Dominic Valvona’s new music reviews roundup





Another fine assortment of eclectic album reviews from me this month, with new releases from Papernut Cambridge, Sad Man, Grand Blue Heron, Don Fiorino and Andy Haas, Junkboy, Dr. Chan, Minyeshu, Earthling Society and Brace! Brace!

In brief there’s the saga of belonging epic new LP from the Ethiopian songstress Minyeshu, Daa Dee, a second volume of Mellotron-inspired library music from Papernut Cambridge, the latest Benelux skulking Gothic rock album from Grand Blue Heron, another maverick electronic album of challenging experimentation from Andrew Spackman, under his most recent incarnation as the Sad Man, a primal avant-garde jazz cry from the heart of Trump’s America from Don Fiorino and Andy Haas, the rage and maelstrom transduced through their latest improvised project together, American Nocturne; and a bucolic taster, and Music Mind compilation fundraiser track, from the upcoming new LP from the beachcomber psychedelic folk duo Junkboy.

I’ve also lined up the final album from the Krautrock, psychedelic space rocking Earthling Society, who sign off with an imaginary soundtrack to the cult Shaw Brothers Studio schlockier The Boxer’s Omen, plus two most brilliant albums from the French music scene, the first a shambling skater slacker punk meets garage petulant teenage angst treat from Dr. Chan, The Squier, and the second, the debut fuzzy colourful indie-pop album from the Parisian outfit Brace! Brace!


Minyeshu ‘Daa Dee’ (ARC Music) 26th October 2018

From the tentative first steps of childhood to the sagacious reflections of middle age, the sublime Ethiopian songstress Minyeshu Kifle Tedla soothingly, yearningly and diaphanously articulates the intergenerational longings and needs of belonging on her latest epic LP, Daa Dee. The sound of reassurance that Ethiopian parents coo to accompany their child’s baby steps, the title of Minyeshu’s album reflects her own, more uncertain, childhood. The celebrated singer was herself adopted; though far from held back or treated with prejudice, moving to the central hub of Addis Ababa at the age of seventeen, Minyeshu found fame and recognition after joining the distinguished National Theatre.

In a country that has borne the scars of both famine and war, Ethiopia has remained a fractious state. No wonder many of its people have joined a modern era diaspora. Though glimmers of hope remain, and in spite of these geopolitical problems and the fighting, the music and art scenes have continued to blossom. Minyeshu left in 1996, but not before discovering such acolytes as the doyen of the country’s famous Ethio-Jazz scene, Mulatu Astatke, the choreographer Tadesse Worku and singers Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gessesse and Bizunesh Bekele; all of whom she learnt from. First moving to Belgium and then later to the Netherlands, the burgeoning star of the Ethiopian People To People music and dance production has after decades of coming to terms with her departure finally found a home: a self-realization that home wasn’t a geographical location after all but wherever she felt most comfortable and belonged: “Home is me!”

The beautifully stirring ‘Yetal (Where Is It?)’ for example is both a winding saga, with the lifted gravitas of swelling and sharply accented strings, and acceptance of settling into that new European home.

Evoking that sense of belonging and the theme of roots, but also paying a tribute and lament to the sisterhood, Minyeshu conveys with a sauntering but sorrowful jazzy blues vibe the overladen daily trudge of collecting wood on ‘Enchet Lekema’; a hardship borne by the women of many outlier Ethiopian communities. Though it can be read as a much wider metaphor. The blues, in this case, the Ethiopian version of it (perhaps one of its original sources) that you find on ‘Tizita’ (which translates as ‘longing’ or ‘nostalgia’), has never sounded so lilting and divine; Minyeshu’s cantabile, charismatic soul harmonies, trills and near contralto accenting the lamentable themes.

There is celebration and joy too; new found views on life and a revived tribute to her birthplace feature on the opulently French-Arabian romance ‘Hailo Gaja (Let’s Dance)’, and musically meditating, the panoramic dreamy ‘Yachi Elet (That Moment)’ is a blissed and blessed encapsulation of memories and place – the album’s most traversing communion, with its sweet harmonies, bird-like flighty flutes and waning saxophone.

Not only merging geography but musical styles too, the Daa Dee LP effortlessly weaves jazz (both Western and Ethiopian) R&B, pop, dub, the theatrical, and on the cantering to lolloping skippy ‘Anteneh (It Is You?)’, reggae. Piano, strings and brass mix with the Ethiopian wooden washint flute and masenqo bowed lute to create an exotic but familiar pan-global sound. Minyeshu produces a heartwarming, sometimes giddy swirling, testament that is exciting, diverse and above all else, dynamic. Her voice is flawless, channeling our various journeys and travails but always placing a special connection to those Ethiopian roots.





Don Fiorino and Andy Haas ‘American Nocturne’ (Resonantmusic) 16th September 2018

 

Amorphous unsettling augers and outright nightmares permeate the evocations of the American Nocturne visionaries Don Fiorino and Andy Haas on their latest album together. Alluded, as the title suggests, by the nocturne definition ‘a musical composition inspired by the night’, the darkest hour(s) in this case can’t help but build a plaintive warning about the political divisive administration of Trump’s America: Nicola Plana’s sepia adumbrated depiction of Liberty on the album’s cover pretty much reinforces the grimness and casting shadows of fear.

Musically strung-out, feeding off each other’s worries, protestations and confusion, Fiorino and Haas construct a lamentable cry and tumult of anger from their improvised synthesis of multi-layered abstractions.

