Review/Dominic Valvona




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


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

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





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

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





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

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

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






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

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





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

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

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

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

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





TRACKS 

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


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

 

REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona





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

 

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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







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



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




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

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

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

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

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

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




Otis Sandsjo ‘Y-Otis 2’

JAF Trio ‘ST’


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





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

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

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

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





Campbell Sibthorpe ‘Ytown’
EP/21st July 2020




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

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

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

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

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





Campbell Sibthorpe ‘Good Lord’ Premiere


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





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

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

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

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

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


The Bordellos ‘Debt Sounds’

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



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





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

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

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

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




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




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

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

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

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

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








John Howard ‘Cut The Wire’

John Howard ‘Incidents Crowded With Life’

John Howard ‘Across The Door Sill’



Reissue

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

PLAYLIST/Dominic Valvona





Welcome friends to another one of Dominic Valvona’s eclectic/generational spanning playlists; the Monolith Cocktail’s imaginary radio show. In practice this amounts to Dominic picking whatever he sees fit, including tributes to fallen idols and tracks from recent reissues. This month’s edition pays a small homage to the late Italian deity of soundtracks and composition, Ennio Morricone. Joining him in on this journey is Art Decade, VoilaaaKahvas Jute, Tono S.Pharoah Sanders, Electric Eels, Faris, VED, Abel Lima, The Staple Singers, Jerzy Milian and twenty-three other eclectic choice artists.

Listen how you choose, but each playlist is curated in a special order.

As usual, for those without Spotify (or boycotting it, pissed with it or whatever) you can find a smattering of videos from the set below the track list.



Track List:

Mike James Kirkland ‘What Have We Done’
Voilaaa   ‘Manu ecoute ca…’
Pharaoh Sanders ‘Farrell Tune (live In Paris 1975)’
Tono S. & DJ Metys ‘Recept Na Uspech’
Lord Finesse with Sadat X and Large Professor ‘Actual Fatcs’
Weldon Irvine ‘Love Your Brother’
Ted Hawkins ‘Sweet Baby’
Tripsichord ‘The New World’
Kahvas Jute ‘Shes So Hard To Shake’
Country Weather ‘Boy Without A Home’
Orangutan ‘Chocolate Piano’
Jessamine ‘Inevitably’
Electric Eels ‘Sewercide’
Indianizer ‘Mazel Tov II’
Hypnotuba ‘Hubbubuzz’
Art Decade ‘Delta’
Ndikho Xaba ‘In Praise Of Women’
VED ‘Sture External’
Faris ‘Oulhawen Win Tidit’
Velvett Fogg ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941’
Group 1850 ‘Hunger’
Pisces ‘Oh Lord’
Yanti Bersaudara ‘Pohon Kenari’
DakhaBrakha ‘Vynnaya Ya’
Abel Lima ‘Aonte’
Ennio Morricone ‘Arianna’
Marva Josie ‘He Does It Better’
Gryphon ‘Mother Nature’s Son’
Robert Lester Folsom ‘Ginger’
Quiet World ‘Star’
Minami Deutsch ‘Sunrise, Sunset’
Uniting Of Opposites ‘Ancient Lights’
Jerzy Milian ‘Hausdrache’
Ennio Morricone ‘The Chase’
The Staple Singers ‘Washington We’re Watching you’

VIDEOS:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





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

REVIEWS SPECIAL/Dominic Valvona





From the very start of the Covid-19 epidemic I’ve emphasized the importance of supporting artists and bands. More than ever in an industry with ever diminishing returns for the majority, and with the ever increasingly domination of streaming taking over from sales, they need our financial help.

With that in mind, there are more than enough new and upcoming releases to get you salivating at the prospect of spending those dwindling funds in my July roundup. Travelling to and beyond both Earthly and Heavenly realms from the comfort of you own sofa, I take a look at the upcoming debut suite from Jason Kohnen’s newest adventure (in collaboration with Dimitry El-Demerdashi and Martina Hórvath), Mansur; a wanderers traverse of burnished ruins and temenos set to a cinematic, warping trip-hop soundtrack called Temples. Fresh out of Rio, Brazilian wonderkid Thiago Nassif releases another vibrant and sophisticated pop album of samba and bossa no wave. Melbourne artist Wu Cloud returns from his off-the-beaten-track Indonesian getaway with an atmospheric exotic ambient electronica suite of jungle sonics. Out of Helsinki, two Nordic jazz albums from the We Jazz label; the first, the Danish-Finn JAF Trio lay down their dynamic live sound on wax for the first time, and the experimental Gothenburg tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Otis Sandsjö produces another volume of deconstructive electronic-hip-hop-trip-hop-jazz. From the relatively untouched musical atoll of São Tomé & Principe, Bongo Joe reissue Pedro Lima’s 80s classic Maguidala. Closer to home, The Lancashire Hustlers offer another nostalgic songbook of quality psych pop and troubadour pastoral soul with their fifth album, Four Hands, Two Voices.


Thiago Nassif  ‘Mente’
(Gearbox Records)  Album/3rd July 2020



Feted no less by “no wave” off-kilter maverick and former Lounge Lizard Arto Lindsay, the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and producer Thiago Nassif has made a name for himself over the last decade for producing the most idiosyncratic tropical-flavoured pop music. Drawn to Nassif’s transformed visions of bossa nova and samba, Lindsay, who has a reputation for refreshing those genres and working with many of the forms star turns, has co-produced a number of albums for the Rio-based artist; including this latest neon afterglow, Mente.

Channeling some of the American all-rounder’s past productions, most notably his work with the legend Caetano Veloso and more contemporary Tom Zé, Nassif balances those balmy softened open-toed sandal sauntering rhythms with harder edged experimental no wave and synthesized tubular metallics. It’s a juxtaposition of atmospherics, of light and shade, of the organic and plastic, and even languages: Portuguese and English. In practice this sounds pretty brilliant; a liquid (a blancmange even) of often slinking, bubbling, uptown/downtown Beck, Eno & Cale, Prince, Ariel Pink and St. Vincent, picked up and flown to a retro-futuristic Brazilian beachfront nightclub. The opening no wave soul mirage ‘Soar Estranho’ (one of my tracks of the year) shows off this cultural mix; reimagining Lodger era Bowie flanked by James Chance and Lou Reed’s doo wop chorus of female backing singers perusing in a discotheque. In short: cool as fuck. But just as you get comfortable, a lurch and shriek of tumbled drums enters the fray: less a harsh jerk, more a delightful off-kilter excursion.

Yet despite those interesting excursions, jolts and hooks and the contemporary feel, the melodies prove often nostalgic: a dreamy electro-fashioned sheen envelopes those bossa and samba grooves and tango washes that headily send the listener back to the 70s and early 80s. Still, it’s a fascinating world that escapes Nassif’s mind; a place where vague Robert Fripp guitar traces wane against a sunbaked percussion of bottle rattling; off-center piano and elliptical grooves merge with Herbie Hancock funk; fanned phaser guitar comes of against skulking seedy Gauloise-puffing French sophisticated cool aloof; an alternative reality in which Eno remixes Caetano’s more showy popular samba romantics.

Very imaginative and experimental, Nassif pushes South American music into exciting directions with an album that oozes a coolness of liquid tropical no and new wave. Mente surfs a delicious ebb and flowing tide of quirky “plastique” pop: A leopard skin upholstered, neon lit sumptuous groove of the fuzzy, fizzling and sauntering.






Mansur  ‘Temple’
(Denovali Records) Album/10th July



Venturing once more into amorphous mysterious musical territories, Jason Kohnen finds another outlet for his traversing invocations with the Arabic named Mansur. Worn by infamous caliphs, this popular Middle Eastern name translates as “the one who is victorious”. The caliphate ruled by those who wore it was as vast and multicultural as the array of evocations and geography found on Kohen’s latest mini-album, Temple.

Previous esoteric and panoramic soundtracks by Kohen, from The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation to The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, roamed a borderless realm of influences. With even less jazz on offer (though those previous two jazz affixed outfits always had a vague interpretation of the genre), the cinematic atmospherics of this newest incarnation, the Temple drifts, sweeps and swoons across a gauzy veiled expanse of ancient Persia, India, Arabia, South Eastern Europe and the Aegean. Much of this is down to the array of international instruments that both Kohnen and his collaborating foil Dimitry El-Demerdashi (ex-Phurpa fame) use to stirrup this mirage state of Dionysus acropolises and atavistic Sufi mysticism. Various two-string and more bowed instruments (such as the Chinese “erhu”, Iranian, Armenian and beyond “kemenche”, and Indian “dilruba”) rub up against reedy flutes (the Persian “ney” and Indian “bansuri”) and both staggered and slurred trip-hop beats, slithered synthesized effects.

Floating in and out of the album’s titular spell, vocalist Martina Hórvath appears like an ancestral spirit or forgotten deity dreamily cooing sweet evocations; part Hellenic, part Celtic. This and its “revisited” companion piece both reminded me of the experimental Greek duo Xaos; though the second ‘Temple’ altarpiece offers up crunchier giant’s footsteps like thuds, and casts supernatural shadows on the pillars.

Elsewhere on this well-travelled five-track adventure, the esoteric Balearic chill in the sun ‘Disciples’ takes the listener to Muslim Spain via the toiled troubles and lament of the East, and the five notes per octave scale ‘Pentatonic Ruins’ travels in slow-releases across both the Arabian deserts and foothills of Tibet. The album’s final magical escape ‘Leyenda’ (or “legend”) brings in a piano, bowls and the kemenche flute to evoke a kind of semblance of 1930s Cairo: A soundscape of intrigue, suspense, bazaars and Arabian music halls converge.

Wandering a proscenium of afflatus burnished ruins and temenos to a cinematic, warping trip-hop soundtrack, Kohnen finds another fruitful creative release for his mesmerizing mythology of mystical and spiritual sounds.






JAF Trio ‘S/T’  (3rd July 2020)
Otis Sandsjö ‘ Y-OTIS 2’ (24th July 2020)
(We Jazz) Albums



Constantly delivering some of the best in contemporary jazz over the years, the Helsinki label and festival platform We Jazz has regularly popped up on the site with its quality catalogue of, mostly, European talent. This month sees the Nordic facilitators release two albums of opposing styled experimentation.

Dropping just this week, the first of these deft workouts sees the lauded Danish-Finn live act JAF Trio of saxophonist Adele Sauros (of Superposition renown), bassist Joonas Tuuri (Bowman Trio) and drummer Emil Bülow lay down their dynamic buzz on wax for the first time. Formerly awarded the We Jazz “rising star” award in 2017 for their “loft style” conjunction of cool but busy American and European jazz frills, tumbles and stretches, the trio now capture that live spark in a studio setting.

With a faint air of nostalgia, or at least the influence of those hip cats Mingus and Wayne Shorter, and a lift of Be-Bop, the trio proves to be one classy act. Sauros blows and honks both a mean and snozzling (even clarinet like at times) sax over Tuuri’s double-bass bodywork tapping runs and bowed sloping and Bülow’s quickened drum spills and accentuated concentrations. Signature loftcore, the opening account of ‘Ninth Row Of The Fifth Floor’ is a showcase for clicked walking basslines, skipping breaks and schmoozing sax spontaneity.

Each track seems to start in one place but end up in another; liberally handing out solos and more stripped spots, both busy and more methodically studied, as they go. Whatever the mood, whether that’s more humming and whistled saxophone contemplation or counter d’n’b like rhythm erratics, the chemistry is playful but always probing. Loft space meets Pierrick Pédron on a contemporary breakbeat, the JAF Trio bounce ideas around in the studio to produce some top-drawer jazz.





