Album Reviews
Words: Dominic Valvona




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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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






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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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






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



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

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

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

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





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



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

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

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

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





Catgod ‘Feel It Go Round’
September 2019



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

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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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





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REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona
Photo: (of BaBa ZuLa) 
Emir Sıvacı






Freely traversing borders once more, Dominic Valvona’s regular roundup of discoveries and interesting finds this month circumnavigates Japan, Israel, Turkey, Poland before returning to the more chilled pastoral Estuary greenery of the Sussex and Essex landscapes. There’s a double-helping of upcoming releases from Glitterbeat Records stable with the return of the Turkish dub cosmology legends Baba ZuLa – their first studio LP in five years, Derin Derin – and a new album of post-punk limbering from the Gdansk band, Trupa Trupa. In a similar vane to the ZuLa, Israeli troupe Taichmania also fuse a cosmology of sounds, and use both the an electrified dynamism of the “oud” and “saz” to fuzz and amp up a merger of Middle Eastern traditions with jazz and prog. Their debut LP, Seventh Heaven is given the once-over. The trio of radio show host ethnomusicologist Matthew Nelson, Hopi musician Clark Tenakhongva and world-renowned flutist Gary Stroutsos come together on sacred ground to invoke a magical homage to the music of the Hopi people on the beautifully evocative LP Öngtupqa. Inspired by more Eastern mysticism the Seattle coupling of Society Of The Silver Cross release their debut long-suite, 1 Verse, and an amazing freefall-in-motion jazz exploration from Philip Gropper’s Philm, entitled Consequences.

There’s horror of a diaphanous apparitional kind with the latest solo album of invocations and ether siren sighed sonnets from Jodie Lowther, and the first album in five years from Junkboy, the marvelous scenic Trains, Trees, Topophilia, and, finally, the inaugural release from Ippu Mitsui’s brand new electronic music label, Pure Spark Records, the House Of Tapes two-track Embers Dreams.


BaBa ZuLa ‘Derin Derin’
(Glitterbeat Records) 27th September 2019



Stalwarts of Turkish cosmology dub, the Istanbul Ege Bamyasi acolytes BaBa ZuLa return to the fray with their first studio LP in five years. And what a time to make that return, as Turkey, or rather its increasingly apoplectic quasi-Sultan-in-waiting Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, continues a policy of conformism that endangers any form of oppositional descent, and threatens artists and critics alike with severe censorship. The once famous secular moderate bridge between Europe and Asia is growing hostile to the West as the administration errs towards a hardline form of Islam, and moves closer towards Putin’s Russia.

Maintaining a constant rebellious streak throughout their twenty-three year career, whatever the ruling regime, the recent turmoil propels the ZuLa to reconvene; raising their heads above the barricades in a creative act of defiance: Music for dangerous times.

Still led, in part, by the switched-on electric ‘saz’ maestro Osman Murat Ertel, the group weaves together another expansive soundtrack of vivid souk dub and sashaying rambunctious post-punk on Derin Derin. Inspired by a number of things, not just the current political climate, the album is imbued by BaBa ZuLa’s long-running collaborations with the late Jaki Liebezeit: who was himself in turn influenced by a myriad of Anatolian rhythms – which you can hear permeating throughout both the Can legacy and his own many collaborative projects over the decades. The Can metronome and drumming doyen sat in with the group on a number of occasions, and the resonance, at least, of those sessions can in part be felt on this newest album. Especially on the Krautrock pulse of the solo fuzzed saz-snarling ‘Kizil Gözlüm’, which runs through a gamut of Germanic sounds, from Can to Blixa Bargeld and 80s Berlin post-punk. There’s even an air of Michael Karoli’s signature cosmic flares and reverberating wanes, as played on an amped-up oud (or saz), on the Sublime Porte reimagined vision of King Tubby, ‘Port Pass’. In retrospect, the band considers Jaki as an unassuming mentor.

Another thread to this album is the group’s ancestral connection, with musical ties that stretch back generations: Ertel paying a special homage to his artistic forbearers, enthused by traditions but also the country’s psychedelic furors in the 60s and 70s. From the 150 year-old photographic plate process used to produce the album cover, to the inclusion of a song penned by Ertel, his wife and young son, ‘U Are The Swing’, there’s a deep sense of family and inheritance; BaBa ZuLa as custodians of the faith.

A third strand, the instrumental portions of this Oriental cosmic album grew out of a soundtrack commission; the group asked to record music for a documentary about falcons, created a suitably exotic echo of serene flight and soaring majesty, as they accentuated the bird-of-prey plunging and floating over evocative commendable heights. These do act as mini-branches, vignettes and interludes between the longer songs.

The rest of the album oscillates and saunters between camel ride momentum Arabian Desert blues (thanks in part to the inclusion of an electrified oud), futurist Bosphorus reggae (via On-U-Sound and the Warp label) and even alternative rock. In the process they find an echo-y balance between the haunting and abrasive, and the elasticated and intense. A mystical union of the entrancing, sweeping and often chaotic, BaBa ZuLa ‘s hybrid of Turkish and Middle Eastern exotica straddles time and geography to once more create a fearless rump of defiance, yet also inspiring some hope.








Trupa Trupa ‘Of The Sun’
(Glitterbeat Records) 13th September 2019



The second Glitterbeat release to feature in my roundup up this month, the counterbalanced Polish band Trupa Trupa couldn’t be further apart, sound wise, from the more languid looseness dub of their label mates Baba ZuLa.

Freshly signing over to the German-based label, the multi-limbed quartet play off gnarling propulsive post-punk menace and tumult with echo-y falsetto despondent vocals and hymnal rock on their fifth album, Of The Sun. Feeding into the history of their regularly fought-over home city, Gdansk, Trupa Trupa create a monster of an album steeped in psychodrama, dream revelation and hypnotic industrialism.

In a perpetual tug-of-war for dominion with its Prussian, then German neighbors Gdansk strategic and commercial position as Poland’s most important post has seen the famous city become a sort of geopolitical bargaining chip over the centuries because of its gateway to the Baltic. After one such episode in a “convoluted” legacy, the city and much of its surrounding atelier of villages were turned into the Free City state of Danzig after WWI; a part compromise result of the Versailles Treaty in 1919. Famous son-of-Gdansk, philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer is credited as a major influence on the group and this album, and though not strictly born within the city limits, the infamous madman of cinema, Klaus Kinski – in one of his most wild-eyed legendary roles as the obsessive loon opera impresario, Brian Sweeney “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald – is also mentioned in the PR spill: the “great effort of pathetic failure” and “strain sublimating into nothing” of that barely veiled characterization proving fruitful suffrage and inner turmoil for the group.

A sinewy, pendulous embodiment of that environment and metaphysical philosophy, Trupa Trupa write “songs about extremes”, but use an often ambiguous lyrical message when doing it: usually a repeated like poetic mantra rather than charged protest. On one of those framed “extremes”, the wrangling guitar-heavy post-punk-meets-80s-Aussie-new-wave ‘Remainder’ sounds like Swans covering The Church, as the group repeat the refrain, “Well, it did not take place.”

Though taut, industrial with ominous machinations, there’s a surprising melodious quality to the turmoil and free fall of Trupa Trupa’s proto-Gothic rumblings. In amongst the slogging, chain dragging of the Killing Joke, PiL, Bauhaus and Gang Of Four are echoes of a wandering angelic House Of Love, Echo And The Bunnymen, early Stone Roses, Pavement and flange-fanned Siouxsie And The Banshees. Strangely, however, the dreamy haunted title-track evokes Thom Yorke in a dystopian Bertolt Brecht theatre, and the stripped-to-bare-bones acoustic ‘Angle’ even sounds like a odd, if charming, folksy harmonics pinged missive from Can’s Unlimited archives: Incidentally, Can’s walrus mustache maverick, Holger Czukay, was born in Gdansk, or rather Danzig as it was known at the time.

The PR spill that accompanies this nihilistic-with-a-heart LP is right to state, “Of The Sun is an unbroken string of hits.” There are no fillers, no let-up in the quality and restless friction, each track could exist as a separate showcase for the group’s dynamism: a single. East European, Baltic facing, lean post-punk mixes it up in the Gdansk backstreets and harbor with spasmodic-jazz, baggy, math-rock, psych, doom and choir practice as this coiled quartet deliver an angst-ridden damnation of humanity in 2019.








Taichmania ‘Seventh Heaven’
21st June 2019



The second group in this roundup to fuse the “saz” and “oud” within a cross-border traverse of Arabia and Turkey, Israeli troupe Taichmania take a similar line to BaBa ZuLa in freely merging musical cultures.

Well-traveled founding member, and the man whose name appears so prominently in the band moniker, Yaniv Taichman has a rich and varied pedigree having studied jazz at the Rimon College Of Music, Turkish music with Professor Mutlu Torun in Istanbul, and Indian music with Pt. Shivanath Mishra in Varanasi. His band mates, Sharon Petrover on drums, Yoni Meltzer on keys and electronics, and Lois Ozeri on bass, are no less musically worldly in that respect.

Stalwarts on the Israel scene in various forms, together under the Taichmania umbrella the quartet limber across a panoramic landscape of Sufi funk, souk-rock, prog and jazz on their debut suite, Seventh Heaven. A veritable elasticated fantasy of both intense hypnotic rhythms and desert peregrinations, this heavenly bound odyssey entwines the traditional sounds and scents of the Arabian Orient with zappy cosmic electronic undulations of synth atmospherics.

Broadcast samples from Middle East radio linger through a kind of spicy exotic brooding mix of Natasha Atlas and the Transglobal Underground on the opening ‘Arabesk’, whilst other such exotic intensity as the contorting spiraling title-track, and post-punk bendy ‘Saba’ are whole journeys, sagas, in their own right; moving between progressive-jazz fusion and futuristic Arabian vapours.

