of Indian instrumentation and voices on ‘Couscous Curtain’. South American head mask mystifiers Dengue Dengue Dengue (also known in these circles as the shortened DNGDNGDNG) get three goes at enticing the listeners into their tropical ether. Firstly with the spooked lunar vision of Colombian and Cumbia ‘Hiperborea’, then the hooted-House Peruvian pan-pipe (as reimagined by a 90s Harthouse label) ‘Semillero’, and finally, the hand drum ancestral chant and percussive shaken ‘Amnative’.
L.A. producer and DJ Jose Marquez uses his Latin roots and influences whilst also evoking New Orleans on his sassy Muscle Shores studio organ voodoo House track ‘La Negra Lorenza’.





Fitting only into categories of his own imaginations, Don Korta offers up a couple of ‘samosa beat’ shorts; the first, a shuffled gumbo, the second, a Madlib style loop of hand drumming breaks. And from the valleys of Welsh-futurism, Petwo Evans transports the vales’ mists and ethereal spirits to a vague African headland of spindled and wooden bobbing beats.

In what I can discern as House, Techno and Deep Bass culture, we have the data language low bass and rattling ‘Sorry’ from the Italian “Afro-Futurist” beat-shaker Raffaele Costantino, aka Khalab; the Basic Channel and electro pop sax honked ‘Agyapong’ by AJD Twitch; and DJAX Up-Beats wobbly lunar (almost dubby in places) ‘City’s Dead (Wrapped In Plastic)’ by Copenhagen talent Uffe.

It’s save to say that all of the label’s roster of DJ-producers, composers and jazz-heavy explorers pull club sounds in some imaginative and, sometimes, unique directions over the course of this new compilation. So expect to hear the spirit of Detroit and Chicago rubbing up against sub-bass waveforms, sophisticated itching electrified percussion, densely crafted effects, polyrhythms and real instruments on a compilation that spans both earthly and cosmological boundaries. On The Corner don’t just knock on that Sun-Ra eluded door but open it into an expanding sonic universe of jazz, Afro-Futurism, Arabian, tropical and worldly inspired dance music. It’s remarkable that this marks only the label’s tenth release; such is the breadth and quality. Better line up your copy soon, as this is going to fly out the proverbial door.






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.

PLAYLIST REVUE/Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brain ‘Bordello’ Shea





Join us once more for the most eclectic of musical journeys as the Monolith Cocktail compiles another monthly playlist of new release and recent reissues we’ve featured on the site, and tracks we’ve not had time to write about but have been on the radar.

The August edition kicks off with a blistering sunny-disposition Ron Gallo,space rock barrage returning Secret Machines and riotous Young Knives. Later on we’ve a host of jazz smarts from Stanley J. Zappa & Simo Laihonen, Charles Tolliver and Donny McCaslin.

As diverse as ever though, there’s a host of genres represented, including ‘Sufi Dub’ (Ashraf Sharif Khan & Viktor Marek) ‘after geography’ ambience (Forest Robots), ‘Eastern European femme fatal punk’ (Shishi) and ‘Euclid inspired polygon techno’ (Kumo).

Matt Oliver furnishes as ever with a host of choice hip-hop tracks from Fliptrix, Helsinki Booze Mercanhts, Loki Dope and Verb T.

There’s also a second despondent melodious grunge-y new wave rocker from the burgeoning talent that is Jacqueline Tucci. Something for everyone, more or less.





