ALBUM REVIEWS
Dominic Valvona





Easing the boredom of coronavirus lockdown, join me from the safety of your own home on a global journey of discovery. Let me do all the footwork for you, as I recommend a batch of interesting and essential new releases from a myriad of genres, which I hope you will support in these anxious times. With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms such as Bandcamp) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it.

From Java, there’s the latest project from the Hive Mind label in collaboration with Indonesian music digger Kai Riedl, a showcase of 2007 recordings from Idjah Hadidjah & Jugala Jaipongan plus a number of reworked transformations from a host of sonic and electronic artists. Various Maghreb artists from the 80s and 90s Lyon café and club scene can be heard for the first time on vinyl with a new compilation from Bongo Joe, the electrified Raï, Chaoui and Staifi K7 Club collection. Formed in London, the combined talents of Senegal singer/songwriter Biram Seck and French guitarist foil Thibaut Remy come together once more under the Awale Jant Band umbrella for another Afrobeat and soul showcase, Yewoulen. I also take a look at the Passepartout Duo of Nicoletta Favari and Christopher Salvito’s amorphous travelogue peregrination through Switzerland, the Caucasus, former Soviet Asiatic satellites and China performances, Vis-à-Vis; available next month on vinyl and digitally.

There’s also the upcoming Mexican cross border fraternization musical odyssey from Sergio Mendoza and his Orkesta, Curandero.

Back in Europe jazz bassist extraordinaire Ville Herrala is doing inventive things as a solo artist with the double bass; releasing his debut experimental LP for the Helsinki label We jazz. Still in a European jazz setting, there’s the debut LP from the disruptive JZ Replacement pairing of Zhenya Strigalev and Jamie Murray; the saxophonist and his drummer foil collide together with a myriad of rhythms and ideas to kick jazz into a new decade. We also have the most recent ambient voyage across graph paper from Moonside Tape’s founder Jimmy W, Midi Canoe.


Idjah Hadidjah & Jugala Jaipongan   ‘Javasounds Vol.1: Jaipongan Music Of West Java’   (Hive Mind) LP/6th March 2020




Borne from a dire situation, Indonesian composer and choreographer Gugum Gumbira circumnavigated the country’s authoritarian ban on rock and roll by creating the traditional infused Jaipongan style. Hidden beneath a hybrid of honest harvesting ritual music and atavistic gamelan lay a more sensual spark that encouraged dancing intimacy and a rapid, galloping rhythm that pushed this musical form towards rock: seen by those who made it and loved it as a rebellious gesture. The authorities seemed to have been unaware of its creator’s motives, as the dynamic sound spread throughout the country, unabated, finding favour amongst both the working classes and more affluent.

Mesmerizing with its quickened, often complicated, rhythms – which either flow constantly like a trickle or tumble in a sporadic fit – and bowed quivers, Jaipongan percussion and undulated metallophones are counterbalanced by untethered vocals of romantic and humbled wooing; sung, in this case, on this new edition of Gumbira recordings by the beautiful aria fluctuating Idjah Hadidjah. Gumbira met his muse in the early 80s, luring the iconic singer away from the Sundanese Shadow Puppet Theatre to join his Jugala Orchestra troupe; a collaboration that would go on to last the decade. They would reunite in 2007, recording at the Jugala Studios in Bandung, Java, backed by the studio’s house band. That session now forms the basis of this new vinyl/digi release from Hive Mind and the Indonesian music evangelist Kai Riedl, who present six original tracks from that reunion and a second disc of ‘reworks’ from a variety of contemporary artists in the field of soundscaping and sonic transformations. Riedl, of the Indo-influenced Macha band, has plenty of experience in this sector having made trips to the island of Java with sound engineer Suny Lyons in the noughties to record everything from solo string players to thirty-member gamelan orchestras, in locations as diverse as a darkly-lit nightclub to off-the-grid hideaways. As facilitators they offer up a showcase of the genre’s most entrancing siren and backing group.

Transporting the listener towards the gateway of an exotic unfamiliar geography, the resonating chimes, trinkets, gongs and clapping woody undulations, in fits and starts, playfully evoke both the earthy and ethereal in equal measure. Songs like ‘Sanja’ have a rustic, ritualistic vibe, yet the accelerating rhythm and beat suggests the club dancefloor.





Those Javanese intonations and accentuate sounds are transformed with this package’s Riedl instigated ‘reworks’, an extension of his project to open-up access to the music of Indonesia to western musicians. A range of assemblage inventive artists takes the source material on a journey of variously successful experiments: a music that lends itself well to this treatment as it happens. The North Carolina based artists Bana Haffar turns in a slow trance-y skying vision of the tumbling ‘Hiji Catetan’. N.Y. based musician Bergsonist transduces gamelan into signaled code on her dreamy Orbital-esque remembrance transformation, and Indonesian composer, sound-designer Fahmi Mursyid ratchets up the material with a Autechre breakdown of rewiring, buzz saw beats, dropped metallic ball bearings and zapped bass. For the most part these reworks wander in a serialism and ambient fashion of transcendence; the use of Hadidjah’s startling vocals especially lends itself well to these float-y deconstructions: It’s Jaipongan, but not as we know it.

This latest well-chosen project from the label and friends is another enticing, captivating window into a musical world few of us are even aware of: A great discovery eastwards, with more to follow hopefully.





JZ Replacement  ‘Disrespectful’
(Rainy Days Record)  LP/13th March 2020




Positively disruptive rather than ‘disrespectful’ to the fundamentals of jazz, the ‘symbiosis’ (as they call it) pairing of saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev (Ambrose Akinmusire, Eric Harland) and drummer Jamie Murray (Sun Ra Arkestra, Native Dancer) play hard and frantically fast with the genre on their latest union, JZ Replacement.

Crossing paths regularly on the London jazz stage, Strigalev has already made an appearance on Murray’s solo project, Beat Replacement. Pooling that talent once more for a new iteration, the JZ duo flex, bounce and distort an abundance of contemporary influences, from trip-hop to d’n’b, on their debut album. Recording with the very much in demand bass guitar maestro Tim Lefebvre – a member of Donny McCaslin’s troupe that famously backed Bowie on his last curtain call -, who brings yet another eclectic layer of dynamism to the polygenesis stew, the JZ pile full-throttle through off-kilter accelerations, breakbeats, hard-bop and vague Eastern European folk traditions to knock jazz into a new decade.

They’re as connected to Roni Size’s own transformative 90s fusions as they are to both modern North American and European jazz, and the explorative deconstructions of Ornette Coleman; blending in a dramatic, sometimes hardcore, fashion a spiraling vortex of squawking bleats with rattling erratic drumming. The previously featured ‘Tubuka’ is an example of those wide-ranging influences; skulking along as it does to a Massive Attack like broody bass line and a dubby post-punk menace before being harried by Murray’s drums and the spooked elephant heraldings of Strigalev’s saxophone. Wavering between a number of rhythmic and intense step-changes, the duo deftly react with both a rush and relaxed vigor. ‘Marmalade For Radhika’ changes that dynamic again with a sweetened drifting exploration that wafts through lingering traces of Savoy label jazz, the blues and the Cuban. But you’re just as likely to hear staccato jerks, short bursts of no wave Blurt and Liquid Liquid, hovering flange, space echoes and piercing squalls in a suffusion of ever-progressive performances.

Two artists at the height of their imaginative prowess, the JZ show a healthy disrespect for conventions as they blast apart the jazz scene; yet somehow make the intensity and waywardness flow. More please!





Awale Jant Band   ‘Yewoulen (Wake Up)’
(ARC)   LP/27th March 2020




Predominantly imbued by the Senegalese heritage and ‘gawlo’ storyteller tradition of this London-formed polygenesis collective’s songwriter/singer Biram Seck, and by some of its drumming/percussionist circle, the Awale Jant Band effortlessly broadens its musical horizons with another loose fusion of Afrobeat, soft heralded horn section soul and bustled funk. A merger of the Dakar-born dynamic Jant band and French guitarist foil Thibaut Remy’s Awale group, the lilted unison of West African and European musicianship once more leaps into action on the debut follow-up Yewoulen.

It’s a title which when translated from the Wolof people’s language – the dialect that Seck mostly sings in – of Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania encourages a “wake up” call. A unifying wake up call that is, with many of the both expressively joyful and sadder yearns driven by injustice and a need for understanding in a morosely hostile society. First though, there’s romanticism of a sort in the form of the album’s ascendant, snozzled horn and soft rolling, rattled and skipping ‘Sope’; a tender love paean that features a soulful trilling Seck vocally crossing paths with Al Green and Youssou N’Dour – which is handy, as the group’s Senegalese percussionist Medoune Ndiaye was a member of his backing group. Equally as loving, even sweet, is the Highlife with echoes of South America celebration ‘Amandine’; written by Remy as a dedication his first daughter. Staying with the upbeat (musically speaking), there’s what sounds like a busy groove-generated stopover in Lagos with the mellow Kuti vibes funk ‘Domi Adama’; a live feel track with plenty of swirling horns and bobbing sabra drumming action, courtesy of Fofoulah’s Kaw Secka). It’s followed by the Accra vibe and Stax Watts’s horn blasting song of happiness ‘Cubalkafo’.

In the more poignant and societal-political vane, Seck pays a plaintive jazzy lament to an old friend on the two-speed cantaloupe ‘Jules’, and comments on the sensitive issue of ritual circumcision on the African-rock lilted ‘Kassak’.

The message though is one of shared ancestry and a coming together for the benefit of others in an increasingly unsympathetic and dangerous world. This combined force of musicians does it with a real swerve on a groove that is constantly, gently moving between the spiritual and the soulful and funky. The Awale Jant Band turns in another great showcase of cross-fertilized rhythms.




Ville Herrala  ‘Pu:’
(We Jazz)  LP/21st February 2020




The Helsinki label of We Jazz is one that excels in pushing and remixing the boundaries of contemporary jazz; especially the role of the soloist, turning out vividly dexterous breathing experiments in counter-flow looped saxophone with Jonah Parzen-Johnson’s Imagine Giving Up, and now a suite of taut and quivering string and rhythmic slapped bodywork miniatures played using only the double-bass, by the Finnish bassist Ville Herrala.

A mainstay of the much admired Scandinavian jazz scene, the Turku born native has lent his adroit skills to such scene-setters as PLOP, Otto Donner, U-Street All Stars, Jukka Eskola Orquesta Bossa and the UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra. Stepping out from the group set-up, the conservatoire graduate goes solo for his debut LP Pu:. Herrala knocks, pads and bends out-of-shape the familiar bass sound to often take on the characteristics of a distressed cello. Consisting of fourteen vignettes split between the bowed and rhythmic, Pu: balances the springy and elasticated with the spindled and ponderous on an album of various moody experiments. ‘Pu:2’ (all the track titles by the way have this suffix) has the sort of quivery sustain intro you might expect to hear on a Hendrix record – hanging on an air-string before launching into a wild psychedelic scream – whilst ‘Pu:6’ has the double-bass almost mooing. In the minimalist, more sound experiment camp, the pendulous ‘Pu:3’ sounds like something scuttling in the attic, and the pitter-patter ‘Pu:5’ sounds like Herrala’s rolling a ball-bearing across the spider-like strings.

There’s oblique runs up the fretboard, bows across the bridge and saw-motioned tautened frictions throughout an LP that is equally as morose and haunted as it is mysteriously avant-garde. Semi-classical, semi-jazz, semi-minimalist and semi-soundscape, Pu: is an inventive suite of articulations, tones and atmospheres fashioned from a double bass in discomfort; stretched to its limits. Herrala proves a congruous edition to a most explorative jazz label on the fringes of reinvention.





Jimmy W  ‘Midi Canoe’
(Moonside Tapes)  LP/22nd February 2020




Featured recently in the last Tickling Our Fancy revue with his Kirigirisu Recordings enabled Singapore Police Background collaboration with fellow ambient peregrination explorer Dan Burwood, James Wilson is back this month with an equally minimal atmospheric solo under the Jimmy W appellation. Released via his own brilliant limited cassette specialist label Moonside Tapes, his latest ebb and flow traverse, Midi Canoe, flutters and drifts across crackling graph paper. A concatenate collection of vignettes, passages and extracts, Wilson builds a evanescent soundtrack of static fields, snozzled foggy wafts and air flows; pricked by bendy space warbles, metallic shivers and a gliding piano. There’s also a masked twinkled chime that sounds like a marimba, falling like droplets on a bedding of gauzy washes.

Tracks like ‘Unnameable Little Broom’ are given a Casio preset choral effect lull, whereas the poetically surreal evoked ‘It Was Evening All Afternoon’ has an air of early Cluster.

Showing just how well read this ambient composer is, there’s a third-note emphasized chiming mirage with space birdy warbled piece entitled ‘Mr. Cogito’s Last Dream’; a reference to the Polish author-poet Zbigniew Herbert’s philosophical canvas everyman of the title, the protagonist of a number of reflective, questioning dialogues and poems written under the despair of Communism. Getting technical, there’s an overlap of ghostly trailing notes and repeated nice piano motifs piece that refers to the white notes ‘Lydian’ scale. A mode as it were, this particular scale includes all the notes of an F scale without the Bb.

A suffused wash of enervated motorization and dreamy resonance, Wilson’s Midi Canoe is a mysterious voyage of inner meditation and the otherworldly that’s well worth seeking out. And whilst you are at it, take a look through the whole Moonside catalogue, especially the 2018 abstract hand-painted Mhva LP Scend, a concentrated vapour of sublime ambience.