Making good on his previous free-fall in motion Y-OTIS LP (which made our albums of the year), the second of We Jazz Records’ July releases finds the Berlin-based Swedish tenor sax and clarinet bandleader Otis Sandsjö once more pushing the boundaries of electronic jazz. Volume Two of this simultaneously flowing and fractured, stumbled jazz breakdown sees Otis deconstruct his group’s performances in real time. Like a remix before the originals even been finished, Otis enacts his ennui like wonder for changing the rhythm, groove and direction.

Backed by fellow label mates Petter Eldh (bass and synth) and Jonas Kullhammar (flute) of Koma Saxo fame, plus Dan Nicholls (keys and synth duties), Tilo Weber (drums), and with featured spots from Per “Texas” Johansson (flute), Lucy Railton (cello) and Ruhi Erdogan (trumpet), the native Gothenburg sonic explorer elliptically skips and trips through hints of J Dilla, Flying Lotus, Four Tet, John Wizard, Takashi Kokubo, 808 State and Bobbi Humphrey.

The jazz elements, which sound like a transmogrified electric Byrd, drift and waft in starts and stops. Otis sax hoots like a magical owl on the woodland fairytale turn Eddie Gale spiritual joint ‘Tremendoce’.

With two flute players in the ranks and Otis also on clarinet, there’s obviously a lot of wind being blown around; and again it’s mostly quite dreamy, organic and floating as it wraps around the constant breaks and lurch or dragging drum parts.

From the cosmic and celestial to earthy, the familiar is turned inside out on an album that mixes soul, hip-hop, d’n’b, trance, electronica and jazz together. Every bit as extraordinary and inventive as the previous volume, part two is a unique, re contextualized, pinball flipper driven rush that takes jazz forward. This is a really great trip of an album, as blissful as it is intense. Definitely in my choice picks of 2020; one of the best jazz albums you’ll hear all year.






The Lancashire Hustlers  ‘Four Hands, Two Voices’
(Steep Hill) Album/12th June 2020



There’s nothing more reassuring and cozy than a new Lancashire Hustlers album. Bathed in a nostalgic glow of peaceable 60s and 70s harmonies and a lilted haze of the familiar, Brent Thorley and Ian Pakes always turn-out a disarming songbook of psychedelic and troubadour melodies worth savoring.

Following previous mini pop operas and a collection of songs based on the poems of Walter de la Mare, the Stockport duo reconvene for an album of self-discovery, raincloud love-lost misery, the philosophical and regretted: Not strictly a thematic album, more a concept of age-old tropes that continue to trouble the soul.

Musically combining the shared harmony of Turn Breaks with the idiosyncratic romantic psych pop of bands such as The Left Banke, they often stirrup a smorgasbord of congruous bands and artists. Four Hands, Two Voices is no exception, with surprise shades of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield on the pastoral soul opener ‘Top Gun (In Retirement)’, and a kind of Anthony Newly starring musical meets XTC on the more theatrical ‘Stuck In The Middle Of A Week’. Elsewhere amongst a repeating musical leitmotif of quasi-swami atmospheres (brassy resonating faux-sitar and finger-cymbal trinket charms), you will find dalliances with Bacharach (sharing a stage with George Harrison) on the lilting romantic waltz whimsy ‘It’s Too Early’, the voice of Glenn Tilbrook on the beautifully pining rained-off ‘The Flowers And The Reservoirs’, and Badfinger harmonizing with Dylan on the quivery, dreamy malady ‘Letters I Should’ve Written’.

Disarming what is a touching but poignant selection of both melancholy and lamentable reflection, the duo’s loving and comfortable, even smooth musical sheen makes the sadness and yearning parts more palatable.

Whether venturing into the mind to connect with an object of desire or sailing across the subconscious on an adventurous voyage into psychoanalysis, these northern hustlers are guaranteed to make the journey a most harmonious one. The duo’s fifth album is another lovely songbook of maverick encounters, pastoral soul and soft bulletins.






Wu Cloud  ‘Pulsa Rimba’
(The Slow Music Movement) Album/18th June 2020



Under the sticking heat of a lush Indonesian jungle canopy and on the edge of golden idyllic Sumatran beaches, the free-rolling Melbourne artist Wu Cloud places the listener in a sumptuous soundtrack of resonating, delayed field recordings and subtle, distant lo fi rhythms on his debut longplayer for the Lisbon label The Slow Music Movement. An immersive sound experience, produced from a “rucksack studio”, Pulsa Rimba –which literally translates as the “pulse of the jungle” – is a insect chattering, monkey (or in this case, to use the old world appellation of the species, a “Monyet”) calling, bird hooting menagerie of local Indonesian wildlife and fauna; augmented by the most accentuating and intuitive of effects and enervated tricking and chiming of beats.

Almost carefree and meandering, Wu’s backpacker recordings take-in the exotics and dense jungle throbs of ‘Weh Island’ (an island off the northwest of Sumatra, often known by its biggest city and capital, Sabang) and the cross-traffic sounds of both nature and human encroachment in the Sumatran city of ‘Jambi’ (a busy port metropolis and greater province that lies close to the ruins of the ancient Srivijaya kingdom city of Muaro Jambi) on a gentle, unfolding ambient suite of the organic and synthesized.

From the hammock to bumpy bus rides, Wu captures in an ad hoc fashion a living moistened terrain. And those field recordings are left to drift and waft as a fine gossamer layer of undulated gamelan-esque rhythms, hand bell like softened chimes from the local bamboo tube apparatus known as a “angklung”, sloping refractions and water pouring percussion is added. Sometimes so hypnotic as to be somnolent, at other times mysterious and exotic enough to evoke some extraterrestrial activity (the lunar bound ‘Flying Lizard’), the jungle pulse is a mirage of kinetics, Eno and Cluster ambience and spacey-echoed remembrance of geography experienced.

Enchanting escapism, Wu Cloud’s atmospheric Indonesian jaunt is a conservation of sound; a contemplative wildlife sonic survey of what’s left of an untamed landscape.






Reissue


Pedro Lima  ‘Maguidala’
(Bongo Joe) Album/17th July 2020



Seldom in the spotlight or given much attention, the African island nation of São Tomé & Principe remains relatively obscure: especially music wise.

A former Portuguese colony, whose African population were mostly enslaved souls shipped in from the continent’s interior and coastlines, this fertile island became famous for growing cocoa, sugar and coffee. Most heinously though, it soon became a transit post for the slave trade itself; its location off the coast of Gabon in the mid Atlantic offering an ideal cove for the transporting human cargo.

It would take over four hundred years but independence finally came in 1975. Though revolts against the colonial masters were a constant throughout its history, even as late as the 1950s when long-suffering Angolan contract workers rioted, enforced labour continued right up until political revolutionary groups such as the Movement For The Liberation of São Tomé & Principe overthrew the Caetano dictatorship. Democratic reforms would be slow but peacefully introduced in the 90s, and the island is now considered one of the most stable free nations in Africa.

An outspoken advocate of change, and star of this welcoming reissue, Pedro Lima was an activist and lauded recording artist who for his political stance was anointed by the islanders as “A voz de povo de São Tomé”: “the people’s voice of the island”. Not that you detect that revolutionary zeal in his most joyous, sun-scorched island life harmonies. Those sweetened but dynamic tones disarm any kind of anger or rage.

Remarkably, until recently, and through those discerning people at the Bongo Joe label/store, there hadn’t really been any musical survey of the São Tomé & Principe. Their Léve Léve compilation, which takes its title from the locals carefree “take it easy” attitude, was the first. Bongo Joe now hones in one of that compilation’s star turns with this reissue of what is considered as Lima’s best album, Maguidala – if nothing else, this reissue could save you a hefty sum, as the original is going for anywhere up to £350 on discogs.

Originally recorded in ’85 with his trusted band Os Leonenses, this both sauntering and scuffled four track highlight from the catalogue showcases an artist at his peak. Relaxed but also driven at times, Maguidala is a conjunction, as fertile as the soil, of influences from across not only the island but also African continent. Perhaps picked up when recording on the mainland in Angola for a number of labels, and further afield in Lisbon during the 80s for the IEFE imprint, Lima’s sound took in the famous Congolese rumba style of Soukous, the Dominican Merengue and local “Puxa” rhythms. The results are a most buoyant, harmonious dancing groove of scuttling percussion, beautifully lulled sweet voices, trickling, picked and streaked guitar and peaceable goodwill. The title-track and finale (‘Lionensi Sá Tindadji’) are both busy, more constantly, if softly, driven performances that skiffle and rattle along. Lima for the most part serenading, attempts to add a few shrills and “whompahs” on the latter.

‘Sãma Nanzalé’ seems more drifting; almost a beachcomber lullaby. Whilst ‘Cxi Compa Sã Cã Batéla’ skips, saunters and shuffles towards that Congolese rumba influence.

The laissez faire sound of an island hideaway, Lima’s Maguidala showcase is a perfect summer album; a piece of escapism we could all do with right now. Prompted in part by Lima’s death last year, Bongo Joe has revived a warranted classic and shone a light on a musical legacy. Stick it on and let the good time rumba and Créole harmonies wash over you.






Special word from me, founder and basically one-man operator behind 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.

Playlist/Dominic Valvona/Brian “Bordello” Shea/Matt Oliver





For those of you that have only just joined us as new followers and readers, our former behemoth Quarterly Playlist Revue is now no more! With a massive increase in submissions month-on-month, we’ve decided to go monthly instead in 2020. The June playlist carries on from where the popular quarterly left off; picking out the choice tracks that represent the Monolith Cocktail’s eclectic output – from all the most essential new Hip-Hop cuts to the most dynamic music from across the globe. New releases and the best of reissues have been chosen by me, Dominic Valvona, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Matt Oliver.

Tracklist In Full:


Thiago Nassif  ‘Soar Estranho’
Freak Heat Waves  ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’
Lithics  ‘Hands’
Ammar 808 ft. Susha  ‘Marivere Gati’
Bab L’ Bluz  ‘Gnawa Beat’
The Koreatown Oddity ft. Taz Arnold  ‘Ginkabiloba’ 
Koma Saxo  ‘Koma Mate’
Wish Master  ‘Write Pages’
Gee Bag, Illinformed  ‘I Can Be (Sam Krats Remix)’
Gorilla Twins  ‘Highs & Lows’
Jeffrey Lewis  ‘Keep It Chill In The East Village’
Armand Hammer  ‘Slew Foot’
Public Enemy  ‘State Of The Union’
Run The Jewels  ‘Yankee And The Brave (ep.4)’
Gaul Plus  ‘Church Of The Motorway’
Tamburi Neri  ‘Indio’
Ty, Durrty Goodz  ‘The Real Ones’
Fierro Ex Machina  ‘A Sail Of All Tears’
Skyzoo  ‘Turning 10’
Kahil El’Zabar ft. David Murray  ‘Necktar’
Afel Bocoum  ‘Avion’
Etienne de la Sayette  ‘Safari Kamer’
The Lancashire Hustlers  ‘Stuck In The Middle Of A Week’
Scarlet’s Well  ‘Sweetmeat’
Campbell Sibthorpe  ‘Good Lord’
Westerman  ‘Drawbridge’
The Fiery Furnaces  ‘Down At The So And So On Somewhere’
Kutiman  ‘Copasavana’
Caleb Landry Jones  ‘The Great I Am’
Bedd  ‘You Have Nice Things’
The Original Magnetic Light Parade  ‘Confusion Reigns’
Cosse  ‘Sun Forget Me’
Bananagun  ‘Modern Day Problems’
Salem Trials  ‘Head On Rong’
Lucidvox  ‘Runaway’
HighSchool  ‘Frosting’
Jon Hassell  ‘Fearless’

All our monthly playlists so far in 2020

 

 

 

 


New Music Of Interest Style Roundup/Dominic Valvona





The Perusal is my regular one-stop chance to catch up with the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload the Monolith Cocktail’s inboxes each month. A right old mishmash of previews, reviews and informative inquiry, this weeks assortment includes Ammar 808, Jon Hassell, Itchy-O, Kamo Saxo and Tony Price.