TRACKS 

Ron Gallo  ‘HIDE (MYSELF BEHIND YOU)’
Secret Machines  ‘Everything’s Under’
Young Knives  ‘Swarm’
Death By Unga Bunga  ‘Trouble’
Shishi  ‘OK Thx Bye’
Jacqueline Tucci  ‘Sweeter Things’
Elian Gray  ‘High Art’
Loki Dope  ‘Have You Any Wool?’
Stanley J. Zappa & Simo Laihonen  ‘E38 E 14th, City Of Piss, USA’
Charles Tolliver  ‘Copasetic’
Nosaj Thing  ‘For The Light’
Donny McCaslin  ‘Reckoning’
VRITRA  ‘CLOSER TO GOD’
Remulak & Type.Raw  ‘Mad Skillz’
Vex Ruffin  ‘Hinde Naman’
Mazi & Otarel  ‘Staiy’
Fliptrix  ‘Holy Kush’
Sausage Spine & Relentless Exquisite  ‘Skin Diamond’
Verb T & Illinformed  ‘Rotten Luck’
Pitch 92 & Lord Apex  ‘Suttin’ In The Trunk’
Helsinki Booze Merchants  ‘Tokyo Drift’
Fliptrix  ‘Powerizm’
Diassembler  ‘A Wave From A Shore’
Forest Robots  ‘Over The Drainage Divide’
Mark Cale, Ines Loubet and Joseph Costi  ‘Bodies Of Water’
Lucia Cadotsch, Otis Sandsjo, Petter Eldh  ‘Azure’
Paradise Cinema  ‘Possible Futures’
Only Now  ‘Merciless Destiny’
J. Zunz  ‘Four Women And Darkness’
Alan Wakeman, Gordon Beck  ‘Chaturanga’
BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON  ‘Numb’
Brian Bordello  ‘Rock n Roll Is Dead’
The Hannah Barberas  ‘W.Y.E.’
AUA  ‘I Don’t Want It Darker’
Ashraf Sharif Khan & Viktor Marek  ‘Drive Me On The Floor’
Harmonious Thelonious  ‘Hohlenmenschemuziek’
Kumo  ‘South African Euclid’
Cabaret Voltaire  ‘Vasto’
Pons  ‘Subliminal Messages’
Freak Heat Waves  ‘Busted’
Constant Bop  ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’
Josephine Foster  ‘Freemason Drag’
John Howard  ‘Injuries Sustained In Surviving’


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.

 

REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona





As usual, another international whirlwind of stopovers awaits reader, as I pick out choice and interesting new releases and reissues from across the globe. Channeling his traverses, mountain climbs and treks across the California wilderness into ambient peregrinations, Fran Dominguez as the Forest Robot, takes the listener out into the great outdoors, with his latest suite After Geography. An aural escape, a safe spatial plain, Dominguez creates an environment in which to take stock. A Finnish-American freeform jazz partnership is in vogue with Stanley J. Zappa’s new album for the Baltic coastal label We Jazz. Saxophonist and clarinetist Zappa (a nephew of the late Frank) and drummer/percussionist Simo Laihonen traverse British-Columbia and all points in-between on Muster Point. Creating the most hushed and diaphanous of cinematic dreampop, Israeli artist Zoe Polanski releases the Violent Flower album. I also take a look at the troubadour pianist John Howard, who from his Spanish studio home, ties in his latest adroit songbook To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection with the second part of his published memoirs, Illusions Of Happiness, this month. And in my reissues section there’s the first ever reissue of the West Java Yanti Bersaudara sisters honeyed soul and beat group psych exotic self-titled ’71 nugget. The Australian born, but bought up in a rural backwater of England troubadour Campbell Sibthorpe returns back to his roots with the expansive storybook, Ytown.

 

Towards the fantastical, though based in geological science, experimental dub unit Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones reimagine a lost continental bridge of shared deities and cultures on the new album Kafou In Avalonia. And finally, we have the new no-fi songbook of despondent poetic scorn and resignation from our very own Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, The King Of No-Fi’.

Zoe Polanski ‘Violent Flower’
(Youngbloods) Album/17th July 2020





Despite, at various times, living in one of the most contested dangerous spots on the global stage, Israeli artist Zoe Polanski transduces all the violence, danger and stresses into a most diaphanous, sometimes fantastical, synthesized musical haze. Her latest fully-realized shoegaze electronic swoon of an album – co produced and written with the Tel Aviv producer Aviad Zinemanas – is subtle but immersive, moody yet dreamy. Lit though by Polanski’s travails, a deep sense of sadness and sighed questioning lyricism permeates the wispy vaporous smoke machine pop production.