Providence wise, Haas, who actually sent me this album after seeing my review of a U.S. Girls gig from earlier in the year (he was kind enough to note my brief mention of his Plastic Ono Band meets exile-in-America period Bowie saxophone playing on the tour; Haas being a member of Meg Remy’s touring band after playing on her recent LP, In A Poem Unlimited), once more stirs up a suitably pining, troubled saxophone led atmosphere; cast somewhere between Jon Hassell and Eno’s Possible Musics traverses, serialism jazz and the avant-garde. The Toronto native, originally during the 70s and early 80s a band member of the successful Canadian New wave export Martha And The Muffins, is an experimental journeyman. Having moved to New York for a period in the mid 80s to collaborate with a string of diverse underground artists (John Zorn, Marc Ribot, Thurston Moore and God Is My Co-Pilot) he’s made excursions back across the border; in recent times joining up with the Toronto supergroup, which features a lion’s share of the city’s most interesting artists and of course much of the backing group that now supports Meg Remy’s U.S. Girls, the Cosmic Range (who’s debut LP New Latitudes made our albums of the year feature in 2016). He’s also been working with that collective’s founder, Matt ‘Doc’ Dunn, on a new duo project named KIM (the fruits of which will be released later this year). But not only a collaborator, Haas has also recorded a stack of albums for the Resonantmusic imprint over the years (15 in total), the first of which, from 2005, included his American Nocturne foil, Fiorino. An artist with a penchant for stringed instruments (guitar, glissenter, lap steel, banjo, lotar, mandolin), Fiorino is equally as experimental; the painter musician imbued by blues, rock, psychedelic, country, jazz, Indian and Middle Eastern music has also played in and with a myriad of suitably eclectic musicians and projects (Radio I Ching, Hanuman Sextet, Adventures In Bluesland and Ronnie Wheeler’s Blues).

Recorded live with no overdubs, the adroit duo is brought together in a union of discordant opprobrious and visceral suffrage. Haas’ signature pained hoots,   snozzled snuffles and more suffused saxophone lines drift at their most lamentable and blow hard at their most venerable and despondent over and around the spindly bended, quivery warbled and weird guitar phrases of Fiorino. Setting both esoteric and mysterious atmospheres, Haas is also in charge of the manic, often reversed or inverted, and usually erratic drum machine and bit-crushing warped electronic effects. Any hint of rhythm or a lull in proceedings, and it’s snuffed out by an often primal and distressed breakdown of some kind.

Skulking through some interesting soundscapes and fusions, tracks such as the opening ‘Waning Empire Blues’ conjures up a Southern American States gloom (where the Mason-Dixon line meets the dark ambient interior of New York) via a submerged vision of India. It also sounds, in part, like an imaginary partnership between Hassell and Ry Cooder. ‘Days Of The Jackals’ has a sort of Spanish Texas merges with Byzantium illusion and ‘New Orphans’ transduces the Aphex Twin into a shapeless, spiraling cacophony of pain.

With hints of the industrial, tubular metallic, blues, country, electro and Far East to be found, American Nocturne is essentially a deconstructive jazz album. Further out than most, even for a genre used to such heavy abstract experimentation, this cry from the bleeding heart of Trumpism opposition is as musically traumatic as it is complex and creatively descriptive. Fiorino and Haas envision a harrowing soundtrack fit for the looming miasma of our times.



Papernut Cambridge ‘Mellotron Phase: Volume 2’ (Ravenwood Music/Gare du Nord) 5th October 2018

 

A one-man cottage industry (a impressively prolific one at that) Ian Button’s Eurostar connection inspired label seems to pop up in every other roundup of mine. The unofficial houseband/supergroup and Button pet project Papernut Cambridge, the ranks of which often swell or contract to accommodate an ever-growing label roster of artists, is once again widening its nostalgic pop and psychedelic tastes.

Following on from Button’s debut leap into halcyon cult and kitsch library music, Mellotron Phase: Volume 1 is another suite of similar soft melodic compositions, built around the hazy and dreamy polyphonic loops of the iconic keyboard: An instrument used to radiant, often woozy, affect on countless psych and progressive records. That first volume was a blissful, float-y visage of quasi-David Axelrod psychedelic litany, pop-sike, quaint 60s romances and a mellotron moods version of Claude Denjean cult lounge Moog covers.

This time around the basis for each instrumental vision is the rhythm accompaniments from Mattel’s disc-based Ontigan home-entertainment instrument. These early examples of instrumental loops and musical breaks were set out across the instrument’s keys so that chord sequences and variations can be used to construct an arrangement. Mellowed and toned-down in comparison to the first volume, though still featuring drum breaks, percussion, bass and on the Bacharach-composes-a-screwball-tribute-to-French-Western-pulp-fiction (Paris, Texas to Paris, France) ‘A Cowboy In Montmartre’, an accordion. If the French Wild West grabs you then there’s plenty of other weird and wonderful mélanges to be found on this whimsically romantic, sometimes comically vaudeville, and often-yearning fondly nostalgic album. The swirling cascade of soft focus tremolo vibrations of the stuttered ‘Cha-Cha-Charlie’ sounds like Blue Gene Tyranny catching a flight on George Harrison’s Magical Mystery Tour. The Sputnik space harp pastiche of ‘Cygnus Probe’ is equally as Gerry Anderson as it is Philippe Guerre, and ‘Boss Club’ reimagines Trojan Records transduced through lounge music. Kooky Bavarian Oompah Bands at an acid-tripping Technicolor circus add to the mirage-like mellotron kaleidoscope on ‘Sergeant Major Mushrooms’, Len Deighton’s quintessentially English clandestine spy everyman, as scored by John Barry, cameos on the clavinet spindly and The Kramford Look-esque ‘Parker’s Last Case’, and Amen Corner wear their soft soul shufflers on the Tamala backbeat ‘Soul Brogues’.

A curious love letter to the forgotten (though a host of champions, from individuals to labels, have revalued and showcased their work) composers and mavericks behind some of the best and most odd library music, Mellotron Phase will in time become a cult album itself. As quirky as it is serenading, alternative recalled obscure soundtracks that vaguely recall Jean-Pierre Decerf, Jimmy Harris, Stereolab, Jean-Claude Vannier and even Roy Budd are given a fond awakening by Button and his dusted-off mellotron muse.






Sad Man ‘ROM-COM’ October 2018

 

Haphazardly prolific, Andrew Spackman, under his most recent of alter egos, the Sad Man, has released an album/collection of giddy, erratic, in a state of conceptual agitation electronica every few months since the beginning of 2017. Many of which have featured in one form or another in this column.