Ammar 808  ‘Marivere Gati (featuring SUSHA )’
(Glitterbeat Records)  Single/12th June 2020





“Except you, Divine mother, who else in this earth is to protect us ?

The ones who fall on your feet, giving up completely their ego,

you protect them, take care of them.

Meenakshi I believe in you.”


Dropping out of the nowhere, the latest trailblazing syncopation of transformed futuristic Pan-Maghreb languages, rhythms and ceremony from the leading producer Sofyann Ben Youssef expands the sonic horizons to collaborate with the Carnatic singer Susha.

Converging under Youssef’s most free spirited of electronic projects AMMAR 808, the signature propulsive TR-808 bass and warped effects of that alias meet with the alluring, buoyant spinning tabla driven devotional music of southern India, on the first single to be released from the forthcoming ‘Global Control / Invisible Invasion’ album. An ode to the goddess Meenakshi, who is an avatar of Parvati, the Hindu goddess of Fertility, love, and devotion, this hypnotizing throbbing fusion paves the way for an ever evolving and worldly sonic adventure.

Related from the Archives:

Ammar 808 ‘Maghreb United’ Album Review



Kamo Saxo  ‘Koma Mate / Jagd (Feat. Jameszoo)’
(We Jazz Records)  Single/12th June 2020


With a psychosis of breakbeats and prowling, jostling conscious jazz – the kind that channels the likes of such titans of the form as Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Lloyd Miller, Leon Thomas and Albert Ayler – the exciting quintet Koma Saxo emerged last year as a new vehicle for a wealth of adroit European contemporary jazz musicians. Assembled by the Berlin-based Swedish bassist/producer Petter Eldh under the umbrella of the brilliant Finnish Jazz label We Jazz, the horn heavy ensemble includes many of the label’s stars, including Jonas Kullhammar, Mikko Innanen, and Otis Sandsjö on brass, and Christian Lillinger on the drums. The group made their performance debut at the label’s own festival in 2019, followed by a double A side single, the exotic flight of fantasy entitled ‘Part Koma/Fanfare For Komarum’, and a self-titled long player.

The latest double A-side single to drop from the ensemble refashions the conscious jazz swinging, double-bass tripping ‘Koma Tema’ performance from that debut album. Reincarnated as ‘Koma Mate’, the beats are dialed up, the skipping even more tripping, and the horns serenading. A sort of breakbeat abstraction with signs of melodious drifting, and cooing diaphanous spirits it doesn’t so much improve on the original as take it in a oft-kilter direction.

On the “flip” side, the Dutch producer Jameszoo is let loose to deconstruct and rebuild the Koma Saxo sound on the flexed and untethered tooting horn ‘Jagd’. Tenor sax floats and meanders over another tripped-up fluctuating groove to push the jazz group towards a hypnotized and fractured dancefloor.

Related from the Archives:

Koma Saxo ‘Port Koma/Fanfare For Komarum’ Single Review



Itchy-O  ‘Milk Moon Rite’
(Commissioned by Onassis Foundation as part of the ENTER series) Performance/3rd June 2020




First aired at the beginning of June but recorded on May 7th, as the moon loomed large orbiting at its closest point to Earth, the grand gesturing esoteric Denver collective of Itchy-O executed its own “Milk Moon Rite” performance.

As the ensemble explain: “Earth’s only natural satellite has orbited our sky as a massive emblem for countless religious worshippers across the eons. Known to the Greeks as Selene, the Hebrew Yarcah, and the Hindu lunar god Chandra; Egyptians also associated the moon with Isis, to name just a few appearances across mythos. It personifies the mysteries of life and death, both scientifically and spiritually.”

The 13-minute film is part of ENTER, a series of new works commissioned from artists across the globe, created in 120 hours or less, and drawing on experiences and transformations faced through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In a call to the gods for balance between opposites”, members of the drum driven art ensemble laid down a squalling friction of extemporized industrial ceremony and repetitive taiko beatings and hammerings: a vision that evokes Alejandro Jodorowsky conducting a unholy communion between Faust and Sunn O))) in a landscape in which the chthonian meets satanic. Settle down to the unsettling my children.

Itchy-O have in the past performed with David Byrne & St. Vincent’s band, shared the stage with experimental legends Devo, and anchored the world-renowned Dark Mofo Festival in Tasmania. Other performances include opening for Beats Antique, Melvins, and headlining Austin-based Fantastic Fest three years in a row.



Jon Hassell  ‘Fearless’
Taken from the upcoming new album Seeing Through Sound Pentimento Volume Two/24th July 2020




Progenitor of the borderless and amorphous evocatively traced, hazy dream experiments, John Hassell’s transmogrified nuzzling trumpet and sonic soundscape textures have inspired a generation of artists over the last forty odd years. The composer and trumpet player’s pathway, from adroit pupil of Stockhausen to seminal work on Terry Riley’s harangued piano guided In C, encompassed an polygenesis of influences: a lineage that draws inspiration from avant-garde progenitors like La Monte Young, and travels far and wide, absorbing sounds from Java to Burundi. Hassell attempted a reification of what he would term the “fourth world”; a style that reimagined an amorphous hybrid of cultures; a merger between the traditions and spiritualism of the third world (conceived during the “cold war” to denote any country that fell outside the industrious wealthier West, and not under the control of the Soviet Empire) and the technology of the first.

Though an independent artist pioneer in his own right, his name has become synonymous with that of Brian Eno’s, the pair working together on the first ambient traversing volume in Hassell’s Possible Musics series of iconic albums, in the late 70s.

Though he has continued to produce futuristic amorphous peregrinations, his back catalogue has in more recent years been rediscovered through various reissues. As a companion piece to the first Pentimento series of albums, 2018’s Listening To Pictures suite, a second volume is being released later next month. Pentimento is defined as the “reappearance in a painting of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over”; a process, a layering of coats that is reflected musically on this upcoming experimental vision, Seeing Through Sound. From that album, the foggy-headed mysterious lurking, fanning rayed, early Can metronomic ‘Fearless’.

Related from the Archives:

Jon Hassell/Brian Eno ‘Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics’ Album Review

Jon Hassell ‘Dream Theory In Malaya’ Album Review

Jon Hassell/Farafina ‘Flash Of The Spirit’ Album Review



Tony Price ‘Interview’
Track preview from the upcoming LP Interview/Discount/17th July 2020




Abstracted No Wave meets dream fuzzy sparkled organ jazz on the latest suffused nuzzled trip from the multitasking Toronto visionary Tony Price. The New York based producer, musician, and songwriter makes his debut on the Telephone Explosion hub with a new album; a couplet of traversed vaporous jazzy meditations that seem to have been recorded from behind a cozy if mysterious fog. Maybe not a veiled fog, but as the first track from this side-long duo of tracks, ‘Interview’, is described in the accompanying blurb “a meditative exploration of the tile-tunneled labyrinths of NYC’s subway system at night.” You could say a field recording of the most amorphous group of subway jazz buskers emanating thoughts and musings into the nocturnal ether.

Leader on this dial tone hazed peregrination, Price lends his fingertips to an assortment of eye-candy keyboards and synthesizers (Fender Rhodes, Hohner D6 Clavinet, Arp 2600, SP1200, Prophet 5), sketches out gossamer guitar strands and a repetitive lurking bass and also programs the drums. Flanking him on this distant recording are some experimentalist heavyweights: Giosue Rosati on fretless electric bass, blog stalwart and friend Andy Haas on signature untethered saxophones & effects, and Dan Pencer on bass clarinet.

The imbued fleeted spark of modal jazz, electro-funk and narcotic non-linearity of 1970s minimalism style LP is framed as “an electrifying collision of fractured jazz- concréte and combustible downtown funk that crushes the entire continuum between minimalism and maximalism into a hypnotic wreck of metropolitan sound matter.” In practice, to these ears, it sounds like a communion of the Cosmic Range and Zacht Automaat. A winner in my book.

Price has lent his expertise to a wide range of critically acclaimed records on labels like 4AD, DFA, Slumberland and Burger Records amongst many others. In 2017 he founded his label and creative services unit Maximum Exposure, which quickly became an in-demand entity, providing production and design expertise to the likes of Capitol Records, Pat McGrath Labs, Vogue, SSENSE, 4AD, and Night School Recordings amongst others. The new album will be released next month, 17th July 2020, but you can now sneak a listen of the A-Side.




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

REVIEWS ROUNDUP/Dominic Valvona





As of writing this latest roundup of new music recommendations and curios, the lockdown restrictions that many of us in the UK have been under are erratically and confusingly being lifted (to some degree). Still, anxiety and uncertainty reigns, as the music industry (I’m thinking more the venues, small scale enterprises, self-made and the diy) is left pretty much high and dry with little in the way of finical help, or even solutions to the inevitable problems of a post-Covid, isolationist society.

Live music being the biggest casualty of this lockdown, it is indeed pretty worrying that one of the only revenue streams left open to artists to make any real money from is now so endangered. As we have all seen for ourselves or heard from an abundance of artists and labels, the so-called savior of streaming has been anything but beneficial for the majority of artists. And can hardly count as revenue at all – unless you are Kanye West or Justin Bieber.

We will of course need time however to see how physical sales will fare; though I bet many out there have baulked at buying vinyl, CDs, anguishing over the spread of the virus. Records stores have been forced to close down and move online of course, which may also affect sales: the browser in particular will be affected, as will many of us who enjoyed not only looking for records but just the company and chat with the shop owner, the chance of coming across something by chance or being recommended something. Spontaneity has gone out the window in that respect.

With all that in mind, I ask you to do what you can in supporting new music and the artists featured in this roundup. You can of course purchase many on Bandcamp and similar sites.

 

As ever this selection is an eclectic gander at artists and bands from around the world, cosmos and beyond. Bringing us beautiful, evocative bluegrass rooted traverses, Kentuckian born and imbued Myles Cochran delivers a new subtly unveiling EP of ambient and guitar experiments, My Own Devices; sonic navigator Alex Norelli, under the Fierro Ex Machina nom de plume, conjures up an album of heavy electro-acoustic imaginings; and painter/musician Marco Bernacchia, aka Above The Tree, produces a vivid soundtrack of ambiguous folkloric and synthesized mystery on the new album King Above. In the Techno field of experimentation, the ever-prolific Sad Man is at it again with another album; this time in lockdown and going for the kicks. Also, Etienne de la Sayette unleashes another pleasant polygenesis album of African and South East Asian grooves.

In the reissues in-tray this month, I have a special treat for fans of The Monochrome Set’s stalwart vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Bid and his noughties project of surrealist and eccentric escapism, Scarlet’s Well. Join me as I run through a new decade spanning collection of songs from the catalogue. I also run through the recent reissue of the Indonesian music legend and maverick Harry Roesli’s ambitious 1975 psych-soul-pop-funk-gamelan opus, ‘Titik Api’.

Headlining this latest roundup, two titans of the contemporary and spiritual jazz scene, Kahil El’ Zabar and David Murray, join forces once more to lay down a righteous transportive performance on the ancestral with a modern pulse communion Spirit Groove.


LEAD REVIEW




Kahil El’ Zabar’s ‘Spirit Groove Ft. David Murray’
(Spiritmuse) LP/12th June 2020


Praise be to the healing arts of those contemporary jazz luminaries Kahil El’ Zabar and David Murray. If ever there was a time when we all needed calm and a spiritual deliverance it’s right now. A service, a quasi-liturgy of spiritual jazz, the two American titans of their experimental forms have drawn on a wealth of providence and influences to once more join forces through El’ Zabar’s “spirit groove” of connectivity.