Taking classic leanings to the heavens and beyond, Taichmania knottily skip, scuffle, spindle, echo, quiver and solo through their magical influences to produce a live-feel Oriental soundtrack: heavy on the Prog!





Junkboy ‘Trains, Trees, Topophilia’
(Fretsore Records) 2nd August 2019



Regular readers will (hopefully) be aware that we premiered the Hanscomb brothers’ vibrato-mirage-y ‘Waiting Room’ single last month. This Baroque-pop fashioned nugget, bathed in a halcyon shimmer, proved an idyllic introduction to a pastoral album of geographical traversing instrumentals.

As its album title suggests, public transport(ive) and a strong sense of place have inspired the brothers first album since the much acclaimed 2014 album, Sovereign Sky: Both relocating years ago from Southend-On-Sea to the south coast ideals of Brighton, Junkboy siblings Mik and Rich compose a twelve-track suite to the back-and-forth journeys they made between the two counties of Essex and East Sussex. The “Topophilia” of that title, a term wrongly as it transpires attributed to John Betjeman, can be roughly translated as a love for certain aspects of a place that often gets mixed with a sense of cultural identity.

Passing through a myriad of versions of this landscape, influences include the troubled World War artists of England who depicted the torn-up apocalyptic aftermaths of Europe and the results of bomb raids across the English topography (becoming the doyens of the English modernist movement in the process), to the passing glimpses of the versant downs, beaches and “splendor towns” from a train window, and (friend and Junkboy photographer) Christopher Harrup’s Thames Estuary photo album. The first of these inspirations offers both a colour palette and a semi-abstract empirical vision of that countryside; messrs Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and John Piper, a triumvirate of influential painters, providing a suitable rich canvas: Just one of the guests on this charming LP (and no stranger to this blog) Oliver Cherer even helps pen a Nash homage, ‘A Chance Encounter’ plays with the light musically on a magical pop melody of slow jazzy brass, relaxed drums and flute-y forlorn.

Disarmingly chilled yet full of wistful rumination, Junkboy’s Brighton-Seaford-Southend traverse wonders what it would sound like if Brian Wilson was born and bred on the English Rivera instead of Hawthorne, California; the beachcomber vibes of Pet Sounds permeating throughout this quint lush English affair. You can safely add vague notions of Britpop era Octopus, a touch of the Super Furry Animals more folksy psych instrumentals, some early Beta Band, echoes of 90s Chicago post-rock, and on the dreamboat bluegrass lilted-and-silted ‘Sweetheart Of The Estuary’ more than a nod to Roger McGuinn and pals.

Trains, Trees, Topophilia is a peaceable musical landscape littered with the ghostly reverb of railways station interchanges, mew-dewed laced green hillsides, tidal ebbs and flows and Cluniac Abbeys – the millennia-old, Benedictine scion religious brethren, brought over in droves after William The Conqueror’s invasion of England, make a historical connection between both the album’s Essex and East Sussex locations; the orders’ priory in the Prittlewell of the same song title, originally set up by Cluniac monks from Lewes, just outside Brighton.

Pastoral musical care for the soul, Junkboy’s instrumental album is a beautifully conveyed canvas of the imagined and idyllic; a subtle ode to the Southeast cartography and painters, poets, writers that captured it so perfectly. This is an album that will grow on you over time, revealing its sophistication and nuanced layers slowly but surely: a lovely hour to wile away your time.






Jodie Lowther ‘The Cat Collects’
26th July 2019



One apparitional half of the surrealist Quimper duo, vaporous siren Jodie Lowther has been known to, on occasion, float solo. Her latest haunted diaphanous malady, The Cat Collects, is (as ever) a magical suite of dream realism and supernatural theater.

Between the characters of ethereal seraph and alluring cat lover, Jodie warbles, coos and entrances with a voice so fragile and gauze-y as to be almost an evanescent whisper: Jodie transmitting her vocals from the spirit side of the ether like a aria woozy Mina Crandon.

Drifting in a seeping cantabile sigh throughout this witchery spell of spooky misty songs and graveyard crypt sonnets is a subtle backing of feint melodies and stripped electronica – think Ultravox marooned on the Forbidden Planet or, an early Mute Records vision of 70s British horror soundtracks (Amicus, Hammer, British Lion). From invocations of Vampire lovers to black magic nuptials, The Cat Collects stirs up the right balance of scares and esoteric enchantment on an album of mysterious, creeping beauty and hazy Gothic soundtracks.





Society Of The Silver Cross ‘1 Verse’
28th June 2019



Over the last few months, and featured in previous editions of my roundups, the Seattle coupling of Joe Reinke and Karyn Gold-Reinke, under the auspicious appellation of the Society Of The Silver Cross, have presented us with a trio of evocative-enough Eastern death cult imbued video-singles. Making good on those mystical visions, the duo have released an album that both continues the Velvet Underground say “Om” Indian Gothic drone psychedelia of those tracks but also widens the musical palette to take in shoegaze, new wave and 90s alt-rock.

Still inspired by their spiritual travels to India, and adopting the invocation drone of the “shahi baaja” (Indian autoharp) and induced bowing of the “dilruba”, the Silver Cross explore the “transformative and renewing powers of death” as they flick through a bewitching songbook of Orientalism, Byzantium incense-scented opulence and bellowing sea shanty Edgar Poe scribed Gothic coastlines.

Leaving aside that run of singles (‘When You’re Gone’, ‘Kali Om’ and ‘The Mighty Factory Of Death’) the book of spells adorned 1 Verse piles on the melodrama of opiate arcane rites and woozy harmonium pumped esoteric atmospherics; opening with the repeated echo-y chanting ritual ‘Diamond Eyes’. In a similar mystical vain, distant tolled bells and the reverberations of a choral Popol Vuh creep into the holy processional lamented ‘Funeral Of Sorrows’. Yet, amongst the death marches and promises of spiritual release, rejuvenation and the inevitable there’s more radiant escapism in the form of spindled Baroque-psych (‘Dissolve And Merge’), alt-pop (‘Because’ imagines The Cars and Why? in holy communion) and even a bastardized Travelling Wilburys (‘Can’t Bury Me Again’).

Kneeling at the altar of a many-faced god/goddess the Silver Cross play freely with all those many influences; indulging in the Eastern arts but expanding horizons and even absorbing past Seattle imbued projects.

If you’ve only thus far heard the singles then much of the second half of this album will be a surprise. Dreamy mantra and morbid curiosity coalesce to produce a mesmerizing, hypnotic ritual; opening the door to further experimentation and proving a worthy new incarnation for Joe and Karyn to channel.





Tenakhongva, Stroutsos And Nelson ‘Öngtupqa: Sacred Music Of The Hopi Tribe’
(ARC Music) 26th July 2019



Breathing (literally) life back into the ancestral evocative paeans and spiritual communions of the Hopi people, the trio of radio show host ethnomusicologist Matthew Nelson, Hopi musician Clark Tenakhongva and world-renowned flutist Gary Stroutsos come together on sacred ground to invoke a magical homage.

First a little background. The Hopi, unlike many of their fellow communities of Native Indian tribes in the Americas, lived in more permanent villages, across swathes of South East Utah, North East Arizona, North West Mexico and South West Colorado. These dwellings, some very complex in their construction, gave birth to the Colonist appellation, the Pueblo People, but also because they were considered a more civilized, polite community; their concept of life based on a reverence for all things.

At the heart of this stirring earthy but often-transcendent project is the atavistic instrument that set it all in motion: the 1500-year-old Hopi long clay flute. Unearthed in the last century by the archeologist Earl Halstead Morris, who was leading a Carnegie Institute Expedition to the Prayer Rock district in North East Arizona in the 1930s, these hollow, reedless flutes were part of a thousand artifact haul of discoveries. Relatively remaining a mystery for decades to come, it wasn’t until further research in the 1960s that these flutes from the now renamed “Broken Flute Cave” could be confidently dated to around 620- 670 AD. What remains remarkable is that this sacred instrument was thought lost by the Hopi descendants themselves; disappearing hundred of years ago, until flute specialist Stroutsos with project instigator Nelson played a replica version in front of Hopi custodian Tenakhongva, who promptly invited him to play it in front of his entire family and then, at a later date, at a venerated spot near where the original clay flutes were found.

Part of the wider Canyon Music Festival in 2017, at the Mary Colter built Desert View Watchtower, the trio’s performance, with Nelson keeping rhythm on clay pot drums (keeping it all historically accurate, stretched-skin drums being out of time and step with the 7th century flutes), Strouthos improvising on flute and Tenakhongva singing whilst handling the percussive rasps, rattles and gourd, was filmed and recorded. An “approximation” of how the Hopi’s holy music would have sounded almost 1500 years ago, the Öngtupqa (the name given by the Hopi people to the canyon in which our trio played) nine-track suite remains untouched, unmodified or edited two years on.

Setting the atmosphere of both earthy soul connectedness and flighty astral mystery, the obviously talented and well-honed players perfectly capture the dream-like ritual and awe-inspiring panorama that surrounds them. If you were expecting the synonymous rain dance and powwow holler chants of much Native Indian music, think on. Öngtupqa is more entrancing, ambient in places, with the vocals, or chanting, graceful and often melodious but deep. Lifting out of the canyon to dizzying cloud-ruminating heights, you’ll still constantly reminded of the vast American outdoors and desert landscape: A rattlesnake shakes his distracting tail here, a panpipe flight of a condor or thunderbird over there on the mountainside.

An intimate tribute to the Hopi cycle of life (as Tenakhongva explains it, “…we were born within the Grand Canyon and when we are done, we return back to this place to rejuvenate life of a new beginning…”), the stories and music of that scared site are offered and opened-up to a global audience; a message of the communal, of preservation, being at the very heart of this vivid undertaking. The ancestors will be proud, as the two millennia old blessings and spiritualism of the Hopi is brought back to life.