Passepartout Duo   ‘Vis-à-Vis’
(AnyOne)   LP/10th April 2020




A project that sadly now seems inconceivable in the face of a growing coronavirus pandemic, the freely traversing duo of Nicoletta Favari and Christopher Salvito use the sounds and discoveries of a journey they made from Switzerland, via the Caucasus and former Soviet Asiatic satellites, to China. In conjunction with the AnyOne Beijing arts company label and curatorial platform to promote experimental and contemporary classical music to a ‘budding’ Chinese audience, the Passepartout Duo collaboration is a transportive album of scrap-built instruments and synthesized peregrinations, split into two separate seventeen-minute amorphous soundtracks.

The first part of these cross-panoramic sound adventures, ‘Heartwood’, expresses a sense of time passing; the metronome ticking away as the cycles of chimed strikes, sonorous drones and scuttling wooden undulations make way to crystalized gleams, spindled mechanisms and vague echoes of gamelan. The final section of this journey moves through uninterrupted duel divided melodies, glassy tubular drops and low veiled foghorn bass until ending on a trance-y spell.

The titular track begins with a busier sonic language of clanging and mallet metallics, overlapped with what sounds like an avant-garde video arcade of speed shifts, trickles and pattered Orientalism.

You’re never really sure of which terrain you might be passing through at any given time on this exploratory project of neo-classical travelogues, and that’s what’s so magical about it: anticipating what sonic landscape might come next, or where the duo will take us. In the process Vis-à-Vis flows through an undefined geography to create something fresh and different; a soundtrack untethered, if you will, to a particular time and place.




Orkesta Mendoza  ‘Curandero’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/10th April 2020




Another crisscrossing romp over the southern border, scion of the Calexico-Giant Sand-Xixa axis of Arizona-Mexican fusions, Sergio Mendoza once more leads his Orkesta out across a fertile musical geography on his new LP, Curandero.

And yet again, Mendoza pays a special homage to the sounds and myriad of styles he heard growing up between his two homes of Nogales, Arizona and Sonora, Mexico on an album that is playful and varied.

With an emphasis on pop, this guest heavy follow-up to 2016’s ¡Vamos A Guarachar! Has a more commercial and light sound. Recorded at a breakneck pace, without much planning. Mendoza and his collaborators go with the flow and mood on a Latino odyssey of reinvigorated musical staples. Songs like the 50s rock’n’roll tonk and cowbell tapping ‘Eres Official’ are meant to evoke the ghost of Buddy Holly, but also stir-up Ritchie Valens. US singer of Latin soul, violinist and fellow Arizona native Quetzal Guerrero makes one of many appearances on this low-rider wolf-whistle of a song. Mendoza says he was thinking about Stuart Copeland of The Police and his loud up the front in production style of drums when recording the bubbly undulated heatwave ‘Head Above Waters’. It sounds though like a jolly trek across the desert with Paul Simon in tow. The strangest flash of inspiration is with the broody love song ‘Little Space’, which features Nick Urata of Devotchka crooning like a mix of the Big O and Chris Isaak. Supposedly starting out like The Jam, Mendoza seems to have instead transformed The Beatles ‘I’m Looking Through You’ with the popular folk tradition of cumbia – a style that has had a renaissance in the last decade; modified, transmogrified to fuse with anything going, including electronica and dance music.

From the rambunctious to sauntering, cumbia is just one of the many Central and South American genres to make this LP. Expect to also hear concertina and raunchy ‘rancho’, blasted and serenaded ‘mariachi’, echoes of Joey Bataan and Andrew Sisters, the ‘boogaloo’ and matinee idol Mexican R&B on this sprawling songbook.

Mendoza is having a great time with all this, as he builds a musical escapism that one minute offers the corney, the next, a Ska like gallop across the border towards the Amazon. It’s a whistle-stop tour of lo fi Casio preset shimmy accompanied cruise ship lounge bars, wistful pining Western savannahs and Tijuana parties; a pop and rock celebration of a multifaceted and inspiring cross border melting pot, with something for everyone.




Various   ‘Maghreb K7 Club: Synth Raï, Chaoui & Staifi 1985-1997’
(Sofa Records & Bongo Joe)   LP/27th March 2020




Music from the North African geography of the Maghreb as you’ve probably never heard it; shimmying with Arabian trinkets, rapid tabbing hand drums and exotic sand dune fantasy certainly, yet made otherworldly cosmic and electro-fied for the burgeoning democratized age of affordable low end tech: welcome to the Arabian expat scene in 80s and 90s Lyon.

From the assured collators Bongo Joe and, on this compilation, their partners Sofa Records a eight-song collection of Casio-preset and synthesized transformed musical poetry and lovelorn heartache from a myriad of Algerian artist’s that congregated around the French city’s North Eastern African café and bar hub. Joints such as the Le But Café, the Croix-Rousse and Guillotière were home to a social network hive of activity for conducting business and booking appearances for weddings, galas and studio sessions.

Musically a crossover of the Oran City folk Raï tradition and Zendari rhythm festive Staifi style from back home, the electrified sounds that emanated from this fertile scene were mostly distributed on cassettes, released by facilitators like Top Music, Édition Merabet and SEDICAV. Extraordinarily, and the reason for this collection, vinyl was discarded for the cheap and flexible culture of tape sharing at the time. The fast turnover, not only in recording these tracks but also in getting them on the market, cut out the middleman and helped foster a thriving local distribution network. Still, the power seemed to be with the publishers who could not only modify the lyrics but tamper with the style itself – adding synthesizer and drums – without seeking consent or even running it by the artists that recorded them. This led to some interesting results, as you’ll hear.

For the first time ever, the Maghreb K7 Club LP makes available a smattering of tracks on vinyl; tunes like the Arabian milky way swish ‘Maliky a Malik’ by Zaidi El Batni – which has a strange intro; someone’s footsteps walking through a cheap echo-chamber effect and some slapping – and the bandy, slinky liquid pop mirage with soothing female sighs ‘Goultili Bye Bye’ by funk-disco maestro Nordine Staïfi. Nordine gets two bites of the dancefloor glazed cherry on this album; his second feature, the infectious whistle-and-clap ‘Zine Ezzinet’ is a standout highlight – imagine an Arabian Nile Rodgers mixing down an Orange Juice funk.

Elsewhere, 808 rattles and harmonium merge with spirited song, whilst heavy accentuated Algerian romanticism is augmented by a Miami soundclash of electro beats. Though the most blatant use of that synthesizer influence is found with Salah El Annabi’s Francophone ‘Hata Fi Annabi’, which unexpectedly drops in a whole chunk of Jean-Michel Jarre’s famous ‘Oxygene’ to the mix.

The 90s sourced tracks in this collection are for obvious reasons more polished, but there’s a certain innocence and fuzzy sheen that I quite like about those older, 80s recordings.

Worth a punt just to own ‘Zine Ezzinet’ – fast becoming one of my favourite, essential movers of the year -, this compilation from Bongo Joe and friends is a wonderful platform to discover another bit of ear-opening musical history.



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






A quick shifty, glance, a perusal of the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload our inboxes this month by me, Dominic Valvona.

This week’s roll call includes the following picks: Gawd Status, Ghostwood Development Project, Adam Green, Irreversible Entanglements and Lunar Bird.

Gawd Status   ‘Admiral Byrd’
(Tru Thoughts)   Video/Happening Now





Taken from last year’s debut LP Firmamentum, the ether emanating Hip-Hop conspiracy hallucination ‘Admiral Byrd’ is the latest video to drop from the unholy Gawd Status union of leading UK rap architects King Kashmere and Joker Starr. Making our albums of 2019 features (picked by our resident know-all on the Hip-Hop essentials, Matt Oliver), the visionary psychedelic combo enter the sanctum of the tinfoil hat brigade to merge the real life exploits of the famed and heavily decorated American explorer, navel hero and aviator Admiral Richard E. Byrd with flat and hollow Earth rabbit hole lunacy. Byrd is notable amongst other things, for being the first to fly across Antarctica; a flight that may or may not of been sanctioned as a deep cover operation to find Nazis and UFOs in the uncharted frozen wastes. The mind boggles as a silver-suited adorned Gawd Status set out to unlock a truth.

Matt Oliver had this to say about them and their debut LP, Firmamentum, back in 2019:

‘When the Big Bang wiped everything out first time around, Gawd Status saw it as an opportunity, in which Kashmere’s Strange U spaceship nosedives into the jungle, moondust dementia still sputtering from its exhaust, and Joker Starr swaps the battle arena for the cannibalistic, kill or be killed lawlessness of the Firmamentum outback. The Gawd Status is a complicated one, seriously heavy at a skinflint eight tracks long (even in the current age of artists finally getting album length right, 28 minutes is a bit of a choker), fiercely standing up for itself in articulation of black rage and examination of conspiracy theories, and reveling in The Iguana Man’s thick doomsday fog. The event completed by some utterly bumping soul sisterhood from Fae Simon, its arrival at Tru Thoughts is a slight surprise. Nonetheless it’s a work of art that burns bright like a brilliant, tumultuous dream.’


Ghostwood Development Project Feat. Kool Keith   ‘Gulley’
(Nepotismo Records)  Single/6th March





Lazer guided, Lee Brunskjill hooks up with one-man cult Hip-Hop progenitor Kool Keith on his new electrified cosmic project the Ghostwood Development Project.

Dr. Octagon throws out a heavy-reference potted cosmology over a dialed calculating electrical field on the project’s inaugural single, ‘Gully’. Originally conceived after the pair met at Mike Patton & The Melvins curated chapter of All Tomorrow’s Parties Nightmare, all the way back in 2008, an initial spark was ignited over a mutual love of Sci-Fi movies, music and horror movie soundtracks.

This whole project has been a long time in the making, Lee was instrumental in putting together Leeds based Punk outfit Autopsy Boys and after they disbanded he went into social isolation to reevaluate his music and what it meant to him.

Lee rebuilt everything he’d known about music and self taught himself to mix, master and scratch and even built his own syths, which you can hear throughout this track.

By the time Lee had got his newfound skills on point he’d created ‘Gulley’ and found himself in need of a vocal and knew there and then that only Kool Keith would work. Having swapped numbers Lee contacted him, played him the track to which he said “This shit is hot!”. Lee remembers: “Within two days Kool Keith recorded his part and sent back his vocals. With that I set about mixing and mastering my first solo release. I wanted to announce my new project with something special but never imagined it would turn out this good.”

The Ghostwood Development Project moniker is a Twin Peaks reference as Lee explains:

“A few people have asked where I got the name from. It was a plan originally spearheaded by Benjamin Horne to build a country club on the location of Ghostwood National Forest. An intriguing subplot in Twin Peaks. Had this plot continued, I believe it would have revealed the imminent destruction of the town and elaborated on the evil spirits as well as the backstory of Bob, and his Lucifer-like nature. It also plays along nicely with the Twin Peaks‘ narrative of “evil in the woods.” The idea is to present my own personal experiences from an alternate timeline within the Twin Peaks universe where the project did happen and chaos was unleashed. My imagery, music, art, narrative and videos come from the area known as Ghostwood. “Stop Ghostwood” is a recurring theme throughout the saga. Naturally I adopted the term ‘Vote Ghostwood’ insinuating hell on earth has arrived.”


Irreversible Entanglements   ‘No Más’
(International Anthem/Don Giovanni)  Teaser/20th March 2020





The third of my recommendations this week is a tumbling and bowed untethered work of conscious jazz from the free-welding Irreversible Entanglements. Taken from the quintet’s upcoming album Who Sent You?, ‘No Más’ is a sublime rolling gauzy horns wafting teaser for what sounds like a beatified tapestry of poetic actions and contemplations.

Join Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother), saxophonist Keir Neuringer, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, bassist Luke Stewart, and drummer Tcheser Holmes now on this political remonstration.


Lunar Bird   ‘A Walk’
Single/6th March 2020



Transforming vulnerability into something positively and celebratory spellbinding and golden, the psychedelic gauzy pop band Lunar Bird turn on the translucent diaphanous charm for their brand new single, ‘A Walk’. Valuing instead of diminishing fragility and all it entails, the Italian formed, but in recent years Wales-based, band wash away all the travails with a most radiant dreamy pop mirage that evokes ethereal and lush moments from Beach House, Stereolab, Diva Dompe and Deerhunter.

A reference to Joan Miró’s famous abstract bronze sculpture of the same name, Lunar Bird is a cosmic fantasy duo spearheaded by Roberta Musillami and Francis George, that on this particular gorgeous recording expanded to also include Eliseo DiMalto on bass guitar and Andrea Rizzo on drums.

A Walk precedes the band’s debut album, released sometime in the Spring.


Adam Green  ‘All Hell Breaks Loose (Misfits Cover)’
(30th Century)  Track/Available Now





A lot of homages going on in one place here, as the former Moldy Peach turn left banke troubadour Adam Green pays his respects to the Misfits’ towering influential instigator Glenn Danzig with a cover of the band’s Western gallop homage to Scott Walker and John Franz, ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’. Green corrals the talents of producer Loren Humphrey (who also played drums), James Richardson of MGMT (guitar, bass, piano, brass arrangement, brass), and Jesse Kotansky (string arrangement, strings) on this heightened dramatic sweep through the imaginative mind of Danzig, who as it happens is apparently releasing a new album next month of Elvis covers.

In short, this is a congruous cover version that wouldn’t look out of place on Green last nostalgic songbook Engine Of Paradise; an album that channeled Lee Hazlewood, Burt Bacharach, Harry Nilsson, Ian McCulloch, Jim Sullivan and Father John Misty to produce romantic and candid swooners, Midnight Cowboy like cocktail ruminations on love in the context of a society in the grip of an ever intrusive and alienating social media, and folksy ditties imbibed with strolls in the Greenwich Village.