As a harmonious bedfellow to the Chicago drummer/percussionist’s lauded (especially be me) Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, this righteous groove communion with the tenor sax and bass clarinet maestro Murray “intends to move you nakedly with a deep sense of dance on a Mind/Body/Spirit level.” And what a groove it is; a disarming rhythmic set of performances with a poignant, timely message, or, as El’ Zabar himself puts it, “This is the moment to rekindle the notion of social relevance within the legacy of jazz as an improvised people’s movement for social change.”

The creative partners enact this change (or at least attempt it) by channeling both the ancients and jazz greats they’ve both been lucky enough to share stages with over the last fifty years. El’ Zabar for his part, learning the craft through the Chicago hothouse known as the School of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and by playing with or supporting such greats as Eddie Harris, Cannonball Adderley, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pharoah Sanders, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone and Archie Shepp (the list goes on). Oakland born Grammy Award winner Murray meanwhile has recorded and performed with a no less impressive list of notable talents, including Henry Threadgill, Olu Dara, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones. Murray was also a founding forefather of the horns and wind instruments lauded World Saxophone Quartet.

El’ Zabar’s atavistic with a modern pulse spiritual soul and jazz experiments are coupled with Murray’s untethered long and short breath saxophone contortions on an album of new, specially written material and expansions of compositions from the back catalogue.





Joining them on church service organ and cascading, accentuate piano is Chicago stalwart Justin Dillard, and on bowing soothed and more scuttling acoustic bass, the burgeoning talent Emma Dayhuff. This makes for an enviable solid act; a quartet of jazz apprentices from different generations that between them have connections to every great jazz pioneer of the last fifty plus years. But, nearly, all roads lead back to Coltrane in particular. Murray despite practicing and molding amore unique technique inspired by the triumvirate of old guard doyens Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves then what Coltrane preached, he’s paid various homages to the late great saxophone deity. ‘Trane’, a notion, encapsulation, nod to his universal influence pared down to just the second syllable of a name, is all that’s needed on the track that appears on this album as a tribute of sorts. The swing time ‘Trane In Mind’ is a mood, a sense of that style; a splashed poolside dash of Coltrane in his ascendance.

 

Faith though is the main driver of the groove and varied utterances that pour out of this erudite ensemble’s performances. The water-carrier trickled percussive opener, ‘In My House’, welcomes all to El’ Zabar’s titular sanctuary; a place to raise the spirits and soul. A prayer in the form of a primal gospel House music anthem, the jug pouring shuffler features El’ Zabar’s signature vocal exaltations, which sometimes negate words and lyrics for just hums, feelings and an essence of vocal expression. A frame for a freeform expansion of the mood, Dillard switches from subtle piano phrasing to venerable organ, whilst Dayhuff bobs around as Murray customarily catches shortened hooted breaths and longer sublime circular breathing squalls.

The power of faith in love is enshrined on the next dreamy flight, ‘Necktar’. Dedicated to not only Murray’s new wife Francesca but also true love itself, the quartet skiffle and swing to a liquid soul music groove that sets up a meeting between Gil Scott Heron, Bill Withers and Lester Bowie. Talking of dedications, El’ Zabar’s ancestral percussive, vocal cooing ‘Katon’ opus was written for his fourth oldest son. (El’ Zabar has quite the brood of children and grandchildren we’re told). A special bond and sentiment is conveyed over a magical meditative suite of music box mbira, deft piano, serenading and hooting tenor and dipped bass.

‘In The Spirit’ is, as the title says, another faith radiating communion. Bird like fluting floats over dusty brushed drums on this venerated shuffled version of the original, first performed by El’ Zabar in late 70s Germany. Another past composition, the low-key Savoy jazz like ‘Song Of Myself’ was part of El’ Zabar’s trio project with Murray and the late bassist Fred Hopkins. “An introspection of dancing in your mind”, this riff on that recital stands out on an album of ancestral percussive heavy spiritual jazz and stripped acoustic House music with its smoky, kept subdued almost downtempo, intimacy. Almost veiled even, toots, dusty drums, hints of the vibes and live lounge atmospherics take the listener off into a new thoughtful space.

Working in various forms together since the late 80s, a third composition – appearing on the lauded LP of the same name – ‘One World Family’ is framed as a sort of “theme song” for the partnership. Extending the original with a more expansive performed backing of woody-slapped rhythms (which near the end climax in an erratic display of pounding and punching), spiraling reedy fashioned free-flowing saxophone and soulful melody, the quartet flex and breathe across a earthy but skybound cycle.

A reconnection, a spiritual bound partnership El’ Zabar and Murray appear from the tumult to capture a difficult to quantify feeling: a rage even. Quenching the soul with a “spirit groove”, they’ve laid down a both swinging and mesmeric alternative jazz service of mediation but also, and above all, they push for a positive change in the most inflamed and dangerous of times.





RECOMMENDATIONS


Etienne de la Sayette ‘Kobugi’
(Muju Records) LP/1st June 2020




As pleasantly inviting as the album’s sumptuous artwork, the highly active Etienne de la Sayette delivers another worldly traverse of Africa and South East Asian rhythms.

Channeling a wealth of his ever-expanding array of projects, from the Ethnio-groove imbued Akalé Wube to Bae Ho homage-inspired Baeshi Bang, and from Frix to an assortment of film scores, the Etienne de la Sayette platform pulls together the overspill. Put together in-between all these other commitments, but far from a secondary concern, the latest album to emerge from that project is a rich gentle flowing exotic affair. Played entirely by the intimate band of flexible drummer Stefano Lucchini, balafon maestro Lansiné Diabaté, and a small circle of guests, the undulating soundtrack is mostly devoid of technological interference: no virtual instruments or MIDI were used in the making of this record we’re told. Etienne for his part plays a mix of accentuate and hooted, relaxed honked saxophone and flighty flute throughout this borderless escape.

Embracing genres, especially in the rhythm department, the opening odyssey ‘Jajinmori’ takes a traditional Korean rhythm that Etienne discovered whilst collaborating with percussionists in Busan in 2016 and adds a softened Kuti Afrobeat vibe, Orlando Julius Afrojazz sax and the buoyant wooden bobs of the balafon. Riding over the top of this wavy fusion, Chicago rapper turn Parisian scenester RaceCaR lyrically flows with a stream of poetic consciousness that kicks back to the ancients. He gets to finish the album too, with a more political spit against the arms industry and the militarization of authority on the growled, scuzzed acid-metal-psych Deep Purple-esque monster riff ‘War Business’. Though spanning a two-year period, this “sawn-off shotgun” of a leap from the rest of the material proves the timeliest in light of recent events.

Second guest spot on this album goes to Cameroon troubadour Erik Aliana, who arrives from another compass point to rasp, growl and also lay down sweeter vocal charms on the rustic-folky village song ‘Safari Kames’.

Taking the guiding light of Afrobeat once more, the busier ‘LOULOU’ is as much influenced by Steve Reich ad chamber music as it is by Kuti and Tony Allen. There’s even a tone of Benin spotting organ and Hailu Mergia woven into the flashbacks. Diabaté’s balafon is almost watery, like a jug pouring out the droplets of bouncing notes. It’s “shamanic invocations” that rise from ‘Kobugi King’; another undulating fusion of the dreamy and soulful, taking in Muscle Shoals organ, oriental voodoo and impassioned talking-in-tongues utterances.

With slightly more buzz and rattle, the group channels the spindled resonance of the metal tine thumbed Kalimba, as played in the style of Konono #1, on the wilder exchange of organ and free-form drums tribune to the African and Caribbean god of knowledge of stories, ‘Anansi’. They also evoke a bit of the intense fuzz of Marc Ribot; his ‘Ceramic Dog’ being mentioned in the notes.

The only cover, Tegenu Balkew’s Ethnio cassette obscurity ‘Anchi Bale Game’ plays loose with the original’s magical spell drift towards the Orient. In another example of the free-travel music show, the group takes on a reggae gait with the church service suffused beachcomber ‘Tortoises’.

The most interesting thing about this album and the musicianship is the flow of ideas, and the weaving together of both African and Korean rhythms, as Etienne and his ensemble blend tastes of Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and the Orient together in one track. Apart from a couple of numbers, Kobugi is a lilting, relaxed but deep listen; a cross-pollination of music synchronicity.





Myles Cochran ‘My Own Devices’
(9Ball Records) EP/19th June 2020




Regular readers and followers may remember that we premiered the experimental Kentuckian bluegrass, roots guitarist and composer Myles Cochran’s subtly evocative single, ‘It’s Like This’ last month on the Monolith Cocktail; a track that reverberated with the atmospherics and mood of a vaguely traced place on the outskirts of a recognizable American panorama. A hazy semblance of Cochran’s alternative Americana sound, that same single now forms one part of an extended version, ‘It’s Like This – It’s Like That’, on the new EP, My Own Devices. Expanded into a drifting Appalachian traverse with echoes of 75 Dollar Bill, and part rustically dreamy guitar, part lilted classical waned and bowing strings (the cello parts courtesy of Robert Curran), this couplet would make a great soundtrack to ambiguous horizons.

Recorded and put together between rural studios in France and the UK (where he now resides), much of this EP’s material wanes and sighs, breathes and pines across a sonorous prairie. The opening swooned, rhythmic shuffle ‘Love Is As Beautiful As Pizza’ merges reverberations of Myles Bluegrass signature trails with jazz, post-rock Mogwai and Daniel Lanois. As the title suggests, it is indeed a beautiful, and bowed mirage-y, instrumental.

Released a few months back, the ‘Early Dark’ peregrination blends more yearning sad and trembled strings with brushed drums, and the hint of a Mick Harvey soundtrack (there’s that word again, ‘soundtrack’). Though you can also confidently add shades of Ry Cooder, Robert Fripp, Warren Ellis and Steve Reich to both this ‘springtime mix’ and the rest of the EP’s material.

Plonking peaceably across the prairie, Cochran finishes up on a Bruce Langhorne meets Eno mosey ‘Churrito’; another drifter traverse of skiffle like rhythms, resonating guitar and spindly strings.

Almost just the tracings, lingering from behind the valley landscape, Cochran’s meditations and waning mood pieces are easy and quiet on the ear; shaped towards an alternative contemporary ambient vision of those bluegrass roots.

Myles will follow this latest EP up, we’re told, with an album entitled UNSUNG later this year.





Fierro Ex Machina ‘Processions’
LP/19th June 2020




The sensory sonic processed imaginings of Alex Norelli concentrate the mind on some foreboding sometimes creeping recondite worlds: Worlds that branch both the chthonian and alien.

From an apparatus of electro-acoustic, and what the L.A. based multi-instrumentalist and creative calls their “noise harp” – an assemblage of deconstructed electric versions of classical strings and dejected music equipment, which includes Alex’s Grandmother’s out-of-tune 1950s S1 Hammond Organ -, materializes a quartet of heavy studies in the experimental neo-classical, ambient, soundtrack and jazz fields. Yes, I did mean to include jazz; the kind that the American Nocturnal avant-garde saxophonist Andy Haas exudes on his various boundary-pushing peregrinations. But also a semblance of Ornette Coleman’s strung-out writhed, iron gate hinge waning saxophone can be heard enervated on the album’s opening mourned journey through the portal, ‘Praeter Nexus’. Unsettling as it slowly gains gravitas and a seething momentum that grows more mysterious, more unknown. The Nexus track demonstrates a frayed, fabric torn movement simultaneously as spatial as it is claustrophobic and dark.

Ominous nocturnal movements follow with the spherical shifting ‘The Shadows Of Plants At Night’. Metronome counted ripples tick away in the night garden as a ghostly-like voiced sound and permutations of Donny McCaslin’s sax waft by. Those plants sound more like concrete planetary leviathans chiding and scraping together. The lamentable entitled ‘Do You Know The Sorrow Of The Horses’, which sounds like the opening from a particularly harrowing plaint from beyond the ether features howls of a kind from wolves of some sort prowling the borders. This wispy invocation, as a scion of Cage and Nam June Paik, trundles across the inner workings and mechanisms of a grand piano: or so sounds.