House Of Tapes ‘Embers Dreams’
(Pure Spark Records) 7th August 2019



The Japanese electronic music wiz kid Ippu Mitsui has graced these roundups on a number of occasions over the years, and featured on numerous Monolith Cocktail playlists. Releasing a varied kaleidoscope of futuristic Tokyo electro-glides-in-blue and kinetic techno on a spread of labels, Mitsui originally came to my attention through his releases for the Edinburgh-based Bearsuit Records. Still recording ad hoc, Mitsui has now just launched his very own imprint, Pure Spark Records. Another one of Bearsuit’s extensive roster of mavericks, the inaugural release on that venture is from the experimental composer Yuuya Kuno, who under a variety of alter egos has prolifically knocked out a mix of the weird and sublime electronica.

Back recording under the House Of Tapes moniker in this instance (known as Swamp Sounds when passing sonic oddities through Bearsuit), Kuno’s two-track showcase, Embers Dreams, is a lucid, air-y and sophisticated affair. The “Embers” of that title is an inviting exotic amble through a moist-vegetated oasis of itchy, scratchy, woody and echo-y deep electro percussion, whilst the accompanying ‘Melted Ice’ offers a glass-y trance-y, robotics-in-motion slice of downtempo chiming soundtrack. A great subtle and deep piece of electronic manna and flow with which to launch Mitsui’s brand new label, House Of Tapes kickstarter is a serious piece of classy techno: an augur, a good omen I hope of what’s to come.





Philipp Gropper’s Philm ‘Consequences’
(Why Play Jazz)



A balletic jazz freefall in motion, the latest tumultuous suite from the acclaimed “David Bowie of jazz”, tenor saxophonist/composer/bandleader Philipp Gropper (and his Philm troupe), is a highly experimental reification of contortions and sporadic, spasmodic chaos: albeit a controlled, kept-in-check, vision of an avant-garde one.

The multifaceted title of this orderly breakdown in heightened tensions and liberating angst can be read in many ways: The “consequences”, for example, of our political divisive times can be heard and read loudly crashing throughout this six track album of disjointed intensity; the fallout from all sides of the societal divide causing enough anxiety, suffering and despondency to fuel Gropper for the next decade or more. In fact the whole course of “neo-liberalism” itself is on trail (or at least its knock-on effects of intervention), however abstract that might be.

Space expletory wondrous track titles aside, the filthy lucre spiral of dependency and spluttering wild ’32 Cents’, and funneling discordant interchange ‘Thinking From The Future (Are You Privilaged?)’ are both the most obvious proponents of that socially “woke” commentary – though whose privilege needs to be checked exactly in this exchange is open to debate.

The concerns of “interpersonal” and “interrelationships” within this charged political landscape are also a major focus for the Berlin-based jazz man; adding to a uncertain free flow of both centrifugal spinning discourse and more haunted, sometimes diaphanous, twinkling.

Escaping the atmosphere, orbiting the cosmology of deep space, Gropper’s most serene dance of glistened, starry majesty and mystery is the astral soundtrack to ‘Saturn’. Both the enormity and expansive uncertainty of this planetary titan is expressed evocatively enough by Gropper’s otherworldly Theremin aria like reedy breaths on the tenor sax, as his companions bounce and skip around the planet’s rings. Saturn holds a strong fascination for all of us, but it can’t have escaped Gropper’s notice that jazz music’s most celestial star, and progenitor of Afrofuturism, Sun Ra, claimed to have ascended to Earth from his Saturn home.

The musicianship is, as you expect, first rate, with Gropper’s sax totally untethered, squawking, fluting, brilling and even trembling, whilst his band of Elias Stemeseder (on piano and synth), Robert Landfermann (on double-bass) and Oliver Steidle (on drums) react decisively with limbering, elasticated reflexes. Together hey create an iridescent breakdown and reconstruction of digital calculus, science-fiction and the cerebral; merging contemporary European jazz with elements of Coltrane, Coleman, Billy Cobham, Stockhausen, The Soft Machine and the electronic and hip-hop genres. Futurism and avant-garde classicism collide in an oscillating and tumbling fusion of complex ideas: Consequences is a musical language on the verge of collapse. How it all stays together is anyone’s guess. This is a most impressive adventure in jazz.





PLAYLIST
Dominic Valvona




Cool shit that the Monolith Cocktail founder and instigator Dominic Valvona has pulled together, the Social playlist is a themeless selection of eclectic tracks from across the globe and ages. Representing not only his tastes but the blogs, these regular playlists can be viewed as an imaginary radio show, a taste of Dominic’s DJ sets over 25 plus years. Placed in a way as to ape a listening journey, though feel free to listen to it as you wish, each playlist bridges a myriad of musical treasures to enjoy and also explore – and of course, to dance away the hours to.

Volume XXXVII pays a small homage to two recent lost brothers, the Prince of ‘Orleans, the ragtime-mardi-gras-R&B-soul-funk-cajun-swamp-boogie titan Dr. John, and 13th Floor Elevator operator of the third-eye, Roky Erickson. Not intentional, but this latest volume also seems to have taken on an afflatus mood, with many paeans to this and that lord, a plateau of gods and that deities. For your aural pleasure, music from as diverse a collection as Carlos Garnet, Compost, Tuff Crew, OWLS, Zuhura & Party, The Electric Chairs and Moonkyte: 36 tunes, over two and halfs.



Tracklist:::

Carlos Garnet  ‘Chana’
Purple/Image  ‘What You Do To Me’
Compost  ‘Take Off Your Body’
The Braen’s Machine ‘Fall Out’
I Marc 4  ‘Dirottamento’
Black Sheep  ‘The Choice is Yours’
The 7A3  ‘Coolin’ In Cali’
Tuff Crew  ‘Drugthang’
Boss (Ft. Papa Juggy)  ‘Deeper’
Brand Nubian  ‘Claimin’ I’m A Criminal’
The Avengers  ‘The American In Me’
OWLS  ‘Ancient Stars Seed’
The Electric Chairs  ‘So Many Ways’
Sam Flax  ‘Another Day’
New Paradise  ‘Danse Ta Vie – Flashdance’
Rick Cuevas  ‘The Birds’
Roger Bunn  ‘Old Maid Prudence’
Verckys & L’Orchestre Veve  ‘Bassala Hot’
Extra Golden  ‘Jakolando’
Zuhura & Party  ‘Singetema’
Brian Bennett  ‘You Only Live Twice’
Roky Erickson  ‘I Walked With A Zombie’
Jim Spencer  ‘She Can See’
Sapphire Thinkers  ‘Melancholy Baby’
Roundtable  ‘Eli’s Coming’
Madden And Harris  ‘Fools Paradise Part 2’
NGC-4594  ‘Going Home’
Ruth Copeland  ‘The Music Box’
Chairman Of The Board  ‘Men Are Getting Scarce’
Bill Jerpe  ‘You’ll Get To Heaven’
The Apostles  ‘Trust In God’
Johnnie Frierson  ‘Out Here On Your Word’
The Brazda Brothers  ‘Walking In The Sun’
Moonkyte  ‘Search’
Dr. John  ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’
The Move  ‘Feel Too Good’

REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona




The 76th edition of Dominic Valvona’s ever-eclectic spread of recommendations and reviews includes new albums from the improvisation-heavy Krautrock-Kosmische-Post Punk duo The Untied Knot; the newly formed Gare du Nord label trio of haunted surf, rock ‘n’ roll and avant-garde Föhn, a group made up of the iconic Italian underground artist and poet Napo Camassa, label boss polymath Ian Button and Liverpool psychedelic stalwart Joss Cope; the first ever vinyl format release of Nicolas Gaunin’s exotic amorphous Noa Noa Noa LP; a new epic two-track EP of theatre of ritualistic doom psychedelia from the Japanese band Qujaku; a masterful lesson in compositional balance and experiment from the South African jazz icon Abdullah Ibrahim; and the debut album from the emerging Swedish songwriting talent Julia Meijer.

There’s also the recent EP from the balladry classical meets Trip-Hop and winding troubadour Munich-based artist Elizabeth Everts; another limited edition cassette of experimental abrasive soundscapes from the Crow Versus Crow label, in the form of a cathartic album of dissonance from Chlorine; and news and review of the upcoming flight of jazz fantasy single from the newly formed We Jazz label ensemble, Koma Saxo.


The Untied Knot  ‘Falling Off The Evolutionary Ladder’
(Sonic Imperfections)  Out Now


Imbued with a sense of scientific methodology and monocular dissection, the experimental United Knot duo of Nigel Bryant and Matt Donovan attempt once more to sonically convey the wonders and enormity and chaos of the universe on Falling Off The Evolutionary Ladder.

Possibly, in this form anyway, the duo’s last album the follow-up to the previous science paper laid out Descriptions Of A Flame (highly recommended at the time by us, an album of the year in 2015) continues to sear, wrangle and grind through an imprint of Krautrock, Kosmische, Shoegaze, Post-Punk (imagine a Lyndon free PiL) and Rock, and drone-like ambience.

With both band members serving a variation of roles in the improvisational and electronic music fields, Bryant and Donovan have all the experience and skills needed to create something that is refreshingly dynamic as it is ponderous. Playing hard and loose with a myriad of influences, Donovan’s constantly progressive drum rolls, tribal patters, cymbal burnishes and more skipping jazzy fills recall Faust’s Weiner ‘Zappi’ Diermaier and Guru Guru’s Mani Neumeier, whilst surprisingly, on the late 60s West Coast rock experiment ‘Rhythm From Three Intervals’ a touch of Mick Fleetwood. Meanwhile, Bryant, on both bass and atonal guitar duties (both also share the synth), channels Ax Genrich, Jah Wobble and Youth.