The latest and possibly most restive of all his (if you can call it that) albums is the spasmodic computer love transmogrification ROM-COM. An almost seamless record, each track bleeding into, or mind melding with the next, the constantly changing if less ennui jumpy compositions are smoother and mindful this time around. This doesn’t mean it’s any less kooky, leaping from one effect to the next, or, suddenly scrabbling off in different directions following various nodes and interplays, leaving the original source and prompts behind. But I detect a more even, and daresay, sophisticated method to the usual skittish hyperactivity.

Showing that penchant for exploration tracks such as the tribal cosmic synwave ‘Play In The Sky’ fluctuate between the Twilight Zone and tetchy, tentacle slithery techno; whilst the shifting bit-crush cybernetic ‘Hat’ sounds like a transplanted to late 80s Detroit Art Of Noise one minute, the next, like a isotope chilled thriller soundtrack. Reverberating piano rays, staggered against abrasive drumbeats await the listener on the sadly melodic ‘King Of ‘. That is until a drilling drum break barrels in and gets jammed, turning the track into a jarring cylindrical headbanger. ‘Coat’ whip-cracks to a primitive homemade drum machine snare as it, lo fi style, dances along to a three-way of Harmonia, The Normal and Populare Mechanik, and the brilliantly entitled ‘Wasp Meat’ places Kraftwerk in Iain Banks Factory.

Almost uniquely in his own little orbit of maverick bastardize electronic experimentation, Spackman, who builds many of his own bizarre contraptions and instruments, strangulates, pushes and deconstructs techno, the Kosmische, Trip-Hop and various other branches of the genre to build back up a conceptually strange and bewildering new sonic shake-up of the electronic music landscape.



Grand Blue Heron ‘Come Again’ (Jezus Factory) October 19th 2018

 

Grand Blue Heron, or GBH as it were, do some serious grievous harm to the post-punk and alt-rock genres on their latest abrasive heavy-hitter, Come Again. Partial to the Gothic, the Benelux quartet prowl in the miasma; skulking under a repressed gauze and creeping fog of doom as they trudge across a esoteric landscape of STDs, metaphorical crimes of the heart and rejection.

Born out of the embers of the band Hitch, band mates Paul Lamont (who also served time with the experimental Belgium group and Jezus Factory label mates, A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen) and Oliver Wyckhuyse formed GBH in 2015 as a vehicle for songs written by Lamont. Straight out of the blocks on their thrashing debut Hatch, they’ve hewn a signature sound that has proven difficult to pin down.

Both boldly loud with smashing drums and gritty distorted guitars, yet melodic and nuanced, they sound like The Black Angels and Bauhaus working over noir rock on the vortex that is ‘Wwyds’, a grunge-y Belgium version of John Lyndon backed by The Pixies on the controlled maelstrom title-track, and Metallica on the country-twanging, pendulous skull-banger ‘Head’. They also sail close to The Killing Joke, Sisters Of Mercy (especially on the decadent wastrel Gothic ‘The Cult’), Archers Of Loaf and, even, The Foo Fighters. They rollick in fits of rage and despondency, beating into shape all these various inspirations, yet they come out on top with their own sound in the end.

Playing live alongside some pretty decent bands of late (White Denim, Elefant, The Cult Of Dom Keller) the GBH continue to grow with confidence; producing a solid heavy rock and punk album that reinforces the justified, low-level as it might be, hype of the Belgium, and by extension, Flanders scene.






Dr. Chan ‘Squier’ (Stolen Body Records) October 12th 2018

 

Keeping up the petulant garage-punk-skate-slacker discourse of their obstinate debut, the French group with just a little more control and panache once more hang loose and play fast with their spikey influences on the second LP Squier.

Hanging out with a disgruntled shrug in a 1980s visage of L.A. central back lots, skating autumn time drained pools in a nocturnal motel setting, Dr. Chan crow about the transition from adolescence to infantile adulthood. Hardly more than teenagers themselves, the band seem obsessed with their own informative years of slackerdom; despondently ripping into the status of outsiders the lead singer sulkingly declares himself as “Just a young messy loser” on the opening boom bap garage turn space punk spiraling ‘Wicked & Wasted’, and a “Teenage motherfucker” on the funhouse skater-punk meets Thee Headcoats ‘Empty Pockets’.

The pains but also thrills of that time are channeled through a rolling backbeat of Black Lips, Detroit Cobras, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Hunches, Nirvana and new wave influences. The most surprising being glimmers of The Strokes, albeit a distressed version, on the thrashed but polished, even melodic, ‘Girls!’ And, perhaps one of the album’s best tracks (certainly most tuneful), the bedeviled ride on the 666 Metro line ‘The Sinner’, could be an erratic early Arctic Monkeys missive meets Blink 182 outtake.

The Squier is an unpretentious strop, fueled as much by jacking-up besides over spilling dumpsters, zombified states of emptiness and despair as it is by carefree cathartic releases of bird-finger rebellious fun. Reminiscing for an adolescence that isn’t even theirs, Dr. Chan’s directed noise is every bit informed by the pin-ups of golden era 80s Thrasher magazine as by Nuggets, grunge and Jon Savage’s Black Hole: Californian Punk compilation. The fact they’re not even of the generation X fraternity that lived it, or even from L.A. for that matter, means there is an interesting disconnection that offers a rousing, new energetic take. In short: Ain’t a damn thing changed; the growing pains of teenage angst still firing most of the best and most dynamic shambling music.





Brace! Brace! ‘S/T’ (Howlin Banana) 12th October 2018

 

Looking for your next favourite French indie-pop group? Well look no further, the colourful Parisian outfit Brace! Brace! are here. Producing gorgeous hues of softened psychedelia, new wave, Britpop and slacker indie rock, this young but sophisticated band effortlessly melt the woozy and dreamy with more punchier dynamic urgency on their brilliant debut album.