‘A Sail Of All Tears’ finds a trace of melody and even a rhythm amongst the circling uncertainty and the chills. Turning over in the darkness, dawdling bass guitar and electric guitar notes act as guidance through the enormity of the elementals.

There’s a dark majesty and gravity to all four of these heavy evocations. The dissonance is nowhere to be found however, and so even in the abyss each one of Norelli’s visceral statements remain in a sort of ominous building harmony; a synthesis of sonorous emotion, journeying towards the void: A soundtrack for our frightening times.



Sad Man ‘Daddy Biscuits’
LP/5th June 2020




Despite the alter ego moniker of garden shed electronic music boffin Andrew Spackman’s most prolific incarnation yet, the Sad Man in lockdown is anything but as anxious and plaintive as the name might suggest. The latest (must be millionth, or something like that, release from Andrew now) experiments-in-motion album is in fact quite playful: a laugh even. Euphemisms, innuendo aside, Daddy Biscuits has a more uninterrupted flow of rhythms and progresses in a less agitated, ennui fashion than most of Andrew’s output.

Set loose with a trick noise making apparatus, the Sad Man goes for the kicks, transmogrifying House music and Techno for a staccato dancefloor. Jolted Djax Techno gets warped and bashed with shocks of Mike Dred, galloping 808s and mischievous Ed Banger electro funk on an album in which you can hear the cogs moving around in the artist’s noodle: where to go next? What about this, zap-bang-clatter-wobble-drill!! A Sad Man track seldom ends where it began.

God knows what the titles indicate half the time either. The titular cyber wilderness track alone goes through Luke Slater, Juan Atkins, Aphex Twin and the Chemical Brothers. The track ‘Sleeper’ is anything but somnolent, running as it does through a bastardize version of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’, 16-bit computer game coin-up prizes and hints of M-Plant Rob Hood and a crystalline dream magic. For me though, I love the strange curio ‘House Work’ (definitely a tune that would improve the chores no end). It sounds like Major Force mashed with Wagon Christ and Les Rita Mitsouko; a sort of electro-operatic funk.

For kicks then, Andrew eyes up the groove on a collection of both panel-beater workshop beats and modulated weirdness; an album for lovers of Warp, Leaf, early Jeff Mills and House Of Tapes. Lockdown proves a fertile environment for the conceptual artist and sonic maverick. I like this subtle change. Pass round the magic biscuits selection again in the future please.





Above The Tree ‘King Above’
(Hukot Disc/Plug In The Gear/Krimzkramz Sub Post) LP/Available Now




Dropped into some alternative futuristic pastoral world in the aftermath of an unexplained event – or that’s at least what it feels and sounds like to me -, visual artist and amorphous sonic sculptor Marco Bernacchia creates a visionary traced soundscape of haunting holy and esoteric materializations from out of the ether on his latest vivid soundtrack, King Above. A soundtrack, as it turns out, for an as yet unreleased documentary, this regal entitled suite of passages, renderings and lingerings would suit a mysterious theme with its signs of the ominous, exotic, and in some cases, supernatural.

Gravitating around the so-called “Italian occult psychedelic” scene, a catch-all term coined in the early noughties to describe the emerging esoteric and out-there sound being made by bands such as Comaneci and Father Murphy (both of whom feature in various ways on this album), Bernacchia practices a sort of ever-evolving vision of “outsider music”. Far too knowing and technically proficient and learned to be the musical equivalent of the usually naïve outsider art, his Above The Tree moniker mapped abstractions have a depth and knowledge that betrays an eclectic, studied palette of influences.

Blessed and doomed in equal measure, the Urbino Academy of Fine Arts alumni paints a both unsettling and pretty atmosphere. In between his professional practice (reaching the heights of exhibiting at the Venice Biennale; which is one way to say you’ve made it in the contemporary conceptual art world), the painter has learnt an assortment of instruments, from saxophone to guitar, the Malian harp-like Kamalengoni to the Russian variant of the Jew’s harp, the Vargan. All of which appear throughout the various dreamy drifts and Kosmische stirrings.

All these instruments and influences are filtered through a gauze of the gossamer, wispy and misty, with the bewitching chimes set against distant echoes of voices, messages and Medieval leftfield folk: think Faust at their most atavistic meets Sproatly Smith. Something like the courtly, rustic reverberations of a past epoch drift in and out of a vaporous bed of drones, ambience and exotic swathes of an unearthly realm. The plucked brushed tremulous guitar phrases often evoke Ry Cooder and (sharing this particular roundup) Myles Cochran.

Nature is always present no matter where Bernacchia guides us. There’s even a sort of nature meditation codex at the end of this fourteen-track oeuvre; the sound of birdsong and an ambiguous great scenic outdoors is permeated by the waning gravitas building accompaniment of bowed strings and the barest undulations of the synthesized. Icy blows, vortexes, cylindrical metallic and ghostly visitations merge with the pastoral and at times the revenant.

With permission from his already mentioned compatriots, Father Murphy, a sample from the group’s 2018 esoteric blessed ‘Communion’ – which featured on the Rising. A Requiem LP – features on the cooed cloisters score ‘Merci On Us’. The original song’s venerated choral atmospherics are woven into the lulled dreamy renaissance treatment.

“Donating” lyrics and voice to a couple of tracks, Francesca Amati of the Comaneci duo offers up a strange repeated breathy mantra on the open couplet ‘Windows Soul’, and utters soliloquy like phrases on the title-track. Amati sounds like a weird space-age narrator on the latter; her statements fragmented, almost disjointed.

Those utterances offer another layer of mystique to an album steeped in the abstract. Tangible instruments exist with the unmistakable tremolo of a guitar, gabbling of the ngoni and spring of a vargen, yet it’s the obscured textural hints of imagined places and spaces that win out. Bernacchia has embraced a history, myriad of emotive forces and atmospheres, the organic and synthesized, and transduced it all into this suffused empirical soundtrack of sublime outsider folk. I thoroughly recommend you seek it out.






REISSUES

Harry Roesli ‘Titik Api’
(Lamunai/Groovyrecord) LP/2nd June 2020




It may sound surprising to many of you dear readers to find that someone as switched-on as me hasn’t come across, until now, the Javanese Temple psychedelic funk of the Indonesian maverick Harry Roesli. Submitted by the kind folks at the Lamunai/Groovyrecord hub, a reissue version of the celebrated artist’s iconic mid 70s concept opus Titik Api has piqued my interest.

Providence wise first, Roesli was born in the bastion of Gamelan, on the island of Java in 1951. In what could be described as a privileged upbringing, Roesli’s father was a major general in the Indonesian army, his mother a doctor; both positions offering a relative security in a country ruled by the quasi-dictator Suharto – a leader with a tightening grip, who managed to keep hold of power for four decades, from 1967 to 1998.

Obviously a talented musician from a young age, Roesli actually decided to study engineering instead of music. It was during those formative years that the creatively minded bohemian was turned on to political activism – a story retold in more detail in the album’s liner notes. To be glib and race through the details, he became an active member of the 70s Tradisi Baru Movement. Translating as “New Tradition” this growing political and creative movement were committed to experimenting with Indonesian traditions such as gamelan. Critical of the regime however, it soon became too dangerous for student activists such as Roesli to evade the authorities iron fist. In one such crackdown, Roesli found himself imprisoned. Luckily for him, a Dutch member of Amnesty International was on the case; gaining an escape route for Roesli through the promise of a scholarship, studying percussion in Holland.

To cut a long story very short, this gave the burgeoning talent another layer of musicianship and host of new influences, which he eventually would take back to his native home. The music of Indonesia was now fused with prog rock, psych, acid rock, pop, enervated funk, soul and even the more complicated rock experiments of Zappa. All of which you can hear on the ambitious 1975 concept album, Titik Api: a kind of Indonesian drama set to music, with ‘prologs’ and ‘epilogs’ and a quasi-overture, a work of art from a hip-international minded cat. It’s nothing short of a Southeast Asian panorama of atavistic mysticism, romance and spiritual yearning.

The first cut from this double album alone, ‘Sekar Jepon’, moves from a gamelan Goblin to Bolero, whilst maintaining the signature zappy effects, sizzled fuzz and chiming percussion that permeates this entire opus. Those prog rock influences get harder on the hypnotizing temple rock ‘Jangga Wareng’: almost Sabbath heavy. The fluty thirteen-minute epic ‘Lembe Lembe’, features both shades of Jethro Tull and ‘Revolution’ era Jefferson Airplane. Slicker, leaning towards soul music, the romantic-sounding female lulled harmonies, sun-anointed ‘Merak’ fans out towards a lilting Brazilia. In a similar vein, another lengthy opus, ‘Kebo Jiro’, switches from soft funky soul and pop to fantasy boat ride, then snake-charming prog and rattling conga solo. ‘Curah Hujan’ takes a scenic route in an Alfa Spider convertible, as the radio blasts out a quasi-Bossa Italo love theme.

It seems Roesli wasn’t shy in throwing everything into his musical fantasy; Latin dreamy troubadour on the first of two ‘epilogs’, proto-disco on ‘Dinding Tolan, and Samba-rock on ‘Bunga Surga’.

From seductive slumbers to golden temple spiritualism and mirage-y trinkets and tubular tolls, Titik Api is an adventurous psychedelic vision from a fertile, expansive mind. An alternative Javanese dimension, invigorated by contemporary late 60s and 70s influences this is an all-encompassing epic from the Indonesian maverick. Don’t worry if like me you missed it first, second even third time around, this new reissue will serve crate-diggers and psychedelic fans alike well enough. Take a punt, dig it out and be introduced to a whole new rabbit hole of Southeast Asian music.





Scarlet’s Well ‘Magic (Selections From 1999 – 2010)’
(Tapete Records) LP/26th June 2020




The saga of the Monochrome Set spans five decades and umpteen break-ups. Blossoming at the fag end of the punk epoch, and continuing to produce music even to this day, the revered group has disbanded at least three times during a checkered history. The second those breakups, in 1998, proved a fertile escape for the Set’s stalwart singer, guitarist and songwriter Bid, who plowed his fantastical and whimsical inventions into a new band, Scarlet’s Well: a band that would, in one form or another last until the third incarnation of the Set in 2010.

 

A congruous bedfellow to Bid’s former group, Scarlet’s Well not only featured the Set’s 90s period keyboardist Orson Presence and producer Toby Robinson, but also transformed some of the unfinished material. Though it wasn’t just a place to crash for former Set members, the evolving, changing lineup would after a few albums expand to include Alice Healey on vocals.

Conceived as an “atmosphere” rather than a band, Bid conjured up a surrealist village diorama and cast of bawdy rouges, lost supernatural characters and monsters, explorers and pining cowboys/cowgirls to build an evocative storybook. Coming to life over seven albums of varying quality, this strange but disarming set location and its vague geographical tributaries (“somewhere east of the Azores and only slightly north of the Styx”) offers a magical encapsulation of all life’s woes, tribulations and physiological defects. It’s an adventure in which some of the salty sea dog inhabitants take the listener on a voyage to various atolls and exotic river ways; sailing into a range of both suffused and fleeting musical ports-of-call. Even the means of nautical travel differ, from a junk to galleon, a skiff to Pugwash shambolic pirate ship.

Receiving an appraisal a decade on from the Well’s final swansong, this oeuvre brings together a (almost) chronological collection of idiosyncratic pastoral whimsy and deeper, darker metaphors. “Bless my barnacles”, the rightly titled Magic collection opens with a couplet of alternative pop sea-shanties from the Well’s 2006 LP, Unreal: A year that proved very productive, with the band uncharacteristically releasing a duo of albums that year. ‘Sweetmeat’, which despite its alluded title sails on a junk to the gentle tones of a lullaby, has Bid channel Scott Walker and Roy Orbison on this beautiful sayonara caress. ‘Willy Whispers’ – no sniggering at the back – features the harmonizing sweet tones of Healey; who by this time was now a prominent member of the band. An example of that diverse range of influences and instrumentation, this spindled beauty simultaneously evokes Westerns, a punt down the Neva and the charming psychedelic storytelling of Pete Dello.