Though gleaming the geological, anthropological and chemical, they can’t help but be affected by the most concentrated themes of climate change and, especially in the duo’s hometown of London, knife crime. The echoes of an early Popol Vuh permeate the chthonian Anthropocene reference to a proposed dating title of a modern epoch: one that would mark an era that had seen the most significant human impact on the climate. ‘Span Of A Knife Fight’ is an untethered slasher; a sonic nervous breakdown of fretboard rock and the avant-garde, riled in fact. Though I’m not sure what the ‘Tattooed Brain’ is all about, it does have an air of 80s baggy, mixed with The Telescopes drone-wrangling: imagine The Pixies and Stone Roses sharing a spliff.

Far from weary and burnt-out, the Untied Knot go out on a high; stretching their influences with improvised skill and depth, a buzz saw, scrawling caustic but investigative soundtrack for the times.





Nicolas Gaunin ‘Noa Noa Noa’
(Hive Mind Records) 10th July 2019



Vinyl (and the odd cassette tape) specialists with a considered taste for something different, the Hive Mind’s burgeoning roster of international discoveries once more gives a platform to the unusual and difficult to define.

Already, through a quartet of re-releases, bringing to a wider audience a range of established and emerging global practitioners, such as the late Gnawa maestro Maalem Mahmoud Gani and rising South American jazzy-traversing star Rodrigo Tavares, the Brighton-based imprint is now inviting us to immerse ourselves in the strange exotic minimalism of Italian electronic artists Nicola Sanguin, who’s original ambiguous mash-up of world music influences and surreal sound experiments Noa Noa was released by Artetetra Records in 2018. Now with an additional extra “noa” to the title this odd curiosity of atavistic African percussive rhythms and stripped radiophonics is getting another pass with its first ever vinyl release.

Using the barely interchangeable anagrammed Nicolas Gaunin name for his solo projects, Sanguin builds a both recognizable but exotically amorphous soundscape that at times recalls the Krautrock legends Embryo’s more percussive experiments in Africa, the dreamy mysterious invocations of Le Mystere Jazz de Tumbautau, Radio Tarifa, Ethno-jazz at its most untethered and Analogue Bubblebath era Richard James. And yet still, it doesn’t really sound like any of these, or, anything else for that matter.

Definitely in the sunnier light-hearted, more diaphanous and optimistic camp of electronic music – a scene that all things considered is duly reflecting the anxiety and uncertainty of the times, moving towards the dystopian – there’s still less than a bubbly, even euphoric radiance to these tropical heat intensive recordings: Many of which, we’re told, were recorded in one take. Abstract to say the least, vague sounds of thumb-piano, Serengeti and jungle wildlife, bamboo glockenspiel, clacking wooden and bass-heavy hand drums ride over, merge with or undulate under a minimalistic Techno workshop accompaniment. Noa Noa Noa is indeed a thing of curious evocation; a searing balmy transduced soundtrack worth investigating.





Abdullah Ibrahim ‘The Balance’
(Gearbox Records) 28th June 2019



Rightly occupying the same lauded heights of veneration as his late South African compatriot and good friend Hugh Masekela, the sagacious adroit Abdullah Ibrahim enthuses nothing but respect and praise for his activism and music; with even Nelson Mandela no less, anointing him as “South Africa’s Mozart”.

Embodying the many travails of that country, giving voice to the townships with, what many consider the unofficial national anthem of the anti-apartheid movement, ‘Manneberg’, Ibrahim (who converted to Islam in the late 60s, changing his artistic name from Dollar Brand in the process) spent decades fighting the system through his music: mostly jazz. In a former epoch, when merely performing that form in South Africa was seen as an act of resistance, the pianist-composer was mixing it up with his legendary jazz counterparts across the Atlantic, playing with a staggeringly impressive cast of doyens including Duke Ellington, Max Roach, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.

Now in his 84th year and four years since his last album, Ibrahim has returned to the studio, recording a counterpoint album of both full band arrangements and solo piano improvisations. The Balance, as the title suggests, does just that; balancing purposeful ruminating evocations with gentle pushes (outside the comfort zone) into more experimental skittish, sometimes, lively performances.

Recorded over the course of one day in the RAK studios in London last November, with his Ekaya troupe in full swing, this accentuate attuned album of sophisticated jazzery and the classical is rich with the musical language of those lauded greats he once played with: a early touch of 50s New York skyline Coltrane via Gershwin and Bernard Herrmann on the gracious balancing act between subtle gliding blues and more thriller heightened discordant notation ‘Dreamtime’, and Ellington on the flighty ascendant with chorus of saxophone and trumpet ‘Nisa’. There’s even a certain air of bouncing-on-the-balls-of-your-feet Broadway jazz on the lively ‘Skippy’.

Elsewhere the inspiration is more homegrown; the almost cartoonish scurrying score ‘Tuana Guru’ alludes to a mystical East but features an African soundscape of the wild and trumpeting. The fast skimming drum and busy bandy double-bass partnership opening ‘Jabula’ even features a joyful embrace of Highlife on a what is a celebratory-like composition of timeless quality.

Nuanced and masterfully performed, both on the bounce and when more agitated, and whether it’s in brushed burnished contemplation, or solo devotional élan, Ibrahim and his accomplished band of players do indeed find a nuanced balance between the classical and contemporary: a balance between those timeless qualities and the need for reinvention. A most dreamy, thoughtful way to pass away an hour or two with.





Koma Saxo ‘Port Koma/Fanfare For Komarum’
(We Jazz) 2nd August 2019



Fast becoming one of my favourite labels, the Helsinki-based We Jazz (as the moniker makes pretty clear) imprint ‘does jazz’: an innovative, progressive and thoroughly modern kind of jazz at that. Only last month I included a track from the blowout peregrination baritone sax and wired-up Jonah Parzen-Johnson, and last year, We Jazz label mate, Otis Sandsjö made my albums of the year features with his reconstructive, remix-in-motion, Y-OTIS – think Madlib deconstructing 3TM. Sandsjö, as it happens, is just one of a frontline triumvirate of saxophonists to appear in the exciting newly formed Koma Saxo quintet.

Assembled by the Berlin-based Swedish bassist/producer Petter Eldh, the horn heavy ensemble includes a veritable feast of European players, with Jonas Kullhammar and Mikko Innanen flanking Sandsjö, and Christian Lillinger on the drums. Though they made a performance debut at the label’s own festival last year, this double A side single, the exotic flight of fantasy entitled ‘Part Koma/Fanfare For Komarum’, is the troupe’s inaugural recorded release.

Cut from the same cloth but atmospherically and rhythmically different, ‘Port Koma’ is an ennui psychosis of breakbeats, prowling, jostling conscious jazz with Scandinavian thriller noir aspirations (Bernard Herrmann lifted and dropped in the cold ominous landscape of a Stig Larsson novel), whilst ‘Fanfare For Komarum’ is a spiritual carnival tooting parade of Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Lloyd Miller, Leon Thomas and Spiritual Unity era Albert Ayler; a bustled procession through the Valley Of The Kings, a veneration to Ra.

Kept in check somehow, the forces at play on both tracks threaten to veer and spin off into separate directions, with the heightened Port sounding like three individual signatures simultaneously riding and sliding in and out of focus.

This is an exciting, traversing jazz odyssey; and so an essential purchase. We Jazz keep on delivering.






Föhn ‘Ballpark Music’
(Gare du Nord) 4th July 2019



Ever expanding the remit of his Kentish Estuary satellite label, Gare du Nord, Ian Button’s latest project provides a melodious if experimental base for the avant-garde sonic work and poetry of Italian artist Napo Camassa III. A stalwart of the late 1960s and 1970s Italian underground scene, a smattering of tapes from that period were due a mini-revival through Button’s highly prolific label. As fate would dictate, those tape recordings proved far too brittle to transfer, falling apart in the process. Taking this as an opportunity to instead create something new but in keeping with the spirit of Camassa’s experimental soliloquy and ad-libbed one line poetics, and quivered ghostly channeling seedy rock ’n’ roll vocals, the outsider music framed Ballpark Music merges the lingering, almost supernatural, presence of its influences with deconstructive homages and vague elements of jazz, surf and art-rock to produce something recognizable yet chaotic and skewered.

Balancing on the edge of this chaos the Button/Camassa dynamic, widened to bring in label mate and stalwart of the psychedelic/art-rock and Liverpool scenes Joss Cope (sibling to arch druid Julian, and just as active an instigator of countless bands in his own right over the decades), uses the well-chosen descriptive weather name of Föhn to articulate the relationship between the random, improvised and more structured, Föhn being a warm summer wind that blows in from the Alpine uplands; strong enough at times to blow tiles off a roof, at others, an enervated breeze, barely felt. Musically representing this windy phenomenon, the trio at their most blowy and heavy reaches for an abstraction of post-punk, no-wave, garage, shambling blues and Krautrock; at their most subtle and drift the surf noir dreaminess and mystery of The Beach Boys and evangelical spiritualism, gospel ye-ye and rock ‘n’ roll of Charlie Megira, Alan Vega and The Legendary Stardust Cowboy.

Tributes of a strange kind are paid to the latter in the form of a reference heavy trio of Beach Boys mirages. ‘Shiny Seeburg’, ‘The Scenenaut’ and ‘Wilson Mitt’ namecheck Pet Sounds and SMiLE as they weave nostalgia for a more giddy carefree, surface age – when the “deck chair” patterned shirt attired legends were chronicling the “fun, fun, fun” and teenage romance of the Boomers – with a certain lamentable weariness at what mental anguishes would soon befall the group’s genius, Brian Wilson: The first of these three tracks actually sounds like a deconstructed ‘Do It Again’.