Support the Monolith Cocktail:

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





I certainly never planned it that way (honest) but artists from the experimental electronica and ambient music fields dominate this month’s roundup. To start off there’s the all-spanning retrospective collection of the eclectic Finnish electronic one-man cult Jimi Tenor to salivate over; the double album compilation NY, Hel, Barca collects together many of his most seminal tracks from across his first six solo LPs (many of which have been deleted). Finally, after at least four years in the making, Welsh vaporous and diaphanous chanteuse Ani Glass releases her debut album, the cerebral electro pop Mirores. And Rainbow Island produces a colourful fuck-up of cosmic spasmodic bandy effects and break beats on their new LP, Illmatrix.

From the more ambient and understated end of electronic music, there’s the Dan Burwood and James Wilson collaboration for the Tokyo-based obscure label, Kirigirsu Recordings, Singapore Police Background, and musician/composer/sound artist Tony James Morton, inspired by the early developments in Hip-Hop, uses real-time sampled vinyl to create minimalist soundscapes on his new mini-CD release Fragments.

A few exceptions though, including the latest grandiose space opus from the Toulouse trio, Slift, the most recent dreamy shoegaze EP from the Brooklyn trio Vivienne Eastwood and a Turkish-Scandinavian progressive jazz fusion obscurity, Matao with Atilla Engin’s Turkish Delight.


Jimi Tenor   ‘NY, Hel, Barca’
(Bureau B)   LP/6th March 2020


Birthed from a combination of the signature instrument that permeates his omnivorous mixed bag of prolific music and the 70s teen idol, Finnish cult multi instrumentalist and composer Jimi Tenor is unarguably due this double-album overhaul. The later-ego of one Lassi O.T. Lehto, the eclectic ennui-shifting moniker has both absorbed and created a host of fusions over a thirty-plus period – and still continues to do so -, first as the leader of Jimi Tenor And His Shamans and then as both a solo artist and collaborator on a wealth of projects with such luminaries as Tony Allen, Abdissa Assefai, Nicole Willis and The Soul Investigators. From bootyliscious disco funk to Afrojazz and cult soundtracks, Tenor has covered it all. This retrospective spread concentrates on the first six solo albums (of a so far eleven album solo run); covering tracks from the inaugural 1994 Sähkömies album for the Finnish label Sähko, right through to the new millennium and the 2001 album Utopian Dream.

Recorded, hence the first location city of this collection’s title, in a New York apartment on rudimentary equipment, Sähkömies spawned Tenor’s first major club hit, the silly but infectious electro-house bouncing ‘Take Me Baby’. A game-changer, this DAF meets Depeche Mode on the dancefloor earworm took off after Tenor performed it at the Berlin Love Parade. It made the charts in the process and led to a three-album deal for Tenor with the iconic Warp label in the second half of the 1990s. That popular dance anthem is unsurprisingly included here alongside the more erratic burbling Bruno Spoerii-rubs-against-early-hip-hop kooky ‘Teräsmies’ and electronic chemistry set space quirk ‘Voimamies’. The follow-up album for the same label – released a year later – Europa, is represented by the Afro-Techno and minimalist Basic Channel apparition ‘Fantom’, the gyrating sexed-up Yello-House ‘A Daughter Of The Snow’, and lush flute-y Library Music with hints of a Japanese Style Council ‘Unmentionables’.

Moving on to Warp in ’97, the first of a trio of albums for the edgy-electronic label, Intervision, lends four tracks of differing creative influences to this compilation. There’s a transmogrified Lalo Schifrin meets Theremin aria quivered homage to ‘Tesla’, the Glam-skulking Alan Vega seedy ‘Sugardaddy’, Shintaro Sakamoto Kosmische ‘Shore Hotel’ and bubbly, filtered Acid-Jazz spruced ‘Outta Space’. Next up in that run, Orgamism is no less escapist and polygenesis. An Afro-futurist safari of clockwork birds-of-paradise, psychedelic folk flute and square-wave buzzes are conduced on the first track of that cusp-of-a-new-millennia album, ‘Xinotape Heat’, which also kicks off this whole collection. Playing up that millennial doomsday, ‘Year Of The Apocalypse’ is a David Axlerod Biblical somehow waylaid to the Paradise Garage – the rapture played out to a Chicago House piano gospel funk. From the same album the compiler’s of this retrospective have also chosen the jazzy lounge Zombies brooding ‘My Mind’; a semi-romantic curiosity that features Tenor on wafting serenaded saxophone duties.





Into the noughties, the final Warp album, Out Of Nowhere, finds Tenor on a funk odyssey vibe, taking Curtis Mayfield on another of those Acid-Jazz and sitar psychedelic trips with the high value production and commercial ‘Spell’. On the same record, Tenor pairs up with the Riga Symphony Orchestra to spin Easy Listening into a Rotary Connection meets Johnny Richards’ thriller of drama and suspense on ‘Backbone Of Night’. By this point we’re long used to the exotic menagerie of styles and crossovers, and by the time we reach the final solo album, 2001’s Utopian Dream, nothing is a surprise to the ears: The tile track, with its cyber elephant nozzle vacuuming, silly robotic voices and flighty saxophone transduces Marshall Jefferson, whilst on ‘Natural Cosmic Relief’ Tenor puts a pseudo Ian Curtis vocal over a kooky Japanese psychedelic backing.

 

As likely to hear Orlando Julius and Don Cherry as the Pet Shop Boys, International Pony or Ennio Morricone on acid, Jimi Tenor can mix the commercial dancefloor hit with the most cult and fused of sounds too. On this mixed bag, which is neither linear or thematic in it’s choosing and alignment, Garage follows Jazz follows Library Music oddities follows Funk follows Psychedelic Soul. A great place to start for those new to the influential composer, NY, Hel, Barca is a great retrospective but also an opportunity to own a load of tracks from a deleted back catalogue. Hopefully this compilation will also rightly cement a fairly underground maverick’s place in the development and story of electronic music fusion. There’s something, nearly, for everyone on this twenty-track purview.





Ani Glass   ‘Mirores’
(Recordiau Neb)   LP/6th March 2020





It has taken a good few years to materialize but finally the gauze-y vaporous debut album from the Welsh synth-pop siren Ani Glass has dreamily emerged. Since being enticed back to the Welsh hinterlands after leaving the frothy pop belles The Pipettes, the Cardiff native has been busy both with post-graduate studies in Urban And Regional Development (graduating in 2018) and involvement in promoting, through her solo musical projects, the Welsh and overlapping Cornish languages – all the way back in 2013, Ani joined the Cornish Corsedh, a group that awards those who’ve contributed to the Celtic spirit and bardship of that atavistic culture. The play on words title from this inaugural LP is itself taken, in part, from that West Coast vernacular: ‘miras’ being the Cornish word for “to look”, the Miró bit a nod to Ani’s favourite artist, the Spanish abstract doyen Joan Miró. Mirores we’re told,’essentially translates as ‘Observer’ thus presenting the album as Ani’s observation of the city in which she was born and now lives.’

Arriving four years after her initial solo EP debut Ffrwydrad Tawel the follow-up arrives in the wake of so much turmoil political and geographical turmoil. Now would seem as good a time as any to push a disappearing vernacular and heritage as Brexit emboldens Welsh nationalism. All this obviously feeds into the gossamer woven translucent ethereal pop of Mirores; an album that is based on a wealth of concepts. One of which is of course preservation, but another, the idea of movement and progress both societally speaking, but also in the sense of a journey; the contours of a picturesque Welsh landscape set against the more churning busy urban soundscape – a counterbalance that you’ll hear for yourselves, suffused throughout the atmospheric undulations of nature and sampled speeches, broadcasts.





After studying it so intensely, it will come as no surprise that another underpinning thread of this album, ‘A reaction to the values of capitalism’s priorities over the valued needs of society’s most unfortunate’, is the American-Canadian author activist Jane Jacobs most infamous polemic blast at the “urban renewal” zealots, The Death And Life Of Great American Cities.

In the interregnum between releases Ani learnt a good deal about production. And on Mirores she’s borrowed from some of the best purveyors of synthesized music: Vengalis, Moroder, Jean-Michel Jarre and Arthur Russell. The results of which send Ani through the looking glass of air-y untethered dreaminess. The arty wispy ‘Peiriawaith Perffaith’ (Perfect Machinery) has a touch of Kylie, even a Welsh Carol Rich, about it; the slightly more fearful and less lyrical ‘Cathedral In The Desert’ bears shades of both Soft Cell and early OMD. Taking a vignette style break from the veiled Celtic Avalon synth-pop, Ani merges South African Township gospel with choral Welsh colliery protest yearn on ‘I.B.T.’.

From the glassy transparent to more hazed-dream weaving, from homages to minimalist abstract painter Agnes Martin to lulled activism, Ani Glass’ patience has paid off with a disarmingly sophisticated pop album of subtleties that gradually seep into the unconsciousness.



Slift   ‘Ummon’
(Stolen Body Records)  28th February 2020





The Titan themed Ummon is a supersonic Hawkwind, with Steve Vai in tow as a band member, catching a lift on the Silver Surfers’ board, on an adventure into deep space. I could leave it at just that, but I feel duty bound to expand. So here we go. In search of one of the original heaven and earth usurpers, the Titan seer’s Hyperion (god of heavenly light, father to sun, moon and dawn deities Helios, Selene and Eos), the Toulouse trio of Slift go full on space rock opera with an interstellar epic of doom metal and heavy psychedelic prog.

Trudging with ominous intentions as it is grandiose and squalling in a vortex of bombast, this lengthy conceptual opus swirls around a milky way inhabited by our makers: A universe that, as it happens, rocks to a sonic soundtrack of the Cosmic Dead, Ipsissimus, Sabbath, the Black Angels, Dead Meadows, Pink Floyd, the already Hawkwind, and at its most star-gazing, Spiritualized. Though that’s only half the story. It’s a bastardization of Viking pagan-metal and psych on the fantastical salute to the gods, ‘Thousand Helmets Of Gold’; ‘Width Of A Circle’ era Ronson battles a subdued motorik Can and baggy Stone Roses on the three-parter, ‘Citadel On A Satellite’; and a Teutonic bashing version of The Skids and Saints on the cosmic-punk curtain closer ‘Lions, Tigers And Bears’.

Galactus sized riffs and crescendos are numerous as the stars in the Mother Sky on this Moorcockian misadventure. Ummon is a solid heavy trip with plenty of space dust and ethereal dreamy escapism to break-up the onslaught. Slift go big and bold as the entice Hyperion back from exile to clear up the mess and spread some light on a space-rock epic that is anything but pompous. Slift, we salute you in your endeavor. Keep up the good work.




Singapore Police Background   ‘Antiworlds’
(Kirigirisu Recordings)   Out Now





Quiet of late even for a label that operates under the radar in relative obscurity, Neil Debnam’s (of cult favourites Flying Kites and, post-accident, Broken Shoulder fame) Tokyo-based label makes a welcome return in 2020 with another understated ambient exploration of soporific entrancing unease. The brilliantly named Singapore Police Background is a collaboration between Dan Burwood of Calm! and James Wilson of Opt Out; two artists that have previously both released ambient peregrinations on the Moonside Tapes facilitators.

Methodology wise the pair recorded together but polished off their evanescent ‘hypnagogic’ (the state immediately before falling asleep) experiments separately. This process results in an indolent suite of purred and murmuring ambient drone ‘Fragments’ and sedative induced reverberating lingers. Antiworlds is in most cases disarming and drifting; the barest traces of piano and guitar hidden beneath hazy square waves transmitted from the ether. Haunted, often creeping, elements of uncertainty can be found on the wearily entitled ‘See The Conkering Heroine Comes/Watching Newsnight Taking Valium’ couplet of malaise. This is continued on the equally entrancing ebb and flow sonic diptych ‘Iridescent Bodies/Under The Awning’. Standing out some what from the Boards Of Canada, sound In Silence and Eno-esque dreamy traverses, the beautifully contemplative ‘Outside The Blossoming Trees Wept Like Waiting Room Laughter’ is a conjuncture of a musical haiku, a scene from post WWII art house Japanese cinema and something lamentably and resigned, dreamt up by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. There are actually some real nice understated melodic evocations to be found on this languid affair: the opening fragmentary drone being a prime example.

Intermittent signs of the elements and humanity often surface among the oscillations and dissipated swathes on an album by a collaborative partnership that shows potential and promise. Hopefully we’ll hear more from this effective duo in the future.



Tony James Morton  ‘Fragments’
(Focused Silence)   Mini-CD/17th February 2020





It might not sound apparent but the cylindrical generated ambience, opaque minimalist stirrings and waves of the musician/composer/sound artist Tony James Morton’s latest ‘fragmentary’ experiments are, process wise, inspired by techniques used in the early development of Hip-Hop; namely, creating new improvised sonic traverses in real time from samples taken directly from vinyl.

‘A fragmented interpretation’ as the PR spill describes it; Morton passes his sources through a custom-built sampler using a specially created visual programme language for music, the Max/MSP. That technique and method is interesting enough, pitching, as it does, Morton as a kind of conceptual DJ. But the most important thing is: how’s it sound.

Well, the sound is quite subtle with soundscapes materializing slowly, building towards fizzled peaks before dissipating gradually. ‘Fragment #1’ of this gently spinning moiety features enervated cause drones and crystallizations that eventually go on to form a heavenly momentum of cosmic rays. The second Fragment has a rotor like motion that turns out a vaporous melody. A distant muffled thunder acts as a deep bass whilst the dreamy and mysterious are evoked from Morton’s sustained pulses and buzzes.