The debut album, Strange Letters, which now puts the songbook back in linear order, is represented by the solitary oompah-tuba ‘The Captain’s Song’. Reimagining a Brecht version of The Yellow Submarine, Bid’s put-on seadog baritone croons a veritable feast of sea-lovers Bonzo lyricism. Both comical and violent, he comes across like Blixa Bildgard early era Bad Seeds.

The first album of a new decade, 2000’s Les Baxter-esque The Isle Of Blue Flowers is represented by a trio of Spanish and concertinaed songs. Maybe a consequence of being signed to the Spanish label Siesta Records, there’s a dalliance with the host’s Flamenco and Latin spirit in the form of the castanet cantina ‘Lord Fish Garlic’s Last Expedition’: a song that fantasizes about a Suzanne Vega senorita fronting Fairport Convention during the Mexican war with America –imagine that! From the same album there’s the Franco-paradise Edwyn Collins-goes-surfing bendy title-track and the South Pacific meets Creole lala ‘Dark Dreams Aboard The Hesperus’.

Lewis Carroll’s literary and psychedelic totem heroine inspires the Well’s next album in the sequence, 2002’s Alice In The Underworld. A castaway choice of songs reflects the album’s use, again, of certain Spanish motifs and flairs. The exotic ‘Night Of The Macaw’ wafts lazily in a Caribbean bay; soft marimba and a lulling spiritual organ drift in the background of this beachcomber sway. ‘The Ballad Of Johnny Freak’ is another story entirely; a metaphorical tale of acceptance from Monsterism Island that puts Healey center-stage of a Hispanic lilted lament.

Moving forwards another two-years, The Dream Spider Of The Laughing Horse album features another of the band’s characteristic musical embraces: a kind of transcendent mosey form of Americana. The title-track, a trotting on the trial cowboy song, and ‘Big Dipper On The Spearman’s Floor’, a waylaid Hawaiian cowboy amongst the rock pools serenade, are chosen to fit the unfolding travelogue compilation.

The second album from 2006, Black Tulip Wings, goes all noir on us. The Bad Seeds rub shoulders with an enervated B52s, ‘Savage’ even goes into lounge swing halfway through its tremolo and Theremin-like wobbles. It’s show time on the album’s title-track as Brecht is brought to the Hollywood detective paperback.

Once more on the lonesome cowboy/cowgirl trial, the next two albums, 2008’s Gatekeeper and 2010’s Society Of Figurines reimagines the Western and country music cannons. On the first of these albums, Bid and his ensemble traverse The Mekons rebel country signature on the sweetly laced, springy desert key metaphor themed ‘Golden, It Is, Beautiful’. From the same record, ‘My Little Doll’ is a little more upbeat in comparison; a shuffling vision of The Bluebells round the campfire with the Frank And Walters. From the porcelain supernatural cast second of these two albums, it’s a strange combo of garage band with elements of the Inspiral Carpets baggy version of Tex Mex beat that underpins ‘Supernatural Services’. From that same record and drawing this decade spanning collection to a close, ‘The Vampire’s Song’ pitches Nosferatu in Nashville; the bloodsucker’s wandering song is a most lonesome pining affair.

Ambiguous throughout, Bid’s microcosm of mavericks, illusionists, rum miscreants and the plain misunderstood is an escape into the fantastical; a wealth of cryptic, surrealist psychedelic and cartoon outsider storytelling and art transduced into a disarming songbook of posy, shanties, ballads, cantas and pop. If you enjoy that long English tradition of eccentric songwriting, then this marvelous collection will quench your soul, heart and mind.




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

Album Review/Matt Oliver




Telemachus ‘Boring And Weird Historical Music’
(High Focus) LP/Available Now


His involvement with everyone who’s anyone in UK hip-hop – Verb T, Ocean Wisdom, Kashmere, M9, The Last Skeptik, Jam Baxter and legions more – lead to The Guardian lauding Telemachus/Chemo as “one of those slightly obscure figures who has helped British hip-hop move along more than most people will probably ever know”. Unlikely as it is that his work there will ever be done, Boring & Weird Historical Music reinforces the producer’s perspectives that have been broadening since 2013’s In The Evening. Notwithstanding the casting of Roc Marciano and Jehst, it was a classy spreading of wings as exploration of textures through a lens took root.

A year later, the breakaway In Morocco continued a bid for calm and knowledge, gathering aromatic instrumental dialects from where the sun sets, for the consummate expedition while couch-bound and down. Album number three doesn’t need the reverse psychology of the title, but it does make definitive the promotion of Telemachus to adventurer and alchemist, simmering down soul, jazz, funk, indigenous rhythms and found sounds raised at the mercy of voodoo forces and meditative properties.

For those wanting sounds formed through and for sensory deprivation, ‘Disaster Enabled Vending Machines’ (the new, unofficial byword for chillout), the bassy ‘Beaten Gold’ and ‘Caroline What Is Wrong With You’ are pro-lockdown, promoting classic trip hop incubation to soothe and shield from the sun with. Depending on your energy levels, either use them to expand your mind from the horizontal position as attainable exotica, or just to provide companionship, setting a tone that puts a barrier between you and the dusky, dusty heat generated by the maddening crowd outside.

However, for all the measured, karmic twangs a la Khruangbin or Skinshape, perpetual percussion, synth lines that shapeshift in the ear of the beholder, and dubby, desert shimmer soaking up pressure before coolly exhaling, it’s that unshakeable but defined trepidation that becomes the album’s fulcrum. Opening track ‘Ungraceful Piano Sequence’ sets a fork in the road asking you to choose your own adventure, and ‘You Wanted a Handful of Sardines, Did You Not’ could well lead you to a boiling pot of cannibalism as you find yourself making your way through dimly lit undergrowth. On ‘I Am Delicious and Cute So I Will Buy Again’ and ‘Battle Sequence’, the tiptoeing on eggshells forces you to face your fears and not just cock half an ear, widening the album’s shrewd unpredictability as it looks both ways before ambling off the beaten track.

‘Greed’, overseen by Jerome Thomas, aims to cleanse souls with stark warnings in hushed tones, and ‘By the Moon’, teased by RHI, is another example of the album’s sequencing tersely tugging at the comfort zone you think Telemachus has laid on. The dark carnival of ‘Wickedest Ting’ featuring Killa P is an unsuspecting but no less welcome mantrap, the main difference being that it’s brought out into the open kicking and screaming, instead of attempting to hide in plain sight.

As a storyteller passing around rolling papers and whose travelogue bears no tall tales despite the signs indicating otherwise, Boring & Weird… is a groggy but high functioning experience – it has to be given that the wonder of taking in the surroundings is speckled with Telemachus’ pessimism, where the recommended reclining could lead you down the back of the sofa like quicksand. The flippant titles back the theory that for all the shadows cast and enlightenment he fulfills, Telemachus is still in the entertaining business, leading category makers a merry dance. Certainly on first listen the overriding sensation is of comfort and immersion, but soon you’ll be wanting Boring & Weird… to be the soundtrack to your insomnia, punctuated by the quotations of a sensei floating and fleshing out the fable as you take a fine toothcomb to the clues left by its enigmatic, noir-ish sage. The album’s conclusion, ‘Fools Gold’ starring Chris Belson, is suitably ambiguous – the instrumentation suggests happy ending, the vantage point vocals deem that the battle is nowhere near over.

The authenticity of Chemo’s darker-than-you-think epiphanies, producing as he lives it from his lookout post and switching up significance/fantasy and reality with invisible stitching, make it good for both under the stars and the duvet. With some inevitability, the enjoyment of what it means to be weird means the boring never transpires.





Matt Oliver

Unable to kick the reviewing habit for what is now the best part of fifteen years, Matt Oliver has gone from messing around with music-related courseworks and DIY hip-hop sites to pass time in sixth form and university, to writing for/putting out of business a glut of magazine review sections and features pages in both the UK and the US. A minor hip-hop freak in junior school, he has interviewed some serious names in the fields of both hip-hop and dance music – from Grandmaster Flash to Iggy Azalea – and as part of what is now a glorified hobby (seriously, every magazine he used to turn up at bit the dust within weeks), can also be found penning those little bits of track info you find on Beatport and Soundcloud, or the notes that used to come with your promo CD in the post (visit here for more details). He’s currently giving the twitter thing a go, so follow him at@brimupnorth.

ALBUM REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona





Easing the boredom of coronavirus lockdown, join me from the safety of your own home once more 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. All of which I hope you will support in these anxious and trying 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) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it.

As international as ever, this month’s revue includes not one but two releases from the wellspring of Highlife music, Ghana – though only one of these is contemporary, and only one could be considered a link to that signature sound. First, the sixth volume in Glitterbeat RecordsHidden Musics series is, as its title may suggest, a more elegiac-framed affair of rustic processional performances: Fra Fra ‘Funeral Songs’. The second, Edikanfo’s The Pace Setters is the first ever reissue of an iconic 80s album from the Afrodsico troupe, produced, with the lightest of touches, by Brian Eno. From South America, the ever-changing Miguel Sosa (formerly of The Strumpets and IH8 Camera) releases another album under a new alias and with a new sound, Plano Remoto. Japan-based polymath Paul Thomas Kirk, under his Akatombo alias, is granted a (almost) twenty-year spanning highlights collection of discordant gloom industrial dance music by the Japanese label So I Buried Records. From Haiti, we have the collaborative voodoo communion between the locals Chouk Bwa and the Belgium dub electronica duo The Ångströmers, Vodou Alé. And from Kenya, guitarist Fadhilee Itulya releases his debut album fusion of Omutibo music.

Closer to home, though imagining all kinds of cosmological and spiritual visions, Sebastian Reynolds releases a ‘universal’ escapist EP of peregrinations, and Austrian saxophonist Muriel Grossman is granted a showcase of her spiritual jazz suites from the Jazzman label.

Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers   ‘Vodou Alé’
(Bongo Joe Records)   LP/22nd May 2020





Like so many others before them, allured to the voodoo hypnotism of the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti, Belgian production duo The Ångströmers spent a residency immersing and absorbing the local fusion of ‘mizik rasin’, and working with the Gonaïves-borne collective of Chouk Bwa. A hybrid of roots music tradition, the voodoo ceremony enchantments brought over to the Island from the Congo, the folkloric and rock and roll, mizik rasin has been made famous in more recent decades by Richard A. Morse’s acronym Haiti collective RAM, who have in turn welcomed curious acts such as Arcade Fire and tUnE-yArDs to its propulsive rhythm. The late Afrobeat rhythm king Tony Allen also spent time there working with local musicians on the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra project in 2017. It’s easy to see why; the invigorating lively, often locked-in rhythms and spiritual call prove intense and inviting: to dance music artists especially.

The synthesis of Soukri voodoo polyrhythms and bassier dub electronica on this collaboration proves so attuned to both sensibilities and in-sync as to be difficult to separate the natural ritual from the augmented and synthesized. The furious, rushing hand-drumming is subtly reinforced and layered up for the most part with pulsating and throbbing undulations, atmospherics, phaser, echo and reverb reversal effects; all of which are used sparingly and wisely, and even sensitively.

A yearning plaintive procession of voices, both earthly and soulfully, emerge from the swirled vapours to lament Haiti’s tragic run of ecological disasters; the lead single ‘More Tan’ a bobbing and clattery beat with sonorous fuzzy bass lends a moving tribute to all those unfortunate souls affected by a quartet of devastating hurricanes and the Armageddon earthquake of 2010, which killed tens of thousands and left hundreds of thousands displaced, at the mercy of the elements, disease and a destabilized authority.