The surf synonymous twang of that same era is celebrated on the Trashman-meets Sigue Sigue Sputnik meets Adam And The Ants ‘Surfin’ Dan Electro’, a quivery, rattle ‘n’ roll bandy homage to the iconic guitar.

Elsewhere there are hints of Alexandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain soundtrack, Spiritualized and a vision of Wah! Heat as fronted by Malcolm Mooney.

Though the central tenant of nearly everything that Ian Button does musically is nostalgia (Button and his unofficial label house band, Papernut Cambridge, have also released more or less at the same time another volume of Nutflakes inspired cover versions), Föhn is one of the more interesting and progressive projects he’s been involved with of late; heeding the past certainly, but pushing the original concept for this enterprise to produce something anew, the wilder poetic assemblages of Camassa tethered, in part, to an amorphous melodious soundtrack.

Hopefully this is one area that Button will continue to pursue with his foils Camassa and Cope.





Julia Meijer ‘Always Awake’
(PinDrop Records) 12th July 2019



Making good on a trio of singles that promised a tactile skewed and angulated vision of Scandinavian pop; Julia Meijer’s debut album expands the musical horizons even further.

Subtle throughout, Always Awake showcases the Swedish-born (now Oxford-based) singer-songwriter’s naturalistic ability to switch between tightened new wave and the hymnal, and mix the glacial enormity of the Icelandic tundra, as so beautifully conveyed in prose by the frozen Island’s own late national hero poet Steinn Steinarr, with the vaporous veils of an English Avalon: Inspiration for the album (the first on the new label venture from the music management firm PinDrop) opener ‘Ocean’ flows from that first half of the 20th century poet’s very own ‘Hav’ peregrination, fashioned into a dreamy mirage that evokes Lykke Li drifting out of Mondrian’s abstracted Pier And Ocean series. Originally accompanying that stripped diaphanous plaint, the more eerie Gothic folksy ‘England’ errs towards Florence And The Machine, whilst the love-longed, synth-glistened ‘I’m Not The One’ has a hint of a fey Debbie Harry.

Featured recently on the Monolith Cocktail, the page turning metaphorical single ‘Train Ticket’, with its two-speed verse and chorus change, even imagines the New Young Pony Club channeling the Tom Tom Club.

Backed in this enterprise by a couple of Guillemots and their offspring (band members Greig Stewart on drums and Fyfe Dangerfield on Hammond duties, whilst Grieg’s daughter, Effie, adds a spell of saxophone) plus guitarist Andrew Warne and label honcho and all-round prolific polymath Sebastian Reynolds offering various synthesized parts, the sound palette is widened: as is for that matter Meijer’s vocals, which once more are deceptively subtle in filling the space, fluctuating gently between lulls, lyrical trill and partly Kate Nash narrated ‘whatevs’.

An electric debut of nuanced indie brilliance and melodious songwriting, far outgrowing the Scandi-pop tag, Always Awake is a fantastic eclectic record, and the ideal launch for a new label.



Elizabeth Everts ‘Contraband EP’
25th May 2019



An EP of contrasts, pianist-troubadour Elizabeth Everts fluctuates vocally between balladry pop and crystalline aria, and musically between the cheaper ticking metronome of a Casio preset and the more lofty rich swells of classical instrumentation. Her latest release, a beautifully off-kilter articulated EP called Contraband is a case in point: a mini-requiem of both lo fi and expensive.

Everts, ever the true confessional, lays herself open to various degrees of success over the EP’s controlled tumult of romantic brooding and lament. With Californian roots but living for the past decade or more in Munich, the melodious voiced Evert has a fairly unique sound that ebbs and flows continuously, weaving echoes of Tori Amos, Raf Mantelli and Fiona Apple with touches of lounge-jazz, trip-hop, the classical, and on the closing, almost played straight, attuned weepy ‘Black Is The Colour’ the elegiac folk of Christy Moore.

From the diaphanous rolling aria sowing of the opening ‘Harvest Time’ to the ethereal vibraphone flitting prowl of ‘I Just’ the Contraband EP is an experiment both in vulnerability and musicality: a subtle one at that. Everts is pushed gently to expand her horizons, which can only be a good thing.



Qujaku ‘In Neutral’
(So I Buried Records) 26th July 2019



Invoking an almost operatic daemonic theatre of an album last year (making our choice albums of 2018 features in the process) the Hamamatsu, Japan doom-weavers Qujaku return with a sprawling but intense new two-track EP, ahead of a mini European tour. Reflecting two sides of the psychedelic band’s ritualistic sound, title-track (dare I suggest) shows a more delicate, subtle visage (at least at the start anyway), whilst ‘Gloria’ pursues more of a gnashing and bestial course.

Building slowly towards its goal, ‘In Neutral’ turns a wafting wash of guitar noodling and wooing saxophone into a menacing Gothic-jazz incantation. ‘Gloria’ has more heft, bigger ritual drumming, slaying guitar and dark arts psychedelics – imagine the Acid Mothers on a bad trip.

Communing with ghosts, inhabiting an underworld, Qujaku once again conjure up an ambitious dissonance of doom, stoner, operatic, dark and witchery rock.

Be sure but be quick to pick up one of these EPs, as stocks are limited to only 200 copies.



Chlorine ‘Gallooner’
(Crow Versus Crow) 12th July 2019



Somehow managing to convey a cathartic tumult of anxieties and distress from a (mostly) high-voltage abstract soundscape, Gateshead-based multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Graeme Hopper creates a sort of autobiographical profile on his new LP for Crow Versus Crow.

Under the oxidizing halogen Chlorine moniker, Hopper’s latest set of recordings (limited in physical form to a run of 50 copies on cassette tape, but available as a digital download) traverse a caustic buzz of abrasive music-concrete and sentinel pylon metallic at its most ominous, yet offers a glimmer of light, even the barest of serial notation and tuning-up, at its most serene.

A reification of feelings you could say, the dissonance-frazzled, static and electrical steel-dragon whiplash licks of the daemonic goes scrap metal fairground gallop ‘Song For Silhouette’ could be read as an unsettling concentration of the mind. Craning leviathans and industrial machinery-in-motion meet obfuscated strings to fashion a strange rhapsody of esoteric frayed emotion on ‘My Trying Hands’, Lost And Tired’, whilst a more naturalistic ambience of distant dog barks and bird song offer a short release on ‘Confessions Of A Broken Temperament’.

Post-this and post-that, Gallooner subverts a myriad of genres from the experimental fields of exploration, be it industrial, Techno, ambient or noise, yet remains somehow removed from any of them. There’s even a sporadic breakout of veiled spontaneous free form drumming amongst the polygon-ambient electronics of the album’s track, ‘Perfect Lust’, and hints of either a ghostly fiddle or string instrument on a few others.

A conductor-charged pulse to the membrane; sculpting something that bears a resonance of both depression and alienation from the caustic wall of noise, Hopper has produced a most unlikely empirical soundscape.


Reviews Column: Dominic Valvona




Back after a short hiatus, my eclectic spread of recommendations and reviews features, as ever, a bumper edition of recent releases. There’s a suitably seasonal solo album from a Beach Boys imbued Mike Gale that wallows in the scorching rays, called Summer Deluxe; some live action from the Ottoman/Edwardian imbued period fusion of Arab and English music hall Brickwork Lizards, who’s new EP features a quartet of live recorded tracks from the St. Giles sessions; there’s a trippy psych peregrination hard sell from the Submarine Broadcasting Company in the form of a GOATS (not that one, this is another group entirely) cassette tape called Far Out; the latest beautifully, if despondently, articulated songbook from Oliver Cherer, I Feel Nothing Most Days; the musical suite in all its glory from Bethany Stenning’s multimedia conceptual art film The Human Project, released via the artist’s Stanlaey alter-ego. I review the fruits of a congruous union between Glitterbeat Records instrumental imprint tak:til and the ‘21st century guitar’ American label VDSQ Records, a new nocturnal hour suite from Chris Brokaw called End Of The Night; and there’s new album from the Benelux specialists Jezus Factory, the cathartic Wilderwolves rocker Inhale, Increase The Dose.

I also take a look at the latest album from the elasticated electro-pop and neo-Kraut Cologne-based Von Spar and friends, Under Pressure, plus singles from two afflatus acts, the Indian-imbued Society Of The Silver Cross (‘Kali Om’ and ‘The Mighty Factory of Death’) and Book Of Enoch, Judaic inspired John Johanna (‘Children Of Zion’).



 

Mike Gale ‘Summer Deluxe’

May 2019

Once more escaping the short days and dreary dampness of an English winter, the Hampshire-based polymath Mike Gale (notable for his work with the Americana imbued Co-Pilgrim) suns himself again in the dappled rays of lilted surf pop on his new solo album, Summer Deluxe.

Liberally splashing about in the efflux surf of The Beach Boys the much-prolific Gale (this is his fifth album alone in just five years) hides a certain sorrow, longing and yearn under the most colorful and dreamy of melodious harmonies. Sometimes it’s just the one Beach Boy who springs to mind when listening to this seasonal paean: Dennis Wilson, who flits about with McCartney and The Animal Collective on the breezy but deeply felt ‘Barecaraa’, and a filtered version of Pet Sounds era Brian – via Sparklehorse and the little known She Sells Seashells Expo homage project by the lo fi American artist John Lane. There’s even a hint of Surf’s Up noir Brian Johnston echoing around the tranquil summer abandon of ‘You Have A Way’. But you get the picture: that Beach Boys influence is prominent; something that is impossible to pull-off unless you have the talent, which Gale obviously has and proves here, no matter how unassumingly he does it.

A beautifully articulated songbook throughout, the best is saved until (almost) last with the hymnal-turn-diaphanous upbeat chorus of bubbly-synth and wafting saxophone anthem ‘Every Cloud Has A Cloud’. A comfort blanket wrapped around the repeating plaint of “You feel like nothing’s really working out”, this final vocal track sounds like the weight of the shoreline is burdening a wistful Gale as he plunges into the ocean depths to escape.