Beautiful throughout, hushed and fragile, Violent Flowers is a sweeping cinematic articulation of conflicted feelings. The title-track, and former single, draws upon the ongoing Israeli-Palestine tensions; which has taken on even more drama in recent months with the policy of planned Israeli annexations in the West Bank.

Channeling the Cocteau Twins and Chromatics, this gauzy serenade of blossoming synth-pop is a disarming evocation of lightness that features Polanski yearningly searching for a way back home amid the division. The album’s second single, ‘The Willows’, mourns not only the painful end of a “surreal” affair whilst travelling across the USA, but is also inspired by Polanski’s mixed feelings of empathy towards her Palestine neighbours with a longing to escape the rocket attacks that passed overhead when she lived in the atavistic port city of Jaffa, during the 2014 conflict with Gaza.

Born in another ancient city port, Haifa, on the slopes of Mount Carmel, Polanski escaped the tumult through music and cinema. After obligatory service with the IDF, the experimentally burgeoning musician, singer moved to the States; recording with the NYC band Katamine and enrolling on a summer course in cinematography at the prestigious School of Visual Arts. The fruits of which can be heard evoking a kind of dream realism on this filmic scored album.

As it happens, on returning to Israel and settling in the liberal creative hothouse of Tel Aviv, Polanski started a new project of soaked-reverb “slow cinema verite” named after the renowned Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr. Tarr’s actual cinematographer Fred Kelemen caught Polanski at a live show. So impressed, he invited her to score his own upcoming film.

This latest vision sees the visual-audio talent reach ethereal, almost apparitional scales of atmospheric beauty as she sings veiled lines over her creative foil Zinemanas’ mirror-y and airy synthesis of arpeggiator, sine waves and enervated percussion. Dream pop and neon lit electronica meets Israeli panoramas, mysterious island inlets, touches of Vangelis (on the glassy contoured ‘Humboldt Current’), soft bobbing beats and pulchritude waves of silk.

Gentle, enchanting with an aching depth, Zoe Polanski together with Zinemanas have created a refreshing vision of dreamwave electronic pop and filmic music; one that offers a different perspective and sumptuous mystery. Turmoil has seldom sounded so gossamer and hushed.







Kalporz X Monolith Cocktail: Zoe Polanski ‘Pharaoh’s Island’



Stanley J. Zappa ‘Muster Point’
(We Jazz) Album/7th August 2020




A regular stopover on my global tour of reviews, the Helsinki festival-label-store hub We Jazz are proving to be among the most prolific deliverers of quality contemporary and experimental jazz. Earlier this month the assured label put out albums from the Danish-Finn JAF Trio and Gothenburg saxophonist Otis Sandsjö. Their latest release pairs up two former acolytes of the Mitford Graves school of free jazz enterprise: the American tenor/soprano saxophonist and alto clarinetist Stanley J. Zappa (who’s name embellished this LP) and Finnish drummer, percussionist Simo Laihonen. The Queens-made drummer extraordinaire and teacher Graves is renowned for his avant-garde contributions working with Albert Ayler, Paul Bley and the N.Y. Art Quartet; a reputation that is lapped up by his former students on this set of probing impulsive serialism recordings.

You may have guessed by the name, and yes Stanley is indeed a scion of the famous Zappa family tree: a nephew of the late rock-fusion genius Frank. Erring towards jazz, Stanley proves that old adage that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; highly adroit and proficient in pushing at the foundations, able to switch between the spiritual and hard bop. His foil Laihonen, of the long-standing Black Motor trio, proves equally as talented, propelling in bursts and snaps or in an amorphous fashion hitting and reeling shapeless accents and meanderings.

Joining them on the odd radial exploration, bassist Ville Rauhala adds some stringy, rubber-band thrummed double-bass runs and bodywork thwacking: less rhythmic and traditional, more loose and wandering.