The Fragments material is a stimulating, stirring couplet of improvisations; an evanescent passing of sound that has its moments.


Matao with Atilla Engin   ‘Turkish Delight’
(Arsivplak/Guerssen)   LP/19th February 2020





It won’t surprise you to learn that this latest obscure quirk from the Guerssen hub (this time via the Arsivplak label) is yet another example of a record that didn’t quite make the grade; a strange brew from the edges of jazz-fusion, close but not close enough technically, artistically or inventive wise to break through a crowded market.

A Turkish Delight from the Danish recorded union of the Matao trio and Atilla Engin, this rare (intentionally I’m sure) convergence of Turkish traditional music and progressive jazz, bordering at times on cult library music and at others on Krautrock (Agitation Free, Xhol Caravan) was only ever released in Denmark, but never, surprisingly, released in its spiritual home of Turkey. An exotic shimmy of belly-dancer sequins and trinkets, noodling and whirling between souk rock and sublime porte kitsch, Engin’s rootsy Turkish galloping and rattling percussion goes up against the 5/8 signature wah-wah, fuzzed and choppy electric guitar and clavinet-like electric piano on a series of instrumental jams that ape Santana, Pink Floyd, Passport, Elias Rahbani and Mustafa Ozkent.

Taking another punt a year on, the label is now releasing this exotic curio on limited vinyl, and again via the usual digital channels. Whether you need this Turkish flavoured fusion in your life or not remains debatable. However, that’s not to say there isn’t some interesting highlights or fine playing as the mixed Scandi-Turk quartet certainly stoke up a far zappy progressive noise and dynamic enough rhythm.

Anyone recently introduced to such modern Turkish psychedelic movers like Altin Gun will love it.




Vivienne Eastwood  ‘Home Movies’
EP/2nd January 2020





Appropriating the grand disheveled dame of punk couture, but with a slight change in compass point direction, the gauze-y American dream-wave and shoegaze band Vivienne Eastwood have drifted into my inbox of submissions this month with a melodious, submerged in a dreamy liquid EP of sepia Home Movies. With scant information it seems the trio have been knocking around the lush flange-reverb coated scene of hazy guitar pop for eight years.

Progressively more dreamy in a wash of phaser drifting echo, previous releases have been more cause, fuzzy and distorted compared to this six-track of lo fi diaphanous malingering. Less Ariel Pink or No Age and more Lowtide and Slowdive, Home Movies’ sound spirals in a mirror-y fashion between the veiled layering pop of Sam Flex meets Lush opener ‘Hanging Gardens’, and the John Hughes soundtracked by Holy Wave ‘Afterall’. Nearer the backend of the EP, ‘No Toes’ seems to slide towards acoustic grunge.

It’s a lovely dream-pop, with certain post-punk edge, kind of EP, rich with wafting recollections and yearnings.





Rainbow Island  ‘Illmatrix’
(Artetetra)  LP/2nd February 2020





For a label synonymous for the chthonian and dangerous, the latest spams of omnivorous derangement from the sugarcoated named Italian quartet Rainbow Island at least finds some cosmic levity amongst the despair of the age. Though the recondite facilitator label responsible for this, as usual, limited release – the Italian experimental underground specialists Artetera – says it features darker, heavier sonorities than usual, Illmatrix rebounds across a frazzled bubble bath of bandy and bendy effects and off-kilter drum breaks. Certainly under a multitude of stresses and contorted manipulations, the fucked-up matrix has its moments of tangible rhythm and even melody to lock onto.

From a polygenesis source, with all four members spread throughout the UK, Thailand and their native Italy, the Rome conceived Islanders have pulled and stretched in all directions. Somehow it all comes together though, in an admittedly weird fashion. The opening candy kook ‘Jesterbus Ride’ is simultaneously lax, primal, Kosmische and psychedelic; a spherical chemistry of ever-shifting ideas that sounds like a Trip-Hop meets Library Music remix-in-motion by Andrew Weatherall. Elsewhere you hear what sounds like someone repeatedly hitting plastic tubes with a paddle reverberating beats, obscured masked voices and conversations, the clashing of blunt swords and menacing vacuum reversals.

It’s an odd sonic world indeed; a cosmology that harries the more mysterious sedation of Cluster with a 2-Step Dub beat (‘Simmia’), evokes the spasm-industrial sound of Populäre Mechanik (‘Cacao Hip Mini’) and plays Ping-Pong with Autechre and Unlimited outtakes Can (‘Dropzone’). It’s dance music on the verge of a nervous breakdown in one instance, utterly fucked-up the next, a deranged colorful information overload transduced into a concentrated energy of warped brilliance.

If you find Rainbow Island somehow cute, then you can always try the more sobering augurs of apocalyptic doom from label mate and fellow compatriot Giancarlo Brambillia. Released at the same time as the Illmatrix LP – a double bill if you like – the Milan-based maverick pitches the end of the “human epoch” on his limited cassette tape discourse Bee Extinction. Under the Kuthi Jin moniker, the drone-monger gives a less than optimistic outcome to our chances of survival.

Both albums from Artetetra inhabit a similar anxiety yet couldn’t sound more different. Go seek out, and whilst you’re at it take a perusal of the label’s entire back catalogue. You won’t be disappointed.








The Monolith Cocktail is now on Ko-Fi

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.

PREVIEW/REVIEW
Dominic Valvona





A quick shifty, glance, a perusal of the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload our inboxes this month by me, Dominic Valvona.

For your consideration this week, tracks, even a film trailer, from The Band, Chassol, Nordine Staifi, Graham Costello’s Strata and, Van Pool.


Graham Costello’s Strata  ‘Cygnus’
(Gearbox Records)  Single/14th February 2020




From out the burgeoning Glasgow jazz scene rises Graham Costello’s Strata; an impressive sextet that edges towards post-rock and minimalism but was founded on a synthesis of flowing progressive and fusion jazz. Embodied in their latest untethered mini-opus, a free-flowing ascendance to the northern constellation of ‘Cygnus’, drummer Graham and his Strata troupe dynamically turn in an amorphous performance. Both moody and mysterious, with a certain gravitas, they build subtly from horizon emergent lingering caressed saxophone and ebbing gentle piano to a crescendo of rapid percussive barreling rolls, punchier horns, slam the lid down on the keys avant-garde piano and Afro-jazz undulations on a suffused journey towards the stars.

A freestanding single, ‘Cygnus’ was recorded, as it happens, at Bryan Ferry’s Studio One in West London, and engineered by Hugh Padgham. Alongside Graham on this night flight peregrination were Harry Weir on tenor saxophone, Liam Shortall on trombone, Fergus McCreadie on piano, Mark Hendry on guitar and Joe Williamson on electric bass.

Of interest from the Archives:

Also on Gearbox Records: Abdullah Ibrahim ‘The Balance’ (review)



Nordine Staifi  ‘Zine Ezzinet’
(Sofa Records/Bongo Joe)  Teaser track from the MAGHREB K7 CLUB: Synth Raï, Chaoui & Staifi 1985​-​1997 compilation/27th March 2020




The Maghreb as you’ve probably never heard it before: All whistles, Casio presets and boogie disco on the cusp of alt-pop, like a North African Postcard Records. Sofa Records in conjunction with Les Disques Bongo Joe present Maghreb K7 Club: Synth Raï, Chaoui & Staiif 1985-1997, a compilation of tracks recorded and produced between those years in Lyon, France by musicians from North Africa’s Maghreb region; created in the hothouse environment of the city’s café culture by artist mostly from Algeria. This compilation brings together eight tracks that were then released on audio cassettes only, offering them for the first time ever on vinyl. Now there’s an offer you should find hard to refuse.

As the PR spill explains: ‘Most of Lyon’s musical scene is composed of men originating from eastern Algeria, but since the 1950s, the Croix-Rousse and Guillotière cafés have counted musicians from all over Maghreb. These cafés were social hubs, where these individuals met up weekly; playing together and sharing their everyday life experience — but they also had a major role in the development of popular music of French-based North Africans. In Lyon, Le But Café in the 3rd arrondissement or the bars on Sébastien Gryphe Street in the 7th arrondissement were among these: one could conduct business there, getting booked for a wedding, a baptism, a gala, or a studio session… all took place there.

Playing together in Lyon. The practice of music was cross-regional with different North African influences, but also with local traditions. These versatile musicians also absorbed new local influences: music within the context of immigration was a perfect school for musical cosmopolitanism. Chachacha or tango versions of some Cheikh El Hasnaoui tracks come to mind, or Mohamed Mazouni’s jerks and twists. Like their predecessors, the musicians in this compilation brilliantly integrate raï or staïfi tunes with disco aesthetics or funk guitar riffs as Nordine Staifi did. You could also think of Salah El Annabi who used the Oxygene theme (1976) by Jean-Michel Jarre, the Lyon-based composer and electronic music pioneer. “As we say around here, mixed weddings make good-looking lads!” said Abbès Hamou, a musician from Place du Pont. Following on from their musical traditions and unrestrained inventiveness, the musicians’ repertoire naturally assimilated their era’s aesthetics and technologies.’

From that compilation here’s Nordine Staifi’s ‘Zine Ezzinet’. Expect a full review report next month.


Robbie Robertson And The Band documentary   ‘Once Were Brothers’
Film/Select cinemas from 21st February 2020




As the earnest progenitors of a peregrination soundtrack, later to be expanded into a whole genre in its own right, under the audacious ‘Americana’ moniker, The Band defined a bygone pioneering spirit at a time when the American youth (especially) were pushing for both social and political change. Their songs spoke and sympathized with a certain inherent truth and hardiness from an age of steam, aligned with the country’s most destructive historical chapter, the civil war; out-of-step yet somehow wholly relevant in the face of civil rights and the Vietnam war. In a manner they would also be chief instigators of the whole ‘revival’ scene that saw The Beatles and bands like The Kinks return to more pastoral roots.

It didn’t matter, and is a totally fatuous bum-steer that four fifths of that quintet were born and raised over the boarder in Canada; an historical America will forever be immortalized by such summary tales of the old west as ‘The Weight’, ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ and ‘Across The Great Divide’ regardless of the authors nationality. Tales, which were so vivid as to be cinematic in their storytelling and nature; encompassing both tragedy and perseverance through the eyes of richly textured characters: the sort of individuals that could have easily stepped out of the novels of Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemmingway and the photo-plated almanac chronicles of the 19th century.

It wasn’t just the landscape and their own interpretations they owned so convincingly, they could also be relied upon to adopt the mantle of the artists they covered too, from Chuck Berry to Sam Cooke. As a backing band themselves for such luminaries as Ronnie Hawkins, through to Bob Dylan (electrifying the troubadour laureate’s sound), that spiritually revered line-up of Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel lived up to their presumptuous ‘THE BAND’ moniker; incorporating the sweet gospel soul of the deep south with country, ragtime, Tin Pan Alley and bluegrass at the drop of an old proverbial hat; they were ethereal and superior in musicianship, way beyond most of their contemporaries reach.

Rightly receiving another moment in the spotlight, a new documentary film, focused towards the group’s only surviving member, Once Were Brothers is inspired by Robertson’s 2016 bestselling memoir testimony of the same name. Presumptuous (that word again) to now single out his name (Robbie Robertson and the Band), even if he saw himself as unelected leader, this latest overview is billed as a confessional, cautionary, and sometimes humorous tale of Robertson’s young life and the creation of one of the most enduring groups in the history of popular music. The film, directed and put together by the trio of old hand Martin Scorsese (who of course memorably captured The Band’s The Last Waltz curtain call for posterity), Brian Grazer and Ron Howard blends rare archival footage and interviews with many of Robertson’s friends and collaborators, including Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Scorsese, Taj Mahal, Peter Gabriel, David Geffen and Ronnie Hawkins, among others.

Hopefully it will prove a worthy chapter in the story of one of the greatest Bands to have ever stalked the Earth.



Chassol  ‘Rollercoaster (pt.2)’
(Tricatel)  Single/Out Now




On the big dipper of life, the surreal mindscape of the very much in-vogue idiosyncratic French producer Chassol is as cerebral as it is fun.

Firstly though, for those who’d like a bit of background, Paris-Martiniquais Chassol (real name Christophe Chassol) has been finessing his own experimental ‘ultrascore’ approach to composition, in which – inspired by Steve Reich and Hermeto Pascoal – vocal and ambient sounds from video footage are harmonised in perfect sync to create a living, breathing soundtrack. His experiments caught the ear of Diplo, who in turn put Frank Ocean onto Chassol’s 2013 album, Indiamore. Ocean – at the time working on Blonde – then tapped Chassol to join him at Abbey Road, to develop speech harmonisation on the album (following a period of Chassol ignoring his calls, having no idea who Ocean was). Shortly afterwards Solange – having Shazam-ed his music at a performance installation – sought out Chassol to produce several tracks on 2019’s When I Get Home.

His latest album, the upcoming Ludi (released on 6th March) is inspired by Hermann Hesse’s first long-form novel The Glass Bead Game, or as it is sometimes published the Magister Ludi (hence the LP title), and the themes of play, both in relation to that novel’s central board game theory and to an inspired reification of four sociology-based elements of ‘play’, as envisaged by sociologist Roger Caillois: chance, masks, competition (as depicted in the previous single, ‘Savana, Céline, Aya’) and on this latest single, ‘Rollercoaster (Pt.2)’, vertigo.