Squirreled away in self-imposed seclusion, recording in the Jura Mountains, the isolation and concentration has proved more than fruitful. Offering a Sebastian Teller fronts Simian like twist on a cornucopia of North American and British influences, Brace! Brace! glorious debut features pastel shades of Blur, Gene, Dinosaur Jnr., Siouxsie And The Banshees (check the “I wrecked your childhood” refrain post-punk throb and phaser effect symmetry guitar of ‘Club Dorothée’ for proof) and the C86 generation. More contemporary wafts of Metronomy, Mew, Jacco Gardner, the Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Deerhunter (especially) permeate the band’s hazy filtered melodies and thoughtful prose too.

At the heart of it all lies the subtly crafted melodies and choruses. Never overworked, the lead-up and bridges gently meet their rendezvous with sweet élan and pace. Vocals are shared and range from the lilted to the wistful and more resigned; the themes of chaste and compromised love lushly and wantonly represented.

This is an album of two halves, the first erring towards quirky new wave, shoegaze-y hearty French pop – arguably featuring some of the band’s best melodies -, the second, a more drowsy echo-y affair. Together it makes for a near-perfect debut album, an introduction to one of the most exciting new fuzzy indie-pop bands of the moment.






Junkboy ‘Old Camera, New Film’Taken from Fretsore Record’s upcoming Music Minds fundraiser compilation; released on the 12th October 2018

 

Quiet of late, or so we thought, the unassuming South Coast brothers Hanscomb have been signing love letters, hazy sonnets and languorous troubadour requests from the allegorical driftwood strewn yesteryear for a number of years now. The Brighton & Hove located siblings have garnered a fair amount of favorable press for their beautifully etched Baroque-pastoral idyllic psychedelic folk and delicately softly spoken harmonies.

To celebrate the release of their previous album, Sovereign Sky, the Monolith Cocktail invited the duo to compile a congruous Youtube playlist. Proper Blue Sky Thinking didn’t disappoint; the brothers’ Laurel Canyon, Freshman harmony scions and softened psychedelic inspirations acting like signposts and reference points for their signature nostalgic sound: The Beach Boys, Thorinshield, Mark Eric, The Lettermen, The Left Bank all more an appearance.

A precursor to, we hope, Junkboy’s next highly agreeable melodious LP, Trains, Trees, Topophilia (no release date has been set yet), the tenderly ruminating new instrumental (and a perfect encapsulation of their gauzy feel) ‘Old Camera, New Film’ offers a small preview of what’s to come. It’s also just one of the generous number of tracks donated to the worthy Music Minds (‘supporting healthy minds’) cause by a highly diverse and intergenerational cast of artists. Featuring such luminaries as Tom Robinson, Glen Tilbrook and Graham Goldman across three discs, the Fretsore Records release coincides with World Mental Health Day on the 12th October.

Sitting comfortably on the second disc with (two past Monolith Cocktail recommendations) My Autumn Empire, Field Harmonics and Yellow Six, Junkboy’s mindful delicate swelling strings with a hazy brassy, more harshly twanged guitar leitmotif beachcomber meditations prove a most perfect fit.






Earthling Society ‘MO – The Demon’ (Riot Season) 28th September 2018

 

Bowing out after fifteen years the Earthling Society’s swansong, MO – The Demon, transduces all the group’s various influences into a madcap Kool-aid bathed imaginary soundtrack. Inspired by the deranged Shaw Brothers film studio’s bad-taste-running-rampart straight-to-video martial arts horror schlock The Boxer’s Omen, the band scores the most appropriate of accompaniments.

The movie’s synopsis (though I’m not sure anyone ever actually wrote this story out; making it up in their head as they went along more likely) involves a revenge plot turn titanic spiritual struggle between the dark arts, as the mobster brother of a Hong Kong kickboxer, paralyzed by a cheating Thai rival, sets out on a path of vengeance only to find himself sidetracked by the enlightened allure of a Buddhist monastery and the quest to save the soul of a deceased monk (who by incarnated fate happens to be our protagonist’s brother from a previous life) killed by black magic. A convoluted plot within a story of vengeance, The Boxer’s Omen is a late night guilty pleasure; mixing as it does, truly terrible special effects with demon-bashing Kung Fu and Kickboxing.

Recorded at Leeds College of Music between November 2017 and February of 2018, MO – The Demon is an esoteric Jodorowsky cosmology of Muay Thai psychedelics, space rock, shoegaze, Krautrock and Far East fantasy. Accenting the mystical and introducing us to the soundtrack’s leitmotif, the opening theme song shimmers and cascades to faint glimmers of Embryo and Gila; and the craning, waning guitar that permeates throughout often resembles Manuel Göttsching later lines for Ash Ra Tempel. By the time we reach the bell-tolled spiritual vortex of the ‘Inauguration Of The Buddha Temple’ we’re in Acid Mothers territory, and the album’s most venerable sky-bound ascendant ‘Spring Snow’ has more than a touch of the Popol Vuh about it: The first section of this two-part vision features Korean vocalist Bomi Seo (courtesy of Tirikiliatops) casting incantation spells over a heavenly ambient paean, as the miasma and ominous haze dissipates to reveal a path to nirvana, before escalating into a laser whizzing Amon Duul II talks to Yogi style jam. The grand finale, ‘Jetavana Grove’, even reimagines George Harrison in a meeting of minds with Spiritualized and the Stone Roses; once more setting out on the Buddhist path of enlightenment.

Sucked into warped battle scenes on the spiritual planes, Hawkwind (circa Warriors On The Edge Of Time) panorama jams and various maelstroms, the Earthling Society capture the hallucinogenic, tripping indulgences of their source material well whilst offering the action and prompts for another set of heavy psych and Krautrock imbued performances. The Boxer’s Omen probably gets a much better soundtrack than it deserves, as the band sign off on a high.





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New music reviews/Words: Dominic Valvona





Welcome to Dominic Valvona’s regular reviews roundup. This latest edition of Tickling Our Fancy includes albums, EPs and singles by the Dur-Dur Band, Spike & Debbie, Angels Die Hard, Cassini Division, Vigüela and Kiddus.