Dazed and hazy, a hushed mirage of summer, the leaf-turning breeze of autumn is never far away, its arrival denoting all the connotations and metaphors you’d expect, that fleeting optimism of the summer masks and makes all our woes seem far less burdening. Summer Deluxe is swimmingly brilliant in its indie slacker charm; a scion indeed of the Beach Boys spirit.










 

Von Spar ‘Under Pressure’

(Bureau B) 10th May 2019

Finding it all a bit much, in a society the Von Spar have coined as “surveillance capitalism”, the Cologne-based “modular system” (their description not mine) convey delusion and anxiety on their first LP in five years, Under Pressure.

Far from dour, defiant and angry the Von Spar and guests lift the miasma and mood with a most classy soulful electro-pop and neo-Kraut dance album; a sophisticated affair that even opens with a two-part dream sequence, the first part, featuring the float-y hushed coos of the Japanese singer/songwriter Eiko Ishibashi drifting to a House music rewired vision of Tony Allen drumming and bouncing refracted polygons, the second part, brings in the familiar enervated falsetto soul of Canadian polymath Chris A. Cummings with a more gliding Italo House beat; the plaint sentiment of both being “all is well until it is not”. Cummings sweet malaise and wistful tones as principle vocalist can be heard on a quartet of equally chic dance tracks; the Yellow Magic Orchestra synth Orientalism drifty ‘Happiness’, winding spiraled prog-suspense mirage ‘Better Life’, and Duran Duran meets bubbly cosmic synth ray ‘Not To Forget’.

Adding an effortless lifetime of sassy dub and reggae scholarship to the Slits-in-chrome and Grace Jones stalking ‘Boyfriends (Dead Or Alive)’, the grand dame of music writing and post-punk Vivien Goldmine characteristically turns vulnerability into a strength, dismissing a string of exes in the process towards self-realization. Other notable doyens and cult figures include Stereolab’s iconic Kosmische siren Laetitia Sadier, who liltingly adds her signature float-y tones to the motorik electro-pop ‘Extend The Song’, and prolific idiosyncratic lo fi genius R. Stevie Moore, who turns in an anguished Laurie Anderson as A.I. psychiatrist performance (an inquisitive “should I worry”, becomes ever more agitated) on the Jah Wobble goes arpeggiator, feeding the consumer machine, ‘Falsetto Giuseppe’.

On an album that spans and twists so many genres, it is the closing shifting-shards panoramic turn rhythm tumbling instrumental, ‘Mont Ventoux’ that travels the furthest, moving from progressive West Coast psych folk to shades of Popol Vuh, Cluster, Vangelis and video-nastie synth soundtrack: A epic, reflective way to finish.

Under pressure maybe, but it doesn’t show as the Von Spar and friends produce a constantly evolving sophisticated dance album of soulful yearning.







Chris Brokaw ‘End Of The Night’

(tak:til) 24th May 2019

Representing a union between Glitterbeat Records experimental international instrumental imprint tak:til and the equally expletory American VDSQ, two tactile delights from the “21st century guitar’ label’s catalogue have been given a European-wide release for the very first time. Both released at the end of May, Chuck Johnson’s 2017 Balsams album will be available for the first time on CD, whilst the nocturnal inspired Chris Brokaw suite End Of The Night is an entirely new album of attentive and placable musings.

Review wise, I’ve only had time to peruse the latter, a swoozy, atmospheric accompaniment to the Codeine and Come band members various moods, reflections and observation, framed within the pitched idea by VDSQ label boss Steve Lowenthal as the “existential” pondered ideal “last record of the night” – the results of Brokaw and Lowenthal’s late night record listening sessions. Taking up the offer, to record that perfect twilight hour album, Brokaw collected ideas for years until the opportunity arose to finally put thoughts to tape.

Joining him on these various traverses and nuanced concentrations is an ensemble of congruous musicians, some recommended by Lowenthal. Appearing in a myriad of combinations, from duo to trio and quartet, is the “Chet Baker” redolent trumpet-player Greg Kelly (Chet being a big influence on Brokaw), violinist Samara Lubelski (who’s briefly played with, like Brokaw, Thurston Moore), viola player David Michael Curry, cellists Lori Goldston and Jonah Sacks, bass-player Timo Shanko and on drums, Luther Gray.

Channeling many of the artists he’s worked with, Thurston Moore, Evan Dando and Stephen O’Malley, as he deftly picks out descriptive notes and builds up a swell of resonance, Brokaw both dreamily and moodily drifts through gestures of jazz, post-rock, grunge, tremolo-echo-y country and on the reverb-heavy vapour drift, ‘Blue Out’, a cosmic kind of blues music. Suspense, even mystery and narrative are handled with descriptive poise, with the guitar-playing evoking traces of Jeff Buckley, Jonny Greenwood and on the hushed brushed drums, dipping motion ‘His Walking’, the results of melding Chris Isaak with J Mascis.

Meditative and lingering for the most part, End Of The Night counters somnolent reflection with cerebral ponder to create the desired nocturnal atmosphere; at least a great record to finish any session on, if not quite the “perfect” one.




Oliver Cherer ‘I Feel Nothing Most Days’

(Second Language Music) 26th April 2019

An artist most lyrically out of time, full of removed observations, set to the most relaxed and wafting of stripped accompaniments, a wistful Oliver Cherer exchanges the part fact/part fiction Victorian Forest of Dean folkloric diorama of The Myth Of Violet Meek for the vague resonating traces of the 1980s on his recent despondent entitled I Feel Nothing Most Days album.

The third such impressive songbook from the prolific Hastings-based earnest troubadour to be released under his own name (previous alter-egos have included DollBoy, Gilroy Mere, Rhododendron, The Assistant) in as few years, this often dreamy affair, originally conceived decades ago – a very young Cherer putting his burgeoning ideas on to a Yamaha 4-track cassette recorder in 1983 -, is imbued by the lingering articulated drip-fed and amorphous cycles of The Durutti Column, but also a wealth of similar ethereal artists, borders on shoegaze from the late 80s epoch of 4AD.

Attuned to the Durutti first time around no doubt, Cherer, by some cosmic-aligned luck, found that he owned Vini Reilly’s Fender guitar (the one used on Morrissey’s first solo LP, Viva Hate as well). Put to good use then, as Cherer reprises his early 80s (what was left of them; when salvaged from the attic and played on a modern cassette-player that two of the original quartet of tracks came out at half-speed, the remainder, in reverse) recordings, the mood of this album is gauzy memory; music pulled from another time, an ether even – some of this down to the harmonies, choral and often atmosphere-setting guest vocals of an apparition cooing Claudia Barton and Riz Maslen.

Despite the drifting, mirror-y visage of washed troubadour, Talk Talk, C86, shoegaze and even Yacht-rock, a barely concealed rage at the divisionist-driven tensions that have sown so much caustic discord in recent years; throwing a proverbial, sacrificial “baby” out with the bath water to the wolves on the veiled Robert Wyatt-esque ‘Weight Of The Water’, in what could be a denouncement on Brexit, and the sophisticated rock with hints of The Pale Fountains ‘Sinners Of The World’ is no less gently scathing.

Elsewhere Cherer moons on the wistfully enchanted French fantasy, ‘Seberg’, a lamentable swaddled delight r-imagination of a scene, played out to a reference heavy lyricism about the aloof, Gauloise smoke cool New Wave cinema icon Jean Seberg (Cherer playing an unlikely role of Jean-Paul Belmondo), and pens a magically sad, Laurel Canyon, swoon to dementia, fading memory and age on ‘An Unfamiliar Kitchen’.

Beautifully articulated throughout, the shifting memories of time assembling just long enough to provide a vaporous soundtrack, I Feel Nothing Most Days is despite the malaise, anguish and sense of injustice a lovely, soulful songbook; another essential Oliver Cherer release.







Stanlaey ‘The Human Project’

(Stanlaey Art) May 2019

Two years after the premiere of Bethany Stenning’s ambitious multi-media The Human Project, the full-on immersive audio soundtrack from that film arrives in the form of a debut album; the first under Stenning’s amalgamated pseudonym of Stanlaey through her own imprint label. Featuring a cast of over seventy artists, actors/actresses, videographers and of course musicians, Stenning’s plaudit-attracting opus is heavy on the themes of both duality and juxtaposition; the myriad of twists and turns as the polymath artist studies our chaotic modern relationship with nature, symbolized visually and musically over a number of concept-driven performances.

Creating an alternative pastoral fairytale world, Stenning brings us a highly experimental beguiling soundscape that is often as bewildering as it is diaphanous and melodious. Untethered throughout, weaving amorphously between Earth Mother folk, jazz, R&B, Tricky-like trip-hop and the avant-garde The Human Project is in a constant state of movement as it attempts to articulate and phrase the seven elements that underpin it. Stenning’s distinct voice is itself difficult to pin down, fluctuating, soaring, meandering as it does in giddy childlike innocent wonder one minute, a ghost the next: Joanna Newsom, Bjork and Janelle Monae wrapped into one woodland sprite.

A quartet of conceptual video tracks from the album have already been drip-fed in the run-up to its release as an audio only experience – which works equally without its visual moiety as a whole new immersive experience -; the earthy winding Ghostpoet-esque ‘The Mountain Collector’, the bowl-pouring nod to antiquity’s poetic titan and striving yearn to escape an “Iron Age of destruction” for one of gold, ‘Ode To Ovid’, the breathy ethereal with Tibetan wind chimes metaphorical encapsulation of fluidity (elegantly portrayed by the harmonious display of acro-yoga in the video) ‘Properties Of Ice’, and the gauzy anguished forest spirit turns wild and intense lament to a brought-to-life mannequin wanting to escape their constraints, ‘Wooden Womb’, have already been doing the rounds.