A bizarre ride that transduces and harmonises the sounds and sights Chassol captured on a ride at the Tokyo Dome theme park (captured GoPro gonzo style and without permission in the accompanying video), ‘Rollercoaster (pt.2)’ is a kooky adrenaline rush that features the guest vocal “ohms” of Alice Lewis, Thomas de Pourquery and Alice Orpheus.

There are certainly some heavy depths to both this single and the forthcoming multi-disciplinary double-album, yet a sense of wonderment, exploration and excitement too.


Van Pool  ‘Bathing In The Open’
LP/26th January 2020




If you’re familiar with the expletory saxophone playing and electronic manipulations of the prolific Andy Haas – from his burgeoning days as a Muffin in Martha’s new wave outfit in the late 70s to his work with Meg Remy’s ever expanding U.S. Girls troupe, to his myriad of solo and collaborative projects, then you’ll be thrilled to hear he’s just formed a new group, the Van Pool. Different in mood to the amorphous unsettling augers and outright nightmares that permeated the evocations of his collaboration with Dan Fiorino on the American Nocturne visions, this latest improvised experiment of smoldering, squawking and yearning saxophone contortions and attuned blowing is a traverse of contemporary jazz.

Joining Andy on the quartet’s second album, Bathing In The Open, are the guiartist/bassists Omer Leibovitz and Kirk Schoenherr and drummer Layton Weedeman. From tranquil undergrowth wanderings, permeated by wafted guitar twangs and lingering saxophone to the more bent out of shape, more piercing and intense, this fantastical, transportive suite of ‘ideas’ is for fans of the Cosmic Range, Donny McCaslin, the Ross McHenry Trio, but also just fans of free-form, unburdened performance in general.

Of interest from the Archives:

Don Fiorino and Andy Haas ‘American Nocturne’ Review

U.S. Girls ‘In A Poem Unlimited’ Review


The Monolith Cocktail is now on Ko-fi

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.

PHOTOS/GIG
Giorgio Lamonica




Continuing in 2020 with our collaboration with the leading Italian music publication Kalporz, the Monolith Cocktail will be cosying up and sharing reviews, interviews and other bits from our respective sites each month. Keep an eye out for future ‘synergy’ between our two great houses as we exchange posts.

This month we feature Giorgio Lamonica‘s recent photos of the virtuoso jazz drummer Yussef Dayes at the Locomotiv in Bologna.

Yussef Dayes Live At Locomotiv, Bologna, Italy


For the only Italian date for the British drummer (accompanied on bass by Rocco Palladino, the son of the much better known maestro Pino) the Locomotiv was completely full. The surprising thing was the very young average age of the audience, a sign that the idea of jazz being mainly the object of passion for those beyond a certain age is perhaps an outdated concept given the evolution that the genre is having; increasingly contaminated, as it is, by other sounds and other cultures.

Yussef Dayes is very good. He seems to have a brain for every limb and can create a deep empathy with the audience. Fantastic a long moment of improvisation during which a dialogue was established between the drummer and the audience: Yussef proposed a rhythm and the audience responded with vocals. This went on until the quatrains proposed by the drummer became so complex to sing that the whole Locomotiv broke out in a thunderous laugh. A very pleasant evening, we can only thank the venue once again for the always interesting choices in their programming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Album Review
Dominic Valvona




Pulled By Magnets  ‘Rose Golden Doorways’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat)  LP/28 February 2020


Prime motivator/instigator behind a myriad of acclaimed experimental jazz outfits, Seb Rochford’s influences and scope could be said to be wide-ranging and highly eclectic. This is due in part to the prolific and very much in-demand polymath’s Anglo-Indian and Irish-Scottish heritage; all of which has been fed, transduced into contemporary luminaries Polar Bear, Sons Of Kemet and Basquiat Strings, his collaborations with such notable doyens as Patti Smith, David Byrne and Brian Eno, and his soundtrack work. Though it might not be initially obvious, but the Indian part of that heritage informs his newest and most dark, murky abstracted project yet, Pulled By Magnets. Imbued by that and recent travels to India itself, the pacing and timings of the improvisational colouring ‘raag’ permeate the serialism subterraneans of this new trio’s debut LP, Rose Golden Doorways.

Featuring fellow Polar Bear Pete Wareham on contorting inpained and withering saxophone and Zed-U and Empirical’s Neil Charles on stalking, menacing bass guitar duties, Seb instigates, sets in motion opaque industrial post-punk rituals and esoteric jazz moods from his drum kit on an album of both the primal and mysteriously cryptic – adding another layer of mystique and interpretation through the album’s artwork, Seb visually offers a number of numerical value symbols to decipher.

Recorded in a Stoke Newington church (of all places), the atmosphere is not so much godly as supernatural, often even chthonian. No holy communion here, rather a recondite performance of searching and roaming about in the darkness under various stresses. The album starts with a howl of machinery and industrial wanes; a heart of darkness oscillation of piercing quivers and Bish Bosch style Scott Walker mood accompaniment. From this the staccato and strung-out evocations move with a certain menace through a suite of pendulous tribal witchery, lurking leviathans, lunar prisms, dungeons and cosmic doldrums. Between the churning maelstrom and river Styx voyages you may hear shadows of Andy Haas, Arthur Russell, Massive Attack, Mani Neumeier, Faust and a sedated King Crimson. All of which is of course undulated with that transformed vision of classical Indian music; a melodic framework that has no direct translation to the classical ideas of European music, and so encourages this kind of experimentation that Seb’s new project grants it.

Not a jazz album in the traditional or even avant-garde sense, Rose Golden Doorways is Seb’s most amorphous dark exploration yet; a total escapism from the tangible. It will be interesting to hear where he goes next.






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.

Singles, Previews & Oddities Roundup
Dominic Valvona



A quick shifty, glance, a perusal of the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload our inboxes this month by me, Dominic Valvona.

Featured artists include Ani Glass, Dijf Sanders, Betacrack, Kamilta, Jonah Parzen-Johnson and Liz Davinci.

Dijf Sanders  ‘Ravana’
(Unday Records)  Single/2nd January 2020




A plucking, steaming and lumbering exotica of amorphous esoteric Tibet, the Far East and China, the leading single from David ‘Dijf’ Sanders new album, Puja, is a downtempo fantasy of vague ethio-jazz, psychedelic and breaks. The Belgium composer and multi instrumentalist follows up previous traversing suites with another dramatic vision of borderless escapism. Sourced from a Hindu epic, ‘Ravana’ is a courtly sumptuous and hypnotic introduction to a sonic layered world of mystery.


Jonah Parzen-Johnson  ‘Up’ & ‘Stand Still’
(We Jazz)  Preview tracks from the upcoming new LP, Imagine Giving Up, released 7th February 2020


From a label we have tried to champion over the last couple of years, We Jazz, another inventive ambient explorative jazz suite (make that two) from the Brooklyn based baritone saxophonist Jonah Parzen-Johnson. Doing imaginative things with the saxophone and an undulation of lopping, augmented synth effects, Jonah produces a kind of Hassell meets Colin Stetson vision of untethered and unburdened music. Taken from the upcoming new LP, Imagine Giving Up, there’s the minimalist wafted and swaddling sax drifting over a ‘fourth world musics’ like electronic choppy reverb ‘Up’, and the more electrified and elongating, shimmery romanticism of ‘Stand Still’. It all makes for a very promising album.


Ani Glass  ‘Mirores’
(Recordiau Neb)  Single/17th January 2020




Welsh dream-synth chanteuse Ani Glass casts enchanting diaphanous gossamer shapes over a Moroder style bedding of enervated glitterings, vapours and piqued bubbles on her new single ‘Mirores’. Sang in the native Welsh tones, and with that veiled magical 80s soundtrack accompaniment, Ani’s coos glide towards fantasy.

‘Mirores’ is taken from the upcoming debut LP of the same name, due out on the 6th March 2020; summed up here from the press clippings: ‘With its tapestry of electronic sounds, elliptical melodies and samples threaded into a song cycle, MIRORES is based around the idea of movement and progress – one which takes us on a journey around her hometown of Cardiff. You can hear Ani’s recorded sounds of the urban landscape throughout; the movement of traffic and people and the magical yet infrequent sounds of nature coming together to create the score of a city’s symphony.’


Kamilita  ‘Broken Hearted Freak’


Going to keep this one as brisk and vaporous as the artist’s music, but Kamilita wafts through an 80s backtrack of dreamy hazy Grimes meets Sugababes electro pop plaint on the latest single ‘Broken Hearted Freak’. Not much is known about the Seattle artist, who seems to have just materialized from the net to produce neo-pop visions of hi-nrg fitness video sass. Go seek and find out more.


Betacrack  ‘Unselected Ambient Works Vol.1’
(Grumpy Records)  LP/17th January 2020




The poor relation to Richard James’ iconic and highly influential Ambient Works collections, the ‘deranged’ components in the makeup of Betacrack’s electronic renderings sound like they’ve just gone plain wrong at their most resigned (‘Allude’), yet pickup for a caustic bity livener when they threaten to break out of the matrix (‘Duldrum’). A (re)Warp of the Aphex Twin and Analouge Bubblebath for an anguished, distressed mind, these Unselected Ambient Works from the Portland, Oregon wiz span many fields of introverted experimentation and minimalist Techno escapism. Basically: great. Again, please seek out!


Liz Davinci  ‘Harvest Time’
Video/Single 11th January 2020




Starting the New Year with a new name and new video single, maverick chanteuse of semi-classical brooding aria pop Elizabeth Everts will from this point forward be addressed as the renaissance styled Liz Davinci. As a baptism of sorts, the American troubadour (living and composing music abroad in Munich) has released the inaugural video/single under the Davinci moniker, ‘Harvest Time’. Finding plenty of favour on a multitude of playlists and radio station selections, Liz’s understated 2019 EP Contraband featured on the Monolith Cocktail. The diaphanous rolling, almost operatic, sowed ‘Harvest Time’ is taken from that same EP.

Dominic Valvona


Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.comFor 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 SPECIAL 
COMPILED: Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Gianluigi Marsibilio
ARTWORK: Gianluigi Marsibilio 




From an abundance of sources, via a myriad of social media platforms and messaging services, even accosted when buying a coffee from a barristo-musician, the Quarterly Revue is expanding constantly to accommodate a reasonable spread that best represents the Monolith Cocktail’s raison d’etre.

As you will hear for yourselves, new releases and the best of reissues plucked from the team – that’s me, Dominic Valvona, and Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Andrew C. Kidd and Gianluigi Marsibilio (who also put together the playlist artwork) – rub shoulders in a continuous musical journey.

The final playlist of 2019 is no less eclectic and frantic, with electrifried peregrinations from Mali next to the best new hip-hop cuts and a wealth of post-punk, souk rock, jazz, noise, indie and the avant-garde.


That tracklist in full:

Automatic  ‘Too Much Money’
Dead Rituals  ‘Closer’
Comet Gain  ‘The Girl With The Melted Mind And Her Fear Of The Open Door’
BRONCHO  ‘Boys Got To Go’
SUO  ‘Honey I’m Down’
Pocket Knife  ‘Manger Constructeur’
Prince Rama  ‘F.A.T.E (Bought Us Together)’
Cate Le Bon & Bradford Cox  ‘Fireman’
Elizabeth Joan Kelly  ‘Baleen Executioner’
Bear With Me  ‘Cry’
Max Andrzejewski’s HUTTE  ‘Little Red Robin Hood Hits The Road’
Tapan Meets Generation Taragalte ‘Yogi Yamahssar’
Junis Paul  ‘Baker’s Dozen’
Invisible System  ‘Diarabi’
Homeboy Sandman  ‘Yes Iyah’
Guilty Simpson & Phat Kat  ‘Sharking’
Iftin Band  ‘Il Ooy Aniga’
Kalbata ft. TIGRIS  ‘Tamera’
The Budos Band  ‘Old Engine Oil’
Aziza Brahim  ‘Hada Jil’
Atomic Forest  ‘Life Is Anew’
Klashnekoff ft. K9 & Ricko Capito  ‘The Road Is Long’
Chris Orrick & The Lasso  ‘No Place Is Safe’
Blockhead  ‘Spicy Peppercorn’
Willie Scott & The Birmingham Spirituals  ‘Keep Your Faith To The Sky’
Jehst & Confucius MC  ‘Autumn Nights’
Xenia Rubinos  ‘DIOSA’
Genesis Elijah  ‘Haunted Trap House’
Rico James & Santos  ‘New York Cut’
Hiach Ber Na  ‘Another Human Brain’
Mike Patton & Jean-Claude Vannier  ‘Cold Sun Warm Beer’
TELGATE  ‘Cherrytight’
Land Of OOO  ‘Waiting For The Whales (Radio Edit)’
Big Thief  ‘Not’
Gary Davenport ‘True Freedom’
Northwest  ‘The Day’
The Cold Spells  ‘I Hate It When You’re Sad’
Mick Harvey & Christopher Richard Barker  ‘A Secret Hidden Message’
Boa Morte  ‘Sleep/Before The Landslide’
Vola Tila  ‘All Alone’
Owen Tromans  ‘Burying The Moon King’
The Good Ones  ‘My Wife Is As Beautiful As A Sunset’
Dub Chieftain  ‘Enter The Chieftain’
Provincials  ‘Cat’s Cradle’
Right Hand Left Hand  ‘White Sands’
Ringfinger  ‘Burning’
Giant Swan  ‘YFPHNT’
Rafiki Jazz  ‘My Heart My Home Home (Shallow Brown/Light of Guidance/The Settlers Wife/Shedemati)’


PREVIOUS QUARTERLIES




Album Reviews
Words: Dominic Valvona
Photo Credit: Aziza Brahim taken by Ana Valiño






This week’s recommendations and reviews (for the most part) share a musical hunger for the polygenesis; combining and merging a cornucopia of international sounds and cultures to spread a message of universal suffrage. A case in point, the ever-evolving North-of-England assemblage of migrants and refugees, Rafiki Jazz feature voices and musicians from all over the globe: from Arabia to India. Their fourth and upcoming captivating album, Saraba Sufiyana, is featured in this roundup. Channeling a mystical Maghreb, the French trio of Karkara goes heavy and transcendent on their new acid-doom-rock epic, Crystal Gazer. The Belgium outfit Compro Oro manages to circumnavigate a myriad of international destinations without leaving the suburbs of their native home on the new dance jazz LP Suburban Exotica, and UK producer Dan Harper, under the Invisible System title, once more transforms the traditional and courtly music of Mali, on the new album Dance To The Full Moon. Closer to European shores, Xylouris White, the Hellenic framed project of Dirty Three drummer Jim White and Greek lute player Giorgos Xylouris, release a fourth installment of their Cretan soundscapes, The Sisypheans.