Muster Point, a reference heavy album of track title locations (much of which name check places in Stanley’s British Columbia Canadian home), was recorded both in the studio and out on the road. You can hear some of the live spontaneity and an appreciative applause on the flighty clarinet and looming bass, with sporadic drum breaks, avant-garde piece ‘Muster Point IV’. Split between shorter ambling and more energetic incipient Muster Point entitled flexes, and deeper, longer workouts this album strikes out towards Pharaoh Sanders’ Egypt on the opening suite to dishing out tougher, heavier breaks on the street map ‘538 E14th, City Of Piss, USA’.

Fluting, twirling and coiling over the tumbling drums, rumbling timpani and shaking percussion, Stanley’s vibrato sax hawks and spirals with both longer and shorter breaths. Often sailing at a counter speed to Laihonen’s quickened rolling patterns, that wondering instrument trills freely as light as air itself. Well, for the most part. Stanley can also toot rapidly and with force when the occasion arises.

From drawing on the ancestral (on the Kahil El’ Zabar watery percussive underflow ‘Pleasant Avenue’) to skitting across a NYC boardwalk, Muster Point plays hard and footloose with freeform jazz; dipping into the spiritual and rapidly evoking hard bop dashes. Yet again its another fruitful experiment and performance from the We Jazz label.




Otis Sandsjo ‘Y-Otis 2’

JAF Trio ‘ST’


Forest Robot ‘After Geography’
Album/28th August 2020





With a deep connective respect to the landscapes this intrepid mountaineer and sonic explorer has scaled and traversed, Fran Dominguez provides a subtly evocative safe space in the most tumultuous of times. When all the elements of a virus epidemic and the ongoing tensions of Black Lives Matter mix with the divisive rage of social media and fake news, the only tool we have left to navigate the storm of constant faux-outrage is “intuition”. Put both together, as the California-based trekker Dominguez has done, and you get a most beautifully subversive ambient soundtrack; a tenderly produced sonic psychogeography of both the synthesized and naturalistic; a million miles away from the hubbub and stress of the online world. A sort of self-help guide for contemplation and rest you could say, the softened bobbing and trickled piano notes and gently blowing winds washing over the listener with just enough depth and interest to transport them to the awe-inspiring landmarks of nature.

With over 400 ascents and 6,000 odd miles of cross-country exploring under his belt, Dominguez tunes into those experiences when composing music under the Forest Robot title. Intuition, that main motivation and driver for the latest tonal contouring suite, After Geography, comes into practice after all the preparation in the world fails to allow for the variables that arise when climbing those magnificent rocky peaks. Though obviously a great title in itself and an encapsulation of the Forest Robot’s meditative semi-classical, semi-Kosmische maps, the inspiration behind it comes from Ringo Starr. As the anecdote from rock’s backpages goes, the bejeweled digit fingered Beatles drummer proposed it when the Fab Four were stumped for a title for their next album after Revolver. As a lighthearted chide at the rivals, The Rolling Stones, who’d just released Aftermath, Starr chimed in with “After Geography”. It seems highly appropriate in this context, and in this time.

An escapist survey that breaths in the influences of Roedelius, Boards Of Canada, Erik Satie, Harold Budd, Nils Frahm and Small Craft On A Milk Sea era Eno, the album covers the terrain in a gauze of delicate resonance, notation and obscured woody movements. Track titles become descriptive reference points and wildlife moments experienced, on this aural map; a clue at times to the scenic inspirations that encouraged them. ‘Of Birds Migrating In The Distance’ is for example a winged patted dance and flutter across the ivory, and the marimba-like bobbing ‘Glacial Architecture Of The Mountain Corridor’ features crystalized icy notes and melting droplets: it’s almost as if Dominguez captures the sunlight gleaming off the slowly melting glacier. ‘Over The Drainage Divide’, which doesn’t exactly sound very inspiring, is surprisingly wondrous, even spiritual, with its choral ethereal waves and hints of ghostly visitations. An ascendant version of that choral spirit can also be heard on the soft droning, delayed and bouncing notes beauty ‘All Across The High Plain After The Storm’.

