ALBUM REVIEWS
Dominic Valvona





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

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

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


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


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

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

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





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

 

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





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





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

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





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

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

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



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





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

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

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




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





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

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

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



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





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

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

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

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


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





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

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

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

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




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





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

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

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





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





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

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

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

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

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








The Monolith Cocktail is now on Ko-Fi

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

Playlist: Selected by Dominic Valvona/ Matt Oliver





Priding ourselves on the diverse, pan-global playlists we collate for your aural pleasure and indulgence, the Monolith Cocktail Quarterly Revue series is the eclectic behemoth of them all. With no demarcation of any kind or rules we mix the harrowing and gothic with beckoning polyrhythmic dancefloor screamers, flights of panoramic fantasy with raging protestations, and the most sublime peregrinations with experimental cries from the wilderness.

Everything you find on this playlist has either featured on the site over the last three months or been in our general orbit (the sheer volume of music we get sent means there is inevitably issues of space and time, and so some great tracks just don’t make it; this is our chance to feature those lost tracks).

We’ve also included the previous three playlists. And only leaves me to say on behalf of the Monolith Cocktail, thank you for supporting us during 2018.


Tracks:

Deerhunter  ‘Death in Midsummer’
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets  ‘My Friend’s A Liquid’
Brace! Brace!  ‘Whales’
Slift  ‘Fearless Eye’
Stika Sun  ‘Psychedelic Three’
Jimi Tenor  ‘Walzeth’
Fofoulah ‘Kaddy’
Paula Rae Gibson & Kit Downes  ‘If You Ask Me’
The Alchemist  ‘Mac 10 Wounds (Instrumental)’
François de Roubaix  ‘Amour Sur Les Rails’
Homeboy Sandman & Edan  ‘The Gut’
Thom Yorke  ‘Suspirium’
Open Mike Eagle  ‘Single Ghosts’
Westside Gunn & Benny  ‘B.I.G Luther Freestyle’
Apollo Brown & Joell Ortiz  ‘That Place’
Lyrics Born & Aloe Blacc  ‘Can’t Lose My Joy’
Chuck D  ‘freedBLACK’
Beans with ZVK & Dan Wenniger  ‘The Ugly, The Ugly, And The Ugly’
Unloved  ‘Love’
Marianne Faithfull  ‘They Come At Night’
Ex:Re  ‘I Can’t Keep You’
Masta Ace & Marco Polo ft. Pearl Gates  ‘Still Love Her’
Damu The Fudgemunk  ‘Fire’
MysDiggi  ‘Evil Within’
Bixiga 70  ‘Primeiramente’
The Scorpios  ‘Mashena’
Moulay Ahmed El Hassani  ‘Lklam Lakhar’
The Rebels Of Tijuana  ‘Erotique’
Cappo & Cyrus Malachi  ‘Aqua Lungi’
Annexe The Moon  ‘Full Stop’
Paul Jacobs  ‘Easy (Warm Weather)’
Gloria  ‘Heavy’
Deanna Petcoff  ‘Stress’
David Cronenberg’s Wife  ‘Rules’
Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam  ‘Running From My Ghost’
Insolito UniVerso  ‘Vuelve’
François de Roubaix  ‘Daughters Of Darkness Opening’
Vukovar & Michael Cashmore  ‘Little Gods’
Cousin Silas & The Glove Of Bones  ‘Saturn Incoming Dub’
Qluster  ‘Lindow’
Refree  ‘Tirania’
Society Of The Silver Cross  ‘When You’re Gone’
Steve Gunn  ‘New Moon’
Ben Osborn  ‘Fast Awake’
Panda Bear  ‘Dolphin’
Delicate Steve  ‘O Little Town Of Bethlehem’



Part Three




Part Two




Part One



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