Leading the charge this week though is the encapsulating soulful Aziza Brahim with her upcoming new album, Sahari. Born in the hardened landscape of a Saharawi refugee camp on the border of Algeria and the Western Sahara, the beguiled vocalist now lives in a state of exile in Spain. Her latest album continues to draw attention to not only that plight but also that of all refugees on an album that tries some a little bit different musically.

Something a little different, and away from this general thread of global initiatives, Belgium composer Alex Stordiau releases his inaugural album of Kosmische imbued neo-classical visions, Poking Your Imagination, for Pure Spark Records.

Preview/Feature




Aziza Brahim ‘Sahari’
(Glitterbeat Records) Album/ 15th November 2019


Bringing the message of the displaced Saharawi people to the world stage, Western Saharan musician/activist Aziza Brahim follows up both her critically rewarded 2014 album Soutak, and the no less brilliant 2016 serene protest of poetic defiance Abbar el Hamada album with her third for Glitterbeat Records, Sahari.

Born in the hardened landscape of a Saharawi refugee camp on the border of Algeria and the Western Sahara, beguiled vocalist Aziza embodies the wandering spirit of her people; their settled, though often borderless and disputed lands, previously claimed by Spain, were invaded in 1975 by Morocco. Though made up of many tribes with many different goals the Saharawi people mounted a fight back. It was in this climate that Brahim was hewed. Exiled in effect, her travails have extended to Cuba, where she was educated as a teenager, and Barcelona, where she now resides and makes music.

Imbued as ever with the desert soul of that disputed region, the latest record, with its visual metaphor of optimism in even the most desperate of backdrops and times – dreams of growing up to be a ballerina proving universal – attempts to marry the beautifully longing and heartache yearns of Brahim’s voice to a number of different styles and rhythms: A subtle change towards the experimental.

Previous encounters have channeled the poetic roots of that heritage and merged it with both Arabian Spain and the lilted buoyancy of the Balearics. Working with the Spanish artist Amparo Sánchez of the band Amparanoia, Brahim has chosen to add a congruous subtle bed of synthesized effects to the recording process: before performing live in the studio, but now recording in various places, the results collected together and pieced together in post-production. This methodology and sound furnishes Brahim’s longing traditional voice with certain freshness and, sometimes, shuffled energy. Songs such as the loose and free ‘Hada Jil’ lay a two-step dance beat underneath a desert song drift. Later on there are dub-y rim-shot echoes and undulating waves of atmospheric tonal synthesizer underpinning that blues-y startling timbre. However, the most surprising fusions to be found on Sahari are the Compass Point reggae-gait ‘Las Huellas’ and the Arabian soul channeling Fado ‘Lmanfra’. There’s even room for a piano on the balladry ‘Ardel el Hub’; a song that plaintively conveys the “impossibility of returning home”, a sentiment the activist Brahim is only too familiar with – denied entry or the right of return, effectively in exile.

The sound of the Sahrawi is never far off, despite the technological upgrade. That most traditional of handed-down instruments, the “tabal drum”, can be heard guiding the rhythm throughout; rattling away and tapping out a beat that changes from the threadbare to the clattering. Brahim’s vocals are as ever effortlessly enriching, captivating and trilling. I dare say even veracious.

Articulating a broader message of global suffrage, Brahim once more encapsulates the sorrows of the exiled and stateless on a sumptuous album, The wanderer and Saharan siren invites new dynamics without changing the intrinsic character and message of her craft, yet ventures beyond those roots to embrace bold new sounds. A most fantastic, poetic songbook that will further cement Brahim’s deserved reputation as one of the deserts most serene artists.






Reviews

Compro Oro ‘Suburban Exotica’
(Sdban Ultra) Album/ 18th October 2019





Illuminating Belgium suburbia with a cornucopia of entrancing and limbering sounds and rhythms from across the world, Compro Oro transport the listener to imaginative vistas on their latest album of jazz imbued exotics. Making waves as part of a loose jazzy Benelux scene, the troupe have even managed to rope in the help of Ry Cooder’s accomplished scion, the multi-instrumentalist talent Joachim Cooder, who adds an “effects-laden” mbira and percussion to a trio of imaginative tracks.

Like their comrades on that scene, Black Flower, the Compro sail into various melting-pot rich harbors, soaking up the atmosphere and embracing what they found, weaving the multilingual sounds into a vibrant soundtrack of tropical new wave pop, dance music, alt rock ‘n’ roll, Turkish-psych and Ethno-jazz fantasy. Cal Tjader, Mulatu Astatke and Marc Ribot are all cited as inspirations, their indelible mark suffused throughout this LP. Add to that trio a strange interpretation of Herbie Hancock (on the Somalia ease-up ‘Mogadishu’; imagine the Dur-Dur Band floating on a kooky jazz cloud above the tumultuous city), Soulwax (on the palm tree Latin dance funk ‘Miami New Wave’) and a rewired Modern Jazz Quartet (that will be the often twinkly and trickling use of vibraphone, but also the marimba too). The curtain call thriller ‘Kruidvat’ even evokes the darker stirrings of later period Can, and the wafting ambiguous snuffles of Jon Hassell.

For the most part dreamy and under a gauze-y veil, Suburban Exotica sashays and drifts across a musical landscape of Arabia, Anatolia, Eastern Africa, The Caribbean and Hispaniola without setting foot outside of their Belgium front door. The more you listen the more you discover and get out of this brilliant dance album of borderless jazz. What a treat to the ears and feet.





Invisible System ‘Dance To The Full Moon’
(ARC Music) Album/ 25th October 2019





An apt hand in transforming the traditional sounds of Mali, the British producer Dan Harper’s experiment in this field stretches back two decades; set in motion by the rudimental laptop-produced Acid Mali project he created whilst working as a Capacity Builder for a local Malian environmental NGO. So taken was Harper with the country, he ended up not only meeting his future wife there but setting up home and a studio in the capital, Bamako. His wife, Hawa, would introduce Dan to childhood friend and renowned guitarist Bandjougou, who in turn would bring in tow the dusty soulful rich vocalist Sambou koyaté to sing for him. Both artists appear on this new album alongside the griot siren Astou Niamé Diabaté, who as it turns out sang at Dan and Hawa’s wedding.

Taken from the same recording sessions as Dan’s previous album, Bamako Sessions, his latest transportive exploration under the nom de plume of Invisible System, once more lends an electrified and synthesized pulse to the spiritual soul of Malian music. Originally put together in a more languorous fashion with a variety of musicians coming and going, jamming in a mattress proofed room in a rented house in the capital, Dance To The Full Moon took shape at the end of a tumultuous and violent period in Mali’s history. Experiencing firsthand (literally on Dan’s own doorstep) the terrorist attacks that followed in the wake of a, finally curtailed, Islamist insurrection and the ongoing war between Mali’s government in the West and the Tuaregs of the North and Eastern desert borders, fighting to set-up an autonomous region, known as the Azawad. Though a certain stability has returned in part to Mali, attacks still occur sporadically; the effects of which permeate throughout the work of the country’s artists, the majority offering a conciliatory tone with the emphasis on unity and understanding. With that in mind, Dan’s album is rich with passionate expressive longing and intensity; the varied juxtapositions of the griot tradition and less rural, more urban vocals combine to deliver some startling performances.

The gently resonate accents and fanned waft of the Malian guitarist’s Kalifa Koné and Sidi Touré accentuate the brilliant vocal parts; a gathering of powerful griot acolytes, singers and even a rapper (Mali rap star Penzy) that includes the already mentioned trio of Bandjougou, Koyaté and Diabaté spiral between the sweetened and intense, the hymnal and physical. Dan boosts and filters those strong performances with a production of techno, modern R&B, dub and futuristic post-punk that sonically weaves in echoes of Massive Attack, Daniel Lanois, King Ayisoba and Dennis Bovell.

Nothing can ever truly improve upon the roots and soul of the traditional courtly music of Mali, its desert blues and Bamako rock of course, but you can push it into exciting directions. Dan’s rewired buzz and pulse does just that, giving a kick and lending an attuned production to the Mali soundscape.



Alex Stordiau ‘Poking Your Imagination’
(Pure Spark) Album/ 30th September 2019





Enticing former label mates from Edinburgh’s Bearsuit Records to his burgeoning venture Pure Spark, Tokyo electronic wizkid Ippu Mitsui welcomes the Brussels based composer Alex Stordiau to the ranks. Featuring alongside House Of Tapes Yuuya Kuno, Stordiau also previously appeared on the Mid Lothian Bearsuit roster – mentioned on this very blog for his standout Vangelis-style voyager waltz into the cosmos ‘Fulfilling Eclipse’, from the label’s The Invisible And Divided Sea compilation.

Like a missing neoclassical Kosmische suite from the Sky Records vault, Stordiau’s inaugural album for Mitsui’s imprint is a serene, though often dramatically stirring, exercise in sculpting retro-electronic soundtracks.

With a classical background, studying at various Belgium conservators, Stordiau combines elements of cascading, romantically accentuated piano and suffused strings with synthesized and computer programmed sine waves, glassy tubular glistened percussion and vaporous sweeps.

The Belgium visionary often works with Bristol musician Lee Williams, who plays, among other things, both electric guitar and bass, and sometimes drums. It sounds as if Williams is present once more, on hand with warm ponderous bass and the odd bit of wilder kooky lead guitar.

Track titles on Poking Your Imagination only go so far in describing each composition’s route on an album of undulating mood pieces. The opening descriptive ‘In The Tepid Shine’ is pure escapist air-bending; crafting vague echoes of Jean Michel Jarre with Roedelius’ more beautifully spherical elevations. Most of these tracks waver over the course of duration; changing or pausing between parts, starting off like the Blade Runner neon skyline lighted ‘Tree Healing’ with a darker, theatrical classical grandeur but suddenly joined by drums and a touch of Vangelis sci-fi. Elsewhere you’re bound to identify the space peril looming shadow of Tangerine Dream and the more popcorn kookiness of Cluster amongst the Baroque cathedral and gravity arcing visions.

A panoramic, mostly cosmic soundtrack of classical Kosmische and humanized electronica, Poking Your Imagination is an assiduous suite of the mysterious, scientific and dreamy.





The Mining Co. ‘Frontier’
Album/ 25th October 2019





Not that you can detect it from his lilted peaceable, if hearty, Americana burr, or the Western-alluded nom de plume that he goes under, but singer/songwriter Michael Gallagher was born in Ireland. Obvious now you’ve read his actual name I know, but just sound wise, it is difficult to hear that Irish bent. In a similar vein to such luminaries as Simon Bonney, the County Donegal troubadour subtly channels a timeless vision of the lyrical, pioneering old West (and South for that matter) on his new LP, Frontier.

Via a Nashville, Texas and New Mexico panorama, Gallagher tailors personal anxieties of disconnection, dislocation and growing pains with familiar old tropes on a songbook of “hangdog” country fare. A romantic album at that, with shades of a pining Josh T. Pearson, The Thrills, Lee Hazlewood, Tom Petty and the Eels, Frontier showcases the artist’s most tender swoons and yearnings. This is a soundtrack of purposeful blues, skiffles and mellow gospel, all softly laced with a subtle echo of Mariachi horns and tremolo twang.

Various memories of a childhood back in Ireland (the night Elvis died sounding a special resonance on the lilted lap-steel rich ‘The Promised Line’) and phobias (a rational fear in my book of flying inspiring the country-prayer ‘Empty Row’) are transported to wistfully articulate American musical settings; a landscape and sound it seems Gallagher belongs.

The third such album from his The Mining Co. alter ego, Frontier is full of romantic intent and stirring candid cathartic heartache; a shuffling songbook handled with care and tenderness that will unfurl its charms over time.




Xylouris White ‘The Sisypheans’
(Drag City) Album/ 8th November 2019





Less a Greek tragedy, more a kind of acceptance of one’s fate (or, play the hand you’re dealt and make the best of it), the Hellenic inspired collaboration project of Giorgos Xylouris and Jim White take their lead on the purgatory fate of boulder carrier Sisyphean from Albert Camus: to a point.

The absurdist doyen once wrote a famous tract on that Greek fella’s predicament: Punished by Zeus to roll a large boulder up a mountainside in Hades, each time he reached the top the boulder would roll right back down to the start. And so the process began all over again: An endless, thankless trudge and metaphor for all the all too real daily grind of life outside the mythological imagination. Or so you’d think. Camus however saw it not has a pointless waste of effort and slow punishing meaningless task but as a challenge: noble even. That Sisypheans’ repeated burden should be seen as an achievement, that the struggle should be enough to “fill a man’s heart”. Sisyphean has accepted his it and so should you, or, words and sentiment to that effect.