As always an eclectic mix of music from around the globe, the latest edition of my reviews jamboree and recommendations includes two albums released through the Benelux-heavy Jezus Factory label; the first, a prog, alt-rock, math rock and Krautrock environmental charged tropical Island soundtrack from Angels Die Hard, the second, an analogue synth driven oceanography purview of the Bermuda Triangle phenomena (released on cassette tape) by Miguel Sosa, under the guises of his Cassini Division moniker. Analog Africa keep up the good work in digging up and reissuing the most essential music from Africa and beyond with their latest and most dangerously sourced album collection yet: the very rare first two albums from the Somalia new wave-funk-reggae-soul-traditional fusion sensations, the Dur-Dur Band.

ARC Music bring us another meticulously researched and performed traditional songbook of music from Spain; the Vigüela troupe, ‘Ronda’ style, once more breathing life into sones, laments, carols and fandangos from the country’s interior; and Tiny Global Productions bring us a compilation of past musical projects from the Afro-Caribbean meets C86 indie partnership Spike & Debbie; and finally we have the brand new EP from the hallucinogenic languid soulful new Bristolian talent Kiddus, Snake Girls.


Dur-Dur Band ‘Dur Dur Of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 And Previously Unreleased Tracks’ (Analog Africa) 14th September 2018

Bravely (or foolishly) indifferent o the climate of the Somalia flashpoint of Mogadishu, Analog Africa’s head honcho Samy Ben Redjeb travelled to the former trading hub jewel of the African NorthEast coast in 2016 to both dig and soak up the atmosphere and history of the very streets and sounds that once provided the infectious deep funk fusions of the legendary Dur-Dur Band.

A failed state in fluxes since the 1990s, Somali and by extension the faction-fighting battleground of its capital is, to put it mildly, bloody dangerous! Accustomed to risky and contentious political no-go zones Redjeb has form in visiting some of Africa’s most volatile hotspots in his pursuit of tracing the artists and original recordings down. This trip, which had been on the cards for years and had become a personal preoccupation, was I imagine hinging on security issues. But with an armed escort (an ad hoc volunteer at that) in tow at all times, Redjeb eventually arrived to source that elusive band’s impressive discography.

Going further than most to prove it was all worthwhile Redjeb digs up one of the funkiest and cool finds from the African continent yet. Embodying a period in the 1980s when Mogadishu could boast of its cosmopolitan reputation – notably the European chic Via Roma stretch in the Hamar-Weyne district, a colonnade for café culture, cinema and of course music – the hybrid Dur-Dur Band moped up the polygenesis fever of their native city with effortless aplomb. Particular places of interest in this story and geography are the iconic moiety of record shops the Shankarphone and Iftinphone, both run by members of the Dur-Dur Band’s nearest rivals, the Iftin Band, and the Jubba Hotel, where the Dur-Dur enjoyed a fractious residency: Balancing this coveted spot at one-point with a, by popular demand, extended run as the backing band for the play ‘Jascyl Laba Ruux Mid Ha Too Rido (May One Of Us Fall In Love)’ play, at the Mogadishu national theatre.

Making an impact, creating a “wow” from the outset, they enjoyed a short reign as the country’s number one band; releasing a quick-succession of albums, the first two volumes of which alongside two previously unreleased tracks make up this, the first in a series of Dur-Dur Band, re-releases. Though certainly a sensational and popular act the civil unrest that followed in the 90s would all but stifle their potential. They would only come to a greater audience outside Somalia via cassette-copying, Youtube and by happenstance; most notably the Milwaukee-based musicologist John Beadle, who in 2007 uploaded a tape he’d been handed twenty years previously by a Somalia student to his Likembe blog. Featured under the now famous ‘Mystery Somali Funk’ heading, Beadle’s post originally miscredited this convulsing funk gem to their Dur-Dur Band’s chief rivals of the time, the already mentioned Iftin Band – a mistake rectified by the Iftin’s band leader, who suggested it was in fact the fabled Dur-Dur.





So what makes this band and their rare recordings so special? Saved from ‘tape-hiss’ and ‘wobbles’, remastered to sound the best they’ve ever sounded, these curious but above all loose-limbed nuggets successfully merged a myriad of Somalia traditions with a liberal smattering of disco, reggae (via the northern part of the country’s ‘Daantho’ rhythm style; an uncanny surrogate for Jamaica’s number one export), soul and funk. Mirroring a similar fusion thousands of miles away in New York, the Dur-Dur languidly produced an electrified no wave new wave melting pot.

They were fortunate with their insightful founder and keyboard star Isse Dahir who molded a formidable forward-thinking group from a number of other Somali bands, including the rhythm providers, Ujeeri on bass (plucked from the Somali Jazz) and Handel on drums (the Bakaka Band). He also drafted in his siblings, with Abukaron taking on lead guitar and Ahmed enrolled as the band’s permanent sound engineer; a role that partially explains why they became known as one of the country’s ‘best sounding’ groups. The vocals meanwhile, which sway between the spiritually devotional and pop, were split three ways between another former Bakaka Band member, and Daantho style acolyte, Shimaal, the young female singer, whose voice assails the homeland to sound at times almost Indian, Sahra Dawo, and the spaghetti body shaped, nicknamed, Baastow – brought in for his ‘deep knowledge’ of traditional Somali music, in particular the atavistic spirit summoning ‘Saar’, a style perceived as far too dangerous by the manager of the infamous Jubba Hotel for his European guests: “I am not going to risk having Italian tourists possessed by Somali spirits! Stick to disco and reggae.”

Split up across a triple LP and double CD formats the Dur-Dur Band’s first two albums proper, Volumes 1 and 2, and a couple of unreleased tunes feature on this, the first in a promised series of re-issues. Released originally in 1986, the first of these and the band’s debut album, Volume 1, has a rawer unpolished but snazzy sound that saunters, skips and grooves along with aloof coolness to sweltering laidback funk. Opening with wah-wah chops and a fuzzy organ, ‘Ohiyee’ lays down a sophisticated but explosive spiritual dancefloor thriller. This is repeated on the bands first official hit ‘Yabaal’, which turns a traditional song into something approaching the no wave of ESG, mixed with tooting Afrobeat sax and disco swerves. The bendy warbled guitar soloing, snozzled sax fluttering ‘Doon Baa Maraysoo’ sounds like The J.B’s cantering down the Via Roma, or a lost Stax Vaults recording.