A mostly peaceable geography, Dominguez’s latest impressive suite offers the safety of a timeless rugged pristine panorama. A breath of fresh air; a sonic plain on which to gain some perspective, that intuitive methodology proves highly successful on a most pleasing, imaginative ambient experience.





Campbell Sibthorpe ‘Ytown’
EP/21st July 2020




Following up on the impressive choral anthem ‘Good Lord’, which we premiered last month on the MC, the yearning troubadour Campbell Sibthorpe proves he has more than it takes to deliver the full emotionally stimulating package with his new, generous EP Ytown. Over seven tracks of similar beautifully realised rustic anthems and shorter mood passages, Campbell expands his themes of escaping the pastoral backwaters of small town life.

Both a travail down memory lane and pilgrimage, nature’s son returns from London to the town in which he spent those formative years, on the outskirts of Bristol, to mull over the past, but above all, as the Australian born songwriter/multi-instrumentalist set out to serenely on that ‘God Lord’ hymn, seeks to find himself amongst the humdrum scenery. Ytown could be many towns, any town, yet it proves evocative and creatively fertile enough to inspire this expansive songbook. The very essence of the place seeps into the music through field recordings and the sound of the local church’s pump organ – used very subtly as a sadly reverent undertow on the setting-sun curtain call ‘Strawberry Line Pt. 2’ a couplet to the EP’s only scenic twinkled if musing instrumental, The Shins like ‘Strawberry Line Pt. 1’.

Entirely self-produced and recorded from the bedroom of his youth, Ytown pays homage to innocence, to his childhood relationship with his ‘Father Carpenter’, and the unburdened freedoms of nature. The first of those is a powered-up Midlake country folk anthem, the latter, an achingly harmony rich longing to be as free and detached as the ‘Dandelion’.

Almost echoing an early Radiohead paired with the Fleet Foxes, the tender woven poetic ‘Pastel Porcelain’ seems to have stepped out of a medieval tapestry, and the opening dappled lit blossoming ‘The Sun Appeared’ shows an almost filmic and experimental quality to Campbell’s music.

A balance of acoustic naturalism and full on, climatic singles, Ytown is a great piece of expansive storytelling, a conceptual EP perfect in length, depth and heartfelt searching.





Campbell Sibthorpe ‘Good Lord’ Premiere


Brian Bordello ‘The King Of No-Fi’
(Metal Postcard Records) Album/16th August





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

The idiosyncratic de facto leader of the long standing dysfunctional family legends The Bordellos, and the barely concealed instigator of the anti-Brit pop and plodding rock Idiot Blur Fanboy, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea (who I must also point out is a regular contributor to these very pages) follows up on his recent solo offerings, the Liverpool Hipster Scene EP and Boris Johnson Massacre single, with another album for the Aussie platform, Metal Postcard Records. Recorded during lockdown whilst growing tired at the lack of revolutionary zeal and wit in contemporary music, and the reliance upon of nostalgia, regurgitation in the industry (both musically and through blogs, publications, radio), Brian has penned a quite sincere collection of romanticized sufferings, regrets and love songs.

Making even Sparklehorse sound like ELO in comparison, the no-fi production values on offer are raw but never really coarse or discordant. No augmentation, filters, effects or sundry, just a bare accompaniment of rough’n’ready but melodious acoustic guitar and the whirling of a rudimental four-track; the click of the record button and, at the end of each performance, the stop button.

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

Quite swooning in places, this is neither a plaintive nor angry songbook, but as I said before a sincere often humorous yearn from a maverick soul stuck in lockdown. The King is dead; long live the King.