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






Muriel Grossmann  ‘Elevation’
(Jazzman)  LP/15th May 2020





Many jazz greats have of course attempted it, the ‘elevation’ of not just the form but consciousness itself. The Egyptologist anointed Pharoah Sanders even named an album after it; an ascendance at a time when jazz was embracing its spiritual roots and historical gravitas: a return to the source in Africa.

The supremely talented saxophonist bandleader Muriel Grossmann, imbued with that same spirit of vague conscious mysticism and experimentation, has now named one of her own impressive Afrojazz odysseys after that totem of an influential album. It won’t come as any surprise to find that the Pharaoh just happens to be one of Grossmann’s influences, alongside such luminaries as John and Alice Coltrane, Lester Young and Eric Dolphy; all of which permeate throughout this survey of the European jazz star’s recent(ish) work.

A sort of introduction for those unfamiliar with an artist who’s spent the last two decades on the European scene, playing with the likes of Joachim and Rolf Kühn, Wolfgang Reisinges and Thomas Heidepriem, the impeccable Jazzman label have chosen to represent Grossmann’s catalogue with suites from the 2016 Natural Time and 2017 Momentum albums; a moiety almost of complimentary records.

In all a quintet of congruous traverses, from a duo of albums, Grossman’s own Elevation seems a fully realised, interconnected and flowing oeuvre that could have been recorded all at the same session, only yesterday. An adventure across desert contours, on the caravan trail in search of enlightenment and jazz nirvana; the impressively invocative saxophonist and her troupe of regulars turn in a fantastical panoramic opus.

We start with the latter of those albums and a trio of pyramid backdrop numbers that pay homage to the Coltranes (especially Alice), the Pharaoh, Archie Shepp and Greenwich-hip era Albert Ayler. That guiding light title-track is a ten-minute plus extravaganza of splashing drums, oozing and swaddled sax and mini plucked out guitar solos. It sounds like the group is on an opulent trinket laden barge. At first lingering, trembling and stirring in milder Nile waters, the action hot’s up as the river becomes more animated and choppy. Grossmann literally spirals towards the stars; giddily blowing so fast that her trademark instrument turns into a clarinet at one point. Almost easing into the shimmery resonating ‘Rising’, the quartet sumptuously treads further along a mysterious pathway. Uros Stamenkovic brushes the sand off his flighty drum kit, and Radomir Milojkovic bends and picks out a dizzying frill of notes on guitar as Grossmann flitters and flutters on another of these conscious trips.

Still gliding or walking that same North African jazz geography, both ‘Your Peace’ and ‘Peace For All’ may very well have furnished another album, but embrace and breath the same spiritual to experimental jazz air. Shifting sands move underfoot on the first of those dusky shufflers, whilst Eastern mystical chimes and serenity make way for progressive soulful sax, successions of deft guitar licks and burnished drums on the second of those mirages.

Hardly a slavish attempt at reproducing Grossmann’s inspirations, Elevation is an impressive, evocative continuation of those forbearers blueprint. A showcase of exploratory jazz left free to follow those same forbearers by a group of European avant-gardists.



Edikanfo  ‘The Pace Setters’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/8th May 2020





Depending on who you listen to, inventive leftfield, ambient music doyen Brian Eno and his part in propelling the Ghanaian troupers Edikanfo to international attention (if for only the briefest of moments), off the back of their dynamic rich bustling debut album, was either merely down to “endorsement” or more to do with his key production skills. The fact that his indelible mark is light, if almost hidden, would suggest a less than fleeting relationship with the eight-piece Afrodisco group. Yet stage-manage the production of this Highlife funk fusion he did.

That endorsement, usually a sign of quality and importance, is shared by self-appointed one-man Ghanaian music industry mover-and-shaker Faisal Helwani. A forceful character in a time when you had to be forward and sometimes ungracious in getting results, Helwani was responsible in kick-starting the modern Ghana scene; setting up the now legendary Napoleon Club complex in the capital of Accra. Club, casino, restaurant and studio – Accra’s first professional recording studio; known as the less than imaginary but history cementing Studio One – all in one, the Napoleon became a lively exchange hub of activity and a hothouse for both emerging and established talent, inside the region and outside of it. With a finger in every conceivable pie, from running the studio to managing, publicizing and contracting bands, Helwani’s grip was strong and nebulous. As Eno – who offers linear notes insight on what is the very first reissue of Edikanfo’s influential and justifiably entitled The Pace Setters album – divulges: ‘Although undoubtedly an important figure in the African music scene he was quite a possessive man. There was a fair amount of grumbling going on among the musicians, who had pretty poor lives. After some of their appearances the band ended up actually owing Faisal money since he owned their equipment and hired it out to them for shows.’

Eno hit upon a novel way of sending the band some money as a thank you, fearing it wouldn’t reach them unless it fell directly into their hands: ‘All the musicians liked the beret I wore at the time, so I had the idea to send one to each of them as a gift – which would be a kind of Trojan horse for the real gift. Back in New York my girlfriend Alex, who had come to Accra with me, carefully sewed a few hundred dollar bills into the rim of each beret and somehow I got a message to them which said ‘DON’T OPEN THE BERETS WHEN FARISAL’S AROUND!!’ It worked…one of the musicians later told me he’d bought a small farm in Central Ghana with his hat-money.’

Helwani had initially approached Eno as a publicity coup after reading about his fostering interest in African music. The impresario invited him as ‘international observer’ to the biennial Festival Of African Song And Dance. It didn’t take long to leap from that to producing Helwani’s recent upcoming electric signing. Staying for around a month, Eno spent time and effort with Edikanfo, who’s live, busy sound proved problematic for the studio manipulator, unaccustomed as he was to recording a live band all at once. Without nearly enough mics for the task at hand, Eno was forced to think on his feet and to eventually just let the performances happen with as little interference as possible. Upon returning to NYC – Eno’s base at the time in the later 70s and early 80s – he released upon listening back to these electric sessions that, for once, his post-production magic as redundant. And so The Pace Setters is a relatively pure, unburdened sound without augmentation; closer to capturing the group’s famed live performances: the sweat and all.

Formed just a couple of years before; Edikanfo would quickly build a momentum after colliding with Eno’s ascended star. His brand soon shone a light that very quickly went out. Brought to an international stage, the octet rose just as their native country was plunged once more into political tumult. A second coup by the military leader-politician Jerry John Rawlings at the end of 1981 removed the civilian government he initially put in place – set up after Rawling’s original junta-led coup in 1979. Ghana had been relatively lucky, having escaped such violent upheaval up until then. Concentrating the mind somewhat and pushing Rawlings into action, the soon-to-be leader was on the former governing power of General Fred Akuffa’s execution list. When he did take over, Rawlings implemented a spot of his own ‘house-cleaning’ of former officials and supporters. The shock of which led to demonstrations, which in turn led to elections; though Rawlings would still win, being re-elected again and again, staying in power until 2001. The early days of power would be severe however, with curfews that soon ‘gutted’ not only the economy but also the live music scene. Restrictions and harassment proved so bad that Edikanfo were forced to part company, scattering overseas.

Now though, almost four decades after their spotlight burned most bright, bandleader, bass player and songwriter Gilbert Amarty Amar and those band mates that survived are back with a new tour prompted by the reissue of their seminal debut. In what can only be described as a laser beam reflective mirror ball of Afrodisco and Highlife funk, The Pace Setters is a humid fusion of sweetened lullaby serenades and busier sunburst dances. A shared effort with near enough each member of the troupe offering up a track, there’s a mix of timings, themes and rhythms. Tracks like the opener ‘Nka Bom’ celebrate “togetherness” with sun-blessed horns, dappled electric piano and open hi-hat bustle, whilst the elastic bass noodling, springy and Orlando Julius loose jazz swaddled ‘Gbenta’ is both peaceable and relaxed. Hints of Osibisa can be found on the lulled hymn like vocal beauty ‘Moonlight Africa’, which puts a faster hustle of drums and bass underneath the twinkled organ caressed chorus of sweetly laced voices. At all times (well nearly) the bounce of refracted laser disco beams ricochet off the brass and rafters.

What a great album: true to its name, setting a sometimes blazing, and others, a sometimes-sashaying pace. Forget the fact it’s now forty years old, turn the mother up and shake-off the woes and weight of life in lockdown. Edikanfo’s 1981 classic is still alive and magical in the here and now; sending us with verve towards the summer: even if that summer is very different to any most of us have ever experienced. Enjoy this most worthy repress.




Fadhilee Itulya   ‘Kwetu’
(Naxos World)   LP/8th May 2020





Though the Kenyan guitarist turn frontman has been around for a decade the Kwetu album of belonging and questioning, released via a re-invigorated Naxos World, is Fadhilee Itulya’s debut.

Channeling what sounds like a lifetime into that inaugural record, Fadhilee combines his Kenyan roots with more contemporary rock, soul, blues, and on the album’s one and only attempt at a celebratory sun-praised club mix, Balearic dance music. Creating a bridge between the more earthy, unspoiled authenticity of tradition and more polished pop production of a modern studio, Fadhilee draws on the Luhya and Isukha peoples of Western Kenya and their ancestral dances, ceremonies and instruments. This includes the duel guitar and empty incessantly tapped soda bottle accompanied chanted Omutibo, and the Isukuti drums of the celebratory dances performed amongst the latter of those communities. The driving syncopated rhythms of Omutibo were developed during the 1950s, into the 60s, before falling out of favour in the 70s. It forms a foundation on the Swahili entitled ‘Kwetu’ song; a title-track that translates as “home”, but carries more weight in what Fadhilee encapsulates as, “a place where I am welcome.” That could be anywhere, not just his homeland, as this is an album as much about international unity and liberation as a songbook that passes commentary on the closer-to-home social and political problems in Kenya.

Language is another constant theme, with Fadhilee switching effortlessly from Swahili to English to the chanted Luhya.

Sprinkled throughout this generous album, the rustic tapped bottle ringing, hand drum propulsed rhythms and chorus of dusty-soul chanting and more enthusiastic female trilling traditions sit alongside smoother, finessed performances: though it all feels like a intimate live session. The album opens with the reedy and flighty “prayer” of ‘‘Afirika’; an opening salvo that sets up the smooth reggae and jazzy-rock sound of Fadhilee’s lilted guitar and the accompanying backing of a rich harmony chorus. It also introduces us to the folksy flute-heavy collaboration of guest musician Adam Adiarra, who’s instrument flutters, weaves and floats throughout that opening introduction. More sauntering rhythms beckon on the spiritually lulled, twinkled piano tribute to women and motherhood ‘Mama’. Whilst the electric sunny funk ‘Tabasm’, which translates as “smile”, works up a fusion of flange-rock and gospel.

Despite moments of intensity and urgency, wilder electric guitar frills and the untethered breaks of tribal ceremonial passion, Kwetu is a mostly gentle, soulful affair. A peaceable showcase for an artist honed on tradition but pushing forward. A commercial album of smooth Kenyan fusions with some rougher edges, Fadhilee’s debut shows an artist as comfortable with the modern studio as he is with the in-situ rustic roots of the Kenyan grasslands.



Akatombo  ‘Discordia: 2003-2020’
(So I Buried Records)   Album/25th May 2020





From a label synonymous for unleashing the sludge-dread rock of those ominous bearers of doom, Qujaku, comes a sort of ‘best of’ collection of similarly caustic menace from the Scottish post-punker turn industrial electronic composer Paul Thomas Kirk. As it turns out, a logical creatively successful leap for the one-time band member of the 80s punk agitators The Actives, Kirk’s magnetic-charged Akatombo avatar fuses, fries and beats-into-shape remnants of that post-punk past. Based in Hiroshima the musician, producer, filmmaker, photographer and label boss has released a quintet of albums, all but one of them under his own Hand-Held Recordings imprint, since 2003. Collected together here is a smattering of buzzy dissonance and growling electronic transmissions from each of the album’s, plus one previously unreleased track, ‘Oblique & Fearless’: a cause metallic evocation of techno punk and Reznor chained industrial dread.