Volume 2 by contrast seems a little brighter and tropical; beginning as it does with the dub echoed, Trenchtown pirate radio broadcast ‘Introduction’. Sweeter dreamy saunters meet Muslim belt funk on songs such as ‘Jaceyi Mirahiis’, and on the singles ‘Dab’ and ‘Diinleeya’ you can hear evocations of quasi-reggae: Mogadishu meets Kingston on a spiritual plain!

A highlight in a catalogue of outstanding reissues, the Dur-Dur Band collection is quite unique. And a shining example of African fusions seldom heard outside the borders of its origins. Redjeb’s perseverance has paid off, introducing us to the formidable and exciting Somali polygenesis funk scene of the 80s. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that can compare or compete with this band’s solid sound.




Spike & Debbie  ‘Always Sunshine, Always Rain’  (Tiny Global Productions)  21st September 2018





A convoluted rock family tree, the meandering interwoven historiography behind one of Cardiff’s ultimate underground indie sensations, The Young Marble Giants, draws in the congruous lilted partnership behind this most brilliant new collection from the Tiny Global Productions label.

As a catalyst facilitator for the YMG’s leap from disbandment on the cusp of the 1980s to success and cult status after signing to a burgeoning Rough Trade, Mark ‘Spike’ Williams is perhaps forever immortalized as the ‘guitar pal’ who talked the feted band into recording the two tracks that would turn-around their fortunes: Already a well known figure on the diy Cardiff scene, instigating various projects (Reptile Ranch being just one) and co-founding Z Block Records, he encouraged a dejected YMG into providing a couple of songs for the Is The War Over? compilation; the rest is history as they say.

Forming all manner of collaborations with various YMG band members, Spike has and continues to work with the band’s Alison Statton (originally as the Weekend and currently going under the Bimini moniker), but also formed Bomb And Dagger with more or less the entire Giants lineup in 1983 (an offshoot of another Cardiff obscurity, Splott). From outside the YMG sphere, Bomb And Dagger would feature Debbie ‘Debris’ Pritchard, an artist and disarming vocalist who’d appear alongside Spike under an umbrella of guises including Table Table and The Pepper Trees. From this union a collection is born, Always Sunshine, Always Rain, pretty much a fey summary of the partnerships sighing demeanor and sound collects all manner of recordings from across the full spectrum of their endeavors.

Beautifully sung to a mostly lo fi Afro-Caribbean meets C86 indie backing of scuffling skiffle brushed drums, tropical lilted melodies and post-punk guitar, the sunny disposition of the music is a counterpoint to the political messages that lie at the heart of Debbie’s peaceable protestations and multicultural celebrations. From what is a collection of mostly rare recordings, ‘Strike’ builds a musical union between the under-the-cosh miners of Wales and their kin in South Africa. A post-punk Paul Simon twinning Cardiff indie with Soweto solidarity, ‘Strike’ (a track originally recorded for a miners benefit compilation) is a perfect example of Spike & Debbie’s pleasant shuffling and soulful magic.

Finding a tropical balance between Family Fodder, The Marine Girls and The Raincoats, the duo delivered messages of anxiety, oppression, patriarchal domineering, both physically and mentally (a recurring theme of being suffocated, drained and controlled by a partner in a relationship, permeate) to a most sauntering backing. At times limbering towards Camera Obscura and even the Cocteau Twins, they evoke a fantastical vision of Pauline Black fronting Ludas, though the most odd conjuncture is the elasticated ‘Houses’, which sounds like The Raincoats’ Ana da Silva fronting an Unlimited Edition Can.

For fan and completest alike this collection features the original lo fi quality skitty soul meets ruminating pop ‘Seaport Town’, later revisited by Spike and the Alison Statton, and the ‘Ilkeston’ version of a scratching dawdled guitar and echo-y ‘Assured Energy’, which appeared in a completely different form on the Stuart Moxham (another YMG, but going under The Gist title here) album Holding Pattern.

In chronological order, it is fair to say that most of the compilation has until now remained difficult to acquire or source. Differing in recording quality with slight musical differences between groups of songs, as each project adds or draws in a myriad of inspirations and musicians, this twenty strong collection is full of sunny gentle post-punk gems. The story of Spike & Debbie, their projection across a decade and more, proves an essential and pleasurable missing chapter in the story of the Welsh indie scene.






Angels Die Hard  ‘Sundowner’ (Jezus Factory)  1st September 2018





Keeping to the instrumental group’s psychedelic imaginations the latest concept album from Angels Die Hard is set in the dreamy, if in peril, Monsterism Island meets Les Baxter ethnographic phantasm of a remote Southeast Asian archipelago.

On a sabbatical, retreating to the wilds and ideals of life on the tropical island of Andaman, where, so the faux-legend spill goes, they hoped to find and record the mating call of the Drongo bird, the original trio passed the time playing all the local dives, opium dens and beach clubs. Chancing upon fellow sonic explorer and drummer/percussionist Alain Ryant, who was on a break from playing with Maxon Blewitt & Eriksson-Delcroix, the Angels expanded the ranks to become a quartet after some sort of tribal rites-of-passage style ceremony.

As backpacker anecdotes go this colourful semi-fictional backstory is one of liberal exotica consumption. It does however have a serious note: the ecological impact of a plastics-Moloch consuming society on the brink of a cataclysmic point-of-no-return, as the detritus of a throwaway globalized marketplace leaves no idyllic, isolated paradise untouched. Seeing the plastics efflux wash-up on the coastline of their present haven – a story about the final straw breaking the metaphorical camel’s back was seeing a local ‘sea gipsy’ smoking a bong made out of a Starbucks cup – the Angels were feted to dedicate, at least partially, their third and newest album, Sundowner, to this environmental tragedy. Of course a sizable chunk is also dedicated to those old tropes of emotional complexity (more specifically and blushingly, the ‘complex sensations’ before and after the act of lovemaking); articulated somehow in the group’s instrumental sagas and workouts.