The Bordellos ‘Debt Sounds’

The Bordellos ‘Will.I.Am You’re Really Nothing’



Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones ‘Kafou In Avalonia’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company) Album/19th June 2020





Reimaging a time when Earth’s landmasses were being reshaped, the atavistic geological inspired futurist dub unit pose a cultural “what if?” with their fourth “set”, Kafou In Avalonia. Developing out of a volcanic arc at the northern edges of the “supercontinent” Gondwana (we’re talking about 550 million years ago; when this leviathan contained one-fifth of all the planet’s land) but decoupling to form a drifting micro continent of its own, Avalonia, if it didn’t eventually breakup and collide with Pangea, would have bridged what is now the Atlantic Ocean. Crustal fragments underlie parts of Southwest England, Southern Ireland and the East Coast of America. Wishful dreaming Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones picture an alternative reality; one in which Avalonia still existed as a gateway between all Earth’s cultures and peoples. It acts as the crossroads that might have set out an entirely different course for civilization; a more integrated, less fractious one perhaps. In this setting Haitian, Brazilian, Angolan and Nigerian deities, spirits and rituals converge with an experimental soundtrack of post-punk dub, Kosmische and electronica.

Invoking a lost world, a quasi-Atlantis, they merge voodoo ceremony and tribal incantation with sonorous throbbing basslines, barracking drums, heavy reverb and craning Manuel Gottsching like guitar.

A reference heavy album, with various “Loa” (spirits) and divinities summoned and made offerings, the track titles name check a pantheon of the worshipped. The opening gabbling dub and primordial shrouded ethereal jug-poured ‘Oxûm Over Water’ pays homage to the Yoruba peoples river goddess, while the singing chorus and insect chirped trans-Europa rail momentum Kraftwerk meets Guru Guru ‘Oxalá Of The White Sky’ takes its name from the Brazilian “sky father” and creator of human beings. Elsewhere, Haiti’s spiritual ancestors are represented in the shape of the serpent creator of the cosmos, Damballa (the On-U-Sound dub prowling low frequency crumbled bass languorous ‘Damballah Of The Dark Sky’), and senior Petro visitation born from the heinous savagery and injustice of slavery, Ezilí Dantor (the lolloping Orb submersion ‘Ezilí Dantor Awake’). Incidentally, that last spirit especially took kindly too offerings of crème de cacao and jewelry, and on its birthday, a wild pig. It’s believed that one such feast in honor to Dantor preceded the infamous slave revolt of 1791.

Ancestral ghosts meet synthesized futurism on this mystical transformed aural geography, as recordings of various rituals swirl in and around a cosmic soup. A supernatural and celestial, seeping and vaporous vortex of polygenesis sources are gathered together to create an imaginative cosmology hybrid. If The Future Sound Of London and Ash Ra Tempel recorded an album at Lee Scratch Perry’s black ark studio it might very well have sounded something like this. And that’s me saying this is a bloody great experimental dub album. Seek out now.




John Howard ‘To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection’
(UK John Howard/USA through Kool Kat Musik) Album/7th August 2020




Chiming with the second candid, sometimes wistful, chapter in the pianist raconteur’s memoirs, this latest fragrant songbook manages past regrets with wizened heartfelt balladry. With plenty of time, including the lockdown, to mull over the past, after writing two volumes of self-effacing recollections (part two, Illusions Of Happiness, is scheduled to tie in with this album, published on the 7th August) John Howard channels a lifetime of setbacks and learning through the philosophical and metaphorical.

Coming to terms and letting go in some respects, the fledging 70s star set back by a series of career mishaps and a traumatic accident (forced to make a fateful leap from the window of an apartment he shared in Earl’s Court with some colourful Filipino gay characters, who brought back a mad Russian ‘bit of rough’ intent on murder) muses over breakups (the la la, almost Christmas seasonal, chiming mini anthem ‘I’m Over You’) and a broken friendship (the regretful heartache ‘Echoes Of Pauline’). The latter’s real life subject appears as a recurring figure of that regret in John’s work; the best friend from school losing touch since 1973 (as John admits, probably down to him and not Pauline) first pops up on ‘The Flame’ from the career launching Kid In A Big World showcase, and later on ‘Pauline’s Song’, which featured on the 2009 EP Songs For A Lifetime.