Of course, even deeper contentions can be found in Camus’ essay; how our tragic figure confined to a limited limbo landscape created in his mind a whole universe from it. Xylouris and White themselves pondered how he might experiment with carrying that burdensome rock; alternating hands, carrying behind his back and so on. Essentially though, this is about experiencing, seeing and discovering anew each day with a concentrated mind the things you take for granted: especially your surroundings. The duo initially turn to the atavistic in conveying these ideas and sentiments; using the suffused blown stirrings of the Greek flute (Aulos) and vibrato resonating spindly fanning tones of the laouto (a long-necked fretted scion of the lute family). In addition to these two lead instruments, the scene is set with shrouded misty and soulfully yearned voices, Giorgos’ son Nick on cello and on the serialism waning moodscape second track a ‘Goat Hair Bowed’ instrument. And so a sweeping, mournful at times, traverse that takes in dancing Grecian figures, wedding celebrations, bewailed lament and travels to the furthest reaches of the Greek borders: sailing at one point into the tumultuous mysterious vision of the much-disputed and fought over ‘Black Sea’.

However, the both taught and freeform, skittish experimental percussion and breaks of Dirty Three drummer White adds another dimension to the rootsy and earthy feel. Always tactile and congruous, White lifts or underpins certain tracks with avant-garde taps, clutters, rim rattles and jazzy frills and crescendos. A touch of progressive jazz, even Krautrock, that sends this project into more contemporary climes.

Between the chthonian and ethereal, the philosophical and viscerally dreamy, The Sisypheans minor epic is an extraordinary musical peregrination worth exploring: Music for the cerebral and the senses.




Rafiki Jazz  ‘Saraba Sufiyana’
(Konimusic) Album/ October 2019





It’s no idle boast to suggest that the North of England based Rafiki Jazz could be one of the most diverse groups on the world stage. Testament of this can be heard on the troupe’s previous trio of polygenesis albums: an untethered sound that simultaneously evokes Arabia, the Indian Subcontinent, Northern African, the Caribbean, South America and Balkans.

With representatives from nearly every continent, many of which have escaped from their homelands to find sanctuary in the UK, Rafiki Jazz is an ever-evolving ensemble of migrants and refugees alike coming together to produce sweeping divine borderless music.

Their latest visionary songbook is a filmic panoramic beauty, no less worldly and stirring. The opening diaphanous spun ‘Su Jamfata’ encapsulates that perfectly; mirroring the group’s musical freedom and spiritual connection; lilting between a myriad of regions with stunning vocals that evoke both Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The following floaty and ethereal well-of-sorrows ‘Azadi’ even features a Celtic and folksy air (one that is repeated later on). This is in part due of course to the guest performances of both the English fiddle extraordinaire and songwriter Nancy Kerr and traditional Gaelic singer Kaitlin Ross. A third vocal addition, Juan Gabriel, can be heard lending a guttural throated underbelly to an already eclectic chorus of singers.

Buoyant tablas and spindled kora sit in perfect harmony with Arabian oud, tropical steel drums, the Brazilian berimbau and the varied voices of Sufi, Hebrew, Hindu, Egyptian-Coptic and Islamic, without ever feeling crowded or strained.

Saraba Sufiyana translates as “mystic utopia”, a title that epitomizes the group’s curiosity and respect for other culture as they build a brave new sonic world of possibility. One that takes in all the dramas and woes of the current international crisis and the lamenting poetry of venerable hardship – the final quartet cycle of prayer and spiritual yearning, ‘My Heart My Home’, beautifully conveys a multitude of gospel and traditional religious plaint, ending on the stirring Hebrew field song ‘Shedemati’. Twenty years in and still improving on that global remit, Rafiki Jazz delivers a magical and rich fourth LP. Devotional music at its most captivating and entrancing.



Karkara ‘Crystal Gazer’
(Stolen Body Records) Album/ 25th October 2019





There’s a hell of a lot wind blowing throughout the mystical and spiritually Toulouse trio of Karkara’s Crystal Gazer epic. North African wind that is; the exotic charms and mystery of the Maghreb on a swirling breeze, flows through and introduces each incantation heavy communal transcendence.

The mirage-shimmery title-track vignette even features a sirocco echo of ghostly enervated Tuareg desert guitars, whilst the electrified speed freak ‘Zarathoustra’ doesn’t just allude to Nietzsche’s infamous Thus Spoke but astrally heads back to the founding father of that mystical Persian faith via an eastern Link Wray and Gothic soup of Krautrock jazz and acid rock.

The counter flow breathes of another desert also permeate this LP, the sound of a veiled didgeridoo constantly present in building atmosphere and mysticism. Loud and physical, though not without some sensitivity, the trio chant, howl and pray their way through a vortex of flange and fuzz as they soar over a fantastical landscape that takes in the southern constellation star of “proxima centauri” and the gates of the Tunisian Medina, ‘Jedid’.

Allusions to seers, mystics and Gothic romantics abound, whilst the musical inspirations fluctuate between heavy space rock (Hawkwind) and Krautrock (Xhol Caravan, Embryo), post-punk (Killing Joke) and baggy (Stone Roses on a bum ride), and spooked, sleazy rock’ n ’roll (Alan Vega).

Transcended Tangier trips, Karkara aren’t exactly the first group to occupy this space, but they do it with volume and dreamy élan.




Album Reviews
Words: Dominic Valvona




After a short but knackering break from the site – moving house if you must know -, and with a waiting period nearly as long as the proroguing of parliament, as my broadband was activated – surely in this day and age it can’t seriously take over two weeks to be connected – I’m back with another eclectic roundup of the curious and recommended.

An international affair as ever, flying the flag for Colombia, the Bogotá union of Los Pirañas provides a cultish, kitsch and cosmic psychedelic cosmology on their third album, Historia Natural. Back across the Atlantic, and to Nigeria, I take a look at the seminal 80s Highlife-meets-Caribbean Osondi Owendi LP from the legendary Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, whilst in Europe, the Chateau Rouge borne project Bantou Mentale rewires the sounds and energy of the Democratic Republic Of Congo to create a dynamic and soulful new sound for the 21st century chaos. I also find much to enjoy about the Flemish language rewiring of Calypso and Savoy era jazz classics and obscurities from one-time dEUS guitarist Mauro Pawlowski – going under just one many of his alter egos, Maurits Pauwels.

Closer to home, a couple of UK releases, the first, Feel It Go Round, from the folksy psychedelic Oxford-based sibling led Catgod, and the second, Scottish Space Race, from the Glasgow ‘head music’ group The Cosmic Dead.

Finally, I take a look at a duo of albums that rewire and channel the influence of Robert Wyatt; the first, by Max Andrzejewski and his Hütte troupe of friends, pays a special homage to the maverick’s back catalogue, whilst the second, from the alternative pastoral Cold Spells, resonates with his more vulnerable fragile qualities.


Bantou Mentale ‘Bantou Mentale’
(Glitterbeat Records) 25th October 2019



A sizzle. A static shock, a charge that most importantly signals something is changing in the musical fabric; a signal of something dynamic but also something dangerous, a mirror image of the real world, the real refugee and migrant experience and chaos. Vivid and fresh being the optimum words as the Bantou Mentale vehicle shakes up the melting pot convergence of Paris’ infamous Chateau Rouge; addressing assumptions/presumptions about their native Democratic Republic of Congo home in the process. Not so much explosive, the electric quartet seem relaxed, even drifting as they channel the soul and spirit of co-operation; opening up aspects of the DRC culture and humility often lost or obscured in the noise of negativity – and the Congo has had more than its fair share of violence and tumult both pre and post Colonialism.

More light (enlightenment even) than darkness, the rim-shot echo-y untethered sonics chime as much with dub and Afro-psychedelic soul traverses as they do post-punk and a contemporary hybrid of various dance trends. But before we go any deeper, a little background information, some providence is needed.

Drawn from a rich selection of Kinshasa (and beyond) sonic propulsive outfits and artists, including Staff Benda Bilili, Konono No.1, Koffi Olomide, Jupiter & Okwess and Mbongwana Star, concept guy (for this is a project, a statement, that moves beyond music to encompass performance and visuals), drummer and singer/songwriter Cubain Kabeya, guitarist Chicco Katembo and singer Apocalypse have all been around the block, fronting or backing every fresh new development on the Paris scene. Closing the circle, the Irish born and Parisian raised all-rounder and producer Liam Farrell (professionally known as Doctor L) brings an equally impressive resume to the dynamic venture; working with such luminaries as Tony Allen and Babani Koné. Cubain and Katembo both previously worked with Damon Albarn back in 2010 as part of the Kinshasa One Two album, whilst Farrell has collaborated with Cubain on a number of electro-fried African dance projects: Black Cowboys and Negro-P.

Here and now they combine forces with scenester Apocalypse to push the envelope further still, merging the industrial with 2-step, d-n-b, electro, hip-hop, soukous, ndombolo, grime, funk and rock. Everything except the DRC’s rumba; far too smooth for the raw energy and prescient turmoil that the Mentale are articulating.

Borne in the furnace of a riotous, equally hostile city, this latest album follows the migrant’s plight like a pilgrimage, commentating sorrowfully on a pitiful existence traversing deserts on the way to escape – as documented on the reimagined PiL trip-toeing with a dub-transformed Ben Zabo in the wilderness ‘Zanzibar’. Though they also celebrate the fellowship and “wild uncertainty” of the migrant’s progress on the album’s scatter-like ratcheting and kinetic beat homage to the African village diaspora where it all started, ‘Chateau Rouge’: for the band but also the destination for so many migrants too. There’s also cautionary advice on this adventure in the form of the wanton mirage-flange prayer style ‘stay out of jail’, ‘Boloko’.

But for the most part this album is suffused with reverb-relaxed intentions of peace; underscored with a subject close to the quartet’s heart, the travail and inhumanity that has been inflicted on the peaceable Batswa (or Batshua) people by their own community, the ‘Bantou’ of the band name. These atavistic people, guardians of the environment – if not forced out or persecuted -, the Batswa are known by the more derogatory term of “pygmy”. Though once respected for their deep knowledge of nature and close connection with the land, they have been colonized, enslaved and derided by not only the Bantou but also various forest tribes and colonial powers. In more recent years though their story and culture has been shared. Label mate of a kind, and on-hand producer Ian Brennan has even recorded the Why Did We Stop Growing Tall? of Rwanda “abatwa” for Glitterbeat Records Hidden Musics series , and documentaries, such as Livia Simoka’s Extreme Tribe: The Last Pygmies, have shone a light on these communities. In a chance meeting with a Batswa named Wengy Loponya Bilongi, Cubain traveled into the bush and spent time with the “genies of the forest”, as they’re known in more compassionate, complimentary circles. This journey was captured by the filmmakers Renaud Barret and Florent de la Tullaye for the Pygmy Blues film; a journey that has changed Cubain, and now informs at least some of the underlying messages of respect and peaceful reconciliation that are suffused throughout this album.

Kinshasa reloaded; Bantou Mentale is a thoroughly modern sonic vision of peaceful cross-border fraternization. Lingering traces of Jon Hassell & Eno, Radio Tarifa, UNCLE, TV On The Radio and even label mates Dirtmusic are absorbed into an electrified subterranean of frizzles, pylon-scratches and hustle-bustle. Above all, despite the subject matter, despite the polygenesis sonic hubbub this is a soulful soundtrack: cooperation ahead of fractious division and hostility. A more positive collaboration for a 21st century chaos.





Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe  ‘Osondi Owendi’
(Hive Mind)  6th September 2019

Reviving an unassuming Highlife classic from the mid 80s, the Brighton-based vinyl and cassette specialists Hive Mind have chosen to push the laidback balmy saunter delights of the Nigerian legend Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe for their next ‘choice’ release.

First appearing on the Lagos scene in 1958 as a crooning Nat King Cole influenced vocalist with the Steven Amechi led Empire Rhythm Skies Orchestra, the regally entitled Chief Stephen released his debut single, ‘Lagos Life Na So So Enjoyment’, the following year. He’d soon become an important and pivotal figure on the Nigerian scene for decades to come.

Produced at a time when Nigeria’s once popular and dominant Highlife had lost some of its appeal, superseded not only by Fela Kuti’s more explosive Afrobeat marriage of that same style to funk, soul and R&B but a post Biafra War generation cultivated on the music of America and looking for something with a rawer, sometimes hostile, edge, Chief Stephen’s Osondi Owendi LP chimed with the more relaxed, soothing undulations of the 50s and 60s, and the lullaby lilting sounds of South Africa. Sweetly laced with those signature gentle Highlife swinging and singing horns and busy percussion, the two lengthy workouts drift on a raft anchored in the Caribbean, as waves of those Island’s calypso swash are suffused with the sounds of Nigeria.

More or less translated from the old Igbo adage as “what is cherished by some is despised by others”, the album’s title track is a beautifully conceived meander of soothing vocals, rattling and tub-thumping rhythms, scraping percussion and tethered but loose solos: from cupped Afro-Cuban cornet trumpet to thin wah-wah guitar riffs. The searching accompaniment, ‘Nigeria Kanyi Jikota’ is an extension of that relaxed spirit; a downtown canter with a dash more brassy resonance and Spanish Hispaniola frills.

A less intense alternative, more in keeping with the smoother production of 80s soul, the Chief’s quilted shimmy and sway is a tropical fused balance of congruous sweltering sounds; the perfect last dance of the summer season.






Max Andrzejewski’s Hütte ‘Hütte And Guests Play The Music Of Robert Wyatt’
(Why Play Jazz) 4th October 2019



Meandering both playfully and experimentally outside the lucid, often serendipitous, guidelines of their idiosyncratic muse Robert Wyatt, Max Andrzejewski’s Hütte and guests style ensemble pay homage to the fated maverick’s surreal and unpredictable back catalogue.

Originally formed for the 42nd Leipzig Jazztage, bandleader, drummer and vocalist Andrzejewski’s adroit sextet chose to perform the music of the much-cherished icon for a tribute program themed around British jazz artists. Remaining together beyond that inaugural performance they decided to record their unique takes of Wyatt’s original material for posterity.

Counterbalancing the former Soft Machine and Matching Mole alternative-England visionaries’ venerable fragility with his whimsical sense of humour and play, they offer a dreamy tension of free-falling avant-garde jazz and elasticated limbering breaks. Riffing wondrously throughout on their well-chosen track list, picked from across four decades and eight albums, the fluid troupe accentuate the longer, more realised peregrinations and extend some of Wyatt’s shorter mumble-y musings. Fro Wyatt’s interregnum years between the Soft Machine and (albeit with a host of facilitators and collaborators) his solo run there’s a synth-y cosmic soul vision of the 1972 Matching Mole prog and organ heavy (veering towards The Nice) ‘Instant Kitten’ that sounds like a jazzy reworking of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’, and a skippy, gently tumbling soothing take on the Maoist-faux period operatic lament ‘Starting In The Middle Of The Day We Can Drink Our Politics Away’, taken from the Mole’s Little Red Record – marking not only Wyatt’s, far from flirtatious, commitment to Communism (though we won’t hold that against him) but informing his worldly view.

The fantastical Floydian progressive jazz meets Wind In The Willows road trip nursery rhyme moiety of ‘Little Red Riding Hood Hits The Road’ and ‘Little Red Robin Hood Hits The Road’, taken from Wyatt’s 1974 Rock Bottom LP, are faithfully recreated, leaving just enough space and room to be stretched and remodeled into timeless traversing drifts. Band member Cansu Tanrikulu’s high-falutin fluting untethered and Nordic-soul bent vocals on the latter – they’ve chosen to turn the former into a vocal-free instrumental piece – grow increasingly raspy, croaky and almost sulky as she not only sings Wyatt’s original lyrics but Ivor Cutler’s original faux-Scottish Jamaican burr poetics on this whimsical if unsettling piece. Of course, the album that these two choices comes from, Rock Bottom, remains an important turning point for Wyatt, creatively and personally; the almost fatal accident that led to his paraplegic brittle state happened during recording sessions for the album.

Slipping into the oddness of Wyatt’s 80s catalogue, the ensemble transforms the 1982 Eno meets Indian tabla quirk ‘Grass’ by adding an undulation of vibrating, dipping and chirping retro-electronica and tripping vocals. Paying a funny sort of homage to his writing-partner and wife, illustrator/lyricist Alfreda Benge, the bubbled, lax jazzy and vocally mumbled ambling ‘Duchess’, from the 1997 daydreaming LP Shleep, is taken on a particularly meandrous journey. The canter of the old nursery-rhyme riff is further eroded on this tiptoeing version; Tanrikulu applies a cocktail jazz swoon and croon to the original passive/aggressive lyricism.

From this millennium the Jon Hassell breaks bread with Talk Talk venerable ‘You You’, from 2007’s guest-heavy Comicopera, is swerved towards Skip Spence and The Velvet Underground, and the Sparks-esque choral synth elegy to the maligned ‘Cuckoo Madam’, from the 2003 Cuckooland LP, is lent a sympathetic romantic malady.

A seriously good tribute to every facet of the Wyatt sound, with some surprising choices (not all the most obvious jazz-friendly ones neither) Max Andrzejewski’s Hütte and guests fill every nook and twist with something worth listening to. Learning from one of the best, they inhabit but also revive the, unfortunately retired, maverick’s back catalogue with élan and dexterity.



Los Pirañas ‘Historia Natural’
(Glitterbeat Records) 11th October 2019



A proxy “supergroup” of celebrated Colombian musicians, the Los Pirañas   features a triumvirate of Bogotá players from such luminary bands as the Meridian Brothers, Chúpame el Dedo, Frente Cumbiero, Ondatropica and Romperayo. Pals and collaborators since High School, the coalesce trio of Eblis Alvarez, Mario Galeano and Pedro Ojeda return to those school daze roots twenty five years later on their new, and third, album together, Historia Natural.

Harking back to more unburdened and carefree times with a sense of idolized unabashed joy, Los Pirañas   play loose with their influences; transducing decades worth of Colombian culture into a quivery retro-futurist purview.

Yet, though they saunter and sway to the native rhythms throughout this zippy, tropical album there’s a cross-pollination of source material and references from outside the South American idyll woven into the kooky tapestry: ‘Palermo’s Crunch’ take’s its name from the bustling cornucopia capital port city of Sicily, and its musical direction from Tex-Mex 60s garage bands, The Monkees and California surf music to create a lunar Pradomar surf soundtrack.

From Bogotá to Barranquilla, throwing together everything from Cumbia, Afro-Colombia, Champeta, Salsa and Mambo Loco they reignite a familiar backdrop to gallop and canter across a reimagined cosmology. Most of the time this sounds like a tropical island marooned Joe Meek and Les Baxter, and at other times, a quirky oscillating rave-up of the Julián y Su Combo and a hornless version of Glitterbeat label mates Sonido Gallo Negro. They do all this with a lively, sometimes silly, FX heavy backing of retro-calculating computers, kazoos, bee-trapped-in-a-jar and tremolo guitar and a constantly busy tapping, tinkering, rattling and scraping percussion that flows between the relaxed and erratic.

A fun oddity of the traditional, psychedelic and kitsch, Historia Natural conjures up an imaginative fertile landscape of surfin-bird Caribbean facing Colombian beaches, UFO landing site mountain tops, abandoned mythological temples, volcanoes and piranha-infested rivers on what is one hell of a trippy cultish South American lark.






The Cold Spells ‘Interstitial’
(Gare du Nord) 11th October 2019



Tentatively hoping that the English duo’s 2018 self-titled debut (which made our “choice albums of the year” features) wasn’t just a fluke I’m happy to announce that their 2019 follow-up, Interstitial, is every bit as subtly plaintive and melodically beautiful as that record.

A lucid meander across a divisive, anxious landscape in turmoil, Tim Ward and Michael Farmer’s Cold Spells ruminations ponder on the spaces between both the more incidental and loftier metaphysical. This “interstitial” state is a Kosmische folktronica vision; a pylon-dotted pastoral countryside, where the psychic resonance of history bleeds into the present stasis; a place in which Georgian tavern poesy and lamentable tragedy converge with the Canterbury and 60s psychedelic folk scenes.

Vocally they marry the despondent but beatific fragile lyrical profoundness of Robert Wyatt with the estuary lilt of Damon Albarn, musically, the Incredible String Band, Shirley Collins and Davy Graham with the subtlest of synth-generated undertones, undulations and atmospherics: reminiscent in places of both Arthur Russell and Broadcast. It’s a seemingly familiar soundtrack, yet there’s something quite different going on as the duo squeeze what they can out of their influences. And so just when you might have a handle on the Faustian deal-with-the-devil rustic-psych, ‘For All Us Sorry Travellers’, the Thackeray-etched lyricism suddenly jolts with a well-timed, pushed into the present, use of the word “cunt”: In what seems to be an 18th century English sorry tale, with the protagonist spilling his woes from atop of a perched chair, a noose around his neck, suddenly resonates with suicidal despair in the here and now. This counterpoint between timelines continues, suffused, throughout the album. Songs such as the opening ‘Leviathan’ balance a maudlin balmy charm with a codex of aerials and intermittent broadcast signals, and the instrumental title-track interlude imagines an Eagle Comic’s envisioned spaceport in the idylls of a twill English meadow: though it must be said, the album closer, ‘You Play My Mistakes’, stands out for its plaintive Soho lounge bar feel, more in the mode of Scott Walker.

Understated in execution, this sophisticated album gently unfurls its serious ruminations and forlorn slowly to reveal a melodious pastoral-cosmic treasure every bit as deep and unassuming as their magnum opus debut.





Maurits Pauwels en de Benelux Calypso ‘Tien Toppers Uit Trinidad’
(Jezus Factory) 23rd August 2019



Even for a label that prides itself on pushing beyond the alt-rock cliché to discover and then promote new and interesting finds from the Benelux countries, the latest curiosity and change (again) in direction from one-time dEUS guitar-for-hire Mauro Pawlowski could be considered a surprise even by the standards of Jezus Factory Records output. Used to releasing a multitude of projects and sidebars from a host of Northern Europe’s rockers, a Flemish-style rave-up of Calypso music classics and obscurities raises eyebrows. Happily it works, as the sound of the Caribbean is given a rambunctious Lutheran makeover.

Under the Dutch native tongue alter ego of Maurits Pauwels, Mauro and his troupe take on the Calypso sound and the age in which it was most influential; adding Savoy label, be-bop, New Orleans’ ragtime jazz, dancehall and, on the LP’s most surprising break from the formula remit, ‘Alleen een Dwaas’, a kind of mish-mash of saddened progressive balladry and requiem Procol Harum.

Jostling to a backing track accompaniment of cupped and heralding brass, tumbled toms and saloon bar tonk (no honk) piano Mauro and his band sumptuously roll between vine-swinging Jungle Book, Caribbean cruise ships, be-bop joints and Egyptian art deco gin palaces; atmospheres in which you’re likely to hear the jovial Byron Lee, Lloyd Miller, New York Jazz Ensemble, Mighty Sparrow and Dizzy Gillespie rubbing up against more contemporary wry and serious themes: “dancing whilst thinking” as it’s billed.

It works well, as I said, another string to a crowded bow and one of Mauro’s most brilliantly executed and absorbing vehicles yet. And that’s from someone who’s back catalogue features over 90 projects. Take a punt and a swing whilst this limited edition release is still available.





Catgod ‘Feel It Go Round’
September 2019



Less an adoration style worship of a feline deity and more a peaceable, if deep, gentle collection of modern sonnets, the Oxford based Catgod attempt to make sense of all life’s woes with the subtlest of touches on their debut LP, Feel It Go Round.

Fronted, if that’s the right word, by the dual vocalist siblings Robin Christensen-Marriott and Catherine Marriott this gauze-y, dreamy, on occasion haunted, folksy troupe wind through a contemporary Southeast of England landscape in hushed, diaphanous tones.

Somehow making the daily humdrum trudge of commuting sound like a John Martyn psychedelic mirage of beautifully lulled harmonies and hazy-light dappled wistful heartache, they can turn the most mundane into the magical. The song in question here, ‘New Cross’, almost romanticizes Robin’s commute between East London and his Oxford home; immortalizing familiar locations (obviously the title itself but also Dalston) in ruminating song. Standard tropes appear in the form of mortality anxiety on the wonderfully, if plaintive, Catherine lead ‘Heartbeat In My Hand’, and the tumult of a difficult relationship is dramatized on the drowning-in-the-mire of ‘Cold, Numb And Empty’. A concern of our times however, the unease of privacy erosion and validation in an increasingly infringing social media epoch is mused over on the wistful malady chorus piece ‘What They Think’.

Musically untethered in folk and country, Catgod surprisingly often sound like a pastoral hybrid of Radiohead and Lamb at their most interesting and trip-hoping psychedelic: The flute-y ‘Sleep In’ the most surprising song on the entire LP crosses Joni Mitchell with Pentangle and then adds a faux-reggae gait. Vocally (on occasion narrated and half-spoken) the sibling dynamic is entrancing, softly yearning and brilliantly harmonious. Catherine’s voice especially sounds like a Nordic bent version of Sandy Denny or Christine McVie.

A considered placeable debut of both enchantment and forlorn, Feel It Go Round is gently stirring and quite lovely. Indeed, a “hushed reverie” as the PR spill puts it; a better description than any I can find for this magnificent album.



The Cosmic Dead ‘Scottish Space Race’
(Riot Season Records) 20th September 2019



Letting the kaleidoscopic imagination lift-off, Glasgow’s head music astronauts, The Cosmic Dead, blast off from a Central Belt vision of a futuristic spaceport into the void on their latest interstellar overdrive, scoring the “Scottish space race”.

The recently modified line-up (the group’s first LP to feature the propulsive drumming of Tommy Duffin and quivery evocative lap-steel of Russell Andrew Gray) pierces the stratosphere and astral plane in opiate symmetry over four live-recorded performances from the summer of 2018. Sucked through the ‘Portal’ the Dead begin their ascendance in communion with the Kosmische leviathan sculpting of Tangerine Dream, the eastern esoteric acid-psych of the Acid Mothers, mantra incantations of the Dead Skeletons, Native Indian pow wow and sorcery. By the time they reach the “Great Bear” constellation we’re in space rock and acid country; funneling dawn emergent transcending Ash Ra with Xhol caravan, Guru Guru and Rhyton.

The air is heavier however on the album’s title-track, melding Sabbath with Hawkwind on a stomp punctuated by the doom-rock “can you dig it!” refrain, and the galactic chorus, lap-steel waning and bashed out ‘The Grizzard’ feeds The Dead Meadows, Birth Control and Ten Years After into the Hadron Collider.

The Dead set a course for a stoner-doom ridden Krautrock cosmology of sonic possibilities on a sprawling, pulsing epic. Strap yourselves in tightly, the stars have aligned; the Scottish space race now has its own unofficial ‘head music’ soundtrack.