Imbued with a legacy of progressive, alt-rock, psych, exotica and post-punk influences plus Julian Cope’s Krautrock compendium, the Angels transduce and channel a cornucopia of styles once more. Though this album doesn’t truly come alive until it reaches the VHS esoteric Western soundtrack title-track. It’s the first time we hear the arpeggiator neon space dream sequences, mixed with a panoramic Adam’s Castle view of psychedelic math rock: and highly dramatic and highly atmospheric it sounds too. Slower waveforms and smoke-machine effects appear on the lost Sky Records Kosmische meets Moroder cult theme tune meets Air ‘Dancing Algae’. But this album really gets going on the lengthy epic ‘Gutter Glory’, a two-part fantasy that progresses from a holy union of late 70s Eno, Jah Wobble and Andean soaring noodling to a full-on Brainticket sonic assault. Almost its twin in scale, ‘Acid Beach’ reimagines mid-70s Amon Duul II and Battles beachside at Cape Canaveral: the guitars mimicking a space shuttles thrusters and boosters.

Earlier tracks sound like space cowboy peregrinations accompanied by a cosmic reimagined vision of early U2 and Simple Minds, Holy Fuck and a motorik version of dEUS: A lot of ideas bouncing around inside the group’s shared mind-meld. They end on the album’s most serene if plaintive meditation, ‘Dirty Sunset’; a Floydian kind of jazzy blues serenading, with guitar notes falling like tears, the last image saved, the sun going down on a besmirched paradise: a downer bro.

You got to hand it to the Angels for expanding their horizons (literally), though far too many tracks end up going nowhere particularly new or rewarding. Yet when they do get it right they produce some fantastic opuses of amorphous abandon. Beachcombing a radioactive luminous landscape of musical opportunity they produce one of their best albums yet.






Cassini Division ‘Bermudas’ (Jezus Factory)  August 31st 2018





The enigma that is the Bermuda Triangle, a confounding phenomena, a twilight zone of improbability, a loosely demarcated area in the North Atlantic Ocean that has been written about and inspired countless generations. Unexplained disappearance central, a chasm for the ships and aircraft that have either lost momentarily or forever within its dimensions, the Bermuda Triangle (also called the Devil’s Triangle) lies across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. For though hundreds of incidents have been recorded over the centuries, they form an almost insignificant percentage of the overall traffic that made it through this mysterious void unscathed. Many of these disappearances have been exaggerated and misreported, so accounts are spurious. Yet this hasn’t stopped the endless flow of conspiracy theories: extraterrestrial interference being top of the list alongside inter-dimensional fantasies, the paranormal and governmental maleficence.

Jezus Factory stalwart Miguel Sosa, better known for his part in the bands Strumpet, iH8 Camera, Monguito and Parallels, composes a conceptual purview of not only the Triangle but the surrounding geography on his analogue cosmic cassette tape special, Bermudas. Under the solo Cassini Division mantle, beaming an experimental score from his Buenos Aires studio, Sosa seems to be having fun with his 70s/80s rack of switchboard patches and analogue equipment, retuning and configuring the pioneering quirkiness of fellow Argentine Waldo Belloso, the more Kosmische soaring otherworldliness of Tangerine Dream, and on the album’s scarier foreboding and wilder moments (‘Tropical Cyclone’ for one), a union of John Carpenter’s score for The Fog and W. Michael Lewis & Mark Lindsay’s soundtrack for Shogun Assassin.

A barely veiled tribute to the burgeoning age of the Moog and ARP Odyssey this kooky experiment is filled with all the signature burbles, wobbles, modulations/oscillations you’d expect to hear; from the primordial soup miasma to the bubbling apparatus of a mad scientist and 8-bit loading sounds of a Commodore 64 game. Every now and then you hear something really odd, especially when the drum machine is added; tight-delayed paddled snares and toms are rapidly sped-up or strung out and staggered. There’s even, what sounds like, a marimba on the Tangerine Dream transmogrify The Beach Boys ‘Seaweed Theme’.

For the most part articulating looming otherworldly leviathans and ominous confusion, Bermudas extends UFO period Guru Guru with a supernatural oceanography of submarine sonar rebounds and tidal motion sine waves. Arthur C. Clarke’s Cradle meets Chariots Of The Gods; Sosa’s analogue visions channel every facet of the Triangle’s legacy – the alien, supernatural, human and environmental -, his track titles plotting interesting and relevant historical and topographical references to events such as the point (or plateau) from which the Transatlantic cable started to the natural phenomenon of this region’s hazardous weather conditions.

As a break from the catalogue of bands he often plays with and leads, the Cassini Division instrumental psychogeography proves a worthy oddity of analogue synth curiosity.






Vigüela ‘A Tiempo Real – A New Take On Spanish Tradition’ (ARC Music) 24th August 2018


 

As the title of the latest album by the much-acclaimed Spanish troupe Vigüela makes clear, this atavistic imbued group of adroit multi-instrumentalists and singers offer a revitalization, a twist on the traditional paeans, chants, carols and yearning songs of their native homeland: especially their own El Carpiode Tajo village. Traditionally the music that permeates throughout Vigüela’s signature sound was never meant for the stage, but is played informally, almost unrehearsed, throughout the hamlets and villages of Spain’s interior.

Meandering through a timeless landscape finding and learning all manner of old customs, always ready to be taught or re-educated, an introductory anecdote from the group’s Juan Antonio Torres Delgado goes some way encapsulating both Vigüela’s methodology and inspirations. Torres believing he was quite well informed when it came to the courtship dance and folk song style of the Spanish ‘Jota’, was soon humbled by one of its leading lights, the singer Tia Chata, who he’d made a special pilgrimage to see in her home village of Menasalbas (located within the Toledo province, where the lion’s share of the music on this ambitious collection derives). Bringing out his guitar and (bearing in mind Torres is a pretty deft accomplished player) striking up a Jota rhythm, he was abruptly stopped in his flow by his muse: “Dear boy, you don’t know how to play the Jota. Wait until my husband comes home from work, he will show you.” The lady was right, once her husband returned home after work he really did show Torres how to play it. Though to be fair the Jota differs from region to region, each part of the country adopting its own unique version. As a testament to both their commitment and intergenerational interactions, learning and keeping local traditions alive, it proves a good one.

Returning to the source, adopting various customs on the way, they take a particular fancy to the ‘walking and singing in the street’ custom of ‘Ronda’. They reinterpret this unplugged carousing and minstrel like performance style alongside of others, including Christmas carols, ‘Seguidillas’, ‘Sones’ and the ‘Fandango’.

Spread over two discs with a generous running time of a hundred minutes, A Tiempo Real showcases not only the soul and aching heart of Spain but of course also shows off the masterful musicianship and voices of the groups meticulous lineup, which often expands to accommodate even more players: increasing in this case, from a quartet. Pretty much tapping, rubbing, peddling, plucking and strumming every sort of Spanish instrument they could lay their hands on, as well as a hardware store of miscellaneous object that include bottles and kitchen utensils, Vigüela go to work on their songbook collection.

With a more stripped and pared down accompaniment the first CD of this double album features an accompaniment of bottle-washer rattling percussion, huffing blows from an instrument (think a ceramic trombone crossed with a heifer) I can’t identify and the strange ‘Zambomba’ drum (traditionally used for music at Christmas to accompany chants and carols; played by hand with sticks or metal brushes). The impressive duets, call and response and chorus ensemble vocals are prominent above this backing. From rustic bewailing to robust a capella, these voices are all stoic, pained and even critical: Songs such as the theatrical, wry but joyful ‘Eldemonio El Calderero (The Demon Coppersmith)’ are characterized as a ‘Romance story’, yet you will find a satirical criticism within the lyrics, aimed at the Catholic Church. Raw but beautiful, endurance reigns above all else; the dreams and love trysts of a rural population exquisitely bound up in effortless serenades and Cantina porch sways, Vigüela bring us reverberations of Española, the Arabic Spain, and its overseas colonies in Northwestern and Southern America.

Metaphorical lovers depicted as birds (‘El Pájaroya Voló and ‘Arrímate, Pichón, A Mi’), laments brought back from the frontlines of war in 19th century Cuba (‘Allá En La Habana’) and tribunes to love interests (‘Moreno Mío, Cuán To Te Quiero’ and ‘La Niña De Sevilla’) are given a new lease of life by Vigüela. Straddling eras, blowing off the dust, they inject a bit of energy and dynamism back into the songs of their ancestors.

Taking a slightly different route on the second CD, the guitars are finally unleashed; courtship dances and songs of defiance now feature a fuller, sometimes cantering rhythm and flourish. Those signature trills, crescendos and unfurled castanets now accent or punctuate this songbook, giving it a great deal more volume, yet still subtle enough to accommodate and not override the beautiful chorus of voices.

It’s not integral – though this is every bit as academic a recording as it is an entertaining performance – but the linear notes, which are extensive, provide a providence and go some way to explaining exactly what you’re listening to and how Vigüela personalized it: Take ‘Que Si Quieres, Moreno’, a typical melodic variant from Campo de Montiel en La Mancha de Ciudad Real, it differs from some styles and ways of playing the Fandango by featuring the signature accent on the first beat. It helps to know all this of course to fully appreciate the group’s skill and attention to detail.

Already attracting plaudits in Spanish music circles, Vigüela could always do with finding a wider audience for their sincere interpretations and twists on the traditional music of the regions they research and relive. Hopefully this latest album will help; it will certainly enhance their reputation if nothing else. With a foot in both eras, they bridge the divides and generations to encapsulate the provincially isolated spirit of Spain; reaffirming a joy but also preserving songs previously neglected and forgotten.



Kiddus ‘Crazy You (Video/Single)’ & ‘Snake Girls (EP)’  TBA/Sometime in October

If Drake or The Young Fathers had made a record with the Anticon or UNO label it wouldn’t have sounded too dissimilar to the upcoming EP from the teenage Bristolian enigma, Kiddus. Shifting between hallucinogenic states of listless discord, Kiddus’ cathartic visages melt with languid beauty throughout. Dripping R&B amorphously merges with hip-hop and reverberations of The Gazelle Twin, Chino Amobi and the sort of neo-experimental electronic soul that sits well over at Erased Tapes on every track of this impressive release.

Just like The Gazelle Twin before him, Kiddus transmogrifies his own version of a Prince classic, ‘Crazy You’. The lead single from Snake Girls, this transformation of an early Prince classic replaces the original’s tingling percussion, falsetto and oozing sexuality with something far more sauntering, beat-y and loose. It sounds great: an over-layering acid trip of veiled soulful sadness and sophistication.

That quality of lingering sadness and nuanced encrypted inspirations is spread throughout the rest of the EP’s assuage meanderings. ‘Dreaming In 30 Fps’ and ‘Vapid Me’ (as the title suggests) are as vaporously float-y as they are disorientating. Multiple samples linger and echo in and out of focus, mirroring and articulating the various conflictions and anxieties of the young artist; building into a chaotic crescendo on the Radiohead-esque cyclonic drum fitting ‘ARGH’. Indolently beautiful in a dreamy psychosis, the finale ‘theplumeetwhenuronurown’ features fragmented warnings and a quant sample that disarms a message, perhaps, of terminally drifting off into a never-ending sleep.

Snake Girls is essentially a soul record: a deeply soulful one at that. A recontextualized vision of troubadour soul crooning, lost in a confused hyper-digitized virtual reality, Kiddus’ senses blinker, light up and then dissipate to a 21st century soundtrack of pliable experimentation.



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