Pauline’s presence, companionship is much missed it seems, as John looks out from his Spanish home veranda on an uncertain, if scenic, world. Idyllic though it is, his life in the Southeastern Spanish town of Murcia can’t make up for the pining of his former Welsh home, and even further back, Lancashire. Moving across the seas to preempt Brexit, John recalls a Welsh pastoral bliss on the wistfully beautiful melodious ‘And Another Day’. Yet both lyrically and through his signature subtle minor key changes moves deftly into the sadness of leaving it all behind. The scented waltz-y ‘Illusions Of Happiness’ ambles through a perfumed garden of delights but also mournfully wades out into the sea; waiting on something, a ship, vessel, the final boat ride perhaps.

Old ghosts mingle with analogies of saviors, and the tropes of coming-to-terms with one’s decisions. This is all done with a most adroit touch of pastoral organ, Baroque chamber pop, gentle Dylan-esque harmonica, concertina and softened tambourine rattled crescendos: all of which is played by John. It’s a sound that is saved from the saccharine and pushed towards the yearning beauty of the early Bee Gees, late 60s Beach Boys and the Incredible String Band, whilst echoing the flourishes of John’s burgeoning pianist troubadour career in the 70s.

The 17th album proper in a career that has regularly stalled (mostly down to the mishandling of others), with gaping holes in which John turned his hand to A&R, the lyrical To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection follows on from last year’s brilliant Cut The Wire – just one album in a long line of such releases from arguably his most creatively prolific tenure. The poetically scene-setting songbook is a perfect accompaniment to those memoirs; a mature retrospection of a life well lived.








John Howard ‘Cut The Wire’

John Howard ‘Incidents Crowded With Life’

John Howard ‘Across The Door Sill’



Reissue

Yanti Bersaudara ‘ST’
(La Munai Records) Album/7th July 2020





A beautiful three-part harmony serenade drifting out of West Java, the much sought after 1971 album from the endearing Yanti sisters is finally being reissued for the first time ever. From Indonesian musical treasure hunters, La Munai Records, a befitting repackaged version of that original Bamboo Music magical Sundanese suffused treat.

Previous twee recordings, which swing between Merseybeat and enervated gospel soul, have made it digitally onto a number of platforms and compilations over the years, but the sisters’ later self-titled nugget has remained pretty elusive.

Released towards the end of their tenure, this beautifully cooed, lulled and charming harmony rich record seems oddly out of step with its time; though the strict regime in Indonesia had the gall to ban rock’n’roll, and so outpourings of fuzz-thrilled rebellion and salacious gyrating were kept to the minimum: more the early fab four’s ‘Tell Me Why’ or anything by The Tremeloes than the dirty scuzz and teasing of the Rolling Stones. That’s not to say the odd frizzle of psych and a coarse guitar twang or two doesn’t pop up here and there, but this early 70s songbook is mostly dreamy, heavenly even, and spiritual.

Whilst channeling the siblings (that’s Yani, Tina and Lin Hardjakusumah) West Javanese heritage of Bamboo Music, Gamelan and Jaipongan, you will also hear a constant sustained and fanning ray of church organ too. The lovely honeyed vocals even reach the ethereal heights, sounding like an Indonesian version of Dusty sings gospel.

The second most populous ethnic group in Indonesia, the Sundanese people (a name derived from the Sanskrit prefix “su”, which means “goodness”), of which the sisters belong, reside in a part of the country synonymous for its rich musical traditions. Soothed into an exotic dreamboat mix of angklung ringing and bamboo bobbing, reedy staccato surf guitar and ticking away drums those delicate ancestral chimes are propelled into the beat group era, and on the misty organ ghostly ‘Bulan Dagoan’, a spooked funhouse garage band era.

Coquettish, enticing, at other times like the 5th Dimension and choral rhyming, the girls vocal sound is sweetened; flourishing with yearned and exotic swooning.

For those of you wishing to enjoy a languorous dreamy slow boat to Java, with just enough fuzz thrills to pique the interest, let the Yanti sisters provide the hip accompaniment. If you’ve already been entertained by the trio, then you’ll find this ’71 release less saccharine and girl-group than previous albums; more magical and with more stained glass soul.






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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