Going back to the beginning, 2003’s inaugural augury Trace Elements – released via the SWIM label – is represented by the Japanese trip-hop Western soundtrack ‘Humid’, the rough UNKLE trip-breaks with snarling bass ‘Overheat’, and dub-y reverb spiraling ‘Ponderlust’. Six years later Kirk would release the Unconfirmed Reports album under his own label. Taking the sonic exploration further towards the experimental, the frizzled distortion and Aphex Twin clattering of ‘A Prior Disengagement’ and Barry Adamson spy thriller tremolo with DJ Shadow drum breaks ‘SSRI’ mark that album’s evolving range and scope. 2011’s False Positives lends the Basic Channel tuned unfolding Kitchen-sink drama ‘Kleptocrat’ and cylindrical, muffled voiced ‘Precariat’ to this compilation.

The prize of opening this Discordia falls to the ominous moist chamber atmospheric ‘Click/Bate’, taken from the 2015 album Sometime, Never. Both lurking in the dark web subterranean yet also communicating with orbital space waves, this bleak vision reimagines The Orb on a downer. Reaching further into the esoteric sound, most recent album Tensile Strength is represented by a trio of industrial, ringing noisy visitations and broadcasts: ‘Debug. Injector’ is a churning vortex of the haunted, whilst the album’s title-track is full of punk snarls.

Veering between the heavy dance music of The Chemical Brothers and the sonorous metal machine music of Emptyset, and between the steaming razor breaks of UNKLE and the industrial wilding of Einsturzende Neubauten, Kirk’s Akatombo manifestation is channeled into a pretty decisive collection of highlights. Too driven to be classed as ‘mood music’ or dark soundtracks, the dystopian discord of Kirk’s sonic augurs and emotions could even be considered dance music: albeit on the fringes of a doomed dancefloor. A great showcase anyway for an electronic artist working in the gloom.






Sebastian Reynolds   ‘The Universe Remembers’
(Faith & Industry)  EP/22nd May 2020





Oxford-based polymath Sebastian Reynolds has finally found the time in his prolific schedule of collaborations, remixes, session work and productions to create his very own solo soundtrack of various eschatology inspired peregrinations. The Universe Remembers EP’s quintet of traverses drifts and wafts across an ambiguous, often vaporous, soundscape of neo-classical composition, retro futurist production, swanned Tibetan mystical jazz, both languid and accelerated running breakbeats, and ghostly visitations – haunted narrated extracts from T.S. Eliot’s all-encompassing philosophical, religious and metaphysical Holy Grail purview The Wasteland can be heard in a fuzzy echo on the EP’s title-track and single.

A cosmological junction of dystopian literature and the Buddhist/Daoism, The Universe Remembers is, as you might expect from a composer/multi-instrumentalist/producer who’s created music as varied as the transcendent Southeast Asian Manīmekhalā score that accompanied the multimedia Mahajanaka Dance Drama and the visceral chamber pieces of his collaboration with the pan-European Solo Collective trio, a mix of evocations simultaneously as dreamy as they are ominous and mysterious; and as contemplative as they are resigned to the fates.

Framed as a distillation of previous incarnations, namely the Keyboard Choir and Braindead Collective, the sound and sonic landscape channels the peaks and descending remembrance of a musical lifetime, with some of the material taken from various periods over the years, transformed and attuned for a concept of Theology; the part that’s concerned with death, judgment and the final destiny of the soul and humankind: Not too big a concept then.

Previously premiered on the Monolith Cocktail the guest produced title track features the attentive skills of Capitol K (who’s label is also facilitating the release of this EP) guiding a musical odyssey of twinkled trembled cascaded piano, slow beats and the mystical fluttering, spiraling and drifting clarinet of guest contributor Rachel Coombes. Featuring Seb’s penchant for the glitch-y piano resonance of Susumu Yokota and a most strangely sourced sample of the revered writer Anthony Burgess purchasing a Bösendorfer piano in Harrods, this magical escapist suite wafts between the snake charmer bazaars of Egypt and Calcutta, the Hitchcockian and avant-garde. It must be emphasized at this point that Burgess’ dystopian visions have had a profound effect on Seb; especially his most famous slim novel A Clockwork Orange. Seb has previously performed at the Burgess Foundation with the Solo Collective and even (in the last week) written a guest post for their website. Not that anything on this EP is even close to aping the synonymous ominous switched-on Bach of Wendy Carlos’ score for the Kubrick vision of that most famous futuristic nightmare.

Opening reverberating vapour ‘Amoniker’ builds a suffused trilled melodic swathe of pastoral merry evocations from a past epoch, smatterings of jazz, and distant masked break-beats around an increasingly echoing and delayed layered counting iteration. Doing what he does best, Seb finds and then takes original samples to explorative new soundscapes and worlds on the EP’s curtain call, ‘You Are Forgotten’. The Oxford polymath uses the baritone like resigned mooning vocal from the track of the same name by Desmond Chancer & The Long Memories as a foundation for a suffused saxophone swaddled and pining (courtesy of Adam Davy) slice of retro-futurist electronica. Spiritual manna phrases like “no memory”, ”no legacy” and “universal” drift into focus from a constructed ether to echo dramatically over the mysterious and masked invocations.

Keeping to the holy mountain of awe footpath, the totem of endurance, mysticism, beauty and immensity ‘Everest’ once more features those Tibetan evoking horns and cosmic awakenings. It also features not so much guitar performances as the essence of lingering notes and wanes (attributed to collaborators James Maund and Andrew Warne) on an ascendant score of both the celestial and peaceable.

If you love your trance, esoteric mysticism, trip-hop, the new age, satellite jazz and the poetic, then stick on The Universe Remembers and be transported to wondrous and meditative planes.




Plano Remoto  ‘Plano Remoto’
(Jezus Factory)  LP/11th May 2020





Whether its ennui or a conscious decision to keep critics, and his audience, on their toes the Argentine maverick Miguel Sosa once more changes direction on his latest album for the marvelous cottage-industry label, Jezus Factory. Sosa’s previous peregrination, Bermudas, was an analogue patchbay cosmic psychogeography of the infamous Bermuda Triangle region; filed under yet another alter ego, the Moog and ARP soundtrack homage Cassini Division. Prior to that the Jezus Factory stalwart had spent a tenure living in Antwerp, instigating or joining all manner of Belgian bands, from IH8 Camera to Strumpets and Parallels. The Strumpets would mutate into Angels Die Hard when Sosa had to return back home.

His latest venture, Plano Remoto, ropes in bass player/singer Mike Young, old pal and the owner of the TDR Studio in Buenos Aires Lucas Becerra, on drums, and Nico Courreges on double-bass. The results of two years of studio jamming and a build-up of Tascam recordings, this informal set-up’s self-titled debut (though it could easily be the first and only LP from this incarnation) is a right old mix of styles and ideas. A return, of sorts, to songwriting it starts with a day dreamy Gilberto Brasilia sandy lull of “la las” and pop with the strangely entitled ‘Bossa Zombie’ – the first part of that title is obvious, the second…not so much. Sosa and friends go on to jangle through removed versions of Bad Finger meets The Olivia Tremor Control balladry, harmony power pop (‘Leona’), Jeff Lynne “ahing” psychedelic anthems (‘Mel’), early 60s European new wave cinematic spell casting circus scene-set jazz lullaby (‘Fantasma’), and Baroque retro-futurist galactic love (‘Sandra’).

You may very well also pick up moments of Alex Harvey showmanship prog, soft rock furnishings and what sounds like an ominous Clockwork Orange space march on an album both simultaneously odd but also essentially pop. It’s a form of songwriting slightly askew and novel, yet pleasant, melodic and comfortable to the ear. God knows where Sosa will take us next.






Fra Fra   ‘Funeral Songs’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/24th April 2020





No stranger to this site, Grammy Award winning producer, author and peacemaker Ian Brennan has appeared countless times; namely as the in-situ producer on a myriad of unfiltered and direct performances and as the subject of an interview in 2016. Continuing his collaboration with Glitterbeat Records, Brennan is back with another chapter in the global expletory label’s Hidden Musics adventure; a series that unearths performances from ad-hoc musicians, located in some of the most remote, off-the-beaten-track, environments.

The sixth volume in this collection follows on from excursions to Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam and Mali, landing somewhere on a dusty road outside the northern Ghana hub of Tamale. Brennan once more entices a captivating set of recordings with as little interference as possible. Those previous records, whether it was capturing the evocative war-scarred yearns of both survivors of the Vietnam War or Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge apocalypse, or lending a voice to the suffering plight of the Abatwa people in the border regions of a post-genocide Rwanda, all adhere to the American producer’s signature technique of less is more. As Brennan himself put it in his How Music Dies (or Lives) book in 2016: ‘My concern is not cultural authenticity, but emotional truth and uncloying performances. Purity without baggage.’

Brennan is not in the business of earnest backslapping or ethnography, rather, he wishes to just make what he calls ‘candid and new punk and dusty records.’ Forget Lomax and company, Hidden Musics is less an exercise in preservation and archiving, and more a trailblazing exposure of relatively unburdened magic outside the confines and restrictions of Western music.   Responsible for all but one of the series – that being Paul Chandler’s Every Song Has Its End sonic dispatch from Mali survey -, Brennan focuses once again on the extremely localized sounds of his destination.

Fra Fra, the colonial name given to this particular tribe found in the northern part of Ghana, is a convenient name for just a trio of musicians who perform the funeral songs, plaints and paeans traditions of the country. A reversal of the north/south divide, it is northern Ghana that is synonymous for its wellspring of blues. That roots lament can be heard in the rustic, rudimental and springy performances of this group of locals. Led by the appropriately named Small, ‘a man who celebrates his diminutive size rather than seeing it as a lack of’, this trio proved difficult to capture. In part this was down to the processional manner of their playing style delivery; a manner that has more than a passing resemblance to New Orleans marching bands, which isn’t hard to figure when you consider the enforced enslavement of Ghanaians who passed through or made their home in the burgeoning port. So Brennan was forced to go for ‘coverage’ instead of precision, as Small and his wingmen gyrated in circles on the gravel floor.

Playing better (so they’d have us believe) when drunk on the production’s beer quota, inebriation seems to have lubricated proceedings for the better. With just the poor imitation of a guitar – the two-string Kologo – and its rusty percussive jangle of dog-tags that hang around the neck, and the tiny boned mouth flutes – which the Fra Fra call ‘horns’ – the funeral laments on this record are a grieving plea between the earthy and hidden spiritual forces. Primal, hypnotic with various sung utterances, call-outs, hums and gabbled streams of despondent sorrow the personable process of grief is opened up to a new audience. Not as mournful however as I’ve described, the cadence of voices, the scraped tremulous rhythms are often energetically poetic and bluesy: albeit far removed from what most people would recognize as the blues.

A chorus and a twang-y, hollowed-out and sporadic accompaniment of serial instrumentation deliver fatalistic subject matters, such as the destiny of orphans and the pining for loved ones.

Sadly we will hear a lot more funeral music before this Covid-19 epidemic ends, which is yet, and we hope it won’t, to hit Africa on the scale that it has in Europe and North America. For those in lockdown discovering music in its purest forms, the sixth showcase in the Hidden Musics series is another essential, unique taste of the sonic road less travelled. A record in which Brennan remains merely the ghostly facilitator.






The Monolith Cocktail needs your support more than ever:

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.


%d bloggers like this: