ESSAY/Samuele Conficoni

From our penpals in Italy at the leading online culture magazine Kalporz, a deep read (footnotes and all) on the occasion of Bob Dylan’s 81st birthday. Samuele Conficoni, imbued loosely by the work Derrida and Artaud, looks at the theme of the mask in Dylan’s work.

“Bob Dylan. The Mask and the Songwriter.”

(The title of the essay is loosely inspired by the work Derrida and Artaud: the mask and the philosopher. [1])

To celebrate Bob Dylan‘s 81st birthday, we address an issue that has not been sufficiently studied within the singer-songwriter’s output: the theme of the mask. This long period of crisis and anomalies – two long years of masks in the West that have forced us to experience the other as veiled, and as the mystery increased so did the difficulty of knowing or recognising who was in front of us – has reminded us that we all often wear a mask. The 2016 Nobel Laureate in Literature, in the course of his very long career, has also written and sung about this, a theme that runs through him in art as in life.

1. “I’ve got my Bob Dylan’s mask on”.

“I’ve got my Bob Dylan’s mask on”: this is what Bob Dylan announced on stage at the Philharmonic Hall in Manhattan on 31/10/1964, on a particularly ‘heartfelt’ night for Americans, the night of Halloween, the masquerade festival par excellence. Bob Dylan, then on his fourth album in just over two years, was already at the time considered one of the most relevant songwriters of his generation. He had already released The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963), The Times They Are A-Changin’ and Another Side of Bob Dylan (both released in 1964), following his 1962 debut of the same name, and was on his way to becoming one of the most extraordinary figures of his time. In truth, that mask – assuming it is only one: director Todd Haynes, in his 2007 film I’m Not There, loosely inspired by the life and work of the singer-songwriter, let six different actors, for six different stages of his career, play him – had first been worn a couple of years earlier, when that promising and energetic young man, born in Minnesota, decided, perhaps also to rewrite his recent and so short past, to legally change his name, Robert Allen Zimmermann, to that of Bob Dylan.

1964. A US tour was underway that saw the singer-songwriter perform some of the most famous songs of his career, a few pieces he had written that had not been officially published, and some traditionals, in full consistency with the musical path he had taken. It should never be forgotten, in fact, that the undergrowth within which the singer-songwriter is formed is that of traditional folk music, of the oldest Anglo-American songs and of blues and gospel, which would remain, in addition to the very broad literary, philosophical and cinematographic influences, the blank page from which he gave life to his compositions. One thinks of the fact that in the 1990s Dylan would record two albums of covers and traditionals and in the 1990s no less than three albums, including a triple album, with reinterpretations of songs from the Great American Songbook, and that some traditional songs or songs from the Great American Songbook would be included in his live sets for decades. Having said this, it is clear that the sentence uttered by the singer-songwriter that night, accompanied by his own and the audience’s laughter, must be correlated with the creative universe that the author had just begun to give life to, in which the very genres he draws on as a source of inspiration serve as a mask, which the singer-songwriter uses to enhance and create his identity rather than to veil it. It is a necessity that has always accompanied the author, [2] when even before choosing the name Bob Dylan he was performing under other pseudonyms, such as Blind Boy Grunt or Elston Gunn.

What we are dealing with is an attitude, if not a forma mentis, that invests his production when, as is traditional in Anglo-American folk music, a certain melody is readapted and combined with new lyrics, written for the occasion, or when certain elements of the text are inserted into the new creation. This is how numerous compositions are born, with procedures that distance the outcome from the original source, sometimes even by a great deal, from “Blowin’ in the Wind”, which takes up the traditional “No More Auction Block”, to “I Was Young When I Left Home”, which looks back to “500 Miles”, from “Girl from the North Country” and “Boots of Spanish Leather” which are built around the chord sequence of “Scarborough Fair“, which “Girl from the North Country” also quotes in the lyrics, to “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” which explicitly quotes the ballad “Lord Randall”. This only partially affects his production, but it is a decisive and emblematic point in the author’s creative process. It is clear, therefore, that in Bob Dylan, the concept of wearing a mask, and in particular of wearing Bob Dylan’s mask, is primarily a ploy to shift the focus away from himself with the main purpose of foregrounding his art.

2. Su maschere e trasfigurazioni

In 20th century literature, an author who deals extensively with the theme of the mask is famously Luigi Pirandello. In the Sicilian author’s literary-philosophical system, form cages life: we all wear masks whenever we decide to expose ourselves to the world around us. [3] Appearing and being in this sense are in constant conflict; the mask represents a shattered self that adapts to the contingent situation. Only in very rare moments does life manage to emerge: in those moments the inhibitions and restraints imposed by the social context are removed and instinct prevails. Pirandello often identifies this in the moments of madness and compulsive mania that cross us from time to time, well exemplified by the famous lawyer and law professor who, in the short story The Wheelbarrow, has the fixed habit of making his bitch do the ‘wheelbarrow’ every day, when he is certain that no one sees him. [4] Similarly, a brief moment of authenticity is what Mattia Pascal experiences between the announcement of his (non-)death and the assumption of his new identity, that of Adriano Meis. The comparison with Pirandello, whose system seems to be in opposition to Dylan’s vision, can provide us with an important key to deciphering Robert Allen Zimmermann’s choice to take on a new name (and to adopt, in the course of his long career, many other pseudonyms, which we will discuss in a moment).

The mask placed on Zimmermann’s face since 1962, even before the singer-songwriter began to release official records and obtain engagements for prestigious shows, is a mask that, rather than stopping the flow of ‘life’, to use again a Pirandellian category, and caging it, aims at creating life itself, as if before this stage it were a piece of marble still unworked. It is in an interview a few years ago, which we will examine later, that Dylan argues that life is a journey in which one must create, not find, oneself. As Alessandro Carrera reminds us again, ‘during an interview with CBS [in 2004], Dylan admits that he could never conceive of himself as “Robert Zimmermann”, even before he became Bob Dylan’. [5] The celebrated autobiography Chronicles Volume 1, to date the only published tome of a hypothetical multi-book project, where the singer-songwriter only deals with certain moments of his career, can offer us some examples of self-creation. [6] It is Carrera again who comes to our aid: the scholar, in dealing with Chronicles and what Dylan may or may not have altered or invented in speaking of himself, questions the existence of certain characters or situations, such as that of Ray and Chloe Kiel, a couple of whom we know nothing about but who, according to Dylan himself, would frequently host the singer-songwriter in New York. [7] It is no coincidence that much of the greatness of Chronicles, a literary work of extraordinary value, lies, to quote Carrera again, in ‘what he keeps silent or refuses to say’. [8]

The mask Robert Zimmermann has chosen for himself, Bob Dylan, is the author’s true self. The ‘artefactual memories’ [9] that the singer-songwriter inserts into the work are in perfect harmony with the need to live the story at the moment in which he is writing or singing it and, in some way, partly rewriting it. It is a typical trait of Dylan’s masterful compositional talent, about which the academic and professor of Classical Literature at Harvard Richard F. Thomas has written about in his essays and discussed in an interview published in these pages, [10] a tendency that includes, for instance, again to quote a passage from Chronicles, the attribution to Sophocles of a treatise on the origin of the sexes that the Greek tragedian and politician never wrote and that more than a banal mistake seems to be Dylan’s hope, a ‘might have been’, a ‘would have liked to read it’.

It is impossible, at this point, not to mention, albeit very quickly, the ‘transfiguration’ that Bob Dylan mentions in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2012, on the occasion of the release of the Tempest album, a studio record released by the singer-songwriter in September of that year. [11] Even if transfiguration is not to be understood as a mask, it is still something that veils or completes one’s own nature, rewrites it, transmigrates that of another, makes it something other than it could have been. It is impossible to understand what Dylan really meant in that specific passage, when a certain Bobby Zimmermann of Hell’s Angel who died in 1961 is called into question. Dylan claims that he has transfigured himself into him and adds, addressing the journalist Mikal Gilmore who is pressing him: ‘I’m not like you, am I? I’m not like him, either. I’m not like too many others. I’m only like another person who’s been transfigured. How many people like that or like me do you know?’. Is there something of the ‘poor Bobby Zimmermann’ in Bob Dylan? Or is it a transfiguration that has no impact on who he is? It seems strange, then, that Dylan speaks of this with such transport. Dylan, however, is very reticent and his explanation a little confusing: there is no clear answer. I too, Dylan says, had a near-fatal motorbike accident in 1966. And so, we ask? Dylan advises us and Gilmore to read No Man Knows My History by Mormon Joseph Smith. The ‘mask’ Bob Dylan is telling us about the truths of faith, about eschatology, about being able to ‘fly above [the chaos]’: just like the masks worn by the actors in Greek tragedy, bearers of ultimate truths that the pólis was not to ignore, masks that had replaced face-painting, a feature that would characterise the 1975 Tour, which will be discussed. On the concept of transfiguration Dylan plays hide-and-seek: he veils and unveils without giving us clues, as he has done throughout his career, particularly with those who interview him. If you want to know more about transfiguration, he tells Gilmore and, perhaps, us too, “you’ll have to go and do the work yourself to find out what it’s about.” [12]

3. “Life is about creating yourself”

Some of the characters in Dylan’s musical and literary world also wear masks or are characterised by nicknames that somehow veil the identity behind the nickname. In “Like a Rolling Stone”,[13] for instance, Dylan decides to use some talking names that somehow qualify the characters by giving them a mask. The narrator sees the life of the interlocutor, called, in fact, Miss Lonely, fall into disgrace: Miss Lonely is a young girl who enjoys life and spends and spends her parents’ money until she ends up becoming like the ragged Napoleon (Napoleon in Rags) she once mocked. Both Alessandro Carrera, in reflections conducted in several places, in his non-fiction production on the singer-songwriter and in his translation and annotation of Dylan’s works, and Mario Gerolamo Mossa, author of a monograph with a philological slant on the song in question, [14] have dealt extensively with the song and this is not the appropriate space to take up their reflections. Whether it is the allegory of a girl from Andy Warhol‘s circle with whom Dylan had come into contact, or an alter ego of Dylan himself, or a literary invention that has no contact with the reality surrounding the author, the Miss Lonely ‘mask’ is a parádeigma of all those who, from a situation of success, prosperity and happiness, find themselves slipping into a tunnel of darkness and misfortune through almost no fault of their own. It is not wrong to say, in short, that if today we wanted to refer to a person who has gone through a similar vicissitude, we could undoubtedly call her ‘a Miss Lonely’.  Here Dylan, having put on the mask that made him himself many years ago, can now afford to sing these kinds of stories, which are absolutely unique in the world songwriting scene.

Ten years had passed since the recording and release of that song that changed history when, in 1975, Bob Dylan, having returned to live in the Village only a few years earlier and just a few months after the release of the sublime Blood on the Tracks, began to frequent the Other End, a venue where he performed frequently in the spring and summer of that year, and where Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the late hip Bob Neuwirth, who died a few days ago at the age of 82 and who had been at Dylan’s side like a shadow between 1964 and 1965, Ronee Blakley and the then up-and-coming Patti Smith also took the stage. The singer-songwriter was in New York, where he was composing and recording the songs that would end up on Desire, which was to be released in early 1976. It was during these months that Dylan decided to create the Rolling Thunder Revue project, a bandwagon of artists that brought together Dylan himself, his accompanying band, which he called Guam, and other songwriters and artists who could vary according to the day, among whom were Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, the aforementioned Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Bob Neuwirth and, from time to time, even Allen Ginsberg, who would take turns on stage or, in Baez’s case, accompany Dylan in some of the songs of his two sets. Rolling Thunder I began in late October 1975 and ended in December at Madison Square Garden, where Bob was greeted backstage by Muhammad Ali and Bruce Springsteen. Widely studied by critics, Rolling Thunder has been the subject of in-depth coverage in a Bootleg Series, Vol. 5 (2002), a box set entitled The 1975 Live Recordings (2019) and Martin Scorsese‘s documentary released for Netflix in 2019 itself, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, which deals with the 1975 Tour and its preparations. Rolling Thunder II, on the other hand, took place in the spring of 1976, with different features and arrangements from the first but equally original and breathtaking.

In this period, the theme of the mask, and more generally that of hiding behind another self, is systematically and clearly covered ever since Dylan’s decision to appear on stage, in Rolling Thunder I, with his face painted white, a choice that was often accompanied by the wearing of a mask only during the first song of the set, ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’, which was often sung with the aforementioned Neuwirth. It is a Dylan, that of ’75, who wants to reinvent himself once again. His marriage is in tatters; he has moved back to New York, is explosive and inspired, and has embarked again on extended tours only a year earlier with The Band. Something original and unsettling is what he needs to signal the new artistic phase he is going through. Here, then, in 1975 the mask returns, be it the real one he only wears occasionally in the opening track of his first set or the allegorical one of the face painted white, both covering the Bob Dylan mask he continues to wear. Perhaps it is metatheatre, perhaps it is the Brechtian actor’s estrangement that would become a systematic and increasingly complex and articulated modus operandi from 1988 to the present, in his so-called Never Ending Tour. It is in the interview with Scorsese for his aforementioned 2019 documentary that Dylan utters the phrase, a variation and extension of a gnome attributed to George Bernard Shaw, ‘life isn’t about finding yourself or finding anything: life is about creating yourself’, also mentioned above. This declaration of intent is the perfect manifesto to describe not only the adventure of the two-year Rolling Thunder period but the whole of Dylan’s life, not just his artistic one.

4. Masked and Anonymous

The film Masked and Anonymous, the title of which is already a statement of intent, was released in 2003, directed by Larry Charles and with a screenplay co-written by Charles and Bob Dylan. A first significant element lies in the fact that the two sign the script with fictitious names: Dylan assumes the Russian-speaking name of Sergei Petrov. The masquerade and anonymity intervene, therefore, right from the start, affecting even the most marginal aspect of the credits. In the film, set in a mysterious nation that seems to be located in a dystopian North or Central America and is ruled by a dictator, Bob Dylan plays Jack Fate, the dictator’s son and famous songwriter, who has been in prison for some time. He is released from prison and allowed to give a benefit concert. The plot is in some respects too cerebral, confused and not particularly gripping and the film is cinematically mediocre, but the importance of the work within the singer-songwriter’s ‘artistic context’ should not be underestimated. I use the expression ‘artistic context’ here to reiterate once again that Dylan is a river in flood and can only be (perhaps only partially) understood and understood if one follows, also and above all with a philological slant, every single aspect of his artistic production, in order to try, in this way, to capture his vision of the world and history. Returning to the film, it is appropriate to ask what this story means and what role it plays within Dylan’s musical production, which resonates powerfully throughout the film as Fate performs Bob Dylan songs and some traditionals. Carrera is again the first among Dylan scholars to grasp the centrality of this work, shoddy from a cinematic point of view but lucidly relevant, in the Dylan universe. In an article published online several years ago, [15] Carrera relates the film to Alexandre DumasThe Iron Mask by the father Alexandre Dumas, showing the points of contact between the two narratives, but he takes a decisive step forward when, both in the online article just cited and in a much more recent essay of his own, [16] recalling the scene of the “very painful kiss” [17] between Jack Fate and Angela Bassett, who is his father’s lover but also Jack Fate’s lover, he realises that in Masked and Anonymous a much bigger and more crucial game is being played than a simple remake of The Iron Mask: a new chapter in the relationship between Bob Dylan and the African-American world, characterised by his fascination with black music and his frequentation of black women (he had married one in the 1980s, by whom he had a daughter), and of the complicated, and here impossible even to synthesise, relationship between his Jewish roots and the African-American universe, an issue that emerges in many of the songs he wrote between 1978 and 1986, poetic, hermetic and contradictory pieces that carry within them an obvious inner torment. Only through a new disguise could Dylan return to talk about that intricate and claustrophobic history. “The fundamental gesture behind Dylan’s œuvre is indeed the permanent construction and deconstruction of himself”,[18] writes Cristophe Lebold, and this film proves it once again, if ever there was a need. Despite the premises, Dylan fails to unravel the skein of that complicated story, but, as Carrera points out, “[he did not fail], because he tried, and nothing more than trying could he do”. [19] Finally, it should be remembered, en passant, that the name Jack Fate bears a striking resemblance to that of Jack Frost, another pseudonym behind which Bob Dylan always hides himself, who with this ‘cipher’ signs himself producer of all his studio albums from “Love and Theft” (2001) onwards, including the recent, splendid Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020). Jack Fate and Jack Frost represent yet another mask behind which the artist seeks new shelters.

Bob’s transformations clearly do not end there. Some time before the release of Masked and Anonymous, while playing in Newport on 3 August 2002, thirty-seven years after the famous concert at the Newport Folk Festival in which the singer-songwriter took to the stage accompanied by a band and strumming an electric guitar, Dylan wore a false beard and moustache, a unique feature that does not appear to be accidental, given the circumstances, namely his return to the place of the misdeed, in the same city where he had been booed and challenged by part of his audience decades earlier. In this game of the parts that seems to have no end and in which the Maestro seems to want to play catch-up with us, Shadow Kingdom, the film-concert recorded in May 2021 and released a few months later, in July, is also part of it. On a stage evidently inspired by the sets of Twin Peaks, sets that he would also adopt for the tours of 2021 and 2022, Bob Dylan performs some songs without spectators in front of him and performs others in front of an audience of ‘ghosts’ dressed in full ’40s or ’50s style, smoking, drinking and dancing; his musicians wear masks, an element that brings us back to the present; the audience that appears from time to time, and who seems to come from another era, does not: just as in his songs, the present, the past and the future are a single river, they all flow together, they mingle; the author has no need of ‘concrete’ masks as he always wears the one that makes him and not someone else. As Carrera writes, Dylan ‘does not even need to put on a mask: he has always had it on’. [20]

[1] Various authors, Derrida and Artaud: the mask and the philosopher, Medusa Edizioni, Milan, 2017.

[2] Among the many biographies of Bob Dylan, we recommend Anthony Scaduto’s Bob Dylan, Helter Skelter Publishing, London, 2001 (reprint of 1st edition Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1971) and Robert Shelton’s recently reprinted and expanded Bob Dylan: No Direction Home (Revised Illustrated Edition), Palazzo Editions, Bath, 2021 (1st edition Beech Tree Books, New York, 1986).

[3] Of Luigi Pirandello see in particular the novels Il fu Mattia Pascal, published serially in the Nuova Antologia in 1904 and in a volume in the same year, and Uno, nessuno e centomila, published serially in La Fiera Letteraria in 1925 and in a volume in 1926, the play Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore, staged in a first draft in 1921, and the essay L’umorismo of 1908. It should also be mentioned that Pirandello gives the title of Naked Masks as the overall title of his theatre production.

[4] The short story, written in 1917, is contained in the Novelle per un anno.

[5] Alessandro Carrera, La Voce di Bob Dylan, 3rd revised and expanded edition, Feltrinelli, Milan, 2021 (1st ed. 2001; 2nd ed. 2011), p. 95. The 2004 interview for CBS can be found at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOas0d-fFK8. Last accessed: 22 May 2022.

[6] Bob Dylan, Chronicles Volume 1, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2004. The Italian translation, edited by Alessandro Carrera, was published by Feltrinelli, Milan, in 2005.

[7] Alessandro Carrera, La Voce di Bob Dylan, cit., p. 95 and p. 386.

[8] Alessandro Carrera, La Voce di Bob Dylan, cit., p. 385.

[9] Alessandro Carrera, The Voice of Bob Dylan, cit., p. 392.

[10] Richard F. Thomas, Why Bob Dylan Matters, Dey Street Books, New York, 2017. The interview with Richard F. Thomas published in Kalporz in 2021 can be found at the following link: http://www.kalporz.com/2021/05/bob-dylan-at-80-interview-with-professor-richard-f-thomas-author-of-why-bob-dylan-matters/. Last accessed 22 May 2022.

[11] Bob Dylan Unleashed, in Rolling Stone, interview published on 27 September 2012 and available at the following link: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/bob-dylan-unleashed-189723/. Last accessed: 18 May 2022.

[12] Bob Dylan Unleashed, in Rolling Stone, cit.

[13] The song, whose officially released studio version was recorded on 16/06/1965, opens the album Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia, 1965).

[14] In Alessandro Carrera, La Voce di Bob Dylan, cit., passim, and in Bob Dylan (transl. by Alessandro Carrera), Lyrics 1962-2020, 3 vols., Feltrinelli, Milan, 2021, in the notes at the end of the first volume concerning the aforementioned song; Mario Gerolamo Mossa, Bob Dylan & “Like a Rolling Stone”: Filologia, composizione, performance, Mimesis, Milan, 2021.

[15] Alessandro Carrera, “The Torture of the Iron Mask. On Masked & Anonymous,” available at http://www.maggiesfarm.it/mascheradiferro.htm. Last accessed 22 May 2022.

[16] Alessandro Carrera, “Between the Shulamite and the Queen of Sheba: The Love Poem That Bob Dylan Could Not Write”, in Fabio Fantuzzi, Maria Anita Stefanelli, Alessandro Carrera (ed. by), Bob Dylan and the Arts: Songs, Film, Painting, and Sculpture in Dylan’s Universe, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, Rome, 2021, pp. 83-101.

[17] Alessandro Carrera, “The Torture of the Iron Mask. On Masked & Anonymous,” cit.

[18] Christophe Lebold, “A Face Like a Mask and a Voice that Croaks: An Integrated Poetics of Bob Dylan’s Voice, Personae, and Lyrics,” in Oral Tradition, 22/1, 2007, p. 63.

[19] Alessandro Carrera, “Between the Shulamite and the Queen of Sheba: The Love Poem That Bob Dylan Could Not Write”, cit. p. 101.

[20] Alessandro Carrera, “The Torture of the Iron Mask. On Masked & Anonymous,” cit.

COLLABORATION
WORDS: Monica Mazzoli

Over the last few years the Monolith Cocktail has been sharing a post each month with the leading Italian culture/music site Kalporz. This month Monica Mazzoli scouts out the sounds of the burgeoning artist, Leoni Leoni.

Bongo Joe Records of Geneva is one of those independent record labels (also a record shop) to always keep an eye on. In June 2022 a new release arrives that promises to be interesting and will make Leoni Leoni , musician, singer and producer from Bern better known to a wider audience: on vinyl and CD a collection dedicated to the Swiss underground artist who in recent years, between 2019 and 2021, produced a series of homemade cassettes: SUPER SLOW, EASY SLEEP, Yellow and Why, Drum Problems. The Bongo Joe compilation collects some of the songs already published on these cassettes where Leoni Leoni experiments with the deconstructed pop song form as if it were the memory, the dream of something else.
To discover.

A Special by Matteo Maioli

Over the last few years the Monolith Cocktail has been sharing a post each month with the leading Italian culture/music site Kalporz. This month Matteo Maioli celebrates the late enigmatic Pat Fish, aka The Jazz Butcher.

How many times does it happen that the legacy of a band becomes important after they break up, or if the artist leaves us prematurely? Pat Fish, a London-based singer-songwriter based in Oxford known to all as The Jazz Butcher, passed away on October 5th at the age of 63.

As soon as he graduated, he devoted himself unconditionally to music with Sonic Tonix by releasing a single on Cherry Red, just before coining (in ‘82) the name of the project for which he will always be remembered – since the other aliases The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy and The Jazz Butcher And His Sikkorskis From Hell are already more difficult. In the first records for the Glass label he played with David J and Kevin Haskins of Bauhaus, while Max Eiderhe will remain Pat Fish’s main collaborator until the last days: a four-year period, that of 1983-1986, best covered by the vinyl of ‘Bloody Nonsense’ that I found years ago at a flea market for two coins but which today is a level artistic testimony and harbinger of jewels such as ‘Big Saturday’, ‘The Human Jungle’ and ‘The Devil Is My Friend’: A mix of worker folk, Velvet Underground and soul music.

The ball then passes to Alan McGee, who with Creation released eight The Jazz Butcher albums, up until 1995. Fish becomes a sparring partner here, as the budget is oriented towards other bands (House Of Love, Primal Scream), amazed at the disorganization and the coarseness of an indie without any connection with the American market: therefore tracks like ‘Next Move Sideways’ and the psychedelic ‘Girl Go’, from ‘Cult Of The Basement’ slide without leaving a trace.

The only exploit comes in spite of himself from the acid-house style cover of ‘We Love You’, the Rolling Stones hit in 1967, which would guarantee him participation on Top Of The Pops; to understand the integrity of the artist Pat Fish it is enough to read the exchange of views he had with McGee in this regard: “Pat, You won’t believe it – 400 kids on the floor punching the air to your record!” “Yeah, right.” Yet even looking at Upside Down: The Creation Records Story we note the pride of Fish in having lived that fundamental period for English music, albeit as a gregarious but with personality, loved and respected by all.

For about ten years there was no news of The Jazz Butcher, when in 2012 he returned with Last of the Gentleman Adventurers, proudly self-produced. His work is characterized by a fervent passion for literature and cinema and social commitment, elements that also permeate the last album released by Tapete on February 4, 2022. The Highest Of The Land joins epitaphs such as Blackstar by David Bowie and Rowland S. Howard’s Pop Crimes, similarly recorded in the last days of life and who do everything not to be: we fight against the end, taking talent over the obstacle.

Between poetry and jazz settings, reverence for Bob Dylan and the new-wave, Pat Fish puts together a collection of splendid songs, including sarcasm (“My hair’s all wrong / My time ain’t long / Fishy go to Heaven, get along, get along” on ‘Time’) and urgency (“I said I would break my stupid life in two / For half an hour alone with you” on ‘Never Give Up’) with a cosmopolitan touch for ‘Sea Madness’. The album produced by Lee Russell (formerly with The Moons and Nada Surf) is the ideal starting point to discover this great songwriter, man of the world bringer of peace.

ALBUM PIECE/SAMUELE CONFICONI

In a synergy between our two great houses, each month the Monolith Cocktail shares a post (and vice versa) from our Italian pen pals at Kalporz. This month, a purview of the new Big Thief album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You by Samuele Conficoni.

Big Thief ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’ (4AD)

In the throes of a creative fire that has accompanied them for years and which is embodied notably in that of their leader, Adrianne Lenker, epicenter of the extraordinary harmony that the band has achieved since its excellent sophomore album, Capacity , a whirlwind of talent that has given life to the great UFOF and Two Hands and to the equally exceptional songs / instrumental , the solo album that Lenker released in the autumn of 2020, Big Thief proceeded to new lands by not limiting their range of action in any way and making treasure of the experiences accumulated so far. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, their fifth album in six years, is the one that Lenker and associates, guitarist Buck Meek, bassist Max Oleartchik and drummer James Krivchenia – here for the first time also as a producer – are now and that shortly they may no longer be, ready for yet another unpredictable and authentic leap forward. The twenty songs on the album are yet another precious piece in the unstoppable and crackling growth path of one of the fittest and most inspired bands of recent years.

Elusive and changeable by nature, the American quartet has long been one with its own music. In fact, it is both what its members “hide” inside, a blanket of fog that somehow brings out the artistic act and makes those who produce it almost disappear, and what gives consistency to the very existences of four, because there is no note or sound that is not the result of their amazing understanding, a sort of competitive trance – to use a metaphor borrowed from the world of sport – which sees the Big Thief making the songs they create and perform. This is why it is in the music itself that they show themselves and that they are blurred, without there being any contradiction in this. In this sense Dragon, in its eighty minutes, it is a daring and decidedly won bet in the course of which the Big Thiefs explore dimensions that they had never explored yet, despite having traveled and described so many, and so different from each other, previously.

It is precisely the brotherhood between the four members of the group and their so clear-cut community of ideas and vision of things that makes everything that the Big Thief bring to life together spiritual and earthly. Here the branches of the cosmic and spiritual element of UFOF and the earthly and terrestrial element of Two Hands intertwine for the first time, condensed seamlessly, and if Dragon lacks conciseness and synthesis – lato sensu – which characterised its two illustrious predecessors is only because its strength lies precisely in its splendidly chaotic organisation, perhaps the best oxymoron that could describe the album, a sort of very personal White Album within the artistic path of the group. That “dragon in the new warm mountain” named in the text of the wonderful “anything” present on Lenker’s songs album now becomes the mysterious and pulsating presence around which this exceptional musical path takes shape and grows.

Driven by the need to give vent to a creative fire that for some years seems to really have no limits and by the need to base this on a sense of artistic freedom that is in no case negotiable, the four sew solid folk episodes on and for themselves, country rides, revealing ballads, psychedelic pop, electric rock blasts, smoky trip-hop hangover and amazing electronic hikes with nothing out of place. It is precisely this poikilía that holds the whole project together with a disconcerting clarity, and it is the allusive art that the band puts on its feet, with elegant and subtle quotes to John Prine and even Portishead, to name only two names, that weaves the fil rougevery fragile yet foundational that runs through the work, fundamental in the understanding of this magnum opus , magnum both in depth and in length. It is for this reason that episodes such as “Flower of Blood”, sharp and irrepressible, whose obstinate rhythm and whose wall of sound are almost unique in the production of the group, which goes in an electronic and distorted direction at other times, can sprout. of the record, the pertinacious “Heavy Bend” and the suffocating “Blurred View”. Even more difficult to describe is that hurricane of Proustian and Joycian images that is “Little Things” , sublime almost psychedelic pop rock that arises from an immersive and all-encompassing amalgam of vocals, guitars, bass and drums.

Dragon is obviously an extraordinary open window on Lenker’s songwriting qualities, in fact for several years she has already become one of the most popular composers in the American music scene. His about her sbragís about her and her own conception of writing emerge almost everywhere in the course of the unfolding of Dragon. A constant in Lenker’s writing, for example, is to try to approach something potentially human that perhaps, however, is not human, and to do it as if one were alien to (and alienated from) it. “Simulation Swarm” is the most perfect realisation of this design: the discomfort in perceiving one’s own corporeality or in not being able to harmonize it with that of others makes one instant weak and suddenly invincible in the immediately following instant; you are on the verge of giving in and letting yourself be overcome by the tumultuous chaos of life until a moment later you are ready to fight even with your bare hands to survive and try to make contact with the creature you are approaching. It is a feeling that can be read in some passages of the Memorial by Paolo Volponi or in some poems-fragments by Giuseppe Ungaretti. Lenker always manages to find a point of balance before the fracture becomes irremediable: the magic of his songs lies above all in this.

The themes that the songs touch are many and fundamental. Lenker’s writing, as we know by now, somehow envelops any nuance of the world, of the existing and the non-existent. In “Certainty”, the only song on the record that, in addition to Lenker’s signature, also carries Meek’s, the pure linguistic game and the desire to concretely represent something that cannot be touched by hand interpenetrate: “Maybe I love you is a river so high / Maybe I love you is a river so low ”, Lenker sings, words that in their apparent simplicity betray an allegorical meaning that is impossible to exhaust in a few verses. Thus, we remain clinging to the passing epiphanies that the piece, through its solid gait built around a captivating melody, disseminates like crumbs of bread in a very dense and dark forest. “Sit on the phone, watch TV / Romance, action, mystery”: it is as if, as Lenker lists them, those actions and names suddenly materialise in front of us, and also the things that once seemed to us more natural and banal now they are part of a primeval and sincere cosmos and therefore take on an inestimable value. And also in “Spud Infinity” the horror vacui of the situations that the song paints us in front of our eyes becomes a statement of solid and highly original poetics, a true instruction manual on how to strike in the depths of the soul through irony and fantasy.

Another element that makes Dragon in part different from its predecessors is the strong collaborative aspect that characterises it. In reality, the external musicians involved are not numerous, but it is the band’s sound that is even wider and more multicoloured than the already very deep and composite one of the twin albums released in 2019. Those represented the akmè of two complementary world-views, and the focus rigorous and centered that they pursued is inevitably and rightly avoided here, shunned from the beginning, in the very conception of what has become Dragon. To make the disc’s nuances even more diversified and iridescent is, for example, the rural fiddle that goes wild in the joyful “Spud Infinity”, whose marked irony actually hides deep and disturbing reflections between the lines, as usual, as revealed by the same Lenker in a recent interview with Pitchfork , and in the romantic “Red Moon”, with a bubbly rhythm. There are also dazzling and bewitching purely folk moments during which Lenker is alone with her voice and guitar, as happens in the enchanting “The Only Place”, one of the most breathtaking moments of the record. “The only place that matters / Is by your side”, Lenker sings as a flame consumes her, as if carried away by her own song.

The mischievously messy appearance that Dragon seems to have betrays an extremely careful and precise organisation. The determination of the group is impressive and James Krivchenia’s production is versatile and detailed and is emblematic of the group’s choice to record the album in four different locations, Massachusetts, New York, California and Arizona, which in part follows what had happened. for UFOF and Two Hands , the first, dreamlike and ecstatic, recorded in the Seattle metropolitan area, the second, pungent and direct, recorded between California and Arizona. In Dragon coexist an even greater number of places and people encountered in this musical and geographical journey. To connect the dots is the Lenker’s excellent songwriting is his voice, warm and enveloping, and that kind of spell that seems to kidnap the quartet every time he starts playing, a quartet that, owned by some daimon , is ready once again to amaze us.

RATED:: 80/100

(Samuele Conficoni)

Interview/ Paolo Bardelli
Photo/ Courtesy of Ozge Cone (autorizzate dall’ Ufficio Stampa JA.LA MEDIA ACTIVITIES IG: @ozgecone)

In a synergy between our two great houses, each month the Monolith Cocktail shares a post (and vice versa) from our Italian pen pals at Kalporz. This month, we relay Paolo Bardelli’s interview with Erased Tapes artist and electronic music composer Ryan Lee West, aka Rival Consoles.

The electronica of Rival Consoles, the stage name of London-based Ryan Lee West (on the Erased Tapes label), is striking because it floats in a world that remains suspended between the mental and the physical: yours truly considers him one of the most lucid composers in the world of electronica, and adores his third album “Howl” (2015). His is an evolved electronic artist, moving from IDM to “other” landscapes, such as the cinematic ones in “Persona” (2018). Consistent with this evolution, Rival Consoles has now turned to composing for contemporary dance, as we reported back in October, which was reason enough to interview him (by email).

Paolo Bardelli: I’ve always considered your music, perhaps mistakenly, to be more mental than physical, perhaps because of your predilection for broken tempos rather than linear ones: was the arrival at composing a contemporary dance soundtrack a challenge in this sense, or was it natural because you’ve always considered “dance” a modality that can always be associated with your music?

In the club world I would say my music isn’t “dance music” but in the bigger picture: including contemporary dance, ballet etc. It is a mistake to assume dance has to be repetitive and rhythmic in the way that house/techno is, for example ‘rite of spring’ by Stravinsky is music to dance and that is one of the most wild unhinged pieces of music ever. There are many points on the sonic spectrum to explore, and really anything is possible to experiment with and become relevant to dance.

In the press notes it says that you spent a lot of time with the dance troupe and the production, creating, perfecting and tailoring the music: since this certainly influenced “Overflow”, do you think that having experienced, live, a manifestation of bodily expressiveness associated with music will also influence your composition in the future?

I have worked several times with contemporary dance and it definitely does influence how you shape and change music over time, in a similar way to composing for film – once you set music against image or moving image everything changes and things which didn’t seem interesting now maybe became very interesting and things which seemed powerful perhaps now sound false/overpowering – it is a great refreshing world – where the senses are renewed.

The project was based on the contemporary philosophical work ‘Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power’ by Byung-Chul Han which is, from what I read in the abstracts, a critique of neoliberalism and the regime of technological domination: do you agree with the book’s theses and is there anything that struck you most about his thought?

I agree with huge amounts of the book, the way the social media is exhausting our psychology by creating a never ending, never tiring need to contribute to it. We are constantly being influenced to be active and present online; even exercise, yoga and healthy diets are often just a means to be more productive, to be seen a certain way and to share that constantly online. The internet with its incredible fast-moving speed makes doing nothing seem guilty and illogical but constant self-optimisation is very dangerous for us as we are animals and not machines.

Will that very corporeality we mentioned at the beginning be a greater necessity in a necessarily technological and pandemic future?

I’m not certain what will be necessary in the future, I think right now there is already so much to confront and try to change for the better bit by bit.

Your electronics still seem to me to have a very strong human side: how much do you like the use of analogue instrumentation, I mean synths and the like, as opposed to PC programming?

I find I can get various things from all types of equipment and it’s not that analogue instantly makes more human sounding things; it can very easily sound too perfect and ordered. It’s more about the relationship between the ideas and the sounds, and the taste of the composer. I am interested in having tension always in music, and then I can explore resolve from that tension – and this is of course one of the oldest most used techniques, as used in almost all classical music and indeed techno. With analogue instruments you mainly get a beautiful restriction of what you will actually do and then makes you commit more to something in the moment.

‘Overflow’ premiered in May 2021 in London and is scheduled for a European tour in 2022. You’ve been busy with a series of headlining gigs in the UK this autumn and in North America in the new year: will gigs change forever after this pandemic or do you think it will go back to pre-2020 as far as live shows are concerned?

I am not totally sure, I do think if the pandemic were to reduce and be a minor thing in society, live shows would return as normal, because I think music and witnessing music is far too deep a human desire than something like a pandemic to change. But we do seem to be in a world where we are unsure from month-to-month, not even year to year. I try not to think about it too much because it isn’t something I can control.

The Kalporz Album Awards 2021

December 17, 2021

Monolith Cocktail X Kalporz/Words: Editorial Team

The last piece of synergy between the Monolith Cocktail and our partners at Kalporz in 2021 relays the Italian site’s recent top twenty placed albums of the year feature. Look out for future collaborations in 2022.

We can discuss the musical quality of a year, but there is little to say about the quantity of 2021: all the artists who had perhaps hesitated to release their works in 2020, due to clashes with the novelty of the pandemic that made it evident that it would not have been possible to go on tour, they published what they had to, understanding that – unfortunately – the ‘newnormal’ was not only the motto of the Primavera Sound a few years ago but also the slogan of a new normal made up of fragmented, contingent, postponed live dates , made for the broken cap while escaping the next looming wave. So we found ourselves faced with a gargantuan production, which, is the law of large numbers, for some albums has also materialised into truly beautiful works.

As always since the streaming era has existed there cannot be a single star, but this time there was an award-winning album: the artist who made almost everyone agree was Little Simz , first for Popmatters , Albumism , BBC Radio 6 Music , NBHAP , Exclaim! , Dutch OOR , The Skinny and second for NME . And if according to “social sensations” Black Country should have depopulated , New Road , in reality only first for Loud And Quiet even if present in more than one list in places of honour, a disc not as simple as that of Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra instead “won” for Mojo , Paste Magazine , TIME and The Vinyl Factory , while less generalised choices were those of Pitchfork ( Jazmine Sullivan , shared by Entertainment Weekly and NPR Music ), of Consequence of Sound ( Tyler, the Creator ) and Crack Magazine ( John Glacier ).

All these discs, however (ALERT SPOILER), are also contained in our list, while choices that you will not find here on Kalporz are those of The Quietus The Bug (to which we have dedicated the cover of September), of Uncut with The Weather Station , Far Out Magazine with Dry Cleaning and NME which instead awarded Sam Fender .

And for us at Kalporz? We let you “shake” below, telling you that for the second time in our more than twenty years of life a band wins after having already won the Kalporz Awards in the past: it had already happened for Radiohead, reached this year by a special band.
But we have already talked too much: off to the ranking
s.

20. DAMON ALBARN, “The Nearer The Mountain, More Pure The Stream Flows”

Maybe we should all do like Albarn, especially in these times: go to Iceland and look at the snow and volcanoes from a window in our house. But we are here, and at least we can listen to this second solo album of his that got inspired in that intimate way with nature.

19. FLOATING POINTS, PHAROAH SANDERS & THE LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, “Promises”

The electronic jazz path of Floating Points has been going on for years now, managing to churn out interesting results such as the excellent debut Aelenia in 2015. On this release he manages to collaborate with a music giant like Pharoah Sanders, and without distorting himself they give an LP which will probably continue to play in our systems for some time yet.

18. TIRZAH, “Colourgrade”

Since her debut, this English author has been one of the Kalporz editorial team’s favourite voices. If Devotion had already raised various eyebrows for the maturity and the goodness of the compositions present, then with Colourgrade the artist has surpassed themselves. Applause for Tirzah’s class.

17. SNAIL MAIL, “Valentine”

With Valentine, the sophomore album by Snail Mail, Lindsey Jordan‘s maturation is total: her talent as a composer is evident everywhere, from the lacerating electric shocks of the song that gives the title to the album to the stealthy ‘Ben Franklin’, From the poetic romanticism of ‘Light Blue’ and ‘Mia’ to the liberating rock of ‘Madonna’ and ‘Automate‘. It is a record that talks about broken hearts and does it with determination and anger.

16. GENESIS OWUSU, “Smiling with No Teeth”

The debut album, among the funniest LPs of the year, for the twenty-three-year-old Ghanaian based in Canberra bewildered Kofi Owusu-Ansah (aka Genesis Owusu), Smiling With No Teeth entered without awe into the immortal funk / R & B trend that it took far too long to have a name of his own even in the ineffable Australia of the new century.

15. SUFJAN STEVENS & ANGELO DE AUGUSTINE, “A Beginner’s Mind”

Sufjan‘s delicacy is able to recreate itself in all its crystalline beauty with this Angelo De Augustine collaboration; becoming even lighter : not difficult personal themes but the musical representation of filmic snapshots. A conscious escape.

14. FOR THOSE I LOVE, “For Those I Love”

For Those I Love is the project of the Dubliner David Balfe, who on the debut of the same name deals with themes of love and loss (that of Paul Curran of Burnt Out, his best friend and poet like him, already honoured by Murder Capital) on an electronic and hip-hop basis, with samples of Smokey Robinson, Barbara Mason and Sampha. Deep like Automatic For The People, danceable like Original Pirate Material by The Streets.

13. ALTIN ​​GÜN, “Yol”

At the time of the first album (On from 2018) the formula still had some very slight forcing. Moreover, already with the second album, the surprise effect – although not exhausted – was certainly reduced. But the new album travels surprisingly well. It pushes even further down the road of the Turkish wedding between a gleaming disco lady and a rather rough folkish gentleman. Yol is made up of coherence, emotional tension and the enhancement of a priceless heritage – the Turkish and Mediterranean one – which never seems to end.

12. JAZMINE SULLIVAN, “Heaux Tales”

In a genre like R&B it seems really impossible to come up with something new. But when there is the voice, texts that do not leave indifference and a quality of compositions then it can still be amazing. The Heaux Tales marks the great and surprising return of Jazmine Sullivan. Hit after hit and that’ not hyperbole.

11. JOHN GLACIER, “Shiloh. Lost for Words”

The twenty-six year old London rapper of Jamaican origins but raised in one of the “places to be” of artists and creatives – Hackney – on Shiloh. Lost For Words manages to condense the best sounds of the English underground into foggy tracks: between grime and R&B.

10. TURNSTILE, “GLOW ON”

It almost seems to be back to the crossover epic of the late 80s / early 90s, if it weren’t for the fact that GLOW ON has a contemporary language, the son of a melodic hardcore but which is highlighted in a lightning-fast pop, at the same time devastating and aesthetically flawless.

9. SEGA BODEGA, “Romeo”

With his work for Shygirl, the house producer NUXXE has defined one of the most powerful sounds heard in recent years, while his solo project presented a hybrid of songwriting, constantly evolving and convincing. Romeo, for this very reason, is a decisive step in the career of one of the most talented musicians of these times.

8. TYLER, THE CREATOR, “CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST”

Tyler offers a compendium of sounds and suggestions that differ more than ever, from gangsta-rap to trap, from contemporary R&B to nu-jazz in a sequence of at least ten potential singles that make CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST a mature work cohesive in its innumerable sound angles. Ideas, flows, compositions at the service of an innate talent that never ceases to amaze ten years on.

7. HELADO NEGRO, “Far In”

It was not easy to follow up on the excellent This Is How You Smile, released in 2019, but Far In is a victory. Roberto Carlos Lange packs a record that, taking up the themes and sounds of his predecessor, makes his own creative experience like a collective ritual. Through warm, familiar sounds and prominent collaborations, Lange invites us to look within ourselves to try to understand more of the world around us.

6. THE NOTWIST, “Vertigo Days”

As evidence of its intrinsic strength, Vertigo Days compiles a set of songs that follow one another as a single entity, and the lyrics, like poems on the problems of the world, our daily struggles and the cancellation of distance. Seven years of waiting have not been in vain.

5. L’RAIN, “Fatigue”

There was a time when all the most original and hard to label releases were Made in Brooklyn. We didn’t realize it, but a decade has already passed and thanks to artists like Taja Cheek that golden age seems to us a less remote past: psychedelic pop, soul, jazzy incursions and a very contemporary taste.

4. SHAME, “Drunk Tank Pink”

The second work of the London quintet, produced by James Ford (Arctic Monkeys), photographs youth alienation and depression at the time of the pandemic with greater ardor and angularity than on “Songs Of Praise”: highlights ‘Born In Luton’, punk-funk at the service nightmare, and ‘Snow Day’ with a vocal interpretation of Charlie Steen amidst jarring guitars to take your breath away.

3. BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD, “For The First Time”

Before the album they won the title of “best band in the world” with little more than one song according to the English web-magazine The Quietus. With For The First Time Black Country, New Road prove to be a band that still has a lot to play, but which, for the first time, is capable of giving life to a new sound worthy of its influences. 2021 belongs to them.

2. LITTLE SIMZ, “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert”

It is a variegated and engaging disc, whose long duration allows, to those who do not yet know Little Simz, to fathom with a careful eye the art of the young rapper in almost every aspect: from the sources of inspiration to the virtuosity of the lyrics, from his magnetic voice to engaging and hypnotic rhythms.

1. LOW, “HEY WHAT”

An ambitious and sparkling work: with barely hinted guitar whispers, sudden roars, uncertain rhythms and lunar landscapes Low have always tried to give a shape to the void. An album aware of the fact that what is created can only be fragile, fragmented and limping.

KALPORZ AWARDS HISTORY (ex Musikàl Awards) :
Kalporz Awards 2020 (Yves Tumor)
Kalporz Awards 2019 (Tyler, The Creator)
Kalporz Awards 2018 (Idles)
Kalporz Awards 2017 (Kendrick Lamar)
Kalporz Awards 2016 (David Bowie)
Kalporz Awards 2015 (Sufjan Stevens)
Kalporz Awards 2014 (The War On Drugs)
Kalporz Awards 2013 (Kurt Vile)
Kalporz Awards 2012 (Tame Impala)
Kalporz Awards 2011  (Fleet Foxes)
Kalporz Awards 2010  (Arcade Fire)
Kalporz Awards 2009  (The Flaming Lips)
Kalporz Awards 2008  (Portishead)
Kalporz Awards 2007  (Radiohead)
Kalporz Awards 2006  (The Lemonheads)
Kalporz Awards 2005  (Low)
Kalporz Awards 2004  (Blonde Redhead, Divine Comedy, Franz Ferdinand, Wilco)
Kalporz Awards 2003  (Radiohead)
Kalporz Awards 2002  (Oneida)
Kalporz Awards 2001  ( Ed Harcourt)

You can catch the Monolith Cocktail’s choice albums of 2021 lists here:

Part One (A-K)

Part Two (L-Y)

FROM OUR ITALIAN FRIENDS AT KALPORZ/ Monica Mazzoli

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

This month Monica Mazzoli introduces us to the music of bewitching acid-folk of Smote.

A sound experience: Smote‘s ‘Drommon’, initially released in April of this year only in the box by Base Materialism, is out this month on vinyl through Rocket Recordings in an expanded version: four tracks, instead of two, that sound as terrifying, as apocalyptic as if John Carpenter were producing an acid folk soundtrack to set to music a hypothetical remake of Brunello Rondi’s Il Demonio.

The studio project of Daniel Foggn, Smote is definitely one of the artists’ to watch out for in 2021: drone music, psychedelia and acid folk. On 21 November, they will make their debut live at Brave Exhibitions Festival as a full band (a quartet).

Monica Mazzoli can be found on Twitter.

PREMIERE SPECIAL/Dominic Valvona

In partnership with our Italian pen pals at Kalporz, both our sites have been chosen to simultaneously premiere the opening peregrination from the new collaboration between Antonio Raia & Renato Fiorito: the Thin Reactions album.

Eighteen minutes long, and taking up the entire A-side of that upcoming album ‘Too Many Reasons’ sees the amorphous saxophonist improviser and sound artist join together to capture the abstract atmospheres of cerebral reconnection; a sonic field in which to escape the stresses and weight of the pandemic.

Produced in lockdown, in the partnership’s native Napoli, this imagined space, in which a faded, fuzzy pining and wandering saxophone wafts around a rotated motorised humming and propeller purred windy and airy isolated soundtrack, brings together two experimental composers looking to create an ‘intimate and visceral experience’.

Although crossing paths years ago on site-specific performances and movie soundtracks, this traverse in tonal soundscapes marks the duo’s first fully released album together. They’ve chosen to deliver it on the new Italian label Non Sempre nuoce; the focus of which is on the burgeoning Neapolitan underground scene, covering, as the PR notes state, the city’s ‘post-clubbing music’, ‘Mediterranean retro sonorities’ and everything in-between.

Almost haunting in places, with field recordings that sound like a mysterious cyclonic desert, hinged fuzzes, vapours, fluted ambiguous regional sax and subtle little bursts of fizzled sonics are the only interruptions in this secluded landscape.

This is how the duo themselves describe this album venture: ‘Thin Reactions is an album consisting of sounds coming from invisible cities and intimate landscapes. It is a sonic trip you can take through a sensory experience. It is music that allows you to take a deep breath.’

You can now experience that immersive soundtrack below.

The Thin Reactions album will be released on the 29th October via the Non Sempre nuove imprint.

SONG THREAD/NETFLIX: Paolo Bardelli

Continuing our successful collaboration with the leading Italian music publication Kalporz , the Monolith Cocktail shares reviews, interviews and other bits from our respective sites each month. Keep an eye out for future ‘synergy’ between our two great houses as we exchange posts during 2021 and beyond.

This month Kalporz head honcho Paolo Bardelli shares a recent instalment of the site’s [Coverworld series], which runs through the history of a cover song made famous or brought into the public sphere by a contemporary artist (in this case, the recent Netflix hit show Nine Perfect Strangers).

Amazon Prime’s new TV serial Nine Perfect Strangers has a really good theme song by Unloved, a Los Angeles-based soundtrack trio made up of Jade Vincent, Keefus Ciancia and David Holmes. It’s called ‘Strange Effect’ and it’s not an original song (otherwise we wouldn’t be in this column…). More precisely, it is a cover of a 1965 song that has been remade several times.

‘This Strange Effect’ (yes, the original has that extra ‘This’) is a song written by Ray Davies of the Kinks but was first released by singer-songwriter Dave Berry in July 1965. Unloved’s reworking of the song (featuring the voice of Raven Violet, Keefus Ciancia’s daughter) is in line with the dreamy, drug-soaked feel of the series, where Dave Berry’s original is drier and the riff is played by a simple acoustic guitar.

But the Kinks also played it, though they did not officially release any studio version: there is, however, a readily available live recording of it at the BBC in August 1965, which was published in 2001 as the BBC Sessions 1964-1977. The Kinks’ interpretation is essentially identical in arrangement, only the sounds change.

Since then, ‘This Strange Effect’ has received several reinterpretations, the most “famous” being Hooverphonic‘s 1998 rendition, which is consistent with the Belgian band’s typical orchestral arrangements. In its elegance, the violins obsessively repeat those two notes to create a particularly hypnotic suspension effect. Hooverphonic released it as a single (for their album, Blue Wonder Power Milk) and were the first to demonstrate the ‘soundtrack’ capability of the track itself: it ended up in the film Shades (1999), in the TV series Nikita and for the American TV commercial for a Motorola mobile phone in 2005.

The following year, in 1999, the Thievery Corporation thought it best to make a mix of the Hooverphonic version that was almost unrecognisable, with the typical Thievery drumming and Arnaert‘s vocals standing alone at first and then, towards the end, rejoining the musical base of the other two Hooverphonic’s while still with the addictive rhythm of the TCs underneath.

The “ugliest” cover is the one by Bill Wyman, who included it for his 1992 album Stuff: there’s an annoying piano and little sounds that don’t even sound like the country church organ.

While the 2006 version by the Finnish band The Others is practically useless, the dreamy version, between sitar and harmonica, by the British band Squeeze is very histrionic and was included in the deluxe edition of their 2015 album, Cradle to the Grave.

Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols also approached the song in 1980, with his project The Spectres: the result is interesting, between sax and a ‘Peter Gunn Theme’ style bass line:

A finally electric variant is Steve Wynn‘s on his 1997 album, Sweetness And Light: here how the song starts and shows its multifaceted, and not only “melodious”, soul. One of the most beautiful covers.

‘This Strange Effect’, on the other hand, comes back persuasive in the 2017 version by the Shacks, which has the only merit of ending up as the soundtrack of the iPhone TV commercial, because it has an annoying vocal pitch change in the verse and an incomprehensible speed-up on the ending. The Shacks are an American duo made up of Max Shrager and Shannon Wise, whose Follow Me I recommend listening to, which is very nice.

All in all, the Unloved’s version, although not new (it also appeared in the third series of Killing Eve) is one of the best, and has the merit of having given us the possibility of going through all the epic of this beautiful song from the sixties that still speaks to us.

(Paolo Bardelli)

Feature/Literature/Paolo Bardelli

Continuing our successful collaboration with the leading Italian music publication Kalporz , the Monolith Cocktail shares reviews, interviews and other bits from our respective sites each month. Keep an eye out for future ‘synergy’ between our two great houses as we exchange posts during 2021 and beyond.

This month Kalporz head honcho Paolo Bardelli tells us how a recent radio spot promotion of his new book, 1991: The awakening of rockBrit pop, trip hop, crossover, grunge and other exciting music, sparked off a discussion on the alternative-metal band Helmet, and the travails of being swallowed whole by the majors: hungry to sign up anything rock music; any band of guitar welding hopefuls in the light of Nirvana’s success.

Recently, in promoting my latest book, I found myself mentioning Helmet on the radio, and listeners called to thank me for mentioning a band that is often, and unfairly, forgotten.

And they’re right.

Helmet were one of the symbols of that period, and of that year to which I dedicated the book, 1991, when the majors signed anyone, even my aunt, as long as they did grunge or heavy rock. It didn’t matter what genre – metal, crossover, noise, shoegaze, etc. etc. – the important thing was that there was a lot of grunge. As long as there was a lot of guitar, played loud and powerful.

And there is a song, perhaps the most famous of the New York noise band’s catalogue, which shows – in its history – the plastic representation of that transition: ‘Unsung’. The first album of Page and associates (Strap It On, 1990) was released on an independent label, Amphetamine Reptile Records, which specialised in noise, but AmRep couldn’t keep their thoroughbreds in the stable for long. They were flailing. Just before Helmet made the jump to Interscope, in May 1991, on the 26th, they recorded the Peel Sessions and played the new ‘Unsung’. Such a song did not go unnoticed: Amphetamine Reptile hastened to release it, and so it was still 1991, in the live version played by Peel, as a 45 rpm, and to provide it with a video that I thought was wonderful and still respected independent standards: you see Helmet on a disused stage in an amphitheater abandoned to weeds and cockroaches.

“Unsung” was a business card that was too greedy: among all the majors that wanted to get them and that wanted to turn them into the “new Nirvana”, Interscope Records got the better of them (for a million dollars!), immediately re-releasing Strap It On (and it was still 1991, but how fast did things happen?) and brought Helmet into the studio to give a follow-up to that album, which would then be represented by the “famous” Meantime (1992). And “Unsung” was also re-recorded and given a video more in line, in theory, with the band’s new image.

Notwithstanding that ‘Unsung’ kicks ass in its first and second versions, I much prefer the video with the cockroaches. Well, at the time when the majors were grabbing these bands, maybe they were also sucking some soul out of them, and this comparison of two videos can be a clear illustration of that. But the majors also made these bands better known to most people, and that was a good thing, something Kurt Cobain also always pointed out, happy that unlike before, a teenager could find Nevermind in a Walmart store. Today the 1991 video has 15,000 views on YouTube, the official 1992 video over 11 million. Just to give you the idea.

Even selling your soul “to the devil” has its advantages.

(Paolo Bardelli)

More info on Paolo’s book can be found here: “1991. Il risveglio del rock. Brit pop, trip hop, crossover, grunge e altra musica eccitante” (Arcana)

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