This leaves the silvery moon pool serenade love song between a werewolf and ‘The Moon’, the Lamplighter meets Erased Tapes, dub-y ponderous flood of consciousness ‘Eldor’ (which features the rapping of Pedro DG Correia), and sonic splashed, undulated interpretation of water (its healing properties as much as a backdrop to Stenning’s emotions) ‘Aquarium’. There’s also, as a sort of extra unveiling, the angelic wafting through a void spell of ‘Orbs’, which originally was used to play out the end credits of The Human Project film.

Neither art, performance nor purely a soundtrack, this album is captivating and distinct, working on all levels: sound and music so often fails when brought into the conceptual field of creative arts, but Stenning has pulled it off wonderfully.







 

Brickwork Lizards ‘Live At St. Giles’

(Vyvyfyr Records) 17th May 2019

Plucked from the era of top hat and tails tea dances and the more rouge-ish double entendre romantically swooned crooning gin joints, the Ink Spots via Sublime Porte imbued Brickwork Lizards seem to have been lifted from an old His Master’s Voice label shellac record. A meeting of musical mind, the Oxford based troupe merge co-founder Tom O’Hawk’s penchant for clipped vocal harmony and the swing of the roaring 20s and early 30s with his musical foil Tarik Beshir’s romanticized and longing sounds of Turkey and the Orient to create a unique fusion.

Enjoying the spotlight that shines on this Arabic jazz ensemble, off the back of two albums (the second of which, 2018’s Haneen, was given the thumb’s up by myself on this blog) and joint-jumping live performances, the group’s vocalist, oud player and instigator Beshir was invited to work as a musical consultant on the new Disney Aladdin reboot; members of the Lizards even formed part of the Sultan’s palace house band.

It is the live performance quality of the band that is celebrated for posterity on their latest release, a four-track EP recorded in front of an audience at the Oxford Jazz at St. Giles showcase. All new, even if they sound nostalgic, the St. Giles quartet of vocal and instrumental maladies, swoons and bounding dances features both original-penned compositions and re-imaginings of Ottoman bohemia, and an even older Arabic love poem They begin with one of these homage transformations, the Anatolian Tango suspense turn Balkan-rush treatment of the legendary Ottoman composer Tanburi Cemil Bey’s turn-of-the-20th century sweep of the bay ‘Nikriz Longa’ instrumental. On the final performance, Beshir yearningly improvises with an Arabic love paean to a weepy and complicated, but effortlessly played, 10/8 beat accompaniment on the Mowashah tradition inspired ‘Sama’I Waltz’.

With one foot in the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band camp, the Lizards pay respect to the racy sincerity of the doo-wop harmony group the Ink Spots on the jazzy crooned ‘I Want To Spend The Night With You’. And on their ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’ evoking serenaded idyllic punt down the river ‘Roses’, you can easily imagine the Lizards lounging on the Sultan’s palace rug, wistfully sighing sweet nothings to their muse.

With certain élan and flair, not forgetting a real commitment to their form, the Brickwork Lizards refine and reinterpret their nostalgic inspirations to produce a re-electrified fusion that transcends both its Ottoman and quaint Edwardian music hall legacies. Going by these St. Giles recordings they prove a great band to catch live in the flesh.




 

GOATS ‘Far Out’

(Submarine Broadcasting Co.) 16th May 2019

As if there weren’t enough Goat orientated bands already to contend with, here’s another. This collective rabble (not to be confused with that equally tripping, but African-imbued, lot from Sweden) of moonlight acid and experimental pseudo daemonic cult mind-bending is led by the brilliantly-named maverick Alan Morse Davis, with Jorge Mario Zuleta, Dec Owen and a list of pseudonyms to back him up.

Astral planning the nonsensical, channeling a wealth of acid-rock, hippie folk, Kosmische, Krautrock and avant-garde inspirations, these Holy Mountain(side) goats chew on the most lethal of intoxicating hallucinatory strength grass. Following up on their previous self-titled LP – which I’m told did some impressive sales – the GOATS latest wheeze, appropriately entitled Far Out, is one continuous forty-minute exploratory track of spliced sections, released on that most revived and limited of formats, the cassette tape.

Setting off through a reversal-heavy drug-y drone daze our navigators on this trip meander through an ever-changing soundscape of Incredible String Band commune ditsy childish folk, indigestion-hampered throat singing, early period Amon Duul II Gothic chorus of angels and Germanic myth, caustic confusion noodling, Spacemen 3 go baggy go Velvets psych-garage lo fi, and harmonium bellowed Indian fantasy mirage. That’s without mentioning the vortex sucking sample of The Creation’s ‘How Does It Feel To Feel’, the doodling melting evocations of the Acid Mothers Temple and the blown-out wafts of Kraut-jazz trumpet that get thrown in to what is a most experimental soundtrack; equally in search of hippie nirvana and free love aboard the Hawkwind mothership as amorphous fuckery.

Far Out is an often-ridiculous collage built around a few more thrashed-out, almost conventional, song ideas and meanderings. As ‘head music’ goes the GOATS have sown together a mind-melting rich peregrination of sketches, passing fancies, the afflatus and out-right weird to create their very own disturbed vision; a release that is more ennui, hard come-down Gong communing with Popol Vuh than Faust Tapes.







Wilderwolves ‘Inhale, Increase The Dose’

(Jezus Factory) 29th May 2019

From the Benelux alternative and experimental rock specialists Jezus Factory, and featuring a heavy-guitar rotation of guests and collaborators from the Angels Die Hard, Broken Circle Breakdown and Eriksson/Delcroix triangle of bands from that region, arrives the second LP of sincere anxiety and travail from the Wilderwolves. A vehicle for the songwriting of Alain Rylant, who also sings and plays guitar, the Wilderwolves lean towards introspective rage on the finely produced Inhale, Increase The Dose; though there’s a certain ambiguity in the lyrics, waiting to be decoded, and a lot of violence (metaphorical or not) meted-out and suffered in a number of moody love tussles.

Pitched then as an album about love, though with a side caveat that “it’s about everything” and “it’s about nothing”, all seen and experienced through the self-medicated haze of lethargy; Rylant attempts to rattle the listener (and himself) from a resigned stupor.

Full of the wrangling, sinewy, angulated and sometimes caustic guitar shapes we’ve come to expect from the label’s roster, the various cast of musicians on this album work their way through grunge, stoner, post-rock, Britpop and Americana. On the desperate sinking ‘Smoked’ and bloodied sinister ‘Tooth And Claw’ they brush-up against Placebo at their more refined, and on the post relationship fall-out of ‘Your Scars’ it’s a combination of Alice In Chains and Grant Lee Buffalo. The more relaxed, ambling ‘Underwater’ however, reminds me of an Arcade Fire song I’ve long since forgotten the title of.

A personal, candid offering that taps into the current need to share the sort of woes, stresses and anxieties usually left on the psychiatrist’s couch, in hope that it will somehow help, Inhale, Increase The Dose is a great cathartic indulgence that rocks.







Singles

John Johanna ‘Children Of Zion’

(Faith & Industry) Out Now

Ahead of a new biblical-inspired album in July, the first holy revelation from John Johanna’s upcoming Judaic apocalyptic Seven Metal Mountains opus is the lilting, cymbal resonating heavy, but deep, ‘Children Of Zion’.

Slightly lighter of touch, though just as steeped in religious liturgy, the latest single from the Norfolk artist once more traverses the Holy Land with a call-to-service melt of desert-blues, post-rock and psychedelic folk. Conceptually built around the ancient apocalyptic work laid down in the Book Of Enoch (the protagonist of that cannon being Noah’s grandfather, who’s visits to heavenly realms and augurs of doom are presented through visions, dreams and revelations), Johanna’s Seven Metal Mountains symbolize “the world empires that have successfully oppressed and controlled mankind”.

‘Children Of Zion’ has Johanna adopting a faux-reggae Arabian gait to deliver a message of worshipful defiance; throwing the moneylenders out of the temple, bringing down the towers of Babylon so to speak: “No politician gonna heal me/Only love and self control.” A return to Zion it is, the most venerated of sites; a return to the garden, Johanna has found his calling once more.

For those wowed and won-over (I previously included Johanna’s previous Afro-blues, gospel and rustic Americana rich mini LP, I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes in last year’s ‘choice albums’ features), prepare yourself for another divine communion.







Society Of The Silver Cross ‘Kali Om’ and ‘Mighty Factory Of Death’

Both out now

Nothing less than a clarion call for an “awakening to the universality of all people and things”, the second single of enlightened cosmic pathos from the matrimonial Seattle band once more merges a spiritual penchant for India with grunge and the Gothic. The afflatus Joe Reinke and Karyn Gold-Reinke couple behind the dramatic sounding Society Of The Silver Cross have shifted their musical tastes and inspirations in recent years after travelling; taking a hiatus to the Indian subcontinent after the break-up of Joe’s Alien Crime Syndicate. Fully imbued, bringing not only the message but also the stirring sounds of holy innovation with them back to Seattle, the couple have embraced the use of the Indian autoharp (known as the “shahi baaja”), bellowed harmonium and a droning inducing bowed instrument called the “dilruba”.

Far more Gothic, darker even, than anything you’d hear in the divine rituals of those Indian inspirations, this conversion is often full of daemonic stirrings and gauze-y mists of shoegaze and grunge. ‘Kali Om’ being the second such mix of these influences is a song that once more features an effective if succinct message and musical leitmotif in it’s opening chimes that signals a continuation of their debut single, ‘When You’re Gone’. ‘Kali”, the great redeemer, “Om”, the universal sound of consciousness, is a suitably atmospheric evocation; rich with dreamy mantra, spindled and lush tones, hints of Moorish Spain and of course, the ethereal lingering voice of Karyn.

Following in its ebb and flow, the group’s third single offers a more stark, morbid outlook through its ‘The Mighty Factory Of Death’ title, yet is no less lush and ethereal, when it does break from its gong-sounding harrowed majesty and doom. From the pages of The Book Of The Dead, this Egyptology-ringing acceptance of the fates levitation-towards-the-light breaks from its heavy veil to find heavenly relief. Indian veneration communes with Cobain’s Nirvana and The Velvet Underground, the Society Of The Silver Cross magic up an evocative enough message with both their recent singles.

The debut album, 1 Verse, is due out at the end of June.








Words: Dominic Valvona


Album Feature: Dominic Valvona



Ethnic Heritage Ensemble ‘Be Known Ancient/Future/Music’
(Spiritmuse Records) 21st June 2019


I’d readily admit I still find it a daunting task reviewing jazz, in all its different forms. Further along in my education of course, beyond the rudiments, but in no way an aficionado. I’m constantly discovering and exploring pieces in the jazz story. And yet, it seems almost unforgivable that such a doyen of the Chicago scene and alumni of that city’s famous hothouse of talent, the School of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, drummer/percussionist and bandleader Kahil El’Zabar has until now escaped me. Such is his vital contribution to Spiritual and African imbued jazz that he really shouldn’t have.

Renowned most notably for the ensemble he formed after graduating and still plays with, Kahil’s impressive CV also includes various roles playing with such luminaries as the great Pharaoh Sanders, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre and “Light” Henry Huff, and tour spots with titans, Dizzy Gillespie, Archie Shepp, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder and Lester Bowie.

 

Leading a myriad of different lineups of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble since their inception in the early 1970s, Kahil and the current troupe of Corey Wilkes (trumpet), Alex Harding (baritone saxophone) and Ian Maksin (cello) together celebrate a prestigious 45-year career whilst also, and always, looking forward on the latest collection Be Known Ancient/Future/Music.

Spanning live performances, recordings and even a track from the 2015 documentary that forms part of the title of this LP, Dwayne Johnson-Cochran’s exploration Be Known, Kahil’s ensemble once more explore the ever-developing Chicago rhythm that has marked this city out for its unique, often raw, take on R&B, Soul, Dance Music and of course jazz.





Atavistic with a modern pulse, improvising and riffing off repetition, the “ancient” in the title stands for the EHE’s African roots and inspiration; heard through the rustic waterhole evoked bottle pouring and wooden percussion, tribal drum patterns and Egyptology invocations. In theory, it runs throughout Western music, but is felt keenly in the ensemble’s floorless integrations here, which flow and adopt a wealth of genres: a Louisiana feel, be bop skip and dance hall swing on ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’, hints of prime Savoy label jazz, Cab Calloway and Dizzy himself on the homage tumbling drums take on Freddie Hubburd’s ‘Little Sunflower’ standard, and Hugh Masekela in his Hedzoleh Soundz phase, on the Serengeti shuffler ‘Wish I Knew’.

 

Looking back not only to the “ancients”, this album mourns the loss and pays homage to a catalogue of notaries and progenitors, including a host of jazz stars lost in 2018; a trio of which, Randy Weston, Jerry Gonzalez and Cecil Taylor, are given a nod on the opening peregrination ‘N2Deep’, a primitive House music meets gospel and deep serenaded saxophone bounce of a performance that imagines the Modern Jazz Quartet hooking up with a time-travelling Marshall Jefferson.

From Leon Thomas like pronouncements, shamanistic magic, arcane fiddles, elephant heralded honked baritone and spiritual yearnings, all the African bases are confidently covered.

 

The ‘future” that is shared in this album’s title, attached to Afro-Futurist, is represented by both the amorphous blending of sounds, from Swing to Hard Bop to Avant-garde, and in the freeform ease of improvised playing; built around repeating but constantly evolving rhythms and motifs. At times Kahil and his troupe soulfully pine over a stripped acoustic dance beat bordering on gospel-House music and at other times, cleverly merge two different distinct rhythms, one more elliptical the other off-kilter, together simultaneously until final syncopation.

 

Less cosmic than Sun Ra, and less out-of-the-park than the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Kahil and the EHE tread a different path towards enlightenment; spreading the gospel of positive Afrocentric jazz to ever more dizzying and entrancing heights. Spiritual music with a message doesn’t come much better than this, the EHE showing no signs of waning after 45 years in the business. I’m off to hunt down and digest that lengthy cannon now and suggest you do too.





Album Review: Dominic Valvona



Black Flower ‘Future Flora’
(Sdban Ultra) 12th April 2019


The soundtrack to a cross-pollination of the mystical and cosmological, Black Flower’s darkened flora scent of Afro-Futurist and Ethiopian jazz drifts and wafts across an atmospheric, amorphous landscape. Continuing to dream up eclectic instrumental vistas, from the loose vine-creeping and astral probed excavations of the famous Cambodian Khmer Empire-built ‘Ankor Wat’ temple complex to the trilling saxophone, desert trudge meets cornet Savoy Jazz dancehall fantasy encapsulation of the atavistic Northern Ethiopian city of Aksum, the Belgium quintet map out a musical terrain both tribally funky and expletory.

Hitching a ride on the Chariot of the Gods as they traverse legendary and hidden cities, the pyramids and desert trading posts, they absorb sounds and rhythms from all over the globe; including the bowed and percussive droning blues of the Réunion Island and archipelago derived Maloya – banned for years by the French authorities that ruled this dependency – and various Balkan traditions. And so as the emerging light of a nuzzled suffused saxophone and snake charmer flute accompanied dawn evokes an Egyptian setting at first, on the title-track odyssey, by the end of this trip the quintet have limbered and swanned through Mulatu Astatke dappled organ led Ethio-jazz, Afro-psych and ritualistic funk. The tooting horns and bouncing, spotting ‘Clap Hands’ sways between Lagos and New York, whilst the retro-fitted cosmic ‘Early Days Of Space Travel Part 2’ takes-off on a flight of psychedelic dub fantasy from an imagined West African outpost of NASA.

Though framed as a metaphor for the importance of “feeding and watering powerful and revolutionary ideas and initiatives that can save the world”, Black Flower express themselves with a controlled vigor and magical rhapsody: exotic, experimental but deeply thoughtful.

Future Flora invokes escapism yet chimes with the need to articulate the uncertainties and anguish of our present times by creating a rich tapestry of universal unity; channeling the sounds, heritage and history of cultures seldom celebrated in the West. Magical, mystical, diverse, Black Flower take jazz into some interesting directions; the roots of which, incubated in the Ethiopian hothouse, look set to break through the brutal concrete miasma to blossom in the light.





Playlist: Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver




I’ll be brief – less chat, more music please – as you want the goods, but the Quarterly Revue is our chance to pick out choice tracks to represent a three month period in the Monolith Cocktail’s output. New releases and the best of reissues plucked from the team – me, Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Andrew C. Kidd and Gianluigi Marsibilio – rub shoulders in the most eclectic of playlists. The full track list is awesome, global and diverse and can be found below.



Tracklist in full: 

Abdesselem Damoussi & Nour Eddine ‘Sabaato Rijal’
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba (Ft. Abdoulaye Diabate) ‘Fanga’
Foals ‘Cafe D’Athens’
Kel Assouf ‘Tenere’
Deep Cut ‘Sharp Tongues’
Royal Trux ‘Suburban Junky Lady’
Ifriqiyya Electrique ‘Mashee Kooka’
39 Clocks ‘Psycho Beat’
The Proper Ornaments ‘Crepuscular Child’
Swazi Gold ‘Free Nelly’
Eerie Wanda ‘Magnetic Woman’
Julia Meijer ‘Fall Into Place’
Mozes And The Firstborn (Ft. PANGEA) ‘Dadcore’
Lite Storm ‘People (Let It Go Now)’
Downstroke & Gee Bag ‘Ooh My My My’
Errol Dunkley ‘Satisfaction’
Old Paradice/Confucius MC/Morriarchi ‘Sunkissed’
Black Flower ‘Future Flora’
Santiago Cordoba ‘Red’
Dexter Story (Ft. Kibrom Birhane) ‘Bila’
Houssam Gania ‘Moulay Lhacham’
Garrett N. ‘Avant’
Sir Robert Orange Peel ‘I’ve Started So I’ll Finish’
Gunter Schickert ‘Wohin’
Defari & Evidence ‘Ackknowledgement’
Eddie Russ ‘The Lope Song’
Oh No & Madlib ‘Big Whips’
CZARFACE & Ghostface ‘Mongolian Beef’
Greencryptoknight ‘Superman’
Choosey & Exile (Ft. Aloe Blacc) ‘Low Low’
Little Albert ‘Gucci Geng’
The KingDem ‘The Conversation (We Ain’t Done Yet)’
Wiki ‘Cheat Code’
Dear Euphoria ‘Push-Pull’
Tim Linghaus ‘Crossing Bornholmer (Reprise, Pt. II)’
Station 17 (Ft. Harald Grosskopf & Eberhard Kranemann) ‘…And Beyond’
Heyme ‘Noisz’
Clovvder ‘Solipsismo’
Ustad Saami ‘God Is’
Louis Jucker ‘Seagazer’
The Telescopes ‘Don’t Place Your Happiness In The Hands Of Another’
Blue House ‘Margate Jukebox’
Tempertwig ‘Apricot’
3 South & Banana ‘Magdalen Eye’
With Hidden Noise ‘The Other Korea’
Beauty Stab ‘O Eden’
Coldharbourstores ‘Something You Do Not Know’
Katie doherty & The Navigators ‘I’ll Go Out’
Mekons ‘How Many Stars?’
Graham Domain ‘Farewell Song’


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